Sunday, 25 July 2004

thanks for all the fish

excuse the inanity. i'm trying this out for the first time. i'm in xi'an, in central china, teaching english (duh). also brought my ten year old son along and i'll try to chronicle our adventures here in a subjective, terribly biased and confused way. i'll start out by saying that i do not intend being offensive, but without a doubt i will be. if and when i am, please remember it is my aim to present my own reactions to events, and a specific viewpoint, which may differ from yours, and to which you are urged to respond, especially if you feel you are representative of the offendees (and these are not a tribe of indians).

first i'll tell you about last night. it starts out on an offensive note and manages to end on another note entirely. chinese treat people like cattle. go to beijing airport for proof of this. or, like we did, go to xi'an's most famous yang rou po mo restaurant... lausun's in da dong jie. three (or more) floors of tightly packed tables where you can order anything, as long as it is po mo (which is a mutton broth with little round flat breads broken up into tiny pieces, served with pickled garlic, chilli sauce and chopstix). you get ushered in at breakneck speeds, dumped at a table still crawling with the previous victim's debris, and screamed at for ten seconds until realisation dawns that you can in fact articulate your very simple order in chinese. which i did, and i included a modest request for coke. this brought about some more screaming (yes, the old rumour is alive that if they don't understand your language, adding some volume might magically force meaning into their heads). the screaming turned out to be an explanation that -- you sorry fool -- we don't sell coke in this fine establishment, nor anything else to drink neither and if you want some you have to haul ass downstairs and get it on the street, doncha know.

the atmosphere in the restaurant was one of mildly threatening apocalypse. until this couple from hebei came in, looking lost and scared, and since me and the offspring had two open chairs at our table we gestured and smiled and they sat down. see, then i realised that perhaps it's just xi'an, not all of china. these people were on holiday and wanted to try the local torture i mean cuisine and they too looked astounded and rattled by the cattle market happening around them. we had a nice conversation (leaving us all voiceless for the next hour) but it all ended pleasently. (i'm cutting this story short because of classes starting in 20 minutes)... but still.

the main idea here is that beaurocracy is so entrenched here that a.) the waiters in restaurants think they are civil servants that hold that special civil servant's lisence to be rude and unfriendly bastards, and b.) to a great extent the customers (in whichever establishment you find yourself, from beijing airport to the hui meat market) regard the attendents as a caste of untouchables who are there to be abused in order to fulfil the karma of their lives.

the weather is warm.


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