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Entries about china

New Year in China

A Gregorian New Year and a soon-to-be Chinese New Year quickly approaches...

sunny 7 °C

I felt it was time to evaluate my life in China so far, what with the dawn of the Chinese New Year fast approaching and the Year of the Horse wielding unknown potential.

I'd like to share with you some things I have learned from living in this amazing country:

1. No matter what ailment is troubling you, be it a headache, menstrual cramps, a cold or the flu, a chesty cough or generally just feeling a bit under the weather, hot water will be your best friend and ally during these tenuous times!

You will be hard pressed to find a Chinese person, especially where I live, without a flask, mug, glass jar or some other nondescript container filled at least three quarters of the way with hot water.
Now don't get me wrong, I already understand the value of water; it's good for your skin and keeps your body hydrated, it provides much needed moisture to maintain strong brain power, it can even aid digestion. However, it is not just the miracle of water that the Chinese understand and appreciate, oh no! It is hot water, with its glorious cleansing steam gliding up into your sinuses, it is the warmth spreading through your chest into your stomach and down to your toes as this apparent heavenly hand guides its warming embrace throughout your entire body.
Whenever in the past year and a half, I have experienced any kind of medical annoyance, the first thing any of my students or Chinese friends have advocated is this, 'Drink hot water, keep your body warm', and although sage advice, it is not only this, but also an undeniable truth.
I drink hot water in restaurants, at home, whenever I feel a cold coming on, or am experiencing particularly uncomfortable cramps - out comes my very own flask which locks in the magical heat and within a day or two, I am back to feeling tip-top again.

2. You will never be as popular anywhere in world with people you've never met, than you will be in China.

Every single day, I walk to school, or I get a bus or a taxi into town; I meet my friends, I go shopping, I'll stop in somewhere and maybe have some hot water (with tea in it!) - I do a myriad of things throughout my weeks and months, often different things or trying different places, or trying to find the place I really like but that appears to have closed down...! One thing however remains constant:
Every single person you walk past will either want to, will know how to, or actually does say one or all of the following phrases to you...
'Hello' / 'Nice to meet you' / 'My English is very poor'

I have made more friends on the streets of this town, in the short space of time that I've lived here, than I have in my previous 20 odd years in the UK.
Everyone is so desperate to interact with a foreigner that they usually pluck up the courage and put their limited knowledge of the English language to use.

The best part is, that if these brave souls happen to be girls, usually of any age, or younger boys, when you reply to their 'Hello' with an equally matched response, they will giggle, run away and then point and talk about you with a group of their friends who never seem to be very far away.

It has gotten to the point now where I genuinely cannot remember if I've met, seen or even spoken to this person before me offering a cordial greeting as it happens so often, I've almost lost track.

3. People you have never met, or have perhaps met during one of the aforementioned bravery conversations, will have photographs of you on their cameras or their phones and they will have passed these photos on to at least 5 of their friends, or better yet, they will simply have posted these pictures on to one of Asia's many social outlets. QQ, WeChat, Weibo etc.

My first encounter with the stealth photographers happened when I arrived fresh-faced and excited in Beijing. The sights, the smells, the immense number of people, the strange language on every sign, the incredible feat to find and navigate the subway system (read some of my earlier blog entries for that thrilling debacle!)

It was however, on the subway, that my suspicion peaked... through the wonders of peripheral vision.... I saw them.
Slowly, almost unnoticeable to the human eye, people's mobile phones were creeping up over other passengers’ shoulders, heads, arms, each one pointing their judgemental camera's eye directly at me.
I waited for the sound, the give-away that a picture had indeed been snapped, but nothing.
Just as eerily as they had appeared, the phones slid back into pockets and bags, calculatedly waiting for their next prize photo opportunity.

4. At more than one interval throughout the day, you will eat an entire meal from a plastic bag:

It doesn't matter how much money you do or don't want to pay for your food, whenever you buy food outside or even from a little shop, you will be served your succulent meat or soup or rice or noodles, all together, in one bag (after all - it's going to end up like that in your stomach once you've masticated it!)

Once you've gained the skill of not eating a little piece of the bag with each bite, you get to really understand and enjoy the bohemian thrill of it all - no plates to clean, no cutlery to wash; you just put the disposable chopsticks you were given into the empty food bag, tie it off in a neat little bow and boom, straight into the bin it goes.

Restaurants, of course, have a little more western etiquette to them, you get to enjoy your food on plates with sturdier chopsticks and separate dishes for you to portion out your required amount of food. There is demonstrably the added benefit of once again, not having to do any washing up or tidying up of any kind; but to think you escaped the bags?
How foolish of you.
Once you've eaten your fill, the kindly waiter or waitress will appear with several empty bags, pick up your leftovers (from the serving dish, rather than your individual plates or bowls) and pour said contains into the plastic bags.
Taking home any uneaten food is very important here, again, at least where I live, as the government is trying to cut down food waste and if you don't want it now, you'll probably want it later so why not just pop it in a doggy bag and take it home with you?!

The same practise of using a bag over crockery also applies in Qingdao during their annual beer festival - instead of tables for you and your friends to sit around and discuss current affairs, there are hooks on the walls for you to hang your beer bags on.
(It saves space, allowing more beer bags to be purchased by more patrons)

5. If you have any colour hair, other than black or dark brown, you are suddenly the Messiah:

My Australian friend who lives here with his beautiful Chinese wife once told me that he had a friend (male), with shoulder length blonde hair, who took a trip on one of the marvellous trains we have all over the country, and decided to take a nap as it was going to be a long journey.
When he woke up, he saw before him several concerned and awe-stricken Chinese passengers staring at him.
Now given the previous points of foreigners being interesting commodities, it would appear to be understandable to have a group of unknown voyeurs to this man's train journey.
It was however the large chunk of hair he was missing that these travellers were more put out by....
During his nap, someone had decided that his golden locks should be shared amongst his earthly comrades and thusly cut off a large piece of his hair as a keepsake.

As a fellow blonde, my roots ache for that man's lost locks, but luckily (for me!) I have yet to encounter any serial hair collectors.
My hair dresser here does however tell me, more often than not, that my hair is too soft to do anything with.
I take that as a compliment!

6. If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend in China, not only will your parents be thrilled, but so will clothes manufacturers throughout the country:

The Western world is already aware of the massive influence Asian countries and their trends have had on popular culture; Hello Kitty, Sushi restaurants, glasses without lenses (Asian Hipsters!), coloured contact lenses, brightly mismatched clothing etc.
What the Western world has yet to cotton onto is the booming market of girlfriend/boyfriend shops.
Now don't get me wrong, we have 'His and Hers' towels and bathrobes, but we’ve got nothing on the Chinese niche for boyfriend/girlfriend matching outfits.
That's right folks.
Couples in Asia don't just want you to know they’re a couple, they want to show you through the medium of fashion.
Whole boutiques dedicated to sweatshirts and hoodies sporting the same colours and logos - bigger sizes for him; petite, perfectly figure-hugging sizes for her.
This phenomenon even extends to shoes, hats and trousers.
You and your partner can walk into one of these boyfriend/girlfriend shops and kit each other out in perfectly harmonised ensembles.

7. Poorly translated and often comical signs and menus:

When picking your food in restaurants or trying to figure out where you are in the major metropolis can be daunting, but fear not, because someone, somewhere, with a basic understanding of English has attempted to assist you in this ordeal.

Pictures, clear as day, show you a delectable dish of Chicken with potatoes and vegetables in a colourful blend of culinary excellence, and although the Chinese, if you're fortunate enough to understand it, tells you that that is indeed what this dish entails, the English version will probably put you off eating for the rest of your life.
I once saw a similar dish described as 'Flavoured Fungi and assorted entrails', even though the Chinese characters told me it was Chicken and vegetables....
The fun continues with warning signs or polite notices.
In a hotel I saw a sign in the corridor outside the elevator, with a picture of pursed lips and a single finger laying gently over them, telling me to 'put it mildly, and then put it mildly'.
Common sense would dictate that this probably means, 'Please be quiet when walking about the hotel so as not to disturb other guests', but alas, this elegance was somewhat lost in translation.
Another interesting warning came from what I presume was a 'Slippery when wet' or 'Uneven steps' sign in a tourist attraction of ancient art and temples, with a sign that simple read 'Don't fall down' accompanied by a picture of a foolish naysayer falling down some steps.
The list is of course, long and endless, but usually full to the brim with hilarious mistranslations and equally amusing illustrations for added effect.

8. If you're outside, feel free to spit wherever you like, even out of a car window, whilst on the move.

Now as a quintessentially British childhood moulded my sense of propriety and manners, spitting was never an appropriate past time, but in Asia, if it's in your mouth, you need to expel it as loudly and thoroughly as you can.

You are all probably aware of the guttural wrenching sound people make when they have a particularly stubborn phlegm build-up in the back of their throat or nose. Well this sound is only part of the cacophony of sounds one hears on a daily basis in China.
If it's not a taxi honking it's horn to see if you require a lift; small, barely audible speakers shouting at you to buy the freshly picked produce or children departing school en mass, then the pise de résistance, will be the spitting.
If Disney were to recreate Fantasia using the sounds of Asia rather than actual instruments, the sound of spitting would account for the percussions, strings and probably brass sections as well.

But have no fear readers, because cleaners are on hand 24/7 with their bamboo handled, mesh and feather street brushes to clear the congealed mess away…

9. If you can still breathe, then there is enough space in this taxi, subway car, bus or ticket office for more people:

If you've ever wondered why Asian people tend to lack basic manners in regards to space awareness and entry/exit protocols, look no further for your answers.
It all starts here, in Asia.
If you want to get on that subway train in the UK or the US and there doesn't seem to be a lot of room, you will probably have the basic instincts of self-preservation to wait 3 minutes for the next train.
If you want to get on that subway train in Asia, you get on the damn subway train, regardless of that child's face you've now squashed against a window or that small family of foreigners you've all but forced into a vacuum, slowly suffocating them to death.

Not only will you hardly ever see a queue or something to that effect, you won't see a patient Asian person either.
If you've got somewhere to be, you get there no matter the cost, damage or possible offence it may cause.
If you need a ticket but the mass conglomerate ahead of you doesn't have your best interests at heart, you force your way to the front, interrupt the employee who is already dealing with another customer and thrust your money into their hands, talking over the previous patron.
It reminds me of that scene in Titanic when everyone is trying to evacuate the sinking vessel and the lower level passengers are all pushed up against that padlocked gate, clambering on top of one another for just a glimpse at their possible freedom and escape.
Even without the threat of imminent death by frosty cold drowning, the assertion to survive and be the first to do so lives on in the heart of pretty much every Asian person alive.

10. Pyjamas are not just an inside outfit, but don't wear indoor shoes outside, obviously:

During the harsh winter months, I've learned that PJ's are not just a comfy, cosy, indoor outfit for you to nestle into on the sofa with your mug of hot chocolate, oh no.
Pyjamas are actually giant layers of padded warmth that you wear over your normal outside-clothes and when you combine these two fashion masterpieces together, you get a warm outside look with all the comfort and cosiness of your inside outfit.
The best part about wearing your pyjamas outside is that everyone else is doing it too so no one thinks you look utterly ridiculous and some of the designs and patterns could even be deemed fashionable.
The rooky mistake however, is mistaking indoor shoes for outdoor shoes.
It's completely acceptable for you to wear pyjamas outside, but if you wear flip flops in summer or the matching cosy booties that go so perfectly with your PJ's in the winter then you are opening yourself up to ridicule and the blatant question 'Why are you wearing slippers outside?'

Overly fluffy or felt-style boots are slippers.
Flip-Flops are slippers.
Shower-shoes are slippers.
Slippers are slippers.

And at no time is it appropriate to wear any of these items of footwear outside.
Even if you are wearing a Michelin-man inspired pyjama set.

Posted by Lady Mantle 20:34 Archived in China Tagged shopping china asia subways new_year spitting trends food_in_bags life_lessons rules_of_asia social_etiquette asian_hipsters lost_in_translation winter_wear year_of_the_horse Comments (3)

Trip to Xian for the National Day holiday...

sunny 28 °C

So the journey began with a taxi to the train station; a taxi that should have cost about 10-15 yuan (£1-1.50) but because it was the National Day holiday and because we're white, we were told it would cost 30 yuan!
We informed the taxi driver that was too expensive and we would pay 15 - He said 20 and although it was still extortianate, we had no choice.
We arrived at the train station here in Xinxiang to see a massive queue, so adopting the Chinese way and relinquishing our British upbringing, we basically went to the front of the queue!
Rude, I know, but when Rome and when you're running late, screw the Romans and side with the Chinese!
There were no seats on the train, and although we were a little hungover, we were only on there for an hour or so until we got to Zhengzhou to get our connecting train to Xian.

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After having a decadent McD's for lunch, we wondered around outside the train station for about 2 hours then went back in side to get the train to Xian.
Ricky and I had seats at opposite ends of the train, so with our headphones at the ready, we climbed aboard and settled in for the journey.

The fast trains in China are pretty much the best trains I have ever been on - big comfy seats that recline, foot rests, free food/nibbles and drinks and a small Chinese boy telling you a story about a tiger and a monkey in near enough perfect English.....
Ok so that last one as only on this particular journey, but you get the idea!

We arrived in Xian and tried to follow the instructions of how to get to our hostel.....
We tried to find bus 251.....

After an hour and refusing some rathe pushy taxi drivers, we started walking away from the station and said bolshy taxi drivers in search of this mystical bus, only to conclude that we were in fact walking further away from civilisation and into what looked like the remains of the world in 'I am Legend'....
So, refusing to return to the pushy taxi drivers, we flagged down a different one and were on our way.... ahh Aries!

Trying to follow the instructions for Your Tour International Youth Hostel's location proved harder than anticipated, but given our astrological stubborness, we trekked onwards and with some help from the universe, we managed to find our hostel!
After some worrying minutes waiting for Ricky's passport to materialise, we were all checked-in!

It was a nice enough hostel with the added experience of getting to make your own bed (really is like a home away from home!)
My locker box was broken, but with a simple request to swap boxes, the woman a reception happily obliged.

If you wanted 5* luxury accommodation, this is not the place for you - it's clean enough but the beds have less cushioning than a yoga mat and the decor in the bathroom and shower rooms leave a lot to be desired.
As reasonably accomplished travellers and being accustomed to Chinese ways,, it didn't really phase us, but others may be less accommodating for this hostel's abvious drawbacks.
The staff are friendly and helpful, but for 50 yuan a night (£5) you can't expect too much for your money.
Although the street itself is quiet during the day, at night that is not always the case and for some reason, peoples' conversation volume attempts to break the sound barrier....
Provided you can block out the noise mentally or with ear plugs, the sleep you get is enough to see you through the following day.
The food, although exorbitant (in price not amount) for a hostel, is actually quite tasty and filling - seriously not good price-wise though!
The hostel is quaint and small but there's hardly any atmosphere in the common area downstairs.

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If you just want a bed to sleep in, this place is fine for ou, but if you want the opportunity to meet other foreigners or a livelier place, then Jano's Hostel is proably more for you.
The staff at Jano's are equally as lovely but with the adjacent Belgium Beer Bar and local street markets, it's location and clientelle easily exceeds Your Tour's...

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Having dumped our stuff and made our beds, we ventured out in search of food...
3 hours later, we'd walked most of Xian inside the wall!
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of places to eat but we were feeling particularly fussy and indecisive!

We ended up at the Drum Tower and ventured into the Muslim Quarter..
My, my, that was busy!
2 lanes of human traffic had formed to avoid causing a blockage, which, although organised, left a whole side of the street unvisitable!
Fantastic smells and foods and a bustling atmosphere, the walk was interesting enough and with a little light bartering, some trinkets and niknaks were purchased successfully.

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Our broken and tired bodies begged for slumber so we clambered into a tin box on wheels, told the driver where we wanted to go, and with some directions on our part, he eventually got us back to the hostel where we fell (carefully) onto our wooden boards for the night!

The next day we studied some maps and plotted the root to the Small Goose Pagoda (an apparent 'must-see' in Xian).
We walked from the South Gate of the wall (near our hostel) and headed south until we got to the Pagoda.

I imagine the Big Goose Pagoda is more impressive but the grounds surrounding the Small Goose Pagoda was quite beautiful and a sense of calm washed over me.

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A relaxed walked around and a few pictures with Chinese people (at their request rather than ours!) and we began the walk back to the hostel.

A quick nap and a shower then we went to meet our friend for dinner and drinks but once again my body wanted sleep so I left Ricky to dance the night away whilst I headed back to my pillow and board!

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The next day, despite Ricky's hangover, we decided to cycle around the wall again (like we did last year!)
Only this time, for some reason, we did it in less time and actually cycled all the way round - Obviously a bit fitter than last year!
Still hurt the next morning though! ha!

So Ricky and I had concluded that on this visit to Xian, we would go to see the Terracotta Warriors... what we hadn't accounted for was that everyone else had the same idea.
We arrived at the train station to get the bus to the Warriors only to be greeted by thousands of people trying to do the same thing!
6 different taxi companies approached us, advising of their prices to get us to the Warriors and back, all of which were above and beyond what we were willing to pay to get there and after an hour with barely any progress made in the queue situation, we decided to call it a day and concluded we'd go to the Warriors next time we were in Xian....!

Posted by Lady Mantle 22:23 Archived in China Tagged travel adventure china xian hostel cheap cycling travelling sleepy foreigners night_market city_wall sore_bum budget_travelling small_goose_pagoda your_tour_international_youth_h janos_hostel_xian national_day Comments (1)

Medical Massage...

sunny 27 °C

So today I went to see my Chinese friend for lunch.
Nothing strange there - She owns a restaurant in town and I cooked Christmas dinner there for everyone last year (hopefully a tradition that will continue this December as well!)
I told her that I hadn't been sleeping well and that my back, neck and shoulders were in desperate need of a massage.
She advised me that in our town there is a special kind of hospital that is run by blind people who specialise in using their hands as their sense of touch is heightened by their inability to see.
Needless to say I was intrigued and out the door we went to get on the number 20 bus for about 5 minutes or so, all for the extortionate price of 20p!
We arrived at a rather shabby building with a worn down medical cross sign outside.
Through the apparently popular plastic meat curtains we entered.
It looked a little like a make-shift hospital concocted when an unforseeable war suddenly strikes an area.
Hospital beds in odd places, dark little rooms and corners with muttering, hushed voices and people in distressed white coats floating from what appeared to be patient to patient.
I was seated at a cluttered glass table with my friend and a young woman clad in an aforementioned white coat.
She asked relative questions; my age, where I live, my profession and what appears to be the problem...
My friend dutifully translated both ways until the young woman left into one of the rooms to the side, only to return moments later with an older gentlemen, somewhat more befitting of the coat, with a white stick guiding his way to the desk and to me.
He asked my friend if I was in great pain and if an injury had been the cause of my discomfort, I advised of the no such injury but described my medical issues as more of an ache, a constant ache, like my muscles were too weak to hold me together anymore.
My friend advised me to turn in my chair so my back was to the gentlemen who began to move towards me, using the edge of the desk to find me.
His hands were warm and unthreatening as he placed them on my shoulders. A little pressure here, a gentle squeeze there and some quick questions at my friend then lead him to put his hands between my shoulder blades. Bam. The source of my ache was located.
I was moved to one of the beds in plain sight of every other person in there and told to lie face down with my head in the little face-hole in the table/bed.
A white sheet was placed over me and another man was called over. Even though the situation was quite surreal, knowing my friend was sat there on the bed next to me watching everything unfold made me feel safer than had I been alone so my ability to actually relax was much easier.
For half an hour this other man, equally befitting of the white coat he wore, applied hard and accurate pressure to different points of my back, my shoulders and my neck.
After 20 minutes or so I was advised to lie on my back as he massaged my shoulders, neck, head and forehead - pushing all of the pressure points until I felt almost ethereal.
It was like he knew where my body needed attention before I did. He kept applying pressure then asking my friend to ask me if it hurt and it did, every time - not from what he was doing, but rather from his heightened sense of where the energy was being blocked in my body.
I was then told to sit on the chair as he finished my shoulders and neck with some stretching and pulling - I think I grew a whole inch by the end of that!
I paid my 30 RMB (a whole £3) for the experience and was told to come back regularly to help ease the ache away completely.
I was told by the first man that the reason for my aches and pains could be down to three things:
1. My bed is not supporting me properly when I sleep.
2. My head hangs forward more often than it should, so I must work on keeping my head up and my neck strong.
and my personal favourite -
3. I'm letting too much cold wind get to my neck and it's getting into my bones.

I love China, Chinese people and their views and interpretations of the needs of our bodies.
For a thorough and in-depth half an hour sports massage for £3, I wouldn't be surprised if I'm not in there several times a week!

Posted by Lady Mantle 00:19 Archived in China Tagged medical china cheap energy body massage blind_doctors Comments (1)

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