A few months ago (I've been sitting on these pictures for a while now, obviously) (Not literally of course--they're on my computer, they're not physical pictures. You do get that, don't you?) (Good--I'm happy for you, and everyone who has to deal with you on a daily basis) ... um, where was I? Oh, a few months ago I left my apartment to go to lunch and noticed that there was quite a lot of excitement at the building across from ours--firemen, policemen, the whole works:
I ignored it, because, in my experience, it doesn't take much to qualify as excitement around here, for some reason. I have actually seen crowds gather to watch someone get a ticket. And not someone complaining or arguing about it--which might be entertaining, depending on what was being said--but just someone standing there saying nothing while the cop writes out the ticket. However, when I walked out on to our street, I realized, based on the crowd, that maybe something bigger than a ticket--or, god forbid, a fender-bender--was taking place. It's hard to tell from the picture, but the street was so crowded with people that cars couldn't really drive down it.
I walked down the street to see what was up, and I found out that something wasn't up--but someone was, as you can tell from this next picture, to which I have thoughtfully added a subtle visual cue:
Okay, before you get too disgusted with me, I wasn't the only one taking pictures--I was one of ... well, if not hundreds, at least tens. Did I feel a little bad about taking the picture? Yes. Did I feel bad enough to not zoom in and take an even closer picture? Apparently not:
At this point, I decided not to go to lunch (AKA, I ordered in--hello, Sherpas!) and wandered back into our compound. When I did, I noticed that the fire department had thoughtfully placed an air mattress on the ground below the balcony where all the drama was happening. It's the big yellow thing you can see through the trees here:
Here's the view from our apartment window. Not much, other than a lot of what appeared to be very confused police and firemen.
There were, however, a few times I thought something exciting was going to happen. First, a bunch of cops got together, had a little meeting, and charged toward the building ... only to stop before they reached the door and walk back to their car to talk some more. Then a bunch of fireman grabbed a bag and what appeared to be a chain saw and ran into the building ...
... only to run back out once they got to the door. Why they were running into the building I have no idea--were they worried they'd miss the elevator or something?--but it all looked very dramatic. Then someone showed up with a cart and everyone went crazy and sprinted toward the guy with said cart. Once again, I was sure something very dramatic was going to happen, but then I realized that it was just a guy delivering lunch. Priorities, apparently:
Nothing happened for a long time and I stopped watching, but I just happened to look back out the window again when the situation was all resolved and they took down the police tape that was blocking off our complex from the street and everyone came running in to see what had happened. All the people in this picture are running--literally running--to check out what was going on:
The fire department also started deflating the airbag. My favorite part of the airbag is that it has arrows and a big read square in the center, for two reasons: one, do people really need the arrows? I mean, if there was a gigantic, inflated air mattress on the ground below you, wouldn't you sort of figure out on your own that it was for you to jump on to?; and two, apparently in China they use a square for a bull's-eye instead of a circle. I guess it goes along with the other stuff that is strongly different--some might say backwards--here, like the fact you have to dial 119 for the fire department instead of 911. Seriously--that's true:
Naturally, a group of people stood around to watch the great deflating. I guess, given the fact that I have seen similarly sized groups stand around to watch tickets being written, it shouldn't have been surprising:
Later that night, I noticed that--even though they had left hours before--the fire trucks were all back, and someone I saw in the elevator told me the person on the balcony, a guy, had jumped eventually. Naturally, this brought up a whole host of questions, like why the police would leave someone who had threatened to kill themselves alone for hours, thereby allowing them to do it. Later, however, someone else told me (someone I know and trust more to tell me about such things since both he and his wife speak Chinese very well) that the person, a girl, hadn't jumped, and that the police had eventually busted down the door and took her away. Apparently the girl had wanted some money from her boyfriend, and he hadn't given her any, so she had threatened to end it all, apparently not realizing that would, in fact, simply ensure that he wouldn't have to give her any money. The irony.
My favorite part of the explanation, though, was the fact that the girl was "some Northerner," as if the fact she was born somewhere above Shanghai made her less stable, or more likely to hang out on balconies all afternoon. That sort of thing--geography-based character judgments--are actually pretty common here. In an interview, you might be asked where you're from, and not as part of the introductory "How are you?" small talk, but as a serious question: if you're from the wrong place, you might not get hired. There are, for example, regions were the people are thought to be greedy, and others were they are supposed to be untrustworthy, and so on. Sort of like we have in the US with people from the South being perceived as dumb hayseeds who sleep with their first cousins. Except that, unlike here in China, that stuff about the South is actually true, right?