Chinese New Year 2015 – A summary

As y’all may know, I had three friends from England visit myself and another home country friend here in Shanghai. I have been friends with these guys from as far back as primary school, which, thinking about it, could be as long as 20 years.

Needless to say, they could stay at our respective apartments for free, on the promise of British cheese, gravy and Ribena. They did not disappoint.

Now, I don’t remember every detail of every event of every day for 2 weeks, and I highly doubt anyone would be willing to read much further than this very sentence, so I have written a summary (by the time you read this anyway). You can find more in-depth posts here (our 2 day trip to Wuhu) and here (the surprise appearance of three newborn kittens)

So, here are some highlights in no particular order.

Arrival

Nothing actually happened out of order, nobody got arrested or strip searched, nobody lost anything. Shocking stuff, honestly. James (home town friend) and I got up nice and early to meet the guys at the airport, when it turned out while ordering our McMuffins that the plane was due early, and we were due late. Stupid Virgin Airlines.

We arrived, waited around quite a while, they turned up.

Drinking

There were many nights of food exploration, which they very much enjoyed, but there was one particular night which involved some heavy drinking. Things got chaotic pretty fast.
With two of the three repeatedly losing themselves, it was the job of James and myself to make sure they didn’t end up under the wheels of cars or behind bars. Remember, these guys had only just arrived and had no way of communicating with us and by extension, anyone else in the world. We were left with just the one who could actually handle his drinks. I don’t think we could have managed all three going haywire.
The first to go was simply a sleeper and a vomiter, with a tendency for apathetic roaming. The second was persuaded to chug half a bottle of China’s infamous Baijou; a mistake of the same gravity as accidental genocide. Needless to say, he became a vomiting machine and sentient zombie.

In a relatively nice but unfortunately full bar, I would repeatedly find him sitting with strangers, bobbing back and forth in his own world, trying not to headbutt the nearest pink elephant. Those he intruded took it in good faith and I was able to snatch him back trouble free. He somehow managed to make his way to the bathroom, but couldn’t for the life of him return fully dressed.

While James was outside trying to find the first drunk, the second one turned out to have left his shoes under/in the urinal, and upon collecting them, was unable to put them on or tie them up. That was my job. Very wet, they were. I can only hope the liquid was booze.

By the end of the night I had to take the two of them home to my place given that I was due for an early night anyway, and the others had their way with the rest of the night.

The next day’s evidence of the night came in the form of mysterious scratches to wrists and cuts on the head. A coat and beanie was lost. The first of many losses.

Drinking to a view

We thought it would be nice if we could go to the top of the world financial center of Shanghai, aka the bottle opener building. Unfortunately this was pretty damn pricey and we found that it would actually be cheaper to go just a few floors lower to a posh bar and buy a couple of beers, getting the view for free.

The one on the left

The one on the left

Instead, we decided to splash out on a single cocktail each, setting us back about 110RMB/ £11/$17 each. They weren’t all great but a couple came out pretty nice. The atmosphere was mostly nice if not for some European guy working there who made us feel inferior to him and all dining there. One made the mistake of ordering water, setting them back a further 70RMB/ £7/Whatver dollars.

Certainly the most vibrant cocktail I've seen.

Certainly the most vibrant cocktail I’ve seen.

The view was nice, though.

Above the smog, things look nicer.

Above the smog, things look nicer.

To make up for it, we went for some local noodles and rice, which combined cost about as much as a single cocktail.

Chinese New Year

For official celebration, we went to a friend’s house for a dinner party, which, in terms of food, was absolutely fantastic. I had no idea I knew somebody who could create such wonder. I am a better person for it now.

The party itself was cool although a loner introvert such as myself found it excruciatingly loud as the evening went on, so it was with some relief that we headed toward another friends apartment to set off our ridiculously expensive fireworks.

Despite the level of drunk of those prepping the fireworks, it was an overall success, although we may have given a family a few floors down a few heart attacks, and one friend may have lost all hearing. He never used it anyway.

The only photo I took of the night.

The only photo I took of the night.

Qibao

Within Shanghai, there is an ancient city called Qibao, meaning Seven Treasures. Nobody knows the official history behind the name but the folk tale behind it is pretty interesting, involving seven treasures:

…these were an iron Buddha made in Ming Dynasty, a bronze bell also dating from the Ming Dynasty but said to have mysteriously appeared from nowhere, a Gold Script Lotus Sutra written by an imperial concubine of the 10th century, a one-thousand-year-old Chinese catalpa tree, a jade axe, a gold cockerel and a pair of jade chopsticks. Actually of these seven treasures, the existence of only first four can be verified while only the Scripture and the bell have survived to this day.

I don’t take many pictures nowadays since I lack a proper camera, but you can find some good photos on this other blog I arbitrarily searched for. The proper historical insight you can also find yourself, or better yet, go there. I’m not a tour guide.

Anyway, It was phenomenally crowded with Chinese tourists given the time of year, mostly I imagine from the countryside. I was told everything would be empty in Shanghai because everyone would be returning to their home towns for the New Year, but it turns out they are just replaced by country folk coming to Shanghai for a holiday instead.

Kind reminds me of my visit to the Great Wall of China

Kinda reminds me of my visit to the Great Wall of China

Long story short, however, with a boat ride, a series of 8 miniature museums, tea setting one of us back 120RMB and lovely architecture, this was one of the highlights of the trip.

To top it off, we took it a step further and visited a nearby golden temple we saw in the distance. It was almost closing time so we rushed it but this also meant it was practically empty.

Empty. China is an Atheist nation, after all. Whether they like it or not.

Empty. China is an Atheist nation, after all. Whether they like it or not.

Suddenly the birds were out, the Buddhas seemed more majestic and genuine and the park areas were so very peaceful. An overall great day.

Too late to climb to the top, unfortunately

Too late to climb to the top, unfortunately

People’s square

On the final evening, we took a trip to People’s square, a very Mall-filled, westernised place not dissimilar to Leicester, Nottingham, London or any generic British city. However, it was much bigger in scale.

Ryan, Munton, Phil

Ryan, Munton, Phil

We got a quick drink from starbucks and sat peoplewatching for a short while before roaming down the very long road of glorious golden and neon lights that took us to East Nanjing Road where we got on the train to West Nanjing Road for some Vietnamese cuisine.

Chinese food is great and all, but Shanghai is a very multinational city of multiple influences, so it was a cool idea to embrace as many cultures as we could during our time here. Overall we tried British, American, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese and even made some Mexican at home.

The Final  Night

The final hours utterly sucked, for me anyway, since it turned out literally everyone i know is apparently massively into wrestling, one of the worst thing i’ve ever had to sit through on multiple occasions. Given it was the last night, I figured I was outvoted and did my best to tolerate it for as long as possible, but it being a 3-hour show they were all dedicated to seeing the end of, my headphones were not going to cut it and I had to give up and go home.

I said by farewells and that was that.

I decided to get up nice and early to see them off to end things on a proper note, say, D.

Unfortunately, just before I arrived, it turned out that one of them lost their car keys, of all things. They returned to the apartment with James to hunt for it, to no avail. Meanwhile, another had to re-pack his entire luggage, unaware of the fact that his litre of baijou, cans of beer and bottles of soju were liquids and banned from hand luggage.

I found them the right bus and sent them on their way. The next thing I knew, they were home all well and dry, after a lot of hassle with the car, RAC and a locksmith.

It was truly fantastic to finally have somebody visit me from home. It took 4 years for anyone at all to visit me, So thanks, guys, for the effort in my 5th year abroad. I don’t know when I’ll see them again but with friends like this, it doesn’t really matter.

See ya next time - Probably in England again.

See ya next time – Probably in England again.

Next up, my mum comes to Shanghai in May 2015. (Don’t expect a link here since she isn’t here yet and I doubt I can be bothered to update this post when the time comes)

I just witnessed birth

Me and four friends were hanging out just playing Settlers of Catan, when, just as I was about to slam down the winning dice, the heavily pregnant cat of the house, Ash, poked her head out of her box and jumped out.

We joked that there would be a baby squeezed out of her like a toothpaste tube if she keeps jumping around, but we turned out to be more accurate than we were prepared for; half a baby was sticking out from her, back feet first.

Suddenly things became chaos. Ash is a runt, tiny thing and given that she wouldn’t be expected to survive in the wild, it would be even more unlikely for her to survive giving birth, so we were all pretty concerned when she appeared to be struggling a lot.

She started by walking around, as if trying to escape the pain. she then couldn’t find a way to sit, having no idea what exactly to do. The baby wasn’t moving, the cat wasn’t pushing, she appeared to give up for a few minutes.

If we had any clue what we were doing, we might have thought this was pretty normal, but we didn’t, so we got increasingly worried. Our first screw up was to try and pull the baby very softly, help her get it out, but after hearing a crack of a leg, we decided we’d leave the torture until a little more body is out.

When we felt she was struggling again, we attempted, with a clean towel as to not get our scent on it, to pull from the body. Again, softly. She complained about this so we left her to it. She took to her feet again after a few minutes and started walking around, swinging the half-baby left and right, sitting on it, seemingly bending the whole thing a full 90 degrees at times. She even ran at a point and we had to pin her down at risk of crushing the poor thing. We had additional concerns that it was coming feet first rather than head first, but it turns out that’s just a human thing and otherwise pretty normal in cats.

Eventually, it just popped out, and after a lick and a collective breath of dread, meowed. Part one of ? complete.

More worry came as she decided to abandon the kitten. It was very weak, unable to move in any way. We read that it would be stumbling around to look for the milk, but it made no effort other than meows to move even a slight muscle twitch. Ash had happily abandoned it to concentrate on the next one, leaving it on the cold tile flooring. Eventually we got some carpet available and she picked the baby up, dumped it on there and left it.

This was a going theme for the night. We ended up getting formula ourselves and feeding it the best we could, watching its breathing get slower and slower while ash continued to not give a damn.

Keeping Enya alive

Keeping Enya alive

The second kitten came out like it was routine by now, and it was stronger, able to walk and more healthy looking on the whole. It was immediately taken to the milk and covered with warmth by Ash. The second kitten, still left alone.

We put the first kitten with her after some feeding to encourage her, but she ended up just sitting on it, perhaps a way to kill it given our suspicion that it was a defected model in the eyes of a cat mum.

We had a choice of either taking care of the kitten ourselves, having 2 hour shifts for 24 hours, 2 weeks or so of feeding and sleeping it, and have it die or be killed by Ash regardless, or leave them to do whatever is natural and if it gets killed, at least the other 1+ may survive.

The placenta of the first kitten was still attached and only half eaten, whilst the other was fully eaten, so there was no reason to believe Ash was interested in the first one whatsoever.

We left Ash to do her face sitting.

The third and final kitten came while we all slept. This one was also fine. By the time the decision came to trash the first one, the attention of Ash was given to it and by the next day, all three were looking clean, healthy and cute.

Enya, Smash and Emmanuel IV

Enya, Smash and Emmanuel IV

Today, the third one died. We aren’t sure how but its possibly due to a lack of milk or heat. Our goal now is to do whatever we can to keep the others alive while Ash continues to be absolutely useless at mothering.

We will name the first one Enya and the second one Smash, based on the music that was playing at the time of birth.

I am looking after the other adult, Heisenberg, aware of the risk that he may attempt to kill the other two. At some point I will, at least temporarily, take one of them.

End.

Wuhu, a ‘small’ city in China

For those of you who know I’m in China, I can skip to my visit to the city ‘Wuhu’ over the last couple of days. For those who don’t know I’m in China, I should probably mention that first. I’m living in China.

Three of my oldest friends from my hometown of Leicester finally after almost 5 years came to visit me and another oldest friend also living here in Shanghai. It’s Chinese New Year (as of writing this) so we thought travelling to particularly distant and awesome places would be difficult, given that almost everyone in big cities around China will be going back to their hometowns, unless their hometowns happen to be Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou.

With that in mind, we decided to take a 6 hour bus to a city called Wuhu, the hometown of my friend’s girlfriend. In the eyes of China, this is a small city of little importance, probably the equivalent of my own hometown of Leicester. Except it’s not the equivalent at all, given that Leicester’s population is 400,000, and Wuhu’s is 3.5 million – Bigger than every city in England with the exception of London, or about 3 times the population of Birmingham, the second biggest city.

Even so, it took us until the final night to find any other foreigners at all, discovering 3 Germans playing pool in a bar seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The way people looked at us made me feel like I was in Korea again; that astonished ‘whoa, people who speak English’ look.

So here is a small diary of how our two day trip panned out, and it gets pretty ridiculous.

The journey there was set to be 4-5 hours, but due to whatever, it took 6. This was ok. Time went quickly, we had some games of Mario Kart, I listened to some Final Fantasy Piano music, we chatted about various whatevers and arrived.

First thing to note is the 7RMB (70p) taxis we were very impressed with – Half the price of Shanghai. This would change rapidly as we found almost no taxi driver wanted to take us at any point throughout the duration of our stay. Probably because they’re only getting 7RMB to deal with us.

The 60RMB (£6) per person hotel was also very nice, a standard way above anything you could get for that price in, say, Bangkok. You wouldn’t ever get that price in London or Hong Kong so I decided not to even mention them even though I just did.

The View from the Hotel Window - Wuhu

The View from the Hotel Window – Wuhu

We split up into 3 rooms for 6 people and headed out. We hit the town and markets to ‘see the sights’, and checked out some of the street food. We had some kind of bread stuffed with beef, onion and a very, very burning hot spice that seemed to melt through my palate and gumline (but was still rather enjoyable.), among other things. One of our friends was a little more adventurous and dug right into an aborted chicken fetus. It was absolutely rank, apparently being able to feel every detail of the bony mass of death slowly dissolving in his saliva.

Aborted Chicken Fetus

Aborted Chicken Fetus

We had dinner with some local friends of my friend’s girlfriend, who from now on we will refer to as Pan Pan, that being her name. It was bland and uninteresting, but ‘nice’, as far as food goes. We read online that the City of Wuhu took foodal influence from Sichuan, famous for its very spicy food. so needless to say, we were a little disappointed.

Pan Pan, her friends and we took ourselves to a surprisingly nice bar we found to be in happy hour, and order a whole load of beers, sat by the window where we could overlook a mini lake of sorts. The bar was really quite big, and absolutely empty excluding staff and ourselves. The staff took it upon themselves to seize the opportunity to sing songs in English on stage, too loudly. This involved a CD being played, and somebody simply singing the same thing over it, but quietly so we couldn’t tell how bad they were.

We taught the three visiting friends how to count to ten in Mandarin by means of drinking games. I was pretty impressed that two of them got it down pretty quickly, and retained them, including tones for the most part, in the long term. We also got very drunk.

The next day we had breakfast in the street around the aforementioned market and shops. We dug into some rather doughy dumplings, some fried dumplings and a bit of noodles, all with some pretty potent sauce. The serving came with a large and blatant black hair, 2 seats for 6 people and a fair amount of stares.

Without going into too much detail, we visited a park with rides and other things, tried a few out, climbed a mountain to a shrine, and then a little higher to a temple. We climbed the temple and was rewarded with an amazing view of smog and city skyline – not dissimilar to my photos of Korean hiking.

Wuhu City Skyline

Wuhu City Skyline

We met at least a couple of English speakers by this point, very eager to practice their vocabulary by exchanging mundane conversation such as how they like England or how the view is nice. We also met an adorable puppy who attempted to untie my shoelaces with more passion and rigour than I could ever muster on such an exhilarating daily task. The poor thing still failed in its mission. This was probably the highlight of the trip. The park in general, that is, although the puppy was definitely the crown.
The park also had a cave with terracotta army-type stone models and, pleasingly, crazy mirrors, presumably abandoned after a failed attempt to make a crazy hall of mirrors. Before we left, we came across a zoo which was closed. I was thankful for this, because I did not want to spend my time observing bears trapped in a concrete pit with a pond for people to throw coins in. We turned around after seeing that and left the place.

An army of stone

An army of stone

At home, my China living friend was boasting about his Chinese Wallet service on his phone. The Chinese wallet thing is a system on the Chinese chat app, Wechat or Weixin. It has so many functions including the ability to top up your phone, order taxis and gamble, that I was envious and determined to get it myself. This is where everything went really bad for me.

The information did not appear to match, and I was having great difficulty setting it up with my passport number, name and bank information. I called my bank and after 25 minutes of being constantly forwarded and forwarded, spoken to in phonics-level English and forwarded again, I was told that my password (specifically clarified as the one I use in the ATM machine; pin number) was wrong. I tried twice, knowing that it was correct, before being sent elsewhere to try AGAIN, and that being the third time, had my account blocked. Somebody or something had changed my password.

On the way to a place to drink (what else? Wuhu was hardly designed for tourists), I checked an ATM to see if my password was indeed incorrect, and upon confirming, decided to split up and call the bank again to tell them what seemed to have happened. They allowed me to freeze my account after informing me that no money had been taken, and told me that it was very common at this time of year (Chinese New Year) for people to change passwords of accounts they had stolen, moments before the holiday began, making it almost impossible for the owner to get the problem resolved because everything shuts down for the holiday duration. This gives the thief plenty of time to sap all the money out (Because you generally get a daily limit).

Well, that was that. My bank was frozen and I had 500RMB (£50) to my name to last until they would unfreeze it 7 days (not working days) from that point. I wasn’t sure if that included the two weeks of holiday, but either way it’s not good when you have three friends visiting in the biggest time of the whole year.

Well, next dinner was a little more… questionable. The restaurant itself was pretty out of the way, but we were there to meet four more of Pan Pan’s friends. None of which spoke English but enjoyed our company anyway. Upon arrival, you see a row of ice cream freezers with the power turned off and the top-lids slid open. Inside you have a range of options from fish to mutton. Ok well, fish and mutton were the only choices, but not in the way you’d enjoy.

Ignoring the seafood, I was left with Sheep feet, Sheep testicles, Mini snails, Sheep tongue and Sheep ribs.

I ate from about 2 dishes in total.

I ate from about 2 dishes in total.

I went with the ribs and Lettuce. It was great fun watching the rest adventure with the feet and testicles, but I am not a food adventurer. This is because I know with pretty astounding accuracy when something is going to be absolutely horrible or completely plain. The idea of claiming I had something as crazy as dog teeth or monkey brains brings about as much pride to me as saying I had visited the Eiffel Tower or jumped down from the 7th step of my house.

The testicles, if you are interested, were about as horrible as the chicken fetus, in that the guys could taste the semen as it burst in their mouths. They soon found out that you were actually supposed to cook them first, bringing a whole new wave of dread likely lasting the rest of their lives, but I don’t think cooking them would bring much relief. Taste wise, a cooked testicle is much safer in texture, being compared to the liver you might have as a home dinner in England.

Testicle.

Testicle.

We followed the pattern of yesterday and went to a bar, where one of the Chinese guys worked. This is where we saw the Germans playing pool, and we had a tamer drinking game session which was fun to do with added Chinese people.

German's playing pool

German’s playing pool

One of our friends needed to take a dump, and in this kind of city, you’re only going to get squatters, something he wasn’t experienced in. Long story short, the whole debacle involved 20 minutes, a power cut and a lot of laughter.

After the power cut, we left and got to bed. Me and another friend got up bright and early (about 9am I think) to visit an American-built cathedral supposedly erected after the apparently well known opium wars. The gate was locked. After shaking it rapidly for a few seconds, a gardener came and opened it from the other side for us and let us in. The front door to the cathedral was locked. We went around the side and sneaked into a poorly-locked side-door (a small rock wedged in front of it from the inside). We had a look around, it was a very basic place with not even stained glass windows.

Got everything you need for prayer if you're into that, I guess

Got everything you need for prayer if you’re into that, I guess

We left and were confronted by two more friendly people there who insisted on unlocked the cathedral for us to view. So, we went back in and pretended to look interested again. We decided to be a bit more in depth for a few minutes while we were here and had a look in the altar bit you’re not meant to go. We looked down and saw blood. A lot of blood. Sacrificial levels of blood on the floor, along with a bent screwdriver and a shattered pot plant.

'It looks like there was a struggle' - Me

‘It looks like there was a struggle’ – Me

There was more blood in the main area with all the benches too. I took the final photo of the trip and we escaped before it was too late and our DNA was all over the place. This is when something much worse happened.

Jesus saw me and noticed I hadn’t cleared out my bowels for a good couple of days, and took the liberty of helping me out. Within minutes of leaving the cathedral, I became desperate. It was all coming down at a rate of gravity and I needed a toilet FAST.

I wasn’t about to drop to Chinese standards (that would come later), so I struggled to finish my banana and get to the hotel. I couldn’t risk going back to the room in case people were still sleeping and did not open the door, dooming me to shame. I got off on the fourth floor and relieved myself in an already-blocked toilet with an un-closeable door and a large, viewable gap between door and wall. I didn’t care.

I left feeling great but not entirely satisfied, waved at the man opposite in the office and went back up to pack and leave. At the taxi stand, it happened again. Sitting down was the only way I was going to get out of this alive. Shortly, a Chinese-style tuk-tuk was acquired by Pan Pan, and we all got on. Right about when the floor of the hand-customised motorbike was about to collapse, we arrived at the bus station and I was forced to be upright again and things started once again to get desperate.

I escaped to the public toilets, and they were really public. in one row of about 15 were some stalls about 3-feet high, with a bunch of Chinese heads sticking out. queued up were men close enough to get a clear view of the squatters in great detail. They had little metal doors, but a 3-foot tall door isn’t going to conceal much no matter how short you are. Thankfully, I chose the one with a broken door so everyone could just stare straight at me rather than having to stretch their necks out. At this point, I didn’t care.

Relieved again, I washed up and headed to the bus. It started again. The bus pulled off, and we were going home. The whole sitting down thing with buses saved me, since the 4-5 hours of sitting allowed things inside to solidify and keep itself in without a struggle until I got home, but first I had a bank card to deal with.

Getting off at a big station called People’s Square in Shanghai, I remembered the list of locations the girl on the other end said would be open until 8pm that day, and one place was here. Just as I recalled this information, I saw the very bank in the distance and split up with the guys to get it sorted. Within 20 minutes and 2 spoken words – Name, new? – , rather than 7 days, I was able to use the ATM again and my life was back to normal.

And that, people, is the end of this story. I wouldn’t live there, that’s all I’ll say of my opinion.

Next up is Chinese New Year itself, a trip to Suzhou and Hangzhou, and whatever else until routine returns. Unlikely I’ll write about any of it, but who knows.