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29/03/07 - A New Meaning to The Word Public

On Saturday evening, the idea of a “public” toilet took on a whole new meaning. I was in central Beijing with some foreign teachers from the next door university to BIGC. We were drinking some beer in a new, rustic-style bar where a jazz quartet was playing. As the beer flowed, extra storage space was required in my system for the next pint but the bar didn’t have its own toilets. Luckily there were some “public” toilets round the corner, so I went to investigate.

To my horror, when the Chinese say “public” toilets, they mean “public”. Obviously, in men’s powdering rooms the urinals are often in rows. However, in these toilets the squatters were also just in rows with no partitions separating them. Not nice. That evening, I was relieved on two levels. Firstly, that I was the only person in the toilets, and secondly, that I only had beer to expel from my body. Let’s say no more about it.

The Summer Palace

During the day I had been a real tourist for the first time on the trip, as opposed to my usual role as tall, hairy, white monster who lacks communication skills and has somehow ended up on the wrong side of the world. A couple of my students took me to the Summer Palace and I dutifully dusted off my camera and snapped away.

It was a beautiful day, which meant that the place was heaving with tourists, who were mostly Chinese and Japanese. There were some pretty dodgy fashions on display, including every bright colour under the sun and visors galore. Luckily I fit in well as I had selected my metro sexual, pink t-shirt for the occasion.

The Marble Boat

We looked around all the major sites within the palace which included the famous marble boat. I tried to explain to my students that building a boat out of stone was a silly idea, but their English wasn’t up to the banter. I then decided to experiment with a different argument and claim that this national monument wasn’t actually a boat because it doesn’t float. Again they didn’t see the funny side. I also found it amusing that almost every historic site around the Palace grounds had “did not survive the ravages of Anglo-French forces in 1860” written on it. I felt proud to be British.

That evening, after dinner and my run in with the public toilets, we went to a club called Kai, where I met Bob. It was a quite good club and had a very Western feel to it. However, let’s just say that I regretted wearing a pink t-shirt when I was around some of the clientele.

The Egyptian Embassy

On Friday evening, I went to the Egyptian embassy for an event to “promote Egyptian film”. My mind thought back to the fun had at the Irish embassy so I jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, it was quite a different event and the majority of the evening was conducted in Arabic – not one of my stronger languages. The evening was actually meant for Chinese students studying Arabic but Nancy had failed to realize this and so dragged us all along.

The evening started with a speech from the ambassador, in Arabic, which was followed by a 2-hour film, in Arabic. There were then questions, in Arabic, and just to finish me off, no evening is complete without some singing, in Arabic. Occasionally some translation was provided, but this was in Chinese. Not very helpful.

Somehow, I did enjoy the evening though. I got to meet most of the Egyptian diplomats and the second half of the film was made more interesting when I was told that it was an Egyptian remake of “Meet The Parents”. I also got to meet an Anchor-“lady” from CCTV-9, the English Channel so I started planning my route to fame in China.

In other news, I played Gaelic football on Sunday with some people I met at the Irish Embassy. As the saying goes, “When in Rome”. It was good fun, if a little confusing. Also, you will be pleased to hear that I now have my “Foreign Expert” certificate, awarded by the Chinese government. I am now an expert at being foreign. I think that’s a fair assessment.

Read the Beijing Made Easy article on public toilets in China
Read about the Stone Boat at the Summer Palace

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