Two wheels good, four wheels bad – the battle for pedal power.

When we first came to China 21 years ago in 1996, Beijing  was chock-a-block with bicycles (as were all other towns and cities); there were a few taxis (2 groups – one for locals, one for foreigners), black images-2.jpggovernment cars, and some little three-wheeler tin-cans on wheels known familiarly as ‘bread vans’ which you could hail (these still exist, but in Beijing the local authority is trying, without success, to have them phased out.).


Fast forward to 2016 – millions of cars – both government vehicles and privately-owned; Not to mention mopeds and many  electric powered bikes, and some common or garden bicycles.

Beijing alone has over five million private cars – FIVE MILLION!!! that is more or less the equivalent of the  population of either Scotland or Denmark!  Then there are all the vans, lorries, taxis, government cars etc.    Needless to say, the traffic jams are monumental, and cars are partially responsible for the horrendous pollution for which the city is becoming infamous.

The Beijing Government has been doing all it can to encourage people to use the metro system  which is cheap, efficient and being expanded all the time; or to use the buses and trams that criss-cross the city. About 8 years or so ago, the local authorities here also instituted an urban bike rental system (as many cities around the world have done –  London has done the same with the “Boris bikes”scheme) whereby you rent a bike from a fixed stand and return it to a fixed stand when you no longer need it. However the take-up here in Beijing was  only so-so, as the bike stands were not always in places convenient for users, so the scheme slowly faded away.

Now a new dynamic way of renting bikes has developed in China over the past two years, and it is catching on like wild-fire. In fact my DH and I both think it will cause a revolution in how the population travel.   It harnesses the use of mobile phones (there are approximately 700 million mobiles in the country)  together with an app to access them.

There are about four companies providing this  service and it is completely changing the way people move about cities in China.  The two major companies are Mobike


and Ofo, and they are fighting it out for supremacy.


Ofo was developed as a student project at Peking University in 2015.


The company is growing fast with 10 million users in 33 Chinese cities and has expanded into Singapore this week, and next month is starting in Cambridge UK (a famously bike friendly city) with 500 of their bikes using the same system as they have here in China.    Mobike was developed in Shanghai in April 2016 but is rapidly catching up with Ofo.

This is how these bike rental systems work:  Firstly you have to be registered with WeChat– which is a more sophisticated (Chinese) version of WhatsApp – and have a WeChat Wallet.  Then you down load the app to your mobile phone – choosing whichever company you prefer. You register with the company which involves giving them your id number (if you are a Chinese citizen) or your passport number (if you are a foreigner), you then give the company a 299RMB (refundable) deposit  – approx £29.90, – and your WeChat wallet details. Bingo you’re in business. Now you can pick up a bike anywhere – and believe me they are EVERYWHERE – you just point your phone at the QR code on the bike, it scans and within seconds it unlocks the bike and off you go. Then you can leave it anywhere you want, just clicking the lock closed at the end of your usage and the company stops charging you. As with Uber, you can see full details of your journey, and the cost to you can be seen on your mobile phone.

All the bikes have an embedded GPS tracking system, and all have burglar-proof locking. The charge for using a bike is 1 yuan (10p) for 30 minutes.   The embedded GPS system means that the bike company knows where the bike is, and can retrieve it if necessary.  Every so often Mobike/Ofo employees go round, collect and tidy the bikes to convenient areas.

Frankly, one would have to be crazy to try to steal one of these bikes – they are so distinctive. Not only that, they have much smaller wheels than regular bikes to stop people from riding them too fast. They are perfect for a busy urban environment.

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Recently we had to move apartments, and whereas we used to be 2 minutes walk from my DH’s office, we are now 20 minutes away by metro, followed by a 20 minute walk to the office. Now he picks up a Mobike at the station and cycles the distance in 5-6 minutes. When he leaves the office to come home, he is always able to pick up a bike outside his building and cycles back to the metro. So easy, so convenient and so cheap.

This is a harnessing of technology and practicality which will sweep the world, and I think it will change how millions move about urban environments, Europe, Africa and South America will all benefit from it.

Best of all, it is green technology – no carbon emissions!

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Family members – the more the merrier?

Many people in Britain dread the inevitable pressure of family gatherings at Christmas time. For a couple of days you are inveigled into spending time with relatives you normally keep at arm’s length.  The difficult uncle, the whiny brats who are your aunt’s kids, the ever-so elegant and hyper-critical sister-in-law etc etc.  Not to mention the cost: travel, appropriate gifts for everyone, contributions to the booze and the food, it all adds up.

Then there is the poor woman (I say woman because it usually is a woman) who is in charge of all the domestic arrangements: clean bedding/towels for all the extended family, having the neighbours over for mulled wine and nibbles, an endless round of meals- including the big one on Xmas day – catering for all the various complex dietary demands, frantically wrapping gifts at midnight on Christmas Eve. By the day after Boxing Day she is usually stressed out, and exhausted from trying to keep everyone happy, and just wishing they  would all bugger off home.

The same is true for Chinese families over the Spring Festival, Chun jie 春节  (aka Chinese New Year/CNY).

CNY Family feast.jpeg

Everybody is expected to spend at least the first few days of the holiday period with their parents and family – even if that requires a trek of several thousand miles. The airlines are all booked up, the trains are full to capacity – millions are on the move. Mothers and aunties have been cooking up a storm – the fridge is bulging, piles of jiaozi 饺子 have been prepared, numerous bottles of Baijiu白酒  are available for the men to enjoy, decorations have been purchased and pasted up, red lanterns are aglow, and hong bao  红包(red envelopes containing money given to the children) have been prepared.


And when young Chinese adults get home, they face relentless questioning: “Do you have a girl/boy friend? why are you not married yet?   My friend’s daughter/son has married well, you shouldn’t be so picky, you are getting older; I will find someone for you.” And if you are married: “You’ve been married nearly one year already, why are you/is your wife not pregnant yet? I want a grandchild – a boy would be best”.    The pressure is enormous, and for Chinese who are LGBT is even more intense, as this is usually something they cannot admit to their parents, as they might lose face within the family and with friends and neighbours; they frequently get someone of the opposite sex from the LGBT community to stand in as a ‘fiancee’ which covers for both their families.      Then they all sit around  eating and drinking too much, letting off fireworks and watching the atrocious annual CCTV Spring Festival Gala on television.


This Spring Festival the whole of China has been talking about a Spring Festival family gathering of gargantuan proportions. The Ren family from Shishe village beside Shenzhou City in Zejiang Province had a monumental get-together.

Ren Tuanjie, one of the family elders was up-dating the family records for the first time in 80 years (the family records go back 26 generations which is 850 years) and he had the bright idea that as many family members as possible should be invited for a massive Chinese New Year celebration. He sent out links on social media to all those he could trace and asked them to spread the word; he also contacted the  local police in all the Chinese provinces and asked for their help in informing any members of the family that they might know of. He put advertisements in newspapers. Of the potential 1000 decedents, 500+ turned up!  (I am told that oldest was 94 yrs old and the youngest was four, but I noticed some babes in arms in the photos).                                                                                                                                                                              He contacted a photographer to take the ultimate family photo. Zhang Lianzhong chose a famous local beauty spot to be the location of what could have been a nightmare assignment, and with the help of a megaphone and a drone he produced a picture that will have pride of place in Ren family albums in China and overseas.

CNY Ren family gathering 2017 2.jpeg

CNY Ren family gathering 2017.png

Weibo (the Chinese social media platform) has been awash with comments, jokes, and questions about this CNY family gathering.  One wag asked if one of them met a family member of the opposite sex that they fancied at the event, would it be OK to marry them?  Another asked how many children were in the family, because it would cost a fortune in New Year hong bao.

Personally I am all in favour of such a huge gathering of the clan.  Less pressure on individuals, less time for individual spats, and no-one will argue that they want a traditional home cooked meal, and then announce that they are vegan.  Book a restaurant – actually book at least five restaurants!



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Park & Pee for Free!

Some clever bureaucrat in the Chinese city of Xi’an has come up with a really good idea. Public toilets  – the city has 1373 – should have a special parking place on the street next to or near them so that drivers who need the loo can pull in and do the necessary.


Starting last Wednesday the first of 80 such parking places -in prominent locations -were in operation , and the local Traffic department  plan to roll out  the scheme to cover all the public loos.  Ye Changqing, a traffic police officer, said that his detachment had determined the safest places to provide the  parking. Each parking space is marked on the road and reads ‘Parking for toilet users’, there is a time limit of 15 minutes.  Wardens will report anyone who parks for a long time to go shopping or whatever, and the public are asked to do the same to stop people abusing the system.

Why has no-one thought of doing this before?  it will stop people (mostly men) peeing in inappropriate places, making public areas smelly and unhygienic – you know what I mean!

Everyone has to heed the call of nature, and sometimes it can be really difficult.  I can recall when my kids were small one of them wailing from the back seat -‘but I have to go NOW’ – and me having nowhere convenient to stop.

If this works well in Xi’an I suspect other Chinese cities will adopt the idea, and then it might even spread internationally.

Three cheers for Xi’an for innovative thinking – we who have small bladders salute you!

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Incy Wincy Chinese Spider….

I am not an Arachnophobe; I don’t really mind spiders and am not terrified of them – to be honest that does not mean I would like a whole lot of them crawling all over me – but on the whole I think they are a vital and fascinating part of the natural world.

So I was interested when an ‘old, very rare’ spider was found in Sichuan Province a few days ago.  What really caught my attention was how it looked. 3A9C2E9100000578-3956784-image-a-10_1479727306847.jpg

Li Wenhua found it on his small farm in Pujiang county, Sichuan Province – down in the south west of China. He thought he had spotted an ancient relic on the ground below his orange trees, it was only when he went to pick it up that he realised it was a spider.cyclocosmia-ricketti.jpg    The spider has a very distinctive ‘plate’ on its abdomen, and the plate which is about the size of a small coin, has a very unusual pattern on it which appears similar to a carving. You can see why Li Wenhua thought he had found some kind of cultural artifact lying on the ground,


The spider in question is a Chinese Hourglass Spider (Cyclocosmia Ricketti), which is a member of the group called ‘Trapdoor spiders’. The females are approximately 28 mm long and the ‘disc’ has a radius of 16mm. This specimen is only the 6th to be seen since 2000.

Trapdoor spiders live in the ground, they build a trap lined with their ‘silk’, and when some creature that they fancy eating goes past they rush out, inject them with venom and haul them back into their trap hole for a tasty dinner.

This species of spider was first documented in China over a thousand years ago, and is thought to be the spider referred to in some Chinese literature. In China a spider is considered an auspicious symbol – there are a couple of  words for spider in Chinese, and one of them is xizi  虫喜 子 where the first character has the same pronunciation as the word for happy – xi  .

We are constantly being told  that mankind has damaged the natural world so badly that whole species are becoming extinct day by day, so it is encouraging to find such a small creature, that, despite the odds – pesticides, pollution, growing populations, erosion of habitats etc – is still hanging in there.  I reckon that insects will survive long after the human race has perished!

At the moment all I can think is ‘ain’t Nature wonderful’ – what a world we live in, we must take care of it.

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English olive-ball game: Rugby in China

The Chinese word for Rugby is   英式 橄榄球yingshi gan lan qiu)ie: ‘English Olive-ball game’- obviously because the ball is the shape of an olive.


It has not been a particularly popular game here compared with other Western sports such as basketball, tennis, football (aka soccer). It is mostly played by ex-pats, but is also played by members of the Chinese military who think the game is great for instilling team-work and toughening up the players.  When they leave the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) many men and women who have played the game and come to love it have set up their own small Rugby clubs.chinese_rugby_football_association

Now it has had a MASSIVE boost.  The sports division of AlibabaAlisports, headed by CEO Zhang Dazhong  – is ploughing $100 million ( approx £80.5 million)  into rugby in China over the next 5 years. This will pay for the training of coaches, referees, players etc…..and the numbers are huge – 30,000 coaches, 15,000 match officials and                1 million players by 2021 is what they aim to achieve!


Why are they doing this?  Interesting question. Not being an expert on rugby in China (or anywhere else) I consulted my dear friend Robert Costello who has lived, worked and played rugby in China for a number of years.  He told me:

‘..much of this is due to China’s desire to play a greater role internationally in not just the key hard-power areas of foreign policy, military presence and investment but also in soft power areas such as sport. One of the key developments we had was Rugby 7s being made an Olympic Sport for the 2016 Games in Rio this summer and with China still very driven on defining its sporting prowess through the number of gold medals, the Chinese government will want to boost its chances of making rugby another event to add to its medal tally in future Olympics.’

Robert went on to say:
The fact that China has never qualified for a Rugby World Cup, and its dismal position in the world rankings (it is currently 68th behind absolutely tiny nations such as the Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands, although we know that population numbers don’t necessarily mean success given the fact that New Zealand, a country of barely  4.5m, absolutely dominates the sport) is most likely a sore spot.
Especially when the largest growth in audience numbers for the 2015 Rugby World Cup came from Asia with viewership up over 200% and rugby growing very strongly around the world.
So know you know;  and if you notice that China seems to be climbing the Rugby rankings you will understand why.

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20 iPhones = 1 house, really?

Over the past week there has been much chit-chat on Chinese social media about a young woman living and working in Shenzhen who figured out a novel way of raising the deposit to buy a house in the countryside.


As in many other countries, property prices in China have been steadily rising and it is really difficult for many to afford to buy a place of their own. Add to that the Confucian expectation of many Chinese parents that their child (and it usually is only one child) should provide them with either somewhere to live in retirement, or support them financially, and you have a situation where some young people feel pressurized by parental expectations which they cannot fulfill.

A blogger using the name Proud Qiaoba posted a piece on the popular Tian Ya Yi Du internet forum saying that her co-worker, who she called Xiaoli, had come up with a scheme whereby she asked each of  her 20 current boyfriends to prove their affection for her by giving her one of the new iPhone7 smartphones (which were only launched in China in mid September). Apparently they all did as she requested!   I wonder if they knew about each other?


Xiaoli then took these 20 brand new iPhones and sold them to Hui Shou Bao, a well known mobile phone re-selling website. She raised 120000 yuan by doing so (that’s approximately £14,500.00), and with that she was able to put a down payment on a house for her parents.

Comments on Sina Weibo have been very mixed  with some people calling  her a gold-digger, whilst others have applauded her ingenuity. One young woman wrote rather plaintively that she couldn’t even get one boyfriend let alone 20, and could Xiaoli give her advice about how to get a fella for herself as she was obviously an expert.

Personally, I think the whole story is a con (like so many things in China).  Twenty boyfriends seems rather a lot for one girl to manage – just think of the logistics – whilst also holding down a job; or is having multiple ‘boyfriends’ part of the business she is in, if you see what I mean.

More likely this is a cleverly concocted story to advertise the services of Hui Shou Bao, the mobile phone re-selling company.

Whatever the truth of the matter it is quite an amusing tale and adds to the gaiety of the nation which is always welcome.





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Why didn’t I think of that?

One of the things you discover when you come to China is that everyone has an ‘English’ name as well as their proper Chinese name.   Chinese people firmly believe that no foreigners can pronounce their names so in order to get good jobs and succeed in life they need a name that Westerners will feel comfortable with, and will remember.


In a way this is understandable, it is true that on first meeting it is often difficult to take in and recall a Chinese name. However, Japanese people have equally ‘difficult’ names if you look at it like that, yet the Japanese have never seen the need to equip themselves with a Western name and they get on in the wider world just fine.

This whole English/Chinese name conundrum hit me again this week when a new member of staff joined the concierge group at our residence. She is a delightful young woman who speaks little English, but she is very willing and very helpful.  Her English name is ‘Friday’.  Why did she choose it? or did she, like 70% of Chinese, get given it by her teacher when she was at school.  Should I gently hint that this is not really considered a ‘name’ in the English sense? it could cause all sorts of complications – if an English speaking  resident says to her ‘I expect a delivery on Friday’ or something like that, confusion can set in.

English language teachers here in China are, on the whole, Chinese citizens who have learned the language without ever meeting any native English speakers.  They seem to choose names on a very arbitrary basis, from books, films, western t.v. programmes, advertisements, catalogues and even calendars.  If a student makes it into a good university here in China they may well change their name to one they think is better/more appropriate, but sometimes they jump from the frying pan into the fire – for instance a young man who changed his English name from Gerry to Hitler because he thought that Hitler was a strong, courageous and famous western leader!

Many Chinese have no idea that their name is inappropriate.  My DH was interviewing a very clever, well-educated young woman for a job that would take her to Edinburgh on a regular basis. Her chosen English name was Lolita.  After the interview he felt he had to be blunt, and told her that she could not work in the financial sector in the UK or anywhere else in the west with that name, because  it would give out all the wrong messages, and that she should get advice and choose a new, less provocative, English name.

English speaking Westerners living in China are often asked to suggest names for people. Over the years I must have named a couple of dozen individuals!


Some years ago I was down in Kunming and a young man called ‘Fred’ was introduced to me by his new boss. The boss said very firmly that he had been looking at names, and he thought that English speakers would consider ‘Fred’ to be the name for a labourer, not a new young executive.  Fred had been given his name by his teacher when at school.           We all sat down with some green tea and discussed names, finally settling on Jeffrey. In a nano-second Fred was dead and Jeffrey, like a phoenix, rose from the ashes. He is still Jeffery and now a very successful chap. He always greets me warmly, and whispers in my ear -‘do you remember Fred?’.

In the UK/US media there have been a couple of articles about two young women – one American, one English – who have set up websites to help Chinese parents choose their baby’s English name.  The websites are in Chinese, they are interactive, and after a few tick-box type questions they supply a choice of three or four names. They both charge a flat-fee for the service.  According to everything I have read, business is booming and both are earning a tidy little income.

Why didn’t I think of doing this?  All this time I have been handing out free naming advice, never thinking the concept could be monetized – obviously I am not a natural entrepreneur – I could have been rich by now….boo hoo!

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