Tag Archives: “This is China”

Evolution of Squat toilets

Visiting an office in Beijing, I noticed this sign in the toilet.  It was not a squat toilet so I nearly fell off laughing!!  The translation reads “It’s time to enjoy, not to create.  We don’t want you to fall off.”

Squat Toilet Evolution

Squat Toilet Evolution

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Sanya for New Year

After a very busy Christmas, we were all looking forward to a relaxing, sunny beach holiday in Sanya, Hainan.  This island is at the southern most point of China and is nicknamed the Hawaii of China!  Late afternoon on Thursday December 27th, we flew from Shanghai to Sanya.  We were greeted at arrivals by a very nice man from the hotel to take us to check in.  It was a 45 minute drive through roads with large brightly lit hotels and buildings – it reminded us a little bit of Benidorm!  We arrived at the Intercontinental hotel, checked in and then got on a golf cart to take us to our room.

Intercontinental Hotel

Intercontinental Hotel

The hotel is beautifully laid out and is a sprawling complex of 1 or 2 storey beach side rooms, restaurants and pools.  There is a high rise building behind all of this but it is tucked into the side of the mountain and quite unobtrusive.

Oliver & Isabelle on the balcony of our hotel room - it had a double lounger!

Oliver & Isabelle on the balcony of our hotel room – it had a double lounger!  In the background you can see the fabulous roof gardens on top of the single storey hotel villas.

The hotel rooms below us have gardens on their roof!  We are on the top floor - 2nd storey, overlooking the pool and ocean.

We are on the top floor – 2nd storey, overlooking the pool and ocean.

Our room is fantastic with the largest balcony I have seen. We have 2 double beds and a single.  The room is spacious even though it has 3 beds and has all the right AV connections for us to connect our IPads to the tv for movie time for the kids!!

Beautiful pool

Beautiful pool

We wake up on Friday to glorious sunshine, blue skies and 25 degree heat.  We ate breakfast in the club continental restaurant, after which we walked around the resort.  We checked out all the different restaurants, fitness facilities and kids club.  Both Isabelle and Oliver wanted to do some activities while we were there so we checked the times of their favourites.  It was back to the room to change into swim suits and go to one of the pools for the day.  We settled by the only heated pool which was also by the kids slide/kids pool.  Oliver immediately made a friend and the 3 of them were off sliding, jumping, swimming.  Owen and I relaxed by the pool for the whole day!!

The Ocean was warm too!

The Ocean was warm too!

One of the pools

One of the pools

The infinity edge Club Intercontinental pool overlooking the beach!

The infinity edge Club Intercontinental pool overlooking the beach!  The Sea Pavilion restaurant is on the far left on jetty’s over the ocean.  Fantastic Chinese meal here!

That evening we decided to try the Sea Pavilion restaurant which is a group of buildings built over the coral reef.  We had the best Chinese meal that we have ever eaten in this restaurant.  Everything was beautifully cooked and presented.  We even had a bottle of imported Chablis to drink with it!!

Breakfast al fresco at Club Continental

Breakfast al fresco at Club Continental

Saturday was another day by a different pool and today it was Isabelle’s turn to make a friend.  We read books while the children played – they really are water babies and are totally happy to spend the whole day in the pool.  1 kids club activity to do – fishing off the jetty.  They came back with a bucket filled with a large eel, 3 large fish and a large crab.  They had also caught 5 shrimp but there was no evidence of these as they had obviously been eaten by everything else they caught…..  We took a couple of photos and then walked down to the beach to put them all back into the ocean.  We ate at Club Continental that evening.

Crab, eel, shrimp (now eaten!) and fish - not bad in 1 hour fishing off the jetty!

Crab, eel, shrimp (now eaten!) and fish – not bad in 1 hour fishing off the jetty!

Sunday – was a chilly day and we actually had to wear long sleeve t-shirts!  Kids had a couple of activities at kids club – pancake making (Isabelle burnt her hand on the hot plate) and they also made an alarm clock. They were supposed to go fishing again but Isabelle’s hand hurt too much.  Even though Isabelle’s hand burning was an accident (she touched the hot plate that they were making pancakes on), the staff could not have handled it better.  They immediately applied ice and gave us a special burns cream (burns are obviously a matter of fact in the kitchen!)  The next day there was no evidence of the burn and it was almost forgotten!  That night we ate at Mediterraneano and the kids got to play on a bouncy castle that goes up every evening.  Owen had delicious beef and I had lamb!  It had not been a pool day as it was too chilly for all of us.  It was a lazy movie day in our hotel room.

The water slide at the family pool.

The water slide at the family pool.

Lazing on the alligator in the Club pool.

Lazing on the alligator in the Club pool.

New Year’s Eve dawned a little warmer and we had to be early as Isabelle and Oliver were going off to hunt for seashells on the beach as a kids club activity.  Straight after they made shell necklaces.  We picked Oliver up after these activities, but Isabelle wanted to stay and play with a lovely little boy who would not let go of her hand at kids club!  (We later found out that he is the General Manager’s little boy!!)

We went to the pool and had lunch sitting by the pool. Although it was a blue sky day, it is still a little cooler than when we first arrived.  Our New Year’s Eve
Celebration dinner was a magnificent buffet at Mediterraneano that included baby lobster, crab, all sorts of meats, Chinese specialities and a chocolate fountain!  It was all delicious and we stretched it out as long as possible, but the kids did not make it past 10 pm.  Owen struggled through to 11.55 and then it was just me to make phone calls back home – slightly tiddly!!

Isabelle with her New Year's Eve hat on.

Isabelle with her New Year’s Eve hat on.

Oliver's New Year's Eve hat.

Oliver’s New Year’s Eve hat.

Me with my 2 lovely children celebrating at Mediterraneao

Me with my 2 lovely children celebrating at Mediterraneao

Garfield came to visit the kids at the restaurant.

Garfield came to visit the kids at the restaurant.

Tigger came too!

Tigger came too!

Tigger with Isabelle!

Tigger with Isabelle!

Walking back to our hotel room after New Year's Eve dinner.  We stopped by the fire pit.....

Walking back to our hotel room after New Year’s Eve dinner. We stopped by the fire pit…..

A fantastic family shot on New Year's Eve.  Owen worked out the self timer on the camera and we took some lovely photos of all of us on our balcony.

A fantastic family shot on New Year’s Eve. Owen worked out the self timer on the camera and we took some lovely photos of all of us on our balcony.

New Year’s Day was a beautiful day. Kids were off to kids club for t-shirt art and hand/feet art in the morning.  Owen and I sat and chatted with the General Manager all morning.  Jeff had arranged bikes for us in the afternoon so we rode to the opposite side of the bay where there is a large marina and we stopped on the way back at a fab playground park for the kids to play.  Dropped the bikes off and then headed to the pool……

We took 2 tandem bikes to the other side of the bay to check out the Marina.  This was the only time we ventured out of the resort!

We took 2 tandem bikes to the other side of the bay to check out the Marina. This was the only time we ventured out of the resort!

Kids by the Marina

Kids by the Marina

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday was more of the same!  Pool, pool, pool.  We at least tried all the restaurants in the resort!!  We did not leave the resort – other than on the bike ride. We were all perfectly content to laze by the pools.  One afternoon the kids spent an hour or so creating art out of rocks.

Oliver Rocks!

Oliver Rocks!

Isabelle Rocks too!

Isabelle Rocks too!

Owen and I read books on our iPads and Isabelle and Oliver were in paradise, throwing themselves down the water slide or playing in the pool.  It is amazing how long they will play in the pool for.  They also made sand pictures and had a water gun fight in the pool as part of kids club activities.  One final highlight of Kids Club was an hour spent in the restaurant making cookies and muffins with Chef Alex.  They both absolutely loved that!

Chef Alex with his Sous Chefs!  The boxes contain cookies and muffins that they made in the restaurant kitchen.  They loved this!

Chef Alex with his Sous Chefs! The boxes contain cookies and muffins that they made in the restaurant kitchen. They loved this!

Isabelle and Oliver in the swinging bar seats by the beach.

Isabelle and Oliver in the swinging bar seats by the beach.

A beautiful Sanya sunset.

A beautiful Sanya sunset.

Owen with Isabelle and Oliver outside the Beer Factory restaurant.

Owen with Isabelle and Oliver outside the Beer Factory restaurant.  (Great Fish and Chips here!)

Trying to pick up the giant beer mug!

Trying to pick up the giant beer mug!

Alligators in the Club Pool!

Alligators in the Club Pool!

Blue skies, palm trees, sun and relaxation.

Blue skies, palm trees, sun and relaxation.

The general manager told us that the hotel was fully booked, but you would never have known it.  The pools were mainly empty (except for the heated pool!) and there was always room in the restaurants.  The resort is a paradise – a zen zone!  It has a very calming, peaceful atmosphere and we were very well looked after.
It was just what we were looking for after a busy end to the year.

Cultural observations

You rarely see a fat Chinese person.  I think this is because they do not eat a lot of processed food – their diet consists of mainly meat, vegetables, rice and noodles.  They are not big dairy eaters and dessert at most restaurants is usually fruit.  They also eat most of the animal or fish, parts that most westerners would not.

You don’t often see a balding Chinese man.  I wonder what it is about their genes that allow them to keep a full head of hair into old age.  If you could bottle that, it would make millions!  The beautiful straight dark hair seems to stay that way into old age too – I have not seen many grey haired ladies (perhaps they all dye it!)

The airline rules don’t appear to apply to Chinese.  It doesn’t matter if we are taxi-ing or just landed – they will get up, use the toilet, open the over-head bins.  The seatbelt sign is obviously just for amusement.

Queueing is an alien concept.  You just barge as quickly as possible to the front.  So, you don’t have to let people off an elevator first, before getting in – regardless of how many people are trying to get out.

Personal space is much more limited than most Westerners would like.  I think that because there are so many people here, you just get used to sharing less space.  It has taken me a while to get used to people walking so close to me (and each other) and just general crowding.  The only time I really object is when you hear the horrible noise of a Chinese person clearing their throat getting ready to spit.  I know that different beliefs and customs in a culture should be tolerated – but I really cannot stand that.

The Life of the Celebrity

Having spent the weekend being followed, photographed and touched, I now have some sympathy for those who live life in the tabloid magazines.  The celebrities who court fame, fortune and continual hounding are at least compensated with free designer gowns, fancy jewels and endorsements.  In return they must put up with the constant presence of paparazzi taking their picture.  All we are doing is living in China!!  Our children are a magnet wherever we go.

It is not so bad in Shanghai as it is the most westernized of China cities.  However, a 3 hour flight in land, to Chengdu, and it is much more noticeable.  Even though Chengdu is a popular destination for tourists (to visit the Panda Bears), it seems that Western children are still a novelty.

I especially noticed it this weekend as we were out and about so much.  I do not mind quite as much when people keep their distance, but it becomes intrusive when they get too close and then want to touch them both.  I lost count of the number of photographs that were taken of our 2 lovely children.  Many people asked to have their photo taken with them too.  Isabelle and Oliver now ignore the attention as they are getting used to the stares, pointing and smiles, and will generally ignore it all.  At least our 2 children bring smiles to everyone around us!

China’s City Tier System

This weekend we are going to Chengdu in Sichuan province in Southwest China.  It is the capital City of Sichuan and is home to approximately 14 million people.  It is designated as a Tier 2 City.  This got me thinking….. what is a Tier 1 City, how many tiers are there and what does it mean.  Surprisingly, I could not find an official definition anywhere.  I did, however, find lots of websites that have opinions so I thought I would summarize my findings.
In the past two decades, numerous cities in China have experienced unprecedented economic growth and this economic phenomenon triggered the rise of a classification system based on “tiers”.  This aims to rank cities throughout China in terms of their population size, development of services, infrastructure and cosmopolitan nature.  Although the tier system is often criticized for being inexact and lacking standardized criteria, it can serve as a useful reference for companies that are trying to structure their China strategy.

Beginning in the 1980’s, the Chinese government began investing large amounts of capital in major Chinese cities in order to stimulate economic growth in different regions of the country.  Because every city experienced growth at its own pace, it became relevant for the economic and business communities to become familiar with this tier- based classification method.

TIER 1 CITIES
Tier 1 cities were the first to be opened to competitive economic development by the Chinese government.  These cities are recognized for being densely populated as well as culturally and economically influential.  Tier 1 Cities attract the attention of foreign enterprises given their large middle class representation and income levels well above the national average.  Cities that fall within this category represent China’s most developed markets in terms of consumer behavior.  First tier cities register total retail sales of around 30 billion RMB ($4.75 billion USD), and an annual per capita income of around 11,000 RMB (1,774 USD).

Tier 1 Cities are:  Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou.   These cities are known for being important political, cultural, industrial and financial centers in China as well as key hubs for the greater East-Asia region.

TIER 2 CITIES
The rapid economic growth and rising incomes in 2nd tier cities has caught the attention of foreign investors over the past several years.  The markets in Tier 2 cities are a lot less competitive and the labor costs are substantially cheaper compared to Tier 1 cities.  A rapid increase in consumer spending in second tier cities is creating more demand for foreign brands.  However, the income of consumers in second, third, and fourth tier cities has been reported to be less than half compared to those in first tier cities.  At the end of 2011 around 60 cities in China qualified as second tier cities (China Sourcing).

Some sources point to a more complex method of classification within second and third tier cities (rightsite.asia).  This method of classification divides cities into three subcategories within their tier: high, medium, and low.  Tianjin and Chengdu are examples of cities that fall within the second tier high category. These two cities are considered rapidly developing economic centers.  Within the second tier medium subcategory we see places like Nanjing and Xi’an where economic development shows relatively stable progress.  Second tier lower cities are generally characterized for being the capitals of some provinces as well as cities that show increasing economic development. Second tier lower cities include Wuhan and Hefei.

TIER 3 CITIES
There are approximately 200 county-level cities in China that fall within the category of a 3rd tier city (China Sourcing).  Within third tier cities there is also a categorical subdivision like I mentioned above. Third tier high cities include Zhongshan and Shantou.  Third tier medium cities include cities like Xining and Baoding.

I also wondered why the Chinese government created a system like this.  Again, I could not find any direction or explanation.  It seems that it is a useful reference for foreign investors who wish to establish a presence in China.  China has more than 120 cities that have a population of 1 million people or more.  In fact, it is mind boggling to imagine 1.4 BILLION people in this Country.  And, that 800 million of them live in remote, rural areas in relative poverty – that is more than double the population of USA to put it in context.  Many of these people have never seen a 100RMB note (approx £10/$15).

China Provinces and major Cities

NOTE: This is not an official list!!

First tier

  • Beijing
  • Guangzhou
  • Shanghai
  • Shenzhen

Second tier

  • Changchun 
  • Chengdu
  • Chongqing 
  • Dalian 
  • Guiyang 
  • Haikou
  • Hangzhou 
  • Harbin
  • Hefei 
  • Kunming
  • Lanzhou 
  • Nanjing
  • Ningbo 
  • Qingdao 
  • Sanya
  • Shantou 
  • Shaoxing 
  • Shenyang 
  • Shenzhen 
  • Suzhou 
  • Taiyuan 
  • Tianjin 
  • Urumqi 
  • Wenzhou 
  • Wuhan 
  • Xiamen 
  • Xian 
  • Zhuhai 

Third tier

I could not find a single listing for Tier 3 cities so by process of elimination, if you are in a Chinese city that is not listed as Tier 1 or 2, then you must be in a third tier city!

Chinglish Lunch

Today I went to lunch with a group from the office.  We went to a local Chinese restaurant and had a delicious meal.  I love the Chinese way of ordering lots of different dishes and then everyone tries a little of everything.  It is also nice to go with locals who order food that I would never think to order and most of the time, it is yummy!  I had to laugh at the translation on the menu for many of the dishes.  I don’t know what the staff thought I was doing when I asked to keep the menu so I could take photos!

Every restaurant in China has a food safety certificate prominently displayed.  I think that yellow is ok to eat!  No funny tummy so far……

A yellow neutral face for food safety today

There were 7 of us for lunch and everyone ordered a couple of dishes each.  I chose a spicy fish option, because my first choice had already been ordered:

Explosion Lamb! It was fantastic.

Pork Grandmother (the translation means “homestyle” cooked). Again, it was delicious.

This cauliflower dish was perfectly cooked with a fabulous combination of flavours. Unfortunately, none of my friends knew the English for the “green stuff” so I don’t know what it was cooked with. It was definitely not mustard!

The rest of the photos here are of dish names on the menu that made me laugh, but that I did not try.  I will be going back, so I will be sampling some of these in the future.

So many on this page alone: Moo Meat; Braised Stroke; Chicken Black Fungus; Rich Beef; Cowboy Cake Ring; Chicken, blinds results.

Grilled Husband Sixi. Perhaps all the scorned women of China get together for a special type of “divorce”.

I love soybeans (edamame), but I had no idea that I just been eating the good ones up until now. I can’t wait to try the naughty ones next time!

3 yellow chicken

How many versions of yellow can there be? And, this poor chicken has 3 versions……..

Old Chicken Pot. This poor chicken looks like he just gave up the struggle to live. Chicken in China is more often than not served like this (head and feet). It is also the same when you are buying it. The feet are a delicacy and are most often served deep fried.

Chicken Feet

Golden week – Mid Autumn Festival and National Holiday

Last week was “Golden Week”: the Mid Autumn Festival and National Holiday, which basically means a week off work for most people and a huge travel opportunity!

The People’s Republic of China was founded on October 1, 1949 with a ceremony at Tiananmen Square.  The Central People’s Government passed a Resolution and declared that October 1 is the National Day.  The National Day marks the start of one of the two Golden Weeks in the PRC (the other is for Chinese New Year).  The National Day is celebrated throughout China and Hong Kong and Macau, with a variety of government-organised festivities, including fireworks and concerts.  Public places, such as Tiananmen Square in Beijing, are decorated in a festive theme.  Portraits of revered leaders, such as Mao Zedong, are publicly displayed.

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, Mooncake Festival or Zhongqiu Festival, is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar, close to the autumnal equinox.  The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important holidays in the Chinese calendar, the others being Spring Festival and Winter Solstice.  Accompanying the celebration, there are additional cultural or regional customs, such as:

  • Eating mooncakes, traditionally consisting primarily of lotus bean paste.  We bought ours from Starbucks – coffee, green tea and caramel flavoured.
  • Drinking tea.
  • In some parts of China, dances are held for young men and women to find partners. “One by one, young women are encouraged to throw their handkerchiefs to the crowd.  The young man who catches and returns the handkerchief has a chance of romance.”
  • Carrying brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns on towers, floating sky lanterns.
  • Burning incense in reverence to deities including Chang’e
  • Fire Dragon Dances.
  • Solving riddles, or miyu in Mandarin Chinese, usually written on slips of paper and pasted on the lanterns.
  • The Moon rabbit is a traditional icon.

The story of Chang E is the most widely accepted tale regarding the origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival.  It is said that in ancient times, ten suns existed and the extreme heat made people’s lives very difficult.  It was the hero Hou Yi who, owing to his great strength, shot down the nine of the ten suns.  On hearing of this amazing feat and the hero who performed it, people came from far and wide to learn from him.  Peng Meng was among these people.  Later, Hou Yi married a beautiful and kind woman named Chang E and lived a happy life.

One day, Hou Yi came upon Wangmu (the queen of heaven) on the way to meet his old friend.  Wangmu presented him an elixir which, if drunk, would cause him to ascend immediately to heaven and become an immortal.  Instead of drinking the potion himself, Hou Yi took it home and presented it to Chang E to keep. Unfortunately, Peng Meng secretly saw Hou Yi give the potion to his wife and three days later, while Hou Yi was out hunting, Peng Meng rushed into the backyard and demanded that Chang E hand over the elixir.  Knowing that she could not win, she took out the elixir and swallowed it immediately.  The moment she drank it, she flew out of the window and up into the sky.  Chang E’s great love for her husband drew her towards the Moon, which is the nearest heavenly body to the earth.

On realising what happened to his wife, Hou Yi was so grief stricken that he shouted Chang E’ s name to the sky.  He was amazed to see a figure which looked just like his wife appeared in the Moon, which now takes the form of a rabbit.  He took the food liked by Chang E to an altar and offered it as a sacrifice for her. Hou Yi’s neighbours also burned incense and prepared food to express their good wishes to the kind Chang E.  This became a custom later every year.

If you look at the moon from China, you can clearly see a rabbit shape!  For us, it was a fabulous opportunity to travel to Singapore and Malaysia.