China Visit, May 2016: 2

May 2016 China Update No 2: by Tricia Johnston

Not a bad night’s sleep for the 1st night while still adjusting to the seven-hour time difference.

The taxi journey to the British Council offices takes about 20 minutes and a couple of (very) near misses! Many Chinese passengers will sit in the front seat of the taxi alongside the driver. There is no way I’m sitting there and getting a clearer view of what is going on.

I’ve discovered that there are two ladies rugby teams in Beijing and that a competition for teams from around China was held in Guangzhou this weekend. I’m not sure why I find the idea of ladies rugby being played in China surprising, but I do.

The meeting with Generation UK – China Network staff went well and there are a number of options the SCCG can follow up on re offering internships in China. One main concern though is getting visas as there is no specific ‘intern’ visa and the role of the intern falls outside the other visa categories.

On coming out of the British Council offices (shortly before 1.00pm) the sun still hadn’t broken through. It was warm and muggy and the sky was like a thick, grey blanket covering the city.

The journey to Beijing South Train Station was another interesting mix of alternating traffic jams and wide open stretches that are sped along. I’ve never been to the South Station – it is huge. From the one way road that pointed to Waiting Area to the front of the station took 10 minutes there were so many cars, taxis and people carriers dropping folks off.

Inside the station airport style security is in place. You don’t have to take laptops etc out of your case but they do need to go through a security scanner and each passenger is also scanned. I had already bought my ticket online and only had to pick it up – easier said than done. There were 13 counters where tickets could be bought or collected and every single one of them was shut to facilitate a shift change. It took about 10 minutes for that to happen which wouldn’t have been so bad had the inside of the station not been like a sauna.

Having collected my ticket one really positive point was that we were allowed to make our way to the train 30 minutes before departure. Very often passengers are not allowed through the ticket barrier until 10-15 minutes before their train leaves. This has always struck me as an accident waiting to happen as it means there are hundreds of passengers all trying to get (usually downstairs) to their platform in a very short space of time. It will be interesting to see if Nanjing Train Station has changed its policy.

The bullet train would take 1 hr 39 mins to cover the 500 kilometres (approx) between Beijing and Jinan and I was travelling First Class – for £30.00!! Very posh it was too! There were only 5 seats in the First Class compartment and even that seemed to be divided into First Class and First Class+! The 2 ‘First Class+’ seats were single ‘bucket’ type seats with their own reading light.

As we travelled south east to Jinan the sky got heavier and the smog more visible.

Christina met me at the train station and we headed to the hotel, a very up market hotel however China’s ability to surprise me struck again! There were three Reception Desks and on each one there was a TV screen showing a fashion show from 2003. The fact that it was a 13 year old fashion show wasn’t the issue; the fact that many of the models were topless or wearing sheer, see through dresses, tops was!! The Chinese are so modest in so many ways yet time and time again you get these situations that contradict that. For example, there are many little newspaper/magazine booths on the streets and they will have general magazines side by side with what we would consider to be ‘top shelf’ magazines – all at eye level. And here we had it again with the fashion show being considered suitable viewing for folks of all ages and both genders standing at the desk to check in or out!

This is my first time in Jinan and it is a real mixture of the old and the new. There are the vast areas of high rise blocks of flats but it was nice to see the ‘old’ style streets with the numerous little shops and alleyways running off to the sides.

The evening was spent at a welcoming dinner with folks from Shandong Christian Council and Shandong Seminary. Christina had remembered, from a conversation we had in Scotland, that I liked ‘Gong Bao Ji Ding’ – chicken with peanuts, chillies and other veggies. Towards the end of the meal, a plate of this was served with everyone looking to me to get through this – everyone else was very reluctant to take any as it was ‘especially for the guest’. I really like Gong Bao Ji Ding, but a whole plateful to myself?!!!!!

Best wishes, Tricia