69 - Behaviour - what is proper?

Yesterday C & D ran in the local New Year’s Day race. We knew last January that we had missed an event, from talking with one of our local hoteliers – I think he said he was Number One, but C denies this. Extended research – meaning we weren’t getting answers – eventually showed there are two events on New Year’s Day: the March of the Ten Thousand (would that be Wan Ren Man Zou, then?) which goes from the Sports stadium across the road, south down Door Street (called that because there is a stretch of 400m of shops selling mainly doors), east along the city wall and then south to the lakeside plaza. At about 3km, this will then be filled with conscripted company staff marching under their several banners. They will of course be called volunteers, but they have been volunteered.The other race, apparently in its 33rd year, is around the lake. The various events, segregated by age category, start at different places but all finish in, unbelievably, our own street, BanYue Lu, at the park at the far end. The littlest kids run around ‘our’ lake, which we say is 2.75km. The middle-sized boys and all the women not yet included run from the ‘west gate’ of the Seven Star Lake park (it’s NW, as far north as the ‘north’ gate) and follows the shore of the biggest lake along the west causeway (between lakes) until reaching the finishing park, where it goes round three sides of the four. This is about 4.5 km, called five. The men not yet included, older school age and over, run from the a park near the genuinely southern south gate, in through the SE but ‘east’ gate and on the main path across the islands between lakes until joining the women’s route. This is 9.75km but called eight. Advertising for this race was all over the finish of the March (hence our confusion continued) and entries were made at a kiosk on the main road nearby, the only clue being the map on the shed wall (and, if you’re able to find and read the signs, the fact that this is where the Sports Bureau hangs out). Entry was free, but there is an upper age limit of 36 (why, pray?) so we took my passport, recent proof of racing etc with us to make an entry. There was absolutely no argument made. So what is the point of declaring an upper age limit?

If you don’t want to read about the race, skip all the blue text.

As it turned out, neither of us saw any man but me whose age was obviously over 25, though there were several women whose age would be in the thirties. Cynthia’s race start position was to have five starts in ten minutes (so 2-3 minutes apart, yes?) between 0730 and 0740 and racers were distinguished by number colour for geographical start place and by number background colour for race age group. So all Cynthia’s colleagues were wearing red numbers and all David’s were wearing blue numbers. The older men’s race had a white background and the younger (senior school) men had a yellowed background – it just looked dirty. These two would start together at 0745. When we made our entries, D was the 40th entrant and C was the 30th. Yet at the start, we each saw 100-200 runners, to which you can mentally add a similar number of smaller people running the shortest route.

In C’s race it didn’t take at all long to catch people in the immediately previous start, so C never identified the leaders in her race and always had younger girls in front and simply in the way. They, like the marchers, had been conscripted and were unwilling participants. C had, nearby for the first half of the race, one of those people who thinks running is the same as sprinting and therefore has no grasp of the pace to use for any race over a kilometre; she would speed past C and then blow up and be passed, only to repeat this motion until unable to continue. Evidence of lack of experience, advice, common sense, thought, etc etc. Meanwhile, C, who had walked the route the previous afternoon, used the road to advantage and optimised her effort. She was hampered by the lack of knowledge of position and so could accurately say that she ran her own race. At the finish  - visualise a pneumatic red archway right across the four-lane road - she was given 15th and the 15th of 15 rather nice notebooks. No, paper ones. A friend she had made at the entry kiosk with the adjacent number seems to have been ninth and all the girls declared faster than that were (a) small (b) of indeterminate age and (c) did not look as if they had been for a run at all.

In my case, there was loads of reaction at a foreigner turning up to race, made much worse by being older than even the coaches and parents in support of their children. I said hello to a guy met at the entry kiosk – possibly the next oldest guy, at around 30;  found the remainder of the company entry and wished them a happy new year. The old back had ‘gone’ at lunchtime on the 30th, so C’s walk of the route had done wonders to fix that - we found that movement was good and stasis was bad, so I had jogged to the start that morning still in some doubt at any ability to run, let alone race. So I’m trying to keep moving. The crowd huddling in the cold at the start included quite a few visibly fit and practised runners – but the Chinese physique does that anyway and experience says that the faster runners are not the ones who look built for the activity.

It is not as cold as one had feared but still one has foregone shorts and is wearing leggings, two shirts and gloves. The 2nd Jan was far colder. There is a bit of a wind blowing off the lake. At the start, I’m at the very back of the field of 150 or so, but by the first corner, 800m, already 35th. And at the second corner, 25th – the surface to this point is the planking used for the new lakeside walkway, built on piles, based on concrete and surfaced with planking that has already begun to warp. The leaders, seen as they turn at corners, include two in fluorescent yellow/green - and one guy in orange already has a 25m lead. The next stretch is around a ‘village’, meaning low-rise haphazard older housing, still on the lakeside path and executing a V intruding into the lake. By the time the apex of the V is reached, the larger group of 25 has been passed (“Get out of the effing way”) in about twenty strides and I am the last of the front six, with a gap rapidly developing behind me. By the end of the V, where the route crosses a nice bridge into the park, I’m second (by mistake and due almost entirely to reading the surface better), the leader is 75m clear and the other four are tracking me closely. The gap behind sixth is already over 100m. Over the bridge into the Seven Star Lake Park, round the car park, and I see that the leader is fronted by a race motorcycle, which removes some of the opportunity to improve upon the route and only guarantees that this group follow it. I notice that the guy in orange at the front is following the centreline of the road at all times. In the next 500m the other four come past me and I sense a huge gap behind – no-one is visible at any point. The two guys in the bright strip (singlet and shorts) look comfortable, though the shorter one of them runs like a boxer (he rolls from side to side, his shoulders are rounded or look hunched) and the taller one, taller than me, looks very comfortable. The other two are in mismatched kit, one in leggings lighter than mine and both looking competent. This is the 4km mark. By the time we reach the ladies’ start, I’ve passed leggings-man, who held me off for 100m, as happens in China, but once I had one stride in front it was rapidly twenty strides. In the next kilometre I reeled in the next runner, who does exactly the same in trying to prevent me going by. When we reach the causeway, and so suddenly better visibility, I can see that the two fluorescents are going to catch the leader, that the gap between him and me has not changed in the last three kilometres and that the guy behind me is already over 50m behind, with the guy behind him (leggings) completely out of sight. Not that I often look behind, being a bad policy. So I’m thinking that the two in matching strip are going to start to race each other eventually, probably after the turning around the last lake and that my remaining challenge is to see if I can catch the guy who is just still leading.

At the last lake turn, the race bike disappears, presumably going the short way to the finish and the leading fluorescent (as predicted) jumps a wall and goes through the village, not around it as per the route map. Since I know very well what advantage this gives, I follow, still 100m behind, wondering briefly if the guy behind me can see where I went. Once in the village street, which is unusually wide, I can see that the front guy is now racing his teammate.

We have two kilometres to go: I can see three extra runners have appeared; Where have they come from? Could they be left from the Juniors’ race? I catch the slowest of these three and he is, unbelievably, wearing the same number style of the younger people in my race. So these three are cheats? There’s not much I can do about the racing but get on with it, but the bad news from my point of view is that the fastest of these three cheats is keeping pace with the erstwhile leader and so he - the man I want to catch - is being pushed to a better finish in the last ten minutes than would otherwise happen. This is what I have always objected to about pacemakers – they change the character of the race. Yes, I could have started at the front instead of the back and the 50-100m he in the orange top has had over me for most of the race would be cancelled out – in theory. Yes, he has been always in front of me; but he is tired and has just been left by the front pair so he should by psychologically ready to be caught. I would expect to have a real race with him for the line (and to lose it), but I would expect to catch him briefly. These characters spoil that.

So the last two sides of the last lake include passing girls who started 10 minutes and 5km earlier – clearly unwilling participants, then, akin to the worst of whole-school cross-country - and I finish the race still in fourth, catching two of the three cheats. I went and shouted at the one in front of me (“bu kuai ren, huai ren” = not quick man, bad man) and congratulated the long-time leader on a good run (“hao pao bu”), went and shook hands with the two team mates (the taller one was first and still only 150m in front of me). I may have interrupted a photo session in doing that, in which case the group would have been from the ZhaoQing Sports College. C says there was a distinct frisson at this foreign and elderly man finishing so high up, but I didn’t feel that at all, with too many school girls (wearing the same as they do for lessons) in the road and in the way. I have taken zero notice of the traffic since joining the road, that’s the last 4km; I know where I’m going, I know I’m going at the same speed as the traffic (there’s a comment on China!) and I know I can get away with running anywhere that gets me a good surface and clear road ahead.

I’m angry at this cheating. I’m relieved that the three cheats are in the ‘other’ race so I don’t have to argue that I’m fourth, but I’m well aware just how far behind the true Junior winner is going to be and I am very upset at that person being denied their win. I must be about the 400th person across the line that morning, with another hundred or so to go. The crowd has taken over the whole road and there are some policemen standing around (literally, men in uniform doing nothing but be seen to wear it) so the inevitable residual traffic is also in the road, albeit very slow. To be fair, I didn’t see a vehicle actually cross the finish line, but there was traffic movement within 50m both sides of that line.

I couldn’t find my warm coat, which was supposed to be with the company driver. I eventually found C, who cleverly had brought a coat for each of us, but they too were with the driver. By the time I found him, we were both distinctly cold. My bad temper was not eased by this, nor by being rejected from the reporting process – hand in your race number and your finishing number, to the right person. So C did that, which makes a nonsense, since she obviously was not in the guy’s race. I watched the presentations, still cold: the schoolboys awards somehow didn’t include anyone I would recognise, but one couldn’t help but notice that one guy was inserted into the presentation line in a very suspicious way – as if he had maybe not run at all. Paranoid? Possibly, but while the medallists (!) for the Junior (senior school) boys looked like runners and not like the cheats I saw, no-one looked happy about the situation and none were at all familiar. I can confirm that the first six of the ten given awards in my race were the guys I was racing, since I knew them and vice versa. By this time it is quite likely that I was the warmest. But I’m definitely feeling cold and needing to warm up urgently. The prize-giving involves lining up the first ten (the first 15 have been given notebooks as had happened to C) and each is given a handshake by a lady (who is probably head of the Sports Bureau) and a little red book cover holding a certificate that says race, date and position. No-one could say my name, though one girl sub-official (so, a genuine worker) who came to ask did see the funny side of me calling myself Si Kong-Ze (dead Confucius). Indeed, the announcer couldn’t even read my name.

So a bad race, in the sense that I didn’t get a medal – it is a long time since that has happened, due to all half-marathons giving medals to all participants – but a fantastic race in the sense that I was crippled the day before and, in the end, raced rather than struggled to finish. The time, at a shade under 38mins, is worthy of 9.75 km and suggests 39 for the ten K, which is a minute slower than the best training but still well within acceptable limits for being well. That minute would have put me pushing No1 to a faster finish and I am not claiming in any way that I could have won - except twenty, thirty or forty years ago. No times were recorded by anyone except the individual runner with a suitable watch, something I am now familiar with, though still disgusted.

The lack of control to deter cheating, the lack of concern at people who didn’t finish (and the other company men didn’t), the lack of care for safety (well, I know that life is cheap in China); all these are part and parcel of living here and it seems that myself and a very few others care enough to want to change China just a little for the better.

What concerns me most is the prevalence and acceptance of cheating. A splendid notice seen in a classroom¹ at Shiplake pointed out that the principal person being cheated is the cheat itself. Cheating occurs when people fail to see the point of an exercise or where they are desperate (de spero, without hope) for success. So cheating occurs in running when

(i)  the participants really don’t care about anything but getting it over with (so short-cuts are attractive and walking is likely, so generally an organiser doesn’t much care, because these folk will be well to the rear); 
(ii)  when the result is of sufficiently great value to the participant that they (the singular
they) will abuse the trust given to them and take any route that raises their position and 
(iii) when the consideration for ‘the system’ is so negative, so disrespectful, that at no time was proper performance intended – this is the case where there is more ‘sport’ in winding up staff than in participation. This last is also the case where the level of respect for the rule of law, for ethical conduct, for honest ‘proper’ behaviour is so low that it is somehow acceptable to abuse the very thing taken by others to be expected behaviour. Yet in China, in many situations the equivalent is to be accused of cheating in the card game ‘Cheat’.

Repeating an example oft written about by me; driving on the left in China. Bikers (and tricyclists) without motors think nothing of using the wrong side of the road; motorists joining traffic from the right stay in the wrong carriageway for a 100m quite happily. This is seen as, at worst, selfish. No-one recognises the No Entry sign however many wheels they have; this is not even noticed – indeed, the very notice is not.

I am told that in China there are rules and there are rules. The distinction, apparently, is that some rules are written down; these ones can be ignored, except when they cannot. So crossing a red light is okay unless there is a policeman standing in the road – and even then I’ve seen drivers daring to challenge the policeman’s ability to read a number plate (and get away with it, repeatedly). Exceeding the speed limit is nothing unless there is a camera (I know other places where that applies, and so do you), but in China there is no consideration about appropriate speed, so doing 60 in a 30 limit is a nothing. Fortunately, the risk of an adjacent motorist changing direction radically at no notice is high enough to deter most urban motorists from high speed – I’ve written before that they drive as they walk, erratically.

In the same way, there are rules about taxation. You will pay it. In practice, you will pay some tax on some of your pay; there is pay and pay, one of which might be called something like expenses, or just hidden. Taxes are to be avoided and are avoidable. Suggesting that this might be a case of ‘not what you know but who you know’ is greeted with a grimace by honest Chinese and by a grin with those who (think they) get away with such things. The second group will also worry that there are other people getting away with more...

The Chinese who care about their country and their nation do get very stressed about this topic. Several I have met are sufficiently incensed that one might worry about their immediate future health. Some of these people see how this damages the way China is viewed and a small number of those recognise that other countries do the same [at a diplomatic or political level, would you trust the British?]. Yet the ordinary man in the street does not even notice the level of cheating that is quotidian behaviour – it is literally beneath any conscious level. That makes it completely normal. So the result, to a foreigner with entirely different concepts of trust and of behaviour, is that China is a very strange place.

Yet, crime is pretty rare, in the sense of violent crime. The frequency of theft rises rapidly in proximity to a national holiday only because there is a perception of a shortage of funds and the desperate (unable to conceive of planning) will resort to stealing so as to comply with acceptable behaviour (going ‘home’ for New Year). Away from holidays, theft is rare.

So, where Britain has rules that largely define acceptable behaviour, China has acceptable behaviour defined in disregard for the ‘rules’. 

I view Britain as having a surfeit of rules and far too many laws that result in restricted behaviour and dramatic disregard for behaviour once the line is crossed. Worse, there are rules that consensus says are rules to be ignored (particularly, the 70mph limit on un-crowded motorways), but no guidance as to which rules may be safely ignored. Britain has too much ‘guidance’ that is amounting to interference and seems to have lost its way in giving advice. I have claimed for years that Britain needs an acceptance of personal responsibility that it has lost – the nanny state, in all its meanings – and I would be far happier about ‘the UK’ with an acceptance that whatever I do has consequences that I accept. Example: I accept that walking in the hills may be an activity considered dangerous by others, but I am happy to take responsibility for myself: I am reasonably happy to take responsibility for others when in the hills. I don’t feel the same way about climbing, but I am happy for those that do. I don’t feel the same way about intrusive medicine, either. On the other hand, I am happy to yield some responsibilities to others under certain circumstances and I accept that there are professional responsibilities and liabilities – in return for reasonable behaviour from all other parties.

In China, perversely, the rules exist to be ignored as often as possible. Every problem is perceived not only as an immediate problem but a surmountable one, one that can be “made to go away”, as they put it. Much of their literature refers to bending as a grass, not being unyielding as a rock, so a lot of effort goes into circumventing rules, not in confronting them. For example, I am certain that most of the offending cyclists would say (if I offered them the explanation) that they are not vehicles because they are people-powered, not motor-driven; therefore they can use any part of the road in the same way as pedestrians do, because the pavements are littered with cars. The e-bike offenders would then say they are cyclists, the scooter drivers (next speed level up) would shout “me, too” and demonstrate that they are really pedestrians by not having any safety headgear. The car drivers on the left would say “but I’m just…” while actually saying “but I’m justified” - because I’m me and I’m important (well, to me, at least).

Look out for Number One.³

DJS 20110112
Maths Qn: Convert 20110112 from base 3 to nonary, denary, octal and hexadecimal.

1 For those that might recognise the name, Eric Pollard’s room at Shiplake before the new maths / ICT block was built.  Commander Pollard was well known in Navy circles. Too.

2 Cheat: Players place cards face down in sequential turn, announcing what they are placing. What is said must be the same or adjacent in face value to the previous play. Thus “three fives” can followed by “two fours” or “four sixes” or “two fives”, though the cards themselves might be kings – and there may be three of them. The winner is the first to have no cards left. A challenge results in the last offering being tested, counting the cards back and face up (but showing ONLY those challenged). If caught out, the failed cheat takes the pile. A failed challenger takes the pile.  Play is more fun with more packs of cards. Cheating at Cheat would include hiding cards (up a sleeve), putting them in someone else’s hand while distracted, and so on.

3   As the paranoid Navy Captain says to himself.

4    I get 64159, 471210, 111508, 126416.

© David Scoins 2017