Thursday, 30 April 2009


Strawberries have recently come into season here, and you can buy a generous portion of ripe strawberries for 2 or 3 kuai (20 or 30p). I love strawberries, but they're so expensive back in the UK that I don't buy them very often (*sob*), so I'm taking the opportunity here to consume as many as possible on a daily basis. I've discovered that the best ones are for sale at the stall in the photo below (the photos of the outdoor fruit and vegetable market were taken a while ago, hence the hats and coats). Her berries are always juicy and full of flavour, but never smushed and slightly going off.

Another welcome seasonal fruit is pineapple, which you can buy as a ready to eat portion on a stick. We've all been wondering what the proper word is for denuding a pineapple of it's outer layers - peeling, shucking, skinning? None of them sound quite right.
Normally they're sold from fruit and veg stalls or from the back of a bicycle cart, but today (obviously because I wanted to take a photo, or more likely because of the national holiday tomorrow) I couldn't find any.

So instead you'll have to feast your eyes on some fungus. All sorts of delicious mushrooms are so cheap here.

Grapes, however, are prohibitively expensive. I was quoted 22 kuai for a bunch at the weekend. I decided to just buy more strawberries instead!

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

O is for...oranges, oddities and osama

Oranges, and other fruit and veg, are often sold on the streets from the back of bicycle pulled carts. Street selling of all sorts is very common here, and the fact that an enterprising person can set up shop almost anywhere selling their wares is one thing that I love about China - no hideous EU type red-tape nonsense.

And so on to an oddity: these plastic fruits were the floor of a cafe I ate at. It's a popular trend in China to decorate the floor with say, a collection of plastic fruits, or astroturf, then cover it with a sturdy sheet of clear plastic. It can occasionally mean that you get a very disturbing vertiginous sensation, thinking you're going to fall into a hole that doesn't actually exist.

Finally, a strange incident that occurred in a park on Sunday. I was approached my a man who wanted to practice his English and then asked to take my contact details. When I was putting my number into his phone, I accidentally pressed the wrong button and ended up staring at his wallpaper: a photo of Osama bin Laden. I was so surprised that I nearly dropped the phone. I've been left wondering if he's just a random loon, or if some Chinese people secretly admire him. What makes it more puzzling is that neither him nor his wife/girlfriend appeared to be Muslim, and he seemed eager to know Westerners and to know about the West.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Dafo Temple, Zhengding

Zhengding is a town on the outskirts of my city, and has an interesting assortment of old temples and pagodas. We decided to visit it on Saturday, and started our journey by getting stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the bus station, and then taking part in the vicious scrummage that passes for boarding buses in China. On our way to Zhengding, we went past our own neighbourhood, and realised we could have saved ourselves a good hour or so by picking up the bus there.

I found it hard to believe that I was only forty minutes away from my own noisy and crowded part of the city. It was so quiet that when you were away from the one main road, you couldn’t hear traffic. Everyone seemed for mellow and friendly, and we even saw goats being herded down one of the larger roads.

Thanks to Janie and Eleanor for pointing out that what I thought were sheep were in fact goats. Oops.
Dafo temple is the main draw, but despite being a sunny Saturday, there were very few people there. Still more unusual was that it actually still had the atmosphere of an active place of worship, and we found ourselves instinctively lowering our voices to whispers.

A little background info: the temple was originally built in AD 586, and has been in a state of continuous restoration ever since!

This is the gilded statue of Sakyamuni, which stands in the entrance to Manichaean Hall. This Hall would be worth the entrance fee alone. The statue has a kind of presence that I don't think translates to photographs that meant that, irreligious as we all are, we all just stopped and contemplated for a moment. And then took a photo. And then had a Chinese guy come up and ask us if we would pose for photos with his son.

These are frescoes in the Hall, and again, a photo doesn't do them justice. Amazingly you could walk right up and touch them if you wanted to.

This stunning statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, surrounded by smaller statues and what I assume to be a fantastic realisation of the sea made us all gasp when we turned the corner and saw it. The scale and skill of the artists are superlative.

This is a giant revolving octagonal bookcase that the monks used to house their sutras. They also used as a practical mediation tool, I think by pedalling it around, but unfortunately the English translation was a bit unclear.

Here we have a two-face Buddha, dating from the Ming Dynasty and pleasingly accessorized with lengths of fabric. Check out the intricacy of the ceiling decoration, this is something that always impresses me about traditional Chinese architecture.
One of the many beautiful stone statues that decorate the temple complex - I took far too many photos of them all! I just love that intricacy and spirit of this dragon-lion.

Yup, this statue is as big as the photo makes out. This is another depiction of Guanyin. The 21.3 m high statue was cast in bronze in AD 971. She is housed in the necessarily huge Pavilion of Great Mercy, which was rebuilt in 1999 according to Song Dynasty architectural manuals, and we climbed up the alarmingly steep stairs to get a closer look at her head, and to take in stunning views over the temple complex.

A close up view of her 'thousand arms', used to help reach out to those asking for mercy. Guanyin is a fascinating figure, and since my visit to the temple I'm trying to find out more about her.
The temple has some wonderfully green and relaxing garden area too. The tree is a 'Scholar Tree' and is decorated with lengths of red fabric with covered in messages. I am assuming that this is a form of prayer for good results in examinations, but I'm trying to find out for sure.

There was a collection of old statues missing heads and arms at the back of the temple gardens. I had the odd feeling of thinking that I was at an ancient site in Greece or Italy! I'm not sure if they lost bits through age, vandalism during the Cultural Revolution or if the heads were taken for museums or private collectors.
It was a wonderful day, fascinating and relaxing, encountering the China that you dream about before coming here, but that barely exists any more.

Take a day trip with My World Tuesday.

I am also repeating my plea for English language books that I made yesterday. For many of my students, purchasing a book in English, necessitating as it does a trip to a foreign language bookstore in Beijing, is a proposition as far fetched as flying to London or New York. (An average price for an English paperback is about 100 kuai.) If anyone reading this would be willing to send me an unwanted English language book, please leave a comment and I will be in touch with how to send it to me.

It would mean so much to the person who receives it, and will be a much treasured resource. I am distributing the small collection of books that I have built up here amongst my students, and their joy and gratitude is beyond what can be expressed in words. If you are generous enough to send a book, please make it one without graphic sex or violence. Thank you so much to the people that have already expressed an interest.

Monday, 27 April 2009

A Rural Student's Tale

As the fourth best school in the city, my school has an interesting social mix of students in the senior grades. It is popular with children of the aspiring middle classes, and also the new elite, who are able to get their children into the school through their contacts. The school is a beacon international school, one of only a few in our province, and therefore teenagers who are particularly talented at languages can obtain scholarships to the senior school even if they are from outside the city area. Some of my student’s homes are hundreds of miles away, and they will only return twice a year, during Spring Festival and the summer break.

Rosa is one of my most engaging students, and is an interesting, talented, tenacious and kind hearted young woman. She lives in a town on the outskirts of the city, in an area classed as rural. Although only eighty minutes away from our school by bus, being born in this area means that her life is considerably harder than those of her urban classmates, even the less well off ones. Her previous schools were badly resourced and poorly staffed, as countryside schools end up with teachers that city schools won’t employ.

She knows that to keep her place at the school and to obtain a much coveted place at university that will allow her to train as an English teacher, she must get higher grades than her urban friends need to. She normally studies from 6am to 10pm, and in her rare holidays (students normally only have Sunday afternoon off school) she is responsible for looking after her young nephew. In this she is more fortunate than some, who have to find paid employment.

The wealthiest of my students don’t even care about the fiendishly hard and stressful college entrance exams, knowing that their parents can afford to send them to a private college or abroad to study, and that their contacts will land them a well paid job later on. If Rosa fails in these exams she in unlikely to be able to break her way out of poverty.

During one of our frequent, but short conversations, between classes she told me that her brother and cousin’s husband are both migrant workers in an oil field in Gansu province. As it is so far away, it has been a more than year since they have come home. They aren’t sure if her three year old nephew will recognize his father when he next sees him.

Rosa told me that the salary is so good that the men feel the sacrifice is worth it. When I asked what it was she told me it was 600 kuai (88 USD) a month plus overtime, more than they can earn here. Despite her scholarship, it must be a considerable economic sacrifice for her family to keep her in school.

Meanwhile, some of her classmates father’s will splurge the equivalent of my very comfortable monthly salary on a single dinner, whilst their wives (and mistresses) shop in designer stores.

The ever widening gap between the rich and everyone else, never mind the poor is simply mind boggling, and surely not conducive to long term social stability. I’ll be interested to see how, and if, the Chinese government tackles it.

This brings me to something I could kick myself for not asking earlier. For many of my students, purchasing a book in English, necessitating as it does a trip to a foreign language bookstore in Beijing, is a proposition as far fetched as flying to London or New York. (An average price for an English paperback is about 100 kuai.) If anyone reading this would be willing to send me an unwanted English language book, please leave a comment and I will be in touch with how to send it to me.

It would mean so much to the person who receives it, and will be a much treasured resource. I am distributing the small collection of books that I have built up here amongst my students, and their joy and gratitude is beyond what can be expressed in words. If you are generous enough to send a book, please make it one without graphic sex or violence.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Chinglish Dentistry

Friday, 24 April 2009

Scaredy Dog

This sweet, semi cocker spaniel looking hound caught my attention whilst I maurading around the area close to school that I covered at a few weekends ago. Thinking he might make a handsome subject I crossed the street and proceeded to snap away. He seemed a bit confused at first, but then, in the photo below, it seemed like he'd gotten into winsomly posing for the camera.

However, after this photo was taken, he behaved in a truly spaniel like fashion. He barked, and then ran inside to his owner's shop/house where he peered at me from the behind the safety of the door curtain, attempting and sadly failing, to look fierce and protective, and instead looking as if he might run and hide behind his mummy at any moment. Perhaps he knew I'd been thinking about stealing him - look at those cute curly furred little legs!

Camera Critters

Urban Cloud

I was glad that I had my camera on me so that I could capture a very rare cloud behind the typically Shizzy skyscape. And as per usual when I've got my camera out in non-stereotypical photo locations, my crazy laowai antics occasioned the locals much amusement!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

N is for Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov was one of the most important people in my life for about a year or so, from spring 2006 to spring 2007, even when I wasn' t poring over his novels or relevant criticism or typing and editing and re-editing my undergraduate dissertation, thoughts about him and his work were constantly bubbling away in my mind as I worked my summer job, shopped in the supermarket or did my laundry. I found myself abbreviating his name to 'Nab-a-coffee', something that I found myself doing quite frequently as I slowly pieced my arguments together.
Obviously, I love his writing, and think that he is perhaps the greatest writer of the twentieth century. I can't understand why he is so neglected British academia, apart from the fact that he doesn't fit into convenient critical categories and is rather unfashionable at the moment. But what I want to tell you about is, briefly his life story.
He was born into privilege as the favourite son of an aristocratic Russian family, but no sooner had he inherited millions from an uncle than the Russian Revolution forced his family to flee to Europe with but what they could carry. He struggled to become known as a Russian writer amongst the emigre community in Berlin, supporting himself and his family by teaching languages and boxing. In the early 1920s his father was murdered. Unfortunately, as he gained recognition so the Nazis gained power and he had to flee with his Jewish wife and son, first to Paris, and then (after failing to gain an academic post in Britain) to America. His brother and many friends died in extermination camps.
He had realised in France that there was little future for him in writing Russian, so switched to writing in English. In America, he taught and worked as a butterfly specialist as well as working on the novel that would become Lolita. The family had little money, and lived in a variety of rented apartments. As he was nearing 60, he struggled to find a publisher who would print Lolita, eventually having to settle on a dubious Parisian pornographer, who subsequently embroiled Nabokov is various legal battles about the rights to the book. After, of course, the landmark legal trials establishing that Lolita was not an obscene book and was fit to be published and distributed in Britain and America.
How many of us, no matter how talented, could keep going despite the loss of our homeland, our language, all our family except wife and child, despite the lack of recognition, having to work two jobs to support our family, continual financial uncertainty? Even if you dislike his books, I feel that you have to admire his tenacity!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

How I Ate a Sparrow and Other Stories

As it’s now warm in the evenings the barbeques have opened. There are two along our street, both with private terrace areas, or, perhaps it is more realistic to say that there are portable tables and stools set up in erratically paved courtyards. Most barbeques sell a selection of breads and meat skewers, and are also a very convivial place to have a few beers with your friends in the evenings.
These are manto skewers - steamed buns coated in oil, herbs and salt and then barbequed. The closest western food to it would be a bagel filled with garlic butter and then grilled. It's delicious, and I can easily eat three or four.

This is the small son of the people that own/run one of the barbeque places. He likes to impress me by showing me his pog/slammer collection (yup, they’ve just become the in thing in China) or racing up and down on his little scooter. Surely he is going to grow up to be a ladies' man!
Ok, so if you didn't clock the title of the post, and are a devout vegetarian and/or find the idea of eating a sparrow completly horrifying, this would be a good time to look away.
On Friday I went out to a slightly fancier barbeque restaurant, where we had quail and sparrow as well as the usual skewers. The quail was delicious – rich yet subtle. We got the sparrow on a whim, as a table next to us asked for it and apparently described it as ‘delicious, but only a mouthful’. Neither of us had ever had it, so we thought what the hell. I couldn’t believe how small it looked when it arrived, and I admit that I had to steal myself to eat it, especially as to do so I had to hold it by the skull, and just bite into the body, spitting out the larger pieces of bone. Because of the whole bone issue, it tasted mainly crunchy, and, well, birdy. A slightly darker chicken flavour. I don’t know if I could eat one again though, both of us felt like we should pick on something more our own size. The two little barbequed carcasses just looked so sad and forlorn sitting there all naked on the big plate.

We went to a Tibetan dance on Saturday night: it consisted of teenagers in baggy jeans and hoodies (apparently American rap and hip-hop is currently the vogue with Tibetan teens) shuffling around in a giant circle, doing what reminded me of a constipated version of Scottish dancing. Only with absolutely no physical contact whatsoever. They do this for two or three hours and it is the social highlight of the week. Frankly, if this is what Tibetan Buddhism does to people, perhaps we’re all better off with it remaining a closed and mysterious land. The students did seem very sweet though, if nervous.

The combination of warm temperatures, wind and no internet finally compelled me to go and try to fly the kite I bought a while ago. There's a big patch of wasteland right by the school that people often go to fly kites, so I trotted off their diligently. I was a bit suprised as to why there were quite a few people and their cars there, either driving around aimlessly or lounging against pick up trucks. I had a few minutes of feeling rather uncomfortable and wondering if they were drug dealers before I realised that what I had taken for random accumulations of dirt were in fact marked out driving routes and it is some sort of driving practice area.
At about the point I took this photo I realised that trying to fly a kite and take photos at the same time was going to be more difficult than I thought! I was only out ther for twenty minutes or so before I got bored, I think I actually prefer taking photos of other people flying kites than doing it myself. Really, either the kite is in the air or it's not, and I found that I didn't particularly care which one it was. But here is my butterfly kite in flight...

Take a day trip somewhere else.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Downtown Dusk

Get in! I managed to upload a photo finally. Happy days. This is a rare sunset, captured as I came out of the McDonalds on Zhongshan Lu, one of the main roads in the city, and the one that most of the big shopping centres, hotels and nightclubs are on. I have my back to one of the two luxury malls in the city, where China's new rich buy their Rolex, Dior and Chanel.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Just a Little Rant

My joy at getting my internet back has been severely tempered by the realisation that I am having some sort of 'connectivity issue' that means that I can't upload photos to blogger or attach them to emails, log into facebook (a major inconvenience as that's how we arrange all our social activities) or access one of my favourite online UK newspapers. It's all very bizarre. I'm hoping that it will miraculously resolve itself, as my internet/network problems often do.

This is what I find so frustrating about China: how little things just end up being made so difficult. And something that, in various guises, has kept cropping up this week. Some of them are too long winded to go into, but a good example is getting paid. Now, when I have a job in the UK, my money gets paid into my bank account on the same day each month/week and I get an itemised pay slip so I can see if there are any mistakes. Here, I don't even know what day I'll get paid on for the month. When I do, I have to go and pick up my entire monthly wage in cash, from the accounts office. After waiting for fifteen minutes, being eyed by the other people there, I get handed my wage slip which I have to sign off (although I don't keep a copy and there's no explanation of how they work out how much I should be paid, it varies by about 200 yuan each month). Then I get handed my wodge of cash in front of everyone else there, much to their interest, and people blatantly peer to see how much I get paid and jabber about it amongst themselves.

Or the times when I just wish I could go to the supermarket, a local restaurant, or the gym without the continual staring, pointing and shouting...*sigh*

Oh well, at least I'm getting paid! I think I need to have a few Friday beers to that's what I'm off to do.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

M is for Mao

Mao statue at People's Park

This is an incredibly belated abc wednesday post! I woke up on Wednesday to find that my internet was cut off because of some of the student's were having exams. Obviously letting me know about this beforehand is an impossibility in China. Although I don't even see why it is necessary to cut off the internet for the staff's apartments anyway. But, at last it's been turned back on, so..........

Mao and the Cultural Revolution are topics that I’ve avoided with even Chinese people I’ve gotten to know quite well, and it seems to have been written out of many of the accounts of Chinese history I’ve seen. One constant reminder is that there seem to be people up to their late forties and then people in their seventies. When I’ve been introduced to people in their fifties, I would have easily thought them twenty or even thirty years older than they really are. I can’t even imagine what hardships these people must’ve endured to prematurely age them so radically.

Mao statue outside a factory - an increasingly rare sight. For some reason I felt that I had to be very surupticious taking this photo!

Another strange side effect of this traumatic period of Chinese history is the popularity of modelling classes at the gym with older women. They are taught to walk like catwalk models, and there is something quite poignant about watching them engaged in such a typical teenage activity, the kind of frippery one assumes that teenage girls were denied in Maoist China.

When I asked my students to tell me about a person they admired, Mao was chosen by a few students in each class, although they all focused on his early achievements uniting the Chinese nation after the Japanese invasion and civil war. Only one student mentioned what happened after this, saying that Mao ‘made some mistakes later in his life.’ Quite an understatement in my opinion! More students picked Zhou Enlai, who tried to restore diplomatic and trade relations with the rest of the world during the 1970s.

Mao's head on Chinese banknotes. Tip for travellers: there are many forged 50 and 100 yuan notes around, to check yours are real, rub Mao's shoulder. It should feel slightly raised.

The only heard one anti-Mao statement from a Chinese person here. It came from a friend as a group of us were waiting in McDonalds after going out clubbing. Holding a hundred yuan note in his hand he declared in English how much he despised Mao, then proceeded to rub Mao’s face against his crotch. Ironically, one reason why this young man enjoys a comfortable lifestyle is that both his parents are very high up in the Communist Party. Although from what I have gathered from my Chinese friends, now membership of the Communist Party is more to do with ambition, as membership is a de facto necessity for progressing your career. All the wealthiest people are card carrying members of the Party.

Visit other abc wednesdays.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Beijing: Jinshanling to Simatai Great Wall

During the our break for the National Day holiday, we hiked along the Great Wall, choosing the most section described by Lonely Planet as 'invigorating', presumably because you feel lucky to be alive at the end of it! It is the least touristy and least renovated section of the Wall. We hiked for about 10km, although I swear that with the about of up-and-downing we were doing it felt like twice the distance!

At this point, I had only been in China for a little over a week, and my friends had been here for a month. When I look back on that first trip to Beijing, it's strange to remember how timid we all were, and how strange and confusing the city was to us, when now we think nothing about skedadling around it by ourselves. The rest of the post is adapted from my journal.

It's a strange feeling (like the Pyramids at Giza) of amazement at being there, rather than looking at a photo and being overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time (one is still one's quotidian self after all).

The lushness of colourness and the freshness of the air were remarkable. I think I would appreciate the big, sweeping vistas even more after spending most of the last seven months in big cities.

The views were beautiful, and there was the feeling of oddness at walking over something so old, that so many others have tramped along too. Wondering what the unfortunates who made the wall (legends have it that the wall is filled with the bones of workers who died) thought of it, and how soldiers coped with the vertiginous ascents and descents when wearing armour.

We'd stop to rest in the watchtowers. The one's that were more restored gave welcome shade too, although we'd have to fight off the vendors trying to sell us water or beer. (Beer?! Are some of the people walking this thing suicidal?)

When the Chinese say unrestored they certainly mean it - I nearly cried walking down here. Apart from fear of heights, another annoyance was the hawkers that seemed to stalk their prey at the most strenous ascents - seriously lady, do you think I'm going to buy your mangy postcards when I'm wondering whether it's falling down and breaking my neck or a heart attack that's going to finish me off?

The lake at the end of our hike, and guess who didn't enjoy the suspension bridge! My friends took a zip line across the water, but I walked down because I think that otherwise I might have actually passed out from fear.

Take a day trip somewhere new.

China Blossoms

The last few weeks have seen the greyness of the Shiz punctured by emerging blossoms, pink, white and a shocking, fake looking magenta. Coupled with the sudden, and delightful, occurance of blue skies, it induced the shocking realisation that Shijiazhuang could be, and occasionally is, a beautiful city. I have got so used to thinking of its ugliness and pollution as compeletly inevitable, but there is no reason why it couldn't become a pleasant, modern garden city.

I took advantage of a particularly pleasant day last week to go and photo the splendid displays of blossom on this tree in the school.

Whilst I was snapping away, I got talking with some of my senior 2 students who were on duty at the front entrance. They are now seriously thinking about which universities they want to apply to, and which subjects they want to study, and I had an interesting chat with them about it. The girl on the left wants to work in a bank, but her parents and teacher want her to become a teacher. The girl in the middle wants to be a Chinese, English or history teacher, and is hoping to get into a prestigious teacher training university in Beijing. The girl on the left wants to study international business. This is a reasonable reflection of the ambitions of my senior students. The two most popular career choices seem to be business and teaching, followed by the army, medicine, and law.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Sunday Strolling

destruction preceding construction: I expect a new apartment block (like the one in the background, will be built here)

a gate to one of the apartment buildings

I didn’t enjoy getting up at 6.30 (as if I ever do!) but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. I waited for the bus for so long that I ended up having to take a taxi and could’ve snoozed for another half hour, but I’ve had a really good day so I don’t mind. This young guy, an international trade major now working in an import/export business, came up to me at the bus stop and struck up a conversation with me – he was so nervous he was shaking, but by the end of our brief conversation he was smiling and tremble free, which made me feel happy. I hope he’s gained a bit more confidence speaking English now, as he was really very good.
one of the Olympic mascots, this was one of several stencils on the walls by the art school
this is one of several pictures trying to discourage anti social behaviour such as littering, removing man-hole covers (!) and fly posting...guess what people were doing whilst I was taking this picture...

I had my last day teaching at Ai Hua, the private English school I’ve been a cover teacher for this week. The classes were pretty uneventful, not very stretching or interesting to teach, but the kids are OK and it’s easy money. Two of the little girls in my last class were excited to find a resemblance between me and the Disney princesses on their pencil cases, which was quite cool. Although sometimes I curse the fact that in China I’m a size XL, (and M at the very very best), it’s also surely one of the few countries where anyone would seriously think I look like a cartoon princess.

I had a two and a half hour break between my morning and afternoon classes, and so I entertained myself by wandering around the local market and housing estate. It’s a very pleasant area, quiet but with lots of shops and market vendors, a primary school and a private art school.
yummy yummy!
this man is the baozi king!

These are the best baozi (large steamed bread dumplings) that I’ve ever had. So good that I might consider taking the bus there again just to eat them. And amazingly good value at 2 kuai (20p) for six.
my main difficulty at the vegetable market was choosing which delicious looking veggies to buy!

I checked out the fruit and vegetable market, and bought some delicious strawberries that I ate from the bag as I walked, and finished off sitting underneath the beautiful flowering trees that lined one street, which is the best smelling part of China I’ve visited! Perching on the wall of the primary school, watching the people walking by, (and being discreetly watched by the Chinese street vendors), enjoying the relative peace and quiet and mingled smells of ripe, sweet strawberries and heady yet delicate flowers is a China memory I know I’ll cherish.
where I perched
If you have any idea what species this tree is I'd love to know, my knowledge of botany know consists of merely the memory of having to memorze the chemcial equasion for photosynthesis!

On a slightly more mundane level, in the same neighbourhood I also fond what seems to be the only shop in the city that sells shorts, which is a relief as my cosy jogging bottoms are now becoming rather torturous to actually work out in.

a map of the housing estate; the numbered orange blocks are apartment buildings, some of which have shops or businesses on the ground (or first) floor