According to many observers and analysts China's infrastructure is seen to be at least 30 years ahead of developing economies such as India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and most countries on the African Continent. Even though this fact may stand, and even though China's economy is booming at a dizzying pace, nevertheless it is still possible to come across areas where pockets of Chinese towns and cities have slums such as the one pictured in the eastern city of Suzhou.
The one thing that one may notice immediately is that the slums in most parts of China look rather like rundown European style homes that have huge piles of rubbish thrown on the doorstep (as opposed to a slum that one may see in the shanty towns of India, Africa and other 3rd world nations complete with metal corrugated iron roofs).
Most of the slum dwellers are construction workers who first build these temporary slums before they start construction on building sky scrapers. Most slums have electricity, proper sanitation (every home in China has a toilet- either a Chinese style or a Western style one), gas, and water (perhaps not clean water but it does the job).
The Chinese government has made great efforts to eliminate these slums from the map of the country forever, and has been successful in doing so. A perfect example of this was demonstrated during the Beijing 2008 Olympics when the Chinese government demolished thousands of slums around the city, replacing them with new flats and homes. In return the slum dwellers were provided with complimentary homes or large sums of cash.
One thing is for sure is that when you see how strong these slums are (in terms of the fragile infrastructure that withstands all kinds of weather), then you tend to admire human ingenuity much more. Thankfully for China, slums are becoming hard to find, and are in fact a dying breed. Let’s hope that it's only a matter of time when we shall start to see a similar trend in other developing nations so that one day poverty can for sure be turned into history.
You would assume that someone at the ripe old age of 101 would either be relaxing at home whiling away their time, or taking a stroll in the park. However, not for Fauja Singh (no relation to me) as the 101-year old legend is nothing short of an extraordinary human, and many people can certainly learn a few things or two from him. Fauja means Soldier in Panjabi language, and he stands by his name all the way! Singh, who started taking running seriously at the ripe old age of 89 years old after his son and wife passed away, holds UK records for the 200m, 400m, 800m, 1000m, and 3000m for his age group, records all set within a single 94-minute period. He attributes his physical fitness and longevity to abstaining from smoking and alcohol and to following a simple vegetarian diet.
On the 17th of October 2011, Fauja Singh amazed the world when he completed a 42-kilometre marathon at the Toronto waterfront to enter the Guinness Book of World Records. Setting a new record, he finished the Scotia bank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in eight hours, 11 minutes and 5.9 seconds and became the world’s oldest marathoner.
Yesterday, at the age of 101, Fauja Singh completed the 26.2 miles London Marathon. With this marathon, Fauja Singh has run eight marathons including the London and New York races. Prior to yesterday's race, the great man confirmed that he is retiring from major marathons, but will continue to do small runs (5km is ‘short’ by his standards).
Surely Fauja Singh's achievements must be accounted for as humankind's most remarkable feats. For his achievement NOT to be reported by some of the world’s major media outlets, the weekend newspapers, magazines, commercial radio, or television makes you wonder how myopic the global media really is. Beatles photos going on sale, ongoing election ramblings, hopeless espionage stories, hens laying 'eggless' chicks, and rockets by developing nations flying into space taking precedent. It’s just surprising how low media can be sometimes. It's completely diabolical.
My concerns are these:
1. Surprisingly it was NOT a story in many news services around the world except the BBC. Why? It beggars belief that major news outlets have room on their websites about princes joking on running at a marathon, or even about sharks and crocs being caught by someone…but nothing about a truly remarkable human being who through his actions is showing the world what great feats can be achieved when you put your heart and mind into something (and at that age as well)..
2. He is not some old aged pensioner from down the road - he is a respected and distinguished runner who has broken WORLD records. He has previously been featured alongside David Beckham, and Mohammad Ali on an Adidas advert.
3. He is a living inspiration for MILLIONS of people who dream to keep fit and live LONG through exercise and eating good food. How many 100-year old people do we know that can even run for 1 mile let alone for 26 MILES?!
4. This was his LAST major marathon, and a special one too because his inspiration for running came about by watching the London Marathon on television before he started running at the age of 89 years old. Again, question that lingers on many mouths is WHY was he not mentioned?
5. When Fauja Singh ran in the Hong Kong marathon earlier this year, even at that time the Hong Kong media did not report on his achievements.
Honestly? This man deserves more media attention than he gets. What exactly is going on in newsrooms when stories like this go amiss? What else are they missing at the weekends? Where's Rupert when you need his assistance?
Utterly shocking as it may seem, but yes, this restaurant in Suzhou sells donkey and horse sandwiches/burgers. While horsemeat is not available in most parts of China, the Chinese people generally accept it (and no, much to the stereotypes about Chinese culture around the world, it's not popular in this country!).
Nevertheless, China is officially the world's largest producer of horse/donkey meat with around 241,000 tonnes of the meat produced every year. Most of this produced meat is exported to Europe, or Central Asia. Apart from Suzhou, other parts of China where horse meat may be a delicacy includes Guangdong Province, Beijing, Hejian, Guilin, Baoding, and the city of Jinan (provincial capital of Shandong Province, China.
The people of the wonderful nation of Kazakhstan are the largest consumers of horse meat (even the much loved Borat adorns it!) as it's part of their daily diet. In Europe, major consumers include the Italians, French, and the people of Belgium.
I have never tried this meat (I don't have the stomach for such 'exotic' offerings), however, the restaurant owner told me that the meat tastes similar to a tough yet sweetened beef. So, next time when you are taking a stroll down the street in China, or enjoying a meal where you let your Chinese friends do the ordering, you may want to double-check that what you are eating is, in fact, what you think it is.
Maybe. A few days ago I had to be in Shanghai for an early morning meeting (9.30am is considered early when you are commuting in from 2nd tier cities such as Suzhou). For a trip that should have taken less than around 1 hour door-to-door from my home in Suzhou to the meeting room near Shanghai’s People's Square, it turned out to become a 3 hour frustrating slog because of the ever great Suzhou taxi which never arrived. In Suzhou (especially in the Suzhou Industrial Park (S.I.P.), expat area where I live), it is difficult to get taxis anytime of the day, and customers have to dial 67776777 to order a taxi. My frustration commenced at 6.30am and went on until 7.20am during which time I constantly kept on dialling the hotline number only for it to be 'busy' (read= nobody in the call operation room!). In the end I was left with no choice but to take a local bus to the train station (which also arrived late). The beauty of it all was that the bus not only cost a meagre 1RMB (as opposed to the 60RMB that would have cost in the taxi), but it also took only around 25 minutes to get to Suzhou Railway Station (taxi somehow does take longer even if I had taken one!). Suzhou is split into 3 major districts: Suzhou Industrial Park (S.I.P.), Suzhou New District (S.N.D.), and downtown Suzhou (which is busy, historically and culturally rich, and feels more like the real China). In this article I am referring to Suzhou SIP (and perhaps even SND) where the roads are new and just deserted for most of the time.
When it comes to poor provision of public transport in 2nd tier Chinese cities, then Suzhou is no exception. Some other Chinese cities where residents suffer similar situations include Hangzhou, Dalian, Tianjin, Ningbo, and Nanjing. The vast majority of Suzhou's residents either ride E-bikes, or they are rich enough to own cars (the former outnumbers the latter). It would be fair to say that the SIP area looks nothing short of being a ghost town for the majority of the day (and night!) with empty roads that have the occasional tractor or a person on an E-bike. The roads are wide and empty enough to land a small plane should you wish to do so, and there is hardly a whisker in sight!
The opening of the city's first metro line in the summer should make life easier for Suzhou's residents. However even when that is in operation it would be tricky because the metro line (there will only be one line to begin with) won't connect most of the focal points of the city including the city’s famous landmarks. For those connections, people would still have to dial the hotline number and hope that someone picks up the phone on the other side! Note that the operators only speak Chinese, so if you have not picked up enough Chinese yet, then learn how to order a taxi at least because it will become very useful should you start to live in a 2nd tier Chinese city.
I have had a few people asking me the question: How do pilots and ATC communicate over Chinese airspace? The answer is: In aviation English (which I will give an example of at the end of this blog article).
It is nothing new that most pilots operating on Chinese airlines cannot (with all due respect), speak good enough English (or none whatsoever in some cases). It would be true that the current and the future generation of Chinese pilots that are trained in Australia or the U.S.A. can converse in English, but those who are trained in China may not be able to converse in English (especially veteran pilots). The same goes for airline and military pilots from Japan, Korea, Russia, and other countries where English may not be widely used even as a second language. Having spoken to a few airline pilots from various international airlines such as Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, British Airways, and Emirates, the problems come about when pilots whose first language is English are trying to work out what is going on when they listen to the Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) transmissions over the airwaves. It certainly does not help if the local ATC and local pilots are communicating in Chinese rather than the international aviation language (i.e. English).
Captain Bill Johnson, who flies the Boeing 777-300ER says though the problem is a global one, it can be more problematic over Chinese airspace because of the seriousness of the language issues. 'When we are flying over Chinese airspace, more times than one we have to repeat everything to make sure that the Chinese ATC and other aircraft in the immediate airspace can understand what we are saying,' said Captain Johnson who has over 20 years flying experience.
‘The main difference between flying over China or Russia, and other parts of the world is that the measurements used by Chinese and Russian ATC and pilots are in meters. The metric altitudes translate into feet, and most airlines give pilots a conversion table. The metric altitudes translate into feet, and most airlines give pilots a conversion table,’ said Captain Johnson.
Captain Syed Abdul Aziz A. Rahman who flies the Airbus A340, told me that the Chinese and Russians have devised their own meters to feet conversion tables, which can be problematic if you have never flown into Russia or China. "Basically they have assumed that 300 meters = 1000 feet. Airlines have to then change it to their own specific standard operating procedure. The First Officer (or the Pilot not flying is most cases) reads the metric equivalent in feet which is then inputted into the FMS and altitude window by the Captain (or the Pilot who is flying) who also checks the ECAM ( Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitor) screen for agreement on both sides. The procedure, which takes around 5 minutes, finishes by both pilots agreeing visually and verbally," said Captain Rahman, a veteran with over 22 years flying experience. The checking procedure at the end is so important because otherwise pilots can have problems when flying over international airspace.
I fondly recall sitting in the jumpseat of a China Southern Airlines Boeing 757 from Guangzhou to Sanya where the captain hardly spoke a single word of English. He spoke some aviation language such as 'Standby', 'Affirmative', 'OK, China Southern 6748 climb to flight level 350'. But to my surprise some of the most important instructions were in Chinese, such as 'Cleared for take-off', 'Cleared to land', 'V1.....V2...Rotate' were all in Chinese! His English, with all due respect, was so limited that instead of telling me to wait he shouted aviation terms 'standby....standby!'. On that particular occasion even the First Officer could not communicate in normal English.
Captain Sheetal Rajan, a senior training Captain on the Boeing 747-400 with the Boeing company and CEO of 'Air Safety Equipment', says that even though the minimum required international standard for English is IACO Level 4 (which is equivalent to Level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)), he is still surprised that some pilots in places such as China and Russia tend to have a lower level of English than the international required standard. ‘I suppose they may just rely on using aviation English,’ says Captain Rajan.
Because of the amount of traffic in the skies and the quick turnaround time needed at airports for take-offs and landings, the vast majority of ATC around the world speak quickly (a crude example is the ATC at London Heathrow where a plane lands or take-offs EVERY 50 seconds or so!). In busy airspaces such as India and China it is no exception. Even a one minute delay in the aviation industry can end up costing hundreds of dollars, so ATC are always under pressure to make sure that planes get from A to B as safely and quickly as possible. With this in mind most of the ATCs whose first language is not English (i.e. Indians, Chinese, Thai, Russians etc.) tend to speak quickly to the pilots. However to eliminate confusion they have to repeat it twice over so that the pilots can understand what they are going on about. Unless, of course, there is not that much traffic around so then ATC can speak as clearly and slowly as possible (which is rare around busy airports such as Shanghai Pudong, Beijing etc.).
The skies over China can get ridiculously busy, and with the aviation industry seeing a fast growth in the country, it would only be time when Chinese pilots will need to start speaking fluent English.
Examples of aviation language:
Standby = please wait
Retard = Its an autothrottle callout during flare to retard the thrust levers (normally you hear the FMS say this 3 times….’Retard, retard, retard’)
Affirmative = OK,I understand
Flight Level 350 = 35,000 feet (similarly Flight Level 360 = 36,000 feet and so on)
Cleared for take-off/Cleared to land (easy to understand!)
Climb Up/Descend (easy to understand!)
Turn right heading 180 degrees/Turn left heading 180 degrees etc.
Speed back to 170knots (or 180 knots etc.)
The alphabet from A-Z is standard as with the police/fire/ambulance services (A= Alpha, B = Bravo, C= Charlie, D= Delta, E= Echo, F= Foxtrot, G= Golf, H= Hotel, I= India, J= Juliet, K= Kilo, L= Lima, M= Mike, N= November, O= Oscar, P= Papa, Q= Quebec, R= Romeo, S=Sierra, T=Tango, U=Uniform, V=Victor, W=Whiskey, X=X-ray, Y= Yankee, Z=Zulu !!)
Probably not. When the sun comes out you can guarantee that Chinese women will do whatever it takes to cover their face from the sun (even if it is a few degrees warm!). This includes carrying the umbrella, wearing a flamboyant hat (take note of the photo!), and/or applying lots of 'face whitening cream' as possible. The Asian fear is prevalent that the darker the skin the less beautiful you are, and in China it is no surprise to see that women will take all kinds of measures to make sure that they have that glittering shiny ‘white’ look. It’s also a socially status symbol thing for Asian women to must maintain as fair a skin as possible (i.e. their close circle friends will also look and comment on them should they have a slight whisker in sight of a tan on their face!). In China women also drink Collagen (naturally occuring proteins in mammals in skin tissue), and other similar products to make their skin more fair and shiny. I have overheard Chinese women gossip and say things like: ‘Oh my, you look so beautiful and white today!’, or worse enough ‘Oh dear, what happened to your face, why so dark today?’. The topic is considered a serious source of discussion for housewives around Asia.
On the other hand, in Asia, if a man carries an umbrella or applies any kind of lotion on their face to protect them from the sun then they are considered to be feminine (this includes sun lotion!). And if a man is accompanying his girlfriend or wife in hot weather then he must carry the umbrella for her otherwise he is not considered a gentleman (very true in China). This is perhaps one of the reasons why in most Asian countries you see lots of fair skinned ladies, whilst the men are darker skinned (more apparent in countries like India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, China, and others).
Social taboo it may be, but you can be sure that Asian women, such as the one in the photo, can enjoy being Daisy Werthan for as long as they can.
In the past three days, people here in China had the luxury of enjoying a national public holiday. These three days in China were known as the ‘Qing Ming Festival’. With a distinguished history of over 2,500 years, the focus of this 3-day festival is for Chinese people to pay respects to their ancestors by going to their places of burial. Pronounced ‘Ching Ming’ festival, the occasion is not much of a celebration but rather a time to reflect on the life of the ancestors. Traditionally, people place a whole rooster at the tombstone, or a bouquet of flowers to show respect. The rooster symbolizes prosperity and life. However, in these modern times people prefer to place various kinds of items such as fresh fruit for example, and even place the items on the tombs that would represent something associated with their loved one (it can be anything). The festival is formally known as the ‘Sweeping Tomb’ festival because people use the occasion to ‘sweep clean’ the tombs of their loved ones, and then they may place some burning incense sticks as well.
Today (4th April 2012) was the last day of the public holiday period, and people used the occasion to go for family picnics, fly some kites (very popular in China!), or just take a rest from the hectic Chinese workstyle. As with any major holiday in China, all the parks, shopping malls, roads, and places of interest were jam packed for these 3 days because everyone only has this golden period to take a break away from work (in China most companies only offer a maximum of 10 working days annual leave so it’s a very limited opportunity for the locals to take a well deserved break).
Though still slightly chilly, the weather here in Suzhou is getting warmer (albeit slowly). Suzhou residents must be glad to know that thankfully the horrible bone chilling Siberian cold weather has disappeared from China's eastern region. With that in mind, it’s the perfect weather to ride my e-bike along the empty streets of Suzhou SIP.
Meanwhile on the other side of the world (in the U.K., U.S.A., and all other Christian countries), it's Easter. One holiday in this country gives way to another holiday in other countries. Just like Christmas and the Western New Year, Easter is not celebrated as a public holiday in China. However, that said I am sure I'll enjoy a few chocolate eggs available in the expat shops and think of home, sweet home :-)
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