#China’s Great Wall No Longer Stops Invaders.

John at Great Wall, October 2014

John at Great Wall, October 2014

By John Kirk

A fat business man parked his Range Rover right across the pedestrian crossing as we approached. I pointed out the selfishness of this as we detoured around his two tons of expensive male jewellery, but he just smiled the smile of a man with no concern for others. We were in Beijing not Birmingham or Knightsbridge and the arrogant business man was Chinese not English. Welcome to China in 2014.

A mile away stood the statue of Mao Zedong pointing the way to the future, but was this the future that he expected for China?

A few days earlier, and on my way to Shanghai via Beijing, my plane had been unable to land because of the pollution there. Apparently it was so bad that people could not see their hands at the end of their outstretched arms. After circling the capital for 45 minutes we headed off to land in Taiyuan, which is normally even more polluted than Beijing. A combination of no wind, farmers burning stubble, coal burning power stations and car exhausts had produced the perfect “pea-souper” fog and the Capital was cut off from the air.

Tour of Beijing

Tour of Beijing

Beijing Traffic in the Mist, photo by Summer Lin, 2014

Beijing Traffic in smog, photo by Summer Lin, Oct 2014

In many ways the West has exported its atmospheric pollution along with much of its manufacturing capability. The demand for energy now has the Chinese leading the way in energy technology for the future, but the demand is now and the pollution is like it was in London, Manchester and Birmingham in the 1930s when they were the centre of the manufacturing world. There is no short-term fix, and the demand for cars is undiminished. Many Beijingers still ride bicycles to work, the shops and a few to school; but the majority of citizens have embraced the internal combustion engine, commuting and consumerism with an undiminished passion.

21st century China: Traditional street food & western suits

21st century China: Traditional street food & western suits

When we came back to Beijing a few days later the skies had cleared and a blue sky dazzled above but the air was still acrid with unseen pollution. My eyes stung and my nose ran. It was still deeply unpleasant, but Beijing residents were grateful to see at least a blue sky after three months of smog.

Range Rover is made in Birmingham at a factory now owned by Tata the Indian industrial. It is as British a car as you will find, but this week Tata announced a partnership to build its baby Range Rover Evoque in Changshu near Shanghai. Very soon 120,000 of these luxury vehicles will be pouring off the line every year. The Chinese love the marque and its European branding. It makes them stand out, but the problem is that a point will be reached when demand will drop because the luxury brand is no longer sufficiently exclusive. Meanwhile all of these extra cars are clogging up the streets and polluting the air.

Victoria Beckham with Range Rover Evoque

Victoria Beckham with Range Rover Evoque

A bridal gown designed with 999 breathing masks to raise environmental awareness, shown in Beijing

A bridal gown designed with 999 breathing masks to raise environmental awareness, shown in Beijing

At weekends some Beijingers like to escape to the mountains to sample the fresh air and visit beautifully constructed “ancient” villages. We visited one such village 60 miles away and took a cable car up to the Great Wall. It was wonderful to get out of the city and clean out the lungs and eyes. The Chinese middle and upper classes looked happy too, able to breathe fresh air and take in the amazing building capabilities of their ancestors.

The Wall was built to keep out invaders from the West, but now they come in by air, unless the smog stops them from landing that is.

Shanghai, with blue sky!

Shanghai, with blue sky!

Junying: You may be interested in seeing more pictures of Great Wall Here.

Posted in China & East Asia, Economics & Society, Travel Logs, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Much Do I #Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

John in front go Tian'AnMen

John in Beijing

What makes people fall in love? What makes people stay in love as time goes by?

I don’t pretend that I have all the answers, but I’d like to share with you something about the man I fell in love with and why he is and will always be the greatest love of my life.

He is Helpful.

When out and about, if he spotted someone looking lost, he would approach him/her: “Can I help you?” He gave directions, extending a helping hand to the elderly, women and children, anyone in need.

I once joked that when he retired, he could volunteer as a Birmingham (or wherever we are living at that time) Friend, directing lost people and handing out information. Over the years, I have witnessed his kind deeds, to colleagues, friends and strangers alike.

He is Generous.

A fine photographer capturing beauty

A fine photographer capturing beauty

He has a big heart and his generosity is not limited to monetary donations to various good causes. Somewhere in the world when disasters stuck, he would immediately go on-line and send a donation.

There are always a coin or two for a homeless person standing by every time we nip into our local Sainsburys. It could be London Underground, or buzzing streets in Barcelona,  performers and musicians would be rewarded and appreciated by his kind gesture. On leaving the hotels, he would always leave money to cleaners.

Anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas and special occasions, he would give me thoughtful presents. Sometimes when I was feeling down, or when he was overseas, he ordered beautiful bouquets to cheer me up. On the other hand, he is not so good on the receiving end. During his many travels, especially when he is China, where gift-giving is embedded in the culture, when he was given something, be it expensive teas, or fine porcelain or whatever, he would pass it on to the next person he met, perhaps a cleaner, or a taxi driver, often a total stranger. Once we won a bottle of Champaign at a function. He immediately present it to someone passing us by.

He is Funny.

A Walker in Madeira

A Walker in Madeira

He does not usually tell jokes, but he has such a fine sense of humour that he never failed to make people laugh. He is fun company. His observations are acute and his witty comments on people and situations are often sharp-witted and hilarious. He is entertaining both at parties as well as in private. I never laughed as much until I met him, and every so often I would smile and chuckle just thinking about him.

He is a Nature Lover.

He may give the impression of being a hard man with a cool exterior, but he possesses a very sensitive side which loves Nature and cares about the environment. He cycles to work and is keen to promote green, renewable energy.

Food for Birds

Food for Birds

Under his influence, we enjoy going for walks, in many parts of the world. Sutton Park, the reason we make a home here, was our regular walking haven. When we go to Madeira, we always find time for a Lavada walk along the beautiful mountain paths.

He named our resident male swan “Surgio”, and he took many photos of the King of our little lake. Ducks, Canada geese, mallards and seagulls are all his pals. He regularly go to HomeBase for massive bags of bird feed. Only this morning I spotted a cute squirrel, busy with seeds overspilt from the bird feeder on the tree in our back garden.

He is Fair, Loyal and Smart.

Man and Dog

Man and Dog

His Chinese sign is man’s best friend and he displays many qualities of the Dog: fair-minded, faithful and utterly devoted to the people he cares about.

With him, we talk about everything. He’s extremely well informed and is equipped with a wide spectrum of knowledge, from economics, education, music to world politics. I have learnt so much from him and each day I benefit from his intelligence and his firm grasp of world affairs. I often quip that he is a walking human encyclopaedia.

There are so many more good things I want to say about this wonderful man that my heart is overwhelmed with love and admiration. In my journey through life, among thousands of people whom I have crossed paths with, meeting and falling in love with him was the best thing that has ever happened to me. With all my disappointments and trials in life, I was smart enough to say “YES” when he proposed to me on a beautiful spot in the Peak District, during sunset, just like the picture below.

John's favourite place on earth, the Peak District

John’s favourite place on earth, the Peak District

Today is special. Since he’s not so good at accepting gifts, this post is dedicated to him. My public declaration of love, the best gift I can think of.

Happy Birthday, My Love! May you be blessed with a long happy life that you so richly deserve! 

a keen cyclist

A keen cyclist

A great photographer

A great photographer

Happy Birthday to an Earth Dog

Happy Birthday to an Earth Dog

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Why Do You Write in #English?

Screen shot 2013-08-06 at 16.09.29Once upon a time, I learnt to write in my first language, Chinese.

I was a quick learner and was able to write at a young age, partly due to the fact that my PoPo, aka, my grandma in my local dialect, was illiterate, as was the case with many women in her generation. She was the only woman I knew who had bond feet and married as a child bride (童养媳 in Chinese). I lived with her the moment I was born, until I was 12 years year old.

Those of you who have read my semi-autobiographical debut The Same Moon can probably see the little me in Pearl Zhang, the protagonist in my Journey to the West trilogy.

Yes, I started my writing career early, shorty after I went to school, probably seven or eight years old. I started writing letters on behalf of my PoPo, to my parents who were involuntarily embroiled in the Cultural Revolution, like the rest of the Chinese population in the 1960s.

My Chinese writing was good and it got better and better as I got older and became more educated.

I wrote stories while studying in a Chinese university and I kept diaries, all of which were later destroyed, gone with the chaotic era and disappeared in the mist of time.

It was also during my university days in China when I learnt to write in another language, English. It was not an easy process, trying to understand and appreciate the many nuances of different writing styles, different sentence structures and ultimately a totally different thought process.

Chinese characters may have more strokes but they are more compact than English

Chinese characters may have more strokes but they are more compact than English

It did not take long for me to fall in love with English, a foreign language which is so vastly different from my Mother Tongue. From the basic learning of 26 alphabet, I was on my way.

IMG_9247I started writing in English in earnest after I arrived in the UK in the summer of 1988. The various postgraduate degrees I embarked upon made sure that I had to be able to produce long essays leading to even longer dissertations. I have arrived.

So when I decided to write novels, which language do you think I picked?

Following the publication of my three books, a number of curious people have asked me: “Why do you write in English?”

Not surprisingly, the query mostly came from Chinese-speaking friends and fans. In other words, they wondered: why didn’t you write in Chinese?

Depending on who was asking and under what circumstances, I would give different responses; some short, others more elaborate.

Really, why do I write in English?

One possible short answer: I feel comfortable and confident writing in English. After all, English has been my working language in the last 26 years, and I live in an English-speaking country.

Writers group in Birmingham - we are from China, Iran, Germany and England, but we shared our writing in English.

Writers group in Birmingham – we are from China, Iran, Germany and England, but we shared our writing in English.

There is a distinctive advantage in writing in English. The geographical spread of my trilogy readers reflects that. As far as I know, apart from the English speaking countries such as the USA, UK, Australia and Canada, I also have readers from Belgium, Germany, Holland, India, Japan, Kenya, Malysia, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam, and so on and so forth.My commentators

Thanks to the WWW, my blog has a even bigger coverage and reach. The last time I checked, my stats showed that my visitors spread across the whole globe, the A & Z of the whole wide world, and on any given day, my blog receives hits from visitors from over a dozen countries.

Top 30 countries who visited my blog in 2013.

Top 30 countries who visited my blog in 2013.

Had I written in Chinese, where do you think my readers will be concentrated on?

Most popular languages around the world

Most popular languages around the world

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Posted in Author Support, China & East Asia, Politics & History, Reading & Writing, Social Media & Photography, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Laughter therapy: a laugh a day will increase your life span” – A Story of Indian “WC”

Where in  Asia are you flying to?

Where in Asia are you flying to?

In a not too distant past, in India, no public places like railway stations, bus stands, religious and tourist places had the facilities of public toilet complexes. Foreigners used to get discouraged from visiting India. A letter written by a British woman to a local school master in India which is as follows expresses the situation vividly:

In the days when you could not count on a public toilet facility, an English woman was planning a trip to India – She registered to stay in a small guest house owned by the local school master. She was concerned as to whether the guest house contained a WC (Water Closet). She wrote to the schoolmaster inquiring of the facilities about the WC. The school master, not fluent in English asked the local priest if he knew the meaning of WC. Together they pondered possible meanings of the letters and concluded that the lady wanted to know if there was a “Wayside Chapel” near the house. That the letters could mean a bathroom never entered their minds. So the school master wrote:

“Dear Madam,

An Indian Wedding

An Indian Wedding

I take great pleasure in informing you that the WC is located 9 miles from the house. It is located in the middle of a grove of pine trees, surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding 229 people and is open on Sundays and Thursdays. As there are many people expected in the summer months, I suggest you arrive early. There is, however, plenty of standing room. This is an unfortunate situation especially if you are in the habit of going regularly. It may be of some interest to you that my daughter was married in the WC, since she met her husband there. It was a wonderful event. There were 10 people in every seat. It was wonderful to see the expressions on their faces. My wife, sadly, has been ill and unable to go recently. It has been almost a year since she went last, which pains her greatly. You will be pleased to know that many people bring their lunch and make a day of it. Others prefer to wait till the last minute and arrive just in time! I would recommend that your ladyship plan to go on a Thursday, as there is an organ accompaniment. The acoustics are excellent and even the most delicate sounds can be heard everywhere. The newest addition is a bell which rings every time a person enters. We are holding a bazaar to provide plush seats for all since many feel it is long needed. I look forward to escorting you there myself and seating you in a place where you can be seen by all.

With deepest regards.
 
The School master

r3IMG_2883_india_kolkata_flower_market
Junying’s Note: This sort of thing could have happened just as easily elsewhere, such as China, where in many rural areas, facilities are still lacking, despite the gigantic development in recent years.  

Lost in Translation: To Public, not Male

Lost in Translation: To Public, not Male

Many thanks to my colleague Corinne Joy from LinkedIn for passing this on, which was shared by Jack Arias, according to whom that this was a true story. It goes to show just how important cross-cultural communications are and how a simple misunderstanding or mis-interpretation can lead to unintentional outcomes (The woman never visited India – what a shame!). A story like this may be hilarious for us readers, making us laugh or smile, but it would not have been funny at all for those involved, and sometimes, it can be hugely embarrassing or even disastrous!

I Look forward to my visit to India one day

I look forward to visiting India one day

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