42. The End Of The Chinese Miracle

Looking back only a few years, the Chinese economy was growing at a tremendous rate. Labour was plentiful and the ability to change jobs quickly was possible. These labourers came from afar, from the villages and helped the formation of China’s newest metropoles.

This had began to fuel a new mentality on spending, an entrepreneurial spirit and a radical change of outlook regarding employment for China’s high streets.

The video below explains China’s migrant problem now….

FT: China’s migrants

Career flexibility is not a given in China. Many families crave what is traditionally seen as employment’s ultimate aim: the iron rice bowl. This figurative rice bowl is managing to get a job which ensures job security for life and pays the bills handsomely. This can be a big event in a Chinese worker’s life- ascending into the middle classes and few employment concerns for the rest of their career. Family celebrations are commonplace for these lucky workers.
However, recent attitudes during growth were perhaps challenging this view, with chopping and changing more common. Many of my friends, on losing a job, were completely nonplussed and were happy to take the extra time off knowing full well that jobs were not in short supply. Freedom in economic growth.

Yet, with the Chinese population due to explode, the idea that lack of labour may stunt Chinese growth is certainly puzzling. Nevertheless, this is where we are.

Small businesses, which form the bedrock of the Chinese economy like no other country. Being less developed than some super economies, family and street business has always been the staple. In growth, the transition to factory work was full of opportunity, provided a stable wage and gave many a chance to spend outside of essentials for the first time. With work drying up in the city for migrant workers, the economy is now grinding to a halt.

Pub

(Image, one of Changchun’s ‘western-style bars’)

The boom years saw entrepreneurs in China try all manner of ideas, relatively new to a traditionally guarded culture. Signs of the slowdown are most obvious here, with innovative business falling foul of decreased expendable income and being forced to close within the first 6 months. The care-free and occasionally extravagant middle class are beginning to look at tightening their belts, reigning in spending and reverting type.

Instead of  new start-ups such as trendy new bars, a la mode clothing lines and western-style shopping centres, which appear at least superficially in decline, traditionalism is returning to the fore. Migrants are settling, or returning despondent. With harvest festival reminding many of village life, crisis point may be reached. Perhaps the economy is staring back at manufacturing and production to help out- the recent steel dump around the world may say much about China’s economic struggle between past and present.

Is it that China can overcome its migrant labour issues, and we could soon see a new generation of migrants holding their own trusty iron rice bowls?

To find out more about the Financial Times’ series on the End of the Migrant Miracle, visit the link below! Until next time!

http://www.ft.com/indepth/china-end-of-the-migrant-miracle

 

 

Advertisements

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:

photo (2)

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.

photo 1 (2)

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.

photo 2 (1)

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.

photo 4

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…..

photo 2 (3)

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!!

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….

changchun

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.

chun

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!

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.

photo 1 (1)photo 2 (1)

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.

DSC00464DSC00157

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.

photo 1

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.

DSC00577photo

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.

photo 5 DSC00722

 

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!

34. Education, education, education

From Mr Blair’s election manifesto to Crashing a Bike’s humble page, the message rings out. However, I think he may have been better rolling out this policy in China, as it would have been a guaranteed winner.

Education, as I’m sure you can remember from previous articles Let kids be kids? and Growing Pains, is the absolute bedrock of a child’s upbringing, with much of the importance in terms of family function placed upon this. The well-known one-child policy in China used to be as tight as an donkey’s y-fronts, yet it has slowly been relaxed, with families that fall under certain qualifying criteria being allowed more children.

What does that have to do with the price of egg-fried rice? Well, the vast amount of the family’s income is poured into the child’s education, with priorities landing firmly with that and often not with something that is needed for the family as a whole. The overwhelming majority of my students are fortunate to come from very affluent backgrounds- some even buy me weekly gifts- but there are several who clearly scrape together the cash for extra lessons, something which is alien to us. At this age, studying in the west is a serious deal, with many reducing social lives to the bare minimum during this period.

In China, this starts very early, with school lessons being supplemented with music lessons and extra maths or physics lessons, all to the detriment of other aspects of their lives. Does it affect their abilities to think creatively, practice sport, build social skills and master the arts?

Yes, it absolutely does, after a year of teaching them I see little creativity, a sea of drones and even some who lack basic motor skills at the age of 16/17. [Editor’s note: Simon, give a slightly more diplomatic answer, lest you offend the censors or something].

I believe so, they are fairly inept with the most menial task and their lack of free time is telling as pressure builds up, surely they should tell their teacher to take a running jump?. [Editor’s note: You are a teacher, doughnut. Have another go].

I don’t know, but it must have an impact of sorts. [Editor’s note: Better, much better].

 

Come exam time, the heat is really cranked up. Want a few examples? OK. Mentally raise your hand when it gets too crazy for you. For the record this is the equivalent to ‘A-levels’ or the set of exams that you do before university.

-A good proportion of bars and nightclubs are closed around this time, to make sure everyone has a decent night’s sleep.

-Attendance in class drops because most parents think private tutors or home self-study is more productive.

The teacher can tell you to make some ‘improvements’ to your life if they think it will be beneficial to their students. This includes:

-breaking up with boyfriends/girlfriends

-forcing them to cut their hair

-taking their phone for the exam period.

A reminder, this is the teacher, not the parents.

-There is an ambulance assigned to each school during exams, for if any student passes out under stress.

-Every road has to closed off leading from the school to the hospital for the same reasons as above.

-The teenage suicide rate is disproportionately higher in China than in any other country at this time.

If you didn’t stop and wanted more, you are a monster.

 

The reason is fairly simple. University places are so fiercely contested that fractions of percentages are the difference between reading classics at the equivalent of Oxford or studying colouring at Sheffield Polytechnic. (That, by the way is a test to see if my older brother read the blog, after he studied Geography at Sheffield. This is not a cheap shot at anyone, a simple test).

The one-child policy

In the previous system, there was a fine, forced termination of the pregnancy or even jail time for those who didn’t tow the line.

One of the main criteria- aside from backhanders and ignoring the law of course- is that if each parent is an only child, they will be allowed another.

Problems?

This is what is being said in and around China, but many western sources say that they haven’t been as relaxed as this, and the BBC claiming that it only has to be one of the parents, which defeats the point, as the vast majority would be anyway. The point is that the new law is:

a) unclear, and

b) ineffective, as the lack of clarity in China suggests that actually those who really wanted to get around it did, by hook or [most definitely] by crook.

Well, there you have it Ladies and Gents, if you are still struggling through exams then I feel very much sorry for you, and you should have a similar post written about you! If not, best of luck and ‘fighting’ as they say here: 加油!! (jia you!!).

jiayou94kasjmv1.jpg (309×320)

29. Gone to the dogs

Happy Wednesday everyone!

 

This week I’ve been taking advantage of the fine weather that we have been having, by taking the opportunity to take part in a photo walk around the city. We decided to take the city’s tram, stopping off along the way at a moment’s notice to take some snaps. Some of the photos were of high cultural importance, such as this:

IMG_4782

However on a serious note it gave a great opportunity to observe an average market day in the city. To give fair warning, there is a shocking picture at the end, which certainly turned my stomach. So, if you are in any way squeamish I suggest you stop reading when I give the signal!

Anyway, the market itself was a maze of stalls selling all types of goods, some fresh as they could be, some with processed products or cooked goodies such as pastries.  It is interesting that such a large amount of fresh produce can be transported across China so efficiently, considering that for at least 6 months of each year in this part of the country a harvest is impossible, whereas in the south there can be two or three a year. Whilst most vegetables and fruit are abundant enough to keep down to a reasonable price, some products are difficult to get hold of, such as limes. In fact, a friend of mine bought some for me on a Chinese website not dissimilar to eBay/Amazon, which is an altogether more interesting way of shopping. Around this time of the year the south of China has just had the first harvest of the year, so the prices of fruit, veg and nuts have plummeted- no excuses for not getting your 5-a-day!

IMG_4729 IMG_4745IMG_4739

The majority of things are done on a weight basis and, as you can see above, even the highest quality products are priced at teeny tiny prices. Furthermore, it’s possible to get a wide range of spices to help form the base of many of China’s dishes, such as the lip-burning Hotpot.

 IMG_4757 IMG_4753IMG_4758

One thing which doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone is the meat and fish on display. I generally steer clear from buying fish here, just because of the way that they are preserved/ stored pre-sale. It is not uncommon to see a tank of fish with either far too little water to be able to sustain the fish, leading to their death before their ‘time’, or the water in unbelievably dirty. Indeed, true to form, the fish at the market ticked both of these boxes, except for the fact that some had been part-butchered as well.

IMG_4751

The meat was, as usual, left out in the sun which is either appalling hygiene or the beginning of the longest slow-cooked steak of all time. Whichever it was, I left the meat well alone. Next to one stall was a meat associated with this part of the world… doggie. After having this conversation with many people during my time here, opinion is generally divided over the ethics of eating dog, considering that dogs are as popular as a pet here as it is in the West. When raising this point, you are often shot down quickly by people eager to correct you by saying “Well, we only eat a certain type of dog”- the mangy horrible ones, which appears to pose no problems to a lot of people. Nevertheless, this poor beast laid slain on the table in front of me, and was quite a sight in reality… As I said earlier, I will put it right at the bottom and I will leave it to you to decide whether to see it. Fair warning, the head is there,too. Interestingly, some of the market stallholders we reluctant to photograph the dogs and even if we were, they refused a personal photograph. Generally, people were happy enough to let us photograph them, so there certainly still seems to be a taboo about eating dog, even in a country which on the face of it accepts it as normal.

 

Overall, a thoroughly entertaining day with all of the sights and sounds of the market, so to finish there’s a selection of photos of the people we saw and met, including a lady who decided that our company was particularly boring…

IMG_4767 IMG_4771 IMG_4772 IMG_4747IMG_4735  IMG_4748 IMG_4808 IMG_4849 IMG_4857

 

 

 

Here’s the dog…

 

 

 

IMG_4749 IMG_4750

Have a great week everyone!!

27. The Great Wall

Hi everyone,

 

After last week’s blog which probably should have gone went viral after seeing me dance in such a fine way, I come to talking about a much more mundane subject of The Great Wall of China this week. Ok, fair enough, it is an unimportant landmark in the grand scheme of things, but it may be worth a listen anyway!

Also this week, how I became a man in China….

 

After spending a few days in  Beijing, we decided to leave the comfortable capital for a much more convenient climate of the side of a mountain to take on what would be the first of the seven great wonders for me… other than why toilets in Australia flush backwards:  The Great Wall. Considering that there are several visitor options, I think that I chose the correct one for us, but we will see why further below.

Over 6000km long, the Great Wall provided a line of defense for the state against oncoming armies from across the whole of Asia and what is now known as modern China. Have little look around  Mutianyu from one vantage point- the highest point that we reached, but also from where the defending army was housed….

Looking further to the East (left), you may be able to see the remains of the cut off sections of the wall (at least to the public), which I decided was an excellent position to film from. crashingabike risks everything to get the best shots… As the camera focuses upon the main building- the main guard house for this section of the wall and a key place to position troops to make sure that each side of the mountain was covered at any given time. Interestingly, this was particularly cold for the time of year, and you can only wonder what temperatures it reached during the depth of winter.

The location of the wall seems ideally  placed, as the invaders would have not only needed the ability to scale the surrounding mountains, but also the wall itself, which averaged a good 10m in height at all times, if not higher. It is bewildering how any army managed to mount any sort of serious attack, let alone completed it.

In fact, I was particularly surprised at how steep the wall was in many places- if I found it a test to walk up the impossibly steep and misaligned steps the  surely the attacking force would have given up after having a go on the actual defenses… no?

SAM_1081      SAM_1082

It’s bizarre, because most people assume that the wall is either flat, or easy to walk upon. Whilst it is true that many sections are restored, and therefore less authentic, the general feeling it that wall was complicated to defend, with a virtually infinite supply route needed in order to continue it and a difficult communication system to the other guard houses.

SAM_1090SAM_1088

Nevertheless, the wall is a marvel of engineering, and I can only imagine how it was completed in such an impenetrable way, with such effectiveness.

The scenery around us was magnificent, too, and I’d like to fill the rest of the blog with it… enjoy!!

 

SAM_1106SAM_1103SAM_1102SAM_1090SAM_1087SAM_1083SAM_1084SAM_1119SAM_1118

 

Finally, on the lighter side of things, I managed to take a picture which seems to encapsulate the current trends in the west… I introduce the Selfie and great wall of China, a WALLIE.

SAM_1115

Lovely.

 

And for all that are wondering why I became a man this week….

There is a Chinese saying that you are not a man until you have seen the Great Wall.

Although I have no idea if this is factually true, I entirely urge everyone with the opportunity to see this wonder, to do so. It’s incredible. Perhaps they even saw us from space….

Have a good week. Take care all!!

 

 

ps, next week I have another in my unique ‘selfie’ range, also based in Beijing… comment below for what it may be!!!