I used to know Gavin in London, where he worked as an EMT before returning to his native New Zealand. He has been in touch recently, and sent me this short guest post about his trip to Samoa.
A decade ago I visited Samoa, a four hour plane ride from New Zealand, to visit the place where my mum and dad met. That story is interesting. Dad was an armed NZ policeman during WW2 and mum a NZ nurse. On arrival, dad had to line up to get his vaccination and mum gave it – literally I’m the prick as a result.
The Samoans have no armed forces. The church protects them.
Gavin’s father in 1982, and Gavin at the same spot in 2012.
I got the clear message that China was muscling in back then. They had paid for a hospital, provided new ambulances (over NZ second hand ones) and proposed to build a deep water port and lengthen the runway. It was obvious to me why. But the world stood unconcerned.
The South Pacific spans over 15% of the world’s surface with a small population spread over many sovereign nations, some French, some New Zealand including being in the British Commonwealth – such as Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, Solomons, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and technically New Zealand. If the 2 ice caps melt much more, then the Pacific will rise and flood these nations out of existence. Many of these islanders are moving to New Zealand now – look at the make up of our All Blacks team. The west has done nothing because it doesn’t learn about the Pacific at school.
China has just done a full security deal with the Solomons, including providing their police force. This is a total threat to neighbour Australia. Like a pack of cards, China has today signed a deal with Samoa and Fiji. The rest will follow. Plus of course getting Taiwan back.
China has clear intentions of establishing multiple air and sea bases in the Pacific. Ironically, while Britain had no maritime air patrol from 2010 to 2020, Canada, Australia and New Zealand did the patrolling for Britain. Britain may have to return the favour.
This is a re-post of the second part of my visit to China in 2000.It is a long post, at 2,900 words.
By the end of the first week, I had more unusual experiences to recount. I had been for a meal in a Turkish restaurant, in China! It was different, to say the least, being served traditional Turkish fare, by Chinese waiters and waitresses. They even had the large Shisha pipes available, as well as totally authentic coffee. If it had not been for the staff, and the view from the window, we might well have been in Ankara. We had also been out with the previously mentioned hedonist, the Turkish friend, businessman, and ‘diplomat’. I got the feeling that he was a shady character, underneath his urbane, party-going exterior. If Turkey has the equivalent of the CIA, I would bet my car he was in it.
We went to his large house for drinks, before going out to eat. He had a ‘houseboy’, and other servants, and I was amazed at his ability to drink huge amounts of whisky without any apparent affect on his demeanour. He then took the whole group of us to a Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant, in a very smart area of the city. This was a really exclusive place, and served delicious food cooked in front of you, on sizzling griddles. I ate until I burst, as everything was so tasty. At the end of the night, this unusual man covered the whole bill, for everyone. When we left, he invited us to accompany him to a bar the following week, and my friend accepted on our behalf.
The weekend excursion was arranged through the Turkish Embassy, a family trip by small coach, to last all day Sunday, and including lunch. We left the apartment early, to get to the embassy by taxi for 8am. There was a group of around ten people there already, and I was introduced all round, instantly forgetting everyone’s name. I was also told the name of the place we were going to; a park in the hills, with amusements for the children, scenic views and country walks, and a hilltop restaurant. They had been before, as it was a popular summer day out for the more affluent Chinese, as well as foreign residents. I had forgotten the name of it, so looked it up; Muianyu. This is now called The Great Wall Slide, as on the way down, you can see a section of the Wall, at some distance. It was not called this when I went there, at least I don’t remember that.
This place is about fifty miles outside Beijing, so we got to see some countryside at last. On arrival, we went up the hillside on a cable car, that was a bit like a ski lift. The restaurant at the top was basic, but we had a lunch booked, and enjoyed a set meal in excellent weather. The small rides and amusements were very old-fashioned, and only for smaller children. I don’t think that they are there anymore. We walked around a bit, but did not get close enough to the Wall, as we had not arranged to go to this section. For our group, the attraction (apparently) was the ride back down the hillside, on the famous slide.
This is more like a toboggan run, the sort you see in the Olympics, though more sedate. That said, it does reach a fair speed at times, and the individual toboggans are supplied with a large brake lever, to slow you down. I was encumbered with an enormous, overstuffed camera bag, that I had to wedge in between my legs. I cannot recall seeing any of the Wall at any time on the way down, as I was preoccupied with not crashing into the rider in front. I did enjoy it, but this was marred to some degree by getting covered in thick grease from the brake gears. As this sounds a little crazy, I have included a video clip from You Tube, showing what it is like. It takes over five minutes to descend, and it seems a long time, as you are clattering down.
The next week started with a suggestion that I ought to arrange some trips for myself, as my friends were busy for a couple of days. I went over to one of the big hotels, and asked about a trip to the Great Wall at Badaling, and the Ming Tombs combined. I was assured that it would be a small group, only ten people, and we would have an English-speaking guide. It would last all day, from 7am, and lunch would be provided, with an afternoon stop for refreshments too. At less than $30US, I thought it was OK, so booked up for the following day. I had an early start, and met my group outside the hotel. I was the only English person, along with two Japanese, three French people, and four Chinese tourists, from other parts of China.
The minibus headed out of the city for the long trip ahead, and I got to see more of the China I had anticipated. Small villages, roadside shops and stalls, and a look at the agricultural lands outside the built-up areas. It was very hot, and I started to feel a little unwell. The rich food, heavy drinking, and constantly being on the move, was getting to me a bit. By the time we arrived at the Ming Tombs, I was not feeling too good. I told the guide to go in without me, and waited in the shade, with a cold drink from the cafeteria there. I was sorry to miss it, after coming all this way, but I had nobody to support me, and felt that I might pass out, or disgrace myself by being sick. I had to content myself with a wander around the edges, and some of the sights there. It proved to be a wise move, as by the time they got back, I was re-hydrated, and feeling much better.
We pushed on to The Great Wall, and it was worth the effort. This was a section that I had not seen on TV travel shows, and consisted of small forts, or bastions, connected by long stretches of the Wall. I was unprepared for both the sheer scale of it, and also the incredible steepness of the stepped sections. After being shown around some of the first parts, we went for lunch in a lovely old building, with an airy terrace where we could get some relief from the 38 degree heat and humidity. The guide then told us that we had two hours to explore, before leaving on the journey home.
I suffered badly, mainly from taking too much camera kit. My large Billingham bag was stuffed to capacity. I had three camera bodies, five lenses, a flash, two power winders, as well as an assortment of accessories, filters, and ten rolls of film. In the heat, on the near vertical steps, it became very difficult to manage. Ironically, I shot almost every picture with a Canon T90, on a 24mm wide-angle lens. I could just as well have left everything else behind, and I was taught a valuable lesson that day. The Wall was a sight to behold. It stretched as far as the eye could see. At one stage, I put a 400mm telephoto on the camera, with a x2 converter, just to see how far it went. I needn’t have bothered, as I later realised that it followed the contours of the hills and mountains for hundreds of miles of course.
I had to keep resting, because of the heat, and also from searching for photo opportunities that didn’t show too many other tourists, which was difficult. When it was time to leave, I was very pleased that I had seen it, as there could be nothing like this anywhere else on the planet. The afternoon stop was at a cafe that was part of a shopping ‘opportunity’, somewhere that sold expensive Jade souvenirs, and other carved items. I didn’t buy anything, but presumed that the guide must be on commission, as he tried so hard to get us to purchase things.
The rest of the evening at the flat was very peaceful, with a visit from another Turkish diplomat who came for dinner. After he left, we spent some of the time on the small balcony, getting the cooler air, and drinking Jack Daniels, chatting about the old days in London. When I went to bed, I put on the noisy but welcome air-conditioning unit, and slept like a baby.
I decided to stay in the city for my next trip, which was to be to the Temple of Heaven. Situated in a large park in the Chongwen district, this was about as far from my friend’s place as you could get, so I decided to take a taxi. I showed the driver a picture of the temple, from a tour leaflet, and he took me straight to the entrance. I bought a ticket to go in, and looked at a map on a board there. I suddenly realised that the place was vast, and actually covers an area larger than the Forbidden City. There are various temples, including the iconic building seen in so many photos of Beijing. The grounds are full of the most amazing trees, and it is all very peaceful there, despite a considerable number of tourists. I spent a couple of hours there, taking in the most impressive sights. I could easily have stayed the whole day, as there was so much to see.
Opposite the gate was a modern indoor market, full of local people shopping. I crossed the road, and went inside, finally coming face to face with real life in China. There were no tourists or foreigners there, and no prices or signs in other languages. The sights, sounds and smells were wonderful, and I saw everything for sale, from strange live amphibians (for eating), to jewellery. I bought a small piece of jade jewellery as a gift, once again bargaining with the help of an electronic calculator.
Leaving the market by a different entrance, I resolved to walk back, at least to see how far I got. I had travelled from east to south-west in the city, so I reasoned that a right turn would do to start with. I was soon wandering inside the fascinating Hutong district. This quarter had remained unchanged for hundreds of years. The Hutongs were small dwellings, with outside taps, shared toilets, and no bathrooms. The families lived in one or two rooms, in a communal fashion. Were it not for the modern clothes, I felt that I could have been wandering around in the seventeenth century. People looked at me suspiciously, unused to tourists.
Before the Olympics, eight years later, the government demolished many of these dwellings, and forcibly re-housed the occupants. They did not want the outside world to think that people still lived that way, in modern China. Some remain, and are now a tourist attraction. I walked around a large area, as I was no longer carrying all my camera gear, having restricted myself to one camera, and one lens for the day. I did get a bit lost, but in a good way, as I later found myself out on the main thoroughfare again, approaching Tianenmen Square from the west. It was more by luck than judgement though, I am sure. By the time I arrived back, I had been walking all day, including the trip home from the park, which took just under three hours. I was pleased with myself though, as I had got off the tourist trail and managed to find my way around, unable to ask for help from anyone.
Other trips that week included the TV tower, a very high building affording great views over the whole city, and a trip to a different market, a special souvenir market, run by local people selling lots of interesting memorabilia from the Maoist era. I did buy a fair bit of stuff, including a classic ‘Mao’ hat, a ‘little red book’ in Chinese, and a nice assortment of posters and painted ceramics. I had to leave it at that, as I needed to cram all this extra stuff into my suitcase.
We then went out for the evening trip with the Turkish diplomat, arranged the previous week. It was just the three men, and we started off once again with drinks at his house. He then took us to the Sanlitun district, where I had been during the day. At night it was very different, with flashy bars and night clubs, all catering to well-off foreigners, and the more affluent Chinese. He was well-known everywhere, and relished his popularity. This was soon evident, when he was draped in a couple of Mongolian prostitutes, within minutes of arrival. I declined the offers of some of their friends. I wasn’t being prudish, I just found them unattractive; their gaudy make-up, and incredibly flat faces didn’t ring my bell. They did seem very popular with most of the men there though, and I was told that they were ‘incredibly good value’.
My friend and I spent most of the evening buying pirate DVD films from vendors who came into the bars. They had every film imaginable, and at $1US each, I couldn’t resist. Most of them played well when I got them back to London, though the three rows of subtitles, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Indonesian, did get wearing, after a while. We eventually left the mysterious Turk alone with his girls, and got a taxi home. I didn’t see him again, and I wasn’t sorry. Despite his generosity, I felt uneasy around him.
Before departing for home, my friend’s Chinese boss insisted on taking us out for dinner. She viewed me as a kind of visiting dignitary, and despite telling her that I was only a Paramedic in London, in a very normal job, she seemed to imagine I was some sort of government executive. Anyway, her sense of hospitality would not allow her to let my visit go uncelebrated. She took us to the famous duck restaurant, Quanjude. Arranged over seven floors, and able to seat 2,000 diners at a time, this is one of the most famous restaurants in China. With the menu in Chinese, she ordered for all of us, telling me that we would have numerous courses, which would all be different styles of duck. It was a veritable duck feast.
We had it roasted, boiled, in a terrine, a soup, and fried with noodles and ginger. There were also the shredded duck pancakes, as well as duck livers, and other offal. I managed it all, and found it delicious, with the exception of duck feet. These were served as you might imagine, webbed and clawed, as if they had just been severed from the unfortunate bird, and fried. They were almost impossible to eat, with a texture like rubber bands. The Chinese diners actually ripped them apart with their teeth, but I had no appetite for these, and after sucking them politely for a while, left them on my plate. It was a very enjoyable evening though, and a great experience.
After paying the entire bill, the lady mentioned that she would be in London early the following year, and that I could return the favour.
(I am pleased to report here, that I did just that. I collected her from her Knightsbridge hotel, and took her to a specialist English Food restaurant in Bayswater. One very strange evening, I can tell you. She asked me what was good, and I recommended a few dishes, so she ordered them all. Unaware of the starter/main course tradition, she expected to get a variety of small dishes. I didn’t have the heart to correct her, and she must have wondered what was going on, when it all arrived at once. She did manage to eat most of it though, so full marks to her. I spoke to her that evening about how we found eating small dogs distasteful, as they were so loyal, and we had them as pets. She thought about this for a while and then said, ‘But you eat baby sheep’, before forking in her next mouthful. Back in Beijing, she told my friend that she had really enjoyed the evening, and that she found me interesting company.)
My trip came to a close, with a taxi to the airport, where I had to wait in the ‘luxury lounge’ reserved for foreigners. This was the only place where smoking was allowed, and all drinks and snacks were sold at an extortionate price. A very small coffee was $5US, and it went up from there. It was their last chance to get your currency, I suppose. I had really enjoyed the trip, though it was more of an experience, than a holiday. I had met some nice people, some strange people, and eaten some fantastic meals, the like of which I have never seen since.
I am the first to admit that I did not see a great deal of this vast country, or a lot of the ‘real’ China that I had expected to encounter. But I was glad that I had gone, and even looking back today, I would do it all again.
I am reposting this from 2013, as so few of you will have ever seen it. It is a very long post, of 2,390 words.
I had always wanted to see China. Ever since watching films as a child, and later reading about Marco Polo, Kublai Khan, and others, it seemed a place of mystery, and home to a totally different idea of culture. Later interest in the Boxer Rebellion, the Japanese invasion in the 1930’s, and the Communist dictatorship formed by Mao, and I was more than ready to go and see this legendary country. But it never happened.
Despite travelling to lots of other places, China had always seemed too daunting, too vast, and also too expensive. Over the years, I often wondered if I would ever get to see the Great Wall, The Forbidden City, and the other spectacles on offer.
In the late 1990’s, an old friend contacted me. He was working for an advertising agency, and he had been offered the management of the Audi contract, through an agency in Beijing. He was off to China, and he would be in touch, and let me know how it was there. His wife and son were going too, as it might be a long contract. After a period of settling in, and adjustment, he contacted me.
At the time, I was single, and living in London. I had recently moved to a flat in Camden, subsidised by being in my EMT job. I had a reasonable amount of savings, and a fair bit of disposable income, courtesy of that reasonable rent. I had two weeks holiday booked for September 2000, and with a bit of shift-jiggling, I could manage a few days either side as well. The world was my oyster, and I was looking to do something extravagant.
My friend suggested that I come to visit him in Beijing. He would put me up in his luxury high rise in the city centre. Although he would have to work, his wife would be around most days, (and I knew her already) and he would arrange some weekend trips, as well as some interesting evenings out after work. I made some enquiries, and found that I could fly direct, with British Airways, for around £700 return. With Visas, spending money, appropriate gifts for my friends, and a reasonable crop of souvenirs, I could definitely do fifteen days, for around £1500, maybe £2,000, at an excessive pinch. I decided to throw caution to the winds, and booked it all. I could never see a time in the future when I would have such an opportunity again. OK, it was ‘only’ Beijing, but as that was my first choice anyway, so what was the problem?
I went to Oxford Street, and booked a scheduled flight with British Airways, which came in at a shade under £650 for the chosen dates. I also applied for my visa, to be collected from the Chinese Consulate in Portland Place, a short walk from my flat. My friend was really happy that I was coming to visit. I went shopping in Camden, and bought his son a model car, and his wife some perfume. He would be content with booze, which I would get at the airport. I sorted my camera gear, ready for the photographic opportunity of a lifetime, and arranged all my leave, and finances.
When the day came, I was more than ready. I took a cab to Paddington Station, and the Heathrow Express out to the airport. It was nice to be travelling on a scheduled flight again, so much more civilised than some of the package tours that I had become accustomed to. It was a little disconcerting to be travelling alone, though the prospect of being collected by and staying with a good friend assuaged any concerns. The flight was long and uneventful, but very comfortable. My arrival in Beijing was exciting, but the time of day meant that my friend had to drop me at his flat and get off to work, arranging to meet four hours later for lunch.
I learned the first rule. Do not sit behind the cab driver with your window open. Despite a humid temperature in excess of 35 degrees, my old pal closed my window, and I soon discovered why. The Chinese spit. They do this constantly, and habitually. Everyone does it, from old men, children, housewives, to attractive young girls. All the time, day and night. Their culture demands spitting, to expel the things in their system that they believe are bad. They see nothing wrong with this, or with contaminating their walkways and paths with gobbets of spit. It is accepted, even encouraged. It is very different to what we regard to be acceptable behaviour, and it takes a great deal of getting used to.
I also discovered something else that I had not expected. Six-lane highways choked with cars, and wall to wall traffic. Tower block offices, western advertising signs, neon-lit garish illuminations. Subway, MacDonald’s, Starbucks, and any other Western-influenced product or establishment you can think of. Every high street bank familiar from the UK, and chain hotels from the same companies known so well here. I was left wondering what had happened to the China that I had imagined. I felt that I could have just as easily been in Chicago, or Hong Kong perhaps.
The flat, right in the heart of the business district, was luxurious. On the nineteenth floor, with panoramic views, tiled floors, and a well-staffed concierge entrance. I was taught my first words in Mandarin; ‘Neih Ho’, and ‘Shei Shei’. Hello, and thank you, both addressed to the immaculate staff in the foyer. I did not learn much more, save for something that sounded like ‘Jella Ting’, said to taxi drivers when you wanted them to pull over on the right. After settling in, I met my friend in Subway, of all places, for lunch. I told him that I was disappointed, that Beijing was too modern, too western. He assured me that I would see the ‘real’ China during my stay. He also told me about his contract and salary, and the fact that his Chinese female ‘boss’ was only earning $200 dollars a month, and she spoke three languages. She also supported her family on this salary, as well as running a new car, so she wasn’t doing too bad. However, this was only a tiny percentage of what he was getting, over $200,000 a year! So some indication of how economics worked there at the time. It was nice to see his wife and young son again, and we spent the first night in the flat, catching up.
The next day, his wife took me to the shopping district, and to a large department store. We went everywhere by taxi as it was very cheap, comparable to bus fares in the UK. I got cash from an ATM, a branch of my own bank in England, with the same pin number, and no formalities. I found the Yuan notes colourful, and the exchange rate was good. I bought cigarettes at half the price compared to England, and we went for a light lunch, in a reasonable outdoor restaurant that was acceptably cheap. Things that did prove to be expensive were red wine, and some western sweets that I bought for their son.
We ate at home again that night, and I was introduced to someone from the Turkish Embassy (my friend’s wife is Turkish) who was a heavy drinker, and a complete hedonist. My head was spinning, as here I was in China, and I was eating Turkish food, and getting drunk with an Englishman and a Turkish diplomat. I resolved to see more of the city, and decided that the next day would be spent exploring.
I started out early, and took the easy walk to Tianenmen Square. This was a long time after the televised demonstrations, and excessive reaction from the authorities, that have since given this place an infamous, rather than famous name. It is certainly huge, and home to many official buildings, heroic sculptures, and hundreds of tourists. I was a lone westerner that morning, and could feel what it was like to be so out of place. Opposite the square, the huge portrait of Chairman Mao, so often seen on TV, marks the entrance into the Forbidden City, the main destination for me that morning.
Built in the fifteenth century, this vast complex of almost 1,000 separate buildings was the Imperial Palace of Chinese emperors until 1924, when the last emperor was forced to leave. It has since been a museum, and an amazing one too. To go into detail would take a complete post in itself, but it is an overwhelming place that cannot all be seen in one visit, let alone one day. The entrance fee was very reasonable, and the large numbers of tourists, almost all Chinese, really did make it feel as if you were wandering around in a populated city, at the time of the Ming Dynasty.
The architecture is fully restored, and each level leads into the deeper depths of the city, to where the Imperial family would have resided. It is crammed with interesting statues and carvings, with the numerous buildings each housing exhibits. My camera was on overdrive, and I was so excited, I almost ignored the 35 degree heat that was sapping my energy. I stopped and bought water and a strange twisty bread confection from a vendor, and had a break. Carrying on later, I realised that I would never see it all, and even after almost five hours inside, I still felt that I had not done it justice.
On the way back in the late afternoon, I noticed how many cycles, mopeds, and motorcycles were on the roads, and alongside them too. They all seemed to be heavily laden, often having to be pushed instead of ridden, so high and wide were the loads. Crowds of brightly-uniformed children were getting off buses and coaches returning home from school, and street vendors were beginning to set up for the evening, in the streets around the main station. Crowds gathered around their stalls, which all seemed to be selling food. On closer examination, I realised that they were selling fried insects of some kind, grasshoppers, or similar. They were selling fast too, as hundreds of people walked around with the stiff paper cones, full of the crunchy creatures. And no, I was not tempted to try them.
As I strolled back to my friend’s flat in the business district, I took in the sights and sounds of the approaching rush hour. Thousands of people, and almost all of them, including children, and young women, spitting constantly. The traffic was already at fever pitch, and the strangely old-fashioned looking vans and trucks all belched black smoke into the sky. Looking across at the horizon, the pall of pollution was easy to see, hanging over the natural basin that Beijing is built in, like a cloud of low fog. I had to almost pinch myself. Here I was, wandering in Beijing, as if it was nothing. I could never have imagined this, thirty years earlier. It felt fantastic, but as I was alone, I had nobody to share it with. Perhaps the only downside to being a lone traveller, on that occasion.
That evening, we went to an expensive restaurant, housed on the penthouse floors of the same building my friend lived in. I was raving about my day, and how much I enjoyed this strange city. They were unhappy living there, they told me. They found the Chinese to be ‘difficult’, and were hoping for a transfer to somewhere else. They had not even bothered to visit the Forbidden City at that stage, though they did recommend a trip coming up that weekend that they had arranged, along with a group of diplomats from the Turkish Embassy and their families. I ate the best Chinese food that I had ever seen in that restaurant, though I confess to refusing a huge black scorpion, deep-fried, and offered as a complimentary starter. I just couldn’t do it. I had delicious braised eel, snake ‘cooked in its own blood’ (according to the translated menu), and various delicacies, best not elaborated on here. Other than the insects and arachnids, I did not refuse to try anything. We had numerous courses, and copious amounts of alcohol, and I went to bed thinking that it had been a great day indeed, one of the best ever.
The next morning, I took myself off to the famous street market, to buy souvenirs, and to get a feel of everyday life once again. I was a bit early, and many stalls and shops had not yet opened; but as soon as they saw me wandering around with a camera, and a presumably bulging wallet, they waved me in anyway. Disappointingly, most places specialised in clothes. Padded jackets, winter gloves and hats, ski wear, mittens, and waterproofs. This seemed strange in late summer, when I was sweltering, but this part of China does face harsh winters. I did buy a watch with Chairman Mao on it, his arms serving as hands. I still have it, but it no longer works, unfortunately. I had to haggle fiercely, even worse than in Egypt, or Istanbul. The start price was just laughable, hundreds of dollars. The whole transaction was carried out on a calculator, due to the language problems. After spending an eternity with this lady, I finally bought the watch for $10US, about £7 at the time. (My friends later told me that I was too easy, and should have paid no more than £1, but it was acceptable to me.)
I took a taxi to Sanlitun, the embassy district popular with ex-pats, to have coffee and lunch. Taxis were all metered, and no attempt was ever made to rip me off. If you gave the driver a tip, he would be very appreciative. Sometimes I could see them cruising the area, hoping to get me as a return fare, waving at me as they went past.
I had not even been there a week, and felt that I had seen and done so much. The rest of the trip will be covered in part two, otherwise this post will be far too long.
On Friday, I was sent a link by my close friend, Antony. Some of you will know that he used to work with me before I retired, and he is also an excellent photographer. He took the photo on my ‘About’ page, and many of the close-ups of Ollie that I have featured.
The You Tube film he sent me lasts only 17 minutes, and I urge you all to take time to watch this very affecting documentary.
The Kingdom Of The Little People is a theme park in mainland China. All the entertainers who perform there, and the staff who work there, are short people. Some have dwarfism, and others stunted developmental growth. Not one of them is any taller than four feet tall. They all live together at the Kingdom’, and perform shows for tourists to earn a living. They earn a good salary, about the same as an IT professional in the local region around Kunming.
The theme park opened in 2009, and is owned by a wealthy entrepreneur. The shows performed include dancing and singing, as well as scenes from traditional fairy tales, and Chinese folklore.
The whole concept of the park has been attacked and vilified by many western newspapers, as well as organisations like The Little People Of America, and Handicap International. It has been compared to a ‘human zoo’, and accused of exploiting little people, of and exposing them to ridicule. The British actor, Warwick Davis, who was born with a rare form of dwarfism, has called for the theme park to be closed down. He is well-know for his acting roles, including parts in ‘Willow’, ‘Star Wars’, and ‘Harry Potter’.
But if you watch the film, you may feel, as I did, that the opposite is true. In a country with no opportunity for such people, and where they are often publicly mocked in villages and big cities alike, this park has become a refuge, even an oasis for them. They live with people like themselves, and get well-paid to entertain the visitors. Their accommodation may seem basic and cramped by western standards, but they have most modern conveniences, form loving relationships, and enjoy sport and the usual recreational activities. Most of all, they have confidence, companionship, and a sense of self-worth that they lacked before going to work at ‘The Kingdom’.
I loved this film, and it really got to me. I watched it again before posting this, and didn’t change my mind.
In recent years, the popularity of Chinese Cinema has greatly increased in the West. Martial Arts films, fantasy fables, and vast epics, have all been well-received in Europe and America, and made international stars of some previously unknown Chinese actors. In my list, I will avoid reference to most, if not all of these well-known films, and try to look behind the hype, for the real film-making from a country that has produced some of the best work of the last thirty years.
Red Sorghum. This is a 1987 film from acclaimed director Yimou Zhang, and features the well known actress Gong Li, in her first starring role. Set in the 1930’s, just before the Japanese invasion, it tells the story of the young wife, bought by the repulsive aged owner of a wealthy sorghum wine making business. Married against her will, she soon finds love with one of the…
I recently had occasion to buy a bedside lamp. I am not a fan of the harsh overhead lighting style known as the ‘main light’. I prefer side-lamps in the living room, and as little intrusive light as possible. I thought it might be nice for me to have one by the side of my bed. If I wake up early, it is very dark in Beetley, and a small lamp means that I don’t have to use the big light in the bedroom.
I didn’t need anything fancy. Just one of those small pottery round bases, with a shade about six inches across. As our local branch of Tesco is a ‘superstore’, selling almost anything you might need, I thought I would try there first. I quickly found exactly what I needed, in a neutral colour, complete with fabric shade. Fully wired, and complete with a sealed plug. The plug is fused, but has no real third pin for the earth, just a stub. So if the bulb blows, it will trip the electrics in the fuse box. But they are all much the same, so I bought it.
How much would you expect to pay, for a complete lamp like that? I thought I would go to £20, and happily pay that for something I not only wanted, but actually needed. I knew that I would have to pay extra for the screw-in bulb to go with it, but that’s life. But I looked at the price tag, and was surprised to find that the lamp and shade cost just £5. This big chain store can buy this product in, allow for shelf space to display it, and expect a decent profit from selling it to customers. And all for £5?
The clue to this was in the country of origin. ‘Made in China’. I cannot imagine how low production costs must be in that country, to supply a pottery base with approved EU wiring, and a sturdy fabric shade too. Then they have to promote it to foreign buyers, pack it into a carton, and send it by ship or aircraft all the way around the world, to end up in a shop in central Norfolk. Trying to break down the overall costs; salaries, shipping, raw materials, marketing, all just made my head ache. How can they possibly sell this for the relatively paltry sum of £5? People pay more than that for a ‘designer coffee’, in some trendy establishments.
I should be a happy customer. I got my lamp, and it works well. But I couldn’t help wonder how all this had destroyed similar industries in Britain. Paying Chinese people a pittance to work in factories making those lamps does not sit well with me. It doesn’t just spell the end of manufacturing in this country, but also does nothing for the individuals in China.
I had to buy a bulb of course. That was made in Britain, and cost me £2.50, half the price of the complete lamp. Is this what they mean by ‘Market Forces’, I wonder?
Logging on to WP this morning, I was startled to find that views of my blog were already approaching 300, and I hadn’t even posted anything. I was convinced that it must be another ‘blip’, so delved into the stats to find out what was going on.
It seems that one person in China had read 167 of my posts, before 10 am. They were all from the archives, and no likes or comments had been left. But each one must have at least been skimmed, to register with the stats counter. Being naturally suspicious, I then suspected a Spammer might be operating. I checked the Spam Folder, and scanned the computer with my 10-bit Malware Fighter.
No Spam, no threats or viruses. I have to conclude that someone in China actually wanted to read (or at least look at) 167 of my posts.
So, I say 谢谢 “Xie Xie” to my Chinese reader. You are welcome back anytime.
(Thanks to everyone who has commented or emailed that this is probably some kind of scam or someone trying to get personal information. I was very aware of that, and the post was intended to be ironic in tone. I don’t seem to have got that across very well though.)