Typhoons howl… and Taiwan hurts

This week: a tussle with a typhoon; a book-ish breakdown; and fun with phrasebooks…

The forecasters got it right about that typhoon – 11.30pm last Saturday night was the (oh-so-perfect) timing for the T8 to hit HK Island. Given the rumours of shenanigans in the streets, four of us hunkered down in one of the Lan Kwai Fong bars and waited…

True to their word, the bars had started offering various inducements to keep the punters paying as soon as the warning of the T8 had been announced earlier in the evening. So when the typhoon finally hit with a vengeance at 11.30pm… well, you can just imagine. Spending more than a few seconds outside was to risk a serious drenching – but nothing ever really stops the Hong Kong hedonism. Scores of scantily-clad young ladies danced crazily in the street while being soaked by warm torrential rain as leering men looked on.

Despite the worsening weather, there were still plenty of enterprising taxi-drivers willing to risk their livelihoods to ferry the brave through the torrents coming off the Peak – this is Hong Kong, after all, and there’s a reputation to keep up.

Fin de siecle? You decide.

I left Hong Kong three days later, travelling up the old Pearl River delta trading route to Guangzhou. Despite the fact that this sea journey’s been largely superseded by an express rail route, there’s still something
romantic about leaving Hong Kong – and arriving in China – over the water.

The 12 days I spent in Hong Kong were great fun – not only were they a much-needed respite from China, but the length of the stay gave me a real sense of an intriguing city that’s entering a crucial phase in it’s history,
and a chance to catch up with good friends.

Now it was time to return to China…

Back to China with a bump

“This book is NOT GOOD for China. It is NOT GOOD book.”

It was only a few hours into my latest rail journey from Guangzhou to Kunming. I was feeling smug that my efforts with broken Chinese were forming a rapport with my neighbour.

But the mood changed when he picked up the novel I was reading (without asking, as if to demonstrate that property is still, very definitely, theft). To put it mildly, he was displeased.

“This is BAD BOOK. Why are you reading this book?”

I was somewhat taken by surprise. I tried to point out that it was only fiction (and good fiction at that) and that I had bought it in Shanghai, but the title “Death of a Red Heroine” – along with the subtitle “Murder in
Modern Shanghai” – had clearly got his goat.

After a period of further unanswerable barracking, another Chinese passenger in the compartment eventually came to my aid, pointing out that the book was, in fact, written by a Chinese literature professor (Qiu Xiaolong).

But my inquisitor was on a roll now. He picked up my Rough Guide to China, and turned straight to the map page. I had a horrible feeling I knew what was coming next.

“TAIWAN. Is in WRONG COLOUR.” He brandished the offending map – which suggested that Taiwan might not be Chinese – around the compartment to the approval of the gathering throng. (This is a very common complaint of China Guides, and one that actually results in Lonely Planets guides to China being confiscated by the Police at the Nepal/Tibet border).

As I had no wish to swim in the murky waters of international politics (and my knowledge of the issue is slight) I decided to keep quiet. There was very little I could do, so I just sat back and watched the sparks of righteous anger fly.

It’s hard to get used to the different attitude to information in all forms here. As I write, Google’s Blogger service is still blocked after a number of months, and Facebook has been blocked since the Xinjiang riots. Is there general disquiet in China about this? Errr. Nope. Whatever the reasons, free information, whether in written form or on the net, just isn’t as highly prized here. At the moment.

Having fun with phrasebooks

As quickly as the storm had arisen however, it blew over. I prized the novel and the guidebook from his hands, defusing the still charged atmosphere by replacing it with my less contentious – and most amusing – English/Chinese phrasebook.

This witty volume from Immersion Guides is ostensibly for overseas Beijing residents, but actually good for the whole of China. Instead of the normal trite phrases, IG give you such Q&A exchanges as:

Question: Do you speak Chinese?

Answer: wo liuli de shuo hen cha de zhongwen! (I fluently speak horrible Chinese!)

Question: Your Chinese is excellent!

Answer: Pimao eryi… (It’s all fluff…)

Question: Where are you from?

Answer: Ni cai ba… wo xiang shenme guojia de ren (Guess… where do I look like I’m from?)

Question: What kind of work do you do?

Answer: Wo shi tegong. (I’m a secret agent.)

Question: Are you married?

Answer: Wo zhang de tai nankan le, Zhao bu Zhao duixiang (I’m too ugly to find anyone.)

A superb way to break the ice.

And finally…

I arrived in Kunming yesterday, completing my 12,703rd mile on Chinese railways. Since arriving in China in mid-May, I have travelled entirely overland – the latest train from Guangzhou to Kunming took my into my 151st hour on the trains here. (I have also covered a further 36 hours and c. 2500 kilometres of bus journeys).

It has given my journey a satisfyingly complete feel – and let’s face it, it’s not often you get a chance to travel like that.

Tomorrow night I head on another train to Dali, from where I will be venturing to the Wu Wei Si monastery for 2 weeks of Kung Fu training, much needed after Hong Kong. As a result there will be a blogging break for a fortnight.



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Filed under 'mind the gap' journey 08-09, All posts, China '09

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