At our favourite local park 李村公园 in Qingdao this past weekend, a little Chinese sidewalk water calligraphy magic:
At our favourite local park 李村公园 in Qingdao this past weekend, a little Chinese sidewalk water calligraphy magic:
We were walking along the shore of Qingdao’s Shilaoren beach （石老人海水浴场） today, just past that drainage river thing near where the ATV rental guys who think they own the beach are, and found THIS:
That is the biggest honking jellyfish （水母 or 海蜇） I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I flipped it over with my shovel:
From a distance I thought it was just some garbage (there’s lots of garbage). But man. Can you imagine bumping into this in chest-deep, murky Qingdao beach water?
And keep in mind that my size-13 foot isn’t hovering *that* close to it, so the photos’ perspective makes the jellyfish look smaller that it really was.
I’d heard from friends about a local jellyfish infestation and checked the Chinese news yesterday. One guy has died this summer from jellyfish. And people we chatted with while taking pictures of this one said there was a 300斤 one on a beach east of here. I’ll give you one guess regarding it’s fate…
P.S. – UPDATE:
Special thanks to science writer and jellyfish expert Dr. Juli Berwald, who’s ID’d this thing for us. It’s a Nomura’s jellyfish (Nemopilema nomurai), one of the two largest jellyfish species in the world. According to the internets, it’s got a painful sting but doesn’t *usually* kill people (?!) and is edible but not considered tasty enough to go to all the trouble it would take to harvest them. They’ve capsized fishing boats and shut down at least one nuclear reactor. And you can’t just go killing them, because whenever one gets stressed it releases billions of sperm or eggs into the water. It’s not the most venomous jellyfish in the ocean, but it is perhaps the most notorious for economic impact. Do an image or video search for “Noruma’s jellyfish” or “Nemopilema nomurai” — fascinating stuff.
More importantly, these recent and massive “blooms” of jellyfish have scientists’ attention. Jellyfish are an “iconic animal of our time”; scientists like Dr. Berwald are currently researching what these jellyfish blooms reveal about the future of our oceans and our role in shaping that future. You can check out her project Spineless here.
Things That Are Awesome (in sharply descending degrees of awesomeness):
#2. The views on top of Qingdao’s Fushan mountain (浮山).
#3. Those portable personal fanny-pack radios popular in Mainland China.
#4. Those portable personal fanny-pack radios popular in Mainland China on top of Qingdao’s Fushan mountain.
#5. Those portable personal fanny-pack radios popular in Mainland China on top of Qingdao’s Fushan mountain playing We Are The World:
Aaaaand…. #1! Those portable personal fanny-pack radios popular in Mainland China on top of Qingdao’s Fushan mountain playing When a Man Loves a Woman when you’ve hiked up there to celebrate your 12th anniversary.
Snogging pics in
One thing that still amazes me about China is how things are sometimes done on a massive scale, bigger than anything I’ve even heard of anywhere else.
Took this video from a Qingdao taxi as we passed a construction site today. How many construction cranes can you count? I stopped counting after 30.
It’s embedded from YouTube, so you’ll need a VPN if you’re in China. Screenshot below, of only one portion of the entire building site:
…this happens. It doesn’t always happen exactly the same way, but what happened this past weekend is pretty typical:
(Language students! Listen for these key words:
I know we’re not the only foreigners in China that regularly attract this kind of attention from total strangers. How do you handle it?
In North America, if some stranger started taking pictures of little kids at the beach or wherever I would automatically interfere and probably call the police. Because that behaviour is outside our norms; chances are too high the person is a creep.
Our two-year-old, with… I don’t know who.
But what about in China, when photographing, talking to, and even trying to pick up a stranger’s kid isn’t considered odd? I don’t mean that Mainlanders are always running around posing with each other’s toddlers; other Chinese toddlers aren’t exotic to them. And I don’t mean that China doesn’t have its fair share of perverts. I mean that this behaviour isn’t seen as violating anyone’s privacy or personal space. When it does happen, the idea that the person’s a pedophile doesn’t even enter people’s minds. 99% of the time, they really are just being friendly and curious in a socially acceptable way. (They don’t perceive an ever-present pedophile threat like North Americans do; their society just hasn’t caught up to ours, apparently…)
“Wa! The foreign doll is so cute!” “Wa! The Chinese boy has no pants!”
It is stupid to respond coldly or meanly to a Chinese person because they don’t behave according to North American norms. Actually, that’s being an ethnocentric jerk. You’ve got to understand what their behaviour means within their social context, because that’s where you are. If you’re going to treat people like they’re doing something wrong when they genuinely don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, then you’d better be able to articulate a really good reason (or have a good reason why you have to treat them that way regardless — but “It’s so annoying!” is not a good reason).
A typical crowd for our family, from two weekends ago. Compare to the next photo below.
But feeling annoyed is totally understandable and natural. And not all friendly and curious attention is the same, because Mainland China is not a monolithic society:
The problem is that for the most part they aren’t doing anything wrong, but to us foreigners it feels wrong, like we have a right to be annoyed or offended or alarmed (and in our own countries we would). So our default tendency is to respond negatively because to us their behaviour is inappropriate. And some days you just want to relax at the beach without having to deal with it! Some days, you feel like doing this:
I have mixed feelings about the moat; it just seems so… anti-social:
“Take a hint, people!”
Bad China Days and fits of anti-social sandcastle-building aside, here’s what we aim for:
Or you can send subtle, anti-social messages by doing things like making a moat around your picnic blanket:
It works! See? (Though it’s not 100% effective — such subtlety is lost on most domestic tourists and āyís over 45.)
Maybe that sounds kind of stringent. But in practice it translates into our kids getting a lot more interaction than the average foreigner family, I suspect.
Basically, we protect our kids, but (try to) remember that most of these “overly-friendly” (by paranoid North American standards) Chinese strangers aren’t doing anything wrong. They aren’t breaking their social rules, and if you respond to them like they’re being inappropriate, your response simply won’t communicate. And you’ll come off like a jerk. Which is understandable, since expecting local Chinese to behave like Euro-Americans is just dumb.
Some related stuff:
P.S. - Though sometimes I have to admit, I do wonder…
P.P.S. – Not actually recommending the sandcastle “spite fence”, though I’m definitely tempted to use it again. :)
In Qingdao, China it’s not uncommon to find anti-Party messages stamped on our money. I have a collection going. They’re created by a huge home-grown Chinese religious group that the Chinese government officially designated an “evil cult” in the late-90’s. Here’s the most recent one I’ve received:
“On a 100million year old ancient stone in Guizhou province suddenly appears ‘China Communist Party Die’ six big characters, quickly declare withdrawal from the Party and guarantee your well-being, Quit the Party Team phone number: 001…”
New anti-cult posters continue to go up on our neighbourhood’s Anti-Evil Cult Warning & Education Propaganda Board (all of them anti-FLG or anti-Almighty God/Eastern Lightning). Normally they’re simple and illustrated, like this one currently posted beside a copy of the Alarm Bell News (a publication for “upholding science and opposing evil cults” by the Guarding Against and Dealing With the Evil Cult Problem Office):
* * * * *
Guard Against and Resist Evil Cults, Construct a Harmonious Society
1. What is an Evil Cult?
Evil cult refers to the fraudulent use of religion, Qigong or other established things; deified ringleaders; make use of, create, and disseminate superstition, fallacies, etc., to deceive others; grow and control members; illegal organizations that endanger society.
2. What is the Basic Nature of an Evil Cult?
Anti-humanity, anti-science, anti-society.
3. What are the Main Features of an Evil Cult?
1) Anti-science, fabricate falsehoods.
2) Deified leader, psychological control.
3) Secret societies, illegal activities.
4) Swindle believers, extort wealth.
5) Opposed to the government, hostile to society.
6) Proclaim doom, create panic.
Keep away from evil cults; Live healthily
Qingdao City Guard Against & Deal With the Evil Cult Problem Office
* * * * *
But just last week I noticed this next one, which addresses the defaced money directly. Unlike the cute comic-style posters; this is serious black and white multiple-official-red-stamped business. Rough translation below the image (feel free to suggest corrections!):
* * * * *
Chinese Communist Party Shandong Province Party Committee Ministry of Propaganda
Shandong Province People’s Government Guarding Against & Dealing With the Evil Cult Problem Office
Shandong Province Public Security Bureau
China People’s Bank Jinan Branch
Regarding Being on Guard Against and Striking the “FLG” Evil Cult Organization
A Notice About Using RMB to Carry Out Reactionary Propaganda
For the past few years, some “FLG” evil cult members have been making use of the way RMB circulates, using handwriting, stamps, coloured printing, and other methods, writing and publicizing evil cult slogans on RMB, especially spreading reactionary content attacking and slandering the Chinese Communist Party and socialist system, projecting a vile and harmful influence. Under the Public Security Bureau’s crackdown and the broad masses of the people’s energetic boycott, this reactionary sabotage by “FLG” evil cult members has been been checked. But, due to the stubbornness of evil cult activity, currently a large number of these kinds of RMB still appear in society, and the response of the broad masses of the people is strong.
RMB is our China’s legal currency. “FLG” evil cult members adopt the method of defiling RMB to advance reactionary propaganda, they have no right to violate the People’s Republic of China People’s Bank Law and the People’s Republic of China RMB Administration Regulations, and furthermore they’ve violated our nation’s Criminal Law and Public Security Administration Penalties Law — a serious kind of anti-law, anti-society illegal criminal activity. The PRC Chinese People’s Bank Law 19th provision: deliberately damaging RMB is prohibited. The PRC RMB Administration Regulations 23rd provision: those who deliberately damage RMB will be warned by the Public Security Bureau, and a maximum fine of 10,000 yuan will be imposed. PRC Criminal Law 105th article 2nd provision: starting a rumour, slander or other methods of incitement to subvert state power and overthrow the socialist system will be punished with a maximum five year prison term, detention, supervision, or loss of political privileges; ringleaders and major offenders, a minimum five years prison term. 300th article 1st provision: organizing and making use of secret societies, evil cult organizations or using superstition to damage national law and implemented administrative statues, minimum three years to maximum seven years prison term; when circumstances are especially serious, minimum seven year prison term.
The image of the RMB must not be damaged, the dignity of law must not be trampled. The Public Security Bureau at all levels should intensify surveillance and detection efforts, punish criminal action of the “FLG” evil cult using RMB for reactionary propaganda, and maintain an orderly circulation and reputation of RMB. Advocacy at all levels of financial institutions, major Party and government organizations, schools, enterprises and institutions to prevent the evil cult sector, carry out various forms of extensive publicity and educational activities to give the public a clearer understanding of the “FLG” evil cult’s use of RMB for reactionary propaganda and serious illegal purposes, and enhance the image and legal responsibility of maintaining the dignity of the RMB, the ways and means to master the correct treatment, strive to create a good social atmosphere. The masses should raise awareness of and consciously resist the illegal and criminal activities of the “FLG”, and in daily life should ignore and reject the use of such defiled RMB, and if they receive such RMB should have it exchanged at the nearest bank branch as soon as possible. If suspicious persons are discovered writing reactionary content on RMB, actively report to the Public Security Bureau. Each bank branch should perform their required duties and enhance service awareness timely and according to the provisions for the masses to freely exchange such defiled RMB.
Let’s act together firmly in the fight with the “FLG” evil cult’s criminal actions of using RMB for reactionary propaganda, take concrete actions to safeguard the image of the RMB, and maintain the dignity of national law in order to accelerate the construction of the economy and culture of Shandong Province, to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, for the “Chinese Dream” of creating a harmonious and stable social environment!
April 10, 2014
* * * * *
The science bulldozer uproots superstition with scientific truth.
The pesticide of upholding science kills the pests of superstition on the tree of socialism.
The AlarmBell News. Headlines:
“Stay far away from evil cults, don’t be a captive puppet”;
“Clearly understand the ‘FLG’ evil cult’s basic nature” (p.2);
“How ‘Almighty God’ brainwashes believers” (p.3).
“Licang District launches anti-evil cult knowledge training”;
“How Almighty God brainwashes believers”;
“Evil cult organizations control believers through communication deprivation”;
“China’s approach to and methods of dealing with evil cults in the past”.
If you just can’t get enough “evil cult” propaganda:
Actually, it was a nun, and I was arguing with her handlers. It was an irate customer who was yelling directly at the nun. (It looked like the customer got some money back in the end, but I couldn’t tell for sure — she’s in the orange jacket, near the centre of the photo.)Usually my conversations with Buddhists and Daoists are mostly me asking questions. I try to nail down what they actually think, and get a sense of how their beliefs and practices function in their lives. Because I want to understand them; I want to understand the worldviews we encounter on their own terms. (The “high” Buddhism and Daoism we studied in school seems to have precious little to do with the Buddhism and Daoism we regularly encounter at street level in China.) Since there are lots of little god shops around, when I have a few extra minutes I stop in to chat. It’s never been confrontational. Until the other day.
My almost 5-year-old daughter and I have just finished lunch in the market. We’re going to buy trees to plant in the public grass/dirt area outside our first-floor apartment’s windows. I have a bag of tomato and húlu (葫芦) seedlings in one hand and my daughter’s hand in the other.
There’s a crowd around something on the sidewalk. Actually most of the street and sidewalk is basically one big crowd, but Something is Happening up ahead. I peer down into the circle of heads (6’4″ lǎowài can do this in China) to discover a Buddhist nun doing what’s called 算命, where they tell your fortune and then, for a fee, perform rituals to help you avoid the bad things headed your way. (Apparently, so my friends tell me, you pay even more if your future predictions are good.)Judging by the surrounding interest, this seems like a minor Big Deal, so I pull out my phone and start taking pictures. Wish I’d taken video; it’d be fun to have this exchange recorded:
“No! No! You can’t take pictures!”
(A handler comes toward me waving her hands.)
(I wish I’d kept taking pictures.)
“You can’t take pictures of this. It’s bad for your ___.”
(Wish I could remember the exact term she used, but the idea is that me taking pictures of this nun in action would negatively affect my life/fate/etc.)
“No problem! I don’t believe in this superstition.”
(I’m feeling a little ornery. I don’t know why. Maybe being born on the Protestant side of the Reformation means I have a low tolerance for people selling indulgences. Or maybe (yes, actually) it’s because my hands are full, I’m with my daughter, and I’m in increasing need of a public restroom. At least I didn’t use the Mao Era term “feudal superstition” 封建迷信。)
“You can’t take pictures! This is a problem of belief.”
“Right, I don’t believe this. But what are you afraid of? This is a public–“
“We don’t have the same belief. In your country you all–“
(This is common point of worldview disconnect. In China, many people consider your heritage a perfectly valid reason for believing something; in the West, it’s usually the opposite — telling someone they only believe something because of their heritage is a way of saying that person has no good reasons to believe what they claim. Because — speaking very generally — when a North American says they “believe in X”, they usually mean they “think X is true”, but a Chinese using the same phrase isn’t necessarily making a truth claim. Personal convictions about the true nature of Life, the Universe and Everything (and ‘staying true to yourself’) just aren’t as high a value in China, compared with, say, getting along and getting by. And when personal convictions do matter to a Chinese, it can come off as really selfish. Anyway, it sometimes rubs my fur the wrong way when people assume that I think what I think for (what I think is) no good reason.)
“This has nothing to do with my country. Why can’t I take pictures? What are you afraid of?”
(I’m in a hurry, I suspect this whole thing is a scam, and I’m curious what objections they’ll raise since they couldn’t make me fear for my fate. But now the argument that’s been simultaneously happening on the opposite side of the crowd erupts into yelling and accusations of cheating people out of their money. The crowd starts thinning out, maybe feeling a little awkward between me/my camera on one side and the irate customer on the other. If you look closely at the above photos, to the the fortune-teller’s right you’ll see three handlers wearing hats facing away — they’re dealing with the angry woman, whose face can be seen in all the three crowd shots.)