27th January 2016

China has about 1.3 billion people and the biggest holiday of the year is just starting. Between now and 7th February about 750 million people will be going home. It’s chaos. Bus and railway stations are jammed and many roads are choc a bloc. And to make it even MORE difficult this year there has been snow in Southern China. Southern China doesn’t DO snow. These people are going to their *home towns*, sometimes villages in poor areas to see Mum and Dad, Grandparents, and sometimes their children. Many are what are called migrant workers who work  in the big cities but can’t get permanent residency there. I see some of them on roads outside the main drag of  Fuzhou on the bypasses. Imagine a young man or woman, sometimes not so young on an underpowered moped with luggage the size of a wheelie bin on the back. They might be going 2000 kilometres………. “God bless them, every one”.So where is the Chinese Dickens to write an Epic Novel about this ? To be fair, he’s probably already written it but I can’t read Chinese script. 

When they get home they will have great food; families save up, and youngsters will get *Red Envelopes* with *Lucky money* in them.

 I know some Chinese people read this blog. Happy Spring Festival. I’m staying here but will go to Wuhan on the 8th February. I’m booking my ticket….and I hope I’ll get it. 😧

27th January 2016

Most students have gone home for Spring Festival  now and the university is getting like a ghost town. Many shops in Student Street are shut but the chemist was still open so I thought I’d pop in to weigh myself, always depressing, and buy a couple of packets of aspirins, seriously strong and good here. Lao Ban, Chinese for *the boss* greeted me by name and explained that they’d run out of aspirin at the counter so his assistant would have to go upstairs to get some more. I would, unfortunately have to wait so he gave me a cigarette to while away the time…….I do LIKE China. 

27th January 2016

I read on some blog somewhere about an American guy in China going for a haircut. As he spoke no Chinese he gestured with his thumb and forefinger to say just cut a little bit off. Unfortunately the barber thought he meant just leave a little bit on…..

I like to think I’m not vain, indeed those of you who know me will be aware that I have nothing to be vain about but I don’t want to be scalped, so for previous haircuts I’ve always taken a student along to translate. It’s the end of term here and there are no students I know well about, so I knew I had to do it myself. Knowing only the Chinese for *centre parting* I got the bus to the barbers. The guy who cut my hair had a hairstyle reminiscent of early Elvis Presley, impressive but not Er..my style. Years ago a hairdresser friend told me that if you see a hairdresser with a good haircut you don’t want HER to cut your hair, you want her best chum at the Salon to cut your hair. Thinking of this I lay down on the couch to have my hair washed. Even the most spit and sawdust places wash your hair. I like it but it’s always a bit weird when they put their fingers inside your ears. I always try not to make eye contact when my hair is being washed. They don’t either. I must re-read Goffman. 

After the wash I sat in the chair and  he got started. I tried for small talk but he wasn’t having any. I smiled but he didn’t smile back. So I contemplated my chins. He did get out a vast array of plastic clips though, and started snipping away. Only pausing to change scissors now and again he kept snipping. I don’t mean that he was taking too much off. After about 20 minutes I thought it was great but he obviously didn’t. Snip snippety snip, although now just cutting off tiny little bits. This man I thought was a perfectionist. Just as I was dozing off he whipped the plastic gown off me and said what I assume was the Chinese word for voila ! It was a great cut, it took 10 years off me. Yes yes I know, I only look 73 now. 

One of the nice things about my Chinese language ability now is that although it’s still appalling I know how to ask *how much* and I understand the answer ……usually. This haircut cost 27¥, a snip, sorry, which struck me as ludicrously cheap. If you read the guide books they usually say don’t tip, a hangover from the Communist Era maybe, you don’t tip comrades. But I like tipping, particularly if they look like they could use the money. I’ve had reactions ranging from extreme delight to a look that said, I think, go fuck yourself ! I gave a tip this time and I also gave him a cigarette, a common gesture of friendship in China. He seemed pleased. 

Interesting fact. Well I think it’s interesting. My hairdresser friend from all those years ago had spent £600 on her scissors. And that was pretty cheap apparently. 

Newspaper headlines: Junior doctors strike and Sian Blake death arrest – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-the-papers-35274506

Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, former BBC disc jockey, dies – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-35273252

9th January 2016

It’s that time of the year. Nearly the end of the Semester so I’ve been setting and marking exams. An essay for them to write with strict instructions not to nick it off the Internet for European Culture ; a Comprehension Paper for the Reading Exam and then there’s  the Spoken English Exam. My favorite. It works like this : 

I give them a choice of 12 topics. They have to pick one and talk about it for three minutes. I always give them the topics about five minutes before the exam. This is to discourage rehearsal and speech making, the weaker students always want to do this. The topics include unexciting stuff like “Spring Festival” and “My last holiday” but I do offer some more interesting topics. “My first year at university” is quite popular as is “Beer” and “Love”. 

So I got to the class early,  no matter how early I get there, there are always students who arrive before me, and I set the scene. 2 chairs and a desk. I then brief the students. This time in the middle of my talk a student arrived five minutes late. She was profusely apologetic, almost in tears and she was ON CRUTCHES ! You will not be surprised to hear that I said it didn’t matter but it gives a little insight into the authoritarian nature of how they are treated sometimes perhaps. 

I then send them all out of the class and they come in one by one. Some of what they say is funny, some is poignant. A lot of students, both boys and girls pick “Love”. They often say that they have no boyfriend or girlfriend and would like one very much. One girl told me that she loved her granny the best. When I asked why she said that she had brought her up as her parents had to go to another city to work. She saw her parents once a year at Spring Festival. A girl came in and told me she would talk about beer. She said that she sometimes drank beer with her father and she liked this very much as it was the only time that they got on. 

Anyway “Spring Festival” beckons. I’m off to Wuhan. Happy New Year to everybody who reads my ramblings.