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)


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.


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!


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!


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!



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!


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!


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’!



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

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


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!


 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?


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


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

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).

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!

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 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.




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!




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!




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




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.




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




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!




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




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.




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

10 Surprises for an Englishman Buying a New ‘House’ in China


1. EVERYONE lives in apartment blocks but they still talk about their ‘house’ rather than their apartment or flat.


2. I’m very lucky to have a wife who does all the negotiating with the architect and builder, since I have no workable Chinese myself!

2015-06-13 11.25.49m

3. New property comes as a bare concrete shell which then needs significant work to convert it into a liveable house (re-configuring walls, electrics, plumbing, heating, lighting, air-conditioning, flooring, windows, decorating etc etc). 3 months estimated work and then there’s the furnishing!

2nd Bedroom IMG_5339

4. It is quite common to buy all new furnishings rather than transfer the old to the new house.

5. Building/furniture stores are huge and more like malls than individual big stores. Be prepared to wear out a couple of pairs of shoes before you’ve decided on what you want, AND be prepared to get lost – again and again. Interior layouts and signs leave much to be desired. Areas of the city seem to be dedicated to small shops supplying various aspects of the building industry. Smaller items can be significantly cheaper on the internet (via TaoBao).


6. Many Chinese enjoy ‘Victorian/Georgian’ elaborate styled furnishings known as ‘European style’.  Lighting shops are crammed full of chandeliers! We seem to be a little unusual in wanting modern styled things.


7. A whole wall is often dedicated to the large flatscreen TV in the living room. Much like the fireplace of old!


8. In southern China built in heating is unusual, particularly underfloor heating. However many brand new properties are having it installed. While summers are hot and need air-conditioning, winters still feel cold and seem ‘freezing’ without central heating. The reality is that winter temperatures are not that different from London’s.  Thick quilted PJ’s provide personalised insulation, and are very cosy too!

2015-07-13 17.39.58

9. Contractors seem to be able to work at incredibly short notice. In terms of home repairs, expect someone to be able to come over and fix things on the same day! Many in the building/construction industry appear to work 7 days a week and only take a few days off occasionally!

10. I’m terrified watching window installers, air conditioning engineers etc work at high levels without safety equipment. What about Health and Safety at Work? I’m also terrified by the colour coding used in Electrics. I can’t work out what the convention(s) are and whether anybody follows them!


10 Surprises for an Englishman on the Street in China

1. There are textured paving stones on the pavement to indicate the direction of the path and junctions with the road for those with sight difficulties. They’re also there on the Metro!
2015-03-24 21.26.09
Surprising as the city seems generally pretty unfriendly for disabled people. Very few ramps, no low-entry or wheelchair friendly buses, poor maintenance of footpaths, often the footpaths being blocked etc forcing pedestrians to walk in the road.

2. A Starbucks’ Cappuccino Grande will set you back at least 30rmb (£3.25). It must be the high wages that are being paid in China. NOT! And in the airport it’ll be more than double that!


3. The PA on the Shanghai Metro (and the new one in Changsha) is in both Chinese AND English (yay)!

2015-03-24 21.18.59

4. Stepping out of the Metro in Shanghai the first thing I saw was a Victorian church and other English styled buildings. Where am I?


5. ‘Mind the gap’ is there on the Shanghai Metro too. Not just on London’s Tube!

2015-03-24 19.23.18


6. Shanghai Metro tends to travel in straight lines instead of meandering all over the place as on London’s deep Tube lines, is smooth, and has ‘normal’ sized railway carriages unlike the ‘mini’ claustrophobic carriages on most of London’s Tube. It’s also got a huge network and is cheap (5rmb – 55p – from airport to city centre). The stations are large and the passages are wide. They need to be. There are 28 million in Shanghai!


7. The MagLev line to Pudong International Airport travels at 300km/hr. They’re also building one in Changsha to serve the airport, but it’s shorter and not so fast.



It’s not perfectly smooth but as good as most high speed trains.

8. You are quite likely to be run down by an electric bike (rather like a scooter) when walking on the path marked for pedestrians. Cars park on the section marked for bikes! For the same reason many pedestrians choose to walk in the road; it’s safer!


9. A traffic light controlled pedestrian crossing is a good place to get killed as a pedestrian when the light is green for walkers. Often you will have to cross one lane at a time and hope that there’s a break in traffic to get across the next lane. Likewise at intersections a green pedestrian light indicates that you are unlikely to be killed by cars coming straight across the junction, but will be killed by traffic turning right as they have permission ‘if it is safe to do so’.


10. Electric bikes appear to have a dispensation to ignore all traffic regulations especially the ones indicating the direction of flow! And on the highway, there don’t appear to be any rules governing lane behaviour for any vehicle. While traffic generally does not speed (as in the UK) it’s very difficult to predict what another motorist will do.