I’m already back in Jinan now. Three flights to get back. Two small catnaps in Changyi airport and maybe an hour or two on a the flight to Singapore made up all the sleep I had in about 36 hours. I used to be able to sleep on planes. Not sure what has happened, but I don’t do it so well nowadays. When I got to Jinan, the first airport bus was cancelled due to some delayed flights which meant we would probably have to wait about another 45 minutes to leave, then another 40 minutes to get to the city centre then another 20 minutes by cab to get home. Fortunately some other passengers were heading in the same direction (actually one of them was a student at the university I teach at) so we jumped in a cab together. Times like these, it pays to speak Chinese. I think (given that the price drivers are willing to accept generally goes up when they see my face) it was the cheapest cab I’ve taken back from the airport. It has cost me 200RMB before, but this time I only paid 55. It was hard talking Chinese again after such a long period of time just speaking English! My brain seems to have slowed down.
Anyway, I got back home, mopped the floor and wiped some dusty surfaces (no, I don’t usually do this kind of thing in the middle of the night when I haven’t slept properly after 3 flights, but if you knew how dusty Jinan is, you would definitely understand) then went to bed. Yesterday was spent mostly watching movies. Just before I left Perth I was rereading the sixth Harry Potter book, but I had to get ready to go to the airport before I could finish it. I’ve read it before so it shouldn’t have been that big a deal but I totally forgot the ending, so I watched the movie yesterday. On top of that, I watched 听说 which is from Taiwan. I did this to make sure I had some Chinese listening practice, but this turned out to be a bad choice because a lot of the film was in sign language!!! So it turned out to be reading practice. To make up for this I watched a couple of episodes of 痞子英雄 which I didn’t like to start off with, but is growing on me. I think I developed a fond spot for it at about the same time I realised it was based in Kaohsiung, the city I lived in for 7 years! It also has the actor who played the writer in 我在垦丁，天气晴 which I liked a lot because of the music and the fact that it was in Kenting, where I used to go to every weekend to go diving. And finally Avatar (yep, I was sick of watching stuff in Chinese by then), which I was so engrossed in that I didn’t notice the time passing. Today, I’ve already watched another episode of 痞子英雄 and will get around to 孔子 (Confucius) after lunch. Classes start Wednesday next week. In the meantime, I am determined to relax.
When I went to the gate to catch the plane to Beijing, I was worried by my reaction. This holiday was the longest amount of time I have spent home in the last 10 years. I slipped back into life there just fine, but it took a long time to stop thinking about everything in terms of China, which is pretty ironic because it is one of the things that upsets me about the press here and Chinese netizens in general. You’d think the whole world revolves around their country. Most news, even international, is reported in terms of what the effects will be on China and what China is doing about it. A lot of people react to companies based on the company of origin and the state of the country’s relations with China (ask Carre Four how they felt about people protesting outside/barricading their stores just because they are French). They do not generally separate between government and people in their identification with their country. This means that if you say something critical of the Chinese government, somebody may well react as if you insulted their mother. Quite different from Australia, where if you said you were annoyed about something Kevin Rudd said, people would not get defensive (depending on who you said it to, they would quite possibly laugh and join in). When a movie like 2012 screens, a whole bunch of Chinese bloggers will start crapping on about whether or not the representation of China is good or bad (thus making it a good or bad film in their eyes). Worse, people will complain that the film is US-centric (well, it was made in Hollywood, if you don’t like it make your own disaster movie numbnut).
Coming from Australia (which most people consider fairly insignificant on the world stage, with good beaches and cute animals), this kind of attitude seems particularly conceited to me. Yes, I’m Australian. I love my country, but this doesn’t mean I feel some need to judge everything in terms of it. A huge majority of things have diddly-squat to do with Australia and even less to do with me. I find that quite nice. Furthermore, whether or not these things are significant or important has nothing to do with my nationality. The point is, when I was in Perth it took ages to get out of the habit of thinking about things in connection with China. Considering I am thinking about doing China studies and that most of the books I read have something to do with the place (BTW I finished ‘Factory Girls’ and ‘Chinese Lessons’ in Perth and they were both really good, if you are interested in that kind of thing), I guess it’s not so very surprising, but it pissed me off. It was extremely refreshing to find how rarely China is mentioned in Australia. When I live in China I feel like there is a filter sorting behaviour, attitudes and people into pro-/anti-Chinese, whereas in Australia I think the default setting (as far as attitudes towards China are concerned) is probably ambivalent with a dash of curiousity.
Right, I was about to talk about the gate. OK, I’m sad to say, sleep dreprived as I was, my reaction was not good, and it is quite possible this paragraph with turn into a rant. I walked into the waiting area and blanched. Loud. Staring. Shoving. Spitting in the drink fountain. Ugh. I had an hour or two of culture shock. Inability to line up or get on any mode of transportation in a calm manner. Trying to ram things into compartments without bothering to think first and arrange it so it fits properly (bang bang bang bang goes the overhead locker door, "Sir, please allow me," says the flight attendant, she tilts the suitcase and voila the compartment is closed with no noise or fuss). Taking off seatbelts and standing up before the plane has stopped moving. The sound of cell phones being switched on right after an announcement in both Chinese and English to keep them switched off (because, you know, it might kill you after a 6 hour flight if you have to wait a whole extra 60 seconds to turn the damn phone on). Yep, I got doused in culture shock badly until I had a nice chat in the taxi on the way back home.
After that cleared up, I was on a bit of a high until I was buying vegetables in the supermarket and noticed that one of the veggie section workers had 4 potatoes on the scales as she weighed some green vegetables and put them in the pre-priced section for those who cannot be stuffed shoving their way through to get their purchases weighed and priced. Because that’s what you need to do in the supermarket… cram and shove and put your veggies on the scales quickly as soon as the weigher takes anything off them. You are generally competing with at least 5 others who will feel no shame about pushing in front of you and indeed will take advantage of any signs of weakness you show (ie, manners) because of your overly-polite upbringing. Although this is often balanced if the weigher actually looks up and sees a foreign face because they will (approximately 70% of the time) deliberately take your vegetables first… ah, overly-polite foreigner saved yet again by a kooky case of reverse/preferential-treatment racism. So, back to the overweighted scales… needless to say, the vegetables I had selected and gone to the trouble of getting weighed (same kind, but twice the amount) cost 25% less than those in the pre-priced section! It obviously pays to be fussy about selecting one’s vegetables and getting them weighed. In case you are wondering, I probably only saved about 1 RMB (maybe about 17 cents AUD)! Hurm. To tell the truth, I don’t care how much the vegetables cost; I care about how indignant I feel when I know I’ve been scammed. When I get indignant, I turn into a self-righteous cow. It’s quite troublesome and certainly more troublesome than weighing vegetables.
So, the point is, I’m happy enough to be back, but sort of dazed too. China gets under your skin and into your system. It’s gritty, fast-paced, in your face and cool to be a part of. A part of me has adjusted to this over the years and needs it. But another part craves fresh air, being able to look up at bright green leaves against a vibrant blue sky, or sink my toes into sand as waves crash against a beach, blindingly white as far as the eye can see. That’s my home and I am missing it.