Sunday, October 7, 2007

Final Thoughts

I am working on one wrap-up piece that should be up within the next week or so.

Well, so much for that timeframe! (on the other hand, I do have all the photos uploaded to my picasa site, sorted into albums and captioned where appropriate) But here it is.

The World According to the Chinese.

  • There is no part of the animal that the Chinese will not eat
  • When eating meat, put the whole chunk into your mouth, and spit out the things that don't chew very well.
  • There is no dish that cannot be garnished by shallots.
  • Lettuce is to be cooked, not eaten raw.
  • McDonalds and KFC are almost the same the world over.
  • When you drink, you have to get as drunk as you can, as quick as you can.

Construction Techniques
  • A structure built out of concrete and steel can be made to look as if it were built out of almost any other material.
  • (esp. Landscaping and paving, but also applies to others) "Sir, I have finished my task":"How many times have you done this task?":"Twice, sir":"That is not enough. Rip it up and do it again"

  • If you don't have a photograph, then it didn't happen.
  • When having your photograph taken, it is mandatory to give the 'V for Victory' sign. It doesn't matter if you're 3 or 90.

  • The motorcycle is a family vehicle.
  • The dump truck is a family vehicle.
  • Road markings and street signs (including traffic lights) are merely suggestions.

Judicial System
  • "To win a case, you have to give the judge a lot of money".

  • It is always a good time to go to the beach - Winter, Summer, night-time, raining, whatever.
  • In the Summer time, always carry an umbrella with you. It is used as shelter from both the sun and the rain - and there's plenty of both!
  • Street performers don't mind when you grab them for a photograph, even in the middle of their performance.
  • You have to do anything your boss tells you to. Even if this contradicts other things (s)he has told you, or common sense, or even the law.

Also, some other things I learned:
  • I can now tell the difference between a hunk of potato and a hunk of ginger, even if they're covered in the same "gravy".
  • How to shit standing up (actually this is totally untrue - I managed to go 8 months without using a Chinese style, hole-in-the-floor, crapper!).
  • Pedestrian overpasses in heavily traficked areas are a good thing!
  • The Chinese are extremely heirarchical. Everyone has no respect for (and treats like dirt) anyone below them, and everyone is scared shitless of anyone above them (because they get no respect, and are treated like dirt).

There were a couple of others, but I forget them now. You'll just have to trust me that they were just as informative and entertaining as the ones you've just read.

I am looking into the possibility of going back to China (although not with the same company - I will NEVER work for them again) for 2 weeks over the Christmas holidays this year, which should be a much better experience. If that happens, I'll be sure to start up this weblog again. Otherwise this site will pretty much lay dormant until the next time I travel for pipe band drumming.
Until then, join a pipe band, and see the world!
Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Home again, home again.

Sorry it has taken so long to get this post up - I've been 1) traipsing around cities near Shanghai without Internet access and then 2) soaking up the Australian culture and language - it's so good to be able to communicate easily with anybody you choose!

So, I've got quite a bit of stuff to talk about, so this could end up being quite a long post.
The final day of performances was great. We went to the bar for the time between our second and last performances, and marched straight to the bar again at the end of our last show. In order to shut them all up, I flung for the crowd (Victor in particular had been pressing me to dance), and everybody had a lot of fun. Our farewell party was a big hit, with a good time being had by all. The clowns did a couple of skits for us, and much booze was consumed (although I managed to stay fairly sober). The muttonchops that I sported for that party ended up staying with me in one form or another for almost a week!
We then had a day or so to prepare for our band trip, which turned out to be an interesting experience in its own right! We had been lumped with two Chinese couples on a Chinese tour, with a Chinese tour guide. Angelina (her English name) was a fairly young girl, so she had had some schooling in English, and the Twins lent her their translator to help with some of the more uncommon words. She actually did a fantastic job - she would sit up in the evening and make out a list of words that she would be likely to use the next day. She showed a willingness to prepare that was unlike any other Chinese person that we ever dealt with, and her English improved out of sight. We spend a night in each of the following 5 cities: Hangzhou, Nanjing, Wuxi, Suzhou and Shanghai. Our routine was pretty much: breakfast at the hotel, go see something, have lunch, go see something, drive to the next city, go see something, have dinner, go to our hotel. There were of course, variations on that, depending on how much time we had, but it was very fast paced. We saw lots of temples (and while they were all impressive, once you've seen one, you've seen them all!). We saw the giant Buddha at Wuxi, and lots of other places that are 'very famourse'.
The food was a bit of a disappointment, though, because it was the same everywhere, and unnervingly similar to what we'd been fed at the slop shop for the past 8 months (10 months for the rest of them). But at least it was slightly higher quality. Unfortunately, Wayne had some sort of allergic reaction to some of the food, and broke out in hives. Even sitting in the same room as us while we ate brought on the reaction - it was KFC and Maccas for him for a couple of days! However, he had got over it by the time we reached Suzhou.
I was most impressed with Shanghai. Even though we only saw the city centre, it was quite nice. Clean (for the most part - the river was brown!), and some of the most interesting architecture I've ever seen - some of the buildings would seem at home in a domed city in the clouds (or some other sci-fi setting). We went out to an Irish Pub for our last night as a band (Wayne and Ashley would not be returning to Shenzhen with us, they would instead continue up to Beijing for some more tourist stuff). That was a great night, and much beer was drunk. We had a couple of sets of pipes with us, so we made sure to give the crowd a bit of entertainment. I, of course, did the Highland Fling, and we all had a good time. For the protection of those involved, I won't mention what happened when I got back to the hotel, interested parties can ask me direct about the 'Shanghai hooker incident'.

It was an interesting experience leaving the country - I was dropped off at the airport half an hour after I wanted to be there, and the flight left half an hour earlier that the time that was printed on the (8 month old) ticket. Thus the relaxing 2-hour checkin that I had counted on was reduced to a mad rush to clear customs etc before my plane took off. On top of all that, I was stung for being 10kg over the baggage limit (about AU$300). On the plus side, though, the seat next to me was vacant, so the flight was quite bearable, once I finally got on the plane.

All in all, I'm glad I went, even though there were times there that I though "if I had my time again I would never have come". It's something I'll remember for a long time to come, and I've met some wonderful people. I don't know when I'll post to here again, but I am working on one wrap-up piece that should be up within the next week or so. I am also busy collating and organising the photos that I've taken, and they should be up at within the week. Although it may well take longer than that.

It's great to be back in the country!

[Update] After some cajolery I was able to get a refund on the excess baggage, so that was good.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

It's finally over

Well, almost. As I type this it is Thursday evening, with 3 more performances tomorrow. But that's all! The reason I'm writing this now is that tomorrow night we are going to be holding one hell of a shindig at the bar here at The Park, and I really don't think I'll have time to post that night, and I'm sure I won't feel like posting on Saturday morning!

I now have some more concrete plans as to what I'm doing next. The band trip will last until the 7th of September, then I'm coming back to Shenzhen and flying out on the 10th. I know I mentioned last time that I would spend some time in Beijing, but at that stage I thought my flight home was on the 11th, and even that would have been pushing it a bit. With the loss of that day, it becomes really impractical to go to Beijing, and I don't really want to postpone my international flight - I just want to come home. So I'll have to leave seeing the Great Wall until another time (criminal though it may be!).

The Company and the Army have come to an agreement and the shuttle taxi service has resumed (some say it never actually stopped!) which means that someone paid up, and no; The Park didn't close down again - though one wonders how long it can last as a viable business entity.

I think that's all for now - I'm going to go and shave off my beard.

See you soon.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

1 week to go.

Well, it's coming to a close - I can almost taste the celebratory beers when we march straight to the bar after our last performance on the last day.

We've been pretty much trapped up here at The Park for the last couple of days, since the Army (who have an checkpoint at the bottom of the mountain, and stop random cars from heading on up, causing no end of problems for, say, the Head Chef, who is waiting for his shipment of condiments [or whatever], which has been held up and not permitted up the mountain) has declared that the taxi-busses (white mini-vans) that shuttle Park residents up and down the mountain are dangerous and illegal - at least that's what we're told. We suspect that something went wrong with the bribing (someone decided he wanted a bigger cut) so they shut down the whole operation, leaving us effectively stranded (There are a number of other ways down, but they all involve walking!). The Park management claim to be working on a solution, but I'll believe that when I see it, and not before.

It looks like this trip that our agent was planning to take us on is going to go ahead. We will be city-hopping up the East Coast to Shanghai, which is about half-way to Beijing. I then have about 4 days before my flight home (assuming I don't change it, which is always possible) that I plan to spend in Beijing. I would consider it almost criminal to come so far and not see the Great Wall! So, as things stand, I'll be back in Australia on or about the 12th of September.

We also hear rumours that The Park is going to be closing again in a couple of days, which would 1) not surprise me at all and 2) be fantastic, not having to work for the last few days of contract. We have heard that The Park has had nowhere near the number of visitors that they were planning for (banking on?), and that budgets are being slashed. This I can believe because some days it seems that there are more performers/cleaners/workers at The Park than there are tourists! However, the folks at the Hotel have heard nothing of this - indeed they consider themselves to be open for good. I therefore will wait and see what transpires.

See you in a couple of weeks!

Friday, August 17, 2007

2 weeks to go

It seems like only yesterday that we still had 2 months to go!
Nothing terribly interesting has happened since my last posting, although we did celebrate the birthdays of two Russians, which was nice (let's just say there was a lot of vodka involved!), and we finally checked out the Gothic Bar. This bar is located just off the lobby in the Hotel. It is large, cathedral-like and for the most part, empty. There is a trio from Bulgaria (guitar, violin and voice) who play there every night to nobody, and they sound really good. I had two glasses of port, and it cost me 100 yuan (only about $15, but I'd get a whole bottle for that back home. Probably says more about my taste in port than it does about the expense of the bar!) but that's what you expect at a 5 star place I guess.

I went a little bit crazy with my camera today so I've got lots of photos, but I don't like my chances of having them online before I get back, so you'll just have to wait.

See you all soon.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

3 weeks to go.

Well, what a week.
Last Sunday, our latest new bandsman arrived (I would have mentioned this earlier, but I didn't believe that they'd actually bring someone out with only a month to go - nevertheless, he's here for the month!). His name is Michael, and he's from City of Blacktown, the Sydney band I went to Scotland with last year [thinking about it, that trip was one whole year ago - doesn't time fly!]. He's 15, and should have a blast. It does mean our repertoire has been slashed, until he can learn some of the tunes that we play, but until then, it's going to be a lot of Scotland the Brave/Amazing Grace etc. Still, we have enough between us that we can cobble together a show.

On Tuesday, we had a visit from a friend of Wayne's from Melbourne. Also called Michael (which caused no end of confusion), he came over for the week, just to liven things up a bit - his dad works for Qantas, so he can get mad cheap airfares. He left last night, and was suitably impressed by The Park. For a short time, it was good to have the Aussies out-numbering the Canadians!

On Wednesday afternoon, we were asked to stay on-site for the night, because of a typhoon warning. The evening show at The Park was canned, anything light enough to be lifted with one hand was either tied down or brought inside, the all the banners along the side of the road (the long skinny ones that hang down from the light-posts) were rolled up and secured and other such preparations were made, and we thought that we were in for a mad storm. Unfortunately, all we got was a bit of rain - not even the road-turning-into-river that we usually get when it rains hard (although that's probably saying more about the drainage of the roads here than it is about intensity of rain!), so that was a bit of an anti-climax.

On Thursday, we took Michael (both of them!) out to the Irish Pub that we went to on St Patrick's Day. We had just got out of the taxi and were walking towards the pub, when Micheal (Wayne's friend) wondered where Wayne's pipes were (Wayne had brought them along, just in case the patrons wanted some entertainment). The pipes were, of course, in the boot of the taxi we had just vacated, and which had already driven off looking for a fare. Wayne set a new record in the 100m thonged dash to try and get back to the taxi stand in time, and the rest of us started up the road, flagging down every taxi we could find and checking in the boot for the elusive black pipe-case. After the cause appeared to be lost, we headed back towards the taxi rank where Wayne had stayed while trying to telephone our interpreter to find the number of the taxi company to see if maybe we could track down the pipes that way. On our way back, though, we met Wayne who had come after us to tell us that our taxi driver had realised that we had left something in his boot and had returned to see if we were still there! Phew. After our heart rates had returned to normal, we proceeded to have an enjoyable night at the pub. Wayne played, I flung, and a good time was had by all, instead of it being the most expensive night out ever!

Friday it drizzled all day, so we didn't end up playing at all that day. Saturday, being Micheal's last night in Shenzhen we went out to dinner. I also took the opportunity to get measured up for a tailor-made suit (jacket + 2x pants = about AUD$80. Bargain!). We'll see how that one turns out.

I think that's brought us up to date. Oh, there's one other thing that I keep forgetting to mention. We're everywhere. By that I mean that there are posters of us all over the park and around the city - all of them derivatives of this photo (sorry, I couldn't find a better version on their website, as it's all in Chinese, and I don't yet read Chinese). It's weird walking past a 7-foot tall likeness of yourself as you go for supper!

Anyway, that's all for now. Only 19 days to go!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

4 weeks to go

We've been kept pretty busy, playing every day. We haven't had a full day off in 3 weeks! (we're taking two days off this week though, to compensate).
There are many new performers that have arrived over the last couple of weeks, from all over the world. It's been interesting seeing these people from many different backgrounds interacting with each other, trying to find a common language (many of the Europeans speak several languages).
Yesterday we had some high-profile government officials visit the hotel here at The Park. This in itself is not out of the ordinary, but it meant that The Park had to look its best. Including the bar. How do we artificially increase patronage of a drinking venue? Free drinks of course, and make sure all the foreigners know about it. So we drank ourselves stupid last night courtesy of The Park. We were drinking with people who spoke English, Chinese, Polish, Spanish, Bulgarian, Russian, Moldavian, and French. There are also folks here who speak Portuguese, Turkish and others.
See you all soon - less than a month to go.