I was asked by my University to attend a "Thematic Briefing on the Sixth Plenary Session of the Nineteenth CPC Central Committee" yesterday. To be fair, the organisers tried their best to make it accessible and fairly interesting (Powerpoints in English, real-time translations, phone app "games", gifts, etc) but there's only so much fun you can wring out of "XiJingPing Marxism Thought"!?
Posters have been put up all around town over the last month or so, reminding people that the great Communist Party of China is celebrating 100 years (yesterday). Happy Anniversary, CPC! My phone translates the poster content as a heady mix of self-congratulatory and confusing messages. Most Chinese people I know just shrug. Politics and its associated propaganda are not a conversational priority here.
This is a fairly common sight in the Chinese countryside - boards laid alongside the wheel arches of parked cars and vans
It's taken me some time to find out what the reason is. I'm told on good authority it is to stop dogs weeing on the tyres, because of the belief that their urine degrades tyres and causes punctures. I'm not sure dogs really do that, or that their urine has any effect at all but hey, this is China! Facts often have no bearing on local traditions.
I saw this sign in a public toilet the other day. Apart from the confusion between "sweeping" and "mopping", I was bemused as to why they were asking the toilet-users to do the job. And what does the tagline bottom left mean? ..."Patriotic Health Seven Special Actions"?? What's patriotic about mopping a toilet and what are the other Six Actions?
It's that time of year again when hundreds of peasant workers descend on Kunming's trees and paint the bottom of the trunks white. But why?
The simple answer is, nobody really seems to know! Everyone has their own theory - to protect them from bright sunlight. to prevent the bark cracking, it looks beautiful, it stops insects crawling up, it stops cars hitting them, Chinese tradition, etc. Whatever the reason, the Government spends a huge sum each Winter decorating thousands of Kunming trees. Odd, to say the least!
Unusually this year, Chinese National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival fall on the same day, so there is a full week of holiday throughout China. Apart, that is, from my University where we have just have one day off! They blame COVID, and promise we'll get an extra week in the Winter holiday. But I'm suspicious ...all the other Universities and schools in Kunming have got a full week. Mean!
One of the most frustrating things about life in China - perhaps THE most frustrating thing - is the constant blocking of large parts of of the Internet by the powers that be. Useful sites like Google, Facebook, blogs, YouTube and the BBC are only accessible by using special software. And occasionally, even that software is blocked for a few days because of some "meeting in Beijing" or a "sensitive anniversary" or something, I'm back in today after three annoying days with little news, little personal contacts and no blog updates. Catching up now!
These signs have been popping up all over Kunming recently exhorting people to "Follow the Communist Party forever". I wonder what exactly the local people think when they see something like this - it's not wise to ask. Maybe they view it as laughable propaganda, as I do, or maybe it engenders some sense of patriotism or belonging. I don't know. But I can imagine how the British public would react if something similar happened the London's streets!
It took me about seven months to organise the necessary application paperwork and another five months waiting to see if the the Chinese Government agreed to grant it, but this week I finally got my "Foreigner Permanent Resident ID Card" (aka Green Card).
It not only means that I don't have to get a new visa each year for the next decade but, more importantly, I'm not tied to any one visa-issuing educational institution. I am free to pick and choose whatever jobs I like, since my work visa is already secure. And there are much better paid jobs out there than the one I currently have, so watch this space!
Some parts of the city are slowly opening up again after the Spring Festival break and the Coronavirus shutdown - a few restaurants are open, supermarket shelves are being stocked again, more cars on the roads, even lines being painted down the middle of streets!?
But the prevailing feeling among the local Chinese here is that the outbreak will get even worse, that it can be spread in almost any way you can imagine, that businesses will go bust, and that we're all going to die....!!
Among the foreign community, it is a lot more measured - Yunnan is one of the least affected Provinces, the mortality rate is similar to flu, infected numbers are stabilising, businesses will bounce back and the worst is largely over. Trouble is, despite that attitude being based on facts, you really can't say it! You get accused of downplaying the emergency, of being cavalier in your actions and of not understanding the severity of it all. And it's all tied up with the differing cultures too, which is always a tricky one here. As I've said a lot recently, "Fear wins over Facts"!
COVID19 continues to spread through China (and some other parts of the world). Being in Kunming, we are quite far from the worst areas, but we still wear masks outside, have to go hunting for markets selling vegetables, and make do without buses, parks and the subway.
If I'm honest, I think the dangers are being over-exaggerated in our neck of the woods. So far, there have been 70 infected people in our Province of 46,000,000, so the chances of bumping into someone carrying the virus are incredibly small, let alone getting close enough to them to actually catch the infection. But science and facts often take second place to fear and rumors, especially here it seems,
We flew back to China late today. The recent Coronavirus infection is spreading quickly and we had our masks ready as we arrived (as did all the other passengers). Our Province is far from the origin of the outbreak but that hasn't stopped the locals here panicking: supermarkets have been stripped of food, parks are closed, roads are empty and we are getting strident, but largely pointless, texts from JD's school and my University (eg "..if your throat feels dry, drink some water..."!!)
This is a common sight in China - a senior citizen rummages through a rubbish bin in the hope of finding some cardboard or plastic to sell on to the recyclers. But it's not a sign of poverty - the money they get is trivial. It's more of a hobby, and a competitive one at that since some OAPs roam the local neighborhoods to pilfer the best rubbish on offer, even if they don't live there. Sad really.
October 1st is the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China - the country I currently call home. I was one of five teachers from the whole of Yunnan (pop: 50 million) invited to attend the Provincial Government's celebratory banquet in the swanky Green Lake Hotel. A very formal do. I even had to wear my one and only tie!
It was the usual affair. Men in black suits mixing with others from minority groups and nearby countries dressed in their ethnic costumes. A mercifully succinct speech extolling the glories of China kicked off the event. The food was quality over quantity, but more important were the various dignitaries going from table to table toasting each other. Then, after 90 minutes, it was announced that the reception was over and, within a few minutes, the fancy dining room had been vacated and people slowly drifted off home. All very Chinese!
But for all the cultural oddities, it is genuinely a really nice gesture to invite various foreigners along to what is, essentially, an event for patriotic Chinese to revel in the successes of their country. The respect and gratefulness of Chinese people towards foreigner workers can contrast strongly with the attitude to immigrants seen in many other countries...
Past blog entries