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Archive for October, 2006

Grumble, grumble…

I have a language barrier head-ache. Just recently there’s been a number of occurrances where I’ve tried to explain something and one of my staff has done something quite different. When mistakes are made I always try and explain/show why something is the way it is so that the mechanisms are understood, the mistakes are not repeated and the total level of competency and understanding is improved.

I’m going to have to have a re-think about how I communicate some of this information. At the moment it’s either not getting through or it’s being ignored. It seems to me that quite a few of the locals solve problems by immediately jumping to the first quick-win solution. I can just imagine them playing chequers “Oh, there’s a move! (jump) Oh, there’s a move! (jump) …”. I’m not seing much evidence of the ramifications of their decisions being considered at a higher level and they don’t seem to have a will to understand what it is they are doing.

The difficulty one faces when trying to explain things to someone who speaks a different language isn’t called a ‘language barrier’ for nothing.

Water from above

Leaking Air Conditioner

Mid afternoon on Saturday I noticed water leaking from the ceiling around one of our air conditioner vents. There’ve been on-going rennovations in the floors directly above and I suspected that they may have damaged a pipe or something.

The water flow was steadily increasing over the next couple of hours so I decided to do something about it. What to do? I can’t speak to the maintenance people because they don’t speak English. 2 SMS’s and 3 phone calls later brought a couple of maintenance blokes to the door to take a look. I don’t think they were overly thrilled at being out on a service call at 7pm on the last day of the Chinese Moon Festival holidays.

I’m not sure exactly what the problem was, but I suspect that it was just a leaky pipe in the air conditioning system somewhere. The units are refrigerative, not evaporative, so I’m not exactly sure what the water is for, maybe to cool the heat exchanger or something. While they were at it they gave the air con unit a clean. The cleaning unit looked like a Dr Who Dalek, sounded like 2 vacuum cleaners and spewed forth this icky black water into our make-shift bucket.

Miraculously, as the water dried out the paint re-shrunk back to it’s original shape and there is no evidence of there ever being a water leak whatsoever.

Shenzhen really is a city split up into lots of little clusters by all the hills and mountains around. On Friday Gail & I set ourselves the challenge of hiking up the 944m high Wu Tong Shan mountain. It’s the tallest mountain around Shenzhen and so we set out at about 8:30am. The nearby township at the foot of the mountain range is accessable by taking a 40 minute ride north east on the no. 211 bus.

One of the other nearby peaks Steep Stairs The view part way up

There was a road leading up the mountain, however we were able to short-cut a section at the start by taking some stairs. From there on it was a long, relentless climb up the mountain as the road wiggled back and forth all over the place. There were short-cuts from some of the levels where people obviously went ‘off-road’ to shorten the journey. Such places were usually accompanied with a sign saying something like ‘please don’t climb gradient for sake of families’. Sometimes cars crawled by, other times they flew past and there was general tooting of horns, as the Chinese are inclined to do.

The Chinese Family

As we stopped and rested, and then set out again, we repeatedly came across a large group of about 20 Chinese who were really, really friendly. They wanted to take photos with us, share their food and they insisted in calling out to us in whatever English words they knew. These consisted of ‘Hello’, ‘How are you?’ and ‘Goodbye’. They were entirely incapable of deciphering a response so we just said ‘Hello’ back to them, waived and gestured with our hands. You can communicate a suprising amount without actually saying a word when you try. After saying that we were from Ao Da Li Ya there was time to stop and have some thumbs-up photos on cameras and mobile phones. One guy even gave me his (entirely Chinese) business card for some reason. I’m not so sure a Chinese person in Australia would be given such a warm and hearty greeting.

Little Wu Tong Panorama

We came across an intersection in the road and assumed that to continue straight ahead was the way to the top. When we reached the top about 1/2 an hour later the road opened into a car park, a couple of buildings, some trees, some seats and a few towers. We flopped down on a chair, exhausted from 3 1/2 hours solid climbing. As soon as I scanned the horizon I knew something was wrong - there was another peak that was higher than we were! It turns out that we were at ‘Little Wu Tong’. ‘Big Wu Tong’ lay in the hazy distance.

Looking down the mountain across to Big Wu Tong Shan The left turn at Albuquerque

After lunch and a rest we set off back down the road. At first I thought we might be able to run along the ridge to the proper peak (about 1km away) however a ‘military personnel only’ sign soon put paid to that idea. With no other choice we headed back down the road to the junction. Looking down at the junction from on-high it was immediately clear which way we should have gone. Still, when you’re so tired, and obscured by trees, you just don’t always consider these things because you’re so focussed on using your engergy conservatively.

As we walked the road a trail led up to another small peak. It looked like a great shortcut. In truth I’m sure it saved us horizontal distance but it burned more precious energy to make the climb. Check out the guy in the photo to see how steep this one was. Once we were up and over the other side we rested at a pogoda-ish type lookout thing to regain our strength and rehydrate.

Top Carpark

We eventually made it across to the carpark at the base of the stairs. I reckon that by going over the mini-peak and not following the road around we saved ourselves about 8 steps. All our previous climing exertions made the stairs hard work. It was so amusing because there was a stark difference in energy between those who’d walked the whole way up the mountain compared to those who drove to the upper carpark. We were stopping to rest every 100 steps or so. By the top of the 700 or so steps everyone was worn out, no matter where they started from.

Gail looking up to the peak

From the top of the stairs started a rocky trail aided by concrete posts and a sturdy chain. The chain was a great aid for hauling ourselves up and over the steeper rocky parts. From the end of the chain was a walk of about 100m across to the peak. There was even a tiny pond with a boulder in the middle of it called ‘heavenly lake’ or something like that. On the peak the air was cooler and visibility was poor. The last few metres in altitude really made a difference to the temperature.

The stairs and peak in the distance Looking back along the path on the ridge

The trek back down was a lot easier. It took us about 2 1/2 hours and we reached the Wu Tong Shan township just on dusk at about 6:30pm. The township seemed more ‘classically Chinese’ with people playing cards or pool in the street, guys not wearing shirts, dogs and cats running around, cars whizzing by and tooting, buildings only a few stories high and people selling stuff by the roadside.

Looking across to Big Wu Tong Shan The skyline Squiggly road signs

It was tough going all day. We’d applied sunscreen before setting out and after about an hour it was just white beads on our skin from sweat. We took 8.5L of water with us and we finished with about 0.5L left, which we drank on the bus home.

I was suprised to see quite a few Chinese people who were ill-equipped for this kind of hike. Many of them were wearing designer clothing or heeled shoes. Many of the climbers carried a plastic bag with them for food and drink. It just went to show that you don’t have to have the latest brand name backpack to do this sort of thing.

The elation I felt at reaching the peak was great. It’s the biggest mountain I’ve ever climbed. Despite going the wrong way and climbing 3 peaks in one day we’d conquered the mountain.

Gail’s been getting into the Chinese spirit of things with umbrellas lately. It seems that most of the Chinese women tote a brolly. They keep the rain off when it’s raining and the sun off when it’s sunny. They are the all-purpose all-weather fasion accessory. With our fair complexions we burn fairly readily. Even when it’s smoggy, foggy or overcast we burn a bit and therefore carrying a portable sun-shade does make some sense - for a woman…

Gail with brolly

Here she is with her sky-blue 20 RMB example. Actually, now that I think about it, sky-blue doesn’t have much meaning here in China. If a Chinese person was asked to paint something sky blue they’d probably paint a depressing dreary grey-ness. Living with this sort of pollution level gives me some apprecation for how the poms must feel, being deprived of the sun for so many days of the year.

Holidayers holidaying

This holiday is the first real chance we’ve had to just veg out for quite a while. Previous holidays have been filled with trips to Shanghai and the like. After a couple of days of doing nothing Gail & I ventured to Hong Kong for a little shopping. We discovered the HMV music store on the island at Central and made the most of it.

Papa John's

On Wednesday we went out to Shekou with Mark & Britney for a casual afternoon of mooching about and eating. The California Steak House wasn’t what we thought it would be. Imagine a big American restaurant that’s been sold to some local Chinese and run in a Chinese way for a few years. Yep, you get the idea. There were no foreigners eating there, a sure sign that the food would be bad. Once our initial reservations were replaced by genuine misgivings we just paid for our drinks and left without ordering food.

Eventually we migrated back over to Papa John’s for a very fine pizza feed and general lounge about. You can even buy a spider! I used to love them as a kid, now I can buy my very own coke, ice-cream and cream drink right here in Shenzhen. Out the front there are these neat little electric push-bikes that they use to deliver pizza. It was a different sight to the usual Marcelina’s delivery Daihatsu’s you see in Adelaide!

China never ceases to suprise with odd things, be it a ship moored in the middle of the land or a restaurant made almost entirely of glass with water flowing smoothly over most of it’s exterior. Today there were a few imported cars on display, obviously targetting the western audience.

Chinese Autumn Festival

At the moment we’re in the heart of the Chinese Autumn Festival, also known as the Chinese Moon Festival. That means that, errr … well … we’re on holidays! To celebrate the festival the government gives everyone 3 days off - Monday to Wednesday. To extend the holiday, nearly all businesses take one of the days from the weekends on either end and put those holiday days on Thursday and Friday. The nett effect is that we work for 6 days, have a 7 day holiday and then work for 6 days. Got that?

Moon Cakes

It’s tradition at this time to give other family members and friends moon cakes. They’re a small pastry cake made of a lotus seed filling with an egg yolk or two in the middle. We didn’t think they tasted all that nice. Talking with some locals it seems that they don’t think they taste very nice either. Sometimes when they’re given as gifts they go on to become gifts to other people.

The story behind the Moon Cakes goes something like this:

As the story goes, the Han people of that time resented the Mongol rule of the Yuan regime and revolutionaries, led by Zhu Yuanzhang, plotted to usurp the throne. Zhu needed to find a way of uniting the people to revolt on the same day without letting the Mongol rulers learn of the plan. Zhu’s close advisor, Liu Bowen, finally came up with a brilliant idea. A rumor was spread that a plague was ravaging the land and that only by eating a special mooncake distributed by the revolutionaries could the disaster be prevented. The mooncakes were then distributed only to the Han people, who found, upon cutting the cakes open, the message “Revolt on the fifteenth of the eighth moon.” Thus informed, the people rose together on the designated day to overthrow the Yuan, and since that time mooncakes have become an integral part of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

The story behind the ‘Moon’ part of the Moon Festival goes something like this:

The legend surrounding the “lady living in the moon” dates back to ancient times, to a day when ten suns appeared at once in the sky. The Emperor ordered a famous archer to shoot down the nine extra suns. Once the task was accomplished, Goddess of Western Heaven rewarded the archer with a pill that would make him immortal. However, his wife found the pill, took it, and was banished to the moon as a result.

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