Archive | November, 2012

Promoting appropriate behaviours

27 Nov

We’ve all had unpleasant experiences on public transportation, in any city anywhere in the world. Somebody speaking too loudly on their mobile phone, somebody pushing you or stepping on your foot and not apologising, someone throwing something on the floor and leaving it there, etc.

A lot of people who live in China or who have visited some of China’s big cities will tell you Chinese people are rude. It’s hard and unfair to generalise of course, but it is also fair to say that some of their habits are different from ours and therefore some things, which are frowned upon elsewhere, are accepted here. Examples are: spitting loudly on the streets, making noise when you eat or not refraining a burp afterwards instead getting it out discreetly. Of course, like everywhere else, rude people exist here as well and I have seen spits in our elevator or, worse, one of my students spitting in class. Obviously, as an intolerant lǎowài*, I was so shocked that I yelled at him instantly. It is also fair to say that some Chinese people are particularly uninhibited, like the man taking off his shirt and casually lying on his side at Beijing Airport (see this post: Shanghai Randoms #1).

In new situations or settings, it can be argued, some people do not know what is acceptable behaviour from what isn’t and it may take some time to adapt. The subway or underground network in Chinese cities is not old at all. I would say about 10 years at most. When you take the underground in Shanghai (and probably in other cities – it certainly was the case when I was in Beijing in 2004), what you will notice first is that people on the platform certainly don’t wait for people to get off the train before getting in. So if you are unfortunate enough to commute during rush hour every day (thankfully I don’t), it can be an extremely violent experience at every station. Likewise, when there are free seats, people will rush like mad and push you around to put their asses down. No courtesy to be seen here. And there are far worse behaviours, which shock Chinese and foreigners equally – this China Smack link probably tops it all. So that’s why, I assume, the underground company has decided to put these videos (taken it seems from the CCTV cameras inside coaches) of people behaving inappropriately, such as picking their toes, and to point out what’s acceptable and what’s not during your daily or occasional commute.

* lǎowài: respectful word for foreigner

On mid-term exams and anger

24 Nov

Last week was exam week and so I am left with about 80 copies to correct. It’s really no fun for 90% of what I read and definitely the bit of the job that I hate, especially when I see zero efforts put into the answers. I have to say that some students also do not understand anything that I say, when I say anything I mean absolutely nothing. I knew that before, I may have not grasped to what extent their knowledge of English was non-existent from week 1, but by the mid-term exam it was crystal clear.

Of course, when I try to speak to these specific students in class and try to get them to understand something or get an answer from them, all I get is: “Tā shuō shénme?” (What is she saying?), “jiù shì, jiù shì …” (it’s just that, it’s just that…). Yet, when it comes to the exam and they realise they can’t do it at all, one idiot somehow manages to muster a few words to try and bribe me… It drove me absolutely crazy!!! All I’m tempted to do is write a nice big “Fuck off you *@!?/&@%^&*^%!” as an answer and get out all the frustration pent up from teaching these spoilt brats and from the university’s ill-adapted curriculum.

I spy a wedding

21 Nov

A little while ago, on a weekday, while I was at home minding my own business, I was bothered by an extremely loud sound of fireworks. Fireworks are extremely common in China; you can hear them anywhere and especially at anytime of the day rather than the night. They use them for absolutely any occasion, the opening of a new shop, the birth of a baby, etc. The principle goes that noise scares the bad spirits, while the good spirits stay around. So they happen all the time, but you just never see them… noise but no spectacle.

These fireworks however I was able to see. Not that they were any interesting but I could see where they were coming from and why they were being lit: a wedding. More precisely, the bride car procession, announced by the fireworks and then slowly making its way to the entrance of the building where a red carpet was rolled down to welcome her in.

Obviously the bride is almost always more easily recognisable than the groom. In China, brides traditionally wear red, but globalisation has made the white gown more fashionable. So I can’t really tell you who was accompanying her. It could have been the newly weds going into their conjugal home or the bride and her parents going to the in-laws. It was in broad daylight, so it may be a bit early to end the party, especially that weddings are a big deal in this country

I shall ask my Chinese teacher and let you know…

At this stage, I was still wondering what was going on and kept my windows firmly closed.

Then I noticed this car with the little heart to the front.


The paparazzi are aligned!

And there she is!

My mum taking a picture of a more traditional bride in Beijing

Love in Shanghai

1 Nov

So I’ve been a little bit blog lazy in the past two or three months. I’ve probably gotten too accustomed to Shanghai and its inhabitants and their strange habits. However, life has by no means become boring here and I do intend to make up for the laziness by continuing to write about all the fun and weird things which exist here or happen around me, starting with People’s Square and what goes on there.

People’s Square is a big park right in the centre of Shanghai. Although not particularly easy to spot when you’re around, it is quite nice and quite green once you’re inside. It contains the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Arts), the Opera House, the Institute of Urban Planning, the Museum of Shanghai as well as other venerable institutions of the city. As if that wasn’t important enough, it is mostly famous for the matchmaking activities going on inside.

If you get into the park or the square from its northern side, you will be greeted by a dense crowd of Chinese people standing and wandering around thousands of posters you won’t be able to read. What these people do is to match their most likely only child, young or old, with somebody else’s. It is a crazy activity and the posters are basically their kids’ resumes, on which the only things you will be able to decipher are a few numbers: their age and size. Of course, resumes also advertise all their skills, academic, musical, athletic etc. Some people look for someone for their child as early as the age of 5 or 6! Those who have not married in their 20s also have not despaired and advertise themselves or have someone do it form them.

Upon entering People’s Square

Looking for the perfect match


Marriage is extremely valued in Chinese culture and everybody gets really pressured (a bit more and a bit earlier than elsewhere I am told) to get married here. But not everyone’s got time to stand on People’s Square to praise their kid’s or their own capabilities. This is why there are, as elsewhere, agencies that will take care of selecting potential partners for you. Apparently (I’ve just finished watching a TV programme speaking about it), there are very high-end agencies for single millionaires and billionaires (mostly men) looking for suitable wives. By suitable please understand both physically and educationally. One of those agencies is called Golden Bachelor Matchmakers and their method is to find girls on the street. How creepy is that? They look for girls who have, according to Chinese beauty canons, the “right proportions” in the face and who are elegant. Golden Bachelor claims a very high success rate, 60% of their matches end up at the alter… So much for outsourcing.

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