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Archive for May, 2006

Near Miss #1

Typhoon Chanchu NASA photo

Well, typhoon Chanchu turned out to be a bit of a fizzer for us. Hong Kong was bracing itself and Chanchu ended up turning more towards the east. Net result was that the only impact we felt was a windy Tuesday and a rainy Wednesday. Quite a let-down really. 41 people were killed in the Philippines and all we got was some rain. The above image of the typhoon is from NASA.

Typhoon Chanchu

The red “x” in the middle of this image denotes Hong Kong. The black line is the mapped path of the typhoon to date.

I had my interview with the Chinese Police Foreign Affairs department for my Chinese working permit yesterday. I was a little anxious about this, having spoken with colleagues who have had a light grilling.

In the end it turned out to be a fairly easy interview. The interviewer just asked some questions about my working history, which countries I have been to, why do I need to be here and why can’t a local do the same job. All fairly straightforward stuff.

She could speak English but chose to speak to me through my Secretary as interpreter. I guess it would be a good way to check if we’re trying to pull the wool over her eyes - feign a lack of English and then listen in. After a few minutes she lowered her guard a little and stopped referring to my secretary for my answers but still spoke only ever in Mandarin. She concluded by stating that my work history and background was fine but to watch out for my personal belongings in Shenzhen.

One thing this interview chick lacked was dress sense. Fine black and white chequered knickerbockers worn under a black thigh-length dress and a dark-green cardigan over the top does not look good!

Need a Lift?

Q: How many Chinese can you fit in a lift?
A: Always one more!

My record thus far stands at 17 people in a lift rated for 15 persons in the work building. Having 15 people in these lifts has happened quite a few times and I was jammed in there with 16 others only yesterday.

Sometimes when the lift stops to let on more people it is already full. The prospective new co-occupants of the lift don’t seem to care, they just push and shove their way on until the doors successfully close and away you go! I was told by a colleague that it’s a good idea to keep your hands up around chest height under such circumstances in case there is some “inappropriate contact”. Not always an easy thing to achieve when your arms are pinned against you and either the wall or someone else.

Shun Hing Square Lifts

Anything to declare?

The customs lines in Hong Kong are always so short, maybe only 2 or 3 people long for Foreign passport holders. Across the river in China the customs lines are always huge, perhaps 20 - 25 people long. For a country with so many people they’re clearly not devoting too many people to processing people at the border. Perhaps they should transfer some of the 30,000 they’ve got doing internet surveillance.

As we were walking out the other side of customs suddenly just in front of us appeared 2 people pushing a trolley carrying nothing less than a dead body in a yellow body bag!!!! Whoever it was hadn’t been dead long because rigor mortis hadn’t set in yet, we could see the head and feet still jiggling over the bumps. If the person had died on the Hong Kong side then they would have been dealt with there, they must have died somewhere between leaving Hong Kong and exiting customs on the China side. In all fairness the person was probably old to start with, because it was a short adult body. Perhaps it was his cunning plan to get processed by customs quickly.

Hong Kong Scenery

After a sleepy and lazy start to the day Andrew & I headed for Hong Kong in search of a sewing machine. One of the shops that sells Janome sewing machines was a bit far away and not on the MTR so I gave them a call to confirm their trading hours. They offered to email through to me some information. For the next 7 or 8 minutes I stood in a grocery store and dictated my email address to the guy on the other end. It went something like this:

“OK, my email address is ‘aye gee’ … that’s a for andrew …. huh? … a for andrew … aaannnnddddrrrreeeewwww, like the name, the name Andrew. Andrew. Yep, A. First letter of the alphabet. A. Then N. No, oops - sorry, sorry, it’s not N, it’s G. Gee. No, forget N. No N. It’s G. G for - girl. G for girl. No, A…G. AG. First letter A, second letter G. G for girl. The second letter is G. G. G for girl. Yep, that’s right. Girl. Girl. G for girl. Good. So we’ve got AG. No, first letter A, second letter G. No, that’s J. I said G. G. No, not J. G. They sound really similar. You said J, I said Gee. Gee. G for girl. Right. Now after the G comes a dot. A dot. A full stop. A full stop. You know, at the end of a sentence you have a full stop. It’s a little dot. Means the end of the sentence. Yes. Yes. No, it’s after the G. Ok, let’s just do the next bit. After the dot is an N. N. No, that would be M. N. N. N for Nelly. No, not M for Mary, N. No, M is for Mary. No, I didn’t mean that there’s an M. No, there’s no M. Forget about M. The letter we want is an N. You know, it comes after M. N. N. No, after M in the alphabet. Abcdefghijklm-N. N for nothing. N. Yes! N for no-one! N for no-one! N for No-one. No, that was after the dot. Okay, after the N comes an E. E for egg. Not A. E for egg. No, that’s A. It’s a different one to the first letter we started with. E for Egg. E. Yes! E for egg. Got that? Okay. After the E for Egg comes the W. Yes, W. Then comes M. M. M. No, not N for nothing. M for Mary. M for Mary. M. Yes! Then after the M comes an A. A for Andrew. Yep, we had an A before. Or A for anyone. A for anyone. No, like the first letter of the email address. The first letter I spoke to you. The first letter. A. A for anyone. Yes! Next one is N for nothing. Yes. N for nothing. Okay, so far we have ‘ag.newman’. No, not aj.newman. AGee. No, sorry, the beginning of the email address is Ay…Gee. No, the beginning. AG. The first two letters that start the email address are Ay, then Gee. Gee. Okay. Now we’ve got up to the ag.newman. The next bit is the @ sign…”

This is a bit briefer than it was in real life. Remember it took 7/8 minutes. A lot of that time was the ‘ag.n’ bit. I think that it was more confusing than it should have been because he insisted on interrupting me all the time, which meant that I don’t think he was listening all the time. That combined with the thick Chinese accent which is a problem when speaking single letters of the alphabet, to produce a very confusing telephone conversation.

At one point (when we were going over the G part of the address - for about the third time, trying to get it right), I did a tiny foot stamp of frustration. Andrew thought it amusing. He had noticed the sweat dripping from my face, what with the heat, humidity and sheer concentration, and got out a tissue so it didn’t get into my eyes, which was very nice of him. He was also my ‘next letter is…’ person. After so much, I was forgetting which bit came next, so looked to him to remember what I was up to. Andrew commented that if he get’s it right it will be a miracle and guess what? He must have got it right because he emailed the information to me correctly! Now I have his email address, and he certainly has mine, I can ask for the information I want. Afterwards it felt like a mountain had been successfully climbed.

From Above

After a 6am start we met Wozza for brekky and checked out of our hotel. We took the taxi to the station and, hopefully, an experience to savour - riding on the MagLev at 430kph! My enthusiasm overcame my tiredness and we set out to the station. On the way we came within a few feet of a bad prang in the taxi. This car decided to change lanes without checking and the taxi driver slammed on the brakes. I sensed what was happening so I moved forward in my seat to steady the model helicopter bag that was in the front seat. As I did so the driver braked much harder and I slid out of my seat and up against the back of the seat in front, arms slung out in front of me towards the windscreen. We missed the other guy by only a few feet. A touch scary for Gail, but we’re here and in one piece so all is well.

Now, onto the Maglev! Trains run every 15 minutes and cost Y50 per person. It only runs between the Longyang Lu subway station and the Pudong International airport. As testimony to its speed the ends of the Maglev are heavily splattered with bugs, like a car windscreen after driving in rural SA for a couple of hours.

Inside Station

It’s a seriously impressive piece of kit. As you take off It starts with a low rumble and it just keeps on building speed right through to the 430kph top speed. The entire trip is over in just 8 minutes. It’s an amazing feat to be travelling this fast on something still connected (almost) to terra firma. It’s very quiet except for the wind noise as it rushes by.

Speaking of rushing by, we’d just started to slow for the Airport and, not having seen the other train go in the opposite direction, I assumed that they were only running one train. Suddenly… THUMP! - WHOOOSH! The train travelling at a similar 400kph speed in the opposite direction whizzed by! Gail gasped as we felt the pressure wave thump through our train. I deliberately sat next to the window facing the other line so that I could experience it *snigger*. The closing speed is phenomenal and all you can see of the other train is a faint white streak on the other set of rails.

We made it to the airport and were politely told at check-in that our tickets were invalid but a quick trip to the Shenzhen Airlines inquiries soon sorted that out. Because I did not have a lock on our case I was required to sign a waiver stating that Shenzhen Airlines were not liable for anything to do with our luggage. Seems that security is an issue here too. Shenzhen Airlines left China Eastern Airlines for dead as far as service goes. We travelled in a new Boeing 737-900 which was in excellent order, the pilot flew well with a very smooth landing, the food was very good (for airline food anyway) and the air crew were very professional. They even went through the safety drill in Chinese, English and sign-language to cater for any hearing-impared passengers.

We were yet again required to produce our luggage ticket at the Airport. I was feeling a little picked-on at this point. Initially planning to take a taxi back to the city centre, we came across the 330 Airport Express bus for Shenzhen upon leaving the terminal. It looked like a good option so we took it for only Y20 each. Not knowing where it would stop (Chinese only) we were delighted when it conveniently stopped only 1 MTR stop away from our apartment. A little later and we were home.

We’ve had a fantastic holiday in Shanghai and Wuxi, helped mostly due to Wozza’s familiarity with what to see, where to go and how to get around. Huge thanks to you, Wozza. I have no doubt that we’ll be back in Shanghai and Wuxi before our time here in China is over.

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