This made me laugh. This bottle's advertising designer clearly didn't think anyone would bother to read his small print, especially if it was in English!
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!
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 Government 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 since 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 (people 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 than 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 jewelry, 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, word 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.
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