China: Shopping Experiences

Thursday, 24 August, 2006

Had some time to go around a couple of shopping malls today and, again, an interesting experience. Supermarkets are very much like they are here, except with some local differences. There is a wide range of differing fresh foods, dried foods (whole fish!) and Chinese medicine. Department stores are strangely near enough identical to the UK, as were the prices. WHilst some CHinese clearly must shop here the prices are very high in comparison to salaries. Again interesting to see how pervasive (invasive?) western culture is and, in particular, how shopping is very popular here.

Walking around the streets, it again struck me how clean and tidy they were. And the absence of graffiti was in stark contrast to most western cities. Yet many parts of the Wuhan city look (and feel) rundown. There are many new buildings, the cities are very tidy and clean, yet there doesn’t appear to be any kind of maintenance programme for buildings. They just, well, fall apart. I still can’t quite put my finger on it though because China is far from the stereotypical scenes westerners envisage for place like Vietnam or Indonesia.

We also wandered around a mobile phone “market”. There were literally 50 or so stalls just selling mobiles, something that I haven’t seen before. The Chinese really do love their phones and whilst not all of them have them, they really do seem to be joined at the hip. Whilst in Europe we would never dream (well most of us in polite company!) of taking a call during a lecture or meeting, it is standard fare here. The phone comes first. It is quite disconcerting during meetings and very frustrating when students wander out to take calls. And of course everyone talks on their phone whilst driving. If we think the West is dominated by the moblie then in China it moves to another level.

One final footnote, it is noticeable that many Chinese (in Wuhan anyway) wander around the streets with umbrellas. In summer I assumed this was to keep the sun (heat) off, however it is primarily the women who use them. I gather this is to try to keep them as white as possible. It really is quite amusing that cultural standards (peer pressure?) dictates that western women are as dark as possible, whilst eastern (Chinese) women prefer the opposite. Is there a middle ground somewhere that everyone is aiming for?!!

Chinese Hosting

Wednesday, 23 August, 2006

So far this week I have found the Chinese to be warm, friendly and very hospitable. They are genuinely interested in talking to you, finding out about western culture and discussing their own. Indeed I was surprised to hear that the Chinese will often talk to westeners to practise their English; so far, whilst many Chinese have been initially shy, this has been true. In a country where the language is so different, I can understand the desire to practise with “native” speakers. Certainly food is a major part of Chinese culture and, indeed, our host observed that many westeners believe the Chinese eat too much! THe working day (in the university) was from 9-11:30, then a 2-hour lunch/siesta, and finally 2:30-5.00. Very different from the rushed London life I lead; indeed all the students and staff live on-campus.

The Chinese “banquet” is also very important as, I believe, it allows the Chinese to experience high quality food and a pleasing environment. Many restaurants will have private rooms with circular tables that you can eat at. In the middle of the table is a “lazy susan” upon which all the food is placed. And, for a more formal banquet, expect 10-12 individual “dishes”. There is plenty of choice and the food is very good. My chopstick dexterity has certainly improved since eating here!

After the banquet yesterday we played table tennis for a couple of hours. The Chinese are very good sports and whilst they can clearly demonstrate that they are far better at table tennis (!), they like their guests to be given both opportunity to play and the feeling of doing well. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Chinese KAPping

Tuesday, 22 August, 2006

I took the Dopero 125 kite out with me to Wuhan to demonstrate KAPping to our hosts at the China University of Geosciences (yes, a whole university of over 25,000 students just doing geoscience!). Summer in Wuhan is hot (33-35C) and humid, with very light wind during the day. The nights can cool down and there is often a breeze. Unfortunately our flying day was fairly typical which meant the whilst the Dopero could just get off the ground, lifting capacity was low. I was using my Coolpix 8400 (450g) which is the lightest setup I currently have and whilst the rig could get off the ground, it had the effect of dragging the kite down, pulling it vertical and then overextening it so that it lost lift and then floated to the ground. My solution was to run a long length of line out and then pull the kite into the air. This lifted the camera up quite high until it got to the point of over-extension at which point it glided down. This process just gave enough time to get some shots. This was really only a demonstrator so we weren’t photographing anything of special interest.

China: First Experiences

Saturday, 19 August, 2006

I wasn’t sure quite what to expect of “China”. Stepping off the plane in August you are immediately hit with the heat. A very hot time of year. The airport has alot of building going on in preparation for the Olympic Games, however as I was travelling to Wuhan, a 2 hour flight south, there was no opportunity to see Beijing. Although there was a fair wait at border control, the airport was efficient and rapidly unloaded baggage. The internal domestic transfer bypassed normal queuing in the terminal which was a good thing as I checked in 30 mins before departure; no problems!

Wuhan is a conglomeration of 3 cities at the confluence of the Yangtze and Han Rivers. A large, somewhat sprawling, city with a population of 9 million and still expanding. It is bustling, with alot of building going on. There is ongoing construction of a major highway from the airport, so the taxi ride required cutting through many of the downtown streets. And this is perhaps the first striking aspect of Chinese city life (besides the energy sapping heat in summer); cars, bikes, scooters and pedestrians all mix on the roads in a haphazard melee. I haven’t witnessed a single accident (perhaps due to the relatively low volume of cars and low speeds), but cars wandered across lanes, cut each other up, went down the wrong carriageway, and this was whilst scooters with 2 or 3 riders (wives, children) whizzed by and pedestrians ambled across the streets. I’m not really sure why there were traffic lights as they appeared to have little effect on the traffic. It is all very vibrant though, with mixtures of shops, lorries repaired at the roadside, food sellers and flashing neon lights. I whilst there are clearly aspects of western culture and really has very little in common. It is somewhat noticeable that many people take great pride in their appearance and, whilst he streets are full of bustle, I have seen virtually no animals at all.

Heathrow Security

Friday, 18 August, 2006

An interesting experience on a flight to Beijing today. Not having travelled internationally for a while, and with the heightened security after terrorist alerts in London, I wasn’t sure what to expect. And really it was just long queues. A fair wait to check-in, followed by another long wait to get through security. At least hand-luugage was allowed, so the obligatory laptop, PDA and camera came through. So all in all it was simply a case of allowing plenty of time, but having checked-in at 16:30 for an 20:30 flight there wasn’t much time left for looking around airside. I should also say that the flight itself with Air China on a Boeing 747 was good. When every airline flies similar aircraft there is really very little differentiation between them. SO as much space as you would normally get and a no-hitches flight.

OS Reveals Secret Locations

Monday, 7 August, 2006

An interesting article in The Guardian today reports that the OS will be putting the locations of “secret” government facilities on their Landranger maps. With the availability of aerial imagery from firms such as Getmapping and their increasing availability through services like Google Earth, much of this information was readily available anyway. Perhaps the interesting aspect of this is how many features will be added and what will be left missing out?? One assumes that this data is already in Mastermap and that there must be “Top Secret: Don’t Show Anyone” flag in the database which makes sure its ommitted. Anyone know.