Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Power Tool Man and the Finger Game Scum

Well, the good news is that Power Tool Man, my neighbour upstairs, is moving out. I know this because, I was lying in my bed this morning at 5:30, I was not awakened by the usual sounds of PTM and Mrs PTM going through their customary 5:30 rituals of drilling holes in the wall and chopping vegetables. Nor could I hear PTM junior slapping about in her room above mine, every footstep resounding in my brain with all the surprising energy an eight year old waif can kick up when turfed out of bed at times which I have only ever previously seen on my way home. 5 a.m. is a nice time to go to bed. It is not a good time to wake up.

What I could hear was a small army of casual labourers running up the stairs yelling at each other, then lurching downstairs carrying various items of household impedimenta. They had, of course, to discuss every aspect of their temporary employers’ taste in interior design and it was completely necessary to add their signatures to every bit of furniture by scraping it against my door. All the while, yelling to each other in various dialects.

All this is a great improvement. Power Tool Man and family moved in about 18 months ago, and for the first 6 weeks or so, I was very understanding of his need to re-arrange certain aspects of his living arrangements. I didn’t once complain as he drilled holes, sanded the entire flooring, sandblasted his wife, irradiated his daughter etc. – for 16 hours a day. (Although, I’m still intrigued by the device which tended to be switched on at around 11:30 p.m. and the use of which provoked certain sounds from Mrs PTM which I have only previously heard in more organic situations!)

Eighteen months later, he is still at it and I’m becoming a tad annoyed.

I have come to the conclusion that their moving to new accommodation is prompted by his having run out of walls to drill, floors to sand, etc. I have never had the pleasure of visiting their premises but I envisage it as resembling a bee hive. Full of little holes.

There is one thing about China I can’t handle. I struggle happily with the language, I try to eat the nastier things they prize, I try to understand the cultural differences, but no matter how hard I try I cannot close my ears. I cannot get my brain to even begin to deal with the average Chinese person’s indifference to noise.

Which brings me to my major bugbear. The finger game!

Imagine yourself in the situation I was in but a few days ago. A regular occurrence.

It is a small restaurant. Nice food, friendly staff, only four tables. I am with a friend/colleague. We have some stuff to discuss. At another table is a group of girl students from the nearby college. They are happily giggling about boyfriends and comparing the fashionability of their various mobile phones. At another table is a small group of middle aged women happily giggling about the group of students and comparing the arguments they have won over bean sprout pricing in the local market bargaining sessions. The fourth table is empty.

Then six youngish men come in, order some food and drink and start the dreaded, bane of my existence: the “finger game”. This is a drinking game. I have long since come to the conclusion that most Chinese men don’t like drinking alcohol, so they have to dare each other to drink it. The ‘finger game’ consists of holding out your fingers to denote a number and yelling a different number (always in Cantonese, whether you speak that language or not.) The main rule is that this must be done at the top of your vocal amplitude range. By some esoteric means they deduce that someone has lost and has to take a drink of the local brew as a punishment. As the game progresses and the combatants become more drunk, the volume level rises until it is impossible to hear anything else. The girl students give up and prepare to leave, the market bargainers consider heading back to market to peacefully renegotiate the UN Charter on duck egg prices and my friend and I …

Well, I have a cunning plan. Everyone in China that I have ever spoken to about this phenomena agrees that it is selfish, anti-social noise pollution only ever played by the dregs of society such as the unemployed and government officials, but no-one ever complains or challenges it. As a guest here, I will not do so either. However, I wish to continue my conversation with my friend, I haven’t finished my fish head soup and I’m damned if I’m going to move because of a bunch of loudmouthed selfish meat-heads.

Fortunately, in a moment of hilarity in the local department store last week, I made an essential purchase. I lean into my bag and pull out my megaphone! I talk into it.

“So we should have the meeting at 3 pm tomorrow. ”

I hand the megaphone to my friend who replies, “Maybe four would be better.”

The drunks at the offending table fall into complete silence. The girls students clap. The shopping ladies smile benevolently. But I know the truth.

Next time the ‘finger game’ scum will bring megaphones.

. This entry was posted on Sunday, February 27th, 2005 at 7:55 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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