Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Quiet Walk Round the Lake

This morning seemed like an ideal time to go for a stroll round West Lake - it's still very clear at the moment after the recent rain.

I actually started off in a recently opened camera shop trying to get a UV filter for my 70-300mm Image Stabilising lens. I started off asking for a '紫外的' filter which was getting me nowhere, then tried asking for 'UV' which worked at once. I'm told (and am open to correction) that China used to diligently avoid even abbreviations using letters, preferring a transliteration into Chinese characters up until the time China joined the WTO, which it did in 2001. Now the use of English acronyms is fairly common.

The walk was more eventful than I was expecting.

Ballroom Dancing at West Lake
There were people enthusiastically ballroom dancing in one pavilion, the next pavilion there was a lady singing whilst someone played an erhu (on the street it typically sounds a bit like someone playing a saw, but I've heard professionals play it beautifully). These things are not that unexpected.

Troops at West Lake
Walking around Solitary Hill (孤山) I spotted a load of soldiers on the edge of the lake, down on one knee, staring down rifle barrels trained across the lake towards the Shangri-la Hotel. There were still tourists sitting on benches amongst them and wandering along the path so I pressed on, only to suddenly realise that there was a second unit of soldiers half way up a grassy bank, all lying down and that I was staring down the barrels of their rifles! The whole thing seemed a bit odd - there were some soldiers just milling about and some sitting on park benches whilst others were holding their positions and with water bottles hanging from the end of the rifles to make it more difficult.

Troops at West Lake
I sneaked off a couple of photos as best I could, concerned that if they were real troops that it's probably not something that's exactly encouraged, although they did seem to have their own official photographer. Round the next corner and there were yet more. As there was one soldier on the path I asked him to confirm that they were soldiers, not actors (as they had a photographer) and he did confirm that they were real soldiers and, presumably, had real guns. I then became more concerned that they might also have real rounds in the real guns). He did agree to me taking a close-up shot of them as long as it was only a single shot.

The rest of the walk was very pleasant. I passed a large group of parents and their small children - some of whom were engaged in a three-legged race while a larger group seemed to be standing in a large circle (children in an inner circle, parents outer) with the parents taking photographs of the children on the other side of the circle. I also managed to add to my (very short) China Bird List as I spotted several Little Heron.

Back to the camera shop I dropped off the films that I'd shot - it's been so long that I'd forgotten the anticipation of how they're going to come out, and the fact you take much longer composing the shots because you can't just keep taking and retaking if it doesn't come out right. The people in the shop managed to irritate briefly by not listening to me speaking Chinese so I had to repeat myself, then they had a brief conversation in Hangzhou dialect so I couldn't follow it, only to give me a long, drawn-out 'Tom. Tomorrow....... after...the...noon' when '明天下午' would have been fine. Sinosplice has a very good entry describing this phenomenon in detail. Fortunately another assistant wandered over and we quickly concluded things.


HistoryElephant said...

So some poor Chinese dude, who's never had a foreigner in his shop before, wanted to seize the chance to practice his English but unfortunately Mr Grumpy walked in and insisted on showing off his ability to speak Chinese, even though he can do that any day of the week...

dB said...

As the majority of what she said after 'tomorrow afternoon' was said in Hangzhou-hua so I couldn't understand it at all, I don't think I can be accused of being particularly inhospitable in this exchange.

On my first day in Hangzhou with my own Chinese mobile phone it rang at 7am, waking me from my jetlagged sleep. The person at the other end apologised, in English, at having dialled incorrectly and then hung up. He waited about 20 minutes or so - just long enough for me to get back to sleep and then rang me back, waking me again, and asking if he could practice my English. Was I unreasonable to say no at that time as well?

a said...

Yeh. And then you woke us all up to go to a meeting (after only getting from the shammy at about 4.00AM) only to find that the meeting was the next day.

HistoryElephant said...

So not only did you frustrate the poor lady's attempts to learn English but you then pooh-poohed the chance to learn some Hangzhou-hua. When out shopping where I live, I'm always happy to listen to shop assistants talking their local dialect and then I respond to them in English.