Owen in China 24: Of mobile phones and peaceful walks (November 4th, 2016)

ginkgo treesHi everyone, this is Owen and this is my podcast for Friday 4th November, 2016. On mornings when I go to school, I cross the Yunnan University campus. I walk under a beautiful canopy [1] of fan-shaped [2] leaves which are turning a bright yellow colour this time of the year. In order to enjoy the walk, though, I have to hold my breath [3] because the smell is absolutely awful. It’s a bit like walking down a street with lots of bars on a Sunday morning before they’ve had time to clean up from the night before. Except in this case it’s a lovely path lined with trees. So why does it smell so bad? Well, the trees in question with the fan-shaped leaves are ginkgo trees. And it’s the nuts that these trees produce at this time of the year that absolutely stink [4]. Here, people like to cook with them. So whilst I’m walking briskly [5], trying to hold my breath for the whole length of the street, there are old ladies busy collecting the fallen nuts. I haven't had the courage to try any yet but I’m sure they taste better than they smell.

Today, I’ll be talking about mobile phones in China and then I’ll take you to Green Lake.


When I was back in Europe, I noticed that people in Europe use their mobile phones less than people in China. Here, I’m a little shocked sometimes. People are constantly [6] on their mobile phones. I also noticed, however, that people in Europe use their phones for fewer things. People do absolutely everything on their phones here. Almost everyone has their bank account linked to their phone. It’s a service called Alipay, which was introduced by Alibaba. Alibaba also owns the large online shopping platform Taobao, which I’ve talked about before. It makes sense that Alibaba developed Alipay because it allows you to link your bank to your phone, so you don't need a credit card to shop online. You can also use it to transfer money. So, for example, if I owe a friend some money, I can very conveniently send him or her the money using Alipay. It’s instant and it doesn't cost anything. We use Alipay for all sorts of things. Here are a few recent examples. The other day, we decided to go to the cinema. Vittoria opened a cinema app on her phone, checked what films were showing and then bought the tickets using Alipay. When we got to the cinema, we just showed them the tickets on our phone. Last Sunday, we were feeling a little lazy and we didn't want to cook or go out for food. So I opened an app on my phone of a delivery service company. On the app I can look up all the restaurants in our neighbourhood. I chose a restaurant, looked at their whole menu and placed an order. Twenty minutes later the delivery guy was at the door with our dinner and I didn't have to give him any cash because I had already paid using Alipay. We also order our water with our phone. Tap water [7] isn’t safe to drink here, so a company delivers big bottles of water to our apartment. Whenever we run out of water, we order and pay using our phones. And just last night, I was on my way home from work and I stopped to buy a drink in a convenience store. I realised I didn't have any cash on me. The amount was too small for me to pay with my bank card and I didn't want to walk to an ATM to withdraw money, so I got out my phone and using Alipay I entered the amount I owed for the drink. The cashier then scanned my phone and that was that. And then of course there is the almighty [8] Taobao. Everyone shops on Taobao and everyone shops on Taobao using their phones. It’s very convenient but also a bit strange.


20161104 E gateI’ll now take you on a short walk around Green Lake. Green Lake is a small artificial [9] lake in the middle of Kunming. It’s not far from where I live and I like to go there early in the morning. By watching it wake up in the morning, you get a good sense of the place. So just imagine it’s still quite early, around eight o’clock. We’ve walked up my little street and down the other side and here we are at the north side of Green Lake. There is already a lot of activity around Green Lake. You can witness [10] some beautiful old Chinese traditions. Before we set off [11], close your eyes and imagine you can see this place on a map. As you can see, it’s a round lake with a few islands in the middle. There are four entrances to the park which lead to the islands. We will enter the east gate, so let’s walk a short distance clockwise [12] round the edge till we get to the gate. I’m always amazed at [13] how fit, sporty and flexible old Chinese people are. I can see young people jogging around the lake and old people doing their morning exercises, putting one leg up onto the railing [14], stretching, walking backwards and playing badminton with their friends. Ah now here’s the gate on the right, you can’t miss it. I used to think Chinese gates and temples looked very kitschy because they’re so colourful and new looking. But these days I really enjoy the sight of these gates, especially the roofs with their four corners pointing a little upwards. Right, now we’re passing through the gate and now we’re inside. We’ll go straight ahead, there’s water to our left and to our right. We’ll go along the bamboo path. I like walking along here, especially on a day like today when it’s a little windy. Can you hear the 20161104 E bamboobamboo? I love the sound of bamboo cracking [15] in the wind. It’s peaceful here, away from all the cars and people, sheltered [16] by the bamboo with water on both sides. We could stay here longer but there’s more to see. Look straight ahead. Do you see the old man? He’s got his back to us, he’s walking backwards, one small slow step at a time. Look closely and you can see that he’s holding a stick in his right hand. On the end of the stick, there is a big, wet and pointy [17] sponge [18]. He’s writing Chinese poetry on the floor. The sponge is his pen and the water is his ink. His writing is beautiful, it’s like watching an artist paint. By the time he gets to the last character of the poem though, the first one will have evaporated [19]. Let’s keep moving. We’ll cross over the little bridge. This type of bridge is called a moon bridge because of its reflection in the water. It gets quieter and quieter the deeper you walk into the park and you can feel a presence and energy in the air. Any moment now you will see the morning t’ai chi session. You can see lots of people on the square with willow trees lining the edge of the water. They stand in rows, all facing the teacher, copying her moves in perfect unison [20] and complete silence. I’ll leave you here. Enjoy a moment of peace by the lakeside.


That’s all from me for this month. Thank you for listening and thank you, Ruth, for your comment on my last podcast. If you have any questions or you would like to leave a comment, please do so in the box below. You can find all my podcasts on our website podclub.ch or by downloading our app. You can also download our vocabulary trainer and you can follow us on Instagram using the hashtags #podclubowen and #oweninchina. Gerry will be back in two weeks. My next podcast will be on Friday 2nd December. Until next time. Goodbye!

[1] canopy: here: a more or less continuous layer of leaves
[2] fan-shaped: in the shape of a fan, which is a device that is unfolded and waved to cool the person holding it
[3] to hold one’s breath: to stop breathing temporarily
[4] to stink: to have a strong unpleasant smell
[5] briskly: quickly
[6] constantly: all the time
[7] tap water: water that comes out of the pipes in homes
[8] almighty: here: having lots of power because of market share
[9] artificial: not natural, made by humans
[10] to witness: here: to see
[11] to set off: here: to get going
[12] clockwise: in the direction of the hands of a clock
[13] to be amazed at: to be positively surprised
[14] railing: a fence or barrier made of bars
[15] to crack: here: to make a sharp noise
[16] sheltered: protected
[17] pointy: having a pointed tip
[18] sponge: a material that absorbs liquid and is usually used for washing and cleaning
[19] to evaporate: to turn from liquid into air
[20] in unison: as one, simultaneously


Käthi 07-11-2016 17:05
Hi Owen!
Thank you for this podcast. It's very interesting and your narration of the old man writing Chinese poetry on the floor is picturesque.
I didn't know that the Ginkgo trees smell so bad and I don't know either if the poet Goethe knew it. Because he wrote 200 years ago a very famous poem about this tree. It's be called "Ginkgo Biloba". You can find it on the Internet, even in English.
Bests regards