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Archive for April, 2006

A price to pay

Chinese Myth - Everything is cheaper in China.

This is simply not true. Initial indicators suggest that our living expenses will actually be higher here in China, or at least equal to those in Australia. Any name brand anything that is not made in China is significantly dearer here. Electrical goods in particular are more expensive than in Australia. Try AU$3 for 1L of Orange Juice, AU$10 for a Can Opener, AU$4 for a loaf of bread or AU$100 for a heater. At least some things are cheaper, like Maccas where a value meal is about AU$3, not exactly much consolation when we eat Maccas about once a year. In general, eating out is cheaper and cooking at home is dearer than OZ.

Anything that is not manufactured in China is dearer here than in Australia. This is because of the taxation system that the Chinese government has for imports. It’s designed to protect the local industries such as copy watches, rip-off DVDs, knock-off MP3 players etc. Ooops, did I say that out aloud?

From A to B, and how!

In Hong Kong the MTR is mainly a tourist attraction and most of the locals avoid it. Most of the time it is deserted.


The MTR is the way Hong Kong deals with the problem of transportation for so many people. I’m continually impressed by the MTR in Hong Kong, so impressed that I thought it was worth a dedicated blog post. Trains run every 2 minutes and they accelerate at such a rate that if you’re not holding onto something when they take off you may well loose your balance. Of course this is not such a problem if you’re packed in tight, see below.

Inside Train

Inside each carriage is a map of the full system. Lights for the line you’re travelling on flash, lights for lines that you can interchange to at the next station flash and there’s even a light to warn you of which side of the train the doors will be opening on at the next station. You can get to all the major locations on both Hong Kong Island and Hong Kong New Territories (the mainland bit) without ever leaving the rail system. They even have 3 sets of tubes that run under the harbour.

Inside Train Map

In each station platform there may be either 1 or 2 trains. Above each train is a map for that particular line showing the current location and also indicating which direction the train is going. This is complemented by PA announcements that you can actually clearly understand. For example, in the below photo we are currently at Central and waiting for the train to go to Sheung Wan.

Line Map

When the trains come to a stop they are aligned to the platform. The doors on the platform and the train open together and they are in alignment, within a few inches. The masses pile off and the masses pile on. In doing so you step across about a 4 inch gap from the platform to the train. The height of the train and the platform are exactly matched making all this a real no-brainer.

Train Doors

Compared to the MTR in Shenzhen, which is less than 12 months old I can make a few comparisons. The trains in Hong Kong distinctly feel more sturdy, have more comfortable aluminium seats, have more power, don’t shudder, squeal or grind when taking bends, the air conditioning works better and they look easier to clean. On the down side the Hong Kong trains do feel like they’ve had a lot of use and are starting to show their age a little. The Chinese MTR has taken the approach that “white is clean” so everything, except the sets and floor, is hospital white inside. The pay gates in The Chinese MTR fold to the sides allowing easy access. The Hong Kong still uses turnstiles for the most part and these can be a real pain when toting heavy suitcases.

Subway station

All in all it’s a great system. We can get from the Hong Kong airport (which is stuck out in the ocean on re-claimed land) all the way to the China border without ever leaving the rail network.

Well, we’re back in Shenzhen again after a hassle-free day getting our Visas sorted. The good news is that we now both have multi-entry Visas for China that are good for 6 months. Hopefully that’s long enough for HR to get their act together!

Hong Kong Streets

We had a really great day. Even though we wouldn’t have been able to get back into China without the visas, it was great for us to be able to go and do it together; a joint trip to Hong Kong. We had most of the day to ourselves and could spend some quality time with each other, and let the appropriate people worry about the visas. So it was a day of little worry, of lunch and finding a bookstore in English for Gail, buying computery things for Andrew, and all-in-all working things out together. We both really enjoyed it.

We had 5 hours to kill whilst we waited to be Visa-ised. We found out where to go in the city for computer bits and headed there after a local Cantonise cuisine feed. They love their pork here! We cruised some clothes shops and then Andrew endured Gail’s girly browsing of the busy nearby markets. They were busy, but not as chaotic as the Dong Men walking street district of Shenzhen.


Mid afternoon we holed up in a Starbucks. These places, however pricy, are real havens for weary travellers, having comfy couches and a relaxing atmosphere. We checked our Aussie phones for messages (they work in Hong Kong, not China) and rested our weary legs whilst savouring the new- found joys of iced chocolate frappucino. These are made with lots of finely crushed ice, some milk and chocolate solution all mixed together. This particular one was topped with cream and chocolate topping. Very nice and refreshing. )


After our 67th trip on the Hong Kong MTR we headed for Shenzhen on the KCR inland rail system, treating ourselves to the first class carriage for the trip home. Upgrading to first class buys padded forward (or rearward) facing seats and a quieter and more comfortable ride to the border for the princely sum of about HK$30 (AU$5) extra each. Just what the doctor ordered after a day on your feet. Standard travelling is on hard aluminium seats, mostly sideways benches, and there’s a real possiblility that you’ll be standing for the entire journey. Price is, assuming travelling all the way to Kowloon in Hong Kong, about HK$31 each.


Hong Kong is just so much cleaner than Shenzhen. Sure, it has it’s dirty bits, but on the whole it’s a very tidy operation. Impressive for a city with the highest population density of anywhere in the world. This was really brought home when, at the end of the day, we discovered that our clothes didn’t have that dirty and grimy smell they get when we’re out-and-about in Shenzhen. After 2 hours of travelling time (of which 55minutes is on the KCR) we made it back home, tired and weary but with the all-important Visas safely in-hand.

News just to hand - our visas are about to expire….tomorrow!!!! That’s Friday for all you late-comers. Seems that our original Visas only gave us 30 days in China after entry and, well, our time has expired and HR haven’t got their act together with respects to all the necessary Visas and work permit.

I can’t believe that we’ve been in China 30 days. The time has whizzed by so incredibly fast.

The sunny side of this silly saga is that the Visas that we are supposed to get tomorrow will be multiple-entry. This will enable us to travel to Hong Kong and back freely. All we need to do is get to the HR office on Hong Kong island by 9:30am tomorrow. We hope…

Friends before Business

Last night I was taken out to dinner. My host for the evening was the director of one of the businesses we work with here in China. Also joining us was 3 of his other business friends and one of my colleagues. We went to a familiar resturaunt called the Made In Kitchen. It’s a classy up-market modern-style resturaunt in the King Glory plaza. This is very near work in the Luo Hu district and I have occasionally visited this resturaunt as they do a great value set lunch for Y46. They serve a variety of Asian and Western cuisine and aparently their Dim Sum is very, very good.

The night started with a female DJ belting out some beats and this was followed up by Shenzhen’s answer to Kenny G. Someone forgot to tell this guy that Kenny G doesn’t wear blue pants with white stars all over them and black army boots without shoe laces. At least he could play the sax. This was followed by the main event - the fashion show. The raised centre aisle of the resturaunt is set up to double as a cat walk and there are fashion shows here every Wednesday night. Clearly the models have been watching too many fashion shows from Paris as they strutted down the runway with angry scowls on their faces. The night ended with a raffle of various things that had been donated and our host succeded in winning a Y2,000 painting.


I still really dislike the way that the Chinese are allowed to smoke everywhere (except in lifts). By the end of the night the resturaunt was full of cigarette smoke. Gail could smell me before she got near me when I arrived home. It reminds me of an aunt of mine who died with lung cancer when she was in her late 40’s. She was very healthy and a total non-smoker. The doctor attributed the cancer to her years of working in enclosed smoking office spaces in Adelaide in her 20’s.

We had a great drop of red over dinner. It was a Chilean Cab Sav from Las Vascos wines. Definitely recommended. Our host purchased several cases of the stuff and has it kept at the resturaunt just for when he dines there.

The whole “friends before business” mentality is still strong here in Shenzhen. Over the 4 course dinner there were toasts for our relationships, toasts to our businesses, toasts to success, toasts to friendships and toasts for the sake of making toasts. Glass chinks were everywhere. It was a very enjoyable evening.

Barbed Wire

Interesting couple of articles about the Internet blocking done by the Chinese government and how they do it. Interestingly, none of the links on the first webpage work, at least from within China. )



Here’s a few websites that I’ve come across that are blocked from inside the Great Firewall of China. I should point out that I don’t actually know what all of these sites are about as some have just come up as results of Google searches.











It appears that there are less sites blocked now than there used to be. Some of the websites I have visited listed a whole range of blocked sites and I seem to have access to most of the claimed blocked sites. When I was here in March 2005 I couldn’t access the http://www.theadvertiser.news.com.au/ website but now I can, for example.

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