Posts Tagged ‘Culture


Who dunnit?

After hearing about my “accident” last week,  one of our staff sent me an email saying:

“I’m so sorry to hear what happened on you, and I hope you can get better soon, and don’t forget your rights and claim for compensation against the troublemaker!”

Compensation is a very Chinese concept – the alleged perpetrator must compensate the alleged victim for any alleged damages or injuries. On the street a minor traffic accident can be settled within minutes without involving the police: on condition that someone is willing to pay enough to make the problem go away. It cuts out the need for insurers and middle-men and is a very lucrative money-making opportunity if you can get in somebody’s way and convince them and the police that the other person is at fault and needs to cough up. It has also led to an intense unwillingness for anyone to help a stranger in need in case they get accused of causing the problem in the first place.

So, after my close encounter with the cement pathway and grass verge – who is the “trouble-maker” that I can tap for compensation?

  • The spiky plastic mats in the grass verge? [Aside – they don’t look dangerous, do they, but take it from me – these little swine are not face-friendly]

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  • The gardeners who put the spiky mats into the grass?
  • The management who told the gardeners to put the spiky mats in the grass?
  • Asics – it was their running shoes that didn’t keep me upright?
  • The cleaner pushing his cart towards us that I might have seen out of my peripheral vision and caused me to subconsciously step out of the path to get out of his way?
  • Apple – because I was looking at a running app on my iPhone when I wiped out?
  • The makers of Runkeeper – the running app that I was looking at?

I guess I will write it off to experience and hope that any further exercise will be less harmful to my nerves and my general well-being and to our financial state [We are covered by travel medical insurance and so far it seems that they will be willing to settle most of the medical bills for my endangering my own self].

I had my last visit with the plastic surgeon on Sunday to remove the stitches – much less painful experience all round – except that my lip was not impressed at being attacked again. Most of the injured areas are healing nicely, just one cut above my lip that was deeper than others will take a few more days to sort itself out (M called it a star-shape because the skin was flapping in more than one direction).

Eating and talking are no longer a problem – now that’s a relief! – and the doc/prof has given me some ointment to deal with potential scarring. So hopefully I am on the way to recover…

Running commences next week – I will attempt to remain injury free!


Morning traffic

The traffic I am referring to here is mostly not the four-wheeled kind that we encounter on a daily basis as we rush, crawl, swerve, hoot our way to work in the mornings. This is about the traffic we encounter in our daily jog around the park – in the interests of health and exercise!

Traffic varies from day to day, depending on the weather and what time we stagger out of our 12th floor apartment to lope around the track in our complex. Weekends also bring out different groups of people.

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The regular traffic consists of:

  1. The walkers – a group of three – two men and one lady that stride around with intent and purpose. We greet each other and they are always obliging and step out of the way to let us run past.
  2. Old man walker No. 1 – he keeps to himself and follows an interesting route, swinging his arms enthusiastically. He never says much: head down, don’t talk to strangers.
  3. Old man walker No. 2 – another chap that wanders around on his own, but seems to be less focussed than Old man walker No. 1. Sometimes he joins the group of 3.
  4. Tai Qi lady – she dresses the part and performs her moves, even brandishing a “tai qi” sword on occasion.
  5. Tai Qi gent – he’s a new addition to the morning traffic – he picks a spot on one of the wooden decks next to the central pond and does his stuff overlooking the water.
  6. Various other joggers – some more fit than others – the man in the orange vest pounds past us when he is not do stretching exercises against one of the low walls alongside the pond. I can outrun the gent in grey tracksuit pants and white vest (or no vest on a hot day), but he gets a bit irritated with me and so he speeds up to overtake me and then heads for home!
  7. American strider man – he’s always walking against the rest of the traffic.
  8. Young couple trying to get fit – they walk at a fairly leisurely pace.
  9. Bird and cat lady – she brings a black bird in a cage to get fresh air and then feeds the stray cats and kittens that live around the property – not sure if they come for the bird or the food – probably both! The other day one of the kittens thought that she was late or not coming and it tried to waylay me with cute purrs and “pick me, pick me” manoeuvres in the middle of the path.
  10. Mom/granny with baby in pram no’s 1 through 10, and mom/gran with toddlers on baby bikes no’s 1 through 5 – on the days that they are all out in force comparing and bragging about baby development stages, trying to stay on course becomes a major problem – one has to dodge and dive around prams, babies, ranks of mothers and other obstacles. A few months ago, M was sent sprawling into the pebbles and lawn next to the path as one of them stuck her leg out and tripped him as she bent over to rearrange the blankets in the pram. Oh – so sorry….
  11. Tall foreigner lady with tiny baby – sometime she joins the other mothers, at other times she seems to prefer her own space.
  12. Dog people: mostly poodles, one or two labradors, some mixed breeds, chihuahuas; some on leads, some wandering freely; some with diligent owners with poop scoops, others with less socially-aware minders. Occasionally a dog fight threatens to break out and then everyone scurries to replace leads and reign in the delinquent children dogs.
  13. The gardeners: weeding, cleaning the ponds, clipping the trees and shrubs, picking up other people’s rubbish
  14. The ayi’s on their way to clean other people’s homes
  15. Since the new school term has started we see children off to school. Sometimes the older ones head off on their own, sometimes they are accompanied by a parent that carries their bags for them.

Non-regulars/random people:

  1. Man looking at his cell-phone – he moved 20 metres in the time that it took me to complete 6 laps – and 15 of those metres took place between my lap 1 & 2
  2. Lady in high heels looking like she wants to get fit but forgot which shoes to put on.
  3. Dancing lady – she does pirouettes and twirls along the path
  4. Pyjama people – wandering around in your pj’s to go to the local shops or for a walk is totally acceptable here – they tried to do away with this custom when Shanghai was on show to the world during the 2010 World Expo, but local customs don’t change easily – and why should they? Pj’s for outdoor wear are generally modest
  5. Random men looking like they were kicked out of their apartments by wives to encourage them to get exercise or go outside to smoke: sometimes they just stand/sit in one place.
  6. More cellphone people

[Sorry – No recent photos – I’m too busy concentrating on running and breathing and dodging the dogs and the prams….]

[I also wrote about the morning people in the early days of my blog: there are more people now, but much is still the same as it was then.]


Let’s play Courier, Courier…

Actually, let’s rather not play this game – it can get a bit complicated. And very exhausting. The rules seem to vary from one day to the next, depending on which courier service, which courier messenger does the delivery, if his mobile is working or not, what the customs official had for breakfast and whether the sky is green!

Over the last few months we have received a few parcels from overseas – varying from online shopping, to parcels of documents sent by clients and gifts from family members overseas. This appears to have stretched the capacity of the various courier services to the nth degree, or maybe it is just my nerves that have been pulled.

Most delivery companies have 3-letter acronyms for their names, but in my thoughts their names consist of 4 letters and lots of those characters at the top of the keyboard that you need a SHIFT key to access. The most consistent behaviour has been by the government postal service: +/- 10 days delivery from the UK to Shanghai via a sorting centre in Hong Kong or Guangdong province – except for one book that went via Beijing and arrived in its own special postal sack after taking a detour through customs and ending up in a locker in the back office of the local post office – Read more here!

Courier services are another matter. Sometimes they phone ahead to check if we are at home to receive the delivery, other times they just arrive and then phone in a sort of perplexed sort of way that no one is at home during office hours. Sometimes the service centre person can speak English, sometimes not. Sometimes they leave the parcel with the management office at our apartment complex, other times they won’t. Sometimes the office sends us notification about a parcel, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they are happy to deliver after 18.00, others say they only work from 11.00 – 18.00.

“So sorry for you, you will just have to leave work early, not our problem.”

“Yes, you can change the deliver address to your office address, but you need to fill in a form.”

“And you need to put the company ‘chop’ (seal) on the form.” ~ But it is a personal parcel, addressed to me, not the company – why does it need the company chop on the change of address form?

“If you want it delivered to the company, the company needs to supply the chop to say they are happy that the parcel is delivered to the company during office hours.” Whatever!

My Mandarin is passable and if all is OK, I can get by tolerably well, but I have realised that problem-solving takes foreign language acquisition to a whole new level. I don’t can’t do problems in Mandarin, especially over the phone – time to admit defeat and hand over the phone to the nearest local speaker.

Last month I ordered some paintbrushes from the UK – the parcel went via customs and collected a fee for import duty.

No phone-call. Courier arrives at apartment during office hours. No one is home. No phone call. After 10 days I am wondering what has happened to my parcel. I track parcel on internet and see that a delivery attempt was made for the previous 3 days in a row.

Phone call centre. “Do you speak English”, I ask in my best Mandarin. Helpful call-centre person puts the phone down.

Skype message to staff member still at the office and ask him to phone call centre. Yes, have tried to deliver for 3 days, no one home. Can’t deliver after 18.00. Please deliver to office tomorrow.

Need form + company chop.

Next day at office: Download form from internet – chop, scan, email.

So sorry, please put address in English and Chinese. Download, chop, scan, email.

So sorry, please sign and chop. Download, chop, sign, scan, email.

Phone call from warehouse – trying to deliver parcel, no one is home. Have you spoken to service centre? We have asked to change the delivery to the office address.


No, service centre and warehouse and delivery guy are not in communication.

Phone service centre. Email hasn’t arrived yet. Please phone the warehouse, they don’t know what is going on.

So sorry, please wait a moment. Email has arrived, must contact warehouse, maybe parcel will be delivered today.

Phone call from warehouse. Cannot locate delivery guy, maybe not today.

Delivery guy arrives at office at 14.30. Everyone happy…..and exhausted.

Fast forward 5 weeks….

Different courier company, different parcel, different rules. Phone-call. Some English: parcel has arrived, no one is home. Problem. Hand phone to staff member. No delivery after 18.00. Tomorrow 17.00, please. No problem.

Rush home from work early. Tell taxi driver to break more road rules than usual to make it home by 17.00. 3 missed calls while in taxi.

Phone call as I arrive at the door. Some of her English, some of my Mandarin. Anyone home? Can we deliver now? Sure, here I am! I came home early and stressed out at least one taxi-driver.

Phone-call 5 minutes later. So sorry, cannot contact delivery guy – maybe tomorrow? AAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!


P.S. Thanks for the parcel, Lilly!


Date night?

Last night, we had a rather weird experience at our favourite sushi restaurant, Haiku by Hatsune..

We arrived early for our dinner reservation, and the restaurant was emptier than usual. Over the course of the next hour and a half, a procession of young Chinese couples arrived – all dressed to the nines – an usual event in itself. One girl wore a long pink taffeta dress, then sat down at the sushi bar; All the guys wore suits and ties. They tumbled out of chauffeur-driven cars, singly or in groups. It appeared that many of the couples knew each other, and yet most of them sat at separate tables, paired off girl & guy.

Another unusual aspect to the evening was that the girls and guys in each couple were actually interacting with each other (in English!) and not with their mobiles! Usually at least one of a couple on a date is clicking away on his/her phone, checking the latest text/email/micro-blog messages. It must have been a first date to yield to putting aside the mobiles in order to make an impression.

As we left we tried to find out what the event/occasion was, but we are still none the wiser. Our possible conclusions:

a)      Group first date?

b)      Singles club out on date night?

c)       American Chinese guys on tour looking for local English-speaking wives?

d)      English lessons?

e)      Pre-clubbing/post-wedding dinner?

f)       Opportunity to dress up?

g)      Romantic flash-mob?

h)      Other….?

We felt a bit spare because we didn’t match the profile – not very young, not at all Chinese, not dressed in formal gear and totally clueless! – It felt as if we were gate-crashing some event and had missed the notice about the dress-code and the purpose of the event……


Dinner for 14

Last night we took the office team out for dinner at the restaurant across the road from the office park. We were seated in a private room with a HUGE round table that easily accommodated all 14 of us. A representative sample from the staff and the bosses trundled off to order our meal. Not from printed menus but from brightly-lit photo displays, arranged in multiple aisles, of every possible dish. At a rough guess I would say that there were about 150 to choose from – about 50 cold dishes, 100 hot meals, and that is not counting the fish and seafood swimming in the tanks or lying in wait on a bed of ice, ready to be cooked and served up

You stroll through the displays, discussing the merits of each potential dish with the waitress who holds a tablet PC to record your menu selections – I was disappointed – it would have been so much more fun to actually click on the display photo, have it light up with a corresponding musical accompaniment and trigger an immediate flurry of chefs in the kitchen. But no, we did it the old-fashioned way: waitress selects item on tablet based on what we told her to add. needless to say: it took a long time to make decisions and to finalise the menu.

We selected about 8 cold dishes – a miscellany of cold chicken, goose liver, smoked fish, cold butternut chunks with lily bulbs, beef with ginger, some type of funghi and I can’t remember what else. We turned down the options for donkey, frog, eel and anything OTT spicy. Cold dishes are an essential part of any Chinese meal because they can be served immediately so that the guests can get stuck in right away without any awkward social moments of not having anything to talk about. As soon as the food arrives on the table, there are many potential topics of conversation. Usually one can get stuck in straight away, but of course, our team had to wait for us to get back from ordering the food (we are the bosses and the hosts!), so they could only sit and stare at and discuss the food selection while waiting for us.

14 hot dishes made their appearance for the 2nd round – again a mixture of veggies, pork, beef, chicken, duck and fish. No monkey, dog or cat dishes were selected (not sure there were any of these available anyway). Dishes arrive over the course of the meal – piping hot, fresh from the wok. And then empty plates get whisked away as they clutter up the available space so that room can be made for new dishes. Getting hold of your food when dishes are spinning around on a lazy Susan being driven by 14 hungry diners can be quite a feat – and good chopstick skills are a key requirement so that you don’t come away still hungry. Oh – I forgot about the soup – each meal has at least one soup dish, served in and amongst everything else, not at the beginning of the meal like in the West.

Once all dishes have been served, a plate of fruit is presented – usually watermelon – this signals that no more food will be served.

Food on the whole was tasty, not too spicy, well presented and the entire bill for 22 dishes + a bottle of local wine, a few beers and cooldrink came to under RMB 1000 (less than £100 or R1200)!

Oh, I nearly forget – because we were prepared to forgo an official invoice for the meal, we got a free bottle of wine!


Strained International Relations

OK…I admit that I caused these international tensions, but luckily it didn’t make the new headlines…yet.

The other day as M and I got into the elevator(lift) of our apartment complex to head out to dinner….a young boy – aged between 5 & 6 – and his mother were already in situ in the lift. I got in first and then the little “rascal” (read: damn nuisance) decided to press the “Close doors” button just as M was about to follow me in. The little horror! Luckily M was able to shoulder the closing doors to keep them from squashing him, but I dread to think what would have happened if he was old and frail, as are many of the other residents in our complex.

I yelled “Hey!” at the offending brat, and his response was to jab “Open”, “Close”,”Open”, “Close”, in quick succession. The mother’s response was to murmur “don’t do that, don’t do that” to the precious little darling in a quiet tone. So the teacher in me rose up – I can’t say that I made much effort to suppress it – and smacked his hands away from the buttons, while the mother looked on in resigned dismay. He gave me a dirty look, and his mother looked at me with big wide eyes.

By this stage I had worked up a head of steam, and I just couldn’t let it stop there.

So I snapped at him – “do you have a problem?” (in Mandarin) and was greatly rewarded by the fact that he looked away (sheepishly, I hope, but more likely to make the point that he was trying to ignore me). The mother continued to say nothing.

Needless to say, the rest of the journey to the ground floor was long and silent.

Late into the night I was still seething, but also realised that I had probably committed an unforgiveable cultural abomination by daring to chastise a “little emperor”, not only verbally, but also physically.

M & I decided that perhaps we better issue a warning for future brats to be on their best behaviour around us; we are going tp make T-shirts emblazoned with “I HAVE BEEN KNOWN TO SMACK NAUGHTY CHINESE CHILDREN” – in Chinese characters, of course!


Mooncake Tax

September 12 is Mid-Autumn Festival here in China. Traditionally on this day, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon, and eat moon cakes and pomelos under the moon together.

Mooncakes are round pastries, with a very rich and dense filling traditionally of lotus seed paste. Nowadays, many companies hand out mooncakes to their business associates and staff. Many restaurants and eateries have created their own distinctive mooncake specialties and there appears to be much demand for high-end style mooncakes in a variety of flavours. Prices vary from00 RMB for 16 mooncakes up to 10 times as much, depending on the contents and the packaging.

Yesterday we read about the mooncake tax which in which the mooncakes given by a company to its staff members – usually as a gesture of goodwill – will now be considered a non-cash benefit and subject to income tax.

Needless to say this has left a sour taste in the mouths of many Chinese workers in the run up to Mid-Autumn Festival.

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