The “domestic” or chivalry isn’t dead and the shake down

Yesterday morning I caught the bus on my way to a temple.  The lunch time rush was starting so I got to stand just inside the front doors.  I soon heard and saw a very heated discussion between an elderly man who was standing at the front and a middle aged or older  woman who was sitting on one of the front seats.  Soon several other passengers were involved on the side of the woman.  I thought it was a domestic played out in public  until I got to move in a bit further and realised that there was an empty seat and the man was trying to push another middle-aged plus woman onto it while the passengers wanted him to have it as he was older.  In the end she sat down, but not before a lot of noise and passenger participation.

I took a couple of buses  and saw people quickly stand and surrender seats to  elderly persons.  I’ve seen it happen in my city, but not readily and definitely not if there’s a spare seat down the back.  I’ve never been offered a seat except once or twice in other cities. 

My guide book to Prague stated that older people were offered seats on public transport.  I was happy to be the recipient of such courtsey during my visit a couple of years ago.   I wasn’t there long enough to learn much, but theirs is an entirely different culture too.   Going to the opera was not a bit expensive deal and its the only place I’ve seen lots of people walking around holding hard cover books covered with plastic and they wern’t library books.

Manners have a whole other meaning here.  Last year one of my students who was helping me with language eventually suggested that we knew each other well enough that I didn’t need to keep thanking her.  Later I read somewhere that it is uncommon to thank a person for every day matters in Chinese culture.  No wonder that people think I’m odd as I do tend to thank people and apologise when I bump into them especially on crowded trains, buses etc.  One of my more recent students complained of the constant need to say “pardon.”  Others tend to use the colloquial “what?”  When I visited London last year I read a fascinating and very readable book on the social anthropology of British customs and manners.  All very different from Chinese customs.

The Shakedown

After I arrived at the bus terminus I needed to take a minibus to the temple.  However, the  bus terminus was unlike any I’ve encountered before and the minibuses weren’t minibuses.  It consisted of a big yard containing many small and none too flash-looking passenger vans.  There are good looking public minibuses in Kunming because I’ve seen them but they weren’t in that yard.  A woman came over, asked me where I wanted to go, I showed her my piece of paper containing the magic words in the right language and she proceeded to tell me the price.  When I didn’t understand she picked the requisite notes, 40 yuan, from her bag of money.  I couldn’t remember the estimate I’d been quoted at the hostel, but knew it was nothing like that.  I refused to pay or bargain and tried to call the hostel. I couldn’t get through and realised my phone battery was almost dead so I decided I was better off recharging my phone and moving to plan B.  While I was fiddling with the phone a man offered a 30 yuan trip and another begged for money.  While walking to the bus stop to return to the hostel I remembered the estimate I’d been given was 8 yuan.

After recharging my phone and doing some washing I went to a local temple which required a long walk to the bus stop and another cheap local bus ride. These two photos are of Yuantong Temple.  Part of it is 1200 years old.  It has a population of Buddist nuns and monks and the atmosphere and upkeep were quite different from that I’ve experienced in temples in northern China most of which don’t have any religious living in them. 

 I then visited a famous park in Kunming, Green Lake Park and walked back to the hostel via the cubby hole medical service. In the park were numerous dogs in addition to photographers with seriously long lenses trained on the first of the lotus flowers.  So, an interesting day.

My other recent experience of a shakedown happened on Wednesday.  I went to the Ethnic Nationalities Village.  It is an enormous place, worth visiting and one day is insufficient.  Staff is young and wear ethnic costume.   I was sitting watching a show and fiddling with both cameras.  An elderly woman in an ethnic costume arrived late and sat beside me.  She was friendly and alerted me to developments on stage when I had my head on the camera deleting old pics.  However, I didn’t need her prompting.  She had no fear about feeling the degree of meat on my forearm and noting that I had 2 cameras.  Just as well it wasn’t the time and location for cannibals or I’d have been worried.   She was just sizing me up as a likely mark for the inevitable request for money when the show ended.  However, I could have been skinny without cameras and she still would have done it I’m quite sure.  Beggars are not uncommon in China.  There is a small camp of homeless men near the hostel.

Moso people singing performance

One of the concession vendors at the village was over greedy too.  Her cost for a bottle of water was way over the top so I refused and got one later for a much more reasonable price.  I was resting in a nice little arbour near her van just before I left.  I noticed that a couple stopped and moved on without buying anything so maybe  she wasn’t just discriminating against pink people. The village is enormous and it was a quiet day and she didn’t do much business in the times I was around to observe.

Lotus Flower in green Park close to Yuantong Temple

Two of performers in Green Lake Park.  Most were older people singing Chinese songs.  All had PA systems.