Written 19 October 2009.
Greetings from the Orient! In a gesture of respect and grace to the local authorities, I have decided to redact most of this letter myself you’ll have to guess at what the missing words and phrases were.
I am in Shunde, the whitegoods manufacturing capital of the Guangdong prefacture, or so I’m led to believe. In fact, a very (redacted) local today told me that over 35% of fans were made in Shunde, which apparently is a lot more than anywhere else. Unfortunately, this appears to be a 100% export market, because it is unbearably hot here. Not hot in a good way, like Justin Timberlake and Rhiannon’s grinding in the video for Rehab, more hot in a bad way like Ne-Yo and Rhiannon’s grinding in the video for Hate That I Love You.
After a 10-hour flight to Hong Kong, where the currency is the Hong Kong Dong, I flew to Guangzhou and then a 1-hour limo transfer to my hotel. Including stopovers, it was like taking a 14-hour trip to Cessnock 20 years ago. Whereas most cities (and I was told the population here is more than Sydney’s) put their best hotels on the waterfront, the view from my window is of 100 gender-ambiguous ‘ladies’ of the night and an abandoned lot. I went down to (redacted) them and they said (redacted), and I was like (redacted). Apparently they can (redacted) for only 40 Hong Kong Dong, which is about $10 – good value – because (redacted) normally costs 10 times that in Sydney, and they won’t even throw in the (redacted) or the (redacted) with the (redacted) and then the locals will also (redacted) (redacted) (redacted). I was turned off by the (redacted), however, so nothing was ever retracted, I mean, (redacted).
By the way, the abandoned lot is home to a number of 7/11 style convenience stores. I’m uncertain who exactly is prepared to negotiate dirt, ruck and rubble to reach the most distant one, but everyone here smokes, so I guess there are some desperados out there.
The hotel I’m staying in is a faux colonial monstrosity with an enormous baroque/colonial (it doesn’t know architecture….maybe I don’t either) lobby that looks like it was based on the stairway heavily featured in Titanic. The surrounding neighbourhood is a forest of dying buildings, skyscrapers housing locals crippled by blight and osteoporosis. That mixed metaphor is itself a metaphor for this city. Previously a graveyard for China’s pre-expansion zeal, Shunde has benefited remarkably from the opening, resulting in a brand heavy skyline of Pepsi and Converse billboards atop a dangerously unstable volcano of brick, mud, steel and sand. Looking out my window to this scenery, I can’t help but think Mary Shelley was the inspiration. I don’t think her husband would approve.
On China and its more open policy, I was pleased last night to collapse onto my very hard mattress (I think Asians get up so early because their beds are so uncomfortable), turn on the TV, and be immediately confronted with Wigan Athletic v Manchester City. The graphics are exactly the same as in Australia, and the commentary we normally get (a blend of PMG employees and freelancers) was dimmed, but still audible, beneath three Chinese guys commentating the game from Beijing (I like that they don’t disguise this, seamlessly crossing from the game to the studio for their half time report. I find it disconcerting that some networks think they can fool us by ‘crossing’ to the studio next door). Soccer commentary is amusing in a foreign language, because you realise how little the commentary matters. Mandarin is a tonal language, and soccer requires tonal commentary. Because they say the players’ names in English (except for Craig Bellamy, which is said in Elvish), the links are virtually irrelevant, as long as they raise their voice when the ball goes in the penalty area. They do that ‘goooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllll’ thing here too, except in Mandarin is sounds more like ‘gooooorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr’. That made me laugh, which is rare when you’re by yourself.
Anyways, this morning, ESPN HK was showing the Major League playoffs, followed by 15-Kansas v Colorado (I thought of you, M). Not much else to report: there is so little to do here that when I asked the hotel concierge for tourist ideas, he said I should play billiards in the rec room. I like to think I’ve evolved beyond playing pool by myself.
I’ll stop here: I know how boring letters from people (redacted) are. So very, very boring.