Updating website (me) and catching up with chores (Lilly). After talking to Jing we decide we are going off to his place on Thursday, so early afternoon we catch a bus to get the bus tickets. The bus depot is in a shabby area in the mid south of the city only just outside the second ring road. We eventually find the place. Could we have booked tickets without having to journey half way across Beijing? Well yes, you could, but you have to be here to pay for them 6 hours before the journey starts. That makes it 3 in the morning for a 9am start!! Can you pay using a credit card? No, not yet. Anyway we have our tickets and we then visit a local park which is a beautiful spot with a large lake as its centrepiece, so the trip is all worthwhile. We sit for half an hour in a pavilion on the edge of the lake and listen to a group of older Chinese men and women singing. Other oldies are playing cards, chess, mah jong, table tennis, flying kites or practising dance or tai chi routines. If you are retired and live locally, this park, like so many of them, is a great place for exercise or relaxation or virtually anything your heart desires. There is even an area where people congregate to find a prospective partner. Neither Lilly nor I are drawn to that section so that augurs well for both of us.
A famous Englishman (so famous his name escapes me) once said that there is no such thing as a Western expert on China, only various degrees of ignorance. How very true; the constant little mysteries of the Orient and the inscrutability of the Chinese combine to make this such an intriguing place. Westerners say ignorance is bliss or a little knowledge is dangerous and I need to constantly remind myself of both. The traffic is back to normal today and an outward bus trip of an hour takes us two hours to return during the rush period. We get home at 7 for a delicious, delectable, dumplings dinner.
Quiet day at home catching up with website stuff, responding to emails, reviewing photos etc. It is cool today and raining some of the time. Lilly is in organisational mode, cleaning, sweeping, tidying, unpacking, packing, commanding, directing and expecting (not a baby but instant obedience). As always, I am helpful, co-operative, amenable, supportive and obliging.
Up early to get a cab at 8 for our trip to JingPings, leaving the bus depot at 9:30. For almost 6 hours we travel across land that is absolutely flat, going past Tianjin (about 12 million folk) which is a major city on the coast about a 100 kms from Beijing. The villages fronting on the road are poor. Life in these parts is a struggle and it remains so for probably as many as a billion Chinese. This is the real China, hand to mouth existence still, but better than it was 10 years ago and hugely more so than 30 years ago. We cross into Shandong Province about midday. For much of the time today we travel across the Hwanghe delta (this is China’s second major river often called the Yellow River). This delta which essentially comprises silt built up over millions of years by this huge river covers an area greater than the North Island of NZ. Steel ducks or what are probably known as oil derricks dot the landscape. JingPing used to work for the oil company and he organised a job for his son there. When they first installed these derricks in the seventies, some of them used to pump 100 tons of oil a day, now many are doing as little as a ton a day. Oil is stolen and sometimes parts of the derricks are stolen – JingPing’s son is part of a team that seeks to prevent that. We also travel through an area where there are huge wind turbines right by the roadside, generating power. Today our driver is another bus cowboy. Overtaking is his speciality. Double yellow lines, approaching traffic, bends, huge lorries all over the road, it matters not. Many times we rock and sway and almost brush up against oncoming oil trucks and buses. Forty years ago it would have been fun. Today it is scary and I try to concentrate on the topography out of the side windows.
We survive to arrive mid afternoon and be picked up by JingPing in his new late model comfortable car or is it a van. Don’t ask me the variety. JingPing is his usual jovial self. We go to his new flat (2 years ago he bought and renovated it and at the same time gave his old place to the son and his wife). He is on the top floor – five floors up. This is a new flat, four big bedrooms, on two levels, two bathrooms, conservatory upstairs, facing South (which is ideal) sunny and bright. Cost him about NZ$40,000 all up and worth double that today. Up to 5 floors and you don’t need a lift but more than 5 and the law says you have to have lifts. It is good exercise for everyone, Ma included. A compulsory five flights of stairs, 2 or 3 times a day is not enough for the JingPings – they always walk after dinner at night and also use the outside exercise equipment in the complex; which we do, after dinner tonight (mainly crab and cockles) including a brief game of table tennis in one of the buildings. It is a very social life in this big complex – safe to wander around at nights and plenty of activities like dancing, tai chi, mah jong, cards, chess etc. An ideal environment for the semi-retired/retired. I am on broadband easily and it is quite quick so website and emails are done smartly. We watch the Chinese spacecraft lift off on the tele and go to bed early.
For breakfast we can choose from a vast array; hot milk, corn soup, beef pastry rolls and condiments including sesame seed, sesame sauce, dried shrimp paste (a delicacy for the Chinese which is allowed to go off first and tastes horrible, but I am warned), and dried tree leaves from a special scented tree. There is also conventional tomato and egg and plenty of fruit. I have to watch I don’t eat too much but Lilly continues on long after everyone else is finished. Don’t know where she puts it. We go off to see an Oil Co exec friend of Jings who has scanned a document we have been trying to fax to Oz, call in on the stock exchange, have my face looked at by a doctor to see what outcrops can be successfully removed (he grudgingly agrees I can keep the ears and nose and eventually the rest also stay) and pick up fruit and veg at the local market, a sight to behold, but very cheap. Visiting dentist after lunch at 2pm.
Dentist gives me a temporary filling and after examining the landscape says the handiwork of his Australian contemporaries leaves a lot to be desired. When I ask if my gums are OK for a 42 year old there is a lot of giggling behind the mask which I am unsure how to take. When I modestly suggest that at least my mind is still ok, he obviously then begins to wonder what he has here. Later we go to see JingPing’s other flat, about 5 minutes walk away, which is where the son and daughter-in-law now live. JingPing and family used to live there and we stayed there previously. JingPing has had it refurbished and it is also very salubrious with 3 bedrooms. We walk around a park talking to gardeners – a foreigner in these parts attracts attention and a crowd quickly gathers. I don’t say much but Lilly tells everyone about Australia and New Zealand and they hang on every word. They like the fact that she originally comes from Shandong and they like to know whether she is just my translator or if there is something more between us. I think she teases them a bit with some of their prying questions. Everyone has a laugh.
Lunch and dinner are occasions. All the family assembles (the young ones come over) and there are lots of different dishes. JingPing is no longer drinking because of kidney problems so I have a gentle beer or 2 only in the evening. Walking after dinner at night is the tradition.
We (JingPing, Lilly, Ma and me, JingPing’s wife has to work) are off fairly early for the distant harbour. We drive for about an hour across the dead flat terrain. This is all Yellow River delta and a lot of the area has been reclaimed from the sea, particularly over the last 30 years. The Yellow River is sometimes described as being the “Cradle of Chinese Civilisation” but in 1931 it flooded for several months. Wikipedia says “Estimates of the number of people killed in the flood range generally range from 1 to 2 million. Figures have shown about 1 million people died of drowning. Some listed the Yellow River death toll alone to be as high as 4 million. The river completely inundated 87,000 km2. It partially inundated 20,000 km2 (a combined area about the size of the North Island), and left 80 million people homeless.” I think it is generally accepted that this was the greatest natural disaster ever in the history of mankind. Flood prevention has been a priority since, but in 1938 the Chinese deliberately blew up a dam on the river to halt an advance of Japanese troops. They wanted to take the Japanese by surprise so they didn’t warn the population and the flood waters took between 500,000 and 900,000 lives. The river has also appropriately been described as “China’s Sorrow”.
Enough history, this is now an oil area, with oil derricks everywhere. We stop off to see 2 friends briefly on the way. One of them won Y3m on Lotto, lost Y2m on some project, spent Y0.5m on quite nice standalone home by a river and is steadily blowing the rest on lottery tickets. Easy come, easy go. The other friend is JingPing’s son’s godfather, a Christian I am told later. As we leave there, a new bride and groom arrive at the bride’s home, to crackers going off and general pandemonium. We get some photos. JingPing gets me to drive for a few kilometres but I am not all that comfortable with driving on the right hand side of the road, nor with the road rules which are on paper only. We eventually reach the sea which is brown from the rivers that pour into this massive bay. JingPing has arranged a pass and we are able to travel out on to a pier that stretches 10 kms (yes that’s ten kilometres) out into the bay. The first 3 kms are a bit rough and about 70 metres wide. The next 7 kms (JingPing’s pass is evidently not valid for this bit but he says I am a foreign dignitary and bluffs his way through) are a 4 lane motorway and smooth as a millpond. By the time we are 10 kms from the beach the water is 18 metres deep and can take the big ships. The harbour is still under construction but three massive steel cranes are already in place. Construction goes on everywhere. We all get out and take plenty of photos. We are the only “tourists” but there is also a television crew doing a feature on it. This is a 50 year visionary project. They may eventually go further out into the bay if need be.
We drive back along a very smooth modern motorway for lunch at home, a doze and later in the afternoon we watch the Chinese take their first spacewalk. Big event beamed live and everyone is beaming. JingPing supplements the commentary with a non-stop flow of his own. He is well-read, smart and knowledgeable, pity I can’t understand a word of it apart from his English “sit down please John”. I occasionally say to him in Chinese “you are clever, I am handsome” which he loves, because he probably thinks he is more handsome than me as well, entirely debateable!
Sleep in a bit and mid-morning wander off to get Ma some spectacles and to get us veg and meat for lunch, as Jing and family are going to a wedding. The days are cooler now and we are wearing jumpers, sometimes jackets. Bit of drama over the specs between Lilly and JingPing, as he thinks she is taking over. On the other hand I am pressing Lilly because I see Ma reading and writing all hunched over because she can’t see properly. Over the years failing eyesight and poor light have taken their toll and nobody has done anything about it. Ma doesn’t press, because money is involved. I have complained about it several times, but this time dig in my toes and start insisting. Indeed Ma gave me Y1000 (about $180) a while ago as a gift and I accepted it but privately agreed with Lilly that it should go towards specs. So when the testing is done they say she has almost lost the sight in one eye and JingPing says the specs are too expensive anyway. Apparently an operation is necessary for the bad eye but to sort out fact from fiction from excuses is beyond me. I have to rely on Lilly giving me the good oil and she is the meat in the sandwich so to speak. The bottom line is that we all walk out of the opticians with the matter unresolved. JingPing goes off to his wedding and we go and buy meat and groceries at the local market.
I feel like a prize exhibit in this place. It is a small place (only 60,000) and fairly isolated and I doubt that they see many Westerners. Lilly and I see Chinese going past on bikes with jaws dropping or getting past, then stopping suddenly to watch us. Many people mistake Lilly for a foreigner (probably because she is tall and with me) and compliment her on how good her Mandarin is. JingPing and I talk solar energy which is still very expensive for the average householder to buy and install. Finish my usual weekend website routines and after an otherwise lazy afternoon Lilly and I get to play half an hours table tennis in the evening in the complex’s social centre.
Work most of the day on the website. We walk in the morning to the Botanical gardens and Lilly and I walk again in the late afternoon around the city. This place is quite different from Beijing. Some streets are OK but it is generally untidy and unkempt. The huge park has many paths and borders water, little lakes and canals but it is just too big to be maintained properly. The people are obviously poorer and more of farming stock. There are not too many professional people about as there are in the bigger cities. Lilly and I talk about mothers mainly; mothers plural not mothers possessive. One mother has ideal circumstances, the other less than satisfactory but we feel helpless to redress the situation because of the elder brother control mentality. This is a cultural problem that has to be solved if Ma’s lot is to be improved. It is a real concern to Lilly.
Today we get up early for an 8am start to go to the sea end of the Yellow River delta. This is not like going to the mouth of any ordinary river. This is a mystical experience partly because I have no idea where we are going, most of the roads are not signposted, the distances are so great and the sun cannot be found. Also the main river has changed its course many times over the years for the simple reason that it brings silt and sand from the Loess Plateau upstream and as it slows and widens, it deposits it. After a while the deposits raise the level of the river above the surrounding land so that it floods and changes course. Now this has all been documented over the past 100 or so years, maybe even earlier, but it has probably been going on for millions of years; hence this huge delta about the size of the North Island of NZ. Dear Diary, please alert me if I repeat myself.
There are 3 carloads of us that go off in a convoy and travel for an hour or so. JingPing’s best mate has wives and daughters etc (including a prospective son in law who spent 3 years in Scotland and speaks quite good English) and he also has a mate who has the key to the ecological kingdom of the lower Yellow River. We visit a giant birdcage that has all sorts of species of birds that have been captured and are fed. We walk down to the main river at one point. It is about 200 metres wide, yellow and flowing; evidently quite shallow. Photo opportunities abound. Later we split up – one car goes back for lunch and two go on. We travel a long way towards the mouth of the river. We go through various roadblocks but JingPing’s mate has a quiet word and we are waved through. Eventually we apparently get near the mouth of the river. We then (along with about 20 others) board a boat for the trip downstream to the mouth. The further we go the wider the river gets until we can barely see the sides and is this river or sea? Out in the middle of nowhere we suddenly turn back. There is no explanation but later I am reliably informed that we had reached a sandbank where it is too shallow to go on. (If that is the case I estimate the river is not far off changing course again. It has been on its present course since 1996.) Land is constantly being reclaimed so that oil derricks can be established on land rather than expensive oil rigs out at sea.
We travel somewhere else where we go out on this concrete roadway/pier that stretches out into the sea for miles and miles. It goes on forever. Our driver is waved through several roadblocks. Eventually we stop at a junction on the pier where half a dozen fishing boats are tied up. We chat to the crew (usually husband and wife) and go on board one or two. What a hard life. The wives are all busy mending nets. Everything is untidy and dirty and unkempt but some how I suppose they survive. We buy fish and crabs.
Later we stop for lunch at the most dilapidated filthy place imaginable. If asked I can produce the photographic evidence. The proprietors are friendly, as are their dogs, chooks, ducks and geese and the mainly fish and crab lunch is pretty good. I am a bit choosy but probably need not have been as there is no present evidence of tummy bugs. Home about 4 for a doze and a long evening on the website. There is a huge amount of blood on the floor from the stock market of the last day or so. I may have to get a job as a deckhand on a Yellow River trawler.
This whole week is a national holiday in China. The stock market is closed but everything else seems to function normally. People are travelling everywhere as all the migrant workers (who flock into the cities for jobs) return to their villages. Fog embraces us this morning, we can barely see the next building which is only about 40 metres away. It turns out to be a brilliant clear warm and sunny day. We walk into the city in the morning and get Ma some cheap specs as an interim measure. We walk back laden with fruit, veg, meat fish etc. In the afternoon we walk for at least two hours along the nearby river bank skirting on a botanical garden, then walking through it, then visiting a big block of flats. The developer’s girl shows us the top two on the 11th floor that are selling for about $60,000, refurbishment would cost another $30,000. Yes they are cheap for us as they are quite large; relatively expensive for locals. But here’s the rub: very poor design.
JingPing takes us for a drive showing us the bed of the old route of the Yellow River (about 15 years ago). We also visit another block of flats – a bit cheaper and better designed. In the afternoon Lilly and I take another long walk through an area by old canals and through the botanical gardens. We walk beside still waters (there are no green pastures to lie in) and quietly walk around the grounds of a large hotel, which is virtually deserted. This would have been built 20 years ago (JingPing says later by the oil company) and is just too grandiose for reality. Beautiful spot for it. Later close to home we meet locals who are growing veges outside the wall of our block of flats. They are carrying buckets of water from the canal to keep their veges going. Some really healthy veges mainly and a lady, who originally comes from the same village as Lilly kindly gives us some of her radishes.
Ma has put an additional quilt on our bed so hopefully we will sleep better tonight. The beds are hard without mattresses to the extent that it becomes painful after a while, lying on one side. The Chinese are used to it but Lilly is complaining, not me so she has been softened by comfortable Western living. One thing that I don’t get used to is the constant smell emanating from the bathroom which is caused by the diversion of water from the sink into buckets for use by manually flushing the toilet. I don’t do it but the others do and there is always water lying around on the floor and an unpleasant odour. It all stems from the shortage of water and I must be accommodating. On the positive side there has been a conspicuous absence of arguments this trip between Lilly and me, which has made all the difference.
Jing takes us for local drive showing us the old bed of the Yellow River to the west and 4 huge and abandoned reservoirs on the east. At one reservoir, JingPing tries to catch big crabs just as a Park Ranger comes by and warns us off. We are not meant to be here. Unfortunately the granddaughter is throwing pebbles into the water and at the same time throws an expensive jade bangle in. JingPing strips to his undies but the water is cold and he goes no further than ankle deep. (He goes back later by himself with a rubber suit and stick and casts around but can’t find it. The water is very murky.) We go to the market and buy big live crabs and veg. Buying fruit and veg is almost a daily routine. Crabs are a luxury. Seven big ones are Y90, about $15 which is expensive. Lilly is a spendthrift by JingPing’s standards and he is, by Ma’s standards. It’s all relative. I get a case of the good beer with Lilly’s permission! – 12 big bottles for $7 (would cost $30 in NZ) and I am a squanderer.
Later Lilly and I walk and push the boundaries further west past the botanical gardens. We find a semi-abandoned and run-down rest home. There are ponds and some beautiful features. Twenty years ago the government spent a huge amount of money here but it was ahead of its time, nobody came and eventually the place was left to go to rack and ruin. Probably one or two caretakers are still on the payroll and they have become squatters. A faded sign shows the library hours, so it was probably very well organised initially. This place would be a real goer on the outskirts of Beijing but there are just not enough well-off people here to sustain it. We walk back through the botanicals which are well tended. I work in the evening, the others watch TV. I have caught up a lot this last week so feel better about being on holiday at this rate.
We get up early to attend a wedding that we were invited to yesterday. There is this huge temporary and fancy façade to a doorway in a block along from ours. As we photograph it last night, tomorrow’s bridegroom suddenly emerges on his bike and takes off. He is a handsome young man and he stops when he sees us. I ask him if this is his last night of freedom and if he knows what he is doing. Not too late to change his mind. We all have a laugh and he asks us to attend, but we miss the occasion when he takes off in the morning. However, when he arrives back and carries his bride over the threshold, we are there snapping away. Fireworks are going off and there is general bedlam; big party to follow. We don’t go in but instead wander off for a game of table tennis.
In the late afternoon we first book to go back to Beijing by bus on Tuesday. It is then walking again – this time up one side of the main street and back down the other. It is all fascinating for me to see how people live (survive is a better word) and work and eat and sleep. It is all there. The wide pavement on both sides of the street, houses many businesses. Here there are a number of guys assembling steel frames with oxy acetylene welding, then there is a restaurant with five skinned sheep hanging outside (minus heads in this case), then there is a hardware business with 75% of its wares on the pavement. Then a posh restaurant followed by a karaoke bar. A tent outside another place has one or two tables that people are eating at. The food is possibly just as tasty as the posh restaurant, only about a tenth of the price. Even the posh restaurant is very cheap by our standards. We walk through the market where people are packing up (it is now dark) and in this area all their products have to be packed up and carted home or wherever. Life is hard. I would like to give them all at least a Y10 note (about $2) but Lilly has limited my allowance knowing I am a bit stupid. I don’t blame her as some of them would probably be insulted. We get talking to a husband and wife team selling grapes, veg and other fruit. They have a good position at the front of the market and are also about to pack up. Goodness knows how far they have to cart their stuff and then cart it back at sparrows. I ask about their turnover and profits. They ask how much I reckon. I say Y1000 turnover a day and profits Y200. They say no, no, no. They tells us Y500 a day turnover but they only make about Y50 ($10) a day. That’s two people. The Y50 goes about as far as $50 in the West but it is really just subsistence. And they have a prime location. Then again maybe I looked like the local tax inspector and they didn’t want to give any secrets away.
It is cold today and raining. Mid-morning we go off to the complex centre and play table tennis for an hour. Lilly falls quite heavily when I am ahead in the deciding game and hurts her hip but gets up and reels off four points in a row to take it. Bugger. Tomorrow I may try that.
Later in the day we go back for another game but the doors are locked so we walk instead. On the way we run into JingPing, then one of his friends who we met briefly in Sydney about 8 years ago. He invites us out to dinner tomorrow night but I can see JingPing is reluctant. I don’t know what is arranged, if anything. Lilly and I walk off and get into a discussion (shorthand for an Lilly monologue) about eating out, which we have not done once in more than a week we have been here, nor did we in Beijing when JingPing spent about 10 days with us. Is it the money or is there some other reason? Eating out is incredibly cheap here and the food is usually very tasty. I have not been sick once in our four visits to China, touchwood. Wei and wife eat out all the time but JingPing is frugality personified. Lilly says she prefers to eat at home because the food is tastier and fresher. I privately think Lilly also prefers to have the money in the bank but daren’t say that. Instead I mildly suggest that a change is welcome occasionally and I would like to eat out once a week wherever we are. That leads to another 10,000 words; cultural differences, my heart isn’t in the right place etc, etc, etc. For goodness sake, it’s not all that vital one way or the other. I end up walking hard by myself for at least an hour to get the cobwebs out and make sure my heart is where it has always been. Work again tonight in anticipation of being able to eat out once a week, hopefully by the time I get to 80.
It is our last day in Gua Do and with JingPing and Ma for at least another 12 months. In the morning we catch another wedding in our block (fireworks, photos and the bedlam) and then JingPing drives us quite a way (south I think) to the Yellow River. On the way we pass through vast areas of cotton. The seeds are planted in early Spring in a nursery, then planted out, and by Autumn the plants are about a metre high. We are now right in the middle of the picking season. We also see two quite large flocks of mangy sheep with tails. We get off at a temporary/permanent floating bridge over the Yellow River and take photos; then join some young women who are picking cotton nearby. It is back-breaking seasonal work but these women are as hard as nails and drag a sack tied around their waste as they pick. Reminds me of Kev and I picking beans and raspberries. The cotton does not come off the plant easily but they seem to have no trouble. They make about Y70 – 80 ($12-$13) a day which is pretty good money by Chinese standards. But it is a long hard day. The local cotton farmer approaches us and asks if we would like to invest in a cotton plantation. He is doing OK evidently, so I ask myself, why does he want money? Lilly says he wants to get bigger. Fair enough but I am not moved by bottomless pit appeals. We get home to find the Australian stock-market down another 3% so we have a bottomless pit of our own, thank you.
The whole family (except me) makes dumplings for lunch which is a real treat. Lilly is already thinking about what she is going to eat on the 6 hour bus trip home tomorrow.
In the afternoon we play our last game of table tennis and in the evening we do go out for dinner with JingPing’s business friend. The circumstances are so Chinese. This is the local oil company. It is government and they have big offices and a lavish in-house restaurant area where executives have their dinners. We are in one upstairs room of what appears to be about 20. There are 7 of us (3 oil company execs, JingPing and one of his friends and Lilly and I) sitting around a circular table. There are a huge number of different dishes all served with quiet efficiency. The beer glasses are topped up constantly and there are many toasts. The conversation is about China and its acceptance by the world community. Opinions differ strongly, which would not have been the case 30 years ago. Lilly does a great job tonight both in translating and in putting a Western perspective; nonetheless most of the conversation goes by with me as an unwitting spectator. Wish it were otherwise because this is really what interests me.
Uneventful bus trip back home leaving at 8am and getting back at home about 3pm. Book to return to Australia on 15/16 October. We sleep well.
It is a beautiful sunny day, warm with a cool breeze. We have a quiet day at home mainly catching up on website and watching our shares plunge away to nothing. Where is the bottom? In the afternoon we walk to buy a quilt and get CDs, veg, fruit etc. Debating whether to go to Dezhou for a day or so to see solar developments.
We are in wind-down holiday, wind-up business mode. Spending more time on website, walking in the afternoon. Watching the market which has gone bananas; who would have thought we would see the All Ords around 4400. We eat out tonight at the spicy place along the road.
The world in meltdown. The Dow is down another 7% overnight and has lost 20% over the past week. People the world over have seen their life savings cut in half over the past 12 months. The All Ords falls 8.2% today, closes at about 3940!!!! Unbelievable. I am busy researching and picking out some lower risk stocks. Watching the market and we buy cautiously in to good companies throughout the day, only to see most of them fall even further. Is there a bottom? It is a risky business but we don’t want to miss the boat. Black Friday on world markets.
Lilly goes to dentist early and has to wait a long time but eventually gets a filling and a polish. Work most of the day on my usual weekend task which brings in a little money, money that goes in a flash on the market. We are still pre-occupied with our shares and are we doing the right thing by adding to our holdings at this point. Should we back off and wait to see things firm up a bit. If the markets start recovering will they do so quickly and will we miss the upswing; an age-old question.
The days are beautiful. Sunny, sky quite clear, gentle breeze, warm in the sun. Nights are cool and we are now wearing jumpers when we go out. We are really happy with our little place here. Talk about moving the furniture in the study into the main living area so that we can make the study into the third bedroom it is meant to be. The desk and chair will go easily into the eastern end of the sunny area at the front, we will have a heavy curtain at one end to minimise the sun as needed and the bookcase and existing cabinet will be swapped with the cabinet going to the end of the TV table. Buy a small wall divider by the desk. Agreed and to be done when next here. All extremely heavy furniture and we will need people to help. We walk to the big wholesale market looking for stuff we could experiment with on TradeMe.
Work in the morning on share market research and lunch with the Rens at this “old style” Beijing restaurant. Solly picks us up in his new black VW Passat. First dish we have is cow’s intestine which looks and tastes like rubber. I humbly ask which intestine, they say the first one. Yuk. Second dish is bright green fennel (that’s a guess) and beans and looks exactly like the contents of a cow’s second intestine, shades of grass and clover after going thru a wringer. Tastes like it too (as if I know). Third dish is thinly sliced lotus root which looks as if it has ringworm. Fourth dish looks exactly like the results of a cow’s fourth intestine. The cow pattie turns out to be tofu leftovers and doesn’t taste too bad soaked in sesame oil. There is pork Hot Pot which is largely huge lumps of fat that the Chinese love, there goes cholesterol levels. Then mushroom soup, fish, cabbage and mustard, sea cucumber, fried flower petals, cabbage and something else. I am not all that keen on any of it. Everybody tucks in with relish, maybe I missed the relish. I pick away to disguise my lack of enthusiasm. Mr Ren has lost a lot of weight. Lilly believes he has cancer and thinks nobody is telling Mrs Ren who is very bent over and struggles to walk. Lilly and Solly talk stock market. He pulled out of the Chinese market (which is hyper both ways) in good time – says he studies the history of stock markets. Afterwards we visit his new flat, about half way to being refurbished. Good area and will be great when complete. Wonder if the old folk will still be around to enjoy it. He plans to have them with him and then refurbish their place as well. Doesn’t sound as if they are going south to Hainan for the winter this year, as they usually do. He says he will come to Aust/NZ next year, we suspect he wants to see his sister.
Later we walk to the shopping area where Lilly looks at hats and other stuff to take back. The Aust government is to guarantee all bank deposits for three years – that will help to restore Australian confidence but our market is so dependent on the US, when they sneeze we catch a cold, when they catch a cold we get pneumonia.
We shower early as hot water is off this week because of the transition to the water heaters for the winter. This happens every year at the beginning of winter for a few days while they changeover. Don’t know why it takes days. Soon the central heating will be on. By the time of our plane trip on Wednesday/Thursday we will just have to warn passengers in the vicinity to hold their noses. Stock market is up 5% immediately then wanes a bit. Is this a dead cat bounce? We basically resolve to hold off to see if any pattern is going to emerge.
We wake to the news that the Dow was up 11% last night. Huge, but it was down 20% last week so we will wait to see if a pattern is established – with all the shoring up being done by various countries it is about time there was a reaction.
Brendan phones – he is just in his office after travelling all night from Los Angeles. We talk currency – he says the forced unwinding of carry trade (temporary investing in higher yielding currencies by low interest countries like Japan) positions has been largely responsible for the huge decline in the Australian dollar. I agree also the 1 point interest rate cut and the flow of bank deposits from a non-guaranteed country to guaranteed countries has not helped. Aust government has now guaranteed bank deposits and that will cease. We both agree AUD is undervalued and will strengthen. He went to mass on Sunday in LA where Americans were praying for a recovery and lo and behold the market is up 11% the next day!!! Notwithstanding that he thinks the US economy is stuffed and the US dollar will fall. On the share market – fundamentals of Aust market are fine and it is oversold – shares we bought the other day are good ones – companies with overseas earnings are going to benefit from the currency’s weakness – albeit temporarily. Financial crisis is not over for US despite Dow recovering overnight by 900 odd points. His belief, it is a dead cat bounce; does not augur well if he is right because the US will pull everyone down.
All Ords finishes at about 4200 only 3.6% up. We have a quiet day at home, or at least I do. I am working on new website matters and Lilly is tidying, cleaning, buying more hats, etc and generally organising, cooking, arranging, categorising what we are to take back to Sydney, and commanding all and sundry.
About our last rite is to move a bit of leftover cash on to deposit; takes an hour at the bank, including half an hour waiting. Tomorrow we will pack and leave for the airport about midday for our 4pm flight, stopover about midnight in Singapore for a couple of hours and get into Sydney 11am Thursday. This has been our best trip to China, possibly because of the Olympics and having the family here, possibly because we have all the creature comforts at our base in Beijing and the air has been cleaner, possibly because we are both a bit more accommodating of each other, maybe all of the above – our 3 trips away to Xian, Guilin and Gua Do were fantastic.