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“Calming”, “serene”, “peaceful”, “meditative” – these are not adjectives you’d use to describe a Chinese city.

Sounds. There’s a lot of them here.

I’ll give you a list.

1. Honking. Any time, any place. Honk honk honk HOOOONK! Sometimes obviously ineffective, but still very insistent and therefore extremely annoying (like when the lights are red and someone is trying to turn right but the car in the front is going straight, so of course it can’t move forward as it would mean a sudden and painful death. Duh!). Sometimes just irritating (like when those tri-ped cabs think they just deserve to get somewhere before everyone else). Sometimes actually very understandable (like when this lady is pushing a wheelchair down the biking lane during rush hours when there’s a perfectly spacious pavement 5 cm away!). Sometimes simply inexplicable (like when the lane is empty, you’re biking on one side and there’s someone else coming from the other direction. You can see them. They can see you. But still. HONK! It’s like sometimes they don’t even realise they’re doing it…). Honking will haunt you day and night. And at night it will probably be the protracted “it’s-3-am-the-road-is-empty-so-I’m-speeding-get-the-hell-out-of-my-way-LOSER!” sort of honk.

2.  Military training for first-year students (if you live near a campus). 7am and 1am on the spot and you hear the coach yelling “oooone-twoooo-one-two-three” and see the poor kids running around in their fatigues. Then the drilling begins and they start chanting: “Yi-er-san-si! Women-wei Zhongguo-xuyao-xuexi!” (loose translation: “One-two-three-four! China-needs us-to study-more!”). Seriously…

3.  Pupils’ dancing class. Or it might be a performance rehearsal (if you live near a primary school). Of course they rehearse in the early morning. Of course they do it outdoors on the soccer field. And of COURSE the teacher has a microphone.

4.  You’re on the top of a hill. Connecting to nature. Enjoying the solitude and the quiet. Everything’s perfect, right? Wrong! Two steps behind you is a middle-aged guy on a walk. And right there on his belt there’s – yes, you’ve guessed it – a small portable radio, blasting out some old Chinese hits like there’s no tomorrow. That’s the problem with a whole generation of people who enjoy physical exercise and music but haven’t caught on to the 21st century and the magnificent invention that is the MP3 player. Hell, they must’ve missed out on the whole Walkman period! Peace and nature? Uhm-uhm. Not on this hill, lady.

5.  Trucks. The ones that go around the city playing things like Beethoven’s “For Eliza” while collecting trash, recycling, etc., etc. Whatever it is they do, you can be sure you’ll hear them doing it.

6.  Firecrackers. To ward off evil spirits. Firecrackers when you’re moving out (at 7 am.). Firecrackers when you’re moving in (at 7 am.). Firecrackers for a funeral, when you’re closing or opening a business, when you’ve bought yourself a hamster or, apparently, when it just feels too damn quiet (all of these at 7, 7, 7, 7 am!). This weekend has been particularly exciting in that respect as it’s the National Holiday. Oh, can you hear that? More firecrackers. Yaaay!

7.  Singing. In the elevator, out on the street – they’ll just sing at the top of their voices wherever they feel like it. And actually they’re not bad at all, those voices. Whatever you think of their musical tastes, the Chinese know their keynotes. And, frankly, there’s something charming and joyous about this “I-don’t-care-who’s-watching” singing. I’m in favour.

8.  Yapping. No, I don’t mean the dogs. I mean the Chinese ladies whose voices magically transform into a banshee-like screech the second this wedding ring gets on the right finger. Yesterday I had lunch in a bar when one of the cooks was engaged in a lively argument with one patron. My eardrums still cringe. I wonder if anyone ever did some research on this voice-mutation phenomenon.

9.  Piano lessons in the flat upstairs. Okay. Fine. I’m just happy the parents are not into Scottish folk instruments.

10. Evening dance classes for the elderly. Every day about 8 they’ll meet up somewhere on a bigger stretch of a pavement, maybe in front of a bank, maybe next to a park, they’ll put on some music and practice dancing. What a BRILLIANT idea! It should be introduced everywhere, especially in the countries where (like in Poland) so many old people spend their days at home, watching soaps, dunking those biscuits and complaining. Usually the music will be (again) a Chinese golden oldie. But today I’ve seen a group pushing some envelopes and mincing some steps tooo (wait for it!)… “Ra, Ra, Rasputin, lover of the Russian queen! Ra, Ra, Rasputin, Russia’s greatest love machine!”. Bring it on, oh yeah!

Ok. I’ve planted the song in your heads. There’s nothing more to add.

Ra, Ra, Rasputin, lover of the Russian queen…