Friday, 4 May 2012

Melbourne to Shanghai

Being such a dutiful boyfriend, although he didn't need to rise early, Howard breakfasted with Sandra, who had to be out by 7. Flax seed porridge with bluberries, raw cocoa and bee pollen was that breakfast! I do hope it was as good for me as they said, because it certainly didn't taste it. On departing, Sandra said she would probably see me in another 20 years time, as I estimated that was how long ago we'd last met, and I thanked her for the mental image of myself as an OAP that her charming thought had evoked. Howard took my precious cargo and I to the airport and during the journey he put forward his anti-government stance and annarchistic leanings. I forget exactly how he put it, but it was something along the lines of by voting for any of the world's major political parties, we are agreeing to being raped if we are put in prison for whatever reason; ie no one is to be trusted and every system fails. Thanks for another unpleasant image - I'll never look at a ballot paper again in quite the same light. Bizarrely, he not only works for a government body, he is an American who lives in Australia and is employed by the British Department of Transport. Something to do with overseeing the production of Asian cars, so they are compatible with British laws. I told him about my manifesto : not bothering anyone, riding my bicycle and burying my head in the sand when it comes to the world's attrocities. Howard might be cynical and jaded when it comes to human beings, but I've never met such a doting pet owner. He had never had much contact with cats before and always saw himself as a 'dog person', yet when a stray black cat came a knocking a few years ago, he and Sandra didn't know who his owners were and decided to let him stay. Now Badda Bing is the centre of their universe, they pander to his every whim and coo over him like a baby. The iconic Jaws image caught my eye on a poster in the airport toilet, with the words "Some things aren't meant to fly" - underneath some wit had scrawled "Like toothpaste and soap" - and then went on to talk about checking one's luggage for dangerous items. So then, a window seat over the wing again on another interminable China Eastern flight, with its slapstick action films, bland airline food; and in-flight magazines only in Mandarin, although hardly surprising with 99% Chinese passengers. To help pass the time I finally got some use out of the huge Rough Guide to Australia that I've been lugging around with me. There was a condensed history and I also learned some new slang words, such as : Banana bender - Queenslander Beyond the black stump - Outback Budgie smugglers - Speedos Warm fuzzies - feeling of contentment It was when reunited with the Pudong terminal building disappearing in each direction as far as the eye could see, that Orwell came into my mind. The Chinese remind me of the pigs in Animal Farm, who want to be like capitalist Westerners, but their corrupt communism and cultural differences hold them back. Whereas the few white faces (the non-pig farm animals) you see in this country stare back at you with the look of frightened rabbits. China is after all Australia's employer. Funny watching the pushing and shoving in the airport. In between the endless series of moving walkways they hustle and bustle past each other on SLIM, spindly frames and centres of gravities at shoulder level. At Customs a man queue-jumped and I protested, to which he held up his hand as if to say "Get back, foreign infidel!" Had to collect my bike as I had a stop-over here, but fortunately my hotel was right in the airport, so I could take the box on a trolley all the way to my room. This is how the conversation went at reception : "Passport". "Please." "Passport." "Please." "Passport." "Please." Then she smiled. However, it wasn't the swanky hotel that I had been allocated, but the motel opposite. It was pretty nice though and not a pictureless brick wall in site. The lady at the desk here (who had a number badge not a name badge) was none too friendly either (I guess it's just a cultural difference) and when she gave me a card with a four digit number on it and I asked if this was the room number, she looked at me like I was an idiot. The first number referred to the establishment and the other three pertained to the room. Her non-verbal language seemed to be saying, "You must be really stupid not to realise that". For liquid refreshment, two tea bags were all the room offered. I couldn't be bothered to go all the way back to reception to ask for coffee and milk. There was a full-length mirror behind the toilet, so I could watch myself urinating and this is how the wording ran on a sign stuck to a small, glass table : "Friendship prompt : utslightly carefully, please not heavy pressure" Although there was internet access, the blog was unattainable (I learned later that all blogs are blocked by the State) and out of curiosity I tried to access Facebook. Social networking sites are verboten as well; Laura couldn't survive here!

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