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