Archive for May, 2010

Chinese roads; life on the edge.

May 26, 2010

Ten people have been killed, and another forty-three injured as two buses collided in a head-on just outside Hechi city in Guangxi province. It is reportedly the second major accident in as many days, with another accident (also a head-on) between a bus and a truck a day earlier – the truck having been travelling on the wrong side of the road.

While this isn’t exactly an uncommon news event, with hundreds of similar incidents reported world-wide on a daily basis, I can say from experience that I do not miss the roads of China, in any way shape or form.

 Chinese drivers have a tendency to focus on getting to their destination. Little things such as obeying the speed limit and staying in ones lane are just hindrances in the grand scheme of things. Whilst I was never actually involved in an accident in China, it was something in which I was genuinely fearful, namely due to the Chinese drivers inability to follow the road rules. The image of a smoking bus wreck on the side of the road on my last drive to Shanghai was a vivid reminder of the potential dangers.

While taxis are always a mixed basket of driver quality, I would not have expected bus and truck drivers to be as reckless. I would often watch trucks drift aimlessly between lanes, whether due to tiredness or inattentiveness I was not sure. Bus drivers would likewise not only exceed the limit, but pass other vehicles dangerously, where it was more important for them to get further along the road, than the well-being of the passengers they carried.

I was both surprised and alarmed that most buses were fitted with electronic devices which detected police vehicles. On a long distance ride from Chengdu to Le Shan, I was curious to learn the origin of a particular beeping which seemed to be coming from the driver’s dashboard. At first I thought it was some kind of speed alert, until realizing that each and every time, it stopped beeping when a police vehicle of some description had passed.

On the bus trip between Dali and Lijiang, I was staring down at a ridiculously steep drop to one side of the road, when our bus driver decided to overtake another vehicle, on a sharp curve, in the outside lane. While thankfully nothing came from it, it scared the bejeezus out of us, and I could easily imagine plunging off that cliff to our deaths, just because of that one particular driver’s impatience.

While not every vehicle was poorly driven, it was always a minefield of quality. When in China, be prepared for sometimes harrowing road trips – though remember, without question of a doubt, the best way to travel is by train (or plane if you have heavier pockets).

Off to China!

May 20, 2010

I received an SMS last night from a dear friend of mine who is about to embark on a holiday through China. Since leaving Australia, my friends have been living in the UK and have been travelling absolutely everywhere. They have decided to pull up roots again and live in Canada for a period, though before they make it there, they’re going for a tour around first China, and then Inner Mongolia. If I said I wasn’t jealous, I would be lying 🙂

I was really hoping that these guys would have been able to come and visit me whilst I was actually living in China. Unfortunately though, due to the complexities involved with planning an international trip of that nature (costs, being able to take leave etc) just make that kind of thing super difficult. One of the best parts of having people visit you whilst actually living there is you can ‘show-off’ to a degree. Particularly in a country like China, where it is not an easy place to get around – it’s not rocket science, but it’s certainly not that easy either.

While it’s still spring in China now, every day would be getting increasingly hotter;  if not already boiling. The humidity would be cranking, giving the air a sort of non-fresh feeling that always had my nose feeling twitchy. First they will be going to Guangzhou and then to Kunming, in which I assume they will then head to Chengdu. After that they will likely head through Shanghai and up to Beijing, before 15 or so days in Mongolia on a tour.

Ok I admit, I am extremely jealous of their trip and I wish I was there with them! I’d love to head back to China if only to test my Chinese out. Since returning to Australia, I have come a very long way in the language learning department. While I am currently on a brief hiatus from study;  the character/hanzi study having really worn me out, I still try and do it on a regular basis.

I feel a little apprehensive about just how they will feel about China. I have raved about it so much to so many people that I worry that their actual impressions will be vastly different from my own. I was armed with basic language skills and had weathered the culture shock to find the goodness behind the layer of smog, rubbish and spit – and I wonder if tourists; who are new to the country and looking for that ‘authentic experience’ – well I wonder what they will think when confronted by everything the mainland has to offer – moreso if it’s authentic.

While China is a terrific place to explore – it’s also a place that; at a glance, can be completely polarising.

Another day, another attack in China

May 18, 2010

In what is becoming a terrible pattern, there has been yet a further attack in China. It has been reported that a man in the city of Foshan in Guandong province has singled out young females, hacking and wounding six of them before taking his own life. While the crime itself is terrible, thankfully it appears no-one was killed – beyond the fiend responsible.

While these cleaver attacks are terrible, the real sad part is that it is occuring in a country not normally associated with such violent crimes. I for one couldn’t have felt safer whilst in China, and enjoyed that particular aspect of it. It was refreshingly devoid of drunk louts and druggies and all of that anti-social element. While there were certainly no shortage of other annoyances to fill in those particular holes, overall it was a different experience to that which I expected.

So now that these attacks are occuring, particularly in such a short space of time, I can only imagine the level of paranoia gripping the general populace. The problem with paranoia in itself can lead to further violence. One can only hope that these events simply stop, or more drastic action is taken to prevent more from happening.

China’s copy-cat killings

May 13, 2010

Over the past 10 weeks, China has been shaken by a series of particularly nasty attacks on students and teachers at various schools across the country. While initially blamed on people who were ‘mentally ill’, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the motivation behind the attacks is potentially an outlet of frustration for those dissatisfied with the current political climate in China. Individuals are potentially reading about the attacks in the media, then undertaking their own as a possible gory protest against the government. You could potentially label it social unrest at its worst.

 In the most recent attack, a 48 year old man named Wu Huanmin butchered 7 kindergarten children and their teacher with a meat cleaver, whilst further injuring another 20. He then returned to his home and killed himself in what has become a common element to these killings.

The government has called for immediate increases in security, where most schools are already protected by security guards night and day, who man stations at the main entrances. Equipment such as prods has been provided to assist with bringing down potential attackers, though with 8 incidents and counting, it’s not clear how many it’s going to take until drastic measures are put into action.

 Obviously now the question of censorship is coming in to play. Does the media subdue these stories from the general populace, hoping to stop further would be attackers from revealing themselves? Or is greater public knowledge and understanding a better way of potentially understanding the underlying issues causing the problem? I think labeling the attackers as simply victims of mental illness is scape goating the real issue of ways for troubled people to vent in a country where venting in any other way is almost impossible.

In China, if one speaks out about anything, one is promptly jailed. While it certainly may not be the motivation behind these attacks, I suspect it is, because the old saying rings true – actions speak louder than words, though in this case, with horrifying results. Could it be that the general populace is becoming so frustrated that only via means such as this can they release it.

Get rid of it!

May 12, 2010

The China Economic Times reported that the deaths of approximately four children and sickness of a further 74 was due to the delivery of bad vaccines. The vaccines had purposely not been refrigerated in order to prevent label stickers from peeling off them – thus causing the problem.

First reported by well known investigative journalist Wang Keqin, it was promptly yanked from the paper’s website, and the Chief Editor; Bao Yueyang, removed from his position. Up until this point in time, Bao Yueyang had been a vocal supporter of the article, saying that:

‘In order to ensure that the lives of China’s children are kept safe, we will fight until the end.’

The report caused an immediate stir across China though mere hours later had been completely downplayed by the media on direct orders from the Propaganda Department.

Officials in Shanxi province said that Mr Wang’s story was flat-out wrong, but refused to actually provide any further details as to the how and why’s.

It strikes me as odd that the Chinese government would move to try and hide something like this, where in the famous milk tainting of 2008, officials involved were outright executed. Perhaps it’s because of previous events such as the tainting that they are trying to keep a tighter grip on what is actually released, as we all know, China’s image in these areas isn’t exactly spic n span.

Online is the new Offline

May 7, 2010

China’s online population has reportedly exceeded 400 million users; or approximately one third of the entire mainland Chinese population. Weighing in at 404 million total users, 233 million are said to be accessing the internet from their mobile phones, with a further 364 million connecting via broadband.

Wow! I wish I could read Chinese characters to come up with some funky cool concept and sell it to them myself. There has to be massive money making potential with such a gigantic online populace.

So what are all these 400 million people doing exactly? I would be interested to see this particular break-down as I suspect a good 300 million are doing nothing other than wasting hours chatting on QQ, or messing around in Ren Ren; China’s own version of facebook. While many Chinese work long hours, many more spend those hours chatting online – or sleeping. It’s a regular part of a Chinese working day to nap after lunchtime – something I sorely wish would catch on in Western countries also.

And how exactly does the all-controlling Chinese government intend to keep a reign on this? Sure, the Great Firewall of China is a daily annoyance to most Chinese web browsers, but there are plenty of ways around it. You can only control so much in the online world, and as the general population becomes increasingly net savvy, that control will slip further.

Expo is go!

May 5, 2010

The world Expo has kicked off and as expected, the crowds have been nasty – so much so I feel tired just reading about it. A combination of heat, lack of shade and massive queues are unsurprisingly leading to tourist angst and frustration.

The Expo is set across a massive park which is divided into five large sections. Two of the most popular pavilions; USA and Japan, are on opposite ends, with an approximate hour long walk to get from one to the other. Due to the lack of shade, people are forced to use the shadows cast by these grand structures themselves in order to avoid actually tanning – which we all know is a big no no in China. White skin = happiness!

Anyone who has been to China will know that the sun can be ridiculously potent during the summer months, and whilst it is still only Spring, temperatures will be climbing by the day. Due to the ever present smog layer, it’s not particularly common to have clear skies, and hot days are generally a combination of sweat inducing humidity, and a super glary smoggy haze sky. When that sun does poke through the smog however, the combination of the heat and humidity is an absolute killer.

People have been turning out in droves for the Expo after it was opened on the weekend with a massive fireworks display and typical epic (and somewhat gaudy) live Chinese extravaganza. Despite the complaints regarding unintuitive layout, queuing and heat, you can be assured that the Chinese patriotism on display would be so in your face it would be almost difficult to stomach.

I only wish I could get there myself, as despite the pain and frustration, it would still be a blast. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I most definitely do heart Shanghai.

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