China diary: Getting away from it

Moganshan, east China
March 20, 2012

Moganshan has long been a hideaway. Chiang Kai-Shek spent his honeymoon here, Mao’s secret police locked people up in a secret villa, and the village is now a weekend escape for the expat wives of Shanghai… not to mention that I escaped to live here after a traumatic business experience.

So it was understandable that a local guesthouse was willing to take on as manager a young woman looking to get away from her recent past. They didn’t ask too many questions, even when her luggage was sent on a few days later. She had had to leave a forwarding address, she explained.

But then her recent past made an appearance in the shape of her boyfriend. He claimed to be a former Special Forces soldier. She asked him to leave but he refused—until he was called away, on a secret mission perhaps. He was still very keen on her, but she had obviously been hoping to dump him by disappearing.

Matters came to a head when the guesthouse was full of expat wives and their children. The boyfriend appeared again, having travelled a long way and drunk a lot of alcohol. He was also holding a large knife. Hysterics ensued and the police were called, who moved the boyfriend to a neighbouring hotel lobby but then left it to the guesthouse owner and the young woman to see that he went. Thankfully, he did.

There are no restraining orders hereabouts. No arrest was made for threatening behaviour or harassment. The police told the owner of the guesthouse, “Be best all round if you fired your manager.” So he did—solving that problem, for some.

Linsanity in China

Two sportsmen have been getting extensive coverage in the local media. One is Nicolas Anelka, the French footballer who used to play for Chelsea, among other clubs. In December he signed for Shanghai Shenhua for a rumoured £175,000 a week. He scored a goal in the first 40 seconds of his first match and avoided the multiplayer brawl that ended his second, a “friendly” with Shanghai Shenxin. He also went on TV to tell Shanghai how much he loves living there, how he’s learning Shanghainese and adores the food. The locals have taken him to their hearts. (Most Chinese football fans follow European teams because the Chinese Football Association is so corrupt. Several CFA officials and four referees were recently sentenced to jail for match-fixing.)

The other star in the headlines is Jeremy Lin, a Chinese-American (his parents emigrated from Taiwan) and Harvard graduate who stepped onto a basketball court as a substitute for the New York Knicks and exceeded all expectations. His fame has spawned a raft of puns like “Linsanity,” none of which translate into Chinese.

Lin is an American citizen, but like Anelka he has been adopted as a symbol of Chinese sporting success. But the users of Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, are relatively united in the opinion that if Lin had grown up in China, the flair that made him into an overnight sensation would have been drilled out of him. Lacking the height of Yao Ming, the 7ft 6in Chinese national who played for the Houston Rockets, Lin would have never made it to the NBA.

In China, the sports system is set up to produce Olympic medal winners. Winners are national heroes for a few years, get a big reward from the state, do some adverts and then fade away. Recently one former gymnast was found living on the streets. Lin may be even luckier than he knows.