Julyathon, complete

Last month my friend messaged me asking if I wanted to do a running challenge where every day in July we had to run between 1km-31km, not necessarily in order but ticking off every distance over the month. Sure, I said. Hang on… We decided that over 16km could be split into more than one run (otherwise it would be difficult to fit around work and life etc) and that walks were allowed. And off we set.Here are some basic stats for the month:Total km: 496km
Total run: 334km (95km on a treadmill)
Total walked: 158km
Weather: day 33+ (“feels like” 40+, LOL), night 28, humidity at best 80% (usually 90%+), longest plum rain season in recorded history
Amount of laundry: infinite
Number of pocari sweats consumed: unimaginableIn January and February combined I ran a total of 65km, thanks to a stress fracture, sprained ankle, being stranded in the UK, being ill, etc. Since I came back to China at the end of Feb I’ve run 30-40km per week, sprained my ankle again and developed some bad life habits, so to complete this is really quite surprising to me.Thanks to Brandon for lots of long walks in Guangzhou, Ed for a couple of Shanghai runs, my colleagues for putting up with sweaty clothes in the office, Liam for tolerating me complaining all the time and LFGSS running for the moral support.Big shout out to my Julyathon team mates Kate, Fergus, Conny and Paul.I’ve learnt that it’s difficult to run well on a diet of mango and yoghurt, that running at midday in summer is stupid, that sleep is important, and that a plan is only good if you actually stick to it. I’ve also learnt that I can run on a treadmill almost indefinitely if I have enough TV shows to watch, which I’m not sure says great things about me.I’m looking forward to August and not having to run 3 times in one day, doing some better quality runs, having more time to ride my bike and going on holiday!

5km x 4hrs x 48hrs

I’d heard about the Goggins Challenge – 4 miles every 4 hours for 48 hours. But I don’t work in miles, and 4km seemed too short, so I did 5km every 4 hours instead. Preparation: going out the night before until 1.30am and then having a full day at work….

Friday 7pm, 5.2km: Finished work early and started running at 6.47 as I got bored waiting. Ran home from the office, stopping on the bridge to order a pizza. Very rainy, shoes soaked, couldn’t see, quite slippery. Got home and did laundry, ate pizza, watched a film. Wrote up the times of all the runs on post-its and stuck them to the wall. Set alarms for the next few runs.

Friday 11pm, 5.2km: Decided to treat myself to my favourite shoes and to not wearing underwear. Set off with no route in mind, choosing roads depending on which lights were green. A few people at bars but not very busy. Not raining anymore. Felt full from dinner and regretted watching sentimental films. Replayed conversations in my head, thought about the person who makes me the saddest. Got home and washed my face then got into bed and lay there feeling miserable.

Saturday 3am, 5km: After 1.5 hours sleep, I drank two glasses of water and put on a long sleeve top as I feel cold when tired. Switched the air con on before going out. Took the bins out. Wore my glasses as I thought contact lenses would wake me up but can’t run with glasses so took them off and ran blind. High AQI. Saw some weasels or rats or something. Ran past one of the clubs, where people were just arriving. Saw a friend and shouted hello but he looked confused. Thought about how daytime would be better. Thought about my brother’s friend who only ate jaffa cakes for a month and survived. Got home, drank a pocari sweat and got back into bed.

Saturday 7am, 5.1km: Meant to leave at 6.45 but faffed about what clothes to take as I was going to volunteer at a race after running. Finally took a shower (yes I’m disgusting). Face kind of hurt. Had a small coffee but no food. Ran to the park and then along an uninspiring straight road, with the only interesting thing when a girl from the Sunday group cycled past and we chatted (apparently I looked very professional). Got to the race with a km to go so did a loop around the block. Bought a large pocari sweat, iced coffee and a pain au chocolat.

Saturday 11am, 5.7km: After volunteering, went for coffee and two friends said they’d join me running to brunch. Set out in the road and realised that my sketchy road crossings were less acceptable with other people. Ran along a shaded one way street but still hotter than expected due to the (not forecast) sun. Cheered every km and an old man joined in the cheering once. Decided, foolishly, to go for free flow brunch and drank 3 bloody marys.

Saturday 3pm, 5km: Downed final drink and set off feeling tipsy. After 1km bowels not happy. Ran to the park where I knew there were public toilets, then a loop north and an out/back on my street to make up 5km. Hot. Staggered home, stripped off, switched on the air con, carried a bottle of water to my bed and lay down on a towel, then immediately fell asleep without drinking any water.

Saturday 7pm, 5.1km: Had a 2hr nap and felt better. Left toe hurting. Raining lightly. Did a loop I’ve done many times from mine, mainly running in the road but stepped onto a pavement to avoid a scooter, which mounted the pavement as he was looking at his phone. Shouted FUCK YOU in his face. Felt tired and annoyed. Thought about dinner and how to get through the next runs. Ordered dumplings when I got in. Popped the giant blister on my foot and slathered on antibiotic cream. Tried to doze but felt wired. Measured my heart rate and it was nearly double my normal resting heart rate.

Saturday 11pm, 5km: Very bleak, no motivation. Rain. No pants. Chafing on arm. Every km felt like five. Managed to drink a pocari sweat when I got in. Garmin Connect wouldn’t upload the run so had to upload via my laptop, which wasted time. I’d thought about going to the riverside to meet friends for the next run but felt horrific so decided to stay at home. Lay on my bed and tried to nap for an hour.

Sunday 3am, 5.1km: Put on clothes from the last run and set out at a slow pace. Roads all very quiet. Extremely rainy so glad that I had stayed in the vicinity of home. Took a minute’s rest in the doorway of the metro as it was so wet. Everything soaked, watch completely drenched and display not working properly. Got in, stripped off, drank a pocari sweat, forced down a banana and got back into bed, where I lay awake, shaking.

Sunday 7am, 5.2km: Woke up from a dream where I’d lost my teeth but couldn’t get them replaced until the challenge was over. Put on trail shoes as they’re the biggest I own. Ran up Ferguson Lane and started thinking about how nice it would be to drink a Monster, so stopped at a shop WHERE THEY DIDN’T HAVE MONSTER. Tried to drink a coke while running but it didn’t work well. Tons of police everywhere, couldn’t cross roads on red despite no traffic. Accidentally ran a route that looked like a baby T-rex. Finished at the convenience store near my house where I bought 2 Monsters, then went to buy a pancake. Couldn’t speak to order. Weighed myself – down 2.5kg from Friday. Decided not to bother going back to sleep.

Sunday 11am, 5km: Felt better after eating and watching two episodes of Billions. Wore trail shoes again. Raining but not as bad as before Ran an uninspiring route but much more positive than earlier. Final countdown – surreal. As I walked up the stairs to my flat (I live on the 5th floor, no lift) I wondered if I could carry on doing this indefinitely. Got home, showered, lay on the sofa a bit more, ate a custard tart and messaged a friend to arrange the final run.

Sunday 3pm, 5km: Agreed to meet my friend at the park and run laps. Took a shower (only my 3rd, I think) and cycled over feeling nervous. My friend said he would join for the second half only so I did a loop around the block before going into the park (the park is only 800m round so would have crushed my soul). Started raining really heavily. Met Oli at 2.7km and chatted but started feeling terrible, heart rate high and stomach cramping. Walked for 100m at 4km to try to lower my heart rate (197 despite only 5:45 pace). Oli pointed out that we’d finish by the weird creepy fairground and we sprinted the final bit. DONE!!!

TLDR: 61.6km in total over 48 hours. Around 8 hours sleep in short bursts. A lot of rain. Three bloody marys. Not that many showers. A lot of laundry. Nowhere near enough food.

Bullet screens: you what?

What with the BIG DAY next week, internet restrictions have been tightened up. One thing that I found particularly interesting is that bullet screens on bilibili have been suspended. I then realised that this sentence would make absolutely no sense to anyone outside of China, and that in itself was quite interesting. So let me explain.

Screen Shot 2019-05-30 at 11.03.52 AM

Bilibili is a video-streaming website, a bit like that other famous one, “you” something… yes, Youku (YouTube is, of course, banned here, so there’s Youku, the original fake, plus loads of others).

Bullet screens are basically YouTube comments, but in lurid colours and scrolling across the screen obscuring the video you’re trying to watch, appearing at the exact moment the writer posted it.

Imagine you’re watching an episode of your favourite boxset one evening. It opens with a man staring into the distance. Up pop thousands of characters: ‘wah, so handsome’, ‘who is he?’, ‘what is he looking at?’, ‘handsome brother’. These characters fly across the screen, covering the face of the man and generally being annoying. Behold, bullet screens:Image result for bullet screens china

Originating from Japan, bullet screens, danmu, are essentially just real time comments but I find them so fascinating for a number of reasons:

  1. Surely everyone knows you should NEVER read the comments. And yet, they’re on top of the bloody video!
  2. MY EYES!

Part of the problem (in my opinion) is that the comments are short, and while there are lots of examples of witty or clever comments, there are also a lot of totally inane comments. My brain wants tot think that when people write longer comments, they have to think a bit more about it and so the quality of the comment will be higher, even though this is patently untrue (see: YouTube, the Daily Mail website, most recesses of the internet). I’m just a long form nerd: no paragraphs, footnotes and page numbers = no party.

I asked a friend what he thought the appeal of bullet screens were and he asked why anyone comments on anything – which is a good point. I love shouting away on Twitter but I rarely comment on news articles, videos, etc. I like to passively consume media (probably a little too much) but I don’t think that my comments on it (especially if they amount to “aww, so cute”) merit being published. One might argue that my tweets aren’t exactly scaling literary heights so why do I type those out, and I will tell you that the answer is a heady mixture of boredom and narcissism and there’s nothing much I can do about that.

Thankfully, you can usually switch the comments off on video streaming websites, and even better, there are no comments at all on the pirated DVDs I buy from the shop round the corner.

A big year for anniversaries

There’s a big anniversary coming up in a few day’s time. This year is quite a big year for anniversaries in general: 70 years since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (this will be celebrated with lots and lots of nationalism), 100 year anniversary of the May Fourth movement (the Labor Day public holiday got rearranged to ensure people were busy spending money instead of thinking too much about this one) and 30 years since the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident (this is strictly taboo and will be censored in Mainland China, as ever).

Should future generations endlessly muse over the actions of the previous generation? No, but I believe we should acknowledge and learn from the past. We are in a fortunate position in that we can learn from history – other people have done things before so we don’t have to! Many Chinese people do not feel shy about reminding me of the atrocities that my ancestors (ie. the British, never mind that I only just got a British passport) committed but their own country/Party (because great efforts have been made to conflate the two) is always painted as a victim or simply the sole peaceful actor facing aggression from all sides.

Should a mature, confident state accept the entirety of their history, warts and all – or should a country posturing as a world leader teach a bogus mix of fantasy, mythology and history to validate its fantasy of being a benevolent country with “5000 years of history”? The CCP heavily pushes the (false) notion that China has uniquely long history. With the rise of Han supremacism (Han being the majority ethnic group in China), I’ve been told by many people of the eternally peaceful nature of the Han people and the appalling treatment meted out to them by any and all other ethnic groups and nationalities. It’s simply not true, but it’s what is taught as such.

Should the leaders of a country let people make up their own minds about the successes of the regime based on facts – or should a one-sided argument grounded in exceptionalism, deliberate narrow mindedness and fragile egos be the guiding principles in how people think or are told how to think? If a country is really doing so well thanks solely to one single political party, why is domestic bad news suppressed and international bad news broadcast so widely? For example, we hear a lot about American school shootings, so a lot of Chinese people will say “America, so dangerous!”, but when there was a train crash in China a few years ago the cover up was so thorough that they literally buried the train carriages in the ground rather than get the bodies out.

In Hong Kong and Taiwan, 4th June will be marked and remembered. I read a Hong Kong based newspaper pretty regularly and I’m always shocked at the number of comments on articles about Tiananmen (and naturally there are quite a few at the moment) from Mainland or pro-Mainland voices saying it’s boring to go on about this, that the democracy movement was an American plant and that we should talk more about Western war crimes. I mean, sure, we should absolutely talk about war crimes, because they’re appalling – but the fact is that we can, and we do, whereas in Mainland China there can be no discussion of the events of 1989.

Is it sustainable or ethical to refuse to allow critical thinking? Can rampant nationalism end up in anything other than conflict? I wish I felt more confident about the state of the nation, but in the light of the trade war, the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang, the increasing online censorship and the overwhelming ignorance/apathy towards politics by the general populace, I find it very hard to be anything other than overwhelmingly pessimistic.

As we go into next week, I expect my VPN not to work. If I post anything on WeChat, I expect it to be censored. In Beijing, some metro stations will be closed “for maintenance”. Dissidents will be temporarily relocated out of the cities. 99% of the population will consider it a normal day: online shopping, watching videos on their mobiles, taking and posting selfies. Another day in consumerist China, where freedom was exchanged for online shopping festivals.

Notre Dame and social media

As China is six hours ahead of France, I didn’t find out about the fire at Notre Dame until I woke up on Tuesday morning. By the time I got to work, my WeChat Moments had lots of posts about the fire. WeChat Moments, or 朋友圈  (friends circle) in Chinese, is where you can post pictures, comments and links for all your WeChat friends to see. A Parisian friend posted the view from her childhood bedroom window, with Notre Dame in the background. Chinese friends posted pictures of themselves outside Notre Dame on their holidays or while studying abroad in Europe.

I started to feel slightly weird about these photos. The fire wasn’t even out and already there was  a heady mix of grief tourism and wealth flaunting. “Look how well-travelled and cultured I am! Check out the international education my parents paid for! Behold my appreciation of foreign architecture!” Making a fire in a church the other side of the world all about you and your selfies seemed, to me, to be a very Chinese millennial response.

My friends were unanimous about how sad it was that it was in flames. There were lots of references to its age, its importance, its beauty and why we need to preserve cultural icons like this. I knew it was wrong to judge my friends but I couldn’t help thinking about all the cultural icons they didn’t care about. China is proud of its long history (find me a foreigner in China who hasn’t been told about China’s 5000 years of history…) but there aren’t as many old buildings in China as there should be, due to wars, the cultural revolution, natural disasters and things not being built well in the first place. In Shanghai, old buildings are torn down to be replaced by gleaming (for now) malls or apartment buildings, or fake old buildings. Out with the old, in with the new; then out with those as the poor building regulations means it’s all falling apart only a few years later. More new things! GDP! Yay!

That’s not to say there aren’t some old buildings in China, though. One example is a mosque in Xinjiang almost the same age as Notre Dame – or was, at least. The Keriya Mosque was built in 1237 and was demolished last year by the Chinese government as part of the ongoing ethnic war against the Uighur people. You can see before and after pictures of the mosque here. Reportedly, 200 of 800 mosques in the region have been demolished. None of my friends have mentioned that they’re sad about these buildings being destroyed, if they even know anything about it.

At least my friends were sad about Notre Dame. Elsewhere on Chinese social media, some netizens (how I hate this word) were posting that the fire was karmic retribution for the destruction of the Summer Palace, an imperial park, in Beijing. At the end of the Second Opium War, the British and French looted the Summer Palace and (after two British journalists were killed) the British burnt the palace down. This event is taught in great detail in Chinese history classes and it horrifies Chinese people to discover that it’s not mentioned in British schools. Is there space in the British curriculum to cover every atrocity the British carried out, and would this even make the top five atrocities? Should British history cover British atrocities (personally, I think it should), even at the expense of studying anything else (personally, I don’t think so), and does it matter to this line of thinking that the Chinese curriculum doesn’t cover anything bad that China (or the Han majority) has done, past or present?

The fire was extinguished. I read about all the money pouring in to restore it, about the trees grown in Versailles especially for the eventuality of ever having to replace the wood in the roof. I stopped caring about a church I’d been to twice. Memes were shared.

My first thought on seeing a photo early on Tuesday morning was that it might be terrorism and it made me sick to my stomach – not just the act itself but what the reaction might be in an already incendiary Europe. I then found myself ‘relieved’ that it was just a giant fire, and when I thought back to how I felt reading about Grenfell, it felt almost insignificant, if you’re allowed to say that about the destruction of a national icon. I suppose nothing exists in isolation, and no reaction is without a thousand other influences.

More questions about China

  1. What’s with the terribly drawn on eyebrows?
  2. Why does no one go to the gym in the morning (I’m not complaining about this! I love having the place to myself)?
  3. Why do people use hair velcro instead of hair clips?
  4. I swear my colleague clips his nails at least twice a week, always at his desk. Why does he need to clip his nails so often?
  5. On the subject of nails, why do some men have long nails or (ewwww vom) the one really long pinky nail? Please don’t answer this one…
  6. Why is it okay for grown adults to send “cute” pictures of kids as emojis/stickers on their WeChat?
  7. Why can’t people read maps? It seems to be some sort of national affliction.
  8. Why do people believe that Indian food isn’t spicy?
  9. Why do people think ducks can’t fly?

Do you have any questions about China? Let me know and I’ll try to answer them.

Visiting home

After circling Essex like a metaphorical drain in the sky, the plane finally landed at Heathrow. I looked out at the dark, the rain – home at last. I didn’t know if I was very tired or very awake, and in fact the only thing I could be really certain of was that I needed the toilet.

At baggage reclaim I sat on a trolley and watched the suitcases nose their way up onto the conveyor belt and snake their way around the carousel. I thought about the slaughterhouse I went to in Shanghai and all the channels for cows, people, blood, meat, all flowing with the same lumbering grace of Heathrow’s baggage reclaim. I tried to remember what my suitcase looked like. Black? Rectangular? Possibly with a handle? I wondered if I would be too tired to do anything if it didn’t show up.

Case in hand, I headed out into Heathrow, scanning the waiting faces in case anyone had come to meet me, trying not to feel hopeful. Oh. No. Okay. It’s fine. It’s what I was expecting. I need the loo anyway.

Everything felt so…. normal, like I didn’t live 10,000 miles away in another continent, in another language, with another font, in another colour scheme. Oh look, Marks & Spencer! I dragged my case down to the metro – no! It’s the tube! Tube, tube, tube, not a metro. My card worked, I felt like a local, the local I am or was or would be or should be or I don’t even know anymore.

Why are the seats fabric? Why is everything so familiar? Why are the announcements al in English? Why are there so few Chinese people? Can I stare at people? Should I do the laowai nod to other white people? Why doesn’t my phone work underground? Why are we only at Hounslow? Why does this feel so incredibly normal?

My life in Shanghai felt so normal until suddenly I’m not there and now this is normal, but Shanghai is normal too, and I wonder how many people I really am. Kaleidoscopic me, thousands of eyes and faces and hair (the thickest my hair will ever look) and limbs and suitcases.

Visiting home is so normal, so abnormal, so confusing.

Things I wish I understood about China

I’ve lived here for nearly two years now. I’d say I’m not completely unfamiliar with the language, culture and history, and yet there are still so many things that baffle me on a daily basis.

  1. Why are people so loud? Why doesn’t noise bother anyone? Related: why don’t people use headphones?
  2. Why do people panic so much? For example, at the airport, running to the gate for their reserved seat, or when they arrive at a restaurant 2 mins ahead of schedule and message you asking if they should order?
  3. Why does anyone like pork floss?
  4. Why did a major publishing house produce a textbook called “London Bridge” with a picture of Tower Bridge on it? It’s hard to convince anyone that they’re thinking of Tower Bridge when they say that they want to visit London Bridge. I can guarantee that anyone visiting London Bridge will be very disappointed.
  5. Why does everyone insist Theresa May is a strong leader? Also, when shown the video of her dancing, why do they say “ah, at least she’s trying!”. Trying what? Can you imagine Xi Jinping doing that?!
  6. Why do girls wear red eyeshadow? They look dead.
  7. When I ask a Chinese person where they’re from, why do they answer with just “China”? Then when I ask “but where in China?” they say the province (note that even the smallest province is bigger than England). Then if I ask further they will name a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. Isn’t there a step missing? If someone asks where I’m from I don’t leap straight from “Europe” to the name of the road I grew up on.
  8. Why can’t people knock once on the door? Delivery drivers shout to announce their arrival, then knock, then wait two seconds before knocking again, and even if you shout that you’re coming they will continue to knock. Friends will do the same but without the shouting. Chill out!
  9. Why do people walk so slowly? Even in rush hour, people amble along slowly. This is contested by pretty much every Chinese person, who will insist that people walk quickly in the big cities and that in HK people walk incredibly fast. While it’s true that people in HK do walk a bit quicker, it’s still really slow!
  10. Why do people think tap water in the UK will make your hair fall out, and why is this the worst possible thing tap water could do? I know I would rather be bald than die of heavy metal poisoning…

Changing jobs in China: the banking edition

Last year I changed jobs, and wrote about the ordeal here. I’ve recently changed jobs again, but it was a much smoother process:

  • 15 September: hand in notice
  • 31 October: final day, HR applied for the cancellation of my work permit
  • 14 November: work permit cancellation letter ready, take documents to the agency dealing with the process to start the online application for my new work permit
  • 28 November: online process approved
  • 29 November: counter application started
  • 3 December: apply to cancel residence permit and replace with stay permit
  • 12 December: stay permit collected ALSO work permit fully approved
  • 17 December: apply for residence permit
  • 26 December: passport with new residence permit ready

Everything went smoothly but you’ll notice I wasn’t allowed to work (no work permit = no working) from the day I left my old work (31 October) and mid December. Just as well I had some pennies saved up!

Speaking of pennies, obviously I do not work for free and I prefer to get paid. In China it’s pretty standard practice that your employer will specify which banks they will pay your salary into, and if you don’t already have an account with one of those banks then you need to open one. There are four big banks in China (all state owned, of course): Bank of China, ICBC, Agricultural Bank of China and China Construction Bank. I have accounts with Bank of China and ICBC, but don’t really use the ICBC account as my name is written differently to wherever else it appears on official documents and this causes issues.

On my first day at work I was told I could only be paid into ICBC or China Merchants Bank. As I can’t use my existing ICBC account, I would have to open a new account at either bank – and have heard so many horror stories about ICBC that I chose CMB.

First of all, I had to wait until I had my passport back from getting the residence permit. Once I had this I went to the nearest branch (right by my office, luckily). They immediately listed all the different things I would need to apply: residence permit? work contract? housing contract? police registration form? Shanghai phone number? Yes, to all these. They asked me to fill in a form while they photocopied my documents and then told me they would be in touch once they had authorisation from head office.

I went away and waited. HR messaged me several times asking me what was going on. Eventually I got a call to say I’d been approved.

I went back into the branch and the lady I’d been dealing with wasn’t there, so I explained the whole situation again. The new cashier got out all my documents and some more forms. She gave me a tax form to fill in… which is when things went bad.

I’ve been hearing things about tax changes here in China – essentially foreigners can now be taxed on global income, so they want our tax numbers. My ICBC account has actually been frozen because I haven’t supplied them with this number. But that’s beside the point. It’s never been particularly clear whether they want our Chinese tax numbers or the ones from our home country. After lots of hassle last week, I managed to almost get my Chinese tax number, but it turned out they wanted the home tax number (the form actually said the tax number where we are tax residents, which for me is only China currently, but hey).

I filled in the form – the first I’ve seen with a box for middle name. This caused some problems as China generally assumes I have two first names. The cashier was also confused that my middle name didn’t match what was on my passport but it turned out she was looked at the words “Eireannach/Irish”. The biggest problem was that my passport is Irish and my tax number is my UK national insurance number.

“You need to put your Irish tax number”, she said.

“I don’t have one, I’ve never worked in Ireland,” I told her. “I have only worked in China and the UK, so the only non-Chinese tax number I have is a UK one.”

“I don’t think we can open your account,” she told me. “It has to match your nationality.”

“But I also have British nationality…” I nearly said, before I thought better of it, dual nationality being an alien concept in China.

Eventually, after making some phone calls and involving almost everyone in the branch, it was decided that I could use my passport number as my tax number, and that they didn’t need my UK tax number.

Next up, my phone number had to be verified, by calling the phone company to check that the number was registered to me (and my passport number). I also got sent a 6 digit code to enter.

Finally, I signed my name several times on the screen, ticking “I agree” to things I hadn’t read (does anyone read these things?), set up my PIN, set up the PIN for the app, signed my bank card and got the bank to write down the SWIFT code for me.

1.5 hours later, I had a new bank account!

I went back to the office and let HR know, then downloaded the app. Of course, having a bank card in China is not that useful as it’s not like you can use it to do very much. Most of the time I do everything using Alipay or WeChat Pay. Amazingly I was able to link my new account to both these apps! I transferred some money to test it out and now I just have to hope that I get paid with no drama next week.

To think that in the UK, I’ve had the same bank account since I was six… I’ve been in China less than two years and I already have three! Still, a good test for both my patience and my Chinese skills.

Things I do that are rather Chinese

I wrote a while ago about why I think I might actually be Chinese. But having lived here for a little while now, I have developed some rather Chinese habits…

When I first moved to China I was amazed that everyone was glued to their phones. In the UK, there’s no signal on the tube so you have to read the crappy free papers instead, but in China (well, Shanghai at least) there’s 4G everywhere – and 5G coming soon. Now I am a phone zombie too. I stare at my phone on the metro, including when getting off (though I do hold on to it tightly as I brace for impact with all the people rushing to get on before anyone gets off), I read while walking down the street, I hold up traffic because I’m checking social media while cycling to work. I’m not necessarily very proud of myself but it’s easy to get sucked in. And sometimes, every now and then at least, it’s work related and then I feel entirely justified.

Speaking of social media… I joke that many people only do things so that they can post it on social media. In China, pretty much all foreign social media is blocked, and if you want to boast to your friends that you queued up at Hey Tea to get a boba cheese fruit tea then you post the picture on WeChat Moments. I mock this, along with the filters and the beauty filters (admittedly some of them are ridiculous and make people look like aliens), but guess what I did when I went to Hey Tea last week?!

People in the UK, my mum at least (hi Mum!), think it’s weird that people in Asia wear face masks. But you know what, it’s actually quite nice to have a mask on in winter as it keeps your face warm. It helps to let people know that you’re sick (eg. your boss), and it feels like you’re doing something about your annoying winter cold rather than just moaning about it. On polluted days, a mask is crucial, specifically one with a proper PM2.5 rating. I have one with filters that you change on a daily basis, and while I think it’s very effective, I can’t get the idea that I’m changing my mask’s nappy.

When I was growing up we used to go to Peterborough to the big shopping centre as a treat during the school holidays. Now, not only do I call shopping centres ‘malls’, but I go to one EVERY DAY. Every. Single. Day. China has an abundance of malls, far too many to be in any way commercially viable (the government has incentivised this, and as a result you see dead malls (very strange to see) and thousands of malls full of all the same shops), and a lot of services can be found in them. Normally on the basement level, or B1, there is a food court and superamarket. Floors 1-3 are shops, floor 4 is kids shops/services, floor 5+ are restaurants, hairdressers, beauty salons, etc, and then on the top floor there may be a cinema. If you want to buy something, you’re going to a mall. If you want to eat, the chances are you’re going to a mall. It’s a weird phenomenom. Actually, as I write this I am quite proud to realise I haven’t been to a mall today (I’m in a trendy coffee shop – so Shanghai).

I’ve saved the best for last… I was brought up to cover my mouth when I cough, but it turns out that the 1.4 billion people here were not taught the same thing. Now I’m not saying I do this all the time, certainly not when there are people around, but sometimes I cough and don’t bother covering my mouth and it feels simultaneously disgusting and OH SO LIBERATING.