Bulldozer battles: Transformers defeated in China

Nicky Lovegrove

Society and culture | Asia


In case you missed it, last week Decepticons and Autobots came back to Earth to fight a mighty street battle in Hebei Province, China. Taking the formidable form of screeching forklift trucks, the rival sides fought for dominance in a thunderous display of vehicular sumo wrestling. Traffic was interrupted during the melee, which saw two trucks felled and four others damaged. Reports say one human was injured by the toppling bulldozer, while another suffered a gunshot wound in the course of the battle.

Okay so there were no Transformers involved. But everything else about that paragraph is true. Check out some footage of it here:

According to Chinese news sources, the forklift battle was caused by a dispute between two rival cement mixing companies, both of which believed they had the rights to supply concrete to a county construction project. Two drivers were injured, one by a gunshot (somehow), but both are in a stable condition. While police are undertaking an investigation into the incident, the key question at the fingertips of derisive Chinese netizens seems to be: were the forklift drivers graduates of Lanxiang Vocational School?

Most people following Chinese-language news over the last few years will know of Lanxiang in Shandong province as China’s favourite scandal-plagued school. Lanxiang has been embedded in controversies ranging from cyber-espionage to public love affairs to Communist Party politicking. In 2010, the New York Times published an article claiming the school could be linked to several recent cyber-attacks launched against Google and other American corporations, with the purpose of stealing data and trade secrets. In 2014, a massive brawl broke out at the school involving dozens of people, including the 70 year-old founder of the school Rong Lanxiang, who allegedly injured his hands during the fight. Rong was already no stranger to media controversy, that year having been accused of tax evasion and violating China’s birth limit laws, as well as being involved in a messy public divorce with his wife over an alleged mistress. This was not a good look for someone who also happened to be a member of China’s National People’s Congress.

These controversies aside, the school has also been lampooned on Chinese social media for its overly dramatic advertisements, which come across more like a trailer for a Hollywood blockbuster than for a technical college which trains chefs and bulldozer operators. One of Lanxiang’s slogans has become particularly famous online: “When it comes to excavator technology, who is strongest? China’s Shandong Lanxiang!” In the wake of the 2014 brawl incident, Chinese netizens have delighted at misquoting the slogan as “When it comes to a punch-up, who is strongest? China’s Shandong Lanxiang!”

So it is no surprise, when a video of acrimonious forklift drivers engaged in a dramatic public brawl goes viral, that jokes about Lanxiang Vocational School come in thick and fast on social media. “In a struggle between Lanxiang elites, us mortals can only look on from the sidelines” declares one netizen. Another suggests that the bulldozer display was merely Lanxiang students practicing for the school’s rendition of War and Peace. But my favourite was the commentator who found the script to the next installment of the Transformers franchise:
“Optimus Prime: Megatron, you are truly contemptible. You speak of a duel, but then get your Decepticons to attack me by surprise!
Megatron: Wake up Optimus! You fool, it was Shandong Lanxiang who defeated us both!”

3 minute read

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Learning Asian languages: A dummy’s guide

Sophie Ryan

Society and culture | Asia


There is a divide in Australia. The divide I am talking about here is between those with proper access to Asian language learning and those without. Many people, unfortunately, will respond to this concern, saying something along the lines of:

‘In most places people can speak English anyway.’

There is a real problem with this attitude, and perhaps even writing about this issue is cliché and futile. But I write from a first-hand, Caucasian, Australian perspective on this issue. Let me tell you friends: truly learning another language is hard, especially Asian languages like Mandarin, and you have to be patient. There is no such thing as learning a language in a few months online; you won't survive when you travel to that actual place. You have to want to learn the language, and keep interested. Sometimes, this gets tough when the learning gets difficult.

So imagine this: a first year university student studies a foreign language for the very first time. That was me two years ago. Did I jump into the deep end? Definitely. Was it a silly move? Maybe. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

To begin with I found Mandarin next to impossible. In fact I probably found it the most difficult out of most in my class. That is why I am a self-professed dummy. After thirteen years of education in regional NSW and no background in Asian languages, I started studying at the best Asian languages institution in Australia. I had no idea what I was doing half of the time and looking back I sure did make it harder for myself than needed. How did I do it? I tried not to be too dismayed by my marks, and just like Dory, I kept on swimming. In other words, you learn the methods of Asian language learning, and it does get easier.

When you’ve mastered the way to learn this new language, you start to enjoy it a bit more, and this is where the fun begins. You start to have long conversations with your lecturers, and inadvertently insult or amuse them.

Let’s say you wanted to go to the internet café in China, you would use the word wǎng ba,(网吧). However if you use those words in a slightly different tone(王八), you are effectively saying 'mother f**cker.’ In summary, be careful with your Chinese tones, very careful.

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However, there is also an all too important response to my argument that mustn’t be ignored: ‘I have no interest in learning another language. I know nothing about the culture, and how will it help me in my daily life?’

For the average Australian, this is a very good point, and only a few years ago, I would have made this point myself.

When I started year 11, and my priorities were focused on: a) what subjects scale well? b) what subjects do I enjoy and will be good at? and c) what subjects scale well? The attitude towards learning a foreign language, if even considered by students, was that it was too hard for its HSC scaling, so why bother? I’m sure I was not alone when I say this.

This is the type of attitude that is making Asian language learning hard work for us Australians. It is hard, but it doesn’t have to be. From my personal experience what could have made it an easier transition into tertiary life would be if I had a wider access to learning any Asian language from a much earlier primary school age, not just French and German, which was offered. It is at this age bracket when the mind is a sponge; it’s not work at all. Whether or not youngsters are interested in the language or not, being exposed to a wider variety of Asian languages would spark an interest in later learning of these languages and cultures.

That’s the kind of approach we ideally should have when thinking about learning foreign languages, because if we think of it as work too much, we’ll burn out. As a university student, this is a work in progress for me. But I’m a self-confessed dummy, so if I can do it, you can too. We are all aware of the ‘Asian Century’, so why not say 你好!?

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An interview with Dr. Nicholas Farrelly

Mish Khan

Society and culture | Asia


This week we caught up with Dr Nicholas Farrelly, a fellow at the Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, to discuss his academic career and life as a former ANU student. Nicholas is the director of the ANU Myanmar Research Centre and convenor of the PhB program in the College of Asia and the Pacific. Nicholas also runs the Asia Pacific Week internship course and supervises various honours, masters and PHD students at ANU.

5 minute read

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Ten for two: The struggles of being an ethical tourist

Alexia Fuller

Society and culture | Asia


It’s been a long hot day temple-hopping around Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, one of the nation’s many treasures.

I pause for just a moment to take a brief breather and seek solace from the blazing sun.

I feel a little tug on the side of my rather sweaty caftan and turn around to see a little girl smiling at me. She couldn’t be more than eight or nine. She stares at me intently, preparing herself for the interaction ahead.

“Ten for Two!” pops out of her mouth in perfect Chinese, French and then finally English as she waives a set of ten postcards in my face.

I turn around to my new little friend and politely decline her offer. She continues to stare at me. She has big, beautiful brown eyes.

I ask, “How old are you?”

“Nine”, she quickly replies in English. I am sure she knows how to say this in Chinese, French and Khmer.

We exchange pleasantries, she asks me how old I am and so the conversation continues. I find out she loves to read Khmer, Chinese and English books.

Our exchange lasts barely two minutes.

To her credit, she gives it one more go; “Ten for Two!” is her parting remark as she smiles at me and skips away.

This scene is regrettably common across the South East Asian region.

On the surface, a cute as a button child would melt any person’s heart and encourage them to provide any assistance they could, even buying “Ten for Two.”

However, in reality if I choose to buy “Ten for Two” I do this little girl who beams with potential the greatest disservice. She clearly has an aptitude for language and the confidence to approach a stranger. Just imagine how an education can put these talents to good work.

By buying “Ten for Two”, I become part of the problem. I become part of a system, which continues to provide the incentive for parents to send their children to the streets and temples of Angkor Wat instead of to the local primary school. I continue to encourage structural inequality and dependency when what I should be encouraging is sustainable development.

Being an ethical tourist in a region stricken by gross inequity and poverty is something I have and will continue to struggle with as I travel this marvellous region.

Eat, drink, sightsee and travel with local companies, and support the work of NGOs. This has become my mantra.

However, I have come to realise that most tourists are oblivious to this goal. Otherwise benevolent people with good intentions continue to encourage unequal structures, which have adverse outcomes for the local people.

For instance, visiting an orphanage in Phnom Penh and making a donation appears on the surface to be a positive contribution to improving orphan’s lives. But taking photos with cute and vulnerable Cambodian children strips them of their agency and reduces them to animals in a pen.

I have found that travelling in Asia is at times challenging but mostly exhilarating. However, I implore all those considering travelling here to educate themselves about the impacts of their role as tourists.

And always think before you buy “Ten for Two”.

If you would like more information about how to travel ethically in Asia please visit ChildSafe at

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