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China: A day in the life

Sunday 13th December, 10:25pm

A few random unrelated tid-bits to talk about:

MSG ( 味精)

It’s added to food in almost all Chinese places you will eat at. I was vaguely aware of this during my year abroad in Beijing, but had conveniently forgotten until recently. I asked one of the local halaal places I eat at often whether or not they put MSG in their food, and they said yes, so now I will be asking them not to everytime I order. I don’t know much about it or the health effects, but I’m aware that too much of it is harmful, just the same as too much of anything I suppose. However, since the lack of cooking facilities in my dormitory means that I’m never eating food I’ve cooked myself, I definitely do not want to be consuming too much of it.

 

Fake Markets

The name says it all: these markets sell fake designer everything, from watches, bags, purses and shoes, to suits, belts, sunglasses and clothing. Obviously it’s all illegal, but somehow they continue to exist, despite authorities’ knowledge – naturally. It’s a tourist trap, and if you don’t know how to haggle with the often rude and vicious sellers, you will undoubtedly get scammed big-time. On a recent visit, I was surprised when one of the sellers I was bargaining with actually openly admitted the illegality to me, using the line “it’s very dangerous” as a comeback to my attempts to lower the price. Even though everyone knows it, I didn’t expect him to be so candid with me, and I tried to prod him some more about it, but no luck. I understand it was also just a bargaining tactic, but I was still taken aback somewhat.

One of the most annoying things about these markets though is all the name-calling. You will be called ‘bag’, ‘jeans’, ‘shoes’, ‘watch’, ‘tea’, and many more during a visit. This is because none of the store-owners know how to pause when they try and entice you to go and take a look. “Hello watch!”, “Hello how are you bag?”, and “Hello lady tea” are just a few examples. I also don’t think they realise how rude their tone is; it’s very abrupt and not friendly in the slightest. Even if I was looking to buy whatever they’re selling, I am extremely put off from going in. There’s no shortage of choice though; every clothing store sells the same goods, the shoes in every shoe store are the same, the belts, ties and bags among different stores are all exactly the same too. So if you’re looking for jeans and you’re not satisfied with the service or price, just walk out and go next door.

 

Pollution

Everyone knows the pollution in Beijing is horrible. Yes, they recently announced a red alert, and yes, ‘each hour of exposure reduces life expectancy by 20minutes’, and yes, ‘Beijing air is the same as smoking 40 cigarettes per day’. But with all the focus on Beijing, it seems we forget that it’s no picnic here in Shanghai either. To put it in perspective, the upper limit for healthy levels of pollution in much of Europe are around 10-20 AQI. On a regular day in Shanghai, we’re experiencing anywhere between 60 to 100. And on a bad day, it could be over 300.

A very good day (for visibility, but the pollution is ever-present)

A very good day (for visibility, but the pollution is ever-present)

WeChat

I first started using WeChat in 2012, after arriving in Beijing for my year abroad. I was relatively new to the smartphone world in general, but even then, I quickly came to know that I preferred WhatsApp by faaaar. In comparison, WeChat seemed slower and the interface seemed chunky – nothing at all like the sleeker and smoother WhatsApp. The most popular social media messaging platform back then was QQ, as WeChat was still relatively new. When meeting new people, QQ numbers would be exchanged, as everyone had QQ, but not everyone was on WeChat yet.

Almost five years later, WeChat’s evolution is evidently clear – it has come an incredibly long way, and is no longer just a basic messaging app. Aside from the ‘Discover’ page, where friends can post pictures or updates on something similar to a microblog, WeChat now has so many other features, including ‘stickers’ (so much fun, not even joking), voice and video calling, and WeChat Wallet. WeChat Wallet allows you to receive money from contacts, with which you can make transfers, top up your mobile phone credit, pay utility bills and order taxis. You can also link your bank card to your WeChat, allowing you access to a greater pool of funds. It is almost imperative to have a WeChat account in order to integrate fully into daily life in China. Now, you’ll rarely – if ever, hear people asking for QQ numbers, but everyone has WeChat, and I’ve grown to love what it has matured into.

 

Suzhou Day Trip

Suzhou Day Trip

Sunday 18th October 2015, 16:45

I’m on a coach – we’ve just driven out of Wuzhen, a little water town about 1.5hours out of Hangzhou, where I spent the weekend. I have a lot to catch up on (blog-related), and a 2+hour drive back to Shanghai now, so let me briefly summarise the past two weeks.

Two weeks ago, on Sunday, a few of us ventured out to find starfish to eat. We failed on that front, but stumbled into an animal/pet/insect market instead.

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The rabbits, turtles, kitten and fish were all nice enough, but rows and rows full of spiders, crickets, grasshoppers and some kinds of flies (all very much alive) were slightly off-putting.

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One of the salesmen tricked a friend into believing they were for eating, could be eaten live, and that they were very tasty, as well as healthy for you.

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The friend in question said he wanted to try one, but only after the salesman showed him how to eat it correctly. In the end, the salesman just shook his head and spitted out: Americans really are stupid…

A few days later, on Wednesday, the last day off for the National Week Holiday, a friend and I made a day trip to Suzhou, a small city about 100miles west of Shanghai.
The bus journey there was eventful: soon after leaving the station, we made a quick stop at a small roadside cabin, where two guys stood by large brown parcels. They opened the storage compartment in the side of the coach while the driver got out, they loaded the parcels, and the driver was slipped some money, which was visible for barely a second before it was out of sight and in his pocket. Less than ten minutes later, when we were back on the highway, the driver’s phone rang. He received the call, listened for all of about five seconds, exclaimed loudly and stopped abruptly in the middle of the highway. After much hooting from angry drivers behind, he sensibly moved from the far left over to the far right. As he exited the coach once again, he apologized to us for having to stop for ‘personal matters’, and went outside to smoke and peer nervously at the road behind the coach, clearly waiting for something, or someone. I’m pretty sure someone boarded the coach from some invisible back door several minutes later, and we we continued on our way.

Once in Suzhou, we visited the Garden of the Master of the Nets (网师园), which was pretty enough, but was too busy, and the admission was arguably expensive for what it is. Suzhou is famous for its beautiful, classical gardens, but you kind of feel that once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all…

Garden of the Master of the Nets

Pretty and classical

Pretty and classical

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Ground art

Ground art

 

We then walked a very long way to Shantang Road, famous as it is still a cultural centre. Among some side roads, we saw fish, crabs, chickens, pigeons, and more, for sale.

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Because, why not?

Because, why not?

We then ventured over to the northwest corner of the city, to Tiger Hill Scenic Spot, which – to my slight disappointment – involved no tigers.

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Customary random stranger asking to pose for a picture with us

Customary random stranger asking to pose for a picture with us

The colourful station in Suzhou

The colourful station in Suzhou

After an early start, and a long day of just walking, we were both ready to knock out on the bus back to Shanghai, but to our surprise, we were the only two passengers on the whole bus, so we ended up chatting with the driver about a range of topics, from Chinese investment in Africa, driving rules (or lack of) in China, Tanzanian exports, China’s economic development, and how China compares to our countries. I tried to think of topics or questions I’ve been wanting to ask Chinese people, since this was a perfect opportunity to do so, but I was so tired that I couldn’t think. I was more than satisfied with the conversations in any case, as they helped make me aware of my improved Mandarin level.

We were back to class on Thursday, Friday…and Saturday, after which a group of us went out to enjoy a dinner of hotpot, which is something I haven’t had in about 3 years (since my last time in China).

Wandering around after dinner, I spotted this, which sounds pretty unappealing in my opinion, but is incredibly famous in China:

Who’d have thought you’d have to be careful about porky bread?

 

On Monday and Tuesday, I went to dragon-boating practice, which was fun, but made my body feel amazingly sore, so I’m definitely continuing that.

I will write more about this weekend’s trip to Hangzhou another time as it’s getting dark now and I’m extremely inclined to copy everyone else and fall asleep for the remainder of the drive back, especially since I still have work to do for class tomorrow after I get back tonight.

晚安中国。

Good night, China (as I’m not sure exactly where we are at the moment)