Blogging about life

Shanghai South Station and The Beggars

Posted in Injustice by rama0999 on May 2, 2010

Begging is commonplace around the world, albeit with varying degree based on which country you are in. I arrived in Shanghai in the evening and set off for Hangzhou the next day via the Shanghai South Station. The station is well signed for English-speakers as long as you stay away from the ticketing section. Here you will find little help at all, even from the security guards, but that’s another story. After going through security and having to wait 4 hours for your train to leave, you can go to an upstairs section where there is a KFC and Chinese fast food restaurant. Up there you’d think it would be peaceful. Unfortunately this is where the beggars work and you are constantly hounded by them. They come in various forms, the old, the deaf and the homeless. Each one has a little card in both English and Chinese that they show you which gives you an explanation of their ‘situation’ and that they’d like a donation to the ‘Me’ Foundation. They must have a great deal of success as there are plenty of them and they all go around in a strategic formation. The Chinese authorities either do not know about them, or turn a blind eye. Given I had little option but wait around in the station, I had to deal with the request and re-requests that they made to me. I am still undecided on my opinion of beggars, in that whether giving them because they need it outweighs not giving them and thus not encouraging them to continue this way of life. This time, I choose to keep my money.

beggar

There is a lot of job discrimination based on what I have heard from other Chinese people. Things ranging from the name of your university, your height (yes that’s right) and sex are often discriminated against. It is possible that there is discrimination as well based on whether a person is deaf. In Western countries there are very few jobs that deaf people are unable to do and therefore to not hire a deaf person is obvious discrimination. In a country where no clear discrimination laws exist (or are at least enforced) deaf people are simply not hired for jobs that they could easily do. This may well be the reason why they are forced to beg for money. With so many people looking for jobs in china and bosses have such a high range of choice they will simply reject a deaf person for being less ‘suitable’ for the job.

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Inject me up!

Posted in Odd Behaviour by rama0999 on April 23, 2010

My girlfriend was sick today, a headache and dizziness were the major symptoms. As is usual in China, people when feeling sick go to the doctor to receive an injection. This injection is filled with antibiotics that the people believe will cure them of their ailment. More often than not, I am told, this works wonders and they usually feel better soon. Of course, any educated person knows what is precisely going on here, none other than the placebo effect. These people would have got better with time anyway and by giving them a treatment that they think works, leads them to get better quickly and then attribute it to the injection. Most people who present to the Chinese doctors are people with the common cold, which is of course a virus. When I tell them that antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infection and not viruses they seem to struggle to understand. Whilst the Chinese are mostly not religious people, this does not mean they are not superstitious and therefore this trend of getting injections for any and every complaint they have will continue. Of course this is problematic as in the future when they actually need an antibiotic for a bacterial infection it won’t work as the bacteria has grown a resistance to the unnecessary overuse of antibiotics.

Injection

Another issue is the common belief of the cold (temperature) causing the cold (the virus). This isn’t as bad a belief and it would be wrong for me to judge the Chinese on this, as most people in the world, even today, still believe in this myth. Even so, it should be said that no evidence has been found showing any link to cold weather to high incidences of cold simple due to it being cold. Something could be said that due to our behaviours of being closer to other individuals when it is cold, then therefore the spread of the cold is more likely. However this is very different from saying, ‘I ran all the way home in the freezing cold rain, now I have a cold because of it!’

A part of me wants to educated Chinese people about these things, but I do worry about whether the face-losing of others in this process will be too much to bear for them and they will simply ignore me. Thankfully, when the going gets tough and real diseases are in play, proper medical treatment is standard in the ‘good’ Chinese hospitals. Until then, got a scratch, got a sniffle, smelling not so good? Come and have an injection!

Visa problems

Posted in Life by rama0999 on April 16, 2010

I went to get my visa for China this week, in the hope of getting a 3-month F-visa. To get this visa I was aware of the fact that you needed an invitation letter from the host company/school that you intend to work with. So waking up nice and early, I headed over to the Chinese consulate on Toorak Road in Melbourne. After waiting about 40 minutes in line I got to the front and presented my documents. The Chinese lady behind the counter had a look at the documents and matter-of-factly rejected them with little explanation as to why. I tried my best to figure out what was wrong, but she sent me over to reception to ask them. The man at reception was Australian however it appeared as though he was able to speak fluently in Chinese as he was taking a call at the time I walked up there. As per normal terrible customer service protocol, he failed to even acknowledge I was there while he took the call. Once he hung up, he asked me what he could do for me, but said it in the same tone that you would say ‘What the hell do you want?’ I told him that I was just rejected for the F-Visa and he gave me a copy of the actual document I required which was not an invitation from the school, but an invitation from both the school and the local government.

When I got home I sent an email to the school outlining what had happened and went onto the consulate and embassy website to see whether it was even possible to get an F-Visa with just a school invitation letter. It turned out that on one of the websites it said you needed government approval, but this information came under the heading of X-Visa and so it’s not surprising that I never saw it. The school emailed me back saying that I should try and get a Cultural visit F-visa rather than a Study F-visa as that would mean I wouldn’t need government approval. I checked on the consulate and embassy websites and nowhere did it say that I needed government approval so I thought that this would be the way I could get an F-visa. This time around however, I wasn’t going to risk waking up early and waiting in line for 40 minutes, so I decided to try and call and email the consulate directly. To my surprise the consulate has no email address for visa enquires. Additionally, you could only phone the consulate between 9am-12pm each day and that when you tried to ring it, you would get a engaged signal. This happened for nearly an hour as I called and recalled only to hear nothing. Finally, I got through and once again was speaking to the man from the reception at the consulate. He basically said that once again I needed government approval and I could not get an F-Visa without it. I felt like telling him just how bad the visa instructions and consulate website was, but felt that it was going to do me little good.
As a result of all of this my final option was to go and get an L-Visa (Tourist Visa). This would allow me to come to China and once I got there, the school would personally help me upgrade it to an F-Visa. Although, I must say, I will only believe that when it actually happens. When I got to the front of the line at the consulate they told me that I couldn’t stay for the 60 days I had planned (which it clearly states is allowed according to the website), so they gave me 40 days instead.

At least I have approval to come to China now and hopefully I won’t need to worry too much about Visa problems in the future.

Chinese visa

chinaSMACK

Posted in China Current Affairs by rama0999 on April 14, 2010

chinaSMACK

I often visit the popular website ‘chinaSMACK’, a website full of articles and videos that have been translated from Chinese to English. The translated articles usually originate from popular Chinese forums such as Baidu Tieba, KDNet and various other BBS forums. Articles are often about injustice, but also include humorous happenings around China as well as their reactions to worldwide events. It is certainly interesting to see how the Chinese think of such injustices that happen in their country and also how quickly such videos or articles highlighting such injustice, if involving the government in some way, are taken down so quickly.

Often stories are written about in which you only see one side and thus think in a certain way about the situation. Other times, you see one side of the story, only to see later in the article, the other side of the story which gives you some sort of perspective. One such example was an article about a video of a group of 2 innocent (as it would appear) boys get beaten by KTV (Karaoke Centre) security guards. In the truly shocking video, the security guards (about 20 or so) knock the boys down to the ground and proceed to smash them with steel poles for several minutes. The girlfriend of the two boys tries to protect one of the boys by lying over the top of him. She is also hit although less severely, as the security guards move to hit the other boy lying near unconscious on the floor. A truly despicable act by all the guards involved. Such a gang mentality is rarely captured on film for all the public to see. I really do wonder how all 20 of the guards can justify smashing a defenseless boy on the ground and not one tries to stop the onslaught.

KTV Room

Further down the page it is revealed as to what happened immediately previously to the attack by the security guards. The two boys who were beaten got into an argument with the female KTV clerk. They were so angry that one of the boys threw an object at the clerk and became physically violent. This just like the attack on the boys is a despicable and unjustifiable act. The manager of the KTV centre then proceeded to call the security guards and instruct them to both subdue the 2 boys at the front of the KTV (a reasonable plan of action) and then beat the living daylights out of them (a heartless plan of action). Some might say that because the boys were violent towards the female clerk, the beating was justified. I, on the other hand, just can’t agree with that. The boys should have been subdued by the guards and handed over to the police to face their charges of assault and to resolve the dispute they had with the KTV centre. Taking the law into his own hands and providing his own punishment for these actions, the manager deserves to be brought to justice, just as all the security guards who participated in these despicable acts do.

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The effect of my Chinese friends

Posted in Uncategorized by rama0999 on March 31, 2010

I first went about looking for specifically Chinese friends after I had met my girlfriend. I felt that it was important for me to gain some knowledge first and foremost about the Chinese culture and then perhaps some way down the road they could also help me in learning Chinese.

Knowing very little of the culture at the time, I also started reading books about Chinese history and the Chinese people at the same time. Initially I found some people who wanted to speak to me, their goal mainly to improve their English ability, which is in fashion in China. Some people would talk to me for a while and then disappear due to work commitments or changing schedules and lose interest in ‘language exchange’. In fact I thought I was becoming good friends with a girl from Putian City, but work commitments became so great that she simple had no time to talk anymore.

One thing I have found from speaking to various Chinese people, in particular Chinese girls, is that they have such a strong commitment to making a life for themselves. Most have plans for the future, which quite often change, but in comparison to Westerners, they set clear goals for themselves. Sometimes their own personal interests have to take the backseat, as they need to provide for their parents and sometimes also for their sibling’s university education. Such is their importance to fulfil this obligation, that they often do not share their feelings with their family, such as disliking their job and having troubles with their private lives. These girls are truly alone. They can speak about it to no-one, unless they have the luck of finding a boyfriend who is willing to listen, or a close friend who they feel they discuss anything. More often than not however, the girls take jobs far away from their hometowns and are separated from their close friends. Additionally, the sheer amount of hours that they work for gives them little chance to meet boys and therefore limiting their ability to form meaningful relationships.

Some girls also suffer from having to deal with long-distance relationships, due to certain jobs being available only in certain provinces, or the job requires constant moving around. Being in a long-distance relationship myself, I can understand the frustration that can be involved. However these girls are only able to see their boyfriends once a year (during the Spring Festival) and then must spend the rest of the year lonely. Whilst someone like me can afford to make changes that will ensure that I can be together with my girlfriend in the near future, in most Chinese long-distance relationships it is quite different. Often their plans involve being apart from some years, then coming together for a short while to get married and for the girl to get pregnant. Immediately after this, the man would go back to his job and once again only return for the Spring Festival. The turmoil involved in the contemplation of this future I can only imagine. Talking to one girl who was in a similar position, the mixture of emotions is telling. Some days she will be happy and positive about the future, other days she will be very sad and frustrated at her state of affairs and more recently and more worryingly she is now apathetic and willing to accept anything she can get in terms of love. I certainly worry that this is a progression and it will be hard to go back to the days where she was happy and optimistic about her future. Also knowing that this likely happens to many Chinese girls, makes it a sad thing to contemplate.

Historically and even in just recent history, Chinese girls have suffered. Whilst it is true that women have suffered at the hands of men and in general life in every country, it is particularly moving to hear the stories of Chinese women. I read a book called (The Good Women of China) by Xinran  and it was quite easily the most powerful book I have every read.  Against the greatest adversity, women have always soldiered on and not given up. Things are changing today and women have much more power and influence, but it still could certainly be improved. Much of the change can be attributed to the influence of Western culture such as movies and could explain, to some extent, the obsession with English that most Chinese seem to share.

Learning about how the Chinese live their lives have given me a greater appreciation of the life I live and how lucky I am. It has also motivated me to try, as best I can, to talk through my Chinese friends’ problems and help them in any way I can. If I can make them even feel a little better about their lives, maybe I can give something back for all that they have told me since I have met them.

My experience in communicating in English to Chinese people

Posted in Uncategorized by rama0999 on March 22, 2010

I was in China last December (2009) and went to three cities; Hangzhou, Shanghai and Zhuji (Shaoxing). Some of my time was spent in Binjiang district where mainly university students live. The other part was spent in the north east corner of Xihu (West Lake). There tended to be different reactions to my presence depending on where I was. In Binjiang, it seemed that I was out of place. In terms of foreigners, I didn’t see many, although I was told that quite a few lived there as English teachers. I guess I feel I am pretty good at reading body language and it just felt like others thought I was lost in Binjiang. In the West Lake area, I seemed to draw less attention in terms of people thinking I was lost, however there were far more people calling out to me and shouting ‘Hello, Hello’ ‘Laowai’ and so on. At first this is exciting and I felt happy that people would be interested in me, however it does get annoying after a while. None of these people actually approached me to have a conversation, it was more ‘look there’s a giraffe’ – like observation that they yelled to their friends.

I met some of my girlfriend’s friends and relatives over the 25 days that I was there. Her friends were quite excited to meet me and they had learned English in school and had all entered university so I assumed they wouldn’t have too much problem communicating at least in basic English. What I actually found was that they were unable to communicate with me at all. It turned out that this had nothing to do with their English ability, but more to do with shyness. They had never spoken to a foreigner face to face before, so they were overawed in the circumstances they were in. After a few days, one of the girls I met was able to start talking to me and could communicate quite well. So it does appear that the problem in communication has less to do with ability and more to do with actual real life practice. I found exactly the same with my girlfriend’s relatives, who would actually understand everything or at least most of what I said at the dinner table, but could just offer nothing back. I believe they are very worried about making mistakes, but of course what they don’t realize is that I don’t mind that at all and think that it’s the best way to learn.

When thinking about how I will approach learning Chinese, I’d certainly want to practice Chinese by speaking it with others. I do agree that there would be a degree of apprehension and nervousness in speaking it, but I certainly wouldn’t refuse to even give it a try. This may have a big cultural difference attached to it and it’s something that probably needs to be explored more deeply.

Introducing my blog

Posted in Uncategorized by rama0999 on March 22, 2010

Hello.

So I thought I’d start a blog to write about my thoughts and feelings from now on. It is called ‘gjmchina’ as they are my initials and something that will be very close to my heart in the future, China. My girlfriend is Chinese and is currently living in Hangzhou, China. At the end of April/ beginning of May, I will be joining her in Hangzhou so I can be with her. The plan at the current time is to stay 3 months, although that may change depending on circumstances. Whilst I really want to be with her all the time, this is very difficult as the job opportunities in China are limited. I don’t see myself as much of an English teacher, which tends to be the avenue that most foreigners in China head towards. 

During the 3 months I will attend the Mandarin Capital (www.mandarincapital.cn) language school to learn Chinese. This will be extremely beneficial to me for two reasons. The first being that it will increase my chances of future employment in China, if that is the path I end up taking. Secondly and more importantly, it will allow me to communicate with my girlfriends parents, something that I feel is very important to me. I really want to be able to communicate with my girlfriends parents and not be a stranger to them. This second reason actually also extends to my ability to communicate with all people and make any future life in China considerably easier. I will write about my previous experience in China in a later blog, but I can tell you now that it was very difficult walking around China by myself with no Chinese ability and it is thus absolutely vital that I can navigate through basic Chinese. To be honest, my goal is to become fluent in Mandarin, although I am aware that it is one of the most difficult languages in the world.

In this blog I hope that I can communicate my thoughts about China, its culture and its people, as well as other thoughts I have in my life. I have made some very good friends who are Chinese and I personally think they have changed my life. I hope I can write many blogs just highlighting how and why they have been so important to me.

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