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The Watcher

A few days ago, a new addition arrived in the household. Little and feisty, with periodic manic moments, he is pretty cute.
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The dogs of course want to play and are beside themselves with enthusiasm and on day 2 of the ‘dogs meet cat’ effort, things are looking up with the kitten even making its own moves to get closer.
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I am the watcher, leaving the animals to become acquainted, but on hand just in case it gets a bit rough. But this little guy is full of courage and isn’t much bothered by their antics.

New directions…

2016 has arrived with little fanfare other than some serious bushfires. The deaths of Bowie and Rickman followed….not a great start to the new year.
The new year does, however, bring with it a new direction for me. This year sees me settling down and becoming more domesticated, doing more of the things I want to do and some things I hadn’t imagined doing.
2016 then, also brings about a new direction for this blog. Whereas travel, culture and different aspects of living abroad were the focus, this cannot now be so. I’m not yet sure of where this will lead me, but lead me it will. Change is good.
I am now the co-owner of a house…a fairly ordinary little 3 bed dwelling, but only 5 minutes from the beach, so a good location.
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I will miss being in far flung places, but I get a lot of satisfaction from different areas these days.
I’ve never been a gardener, someone else always did that, but I find I am very interested in plants, not just in growing them, but also photographing them.
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Nothing was really growing here when we arrived, but today, we have garden beds dug and some (mostly temporary) plants in. We certainly have some vegetables and herbs in. For now we are working out how much sun/shade each area gets so that when we do plant, we do it right.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Living abroad is not for everyone, and some countries are definitely easier to live in than others. China is certainly not the hardest of places to live, but there are, as one would expect, frustrations and language barriers, and you learn only as much as you want to. Sadly, some never learn anything and spend their time wondering why the country they chose to live in, is not more like their own.  In any place there are things that irritate you and there is no getting away from that, but living in a different country should be an adventure, something to soak up and learn about. Differences are good, they make us more interesting, and the way a person deals with them really determines how much they will enjoy the experience.

I like to talk to people and find out what it’s like to be a local, how normal everyday people, just like me, live, in this country that is so widely different from my own. Usually, that system works for me, but China is slightly different, even from other parts of Asia I have lived in. Today’s China is accessible, but the China that existed when I grew up is a different kettle of fish. One needs to go back at least two generations to learn how much life has changed and that is not an easy task when you can’t speak the language. The young are mostly unaware of what China was like before they were born. They grew up in this era , this China, but the ‘new’ China is not like the old.

The ‘new’ China is about growth and on an individual basis, it is about money – having lots of it! This is nowhere more obvious than in Shenzhen, the first city built expressly for profit making, privately owned commerce; the first city to benefit from billions of foreign investment dollars; a city that is now being touted as the fastest growing city in the world. Here in a population of somewhere around 14 million people, (depending on the source you use), there are 85 billionaires (measured in $US)!! The number of millionaires is not clear but one can take a guess at the preponderance of the rich.

On any given day, when the school bell rings, the small road outside the school I work in is literally jammed with Mercedes sports cars, BMWs, Jaguars and Porsches. These are parked in the given spaces, but when those are full, they simply block up the road. No-one asks them to move and they won’t, not until they collect their little treasures and then they squash, squeeze and toot their way out into mainstream traffic.  Ferraris are not an uncommon sight and Lamborghinis, though not as often seen, do brave the traffic in Shenzhen. Yesterday, for the first time, I saw a child delivered home in a Rolls Royce! 

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In contrast to the obvious wealth of some, is the more obvious lack of it for the many.  The bulk of the workers, who generate the output that creates this wealth, come from rural China and they have little to no experience of living in a city. They too, are here to get ahead in the great race for riches, many having left their families hundreds of miles away. It is the same phenomenon that occurs in all developing countries, but in such concentration, with everyone living literally on top of one another, it is both interesting, and frustrating.  

This year is the first time I’ve seen cars occasionally stop at pedestrian crossings, although buses still bully their way through regardless of foot traffic. On the footpaths, not much has changed. Electric bikes and scooters still creep up on you and then toot for you to move out of the way. Push bikes too, seem not to understand that pavements are designed for foot traffic. Strangely, the Chinese think nothing of it and simply move aside to let them pass, a testament to the different way we look at things. I marvel at their patience with traffic on pavements when mine so often deserts me and I have to bite my tongue.

With everyone living in high rise apartments, people come outside at regular intervals to take in the air.  There are a plentiful number of parks about, but if you don’t live near one, there is always somewhere.

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Wide tiled plazas are common and for the not so wealthy, this is where a lot of socialising goes on. Small children sit astride ride ons or in their pushchairs and groups of adults sit around playing cards.

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Mobile carts sell nuts or sugar cane juice and families simply stroll. Where I live, the doorway of a local dept store is a favourite place to sit. Women bring small plastic stools and their tiny charges play as they sit in the doorway enjoying air conditioning that they don’t have to pay for. Again, no one complains or moves them on; if you want to go in and shop, you must step around them in order to enter.  Life is, for the most part, pretty laid back and pleasant.

In the new China too, consumerism is alive and well and capitalism has raised its ugly head. A person is more often than not judged on the amount they earn or the image they present. Not much different from the ‘west’ there. It’s all economics and everyone is looking for that ‘better’ life, whether through a good marriage or just hard graft.

Advertisements are everywhere…you simply cannot escape them. Taxis, lifts, trains and buses all have television screens blaring ad after ad at you. Big buildings are adorned with huge television screens, all advertising one thing or another, and although at night this lights the place up nicely, the constant bombardment of advertising drives me doollally. Commercial television is much the same as at home I dare say, but I don’t watch it as it’s all in Chinese. Only one station, from Hong Kong, has programmes and news in English so I turn that one on now and then. However, just as you are getting interested in some news item or other, there is an ad break. Nothing new there you say? Well, there is a difference. Here, the commercial break doesn’t wait for the end of an item.  In fact the announcer is more than likely still talking when the break comes. Also, whilst the ads are on, the news continues and by the time you get back to it (after the ads), half the news is lost to you. This happens during movies too. It’s quite amusing in some ways, but I do miss a good news broadcast.

It takes flexibility to live among people you cant really communicate with and to whom different things matter. You can’t expect that they follow the same rules as you do. Sometimes what we see as plain good manners (and can be sorely lacking in parts of our own communities) just doesn’t apply there.   Here, for instance, pushing in (queue jumping) is a common trait; staring too, is commonplace; spitting and coughing into the air is just plain scary and I won’t even mention the toileting of kids in public areas like pavements or plazas. But then again, I can count on one hand the number of times I have had a seat given up for me on an Australian bus or train, yet here this is very much the norm. There is no hesitation at all and they do the same for small children.  Here, they greet you as you walk into a store, they are not shy about talking to you (albeit in another language) and students at school show respect for their teachers. In fact, there is a general respect for anyone older.  I like that a lot. 

In some ways though, you could be anywhere in the world. Headphones are a common sight and I never cease to be amazed at how much time people spend tap, tap tapping on their phones. It is beyond me what they have to talk about or how small things amuse. Even when people have dinner together or simply go to a café with friends, it is common to see one or all playing with their phones rather than talking to each other. Mobile phones lend themselves to rudeness, no matter the country or the economic status of the person wielding one. But, this is the age of technology and there is plenty of it about. There are malls in Shenzhen purely devoted to the sale of mobile phones, where row upon row of shops sell the same thing. The same holds true for computers. Technology is the master of seduction and has the world firmly in its grip.

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This is the new China, the one that the rest of the world will grow up with; the one that will economically dominate this century. It hasn’t yet completely found its feet, but is well on the way. In a country of more than a billion people, the changes and development that have occurred in the last thirty five years are nothing short of amazing. But this China is still in transition and thankfully the old ways still mingle with the new. Within family groups, grandparents are very important and many generations of children have been brought up by them, whilst parents worked to provide. This is still evident today.  New mothers generally go back to work after two months and then grandparents take over. There are no childcare centres as we know them and there is no after school care. Here, if grandparents cannot fill the gap, then someone must be hired privately to do the job. Family bonds are very strong and it is not uncommon for three generations to live in the same home.

It remains to be seen how the younger generations of today will handle their more mature years. Many have grown up in families restricted under the one child rule where everything possible has been lavished upon that one child. These children are growing up in a world where only the fittest survive, where the strongest win and many have had everything handed to them. They have no notion of a world without mobile phones and computers; a world without Facebook and Twitter (or the Chinese equivalents). Will they keep up the traditions of their elders? The very essence of China is theirs to carry forward. I sincerely hope they do. The world needs different cultures; we cant all be the same. Diversity is wonderful and no, it isn’t always easy, but it’s always exciting and the world can do with some exciting.

Ouch!!!

The weather here is almost always humid. I don’t mean a little bit either. There are times of year when it’s hard to stay dry and my handbag contents always include a fan and a small towel. Wet wipes are also nice.  They say you get used to it, but you don’t. The worst humidity happens in the summer when I am away on holiday for several weeks. Before leaving, it is customary to place closet camels about the flat and especially in cupboards to avoid things like mold etc.

However, leaving your Italian snakeskin shoes in the closet (with a closet camel)….

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 is obviously not a wise thing to do when you go away for the summer.

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Sob……

Missing

Other than people, there are things I really miss about home. The birds in the back yard. Well, back yards for that matter….

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Rainbow Lorikeets

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Eastern Rosella

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Crested Dove, Myna Bird, Eastern Rosella, Rainbow Lorikeets

In a completely different vein, I miss the freedom this baby gives me…

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Spinning in China, or at least in Shenzhen, is a bit of a novelty. It’s quite normal to see someone sitting on a tiny stool in the street knitting, but when I sit and spindle in public, I immediately draw a crowd.

They ask questions in Chinese and we try to communicate in sign language. Some of it gets through, but most is lost on the wind. Almost no one passes by without having a long look and even men will stop and watch for a while.

It’s not that spinning isn’t done here. I know of a factory in Hebei where the owner has some 500 women employed, just for hand spinning. I hope to get up there one day; I’d really like to see that.

Chinese spinning wheels are not what most of us would expect to see. They were invented in China about 1000 years ago in response to the ever increasing demand for silk. There are many paintings depicting them as they were…

…and today, they look pretty much the same. I’d really like to see them in use. They cost about $250, which is expensive for the average worker or family so I dare say that many families make their own.

Although my knitting mojo appears to have abandoned me for the time being, my spinning mojo has not.  Recently, I’ve managed a box full of homespun of all sorts and what a delight it was.

I spun some glorious natural black llama, which I bought at the Bendi Sheep Show….oh how I wish I had bought more of this. However, I did end up with 417 delightful yards of fingering weight yarn. It’s super soft and has a lovely sheen. This is much blacker in real life….but you can see the lovely shine it has.

And there are now 610 yards of natural fawn alpaca/silk – sport (ish) weight.

This 1450 yds of  Canopy – somewhere between sport and double knit weight – used to be 690g of SCF swBFL/Tussah batts. I am in awe of this colourway. It’s wonderfully rich and should look a little tweedy.

SCF Polwarth in Green Tea netted me 510 yards of sport(ish) weight yarn. I cannot for the life of me get this colour right in a photo. I have tried so many times to get the olive tones right, but the light here is harsh, and I seem unable to capture this them correctly. This is as close as I could get.

This is SCF merino/baby alpaca in Mahogany. I doubt I’ll knit this one at night, but the colour is incredible. It has so many tiny flecks of colour through it that on first glance you just don’t notice. I love this one!  In real life this is darker, think deliciously rich dark chocolate with those tiny flecks of colour.

Haven’t I been the busy girl then?

Love Over Gold – SCF Polwarth. I’ll never cease to be amazed at how much yardage you can get from this particular fibre. I spun up 530 yards of heavy fingering from 115 g. It’s a little thick and thin, but actually I don’t mind that.

TADA!!!  Am I pleased with myself?  Yes sir!

The Green, Green Grass…

I have always thought Australia had a good number of public parks and gardens, and for the lifestyle there I suppose we do. Here though, because virtually everyone lives in high rise apartment blocks, having somewhere to go with your kids, or just for a nice walk, is extremely important.

Some compounds have really lovely gardens like this one on the 5th floor of my old complex.

 

Lower down, on the second floor, was a larger area where the kids could ride their bikes safely and grannies and nannies could sit and talk while their young charges pottered about.

 

The compound I live in now is sorely lacking in these facilities. It is in an older part of town, but it is closer to work and my apartment is much better/bigger than my last one. The shopping is not as easy (language-wise) as before either, but the area is more family orientated and as such, is quieter, and more what we would call ‘respectable’. It is true that you simply can’t have it all.

With no real play areas in the compound, we are left with the plaza around the building complex. Here kids can ride bikes fairly safely, taking into account that some people are there for shopping only. There are outdoor tables and these are usually occupied by people playing cards and the bench seats are almost always occupied by elderly men, out for some fresh air, some friendly conversation, or just to watch the world go by.

But back to parks – the number of parks here is astounding!

Shenzhen is an ecological garden city and half of its total area – approx 2000 square kilometres, half of which is water – is under a form of environmental protection that bans construction. The urban green belt in developed areas is a whopping 45%! This, within a bustling city of some 15 million people; a city that is now officially the most crowded city in China; that is ranked the 5th most densely populated city in the world – 7500 people per square kilometre – behind only Bombay, Calcutta, Lagos and Karachi.  All that greenery makes living in a city this size, very pleasant.

Every day, we walk to and from school, almost exclusively through a park. It is cooler under the shade trees and there are small hillocks which are a lot of fun to run up, and even more fun to roll down.

 

One of our favourite weekend parks is laced with paved pathways and shaded seating areas. There are larger paved areas too, where small children can roller blade or cycle, or where they can play with the large wooden spinning tops which seem to be very popular here. There is a pond where carp can sometimes be seen and in the wooded areas, the sound of traffic fades and birds twitter away feeling quite safe from the hustle.

 

On any given weekend, you will find the parks full of people by mid afternoon (we tend to go much earlier to avoid the crowds). It is a popular place for families and their children. The open grassy areas allow for informal games of badminton, picnics, kite flying, or just plain running around.

Kite flying is very popular with all ages. From the small child’s kite bouncing around  to the huge kites that soar to heights way above the high rise buildings, controlled by reels so large they are strapped to the flier’s body. I particularly love the ones with the very long tails.   We have yet to try our small one…

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