March 17, 2009

Not Every Time, but Sometimes All the Time

Greetings from the Mainland!
You can thank Ari for the title.  It's his newest idiom.  It essentially means (I think) that whatever it is he's talking about is extremely negotiable.  For example, he might say, "Papa, that man over there looks like Shrek.  Not every time, but sometimes all the time."  I take that to mean that the man's features are a bit ogreish, but that with a bit of work (say, a nose job or some botox) he might pull out of it.
This morning I took a walk, bright and early.  Actually, I meant to go to the store to buy some bread.  The boys have become fanatics for what we call egg-in-a-hole.  It's a quick and easy breakfast that involves punching a hole through a few slices of buttered bread, tossing them into a frying pan, and (you guessed it) cracking an egg into the hole.  Even I was in the mood for e-i-a-h this morning, so I threw some shoes on and headed out for the Hualian.  (Incidently, I have to issue a retraction on a previous blog posting.  I referred to the mall nearby our place as the Hualian.  It's actually called the Wangjing Mall.  The Hualian is the grocery store below.)
As I neared the entrance to the Mall, I saw that the doors were shut and the windows were dim.  Closed.  But a steady stream of people were filing around the side, to a back door. Perhaps the clothing store was merely closed, and the grocery below was open for business.  I followed them in through a set of doors, only to be stopped short by a guard.
"No!" he said.  I asked him, "Is the Hualian open downstairs?"  "No!" he said again, this time louder.  I had exhausted his English.
The entire Mall, it seems, only opens at 9 am.  I needed to leave for language classes before then. I would never see the bread, or my precious egg-in-a-hole.
So I decided to take a walk instead.  From my ill-fated door leads a path into the construction zone beside our apartment complex. Something is always being built here in Beijing, and the sky is a jungle gym of cranes and scaffolding.  They have walls built all along the construction sites, which can sometimes make walking from Point A to Point B rather tricky.  Most of the time, it means walking around the site completely, and can add several kilometers to a route.
I enjoy watching the work on these sites, as they are very different they are from sites in Canada.  I don't mean that they are less safe (everyone is wearing hardhats, and there are cages and nets to prevent falls).  Without actually going onto the sites (something I don't envision happening any time soon) I couldn't really put my finger on what makes them seem so different.  Just the look, I guess.
One of the biggest differences is in the source of labour.  At the bottom of the picture above, you can just see a white building with a blue roof.  This is most likely barracks-style housing for migrant labour that is hired for these projects.  You can find these buildings in many developing areas, smack-dab in the centre of upper-middle income housing.
We learned that when these apartment buildings are completed, they do not finish out the individual apartments.  The pluming and wiring is all in place, but otherwise it is just a bare concrete shell.  This leaves the buyer with the obligation to finish the interior.  However, this also allows the buyer to exercise complete control over the decor.
This explains the incredible variation we've seen in most of the apartments we've seen (either in person, or in photographs).  Some are hyper-modern, some are done in a quaint Classical Chinese style, and some are, well, extremely hideous.
One of the things I've come to enjoy about all this construction is that it brings all kinds of people into the picture.  The guys laying bricks are, for lack of a better term, unrefined, and I find this refreshing.  (I saw one of them taking a discrete leak against a wall this morning.)  There are sweepers and trash collectors and landscapers and rummagers and just about anyone else you'd hope to find.  It makes the Embassy Districts look a bit boring and sterile by comparison.


A final anecdote.  On the way to class this morning, the bus was full of Young Pioneers of China.  About 15 boys, dressed in identical uniforms, yellow caps upon their heads, and red kerchiefs around their necks.  They were all about 9, I'd say, and impish.  The ones at the back of the bus kept opening the windows and sticking their arms out, until finally the woman who issues tickets screamed at them.  Their chaperone flew into a rage (a tempest that darkened the sky for a moment, then dissipated) and threatened the offenders.  He then sat in the seat with them, scowling like a bulldog.
For those of you who are curious, the Chinese name for the Young Pioneers is Zhōngguó shàonián xiānfēng duì.  Say that three times fast.

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