Sunday, February 12, 2006

Natural Urges

The Great Wall has survived great trials to be with us today. The Mongol hordes went out of their way to bash it down, for example. Some time later it became the stage for bold experiments in private property as the masses armed themselves with chisels and got hacking. Time, weather and gravity have, of course, been ceaseless in their efforts to wipe the wall off the map. The most recent addition to this list of adversaries are the 'graffiti artists' - a curious umbrella organisation of deluded lovers, bored teenagers and bloody idiots.

As any visitor to the wall will testify, China's heritage officials have been fighting a largely losing battle against the juvenile (and sometimes not-so-juvenile) delinquents over the last 40 years. Month after month, cretins of the local and foreign variety have willfully defaced the wall - often with sentiments of scarcely believable banality (see photo...and, apologies if this was actually written by well-meaning tourist officials). It's fair to say most of these renegade engravers belong to the 'deluded lovers' sub-section. A colleague who went to the Badaling section of the wall 10 years ago told me that nearly every brick she saw had been inscribed by romantics who reckoned that by writing 'Qing 4 Ming, 1996,' they were recording their love for all of eternity. These young poets clearly didn't reckon on the government rebuilding the majority of the wall shortly thereafter.

Regardless, vandalism has continued to be a problem. Against this backdrop, the authorities in one Great Wall locale have announced they will finally be sanctioning such activity - with a rather large cash caveat. The management office of Juyongguang - a section close to Badaling - have built a 80-metre long, 7.5-metre high marble structure, dubbed the 'Love Wall'. For a modest fee of RMB 999, visitors can now etch 'Baz Luvs Shaz' or somesuch into one of the 9.999 bricks. Juyongguan says the new scheme will satisfy the desire of visiting romantics to leave their mark without damaging the real deal. Others, of course, say that exploiting the name of China's best known cultural relic in such a manner is cynical, shameful and a wee bit sad.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Scent of Spring

Day 27 of the torturous 40-day Spring Festival Travel Period. As if conditions weren't already bad enough on China's overcrowded trains, travellers heading back to work or university may be noticing a peculiar pong permeating their packed carriages. As reported in the China Daily, sales of incontinence nappies in Guangdong supermarkets rocketed just prior to the beginning of the holidays due to massive demand from passengers anticipating trouble getting to the loo on their journey home. "In this period, a common train has to transit 2,000 passengers, with only around 1,000 seating tickets," Guangzhou Railway Group officer Zhang Dazhi told the newspaper.

This news - and shocking quote - was rapidly syndicated across the world. Such is the level of interest in this story that it cropped up in all kinds of unlikely places. The issue was discussed by British comedian Ricky Gervais on his weekly Guardian podcast last Sunday (though the team were under the erroneous impression that Chinese trains didn't have any toilets), I received a 'Oh-my-God-just-seen-the-tv' kind of letter from an ex-girlfriend, appalled and utterly incomprehending of what the devil was going on in my chosen country of residence. From top to bottom, it seems the world's media wants their piece of the (poo) pie (Disclaimer: what's a good story to the western media is good for us too....we couldn't resist making a little mention in the mag too).

The China Daily ended its absorbing report on the issue by stating that, during the peak travel period last year, some passengers became so deranged by their conditions that they jumped out of the carriages. The tally of people lost to temporary insanity this year is as yet unknown. The madness, for 13 more days at least, goes on. I'm just glad I took the plane.