Saturday, July 9, 2011

Friday in Shanghai

Friday morning was troubling. Visa issues in China are painful at the best of times, but as soon as you attempt to do something even remotely outside-of-the-box, you are undoubtedly met with a brick wall of either arrogance or confusion. More often than not, the official you are dealing with will fill both of these criteria and your task, no matter how simple, becomes a kind of downward climb. Struggling and yet getting absolutely nowhere.

Apparently my plans to study two consecutive semesters at two different universities is just such an insane demand, that no one in the history of China has ever had to find a visa solution to bridge the summer holiday gap. Anyone who has ever been to the Entry-Exit Bureau will tell you, it’s a particularly fresh kind of hell. I had everything I thought I would need, everything I was told I would need, and photocopies of everything including things I didn’t really need, but apparently did not everything that I needed.

I nearly slapped the lady. It was honestly possibly the most self-control I have ever experienced in my life, not to scream profanities at her, at least. I don’t know whether to be proud of my refrained lack-of-actions or not. She deserves a lot of shit, this lady. I hope karma exists just so that it will come back and fuck that lady in the eye.

It is times like this when I really truly hate China. I go through phases of it now and again, particularly at transitional times like this when anything has to be organised or go through some kind of administrational process. I am giving so much to this country by being here and learning this language. Life-long relationships between countries like Australia and China begin at the student level, and I know that Australia is always incredibly encouraging towards international students which it hosts. Not only does Australia make money from their international students, but in an incredibly important long-term sense, they are strengthening future international connections. China clearly does not have enough forward-thinking to make the same effort with the international students it receives.

A simple example is the difficulties the students face when trying to get temporary residents permits and visas. I have never experienced a country which has such a painful beurocratic process for people who are trying to do the right thing.

Another example is the exams which I just completed. A classmate and I confronted the teacher at the end of our last exam, because we witnessed several (read: 7 out of a class of 22) students cheating. We had decided not to name any students (because we aren’t assholes) and simply wanted to ask/tell her about the problem, only to receive the response that she was aware of the conduct. I was shocked, and yet not the least bit surprised. In the whole ninety minutes of the exam, the teacher had walked around the exam room once, and spent the rest of the time reading behind her desk at the front of the room. Students were not only whispering to each other, but using iPhones and electronic dictionaries on their laps. Her response to our query? She named several of the students which she knew had been cheating, told us that “it’s not very good”, and then waited for us to leave.

I refused to leave, naturally. My fundamental ideas of fairness and reasonableness had been assaulted yet again, and this was more than someone not letting me walk when the flashing man turns green. This time it was so. not. okay. I didn’t stay up in the wee hours of the mourning learning how to write some shitty pictograms from a language that hasn’t developed in a million years which is completely illogical and fuckeduplevelsofhard just to have other students pull out an iPhone and obliterate at least three hours of hard study with every single fat finger they press on their gadgets.

I posed the classic question that lazy, unfair people hate to hear – “What are you going to do about it?”
     She paused.
     We waited.
     She smiled.
     We didn’t.

She replied not with a suggestion of action, but with a comment about how poorly it reflects on her if the students in her classes don’t do well.

This attitude is unbearable. It breaks my heart. When I hear and see and experience things like this, it makes me feel like leaving and never coming back. I saw a dead kitten on the road today, and the taxi driver drove over with the right hand size front tire, just under my seat. I am so exhausted. When people do these things it makes me angry to the point of crying and I feel like this whole year is a waste. Why am I learning Mandarin if I hate the prevailing attitudes of the people that speak it? Why am I getting experience in this country if I can’t stand it so much that so often I find myself just wanting to get out. A boy in my class whom I had come to be friends with had his passport taken from him last week and may be deported because of anti-communist party writing on his Chinese blog. Why am I encouraging people to even think about China when their political stance is so fundamentally wrong? They drive hundreds of their brightest students to suicide every year with their insane academic pressures and unattainable university places, and yet autonomous and independent thought is hacked out of them every second they breathe.

I don’t want to live here and spend my money here and encourage their economic progress. Yesterday I paid 19 kuai for a pair of brand new sneakers. That is about three Australian dollars. How did a single person get paid in that manufacturing process? This morning I paid two kuai for two bananas and thirty kuai for a coffee. Where is the logic in that? Who gets all that money for the coffee, and who am I practically stealing these bananas from?

Walking around today was so hot that I could have started my own desalination plant. Why is it that bad? Maybe for the same reason that visibility is so low that even with 20-20 vision, sometimes I stand on the ground and can’t see the top of a skyscraper properly. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that China produces and consumes as much as wants whenever it wants, and cannot conceptualise that the air and the ocean aren’t their property. When I take the metro I am crushed, and flagfall for a taxi is only 12 kuai. For less than two dollars I get an air-conditioned vehicle all to myself. I can crush as many kittens as I feel like. Why would anyone bother with public transport? They don’t.

I feel like a monster just breathing here. Like a criminal. I cannot justify supporting this country, and yet my very presence is doing so. Rationally, the only way for China to improve, is by international influence. The optimist inside me says things are getting better, but I am unsure what is simply misplaced naivety these days. The earth here is a magnet for horrible attributes within humans. It is drawing everything I hate within myself to the surface and making me detest myself. I have never felt such constant levels of frustration in Australia. I have never felt such a paradox before of so easily doing the wrong thing, and yet having no influence or capability for good action.

Several people have told me that what I am experiencing is something particular to Shanghai. I have mixed ideas about this. Primarily it makes me happy, because I will be leaving in about 3 days time. The other part of me, yet again, just feels guilty about leaving it behind as though it were not my problem. This shouldn’t be my problem, but no one in China seems to think it is theirs. Is this what makes Shanghai so shit?

I’m sure my opinion of the city will improve again over the next few days, and Beijing is sure to have a therapeutic affect on my sensibilities. There isn’t much I can do about it now. As usual, I am helpless.

I try not to think about it too much.

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