The Importer-Exporter

Day 61 (25th of April, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

After only a few hours of sleep, I woke up at 5am and donned my blazer for the ANZAC Day Dawn Service to be held at the Australian Consulate General to Shanghai. The 1.6x surge pricing on Uber was a pretty tell-tale sign that its main consumer base is foreigners, particularly in the large Australia-New Zealand community here in Shanghai. The Consul-Generals of Australia, New Zealand and Turkey addressed the crowd during the ceremony.

After the service, breakfast was served for everyone. Amongst the crowd I spotted some familiar faces including Angie Ross, the Riverview mother who I’d met in Lee’s and who had recommended Hakkasan to me. I was able to meet her whole family for the first time.

After the ceremony we made our way back to the hotel where Lewis and I had a quick power nap. Then, we ate a second breakfast in the hotel. After asking Lewis if he had any tissues, he recommended that I just get some from the restaurant. It didn’t benefit anyone’s appetite when I had to approach peoples’ tables and collect all the serviettes to use as toilet paper. After all, they don’t provide any in Chinese public toilets.

At 9:30am, we all met in the lobby to make our way to YuYuan. These are the same gardens as I visited with the family a week ago. Having already seen the sights, I used the time to find a Starbucks and catch up on the internet I’ve been losing over the past few days. I also used the opportunity to organise a transfer to the train station with Paul’s driver.

I still revisited my favourite parts of YuYuan, though:

Following the garden visit, we moved towards my favourite part of Shanghai at the Bund. The Year 10 boys imposed a strict uniform upon themselves for the day out. I had to conform to it for the too. They even lent me a spare pair of fake Yeezy’s so that I’d fit into the gang.

The matching chinos and white shirts were a bigger spectacle than the cityscape itself.

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Next, we caught a bus to the French Concession. Part of me missed the more authentic way of catching the subway everywhere, but it’s understandable that it would be too daunting of a task with such a big group.

The part of the French Concession which we looked at was 新天地 (New World), which is a high end shopping area littered with narrow laneways and Western boutiques. Despite it being well out of my price range for shopping, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Hidden between these alleyways is the location of the first National Peoples’ Congress meeting of the Communist Party of China.

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I put on my ‘Blue Steel’ for the occasion.

I was picked up directly from this area to go to Shanghai Hongqiao Station for my return trip to Xuzhou. The students gave me a tunnel as a memory of back home, and Lewis farewelled me with Vegemite and Cup of Soup.

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At the station I saw a few funny signs.

The return journey was on a speed train which took around 3 hours. I was in the most basic seating (known as “2nd class”), but it’s got about as much leg room as business class on a flight, which made it a very comfortable trip.

On the train I was seated next to a Chinese businessman. Without much delay, he explained that he was an important and powerful figure.

“What’s your job?” I ask.

“Importer-exporter”, he replies in decent English.

Scenes of Seinfeld’s ‘The Cadillac’ flash through my mind.

Soon enough, we’re peeling lychee’s together and he’s scrawling diagrams on our napkins.

“What are you doing in China? Working?” says 大老板 (big boss), as I’d already nicknamed him.

“I’m studying Chinese.”

He grunts. “Study is not how you make it in China.”

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He writes “wisdom” on the napkin.

“This is me,” he boasts, drawing a box around the word. “I have wisdom. It’s not about how clever you are.”

I’m intrigued. I asked him to explain more. He begins drawing a diagram of China’s social hierarchy.

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“Officials are the very top of the ladder. Then there’s people like me – the bosses. Under them are employees, and then people  who are studying like you – the commoners. I spend all of my time drinking with officials.”

“Do you spend much time with your employees?” I enquire.

“No, that’s the managers job. I just drink with the officials.”

It was far too late in the game when I began sensing the almost unbearable ego on show just in front of me.

“Do you know how much I earn?” he asked.

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The managers all get around US$400,000. My new friend indicated that he would take home well almost triple that every year.

Before I knew it, the businessman had to get off the train in Nanjing. We exchanged details and hopefully we get to catch up soon.

 

Day 62 (26th of April, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

Today it was straight back into routine. As a result, it was also straight back into digging blog content out of nothing.

During my sleep last night, I was rudely awaken on multiple occasions by my roommate’s snoring. I’ve become so used to the luxury of quiet over the past few weeks of travelling that I’m no longer accustomed the the sound of a jet engine permanently whirring a few metres from my face.

In fact, it got so bad that I just had to record it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTJGbO-M3iI

It can only be described as the shriek of a wild boar suffocating to a slow and painful death.

By the time my 8am listening class came around, I had only achieved a few hours of sleep. I was nodding off on my desk, and so I eventually asked if I may return to my dorm because I was “feeling sick”. They’re strict on skipping class here, so I couldn’t afford to miss more than one (apparently I’m close to the threshold of losing my scholarship because of too much class missed while travelling). So, after a short power nap, I dragged myself back to the next class. After all the class, I pushed through tutoring and had another nap, only to need to stay up late to finish homework.

Day 63 (27th of April, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

Today I faced similar struggles in my morning class. I’m accumulating a sleep debt which shows no signs of receding since there’s not a single morning in the next few weeks where I can sleep in past 7am. Regardless, I soldiered on through my classes.

One of my teachers asked in passing whether I was attending the “Australia activity”. She noticed that I looked confused.

“Do you know what it is?” she asked.

“Yeah I do, what time is it again?” I reply, pretending to know what’s going on. Sometimes the embarrassment of having misunderstood something in an earlier conversation is worth lying your way through a dialogue.

“3pm” she quipped, “just after that nap you clearly need.”

“Damn, I have class then. Oh well.” Since I didn’t know what she was talking about, this was a lucky coincidence.

As the class carried on, I started thinking about what on Earth an “Australian activity” might be. I thought it was a silly thing to pass up, and that I should admit defeat and ask her what the activity actually was.

“Sorry, what is happening in the Australia activity?” I ask with embarrassment.

“It’s Australian Culture Week. The Consul-General is coming.”

I do a double take at the mention of the word 总领事 (Consul-General). Finally that piece of vocabulary has come in handy. I decide that it’s too good of an opportunity to pass up, so I submit my leave form for the afternoon’s classes and head off to the other side of campus to see what the hype was about.

When I arrived, I quickly realised that the “Australian Culture Week” consisted of a few tents showcasing stuffed kangaroos, koalas and postcards. It also featured displays in both English and Chinese, which were good to read.

Also featured at the display was a selection of “Australian food”. I was ushered over by the student volunteers who encouraged me to get a “taste of home”. I looked in bewilderment at what was before me.

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Crushed wafer biscuit, “milk pills”, imported milk and Nongfu Spring water. I scoffed down the “milk pills” to the hosts’ contentment, the taste of which is as abhorrent as their name.

Amongst the selection of books at the tent, I found one which mentioned Balmain. It was quite surreal to be spotting a reference to home in such a foreign place.

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Blaring over the speakers in the tent were a range of Australian songs – ‘Waltzing Matilda’, Men At Work’s ‘Down Under’ and our greatly loved (…) ‘Advance Australia Far’. Scattered amongst the mixtape was one song which I didn’t recognise, though. After a quick Shazaam, I discovered that it was ‘Australia’ by the Jonas Brothers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmpR4TFX7Qs). How could have I forgotten such an Aussie classic?

I had asked around about the rumoured showing of the Consul-General, but was met mainly with confused stares. After an hour at the tents chatting with people, I decided to call it a day. I doubted the accuracy of my initial translation. After all, what Australian (especially a Consul-General) would have Xuzhou on their list of destinations? So, I began walking back to my dorm in a stoop. I had fallen further behind in class all for the opportunity to chew on some milk pills from home.

On the path back to my room, I spotted a contingent of suited men in the distance. They surrounded a Westerner who I immediately recognised from the Dawn Service in Shanghai just days before. It was Mr Graeme Meehan, the Consul-General to Shanghai. I couldn’t believe my luck, and I approached him straight away to our mutual relief. There’s something particularly nice about being reunited with someone from home amidst a place which is so different. He told me that he had studied at Fudan University in the 1980’s when he was one of the only Australians on a government scholarship. I have a lot in common with his youth, although judging by his Chinese level today, he must have been a good few steps above mine at my age. I followed him only to end up at the “Australian Culture Week Opening Ceremony”. I was slightly annoyed that the university had neglected to tell its only Australian student of the existence of this event, but either way, I was happy to stumble across it.

For the next 3 hours, I observed a strange affair from the back corner of the room. It was a trivia competition. I had to drag out a little stool in the back corner since I wasn’t invited to the ceremony. The Chinese certainly love their team trivia – it was always a feature of our school exchanges. This one was particularly entertaining, though, because the teams all did introductions. Part of their introduction was an English slogan. I did not see one which made a shred of sense. Here’s a few:

I managed to capture a video of my favourite (don’t worry, all these videos are private). Their slogan is “profession is not just about conrol, it’s also about letting go”. Following the presentation of the slogan, they delivered a cultural performance. It gave me insight into what my Chinese Bridge speech and cultural performance would have looked like from a Chinese person’s perspective.

I was absolutely shredding the quiz. Try a question out for yourself. It reads, “Who is Australia’s current Prime Minister?”

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These are the pronunciations of the Prime Minsters:

  • Howard: huòhuádé
  • Rudd: lù kèwén
  • Gillard: jí lā dé
  • Turnbull: tè ēn bù’ěr

Notice how Kevin Rudd’s name is the only one which isn’t a direct sound translation of his last name? It’s because he could speak Chinese and therefore chose his own Chinese name.

Anyway, I wasn’t eligible to compete and so my prowess wasn’t recognised. Instead, I watched another team sail to victory and claim the winning 3-armed boomerangs.

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At the end of the event, I was able to get a picture with Mr Meehan. I am sure we will cross paths again at some point soon in Shanghai.

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Day 64 (28th of April, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

Today I caught up with some new friends who I made during the Australian Culture Week activities.

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They’re particularly funny. The above selfie was taken after many of their own attempts, where they constantly claimed that the photo wasn’t good enough and that it needed to be from a higher angle (hence why they gave the phone to me to take the picture). Afterwards, I asked what exactly was wrong with the initial photos. They all complained that their faces looked too big, which is what a Chinese girl is always most insecure about.

“Haven’t you ever seen Chinese girls do this in photos?” they said, cupping their hands on their cheeks and then blocking their face with a peace sign.

Come to think of it, I witness those poses every day.

After failing to convince me to introduce them to Western bachelors, they explained that their interest in Western boys was purely as a result of not having a large selection of Chinese boys to choose from.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “I thought boys greatly outnumbered girls in China.”

“Not here, it’s a Normal University, remember?” they replied, almost in unison.

It turns out that Normal Universities, which specialise in training teachers, attract a much larger female cohort. So large, in fact, that the university’s student body is comprised of a 7:3 female:male ratio.

After the lunch and some class, I went out with Taff on a mission to get my SIM fixed after its issues in Shanghai. It has been working fine since re-entering Jiangsu, so its problem is just not having enough data to use nationwide.

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After an hour of argument with China Unicom and having to delay one of my tutoring students, we came out unsuccessful. Country-wide SIMs are rare in China, which I find very hard to believe. I’d imagine that the problem is surely limited to smaller cities like Xuzhou. I couldn’t change my plan because it’s linked to Maddy “the baddy”‘s credit and ID cards, and so I had to cancel my plan and get a new number. I was already annoyed at having to get what is now my third mobile number in China, but then news got worse. After cancelling my old number, they told me that they couldn’t give me a new SIM because I wasn’t a citizen.

“We thought you were a Chinese citizen,” the staff member said.

“What? Do I look or sound even slightly native to you?” I say, pulling out my passport.

After fearing I had just lost both numbers, they were able to regain my initial plan and I left the store in the same situation as I had entered it. Eventually, Taff figured out a way to load credit onto my phone through Alipay (something which only Chinese bank card holders can use), and I’m going to pay him to reload credit whenever I need it. Hopefully that allows me to use more data in other cities. I’ll have to try to find out though.

In the meantime, I was told to download an app where I can monitor my data usage. I’ll have to download that one from the app store. Conveniently, there’s one located just a few minutes from my dorm.

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This evening, I put all homework aside purely to focus on booking travel. I noticed that one of the trains I had on my watchlist had sold out a month in advance, and so it suddenly struck me that I needed to get booking to prevent a potential opportunity from slipping through my fingers. And so, this is what I have booked:

  • Sunday May 22 (Guilin, Guangxi Province)
    • Travel: Train to Guilin via Wuhan (the direct train sold out, which is what triggered me to book this trip)
    • Accommodation: Lianhua Hotel, Guilin (extreme budget. Snagged this badboy for just AU$13/night)
    • Activities: Explore Guilin downtown at night (http://wikitravel.org/en/Guilin)
  • Monday May 23 (Guilin, Guangxi Province)
    • Travel: Guilin to Yangshuo Li River Cruise (world famous. Li River appears on the Chinese 5RMB note)
    • Accommodation: Lianhua Hotel, Guilin
    • Activities: Explore Yangshuo and its 1,400 year old streets (http://wikitravel.org/en/Yangshuo), spot buffalo and waterfowl along the 4h cruise, bamboo raft.
  • Tuesday May 24 (Longsheng, Guangxi Province – as recommended to me by Angus Gilbert)
    • Travel: Guilin to Longsheng bus
    • Accommodation: Baike Hotel, Longsheng (I lashed out on Tripadvisor’s best here. It looks unbelievable: http://www.booking.com/hotel/cn/long-sheng-bai-ke-jing-pin-jiu-dian.html)
    • Activities: Explore the terraced rice fields of Longsheng (http://wikitravel.org/en/Longsheng), pay a donkey to carry my luggage to my room, find spots on the mountains to read
  • Thursday May 26 (Suzhou, Jiangsu Province), with Dad
    • Travel: Guilin to Shanghai plane (blew out almost 1/2 of the entire cost of the trip in order for it to arrive at the right time to link up with Dad); Shanghai to Suzhou plane
    • Accommodation: Probably somewhere fancy
    • Activities: Probably something fancy
  • Friday May 27 (Suzhou, Jiangsu Province), with Dad
    • Travel: –
    • Accommodation: Probably somewhere fancy
    • Activities: Probably something fancy
  • Saturday May 28 (Nanjing, Jiangsu Province)
    • Travel: Suzhou to Nanjing Train
    • Accommodation: Hanting Hotel, Nanjing (budget, once again. A thick mattress and nearby subway station is all that matters to me.)
    • Activities: War memorial
  • Sunday May 29 (Nanjing, Jiangsu Province)
    • Travel: –
    • Accommodation:Hanting Hotel, Nanjing
    • Activities: TBD (getting recommendations now)
  • Monday May 30 (Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province)
      • Travel: Nanjing to Xuzhou train
      • Accommodation: Dorm
      • Activities: Meet with the Importer-Exporter

I’m so excited! I’m glad I’ve finally built up the courage to push the boundaries in terms of work and uni attendance. As long as I’m keeping up with everything, I see no reason not to explore this great country as much as I can while I’m here. It’s a gap year, after all. It’ll probably do more to solidify my Chinese than sitting in my room studying a textbook would anyway.

 

Day 65 (29th of April, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

In the morning class, we learned the phrase “授人以鱼不如授人以渔”, which translates literally to “It’s better to teach a man fishing than to give him fish”. Obviously, that’s the equivalent to “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I had always assumed that this quote was from the Bible, but in fact it is derived from the Chinese proverb.

Perhaps most interesting about the Chinese version, though, is its pronunciation. It is pronounced “Shòu rén yǐ yú bùrú shòu rén yǐ yú”. Notice how that pronunciation can be split into two identical parts of “shòu rén yǐ yú”. The “bùrú” in the middle means “not as good as”. So in other words, the phrase “give a man a fish” and “teach a man how to fish” are pronounced, syllable for syllable, the EXACT SAME WAY in Chinese. I think that’s hardly a coincidence. That’s a real insight into the Chinese mentality towards education. When one word can simultaneously mean “to give” and “to teach”, it’s pretty clear that the Chinese consider teaching to be giving of something physically tangible.

Between classes, I was able to have a lengthy chat with my friend Dan Street. Seldom do you come across people so giving of their time. I know few people who are as busy as Dan, and yet he has taken time off other things to give me more advice and connections in China than almost anyone. We had our monthly debrief today.

This evening I was invited by one of the Korean girls to go to dinner with her sister who was in town from Busan. We had a great night at a nearby restaurant specialising in goat. It frustrates me how all of the restaurant stools at Chinese middle to low range restaurants seem to be designed for hobbits. I routinely take standing breaks every ten or so minutes.

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Just behind us in the group photo is the Yang Yang gym, where the Korean and I often go. The owner rode her e-bike out when it closed, and noticed us sitting at the table.

As some context, my Korean friend is the one at the head of the table and her sister is the girl to her left.

As the owner rode past, she yelled “why weren’t you at the gym today?”

“My sister has come to Xuzhou, look!” said my Korean friend.

“She’s so much skinnier than you! You’re too fat!”

The food practically fell out of my mouth as my jaw dropped open.

The other Chinese friend at the table agreed, saying, “you should go to the gym more often”.

I continue eating. This is completely normal in China, I swear. It’s such a huge cultural difference.

 

Day 66 (30th of April, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

I had the luxury of a good night’s sleep yesterday. Il Kwon has travelled to Shanghai for the Labour Day holiday with many of the other Koreans. In fact, I woke up at one point in the night to be greeted by blissful silence, and without thinking I reached for my phone to record the spectacle and put on my blog. It was only after opening the Voice Memo app that I realised that recording pure silence would be pointless, and so I fell back to sleep and enjoyed the moment for myself.

This morning I was back into teaching at the school. As usual, I passed the one who I have nicknamed “death metal Russian” coming back from his morning ebike ride on the way to the bus. He always blares metalcore from his tinny headphones and revs his ebike like it’s a Harley. He’s as stereotypical of a Russian as you can get.

I could feel that my stomach wasn’t sitting right, and I realised that at some point soon I would need the bathroom, but I didn’t have time to return to my room. So I continued on and decided to catch a taxi in order to get myself to the school quicker.

By this point of my blogging you will have ascertained from the numerous mentions that for me, the art of defecation is a ritual. So, this morning was truly a dire situation.

Catching taxis to the school is difficult, because it’s just far enough that a bus is significantly slower but too close that not all taxis will accept the fare. So, I’ve come up with a new technique to get a taxi. After hailing the car and having it come to a slow, I ignore the initial “where are you going?” requests. I say in broken Chinese “I’m sorry, I no speak your language”. Inevitably, most drivers let me into the car and hedge their bets on a big fare. Then, I direct them through every corner (ironically in decent Chinese). By the time they realise that the destination is nearby, I’ve already directed them the whole way. It’s worked well for me so far.

I made it just in time, but it was a ‘squatty’, so it certainly wasn’t a pleasant start to the morning.

It was good to be walking through some of the nice paths near the school again.

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Dinner was 肉丝炒饭 (shredded pork fried rice). I’m getting better at reading the confusing menus here.

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Day 67 (1st of March, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

Today was a 7am to 6pm work day, and it really hit hard with the lack of sleep I’ve been getting recently. I’ve fallen into the Chinese way of life – wake up at 6am, go to sleep at 1am and nap during the 3 hour lunch break. It’s horrible. I really detest it. Worst of all, they nap by resting their heads on their desks at work or in the classrooms. It’s not unusual to walk past a classroom of sleeping students at lunch time. I’ve started doing it too, and it’s exactly like sleeping on an aeroplane.

I managed to bring myself out of the classrooms at work today to have lunch in a different place to normal. On the way, I passed a marching band. It has me thinking of what point in history Western instruments, orchestras, marching bands and the like entered into Chinese popularity. It’s small things like that which seem to have infiltrated so deeply into the culture that they appear even in the depths of tier 3 cities.

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I no longer bother checking the prices of meals before I buy because they’re all ridiculously cheap by Australian standards and I find it easier to order verbally rather than to scan through a confusing menu. But today I paid the full price for my ignorance with an unexpectedly hefty bill for a meal. You win some and you lose some, I guess. The meal was delicious, at least.

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Class today had a few misbehaving kids, so the naughty corner which had been collecting dust was fully utilised. I’ve realised the influence I hold as a tall foreigner – the slightest raised voice seems to have full effect.

After being in the city centre all day at the international school, I caught the bus back to the university. While standing on the bus, it became exceedingly obvious that the woman sitting in front of me was trying to discretely take a photo of me. As my family would know from being here, that’s not uncommon. So, I let it be. But the funniest and most awkward thing happened. While angling her phone towards me to get the perfect shot, her flash went off. She quickly scooped her hand over the lens, but it was too late. The whole back of the bus looked up and noticed.

“Was it a good photo?” I asked, to the laughter of the passengers.

The girl hurried off the bus at the next stop.

Back on campus I had organised to tutor some Chinese students.

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I constructed a lesson plan centring around personality traits, and I had a lot of fun acting out certain personality types and having the kids guess which one it was. I hadn’t even started acting when one of the kids called out “arrogant”, which I thought was pretty tough. I was sure to offer him some Fig Jam after the lesson.

I’m heading to bed early tonight in anticipation of my 6:50am train to Mount Tai in Shandong Province tomorrow. I’m greatly looking forward to it.

LATE EDIT: Shout out to John Eales taking the lead with his own personal journal on his trip with Soph, Lily and Evie to Routeburn in New Zealand two weeks ago. What a great read. Sounded like a serious adventure. I doubt I will face as monstrous of a challenge walking up Mount Tai tomorrow!

Until next time,
Xavier.

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3 thoughts on “The Importer-Exporter

  1. Xave,
    Thank you once again for your compresssive report for the week. You are amazing to have not only find the time but the energy to keep going despite your committments with study and tuition duties,you know I had a similar attitude before I got sick.
    Great effort.
    Love
    G & P

    Liked by 1 person

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