Tag Archives: Beijing

Talking of Hotpot…

The Beijing (and Chinese) property market is bubbling wildly. It’s hard to see anything other than some kind of calamitous cooking disaster. We have been looking at places and were thinking of buying (we’re talking a cupboard here, 40 – 60m2). But we’ve been scared off. Prices have nearly doubled in two years. When I arrived in November last year, there was a new block across the road in Tongzhou (10 miles out from the centre) with prices at 13 – 15000Y per m2 (about £1200 – £1400). Now it’s at 26000Y, four months later. When you consider a middle income salary here is around 3000 – 5000Y per month, it seems unsustainable. There is also a lot of speculation – a lot of these new flats remain empty, with people never moving in, or even decorating (sometimes you buy a new flat, you get a shell – you have to put in all the fittings, tiling, secondary plumbing, floors yourself). They just sell the empty, unused flats on later when the price has gone up. Mostly done on credit. The rent to value ratio is incredibly low, you can’t make anywhere near your mortgage payments back by renting out. Its all driven by the rising market, profit potential and credit, plus the fear, if not mass panic,  that if you wait too long, house prices will run away and it will be too late. Its a frenzy!

The government grow ever richer from the sale of land, while peasants are bought off to clear out so their houses can be knocked down. Developers bypass rules to build quickly. Cities expand. Maximum lease time is 70 years.

Its got to end in tears.

But then they said that about London ten years ago.

The government has recently brought in measures to reign in the property market…. slightly. If there’s no crash, then Beijing and Shanghai will end up the most expensive places on Earth, for sure.

We are going to save our money, not buy.

Renting is a pain though.

(Click on the article to see it bigger)

China Daily, 25th March 2010

And if anyone can read Chinese, here is a funny poem about property prices:
沁园春《房》
——毛有房
神州大地,
万人蜗居,亿人盼房。
望北京上海,高楼大厦。
售楼中心,房奴滔滔。
祖孙三代,倾尽所有,欲与房价试比高。
须钞票,
清储蓄贷款,分外心焦。
楼价如此虚高,
逼无数白领竞折腰。
昔秦皇汉武,闻所未闻;
唐宗宋祖,紧捏钱包。
一代天骄,成吉思汗,只好蜗居蒙古包。
俱往矣,
数天价楼盘,还看今朝…….

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Spoiling It For The Locals

UNLIMITED DRAFT BEER ON TAP. Imagine your local eat-all-you-like buffet announcing such a thing on the menu. How the queues would stretch down the high street. In the UK, the very existence of such a place would be a scientific impossibility, a rip in the fabric of the time-space continuum. The beer would be gone in literally minutes.
Tucked underground at Xidan (Sheedan), Beijing’s popular shopping area, is a vast restaurant space with room for at least a couple of hundred people, sitting at long tables, and surrounded on all four sides by piles of really good food and the aforementioned (not bad) lager on tap. It’s like being in some sort of Roald Dahl book. Or the Yellow Submarine. Or that scene from Magical Mystery Tour, where the aunty is fed buckets of spaghetti (if you made it that far through the movie).
Anyway….you pay your 40 kwai (slang for Yuan)  – about £4 – and sit down. Your get an individual hotpot (traditionally you share one in the middle of the table). Then you go get your raw vegetables, tofu, meat, seafood (all fresh) and several beers. Hotpot is a Northern Chinese / Mongolian thing, a continuously cooking pot of soup, flavoured in various ways. You put your vegetables , tofu and meat in bit by bit, and eat it as it cooks, dipping it in a peanut, garlic and coriander sauce. It’s very sociable, you can’t scoff your food quickly and bugger off. Bloody hell, it’s good. By the time you’ve eaten, you’re hungry again, a sure sign that you have indeed entered a new dimension. It feels like you could sit there eating forever, enjoying the surroundings of this strange new universe, with the occasional visit to the loo.

Hang on.. I think I might have talked about hotpot already……

There is a drinking culture here, but it’s nothing like back home. There are very few pubs and bars, they are all concentrated in one or two nightlife areas. No one makes a point of attending these buffet restaurants with the sole intent of guzzling the bar. Maybe I’m pointing out the obvious (again). You just couldn’t run this kind of thing in England.

Anyway, me and a bunch of (mostly Western) friends are going to go there quite soon. I hope our behaviour doesn’t make them change their ‘unlimited beer’ policy. Maybe they’ll just ban foreigners instead.

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Ominous Front Page Headline From Metro Beijing:

Metro Beijing, China Daily, April 13th

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Three cuttings from one edition of the China Daily (English Language edition).

Bizarre front page corner picture – No backup story, no explanation as to why:

China Daily, 24th March 2010

Can you imagine the uproar if……………………..

China Daily, 24th March 2010

And in a country where most people earn £100 – 200 a month or less, this astounding interview on page two is brazenly rubbing people’s noses in it.

China Daily, 24th March 2010

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Bikes, Trikes and Progress

Commuters

Welcome to China, where not wearing seat-belts, smoking in restaurants and overcrowded gigs, and cycling (sometimes motorbiking) without lights or helmets is essential behaviour. How recently were these things the norm in the UK (OK maybe not the bike lights), and how quickly we got used to the changes. These are just a few nit-picking negatives of daily life here; there are positives to go with them. Modernisation (read Westernisation) is not always good – sorry to state the obvious. In this country where food is so diverse, healthy, creative and culturally important, it’s awful to see increasing numbers of McDonalds and KFCs, and the spotty faces peering out from within.
Anyway, slight digression….  I’ve gone on about this loads already – how I often get this deja-vu feeling of Britain maybe 20 or 30 years ago – good and bad aspects. Everything is slightly less regulated, anarchic and real, meaning life and one’s senses often feel more colourful and enhanced, less sterilised. It’s more risky but more exciting in other words. In a lot of situations, society here balances on a common sense of….common sense. It generally works. Public arguing is rare, despite the overcrowded roads, pavements, buses and underground. People get on with it and each other. Despite China’s ‘big government’, regulations and small laws are maybe less to the fore in people’s minds, and less affecting on a small-scale basis, with reason and logic driving a lot of daily life. I know what I’m trying to say….

The other thing to understand is the incredible pace of change  – it’s impossible for any country to move things forward (or backwards?) completely in one generation. But that is what is being attempted. The obvious (and maybe easy) things are long established – urban development, transport,  skyscrapers, the internet, mobiles etc etc etc. What takes longer is changing the way things work, people’s every-day habits and daily lives. Spitting! A refined skill, nay, an art form I will blog about another time.

Whatever your opinion, it is impressive how the government(s – there area in fact lots of governments here) – is managing to walk the fine line between pushing modernity (again, whatever that means) too quickly, and allowing people to continue in some form of structured life that they’re used to, with little of the machinations that we get in the west when new thinking aimed at moving things on a bit, is put forward. China is bringing in social and economic change over a period of 20 or so years that took us nearer to 200. Obviously they have hindsight, and our mistakes to learn from, but that doesn’t make it a doddle.

The famous Silk Street (multi level market selling cheap fake fashion and electronics goods to tourists) has had it’s warnings; now it looks like it might be closed down. Copyright and trading laws are fast being adapted and adopted. Health and safety laws are similarly expanding rapidly. Local corruption is starting to be acknowledged and tackled…. its a big problem.

The great smoking ban, I keep being assured, will never happen here. But I was told that by a Frenchman a few years ago. It will come I am sure, and with little complaint in the end.

Lately in the media, there have been a lot of nice stories about personal environmental awareness and good eco-practise. This is no coincidence. This is an agenda, and it probably means changes and rules are a coming (maybe as a result of a few promises made at Copenhagen). As I said in an early blog, Chinese people are very energy efficient and thrifty already, with a lot of re-use and recycling going on. But this is out of necessity, rather than a fear of global warming. Now, there does seem to be some form of ‘educational’ campaign starting to get underway.

All this rapid change of course creates sharp juxtapositions. So while you have the office blocks, neon, and giant video screens, you have weather beaten guys cycling past with their wooden tricycles carrying goods or people; or horribly disfigured beggars on the underground. Or the millions of ‘migrant’ workers clambering off trains, with their belongings in cloth sacks over their shoulders.

And despite the huge number of cyclists, tricyclists, motorcyclists, motor tricyclists, (often driving the wrong way down the road or on the pavement), the huge numbers of pedestrians, the insane car driving, and despite the provision of luxuriously wide cycle roads (not just lanes) beside all major roads, I still have not seen one lit bike light, or cyclist wearing a helmet. This month, I’m buying a bike. I may need someone to ship me over a helmet and some lights if I cant find any.

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Stamp Collecting

March – I caught a sleeper train to Changchun. I was in a room with 5 big fat Chinese men, one of whom snored like crazy. He was in the bunk above me, and The Great Worrier thought it would collapse, he was so fat.
Got to Changchun, and remembered how cold it was. Warmer than January, but still around minus 12. Met the fiance who had gone ahead of me a few days before, and we went to the registry office, expecting to complete everything that day. China is drowning in official paperwork and red stamps. Turns out the red stamp on her “Hukou” (family book that lists your parents, siblings, and crucially what province you ‘belong’ to) was not clear enough. This meant a two hour taxi ride along the bumpy skiddy snowy roads to her home town, to get the bloody thing re-stamped. Her father had to leave his work to come and do that. Then we had a surprise family lunch, and then got the same taxi back to Changchun. Her Dad gave us a small vase that he says is Qing Dynasty (around 300 years old).  All papers in order, we arrived at the office at 3.45pm, to find that they would be closing at 4. We were able to start the process, signing this and that, going from this floor to this floor, and paying some money (28 quid) to the cashier on the 15th floor…. Then we had to go and get a hotel, half the papers done, instead of going back to Beijing. It was a very nice hotel with a big picture of Keith Richards, gypsy pose, blowing smoke into the camera in the lobby (Not seen a picture of him for a while, i wonder how old he looks now, he must be pushing 70?) We stayed in and watched The Manchurian Candidate on cable TV.

The next day we went back first thing, and signed the rest of the papers. There was a room where we had a photo taken, with a nice bunch of flowers. No we didn’t want the deluxe gilded photo album for 500Y thankyou. An old Japanese American was ‘re marrying’ his Chinese Wife, after 30 years of marraige. They had had to divorce, as their American wedding didnt count in China or Japan apparently, and get married again, as they were off to settle in Japan.
Still there were further delays for us. I don’t think I’ve signed my name so many times. They then go off and make a red marraige book for us, with tonnes of stamps in it, like a passport. They like books here. More stamps.
We needed a certified English translation of the document, and were feeling like we wanted more red stamps for our collection. We were asked which “kind” we needed. No idea. We went for the cheapest. That was going to take a further three hours, plus a lunch break for the officer.

Off we went to find the Pizza Hut I had seen by the train station. Excellent pizza. We sat there for over two hours. They had free top ups of fresh coffee.
Buzzed up on caffeine, we went back to get our translation. All done, March 17th, St Patrick’s Day I believe.
Went and got the train tickets (20 minute queue outside, icicle on my nose), 6 hour ride back to Beijing (wife feeling very ill, too much cheese, coffee and cake), argued with a taxi driver at Beijing who wanted to rip us off, made it back to our block 2 minutes before midnight, when the lift man signs off and you have to walk up 18 flights of stairs.

It feels good to be married!

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Dumplings, Shock and Awe, and Jimmy Tarbuck

Chinese New Year

We moved into our new flat in Fuxingmen in February. It’s pronounced Fooshingmun, and ‘men’ means gate, or door.  Metro Line 2 is like London’s circle line, and nearly all of its stops end in ‘men’. Next stop is Fuchengmen. Viz readers should live around line 2. These ‘men’ are the old gates to the city. In the middle you have Tiananmen, which roughly translates as Gate of Heavenly Peacemaking, although its a slightly different meaning to the literal gates around the Viz line. Of course Beijing has grown far beyond this old border now, but the road layout and place names still show the history.

Our new home is on the 18th floor, and we were just in time: Chinese New Year arrived, with shock and awe resembling Baghdad ’03. I’d been here the year before for New Year, and I knew how much the Chinese like to let off fireworks. But I was low down in the Hutongs then – this time I had a great view across the city. The fireworks lasted for two days without a single letup, and then on and off for the rest of the week. The night time sky was orange, and the noise was incredible. Some were going off nightly and daily (why???) right outside our window. The Great Worrier thought the glass was going to give in at any moment.

Chinese Dumplings

Traditional new year food is Chinese Dumplings. Along with Hot-Pot (too good, needs a book written about it) these really should make an appearance in the UK, and kill the image of Chinese food as nothing but greasy noodles, egg fried rice and prawn crackers. I don’t know where that UK Chinese takeaway food comes from. Not had anything remotely like it here yet, that’s for sure.

The Chinese 'Tarby' (Zhao Ben Shan - not really anything like Tarby at all)

The dumplings are not English style dumplings, they are more like large Italian Ravioli I guess, with a multitude of excellent fillings. You stand around a table covered in flour, making them together, talking about the weather or the price of tofu, pinching the sides to seal them up like little cornish pasties. Then they are fried or steamed, and you dip them in soy sauce, chilli and vinegar. Or ketchup and brown sauce if that’s your thing. Then you just keep eating. When you finish eating, you cook some more and eat them. When they are done well, they’re addictive. Tried to buy frozen ones. No good.
When the day’s eating is finally over, like all good family festivals, you sit round the telly for some good wholesome entertainment. In the evening there are huge variety gala shows live on TV, featuring comedy sitcoms performed on stage, with singing, dancing and magicians. Not really my thing, and not just ‘cos I can’t speak Chinese. It all looked a bit dated to me, but the staging is impressive, the numbers of performers make it some operation.  Its very popular. I am assured that it is required viewing, a tradition just like Xmas Wizard of Oz once was. Maybe Saturday night with Jim Tarbybruce and the London Paladium is a more apt comparison, although I’m sure the jokes are better.

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Apologies and Tiger Parts

A bit of retrospective blogging again…. Back in January we were still living in Tongzhou, and my first 90 day visit visa was about to expire.  Alongside your visa, once you enter China, you are supposed to register at your local Police station as a foreigner. It’s called a registration of temporary residence. It runs concurrent to the visa, and therefore expires at the same time. So while I was out of China sorting out my second visa, my police registration expired. When I returned, there had been a phone call asking my wife whether I was still here. She was told we should go to get a new one when I arrived back.
You’re supposed to do this within 24 hours of arrival, although a lot of people let it slip. We went a couple of days after I landed – I was sleepy and it was cold! We were told that there was normally a fine for missing the renewal date, but if I wrote an apology to the Tongzhou Police Chief – “here – in this part of the form” – they would let me off.

This I did, in blue pen and best handwriting. I wish I had taken a picture. A number of thoughts went through my head then and since:
Could I have written anything? Such as “piss off, wanker”; or “IN the west, we DON’T allow you coppers to take power trips like THIS.” Certainly not much English was spoken in those parts. And does the Police Chief really sit back with his feet up at the end of a hard day, with his brandy and cigar, reading through the apologies?

At the time, I felt annoyed – “I am truly sorry Sir I will not do it again” were I believe, my very words. I smirked and huffed as I wrote.

Further reflections (and discussions with people here) have slightly, though not totally changed my angle. For a start, as a local police chief, he probably doesn’t earn much. He’s probably not had much access to the luxuries I’ve enjoyed in my life. It’s easy to forget these details when you are surrounded by what looks like a modern Western city (a theme I keep banging on about). This would not happen in the UK. Or would it? Would there be any flexibility? I havn’t had the experience of being a foreigner in the UK, so I’m not sure, but I reckon you might just get the fine slapped on you, threatened with deportation, or maybe even bullied by some bored officials. Whatever, I’m sure it couldn’t be waved off with a discretionary written apology that no one will read. Secondly, this highlights a major difference in culture. If you try to ditch the anger over writing a pointless apology to someone who’s never going to read it, try to think outside the box, you can possibly view this as quite sweet and quaint, quite a pleasant way of doing things. Maybe? The Chinese mostly accept this as a valid process. You make a mistake, or break a minor rule, you say sorry to the man in charge. What’s worse – saying sorry in 20 seconds, or paying a fine to some faceless system? Most importantly (and very important to the Chinese), you havn’t lost any money, or much time.

But the bowing to hierarchy thing, the requirement to show shame, does nonetheless feel alien and uncomfortable to me, especially as someone who’s attended one or two demonstrations in my time. I’ve seen it in other situations too, such as job applications which I’ve helped translate.

The non-religious concept of ‘shame’ here is similar-but-different to the religious concept of ‘sin’ in the west. It makes me sure that Christian values of sin, confession, repentance, and forgiveness were social control factors bolted onto religion, rather than theological teachings. Bla-de blah.

Around the same time as all this, I was in Guomao, one of the main transport hubs in South East Beijing, and home to a skyline of international finance, and many an expat. There are a lot of street sellers, usually tourist stuff and jewellery. It was the run up to Chinese New Year, year of the Tiger. Straight off the bus, I walked past an African man, speaking perfect Chinese, selling genuine bits of real tiger, all laid out on a cloth in front of him. I had the urge to kick up a fuss (again), I really wanted to remonstrate with him. Or maybe take the coward’s way out, and find a policeman, who would have no doubt done nothing about it at all. It is illegal to sell these things here, but it sadly still goes on due to popular demand. The pace and push of modernisation is phenomenal, and this kind of thing will gradually go away, as it becomes seen as old fashioned, superstitious and pointless (it already is by the young generation).
I compromised and stared the guy out with my most scornful of stares. Did he know why I was staring? Probably…. He stared back, while continuing to mutter his sales patter, and I stayed out of his reach – one of the paws he was holding had rather sharp claws.

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Trees A Crowd

Qianmen Street

Hu's He?

Amazing sunny weather in Beijing. Beautiful warm air, after months of cold. It changed really quick, now i find I don’t have enough T shirts.
Hu Jin Tao has been out planting trees, in an attempt to hold back the desert to the west. It was the lead item on one of the news bulletins, while 115 Shangxi miners were eating tree bark and waiting to be rescued after a week underground. Even Hu and his spade had to be moved down the running order when they made it out a day later.

Fuxingmen Beidajie

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The March of Progress, Crispy Silkworm and Old School Gigs

January……….. Beijing is a strange old place. There are some immensely rich people here, alongside the mostly closeted expats. There are many smells and sights on the streets, and several Unidentified Frying Objects.

Xiao Gu Shan High Street

Heating The House. And the bed, and the walls. The bed is on the other side of the hollow wall, with the fire right under it.

I went to Jilin for (Western) New Year. Jilin is in the far north, and is the coldest place I’ve ever been to, at minus 20. Dinner was served the day we left, and it included a massive plate of crispy silkworm, which I just had to pass on. They were big fat things and had been sliced in half.
I saw some some really basic living conditions up there, mostly pig farmers or shopkeepers plus their families living in tiny one room houses with smoky fires that burn all day long under concrete beds. No fridges, no hot water, no showers, toilet out the back… so to speak (a hole in the ground at minus 20 IS an experience, let me tell you).

There are huge changes taking place in China, and it’s not restricted to the big cities. A couple of brand new blocks have gone up in this small town, with all mod cons, and they are buying them up fast at less than £10,000 a piece. The western lifestyle is coming, and you can see exactly how much more energy the new places use than the old simple existence, with their showers and central heating, and water down the plug hole.

I am not a brainwashed citizen (yet), but the West’s criticism of China after the Copenhagen summit was slightly unfair. Nearly everybody, bar the city dwellers, lives in conditions that most of us can’t even imagine spending one night in. They are happy, but when it’s offered, they all want what we take for granted. They are incredibly thrifty and energy concious on a personal level. It’s the horrible gigantic coal power stations that they’ve got to find a solution to.

China as a country is now the largest emitter. But per head of population, they emit a fraction of what a person in the USA emits, around 15 times less. It’s the West that needs to drastically reduce its energy use and change its habits.

Sadly I have recently been hearing that most modern paradoxical term “sustainable development”  in the media here.

Anyhow, enough of the polemics.

The snow continues at an astounding frequency. And the speed and ruthless efficiency with which it is shown who’s boss  is more astounding. Volunteer neighbourhood street clearing gangs roam the estates,  making neat banks of snow along clear paths. Our door has been knocking at 8am the last two mornings, and we’ve politely ignored it and stayed under the covers….

Mao Live, Beijing

I went to “Mao Live” and saw some great Chinese Punk bands, the last of whom spoiled it by playing a rubbish high speed version of Song 2 by Blur. There is a big picture of the chairman’s head behind the stage. It was packed beyond the limits, dark, sweaty, trashed, decibel smashing, and full of cigarette smoke. More reminders of past experiences that I had so quickly lost touch with. Is that the way gigs should be? It felt so at the time. My stinky clothes, ringing ears and stinging eyes the next morning reminded me how quickly we get used to change.

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Life On Mars

Outdoor snooker tables, mid-winter, Tongzhou

December……More on Tongzhou……we found three huge indoor vegetable markets within five minutes of our estate. You spend under £4 and get bag fulls of veg , eggs(loose) and fresh un-packaged tofu in many a flavour and texture (loose and cut to size in front of you), plus a big beer, some cakes and 2 magnum ice creams. These things never cease to please me.

Modern technology aside, the whole thing here keeps haphazardly calling up random hazy memories of Britain in the 70s. There are all sorts of things popping into my brain that I’d forgotten about. Of course central Beijing has the usual trappings, over designed DJ bars and overpriced coffee houses … restaurants where the emphasis is on image and gimmicks, rather than food.
Tongzhou is grimy, a bit tatty, the pavements are uneven, the overhead cables are a mess. But so many things here and in China as a whole run in a way that we’ve maybe forgotten about in the west – fresh, loose food, money back on bottles (a free beer for every 7 empties you take back), conductors on the buses and trains, cheap cheap subsidised public transport, bins emptied daily, stairs and street cleaning daily, pump attendants at garages, assistants on every aisle at the supermarket or department store (and you can only pay at the dedicated cashiers desk, which is separate from the sales assistant – all very Grace Brothers, and rather funny when the cashier is 5 feet from the vendor), all sorts of ways you can refill and re-use rather than buying again and throwing away… and people seem pretty happy. Markets are there seven days a week – they don’t just crop up on Saturdays and Sundays. They are central to local life.
So far, it’s not all driven by profit maximization and automated phone options. There are too many people willing to work the most menial of jobs. But it cant be far away…. It’s here now,  in the glamorous centres of Beijing, Shanghai and other cities, and it’s spreading outwards rapidly.

There was this strange calling noise from outside the flat one day – turned out it was the knife sharpener man on his bike. The knife sharpener! I’d completely forgotten about him. In fact I’d forgotten the whole concept of sharpening knives. Dormant memories flashed up again out of nowhere.
I might have lived a sheltered existence as a soft southerner in London for a long time, but the last time i remember such a man coming round our street with his little machines, was when I was small, in the 1970s.

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Snow

November……

I arrived in Beijing on November 1st 2009 in a blizzard. It was freezing cold with about 5 feet of visibility. Hats off to the pilot, whether he be auto or human. The plane then stayed on the tarmac for ages. Why, I wondered? The Western paranoia and butterflies kicked in straight away, stoked by nytol and beer intake on the ten hour flight, which had helped me get exactly zero hour’s sleep and made my brain feel like a duvet. Were papers being shuffled already,  shifty looking leather coat wearing officers gathering in small offices, passenger lists being perused…

Just sudden unexpected snow of course. And a queue of planes taxi-ing along while armies of workers scoop up the snow in front of them.

The snow has been on and off since. Until mid March, it was well under 0 degrees most days. For three months, we lived in Tongzhou, which is a suburb in South East Beijing, about 30 minutes away from town. It’s developing quickly, buildings going up everywhere, trendy western style hairdressers offering the outrageous shoreditch mullets appearing by the minute. I was literally the only foreigner in the area, judging by the stares. More on staring later.

Kids doing outdoor exercises in the local School

We had a nice warm and spacious flat, with a decadent red sofa. There was an infant school by our block with a booming PA system that played “Doe A Deer…” every day at full volume at about 10 am, while the tiny kids did side step routines in lines like penguins, all wearing huge eskimo coats. This was followed by kids singing karaoke, at the same volume. Meanwhile a rooster would join in, wandering about outside, belting it out with no regard for the local jobless sat at home trying to drink coffee…
One of the strangest and nicest things to see here are the old people outside everywhere, looking seriously fit and healthy, exercising on the outdoor gym facilities that line most pavements and estates,  line dancing in the public squares, doing Tai Chi or some kind of slow motion sword fighting, and playing outdoor ping pong . There’s always a doubles game going, gramps v grannies, all in duffle coats. This remains one of the most striking differences between China and the West. It’s not that there aren’t generation gaps, but old people aren’t scared, or hiding away in front of their TVs. They’re out there and in your face, being loud and sociable and enjoying themselves. Whatever the reasons, young people are totally respectful, there is literally no anti-social behavior or even a hint of aggression of any kind.

I joined a badminton group, all Chinese. They were mostly a seriously amazing standard, i kind of just about held my own, but I’ve never hurt so much. I used to think I was a good badminton player. Badminton and ping pong are big in China (obvious fact for you there).

Yunhe Park, Tongzhou

The local hotpot restaurant by our block was fantastic, we became regulars – dinner and beer for £3 each, who can blame us? Hotpot is popular in China. It comes from the North and Mongolia, and somehow doesn’t seem to have made the same leap across Russia and into Britain the way Chicken Chow Mein has. Maybe it’s the western health and safety thing…you get a lit gas flame or electric hotplate  in the middle of your table, and a big pot, sometimes with more than one compartment, with different flavours of stock. Then you order your vegetables, tofu and meat, which is all delivered raw. You bung it in bit by bit, and eat it while it’s cooking, with some dipping sauces. I could eat this literally every day. Unfortunately you need a bit of free time, it takes a while, but it’s very sociable to eat like this.

Tongzhou was a great place. Clean air, blue skies. Cheap and honest. It had everything right at hand. Hardly any need to go into Beijing.

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About time…

Xinglong Park, East of Beijing

I’ve been meaning to start this for a while. As a result, there are loads of things sloshing around in my brain waiting to be released. So please excuse me while I do a bit of retrospective blogging… and I will be more diligent in future.

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