Would you allow your kids to do this?

Over the time I have been blogging I have often mentioned the traffic in Beijing.


The city has a population of well over 25 million (the government are trying to cut it back to 22 million as the total number) This number of people has generated a huge number of cars – approximately 5 million!  – not counting  lorries, government cars, vans, bicycles, rickshaws, huge pantechnicons , delivery tri-bikes, etc.etc.


Needless to say, this melange of traffic causes many problems – traffic jams, accidents etc.  When out and about in BJ I am very careful crossing roads because many drivers ignore red lights when turning, and even jump red lights at intersections.

As a pedestrian you have to be on the alert at all times.

Chinese pedestrians who are waiting to cross junctions often pay no heed to the ‘little red man’ warning them not to cross. The traffic situation is dire, and there are many accidents.


So – some bright spark in the Beijing Traffic Department (I assume that is the name of the body) has come up with a whizzo idea.


Dress school kids in red/orange/green outfits, to emulate a traffic light, then teach them a song and dance and send them out to stand in the middle of the six most dangerous road junctions in the city. This will apparently shame drivers into stopping until the light changes in their favour….really?!!


What? WHAT!!!!! are they crazy? do we want to see dead school kids anytime soon?

I think not.

Apparently the kids have been selected from state schools which are located near these junctions. Do their parents even  know what they are doing?


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The USA has always had a love/hate relationship with China.


Next week China’s president, Xi JinPing, is going on a Official Visit to the USA. Many Chinese are shocked that he will not be received at the White House, and that his meetings with President Donald Trump are to be held at Trump’s commercial leisure club in Florida, Mar-a-Largo.

7-MarALago-FloridaStock-shutterstock_518463952-848x477.jpgFirstly they think this is disrespectful to President Xi, and secondly, the Chinese know all about government corruption, and they can see it a mile off… Trump’s place in Florida, and his insistence on using it for State business smacks of corruption to them.

Having said that, the Chinese admire America more than almost any other country, and are enamoured of all things American. They have been, and still are, the beneficiaries of much goodwill shown by America and its people; whereas many US citizens fear and distrust China because it is a Communist state, and their knowledge of China is very limited and often distorted.

The complex relationship between America and China goes back many, many years.  When the first Chinese started coming across the Pacific Ocean in the 1800s and found work building America’s railroads, they were deeply resented even though their labour was needed. Hence the passing of the Anti-Coolie Act 1862. ( I wrote a whole blog post about this back in 2012 and you can read it here.)

Watch-55-Days-at-Peking-Full-HD-Movie-Online-Free-StreamingAt more-or-less the same time, American evangelical missionaries were all over China like a rash – trying to convert the Chinese to their various brands of Christianity.  This evangelism was one of the major triggers of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900AD,  where hundreds of foreigners were slaughtered.  The Foreign Concession in Beijing was besieged by the Boxers. The siege subsequently became the subject of a film, ’55 Days at Peking’, starring Ava Gardener and Charlton Heston.                                             Both before and after that episode, Americans were trading with China and making fortunes.

One of those Americans was John D. Rockefeller, who was only 24 years old when did his first deal with the Chinese in 1863, selling them Kerosene. He developed an abiding interest in China.  As a result, in 1916 the Rockefeller Foundation funded the Peking Union Medical College Hospital  which was based on the John Hopkins Hospital in Boston which was leading the field in medical modernisation. PUMCH took over a smaller hospital, provided bigger and better buildings, both for the treatment of patients and for the training of medical students. The very latest in western medicine was taught in English, and the hospital and its teaching role went from strength to strength.  Financially the Rockefeller Foundation continued giving unstinting support.


In 1949 when the 2nd World War had ended and Mao Zedong created the new People’s Republic of China, the hospital was told that it was being re-named ‘The Capital University of Medical Sciences Hospital‘ and that all teaching should henceforth be in Mandarin. Fair enough.  Apart from that, it went on as before. A few years later it had a new name change: ‘The Anti-Imperialist Hospital‘ (!!!)

However when the horrible, violent chaos of the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976) happened, the hospital was completely shut down. Some of the renowned doctors, teachers and professors were brutally treated, but on the whole it survived more-or-less intact.

After that ghastly period, the hospital picked itself up and got back to work.  It was now allied to Tsinghua University, so medical students do their first years studying biology, chemistry, physiology etc at the University before moving to the medical school at the hospital. Their medical degrees are now bestowed by Tsinghua University.  That university owes its existence to President Theodore  Roosevelt; because, in 1911 following the Boxer Rebellion, China was forced to pay an indemnity to the USA, it was a huge amount of money. Roosevelt cut the amount expected, on the proviso that the remaining monies would fund a new university in China, and so Tsinghua University came into being.

In 1985 the hospital/medical school decided to reclaim their original, pre-1949, name and so today it is once again called ‘Peking Union Medical College‘. Peking_Union_Medical_College.jpgThrough all these vicissitudes they have had the backing and advice of the Rockefeller Foundation which founded and mentored them.  Indeed, when you enter one of the old original buildings of the hospital – built in 1916, and now used for administrative offices, archives, libraries and conference rooms – one of the first things you will see in the entrance foyer is a bronze head and shoulders bust of John D.Rockefeller.

So, at the same time that Trump and other factions in the USA are being bellicose about China (its the word Communism that gets them every time!), the TOP western medical hospital in China, which is also China’s pre-eminant medical school, is thriving thanks to its links to the USA.

You may wonder why I have chosen this hospital as my example of how America and Americans have cared for China.


The answer is simple, it is because my bedroom, living room and study all look out onto the old buildings of the 1916 hospital.  I am very lucky.

2560px-Peking_Union_1.jpgMany who live in Beijing look out of their windows and only see the new modern city with its glittering skyscrapers, the dreary old Russian influenced buildings of the 50s & 60s, or busy roads. I see a very state-of-the art  building to our extreme right, and contrasting with that, I see the green-glazed traditional tiles and design of the original PUMC buildings (their big modern hospital building is off to one side) surrounded by beautiful trees. And all this within a hop-skip and jump of Tian’anmen Square.

It makes me aware that I am in China.  I love it.

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Beansprout salad – so good!

In Chinese cuisine it is not usual to eat food that is raw. So the idea of salads composed of uncooked vegetables is not at all traditional. Of course they DO have salads but most ingredients would have been slightly cooked – or at the very least, blanched.

Being an uncivilized laowai, I love raw salads and here is the recipe for one I make regularly. It is particularly good made here in China because I can buy really fresh, pre-cleaned beansprouts.                                                                                                             The salad goes particularly well with grilled fish or meat.

If you live in the UK you can pick up a bag of beansprouts at most of the big supermarkets or local greengrocers,or in an Asian market; but they are possibly a day or two old, and will need some attention to remove the brown growing tip and any damaged sprouts, then you should soak them for 30mins in cold water and drain well before using.



For 2 greedy people

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                            300g fresh beansprouts.                                                                                                                       1 medium carrot, scraped or peeled and cut into long, fine batons.                                      1 medium red romano pepper, deseeded and cut into long fine batons.                                                                                                                                                                          2 small snacking cucumbers (or one medium sized ordinary cucumber) cut into smallish pieces.                                                                                                                                      3-4 spring onions (scallions) finely sliced, both white and green parts.                            3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves.

    For the dressing:

1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar                                                                                                         2 Tablespoons soy sauce                                                                                                                      1 Tablespoon vegetable oil ( sunflower, corn oil etc. NOT olive oil)                                                                                                                                                               1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seed oil (available in all good supermarkets)                                                                                                                                        1 Tablespoon tomato ketchup (I know this seems a weird addition but it makes all thedifference, trust me!).

Whisk all together.

Prepare all the vegetables for the salad and put into a salad bowl. If you prepare them an hour or so in advance, put the bowl in a cool place with a damp tea-towel over it to stop them drying out.

Add the whisked dressing just before serving, toss well.  Enjoy!

Obviously all the quantities for the veggies are approximate, you can up or down them, or add other stuff. If you want a slight kick in the dressing add half a teaspoon of chilli sauce, or to your taste! The main thing is to have lots of beansprouts.



















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Whodunnit? Murder most foul in Chongqing.

In November 2011 the local papers covered the unexpected death of a British expat, Neil Heywood, whose body had been found in a hotel room in Chongqing.  The papers said that Mr Heywood, an Old Harrovian aged 41 who had lived in China for several years and had a Chinese wife and two young children, was thought to have died from a heart attack following a heavy drinking session.

British businessman Neil Heywood is seen in this undated photo taken at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.jpg

Neil Heywood was well known in the British expat community in Beijing. He was a fairly flamboyant character who drove a Jaguar with a Union Jack GB sticker on the bumper and seemed to have a charmed life. His business was to work for high worth, politically connected Chinese individuals and help them with their business schemes in the UK.

In fact his most important client (only client??) was Gu Kailai the wife of an extremely  senior politician Bo Xilai.


At the time of Heywood’s death, Bo Xilai was Party Secretary of Chongqing (I should explain that Chongqing is one of China’s largest cities with a population of  just over 30 million).   Bo Xilai was a very famous and charismatic neo-Maoist politician with a huge popular following. Like the current President, Xi Jinping, he was what is known as ‘Red Nobility’, ie: his family’s commitment to the Chinese Communist Party went back to the earliest days of the nation. Without a doubt he was in a position where he might eventually be considered as Premier or President, and it seemed to many that that was his ambition.

All in all Heywood was working for/aiding some seriously important individuals.

A few weeks after the announcement of Heywood’s death, cremation and burial (without an autopsy) – to everyone’s amazement –Wang Lijun, who was Bo Xilai’s lieutenant and the Chief of Police in Chongqing, fled under cover of darkness to the American Consulate in the city of Chengdu. There he told American officials that Neil Heywood had been murdered, poison had been forcibly administered. Furthermore he said that the local authorities, police, hotel management etc had been ordered to cover up the situation.

Wow, wow and double wow! what a story…was Wang Lijun speaking the truth, or not?  What had really happened to Neil Heywood and why?

Two nights ago we went to a talk at the Beijing International Society,  which holds regular talks for those who have ‘foreign’ passports. The speaker we went to hear was Carrie Gracie, an old China hand, fluent in Mandarin and the BBC’s China News editor.


Carrie recently created a five part podcast about the murder of Neil Heywood, and as far as I can tell, every expat in Beijing is listening avidly!

Her evening with BIS was a wonderful opportunity, not to hear the story – you can do that by listening to the podcast (and I have carefully avoided any spoilers) – but to tell us why she had felt the urge to go into the story now after almost six years had elapsed; how she had approached the task; what her bosses at the Beeb had felt about her tackling ‘old’ news; how she had managed to get interviews with key players against the odds. It was absolutely fascinating.

We all have a trace of Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple within us, so I urge you to download and listen to Carrie’s podcast series (its gripping) and see what conclusion you come to!

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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.

IMG_1914 3.JPG

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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