Tuesday, 28 February 2012

China Syndrome

The perfect phrase to describe the first two days of my first venture into the Land of Dragons and Emperors: China Syndrome. 

As part of the New Job, I have the pleasure of travelling to a variety to places around the world to do some really interesting tests, but my most recent excursion will reside clearly in my memory for the rest of my days.

Why? I would like to consider myself reasonable well-read and culturally open-minded, and was aware of the existence of the term "culture shock". That term was redefined. 

This trip was my first visit outside of Europe, and, as such, my first long-haul flight. On that aspect the trip went off to a slick start. My arrival into Pudong airport, Shanghai was equally impressive, due in no small part to the commotion created by hundreds of teens waiting excitedly for the arrival of their idol.

The shock began when I left the airport. On seeing the car in which we would spend the next three and a half hours, I laughed in disbelief: a 1998 Buick Regal. What an awful way to get from one place to another; it turned out the worst was yet to come. The interior smelled of old dinginess, one which cannot be masked by any number of the Chinese equivalent of Magic Trees (the driver tried in vain), every single piece of fabric and interior trim looked like it had been applied by an applicator practising their aim from 100 metres, and the 14 years of its dismal life had not done this master-class in How Not To Build A Car any favours. 
Not a single safety belt was functional, which was alarming. My alarm was heightened on my discovery of the sheer chaos of motoring in China - the rumours are true, very true. 

Rules of the road are a rarely-used restriction to the drivers attempts at making geographical progress the way they desire, with little regard for the desire of others. Road markings, signs, and traffic lights are a very slight suggestion as to how a driver should conduct themselves, and are better served as ornaments for the vastly over-sized infrastructure of the area. 

Vehicles. I like them, I take great pleasure in judging the driver based in the stereotypes. But, the vehicles here - or what should be written as "vehicles" - are absolutely shocking. A high percentage of the vehicles on the roads in this area are home-made, and look as though they could kill the people mounted on or in them with a summer breeze at a dodgy angle.

The biggest shock to me, though, was, by far, the event that occurred at midday, 25th of February 2012. We were invited for a meal by employees of the company who contracted us; being civil and sociable we accepted. I regretted that within seconds of arrival.

I was feeling pretty awful up to this point by what I had seen, but this was the biggest amount of salt imaginable that could be added to my gaping wound that was culture shock. The place looked like it was derelict (we passed it while heading to the building we worked in that morning), I mean an industrial unit would be on-par with its cleanliness. The place was dingy and dirty, and had steel tables with chairs as part of it, all bolted to the floor with grossly oversized bolts. And then a tiny man handed me a steel tray with "food" in it: rice, what I was later informed was supposed to be egg, chopped up pork fat (yes, fat), and cabbage that was boiled to bits and then boiled again just to be sure it was unrecognisable as a food. This was served with only chopsticks (which I have tried and failed to use - sadly, my failing) which has some sort of liquid on them, I didn't know what it was. I asked the Chinese guy employed by the New Company to be our interpreter, he shrugged his shoulders. I then asked where I could get a napkin to clean it, he asked on my behalf to be told there was none... in the whole place! In my horror, I asked for a glass of water, none of which was to be had. Not even a bottle of any liquid could be bought. I honestly felt like some sort of prisoner in a detention camp that you hear rumours of in remote places like Mongolia or Russia. It was awful. I did manage to eat some rice (a very minor plus in the otherwise horrid experience), and had some luck in the black magic of eating liquidy eggs with chopsticks. It was more tasty than my shockingly at-that-point-negative mind had me expect.  

I will conclude with the caveat that I have written this using notes I took over the two days. The above emotions are 100% true, but in hindsight, they were tainted by jet-lag, and severe helping of culture shock. I should also say that I am in no way anti-China - or anti-anything for that matter.

I hope this has given you an insight into the adventures of how a young Irishman, raised in a small town in a small country, experiencing many new things, places, and cultures in a short space of time was unexpectedly affected by the above.

(Written while listening to Chase & Status, No More Idols) 

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