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China Diary & Blog

We'll post reports, some of our thoughts and photos of our trip to China in these pages.  It won't be updated daily but we'll try to keep the new material coming!   If you are looking for our son's blog then it is here.

September 2006

Here is the September Archive of our blog.  Get back to the main blog page here.


National Day Holiday

Tomorrow is the start of the week long National Day holiday.  This commemorates the creation of the PRC in 1949. In order to have this week long holiday, today (Saturday) and Sunday 8th October are normal work days. Many people travel to be with family for this festival and as a result there are extra flights and train services. Package holidays to Thailand or Lhasa (on the new rail link to Tibet) are all the rage. There are even direct charter flights between Mainland China and Taiwan.  Many of the students are returning home for this week-long break but some are remaining on campus. This, as well as it being a wet day, has made it fairly quiet here today.

I took a walk to the supermarket this afternoon about 5pm.  When I got to one of the schools en-route, the footpaths and a good portion of the street were crowded with parents waiting for their children.  It was a quiet blockade of poncho-clad scooter riders, cyclists and umbrella-armed pedestrians.  I imagine it was an orderly situation but to this foreigner (waiguoren) it looked chaotic.  Just as well these people don't do the school run in Fendalton Tractors! I also noticed why it is vital to "double" a pillion passenger on a bicycle: they can hold the umbrella to keep both riders dry!

Last night we had one of TJ's English students show us where to get some good meals from the roadside stalls outside the campus gate.  Fried rice and Peking Duck for four cost NZ$3.50: and there were left-overs for today's lunch!

We're off to Nanjing tomorrow to enjoy the hospitality of some new friends who are in Beijing for the week! We'll use their apartment as our base for sightseeing, shopping and relaxing in the "big smoke". There are many things to do in Nanjing and McDonald's is high on Sam's priority list of attractions! We'll visit some new friends from the USA, Purple Mountain and Sun Yat Sen's Mausoleum, some night markets, the 4km long double-decker (train+vehicles) bridge over the Yangtze river and the old city walls. As a result, we may not be updating this page for a week!


Construction Sites

There are several construction sites around the campus (and around Jurong City):

  • Just in front of our apartment block is a new 6 storey Teachers' Apartment block under construction.
  • There is a 6 storey high crane at a site that we understand will have Professors' Residences built.
  • A large hotel is being built in the grounds near the main admin block.
  • A large area about 150m x 80m is being levelled and has hard fill placed there.  Maybe it is going to be basketball courts or similar?
  • Excavations have started for a new gymnasium. The site offices for this were put up last week.

The Jurong skyline has several (over a dozen) cranes at various building sites.  The most impressive is a huge structure in the centre of the city.  We've yet to inquire as to what will it will be.

The new Teachers' Apartments block has had the green "scrim cloth" removed from the scaffolding on our side of the building.  This has revealed the plaster over poured concrete and clay brick construction and some interesting scaffolding. Near the mains power reticulation along the road there is bamboo scaffolding: this is man-sized bamboo of about 3" diameter. Around the building proper, conventional steel scaffolding has been used.  It uses a few planks and many woven bamboo mats for walking and drop protection surfaces. It does not have ladders connecting the levels: the workers climb out window openings and climb around the scaffolding without harnesses.  I watched them installing some of the downpipe the other day: I'm glad the scaffolding was dry as it was a very good balancing act getting the long lengths of pipe out the window and then manoeuvred around the scaffolding to be fitted. I love flying but I'm not that keen on "exposed" heights.

The woven "mats" are made from ¾" to 1" diameter bamboo that has been split in half into "flat-rounds". At least one of the other construction sites around town also uses these as fencing to keep the public out. They haven't covered these in advertising signs like happens in Christchurch.

New apartments viewed from our window



Night Lights & Traffic

As it was such a balmy evening on Friday, we went downtown to look at all the neon lights on the buildings. We thought it was quite an impressive show and Sam was "de-lighted".  There are animated neon lights everywhere plus a couple of spotlights from the tallest building. I'm going to have to improve my night photography skills: I think a tripod is required!

Families were out and about enjoying the evening and the children were running and roller skating on the tiled areas in the park. Several younger chaps were pulling the large balloons with banners (like the one shown here) down to the ground and then letting them go: it caused the brick they were anchored to to lift slightly off the ground when they reached the end of the tether. Some adults were ballroom dancing to pre-recorded music on a small tiled area.  Sam had a good run around the small lake and the park area. Not a teenage yob nor a single boy racer to be seen :) and I expect this is largely due to the expense of vehicles here.

Scooter City

It is not uncommon to see a family with a small child and two parents on a scooter (electric or petrol).  The child stands in front of the driver on the "step" and the pillion may be riding side-saddle!  When school gets out for the day there is a congregation of scooters ready to ferry the children home. Some of these are better described as electric bicycles or mopeds: they have pedals although some people remove them for convenience.  Scanning the available info, most of these have a top speed of 30km/h and a 30-40km range on a charge.  The battery pack can be removed for charging (very useful if you have to lock your bike on the footpath at your building entrance and you live a few floors up). Here, a "big" motor cycle is a 250cc machine.  There are several 125cc bikes though.

With the fantastic Autumn weather we've had (mid to high 20s degC, calm, CAVU)  scooters are definitely the go.  When it does rain the people are prepared with ponchos that cover the handlebars and rider.

We will venture into the traffic soon and hire a bicycle from the guys at the front gate. Rental cost is expected to be CNY1 (=NZ$0.20) per day. They have a few hundred bikes there all with a carrier, lock and front basket.  The carrier is a vital part of the deal because it is used to double a person with them riding straddled or side saddle as they prefer.  We're going to do some test runs up the lane with Sam on the back before braving the road. We're looking for some suitable padding to soften his ride - he isn't familiar with the need to stuff a magazine down his shorts... 

I saw my first Fiat in China today.  It was a 5dr hatchback 1.3l Palio and its size is something like a Punto. As with motor cycles, small cars are the norm!

Furniture & Art

Another small excursion we've had was to a furniture "mall".  All the furniture was very nice but mostly out of our price and dimension limitations.  We're after a small couch/sofa for guests who come to practice their English and for watching TV (rather than having to recline on our bed).  We saw some 1m and 1.5m wide divan/sofa-beds that were ideal but a little more than we want to spend.  On the way there we looked in an art shop that had some neat paintings and carvings that we quite liked.  After pay-day we might add some colour to our apartment!

Trees in Park


More Lights




Wonderful Autumn Days

I took a stroll down town in search of beef for dinner.  I walked to where we believed there was another farmer's market but it was just a vacant lot.  With clear skies (for China), the sun shining brightly, a temperature of about 25°C, low humidity and no wind I didn't mind too much and ambled along the riverside walkway a couple of flights of steps down from the road.  The river is a little dirty but it was very pleasant.  The footpath has been paved and has a statue, pergola and some seats along it. 

Maybe I'm used to the stares, or maybe the news has spread about the new waiguoren (foreigners) and we're old news.  A few adults and many school children call out "Hello" as we walk past.  They smile widely when we reply.  Some of the more adventurous ones use "Good Morning" no matter what time of day it is!

Having not found any beef other than stir-fry sliced and marinaded offerings, I bought our standard NZ$1 worth of stir-fry sliced pork (about 300g) and conjured a pork spaghetti bolognaise using the pasta we got in Nanjing.

Many people here have trouble understanding that TJ is working and I'm unemployed, doing housework and looking after Sam.  Some ask if I'm his grandfather (!) since the grandparents often look after the young children while their parents work. Today one young man asked how old I was.  I suggested he guess my age: 25 was the reply.  I think I'll play the age guessing game a bit more ;)

This last photo (it has a link to a larger version) is a slow patch on the main street: it usually has at least triple this number of vehicles. It has two lanes and a 4 to 5m wide scooter/cycle lane separated by a planted median in each direction.  The footpaths are also about 5m wide.  Not all the city's streets are this wide: one I walked along today was about 6m from the buildings on one side to the buildings on the other without any footpath.

River walkway


Slow day on Wide Street


HTML Editors and Browsers

For the tech savvy! Bah Humbug!

This site is largely hand crafted and still has a few wrinkles.  I thought I'd use our own website and write standard HTML pages rather put a true Blog on it (complete with server side databases etc) or use another "Blogging" site with special software and yet another login/password combination to remember.  I expected that some blog sites may not be accessible from within China. I might yet have to back track and go the "Whole Blog"...

You might have noticed a delay in updating these pages and a slightly different "look". All my previous postings have had last minute hassles with getting things looking good in Firefox and "about right" in Internet Explorer (IE). Being unemployed and on a somewhat restricted budget, I've been using Open Source web editors like Netscape Composer (v7.1) and now NVu. Allegedly these are both What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editors. This is reasonably true for viewing with Firefox but all bets are off with IE. I've tried Open Office and Microsoft Office but have rejected them as they produced bloated and/or annoying results.

So, after many evenings of frustration, I think I've arrived at a workable solution and layout that does not require endless edit / view cycles with IE.

I think I might get an "HTML/CSS for Dummies" book, do some research on true database blogs and learn a bit about this inter-web stuff....

Comments or suggestions are welcome: send us an email or Skype me at neil_allison or use one of the other methods listed on our contact page.


Tonight we tried out the Pizza shop. As with most things in China, it was a little different than we're used to at Spagalimis but never-the-less a tasty and filling meal. A large pizza, a coffee and two soft drinks was about NZ$12 - an expensive meal over here. The proprietor and her staff did not speak English but TJ managed to have some conversation with them.  I can pick up a few words here and there, but they all seem to speak so fast.

The menu also had steak, hamburgers, pasta dishes and the usual sides including French fries. I'm thinking a return trip will be in order.  Hmmm, steak, hmmmmm...



We took a long weekend in Nanjing and stayed with a New Zealand couple: Hilary and Gary.  In addition to wonderful hospitality they showed us around some of the important sites (Metro supermarket with imported products including Anchor Butter and Mainland Cheese, and Zhu Ziang Lu - a computer and tech-products retail street).  We went to the large lake near the centre of the city and cycled around the islands on a three wheeled bicycle.

We attended the Nanjing International Christian Fellowship with Hilary and Gary and met other English speaking people.  Sam enjoyed meeting some people  his age that he could speak with.

With guidance from Hilary we now understand the tourist map showing the bus routes and how the bus system works: this made our return trip to Jurong a lot easier as we could take a city bus to the long distance bus station rather than taking a taxi.  Fares are 1kuai (= RMB = CNY = Yuan) (NZ$0.20) for as far as the bus goes in an ordinary bus, 2kuai if it is air-conditioned. If you need to change buses then you need to pay again. A prepaid card scheme is available and reduces the cost from 1kuai to 8jiao (i.e 0.8kuai).

As a large, and formerly vital, Southern Capital (in 14th and early 20th centuries), Nanjing has many things to see and do. We'll probably spend our week long National Day holiday (first week of October) in Nanjing.

City Wall & Gate

A Bicycle built for 3!


English Corner and Pizza Shop

I previously mentioned that we had made contact with Bob and Geni White who taught here last year.  We've had countless requests to speak with American accents so that we're easier to understand - I guess I'm not sure which one to use. :)  Geni keeps a blog and has a brilliant description of the Jurong traffic.

I'm slowly catching up with my on-line reading - IEEE, Engadget and Dilbert (check out his bachelor's opinion of Success): life is not as lazy as I had expected what with Sam's schoolwork, a small refrigerator/ freezer necessitating frequent trips to the supermarket, Sam's Internet games and helping TJ with some lesson preparation (Powerpoint, MP3s, USB drives).

Sam and I went to English Corner on Tuesday afternoon.  This is an informal class where students and teachers have discussions in English.  I found it great to be out of the house, talking about NZ and comparing it with China.  A few students want to practice their English more frequently and are keen to catch up during the week.   Food was a major interest for the students: one gem I got was being given the location of the Pizza shop.  We wandered past it today and were delighted that they have the menu printed with both English and Chinese and that they have Sam's favourite: Hawaiian!  We'll be making a day to test the menu next week!  We also discovered that our new favourite cakes are available from bakeries and market stalls scattered all over town.  Marvellous!


Pagoda Park, Cakes & Fireworks

Today we took a stroll around the Lake and Pagoda in a Park on the Western side of the main street. On our way to the Pagoda we found a few more shops and the Old Tree Cafe, a restaurant that has some Western food on its menu.  It and the new Pizzeria (that we've yet to find)  are places we wish to "investigate further" ;)  We've wandered through the KFC but haven't felt the need to dine there yet.

The park with the pagoda has a lake that people were navigating in the 2 person paddle boats and 4 seat enclosed dingys that were for hire. There is a "boardwalk" out to the small island in the centre. I think Sam was more interested in the fish swimming in the lake than the buildings, flora and other fauna!

On our way around the lake we saw several other buildings including this 3-storey one.  We found an adventure playground (entry fee required), a skating rink and some other childrens' fairground rides on the other side of the lake as we left to wander back into town.  One of these was an elevated kids' monorail with rocket ship cars.  This has been identified by Sam as a "must do".

We strolled towards our favourite supermarket from a different direction than normal.  We bought some  bananas at a fruit shop and then were enticed to buy some "cakes" at the next door street side bakery.  The  standard measure of weight for produce is a "jin" which  equals 500g.  We wanted to buy only a couple of cakes to try them but this wasn't understood so we ended up with 1 jin for Y5, about NZ$1!  After our challenges to find bread that we really like we were a bit nervous about these freshly baked cakes.  They proved to be delicious and we each scoffed more than one.  Somebody had lots more than one...  Just as well we had a jin! The cakes are about muffin size, something like a plain sponge and are great when cooled but superb when still warm!  Looks like we'll be taking the long way to the supermarket more often.  This bakery also had some biscuits that we'll be keen to try.

After this nourishment we continued our shopping trip to the supermarket - a two floor shop with groceries on the upper floor and clothing, toys, luggage, bicycles, electronic goods, music, electric bicycles and scooters, kitchenware, toddlers playground... downstairs  For all our Kiwi readers: think Pak'N'Save over The Warehouse!

Sam did very well - the day was cooler (i.e. low 20s °C) than most we've had but we still were away for about 4 hours.  Our only respite from standing or walking was the taxi ride back from the supermarket.


Another regular occurrence here is the sound of fireworks.  There are several shops selling only fireworks: large boxes of incendiaries, reels of crackers and individual giant sized crackers approx. 40-50mm diameter x 200mm long.  These latter devices are truly magic - one of our neighbours let off a few yesterday and they certainly rattled the window panes.  One of my former workmates would be delighted at the array of fireworks and the freedom to purchase them.  For our US friends: NZ only permits the retail sale of sparklers, small display type devices and tiny rockets for about 10 days prior to 5th November.  Crackers or noise-only devices are prohibited and every year it seems there is a debate about completely banning the sale of fireworks.

Another Cool Building

Pagoda from Island


National Teachers' Day

As a part of the Teachers' Day celebrations we were invited to a dinner (banquet) with some of the other teachers last night.  The Dean of TJ's department hosted us in a local restaurant.  Neil has been to these style of dinners on his business trip to China with Invensys in 2001 but it was a new experience for Sam and TJ.  Neil had forgotten most of the protocols and formalities, except for the toasting...

Sam was (as is becoming the norm) a centre of attention.  He was a little overwhelmed with the large gathering of new people and the new experience.  He tried a few new food items and sampled the yoghurt drink - it is now a new favourite!  He was intrigued by the Lazy Susan and the array of food on offer.  The plates included: prawns, duck, pork, a beef dish, fish (baked whole), a very nice sweet potato (two dishes - one of the boiled root, one of its stems), peanuts, chicken and a few other vegetables.  Very tasty!

Teacher's Day is a national day on 10th September that follows in the ways of Confucius who thought that teachers were to be respected.  It is especially significant these days as teachers and academics were often discriminated against during the Cultural Revolution. The other teachers at the banquet told me that they treat and remember their teachers as though they were their parents.  Often teachers get small gifts from their students at this time.  Having been promoted to the role of teacher aide in our household for this year, Neil also has an increased respect for the profession.

Today is also the day that the Freshmen (first year students) arrive at College, several accompanied by their parents.  The campus has additional banners, large balloons (one shown here) market stalls and radio/public address transmissions.  I noticed that in amongst the (presumably) Chinese pop music were "Hotel California" and "Rhythm of the Falling Rain".  MLTs (Mean listening times) are quite long here because I only heard them twice today!
Ballon Decorations for the Freshmen


Settling In

We've been in Jurong for a week now.  We've got oriented by walking into the city (about 15-20mins each way) and remembering the sun is to the South!  With help from the Polytechnic's staff we have equipped our apartment, obtained China Mobile telephone numbers (see our Contact Information page for these) and found our way around the campus.

We've made several trips to the supermarkets and provide amusement for the locals as they watch us decide what to buy and struggle with a fine print Chinese - English dictionary.  We did find Kiwifruit from NZ on the shelves.  Despite having Anchor butter in the hotel we've discovered that cheese and butter are not available here - we need to go to Nanjing, about a 1hr bus ride away.

The weather here is overcast, hot and humid.  For those with an aeronautical bent, it has been 8/8ths at ~4000' most of every day, but the sun has shone on a few days when it has broken up to 7/8ths, again at ~4000'. Visibility varies from 1km to 10km. We've had some impressive thunderstorms though and when it rains: it pours!

The campus has an older section (in these first 3 photos) and a newer section opened last year.  There are  extensive plantings and gardens with mature trees in the older campus.  It also has a large hotel being built.  The new campus has the library, sports fields and stadium,  basketball courts, exercise equipment and teaching laboratories.  TJ uses one of the  Digital Language Labs with her class.

Foreigners, or aliens as we are officially known, are not common in Jurong.  When Sam and I visited the lab at the start of one class, there was much excitement from the 40 students aged 18-20.  They all want to talk to the young white boy!  (Not the old fart.)  I think that most of the locals have never seen a foreign child "in real life".  Sam gets plenty of attention in the supermarkets, on the street, pretty much everywhere he goes.  Thankfully, nobody has fallen off their bicycle or scooter as a result of staring at us over their shoulders, rather than looking where they are going: I guess it is only a matter of time!

Sam has met the son of the English Department Supervisor: they are both 7 and despite no common language they enjoyed playing together!

We've made email contact with the American couple who taught here last year - this has been great because they've emailed us a map with all the important city features, given some important pointers on what foods are available in what shops and markets, where the bus terminals are and several tips on day-to-day living.  They've also introduced us to their network of expats including an NZ couple in Nanjing.

We hope to get to Nanjing in the holidays at the beginning of October - we probably won't go any sooner because the officials have our passports to process the Resident's Permits for the next couple of weeks. Our passports are required for any non-trivial purchase (mobile phone sim cards, accommodation, currency exchange).  So far we haven't needed them at the supermarket, but the checkout operators do a double take when we pay with RMB100 notes (~NZ$20).

Old Campus

New Campus Library


Home, new Home

Our apartment is allegedly 65m2 but the useable area is somewhat less than that.  It is on the second floor (one flight of stairs).  The block we are in has approx. 24 units in three floors.  We have lino and tiles for floor coverings and white plastered and painted walls.  The kitchen benches and bathroom are all tiled.  The building is of concrete construction with a mix of wooden and aluminium joinery.  Most rooms are 10' to the ceiling except for the kitchen and bathroom with an aluminium "T&G panelling" false ceiling.  The previous teachers have affixed some clear polythene sheet to the inside of some windows to serve as draught stopping / double glazing.

In our kitchen we have a twin burner gas hob (we're still getting used to gas rather than electric hot plates), microwave, rice cooker, electric kettle, small fridge/freezer but no oven, toaster, espresso machine or insinkerator!  A small HWC (about 20gal) is fitted to a standard socket outlet and provides hot water to the shower.  We boil water for dish washing.  The sink is interesting as it has a single tap (providing tepid water) but it has no S-trap on the waste...

The bathroom has a shower and a "western toilet".  It is all one big, tiled, "littlest room" approx 1m x 2m.  The floor is tiled and sloped towards the waste - there is no shower tray/curtain or walls.  Novel.  It does have a heat lamp/extractor fan fitted.

We have three other "double bedroom" sized rooms. The master bedroom has the TV and a plethora of cupboards and wardrobes.  Sam's room has the provided PC (P4 with broadband connection and now with a bunch of Sam's games!) another desk and some shelves.  The door in this room leads to a 1.5x4m balcony facing south with a clothes line and the obligatory bamboo stick clothes drying rails.

The "dining room" has a small 3ft square table, some shelves and the washing machine.

The bedrooms both have air-conditioning and these seem to keep the place comfortable when it is 30+ outside.  I saw a news item where the Government was recommending that for energy saving reasons, room temperatures should be no cooler than 25°C in summer and no warmer than 20°C in the winter.  Now that its autumn, I'm bound to be confused!

Since these photos were taken, just after we arrived, we've acquired mattresses (well sleeping mats ~40mm thick and we have two of these on each bed), duvets and covers and put up our very small NZ flag to make it more homely.

In contrast to the spartan building, we have a good broadband connection and PC provided as well as an 29" HDTV capable, 100Hz, 4:3 aspect ratio TV.  Much better 'an wot we've got at 'ome!

Here's some likely candidates checking out the view from our balcony.  And this is what you can see - an 8' high concrete and brick wall with window glass embedded in the mortar on the top.  Allegedly this is to protect the inhabitants and their belongings from anyone who has access to the building site in front of us.  Prior to the start if building, the site was a lovely park with many mature trees.  It still has many tress but is surrounded by building materials.  We look forward to the completion of the building and seeing what becomes of the park.

Entrance & Kitchen

Little Room (toilet to the left)

Sam's Bedroom

Master Bedroom

Dining / Laundry



Here at last!

We stayed the first night in the Jurong Hotel.  It was hot, overcast and with low visibility as you can see from our hotel window snapshots facing South.  There is a KFC near the roundabout in the main street.

After a Chinese breakfast (egg fried rice is recommended) and checking out we took two taxis to get us and our luggage (carry-on plus 4 bags) to our new abode.  Taxi fare is RMB4.00 (about NZ$0.80) for the trip from the centre of town to the teachers quarters.

TJ went into town with Wang Jin, our liaison person to buy mattresses, bed linen, cooking equipment and a few groceries.  Sam settled into computer games!

Jurong from Hotel - 1

Jurong from Hotel - 2


Onwards and upwards!

The flights from Christchurch through to Hong Kong were uneventful.  An exception was Sam's exclamation on boarding the 737 in Christchurch that there were no games in the back of the seat.  Our bags were checked through to Shanghai Pudong right from Christchurch even though we had about a 14hr overnight stay in Hong Kong.

This made for light luggage as we took the free courtesy coach to the Novotel Citygate Hong Kong, about 5mins away from the airport.  We thought this a much better option than a transfer into Kowloon late at night.  The downside was a lack of spectacular city lights, but we plan to visit Hong Kong on our way back to NZ next year.

The Novotel Citygate proved to be a good choice as it is attached to a shopping mall that has a coffee shop and a McDonald's for a cheap breakfast as well as being next door to a childrens' playground (lower right of this picture). It had several excellent "exhibits" including a rocket ship climbing tower and some "board games".  A little light exercise was a welcome relief for our little person!

Being a new hotel, it was very clean and comfortable and I'd stay there again.

The flight to Shanghai was delayed by 3hours while they changed aircraft due to a mechanical fault.  We had a very late arrival through the pea soup (viz was 1500m and we first saw the ground under 500'AGL) but were delighted to see our bags waiting for us.  I noticed that Hong Kong airport had applied RFID labels to our bags - maybe the technology helps!  We were met by the College people and they took us on the 4.5hr drive in rush hour traffic to Jurong.  Most of the journey is multi-lane, tolled expressway with at least 4 lanes, two of which were reserved for cars with minimum speeds of 80 and 100km/h respectively.  The upper limit was 120km/h.  A fluid style of driving meant that the most vacant lanes were used to best advantage and that lane markings were an indication of where to drive rather than a rule!  We stopped off along the way for some Chinese fast food - RMB15 for a bowl of rice, soup and a choice of 6 saucers with a variety of veggies and meats available.

Our closest airport is Nanjing Lukou International (IATA code NKG).  It is less than an hour's taxi ride (there are no direct buses from Jurong to the airport) and much more convenient than Shanghai Pudong (PVG)!  If only we'd known this ahead of time we could have flown there from either Hong Kong or Singapore!
Playground from Novotel Citygate Hong Kong

Playground Rocket

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