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China

To see the power of Twitter…

… follow the rumours about the assassination of Kim Jong-Un in Beijing.

Amazing.

In all likelihood untrue, but very demonstrative of the power of social media.

Me? I think he was scheduled to meet Harper but took the easy way out.

Da-da-dum!

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Trashy in China, 3.0 – a walk along the street

Went for a nice long-ish walk at lunch yesterday. It would have been nicer to have taken a longer walk than long-ish, but we really wanted to finish up the day as soon as was practicable. The beautiful weather here won’t last forever. As well, we Canucks know what the weather is like back home – where we’ll be heading toward tomorrow evening – and we want to squeeze in a little more time denying that the crappy weather will soon be de rigeur

On my walk, I took some pics.

I start in the cafeteria where we have our lunch each day. Decorative, isn’t it?

This is the hotel is the site where Richard Nixon’s famous 1968 trip to China took place.

It is located beside a beautiful forest on ginkgo trees is their full yellow fall colours… breath taking! I love the reds of the maple, but these yellows were brilliant!

Who’s that dapper young guy?

Common way to get around in these parts… but even in the short time I have been coming to China, I notice that there are fewer of these and more cars.

So what could this poor guy be carting on this bike? Styrofoam!

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Trashy in China, 3.0 – How about that full employment, eh?

China, being a centrally controlled economy that is big on international stature and status, pursues a policy of full employment – jobs for all! This would be almost impossible to pull off in a state that does not have central control mechanisms that micromanages the finest aspects of the Chinese economy. This is not a judgement, but a fact. In Canada, for example, the unemployment rate (the percentage of those who were actively looking for work but not yet employed) has been in the high single digits / low double digits for quite a few years. There is a “natural” level of unemployment in a western-style economy. For example, there are those who are in between jobs – folks who have found jobs but not yet started. Plus there are those who enter the work force (e.g., graduates) and who have yet to find employment.

But that does not seem to be the case in China. Almost everyone has a paying job.

But how?

For one, the Chinese impose mandatory military service that takes care of a good chunk of the younger portion of the population. Plus, their standing military is another huge job bank. You can see this on the streets of Beijing. Groups of military personnel are often seen in formation on the streets, performing guard duty outside government installations and in numerous other roles around the urban area.

The police force as well is a huge source of jobs. Police officers are pretty much omnipresent. On every major corner, in and around stores and markets, doing a sidewalk beat – they are a very visible presence here. And I suppose that is why this City is one of the safest – if not the safest outright – large cities on the planet. I as a foreigner am rarely ill at ease on almost any street in night-time Beijing.

But where else are jobs created in order to achieve the goal of full employment? Some of the common jobs are a bit surprising and are not found in Canada. For example:

  • The vast army of street sweepers, garden tenders, waste collectors… just as omnipresent as the police force
  • You want service at a restaurant? How about anywhere from 3-6 servers assigned to your table of 6 diners? Usually all that is needed is a nod and instant presto! Anything you need is brought to the table! And don’t worry about tipping – not allowed here.
  • The traffic and bus herders… men and women wearing orange hats stand guard at street corners directing pedestrians and at bus stops ensuring that transit riders board their buses in an orderly fashion… nice straight and orderly queues!
  • Stores in Canada are often the subject of criticism due to their lack of staff on the floor… not here! Go into a supermarket and show an interest in something on the shelf and watch how fast someone comes running to see if you need any help. Canadian Tire, eat your heart out!

Plus there are the masses employed in the stalls of the markets, selling DVDs or socks on street corners (the Sock Lady is actually as real pain for us), the girls serving us tea in the meetings, the lady who pours us a Coke at lunch… I could go on…

There IS the odd instance of an impoverished person – presumably unemployed. But it seems staged by the authorities as if to say: “Look… we have social problems too!” This person – or sometimes a family – can sometimes be seen sitting or kneeling on a sidewalk, eyes cast downward as if in shame, with sometimes a written plea for (presumably) help in front of them.

All in all – interesting to see from a Westerner’s perspective!

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Trashy in China 3.0 – around the ‘hood…

An interesting thing about Beijing is that no matter where you may be, there is an oasis of relative tranquility nearby. The neighbourhood around the Jianguo Hotel is a good example.

The hotel is located directly on Beijing’s main thoroughfare, Jianguomenwai Da Jie. The 8 lane “street” bisects the city on the east/west axis. Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are smack in the middle while our hotel lies about 5 km to the west. Five kilometers =40 minutes travel time in this car-loving city (I read in the China Daily yesterday that an average of 1,900 new cars are sold every day in the City!).

All along Jianguomenwai are huge skyscrapers.  Yeah, huge. The footprint of one of these complexes would approximate the same footprint made by all of the towers on Ottawa’s Queen Street.

And it’s crazy busy. Tens of thousands of bikes, cars, trucks, buses and bodies. You have to see it to believe it. And you have to be VERY careful crossing the street. Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way and a car will NOT stop for you. Ever. Picture Stephen King’s “Christine”.  Now picture 10,000 Audis, Mercedes, rickshaws, motorcycles and bikes. Get the image?

But away from all of this is a little place called Ritan Park within which is the temple of the Sun. I was commenting to a colleague on the weekend about the lack of children in the area. Well, I found them. They were all at the park playing games or spending a quiet Sunday afternoon with their parents or grandparents.

There were old men playing cards or some ilk of a checkers game. Others were playing musical instruments and others were practicing Tai Chi. All very refreshing for the mind and the mood.

Oh, and the last one is for Torii.

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Trashy in China, 3.0 – Food! Glorious food!

Happy Halloween everyone!

Topmost of any discussion during our days in Beijing is the question of where to eat that night. Beijing offers a multitude of epicurean choices that cross-cut regions and cultures. No need to ever eat at the same place twice (though we do).

The other night was no exception.

Century eggs. Had ’em at one of our fave duck haunts the other night. And as disgusting as the idea might be, they were actually pretty tasty!

And these were made from yams and sugar. What great presentation!

Last night was dinner at a very good Indian spot just around the corner from the hotel and tonight we may be stopping at a bar high above the Forbidden City. It supposedly has an awesome view and – as a bonus point – serves cocktails made with Baijiu.

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Trashy in China, 3.0 – The Summer Palace

Took an amazing trip today to one of the places in Beijing I had yet to experience – the Summer Palace.

Located in the northern-west part of the city, the Summer Palace is a UNESCO world heritage site that was first established in 1750 during the Qing Dynasty. Most of the grounds are comprised of the beautiful Kunming Lake upon which pedal boats scurry about. There is a very long boardwalk, an amazing pillar bridge and dozens of breathtaking buildings. The colours are so vivid and the architecture is awesome!

And today, I shared this experience with three of my colleagues and about 150,000 other close companions. It was a busy and beautiful Saturday in China’s capital.

But what a BEAUTIFUL day! I have not yet seen such blue skies and clear air. It was a bit of a taxi ride – about an hour (cost – about $15! What would that set you back in Ottawa? More than a C-note, I’d guess!) – but the ride was worth it.

Take a look for yourself. If you ever happen to be in this part of the world, I would definitely recommend this locale!

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Trashy in China, 3.0 – First full day = zombie day!

I have gotten used to the fact that the first full day in China is spent in a state of semi-consciousness. The 12 hour difference kicks in an you spend the afternoon waiting for bedtime. Usually I come over 2 days before the meetings are set begin to give our bodies one day of acclimatization so we are in a bit better shape when we have to work.

Of course, due to the election, I flew in here on Wednesday afternoon with the meetings starting this morning at 9 am… so no down-time.

I was surprisingly better that I had expected until 3 pm hit and I felt like I was in a real bad dream where I was being forcibly kept awake in a dimly lit, poorly ventilated meeting room as a form of torture for losing the election. And everyone was speaking Chinese!

But I made it through the wall and was actually sort of productive.

By the time I actually got back to my room, I was starting to wake up cuz the ol’ natural rhythms were saying “yo! it’s morning!”

I hate those natural rhythms.

So, as I was waking up quite nicely, I hit the Silk Market to order  few shirts. Of course the very persuasive sales girl tried to sell me three suits, 2 pants and a tie in a pear tree – but I wouldn’t bite… want to see how much cashola I have left after I buy shoes, purses and what not.

Then it was off to my fave Szechuan resto on the planet – South Beauty. Hmmm… spicy lamb chops, tofu made at the table, chicken and peppers… hmmmm… Eat yer heart out Joe!

Tomorrow is the traditional banquet – which were told is a “surprise” this time. Not sure if I should be looking forward to this or to assume a fetal position in a far corner of my room.

I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, enjoy your morning / afternoon / evening!

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Trashy in China, 3.0 – Back in the Middle Kingdom

So here we go again…

I felt and feel horrible about the timing of the trip this time around as I left the morning after the election and the RLG was obliged to drive around Ottawa picking up the election signs – have to be removed within 48 hours, doncha know.

I’m not entirely sure what recourse the City would take if they found a sign outside of the time frame… maybe send out a crew of 4 to remove it and then bill me? Yikes!

In any case, the timing did suck and I owe big time! I’ll be doing the single-Daddy thing for a week later in November, but 5 nights versus 10 nights? No comparison.

It’s 2:57 am as I’m writing this as the usual time zone zaniness kicks in. Went to bed early so i did have a pretty good sleep, but if don’t sneak in another 2 or three hours, I’ll be wiped by tonight… especially after a full day of meetings.

The trip over went pretty smooth. The flight from Ottawa to Vancouver was turbulent, but I’ve seen worse. And the leg to Beijing was uneventful save for the jerk behind me who kept opening his window shade while I was trying to nap!

I think the shopping segment of the trip will commence tonight. On my list are shoes and a purse for my RSD/Campaign Manager, a purse for T, and Xmas gifts for the kiddies. I’ll also snag a new leather jacket for myself if the price is right… and of course the obligatory tailor made shirts, pants and maybe a suit for me!

If you have read any of my posts from earlier trips to China, you will know that while I , in general, despise shopping, I love it here!

On tap for the weekend… up in the air, but there was some talk last night over dinner (which was yummy and so inexpensive – I never get over the price of food here!) about a trip to the Summer Palace – haven’t seen that yet. I’d also like to get to Mao’s tomb if there is time.

OK – back to bed… nite-nite.

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Thanks to all 4,462 of you!

So OK, this isn’t the post I was hoping to out up the day after the vote, but I am proud nonetheless.

I gave her a run for her money and while I truly thought I had a shot, it was not to be. This time.

Will there be a next time? I don’t know. It really depends on what the Board and Ms. Funiciello do over the next few years. I will be watching them closely.

What will I do between now and 2014?

Well, I will stay involved in child and education related groups and follow the issues (e.g., integration of Early Learning into our schools). I am going to integrate more discussions of these issues into Trashy’s World.

I am going to involve myself even more in the comings and goings of my local community. One thing that this campaign has taught me is that I have missed the political side of community involvement and will be engaging even more intensively over the next while.

So watch for me… I’m not going away.

Bronwyn – congratulations. You ran the campaign well and you earned the win… and it was nice meeting you. It is clear that public education is as important to you as to me, but heed the sentence above. I’m in this for the long haul. I will commend you when earned and will criticise when warranted.

Mohamoud – great meeting you too. You bring a lot to the table and I sincerely hope our paths cross again.

Aside from the 4,462 voters of Zone 6 who voted for me, I need to thanks some folks who made this possible. Politics is really a team game and without a good team, success is difficult.

  • All who volunteered their lawns to be the home of an advertisement for yours truly.
  • The friends and family who took time out of their own busy lives to go door-to-door for me. I appreciate your commitment and I will never forget this. Ever.
  • Riley Brockington – thank you for your advice and your confidence. It was and is appreciated. Too bad about EMC screwing up and putting the ad in the WRONG paper!
  • The other Trustees and Trustee candidates who gave me encouragement and advice. I will not forget who you are. And that goes also to the Council and Mayoral candidates who I had the pleasure to meet.
  • All of the folks in the Twitterverse who provided me with endless entertainment, valuable information and a good belly laugh or three.

And most importantly… my family, who has put up with me over the past few months.

  • Steve, Stella and Vicky for helping out in an amazing way! Steve and Stella actually drove from Montreal on the first day of my campaign just to hand out flyers for a few hours!
  • My daughter and son, Addy and Owen (6 & 3), were my War Room coordinators…. stapling business cards on to flyers and cutting out other promo materials.  They have delved into this like a couple of political hacks!
  • My 17 yr old daughter Torii, who has always amazed me with her personality and confidence, but I never imagined her being an eager canvasser! She took to it like a fish to water. Thanks Bubba! You earned a nice gift from China.
  • And the biggest thank-you goes to my beautiful, talented and incredibly organised wife, Colleen. She was simply amazing through all of this. Picked me up when I was down, kicked me out the door when I didn’t really feel like hitting the sidewalks and most of all – kept my head in check.  Those of you who have run in campaigns know what I mean when I say that the full committment of one’s spouse is essential. Without it, you might as well forget running. Colleen’s support was over the top. And guess what she is doing today? As I am on my way to Beijing on a business trip (I’m writing this in the lounge of the Vancouver airport), she is driving around Zone 6 picking up signs.

Are we up to 3 pairs of shoes and a girls’ weekend, honey?

That’s all I have to say for now. I think I’ll be taking Trashy’s World in a bit of a different direction anyhow… less Hill-centric and more local-centric. I was tiring of criticising Harper and the gang… though, if he deserves it, I’ll be there!

So that’s about it for the election for now. When I return from my trip, I will be offering up some observations about the Ottawa municipal election.

The next post I will be penning will be a continuation of my travel posts – Trashy in China.

OCDSB Zone 6

Total %
Number of Polls/Nombre de bureaux de scrutin 76
Polls Reporting/Bureaux de scrutin rapportés 76 100.0%
Total Votes/Total des votes 13127 4
Mohamoud Abdulle 1311 9.99%
Bronwyn Funiciello 7354 56.02%
John Marshall 4462 33.99%

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Trashy in China.2, Day 9

As I did on my last voyage to the Middle Kingdom, the post written on my last day consists of a miscellany of random thoughts thunk and observations made over the past little while.

Driving: After my 120 km/h cab ride down Conroy on the way to the airport, I shouldn’t really be too critical of Beijing drivers. In fact, I admire them! They drive like rabid maniacs – but controlled rabid maniacs. I have yet to see an accident on the main thoroughfare between the hotel and the building where the meeting are held. And when you realise that in a driving environment where a near miss is when two fenders only just brush against each other at 80 klicks, there are very few dented bumpers or others signs of collision – well, that’s pretty good!! In fact, 99% of the vehicles are in immaculate shape. No rust, of course – no salt and little rain. But the overall shape of Beijing’s vehicle fleet puts that of any North American fleet to shame.

Food: Again, I am obsessed by and impressed by the variety and quality of the food here. There really is something for everyone, though if you are a vegetarian, your chances are a bit more limited. And cheap! My colleague and I grabbed a simple dinner at a noodle place behind the hotel and the grand total was 62 Yuan – about 9 bucks… beer, noodles and dumplings included…

However, I think that like at home, when in Rome, don’t eat Greek. Would you order a Chinese stir-fry from a road house? No, right? You order a burger and fries. or maybe fish and chips. It’s something they know and likely do fairly competently.

That being said, I’ll maybe grab a slice of pizza for lunch before the bus comes to fetch us tomorrow afternoon. I’m told that it’s pretty good!

The Built Environment: I think I noted last time that everything here is so damned over-the-top BIG! And much of it is visually appealing from an aesthetic standpoint… at least in my uninformed opinion.

To the Chinese, image is paramount. So much so that functionality might be surpassed by appearance. But man, they are really good at appearances. About 3/4 the way up a 50-odd story building on the side of the street across from the hotel a square concave area of about 30m by 30m that actually changes colour somehow.

The Language Barrier: This is huge. Yes, one’s lack of knowledge of Chinese can be largely supplemented by the use of sign language and pointing, but the language barrier does come into play every single day.

This is apparent at the market while negotiating a price. But most of the salesfolks with whom I have interacted have had a passable version of English – at least enough to haggle. But it is a different case when engaged in complex and technical negotiations. We use interpreters, yes, and they seem to be very good at what they do. Yet from time to to time, I get the sense that something is being lost in the translation.

Negotiating: Remember the Ferengi from the old Star Trek series (I forget which one)? They were masters of negotiations and unabashed embracers of the the profit motive as a basis for every day to day decision. Now imagine those ugly, big eared Ferengis as cute little Chinese sales girls. And yes, they are 95% women. THAT is what you deal with when negotiating a price for a given good in one of the markets. You are flattered, smiled at, and cooed to. The price starts at something outrageous, makes a quick nosedive after initial resistance and then you haggle over the last 20% or so. Depending on what kind of money you’re talking about, the 20% may be worth dickering over, or not. Twenty percent of a 50 Yuan gap is only a coupla bucks.

For example – here’s how it went for my custom-made pants:

Start – 350

Me – 100

Them – 250

Me – 150

Them – 200

Me – I started to walk out, then she grabbed my arm and said 175. To which I countered 165. And we were done. That’s about 24 bucks. And it all took about 5 minutes. Not bad.

That’s all from China this time around. I’ll likely pen the next post on the flight to Vancouver and publish it while in the airport lounge.

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