Discrepancy Card

This is something that I wrote back in August, and posted on my original site (located here). Since many readers are new to this site, and most likely have not seen the other site, I’m slowly recyling some of my entries from that site. 

The building in which I work is located on the campus of a private school. My organization owns the building, but leases the land that it sits on, so this particular piece of real estate is situated within the campus of this private school, not on the edge, not just inside the gate, but deep within the campus.

Like all campuses in China, be they factories, schools, or universities, this one is ringed by a wall (walls are a an important feature of Chinese culture, but more on that another time) and everyone gets on and off the campus via the front gate, which is usually an oversized and slightly ornate edifice that is manned by uniformed guards.

When foreigners first arrive in China, they notice that there are lots and lots of young men in uniform standing at the entrances to just about everything — stores, restaurants, banks, schools, hotels — and assume that they are either police or soldiers. In reality, they are almost always young peasant boys from the countryside who have come to town to get jobs as security guards. Whoever hires them gives them room and board, and provides them with teal green uniforms. There lot in life is to man the gates (and doors) to protect those inside from the dreaded “outsiders.”

Recently the campus security office at this school has decided that their "crackdown of the month" (as I like to call crackdowns in China) is to make all personnel who live and/or work on the campus carry their newly issued ID cards.  This, of course, includes the dozen or so foreigners from my organization who live and work in our building.   When the notice came down from on high about this new regulation (actually, it’s always been there, they’ve just decided to try to enforce it for awhile), we were ordered to submit photos to the security office so we could be issues ID cards.

We did this, and the next day were all issued pretty pink cards, with Chinese on one side and English on the other.  On the Chinese side, the card is called a chu-ru zheng, which literally means "exit-entrance certificate."  I think the propoer translation would be admittance pass.

But on the English side it says, in big letters DISCREPANCY CARD! Huh? After I had a good laugh, I scurried to find my Chinese-English dictionary to see what was going on.  While the Chinese word chu means exit, and ru means enter, when the two characters are put together to form the word churu, the first entry in the dictionary is "discrepancy."  "Admittance" as a possible meaning way at the end of the list.

Upon further reflection, however, I realized that "discrepancy" is probably the more accurate translation since the very presence of a foreigner in a society like this is, in fact, a discrepancy!

And when I forget that, I just whiop out the card as a reminder!

Update:  Even though I dubbed it "crackdown of the month," this one only lasted about 2 days.  On Day One, I of course forgot my discrepancy card, but it didn’t matter….the guard let me in anyway.  Since then I have not been asked to show my card even once!  Never mind.  The security office could write a report to their higher ups that they promulgated (that word is popular in Chinese) the regulation, who report it their higher ups who report it to their higher ups, ad naseum.  It’s the promulgation of a regulation that counts, not the enforcement.

Santa on a Scooter!

On Christmas Eve,  a couple friends and I decided to head downtown to see what the crowds were like outside one of the churches in Beijing.  With Christmas becoming more and more popular (at least as a consumer festival), there is also an increased interest in attending Christmas Eve services at the local churches.  We had heard that there were long lines to get in last year, and that the radio was reporting that large crowds were anticipated this year as well.  Not wanting to actually stand in line ourselves, we decided to go look at them.

We were not disappointed.  We estimated that there were approximately 500+ people standing out in the cold waiting to get in.  The church was running 5 back-to-back services, so when one service was over, the next lot of 500 or so was allowed in.  Police were managing the lines, and everyone was in a very festive mood.  I asked one lady how long she had been standing there and she joyfully said “one and a half hours.”   It’s impossible to imagine Americans standing in line for an hour and a half on a cold winter’s night waiting to get into a church!

On our way home, we spotted a sight that made us laugh out loud.  As we came to an intersection, suddenly a scooter darted out in front of us, and the guy driving the scooter was wearing a Santa suit!  A man in a suit was riding on the back and seemed to have a stack of something in his hand.  As we slowly followed him in the traffic, we watched him pull up to people standing at bus stops, or riding their bikes on the street, and give them something.  As we got closer, I rolled down the window and yelled “Merry Christmas” in Chinese.  They then handed us their goodies—2 free calendars—then sped away.

Even our taxi driver was laughing.  “Everyone is festive tonight,” he said.  “It’s Christmas Eve!”

No China, No Christmas

There’s a great article in the December 20 edition of the Christian Science Monitor, about a family that decided to attempt a year without purchasing anything made in China.  It just confirms what I’ve been saying for a long time now:  If it weren’t for China, we couldn’t do Christmas in the US!

The article is titled, "A Year Without ‘Made in China’".   Read it!

A Bit More Science…

I was in a cab this afternoon coming home from an appointment up in Wudaokou, the university district of Beijing, when I spotted a nearly block-long billboard that made me laugh out loud.  It wasn’t an advertising billboard, but one set up and maintained by the neighborhood or district neighborhood committee (smallest unit of local government here).  Every neighborhood in the urban areas has these committees who are responsible for sanitation and security in the neighborhood.  In addition, they have a political function of making sure that everyone in their jurisdiction is up on the latest Party pronouncements.  Hence they maintain “propaganda board” around the neighborhood where residents can read the latest Party reports and get up to date on the lastest political slogans.

The main theme that the Party has adopted this year is “haromony,” and is thus attempting to mobilize the masses around the goal of “building a harmonious society.”  As a result, the word “harmony” has become ubiquitous!  I’ve had a number of events this fall where I’ve had to give speeches (in Chinese and English) with Chinese officials present.  I always made sure that I included the word somewhere.  I’ll take points any way I can get them!

Ok, back to the propaganda board in Wudaokou.  It said this:  “A little bit more science…a little bit more democracy…a little bit more reasoning…a little bit more tolerance…a little bit more love….will lead to a harmonious society!”

If that weren’t funny enough, this is the same neighborhood that has a giant banner with a verse from 1 Corinthians 13 hanging in the post office!

Go figure!

A Pigeons’ Warm Blessing

It’s Christmas card season, even in China, and they are pouring into our office fast and furious-like! Most of them are very nice, but some of them have very humorous "Chinglish" greetings.  One that we received today scored particularly high on the chuckle factor:

Please listen carefully to the bell in the distance before time goes by.  It is just like pigeons bringing us bliss and falling to the house with warm wishes.  The silver bell rings missing and happiness, blessings and dedication, friendship and dream, along with my regard I hope — a happy life and success!

I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly enamored with the thought of a pigeon’s warm blessing falling on my house.  I once had a pigeon’s warm blessing fall on my head, and believe me, it brought me no bliss!   Or maybe it’s the pigeons themselves who are falling on my house.  That’s not a happy thought, either, quite frankly!

At any rate, I do hope you happy life and success!

Finger Food

Finger food has never really been a part of Chinese culture. It is very rare here to see someone using his/her fingers to eat anything. In fact, I’ve seen people go to great lengths to avoid using their fingers when eating food that is normally eaten with fingers, such as hamburgers, french fries, etc. Did you know that two straws can be used as chopsticks to eat fries? I’ve seen it! China does have a dish that is, in fact, best eaten with fingers, namely Peking Duck. For those of you who’ve never eaten Peking Duck, it’s small slices of fatty duck, dipped in plum sauce, and rolled up, along with green onions, in  a small pancake. Think of it as a duck burrito, and I can assure you that eating a burrito with chopsticks is no easy feat! I was in a restaurant tonight and spotted the solution. The waitress gave everyone at the table plastic gloves so they could eat with their hands!

As the British say, “Brilliant!”

Background Music

I was in a taxi yesterday afternoon on the way downtown to meet a friend for supper.  The radio was on, and I was just half listening.  But during the commercial breaks, my ears locked in to the background music of some of the ads.  For one of them, it was "Jingle Bells."  For another it was "The  Hallelujah Chorus."  Another one was playing Auld Lang Syne (is that how you spell it?). I chuckled and was reminded of an ad campaign by Air China about 10 years ago when some flunky in their marketing department had chosen the Abba song "Take a Chance on Me" as the background music. 

Second Hand Smoke

If you were to pop in to my place for a visit tonight, you’d imagine that I was secretly indulging in cigarette smoking.  The smell of cigarette smoke in my place is quite strong.  Problem is, I haven’t been home all day, so it can’t be me!  Here’s the problem.  The apartment next door has been converted into an office.  China does not have a system of zoning where buildings are designated for residence of commercial/office.  So apartments in an upscale  building like mine can be used for either.  I had known this sort of before I rented here, but when I signed the lease, I was specifically asked if I intended to use the place as a residence or a business.  Anyway, the apartment next door is an office, and as far as I can tell every single employee over there is a chain smoker.  Doors and windows don’t seal well here, so the smoke wafts out into the hallway, and has now found its way into my apartment.  It wasn’t quite so bad when the weather was warm because their office windows were open, but now that everything is shut tight, the smoke congregates in the hallway outside my apartment door. 

China is a land of second-hand smoke.  That much I know from spending time in restuarants. But in my own apartment!!!  Sigh.  I wish I could escape it at home!  I suppose it’s not nice to say, but I hope the business next door folds.