Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

4G BRT

4g

Local media are reporting that a passenger (probably fictitious) on Liuzhou’s much derided BRT or so-called ‘rapid’ bus system was surprised to find the bus providing free wireless high speed internet access via China Mobile 4G.

It is said that the system was being tested on one bus before being rolled out to the entire BRT service. Passengers will be allowed 10 free hours per month.

When they announced the rapid bus service we all assumed they meant the buses would be rapid. Now it turns out that they meant the internet access, which allows you to stream movies to keep you amused when stuck in yet another traffic jam.

Liuzhou Leprosy

Leprosy still carries with it the horror stories we were told as children. A strange, disfiguring disease found in far away places; bits of your body falling off; and finally an agonising death. There was an element of racism involved; it only affected foreigners. Or, very occasionally it would be passed by unscrupulous foreign victims to their benevolent Christian missionary doctors.

Of course, this was all nonsense. Cruel nonsense. But fear, ignorance and stupidity never go away.

95% of people are naturally immune to the disease and while there is no doubt that it is a very unpleasant disease, today it is treatable and the number of cases is falling. Most cases are in India, Brazil and Burma, but it can turn up anywhere. The USA has about 90 cases a year, although the UK has had no cases since 1901.

China has a relatively high number of recovered Leprosy sufferers, but many of these are hidden away in so-called Recovered Villages still shunned and stigmatized, despite being non-infectious. The number of new case is very small and, following the global pattern, is falling.

Leprosy Village, China (still occupied by recovered patients)

Leprosy Village, China (still occupied by recovered patients)

world-leprosy-eradication-day_447Other cities in China have organised awareness campaigns to educate the public about leprosy, particularly around January 26th (or the nearest Sunday) which has been designated as World Leprosy Day. But trust Liuzhou to screw up. There are currently 14 known cases of leprosy in Liuzhou – 4 in the city proper, 4 in Liujiang, 2 in Liucheng, 2 in Rongshui Miao Autonomous County, 1 in Luzhai County, and 1 in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County.  Local health authorities have announced that “In recent years, the continued emergence of new leprosy patients in the city shows that there is a rebound in signs of a leprosy epidemic, and that outlook for controlling control the situation is not optimistic.” This statement is simple scaremongering and goes against all known medical knowledge and advice.

Now, they are introducing an award system for reporting new cases. Medical workers will be eligible for 2000元 ‘prizes’ for confirmed diagnoses of leprosy, while 30元 ‘prizes’ will be awarded for reporting suspicious symptoms, whether or not these are subsequently confirmed. Of course, the use of language such as ‘suspicious’ tends to imply some sort of guilt on the part of the patient and an award system seems to carry echoes of Wild West wanted posters. All very negative.

An excellent and highly informative novel about a leper colony on a Greek Island is Victoria Hislop’s The Island. Recommended.

Friday Food 121 – Dried Watercress

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 what looks like a cow pat.

A couple of weeks back, I came across a bag containing what appeared to be something a cow might have deposited on the stable floor. It was on sale in a grocery store so, of course, I bought it. The description on the wrapping said it was 西洋采干, which I know to be dried watercress.

Dried Watercress

Also included in wrappings was a small bag of various ingredients.

Soup Fixings

At the top we have 蜜枣 or candied jujube. Then from left to right, 花生仁 (peanut kernels), 茨实米 (fox nuts), 山药 (Chinese yam).

What I have is the dried fixings for a  soup – not an instant soup. In fact a very slow soup.

Why, you may ask, would I want to use dried watercress when fresh watercress is widely available? Isn’t fresh better?

Watercress

Fresh Watercress

My answer is “Not necessarily.”

Drying, smoking, curing etc were first used as a means of preserving food for the lean times, or because of lack of refrigeration. But people quickly caught on to the fact that preservation often changes food’s taste, often for the better. Bacon was first made to preserve pork against decay in hat weather; today no one makes bacon because their fridge is bust! They make it and we eat it because it tastes damn food.

Similarly, people often ask me why I buy dried and fresh shiitake mushrooms. Because they are different! Fresh is good, but I wouldn’t say better. The two have different applications.

Whether or not this applied to dried watercress or not, I had no idea, so I had to test it. I regularly make watercress soup from fresh watercress, so I knew what I would be comparing the dried stuff with.

I read the instructions. They tell me to tale  all the ingredients provided and soak them in warm water for 3-5 minutes, then wash them. I’m then invited to add 500g of chopped pork ribs, some ginger and boil the lot together for 2-3 hours. (Alternatively, the pork can be replaced by 600g of fish head (washed and fried to colour)).

You know what? I don’t think I’ll bother. My fresh watercress soup takes 30 minutes maximum and tastes of watercress. Boiling it for 2-3 hours would result in sludge.

There is a great read on the whole subject of watercress here. It doesn’t mention dried watercress, though. Probably sensible

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

barrier0

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.

barrier1

barrier2

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.

blood house3

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.


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