October 2006

Here are some sidestreet & backalley views taken around Anhai.

These are all on the way from my Wife’s family’s home to Longshan Temple. Obviously, this is through a part of town where material progress hasn’t made as many inroads yet as in other parts of Anhai.

That’s the back of the Anhai Hospital in the background of the second photo, and a small (very small) temple sort of building in the fourth. “Burn N’ Go’s” (as in incense) I’m tempted to call them.

It’s pretty easy to miss the roofllines on these little mini-temples when walking through the streets. That’s because you’re more focused on watching your step than anything else (cows and goats are herded through these streets a few times a day).

I turned 40 this year.

If that sounds “really old” to you, then I laugh in your general direction, because it’s not old–just ask my elders Mick Jagger, Brad Pitt, and Weird Al Yankovic–and because you’ll be here far sooner than you can possibly imagine.

But if turning 40 is something you too have been saddled with already, or will be soon, but neither wanted nor somehow even expected it, like a bout of mononucleosis on your honeymoon or a painfully ingrown toenail just before the big game, then this post is for you.

Turning 40 has brought with it some of those strange effects I’d heard about: Eyeing the Volvo in the garage and thinking, “You know, a Harley would fit there just as well. Maybe better.”; meeting other parents at the PTA meetings and thinking, “That nice lady in charge of the bake sale, Billy’s Mommy, I’ll bet she was quite the hellraiser back at the U.”; realizing that a number of the washed up “has been” Playboy Playmates are younger than oneself (which is even more shocking than years ago realizing some of the new ones were); and so on.

But anyway…a blog post written recently by a “young whippersnapper” living in China has just set the world right for me.

I keep a few “China Blog” aggregator feeds in my RSS reader, checking out all the entries by some authors and other posts here and there if the titles and first paragraphs draw me in. Lots of these blogs are written by twenty-something and early thirty-something chaps living it up in China, and sometimes I enjoy their thrills vicariously, occasionally harking back to my own “Good Old Days” in the P.R.C. with a tinge of envy. “Oh, to be 27, single, young, wild and free on the other side of the planet again…when everything in the world was perfect.”


But this latest post from China Blogger Meursault, a 25-year old professional translator from Britain with a BA in Chinese, now living in China, has flushed all the cells of mid-life crisis out of my system before they’ve had a chance to take root, reminding me of everything I do not miss about life at that age, with his post called “Yellow Wings Vs My girlfriend’s flatmate,” which would be better titled, as 花崗齋之愚公 suggests, “The Roommate from Hell.”

Do read it yourself, but here are a few choice kernels regarding his Greek girlfriend’s Chinese flatmate who’s gone with the English name “Nile”:

  • Blasts her music too loud while others are still sleeping
  • Hands Meursault a note calling him “Guest in our house” and asking him not to use her favorite cup (Hands him a note!?!?!)
  • Just barges without knocking in while Meursault and his girlfriend are, mmm, well, you know
  • Criticizes his “Western” food…but then claims “Chinese bread is better” when he catches her eating some
  • Nearly refuses to believe he can actually read the Chinese in a magazine that he is, uh, actually reading out loud to her

There’s more; you need to read the whole post.

But while this post reminds me of some of the particularly odd “undesirable social traits” that some Chinese people exhibit (every culture has some), even more it reveals to me why being a 40-year old Married with Children-White and Nerdy Guy in the ‘Burbs in many ways trumps (though I enjoyed it too) being an Adventure-Seeking Globe-Trotting Single Young Buck.

And that is, speaking in terms of my own experience: Young, single, twenty-something years old, ambitious, underpaid, probably just meager social connections at best in a place far from home: You are at the mercy of a random (sometimes nearly chaotic) social fabric, where even your very nice girlfriend can have a roommate who is as annoying as a festering boil on one’s bum. And that can color your entire world puke green.

But good luck to you, Meursault. I’m sure you’ll figure out a solution you can look back proudly on soon, though I suggest it needs to be one that involves this “Nile” person not being in the picture, whether that means you and the girlfriend only hang out at your pad, she kicks Nile to the curb, or she moves to a different flat altogether. Your 20’s are far too short to have many days colored puke green by the likes of Nile.

And on the topic of White and Nerdy:

Which, uh, is of course a parody of:

Normally the main streets of Anhai look like one of those movie scenes where nuclear attack has been announced and everyone is trying to flee the city by car, motorcycle, scooter, bicycle, or ox cart.

Nuclear attack?

Wait, we’re talking about China. Make that, “Normally the main streets of Anhai look like one of those movie scenes where the approach of advancing Communist or Nationalist troops–depending on who made the movie–has been announced and everyone is trying to flee the city by car, motorcycle, scooter, bicycle, or ox cart.”

The scenes in the video below, though, were shot on Chinese New Year’s Eve, when it’s relatively calm–mostly people on foot, bicycles, motorscooters, and those Anhai ‘Mad Max’ Taxis that have since been outlawed and replaced with the Universal Studios tourmobiles.

This also helps illustrate the “ugly public areas” of Anhai, as opposed to the relative luxury the locals live in behind their gated courtyards, as described in Explaining Anhai.

And here is the video:

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