Archive for January, 2009

It’s my fault!

January 29, 2009

Well I did mention how nice it was to come home from a Chinese Summer period(which lasted at least 6 months opposed to the regular 3) to enjoy Australia’s more regular temperature. I mentioned that we were having a cooler than usual Summer and well – it was nice.

Well that all changed this week! We have been absolutely sweltering under 40+ degree celcius temperatures. It is the biggest heat wave we have experienced in years, and well, it was possibly my fault! Karma can be a real bitch 🙂

In other news, the Chinese tennis player Jie Zheng I had previously been speaking about dropped out of the 4th round of the Australian Open due to a wrist injury. As a result, Zheng(ranked 22) went down to Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova(ranked 8), 4 games to 1.

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All the fireworks in China!

January 28, 2009

Well the Year of the Ox is in full swing, may you have a good one! A prominent feature of any Chinese celebration is of course fireworks. The Chinese invented them back in the 12th Century as a natural extension of their gunpowder invention – a little thing that kinda changed the way the world fought each other. China is in fact the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter of fireworks. Likely also the source of the most fireworks related accidents as we have previously mentioned!

I think most people love fireworks. They’re bright, colourful, loud and always present at festive activities such as New Years Eve. Most people would think of fireworks and think of having a good time. In China, it’s different. Fireworks are so commonplace that it’s a daily event. Seeing a fireworks display is no different than seeing a bus drive past – it happens all the time.

While we were in China for at least 6 months straight we experienced nightly fireworks. We couldn’t believe it. They weren’t the huge overly expensive type things you would see over Sydney Harbour at New Years, but moreso ‘kit’ fireworks. Our first night in China had us dragged out to a banquet and as we drove to the restaurant, in an almost surreal way, fireworks were going off over the street. What we couldn’t understand was no-one was actually paying them any attention.

The mess left after a fireworks display celebrating the opening of a small restaurant.

The mess left after a fireworks display celebrating the opening of a small restaurant.

It took us many months to actually see some being launched. We would always see them in the sky from distance, but never anyone actually setting them off. The Chinese set them off to mark so many occasions. Fireworks are a symbol of prosperity and good luck. If a new restaurant opens? Fireworks. If someone moves into a new house? Fireworks. Baby born? Fireworks. Particularly large sneeze? You guessed it, fireworks.

One night we were lucky enough to have dinner down the road from the school where we lived and see them setting up fireworks along the street side. They would start with ‘poppers’, which were lines of what had to be at least 50 red tubes. These were placed along the road. They would then light them one by one and they would launch into the air and explode with a huge ‘pop!” It was amusing as they made smoke go absolutely everywhere and half the empty exploded cannisters were coming down and landing on passing traffic. Safety standards? Nope!

Next came the crackers. These are incredibly loud and come on long tangled vines. The thing with these is after they have exploded they leave an absolutely unbelievable mess around the area they were lit. The Poppers leave considerable mess also – but nowhere near as much as these crackers.

Then finally, fireworks in a box. They bring out a box the size of a small television with a fuse. Once lit it shoots fireworks into the air in a basic, yet quite impressive display. In true Chinese fashion, all rubbish is left on the roadside for someone else to deal with. Within a minute, both of the boxes from the fireworks displays had been scavenged by passers by.

If you thought fireworks in China were just like New Years Eve at home – think again.

Fireworks in a box in full effect!

Fireworks in a box in full effect!

Happy New Year!

January 26, 2009

Today is Chinese New Year, the most important of all Chinese holidays.  Beginning on the first day of the first lunar month, the festival continues until 15th, this day being known as Lantern Festival.  New Year and the Spring Festival are big business in China.  It is a time where families reunite – resulting in huge people migration across the country.  Migrant workers return home from the cities, and even overseas Chinese return to celebrate with their families.  For many in the country, it can be the only chance to see their family for the entire year, what with so many parents working hundreds of miles away with their children raised by grandparents. 

A typical scene outside Wuxi Train Station as thousands return home for New Year.

A typical scene outside Shanghai Train Station as thousands return home for New Year.

We have had many emails from our former students in the last couple of days, detailing how they will spend their holiday from school.  Most of them are excited at the thought of going home, and being given presents and money in red envelopes by their family.  As is the way with any Chinese festivity, families enjoy a celebratory dinner accompanied by either dumplings (jiaozi – which symbolise wealth due to their shape) or new year cake (niangao). 

Possibly the highlight though is the New Years Gala which is broadcast on CCTV – the mind can only boggle at the wonderment that must be felt watching such a spectacle. 

We were really looking forward to experiencing Chinese New Year, with our hope being to spend the time in Shanghai.  Our second day in China was Lantern Festival day, unfortunately we hadn’t yet found our feet enough to venture into the city for the festivities.  Sadly though, we will have to watch from a distance this year with the hope of being in China again in the future.

Workers decorating outside the Birds Nest

Workers decorating outside the Birds Nest

Young girls practicing a dance in earthquake affected Sichuan Province.

Young girls practicing a dance in earthquake affected Sichuan Province.

This year celebrates the Year of the Ox.  The Ox symbolises a year of prosperity through hardwork.  It is a powerful sign, showing leadership, dependability and patience.  However, this year is expected to be one of conservatism and traditional values, which probably reflects the current financial state of the world.

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I have no doubt we’ll be able to hear the fireworks from here tonight.  And with that – Happy New Year everyone!

China, we need you!

January 24, 2009

With the whole world spiralling into what looks like complete recession, our new illustrious leader, Kevin Rudd has warned Australian’s that China; who once seemed financially impregnable(considering practically every country in the world appears dependant on their goods these days), is also showing signs of economic slowdown. A fact that alone would shave a cool 5 billion from the Australian economy. We were initially in what appeared to be a ‘not too bad’ position in the current crisis. Well I guess this at least catches us up to the Johnsons.

Australia has considerable resources tied up in China. China is a massive destination for Australian exports. If they truly go down, where will it leave us? Interesting times ahead, that’s for sure.

Jie Zheng continues through to 3rd round of Australian Open.

January 23, 2009

My new found interest in this Chinese tennis player continues. While i dont believe it was broadcast, Jie Zheng has in fact beaten her 2nd round opponent Melinda Czink. Being only a mild tennis fan, I have no idea who that was 🙂 Final scores were 7-6(0) 5-7 6-3.

What definitely will be broadcast however is Federer vs Safin on centre court tonight. That should be a cracker of a game. Here’s hoping Federer gets through – a Federer vs Nadal finale would be a classic.

Obama’s speech censored by the Chinese government; the colour of surprise!

January 22, 2009

Of course the whole world was watching their TV’s yesterday, excited over the changing of the guards in downtown America. While I do think Obama will be a few steps in the right direction for the United States, I also think the media has been whipping it into a bit much of a frenzy – creating something closer to a superhero rather than a President. Yes he is supposedly the leader of the free world – the free world supposedly being the United States, but can one man truly make so much of a difference? I sincerely hope so. I was predicting America would fall badly under Bush and I couldn’t be happier to see him gone. How he could have been voted in for a second term is just unfathomable – but that’s another story!

While the speech was covered live by CCTV, we have to assume they weren’t aware of what was said realtime as when the speech got to:

“Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.”

The poor presenter was suddenly cut back to unprepared and had to ask some pissy question of a guest. The golden word communism must not be uttered in a negative way! Imagine having your populace actually aware of current events! Imagine if they actually knew what was said out there in the real world other than what has been watered down by Big Brother. I would love to read the day to day journal of a Chinese student sent overseas to study. I would love to know their thoughts in a world that is suddenly free from propaganda and censorship.

For the full article, head on over to the BBC website – complete with video of unsuspecting presenter 🙂

Chinese online gamers to use real names.

January 21, 2009

According to People’s Daily, the government is bringing in mandatory registration of real names rather than online aliases. There are also rules in place where service providers must install anti-internet addiction software to control what has been a huge problem in China – the internet. I assume that by registering real names, users can be tracked to the person(go Big Brother!) and their exact internet useage monitored.

The software aims at not limiting use, but rather countering why people are playing – points!

Chinese gaming firms such as NetEase and Shanda Interactive Entertainment have until 15 July to install software which will halve the number of points gamers can score if they play for more than three hours, said the report.

Determined gamers who play for more than five hours will get no points at all and face an on-screen warning that they are entering “unhealthy game time”.

This is actually not very representative of a typical Chinese lan centre. They are considerably darker with a low hanging smoke cloud.

While we were in China, we had to go to several net cafes to send out emails(and well update our other blog). These centres were large dark rooms full to the brim with computers. It was actually quite difficult finding one that was free. It was a wonder that there were in fact any Chinese teens out on the streets. They all appeared to be in these cafes. They would sit there for what seemed like hours on end, getting cheap internet and absorbing themselves in online entertainment – often while chain-smoking cigarettes. They would do things such as play World of Warcraft and other Asian style massively multiplayer games – right down to playing multiplayer card games, what looked like Dance Dance Revolution and some would just kick back and watch movies.

I would assume that most of the people in there didn’t own computers themselves – or if they did, were too poor to own one that ran all the games they wanted to play. I would also assume that back in the homes of the wealthier families, their teens were doing the same thing, except in the comfort of their own homes.

The Chinese Government has a pretty firm grip on the internet, the great firewall of China being somewhat famous these days. It makes you wonder if they’ll ever be able to completely control the internet – something that leads to that dreadful old freedom of speech thing.

The Australian Open

January 20, 2009
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Melbourne Park, Melbourne.

Today, in blistering 41 degree weather, we spent several hours at the Australian Open. It was a bright sunny day, but man, was it hot. Funny that it should be this kind of temperature where just one post ago I was saying how I was glad that Melbourne’s Summer had been somewhat cooler than normal! It’s not uncommon for the Australian Open to be hit with heatwaves however. We often watch these poor players with uncontrollable sweat running down their faces battling it out – and on some occasions, calling it a day due to sheer heat exhaustion.

We watched a set or so of Richard Gasquet versus Diego Junqueira(Gasquet going on to win), but the heat was very difficult to deal with. While there was not the humidity of China, there was the burning sun in a clear blue sky. In China, while the heat was oppressive, the sun was not often out(when it came out..look out!). The sun was usually hidden behind cloud/smog cover – keeping the humidity in with nowhere to go. But in Sunny Melbourne..man that Sun had bite.

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Jie Zheng belting out a powerful shot.

Retiring from the court – which other than what you brought with you, was completely lacking in shade, we grabbed some cooling sushi, some water, then wandered around the other courts. We settled in and watched some games between China’s Jie Zheng and France’s Camille Pin. Zheng went on to beat her 6-3, 6-3. I found myself rooting for the Chinese player. I said to Courtney, “If there were no aussies playing, I’d go for the Chinese players.” I feel like I have this affiliation with the country.

We sat there smiling at an enthusiastic Chinese guy on the opposite side of the court. He was waving his large Chinese flag when not using it as a cape(aka protection from the sun). He would start a cheer, “Jie Zheng! Jie Zheng!”, pronouncing her name correctly, sounding like “Jong”, while the referee in true clueless westerner style pronounced it as “Jeng.” I suppose it’s good they at least had the ZH = J sound right, though you cant expect everyone to know every other cultures pronuciations I guess – particularly Chinese where some of them are really quite difficult and completely different to english(ie: zh, ts, x etc).

It was also great to hear some of the Chinese spectators chatting. Whenever we hear Chinese being spoken, our ears prick up, recognizing words. Hearing things like xiexie and ZhongGuo! ZhongGuo! (China! China!) really floats our boat!

Anyhow it was a great day though marred by the extreme weather. It hit 41 before cooling down in the late afternoon. We didn’t particularly favour being burnt to a crisp so retired early. We rounded out the day with a nice fish and salad meal and a long soak in the spa. Next year we’ll try and get to the open again. We were sad not to be able to catch the tennis in Shanghai while we were in China. For anyone interested in going to the Australian Open, we highly reccomend it.

Gasquest vs Junqueira

Gasquet vs Junqueira

NOW! I want it NOW!

January 19, 2009

Came across this video and it’s an absolute pisser!

Supposedly this woman is outright demanding her husband to buy her this new stylish Buick. Someone in the thread translated it. The words at the end supposedly say, Rich People.

Man: This car does not suit you.
Woman: This car DOES suit me.
Man: Every time we go shopping it is like this, I am not going to buy this car for you.
(woman gets in card)
Man: Stop stop stop, stop driving, get out of he car…
Man: Stop stop stop, I will buy, I will buy, I will buy…swipe my card, swipe my card…

Absolute classic. I could so see this happening. If there’s one thing the Chinese are pro’s at, it’s making a scene in public and absolutely caring nothing for who may be watching. It was common place to see couples having a full fledged fight  – screaming matches, running to taxi’s, slapping each other. I saw one woman give her guy a nice big kick in the ass! Ah China, love it 😉

Climate Change

January 19, 2009

Sunset over TianYi

One of the most difficult aspects of living in China for me was the different climate. All my life I have lived in the state of Victoria in Australia. Melbourne is famously known for its ‘four seasons in one day’ weather. Melbourne can get hot during summer and cold during winter, but never too extreme. If there’s a heatwave – you may see a few scorchers in a row, but always, inevitably, there’s a cool change around the corner. You endure knowing the cool change will arrive. When it does, the doors and windows are flung open, and the house is immediately cooled.

Likewise in Winter, it gets cold and rainy, but it’s never too bad. Sure we complain, and nothing cures the cold better that a nice hot coffee, but we dont get snow and well, it’s very bearable. There are parts of Australia that do suffer weather extremes, but Victoria is really quite comfortable.

Now China on the other hand, was completely different to Victoria. We left for China in February 2008. The day of our departure was a very hot 35 degrees. We arrived in China underdressed(still partially in summer clothes – though did have the forsight to bring at least warm tops) to an absolutely freezing 8 degrees. I knew it would be around 10 or so and thought – yeah it wont be too much different from Melbourne’s winter – WRONG! It was absolutely freezing! My face felt weird – stinging – in the cold air. For the remaining wintry period, my lips remained parched and chapped.

And then it ticked over to Spring. Almost overnight the air became warm – alarmingly so. We knew China suffered oppressively hot weather during Summer, but just how warm Spring got was very concerning. As the days went by, it got hotter and hotter. The air grew thicker. Soon we could wear nothing more than t-shirts, shorts and sandals or we’d be dripping in sweat. As Summer approached it was already a Victorian Summer, except with one month of Spring to go! We were getting a little worried about just what Summer might bring with it.

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In China there are cities known as the Three Furnaces due to their extreme heat during Summer. They are the cities of Nanjing, Chongching and Wuhan. We were not in either, but Wuxi was not too far from Nanjing. We expected a hot one! I had read on an expat forum that Wuxi experienced something like 4 months of Winter, 6 months of Summer, and 2 months of pure torture. And yeah, it totally was!

We had picked one of those months to travel around China as we had 2 months holiday for the Chinese summer break. Thankfully that travelling took us to cooler parts of China, such as Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-La, though our time in cities such as Beijing, Xi’an and Chengdu was really difficult. Prior to leaving, back in Wuxi, the humidity had skyrocketed. You would leave the air-conditioned apartment only to be instantly dripping with sweat. You felt wet, clammy, tired. You got used to having permanant wet patches all over your clothing. We would check the weather guide and see things like 35  – feels like 45. And it did! It was just disgusting! I used to crack up at how I would be dripping sweat in shorts and shirts, while the Chinese would walk around in jeans and full length shirts or jumper style tops and be unaffected. Adapability I guess.

I couldn’t live in this kind of extreme climate. Call me a wuss! In far northern Queensland, in towns like Port Douglas which likewise suffer extreme humidity summers, they at least have beaches and pools everywhere. In China, you have to settle for a piece of shade and a slice of cooling watermelon – oh and air conditioning. Some days it was just too much effort to actually leave our apartment. And of course at night we got to enjoy all the fun that goes along with insane numbers of mosquitoes.

One of the things I was not looking forward to about returning Australia was going through another Summer. I’d just experienced over 5 months of it in China – the last 3 were outright disgusting. But thankfully we’re having one of the coolest Summers in years, and well, I’m not complaining!


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