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Written by Mary Higgins
One of the things about living in China is that you just can’t get any damn time to yourself. Wherever you go, no matter how far, there will ALWAYS be someone else there. If you climb the most distant part of the Great Wall, a little old lady will follow you all the way up trying to sell you cruddy postcards.

If you climb some far off sacred mountain, there will be someone at the peak trying to flog you a picture book, a bottle of fake water or some instant noodles. On the other hand, Chinese people seem to be cool with this. They find comfort in groups: Chinese people like “热闹″ (”re’nao” - literally, “hot and noisy”) - crowds of people, lots of noise and colour. This is fun.

If you take a Chinese companion to a quiet little restaurant, she will complain that it’s boring, and would prefer to go somewhere more re’nao.

A park will always have stalls with tinny loudspeakers blasting crappy music, some sideshow games; and salespeople demonstrating toys that squeak when squeezed.
(Aside: This doesn’t just go for Mainlanders: if you go for a pleasant countryside hike in Hong Kong on a weekend to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature, you will surely cross paths at least once with a group of local Hong Kongers, one of whom will have a radio hanging from his daypack and blasting Cantonese talkback or bad music, just to make the hike a bit more re’nao.)

(Aside Aside: Hiking Hong Kongers also inevitably carry these collapsable all-terrain walking sticks. I can never get over that. You’re not scaling the rocky slopes of the Andes for chrissake, you’re walking along a paved gently undulating footpath. Ditch the high-tech gear already!)
This is not to say that I don’t like a bit of re’nao as much as the next guy. You’ll find me in amongst it with the masses at the “庙会” (”miao hui” - temple fair) at Spring Festival, or elbow-to-elbow in the crowds at Tiananmen on National Day.

But every now and again, I just find myself wishing I was in a place that had some time for the “cold and quiet” as well.

Our valuable Editor Mary Higgins has been with us since Tuesday, 24 November 2009.

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