China Road: Rage Against the Machine*

This is part two of “Crossing the Street in China”. The less-violently-so-but-still emotional part one, on going out of the Way by bringing “poker” into a Chinese college classroom, was here.

In one week, we fly from Dalian to Beijing to Toronto to Ottawa. We’ll be “home”. Our China sojourn, five years young, ends in seven days. I’ll be posting about that, too. I hate goodbyes, and we’ve already had dozens of ’em, but I won’t miss the kind of experience I recount below.


* AltTitle: Fear and Loathing on Huangpu Lu

It’s another T.I.C. story. My wife and I mutter TIC (“this is China”) with resignation, a shrug, usually with grace and occasionally with genuine wonder. (It’s an amazing place. So much to see and learn. But.) Perhaps my most emotionally rich TIC moment happened last week, too, if by “emotion” you mean volcanic but helpless rage.

A Good Guy, defined: someone who goes out of his way for someone else. My son regularly goes out of his way, though not for the sake of being a gentleman, to avoid crossing the main street near our home. Huangpu Lu is six lanes wide, with a bus stop on either side, and the car-heavy side street that comes from our large apartment complex enters it on an oblique angle. There is no stoplight. There is a painted zebra-stripe crossing, which means nothing in China. (Not quite true. It means that drivers speed up as they approach it so pedestrians won’t try anything stupid, like trying to cross ahead of their Audis.) My son doesn’t need to cross there as a rule, and refuses to. Last year, he saw what he’s convinced were three dead bodies at that crossing, one a mown-down pedestrian, two in a car wreck with blood staining the road for several metres.

I cross Huangpu Lu at this spot every day that I go to school.

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Pride and Xenophobia: Hitting the Wall

Another James, an American Philosophy grad with a jones for football and a twinkly-eyed swagger, learned who his friends aren’t this week. He lives in the foreign teachers’ residence at our university, along with other Yanks, Aussies, Canucks and, not incidentally, several Japanese professors and students. Jim was rather indignant to find that women in the main-floor administrative office were posting patriotic – that is to say, anti-Japanese – stickers on the office door and in the lobby of the residence. (I wrote about the growing Chinese resentment over the Diaoyu Islands here.) He’s no newbie in China, our jock Socrates, and he saw no point in ‘opening a dialogue’. He took direct and impolitic action, indignantly removing posters that he found distasteful and presumably hurtful to visiting Japanese at our allegedly international university.


By the time I met raging James, he was hurt by the lies apparently told to his Chinese colleagues by the office girls he’d always been friendly with, sputtering darkly about threats of dismissal, and incredulous at how quickly he’d been offered the fond  f— you :  This is China. If you don’t like it, leave. Everywhere on our campus float the balloons, the proud red and yellow banners, and the insistent welcome of ubiquitous volun-told student smilers honouring big anniversaries for our school and our college. I don’t believe Jim went for the faculty photo (“an important historical document”) and the following festival of executive self-congratulation. I didn’t, either.