A big year for anniversaries

There’s a big anniversary coming up in a few day’s time. This year is quite a big year for anniversaries in general: 70 years since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (this will be celebrated with lots and lots of nationalism), 100 year anniversary of the May Fourth movement (the Labor Day public holiday got rearranged to ensure people were busy spending money instead of thinking too much about this one) and 30 years since the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident (this is strictly taboo and will be censored in Mainland China, as ever).

Should future generations endlessly muse over the actions of the previous generation? No, but I believe we should acknowledge and learn from the past. We are in a fortunate position in that we can learn from history – other people have done things before so we don’t have to! Many Chinese people do not feel shy about reminding me of the atrocities that my ancestors (ie. the British, never mind that I only just got a British passport) committed but their own country/Party (because great efforts have been made to conflate the two) is always painted as a victim or simply the sole peaceful actor facing aggression from all sides.

Should a mature, confident state accept the entirety of their history, warts and all – or should a country posturing as a world leader teach a bogus mix of fantasy, mythology and history to validate its fantasy of being a benevolent country with “5000 years of history”? The CCP heavily pushes the (false) notion that China has uniquely long history. With the rise of Han supremacism (Han being the majority ethnic group in China), I’ve been told by many people of the eternally peaceful nature of the Han people and the appalling treatment meted out to them by any and all other ethnic groups and nationalities. It’s simply not true, but it’s what is taught as such.

Should the leaders of a country let people make up their own minds about the successes of the regime based on facts – or should a one-sided argument grounded in exceptionalism, deliberate narrow mindedness and fragile egos be the guiding principles in how people think or are told how to think? If a country is really doing so well thanks solely to one single political party, why is domestic bad news suppressed and international bad news broadcast so widely? For example, we hear a lot about American school shootings, so a lot of Chinese people will say “America, so dangerous!”, but when there was a train crash in China a few years ago the cover up was so thorough that they literally buried the train carriages in the ground rather than get the bodies out.

In Hong Kong and Taiwan, 4th June will be marked and remembered. I read a Hong Kong based newspaper pretty regularly and I’m always shocked at the number of comments on articles about Tiananmen (and naturally there are quite a few at the moment) from Mainland or pro-Mainland voices saying it’s boring to go on about this, that the democracy movement was an American plant and that we should talk more about Western war crimes. I mean, sure, we should absolutely talk about war crimes, because they’re appalling – but the fact is that we can, and we do, whereas in Mainland China there can be no discussion of the events of 1989.

Is it sustainable or ethical to refuse to allow critical thinking? Can rampant nationalism end up in anything other than conflict? I wish I felt more confident about the state of the nation, but in the light of the trade war, the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang, the increasing online censorship and the overwhelming ignorance/apathy towards politics by the general populace, I find it very hard to be anything other than overwhelmingly pessimistic.

As we go into next week, I expect my VPN not to work. If I post anything on WeChat, I expect it to be censored. In Beijing, some metro stations will be closed “for maintenance”. Dissidents will be temporarily relocated out of the cities. 99% of the population will consider it a normal day: online shopping, watching videos on their mobiles, taking and posting selfies. Another day in consumerist China, where freedom was exchanged for online shopping festivals.

Two weeks at Functional 45

Since moving to Shanghai I’ve been a bit lazy and have run a fraction of what I used to do in London. I have lots of excuses: I didn’t know the city, it’s impossible to run to work without a shower at work, it’s hot (it maxed out at 45 degrees), it’s raining (rain here is heavy – I don’t mind getting wet but the roads flood and there are huge storms), my stomach is bad, etc. But a lot of the time I’ve just been lazy.

I’m in a running club, which meets once a week and runs along a pedestrianised stretch of the West Bund. It’s a nice bunch of people from all over, coordinated by a 2m tall Dane. A great dane, if you like. The West Bund has no cars, bikes or scooters, which is heavenly (the rule of pavements in Shanghai seems to be that if you can fit your bike/scooter/car then it’s fair game). Lots of people come here to make the most of it, a lot of whom seem to be lacking any idea of space or direction. These include: old people out walking/clapping, young people walking 3 abreast, kids on rollerblades, kids doing martial arts, stupid little yappy dogs, a group of men playing the saxophone, old men flying kites, extremely large groups of women doing square dancing, big dogs scaring the shit out of people, joggers running extremely slowly, grandparents walking their precious darling… At first I tried to dodge people and then I progressed to shouting at people and I’m almost ready to graduate to what one of my club members does and implement a points system for shoulder barging people. 

Much as I love running club, it’s only once a week and I need to do more :( Matt told me about a new gym opening in Shanghai, with a 2 week free trial. We signed up for the trial without reading too much about it.

Last Monday we turned up at F45. It was a room full of random equipment in Jiashan Market in the french concession. F45, it turned out, is HIIT training, where you go around a circuit laid out and do each activity for a set amount of time (for example: 30 seconds, 15 seconds rest, 20 seconds, 10 seconds rest and move to the next activity). The activities are stuff like burpees, weights, cycling, squats, mountain climbers and sadistic things like battle ropes. Oh yeah and there’s banging music. It’s 45 mins long.

Slightly dazed at the end, we showered (using the delicious Eco&More shampoo!) and then had a little chat with Lauren, the trainer. It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be, less shouty and motivational, and it didn’t matter if you couldn’t do something very well (hello, press ups) as it didn’t get in the way of anyone else as they were all busy doing their own things. Matt and I went to Happy Buddha (amazing veggie restaurant nearby) afterwards and stuffed our faces.

The next day I was pretty sore but managed a run. On Wednesday we went back to F45, and again on Thursday and Friday. Thursday was more resistance based, whereas the other days were cardio. By the end of the week we’d got to know quite a few of the other people and felt a lot more comfortable with the format. I’d figured out that the TV screens at the front showed what each activity was meant to look like, or what it could look like if I was about a thousand times fitter and also a man with a half sleeve.

We didn’t go over the weekend but I was back on Monday. I was asked where Matt was and I forgot his excuse so just said he was in bed, which he was, but he was going to football later and also had a medical excuse that I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone and am probably not allowed to blog about. 

On Tuesday I got up at 6am, jumped on the metro and went to the 7.15 class. Although we don’t live in the french concession it’s super quick and easy for us to get there. I did a resistance workout then cycled to work HQ for an exam. And then ate a pastry and an icecream.

I didn’t make it again until Friday due to work, though Matt went on Wednesday and Thursday. Our final exercise of the final workout was jumping over a box, which Matt and I managed to totally synchronise. I thought we looked pretty cool, but evidently not as cool as my friends Casey and Catherine, whose endeavours on the agility ladder ended up filmed and on the F45 instagram.

Part of me would love to sign up now my trial is over. I definitely wouldn’t push myself to do all those exercises on my own, and I like the camaraderie. The trainers are really lovely, super supportive, friendly and fun. 45 minutes is enough time to get a proper workout in but not so long that you think you might die before the end. However, it’s 1600 per month (that’s about £180!). And I have a feeling that the vibe probably should be more shouty, to fit the overall brand. 

I’m really glad I did the trial. If money was no object I’d absolutely sign up. But I’m soon to be unemployed so I can’t really justify it :( You can do individual sessions for 200 a go, so I will do one every now and then, especially with Matt or with my friends. And in the meantime I’m going to try to stop being such a lazy goose and work on press-ups so that I can impress the trainers on my next visit!! 

I still don’t understand modern art

After three weeks in Shanghai, I decided it was time to do something cultural. I also needed something to take my mind off missing Matt, who went back to the UK on Monday. I’d spent Monday getting the internet at the flat sorted (and then gorging myself on episodes of The Wire) so I really felt that I ought to do something more fulfilling with my day on Tuesday.

It was a breezy day and I emerged from the metro in what seemed like the middle of a building site. This isn’t uncommon in Shanghai or in China generally. I thought I’d be able to walk towards the river but it wasn’t immediately apparent which way that was. 

The river always amazes me with how wide and well trafficked it is. People were flying kites, and in the distance I could see the famous skyscrapers of Lujiazui – the pearl tower, etc.

I’d decided to visit the Yuz Museum, as there’s another exhibition on at the Long Museum that I’d rather see with other people, and both galleries are meant to be well worth visiting. Outside the Yuz there were long queues and a lot of art student types hanging about. Lots of black, lots of ennue. I tried to join one of the queues but was asked if I’d booked, so decided to follow the next person who also didn’t have a booking. Once I’d locked on to them (they had no idea I was trailing them, or it they did, they didn’t say anything) I followed them through the too-cool-for-school crowds and into the building itself.

The main atrium of the Yuz is glass, and the river looked better for the distance and the lack of wind. The building is an old aircraft hanger so it felt appropriate that the atrium felt a little like a modern airport termknal. I sat for a while and did a lot of people watching.

It turned out that it was the first day for the main exhibition, KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS – which explains all the hipsters.

The main exhibition space is cavernous, saved from feeling too sterile by the ceiling supports. Inside, there were enormous figures, variants of Mickey Mouse and other well known characters. I have to admit I don’t really understand why/how this is “art” (yes, I sound like my dad here – if my dad bothered himself with any thoughts on modern art) as it felt… derivative, maybe?

That said, there was something about the scale of these figures, and the sympathetic way that they were displayed in the space that made me feel small and reverential. I particularly liked these two embracing.

Selfies were the order of the day!

In the smaller rooms off the main space, there were paintings (is that the right word? As you can see, I’m almost as good an art critic as I am a sports writer!). Some of these were ad jamming, which I’ve seen a lot of so didn’t find very impressive. But I liked the eponymous Where The End Starts.

The most previewed picture I’ve seen is the collection inspired by The Simpsons. This was selfie central! Everyone wanted a picture with Homer!

After I’d had my fill of KAWS, I went to the other exhibition on. This was a long, thin, dark gallery, with an occasional beating drum that sounded like a heart. The paintings (and this time I’m almost convinced that’s the right word) were swirls and swirls and the more you looked it them, the more you got sucked in. I felt like I stood on the edge for a while, but let myself fall into one and then never wanted to get out.

I extricated myself from the gallery and the Yuz as a whole, and rented a bike, pedalling furiously along the riverside, somehow simultaneously more and less alone.

A shock back home

Last night we got in and as my phone connected to the wifi, I got a Guardian news alert. Something going on in Westminster.


It didn’t feel real to watch this on TV. I can’t follow Chinese news very well but there wasn’t really anything to be said.

It’s so sad for all the people injured or killed. Hopefully London doesn’t give in to fear. Terrorists want to spread terror – I refuse to be afraid.

I really have nothing much else to say. I just felt I should mark this in some way.