There are many little everyday mysteries in China. Some I know I will never crack, others reveal themselves to me gradually, as my knowledge of the language and the people increases. Yet others hit me with a blinding flash, like this one.
Every single day of my life in Shanghai so far has been punctuated by the sound of a recorded male voice saying something unknowable in mandarin. It’s played from a tinny portable cassette player attached to a small loudspeaker, and mounted on the front of a non-descript motor-scooter. The motor-scooter driver rides slowly up and down my lane with the drone of this mysterious sing-song message ringing in my ears. It sounds to me like ‘kung now, dee now, bin yang, she ye my my’
What does it mean? Is it a communist slogan to cheer the masses as they go about their daily drudgery? Is it a kind of motivational message? I later realise that there is a whole army of scooter messenger-givers, going up and down every street, lane and alleyway in the city every day. What does it mean? Will I ever know?
So last week I’m enjoying a pleasant ramble in the Old City, and I lose myself down an alleyway of old lanes I’ve never been in before. Suddenly, I come across a forest of second-hand whitegoods. Every little store front is packed to the brim with old fridges, old washing machines, old TVs, airconditioners and computers. Then I see one. A scooter-messenger. With an old fridge strapped precariously to the back of his scooter. A light bulb goes off in the dim recesses of my Basic
‘Kong tiao, dian nao, bing xiang, xi yi, mai mai’
Loosely translated as a message, not from Chairman
I’m going to make it the basis of my next manifesto………..