Monday, June 30, 2014

Place and space

As we exited the arrival terminal, the calls of "taxi" intensified as did the steeliness in our eyes. We marched towards the clearly designated taxi area, just as we would in. At that area we were approached by a man with seemingly official taxi driver attire who asked which hotel we were off to; we told him and showed him the address; he told us 200; we told him that wasn't the price the hotel said; he asked and we agreed a price; to save face and relations he said how "airport taxis" charge less.

Sometimes, it isn't important where you find yourself but whether you know the local "rules" and the local "play book". The above could have been in Guangzhou but in this case it was Dempesar, Bali.

Bali is renown for its friendliness. And it is a friendly place not just for your custom. We've had great instinctive hospitality from almost everyone. The first glum uninterested Chinese-like service came at a superette... owned by a Chinese proprietor. Since the traffic is a little crazy, locals will help tourists cross the road. Vendors do actively approach you to sell things or offer services, but they do it politely and accept no for an answer.

It would seem that commercialism and integrity can live side by side. We did have a moment that could have proved this further:

As we returned from a meal, we were approached by a friendly guy on a motorcycle, Solomon. He explained about a resort, Royal Karma Bali, who had a special promotion at a hotel around the coast. We were given two prize envelopes that we ripped open to see what we'd won: first envelope was just two t-shirts and a choice of ou extra (we chose a 300,000 rupiah meal voucher, about NZD30); the second envelope however was the top prize, one prize that would be revealed after a gold sticker was removed. It had to be one of the following: 7 nights free in their hotel, or USD1000, or a camera or a shopping voucher for 2,000,000 rupiah (NZD190). We just had to take a ride to the hotel to collect the prizes.

Sounds dodgy doesn't it? I delayed a day saying that day wasn't convenient but commenced a little research: it appears to be a rather well-known timeshare scheme. They take you over, give you prizes but also a hard-sell that might take an hour or two. On the internet you can find a lot of different feelings about it; humorously, one post had almost the exact same story as I had above including the exact order of prizes. We weren't into this. So I met Solomon alone at the agreed meeting place. He was full of energy and happiness but I got to the point quickly. My wife was "sick" so we wouldn't go that day nor any other day. He was clearly disappointed but to his credit took our decision without argument and headed away.

Bali is pretty good for what we want of it, namely relaxation, good and exercise. It almost didn't happen for various reasons but I'm glad to be here!

Friday, June 13, 2014

In form

I've probably written about it before. It's highly likely that I've had many moments in China where I've composed blogs about it in my head that I've never gotten around to writing. That is: Chinese bureaucracy.

It's true that China has one of the earliest developed bureaucracies. A good 1300 years before William the Conqueror took England as part of Normandy and had the Domesday book written, the Qin dynasty set China on its way to big comprehensive governing, and it has never really looked back. But age has never not brought the fruits of efficiency. Pretty much any encounter with it leaves someone from a more western modern consumer-oriented bureaucracies with a lot of head-scratching.

Take proving that you don't have a criminal record as an example. I had to get two of these, one for my life in New Zealand and one for my life in China. The New Zealand one was pretty straightforward: I got the form online and did the list of requirements. I e-mailed it and within two weeks received the necessary letter, sent to China for free no less.

It's hard to know at what point I should start my story of getting it for my time in China. How much boredom can you take? Let me start at the real beginning. I asked the company visa officer and she said it should be able to be done at the local police station but when I went there they were completely mystified and told us to go to another organisation in another district. When we went there though they said that they couldn't do it for foreigners and pointed us to yet another organisation. Finally we found someone in that building and after she'd woken up, I gave her photocopies of my passport and registration form.
"Is this your only passport?" she asked. It wasn't; I'd travelled to China on my old passport. Apparently they don't link their information in any way. So I had to scan and send copies of my old passport to her. She told me it'll take four weeks to get the information from the police. We called her yesterday and she said it was ready. Ready, however, was solely from her point of view. When we went into it today, we picked up a document which she said we had to take to another floor; on that floor I signed different pieces of paper that I didn't read and was given an invoice to pay. I went to another floor to pay (130 yuan, roughly 26 dollars NZD) and then back to the original floor.
"Come back next Friday to pick it up."
"Sure, thanks." I said in a calm way, which was only calm because I hadn't yet started to puzzle how a mere piece of paper could take so long to produce.

I assume next Friday I'll get this piece of paper with the necessary chop (an authorising stamp). The irony of going to the police then being directed to an organisation that takes four weeks to get information from the police is not easily missed. The shock that apparently all I need to do is commit a crime and then come back with a different passport to evade them is not a difficult conclusion.

There are lots of forces at work that has produced this messiness of systems, the lack of clarity of process and seeming ineffectiveness. I spoke to my mother-in-law on the way back from the office and I asked her to be the mayor of the city because she said that she'd make a one-stop shop for citizens to go to to connect all these disparate invisible un-signposted departments and save the normal people the terrible hardship of dealing with bureaucracy. She'd have my vote, if it were up to a vote, and I were eligible for that vote.

In other news we can access Google again. In the lead up to the fourth of April Google begins to be inaccessible. For those who are unfamiliar with dates, on that day 25 years ago, tanks rolled through a certain square in Beijing where student protests had gotten a little out of hand. For more information about the power of dates in China, read the excellent book Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler. It's well worth a read.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Types of people

There are repeated motifs of all sorts in life. Some are common but repeat subtly; others might take years to recur, but could be near identical to the previous iteration. It is bizarre but strangely common sense that these thing happen again and again. History does repeat as human nature duly ensures.

About ten years ago a few months prior to a birthday, I had an idea that kept me awake: my party could be a scavenger hunt. Throughout the night I thought of several devious clues; I thought of the venue, tahaki reserve below Mt. Eden; and then I started to prepare. It was hard work! Each idea needed a lot of time and sweat to bring to reality, even a "simple idea", to take a photo from a particular angle and get participants to go to that location to take their next clue, needed an old school camera, photo development and putting photos in envelopes. Then the envelopes just had to be fastened to a site the morning of the event and a few prayers that neither the elements nor random curious people would take them away. It really was the realization of my kind of event. I'd enjoy participating, and my mind would have been perfect to solve each of the riddles. You can imagine the problems that arise from this though. Most people are not like me. And clues conceived in the wee hours of the morning are hardly like to be solvable.

And that's how it played. I'd got people into teams, had everyone do face painting and then sent them on Mission Impossible. I just sat around while others did it, a kind of a weird way to spend a birthday. The sitting was eventually interrupted by confused cellphone calls and after an hour or two I called off the hunt. My party guests were good natured about it but I always get a bit embarrassed thinking about it. My big unreasonable dream realized to mystify and tire my friends.

And so it too was another person's big dream in our company. She conceived of an awesome event before the company awards night, an amazing race event where all teachers, after a tiring days' work, would run around the city solving clues and becoming better teammates in 30 degree evening heat. Yeah, on paper it looks bad and it's truly a triumph of the human spirit that half of teams made it through, one team spent three hours out doing it before completing it and having dinner at 10pm... Most, I assume, will only look back on it happily with the distance of hindsight. I dodged this bullet by virtue of my dodgy knee. I'd helped out as a course marshall in a trial run (where the trial team amusingly went there own ways in frustration after a disagreement over a clue), then served as a phone-a-friend helpline.