.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Wrong number

When I first arrived in China I stayed in Nanning. From time to time the phone in my hotel room would ring. I figured there were two possibilities, either it was hotel reception or a wrong number. It was always a wrong number because someone would start yabbering away at me in Chinese. I would butt in and say 'If you don't speak English you must have a wrong number.' Then I'd hang up.

Sometimes it even happened after I'd gone to bed which was annoying. Then I disconnected the phone but I thought, 'If reception need to contact me urgently they can't.' So I reconnected it again the next morning.

It was even worse at the hotel in Wuzhou. 'What is wrong with these people?' I wondered. Can't they dial a simple number. So, I decided to make it fun and practise my Mandarin. 'Wey.' I would answer. That's the way Chinese say 'hello' on the phone. And when I was feeling really cheeky I would say, 'Wo ai ni.' 'I love you' in Chinese. But the response was always the same. They'd just yabber on.

Now I'm at the university in Hangzhou and I don't get those calls. There is a phone in the room. It almost never rings. But I've been reading my Lonely Planet and have discovered who was making the calls. It says:

'Male guests regularly receive phone calls from prostitutes, who ask whether anmo (massage) is required; if you don't want their services, unplug your phone, as they can be persistent.'

BTW, prostitution is quite open and common here. The girls operate out of shops thinly disguised as barber shops. When I was in Nanning the girls were quite friendly and would call 'hello' to me as I walked past. It doesn't happen here in Hangzhou. They ignore me just as almost everybody in Hangzhou does.

I asked my friend if prostitution was legal in China. He said 'no'.

'So, are the police receiving bribes from the prostitutes?'

'Maybe,' was his non-commital answer.

I think I've figured how to tell the brothels from the real barber shops. The brothels advertise 'foot massage' the symbol for which is two footprints. If you need a haircut I guess you look for a barber shop without the footprints on the window.

Labels: , ,

Monday, August 27, 2007


Making friends: further thoughts

Perhaps my theory of the connection between China's one-child policy and Chinese people's apparent lack of friendliness is not a good one. The one-child policy was introduced in 1980. Anyone currently over the age of about 27 would have probably grown up with both siblings and cousins. I assume I'm correct in saying that most people born after 1980 grew up without siblings and that their children are now growing up without siblings or cousins. It is perhaps the offspring of the post-1980 generation that I have been observing with their grandparents. However the personality traits I am observing apply fairly generally across age groups.

I wondered about the older generation and the Cultural Revolution. I can imagine that the purges of the Cultural Revolution might have made almost everyone paranoid. However the Pol Pot era in Cambodia was more recent and probably more terrifying and my experience is that Cambodian people are the friendliest I have met anywhere. So much for that theory.

I have decided that the issue I should be looking at is not why Chinese people are as they are but why this is so important to me. Perhaps I'll blog that one when I have some answers.

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 24, 2007


Making friends

I have been thinking more of the effect of the single child policy on the personalities of Chinese people. I am also trying to understand why it is that, compared to most countries in Southeast Asia, I don't find the Chinese particularly friendly. I should qualify this statement. The Chinese are not unfriendly. They do not usually do anything negative. It is as if you don't exist or perhaps they simply have no need for you. This, at least, is my personal experience in the cities that I have visited.

My reasoning is this. Each Chinese child grows up with two doting parents who they share with no siblings. Probably both of these parents work. I am not sure what the situation is with professional child care but what I see as I stroll around town is children and grandparents together, sometimes just the grandmother and sometimes both grandparents. Each child as well as having two parents also has four grandparents to themselves. There are no cousins. And we all know how much grandparents love to lavish attention on their grandchildren. I guess Chinese grandparents are no different.

A child in most other countries has to compete for attention with their siblings. As we grow up, each of us learns the skills we need to get the attention we need. Sometimes these skills are negative ones like throwing tantrums but hopefully we learn some positive communication skills like; make eye contact, smile, say 'hello', pay a compliment. And by practising these skills we are being friendly.

A child from the single parent family has no such needs. They have no one to compete with. There are six people waiting to give them attention. The communication skills that many of us define as 'friendly' are unnecessary to these people. Therefore if I want to make friends in China it is up to me to take the initiative. The challenge is to master enough Mandarin language to do so before I leave.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Spoiled children

Life has taught me that when spoiled children become adults they don't always make the best partners. At times, they may even become psychotic when they realize they are losing, or have lost, the status of only child, most beautiful, or youngest child.

If you haven't experienced it for yourself perhaps you can imagine life in a country where almost everyone is an only child. Perhaps this helps to explain why cyclists beep the horns of their electric bicycles to urge pedestrians out of their way when they choose to ride on a footpath even though there is a dedicated bicycle lane.

In queues, for some, there appears to be only one rule: I have a right to be first. Similarly, on buses it's: I have a right to a seat. One day I boarded a bus that was so crowded it was several stops before I could move inside off the front steps. When I got in I was astonished to see that a child, probably no older than five, was occupying a seat beside her mother while frail elderly were standing. I guess I was also astonished that no one said anything. I certainly would have if only I could speak the language.

But surely not everyone here is totally selfish. I'm certain someone would stand up for a 90-year-old pregnant cripple.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


A Chinese bookshop

I went to visit a bookshop here just to see what it is like. It's huge. There are four floors and any one floor would qualify as a big shop in Australia. The Chinese language sections appear to cover just about everything. There is a foreign language section, not so huge, but substantial, catering mostly to English learners rather than expats.

What I could see that was quite different to bookshops in Australia is that most customers regard the shop as a reading library. People find a comfortable spot either on the floor or a ledge somewhere and relax with a book. There are literally hundreds of people, who are probably not customers in the sense that we understand, taking advantage of the opportunity to read perhaps a whole book.

I asked an acquaintance, who found nothing unusual about this and also pointed out that in the heat the airconditioning made it a pleasant place to escape for a few hours. This particular shop is one of a China-wide chain called Xinhua which, I am told, is owned by the government.

I've also noticed that the free-reading practice is common in the local supermarket which has a substantial book section too. Here I found so many people sitting on the floor between the shelves that it would have been very difficult for a genuine buyer to find the book they wanted.

Another interesting sight in the bookshop is the stickers at the end of many of the shelves. They are bilingual, not sure what it says in Chinese but in English it says: 'BERARE OF PICKPOCKETS'.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Bad luck, good luck

It is end-of-year break at the university. Most of the student accommodation is empty. China provides masters and PhD students with a full scholarship that entitles them to return airfares, once only, and tuition, food and accommodation for four years. These students spend their first year studying Chinese language as that is the language of their study and thesis.

At this time, perhaps those who can afford it return to their homes. I am told that fares between China and Africa, for example, are quite expensive. The African students were probably not exactly wealthy before coming. They can hardly afford to return home. However a large proportion of the rooms in the building I have been staying in are currently empty. Perhaps that is why a room was available to me in the first place.

Now the university is taking the opportunity to refurbish. To make this easier for them they asked me to move to another building alongside, which I did a couple of days ago.

Today while I was having lunch I was joined by one of the African students. He told me that on the night I left there was a storm. Lightning struck the building. Some students suffered damage to computers and DVD players. I'm sorry this had to happen to them but from my perspective, the timing of my move out of the building was fortuitous.

Labels: , ,

Monday, August 13, 2007


Cheap eats in Hangzhou

If you are exploring West Lake in Hangzhou there are a vast number of restaurants serving many different cuisines when you get hungry. Compared to Australian restaurants their prices are quite cheap. But with meals starting at around thirty yuan, for Asia they are expensive. I can afford to eat in one of these places occasionally without busting my budget. However as a long-term traveller I need to eat at usual Asian prices on a regular basis to stay within my limits. As you might imagine the further you get from the lake the cheaper the prices get. Only a few blocks away you will find noodle and rice places where you can get a meal from five yuan up. I'm staying two or three kilometres from the lake on a local university campus. There are a few buildings around that house students. Not sure who is in what. I'm in a building for foreign students. There are several Africans doing PhDs. I've also met an Italian and a Pakistani. Not sure about the others. At the end of the building is a restaurant. Prices are reasonable and the food is not too bad, usually. Sometimes it is a little oily for my taste and usually too salty. Or is it MSG? It sure beats the main student canteen where they cook food in bulk and its dished out from a tray. Actually, that is a very common way of buying a meal in southeast Asia, certainly in cheaper restaurants. It is so common that even the food technologists from Mahasarakham University accept it. They say they know the dangers but ignore them. I always tried to avoid such food as much as possible. In Thailand I liked phad Thai because they had to cook it on the spot. The restaurant at the end of my home here is often crowded, usually with Chinese. Not sure where they come from. Perhaps some of the other nearby buildings house Chinese post-grad students. Also people must come from off campus. Occasionally I see families. At the prices you can order up big and the bill is small. My meals there, comprising of say three dishes, usually add up to between six and fourteen yuan around one or two Australian dollars. Dishes are usually a single item. You mix and match to make a meal. Because of the foreign students they have a menu with an English translation, another reason I eat there. You get a dish called 'fried green vegetable'. And that's what you get. No extras. 'Fried rice with egg' has rice, egg and just enough bits of shallot to give it some colour but not flavour. 'Three vegetable dish' is three of whatever they have in the kitchen and 'vegetable' includes mushroom. Last Friday night, it was really busy. I was lucky to find a table. Among other things I ordered chicken in lemon sauce. The chicken is cut into small pieces and dipped in batter. When I bit into mine, it was hot on the outside and cold on the inside. Not cool. Cold. What do I do? Well, I could get past the first problem. 'Ching wen!' At least I can remember how to call the waitress. In the Mandarin course I am doing there is a unit on restaurants including how to say the food is cold but I could not remember it. And I still haven't learned the word for chicken. The waitress came over with her usual smiling face. There were four young people at the table next to mine. I turned to them and said, 'Please, does anyone speak a little English?' A young woman answered. I was saved. She was able to translate for me and the offending dish was taken away. It took longer for them to return with it than it had for them to serve it the first time. I thought perhaps they were really making sure it was cooked through this time but it was still only luke warm. I didn't bother to say anymore. It's too difficult. And I didn't suffer any ill effects.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Keeping the old

Recently I spent a long morning exploring Wushan Hill. Coming back a different way, I saw these old roofs when I was close to the bottom. Down a few flights of stairs I found myself in an old area with many buildings in various states of restoration. The old houses have been taken over by shops selling products and services that might appeal to tourists. I think this sort of thing is rather rare in China. There appears to be more of a trend here to completely destroy old buildings and replace them with something new, often a copy of something old. I like this area and took a few pictures. You will find a few of them along with some of Wushan Hill on my flickr page (see sidebar).

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


A few observations

I am enjoying China. I've been here about three weeks now and thought it might be worthwhile making a few general observations. This is nothing more than that. In the time I've been here I don't feel qualified to make any definitive comments.

It is quite different from what I had expected and quite an interesting place. I had come prepared to dislike it but I must admit I am enjoying myself. China appears to be on a headlong rush to modernize and join the western world. Building construction is going on wildly in cities, well the ones that I've been to, and I also see lots of road construction. The roads are in a sense ahead of their time because most of the population still ride bicycles or motorbikes. When China becomes really prosperous I wonder if the roads (not to mention the ozone layer) will handle everyone having a car. But at the moment traffic seems to flow well.

Public transport, mostly buses, is good here in Hangzhou. Buses are regular and zig-zag across the CBD so most areas are covered pretty thoroughly so long as you know the route.

I think that the rural areas are way behind. In fact I think there is less difference between us and the Chinese in the cities than there is between the Chinese in the cities and the Chinese in the country. I say this having seen the countryside only out of bus and train windows. But what I am reading supports this too. I would love to go and spend some time in a country village but I think the only way I could make that happen, unless I go to a tourist oriented place which I want to avoid, is to get a job teaching in a village. I doubt that that is going to happen.

Weather here can be extreme. Since I've arrived in Hangzhou the temperature has reached 38 or 39 almost every day. I'm told that in winter it can reach minus 10. That is a good reason that I wouldn't want to come here to teach. Not long-term anyway.

Recently I went shopping in an IT mall. It isn't all that cheap considering everything is made here. There's a couple studying here who come from Thailand and they reckon Chinese-made IT is cheaper in Bangkok. Among other things I bought myself a flash drive. It seems everyone else has one but until now I didn't feel the need. However, the one problem I have here, apart from language, is internet. I think basically what happens here is that China is happy to go it alone. Lets face it, they have over one billion people in this country, they hardly need the rest of the world. They can afford to ignore us. I think their internet works fine with Chinese sites but not so good elsewhere. Of course the Chinese sites are not often useful to me. Internet cafes aren't really set up for people like me who want to bring in their laptop and connect. It wouldn't be hard for them to do but once again they can't be bothered. There's not that many western tourists around. They cater to Chinese guys and a few girls who want to play games. I spent a whole day transferring files to the flash drive and then uploading them via another computer. Would take about half the time if I could plug in my own computer. In any case once again I'm regularly updating my flickr pages. Please take a look.

And finally, a quick comment on the government. I don't think it is any better or worse than we get through our democratic processes in the west.

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 03, 2007


Imagine there's no countries

The purpose of countries is to bring us together with a limited number of human beings while separating us from the vast majority of human beings.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


The most beautiful...

I am now visiting Hangzhou which is reputed to be the most beautiful city in China. The central attraction here is West Lake which is quite close to the city centre. Surrounding the lake is West Lake Scenic Area. I'm writing this after just a few days here. I expect to stay longer so I'll add more as I can.

There is a small problem in that I haven't found an internet cafe where I can connect my own computer which slows me down a little particularly with uploading photos. Bear with me, lots of pics of China's most beautiful city coming to my flickr pages soon. Click the links on the sidebar if you haven't already seen my pics of other parts of China.

Last Friday I spent a hot afternoon exploring just one corner of the gardens surrounding the lake. They are extensively landscaped and piped music soothes you as you walk. Photos ready to upload. Hang in there.

Quotes from a locally published Hangzhou travel guide:

'the "petty (sic) bourgeois" lifestyle has been existing reasonably.'

'It (West Lake) covers an area of 6.38 sq km, the average depth being 2.27m.'

'It (still West Lake) has mountains on three sides and the city on the remaining one side.'

Labels: , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?