Well it was looking like a disaster. Somewhere between the back door and the living room I put my last glass of wine down. After 30 minutes of increasingly frantic walking back and forth glancing (almost) everywhere I was coming to the opinion that it would have to stay wherever it was until I got back from China. AND then (more…)

22nd June 2015

I think I’ve mentioned Harry before. A teaching colleague, indeed my only teaching colleague. He’s moving to the university down the road. A good teacher and a smart funny American Liberal. We ‘shoot the breeze’ as he puts it and seem to agree on most things. 

Do these remarks reveal my default prejudice ? Well maybe they do. But I do have SOME data. We might call it a micro qualitative survey.  In Zhuhai in January I soon made friends with an Afghan who was living in China. A really nice man. A surgeon. Used to live in Kabul but then had to get out as some lovelorn Talib was after his wife.  Best not to argue with these chaps if you want to stay alive. Some of his Relatives were killed in the American Invasion. The things he told me were horrifying. And yet there was an underlying calmness and generosity about him that I found quite difficult to understand. It was very impressive. One night we were chatting over Tsing Dao’s as we did most nights. An American teacher had come with us and Hamid, that’s the Afghan guy’s name, and me were discussing the 2001 invasion. I said I thought there was a case to be made for it, albeit a weak one. Hamid, rather to my surprise, agreed. Hamid turned to the American teacher and asked him what he thought the rationale of the invasion was. “Because Afghanistan sucks” he said with a cheery smile. 

He deserved a punch for that witless remark but he didn’t get one. We spent the rest of the evening ever so politely ignoring him although I don’t think he noticed. So…. I know, anecdotal evidence, a small sample to say the least…….but……It was great to meet Harry. 

The leaving do was a dinner at a restaurant I hadn’t been to before. Best Dinner, or perhaps Banquet is a better word, I have had since I’ve been here. I think there were 12 of us, mostly students. The food was *delicious* as ALL my students always say, despite the fact that I’ve taught them other adjectives. I briefly totted up how much it cost. About £3 a head. I offered a tenner but was told this was simply not possible by the students, some of whom I know don’t have much money. Then there was a discussion as to what to do after dinner. Of course the answer in England would be to go to the Pub and drink more but China is different. It’s a difference I like. I suggested playing Pool but Harry wanted Karaoke and it was his night……

15th June 2015
There we go (OK I know it’s loose tea but … Lemmy)

Everything I could possibly want is here.  

Sorry. There should have been a picture of a box of *Earl Grey* tea bags here. Fortunately my very good friend Lemmy is coming next week. What he doesn’t know about computing isn’t worth knowing.

15th June 2015

I seem to be establishing daily routines now. Most days I have coffee in a cafe in Student Street. I go in and the proprietor greets me like a long lost friend. I then ask for coffee in my excruciatingly bad Chinese. A few weeks ago I indicated that I wanted to sit outside so now when I go in his daughter carries a table outside for me. His other daughter carries a chair out for me  and the guy who runs the clothing store next door usually appears, offers me a fag, and goes to get an ashtray for me. I settle down with my coffee and the proprietor’s wife then plugs in an electric fan and puts it next to me. Usually a little crowd has gathered now. I’m available for questions and answer them as best I can. Tonight one of the daughters was concerned that my chair wasn’t comfortable enough and brought out an upholstered one.

In ALL the guides to China I read before arriving here there was one thing that they agreed on. Chinese customer service was non existent. I beg to differ. 

I like to think I’m settling in well but China always holds a surprise or two for me. I took a bus to Wanda Plaza today, the local Shopping Mall. The idea was to go to Walmart, yes very Chinese I know, to get some of my favourite foods. Pathetic but you’ve no idea how a digestive biscuit brightens my day. Bought some cheese too. Difficult to get in China. I went on the bus. The usual 1950s bone shaker but with brilliant Air-Con. It’s very hot here at the moment. 

I went into Walmart and got my stuff. This supermarket like most in China sells live fish. I watched a man net a large fish from the tank and then clumsily kill it by whacking it against the counter. I don’t like this sort of thing. There seems to be a casual cruelty to animals amongst some Chinese that perturbs me. But I’m a sentimental Brit of course. 

When I left a tent was being set up outside and I realised it was a circus troupe. They had a remarkably lifelike stuffed Lion and a Tiger on display………..and then they moved ! I watched the act. The Lion and the Tiger wandered round the cage, a very precarious looking cage with a pretty Mongolian woman encouraging them. Perhaps I should have been protesting but I was transfixed. The act was accompanied by Madonna singing *La Isla Bonita.* Well, a recording obviously. 

On my way home it occurred to me that I had been in a big city, seen probably thousands of people but not one other Westerner. I know what you’re thinking. How could I know ? Well put it like this, I saw no one who could be described as White and no one who could be described as Black either. But…. I was welcomed and helped. I struggled to describe the cake I wanted in a coffee shop and a Chinese woman asked me if I wanted some help. The guy on the next seat on the bus smiled and wanted to talk. I’m not sure all Foreigners are treated so nicely in my Country…….. 

It must have been in 1976 that I had my first Chinese takeaway. Pieces of fatty pork fried in batter in a sauce spiked with industrial quantities of sugar ; something called Chicken Chow Mein, and the obligatory Pancake roll. I loved it, it seemed like a taste of the exotic in the little provincial town where I grew up. Kettering, since you ask. 

Well perhaps needless to say, Chinese food, the stuff they give you in China is nothing like that. There are distinct regional cuisines but what I want to tell you about here is the food in the university canteen where I eat. Rice and noodles are staples. The Rice is ladled out into stainless steel bowls from what looks like a small skip. You grab one of these first and then wander along to the counters, there are 5,  where smiling Chinese ladies, who enjoy listening to the crazy foreigner trying to talk in Chinese are waiting to help. At counter 1 is my favourite food. Noodles in peanut sauce. Small red dishes sit at the back of the counter with peanut sauce pre-loaded. Your noodles are boiled in front of you in something that looks not unlike a witch’s cauldron and then placed on top of the sauce. Important to work fast here otherwise the noodles congeal into one lump. So some spring onion, coriander, mustard seeds and hot sauce, and then off to the other counters for side dishes. The side dishes come on a dainty little steel plate. You want peanuts, they’ve got them. Tomatoes and scrambled egg, no problem. Or perhaps a hard-boiled egg, soaked in something that turns it a shiny black ? It tastes much better than it sounds. Tofu, yum yum. 

Well, it’s now time to take your tray and pick up your chopsticks and spoon. They are always swirled in hot water before using them. I’m not quite sure why, they looked pretty clean but everybody else does it so I do too. And then look for a table directly underneath a fan If the weather is hot. 

Eating with chopsticks  can be tricky but I’m getting much better at it. I can NOW pick up individual peanuts and eat them quite easily. I am inordinately and stupidly proud of this new found talent and now prefer chopsticks to a knife and fork. But the true pros can lift a hard boiled egg and nibble the end of it. Stabbing is NOT approved of. The meat dishes can be awkward. Pretty much all the meat dishes have bones in. The usual way of dealing with this is to spit them out onto your tray. Elegantly ! And many of the students do. Indeed some of them seem to acquire a little pile of bones on their tray without me seeing them spit. It’s important to take tissues to the table to wipe your mouth. I of course usually forget mine and concerned students offer me a tissue as I realise the hot sauce is dribbling down my chin. Occasionally much to my embarrassment they offer to wipe my chin for me !! If I really push the boat out for this feast I can spend as much as £2. 

There are only two dishes I can’t cope with. One is Fish head. Just the head. Too bony. The other is chicken feet. Chicken claws make me feel slightly nauseous I’m ashamed to say but it’s not just that. There’s no meat on the damn things. I don’t see the point. 

Afterwards I retire to the other counter for coffee. Excellent coffee !! It comes in a faux Starbucks cup and I ponder my good fortune at living and teaching here……

6th June 2015

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8f/Duerer-Prayer.jpg Well the good news is that my Visa has been granted and my passport has been returned, Ilana at CTMS Travel has done the job in an exemplary way. Now I have a lovely label attached to page 18 of my passport. Why page 18 I wonder especially as all the other pages are blank. Is there any logic that argues against using the first blank page I wonder? Is it perhaps a subtle way of saying to us lowly visaees that visaors are so busy and important they don’t have time to flick through and find the next empty page? I’m sure not!! (more…)

I was wondering whether some of you reading this might wonder what *the deal is* ! Yes that phrase is for you two in the USA. Hello Julia in Alaska and you Esme in North Carolina. 

Well I teach for 20 periods of 45 minutes each and that includes 4 periods of overtime. I work from textbooks occasionally but they are mostly so boring that I prepare my own materials. And that’s not really work because it’s good fun. I try to find things that will interest my students. Any TEFL textbook that you care to open will have a topic on *Food* and *Travel*. Did you know that the Province of Sichuan has spicy food, the British like Fish and Chips and The Eiffel Tower is in Paris ? You did ? Yes me too and every Intermediate English Language student in China ! So I try to do things that are a bit different. Mental health in the West. The power of the Media. What are Western students like ? What are the differences between Western and Chinese pedagogy ? I normally stick up for Chinese Pedagogy on that one.  No one else will and to be fair this is a hot topic in China too. 

So what do I get ? Well, what’s called an Apartment but it’s more like a bedsit but it’s rent free. 80000¥ a month which is peanuts in Britain but buys a lot here. And intangibles like kindly clever amusing students, a relaxing environment ( I’ve never known anywhere so noisy ) but curiously it’s relaxing too. So if any of you are thinking of doing this, yes I do mean you Glenn Hanson, disillusioned Socialist from Hull, you could and you should. 

It won’t be long now until I set off on the old silk road! Or to put it more accurately Air China flight CA856  to Beijing and then on to Fuzhou. It goes without saying that China is a first for me but so will the long haul flight. The longest I’ve spent flying to date is under 2 hours. The travel nurse that gave me my Hep A, Typhoid and Tetanus jabs advised me to wear travel socks and move about a lot so I plan to take bags of sweets with me and make my way up and down the aisles offering them to all the passengers. Perhaps a song and dance routine might go down well too, it would certainly keep the blood clots at bay. (more…)

You know those horrible programmes on British TV in the mornings that find lumpen-proletarians who want their five minutes of fame and then take the mickey out of them ? None of those at all. You see it wouldn’t make sense in China. This pleases me rather.