No Surprises for and Englishman Returning to China after 3 weeks in the UK

It was cooler in the UK!

Actually the very first day it was quite warm. Having landed at 06:05 we were in the Heathrow Terminal 3 car park at 06:45 (is this a record?) and it was hot! In some parts of London it reached 35C that day. On leaving 3 weeks later it was cold, around 17C. Such are British Summers!

Oh the flowers!

The British climate suits flower boxes and hanging baskets perfectly, together with the skill and care of those planting them. We miss going for walks looking in people’s front gardens and all the wonderful flower displays.

 

Friends and Family

So wonderful to see friends from the different walks of my life in the UK; from school, from the skating rink, from church. But so many in such a short time was a challenge for an introvert.

My family were so wonderful and hospitable to their ‘foreign’ brother! Giving me somewhere to stay; giving up their bedroom for me; picking me up from the railway station late every night; organising a wonderful family holiday in South Wales; meeting up with aunt and cousins!

And of course, the purpose of my visit: Miriam’s 95th birthday!

And for those that know me, I have a headless ancestor who ‘inherited’ the Bishop’s Palace in Lamphey which was very special to visit.

The sad part was meeting with so many friends to celebrate the life and passing of our dear friend and colleague Alan Kreider.

But the thanksgiving service date was adjusted so that I could attend! And I wasn’t the only long distance visitor. Anne Wilkinson-Hayes came all the was from Melbourne Australia, like me fitting in this reflection time into our holidays. And it gave me a chance to play the guitar and sing again with other former Wood Green Mennos. Precious. Who knows, probably the last time that will ever happen!

Sorry to be a grump, but the UK has the worst mobile phone network! I’ve got used to reliable 4G everywhere and there you were lucky to get any signal at all (especially if you were on the train) and only rarely 4G. And it’s only a small island, highly developed technological society! What happened? Someone pointed out that in world speed rankings the UK is placed only 27th behind Bulgaria and Greece! But take some comfort from the fact that we’re ahead of both Germany and the USA, but way behind Canada! I have wondered… if the networks had been in public ownership, all that money providing masts etc for 4 separate networks could have been spread out to provide universal coverage for everyone instead of duplicating each other and leaving huge blank spots everywhere. And if privatisation was still required then the infrastructure could have been rented out to the providers, in much the same way that GiffGaff piggy backs O2 and Virgin piggy backs EE, or Southern Trains piggy backs the rail network – oh but that’s another story!

One big highlight was visiting Bletchley Park. Highly recommended. But do some reading up before you go.

 

So, now back to being an expat in China.

 

“What, ‘expat’? You’re an immigrant”. Well actually the best I can do here is to get a 3 year residence permit. Permanent residence does not exist (at least for the likes of Tom, Dick or Will; you need to be a multi-millionaire or a major captain of industry to qualify for that, and I’ve NEVER heard of anyone getting it). So expat I am, despite intending to remain here for the rest of my days, it’s still up for scrutiny every 3 years.

 

Back to my pension being fixed with no annual increment; back to it’s value going down due to the exchange rate fall following the Brexit vote; back to hot summers and air-conditioning; back to  a new gymn with a nice swimming pool just 10 minutes walk away; back to delicious Changsha spices; back to my darling wife and our beautiful cats; back to VPN with fingers crossed; back to our beautiful home; back to KTV (Karaoke) with friends.

 

And now I’ve got over jet-lag (it’s taken me 10 days; it’s always worse flying East), I’m grateful.

 

Album: July 2017 in the UK

NB: many of the photos are links to albums in Flickr if you want to see more.

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10 Food Surprises for an Englishman in China

1. Most people drink milk contrary to common Western belief. OK cheese and butter are definitely hard to find, but yoghurt sales are definitely a growth area. Expect to see plenty of imports from Europe and New Zealand. It seems that many prefer to have foreign milk and are wary of some local suppliers.


2. If coffee is found in hotel rooms it’s instant with premixed dried milk and sugar; normally from that rogue company known for selling formula milk powder for babies to people who can’t afford it and who don’t have a clean water supply!

3. There is a huge variety of green vegs that you’ve never seen before!

4. OK we know that there are many unexpected meat dishes in China but you won’t be served them everyday! Relax! And there’s a ton of really delicious cuts from ‘normal’ sources. Pig’s trotters may sound off-putting but really they’re very delicious, as are crispy chicken feet!

5. Fresh water crayfish are very common but have very tough skins and contain far less meat than shrimp/prawns. But in Changsha they’re cooked with chilli and garlic and are so delicious. And often seafood can be picked out live at your favourite restaurant.

6. I’m still struggling to open sunflower seeds after nearly 3 years of training! I’m sure I expend more energy getting the things out than I get back from the contents! While we’re on the subject of nuts you’ll need to learn to pick up peanuts one at a time with chopsticks (less than one year)!

OK, too much information, I know!

7. Lotus Flower roots are delicious. Tasty and crunchy even when cooked.

8. Spicy lamb kebabs from street vendors are v tasty. Often these street vendors may be Muslim.

9. So far I much prefer the spicy food in Hunan than dishes found in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangdong, and especially love my wife’s freshwater fish done with chilli and ginger.

10. In the shops/markets expect customers to be handling/choosing raw meat with their bare hands.

Image: use your imagination!

OK, I lied. There are more than 10! Another surprise – I love my food!

11. Baozi 包子(steamed white rolls stuffed with meat) Delicious. The price and taste vary from one outlet to another. The length of the queue outside is a good rule of thumb!

12. Chou DoFu 臭豆腐 (stinky tofu). It’s not really stinky at all but comes dripping in a thin spicy sauce.  I’m just drooling at the thought (but it’s not everyone’s favourite)! I have a choice outlet near to us but I’ve been told the best in Changsha are just outside the IDMall in the centre of town (incidentally, where the ice skating rink is) but I haven’t had an opportunity to try theirs yet. There’s also reputed to be the best hamburger joint there too. While on the subject of tofu, you’ve NEVER seen so many varieties available under one roof. Back in England you’d be lucky to find a single type at your local deli.

13. Jiaozi 饺子 (Chinese dumplings). You’ll find that there are lots of varieties from meat to mushroom. You need to find your favourite café; they vary quite a bit. One of my favourite places you can get 20 (enough for a full meal) for £1.20. I’m still waiting for a Chinese take away in Glasgow to come up with Haggis dumplings! Yum.

14. The Chinese don’t like sweet things, right? OK, then why are there huge sweet sections in every supermarket in addition to the chocolate shelves by the cash till?
Well… they might not eat deserts at the end of a meal – but occasionally will have slices of water melon. In fact if you eat at someone’s home you’ll more than likely have fruit (and those dreaded nuts already mentioned) BEFORE the meal. But at other secret times they’ll be eating those sweet things – and I can tell you some of them are SOOOO sweet; much more than a westerner might be familiar with!

And they are quite partial to sponge cake! In all shapes and sizes. We have a small local bakery that does some superb ones and one of the people servicing speaks remarkably good English – pretty unusual in Changsha. And for birthdays they’ll come up with a sponge gateaux and cream; loads of cream; death by cream!

10 Surprises for an Englishman in China behind the wheel

Well, not quite! I haven’t actually taken my written driving test yet, but it is imminent and these are my observations (and fears)! (Edit: test passed 2016:08:04)

steering-wheels

1. When driving expect to make plenty of U-turns. It’s not unusual to find a lane for doing Ueys at a junction. Sometimes the U-turn lane is toward the right-hand side of the roadway, even though making a U-turn requires turning left! Don’t worry, there will be a particular phase of the traffic lights when only U-turns can be made.

Lanes

2. It’s fine to weave between lanes especially if you’re a taxi or a bus driver. (OK it’s not good practice but it’s what happens).

KnitOnePearlOneKnit one, pearl one. Spot the difference!

3. Nearly everyone drives within the speed limit; life has enough anxiety without adding speed to it. In residential areas, blocks are served by narrow service roads with controlled entry/exit. Speed limit – dead slow! It’s safe for pedestrians, children and dogs! On most city roads the speed limit is 50 km/hr or about 30 mph and the main streets are multi-lane. And on the bigger roads and expressways, expect to see minimum speed limits!

SpeedLimitThe minimum speed limit in this lane is 90 km/hr
(110 in the far left lane)

4. Watch out for traffic lights; they’re on the far side of the road junction and none on your side! To the un-initiated it can seem difficult to know where to stop at a red light. There is usually a crosswalk (OK, Zebra Crossing to you and me and just a place where pedestrians expect to get killed – well that’s what it feels like anyway. Pedestrians do have right of way but drivers only ‘just’ give way! It’s not like the UK when drivers are not allowed to cross a Zebra Crossing if a pedestrian is on it, even on the far side) before the junction and the stop line is just before it even if it’s invisible! And keep an eye on the traffic light for your particular lane; it may well be different from other lanes! Sometimes the left turning lane is BETWEEN straight ahead lanes if traffic has recently merged from an elevated roadway!

TrafficLights

5. Police hand signals at intersections are COMPLETELY different from the UK. You just need to learn them, AND generally they apply to the traffic that the police officer is looking at!

TurnRight

Here he’s directing traffic (not you) to turn right.

 

6. You need to be very aware of pedestrians on the highway AND electric bikes going any direction (often against the traffic) and riding without lights at night. Pedestrians often walk in the roadway because the footpath is blocked by trees, street furniture and electric bikes. You HAVE to give way to them!

WalkingOnRoad

 


7. When an electric bicycle /scooter beeps his horn it’s often NOT to warm you to get out of the way but to invite you to use him as an unofficial taxi – if you dare!

ElectricBike

8. Don’t be surprised by the number of people holding up their mobile phones to their ears while driving! Even bus drivers! Always best to allow for such things! Illegal? Of course!

MobilePhone

9. There’s a lot of honking going on in China. Even the written driving test recommends using the horn (or flashing lights) as well as indicators when overtaking. In mountainous areas expect to see this sign at a sharp bend, which means ‘honk’!

 HonkCurve

 

10. There’s a huge discontinuity between the standard of driving recommended by the written driving test and what people actually do (Isn’t there always? It’s no different in China). Perhaps it’s down to the low frequency of prosecutions for driving offenses? The written test very much recommends defensive driving and taking the initiative to give way. The reality is that many seem to drive in a very aggressive fashion, often ‘barging in’ in front of you and expecting you to give way. (Please note that indicators are a state secret)!

IMG_3764Our new motor. We don’t want to get it scratched!

The following is a useful guide to driving in China
http://wikitravel.org/en/Driving_in_China#The_Mindset_of_a_Chinese_driver

Could YOU drive in China? Here’s a video from YouTube to give you a taster! (NB You only need watch the first minute to get a flavour of things!)

Surprises for an Englishman in China looking back over recent British politics

 NotBritish

This is MY blog so I’m going to have a rant!

Ever been so angry you’re spitting blood?

Well that’s precisely how I feel at the moment after the most gigantic constitutional cock-up in modern times in the UK.

I’m angry at almost every section of the community I can think of.

Angry at Cameron for playing poker with the constitution in order to ‘bring into line’ his right wing UKIP leaners.

Angry with Labour for not making sure that the terms of the referendum were adequate. If a golf club wants to allow women members it has to have a 2/3 majority in favour before it can go ahead. Isn’t it at least reasonable that 60% should have been originally required before a major change in the constitution could be made?

Angry with the Brexit leaders who conveniently went back on all their promises within a few hours of the result being announced. And angry that the yellowbellies promptly resigned and refused to face up to the consequences of their actions.

Angry with Labour for being so pre-occupied with their own internal politics that they forgot to slam the Tories.

Angry with so many Leavers that they appeared to ignore the facts and the experts in favour of a ‘myth’ perpetuated by the right-wing red-tops over the last 20 or 30 years.

Angry at the disgusting racism and xenophobia that have been exhibited following the Brexit result.

Angry that this Brexit result has probably put an end to the UK as we know it. I’m sure Scotland will push ever harder now for independence. And the North of Ireland?

Angry that the people least affected by immigration (the biggest argument for Brexit) were most pro-Brexit and vice-versa. My old area of north London has a huge and divergent community of immigrants (Turkish, Greek, Polish, West Indian etc etc) and it voted 75% to Remain.

Angry with the young who failed to turn out in the numbers that could have made a difference.

Angry with the old for being so insular (and I note that there were several ‘vets’ from WWII who were vociferous Remainers).

Angry with hypocritical business people (like James Dyson who was very happy to take EU money for development but then went and moved his factory to Malaysia at the expense of British jobs AND called for Brexit)!

Angry that the Brexit result has caused major financial upheavals right across the globe.

Angry with the government who set up an ‘advisory’ referendum but then refuses to allow the House of Commons to vote and choose the legal course of action.

And personally angry that the dive in the exchange rates has caused a huge drop in my pension. Who knows what will happen to my pension ‘pot’ with the huge slump in the stock market.

And a few things to be happier about?

Happy that people who have come to the defence of the victims of racism; those that contributed £1,000’s to enable a fire-bombed bakery to get back on it’s feet; those who have stood up to the numbsculls who verbally abuse minorities on public transport.

Happy that Sadiq Khan and Mervin Rees (mayors of London and Bristol) who have come out and given statesman-like callings for the different communities to pull together and to care for each other (but why haven’t the party leaders been doing this? – OK Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland has been doing a fine job).

Happy that a Brexiter foresaw a small majority result and set up a petition calling for a 60% majority requirement for a second referendum. I know he’s not happy since he never thought Brexit would win and that Remainers would be signing his petition. But his concept was correct.

Happy for personal life: my wife; my cats; my friends; my home; my health; that I’m not homeless, on the street or suffering from addictions.

And I have one more prayer

The USA, are you listening? The British have been extremely stupid over the last couple of months. Can you learn something from us? PLEASE come to your senses and reject Trump. [Edit 2016-11-11. America! What have you done?]

10 Surprises for an Englishman in China: Delightful Signs Album

This gallery contains 10 photos.

“Happy is the tender grass when here your feet do not trespass!” Wild Goose Pagoda, Xi’an A great sign for those with artificial hips! Saving your mobile phone allowance “Green grassland nourishes my heart”   “A small step forward, a big step for civilisation!” Guess where! Wisdom “Don’t climb up becauful”… of the spelling police???

10 Surprises for an Englishman in China visiting Europe

  1. Courtesy (for example, saying ‘hello’ to the bus driver – AND getting a reply!) varies from city to city, country to country. Bristol seems to have the friendliest bus drivers! In China a young person will always offer his/her seat on the bus to an elderly person. In the UK, the elderly are invisible to young people!

    ElderlyInvisible

 2. You don’t have to go to New England to get a glorious autumn display


IMG_6302(Westonbirt Arboretum) Autumn in the UK: https://www.flickr.com/gp/willnewcomb/2w2C4v)

 3. The ‘shock’ of using a knife and a fork everyday and not seeing kuaizi (chopsticks) for a whole 3 months!


IMG_0835A delicious meal at the exceedingly friendly highest pub in England (Tan Hill Inn) http://tanhillinn.com/

4. Italy has the best ice-cream (we indulged ourselves with a gelato at least once a day in Rome), so how come Italians in the UK don’t make decent ice-cream?


IMG_1120

 5. Weatherspoons did a decent haggis, tatties and neeps in the week leading up to Burns night.


IMG_1678

6. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was a big disappointment! I was hoping for a better selection of Rembrandt’s. Hardly any of his etchings, mainly held in the Rembrandt house; I’ll head there next time. Loved the Frans Hals works


Frans_Hals_002_OBNP2009-Y02946
Amsterdam: https://www.flickr.com/gp/willnewcomb/09ib56

7. Surprised by the early works of Van Gogh and Picasso. Gave me a new appreciation of the depth of their abilities.


HeadOfFisherman1883Head of Fisherman with a Sou’-wester 1883, VVG Van Gogh Museum http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en

8. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona was the most moving church building I’ve ever visited. The storytelling of the scriptures in the sculptures were large enough to read (unlike most stained glass in British cathedrals). I was on the verge of tears by the end of our tour. I hope I’m alive and mobile enough to visit it again when it’s completed (mainly the exterior).


IMG_1352
Barcelona: https://www.flickr.com/gp/willnewcomb/vg7Y9c

9. The discount Roma Card wasn’t really worth it! Still had to pay separately for a tour (and entrance) of the Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St Peters. Hardly used the buses. and only wanted the Forum and Capitoline museum entries. Could have saved some for extra gelato, while other things like the Trevi Fountain are free!


IMG_0968
Rome: https://www.flickr.com/gp/willnewcomb/2Zg7YP

10. Visiting the Anne Frank house was probably the most moving event of the 3 month visit. So many lessons to learn for today about refugees fleeing for their lives.


anne-frank
Anne Frank Museum http://www.annefrank.org/en/Museum/

10 ‘Misc’ Surprises for an Englishman in China

1. At the theatre or a concert you might find that you are the only one applauding. Everyone else has rushed out the door before the final curtain call. And while we’re about it, no-one watches the credits at the end of a movie. In fact it’s usually stopped before the last credit because everyone has gone home.

 

divorcee-movie-end-title-still-1

 

2. Thinking of mailing something to/from China using Air Mail? Don’t bother. The chances are it’ll never arrive, and if it does it’ll take at least 6 weeks. Courier mail works but allow 5 days – the same as bank transfers! To send ‘snail-mail’ to the UK try an electronic printing/mailing service. Email a pdf to it and it’ll be printed and delivered by 1st class mail. Quite reasonable price!

 

Docmail

 

3. Chinese dogs happily trot along the residential service roads unaccompanied and seem to be very relaxed and happy animals. I’ve yet to come across an ‘up-tight’ aggressive dog! Chinese love poodles!

 

 article-2085465-0F6C1BB400000578-48_468x312

 

4. Almost everyone uses WeiXin/WeChat app for txt/images/videos. Sort of like WhatsApp, but better!

 

WeChat-v5-update

 

5. Everyone goes for ‘a short walk’ in the evening (often accompanied by their dog) and you’ll find the parks FULL at night time. There also appear to be ‘dog meet-up locations’ where fellow owners can chat about their ‘pooches’ and the pooches can enjoy sniffing somewhere else!!! And you’ll also come across many groups doing Chinese square dancing in any open space around 8 p.m.

 

 jjim_white_in_china_786294c(OK this was not the sort of ‘short walk’ I was meaning to convey!)

 

6. Often big stores are open late in the evening. Not so many shops close at 5 or 6 p.m.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 7. The Metro/Underground has airport style security at every station. Bag and body scanners are standard.

 

24005118nkx2

 

8. In summer when it’s hot, quite a lot of men on the street roll their shirts up to expose their tummies. Not good!

 

chinese-men-crop-top-bare-bellies

 

9. QR codes are EVERYWHERE, even stitched into the fabric on the backs of theatre seats.

 

IMG_9733

 

10. There are no local GPs in China. If you want medical attention you go to hospital. You don’t need to make an appointment, you just turn up and take your turn. A fully annual health check (something unheard of in the UK) will cost about £50. Very thorough.

 

1210_china_healthcare_970-630x420

 

(Several images in this blog are not my own but came from Google searches)