I find myself in China again. And it is as fascinating a place as last time. Different city, same sized hotel, huge rooms and facilities that put most affordable hotels in the UK to shame. By comparison, the hotel in Hong Kong presented us with a squished cockroach that came flying out on the air conditioner. Hmmm.

Those of you who read my 2017 Ph.D. thesis (I know there are three of you, otherwise don’t bother, it’s not particularly interesting!) will realise that I have an interest in China from an Internet perspective. However, being in China again after some 6 years a lot has changed. All of Google is now blocked, which means I need to use Bing to search (other search engines are available!) and it works well enough but does not appear to have the number of results that I know Google has for certain keywords. WhatsApp is blocked, but as I’ve not been using it for very long I don’t know if this is a recent change. Facebook… well, all I use it for is checking what my Facebook friends are writing and issuing the occasional and probably somewhat daft missive. eBay works fine but my newsreader will not connect to its server – no surprises there. The BBC is still blocked. All the railway and radio forums I use all work fine. Dilbert works, which surprises me a little, and xkcd too but for some reason it loads very slowly.

The one big change I see, however, is in payments. Hardly anyone that we’ve been associating with here uses cash.  Vending machines in the attractions we visited do not accept cash or cards. Everyone pays using WeChat or Alipay to make payments by essentially scanning a QR code and its all over in a flash. I won’t go into details here, there’s plenty of info on the web. You can still use cash in some places but we found we needed to ask first just in case as our mobiles will not work in China – or rather will but would cost the earth.

Fingerprints are now scanned on entry via customs and were also taken when we applied for our visas. I can imagine some people complaining about this but this is the norm in China. Personally I have no issue and we really cannot demand that countries accept our way of doing things just because we want to travel. The last time we were here bags were X-ray scanned at every subway station – people just got on with it and it never seemed to cause any delays. We’re being taken by car everywhere we go this time so no public transport…

And there are a lot of electric cars and electric scooters now. Cars with green number plates are electric. Traffic laws here appear to be something to be ignored, or treated as a minor inconvenience, but everyone just gets on with it. Scooters go every which way, same as Montreal then…

Actually a note on the visa process. It took us a long time to fill the form in online (you fill in the form and print it and make an appointment with the visa centre) mostly because we didn’t understand some of the questions. Fear not. The staff at the visa centre in Manchester are extremely helpful and will correct mistakes provided you follow all the procedures. These include bringing a photocopy of your passport data page and previous visa and other such things, all clearly stated. When we were there some people had ignored these. There is a photocopier there though. I had misread the bit about needing a passport photo as well as submitting the online one. But guess what, the visa centre has a photobooth so no biggie, and at £ 6 it is no more expensive than any others we saw about the place. Anyway, the visas all went to plan and there were no issues at customs which was actually surprisingly quick. I’ll go as far as saying a whole lot easier than getting into the USA! YMMV – do your homework first.