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He his-self's Blog

September 2007 - Posts

  • Home Again

    Back to the land of rain and 6c after a trip that changed my view of the world and its future.

     When I see the state of our industry it is little short of criminal how badly things are run from Westminster. However this is probably now an irrelevance to the longer term, we can look forward to a period of steadily rising prices for our food production despite the best efforts of our Govt to suppress inflation. Chinese demand for food is growing rapidly and they at least have the cash to pay for it, after Northern Rock I am not so sure that Britain has any money spare at all.

    In a few years a committee will convene to find out why agriculture was so disastrously run down and why so much damage was done to the UK economy by the rapid rise in prices and shortages that followed. It will of course say that none of those outcomes could have been foreseen and no one is to blame, total fiction, but at least those of us who survive in business till then will know the truth.

    Our new daughter had the best of attention from an entire BA cabin crew and a very comfortable bed for her flight home, mum and dad  got a good bacon egg sausage and tomato breakfast along with the first decent cuppa for days. Its great to be home and we are all well and settling down nicely.

  • Final Day

    Today is our last full day in Guangzhou, we pick up the last official document at 9.30am tomorrow and then head for the airport for our Hong Kong connection, then to Heathrow and on to the far north.

    I know things are tough back in the UK and I will be confronted with a lot of problems on my return, but I have never been more optimistic for UK agriculture. If my new daughter can survive far tougher challenges than I have ever had to face and still have the courage to grasp the chance of a new future with trust and confidence so can we all. Our best days as farmers and as farming families lie ahead of us.

  • Park

    Yesterday was the day I really wanted to be a dairy farmer. The Chinese work, they work 6 days a week 12 hours a day no health and safety, no childcare (if you have a baby, baby comes to work in the shop too) hardly even a water break. Think dark satanic mill mills and geedy mill owners. But on Sunday they put on their Sunday best and they go out to the parks and recreational grounds. And what do they do there? Well, the poorest of them just walk, take in the sun, chat and maybe join in the singing. The better off however do all that plus they eat ice cream. Lots and lots of ice cream. Every shop, even the poorest of them has an ice cream freezer. Not everyone can afford ice cream on a daily basis yet, but it is a status symbol to eat and an affordable one too. The Chinese have a sweet tooth so this market is only going to grow and grow. Mind you all these dairy cows will need grain from somewhere - suddenly I feel a lot better about not being a dairy farmer.

    At the danger of turning this into a China shopping diary I am going to hand this blog to herself.

    Yesterday I had the pleasure to visit Guangzhou wholesale market for children's clothes. I do not know how big it was. In the allocated two hours I visited three floors, but there were escalators going both underground and higher up.

    The sales had three categories; open for all, wholesale only and order from samples. Outside each shop was a box of odds and ends, unwanted factory specials and samples, last in the size, poor sellers etc.

    Then think typical British High Street: Next, Gap, Adams. Think America; Osh Kosh Catepillar. Canadian PettCoCo. Among the Chinese products I was picking up typical Western labels at prices unknown to the west. The most expensive purchase was a 3-piece outfit of a current  rather exclusive American label. It cost me £5, it would sell in USA for over $150. The best bargain was an Osh Kosh pinafore dress, a factory sample at £1.

    In two hours I managed to get one dress, six outfits made of 2 or 3 garments, four pairs of trousers and four cardigans for our little princess. I managed to spend just under £45. I haggled, bargained and was still robbed at the till. Lesson of the day: No matter how cheap the sales in the UK, the retailers are still making a staggering profit.


  • Market

    Had a day off the blog yesterday. Decided to spend it with our daughter, after a lot of frustration, anger and general grumpiness she has her first tooth.

    Herself went to the silk market and had a lovely time ["It was not lovely, it was brilliant. With major difficulty I restrained myself from furnishing the full house with new silk curtains, hisself should be pleased"] I went to the technology/electronics market. This was not exactly a disappointment, the place was huge and piled to the ceiling with electronic goods. Unfortunately the Chinese Governments purge (prior to the Olympic games) on "genuine copies" has been hugely successful and everything there was the real deal. I was surprised to discover that it was only 10-20% cheaper than the UK which corresponds to the vat. I suppose this is good news as we are paying the world price for electronics. I did however get a lot of covers, bags and accessories all very good quality at only 10% of the UK price.

    Just over the canal from Shamian island where we are staying is the famous (or infamous) Qinping market. This used to be full of all kinds of birds and live animals, not any more. The bird flu regulations mean no more birds and the meat hygiene regulations mean no more animals leaving the place completely for Chinese herbal medicine. Qinping is the world wholesale centre for Chinese medicine. Believe me I  will never ever again eat any Chinese medicine as long as I live. The whole place smells of meat and bonemeal with a whiff of rotting carcase and drying fish. Drying and quality control are carried out on the street next to the sewers. However this area is one of the last bits of old China left.

    The new China is just across the street. A blizzard of cash, cranes and concrete is changing this country from a third world to a first world state in front of your eyes. I watched a huge sky scraper add two storeys this week alone. The Chinese people are mostly from rural areas and as such share the same direct and open approach to life. This will change too as the generations change. If you want to see China as it was come now, it will not be here in ten years time.

  • Island

    Yesterday saw the end of our paperwork for adoption, this is a very serious process in which we make solemn and binding promises to look after our daughter properly. It was a our privilege to make them, we are very fortunate people.

    Herselfs non baby related conversation now has 3 main phrases, "Mmm that's nice" (We are not going to buy it) "Oh that's sooo beautiful" (We are going to buy it) and "Wallet" (I am paying for it)

    To celebrate the end of the paperwork we went out to a local restaurant on the island, it is in the middle of a long street, on one end is a Chinese Culture centre filled with mainly female college age students, at the other end is the Youth hostel filled with mainly western backpackers. We sat a table between a group of those two different cultures, the backpackers clearly thought they were the stags on the mountain top about to have some fun. We asked our guide about the girls " Oh they already ask the waitress if the boys smell bad" and she said maybe they would allow them to talk to them but they looked a bit too poor
    to be much of a prospect. Those poor lads were not stags, more like goldfish in a tank of Piranhas.

    Herself is off to the silk market and like all farmers I could not resist the lure of the Technology market so it looks like the shipping container will be required.


  • Beds and Shopping

    Before we travelled to China I was told that the beds would be "firm" that does not do ours justice, carved from solid granite would be more accurate, my grain store floor has more give in it than our mattress. I envy our daughter in her cot she has a lovely foam mattress and happily sleeps 8 hours straight. Mind you the traditional bed here was a raised brick platform so any mattress at all is an improvement.

    Shopping, herself is in paradise, thousands of shops and negotiable prices, she has already bought another suitcase, I fear a shipping container will be more like it. I had a bit of a moment when she bought something for 2000 renminbi until I realised it was only just over £110 and would cost £800 in the UK.

    The great firewall of China does not like me trying to post pictures so they will have to wait until we return to the UK. I hope this is some interest and makes a brief escape from the nightmares of F&M which I will have face on my return lamb prices do not look good.

  • Traffic

    Guangzhou is my first experience of Chinese city traffic. The city is teeming with people and the roads are jam packed full of every kind of vehicle you can imagine. Plus the odd stray pedestrian. Every one of them is convinced that they are immortal and have full and exclusive rights to the road.

     Our bus driver carries on at least three conversations at once; one on his mobile phone and one each with our two guides. When you add in the cigarette, the hand gestures and the commentary on other road users it does not leave much time for actually driving the bus. This does not seem to bother him much indeed as soon as he spots a spare metre of road space he heads for it immediately. This would not be a problem if the space stayed empty but in the time it takes to actually start moving the space has filled up with at least two pedestrians and one bicycle. Undaunted by this he continues towards the space scattering the pedestrians. The only thing that seems to deter him, and even then not much, are the prospect of a couple of very large trucks with convincing looking accident damage getting there first. We have not hit anything or anyone as yet but in my opinion it is only a matter of time.

    Contrast the anarchy on the roads with the situation outside at night in around our hotel. The People's Armed Police are everywhere. There is no nonsense about policing with consent. Their first reaction to any problem is force their second one is extreme force. Our guide said that the Chinese people value order highly. The PAP are there to make sure they get it whether they want it or not. Most clearly do.

    Our adoption is going very and my new daughter has already got me under her spell.

  • In China

    We are in Guangzhou, I do not know what to say that has not been written already by others more eloquent. But the reality far exceeds any expectation I had. Think more of the city scenes in Blade Runner then multiply by 100, raw and real, great and glorious, disciplined and anarchic, its all here.

    Travel was torture like being stuck in the passenger seat of Fastrac driven by a mad teenager over a ploughed field at full throttle, mind you the Fastrac has more room and is quieter. Pay for business class if you can, we will next time.

    Everything is so cheap to the British, a good meal out for two can be as little as £20, no wonder China makes everything for the world. The dairy industry can relax even the locals now seem to like milk products particularly yogurt and eat them regularly, meat is harder to get as they prefer to see the animal live before it hits the plate a few minutes later, not a trace of squeamishness about it though.

    I hope progress is being made in the F&M outbreak, news is a bit difficult to get  as the great firewall of China blocks many news sites but so far not Farmers Weekly.


  • Ready to go

    The day is upon us when we have to go to China. Farm work is up to date and the place is now in the care of the alliance of the two other family generations, the mix of youth and experience should be well able to cope. They are both completely certain that they are better at the job than me anyway.

    I am both excited and slightly terrified by the process, unlike the times in the delivery room when I was a mere spectator this one is going to need Dad for all the work from day one and as she is bottle fed no excuses will be tolerated by herself.

    China will be a fascinating place to visit, I will try and write a little about it on more blog posts.

  • Harvest tale of woe

    A cautionary reminder to all, never trust machinery. Driving out of the shed my Case Axial broke an axle pin causing a rear wheel to come off. I have always wondered why it has one new rear wheel, now I know, she must have been in an accident of some kind in the past. This was bad enough but being due to fly away to China shortly I was frantic to get it fixed and back cutting.(Spring Barley) Well I was a bit less frantic when the dealer quoted £530 to supply a new pin. So ordered one from a breaker, got it 2 days later, wrong one, back to dealer, ate humble pie. A smug store man was quick to tell me "well if you'd have got it here first you would have been finished now" he was right of course. The moral of the tale, almost anything can break and your local dealer may not be the cheapest but he certainly is the best and quickest in the long run.

    Worst thing of all tho is that the Oats and Spring Wheat will still not be ready when we come back from China. Oh the joy of farming in the North.

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