Stocked up on 15 boxes of Earl Grey tea (伯爵茶) the other day after an impromptu visit to Wal-Mart during the work lunch-hour. The price of them had been cut to only 7 yuan a box, when the normal price is usually more than 20 yuan. It’s actually pretty good tea and Is the only tea I drink regularly. Usually I avoid Wal-Mart as I think it’s more expensive than other places and the fact that their stores in Changchun are a little out of the way for me.

The thing about Changchun is that it can be very difficult to know whether a particular shop will be expensive or cheap, without actually going inside and finding out.

From a western perspective you would expect the large supermarkets to be cheaper than the smaller stores – economies of scale and all that. However in Changchun I would say that it is much cheaper to get your things at the local market, or at a variety of different locations. Another thing is that the price of goods differs quite a lot depending upon where you buy from. It is quite reasonable to be able to walk around the corner and get something for half the price. You just have to shop around. A good example is the Hengkelong supermarket (恒客隆超市) at Guilin Lu. This is perhaps the most expensive place to buy daily groceries in the whole city!

Perhaps the deal with supermarkets is that you pay a little more just for the convenience of being able to get everything under one roof? Or maybe the supermarket concept is considered ‘upmarket’ and hense stores can charge more?

My personal belief is that this exists as there is no real competition. Prices are set not depending on what the market expects, but what the retailers think they can get away with! It may also be true that the Chinese consumers are not as savvy as consumers in the west, perhaps in part to the whole supermarket thing being very new. I think that many Chinese consumers place a high value on loyalty and will keep on coming back it they like a place – perhaps this is why they are prepared to pay more? In the west if a supermarket is 20% more expensive than its competitior and they are selling essentially the same stuff to the same market, It would be out of business in no time.


One of those things that I like about being here is that nothing is at is seems.  Everyday is quite different, a challenge, worth waking up for.  Today was one of those days. 

 I woke up at 7, left the apartment at 7.20 just in time to catch the bus to work.  The bus was its usual crowded self but this time I got myself into a conversation with the conductor. 

It started with the usual curious questions ‘where you from?’  ‘what you doing here?’ ‘how old are you?’.  Then he asked me about football, asked my opinion about the England team and  the dismal World Cup display.  I asked him  ‘what team he supports?’   I’ve been asking this question recently to quite a few people, I’m just curious as to what the Chinese know about British footbal.l   

 The answer kind of stunned me.   He said  ‘考文垂’  ‘Kaowenchui’  It took me a while to register what he was saying but then it clicked.  The guy was saying that he supports Coventry City.  Annoyingly, I had to get off at the next stop so I never had time to probe further, but It made me think. What are the chances?    



 So it was my birthday on Monday. Didn’t do anything special, spent most of the morning sleeping as It was the first day in over two months that I haven’t had to get up at some ghastly hour in the morning. 

  Did receieve a very nice cake from the department and a free meal – a very nice touch and somthing that I didn’t expect. 🙂    When I went downstairs they actually knew it was my birthday and congratulated me, I was taken aback.  I would never have expected this, not in China.  

Organisation is hardly a stong point of Chinese universities – At a previous school the administration didn’t even know my name – even after working there for a year!  I assumed it was the same everywhere, how wrong I was.    

The class I had that evening pleasantly surprised me by singing a rendition of ‘生日快乐’’Happy Birthday’  when I entered the classroom.  Which made my day!! 🙂      

Moving on –  I haven’t been able to post on-line for a while due to the university internet connection firewalling this site, so I’m currently writing from my local internet bar.  It’s really frustrating but I’m told that it’s because the uni doesn’t like people looking at external sites as they pay money for the amount of bandwidth they use outside Chinese IP addresses.  It’s nothing to do with the government clamping down,  it’s simply a cost-saving exercise!   Fortunatly the students have set up a system whereby they publish daily lists of available proxies on the internal BBS system.  When the uni finds these they block them, then some new proxies are published and then blocked and so on and so forth…. 



It’s been unseasonally mild of late but the other day the weather finally turned. The leaves fell off the trees in only a couple of days, things changed so fast.
Winter is just beginning, hopefully it’ll snow next week. Fortunately my apartment is very warm and often I have to open the windows to let in the cool air. 🙂 But I’m not complaining, having an apartment that is cold during the winter is enough to make anyone want to leave China.

nov weather


Over the last few months I’ve been getting frequently frustrated with the way things are done at the publishing company I’ve been working at. It’s one of my various part-time jobs, It’s a challenge and often enjoyable but immensly disillusioning if you care about quality of work. I think it’s mainly because the errors I see are so easily fixed and yet no one cares as long as they keep on producing materials. I suspect many of the business practices I see here are mirrored throughout other Chinese businesses.

Everything is so terribly short-term, nobody plans ahead by more than 24 hours and this causes great strain on the operation of the company. On the 30th September everyone was told that they would have a 7 day vacation in line with the National holiday, from the 1st to the 8th. So most staff made arrangements to travel to other cities to meet friends and family. Imagine my consternation when on the evening of the 4th I received a phone call asking me to work on the Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday! Apparently the person in charge had a change of heart and decided that everyone must go back to work for the rest of the week! Stuff what was previously said, if people are travelling then they must come back to work! I, of course, told them there was no chance of me working however after some persuasion I gave them a compromise; You pay me triple pay and I’ll think about it. This worked becasue they never did call me back and no more questions were asked!

The next week I spoke with some of my Chinese collegages and many had to rush back to Changchun from their home towns or cancel visits to see people, but they all agreed to do it. Nobody questioned this. This is because there is basically zero job security, they can be easily replaced and there are no trade unions let alone employment laws protecting their rights. In many ways this represents the very primitive kind of capitalism China has adopted, at its worst. So I have come to the not-so-shocking-conclusion that if I were to work long-term in China, it would only ever be for a foreign company.

This company don’t seem to get it that it is so easy for them to produce quality materials, they have the resources to do it, it’s just they don’t want to change. The management are so afraid of changing things, even if that means continuing to produce sub-stadard material. As I see it, the problem is that there is no business incentive for them to produce quality work.

The company I work for produces the national examinations for high school students as well as various other English language learning materials – including a newspaper. They have a captive market; students have to take the exams and will subscribe to their newspaper regardless of the quality of the end product. They don’t have to worry about competition much less accountability to any government standards body.

I guess that’s just China and one of the problems of ‘communism’ as long as everyone has a job (even if their job is meaningless) then all’s well and good. Why rock the boat?
When this place finally fully opens up to foreign companies so may of the Chinese companies will have to change their act or face insolvency.
Much of the content of the English texts is composed by fake foreigners (Chinese people signing the work with a foreign name like John Smith) is factually incorrect. They could get real foreigners to write these articles (rather than just edit) or even copy from real sources. Or who knows, maybe even write all their own materials?

Imagine westerners writing articles about Chinese culture (in Chinese) who have never actually been to China, then using these articles in educational materials!

It seems that often the cultural content of these articles appears normal to a Chinese person’s eyes, but it’s clearly not a right perception of culture and world view. It simply miseducates students about foreign cultures.

Another problem is a considerably inaccurate world view presented in the articles. At least 50% of the articles cover two countries (US & UK) alone, with half of the rest covering Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland. And the rest of the world covering the rest! This gives the students a very skewed view of the world – and perpertuates those terrible stereotypes.

So much stuff is produced with no regard for quality, there is no standard followed regarding the usage of english and so it is almost impossible for me to tell them if their work is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. There is basic misconception that there is a right and a wrong way of doing things in English as if there is a ‘common’ English as there is in Chinese – 普通话
Things are almost always plagerised – which isn’t the real problem – that’s to be accepted, but if they plagersise they should at least do it well!!
Sadly, most copy from Chinese English sources (because they can’t understand enough english to be able to copy from a real English website!) so you get things that are already bad being copied and made even worse 🙁 – then it’s my job to try to make head or tail of things!!

Then there’s the attempts at direct translations from Chinese, which almost always fail. The thing is being able to simplyfy a translation without distorting the original meaning of the text is easier said than done. The idea of simplyfying something from scientific language into quite easy language, without destroying the idea of the writing whilst making sure the work still makes sense.This is a really high level thing to do, It is tough for a native speaker and I have only met one Chinese person in the place where I work that can do it well. Frankly speaking, I believe that most of the people producing the learning materials don’t have competance to be able to pass their own tests!

I fear that, in the not too distant future, a bastardised ‘chinglish’ dialect will evolve and this is being perpetuated by the learning materials the students have. And now I am a part of that system…


I’ve tried to put all of my experiences into several groups based upon the timeframe – I’m currently in the 4th stage.

1st stage: Just off the boat. Wide eyes. In shock. Everything is different. Absorbing everything. Notice things like spitting and the squat toilets. Still have those idealistic ideas about China.

2nd Stage: Honeymoon period. Realise purchasing power. Able to do things unlike back home. Have fun learning to communicate. Most foreigners don’t get beyond this as they don’t stay long enough. This lasted a year for me, looking back incredibly fun time.

3rd Stage: Cynical stage. Happened to me after 18 months in China. You’re starting to see how unfair and messed up China really is. Start to understand enough of the language and culture to be able to discern what is really happening. Become disinfranchised with most things chinese.

4th Stage: Pragmatic stage ‘ well that’s just the way it is…’ Learn to adapt and avoid bad situations. Gut instincts become very useful. Start to develop ‘chinese’ habits. Learn to live with certain things, life becomes less challenging and more rewarding.

Strangely living in a foreign land has actually made me less open minded and more judgemental of many things. It’s the reverse of what one would think would happen but I believe this is an indication of the surroundings in which I live – I have simply adapted to the way things are, whether that is good or bad.

Recent photos


I haven’t been able to post any photos for a while due to the FTP port being firewalled but now I have found another way. 🙂

I’ve taken these over the last couple of months using the trusty mobile phone – probably the most useful thing I’ve bought in China.

Here’s a shot of people queueing for a bus – note the man checking for queue-jumpers.

crap car

Saw this car the other day. It’s a Maestro with FAW badging. I believe that they produce these things in Changchun though I’m not 100%. Regardless, its still a terrible car – I never thought I’d see one here (Luckily I haven’t seen a Montego!) I wonder whether the Chinese bought the rights to produce the car or if they simply copied them? Either way, I think someone needs to tell them that this car is a heap of crap and should never be manufactured – even in China! To those condsidering buying one – 再别买这个车! 一文不直.

I wonder how long it is before I see some the more recent ex-Rover brands being driven on the streets?

chinese cabbage

I’m kind of used to seeing this stuff ‘drying’ in the streets. The chinese cabbage or 白菜 is left to dry so that it can be stored and for the winter when the price of vegetables goes up considerably. Problem is that it tastes quite rubbery after several months storage. I know people that use disinfectant to scrub their vegetables with before they

postbox anyone

are cooked so they can get all of the black soot and dust off them.

Either someone is hoarding postboxes or this is the place where they are distributed from, your guess is as good as mine.