mom walk

today's drunken song

This is what i imagined raves to be like before i had ever been to a rave.


Sun Electric - Sarotti

If it sounds a bit slow at the beginning, keep at it. Acid music without a 303. It's a pretty song.

When i went to my first rave, it sounded nothing like this. Instead it sounded like this.


Unit Moebius - Status (Full Album)

Fucking the fuck distorted acid punk. Zuur.

I still love listen-at-home dance music. That's all i do now. But dirty dirty 303s with a million tons of distortion and wishing we all's in fantasy Detroit is some kind of historical 90s magic, y'all.
mom walk

awkward musing on feminism

I'd like to talk about gender.

Today i had the strange experience of playing a mediocre yuri visual novel and watching the latest episode of Mrs America. The juxtaposition was stark.

For those who aren't up on all the anime lingo - and, to be honest, i'm not either - yuri is a genre of manga/anime that features women who love women. But, i think, it's mostly aimed at teenage boys.

I was a teenage boy, once. I wasn't really into lesbian porn or whatever, but i also was fairly uncomfortable with sexual relations, period. I had "playing doctor" experiences with both boys and girls as a kid, but never felt comfortable having actual sex until i was in my 20s, by which time i had had the full sex change op.

I have had sexual relations with both men and women since then, but i only ever loved women. Men were just some kind of game to play, a dick to jack off, some fun at a nightclub, not really anything i would ever consider as a potential partner.

I married a woman. I think mostly because she wanted to, but i was a romantic so why not? The immigration reason helped. I divorced her when i realized that, for her, marriage meant socializing with family you hate, buying a house, having kids, all that stuff i never planned.

I mean, i also developed a meth addiction and she was in NA, so that made it even more awkward.

Nowadays i am happily single and would not consider partnering up with anyone.

I still think women are beautiful and men are hideous.

At the beginning of my life as a woman i tried to embrace being a lesbian, despite at least one embarrassing situation when a "real" lesbian accused me of being yet another man trying to take advantage of her. I realized then that both the male gay community - where i had previously been very active because fucking techno - and the female gay community pretty much hated transpeople.

I mean, that's not entirely true. But there is a branch of feminism that thinks transwomen are not "real" women. And there is a branch of male gayness that thinks transwomen are just men who can't accept that gender is a social construct.

To be honest, i agree with both of them. I don't believe that transwomen are "real" women, and i do believe that most men who want to be women feel that way because of the social expectations of men. This is an extremely controversial position to take in the 21st century, and it's very unpopular in the contemporary trans community, which has thrown its support behind "gender self-identification" and whatever the fuck young people think is the thing.

I am an old trannie. I am a trannie of the era when "trannie" was a word that we proudly reclaimed. The youngsters have now proclaimed that to be a slur, never to be spoken again. I have no idea why, but i guess it's some American thing. This is the downside of American culture taking over the rest of the world, via the internet.

I don't really get the self-identification thing, because for me - as it turned out - the biggest deal was getting my cock and balls removed. I went back and forth over whether that was a good idea for a fucking decade. As if legit men would shrug their shoulders and get it done on a whim. After i had the surgery i thought it was the biggest mistake of my life. You see, i kept falling in love with straight women, and then thinking that if i only i still had my gear, i'd be able to make them love me more.

Come on. I now know that straight women ain't ever gonna turn gay just because you had a peen as a child.

But then again, many lesbians don't feel comfortable with "women" who did.

Did i ever have the experience of my first period? Of course not. Was i pushed out of STEM as a child? Of course not. Did i experience the pressures and problems of a young girl? Never. And - honestly - any transwoman who says they did is lying. Young boys - straight, gay, trans, whatever - had entirely different pressures and problems.

Nowadays i simply identify as trans. What's my gender? My gender is trans. I understand things about women that men do not, and i understand things about men that women do not. But i don't really understand the full male experience, or the full female experience. I stopped taking female hormones years ago. I haven't have any male hormones since the surgery. I'm neuter. I'm nothing. I think gender is bullshit. I fucking hate gender. In that, i have more in common with hardass gender-nonconforming diesel dykes than any of these new age "my gender is whatever i want it to be" folks.

We're not very popular in this day and age.

Anyway, i have spent over 20 years as a woman in society. That's longer than i lived as a boy. My passport says F. My birth certificate (rightfully) says M. My entire adult life i have lived as a 6 foot 3, deep-voiced woman. I have come to realize that many genetic women of my stature experience the same mistaken gender as i do, so i don't get pissed when people mistake me for a man.

Since the corona lockdown, i stopped shaving my body. I spent a ridiculous amount of money on electrolysis for my face. I used to epilate my legs. I quit all that years ago, but i continued shaving my body every week or two. Now i have let the underarm hair and the leg hair grow, and you know what? Nobody fucking cares. Perhaps it's because i'm 40. Perhaps it's because i'm in China and anyway i stick out like the 1 in a 1000 foreign weirdo, people stare regardless. But, fuck, people stared in other countries too.

I hardly ever see my dad, but a few years back he and i went on vacation to Istanbul and he got all cut up that the men were staring at me.

Yo, people fucking stare. That's being a woman. I have also been sexually assaulted by a cab driver. You wanna hear about some more objectification? Fuck, let me count the ways.

Being a woman, being a transwoman, that's one thing we all gotta deal with.

So i'm reading this written-by-men yuri visual novel and thinking "that's not how a lesbian would behave", and i'm watching this show about feminism and women who have been under the thumb finally realizing that the patriarchy is garbage, and... i realize that THE FUCK YES i am allowed be a feminist.

I don't like how much of the tech industry feminism has been led by transwomen. I mean, i get it. There is a spectacular gender imbalance in our industry, so of course there are 1 in a 1000 men who decide to become women, and they get a rude awakening when they realize that their words suddenly went from being important to being ignored post-transition... But i never felt it was our place to co-opt the movement. I literally left women's spaces because i felt like i was an impostor.

And, for real, i still feel like an impostor in these new age all-inclusive women's spaces. I mean, i know it fucking dates me, but i do not believe that transwomen are the same as genetic women. Our upbringing is totally different, you can't fucking change that. But... watching Mrs America, watching this great dramatization of the second wave feminist movement in America... And i realize - yes, the fuck yes. I might not consider myself a full-blown woman, but i still full-throatedly support the right for women to choose. I 100% support a law that would ban discrimination based on gender - or sex! - in the workplace and anywhere else. We all are fucking people, you know? That's a thing i can get behind.

So, i guess my point is... i might not be the average woman, but i'm still some kind of woman, and i still support women's rights, and i'm not going to feel shy about that.

Anyway, i am drunk (again) and i really needed to get this out.

Y'all should watch Mrs America, it's a very good show.
mom walk

drunken thoughts

Greek tourism is reopening June 15.

June 15 seems like the magical date for Europe.

We had an all-hands today where we got some top secret travel data that i will reveal some of here. From our data mining peeps, it seems that some countries are more interested in traveling domestic post-corona, and other countries are more interested in traveling international. It's almost certainly no surprise that people outside of Europe have very little interest in traveling internationally, whereas people inside Europe are raring to go.

I guess some of that is geographic - Europe has a ton of small countries packed into a close space, so why wouldn't people there want to travel international? Just Guangdong province is bigger than Greece, it's bigger than Czech and Austria put together, it's a double Benelux.

But it also struck close to home, sitting in this room full of Chinese who even at the best of times are afraid of traveling internationally. I was like "the fuck yes i want to travel, i want to travel anywhere!" and they're looking at me like i'm nuts.

It made me realize that although obviously, by blood, i am European... Culturally, more than anything, i am European too. We're all evil imperialists! Muahaha!

Or maybe we're just wanderers. Some of us, anyway.

I really want to walk the camino santiago.

I don't have time for that while i am working.

If i went to Europe, even if i had to quarantine for 2 weeks, quarantine in some seaside spot with a balcony and view, i can do that. Add another couple weeks, all my holiday is used up, but ... lordy it would be nice to be somewhere with free internet, free press, free speech. Even i would do the same thing in quarantine there as i would here...

I could watch YouTube without VPN.

Europe: bad food, good freedom.

I do like food. A lot. But i think i like freedom more.

I didn't get any foods tattooed on me, yet.

Maybe i should get a tofu tattoo. The only knuckle tattoos i have ever considered are ACAB and TOFU.

But of course a much better tofu tattoo would be the Chinese character for bean: 豆

I mean, it even looks like a tofu.



Anyway. Pearl River Delta has been exploding in electrical storms the past few days. It's epic. It's also very wet, if you are stupid enough to bike everywhere without an umbrella or rain suit, which of course i am.

VPNs are being the fuck blocked again because the Two Meetings (annual CPC circle jerk) is happening. Hong Kong is about to get their "one country two systems" smacked the fuck down to "one country one system". The jackboot of the party is strong, and corona has just made it stronger.

Last week i went to dinner with a colleague. She took me out to 请 (treat) me, and she took me to a vegetarian restaurant where a single dish cost more than an entire week's worth of food from any of my usual plastic stool restaurants. Not gonna lie, it was awesome to eat those badass Chinese temple foods, all fake meats and weird mushrooms and tofus and bamboos. If y'all ever had a can of bamboo shoots and some flop champignons and bland foreigner tofu, don't even. This was nothing like that. It was a full-blown meaty-ass feast of vegan goodness. And so, so expensive. But she 请ed me. I felt guilty, but such is the Chinese way.

She also comes from small town. She just bought a house back there because that's what you are supposed to do once you start earning money in China. No interest in traveling overseas. No interest in staying in Shenzhen long term. She is only in the city for the money. She said she went on holiday to Sichuan once, to some town that was the most beautiful place she ever saw. I said why didn't you buy a house there instead of in your boring Guangdong village? She said that never even occurred to her. I said in the west affluent people choose to buy their holiday homes or retirement properties in beautiful places, not in their hometowns. She said that was weird.

I get it, i get it, i get it. I get all of those people in Taiwan who said Chinese people only care about earning money. Nobody is shy about it, they all say the only reason they are in Shenzhen is to earn money. None of them trust the so-called socialist government to look after them when they are old. All of them want to earn as much as possible while they are still young and able, marry, kids, buy a property, leave.

It is the worst possible life.

It makes Shenzhen a boring city, outside of the glitzy bubble of the ultra-rich.

Well, at least we have thunderstorms and emergency cigarettes.

mom walk

is it big companies or is it just companies?

I am so fucking over my job.

I am so fucking over working at big companies.

As the only person in Shenzhen who has a combination of deep technical knowledge and the ability to speak reasonable Chinese and fluent English, i am pulled into all kinds of projects to be the designated translator for engineers who can barely speak a word of English and are trying to collaborate with teams in Europe who - despite also being full of non-native English speakers - actually do speak English as their business language.

This quarter we have an OKR (some kind of top-level company objective which is linked to cascading objectives down the org chart) to implement a new feature in our product which will improve the accuracy of the results and raise revenue by whatever percent. The industry my company is in is travel-related, which basically means our revenue has been completely and utterly the fuck decimated by coronavirus. Every single metric is in the toilet. Our partners are going bust. Our revenue has cratered. We will never hit our targets. It will take years to get back to where we were in January 2020.

But leadership still wants this feature, because of course they do. Meanwhile a significant chunk of the European staff has been furloughed or gone down to 3 or 4 days a week. Only a handful of people in China have gone to 4 days. Which means we are the office that is executing a bunch of the work, except now on top of the timezone and language barrier problems we already had, there are now even less people to "pick up the phone" in Europe, and even slimmer windows of opportunity to align properly on our goals.

This particular accuracy project was a major clusterfuck from the beginning, because to implement it properly we need to rebuild a huge part of our stack across three different departments. There were no resources available to reimplement the huge part of our stack even if there hadn't been corona, but now there really isn't.

Fortunately i am not a part of the project.

Unfortunately due to being designated translator i keep getting pulled into it. My role is to mediate and settle discussions and do "meeting after the meeting" in Chinese so the Chinese team know what the European team was talking about in English. But i don't have the context, and every time i ask someone to explain the context, no one can give that context, because everyone is talking from the point of view of their own team. There is no leadership over the whole project except for executive leadership who just know about the OKR and don't understand the technical details.

Yesterday i was in work till almost 9pm talking about shit, today i was in work till almost 9pm talking about shit, and still we are coming out of this with an awful Frankenstein solution that fucking sucks. Finally today i figured out exactly what the feature is that we are building - after months of being pulled into these aimless, soul-destroying discussions about specifics. I know i could've done a much better job mediating over the past few weeks if someone had just explained to me in one fucking sentence what the literal one fucking sentence description of the feature was, but no one ever did that.

So now i am finally equipped to deal with this thing, but i was never supposed to even be involved in it. My own team has its own totally separate OKR to work on, and we have plenty of our own problems getting that done.

The sad part is that, from management side, i keep getting told that it's good for my career to be involved in all these different projects and it's exactly what i need to be doing to get a promotion. We have Google-style promotions here where you need to be nominated by two different people from different departments and make a case and show evidence that you are already doing the work. Except... i don't want a fucking promotion!

I definitely don't need the money. I don't need the résumé fodder. I have bounced up and down from senior engineer to line manager over the past 10 years and i have no interest in going into middle management because it just increases the work that i don't enjoy. Budgeting. Staffing. Politics. I have no interest in becoming a principal engineer or "architect" either - jamming arbitrary technologies down the throats of line engineers who know far better what their problems are than these ivory tower douchebags. It's all about influence and persuasion and scratching people's backs and trying to build your own castle and whatever man, i'm glad there are people who like to do that stuff but i fucking hate it.

So why am i bothering? I don't want to be involved in any of this shit. I don't want to be pulled into the middle of arguments between people who don't speak the same language or even live in the same country. Fuck, that's the kind of stuff i could do if i worked at the UN and at least if i worked at the UN i'd feel like i was contributing to the betterment of human society. I don't want to be introduced as a so-called "expert" on a feature that i don't even understand what it is until months after i was getting dragged into random conversations about the nitty gritty. And anyway i already decided i wanted to quit this company after my ass got fucking reprimanded for pointing out that some YouTube fake news a colleague posted was Party propaganda.

I am literally only still working at this job right now because i have no choice. I either keep working here and stay in China until other countries open their borders, or i quit and i have to go back to a passport country where i don't have a house or a support network and where corona is still running wild.

So. Fuck.

I am so over my job.

And, yes, to my favorite Norway-based commenter who said that going down to 4 days a week just meant stuffing my 40+ hour weeks into 4 days instead of 5, while only getting paid for 4, you were totally right.

Fuck!

I think i will call in sick tomorrow.
mom walk

this is truly the darkest of ages

There is no point ever really celebrating a loosening of government restrictions in China, because it's always, always a lie.

While this week i was able to get in and out of my village three times with just a quick temperature check, this morning when i went to the market i was made to show my travel permit to the checkpoint guards, as were the people in front of me. When i left with my bags of goodies, another local who had been banned from entering was having a shouting match with the guard. There is no indication that the threat level went up. On the contrary, China has had next to no new infections for a couple of months now. Doesn't matter. The Party is Lucy and freedom is the ball. We are all Charlie Brown.

It's so exhausting to live here.

Getting my money out of the country is one of my prerequisites for bugging out. I have another bank account where my previous jobs' earnings are still funding food and rent here, but getting one year's worth of cash out to a banking system in the free world means i can survive for at least a year wherever i end up.

The second prerequisite is for a destination country to open its borders to international travelers.

I would love to go to Taiwan, but so far their borders are still closed. Aside from Taiwan, i would prefer to go somewhere that isn't one of my passport countries, since both of them have done a poor job containing the virus. I'm worried that when the borders reopen, they will only reopen to people coming from countries that have their shit under control. Leaving the relatively corona-free bubble of Asia/Australia could end me up on a block list for further travel.

It'd be the perfect time to visit my dad in New Zealand, to be honest. Unfortunately their borders are closed too. My step brother has been in Thailand for the past few months, but their airports are closed so you can't easily get in. Japan is closed to tourists from many countries, including China. Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam are closed to tourists, period. I think South Korea might be open, but i'm not sure i want to quarantine there for 14 days, given i can't speak the language and it is relatively expensive.

I have a few friends in Germany who would like to see me back. This weekend some Berlin nightclubs reopened their beer gardens, so it seems there might still be a bit of a summer rave season even if it is all thinned out like a hazy morning crowd. That's the best crowd anyway. They're talking about June 15 for reopening the land borders, although i'm not sure my British passport will hold much clout after Brexit.

Basically, i am the fuck stuck here for at least another month. My reduced hours continue till July, and it's not clear yet if the company is going to do layoffs, continue the furlough/reduced hours or go back to normal. I really don't want to go back to normal because 4 days is already too many days. I am just wishing at least one country in the region has reopened by then.

We are living the nationalists' wildest fantasy - an entire planet where every country has closed itself off to outsiders.

The day the Schengen countries reopen to one another i think i will cry. They never should have closed, of course, but right now they're looking like the only countries in the world that actually care enough about human society to plot a course back out of this nightmare.
mom walk

i'd swap it all for an open border...

I really miss beer gardens. In China drinking happens late at night - often in KTVs and eye-wateringly expensive bars, but also at outdoor restaurants in Guangdong we call 大排檔. It is very rare that anything opens before 8pm. There isn't really an afternoon drinking culture here, outside of homeless people and other "low end population". Not being able to hang out on the street with a cold beer makes summers here far less enjoyable than they should be.

I just spent almost 3 hours at the bank. It's 32°C and humid enough that my sweat is sweating. I need a beer and I don't want to drink it in my shoebox apartment.

I went into the village and visited a notoriously shit (and overpriced) 大排檔 to get a beer. It's one of the few we have that I knew would let me sit and drink, despite not being officially open for several hours yet.

The owner is at the table next to me prepping ong choy and garlic chives for the BBQ. There is a massive pot of five spice stock starting to bubble on a stove out front. Across the way a woman on a low plastic stool is chopping shallots. Kids are running about being kids. The wet market is winding down for the day. Just round the corner are groups of old men playing cards and mahjong, and bored coppers pretending not to see them gambling.

Our village is still fenced in, of course. But this week something changed. You don't need proof of ID and a transit pass or green health code to enter any more, just temperature check and done.

Another thing changed this week too. They reopened the university. I don't know if classes have started up yet, but the campus gates are letting people through, and the towers across the road from me that have lain empty since January have started to get lit up. I kinda miss looking out the window at those dark looming hulks. Now they're just student dorms again.

Hopefully that means soon the street vendors will come back. Although, it's still a kilometer hike to get through the checkpoint and loop back out here, so not sure if they'll bother. Or if they're even still in Shenzhen.

I stopped in at a 沙县小吃 that I haven't visited since before the lockdown. It's one of the businesses that is right on a road that was blocked off when the government fenced in the village, so it has fuck all customers now. I asked the owner about it and he said the fence is very inconvenient. That's about as close people are going to get to saying "fuck this fascist bullshit" in China.

We nattered about Canada. There's no way to really small talk in China unless you pick a hometown. So much conversation is comparing hometown notes and laughing about local customs or raving about local foods. When two people from the same hometown find one another they explode into local language, which nobody else can understand.

This is the best China. The China without any Starbucksification and Party bullshit.

My hometown is always Canada, because even though I was born in England, I left it when I was too young to remember enough trivia to fuel a meaningless chat. In truth I feel more cosmopolitan or pan-European than Canadian, but that sort of identity is difficult to explain in China. People here grok Canada, though, whether it's because of 白求恩 the Communist martyr, 大山 the variety show star of the 90s, Vancouver where all the rich Hongkongers escaped to, or Toronto where everyone seems to have a distant family member.

Canada is up there with Australia and New Zealand as a top emigration destination. Large diaspora. Affluence. Freedom. The owner of the restaurant said he wished he could move there. One of the other customers said he traveled there and it's so big and empty. He said Canada has a government that really cares about its citizens. I'm not sure whether he was contrasting us with America or China but either would be apt. The owner thought it was hilarious that Canada is bigger than all of China but has less people that his home province of Fujian.

Anyway, the reason I spent almost 3 hours in the bank and came out trembling is because I made the biggest financial transaction of my life to date.

I took an entire year's net salary from my current job, of which I have spent precisely zero, and sent it to my account in Canada. That was about 51000 US dollars.

First I had to get temperature checked and sign in with yet another health app, different from the others. Name, address, phone number, passport number, temperature reading. Sigh. No such thing as privacy in this country.

Then started the ordeal.

China has extremely strict controls for what money is allowed in and out of the country. Every other country I lived in, I just left my bank account open and used online banking to send money over to my new country, or used ATMs all over the world to withdraw cash as i needed it. But China's banking system is separated from the rest of the world so you can't send online money transfers, and most foreign ATMs won't take local debit cards. Even if they do accept Unionpay, you can't take out more than a very small amount of cash each day, and it's not clear if the government will freeze your account if you start taking too much too often.

Chinese citizens have to jump through ridiculous hoops to send money overseas, so a common hack is to manually take the maximum legal amount of 20000RMB (about US$2800) in cash to Hong Kong, get it exchanged by black market money changers, then deposit in a Hong Kong account and wire it wherever. I was always a bit suspicious of these expats i met when i first came here who said they were in "banking". They were all from Bahamas or British Virgin Islands or whatever and traveled to Hong Kong and Macau all the time.

Tax evasion is a big business here. And it really shits the government. A year or two back the government disappeared the biggest movie star in the country for tax evasion, then she suddenly reappeared with some groveling admission of guilt. On one hand, fuck the rich, they deserve to get dragged. On the other hand, people like Xi Jinping and his cronies are also tremendously rich and will never get busted for corruption because they run the country. The Party is a racket and everyone knows it.

Meanwhile people like me need to go through a whole song and dance to get money out of the country. I had to show my tax returns, my work contract, my work permit, my passport, my residence permit... I had to explain i was sending money to myself and not someone else, and i had to explain why my name on my Canadian account doesn't include my middle name but my Chinese account does. I was not allowed to send money i have earned from previous jobs before this one, even though my tax return showed i had paid taxes, because that salary was paid into a different bank account. I had to buy American dollars because i don't know why. I filled in a whole lot of forms. I can't imagine how hard this would be for an expat who can't speak Chinese.

I think the money is going across now. I hope it all works out. I felt like a shitheel sending so much money out of the country when people here are struggling, and i felt like a shitheel for blocking a teller for such a long time while local people were waiting, but that's what they get, you know? The government put the currency controls in, and almost all banks in China are owned by the government, so they're only shooting themselves in the foot. I get why they don't want people sending money overseas, but everyone knows the rich have other (illegal) ways to get it out, meanwhile unmarried foreigners have no incentive to leave it inside China because we can't buy property and we have no path to permanent residence - as soon as we lose our jobs, we are kicked out of the country, the end.

In other news, an Australian New York Times reporter who has been here 24 years just got kicked out of the country as retaliation for the latest escalation on the American side to limit Chinese reporters' visas to only 90 days at a time. Shit is getting ugly.

I bought my second pack of emergency cigarettes today. I have been smoking once or twice a week since the lockdown. I need to quit again. But it's like my little slow suicide.

I was cheered by the news that in Japan suicides have gone down. It turns out that office work is an even bigger stress than coronavirus. Yeah, me too bro. Although, life without freedom pretty much isn't worth living either. So let's shoot for a world with no work, no virus and no borders. Right now my life in China is one out of three.

Hence the emergency cigarettes.
mom walk

Dongguan → Shenzhen, remembering freedom

Last entry, when i left y'all hanging, i had just gotten on the greyhound.

Getting the ticket was underwhelming. Out at that remote dusty bus stop in Shenzhen Longhua district, there was just one ticket counter and one guard. I showed my passport, paid for the ticket, put my bag through the x-ray, had my temperature taken, the end.

There were only four other people on the bus. Two of them got out along the way.

I do like that ride out of Shenzhen, whether to Dongguan or Huizhou, it feels like the most Guangdong part of Guangdong. Steep hills and reservoirs. Bananas and lychees. When the terrain flattens out, it's factories and tenements far as the eye can see, but on the ridge it feels like humans just dropped some transmission towers and a freeway on stilts, and then they stopped. It makes me happy when the edge of town really feels like an edge.

-o-

You know you're in Dongguan when...

The town used to have a reputation for being a haven for prostitution. Migrants who originally came to work in the factories realized that they could earn more money by servicing factory owners and businessmen who wanted to get their willies wet. Supposedly there was a big crackdown a few years ago, but the signs told a different story.

You know you're in Dongguan when... hotels advertize rooms by the hour.

-o-

I jumped out at Shilong, which is a district most only interesting for being the end of the metro line and having a train station. Everyone getting off the bus had to pass through two temperature checks (thermal imaging camera and thermometer gun), flash their ID, sign in on a paper form and show a green health code.

I got pulled off to the side because my green health code wasn't the right green health code.

Here in Shenzhen i have already had to install two different WeChat mini-apps to prove my health status. These apps are above and beyond the movement tracking website that the cellphone companies set up in January. It turns out that Dongguan has its own health code app, and Guangdong province has another one. But the Guangdong app - which was supposed to supersede all the local city ones - doesn't work for foreigners. This is just one of many apps that requires a Chinese ID card to sign up, blocking foreign workers from accessing government services that we are allegedly meant to have access to.

After checking with my cellphone provider that i hadn't left Shenzhen in the last 14 days, the guards called someone higher up to confirm that my Shenzhen green status was legit, then they waved me through.

It was less painful than i expected. About the same kerfuffle as what i had to go through to be granted entry to the village where i renewed my temporary residence registration a couple weeks back.

Shilong district was a cluster of shut down wholesale clothing markets, some workers dorms, a KTV and not a whole lot else.

By this point i was sunburnt and spent, my lust for adventure tempered. I wasn't up for trying to wangle a room in one of the no-name love hotels, or even the marginally fancier overnight spots by the train station, so i just jumped on the metro to Dongcheng district where my map showed a cluster of 7 Day Inns (think: Motel 6).

Checking in required me to go through the whole process again. Temperature check. 14 day movement history. Shenzhen green health status. "This isn't the right one." "Sorry, i don't have the other one."

I think they were just happy to have any customer at all.

-o-

Walking out of the hotel i immediately remembered why i like Dongguan. It's not like Shenzhen, where urban villages are sort of a higgledy-piggledy mess of handshake buildings jammed in between gated communities and shopping malls. It has a more traditional urban layout, where there are front roads with chain stores, and back alleys with mom'n'pop joints.



I ducked into a Hunan cuisine place and got 老干妈油豆腐 Lao Gan Ma oil tofu. Lao Gan Ma is a popular brand from Guizhou that has become a generic term for black bean chili sauce, and "oil tofu" usually means tofu that was frozen and then deep-fried so it is spongy on the inside and crispy on the outside. It was delicious.

After dinner i decided i needed a beer to soothe my sunburn from the inside out. I could have gone to any of the small restaurants in the alley, but i decided to head out to a street that apparently had a 大排檔 dai pai dong, which is a Hong Kong (now Guangdong-wide) term for cheap outdoor restaurants that are ideal venues for getting drunk in the hot summer moonlight.



I cut through a wet market that was just closing up, and made a mental note of the location. I don't need to stock up on fish heads or pig feet when i'm traveling, but alleys around the wet market are usually a good bet for breakfast.

After crossing the road into a more well-to-do area i stumbled upon an absurd number of plastic surgery clinics. They look a bit like hospitals, except they're not open at night. There weren't many people around either so it started to feel a bit like a scene from a zombie flick.

My walk also passed the usual array of ostentatious KTVs and nightclubs, most of which were closed or boarded up. I walked up to one where the lights were on and the bouncer said it wasn't for me. I mean, i was dressed in shorts and i haven't shaved my legs since coronavirus hit (the "this will change everything" crowd were right!) but i got the feeling this wasn't the standard "you're not classy enough" refusal. There was no obvious indication from the outside because they are illegal in China, but i'm pretty sure it was a strip club.

I never found the dai pai dong, but a bit further along i found an English pub.

I got my temperature checked and installed yet another health code app.

Then i removed my mask and ordered a snakebite.

-o-

Even though bars in Shenzhen reopened a month ago, i haven't bothered going because they make me uncomfortable. Bars here tend to be very expensive and full of the kinds of people who are either too rich to care, or desperate to appear that way.

I struck up a conversation with one of the expats who turned out to be a part owner of the place. It's the first time i've spoken to any foreigner in China since all of this started. "America is fucked, England is fucked, people back home should've heeded the warnings, the world's second biggest economy doesn't shut down overnight for a lark."

I asked how the lockdown went in Dongguan. He said they had to close the bar for two months, "not like in Shenzhen where it was only two weeks till Shekou opened back up". I told him i didn't know how long the Shekou bars had been shut down since i never go to that neighborhood, but urban villages around me were fenced off 3 months ago and remain closed to outsiders. I said i was really upset about it all and that i hoped this weekend could be some kind of emotional reset switch. He looked at me like i was crazy.

It didn't really sink in for me till the next morning, but i didn't see a single "temporary" barricade or checkpoint in all of Dongguan.

I wanted to elaborate on the reasons why i didn't know anything about what was going on in the Shenzhen expat scene, but i held my tongue. I wanted to say that i don't feel comfortable going to a bar in Rich China and dropping 50元 on a beer when i could be sitting on a plastic stool in Poor China drinking a 5元 beer, but it would have sounded kind of ridiculous given i was on my third pint and had already spent more on snakebites than on my hotel room.

As i mulled it over in my head, the tears started to well up. Finally, the corona grief. When all the businesses were allowed to reopen, rich people's lives went straight back to normal. Poor people are the ones who lost their jobs, whose businesses didn't reopen, whose houses are now surrounded by razor wire...

I'm rich. My life should have gone back to normal. Why isn't my life back to normal? Because rich people are not my scene. What the fuck? This isn't my scene!

埋單, mai dan, get the check, let's get out of here.

-o-

Walking back to the hotel i noticed some of the other Dongguan trappings i remember from last time. Some shops still use Traditional Chinese on the signs. Cantonese is still the first language. And... fucking tongsui.

I talked about 糖水 tongsui before. It literally means sugar water and is the Cantonese word used to describe various sweet soups, often made with glutinous rice balls or other goodies floating inside. In Guangdong it's expanded into a whole category of bubble tea inspired desserts and to me it's a hallmark of the Dongguan experience.

Every other city in China you walk around close to midnight you will find people selling 串 meat on sticks, you will find people doing home fry potatoes, fried dumplings, fried chicken, anything to soak up the alcohol. But in Dongguan there are just tongsui shops.



Inside they serve all the standard tongsui, but most of the kids buy from the off-menu menu. 老板 laoban (boss) will cook up all the Cantonese faves - 炒河粉 hor fun, 炒米粉 rice noodle vermicelli, 粥 congee, curry fish ball, beef tendon meatball, chicken wing, any damn thing...

I got a 椰汁芒果龟苓膏 - coconut milk, mango and turtle jelly. I felt like the bitterness of the turtle jelly would be a good antidote to the snakebites.

It was.

Before scooting up the elevator to my room, i picked up some 麻辣豆干 Sichuan spicy tofu jerky, peanuts and a can of beer. Holidays are great.

-o-

I woke up late, still sunburnt but newly overhung. And then i realized i probably wouldn't be able to order in a coffee because corona. In Shenzhen, even in buildings that are outside urban villages, delivery drivers are no longer allowed to come inside to bring your food, they just leave the bags on designated tables out on the sidewalk.

I drank a cup of black tea. You know things are grim when i resort to drinking tea.

Fortunately there was a KFC nearby, so i showered and gingerly pulled on my clothes, then headed out for joe. Well, first i made a detour to the wet market where - sure enough - there were some plastic stools scattered around and people making 肠粉 rice noodle roll. The stall i picked sprinkled theirs with black sesame and it was Good.

After filling my stomach, but before getting my caffeine fix, i went to Walmart. We have Walmarts in Shenzhen too but none close to my house, so i thought i'd take the opportunity to buy a few things that are considered foreign luxuries and therefore not available in my neighborhood - deodorant, baked beans, lotion. I bought two travel bottles of lotion and immediately emptied half of one over my scalding shoulders.

And then i went to KFC to get what by that point was the greatest coffee of my life.

-o-

Although i knew i had to get home to do some chores, i wanted to climb a mountain, which has become my ritual in every town of China that i visit. Chinese cities with no mountains are bollocks. Dongcheng district is close to the rivers so there isn't much mountain to speak of, but there is still one little bump with a viewing platform called Huangqi mountain.



It was a surprisingly good mountain. It isn't very high, but i took a circuitous route that led me up and down a bunch of hills that gave me that classic Guangdong feeling of climbing a million steps without really ending up anywhere. I also saw a very big snake.

After popping back out the other side of the park i jumped on a share bike to a bus station i remembered from last time i was in Dongguan. I zigzagged through a bunch of tenements and soaked in the atmosphere of the back alleys, then sat down at a Sichuan joint for a 凉面 cold noodle.



It's not just the fact they haven't closed up their back alleys. Dongguan is such a more chill city than Shenzhen. Half of everyone wasn't wearing masks outside, and it felt amazing to just walk around without feeling like 低端人口, so-called "low end population". The whole time i was in Dongguan the only cops i saw were at the gate to Huangqi mountain and at the bus station.

Never was their absence more noticeable than when i took my bike along the river.



In Shenzhen there would be a cop at every park entrance. There would be cops stopping the folks from fishing. There would be cops banning me from taking my bike down to the low path to pedal along the waterfront. There would be cops every 500 meters yelling at you to put your facemask back on. But in Dongguan, no cops. And it made a not especially remarkable riverway into fucking heaven. My eyes filled with tears, finally being able to just move free.

Rant on.

I fucking hate cops, uniformed security guards, city officials, dutiful volunteers, whatever you want to call them. China is full to the brim of these assholes. I mean, usually if you speak to them one-on-one they're not assholes, they're just regular people trying to make a living or "volunteers" trying to amass enough social credit to qualify for hukou (city residence). But the path they chose is evil. I can understand the value of coppers who bust murderers and rapists and other abusive shitheels, but the vast majority are literal fun police who only exist to protect the lifestyles of the wealthy. Fuck all who force us to conform to the party's sterile idea of "civilized" behavior.

Anyway. At the bus station i went through another dance, registered for yet another health check app, bought the ticket then snuggled into the greyhound back to Shenzhen Bao'an. I passed out almost immediately.

I woke in time to jump off at one of the roadside stops before the terminus, completely avoiding another round of security theater.

The city bus home took another hour, but that was just fine.

mom walk

Shenzhen → Dongguan, baby steps

I was looking out the window Monday morning and noticed an unwelcome change in my neighborhood.



The road out front of my house úsed to be two lanes each way. I'm not sure why, because all four lanes are nearly always empty, but it was nice because it meant buses or delivery vehicles could easily pull over without bothering anyone.

Since the virus hit, so many people switched from public transport to private vehicles that roads all over the city have become clogged with cars. During the lockdown people were illegally parking and double-parking all over the place, on roads that had previously only ever seen buses, mopeds and taxis. My road was no exception.

Well, if you take close look at the lines that were painted down over the weekend, you'll see that our wide open road just got officially turned into a parking lot. As usual, when the rich are inconvenienced, they just have the government change the rules. Most of the white cars are limos. The others are private vehicles. I suspect few, if any, are owned by people who live along this stretch of road. I wonder how much of the parking revenue will go to local people?

I'm gonna guess zero.

-o-

After coffee i packed a small overnight kit and jumped on a share bike. I wanted to bike out to the edge of the Mobike zone in Longhua district.

I realized that i couldn't bike directly east, because between my house and the train station is a bunch of factories and a stretch of expressway where pedestrians and bikes are not allowed. Unless i could blag my way through the industrial yards (not likely at the moment) i'd have to bike a hilly 30km detour around Yangtai mountain just to get to the same place that's 10 minutes away on the metro.

But the joy of sharebikes is that they allow you to switch modes on a whim. I jumped off at a metro station and went two stops due east.

The metro was real quiet. It's hard to tell if that was due to corona, since it is also a holiday and the line that i live on is one of the less busy lines anyway, but it sure seemed hella empty.



I jumped out at the train station and took another share bike. The roads were pretty empty too. I resolved to check into every urban village along the way to see if anything was properly reopened.

Dear friends, not a single urban village was open to outsiders. One after the other after the other - all walled in, some with corrugated steel, some with bars, some with razor wire. The signs indicate that only residents are allowed inside and armed guards at the checkpoints enforce it.

Here are a few shots of the different barriers that have been erected. (Click to enlarge.)



In some of the villages the enforcement seems less heavy than others. I saw a few people jump the fence, or enter a shop on the outside and then slip through a secret back door into the alley. As is the case in my own village, delivery drivers are picking up and dropping off food by meeting up with contacts on the inside and passing the goods over the fence.

I got a bubble tea from a shop on the outside, then pressed on. I found one of the Foxconn factories where rumor has it they make iPhones. It's massive. I chattered with the guards to let me in "so i can cut through to the other side" and they said i'd just need to sign in, add my face to the facial recognition database, plus leave the sharebike. The fact fucking Foxconn has less stringent security than urban villages right now is ridiculous.

I decided not to leave my trusty steed, and instead rode it down the river on a path running alongside the factory.



Thanks to the "temporary" barricades blocking what would normally be a through route, this actually came to somewhat of a dead-end, where the only choice was to enter the factory complex from a different entrance, or cross a security checkpoint into another village. There were a bunch of workers coming out when i arrived, so i left my bike and snuck into the village with them. I guess not many outsiders come in that way because the guard didn't even look up from his phone.

I sat down in the village to chill for a bit. This is the first time since January that i have been able to go into a village that isn't my own.



-o-

I pondered my next steps and decided to head out to a green spot on the map i had never noticed before. Once i sat down on the bus to google it, i discovered it was a fucking golf course. Not just a golf course, in fact, but some kind of massive resort slash gated community slash rich people exclusivity zone. I still tried to get in, but i should know better by now. The security guard just laughed and shook his head. This time i wasn't the only one misled - a young couple out for a summer walk also headed back up the road, disappointed that this "5A scenic area" apparently isn't open to plebs like us.

One day i'd like to get into one of these places just to see what's actually inside. I guess it'd just be a whole bunch of big houses, expensive cars and raging douchebags. This place even had a private school! Hilariously, the advertisement featured a bunch of uniformed white children and a coat of arms, like something out of Harry Potter. I looked it up later and turns out it's a local branch of a posh English boarding school. I mean... fuck this place, for real.

I followed the couple back up the road and then peeled off to the right where they went left. There was a grubby teen in flip-flops pulling on his cigarette and looking at the tattered job vacancies pinned up on the community bulletin board.

It had been a very hot day. I was stuck out on the edge of Shenzhen, beyond the invisible Mobike border, no sharebikes, limited bus service, most shops gone bust. It felt pretty grim. What to do?

Jump on a greyhound, that's what.

-o-

There was a nearby coach station with buses out to Dongguan and Guangzhou. Yes, the same Guangzhou where African migrants have been evicted from their homes due to fears they might be carrying the virus. The same Guangzhou where even a McDonalds had a sign up saying they would not serve black people.

Thanks to the efforts of African diplomats, on Saturday the Guangdong authorities announced that businesses should no longer discriminate on the basis of country of origin or skin color. The fact this isn't already a law tells you all you need to know about the Party's priorities.

Guangzhou, i'll give it a miss. I jumped on the bus to Dongguan Shilong.



-o-

This got long, so i'll finish the story tomorrow. Spoiler: i made it back to Shenzhen safe, sound and sunburnt.
mom walk

i miss europe

It's been interesting seeing how people around the world react to this virus.

People i know in Asia and Australia seem to have pretty much taken it in their stride. Whether lockdowns or tracking apps or whatever, people just kinda do what the government said, gripe and moan about it, but ultimately what you gonna do? Keep calm and carry on.

On the other extreme, i am really finding it challenging to deal with the response of my North American friends. I thought middle class Chinese were paranoid, but my North American friends are next fucking level. Can't go outside, can't touch the mail, gotta disinfect the groceries, gotta stockpile weeks worth of food, can't walk past a stranger, can't trust anyone, "my skin's peeling off from all the cleaning", as if it's some kind of nuclear apocalypse. The fear is one thing, i can empathize, but the anger... Some friends are wishing illness and death on other members of their community. People seem to have totally lost their sense of perspective. Instead of radicalizing against their actual oppressors, people are radicalizing against their neighbors, getting into internet shitfights, publicly shaming folks, informing on them, calling them murderers just for going outside... It's so hard for me to watch.

I will say that my friends here on LiveJournal have been less extreme, thankfully.

Anyway, thank God for Europe in the midst of all this. My European friends have remained fairly stoic, despite facing much larger losses than what we experienced in Asia. The most reassuring part is that the radicals didn't forget that the fight they had wasn't with their neighbors, it was with nationalists and capitalists and fascists all around the world.

Today a European friend posted this tune which is exactly what i wanted to hear from a coronavirus-related solidarity single.


LMF - SLDRT! feat. Babsi Tollwut, Miss Zebra, Lucia Vargas, Mal Élevé, Tsidi & Anela (SOS)

This has been one of my most musical weekends in quite some time. I also bought a relief album for my fave Berlin club. Have a listen: https://kioskid.bandcamp.com/album/blau-konsortium-pres-give-em-a-future I know not everyone is into techno music, but there are loads of indie artists who play guitars and other traditional instruments who are also struggling right now, so look up your faves and buy some tunes, if you can afford it.

I am trying to focus on things i like that don't involve getting (too) drunk or leaving my neighborhood.