Thursday, May 31, 2007

It's Happened Again!

It's Happened Again!, originally uploaded by Ambling Sheep.

No sooner has her granny gone back to England than the clippers come out again. Not a bad thing for the summer but unfortunately it makes poor little Francesca look like a little boy again...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Foreigner Police Registration Madness

I've just been informed of a new and exciting government regulation.

Apparently all foreigners, even long term residents with a residents permit and a work permit, will have to register with at their local police station within 24 hours of entering China having been abroad.

Every time.

During office hours.

I plan to go overseas 20 times this year. That will mean 20 half-days lost to mad bureaucracy. This seems crazy given the fact that the local police station won't ever know that I've been out of the country and the fact that the immigration bureau has computer records of all of this information that they could share.

I really, really hope this is just one mad policeman that thinks this as, we're told the fine for not doing so is 50 RMB per day that you're not registered.

Moving Soon

I'm finally moving to my new apartment at the weekend. As a recap, this is the apartment that I bought in 2004, received ownership in 2006 and have been fitting it out, slowly, since October last year. Yes, it's all the same apartment.

We've been through a number of tribulations.

1) The gas fitter would only connect up two parts of the three part hob, saying it would be dangerous. The kitchen company came back and connected up all three parts but now the top drawer underneath won't open.

2) The bath was beautifully installed and tiled round, but it was back-to-front so it all had to be ripped out again.

3) The installers were told to leave sufficient space to grout round the ceramic floor tiles (not standard Chinese practice). They were shown what to do and they wrote it into the contract. On visiting the apartment after the installation I was told 'You don't grout round floor tiles, so we did it like this'. Up they came and were put down properly.

4) They nicely tiled the balcony with black tiles then tiled round the edges with the cream tiles left over from the bathroom because they'd run out of the black ones.

5) They measured up my hifi units, speakers, speaker stands, plotted the floorplan on a chart and installed the (not cheap) speaker cable in the floor, returning 20 metres spare cable to me, before cementing over it and installing the real wood flooring. The wires are all 10cm too short to connect to the hifi.

6) The light switches are all randomly assigned and connected to a computer control system so the same switch does different things at different times for no apparent reason.

7) The electrically operated blind on my study window was installed 20cm too short. The proposed solution? Install a 20cm-wide blind in the gap.

I think I've only discovered one last biggy (I'm sure others will surface):

8) The oven doesn't work (yes, an oven, in China!). The reason is, apparently, that they installed a gas oven (even though I specified electric) and that there's no gas to connect it to (although there is an electric point). But... the fitters didn't tell anyone so it was left up to me trialling the appliances to discover it.

Don't be surprised if the apartment burns down (or the entire building) before too long!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

True Love

Chinese traditions and family pressures lead to all sorts of odd marital situations, people disappearing back to their home town to get married to someone they've never met (always distressing when it's my employees that are resigning because their parents have pressured them to come home...), but this article in Ananova is particularly weird.

Ah, it's that age old romantic tale:

Boy meets girl
Boy marries girl
Girl dies horrible death
Boys parents meet new girl and pressure boy to marry new girl
Boy agrees because new girl slightly resembles original girl
Boy asks new girl to undergo plastic surgery so that she fully resembles old girl
New girl bizarrely accedes to boy's request

And they all live happily ever after

It's not so much a match made in heaven as a match made in the Twilight Zone.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Maotai gets worse!

Unbelievably the evil fire-water beloved of politicians of all levels is under threat from pollution in its water source. The source of the pollution, 39 drinks factories that have 'appeared' upstream from the Maotai plant on the Chishui River in Guizhou province. Presumably many of those factories will have appeared on the tacit approval of local officals and celebrated with banquets and the odd glass of Maotai.

Accept for the moment that I'm not much of a spirit drinker and that Baijiu of any form is, in my mind, listed at the number 2 vilest alcoholic beverage (the Scotch Whisky Lagavulin making it to number 1 - tastes of peat? Apparently peat tastes pretty damned foul) but it's hard for me to imagine that anything could harm Maotai and make it less palatable.

I always assumed that Maotai drinkers survived largely because it killed any micro-organisms in the drinkers body, kind-of an antidote to the food served at some banquets, so whatever they're afraid of in the river water it must be pretty bad...

Mexican Excitement

At last! Apparently Hangzhou is now home to it's first ever Mexican restaurant. Also apparently owned and run by Mexicans.

441 Xixi road

Even better, it's open at lunchtimes and it's easy walking distance from the office!

A review will definitely be taking place shortly!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

To the UK and Back

A fleeting trip to the UK and I'm back already, filled of course with guilt at the coursework I've not been doing, daughter I've not seen, etc.

I've mentioned before that I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book 'Watching the English' by Kate Fox. Whilst I'm still fairly hopeless at social interactions, I now understand myself a lot more and that does give you an element of control, if you want it.

One conversation I had on the plane with a fellow brit went like this. I sat down at the bar (yes, OK, it was Virgin Atlantic's superb Upper Class service - once you've had your first Deep Vein Thrombosis you won't want to fly any other way) next to two guys who were clearly colleagues and were talking openly about their company, a certain car manufacturer. After a while, the guy furthest from me returned to his seat leaving me sitting next to the other guy.

As you might expect (if you're British) a period of silence ensued. Running through obvious topic lists (we're on a plane - there is no weather) drew a blank. Talking about the motor industry would appear rude as it would be obvious I'd been listening to their conversation - although the fact that we were the only three passengers at the bar which only seats three people would seem to make it fairly obvious that I couldn't have avoided hearing but, even so, it took the intervention of a member of cabin crew to open the door to conversation.

The interaction that followed was indeed to the letter of the book. He explained that he worked for "A car company" despite the fact that I already knew which one from the earlier conversation and, 20 minutes later when turbulence ended the conversation, the name of said company had only just been revealed to me. After 20 minutes of conversation, I knew his employer and he knew I lived in Hangzhou and worked in IT. I'm pretty sure that was it. As the book says, it is actually fairly common to assume that exchanging names is far too personal for a first conversation like this. I certainly wasn't ready for it.

No wonder Americans think Brits are standoffish and Brits think Americans are (I can't narrow it down to a single adjective). I've been in the States and in many a social setting been faced with this sort of interraction:

Stranger: Hi, I'm Bob!
Me: Er, hello

I don't know who the hell Bob is, and I certainly don't want someone like that stalking me so my natural reaction is to recoil and adopt a defensive position.

No wonder I find it so hard to give presentations. Simply standing up in front of people is like giving away part of your soul.

Friday, May 11, 2007


According to the Economist Shanghai is now home to China's fattest children. A recent survey revealed that of Shanghai’s 8m+ schoolchildren, 15% of the boys and 9.2% of the girls are obese. Both figures were about four percentage points higher than the national averages.

Presumably the combination of a rapidly increasing Fast Food Culture combined with Little Emperor Syndrome
is going to conspire to create a nation of incapable and unhealthy adults.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Yes, but Why?

Drat. It seemed so simple. Go back to the UK, meet up with family and friends and show them a few photos. And then, when we were looking at pictures of some Chinese buildings, the question.

"Just why do Chinese buildings have curved roofs?"

Seems simple doesn't it. Some research on the web confirms (!) that they do indeed have curved roofs (e.g. "The roof of a typical Chinese building is curved") but no-one seems fit to put forward a theory as to why that actually would be.

It's annoying because it's a simple question and apart from a vague attempt at "something to ward off evil spirits" I had to admit defeat.

Any ideas out there?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Phones on Planes

When will airlines face the facts that this stuff about mobile phones interfering with aircraft navigation systems is a load of old toot?

Think about it. On the average flight there is almost certainly someone who forgets to switch off their phone or Blackberry. On the average flight in China that number almost certainly increases as the number of people who follow the announced instructions is distinctly lower than elsewhere.

So, if we assume that every commercial flight that has, say, one active mobile phone on it and there are, let's guess, 100,000 flights per day worldwide (extrapolating from this article that says there are about 29,000 flights per day in the USA alone), and that we'll just focus on the time period since 2000 as mobile phones were commonplace and Blackberry's coming into regular usage. That would mean that 7*365*100,000 or 292,000,000 commercial flights.

To my knowledge, there have been no crashes attributed to mobile phone usage and 0 out of 292,000,000 would seem to imply a fairly low risk. Other opinions seem to be divided (here, here and here).

So, it looks like phones are pretty safe and they have transmitters built into them. This would seem to me to indicate that the insistence on making me stop using my iPod 20 minutes before we land (I've wiped it and resynced it so I have more music now) would seem to be completely unnecessary.