Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

E-Donkey Insurance

According to Liuzhou’s traffic police vehicle administration department, as of April 16th, there were 574,431 e-bikes registered in the city. There are also a load of unregistered bikes.

They also claim that e-bikes or ‘e-donkeys’ (电驴) as the local dialect renders them (actually it is the bike riders who tend to be donkeys) are responsible for a high number of accidents. Well, what a shock.

Untrained, unlicensed idiots driving illegal bikes (you can register an illegal bike – they don’t check if the speed limiter has been overridden, for example – most have) in the dark with no lights, no helmets, while sending text messages or chatting on their phone cause accidents? How can it be?

But don’t worry. They have come up with a scheme to deal with the problem.

It turns out that back on April 1st, 2012 (bad choice of date) they introduced a non-compulsory insurance scheme for e-donkeys. Since then the take up rate has been less than 8%. So, they are now planning propaganda drives and events to promote insurance.

Of course, as evry fule noes, insurance does not prevent accidents. In fact, it can lead to more. People get complacent. “Hey it’s OK! I’m insured.”

I’m not saying they shouldn’t have insurance. It should be compulsory, but if they want to reduce accidents it would surely be much more effective to have a system of driving instruction, tests and laws. Like other countries have. E-donkeys should be on the same footing as normal motorcycles. Apart from the power source, there is no real difference. Lights should be required at all times. Helmets should be compulsory. Riding while using your phone should be an offence.

And the laws should be enforced. I do live in a world of fantasy!

In the meantime, intelligence tests might be an idea. Or just teaching people to look where they are going would make a huge difference.

But instead we have to feed cash into the insurance companies. At around 70元 for annual insurance, that is a potential 40 million 元 business, just here in Liuzhou. It must be that communism I keep hearing about. How much cut do the cops get?

Barriers

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I must have walked past it a million times, but it never really registered before. This sign hangs on the wall of a Bank of Communications ATM hall at the northern end of the main city centre pedestrian street. As you can see it offers ‘barrier-free’ access to its cash dispensers.

Sadly, to even get to the ‘barrier-free’ sign, you have to get past a phalanx of e-bikes, then climb a step. Then there is a further small step into the ATM hall.

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They build ramps for e-bikes to mount the sidewalks and even get into buildings, but ramps for the disabled are extremely rare. Wuxing Department Store is an honourable exception; McDonalds and Xinhua Book Store are dishonourable norms.

How many schools or colleges in Liuzhou have proper wheelchair access? I’m willing to bet, none. What about hospitals?

The BRT buses were trumpeted as being wheelchair friendly. Great. Shame the bus stops aren’t. Stupid.

China has a deplorable record in its treatment of the disabled, despite organisations such as the quasi-governental China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF)*, originally chaired by Deng Pufang (邓朴方) son of China’s former Paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping (邓小平). Deng Pufang is himself paraplegic after sustaining injuries during the cultural revolution. He remains a powerful figure within the higher reaches of the Party. He can’t get into Liuzhou McDonalds or Xinhua though.

If you are disabled and have powerful connections and/or money, you will maybe be OK. However the vast majority of disabled people in China are poor or worse. Most of the visible disabled are the beggars you see everyday outside the area near Liuzhou City Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital and Lianhua Century Mart. But they are the tip of an iceberg.

Many more are hidden away by their families. Disability is still seen as shameful by many Chinese. As this article says “Disabled people in modern China are still stigmatised, marginalised and abused.”

Barrier-free?

* The Wikipedia article on the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF) is a load of party propaganda.

Dinner is Served – Bite of China 2

I announced way back in December that the second series of the stunning ‘A Bite of China’ would be broadcast by CCTV over the Spring Festival. That is what they said. It didn’t happen. I don’t know why.

However, the first episode, ‘Steps’ was finally broadcast on Friday night (18th April) and it was as good as anything from series one. The next six episodes will be shown over the next six Fridays.

Eventually these will be available online*.  And probably with English narration in about two years time!

Series 1 is available here.

*Episode 1 already is. I have it safely tucked away on my PC.  It is in a weird Chinese video format though. I’ll wait for something more sensible.

Friday Food 120 – Fox Nuts

Friday food is an occasional article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This time we are looking getting foxy with nuts (or perhaps not).

Fox nuts (Euryale ferox) are the seeds of a type of water lily native to east Asia. Known as 茨实 in Chinese, it grows in ponds and its leaves can be as much as a metre in diameter. It also produces purple flowers. However, it is cultivated for its edible seeds.

Euryale Ferox This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Euryale Ferox
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Despite the size of the plant, its seeds (茨实米) are tiny – about the size of a small lentil. They are dried and split to reveal the white interior and brown outer. Before use they should be washed well to remove any traces of sulphur used in their processing.

Fox Nuts - Euryale Ferox - 茨实米

Fox Nuts – Euryale Ferox – 茨实

The seeds can be eaten raw (after soaking) or cooked. They are often added to soups and hotpots, but can also be roasted and mixed with salt and pepper to make a snack.

Of course, it wouldn’t be China if they hadn’t come up with some supposed medical benefit from eating the things. These apparently increase male virility and defer symptoms of ageing. If everything which is alleged to contribute to longevity really works, how come life expectancy is higher in the UK where we don’t generally eat these things and certainly don’t call ‘walking backwards while clapping your hands’ exercise?

Oh well.

The nuts cost ¥53.80 / 500g – enough to keep you virile for years. ¥10 (approx) bags are more sensibly available in most supermarkets.

Another Bloody Update

I am happy to announce that the blood donation house has been resurrected. It is now parked at the south side of Liuzhou Museum.

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It was temporarily pushed away while they launched their BRT (Bus Ridiculous Time) system.

Previous stories A and B

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Luosifen Recipe

Several times over the years, I’ve been asked for a recipe for Liuzhou’s most famous dish – luosifen (螺蛳粉). It seems people want to try making this at home, far from Liuzhou.

There are two problems with this

a) No one cooks luosifen at home. No one. Not anyone. It is strictly an eating-out dish. Preferably in iffy-looking shacks. Liuzhou Hotel does do it (at three times the street price), and theirs is very good, but the best is still in the smaller restaurants, eaten while perched on a tiny stool on the sidewalk.

So. No one has ever, to my knowledge, thought to print a recipe for the home cook. No home cook wants one. The logistics involved would mean that a home-made bowl of the spicy delight would cost several times what you can get it for at the end of the street.

Noodle Time

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b) Each luosifen shop or restaurant has its own recipe for the soup base – and each keeps that a closely guarded secret. Minor wars have erupted in the past when Restaurant A thought Restaurant B was trying to steal their secret recipe.

So. No restaurant has ever published a recipe.

However, after intensive investigations, aided by NSA, GCHQ and Edward Snowden, using torture and blackmail etc, some details can be revealed.

The stock/broth/soup base is based on the local river snails (螺蛳). These are boiled, along with pork bones, for anywhere between 3 and 10 hours. Additional ingredients include black cardamom, fennel seed, dried tangerine peel, cassia bark, cloves, salt, pepper, bay leaf, licorice root, sand ginger, and star anise. Typically, no quantities are given. No one really weighs or measures anything. Each shop ‘knows’ how much of anything is needed. There may be other ingredients, too.

Snails boiling

Once the broth is ready, rice noodles made from ‘old rice’ are added. The ‘old rice’ gives the noodles a firmer, more chewy texture than other rice noodles such as those used in Guilin Mifen (桂林米粉), for example. Alongside the noodles fried dried beancurd sticks, pickled bamboo shoots, black fungus, lettuce, peanuts and preserved cowpeas are also added. A hefty slug of chilli oil is necessary for authenticity. You may add more chilli, pickles etc to taste. Then you are ready to rock.

Luosifen has a Facebook page.

Global Times Gets Something Right

GlobalTimeslogoThis is not really Liuzhou related, although Bama county is only a short distance to the west. Fenghuang is further away, in Hunan, but was a place I hung around in, way back in the 1990s, so I take a special interest. I still have friends living there.

It is only on a very rare occasion that I will praise anything in the Global Times. I only usually mention the sorry rag to mock its over the top toeing of the party line. This they indulge in to the extent that they end  up wrapping themselves in knots trying to justify the unjustifiable or categorically prove what is utterly bogus to be true.

However, this article, published today, pretty much sums up what I’ve been complaining about for years. I’m so glad to see a party publication come out with some sensible criticism for once. Whether it will make any difference is another question – anyway it’s probably too late.

they know they should leave the last pieces of pure land to those who own them rather than enter as destroyers.

I can think of a couple of regions where they might want to apply that philosophy. Or, to be more precise, where they have demonstrated that they definitely don’t want to.

Friday Food 119 – Purple Perilla

Friday food is an occasional article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This time we are looking at purple perilla.

Purple Perilla, 紫苏 (Perilla frutescens var. crispa) is a herb in the mint family. It is a popular choice throughout South-east Asia and Japan as well as here in China.

zisu

Perilla comes in green varieties, known in Japan as shiso (紫蘇), their adaptation of the Chinese name, rendered in traditional characters, but the popular choice round here is the ‘purple’ variety. In fact it’s not entirely purple.

As you can see from the picture below which is of one leaf, one side is green and the other purple. This trait and the leaves’ sawtooth edges help to distinguish it from other purple vegetable which are superficially similar. Amaranth leaves, for example are either entirely green or entirely purple and lack the serrated edge.

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The same perilla leaf from different sides

In China, perilla is generally simply stir-fried as a leaf vegetable with garlic and/or ginger and served as a dish to accompany others. However it is sometimes used as a herb, such as in this recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop.

It is important to know that cooking the plant causes the red/purple colouring to leech out. In many people’s eyes this makes the vegetable undesirable if mixed with other ingredients.

Of course, perilla is also used in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). What isn’t? They reckon it boosts the immune system and alleviates the common cold. Probably does a better job in the latter case than the useless injections everyone insists on having. Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses, but they won’t believe me. They also think colds are caused by cold. Nonsense. They forget that every time they get a summer cold. But, I digress.

Purple perilla is in the supermarkets now at around ¥20/kg. The bunch in the picture cost me ¥4.69 in 大润发 yesterday.

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Liuzhou Food

I’ve been documenting Liuzhou Food for several years and am extremely dismayed by reports of people planning trips to this fair city and who are checking out the local pizza places. What is wrong with you people? If you want to eat pizza, why come to China?

So, in retaliation, here are loads of picture of Liuzhou specialties.  All a hundred times better than anything Pizza Hut could dream up, make in their Guangzhou factory, freeze and deliver to Liuzhou to be microwaved by some kid on am ‘internship’ (aka slave labour).

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More here

Bu Bu Gao? Bu Bu Go!

bubugao

It is a good week for a whinge. Having trashed a restaurant yesterday, I thought I’d go into supermarket territory and get it all off my chest.

When the Hunan based company (步步高) BuBuGao opened their hypermarket on Liuzhou square last year, I was happy. An OK supermarket in the city centre was needed. They got off to a reasonable start, but recently I’ve been becoming more and more cynical and, frankly, annoyed by the place.

The service is hopeless; staff have no idea what they are doing or what they are selling. Much of the stock is mislabelled and the handwriting on their signs unreadable (not only by me – Chinese friends have found it undecipherable, too).

Their sushi selection is a disgrace. Stale, dried out rice and limp toppings. The roast meat section is a health hazard. Roast meats sit there uncovered for weeks. There are currently two whole roast rabbits which I know for a fact have been sitting there for two weeks.

roast rabbit

Roast Rabbit

The butchery section is bizarre. They chop things at random, but so do most Chinese butchers.  But the staff here have a real attitude problem. Patronising and smug. When they deign to actually be behind the counters. It is usually empty. Arrogant idiots. And the moron who spends half his day yelling through his PA system trying to impress the female staff and customers should be fired immediately.

Then there is the fish. Much of the fish has been sitting there for quite some time, too. Interestingly, they are currently stocking Pacific Saury, a fish which is famously at its best in Autumn / Fall, hence its Chinese and Japanese name,  秋刀鱼 which translates as Autumn Knife Fish (knife for the shape). So they are stocking it in spring when it is at its worst. Well done.

While you are at the fish counter, have a glance at the salmon counter and ask yourself how long those  tiny, overpriced samples have been sitting there. The ones there a couple of mornings ago had been sitting waiting since the start of the holiday, six days earlier. Sashimi should be fresh!

The checkouts are idiotically designed and usually undermanned (well actually, most checkouts seem to have at least two people – one to scan your goods and take your money and another one or two to keep the first one company with idle chit-chat.) Because the aisle is too narrow, if you have a trolley you can hardly get your stuff out of it and onto the conveyor-belt-free checkout desk.  You have to lean over the handles rather than stand to one side and have free access.

But beware. Some goods in the store have no bar codes attached. You can look at a pile of coriander/cilantro or some avocados, for example. Some bunches or packs have prices and barcodes; some don’t. Pick up the wrong one and you will be told off at the checkout. It infuriates me when they blame me for their screw-ups. And of, course they never suggest that any of the staff standing around doing nothing might go back to the weigh station to correct the problem for you. They expect you to go to sort out their mess by yourself. Customer service.

On one occasion, I attempted to buy a coconut which did have a barcode, but for some reason the checkout till couldn’t read it. The person on the checkout was so rude I just walked out leaving a full trolley of stuff for them to re-shelve, half of which she had already scanned. I hope it screwed up their computer. Then I went to 大润发 (RT Mart) where I should have gone in the first place.

But what annoys me most about Bubugao is the random pricing. Well, let’s be fair. Downright price gouging. Several of my Chinese friends and associates have said to me that the place is way too expensive.

Since they opened, they have stocked this cheap, plastic Emmentaler cheese which they sold for the inflated price of  ¥39.80. Other supermarkets have stocked this in the past for around ¥30. This week they have bumped the price up to ¥47.70 for 200g. (It’s the same old stock from last week.) They have to be kidding! I can buy the same cheese online for around ¥20 for 200g. This is just a total rip-off. Perhaps they think we can’ t get cheese anywhere else, so they can charge the sky. They are very, very wrong. I can buy better cheese for half the price elsewhere in Liuzhou.

ementaller

What amazes me is that they continue to sell stuff at inflated prices when the shop next door has it at sensible prices.

I’m rather partial to these crackers.

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Bubugao sell at ¥18 a packet. ILOVEME, right by BBG’s entrance has them for ¥10. Identical crackers.

They have butter at between ¥26.80 to ¥36.50. per 200g. I buy Anchor butter for ¥18 / 227g. Also, they had Anchor whipping cream on sale at a shocking ¥32.50 – again I buy a Nestlé equivalent for a mere ¥15. They are charging ¥42 for a 500ml can of Bodington’s Pub Beer, for example. I LOVE ME, a few steps from the checkouts has the same beer at ¥26.80.

I reckon the whole Bubugao concept is struggling. Most of the shopping mall restaurants are doing OK, but I seldom see anyone in the actual shops other than obviously bored sales staff wondering how long their job is going to last. I think they had ideas way above their station. This is Liuzhou – not Shanghai or Hong Kong.

But I’ll be damned if I am going to pay those ridiculous prices in their defective supermarket just to subsidise their lack of foresight.

大润发 (RT Mart) isn’t so convenient for me (geographically) but it is better than these jokers’ place.


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