Friday, June 30, 2006


YY is trying to arrange some life insurance.

Because we've been procrastinating for ages the insurance company have guessed that it's because I can't read the cover docs so have translated them for me.

Here are the edited highlights from the English version.

Name: Miss Young Parrot

Cover: five years by a 50-year-old congratulate

Premium: a monthly payment of 8333.3 million

To the 50 year old:

1. Congratulated the 500,000 yuan
2, or 22,500 yuan per year for 87 years

You can guarantee the following:

Design ideas: For life, I believe you understand better than me; For the future, I would like to be farther than you think; For insurance, I believe you have a very understanding, and your Specific situation, I also have Our company and the security of your specific needs. Now, I see it collated, please read.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I'm quite pleased with this:

Total cholesterol.154(should be < 200)
Total to HDL ratio.2.64(<4.5)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Driving Licence

Renewing your driving licence in the UK is a pretty straightforward affair. Last time I did it to get my address changed it involved the following steps.

  • Get a passport-sized photo
  • Fill in the form and take to Post Office
  • Give form to man in Post Office.
  • Pay fee.

About a week later my new licence arrived in the post.

Oh, if only it were that simple in China.

To set the background - YY used to live in Ningbo and this is where she passed her driving test. Sadly, for us, these things are organised regionally and the hideous monster of Chinese bureaucracy likes nothing more than a long, complicated process that employs hundreds of thousands of people doing effectively nothing and inconveniencing millions.

Driving licences need renewing every 6 years and YY's needs renewing. She first tried to see if it could be moved to Hangzhou but, alas, with only a driving licence issued in the next largest major city for evidence the Hangzhou authorities insisted that she'd have to retake the whole driving test again.

So, we're in Ningbo. We arrived Sunday night and got up bright and breezy to get the new licence. The process went like this. Sorry if it goes on a bit but I'm trying to share my pain.

At the driving licence centre in Ningbo

Told to go to the 'hospital' (seperate building) for a checkup.

At the 'Hospital'

  • Go to window 1 and pay 15 RMB for a form
  • Colour blindness test - YY sat down and was asked 'what colours are on the screen'. 5 seconds later she was done.
  • Height. They asked her height. They could have measured it as they had a proper thing, they just didn't bother.
  • Peripheral vision. At last - an actual test that lasted 30 seconds
  • Hearing (the funniest). She was asked 'can you hear me'. The answer 'yes' was sufficient.
  • All done so were told to queue at Window 3. Gave them the form we got from Window 1 and a photo.
  • Queued at window 4 to be given another form with the photo stuck on it and a further form to fill in.
  • Whilst waiting to fill the form in were told she'd need photocopies of her ID card and old driving licence, which we could only do at the shops outside on the street. That was quite handy because it meant we could get a pen instead of having to try to beg one from other people.
  • She was also told that the photos she'd taken in Hangzhou were unusable because you have to get them taken in a neighbouring building so they have an id number on the photo.

Random Shop


Photo 'Studio'

  • queued at window 1 and paid for photos.
  • queued for photo studio. In the tradition of Chinese hospitals, every time the door opened all of the people waiting outside would pour in.
  • queue at window 2 to pick photos up.

Back to 'hospital'

  • Went back to complete the form (they had little guillotines - the sort that were banned from schools in the UK 30 years ago - to chop your photos up and a big dish of glue and a paint brush that was rather remeniscent of primary school).
  • Whilst there someone pointed out that she needed a photocopy of another document.

Random Shop


Thus ended hour 1

Driving Licence Building

When we arrived, YY was given number 2221 - the latest being served as 2161 so we guessed we'd be a while. They did have a nice video, mostly showing e-bike riders being killed at junctions to keep us amused.

An hour later and... She was told 'you can't renew a Ningbo licence when you've got a Hangzhou address... And confirmed that you can't move the licence to Hangzhou. What you need, she was told, is to go and get a temporary residents permit for any address in Ningbo. The helpful person behing the counter said that no-one will care what the address is and temporary residents permits are very easy to get, but rules is rules and you must have one with a Ningbo address. Never mind that its not real, the real Hangzhou one is useless.

At times like this, I can really hate the crap that China can throw at you. This is pure, pointless bureaucracy at its most infuriating.

So, on top of the hotel bill we ended up taking one of YYs old friends out for lunch and arranged for them to organise a Temporary Residents Permit.

Permit arrived after lunch and back we went

Driving Licence Building

  • a new number and another wait for an hour.
  • Saw the counter lady for 60 seconds and then YY was told to wait until her number was called again at another window.
  • 15 minutes later she was called again and asked for the receipt to prove she'd paid. Except no-one mentioned paying anything so...
  • Go to a different window, queue, pay
  • Return to previous window and queue and, hallelujah, receive the driving licence.

Time of arrival - 9:10 am.
Time of receiving licence - 4:20pm.
I'll never complain about the DVLA again!


You'd think, in a country of 1.3 billion people, that finding interesting news to put in a daily paper that runs to a whopping 12 pages should be fairly easy. Clearly not...

Here are some select headlines from today's issue...

  • Girl accuses roommate of theft based on fortune-teller
  • Record number of women doctors in Shenzhen
  • Man goes beserk after taking medicine with beer
  • 2 Beijingers play chess non-stop for 27 hours
  • Melon purchase costs man dearly in fines



I'm in the port city of Ningbo, of which there will be much more later.

I couldn't help but notice that the Western fascination with taglines seems to catching on. My free map of Ningbo contains an ad for the Nanyuan Inn with the tagline...

Economic. Diaphanous. Surprised.

Fantastic, eh. I almost wish I'd come up with it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Fun Cycling

I've just completed my longest bike ride for years. A full two hours in the saddle without stopping.

I'm certainly glad that I bought a bike with suspension as the road surfaces are sufficiently variable that it saves your arms and posterior from a real pounding. You can definitely feel the suspension compressing when you're putting on the power which obviously absorbs some of your energy but I think its a worthwhile trade-off.

After about 30 minutes I realised my error in forgetting to put on sunscreen and hat but, thankfully, the latter hour was mostly in shade so I remain unburnt.

The road to Lingyin temple was uneventful. I did realise that I was cycling behind one guy who had a couple of dirty sacks on his rack and that one of the sacks appeared to have a ready-to-eat sheep's knee protruding from the top. Whichever restaurant he was going to, I hope I never eat there...

There's a huge uphill grind (probably not very steep but as I said, it's been a while) from Lingyin Temple to the tea village of Meijiawu which culminates in a tunnel through the hills (no bad thing, I'm not sure I'd have survived going right up the hill). The tunnel itself must be 1km long but the cycle path is only wide enough for one bike yet is made with two concrete tiles across the width so there's a nice seam in the middle where you want to ride.

Coming out of the tunnel led to the first real downhill I've ridden in years - and reminded me why I like cycling. Whooshing down the hill through the village was fantastic. Unfortunately my bike doesn't have great gears (it was pretty cheap) so I'd run out of gears halfway through.
Meijiawu makes most of its money by serving the local tea to passers by. The villagers houses all have someone sitting at roadside who leaps into the road and starts flapping both arms as if they want to take off but all I got was a loud 'Whoo!' as I sailed past at (guessing) 50 kmh.

By Song Dynasty Village (1 hour in) I was quite tired and wondering if I'd gone too far for my first ride but afer another 15 mins I was in shade the rest of the way which made it much easier.

I've mentally compiled a wish list (to add to air-horn and wheel-swords):

  • Cycle Computer - much more fun cycling when you know how far and how fast you've been cycling.
  • Cycling Gloves - even with the suspension, some padding on the palms of your hands is nice
  • Taller stem - the stem on my bike is too short so the handlebars are too low - my neck was beginning to ache
I also need to get the bike-shop to set my gears up properly. My rear cogs have 6 options and I have indexed gear changers with 6 positions but I've realised I have the following gears:

Position 1 - 2nd gear and a loud rattling noise
Position 2 - 2nd gear
Position 3 - 3rd gear
Position 4 - 5th gear
Position 5 - 6th gear
Position 6 - 6th gear and a loud rattling noise

When will someone make indexed gears that actually work (or do they already - this is obviously a fairly cheap Shimano chainset) - having said that the gears on my touring bike (sadly in my brother's garage in Preston where I guess it's decaying quietly) are pretty good although they should be - it cost 10 times what this bike cost!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Fruit of the Day

The company that provides our staff lunches always provide a piece of seasonal fruit. Often it's peaches, apples, bananas, that sort of thing.

Fruit of the day today is....


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Cycling at Night

I cycled home from the gym last night and decided to take the scenic route home via West Lake. Unfortunately it became slightly more scenic than required as I took a wrong turn and ended up going all the way round the lake.

There seem to be specific rules about cycling at night in China:

1) Thou shalt not use any safety equipment - that includes helmets, lights or anything reflective on your bike.
2) Thou shalt wear dark clothing, preferably camo.
3) Thou shalt weave erratically from side to side of the bike lane to ward off faster cyclists

Obviously these aren't such an issue during the day and the larger number of cyclists tends to make the weaving less practical so people tend not to do it.

The biggest problem, by far, is pedestrians.

Its an observable phenomenon that people are extremely good at filtering out background noise - not surprising because the hubbub of daily life here is overwhelming. Even so, every single morning as I drive my car out of my complex, there will be people milling about in the entrance. If they're facing away from me I can drive to within one foot of them and they will not hear the car until I beep the horn and even then, 25% need more beeps to get them to realise that they're about to die if they don't move.

So, as a cyclist, you stand no chance.

My bike has a bell. I discovered that it's not loud enough. If you're travelling at speed, by the time you're close enough to attract someone's attention then chances are (as I discovered) that they will not only turn around to look where the sound is coming from but they will take a step, either to the left or the right, thus making the situation worse.

Twice in the space of 60 seconds, people who were walking away from me on the pavement turned and stepped straight into the bike lane when I was only about 3 feet away and travelling at speed so had to swerve out of the way - the first time into the car lane (followed by swerving out of the way of a car and seconds later by swerving out of the way of the kerb that I was now heading for), the second time I was forced into the path of 4 oncoming cyclists who luckily managed to part either side of me!

So - I need solutions. Clearly a louder bell is an option but a bit dull. I think an air-horn would be ideal or, failing that, front-axle mounted swords like Boudicca's chariot.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Softball News - Results Edition

So, we lost. It was a good game though and amazing to see how much the dedicated few had improved in the course of the few practices that we've had so far. We're in white in the photo below.

Softball Tournament

Our case was hampered mostly by the fact that the opposition have two Merkin's playing for them and we didn't. Still good fun was had by all and now we have the motiviation to seek revenge in the Autumn. Sadly most outdoor sports have to stop in Hangzhou in the summer because, as JP has been so lovingly describing, it's a bit too warm.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


If you thought the last entry was bad, think again...

One of my colleagues was recently telling me over dinner that he was shocked when the security guards in his apartment complex asked for access to his balcony so they could climb to the neighbours balcony.

The reason for this request was that his neighbours had called the security guards to say that they had left their kids (about 9 and 7 years old) at home while they went on a business trip and, to ensure their safety (how thoughtful) they had deadlocked the door from the outside. The kids did have keys but couldn't open the door. The business trip was lasting longer than expected so the doting parents had called the security guard because it occurred to them that the kids might have run out of food.

The scary things about this is that it neither appears to be uncommon (YY recalls being tied to her bed when her parents went out when she was very little) nor illegal. My suggestions that people such as the parents feature above would be vilified by the media and the nation and would almost certainly end up in jail seem to be surprising.

Friday, June 09, 2006


The area around the main shopping street in Hangzhou often has a few people hanging around trying to shift stolen laptops. In fact, JP and I were once outside a job fair handing out leaflets to passers-by, standing next to two people handing out free job-advert newspapers only to realise that a 5th person had joined our little line up and that he was trying to sell a stolen laptop!

Yesterday, on the local investigative journalism show 1818 a guy contacted the show to say that he'd bought a computer and that the guy who sold it to him told him that it was 'his bosses' brand new top-of-the-line laptop that he'd stolen'. He was ringing to show to complain that the computer wasn't very good at all and that the thief was guilty of misrepresentation!

Between the show, the complainant and the police worked together and managed to nab the guy who'd missold the stolen computer.

This is one of the most outrageous things I've ever heard - you would think the recipient would be charged with something like handling stolen goods as he knew perfectly well that the laptop was stolen, but no! As the title says, Outrageous!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Damned Cheap Junk!

I was going to post to say that I have joined the madness that would be cycling during rush hour, oh yes I was.

I bought a shiny new bicycle on Sunday, a Giant mountain-bike with full suspension for the princely sum of 70 GBP (that's one fifteenth of what my last bike cost me in the UK that's slowly rusting in my brother's garage). Superb it is.

I was denied cycling in yesterday because it was pouring with rain and I'm not that big a masochist just to try my bike out.

This morning the rain was over, it's lovely and cool (around 23 C). Got up early to pack my rucksack with a few essentials (including a change of clothes in case I get sprayed with brown water en route), iPod Nano strapped to my bicep and headed off to the bike park...

...only to find that one of the brand new locks decided it preferred being attached to the front wheel and refused point blank to open. 15 minutes of twisting, poking, cajoling, trying the other key and, nothing.

I have a brand new, entirely decorative bike.


Friday, June 02, 2006

You'll Never Adam and Eve It

I've just watched, and enjoyed, 20 minutes of Christian TV. Now, don't panic and reach for a calming pack of Testamints, this is all about music.

The four religious channels on my satellite TV (and more programming on the off-hours on other channels) are typically dire, ranging from American evangelists who believe you can receive God by being shouted at, being patronised and by ringing in and making a donation to the other extreme of near-death nuns who somehow have got on TV so they can ramble on to an audience who is probably asleep within 5 minutes.

I've heard 'Christian Music' before and, it's typically of an ilk - the stuff aimed at the 'youth' is cheery, poppy, uplifting stuff. It typically sucks. There was a period when Stryper seemed to be the only non-sappy music I'd ever heard with their 80's Glam Metal.

It's been a long time since I've heard any "Christian" popular music and just happened to be Channel Surfing when I happened past 'JCTV' and heard real music.

The first band I heard was Failure On - really good Melodic Metal - good tune, check - good screaming lyrics, check - good and heavy, check.

Now, according a review on Amazon "This band wears their Christianity on there (sic) sleeves" but the great thing about Metal is that you can't usually work out the lyrics until you've listened to a song many times through, so it's perfectly safe!

Next up was Flyleaf - fronted by a girl and overall it didn't hang together quite as well as the first band but still pretty good.

Pillar - tuneful Punk Rock (american definition), not bad at all.

August Burns Red - heavy, thrashy metal of the sort where the lyrics could have been anything at all. Bit thrashy for my tastes but still pretty good.

I guess it bodes reasonably well for Christianity that they're trying to do something to relate to real people, rather than trying to assume that everyone should 'conform' to the goody, goody stereotype of pastel colours, gentle music, etc.

I guess it's unfortunate for these bands to be labelled in this way (although they choose it) - the style of music was definitely mainstream but the tag will apply a stigma to the music for a lot of people. Failure On seemed particularly good (although they appear to have broken up already). Would a band that is tagged as a 'Christian Band' ever be able to make it really big?