Posts Tagged ‘Customs

08
Nov
12

Who dunnit?

After hearing about my “accident” last week,  one of our staff sent me an email saying:

“I’m so sorry to hear what happened on you, and I hope you can get better soon, and don’t forget your rights and claim for compensation against the troublemaker!”

Compensation is a very Chinese concept – the alleged perpetrator must compensate the alleged victim for any alleged damages or injuries. On the street a minor traffic accident can be settled within minutes without involving the police: on condition that someone is willing to pay enough to make the problem go away. It cuts out the need for insurers and middle-men and is a very lucrative money-making opportunity if you can get in somebody’s way and convince them and the police that the other person is at fault and needs to cough up. It has also led to an intense unwillingness for anyone to help a stranger in need in case they get accused of causing the problem in the first place.

So, after my close encounter with the cement pathway and grass verge – who is the “trouble-maker” that I can tap for compensation?

  • The spiky plastic mats in the grass verge? [Aside – they don’t look dangerous, do they, but take it from me – these little swine are not face-friendly]

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  • The gardeners who put the spiky mats into the grass?
  • The management who told the gardeners to put the spiky mats in the grass?
  • Asics – it was their running shoes that didn’t keep me upright?
  • The cleaner pushing his cart towards us that I might have seen out of my peripheral vision and caused me to subconsciously step out of the path to get out of his way?
  • Apple – because I was looking at a running app on my iPhone when I wiped out?
  • The makers of Runkeeper – the running app that I was looking at?

I guess I will write it off to experience and hope that any further exercise will be less harmful to my nerves and my general well-being and to our financial state [We are covered by travel medical insurance and so far it seems that they will be willing to settle most of the medical bills for my endangering my own self].

I had my last visit with the plastic surgeon on Sunday to remove the stitches – much less painful experience all round – except that my lip was not impressed at being attacked again. Most of the injured areas are healing nicely, just one cut above my lip that was deeper than others will take a few more days to sort itself out (M called it a star-shape because the skin was flapping in more than one direction).

Eating and talking are no longer a problem – now that’s a relief! – and the doc/prof has given me some ointment to deal with potential scarring. So hopefully I am on the way to recover…

Running commences next week – I will attempt to remain injury free!

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21
Oct
12

Things can get complicated

Coming soon to a loo near you….

Instructions and procedures
(So sorry for you if you can’t read Chinese characters…)

Operating panel

….so as you can see, all toilets in China are not created equal. At least some of those rumours you hear about squat toilets are not true!

06
Sep
12

Morning traffic

The traffic I am referring to here is mostly not the four-wheeled kind that we encounter on a daily basis as we rush, crawl, swerve, hoot our way to work in the mornings. This is about the traffic we encounter in our daily jog around the park – in the interests of health and exercise!

Traffic varies from day to day, depending on the weather and what time we stagger out of our 12th floor apartment to lope around the track in our complex. Weekends also bring out different groups of people.

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The regular traffic consists of:

  1. The walkers – a group of three – two men and one lady that stride around with intent and purpose. We greet each other and they are always obliging and step out of the way to let us run past.
  2. Old man walker No. 1 – he keeps to himself and follows an interesting route, swinging his arms enthusiastically. He never says much: head down, don’t talk to strangers.
  3. Old man walker No. 2 – another chap that wanders around on his own, but seems to be less focussed than Old man walker No. 1. Sometimes he joins the group of 3.
  4. Tai Qi lady – she dresses the part and performs her moves, even brandishing a “tai qi” sword on occasion.
  5. Tai Qi gent – he’s a new addition to the morning traffic – he picks a spot on one of the wooden decks next to the central pond and does his stuff overlooking the water.
  6. Various other joggers – some more fit than others – the man in the orange vest pounds past us when he is not do stretching exercises against one of the low walls alongside the pond. I can outrun the gent in grey tracksuit pants and white vest (or no vest on a hot day), but he gets a bit irritated with me and so he speeds up to overtake me and then heads for home!
  7. American strider man – he’s always walking against the rest of the traffic.
  8. Young couple trying to get fit – they walk at a fairly leisurely pace.
  9. Bird and cat lady – she brings a black bird in a cage to get fresh air and then feeds the stray cats and kittens that live around the property – not sure if they come for the bird or the food – probably both! The other day one of the kittens thought that she was late or not coming and it tried to waylay me with cute purrs and “pick me, pick me” manoeuvres in the middle of the path.
  10. Mom/granny with baby in pram no’s 1 through 10, and mom/gran with toddlers on baby bikes no’s 1 through 5 – on the days that they are all out in force comparing and bragging about baby development stages, trying to stay on course becomes a major problem – one has to dodge and dive around prams, babies, ranks of mothers and other obstacles. A few months ago, M was sent sprawling into the pebbles and lawn next to the path as one of them stuck her leg out and tripped him as she bent over to rearrange the blankets in the pram. Oh – so sorry….
  11. Tall foreigner lady with tiny baby – sometime she joins the other mothers, at other times she seems to prefer her own space.
  12. Dog people: mostly poodles, one or two labradors, some mixed breeds, chihuahuas; some on leads, some wandering freely; some with diligent owners with poop scoops, others with less socially-aware minders. Occasionally a dog fight threatens to break out and then everyone scurries to replace leads and reign in the delinquent children dogs.
  13. The gardeners: weeding, cleaning the ponds, clipping the trees and shrubs, picking up other people’s rubbish
  14. The ayi’s on their way to clean other people’s homes
  15. Since the new school term has started we see children off to school. Sometimes the older ones head off on their own, sometimes they are accompanied by a parent that carries their bags for them.

Non-regulars/random people:

  1. Man looking at his cell-phone – he moved 20 metres in the time that it took me to complete 6 laps – and 15 of those metres took place between my lap 1 & 2
  2. Lady in high heels looking like she wants to get fit but forgot which shoes to put on.
  3. Dancing lady – she does pirouettes and twirls along the path
  4. Pyjama people – wandering around in your pj’s to go to the local shops or for a walk is totally acceptable here – they tried to do away with this custom when Shanghai was on show to the world during the 2010 World Expo, but local customs don’t change easily – and why should they? Pj’s for outdoor wear are generally modest
  5. Random men looking like they were kicked out of their apartments by wives to encourage them to get exercise or go outside to smoke: sometimes they just stand/sit in one place.
  6. More cellphone people

[Sorry – No recent photos – I’m too busy concentrating on running and breathing and dodging the dogs and the prams….]

[I also wrote about the morning people in the early days of my blog: there are more people now, but much is still the same as it was then.]

26
May
12

Pretty nuisance

One of the local “thrills” (aka stress tests) that I like our overseas guests to experience while visiting us, is to gauge their reaction to the local traffic customs and driving traditions.

One of the highlights of most visits has been the somewhat challenging, stomach-twisting, eye-opening U-turn across Wuning Lu after a visit to our nearest branch of Carrefour. Because the actual store is located down a side-road, to return to the mainstream traffic after shopping, one has to pass underneath Wuning Lu Bridge, resulting in the taxi pointing in the opposite direction to our apartment. After coming up from under the bridge, the taxi is always in the far-right lane, which means one can only accomplish a U-turn by using the pedestrian crossing if the traffic lights are red for the 5 other lanes. This is quite an impressive feat, but you have to get the timing with the traffic lights right.

Up until recently, if one had the misfortune of a green light, you could travel about 80 metres across the intersection, changing lanes along the way and then do a pretty neat U-turn directly into the oncoming traffic: aforementioned challenging, stomach-twisting, eye-opening, breath-stopping “local” experience for the uninitiated. So cool for the seasoned veteran of Shanghai traffic – yeah! A glorious “we beat the system once again” moment.

Now it appears that some joy-killer in the traffic department has decided to eliminate this tourism opportunity by pretty-fying the road – for about 2km’s! No more U-turns, unless you have the fortune to encounter a red light and an uber-gung ho taxi-driver willing to take on the pedestrian crossing version.

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Maybe when spring is over and the flowers die, we can re-instate this part of our guest itinerary again!

15
May
12

To stare or not to stare….

I think that most Chinese people do not bother with this question – as foreigners, by default, are stare-worthy. It doesn’t really matter whether we are short/tall, fat/thin, brunette/blonde, male/female, big or small nosed… It is the right of a Chinese person to stare at a lăowài!

No, “to stare or not to stare” is it the question that I have to ask myself – usually in one of two situations…

  • when I get stared at – should I pretend that I haven’t noticed the stare, or that it doesn’t bother me in the least? Should I just ignore the totally obvious gawk in spite of the fact that the person has stopped in mid-stride, driven into a lamp-post, stopped the traffic or fallen over their dog? If it’s been a long day and I am culture-fatigued, I turn away and pretend not to notice. If I am in a more competitive frame of mind/mood, it’s game-on and I choose the “I can stare at you too” approach. This has one of two results – in a few situations my stare is met with a sheepish smile as the person feels a little embarrassed and looks away. By far the general reaction is a look of surprise and a deepening stare/glare, along the lines of “What are you looking at? Why are you staring back at me? You’re the odd one out, not me – you’re not playing by the rules, in fact, you’re not allowed to play this game!
  • The other situation happens when…I spy another fellow-lăowài…especially in an area where there aren’t too many expats around… about 5 seconds after I see them I catch myself in mid-stare and mid-thought of “Hey, look, a foreigner!” and then have to remind myself – “啊呀! Āyā! is this the right time and place and means of trying to blend in by adopting the local mannerisms?
15
Apr
12

Date night?

Last night, we had a rather weird experience at our favourite sushi restaurant, Haiku by Hatsune..

We arrived early for our dinner reservation, and the restaurant was emptier than usual. Over the course of the next hour and a half, a procession of young Chinese couples arrived – all dressed to the nines – an usual event in itself. One girl wore a long pink taffeta dress, then sat down at the sushi bar; All the guys wore suits and ties. They tumbled out of chauffeur-driven cars, singly or in groups. It appeared that many of the couples knew each other, and yet most of them sat at separate tables, paired off girl & guy.

Another unusual aspect to the evening was that the girls and guys in each couple were actually interacting with each other (in English!) and not with their mobiles! Usually at least one of a couple on a date is clicking away on his/her phone, checking the latest text/email/micro-blog messages. It must have been a first date to yield to putting aside the mobiles in order to make an impression.

As we left we tried to find out what the event/occasion was, but we are still none the wiser. Our possible conclusions:

a)      Group first date?

b)      Singles club out on date night?

c)       American Chinese guys on tour looking for local English-speaking wives?

d)      English lessons?

e)      Pre-clubbing/post-wedding dinner?

f)       Opportunity to dress up?

g)      Romantic flash-mob?

h)      Other….?

We felt a bit spare because we didn’t match the profile – not very young, not at all Chinese, not dressed in formal gear and totally clueless! – It felt as if we were gate-crashing some event and had missed the notice about the dress-code and the purpose of the event……

30
Oct
11

The cost of caring

There has been a lot of media attention given to a recent tragic event. In a southern Chinese city, a toddler named Wang Yue, wandered into the path of a mini-van and was knocked down by the driver, who failed to stop. She was then driven over by another van and following that, at least 18 people on foot, bicycle, motorbike or other vehicles passed by the child lying whimpering in a pool of blood. Eventually a woman working as a street cleaner stopped to pick her up and shouted for help. The parents were located, an ambulance was called and the child was rushed to hospital. Unfortunately she had suffered severe brain damage, as well as broken bones and internal injuries and she died a week later.

Surveillance cameras at the scene recorded the hit-and-run vehicles as well as the 18 passersby. Much comment has been made about the lack of care and the decline in morals that led to so many people turning away from a child clearly in need of assistance. A national outcry against the selfish and uncaring attitudes has exploded across the web and microblogs.

I am not sure to what degree the international media has explored the reasons behind the refusal of so many people to stop and help. There is an ongoing trend within Chinese society that when a “good Samaritan” stops to help someone in distress, often the victim turns on the rescuer, accusing them of causing the injury and demanding compensation. There is a well-known story of an 88-year woman who fell down the stairs while disembarking from a bus. Someone stopped to help her and she turned on him, claiming that he had pushed her. In the court case which followed, he was made to pay her many thousands in compensation. As more and more of these situations have arisen, the average person is afraid of “lending a hand” in case that hand is then obliged to accept responsibility and the monetary obligations which follow. It is too just costly to care.

Out of these tragedies, now follow many stories of accidents and incidents where onlookers have stood and watched and waited and refused to get involved, and potentially non-fatal injuries have resulted in death as help has not arrived in time. Most people will not get involved unless there are other witnesses that confirm that they did not cause the incident. Even when the one in need has acknowledged that the rescuer is not responsible, often they later change their story at the instigation of relatives that try to seize the opportunity to obtain financial benefit at the rescuer’s expense. Nowadays, video and audio recordings are taken of the victim confirming the innocence of the rescuer, before the “good Samaritan” steps in to help.

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An equally sad story has emerged about the street-cleaner that defied the odds and stopped to help. She was offered a reward by the local government. Initially she did not want to accept the reward, because she felt that she was merely doing what is right. But then she was accused of seeking fame by turning down the reward. So she decided to accept the reward and give the money to the parents to pay for the medical bills of the severely injured child. Hounded by the media for her unselfish act, she has fled from the city back to her home-town: the one who was the most unselfish now stands accused of seeking sensationalism and self-interest. How ironic is that?




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