Tag Archives: life

Bad Feng and Dangerous Shui

14 Jan

On the last day of 2012, I found myself struggling to breathe through a spot of flu and bronchitis. Home alone with a pack of tissues and a hot water bottle, the highlight of my day was being able to breathe through a nostril. The fella was in another town, which was good for him as I kept waking in the night to cough and blow my nose in lame bids to breathe. A few days later, the drugs started to kick in and things were looking up. Or so I thought.

On the fifth day of 2013, I returned home from work to find the taps spitting air. My boss texted everyone saying that the city’s water supply will be stopped for two days. No reason why. Even though I had only bought five gallons of drinking water that afternoon, I still headed out to buy water. No luck. The corner shop was sold out of bottled water and the nearest supermarket only had bottles of designer water at haute couture prices.

On my way home, I noticed people carrying buckets and pots of water. I summoned my limited powers of Mandarin and asked them where they got their precious cargo from. They pointed out a queue of people hiding in the dark. I thanked them and ran home to grab a bucket. In fact, I grabbed two buckets.

People had buckets, pots, kettles, bottles and anything else that could hold water. The water we were queuing up for was not fit for drinking but would be fine for flushing toilets. When I returned home with my two beautiful buckets of water, the first thing I did was turn on the television and hit the local channel. There was a special announcement playing on loop. It explained, to the confused citizens of Handan, that the water had to be cut because a chemical spill in the province of Shanxi had affected one of the city’s main water supplies.

I hit the internet and found out that the chemical in question was aniline and the accident was allegedly reported on the 31st December. It took Shanxi officials five days to make the announcement to Handan and other cities and provinces effected by the spill. So now, everyone is preparing for some major heads to roll. A local colleague informed me that

“this has never happened in China before, an entire city without water.”

Even top dogs from Beijing came to town as part of the investigation into what the funk went on. “Maybe some good will come from this” I thought to myself. The logic being that China will be more careful with it’s chemicals and water supplies. Again, I was terribly wrong.

Only a few days after word of Handan’s water problem hit national news, there was another water cut caused by shoddy handling of chemicals. This time it was in Shanghai. I couldn’t believe my ears. In the same sitting of evening news, there was a piece on terrible air pollution in Beijing. Again, I took to the internet. I found out that it wasn’t just Beijing that was having air trouble, it was quite a large slice of China – including Handan. Things were most definitely not looking up.

On my web quest for information I found a neat little website http://www.aqicn.info that shows the real time air quality index of cities in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, and a few parts of Singapore and India. I’ve even downloaded the widget onto my mobile phone.

So now, even though I can breath comfortably through both nostrils, I have low hopes for China and 2013. My new year’s resolution? Stay alive and healthy.


Good stuff

13 Oct

My nostrils had died and gone to heaven. Sumptuous chrysanthemum embraced me as I approached the shop where dried flowers sat in open cardboard boxes. The entire store was stacked high with beautifully scented specimens all destined for the teapot.

We had taken a wrong turn and were stumbling down a side street in Guangzhou’s infamous Qing Ping Chinese Herbal Medicine Market (清平中药材市场). After being bombarded by fish scales and giblets, I was glad to find refuge in a tiny shop full of herbal tea. While my husband haggled with the owner, I filled my lungs to the hilt with this glorious perfume.

“You know what this is?” He was obviously very excited about his bargain buy.

“Tea?” He flinched in disgust at my reply.

“Not just any tea. It’s wild chrysanthemum tea from the Kunlun Mountains.” He suddenly reminded me of Maurice Moss from Channel 4’s  The IT Crowd.

“Oh, I see.” I raised my eyebrows and nodded slowly as if his words had triggered some profound enlightenment. Content with my response he then smiled rather smugly to himself.

We eventually made it to the main market. Preserved fruits, roots and plant matter were not the only Chinese herbal medicine on sale. Cats, dogs and snakes were among some of the living foodstuffs on display. I heard there’s a dedicated section of the market where you could even witness your meat being prepared. Did I really fancy watching our dinner being skinned (- alive… optional), butchered and gutted? No, not really. Not even remotely.

It’s been twenty-minutes since he started perusing a stall which sold planks of tree bark alongside various mystery items. I was beginning to wonder if one of the butchers had prepared my husband when he finally emerged from the crowd glowing like a child who has just spent all his pennies on fizzy sherbets. I asked him what he’d bought and as he rummaged through the bag trying to construct explanations in his head, he suddenly realized that I wouldn’t understand everything he wanted to say.

“Good stuff!” He grinned at me triumphantly, swinging the carrier bag as if it was the winning lottery ticket. I almost contemplated asking him for a more detailed explanation but then realized that it would entail a crash course in traditional Chinese medicine. Instead, I just raised my eyebrows and nodded. Slowly.

The Big Day

25 Sep

The smell of burning and sandalwood dissolved into the morning air as smoke floated up from the houses below. From his home we could look down into the village and up into the mountains. Wong talked with his mother and made his baby nephew laugh as I finished packing our things.

I met Wong’s mother last year in Shenzhen but we couldn’t speak much because we didn’t share a common tongue and she appeared to have something serious to discuss with her only son. There was still little conversation between us but she seemed softer and lighter this time round, maybe it was the baby’s influence. He was one of those sparkly babies: effervescent with laughter. Wong never seriously talked about us having children until he encountered this beautiful bambino.

The time came for us to leave, there was a long day ahead of us. Bye bye baby, bye bye mother, and off we went. We followed a concrete path through rice paddies and green fields. The day was already heating up and we were only five-minutes into a half-hour trek to the bus station. As we approached the village Wong strolled into a random house where three generations of a family, plus a rather big German Shepherd, were beginning their day. Shrieking laughter put me at ease. Family friends. After much talking and shrieking, the man of the household offered us a bike ride to the bus station, which was much appreciated.

The downhill journey through narrow alleys with oncoming traffic was more nerve wracking than last night’s odyssey, our proximity to walls and moving vehicles troubled me. After a really close encounter with a small van I realized that we just had to surrender our fate to the man at the helm, there was nothing else we could do.

We were dropped off at the bus station, which sat behind a row of shops and resembled a private parking lot. There wasn’t much to see except for a couple of cars, a red bus and a few chickens.

Once we arrived in town we got our passport photos taken (with the pair of us against a red background) and headed straight to the Bureau of Civil Administration (mín zhèng jú 民政局) only to be told that I had to had to get my passport information page translated. I knew I forgot to do something

So off we went, on the back of yet another motorbike, to the Notary Public Office (gōng zhèng chù 公证处). Once we had the translated document and Notarial Certificate (gōng zhèng shū 公证书) everything was pretty straight forward. I already had my Certificate of No Impediment from the British Embassy, which they issued in Chinese and English, and all Wong needed to bring was his identity card (shēn fèn zhèng 身份证) and Household Register (jū mín hù kǒ bù 居民户口簿).

We were the first foreign and Chinese marriage in this area so there was a lot of cross-referencing of sample documents and notes. The rules had only been changed yesterday so that we had to get our marriage certificate from Wong’s hometown. If we had tied the know a few days earlier then we would have got our certificate in Guangzhou, the capital of the province. The local people dealing with our application were very welcoming, plying us with tea and longan berries as we waited for the paperwork to be processed. I doubt we would have received such warm treatment in the capital.

After all the dashing around on two wheels, we finally got our marriage certificate at 5pm. No church bells or confetti. We simply took our backpacks and headed to the coach station. Via motorbike.


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