Wednesday, November 30, 2011

THE ONLY GLOSSARY OF TERMS FOR LIVING IN CHINA YOU’LL EVER NEED

It’s occurred to me that if you, Dear Reader, are going to be following me, Dear Writer, that if we are really going to plunge headlong into this relationship, then, err, there are a few things you should know …
So here’s a glossary of terms you need to get by in China. The first installment anyway. There’s a lot of them. Some you’ll need every day. Others are for occasional moments like when you need a small pot to spit the remains of your chicken feet into. Others just sound funny in this exasperating-cum-difficult-cum-impossible language I like to call “Mandarin”.*
(*World’s quickest asterisk explanation record attempt! Told you this blog had everything. I like to call it Mandarin, and so do a few billion others. But “liking to call” is a great trick I’ve learned from my father-in-law in order to sound old and wise. It’s something all fathers should adopt. In my father-in-law’s case, nothing is too outlandish to claim the rights to, such as “Something I like to call a ‘fork in the road’,” or “A branch of faith I like to call ‘Christianity’.” Try it. You’ll impress people.)
Anyway here we go. Most of these words should have little strokes above them indicating which of the four tones of Mandarin you should use. But I, in my mastery of the language, have deemed these tones superfluous. They just complicate things. I’ll write on the language more fully one day to explain. Just pay attention for now.

MANDARIN: I’ll resist drawing the obvious comparisons to that thing in the fruit bowl (although my friend Steve did once ask if I was learning in segments). It is in fact the language that’s so good it’s got several names! We call English “English”. But just to make a complex thing confusing, Mandarin is also called Putonghua, Zhongwen and Hanyu. (OK pointy heads, they refer to very slightly different uses of the language but are basically the same. Sheesh!) “Putong” means common or standard, while “hua” is language. Zhongwen refers to the language of Zhongguo, which is Chinese for ‘China’ and is where we get “Middle Kingdom” (Zhong is middle, guo is state. This comes from the old but still evident belief that China is the centre of the universe). Then there’s Hanyu - the language of China’s dominant ethnic group, the Han Chinese. There are 55 other groups such as the Manchu from the north-east, Uyghur from way out west and the northern Tatars, who provided Genghis Khan’s army with many soldiers and its Steak Tartare – raw beef tenderised by a day in a saddlebag. Then there are others like the Miao – one of several ethnicities without a written language – and a personal favourite, the Ewenki. How good do they sound? Most Chinese refer to their language in English as “Chinese”. But there are many different dialects in China, such as Cantonese, spoken down south. If you thought Mandarin and it’s four tones was hard, try Cantonese. It has nine tones, in China’s Guangdong province at least, but is said to have six, or seven, when spoken in nearby Hong Kong. People don’t seem able to agree. Do you see what we’re up against here people? Still, this one paragraph shows what a fascinating country this is. Well, a fifth of the world lives here, so I guess it should be.

A member of the Miao minority wearing a headpiece
woven from the hair of her ancestors. It's a touching
mark of respect. However, one of them sat in front of me
in the cinema the other day and I wasn't happy.

Members of the Ewenki, yesterday - not the point heads
I was referring to earlier.

More members of the Miao, having once again spent too
much time getting dressed to come up with a system of
writing. If they charge, you are supposed to
run away in a zig-zag fasion.

AYI (eye-ee): After the language, perhaps the second-most important thing here. Most expats and a large percentage of Chinese have an ayi. She’s a housemaid with add-ons. For westerners, who may find China intimidating, she’s particularly important. Why without her, many would never find the time to get their nails done or their feet massaged every second day at China’s ubiquitous primping salons. The word means “Aunty”, which touches on an ayi’s multi-faceted role. She’ll clean house, cook, mind/teach/babysit/raise the children, shop, sniff out a bargain, track down a taxidermist, and argue over a parking space on your behalf. Depending on her experience, she may also put the sheets on your bed while still wet or spray mouthfuls of water onto them to iron them (both true). Finding and holding onto a good one can be tricky, but they’re hard to do without.

NIU BI (neuw bee): A great bit of this old language. It means “the cow’s vagina”, only a little bit rougher. A cow is a niu. A bi is the other bit. It’s actually something that’s very good. You know – that’s the bees knees/the cat’s pyjamas/the cow’s vagina? See how it flows? Best shouted when your team does something good in football. Depending on which tone you use, a bi can also be a pen or a nose. Asking a woman if I can use her pen is the only time tones are important.

One of the best things in China.

MEI YOU (mae yo): Chinese for “no”. Literally translates as “don’t have”. Also suspected to be Chinese for “Umm …” because it’s often the first thing that pops into someone’s head when you ask them for something, particularly government employees who have more pressing matters to attend to, like a nap.

ADDRESSES: A particular favourite of mine. I asked Ayi to post a letter to my daughter’s school around the corner. The first thing she wrote on the envelope was CHINA. “Well … we know it’s in China, don’t we?” I said. “Shhh,” she said. “Just let me do it.” Next thing was BEIJING, then DONGCHENG DISTRICT (our quarter of the city), right on down to Street, Number, name of school, and then right down the bottom, name of addressee. Pretty much the exact opposite of what we’d do. Aren’t people neat?

DIRECTIONS: How would you say the four cardinal points of the compass? North-South-East-West? Here, they go East-South-West-North. The east is very important here. It has a mystical significance. Perhaps the best known revolutionary anthem is/was Dongfang Hong (The East Is Red). Most Chinese satellites and a few of their rockets have been called Dongfang. Coincidentally, in Medieval Europe, maps were hung in a way we’d now call sideways, with the east at the top, which is why we use the word ‘orient’ for ‘the east’ and ‘to spatially align’. We should probably let the Chinese hold sway on this one, for they invented directions after all, having come up with the compass. Which is why I find it odd that if you ever need directions here, you should under no circumstances ask a local. I’m not saying they never know but if they don’t, they’ll tell you they do. For if they admit to not knowing they risk losing …

FACE: The granddaddy of Chinese concepts. To lose it is to lose esteem, be embarrassed or shamed. It is taken seriously. Western bosses have learned, for example, the most ostensibly subtle admonishment in the workplace can take weeks to overcome, or lead to an employee suddenly quitting to look after a sick aunt. I once made a hired driver lose face. He was driving our family and that of my visiting friend Tony around Beijing for a few days, and helping out by buying tickets for shows. I learned he was ripping us off. I called him on it, and got in trouble from someone more culturally sensitive than I for making him lose face. “Well what happens now?” Tony said. “Does he have to kill you? Or himself?” It’s not that serious. Often the face loser might have a good hard look at themselves. More often they’ll end up wondering how someone could be so mean as to make them lose face.

TAI CHI (tie chee)The very popular low-impact form of exercise you’ll see in Chinese parks at dawn and on re-runs of The Karate Kid. Serves the dual purpose of toning muscles and making participants look silly while they’re doing the best praying mantis impression seen outside of a junior drama class. Practitioners also sometimes embrace other exercises like hugging trees and walking backwards for long periods of time. These solely serve the purpose of making them look silly.

Tai chi - some like to do it in a serene setting like this ...

... others prefer a location with more atmosphere.

The discipline involves many different poses with
all sorts of evocative names, such as
"Where's my contact lens" ...

... and "Trick the Old Man".

A man is ejected from a class in Beijing yesterday for
 performing "The Ranting Dissident".

Then there's this guy, seen yesterday in a
manouevre most commonly known as
"Acting The Weirdo".


RIVETTING STUFF HUH? (In fact, it’s what I like to call “The best thing you’ll read all day.”) MORE NEXT THURSDAY!



Sunday, November 27, 2011

GET TO BED, CHINESE CHILDREN!

I’ve lived in Beijing for six years. I feel I know a fair bit about the local culture. But I’m still dogged by one burning question: When the hell is Chinese bedtime?
In fact I’m not sure there is such a thing. Sometimes I swear these kids, most of whom are only-children thanks to China’s one-child policy, are so indulged they get to decide themselves when they feel like hitting the sack. Perhaps their parents offer a cursory “Not too late now” as they shuffle off to get their rest.
For a foreign stay-at-home parent it’s galling, perplexing, and a bit humiliating.
All afternoon, one of my eyes is kept on my watch as I calculate the countdown to dinner and the evening shambles. The aim is to get food on the table around six, get the kids into the bath by seven, and lights out by 7.30.
That’s the aim anyway.
During the meal that eye keeps returning to the clock. I hate to sound like a Swiss engineer’s accountant son, but if 20 minutes becomes 25 minutes becomes 40 minutes, I’m already worrying about waking my drowsy six and four-year-olds for school next morning.
Finally our girls are sent into dreamland. Then sometimes I’ll go out. And as I go, I’ll usually pass some local kids my daughters’ age playing on our compound’s playground, provided it’s not winter. If I stay in I’ll still know they are there because my kids complain about their noise.
Then sometimes I’ll come home about 10.30pm. I’ll walk past that playground again and THERE ARE STILL CHINESE KIDS PLAYING ON IT!
I feel like barking: “For heaven’s sake do you mind?”
I can hear them laughing in my face: “Ha ha you big dope! Your kids asleep are they? You went to all that trouble again, huh?”
I imagine their parents shaking their heads, not in fear that their kids lack rest, but in bemusement over these foreigners and all their early evening stress.

Chinese bedtime was first turned on its head during
the country's decade of upheaval known as the
Cultural Revolution (1966-76). The banner behind
this group of Red Guards reads: "Denounce your
 parents and their stupid bedtime".
As a result of such campaigns, however, leading human rights
group What Are The Bloody Chinese Up To Now? estimates
 around 95 per cent of the country's children are forced
into "grabbing some shut-eye" wherever they can,
 including this boy in Hefei, Anhui province, yesterday.

I often go to our compound pool to swim in the evening. I’m also often seen there with my girls in the afternoons. I went the other night at 9.30pm and my Chinese friend on the front desk said in bewilderment: “Hey Mr Ma – where are the kids?”
“Where do you think they’d be?” I say. “They’re down the pub watching football!”
“Oh. Fair enough then.”
“No - they’re asleep man! Like they were two hours ago!”
I then got to the pool to be met not by the sight of adults splashing through laps in much appreciated grown-up time, but by a two-year-old boy. There he was in his floatation ring in the water - which was cold if you weren’t actually swimming - with a gaggle of old relatives around him. They cooed and smiled and took photos. He looked back at them, screaming and crying his eyes out. Really, really loudly.
And if my translation of baby Mandarin is any good, he was saying: “THIS IS FREAKING FREEZING! FOR THE LOVE OF THE PARTY WILL YOU NOT PUT ME TO BED?!”
I couldn’t help myself. I wandered over and in my fairly good Chinese said: “Boy baby small. Clock there nine half? He bed you insert and not after. Jesus Christ.”
I got more of those bemused looks that seem to say: “This foreigner seems to not feel this situation is completely normal and sensible. Let’s hope he goes away.”
So I went away. But I did wonder. You know when a toddler is over-tired, when their cry has that persistent tone of “I … WANT … TO … DIE!” That’s bad enough when they’re sitting on the loungeroom floor exhibiting their tired signs, let alone in some frighteningly large reservoir of cold water surrounded by crazed old relatives insisting this is great fun, but who aren’t going anywhere near the water themselves.
My wife the doctor and early childhood specialist gives seminars here in Beijing on how to get babies and toddlers to sleep. They always attract lots of people. None of them are ever Chinese. For why would you worry about getting your children to sleep if you quite clearly are not worried about getting your children to sleep?

At the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in
Beijing, these children provided colour, pageantry and
thoughtful recognition of China's 55 ethnic minorities.
But they should have been in bed ages ago.

Maybe there are reasons. Maybe because the beds in China are so hard noone can find it in their hearts to order a child into one. Perhaps it’s Beijing’s air pollution, which means the children are still buzzing on carbon dioxide late at night. Maybe it’s because they are told Chinese folk stories, some of which are slightly odd. They often involve some sort of creature, let’s say a crane, which morphs into something else and does something funny – let’s say a rabbit with knives for fingers that slices children to bits in their beds.
Here’s an example I found on a website called Chinese Folk Stories, Myths and Legends. It’s called The Tale of Hok Lee and the Dwarfs. It’s too long to reproduce fully, but here’s the bit where the story takes a chilling twist as Hok Lee is addressed by his arch rival, the Doctor.
"’And listen you dance your rattling unsurpassed,’ another the Doctor. ‘If you recreation shaft and satisfy them, they give appropriate you to verbalise a asking and you can then beg to be recovered; but if you saltation badly they will most liable do you whatsoever roguery out of spite.’ With that he took his depart and departed.”
Perhaps a little was lost in the translation, but you get the gist right?
Neither do I, but it’s not looking good for old Hok Lee. At the very least the kids will go to bed with a headache.

Uh-oh. China could be in a bit of trouble in a few years.
This item found on Newser.com

No, I know the logic behind why Chinese children stay up later than foreign models. Many have two working parents and are cared for by grandparents, so evenings are the main chance mum and dad have to see their offspring. I would say mornings too, but I imagine when most parents go to work, the kids are still sleeping off their big night.
Also, most Chinese schools still enforce naptime up until what we loawais (foreigners) would consider an inordinately late age. Obviously a few hours’ sleep in the afternoons is great for rest and recharging. But it’s not all about the teachers - the kids get to rest too.
Still, the whole thing just seems to confront the natural order. Kids are supposed to go to bed and maybe sneak out for a glass of water late on. Adults stay up late. I, for one, don’t want to have to argue with my four-year-old over whether we watch Pulp Fiction, the Blair Witch Project, or Tellytubbies.
In China there are rules for everything. Every time you go to a park, for example, you have to observe a big sign illustrating "The 83 Don'ts". So why hasn’t the Chinese Government instituted an official Chinese bedtime? We don’t have to be draconian about it. Maybe 8.30pm?

Some of the Don'ts seen here relaxing at a
Beijing park. They seem to outlaw everything
except drilling your own head.

Granted, one problem would be that China doesn’t have timezones, despite having the width for four of them. The whole country is on Beijing time. So perhaps children way out west in Xinjiang, just north of Pakistan, would grumble about being packed off to bed in the middle of the afternoon.
Still, this way I could swim laps without colliding with an inflatable lobster. And when I stumble home from a late night, I wouldn’t be hounded by hordes of jeering seven-year-olds on the swings.


One Beijing reveller exploiting a loophole in
regulations, yesterday.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

CAKES FROM THE GRAVE

Telling your 50-year-old Chinese maid you’re making a birthday cake that looks like the undead is easy enough. Having her look at you for the rest of the day like you should be kept away from not just your own but all children? That’s another matter.

There are areas where I’m lacking as a parent, particularly compared with my wife the early development expert. But if there’s one thing I can bring to the table it’s a cake. This I have over my wife, who is Chinese. In fact, she’s Australian of Chinese-Malaysian descent. But when it comes to baking, she’s as Chinese as 12 girls on a bike.

Just as Charlie don’t surf, Chinese don’t bake. Charlie does bake, thanks to an invasion of militant croissant fanatics, but the Chinese don’t. They have ovens in their modern apartments. But they’re put to all sorts of non-cooking uses - storing pots, books, or in one notable case I saw, shoes.

So alien are they I once asked our former maid, a woman of above-average intellect, to clean the oven and use the spray can to do so. The next time I turned it on I was hit by an eye-watering, throat-burning stench. On the cleaning shelf we had one spraycan with a picture of an oven on it, and one with a picture of a mosquito. When I pointed out her mix-up and its potentially fatal consequences, oh how our maid laughed and laughed.

I like ovens and especially making birthday cakes. Some find this image jarring - a bit like imagining Mussolini singing poppy love songs, or Justin Bieber ruling a fascist dictatorship. But if those same people bothered to look up the results of the Griffith Agricultural Show (county fair) junior novelty cake making competition from 1977-79 – which they hardly ever do - they would find me as champion in two of those years. I’d have completed the fabled event’s first ever three-peat if not for my arch-rival Tanya “The Ambulanceman’s Daughter” Taylor in what became known as Black ‘78.

(Taylor, who earned her nickname because her father was the town ambulanceman, won in controversial circumstances which people still talk about. Or person does, anyway. These are the only things I’ve ever won.)

In 1980 we moved to a city without a show culture and that was it. A star was gorn. But if being a parent is all about re-living your childhood - isn’t it? – as a crusty old adult I’ve been able to revisit the glory days.

I’m not artistic. I can barely draw a conclusion. But for some reason I can do a themed cake. It’s fairly simple if you remember three things: time, sugar, food colouring. You think of your subject, bake some cakes, then cut away anything that doesn’t look like a rabbit/frog/fairy.

Birthdays one and two for our eldest Lani were still modest – a large “1”, then cupcakes arranged as a “2”. The next year I tried harder and made an Iggle Piggle cake. In case you’re wondering what flavour Iggle Piggle is, it was chocolate on the inside and blue on the outside, and looked like this guy:

In The Night Garden star Iggle Piggle, seen
leaving the Ivy with a mystery companion
yesterday.
Then I really got going. Evie had a big strawberry, then a frog cake (green on the inside even), then a big-in-Japan cartoon cat called Doraemon.

One year Lani had a Hello Kitty cake - fairly simple since kitty is white with a round, cake-shaped head. Some Pocky sticks for the whiskers and it was beer o’clock!

Once she wanted a mermaid cake. Here I got into trouble. It was for a party so it had to be big. But it somehow got away from me, and ended up a metre long. It could have featured on one of those Discovery Channel shows, like Extreme Baking.

It took ages. By 2.00am I was feeling very overwhelmed. Then came my biggest challenge – the face. I can draw a little with a bag of icing, but a beautiful female face? Do you know what little girls are like when it comes to perceptions of beauty? Oh, it doesn’t come from within.

My creation soon looked like she had come not from Disney but from East Germany, one of those mermaids who shaved. I freaked out. I wanted to give up. But then what would we have for the party? A half-finished masterpiece? The Sagrada Familia of birthday cakes? A decapitated mermaid?

Thankfully I recalled the golden rule of neatness from school – get a girl to do it. My wife can’t bake but she can draw. Oh, salvation. By the end the mermaid was, in the Australian vernacular, a good sort. By 4.00am I fancied her rotten. The kids liked her too, with her round mermaidian boobs especially popular. This wasn’t because the baker was some kind of pervert. I’d coloured her bikini-top with sprinkles.

PHWOAR! My mermaid was described in one leading
birthday cake gossip magazine as "a ravishing redhead
with a fire on her belly". Pity this is the only photo of
her in existence. You wouldn't believe how much I
paid that photographer, too.

Leading up to Lani’s sixth birthday, undead fever had gripped the family thanks to the reasonably popular computer game, Plants versus Zombies. There I was with our new maid Sun Ayi (Ayi in Mandarin means Aunty).

“You bake your girls’ birthday cakes? How nice!” she says, looking at what was then just a double-decker chocolate cake.

Chinese children are raised on traditional lines. Boys should be rambunctious and play with toy guns and tanks. Girls should be prissy and play with Barbie dolls. There is no prescribed limit on cutesiness. You’d swear every item a girl can own must first be dipped in a vat of pink glitter, sparkles and, of course, fairy dust. Half the time it looks like the girls too have fallen in.

As Ayi watched I began with the icing. It was a pallid grey, like the skin on a dying man, to quote Pink Floyd. Or dead in this case.

“Grey?” Ayi said quizzically.

“Mm hmm,” I replied.

I start to cut. I cut away anything that doesn’t look like a zombie, leaving a disfigured skull shape.

“What is it?”

“Just wait.”

I took some white icing and made one eye, then another, much bigger than the first.

“Oh it’s a … face?” Ayi said.

Red streaks made the eyes bloodshot. With pupils added my zombie had a haunting stare, and a turn in his left eye.

Ayi was disturbed, even more so when I reassured her everything was going to plan. Black lining under each eye made for loose sockets, others gave him wrinkles. Then an open mouth with four sparse teeth was filled with a congealed-blood coloured deep purple. He was screaming in agony, even before I stuck the pipe cleaners in as twisted hairs.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a birthday cake like this before,” said Ayi, perhaps more concerned by my smile. She left the room. She’d only started that week.

Sun Ayi moments after seeing my cake.

When she returned I said: “Let me explain. It’s … how do you say this in Chinese? … it’s a zombie.”

That’s not how you say it in Chinese. Ayi shifted her gaze between me and the cake-thing.

“You know how when people die?” I go on.

“Ye-es.”

“And then they get up again?”

“Mmm.”

“And then they walk around going ‘Uuuugh, UUUUUUGH’?”

I started walking around going ‘Uuuuugh, UUUUUUGH!’

“Right … “

“Well them. Lani’s cake is one of them. In English we call them ‘zombies’.”

“Zom-bies?”

“Yes.”

“And Lani wants this?”

“Oh yes.”

“And she’ll like it?”

“She’d bloody well better!”

This was almost too much for Ayi. “Wo sai,” she said, using an exclamation that means a lot of things, including “Oh my God what a freak!”

“WHAT’S WRONG WITH MINNIE MOUSE? OR A PRINCESS?” she said.

 “She’s asked for the undead.”

Ayi now looked a lot like my cake. Before this she’d thought us a nice, typical family. Later I learned Ayi was part of the rare breed of Chinese Ayi who goes to church every Sunday. Well, I said, didn’t they talk a lot about the dead there? Wasn’t there one who became quite famous for rising from the grave? She was no more reassured about her new employer.

Next day, Ayi learned Zombie Cake was a smash hit. She was surprised. And bewildered.

To be fair, she didn’t see it with candles.

I, Zombie.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

WOLF FATHER BEATS TIGER MOTHER

... AND HIS KIDS!


Move over Tiger Mother – here comes the Wolf Father. Just when we thought it was safe to forget parenting fanatics a Chinese man has emerged, quite possibly from  a cave, to challenge my idol Amy Chua.
If a friend of mine is correct in calling parenting a competitive sport, in this case it seems points are being awarded in the disciplines of Spirit Crushing, Creativity Blasting and of course Obedience and Appearance(s).
Wolf Father has seen Tiger Mother and raised her – boasting of not two but four children who solely due to his uncompromising style are on their way to, err, getting educated and getting jobs, unlike everybody else.
But where Xiao Baiyou differs from Madam Chua and her wacky so-called “Chinese values” is this: good old fashioned parenting. And by that I mean good old fashioned violence. Damn good thrashings, floggings, beltings, whuppings and flayings. He says it’s not just a part of parenting – it’s one of the best bits.
Yes he’s selling a book. He’s also setting up a school for children in need of a flogging. So there’s some marketing involved. But … it still is what it is.
Xiao thinks Chua is a bit soft. All those years of no playdates, no friends, no TV, hour upon hour of music lessons, calling the kids garbage … spoiled rotten!
He says three of his four kids made it into Beijing University because he whupped their arse until they were enrolled, just as his mother flogged him all the way into Jinan University. And her father’s father.

Wolf Father on a TV chat show: "You want some of this?!" 

But this feather-duster wielder doesn’t want to overdo it. Website China Hush reports his motto is merely: “Beating every 3 days gets your children into BJU”.
To Xiao Baiyou, beating kids is more than a necessary part of home education, but also one of the best parts. He said every time his children misbehave or fail to meet his expectation in school, he would give them the feather duster punishment.”
Still, Xiao denied he was some sort of meat-headed barbarian.
No he really did. Just as positive parenting takes some thought, so negative parenting requires brainwork.
 “Beating children is not that simple. My experience tells me it is not easy to do it scientifically and artistically,” he said.
IT’S NOT A COMPETITION YOU MORON! Are there judges awarding points for artistic interpretation when flailing the cane round your house? Do you put on a costume to do it? We can imagine his kids in the future: “Say what you like about our dad, he could really wield a feather duster. Pretty to watch.”
But we’ll let the man with the whacky values carry on with his own petard.
“How to do it scientifically?” he babbled. “The kids have to know what is right, what is wrong, or whether they are repeating the same mistakes, where is the wrong part, how many whips to it, and no resistance when receiving the punishment. And when the punishment’s over, they have to express their resolution to be good next time.”
If he’s belting them every three days … is this stuff really working? Or have these kids got goldfish memories? Or is it just post-traumatic stress disorder?
In his chat show appearance last week, Xiao made this exclusive revelation: people who didn’t benefit from upbringings such as he meted out had committed crimes. Fact.
"Li Shuangjing's beloved son assaults people, Yao Jiaxin murders," he said.
I can hear you thinking: If only that pair had been beaten as children, they probably wouldn't have turned out violent, right?
"Many other (young people) never know the decency of giving seats on the bus. Compared to that, my beating the children is nothing,” gibbered Xiao, who, it will surprise noone to learn, is not a fan of rewarding his children.
“Encouragement is more important than reward. Every kid remembers their parents saying ‘If you get 100 points in the exam, mummy will reward you with a gift’; These kind of words will never come out from me and my wife, nor will our four kids ever hear about it.”
OK, let’s take a scientific approach here son:
Experiment: Encouraging you to do what I say.
Aim: Me not hitting your arse.
Conclusion: You still get hit every three days.
This reminds me of Lang Lang. From the age of two his impoverished father would make him practice piano for two or three hours per night. His form of encouragement? If his boy made a mistake he would throw a shoe at his head. Lang Lang grew up to be a famous, accomplished concert pianist. Desperately unhappy in his once chance at life, and with a terrible relationship with the man who half-created him, but good at the piano.

No dramas here, right? All looks like happy
days to me. Yeah right. The Tiger Father would
like it known that Wolf Father is now officially
my arch enemy, and I will not rest until I have
destroyed his wicked empire of tyranny.

Xiao feels his methods are considered. To be fair he says he mostly only beat his one boy and three girls when they were under 12 – so when they were really little.
“When the kids are young, they don’t need independent thinking. They can grow as long as they learn to listen to their parents,” he really said.
“Between 12 and 18, the humanity in kids gradually takes over, they learn to tell the right from the wrong. After 18, their sociality steps in then they have the need to socialize. Thus the kids are forbidden from friending before college, there should only be ‘family’ and ‘schoolmate’ - these two concepts in their life.”
So his kids aren’t to dabble in such distractions as friendship before 18. Then when they’re 18 they can go out into world and start making loads of friends - attractive, well-formed socially-skilled little things they must be.
“Three of my children made it to BJU which proves that my parenting methods didn’t produce kids without independent thinking,” he said of that crucible of free and independent thinking, Beijing University.
But of course the proof should come from the children.
"His son Xiao Rao recalls that he only had one time of worry-free playing throughout his childhood," China Hush reported. "Xiao Rao admits wolf dad's success but he regrets all the happiness absent in their childhood."
How's that for a ringing endorsement?
Xiao said children based their recognition of happiness and pain on comparisons with other kids, therefore they couldn't really understand what happiness was.
"Now that they make it to BJU ... when they reflect on their childhood, they must think they are happy."

"This is going to hurt you more than it
hurts me. A lot more. In fact, it won't
hurt me at all. I'm not the one getting
hurt here. That's not how this works." 

Xiao said he “beats his kids out of love for them”, thus invoking the old chestnut: I love you so much, I’m going to use my greater size to inflict physical pain on you.
He added that he was so great he almost gave up his job for his kids, and that they had cost him promotion.
“I can say that I am the best and the most responsible father in the world,” said Xiao, proving he can say that. He added that he had already ‘looked after’ more than 30 children delivered unto him during school holidays.
“I beat them no matter they are boys of girls. And they won’t resist,” he chirped.
China, where parents rely on successful children in place of a mature pension system, remains fairly traditional. One survey showed 60 per cent of students would be willing to be taught under the Wolf Father’s methods if it meant getting into BJU. More hearteningly, only 25 per cent of respondents to another survey felt it was acceptable to beat children if it meant they would succeed.
Your thoughts? (Click on the headline to activate comment posting facility).

ARE YOU GOING TO GET LUCKY TONIGHT?

Don't worry - it's not another one of those emails probing into your private life. I know about those. I used to get them myself, these missives imploring, demanding, begging me for the love of God to get a bigger penis. And to pick up some Viagra while I was at it. Oh the names I was called.
One day I decided enough was enough and blocked my wife's emails. But it turned out to not be her. I eventually figured out they stemmed from one night when a friend stayed over and, I'm afraid to say, must have accessed some smutty, smutty website on my computer. We have stopped being friends now.
But no, this blog post relates to my friend Bill, the sexiest man alive. Well that's what I call him now, after People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive edition. Once again, the judges overlooked me, and have yet to explain why. However, can I say that if it wasn't me I could think of noone finer for the honour than Bill, our neighbour from our Beijing apartment compound. The judges also ignored me on this point, but chose the next best thing in selecting actor Bradley Cooper. He looks a lot like Bill.

Bradley Cooper - who beat a hot
field of 3.5 billion rivals to be
 confirmed by authoritative journal
 People magazine as the man with
 more sex in him than anyone else
 alive. Judges said they would need
 more time to sift through the ranks
 of the dead to determine if Cooper
 had a rival for sexiness among
 their number.
My mate Bill, hanging out in
Beijing. He and Cooper also
have Americanness in common.

OK I couldn't find a great photo of Bill to show he looks
like Cooper. You're just going to have to believe me. In
any case, he's got a better Hollywood lookalike than me.


My next course of action after watching Cooper lift the trophy was to text Bill's wife Amy. I congratulated her, and suggested there'd be no "waltzing around the sex question tonight" after Bill got home from work. Hmmm? Would there now? Amy then kindly pointed out that this was none of my Goddamned business.
But I don't know about you, but I'd think if my lookalike was voted Sexiest Man Alive, which could still happen, this would create quite some excitement in married-with-children land.
I'd be skipping home with a spring in my step and whistling a happy tune, perhaps George and Ira Gershwin's "I'm Going To Get Sex Tonight".
I'd pop into the nearest betting shop on the way home and say: "Ten dollars on me getting lucky this evening please", and keep the ticket in a safe place.
If you'll allow some almost suitable sporting analogies, my having sweet lovin' that night would be like a slam dunk, or an overhead smash, or tapping the ball into an empty net.
Then I got to thinking even more. I thought of a Leonard Cohen poem I Wonder How Many People In This City. From memory, I don't think Cohen was thinking what I was thinking, but I wondered how many people in this city thought they were going to get some action at home that night. And then of course I wondered why. And then my brain got tired from all this thinking and I went and sat in an armchair and stared straight ahead for a while.
Then I thought I would throw it to the readership, to get your thoughts on the question which brings us back to the title of this post. Join in and post your comment below. It should be fun. I'm looking mostly for relationshipped men who answer in the affirmative, and the reasons for their confidence. The more preposterous and hopeful, the better, like "Because I took the garbage out tonight without having to be asked" or "Because I killed a rat". If there's one thing I know it's that women are always put in the mood for love by dead rats.
I know - the question could apply to both husbands and wives but ... well you know.
So, men, crank up your brains. We need responses to the following:
1. ARE YOU GOING TO GET LUCKY TONIGHT?
2. NOW WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU THINK THAT?
Post in the comments section below. Use fake names if you want, like Prince William of Wales or whomever.
Oh wait - women can join in too after all. Perhaps you think your man will be trying his luck tonight and has some sort of reason in his head to back it up. Women's questions are:
1. DO YOU SUSPECT YOUR MAN WILL BE BRINGING HIS NONSENSE 'ROUND YOUR KITCHEN THIS EVENING?
2. WHY?
Get writing. (Click on the headline of this post to activate the message-posting facility). And naturally, email it to as many friends as possible. Who knows - there might be a prize!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ILLUSTRATED TUTORIALS

#1. PARKING YOUR CAR IN THE BIG CITY

In this image, the police vehicles are parked, the officers
 presumably inside their white headquarters while all sorts
 of traffic chaos takes place outside. Now, if this is how the
police in Beijing park ...  
The truck had been trying to turn right. For a good 15
minutes. But eventually its driver gave up.

NEW BEIJING AIR POLLUTION GUIDE

It's true, in Beijing we occasionally face the odd bit of pollution.

The scene on a badly polluted day last week, after
Beijing's environmental authorities decided to erect
a giant fan on the right hand side of the city.

But at the risk of sounding like the proverbial old Yorkshireman, you should have seen it in the '90s, when I first lived here. For months on end it looked like the left-hand side above. In my two-and-a-half years here, I can't remember seeing one star. And there were daily thrashings.
Before that it was worse. A friend who studied here in the '80s says she'd turn a page of her book, and by the time she was ready to turn another she first had to blow away black grit which had settled on the paper. And that was indoors.
Beijing has cleaned up its act, mostly in order to host the Olympics in 2008. Many coal-burning factories have been moved away. There are many more days with blue skiesand, yes, you can see stars at night.
But still quite often, more often than you'd like to consider as you celebrate your 15th chest cold of the year, the pollution flares again. Because of Beijing's unusual situation as a cauldron rimmed on three sides by mountains, when conditions conspire and an air-trap is created the smog can descend in ugly fashion, and stick around for several days just to remind you who's boss.
The authorities have developed ways to deal with it. In the '90s, if an Olympic bid delegation or some other VIPs were about to visit, Beijing simply shut most of its factories down for a few days so the air would clear.
These days there are a couple of other, more advanced tricks. If heavy smog stays for a few days you can start betting on rain. Officials have become big fans of seeding clouds - spraying tiny pellets of silver iodide and frozen carbon dioxide into them to bring precipitation. Once, in Novemeber 2009, temperatures dropped suddenly and the seeding brought Beijing's heaviest snow in decades, shutting down the airport, where my family and I were waiting to board our flight to sunny Australia. Of course we were.

A seeded cloud.

Sorry ... at no stage did I ask for a seedy clown.


Despite the government's efforts to take on nature and make it rain, there are still those days when you emerge and smell the pollution. That's emerge from your bedroom I mean, not your building. Visibility is often down to the other end of the kitchen.
It is at such times we Beijingers like to refer to the US Embassy's pollution index, just to give ourselves some context with some numbers to confirm just how bad it is. Then we still go outside.
But for the record, the guide to the index reads like this:

0-50 Good
51-100 Moderate (Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion).
101-150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion).
151-200 Unhealthy (People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion).
201-300 Very Unhealthy (People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid all physical activity outdoors. Everyone else should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion).

The other day it was 430.
And I've seen 540.
Yeah but what do you do?

Sometimes it can be quite nice, such as a two-week period in
autumn. If you look closely you can tell the motorscooter
rider at left is wearing a smog mask. But ignore him.
Big soft foreigner he is.
Blue sky day: The view from The Tiger Father's 17th floor
eyrie. The Workers' Gymnasium is the white building in
 the centre and is about 400 metres away.
On other days it's less lovely.
And on others ... oh forget about it.

Worried about an apparent worsening in the situation, the Tiger Father has once again taken the lead and set the agenda. To this end we’ve drawn up a new index to better reflect those situations when the needle stops merely wobbling angrily in the red and starts pointing directly to the airport. Beijingers are urged to cut it out and keep it in their wallet.

0-50 Good: Perhaps there’s even puffy white clouds. People start thinking about going out to pick wild flowers or ride a horse along a beach. Even those with suspect hearts and breathing problems can throw caution to the wind, venture outdoors and frolic. Rating usually coincides with the appearance of a blue sky. And a blue moon.
51-100 Moderate: Throats start to feel dry. Unusually sensitive people should consider not going outside. They probably shouldn't talk to anyone either. The brutally insensitive can do what they want, perhaps go outside and work on their inter-personal skills.
101-150 Getting bad: People shouldn’t go out if they’ve got heart or lung disease. Others start strapping surgical masks to their faces. And small pot plants. Disorientation may occur. People can’t remember when exactly their snot became black, when it became safe to stare at the sun for long periods of time, or where they put their keys. They also can't recall drinking that bottle of Tabasco.
151-200 Normal: Beijing's most common bandwidth. Suddenly, it seems perfectly normal to eat sea slug. And fish eyes and dog penis. And to spit and litter a lot. And to drive a car all over the road. And park it wherever the hell you want.
201-250 Look out: Friends stop recognising each other. Wailing and gnashing of teeth begin. Children denounce parents. Kenny G starts to sound good.
251-300 Armageddon: People shouldn’t go out if they’ve got hearts or lungs. Old healed-up wounds reopen, fillings fall out of teeth, long-healed bone fractures come apart again. Canaries start flying into mines for the air. People stop fleeing Peking Opera shows halfway through and stay inside til the end.
301-350 Outta here: All order breaks down. Birds fall from the sky. Cockroaches gather in large groups, discuss survival chances. Looting begins, at air purifier retailers. British royals start sounding profound. Snoop Dogg starts sounding vaguely coherent. Oscars finish on time. Cubs win World Series.

EVERY TOXIC MASS HAS A SILVER LINING

The Top 10 Upsides of Air Pollution ...

1. How else would we get those grey rings around our collars and cuffs?
2. You no longer have to baffle small children with lines like "Air is all around us Jimmy but we just can't see it".
3. Really bad smog closes airports, thus reducing noise pollution.
4. Everyone looks a lot better when you live in a sort of a hazy soft-focus.
5. You can choose to not call it 'smog' but 'mist' or 'fog' like a lot of government types seem to do in China. It sounds heaps more romantic.
6. Or you can even show off to your friends by using 'brume'.
7. If you've got a hangover, you can to tell the kids all outdoor activity is banned, hit the couch and put on a movie. With even less guilt than usual.
8. It makes us worry less about other health hazards - like skin cancer, or getting hit by a bus.
9. It promotes philosophy, prompting us to ask big questions like "Why, in hell, am I living here?" and "Wasn't there a building around here yesterday?"
10. Why do you want to see Beijing anyway? They don't call it "The Paris of the East" for a reason!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

PARTYING - SUCH SWEET SORROW

At the risk of sounding like a big kid, God I wish I was a kid again. Obviously the best bit would be that wherever I was, however tired and emotional, I could fall asleep and magically wake up in my own bed. I could burst into tears when being dragged around IKEA, maybe even pull my pants down in protest. And when my wife was talking to our mortgage broker, I’d still have to go, but I’d be allowed to colour in.
(I really must stress here, just between you and me, God those things are boring. Those ads that talk about getting a mortgage as being a really “exciting opportunity”? Don’t believe them. It’s mind-numbing stuff, about as gripping as a live webcam on Winnipeg. Plus these mortgage meetings are made worse by the knowledge I’ll be tested on it later, usually during a pretty frosty drive home.)
The other great reason for being a kid again? When there was a birthday party, all I’d have to do is show up, eat sugar and go berserk for a couple of hours and leave.
I may get sick. That used to happen, back when there was none of this politically-correct carrot-sticks-and-apple-wedges nonsense on the table. It was all just chocolate frogs and lollies, and cake, and icing, and more lollies, and fairy floss, and cake, and ice cream, and ice cream cake. And soft drinks. It was just an eat-a-thon really, with lots of running around. In fact it was like running a marathon, except the volunteers at those roadside tables don’t hand out cups of water to the runners as they go past but stuff cake and candy into their mouths.
Still I’d take any amount of sugar-induced illness over having to organise a child’s party as an adult.

Even this guy's having trouble. 

These parties always end up fine and mostly I have fun, which I guess is the main thing. The kids do to, and it’s always all over in a blur of activity. But oh the preparation.
It starts with a venue. Here in Beijing there’s a familiar list of play centres. They’re all indoors, which helps on two fronts: The weather, if it’s the freezing winter or the debilitating summer; and the fact that in Beijing, the great indoors are far better than their outside counterpart, the mediocre outdoors. This is because of pollution, and the fact that in most parks you’re not allowed to walk on the grass (“No strolling” the translated signs usually say). Sometimes you can stroll on the grass, only to find it’s a big, green, non-flushing dog toilet.
You worry about the venue. Is it nice enough? Is it too nice so as to be not much fun? Is it too expensive? Will people think we’re cheap? Are our kids too old for this? Or too young?
Then there’s the invitation list. What fun this is as you interrogate your birthday girl.
Which one is Monique? Is she the cute one with the lisp? And who’s Sharon. Isn’t she the sour one with the attitude? Are you still friends with Cindy? Really? But we changed your classes so you wouldn’t be. Who the $*&# is Maddie? Does she eat much? Della can come. But does her father have to come?
Or there’s this sort of parental angst:
Leo’s the only boy on the list.
Perhaps he can bring a friend?
How about Henry?
But then Henry’s parents will think he’s only invited to keep Leo company.
Well, he is.
We can’t do that.
If a doorman let me into a nightclub full of girls to bolster the numbers I wouldn’t be complaining.
You’re not seven.
Look, if this is how they might feel about this, @$&% Henry’s parents!

Nothing wrong with how they used to party in the old days.

There are decorations. Last time, for a party at home, we wanted balloons. A guy brought samples in advance. They look satisfactory, so I booked them. Three hours later, they were lying forlornly on the floor.
We knew we’d have to get ones that stayed up longer. The guy said that would take unsafe gas. In China, when people actually admit they use unsafe practices, you should take them more seriously than those who don’t. Suddenly I found myself on the internet getting an ulcer about safe and unsafe gas. One minute I was pondering musical chairs. The next I was freaking out about hydrogen versus helium. Would our balloons stay up? Would we be handing back kids who were happy, disappointed, or just plain charred? In the end, money won out. We paid more, our balloons stayed majestically aloft.
There’s also entertainment. We parents now fear you can’t just go for old chestnuts like pass-the-parcel, pin-the-tail-on-the-sister and boxing any more. (Seriously, my brothers and I used to have little boxing gloves, a present from our parents, who would help us put them on and send us into the yard with the goal of punching each other in the head. And don’t get me started on our other favourite game. It’s enough to know we called it ‘Knives’.)
Last time I feared that if a game wasn’t on an iPad or some other beeping device, kids would call it lame. I wondered if there was a pass-the-parcel app? Still, we held firm and tried for imaginative, non-electric games. We did a version of Twister, which went down a treat, especially when we sprung it on the adults that it was their turn. Try playing Twister when sober at 11am, adults!

Of course you can't have party games like this anymore. 

Or this.

Do you get a clown, or some sort of magician? In 1970s Australia, these were rare. Now they’re almost compulsory. I think they’re rubbish, but perhaps I’ve got coulrophobia, a word someone thought up for the fear of clowns. Usually I just fear smelling them. I’ve known several who were too scared to wash their flimsy-looking costumes, which, it seems, are quite hot underneath. Smelly clowns, they are. But again, the kids don’t seem to mind.
Pinatas were once confined to Mexico. Now everyone has to have one. Usually these too disappoint.
Who makes them these days? Lockheed Martin? You try sticks, broom handles, bats, but they never come apart. Kids end up lying around exhausted and tearful as the little donkey/Spiderman/Spongebob refuses to give up the booty. We watch their frustration build as order disintegrates in a Lord of the Flies type scenario. We end up barking at them to get the hell away from this creature we thought it would be nice to have at a kids’ party - the blindfolded stick wielder. Still the whacking gets more frenetic, the kids just crowd closer and closer. Seriously, they’re worse than zombies.
Once it’s finally open (Tip: Pick the heftiest kid and tell him he’s won 20 free turns), it’s fun to watch the unbridled frenzy. Until someone loses an eye of course. Next time, to get it over with in less than an hour, I’ll give the kids this empowering choice: axe or blowtorch?

All cultures do parties differently.
This is a popular game from the
Republic of Moldova called
"Pretend the kid is the pinata". 

In nearby Bulgaria, they believe the best way
to stop things getting out of hand is to place
all the children in bags.

This pinata appeared one morning in 1971
 in a town square in northern Paraguay.
What followed was the so-called
 "Hundred Days War" with Bolivia.

The cake has to be right. I like to make ours. And what would a party be without being up at 3am the night before, frantically finishing these off, and making yourself even more frazzled for the big event?
Last time out we were left with many happy memories in our minds of daughter Lani’s sixth birthday. Which is just as well, because there is no photographic proof the party took place at all. The photos were kind of my job, and I kind of forgot. There were a lot of things to remember that day. Forgetting only one of them isn’t that bad really, is it?

A photo from a party planners' website of a game called
"Throwing the small ball into the really big target from
point blank range". It goes for bloody ages. 

The main thing of course is ensuring your child is happy. My brother and his wife once threw a sixth birthday party for their only child. Hanging around adults had at least made him articulate, but sharing with guests wasn’t his strong suit. Asked his thoughts afterwards he replied: “I had a sickening time at my party”. I laughed and laughed because kids say the darnedest things. My brother didn’t.
In the end, after all the worry, after everyone’s gone and your little darling’s big day is all over, you reach out for that ever-reliable source of comfort. You look, you hold, you marvel at the little bubbles, and you thank God for beer. Then your little one says in that enunciated little-person style: “That was the best … party … ever.” And you can’t wait for the next one.