Me Mao You Long Time: Images of China
a billion people, how can you even begin to talk about space? And personal?
Photo Rosemary North
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 didnt 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 didnt care anymore. After 28-hours on the train,
slurping of noodles, belching of stomachs, scratching of asses
couldnt give a damn. All I wanted was the exithowever
I got there was not up to me to decide.
Down steps, through
underground passages, the wave guided me. People, people everywhereIve
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 soulshow 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 salvationall looking at me. Foreigner.
Lowai. Adjusting my backpack, I made my way through the crowd towards
the bus stationa 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? Hes
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? Ive 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
"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 thats what its 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
countersa 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
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
matterI always stare back and smile. They smile in return and
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, its 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
Say youre going to the Internet Café to do some e-mailing.
Youre a foreigner. This means youre special. In a matter
of moments you are surrounded by people who stare at what youre
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.
Were 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
"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.
My time is up. She began serving another customer.
I shuffle away.
Robert sat back and smiled. "You wont believe the shit Ive
Weve 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 cant
speak worth shit Chinese, but I figure, common sense you know, shes
got no money on her to pay for the food. The restaurant owner is pissedthe
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 cant 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."
Chinayou either love it or hate it. Another story about dogs and
restaurantsan 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 arrivesstunnedthe woman cant believe
her eyes. They must have made a mistake! Only 30 Yuan for all that food?
Incredible! She doesnt 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.
"Im sorry maam, but you just had your dog for lunch."
Photo: Rosemary North
return to Yangshuo, on the red eye from Guangzhou. The town, like
a magnet, pulling me inI check my watch, 5 A.M. I walk down
West Street, the Blue Lotus Café still open, Bobbie drinking
"Shit!" She shouts. "Arent 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.
"Cant get away, can you?" She asks.
"Im trying, but its 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 pancakesnot China, but than what?
Bobbie will hang around for another month or so, than out traveling.
She says shes 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 foreignerI 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
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 powerthey 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 dont
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.
but do dreams come true? Lets hope they do, for
their sakes, for their sanity. Lets hope, because that is all
we can do.
"So where youre off to?" Bobbie asks.
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
"Very cool," Justin said.
We all agreed.
On the T-shirt a picture of Chairman Mao in all his graceabove
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?"
"Youre not Chinese, are you?"
"No, man, Korean."
Me Mao You Long Time: from Thailand with love.
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.
Travel Journeys in Hacktreks
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