Monday, 30 April 2012

one sunday afternoon

Wouldn’t it be nice to get on wiv me neighbours,
But they make it very clear: they’ve got no room for ravers.

The Small Faces, Lazy Sunday.
Yesterday was the annual open day of our local branch of the People’s Liberation Army, whose base our balcony overlooks. Not that we can actually see anything: our direct view is blocked by two large trees and a huge clump of bamboo, so we can hear far more than we can see. We’re reduced to looking left or right, which provides limited information on what is happening at any given time (see photos below).

A squad of PLA soldiers practises kung fu. They aren’t very good.

An armoured personnel carrier stands by ready to ride to the rescue when required. The climbing frame appeared last summer and rather spoils the view, but by way of compensation we get to see China’s finest in action. They aren’t very good.

Our neighbours provide a new meaning for the term ‘racketeer’: although we’ve become accustomed to random noise from the camp—formerly garrisoned by the British under the name ‘Gallipoli Lines’—the PLA excelled themselves last week as they practised for the open day, which meant lots of shooting and shouting. While shouting is so common that I was driven to conclude, when we moved into the area, that it must be a battlefield tactic to confuse and intimidate the enemy, shooting is a mercifully rare occurrence, except when the soldiers are practising for an event.

Shooting and shouting are not the only ways in which the PLA annoys its neighbours. Heavy military helicopters fly in over the rooftops from time to time, and the base also has its own brass band. You might expect such a band to play patriotic Chinese tunes, and so it does, but I’ve also heard Strauss’s Radetzky March and the coda from Rossini’s William Tell overture from time to time. The former was featured yesterday in the build-up to the main event of the afternoon, which is captured in the second of the two audio clips below.

The most prominent feature of the first audio clip is the two disputatious black-collared starlings in the tree directly in front of our house. These are quickly joined by a pair of crested mynahs, while in the background the band strikes up the Radetzky March. The other musical background is provided by my stereo, which just happened to be on when the ‘entertainment’ began. Towards the end of the clip, a koel kicks off and provides an excellent example of how this bird’s call grows progressively louder and more strident as it warms up.

Welcome to the asylum (click to play):

The second clip is the mock battle scene. Listening to this, you will have no more idea of events than I, except that I was able to observe the armoured personnel carrier leave its place of concealment all gun blazing. The birds have fallen silent. The loudest explosions are not captured adequately by my recorder: all that you can hear is a short hiss followed by a generalized roar, but in reality these are so loud that they invariably set off alarms in all the cars parked in the vicinity. The music playing quietly in the background, which I think is splendidly serendipitous given that it is one track on a thousand-track random playlist, is Dance for the One by post-hippy band Quintessence, which was active in the early 1970s and was heavily influenced by Eastern mysticism.

Let battle commence (click to play):

Noisy neighbours? Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United, who has applied this epithet to his crosstown rivals, doesn’t know what he’s talking about.


  1. "They aren't very good." Well, that's a relief ;D

    1. A friend who was visiting, after watching several soldiers struggle over the scrambling nets (in profile in the photo), suggested that “they wouldn’t last five minutes in a punch-up with a bunch of [British] squaddies!” They really aren’t very good Bryan.

  2. Dennis, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I read your post and listened to the tapes. I'm sure all that noise would drive me stark raving mad-and I'm not referring to the birds.

    1. And I thought you were very accepting of things as they are Marty. I’ve learned to treat the PLA as a joke, and if I thought they’d understand, I’d be poking fun at them from the safety of my balcony. They really are pretty useless!

    2. Dennis, for some reason I missed the part about it being an "annual" event, and thought it was a daily occurrence. Relaxed as I am, I wouldn't enjoy living in a war zone 365 days a year. Once a year, or even once a month, would find me chuckling right alongside of you.

  3. Replies
    1. Awful, yes, but it doesn’t happen often, and I can assure the US military that they have nothing to fear from this shower (unless the Marine Corps is intimidated by shouting, which doesn’t seem likely).


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