Friday, October 16, 2009

Li Ling, China

[10/16/09. Posted by JP for GC. China blocks blogs.]

Friends: For the first time I found an Internet cafe without having to be led to it. The few I have visited so far had no discernible identifying feature other than a bunch of motorbikes out in front, as they are popular, well-attended places. So that's what I'm on the alert for and it worked here in Li Ling. I have yet to identify a sign on them that I can decipher. They are often in obscure, hole-in-the-wall places, up a flight of stairs with no sign at all. One had a cave-like entrance into a hovel of a place that might have been a former opium den.

Since Internet use doesn't have the full approval of the government, with up to ten per cent of sites blocked, Internet outlets may have to be slightly discreet. Even in countries with a written script unfamiliar to my Western eye, as in Japan and Thailand, I could at least peer through windows or open doors for computers. That hasn't been possible here. Searching out the Internet has always been a good way to explore a city, wandering and looking. China has given me an extra opportunity at that.

Slowly, but surely, I am getting a handle on things here. But it has taken much longer than anywhere else I've been, even Japan, where I was likewise initially utterly clueless. Though I have a selection of phrases I try on people, rarely do I get the intonations right and for the first time ever I've had to pull out my guide book or map and point at words or places I want to go. But people are very patient and inordinately helpful. My eye is becoming slightly accustomed to Chinese characters, as all too frequently I'll have to compare the calligraphy of a city on a road sign to that on my map when neither are accompanied by an English version.

Men are continually offering me cigarettes. That's a first. Ordinarily in a country where I'm getting by on five dollars or less a day, people are asking me for cigarettes. When the weather cools, and I need fewer cold drinks, my expenses will be even lower. A hearty bowl of noodles goes for forty cents. That's been the basis of my diet. As I sit and read, people come over to peer at my book and will pick it up for closer examination when I pause for a bite. For most it is the first time they have seen such writing. Several times I've had people assume that since I was reading I could also read Chinese, even though it is clear I don't speak it. They'll write a string of Chinese characters on a piece of paper and slip it to me.

If I had any doubts about the creeping capitalism that is taking over China they were put to rest yesterday when I came upon a huge vinyl billboard on the side of a building featuring a sexy young woman laying on a floor in a seductive pose and the words "Elegant living, baroque floors." Not so long ago all the billboards would have been of an idealistic, propagandist nature such as I saw in Cuba, most with a picture of Che.

I knew all the billboards I've seen of Yao holding up a can of a soft drink or some other product weren't likely him advising kids to "work hard and sacrifice and obey your parents," but none of his had any English or were as blatantly commercial as this one with the woman. It was as slick a billboard as those I'm accustomed to seeing at Cannes promoting the latest George Clooney movie. At least the woman was Chinese and not a blond. A rival flooring company has gone Western, adopting Mona Lisa to push their product--tiles. This is hardly communism as Mao envisioned it. During the Cultural Revolution he was even trying to do away with money. Now the Chinese are using sex to sell and aspiring to "elegant living." Horrors.

Later, George

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