“Can I eat your rat?”
One of my disappointments during the past 3 weeks is that, after giving in to the demand that “the Washing Machine must travel with us or the trips off”, we have not once used it. You’re probably leaping to the conclusion that we are filthy grubs virtually indistinguishable from the many open sewers we’ve examined with curious interest. ‘Curious, isn’t quite the correct word. Neither is ‘remarkable’ however the observations have generated some excited remarks. No, we are, by our standards, in reasonably respectable condition and are certainly not being obviously avoided by the local populace when strolling about their neighborhoods. Having said that, there was one guy who took a wide detour when I was examining something I picked up on the sole of my shoe. Given I was not the person who deposited the – arrrrhhh – waste material (and it was more likely to be a relative of his), I consider that an affront and a poor way to treat a guest to his country. It would have been more ambassadorial had he taken over the stick and effected the removal of the offending material. Without his help, Flypaper managed the job very well.
The lack of work by the washing machine is solely attributable to the quality of the accommodation we have enjoyed each night. Long may it last … but we’re sure it won’t. Here in China, our organizing agent arranged 3 star hotels and told us that, given our reputation and obvious status, the Chinese authorities insisted we be upgraded to 4 star. (Perhaps she didn’t say that but I’m sure she would have if I’d pressed her on the point.) Notwithstanding, we are in very nice accommodation most nights. Some would even describe it as ‘luxurious’. I simply say that it’s the standard I always promised Flypaper she deserved and would eventually enjoy if she stuck to me. When a room is heavily draped with washed garments, it’s a common saying at home to describe the area as, ‘Looking like a Chinese Laundry’. A few days ago I peeped into a Chinese Laundry and I can assure you that the description we use is unlikely to be accurate. A ‘Chinese Laundry’ has far more ‘stuff’ in it than you can imagine or produce even if you decided to decontaminate your whole wardrobe … together with all the clothing that could be gathered in your neighbourhood. Having ‘seen’ the real thing, the ‘scene’ in our 4 star hotel bathroom each evening is quite a relief. I do still find it quite disconcerting to be tangled in Flypapers unmentionables but can assure you that those working in the nearby laundry would face greater challenges.
My last blog (No 11) generated quite a full mailbox and probably alerted the Chinese authorities to my thoughts about their country. I do appreciate the comments I receive both on the blog site and by personal email. I am quite amazed when I discover from the blog ‘stats’ that my compositions have been read by over 13,000 people. (I didn’t realize there were that many with both time to waste and poor taste.) The comments regarding my discovery that the Chinese economy was capitalistic compared to our western socialistic system has triggered the deluge of comment that sadly I have no time to argue and will have to be ignored. However, one message received from an unknown analyst with the most dubious email name of ‘peecracker’ (true) commented (Quote) “You may change your mind about Chinese supremacy when you experience their washrooms”. (From that I deduce he’s American and offended by the notion China may be a threat). Well Pee, if you had read on, you would have discovered that I have found the need for relief at many Chinese toilets. I have experienced the finest, most artfully decorated and beautifully presented facilities imaginable for the purpose of basic bodily functions, through to a couple of slippery planks extended over an abyss that provided for my modesty with a single plastic sheet that would have left both tall and short people exposed to the unsavory comments of passersby – and every standard between. During the performances I have been ‘misted’ with a delightful fragrance possibly extracted from a combination of lovingly cultivate flowers and exotic herbs through to a gagging, debilitating stench that induced a wish to have my nose surgically removed and sterilized in a bath of chlorine. None of these experiences have changed my opinion that the Western word has become over governed and doomed by their desire to create a race based on the lowest common denominator. The world evolved by the survival of the strongest species and perhaps it is those who survive the toilet facilities of emerging nations that will inherit the mess created by those who consider we know better.
Travelers’ to China will discover the toilet paper is not perforated. While not a disaster of major proportions, the resulting ragged tear does offend my sense of order and tidiness. China is not perfect. Nor should one expect any toilet paper at all in the public facilities. You may consider that strange given China invented paper. They may have tried it and decided the new invention was worthy of better things or the early product may not have offered any advantage over traditional practice. However I think it’s fair enough – we are quite acceptable of BYO restaurants, so why not BYO toilets. Disposing of the used paper is a bit trickier. There’s no convenient flush to remove the problem and the farmers don’t appreciate it in their ‘nightsoil’ fertilizer. I suspect the used material left in the corner was evidence of another western traveler who was reluctant to put it back in their pocket for later. I tried burning but even when the damp soiled paper is supplemented with enough unused material to replicate a cremation that’s still an unsatisfactory option - and it does create quite a bit of unwanted attention from other stalls. It’s all a bit of a mystery. I’m not revealing my best solution so far.
There is one urinal that is worthy of special recognition. It and 4 others resided in a concrete structure that may have done service in a war as a bomb shelter. The resident cleaning lady who wielded one of those witches’ brooms may well have seen service in the same war as she gave me a look that would have easily won a battle or two. There was nothing remarkable about the urinal except that it was unremarkable – most inspire a comment. This provided the element of surprise. Over the years I’ve developed a procedure that I suspect is similar to other guys and only differs from one time to the next in speed - dependant on the delay experienced in finding the establishment. I fronted up to the apparatus … to be totally hosed down by the flush which I had wrongly anticipated would follow the performance. After being peed on by countless scruffy truck drivers it was fighting back! Although surprised and most likely guilty of an embarrassing exclamation, I gave as good as I received and on reflection, think I handled my end rather well.
We left Xi’an for the Wild West. Immediately we travelled across a highly cultivated plan specializing in apples and wheat into an arid barren landscape of dusty grey-brown eroded hills contoured into (literally) millions of terraces. This mammoth work over millennia was accomplished by people who lived in caves. Some still do (It looks like an enormous film set of Hobbiton in Lord Of The Rings). Most however have been moved into rather nice houses beside the road so that their traditional farms can be planted with trees. It has become apparent that contrary to popular misconception, China is seriously into sorting out global warming. Sure, they have a long, long way to go but we have seen modern non-polluting coal fired power stations (unlike New Zealand, China is mining it’s riches to create better lifestyles), and their enormous road construction projects actually save massive amounts of pollution over time. Planting huge forests is expected to transform the arid climate to make this part of China more productive and in doing so will offset the carbon footprint created by industrialization. What’s more – they don’t impose an ill-conceived guilt tax on their population.
Another nice discovery as we more into the West is an increase in recycling. There’s still plastic bags flying around like a new breed of rooster and so much rubbish lying about that one could be forgiven for thinking it’s a new form of landscape decoration. However, we see bicycles, motorbikes and trucks piled high with this material all scurrying towards the ever more common tip sites. These sites are often about the size of an airport and are self supporting in that most of the rubbish blows straight back out again or is scavenged and redistributed ready to be collected again the next day. We have also seen the worlds largest building recycler. The yard stretched from horizon to horizon – well - my horizons had been seriously reduced that day because I forgot my wedding anniversary. Like, who can remember stuff like that at home let alone when prowling around someone else’s backyard checking their whole process from garden to kitchen to toilet.
Enough serious credo – on to a subject on which I’m a frigin’ expert. Even those of my casual acquaintance are aware that I’ve indulged in some serious motorsport over many years. Some even accuse me of being an adrenaline junkie. Perhaps that was the case – but it’s going to be difficult to get a buzz in the future. You see, I’ve now experienced real racing and have an idea for a new class of motorsport that really keeps the heart beating and the adrenaline gland pumping. Traditional motorsport involves drivers competing on a circuitous course designed to discover who will finish first. The new discipline is likely to initially be dominated by the Chinese but I imagine from previous observation that the Egyptians will also be highly competitive. The principal differences are that 2 races are run simultaneously … on the same course … in opposite directions. Think about it. It introduces some fairly demanding elements and a whole new set of skills. The purpose of the race is to discover who will finish. (A subtle but important difference). Please don’t be derisory about this. It happens all the time here in China and we are proud of both our survival and competitive abilities. In fact, we’re winning quite a bit. My travelling companion in the other Nissan Terrano (Bilbo) was strangely proud of the fact that back at home he hadn’t broken a road rule since he married. Very commendable and not a claim I could make. By New Zealand standards our driving here would be considered total lunacy and we would be removed from society. I envisage any of the moves we make every few minutes would result in a moral panic and an outbreak of indignation deteriorating into road rage in retaliation. Here in the big C I suspect that my companion has probably broken a few Chinese rules but (by golly) he’s broken every New Zealand rule and some yet to be made. Running red lights, tooting to scatter those stupid enough to think they have sanctuary on a pedestrian crossing, cutting out the roundabout, driving the wrong way up a one-way street and seriously carving up Police vehicles is novice stuff. At home, we have dopy rules such as don’t cross the white or yellow centre lines. Ridiculous - wasteful of time & energy resources and quite restrictive. Before we were issued with our Chinese driving Licenses’ we were given an eye test. It’s really the only test required because everything else relies on this ability. It’s OK to cross the center lines if one can see there’s nothing in the way during the period on the other side. If there are other vehicles approaching the only challenge is to get back to your original side before they occupy the space you wish to traverse. If you don’t manage to get back then at the very least be sure there is enough room for 3 or even 4 abreast. Very exciting – especially for our passengers – who are sitting on the side closest to the potential impact where their unappreciated job seems to be to constantly comment on the meager distances between us and doom. Given the Chinese don’t issue licenses’ to blind people the system works well. The other commendable matter is the lack of indication. Never indicate because it tells others where you want to go and they take advantage of you. Keep them guessing. Keep all others watching and trying to figure out your next move – that gives you the advantage. Indication is OK if you use the emergency flashers – all 4 at anytime for any reason. Again – keep them guessing.
As we move west we notice a subtle change in the appearance of the people. Darker skinned more Arabic features and lots of Muslims. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the friendliness of the people. Everyone knows “Hello” and this welcome soon degenerates into a conversation with both sides totally oblivious to the others subject. In an agricultural market we ended up with gifts of produce that we certainly didn’t need or want – but one couldn’t refuse. Don’t think for a moment the Chinese are starving. There is food everywhere. There’s hardly an acre of land that is not cultivated and every imaginable food is produced … together with quite a bit you’ve never likely to imagine even if you regularly sniff substances. I’ve heard it said that if it has legs the Chinese will eat it. I believe that’s true and I’m sure I’ve seen teeth marks in tables and chairs. Added to the food with legs is the food that is gleaned from absolutely everything that grows through photosynthesis together with a whole class of foodstuffs that have never seen the sunlight. I often wonder with foods, who the first person was that tried it? Were they starving or simply of an inquisitive nature. Take milk for example. Who first said, “Let’s pull these things and drink the result”. Consider, the early cows were probably a lot hairier and less obliging than the current herd. Here, there is lots of tree bark eaten. Never, have I been strolling through the countryside and suddenly felt the urge to bit into a tree trunk. The range of edible fungi is also astonishing. It usually looks so revolting that the first taster would have unquestionably been blind and in many instances were also peculiar in that they wore a peg on their nose. Nevertheless, we have tried many new things and in most instances been pleasantly surprised. There are a few things my travelling companions have not been game to chew … and for that I’m thankful. Throwing up in public is so bad for ones image.