For some reason the flight back to China from the UK – over three weeks ago – left me with the worst jet-lag I’ve ever had. It has taken me all this time to get my body clock back to normal, which is just one reason for my long blogging hiatus.


Jet-lag is a horrible experience, you feel disorientated, exhausted, irritable, queasy,and lethargic; you have a perpetual headache and you are unable to sleep when you want and need to.
It’s not just your head that suffers, your gut does too – in fact it probably suffers more than your head, as all your bodily functions are way out of line, so you feel hungry at weird times, and yet have little appetite to eat much. Your bowels start behaving badly.

When I was younger it didn’t seem to hit me so hard – mind you, I was not doing the same number of long distance flights as I am doing these days – in 2015 I did four return flights between China and the UK, plus flying to south India and back – that is a lot of air-miles. Because there is an seven/eight hour time difference between China and the UK jet-lag has always been an issue for me, but never as bad as this time.

Jetlag east west

Jet-lag is worse if you are flying eastwards, and less so if flying westwards.
Apparently this is because if you fly eastwards you lose time, and if you fly westwards you gain time. Best of all is to fly up or down the globe staying more-or-less in the same time zone.

Seriously, human beings were not designed to whizz half-way round the world in a matter of hours, and yet many of us do it regularly. A long journey of two or three months by sea would let the body adjust gradually to new time zones (but then again you could suffer from mal-de-mer which is also pretty ghastly).

This time even my usual anti-jet lag tactics didn’t seem much help. I turned my watch to Chinese time as soon as I got on the plane, I didn’t drink alcohol, I kept hydrated. I stayed awake (eyes propped open with matchsticks) till the appropriate time to sleep and I took a 5mg melatonin capsule half an hour before bed.

Getting to sleep wasn’t the problem, it was getting back to sleep after waking in the wee small hours. At first I thought that as I was awake I might as well read my book – on a Kindle, check out Facebook on my iPad, read the UK press online etc.  But the sleeplessness went on and on.

Finally I decided to do something I had read about on Huffington Post,  I would ban all my electronic devices from the bedroom. No iPad, no Kindle, no WeChat, no text messages.  It took a day or two but now my sleep is back on track.  I decided to continue the no devices rule, as a result I am sleeping better than I have for ages. Apparently these devices emit ‘blue light’ which muddles your brain about what time of day it is – so when I was taking melatonin it was like pressing on the accelerator and brake at the same time – and your mind becomes over stimulated by all the stuff you are reading/watching etc.

If you want to sleep better and longer, perhaps you should consider banning  all electronic devices from your bedroom too.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Play it as it lies – Golf in China

traigh-golf-course-towards-second_w600I’m not a golfer – are you?

Here in China the popularity of the game of Golf has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few decades. But (and it is a very big but) in the minds of the laobaixing  (ie the common people) it is a symbol of wealth and often of corruption.   Being a member of any of China’s golf clubs is very, very expensive indeed so there is some rationale behind their views. Indeed, Chairman Mao banned the game after coming into power in 1949, calling it ‘a sport for millionaires’.

Chinese golf course 1Building and maintaining golf courses requires large areas of land and vast amounts of water. As the population of China (1.3 billion, give or take) live on only 10% of the land mass of China – the rest of the country being mountain or desert – it is felt by some that building golf courses is taking up much-needed land and is inappropriate.  Never-the-less the number of golf courses has grown and grown. Beijing, Guangdong, Haikou, Shenzen, Shanghai, Chongqing – you name a city and you’ll discover  they all have several golf courses. In the glitzy shopping malls in all the big cities you will find Golf Shops, selling amazingly expensive clubs, clothing and accessories and some of the most vulgar golf bags you could find on this or any other planet – I’m talking gold faux alligator here!

So when President Xi Jin Ping launched his anti-corruption drive last year, one of the targets was golf club membership. This year members of the Communist Party of China (some 88 million folk) have been banned from (a) using Party funds to buy membership of any golf club, and (b) banned from accepting membership of a golf club as a gift, and needless to say, playing golf during working hours is strictly verboten.                                                                                                                   Furthermore, on 30th March this year, 66 “illegal” golf clubs were summarily closed – that’s approximately 10% of all the golf courses in China – so the powers-that-be are taking it very seriously indeed.

However I think golf will continue to be played here, and increasing numbers of well-to-do Chinese will go abroad to play golf.  Indeed the world-renowned Wentworth Club in England is now owned by a Chinese company which intends to spend mega-bucks in renovating and ‘improving’ the facilities. Both the Union Jack and the Chinese flag are flown at the front entrance to the club!(there has been a bit of a brouhaha about this recently).

Married, as I am, to a Scotsman, I am choosing my words exceedingly carefully from now on. Particularly as he and I  both come from keen golfing families (my late Dad, my mum-in-law, father-in-law, sister and brother-in-law, an aunt or two, not to mention cousins etc) and numerous friends in France, South Africa and the UK are all passionate adherents of the game. MQofS playing golfThe Scots claim Golf as the game THEY invented, and there is very well documented history of golf being played in Scotland for hundreds of years.

R&A St Andrews 1 The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews which was founded in 1754 AD  (a mere 9 miles from our family house in Scotland) is the centre of golf world-wide; laying down the rules, and setting the standards for balls, clubs, courses, and competitions.

What is interesting to me is that China has a long, long history with a game that is very like golf.       Is it… could it…be possible that CHINA invented golf long before the Scots.

Ming Emperor Xuande playing Chuiwan - Chinese Golf

Ming Emperor Xuande playing Chuiwan – Chinese Golf

Way way back,  in 1050 AD, during the Song Dynasty, a game called Chuiwan 捶丸  (chuiwan literally translates as ‘ball hitting’) became very popular. At the time there were several books setting out the rules for the game, and they are remarkably similar to the rules for the game of golf.

Chinese golf 2 The game took place on a specially laid out area, the aim of the game was to hit a small ball into a ancient-golf-in-china-chuiwan-toolsseries of holes, with the holes being spaced out over ground of differing surface thus making some holes more difficult than others;  each player could have as many as ten different ‘clubs’ for hitting various shots, and play had to start from a designated spot – the ji. One particular Emperor, Huizong, was reputed to be a very keen player.

China golf ladiesThe game was played by both men and women but  for some reason it eventually fell out of favour, was no longer played, and became almost forgotten.

Maybe the time has come for a revival.


One final thought – Christmas is almost upon us – if you have a golf mad member of your family  this is an excellent book which would make a very good gift:    9781851689484_1                                                                                                                   ‘The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream‘ by Dan Washburn; available from Amazon and at all good bookshops.


This blog post is respectfully dedicated to Bully in Hermanus, Gill in Plett , Bryan in Chadlington, Eva in Paris, and Hugh in London – golfers all!





Posted in Sport, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Three cheers! M&S in BJ at last.

Sorry if this post seems a bit parochial, but I am (along with other Brits who live in Beijing) thrilled to bits that at long last Marks and Sparks are opening a shop here. And about time too!

Hong Kong has had at least one, possibly two, M&S’s  for yonks; Shanghai has had an M&S since 2008, Wuhan (Wuhan! a 2nd tier city) has had M&S for a year or two – but Beijing – the Capital City of China – has never seen hide nor hair of the company. We have felt slighted….the place BJ

Finally it is happening. A huge store is opening at the end of the year here in BJ. It is located in     The Place’ 北京市朝阳区光华路甲9号世贸天阶文化广场 , a smart central mall which boasts the world’s largest digital canopy covering the outdoor area of the plaza, and which they call ‘a sky screen’ showing LED pictures, adverts, and amazing footage of dolphins at play, and other underwater scenes. The location has many well known European shops, eg: Zara, and lots of excellent restaurants, not to mention Costa Coffee, Starbucks etc.

the place BJ Sky screenI’m not sure why I’m so pleased that M&S is opening – back in the UK I don’t shop there that often – its just that it makes me feel that we Brits do have something to offer to the world…knickers, socks, toffees, marmalade, bath essence, wooley jumpers …

The one thing that M&S will show to Beijingers is that customer service is paramount, and that simple items, properly produced and well packaged beat cheap crap every day of the week.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Confused about the Confucius Prize?…

Today I received an email from DW, a dear friend in the UK, asking me whether the Confucius Prize was really the Chinese equivalent to the Nobel Peace Prize.

DW hails originally from South Africa, and there has been much in the SA press about the 2015 Confucius Prize being awarded to Robert Mugabe, that wily old crocodile of a man who has clung to his position as President of Zimbabwe for the past 28 years; enriching himself and his family in the process and systematically wrecking Zimbabwe’s agriculture and economy for political ends.                                                                         To many people, whether from southern Africa or not, the idea of Mugabe being given such a prize is reprehensible, and  they think it is being given to him by the People’s Republic of China as a national prize, which they find appalling.

That is NOT so. The Chinese government has no association with the prize or the organisation which awards it, and they do not support it or acknowledge it in any way.

The Confucius Prize came into being when some members of a group called ‘The Association of ConfuciusChinese Indigenous Arts’ was cheesed off by the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Liu Xiaobo, and as a riposte came up with the idea of awarding a ‘Chinese’ prize.  They say they chose to call the prize after the great Chinese philosopher Confucius because ‘it reflects his original idea of peace’

The Chinese Government Ministry of Culture said they had no official status to do such a thing, and promptly banned the prize.  So the original organisers  re-established themselves in Hong Kong calling themselves ‘China International Peace Research Centre’ and carried on awarding the prize annually.  The prize winners have been chosen from a list of unlikely candidates; indeed the recipient of the first prize was a Taiwanese politician who didn’t even bother to claim it, and the Taiwanese government said the award was ‘amusing’.

An analogy would be for an obscure group of British or Americans giving themselves a fancy title and  deciding to award a peace prize,  followed by the media always refering to it as the UK or US equivalent of the Nobel Prize.                                                                                                                               In the far East – China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia etc  – nobody takes it seriously;  nor does Russia, even though the prize has been awarded to Putin – they all regard it as a bit of a joke.                                                                                                                                                                               But the western media persists in calling it ‘China’s’ Nobel prize, and this can only be for one of two reasons.  They always think the worst of China and/or they are too lazy to find the true facts about the prize. Perhaps it is a bit of both.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Rolling out the red carpet for a power station

The President of China Xi Jing Ping 习近平 and his wife have been on a State Visit to the UK this past week, and both the Chinese and British media have been full of it – analyzing what it means for Sino-British relationships, whether trade deals would or should be done,  and how soft diplomacy is working from both sides etc. etc.XJP inspects the guard
All the stops were pulled out to make the four day visit a success, the Presidential couple stayed in Buckingham Palace; one of the magnificent State coaches having been sent to collect them. Her Majesty the Queen hosted a magnificent banquet for them; the solid gold cutlery was laid out and with the scent of the hot house flowers decorating the banqueting tables, the glittering jewels worn by the women and all the pomp and circumstance it must have been a sight to behold.

State banquet 2

Meanwhile the BBC was tying itself into knots trying to make every report as negative as possible. Watching BBC World TV here in Beijing I was not alone in being struck by the blatant anti-China bias that coloured virtually every report. Of course there were some protests against XJP’s visit, but they were not exactly overwhelming.XJP visit protesters 2 The key words repeated over and over again on the BBC and in certain newspapers were ‘human rights’, ‘lack of democracy’, ‘Tibet’, ‘Falung Gong’ and so on…and don’t lets forget that charming old rogue the Dalai Lama who stirs the pot as often as he can, nor Ai Wei Wei the publicity hungry artist who continually represents himself as a downtrodden victim of the Chinese State. Clips of both of them were trundled out to show what a horrible repressed country China is.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it is partly lazy journalism, and partly an anti-Chinese mind-set.

Of course I am very well aware that China’s human rights don’t match ours in Britain -nothing like; and that it is a one party state (much like Scotland seems to be becoming !), but these things have to be set in the context of what is a huge country with 1.3 BILLION people – the UK has a mere 70 million – a flea bite by comparison.

Governing such a big country with such a massive population so as to ensure that there is no internal chaos, that everyone gets fed and educated, and that they move smoothly from an agrarian to an urban society with more and more of the population being lifted from destitution is no easy task – and they are succeeding.
In just 30 years 660 million Chinese people have been lifted from poverty, and they have wealthier, healthier lives. There is still a long way to go, but legal rights are being reformed, the health system is being re-examined and the people are freer to travel both within and without China than ever before.

If, as a nation, we only engaged with others who had a squeaky-clean human rights record, you could count the available countries on one hand. We are part of a globally entangled world; we get most of our oil from Saudi Arabia whose lack of human rights makes the Chinese look positively saintly; we get much of our gas from Russia and the Russian state is pretty ghastly in terms of human rights too, we trade with – and sell arms to – dodgy governments here, there and everywhere, satisfying ourselves with an easily removed fig leaf of conditions to make it seem kosher.

We Brits are not taught anything about Chinese history – and that is a great pity. If we were, we might have a better understanding as to why China has become what it is today, why we had to ‘give’ Hong Kong back, and why the biggest fear the powers-that-be in China is instability, chaos, war, and famine. We would also understand why most Chinese – who do know their own history – are decidedly wary of British promises and get incensed by lectures from Britain.
Furthermore, if we knew how inexcusably, how immorally our nation worked to ensure the break-up of the Chinese nation during the Victorian era, we might be a little less raucous about telling the Chinese off about ‘human rights’.
The Caribbean nations have demanded apologies from us for our part in the slave trade – we also owe apologies to China for the two Opium Wars, and the fact that Britain deliberately became a drug pusher/dealer to feather its own nest.

Given all that, you can see how clichéd, predictable and generally ill-thought out it seems when at a news conference the one and only question asked by the BBC representative was:
Why do you think members of the British public should be pleased to do business with a country that is not democratic, is not transparent and has a deeply, deeply troubling attitude to human rights?”  

Proposed nuclear power plant

The questioner would have been gobsmacked if instead of the polite answer she got, the President had replied:                                                                                                                                                     “Perhaps they should be pleased that another country is prepared to invest in the energy infrastructure the British desperately need but cannot, or will not, pay for themselves. In any case, Britain already does business with many countries which do not have a western democratic system of government, and the British do not seem to care one way or the other about that.   How we run our country is our own business, as is how you run yours.”

Could it be that the British media are xenophobic about China because it is the accepted attitude to hold – they don’t understand China, and don’t want to understand China because then they might have to stop finger-wagging and feeling morally superior?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tian Yi Mu 田义墓 – the Eunuchs’ graveyard

Before I begin – I should warn you that there are pictures and information in this blog post that some may find disturbing/distasteful –  I know gentlemen who have become very squeamish contemplating this topic!


For thousands of years, eunuchs have played a part in Chinese life and when reading Chinese history or the biographies of Chinese Emperors, their wives and concubines I have come across mention of them.  Recently I decided to find out more…why were there so many eunuchs in the Imperial Palace (aka The Forbidden City/Gugong/Great Within) ? what were their roles? how did they get there?

After digging through tons of stuff in books and on the internet I have grasped some information, and this past weekend I persuaded the DH and GD (an old friend of ours from London) to come with me to find Tian Yi Mu, the eunuchs’ graveyard – which is located to the west of Beijing.                      It proved to be a fascinating few hours.

After a few false starts, driver Zhang found where we should be, we then walked through a huge street market, the like of which I haven’t seen in BJ for many years (everything is now sanitized in the city), men and women  offering ear-cleaning, street dentistry, sunglasses, books, scarves, vegetables, fish, nuts, live baby fish and turtles, hamsters, hair cuts, and a huge barrel of live frogs which were being ladled into plastic bags for hungry locals, ugh!

TYM entryEventually we came across the entrance to the graveyard and purchased tickets at 8 kuai each (approx 80p) from a very bored woman who was amazed to see three laowei visiting the site, and set off to see the tombs.

TYM2The place is very neglected, the garden completely overgrown with bindweed, but there are signs of some organisation, someone is busy trying to re-vamp the place. Piles of old bricks and tiles ready to refurbish the roof areas are stacked in the front courtyard,  and wheelbarrows, spades and other building paraphernalia  are lying around..maybe it will all become really slick and well maintained. Lets hope.

TYM3Anyway, on to the eunuchs themselves and why this graveyard is here.                                                     As I said before, eunuchs played a vital role in Imperial life.  The Emperor always had several wives and many concubines, and they were tended to by eunuchs.  Because eunuchs couldn’t have sexual congress with women, and they could prevent any other men from doing so, the Emperor could be sure that if a wife or concubine became pregnant, it would certainly be his child and the dynasty blood-line would be pure.

Eunuchs were also valued in the palace as they couldn’t produce children themselves, and therefore no matter how important they became in the hierarchy, they wouldn’t found a rival dynasty to overthrow the Emperor.   Some eunuchs never rose much above domestic slavery, whereas others who were clever rose to high rank, and indeed over the centuries several eunuchs were in total control of the palace and how it was administered, and in doing that they amassed great fortunes for themselves. Some senior eunuchs married – but I am at a loss as to why and how that worked for them or their wives, they often adopted children.

Chinese eunuchs always had both penis and testicles removed whereas in other cultures just the testicles were taken off.

Chinese castrationMost, but not all, Chinese eunuchs were emasculated as children.

TYM - castrating knife2

Young eunuch and a castrating knife

The bodily parts that were removed would be put in a small sealed container of alcohol called a pao’*,and given to the eunuch to keep. This was very important for the eunuch because the Chinese believed that one could not be resurrected after death if the body was incomplete, so a eunuch needed to be buried together with his pao (aka his ‘treasure’); unfortunately for many reasons some eunuchs lost their own pao, so they would beg, borrow or steal some other eunuch’s pao to substitute for their own. This lead to stolen pao being traded .                                                             Seriously, you couldn’t make it up, some desperate eunuchs at the end of their lives buying another eunuch’s shrivelled cock and balls …what a weird trade in stolen goods.

Poverty was rife in China, people lived hand-to-mouth and many families were  looking for anything that would lift them from such hardship.  One way  way they hoped to do it was by getting a family member  into the private domain of China’s highest rulers. Some families decided to present one of their sons to the Imperial Palace, (where there was an official department castrating young boys) in the hopes that he would then be accepted into service and rise through the ranks, bringing financial fortune and security with him.  However, many fathers took matters into their own hands and personally castrated one of their sons using a razor.  If the boy survived this appalling crude surgery he would then be taken to the Imperial Palace where they hoped he would be accepted.  Horrifying though it is to contemplate these days, at the time it was thought to be a potential road to riches and an easy life.  Although most eunuchs never rose much above the level of servant,  many eunuchs did indeed become very, very important and lead lives of luxury and power

Emperor Wan Li

Emperor Wan Li

Tian Yi  was one such eunuch. He was born in Shaanxi province in 1534 AD and he was castrated when he was nine years old.  He entered the Imperial service, rising through the ranks of eunuchs and advisors and serving three Emperors; eventually he became the highest court official during the reign of Emperor Wan Li, and indeed he became one of the most important people in all of China. Wan Li had withdrawn from communicating with the civil servants of the Empire, and the eunuchs became the intermediaries between him and the world; he appointed thousands of eunuchs into his service.  Tian Yi became the favourite of Wan Li  who relied on him absolutely.

When Tian Yi died in 1605AD, Emperor Wan Li was distraught, and did something completely unprecedented – he ordered three days of official mourning. More than that,  he set aside land to the west of the city and ordered that a small replica of an Imperial mausoleum be built for Tian Yi, and ordered that four eunuchs should always tend this graveyard, which they did, and now they are buried there too.

Alas, the graves were violated by tomb robbers in about 1911 and during the Cultural Revolution some futher damage was done,  but none-the-less, there is still quite a lot to see.  After you have gone round this small graveyard (the ground area is in the shape of a penis!) you can visit the ‘museum’  a grand name for four shabby rooms which are dimly lit, falling into rack and ruin but with some signs of restoration. Right now the whole area is something of a shambolic building site, and given my poor mobility it needed careful walking to get from room to room.

Room 1 shows the most graphic exhibits – but you need the torch app on your mobile to see some of them – the knives used for castration, the position, how it was done etc., etc. One of the rooms lists all the famous eunuchs in China – and there were quite a few.

Two of the most famous are Cai Lun  蔡伦 who was the man responsible for developing the method of producing paper in large quantities, which really changed China – and the world;

Cai Lun - inventor of paper

Cai Lun – inventor of paper

and Zheng He, the renowned admiral who lead a navy of great ships from China to explore the seven seas way back in 1421AD.

Zheng He 1Zheng He was all the more remarkable for not only being a eunuch, but also a practicing Muslim, aspects which would have mitigated against him in Ancient China.

Cixi and her eunuchsWhen the last Empress Ci Xi died in 1908 there were still some 2000 eunuchs in the Forbidden City. She lived surrounded by eunuchs in whom she placed immense trust.

Sun Yaoting - the last eunuchThe last Imperial eunuch to survive was Sun Yaoting and he died in 1996 aged 94.

* I had some difficulty finding why their ‘bits’ were called ‘pao‘ in Chinese, but finally discovered that the word can mean ‘pickled’ – usually applied to vegetables, but not inappropriate in this context.

Posted in Museums, Places of interest | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Hao jiu bu jian! 好久不见 Long time no see!

It has been a long time since I blogged. There are umpteen reasons why, but mostly because I was Mum at 91away from China for 2+ months, the whole of August and September.

So what was I doing during that time?  I was staying in Scotland with my mum who is now 91, and still in terrific shape mentally and physically.

Pittenweem harbourWhilst there, we had a succession of visitors to stay – family and friends. We enjoyed glorious and not-so glorious weather during the Pittenweem Arts Festival where we bought this terrific lino-cut picture of our family house by local artist Susie Lacome.


Many lobster and chip lunches at the East Pier Cafe Smokehouse in St Monans were enjoyed!

My SGBF enjoying lobster 'n chips!

My SGBF enjoying lobster ‘n chips!

The DH, Mum and I flew down to a family wedding in the south of England – Brighton to DSC_8189be precise.  It was such a happy few days, the sun shone, the bride looked radiant, and the groom looked ecstatically happy.  Wedding cakeMy sister made them the most amazing chocolate and pistachio wedding cake.

Back in Pittenweem, I had what seemed like endless medical tests – honestly my arm was like a pin-cushion after so much blood work.  All clear on most tests, one was done just before we left and am still awaiting the results.

Having purchased as many books as I could physically fit into our luggage, and stocked up on supplies of oatcakes,  jelly and chutney  it was time to come back to Beijing.

So here I am in China again – how was YOUR summer?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments