Thursday, May 23, 2013


It's occurred to me that most of one's life as an expat in a radically different culture to your own is spent floating. Unless you're totally assimilated, and fluent in the language, you float around - in my case a bit like a happy toddler - not really knowing what's going on: constantly understanding about 50 per cent of the conversations you're having or hearing, mostly now knowing what that place does or what that sign means.

Sometimes the signs are in English, and you still don't have much of a clue ...

A new one in my residential compound.
They've spent some time on this, but what
the hell is it supposed to mean?
Previously, if a worker was going to throw
his pliers and hammer at you, at least you
could count on it coming at you in a
graceful arc. But, sadly, not any more.

Our compound can be a lively place.

Come to think of it, I did hear a bit of a bang the other night.

Speaking of angles and arcs in our compound, I came across this advertisement in the lift. It's for plastic surgery, which in newly moneyed urban China is a growth industry like loony ranting is a growth industry in North Korea.

They used to say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Thank heavens some Chinese plastic surgeons have taken that nonsense out of the equation, to tell us finally what beautiful is. Now, it's all a matter of degrees.

Sisters gotta learn to play the angles.
I like the one under the eye the most.
This is to give the client those hotly
desired little eye-bags, touched on
here previously. Warning: Anything
outside of this seven millimetre
range and it could all end in tears.

My feminist sensibilities duly offended, I hastened back home where my latest copy of Women Of China, had arrived, featuring on its cover the powerful and inspirational Peng Liyuan, wife of President Xi Jinping.

But then on opening up on page two, I was hit with another advertisement targeted at modern, powerful women, again from our friends at the carpentry shop ...

For all those women out there whose jawlines do not
achieve the optimum beauty angle of 116 degrees,
kindly hide your hideously shaped faces indoors
until you sort that shit out. It's just not fair on we men
that we should have to look at you.

This place has also worked out what the divine ratio
for a woman's face should be. It's a complicated thing,
beauty, but in China at least there's a good understanding
of maths, so it should all be clear now. We're left to
assume it's something to do with how the wider bits
of the face relate to the narrower bits, the eyes to the
nose and so forth. It's, oooh, fairly precise, if you're
getting down to numbers like 0.819. This is good, for
many women don't have enough to worry about
concerning their looks.  The writing refers to
the "golden proportion", which should be a very
effective marketing tool in China as it combines precious
metal with maths, two things highly valued in the
Middle Kingdom. That is if you believe we really need
canny marketing tools for women who would buy into
this sort of thing anyway.

Where does it all get to if we are able to blueprint beauty and graph gorgeousness to such an extent? Do we actually still need skin?

Look at this bunch of good sorts.
If I were gay I'd take little Ralf Hutter.
Check the hypotenuse on that guy!

Meanwhile ...

What the hell is this?! It's at Shanghai
International Airport. Can't we men have
a wee while waiting for a flight without
getting a creeping feeling we're about to be
accosted by some casual slipper-wearing lurker?

Are they taking the piss?

They call it public (toilet) art. I just thought it was this guy again ...

A sort of "Flat Stanley the Pervert"?

For toilet installations, you just can't beat these, which I found at Beijing's new Great Leap beer house in San Li Tun ...

They're something redolent of Beijing - bicycle seats.

Need more explanation? Remember it's a pub, where men can get a little tired over the course of a night ...

Eat your heart out, Sliced Bread.

Speaking of perverts, who's this guy getting around with a bra cup over his mouth and nose?

He would have us believe it's a home-made
pollution mask. But maybe, this being
China, it's main function is as padding
to protect him from facial injury in
subway collisions.

There was another art installation on the streets of Chongqing, lifesize statues of people going about their business. Then of course someone had to go and do this and get on the internet.

Better still were these real-life women on the streets outside the Forbidden City.

Usually, photos of young women outside
the Forbidden City look like this.
And even then the guards look on

But they didn't know quite what to do with these two ...

The guard's been thrown for a loop. He'd thought lesbianism
had been banned with all other forms of fun in 1949.

"Shall we stop them, Sarge?"

"Aaaah ... no Li. Let's just ... let's just wait a bit."

Also seen, literally, on the streets of Beijing ...

He just wants to be alone.

Amid some warmer weather, the swimmers have come back to our neighborhood canal.

As has the green slime.

And the T-shirts keep coming ...

I think the problem here is simple.
One thing you notice about the
Chinese people is that by gee they
can get tired. Whether it's low-energy
diets or an insistence on buying beds
composed of solid granite, you do
see them dropping off a bit. Look
at most crowded buses going by and
you'd swear they're headed to the
morgue. My theory is translators
get halfway through a trick T-shirt
like this, start to get a little sleepy
and lose the thread.

Then there's been more of this - domestic helpers, or ayis, posting notices in expat shops looking for work. Here's one I showed earlier ...

It's in line with the theory that you should start with something positive, some praise or honorific for your potential employer, for example.

This one's aiming high.
Has this Michelle Obama adulation even reached China?

And this ayi (which means 'aunt' in Chinese) appears to be dangling the carrot of bringing her boss happiness as often as every 30 minutes, though she admits later she can be frustrating at times.

Back on the street ...

This is the way to transport a huge bus windscreen ...

... provided you don't want to pay money to
do it properly.

Then again, there's little you can't achieve with
a small car, willpower and sticky-tape.

Thanks for clicking, clickers. We'll be all aboard for another instalment on Monday!

Monday, May 20, 2013


THE Tiger Father would never assume anything about the intelligence of his readers. But I know for a fact there is something you don't know very much about.

That thing is Changsha, a regional city down south in Hunan, a province known as the world's largest producer of Mao Zedong.

In fact, the author here only knows about Changsha from a British friend who had to live there for two years for her husband's job, who wrote that there "wasn't very much to do" there and that she "might kill herself" as an alternative to living there much longer.

But now all that's about to change because Changsha, of all places, is about to hold that most fleeting of honours - the site of the world's tallest building!

One of those rare places to be described as "a large industrial Chinese city", Changsha is home to 7.04 million people. This is an official figure according to the 2010 census. However, applying the usual Chinese caveats - factoring in outlying suburbs and unregistered migrant workers - it is safe to assume  Changsha's population is somewhere between 8 and 50 million people.

Despite all this, there's not much there.

That's why critics of the new "world's tallest building" plan allege it might "stick out a bit".

An artist's view of the planned
building Skycity.

Still, just because you're small doesn't mean you can't dream big. Media outlets reported today that approval has been granted for the building, to be made by the Broad Sustainable Construction group.

Skycity will be 838 metres high - or half a mile plus 38 metres, just to confuse people more. This will make it 10 metres higher than the current tall building gold medallist, Dubai's Burj Khalifa.

These sort of things can of course be gimmicky big PR stunts. The Burj Khalifa has had many well documented problems, such as initial low occupancy which forced huge cuts in rents.

However, Skycity supporters say there are many reasons why Changsha needs to have the world's tallest building.

The most obvious on is that the builders are based there. But another is that the city government insists the building is a great idea for its ecological benefits - living vertically, instead of laterally. It is planned, for example, that the building with house 4,500 families. Normally, if you spread those families out in traditional single-storey accommodation in China, it would take up a space the size of six tennis courts.

An artist's impression Skycity
tower, with some statistics.

An artist's impression of Skycity if it was built alongside
four other big towers in some sort of "Ostentatious
Architects Wonderland Theme Park", which would
also be built in China.

An artist's impression of a map of China,
which looks like a chicken.

See? You have to assume the feet are either beneath
Myanmar and Vietnam, or have been removed for
culinary reasons.

No, that's a joke. It would be more than six tennis courts.

To be fair, there is a touch of showboaty gimmickry about the new world's tallest building. Originally the planners boldly declared they would "knock it up in about three months".

It's true. Broad has a reputation for erecting pre-fab buildings quickly, and set a 90-day target for this monster.

Usually, hurried construction times are a cause of great concern in loosely-regulated, earthquake-prone, building-collapse-bemoaning China.

But Broad seems to have a trick, not even related to China's occupational health and safety laws, or lack thereof. They once built a 30-storey skyscraper in just 15 days! You can watch that by copying and pasting this link:

Still, news of approval for Skycity's construction revealed they had backed away from their three-month target. Now they have set a far more pedestrian goal of nine months. The Burj Khalifa took five years.

Skycity will have 202 floors and 92 elevators. If you want, you can walk instead by taking a curling ramp which is six-miles long (380,160 inches). It will also have schools, a hotel, sporting and shopping facilities, and all else you associated with a vertical city built in a field.

But what of Changsha itself? What is it? Who needs it? Can we live without it?

Let's take a closer look at some other important bits of this mysterious city.

Changsha has previously only made the news once in
human history. It was for this.

And this.

The so-called "cows grazing in a rubbish dump" scandal made the news in 2010 after cows began grazing in a rubbish dump. Farmers explained they had allowed their cattle to roam hills near Changsha to look for food, and that some had wandered into a landfill site, and that it didn't happen all the time really. Local authorities were quick to rule out the chance of any food-tainting issue caused by cattle eating filth and grime.

The city will also soon have this -
the Changsha International Culture and Art Centre,
the so-called "Melted-Down Sydney Opera House of
the East".

Changsha also has this man as major - Zhang Jianfei, a man
whose name I was convinced meant Zhang Lose Weight
until told I had the wrong tones. It actually means
Zhang Sword Fly, which is much better. The mayor stands
apart from other Chinese mayors for three main reasons:
1. He is a thoroughly modern man with great drive and vision.
2. He won back-to-back world comb-over champion titles
in 2009-10.
3. He has not been tainted and humiliated in a major
scandal involving bribery, sex, murder, etc etc.

There are six other cities in the world with whom Changsha shares the title of "sister cities" - a weird sort of arrangement believed to mean that one will help the other city out if she splits up with her boyfriend city or is caught smoking.

Changsha's aren't much good: Gumi, South Korea; Kagoshima, Japan; Kimberley, South Africa; Mons, Belgium; Latenapula, Sri Lanka and Saint Paul, United States. No Parisses or Londons or New Yorks there, but they were probably already spoken for.

Not everyone is a fan of the fanciful Skycity project, however. The China Daily newspaper recently ran a story quoting an assembled group of nay-sayers who, seemingly without a lot of facts at their disposal, seemed to say such a building was not God's plan.

"With so many people living and working in the building, there will be risks everywhere," said Li Xun, vice-president of the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design. "What if there is a fire, or an elderly man has a heart attack?"

The paper pointed out that fire rescue ladders generally only reach a height of 100 metres, some 738 metres short of Skycity's peak. It is to be hoped that in designing the world's biggest thing, architects probably made some plans to cover address this.

Wang Youwei, vice-president of the China Academy of Building Research, was even more excitable.

"Such a huge building may cause serious problems, even a disaster," Wang said. Then again, you could equally say it may not cause serious problems, or even a disaster.

Wang went on to concede: "I'm not familiar with the geological features of Changsha".

Still, let's hope everything's alright, and that the eight-mile-high and nine-month-long tower doesn't fall over or, as Wang says, there could be trouble.

But as bizarre as it sounds, here's to plucky little Changsha for having a go.

* Thanks, readers, for doing what you do best - reading. More on Thursday!

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Summer's here! And yet again that can only mean one thing - great T-shirts!

And the spies come out too! But more on that later.

What's that, I hear you say? Summer doesn't begin until the solstice on June 21? Or even on June 1 by some crude over-simplified calendars?

Not in Beijing it doesn't. Here, spring lasts for about a week. We go from freezing cold to boiling hot in the blink of an eye. I can't explain exactly why. But I think it's something to do with the weather.

Doesn't matter. The worst thing about winter isn't the cold. It's that you don't get funny fashion.

As I always say ...

A brave man for wearing this to evoke some
good ol' feudal days. That's why I can't show
his face. Kind of.

Remember readers, all photos of attention-grabbing sloganised T-shirts are greatly appreciated here if you can snap them and send them in. The best one might win a prize!

And don't forget, in China in the summer, if you want to roam the streets in your pyjamas, it's OK and you're OK.

And if you want to walk around
with a plastic bag on your head,
that's fine too.

Speaking of hats, here's former Brazil football superstar Ronaldinho.

And here's one of his biggest fans, who I bumped into today on her morning stroll.

Mrs Lao Taitai, of Beijing, says she's
"football loopy", and lists the buck-toothed
ex-Barcelona striker as her number one.
"You can say what you like about Messi,
Rooney, Kaka and the rest of them. For me
it's Ronaldinho all the way," said Mrs Lao,
116. "That goal he scored against England
in the 2002 World Cup? Quality."

This was only the second Ronaldinho hat seen by your faithful fashion policeman in 10 minutes. Perhaps a truck carrying them to the airport crashed near the Silk Market.

Maybe it was this one - an early candidate for 'load of the month'.

Better hope there's a human
under there somewhere.

Ronaldinho was always good at taking corners. Wish we could say the same for this Beijing driver.

It's alright - the kids aren't in danger.
The driver's not rounding the corner.
He's parked there.
For not just parking on a corner but
a mile away from it, on the crosswalk
and all, without a shit given, this person
wins our Park of the Month award.

Then we hopped in our own car and were soon enjoying ourselves along the capital's second ring road, which looked something like this ...

By the side of that road I snapped a photo of this entrepreneurial chap ...

You can imagine driving home from work ...
"Got the milk, got the bread - OH BUGGER! Forgot
one large live turtle!
The wife's gonna kill ... Oh thank God!"

Or if turtle doesn't whet your amphibian appetite, here's what one of our local restaurants was offering recently ...

Parsley, sage, rosemary and frog.

Or perhaps ...

They've given up on getting it right by the

But a pushbike is still a great way to get around in summer, though it seems - as documented here previously - that spell-checker is still in the mail.

Happy Holidags! From the good people at Gaont.
(Any resemblance to huge bicycle manufacturing
conglomerate Giant is purely coincidental).

Well that settles that then!

Is it to evoke the song Straighten Up and Fly Harw?
Or a pitch to rugby fans with a local pronunciation
of the man behind the scrum, the fly-half?

My ride was going well until my tender sensibilities were offended by this lewd piece of street art, a sort of tribute, I imagined, to phallic rock bands such as Motley Crue and Poison.

However, upon raising a petition entitled "Ban This Filth", I was told it was not lewd at all, but clever.

I soon encountered more funny business at this stand for exhibitionists by a canal.

And discovered my seven-year-old daughter was enrolled in the "What The F*ck Tae-Kwon-Do" school.

I also found this ...

It's true. After you've lived here for a while, you learn to treat anything that you understand as a bonus.

*  *  *


There were no doubts about what I uncovered when back in my apartment, however. I often like to take a look south from the Tiger Father lair over the Australian Embassy, to make sure my taxpayer-funded public servants are hard at it.

But when I did so this afternoon you could have knocked me down with a feather. There, unfolding before my very eyes, was a good old-fashioned spy scandal!

The photos speak for themselves. Indignantly, I shall be forwarding our Prime Minister Julia Gillard a link to my blog forthwith.

When I first looked out my window, it looked like any
other ordinary day. There's the Australian Embassy,
looking as beautiful, friendly and welcoming as ever,
if also a lot like a Soviet-era prison.

I usually feel extremely proud when
I see this - the unmistakable sight
of the Australian flag! Unless it's
New Zealand. Or Fiji or one of them.
"But wait," I thought, "what's this?
Spies on the roof? The nerve of these

I stopped to wonder if my keen journalist's mind wasn't over-imagining things.

But then came the final proof.

As blatant as you please, if you don't mind!
Instantly, again with media training, I dubbed it
"Australian Embassy, Beijing-gate".

It was astonishing to see Chinese intelligence officers are still doing it old-school. I mean, who can forget when I was on the other end of the stick - the day The Tiger Father's offices themselves came under equally intense scrutiny.

As I continued to snap these tell-all pictures, the spies went about their business with seemingly not a care in the world while doing what spies do - screwing in wires, and sitting down.

After some time, one of the operatives was seen to walk in a southerly direction, presumably to test out one of the crude listening devices the crack team had just installed ...

... while one of his partners made his getaway.

Operative 1, the so-called "Man In The Hat", then went and ferreted around in a secret white box, where he appeared to have stashed some radio equipment, probably the night before ...

... and radioed in his position to probably someone else in the country's top-secret spy bureau the Communist Interference Association (CIA).

The spy was only seconds away from a dramatic, commando-style helicopter-rooftop escape when our investigative reporting team had to go pick up his kids from school.

So we don't really know what happened then.

But later, when we phoned the Embassy to report our findings, a spokesman told us in no uncertain terms: "Who are you again?" and "I've no idea what you're talking about."

No doubt there'll be more heard of this in the coming days.

*  *  *

More on Monday, readers! Meanwhile for a fun look at why Australians are so hard, copy and paste this link into your browser!