My first post of 2007 will be spent talking about the last month of 2006. I realise that it’s been a shockingly long time since I wrote anything here (five months, to be exact), and also that I’ve been incredibly bad at keeping up with emails and comments (my apologies to anyone who has contacted me – I will get back to you).
I spent the whole of December in Europe. Two weeks of this was in Bratislava, Slovakia, and the rest with family for Christmas in England. After a year in Asia it was great to go back home and be able to go about my business without being a cause for curiosity. It would be very trite of me to say that nothing had changed. It would also be quite untrue. A lot of things have changed, and none more so than UK airports, which can now be summed up very succinctly: a royal nuisance. Long queues and over-zealous security made every journey an extreme test of patience. Even leaving the train at the airport’s train station was not simple, and security were unhappy that I’d thrown my ticket away between leaving the train and exiting the station.
Bratislava was quite the opposite. There may not be a lot to see (excepting a castle and a few museums it’s pretty scarce on the things-for-tourists-to-do front), but as good a time was had with the people I did meet as in Prague. Also, I finally had chance to try some the Czech/Slovak speciality of fried cheese (something I refused to do while in Prague). My first time was actually pretty good, my second resulted in a day dashing back and forth to the toilet.
Christmas raged with it’s usual ferocity in the UK, and I managed to pick up a few toys that are otherwise hard to locate in China (of which I may talk about in future posts). Also, being the daring type that I am, I tried joining up with HSBC, who just happen to have a branch not very far from me in Guangzhou. The idea was that with a global bank I’d be better able to transfer money around and stave off nasty bank charges. Alas, it seems that due to some bizarre policies, HSBC will not accept you unless you close all other bank accounts. Their reason is to stop you ‘fraudulently transferring money between accounts’. Ah, of course. My money, my accounts, it must be fraud. Sorry HSBC, but I’ve gone elsewhere.
Despite buying a return ticket, Emirates were resolutely defiant in their assertion that I was flying one way to Hong Kong, and as such was deserving of extra security checks. Yet more airport tedium. When I did make it, Hong Kong was quite the tropical paradise compared to windy England, and New Years day was spent walking around in a t-shirt on Lamma Island where I tried tofu hua (tofu flower), a bowl of goopy tofu that tastes of ginger.
On returning to China I discovered that the internet was hopelessly broken. An earthquake in Taiwan on December 26th had cut most of the ocean cables linking Asia to the USA. I’m quite astonished at how little has been made of this in the rest of the world, or how big an effect it had on the whole infrastructure in Asia. Even though it happened nearly a month ago it has still not been fully repaired. What little information I can find out suggests that nothing has yet been repaired and is not expected to be repaired until February. I’m sure it’s not the easiest task repairing cables 2km down in a stormy ocean, but based upon my own situation I can only imagine the kinds of losses that this disruption has caused to Asia as a whole, and it does make me wonder why more urgency has not been placed on fixing it.
After surviving Christmas in the UK, China is now gearing up for it’s New Year celebrations and, if it’s possible, they will be even more crazy. Typically at this time of year the country is awash with people trying to get home, and transport is guaranteed to be full. Already the stores are building up the momentum, decorating everything in red, and blasting everyone with New Year songs that are sung by extraordinarily shrill children.