They were halfway done resurfacing the road in the town of Linying. I say halfway because although the old road has been dug up and left in big dirt mounds on the side of the road, they haven’t gotten around to putting in any bitumen for a new one yet. It was the kind of thing I had long since come to expect in China — an almost pathological drive to tear up the old and make way for the new.
At the southern edge of Linying I was still navigating through these mounds of detritus when I saw that this half-trench, half-road intersected with a wide, clean, tree lined avenue. This avenue exhibited classic Soviet characteristics and looked more like Karl Marx Allee in Berlin than anything I had seen elsewhere in China. Straddling the avenue was a sign informing us that we were entering the town of Nanjiecun, the last Maoist collective in China.
Expats in Southeast Asia love to moan about lots of things, mostly to do with their new country of residence and its local inhabitants. But this doesn’t stop them from moaning about “back home” too. On this front, one of their most moan-worthy subjects is “the nanny state”. It usually goes like this:
A middle-aged Australian man is sitting in a bar in, say, Saigon or Phnom Penh, drinking whiskey that may or may not be fake, smoking high tar 25-cent cigarettes, and bending the ear of anyone with no choice but to listen about how Australia’s been ruined by rules designed only to serve the interests of some elite wowser minority. He’ll then get on his polluting Minsk motorbike, for which he is unlicensed, and drive off drunk, without a helmet, plumes of exhaust trailing behind him.
Jun 15, 2012
As a native English speaker I was hardly expecting language difficulties in the US, a nation that’s smeared my mother tongue across the globe like Coca-Cola on a Southern-glazed ham. Yet my wife and I had a heck of a time getting coffee up, eggs easy over and our point across in a recent trip.
Freelance journalist Jim Forbes writes: It should not have been an issue. As a native English speaker I was hardly expecting language difficulties in the US, a nation that’s smeared my mother tongue across the globe like Coca-Cola on a Southern-glazed ham. Yet my wife and I had a heck of a time getting coffee up, eggs easy over and our point across in a recent trip.
It wasn’t as if we were cruising the Cuban enclave of Little Havana or trudging the creole swamps of the Louisiana outcoast. We were in New York the entire time: the “world” in world city.
The nineteen hour overnight train from Guilin to Chongqing had been a multisensory experience. My new collection of horsefly bites, angry red welts, braided around my legs and itched like mad. The squat toilet next door gave off extravagant wafts, which roamed the hard-sleeper carriage hassling its occupants like a drunk. Opened windows, thanks to no air conditioning, brought the amplified shrieks of the tunnels through which we passed.
After a near-sleepless night we were happy to leave the train. But Chongqing greeted us with only grunge and grime.
Ask anyone who has seen the 1959 movie Ben Hur which is the best scene and most will instantly reply “the Chariot race”. The sense of speed achieved by the camera, set on the ground, angled up, at close range tracking the horses as they tear around the track is profound. It was this scene that played over and over in my mind in the dark in China’s Fujian province. Yet it had been the accompanying sound of galloping that had woken me moments before, just as I was crossing over into sleep.
I was sleeping on the top floor of the Tulou Can Guan. A Tulou (pronounced like the first part of the French city Tulouse) is a mudbrick circular structure, a house of an entire clan. Its contents are oriented towards the centre with the outside a bare wall so as to be easily defended.