JD happily sat with this man for ten minutes, watching him make a broom and asking him questions. I was more intrigued by the upside-down English on his jacket.
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!
Yesterday, Ava and I visited the small flat she bought some time ago for her uncle. As a pensioner, the uncle is entitled to a special government discounted rate but, as he has no savings, Ava bought it on his behalf. However, he has since decided he'd rather stay at his existing flat (which Ava also bought for him many years ago) so we now own a small flat which we can rent, once decorated. As you can see from the photo, houses in China are bought as shells, and it is up to the purchaser to arrange plastering, decoration and furniture/fittings. Our friend "Dancing Man" [bald, at back of photo] is going to oversee the decorating company [led by man with cap at front of photo] and within 3-4 months, we should have a finished apartment. Then again, this is China - all sorts of things can go wrong. Ava and Dancing Man are currently in a Goverment building getting "permission" to decorate. Only in China!
Nobody was quite expecting the announcement last week that the Chinese Government are now OK with couples having two children, instead of the "only one" policy that has been in place snce the 70s. Admittedly, the one child policy has been loosened over recent years with increasing numbers of exceptions (minority groups, disabled first child, both parents with no siblings, then one parent with no siblings etc), but with an increasingly top-heavy population (who will pay the taxes to fund the pensions?) and a worrying gender mismatch (peple preferring boys to girls) something had to give. And, without warning, it did. A sudden announcement that all couples were now allowed to have two children (no more then two, mind you) took folk by surprise here and is only slowly starting to sink in.
As I said my goodbyes to students at Robert's School I got asked, by some, for a wide variety of information - my e-mail address (happy to pass that on), my mobile number (thankfully I can never remember it), my QQ number (don't have one) and my WeChat name (paulhider, should you care). In a country where Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, YouTube (or almost anything useful) are blocked, the Chinese have their own social media solutions. WeChat (WeiXin in Chinese) is the most popular. It's a micro-blogging mobile app where people add photos, links or text to alert friends to what they are up to. Unfortunately for me (or perhaps fortunately?) it's 95% in Chinese. And it's also increasingly a medium for placing adverts for jewellry, bags, tea, clothes etc. It's often hard to see people's news amongst the sales blurb. My solution is to swipe through anything not In English, which usually means 1-2 readable posts a day. And half of those are mine...
As news in the UK is dominated by an airshow jet crashing, China's news continues to be about another crash - the stock market plummeting in value over recent weeks. With millions of Chinese affected and world markets getting increasingly nervous, it could be the start of a huge correction in China's economy, for so long the marvel of the world. Ava has dabbled a bit in the stock market in the past, seeing huge gains in recent years. But whilst those "paper" gains for us have now largely been wiped out, many others have lost their life savings or bank loans taken out to invest in "sure fire" profit. There's a lot of very angry, worried and much poorer people over here.
I was loitering in a toyshop today and was intrigued to see this set of war figures which included two flags. The American one was obvious, but I wondered who the other one belonged to. Could this be a little insight into the Chinese way of seeing the world? Who do they think America will be fighting next? Off the top of my head it reminded me of the North Korean flag, but later a quick Google revealed it to be Russia. So no big shock there.
One of the things I've been telling each intake of Lattitude trainee teachers for years is that Chinese students are fascinated by English crosswords, words searches and codes because they have no equivalent puzzles in Chinese. So it was mildly embarrassing to have one of them send me a picture of a Chinese crossword she had spotted in a magazine. It seems each box contains a character, so therefore the clues must be to a compound word or short phrase. Interesting.
As JD was born in China, he is considered a Chinese citizen by the Chinese government. Therefore, as China only allows people to have one nationality, JD's British passport is not recognised and he has no valid passport to fly abroad. So we recently had to apply for a temporary Entry/Exit Certificate from the local PSB (People's Security Bureau), which came through last week [see above]. We'll use JD's Birth Certificate for the internal flight to Beijing, switch to his Entry/Exit Certificate to leave and return to China, and then switch to his British passport to enter Britain. That's one troublesome little boy (or country, depending on how you look at it)!
A nearby city in SW China recently introduced special walking lanes for people who want to dawdle along, playing with their mobile phone, while other people who actually want to get somewhere can use the express walking lane. It makes a lot of sense to me, as slow, aimless pedestrians are one of my pet hates. What do you think?
It all seems to be kicking off in HK at the moment. Not that you'd know much about it here - any news of the "events" is strictly controlled (even the BBC website is blocked now). All I'll say about the issue is, "A1, A2 or A3" is no choice if you want "B". And the signs being held up by the police say, "Warning: Please disperse" in English, but "Leave now or you will be shot" in Chinese. It seems to show that international opinion is still important at some level. Let's hope it all gets resolved peacefully and soon.
You can see these signs on many old buildings in China. I took this picture on my recent visit to Heijing. 30-40 years ago, all the households in a town would be graded by the local leaders in ten categories. Those reaching the required standards received a star, proudly displayed on signs like this, outside the house. The very best citizens got all ten stars. It reminds me of the "housepoints" we used to receive as children in Primary School! This house failed on being "hygienic" and "modern".
One of the most contrasting cultural differences between Westerners and the Chinese is the preferred skin colour. Many Westerners like to have a tan to show they are affluent enough to take holidays in the sun, while most Chinese (women, at least) go to great lengths to keep their skin as fair as possible to show that they are affluent enough not to be working outside in the sun! Usually this takes the form of a hat or sun-visor. Whitening face cream is also popular. But recently tourists at Chinese beaches have been seen wearing these "face-kinis", a bizarre whole-head covering that allows them to swim and enjoy the warmth without risking their faces turning brown in any way. It reminds me some of the wrestlers on the old Saturday afternoon wrestling show in the UK!
A seemingly unbelievable story emerged in the Chinese press recently of a miner, Cheung Wai, who had been accidentally found after being trapped underground for ...wait for it ...seventeen years!! An earthquake in 1997 had collapsed the mine and, believing no one could have survived, the mine was closed and funerals were held for all 79 miners. Yet, when another mine opened up it again this year, they found this poor man who had been trapped there all these years, saved by a ventilation duct which still connected his underground prison to the surface, and an emergency stash of food and water, designed to keep 80 men alive for a month or two. Wai had complemented his diet by eating rats and moss and had managed to bury each of his co-workers during his first year underground. What a story!
The previous record for surviving underground was 142 days by a British guy, Geoff Smith, who had been voluntarily buried in the backyard of the Railway Inn, his favorite pub, specifically to try and break the record. If true, Cheung Wai has blown that away!
Our school has been short-listed to introduce a "Creative Thinking" course to Kunming which has already been run successfully around the world and in other Chinese cities. Some of the foreign teachers at my school, along with our Sunday morning students, attended a demo workshop recently to see what it was all about. It was led by a guy called John Biggs who admitted to me afterwards that he had run that particular class hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times before. It still came across as fresh though and, not surprisingly, very polished. With a few tweaks I can see it being really useful for Chinese students for whom "being creative" is severely undervalued, compared to learning and reciting facts, passing exams etc. Whether it can make any money for the school is another matter.
Today's Kunming Post announced that a solution to Yunnan’s water shortage may have finally been found. Chinese scientists have worked out a clever way to drain the clouds surrounding the Province’s many mountains of their water by electrifying them via antennae erected on the peaks [see photo above].
This reclaimed vapour can then be desiccated and stored for future droughts. A single bottle of water added to the powder results in ten bottles of drinkable water. Chinese ingenuity never ceases to amaze me.
I was walking down the street yesterday when a car right in front of me pulled out and smashed straight into an electric bike. As the bike rider lay on the road moaning, I watched to see who would take charge. Nobody. The car driver started chatting to her husband. The traffic coming along the street bumped up on the kerb to get past. Onlookers stood around and stared. I'd heard before this is the typical reaction to accidents in China, but I'd not seen it up close before.
I grabbed a teenager who was having a look and asked him to call the police. "No phone", he replied. "Use mine" I said, removing my jumper to put under the victim's head. So he rang the police who, rather impressively, arrived within 5 minutes. "Get up!" they barked at the moped rider showing little sympathy. "My leg, my leg", she cried back and the cops finally relented and called for an ambulance. 5 minutes later my phone rang - a stranger asking for directions in Chinese. Luckily, I guessed it was the ambulance driver and passed my phone to the policemen, somewhat to his surprise! Once the ambulance arrived, I retrieved my phone and my jumper and headed off, a little shaken but with a new perspective on Chinese attitudes. A wise colleague of mine described it thus: Chinese friend/family ties are really strong, as is their patriotism for the country. But, in between those two, strangers get little respect or help. People feel their "duty" lies elsewhere. And for one unfortunate lady yesterday it lay in the road.
About the blogger
Past blog entries