a month

My mum was here for a month, went home on Saturday. It’s always interesting watching newcomers and how they react to China (well, relative newcomer in this case. Mum did spend 10 days here four years ago), even more so when the prime motive for the trip is childcare. But none of that is the point of this post.

Trouble is I seem to have gone and misplaced the point of this post. Or at least, all the ideas I had to write about have gone and gotten all jumbled up or gone AWOL or have otherwise eluded me.

So I’ll start with the airport. Mum’s flights were on China Southern, which seems to have learnt the magic trick of leaving late but arriving early. But that meant Terminal 2, which I have to admit these days I approach with a certain apprehension… or perhaps the kind of quiet dread one experiences inserting a horror film into the DVD player. But no, the evidence presented by my five senses assures me nothing has changed there. Well, a KFC seems to have gone missing, but otherwise, it’s the same trusty old terminal it always was. Getting out to the airport to pick her up would’ve been easy, but it was the National Day holiday and the traffic restrictions didn’t apply. So I left an hour early for a trip that should only take half an hour, and the combo of holiday traffic and China Southern’s new leave late/arrive early magic meant that I’m pretty sure – about as sure as a mere pleb in a bare basics Suzuki trying to rush up the highway as fast as possible can be – that I saw Mum’s plane fly over just as I left the tollgate. The arrivals board confirmed that the plane landed a few minutes before I’d parked the car. It was the time taken to get from the plane to the baggage claim that allowed me to catch my breath, and the time taken for the baggage to make the same journey that allowed me to get really bored waiting.

Taking Mum to the airport on Saturday was much easier. Just an ordinary weekend – no traffic restrictions, of course, but no holiday traffic. But on the way out we saw the traffic trying to head back in to the city was jammed almost solid from the 5th Ring Road most of the way back to the airport. So having sent Mum through the security check, we piled back in the car, and off we went. An electronic sign informed us – not that these signs are always entirely accurate, but never mind – that the traffic was still jammed up ahead. So I took the turn off for the Jingping Expressway and my wife and I collectively had one of those “Are we still in China?” moments. Three lanes stretching out in front of us, and almost entirely empty. On either side fields and trees stretched into the distance. Somewhere in the haze to the south what looked like the edge of a city rose.

But, having been not terribly familiar with the place names on the signs for the ramp heading in the other direction, but recognising the names on the sign for the ramp I had taken, I’d made a mistake. And it wasn’t just an “Oops, I took a slightly longer route” mistake, either. I had taken the offramp for the G101 to head back into the city, but the G101 as it passes under the Jingping reminded me too much of the roads around the western edge of Taiyuan when I lived there, so I got back on the expressway. That meant joining the Jingcheng Expressway at Huanggang.

“Where’s your receipt?” said the woman at the gate.

“What receipt?”

“Well, where have you come from?”

“The airport.”

“Which terminal?”

“Terminal 2.”

And she gave me a ticket and we went on our merry way. Two kilometres down the track we met the main tollgate.

15 kuai?!

15 kuai to drive a measly 2km down the Jingcheng?! On a weekday it’s 45 kuai to take the Jingcheng to the North 6th Ring, thence to the G6, thence all the way out to Kangzhuang. That’s the better part of 100km. The Airport Expressway these days only charges 5 kuai, and that’s only on the way out. And for a measly 2km of the Jingcheng I was charged 15 kuai.

Oh well.

So the signs (as trustworthy as they aren’t) said the 3rd and 4th Rings were jammed, so I took the 5th Ring. It was a bit slow in places, but ok. Just before the interchange with the Jingtong Expressway there’s a sign saying citybound traffic can also take Guangqu Lu, and although I’d noticed that odd little wallflower of an offramp sitting there all quiet and unassuming in the shade of a quarter-finished set of bridges and ramps, I’d never used it before. But that is a more direct route than going all the way down to the G1 then doubling back. So I tried it.

And so this quiet little ramp led us down the side of an interchange whose construction started some time ago, but has since stalled, past rather healthy crops of weeds, between a powerstation that’s been there some years and what looks like a powerstation under construction, and onto one of those odd roads east of the 4th Ring which is still partly industrial grime and old housing, and fancy new real estate developments. Except that this road has the standard construction site steel blue fencing all the way down its median strip and in several patches along the side and what look like the pylons for future overbridges poking up from the middle. So who knows? Maybe to complement all the fancy new apartment blocks Guangqu Lu east of the 4th Ring will turn into a fancy expressway and that abandoned baby of an interchange on the 5th Ring just south of the Jingtong Expressway will be revived and completed?

Now, in a note completely unrelated to my adventures in the wilds of Beijing’s road network, and as I may perhaps have hinted already, it’s been interesting watching how my mum has reacted to certain Chinese baby-raising practices.  Cross-cultural baby-raising is not something I really want to write about, at least not yet, but one of the biggest problems I have found is that coming from a small country makes it especially hard to get my own culture equal time and space. And one advantage of having a parent come over to visit, other than the extra cultural support, is that she can bring stuff. Like books, for example. Kiwi books, in particular.

See, if you go searching on sites like Dangdang and other Chinese online shopping sites, it’s easy to find the likes of Dr Seuss, Richard Scarry, Beatrix Potter, and so on. But I don’t necessarily want my daughter to grow up speaking Yank or Pom, or thinking that Christmas is actually supposed to be in winter, or other such nonsense. So shop on New Zealand sites! Well, sure, but that requires the means to get money from me to them, and all that we can do in that respect for the time being limits us to China. The internet is good and useful, of course, but babies grabbing a hold of computer screens is just not as much fun as babies grabbing a hold of books. Trust me on that. My baby loves playing with Daddy’s computer. The results can be interesting.

Does anybody else remember that rather morose and morbid old children’s song that revolved around the charming lines:

There was an old woman who swallowed a fly.

I don’t know why she swallowed a fly.

Perhaps she’ll die.

Yeah, lovely. Just makes me want to listen to Radiohead.

Well, anyways, in that fine old Kiwi tradition of reworking northern hemisphere stuff to suit our purposes, it has become:

There was an old woman who swallowed a weta.

I don’t know why she swallowed a weta.

She’s never felt better!

And it ends:

There was an old woman who swallowed a Kiwi.

Now she’s in jail, silly!

How’s that? None of this melancholic warbling about some silly old bat who swallows a bunch of animals until finally it’s a horse that kills her. Nope. Instead, a lot of good, clean fun – well, and smearing kiwifruit jam on a jandal freshly torn off some poor kid’s foot to whack the bat. And tuatara marinara. But certainly none of this morbid Canadian bollocks.

And you know what? This time I’m going to limit the randomness. There’s a couple of other things I want to write about, but I’m actually going to try and unjumble them first and save them for other posts.

About the Author


A Kiwi teaching English to oil workers in Beijing, studying Chinese in my spare time, married to a beautiful Beijing lass, consuming vast quantities of green tea (usually Xihu Longjing/西湖龙井, if that means anything to you), eating good food (except for when I cook), missing good Kiwi ale, breathing smog, generally living as best I can outside Godzone and having a good time of it.

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