A Travellerspoint blog

Toilet trained at last

“Can I eat your rat?”

One of my disappointments during the past 3 weeks is that, after giving in to the demand that “the Washing Machine must travel with us or the trips off”, we have not once used it. You’re probably leaping to the conclusion that we are filthy grubs virtually indistinguishable from the many open sewers we’ve examined with curious interest. ‘Curious, isn’t quite the correct word. Neither is ‘remarkable’ however the observations have generated some excited remarks. No, we are, by our standards, in reasonably respectable condition and are certainly not being obviously avoided by the local populace when strolling about their neighborhoods. Having said that, there was one guy who took a wide detour when I was examining something I picked up on the sole of my shoe. Given I was not the person who deposited the – arrrrhhh – waste material (and it was more likely to be a relative of his), I consider that an affront and a poor way to treat a guest to his country. It would have been more ambassadorial had he taken over the stick and effected the removal of the offending material. Without his help, Flypaper managed the job very well.
The lack of work by the washing machine is solely attributable to the quality of the accommodation we have enjoyed each night. Long may it last … but we’re sure it won’t. Here in China, our organizing agent arranged 3 star hotels and told us that, given our reputation and obvious status, the Chinese authorities insisted we be upgraded to 4 star. (Perhaps she didn’t say that but I’m sure she would have if I’d pressed her on the point.) Notwithstanding, we are in very nice accommodation most nights. Some would even describe it as ‘luxurious’. I simply say that it’s the standard I always promised Flypaper she deserved and would eventually enjoy if she stuck to me. When a room is heavily draped with washed garments, it’s a common saying at home to describe the area as, ‘Looking like a Chinese Laundry’. A few days ago I peeped into a Chinese Laundry and I can assure you that the description we use is unlikely to be accurate. A ‘Chinese Laundry’ has far more ‘stuff’ in it than you can imagine or produce even if you decided to decontaminate your whole wardrobe … together with all the clothing that could be gathered in your neighbourhood. Having ‘seen’ the real thing, the ‘scene’ in our 4 star hotel bathroom each evening is quite a relief. I do still find it quite disconcerting to be tangled in Flypapers unmentionables but can assure you that those working in the nearby laundry would face greater challenges.

My last blog (No 11) generated quite a full mailbox and probably alerted the Chinese authorities to my thoughts about their country. I do appreciate the comments I receive both on the blog site and by personal email. I am quite amazed when I discover from the blog ‘stats’ that my compositions have been read by over 13,000 people. (I didn’t realize there were that many with both time to waste and poor taste.) The comments regarding my discovery that the Chinese economy was capitalistic compared to our western socialistic system has triggered the deluge of comment that sadly I have no time to argue and will have to be ignored. However, one message received from an unknown analyst with the most dubious email name of ‘peecracker’ (true) commented (Quote) “You may change your mind about Chinese supremacy when you experience their washrooms”. (From that I deduce he’s American and offended by the notion China may be a threat). Well Pee, if you had read on, you would have discovered that I have found the need for relief at many Chinese toilets. I have experienced the finest, most artfully decorated and beautifully presented facilities imaginable for the purpose of basic bodily functions, through to a couple of slippery planks extended over an abyss that provided for my modesty with a single plastic sheet that would have left both tall and short people exposed to the unsavory comments of passersby – and every standard between. During the performances I have been ‘misted’ with a delightful fragrance possibly extracted from a combination of lovingly cultivate flowers and exotic herbs through to a gagging, debilitating stench that induced a wish to have my nose surgically removed and sterilized in a bath of chlorine. None of these experiences have changed my opinion that the Western word has become over governed and doomed by their desire to create a race based on the lowest common denominator. The world evolved by the survival of the strongest species and perhaps it is those who survive the toilet facilities of emerging nations that will inherit the mess created by those who consider we know better.
Slot machine with built in draft

Slot machine with built in draft

Travelers’ to China will discover the toilet paper is not perforated. While not a disaster of major proportions, the resulting ragged tear does offend my sense of order and tidiness. China is not perfect. Nor should one expect any toilet paper at all in the public facilities. You may consider that strange given China invented paper. They may have tried it and decided the new invention was worthy of better things or the early product may not have offered any advantage over traditional practice. However I think it’s fair enough – we are quite acceptable of BYO restaurants, so why not BYO toilets. Disposing of the used paper is a bit trickier. There’s no convenient flush to remove the problem and the farmers don’t appreciate it in their ‘nightsoil’ fertilizer. I suspect the used material left in the corner was evidence of another western traveler who was reluctant to put it back in their pocket for later. I tried burning but even when the damp soiled paper is supplemented with enough unused material to replicate a cremation that’s still an unsatisfactory option - and it does create quite a bit of unwanted attention from other stalls. It’s all a bit of a mystery. I’m not revealing my best solution so far.

There is one urinal that is worthy of special recognition. It and 4 others resided in a concrete structure that may have done service in a war as a bomb shelter. The resident cleaning lady who wielded one of those witches’ brooms may well have seen service in the same war as she gave me a look that would have easily won a battle or two. There was nothing remarkable about the urinal except that it was unremarkable – most inspire a comment. This provided the element of surprise. Over the years I’ve developed a procedure that I suspect is similar to other guys and only differs from one time to the next in speed - dependant on the delay experienced in finding the establishment. I fronted up to the apparatus … to be totally hosed down by the flush which I had wrongly anticipated would follow the performance. After being peed on by countless scruffy truck drivers it was fighting back! Although surprised and most likely guilty of an embarrassing exclamation, I gave as good as I received and on reflection, think I handled my end rather well.

We left Xi’an for the Wild West. Immediately we travelled across a highly cultivated plan specializing in apples and wheat into an arid barren landscape of dusty grey-brown eroded hills contoured into (literally) millions of terraces. This mammoth work over millennia was accomplished by people who lived in caves. Some still do (It looks like an enormous film set of Hobbiton in Lord Of The Rings). Most however have been moved into rather nice houses beside the road so that their traditional farms can be planted with trees. It has become apparent that contrary to popular misconception, China is seriously into sorting out global warming. Sure, they have a long, long way to go but we have seen modern non-polluting coal fired power stations (unlike New Zealand, China is mining it’s riches to create better lifestyles), and their enormous road construction projects actually save massive amounts of pollution over time. Planting huge forests is expected to transform the arid climate to make this part of China more productive and in doing so will offset the carbon footprint created by industrialization. What’s more – they don’t impose an ill-conceived guilt tax on their population.

Another nice discovery as we more into the West is an increase in recycling. There’s still plastic bags flying around like a new breed of rooster and so much rubbish lying about that one could be forgiven for thinking it’s a new form of landscape decoration. However, we see bicycles, motorbikes and trucks piled high with this material all scurrying towards the ever more common tip sites. These sites are often about the size of an airport and are self supporting in that most of the rubbish blows straight back out again or is scavenged and redistributed ready to be collected again the next day. We have also seen the worlds largest building recycler. The yard stretched from horizon to horizon – well - my horizons had been seriously reduced that day because I forgot my wedding anniversary. Like, who can remember stuff like that at home let alone when prowling around someone else’s backyard checking their whole process from garden to kitchen to toilet.
Steptoe & Son

Steptoe & Son

Enough serious credo – on to a subject on which I’m a frigin’ expert. Even those of my casual acquaintance are aware that I’ve indulged in some serious motorsport over many years. Some even accuse me of being an adrenaline junkie. Perhaps that was the case – but it’s going to be difficult to get a buzz in the future. You see, I’ve now experienced real racing and have an idea for a new class of motorsport that really keeps the heart beating and the adrenaline gland pumping. Traditional motorsport involves drivers competing on a circuitous course designed to discover who will finish first. The new discipline is likely to initially be dominated by the Chinese but I imagine from previous observation that the Egyptians will also be highly competitive. The principal differences are that 2 races are run simultaneously … on the same course … in opposite directions. Think about it. It introduces some fairly demanding elements and a whole new set of skills. The purpose of the race is to discover who will finish. (A subtle but important difference). Please don’t be derisory about this. It happens all the time here in China and we are proud of both our survival and competitive abilities. In fact, we’re winning quite a bit. My travelling companion in the other Nissan Terrano (Bilbo) was strangely proud of the fact that back at home he hadn’t broken a road rule since he married. Very commendable and not a claim I could make. By New Zealand standards our driving here would be considered total lunacy and we would be removed from society. I envisage any of the moves we make every few minutes would result in a moral panic and an outbreak of indignation deteriorating into road rage in retaliation. Here in the big C I suspect that my companion has probably broken a few Chinese rules but (by golly) he’s broken every New Zealand rule and some yet to be made. Running red lights, tooting to scatter those stupid enough to think they have sanctuary on a pedestrian crossing, cutting out the roundabout, driving the wrong way up a one-way street and seriously carving up Police vehicles is novice stuff. At home, we have dopy rules such as don’t cross the white or yellow centre lines. Ridiculous - wasteful of time & energy resources and quite restrictive. Before we were issued with our Chinese driving Licenses’ we were given an eye test. It’s really the only test required because everything else relies on this ability. It’s OK to cross the center lines if one can see there’s nothing in the way during the period on the other side. If there are other vehicles approaching the only challenge is to get back to your original side before they occupy the space you wish to traverse. If you don’t manage to get back then at the very least be sure there is enough room for 3 or even 4 abreast. Very exciting – especially for our passengers – who are sitting on the side closest to the potential impact where their unappreciated job seems to be to constantly comment on the meager distances between us and doom. Given the Chinese don’t issue licenses’ to blind people the system works well. The other commendable matter is the lack of indication. Never indicate because it tells others where you want to go and they take advantage of you. Keep them guessing. Keep all others watching and trying to figure out your next move – that gives you the advantage. Indication is OK if you use the emergency flashers – all 4 at anytime for any reason. Again – keep them guessing.
Men at work

Men at work

As we move west we notice a subtle change in the appearance of the people. Darker skinned more Arabic features and lots of Muslims. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the friendliness of the people. Everyone knows “Hello” and this welcome soon degenerates into a conversation with both sides totally oblivious to the others subject. In an agricultural market we ended up with gifts of produce that we certainly didn’t need or want – but one couldn’t refuse. Don’t think for a moment the Chinese are starving. There is food everywhere. There’s hardly an acre of land that is not cultivated and every imaginable food is produced … together with quite a bit you’ve never likely to imagine even if you regularly sniff substances. I’ve heard it said that if it has legs the Chinese will eat it. I believe that’s true and I’m sure I’ve seen teeth marks in tables and chairs. Added to the food with legs is the food that is gleaned from absolutely everything that grows through photosynthesis together with a whole class of foodstuffs that have never seen the sunlight. I often wonder with foods, who the first person was that tried it? Were they starving or simply of an inquisitive nature. Take milk for example. Who first said, “Let’s pull these things and drink the result”. Consider, the early cows were probably a lot hairier and less obliging than the current herd. Here, there is lots of tree bark eaten. Never, have I been strolling through the countryside and suddenly felt the urge to bit into a tree trunk. The range of edible fungi is also astonishing. It usually looks so revolting that the first taster would have unquestionably been blind and in many instances were also peculiar in that they wore a peg on their nose. Nevertheless, we have tried many new things and in most instances been pleasantly surprised. There are a few things my travelling companions have not been game to chew … and for that I’m thankful. Throwing up in public is so bad for ones image.
Giddy Chick

Giddy Chick

Posted by Wheelspin 05:25 Comments (4)

I’ve got the message

What’s that I hear you eating?

At my primary school our boys’ toilet was very much like some of the units I’ve been experiencing recently. Ours was perhaps a bit ‘flasher’ - a 3 sided corrugated iron wall with a length of spouting nailed on the inside as the urinal and a single ‘closet’ for those wishing to spend more time – usually smoking stolen fags. The wall must have been about 6 feet tall because I recall being able to see our teacher’s hat over the top - on the occasions he wore it. He only visited the facility during class time but there were corresponding occasions when I was standing in a corner of the corridor in recognition of an unappreciated effort and I was able to peep out the door to observe the teacher’s reason for leaving his charges. I digress. As 10 year olds we competed to see who could pee right over the top. Robert Ellis gained our admiration for succeeding and has probably gone on to greater things in life – but hardly much greater as that is a splendid accomplishment. I tended to experience quite a lot of splash back. Sorry – that may be a bit too much information but I was reminded about it as I recalled our earlier efforts as less ambitious 6 year olds in the same facility. We attempted to spit over the top and in this respect I was an honorable achiever. Our efforts were puny compared to some of the excellent expectorators’ we have seen here in China. Truly admirable quantity, splendid distance and marvelous accuracy. While desperate to compete to gain an appreciation of my own humble standard I am afraid it’s been impossible. My mouth has been quite dry. We tend to travel some distance for a couple of days, then have a day (2 nights) in the same location which is usually one with tourist ‘attractions’ that have been finely tuned to extract as much Yuan from visitors as possible. All of these days involve exposure to the highways and byways of China and all are comparable in their ability to deprive my salivary glands of fluid. On the other hand (and probably due to the very fine Chinese beer we enjoy with our meals) there is a continual desire to frequent the often provided toilets. This is a rather interesting phenomenon – don’t you think? Simultaneous deprivation and oversupply.

The principal reason for the dry mouth is the astonishing realization that the Chinese do have a lot of things right – better than the western world. Apart from the enormous petty bureaucracy that I suspect is the result of endless cheap labour needing jobs and a traditional hierarchal attitude that encourages the employment of those lower down the pecking order, the economy that we are witnessing appears to work very well. The greatest surprise is that China is a more capitalistic society than the west and conversely, our western society has become increasingly socialist. Here, for the most, effort and risk are rewarded. Mature people are all very ambitious and the majority accepts that success is worth the effort of study and work – although few know the hard physical work of their forefathers. Who can blame them?
Team work

Team work

The most interesting observation is that, while I suspect there are rules, and certainly we have seen many written in English for our benefit, the Chinese people simply take no notice. This is not civil disobedience; it’s simply the mass acceptance that if a rule is an impediment to efficiency or progress they ignore it. The road rules are an example. If the motoring populace operated to our western road rules the streets would choke and the whole economy would grind to a halt. The Chinese simply drive around every problem, fill every gap and squeeze twice as many vehicles into the width and length of available road as we would consider possible. They stop anywhere, u-turn everywhere, drive the wrong way in one way streets and treat intersections as game. It’s great. I confess, it took me a couple of days to change my mindset from that of a brow beaten, police fearing westerner to that of a nation careering headlong into the future at top speed. Their driving skills are astonishingly good when one understands and converts to the system. Their peripheral vision and distance judgment are legendary. There are a few simply accepted rules : never leave a gap unless you want someone else to fill it : only give way to vehicles bigger than yours – and then only at the very last moment : ignore bicycles, motorcycles and derivatives thereof on the basis that they understand with instinctive good sense that if they are involved in an accident they will be the worst effected : toot to advise others of your presence (it’s likely to be appreciated and even save their life because the noise of theirs and other vehicles conceals your approach) : look only ahead for your own opportunities to progress (everyone else behind is watching you) – and finally – a miss is as good as a mile, don’t sweat the close shaves.
If one drove like this at home the witnesses would either call the police to have you removed for the good of society or, before they managed that, die of indignation. That is such a pity as the Chinese system is much better.

Here’s an example of Chinese logic and efficiency. We were driving behind a taxi in a huge city jam-packed with traffic all intent on arriving first. Our destination was further up a hill that required a long battle through the streets. Our intrepid leader had a plan … we drove into a high rise private carpark past ‘no entry’ signs and careered the wrong way up the ramps to the top floor where we exited back into the traffic quite close to our destination. The taxi gave up a substantially greater fare to provide us with the best result and a fine learning experience.

Our western society is stifled and submissive to the rule of law. We have so many and encourage more to be made – especially if it is perceived to benefit us at the expense of someone or an idea / concept we don’t approve of. Every facet of our lives is governed. For some unfathomable reason we find comfort in this. Sadly it stifles progress, reduces opportunity and impedes creativity. Pause and consider any aspect of our lives and the rules / laws surrounding them. We are told it’s for our own good. Rubbish – it’s pure socialistic ideology that, like all the historic socialist societies is doomed to fail. China is prospering on the same ideology the West embraced with such success 60 years ago.

Not only have I discovered China’s great strength and philosophy but I’ve mastered chopsticks. For years I’ve questioned why a civilization that invented gunpowder could not get to grips with the fork. Today however, I stand embarrassed and humbled by my attitude. The Chinese invented the fork around 2400 BC. They’ve moved on. Consider, a fork has no advantage over a chopstick when eating slippery noodles or rice. A fork generally needs the assistance of a knife to conquer most foods. The chopsticks however, have made it acceptable to bring the bowl to ones mouth to accelerate the eating process and have introduced a range of noises to the processes. It is well known that smell enhances taste. I expect that here it has been discovered that an added audible element has further improved the experience.

Given that driving is taking a significant part of our time, I am sure you will accept that ducking and diving has become second nature. It’s overlapping into my writing as well. I would like to tell you of so many things but most will have to wait. One that won’t is our appreciation of the signage. The highways are littered with good advice for those able to read English … Fowl Wether – Slow Down … Don’t drive drunken … Don’t drming when tired … Overspeeding prohibitaion … Animals attention … Don’t enter the exit … are a few examples that spring to mind. Hotels are also a source of interesting signage that must be very mysterious to the local people using the rooms, eg, Warm tips … please don’t flush the rubbishes in the toilet, Don’t bath in bowl (over the toilet), Toilet Bowel for gests.

Following the worthless Chin & Cheek we suffered the attentions of Charlie. Charlie is a good natured man of indeterminable age who told me he had an overweight daughter aged 8, a wife who had to work to support him as guiding was poorly paid – in fact he reveled he was poorer than his 3 brothers and sister. He had an interesting sense of humour – encouraging us to break into a farmer’s house to see what they eat for lunch, suggested we gatecrash a wedding to enjoy the feast and proposed we catch an endangered Crested Ibis to discover if it tasted like Chicken, or Kiwi. After each of these ideas had been voiced he chuckled contented in the knowledge that he was entertaining his Western guests with great skill and sure that this would be reflected in the tip. On reflection and with the benefit of hindsight gained from reading my own description of poor Charlie – all his jokes were about food. He certainly didn’t look underfeed and we suspected his daughters problem was gained from their mutual enjoyment of American Fast Foods. Sadly the skills we employed him for were non existent. He was a useless guide and it was only when we eventually wrestled the Maps and GPS off him and ordered him to stop talking that we stopped getting hopelessly lost. He had an aversion to reading signposts preferring to telephone the hotel or next guide to ask directions. The problem with this stroke of genius was that he did not know where we were - which made the advice given to him rather worthless. Again we resorted to the shameful ploy of asking strangers to save us. To my everlasting humiliation we even asked a policeman for help. The saving grace was that this happened in the middle of a busy intersection and we gridlocked a whole city of 6 million people. They had their revenge however as the policeman was no more capable than Charlie and sent us the wrong way. Charlie did have a winning smile and a desire to address us collectively by our individual names recited in series – this takes time – especially when spoken in his slow drawl polished from listening to the soundtracks of old American Western movies. Flypaper thought he was endearing (like a puppy that digs up the garden and eats socks) so naturally I was keen to get rid of him.

We have finished stage 1 of our journey – Hong Kong to Xian. Apart from the frustrations of bureaucracy in Shenzhen which was typical of officialdom everywhere, it’s been great. We’ve mastered the art of ordering unknown foods from pictures in books and with one exception loved every dish. It’s likely that this would not be so had we actually known what we were eating. Our accommodation has been superb in spite of the idiosyncrasies that remind us we are in China. The tourist attractions have only been spoilt by the fact that tourists were visiting them. We learned that this is a civilization which has been doing astonishing things for over 4,000 years and were generally world leaders in most fields or most of that time. I have started to appreciate this juggernaut that is travelling out of control towards an exciting future – but I’m not frightened by it. I am frightened by the fact that the West may not learn to accept Oriental wisdom. I've got the message but I suspect our lords and masters are unlikely to experience the 'real' China as we have.

The lush mountains and plains that sustain the worlds largest industrial region now gives way to a dryer sparser environment that will bring other challenges that take us out of our new comfort zone. One thing I do know - going into these desert regions is nothing like going to the beach at low tide.
The animals came on 2 by 2

The animals came on 2 by 2

Posted by Wheelspin 06:49 Comments (9)

Oriental Art

We Westeners have a lot to learn

Much has been said about Oriental Art – and most is complementary. Since being in China, Flypaper & I have indulged in a bit of cultural exposure and have seen some really quite wonderful stuff made from all sorts of other stuff. Indeed, some was especially good and we know this because the artist told us. There is however, some extraordinary Oriental Art that seems to have previously escaped the attention of the critics – but I intend to remedy that. My qualifications are very good … few would be as critical about most stuff as me.

In a very ancient city called Zhaoqing we stayed in a hotel that was quite possibly the most modern I have ever experienced. Flypaper occasionally has a bit of a problem with recent technology but I pride myself on being only couple of years behind teenagers and possibly a little ahead of 6 year olds. In this hotel, it took me 20 minutes to figure out how the room lights worked. I never did quite get to grips with the high tech toilet. I suspect Flypaper may be better able to explain this given the long periods spent experiencing the various comforts & pleasures provided by this astonishing apparatus. Its various water jets, warming surfaces and vibratory ability were all operated from a console that would have been difficult to follow in English. I digress; the reason for mentioning this particular place was because it was here we were handed on by the wonderfully caring and softly but clearly spoken ‘Steven’ to the Chinese Olympic ‘Yapping’ champion. Guide Qin (pronounced Chin) speaks a rapid form of repetitive Chinglish and has difficulties with determining left and light – although both are usually a guess. We have grown accustomed to hearing, “Solly. Turn alound”. This is rather disconcerting in some of the driving conditions we find ourselves. Chin is accompanied by another gentleman who I christened ‘Cheek’ … they sort of go together if you follow my reasoning. Evidently Cheek knows where to go and Chin is supposedly more able to relay this knowledge to us. A fine arrangement in theory. In practice neither knows where to go and we resort to the feminine technique of asking others. This looses me considerable face. Chin has demonstrated the Oriental art of confusion. We seldom know where we are, were we’re going or even that we’ve been. On many occasions we haven’t been at all. We went from 2 days behind schedule to 1 day ahead as a result of their decision to find and use a fabulous new 250km highway (over 50% in tunnels which is rather repetitive scenery) that opened 10 days previously and does not show on any maps. In truth, I’m not sure it was open at all, but the populace started using it even though the electricians were still fitting the lights in the tunnels and the builders were still constructing the service stations. We drove 240kms on a muddy, ‘pumpy’ goat track at an average speed of 35kph to find this highway. Chins ability to talk about multiple subjects at the same time and change the information mid sentence gives us pride in the versatility of the English languages. We have 8 days to study the art that Chin has perfected.

One of the finest arts here in China is the art of jaywalking. The population is divided into 3 groups. The first are drivers who are the ones born with a 6th sense … a jaywalker detection, location and avoidence sense. The second group is riding motorcycles – usually together with their whole family or transporting an enormous load of freight. The third are the jaywalkers who seem to live in a world oblivious to the oher two. They simply walk in any direction at any time but especially focus on crossing busy highways in places we big noses would never consider was sympathetic to the notion of a long life. For example, we drivers find individuals, pairs and groups of jaywalkers in various stages of crossing 16 lane intersections seemingly without thought that they could become fertilizer (nothing is wasted here) through being compressed between an overloaded truck and a pothole. Astonishingly the drivers are the ones who dodge the pedestrians and the motorcyclists dodge everything. It’s a system that defies the principals of good sense and self preservation – but it works. An art form for sure.

I had always believed that all vehicles from wheelbarrows to supertankers were engineered to carry certain loads and exceeding the mysterious numbers written on them was certain disaster. It’s not true. The engineers have been hoodwinking us to their own cunning benefit. The Chinese have developed and gone some way towards perfecting the art of overloading. Even a quick visit to this country that is experiencing enormous development which requires every imaginable thing being moved from here to there and from there to somewhere else, will witness that, for example, a 10 ton truck can carry any weight that will sit on its tray. Often the truck will start with a bit more and gravity will determine the final load along the way but you can be assured that no-one took any notice of the tare weight numbers and the vehicle didn’t crumple and die – well, not every time. At the other end of the scale, a bicycle can carry the sort of load we would put onto the boot of a car. Sometimes the peddling carrier’s wife has to push to get the job started and often walks behind to make sure delivery contract is completed. A 600cc van can carry a football team and their management group, a bus may be licensed to carry 45 but 80 is more profitable and motorcycles do the work of a 3 ton courier van. An antiquated looking agricultural cart that is powered by a single cylinder turning a huge exposed flywheel can move any load that may be offered up to it. These are the work horse of the country and can be seen everywhere – in mid city, on the major highways, in the fields and everywhere else. They are unrestricted in every sense. There’s a 3 wheeled ‘utility’ vehicle that is also powered by a single cylinder. It looks good for about a ton but in fact, its load is only limited by the owner’s ambitions. Beneath that is the 3 wheeled motorcycle powered machine that comes in various operating specifications – taxi, ute, van, etc. Here, for some unexplainable reason, its English name is a ‘Tu-Tu’. Again, the load carrying capacity is beyond reasonable comprehension although often the hirer can be seen pushing to get it started given both the clutch and the 125 or 250cc engine is not up to the job. In all instances, when loaded, stopping these machines is a challenge.
In addition to the weight of the load is the dimension. They typically work on the 2:3 ratio but there is no accepted limit. 2 times the width of the vehicle and 3 times the height. At one end of the scale we see car transporters with loads 2 vehicles wide, 3 stories high and 20 meters long and at the other, Tu-Tu’s with a load of furniture under some bamboo crates of chickens and ducks topped with the family and their neighbours. Truly inspiring.

Another art here in China worthy of comment, at another time, is the art of driving. After 2,000km I am still but a beginner. Suffice to say at this stage, there are rules … but no-one considers them. The ever present police have no interest whatsoever until there is an accident – which is astonishingly rare given the modus operandi employed. I haven’t blinked or breathed out in the past 11 days. There are signs along the way saying. “Don’t drive tiredly” … which I presume anticipates one going to sleep. They must be kidding!

An art that I have studied from a discrete distance is the art of bargaining. Apart from the major department stores and fuel stations, the price of any product is the agreement between a willing seller and a willing buyer – pure capitalism. Rumour has it that the final ‘buy’ price should be about half the starting ‘sell’ offer, To date, Flypaper has never achieved that ratio but it’s not for the want of trying. Having some qualification in Sales and Marketing and having once studied the Psychology of Buying & Selling, I suggested to Flypaper that she try the ploy of offering to buy 2 for the price of 1. The theory was that the seller could amortize the smaller profit into a larger sale. Somehow we have ended up with a 64 beaded dolls which represent an ethnic minority who hide in a mountainous region where I do not believe they have had the benefit of my Marketing education but where they did develop the fine art of bargaining to good effect.

Another art form that I have observed and am impressed with is the art of getting the women to do all the heavy labour … and most of the light work as well. This is worthy of further detailed study. We Westerners have so much to learn.

Posted by Wheelspin 06:08 Comments (10)

Patience is a virtue

There’s a process that must be followed

A well known saying attributed to some lazy guy called ‘Piers Plowman’ is worthy of Confucius himself ... Patience is a virtue. It’s certainly a trait practiced a lot here in Shenzhen.
We arrived across the boarder from Hong Kong on Monday morning in the care of the ambitious guide who called himself ‘Raymond’ - who begged us to send him all our friends so he could make them the world’s happiest travelers’. I agreed to do that in lieu of the expected tip – but uncharacteristically I’ve weakened and given him both the free advertisement and the tip. It’s a payment I was reluctant to provide given, (a) he did nothing for us except sit in the best seat in the car and yap to the driver all the way through the efficient boarder controls and (b) he ostentatiously flaunted a ‘Louis Vuitton’ shoulder bag which left Flypaper in an expectant mood and myself feeling totally inadequate as a provider. I soon recovered.

Arrival in China was full of expectation – and still is … and that expectation may last for some time yet. Our first task on arrival morning was to obtain our temporary Chinese driving license. A remarkable experience and one that was marginally easier than my NZ license back on the day of my 15th birthday. On that occasion I drove up to the local Police station with some flair but more restrained than usual. Mr Plod strolled out and perched on a chair by the station door from where he instructed me to drive up to the crossroad and back. I did so – in record time – valve bouncing Mums old Austin and using the umbrella handbrake to execute a pretty stylish parking maneuver. The man who was to become my nemesis, strolled to the window and handed me my license with the words, “I’ve been expecting you”. Seems he had seen me driving illegally for the previous 2 years. Here in Shenzhen they were not expecting me specifically, but they were expecting about a thousand others. We watched our new guide fill out our applications in Chinese. Our contribution in addition to a signature was to smear gum onto the back of a photo and carefully apply it in the provided space. We did a nice job of that. That qualified us to undertake the eye test. This involved sitting on a stool facing a mirror that reflected a big bald man with a long stick. He pointed the stick at a symbol on a chart and our duty was to signal with a pointy digit the direction the ‘legs’ of the symbol were pointing – up, down or sideways. For me the third poke of the stick appeared to be in a blank white area but a vague horizontal gesture seemed to do the trick and I was rewarded with a 通行证. A further 2 hours dozing in a hard cold chair resulted in our receiving our 1st precious document.

Tuesday morning was spent at the Silk Road & Shenzhen History Museum – because we didn’t wish to annoy the Customs officers too early. Pity. They wouldn’t see us so we drove to the place where we would be issued our Insurance Certificate. For this we sat in the car for 3 hours while our ever patient guide negotiated successfully on our behalf. That almost made us late for the best sound & light show in the city.

The following morning we were invited to the docks to see Customs. Following some of the now expected waiting, they allowed only me to stroll through the huge complex to discover our container with the doors open exposing the rear of our friends’ car. After an hour or so, 8 people arrived and requested I prove to them the original engines were in the cars. This involved using a torch to compare the number in the engine block with the number on the firewall – checked 8 times. The contents of the vehicles, which we had previously been informed included ‘illegal’ items, were of no interest. That was followed by a dash across town for a quick traditional lunch and on to a large grubby yard full of containers and huge machines that seems determined to run us over. Astonishingly our container was there and 6 men – in years past they would have probably been referred to as ‘coolies’ - released the tie downs and jimmied the timber wheel chocks so we could remove the cars. They were then loaded onto a pair of car transporters – the sort used to recover accident vehicles – and transported to a huge yard adjacent to a driving school. Here Martin & I underwent our driving test which consisted of reversing down from the truck decks to have our photos taken then driving on again. A few minutes latter we were requested to drive down again and take them to a covered area where about a dozen people took a number of ‘rubbings’ of the chassis number on the firewall. A while latter a uniform came out to study the NZ WOF & Road Tax cards on the windscreen and approved our reloading of the cars onto the transporters. They were again unloaded and spent the night in our hotel carpark.
HeeHaw goes up on the cart

HeeHaw goes up on the cart

Day 4 Thursday. Early at the license plate issuing building, where we sat for 3 hours with hundreds of others hoping to be favored with a document examination and a set of temporary number plates. Around mid-day an official decided our cars should have a WOF inspection. 30km back to the hotel carpark, back on the transporters and off to an inspection facility on the other side of town. My car failed the emissions test, Martins failed the brake test. Strange – we had completely overhauled the brakes and fitted new pads just before departure. Time in a nearby workshop followed by another test showed the results were worse! Given the fact that 3 failed tests means the car can never pass, we screwed up the documents and loaded onto the transporters yet again to find another testing station. This time, both cars passed without any problem. While we were transported back to the hotel – inside our cars – up on the transporters, our guide scurried across town too the license plate issuer. Too late. He must report again on day 5 when we are promised we will receive the plates and our enormous file of documents that will allow us to start driving West across China. Documents from the Departments of Customs, Tourism and the Military together with insurance will be held by our guides throughout the journey and presented on demand to any interested official. The plates and a mysterious window sticker indicate to all that we have completed the process required to drive our vehicles on the public roads.

The point of telling this marathon experience is simply to demonstrate that China is a great and prospering economy with an enormous number of work opportunities. It is also home to a race of very patient people. Our guides were frustrated on our behalf knowing we were told this process would take 2 days rather than 5. We feel for them – and never more so than when guide Steven spied the NZ national symbol on the back window of my car. He asked, “Why do you have a picture of a chicken on your window?” A very good question.

Posted by Wheelspin 06:38 Comments (2)

Through the looking glass

Hong Kong is terrifying for a country boy

It is true that the New Zealand educations system failed to prepare me for many of the realities of life. It taught the rudiments – the 3 R’s - reading, riting and rithmetic – but failed, for example, with the 3 P’s – politicians, pessimists and prostitutes (which are often the same person) and to this day I still have difficulties when dealing with each and every one.
The preparation for our first day of this journey was in my early life, the compulsory reading of Alice in Wonderland – Through the Looking Glass. At the time I did not consider it suitable material for a young man who intended to grow up to be a pirate. I’m now glad teacher wacked me into submission and I read that book because I became sure in the knowledge that there are amazing and bizarre things out there in the world. It did prepare me for our arrival in Hong Kong.

Before the day was over I had seen Superman, talking rabbits with blue ears, some bare breasted bearded Nuns, a herd of 2 legged zebra chasing a Unicorn, some leprechauns with tall green hats and a full squadron of Witches. We had arrived the weekend of the Hong Kong Rugby 7’s.
That evening our resident host and mentor took us first to the ‘Red Light’ district where, after admiring some of the ‘wares’ on early display, we enjoyed an superb meal at the Cheung Kee Club.
Matt then transported us to party central. This seemed to be an area of HK exclusively provided for drunken tourists to celebrate their rugby teams wins or to commiserate with friends as to what would have been had the ‘ref’ not been a biased blind fool. There was not a local to be seen. He disturbingly assured us that this area really livens up as the evening progressed so we decided to encourage him to have an early night for his own good. Not to mention the fact that we were suffering from too much culture taken in earlier in the day at the Art Gallery and Space Museum.

Given we are to drive through China and Central Asia, I was keener that usual to observe the driving standards and abilities in these huge cities. The journey in from the airport to our Kowloon hotel was an excellent introduction. It looked promising when the driver who looked like the sort of person you would call if you needed a ‘hit’ man, started by pulling on some sting-back driving gloves. My observations of the journey were all from inside the car because the dashboard was covered in every conceivable technological nick-knack, charm and air-freshener. The windscreen was plastered in large stickers and numerous evil looking appendages dangled from the sunvisors. The tinted side windows were covered in an additional black sheet that resulted in me being totally oblivious to anything outside the car. The driver had reserved a tiny gap to peer through but this meant he couldn’t see anyone alongside or about to overtake. I do believe this was the intention. On one occasion he slowed from 140km to 110kph in a 50kph zone – and never stayed in a traffic lane for more than 200m. On the strength of his demonstration I consider Asian driving skills are excellent.

Day 2 was exposure to Sunday in one of the world’s most densely populated cities. More resident friends, John & Ann transported us by tube, tram and taxi rides around various parts of the city to observe the population on their day off. For a country boy this was truly terrifying. A seething mass of humanity - every nationality enjoying each others company in the concrete canyons of their chosen environment … and seeming to enjoy it.

An early night in preparation of meeting Raymond – our first guide who will take us to China proper. The couple of days dealing with the formalities of gaining permission to drive in China are not one I’ve been looking forward to. It’s a period that some of my mates will either make or loose their fortunes based on which way they wagered regarding our success in dealing with the officials who hold our immediate future in their grasp.

Posted by Wheelspin 18:37 Comments (3)

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