I’m not a property owner but even if I were,I think I would still find it difficult to fathom how, when someone looks at the above vista, he thinks: I can dump a lot of crap there.
But crap has been dumped, the wetlands are shrinking every day and it’s completely legal.
How can it be? Listen to what the Man in the Know, Martin Lerigo, has to say about it on Resident Voices on Radio Lantau.
垃圾 – laap saap (rubbish)
呢度有好多垃圾 – li dou yau hou do laap saap (there’s lots of rubbish here)
貝澳濕地有好多垃圾 – Bui Ou sap dei yau hou do laap saap (there’s lots of rubbish on the Pui O wetlands)
Wei wei everybody, wei! After a long absence caused by circumstances beyond my control, I’m now itching to write again. And what could be better than to start with something written by somebody else?
Yep, it’s a review of my new book Don’t Joke On The Stairs.
and it’s written by John Cairns of Cairnsmedia and no, I’ve never met him. Wow and wow, I say. I thought the book was a long tirade against the mainland government, but it appears it’s an ode to life. So there you go, please buy vigorously!
Order a copy through www.http://localhost:8888/Fish and I will deliver it to you personally or by carrier pigeon.
Don’t Joke on the Stairs
A Norwegian-born language teacher, Cecilie Gamst Berg makes an unusual tour guide. No wonder! When traveling herself, she dislikes guides, preferring to explore alone or with trusted friends, always ready for the unexpected.
Berg presents a humorous book about her adventures when living in Hong Kong and prowling on the Chinese mainland. Irreverently, it’s titled Don’t Joke on the Stairs, How I Learnt to Navigate China by Breaking Most of the Rules (2011, Blacksmith Books, 354 pages, US$16.95).
Within a few pages, readers begin to experience a surprising wish to meet the author. She conveys such a vibrant joie de vivre, making it easy to smile and adopt the same zestful attitude. She must be fun to know, a talkative live-wire. Certainly, she gives an impression of having written this enjoyable book with ease - by starting to chat and not stopping until the end.
Whatever Berg does, she enters into the spirit of things. That approach helped her to learn Mandarin and then Cantonese and to earn a living, lucrative enough to travel often, mainly by teaching the latter. It also prompted her to pose for a cover photo sprawled upside down on a grimy staircase?
The book takes its title from a memorable sign that Berg once spotted on her travels. To warn against the danger of tumbling downstairs, it read: "Avoid exchange of jokes while using the stairs and don’t concentrate on stairs that cause trip and fall."
Healthy attitudes and positive outlooks make for pleasant lives. Overall, the author has both. For example, why doesn’t she worry more about becoming a crime victim? "Personally I’ve only been robbed twice in my life and both times were in Oslo. In Shenzhen, like the rest of China, I have never been robbed or mugged. I have probably been cheated many times, but everyone agrees that cheating is clean and honest - the cheatee has only himself to blame. But robbed? No."
Berg calls China "the world’s most happening place" because it’s highly surreal. With 1.3 billion people wandering about, the strangest things can happen. "So… I have set out to describe the surreal reality that I have met in China for better and for worse…."
Most Chinese people along the way help to make her feel welcomed. "That’s one of the many things I love about China, and which separates it from western countries. If I were walking down the street in, oh, let’s say South London, or maybe inner-city Washington DC, and I saw a group of spiky haired, no, hooded, thin and saggy-trousered young men, I’d feel… if not exactly worried, at least decidedly middle-aged and terribly bourgeois. Perhaps I’d clutch by handbag a little harder, avoiding eye contact - what do I know?
But in China! Not only can I talk to these guys with impunity, more often than not they will invite me to actually socialize with them. Where else does that happen, I wonder?"
So the author loves China almost unconditionally. "I say almost, for there are a couple of things about China that even a mother couldn’t love."
Always candid, Berg shares her views on every topic that springs to mind, including "sensitive" ones. "The official name of Xinjiang province is Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. That sounds fair and reasonable, but not surprisingly, the Uyghurs (and Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tatars, forced into a common nationality under Chinese suppression) have no more autonomy than the donkey has from the farmer."
Furthermore, "Tibet is not China! Call me old-fashioned, but I’m for Free Tibet. And also I’m for Free Inner Mongolia and Free Xinjiang, and Free Everywhere where the indigenous population is not Han Chinese."
She scorns the Communist Party’s reluctant admission that its former chairman Mao Tse-tung may have been only 70 per cent good. "The guy was 100-per-cent bad. And if percentages by their very nature hadn’t ended at 100, we could safely say that he was 1,000-per-cent bad, and more."
Of course, the author also discusses food, downplaying what she dislikes. "Chicken feet are still one of the biggest delicacies in China, but to be honest I can’t quite see the charm in eating feet that have been plodding around in shit."
Never overlook eating etiquette. "All unwanted things are thrown (or spat) straight onto the tablecloth or floor. Everything can be used as an ashtray, but the floor is recommended. To smoke and eat at the same time is okay…."
As for modes of travel, Berg favors trains. "If there weren't so many things to do on the train, you would be glued to the window all day marveling at the scenery. For landscape-wise, China has everything.
There are lush and mysterious tropical rainforests and stern rocky deserts, majestic mountain ranges and mighty, raging rivers, scraggy crags shrouded in mist looking exactly like a thousand Chinese paintings and fastidious paddy fields where peasants plod barefoot behind oxen.
China has ultra-modern cities and medieval villages, narrow, teeming alleyways and vast, empty country. You can see it all from the train."
Berg bemoans the lack of heritage protection and the misguided property or infrastructure developments. "Guangdong, without exception the most fertile province in China, is now a province with only a third of the arable land per person of the rest of the country. Most people in this huge land could easily live off what this one province could produce in the way of rice, vegetables and poultry. But that’s the very province the progress-blasters need to cover in concrete, to build millions of factories with Hong Kong and foreign money in order to satisfy the western world’s (and increasingly China’s own) insatiable craving for useless crap."
Prime topics even include Berg’s persistent fondness for Chinese young men. "They are so unthreatening. And so beautiful. Lovely skin, no facial hair…. My, oh my. And there are so incredibly many of them!"
When traveling, the author wants to "go everywhere and meet everybody". Many of her travel tips never appear elsewhere. For example, how do you spot Communist cadres? "They are taller than average. They are fat. They walk with their stomachs in front of them and a slew of sycophants behind them. They sport comb-overs and big, square sunglasses."
Even more valuable, she tells how to gatecrash parties (this time meaning festive occasions): "Be a foreigner who can speak a little bit of Chinese, preferably Cantonese. That’s it."
Constantly observant, ready to learn and teach, the author tells of special techniques. "In China, spitting is an art form which takes years to perfect. Every muscle in the body is concentrated in the one purpose: To get as much slime as possible away from where it currently is, with as much power as possible, while making the process last as long as possible.
It begins by tipping one’s head back a little and drawing in a great amount of air. Then follows a long hacking and roaring, like that of a helicopter approaching at great speed. The whole body is stretched to breaking point with all its energy gathered in the lip musculature, whereupon the projectile is hurled out through the mouth and away from the owner."
Readers share the sights, sounds, tastes and humor of the author’s travels without facing the bad weather, hassles and long train rides. That’s worth the price of a book.
Don’t Joke on the Stairs isn’t the most comprehensive book ever written about China. It’s not the best-researched, the most insightful or the most enlightening. But it may be the most fun to read.
Approval rating: 83 per cent.
For more information: www.blacksmithbooks.com or www.http://localhost:8888/Fish.
(October 21, 2011)
Jau! Wine! As they call it. It’s actually a deadly spirit so vile that it should only be used for paint stripping and permanently disfiguring your enemies.
Strangely, the (mainland) Chinese drink it with abandon. There’s a chapter warning people against it but also suggesting a remedy for the hangover that will inevitably ensue if you as much as look at it, in my new book CHILLies! Sichuan Food Made Easy which I’m just putting the last touches on.
I thought at least I was only down to editing the last few lines, but no. Before I click publish I have to re-cook a dish for the sole reason of re-taking one photo. That dish is normally called 乾煸四季豆(gon bin sei gwai dau – dry-fried four seasons beans) but I have renamed it Bean There, Done That. Why? Because I can! After all, I wrote the damned thing, bought all the ingredients and burnt myself to a cinders during the writing process. Warning: Pickled mustard and fresh prawns will severely harm you before and during cooking.
But yes, while cooking this lovely dish, I inexplicably ran out of chillies in mid-cook! The photo thus ended up looking like this:
with one – one! measly chilli peeping out, embarrassed. A nadir of my cooking career.
I’ll keep you posted about the book. Very posted.
川菜 (chyun choy – Sichuan food)
豆 (dau – beans)
白酒 (baak jau – in the mainland a horrible, vile killer spirit. In Hong Kong, just normal white wine.)
Can you learn Cantonese from a book? I would say no, not least because of the crazy spelling that bear little or no resemblance to the sound of the words.
Can you indeed learn any language from a book? Again, I’d say no. I think it slows down rather than speed up the process. The best way to learn anything is to do. So yes, if you want to learn to speak Cantonese, the best way is to speak Cantonese.
Having said that, reading books; good literature, biographies, history books is of utmost importance to keep your brain and sense of adventure and curiosity in shape. It’s like athletes. If they want to succeed, they train not only kicking the ball (or whatever) but the whole body. Some football players, I have it on good authority, even do – dance! I’m 100% sure that if I hadn’t read up to 30 books a month as a child, I would never have thought it was possible to go and live abroad and become the only Norwegian Cantonese teacher in the village.
In Pui O where I live, a teacher has transformed the English department by starting a reading programme where the students can choose what they want to read! That’s right, instead of having Shakespeare and Chaucer stuffed down their throats, killing their love of reading and words forever, they read what they think it’s interesting. If they don’t like a book – they just leave it and pick another one!!!
Sean Earl has the right idea, and the tiny Pui O School with its 50-something pupils is now doing better in the reading and writing of English than its international school counterparts. Wooo hoooo!
Listen to my interview with Sean here on Radio Lantau. (As usual, scroll down until you see the archived post.)
睇書 – Tai syu (read book)
我好鍾意睇書 – O hou jungyi tai syu （I love reading)
貝澳小學 – Bui O Siu Hok (Pui O primary school)