July 31, 2007

The Communist Party Secretary

Filed under: China,culture — Kim @ 5:47 pm

Now the university summer holidays are here I have time for silly season work, and it’s not just flange.

Recently I took three mornings out to be an extra for CCTV in the up and coming CCTV 4 thriller “The Communist Party Secretary.”

What an inspiring and inspired title I am sure you are thinking, but wait, it gets better!

The story takes place in an anonymous generic Chinese boomtown where corruption is getting a little too prevalent and someone needs to take a stand and stick up for the poor exploited common man. At least so I garnered.

I was there with a Scottish guy and 5 Russians… 2 female students and 3 sailors. One of the sailors (Hallo Sailor!) spoke a bit of English and told me he had come along “not really for money, but for exotic!” Together we formed the visiting foreign business delegation.

On day one we were met at the airport with a rapturous welcome replete with paparazzi and maidens bearing garlands of flowers. I felt so important! Then we were whisked off to meet the city’s top dogs.

As a humble extra I didn’t get a chance to deliver any of the deathless dialogue, but as the security man for my Scottish businessman boss I was right by his side when we met the female Mayor on day two. Actually, we’d been hanging around for about 3 hours before our shoot and the Russians seemed a bit tired and fed up already so they needed some chivvying from the director…”It’s a Mayor you’re meeting! A very important person! Try to look excited and nervous!” They managed to muster wan smiles that disappeared the moment the camera was off them. I was starting to warm to these guys.

Anyway, first off the mayor had to apologise for the heat because the air conditioning wasn’t working…in the script that is. She then offered us each a beautiful traditional Chinese fan to fan ourselves with and we were told “These are presents from the party.” To which my Scottish boss had to reply “How kind! What a nice government!”

Nice subtle writing, I’m sure you’ll agree, and in my humble opinion a needed counter to all the unhealthy cynicism about the CCP. Much of it, it has to be said, from foreigners, yes, you know who you are.

There then ensued a brief exchange about how many garment factories there were in the city and whether we would like to visit one. “Ah how kind!” replied my boss, “We’d love to!”

I’d been pissing around with my fan a bit, trying to open it with an elegant flick of the wrist and failing foolishly and the director spotted a chance for a good gag. I was asked to take the fan out of the case and then try to open it by pulling it the wrong way! This I did in a truly Mr Bean-esque fashion and was rewarded by laughter from the cast and a compliment from the director that he could see that I came from the land of Shakespeare! (Never underestimate the power of cliché.) He then lavished a 5 second close up on this bungling. Ha ha! I will soon be rich and famous and known and celebrated throughout China as “Fan-man”, so there. (Insert your own clever pun about fans and fans here.)

Day three we were to meet the eponymous and celebrated “Communist Party Secretary.” He was due to greet us by saying

“I am very sorry it is so hot, but in China when it is hot we Chinese have the custom of drinking hot tea to cool us down. My respect and welcome for you is so warm that the thermometer cannot measure it, so there’s no need for air conditioning!” (All this was in Chinese btw but we had a translator.)

We read this and puzzled over it a bit then realized that his warm welcome was meant to be like the hot tea and so would cool us down. Ah ha! Very smart…and kind of hard to follow.

The time duly came and the Communist Party Secretary rolled in, a short but broad and imposing man with a Falstaffian laugh (I come from the land of Shakespeare remember) and an endearing manner. He recited his rubbish with some gusto and my Scottish boss dutifully responded with his “How kind! Thank you! I feel very cool!” and then handed the Communist Party Secretary his fan. This of course was greeted with much merriment, and so with bonhomie and rapport well and truly established we drifted off into the sunset…and were told we could claim our pay the following day.

According to one of the CCTV guys this drivel is going to get a big audience. He actually said that about a quarter of China would watch it but I assume this has got to be total bollocks. I say this of course because the whole production seems certain to be total clunkety bollocks, apart from the brilliant bit with the fan. But since the director, I am told, has a good reputation I am guessing that he had to do this in order to get away with shooting more risqué stuff later.

Oh, and a nice comment from my “Scottish boss” who said that the whole drama would be a bit more interesting if it was more realistic. “There’s a good plot going begging here about a Party Secretary who goes to KTV all the time, skims off the local businesses all he can and ends up getting executed.”

Well, I’m off to write that one up now…and for all my fans out there, I’ll let you know when “Fan-man” is on.

July 26, 2007


Filed under: Uncategorized — Kim @ 4:58 pm

Some of the things I end up doing in China are bizarre.

This weekend I will have to put on a suit and read out 10,000 words to the camera about the proper upkeep and maintenance of some Dalian washing machines that are due for export and need an accompanying video to fulfill some new legal requirements.

I got sent the document tonight for a preview and learnt that I am going to have to try to say stuff like the following with a suit and a straight face…

Firstly inspect all the piping joints, flange connections, valve rods and shaft seal for leakage. You can use phenolphthalein test paper for ammonia system.

Adjust the oil return valve according to the oil level shown in sight glass of oil return pipe. After start of compressor, check and judge the bypass solenoid valve is closed / leaked or not by hand touch.

Over high oil spray pressure will conquer spring force to open the sealing surface of movable ring and fixed ring, resulting in oil leakage. Before start compressor, adjust the oil pressure at 0.4~0.6 Mpa. After normal running compressor, adjust oil pressure at 0.15~0.3 Mpa.

If oil temperature is too high, the oil sticky degree will reduce and oil film effect becomes weak. It will lead to leakage on shaft seal. In addition, high oil temperature will quicken the aging distortion of O type ring.

Jesus wept, this is gabbledy gobbledygook. And what the hell is a flange anyway? And how do you pronounce “phenolphthalein“?

I’m going to need a few stiff drinks after this one. The pay’s good though!

July 23, 2007

Dalian’s Timegrenade

Filed under: Dalian,politics — Kim @ 3:13 pm

Sorry for the silence…I was attacked by an enraged Mao supporter after my last post and had to spend 3 weeks in hospital.

Anyways, it’s nice to still be able to read Wiki without going through a proxy and I recently checked out the Dalian entry and thought it well written and fairly comprehensive.

And one of the pictures caught my eye…


This thrusting building is one of Dalian’s biggies and on a sunny day the layered golden apex gleams and shimmers spectacularly. It is an impressive building – perhaps the most imposing building in Dalian – and it is totally empty.

Which, as the Wiki article also mentions, is part of ex-mayor Bo Xilai’s “mixed legacy”. Good old Bo did a lot for this town before he ascended to Beijing, but he also presided over a few major scams apparently.

Now, to be honest, I am still not totally sure what went on with this building because nobody really wants to talk about it and I can’t do any research in Chinese. My brother in law (姐夫 jiefu) is a bank manager and totally knows what went on, but he won’t tell me. When I asked my wife to ask him he just muttered something about the fact that the loans ran out before the building was completed. Well, no kidding Kojak, but as any Dalianer will tell you it really is so close to completion it seems a real shame to stop where they did.

So what happened?

One of my business students is a fairly high up banker working in risk assessment and he comes from Szechuan, so maybe that is why he felt more willing to talk about it. He basically said that one of the managers had done a runner with a LOAD of money and that several other important people had been complicit in making the set up of the building a complete scam. He smiled wrily as he said “If there is an investigation too many important people will go to jail, it is…how do you say, not a bomb, think of its shape, it is (he consulted his dictionary)…a grenade! A grenade left in the middle of Dalian!” Another nice wry smile.

And someday, presumably, someone will pull the pin and it will blow up in their faces…maybe.

I can’t see any investigation happening any time soon, but I wish they would finish that damn building. It pains me to see it going to waste.

This country really could do with more investigative journalism sometimes.

Oh, and btw, I wasn’t attacked. I’m just lazy.

July 2, 2007

Maonster Raving Loony Party

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kim @ 12:57 pm

One of my students surprised me the other day by asking if I could pick out one big difference between Westerners and Chinese. The answer I gave her was a typical one along the lines of West = liberal + individualist, China = authoritarian + conformist, and I also mumbled something about how much difference it makes that China has a massively higher proportion of peasants.

Anyroad, I was reminded of this the other day when I was reading the – newly unblocked in China – Wikipaedia entry on Mao. It made me think that one of the big differences between most westerners and most Chinese is that Chinese still respect and admire Mao, whereas most westerners hate him and are baffled about his popularity in China.

The official verdict by the wily Deng Xiaoping, shortly after Mao’s death, had been to make it the party line that Mao had been 30% wrong and 70% right. A neat way to avoid too much controversy.

Well, how about 30% wrong and 70% absolutely disastrous?

In American right wing circles Mao is often mentioned in the same breath as Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot. I don’t much care for right wing America, but that seems fair to me.

And in Europe the recent hatchet job by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday has done an awful lot to make Mao a despised figure. The book, called MAO: The Untold Story, has been called “a mesmerising portrait of tyranny, degeneracy, mass murder and promiscuity”. There has been some criticism of its relentless savaging of Mao and of the accuracy or reliability of some of the sources, but not much disagreement with its broad thrust that under Mao millions and millions of people died unnecessarily. And there is not much disagreement that many many Chinese people’s dignity and opportunities for a decent fulfilling life were destroyed during Mao’s Cultural Revolution…together with a lot of Chinese culture and cultural artefacts.

In a recent pub argument I got onto the subject of Mao – and the Chang/Halliday book – with a colleague who is relentlessly and bitterly cynical about almost all things Chinese. It gets a bit wearing after a while and anyway just to shake things up a bit I found myself defending Mao…”Yes, but at least he fought well against the Japanese”, to which my sparring partner vigorously objected, and I was about to go on arguing but I suddenly remembered myself and thought “What on earth am I doing defending Mao?” He has enough Chinese defenders already!

And I hate Mao and am personally convinced that he was inhumane, arrogant, indulgent, dangerously selfish, murderous and, yes, evil. But a couple of passages I’ve recently read have made me wonder whether or not he was also a raving loony.

How about this from Wiki

during the Great Leap forward most of the dams, canals and other infrastructure projects, which millions of peasants and prisoners had been forced to toil on and in many cases die for, proved useless as they had been built without the input of trained engineers, whom Mao had rejected on ideological grounds.

And then there’s this from A student’s Asian history

In the 1960s China and Russia had a big ideological dispute about the correct way of extending world communism. China argued that “A nuclear war would not necessarily destroy the world…and it could be successful if there were enough Chinese left to rebuild a communist world.”

Both those passages speak for themselves. The man was a nutter.

In Britain there used to be “The Monster Raving Loony Party” whose slogan was “Vote for insanity. You know it makes sense.”

They were a joke party with a satirical edge, and almost nobody voted for them. Shame the Chinese weren’t able to vote out the Maonster Raving Loony while he was wrecking the country.