Note from Admin – The Chinese have managed to block all of M&S photos at the moment  – so please click on the music above whilst you read Mark’s blog – you may have seen me on the news in Manchester trying to bring the situation up with the Chinese President, but his bodyguards grabbed me by the prawn crackers before I could get near! – ITS A CHINA CRISIS!

Here we go………..


Lucky thirteen! Well Court and I hope it is. I’ve just turned to my new Canadian chum and told him that this is my 13th flight since we left the UK. He laughed and with a wide grin said, “well you better get on and write that blog real quick then…” Thanks for that Court!

So I am typing at speed, hoping to upload the copy on to “The Cloud” which today, is handily placed a few meters away to my left, out of the window of this China Eastern Airbus A320. If something does happen, you will be the first to hear about it. Just 21 more flights to go before we return home next May.

Anyway, I read this morning on the BBC news website just before we left Xian (home of the Terracotta Warriors) that the Chinese President is in London town. The “Big Potato” – as our Chinese Guide Carina calls him – is on a State Visit to see “Chairman Cameron”, with the RED carpet fully rolled out!

Whichever Political Party is in power, the UK Government must talk with and understand the Chinese people if we as a nation are to prosper and survive. China is powerful. That’s an understatement. It is/will be the next main World Power for many years and is full of innovation, big projects and I have to say really interesting people.


And yet there is this strange dichotomy. On the one hand China is a very regimented, security conscious nation. Strict rules rule. If you stray off the beaten track around Government Buildings and monuments, prepare for a loud whistle and a shaking of fists – at best. The Army is everywhere (it seems) supported visibly by various police detachments – ranging from traffic cops through to fully armed riot SWOT Teams. They certainly miss the finesse of HM Officers trained by Ian Prescott.


Conversely and somewhat bizarrely officialdom sits alongside parks, public land and open spaces, where anything can and does happen. Pensioners strut their stuff to the Bee Gees singing Tragedy, lone men sing by themselves as they walk along the pavement – many with very good Baritone voices – David Mortimer/Neil Barton take note. And then there are groups of teenagers playing loud rock music, all at odds in many ways with what you think a totalitarian state would be like. Oh and I must not forget the Karaoke microphones that are located all over each city, where you can step up and perform at any time.


Many times I’ve thought, “you wouldn’t get away with that in England.” Here, it seems, so long as you are sensible, people are left to the own devices, be it flying a kite or seemingly being as “high as kites” on local herbal substances.

Oops!! That is that is the head flight attendant telling me to turn off my laptop as we are ten minutes from landing. See you later, I HOPE.

TWO DAYS LATER ONBOARD A BUS AS WE SPEED TOWARDS A DATE WITH THE GIANT BUDHA – WELL we didn’t crash in fact we had the best landing that I have had on this tour so far. The Captain – Mr Ding Yung Huan – put the plane down on a sixpence in what was a text book landing despite the fog. I was well impressed and asked to go in to the cockpit after we had landed to have a word with the main man. I explained to Captain Huan that I’d flown Emirates, Jet, Indigo, Buddha Air and Air China amongst others in recent weeks and that his landing on the southern runway was the best by far. As I shook his hand he asked if he could quote me for their next edition of their inflight magazine!

Enough. Back to the blog proper. I was waffling on about how the Chinese “play hard”. Well that’s just half the story, because they work damn hard as well and that is clear to see everywhere you look.


The Chinese are incredibly innovative, they’re industrious and as a nation have a clear direction/focus, which in my opinion is to educate, develop and then….. well, history will tell us what “well” is. I think it could go one of two ways. Looking into my crystal ball, it’ll all depend ultimately on who ends up in charge. They could as a nation use their creative assets and work in partnership with the rest of the World and then we all live happily ever after. But if the dragon’s tail is pulled and hard liners move in, then watch out for the fire that will inevitably follow, simply because of the size of China’s population.


Present estimates put the population at a whopping 1.4 billion – 20% of the humans on this planet. The one-child policy still exists with around 40% subject to the restriction. According to internet sources, circa 53% of couples are allowed to have a second child if their first child is a girl. But the latest male/female stats are alarming, with some Chinese provinces having sex ratios of more than 130 males to just 100 females. This is largely down to the fact that there is a traditional preference for sons and the widespread practice of arranging for sons to take care of their elderly parents. Old People’s homes do exist, but largely the responsibility falls to family members.

There did however seem to be NO “lady” shortage when we have been out and about. The “tradition” of having your main wedding photos taken up to three months before the actual wedding ceremony is very popular. One night we counted over 50 ceremonies taking place. Basically you hire a dress and a photographer – around £1000 as a starter – and then stand in front of something interesting/arty for that all important shot. Think I prefer the Shanghai skyline to the graffiti wall personally…


The Graffiti backdrop above is a bit ugly, but you can’t say that of the children. I’m certainly no softie when it comes to babies and young children, even though my Mother has told me I was one once. But I have to admit to being “mesmerised” by the many little Chinese faces I have come across. So here’s my opportunity to share one or two photos with you. I did, I hasten to add, “ask permission” of their parents, so no need to report me… – ADMIN – OH No – paragraph is a bit pants without the pic! LOL


Kids are kids anywhere you go, but the one thing I’ve noticed is the confidence of children aged between around three and say six/seven. I’ve heard young girls sing songs from the Sound of Music, others act and perform. There was even one young lady sitting with her Mum on the parapet of a bridge flamboyantly creating pen and ink sketches of Shanghai Pagodas and doing a roaring trade selling them for about £10 a go. Enterprise and confidence of the young – love it. – ADMIN – JUST USE YOUR IMAGINATION!


But it isn’t just the youngsters who are creative in making a few bob. The latest fad in Chengdhu is to clean people’s ears out with long pieces of wire. You sit down on a couch, close your eyes and then a man with a mask and head torch pokes the inside of your ear until he hits your semi-circular canal. He then pulls the wire out with a whole lot of gunge. Beats syringing I guess.

Although I never tried it’s meant to be very relaxing. I had never heard of such a thing before and feel sure that this new fad will be over ear in the UK in the very near future. Or I guess it could become one of those things that is simply “ear today and gone tomorrow”, although the Chinese do wax lyrical about the benefits. ADMIN – TRY NOT THIS TIME!


One group of Chinese who also benefit from ear cleaning are the thousands of Terracotta Warriors, who were positioned in the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China to protect him in his after-life. It is a remarkable story all round really when you consider that local farmers in the mid 1970s discovered what is a huge underground Palace, when they started boring a new well. Now in two “giant aircraft hangers” the size of Wembley Arena, archaeologists lovingly restore the Warriors to their former glory, ensuring not only their ears are clean, but their whole body. We were stunned by this place. The size, the history, the thought that literally thousands of years ago the Chinese had even perfected the art of chromium plating, later discovered by the west in the 1930s. Amazing that just like the Egyptians they had once ruled the World….. now coming back full circle. But perhaps the most mind blowing thing was the fact that each Warrior was uniquely created. There is not one the same with facial expressions that testify to the fact. Brilliant. And a worthy 8TH WONDER OF THE WORLD following, York Minster, The Yorkshire Dales and of course Peasholme Park in Scarborough.


We’ve had a brilliant time here in China and there is still just over a week before we move on. So many sites, so many things we’ve seen including The Great Wall and the Teraccotta Warriors to name but two. But no trip of course would be complete without visiting the Pandas. Ahhhhhh.

There are 1500 left in the wild, but the nearest we will probably get is visiting them as we did on the outskirts of Chenngdhu at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, this morning (Wednesday 21 October).

I ran a “silent sweepstake” with myself as we went through the turnstiles as to how many “cutes” I would hear in two hours from our 16 strong group. But even I said “cute” three times as we saw baby pandas (twins a few days old), red pandas and numerous giant pandas all living in the semi-wild of this bamboo paradise. In total I heard 146 cutes by the way. ADMIN – IMAGINATION AGAIN


A very moving experience as were their eyes.

In fact, after writing close to two thousand words (sorry Ray), I now realise that the common denominator with all of these observations are eyes. I hope you see where I’m coming from.

My grateful thanks to Russ Baker for spending a lot of his time compiling this blog due to Chinese restrictions on blog posting. Russ – I owe you a Chinese Takeaway when I get back. ADMIN – (PRAWN CRACKERS MORE LIKE!)

Onwards now to spend time in a Budhist Monastery for a few days, before heading down the Yangtze River on a cruise.



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    Hi Mark and Sarah, I appreciate you probably have to be careful what you write, so have delayed this post… but I have to add something after reading the text “But the latest male/female stats are alarming, with some Chinese provinces having sex ratios of more than 130 males to just 100 females. This is largely down to the fact that there is a traditional preference for sons and the widespread practice of arranging for sons to take care of their elderly parents.”

    On behalf of women, I rephrase: “This is largely down to the fact that 30 out of every 130 female babies are killed, mostly after birth, due to the traditional preference for sons who will take care of their parents in old age.” There is a lot of press coverage in the UK at present about the ending of the one child rule, and every article mentions the ’10 million men who may never find a bride’. I have yet to see one comment about the ’10 million missing women’. interesting to see the bias in our own media.

    Another book for your reading list Mark – ‘Poor economics’ by Banerjee and Duflo. About initiatives to improve living standards in poor countries, and what goes wrong with them – because the poor don’t spend in the way traditional economics would predict. Fascinating stuff. For example, the best return on spending on education is to educate all your children to literacy and numeracy level. But the poorest eucate their smartest child to the highest possible level, and don’t educate the rest. They act as if investing in a lottery ticket for the biggest sum. And the best way to use a bit of extra money is to buy more gruel to have enough calories to work hard – but what the poor actually do is buy one meal of very fancy, costly food – a taste of something they never have. Plus the figures show best way to raise living standards is to give money to women, who tend to invest in the family and children. And we are back to microfinance and Kiva loans, and the Bank of Bob.

    Re the terracotta warriors – interesting fact from a documentary I saw last night (while nursing a broken wrist) – every ear is unique – just as in reality ears are as unique as fingerprints. That has to be suggestive that these are statues of real people – even if they did use a range of moulds for the body parts.

    I got caught up in the masses of people crowding the streets with banners and sticky notes on their faces outside Buckingham Palace when the President arrived. Rather odd, being in a Chinese majority crowd with lots of red and gold banners.

    Loving your trip!


    • Thanks Anne for your fascinating email. I am now in HK and it is interesting the difference between HK Chinese and mainland. The book Poor Economics’ by Banerjee and Duflo sounds most interesting and the synopsis one I can now understand having been there. Your reworked copy is also most interesting = and as I am in HK perhaps we can continue that discussion offline? Best wishes and keep in touch. M


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  3. Katy Bowyer

    Lovely commentary!

    Liked by 1 person

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