Jonathan Brun

China, it’s here to stay

Salutations one and all,

I have been in this bastion of free flowing capitalism and exploitation for nearly seven weeks. So far, so very good.

A few myths that I have come to dispel are that the chinese fight well (let alone take on fifty nasties at one time like jet li, bruce lee, Jackie Chan…); that they are zen; have the amazing work ethic we hear so much about; or that they have good breath. Also, there is little to no communist ideals here, its everyman for himself and they are willing to cut their prices so much to obtain your business you have to wonder where it all ends. On a recent trip to an old fortified town (PingYao), that is somewhat touristy, our chinese traveling companions went from one hotel to another, arguing and fighting, and bringing the price down. Our hotel rooms went from 150 RMB per night to 100 to 110 to 80 to 60 to 50RMB = 8 $. We had to trick, and lie and deceive, but we ended up saving money, and that is what is important in life.

My job (read place I need to be between 9-6, and sometimes 10 everyday), remains of practical use. I am slowly learning Chinese with the help of my colleagues, my tutor and a dog named Zhang Bo (who has pulled me from three burning houses, a pond, and an ugly confrontation with a Mongolian Panda Bear). I have also managed to travel to north east China, the great wall, and a few places not too far from Beijing. I have seen the poverty that belies most of the country and I can say it is not quite as bad as one might expect, but there is so much work to be done I do not know how it will ever get done. The thing is, its not that a few people are still poor, or that farmers are poor (they are) and are sparsely spread across the country side; it’s that there are so many people and they are everywhere. We drive for hours and all you see is the same repetitive, dirty, store fronts with old men playing chinese chess and drinking beer.

I have been told that the poverty here is nothing compared to India and from what I can tell, significant progress is being made. It remains that in my opinion, China will not be able to follow the same road to modernization that we, the west, took, due to the shear magnitude of the population. It is technically impossible for China to consume the same amount as we do, the future inevitably lies in renewable energy and a more modest way of life. That being said, there is still tremendous misery; children who drift in the streets of Beijing begging for money are usually enslaved to a phony mother and father who bought them from a countryside peasant. If you are so kind as to give one of these children food or money, the fake parents come and snatch it from him/her and eat it themselves; yes, they eat the money. So, when I am with friends we usually buy these kids food and then stand with them so that it is not taken away from them. It never stops for the white man, all the tourist sites or foreigner areas (like near my office) are filled with chinese people trying to sell you this or that, a toy, a necklace, a child, a kidney. It really makes one think twice about throwing out a thousand dollar suit after wearing it once.

Last week, a large, oddly shaped, pasty white british fellow wobbled into my apartment, set up a Playstation and plopped down on the couch, he has yet to move. Thankfully, he has managed to hand over some financial contributions for the necessary air conditioning to keep him from melting in the 40C smog infested atmosphere we call Beijing. His name is Charles, and yes, he will be my roommate.

On the social scene, I have been partying like its 1421 (the peak of the Ming Dynasty). There are many bars and clubs in this great city and the best part of all, is that, I can afford to get drunk at a bar and to buy people drinks. In the city there are a tremendous amount of foreigners and certain districts are just crawling with them. We try and go to places that are a little more popular with the local people, but we often end up with foreigners (laowai). Smaller towns, or bars without any whities are very different, but the staring and drooling gets awkward when its an old man with no teeth doing it. My canadian friend (see pic #1 – he’s the other non-chinese guy) and I had this old dude telling us how beautiful Canadians are and how he wished he could come to Canada and maybe even stop by our apartment later for a chinese massage; being the friendly foreigners we are, we invited him back, and let me tell you, what fun! Beijing is often criticized as being a boring city, due to the prescence of all the government offices, and nothing in comparison to Shanghai, however, in recent years the nightlife has bourgeoned and is as good, if not better than any city on the planet. To leave a mark on this city, beside the growing trail of dead peasants, I plan to have a white linen suit made and get a peasant to follow me around with an umbrella, like back in the day when we were in charge. Hurray for colonialism!

I ask you this: Have you ever been the center of attention without doing anything crazy, not being a good looking girl, or being naked in a downtown metropolis? Well, I have. As in, in any small town or on the train I am often stared at by Chinese people and even more so by kids. The kids (haizi) usually manage to say hello and then run off, comming back for a little more “white man with chinese people” staring session. Their behavior patterns are most comparable to a hesitant chipmunk who comes and goes before accepting food from a humans hand. To comfort the young chinese, I usually answer their queries with: “Hello, I am Chinese, but I am very ugly” to which I usually get a roaring laugh and a hesitant welcome into their family or group of friends. The females of breeding age take a particular interest to foreigners, and we’ll just leave that at that.

Well I have a cold and headache, but I am off to a St. Jean Baptiste party tonight at the Novotel in Beijing that is run by a Quebecer. Maybe I will bump into some people from back home; however, I may be ostracized for going to english school, speaking with a 16th arrondisment accent and not being a hard core sovereigntist.

Have a great weekend (zuomo kuaile),

Published on June 26, 2005

Fist Days in China

Ni Hao,

I thought I would give you guys an an update on my situation even though I find these mass emails self engrossing and often pointless. I will attempt to make this worthwhile.

I arrived in Beijing a week ago and have managed to find an apartment (see photos) and get to work. To say things are different here would be both an understatement and misleading. Humans are humans. The general citizenship are cordial and understanding regarding my language impairment and they remain generally honest, though no matter what I pay, I feel like I am being ripped off.

It remains that most everything is cheap here. I bought fake puma running shoes for 6$ and on Friday I had dinner, took three taxis and got completely smashed for about 20$. A Canadian dude from BC is in an apartment next door; he had some friends over and we ate down in the Hutongs below us, with beer, for a grand total of (drum roll) 10$ (for 5 of us). Hutongs are the old school, ghetto, chinese housing that is very dirty and essentially completely impoverished, they are all over the city (see one of the attached photos). We first went to an expat white trash party, at which my canadian buddy and this black american new yorker won best white trash costume. Essentially, because booze is so cheap, I bought one round and the rest of the night people were handing me liquids to consume. I had also been told that Chinese beer is remarkable dry and therefore gives you one hell of a hangover. They were right. We then hit up a night club not unlike something back home except for the fact that it is full of chinese people. By then I was already remarkably drunk and I ended up avoiding a fist fight with some black dude thanks to a massive asian bouncer. I danced around like the drunk jewish boy that I am for a while, until I realized I did not recoginze anyone in the club. So I hopped in a cab, mumbled some chinese stuff and passed out for 20 minutes, woke up handed over 4$, got out, climbed four flights of stairs, and passed out, woke up to barking dogs and crazy chinese people and swore off Chinese beer for the next 8-12 hours.

My apartment is completely brand new and better that anything I would get in the western world (see photos). As labour is ridiculously cheap here, the city is immaculate. You do not see any garbage on the street or in the subway system. You are constantly being waded on. Fast food restaurants bring food to your table and there is always an abundance of people willing to help you. I am unsure how the country will be able to completely modernize to the level of the western world as increases in wages would inevitably lead to layoffs and general social discontent. At my office building (it is a high end office building) there are 4 doormen, 4 security guards, and two people at an information booth inside. Not to mention the army of cleaning staff that roam the building like drones in white labcoats polishing everything that does not shine sparkle sparkle. There are people everywhere. You cannot go anywhere without there being many many people, not just a few people like back home, but many many people. I take the subway to work and as you can imagine, it is chaotic. But a little canadian muscle usually manages to get me in and out of the train with minimal casualties to the local population. The streets are all gigantic and what looks like a 5 minute walk on a map is actually 25 minutes. Beijing is 4 times bigger than Paris. And Paris is pretty fucking big.

Pertaining to the actual purpose of my trip, my job, I am working in downtown Beijing at the sales office for Danieli. Danieli is an Italian company that produces machinery for steel plants, they also do project management for the installation of their machinery. They produce machines for everything from Blast Furnace linings to galvanizing lines (which, for the non technical among us is like from A-Z in steel making). The office in Beijing comprises about 50 Chinese people and 20 Europeans (mostly Italians), but at any given time, 30% of the office is traveling. That being said, I will be doing a substantial amount of traveling for the company. This will permit me to see the real china and to get some hands on experience. Business is conducted in a mixture of English, Italian and Chinese, which means that the people in the office are all very intelligent and capable.

I am leaning chinese and will likely get a tutor (costs 3$/hour) after I meet my supervisor on Monday. I am involved in the negotiations of contracts and I will go to the plants to make sure the machinery is being properly installed and to convey any problems to the company. I am leaving to North eastern china on Wednesday for four days and I may go to Taiwan next week. Of course, I will not be doing this alone, but I should obtain a fair amount of responsibility and I am essentially guaranteed a job anywhere in the world when I am done, unless I prove to be a real fuck-up, which remains a distinct possibility.

Keep it together.

Published on May 17, 2005