Only took me 5 months to get these uploaded and a further year to post the link here!
I’ve Just signed up for a 100 mile cycle ride around Essex, in aid Action Medical Research, a great children’s charity dedicated to improving the health of babies and children in the UK.
I’ve never cycled this far before in one day, I just hope I don’t pass-out from fatigue or get hit by a bus
Sponsor me here
Been lazy/too busy to update things here… Have lots of things to write about, will put them here once I have time. 😀
It’s situated very close to Leicester Square and makes up a much smaller area than I expected. I really was expecting a little more than just a few streets…
As expected, Chinatown is not really reminicant of any place I’ve seen In China, for me the only striking simularities being the obvious characters on signs (almost all traditional characters) and the Chinese looking people walking around the area.
Cantonese 粤语 is the main language spoken here, most Chinese here I would guess have links with Hong Kong / Taiwan or southern China. I haven’t heard much Cantonese before and I have to say it’s a very ugly language to listen to and sounds really aggressive to the untuned ear.
I was sitting in a cheap buffet restaurant (£5/75元 all you can eat – Incidently – you wouldn’t want to eat too much food here!, but for London prices it’s very cheap) and the manager was telling the fuyuan (waitresses) in really stongly accented Mandarin where he wanted the customers to sit, whilst chatting with some customers in Cantonese. The fuyuans were clearly mainlanders.
I wondered how/why they got/came to the UK, they clearly were not students/skilled migrants, but I didn’t ask them for obvious reasons. From what I heard they spoke very little english beyond restaurant vocab.
I couldn’t help thinking that their quality of life here couldn’t be much better than what they had in China？ Perhaps I’m wrong and they are here legally, but knowing how very difficult it is for Mainland Chinese to get work outside ancestry, I highly doubt this. –
My guess is that they paid a gang in China and came here illegally…- working in Chinatown for less than minimum wage…- posting cash home or paying off the debts to the gangmasters… Who knows?
I think there are two sides to Chinatown; the obvious side you’ll see walking down one of the pedestrianised streets- tourists sightseeing, taking pictures and visiting restaurants. Locals and tourists alike wanting to try sample ‘real’ Chinese food and perhaps what they think It’s like in a Chinese restaurant in China.
The problem with this, I think, is that there are so many rules and health and safey regulations that to have a ‘real’ authentic copy of a Chinese restaurant in London would probably be illegal! And to be honest I dont think It would be popular with British people ‘laowai’ 😀 – so you end up with a compromise, not one or the other. Just as in Changchun the ‘western’ restaurants (i.e. 欧娄巴） are also compromises – it’s a question of supply and demand – you give the customer what he/she wants or expects, whether its ‘real’ or not is not the point!
And the other side, the darker side. Chinese people and immigrants from other asian countries working (many illegally, but they do jobs that many people here simply wont do.) for very little pay and poor working conditions.
Something else that I noticed or at very least percieved was the relative ‘poverty’ of the Chinese (excluding asian looking tourists/students – who stand out like saw thumbs) looking people – I’m sure most chinese speaking immigrants end up here,
I am also sure there are operations in people trafficking probably operated from within this area. -I’m not making a judgement I’m just saying, I think that’s how it is.
There was an interesting banner draped over a shop that looked as though it had recently been closed down, (see pic on left) stating that the British were not supporting migrant workers – I can only guess why this shop was boarded up, It would be interesting to find out why. I wouldn’t be surprised if it has something to do with hiring illegal workers.
What I found funny was the way in which the Chinese have exported their business models and how they are being used in London – here you can find small shops (just like those in Changchun) selling anything – fake DVDs, SIM cards, foreign foodstuffs, you can even change your renminbi
There are adverts places outside, posters, billboards – just like those in Changchun. I think the the Chinese here are incredibly entrepreneurial and profit conscious, they even use western selling ideas (never seen in China) – such as buy one get one free or two for the price of one. Also it’s the only place in the UK where I’ve seen there are too many staff!
It much harder to do this here as its not so easy to strar up a business, but i think there is greater potential to make more money long term.
I have spent some time in various Chinese restaurants and being the UK they wont let you take in your own drinks, afterall this is financially to their dis-advantage and how other restaurants operate in the UK. Yet they keep other Chinese practices – such as service being very direct to the point- which of course in the UK, can be misinterpreted as being rude and impolite.
But it’s accepted by the customers I think. Personally I would rather have one or the other – western service or chinese service and all that goes with it – but that’s not how things have developed.
I find it curious how the Chinese food here has been anglocized with things that people from the UK think is ‘Chinese’ just as western foods in China are ‘Chinacized’ to suit tastes, because that’s really what Chinese people expect of western food.
This runs through many areas and happens I think because of a combination of perhaps ignorance on the customers part, stereotypes things from films TV, and adaptation on the businesses part – that is changing a product to meet more local demand.
Anyway, The ‘Chinese’ food here I’ve tried thus far is pretty bad. Awful.. 🙁
If I want Chinese food I like then the only way is took cook it myself but I knew this would probably happen before I left China…
Luckily I have a sweet toooth and so can get used to things here but I can imagine how difficult It must be for someone new to the UK. The food isn’t as bad as I remember, it just seriously lacks taste and flavour!
I’m not so sure now that If you look hard enough, you’ll be get lots of different types of Chinese food, as I only seemed to be able to find the Cantonese restaurants!:evil: 广东菜真难吃了！
I did find several Chinese supermarkets and was very happy to find they sell many of the same things I saw In Changchun. Those packets of instant noodles for 30p (5元), sunflower seeds for 2 pounds (30元) a packet and one of my favourite drinks – 水晶葡萄 grape juice for a very reasonable 60p (10元) a bottle!
Unfortunatly I was unable to find many of the sauces that I recognised in Changchun. Predictabally, almost all the ingrediants are imported from Hong Kong and so are quite different from the stuff in dongbei.
An interesting problem I encountered was working out what was what, as the characters used are traditional and so are difficult for me to read and a westernised English name or Cantonese name is used, rather than pinyin
For example: hoisin sauce is haixian jiang 海鮮酱. I dont know the English name or cantonese spelling/pronuncaiation so I am having to learn!
But I did find these sunflower seeds (xiang guazi) 香瓜子 for a very reasonable 2 pounds for a big bag!
Been too busy to update this for a while, so many things all going on at once.
Just got back from Bejing, after a trip there for the past few days visiting friends and sorting out job things. It’s a strange place, so many things going on there, so much change and to me, very, very western.
So many laowai, everywhere infact, apparently 80% of all foreigners in China are in Beijing or the surrounding ares.
Almost everything is in English, signs to shops, maps, you name it, its been translated to some degree or another. Even at the train station the departure boards are in pinyin for the laowai and those chinese who cant read characters, announcements are in english (well a form of English 🙂 )
And this is surely a good thing, especially if so much of the local economy is based on it’s dealing with outsiders, if China wants to keep attracting more and more travellers and make China a more accessible place especially for tourists.
On a personal level I find this annoying, as for me seeing things written in Pinyin and English is a barrier to me reading the characters first – naturally If I see something in the Roman alphabet my eyes wander to that first even if it makes no sense, just because its my native language.
The laws that don’t seem to apply in many other parts of China are to a degree actually enforced here; I had to show my passport at the Internet bar, cars obey the red lights, people wait for the green man. I even had to properly register at the small 旅店 guesthouse I stayed at for a bit, fill out info on you reason for travel, visa status etc…
In the north east unless you stay at the places designated for laowai (i.e 4,5* hotels) you seldom need to do this, I’ve never had this problem.
The last time I was in Bejing was over 1 year ago, and in a runup to the olympics there is a lot of money being spent here by the government to give the place a nicer feel.
Money that, so I’m told, is usually spent on other more needy regions of China is being diverted here and to other Olympic venues. This is how China wants to be seen by the rest of the world, a vibrant, expanding, modern place – maybe the truth though isn’t so clear.
The grass is watered, streets are cleaned, – of course totally unrepresentaive of China – to an extent all capital cities are not great representations of how a country really is, but Beijing doubly so.
It’s a mecca for tourists, both foreign and Chinese. Honestly speaking, as capital cities go there’s not so much to see in the city itself.
Luckily I I had time to check out Tiananmen and the Forbidden city as I haven’t fully explored these places, and the weather wasn’t so hot.
The first thing that I noticed wasn’t the buildings but the very high security presence anywhere near the Forbidden city. Policemen, security guards and plain clothes on every corner, infact I nearlly didn’t bother walking onto the square itself as I had to walk for a while just to find a gap in the fence that surrounds everything.
The square was packed with mostly Chinese tourists getting those pictures with the Forbidden city in the background. For many, I suspect this is their first trip to the capital and maybe their first encounter with foreigners. I got so many stares, people wanting to take pictures with me – I obliged – this is not the first time this has happened, but I was all the more surprised as this was in Beijing – I expected less of this, not more.
Then of course, there are the armies of vendors trying to sell you stuff, I’m used to this now, but in Beijing they are a different breed. They’ve had much more contact with foreigners and so are perhaps more astute, and aggressive when it comes to trying to sell something.
A good experience I had with this was an old looking chap approached me, said in pigon English ‘Red Book’ ‘Chairman Mao’, waving a copy of the book under my nose as if I’d feel compelled to buy from him. I gave him a look and replied with the standard response ‘不买＇’don’t want to buy’ he laughed, looked shocked and replied with ‘为什么不呢？’ ‘why not?’ I then thought of a witty response ‘我也有十本这样的书！ ‘I’ve already got 10 of those books!’ He laughed and walked away repeating what I said to himself, really funny when things like that happen.
Oppositey, there were other hawkers that got bloody annoying, constantly trying to sell me ‘ice water’. On some occasions I would ignore eye contact as if they didn’t exist and keep walking, others I would give the standard ‘不买＇or ‘不要’ but the best tactic is just to say nothing and Ignore them. Every 10 minutes or so all of these vendors would disappear as the cheng guang 城管 (I can’t work out a good translation for this, but basically council workers with police powers) would drive past, then they’d be back again!
Of course, for the Chinese this place is of great national importance, has a special place in history, but more objectively speaking its rather like a giant car park. Too big in many senses, no grass, just concrete. But maybe I’m missing the point.
In another part of Beijing, I was sitting on a bench reading a book and sellers kept on interrupting, aggressively annoying (even rude by Chinese standards, I’m not being pejorative just that in the west this would of course be very, very rude.) me trying to sell me maps, water or some other thing I wasn’t interested in. Because I was sitting, the usual tactics wouldn’t work.
Sometimes you just have to tell them to go way and get out of your face, it’s the only language some understand. The man who was saying ‘sir hello map’ ‘map’ ‘map’ is a good example. I said the usual ‘bumai’, ‘buyao’, but he was insistent. He wouldn’t stop. So I told him – ‘I said I, dont want to buy, are you stupid? go away!’我说不买了你笨吗？走开!’ He got the message.
It’s also one thing having people say stuff in Chinese, when its in English its harder to switch off and ignore.
Something I noticed is that in Changchun you have to be spot on with your pronunciation and often repeat until they realise you’re tyring to communicate with them in Mandarin, but in Beijing people picked up what I was saying straight away (even the poorly educated) , this must be due to a familarity dealing with people who have strange accents, dialects, or foreigners speaking Mandarin.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that I think Beijing is probably a bad place to learn the language, there is too much foreign influence.
I took a train back, really rather impressed with it all. The waiting facilities in the train station were top class, nice environment with comfortable arm chairs, away from the usual chaos that you associate with train stations in China. The train itself was also very impressive, a new CRH (China Rail High-speed, – shouldn’t that be China Rail – High-speed or China High-speed Rail) 和谐号. It’s no bullet train or TGV in terms of speed but still just as fast as the fastest trains in the UK and relatively cheap.
The seats are much better too- even enough leg room for me – so is the service, a conductor, cleaner and various other personnel for each carriage, over efficient yes, not cost effective to western eyes.
The journey time is 6 hours from Beijing to Changchun and the price only 238yuan for the erdengzuo or 2nd class. I think you can realistically compare this to the plane, which takes 1.5 hours, full price ticket is over 900yuan, but when you factor in travel from city centre to airport takes another 2 hours at least, plus check in time – the train begins to make more sense.
The Chinese are very proud of this achievement, and rightly so, their railway system is being rapidly upgraded and modernised in a way that would never happen in the UK。One advantage to the system here is that they can do things like this, they’re not so constrained by committees, regulations and laws – just do it. Perhaps there is much to be learnt from doing something, not just because it makes a profit, but because it instills a sense of national pride and at the same time offers a public service.
Back from a short trip to see Ghengis Kahn’s 成吉思汗 hometown, was interesting but not a place I would travel to again. There just isn’t anything left of what used to be here and it’s just very hard to imagine what things would have been like many years ago when this was the centre of one of the most expansive empires there ever was.
The buildings that were once here have gone, there is now a temple built in its place, and to be direct, once you’ve seen a temple you’ve seen them all. The town itself, 呼兰浩特 Helanhete, could be any small Chinese city. Non descript, bland and like a thousand other places in China- bereft of any originality. Also couldn’t find any Mongolian food and compared to Changchun prices were a little more than expected. At least I can say I’ve to Mongolia, allbeit Inner Mongolia which is now part of the PRC of course.
If I could use one word to describe things I would say ‘neglected’.
Went home over the winter came back here for the start of the semester. It seems that winter has been on strike this year, It hasn’t been very cold and so there has been a lot more snow than normal. It even rained in February -I think the summer is going to be a long one.
Being away from things and travelling back makes you re-evaluate what you’ve never even thought about before. I found myself on more than one occasion saying to myself ‘it never gets light’ ‘where are the people?’ ‘everyone is so fat!’ ‘carpet!’.
Some call it reverse culture shock, however, it’s not like culture shock when you go to a new place.
I was told it would feel like being a tourist in your own country, however, It’s more complicated than that. Things are familiar but as if there has been a rift in the space time continuum, so that some things are different but nobody notices except you. Moreover if you tell people that this is different from how it used to be, you are looked at as if you should be committed!
From this I think you can start to understand where people from foreign countries get the ideas of social stereotypes, as from their perspective that’s how things appear.
The Tube from Heathrow presented a microcosm of sorts. Quiet, everyone reading pretending to be asleep or inspecting their shoes – just as you’d expect. Then at a stop a group of Mandarin speakers got on. (I couldn’t quite work out where they were from though accents suggested they weren’t from the north of china) They talked enthusiastically (and loudly) with each other, I could register looks of disdain and near contempt from some of the other passengers as if to say ‘be quiet!’, ‘don’t you know we don’t talk on trains’.
One of my students asked me about strangers starting up conversations in public places (i.e. on public transport) and I told him that you often think (wrongly or rightly) the person wants something will stab you or is a nutcase.
Every so often I would have a quite laugh when someone would use language that I had forgotten about, slang or some new words that I haven’t heard.
Overall though, not much about home has changed beyond the obvious and I doubt anything substantial really changes in the UK. I can imagine going back in ten years (bar technological progressions) things being pretty much the same as always.
And there are so many similarities between the UK and China – there are some things done better in China than the UK and vice-versa.
Of course It’s probably me that has changed the most. Obviously that is because I have been in Changchun for over 2 years and I have had many different experiences from others.
I’ve been asking myself is this a good thing, afterall having to re- adapt to different surroundings isn’t easy – is it worth it.
I believe so, experiences change opinions, broaden minds and I believe make you more tolerant of others. It certainly has opened my mind up to all sorts of other ideas and ways of thinking.
Indeed, I couldn’t help noticing how insular looking and narrow minded (to me anyway) many people sounded when I was at home.
Many foreigner teachers complain about how ‘brainwashed’ the Chinese students are, but infact they have much greater understanding about the UK than someone from the UK does about China and that speaks volumes about peoples general knowledge about other countries and cultures.
Sometimes I have written about a situation that has happened to me that I have said wouldn’t happen in the West. This situation would never happen in China. The single biggest problem I encountered whilst in the UK was communication. In China sometimes there are communication problems, which is what you expect from trying to speak a second language. At least in China you can always find a human being to speak with if you have a problem with something and if they don’t want to help another human being etc. e.g at the train station.
At the bank, If I have a problem I can sort things out. Sometimes the process is infuriating and cumbersome but it can be achieved because of the human involvement! In the UK I went into the bank no human beings were available, but i could talk to a machine. There is only so much a machine can do.
I read that both China’s greatest asset and its greatest problem is its population, I think not having enough people is almost as bad.
The langauge barrier is nothing – you can do things. Without a human – even though english is my first language – you can’t.
It never ceases to surprise me how apathetic and harmonious Chinese people are in some situations. Right now as I type the bloke sitting next to me is puffing away like a chimney, oblivious the no smoking signs plastered everywhere. Nobody (except myself) seems to care, or even notice this. If he wants to smoke there are other rooms for this, Is is unreasonable of him to move elsewhere?
To me (and I think most westerners) it’s completely anti-social and unacceptable to do such, as most of us believe that one person doing something at the expense of others is not okay – especially if that habit has a detriment on a third parties health.
Anyway, I was meaning to get onto where I went during the holiday or where I tried to go at least. On Tuesday I planned to go to Jilin city with a few friends however we ended up not getting further than Changchun’s suburbs before coming back.
In the morning we went to the Changchun long-distance bus station just south of the train station, to buy our tickets to Jilin. This was easy, each ticket costing 24 yuan each and a bus leaving every ten minutes. The bus station really is a complete mess of a building and should be demolished ASAP and replaced with something more suitable for a city the size of Changchun. Basically to find your bus you have to go back outside the bus station walk around to the left down a small hutong whereupon you’ll see buses and coaches all lined up back to back.
It makes the train station seem like a bastion of good organisation, and that’s saying something.
So we walked down the small lane (called yellow river road or huang he lu 黄河路) trying to find the coach to Jilin whilst avoiding the hawkers and rip-off merchants trying to get their extra jiao. The buses to jilin were lined up on the right side of the lane and after enquiring with one of the conductors we were told that we have to pay an extra 12yuan per person to get onto the bus – as these buses took only 1.5 hours. I immediatily (and wrongly) assumed that this was some sort of foreign laowai tax, a scam. However upon closer inspection they were (all the buses to Jilin) making everyone pay this extra ‘surcharge’ – so there was nothing we could do but pay the extra and forget about it.
Once upon the bus we sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. We finally left after 45 minutes of waiting. Waiting for what I don’t know. The coach was crammed with people, probably more people standing in the aisles than sitting. They brought their own fold-up wooden stools with them to make the ride more comfortable. When we finally started moving the coach must have got up to 20mph maximum. We coasted for 45 minutes, and it took 1 hour to get out of the city! I saw a sign It read Jilin City 108km.
Why this bus was so slow is beyond me, though I think we just got unlucky. Other buses were overtaking us. But what annoys me is that nobody else said anything about the bus being slow, they just accepted it – perhaps deep down they know that there really is nothing you can do about it. And that there is zero chance of getting a refund.
We all decided to get off the bus and come home as by the time we got there it would be time to come home anyway! So we bailed in a small town near to changchun and took a local bus back to town. It was an experience anyway!
Back from a trip around the east of 辽宁省 Liaoning Province. Went a little off the beaten track as well as visiting the most easterly site of 虎山长成 the Great Wall. Almost running parallel to the wall is the North Korean border and we took a walk down to the very edge to a place called 一步跨 One Step Across. On the other side were lots of farm workers moving earth and all wearing the same coloured clothing. They stragitically planted a North Korean flag in the earth next to where they were working, though you’d have to be a complete cretin to unknowingly cross the border as the river is about 20 feet wide – although there are stepping stones if you really want to take the risk.
It was really interesting and thoroughly enjoyable. Also managed to visit lots of sites that are not particularly well known for tourism and so are still un-spoilt from the droves of giftshops and vendors trying to sell tack. There’s actually a lot to see in and around the Dandong region If you’re prepared to find it yourself as the lonely planet guidebook is next to useless.
Dandong is cheaper than Changchun, clothes and shoes cost less, and it’s a good place to get authentic North Korean cuisine as well as cheap seafood.
Got on one of those Chinese mini-bus tours (150元), took all day and saw so much. As with my previous experience with these tours (if you don’t mind visiting the odd place of not much interest to you) in return you get transportation everywhere, food and free admission. Indeed I think without going on such a tour it would be almost impossible to see everything, unless of course you have your own car and you know where you’re going, such were the distances travelled.
All the guide books mention the broken bridge 断桥 (20元）and the boat rides you can get along the river (20元）which gets you pretty close to the other side. It’s interesting but there really isn’t much to see apart from a few rusting North Korean trawlers and the odd person looking back. Did see a couple of soldiers with rifles and some fishermen wearing traditional looking clothing and hats. Of course you’re not meant to take photos – but being China what are rules for! – and everyone does it regardless, much to the annoyance of the North Koreans.
Went to a dam called the 太平水电站 Taiping Hydro Electricity Station. It is where the Yalu river is dammed, changing it from a fast flowing waterway into something reminiscent of a Scottish loch. There was some confusion as to whether I could cross the dam along with the other tourists in the bus, as the other side is technically in North Korea.
The Chinese tourists (or people who look Asian, they don’t actually check papers – just see if you’re white or not!) are allowed to go to the other side to get the ‘I’ve actually stepped in North Korea’ photo.
After the mini-bus pulled up at the border point, the soldier asked if there were any waiguoren in the vehicle and that they would have to 下车, everyone else thought it was rather funny and started laughing and it was all in good humour. I got off the bus and waited in a nearby office. Beforehand I didn’t actually realise that the mini-bus was going to go over the dam, had I known in advance, of course I would have got off the bus earlier! I think it will probably be the first and last time that a Chinese official has done me a favour without asking for a bribe! Afterall If he wasn’t doing his job properly I might now be in some North Korean prison, who knows.
On the other side the road just stops, there is a memorial to the Korean War or as the Chinese call it ‘The War to Resist US Aggression’ and I thought its was a UN force not just US – anyway; there is also a couple of soldiers standing there too.
Looking at the pictures, I don’t think I missed out on much! 🙂 Then we visited another bombed-out bridge, left untouched just the central span missing. The Chinese side bustling with tourists, the Korean side quite the opposite, just fields of crops and unfarmed hills speckledwith huge hundreds-of-year-old trees.
Had another one of those lessons in ‘how to argue the chinese way’ on the train from Changchun to Dandong. Being in the hard sleeper was fine until about mid-day when it got too hot for me to bear. I idiotically assumed that the hard sleeper at 89元 (being the most expensive ticket on that train) that there would be A/C. So I walked down the train and into the next carriage which was the soft seat section where there was air conditioning. So the cheaper seats have air con and the more expensive beds (about 25% more) have none!
Anyway the plan was to downgrade. I felt a little bit farsical, like something from a Monty Python sketch ‘I wish to downgrade my ticket’ .
The ticket inspector was a rather dull woman who tried to move us from the carriage saying we didn’t have the correct ticket. So I offered to buy another ticket, she responded with ‘不可能’ Impossible! ‘Okay then I wish to change my ticket for a different ticket since this seat is empty, so is that one and that‘ Now i’m pointing all all the empty seats. She just says no and says we must move even though the temperature now in the hard sleeper carriage is hovering at a tropical 37C.
Then the Old Bill show up, the train police, three of them all very polite and straight forward – yet they sided with the ticket inspector when it was plainly obvious she was wrong. So it was time to go grudingly back to the kiln for another 3 hours or so, though I think my point was made.
But lo and behold not five minutes later, the same policemen came by and said ‘you can go in, no problem’ ‘please come’ ‘come’ even referring me to as their ‘foreign friend’. They knew that the ticket inspector was wrong, the other people in the carriage knew she was wrong, the nearby farmer’s rabid-goat knew she was wrong, maybe, even she knew it?
I think this is a very good example of the sometimes farcial Chinese attitudes towards ‘face‘ – you’re wrong and you know it, but can’t publicly admit it in front of others for fear of losing face. And from where I see it, face seems to be everything. I know the same logic extends to some business practices – You’re really a sloppy worker but I can’t tell you this to your face even though it might make you a better worker – so i’ll just sack you .
Took the coach back costing roughly double the price of the train, but taking 7 rather than 10 hours. In my experience the long distance buses are sometimes great or sometimes a nightmare, it really depends on the roads and on the bus. Luckily this bus had plenty of leg room (even for me) was really comfortable and was air conditioned!!