Yesterday when I woke I looked out the window and the sky was clear and blue. There was a cool breeze blowing, gently waving the curtain back and forth. Between the neighbours hacking and spitting I could hear some little swallows chirping away in the trees outside. Since leaving for Australia the weather here has turned into a perfect autumn season. The first dustings of snow have fallen in the very north of China and the wind has swung around bringing its crisp dry air with it. The sky is clear and there are few clouds to impede the sun’s rays. It is beautiful. The leaves are yet to turn golden but they must only be weeks away. I can only imagine how busy the street sweepers get when the leaves fall.
I walked to the gym taking a different route. I walked down one of the more French streets and looked at all of the tailors and shoe makers and I breathed in the cooler air than I was used to. I stopped at a large intersection and the Traffic Assistant, startled by my presence, yelped out a “Hello!” he was fairly chuffed with himself. I replied in Chinese.
“How are you?” He said stuttering and clamouring for the right English words.
"Hao! Eerrrrr Hen Hao!" I replied triumphantly (Good errrr Very Good is what I said) He was even more pleased.
“You, U.S.A. woman.” He slowly said certain that he was correct of my origins.
“Mayo, Audalia. Me Audalia” (No, Australia. Me Australia)
“Ohhhhhh! I Brisbane went!” with a huge smile and that is where his English ran out and we resorted to hand gestures.
He gestured that he was eating food and said “Hun Hao, Hun Hao!” (very good very good) and rubbed his protruding belly. “But” and then rubbed his thumb and for fingers together indicating money. I agreed Australia’s food is very good but very expensive compared to some of the local food here.
By this point the little green man had turned into a flashing red man and there was only 2 seconds left to cross the road. I smiled and said “Zaijian!” (Goodbye) and sprinted across the road. The lady Traffic assistant on the opposite corner scolded me for running across when it was red. I walked on pleased that I had that interaction with the usually stern, bored traffic assistant.
I try to walk a different way home every day from the gym. It helps me learn where things are and discover little treasures here and there. I took a different route down Ji’an and Changle Lu. There are a number of emerging designers on Changle and I had only walked on one side. Today was the left hand sides turn. As I walked towards the start of Changle a man was standing with his bike holding a medium sized turtle up in the air by a string. I thought he might have been a bit special and the turtle was his pet. I was wrong. He had caught the turtle from some body, of no doubt, filthy water and was trying to sell the little fella as a dinner item. As soon as my eyes caught his he was on to me trying to sell. I wanted to buy him just so I could release him, but he would either die of the polluted water or be recaptured and eaten. I waved him away and walked on. Exactly this time last week I was with my nieces on a perfect Sydney spring day marveling at a turtle flipping about in a small lake in the middle of a commercial business park. It was the highlight of all of our day seeing that turtle - oh and the 5 ducklings, 2 geese, hundreds of ducks and fish and as my niece calls it “Big Bad Barry” the giant carp. What a contrast. It saddened me.
When you re-enter China you have 24 hours to go to a police station to check in with them to get an ‘Aliens/ Foreigners Permit’. It is a ridiculous system and in Shanghai the Police never ask you for your passport or permit. In other provinces they do ask and you can get into serious trouble if you don’t have it on you. Shanghai is, thankfully, too cosmopolitan and full of too many foreigners for the police to care. However, you still have to check in and produce a fist full of papers to prove who you are, when you re-entered, where you live, who your landlord is so on and so forth. The ambivalent annoyed police officers stationed at the foreigners’ desk just grunt at you and serve you when they feel like it. Local Chinese push in front of you, so if you are not pressed up against the desk guarding your space they will cut in line and you will have to wait once more. The police person behind the desk never flexes their authoritive muscle and tells the queue jumper to head to the back of the line. In China you push past, you never wait, you cut in and you take what you can take. (Just as an aside, when I landed in Sydney the man across the aisle tried to sneak under my arm to get out of the plane before me. I thought to myself “You are on my turf now buddy, we don’t do that here” and I straddled the entire aisle with my legs and put my elbows out so he couldn't go anywhere. It felt good and I was pleased I could use my 'giganticness' to stop the pushy little fellow.)
So as I stood guarding my position in the queue and the officer played on his phone, checked his text messages and WeChat messages I became annoyed. Irrationally annoyed. Annoyed at the fact that a man was trying to sell me a turtle, annoyed that I had to register with the police, annoyed that he was taking his time to serve me, just annoyed at everything China. I got my permit and in a huff walked back out to my wonderful smiling lovely husband who was minding my bike for me. Because if you leave your bike, chained up or not, it WILL get stolen. Not might or possibly but will. Another annoying thing.
We rode off towards Tesco to get some dinner items, the usual road antics occurred. Being cut off, getting stuck behind another cyclist on a bike so old and creaky it’s a wonder it hasn't degraded into a pile of rust dust, being jammed between a moving and a stationary car. The last straw was when a truck, swerved in front of us, into the bike lane and stopped. No indicator, no brake lights, it just stopped. It cut us off and it cut off those who were coming towards us. I slammed on my disc brakes hard. Something deep inside me emerged and I may have gone a little crazy for a moment or two.
“This is a bike lane you friggen numpty! Not a stopping lane you f**Ktard!” Poor Greg just looked at me completely stunned and laughed. The pedestrians all stopped and turned to see what this mental foreigner was screaming at and the cars just moved around the back end of the truck that was protruding into their lane as though nothing was wrong. In all honesty nothing was wrong. This is normal here but after two weeks of being spoilt by the order, space and politeness of Australia I was no longer able to handle the erratic, greedy nature of China.
Was it okay for me to behave this way? Not at all and I am ashamed of my crass, unmeasured outburst. I am a visitor to this country. No matter how long I stay here it is not my right to demand the people here behave the way that I am used to or that I believe is correct. Just as any immigrant in any country forgoes the same right when they enter. I can’t change China and the ways of the people and culture here and honestly I wouldn't want to. Selfishly I would have nothing to write about if I did for one, and two - the fact that China is so different to Australia and America (the 2 countries I have lived in the most) makes it cool and interesting and just downright amusing. It is unique and I like that.