Friday, October 13, 2006

Animals, Tasty

There's a good, balanced article on where I found these dictionary definitions from the current Xinhua Dictionary (Xinhua is the Chinese government's official news agency).

I thought I would post some of their dictionary definitions here because it emphasises some of my earlier posts with regard to the poor treatment of animals.

鲳 [butterfish]: Flesh is tender and fatty with a delicious flavor.
翅 [fin]: Fish fin; refers to the fin of a shark, a delicacy.
蛏 [razor clam]: Flesh has a delicious flavor.
狗 [dog]: as in 狗腿子 [dog's leg]: thug, running dog, one who performs evil tasks for a powerful person.
貉 [raccoon dog]: Skin is highly valuable. 一丘之貉 [a hill of jackals] tarred with the same brush, refers to bad people.
牛 [cattle]: Strong, useful for plowing fields or pulling carts. Flesh and milk are edible. Horns, skin, and bones can made into things.
兽 [animal, beast]: Figure of speech for barbaric or immoral: 兽欲 [animal desires], 兽行 [brutality].

Sunday, October 08, 2006


The Chinese people I know couldn't be described as barbaric or inhumane. Far from it.

China is not a place where you routinely come across random acts of violence towards other people - in fact the streets of Hangzhou are undoubtedly vastly safer than the streets of Liverpool.

I still believe that the average 'westerner' probably doesn't have much of a view on the Chinese as a people although this will change as China's growing economy means it attracts more and more media attention. So, with all this new found attention, why does China do little to stop the western media portraying an image of China as a barbarous and uncivilised place where life is cheap and unrespected? China does do a fine job of presenting just enough material to the outside world to allow itself to be portrayed that way - mostly by not even thinking about it.

No country stands in isolation on the modern international stage and China could do well to start taking account of critical opinion from other quarters. So why isn't China more responsive to these criticisms and why do some things seem to be getting worse?

This week I've come across some great examples (in no particular order) and it seems unlikely that these things fall under the oft-used (by many countries) category of "“how dare foreigners tell us how to run our country. We'’ve been running it this way for (insert time period here) and we're not going to change just because outsiders tell us to"” -– all of the things highlighted below are new phenomena that are being held up by foreign media as examples of China'’s '“barbarism'.

1) Shanghai Zoo's Animal Olympics
This is only the 4th annual event and is attracting headlines such as "China's cruel animal Olympics reach new heights".

2) Changchung Wildlife Park
Shoving a goat into a cage with a lion and a cow into a cage with a tiger to 'hone their hunting skills'?

3) Selling the organs of Death-Row inmates
Again, organ transplantation is too new to make this a 'cultural' issue.

4) Execution Buses
The figures bandied about by the media are that China executes more criminals than every other country in the world put together. Faced with external concerns that some of these may be unjust, this is clearly a PR disaster in the making, let alone compounding it by creating a "“Death Bus"” brochure that can get into the hands of the foreign media. Anything that enables the finger to be pointed to say that the process is being changed to make it even faster and therefore more likely to be open to injustice is surely not worth it, whatever the internal justification for doing so (Sky actually claims it is to speed up the organ removal so that just compounds the PR problem).

It seems entirely incongruous that parts of the government clearly care a great deal about China'’s image - there's an awful lot (and certainly billions of dollars) riding on the Olympics to bring a positive spin to China's 'face' - yet doesn't seem to focus on curbing things that get reported negatively. With this increased positive attention comes a large number of journalists looking for a sensational story.

There'’s been a lot of flak in recent years about the roles of spin doctors in the west, but is that exactly what China needs now? Perhaps China really should sign up a good PR agency so that they can start pointing out that when it comes to a evaluation of the facts from the perspective of non-Chinese, you can't hide behind "culture" and "tradition". Trying to get Chinese tourists to behave considerately is a small step in the right direction.

Like so much in life, perception is king. China could do worse than to start off by cutting down the amount of ammunition it hands to the foreign media to enable them to do it harm. Fair enough to tell the US that China'’s currency valuation is an internal affair and they won'’t back down to external pressure - that'’s the job of government - but death buses, honestly...…

Friday, October 06, 2006

Mooncake Day

Phonecalls from distant in-laws typically mean trouble.

Festivals are a good reason for family to get in touch and today is the Mid Autumn Festival which meant double-trouble. YY's immediate family are great, but her more distant family have a tendency to call when they want something. Typically favours are small or easily dismissed (requests for loans, or help getting a friend's daughter into Cambridge university) but occasionally they're much more interesting.

Today, a cousin (表姐) called. She is about 7 months pregnant, the same as YY but she already has a daughter. She has presumably heard that we are (probably) going to have a son. She honestly and plainly put forward the following proposal.

If she has another daughter and we do have a son, she wanted to know if we would swap.

Apparently this sort of thing isn't entirely uncommon in the countryside, although YY has educated her in the fact that this isn't common or, indeed, acceptable to us city folk.

Another cousin (表妹) also called. She surprised us a few weeks ago by ringing to say that she was married to some fellow that she'd met 4 weeks earlier. At the time, she said she didn't like him particularly but felt that as she was heading into her mid-20s it was time to get married. Oddly enough she'd rung to say that they'd got into a fight, that she hated him, and she wanted a divorce.

Clearly arranged marriages might have been a thing of the past, in a time when husbands could do pretty much anything they wanted and wives sullenly accepted their lot. Clearly an awful lot of women in China today are (given the increase in divorces) stuck in the middle of two competing imperatives. They still feel they should get married before they're 25, quickly have children, etc. on the one hand, but they also are better educated and have higher expectations than previous generations. This is probably going to result in ever increasing divorce and indeed murder rates...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Foreign Exchange

The banking system in China is a mystery to be revelled at. According to a book on China banking that I have the big 4 banks (Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial, Agricultural and Construction) have only 1600 customers per branch on average. Most branches that I've seen have somewhere between 5 and 100 staff so if you assume an average of 20 per branch that's 80 customers per employee.

So, you might wonder when you're 53 rd in the queue for a teller and 3 out of 5 windows are closed, what the hell do all of these bank staff do?

Possibly they're out creating ingenious banking products. I did talk to Bank of China about credit cards and they explained that they have two varieties:

1) an RMB based card that can only be used in China for which you had to pay a 20000 RMB deposit, then you could spend money as a normal credit card up to the preset limit which may, if you're very good, be over 20000 RMB
2) an RMB based card that can only be used abroad but not in China. This didn't have a deposit but you could only spend money that you have previously deposited in the account.

Yes, I know option 2 is a debit card, not a credit card, but they kept denying this when I pushed the point.

So, these are of no use then and it's hard to imagine anyone wanting one.

Savers are allegedly still predominantly stuffing money under mattresses rather than into banks, people tend to borrow money from relatives rather than banks (and my own experience is that banks don't want to lend money to you anyway) so, what do all these people do?

I had thought that today would be a good day to go to the bank (lots of people are still off work from the holidays) and indeed the queue was very short. As I'm about to pay for my apartment fit-out I've transferred money from the UK to China and need to convert it to RMB.

Normally you can convert USD 10,000 but today, I was told, only USD 1,000. Why? Because today is 双休日 (the weekend). But it's not the weekend, it's Thursday" just got a blank look. The answer to the next question: "When can I change USD 10,000 was", of course, 星期日(Sunday).

OK, I can handle the fact this is part of the bizarre weekend swapping arrangement (the public holiday is only 3 days long (1st, 2nd and 3rd) but they make it a full 7 by swapping weekend days around the holiday with working days so a lot of people will be off 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th but will work 30th September and 8th October to compensate for the two lost weekdays.

What I can't quite get my head round is the fact that what I was asking for was for a value in GBP in the computer be reduced, and a value in RMB be increased. No cash was harmed in the making of this transaction. So why at the "weekend" would you only be able to convert 1/10th of the amount you could do this coming Sunday?

I think the lack of understanding by the bank staff as to just how irritating the slow queues, form filling, manual processes and arbitrary rules truly are would be addressed if they realised that I can transfer money from the UK to Singapore and convert it from one currency to another from the comfort of my office. I guess when you're accustomed to half of your customers queueing up to deposit or withdraw huge bags of cash you just accept that each transaction could take 20 minutes.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Journalistic Marvel

I'm happy to accept improvements to this translation from anyone with better Chinese than mine...

This is a translation of the article about JP that was it yesterday's "今日早报" newspaper. Most of the 'facts' about JP are made up, I assume most of the facts about how wonderful the airport personnel are are designed to please the person who passed the photo to the journalist.

Bear in mind that Hangzhou as a city is home to 5 local TV stations, 6 regional TV stations and several newspapers that are all desparate for news (I've seen "1818 黄金眼" - the local reality news show follow the story of the lady who purchased some shoes she later deemed unsatisfactory, and got a camera crew to accompany her to the shop to watch her complain about the shoes and receive a refund). Given the potential newsworthiness of this story, I don't understand why they didn't bother finding out any of the facts about JP.

(For a quick JP update: I'm told he's doing much better today).

Air Ambulance from Hangzhou flies straight to Hong Kong

Hangzhou Border Inspection Completed Very Quickly, Young Englishman Badly Injured in Vehicle Accident Successfully Transferred to Hospital

Morning Newspaper reports that yesterday morning around 9 O’Clock a young Englishman, James Patricks, seriously injured in a traffic accident, was transported by ambulance from the Zhejiang #2 Hospital to Xiaoshan International Airport where a specialist Air Ambulance was waiting.

Border Inspection personnel rapidly processed them through the green channel. In a very quick 8 minutes the Air Ambulance had completed all inspection formalities and James successfully boarded the Air Ambulance.

The young Englishman unfortunately had a traffic accident. [note - every paragraph in this section contains an untruth]

James Patricks is 29 this year. In Mid-September, he received an invition from a friend in Hangzhou and took annual leave from work to travel alone to Hangzhou.

On September 26th, James was a passenger in a tour bus as it passed through Wen San Road and unfortunately had a traffic accident. James’ entire body suffered many injuries. His brain and vertebrae were seriously injured and he was taken to Tongde hospital.

After three hours of surgery, James’ life was temporarily no longer in danger.

On the second day, James was moved to the Zhejiang Number 2 Hospital to continue his treatment. There doctors immediately carried out an urgent examination which led to a specific plan of treatment. James was still in a state of unconsciousness but basically remained stable.

The air ambulance arrived in Hangzhou yesterday.

James’ parents on hearing of the accident immediately came to Hangzhou from England. They requested their son be relocated to Hong Kong to continue treatment because of the possibility of language barrier problems.

Zhejiang #2 Hospital Doctors did an examination and found James to be stable and able to withstand a short two hour flight so agreed to the hospital transfer.

The day before yesterday an English insurance company received an emergency application to charter the plan and immediately through a Beijing international assistance organisation contacted Golden Deer Aviation. After much coordination, Golden Deer Aviation dispatched the plane yesterday morning. The Air Ambulance rushed to Hangzhou to carry out its urgent mission.

Hangzhou Border Inspection Completed Very Quickly

On the afternoon of September 29th, the Hangzhou Border Checkpoint received a related urgent notification. According to protocol, a flight that is not a scheduled flight should apply to the Civil Aviation office of aviation for approval at least two days in advance.

Clearly there was not enough time. Because of this situatuin, the Hangzhou Border Inspection Supervisor specially approved this charter flight and requested the airport police urgently use the ‘green channel’.

Yesterday morning at 9:30, an ambulance sped to the Xiaoshan airport airport parking area. Workers carefully lifted James down. Border Inspection officials processed the papers of the entire flight crew extremely quickly. From beginning to end only 8 minutes.

20 minutes later, the special plane took off as scheduled, carrying the blessings of many Chinese personnel, and sped to Hong Kong.

By the time the reported completed this article, James had already successfully arrived in Hong Kong. He is expected to be in Hong Kong for a short time for treatment and will return to England before too long.

According to airline personnel, the plane charter fee is approximately 300,000 RMB (20,000 GBP).

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hardest Post Ever...

It is very easy ranting on about various aspects of one's life but, as I've mentioned before, with a single blog that's read by family, friends, colleagues, people interested in China and people not interested in China, it's hard to work out where the line should be. I've contemplated splitting off into different blogs for different audiences and this is a perfect example of where an entirely anonymous blog where you can just scream into the aether would be lovely.

This last week has been incredibly tough on a wide variety of people who are colleagues, friends and family of JP. The sentiments of both Troubled Diva and Reluctant Nomad on this issue will give you a good idea what I'm talking about.

Our mutual friend, JP, was hit by a bus at 8pm on Tuesday outside my company's offices in Hangzhou. Since then those of us in China with JP have been going through the panic of being with him through tests, doctors conferences and staying with him 24 hours a day in intensive care. In many ways that was probably easier than the suffering of his close friends and family in the UK who will have first heard that JP had been knocked over by a bus and then been in an information vacuum waiting for the start of the next UK day to get more information.

Since then there have been highs and lows. The worry of tests, of potentially having to break bad news to loved ones and family, of being the closest thing to family he has on this side of the planet.

It was a relief for us when JP's partner, J, arrived so that at least he had some family here in China. It's hard to imagine what J was going through both with JP being incapacitated, but also in coming to China and having to deal with us.

Think about it for a second - JP had probably spent 6 months in China over the last 3 years and JP is such a fun, gregarious, friendly kind of chap that he has lots of friends here. Over the course of the first 12 hours this situation we'd organised shifts of people to spend time with JP, translate for the medical team and to communicate with the insurance company in the UK, doctors in Beijing and family back in the UK. For J to have to come into 'our' family, where he doesn't know anyone must be really rough. I can only hope we did our best to welcome him into our family at this time.

No sooner had J arrived that we got word of the doctors that work for the insurance company that they intended to airlift JP to Hong Kong to get a world-class standard of care. Of course, it's the right thing to do but a further worry for us that J was then being moved to a location where we weren't able to support him as we had been doing here. I was much relieved when D volunteered to go to Hong Kong to support him.

The last prognosis I had from a doctor was 'optimistic' so I can only hope and, from afar now, that JP proceeds with a speedy recovery. He hasn't had to have surgery which must be a good thing and I truly believe that he's now in the best place to help him recover.

I'm sure JP will be disappointed for missing the opportunity to share Hangzhou with J when he's feeling more like himself, but hopefully he will be amused by the factually challenged article from the local newspaper which doesn't exactly show him from his best side. At least he'll like the fact they say he's 29 years old...

Good luck with your recovery, JP. We're all thinking of you.