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China 39: Escape plans

china39pic Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China We could go to Hong Kong with my credit card! What a lovely idea, all that cheese and hamburgers and cocktails. I think all of us have had enough of being in this country now. I can’t describe what it’s like being here. Like white noise, I suppose. You don’t notice the stress at first. But all the tiny little irritations just pile up and up, until you think your head is going to fall off. We’re all bizarrely unreasonable about ridiculous things, and Cheryl and Elspeth have been here way, way longer than me. I don’t know how they’ve managed it this far without going completely bonkers, like that American girl who smashed plates in Cheng Du. By not thinking too much, probably. Anyway we lie in our beds and discuss how bloody marvellous it would be just to go to Hong Kong, and then we go to the Public Security office, for the girls to get passes, which as students, they need before they can leave the country. And, of course, the office won’t hand over any passes without permission from their teacher in Beijing. Cheryl and Elspeth put through a person to person call in Beijing to try to get their teacher, but without much hope. Its 3.30 and she’s probably already gone home. The rest of the afternoon is spent waiting for the phone to ring, which it does frequently, but it’s only the operator saying, ‘No luck.’ Chinese telephone etiquette is quite startling. When you pick up the phone you yell, ‘Wei!’ and then the person at the other end yells, ‘Wei!’ and then you both pause while you wonder if the other person is still there. Hannah comes around and we go in search of Mr Tong, a ‘lovely little Burmese man’ who, according to her, runs a fantastic restaurant with really good coffee, but he wants to go back to Burma and the Chinese won’t let him. We follow her guide book’s instructions and get totally lost. We stand in the middle of the street and call, ‘Mr Tong!’ plaintively, like lost storks, but no joy, and no smiling Burmese gent, either. A bloke in a Vietnamese coffee bar offers to help, this though he admits he doesn’t like foreigners much, especially Americans, but even after he asks around for us, no one has heard of Mr Tong. In the end we eat at another restaurant where we get excellent food. Hannah rather sadly gets out her memorial chopsticks, given to her by Mr T and then realises he also gave her his card. Duh! We’ll go there tomorrow. Come back via a three storey department store. The counters are exactly as I remember them in Cairds, in Perth when I was about six. Like glass-topped desks. And the goods for sale are all in small enamel pie dishes. None of us can work out what the goods are though. They’re just metal things. But they have some lovely postcards, of beautiful water colour paintings by Pan Tian Shou. I take a packet to the till, and some bloke looks at me in disgust and says, ‘Why are you buying those? What do you know about Pan Tian Shou? You’re just a westerner. You cannot appreciate him.’ But I do. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons via http://arts.cultural-china.com/en/77Arts4565.html

About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I lwant to; even when I can't think of much to say. I do a lot of work for local businesses - get in touch if you like my style.


21 thoughts on “China 39: Escape plans

  1. What a perfect way to control people, just by unfurling miles upon miles of red tape and red herrings. I think they tried that here, but then nobody could remember who started it, and we all became obsessed with the state of the potatoes, or something.

    Posted by Tara Sparling | May 11, 2015, 10:43 pm
    • Ah, yes, Tara, but in Ireland WB Yeats would just sit down and write a poem called The Red Tape, and Mr Heaney would weigh in with a poem about his dad digging potatoes (oh, wait, though he did, didn’t he?) and both would get honours heaped upon them.

      Posted by elainecanham | May 12, 2015, 8:15 am
    • They might, but it only adds to the misery, doesn’t it? – See, I can’t appreciate art either.

      Posted by Tara Sparling | May 12, 2015, 9:40 am
  2. Jesus Christ, Elaine, how long did you stay in China? Are you still there now?

    Posted by naptimethoughts | May 11, 2015, 4:24 pm
  3. We all have days when everybody seems to be rude and everything seems to go wrong, but when the whole country feels like that… I hope to catch up on Mr Tong…

    Posted by olganm | May 11, 2015, 9:11 am
  4. I am so enjoying these reports and check my email every day to see if you’ve written another episode! I do hope there are many more to come.

    Posted by Vivra Beene | May 10, 2015, 10:34 pm
  5. For a country that prides itself on exquisite politeness, some people can be very rude and aggressive can’t they. Perhaps it was OK with foreigners after all they would have had years of being told how bad and uneducated the gweilo were by then. I do hope you managed to find Mr Tong the following day.and maybe ferret out why the Chinese wouldn’t allow a Burmese National to return home.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    Posted by davidprosser | May 10, 2015, 7:30 pm
  6. I’m sure I would’ve gone bonkers way way back. I can see how the “white noise” builds up: no way to Hong Kong, Wei, lost Mr Tong, restaurateur disliking foreigners, rude card salesman… I would’ve exploded. And then Hannah gets out her eating tongs and there’s Mr Tong!

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | May 10, 2015, 6:48 pm
  7. I’m delighted to see you and read another excerpt. After a while, there is no place like home or familiar food. I look forward to your ‘escape’. 😉

    Posted by Let's CUT the Crap! | May 10, 2015, 2:54 pm

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