9th August 2019

So much has happened

I arrived for the bus far too early but the driver beckoned me on and gave me a cigarette. He didn’t seem to speak any English and I don’t speak much Chinese so we puffed companionably together whilst admiring the new *No Smoking* sign. 

16th February 2016

I’ve just returned from a week in Wuhan to see my good friend Hamid. He’s just graduated with a Master’s in Surgery there. Any Prostate problems, he’s your man.  I met him in Zhuhai when I did my TEFL certificate, an Afghan with a remarkably well developed sense of humour which is just as well ! Chinese people, as with most people in the West perhaps, associate Afghanistan with Terrorism and trouble. True of course but not the whole truth. 

Wuhan has a remarkable history. Occupied by the Japanese between 1937 and 1944, it was bombed by the Americans towards the end of the War. It perhaps has a claim to be China’s Dresden, you can still see the results of the bombing if you look carefully. Anyway, enough of the History…..

I stayed at an IBIS Hotel, it’s a French chain. I stayed in one once near Heathrow and was amused to note that the curtains were the same pattern. Hamid and I met up and of course fancied a night on the Town. So we consulted my *Lonely planet Guide* and took a taxi to the area that sells the best street food. The taxi driver dropped us off at a quiet corner. We looked around and saw two rather desolate restaurants and nothing else. Hmmmm. It IS Spring Festival but maybe he’s dropped us off at the wrong place. Hamid and I know one another well now. We’ve been on many nights out together. At this point we always purchase a tiny bottle of the National Hooch, Baijou. We drank it and decided what to do. Hamid was convinced that we’d been dropped off at the wrong place and if we walked THAT way for about 20 minutes we’d get there. I was sceptical. 

Then our Angel, Serendipity, arrived. It was a middle aged man in a crash helmet driving a motorcycle. Well I say a motorcycle. It was a drastically underpowered electric bicycle. He knew where we wanted to go and indeed he’d take us there for 15¥. Hamid bargained him down to 10¥ and we got on. Both of us. I would never have done this if it wasn’t for the effect of the Baijou. It was a remarkably smooth ride until Hamid put his hands round my neck. He wanted a selfie……!! 

4th February 2016

One of the great things about China is that, mostly, I never get scammed. They do it so much better in Venice. I’ve been treated so kindly here in Fuzhou. Sometimes, even when I’ve got the Chinese wrong, I’m treated with the utmost kindness. But airports can be dodgy, and that’s what I want to tell you about….

I was so tired at Beijing Airport. And I was at the wrong terminal….. I spoke to a nice Chinese guy and he said don’t worry, there’s your bus. It’s free, just sit on it………..and then a friendly Chinese  woman wearing a uniform, the uniform is important, said what time is your flight?  I told her and she said you’re late. “Don’t worry I’ll get you a taxi”.

She then of course hailed a taxi, the last words she said to me were “You do have Chinese money ?” I did indeed. I got in the Taxi and then the guy in the front non driving seat in the taxi waved a piece of cardboard at me. It seemed that the minimum price was 300¥ for about 8 miles. About £30. I then shouted, and yelled, and then screamed. They asked me if I wanted to get out and I said no. They dropped me at the right terminal eventually and the driver said he wouldn’t get my suitcase out until I’d paid him. I yelled at him and threatened to hit him and threw him a 100¥ note and walked away. So ok I RAN away. They’re even kind scams. They lose their nerve. I love you China. 

Addendum : A taxi from Heathrow Airport to Windsor is about £40. And that’s legal.

I think in Britain we can be absurdly sentimental about animals. I remember a terrible fuss about the Queen going pheasant shooting at Sandringham and breaking the neck of a wounded bird. Exactly the right thing to do of course, put the poor creature out of its misery. And I actually enjoy shooting, although I haven’t done it for a while. I hope that doesn’t shock you Rebecca, if you’re reading this. I have a rule though, if I kill it I eat it. With the exception of rats. This strikes me as a much more morally decent position than buying some antibiotic-stuffed cleverly lit piece of meat from Tesco. Meat is mostly greyish but it doesn’t look it in the display cabinets. I suppose what I’m saying is that it’s good to do your own dirty work. I’d like to hear an opposing argument from someone who is not a vegetarian. I like fishing too. I treat them as best I can and put them back. 

But….some things I see in China turn my stomach. I’ve watched live turtles being disembowelled and in the supermarkets they sell live fish. Often the shopper will take the fish out of the tank and then very inexpertly try to kill it by banging it against the side of the tank. A couple of times I’ve offered to kill the fish. Occasionally I see fish on the conveyor belt in a plastic bag at the till which are obviously still alive. Not good. There’s a nice line from Jeremy Bentham saying something like, the question is not whether they can think but whether they can feel pain?  The answer seems  obvious to me but even if were unsure we should give them the benefit of the doubt. 

There is a dedicated fishing channel on Chinese TV like there is in the UK. I found it by flicking through the channels one night. Perhaps I’m a tad romantic but I like to think that when I’m fishing in the UK I’m communing with nature. I wear drab clothes and keep quiet. Chinese anglers wear fluorescent trainers, hi-viz jackets and shout a lot. Although perhaps that’s unfair. TV has certain demands. When I watched this channel I was pleased to see that they put the fish back. Then I watched a Chinese angler hold up his prize for a photograph by putting his fingers in its eyes. 

Chinese people are no more or less cruel than Brits. Indeed it is of course absurd to talk about cruel Nations. But there is a category difference here somewhere.  I notice these things and most Chinese people don’t. Brits may be too sentimental, no let’s call it empathetic but the Chinese aren’t empathetic enough. Maybe we should learn from one another. 

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