Domestic Abuse Noodles

Abuse Noodles

Domestic Abuse Crispy Noodles: Because nothing works up an appetite like drawings of an injured, weeping child!

 

Found in 7-11

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Fire

I was cycling along, heading to meet a friend of mine at a bar one evening last week when I saw a group of people gathered at the side of the road. Curious as to what they were gathered for I looked up, only to see that the second floor of a restaurant was on fire. Now, just for background purposes this is a very busy street that is full of restaurants. To either side of the burning restaurant were other eateries, filled with customers. Like everybody else I stood for a while and watched the fire as it grew in strength. I kept looking at the people in the restaurants to either side and wondered why they didn’t seem concerned – if this kind of thing happened back home fire alarms would have gone off, people would have been evacuated to a safe distance and not a soul would be mad enough to remain in the building!
“Maybe they don’t even know there’s a fire.” I thought.
Right after thinking that, a customer emerged from one of the restaurants, took a look at the fire, weighed up his options and headed back in casually.

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It’s at this point I realized – they knew there was a fire; they just had no intention of leaving without finishing their dinners!
As the fire grew in size, one of the windows shattered with the heat, covering the pavement in glittering shards of glass.
The restaurant on the right got everybody in the upper floor out, but continued chilling downstairs. The restaurant on the left carried on as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening.

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A couple of minutes later, the next window shattered, and the flames curled around the outside of the window frame, licking the outside walls.
You guessed it: still inside.

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It was only when smoke started to enter the restaurants through the air vents that people decided “alright, maybe it’s time to get out.” Even then only about half of the customers left (the others clearly still had tasty treats to finish devouring).
I had to go at this point as I was already running late, so I cycled away only to be passed by three fire trucks and a police car.
At least somebody takes fires seriously here!

 

Note: Sorry about the shitty pictures – phone cameras don’t take great night shots…

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First Week

I still remember my first day in China, it was September 1st 2007. I’d landed into a hot, humid, hectic jumble of a city; Beijing. I had just begun what was to be a year of volunteering in a town way off the beaten path in the north east of Xinjiang.

 

As far as I can recall, the only word I knew in Mandarin at that point was “hello”, and even that was something I’d picked up off another volunteer at the airport. Whilst in Beijing we had a 2 hour crash course in Mandarin, where we learned how little we knew and forgot everything else. Oh, except for one thing; we learned that in Mandarin there are four tones and a neutral tone, by which the same syllabic sound could have four different meanings… Cue mass panic. I remember looking around the room and seeing that everybody was thinking the same thing: “Tones?! How the hell am I going to work tones out?!”

Ma

To expand on that – each of the above words have the same pronunciation but different inflections (also 麻 is generally used to mean hemp, rather than rough). So the sentence 妈妈骂了吃麻的马 (mā ma mà le chī má de mă) actually means “mother scolded the horse that ate hemp”. Bit of a mouthful!

The daunting prospect of being sent to small town China was looming ever closer, but after getting over the initial panic about our Mandarin, we were started to become a little more confident in communicating.

Once our orientation course in Beijing came to a close, we were put on the 46 hour sleeper train to Urumqi. It was an experience so different to any journey any of us had taken before that we were all kind of excited. The carriages were separated into open compartments with three level bunk beds on either side and a table and pull down seats by the aisle. After spending the first afternoon on the train playing card games and watching the arid landscape rush by we swaggered in to the dining carriage, eager to try out our Mandarin.

It was a disaster.

First off the carriage staff, in their limited English, asked one of the guys if he was a girl or a boy (he looked a bit like Halle Berry). He went a nice shade of maroon, but as we basically couldn’t speak any Mandarin we had no idea how to respond. Anyway, after that debacle was over, we managed to order food without getting any unidentifiable animal bits, which we were pretty chuffed about. Before we could celebrate our victory, however, they asked us to pay the bill. We discussed the figure amongst ourselves, with our senior Mando speaker (who knew about five words instead of two) deciding it came to the total of 1 yuan (10p). When we handed over the money the carriage staff burst out laughing, and used a calculator to tell us it was 25 yuan each. We couldn’t leave the carriage fast enough, and scurried back to our compartments with our tails between our legs.

“Oh dear, this is going to be a long year” I remember thinking. Looking back I only wish it’d gone slower; it was one of the best years I’ve had, and is what brought me to Beijing all this time later.

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Springtime

Spring is here. Forget your ground hog day; the real way to welcome the arrival of spring is by sitting on a roof top bar and having a few day time beers. It was a task that three friends and I welcomed with open arms this Saturday, soaking in the sunlight on a decked roof by the Bell Tower.

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One of the Pedi-cab drivers sat by the square below had got his hands on a Karaoke set and was covering a wide range of cheesy hits, the highlight of which was a fantastically out of tune version of Take My Breath Away from Top Gun. It definitely did take my breath away, just maybe not in the way he’d hoped.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news now that the Spring time has come. Until the fridges get turned back on some time in mid-May, all you can get your hands on are warm beverages. You open the fridge in the mild hope that it will contain a nice, icy treat, but instead you’ll be rewarded with a tepid bottle of disappointment and the fusty reek of warm plastic. It’s alright in winter because it’s cold enough in corner stores for the drinks to be pretty much chilled, but come spring time you no longer have this advantage. This period only lasts for about six weeks either side of summer, but every time it comes by I am left wondering how anybody could enjoy beer or Coke at room temperature.

Still, I shouldn’t be a sour Susan, it’s warm again!

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Asia’s Expat Stigma

In every type of social group out there, there is always social stigma, competition and one-upmanship at play. For middle class suburbanites it may be how many varieties of organic kelp or hand made fair trade mugs you own, for your urban Chav its how many hideous, thick gold or silver chains you can dangle from your Burberry clad neck. For expats in Asia it seems to be your job. Well, when I say job, I mean there is one particular job that will incur social stigma, pity and judgement akin to a sex addict turning up to a Jehova’s witness convention. That’s right; I’m talking about teaching English.

Practically every foreigner I know in Beijing has done their stint of English teaching. For some its the door into more suitable careers, and for others it is the suitable career. Unfortunately, there is a third group of people that choose to work in education in Asia that have spread the negative stereotype of The English Teacher; they’re called LBH (Losers Back Home). They’re widely seen as people with no drive, ambition or charisma who, upon arrival in Asia, become arrogant and obnoxious (chiefly as a result of confusing hospitality with idolisation). If any of you have seen American Pie, think of Sherman. Infuriatingly some of them seem to pick up really attractive girlfriends (why, girls? Just why!), which only goes to feed their massively inflated egos. A majority of this type of person pick up teaching jobs purely because they are white. They seem to have no ability, enthusiasm or experience in the teaching world.

Anyway, I digress. What I wanted to say was that these people give everybody else in that profession a bad wrap, causing them to be embarrassed by their job. It’s most evident at the small talk stage of house parties or talking with strangers in bars. The classic small talk question “So, what do you do here?” is always lurking round the corner, and if the person asked is an English teacher, they are usually so self conscious about answering it that they will either kind of mumble that they teach English from the side of their mouth, self deprecate and say “I teach English… yeah, I know”, or say “I work in the education industry”. Luckily my own teaching stint was a part time gig whilst I was in full time education, so I escaped being lumped together with the LBH shockers. Many of my friends are not so lucky!

The other thing you’ll get judged for is your skills with the local language. Not by locals, who are generally very encouraging, but by holier-than-thou expats. I’m talking about the kind of people who speak the local language to bar staff just that little bit too loud so that everybody can hear them.  I have to say, these people piss me off something rotten. It always seems to be people with extremely average Chinese trying to embarrass beginners; big-fish-small-pond syndrome, if you will. Why is it that some people just feel the need to peacock like that? I just feel embarrassed for them…

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Return to the Jing

After the nightmare of my visaster/surprise return to the UK, I am finally back in Beijing.

It’s been a rather tumultuous ordeal, finishing with a delicious 30 hour return to Beijing, courtesy of bureaucratic airlines (and my haemorrhaging bank account). My itinerary was Manchester to Dubai, Dubai to Hong Kong, 5 hours in Hong Kong and finally a flight from Hong Kong up to the Jing.

It was actually quite entertaining watching the British-ness of the passengers peter out as I got ever closer to my destination. It began when I went to stretch my legs on the flight from Dubai to Hong Kong. I looked across and in the aisle opposite me was a hunched over middle aged woman fervently rocking around in a circular motion with her hands on her knees.

As I looked down the next thing I saw was somebody curled up in a ball on the floor, using her seat as a pillow.

Then, one second after the wheels of the plane touched down in Beijing I heard the sounds of mobile phones starting up, seatbelts being unclasped and almost simultaneously everybody stood up. I looked across at the air hostess who completely ignored it. I guess she was wise to the fact that you can’t stop a river with one pair of hands.

“Welcome back to Beijing” I thought to myself, and even though I was the tiredest man, it still made me smile.

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The Worst Holiday Ever

I’ve been away from the world of the blog for a pretty significant amount of time. Well, the longest time since I started writing Greg’s China anyway. To start with this was very much down to a standard lack of creative mojo, but what followed was a clusterfuck of epic proportions, crossing international borders and leaving in its wake a shitstorm of despair, worry, fucked up timings and one ravaged bank account.

Initially planned as a combination of relaxing vacation and visa run, I began by catching the train up to Harbin to enjoy Chinese New Year festivities with my better half and her family. Everything went smoothly, and I had a great food and drink filled time for the second year in a row. After our time in her home town Siren and I flew to Shanghai for a night, caught up (albeit briefly) with some friends and prepared ourselves for our flight to Hong Kong the following morning.
When we got to the airport we handed in our passports at the check-in desk. I got my passport back with my flight ticket tucked inside, and Siren was handed back an empty passport.
“I’m sorry miss, you’ve applied for a tour group visa, so you cannot enter Hong Kong as an individual traveller.” said the woman at the desk.
At this point Siren and I looked at each other, hearts in our throats.
What. The. Fuck.
She applied for the correct visa, the mess up was an administrative fault. How could she not be allowed into Hong Kong like this?
“Is there anything I can do?” said Siren, choking back tears.” Can I join a tour group here in the airport?”

“I’m sorry, there’s nothing you can do.” came the nonchalant response.
My China visa was due to expire the next day; I had no choice but to leave my girlfriend at the airport and get on that plane.
So, Siren flew up to Beijing and I flew down to Hong Kong.

The plan was to get a one month bridging visa in Hong Kong and return to the UK for three weeks in March to apply for a longer term visa – I had the flights booked in preparation. However, once I arrived in Hong Kong and went to a visa agency to apply for my return back to mainland China, the agency employee flicked through my passport and said to me “You have so many China visas in your passport that there’s a very high chance of rejection. We’ll give it a try but don’t get your hopes up.”

Gulp.

So, on Friday afternoon I went to the agency with an entire rainforest of butterflies in my stomach.
Lo and behold, a visa-less passport was handed back to me. The butterflies turned to lead.
‘What the fuck am I supposed to do now?’ I thought.
After I got back to my friend’s place I called Emirates to cancel the flights I’d booked home from Beijing in March.
“Sorry sir, the flights you booked were special offer and are non-refundable. We can return the tax to you, minus our processing fee, but the airfare cannot be returned.”
“How much would that be?”
“One hundred and three pounds and fourty seven pence.”
The flights were £650.
“Right, I’ll umm… have to think about that.” I managed.
I hung up the phone and looked at the ceiling.
“JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!” I screamed.
After a few minutes of deep breathing I decided I’d ask if the flight time and city could be altered, so I called back.
‘The Emirates Hong Kong office has now closed-‘
‘Don’t you dare fucking tell me office hours are Monday to Friday’
‘Office hours are Monday to Friday-‘
‘AAAARRRRGGGHHHHH!!!’
Not sure whether to laugh or cry at the fact it was 5.03 PM on Friday afternoon, I somehow resisted the urge to smash my phone on the floor, ended the call and put my face in my hands.
Once I’d calmed down enough to think straight I realised Emirates had offices all over the world and called the UK number.
One hour of being told my call was very important later I was informed I could change the date and departure city for a mere £350, baring in mind I have to fly back into Hong Kong and get another flight back to Beijing separately.
But then, what choice did I have?
1000 Great British Pounds for an economy class ticket home. Just peachy.
Luckily I’ve got my hands on a China visa here in England, although Siren has had to single-handedly find a new flat, move all of our possessions and spend Valentine’s day and her birthday without me there.

I go back this Saturday. Let’s just hope it’s onward and upward from here, because it sure as hell couldn’t have been much worse.

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