October 2009

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With plenty of Tibet in the middle, and even me tripping over on ice-skates. Yes, that’s right: your humble author has committed the equivalent of blogging masturbation and uploaded a compilation of clips from traveling in China to YouTube. My only excuse for this shameless self-indulgence is that I am home sick and have nothing better to do. And my sole defense is that I had a clip of my cat playing the keyboard but in a temporary moment of sanity decided not to include it:

In other news – and in a vain attempt to redeem this post – I am hearing and seeing some anectodal evidence that swine flu is hitting Beida and Tsinghua. Of course, it could just as well be a spate of bad colds with the winter arriving: the symptoms are indistinguishable, with the exception of the feverish desire to upload travel clips to YouTube that characterises H1N1 (oh no!). But a lot of students are calling in sick, and one Beijing hospital has had 6,000 calls in the last two days.

Down the street from the crumbling Mao-era tower block in which I live, there is an up-class, yellow-painted, high-gated primary school, fancily called ‘Benzhen Bilingual Montessory School of the Arts’. In the mornings – if I didn’t oversleep – I often pause to watch the young kids there rehearsing various kinds of dances, and wish I went to that school instead.

In between my tower block and the one opposite it (the structural integrity of which I have more confidence in), there is an open space for the community, which on weekends is monopolised by the new craze of two-wheel skateboards. Middle-aged ladies often dance there, either to the silent rhythm of tai chi or to the crackling sounds of an old boom box.

What kind of dancing do these generations, from two very different Chinas, indulge in? Here’s a video I took last time I passed by:

Postscript – I’ve just noticed that this is the 100th post on Six. I am now going to treat the above video as a happy birthday dance just for me …

Coca Cola nationalism

Did you know that Chairman Mao drank a refreshing draft of Coke before stepping up to declare the birth of a nation on October 1st 1949? (A shameless advert taken in a Macdonald’s in Beijing, as is obvious from the reflection.) 中国人民从此喝起来了?

On this blog, one of the jobs I give myself without anyone asking (mental note: must stop doing that) is to keep an eye on news related to Tsinghua and Peking University, my campuses this and last year respectively. Well, skimming through the Beijing Times (京华报纸) on National Day I came across this article, which is so strikingly newsworthy that I simply had to translate it and share the knowledge. Nitpicking is welcome, but go easy as this is my first translation.

As an aside before we begin, I have not come across this particular cat at Beida. But every lunch hour last year, as I walked from my classroom to the noodle canteen, I would pass a dozen excessively plump felines lounging on the grass, surrounded by food which passing students had thrown them. Occasionally one of the cats would deem it worthy of the effort to reach out a swollen paw and grab some of this food. Mostly, however, they just sunbathed, melting in their own comfort.


Beida’s “Academic Cat” attends the school’s classes

On the campus of Peking University, there is a cat who for five years has taken class together with students, winning the deep affection of teachers and students. Now this cat is a hot topic online, and has become famous as the “academic cat”.

Yesterday afternoon, your reporter came across this cat at a teaching building in the East quarter of Beida. With the exception of a small stump in place of its tail, it is by no means different to an ordinary tabby cat. It unhurriedly ambled into the building, then with pattering steps passed proficiently through the winding hallways. On the way, it received the treatment of an honoured guest, its fans looking on every now and then. Passing by the toilet, it even exhibited all the fine training of a “cultured cat”. It leapt up to the hand-washing basin, using its front paws to open the water faucet, bobbing its body down to begin drinking, and when finished it skillfully shut the water faucet and spun around to go out. However, possibly because the onlooking students were too many, in the end it didn’t enter a classroom to sit in on class, and left.

According to young Liang, the first Beida student to post this online, this stray cat frequently attends class, beginning from 2004, and its popularity is growing. Because its tail is severed, everyone familiarly calls it “short stump”. “Short stump”, when taking class, has refined academic tastes, philosophy and art class are its favourites. For a long time, everyone has become used to the unusual, tacitly recognising it as a member of class, and never chasing it out. One time, when “short stump” had to leave halfway through class, one of the teachers personally opened the door for it, joking “I haven’t been teaching the class well, my apologies!”

After “short stump” became well-known, many people expressed a desire to take her in as a pet. Liang says there are already compassionate people who construct housing for the stray cats on Beida’s campus and feed them regularly. But “short stump” is the only cat who goes it alone, and doesn’t like that lifestyle. Nethertheless, the attentive Liang has noticed the change in “short stump” after it rose to fame: “Because it’s often watched by others, it isn’t as carefree as before, it’s a little short-tempered, so we would be better not to disturb it’s life.”





昨天下午,记者在北大东区一座教学楼前碰到了这只猫,除了尾巴只有一小截外,它与普通黄猫并没什么区别。它慢悠悠地走进了教学楼,继而迈着小碎步在 曲折的走廊里熟练地穿行。一路上,它受到贵宾级待遇,不时有“粉丝”前来围观。路过卫生间时,它还展现了其作为一只“文化猫”的良好修养。只见它纵身跃上 洗手池,用前爪打开水龙头,俯下身子开始喝水,喝毕熟练地把水龙头关上才转身出来。不过,也许是围观的同学太多,它最终没有进教室听课,就离开了。

据最初在网上发帖的北大学生小梁介绍,从2004年起,这只流浪猫就经常去教室听课,人气很旺。因为它的尾巴断了一截,所以大家亲昵地叫它“小 断”。“小断”听课很有品位,哲学类和艺术类的课程都是它的最爱。时间久了,大家也见怪不怪了,默认它为教室的一员,从未赶过它。一次,“小断”中途要 走,某老师还亲自开门幽默道:“课讲得不好,对不住了啊!”

“小断”出名后,很多人表示想收养它。小梁说,已经有爱心人士为校园流浪猫搭建了房屋并且按时喂食,只是像“小断”这样特立独行的猫,不喜欢过那样 的生活。不过,细心的小梁发现了“小断”出名后的变化,“因为时常被人围观,它不像以前那样悠然自得了,有些烦躁,我们还是不要打扰它的生活为好。”

Of Mao and Men (photos)

I’m back from a red weekend in Mao’s hometown of Shaoshan and neighbouring metropolis Changsha, in south-central Hunan province. (I had a bet with myself on Twitter as to how many statues of Mao I would see: the bet was 10, the result – cheekily including large busts – 7.) Here, in celebration of the absence of chou dofu from Beijing’s streets, is a mini photo essay of ‘things Mao’.

Pilgrims (mostly on day trips organised by their work units) queue to see …

… Mao Zedong’s childhood bedroom in Shaoshan.

The pilgrims must then dare to walk through the communist tunnel …

… to reach the Mao museum and read a testimonial by the maker of Mao’s pajamas that Mao refused shiny new pajamas even when he was leader of China, continuing to use his shabby old pajamas because he was still one of of the common folk. I’m not sure if I should admit such a private feeling on my blog, but when I read this, I cried.

The lowest form of wit aside, pride in local boy Mao was palpable in Changsha. Most bus drivers I saw had little busts of the chairman in their front windows for good luck (this is rare in Beijing). After all, Mao did come from working all night at this study desk in Changsha in his youth …

… to founding the nation 60 years ago. (A painting from the Hongse Jiyi – ‘red memories’ – exhibit in the Hunan provincial museum.)

And the Chinese people have in those 60 years come from gun-wielding revolutionaries (according to another painting in the exhibit) …

… to cigarette dragging lunch-breakers in an ever more comfortable and strong China. Mission accomplished?

Bits and bobs

  • A space to watch: I’m contributing some photos to the The China Beat every fortnight or so at their new photography feature, with three up so far.
  • A link to ignore: Emily Chang of CNN interviews young members of the Communist Youth League, in what is presumably the most patronising and shortsighted fashion she can think of:

When we requested an interview with members of the Communist Youth League, I expected an army of suits with well-rehearsed answers. Instead, we met three students casually dressed in jeans, just 18 to 23 years old … My questions seemed to be more sensitive than they expected, but the students remained poised and answered every one.

  • A link to click: Jack, the Chinese diplomat-to-be who has contributed regularly to this blog (and who has just finished a month’s military training from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose regulations unfortunately now prevent him from writing more for Six) recommended I read this op-ed by a Chinese writer in the New York Times. In Jack’s words, it “digs deep into the heart of the Chinese people, exposing their internal strength behind their brilliant achievements”.

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