One of my favorite street names in Hong Kong. This is in North Point, near the harbor. I don’t know why it is called Healthy Street, just all the usual things nearby, but this was on Chinese New Year Day, factories across the border closed, a day of no pollution and stunning blue skies. Healthy Street East.
Kung Hey Fat Choi!
The Cantonese greeting for Chinese New Year doesn’t translate to “Happy New Year” but I believe means something along the lines of ‘Congratulations on your Prosperity” (I probably got that wrong), assuming your comfortable position and perhaps hints this might be a good moment to share the wealth. It is the season of lai see (red envelopes with money), dumpling eating, and the sweeping away of past grudges. If I must!
Meanwhile, the horsey ride at Kornhill Plaza has transformed into another display. 2014 is the Year of the Horse. Those pretty ponies are starting to make sense.
What is the Horse all about? Energy, speed, industriousness, leadership. While I’m not looking forward to this banking town turning ever faster, I am taking on some new writing projects so East, West will become more visual (less wordy). Faster? ‘KEEP UP, PLEASE,’ says Pretty Pony.
As it is also a Wood Horse year. Please note this wise investing tip: avoid the “water” and “metal” industries http://www.fool.sg/2014/01/19/year-of-the-horse-industries-to-avoid/
What will you be galloping toward?
I visited a K-12 boarding school in China last week.
The school was in a rural area outside of a major city. The campus was large and well-equipped with sporting facilities, dormitories, a canteen, and a testing center, among other amenities. Like many of the private schools in Asia, fees are high, between USD 10K-20K a year.
For two days we ate our meals on campus, Chinese cafeteria style, which means the food was plentiful, lots of dishes to grab from the serving line: vegetables, beef and potatoes, kung pao chicken, fried dough, mian bao, and of course rice. Typical of Chinese dining we did not have anything to drink though, no bottles of water or soda fountain, not even a pot of tea. The Chinese do not supplement their meals with large glasses of liquid like Westerners do (unless its beer), fizzy and full of ice, straws, a whole production unto itself.
In the hall outside the cafeteria was a long glass fridge/freezer with drinks and ice-cream together, the kind of contraption you see in convenience stores with the sliding glass tops. There was cold flavored teas but no water. I only once saw someone manning the cash register. At the end of a day of working with teachers, I was well fed but thirsty.
So on the way back to my room one night I stopped at the campus commissary. It was small, just a store front really, stocked with boxes of processed foods and more ice cream. In the cooler behind the register, I spotted cold bottled water of an indiscriminate brand.
I asked the cashier, a young girl, for one bottle. She told me it cost 15 kuai. I gave her a 20, which is all I had. She took the bill and disappeared toward the back of the store. When she re-emerged she held out to me a small wrapped lollipop. “Sorry, no change.” And she laughed a shy laugh.
I kept that lollipop. It is worth 5 RMB or about .81.
For my American readers who might not have crossed a border except by car—to dip into Mexico for cheap alcohol or take a spin up to The Falls for the more exotic “Canada side”—the Arrival Card is a throwback to the era of old world travel. The process involves small pieces of paper, pens, lines at immigration desks, the memorization of a series of numbers, rubber stamps, and filing. Most countries in Asia require filing out of the Arrival Card.
This week I went to Beijing and was once again faced with the perplexing task presented by China’s Arrival Card. With so much of the world’s power seemingly within the country’s grasp and large pockets of young native English speakers eager to make quick money when the teaching day is done, one would think there is enough translation resource to get it right.
Why, then, is there still so much Chinglish? Chinglish seems as rooted in Chinese culture as chopsticks and red envelopes, and one of my favorite examples is the official government bilingual document, the China Arrival Card, which raises far more questions than it answers.
Listed on the China Arrival Card are the nine reasons one might enter:
□ Conference / Business
□ Visiting friends
□ Return home
□ Settle down
□ Sightseeing / in leisure
When I travel, clearly I am there for #1, Conference / Business but I can’t seem to help passing that up for the less obvious.
For example, what is the difference between ‘Visiting friends’ and ‘Visit’? Is the more general ‘Visit’ meant for people who are not friends and also not business associates, perhaps therefore for family?
Clearly ‘Visit’ does not mean visiting landmarks as that is so straightforwardly covered in ‘Sightseeing / in leisure.’ Thank you, China, for reminding me to take it all in stride.
Does ‘Visit’ imply a temporary stay? Otherwise you might be coming for something long term, maybe ‘Study’ or ‘Employment’ and not yet ready for the more committed, ‘Settle down.’
This raises another question. Is ‘Settle down’ meant for foreigners only? If you are native Chinese it seems you would tick, ‘Return home,’ but could you be both ‘Return home’ and also ‘Business’? ‘Return home’ and ‘Study?’ What about ‘Return home’ and ‘Settle down.’ Now that would make a statement.
And finally, in the off chance that your intentions are not covered by the first eight, thankfully there is the last ditch catch-all box, ‘others.’ China is a large and varied place. There are so many reasons one might come. Perhaps you would rather not be so specific.
As of the year 2000 there were an estimated 10 million English ‘users’ in China and the Chinese are learning English at a rapid rate. Some studies predict that by 2025 China will have more speakers of English within its borders than the total number the world over. Maybe I am alone in this, but passing through immigration will be far less entertaining if all the force of that language ability is ever put behind rewriting the China Arrival Card.
This grand fountain near the office belies the less polished English translation on the sign.
Four years ago I was snug on my couch with two friends on the north side of Chicago. We had snacks. We were united in purpose. We had come together to witness China host its first Olympics.
By then I had become a full-blown Sinophile, studying Mandarin on Saturdays and plowing through books on China.
My friend Lisa was already fluent in Mandarin, having spent several years in Taiwan. My friend Jesus was wildly enthusiastic about sport, competition and the art of presentation.
For each of us that night, Beijing symbolized something similar and something different. For me, it fed my desire to get to Asia and work and live there.
It is four years later now. The 2,008 drummers—that glorious display of discipline and grandeur—are iconic. And I made it. I live in Hong Kong.
So how did the 2012 Ceremonies compare?
I don’t know. I was living a different Beijing.
That night, while the world watched to see what London would do, I was at the Beijing airport, my flight delayed. Waters from the worst flood in 60 years—a disaster that killed 77 people—were still receding. Flights were backed up. More storms lurked south of the city.
Two hours passed. Then we boarded.
But we didn’t move. Instead, the pilot made spirited announcements. The flight attendant brought us small cups of water. The ground crew showed up under pretense of letting us off the plane. Eventually the pilot left the cockpit door open. An old man wandered up the aisle and peered inside. Air China, the United of the Orient. No food. One miniature screen broadcasting the same Chinese movie for all. Four hours at the gate.
Meanwhile, London exceeded expectations during its re-branding exercise, by all accounts moving, funny, quirky, quaint, sweeping, edgy, and historical. I eventually arrived home at 4AM.
There is television and there is life. And only sometimes do they resemble each other. But it is fascinating to see how a nation shows itself to the world. How did you react to London 2012?
And a book Recommendation! If you like good travel writing you’ll enjoy this 1st person account of the Beijing Olympics by Shannon Young, The Olympics Beat, at Amazon.
Customer service is not the strong suit of The Lucky Shamrock at Beijing International Airport, where each time I ordered the staff nervously took away the menu.
The name evokes a dark interior with a sturdy old bar, chunky wood tables, maybe a fire snapping and crackling in the corner where weary travelers can warm their dampened clothes and chilled hands. Memorabilia would hang hodgepodge from the walls amid old photographs of bearded men with fishing poles and ladies in hats and Calico. There is probably a lyrical or literary quote or two to inspire you.
At this other Lucky Shamrock a round bar is lined with empty, dusty wine bottles. Diners sit in low purple office chairs at white Formica counters fitted with outlets and LAN cable ports so that weary travelers might charge their various electronic devices. Plastic sunflowers and tulips add a feminine touch while diners squint out at the airfield through the floor to ceiling windows arching overhead.
Two inset TV screens on the half-walls are… off.
Large block letters wrap the bar: PASTA BEER BURGER CAFÉ … or so you think.
The menu offers so much more, delicacies like “Grilld sausage germany,” “Tuna fish pizza,” and its close cousin, “Tuna Fish Spaghetti: spaghetti, tomato sauce, black olive, tuna.”
On the menu there are even two types of coffee. There is “Sheet tastes coffee.” That is: Colombian coffee, Mocha coffee, or Charcoal coffee. And there is “Fancy coffee,” which includes a dizzying range of upscale choices: Shamrock coffee, Regular coffee, and American-style coffee.
If you’re wanting help deciding among the exotic choices, large photographs support the text. This is very helpful to the foreign traveler. But don’t be fooled; these are just representations! To ensure you don’t end up disappointed, The Lucky Shamrock has added a small clarification at the bottom of each page: “This picture is for reference only, in order to prevail in kind. 2 (RMB) Disinfecting wipes production cost.”
Thank you, The Lucky Shamrock. I hardly miss the faux Irish rendition of same.