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Me Mao You Long Time: Images of China
Filip Dabrowski
With over a billion people, how can you even begin to talk about space? And personal?

Photo Rosemary North
As the train rolled slowly into Guangzhou station, I was getting ready for mayhem. I knew what to expect, I was here before. My head pounded. Despite the air con in the carriage, I started to sweat. My backpack felt heavy against my shoulders.
Screech of metal on metal; we had arrived.
The doors opened and people rushed out. I was caught in a tidal wave of human bodies, all with a common goal, all heading for the exit. I didn’t even bother to resist. I relaxed my body, wiped sweat off my face and let the human wave guide me to wherever it wanted. I didn’t care anymore. After 28-hours on the train, slurping of noodles, belching of stomachs, scratching of asses…I couldn’t give a damn. All I wanted was the exit—however I got there was not up to me to decide.

Down steps, through underground passages, the wave guided me. People, people everywhere—I’ve been in China long enough, I decided, to get used to it all. But, damn it, I was from Canada. Canada, population of around thirty million, but now in a country that had over a billion souls—how can one get used to that? Mind boggling, it always was, and I gather always will. I will never get used to it, but I will learn to accept it, for whatever its worth.

People, with those little cases on wheels, pushing each other, trying to be the first ones through the exit and into freedom; I follow them. Businessmen returning from business trips; boyfriends returning from home towns to see their girlfriends in the big city; children and parents visiting friends or family, farmers in search of gold. It seemed to me, anyway, that people from all over China were coming to Guangzhou seduced by its riches, up and up lifestyle, in search of a better future and a better life. Finally I spotted a word, in the distance, above the wave of bobbing heads: EXIT. I wiped seat off my brow. I had made it. For the second time in my life.

I stepped into the humid afternoon. Planes flew overhead en route to Baiyun International Airport. More people outside, squatting, waiting for trains or tickets or salvation—all looking at me. Foreigner. Lowai. Adjusting my backpack, I made my way through the crowd towards the bus station—a ten minute walk at best.

The Duck passed the home made potato bong around a small wooden table. There were four of us, including the Duck himself, sitting in the closed Karst Café, well above ground, drinking ice cold Liq beer and smoking hash through a potato.
"Would you believe," the Duck said, "that while getting high one also gets the needed daily supply of vitamins?"
We all nodded, unable to speak. What can you say to the Duck? He’s the man above all men. He is even above himself. He has spent his life in Yangshuo, drinking beer, fucking Chinese women and getting high.
"Duck, ever want to go back to Germany?"
"Why should I? I’ve got plenty of pussy right here."
Hip-hop was belting out of the speakers as I scanned the scene below. Travelers milling around, drinking beer, talking, getting it on. Is this China?
"No, man," the Duck replied, "its paradise."
We are not in China. This is a different world with different ethics with a different feel and texture. This is not what it is and never will be. We have to appreciate it, because it will be gone. Paradise Lost. Chinese tourists are more abundant than ever. No more backpacker heaven, no more paradise. Only a state-run tourist trap.
But maybe that’s what it’s always been?
"Would somebody care to sponsor me a cigarette?"
"Sure Duck," I throw him my packet of Hongtashan.
The place will die like the Duck himself.

Guangzhou Long Distance Bus Station. I walk inside and head for the counters—a million people. I pick the line that looks best, unable to read the Chinese script, unable to read anything that may or may not resemble English. I scan my watch. My stomach grumbles. The line moves slowly.
I look around and everyone is looking at me. Strange, in a city as developed as Guangzhou, they still stare in awe when they see a foreigner. No matter—I always stare back and smile. They smile in return and shy away.

In China there is no room for personal space. It does not exist. With over a billion people, how can you even begin to talk about space? And personal? Shit, it’s an oxymoron. Walking down the street one must always be aware of ones neighbor. No room to dodge or to pass by. Everyone moves in one direction and you are either a part or an outsider in this race.
Say you’re going to the Internet Café to do some e-mailing. You’re a foreigner. This means you’re special. In a matter of moments you are surrounded by people who stare at what you’re writing. They speak not a single word of English, yet they are curious, they need to find out.
No personal space, especially on public transport. On busses and trains, everyone huddles closely, sweat and stink mingling in everlasting ecstasy. We’re all in this together, mind, we are all the same.
Finally I get my turn at the counter. I walk up slowly, smiling, saying my destination under my breath, trying to make the right tones and pronounce it right.
"Guilin," I say, smiling.
"Guilin." I repeat.
"Yes," I reply.
She shakes her head and points in the general direction of another line, a million miles long.
"Over there?" I point.
She shakes her head: YES.
"Where exactly?"
My time is up. She began serving another customer.
I shuffle away.

Robert sat back and smiled. "You won’t believe the shit I’ve been through."
We’ve just concluded a 10 hour bus ride along a mountain road from Lijiang to Panzhihua in Sichuan Province. Heidi, Justin and I on one bus and Robert, all alone, on the other.
"There was this woman," he continued, "and she had this little dog with her. Cute thing, you know, like all the other small dogs in China. Anyway, we stop for lunch. Everyone gets out, stretches, some go and eat, the woman included. I sit in the bus, still cramped from the shit storm form the night before. I try to sleep. Suddenly there is shouting. I open my eyes and the woman, the small dog owner, is immersed in an argument with the restaurant owner. Now, I can’t speak worth shit Chinese, but I figure, common sense you know, she’s got no money on her to pay for the food. The restaurant owner is pissed—the bus driver as well. Than, in a flash, the restaurant owner jumps in the bus, takes her little dog, gets back out and, believe this, kills the little dog right on the spot. In front of the woman, the passengers, everyone. I just stare. I can’t believe this shit. The woman starts crying, shouting, starts to have a fit. It goes on for about two minutes. The restaurant owner returns, slaps her face and gives her back change. Five Yuan I think. One costly meal that was."
China—you either love it or hate it. Another story about dogs and restaurants—an urban myth, I think, but interesting nonetheless.

An elderly lady is returning home to England after a year in China. She was a teacher at a university in Shanghai. Her bags are packed, shipped off to the airport, and she, deciding on a last quick meal of real Chinese food, goes out to eat. She has her little dog with her, packed in a carrier, and sets out in search of food. She finds a fancy restaurant (why not splurge on the last day?) and goes inside. Upon entering the restaurant, one of the waiters suggests he will take care of her dog. She sits down, orders her food, waits, eats, asks for the bill. The bill arrives—stunned—the woman can’t believe her eyes. They must have made a mistake! Only 30 Yuan for all that food? Incredible! She doesn’t bother to ask for recalculating the bill, places a fifty on the table, change returns swiftly. She gets up, heads for the exit, asks one of the waiters to collect her dog. A commotion. The dog? What do you mean the dog?
They find a waiter who speaks little English.
"I want my dog back," the lady pleads.
"I’m sorry ma’am, but you just had your dog for lunch."

Photo: Rosemary North
I return to Yangshuo, on the red eye from Guangzhou. The town, like a magnet, pulling me in—I check my watch, 5 A.M. I walk down West Street, the Blue Lotus Café still open, Bobbie drinking beer.
"Shit!" She shouts. "Aren’t you supposed to be in Canada or something?"
"Nope, still here."
"Pull up a chair and get yourself a glass."
Bobbie, English teacher in Yangshuo, from Canada as well.
"Can’t get away, can you?" She asks.
"I’m trying, but it’s hard."
"I hear you."
We sit, drinking beer, watching the town seeping back to life. Vendors getting ready for another day of haggling, restaurants and cafés frying up eggs and banana pancakes—not China, but than what?
Bobbie will hang around for another month or so, than out traveling. She says she’s gotta see the country before returning to Canada.
"So, what are you doing?"
"Looking for a job."
"Jobs, man, they suck."
"Yeah, they do."

Every girl is looking for a boyfriend. Café girls, that is. Simply put: why would you work in a café for 400 Yuan a month? To learn English, yes, and to attract the eye of a foreigner—I spy with my little eye…
Why foreigner? Money, yes, freedom, of course, bigger male instrument, no doubt. They want to change their lives. They want to escape, see the world, seduced by tales of England, Canada, America…where money flows like water, where everyone has a car and a house, where everyone is rich and leads a better life. They all want what we have and are willing to do all to get it. We have the power—they have none. But, let me ask a question, where are our morals? Why do some promise the stars just for a fuck and never deliver? But you see, they don’t loose hope, the café girls, oh no, they hope and hope until the day they die. They live with broken hearts and broken dreams, but they hope and pray that maybe, someday, in the future, a man will show up and will take them away to the Promised Land and they will forget everything, the bad times, the other lovers, the lost promises and unkept words. They dream…but do dreams come true? Let’s hope they do, for their sakes, for their sanity. Let’s hope, because that is all we can do.

'Cafe Girls wait '

"So where you’re off to?" Bobbie asks.
"Nanning probably."
I order an American breakfast. Fried eggs, bacon, coffee and toast. Like back home, so why ever leave?
Heidi, Justin, Alco, Robert and I were sitting outside the Sakura Café in Old Town Lijiang, drinking Dali beer and munching on the best cheeseburgers this side of the Pacific. We spotted him walking towards us, a Chinese guy in a red shirt. As he neared closer we saw the picture that graced the front.
"Very cool," Justin said.
We all agreed.
On the T-shirt a picture of Chairman Mao in all his grace—above a caption: Me Mao You Long Time.
Robert leaned out of his seat as the guy passed our table. "Hey buddy, do you speak English?"
"Where did you get that shirt?"
"You’re not Chinese, are you?"
"No, man, Korean."
"Cool shirt."
Me Mao You Long Time: from Thailand with love.

Filip Dabrowski

This is Filip's first piece for Hacks and it's pretty good. If you want more, email him, tell him so.
We'd like to know more about his journeys in China.

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