One of the most frustrating things about life in China - perhaps THE most frustrating thing - is the costant blocking of large parts of of the Internet by the powers that be. Useful sites like Google, Facebook, blogs, YouTube and the BBC are only accessible by using special software. And occasionally, even that software is blocked for a few days because of some "meeting in Beijing" or a "sensitive anniversary" or something, I'm back in today after three annoying days with little news, little personal contacts and no blog updates. Catching up now!
These signs have been popping up all over Kunming recently exhorting people to "Follow the Communist Party forever". I wonder what exactly the local people think when they see something like this - it's not wise to ask. Maybe they view it as laughable propaganda, or maybe it engenders some sense of patriotism or belonging. I don't know. But I can imagine how the British public would react if something similar happened the London's streets!
It took me about seven months to organise the necessary application paperwork and another five months waiting to see if the the Chinese Government agreed to grant it, but this week I finally got my "Foreigner Permanent Resident ID Card" (aka Green Card).
It not only means that I don't have to get a new visa each year for the next decade but, more importantly, I'm not tied to any one visa-issuing educational institution. I am free to pick and choose whatever jobs I like, since my work visa is already secure. And there are much better paid jobs out there than the one I currently have, so watch this space!
Some parts of the city are slowly opening up again after the Spring Festival break and the Coronavirus shutdown - a few restaurants are open, supermarket shelves are being stocked again, more cars on the roads, even lines being painted down the middle of streets!?
But the prevailing feeling among the local Chinese here is that the outbreak will get even worse, that it can be spread in almost any way you can imagine, that businesses will go bust, and that we're all going to die....!!
Among the foreign community, it is a lot more measured - Yunnan is one of the least affected Provinces, the mortality rate is similar to flu, infected numbers are stabilising, businesses will bounce back and the worst is largely over. Trouble is, despite that attitude being based on facts, you really can't say it! You get accused of downplaying the emergency, of being cavalier in your actions and of not understanding the severity of it all. And it's all tied up with the differing cultures too, which is always a tricky one here. As I've said a lot recently, "Fear wins over Facts"!
Coronavirus continues to spread through China (and some other parts of the world). Being in Kunming, we are quite far from the worst areas, but we still wear masks outside, have to go hunting for markets selling vegetables, and make do without buses, parks and the subway.
If I'm honest, I think the dangers are being over-exaggerated in our neck of the woods. So far, there have been 70 infected people in our Province of 46,000,000, so the chances of bumping into someone carrying the virus are incredibly small, let alone getting close enough to them to actually catch the infection. But science and facts often take second place to fear and rumors, especially here it seems,
We flew back to China late today. The recent Coronavirus infection is spreading quickly and we had our masks ready as we arrived (as did all the other passengers). Our Province is far from the origin of the outbreak but that hasn't stopped the locals here panicking: supermarkets have been stripped of food, parks are closed, roads are empty and we are getting strident, but largely pointless, texts from JD's school and my University (eg "..if your throat feels dry, drink some water..."!!)
This is a common sight in China - a senior citizen rummages through a rubbish bin in the hope of finding some cardboard or plastic to sell on to the recyclers. But it's not a sign of poverty - the money they get is trivial. It's more of a hobby, and a competitive one at that since some OAPs roam the local neighborhoods to pilfer the best rubbish on offer, even if they don't live there. Sad really.
October 1st is the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China - the country I currently call home. I was one of five teachers from the whole of Yunnan (pop: 50 million) invited to attend the Provincial Government's celebratory banquet in the swanky Green Lake Hotel. A very formal do. I even had to wear my one and only tie!
It was the usual affair. Men in black suits mixing with others from minority groups and nearby countries dressed in their ethnic costumes. A mercifully succinct speech extolling the glories of China kicked off the event. The food was quality over quantity, but more important were the various dignitaries going from table to table toasting each other. Then, after 90 minutes, it was announced that the reception was over and, within a few minutes, the fancy dining room had been vacated and people slowly drifted off home. All very Chinese!
But for all the cultural oddities, it is genuinely a really nice gesture to invite various foreigners along to what is, essentially, an event for patriotic Chinese to revel in the successes of their country. The respect and gratefulness of Chinese people towards foreigner workers can contrast strongly with the attitude to immigrants seen in many other countries...
We arrived back home yesterday after a fabulous and successful month in the UK. JD got his toy Nerf guns confiscated on arrival in China (a country where common sense and a sense of humour are often sorely lacking). Fortunately JiaJia managed to persuade the security officer to let her post them to our house rather than lose them completely.
Now I just need to re-register with the local police and get our dead car battery replaced. But we are happy to be back as life slowly returns to its normal pace.
Some new water drinking fountains have been installed around Green Lake, which is a great idea in the current hot weather.
But woe betide anyone who tries to drink from them! They have been commandeered by the local pensioners who queue up all day long to fill bottles, buckets and pots with the free drinking water! To say elderly Chinese people are "thrifty" would be something of an understatement.
One of most frustrating things about living in China is the Government's blocking of various really useful websites such as Google, Facebook, YouTube, BBC etc. Many foreigners therefore use what's called a VPN - software that circumvents the "Great fireWall of China". But this week those VPNs were also blocked, leaving foreigners here scratching their heads in confusion and banging their heads in frustration. Why now? Why at all?? Often these outages coincide with some meeting of leaders in Beijing, but I'm not aware of anything political happening right now. So the Internet suddenly becomes a lot less useful. Annoying.
It sometimes seems a little strange to watch my son carrying the Chinese flag so proudly and singing the Chinese National Anthem so passionately. Of course he is Chinese by birth, and yet so British in his thinking and language. I wonder how he will look back on his childhood here when he is an adult?
Last week I got my new passport back from the University with my visa transferred into it. They then advised me I had to register te new passport and visa with my bank so that they could continue to pay my wages in. So we headed off to the bank where the account was opened, only to find it had closed and moved to a new location. We rang them and they gave us their new address but said that any branch would be able to register the new passport. So I went home and Jiajia and I went to our nearest branch. After an hour there, they said we would, after all, have to go to the original branch. 30 minutes drive to get there and another half hour queueing to be told they couldn't register it either, but that I didn't really need to anyway. I rang the University who insisted it did have to be registered. So after the Uni and Bank spoke to each other on my phone, the bank said that they could do register it after all but I'd have to queue again. 30 minutes later we got to a cashier who spent another half hour trying, and failing, to register the passport. So JiaJia and I finally went home after 5 hours of trying but still without a registration. I'll let the University try and sort it out - life's too short!
Today, JD was added to JiaJia's registration papers to make him a full-registered Chinese citizen! He now has a "Hukou" which will allow him to get an ID card, access state schools and be insured. Most kids born in China do this within a few weeks being born, but JD's British passport complicated things and we delayed it. You see if you have a British passport, you can't get a British visa in your Chinese passport. And you can't leave China on your British passport because China doesn't recognise dual nationality (and being born in China makes JD Chinese as far as China is concerned). It was only in the last couple of months that these rules were relaxed, allowing JD to leave China on a temporary Permit regardless of him being fully registered. Confused? You're not the only one.
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