Archive for July, 2010

Speak English or die!

July 21, 2010

Beijing is set to become a ‘world city’. What is a ‘world city’ you ask? Well naturally, it’s a city where the majority of the population living within it…can speak English. Why? Because English is the most spoken language in the world – oh wait, no it isn’t – Mandarin is.

So why are authorities looking to get at least 60 percent of shop assistants, receptionists and…hairdressers under the age of 40 to pass an English exam by 2015. Or 80 percent of police officers to follow suit.

The programme is touted to provide “greater convenience to foreigners working or studying within the capital and enhance international relations and co-operation.” Sounds great! I wonder now if Melbourne will likewise be forcing 60 percent of its citizens to undertake Chinese lessons. I would like to see that happen…

China is going to great lengths to bring itself into the modern world. Much of its transformation appears to be simply submitting to the western ‘norms’. I often wonder whether their own culture is going to become so watered down that it barely exists.

I for one enjoy learning Chinese, and enjoy reading about Chinese culture. I feel like that in my country at least, I’m in somewhat of a minority – though I may be wrong. I am fascinated by foreign language, even if most days that it feels like I am climbing an impossibly large mountain, and will never actually get to the summit.

Ride at your own risk

July 5, 2010

If there’s one thing that’s always freaked me out, it’s the thought of going on a ride in an amusement park, only to have it come loose. From time to time, the news will report on these stories where; potentially due to neglect in maintenance, an amusement park ride has launched its occupants into the air, and sub sequentially, their deaths. While I understand the chances of this are very slim – possibly within the same likelihood of having your chairlift seat fall – it crossed my mind nonetheless.

Well this exact thing has occurred in oddly named Overseas Chinese Town East; an amusement park outside of Shenzen. Six people have died with a further eleven injured, as the “Space Flight” attraction; designed to simulate the thrill of rocket launch, instead, launched its occupants. The ride was divided into eleven, four person cabins, and after a cut in power and a loud explosion, many of these were simply dropped.

Now I could go on (wrongly) to compare the experience to that of the Space Shuttle Challenger, where instead of an accident it was instead a hyper-realistic turn of events, but I won’t. While the cause of accident is being investigated, my money is squarely on maintenance or a lack there-of.
I remember lining up for the chairlift at Xihui Park just outside of Wuxi, and watching the massive wheel which powered the whole thing. It was big and red and dirty and didn’t look like it had been touched within the previous five years. Around it were piles of unopened bottles of water, iced tea and orange juice – a makeshift storage location for a small booth selling beverages. In China, it’s always about making money first, maintenance last.

When I think about the state of many of our own amusement parks – the ones that spring up several times per year, show-casing age-old, lit up to the nines rides, manned and run by filthy looking roadies, I can only wonder as to the state of those rides inside Overseas Chinese Town East. I am sure that on the surface they looked exciting – big, moving, well lit up – though if someone was to inspect the inner workings, I suspect it might be a different story again.

'Overseas Chinese Town East', the winner of the 2010 inaugral most unfun sounding name for an Amusement park.


A long overdue update

July 1, 2010

It’s been a short while between updates and as usual, a lot has gone on in the world’s most populous country. From Foxconn raising employee wages to try and curb an ongoing spate of suicides, to massive flooding resulting in death and destruction.

I think my favourite story to come out of China in recent days was reforms in the town of Shaoshan – the home town of an old Chinese fellow by the name of Chairman Mao. It seems in Shaoshan there has been complaints regarding the quality of Mao related souvenirs that are going on sale, with many people claiming the actual resemblance to Mao himself is sub-standard. Thankfully the government has stepped in, bringing in reviews of existing products and benchmark standards going forward. Chairman Mao is serious business in China, and for all those people who ask Mao to bless their career, studies, luck and life, this is no laughing matter!

In other unrelated news, we head into town the other night for Hot Pot. Along one of Box Hill’s main roads is a small restaurant named Little Lamb. Always recognizable by the steamed over windows, and upon further inspection, an eatery packed full of young Chinese, devouring delicious hot pot – their piles of ingredients arranged artfully about their tables. Along the entire length of the wall is a photo of a herd of sheep, reminding you of the number 1 item on the menu, lamb.

For the first time since China, we actually felt a little hesitant to walk into a restaurant – daunted by being the minority once more. While no-one batted an eye at our entry like they would have in China, it still felt odd all the same. It brought back memories of Wuxi, where we would walk into a restaurant and the entire room would turn to look at us in wonder. How we would not only feel placed on a pedestal, but uncomfortable by our lack of knowledge for the menu – made all the worse by the fact it was written in Chinese characters.

When living as an expat in China, you don’t want to come across as a tourist. You want to walk around town in comfort, visiting restaurants and using your street smarts you have picked up along the way. You want to impress the locals with your know-how. When the attention is on you and you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s a unique sensation. You feel that you want to continue to carry the foreign banner – an ambassador of sorts. So then when you look helplessly at the menu, or at a complex dish such as Hot Point which sometimes isn’t immediately obvious what you even need to do – well it feels unpleasant.

Thankfully this was not our first time into the world of Hot Pot, and as we sat down and started ticking off ingredients like pros, we felt like we fit in. I don’t believe I have eaten Hot Pot since last winter, where the fiery chilli infused food is a perfect match for the bone-chilling cold weather. I can say that I forgot just how hot, Hot Pot could get, and burnt my tongue more than a few times on molten squares of silken tofu.

While it’s not something I could eat more than ‘every now and then’, Hot Pot is definitely something I would recommend for those who have never tried it. If you do not know where to start, at least ask for a Pot which is half-spicy, half non-spicy. With those odds, you’re at least guaranteed to get out of the starting blocks.

Mmmm Hot Pot - can you tell which side is spicy and which side is not? 🙂

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