Category Archives: Random

Most posts will be in this category I guess…

The Joys of Chinese Railways…

Yesterday (23rd) we had a nice lie-in, packed and tried to find some DVD’s to watch on the train. We had lunch in a similar noodle restaurant and then went into central Dalian to try to find the train station. We got a little lost on the bus, but eventually managed to get to the train station, and after waiting in the waiting-room for about two hours, got the 16:07 to Tonghua, which arrived at 6am this morning. Trains in China are rather different to trains in England, not so much in terms of what they are, but rather in their function. England has quite a small railway network by Chinese standards, but almost every town or village has a railway station. In China, to have a railway station a city needs to have several million people or be quite large and on a direct line between two big cities. The trains in China seem to function more like short-hall flights in England, with buses and taxis doing the rest of the transportation. The overnight train that we were on was quite good, we had managed to get hard sleepers somehow, but they were better than the other hard-sleeper carriage on the train, perhaps because we were going the full distance rather than a partial distance. Even on trains which go over the day, you can still get beds because it is much more relaxing than having seats. Six hours on a Chinese train in a bed doesn’t really feel like any time at all compared to six hours on an English train.

This train journey from Dalian to Tonghua was quite fun because we were able to talk to several people, a few Chinese and a few Koreans (heading back to North Korea?). There was no air conditioning, which is probably why the ticket price was so low, but the train didn’t get too hot because we kept the windows open (which helped to get rid of the smoke from cigarettes) and there were also fans which were rather noisy and klunked quite a lot, but I managed to sleep very well. The only problem with hard-sleepers is that they wake you up a while before you arrive at the station and try to take all of your bedding etc. away so it can be washed. This morning, the lights came on at 4:30am and all the bed-clothes were stripped off by 5:30. We arrived at Tonghua at 6am, rather tired but managed to get 5 tickets to go on the next stage of our journey, travelling to Baihe.

I’m writing this on the train, and it’s now about 10am. The train left at 8:15 and we should arrive about 2:30pm. The tickets were an incredible 21 Yuan (£1.40) each; I’m not sure you could even get a 10 minute train journey for that, and we are going for over 6 hours! It seems from what I saw at the station that Baihe is a growing city, whereas the several-yearold internet site with the railway timetable on has no direct trains from Baihe to Beijing or Shenyang (a big city in the north-east of China), there are now trains which you can get on from Baihe which let you go straight to these places. When I tried to buy tickets from Tonghua to Beijing, I wasn’t able to get a sleeper, even 4 days in advance, so I hope that when we arrive in Baihe there will still be some tickets free, or we can get them through a travel agent. If this doesn’t happen I will just have to wait outside the station a while before the train departs because there are always people looking to sell tickets for a small mark-up. If I still can’t get a hard sleeper, I should be able to get at least a seat, but on a 15-20 hour train journey that isn’t the safest or most ideal option, particularly if I’m travelling alone as the other four will be going to Xi’an via Shenyang.

Tonight we’ll be heading to a national park (the largest one in China) which borders North Korea, so I’m not sure when I’ll next be able to get on the internet to update my blog with pictures of the journey and the park.

Dalian: Zip-wires, Weddings and a Pair of Handcuffs…

china2006/travel/dalian

Today we decided that we would walk around the south coast of Dalian to try to find a more secluded beach. The travel guide had indicated that there were one or two beaches that not many people new about and were hence virtually empty. We took the bus (all buses in Dalian seem to be 1 Yuan/7p per person for however long you wish to travel for) to the start of the trail and walked past some of the tourists. We found the retired navy ship which was now a youth hostel, the other one we had looked at, but thought it would be too difficult to find in a taxi). As we walked further along, we saw a zip-wire stretching across the bay, and so I just had to do it. For 50 Yuan (£3.50) I got a speed-boat to the other side of the bay (perhaps 1 kilometre away), ran half way up a mountain to be strapped into a quite worn safety harness, and then got pushed off the edge. It didn’t go too fast, but it was a little scary looking down and just seeing the ground about 100 metres away, and myself moving towards it rather rapidly. The ride itself must have lasted about 1 minute, and there were some really good views from half way over the bay of the surrounding mountains. I should have taken my camera and taken a video or some pictures, but i was a little worried that I would end up in the water, because the zip wire was designed for Chinese people and I had seen someone get their feet a bit wet already.

Just as we were walking along the slightly less touristy bit, I heard a voice call out ‘Mar-k!’ and turned to see Mr Nie, the businessman in charge of ISEC running towards me with a big grin on his face. I had no idea that he would be in Dalian of all places, especially given he lives in Shenzhen, about 2000 miles away, next to Hong Kong. We also met Francis and several other people that we knew, who seemed to be on holiday with him. China seems rather a small place after all. After chatting to them for a few minutes, we went and started walking along the winding hill road. We met several Chinese people along the way and talked (very briefly) to them. Briefly, mostly because they spoke no English and the only Chinese that I know how to say is ‘we are students from Cambridge university). We walked past some glorious sea and mountain views, which explains why so many hotels and restaurants in this area are called ‘sea mountain’ or something very similar.

After about 3 miles we came across this building which had a big Christian cross on top and stained glass windows. It was quite obviously a church, but looked rather like someone had made a list of five important features of a traditional western church building and then given it to an architect who had never seen one before. As we got closer, we saw that there was a white carriage outside it, and attached to it was the ‘century sweetheart wedding store and hotel’. Walking further along the road, we saw that there were several more wedding shops and various hotels which seemed to exclusively cater for weddings. To be honest it was a pretty nice place, and I could understand people wanting to get married there, but it seemed kind of ironic that there were so many wedding places along the road.

Walking further along, we stopped to have some elevenses on a bench on top of a cliff, overlooking the sea – such a picturesque view! A random Chinese man came up to us and started chatting, which was quite nice although again we didn’t really know enough Chinese nor he English to have much of a conversation. Eventually, we came to a rather interesting ‘wedding park’. This was basically a piece of land which you paid 10 Yuan (70p) to go into (half-price for students) and there were various cheesy shots and love-hearts etc. We went in because we saw that it had a private bathing area, and after going down a rickety, overgrown path for about 250 meters, we finally arrived on the beach. It was indeed lovely, and we had it to ourselves save for two other people who left after a while. There were rocks on one end and then a beautiful stretch of small rocks in the middle, with some more boulders at the other end and some caves beyond that which I tried to get to but couldn’t quite manage safely. There was also a small stream which had trickled down the hill and a small hut owned by the person in charge of the beach. We spent a good few hours there before heading up to the top of the hill.

As we were going out of the entrance, we saw a car full of policemen driving rather quickly into the park, with lights flashing but couldn’t really understand why, because we couldn’t hear or see any disturbance. Having left the wedding park, we tried to get a taxi ride back to our hotel, which usually wouldn’t be much of a problem, but as this was quite a remote place, there weren’t too many taxis going by. Anyway, a guy came up to us offering his taxi services (there are many people in China who are just private taxi drivers, but do so illegally without a license). We negotiated a reasonable price with him and then he took us to his car, which was right next to where the policemen had sat down to have lunch. We had a brief chat with the policemen, teaching them to count in English, and then got into this guy’s car. We were also illegal in the sense of having 5 passengers in the car, but the police who were sat there didn’t seem to mind in the slightest, in fact they seemed rather jolly. As we were driving off in the car, I had a look at the front windowsill and saw sat there a police badge, several radios, an electric baton and a pair of handcuffs! On the back windowsill there was also a full police uniform, which would have been a really good buy if we’d had enough courage at the time. It turns out that the driver was in fact an undercover policeman who was on his lunch break and decided to make a little extra money. Such is China!

In the afternoon, we had a bit of a rest and a nap as it is usually too hot to do anything apart from lie on a beach, and we didn’t want to get too sunburnt or face the crowds of fat Russian sunbathers again. In the evening, we got the bus into central Dalian and found a nice noodle restaurant to eat in. We then went on search of Karaoke, but instead ended up at a night market where we bought various souvineers. In the end, we found some KTV but the good ones were full, and the bad ones had no English songs, so we went to bed instead.

More Adventures in China!

Well, ISEC is now over (I’ll write about some of it later, don’t worry) so I’ll finally be able to start updating my blog. I’m currently travelling around northern China with several friends from ISEC, Ellie, Kate, Peter and Ally and we’ll be heading up to the North Korean border area and perhaps further north to near Russia. Having done debriefing at Qingdao, by the sea, we travelled north by coach for 4 hours to Yantai (60 Yuan/£4), on the north coast of the peninsular. We then spent several hours there having a nice meal (60 Yuan/£4 for 5 people) and then finding the port so we could get an overnight boat to Dalian (8 hours with beds, 190 Yuan/£13). The journey was rather uneventful and very smooth, the boat didn’t even rock. There weren’t too many people on the boat either so we had a cabin of 8 beds all to the five of us (after several of the other people put with us had left to find a cabin to themselves).

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We arrived in Dalian on the morning of the 21st at about 7am and found several buses waiting outside the boat. We seemed expected to get onto one of them, but didn’t know which so after about 10 minutes of pointing at the guidebook and trying to translate addresses of youth hostels into Chinese, they directed us to one bus which in fact took us for an hour’s journey into the centre of Dalian, to the railway station, where we were expected to get a taxi. As it was, we wanted to do some email and book train tickets for the next leg of our journey, towards North Korea, so we did some research on the internet and found the train that we wanted to take. In the event, the train in the railway station was slightly different from the one that was on the internet, but not significantly. Trying to book the tickets was fun, because there was a queue of about 50 people behind myself and Ally, and neither of us knew any Chinese. I’d looked up the word for ‘hard sleeper’ and some other useful phrases beforehand but it was still quite difficult. We tried asking for the train on the 22nd, but (I think) the woman said that there were no beds free on that. Having had a seat overnight from Beijing to Qingdao, I didn’t really want that again, so asked her about the 21st or 23rd. She said that there were none on any of those, but then said (again, I think) that there were 3 beds on the train on the 23rd for 200 Yuan (£14) each. I said that we’d take those and two seats, and then she gave me five tickets for the 23rd, all of which appear to be beds, but only cost 134 Yuan (£9) each. I’m looking forward to seeing what actually happens when we leave, because according to the tickets, we have beds but I’m really still not sure exactly what happened at the train station!

Having found the others still at the internet café, we then tried to track down one of the youth hostels that we found both on the internet, and in the guide book. We spent about 30 minutes trying to find the bus stop for the bus which it suggested you should take, and eventually haggled with some ladies to get us a map of the city so we could find out exactly where we were meant to be going (2 Yuan/15pence). Fortunately, I knew enough Chinese to be able to guess which district the name was in, although I wish guide books would put the addresses in Chinese because no-one in China can really read English let alone understand English people trying to pronounce Chinese names. The map was also useful when we found taxi drivers, to point them to where we wanted to go, because that is about the only way to get a taxi to go to the right place in China – Chinese taxi drivers seem even less aware of where things are than normal people.

We finally got some taxis to take us to the area in which the youth hostel was meant to be, and were dumped in a dusty parking lot next to the zoo. We wandered around for about 10 minutes and eventually found the street that the hostel was on, however the ‘youth hostel’ itself is now called the ‘international business hotel’. After trying to book rooms in Chinese, with a travel agent helping us who spoke marginally more English than my Chinese, we managed to get them for about 100 Yuan/person/night (£7). The rooms themselves are very nice with TV’s, air conditioning and really nice beds, although there don’t seem to be many people at the hotel so I’m sure we could have got the price down a little bit. For lunch, we went out to a local restaurant (90 Yuan/£6) which served quite nice food, including giant prawns, one of my favourite Chinese dishes. In the afternoon, we headed towards a beach which the travel agent had recommended to us. Arriving there, it seemed that the travel agent had recommended it to about half of Russia and China too, because it was jam packed with tourists. Every sign was bilingual, in Russian and Chinese, and Russian pop and traditional music was blaring from everywhere. We had some ice creams (3 Yuan/20p) and then walked up a hill nearby to look at the beautiful scenery. We then went and lay on a less densely populated part of the beach for a few hours, although rather randomly there was a photo-shoot going on at the same time as we were on the beach with a man and woman modelling wedding attire.

At about 6 O’clock, we headed back to the hotel but stopped off at a Chinese food market on the way to get some take-away dinner (about 25 Yuan/£1.70 for 5 people). We ate this in our 3-person bedroom and then we went out to explore the local area and stayed up chatting until about 11.

Pictures!

Hi guys, sorry for the lack of update but the past two weeks have been manic. I’ve put some photos up to show what we’ve been doing. You can find the two galleries linked below by clicking the pictures.

china2006/prefirstcamp Photos from before the first camp
china2006/bfd Photos from the first camp

The First Few Days in China

Wow! What a first week in China. It’s hard to imagine that only one week ago I arrived here and so much has happened. It’s good to know that in everything, God is in control, even when we don’t have much of a clue about what’s going on in human terms, and the past week has been an amazing demonstration of this.The basic problem has been the school which we had partnered with. Basically, they said they would get 1500 students for us to teach over three camps. A few weeks ago, they realised that they were very far away from this target – only about 30 had been recruited. This wouldn’t have been so much of a problem if they hadn’t promised the company we work for that if they fell short of this number, they would make up the difference – approximately £200k at the current time. The school first sent an email round to all of the people coming, saying that the trip had been cancelled, and told them not to come to China; however that plan failed. Now we’re over here and the school has resigned itself to us staying here, it’s not quite so bad, although the way they are treating us is quite clearly indicative of the amount they stand to loose because of this situation. However, things have been getting better throughout the past week, which by itself is quite a miracle.

Anyway, the week before we left, myself and Joel had to apply for visas, because we had both been abroad when the group of visas was handed in for processing. Joel handed them in on about the 20th June and I went to collect them the following week. However, when I asked for them, they said there had been a problem with processing our visas because we did not have the necessary documentation from the Beijing Education Board. Obviously it was impossible to get that at such short notice – getting any official letter from China takes at least a week. We did, however, have the letters from the Soong Ching Ling foundation which we had originally used to get our visas, but had been rejected. Miraculously when Joel went the next day with those letters, they granted him the visas (which had been put into our passports on the 20th June…). We later learnt when we arrived in China that someone from the school had phoned his friend in the government and asked for our visas to be cancelled to show his power and connections to the company that was in dispute with the school about the contract. He later told the company that he had changed his mind and allowed our visas to be processed; however Joel had collected the passports before that time. This was pretty strong confirmation that we were meant to be going to China because God had very clearly overruled the earthly authorities who thought that they were in charge of the situation.

The flight on Lufthansa was ok; we had a stop-over in Germany and watched the England match there (well, the first 80 minutes of it) before we boarded the plane. I think I managed about 2 hours of sleep that night. Upon arrival in China we got a taxi to the hotel where we were staying and as we got there we met up with Andy and he took us to lunch with the Chinese organiser (a rich businessman) and two of his school-friends, one of whom used to be the secretary to the now-leader of China. It was a very expensive and lavish meal and interesting to see how the Chinese do ‘guangxi’ (the whole idea of connections and being friends with high-up people
 to get more influence and strengthen e.g. your business position).

After that, we met up with the people who had been away that morning, going to church, and then heard that the idea for the day was to go to the school we wolud be teaching at and camp outside it for the day! Apparently this had been agreed the night before, because they were meant to be accommodating us but had refused because they wanted to get out of their contractual obligations, because they had about 40 students signed up, having promised 1500. Anyway, we took the bus to the school, unloaded our luggage, and then the bus left. Being a leader, I was shown aronud the school and they took us to a staircase which they said was where we were meant to be living but was under construction – it had been delayed due to storms. They took us to the very top and showed us a partially finished room. Someone accidentally opened a door at the bottom of the staircase to reveal a fully finished and furnished room and the headmaster quickly shut the door. We were then taken to the office for a meeting with the senior people in charge of the school. After being civil for about an hour and saying how they simply couldn’t accommodate us, the headmaster started yelling and swearing in Chinese for another hour. Eventually he ordered all the senior staff to go to his office and not to talk to us. We sat around for another few hours and managed to talk to some of the office staff who were really nice people and were quite appalled at the way the school had treated us. Meanwhile, everyone else was still outside worshipping and giving some English lessons to one or two random kids who were passing by. They also had a game of Ultimate Frisbee I believe.

Eventually, about 8pm the school decided to put us in a hotel for the night and brought the school bus (which had about 35 seats) to pick the 34 of us up with all of our luggage. It was of course dangerously unsafe and we packed the aisle full of bags – goodness knows what would have happened if the bus had crashed! We were just about to go at 8:30 when someone else arrived at the school and after seeing the cost to put us all up for one night decided to stop the headmaster from doing this. Everyone had to wait in the bus for another hour with the mosquitoes flying around (there was a big, still lake near the entrance to the school). Finally, they gave the permission to go to the hotel and we arrived about 10pm. I had to organise passports and the school hadn’t brought enough money etc. The star of the day was Mr Wang, a relation of the Chinese organiser of the programme, who was able to buy us food and water and also sat there for one hour while being sworn at in Chinese, because he was the representative of the company there. Finally, we got to bed about midnight and I calculated that I’d had about 10 hours sleep in the past 70 hours – i slept well that night!

That whole day I felt like Jack Bowers from 24 trying to organise things and getting off the plane to step into lunch with some seriously powerful people and then to the school to try to sort the contractual dispute out. It was quite fun but very hard work and very tiring.The next day (3rd July) I managed to sleep until 10am. Overnight, there had been negotiations from 10pm until about 3am and the school had decided that we should go ahead with the main camp and that they would accommodate us. The main thing that brought the school to realise they couldn’t just abandon us was a representative from an important Chinese organisation basically telling them that if they did so there would be serious international repercussions and the school would not want that to happen. Apparently at the end of the meeting the school had really changed and they were happy to be able to help us and look after us. I don’t know how much of that was genuine, but so far they have at least been accommodating to us, if not being particularly helpful unless asked. On that day we spent quite a lot of time faffing around and travelling to the new hotel which they put us in which was closer to the school. In the afternoon, we ate at the school and met some of the staff who were really nice and friendly. In the evening, we went back to the hotel which was quite posh and many people went to the swimming pool and sauna while they could.The following day (4th) we moved to the school and were meant to begin our week of travel/charity work. Needless to say, things did not turn out as expected. We were initially promised some travel in the morning and expected to be going to an old people’s home/orphanage in the afternoon. In the event, in the morning we went to a hotel/resort place called crab island. It is basically a Chinese retreat centre with various houses and apartments in the style of old Chinese houses. We saw a few of these, and they also had several attractions such as crab fishing etc., but we didn’t get to do these. In the afternoon, we ended up at a furniture ‘museum’, but unlike western museums, everything had a price so it was essentially a furniture show-room. The were lots of very amazing wooden structures i.e. beds, shelving units, desks etc. but they were all very expensive and no-one was that interested in them. There were also some Chinese paintings which looked quite nice too, but again after a few hours they got boring. We ended up in a room and had brought a guitar (because we still thought when we got on the buses that we were going to the orphanage). We had a worship session there and the ‘curators’ were very interested in it. The guy that the school had got to look after us was also very interested, and we had a nice chat about heaven and prayer. Despite being a waste of time in human terms it was certainly not in spiritual.

The next day, some of us went to do advertising in the second school (BJFD), which went really well. Lots of kids seemed interested and signed up, and the school were very welcoming and accommodating to us. We had a nice lunch there and then spent the afternoon doing laundry etc. back home. Meanwhile, the other two-thirds of the group had been bussed to two other schools in order to do ‘advertising’ which actually consisted of people being put into classrooms for the day and being told to teach. Because the minibus was quite small, they were taken in two different bus-loads, expecting to be dropped off at the same school, but rather they were taken to different schools. This is just an example of the miscommunication between our main school
 and us, because as I have said they didn’t seem particularly interested in our welfare but rather in making money.That evening, 8 of us were taken into a rich area of Beijing in order to do street advertisements; this was another mistake as although the advertising (singing songs, playing with children etc.) was quite effective, none of the people we talked to seemed particularly rich or interested in their children learning English.The following day, Andrew, Liz, Nelson and I went into central Beijing. Myself and Andrew went to talk to BJFD about the camp which we are having there and Liz and Nelson went to buy equipment for people. Liz, Nelson and myself went back to the school together because Andrew went on to a different school. It was certainly an interesting experience going back because we took the underground to the stop nearest our school. We got out and tried to find a taxi, but must have gone out of the wrong exit of the station because we ended up on a dusty chinese road. We walked along looking for a taxi, but because it was midday there were only one or two taxis and they were parked along the side of the road with their owners sleeping somewhere or eating. We wandered for a little longer and then came upon an indoor market. This was probably one of the most amazing places I’ve been to in China; they had hundreds of stalls selling either fruit, veg, or meat. We managed to buy Lychee and Mango Steem to take home, as well as some bananas (Chinese bananas are so much sweeter than western bananas; it’s really amazing). Eventually, we managed to find a taxi to take us home. We agreed with the driver beforehand that we wouldn’t spend more that 40 yuan (about £2.50) because Chinese drivers will sometimes go round in circles to get more money from you. When we arrived back at the school, the meter was at exactly 40!

On the 7th we went to a poor school this morning to do some classes. It was really interesting as there were only about 40 kids and 9 of us so we were able to do quite small classes and get to talk to the kids quite a lot. The school was in a really poor neighbourhood and was quite run-down; the toilets were literally holes in the ground with no sewers, but they still treated us really nicely and the kids seemed very interested in coming to the camp if they could afford it. The teachers were also very happy to have us, and several townspeople came and squatted at the edge of the dusty sand/mud playground and watched us. We had lunch there and then went back to the school. I had quite a long sleep because I was feeling a bit ill and then spent several hours on the phone to various people arranging for us to go to the school on the 10th. In the evening we had a meeting as usual, and as it was Lillian’s birthday we had a birthday cake (photos to follow).

Finally, on the 8th and 9th, I had quite a bad cold and so I spent most of these days in bed recovering (by watching 24). Being Sunday, everyone else went to the international church and followed it up with a MacDonalds in central Beijing.

All-in-all it has been an interesting few days but we’ve seen God working really powerfully here and we’re convinced that we’re meant to be out here and it will be interesting to see what He has planned for us the rest of the time we are out here!

Graduation

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So my three years in Cambridge are finally up – they’ve gone by so very quickly. Anyway, I spent today graduating which was quite good fun. The Thursday night we had a graduation dinner which was probably the best meal I’ve ever had in college, also just about the only meal that was free during my time in Cambridge. There were quite a few courses and there was of course much wine etc, but the best thing was being able to catch up with everyone again – this year has been quite a manic rush to get work done and so I’ve not really had enough time to see anyone until this past week, which has been a manic rush to see everyone whom i’ve ever known during my time at university.

Graduation itself was quite a strange experience. We had to dress up in lots of layers and then ponce around cambridge for a while. The weather was very hot (about 25 or 30 degrees) and under the 4 or so layers I had to wear it was swealtering! The ceremony itself was all in Latin so all you had to do was to stand at the back and wait until your name was called, then head up to the front, hold the Master’s hands while she said something else in Latin, followed by a quick ‘well done’ and then be bundled out of the rear exit and given a piece of paper saying you now have a degree from Cambridge. Strange to think that I was following in the footsteps of so many famous people who have gone through a similar ceremony in the past 800 years. Perhaps even stranger to think that I am now Mark Zealey BA(cantab), and if I stay out of prison for the next 10 terms I’ll be MA(cantab)…

Lots of Photos!

Wow it’s been another few busy weeks, but I’ve got lots of photos up in my gallery to show for it:

milton_park/ I’ve finally put some photos from our pre-exam walk around Milton Park up.
paris/ Lots more photos from Paris.
granchester_punting/ My family and Ruth punted to Grantchester
manhatten/ Photos from the Emmanuel college event (“Manhatten”)
last_night_on_earth/ Photos from the Sidney Sussex Mayball
botanical/ Photos from our expedition to the Cambridge Botanical Gardens