About clutten

I have 30 years experience in the engineering sector, the last 12 as a specialist engineering recruiter. I'm a university graduate (BSc Civil Engineering) and in my earlier years I worked on large infrastructure and building projects in South Africa and the Middle East. I know engineering and in particular how to identify exceptional engineering talent. The majority of my clients are medium-sized engineering companies who know exactly what they want. They know what I can give them and rely on me to hit the mark every time.

This is the end, my friend (The Doors)

This is my last entry on this most fascinating trip to China. It was a real eye opener and I’m happy to say that it has made me more aware of the world, more tolerant of other cultures, more open to different ways of doing things. Sylvia, you need no guidance in life, you already know where you stand, but Kingsley and Ashley, you guys just have to travel. The more you see, the more you interact, the mor rounded you’ll become.

Here’s some stories that slipped through the cracks.

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These are wooden carvings in Chengdu that sell on the north side of RMB 1m. They are made from petrified hardwoods that may be thousands of years old. This is wood that gets covered underground (ancient timber structure, perhaps?) and lays in an ideal environment which makes it dense and black. To find pieces this size (these are man size) is extremely rare and to carve one up must take huge balls. Apparently is is worth more than gold in its raw state and they occasionally get unearthed by peasant farmers.

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This is Nancy showing me how to write the traditional way. She is an arts graduate, couldn’t find a job so went into sales. When you use the traditional brushes the heal of your palm mustn’t touch the surface – the movement comes from your arm. I asked her how children learn to write in China. I explained that in the western world you start with shapes (circles, lines) which combine to form letters. Then the children learn letters and then simple words (cat,dog). I couldn’t see how you could just jump straight in with an entire word – each symbol in Chinese is a whole word. She understood what I was saying and said that firstly children start school at 3 and then for the first year they basically just scribble to build up the muscles in their arms and hands. Then they also have very simplex character-words that they start with. For example the number 1 is just one horizantol line. A 2 is two horizantol lines.

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The older buildings have lips on the bottoms of doors, originally to keep out external elements (rats, flooods) but they grew into status symbols. The ones in the palaces were often the size of trees.

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This is just a funny picture. This dude was trimming a 10m wide hedge and there were no pathfinderhs into the centre of the hedge.

And that’s it. Back home tomorrow afternoon. Cheers.

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Pearl Market

The Pearl Market is a 4 storey building flea market that happens to have one total floor dedicated to just pearls. The building.is probably the size of Stuttafords in town. I just went to have a look because that is supposed to be THE place to shop for the things that us souties like (electronics, clothes, etc). It was utterly exhausting and I left after 15 minutes. Every stall owner harrasses you as you pass to “look-see-buy” so you try and avoid eye contact and just walk on by. But the whole point of going there is to window shop so you do end up looking -and then they’ve got you! Then if you see something interesting and are curious about the price then oh hell, they just pound you. Some peope get a thrill out of it, I didn’t. So I can’t even say if their prices were competitive or not.

I can tell you that for most things China is the same or more expensive than South Africa. The cheap cinese goods that we get in SA are made in bulk and channelled to the big buyers. The little guy in China.seldom gets a sniff. Apparently if you want to get cheap then go to Hong Kong because they’re in on the action.

Now it may be that the locals get lower prices than the westerners but Nancy said no, they pay the same prices. I know that meat is really scarce and beef even more so. The Chinese.dream of having steak (and so do I – please give me astral braai on Friday). Beef is generally no on the menu I’m restaurants. Its really only just pork and chicken. If you order pork the best you’ll get is thinly sliced like bacon. I realise now that the pork cubes that Nancy ordered for me must have cost a whack.

Oh, did I tell you that their food is rather grim?

On the way back from the Pearl Market I saw this building. Jaw dropping (only an engineer could say that.about a building). Do you guys recognise it? It’s a world icon -the CCTV building. It’s not only an engineering feat, it’s flipping huge, taking up an entire city block.

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Off to 798 art zone this afternoon.

798 Art Zone

I kept on reading about this place in other travellers’ “things to do” but it is seriously.off the beaten track so I’ve been putting it off. But today had to be the day because I’ve run out of other things to do. You can only see so much temples.

It is described as an art area in a previous munitions factory where.all the arties hangout. It was really great and was so much like Woodstock in Cape Town. A very welcome break from the rest of Beiijing. The environment was great but the art was average. There was one person though who was world class. He makes pieces out of molten copper (Im sure he gets his copper from Soweto) and then gilds the leaves. You have to see it to appreciate it. His name is below – look him up. Also, can you see the price RMB 200 000!

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798 Art Zone

I kept on reading about this place in other travellers’ “things to do” but it is seriously.off the beaten track so I’ve been putting it off. But today had to be the day because I’ve run out of other things to do. You can only see so much temples.

It is described as an art area in a previous munitions factory where.all the arties hangout. It was really great and was so much like Woodstock in Cape Town. A very welcome break from the rest of Beiijing. The environment was great but the art was average. There was one person though who was world class. He makes pieces out of molten copper (Im sure he gets his copper from Soweto) and then gilds the leaves. You have to see it to appreciate it. His name is below – look him up. Also, can you see the price RMB 200 000!

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Chinese national museum

It’s raining today. Not a big deal but yesterday’s weather forecast said hot, no clouds. In fact most days the weather report has been wrong. I don’t think the weather forecasters are inept, I think it is the pollution. When I first flew in, the whole of China – about 3 hours before landing in Beijing – was under cloud cover (we flew above it). I’m almost certain it wasn’t cloud, it was smog. I think that the weather forecasters haven’t got a clue because they can never see the surface of the earth in China because of the smog. Still haven’t seen the sun since I arrived.

The museum. Stunning large polished granite building. Apparently the largest museum building in the world. 200 000 square metres of floor space (a rugby field is 5 000 square metres so this is 40 rugby fields of floor space). The displays are well spaced out and beautifully presented so all in all a great experience. The entrance is free ;). This is the entrance hall – about 150m long.

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The museum has about 30 galleries on topics such as prehistoric, ancient bronze, jade carvings, the tools and artworks of the dynasties, all the way up to the present so it includes the recent history of the People’s Revolution. There is quite a bit of propaganda covering the last 60 years but if you look between the fluff you can see the truth coming out. I really came here to get an understanding of this culture and this is really helping. Regardless of a person’s political views this is truly an amazing civilisation with such a strong heritage.

Of course there’s are lots of Ming vases and I know these things can be valued in the millions but the scary thing is I can’t see any difference between these ones and the ones on sale in the markets at RMB30. What do I know?

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One hall that I really liked was a progression of paintings showing the conflict and rise of the CPC (Communist Party of China). Chairman Mao features prominently in most of them and it shows a graphical story of events – like reading a comic book. Easy on the brain. I’m not a fan of communism but I am fascinated by strong leaders, people who have vision and can influence huge numbers through just the strength of their convictions. I particularly liked this painting and I stood on that spot and can imagine it taking place.

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Another very kitch but interesting display shows all the gifts given to the government leaders by overseas dignatories – silver eagle by Gerald Ford (USA), copper animal wall mounting by Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), curved daggers from just about every middle eastern kingdom, wooden masks from Africa and so on. They say there are about 600 on display so I won’t go through them all. Phew. Zuma gave a wooden carving of some buffaloes. The display notice says “cattle”.

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I was looking hard for a wooden giraffe from Zimbabwe but couldn’t find one.  These are probably the things I would like to bring back home if I ever visited these countries (got to bring back a shrunken head from Borneo) so it was a bit of a touristy thing for me. The not so cool gifts were the ivory carvings. Thank goodness nobody gave a rhino horn. Often a poor country gave a really over the top gift – probably as a show-off gesture. The UK prime ministers always gave simple gifts – silver trinket box, silver cup.

They also had a really cool display on how they constructed their buildings, you know the ones with the upturned corners? The only rigid parts of the buildings are the columns and they have intricate patterns of wooden blocks that slot on top of the columns in a 3D grid pattern. No glue, no nails. So with just the force of gravity these structures can stand for thousands of years. The oldest wooden structure is in fact a thousand years old. The imperial structures use this method and have porcelain blocks. They will be around for a very long time. Here’s a mockup of a corner block unit (sorry, light not too good).

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The reason the corners are always turned up is because it brings good luck. The expensive homes have ornate carved animals on the spines and corners of the roofs.

Off to the Olympic Sports Complex this afternoon.

Olympic complex

The Olympic complex is so big that it has 3 subway stops along its length. It has a central walkway which is 120m wide and 2,5 km long. It comprises ad-hoc seats, little parks here and there, trees. On the right is the athletics stadium (birds nest) and on the left is the swimming stadium (cube) and indoor arena. There is a waterway on the right which goes all the way to the end where it becomes a lake in a forested area. All of the sports, except for the marathon and road cycling, took place within this complex. The non-sporting areas (lots of it) where just to accommodate the crowds and to chill out. There is a purpose built shopping centre inside the grounds, restaurants, etc, which are now barely used, it seems.

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It is a little frayed around the edges but is still a flipping lekker place to hang out.

I walked the length and breadth – took me about 4 hours, and then left when it got dark so I saw the stadii all lit up.

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One really cool thing they did was to engrave all the winners details on a long granite wall. I checked – Lance Armstrong wasn’t on the wall or else they would have a problem.

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Oh, and the sun finally came out. Welcome back, my friend.