Monday, July 31, 2006

So much for being back.

So, back in China for a whole 5 days, I've just arrived in Singapore on business.

Flight down was largely uneventful as I managed to restrain the urge to slaughter one of my fellow passengers. Have you noticed how aggressive travelling can make me these days? I definitely think I'm overdoing it...

You clearly don't get a better class of passenger in Business Class - on the first leg of the journey to Hong Kong the guy (my row but fortunately the other side of the plane) spent the first 1.5 hours of the flight continually snorting air in through his nose as if it was blocked. Me: I'd be concerned that everyone else on the plane would be unhappy about me making pig impressions and would disappear to the toilets to sort my nose out but this guy, not a bit of it. Worse, about 10 minutes before we came in to land he started making avery loud gurgling cough which culminiated in him fishing for the air sickness bag, noisily hewing a big lump of phlegm into it and the putting it back in the seat pocket in front of him.

The second flight was much better (quieter at least) and had movies so watched MI-III. I was intrigued to learn, from the plot of the film, that there are secret biological weapons stored in a building in Hengshan Lu in Shanghai. That's where TGI Fridays and the rather nice Mexican Restaurant Zapatas are located. So much for the recent discovery of organo-phosphates in Chinese Spinach, what I want to know is whether they test for Rabbit's Foot in the Margaritas!

Singapore is lovely, as always. It's a nice 29 degrees C so far today (Sunday at home was 38 C ( did say "feels like 43") so this is glorious. Started the day in the open air pool at 6:30am with myna birds and hummingbirds flitting overhead then, disaster struck.

I have a meeting this afternoon with a very senior client. Even though it's very hot in Singapore, this is the kind of meeting where suits would always be required, at least for the first 30 seconds before everyone ditches their jackets but... I have brought my 'small' suit (I have 3 different sizes of suit - Overweight, Obese and pro-wrestler. As I don't wear suits in daily life, I haven't worn this in ages and had assumed it would be OK. Clearly that last few kilos I lost has taken me below the acceptable threshhold. With the trousers on and held and a comfortable degree of tightness there were no less than 6 inches of spare trousers. I kid you not. Even trying jaunty things with a belt to stop a 'funny home videos' moment (the sort where I'm walking down the street and suddenly 'whoops - they're off') isn't going to disguise the fact that I looked like Stan Laurel wearing Oliver Hardy's suit.

Still - at least, it being Singapore, I can go to every British person's last refuge for clothing, Marks and Spencer. The galling thing about this is the I still intend to lose a further 10 kilos which means these clother will then be too big so I'm going to buy a new suit that, in all likelihood, I will wear for a 60 minute meeting this afternoon and the jacket will probably only stay on for the first 60 seconds. I'll remember this if anyone questions my expenses as to whether I really did need that can of Diet Pepsi from the minibar.

Update - who knew Marks and Spencer would be so much more expensive here than in the UK. It's just cost me 300 GBP (550 USD) for a jacket, trousers and a shirt. OK, and some cufflinks because the shirt I liked didn't have buttons. Oh, and a tie because the one I'd brought didn't really suit the shirt but still, 300 GBP for a Marks' suit! I did insist on keeping the jacket on for the duration of the meeting just to get some value-for-money.

Saturday, July 29, 2006


Ok, so you probably don't care, but I was thrilled this morning to find the bathroom scales telling me that I was 99.9kg (that's 220 lb or 15 stone 10 lb).

Not only don't you care, but you probably think that that sounds quite fat but to put it in context, I was actually 122 kg three months ago and have been working extremely hard, on both diet and exercise regime to rectify this position. To elaborate further, I'm pretty sure I've never been sub 100 kg since I was a student almost 20 years ago.

Still - I'm not finished here - goal is 88kg. I don't remember being 88kg so I might well have been at school last time I weighed that. I'll let you know how I get on!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

We're back

Finally we've made it back home after two and a half weeks and, more surprisingly our driver survived the journey from Shanghai to Hangzhou.

It started badly when he rang to say he'd be at our hotel 10 minutes later so we got our stuff together and stood outside the hotel in the very unpleasant humidity and howling wind. 30 minutes later he appears blaming slow traffic.

Eventually we set off but we want to go to Ikea en route. I suggest that, as I know the direct route well, that he go that way (he's not reknowned for his knowledge of Shanghai) but he sets off in the opposite direction and when challenged waves away my repeated suggestion and says the elevated expressways will be quicker. Which they might be apart from the fact he comes off at the wrong exit and is driving around for 15 minutes before he tells us he's lost and stops to ask for help. It turns out we're going the wrong way so he gets back on the main road and causes two other cars to emergency-stop to avoid smashing into our car. 100 metres from Ikea I shout (in Chinese) "There it is, on the left" so he ignores that and says "I'll ask someone where it is" pulls to a halt and dashes out to ask someone. When we get there there's a road down the side and there's a large sign with the work 'Ikea' the letter P in white on a blue background and an arrow pointing down this side road which he tries to ignore three times with me getting angrier with each time.

Eventually we get there, get our stuff (which only took 10 mins) and went back to the stuffy mosquito-filled car park. After tracking down the car we couldn't find the driver who was also not answering his phone. When he answered on the fourth call (having simply ignored previous calls and texts) he seemed surprised that we'd called and slowly trotted back.

About a quarter of the way back, I was getting concerned about the '1960's Feature Film Driving Style' - you know, the one when they used to sit in a mock car with a projector playing a film of the road behind them. The drivers, always trying to make it look like they're driving always used to move the wheel frequently from side-to-side in a completely unconvincing simulation of driving. Unfortunately our driver was doing just that and wafting from lane to lane for no apparent reason. A quick discussion took place in the back (which the driver couldn't see because he has the rear view mirror folded up to the ceiling to avoiding it distracting him) and we concluded he was tired. When asked directly if this was the case, he said it wasn't but he was not OK because he was so hungry. Apparently, knowing he'd got a roundtrip of 6 hours to make, he'd decided to go for a light breakfast.

I did actually have this conversation with YY before the driver arrived - she was suggesting that a good boss would invite the driver to have something to eat with him and rest for a while after the 3 hour journey to Shanghai. I put forward the opposite view that a good driver would have the sense to arrive at least 30 minutes early so that he had time, both as a buffer in case of traffic or as a means of getting a break and something to eat before he headed back. Clearly he hadn't done this.

So, instead, we pulled into the provincial boundary service station where he went to have something to eat and we sat like kippers in the car for half an hour. Eventually we made it home, entirely intact, so it probably was 30 minutes well spent considering the alternatives.

This does bring up an interesting point about many Chinese people and their food dependency. It seems to manifest itself a bit like diabetes in that people are genuinely not OK or capable to function if they haven't eaten regularly. And by regularly, I don't just mean three times a day, I mean within 60 minutes of 11am and 5:30pm for lunch and dinner. I've known people to burst into tears when they've been asked to delay a meal because of a pressing work problem.

The problem is made even worse by the reliance on hot, preferably freshly-cooked food for every meal. Again, the British equivalent driver would, assuming a 6 hour stretch, would probably get a coffee, a sandwich and a Ginsters pasty somewhere en route (or even have the foresight to make sandwiches themselves before they set off) but sandwiches don't typically feature in the Chinese diet so grabbing a bite to keep the hunger pangs away is automatically a long drawn-out affair.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Poorly Named

Whilst in the UK, I have just had occasion to visit the small town of Haywards Heath. Sadly I was without camera when chancing across a sign pointing down a small alley that read

Pieces of Eight Pets

I don't know if the people that named the company actually thought about this but it certainly made me laugh out loud with warped imagination assming that it was the start of some sort of 'Fatal Attraction' treasure hunt.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Observations from a Small Island

Ok, bit of a cliche but I've been back in the UK for a week and a half now and here, in no particular order, are the things that strike me. Apologies for the fact that some of them are almost certainly well documented but, hey, this is my blog so live with it.

1) British People are tremendously fat. OK, not every single one but there are an awful lot of very fat people here. The fact that people in China are typically both thin and small highlights this tremendously. An add-on to that is that clearly many obese people must have distorting mirrors at home or they wouldn't wear the clothes they do with fat bellies protruding from under crop tops and rolls of fat poking out from sleeveless shirt armholes.

2) There are now a huge number of people from Eastern Europe in the UK. Not surprisingly the retail and hospitality industries seem to be snapping them up because they're probably far higher quality employees than the average Brit that applies. They also seem to be a large part of the "not fat" population.

3) British people are really quite unpleasant. We travelled in the first class seats of a train up to London but could hardly see out because someone had scrawled on the glass. Now, you do se graffiti in China but it's normally actually a sort of 'fly advertising' where people scrawl a couple of characters and a phone number - nothing like the mindless scrawling and tagging you get from louts in the UK who just want the place to look terrible.

4) ... And can be quite stupid. There's a motorway bridge over the M25 where someone has painted, in huge letters, PEAS - I assume this is in the same vein as the graffiti I saw from the M6 which read "WORLD PEAS NOW"

5) ...And filthy. YY had previously thought that the UK would be very clean. Walking through the centre of Leeds just after the shops closed yesterday dispelled that myth - small whirlwinds of litter were moving around on the filthy pavements covered in ice cream, ketchup and gum.

6) British food is great. By that, I mean I have eaten Indian, Lebanese, "Mediterranean", Italian, American, etc. The range of flavours on offer is superb. YY does hold that the exact oposite is true, however.

7) British driving is great - so relaxing not to have to try to predict who's going to change lanes on the motorway without indicating and for no reason. Or when the next car is going to drive up the motorway the wrong way. It all conforms to a system. Lovely.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Mad Road Signs

So, another foray on the bike to the Tea Village of Longjing. I knew it was going to be hard work as the map shows the path snaking back and forth upon itself as it winds up the mountain. Can't wait for my new cycle computer to arrive as these things are always more satisfying with statistics.

Set off at at about 5pm to miss the worst of the sun but between the sun and the strong breeze I began to learn what it must be like to be inside a convection oven.

Just as I got to the foot of the main climb, I guessed it was going to be hard work when I saw this:

No Hill Climbing

Still, this is China so the obvious thing to do is to ignore all signs and instructions relating to road traffic law. The climb was pretty hard work but the descent was well worth it (although there was a corresponding "no cycling down the hill" sign at the top).

No idea why the signs were there as it was eminently cyclable, albeit fairly tough.

Still, it's not quite as inexplicable as this sign in the underground car park at the gym.

No Left or Right Turn?