40. The story of the back….

Hi guys….

Sooooo, a lot of interest this week for those of you who saw the picture of my back on Facebook. For those who didn’t, it looked a little like this:

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It came from a massage and I’ll tell you how!

For a friend’s birthday we decided to treat ourselves to a massage. I say ‘treat’, massages in China are far more common and everyday so to say that it was a luxury is a little overstated. The massage which I got was a bit of a Rolls Royce and cost just under 300RMB, or £30 to those who speak that. For that, they are really quite happy to chuck you around, beat the knots out of your back and stretch you into positions that an Olympic gymnast would cringe at. Forget the therapeutic heaven that you associate with high-end spas and a day out with the girls (I imagine…), this was bone-crunching stuff.

They first started to see how well connected my arms were to my shoulders through various unsympathetic thrusts and, after seeming passing that test, they began slapping, beating and punching every other part of my upper and lower body to give me a real soothing experience.

All of this was nothing compared to the next punishing technique- the cups. The cups, we were told, were to drain out all of the bad fire from our bodies and give a healthier inner feeling. And peace. Bull-swear….. I’m sure I had more fire in my belly after that before. The first step was to start gently rubbing the wooden cups along the back, gauging how much ‘fire’ needed to be removed. Enough, it seems, so they placed a few tested cups on the back- if it bruises too badly, they don’t continue.

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Next, they begin to place a few more on, all over the back to keep coaxing out the fire, if you like. As you can see above, they use flame to create the suction so that it can stick to the back like a barnacle.

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Finally, they place as many as possible all over the back, seemingly for maximum discomfort and making me look like a budget sea-monster from Pirates of the Caribbean. At least my face wasn’t ridiculous throughout… oh wait.

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Fully tortoised up- and to my horror- they simply left us in agonising pain for what seemed like an eternity. When they came back, I looked up expecting to see Autumn leaves falling, but apparently it was only 5 minutes. And it hurt. This is what it looked like when first taken off. Lumpy…..

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Straight after this ordeal, they hoisted themselves up using a bar strategically placed above the table, and began kicking the crap out of me for a whole ten minutes. I’ve never felt so abused in all my life, and they seemed to think the whole thing was hilarious.

This is an odd thing to see for you guys, but it is pretty normal here in China. I certainly won’t be a regular however, and I am completely skeptical about any benefit to the body- I didn’t feel even a bit better!

Nevertheless, it is a story to tell, and I will post regularly with when the bruising decides to go down…. it hasn’t yet.

 

I’m off to the seaside this week, so everyone have a great time out there and take it easy!!

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39. Car show- seeing double…

Hi guys, happy week to all…

This week, we got back on the incredulity wagon at the Changchun Annual Car Show. The International Auto Exhibition, to give it it’s proper title, is known to the western visitors as a bit of a chuckle, so we expected a bit of a belter!!

Changchun is often nicknamed the ‘car city’ because of it’s vast amount of cars and particularly the seas of foreign car plants based in the city for manufacture. It’s worth pointing out that it has been called ‘China’s capital of culture’ and the ‘City of Green Spaces’, both of which I have seen no evidence for, so please take my word for it when I call it the car city!!

On entering the show, there was nothing to say this was any different from any other car show throughout the world, but thankfully the cracks opened up as we strolled through the 9 vast halls. Each hall presented a different type/ style or company which ranged from the cutting-edge concepts to the bizarre brainfarts. At one point we climbed aboard a military-type vehicle which, it turned out, was available to hire for the week along with driver and (surreally) a gazebo and camping chairs… I don’t know what is less likely: going on an invasion-themed holiday or stopping for afternoon tea during an offensive. Either way, something was out of place…

 

The star of the show, to us, were the rip offs which we had be warned about before going. There have been some high-profile legal battles between established foreign companies in China and the new start-up car companies in China over intellectual ownership. This ranges from infringing upon design on the font of the SatNav, lest it look like a copy, to a full blown copy with seemingly just a badge changed. Points for those who guess which we saw….? Points all around I guess then.

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Please don’t look at the badges and assume I’m a buffoon. The ones on the left and centre are a BMW Minis and the other is a by Chinese company called LiFan. It is that obvious. As if not to cheat you, look at the characters on the number plate on the blue car and then the company’s name…. Beautiful copy though, right??

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Although these were few and far between, there is some serious resentment from other companies who feel completely aggrieved that their hard work is being stolen. The counter argument has been on at least one occasion ‘Look, the wheel arches are different, how is it the same?’ There were some more obvious signs that some things were amiss after looking at some Mercedes…

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The rest of the day was fairly without incident apart from some more blunders from yours truly in Chinese. This is beginning to get too much of a feature for my liking really. We were talking to some lovely sales girls, who became convinced that because we were western we must have a lot of money and thus were looking for a car… As part of their pitch they we asking a little about us and how long we had been in China etc. After not really understanding some questions, I decided to leap at one which I understood. I grabbed my chance to impress…. “锅包肉” (guobaorou), I blurted out, recalling my favourite  东北 (northeast)  food. They looked confused then laughed. A lot.

Turns out that the question had been

你最喜欢的车是什么?(Ni zui xi huan de CHE shi shenme?) ‘What is your favourite car?’

and not

你最喜欢吃什么呢? (Ni zui xi huan CHI shen me ne?) ‘What do you most like to eat?’

This, to my untrained ear was the same, and caused quite a bit of amusement considering my answer… I was later sent a picture by friends showing the difference.

guobaorou Simon's an ape

So, a good time had by all…. Have a little look at the rest. No idea what the pink car was all about!!!

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I’ll leave the final word with a Coke Gazebo, which thought it was appropriate to insult me…..

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Have a great week everyone!!!

38. Time to get serious- but only once.

Hi guys,

As thoughts have started to head towards summer holidays, I have recently been asked by a few people about a few more serious matters, such as writing genuine travel advice as if I actually know anything of any value. As crazy as this seems, I’ve decided to satisfy a few of these people here and now! Beware, I may just drop some knowledge bombs. Or not. Let’s see…

The subject of money has come up most often so I guess we should start there. Having lived in a few European countries before crashingmybike here in China, exchanging money comes a little more naturally to me than some (despite the fact that I still don’t know exactly how much a dollar is worth in pounds and ounces).

money exchange

The big companies are clearly the best to go for in this case- a traveler’s no-brainer- as they are the safest. Well… seemingly a no-brainer at least. Whilst I was in Beijing with my parents a Danish family were rejected from the Confucius Temple in Beijing  after trying to pay….. with fake notes. Such a shame to miss out on that, as it is thought-provokingly serene- even to a airhead like me. But then to find out that a good wad of their holiday money had been exchanged into fake notes is crippling. It wasn’t even like they were obvious fakes either. Using my pigeon Chinese, I couldn’t even convince them to return the fake notes, so it was doubly painful. Having said that, we could have guessed that considering my ropey Chinese. Their mistake? To exchange their money in a market. OK, to average common-sensed traveler this is a daft error, but it is tempting to take a great rate and there are some that are genuine, especially in countries that value foreign currencies higher than the domestic one. They are way too far between to be sure, however, so whatever the weather I’d take the hit on a higher commission to have piece of mind. For those who want to risk buying some particularly expensive Monopoly money, best of luck.

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Personally I like the Post Office, Thomson and another local company near me, but being as the rate fluctuates like a Yoyo on Red Bull it’s best to shop around. Being a pedantic sausage like me, it can take a while, but don’t lose too much sleep over it!

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(the last time I tried to find a good exchange rate!)

In terms of transferring money, most of the major companies such as Travelex have a pretty comprehensive  range of options when choosing to transfer money, from students loans to deposits for properties. These type of companies make a lot of sense because they are reliable and generally quite efficient, as well as offering customer service options for added reassurance and security.  But it is very much down to what you need really. Let me explain…

A good example of a bad example of not knowing how to do it, for you leisure…. A few years ago I was moving to Spain to study for a year and attempted to transfer my meager student loan using a banking service that is usually available to high-flying businessmen at HSBC. The cashier, who didn’t know how much I had to transfer, thought it was strange for someone like me to have in the region of two hundred thousand pounds in a bank account at my age, but she humoured me anyway. I essentially asked to borrow her Arctic lorry to transfer a quail’s egg at a favourable rate. Shockingly it didn’t happen. In that we learn two lessons: the importance of using services appropriate to the job, but also the importance of asking questions to the experts. Just as people consult me on things that I’m supposedly good at, such a bumbling around China, I like to think that the gurus in the know at places like Travelex have a pretty good idea of how to do it best. (Side Note- I bumble around fairly hopelessly: for the purposes of the point I claimed I was good at it!!! Sorry I lied.)

no commission

Perhaps the best way to do it, if you have the opportunity, is to get a local to help out and get the inside line. In fact, getting the best company on the internet is an easy option, but the thrifty transferrist (Editor: definitely not a word Simon.) may be able to get a better deal through a trusted local agent. Particularly if you are in a country where you aren’t speaking a native tongue, getting all the options as clearly as possible is essential in making a good choice.

The final thing to consider is service charges vs commission. Just because the service charge is high, doesn’t necessarily mean you spend more money, as the total cost may be balanced by a cheaper exchange rate. Similarly, and a common trick for these companies, sucker people in with a low or even 0% rate, only to give a poorer overall exchange rate. The best thing to do is work out a total cost and then go with the cheapest option, rather than hope that you are paying less! It is a little more work, but it can save a lot over time, especially if you transfer money regularly. Again, most of the major companies such as Western Union, Travelex and MoneyGram can set up direct debits easily enough, so they can make the job easier overall.

Well, a few bits and pieces on foreign money/ exchanging for you this week. I suppose next time I will return to my usual tomfoolery, but the people have spoken.

Have a great week!! Stay safe and don’t get ripped off on your holidays.

37. It’s all Chinese to me…

So…. Following the World Cup post from last week, it’s probably time to sink my teeth into a post which I have been dreading for a while: language. It perhaps seems weird for anyone that knows my background- a language degree- that I haven’t already said something. It may be because my Chinese is rubbish….

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The Chinese language is fascinating. I say, THE, as if there is only one, but I am referring to the prevailing one Mandarin, spoken throughout China uniformly after the cultural revolution. The English name actually comes from the Chinese elders of the ‘Man’ people, the so-called ‘大人’ (da ren). Hence 满大人(Man-da-ren) or Mandarin. In fact, the language is often referred to as 汉语(Han yu) or the language of the Han people, which are the most prominent group within China today.

The truth is that I enjoy languages and consider myself fairly good at picking them up- it’s just nobody told the mandarin language of this fact, as I am struggling really quite badly. I’d describe my Chinese as a generous ‘passable’ even after nearly a year of battling with it. What does that mean? Well… I’m not dead and I have formed a limited bond with the fruit lady…. But then she looks at me like an alien when I speak Chinese so I’ve no idea how much I get across. Due to a gaff on my part, I’m pretty sure I told her that her daughter is ‘cheap’ opposed to ‘beautiful’, which is a bit awkward.

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Chinese tones have been the bane of my linguistic experience and have helped to muddy an already confusing relationship with the aforementioned fruit lady. For those who are unaware, Chinese is very much a tonal language and they are essential for accurate communication. A little example at my expense? Very well…
The Chinese characters for ‘buy’ (买)and ‘sell’ (卖)are not only frustratingly close for a simpleton like me, but the pronunciation is also remarkably similar, separated by tone. So, imagine the poor lady’s surprise when I strolled up confidently telling her that I wanted to mài (sell) some fruit, and not mâi (buy) some fruit, as I believe is customary. I have a sneaky feeling that the Chinese stuck that one in there for a bit of a laugh at muppets like me.

I have managed to navigate my way around a little, however so it’s not all that bad!!

You may have noticed that I’ve got my finger out to write 3 posts this week, so it is a little short, but there will be more as ever next week!!

Have a great week everyone!

C’est du chinois….

Alors, comme je n’ai pas poster en French depuis…. quelques mois (désolé les fans) je vais recommencer en explorant la langue chinoise et mes carences sans arrêt! Il vous semble peut-être un peu bizarre, vu mes connections linguistiques personnelles- diplômé en langues appliquées- que je n’ai jamais parler de la langue. C’est à cause du fait qu’en chinois, je suis super nul!!

changchun

Je dis ‘la langue chinoise’ comme il n’en existe qu’une- bien sur je veux dire le plus prévalent, le mandarin, parlé partout la république populaire après la révolution culturelle en 1959. En fait, le nom donné à la langue en français, le Mandarin, vient des aînés (les 大人 da ren) de la dynastie ‘Man’. Donc, on l’appelle 满大人(Man-da-ren) ou le mandarin. En effet, la langue s’appelle souvent 汉语 (hanyu) ou la langue du peuple Han, le plus nombreux en Chine actuellement.

La vérité c’est que j’adore les langues et des fois je fais des semblants d’avoir une aptitude pour apprendre les nouvelles langues. En réalité, personne ne l’a mentionnée aux chinoises parce que chaque semaine c’est une véritable bataille pour moi contre mes livres pour faire sens de la confusion devant moi! Je décris le niveau de mon chinois comme ‘passable’, même après quasi une année entière des ces types de batailles. Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire exactement? Puis, je ne suis pas mort, et j’ai été capable de former un sort de communication limité avec la vendeuse locale de fruits…. En revanche elle me regarde à chaque fois comme si j’étais un extraterrestre, donc je sais pas à quel mesure je me fais compris. A cause d’une gaffe pour ma part, je suis sur que je lui dis que sa fille est ‘pas chère’ au lieu de ‘belle’. Enfin, on comprend bien pourquoi elle me croit anormal.

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Les tonalités chinoises on été le fléau de mes expériences linguistiques et m’ont aidé à confondre une situation déjà précaire avec la vendeuse susmentionnée. Pour ceux qui ne savent pas, le chinois est essentiellement une langue tonale et elles sont impératives pour une communication précise. Un tout petit exemple à mon dépens? D’accord….
Non seulement les caractères chinois pour ‘acheter’ 买 et ‘vendre’ 卖 sont très proches pour un simple comme moi, sinon la prononciation est remarquablement similaire, différentié par tonalité. Puis, on peut imaginer le surpris de la pauvre fille, en apprenant que l’étrangère voulait mài (vendre) du fruits, et pas mâi (acheter) du fruits, comme la grande majorité habituellement. A mon avis, c’est une ruse pour avoir l’occasion de bien rire de connards comme moi! Bien joué.

 

Mais la verité c’est que je sais vivre en Chine, même avec mon chinois déplorable donc c’est pas si grave que tout ça.

Je sais que cette foie le blog est un peu court, mais je vous juste faire coucou pour savoir que je vais bien!!

Está en chino….

Bueno, como ya no he echado un post en español durante mucho tiempo, supongo que debería escribir ahora! Por alguien que esta interesado en los idiomas, me extraño mi mismo que no he hablado sobre la lengua china, el mandarín.

La lengua china es fascinante. Bueno, digo LA, como si fuese sola una, pero me refiero por supuesto al más predominante, ella que se habla por todas partes en china después de la revolución cultural en 1959. El nombre en español viene de los señores de la gente ‘Man’, los ‘大人’ (da ren). Entonces tenemos los 满大人 (man da ren) o el mandarín. De hecho, el idioma se refiere aquí se conoce por 汉语 (han yu) o la lengua de la gente Han, que es el grupo más numeroso en China hoy en día.

changchun

La verdad es que aunque a mi me gusta con pasión los idiomas, y me considero una persona que sabe adquirir nuevos con una cierta competencia, nadie les ha dicho a los chinos por han creado una lengua que estropea la cabeza!! Digo que mi mandarín pasa de manera cotidiana después de casi un año de estudio bastante relajado. Qué quiere decir? No estoy muerto de hambre, y he formado un vínculo con la mujer que me vende fruta… Pero me mire como si yo fuera un extraterrestre cuando hablo en chino entonces no sé en qué medida me entiende. Gracias a un error por mi parte le dije a ella que su hija era ‘barata’ en vez de ‘guapa’, así que ya enredemos muy bien porque me cree anormal!

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Los tonos chinos me cuestan tanto en esta experiencia lingüística y es por su culpa que mi relación ya complicada con la vendedora de fruta mencionada se ha hecho más complicada. Por los que no saben, este idioma depende mucho de los tonos y son esenciales para una comunicación efectiva. Un ejemplito a mi costo os apetece? Muy bien… Los caracteres chinos que significan ‘comprar’ (买)y ‘vender’ (卖)no solamente se parecen, sino la pronunciación es extraordinariamente similar, diferenciada por los tonos. Pues, imagina la sorpresa de la pobre mujer cuando llegue a la tienda con confianza, explicándola que quería mài (venderla) manzanas, y no mâi (comprarme) manzanas, como es habitual me cuentan. En mi opinión es un chiste chino para reírse de los extranjeros. Genial, gracias chicos.

Aunque digo mucho sobre mis debilidades en chino, estoy vivo y en buena salud, entonces no es muy grave como lo parece!

Ya sé que el blog es bastante corto, pero os saludo para decirles que voy bien aquí!!

Hasta pronto todos!!

36. The World Cup

With the World Cup in Brazil upon us, it seems a good plan to tell you guys how it goes down in China… Cue a blog.

With no Chinese participation and a country no particularly known for footballing might, it may be safe to assume that the World Cup is passing by without much notice. Wrong! In fact, there seems to be two distinct groups of people, the completely apathetic and the fanatics. As the games are on at midnight and three and six in the morning, those who were watching the previous day’s games drag themselves around like zombies drinking Horlicks. It’s no help that as usual the kids like to run  around like Tigger on Red Bull just to grind in the pain.

England have done me no favours, either- their early exit has allowed for ridicule from the American contingent (who at the time of writing were very much still in the competition), as well as local restaurant owners heckling me down the street and laughing at me when I told them where I am from…. Brutal. Nevertheless, after drawing Honduras in the office sweep stake, this seemed only appropriate, topped off with my Chinese name on the back!! Xi Men sounds like Simon a bit (I suppose) and can translate as West Gate, but is a common Chinese surname and not a forename.

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The Chinese have got it sorted in terms of watching the games, though. They enjoy street BBQ and beer in copious amounts with big groups of friends crowded around TV screens, every bit what we imagine everyone to be doing at World Cup time.

School have got on board and organised a match between a staff XI and what they called a ‘professional team’- which turned out to be a local club side. After a couple of training sessions with a bit of a thrown-together side, we strolled out into the ground (which even had a stand!!) to face the well-drilled opposition. The standard of the game wasn’t the best and our side lacked real quality in several areas. To put this into context for those who know me- I was given the number 7 shirt and asked to play the Pirlo role- the playmaker of the side. For those who don’t know me, I have never play a full 90 minutes on pitch as I’m usually a goalkeeper and being asked to anchor the side is about as sensible as giving a 4-year-old the responsibility of cooking for 500 distinguished guests at a dinner party. Nevertheless, we took to our task manfully.

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After being bombarded with shots and besieged around on our own 18-yard line for the first twenty minutes, the foreigners took a wholeheartedly undeserved lead through a piece of uncharted magic and brilliance. One of the central midfielders, who cleared the ball with a delightfully weighted through-ball down the line with an elegance and balance rarely seen on a football pitch. He then proceeded to head in the resulting corner to the delight of the assembled masses in the crowd. For those of you who haven’t clicked, yes it was me, and yes I am utterly ashamed of this entire paragraph. There is a video, which will almost certainly follow in due course. Until then, here’s a picture of me waving.

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Half time arrived with the foreigners trailling 2-1, due in part to a comedy own-goal by one the Americans, who I can only assume was attempting some sort of American football style safety. At half time, we were treated to a some excellent backroom staff treatment, with close friend Shina deciding that I needed a cold bottle of water in the back of my leg to help with….. well I don’t know really.

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The rest of the game- fair to say- played out according to how it should, with the Chinese hosts controlling large parts and making us run ragged. Several bouts of cramp towards the end didn’t really help our cause, but all in all it was an excellent days football with some good links forged for the future, with even talks of a rematch. For those interested in the boring details, it ended up 7-4 in the end. Massacre.

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I hope you have enjoyed a little look into the World Cup here in China. I’m off to go and find some sleep from somewhere, as I had to get up to watch England’s thriller against Costa Rica last night and thus I’m tired and fairly depressed!

Have a great week everyone!