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.
Dicos is the Chinese equivalent of McDonalds or KFC. I often pop in for a cheap coffee while waiting to pick up JD from Kindergarten. Yesterday I noticed that the staff door has a strange board along the bottom that the off-duty workers have to step over. Some have said it's to stop rats but this is the staff rest room, not the actual kitchens on the floor below (which are open plan). Very odd.
This week is a Chinese National Holiday celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China on 1st October 1949. This T-shirt sums up the prevailing mood in China these days. Whereas in the West there is a clear distinction between Country and Government, it is very blurred here and often to love one's leaders means to love one's country and vice versa. It's certainly an "interesting" viewpoint, if a bit worrying at times!
When our gatekeepers started clearing out an empty room by the neighbourhood entrance the other day, I assumed they were setting themselves up a new office. Apparently not. It is actually a designated "State Propaganda Area" filled with patriotic displays and slogans urging us to work hard, love our country and respect our leaders and the law. The painted sign on the outside wall [left] says, "Work hard and you will get promotion. Be lazy and you will lose your job". Profound!
We are back in China and the unpacking is pretty well finished. As you might expect, it is a little hard to adjust back to life in a different country and culture after six weeks in the UK. The hawking and spitting noises in Kunming Airport's toilets quickly brought it all back though!
JD has been seemingly unaffected by the switch, just enjoying seeing his old toys again and sleeping in his own bed. He also showed no signs of jet lag. I woke at 4am one morning but otherwise have been alright. JiaJia though has had a few days of going to sleep at 5am and finally waking at midday. She's never the best sleeper, but this time it's taking her longer to adjust to China time. She is already back at work. I have a further week's holiday, while JD has two weeks vacation left.
JD and I explored a street near our home the other day which we hadn't walked down before. We were surprised to find nearly al the parked vehicles had wooden boards chained to their tyres. I've asked a dozen Chinese folk why this is and nobody seems quite sure. Some say it is to protect the tyres from other cars or from people kicking them. The most common answer though is that it stops dogs from weeing on the tyres. Apparently the urine weakens the rubber. Seems a little unlikely to me though. Odd.
There were three young men smoking in the toilets at Walmart, despite the signs forbidding it. I picked on this guy, tapping him on the shoulder and pointing to the sign above his head. He just shrugged and went back to looking at his phone. So, to the amusement of his friends, I held my camera phone right in front of his face and took this photo. Most Chinese apologise and quickly put out their cigarettes when you mention the "No Smoking" signs, but clearly not the younger generation who seem more liable to ignore (or pick a fight with) the interfering foreigner!
When a first ever zoo opened in Yulin, Guangxi Province, last week, residents flocked the see the "rare and exotic animals" advertised.
They were disappointed, to say the least, to just find some chickens, a couple of geese, a tortoise in a glass tank and six inflatable penguins!
Chinese zoos are not known for their animal care or suitable animal environments, but this one went too far and customers who bought tickets are now looking to sue!
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