From June 2009

Escape from Shenzhen

Da Jia Island

Last weekend I escaped the suffocating summer heat of Shenzhen to the southern island of Da Jia. After a rather hairy boat ride (see video below) we were greeted by beautiful beaches and warm waters. For China it was pretty clean and not too crowded.

Escape from Shenzhen

I’m pretty sure the boat driver had a death wish but for 10 RMB we were hardly expecting a gentle cruise!

The Island

Hiking to the top of the island presented beautiful views out over the Pacific Ocean and some mysterious military installations which hinted at the islands former use. Being on the coast the area is popular for its seafood…

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Not being much of a seafood lover myself I wasn’t too thrilled by the lunch options but it was nethertheless interesting to see the variety of underwater life on offer. Instead or ordering from the restaurant you were able to pick exactly what you wanted from the local market who would then cook it for you directly.

Snorkeling

For those wanting their seafood even fresher a few brave souls were even snorkeling off the coast and eating what they found directly! Sometimes I think it’s nice to see people getting back in closer contact with the origins of their food and sometimes it’s just a bit yuk.

In the evening we returned to the mainland and had a BBQ on the beach which was followed by a pleasant night swim in the still-warm sea. Unfortunately, bereaved of GPS, we got a bit lost on the way home and didn’t get to bed till the early hours of the morning. Still, a nice day was had by all and this time I managed to avoid getting burnt!

My Personal Army

My Personal Army

Anyone who lives in China will know the importance of personal security. Things can get a little hairy from time to time and unless you have someone watching your back you never know when you’ll wake up in a bathtub of ice with your vital organs missing. To this end I have employed a private security unit to take care of my physical protection. While this might seem like a lot of people for the defence of one man you’ve got to remember we’re dealing with economies of scale here. An army in China costs a lot less that it would elsewhere and you’d be surprised just how much you can get for your money.

Inspection

At a glance you can tell this crack unit of ex-PLA special force operatives are the best of the best and one can understand how they got the name “flying dragons”. Seen here parading outside my apartment notice how they are wearing urban camouflage to blend in with the surroundings for minimal visual impact while I go about my daily routine. Local triad gangs beware, ninjas have nothing on these guys.

Chinese Special Forces

No expense has been spared to equip them with the latest technology including these Segway weapon platforms with miniature assault rifles capable of firing up to 100 peas per-minute on fully automatic mode. The unique sitting position allows for greater stability and manoeuvrability while firing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my personal army and consider this a warning to those who would contemplate doing me harm 😉

Vietnamese Spring Restaurant

Green Tea & Chopsticks

If you’ve never tried Vietnamese food go now and try. Your stomach can thank me later.

If you need a little more convincing here’s a few action shots from my visit to “Spring” last weekend, a new restaurant which has popped up in my locality:

Vietnamese Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad (Goi Ga) – onion, peppers, basil, mint, chicken, peanut, cilantro, sweet & sour dressing

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Prawn Spring Rolls (Gỏi cuốn) – little parcels of fresh goodness with Nước chấm dipping sauce

Vietnamese Sandwich

Baguette (Bánh Mi Thit) – French bread containing paté, ham, various vegetables garnished with coriander

This was my third experience of Vietnamese food (the other times being in Guangzhou and Seoul) and although it was just a light lunch everything was delicious and healthy with so many fresh vegetables. The decor was also pretty tasty with a simple green/grey colour scheme.

If they eat this kind of thing everyday in Vietnam then I’d say they have it pretty well!

Deadly Bus Fires in Chengdu & Shenzhen

In the past two weeks in China there have been two separate incidents of buses bursting into flames, firstly in Chengdu, then worryingly closer to home in Shenzhen (warning: links contain graphic photos). Tragically in the first instance 27 people died when they were trapped inside.

Chengdu Bus Fire

There have been no official reasons given for the causes of the fires although there are a number of theories going around:

  • Mechanical failure due to poor maintenance
  • Air conditioning overheated in 30+ °C weather
  • Passenger carrying flammable item / liquid
  • Domestic terrorism (Tibetan independence groups etc.)

When you combine any of these possible causes with the fact that most buses in China are usually horrendously overcrowded then you have a recipe for disaster. What makes it even worse that in the first case the safety-hammers for breaking the windows were missing / stolen and allegedly the bus driver ignored passenger warnings of smoke coming out the engine.

Shenzhen Bus Fire

Given the silence from the government it’s hard not to jump to conclusions as to the cause but for bus passengers, myself included, it leaves an air of nervous tension and suspicion. Some people have even taken to carrying small hammers in their bags and false alarms have caused mass panic.

Whatever the reason for these events it seems clear that nobody wants to take responsibility or even get involved and while there will be much rhetoric about how safety is being improved it’s unlikely anything will change in the short term at least. For a country where corruption is almost a part of everyday life this is a depressing reality.

One thing’s for sure I’ll be thinking twice before squeezing onto an overcrowded bus or one where the wheels look like they might fall off any time soon.

Gulangyu Island

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I spent the latter part of my Xiamen trip on the small island of Gulangyu, just 5 minutes away from the mainland by ferry. As a place of residence for Westerners during Xiamen’s colonial past, Gulangyu is famous for its European architecture and today is a popular holiday destination, although not strictly on the main tourist map. The focal point of the island is Sunlight Rock (above) which can be ascended by way of a rather more modern concrete staircase providing a wonderful panorama of the whole island (below).

View from Sunlight Rock

The island itself covers an area of 1.78 sq km and is home to around only 15,000 permanent residents. The streets are pedestrianised making it a nice place to get away from some of the hustle and bustle of everyday China and luckily it’s not been totally overdeveloped (yet). Once you’ve left the main ferry terminus its easy to find yourself alone and free to explore. If you’re lucky you might even hear the sound of piano playing as the island has more pianos per-capita than anywhere else in the world (there is even a piano and organ museum)!

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Below Sunlight Rock can be found a small temple with picturesque views out over the adjacent rooftops leading to the sea which on a nice day is perfect for a quick paddle. Further down can be found Shuzhuang Garden which was originally conceived by a Taiwanese business man as a private villa but opened to the public in 1955. It contains many elements of traditional Chinese design which exhibit the art of hiding, combining, and borrowing from one’s surroundings.

Haunted House

Alas many of the Victorian style mansions are now in a state of considerable disrepair and are badly in need of restoration. Some have been turned into nice hotels and restaurants but you can’t help but feel that time is running out for many of the remnants of the colonial occupation. If buildings could talk I bet the one above would have some interesting tales to tell and you can understand why there are more than a few ghost stories floating around!

"Welcome"

One area where the island disappoints is in its food. Unless you like seafood then there really is little on offer in the way of cuisine and what there is is mediocre at best. During my time there I mostly snacked on street BBQ and ice cream which was fine, if a little insubstantial. Accommodation wise there are plenty of cheap hotels to stay in, most of which are clean and comfortable, if a bit basic. I stayed here a little over one day but would recommend at least two to explore everything fully.

Chinglish Shop Signs

In China the English language is a fickle thing where the normal rules of grammar, punctuation and general comprehensible sentence structure do not seem to apply. So prolific is this phenomenon that they even have a name for it: Chinglish. Today’s post is a homage to this most wonderful of Frankenstein languages which keeps foreigners chuckling all day long and undoubtedly has sign makers busy when hapless proprietors realise their English faux pas (or not as the case is usually).

The following collection of shop sign shots were taken around the Haiya area of Nanshan District, Shenzhen nearby where I live:

No Right Just Suitable

No Right Just Suitable – a clothes shop where you’ll never find exactly what you’re looking for but it’ll be suitable nevertheless.

Hot Enticement

Hot Enticement – selling all manner of spicy foods to entice you into its fiery lair. Very reasonable prices too!

A Slight Fever

A Slight Fever – just what this is supposed to mean I don’t know. Is that a dog? A place to catch Swine Flu? Confusing.

Dolci & Vita

Dolci & Vita – not content with getting the spelling wrong the use of “&” also seems rather unnecessary but when you’re living the sweet life who cares (it’s a cake shop).

More after the break…
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How To Transfer Money Out Of China

Expats who live and work in China will attest to the hassle banking can be. From opening an account to making deposits and  transferring money it’s not particularly foreigner friendly and frequently requires the patience of a saint. Things gets even more tricky if you get paid in Renminbi (RMB) and want to transfer some of your earnings back home. In general China is adverse to money flowing out of the country and due to the complexity of the process bank staff will often look for any excuse to deny you being able to so.

100 Yuan
Photo by David Dennis

I’ve recently completed the rather tortuous process successfully for the first time so thought I’d share how it works in the hope that others might be able to avoid disappointment –

What you will need:

  • Passport with valid Residence Visa (and sometimes Residency Permit)
  • Employment contract original copy officially stamped or ‘chopped’
  • Tax receipts for each month of your employment (depending on how much you want to transfer)
  • SWIFT code of your bank back home (e.g. BARCGB22 for Barclays UK)
  • Bank account information for both sending and receiving parties (name, address etc.)
  • Sufficient funds up to the amount you have paid tax on (duh!)

What it will cost (other banks may vary):

  • Bank of China – 150 RMB service charge, 0.1% of the total to be transferred
  • Bank of Communications – 80 RMB service charge, 0.1% of the total to be transferred
  • Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) – 150 RMB service charge, 1% of the total to be transferred

In the past only the Bank of China could make foreign transfers but this has been recently liberalised so most banks should now be able to provide telegraphic transfer services.

The process (Chinese speaker needed to help unless you are fluent yourself):

  1. Take all you documents to your bank who will take photocopies (and probably be less than cooperative)
  2. Buy the amount of foreign currency you want to transfer (usually Dollars, Euros or Pounds Sterling) – this will be placed in your account – you wont receive any cash only a receipt
  3. Fill in an application form for funds transfers (overseas). Be sure to enter your details very carefully otherwise your money could end up in someone else’s account! The bank will probably insist that the charges be “shared” between both banks
  4. Submit the form and wait a day for the transfer to complete (praying optional!)
  5. Return the next day to the bank who will give you a receipt detailing whether the transfer was successful or not.

Last but not least, avoid illegal/blackmarket/unofficial money exchangers as you will probably get ripped off or worse. If you’ve had any other experiences of currency exchange in China feel free to leave a comment below.

10pm in Shenzhen

Gazing Into The Night

10pm in the Futian district of Shenzhen taken from the roof of a 33 story apartment block which a guard kindly let me climb out onto (in China there are no “health and safety” laws… that people follow anyway). They came out surprisingly well considering they were taken by a shaky hand without a tripod.

Night Life

There is something magical about the night in such densely packed cities where man has built upwards towards the heavens. Thousands of lights twinkle against the skyline as if indicating their inhabitants very existence within the controlled chaos of urban dwelling in China.

City Arteries

As if arteries in some enormous autonomous monster even the roads and highways take on a life of their own at night ferrying the lifeblood of the city from A to B in a never ending continuum. All we need is for the cars to take to the skies and we’d be living in Blade Runner

Blade Runner Night

Considering the film was set in 2019 it’s not all that far off from what could be reality very soon but something tells me we need to solve the energy/environmental/financial crisis before we can all own flying cars!

Dyed Goldfish Cruelty

Street Pets

As I was walking around my neighbourhood this weekend my eyes were drawn to a a man selling small pets off the back of a cart by the side of the road. He had rabbits, various brightly coloured fish and baby turtles which seemed popular with parents buying them for their kids. I didn’t think much of it at the time and quickly took a couple of shots before moving on.

Dyed Goldfish

Today someone left a comment against the goldfish photo on Flickr that they must have been dyed to give them such bright colours. I’d heard of street sellers in China dying dogs more desirable colours to fetch higher prices but didn’t know the same could be done to fish. As you can imagine the chemicals used are highly toxic and are so unhealthy for the animals that it often reduces their life expectancy to less than a week (even after feeding them painkillers). In the case of fish the dye is injected into the skin after being dipped in a chemical bath, a very cruel process, which also leads to a quick death.

Goldfish

Unfortunately this is another case of animal cruelty for the sake of profit. Goldfish may be small little things but there’s still no excuse for this. I don’t know if there are any laws against this kind of thing in China but hopefully people will see sense not to buy pets from disreputable vendors.

Nanputuo Temple

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On the second enjoyably hot and sunny morning in Xiamen I visited Nanputuo Temple (“nan” meaning south) situated at the foot of Wulaofeng (Mountain of Five Old Men) facing the sea. It’s one of the most famous Buddhist temples in China, founded in the Tang Dynasty, with over 1000 years history containing three main halls and one pavilion (some being more recent additions).

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Outside the temple is an equally beautiful lotus pond which at this time year was covered in water lilies and teeming with various fish and more than a few turtles. The temple and its grounds were also unfortunately swarming with people who evidently had had the same idea of how to enjoy the nice day but nevertheless there was still room to enjoy it all. With an entrance fee of only 3 RMB it’s very cheap.

Inside Nanputuo Temple

The temple is home to over 100 monks who live and study here. They only eat vegetarian food and apparently get up at 4.30am each morning to chant which is supposed to purify their minds. You’ll notice that whenever I visit temples I never take any photos inside of the halls which usually contain statues of Buddha which you are forbidden to photograph. Buddhists believe that Buddha is one who has attained enlightenment (Nirvana) thereby escaping the cycle of suffering and rebirth.

Dragon Fish

Above is a wooden carving of a fish with a dragons head, hence being called a “dragon fish”. I’m not sure if it has any other meaning but looks cool!

Temple Pagoda

As you walk through the temple you are also ascending the mountainside and can see many characters carved into the rocks painted a deep red. In the garden area we brought some very delicious cakes which are a local delicacy made with a green bean filling to give a sweet taste.

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It only takes about half an hour to view the whole temple, more if you want to climb to the top of the mountain, and is right next to Xiamen University which is also worth a look.