Friday, 22 May 2009


For seven days our beloved Blogger Website has been blocked all over China.  Thus, I haven't posted anything for a while.  Whenever I try to connect to this site I always end up with this kind of message:

Rather than outright tell you that the site you want to access has been blocked by the government big wigs, they make it so it just looks like a usual connection difficulty.  But when that message pops up for the 100th time you begin to realise that it is not the case.

The same goes for YouTube, Amnesty International, Wikipedia (partially), and about a million more websties.  Try Googling something"sensitive" like: "Tibet Protests", and after clicking on a link you will soon find that the site is blocked once again.  This can also cause a domino effect and within a matter of seconds every single page you try and open will also be blocked (but only for a few minutes).

I do not know the real reason why The Great Firewall of China has chosen Blogger as its next target, but I have a good idea:  The 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.  It is possible that many bloggers around this time will be writing all sorts of posts about this historical even that China would prefer is forgotten about.  In fact, a lot of young people I have spoken to have no idea what actually happened during the protests.

I'm accessing Blogger now using a proxy tool for Firefox called Gladder, the only problem is that it's painfully slow and very often tells me that some pages don't exist.  It's been so frustrating to use that when I tried to post this article a few days ago I got so fed up that I just quit.

We'll see if things get better soon....

Friday, 15 May 2009

Silence IS Golden

Me, before Chinese New Year and the construction work

When I returned from the UK at the end of January it was Chinese New Year, and the fireworks were exploding every other minute. This was fine -- until I had to start work. The celebrations didn't end after the one week holiday, they continued for more than half a month more. Bed time would come and all I could hear would be people playing Ma Jiang or cards while shouting to each other, and the fireworks of course. The talking (shouting) would sometimes last all night, and because the walls are practically made from paper they might as well have been in my apartment doing it. As for the fireworks, they would be set off at random intervals throughout the night, maybe a dozen at 1am, a few at 3:30am, and then a whole bunch of them at 7am. I would be sleeping in the quiet spots only to be woken up time after time. It got to the point where I just couldn't get to sleep sometimes because of the noise. It was driving me crazy.

After 15 days the noise did start to die down which was a huge relief, the talking stopped and the fireworks were stowed away for another year (or wedding or funeral). However, I still found it difficult to sleep just because of my previous experiences, I was continually waiting for something to wake me up, and it left me feeling restless (after talking about this with others I have found that all but two of the foreign teachers at Web have also experienced very similar things). After a couple of weeks more of so-so sleeps, I started to worry I wouldn't sleep properly again. Then my mum told me of a supplement called Valerian which isn't a sleeping pill, but a natural sedative. It has no side effects unlike the sleeping drugs, and is actually beneficial in many other ways. Surprisingly I found a bottle of the stuff in my local pharmacy. I started taking it and found that it really did work, I was feeling much more relaxed and started to sleep better.

This was a couple of months ago, and now I'm sleeping just like normal again thanks to the lack of noise and the Valerian. I've even recommended it to other teachers at Web and now three of them are all using it and have found beneficial results. The fact is, Wenzhou -- like so many other cities in China -- is developing so quickly that it is permanently noisy. For people like me who have been brought up in relative silence at night time, it can be difficult sometimes.

Another reason Wenzhou can be incredibly noisy at night is something I spoke about before (here): construction work. I had been living in my apartment for almost a year without any interfering work -- until March this year. Two construction sites suddenly began working throughout the day, it was loud but not a problem. Then one night I noticed the work didn't finish, it just kept going, all night. I was really quite angry about this and asked Kimi to complain. She called up the local government office only for them to tell her that they had given the site permission to work all night. Up until now it has happened on nine or ten occasions, two nights ago was the worst. It was so bad I had to sleep on the sofa in my living room with tissue stuck in my ears. It is completely unbelievable how common people have absolutely no rights whatsoever. If the government wants to do something they will, regardless of whether it causes hundreds of people to have a sleepless night. Can we do anything about it? Not a chance. Unfortunately this is cost of living in a country and city which is developing at the speed of light. In the mean time I hope I find an apartment which is sound proofed from head to toe.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Happy Birthday Mum

Happy Birthday, I hope you had a treat like this (and I'm glad you liked my gift):

This is actually something that Kimi bought a few weeks ago from Haagen Dazs. Unlike in the UK the ice cream chain has cafes in China. They don't just serve only scoops of ice cream as you can see, but something rather more posh. It also doesn't come cheap, this item off the menu cost a staggering 230 RMB (£23). Kimi was given a bonus at work and felt like flaunting the money, I had no objections whatsoever.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Long Time No Blog

I've been having withdrawal symptoms from my blog recently as I've just not written anything for more than a week. The reason is very simple, the time I used to spend writing on my blog has been spent doing exercise or going out. There's only one thing I can think of to remedy the problem: get up earlier -- which for me, is easier said than done.

As of today the weather in Wenzhou has soared. It is literally boiling outside and inside the Web office the air conditioner is on full power. Although the heat is climbing above 30 degrees centigrade the weather is consistently beautiful. A couple of days ago Johann and I went to a local park just walking distance from my home. I couldn't believe I had never been before.

I have always thought that Wenzhou is a terrible place for two groups of people: the old, and the disabled. This is because quite frankly, the outside world is incredibly dangerous. The park was the first time I had seen a place that is suitable for all groups of people. It was almost like the whole area was dedicated to senior citizens, it was perfect. There were areas for badminton, massages (not the bad kind), Chinese opera, debates, Tai Chi, and of course sitting (something which is lacking everywhere else in the city). The children also weren't left out of the equation, there was also a small train running through the park, and a small play area.

I'm also quite intrigued at how every single temple I have visited recently seems to be almost brand new. There are barely any genuinely old building remaining in the city. I can only imaging these buildings were torn down previously and then in recent years it was decided to put them back again.

Here are a few pictures from the park:

Spot the toupee of the year on the man at the back (it's not a hat)

Grass is a rare treat in Wenzhou

The dog didn't like me very much

If only people took notice of this

Now I just hope the weather doesn't climb too much more before my sister arrives here in a few weeks.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Labour Day -- A Trip to the Zoo

The first of May -- like so many other countries -- is labour day in China. The national holidays are perfect times to travel and see new parts of China, the only problem is that everybody else has the same idea too. When you have a country with more than a billion people occupying it, this can be a problem.

When I came to China on holiday in 2007 I landed in Shanghai on the 1st of May (when the holiday was still 7 days). It was a shock to the senses seeing so many people in one place. I can remember walking along The Bund with my friend, Richard only to get mobbed by a group of people wanting to take our picture:

We were stuck against a wall at this point

Last year I was in Hong Kong for the May holiday, waiting nervously to apply for my working visa. There had been rumours circulating that Hong Kong wasn't giving the visas due to restrictions for the Olympics. Luckily for me I did receive my visa in the end, but it was slightly nerve-racking waiting in the office for 3 hours to find out if I'd been successful or not. My short trip in Hong Kong was much more civilized than the year before, and I even managed to meet up with two good friends, Mona and Mabel.

This year I stayed in Wenzhou. Kimi and I, with Johann and his girlfriend decided to take a walk up Wenzhou's Snow Mountain (which I'm quite sure never has any snow). We took a pleasant walk around a garden area, a large and very new Buddhist temple, and then the zoo. I was a bit wary about visiting the zoo because I imagined the conditions might not be up to much. I was proven wrong in most cases, it was very well maintained and most of the animals had good environments to live in. I was only disappointed at the amount of rubbish people had thrown into their habitats to try and get the animals to do something.

As predicted there were tonnes of people crammed into every crevasse and corner, most of them from Wenzhou, but I guessed that a lot of them had come from the outskirts of the city. I say this because throughout the day at every minute I was hearing the word "foreigner" spoken, many people were stunned to see us. I heard the word in the only three variations I know: "Laowai" (informal Chinese), "Waiguoren" (Chinese), and "Vaiganen" (Wenzhou Dialect, I have no idea how to spell it in Pinyin). I've always found it funny why strangers in the street will just shout out the word "foreigner"if they see one, what compels them to say it out loud rather than in their mind?

The day was long, tiring, but hugely enjoyable. It was also good to see another side of Wenzhou than the usual cars, drilling, and general chaos that is prevalent in the city centre. Surprisingly, a lot of what we saw was actually very beautiful. Here is the day in pictures:

Happy Labour Day!

Thursday, 30 April 2009

I've Joined a Gym!

There really aren't any gymnastics involved

I shocked myself at the weekend and became a member of a local gym. The reason for my lack of blog posts is actually due to this. I seem to have replaced my blog-time with sport-time. I will try and modify my schedule for this as I do not want to let my blog slip through my fingers.

For a few weeks I had been considering starting some exercise again. I'd begun to feel quite unhealthy, and certainly not fit by any means. It has been quite a while since I last did regular exercise, about two years in fact. On Friday, with Kimi's help, we found a gym called BySun that is walking distance from my home. We took a short tour of the centre and even met one of my students who jumped out from behind one of the machines and scared me to death. The centre was identical to a western gym, even the machines had been imported from America. Kimi used her powers of bargaining and managed to get the fee down to a very reasonable price: 1,250RMB for 6 months.

The following day I went on my own to do my first work-out. I was even given my own personal trainer who made a plan for me and showed me how to use the machines properly. I understood very little of the Chinese, but mostly body language was used to great effect. I had no idea how wrongly I had previously been using the machines when I last attended a gym at university. The plan means I have to work on my chest, stomach and back. After doing this I am free to use any of the aerobic machines like the treadmills or bicycles. I spent just over an hour of lifting and running, surprisingly it felt great. That was until the following day when I couldn't move at all.

The staff all seem very smiley and friendly, and when I go in the morning there is barely anybody there. Yesterday there was me, two beef-cake men, two receptionists, and the cleaners -- perfect. Now I just need to make a playlist of upbeat songs for my iPod to drown out the constant dance music and ballads that blast out of the speakers (even after three days I've noticed the same handful of songs are just played on rotation).

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Kimi's Got a New Car

Welcome to the mean -- and quite frankly terrifying -- streets of Wenzhou

Kimi is now in possession of a brand new car, a Skoda Fabia. Skoda used to be an embarrassing brand to own and I remember many jokes being told about them when I was at school. Since Volkswagen bought the company a few years ago things seemed to have improved immensely. Kimi's car is no exception, some even say VW built a better Polo with the Fabia.

Kimi's mother has recently retired from her job, and with some of the money she was given she decided to buy this car for her daughter. This seemed outrageous to me, but I have been continually told, "this is how things are done in China". I can't comment on all of China, but in Wenzhou it's quite true. The parents buy a home for their child and then their child will buy a home for their child etc. Very few people get mortgages here because they simply don't need to, but they still need to save for 20-30 years so that they can give their child the home they so obviously deserve. In some ways this way of living is great, you don't owe any money to a bank and you don't pay any interest. On the other hand, this tradition is part of a long list of other traditions which completely control the lives of the sons and daughters of Wenzhou (especially daughters). In a very generalised nutshell the trend is this:
  • School - as normal as ever. But if your parents want to you to go to a good kindergarten/primary school/middle school/high school, then they will probably have to pay money for it (under the table). That is unless they're best buddies with the headmaster.
  • University - it's quite possible your parents have told you what course to take. Usually it's business-related. In one year of working at Web I've only met two students who are studying Music. Most creative subjects are red areas. Maths, business, foreign trade = good.
  • Job - again your parents have probably lined up this career path for you. They might have even paid a substantial amount of money to get you the job, or they may have taken advantage of a family relationship inside the company. With the right kind of relationship (Guanxi) you will get the job regardless of your qualifications and skills.
  • Marriage - if you haven't already found the love of your life then you'd better get a move on, especially for the girls. Most people leave university at the age of 24 and parents expect their daughter to be married by the age of about 25-27. For the boys it's much more flexible, you can be a bachelor in your 30's without too much stress from mama and baba. If you're single after university then your parents will arrange "suitable" blind dates for you (whether you want it or not). One of Kimi's female cousins went on a some of these blind dates a few months ago. She was engaged to a man within a month and married within four. The other criteria for marriage is that the spouse should be local, no Hangzhounese here please.
  • Home - once you're married your parents will have bought the house you will start a family in and a car that you will drive to the job they gave you.
  • Baby - as soon as your married you must have a baby, and it must be before you're 30 if you're a woman (I won't even go into the "tradition" that takes place once you've had the baby, I'll leave that for another blog).
  • Now it's your turn - yes, now you can control every millisecond of your babies life.
As I said earlier, this is a very generalised description, but it is what I have heard from countless numbers of people. Tradition plays an incredibly important role to so many people's lives, and it's a continual cycle that never stops. In this respect freedom of choice is severely limited, and that's why I know so much about this, because so many young people have complained to me about how their parents pressurise them into following the cycle.

It's strange how Kimi's mother has not followed the norm. I was trying to think why, maybe it is because if Kimi was with a Wenzhounese boyfriend she would probably be married by now. Or maybe she has just given up all hope because of me (I'm not Wenzhounese).

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


"For International Traveller", I wonder who he is?

Yesterday I received the results from my medical test. I think I'm in the clear after reading that I have "no quarrantinable disease, infectious disease under surveillance or any other disease which is highly dangerous to the public". This means I can renew my work permit and stay in China for another year. I have also been given two souvenirs from the trip: a certificate of health (see above), and the X-Ray of my chest.

As I thought would be the case, my blood pressure was a little high -- but not too bad -- and my pulse was also over 100BPM. You can see how ingrained the fear of hospitals is wedged into my subconscious mind. I blame it on a visit to a hospital when I was 10 years old. While at my grandma's house I fell onto one of those metal draught excluders that are placed underneath doors which lead to the outside. I had cut my leg wide open. Thankfully my grandma used to be a nurse and she knew exactly what to do. We rushed to the nearest hospital and saw a doctor (whose name I still remember: Jim Smalley). He had to stitch me up, but this meant applying anaesthetic -- which had to go directly into the wound, with injections, six times. I can still recall the pain to this day, it was horrendous. Fourteen stitches later and I was out of the hospital with a kind of relief I have never experienced since.

Although I am no psychologist or psychiatrist, I am sure this has played a huge part in my completely uncontrollable fear of hospitals to this day. Anyway, I am officially disease-free, so I should be happy.

I promise to have no more hospital-related blog posts for -- hopefully -- a long time. It makes me feel a little queasy.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Medical Check

I have been working at Web for one year, something which really leaves me in disbelief. I cannot comprehend how quickly the year has gone. To celebrate this, I have to take a medical test. This is because my working (Z) visa is about to expire. Web will renew it for me, but before they can I have to pass the test. This is the law unfortunately. These are the people who have to take it:
  • Foreigners staying in China for an extended period of time (strangely enough, if you want to stay for 6 months you don't need it, but if it is for one year or more, then you must have it).
  • Chinese people leaving the country for holiday or immigration.
  • Chinese people coming back to the country after living abroad.
This morning at 9pm, Nancy (who works in the human resources department at Web) took me to Wenzhou's medical centre, a bleak looking building with awful Chinglish written on every single sign. The sound of a child crying echoed through the corridor when we entered -- not a great start. We enter a lounge/waiting room and pick up an application form, I try to forget that China's health care system is graded lower than Iraq's. I filled out the short form saying who I am and why I am here, I applied one of my passport photographs (see below) to the form -- but had to get another one taken for another mysterious purpose -- and Nancy paid a whopping 350 RMB (£35) for the tests to begin.

The passport photo I had to have taken for the test (only added because I don't have any another other relevant photographs, and I pledged to add at least one picture per blog post)

In all honesty I hate, absolutely hate this kind of thing. The second I step foot in a hospital I can feel my heart racing and my blood pressure boiling. I think I have inherited it from my mum who is exactly the same. I know the logical reasons for not being worried, but somehow, somewhere in my mind, I allow all logic to be bypassed and worry anyway.

First was the blood test. It was like approaching a box office and buying a ticket for a show, but instead of getting a ticket I got a jab. I had to slide my arm in the space under the perspex glass, a grumpy middle-aged woman tied my arm (just like how heroin users do it in films) and extracted the blood -- and quite a lot of it too.

One thing I had been taught to look out for in China was the syringe. For anybody who has to take the test here, make sure you witness the nurse unwrapping the needle in front of your eyes. If you don't see that then refuse. The reusing of needles does take place in some places, luckily not in Wenzhou.

Second was the urine test. This one slipped my mind, and I had totally forgotten to drink copious amounts of water after getting up in the morning. I didn't need to go at all, so we asked to delay that test until the end.

Third, X-ray. I was taken up a short flight of stairs into a corridor, each room I knew I had to visit. We entered the X-ray room, this time a grumpy man told me to take off my shirt. I pushed myself against a metal slab and the picture was taken. Next....

Fourth, Eye and Lymph node test. The first time I did this test in Hangzhou I forgot to bring my glasses which was difficult to explain when I couldn't speak a word of Chinese. I remembered them this time. An elderly grumpy woman felt my face and throat and opened a page of a colour-blind test book. Then I was signalled to sit on a chair across from elderly grumpy woman and read the large-to-small up, down, left, right directions.

Fifth, ECG. I lied down, had a lot of scary-looking electrodes placed all over my body, and saw a print out of some complicated-looking results emerge from a printer. At this point I asked myself what the point of all this was. I can hardly spread a heart condition to the population of China can I? If anybody knows I would love to know.

Sixth, heart and lung test (I think). A man who looked to be in his mid to late seventies stuck a stethoscope on my heart and moved it around my lungs. Not a word spoken. I wondered if he thought I had a heart condition from the rate it was probably going. Even extended time in the hospital doesn't calm me down, only when I leave will it go back to normal.

Seventh, (will it ever end?) Ultrasound. Not only for expecting mothers, but also for foreigners coming to China. It was getting boring now, but yet another grumpy woman asked me to pull up my shirt as she applied the cold gooey substance to my abdomen. On the monitor I could see some of my organs, although the picture quality was terrible. The nurse threw a couple of pieces of tissue on my stomach and I cleaned off the liquid.

Eighth, blood pressure and height. Grumpy young woman (do they all hate their job or are they attempting to come across as professional?) sat me down on a chair and did the usual blood pressure thing. First time it was too high, she asked me to go out, take a rest and come back. I told her it would be a waste of time, unless you can ship Paul Mckenna over to relax me, then nothing will change. She did it again, and somehow it was better, but still a little higher than normal.

Ninth, urine test part two. I still didn't feel the need to do anything, so I drank a lot of water and had a nice chat with Nancy for a while. Nature called in the end, and I went to what was a very unsanitary toilet. I am glad I didn't need to go before doing the tests otherwise I might have backed out. The cup was filled and taken to another box office counter.

Finally I received a gift from the clinic: a free breakfast. The bag contained a carton of milk and six small bread buns.

Are such detailed tests really needed just for a laowai to live and work in China? From the posters pinned up on the walls it is obvious that Aids is the biggest concern of all for the Chinese government, but what about the rest? Is it relevant to have an ultrasound test? What could possibly be found from an X-ray to cause my visa application to be rejected?

On a positive note, if I do have any problems that need attention, doing these tests on a yearly basis should find them, possibly saving my life. Having a full-body test for this reason should almost be compulsory for everybody -- but something tells me this isn't why the government has put this policy into action. Very confusing, but very glad it's over.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

I'm Published!

Well, not quite, but my picture is in this entertainment newspaper:

When Kimi and I were in Hangzhou we spent one morning apart, she went shopping for clothes and I went to meet Reuben (as I mentioned in this post). Beforehand I decided to go for a walk around the city centre. I was making my way past one of the biggest department stores in Hangzhou (In Time), when a man and a woman approached me. I took the headphones out of my ears and heard the woman ask if I could speak Chinese (in Chinese). I said, "a little", and she spurted out a sentence that I couldn't grasp at all. I told her I didn't understand, so she started speaking English, and pretty good English too. By this point I was very wary, I only stayed around because they seemed amiable enough, but I was waiting to see how they wanted to get to my money. Usually this kind of thing is a con, they want to take you for tea, or to see some "art". It's all completely bogus and you end up paying for it. She told me that she and her friend worked for a local Hangzhou newspaper. "Okaaay", I thought. She asked if it would be OK for them to take my picture and for it to be printed in the next edition.

A few snaps were taken, and then a lot of questions asked. Firstly introductory questions like "What is your name?", "Where do you come from?", etc. Then the questions centred entirely on my clothes. They wanted to know where I got everything from and how much it all cost. I was a little disappointed as I was wearing really old clothes. I wondered if the section in the newspaper/magazine would be, "How Not To Dress". The questions were over, a few more pictures were taken, and that was that. We shook hands, exchanged business cards and said goodbye. They were both very friendly,I felt it was all genuine....

Alas, it was. On Friday Kimi's friend in Hangzhou very kindly bought a couple of the papers and posted them to us in Wenzhou. They arrived yesterday. Here's my claim to fame:

The written Chinese is mostly what I said, but some of it is completely made up. One part of it says something like, "I don't show the skull t-shirt when I am at school so I wear something to hide it." I never said anything of the sort.

I'm now available for after-dinner speeches, charity events, and supermarket openings. Contact my agent for more.

Monday, 13 April 2009

A Year of Progress

It was my day off on Friday and the weather was lovely, probably the hottest day of the year with temperatures of about 30 degrees. I decided to have a walk around my local neighbourhood, go to the park, and take a few pictures. I am not a photographer by any means, and from the looks of it I also don't have many original ideas. I unwittingly took two pictures that are identical to two other pictures I took almost a year ago (when I had just moved into the area).

The first is of Wenzhou's World Trade Centre, which has yet to be completed. I usually think of Chinese construction work as being quicker than the speed of light, but this building has taken an extremely long time to be completed (relatively speaking) as you can see:

March 2008

April 2009

The second picture is of the street where I live, He Hua Road. Both pictures look as if nothing has changed in a year, but once you arrive at my apartment you can now see multiple construction sites. Where once there was peace and quiet, now there are the sounds of circular saws, hammering, huge cement mixers, and drilling. At times I literally feel like I am right in the centre of a developing country, and it's developing at my feet. I have been considering moving to a hammer-free environment, so I will be moving out of my apartment within the next two or three months I think.

March 2008

April 2009

Friday, 10 April 2009

Plans Plans Plans

A month or two ago I was extremely concerned with my long-term future. For no apparent reason, when I returned from England at the end of January I started to feel like I should be doing something different, that I am possibly wasting my time continuing at Web, and that my time in China could be coming to an end. On the other hand, I wanted to stay in China. I was completely torn, and with no idea what to do I began to worry about things.

Instead of thinking too far ahead into the vast unknown, I started to plan for the -- much more realistic -- foreseeable future. This is what the next few months should hold for me:
  1. My one year contract at Web is almost over, I do not want to stay there for another year working full-time (I'll save the reasons why for another blog post). I still enjoy the job sometimes, but it has lost its charm in recent months. Although I was wary to do such a thing, I have signed a new contract with them which was on the basis that I can take one month off at the end of May (see number 2), and that in September I will work on a part-time basis (or not at all if they go against their word).
  2. My sister, Sally is coming to China at the end of May for a few weeks. Now that I have a month off we can easily go travelling together. So far I have planned to take her to Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wenzhou, and somewhere else (I haven't decided on that one yet any suggestions would be welcome).
  3. This one isn't guaranteed yet, but in September this year Kimi and I will hopefully be travelling to England together. We have been together for a year and a half and she still hasn't met my parents. Now we are starting the process of applying for the visa, and Kimi is trying to book time off work (which is ludicrously difficult as they only give her one day of paid holiday a year to start with).
  4. When we return to China in mid-October I will either be working part-time at Web and teaching privately; or I will be looking for new employment.
That's it, that's my plan for the next 6 months. I've got a few things to be happy about -- although it seems this poor dog I saw today isn't with me on that:

Turn that frown upside down

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Holiday in Hangzhou: Part 2

The West Lake

The West Lake is a much-hyped location in Hangzhou, and in China itself. True, it is very pleasant and well worth a visit, but it is by no means "heaven on Earth" as the television adverts will have you believe (on CCTV 9). Still, if you happen to be in the neighbourhood then there is no excuse to take a walk and see one of China's top tourist attractions. The lake itself is very large and a walk around the perimeter can take hours -- I tried it once. The local government have also done a good job at preserving the area in a very tasteful way. You will not see any huge buildings crowding the sky-line; you will not hear the sounds of continual development that plagues so much of this country; and you will not see any cheap touristy cash-ins. Occasionally there is a (free) water show where lake water is pumped in all sorts of directions to simulate a kind of dance with music, at night it is especially spectacular (see below).

The rather indistinguishable water show on the West Lake at night

The same show taking place in the day time (in the distance)

Kimi and I also met up with Reuben (an ex-Web teacher) and his girlfriend, Maggie. It was great to catch up and see how well Hangzhou life has been treating them. They took us to a couple of brilliant restaurants, one served Sichuan food and was certainly one of the best I have been to; the other was Korean, which was also the tastiest Korean food I have ever tried -- although I am by no means an expert on Korean cuisine (I think I've eaten it 5 times in my life).

I haven't been to Hangzhou for a while, but being there this time made me realise how much I have missed the place. I spent over half a year living and working in the city, then -- as I mentioned in my very first post -- I moved to Wenzhou, which has now taken up one year of my life. Hangzhou is certainly a more welcoming choice for anybody visiting China, and it manages to balance business and commerce with sightseeing and relaxation. The latter part is missing in Wenzhou, it is all business business business here.

We stayed with Reuben and Maggie for almost a whole day. We ate, drank, went to an arcade (which was an all-new experience for me in China), and finally ended up at a hotel. Reuben had been doing freelance work teaching some of the hotel staff English. All of us were introduced to the managers and finally the boss of the establishment. Lo and behold, the owner of this rather huge hotel block was Wenzhounese -- typical.

The following day Kimi and I didn't have much time to go sightseeing. Kimi had already done her fair share of shopping having bought a load of clothes from a factory outlet store the previous day. We took a short walk, struggled to find a taxi (which is common practice in Hangzhou), and eventually made our way to Subway for a sandwich -- a rare treat indeed. Finally we arrived back at the bus station, the taxi fare being much more expensive than any Wenzhou taxi I've ever taken. As always we were on the very last minute but just managed to hop on our 1 o'clock bus back to Wenzhou.

The holiday was criminally short, I didn't want to leave really, but as usual reality called and I once again realised that I need to make money to do things like have holidays in the first place. I should mention the national holiday itself was Qing Ming festival, or Tomb Sweeping day. A time to clean, restore, and put flowers on the graves of loved ones -- or go to Hangzhou for 3 days.

Holiday to Hangzhou: Part 1

I apologise for the quietness on my blog recently. The main reason is that Kimi and I have just been away for a few days. Originally we were going to Shanghai to see a concert, but after the government put a stop to that -- as I talked about here -- we decided to pay a visit to Hangzhou with the possibility of visiting Shanghai afterwards (we didn't make it to Shanghai).

After a four and a half hour bus ride, we arrived at Hangzhou. Everything seemed very familiar, nothing had changed since I lived there just over a year ago. We walked to the nearest bus stop and caught a bus to our hotel located in the city centre. The hotel itself was very modern, basic, and most importantly, clean. By this time it was already approaching 4 o'clock, and because we didn't have any lunch on the bus, we were hungry. Our plan was to go to one of Hangzhou's most popular restaurants, Grandma's Kitchen. We thought if we went early we would certainly get a table. This is what happened:

You can't even book a table here, the only option is to queue

So we waited -- for an hour and a half. It is quite astonishing how one restaurant can be so popular. Every time it is the same story, huge queues and slow service. There isn't only one Grandma's Kitchen, there are many of them scattered across the city, each of them probably as equally crowded. Once our number was called we entered the restaurant and took our table -- which we had to share with another couple. When reading the menu one thing is quite apparent: everything is cheap. I got the feeling that one of the reasons the restaurant is so popular could be due to a con of sorts. The restaurant looks expensive, the food looks fancy, but it's all a bargain. Also, the menu is extremely diverse, there's a lot crammed into the pages. You can get anything from Chinese basics like Mapo Tofu, to other slightly less desireable offerings such as Pig's brain (they didn't really need to have a picture of that one, I could have guessed what it might look like).

Our food was delivered extremely quickly even though it was almost impossible to find a waiter who would take our order in the first place. The food was delicious, not the standard Chinese food I am used to. Each dish had something different to offer, it was almost worth the wait.

Somehow we managed to eat almost all of this

There'll be more Hangzhou tomorrow, time to get ready for work now.