getting information out

October 7th, 2012

I found Matt’s take on Weibo’s place in Chinese civil society quite intriguing, but there’s one aspect he skips over, one way in which I’ve found Weibo really useful, and that is as a source of information from various government departments. No, seriously. No, really, stop laughing, it’s for real.

I follow a variety of Beijing government departments on Weibo, and although a lot of their posts are little feel-good stories, perhaps a kind of soft propaganda trying to create a tender, caring image of the various departments, many of their posts are useful and timely information that is actually really helpful. For example, @pinganbeijing (平安北京, official Weibo account of the Beijing Public Security Bureau (police, in other words)) has often posted reminders of upcoming rotations in Beijing’s traffic restrictions (next rotation starts tomorrow) or road closures or other temporary traffic management measures for big events like triathlons, marathons, or road cycling races with links to more detailed information. And over this Golden Week holiday period the Beijing Municipal Transport Commission has done a pretty good job of posting updates of traffic conditions on the expressways, warnings of accidents affecting traffic flows or queues forming at toll gates, and this morning even warnings of road closures and reopenings due to fog in Tianjin.

And it’s not just Weibo. Both the Transport Commission and the Beijing Municipal Traffic Management Bureau have frequently updated maps of traffic conditions, and Baidu Maps has a traffic conditions setting. Notice how I didn’t link to Baidu Maps? Well, despite the economic orthodoxy drilled into us for so many years now that private enterprise somehow magically does everything better than government just because it does, so shut up and obey, private enterprise magically good, government inherently evil, I’ve found the government maps actually more useful than Baidu’s. Baidu’s advantage is that you can zoom in to a very local level, while the two government maps only cover main thoroughfares. But at the start of the holiday we had to travel into The Place (and yes, I did shudder as I typed that) to collect some mooncakes (no, really, these ones are good – ice cream in a dark chocolate skin – off to pinch another one before I continue typing… ). I opened Baidu Maps, zoomed in to The Place, and groaned at all the roads highlighted in orange and red. Brilliant, holiday or not the traffic’s going to be as bad as always. But when we got there, there was hardly another car in sight. And of course, The Place opens at 10 am… So where did Baidu get its information from?! The Transport Commission’s map seems more accurate, so far, although I haven’t known about it for too long so I can’t be sure. But its big disadvantage is that it covers only the central city. The Traffic Management Bureau’s map, like the Transport Commission’s, only covers main thoroughfares, but it covers a much wider area – central city main roads, all the Ring Roads including the 6th, and expressways in some cases right out to the provincial border (although it only covers the G6 into Yanqing County and the two very limited sections of the G7 included are always grey, meaning it doesn’t yet have any information), and best of all, the information generally matches what I experience when I get out on the road.

But there, of course, lies a major problem. The information I check, whether on Weibo or the Transport Commission’s or Traffic Management Bureau’s websites is automatically out of date once I step out the door. I’m driving on a “last I heard” basis, and traffic is a very dynamic beast. There are the large electronic signs along the Ring Road and Expressway networks, but no matter how timely their updates they’re just as prone to the situation changing as I pass them as Weibo and the official websites. Sure, Weibo can be checked via cellphone, and the Transport Commission has apps for those with iPhones or Android phones (I have neither), but they’re no good unless I have a navigator to keep an eye on the phone or I’m irresponsible enough to use a phone while driving. No, I’m not that irresponsible, and I only sometimes have somebody capable of acting as navigator.

So, none of this is perfect, and it does nothing to fix the myriad other problems with governance in China, but it is nice to be able to step out the door with information up to date at that moment on traffic conditions I’m likely to face. Any information is better than no information, and more information is better than less information. This holiday I was able to plan our journeys to and from the village based on experience of the roads twixt here and there and logic (tourists will be heading out in the morning, back in the afternoon, so we’ll head out in the afternoon and back in the morning) backed up with near-real time monitoring of the road network in the days, hours and minutes leading up to each journey. Had an accident occurred on one of the roads I planned to take and reported by the Transport Commission on Weibo before I set out, I would have been able to plan a detour around the problem before setting out. I’m pretty confident in my navigational skills, but this extra information was a nice extra boost.

I’ve noticed a lot of government departments at provincial, municipal, and even district and county level have official Weibo accounts, with the ones I follow at least being quite proactive at getting information out and dealing with netizen enquiries. I’m not saying they’re perfect, and of course, Weibo provides a new platform for the old practices of ‘information management’, obfuscation, and worse just as much as it provides a platform for openness and transparency, but they’re there, proactive, and frequently useful. And Weibo now seems to be running ‘provincial theme days’ featuring a selection of official Weibo accounts from different provinces each day. They certainly involve a few steps sideways, perhaps even backwards, but there are areas in which they’re making definite steps forward, and that I am liking.

Yanqing Roaming

August 1st, 2012

July 21, the day of That Big Rain, the storm that wiped out Fangshan, we piled in the car and drove up to the National Convention Centre up by the Olympic Green. It was mostly a waste of time, this so-called toy exhibition. But we wandered around, had a look, got some lunch, then the mother in law, the Wee One, and I got back in the car, while lzh jumped on the subway. Our plan had been to go to this exhibition on the Saturday, then on the Sunday for Ma, the Wee One and myself to head out to Yanqing for the week. But lzh heard of heavy rain forecast for Sunday, so we decided that we’d head out on Saturday to try and beat the rain.

July 21 dawned grey and murky. Hardly dawned at all, the haze was so thick. When we got to the exhibition centre very light rain started to fall. We tried to leave just before lunch, but the rain had become much heavier and we’d had to park at the shopping centre next door because the Convention Centre carpark was full. So we got lunch. The rain lightened up, and I made a run for the car while the others walked down to a convenient corner where I could pick them up. Then the three of us set off for the peace, quiet, and comparative cool of our village, while lzh trundled home, alone, still having to go to work on Monday.

Being so close to where the 4th Ring meets the G6 was a bit annoying. Normally, I’d take the Jingcheng Expressway out to the North 6th Ring, thence across to the G6, as that lets me avoid all the traffic heading for the real estate scams along the G6 in northern Haidian and southern Changping, and traffic at the Qinghe tollgate is awful on a good day. But that didn’t make any sense from where we were, and the alternative routes would have traffic just as bad, but with traffic lights. So, bite the bullet I did and got us on the G6. Fortunately, the traffic does generally lighten up as you work your way northwards, but it takes time.

I guestimated visibility to be about 200 metres and turned the foglights on, and then got annoyed. Everybody southbound had their foglights on, but northbound there was only me, and a few with their hazard lights on. We got through the tollgate ok, but then it happened. The heavens were rent asunder, as if some celestial woolly mammoth had sucked all of Lake Baikal up into its trunk and sprayed it over Beijing. That was not much fun to drive in, and made worse by a certain few idiots who could not see any need to adapt their driving to the crap visibility and multitude of opportunities to go hydroplaning.

Ah, whatever, we got to the village ok, and the Wee One found it great fun watching the water go shwoosh! up all over the walls lining the village lanes that had been turned into torrents of muddy water. The father in law met us at the gate with umbrellas so we could get inside relatively unsoaked, we unloaded, we settled in, the rain stopped.

Later that evening I heard how bad the rain had gotten down in Beijing and especially Fangshan. It was a little surreal, because I’d just been driving for the better part of two hours through that storm, including along a narrow, windy old road across the mountains, but had seen nothing beyond the behaviour of other road users to give me cause for concern. Clearly the storm had gottten much worse as it made its way south.

So the Wee One spent her week out in the village much as 16-month olds do: Eating, playing, visiting friends, hanging out with the other toddlers who gather on the village square. I had given myself two missions:

  1. Get out and see some of these interesting-seeming places around Yanqing that after all these years I still haven’t gotten around to visiting. Stop being such a bloody recluse, in other words.
  2. Get some recordings for Phonemica.

Both were achieved, although I would’ve liked to get a few more recordings.

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March 14th, 2010

We bowled up to Terminal 3 with plenty of time, dressed in our best compromise clothing – got to get into the terminal before hypothermia sets in, through the airports and flight in reasonable comfort, then from the terminal to the best place to change without spontaneously combusting, not an easy compromise to draw. Personally, I prefer summer to winter flights. But we got to the terminal without freezing and with plenty of time. We got through all the formalities easily and to our gate with time to wander round being underwhelmed by what T3 had to offer in the way of duty free. But whatever. I have only three complaints about the flight:

  1. I got absolutely no sleep whatsoever. For that, I don’t blame Air New Zealand. I can’t. Somehow my brain went into hyperdrive for 13 straight hours.
  2. The air was getting pretty skanky towards the end of the flight. I still don’t blame Air New Zealand, as there are probably many technicalities of keeping a pressurised aircraft cabin intact at high altitude and affects of these technicalities on the possibilities for providing ample amounts of clean, fresh air that I’m not aware of, but it would be nice if fresher air could be brought onboard as well.
  3. The plane ran out of water. Still not blaming anybody, but you really gotta wonder when they get on the intercom and explain that nobody’s getting no tea or coffee with their breakfast as there’s no water left in the tanks.

Whatever, we made it to Auckland safe and sound. We touched down 15 minutes early, in fact. Stepping out of the skanky aircraft cabin air into humid Auckland air was expected. From that into the equally sticky, apparently unairconditioned air of the terminal building was not, and did not feel good. Whatever, we got through the formalities at that end without any hassle, out the other side and there were my parents waiting, standing, hurrying over to greet us. Then in the car and off to my uncle’s house where we could get ourselves cleaned up, get a change of clothes, a cup or ten of tea, and generally start feeling human again.

But there was a reason for us to stay in Auckland, and to have gone first to my uncle’s house, and that was my grandmother. She had been in poor and deteriorating health for some time. I hadn’t seen her for over ten years. About a week before our arrival she’d asked Mum when I’d be back. The plan had been for us to stay in Aucland and visit her before heading down to Hamilton, where my parents live. A few days before our arrival she’d had a massive stroke, and as we packed, then travelled, the family started to gather and prepare. But that’s a matter for another post I’m struggling to write.

I don’t really want to go into a travelogue. That’s been done. I do want to write about a few impressions, though. The first of them – at least, the first I want to write about – is the opposite of Arctosia’s. The thing is, I fully understand where he’s coming from, while I’m still trying to figure out my own reaction. I was struck by New Zealand’s prosperity. Not just prosperity, but possibility, too. I think that’s the first time I’ve felt that way about my own country, and I’m trying to understand why.

For example, I was surprised by Raglan. I had never been there before, and knew it only by its reputation as a surf beach. I was expecting only a few buildings – the requisite petrol station, pub, general store and maybe a church with a few houses and perhaps an area school, not much more. It’s much bigger than that, of course, but what I didn’t expect was an apparently quite thriving retail area full of boutiques, cafes, a few bars, and generally what you’d expect in a trendier part of Wellington or Auckland, but transported to the coast of the Waikato. Tirau was similar, in that the road was lined with some fancy stores selling lots of cool stuff and a few cafes and…. surprising prosperity for a tiny town not much wider than the highway that runs through it.

Oh, and  a giant corrugated iron sheep and a giant corrugated iron sheepdog. And a giant corrugated iron shepherd in the grounds of the church next door. In Tirau, that is.

Still, at half past four in the afternoon all the shops in Tirau shut, much to my wife’s disgust. How lazy! she said. How can they all shut?! If I had a shop here I’d stay open until much later in the evening! Then I pointed out how small the town is by pointing out just how far she’d have to walk up one of the sidestreets before she was in a paddock – not far at all.

Nationalism. For years my Mum has been sending me t-shirts with a New Zealand theme. Things like a map of New Zealand with the word ‘Home” next to it in big, bold letters. It’s almost as if she’s trying to tell me something. When we did get to Hamilton, she gave me more t-shirts of that nature. The day we left she gave me a hoodie with three colourful tikis on it. I think perhaps I sense a pattern developing here…. Anyway, so I’ve been aware for some time now that clothing with New Zealand patriotic/nationalist messages exists. What I wasn’t expecting to see so many blatant displays of national allegiance in New Zealand.

That first day there, in Auckland, had to be spent partly at the hospital with Grandma. But the situation meant that we were given time off, and Dad took us to do a couple of necessary things like change money (NEVER CHANGE MONEY AT AUCKLAND AIRPORT!), then we went across the Harbour Bridge and out to Devonport for a bit of a look-round. On the road (to get back to this nationalism thing) I couldn’t help but notice quite a few cars with a southern cross design, basically the same as the right-hand half of the New Zealand flag (four five-pointed red stars with white borders in the shape of the Southern Cross on a blue background – remember that and you’ll never confuse our flag with the Australian one again), to the left of their licence plates and a silver fern to the right.

Flags, too. I saw more New Zealand flags than I remember being used to seeing flying around. But with flags it gets a little more complex, especially when we were in Rotorua. I couldn’t help but notice more than a few Confederation of United Tribes and Tino Rangatiratanga flags flying, too – in one memorable case, a house in Rotorua had a torn-up United Tribes flag and a Tino Rangatiratanga flag flying from a flagpole in the yard and larger and more intact versions of both flags covering the front windows. Rotorua also sported graffiti along the lines of “Tangata whenua 4 eva”.

It seems I forgot to warn my wife what a maritime climate means: Summers are surprisingly cool. Overnight, when cloud covered the sun, when there was a breeze or rain, especially all of the above combined, she found it cold, and was even seen shivering. It seems lzh learnt the hard way that what I’d told her about the Pacific sun really is for real: As soon as the sun came out, she was complaining about the heat. I think the highest temperature we experienced in New Zealand was 27 degrees – in other words, daytimes were consistently a good 10 degrees cooler than midsummer Beijing.

My wife likes Hamilton. Actually, it is a nice enough town in its own right. My parents don’t like living there, because there’s nothing happening there (they say – I will refrain from commenting, having only ever visited, and never for the sake of visiting Hamilton). I can understand lzh’s point of view – it’s quiet, clean, green, full of trees, and generally pleasant. I’m sure that changes for the weekend of the V8s, but that’s one weekend. Mornings there were nice. I’d wake up, somehow instantly back on my summer schedule of absurdly early starts, brew a pot of coffee, and alternate between reading the paper and stepping out on the deck to observe the sunrise. Despite the fact I was awake at a time I have always felt should be illegal, I have to say it was quite a nice, almost civilised way to start the day.

She liked Taupo even better than Hamilton. The natural environment, the setting by the lake, she said. I can see why. I don’t have a bad memory of the place, and it’s natural setting goes a long way to explaining why.

She didn’t like Wellington. Dry and windy and densely packed. I think I saw for the first time just how tightly packed into the valleys and the few scraps of flat land central Wellington and the older suburbs are, and I think it was a combination of time away (seven years, as it happens) and lzh’s reaction as a first time visitor that opened my eyes to that. Windy, of course, and it is unfortunate that the few days we were there Wellington turned on its typical weather. For myself, it was just a little breezy, nothing unexpected or untoward. For lzh, it was windy. And yes, Wellington’s air is oddly dry.

That dry wind has been blamed for everything that’s been wrong with our skin since we left Wellington.

Books really are expensive. Still, I came back with 10 of them (and somehow our luggage wasn’t overweight): 2 were gifts, 9 were ‘New Zealand’ in some way, shape or form (history, poetry, fiction…). Necessities don’t seem to be quite so expensive. We needed shampoo. We were at a store in Tirau on our way home from Rotorua. lzh said, hey, this is only $5. I said, don’t buy it, it’s always more expensive in these small shops. She didn’t understand what I was on about, after all, it was cheap enough as it was. Next day in a real supermarket in Hamilton we got a bigger bottle of shampoo for even less.

We were in the souvenir shop at Rainbow Springs in Rotorua. The cashier rang up our purchases. She told me the price, but in Chinese…. I must’ve looked surprised and a bit confused. Oh, I’d heard you two speaking Chinese, she said. I hadn’t actually noticed the cashier before, being preoccupied with getting our already large pile of souvenirs onto the counter and stopping lzh from adding to the pile and getting her out of the shop and us on our way to lunch in time to catch the afternoon performance at Whakarewarewa, and the hour was growing late and I still hadn’t readjusted to being able to traverse twice the distance in half the time thanks to the very low population density. Turns out the cashier was from Guangdong – must’ve been a relatively recent immigrant, though, considering her Mandarin was slightly accented but basically flawless, most certainly not like that of a Hong Konger. We ate two lunches in Auckland. On both occasions, lzh ordered in Chinese. I noticed a Chinese-language (traditional characters) newspaper on sale in the Asian supermarket in Hamilton.

Chinese-language signs seemed to be about equally divided between Simplified and Traditional.

I was, however, surprised by how few Chinese, or East Asian people in general, were around. There must be plenty of them, especially if the Waikato now has its own Chinese-language media, but I guess they tend to hang out in areas other than the ones we visited.

lzh is still commenting on the distances that had to be travelled in order to do anything, even just buying a bottle of soy sauce or whatever the kitchen had suddenly run out of.

We were on the road to Rotorua, and my wife was glued to the car window, constantly commenting on how green everything was, how many sheep were in that field, how many cows over there, and so on. I spotted an odd-looking herd and said, hey, check out those animals. The look of mixed-up surprise, confused recognition, and a little shock was so priceless I should’ve had the camera ready. “就是那个草泥马吗?!” (Is that that grass mud horse?!) Yep, it was a herd of alpacas.

That’s about all for this long-overdue post. We’ve been back in Beijing two weeks now and the snow is falling thickly outside. Two weeks ago I was wandering around barefoot in a t-shirt.

back in beijing

March 1st, 2010

It was one of those slightly disconcerting descents when all you can see is solid grey murk outside. They’re not the worst approaches to airports, I don’t think. Approaching a coastal airport after dark from the ocean end is worse, when all you can see outside is pitch darkness right until you’ve crossed the airport perimeter is worse. Done that into both Wellington and Hong Kong before. Freaky. The worst solid grey murk approach I’ve had was into Hong Kong when the odd, fuzzy shapes in the grey turned out to be ships – the murk had reached the point where there was no visible difference between sky, sea and air.

But today, after some seriously disconcerting shapes of shadows in the murk, we popped out below the cloud – and I breathed a sigh of relief to see that we were not already below treetop height (that’s what the shadows looked like for a bit – tree tops). And there was Beijing spread out in all its glory – glory dimmed by the solid overcast, but the air reasonably decent for that late in an overcast afternoon, with good visibility right into the central city.

We landed on the runway east of T3. We were bound for T2, meaning we had to cross another runway. I hate it when they do that, land aircraft on runways that require them to cross other runways to get to their terminal. It doesn’t help that I find the taxi from runway to terminal the most frustrating part of a flight. After all those hours in squished into an aluminuim can breathing increasingly skanky recycled air, we’re on the ground again at last – can’t we just be there?! But childish impatience aside, we got off the plane quickly enough, and through customs in record time. Back in Beijing.

I don’t want to complain, because it is good to be back in our apartment, but having spent most of the last two weeks based in the Waikato with side trips to Auckland and Rotorua, and the remainder in Wellington, it is a bit of a shock to the system to get back to the greybrown of a wintry north China, especially with snow that started to fall exactly as I climbed in the taxi at the airport.

Emerald Isle? Ireland can’t’ve been that good if my ancestors packed up and left. Early mornings looking across the gently rolling, deep green of the Waikato as the sun rose golden over the other side of Hamilton were simply magic. Those Wellington mornings, when we were staying in old family friends’ bach (pronounced ‘batch’, meaning ‘holiday home’, traditionally built out of whatever was available, these days often pretty nice; also called a ‘crib’ south of the Waitaki River) in Waikanae, walking barefoot out the backdoor and straight on to the beach, Kapiti Island a few short kilometres offshore, the sun rising over the ranges behind, the ragged northern ends of the South Island more often than not lurking in the southwestern distance.

It felt good.

And there’s much more to write, but that’ll have to wait for now.

tiger year

February 13th, 2010

And so we’re preparing to celebrate the advent of the year of the tiger down here in Chaoyang District. It’s the first time my wife has spent the Chinese New Year away from home, the first time I’ve spent it in downtown Beijing since fireworks were allowed back within the Fifth Ring Road. We’ve hung our 福 characters and couplets and set off a role of firecrackers for that. lzh has most of the food ready waiting for friends to come and help her wrap jiaozi. Our supplies are ready for the evening, and friends promise more on the way. I have more firecrackers waiting for midnight.

And then we get up early tomorrow morning to head for the airport and catch our flight to Auckland. I’m guessing that between fireworks and the early start, we’ll be doing most of our sleeping on the plane.

Bad news from home means the first week of our trip is going to be rather more sombre than we were hoping. The timing could be worse, though, as this time round we get to be there without having to scramble around looking for last minute flights, seeing as we were planning on being there anyway. And it will be interesting to see how lzh copes with being surrounded by my mother’s rather large family. Grandma will be leaving behind seven children and…. I can’t remember how many grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. A lot, anyway. Still, it’s going to be far from a good start to the Tiger Year.

So we’re all packed up except for that last minute stuff. A taxi has been booked so we don’t have to take our chances. Tomorrow just short of midday our plane takes off, and 13 hours later we’ll be in Aotearoa – the first time in seven years for me, the first time ever for my wife.

Assuming anybody still reads this blog: Happy new year to you all!

fresh eyes

August 31st, 2009

Note: This was written on Saturday afternoon, but just before I hit ‘publish’, New Zealand fell off the internet again. This is the first chance I’ve had to get back on my blog since then. I have tried to change every ‘yesterday’ in the text to ‘Friday’, but I may have missed one or two.

It’s that time of year we’re welcoming new teachers, getting them settled in- well, starting to, at least- distributing workloads and timetables and textbooks. It’s not busy, but there are plenty of distractions.

One of our new teachers has just arrived from America. She timed her arrival very well: Late Thursday morning a norwester finally blew up and cleared out all the murk that had been suffocating Beijing for about a week, so that by late afternoon, when she finally got through customs and quarantine and all that nonsense, the sky was spectacularly clear. So clear that we could see clearly in to the CBD and as far as the Western Hills from the expressway leading out from Terminal 3. And just to emphasise the clarity of the air: We got an excellent taxi driver who took us no further west than the 5th Ring until we hit the Jingshen Expressway, which begins just on the southeastern corner of our campus. We could see an extremely long way, in other words. And it was a strange experience looking at the CCTV Tower, Guomao Tower 3, and the Kerry Centre- distinctive buildings, all- from so far away.

But perhaps a couple of points about our new teacher’s arrival bear repeating, as they may be useful for others planning to come to China:

Our new teacher came with a bank card and US$20 cash, expecting, rightly, I believe, to be able to withdraw money from her US bank account. No luck. I’m not sure what the problem is, whether its Chinese ATMs not taking foreign cards (which at least used to be a common enough problem) or not being set up to recognise a 4-digit PIN or that she did not warn her bank that she’d be travelling to China or some combination of the above. What was frustrating was that the ATM another colleague said did take foreign cards was out of money, while all the other ATMs with all the international stickers (VISA, Mastercard, Cirrus, whatnot) on them refused her card. Said colleague, however, had notified his bank he’d be in China.

Why is one’s presence in China so important? I don’t know. I never had any trouble using a New Zealand-issued VISA card anywhere around the world, although that was years and years ago. I could understand that with the rise of the internet and phishing schemes and online scams and all that that foreign banks would be wary about requests for money from their customers’ cards suddenly coming from China, especially given a) the sheer volume of malware coming from China and b) the sheer volume of overblown press reports about China.

Whatever the reason, I don’t think our new teacher was in any way wrong to assume her card would work here- it’s a globalised world, people travel, people need money when they travel, and you open bank accounts with an understanding that the bank’s services will be provided, so why shouldn’t she be able to withdraw money? The way I see it, at least one of the banks involved in Friday’s ATM malarkey is at fault. However, it may well be worth remembering, if you’re planning a trip to China. You may want to make sure you have enough cash or travellers cheques or other such old fashioned stuff on you to cover at least the first week of your time in China just in case plastic doesn’t get you money for whatever reason.

And then there’s still that H1N1 thing going around. Our new teacher put my cellphone number as an emergency contact number on the forms- whether entry card or quarantine declaration, I don’t know- which is fair enough, because that was the only Beijing phone number she had to hand, she didn’t actually know where I was going to take her (nor even who exactly would meet her at the airport) and she didn’t have her own cellphone. The result was that Friday afternoon I got two phonecalls from our local community health service asking if I’d just arrived from overseas. The first one took some figuring out, but after a few minutes of back-and-forth, during which I could not understand why they decided that I/she was a student, the person (doctor? nurse? admin staff?) on the other end spelt out my colleague’s name, and I explained that although I was not her, I knew her (and clearly you’re not familiar enough with English names to realise that the clearly male voice talking to you obviously does not belong to the name on the paper in front of you- no, I did not say that), and what’s up? Stay at home for 7 days, don’t go nowhere, and if you get any flu symptoms or fever, phone us, here’s our number, and she gives me a cellphone number. Alright. Too late, broken the quarantine several times already, and in any case, locking her up for seven days is highly impractical considering she’s stuck in temporary accomodation until we finally get the foreign students out of the foreign teacher housing they’ve been using over the summer while the foreign students’ dorm has been renovated, but whatever. Oh, and temporary accomodation that, being a room in a rather ordinary hotel, has no cooking facilities, and she will need to eat over the next seven days.

And then later that afternoon another phonecall, again assuming I was the person recently arrived, but I had the pattern figured out and spelt out our new teacher’s name and that was who they were looking for. Where was she staying? I told them. Ok, cool, we want to go check her body temperature. Alright. So I sent a message to a few colleagues suggesting they may try to warn her if they see her, but not expecting much, because she still didn’t have a cellphone and if she wasn’t in the hotel or with another colleague, she was uncontactable.

Anyways, so long as this H1N1 is floating around, if you’re planning a trip to China, expect to have the local community health service follow you up and encourage you to quarantine yourself for seven days and maybe even come and have a look at you and check your body temperature.

It feels a little rude putting my colleague’s experiences up here, and one can not extrapolate from the experiences of a single person, but I felt those two points about banks and H1N1 may be of some value to others planning to come to China in the not too distant future.


July 17th, 2009

After a thoroughly exhausting semester, what I really needed was a break. Not too long a break, but just some time out. My wife, who was feeling pretty much the same way, and myself have long harboured ambitions to visit Qingdao, legendary city-by-the-sea, home of China’s most famous beer, Olympic sailing venue, beaches, fresh seafood, city that everybody raves about. So we booked our tickets and a place to stay, and….

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and it’s good to be back

July 17th, 2009

We got back from Qingdao last night, arriving at Beijing South Station about 8:30ish. We found Qingdao underwhelming and disappointing and it’s good to be back in Beijing. It wasn’t all bad, but Qingdao certainly didn’t live up to its reputation. To be fair, we had bad luck with the weather. To continue being fair, we were shocked by the amount of litter on the beaches and the filth in the sea, and a hustler plying his trade along May 4th Square telling my mother in law to just throw her empty water bottle in the sea, it doesn’t matter, really didn’t help. I hope for Qingdao’s sake that hustler’s not a local, cos that kind of nonsense is a great way for a city to lose face. Still, there’s a lot of good stuff there, and it’s not a bad little city, just one that, based on our short four days there, certainly does not deserve the reputation it has.

Anyways, I kept a diary while I was there, and after some heavy editing, excerpting, excising and re-writing, I’ll be putting up a more detailed write-up or two of the trip soon.


July 11th, 2009

Finally got a chance to sleep in this morning, and it felt good. Especially because tomorrow we have an early morning flight to Qingdao, meaning we’ll need to get up at something like 4 am. Any time before 8 am should be illegal.

So Qingdao. Looking forward to it. We did try to go there a few years ago, but couldn’t get accomodation. When I was single, I wouldn’t have worried about that, I’d’ve just bought the train ticket, then hung around the station looking like a lost tourist until a hotel tout approached me. But I’m not entirely convinced lzh could handle that kind of travelling. So that time we wound up going to Dalian instead, and that was a great trip. Anyway, this time around we managed to book accomodation, so we’re finally going to Qingdao.

And we’re flying. lzh has never flown before. And her mother heard our plans to fly down to Qingdao and said, “I wanna fly on a plane, too!”, and so we’re taking her with us. I’m curious to see how they react to flying. Ma gets terribly carsick, especially when there’s aircon involved, so I’m a little concerned how she’ll react to a pressurised aircraft cabin. lzh used to get terribly carsick on aircon buses, too, but she’s figured out how to deal with that. I’m hoping her chewing gum carsickness cure works on aircraft, too.

We’ll be there for four days, coming back on the 16th, or so the plan goes. We still have to buy our tickets back. I think a train is a good option for that. Four days, enough time to sit by the seaside, visit China’s most famous (but second oldest) brewery, climb Laoshan, eat fresh seafood, and generally get a desperately needed break…. It’ll be good.

To Linfen

November 13th, 2008

These days Linfen/临汾 is more notorious for pollution and brick kiln slavery and the mudslides resulting from the illegal tailings dams at less legal mines collapsing and taking out entire villages than famous for the many justifiable reasons it should be famous. Hell, I’ve been testing my students all day, and not even the one who is from Linfen could tell me much good about the place. So I suppose it’s highly unlikely that anybody would write anything positive about the place, right?

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