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For You! A Box of Assorted Chinglish

Small steps only please around the vintage car. Walking is OK, running is OK, goose-stepping is also OK, but kind of silly.
Thanks to the many requests from you over the last few months, here’s another grab bag of China’s best Chinglish to brighten up your Wednesday! The final, convincing request came from my eldest daughter, who would love it if her mum’s blog could have something more ‘awesome’ than vegetables on it. Okay. 

You always wondered how they got those bears into the bile farms, right? 
Naive bears! This way please! Here’s a Bear Paradise where you can drink honey juleps all day long!
All the wordly-wise and street smart bears gave this place a wide, wide berth. 
Pete used to be allowed in, before he embarrassed himself by soiling the carpet.
With more lumber choices than Bunnings or B&Q, the well was enormously popular with home handymen and carpenters alike. Then one day – the timber just stopped.
I once had a dog….they say he was playing by the edge of the pond when an iron pillar leapt out of the water and grabbed him. Never seen again.
By an open window with a very low ledge. Four floors above the ground.
We’ve met this busy bee before, and it turns out he’s helpful on all sorts of signs. 
What exactly is he doing here though? Is he throwing a small black bee poo onto the ground? And is that scrunched up used toilet paper in his hand??
Danger! Dress watches falling from above!
In Yunnan they grow the world’s most sensitive grass. Coddled like a baby, everyone has to tiptoe around  the park at grass nap time.

Unlike the grass in Shanghai, where the neglect is obvious.
My own favourites are the Chinglish-ified shop names all over the country. Some are mystifying, some are just this side of a lawsuit, although I can’t imagine any of the big names spotting their doppelgangers in far-off places like Harbin (above) or Kaili (below).
And yes, that’s the shop owner frantically waving at me to stop taking photos. He fears copyright infringement – he’s worried I might be a retail spy planning to open my very own Boebofry store in Shanghai.

Clever. No-one would ever know this place in downtown Kaili isn’t the real thing.

Other shop names are not exactly wrong, they’re just….not quite right. Who names their store ‘Very Nice Woman’?
Or Densecity? (every time I see this shop I think of Back to the Future and George McFly saying to his future wife Lorraine – ‘I’m your density. I mean, destiny’)

Or why not pick some lotus seeds while shopping?
But the prize goes to this place. And no, it’s not that kind of shop – it sells socks.
I mean, Gina is a pretty name and everything, and the cherry blossoms and love hearts are a nice touch, but if you’re going to do something clever, it should never involve placing anything that looks remotely like the letter V before the name Gina. Just saying….

More Chinglish here:

One Night Stand at the Shanghai Vegetable Wholesale Market

It’s one in the morning and I’m speeding through the darkened outer suburbs of Shanghai, the streets peopled only by an occasional late night food stall beside the road. Mostly, the city is deserted and the sparse street lamps throw pools of pale orange light onto the blackness of the road. The elevated highway looms large and heavy alongside us. My taxi driver can’t quite believe his good luck because he’s been sitting waiting for a customer for nearly an hour before I came along with a fare worth the equivalent of two airport runs.
I’m on my way to uncover the inside story on one of Shanghai’s biggest wholesale fruit and vegetable markets, something I’ve been thinking about ever since I met and photographed the vegetable vendors at my favourite wet market on Jianguo Lu
What I hadn’t reckoned on was that these wholesale markets are like a secret society, closed to the general public and operating only in the darkest hours before dawn, by all accounts quite unsuitable places for foreign women with too much curiosity and a camera. Which of course made me want to go even more.

Living in a city with a population larger than that of many small countries poses unique food supply and distribution problems. Exactly how do you get fresh vegetables every single day to 23 million people? I want to know. To that end, I’ve already met the farmers and the vegetable sellers but I felt like a link in the chain from farm to plate was missing without meeting and knowing about those elusive middle men, the wholesalers. 
Promises by various people over several weeks to get me inside a wholesale market had all come to nothing. Last week I thought I had a watertight agreement with one vegetable vendor allowing me to accompany her on her nightly run to the market, until her husband discovered a foreigner (me) was involved and the exchange of a large sum of money (my money) suddenly became necessary, the sum quadrupling over several days until I politely declined being thoroughly fleeced by the pair of them. Disappointing, but it takes a lot more than a pair of ruthlessly entrepreneurial vegetable sellers to put me off.
But at last I’m on my way now, sitting bleary-eyed in the taxi with my number one negotiator and Chinese friend JW, who has talked her own local vegetable guy into helping us. Our man on the inside, Mr Liu, is going to meet us near the market at 2am, along with JW’s husband who is ‘bringing us snacks’ on the pretext of making sure we don’t get into any trouble amongst the late night cabbages. This feels a bit over-protective, but I don’t say anything because he probably knows a lot more about these places than I do.
Our rendezvous is a dark stretch without street lights beneath a hulking concrete overpass, the ground littered with paper and plastic bags. A group of men huddled together nearby eye us suspiciously as we step out of the taxi and suddenly I’m really pleased JW’s husband is coming too, as the reality of  the two-women-alone/city-fringes/middle-of-the-night scenario I’ve got myself into hits home.
Inside the market it’s now 2am but there are scant signs of anything happening other than a dog standing stiffly to attention at the sight of a man arriving to uncover his stall. Rows upon rows of stalls like this cover an area of more than three acres inside giant open-sided sheds, vegetables at one end of the lot, fruit in the centre, and meat and other goods at the far end.
Mr Liu, a wiry man in his early forties with an impressive economy of speech (well, it is the middle of the night), arrives at last in his empty tricycle trayback. In three hours it will be loaded sky high with his daily haul of vegetables and fruits he’ll take back to his local wet market to sell, finally finishing work at 6pm after a 1am start, seven days a week.
He tells us the vegetable section of the market opens first around 2.30am, followed by the fruit then meat and fish sections in turn. It’s important to be there early to get the best choice of produce and price, and asks respectfully but pragmatically if we can show no indication of knowing him in case it affects the prices he is quoted, but otherwise says we’re free to wander around.
Soon enough, the vegetable aisles spring into life. Tricycles arrive from every direction, loading and unloading boxes and sacks, and the noise levels rise as wholesalers spy their regulars amongst the growing crowds, banter flying back and forth. 
As I pick my way between the baskets of beautiful, concentrically arranged bok choy I get shoved and jostled in all directions, and frequently yelled at. I seem to be skilled at stepping out of one person’s way and straight into someone else’s path, usually someone carrying a heavy load of vegetables and a bad attitude.
Still, it’s tough work being awake while everyone else sleeps – the wholesalers have dark circles under their puffy eyes and probably carry years of sleep deprivation. Some seem good-humoured enough and I ask a few questions – where the produce comes from, the daily prices and so on. 
Almost all of the vegetables have been grown within a small radius of Shanghai, which would explain the similarity of produce from stall to stall and the lack of ‘exotics’ like avocados or out-of-season produce. They tell me those items can be bought at a different wholesale market nearby and I file this information away for future reference. JW raises her eyebrows at me.
Just as I’m about to take a photograph of another group of men sitting on boxes and apparently joking together, JW pulls on my arm and says urgently under her breath ‘Don’t do it. I just realised they’re from Shanxi.’ 
I’m not really sure what that means, but JW says many of the wholesalers are not Shanghainese, having come from other provinces to the big smoke to make their fortune in the cut-throat vegetable business. 
‘Those guys from Shanxi, and also from Hebei…’ she explains, ‘they’re kind of….hotheads and will maybe give you big trouble…’
At 3am trouble with gangs of men from Shanxi is the sort of trouble I can do without, thanks all the same. They’re probably just overtired.
We retreat to the relative peace of the cabbage aisle, where a fist fight is breaking out over the price of some lovely ox-heart cabbages. Nearby a woman with a very sharp knife slices the tough outer leaves from the cabbage, but because she’s wearing pearls I figure she won’t turn the knife on me if I ask a few more questions. She continues to slice furiously as I ask away and I discover the minimum purchase is one box or sack of anything, and today’s cabbage price is 8 mao (5 cents) each. Worth fighting for. 

Intermittently we run into Mr Liu as he slowly fills the tricycle tray, then arranges layers of sacks on top. While we wait for him to finish buying we explore the water goods section, which at 4am has just opened for trading.

Enormous blue plastic tubs are filled with seaweed, brined bamboo shoots, and growing bean sprouts.  The floor is awash with water because an entire tank full of fish has been emptied onto the tiled floor while four people in coloured gumboots work quickly to scale and gut them. They’re still alive while this happens. All four look at me with complete antipathy as I approach, and I turn heel and walk away. I decide gutting live fish at four in the morning must really mess with your head.

I’m beginning to feel the effects of a night without sleep now – a slight nausea, an aching tiredness, a slowness – all so familiar to me from years of hospital night shifts. I’m really happy to see Mr Liu throw the last two sacks of broad beans onto his towering tricycle, because I know the rough-talking wholesalers will be closing up shop soon and like vampires, disappearing with the arrival of the sun.
We marvel that Mr Liu sustains working like this night after night, day after day, for months on end, just like all the vegetable sellers in all the wet markets in the city. Rise at one, go to market, set up shop, work all day, eat, go to bed. It’s an undeniably hard life.
It’s 5.45am and back at his own wet market half an hour away, Mr Liu unloads the day’s worth of vegetables and fruits from his tricycle. His wife and son meet him at the stall to unload and arrange all the produce, because the market will open for trade in less than an hour and there’s a lot to do. His wife absent-mindedly snaps a green bean in half, and there’s no denying how fresh it sounds. We take our leave just as the first customers arrive.
What a night. Driving back into downtown Shanghai sleep struggles to overtake me, and I feel like I’ve spent hours discovering a frontier town rarely visited by outsiders, operating in the secret dead of night and governed by its own laws, peopled by tribes of rough men and women. Probaby from Shanxi. I imagine it’s very little different from wholesale markets anywhere in the world, except perhaps for the unique provincial factional differences and the abundance of artfully arranged bok choy.
As we part ways, I ask JW and her ever-so-patient husband if, next time I have a hare-brained idea about doing something in the middle of the night that involves them, they could politely refuse me. They both agree.

High Altitude High Tea at the Park Hyatt

My ears popped seven times as a high speed elevator flew me upwards from the darkened and sombre entrance on the ground to the light-filled lobby of the Park Hyatt hotel on the eighty-seventh floor of the Shanghai World Financial Centre. As I stepped out, the intense updraft from the tiny gap at my feet blew my hair skywards and I suddenly felt the vertiginous weak-kneed realisation of how far above the ground I now was. Very far. 
The floor-to-ceiling windows across the room exert a magnetic pull and the entire elevator crowd, like ants to honey, walked across over to lean out on the jaw-droppingly impressive view of the Chrysler-style Jin Mao Tower, the crazed pink and silver sputnik that is the Oriental Pearl Tower, and far, far below the river and the Bund, toy-size.
At this point, as I sank into a deeply comfortable linen-covered lounge, they could have served me any old thing to eat and drink and I would have been quite happy. We had visitors in town and had cycled across town from Nanchang Lu to the Bund, crossed the Huang Pu in a hulking 2 yuan ferry, then walked to the Shanghai World Financial Center from there, and we were thirsty, dusty, tired and famished.
But this being the Park Hyatt, and it being afternoon tea time, we opted for High Tea. At least, the four female members of our party did, imagining dainty pink cakes and bone china and tiny savory tarts, whilst the two males scoured the menu for a steak but had to settle instead for soup and red wine. Philistines. 
The High Tea did not disappoint.
The sweet temptations, lemon sponges topped with lemon curd, raspberry and strawberry macarons, hazelnut chocloate cupcakes, canelles, and a vanilla custard sponge roll were all exquisite little morsels.
Served alongside is your choice of tea (English Breakfast or Xihu Longjing green tea) or coffee. I’m a terrible snob when it comes to drinking tea with an afternoon tea set, but I believe if you’re paying for a proper linen-napkins-and-silver-spoons experience, the tea should be done ‘properly’. There’s nothing worse than getting a silver teapot filled to the brim with hot water and a single, lonely tea bag swimming inside it, label and all. The Park Hyatt fulfilled all my minimum requirements – bone china cup, freshly brewed leaf tea, tea strainer, separate milk and sugar jugs. Perfect. 
The savories on our two-tiered stand were, if anything, even better – a tiny crispy vol au vent filled to the brim with smooth mushroom cream, a miniature croque monsieur, a smoked salmon brioche, and a tiny ‘wonton’, actually a fine crepe filled with foie gras, a sliver of truffle, and sweet aspic, tied with a chive knot. Exceptional.

The Park Hyatt’s Lounge is a great spot for visitors to Shanghai, with its spectacular views and air of calm. They serve afternoon tea daily, as well as a selection of sweet and savory dishes and drinks. Reservations can’t be made, so come early or be prepared to wait for a window seat.
Got a favorite afternoon tea spot in Shanghai? Do tell! (but only if they make proper tea please)

Afternoon Tea at The Park Hyatt

Shanghai World Financial Centre
100 Century Avenue, Pudong
87th Floor

Phone: +86 21 68881234


Afternoon tea 2pm – 6pm
210 yuan per person plus service charge

Reservations not accepted

Shanghai Street Food #28 Sweet Osmanthus Cake: Gui Hua Gao 桂花糕

Tiny yellow osmanthus flowers, dried and sweetly scented, are scattered across the top of this light-as-a-feather steamed cake sold in bustling Sipailou Lu near Yu Gardens
As street foods go, Guì Huā Gāo 桂花糕, or sweet osmanthus cake is more delicate and lovely than most of the full-flavoured and robust fried Shanghai street foods. Made in a very traditional way, the two layers of steamed white unsweetened ‘cake’ sandwich a sweet red bean paste and black sesame seed filling, with the osmanthus flowers adding a gentle honey scent.
Sipailou Lu, where I found this gui hua gao, has a great variety of street foods but can sometimes be overwhelmingly crowded, hot and noisy, because of its close proximity to Yu Gardens and the City God Temple, but yesterday it was quiet and pleasant, all the vendors had time for a laugh and a chat, and enticing smells rose from every wok, griddle and steamer. 
In summertime, the imposing stone archway marking the entrance to the street is always lined with vendors selling fresh bright pink watermelon and pale peach-coloured Hami melon on sticks, then a row of vendors selling stinky tofu and fried potatoes, and then an assortment of noodle stalls, fried rice stands, and shao kao vendors.
Sipailou Lu Street Food Snack Street, near Yu Gardens

The gui hua gao vendor is on the right side as you enter Sipailou Lu, and she sells her cakes for 10 yuan ($1.50) for a box of nine pieces, with toothpicks so you can eat it with decorum and without getting your hands sticky. A lovely light end to a street food meal!

Sipailou Lu Street Food Snack Street
near Fangbang Lu
Best reached on foot or by bicycle from Yu Gardens.
四牌楼路, 在放榜路附近
Open seven days from morning until night
The Shanghai Street Food Series
Now in its third year!

Number 1   Roast Sweet Potatoes
Number 2   Snack-on-a-stick 
Number 3   Liangpi – a spicy cold noodle dish
Number 4   Langzhou Lamian – hand-pulled noodles
Number 5   Cong You Bing – fried shallot pancakes
Number 6   Baozi – steamed buns, Shanghai style
Number 7   Jian Bing – the famous egg pancake
Number 8   Dan Gao – street cakes
Number 9   Shao mai – sticky rice treats
Number 10  Summer on a Stick – fresh fruits

Number 11  You Tiao – deep-fried breadsticks
Number 12  Dan Juan – egg rolls
Number 13  Shao Kao – street barbecue
Number 14  Bao Mi Hua – exploding rice flowers
Number 15  Chou Doufu – stinky tofu
Number 16  Bing Tang Shan Zha – crystal sugar hawthorns
Number 17  Mutton Polo
Number 18  Yumi Bang – puffed corn sticks
Number 19  Mian Hua Tang – cotton candy
Number 20  You Dunzi – fried radish cakes

Number 21  Suzhou Shi Yue Bing – homestyle mooncakes 
Number 22  Gui Hua Lian’ou – honeyed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice
Number 23  Cong You Ban Mian – scallion oil noodles
Number 24  Guotie – potsticker dumplings
Number 25  Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes
Number 26  Da Bing, Shao Bing – sesame breakfast pastries
Number 27  Ci Fan – sticky rice breakfast balls
Number 28  Gui Hua Gao – steamed osmanthus cake
Number 29  Zongzi – bamboo leaf wrapped sticky rice
Number 30  Shengjianbao – pan-fried dumplings

Number 31  Mala Tang – DIY spicy soup

Finding the Great Chinese Campervan. And Quelling Doubts.

With only six short frantic weeks left on the countdown clock before the start of our upcoming six months of adventure around China, cold creeping panic was starting to set in because we still lacked the single  non-negotiable ingredient for a campervan trip around China. 
The campervan. 
In a trip that will see us explore back roads, small villages, and a multitude of places thankfully totally devoid of hotels, having somewhere to sleep a family of four comfortably was going to be pretty essential, plus it was going to be much more difficult to blog about The Great China Road Trip if in fact we had to take trains, buses and taxis instead. 
But our attempts to source one before now had all ended fruitlessly. Camping is not a ‘thing’ in China, although its popularity is very slowly taking hold. And campervanning? 
According to a China Daily article on March 23:
“The RV industry in China is in its infancy. Out of a population of 1.3 billion, ownership of the multipurpose vehicles totaled just 6,000 by the end of 2011. Conversely, the number is 8.9 million in the US.

..there are just a few dozen camp sites in China. The official number of camp sites around Beijing is 20, but only four are actually operational. Some of the land was developed as camp sites so the developers could claim government subsidies.”
What I wanted to know was where those 6,000 RVs were, who owned them, and who was willing to rent one to us.
So now, time ticking away, I can report that after three months, hundreds of phone calls, hours of negotiations and many moments of self-doubt later, we finally have…….drumroll please…… The Great Chinese Campervan!
OK, it’s not that Great, but it is definitely Chinese and a Campervan. And two out of three, as they say, ain’t bad. 
I know our original plans had been for a frankencamper, a kind of DIY version of a home on wheels complete with handmade curtains and cushions, but the more we looked into it the less attainable it became. 
Basically, it boiled down to this – fitting out such a vehicle would have been fiddly but totally do-able if one is handy with power tools, cabinet-making, upholstery, plumbing in tight spaces and so on (we’re not, just so you know, but we know people who know people who are). 
But a minibus large enough to convert into a campervan requires a special licence to drive, and anything over seven seats qualifies as a minibus, even if you take out all the seats and put in a bed, a stove and a media room. And minibus licences are even harder to get than a regular licence, requiring supervised tuition, logbook hours of driving practice, and then a written and practical test. I might be motivated, but I’m not that motivated. 
So it was with an enormous sigh of relief when we heard from our Chinese friend (who had been roped into helping us with the adventure from the start) that he’d found a campervan that might suit us right here in Shanghai. Frankly, it seemed too good to be true, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. 
But find one we did.
Happy to see an actual engine sitting under the hood. 
In a grey, gritty disused gravel parking lot behind some lowrise apartments in the middle of Shanghai north-nowhere, we met with a Mr Chen, standing beside his six rental campervans, all of them in varying stages of disrepair and peeling paint.  
This being China, there wasn’t actually an office as such, and none of the vans had actually been, you know, washed or cleaned as such, although it’s possible Mr Chen was using the inside of one of the campervans as a kind of convenient home office.
We’d brought reinforcements in the form of two male Chinese friends, who between them knew bugger-all about campervans but could kick tyres with the best, and were able to translate all the high-tech questions we asked. Most of which we made up on the spot, because we also know bugger-all about campervan engines. 
I could see a steep learning curve looming menacingly on our horizon. 
Even better, though, one of our Chinese friends smoked like a chimney, and everyone knows you can’t seal a Chinese business deal without the two sides smoking together. 
So we looked, and chatted, and occasionally thought up semi-useful questions to ask Mr Chen, some of which yielded surprising answers.
Me: If there are no camping grounds or public water how do you find a place to fill up the water storage tank?
Mr Chen: You should negotiate a price with a farmer and he will do it for you.
Me: Does the toilet operate on a chemical or biological waste management system?
Mr Chen: (looking sheepishly at the ground and kicking small stones with the toe of his shoe) Hmmm….it’s like this. You just open the outlet valve.
Me: What? On the side of the road? 
Mr Chen: It’s more beneficial if you do it near a farm. For the um….fertilising effects.
Me: Oh. Right. Ummm…have you driven the vans anywhere?
Mr Chen: Oh yes! This one (pointing to a decrepit vehicle covered in dust) I drove all the way from Qinghai (back of beyond) to Shanghai! 
Me: Oh. Did you have any probems with the local authorities along the way?
Mr Chen: (looking quickly sideways then avoiding my gaze altogether) No! Not even once! (in a very unconvincing voice).
After that we decided to take a look inside the three least decrepit of the six. One revealed teak panelling, dark red velour plush seats, and a few surprising features for a campervan, like two televisions and a DVD player. Possibly unnecessary. 
Eventually, out of the three, we chose the simplest and smallest. On the side door was a picture of a white rabbit, which seemed like a good omen because it reminded me of the world famous Chinese milk candy, and also of Alice in Wonderland. Now there’s a great travel adventure story.

White Rabbit. And also, the other kind of White Rabbit.

Steering wheel? Check. Seats? Check. Large roll of toilet paper in glovebox? Check.

The interior was simple, clean and basic and seemed to have everything we might need, with two bunks, a table that folded down into a very small double bed, and a tiny cubicle bathroom with a shower and toilet. There was also a kitchen nook with a sink, a tiny refrigerator, and a place where you could plug in an induction hotplate. Not bad.
So I probably shouldn’t have looked up on the roof, because it was not in good shape. But hey – this vehicle was already way better than our wildest dreams could have hoped.
Cigarettes were smoked, test drives around the gravel carpark were taken, further investigations were made of the generator, the engine, and the cupboards, and more tyres were kicked. I knew that nothing so concrete as an actual binding agreement would be made until both parties had smoked a few more cigarettes and had time to think about it how they could leverage a reduction in price (us) or an increase in price (Mr Chen). But The White Rabbit? As good as ours.

Failure is Not an Option…..Getting a Chinese Driving Licence

‘How hard can it be to get a Chinese driving licence?’ I thought to myself three years ago, fresh off the boat from Australia. I’ve been driving a car for twenty four years. Surely, like every other country in the world I can just hand them my overseas licence, get a Chinese one five minutes later, and hop in a car five minutes after that.

So now I can tell you. Getting a Chinese driving licence is not just hard, it’s practically impossible. Which might explain why, in all this time, I’ve met exactly one foreigner who has one. One. And she only ever drives between her house in the ‘burbs and her local shops.

I’m never one to step away from a challenge, but something about actually driving on China’s roads held me back. Well, several things really.

For starters, the behaviour of my fellow drivers, who seem to think reversing the wrong way down an expressway on-ramp, or doing a U-turn on a crowded pedestrian crossing, or overtaking a bicycle which is overtaking a cart around a blind corner, uphill while talking on a mobile phone, is totally normal driving behaviour. At least in China it is.

Then there was the gradual dawning that most Chinese drivers in their forties have been driving for well under five years, thanks to the difficulty and cost of buying a car and purchasing a licence plate, meaning the roads are populated by a lethal band of middle-aged teenagers.

The kind of vehicles favoured by middle-aged teens – Mini Coopers with eyelashes, or baby pink Porsches. Please note, both of these vehicles were driven by Chinese men in their late forties. 

But lastly, there was the realisation that to get a driving licence I would have to sit an actual 100-question theory test on Chinese road rules, and get ninety of them correct. Because for anyone who’s ever visited China, you will know that Chinese road rules come from a different planet altogether, somewhere between Planet Kaos and Planet Every-Man-For-Himself.

So I put off getting my licence, until it became clear to me that driving around China in a campervan was going to be pretty tricky, if not impossible, if I couldn’t legally drive. Especially after I discovered that the penalty for unlicenced driving is 15 days in the lock-up. The dream was destined to be no more than that if I didn’t get my act together.
So I registered for the test (a two hour process involving four different buildings, twenty-eight different rooms, certified copies of everything I own, a bizarre medical examination and a set of photos) and settled down to study with a printed copy of the 1500 questions I would be required to know to pass the exam.

And again I thought (fool that I am) ‘How hard can it be? I’ve been driving for twenty-four years. I’ve been riding a bicycle in Shanghai for three years. I’ve been a passenger over thousands of kilometres of observation in China. And I’ve been to Med School and passed hundreds of exams. It can’t be that difficult’

There’s a theme developing here, right? 
After the first four pages of questions I broke out in a cold sweat and realised that I had met my match in the Traffic Control Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security. Let me give you a few sample questions.

When evading an emergency, the driver should be calm and stick to the principle of

A. Evading people first and objects later
B. Evading vehicles first and objects later
C. Evading vehicles first and people later
D. Evading objects first and people later

Answer: A

When using splints, sticks, or tree branches to keep the unexposed bones in position, it is necesary that these things should

A. Exceed the upper and lower joints of the wound
B. Exceed the lower joint of the wound
C. Exceed the upper joint of the wound
D. Not exceed the upper and lower joint of the wound

Answer: A

(Actually, I got all of the twenty first aid questions wrong, being a doctor and all, because they involved questions about the exact placement of tourniquets along the length of limbs and when to take a poisoned person to get fresh air. I couldn’t make sense of a single one.)

When running on a road and encountering pedestrians crossing the road, the motorized vehicle should

A. Honk to urge the pedestrians to go faster
B. Speed up and pass
C. Reduce speed or stop and yield
D. Bypass

Answer: C

The main feature of pedestrians participating on road traffic is

A. They move slowly
B. They like to get together and look on
C. They are not stable
D. They walk around at will and can easily change directions

Answer: D

Painting and pasting signs or advertisements on the motorized vehicles should observe the principle that

A. The painting and pasting can be done at will
B. The painting and pasting are mainly for artistic consideration
C. The painting and pasting should not affect safe driving
D. The painting and pasting should be done according to customer requests

Answer: C

When a head-on collision is unavoidable, the driver should free the steering wheel, raise the leg and lie sidewards on the right seat at the moment of the head-on collision. This can ensure his body is not stuck by the steering wheel.

Answer: Correct

(Because when I’m faced with an imminent head-on collision, I always have time to let go of the steering wheel, undo my seatbelt, and move across to the passenger seat so that the steering wheel doesn’t trap me. On the other hand, sometimes I just stay put and let the airbag do its work……)

After a vehice falls into water, the wrong method for the driver to rescue himself is to
A. Close the window to prevent water flowing into the vehicle
B. Immediately use hand to open the door
C. Let the water fill up the driver’s cab so that the pressure inside and outside is equal
D. Use a large plastic bag to cover the head and tight the neck closely
Answer A (What the? It’s CORRECT to suffocate yourself with a plastic bag over your head??)
When motorized vehicles cross each other on a narrow slope, the correct method is to allow___to go first

A. The vehicle going up the slope
B. The vehicle far from the top of the slope
C. The vehicle going down the slope
D. The vehicle going up the slope should go first, if the one going down the slope is halfway on the slope and the one to go up the slope has not begun going up the slope

Answer: A (Um…..huh?)

By now I’d become confused from all the complicated questions, and suspicious of questions that seemed too overtly simple, so in my state of paranoia and second guessing I got even the most basic questions wrong.
The main role of the engine lubrication system is
A. Sealing
B. Cooling
C. Cleaning
D. Lubrication
I answered A, because by now I knew their dirty double-crossing sneaky tricks. Surprisingly, to me at least, the answer was D.

My favourites were the true/false questions, which read just like the Chinese Driving Manual. Certainly, they reflected my experience of being on Shanghai’s roads.

A person who drinks alcohol but is not drunk may drive a motorized vehicle.

When driving in windy, rainy, snowy, foggy and other complex weather conditions, the driver should turn on the head light, honk continuously and overtake rapidly if the vehicle in front goes slowly.

When following a vehicle, the following vehicle may use the high beam light.

When driving, the driver may spit to the road or street out of the window.

The driver of a motorized vehicle may drive a police car, a fire engine, a wrecker or an ambulance during the period of probation.

A motorized vehicle may make a U turn on an uphill road.

A motorized vehicle may make a U turn on the ramp of an expressway.

A motorized vehicle may reverse at an intersection.

A motorized vehicle may reverse on a one-way road.

If a motorized vehicle hits a building, a public facility or other facility, the driver may leave the scene right away.

When encountering slow-moving old people crossing the road, the driver may continuously honk to urge them.

A siren may be installed on a motor vehicle according to personal need.

(all false, not that you’d know it. But gee, I’ve always wanted my own siren)

For a whole week I did nothing but study those 1500 questions. I didn’t go out. I didn’t see friends. I barely saw my children. My husband I did see, because he was studying for the test too. We drank coffee, gallons of it, and hardly slept.

So it was in a pretty major state of anxiety that I submitted myself to the Traffic Control Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security, Shanghai Divison, for my test this week. After five hours’ sleep and four cups of coffee between 5am and 9.15am, I sat down at the computer terminal shaking like a jackhammer, convinced of my imminent failure. It didn’t help that we ran into a European guy leaving as we arrived, shaking his head and saying ‘Tough test. Just failed.’ Bugger.

But I took the advice of the experts. I didn’t draw on my past experience. I didn’t use any common sense. I just parroted the answers I had learned, by rote, over the previous week. Ten questions, fifty, one hundred. Sixty multichoice, forty true/false questions.

With heightened anxiety, I hit the ‘Submit’ button. Immediately, the invigilator walked over and pressed a button on my keyboard. The screen flashed red, never a good sign, and under the Chinese instructions on screen I read ‘Review the Incorrect Answers’. I sighed. This didn’t look good.

I had no idea if I’d passed or failed, but claerly I was going to be forced to sit and revisit every queston I’d answered incorrectly, one by one. He pressed another button and my first incorrect answer appeared on the accusing red screen. Then the second. Then the third. I began to feel really quite ill. Please don’t let there be more than ten! Please don’t let there be more than ten! I thought feverishly.

Then the fourth. The colour started to drain from my face. This was excruciating. Please, please, please…..

He hit another button.

A green screen appeared. 96%. NINETY SIX PER CENT!!!!!

I passed!!

I really, really passed! We both passed!!

And just after this photo was taken it suddenly hit me like a tonne of bricks. 
Now I have to drive on actual Chinese roads. With all those middle-aged teenagers. Hol-y hell. And I thought the test was frightening.
Next post: In which we finally find a campervan

Weird and Wacky Chinese Icecreams: Ten of the Best

The days in Shanghai have suddenly turned scorching hot, and signs of summer are everywhere. Winter street-strolling pyjamas have been packed away in exchange for comfortable shortie pyjamas and frilled nightdresses, a very fetching look when matched with hair curlers. The trees are a dense bright green, and the tropical fruits – mangoes, lychees, mangosteens and pipas are filling the street fruit stalls.
At the little nickel and dime shops selling tobacco, liquor, shampoo and sundries, they have all wheeled chest freezers out of the back room and onto the footpath, filling them with brightly coloured frozen delights. It’s been a tough task, but over the last two days I’ve sampled every Chinese ice treat you can buy and some of them I even came close to finishing. Acquired taste? See for yourself. Here’s ten of the weirdest, wackiest, most innovative and tasty!

1. Ice-cream Stuffed Sticky Rice Balls

Chinese Name: Nuo Zi Zi 糯滋滋

English Translation: Sticky Rice Bursting with Flavour 
Price: 4.5 yuan (75 cents)
Taste: I wasn’t sure what these were exactly, and when I pulled the plastic tray out of the packet I was disappointed to see something resembling frozen condensed milk instead of plump white balls like the picture. But if you flip one out then let it thaw for a minute or so, it’s surprisingly good – soft, stretchy sticky rice, like a matcha ball, covering a vanilla icecream centre. It’s certainly different to any icecream I’ve ever had.
Score: 5/10

2. Iced Hawthorn Popsicle

Chinese Name: Bing Gongchang Shanzha Shuang 冰工厂山楂爽

English Name: Ice Factory Invigorating Hawthorn. With 20% real fruit.

Price: 2 yuan (30 cents)

Taste: Yum! Terrific slightly sour apple flavour with small soft pieces of red hawthorn in the centre. Simple, as Chinese ice treats go, but that’s not always a bad thing (see below).

Score: 6/10

3. Citrus Spiral

Chinese Name: Qi Cai Xuan 奇彩旋
English Name: Fresh Colourful Spiral
Price: 2 yuan (30 cents)
Taste: Supposedly lemon and orange flavoured, or lemon and lime flavoured, but there was zero hint of citrus in these icypoles and the spiral came apart after three licks, leaving you with sticky chunks of coloured sugar ice in your hand.
Score: 3/10

4. Green Mood

Chinese Name: Liu Si Xinqing 绿色心情
English Name: Green Coloured State of Mind
Price: 2 yuan (30 cents)
Taste: We had to get to the bad icecreams sooner or later, and this one’s a ripper.  Made from green mung beans, it has an off-putting mushy pea colour and aroma, and a taste just like frozen powdered mashed potatoes with a hint of grass. 
These bean icecreams are enormously popular in summer, and although personally they turn my stomach I believe traditional Chinese medicine recommends them for reducing heat in the body. This job could possibly also be achieved with anything cold, like vanilla icecream, but if you work on the principle that if it tastes bad it must be good for you, then you’ll love these.
Score: 1/10

5. Viennetta

Chinese Name: Qian Ceng Xue Bang 千层雪棒
English Name: Thousand-layered Snow Stick
Price: 6 yuan ($1)
Taste: Now here’s something more familiar, as the large family-size Viennetta logs that occasionally made an appearance in my childhood, this single serve Viennetta import comes in its own plastic tray so if the weight of a thousand layers gets too heavy for your wrist you can rest it for a second before hefting it to your mouth again. 
In reality though, there is only one visible layer of ice-cream covered with the scantiest film of chocolate imaginable. A rip-off, but a massive hit here, perhaps because it’s foreign.
Score: 4/10

6. Fragrant Corn

Chinese Name: Yu Mi Xiang 玉米香

English Name: Fragrant Corn
Price: 2 yuan (30 cents)
Taste: After the disaster of the bean icecream, I really expected to pull a frozen cob of corn out of this packet. To my very great surprise, this icecream is made of delicious vanilla icecream covered in a corn wafer shaped just like a cob of corn. I’m not entirely sure why an icecream shaped like a vegetable would be attractive, but there you go.
Score: 6/10

7. Bright Icecream Brick

Chinese Name: Guang Ming Bing Zhuan 光明冰砖
English Name: Bright Icecream Brick
Price: 3 yuan (50 cents)
Taste: A sentimental favourite for every Chinese person I know, the Bright Brand icecream company has been in business since 1915 and the flavour is pretty much unchanged. Soft, light vanilla icecream with a very smooth, creamy texture, you can buy them by the brick to take home to eat with a spoon. They’re not so practical to eat straight from the box. 
My Chinese friend tells me she and her brother were only allowed one to share, a very rare treat, and the division of the brick was made down to the last millimetre using a ruler.
Score: 8/10

8. Bright Brand Icypoles

Chinese Name: Guangming Pai Bang Bing
English Name: Bright Brand Stick Ice
Price: 1 yuan (15 cents)
Taste: How can it be that the company making the best icecream in this list (Number 7, above) also makes the most abominable tasting ice confection in the world?
The slim white icypole on the left is innocuously sweet, lacking other flavour except for the unmistakable touch of salt. Ruins it really. 
But that icypole on the right, now, I’m just going to go right out and say what we’re all thinking – it looks like frozen vomit, doesn’t it? A nauseating mixture of solid and liquid bits frozen together in one swamp-coloured block. You can see from the bite taken that I brought myself to taste it, and involuntarily spat it all straight out again. Watch it, because these things are lurking in your local freezer cabinet.
Score: Is it possible to score less than zero? Actually, I’m going to give these half a mark on the basis of a very nostalgic tale told by by the same Chinese friend. When she was little, almost no-one had a refrigerator of their own so the ice-cream man would wheel around on his tricycle with a wooden box of these icypoles on the back. Children would know he was coming by the ‘bang-bing’ noise he made by striking the top of the wooden box with a stick, and they would come flocking. A Chinese version of Greensleeves, really.

9. Chocolate Happy Delicious

Chinese Name: Qiao Le Zi 巧乐滋
English Name: Chocolate Happy Delicious
Price: 4.5 yuan (75 cents)
Taste: Possibly the most complicated layered icecreams ever, these have a chocolate coating, an inner solid chocolate core studded with nuts or crispies, and pockets of berry-flavoured syrup in between. Rich and sweet, I was only meant to have one bite but somehow the whole thing disappeared….
The couple advertising the youthfulness of these icecreams are singer Luo Zhi Xiang and model Angela Baby (her real name).
Score: 7/10

10. Creamy Oats Delight

Chinese Name: Ruyan Fengqing 乳燕风情 
English Name: A Young Swallow’s Amorous Feelings
Price: 3 yuan (50 cents)
Taste: When I bit into this creamy vanilla icecream a liquid centre tasting just like condensed milk welled up and out. A few more bites and it was running down my wrist, and when I took a bite of the toasted oats at the base of the icecream I tipped it sideways, spilling the syrupy centre down my dress. I quite liked the biscuity flavour and crunchy texture of the oats, but overall too messy for my liking.
As for the name, everyone I asked is clueless, and no, it doesn’t come from a famous poem or story. Maybe young swallows love oats and condensed milk. 
Score: 5/10

Dishonourable Mention
11. Black Rice Cake

Chinese Name: Hei Mi Gao 黑米糕

English Name: Black Rice Cake

Price: 2 yuan (30 cents)

Taste: Whoever thought that black was a great colour for an icecream was way wrong. Looking nothing like the packet’s graphic, I pulled a slightly lopsided skinny rectangular block out of the bag, the thin icy coating barely concealing the black centre, giving the icecream a pallid and unappetising grey colour. One bite, and my worst fears were confirmed – the gelatinous frozen sticky rice tasted even worse than it looked and was studded with pieces of something hideous. One bite wasn’t enough to identify them but I certainly wasn’t sticking around to find out what they were. In the bin, the whole thing.

Score: 0/10

OK, now it’s your turn to spill the beans on your most (and least) favourite icecream flavours – is it red bean? is it jujube? has it got disconcerting solid bits in it?

Lao Zheng Xing Restaurant: A Shanghai Classic

Back in Shanghai, and all I can think about now is getting back into some really fabulous local Chinese food. 

I’ve adopted a project between now and when the Great Chinese Campervan Adventure begins in July – to find and eat at all of Shanghai’s favourite Shanghainese restaurants. Not content with four or five, I want to try all the places locals love and consider the city’s best, so I asked a Shanghai foodie friend to help me compile a list of them and come along with me to taste their wares. She hesitated for all of…er… half a second before agreeing to be my accomplice.

A place I’d already tried made her shortlist – Lao Zheng Xing restaurant on Fuzhou Lu. It’s just down the road from Shanghai’s Foreign Languages bookstore, a frequent haunt, and I had walked past the double gold doors several times without realising there was a great restaurant upstairs. The doors open on to a very nondescript foyer that could easily belong to an office building, and the heavy black and gold sign above the doors is a trap for young players like myself, reading right to left in the traditional way, rather than left to right. So when I did once glance at it, it made no sense at all. 

Only when you cross to the other side of the road do you suddenly see this is, in fact, a place famous enough to deserve golden clouds and its name written two storys high above the street. Impressive.
L: kaofu    R: crispy fried yellow fish

Inside, a large silk painting of pink peonies looks over the dining room, furnished with old wooden tables inlaid with the character Xing in mother-of-pearl. We begin with a selection of cold dishes (涼菜 liáng cài), ordered at the start of every meal and shared amongst the table. Eating cold dishes first took some getting used to – cold jellyfish, cold poached chicken, cold roast meats – but they really are a great build-up and a contrast to the hot dishes to come.

Lao Zheng Xing’s menu has a long list of Shanghai’s traditional classics like red dates with lotus seeds (莲子黑的红枣) (top) – sweet little smoky morsels of warm, soft date with nuttier, paler lotus seeds in a light syrup – and kaofu (烤麸), a rich combination of poached peanuts, lotus seeds, black wood ear mushrooms and soft, sponge-like gluten poached with soy, dark sugar and star anise. 

 The platter of crispy fried yellow fish is not to everyone’s taste – dry, crunchy and cold but  certainly traditional.

The hot dishes start arriving: red-braised pork belly (hong shao rou 红烧肉), soft as butter, with a sweet, sticky soy syrup coating every bite. Each Shanghai restaurant does this classic dish a little differently and I like Lao Zheng Xing’s version because it’s less sweet than most. The pork belly is followed by braised bamboo shoots, again in a sweet soy glaze, and lightly peppered beef tenderloin that disappears faster than should be humanly possible. 

We don’t want to eat too many hot dishes, saving ourselves for dumplings, so we decline the house specialty – crispy pork intestines on a bed of stir-fried alfalfa sprouts. 

On most Chinese menus, the place where you would normally look for deserts is occupied by an assortment of hot savoury snacks, considered a fitting end to a meal. Dumplings, savoury pastries, noodles, fried rice, and some soups take the place of cakes, puddings and sweets. The typical plate of sliced fruit is often not listed, because you need only ask for it when you’re ready.

In place of desert we try a basket of Lao Zheng Xing’s xiaolongbao – they are really beautiful with their rosette of pleats – but within minutes they have disappointingly deflated and four of them break on being lifted. So not the best xiaolongbao in Shanghai, but certainly not the worst (that honour belongs to the flabby, thick-skinned greasy atrocities passed off as xiaolongbao by the Nanxiang Xiaolongbao restaurant at Yu Gardens).  

The wonton soup though is outstanding – a clear chicken stock broth dotted with scallions and filled with slippery shreds of fine dumpling skin holding the tiniest bite of flavoursome pork. The soup arrived in a bowl the size of a tureen, empty soon after. I don’t even miss the taste something sweet to end the meal.

At the table next to us, a group of ten octogenarians are in high spirits over their meal, spinning the lazy susan with enthusiasm and drinking oolong tea like there’s no tomorrow. The waitstaff treat them like the regulars they no doubt are. In fact, I look forward to becoming a regular here myself. Maybe I’ll even have the intestines next time.
Got a favourite Shanghainese restaurant anywhere in the world? Pass it on!
Lao Zheng Xing Restaurant
556 Fuzhou Lu
Huangpu  District
+86 21 63222624

Open seven days for lunch and dinner
Shanghai Foreign Languages Bookstore
390 Fuzhou Lu
Huangpu District
+86 21 6322 3200

Open 7 days 9.30am – 7pm