January 2005 nearly passed. And I thought that should not happen without a note here. That obviously proves, that my time available for updates is limited. I decided to do more web-log-like comments, i.e. less comprehensive reports about specific events like visits to far-away cities. I still have some 100+ pictures to review and place here. Beijing is still incomplete, Hong Kong and Bangkok still completely missing. That will take time…
But more brief comments about day-to-day life. As I’m here for work purposes some 80%+ of my time is project work, about which I won’t disclose details on a public web site. But still, there are a couple of small things, observations, which might be of interest.
For example the company site next to our apartment. In the beginning we just thought: “OK, there’s a construction site, they’re building one the hundreds of new buildings, which are under construction every day in Shanghai. Somewhere the construction boom must become evident. And here’s one of these places. And certainly they need some scaffoldings.”
As a matter of fact, many scaffolds for smaller buildings (3 storeys, maybe) are still made of bamboo. Next to us, however, the workers used steel tubes, the a bit more modern variant. The way the scaffold is build still resembles the way one would use bamboo poles: A couple of vertical tubes are tied together and supported by crossing diagonal tubes. Not like back at home where the scaffoldings are made from sophisticated steel elements, which are plugged together like Lego elements.
And you need a lot of steel tubes when building large buildings. Kicking them from a lorry is loud. Very loud. And it seemed to us that new loads of tubes arrived at the construction site each morning at 7:00. Workers started immediately to kick them off the truck, which was a reliable way of waking us up.
Only after a few weeks I got the feeling that the regular unloading of tubes had not much to do with the construction works: No more storeys were added to that building, no more scaffoldings were necessary. And still old lorries kept coming, and the workers did their kicking-off-the-truck thing, regularly awakening us from deep and (so think we) deserved sleep.
My new theory was: The company located there is actually a scaffoldings rental company. And so far, that proved true. The new building next to it is not completely finished yet, but they are working on the interior already. All scaffolds around the new house have already been removed. But loads of tubes still arrive each day. Saturday and Sunday included.
Today was Sunday. Something must have gone wrong today: I woke up only at around 11 o’clock. I stood up hesitantly and watched the workers some minutes. Here’s what it looks like:
You cannot avoid the thought that people’s work must be cheap here. OK, we know it is. But still, whenever we see evidence for this in the streets we keep thinking: Why not doing that more efficiently? There were about six workers busy with unloading the blue lorry, looking at the tubes, maybe straighten some bent tubes and then (hey, I’ve never seen that!) arranging them neatly on a large pile, one tube next to the other, the next level 90 degrees crossed, and so on. I haven’t found out what the seventh person, walking up and down the pile of tubes, was doing.
Why, for instance, is the lorry unloaded to its left-hand side, although straitening and stockpiling them happens on the other side? Three people stood on the lorry and kicked the tubes off it. Two people were busy carrying the individual steel tubes (they must have some considerable weight!) from the left-hand to the right-hand side. One was straightening a couple of them, two were putting the straight ones on the neat pile.
And they do that every day… (OK, it seems that the neat pile is a fairly new invention, so far they were more or less thrown on a big heap, something that changed their day a lot, I guess.) You cannot avoid thinking “Is that satisfactory work? Can they feed their family with their earnings? Obviously at best hardly, ’cause they work seven days a week. What do they think if seeing me western lingering on my balcony of my modern(-looking, at least) apartment, knowing exactly that my statement of bank account shows a total that theirs will never do. Even if you forget applying the 1:10 exchange rate. If they have a bank account at all…”
They live in the white shack in the back, likely with four persons in a room of 12 square meters, no air condition, no heating, no flowing water. And here in our house poeple start complaining if the room has not been cleaned for a week (which lets the trash can overflow…). Over there, the workers are staying in the shaks for months before returning to their families just for a few days. Then come back and start another 7-day week after the other.
I hope, they saved enough money for a trip home for the shortly upcoming spring festival (around Chinese New Year on February, 9), as important a family event as christmas back home in Germany.
This is another observation: There is a lot of security and traffic regulation staff around. When driving to the project site each morning there are a lot of traffic wardens, not actually police, but somehow semi-official looking. They have limited effect on the way the cars are going: Always forward, no matter how many other cars are on the street, or are trying to join or cross the street. Somehow it always works out–so far at least. We already enjoyed some close calls, when the brakes of our fully loaded bus had a hard time slowing down the vehicle in time before some other bus could hit us from left, right, or ahead.
And as there seems to be permission to turn right all the time (except if there is a dedicated right-turn traffic light) it is really hard for pedestrians to cross streets. There’s always traffic. The traffic wardens help a bit crossing the street on feet.
And each medium and large-sized building is guarded by security personnel. They look all the same here: Grey uniforms, peaked cap, mostly looking like taking their job serious. And if you do not obey the rules they do come up to you and remind you what kind of papers you need to access this or that building or that smoking is not allowed here or there or that wet umbrellas have to be left outside and so on. OK, they do that in Chinese. So no way to understand them. But after a while you get the idea.
Some security measures look tough and actually give you a feeling of security: Before entering some buildings you’ll have to go through metal detectors like at an airport. But then after having done that several times you find out that, for example, if it beeps you simply walk back, let it beep again and latest after the third time beeping they will let you pass without finding out what made the detector beep all the time. Could have been two many coins in your wallet, could have been a knife, who knows…
And anyway: As soon as you get a permanent id card you are no longer required to walk through the metal detectors. Before having the id cards we weren’t even allowed to take plastic bottles of water into the building (we have never found out why). But now nobody pays any attention what the very same persons carry in or out.
And it stays an open question what these security guards can really do if something serious happens. Can they fight somebody with a knife or a gun? We don’t know. We hopefully never find out. But we feel security as something happening only at the surface. And we are reminded of that whenever leaving late and finding the guards supposed to watch the floor entrance, fast asleep, crouched into an armchair, which is not supposed to be there in the first place.
Here’s something more enjoyable: I made jokes about that when first seeing them at our office in down-town. But that’s long ago and since then I’ve seen these things at all larger building: Lockable umbrella racks. There seems to be just one umbrella rack factory around, they all look the same: Along two parallel metal tubes there are locks, which can enclose an umbrella cane. You put your umbrella in, close the lock, and take out a key, with which you later, when leaving, can unlock your umbrella.
Shanghai has a rain season (about June / July, if you care). And it seems that Shanghai is prepared for it. Just a few drops of rain and people start carrying around umbrellas like they were made from sugar. (Another occasion is bright sunshine, then umbrellas are used to provide shadow to their bearer, but only few people do that.) Offices do not fancy the idea of many wet umbrellas lying around in the building and wetting the floors. Thus, they provide these umbrella racks, which unfailingly offer their service whenever there has been a raindrop reported somewhere in greater Shanghai.
I’m not even owning an umbrella at the moment… But I put that on my shopping list immediately. Even if only for the fun of trying these locked umbrella racks once.