The Tao of Poo

Oct 4, 2002 8:47pm

A month into Autumn and I already miss Summer. The new university march-ins completed their induction programme last week, having learnt to march (well, sort of), and are now ready to begin their uniformed assault on the world of knowledge. The rooster is now in a better place and the weather is perfect – sunny skies, even blue at times, and temperatures in the early 20s – but, as the Starks are fond of saying, Winter Is Coming, and my subtropical hide isn’t looking forward to the bathroom tiles in a few months time.

I’ve settled into Jinan, though still regularly see sights which surprise. Like driving at a snail’s pace through crowded road construction and watching a huge wet fish fall past the window and flop momentarily in the dust, mouth agape, before getting crushed by a truck wheel. Or seeing a German castle perched on a hill in the countryside. Or an eight-lane motorway between cornfields and polluted sky that ended abruptly in a gigantic red-brick wall, like the edge of the Matrix.

The construction is ubiquitous. The geography of the city is in flux; just because you went somewhere a week ago doesn’t mean it’s still there. The bulk of the work is done by gangs of bronzed peasants – landless farmers – who live on the construction site, whether it’s a skyscraper or a road. There are two groups, the Bashers and the Builders, transforming the city like the competing minions of Order and Chaos. One day the Bashers demolish an entire complex of buildings. The next day the Builders construct a high whitewashed wall around the site. Then the Bashers return for their bulldozers and drive through the wall. The wall is repaired; the Bashers return to excavate. And so it goes on.

***

There’s not a whole lot to distinguish Jinan (pop. 5.5 million) from other Chinese cities of the same size – certainly not the construction – but in many ways that’s one of its virtues. Jinan is small enough and out of the way enough that foreigners are still a novelty, but big enough that people’s curiosity isn’t intrusive. It’s a nice balance. You don’t get the throngs of people demanding that you buy ‘deeveedee’ and ‘rolex’ like you do in the more touristy places – you generally get what the Chinese do. But because there are few foreigners, they’re well-connected. Since I’ve been here I’ve been given free VIP tickets to a violin & piano concert and a soccer match, which were as interesting for the people-watching as for the main event. The music was excellent; the soccer less so, though not without its moments.

The game was China v Qatar, on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Most of the fans were at home with their families eating mooncakes, but the authorities were obviously expecting a few loonies because the riot police were seated in a neat arc at either end of the stadium. The Qatar supporters consisted of a sum total of two Aussies (go the underdog), but, surrounded as we were by soldiers protecting the VIPs, not to mention lots of Chinese people, we weren’t exactly vocal in our support; when China deservedly won 2-0, we didn’t riot.

***

As well as teaching, I’m also a student: of Chinese, once a week formally, the rest of the time informally; of Wei Qi, otherwise known as Go, which a friend and I are teaching ourselves; and taijiquan, or tai chi. I began tai chi about 6 weeks ago – a master who practises in one of the central parks agreed to take my flatmate and I on as students and we’ve gone every weekend since, for 2-3 hours Saturday and Sunday from 7.30am. Missing out on my weekend sleep-ins is a serious commitment as far as I’m concerned, and it will only get colder, but I’m enjoying every minute of it. We gather by a canal with half a dozen others, varying in age from 20s to 70s, and each practises and teaches according to their ability, while the master moves from student to student.

Tai chi looks (and feels) like a slow waltz, which it is, albeit one with an invisible partner that includes slices to the throat and slaps to the nether regions. It’s very relaxing. So far I’ve learnt – though by no means mastered – almost half of the 115 positions in the sequence, and have begun “pushing hands” (balance work in pairs).

A couple of foreigners doing tai chi stand out, so we regularly attract curious onlookers. Every now and then someone – usually a big young man – won’t believe it works and will attempt to push Master Yu around, and just ends up hurting himself, though the master is the one apologising with a wry smile. (He’s a funny man – his impression of “rap tai chi” is hilarious.) There’s nothing magical about tai chi though. It’s essentially applied biomechanics, using the most efficient application of force – preferably your opponent’s – to do the work. It’s a good way to learn what your body can do (though at the moment I’m learning what it *can’t* do). I like it a lot. I expect I’ll still be doing it years from now.

***
I know travellers like to tell toilet stories a bit too much, but I think I’ll finish with one, as this is on the extreme end, so to speak. If you’re eating, a warning: stop now.

We’d been driving through the countryside for a couple of hours on teaching business when we decided we need a ‘pit stop’. We were warned by our driver that the nearest W.C. – at a petrol station – wasn’t exactly fit for a queen, but these things can’t be helped. I found a narrow brick room open to the sky. The toilet itself consisted of a slab of concrete with two parallel blocks to stand on. There was shit everywhere, so it made it a little tricky to get to them. That in itself was okay – I’ve looked at a fair bit over the years in my guises as army health inspector and human being. But this shit was moving. Yes, the entire mass was slowly churning with white maggots. I didn’t linger long, but long enough to wonder who had enjoyed themselves more: the person who had whiled away an hour in the crouching tiger position shelling roast peanuts, or all the sparrows that flew away when I walked in…

Just be thankful I didn’t have my camera handy.

~Chris
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/hydrolith

From the Something Lost In The Translation Files:

Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.
Thanks for you making English fun.

– page of homework spotted on a Chinese teacher’s desk

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