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China, humour

China 40: Voices in the night

Copyright Elaine Canham 2015

Copyright Elaine Canham 2015

Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China

Woken up by the telephone.

‘Wei!’ yells Cheryl.

‘Wei’ shouts a voice on the other end.

Elspeth and I look blearily at each other. Is this their teacher ringing? Is she going to give the girls permission to go to Hong Kong?

Cheryl is desperately trying to keep up with the flood of Chinese coming out of the telephone. It’s not the teacher.

‘Sorry,’ she says at last. ‘I don’t understand.’

Silence. Then another voice comes on the phone. ‘Hello,’ it says. ‘Can I help you?’

‘Yes,’ says Cheryl. ‘What did the other man want?’

‘No,’ says the voice. ‘What do you want?’

‘I don’t want anything,’ says Cheryl.

‘I don’t think I can help you then,’ says the voice. And rings off.

Kunming is supposed to be the city of eternal spring and this is the first time it has shown any signs of it. The city was really cold when I arrived, although there were lots of flowers (poppies and hollyhocks), but today it’s warm and we go in search of Mr Tong the elusive restaurant owner.

He’s in a completely different part of town to the one we were wandering about in last night. We have to take a couple of buses and walk through some charming streets that look as if they are straight out of Hollywood;  very old fashioned houses with curved roofs, lots of plants, little lanes, washing hanging out, and everything looking clean and bright.

One house is actually a hairdressers. It looks like it is someone’s front room, with three women, their hair in curlers sitting on a sofa, reading magazines and waiting their turn.

We walk through Green Lake Park, so called because the scum on the lake is a bright, bright green. There’s lots of building going on. The scaffolding is a crazy network of bamboo, and the bricks look like they’ve been thrown together, but I suppose the builders will cover it all in plaster, and it’ll look really solid.

And we find Mr Tong! He is everything Hannah said he would be, and more. He talks brilliant American. ‘Hey, you guys! How you doing?’ And he keeps patting us fondly on the back. The food is excellent and we get coffee and toffees and memorial chopsticks, just like Hannah’s. Hefty bill though – 17 kwai.

Slow contented walk back to the hotel in the sunshine. We wander through a tourist shop – beautiful china, but very pricey. Elspeth asks the cost of what she thinks is an antique bowl. The shop owner smiles at her. ‘500 kwai, and it’s brand new,’ he says proudly.

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.


19 thoughts on “China 40: Voices in the night

  1. Sounds like a good way to get rid of telephone marketers–pretend you called them and want to speak with the President, or something.
    Please warn your readers when you come close to ending this fascination journal–I want to be prepared, so I won’t be too upset.

    Posted by Vivra Beene | May 18, 2015, 12:31 am
  2. Ha ha! And you sometimes hear that Comedy of the Absurd is not about real life!

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | May 15, 2015, 6:51 pm
  3. That phone conversation made me laugh!
    Do you still have the memorial chopsticks?

    Posted by merrildsmith | May 15, 2015, 6:19 pm
    • I’ve just checked. I’ve got two pairs in my pencil jar, and I think one of them is the memorial one, but they don’t have any markings, so maybe not….

      Posted by elainecanham | May 15, 2015, 6:31 pm
  4. Conversation in my office this week (in Beijing): Me: ‘My phone went dead 10 days ago. I’ve asked for someone to repair it every day. Can you help me today, pleeeease?’ Telephone engineer: ‘There is nothing wrong with your phone. But we cut it off.’
    Me: ‘Why did you cut it off?’ Tel engineer: ‘We have given your number to someone in another department.’ Me: ‘Can I have a new number?’ Tel engineer: ‘Yes, I can do that now. But you asked me to repair it. I couldn’t repair it, because there was nothing wrong with it.’ In other words, nothing’s changed! Loving your China stories, Elaine. X

    Posted by Sue Brattle | May 15, 2015, 5:30 pm
  5. Odd phone call. Made me laugh though.
    I think yours is a wonderful adventure, a real one. Can’t wait to read what comes next. ❤ ❤

    Posted by Let's CUT the Crap! | May 15, 2015, 4:06 pm
  6. What was 17 kwai or 500 kwai worth back then Elaine? And was the 17 kwai each? I love the idea of brand new antiques or at least I did until they started to flood the market and you couldn’t tell them apart anymore. Still, at the end of the day it’s either an investment or something bought that pleases the eye.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    Posted by davidprosser | May 15, 2015, 3:32 pm
    • I had a look at my previous entries, David, and it works out at about £80, which was an enormous amount in terms of what you could buy then. Needless to say, she didn’t get it. I think the lunch works out at about three or four quid (which was a lot for food) but it would have been between us.x

      Posted by elainecanham | May 15, 2015, 4:12 pm
  7. That phone conversation is borderline genius. I’m going to start doing that on all my work conversations from now on. You just can’t argue with that sort of logic.

    Posted by Tara Sparling | May 15, 2015, 3:08 pm

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