From September 2008

Mega Banqueting

Last week had to be one of the busiest I’ve had in a long long time. Aside from climatic extremes of heat and rain food has to rank a close second in my new life here. Chinese cuisine encompass such a wide palate from across its many regions that you’re always spoilt for choice.

Wednesday night celebrated the anniversary of the new company I have joined with all 500+ Chinese employees gathering together in a massive banqueting hall for an evening of mass catering and performance. I’ve never seen anything quite like it – after initial speeches and dinner various people got on the stage to sing their favourite songs which went on for about two hours!

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Thursday ended with a delicious meal in a Mongolian restaurant with some interesting dishes including lotus roots and some curious looking vegetable buns (top right). What I haven’t quite fathomed yet is how China has such a high life expectancy (on average 73 compared to 78 in the UK) yet most of their food is quite oily and, if recent events are anything to go by, toxic! I’d be interested if anyone has any theories about this.

Friday brought with it another new experience with a trip to KTV (or Karaoke Television) which, as you can imagine, is a box room with a large screen which people can sing along to music videos (seemingly most from the 80’s) to their hearts content. Not exactly my cup of tea but fun nevertheless and I even learnt a new dice game which involved guessing the total number on a set of given dice that the other players have. For the sake of anyone’s embarrassment the photos are not included!

On Saturday I ended up having another massive dinner which included shark-fin soup and Beijing duck amongst other delicious dishes. I’ll try not to let food dominate to much more around here but it’s just so good!!

Typhoon Hagupit


Photo © AP Photo/Vincent Yu

This week brought its fair share of climatic excitement when Typhoon Hagupit smashed into the southern coast of China, not far from Shenzhen. With wind speeds in excess of 200 km/h it was apparently the most powerful typhoon to hit Guangdong province in more than 10 years. Flights and ferry services were suspended and schools closed. While  the city of Maoming bore the brunt of it’s strength things got pretty extreme where I was with lashing rain unlike I’ve ever seen before – it was so heavy at one point I couldn’t see out the office windows. I got caught in it on the way home Tuesday evening and even with an umbrella got totally soaked with the concrete environment turned into impermiable rivers! To me it may have been exciting but sadly claimed the lives of 5 people.

6000 Flavours

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Yesterday for lunch I went to a restaurant called “6000 Flavours” which certainly lived up to it’s name judging by the voluminous menu. We had some special pork bone & sweetcorn soup along with fried eel and some curious vegetable balls containing a kind of mustard. The bones were cut in half and a straw provided so you could suck out the bone marrow which on the face of it is a bit disgusting but I gave it a go!

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The fun bit came when we ordered fresh noodles – a waiter came over with a strip of some kind of dough and proceed to make them in front of us but swinging it vigorously around in circles. Even the locals enjoyed the performance & for once I wasn’t the the only person taking pictures of food! Once the noodles were of a suitable size they were cooked in the same soup pot.

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Above is the fried eel. It isn’t something I’d normally want to eat but this was delicious. Not rubbery or slimy as I had expected. My resolution is to try something new each day 🙂

Hotter Than Hell

So after 5 days in my new home, Shenzhen, the most resounding impression so far is that this place is hot – really hot. During the day it’s been around 32°C and at night 27°C, all intensified by 66% humidity in the concrete jungle of high rise apartments and offices. Air-conditioning is a must-have and makes working indoors much more pleasant but wandering around in the midday heat is physically draining and you’ll probably want to carry around a bottle of water at all times.

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Most likely having something to do with the heat at around 1 to 1.30pm each day most people take a nap, in fact, in my new office a security guard comes round and turns the lights off then on at the allotted time. I found it rather amusing the first time to watch everyone get out a pillow and rest their heads on their desk!! I’ve not followed this trend yet but might give it a go next week 😉

Globalisation

The other thing which strikes me about Shenzhen is that this is predominantly a city where people come to work. The skyline is filled with high-rise apartment buildings as far as the eye can see which houses an approximate 16 million inhabitants who have come from all over this massive country to find their fortunes. In China you are literally 1 in over a billion, perhaps giving a new perspective on the power China’s collective mind. This is living on an industrial scale.

Shenzhen Hot Pot!

I’ve already had some amazing food since I arrived including fried frog which tasted like chicken, but not much meat! Last night after many hours of apartment hunting I had hot pot (above) with a colleague and his wife who have been very kind in helping me to find an apartment. This has got to be one of my favourite Chinese meals – simple yet very very delicious and nutritious.

The past week has been pretty non-stop but in one week there is a national holiday which will mean a week off work so I can’t complain! More soon.

Farewell Britannia

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Photo by Gilbert R

As the saying goes “a goodbye isn’t painful unless you’re never going to say hello again” and so it is with my imminent departure from the UK tomorrow. I’ll be back, I’m just not sure when! My flight to Hong Kong departs from London Heathrow tomorrow at midday and will touch down at 7am local time Wednesday morning after eleven-and-a-half hours of economy-class boredom. Then the real fun begins.

Hong Kong dawn
Photo by slack12

I wont actually have any time in Hong Kong this time as I’ll be hopping directly on a coach across the border into mainland China and my final destination of Shenzhen (about 1 hour away). During the next two weeks I’ll be staying in a hotel while I find myself somewhere more perminant to live (fingers crossed).

I’ll be blogging as much as I can, time permitting, here and keep an eye on my FriendFeed / Flickr photostream for the latest goings on there. See you on the other side!

10 Future Trends

On the 10th anniversary of its founding Google has recently been asking 10 of its “experts” to give their predictions of what’s going to happen in the next 10 years as the internet evolves. I’m no expert but as a curious partaker in this brave new world I thought I’d give a shot at coming up with my own list of future predictions

  1. Computation moves into the cloud – obvious but important. This is the key to the future which will provoke massive social change. No longer will we be tied to our desks or fortified corporate networks. Work anywhere on any device with the same access to all the same resources.
  2. Technology is humanised – forget “plug and pray”, it just works. Long promised, rarely delivered. This is when technology is liberated from the geeks into the hands of the masses. Compatibility will be a thing of the past once computers all speak a common set of standard languages.
  3. Interfaces are revolutionised – keyboards and mice will seem quaint. Touch, eye, voice and possibly even brain controllers will be commonplace. If you think the iPhone is cool you haven’t seen anything yet. Understanding semantic context will make manipulating complex data childs play.
  4. Connectivity is ubiquitous – the internet is everywhere. Not just on your computer or mobile ~ it will be woven into the very fabric of everyday life as an essential additional layer connecting everything to everyone and visa versa. Blanket high-speed wireless connections will exist across all major cities.
  5. Personalisation gets personal – whether you are in the real world or the virtual world your social connections, interests and history (etc) will follow you everywhere you go. The flow of information will be automatically targeted and fine tuned around this. You control who sees what/where/when.
  6. Language barriers are broken – English is only the 4th most spoken language in the world. Through real-time machine translation you now speak and understand the rest. The volume of information you have at available will drastically increase through this. Small businesses can now operate globally.
  7. Information overload & dependency – faced with more information that you could possibly imagine people will face new challenges of how to cope. Some will thrive in this new sea of unlimited potential while other will face serious mental collapse. There will be those who choose to disconnect entirely.
  8. Viruses are no more – with the majority of software provided as a service (SaaS) viruses which plagued Windows users will be a thing of the past. However, new even more dangerous and sophisticated threats will emerge with personal data stored in the cloud a prime target.
  9. Social homogenisation – spurred on by technology, globalisation take an every stronger hold on social norms. It becomes a cognitive and social culture, not a geographic one, which relies heavily on the notion of information and knowledge exchange in a complex web of relationships.
  10. Man-machine distinction blurs – the line between humans and machines begins to lessen. Old concepts of pre-net existence will seem foreign to our children who will liken the change to the Age of Enlightenment when mankind made a seismic shift in the way we live and ultimately exist.

This wont all happen in the next 10 years but we are already seeing a steady progression towards it and, unless climate change or a natural disaster wipes us all out, I strongly believe this will be a reality well within our lifetime. What would be on your list?

Chinese Employment Z Visa Application

Obtaining an employment visa (Z type) to work in China from the UK has been a real nightmare, seemingly compounded by the Olympics when things were further tightened up. The process isn’t very well documented anywhere so to try and possibly help others I thought I might relay my experiences. Please note that none of the below is in any way official and obviously subject to change – your mileage may vary!

To apply for the Z visa from the UK your company will need to provide you with the following documentation:

  1. An employment permit

  2. An visa notification letter

For them to get this documentation you will need give them:

Copies of the above need to be notarised by a Notary Public (search Google to find one near you), legalised by the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (in Milton Keynes by post or in person), and finally certified by the Chinese Embassy (in London/Manchester/Edinburgh) IN THIS EXACT ORDER.

Once your company has made the application for the employment permit / visa notification letter and sent them back you can then apply for the Z visa at the Chinese Embassy (appointment required) or Chinese Visa Application Center (more expensive but no appointment needed) for which, in addition to the aforementioned documents (plus photocopies), you will need:

Unfortunately all of this is very expensive and time consuming – I would recommend budgeting at least £400 and 6 weeks to complete the full process at a bare minimum. Once you arrive in China you will need to obtain a Residence Permit which I will save for another post (once I’ve been through it myself!).

Good luck and if your experience differs or you have any other advice to offer please comment below!

Google Creates a Browser

…called Chrome (not yet live) and presented it in comic form. No beta to play with yet but the concept presented looks exciting. To my mind second generation browsers (FF3 included) have almost reached their limit and this introduces some pretty revolutionary new thinking, certainly in terms of the technology behind it, which should hopefully provide some good competition to further propel innovation across the browser market. Best of all it’ll be entirely Open Source.

I hate to say “I told you so” but this is moving exactly as I predicted last year – the web browser is becoming the operating system.

Lots more detail Google Blogoscoped, ReadWriteWeb and Tech Crunch.