Across Continents

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Surreal worlds..

December 17th, 2010

A practical consequence of the often great disparity between rural and urban China is that you can find yourself sleeping in a truck stop, a simple bed and a communal pit toilet. The next night in a small hotel. Standards vary a bit. But unarguably very different worlds. The constant flipping between the two, at times, almost surreal.

Snow fields - web

And so it was tonight. Admittedly not a truck stop the previous night. But a room far more basic than the one I was now in. Struggling to stay warm. Not now. Even a computer. Ken Bruce live on the Radio 2 iPlayer. The odd Christmas track.

Washing - web

Earlier, on the road, the dry cold I’d hoped for. Past slowly thawing rice fields. A woman hand washing clothes outside. A smattering of snow around her.

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A few answers…

November 22nd, 2010

A little while ago, with a degree of trepidation, I’d posed a question. Any questions? Here’s my attempts at answering a few of them…

Do you only get green tea in China, or is there black as well… and do they drink it with milk? Sugar? Honey? Yoghurt etc? And how is it for you?

“Green tea is the staple, usually drunk warm without milk or sugar. You also see people going about their business with bottles of cold tea. For all its purported health giving properties, I’m not a huge fan, much preferring black tea with a little milk. Powdered milk is widely available, being very popular for infants, but black tea usually necessitates finding a decent sized supermarket.

Coffee can - web

Coffee is making beginning to make in-roads, normally in the form of small ring-pull ready-to-drink tins, milk already added. Surprisingly refreshing when drunk cold, despite my normally strong preference for hot black coffee. Jars of instant coffee are much less common, sachets the norm, but with powdered milk and sugar already added.

In the bigger cities you’ll also find plenty of Western style coffee bars, offering decent selection, but at a price. Comparable with what you’d pay in the UK, but expensive for China. Some local chains, and familiar international ones like Starbucks.”

Giardia – have you suffered from this illness in China?

“Fortunately not! Just prolonged and persistent bouts of travellers diarrhoea, in all probability the product of antibiotic resistant bugs and ineffective counterfeit medications. But, legs fingers crossed, that’s in the past now….”

[With thanks to Jon B for the above questions]

What’s surprised you the most about China?

“Three things really. Firstly, the sheer scale – and pace – of development, vast infrastructure projects – towering suspension bridges, pristine new carriageways, pipelines. Alongside the tangible, a real sense of huge social change. Migration to the cities reminiscent of our own Industrial Revolution. Greater freedoms of expression. The latter some way behind our own, but, given the repressive, brutal nature of the so-called Cultural Revolution just three decades ago, impressive nevertheless.

Secondly, the stark contrast between the relative wealth and prosperity of the urban dweller, and the often grinding poverty to be found in many rural communities. Just one of many challenges China faces, and one it is trying to address as best, and as quickly, as it can.

And finally, as a Western visitor, the relatively high standard of living in towns and cities, and yet remarkably cheap. Decent meal out for a few pounds, a three star hotel for ten to twelve.”

[With thanks to Barbara S for the above questions]

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