Wednesday, 30 December 2009

2009 in pictures ...

When I think back on the adventures that 2009 bought me, I feel so lucky. So much travel, so many great friends and family. Wonderful.
January - The new year was celebrated with a trip to Japan where I tried my hand at skiing and enjoyed the delicious Japanese cuisine.
Hakuba ski slopes
Meeting new friends in Japan
February - I celebrated my 28th birthday with an Uberfood dinner, a girls night out in Shanghai and a surprise champagne brunch in Suzhou. Not bad!
28th birthday party in Shanghai
Birthday dinner at Uberfood
March - We farewelled Kiki as she headed back to Germany and I completed an 8km run in Shanghai.
Bubbles with Kiki
Jinqiao 8km run in Shanghai
April - Another visit to Beijing, this time for a conference and a training session on the Great Wall.
Jinshaling Great Wall
Simatai Great Wall
May - The May holidays gave me an opportunity to escape China for a beach break in the Philippines with Amy. It was also the month for the much anticipated Great Wall Marathon.
Great Wall Marathon
The Wuxi running women
June - The school year finished up for 2008/2009. June was a month of partying as I bid farewell to friends leaving China.
Doing it the Chinese way
The 'Legendary Monday night' crew
End of school party
July - After leaving China in style, I enjoyed 6 weeks of fresh air and blue skies at home.
Living the high life in Shanghai
Stunning views at Broulee in NSW
August - I arrived back in China to my new apartment on the 26th floor.
My Wuxi home
View from the 26th floor
September - The new school year began with new students and staff joining the EtonHouse crew. No travel this month, it was a month for hanging out in Wuxi.
New friends
Lovely man near my apartment
Wuxi market
October - Dad and Carla arrived for a mad dash around some of China's top tourist destinations. These two had too much energy on the first leg of their world tour! I also visited Huang Shan twice and Hongcun.
Cheers Dad!
Terracotta Warriors
UNESCO village of Hongcun
Morning time on Huang Shan
November - Mum and Libby arrived to tackle the Chinese tourist trail. What fun it was to travel with two middle aged gin addicts!
Davidson women hit the Great Wall of China!
Chocolate souffle and red wine at Uberfood
December - A rushed month to pack up my apartment, finish up work and say farewell to friends in China.
Time to de-clutter
Farewell friends!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Chinese lights ....

Old style lights in Suzhou
The Chinese love lights. My apartment living room had approximately 12 light switches, meaning I could have bright lights, mood lights, flashing lights and all sorts of other combinations. The streets are lit up by beautifully decorated lamps as well as the dizzying array of neon lights. And, I loved taking photos of lights!
Black and white lights in Wuxi
More black and white lights in Wuxi
Psychodelic lights in Wuxi
Fairy lights and fancy lights in Wuxi
Drum lights at the Beijing Olympic Stadium

Monday, 28 December 2009

Customer service in China ......

Wonderful customer service at a favourite Japanese restaurant

Sometimes I really do wonder if anyone in China is taught about basic customer service, namely a polite manner, trying to help where possible and a smile. Checkout chicks at the supermarket look put out to be serving you, waitresses scowl as they wait to take your order, travel agents look incredibly displeased to see a laowai in their office. But, the best customer service I found was at the Beijing airport with Mum and Libby ………

The end of our trip to Beijing arrived and we waited patiently in the queue to check in to our flight. Our main concern was whether or not we could get away with taking all our bags as carry on so that we could save time at the other end. We never even considered that our tickets would be incorrect. This is what happened…..

Check-in man – Can I have your Chinese mobile number please?

Me – Okay, but I’ve never had to give it before when checking in.

Check-in man – Well, we need it.

(The usual check-in stuff happens)

Check-in man – I am sorry but your passport numbers don’t match the numbers on the ticket. I can’t give you a boarding pass.

Me – Okay, well what do we do?

Check-in man – I suggest you call your travel agent.

Me – Ummmm, it’s 8.30 on a Sunday night. I don’t think they will be open.

Check-in man – Okay, well go out to the ticket counter.

(he reluctantly tells us where the ticket counter is)

We trudge out with our bags to find the Shenzhen Airline counter. One girl is on her mobile phone talking and directs us to the next girl who leans back in her chair and yawns.

Me – We have just tried to check in but the man says we can’t because the numbers on our tickets don’t match.

The ticket girl looks at our tickets and our passports.

Ticket girl – Call your travel agent and ask them.

Me – It’s 8.30 on a Sunday night, they won’t be open. Can you help us?

Ticket girl – Oh.

She continues to look at the passports and our tickets while typing something onto her computer. This takes several minutes and we wait nervously.

Ticket girl then throws our tickets and passports across the counter with a gruff ‘Check in’.

Me – So, you have fixed the problem for us?

Ticket girl – Check in!

Me – So, you have fixed the problem? Can we get our boarding passes and board the plane?

Ticket girl – Yes. Check in.

(Note – The girl did not make eye contact with us once during this conversation)

We then proceeded to check in without any problems and soon we were on our way back to Wuxi.

Obviously, customer service wasn’t on the airline training course. No wonder they had to ‘train’ the Beijing 2008 volunteers how to smile. Having said that, since I've been back in Melbourne, customer service in many places seems to have gone very quickly downhill, are there no more polite people left in society?

Sunday, 27 December 2009

DVD Chinglish ......

‘Genuine’ DVDs can be found everywhere in China, often tucked into the back of handbag stores (now why would the store owners be wanting to hide their ‘genuine’ DVD section?!). Some of the DVDs have blurbs in English, some in Korean and some in Chinese. But, my favourite ones are the ones with Chinglish blurbs. These are often very direct, honest and poorly translated descriptions of the movie. Often, the blurb is not a simple translation of the original one but most likely a Googled review and normally not a very good review.

For example, a description of ‘Jane Eyre’…..

’A dark an stormy production of Charlottle Bronte’s gothic novel, with Welles making arguably the best Rochester ever. Is there an item you’d recommend instead of or in addition to this one Let the world know! Enter the item’s ASIN (what’s an ASIN?) in the box below, select advice type, then click Submit. Don’t bother unless you can’t find the version with Timothy Dalton I watched that version first Then this one. This one ws so poorly done in comparison that I got up and mopped the kitchen floor while ith played and fast forwarded through the non-talking scenes While the acting was good enough the script leaves too much unsaid. It is difficult to see why the two main characters would bother falling in love with each other. The plot just wasn’t developed enough to warrant it. So many key parts of the story are missing I highly recommend the version with Timothy Dalton and Zetah Clarke, if you can find it.’

Then there is the subtitle issue. A TV show I watched recently (The IT Crowd – fantastic British comedy) has quite unusual subtitles appearing – a mixture of English and Chinese. One subtitle will appear in Chinese, the next in English and so forth. So, if you were only able to speak (and read) Chinese, you would only catch half the storyline.

The dubbing also provides ongoing amusement as well. Sometimes, the DVD cover will be in well written English, the subtitles will correct but the entire movie is in Chinese. So far, I have had the pleasure of watching ‘Moulin Rouge’ and ‘Walk the Line’ in Chinese – I can’t say that I would recommend watching Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman sing romantic songs in Mandarin.

Despite my amusements, I can’t complain. Never before have I watched or owned so many DVDs. In fact, before I moved to China, I didn’t own a single DVD. Now, with the very cheap prices for ‘genuine’ DVDs, I own well over 100. I may possibly need all these DVDs when I live on a ranch in the Rocky Mountains with nothing to do during the night times!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

The warm beer principle ......

Ice cold beer ...... a rarity in China!
"Can I please have a beer?"
"A cold beer please"
(odd stare and no comment)
A warm beer arrives.
This is an incredibly common conversation that foreigners have in China. The Chinese don't believe in drinking cold liquids, which is why you will find stores with fridges full of drinks but the fridge isn't turned on! In restaurants, you usually need to ask 2-3 times before you finally are able to get a cold beer. This applies to anything that needs to be done involving the assistance of a Chinese person. A friend christened this 'the warm beer principle' - unless you ask several times and talk the person through the task, you are likely to get a warm beer (or in other situations, a job half done or not done at all!) I don't think I will be having this problem now that I am home in the land of cold beer!
Fridge is full but nothing is cold

Friday, 25 December 2009

Holiday fun and passion ....

It's the holiday season and the weather is stunning, so everyone should be having fun and feeling a little bit passionate, so here is some encouragement from the Chinese Sex Culture Museum in Tongli, near Suzhou. The museum houses a range of interesting, quirky and downright funny displays, all to do with sex, something that the Chinese are not very public about. Many of the photos are too x-rated for the blog, but came with funny captions such as 'The only organ that can't be locked down' and 'Women's dependence'. Enjoy!
'Using penis for later generations'
'No hear, no look, no say for sex'
'Mother and child'
'Man and woman entwined'

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to everyone! I hope that everyone has enjoyed a relaxing day with family and friends. The Davidson family celebrated on Christmas Eve so today was a quiet day, just me and my little brothers hanging out which was lovely. It is hard to believe that it was only a year ago that I was eating yak cheesecake in Tibet and looking forward to my dream of visiting Mount Everest. I hope that everyone enjoys the rest of their Christmas day!
2008 Christmas in Tibet