Living in China experiences

Here you will find a number of Blog posts I made throughout 2007 whilst living in China on various topics all condensed onto one page regarding my living in China experience

Many times whilst living in China I have been astonished at the friendliness, kindness and caring nature of the Chinese peoples.
To see a young man, probably in his late teens readily give up his seat on the crowded bus for an elderly lady on numerous occasions is to my mind a valuable lesson for all young, everywhere, respect of the elderly is clear for all to see in China, something sadly lacking now in a lot of western culture.
But just like anywhere else in the world their will always be a minority element that can cause a problem or two.
I refer mainly to the pickpockets and thieves that operate in the crowded areas (and there are lots of crowded areas, believe me).
So beware, take all reasonable precautions, do not let yourself slip into relaxed holiday mode.
Keep all valuables, wallet, MP3, valuable jewelry out of sight.

Ladies, keep your handbag close to your side with your hand on it.
Gentlemen, watch your back pockets.
The now fashionable combat style trousers are a useful addition to the wardrobe as they offer lots of difficult to get at pockets.
It is also true that the girlfriends, wives and fiancees of western men are targeted.

Also if your lady partner is attending a language school, tell her to be extra cautious when leaving, especially if it is a night school.

All mostly commonsense but a reminder never goes a miss.
On a lighter note, something for you to consider......

I hope you have given it proper consideration... the loo that is!
Don't worry as most hotels have the usual (the expected) loo, this type you will find in public lavatories throughout China and in most Homes.
The argument is strong, no bodily contact and no cold seat!
Remember...always carry plenty of tissues with you, you never know when your nose will run...

Moving swiftly on....
Sleeping seems to be very popular and it is not unusual to find mainly men asleep in all sorts of places, (I think they might argue that they are just resting and not necessarily pining for the fiords) especially when the weather is hot it is possible to stumble upon one of these "resting" individuals.

Whilst on the subject of resting, when in Nanning I do sometimes at night find it difficult to sleep.
Not sure why, sometimes hot, sometimes a little noisy or maybe just do not give myself enough time to adjust to the time difference.
Much has been written about this subject, jet-lag included and each time it takes me around 10 days to fully adjust, strange thing is, coming back to the UK it only takes me 2 good nights sleep to recover.
I am not complaining as to my mind it is all part of the experience.
We will talk about Flights, Airlines and Air travel in general a bit later. I have lots of tips on these subjects.

I like Guangzhou, I didn't at first but I do now.
A modern city with lots of new building works, some really nice building colours, one in particular is a smoky grey colour at night, must be the lighting.
Guangzhou will be of particular importance to those of you in search of a Visa for your beloved.
I take the sleeper bus from Nanning to Guangzhou, takes under 10 hours and you can sleep as you have your own small bunk style bedded area. Plus you do get to see some of the countryside if you travel daytime.
The coach capacity is around 30 and is well worth the experience.
It stops 3 times along the way for about 15 minutes each stop. Cost around 200/300 RMB depending on time of year.
It would be wise to take some food with you as you might find the food at the various stops a little difficult to stomach, sometimes the wait for food can also be long and keep your valuables with you at all times.

Bus and coach travel is popular in China. On my journeys from Nanning to Guangzhou and back again it is true to say that most of the traffic on the various roads (mostly toll roads) we travelled on were buses and coaches.
Earlier I mentioned that the sleeper coaches are my first choice but there are others including the traditional seated coach, prices for these are very much cheaper.
When you consider the price, just think, £20 for a sleeper coach, your own bed and bunk for a 10 hour journey represents very good value.
Once on the coach all is fine, you might find your in dispute with someone in your place, the bunks are numbered but some Chinese ignore this and just choose the one they like. Easy solution just go talk to the Driver or assistant and they will sort it out. Then you can relax for the journey. The various stops along the way will be of amusement to you and will no doubt enter your conversations later on when talking to friends and relatives...enjoy.

If your travelling on your own, it will not be too much of an issue but if you are travelling with a buddy or partner then you might want to be together, I mean opposite each other on the same level. It's worth pointing out that the coaches do vary a bit some just have bunks running along the sides other have a central aisle of bunks also these tend to be a bit more cramped.
I always choose to be on the upper level opposite my wife, this can be a bit hit and miss as the numbering system varies on each coach and you need to specify this when booking your ticket.

Now, booking this ticket, this is the really difficult bit. I always book my ticket one or two days before I travel, it is easily possible for you to just turn up on the day but you are risking a long wait if all are full, as I said before it is an extremely popular way to travel. Try and avoid the main holiday periods if you can, like Chinese New Year, this is when the tickets will be highest price around 300 RMB at other times 200 RMB.
The ticket office is a nightmare particularly when busy, I am lucky I have my Chinese wife with me, without her I would not enjoy this bit at all.
We needed to do this right on the Chinese New Year and I have never seen so many people trying to by tickets, do not forget these coaches are leaving the depot to various locations throughout China...very very busy.

No English signs all Chinese although I think this is changing slowly.
Lots of pushing and shoving, you probably know that the Chinese do not like to stand in line.
If you are travelling alone you might be lucky to find an English speaking person in the crowd.
I hope I have not put you off as it is a great experience once on the road.
The alternative is flying, around 3 times the cost and no guarantee that the plane will fly, I have done both, its the sleeper coach for me every time now.

When visiting China I used to fly into Hong Kong in the past, I even went that route once to Nanning. I suppose if I was to be honest, it is the simplest route and the one that allows very much in the way of flexibility.

For a start, we from the UK do not need a visa to enter HK as long as we do not intend to stay longer than 6 months.
Most of the signs and instructions are in English.
The weather is normally fantastic whatever time of year you arrive unless you just happen to arrive during a typhoon as I did once.
The airport staff and a large number of the population will speak English or if they don't, they will know someone close by that does.

If you happen to have forgotten your Chinese visa you can get one in the Airport, that is, you can apply in the airport and wait a few hours while it is collected for you.

You have various choices of transport for your onward journey to Nanning, Plane, Bus, Train or any combination of these.
You can bus into Hong Kong main line train station or you can bus to the Main Bus depot in Hong Kong and then Bus to Nanning.
You can bus to Shenzhen then fly to Nanning, this option will keep the air ticket price to a minimum as the flight from Shenzhen to Nanning is classed as a domestic flight costing around £60. Where the flight from Hong kong to Nanning is classed as an International flight costing around £200.
You takes your choice. ..
If you are a confident traveller and happy to encounter lots of worrying moments then the bus and Shenzhen then fly option is the cheapest.
I have simplified it somewhat as there will be border crossings to navigate. Oh, and the bus will not stop right outside the passport checkpoint but you can always try asking or maybe just follow the crowds, you should not go to far wrong.
The bus depots can be a bit over powering, lots of people, lots of buses and lots and lots of signs in Chinese.

All good fun......but if your on a tight time schedule then a direct flight from Hong Kong to Nanning would probably be best.
If I remember correctly you will be in for a few hours wait at Hong Kong Airport awaiting your connecting flight to Nanning, a good opportunity to get yourself into Kowloon or Hong kong a bit of sight seeing, get yourself on the Star Ferry, a pleasant relaxing ferry ride of about 20 minutes across the bay.
Coming back might also mean you will need to overnight in Hong Kong, do your research first.

Now my main travel route is Norwich to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Beijing, Beijing to Nanning...I will explain the reasons and the advantages about this tomorrow....

My preferred carrier now is KLM the Dutch airline, they suit me because they are competitively priced, they give airmiles and they fly from Norwich also from many other locations in the UK. This means a short train ride then a hop in a taxi then I am at Norwich Airport. Total time from my front door to Norwich airport 45 mins, no car parking charges and a relatively smooth passage to this point but I will be £20 the lighter as this is the crazy combined cost of a short taxi and train ride in the UK today.

Norwich being a small airport, (recently modernised) is a nice start to my journey to Nanning.

The flight from Norwich to Amsterdam (Schiphol) airport is around 40 minutes, I have been delayed once for about an hour but as I usually leave at least 2 hours connection waiting time here it has not proved to be a major issue...yet!

Amsterdam International airport is a modern terminal, well signed and comfortable, very easy to find your way around.
I have been to many airports across the world and to my mind Schiphol is one of the best.

I usually arrive at Amsterdam around 2pm from Norwich and the flight to Beijing is normally around 5pm.
Now if you say around 10 hours for the flight this will give you 3am the following morning (Amsterdam time) now add 7 hours for Beijing time difference making it around 10am Beijing time.
A nice convenient time to arrive in China.

My advice at this point is to have allowed a good 3 hours, preferably more waiting time in Beijing airport for your connecting flight to Nanning.
Firstly because if it is your first trip you will need time to adjust to China signs and lots of people and also this will give a little allowance for any delays, both in take off from Amsterdam and landing in Beijing. Beware of the very busy arrivals hall, you will be approached by many offering you, the westerner all sorts of services.

If you have booked all the way through with KLM then you always have the back up of KLM should things go wrong, but take it from me, you will have trouble finding there office at Beijing Airport and asking might be a test of your patience.
It is there...I promise...stay calm.
Best to ask the cabin crew or ground staff immediately that you know there might be a connection issue.

A nicer way to do this is to get your buddy, partner, girlfriend or wife to meet you at Beijing, this way you could spend a day or two in Beijing before travelling on.

Recently I needed to fly in and out of Guangzhou Airport, this was a reasonably good experience. The airport is modern as are most international airports in China now.

Nanning airport is also good, compact and easy to find your way around. Don't forget that if you are coming into Nanning you will be coming into another China international airport first as there are no direct flights from the UK into Nanning.

So your port of entry will be the first Airport you land at. It will be here that Immigration and Customs control will be strictest, a tip...don't forget your Entry card, they call it a card but it will probably be paper. These are normally handed out on the plane by the cabin crew.

Chinese immigration officials appear a little stern at first but I have always found them to be very efficient and they are doing a job that many of us would not enjoy...respect.

On leaving Nanning airport you are given lots of choices regarding onward travel.
As most will be met here, I have no doubt, the decision will be made for you.
There is a bus that runs about every 45 minutes into the main city area and the cost is around 15 RMB, about £1, you cannot grumble at this as it is a 45/60 minute ride. The bus is comfortable and this will give you a taste of the driving skills (or not) required to drive in Nanning. This is always my preffered travel option.
Sit back and enjoy the ride....

Living in China is easy, everyone appears to be busying around and getting on with their lives.
Food is cheap, both prepared or raw and transport is really cheap.
Housing, although arguably not up to western standards is fantastic value and if you choose carefully the standard can be higher than expected.
So far on my visits to Nanning I have stayed in Hotels, Apartments and with friends.
Each of these situations have been enjoyable and comfortable and not without an issue or two.
Lots of smokers in China, so it will come as no surprise that a lot of the hotel rooms can smell a bit smoky from time to time and in my experience every time I put on the air conditioning the smoky smell always seems to increase...why is this?

Tips...Hotel prices are negotiable, the price shown is not the price paid by Chinese nationals, the price showing is the price asked of westerners. It is pointless trying to negotiate as a westerner, so the obvious solution, send in your Chinese partner if you have one.
This same principle applys when negotiating the apartment, once a Chinese landlord gets a sniff of a westerner interested in his apartment the price will soar.
Now I am not an old skinflint but I do like to haggle and feel that I have a fair deal, all round. So needs must...
Staying with friends is usually fine, just obey the house rules if any and enjoy the real living experience.

Whether you want to reserve a hotel room, hire a bicycle or pay the restaurant bill, "The Rough Guide Mandarin Chinese Phrasebook" will help you all the way. The A-Z English to Mandarin and A-Z Mandarin to English translations will have you speaking the language even before you step off the plane. Practice your pronunciation with 16-pages of additional scenario material; available as downloadable audio files, the scenarios have been recorded by native Mandarin speakers and are compatible to either your computer or iPod. This thoroughly-revised third edition includes a detailed grammar section and a helpful menu and drinks list reader to ensure you always choose the right dish. With this phrasebook in your pocket you are sure to have a great trip!
I thought is was about time we talked about Nanning itself...
Nanning, a prosperous industrial city and the capital of Guangxi Province, is in the south west of China.
The climate is sub-tropical and monsoonal and it is sometimes warm in winter as well as summer. Average temperature is 21.7°C. It is often windy or breezy and very rainy, with over 1300 mm of precipitation annually. It is mostly frost-free for all but 3 or 4 days a year and very rarely snows.
With a population of over 6 million ( I have seen many different population figures for Nanning but this seems to be the most widely agreed)
Nanning enjoys a beneficial geographic location, connecting the Indo-China Peninsula to the west and Guangdong Province, Hong Kong, Macao to the east.

An important gateway to southeast Asia, Nanning is a modern regional centre that plays an active role in the commerce between China and the so-called "Pacific Rim" countries of Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia only a fairly short distance away. 160 Km from the Vietnamese border.
Nanning has its own airport served by around 20 domestic and international airlines.
It is well connected by road and rail with the rest of China.
Another important transport route is the Yongjiang river - which carries most of the city's exports to their various destinations overseas.

Rapid urban development makes Nanning a busy city but at the same time Nanning attaches great importance to improving its natural environment.
It deservedly enjoys the reputation of 'the Green City of China' because of the many green areas within it.

There are many tourist attractions within the city of Nanning and in the surrounding area.

These are just a few of be continued...

Nanhu Park at night

Whenever my wife and I are in Nanning we always make our way to this lovely area situated in the south eastern part of Nanning city, Nanhu Lake Park (South Park) is a mixture of sub-tropical gardens and lake. It covers an area of 127 hectares, of which three quarters is covered by the lake. You can take a row boat or motorised boat depending on how you feel on the day.

For us, it is a bus ride of about 45 minutes from our apartment and surprise, surprise the bus is always full and bustling with people on there way to the Park.

The Chinese love to stroll and this is an ideal place to stroll, anytime day or evening. There is a peace here, no pressures, everyone just enjoying. The picture was taken one evening in early November 2006.
There is also a famous fish restaurant and the lake is the venue for the annual dragon boat festivals which attract thousands of people.
Once a fisheries lake, it has now been landscaped and planted up with thousands of trees including Chinese fan palms, "pinangs" and other tropical trees. In addition more than thirty kinds of tropical fruit trees, including litchi, jackfruit, pomelo and mango can be found in the Park.

Earlier in the blog I posted a short video of the fireworks display for the Chinese New Year, this was taken at Nanhu Park.

Tips...Most weekends around 8 o'clock in the evening there is a terrific water fountain display including lasers...a must see.

To be continued...

Bonsai in Nanning

I'm a Horticulturalist...for those that are raising eye brows either in astonishment or passion is plants. (All things Agriculture in Guangxi) So it will come as no surprise that wherever I am in the world and Nanning is no exception, I will always try to discover anything Plant related.
To my delight after I started living in China I soon discovered Nanning as the Green City of China. Also I soon learnt that if you look carefully in the strangest of places, you will find plants, gardens and Horticulture.

Bonsai and Penjing, I love them, I don't grow them, never have but I love to look at them and marvel at the way they have been trained and nurtured over in some cases many many years.
I have found lots in Nanning China, little treasures, hidden away, here, there and everywhere.

Oldest Tree in and around Nanning
According to the gardening and landscaping census conducted by Nanning Bureau of Gardening in 2000, there are 139 old trees and 2 famous trees in Nanning City, belonging to 11 species under 7 families, such as kapok, banyan, camphor, longan, carambola, etc.
The number of banyan is the greatest. Among them, 134 trees as old as 100—300 years are listed in Category II of the State Protection List and 5 trees of more than 300 years old in Category I.
The oldest tree is a banyan in Pingyang Village, Nahong Town, which is as old as 350 years. It is 28 meters high, the diameter of the tree-trunk is 4.15 meters, and the range of tree-crown reaches 1890 square meters.

Guangxi Medicinal Herb Garden
Guangxi Medicinal Herb Garden

Guangxi Medicinal Herb Garden stands on an area of two million sq.m. in the east suburbs. It is one of the biggest medicinal herb garden in China with a total of over 2,100 different species. The garden is divided into five sections of Guangxi special herbs.
The herbs ranged according to their curative effects and according to the medicinal function. The sweet tea, one of the local specialities are grown in the garden, this tea has the function of refreshing energy and relieving internal fever.
The herb for arthritis is also grown here, well known for its effect.
I stumbled upon this as I was searching something the other day. I hope you will find it

There are many parks of various sizes throughout Nanning China.Small park in Nanning China
Some large and sprawling like Nanhu and others small and surprising, you need to maybe ask around for a local green area.
Tips...These parks are used very much at the weekends especially Sunday but to avoid the crush try and get along during the week.
Part of the fun for me is discovering them, a little oasis normally tucked away behind large building and often overlooked by the many people passing by.The Peoples Park in Nanning Guangxi

The Peoples Park near the center of Nanning City is a very nice place. This can be a little busy on Sundays but still worth a stroll around to take in the scenes and experiences the Chinese at leisure.
An area with a few animals, a childrens fun fair, a couple of exhibition areas, a few monuments and peculiar stone structures (see picture) and some lovely secluded walks and seating areas.

You will see groups of people playing cards, dancing and doing all sorts of strange things (to the western way of thinking) but they obviously enjoy it and it does make for terrific entertainment experiences.

Nanning -Guangxi Province -China

Nanning Cityscape

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I have been asked many times if Credit and Debit cards can be used in China.
The simple answer is YES, in most cities.
Hongkong should be no problem, Shanghai and Beijing also should not pose too many problems.
Nanning, Guangzhou and similar cities also should be OK.
Tips...although your card will be chip and pin you will in nearly all cases be asked to "sign for" do not let it out of your sight
They can be used in the majority of the larger hotels, but not all cards will be accepted, in my experience VISA appears to be the most readily recognised and accepted.
Before you leave for China, notify your bank (for Debit card) and the credit card company that you will be in China on the given dates, they will then flag up your account and you should not have to many issues. You may also still find after your first attempt at using either they will still be declined with the message "refer to provider". Do not panic just phone your Bank or card company at your earliest.
Tips...So always carry your card and bank contact phone numbers with you and also the numbers to report lost or stolen card.

On my last few visits to Nanning I used both my debit card and credit card in Hotels, Department stores and ATM machines with varying and erratic degrees of success.
For instance, the ATM machines happily accept Debit cards but will vary on the daily amount given, I use Bank of China ATM's only and found that at some Branches 2000RMB per day was permitted and others I was able to draw 3000RMB per day.

Tips...When the machines are empty of cash no indication was given, only that withdrawal was declined, it was only after asking the security guard (present in all Banks) that he informed me the machine was empty. So this could be misleading as the first reaction is to think someone has cleared your account out.

Tips... Also worth noting in the Department stores credit cards are preferred.There are numerous "pay" counters scattered around where you pay for your purchases, these vary in what they will accept, it is worth pointing out to the sales assistant that you will be paying by International card, she will then direct you to the correct counter. Internet connections are variable in China and as these transactions require Internet connection, sometimes this will be down and once again you will not be able to use your card.

So in summary, Larger Hotels, Department stores and restaurants will in most cases accept International Credit cards and ATM's will accept Debit cards.
Tips...Beware, never let the card out of your sight. Although your cards will be chip and pin it is highly likely that all transactions will be "sign for"
Do not be fooled by the reaction you might receive in smaller shops, they will appear at first to accept your card and go through the process of purchase, it is usually at this point the machine will reject it as they are not allowed to accept international transactions (only domestic transactions), it is likely that the shop staff have never encountered this before and it will throw them into orbit, managers will appear, your card will be passed from one to another, do not let it out of your sight and finally when all else fails they will probable offer to walk you to the nearest ATM to draw the cash. This happened to me in Nanning on my first visit, I declined there kind offer and walked away and ended up purchasing a similar product in the larger department store using my credit card.

Tips... When you do make purchases remember the Chinese are great hagglers. The only places where the prices are usually fixed and not negotiable are the large department stores but it might be worth a go. Everywhere else, especially the street vendors, Haggle, Haggle, Haggle the prices can be talked down. Ideally let a Chinese national do this for you. They know how to do it... and stay out of sight yourself, as soon as there is a glimpse of a westerner the price will double.
China Money - Foreign Currency in China

Water seems to be a very hot topic lately.
Not enough, too much, polluted, clean, frozen, thawing, bottled, mineral, over and under!.

I remember many times do we hear this nowadays?

But I do!...In the UK, every April we had 'April showers', lots of drizzly rain, you could set your calender by it, regular as clockwork...but not any more - global warming 'they' tell us!

China must be quivering, all those people and one of the most essential resources in jeopardy.

I was astonished this week to read the following article, I cannot vouch for it's accuracy but if true, then the alarm bells will be or already have been ringing in Beijing.
I am sure all the water wheels will be or already have been set in motion to combat this rising tide...

[In the Chinese cities, 90 percent of the surface water and 50 percent of the ground water is seriously polluted. According to information from the German Chambers of Commerce Abroad, only 20 to 25 percent of the waste water occurring nationwide is treated. Over 60 percent of all Chinese cities have no sewage systems. Other figures underline the critical situation in the supply of water in China. China´s State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) quotes a figure of over 300 million people in China who have no access to clean drinking water. 90 percent of the rivers and 75 percent of the lakes in the country are polluted or seriously polluted. Press release from: Messe München]

I am noticing from the received Emails that Communication between partners is not always smooth and without angst.

I remember when I first met my now wife the often fraught moments when communicating, the overriding feeling of helplessness because one of us had not fully understood the desired meaning of something that had been said.

She on one side of the world, me on another, the Internet behaving erratically just at the moment you want it working well, the broken Internet connections, the slow bandwidth speeds and a web cam that often chose when it would work and when it would not, Yahoo or MSN suddenly deciding for no apparent reason to not be available.

Not only do you have to overcome these kind of difficulties, also the translation and misunderstanding issues only compound an otherwise already difficult situation.

OK, I admit this was sometime ago and I know every month the technology improves making it all a far more enjoyable experience.
But the one thing that does still remain, as I am seeing from the Emails is the translation and communication problems.

I used Babel Fish, there is an instance of this programme on the right or here
I did try several others including software installed on the PC.
My conclusion was that Babel Fish gave the most accurate translation for everyday use.

You must be aware though that even this was not always very accurate.
Overtime they will improve, I saw the other day that Microsoft are working on speech recognition translation. It will happen, but I suspect like everything else it will take time.

Nice to imagine though, you speak in English into a handheld device, press a button...Hey Presto... your voice then recites the translation in Chinese...Dreams do happen!!

The one thing I soon learnt with translation was to always use the same translator as my partner and always reverse translate in the same translator and sometimes in another version when making an important point or asking an important question...

Let me explain...

You can do this when composing an Email or chatting in MSN or YAhoo or any other chat.

Open two instances of Babel Fish, set one to translate from English to Simp-Chinese.
Set the other instance to Simp-Chinese to English.

First enter you English text into the first instance of Babel Fish and translate to Simp-Chinese.
Now copy (highlight, then control & C) the translation result.
Paste (highlight, then control & V) the result into the second instance of Babel Fish, the Simp-Chinese to English and translate back to English.

Surprised, you might be, as more often than not the reverse translated text will not be the same as you first intended.

By doing this I think you will see how misunderstandings occur.

I have actually found times when the result proved to be the opposite of my initial meaning.

Experiment - try a few well chosen words, for instance "I wish you were mine, I miss you awfully" this is just a simple example but you will see just what happens.
Now try entering the same text into Google translation...

To be continued...

I like China...

I like its dynamism, the way the people interact, there ability to get on with each other, even at very close quarters.
I particularly enjoy the daily and evening get together, outside in the open air. The nightly dance practice, line dancing, ballroom, modern or just a jig.
The entertainers, normally singing but also musicians just 'jamming' together. I am sure if you turn up with an instrument and the ability you would be welcomed to play along.

The town and city streets are a place for all to use, day or night, young and old.

OK, just like anywhere else in the world there are always areas you are advised to stay away from but in the main most places are fine.

I like to just stroll around in Nanning Guangxi in the evenings, it is very often cooler and certainly less humid than daytime and there is far more to entertain.

The shops are open to at least 10 o'clock and a lot stay open a lot later. If its food and drink you want then its not a problem.

I cannot wait to enjoy these moments again.
We arrive in Beijing on the 19th and hopefully will be in Nanning by the weekend...

To start a new chapter...

These past few days have been hectic.
We have now booked our flights and will be travelling back to Nanning on Wednesday 18th July.
Normally in the past I have mostly used KLM (Dutch Airline) as they flew from my local airport (Norwich).
But just lately having checked the prices the once exceptional value airline has allowed the prices to creep up a bit, although I do still like Schiphol airport.
This time at fairly short notice I decided to take a chance with Aeroflot, the Russian airline. I booked using Ebookers and I would recommend this company highly, gave me a choice of Airlines at varying prices and the communication was very good at all times, although when I asked them about the Russian transit visa they only directed me back to the Russian Embassy but they are a booking agency after all and I suppose that they too need to tread carefully when giving out National policy information.
A one-way ticket from Heathrow to Beijing via a two hour stop in Moscow was around £400. I have never been to Moscow before so thought it must be worth a look even though I would be in transit and not allowed to leave the airport.
I have heard one or two stories regarding the transit visa requirements in Russia but after lots of searching on line and various conflicting accounts I have decided to take a chance on not needing one. Nana, my wife is travelling on her Chinese passport so she too is taking a chance, just like me…hey ho, way to go.
As for my Chinese visa, I have a 90 day tourist (L) ,on the application I stated family visit for purpose of visit, after all, I am married to a Chinese national and my intention, all going well is to extend this after the 90 days.
I have visited China many times before and always in the past have just applied for a 30 day “L” visa. I have also heard of accounts of travellers applying for 90 days and only getting 60 days. So, I am happy.
So, the house is sold, the proceeds are in my bank, everything is settled and I am now looking forward to a new beginning in that wonderful country known as China.

Well, we have left the UK and I am in Nanning and finally back online after 4 days.
According to my Emails a lot has been happening, the floods in the UK disrupting Heathrow and an infiltrated forum board...
We took of at 2.30 PM from Heathrow on the 18th as planned.
We had a one hour delay taking off but that did not worry me any as we were on our way.
Would I recommend Aeroflot?, not sure, cheap enough but the first leg did start with a one hour delay and then a 45 minute delay getting off the plane in Moscow, typical. The actual flight time for this leg was 2 hours 50 minutes. The second leg to Beijing took off on time and was a nice new Boeing; the flight time was around the 7 hour mark. We arrived in Beijing at 9.30 am Beijing time.
The Russian transit visa question I can clear up once and for all from my own experience. You do not need a transit visa in Russia as long as you are in transit and have an onward ticket.
Also, Nana my wife was fine with her Chinese passport. So that is two nationalities that do not have a problem.
I purchased a one-way ticket as did my wife, no problems. I was under the impression that it was essential to have a return ticket, obviously not the case although I suspect if it were for a short stay then things may be different and also the cost factor would come into the equation.
OK, now the bad news, we arrived in Beijing, excited and thinking , great, no problems, how wrong are we…no baggage, we waited and waited watching the carousel, hoping, praying, please be here but alas, no bags.
So it was a case of reporting the problem. I am so glad I had Nana with me; this would not have been easy if I were alone and not speaking Chinese.
There was another guy from the UK that we helped, as he did not know which way to turn.
So bags duly reported missing, the system works as when we were in the reporting office they were able to tell us where the bags were,Tips…do not loose your baggage receipt given at check in.
The bags were still in Moscow apparently they did not have enough time because of the delays to move the bags from one plane to another…but we managed it on foot…Mmmm.
It was at this point I could feel myself becoming agitated as we were told to be back at Beijing airport at 11 o’clock the following morning.
We were fortunate as we were planning to stay in Beijing one night anyway.
So next day Nana phoned the airport and asked if bags were there, surprise, surprise no such luck. They will be here on the later flight they told us, tonight. That’s no good as we were flying out to Nanning in the afternoon…silence followed, eventually I spoke, in English, So, what are you going to do about this problem that you now have I asked.
After much muttering and shuffling about the girl finally rang Aeroflot.
Aeroflot told them to send the bags onto Nanning. This I expected at the very least but I am not sure the baggage office in Beijing was fully in agreement.
Now, I am not sure who foots the bill for this, Aeroflot, the baggage office but I do know it sure won’t be me.
There you have it, my experience with Aeroflot, would I recommend them…?
We stayed in Beijing for one night before travelling on to Nanning because the thought of waiting around for 6 or 7 hours in Beijing airport after 12 or so hours plane travel (including the wait in Moscow for connecting flight) did not particularly thrill me.
Allowing for the time differences, it meant that we arrived in Beijing at 2am in the morning and the thought of a nice cosy bed and a sleep appealed to both of us, plus the fact we were able to enjoy a lovely tasty Peking duck meal and some of those lovely Peking dumplings.

The bags have made it to Nanning.
We collected on Sunday morning. One of the two bags was damaged and the lock was broken.
That feeling of dread was all around, I just wanted to get them back to our apartment and check the contents.

After the 35 minute express coach from the airport and a short taxi ride we were back in our apartment and much to my surprise all contents in the bags were intact, nothing missing just a few bits crushed, this is not uncommon as they do pack them in tight on the planes.
My faith in human nature restored I am now a happy bunny again.
Nanning never ceases to amaze me, I find the people amazingly interesting. I will, over the coming weeks be out and about collecting short videos and photo's of life here and will make these available for viewing.

I hope to be making an announcement shortly regarding this website that should enhance the users enjoyment and ability to get the latest necessary information to Nanning, Guangxi, China.

Watch this space...
As I spend more time in Nanning I am beginning to realise that living here is not particularly easy for a westerner with little Chinese vocabulary when your partner is at work and you are on your own.
Ok, the relatively simple things, the supermarket, the ATM machine and the bus ride should not cause too many problems.

But the more difficult actions, the taxi ride to a particular area or street, shopping at the local fresh food market, trying to find a particular road or area on foot, these things are nigh on impossible with no Chinese, your only hope is that the people you are trying to communicate with can speak a little English but even then it can be hit or miss whether you actually succeed in your task. At the local fresh food market you can just about get by with sign language, you know, pointing and gesturing and you can haggle to a certain extent but it is highly unlikely that you will get the lowest price.

Things are not helped by the fact that you are a westerner.
So straight away you know the price will be hiked up and your own ignorance becomes your biggest obstacle.

Even with all this going it can still be fun if you let it.

The one issue that appears to be my Achilles heal is the ' things are out of my control feeling'

Talking to other westerners it is not only me that struggles in this.

If you are here in China for the first time and you are here for a rendezvous of some kind then it is probably safe to assume that you will be totally dependant on others, this I found very difficult, even now it is not easy as most of my life I have been 'in control'

Now I am not saying I am a control freak although others might disagree but it is a case of suddenly finding yourself in various situations, night and day where you do not have a clue what is going on, what is likely to happen or more importantly, what is happening.
When I find myself in these situations I most certainly feel 'out of my comfort zone', a perfectly normal feeling by all accounts but still nonetheless a little uncomfortable for me.

The only real solution is to learn Chinese, at least that way you might just start to understand what the heck is going on...

Tips...relax, stay calm and count your blessings...

A family of four, older child and Father in the front, Mother holding baby at the back. A not uncommon sight on the roads of Nanning.
It was at the precise moment I saw this for the first time I decided I did not want to drive a car in Nanning, after all, the buses, the taxis, the trikes both peddled and motorised are all very reasonably priced and in plentiful supply.
A typical bus ride should cost no more than 2 Yuan, normally 1.2 Yuan and this fare is for a one stop or the complete journey from start to finish, so maybe 2/3 minutes or an hour on a bus for 1.2 Yuan. A 10 minute taxi ride around 8/10 Yuan. A 10 minute peddled trike ride around 3/4 Yuan and motorised 4/5 Yuan.
As for the family of four, merrily going on there way…on a Motor Scooter with not a crash helmet amongst them apparently oblivious to the danger that surrounds them, well, I can only hope they all reached there destination intact.
As for me, I do not want the responsibility, so no driving. But I might get myself a battery powered bike and take my life into my own hands if only so I can say that I have 'done it'. I imagine it might be the same feeling for that first 'Bungee' jump…the first time I venture out...

Some of the things I dislike most about China are the exact same things I dislike most about the UK…with a twist.
It irks me that here in Nanning I am able to do just about anything, normally when I want to do it. I can decide to eat at any time of day or night, just walk into a restaurant and get a table and if by the slightest chance they were full and I have only experienced this situation once and we needed to wait 5 minutes for a table to be prepared, then within minutes I could find another restaurant offering the same food.

In the UK and most other western cities this is nigh on impossible…that's the twist and that's why I am irked!
I can jump on a bus without having to wait 1 hour as is common in the UK. I can put my hand up to scratch my head and suddenly a taxi stops, a bit like being in an auction room and you are frightened to make any sudden moves for fear of placing a bid. I can book a flight, book a train ticket, buy a takeaway, all these things I can do here quickly…but with a twist.

I don't like queues and queuing, never have, never will. Being here in Nanning China has been both a real test of my patience and a crash course in anger management at the same time.
I have now learnt to go with the flow…and there is a lot of flow here.
It was always inevitable that I would find queues here, so many people, all trying to do much of the same thing at the same time.
Now don't get me wrong, we queue in the UK, like its going out of fashion.

Silently shuffling forward, trying not to offend anyone around us in an orderly fashion, everyone wishing upon wish that someone would burst into the dance routine from The Full Monty….just to break the monotony of it all. Waiting patiently to be beckoned forward or for "our number" to show up so we can then buy, ask or rant at the person or machine we have queued so long to see…
Here is the twist, in Nanning or indeed China, queuing is a specialist subject. They must have studied the art of queuing for years.

There are experts here on just about every aspect in the art of queue…
Vociferous and enthusiastic is how I would describe an orderly queue in Nanning.
The fitness levels needed to sustain a prolonged queue here are high.
The patience needed to sustain a prolonged queue here is high.
The sense of humour needed, whilst queuing to avoid giving up on life altogether here is essential.
Its another of those "must do" things in life. You have not fully experienced life without a good dose of a Chinese queue…

I have learnt already that the first rule of the Chinese queue is…not to queue.
I think the Banks are worst. Its not really a queue as we know it Jim…
You go in, take your "ticket" with "your" very own number…and wait. Often, the issuing ticket machine is not functioning, so the mission might also include searching around through the thicket of bodies looking for the resident security person who, may or may not have some "handwritten" personalised numbered tickets. Normally he can be found amidst a crowd of people either there for a chat or trying to get one of the "personalised" tickets or maybe enquiring about which form to fill in for a particular transaction, this super duper security person is multi talented, I'm not sure just what aspect of security they are responsible for but they can sure look busy sometimes.
The various people waiting are made up of some, just in to sit and relax whilst enjoying the free air conditioning, friends of the security person, others I am not sure for what reason they are there at all and some touting illegal RMB foreign exchange to any westerner that just happens to wander in. Forgive my ignorance here but I would have thought as this is an illegal activity the security person would remove them.
The rest made up of people waiting to be served by the ever so friendly bank staff…not always. There is often a little electronic gadget at the counter for you to register your views on the level of service that you have received, very rarely turned on and working.

Once I managed to carry out the whole mission within 20 minutes. On average, its around 1 hour, I only wanted to withdraw some money because the ATM machine was not working. These times are dependent on the average time spent by each person at the counter and of course, lunch time, I think between 12.30 and 2.30.
So if your unlucky enough to be there at lunch time and the 20 or so waiting people in front of you are trying to maybe do a simple bank transfer (I saw 10 different bits of paper with the loud red stamp being thumped down hard on each one when we tried to bank transfer 140 RMB from my account to another)…then do not hold your breath...
Oh, one other thing…if the ATM is not working outside the bank for any reason, sometimes just out of money…then your waiting time will increase considerably.
So this is one form of queue.
The other type, the more common form, is the one you may find at the train station or bus depot or airport if you need to queue for tickets, supermarket and sometimes at the shop counter.
You will need a completely different queue strategy for this one, lots of will power and a considerable amount of self control and patience…
Now don't get me wrong, I'm over 50 so I have automatic membership of the Grumpy old man club. My feeling about this is…if you have managed to make it to at least 50, half a century, reasonably intact, then it goes without saying you have the right to have a little moan about this and that without offending anyone.
The queuing issue is a good example. This is what I like most here in Nanning China, how the Chinese appear to make everything far more interesting.
Often infuriating a Grumpy old man but still far more entertaining in every way.
The second type of queue is without doubt the one that may set your blood boiling.
What looks like a typical orderly queue is formed with the various characters both male and female waiting in line.
Often, someone will walk straight to the front and just go next. Or even more infuriating, will walk straight to the front and start asking questions of the person serving thereby delaying the queue from advancing sometimes for several minutes. They may or may not at the end of the question walk away, back to the rear of the queue, it is more likely they will just wait and then go next…this happens in Banks also.
Sometimes this is met with the people behind either saying something or more often than not it becomes the cue for the queue to suddenly go "unstable" with characters moving from there position in the queue, further forward by a place or two, often loudly with much waving of arms and the like.

Like a trigger has been pulled, Chaos reigns for a while with others apparently coming from nowhere and joining the queue in various positions, often just pushing the already entrenched queuer out of the way.
After what seems like ages but is probably no more than a minute or two calm is restored and you may find yourself either way back from where you were or sometimes depending on the pushing and shoving that had taken place, further forward. It is during these occasional moments of chaos in the queue that you could, if you had a mind, jump the queue and gain a strategic place or three…not me though, I'm British.

We are very happy. Me because I have found some bacon, here in Nanning China Her, because she no longer needs to keep asking for and searching for bacon.
Needless to say, its not really 'proper' bacon but it’s the closest we've got…so far.
They call it BBQ Bacon and its processed and packed by a company in Nanjing. 'Companion of Noble Breakfast its says on the packaging…We'll see.
We eventually stumbled across it in Nancheng Dept store…and not Walmart…Hooray!

We have made various purchases over the weeks of meat and things that we were told was bacon but each time disappointment soon followed as it never was bacon, nothing even near in comparison. But like all voyages of discovery we ended up locating various suppliers of other products and meeting some really nice, sometimes helpful people in the process. So overall a very positive experience.
Decent Bread we managed to track down some time ago…

Now that I have my own Bank of China account and card, I can draw money at there ATM's and use it at the various department stores for purchases just like a debit card I am happy. I bank transferred some money from the UK into my China Bank account with little hassle. Another chore out of the way and no longer do I need to worry about available funds…or so I thought!
50,000 USD is the limit of foreign exchange conversion in any 12 month period according to the Bank of China. This is a banking regulation.

There is a way around this if you are purchasing a property and have already converted a large amount or intend to do so. You need to take your property purchasing papers to the bank and they will do a direct bank transfer from your bank account converting the currency in the process.
When converting larger amounts of money you will be asked the reason for conversion to RMB. I had already converted a fairly large amount not quite exceeding my yearly limit thinking this was the right course of action.
When asked for the purpose, I told them it was for house purchase. At the time, I did not know of the yearly limit and no one at the bank told me, I found all this out the other day when I went back to the bank to change another sizable amount, luckily I have enough to get by on.
So I will need to wait till this time next year before I can change anymore…hey ho…life goes on.

The choice of products available here is bewildering. Although I must point out, I am beginning to see through the haze.
Choice of shopping venue is huge but actual product choice is not as big as I first thought. At the many different venues you may see the same products, maybe displayed differently and most certainly at varying prices and sometimes in a different colour range but nonetheless the same product. I first encountered this when searching for furniture.
Today Nana took me into town to buy shoes…for her I might add.
We went into a smallish department store close to the main shopping area in town. Went up to the third floor and I was taken aback to see nearly the entire floor filled with small units, all selling just ladies shoes…some very cheap indeed.

Afterwards…a few hours later…ladies and shoes, I'll say no more we went to buy my monthly allowance of English speaking DVDs, only 5 RMB each and if you buy more than one you can normally get a lower price.
I was more than happy to discover on the same floor a few units selling various prints, paintings and silk works framed and unframed and some other sellers providing a framing service.
Today we only looked but now I know I can return at a later date to have some of my own pictures framed or maybe buy some prints. The longer I am here the more I stumble across these kind of places and what is particularly nice is the fact that they are normally situated in clusters of product similarity thereby making choice and the ease of buying so much less of a chore, here in Nanning.

I have been without my camera now for some weeks. It has caused a few issues as I did want to get plenty of pictures of the new apartment both in the renovation and completed state and take lots of the various interesting situations here.
I decided a couple of weeks ago to buy a new one, this proved yet again to be a mammoth task. So much choice coupled this time with the baggage that my old camera carried with it. Let me explain.
My camera is a Canon A70, I have owned it for around 7 years, bought in Hong Kong.
7 years ago it was the latest model but as you know, anything digital is out of date as soon as you buy it…
It has served me well these past 7 years. Its been around the world twice, my daughter lives in New Zealand plus it has escorted me several times to various locations in China. Not to mention Bulgaria and all the usual domestic scenes. Although old and out of date it was working fine and to my mind still took a good picture. It also has a video facility and I could take up to 3 minutes of video, perfect for me, an amateur photographer.
The baggage I refer to is partly the Memory cards. Now, when I got this camera Compact Flash (CF) was one of two formats for memory storage available at a realistic price, I remember it came with a 16mb and I invested then in a 128mb additional card and a card reader.
Recently when all the other much smaller memory card formats came on the scene the manufactures including Canon decided to go with these instead. Although CF is still considered the most robust and reliable format.
It did not bother me too much as my camera was fine and it meant CF card prices tumbled. Add to this the newer much larger capacity CF cards that were now available, 2gb, 4gb and even 8gb I felt now was the time to jump in and buy more memory so this I did…just before this final trip to Nanning.
I invested in 2 x 4gb cards and a 2gb card as back up, OK, they did not cost a huge amount but my luck and Sod's law conspired to get me…3 weeks later the bloody camera stopped working.
First I tried to get another Canon with CF capability but no luck as they were now SD cards, unless I wanted a professional model as professional Canon cameras still use CF
format, that tells you something.
Not one of the other manufactures offered a non professional camera with CF.

Now I'm not tight, at least I don't think I am but I am prone to being a little bloody minded sometimes. I was thinking, why waste perfectly good CF memory cards, typical I thought, modern life, don't you just love it.
So, out of the pram went my dummy, and I gave up looking, a good case of cutting off the nose to spite the face.
Two night ago whilst scratching around for something to do on the internet I just typed into Google search "Canon A70 not working"
Low and behold 100's of pages devoted to my camera not working…it had my interest.
On closer inspection I actually found mention of the particular issue with mine, exactly the same problem. "Do well" I thought! I read on with quickening heart rate…as you do in these circumstances.

Well, much to my surprise there was a link to the Canon website telling me that, Canon were owning up to the issue (with my camera) and were offering free repair plus, plus free return postage…Result, I thought.
Only one snag, it was the American Canon site. With heart racing I quickly located the link to worldwide sites…China…great, click.
Another couple of clicks and I found the office addresses in China. Now call me stupid if you like but with this run of luck I just thought that there must be a repair centre in Nanning. No such luck, Guangzhou was the nearest. Close enough I thought…
Next day I had my wife phoning the number provided and yes in typical Chinese fashion there was a snag…did we still have the original box?, I kid you not…might have guessed this one would come back to haunt me after the Fridge episode, Silly me for not keeping the original box…for 7 years.
Anyway after much rambling the wife managed to convince the person at the other end that keeping the original packaging for 7 years was a little too much to ask and that Canon were not specifying this on there website.
Anyhow even though this person was in agreement they were not giving up the quest for the original packaging, saying that we must ring another number for confirmation that it would be OK to send it without original packaging.
(This begs the question. Is the customer service training flawed in some way here. Is everyone reading from the same book, that looks like it might have a misprint or translation error regarding the requirements for original packaging.)
This she did and I am pleased to say that today, the aforementioned camera is winging its way to Canon at Guangzhou…I'll keep you posted.
Oh, and the post office is a story for another time...

Today, I am very pleased to announce, my old faithful Canon A70 camera has returned from its short trip to Guangzhou. In record time, just about a week.
Thank you Canon, you remained true to your word and the modification repair was carried out free of charge after 7 years.
Who said, large conglomerates don't have a heart…or a conscience?
Its working fine, so only needs me to get on out there and get those snaps a snappin…
The truth of the matter is slightly obscured by my over excitement in being reunited with it. It was not all plain sailing…
We sent it back last Wednesday with China Post enhanced 2 day service, 27RMB.
I asked Nana, my fully fledged personal assistant (only joking, I mean my better half) to call Canon Guangzhou office on Friday morning to check it had arrived OK.
This she did, only to be told, the post had not arrived and that they would call us when it had.
Call me a cynic, you might, but I learn fast…not holding my breath at this point.

Showing an unusual amount of patience for me, I said to leave it till Monday and if no call from them, we would call back.
Monday duly arrived. At about midday we had still not heard a peep and once again my PA did her thang…
This time the tone, not from Nana but from Canon Guangzhou office was, shall we say, a little curt by all accounts.
No, its not here and we have already told you, We will call you when it arrives.
This of course is my lovely PA's version of the now translated Chinese Canon representative voice.
I thought, hang on a mo Joe, this was my camera, we sent it, they have not received it, where the bloody hell is it?
So in the afternoon I asked my dear PA to once again call Canon. This she did.
No, its not here, call again tomorrow.
Tuesday morning, a beautiful sunny morning, the birds singing, the cars a honking and the time is right. Lets do it…lets phone them…again
Interesting I thought, my PA is all happy and smiling holding the phone to her ear, perhaps they have finally received the camera…
Not at all, actually they were informing Nana (the PA) that the camera of which we were enquiring was, as they spoke, winging its way back to us, fully repaired and working and that it should be with us on Wednesday.
Speechless, I was, nearly, but...but... why did they not tell us they had it?…Why? Why? Why? ..too late the PA had put the phone down.
She always does that, just at the very time I want to start an inquisition…you just can't get the staff !!!
'Don't ask' she said calmly, This is China…
The camera arrived today, Thursday. Not Wednesday as promised, and after someone called us on Wednesday informing us it would be delivered at 5.30pm, Wednesday…
But why did they phone and tell us that, I heard myself saying…
Andrew...'Don't ask' …This is China…
Or is it Canon?

Often I find myself with time on my hands, whiling away a few moments here and there pondering my present and past situations. I have been fortunate.
Who would have thought that from the very slightest hint of China over 40 years ago I would end up living here, with a Chinese wife…
The hint came by way of a chance remark from the father of a dear friend of mine.
His remark, the mention of a place in the orient namely 'Shanghai' happened to set my mind thinking about the weird and far away oriental world. His remark was only fleeting but it sparked my interest and now so many years later I find myself here, experiencing the now ignited spark.
I remember as a boy seeing lots of plastic toys with "Made in Hong Kong" printed on the underside. To me Hong Kong was oriental, I did not see it as in any way a British colony. I was too young to understand the complexities of International treaties. The only interest I had was in the fact that is was to my mind somewhere near the mysterious "Shanghai" in the east.
The promise I made to myself then, luckily for me, did not turn out to be one of those many childhood promises that never materialise because they are either forgotten or in adulthood appear completely impossible to achieve.
It wasn't till many years later in 1999 I experienced both "Shanghai" and "Hong Kong" and the actual distance between these two great places when I travelled overland by train on the Kowloon railway. The journey took, if my memory serves me right, 27 hours and allowed me to experience first hand some beautiful countryside and to see the rural way of life in China. It also prompted me soon afterwards to take another trip, this time, Hong Kong to Beijing overland once again by train. Both fantastic experiences and finally fulfilling that early childhood promise I had made to myself.

The rest as they say, is history...

On my many jaunts in and around Nanning China a recurring scene is that of recycling.
Everywhere I go I can see evidence of the recycling process.
In the UK there was a big furore regarding the recycling of household rubbish.
Many had a view on this with some refusing on the grounds of "I already pay my rates, so why should I do it, let them do it" or simply "why"
No thought whatsoever went into these statements other than that of pure selfishness.
At the time my only reservation was that of cost, not to me directly, well, not to start with but I could see a time in the future when the cost of this major undertaking would need to be met and knowing how wasteful we are in the west and how local authorities work and scheme and manipulate it would, to my mind, not be to distant a prospect…higher rates demands.
So it was with great delight to me when I saw, first hand, the extremely effective way the Chinese go about recycling.
Efficiently, effectively, energetically and everlasting.
A common misconception in the UK is that China is a great polluter with no thought given to the environment. The only headline shown and therefore seen is the one regarding numbers of coal fired power stations being built.
My experience here in Nanning is showing me on a daily basis that everything is recycled, probably due to the fact that there is a little money to be made and the task in hand is taken up in the inimitable Chinese way, with relish.
The Chinese ingenuity never ceases to amaze me and the recycling process is no exception, perhaps there are lessons to be learnt by those in the West.

Held back by what is now overly restrictive legislation and I suspect overly demanding and restrictive Health and Safety rules and policies. The UK will find it very hard to find a simple solution.
I can see the Bureaucratic reasoning now - "We cannot possibly allow a person to dismantle that", "it has screws and things", "a person would need to use a screwdriver or maybe a hammer"…they might accidentally stab or club themselves to death...yeah right !!!
Perhaps the West needs to ponder for a moment or two and accept that China is actually achieving in a handful of years that which the West took a bucketful or three and is still a major rankle in the UK .

Nanning, capital city of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region China, has an urban population of about 2.45 million and has been listed among China's most livable cities.
The Habitat Scroll of Honour is awarded each year for World Habitat Day, which was established by the UN General Assembly in 1989 to raise awareness about the state of human settlements. It falls this year on October 1 in the Hague, the Netherlands, and on October 5 in Monterrey, Mexico.
China has won 15 UN-HABITAT awards. Yangzhou, a city in east China's Jiangsu Province, won the award last year for its work in preserving the old city and improving the residential environment.
Editor: Song Shutao
We've only gone and done it, finally after much perusal and pondering, we've done it…Bought an electric bike.
So no more buses or taxi's, I don't mean that.

We will still use public transport but the bike will make getting around so much easier.
Only thing now is to try and learn…quickly…the rules of the road. Does a red light really mean…STOP and is it drive on the left or right?

After the purchase I had to ride it back to the apartment with the relatively new wife perched precariously on the back…
Not helped by the fact that she insisted sitting 'side saddle' which seems to be the preferred method of pillion travel here especially if wearing a dress. (This is news to me as when I am wearing my dress I never travel pillion…)
My instinctive reaction was to assume the worst and I immediately began thinking that an uneven load balance would send me careering all over the road in a 'headless chicken' sort of fashion, like most of the other road users.
But to my instant surprise it was not like this at all, I hardly knew she was there.

It was only when she screamed…Stop…Stop in my ear I felt her presence at all.
What's the matter dear I said in my usual happy, no panic tone.
The Red light, she said, you must STOP. Oh, that red light...
I know that, I said calmly, I'm just coasting to a stop to make the ride more comfortable for you my dear…yeah right !!!
I really must concentrate on these Traffic lights, the problem is, I can never see them. They put them in the strangest of places, either behind a tree, or so far distant and so high that they do not appear in my line of sight which is firmly fixed on the myriad of other bikes, cars, people (either stationary or moving), all using the bloody road just in front of, or to the left or right of me it seems.
And why is it that the one (normally a peddle bike or pedestrian, why is a pedestrian walking in the bloody road anyway?) directly in front of me decides every few seconds to turn 90 degrees left or right for no apparent reason.
Anyway, we made it back, much to my relief and Nana's enjoyment.
I like you driving, she said, it's so exciting.
I think she was just being polite or trying to disguise her panic as soon after she said, Why do you need to talk to all the other people on the road?
I wasn't, I said...
The whole journey home apparently I was saying things like, OK, I coming through, What!, Why!, Get out of the way, steady, didly de de dum, B-ll-cks, sh-t, Oh no, hang on, here we go.
The strange thing is, I don't remember saying anything…

Southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region plans to promote the use of ethanol fuel for cars to replace gasoline by the end of the year in a bid to ease the region's strained fuel supply and reduce car exhaust pollution.
The sales of ethanol fuel will start on December 15 and it is hoped the sales would be expanded to the whole region exclusively by December 28, by which time the sales of gasoline will be banned, the regional government announced at a press conference on Tuesday. >>>more

Today whilst out shopping we experienced our first petty crime against us.
We had just arrived in town at a fairly busy market area, in search of Bacon actually, as you do…
I was just attaching the front and rear locks on the Electric bike to prevent theft, as you do…
When suddenly without warning a young man snatched my wife's gold necklace from around her neck. Quick to respond she luckily managed to grab hold of most of it, I say most of it as the perpetrator did manage to get away with about 3 inches of gold chain.
I quickly gave chase, not knowing that she had managed to save most of it but he very soon disappeared into the crowds..
So we got off lightly I suppose…a valuable lesson learnt and most of the necklace still in our possession.
It did not help any when I returned from the chase to find a crowd gathered around our electric bike and Nana where the incident had taken place.
Lots of frantic waving of arms and raised voices. Apparently in my eagerness to give chase I had inadvertently knocked over the electric bike next to us and the owner now was demanding money to repair a broken wing mirror that I had caused…yeah right!!! But he was insisting I had.
It must have been the adrenalin at the time but I had no recollection of knocking over the bike.
To say I was a little peeved at this time would probable be an understatement, I said to Nana, how much does he want? Knowing that this would be about money.
She said 30RMB, I thought for a few seconds…still panting and still very much peeved, I said 25, he apparently then said No.
Now don't get me wrong, I would be more than happy to pay for any damage I had caused but it all appeared a little staged for my liking.
Now angry, I said to Nana, lets get out of here, tell him 25 RMB final offer or I will just go.
After a little more ranting and raving he finally agreed…Mmmmm…I wonder.

So, the morals of the story…let me think…don't let your partner wear a gold necklace, don’t drive an electric bike thereby eliminating the need to lock it, don't give chase and don't accidentally (I still don't think I did) knock over someones bike. Oh, and don't carry any money on your person.
Seriously though, let this be the warning, for us a valuable lesson learnt but for those reading this, it does happen, not just to us but lots of others also, every day, bags, jewellery anything small, valuable and snatchable is easy pickings.
On buses, when it stops with the windows open an arm may suddenly come through and grab anything available, so I am told, people travelling on Bikes are also easy prey, especially if female and clutching a handbag. PLEASE BE CAREFUL & VIGILANT.
We will blame our own stupidity and our pride is ever so slightly dented but from now on my rosier than thou picture of Nanning is a little tarnished, Nanning will need to work hard to win back my complete confidence and trust.
Here endeth the lesson...

This week is the Mid Autumn festivities week. Actually day/eve September 25th but like all festivals anywhere in the world the atmosphere and preparations start days before.
Lots of jollity's and no doubt lots of delicious Mooncake devoured.
We went on Sunday 23rd to Nanhu South Park lake as there is a tremendous display of illuminated lanterns taking on all shapes and characters ranging from Disney to Chinese Dragons. Some situated on the lake and others scattered around the park for visitors to stumble upon by chance, just follow the crowds...
Sunday evening was the official 'test' evening for the lights in preparation for 25th.
It was very busy, we arrived about 7pm (on the electric bike, interesting...) only to find a little confusion about just when the lights might be turned on for testing, times ranging from 8pm till 9pm. Actually they were turned on about 8.15pm.
If the crowds on Sunday are anything to go by, I think we will give the 25th a miss.
We will enjoy our cake and the Moon, weather permitting, from our roof garden and maybe a beer or two.

The Moon festival (also called the Mooncake or Mid-Autumn festival) falls on September 25th in the year 2007. What is the Moon festival? Every year on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, when the moon is at its maximum brightness for the entire year, the Chinese celebrate "zhong qiu jie." Children are told the story of the moon fairy living in a crystal palace, who comes out to dance on the moon's shadowed surface. 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. Legend says that her beauty is greatest on the day of the Moon festival. Extract taken from article by Rhonda Parkinson >>>more

The electric bike has proved to be a good investment. It enables us to get around far more freely, although for me, the driver, still very much, aim, hold on and go…
I am fine as long as we always turn right…what's the problem?
Whenever we go out Nana always tries to find the route with the least left turns, fewer inclines, less people, easy free parking and also trying to avoid any police crackdown stop points where electric bikes are confiscated along with unlicensed motor bikes and sometimes trikes. Apparently, we pay a 50 RMB fine and have our electric bike returned…she thinks. But hastens to add, It will be interesting to see if they stop you darling as you are a westerner…Can't wait !!!
Its big business here…Parking, most areas have car parks, motor bike parks and push bike/electric bike parking. Some are free but then they will be unsupervised.
Most, you pay a small charge, normally around .5 RMB ( some are as much as 2 RMB ) and park in the safe knowledge that the attendant money collector will ensure your bikes well being…Mmmmm.
For the Chinese left turns are second nature but for me they are, shall we say, a mite difficult. I am older, wiser, less inclined to take risks probably lacking the adroitness of youth but above all…scared, which in turn tends to engender panic.
I have been driving cars and riding bikes for nigh on 50 years combined but never have I been so apprehensive about turning left…
Its as if a panic button is pushed. I say nervously to Nana, 'Are there any left turns?' she normally responds with 'I'm not sure' knowing full well that if she says yes, I will say 'Can we go another way'…
I have driven on the right before but never on a bike and never with so many other road users, including buses, lorries, pedestrians, motor bikes, push bikes, electric bikes, motorised trikes, pedal trikes, large wheelbarrows, cars and Women with brooms sweeping the edges of the road, normally directly in the very place that I am aiming for - Never, surrounded by other bikes with varying number of people, chickens, ducks and dogs as pillions…
Never, in an environment where the written rules of the road are sometimes blatantly ignored - a red light means stop…I thought! And never where the unwritten rules of the road do not exist at all. None of this is helped by the fact that the electric bike is by many considered a nuisance and is well down on the pecking order of road users, probably lower than the dogs, ducks and chickens.
So I often find myself either edged away to the right or completely surrounded by other 'electric bikes' all hoping to turn left ( or go straight on or just taking a call on there mobile phone or maybe just taking a break )…when the lights change, if they are working and if you can see them…the lights that is!
Add to this, the cars, lorries, buses, motor bikes, chickens, ducks and dogs as pillions that are also doing the same thing, but always better positioned, on the left of the right hand lane, then you have what to my mind can only be described as - a hold on, aim at fixed point and pray situation whilst quietly murmuring through clenched teeth…I'm not happy...

I never thought for a single minute that I would ever crave an episode of the Archers or Gardeners Question time both on Radio 4 but I do…
So I have now become a firm supporter of Internet Radio thanks to BBC Radio, proper English voices, proper English words and understandings, almost, in most cases anyway.
Most days now, I log on and either listen live, not always easy with the time difference. Mostly I listen to previous episodes from the day or week before, no problem, it just so reassuring to know that its still there, the radio that is - and the UK.
Now I'm not saying I'm homesick or even pondering the thought of a return, I just crave English voices, spoken by real English people, from England or thereabouts...
Getting the Internet radio to work reasonably reliably has not been easy. First I needed to download some additional software and my Internet connection through China Telecom is not the fastest, its meant to be 1Mb but I suspect most times its closer to 512Kb probably due to excessive contention ratios.
Back in 1989 when I got my first computer and then in 1999 when I completed my MSCE training and got my qualification learning about such things helped me get a head start in Computing in the UK.

But now all these years later with the speed of technological change it all appears very dated…until now…when I find myself in a country where a lot of what I learnt is still in existence.
Sadly all my learning is now mostly lost in my ageing memory bank, its still there, I just cant retrieve it, a bit like 'that word' on the tip of your tongue, except for the few memorable phrases like 'contention ratio'.
I did consider asking my dear wife Nana to try and find this information out for me but thought better of it when I realised that 'contention ratio' does not translate too well and the thought of trying to convey this meaning to some girl at China Telecom gave me an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness.
But the good news is….the Internet Radio is working…most times, so I can listen to past episodes of Hancock's half hour, The Goon Show, Round the Horne, Gardeners Question time, Alan Titchmarsh, Jonathon Ross, The Archers, Steve Wright and old episodes of Two way family favourites…my cravings are now catered for.

The Orange and Banana season is now in full swing here in Nanning.
This means that everywhere you look you will see either Oranges and Bananas for sale.

In shops that suddenly open selling such fruit or existing ones or along the roadside or in the parks or anywhere else there might be - people - potential customers.
On the side of the road they are normally sold by sometimes men but mainly ladies, from the back of the bikes, motorised or peddle or just a pile on a small bamboo mat on the floor.

Anyway, either way they are delicious.
The oranges in particular - Not like those awful orange coloured balls you see and have to buy in the supermarkets in the UK.
You know the ones, perfect shape, perfect colour. Often labelled sweet and easy peel but more often than not when you come to eat them, once you have removed that super glued on peel taste like sour flavoured acid…not that I have ever knowingly tried sour flavoured acid.
No, these are what it says on the non- existent label - deliciously sweet, easy to peel and very cheap.
Today I bought 2 Kgs, about 30 tangerine sized oranges and not unlike tangerines in flavour (does that mean they are tangerines?) for…wait for it…10 RMB - about 66p…5 RMB a kg.
I had a choice of larger ones equally scrumptious - I'll get those next time - or very small Cumquat sized. All with that lovely little stalk and a couple of leaves on and probably picked the day or so previous.
Worth pointing out is the fact that there are also Oranges here with green peel.
Now call me a suspicious old git but the first time I saw these I said to my wife, Nana, No, don't buy those, they are not ripe, in my usual - know it all, I'm an expert on citrus fruit fashion.
I got that lovely sideways look that only my wife, being Chinese can give - You are a stupid Englishman - look.
She knew different and she was right…again. (I love her to bits)
After she finally convinced me to try, not that I was being awkward or anything, I soon could not believe my eyes - even green they were easy peel and when I finally got to taste…yes, scrumptiously sweet and juicy.
Tomorrow I will buy some bananas. These also come in different types, all equally tasty and far from expensive…lovely.

Sadly, the orange season will end here in Nanning in a couple of weeks.
I've decided I don't like all year round produce that is now the norm in the west as my experience shows me that the overall quality drops, in stark contrast to popular belief.

This is my reasoning...
Fruit is seasonal, its all very well saying, no problem, we will get it from another country where it is 'in season'.
This is the pitfall as the other countries tastes will no doubt vary greatly. Plus they will try to cash in on the new 'demand'. No thought given to taste, just supply.
And it needs to be transported.
Add to this - the supermarket buying managers view - must look good - must have long shelf life and fit into the designated price real thought or consideration placed on taste and customer 'wants'.
It comes as no surprise to me that we end up eating, in the case of 'Oranges' (always cheaper by the case), chewy orange coloured cardboard.
Not here though, not here in Nanning China…I sang the praises of Chinese oranges a couple of months ago…nothings changed - I love them and it will be my sole aim in life, come autumn next year to taste the first crop as soon as they hit the streets.
I remember as a boy really looking forward to Christmas, Guy Fawkes night, My Birthday, school holidays (especially summer) Saturday night tea - tomatoes on toast and sometimes beef dripping on toast in front of the black and white 405 lines telly and January sales.
Christmas now starts in August and goes on till the following July. With extended holidays taken in late December.
Guy Fawkes I suspect is no longer politically correct or safe, so we are led to believe and the move is to organised second rate by Chinese standards displays where Hamburgers and cold drinks are sold at hugely inflated prices.
Birthdays are no longer special, after all what else could a western child possibly want?
School holidays are now spoilt by global warming, summer in winter and non-existent summers in summer.
Saturday night tea now probably consists of eating 'something' quick probably alone, either out or hiding away somewhere.
January sales - any day of the year!

No - I have decided - I like looking forward to things…OK, sometimes trepidation reigns but even taking trepidation into account the eagerly awaited arrival of an event or product at the appropriate time wins the day for me.

Oh, and the oranges are still as juicy, tasty, mostly seedless and easy peel as they were all those weeks ago…Don't get me started on Bananas !!!

I suspect had my destiny not landed me here in Nanning China then New Zealand would have most certainly been my other chosen destination.
I have spent many months there over the past few years owing to the fact my daughter and her partner now live there. A truly wonderful country and would feature very high on
my list of 'must see' destinations in the world.
The friendliest immigration/passport control staff in the world...IMHO.
Perhaps all passport control staff throughout the world need to visit...and learn.
Air New Zealand are planning if they have not started already to fly into Shanghai.
NZ is a popular holiday location for the Chinese. Also there is a large Chinese immigrant contingent taking up surprise.

I am fortunate to have visited both North and South islands and swam with the dolphins…awesome.
Anyway, to the point - At this time my daughter has just arrived in England from NZ for the first visit since they left some 3 years ago.
It's a bit of a world tour for them as England, Italy, Scotland, Hong Kong and Thailand are on the agenda.
We plan to meet up with them in Hong Kong early January for a few days before they leave to attend a friends wedding in Thailand…exciting stuff.

I notice in the news, reports of earthquakes just off the coast of Gisborne (North Isl
and) during the past couple of days. Reports of minor damage.
I am sure it will all be still again on their return.
Whilst there in 2005 I experienced a slight earthquake one night…fairly scary...just makes one stop and think, then realise all the things I take for granted.
I am a fortunate human being...sweet as.

I have managed to fulfil most of my needs here in Nanning but there is still one thing that eludes me…Blu Tack.
I know I'm being a little pernickety but I like Blu Tack or as the Americans call it 'Sticky Tak'.
You know where you are with Blu Tack, you stick it on the wall, stick up your poster or picture or whatever else you stick on walls and there it stays (hopefully) until you take it down.
AND then, you can pick off the Blu Tack and use it again and the only evidence left is a tiny blue stain (if your wall is a light colour), easily remedied.
All I have managed to find here in Nanning is that horrible double sided sticky foam that comes on a roll.
You know the stuff, when you try to get it off the wall you end up having to chisel it off then find yourself re-rendering - re-plastering - then repainting.
No, I don’t like this, I want Blu Tack but alas, no can find.
In a few days time we will be in Hong Kong for a few days…I bet they have Blu Tack there.
I like Hong Kong, I've spent considerable time there over the years and look forward to our imminent jaunt.
A few facts about Hong Kong.
Hong Kong's 6 million people squeeze into just 1000sq km.

80% of Hong Kong territory is rural or country park.
40% of the land is conserved in country parks, the highest ratio in the world.
The worlds largest indoor Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong can cater for more than 6000 guests.
Seven of the worlds busiest McDonalds restaurants are in Hong Kong.
Over 9 million books are borrowed from public libraries in Hong Kong every year.
(one of the worlds highest per capita readerships).
Hong Kong is per capita the worlds leading consumer of oranges (my kinda people).
Hong Kong has the highest per capita ownership of Rolls Royce cars in the world.
Hong Kong has the highest ratio of Cafés and restaurants in the world.

On Monday, the wife and I went to visit an English friend and his Chinese wife in Beihai for an overnight stay at his new apartment.

I had heard lots about Beihai beforehand from him and others but this was my first visit although I have been coming to China since 1999.

Beihai if your standing on or near the beach or on the promenade or on any of the roads leading to the beach - is a beach resort and a very nice one at that.
Beautiful white sanded beach.
Warm shallow water.
Life guards on duty in season.
Nothing - out there, that might eat you, well, not to the best of my knowledge.
A beach resort - That is how I would describe it...But here's the twist.
Its also a city…a Chinese city, so, population?…a fair few.
New building both in the process of and already built…lots. (mostly empty)
Restaurants both beachside and in town…lots.
Hotels…lots, both large and I mean large and small. (mostly empty and some for sale)
Bars, some with the requisite Karaoke facility. Also both beachside and in town…lots (mostly empty)
Holiday maker/Tourists…not many - potentially lots - potentially lots and lots.
The twist is, if you have not spotted it already…the word potential is the clue - The twist is…it not that busy…even when its busy busy if you get my drift, it could be a lot busier and still not be busy.
At anytime, its unbelievably not at all busy…and it’s a city and with all those potential customers throughout China.
The infrastructure is in place…so why?

If this location with all its facilities was anywhere else in the world…it would be heaving, absolutely heaving...12 months a year mainly because even in the winter, its warm enough to swim. And most other places in the world do not have such a large potential local tourist base.
So, what's the problem…I think maybe a combination of factors.
To the Chinese - Water is something you either drink, cook with or wash with.
The Chinese have not yet fully embraced annual holiday leave.
The Chinese are not generally 'Sun' worshipers.
The Chinese have to date been very busy trying to earn a crust. Either in the field, the factory or the office.
But the signs are - The crust having been earned by more than just a few it might be spent…here, in Beihai.
Now fondly refered to by Western Ex-pats as the 'City of Thieves'


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