China Visit May 2016: blog update 9

May Trip 2016 China Update No 9: by Tricia Johnston

Today, 1st June, I left Nanjing on the 11.00am train and was in my hotel in Shanghai by 1.30pm, such is the joy of the express trains to/from Nanjing and Shanghai. These trains run very frequently (there can be as many as 11 per hour) but are always full. It’s incredible. My hope that Nanjing would allow passengers to access their trains 30 minutes before departure (as we did in Beijing) came to nothing. Ticket barriers still opened only 15 minutes before the train left which didn’t give much time for hundreds and hundreds of people to get to the train which can be some way away. We were on Platform 9 which was a little walk away and then the escalator brought us level with Coach 14, I was in Coach 1!! Boarded the train with not a lot of time to spare.

While waiting at the station an announcement came over the PA system marking National Children’s Day. It ended by saying that they wished all the children ‘good study and health’!!

I never thought I’d say this but June 1st in Shanghai is chilly!!! It’s cool, wet and windy. When I look out of my hotel room I could be in Scotland except, of course, for all the towering high rise buildings. Don’t know why I’m moaning, Hong Kong is, apparently, blistering.

The last time I was in China I was hearing about how the Government had cracked down on the number of official dinners, banquets, conferences (in top hotels) etc. This not only cut out a huge perk for officials, it has also cost businesses millions of RMB. This time I was hearing that all but the most senior provincial and national leaders have had their official cars taken away from them. They are now given a travel allowance but need to use taxis, trains, buses for official business – and don’t have their official cars to hand for personal usage!!

There are a group of people in China called the ‘overnight poor’. These are people who have been financially secure, may have owned their own properties, businesses etc but now, through serious illness to themselves or a loved one, have lost all their financial resources. Medical insurance payments have a ceiling and also don’t cover all treatments. If someone has, for instance, a stroke, cancer, cardiac problems, requires extensive rehabilitation after a road traffic accident then the family will almost certainly have to pay for a considerable amount of the treatment/hospital stay out of their own pockets. Once they have used up their own resources they may have to go to relatives to ask for further assistance. It is absolutely devastating for all concerned.

As I come towards the end of this trip I can’t help but think of all the very generous hospitality I have received. It never fails to amaze me how Chinese colleagues and friends go to extraordinary lengths to make me feel comfortable, welcome and valued. I mentioned right at the start that in Jinan Christina had searched high and low for somewhere that served guotie because, in a conversation we had had in Scotland, I’d said it was a favourite Chinese food. Wang Yumei, in Shenyang, always orders lamb and beef dishes for me because she knows they are my favourite, even although she doesn’t like them. When I was at the Ren Gu Home for the Elderly, yesterday, 2 Amity staff who had been in Scotland (through the SCCG) last year brought in some Scottish Blend Teabags they had bought so that I would feel ‘at home’. Finally, at supper last night with the Care of the Elderly staff team they all travelled 30 minutes, in the opposite direction from their homes, just to accompany me to my hotel and then made the hour long journey back out to the suburbs! The restaurant where we had supper was equidistant from my hotel and their homes and I offered to take a taxi to save them all that hassle, but they wouldn’t hear of it. The generosity and graciousness is really touching and humbling.

Best wishes, Tricia