Chinese vs British trains

I was waiting to take a train from Coventry to Birmingham a couple of days ago, and amongst the chatter on the platform, I heard some Chinese speakers. They were complaining that the train was delayed, and in fact all the trains were delayed by at least a few minutes that day for several reasons. It was then than I started thinking what Chinese people must think of British trains. I mean we do have a good system here in the UK, but the Chinese system probably has the edge (I’m talking about the Chinese high-speed trains, the slow trains are a totally different matter).

In China, you have to buy your own ticket, with your own ID, be it ID card or passport, so nobody can sell their ticket on to anyone else. When you enter the station, after an ID check, there is a security check and a metal detector…usually people pile mountains of bags on the conveyor belt, and a sleeping officer will be ‘checking’ the screen for weapons, but on the whole it feels slightly more secure than any UK train station where anyone can walk in and anonymously buy a ticket.

Only after these checks, are you in the train station. Therefore, everyone inside the station has a ticket to travel that day. Whereas in the UK, anyone can buy a ticket, at the machine or at the counter, and anyone is allowed inside the train station, where there are restaurants, shops and ATMs. Now, with ticket barriers operating at major UK train stations (including Coventry now, no skipping the fare!), you have to scan your ticket to be allowed on the platform.

This happens in China too, but in China, there are never platform alterations, and you’re only allowed onto your platform when your train is coming. If you’re waiting for the 11.05 to Hangzhou from platform 2, you can’t go and wait on the platform at 10.40 when they open the gates for the 10.45 train to Beijing. You wait in the large waiting room, rather than on the platform.

Also in China, everyone has a seat number and carriage number, there are some standing seats available, but not many and even if you have a standing seat, you will be told which carriage to stand in. On the platform, 5 minutes before the train arrives, everyone stands in a very neat line according to the marks on the floor which say the carriage number. When the train arrives, people first get off the train, then people get on the train in a very orderly fashion.

Flip back to the UK, where on platform 2 you could have people waiting for the 10.58 to Birmingham, the 11.05 to Bournemouth and the 11.12 to London on the same platform. Everyone is crowding around and then suddenly, a voice comes on the tannoy saying that the 10.58 has been delayed, and it will now depart from platform 4 at approximately 11.03. Everyone for the Birmingham train will barge past the other passengers, trying to find the stairs to get up and go across to platform 4. The train arrives and people will always try to get on whilst others are getting off, and nobody ever knows where they should stand on the platform. Sometimes you have a reserved seat, but the UK sells a lot of ‘open return’ tickets, meaning you can get on any train and don’t need to wait for a specific train, so lots of people don’t have seat reservations and sit in any place.

With a bit more organisation, in the UK too we could write the numbers (well, letters) of the carriages on the floor so people know where to stand waiting on the platform, we could make stations safer by asking people their names to write on the ticket, we could have unreserved carriages for people with open tickets and travelling by train could be a smoother process. Delays and platform alterations are bound to happen when you’re only travelling a short distance and signals, bridges and weather affects the times of trains, so not everything can be avoided.

I just feel sorry for those Chinese people who are used to travelling by high speed train, who come to the UK and have no idea what to do at the train station, because there’s so much chaos in their eyes.

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Working as a tour guide

One part of my job is working as a tour guide. I lead groups of international students around places like Nottingham, Sherwood Forest, Durham, Lake District, Peak District and I hope one day to give a tour around my hometown Coventry!

You’d think that learning a script and taking students to the same places each week would get boring and repetitive but it really isn’t! Each time I take a group of students, there are different challenges to overcome, problems to solve and the groups all have different vibes…the group who had a slow three hour coach journey with no heating are less enthusiastic than those who just had a one hour journey with no traffic.

As a tour guide, you need to know a whole lot more than just what’s on the script – where are the nearest toilets? where can you get a bottle of water/cup of coffee? where is there some shelter from the rain?

A tour guide has to be adaptable and make the most of opportunities that come up. If there is a special event on like Robin Hood Day, instead of just walking past the people in medieval clothes (who aren’t usually there), ask them to give a performance or tell the group about what they’re doing today. If Coca-Cola is handing out free cans in the centre, lead the group past their stand so the customers can get a little sugar boost etc. If someone tells you about an organ concert in 30mins time at the church, take the group back to the church to hear the concert.

Those are examples of good unexpected things that can happen during a tour. But there are problems that happen during tours – people have lost bank cards and ID cards at Sherwood Forest, I’ve lost three students who didn’t arrive at the bus at the departure time and weren’t answering their phones, groups have arrived 30 minutes before the attraction opens and need entertaining etc. It’s times like these when my skills come out and I shine. I always keep calm in situations like this and by getting other people involved and on board, the problems are always resolved. Students cards were returned to them on the same day, with the help of Sherwood Forest staff we found the missing students and on the Harry Potter tour, when the students arrived before the cathedral opened, I spent the time ‘sorting’ students into their Harry Potter houses which was fun for me too, especially deciding which group looked like they would be Slytherins!

So being a tour guide, it’s something I enjoy, it’s something I wish I could do more of because there are so many stories to tell people about a place, stories that aren’t on wikipedia or in the travel guides.

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Food Waste – China

Food waste is a massive problem all across the world. There are plenty of articles online about how the food wasted by X amount of people could feed a million people for X amount of time. Even in the UK, it’s not just the food we don’t eat on our plate, the food that’s not eaten and goes rotten in cupboards and fridges, restaurants serving  big portions that people are unable to finish and supermarkets binning food close to or dead on it’s sell-by date.

So what’s the food waste like in China? When you first come to China, you probably think there’s a lot of food waste, and there definitely is. Even after the hard times during the Cultural Revolution, where famine victims were forced to eat mud named after the Buddhist Goddess of Compassion and Mercy [观音土], it seems modern Chinese society are very much set in the habit of wasting food.

At many average restaurants (the ones I regularly eat at) and in the canteen, you will often see the ‘slop bucket’ of leftovers, and in the canteen you are expected to clear away your own leftovers into the communal bin.

At meals out, with friends or colleagues, there inevitably be food left over. As, in China, sociable meals are ate around a round table, where each person takes as much or little as they want from the middle and puts it in their own bowl, there’s no way to pinpoint who’s to blame for the wasted food. When I asked a Chinese friend his opinion on food waste, he said that none of the food gets wasted, as it will be collected in buckets and given to pigs and cows to eat, therefore it is all recycled in the food chain. But I don’t know how true that is, since one time I saw a worker lift up a paving slab on campus and pour a slop bucket into a hole in the ground…I don’t know how deep the hole was, but there was certainly a lot of wasted food down there.

On the other hand, does China waste less food than us civilised Westerners do? When we go to the fridges in the supermarket to buy meat, we find nicely sliced chicken breasts, a “whole” chicken (with no head and no insides) and all of these other nicely packaged good, hassle free cuts of meat. In China however, in the supermarket you can find the heads of animals, which are often a speciality. Chinese people eat chicken hearts, chicken feet, gizzard, liver etc. They must be shocked when they shop in the UK and discover a ‘whole chicken’ doesn’t include the feet. I wonder how Tesco would respond to that query.

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Duck heads and Wings

So in this sense, they really make the most out of each animal that is killed for human consumption.

On a similar note, at fruit stalls, you will often have different prices for the same fruit, depending on how it looks. Red apples may be 5rmb/500g, but the ones that have bruises, are a weird shape or are already turning yellow are sold for 3rmb/500g. Sure these cheap apples may increase your risk of being ill, especially if you have a sensitive stomach, but it’s something that may prevent them getting thrown away or left to rot. I buy plenty of 3rmb apples and touch wood haven’t been ill.

In China, I think the food waste problem is much more visual than in the UK, where things are taken away to the kitchen before being scraped into a bin or supermarkets empty their ‘gone off’ food in big waste containers in the dead of night, whereas in China, you may be sitting opposite the slop bucket or see a big pile of rotting fruit on the street.

I think both countries acknowledge that this is a problem, but it’s not a priority at the moment. How many British households separate food waste, use a composter or make a conscious effort to cut down on food waste? Not enough, as I’m certain we are all guilty of seeing the first dots on a slice of bread,  seeing one yoghurt is out of date and or seeing one cherry tomato go furry before chucking the whole lot out into the regular bin.

Back to China, there are signs in the canteen persuading students not to be leftover boys and girls* and I think it is part of the Civilised Society vision that Xi Jinping has for China, but while servings are too big, and all people are unaware of the scale of wasted food, we will still nervously pour the remains of our dinner into the slop bucket, hoping that there’s no splashback.

*This is a pun on a modern day saying 剩女, which is a person over 30 years old who is unmarried

Take a glimpse…

or a glance, a peek or a quick look.

That was one of my thoughts when cycling through the Devonshire countryside today. I saw so many landscapes of beautiful hills with cows, hay bales, cottages, sheep. You name it, is was there, complete with an array of different colours – green shrubs, trees and grass, blues and whites in the sky and browns of the cottages and houses I passed along the roadside.

Dartmoor national park (Devon)

But, as I was cycling (and mid-race), there was no opportunity for me to stop and take a picture of the scenes I saw. So instead, I’m left with the glimpses, the glances, the peeks and the quick looks of the Devonshire countryside instead of the eternal photos. There are some visions that I can recreate quite well, but I’m unsure if I 100% remember them, or whether it’s my subconscious mind filling in the missing pieces of the things I actually saw and remember.

Maybe we don’t need photos, which last forever and get retouched, edited or deleted over time. Maybe the glimpses we get of panoramas or people are enough…

Summer Handbag Essentials (UK Edition)

As summer finally makes its way to the UK (yay!), it’s time for me to start packing my handbag a bit differently. Here is a low down of the essential items I keep in my handbag on a summer’s day in the UK, where weather is unpredictable. I’m quite a low maintenance chick, so this list includes practical items to help combat the weather, rather than products that other women choose to take.

  • Bottled water
    I usually carry water with me regardless, but I make sure to take plenty when the weather’s warm to keep hydrated.
  • Wet wipes
    There’s nothing nice about sweating it out on a bus, so having a little pack of wet wipes is good for wiping your forehead, palms or other places.
  • Fan
    Another great item for keeping cool when the temperature gets high.

    Chinese fan with dragons
    Chinese fan with dragons
  • Sunglasses
    Eye protection is always good for bright days.
  • Imperishable snacks
    Raisins, apples and granola bars survive the heat without going mushy or melted.
  • Scrunchie
    If I’m wearing my hair down, I’ll have a hair band on standby to tie up the ‘mop’.
  • Umbrella
    Because rain is always a possibility!
  • Light jacket/scarf
    As with above, the weather can get cooler so take a jacket/cardi just in case

If you’re wondering how all these items fit into a handbag, there is no simple explanation as to how…they just do!

Read other great posts about summer woes, tips and tricks from my fellow bloggers:
6100 Main
AMtoPM
Fairyburger
In the loop
Lipstick and Brunch
Native Texan Livin’
New Key Beauty
Rosiemay
Southern Soul
Suite 6Ten
The Pace

this post and those above were organised by:

Beauty and the Pitch

Issues that matter

At university, there always seems to be somebody or entity complaining about something, whether it’s student activist societies, student led forums for discussing teaching issues or just individuals wanting to get more for their money or a higher coursework mark. These issues all seem very important when you’re in university and I myself have fallen into the university bubble that enveloped and consumed me when I received a low mark for a piece of coursework, bringing down my average dramatically and increasing the pressure for me to do well in other assessments. However, these past few weeks, I’ve been preparing for my Spanish oral exam which will be next week, and the task is to prepare presentations on five topics. Today I’m going to write about my Spanish oral topics and why these issues matter so much more in the grand scheme of things, over exam stress.

Poverty in the world

I’ve chosen to speak about food poverty in the UK as the amount of people relying on food banks in the UK is dramatically rising. My presentation is based on a paper produced by Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust, called Below the breadline: The relentless rise of food poverty in Britain. It gives testimonies of those living in food poverty (when people don’t have the ability to afford food for a healthy diet) and reports figures about unequal wealth distribution in the UK and food banks. It’s a really interesting report that highlights an issue many of us never consider as being a problem. Although some of us donate to food banks, the food accepted by charities is tinned, long-lasting foods such as pasta, tuna, rice and cereals. Fresh fruit and vegetables are never accepted and as many fruits and veg are imported from other countries, people living in food poverty can’t afford it and their diet is affected by this.

Globalization

Globalization is the exchange of products, ideas or cultural aspects between countries and I have decided to look at the new trend in China for European finishing schools. Based on an article Western manners: The latest Chinese status symbol, in this presentation I look at how a Chinese woman, who attended an etiquette school in Switzerland has opened one in Beijing, offering courses on peeling fruit with cutlery and posing with elegance. What shocks me most about this isn’t the ridiculous prices of the school and the founder’s ambition for it to be accessible to all Chinese people, it’s the fact that Chinese people are prepared to study the customs and etiquette which derived in Switzerland. Funny enough, in Switzerland, due to the rise in feminism and changing views on gender roles, these schools are actually shutting down because they’re deemed old-fashioned.

Chinese people studying Western manners

Violence

Keeping to the China theme, I have been reading about Chinese death-row prisoners and executions. More specifically, China has a number of specially built Mobile ‘death vans’ which they use to execute prisoners in, via lethal injection. After this process is finished, doctors extract the organs from the prisoners (without permission) and sell them through hospitals. I have read other information about organ harvesting in China which is chilling, to say the least.

Studying these, amongst other, topics over the past few weeks has been eye-opening, shocking and distressing in some cases where I read more than I should have. However, the task has helped me to prioritise the issues in my life and appreciate the life I lead. I’m all for student activism, as many campaigns run do get listened to, but it puts complaining about a grade and worrying about an exam into perspective as I now know that hundreds of thousands on children in my country are going hungry each day and some corrupt Chinese officers are unjustly sentencing people to death as a means to obtain organs, which are of high demand in a country where there is no mentality or history of voluntary organ donation.

Top 5 Things Which Would Improve Life in the UK

There are some things that I’ve seen abroad that I think have been genius inventions. I’ve waited for them to arrive in the UK but they haven’t as yet. So here is a list of my top 5 things as seen abroad that should be introduced to the UK!

1. Coat hooks under tables in pubs/bars

As seen in: Spain

In the UK, normally, anyone who would dare to feel underneath a table may find hard bits of chewing gum stuck to the bottom that have been there for possibly decades. But in Spain, if you put your hand under the table, you will find conveniently placed hooks so that you can hang up your coat and/or bag right besides you, without having to use an extra chair or put it on the floor. I think this stems from the old Spanish belief that “if you put your bag on the floor, it gives thieves permission to take your money”. Also, who wants to be putting their bag on the floor or carrying it the whole night? If pubs and bars were to put little hooks under the table or at the bar, I’d love it.

Coat hook under the table

2. Baskets with wheels

As seen in: Spain

Do you ever sometimes go to the supermarket for just a few bits, bread and milk for example? If you do, you’ll probably get a basket rather than have to find a pound coin for a trolley. And then when you’re walking from the dairy to the bread section (conveniently placed far away from each other), you get distracted by the offers and your basket starts to become heavier. In the UK, you have to heave that heavy metal basket around the supermarket until you get all your items. What about in Spain? In all of the supermarkets, the baskets are plastic for a start which makes things lighter in the first place, they’re also deeper and have two sets of handles. A short one if you want to carry your shopping and also a long one so if you’re struggling (or just like wheeling around a little basket) you can put the basket on the floor and wheel it behind you.

They even come in different colours!

3. Boiling hot water dispensers

As seen in: China

In China, you can’t drink the tap water, but in dormitories, universities, on trains and other places, there would be boiling water dispensers so you could fill up your flask and sip on hot water. You just open the tap and hot water comes out, it’s great. You can use this hot water for whatever you like, adding to tea leaves, a pot noodle, cleaning cutlery etc. And best of all it was free in most places. Now when I go to a water dispenser at uni and can only choose between cold and ice cold water, I’m disappointed.

Because who has time to find a kettle and wait for it to boil?

4. Available parking space lights

As seen in: Spain

There are many underground car parks in mainland Spanish cities. They’re dark, narrow and it’s hard to find a space to park. But some genius invented these special lights. Above each of the car park bays, there is a sensor with a light. If there is nothing below the sensor, the light shows green so as you are driving around the car park, you can look for a green light and you know there’s a free space. When you park your car under the sensor, it changes to red to let people know that somebody has already parked there.

I think these are great

5. Taxi driver app

As seen in: China

Taxis work differently in most countries, but I liked the Chinese system (at least the Qingdao one). From my understanding, each driver was on his own, unaffiliated with any type of taxi firm. If you couldn’t find a taxi, locals had an app where they as a customer wrote down where they are going from and to. The taxi drivers also used this app and through GPS it linked them up to a customer nearby. Using this app also saved the customer the 10p petrol charge added to all journeys. In Coventry at least, there must be over five different taxi companies and when I’ve finished work at the nightclub at 5 or 6am, no taxi companies have answered their phones to me, leaving me a little stranded. If there was an app to connect me to closeby taxi drivers, it would cut down waiting time and mean I wouldn’t have to walk to the nearest taxi rank in the early morning.

My knowledge of Chinese road names was never good enough for me to take full advantage of it.

Are there any things you’ve seen abroad that you wish were in the UK? Leave a comment below!

Greetings Cards

As an English person, I love sending and receiving cards – postcards, birthday cards, Christmas cards, the lot. They’re great mementoes you can keep for ages and I have a big bag filled with birthday cards from when I was little, as well as a box of postcards I’ve received over the years. I’m aware I sound a lot like a hoarder at the moment and maybe I am a little.

When I was younger, I would personally make birthday cards for my friends, printing off pictures of us together, their favourite band or something related to a private joke. That way I could write exactly what I wanted on the card and I’d often write a little personalised poem inside too.

But then, I got older, less artistic and hand-making cards became time consuming. I started buying cards from the high street card shops. I remember at first there was a huge variety of cards for a standard amount of people – Mum, Dad, sister, brother, cousin, nan, grandad, auntie, uncle, friend and then the childrens ones with badges. It was fairly easy to find a suitable card that had pictures of football, cakes, flowers or whatever that person liked, there seemed to be a lot of choices and adjectives.

Birthday cards with badges

Today I was in a card shop, trying to find some Christmas cards and adding to the list above for the ‘relations’ section of the card shop were: Mum and step-dad, Dad and stepmum, Nanna and Grandad, Nanny and Grandad, Nana, Nanna, Granny, the both of you, like a Mum, like a Dad, step-brother, step-sister, Auntie in-law, Uncle in-law, Godfather, Godmother, Mam, one I love, partner, someone special…you can even buy cards for your literate cat or dog.

A-meow-zing

Because the relations you can buy for increasing over the past few years, I’ve found the quality of cards has gone down. I’m a person who likes to make sure that I don’t buy a card that doesn’t represent the person who I’m buying for. I also like to choose a card with some of my personality in it through the words on the inside. A simple ‘Have a great day’ won’t do it for me. I’ve found that I couldn’t find a suitable card for my Dad for example. The few that were there were mixed in with the ‘like a Dad’, step-Dad and uncle cards, all had things like “to the best Dad in the world at Christmas”, considering I only see him a few times a year, it’s not quite a card that represents my feelings.

Almost all the female relations cards are pink and I don’t like pink. I know that I’ll get a few pink cards for my birthday, but what happened to the blues, greens and purples that used to brighten up the fireplace with birthday cards? Not every woman likes pink, nor is every Dad the best in the world, not every man likes sports on a card, nor is every cousin wonderful. Another thing to mention is that bestest is not a word! Cards have become less personal and more stereotypical mass market ‘one size fits all’.

I think the creation of all these new titles has been done to try to realistically reflect the change in our society, which in a way is good, can you imagine how a Mother would feel knowing her son sent a card addressed to Mum and Dad to his father and his new wife? But at the same time, with all these extra cards going on the shelves, ultimately, many have come off and I struggle to find cards that are suitable for my friends and family.

Give Kisses, not XXX’s

I have never been one of those people who put kisses on the end of every text message. In the past people have told me off for ending a text message with a full stop instead of an x. They have asked me if they have done something to deserve the apparent lack of affection I show in text messages. It’s not that I am cold and have no affection, I just don’t see the point in rows of x’s and prefer to put a smiley face instead. I think we should get in the habit of giving actual kisses, rather than x’s, after all didn’t X mark the spot? What spot? Why an X?

The phonetic sound of the letter X sounds similar to the word kiss and the shape of an X can be interpreted as two mouths joining together in a kiss. In the UK, there are “rules” for the amount of x’s or xo’s you should leave for different types of people. These can be interpreted in different ways, but I think the general rules are:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx – little brother/sister gone a bit OTT

xoxox – hugs and kisses for friends

xxx – for close family, boy/girlfriends, people you love

xx – for close friends, other family members and a good middle ground between one kiss and three

x – for friends

– enemies, people you are angry with, your boss

I pretty much always use the latter for everybody I text.

I don’t understand where these kisses on the end of messages came from. In the UK we prefer handshakes and waves when greeting our friends. When British people do give kisses, it’s often awkward with people not being sure which cheek comes first…is it one, two or three…and do you rest your hand on their shoulder or their hip?

Kisses aren’t all that bad though. I know us Brits are very happy in our own personal space and when strangers try to invade this things can get uncomfortable…


but I think it’s a nice way to greet people. I remember when I was living in Chile and every morning at school I would have to walk around the staffroom kissing everyone it seemed like a huge, pointless task (that would be repeated later in the afternoon at hometime) but now I see the benefits of it. It’s so much more social than a 2 second wave and glance around the room. By going to each person and giving them a little kiss on the cheek you get to give everyone eye contact, learn new people’s names and it’s just nice to have a one on one interaction with everybody. Yes it takes a little time but put the effort in with your friends and stop pressing the x on your keyboard.

Here are some pictures of cute kissing animals!

Afterthought: On the rare occasions when I do put kisses on text messages it means you’re very special to me!

We are British, We are Different

In Britain, we are very different to our European neighbours. Over centuries we have developed our culture to show this to the world in our own special way. Here is a list of things that we do differently in the UK, often without even realising we are being so different to the rest of the world.

  • Firstly, we have a complicated 4 in 1 situation going on in regards to our country/ies and there are still many issues and disagreements between the four nations

    What am I?
    What am I?
  • Driving on the left hand side of the road – here is a page with a colour coded map to show which other countries drive on the left like us…and a list for those of you that don’t like maps http://www.worldstandards.eu/cars/list-of-left-driving-countries/
  • The imperial system:
  1. We measure haircuts in inches, long distances in yards or miles and our height in feet (but a horse’s height is measured in hands)
  2. Our milk comes in pints as does our beer (it’s actually illegal to sell draught beer and cider in metric units)
  3. We weigh using ounces, stones or pounds…
  4. The pound! Our currency is the pound, with one pound being 100 pence, none of that euro nonsense for us!
  • We often can’t decide what measurement system to use, as sugar comes in kilogram bags, the sprint won by Bolt at the 2012 Olympics was the 100m (rather than the 109 yards) and a can of coke is 330ml

    Oh yes
    Oh yes
  • For women, our clothes sizes start at 4 and go up in multiples of 2. In Europe a size 10 is a 38 (I think men are S, M, L everywhere)
  • Our shoe sizes are also different, a size 6 being a 40 overseas – making the whole “Act your age, not your shoe size joke” totally unfunny anywhere else but the UK
  • Mealtimes – we eat our main meal of the day in the evening at 6pm, uncommon as other countries eat a big meal at midday instead
  • The spines of our books are the other way around. I like to tilt my head to the right when browsing titles so was forced to turn my Spanish books upside down (notice how the numbers are upside down on the Isabel Allende books in the centre)

    Which way is the right way?
    Which way is the right way?
  • Our plug sockets are three pronged, we don’t want no two pronged Europlug! But then again….

    You got that right!
    You got that right!
  • Our constitutional monarchy, ie. The Queen! A favourite of mine, we are one of only 35 countries in the world that have this system and Liz is admired all over the world

    Queen Elizabeth II
    Queen Elizabeth II

That sums up some of the main ways that us Brits like to do things differently. If there is anything I’ve missed please let me know! Leave a comment!