Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China



November 11th. In my mind it is inextricably linked to poppies and remembrance. As you probably know, World War One officially ended at 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 and the approximately 10,000,000 dead are remembered in the UK each year at the precise minute of the anniversary. The remembrance has since been extended to include all the dead in all wars.

Her Maj and her government come out on the nearest Sunday and lay wreaths on the Cenotaph in central London while a minute’s silence is observed.


Betty lays her wreath – November 9th 2014

Of course, China knows nothing of this and has come up with a totally different ceremony. In recent years, November 11th has become known as  光棍节 or ‘Singles Day’. The unofficial celebration originated in Nanjing University in the late 1990s when some bright sparks with no girlfriends noticed the significance of all those number ones. It really took off in 2011, when the date was 11-11-11 and rapidly spread through China’s college students.

Today, various dating (often blind) events are organised and, well, it’s sort of a meat market really. It’s odd, I think, to have a festival about being single in which everyone tries not to be. But why shouldn’t the lonely have a special day, too?

Of course, being solidly communist capitalist, China (mainly in the form of Alibaba and its on-line shopping site, Taobao) has tagged on to the popularity of the celebrations and turned it into the world’s largest on-line shopping day. Today is a good day to be the owner of a delivery company and a shit day to work for one. Billions of Yuan (The equivalent of $5.8 billion US, last year, for Alibaba Group alone) are spent. A lot of parcels to deliver. Every year the press carries images of delivery stations overflowing with parcels.


China was slow to get into on-line shopping, but have now fully embraced it. But I struggle to connect being single with shopping!

That said, I often use on-line shopping myself. I can get things on-line that I can’t find in Liuzhou and of the things I can find, they are usually cheaper on-line.

For the record, I am single. At last.

Update. It has been reported that Alibaba’s Single’s Day sales for this year were 57,112,181,350元 ($9.3bn / £5.9bn)


Reversing King

In another moment of madness, Liuzhou is having a “Reversing King* Competition”. This requires drivers to do the simple sort of parallel parking which is necessary to pass a driving test in most places, but not China.


Left a bit. Right a bit. No Right! Damn! Try again.

I’ve often said the locals just can’t reverse their vehicles without someone to guide them. Hence why every parking lot has at least one ‘reversing’ assistant.

In the competition, drivers are required to reverse an Audi A3 car into a space 5 metres long and metres wide. You know, the sort of place you could park a bus!

It has emerged during the qualifying stages that none of the qualifiers are actually from Liuzhou. Not a Liuzhou skill, it seems, somewhat embarrassing the self-professed “Motor City”.

The final was to have taken place on Sunday last, but was postponed until Saturday 15th. Parking in the rain is just too difficult.

The venue is 36 箭盘路, just 500 metres south of the Industrial Museum. The competition is, of course, a stunt to advertise yet another housing project. First prize is ¥5,000 in shopping vouchers and a year’s free property service charges in their ghetto. Of course, you would have to buy an apartment to get that part of your prize.

* Note. “King” is a non-gender-specific word in Chinese. A Queen is a female king. (女王)

Lock Cock-Up

Anyone who knows me, or anyone who has read more than a half dozen of my posts here, will know that I have a long-standing aversion to hatred of those horrible e-bikes (or e-donkeys are the local call them) which choke the city, turning it into one huge bike park. So, this little story in the local rag yesterday had me giggling over my noodles.

It seems a Ms. Wang () parked her donkey in the designated area outside the Eye Hospital on Zhongshan Road (中山路) at 5 pm. Half an hour later, she returned to find that there was a lock on the front wheel which wasn’t hers. Next to her donkey was another which had no lock at all.

She was due to pick up her child from school so felt somewhat anxious, and attempted to get help from the parking attendant, who advised her to call the police. The police arrived and advised her to make alternative arrangements with her husband to collect the kid. They also suggested that she go eat with relations locally and asked the attendant to call her and them when the owner of the adjacent bike turned up. This she did.

At ten o’clock, a Ms Wei () turned up to retrieve her donkey. And was surprised by all the fuss. She said that she worked nearby and was in a rush to get to work when she parked. She accidentally locked the wrong bike.

The thing is Ms Wang’s bike is yellow. Ms Wei’s is black. Who is the donkey?

Fish Wars?

At 7 .00 yesterday morning, a Mr Long of Shatang Town just to the north of Liuzhou city headed out to feed the fish on his fish farm, which he has run for twenty years. These are mainly young grass carp, with some bullhead carp etc. Local standbys. To his horror he found that each and every one of his 40,000 fish had turned belly up.

Dead Fish

Dead Fish

Mr. Long is convinced that the deaths are suspicious. He points out that adverse weather conditions can lead to losses caused by hypoxia, but only his pond was affected and not neighbouring ponds owned by others. Also, he says, natural causes are unlikely to wipe out 100% of the fish overnight. He suspects deliberate poisoning.

Samples of the water and the dead fish are being tested.

Mr Long’s direct losses amount to approximately 30,000元  (5,000 US$;  £3,000) – a lot for a Chinese farmer.

Burma – Liuzhou Lost Sister

Liuzhou has an almost forgotten, but important connection with Burma (or Myanmar, as I don’t prefer). In 1942, there was a significant number of Overseas Chinese living in Burma – many in Yangon (Rangoon), then the capital city. 1942 was the year the Japanese army invaded the country, eventually taking total control which lasted until the end of WWII and Japan’s defeat.

Baker's Shop - Mandalay Chinatown

Baker’s Shop – Mandalay Chinatown, 1886

Many of the Chinese residents fled north, first to the second city, Mandalay until that too came under attack. Finally they headed further north, returning to China across the border with China’s Yunnan province. Many headed from there to Kunming, then eastwards. Due to the rail network at the time, many of them ended up in Liuzhou. It was estimated that between three or four thousand returning Chinese refugees were billeted in Liuzhou – in  various shelters, transit accommodation stations, almshouses, mainly run by government relief agencies, foreign charities and community organizations.

As with all wars, families were split up and, in many cases, never re-established contact. One such family is that of Huang Junjun (黄军军). Now aged 77 and living in Beijing, she was a mere five years old when the Japanese invaded. The family fled from Yangon to Mandalay. There her father arranged with his mother that she go ahead to Yunnan in a hired car with the children, Junjun, her two elder brothers and two younger sisters. The plan was that the rest of the family would follow later and join them in Kunming.

Grandmother successfully crossed the border with the children and reached the Yunnan city of Baoshan. Unfortunately, as soon as they arrived, the city was bombed by the Japanese and somehow Junjun was separated from the others. It seems she made her way back to Burma and rejoined her parents.

In the meantime’ Grandma set out with the kids for her ancestral home in Guandong, Finally, weak and ill she arrived in Liuzhou where she stopped. Sadly, Junjun’s eldest brother Huang Peipei (黄培培) didn’t make it. He died, aged 11,  on the road.

The grandmother’s health continued to decline and she was unable to look after all the children. It was decided that one of Junjun’s sisters, Huang Niaoniao (黄袅袅) be fostered out and she was placed with a Singaporean-Chinese couple (the wife’s family name being Chen () is all they remember),  living somewhere in Liuzhou’s Yufeng district. At one point the fostering arrangement became an adoption – and that was the last anyone heard of Niaoniao.

In 1944, Liuzhou, too, was occupied by the Japanese and many people fled. Then, after the war with Japan ended, the Chinese revolution was underway. The chaos of the cultural revolution helped none. In the 1960s or 1970s, Junjun’s remaining brother, 黄文文, then living in Wuhan, revisited Liuzhou and attempted to track down his sister, with no success.

Now Junjun is renewing the search and has called upon Liuzhou’s Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese for assistance, which they are trying to provide, although they admit it is a haystack-needle situation. If she is still alive, Niaoniao will be 75 years old. She may not even be in China. The brother Wenwen now lives in the USA, but is planning to return to rejoin the hunt.

The Huang Family. Junjun is wearing the darker top on the right. The missing Niaoniao is in her father's arms.

The Huang Family. Junjun is wearing the darker top on the right. The missing Niaoniao is in her father’s arms.

I wish them luck.

Danwei Model Workers 2014

Danwei Model Wrokers 2014This blog is proud, delighted and honoured to be once again included in Danwei’s list of “the best websites, blogs, Twitter feeds and podcasts on China”.  The awards started in 2005 and Liuzhou Laowai has been listed every time.

The only site missing is Danwei itself. Beijing based and now owned by the Financial Times group, but still run by its founder, Jeremy Goldkorn, Danwei is a Chinese media, news and internet consultancy (plus some – plus a lot).

To my utter astonishment the blog will be ten years old in December. I never thought it would last ten weeks. But thanks to all the readers who have passed through, and particularly the encouragement and support of Jeremy and his team, I’m still waffling on.

 But enough about me. Do visit the awards list, please. There are some amazing resources there for anyone interested in any aspect of China and I’m kind of embarrassed to be included.

Thanks guys.

Roof Search

Approximately every couple of months, some website or other posts this old series of pictures. Another turned up yesterday.


They claim to be of a rooftop farm on top of a brewery in Liuzhou. According to the various websites (which only repeat what the last one said, the “farm” grows rice, vegetables and lotus above their beer production plant.



They can’t be growing any useful quantity of rice in that small “paddy”. Or much of anything else. The whole “farm” is a mere 0.2 hectares. I spent two years staring at paddy fields right outside my apartment in Hunan, back in the 1990s.  They were huge. 0.2 hectares isn’t a farm. It’s an allotment.





Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for more ecological agriculture etc. But I’m thinking this is just a publicity stunt. A failed one. Whatever they are publicising is never mentioned in the many reports. Which brewery it is is never mentioned. And no one I know has the faintest idea where it is.

I’m willing to concede it may exist (although I’ve seen many reports of non-existent projects in Liuzhou) but I have asked people who would know as part of their job, but always hitting a blank wall. If anyone knows where it is, if it is, please let me know.

Liuzhou used to have its own beer. Yufeng Beer. It was cheap. ¥1 a bottle, as I remember. It was foul. Watery and tasted of formaldehyde. One Chinese acquaintance dismissed it as “peasant’s beer”, the worst insult he could think of. I remember one notable banquet thrown by Liuzhou government many years ago in Liuzhou Hotel (柳州饭店). To promote the city, they served only local products such as the Yufeng beer, locally made 甲天下 cigarettes and Golden Throat lozenges along with the food. Everyone refused to drink the beer and after a near riot, staff were sent to find Liquan beer (made in Guilin). Embarrassment all round.

Several years ago, the nasty brew disappeared. At least, I’ve haven’t seen it in years. Thank the gods.


Beauty Contest

Many years after the western world abandoned the crass, sexist spectacle of the Miss World Beauty Contest, it continues in Asia. China hosted the event in Hainan in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2010.

Round here, things are done a bit differently.

Liuzhou’s Sanjiang county held a beauty contest recently. No sexism or misogyny involved. No vacuous questions about how the contestants would change the world. No vacuous answers from vain, vacuous bimbos about ending war and being kind to babies and animals.

Nope! This was a sweet potato beauty contest. And sweet potatoes don’t talk.


Judging the spuds

It seems that China produces 90% of the world’s sweet potatoes.  And the competition was held to identify the “most beautiful”. According to reports, the criteria for this is “weight, outer beauty, and inner-character. To win, only a truly well-rounded root vegetable could come out on top.”

Seems reasonable to me.

Up close and personal

Up close and personal

The majority of sweet potatoes are fed to pigs.

Sadly the reports don’t show the winner. Chinese journalism at its best.

Smugglers and Traffickers

Police across Guangxi are said to be stepping up their anti-smuggling activities.  A number of Chinese citizens have recently crossed illegally into Vietnam by land and sea to engage in “smuggling drugs, trafficking wild animals, including pangolins and rhino horns, or precious woods to seek huge profits”, according to a spokesperson for the  Guangxi Frontier Inspection Department.

Apprehended smuggler with his stash of pangolins

Apprehended smuggler with his stash of pangolins

The spokesman added that in many cities in Guangxi, including Nanning and Liuzhou, frontier inspection police have been conducting special operations that target criminals engaged in smuggling.

Meanwhile, border-frontier police are paying frequent visits to villages, train stations and ports to investigate “suspicious people”, and they have intensified supervision of private ships to prevent them from transporting criminals across the border, he said. They have also deployed more officers in villages to prevent villagers from guiding criminals to Vietnam along footpaths, said a news officer from the Liuzhou city frontier inspection department.

Two traffickers were convicted of transporting people over the border illegally and sentenced to three years in prison. Four Xinjiang suspects were accused of illegally crossing the border and sentenced to 11 months by Guangxi Dongxing City People’s Court.

A Million Vehicles

20141025092006975Tucked away in an article praising themselves as usual, is the news that Liuzhou now has over a million vehicles in the urban area alone.

Figures given by Liuzhou City Public Security Bureau Traffic Police Detachment, say that, as of September 20th 2014, there are approximately 250,000 cars, 100,000 motorcycles and 690,000 e-bikes registered in the urban area alone. (Including non-urban areas there are 840,000 vehicles in Liuzhou excluding e-bikes.) No figure is given for push bikes, which no longer require registration.

The story in which this information is hidden is about the new “motorless vehicle” lanes they are introducing. Surveys say that 80% of interviewees are in favour of the concept, but few people are using them – perhaps because they aren’t where people want to go.

20141025092006603However, even if they were used, it would be overwhelmingly by e-bike owners. E-bikes are classified as non-motorised.

Car drivers are now complaining that the lanes take up valuable parking space and are moaning about the ¥150 fines for parking on them.

The authorities belatedly beginning to realise that the city is rapidly choking to a halt and are encouraging people to use public transport, in particular the ridiculous BRT buses, which are no faster than the regular buses, and their green hire bicycles.

No chance.

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