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From the mouth of babes

One of the joys of being back in Australia has been seeing our very cute niece and nephew. The other day, they came by car to visit us at our house. Their mother (my sister-in-law) announced that they had arrived at Auntie Gail and Uncle Andrew’s house. From the back seat our 2 1/2 year old niece called out “China!”

This is Australia

Child with hoop

After returning to Aus we discovered that my Aussie phone was not working but Gail’s was fine. It seems that it was more than 395 days since I last purchased credit and Vodafone consider an account inactive after this amount of time.

After 3 visits to Vodafone, 3 calls to Vodafone service, the purchase of a new SIM card, the purchase of 2 different types of phone credit and $20 in fees my phone was working again with the old number.

I was astounded at the number of hoops I had to jump through to get my phone working and get my old number back. It was very time consuming when the only time I wanted to consume was the time surveying the back of my eyelids. At least all the Vodafone people we spoke to were very friendly and they all told me consistent information.

This situation reminded me that things aren’t always simple and easy here either. It’s just that we can communicate using a common first language to work through the difficulties.

In the office in Shenzhen we had a saying: TIC - This is China. It was occasionally wheeled out whenever something went completely awry or when a situation was completely incomprehensible.


This post comes to you courtesy of the free WiFi in the Hong Kong international airport. We’re on our way home! We’ve spent more than 2 years in China (2 years, 3 months and 1 day, to be precise) and it’s been an amazing adventure. Like all good adventures, they must come to and end, and now this part of our adventure draws to a close.

There’s stil a few stories about things we did in China to talk about, so over the next few weeks I hope to add them to the blog, so that it’s more complete. There will not be any hidden posts, suddenly to materialise now that we’re on the outside of the Great Firewall of China, as some of the more cynical have suggested, just a tidying up of various loose ends or things I just ran out of time to blog about earlier.

See you all soon, in that glorious haven we call Australia.

Black Rain

HK Flooding 2

The other week in Hong Kong there was a Black Rain warning. We didn’t hear about it until we’d reached Tsim Sha Tsui, so we were in for a surprise.

Basically, Black Rain means that there’s going to be thunderstorms that dump so much rain that no drainage system in the world will be able to cope. That means localised flash flooding, lots of debris and all the Insurance companies take a holiday for the day.

HK Flooding 1

We arrived in Central, on Hong Kong island, surfaced and found the streets awash with drains that looked more like geysers, motionless traffic and roads that looked like rivers.

In any case, we had a destination to get to so, after a quick re-route through the MTR to a different exit, surfaced and braved the rain and the waters. With nothing for it, we rolled up pants, de-shod ourselves and plunged across the street at what looked like a good spot, despite a nearby hotel concierge’s kind advice that it wasn’t such a good idea. We waded between the motionless traffic that was bubbling away in the 8″ of rushing water and emerged on the other side, still huddling together under our solitary brollie. At least our heads were dry…

The rest of the morning was spent drying out, making our way around HK in bare feet, much to the amusement of more than a few locals, who knew better and were sticking underground or indoors.

HK Flooding 3

We took the MTR to the Festival Walk shopping centre and holed up in the AMC cinema where we could dry out in the over-zealous air conditioning in front of the latest Chronicles of Narnia movie, with dripping socks neatly laid out on the vacant chair next to us. We warmed ourselves afterwards with a tasty pork curry from the food court.

The effects of the Black Rain were quite widespread, with the highway to the airport being flooded and a few cars flooded up to their windows. The proprietors at the Landmark hotel were having a tough time dealing with water flooding onto a staircase from a cracked marble panel on an internal wall.

Yangtze River - Guilin #5

The 3 Gorges Dam

Yangtze River cruise boat

We disembarked (again! but for the last time) and went on a bus to the 3 Gorges Dam Wall. It was really boring. A concrete wall, with more water on one side than the other. Hmm. Andrew’d been looking forward to it all trip though, and since he’d do it much more justice than me, here’s Andrew’s account: …

Click me to make me grow!

I’d been waiting to see the 3 Gorges Dam wall and, to be honest, it was slightly disappointing. It’s a massive thing. It’s hard to get an appreciation for it’s size because you’re never allowed to go out on it, or get up close to it on the lower side. It’s positively huge. No photo can ever to justice to the scale of the construction, especially when most of it is hidden under water. It just fades off into the haze. It’s definitely no “Great Wall” though.

The engineering is seriously super-sized. At full capacity, the dam can output 22 Gigawatts of electricity. To put that into perspective, most nuclear power plants are 1 - 1.5 Gigawatts. There’s 26 turbines and over 1Km of wall that’s more than 200m high.

3 Gorges Dam top side

The ship locks take boats from the top to the bottom in 5 steps. It takes the best part of a day for a ship to get from the top to the bottom, or vice versa. They’ve built a slot in the wall for a “ship lift” that they hope to use to take smaller boats from the top to the bottom in one shot. Trouble is, no-one has yet figured out how to do it. They’ve just built the place for it in the wall. When they figure it out, they’ll let you know ) .

Scale model China rivers holiday 27 Water pistol head

Standing on the shore line on the low side of the mountain left me with a similar feeling to flying. No, not the “like, wow, man” flying, but the feeling that logically everything is fine but there’s always a “what if” niggling away back there somewhere. Apparently the nearest big city would have 1 hour to evacuate if the dam wall failed before being completely destroyed.

3 Gorges Dam with Andrew

In the end, I recall looking up at the mountain over my left shoulder, looking back at the “little” dam, back up at the mountain and again back to the wall and thinking that man’s best efforts will always fall short. Dimensionally and statistically it’s a massive thing, yet it shrank in the context of it’s surroundings.

So, to sum up, definitely worth seeing but I don’t think I’d be in any rush to come back again. Back to Gail:

… The bus got to Yi Chang, and we grabbed some small nibbles (boiled eggs and 2 minute noodles). There are virtually no vendors here! What’s up with that?! We caught one of the Yichang- Wuhan buses: 4 1/2 hours, and it really felt like it. The driver and others didn’t feel the need to avoid smoking, and we both reeked and felt slightly nauseous by the time 11:30pm rolled around and we were at the hotel.

The scariest part of the trip happened about half-way to Wuhan. It was night and we were just about to overtake a truck, about a bus length behind it and in the next lane, when the left rear tyre exploded. I mean it didn’t just deflated but it blew itself to smithereens, showering the front of the bus (and the windscreen right in front of us) with flying rocks, dirt and bits of blown up tyre. A scary moment, to be sure.

They played 2 funny films on the bus, the first of which was a China vs Japan war movie with comic stereotypes, the second with the American Marines vs Japanese, but the American captain was a short-sighted leader, so the day was saved by the Chinese. Humour abounded. Earlier in the day Andrew and I’d been discussing submarine movies, and Andrew said that the line ‘Descend to periscope depth’ crops up in all of them, without fail. I was sceptical - until the first line of the film - ‘Sergeant! Descend to periscope depth!’ )

China rivers holiday 28

The above little critter was discovered minding its own business near the Three Gorges Dam Wall.

Getting excited!

You know you’re getting excited about returning to Australia when…

  • You take over cooking duties at a BBQ (admittedly on a 21st floor balcony)
  • You are not alarmed by the falling sky - it always seems to bounce back into place
  • You take an interest in Australian news stories
  • You’re interested in what changes have been made in the latest budget
  • You start saying “Please talk to X, they’re responsible for that now.” rather than dealing with problems yourself
  • You look forward to no longer starting emails with “there seems to be some miscommunication here”
  • Your concentration levels at work vary more frequently than a diabetics blood sugar level
  • You start making last visits to places and restaurants you like
  • You start working out what to buy before you go
  • You know the RMB : AU$ exchange rate to 5 decimal places (6.69287:1 today)
  • You start to not replace things at home when they run out
  • You start giving away or throwing out things that aren’t taking the long journey home
  • You write the remaining weeks on tiles in the kitchen with a whiteboard marker, one tile per week
  • You reminisce about the delightful summer rains, where you don’t mind getting wet
  • You hope for just one more blinding thunderstorm
  • You imagine the bliss of sleeping in a bedroom that is both dark and quiet
  • You look at your ailing dilapidated Metro card and think ‘She’ll be right’
  • You realise that, when talking with Australians, your accent has changed slightly
  • You start mentally planning what to take on the plane - more than a month in advance
  • You start researching on-line replacement items for things you sold before leaving Australia
  • You start bracing for how expensive everything is going to be
  • You make a mental decision to ‘From brain Chinglish put out’
  • Your wife uses the word ‘Bonza’ in an email

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