Animated Animals: Research and observation in the reservate

Besides pets, there is another group of animals where it is unavoidable that they learn how to talk: in zoos, reservates or captivity.

A visit to the famous tiger reservate is very different now. This is one of the few places where you are actually allowed to converse with animals directly, albeit at a safe distance. Since this is a place where you can ‘feed’ the animals by choosing to purchase a certain type of prey, this requires a negotiation with the tigers.

At the entrance, the sign with disclaimers is updated to contain a few new things:

  1. We try to have a wide variety of tigers with different preferences available. Guests are still allowed to feed the tigers, but it is impossible to guarantee that you can purchase the prey of your choice.
  2. We advise our guests to wear the provided noise-cancellation earphones to put all focus on the tigers. We provide noise-proof facilities wherever reasonably possible since we are unable to control everything the tigers say. Anything you hear because of not wearing earphones is your own responsibility.
  3. It is explicitly forbidden to communicate with the tigers in any way possible. Any written signs or smartphones will be collected at the entrance. Speech or text on clothing needs to be covered.
  4. Our employees communicate with tigers for general or research purposes. We welcome any suitable questions from the public which you can provide in written form to our staff.

Getting into the car, you wonder what kind of questions have been asked before. An employee gives you a little brochure with more information. Inside, the contents mention a few interesting questions:

Q: How do tigers use speech when hunting?
A: According to our observations and research, most tigers use it to intimidate their prey. They seem to understand that whispering and shouting has different effects. Since the prey cannot talk, it is a one-sided conversation.

Q: Do tigers tend to pronounce words that contain an ‘r’ better?
A: We hear that our tigers indeed tend to emphasize the ‘r’ within a word. However, if a word contains more than 1 ‘r’, they will only focus on one of them.

Q: Which type of prey do tigers prefer?
A: Among the choices that we provide (rooster, sheep, cow) we do see most tigers preferring the larger prey. However, some tigers told us they like to eat roosters because of their feathers’ texture and the fact that the little bones are easier to crack and provide a crunchier texture.

Please take my picture

I gladly tried to forget that this past weekend was International Children’s Day. On the one hand, it is because I am not a fan of children and kids. On the other hand, even though China is an aging society, somehow all these kids pop up out of nowhere during the weekends.

What amazes me a lot, is how many pictures are taken of kids. I know in the Netherlands, most kids, I think boys and girls almost equally but for different reasons, do not like to have photos taken. Boys often find it takes too long, they might make a weird face just to get it over with and continue playing. Girls can be shy or get uncomfortable and not want to look in the camera or just freeze.

Not in China. Of course, it helps that smartphones are ubiquitous, and the Chinese in general are more visually focused. The “Photo or it did not happen!” slogan really counts for them. Whether it is sports, food, art, travel or any other aspect of life, it is important to have it documented digitally.

Naturally most Asians are well-known for their peace signs in photos, with hearts also becoming more popular in recent years. It seems that the combination of fixed poses and high tolerance for visual recording leads to kids being very aware and willing to be photographed over here. I am always amazed when I see 4 or 5 year old kids (do not pin me on that number though, I cannot guess age of kids at all) striking a perfect pose whenever their parent decides it is a photo moment again.

Even if they need to take more than 5 pictures, the kids may start slumping a bit, but discipline often takes over so that the end result is appropriate. I also almost never see them very actively protesting or at a loss of what to do in front of the camera. Shows that it pays off with some things to start at an early age.

Waiting for a rainy day

Rain brings out something fascinating. Suddenly, the streets are filled with even more colors than usual, everyone has some sort of protection which ranges from the practical, umbrellas, to the ridiculous, plastic shoe covers.

It rains a lot in Shanghai. I am sort of used to a lot of rain from living in the Netherlands, but that does not make it any more fun most of the time. However, some things make the situation different here.

I do not really bike with an umbrella here, mostly because it is a lot busier and chaotic on the roads. The biking skills of the Chinese are quite limited, combined with wind (I have a friend who cannot even hold an umbrella against the wind when walking. You know who you are) does not make for very favorable circumstances to bike with an umbrella in.

Moreover, rain ponchos are very popular here. Ranging from plainly colored, hip and with patterns to the cheapest plastic ones which make you look like an ad hoc performance art project.

But the rain poncho is not the only fashionable item that became a business project for rainy days, shoes and boots are highly diverse here as well. It ranges from the lower, watershoe-like model that reminds me of my youth, to heeled short booths in all colors of the rainbow, normal height rain boots and knee-high horseriding-like ones. And the most recent incarnation seems to be plastic shoe covers which should still ‘show off your impeccable sense of fashion’.

So rainy days make for some of the most fashionable ones over here. Such diversity does make those days a bit better.

Pushing and pulling, but no punches

This morning, I read an article about the bleak reality of gang violence in Latin-America. Yeah, the best way to start off your Sunday for sure.

But it did make me think, there is not that much fighting in China, normally. Of course, certain exceptions exist (a few months ago I experienced one myself) however, physical fighting is just not very common on the streets. Sure, people always tell me that Chinese sound like they are constantly angry at each other, but that is just the ‘beauty’ of Chinese and the fact that most people do not feel the need to be close to each other when communicating (instead preferring to shout from a distance so everyone can enjoy and listen in).

You will experience a lot of pushing and pulling in China though. Especially when you are in any line (subway, touristic spot, restaurant, etc.) or need to wait. This is however quite anonymous pushing and pulling, not especially geared toward you as a person, but more at the crowd in general.

The times I have seen people become upset and threaten to start a fight are actually quite comical. Mostly, it is just the voice that gets louder and possibly higher- or lower-pitched (depending on the gender and amount of anger), and a few cocky movements. Bystanders will gather and might pretend to pull the people away from each other, although there does not seem to be too much resistance to be honest. It all seems very reminiscent of the kinds of fights you might have in elementary school where giving off the image of a fight is more important than engaging in one.

And honestly, I do prefer this kind of fighting in the end. It is more petty, but also a lot less dangerous. Even being a fit and somewhat muscular girl myself, I do not like pulling any punches. It might be my Chinese blood after all.

In or out of touch with nature?

Today, the weather is great. Blue skies, sun shining, slight breeze, clouds drifting, clean air. About as perfect a day you can get in China, which means everyone is on the move of course. That is perfectly understandable, possible even desirable. There is limited room for outdoors activities on a daily basis and having other people in the park besides the elderly is a nice change of scenery.

The park is most probably the closest to nature that most Chinese get. Camping is not a very common way of traveling around, forests are mostly limited to national parks and most animals are still perceived as a main source of food.

In the Netherlands, there also has been increasing discussions if people, and children in particular, are not too out of touch with nature? Do we still understand milk does not come from a carton and that we only eat a small part of most vegetables?

On the one hand, what might help in China is that at least dead animals are quite common. With chicken feet, pig’s knuckles and ears, gutted fish, and intestines all being sold en plein public at most local markets, these images will not be very shocking and it helps making clear what you are eating.

At the same time, the Chinese are pretty ignorant to nature in most instances. Littering, pulling on trees to have flower petals or red leaves fall down on them, building bridges or elevators in the mountains without any regard for the surroundings, etc.

But, one thing that I do envy their ignorance for, is for most pests and insects. I do not think the day can ever come that I do not shriek and shirk away whenever seeing a cockroach. Having the kind of immunity that the Chinese and most other Asians inhabit towards cockroaches is something I thoroughly lack. Solid proof that nature provides some things you should nurture.

Stellar sales techniques

I am no sales person. To be honest, I did some minor sales-involved tasks during my (side) jobs and they all gave me anxiety. The fact that I do not have any talent for bluffing does not help either.

That does not mean I cannot recognize good from bad sales though. China, for all its lack of service does have a very well-developed sales culture. Up ’till a certain point.

Realtor employees try to hand you out flyers for any overpriced apartments they sell on any corner of the street. Enter a shopping mall and you are sure to be approached by a friendly lady who will fix your brows. Take the escalator at a subway station and there will be a (often not so) fit guy waiting to get you into the next gym as fast as possible.

Talking about this last one, a few weeks ago was actually the first time a friend and I took the guy up on his offer. Wanting to go to another gym which turned out to be closed, something that also happens often without any warning in China, we decided to see how free this free trial would be.

After a thorough workout (thanks friend!), we took a shower, picked up our stuff and handed in our locker keys. Not wanting to waste this grand opportunity, the girl behind the counter urged us to not leave yet. Being the nice people we are, we decided to wait it out and politely decline any sales pitch that would follow.

A sales guy came out, one of the not so fit ones, and he started directly throwing all kinds of things at us: “We have very new equipment. You should definitely get your membership here. Do you know our prices?” Decidedly, my friend and I pretended to be looking around and mentioned wanting to check out some other gym facilities and prices. “But do you know our prices?” The guy urged again. My friend and I shared a brief, suspicious glance and I said: “Yeah, we have looked on your website what it said.” Without any hesitation, the answer was, “No no, those prices are not correct. Do you know our real prices?”

I almost thought that the manager would come and throw him out immediately. I could imagine people in the Netherlands being like, “Why are spreading false information about your service? I do not do business with liars, get out of my face!” It is interesting how different people handle these things. I think in general Chinese sales people just tend to throw out everything and then see if something sticks. And apparently, this guy thought pricing would be the real money deal.

Welp, it was not. After hearing it was 7.000 RMB that did not raise our interest. It is tough being in sales.

Tourists with Chinese characteristics: golden groupies

It is spring and that only means 1 thing in China: flowers. Preferably cherry blossoms. Having spent my past weekend in one of the busiest places I could find to marvel at this wonder of nature, reminded me again of this kind of tourist.

Who?
Aunties and uncles, grannies and grandpas of around 45-50 and up. They almost exclusively travel together in large groups (25-35 people) because their children are busy (unless they belong to the fanatic families) and they can see highlights of 4 places in 4 days.

Where?
Anywhere that is only slightly famous is bound to be flooded by them. Headed by a guide with a flag, umbrella or originally decorated pole, they walk around unabashedly with their caps and snapping pictures of everything they see.

Why?
It is their time to shine! They probably worked hard and took care of everyone all their lives and finally can let it all go loose on a 5-day trip to Europe or by visiting famous spots all over China. They are still healthy, but also privileged (because older) and finally will have a chance to take pictures with shawls, stones and just all the beauty they can tolerate besides them.

Thoughts?
Auntie/granny: finally you are in the famous spot. First, I need a photo with the rock that says the attraction’s name. Then I need a photo with a shawl swaying in the wind. Then I am going to take this tree branch and pull it towards me so the flowers prettily frame my face. Next, I need to push to the front so I can get a photo next to the lake. I know I need to put my one leg before the other. Or my hand on my shoulder. Or both. It is so convenient to have a group guide me to all the important places I need to see.

Uncle/grandpa: okay, now that we are here I will take a photo of my wife with the rock. And then with a shawl. And then with the flowers. And at the lake. So glad she will do all the pushing and pulling for the spot. Next, we will take a picture together at the park. Making memories is very important. When I return to the Sunday park gatherings, we can show off all the places we have been. And no need to drive or look up anything ourselves. It is great to see so many attractions in such a short time.

My thoughts?
Group travelers rank medium to high on my irritation/frustration scale. The guide always blares out information that nobody pays attention to, even though they all have their ears plugged. This means when they step on your foot or push their elbow in your stomach, they also do not hear you gasping. Furthermore, their age, especially the 65+ ones, means it is socially unacceptable to push them back. They take full advantage of their ‘elderly privileges’ to push to the front or take up all the seats. They pull and push at the scenery to make it fit their photos and talk so loud that even I need to put in effort to communicate. But mostly, it is just that there are so many of them. It is the moment you realize that China is an aging society.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/zongo/33133416758

Film rewriting: Battle Angel Alita

Comics are sort of the new favorite source for films these days. Of course we have Marvel and DC, but also manga (and anime) have served as inspirations in the past years. With mixed results to say the least.

On the other hand, it seems that production values and budgets increase as well, hopefully leading to better quality films (in any sense of the word). This all leads me to the newest addition in this genre, Battle Angel Alita.

This is actually the first manga-based film, where I actually read the manga. It was about 10 years ago, so not too fresh in my mind but I remember enjoying it quite a lot. The basic premise of the movie is as follows:

“A brilliant scientist finds a broken android in the scrapyard. He rebuilds her and discovers she has a strong appetite for battle and sports (motorball). While (re)discovering herself, she becomes part of a competition to rise above others and literally above the city to the promised land.”

Honestly, the story line is quite straightforward so here are a few things I propose to make it a little bit more interesting.

  1. Can we have more shots of sports training? Motorball is like this intense, extreme competition where people, androids and robots literally completely rebuild themselves and lose their lives. Yet, we only get a mock practice game and Alita’s first real game before we are told at the end that she rose to the top in a few months of beating everyone. Where are the photos of those moments?
  2. Could we get a little more background information as to why certain people like or do not like Alita? The best friend of her main love interest (more on that in my next point) just does not like Alita, for no particular reason than that she beat him at the first game where he cheated, but keeps hanging around and going to places. And then in the end, he still dies for his friend even though he just insulted him of becoming weak because of her. That is just not how friendship works.
  3. I like Disney and hot guys as much as the next person, but it just does not match in a gritty, industrial and serious environment. Please throw the scene where he wakes up without a shirt out of the window immediately. Please do not throw in a cheesy quote such as: “You are the most human person I know”, when it is literally directed to an android. Please do not have the guy thanking the girl for changing his world as he falls to his death. And if possible, just find a less standard hot guy type. They just look too clean, no matter how dirty their environment is.

Apparently, this is only the first film in what is to become a series. As a stand-alone film, it is fine. It does the story enough justice, but could certainly improve in the next films. In any case, at least this was not the next Dragonball disaster.

Experiencing Chinese communication and family feuds

Fighting happens in the tightest families. I am blessed with families on both sides where this is limited, but that is often not the case for most Chinese. In general, life itself provides plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong, most importantly for the Chinese (and pretty much everyone else): money, work, partner, and kids.

Now, a while back I was on a short trip with a friend of mine (also a foreigner) and indirectly experienced one of the most frightening fights ever. She has described everything in more detail on her terrific blog, go read that as well!

Let me quickly recap: we stayed at an empty AirBnB hotel. The host was the male part of a couple and since it was Chinese New Year some extended family (grandmother, uncle (?), aunt (?)) was present. After a day spent outside, my friend and I returned in the evening and were warmly invited to join a big dinner table, sing karaoke and show off some dancing moves. We were included in video footage to non-present sons and daughters, sang some modern classics and had a great time. But after a while we got tired, the karaoke machine started sputtering and people simply disappeared. So we also went upstairs to sleep, or so was the plan.

However, after having read a bit and trying to sleep, I heard noises downstairs in the restaurant area. Slowly but surely the noises became louder and more distinct. There were 2 persons, most certainly our host couple, screaming things to each other. I could hear other voices trying to hush, but they kept becoming louder. Repeatedly, I heard stuff being thrown on the ground and shattering.

After there was enough thrown around downstairs, I heard footsteps on the stairs to the hallway that was connected to our hotel room. I took a quick peek out the window to see the situation below. It was a mess, with broken glass on the floor and table, mixed with food and a box of chopsticks thrown around.

My heartbeat was so loud I almost thought the people outside must be able to hear it. Instead, I could now hear their insults clearly. The woman screamed: “Fuck your mother! She still owns me 1 million RMB!” The man roared: “Oh please, stop with that and do not dare to say another word about her! This is already long resolved!”

As I mentioned, I am not at all ‘experienced’ in family feuds, and this seemed a particularly feisty one. The insults and accusations were repeated many times. It was definitely not the first time this happened.

To be honest, I was sort of ‘lucky’ to become part of the story. I was also lucky to not be in the same space as the fight since there seemed to be some intense physical contact. At the same time, during the fight it felt like a very tense moment. Since the walls were very thin, and people were thrashing about, it felt like every moment they could stumble in our room. I sat as still as I possibly could, trying to be even more invisible than I arguably already was.

This occasion was certainly my first time hearing pretty much Chinese strangers discuss intimate things so loudly and hotly. But my friend later told me that a previous CNY celebration she experienced also ended in a big family fight. And to be honest, around Christmas do we not see the all-too familiar topic of how to prevent the Christmas atmosphere from being ruined pop up everywhere as well?

So it seems that big occasions lend themselves good to big fights in any place or culture. What was actually the most surprising about this whole thing, is that my friend slept through all of it. When I asked her later if she had heard anything earlier she said: “Yeah the fireworks right?” Truth be told, you do not hear them that often in China I guess.

Tourists with Chinese characteristics: fanatic families

For the past month I have been travelling through South- and Southeast Asia. Especially around Chinese New Year there are many Chinese people going abroad as well. On the road I saw many different kinds of Chinese tourists. These impressions include a few of the different types.

Who?
A mom, a dad, 1 or 2 kids (byebye one child policy) and often some extended family members like grandparents.

Where?
Most families obviously have a limited program. Chinese families often even more so since they focus on the main attractions.

Why?
This is probably the beginning of family life and they are just settling in. With the kids still being small they get in for free at most spots. Everyone can relax a little bit, see some different things and meet new people.

Their thoughts?
Mom: a combination of tired, worried and excited. One of the few holidays need to be spent happily with family. But it is hot, and there is so much to take care of. Luckily dad carries most of the snacks and drinks. Are the kids hungry? Are they not getting too tanned? Where is dad anyway? Will I be able to buy all the souvenirs I promised my co-workers to bring back? This bird is so pretty, I really need to take a photo of this. Our kids should really learn more about nature now that they have the chance. Which sightseeing spots have we not covered yet?

Dad: this is not entirely how I pictured life with a kid. A heavy photo camera dangles on my belly, which is also starting to accumulate some ‘baby fat’. God is it hot here. Wiping my forehead while looking for some shade. This garden is really nice and the kids are playing outside. Sitting down this suddenly feels eerily similar to any other time I go out with mom. Waiting, looking and obeying. Mom motions you to take photos of something. What will be for dinner tonight?

Kid(s): so many different things! I can jump from the tree to the stairs. I want to carve out my name in this tree! And in the stairs! And in the temple! Where is dad? I want food. Mom is so annoying taking her time. When are we going home?

Grandparent(s): I am getting too old for this. But it is really nice to see the kids play. Do they drink enough though? I can tell all my friends in the park once I return that my grandchildren already went abroad.

My thoughts?
Families rank about medium on my irritation/frustration scale. Of course it depends on the age of the kids. Babies are terrible when they cry or excrete bodily fluids. When they talk and walk, kids often do too much of both. Grandparents tend to walk too slow and skip lines since they can often get away with it. Moms often take pictures of everything all the time. Dads mostly just look sad. But for the average backpacker, Chinese families are quite avoidable. Also, it looks quite exhausting to be in a different country with a group that seems to have mixed goals. It really turns fun into a verb.