In the furthest corner of the Feige vintage fair a table filled with cut watermelon slices lay in the sun while a crowd of about a dozen gathered closer to it. One gentleman, a pot-bellied Chinese lad in a white t-shirt, black trackies and dark RayBan-esque sunglasses, approached and lifted from the table one of the larger slices, a crescent that arced the entire length of the now dissected fruit.
He stood back and off to one side of the table, holding his piece close to his chest, and surveyed the crowd. He was looking for a challenger.
I and a small group of friends had also gathered around the other side of the table when seeing such a spread of abandoned fruit, and, sensing this was about to turn into an eating competition, Chris, my software developing British friend, stepped away from us and selected a similar watermelon slice; a nonverbal agreement that he was to be the other competitor.
A judge appeared, stepped between the two men, and counted down.
Gnashing growls filled the air and the juices of eviscerated watermelon sloshed down from the mouths of both men. As the battle quickly drew to a slippery conclusion the steely-faced determination of the Chinese national proved to be too much for Chris, and he slowed down to accept his defeat graciously (and possibly burp up one or two watermelon seeds). The Chinese national accepted his DVD reward, and walked away a champion.
While Chris cleaned himself off with a wet wipe, two new challengers stepped forward. Younger girls, one about 14 years, the other maybe 11 years, chose two smaller pyramidal shaped pieces to duel with. The older girl giggled and held her piece in one loosely gripping hand, smiling and waving at her friends. The younger girl stood in silence, before sliding her legs out to the side in a semi battle stance. Her piece was held with both hands just under her lower lip, and her eyes narrowed.
The judge appeared again and began the countdown.
I have a question to ask now: Have you ever been so excited to win a watermelon eating competition that your eyes rolled to the back of your head and your facials became so intense that you would make a prime candidate for a remake of ‘The Exorcist’?
If I had known the fate that would befall that small, innocent, watermelon slice, I might have asked for a moment of silence. The juices exploding from the ravaging this young competitor was giving to her watermelon was hypnotic to watch, a pink waterfall of carnage falling down. I don’t think she was chewing, merely mashing her face into it with the force of how a woodpecker turns a tree stump into sawdust.
As victory approached for the young girl her final bite into the fruit turned into a victory fist, the skin of the now defeated watermelon held tightly in her right hand as a show of triumph. I imagine she took it home to add to her trophy pelt collection that is stacked up against her DVD winnings.
On a side-note I also rode a penny-farthing at the fair! This was undoubtedly the oddest balancing act I have ever performed. What should have resulted in a dapper moment turned into me being stuck in a left-only rotation to which the bike did not want to relent.
The apartments are stacked how a three-year-old sticks Lego worlds together, all blocked and boxed side by side, with uniform height and outlandish colour clashes, but ultimately leaving little in the way of practical landmark visibility. Alleyways are navigated strictly with right-angled turns – North, South, East, and West are how you get out of the labyrinth. My flat is pretty easy though, enter from the East side, turn South, turn West, and go straight until the 12th building. Enter door number six, walk up four flights of concrete stairs, and done.
Decaying confetti decorates the sidewalks; tossed sunflower shells, shriveled orange peels, shiny plastic pieces of red and blue that will keep their colours long after the rest have shriveled to a burnt brown and smudged into the charcoal asphalt and sidewalk cracks. Forget China’s Communist Party, it’s the newly fashioned consumerism party who litter the streets with trash and unwanted-ness. Leftover smells of grease and waste ebb and flow in the artifical breeze that blows every time a bicycle or car rolls by, barely an inch away from wayward footsteps strolling everywhere but where they should be.
The flanks of the apartment block are antipodal societies. To the East is Galaxy SOHO, a shiny architectural sight of non-conforming buildings showing off their curves and sky-bridges and fancy American branded convenience stores. To the West, compacted collapsing stores filled with pharmaceuticals, sweatshop clothing, and MSG laden rice bowls bunch up and blend into a mash typical of Beijing town.
Morning sun, on days where the blanket of smog has been drawn away, aligns perfectly with the street I walk to get to the subway for work. Warm pink and orange hues reflecting on beige buildings paint the drab high-rises temporarily. The apartments are guarded by three gentlemen (there are probably more, but I have only seen these three), who man the single entry/exit point every hour of every day. One is a seasoned elderly with a gruff exhale for communication; the other two are very young, drowning in oversized jackets with overly pointy shoulders their muscle mass don’t fill. They don’t talk all that much, though I don’t really have much to say to them. We exchange swift dips of the head to acknowledge existence, and leave it to our imaginations to fill in the rest.
Other residents come in and out of my vision at all hours, but I pay more attention to their four-legged friends in tow. Unleashed and often dressed up in gaudy decoration, they sniff and scamper up and down the paths constantly double-checking to see if their human is obediently following. At night however the paths become a war-zone as one tries to avoid little squishy leftovers untrained owners have rudely left behind.
I plan to buy a bicycle soon to widen my wandering boundaries, but for now this is a small extract of Chaoyangmen, the area I call home.
In China work is King. Your job is your backbone. Without a job you cannot possibly support a family, own an apartment, or possess a social standing. So when the all-mighty Big Brother (aka government) says ‘here, have some days off’ you bet your ass the locals get down on that decree.
Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is the biggest of these holidays; think a two week Christmas on cocaine (that’s not sugar dust on them doughnuts). During this festival an estimated 3.6 BILLION journeys will be made in the spirit of getting home to eat jiaozi and remind yourself how much you
loathe love spending an intimate two weeks holiday with your family. Beijing, though being the capital of China, is not a city where many people actually originate. Most citizens of Beijing have moved from other locations (myself included) so during Chun Jie (Spring Festival) most of its population is responsible for a proportion of the 3.6 billion tallied travels. As such it becomes a rather boring city to be in for this holiday with almost everything decent closed for up to two weeks.
One special thing that Beijing does provide for those who stay in the city are Miaohui or Temple Fairs. This tradition started during the Liao Dynasty, grew momentum during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties, and hasn’t really stopped growing popular since. They’re a place for stalls of food and trinkets to be set up amongst the older architectural areas, and for people to walk around, buy meaningless trinkets, and generally have a good time in.
My co-worker Samuel and I were invited to go to a fair near Taoranting with a friend of another Chinese friend. The Chinese man who accompanied us spoke not a word of English, which made for some interesting interpretive dance communications later on. He drove us from our campus to the temple, which was really nice of him, and I learnt that traffic jams are a universal annoyance followed with the universal sound of ‘ughhhh’.
Our 10rmb admission was to be paid at the gate, and through the lantern encased trees we made our way around the temple at the walking pace of your general Chinese: very verrrrrrry slowly. We stopped to eat some tanghulu or sweet sugar coated hawthorne, some chuanr or kebabs (lamb and squid, of which no food poisoning was received yusss) and some fattening coffee from Yunnan (I bought some anyway, it was tasty). There must have been some 100 stalls spread around the lake, a good proportion of them being food, with the rest selling trinkets like owl figurines, bubble guns, hand-held windmill spinners, magic cards, blow up dolls toys and every plush doll from the 90’s (there were even a few ET’s to purchase). The lake itself had been dammed at each bridge crossing, turning one large lake into four smaller lakes for skating on in winter. One little lake was open to the public with two snow machines erupting fake lemonade tasting snow all over the giddy crowd.
Temple fairs to me appear to be a very community concentrated, colour saturated, sensory overload of ‘fun’. It’s a shame that China feels it has to pack in so much of this carnival atmosphere into a relatively short timeframe before the drudgery of work for another 11 and a half months consumes the vast majority.
If you do end up in Beijing they’re worth killing some time in at least. The communities left in the city really do know how to let their hair down.
Some of us die beautifully
some of us go out with
a house paid off, or
a retirement plan, or
a successful marriage, or
grown children, or
answered prayers, or
a morphine drip, or
the shut eyed broken hope of a new morning.
And some of us kneel before the fuse,
you treat hearts as butterflies
and you, the catcher,
proudly displaying all of your beautiful conquests
behind polished glass boxes.
from far away it is a sight to behold,
all of these beautiful loves, but from
up close the silver pins piercing flesh tell
a different story.
If you’re a fan of all things furry, scaly, toothy, fluffy, and just plain adorable, stop reading.
A lot of people in China own a pet. Though the people live in apartments mirroring the dimensions of a cell in prison, most will happily buy/adopt a furry or scaly critter off the street.
What I have seen on the street –
Goldfish in heat sealed bags for keychains.
Fighting fish in 5x5x5cm tanks isolated amongst cacti.
Rabbits in cages no bigger than they are.
Puppies stacked three deep to protect against the winter wind in steel barred cages (no adequate floor for them to stand on means poor lil twisted ankles incoming).
A turtle in a ceramic bowl under a glass table trying to scratch its way out.
Puppies chained up outside for eight hours a day, with no playtime.
Kittens let loose to turn feral and scour the food vendor streets at night.
Most of the time you won’t see any food or water next to these animals either.
I’m still not quite iron-hearted as to walk past any of them without a twinge. But coming to China means turning your personal feel dial down to ‘almost heartless’, if you are going to survive. I think I only have one existential crisis a week now. There are no animal protection laws (nor are there any child protection laws) in China; they are still in draft form to be approved by the National People’s Congress.
The chances of those bills passing in the next five years? Don’t get your hopes up.
And here is an account of what happens when somebody thinks they have ‘rescued’ an animal –
A co-worker of mine knocked on my door yesterday. I opened up to this adorable white and black fluffball of a puppy thrust into my face with the words ‘this is Baosi, can he come play?’ chasing its wiggly tail. After letting both of them in I found out that a student on campus had purchased Baosi from a pet shop.
Now pets are banned on campus, and the director found out pretty quickly. So my co-worker took Baosi from her student, and the plan she concocted was to rotate ownership of him between her, myself, and the other two foreign teachers. As foreigners we can get away with a lot of things here, but keeping a puppy? I don’t think so.
Poor Baosi hadn’t eaten anything in about five days, because his first owner was an absolute idiot and decided against buying real animal food, settling for animal substitute nutrient bricks of shit instead. As soon as my co-worker acquired Baosi she promptly……sprayed Chanel perfume on the pup. Apparently he smelled. What the hell co-worker, I can feel the dog’s ribs and you think Chanel is going to fix that? I gave him some random meat I had bought from the supermarket solely for the name (beer ham) it smelt horrible, tasted okay, Baosi was just happy it was edible I think.
The lack of logic, as far as the value of life in China, is infuriating some days.
Now in a final plot-twist It appears my co-worker is allergic to the dog, and the choices available in this saga are either all us foreign teachers adopt him at risk of worm/flea infestation/rabies/threat of work termination, or the dog goes back to die.
Oh, and Baosi entered into my PLECO dictionary gives me the definition of: die of a sudden illness. Unsure if premonition.
All aboard the feeltrain, destination Lie-in-a-ball-and-cry-ville.
Politics is hard.
It’s where you see the rights and the lefts.
The steal for the poor, and the get rich from theft.
The straight and narrows, and the bents.
The commanding ladies, and the charming gents.
Yes, there will be those who love the system.
Yes, there will be those who abuse the system.
Yes, there will be those who loathe the system.
But unless you care enough to vote, nothing else is going to change the system.
I believe it should be a mandatory requirement for everyone of legal age to vote for any council/governmental that applies to him or her.
To withhold this act is to withhold this magnificent movement in NZ politics that is ‘democracy.
The act to freely choose is long engrained in the process of democracy. I know that not every conceivable choice known to humankind will be available whence cometh the hour of voting (no, I’m afraid the legalities of unicorns will remain out of bounds), but there is enough breadth of choice within each election to warrant you giving a damn.
Just pay attention.
Look at what daily structures affect your life.
Look at who makes these decisions.
Look at the outcomes.
And ask yourself if you’re still okay with staying blind to it all.
Ask yourself if you’re okay with not giving a damn.
The Hamilton City Council is once again asking its citizens to give these damns a number.
I live in China, and I see what happens when the citizens are not allowed a voice on a daily basis.
Don’t allow yourself to back down from the privilege you have been given.
Don’t allow yourself to think others will choose for you.
For if we have no numbers to count, the combines mistakes we make along the way will be the only number we have left.
Coming back to China means once again coming to grips with the filth of humanity.
Not filth like the construction dust, the traffic, the air quality, the out of control population, the rotting food, the abuse of animals, the corruption, the deceit.
I was riding the subway, one of my first adventures out from my new workplace, Kede. I sat against a seat, while shoes of all shapes, sizes, and outrageous decorations would walk in and out of my view. On the subway you try not to make eye contact, try not to move, try not to exist. Public spaces are where you practice becoming invisible, so you and everyone else can continue on their merry way without added distractions.
As the train closed its doors to another countless stop, a peculiar sound resonated within the carriage. A string instrument of unknown origin was whining its melody. I knew instantly it was a makeshift instrument used by elders of low socio economic status, because I had seen these in my previous city, Shijiazhuang. Normally, a couple walk together, one blind, one seeing. The blind is selling her/his sense of sound to those who are willing to pay for the aural interruption. In Shijiazhuang you had the option of crossing the street, or at least taking a wide berth, to prevent yourself from feeling more guilty.
Not on a subway.
Their feet shuffled so close to mine. A moccasin styled shoe, the sole frayed from endless shuffling, entered my vision. It barely left the ground, searching for a free space ahead to lay itself down before the other would surpass it and surge like a broken wave towards the next carriage. A weary old hand trailed the last of them, hand (and heart) empty of change.
I didn’t look up to them.
The train moved on.
The train closed its doors again. Somebody started singing. Small feet arched onto their toes entered my vision first.
I looked up to them.
A girl, barely out of primary school, is being lead out in front by her (presumed) grand mother. The girl’s back is arched beyond repair, her soulless eyes glazed towards an unspectacular roof. Her support is her grand mother behind, pushing the girl with one half of her body, the other holding a beaten up tin can. Their mechanical shuffle is out of time to their music.
I looked back down.
The girl’s socks are mismatched.
Their feet shuffle away.
The can remained empty.
I am a 22 year old white female.
I wear Doc Martens and diamonds.
I use Apple and Samsung.
I abuse alcohol and the English language.
I am well read.
I am well fed.
I am well in bed (jokes, but the rhyme was too good to pass).
But I am the filth of humanity.
For I always look back down.
The majority stand on pedestals of trash and
demand to be worshipped by mediocrity.
The magazines bow
The radios bow
The night outs bow
The drunken bow
The drugged bow
The delusional bow
The rules bow
The beautiful bow
The horrific bow
The tragic bow
The broken bow
And they wonder why they do not yet feel like Gods.
I watch these powerful beings
They notice the strength of wind only when the pause for breath, forgetting air is equal.
They wield tamed electricity in the palms of their hands, forgetting their fingertips spark against skin.
They burn everything in their path to keep warm, forgetting the fire in their bones.
I watch these beings,
These mad, mighty beings
Consume themselves with power
Forgetting they are descended from it.