We Westeners have a lot to learn
Much has been said about Oriental Art – and most is complementary. Since being in China, Flypaper & I have indulged in a bit of cultural exposure and have seen some really quite wonderful stuff made from all sorts of other stuff. Indeed, some was especially good and we know this because the artist told us. There is however, some extraordinary Oriental Art that seems to have previously escaped the attention of the critics – but I intend to remedy that. My qualifications are very good … few would be as critical about most stuff as me.
In a very ancient city called Zhaoqing we stayed in a hotel that was quite possibly the most modern I have ever experienced. Flypaper occasionally has a bit of a problem with recent technology but I pride myself on being only couple of years behind teenagers and possibly a little ahead of 6 year olds. In this hotel, it took me 20 minutes to figure out how the room lights worked. I never did quite get to grips with the high tech toilet. I suspect Flypaper may be better able to explain this given the long periods spent experiencing the various comforts & pleasures provided by this astonishing apparatus. Its various water jets, warming surfaces and vibratory ability were all operated from a console that would have been difficult to follow in English. I digress; the reason for mentioning this particular place was because it was here we were handed on by the wonderfully caring and softly but clearly spoken ‘Steven’ to the Chinese Olympic ‘Yapping’ champion. Guide Qin (pronounced Chin) speaks a rapid form of repetitive Chinglish and has difficulties with determining left and light – although both are usually a guess. We have grown accustomed to hearing, “Solly. Turn alound”. This is rather disconcerting in some of the driving conditions we find ourselves. Chin is accompanied by another gentleman who I christened ‘Cheek’ … they sort of go together if you follow my reasoning. Evidently Cheek knows where to go and Chin is supposedly more able to relay this knowledge to us. A fine arrangement in theory. In practice neither knows where to go and we resort to the feminine technique of asking others. This looses me considerable face. Chin has demonstrated the Oriental art of confusion. We seldom know where we are, were we’re going or even that we’ve been. On many occasions we haven’t been at all. We went from 2 days behind schedule to 1 day ahead as a result of their decision to find and use a fabulous new 250km highway (over 50% in tunnels which is rather repetitive scenery) that opened 10 days previously and does not show on any maps. In truth, I’m not sure it was open at all, but the populace started using it even though the electricians were still fitting the lights in the tunnels and the builders were still constructing the service stations. We drove 240kms on a muddy, ‘pumpy’ goat track at an average speed of 35kph to find this highway. Chins ability to talk about multiple subjects at the same time and change the information mid sentence gives us pride in the versatility of the English languages. We have 8 days to study the art that Chin has perfected.
One of the finest arts here in China is the art of jaywalking. The population is divided into 3 groups. The first are drivers who are the ones born with a 6th sense … a jaywalker detection, location and avoidence sense. The second group is riding motorcycles – usually together with their whole family or transporting an enormous load of freight. The third are the jaywalkers who seem to live in a world oblivious to the oher two. They simply walk in any direction at any time but especially focus on crossing busy highways in places we big noses would never consider was sympathetic to the notion of a long life. For example, we drivers find individuals, pairs and groups of jaywalkers in various stages of crossing 16 lane intersections seemingly without thought that they could become fertilizer (nothing is wasted here) through being compressed between an overloaded truck and a pothole. Astonishingly the drivers are the ones who dodge the pedestrians and the motorcyclists dodge everything. It’s a system that defies the principals of good sense and self preservation – but it works. An art form for sure.
I had always believed that all vehicles from wheelbarrows to supertankers were engineered to carry certain loads and exceeding the mysterious numbers written on them was certain disaster. It’s not true. The engineers have been hoodwinking us to their own cunning benefit. The Chinese have developed and gone some way towards perfecting the art of overloading. Even a quick visit to this country that is experiencing enormous development which requires every imaginable thing being moved from here to there and from there to somewhere else, will witness that, for example, a 10 ton truck can carry any weight that will sit on its tray. Often the truck will start with a bit more and gravity will determine the final load along the way but you can be assured that no-one took any notice of the tare weight numbers and the vehicle didn’t crumple and die – well, not every time. At the other end of the scale, a bicycle can carry the sort of load we would put onto the boot of a car. Sometimes the peddling carrier’s wife has to push to get the job started and often walks behind to make sure delivery contract is completed. A 600cc van can carry a football team and their management group, a bus may be licensed to carry 45 but 80 is more profitable and motorcycles do the work of a 3 ton courier van. An antiquated looking agricultural cart that is powered by a single cylinder turning a huge exposed flywheel can move any load that may be offered up to it. These are the work horse of the country and can be seen everywhere – in mid city, on the major highways, in the fields and everywhere else. They are unrestricted in every sense. There’s a 3 wheeled ‘utility’ vehicle that is also powered by a single cylinder. It looks good for about a ton but in fact, its load is only limited by the owner’s ambitions. Beneath that is the 3 wheeled motorcycle powered machine that comes in various operating specifications – taxi, ute, van, etc. Here, for some unexplainable reason, its English name is a ‘Tu-Tu’. Again, the load carrying capacity is beyond reasonable comprehension although often the hirer can be seen pushing to get it started given both the clutch and the 125 or 250cc engine is not up to the job. In all instances, when loaded, stopping these machines is a challenge.
In addition to the weight of the load is the dimension. They typically work on the 2:3 ratio but there is no accepted limit. 2 times the width of the vehicle and 3 times the height. At one end of the scale we see car transporters with loads 2 vehicles wide, 3 stories high and 20 meters long and at the other, Tu-Tu’s with a load of furniture under some bamboo crates of chickens and ducks topped with the family and their neighbours. Truly inspiring.
Another art here in China worthy of comment, at another time, is the art of driving. After 2,000km I am still but a beginner. Suffice to say at this stage, there are rules … but no-one considers them. The ever present police have no interest whatsoever until there is an accident – which is astonishingly rare given the modus operandi employed. I haven’t blinked or breathed out in the past 11 days. There are signs along the way saying. “Don’t drive tiredly” … which I presume anticipates one going to sleep. They must be kidding!
An art that I have studied from a discrete distance is the art of bargaining. Apart from the major department stores and fuel stations, the price of any product is the agreement between a willing seller and a willing buyer – pure capitalism. Rumour has it that the final ‘buy’ price should be about half the starting ‘sell’ offer, To date, Flypaper has never achieved that ratio but it’s not for the want of trying. Having some qualification in Sales and Marketing and having once studied the Psychology of Buying & Selling, I suggested to Flypaper that she try the ploy of offering to buy 2 for the price of 1. The theory was that the seller could amortize the smaller profit into a larger sale. Somehow we have ended up with a 64 beaded dolls which represent an ethnic minority who hide in a mountainous region where I do not believe they have had the benefit of my Marketing education but where they did develop the fine art of bargaining to good effect.
Another art form that I have observed and am impressed with is the art of getting the women to do all the heavy labour … and most of the light work as well. This is worthy of further detailed study. We Westerners have so much to learn.