Owen in China 22: Of landladies, tourists and passports (September 9th, 2016)
Hi everyone, this is Owen and this is my podcast for Friday 9th September, 2016. Welcome to the new year of podcasts. I hope you all had a wonderful summer. This episode should really be called Owen in Europe. I’ve been in Europe all summer. I started in North Wales and gradually made my way south to Italy. I flew to Manchester from Kunming with a stopover in Xiamen. Xiamen is a very small island on the south-east coast of China, famous for its seafood and tea. I was very pleasantly surprised by Xiamen but unfortunately I only had a night there.
Today, I’ll be talking about a meeting I had before I left Kunming, a Chinese story in the news when I arrived in the UK and something that I had to do while I was in Wales.
Before Vittoria and I left Kunming for the summer, we met with our landlady . We initially found the apartment through a real estate agency , but now we rent  directly from her to avoid having to pay any more fees  to the agent. In all the places I have lived in China, I have always rented from private owners. And thankfully I have never had any problems with my landlords. The reason I say this is because there is very little legal protection for tenants . If a landlord or landlady wants to kick you out , they can. If they want to raise  the rent, they can. So whenever the landlady calls I get a little nervous, even though we have a good relationship with her. By good relationship I mean that we never see her. However, we had to meet her before we left because we had to pay our rent . In Kunming people normally pay rent twice a year, every six months, and these are the only times our landlady comes to the apartment. She came over just before we left and we had all our rent in cash on our coffee table for her. It was hard to give her so much money just before a holiday but on the plus side we won’t have to worry about  rent when we return with empty pockets. We also had to renew the rental contract . Our rent has been the same for the last two years, so we were expecting her to squeeze us  for a bit more. Luckily, she didn't raise it by much, so we won’t need to look for a new apartment. Hopefully we won’t hear from her until rent is due  again in six months.
Funnily enough, one of the first stories I read about when I arrived in the UK was about the Chinese. It was about Chinese tourists in the UK. There’s a place in England called Kidlington. Kidlington is a small village near Oxford that I’d never heard of before and, as far as I can tell, is not famous or well-known for anything. A few weeks ago a coach  full of Chinese tourists stopped in Kidlington on a residential street , a street with lots of private houses with little gardens, a normal street like a hundred others. The local people thought the driver was lost because it’s not a place coaches stop. But then the Chinese tourists got off the coach with their big cameras and started taking lots of pictures. Pictures of themselves in front of the houses or sitting in people’s gardens. One of the tourists knocked on one of the houses and asked if he could use the toilet, and another tourist asked one of the house owners if he could mow their lawn . The locals couldn’t understand why the tourists were so interested in their village because there really isn’t much to see in Kidlington. Was it a mistake? Were the tourists in the wrong place? Perhaps. But then another coach arrived the next week…and the next! Now every week, a new coach full of Chinese tourists stops in Kidlington. After a couple of weeks the locals tried to ask some of the tourists: “Why have you come to Kidlington?” But the tourists didn’t speak English and no one was able to find out. Why all these tourists are coming to Kidlington has remained a big mystery. One theory is that they think they are visiting a village with a very similar name that is quite famous. But maybe it’s not a mistake. One of the reasons people like to travel is to see how people live in different places and what their houses and gardens look and feel like. You can learn a lot about a place by going to villages and suburbs. My Chinese friends often ask me to take lots of pictures of my parents’ house when I come home, so they can see how families live in the UK. After all, China is becoming more and more urban. All my Chinese friends, for example, grew up in apartments in cities. I could totally imagine them coming to visit my parents and asking: “Can we mow the lawn?”
As usual when I’m on holiday in Wales, I have to take care of some administrative things. First of all I had to open a new bank account . I used to have a bank account in Britain but I didn’t use it and my bank decided to close it. I wasn’t happy. They didn’t contact me, they just closed the account. And it’s not easy to open a new account these days. There are a lot of new banking regulations to stop money laundering  and tax evasion . These new regulations make it much harder to open an account than in the past. You have to be a British resident , in other words you have to have a British address to open an account. That can be tricky  in the UK, because people don’t have to register their address. Instead, you have to show an official letter addressed to you at a British address: a letter from the tax authority, for example, or from an energy company. So it was a bit of a hassle  in my case but thankfully I managed to open an account in the end. The other thing I needed was a new passport because I managed to fill all the pages with visas, mainly Chinese visas. I had to go to Liverpool to apply for a new passport. It was all pretty easy  and I had a new one within a week. My only concern now is that my current Chinese visa is in my old passport. I still have my old passport but it’s technically invalid . I just hope I don’t have any problems getting back into China.
Congratulations to Cornelia, Denise and sister Raphaela, the winners of our summer competition. They all won JBL headphones sponsored by m-electronics. That’s all from me. Next time I’ll tell you all about the second half of our trip. First, our time in the north of Italy with Vittoria’s family and then our holiday in Puglia in the south-east or the heel  of Italy as it’s also known. Thank you for listening. You can find all the episodes on our website podclub.ch or by downloading our app. You can also download our vocabulary trainer and you can now follow us on Instagram where we’ll be using #PodClubOwen and #oweninchina. Gerry will be back in two weeks’ time and my next podcast will go online on Friday 7th October. Until then, have a great month. Bye!
 landlady: a woman who owns a house or apartment and rents it out
 real estate agency: a company that helps people buy, sell or rents out houses, etc.
 to rent: to pay a landlady (woman) or landlord (man) to live in a house or apartment
 fee: money that you pay for a service
 tenant: a person who rents a house, etc. from a landlord or landlady
 to kick out: to force/tell somebody to leave (informal language)
 to raise: to increase, to make (rent) higher
 rent: the money you pay to a landlord/landlady
 to worry about: to think about in a bad way, to be afraid of
 rental contract: an agreement to rent something
 to squeeze: to put pressure on
 to be due: here: to be the time (for the rent) to be paid
 coach: a sort of bus that tourists travel in
 a residential street: a street where people live (not a street of shops, for example)
 to mow the lawn: to cut the grass (in a garden)
 bank account: a contract with a bank to look after your money
 money laundering: when criminals hide stolen money by putting it into legal businesses, etc.
 tax evasion: illegal ways of not paying tax
 British resident: a person who lives in Britain
 tricky: difficult
 hassle: problem, something difficult to do
 pretty easy: quite easy
 invalid: not legally effective
 heel: the back part of your foot or shoe