Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Chicken Coop

Not far from the entrance to the Chongzuo EcoPark there is a collapsing cinder block building that once served as the living quarters for biologist Pan Wenshi and his students.
I’ve seen animal enclosures in Chinese zoos that are nicer than this.

The building—an abandoned army barracks—had no running water, no electricity, no door, and a gaping hole in one wall. Pan’s bed, shown here, was a thin wicker mat laid over a row of boards. Stumps and logs were used for seats and benches. Field notes were compiled by candlelight, and when it rained, water flowed into the building.
In 2000, the county government took pity on Pan and, to honor what he'd done for surrounding villages, they spent $1 million on park improvements, including a rather architecturally inspired research facility and living space.
Until recently, the cinder block building and its Spartan furnishings served as a museum of the not-so-good-ol’ days of '96 to '00. Since my last visit, it received a long overdue conversion to its current use; a chicken coop.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Pat's

Happy St. Patty’s Day from the PRC. I took a break from monkeying around in Chongzuo to spend a couple days in Yangshuo, China.
Yangshuo was a once gorgeous, now overrun mountain town on the Li river in southern China that has been a backpacker mecca since us laowai started descending on the country in droves in the 1990s.
The place is by no means the quiet retreat it once was, but anyplace serving the pride of St. Jame's Gate on March 17 works for me.
I spent the evening with Paul, an Englishman, and Joe, a local kid all of 10 years old.
Paul has taught English here for the last three years. He makes close to $1000 a month teaching business English in one of Yangshou’s many private schools. At this pay, he says he lives well; enough to eat out each night at the many restaurants catering to foreign tourists. He says he can’t stomach the local food, but he has a Chinese girlfriend and says the weather here beats dreary ol’ England any day.
Paul can’t stay long though as it’s “quiz”, or trivia, night at another nearby pub.

Joe is friend of Paul’s and, based on his English skills, I get the feeling this isn’t his first night hanging out at The Alley Bar. When Paul called him on his lack of green, he ran home and put on the sweater seen here. –When I ask Joe what St. Patty’s is all about, he says it’s when people wear green and drink stuff from Ireland. He says there is more to it than that, but he can’t remember the rest.
Joe first learned English from a Australian and does a wicked rendition of Crocodile Dundee's “that’s not a knife, this is a knife”.
His favorite sport is rollerblading.
“I get nice air,” he says.

Out of the blue, Joe hits me with the following riddle.
“Who is too rich?” he asks.
“Bill Gates,” I counter knowing China’s obsession with the world’s richest man.
“No, a river; it has banks on both sides.”
I go to give the kid a high five but he counters with “down low”, and then, withdrawing his hand, “too slow.”
Something tells me that of the two of them, Joe has the better gig.