Some experiences in China I just have to share

Mostly every day in China feels like an episode of Punk’d but after two years of being here most of it doesn’t really raise my eyebrows anymore. Having said that every now and again there are some experiences that just seem to blow my mind. Right now on a flight from Shanghai to Macau one is happening.

So I’m busy working on in this airplane (it’s another weekend of tasting menus, pretending I’m 21 again, lights, martinis and most importantly THE ROLLING STONES.

So the plane is an hour late, but this is common place in China, in fact so much so that now when I get on to the plane I sit down and start working because I’m pretty much guaranteed to get in at least an hour of peaceful work before anything starts to move.

As I begin to type away heavily into some random presentation or email I see out of the corner of my eye a 20 something year old Chinese girl, we shall refer to her as Princess, applying hand cream to her hands out of a tub, scooping out one glob of glop after another with her pointer finger and rubbing each and every square inch of her hands. This has gone on for the entire wait on the ground until her hands are so saturated with moisture that as we take off she presses the ‘call button’ incessantly until the seatbelt lights go off and an airhostess comes. She asks for one of those alcohol soaked hand towels in the little foil packet (yes I’m in economy class for these two hours and the hand towels are those thin antiseptic ones not the magical preheated fluffy face clothes) anyway I digress.

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She now gets one of the afore mentioned towels and barks at the air-hostess that she needs more, the airhostess scuttles off to find the Princess creep show more. In the meantime Princess is not trying desperately to tear open the slippery silver packet but she may as well have lubed up her entire body, dived down an ice sled run and then try stop midway using her baby toenails as breaks. Airhostess returns with a pile of clothes and Princess tells her to open them, airhostess opens 5 of them and Princess snatches them back.

She then proceed to use them to wipe off the grease on the now saturated hands, not just the excess but like lady fucking Macbeth out damn spotting until I swear she has taken off a layer of skin. In the meantime between each scrubbing session she has a bag now on her lap that perhaps could house Revlon fucking R&D department and between scrubs she is squirreling around in there like winter is approaching and she lost her last acorn.

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Now sufficiently degreased she takes to her finger nails, clipping each one five or so times so the million little shards of keratin have littered the plane like confetti and she is satisfied. Thankfully at this point she has to begrudgingly release her bag to the floor as the food arrives.

She brings her now perfectly groomed hands up to her mouth grasping the airline food container and using her spoon to shovel the contents into her tilted back head at a rate faster than I’ve seen POWs do after coming out of Taliban torture camps. That lasted all of three minutes.

After all we must not distract from the mission of beauty perfection in the two hours we have to Macau the city of celebrities, stars and glamour.

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Bag back on lap and squirreling continues at a more frantic pace than before. Out comes eyes drops, mystery liquid and a face mask. A FUCKING FACE MASK! Eye drops applied I watch in utter disbelief as she puts on a face mask as if it’s a Wednesday afternoon at the salon with the girls.

She now barks at the airhostess something I don’t understand, the airhostess returns with a frequent flyer membership application. Needless to say after being on the ground for an hour and in the air for an hour with this bizarrely frantic human being, I’m never flying Air Macau again, I’m never even going to Macau again for fear of having to spend another minute next to this bizarre creature.

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Just another day in China that makes pretty much every moment feel like a cross between Punk’d and a Japanese game show.

 

 

 

I missed my life for a minute until home came for a little visit and a beer festival!

A few weeks ago I had a moment where I missed home like never before. Its funny how things get triggered I guess.

We had some colleagues / friends over for dinner and as an ordinary South African male I put on some music, got a variation of well marinated and prepared animals and fired up the braai. Glass of red wine in one hand and tongs in the other, almost a cliché out of any SA’n story and yet, as would be common practice at home, no one came to join me at the braai. No one offered to help with a second pair of tongs, hold the torch due to a light being out, not even the social comradery of standing over an open fire. My shoulders drooped and my heart sank, I missed home desperately.

It’s in moments like these, and there are not too many, but when they do come you realize how powerful the calling of being in a similar culture really is.

Let me clarify, it’s not that these people were being rude or not enthusiastic but they just have a completely different culture. Braaing to them was the same as two people going to stand around the oven while a chicken roasts, to us those moments around the fire are of almost the same enjoyment as the meal itself.

Fortunately for me there was a little piece of home round the corner, and a much needed connection with the feeling of being ingrained in something rather than just sitting on top – it’s difficult to explain. However little did I realize the ensuing few days would take me back further than just being at home but perhaps closer to being at university.

The Qingdao beer festival (Pijiu Jie)

The second biggest beer festival in the world after Munich and close to 3 million people in 2 weeks pass through these massive tents, stages, halls and open areas. One would assume there would be a fair international presence yet being one of, I’m sure, only twenty total Wai Guo Ren in the place it started to feel a little interesting, and with a small crew of people who had almost 30 hours of travelling combined with excitement it felt like rabid dogs waiting to be let of their leashes.

Needless to say when in the first tent you get served, literally, body sized beer mugs and skyscraper like towers of beer you know it is going to be a big 72 hours, that is before the old Chinese man in the corner offers you all a dried Cicada as a welcome to China snack.

It felt like so many times at home where before a particularly big night I had the feeling of excited nervousness as if we would again end up in some police station begging for our freedom but at the same time appreciating the joy of an epic night – the 2am group naked swim in the ocean, and I NEVER go into the ocean during the day let alone at Jaw’s-time at night, confirmed night one had been successfully dealt with!

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The next 48 hours were somewhat of a blur of big champagne and lobster brunches, outstanding street / stall food, laughs, lots and lots of laughs and much beer, but it was only about half way through night two that we thought we had done half the number of tents on the rotation when we saw a big set of stairs and lights coming over the top. Thinking it may me a good place to see the city and get some aerial shots of the festival we climbed to survey the half territory we had conquered. It turned out ‘our’ map had included probably a third of what there actually was, our faces looked like the scientists in Jurassic park when they first see the dinosaurs on the island, and sorry for the archaic reference I just watched the re-mastered one in 3D here the other day, a mixture of curiosity, excitement and fear. Turns out we were staring at one of the biggest set stages I’ve ever seen, think a flat version of U2 360 deg tour, and just banquet table after table filled with beer, food, people and chaos. This all surrounded by more halls, tents and side bars than we had even seen at our previous part of the festival.

We may remember night two as the one that broke us all.

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When you wake up after three 12 hour drinking sessions, plus two massive nights before we started Qingdao, and you open your eyes normally the pain coursing through your body is enough to put you in the fetal position in the shower. On this morning though it was different, through the pain I was smiling. Certainly not because I felt good but rather because it felt like home for a few days. Its a funny thing, the concept of home.

Im not sure what it is really, its not a place, but a feeling. A sense that there is no need to pretend, no need to impress, no reason to do anything but just enjoy the people you are with and the time you have together. Its a feeling like the jokes they get and don’t judge or take badly, its a feeling that you just are as apposed to most days in Shanghai where you are trying to build and make and be.

The few days with friends, that i have purposefully left pictures out of to avoid some serious embarrassment, is just a perfect rest and recharge no matter how much damage was done to the body.

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This beer festival is a the most bizarre mix of people, events, food and fun but i have to say although it may feel like the twilight zone most of the time – it is certainly well worth a visit!

 

Cruising the ancient Yangzi . . .

I’ve been trying to write this post for a while now, well that’s actually a lie if I’m honest. I’ve been thinking about writing it for so long but I’m not sure exactly what to write about this trip.

I guess there are a few disclaimers.

First I haven’t been on a cruise since I was thirteen and my family was part of a global organization that basically organized an entire ocean liner through the Baltics, so not exactly a fair point of reference.

Second, cruises are for old people and the more luxury you go the older they get – this one was like a scene from Cocoon!

Three, I had no idea what to expect cruising down the Yangzi river for a few days other than rural ancient magic.

So all I can really say outside of the pictures is that somehow when you are sailing down an ancient river through some of the most breath taking scenery in the world you gain a sense of perspective, a sense of calm and a renewed energy that I don’t think any pool villa suite can bring, not that I’m going to give that up but I think the combination of experiences is important.

This trip was sensational and the Zen like sense of power I felt when I stepped off the boat seems so far away now I can barely recall it. Even when I look at the pictures now  I get a small feeling of what I remembered it to be like but alas, work, stress and 40 deg heat daily have squished the Zen master right back out of me!

Enjoy the sights of the Yangzi river . . .

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Cities in the middle of no where rising out of the banks of the river – the only thing i can think of that i can compare it to is QARTH from Game of Thrones!

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Some of the maybe 100 massive bridges I saw during the trip – all built quickly and designed superbly to increase efficiency (sounds like China’s motto) DSC00912

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An ancient fishing village probably thousands of years old, living off the land, incredibly beautiful!

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The Three Gorges Dam, the largest power station in the world. Responsible for the government forcibly moving 1 500 000 people to other parts of the country during its construction. Words cannot express the size and power of this thing!

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Just going through the locks of this amazing man made thing was an incredible experience. The efficiency of rising 100s of meters in mere minutes just sensational engineering (again could be China’s motto) !

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Just some of the ancient sights, blue skies (in the autumn all the water is apparently aqua – I can only imagine) green hills towering over each side of the boat – just sensational!

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Off the big boat into small row boats, the gorges get far too narrow for even a medium sized boat – only these tiny row boats with poor modern day ‘slaves’ paddling along with stupid Laowai tourists screaming Jaiyou at them to encourage the racing!

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Some of the most amazing sunsets of my life on this boat –  perfect calm, serene, oranges and reds reflected in the water. Pictures cannot capture what your eyes experience here!

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It wouldn’t be China if you didn’t see some very random stuff on the river, a giant head on the side of a mountain (above) and a transport ship of all men standing half naked outside (below)

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Finally I do have to say that if you are going to cruise, like an old person, then do it in style and these dudes certainly do it well on the Yangzi explorer. The boat is relatively small compared to the other monster ‘pack-em-in types, the suites are stunningly beautiful. The food is exceptional and the service is phenomenal. Just go have a look at this boat!

Certain things you do stick with you for a long time and what I saw on this trip, as with so many trips in China, will stay imprinted both visually and emotionally for a long time!

 

The place they call Naked . . .

Like pretty much every Laowai that comes to shanghai I’m going to post about Moganshan. I’m posting for every new Laowai that arrives and wants to know whether they should go to the Naked Retreats or not.

Its very simple, you must and here’s the picture proof why!

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Being in Shanghai I miss the wide open spaces, I miss the feel of being at Inyati and while this doesn’t exactly have the same variables to work with it is one of the most amazing places I’ve been.

Firstly praise has to go to the South African who had the giant balls to go out and setup something like this in the middle of rural china, I mean I sh1t myself when I have to present to an all Chinese audience, this dude built a luxury camp out.

Second the feeling of sitting in rural china and having a braai, with a bottle of vino and some home made boera almost brought me to tears.

This place is truly special for anyone but for South Africans  it’s a ‘home oasis’ in the middle of a Chinese desert, one that’s not needed often but when you come across it you sink to your knees and drink it all in!

If you are coming to Shanghai, live in shanghai or are passing through this place is not a suggestion but an absolute must do place filled with biking through ancient towns, tea fields, horse riding, relaxing and disappearing into the forest canopy! Sensational!

Go check their site for the full show!

This is Shanghai!

I took this photo :)
I took this photo :)

On Instagram I’ve sort of adopted the hashtag #mycityShanghai. I’m proud to be a Laowai living in Shanghai and I love this city. I love the energy, the vibe, the ever changing landscape, the cars, the chaos, the madness, the lights and the people (I also hate it all equally but that’s a whole new discussion)

So when I watched this video it filled me with a sort of borrowed pride for an adopted city I have come to love. I have never seen a better video representation of the powerhouse that is Shanghai, just watch a little (soundtrack is too cool as well)

This is Shanghai from Rob Whitworth on Vimeo.

Bizarrely enough a few days later I got sent another video. A video that gave the the complete opposite feeling ot the first one! A video that made me sad for the loss of an old city with so much character and soul, a city that must die for a new more modern metropolis to be born!

It’s not that I don’t agree with the growth and the progress, shit I’m the last person to let nostalgia stand in the way of change but at the same time it made me appreciate what was being lost. I drive past the houses being torn down every single day in one part of the city or another and my immediate reaction it is how progressive china is, how fast they are evolving and it comes with a sense of admiration. Now after seeing this perhaps the admiration will be matched with empathy for those who are losing their history to make way for a new generation

The most poignant part of this video is when he says, “Why? There is no why in China”. This is the side that the world harps on always, I see it as progress, that’s maybe because I’ve never been on the worng side of it!

Ill post my Yangzi River cruise in the next few days but there is a stop at the worlds biggest dam // hydro plant. It was the correct decision to build this thing but literally millions of people had to be relocated. No discussion, no query, no WHY? It just is what it is sometimes in China and if you are on the wrong side it doesn’t help to ask why, it just is.

Regardless of the dichotomy of this country I find it tremendously exciting (and then I watch the first video again)

The Pandas and the Buddha . . .

I’ve waited my whole life to see the Pandas, I could’ve gone to a million zoos in some or other country but to see them in the ‘wild’ has been a life long dream, a bucket list cross-out if you will. I don’t know why I love these creatures so much but to be able to see them just naturally playing, eating and relaxing was soul food. They are ancient, innocent and the epitome of a species that should never have survived this long but are a rare beauty because they have. You can almost feel them laughing as they stuff their cute little faces full of bamboo and give evolution the middle finger simultaneously.

Its literally almost impossible for them to procreate on their own, the mothers are rarely attached to babies and they don’t hunt or really do anything other than eat, sleep and relax – I think that’s what makes them the most fun creature on this planet.

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For a small fortune you get to hold a baby one of these buggers for all of two minutes. It is rationally a complete waste of money but there are few things that are more incredible. I dont know why but feeding this fat little thing honey coated bamboo shoots while it sat on my la was truly an incredible experience and worth every penny!

The main reason to go to Chengdu was the above but an added life enhancer was the giant Buddha at Leshan. This is basically a stone Buddha carved OUT OF A MOUNTAIN 100 stories high. It took almost 100 years to complete and is hundreds of years old.

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At the bottom of this shot on the left are his toes!

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To stand above this gigantic expression of one mans dream and to think that he started a process to create this that he knew he would almost never certainly see complete resonates with me somehow. To have the faith and self belief to know that your dream is so powerful that even if you are not there to do it, someone will carry it on just to see it finished. Incredible.

This magical monstrous sculpture took my breath away from literally every angle, some of them a single foot path of hundreds of steps to climb down the side of the Buddha and then back up the other side.

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Just past his head – those tiny little colored dots – those are people!
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Same as the above pic – look at the people past his head!

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This is taken on the way down from the tiny narrow one man line of stairs!

4 May was my birthday and spent climbing to the top of Qingcheng Mountain that has a 1000 year old Taoist temple. Misty wet and surrounded by something that is truly ancient is an incredible feeling. Its barely describable but when you are walking the same steps that millions have walked over 1000s of years is a most calm and peaceful place, rounded off by lighting incense to mark the day and to hope for more incredible ones to come.

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At the top of this mountain sits a pagoda with a view literally in the clouds and with banister after banister of locks from people who have come up to the top, engraved the names and locked them over years onto these poles to show love and friendship.

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Lastly there are a few things I have to say about Chengdu.

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It has a quaint charm I have found in small corners of China. It has the greatest spicy Sichuan food on the planet (I now own enough Sichuan peppercorn to last a few generations). The people they say are like Pandas, they are lazy and like to sit in the sun, drink tea and play Majong – if you had to say who was winning at life, I really think they are!

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The obligatory marriage market!
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One of maybe 50 activities going on in the park from games to dancing to skateboarding etc
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100 year old tea house next to the river

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Thermas’s of hot water continuously refilled for hours of tea drinking

The Shangri La (depending on when you read this) is massive, as all Chinese hotels are, salute to decadence and luxury and the Horizon Club is magical. There is something completely civilized about sitting on the 35th floor of a building, eating canapes and drinking champagne while looking over and entire city!

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Every night Champagne and canapes . . .

A panda cake waiting in the room for my birthday from the brilliant team at the hotel!

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Lastly a few places you need to put back on your list of things to do if you haven’t yet.

Jinli old street is a bit touristy, it’s a little cheesy but at the end of it, it has the best selection of street food that is well worth the walk-through abuse you get from markets in China.

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Peoples park you may think is just a simple waste of time but just seeing the people dancing, playing games and relaxing by meandering rivers really makes you re-evalute what the hell you are doing rotting away in an office every day!

Like all Laowai there are certain things you are ignorant too, how many types of Tofu exist and how many kinds of Bamboo there are. There is a park with 100s of types of bamboo, some that I swear are not of this planet. It’s a small walk through, very quiet and peaceful and quite magical in a way.

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Lastly the face changing show that’s held in the local outdoor theater  it again is packed with tourists and you wont understand half of whats going on but to see Chinese theater in action (plus you can watch the put on the make up / costumes) is really spectacularly interesting, even if you just go for the shadow puppet guy!

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If this place is not on your list of China TO DOs then you need to re-evaluate your priorities I fear!

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Sometimes inspiration just smacks you in the (drunk) face . . .

So I’m taking a leaf out of another bloggers book, not of the same courage, not of similar personal perseverance to triumph, but of impulsive unedited spontaneous feeling driven writing!

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Let me give you the 20 second summary and background.

I sucked at university, so much so that it almost took me double the allotted time to complete my degree. Since then I have been a merchandiser (shelf packer) , sales rep, manager, director, created the biggest dedicated sales force in the world and now Shanghai-I’m-not-sure-what-CEO-type-thing!

Today, I was playing golf with probably three of the most important business people in my universe (I manage about 15 000 ppl and they pay most of the bills). So I was slightly nervous at 10am this morning at tee off. I didn’t shank the first drive but I certainly didn’t find the fairway. After a year of non-golf you will excuse me!

So now I’m drunk, very drunk (each hole had to include a beer but drunk quickly every four holes – its raining and playing golf in the rain is shit so you get it).

So currently I’m in my Buick people carrier driven back to Shanghai by my seriously cool under 30 driver who is the epitome of Chinese new age nonchalant cool (whose mom made me Zongzi over the Duanwu Jie when he went home this week and I went cruising – soon to be written about).

We’re going off track (I did warn you I am drunk)

So the reason for my post is I’m listening to a playlist of song from a world class friend of mine, one of which is ‘Pursuit of happiness – Kid Cudi’ – the kind of track I like to stand in the middle of the dance floor hand in the air when the beat drops and just standing still enjoy the moment as the music, light and people all move in slow motion around me.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jre6_FBBc0

(this is the remix im listening to – the video is from a movie called Project X that you should have seen by the way)

This feeling is slightly older, slightly more limitless-pill, the feeling a sense of calm, happy and power. One of small victories and self satisfaction. The fact that I’ve come to place I cannot understand and cannot begin to comprehend but now, a year later, am playing golf with the most important people in my economic world, I have friends, I have and amazing lane house (post to come) and I have a ‘power-base’ that I took so for granted in SA.

Do I miss my home, fuck yes, do I miss my friends and the fact that I would be on the course with them today instead of anyone else today, no question but as so brilliantly said in the Godfather ‘This is the business we’ve chosen’ and so I must live with these decisions but so much as to say, I’m doing well, I’m enjoying life and I’m really starting to feel like I’m standing on grass rather that in the waves of the beach feeling the sand seep out from below my toes!

The moral of this rather long laborious story is, enjoy life, enjoy the shit adjustment phases of new days and enjoy the intimacy of knowing and learning new spaces – love it all and like I’ve said so many times before, when you have a small victory, embrace it, enjoy it and appreciate it!

A fun few weeks in the big city!

As 2012 slipped away I was fairly ambivalent about what I had achieved last year and so I promised myself I would do more, travel more (for pleasure) and experience more, I mean lets be fair living in shanghai is an opportunity that needs to be grabbed by the proverbial balls. This seems to be gaining some good traction!

One of the greatest things about living in a big city is that there is constantly something happening in the city. That is besides the 500 restaurants and bars opening and closing every month, Shanghai fashion week, auto show etc.

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April was a rather busy month all in all. I moved from a serviced apartment in Xintiandi which is basically like living in an apartment sized hotel room inside Melrose Arch, which is basically the upper East Side of Manhattan. This sounds like a great setup, and it is, in the beginning, but when you have seen the breakfast room and the hotel sized gym for the 300th time it starts to get rather claustrophobic!

A traditional Chinese lane house is the new destination for a year. This is basically a small lane off a normal road in the old French concession with blocks of 6 story houses on either side of it, you can either take a floor, two floors or the whole thing! Ours has been renovated for the last 6 months so it is all Chinese (including the very loud, very communal neighbors) and all modern Laowai on the inside!

In between that there were a few surprise events. The first was the Shanghai GP. I’m not a massive F1 fan, I’m not sure why I guess I just never got into it really but from a day at the races I can clearly see what all the fuss is about.

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From the parade of the drivers around the track to hearing those cars roar around the track at speeds that are barely comprehensible I have to say this does seem like something I could get used to. The only down side I would have to say was the spectacle!

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The Chinese are generally pretty good putting on a fairly decent show but in this particular instance there was very little to show off. The stands outside were poor, the big screens were not existent and you had to rely on the ever present iPhone to work out who was even in the lead.

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Lastly the crashes were terrible, meaning there were none but I suppose that’s uncontrollable

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After that it was off to an orchid festival at the Shanghai botanical garden which is basically four monumental glass cocoon type structures filled with 30 000 orchid displays from countries around the world, apparently orchid displays are big in the competitive world, similar to competitive cup stacking or roshambo.

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Every possible shape size and color of orchid in existence is housed in these massive human sculptures and needless to say was seriously impressive!

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One main hall just had individual entries. Bouquets and single displays of orchids lead you through a room filled with personal creation from around the world until one solitary orchid stood alone in a room, the one orchid to rule them all, the winner!! I have no idea why it won and I have no idea why anyone cares but here it is!

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Outside of this is a garden path that looks like something Willy Wonka created, with flowers of type and color I’ve never seen in my life, leading into a modern designed gargantuan stone quarry.

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It’s nice to get a little out of the city and get a bit of fresh air especially when you see the greatest of Chinese innovation in toiletry. A public moveable toilet that counts the amount of time you spend in there (the electronic board above the sign) – as if there wasn’t enough pressure, apparently it’s called a ‘Emiction Compartment’

IMG_9717Lastly this month was the grandiose Shanghai auto show. It pretty much consists of 20 of the biggest halls I’ve ever seen in my life housing every car manufacturer I’ve seen, heard of and couldn’t make up.

From the glamorous Lambos, Ferraris, Bentlys, Porches, Astons and on and on, to the genius’s at SMART car who probably were the most fun.

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Then of course there are the extras! Mercedes and BMW fly in their cleaning crews for the show cars from Germany to the Italian companies who more importantly fly in their models.

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One stand out mention does have to go to the home grown Chinese supercar. It may have been ugly as hell from the front but the rest of it was seriously slick – they catch up quick over here!

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For me though the winners were quite simple. The Koenigsegg in matte white, carbon fibre and baby blue was simply sensational, that car just is something to be marveled at. The new Range Rover sport is for me currently the best 4×4 vehicle alive out there and then finally the new Jag F type (not in this crap colour) which I think may need to be purchased along side the Range sport if I ever return home! 

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All in all it is a massively sexy day of dream cars, fun cars and futuristic jetpacks from every corner on earth!







 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The city of ice and lights . . .

I cannot believe I forgot to publish something on this experience, I guess with the excitement of a trip home for a few weeks not much got written. Never the less here goes.

To say this place is cold is like saying Leo Messi can play football. The truth is I have never experienced a level of cold like this in my life before, if you think I’m joking, this is what it looks like.

harbin temperature

If you have never heard of this festival its called the Harbin snow and ice festival and basically comprises of ice sculpting, snow sculpting, ice building and swimming (??!!!) oh and a sneaky trip to see a few tigers.

Teams from all around the world come to build these apartment-block-sized ice and snow sculptures for months until the festival starts mid Jan in the small (10m ppl) town of Harbin. They are then unveiled in a massive explosion of lights, ice and fireworks, while you look at the pics remember these are ALL ONLY ICE AND LIGHTS . . .

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IMG_1929These are for those who are interested in grand gestures, then there are those that are in it for the creativity. Those teams who come for precision ice art, who design them and then create an artistic masterpiece from a square block of ice roughly the size of an SUV, I have shown a few but there must be about a hundred of them, each with a story and absolutely brilliant craftsmanship and attention to detail . . .

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Then there are those that are interested in both, they use fashioned snow to create giant sculptures, stories, advert or castles that are laid out across a gigantic park for all to see, again this is a small sample of the hundreds of these things . . .

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In between enjoying the art there are thousands who enjoy the outdoor activities like sliding down an ice hill in a tube, most fun I’ve had since i was a kid. Sled dog rides, think alsatian pulling a rocking chair, ice sailing, snowmobiling, spinning tops and anything else ice related you could possible to on a giant river frozen a meter thick!

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IMG_7413Also there are a few, as you would expect, that are a snowflake short of a snowstorm. Every winter they chainsaw out a swimming pool in the frozen over lake and swim. Now I know what you are saying, its good for circulation blah blah. Believe me, I have on numerous times done the sauna to snow rolling around and back scenario, this is a little different.

First of all its -25 at best, when I took off my two pairs of gloves I literally felt my fingers go numb immediately, then start to burn like they were in acid, that was with two beanies, 3 fleeces, a ski jacket, thermal vest, long johns and pants on. It was so cold I have never in any ski trip over the last 25 years ever had to wear thermal underwear and here it wasn’t enough. To give you an idea my iPhone was so cold it just gave up and switched off only to restart in the hotel room after defrosting!

They do not start in a sauna, they walk out, de-robe and dive in. It helps that they are all part Russian but still I thought Lewis Pugh was hardcore, this is another level!

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There is also the added benefit of going to look at the Tiger sanctuary, a place where Tigers are kept, rehabilitated etc and you drive around in a glorified bus to have a look, after that you go on the wakling trail (this is actually how they spell it) and can pay a small price to poke a dead chicken through the fence with braai tongs and feed the poor caged bastards, not exactly Inyati but still quite amazing.

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Lastly one of the greatest highlights has got to be eating a hot pot dinner in an igloo. The nice warm luxurious Shangri La Hotel has built a freezer door which opens into a large nicely decorated igloo where you sit with blankets, heaters and a table full of freezing, literally, ingredients to cook hot pot (the Chinese version of fondue, sort of).

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Then once you are stuffed full of meat, veg and what I can only assume where testicles of some kind you can march down the corridor and chill in the ice bar with a vodka neat, because when its -30 you don’t really need the ice!

All in all I have to say this was not on my bucket list, in fact I had no idea it existed but after seeing this it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The best part of all is in summer it’s a beautiful 35 degrees and they have one of the biggest beer festivals in the world!!

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Christmas in Shanghai: The irony of it all . . .

So being the first Xmas since moving to China I was quite interested to see what the hell actually goes on here. In SA everyone slowly slips into a warm holiday coma and no one dares to email each other until well into the New Year. There are however, few decorations, a large number of family gatherings and general all round merriment and drinking. I was eager to find out if I could expect the same!

China is, needless to say, a little different . . .

Firstly it is freezing (given that it’s the northern hemisphere that’s not a massive surprise really). Secondly there is a rather large expat population in Shanghai so there are an abundance of Xmas parties, brunches, lunches, dinners, events and markets. You would swear you were in a small German town somewhere by the amount of Bratwurst & Gluwein available around the city this time of year.

There are a good few gift, food and booze markets happening around the city (for some reason, I have no idea why, they are all German themed)

Thirdly every single major brand goes mental over Xmas. They have decorations for every piece of their stores, massive trees outside and everything you would expect to find in Paris during Xmas time.

Every building has a tree, presumably that’s cause every apartment building I’ve been into is full of Laowai, but never the less, our building even has a lift to put the star on the top (and gives everyone a very cute Santa filled with Xmas sweets!)

Then there are the abundance of Xmas parties which include proper carol singing, a first entirely for me, large amounts of alcohol, certainly not a first for me and just the same warm friend and family time as home – with a few homemade DIY Strawberry Santa’s!

Lastly what makes this so entirely bizarre is that the Chinese really do not know its Xmas at all. I mean they know that it’s happening but they have no idea what it’s about, what the point is and what you are supposed to do. My company does not stop, not on Xmas day, not on Boxing Day, not for a second. Why would it, it’s just another day here, yet the streets are lined with lights and trees, the consumers are buying like westerners shopping for presents. Yet when asked why they like Xmas so much, they say they are not sure they just like festivals – can’t argue with that logic.

All in all it’s a very strange time of year. On one hand I’ve never seen so many decorations, so much festivity and on the other its like it doesn’t even exist to 99.9% of the people but yet they still seem to want the pretty lights and festivity. All in all it really is a beautiful time to be in Shanghai!

Tianjin, just one of 100s of Chinese cities?

To be fair I cannot claim to be any sort of expert on China at all, I’ve been here 9 months only, most of which time has been spent in Shanghai or out of the country really, so when I pretend to pass judgment on Tianjin, take it with a pinch of proverbial salt.

So what did I learn on my trip then, all of 48 hours of it? Well, actually I was in Beijing for the launch of Brandz China Top 50 brands for WPP.  If you want to know which companies most of the people in the world currently work for or will work for in the future is a brilliant thing to have a look at!

Plus if you do you get to meet people like this (the name people, the name!)

Now BJ, as it’s so brilliantly shortened to, is getting cold about now. I mean around the freezing mark and it’s still about two months away from the worst winter has to offer.

Then you take the train to Tianjin . . .

Tianjin is a ‘smallish Chinese city’ of roughly 10 million people, one of about 20 or 30  in the country and so it’s nothing special really and in fact for the time I was there you couldn’t really tell the roads from the buildings from the sky which makes it even more of a treat! I’m probably being unfair to the place, I mean it does have a Ferris wheel, that’s gotta count for something, no?

Now because my job is based around retail I generally get to have a look around stores and malls wherever I am. This is a lot less glamorous than you would think but in China it certainly has its perks. The range of things you see from fully clothed pets (incl shoes and hats) to people smoking in the fresh produce section (TO THE FRESH PRODUCE  SECTION ITSELF as my fellow STM partner says ‘most of that shit you would find in a pet store’) to beautiful things like this!

Now sometimes I travel on my own budget which means I like to enjoy where I stay as much as is humanly possible so this results in villas mostly. Then there are times I stay on the companies budget which means run of the mill Hilton, Hyatt etc, good hotels but pretty much standard rooms and then, there are sadly times when my clients prescribe the budget and I stay in some very average, sometimes frightening inn-sorta-places. Now in China this really can be surprisingly pleasant or horribly un-so, this trip was the latter. You know that it’s not going to be a good night when you find an Armageddon mask in the bedside table (and when the bedside table is bolted down for that matter).

Finally the airport on the way out was the best part of this specific Chinese outing. Normally the smoking lounges in china are tiny, old and filled with a thousand small men all trying to, simultaneously, get cancer and give it to each other, so you can imagine what I expected in a ‘small city’ airport. To my magnificent surprise I found the last place on earth that still respects the smoker! A massive room with about 30 massage chairs for the general public to wonder in, have a smoke and sort out their lower back issues!

The best part of the trip however, and this is why I love travelling in China so much, was the massive gargantuan unbelievable amount of arbitrary that the Chinese often indulge in! As I was walking to my gate I saw a line of about 50 people, assuming this was my boarding gate I walked up to the queue only to realize these people were waiting in line to get their photo taken, by a professional no less, in front of a giant picture of an Airbus A380.

Sometimes words actually fail me.

The moral of the story is every trip I gain a tiny insight into the Chinese way of thinking, culture and countryside. It is in all seriousness a true privilege and one of the big reasons I moved here!

The exploration continues, but first off to Moscow!

What I learnt in Nanjing . . .

So I haven’t written in a while for very good reason. I’ve been travelling, drinking excessively and eating like a French King before the revolutions stopped all that goodness.

First I had the pleasure of heading out to Nanjing . . .

Now when you ask the Chinese about Nanjing they tell you it’s quite a small little town and by the way they talk you kind of feel like you are heading out to Potchefstroom when in actual fact it has the population of Johannesburg, roughly 10mill. As I arrived at my hotel I was aimlessly reading the hotel info, waiting for the elevator  only to find out I was standing in and staying in the 7th tallest building on earth (nice ‘rural’ town!)

The Nanjing Intercontinental & 7th tallest building in the world behind what i can only describe as a mini Great Wall!

So what did I learn in Nanjing . . .

1.       The combination of an ever growing and developing first world nation set on top of the ancient legacy of Chinese dynasties is incredibly beautiful. I had the fortune of exploring Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum which is basically the resting place of the first Ming Dynasty’s emperor.

You can imagine based on the village they built for him to be dead in, what power he must have wielded during his life!

2.       As I strolled through the ancient parks surround by a city wall that is barely even a feature of China, let alone known by the rest of the world (but is 50m high and 10m thick – a mini Great Wall) I noticed how appreciative the Chinese are of each other’s talents – this was ribbon dancing just performed for the fun of it followed by spinning top people, singers and on and on simply in the park through the day for no other reason than enjoying a skill and enjoying the ability to entertain those who pass by!

3.       The other thing you notice is how the Chinese regard the environment which, is somewhat of a surprise, as they are viewed as great destroyers of the natural world by most outsiders. You would generally put this down to an amusing translation mistake but the more I study and learn Mandarin here the more I realise the emotion conveyed in the words which makes me appreciate signs like this are not mistakes but rather the true meaning coming out!

4.       Simply put, to eat here is fantastically exciting (both in location and in content) but you have to be brave (and when you get to the bottom of your soup you are likely to find something’s head). Eat it, experience it and never be that annoying foreigner who says ‘eeewww that’s disgusting!’

5.       When you are in the 7th tallest building in the world the views are unreal but if you are brave enough to stand right up against the glass you can actually feel just how insignificantly mortal you are, but if you lay in the bath overlooking the same view you can feel like an unstoppable god!

6.       I had to stay on a few days for business and my clients budgets for travel are slightly different to my own so I went from a suite at the Intercontinental to a room that cost RMB 300 (400 ZAR per night). It had a flat screen, a double bed and bathroom amenities – all in all I think it was the best value for money hotel (or motel) room I’ve stayed in anywhere in the world!

Not too bad for R400 (although i think the bed was a plank and a sheet – not good to dive into when drunk!)
You even get a full set of bathroom amenities!

7.       Finally and most importantly I learnt that language is the biggest barrier to communication but if you add a drinking game, 5 people who speak no English, one laowai, a singer in full silver and a DJ in full gold you can communicate like you are Siamese twins.

The picture cannot express the absolutely brilliant cliche of a DJ in full gold sequins from head to toe!

 case study on how drinking games transcend language barriers!

This is one of the reasons I came to China and I must say its taken me a while to get going (only Suzhou has been the other trip so far, well that and Bali & Singapore and now Bangkok and back to SA – ok so a bit in 6 months) but now that I’m up and running its going to be a hell of a ride, that I’m sure of!

Wishing time away . . .

Friday was World Children’s Day.

I did even know this until I saw the now iconic GOOGLE DOODLE that day. I then started noticing more and more empty seats in my office and when I inquired, I found out that almost every mother had taken off work to spend the day with their children.

As I walked home through the park it was filled with parents and children playing and quite simply enjoying each other’s company – it was an amazing thing to watch.

When I got home to find the same collection of parents playing in the garden with their kids it just reinforced for me one of the amazing cultures I’m starting to realize in China. You see for some reason the western individuals have become so focused on the future and progress that we (and I include myself here) have almost stopped enjoying today because we are so focused on tomorrow.

The people here (and again I grossly over generalize) have somehow found a way to progress at the speed of light but all the while ensuring they do not miss out on the importance of enjoying today. Often I walk through the parks on my way home or on weekends and find people singing, playing instruments or doing traditional dancing. They aren’t doing this for money or for any other reason than enjoying every second of the time they have.

 

This starts to make me think of the brilliance of the Allan Grey adverts (I have written about the unimaginably good KING JAMES agency before) and one advert in particular . . .

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fI058VXhAc

You see until I moved half away around the world from my friends and family I often used to catch myself wishing time away.

You know what I mean. Weddings you don’t really want to be at, birthdays of people you don’t really know, events or dinner you are forced into. The truth is you keep thinking there will be more time and more time and so wishing a few hours away doesn’t seem like a lot, doesn’t seem like a major sacrifice. The question you should ask yourself is how would you behave if that party or dinner or event, no matter how annoying, if it was your last one. would you behave any differently?

If the answer is yes, which it most certainly will be, then you need to ask yourself why.

We all have a finite time on this earth and the one thing we know for absolute certain is that we have no idea when it’s up. I’m not going to go into a whole soppy speech about tell those people you love them and every other sentimental line from PS I love you, but just think about it for a minute.

When you wake up every morning and go to bed every night without those people around you who you really care about you start to think about these things, but it shouldn’t take anyone to get to that point before we realize how important enjoying every moment with those people.

There’s a little soppiness for you today – from tomorrow I will be back to my normal self and I think will post some nudity just to compensate 😉

The Limitless pill . . .

If you haven’t seen the movie limitless yet then there are a few things you first need to do here . . .

  1. Close your browser and move your keyboard out of the way
  2. Slam your head against the desk until you feel dizzy
  3. Apologize to yourself for not having seen this movie
  4. Download / Rent / Buy or however you get your movies – the movie Limitless
  5. Once you have watched the movie open your browser and start reading

Now that you are back in control of your life and have improved it slightly by watching this movie you now get the title of this article – congratulations!

 

Now let me get on with telling what the hell it means . . .

So you see most industries have their own slang or terminology, this is true all over. You don’t realize how much of it there is until you change industries or change markets. In fact you probably have no idea but every email you send, every phone call you take or discussion you have with a colleague you are spewing out terms that, if someone on the street where to hear you, they’d think you were speaking a different language.

You know what I’m talking about, just stop now and think about words you use with clients or payroll or HR systems. Terms for processes, systems or job titles, words that have become such a part of your vocab you actually have no clue that they mean nothing outside of your working bubble!

So when you switch jobs or markets or industries or company’s (if you’ve ever done any of these) you will know how annoying it is to relearn all of these stupid names, nicknames, acronyms, systems, processes etc. etc.

So now imagine my situation. I have moved to Shanghai and so I have switched jobs, markets & companies. Not only have I changed all of this but every new term and explanation for the slang here is in CHINESE!

This is where my limitless pill comes in, you see you will never truly understand the frustration of not being understood until you live somewhere where no one understands you. Sure you’ve been to Florence on holiday and the waiter brought you the wrong soup cause you were trying out the two words of Italian you think you learnt – well this is not quite the same you waspy bastard!

You take for granted being able to work to 100% (well some of us) of your ability because you take being able to communicate for granted! When you deliver an instruction generally it is understand and executed, well in my world it was like this at least. You can understand meetings and presentations and you can actively participate, give an opinion, propose an idea or defend yourself when being attacked unfairly. You can understand the subtlety of body language, tone of excitement or anger and facial expressions that match sentences. You can send and receive emails instantly reading, understanding and auctioning. You can make phone calls to discuss ideas and be understood clearly and quickly on the other end. You can use the web to research.

Imagine all of this was gone. Imagine you do not understand a single word of anything going on around you and you cannot add or subtract anything to the processes or systems happening in every square meter around your brain. Imagine just for a moment that every single word that is sent, spoken or presented is in a language so foreign that it may as well be hieroglyphics.

You are, for now, useless!

Now do you get why I crave the limitless pill?