Living With the Han 1: Spite and Malice From a Thousand Li Away.

My grandparents and a family friend, an eccentric Pole of partial German parentage, drove me to Konz Hbf. I felt little when I left. To say that my efforts in Hunland were in equal measures frustrating and frustrated is to verge past the point of understatement. Yet, I could not manage to muster much enthusiasm for China. The process thus far has been long, costly and drawn-out. That my nerves were already taxed to the breaking point led me to having a certain measure less patience than I normally would have had. Still, it seemed as if things worked out in the wash.

Being by nature a cautious person I spent my final night in Germany in Frankfurt-am-Main. Motel 1, a Munich-based hotelier left as little to be desired as it left overwhelming. That is, it was a very average hotel saved only by its relative low cost, convenient location and cleanliness. My primary bank managed to find a way to complicate matters for me. Their computer system is infamous were rejecting bank cards at hotels and shops while working perfectly adequately at bank machines. This time was no different. After being declined twice I had to walk a mile in 92-degree-heat to the nearest bank machine. Strange, one would think that Frankfurt-am-Main being a major financial centre that bank machines would be more readily available, but never mind. There, too, my card was declined. I withdrew a few euros from my German bank account and managed to scrape together just enough money to pay the bill. This wasn’t made easier by the fact that I had to pay 30 euros for a taxi ride from airport to hotel.

Frankfurt Airport seems to be hell-bent on making Hellrow look user-friendly and functional, but that is not the point. Aeroflot is a surprisingly good airline. My flight to Moscow Sheremetyevo was on a near-new Airbus A320. The seats were comfortable and the aeroplane clean. The service was also reasonably good. While not quite at the level of Cathay Pacific or Swiss International they compared favourably to British Airways, Lufthansa and KLM. We were served a full hot meal on the 2.5-hour-flight. The dreaded Sheremetyevo was surprisingly efficient and easy to navigate. On their website they cautioned leaving 1 hour, 10 minutes for connexions between Terminals D and F.

I was amazed by their security and passport control officers. Or, rather, I was amused by them. All were grumpy, unsmiling Russian women who had an insulted look when they saw me. They seemed to enjoy doing their job as little as passengers enjoyed having to go through it. Within 20 minutes of arrival I was at my gate. I had to spend just over 4 hours sitting. To pass the time I had a coffee and cake at one of their small cafés. The coffee was more than drinkable and the cake was delicious – a nougat, meringue confection that had the perfect sweetness. The flight to Shanghai was unfortunately not quite as good as the flight to Moscow. The new Boeing 777-300 had uncomfortable, narrow seats. This, I know, is very much a Boeing trademark. They’re mechanically sound, but Boeing pays far less regard to maximising the use of space. The couple sitting next to me were an elderly Chinese husband and wife. Both were very kind, even if they were both prone to coughing on me for the duration of the flight. I shouldn’t complain, at least they didn’t spit.

The Chinese often have a bit of the  dromedary about them in that respect. I was petrified of having to endure Shanghai Pu Dong yet again. The last time I was there, in 2011, I was hassled by so many pushy promoters and left to flounder for half an hour in that sea of black-haired people that I was at the verge of a nervous breakdown. Then again, I usually am never far from one at the best of times. When I saw the queue – long and winding – I thought it best to go powder my nose prior to entering that seemingly endless waterfall of humanity. This nearly proved a fatal error. One simply does not go the opposite direction of a herd of Chinese and expect to survive.

Battered and bruised, I clawed my way over the finish line. Worse was to come. An Emirates flight had arrived just as I finished and I found myself in a sea of Middle-Eastern-Types who ranged from a reasonably intelligent Iranian woman who took off her niqab at the first opportunity to a group of Egyptian dregs. Most cut in front of me, the halal swine. This being China, no one found it unusual. I, however, had the last laugh. The sulky-looking halal boar in front of me made the mistake of providing the Chinese passport control officer evasive, dishonest answers. Growing quickly tired of him he summoned a higher-ranked official to put him through a thorough investigation. Halal Swine had to deal with a witch-nosed woman who looked like her favourite hobby was sucking lemons. When my turn came, the process mercifully went quickly and painlessly. I had the correct paperwork and could provide concise, yet detailed, answers. He stamped my passport and waved me through.

An employee of my company met me and drove me to Huzhou, 2.5 hours away in northern Zhejiang Province. I, fortunately, was not subjected to any undue horrors this go. We quickly left and went on our way. When we finally arrived at my flat I was left somewhat underwhelmed. It’s adequate and a roof over my head, but little else. My mattress is a sort of Chinese mediaeval torture device. It is all spring, no padding. My bedding consists of a sheet, a duvet and a pillow — all polyester, all with shrill, neon pink, yellow, blue, and green bar-and-polka-dot pattern; perfectly good for a tasteless 10-year-old girl, but not me. The kitchen is nearly unusable. One of the two gas burners does not work and the light is hanging, holding an inch of ancient grease. (Original Song Dynasty, I wonder?) Worst of all there were no toiletries. Not a single towel or roll of bog paper. I had hoped to go to cash machine and shop a little but this could not be permitted.

After 16.5 hours of nearly sleepless travel the day after a 6-hour train trip across Germany I was drug to a formal Chinese dinner. In the meantime, I had to wait for relevant employee to return to take me to restaurant. He was late – nearly half an hour late. While waiting for him I had the true pleasure of having to endure an interrogation by one of China’s infamous nasty old men. Whatever my fellow Charioteers might think, I cannot speak Chinese. No, not at all! What I speak is the dreaded Japanese. This is roughly equivalent of travelling through Spain speaking only Cebuano. After being thoroughly insulted for 15 minutes I finally read him the Riot Act, in German. He quickly scuttled back to hide underneath whatever rock he earlier emerged from. Long may he stay there!

The employee finally showed up. I managed to survive the dinner – just. A conveniently-located traction pulley permitted me to keep my head up. I was introduced to one of the co-workers, a man from Maine 2 years my senior. We live in the same building. After finishing, we finally went shopping. My bank, true to form, blocked my bank card leaving me with the equivalent of £10. Generally, I would have brought a few hundred quid’s worth of local currency with me. This time, it was made nearly impossible by my German bank being shut due to a local festival. With little money, the Mainer was nice enough to lend me the money to have at least a little food and bog paper. He has also stopped by a few times to make sure that I had enough to eat. Unfortunately, I have been unable to contact my bank. I would have to borrow his Skype account as making international telephone calls from a Chinese mobile is nigh on impossible. The time difference makes it more frustrating yet – the bank opens at midnight, Chinese time and closes at 8 AM.

As I write this I have no internet connexion and will rely on fleeting luck to be able to find an exchange bureau open Saturdays. The internet is to be installed tomorrow, but there is no promise that I can get the money together before then. I may have to pawn my stash of Japanese yen and/or Australian dollars to get enough money. Again, what was supposed to have been arranged well in advance was not done. In fact, they found the first open flat for me waiting until the day before my arrival. I could tell by the peeling paint on the ceiling, the dirty, crumbling walls and the half-inch-layer of mould in a kitchen cabinet. Highly conducive for good health, especially for those, like me, with mould allergies. There is one ray of sunshine in this hot, humid winter of despair: I have a quart of milk, a pound of sugar and enough tea to last me for months.

Author: Christopher-Dorset

A Bloody Kangaroo

39 thoughts on “Living With the Han 1: Spite and Malice From a Thousand Li Away.”

  1. Poor Christopher! How lucky your latest privations were preceeded by a dress rehearsal in fascist Scotland. Stay in touch if you can and good luck with the rest of your sojourn.

  2. I used to fly to Frankfurt Main quite a lot. We stayed at the Sheraton on the airport where they had special rooms for aircrew. As far as I could tell only thing special about them was that they had inadequate ventilation and air conditioning and in the summer where insufferably hot and stuffy. You could get around this problem by demanding a no smoking room ( all the aircrew rooms were ‘smoking’ ??!! ).
    Fortunately for us one of our crews behaved so badly (out of control room party) that we were slung out of the Sheraton and ended up at a Dorint hotel some distance from the airport but worth the journey.
    Frankfort Main had the best baggage trolleys I’ve ever used. They were very smooth running and could go up and down elevators, although that facility was removed shortly before I retired. The Heathrow trolleys were dreadful.

  3. Jazz: in the last few years Frankfurt was completely re-done. As I queued for my flight to Moscow I overheard a Bundespolizei officer saying that he doubted that Berlin would ever see its new airport opened and that they are finding problems on every corner at Frankfurt. An interesting take. I’ve heard that some hotels reserve their lease desirable rooms for flight crew in order to maximise profits, especially considering the favourable prices that carriers often get.

  4. Jazz: Please don’t tell me that the new airport will never open. I bought an apartment 20km from there in 1996 on the basis that the new airport would cause the price to rocket by 2010 when it opened. (It is not in the main flight path) I am still waiting and the apartment is currently worth less than I paid for it 😦

  5. Gaz: that’s just what the Bundespolizei officer said. It does not look promising, though. Even if they do open it they will have to renovate it immediately. There’s a lot of concern in Germany about infrastructure. The country is falling apart and no one is even trying to do something about it. Some estimate that within a decade, it will take trillions of pounds to fix the damage.

  6. I agree Christopher. I have a few friends around Berlin and keep in close contact. I think of Germany as a country which goes from great highs to great lows. Historically from great success and technological advancement to mass inflation and turmoil (I still have a few 50 million mark notes).
    The UK by comparison bobs up and down (more down than up I guess recently) but avoids the great extremes that Germany seems to have.

  7. Gazoopi: the UK is on a relatively peaceful island. It’s often somewhat mediocre, but rarely horrific. Germany is at the centre of European battles and frictions. As a result, Germans often don’t know when to stop. Sometimes this is good — a lot of success and innovation because they wouldn’t give up. At other times, utter destruction. In this case, mediocrity might not be a bad thing. I think the world is bobbing down in general at the moment.

  8. I’ve heard that some hotels reserve their lease desirable rooms for flight crew in order to maximise profits, especially considering the favourable prices that carriers often get.

    On the other hand hotels like the bigger airlines because they generate an occupancy of at least 10 rooms a night 7 days a week. I recall a sales manager from Dorint Hotels telling us that the contract with our employer was worth millions of euros annually and that excludes the cash that crews spent in the hotel.

    The worst hotels were in France and the UK the best in Germany and Spain.

  9. Jazz: of course. A large number of rooms will be guaranteed to be filled and payment isn’t a problem. In my experience the best hotels are in Japan, the worst in China.

  10. Love the Han/Hun variant!
    China? Told you so!
    How do you manage if you don’t speak Chinese languages? In what do you communicate?
    Most aggravating about the banking for you. What a bunch of tossers.

  11. Tina: I actually like this particular city. Mostly, the people are nice enough although it being a minor provincial city I stand out. Some speak a little English and I try to speak the little Chinese I can. Usually, I go to supermarket. I can read Japanese well enough to understand basic Chinese characters and can sort things out myself. The next post will be slightly more positive.

  12. Hang in- there, sod it, no your already living there, best wishes dear boy.

  13. Whilst I am dismayed by your accommodation and the banking system, Christopher, I’m somewhat cheered to hear that things are improving.

    I’m sure you are resourceful and young enough to sort these things out, had been me, I would have been on the first plane back!

  14. It is surprising how often well-planned trips went tits-up on arrival in far-off places, when I was a globe trotter. From bags sent somewhere else to threatening taxi drivers to rental cars breaking down in the wilderness in the pre-mobile era, to rat-ridden hotels….. But all was well etc, eventually.

  15. Hi Christopher,

    What a magnificent whining whinge of plaintive and distemperate complaint. Google Chrome doesn’t appear to like distemperate, by the way. Bloody American orthography. Whose language is it?

    Anyhow, as I never ceased to remind you throughout your sojourn in Caledonia, we were not put on this Earth to enjoy ourselves. It seems that China is providing you with yet more proof of this.

    In the spirit of enlightenment for which we (or us) Jocks are renowned throughout the civilised [Google American baulks at ‘civiilsed’ (and doesn’t seem to like ‘baulks ‘for that matter)] world, ‘drug’ is not acceptable to those of us who use proper English like what she should be spoken. You were, I assure you, dragged and not drug to that formal Chinese dinner.

    Mrs M is relieved to hear that you have enough tea at the moment. As you know, she has the firm belief that all of the world’s problems could be resolved if we all just sat down together and drank more tea.

  16. Minty: I was prepared to ask them if they even wanted me to be here at all. Should the answer be negative, I’d be more than happy to take the next flight back to Europe.

    Janus: usually one survives which proves that it wasn’t so bad. If not, one wouldn’t know the difference anyway.

    John: enjoyment or not, I stick to my position that a man’s word is his bond. Should he be unwilling to follow through then perhaps no promises should be made.Yes, I was dragged to that Chinese dinner. I really must be more careful with these Anglo-Saxon quirks.

  17. Christopher, you must remember always to travel with small packs of tissues. They fit easily into pockets and can be used as face cloths, towels, toilet paper and even for blowing the nose. Years of travelling with children, whether offspring or pupils, ensure I that never head off on a journey without them. They’re also good for cleaning windscreens, though that’s not necessary in your case.

  18. Sheona: in China it is necessary to bring a small pack of tissues with you.I have one in my handbag at all times. Most Chinese toilets do not have toilet paper.They sell packs of it for 1 yuan — 10p. I only had to make that mistake once.

    Gazoopi: I don’t wear glasses although technically I should. I failed my state-mandated vision test today. Then again, the same place missed my height by over 4cm.

  19. Good Morning, Janus.

    You moved me to read the script again this morning. Christopher would, I think, enjoy the play, if he does not already know it. There are a few digs at the Germans and their language. For example, Cecily says in Act II:-

    ‘But I don’t like German. It isn’t at all a becoming language. I know perfectly well that I look quite plain after my German lesson.’

    It was a bonus to discover that David Suchet is appearing as Lady Bracknell in the West End until November. Bit of a downer to learn at the same time that the divine Michelle Doltrice, who was one of the objects of my youthful desires, has now decayed sufficiently to be able to play a convincing Miss Prism.

    Cricket interruption. ‘We’ve’ lost the bloody toss again – there goes the Ashes. Probably.

    Moving on, I have to go to Threadneedle Street at some point this year in order to change the out of date Florence Nightingale £10 note which Christopher managed to slip past me during his recent sojourn in Scotland. Tickets for Poirot in drag will be a priory.

    Apparently, he gives the ‘handbag’ a completely different interpretation to that of Dame Edith.

  20. Ah, yes, I read that when I was still young and beautiful. I really should re-read it.Way what you wish about Flo, but at least I didn’t pass you any outdated Scottish banknotes!

  21. Aye weel, Christopher. You know fine that I took Flo off your hands willingly. It gives me a good excuse for visiting the Great Wen to hand her back into the safe keeping of Mark Carney and his boys.

    Oh me of little faith, Janus but I’m saying nothing until we see how many runs England make in their first innings.

    If Bearsy has not been watching live through the Australian night, I apologise to him for our breach of the James Wolf protocol. It’s really annoying to learn the score before you have had a chance to watch the play.

    Ricky Ponting is a relevation as a commentator, by the way. First class analysis and very fair and balanced. I’m almost beginning to like him.

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