Whatever you think of the death penalty or the treatment of the Uighur minority in China's XinJiang Province, the terrorists who committed the horrific attrocity in Kunming's railway station a year ago have finally got their punishments. Good riddance.
The flat where we're staying in Shenzhen doesn't have internet connection, but news is trickling through of a really bad earthquake in NE Yunnan. It's some way from Kunming, where we live, but close to where I worked for a year in Zhaotong. Many hundreds dead I believe, with thousands losing their houses. Awful.
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!
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.
Thanks to those who have been in touch to check on me after the recent landslide in Yunnan. Thankfully (for me) it was over 500km away, though in an area where I have lived and worked in the past (and which suffered from a pretty bad earthquake not long ago, too).
Sadly, those living on the hill below the landslide [see black area in photo above] weren't so lucky. 46 are confirmed dead so far, with rescuers continuing to brave the snow and muddy destruction to try and find further survivors.
Our plans to retun to Dhaka by "gentle river paddle boat" have again been qaushed when we went to buy tickets yesterday and were told the boat no longer reaches Khulna due to the rainy season. We opted instead for an overnight train back. We paid for a first class carriage and at first were pleasantly surpised to find we were the only two in a sleeper with 6 beds. But, at the first station, we were joined by a muslim guy and his two women (wives?). He proceeded to sing his prayers on the floor throughout the night as one "wife" was being sick in the toilet and the other fell out of bed (and amazingly didn't even wake up).
We arrived in Dhaka at 6am to find the city flooded... [see below]
Ava and I went to Shenzhen's IKEA store today. I still have nightmares about my only previous trip to a (UK) IKEA, but Ava sweetened this deal by starting me off at their canteen with a lunch of Swedish meatballs and cream cakes. Then we started the tour round, Ava looking for household items, me looking for Chinglish. This display toilet made me laugh. The sign tells customers it's for sale and to please stop using it! Only in China.
Now, regular readers may recall that I knocked a tap off the bathroom wall back in our Kunming flat last month. Well yesterday I managed the same feat in the Shenzhen flat where we are staying, turning off a balcony tap only to have it crumble in my hand. We had to call a worker in stop the gushing water and replace it. And then this evening I went one better, closing the front door to have the handle shear off in my hand. We sheepishly had to call the worker back to fix a new handle. And yesterday I also pulled a towel rack off the wall and exploded a light fitting. Am I particularly heavy-handed, or just jinxed? Ava thinks it's all an early April Fool's prank.
I saw a helicopter flying overhead yesterday with a huge bucket hanging beneath it. I thought they might be delivering much-needed water to our neighbourhood (six weeks without running water now) but they were actually heading towards a rather nasty forest fire which has been heading towards Kunming from Yuxi, in the south. The drought has left the countryside parched and fires are frequent at this time of year. However, tomorrow I'm due to visit the self-same Yuxi to meet some Lattitude volunteers. Let's hope the fire doesn't change direction!
An enormous fire in a Shanghai 28-storey high-rise yesterday has left 42 dead and over 90 injured. It looks eerily like the 9/11 Twin Towers disaster, doesn't it? But this was apparently caused by the scaffolding material shrouding the building (for refurbishment) catching fire and spreading rapidly. Horrific. I've often wondered what I'd do if there was a fire in my apartment, with metal bars on all the windows. They are good for preventing burglars getting in, but equally good at stopping people getting out in an emergency.
I was somewhat surprised to hear about the world-wide media coverage of the 33 Chilean miners rescue recently, since mining disasters here in China are so commonplace. For some reason "ours" don't seem to merit the same international attention. For example, just yesterday an explosion in Henan Province killed 20 Chinese miners, leaving another 17 trapped below ground. It's a relatively minor disaster in China considering over 2,600 miners were killed here last year alone! It puts the Chilean "disaster" into perspective a little.
Another Chinese mine disaster today in Hangcheng with 28 dead so far.
However the Chinese Government are quick to point out that the number of mine accidents and deaths last year was 18% lower than in 2008. Sounds impressive, right? So how many accidents and deaths are they referring to? Fancy a guess? Click on "Comments" to see how close you got.
Yunnan finally declared it's 10-month drought to be over this week, ironically at the same time as other Provinces in the south of China are experiencing flooding that has killed hundreds and left tens of thousands homeless. What is it about China that leads to major disasters almost every month? Is it just a media that is freer to report them? Some disasters are certainly man-made (mining explosions, landslides, contaminated milk) but others are natural (floods, earthquakes, droughts). It's a large and populous country for sure and there are definitely low "health and safety" standards, but I wonder if it's not just a bit unlucky too? Maybe Mother Nature is a secret capitalist?
I got a funny e-mail from my friends Susie and Chris the other day which recounted the latest of their many travel jinxes! They claim that it's all a coincidence and that they are in no way responible, but you be the judge from this list of their recent trips:
1999 - Flew into Holland as a fireworks factory blew up half the town
2001 - Stood on the “Twin Towers” in New York less than a month before they were destroyed in 9/11
2002 - Toured Europe during the worst floods for decades
2003 - Toured France during the worst heatwave and forest fires in living memory
2004 - Toured Asia as the tsunami struck
2005 - Flew into London as the Bunsfield Oil Refinery blew up (largest postwar explosion in Britain. Saw the explosion from the plane)
2006 - Coup started in Thailand as they flew out ...and they landed in Burma just as a dissident crackdown started
2010 - Visited Poland just before the Prime Minister and wife died in a aeroplane crash
2010 - Flew into UK just as Icelandic volcano ash closed down all air travel
So if you see their names on your flight manifest, I suggest you take the next plane...... no, really....!!
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