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On Starting Blocks!

Our Foreign Correspondents Mike & Angie reporting from China

Mike & Angie... in sidecar not China

Ni Hao! Well we're well and truly settled back into the rhythm of Chinese life now as we go about our 'business' not noticing what shocked and horrified us this time last year!

Angie has now accepted the 'squat' toilet as the norm and in fact when she discovers a 'western' style pedestal toilet she has adopted the same method of use as the locals ie she climbs up on to the pedestal and 'squats' there: LOL

Who would have believed it this time last year?

At the moment we are enjoying a week's holiday for China's National Day. Yesterday we returned from a three day touring trip with two of our female students who had never travelled outside their own province and were keen to be our guides on this trip.

Talk about the 'blind leading the blind'!! We travelled to Xiamen and Quanzhou in Fujian, our neighbouring province by local bus. Now remember the two students wanted to organise this trip so we left them to it; yes we are definitely becoming more laid-back and have learnt to go with the flow. As the students here in China don't have much money we travelled 'their way' ie cheap! And we mean cheap!

Hence the transport reflected this. But the people on board the bus were exceedingly friendly and even shared their food with us. Travelling by local bus we also managed to see more local villages etc which we would have missed had we travelled in comfort on the air-conditioned, mechanically safe and secure bus which takes the modern highway route.

After about five to five and a half hours (to cover 200 kilometres) we arrived in Xiamen. We spent the first two hours wandering the streets of Xiamen trying to find a suitable hotel; suitable to the students' pockets and our expectations! Needless to say we rejected a few before finally setting on one. Xiamen is on the coast; it is clean, organised and 'almost' western which was a great shock to us having come from Chaozhou.

We enjoyed a couple of nights here except that Angie managed to get a cold and had to spend the afternoons 'resting' in the hotel room while Mike and the students did the 'touristy' things! On the third day we got another 'local' bus to Quenzhou about 60 klms north of Xiamen .

Now this WAS an interesting trip as the bus was overloaded and there were a few police inspection points along the route. Did this create a problem? No... with the use of mobile phones the driver knew in advance where the checkpoints were and as we approached these places the excess passengers were told to lie on the floor out of sight! See... there's always an answer to any problem here in China! Of course the obvious solution of NOT overloading buses in the first place NEVER occurs to them here!

Quenzhou was an interesting city as it had some Islamic architecture and history; it used to be the beginning of the 'Sea Silk Route' in the olden days. Quite different from anything we'd seen before.

Our salubrious accommodation here was a military hostel! Clean? Yes. Starched linen on beds? Yes. Safe? Very! Cheap? Of course! Comfortable? You must be joking!

Now here in China because we are foreigners living here we are obliged by law to carry our little green book (our foreigner's residency permit) AT ALL TIMES as a form of ID. All native Chinese also have to carry their own ID cards too. In theory we can be stopped at any time by the police or military personnel and asked to produce our little green book.

However, in practice (like most things in China) it doesn't happen. Even here at the military hostel only the students were asked for their IDs; they were not interested in seeing ours! We think it is all too much trouble for them as it is easier to ignore the foreigners, except for the endless staring of course!

On our return trip we were dropped off under a bridge on the side of the road to wait for our second bus to bring us 'home' to Chaozhou. Now ALL this organising of buses was done at the last moment by the students DIRECTLY with the appropriate bus-driver via mobile phones; you have no chance trying to get around in China this way without the 'contacts' and the language too.

Now while we were waiting with all the other Chinese squatting on our haunches at the side on the road a funny thing happened; a car pulled up, a Chinese man got out and approached us (not the students or the other Chinese there but US) and started asking in Chinese for directions!

Obviously as with a lot of Chinese, the man was very short-sighted because as he got closer to us he realised his mistake and apologised, redirecting his questions to some other Chinese standing close by! We didn't realise how well the daily consumption of 'rice' was changing the shape of our eyes!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we arrived back to our familiar 'home' ground safely having seen yet another aspect of Chinese life. Will we ever allow students to take charge and organise a trip for us again? From Mike's point of view, no problem; from Angie's point of view, probably not! Cheers

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