Sunday 3 November 2019

Shanghai travel tips

I have just spent four days in Shanghai, doing some research for my new book and a little sight-seeing.

I'm not any sort of travel expert, but here are my observations that might be helpful if you take a trip there.

In my first first few hours on the ground, I got very mixed impressions.

I caught the Maglev from the airport into the city. It's a train that floats on magnetic fields and does 300 kph! A remarkably smooth and efficient ride.

All aboard the MagLev - look mum, no wheels!
And the Nanjing East Mall is incredibly impressive. A huge car-free zone with amazing shopping, packed with people until the small hours.

Nanjing East Road
But when I got to my hotel by the river, the whole area stank.

Shanghai is built on a swamp so I was expecting some moisture and big city pollution, but there was quite a whiff of sewage hanging around.

It did improve over the following days, so perhaps they had a single incident. Or maybe I just got used to it.

But other than that, the streets are clean. There are crews everywhere making sure of it. And the public toilets are generally very well maintained.

Getting around

Use the Metro train system, it's great - cheap, clean, fast, and very easy to use. 

Cabs are common and not too expensive, but the train and a little walking work very well.

Don't drive. It's madness on the roads. The rules appear to be optional most of the time.

And beware the silent scooters! The city is crammed with electric scooters which travel anywhere - tiny footpaths or four lane highways.

Scooters everywhere - road, footpath, walking mall.

Bring cash with you. 

Chinese money, known as Yuan or Renminbi (RMB)
There are ATMs around, but not all of them can handle international cards and only select ones have an English option. Have a look at the screen before you pop the card in. And have a look at the card slot too - if it looks at all dodgy, don't use it.

I used a Visa card successfully at a few places, especially my hotel and big corporate stores. But some places insisted on charging extra for the card and so cash was usually a better option.


I took my son to a sideshow recently. He was keen to spend his money on a game where you scooped plastic ducks from a tank to get lucky numbers.

I told him that if there was no price displayed for the game, it was likely a rip-off. Sure enough, it turned out you had to spend big money to win the big prizes. His little bit of pocket money guaranteed that he would get a shit prize. So why even play?

So it is at all of the tourist markets in Shanghai. No prices are displayed, so when you ask how much something is, they estimate how much the market will bear and then double it, just in case you're a fool.

Personally, I hate haggling. I'm really not good at it. So when they offered me a price I didn't like, I didn't counter-offer, I'd just say no thanks and leave.

It turns out that's a good way to haggle. As I walked, the price would drop and drop until it reached a number I liked or I was gone.

That said, I'm still pretty sure I got ripped off more than once. If you're a tech geek like me, be very careful - if you buy electronics from a small stall, it's just about guaranteed to be junk.

You want massage?

Actually I DO want massage. This is a basic truth of my entire life.

But if someone approaches you in the streets of Shanghai to offer you massage or "very nice lady", say no very firmly and keep on walking.

It's a well known scam. They take you somewhere away from other people - a tea house, a private room - and then bill you an astronomical amount for it. That pot of tea was 20,000 Yuan! And if you don't want to pay, several burly Chinese guys will make sure you do.

I found I had to say no three times to just about every scammer who approached me, before they gave up and went away.

That said, there are plenty of real massage places around. I had the best foot massage of my life for less than 200 Yuan.

But choose your parlour carefully. If there are only young ladies in full make-up and short-shorts present, they are likely to offer you a happy ending without the massage.

Goodbye Google

There's no Google in China. You'll have to Bing instead. 

Also no Google translate, Google Drive, or Google Maps.

I used the Apple Maps app pretty successfully getting around the place.

Most western social media is also offline. So no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram. The Great Firewall says no.

It's technically possible for a VPN to get around this, but difficult in practice to actually make it work, particularly on a mobile phone.

I bought a Chinese SIM with calls and data on it as I arrived at the airport. If I'd waited and looked around a bit, I could have secured a much better deal. You can buy SIMs from vending machines, so they are very common and there are plenty of deals around.

Internet is everywhere, but not always fast or reliable. Even my hotel's connection fell over pretty frequently. 

Keep moving forward

The city is designed for large amounts of people. All of the public spaces are on a huge scale, with clear signage telling you where to go.

When you're in a moving crowd, go for it. If you don't take your place at the escalator or shop queue, others will push ahead of you. It's not personal, it's just the way it is.

Nine Zig-Zag Bridge
And watch the oncoming foot traffic. In Australia we tend to walk on the left. In China, people go anywhere there's a space and just make it work. Sometimes those people are on electric scooters and will expect you to get out of the way.


Service in China is generally brisk. You're not likely to come back and there's a billion Chinese people to serve after you're gone, so why waste the effort on smiling?

That said, they will make every effort to do business with you. If they don't speak English, they'll do their best to communicate. Every shopkeeper I encountered had a big calculator so they could clearly show their prices on the screen.

Me with Xu Jin, an awesome local tour guide
And outside of business, I found individual Chinese folks to be warm and helpful. Even with my complete lack of Mandarin, I never failed to get directions or advice from members of the public.

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Thursday 24 October 2019

Breastfeeding speech for Sue

Today I was very pleased to help Sue Cox launch her new book, "Breastfeeding and Parenting: Your Baby Will Teach You How".

She was a great help to my family after my son was born, so it really was the least I could do.

Here's what I had to say.


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Lovely to see you here, for the launch of Sue’s book.

To me, breastfeeding is like alchemy, turning lead into gold.

You eat whatever food that life offers - Mars bars and cheesy dips and hot chips - and your body distills it into this perfect elixir.

Exactly what the baby needs. Antibodies, calcium, protein, fat, vitamins.

It even tastes great, as every dad who’s ever warmed up a bottle of expressed milk will tell you.

And think of how it’s delivered. This is my body, I give it to you, so you can live.

Jesus, on his last night, said something very similar to his disciples… but remember, Mary said it to him first.

Breastfeeding is love, pure and simple. It’s a wonderful thing.

Until the moment it goes wrong.

And like all love turned sour, it becomes its own little corner of hell.

You’ve got the sore nipples, the aching breasts, the baby that won’t stop crying, sleep deprivation (which is a torture all by itself), and the terrible sense of all-pervading guilt.

Am I a good enough mother? Why can’t I do this simple thing that every other mammal can manage? There are mice living in our walls that do this better than me!

And if it keeps going wrong, you end up with that terrible stamp in your baby’s log-book - "failure to thrive."

Hands up anyone who finds that familiar.

My wife and son went through this, as I watched on helplessly. You can do a lot, as a new dad, but you can't do the breastfeeding. And your uninformed opinions about it are best kept firmly to yourself.

My son is now a ten year old soccer champ and Pokemon fanatic. I look at him and sometimes I think to myself, thank God for Sue Cox. (Or perhaps I should thank Mary for Sue Cox.)

Sue’s advice was gentle and practical and effective. Her techniques worked and they built up my wife's confidence at the same time, which is so important.

A lot of her advice is the sort of thing that the local grannies used to tell the new mums. But we kinda broke that chain a couple of generations ago.

In the 1970s, 80% of babies were off the breast and onto a bottle by 3 months. Lots of modern grannies have never breast-fed a baby, so how can they teach a daughter or niece what to do? And many young adults move far away from their parents, so there’s no trustworthy older woman around who might pass on her wisdom.

What we have instead is "Breastfeeding and Parenting: Your Baby Will Teach You How".

Even in the title you can see Sue building mum’s confidence - "your baby will teach you how". Because this book isn't a list of techniques, it's about strengthening your bond, so looking after your baby becomes perfectly intuitive.

The book is like all of Sue’s advice - gentle, practical, effective, and delivered with a great deal of love.

I am very proud to launch this book. May it be in the gift bundle for every new mum in Tasmania.

Thank you.

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Tuesday 24 September 2019

A lovely surprise for my birthday

Well this has become a highly eventful birthday!

Half an hour ago, I hear someone going through my side gate and into the back yard, so I grab my keys and head out the front door to cut them off.

On my street are a bunch of blokes in hi-viz looking angry and dodgy as hell. I ignore them and go around the back, where I find someone cowering in my shed. Literally hiding behind my mower.

He's a smallish bloke covered in tatts and fresh bruises. He's clearly had the shit knocked out of him and quite a scare.

He feeds me some cock and bull story about knocking on the wrong door and being attacked for no reason. I calm him down, give him some water and Ventolin when he asks for it, and let him make a phone call. Nobody answers.

He's very frightened of the men on the street. And he's erratic and panicked in his manner. I don't think he's properly in touch with reality today.

He has been hurt, so I'm not going to feed him to the blokes who did that. But he can't stay here.

I tell him I can give him twenty minutes respite, then he'll have to go.

Thankfully, the Police knocked on my door at that stage.

"What's been happening in your street today, sir?" the officer says.

"Funny you should ask," I reply, "there's a guy hiding in my house as we speak."

He peacefully went out to meet them.

Then a new story emerged. He had his house broken into recently. Someone told him who did it, so he went to their house to get his stuff back. And the people there did not appreciate it. And he's on new medication which is making him crazy. And it's not illegal drugs - the last time he had ice was four days ago, he swears!

The Police are firm but also very kind. They want to give him a ride to the hospital, where he clearly needs to be.

He doesn't want to go, afraid it's a pretext for locking him up. The Detective tells him that they just want a doctor to look him over and make sure he's okay.

"You'll take me to the hospital, then let me go? Do you pinky swear?"

He holds out a pinky.

"Jesus, pinky swearing!" says the Detective. "Now it's serious."

She links pinkies with the guy and swears that he's free to go once the hospital has checked his wounds.

The man gets into the police wagon. He thanks me as they pull away.

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