December 2015’s posts

I’ve lost my Stinky Tofu virginity

4th December 2015

Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

 

Last weekend flew by like a Russian aircraft imposing upon another country’s airspace.  Stinky Tofu (chòu dòufu 臭豆腐) was finally tried on Saturday night, alongside some scrumptious fish and chicken dishes along a riverbank, in strewth knows where because I wasn’t quite sure.  It could have been Daojiao or Songshan Hu (Lake)… I honestly don’t know which area I was in, such was the nature of the bus journey there.  The bus seemed to slip back along riverbank roads, squeeze down sidestreets like a four-wheel drived vehicle, swerve and dart aalong narrow lanes before arriving at the destination I was reliabily informed as being “there.”

 

There are many ways to make Stinky Tofu (chòu dòufu 臭豆腐).  In traditional methods a brine made from fermented milk, vegetables, and meat is involved.  Regionally, the brine may also include dried shrimp, mustards, bamboo shoots, herbs and more.  My portion was deep-fried, rich in coriander and accompanied by very spicy sauce.  It actually tasted very meaty and rich in flavour, once the initial smell by the nose passed.  Afterwards, the smell seemed to disappear.  The aftertaste was incredible.  Very, very full-bodied, satisfying and warming.  I can now see why it is so popular.  I certainly won’t be rushing to try locusts, cicadas, sparrows, duck blood soup, BBQ Chicken AssBull Penischicken in pig intestine, like Williams Davies Jr in Hubhao’s Hardcore Food Challenge column but his first challenge of stinky tofu now seems a soft one, at best.

 

On Sunday night Murray’s FC faced up to Sociali FC again.  We came out victorious with an 8-5 victory, “Fede Express” scored five to give a healthy win, despite the game being a tightly ran 3-2 (in our favour) at the interval.  Last night (Tuesday) Murray’s FC drew 2-2 with Red Lions Dongguan FC and Cavera FC claimed the title, holding off Murray’s FC Aberystwyth in the league table on goal difference.  I feel completely worn down, have extra shin bruising and my joint ache.  I need a rest.

 

After yesterday’s primary school meeting-middle school meeting-class-classshorter lunch, no nap (winter is coming)-class-class-VIP class-performance rehearsal-home for pasta-cycle to football-football-cycle a little way back-fix puncture-cycle back-try to wind down-sleep for after midnight.  During the day, grade 6 classes (classes 608, 607, 606 and 605) were golddust in my desert of scarpered soul.  They really enthuse for lessons and give that little bit extra.  Their level of humour is just right, just innocent enough to avoid words learned by grade 7 that Father Ted did ever so well to mutate to “feck” in order to beat broadcasters.  The boys in grade 7 are all going through that phase of having to use it at every conceivable opening.  The problem is when it starts off, they all carry it on, a little like class 704’s love for the word fish.  They’ve managed to put the two words together in a kind of local curse which sounds like a clothing brand.  90% of the time I ignore the foul curses and they fade away.  The other 10% of the time I can explain it to one or two students and they get it.  The prospect of soap washing their mouths is not welcomed.  Not that this is my threat.  Chinese insults and abusive curses heard by teachers will be met with this punishment.  The odd thing is… the school bathrooms haven’t had handsoap in them for well over 12 months.  Maybe this explains where the soap is.

 

With respect to the performance here is the song and dance plan.  There are a few notes and all is subject to change.  This Thursday we must show it to the school leaders in period 6.  To date, we have rehearsed only twice.  Yesterday and earlier today.  This lunch time and evening are going to be tiring.  All this running around, it is so tiring.  No necessary pain, no comprehendible gain.  Tess is clearly passionate for dance and has heavily influenced the choreograpy.  Albin, Anna and Albin, the treble As of Dao Ming helped select the songs and added plenty of ideas along the way.  I just turned up.

Here comes the sun Little darling
Its been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling
It seems like years since its been here

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun
And I say
Its alright

Little darling
The smiles returning to the faces
Little darling
It seems like years since its been here

Here comes the sun (du dn du du)
Here comes the sun
And I say
Its alright

0:00 – 0:58

 

John (sun center) starts on stage

One person comes on each side of the stage

Next two come on

Put the sun together, sway a hot sec

Boy/girl partners link arms and spin

Ensuing do do do do rays spin away

Back to sun formation

Sun prop [polystyrene, chopsticks, tough card/resin, paints, paper, the amazing art skills of Tess]

Help from my friend What would you think if I sang out of tune
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song
And I’ll try not to sing out of key

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mmm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Mmm, gonna try with a little help from my friends

What do I do when my love is away
(Does it worry you to be alone?)
How do I feel by the end of the day
(Are you sad because you’re on your own?)

No, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mmm, get high with a little help from my friends
Mmm, gonna try with a little help from my friends

Do you need anybody?
I need somebody to love

0:55 – 02:02

Turn around sunrays to find letters for HELP.  ! ON ROUND part of the sun

All have placards with the letters to HELP! We start the word in reverse order “!PLEH” before Albin rearranges them unbuttoning his shirt to reveal a t-shirt with the word friend on it.

Sign in proper order, sway

Bring me sunshine Bring me sunshine in your smile
Bring me laughter all the while
In this world where we live
There should be more happiness
So much joy you can give
To each brand new bright tomorrow
Make me happy through the years
Never bring me any tears
Let your arms be as warm
As the sun from up above
Bring me fun, bring me sunshine, bring me love

Bring me sunshine in your smile
Bring me laughter all the while

02:15 – 03:16

 

Grab umbrellas

 

Spinning, open in front of us

 

Close umbrellas on emphasis 2-1-2

 

Dance routine loosely based on Morecambe & Wise.

A Hard Day’s Night It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’d been working like a dog
It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping like a log
But when I get home to you I find the things that you do
Will make me feel alright

You know I work all day to get you money to buy you things
And it’s worth it just to hear you say you’re going to give me everything
So why on earth should I moan, cos when I get you alone
You know I feel OK

When I’m home everything seems to be right
When I’m home feeling you holding me tight, tight, yeah

03:17 – 04:11

 

Asger:  marking school homework, piled high on a desk

 

John: All enter wearing sunglasses and affix sun prop together

Anna: (as above)

Albin: (as above)

Asgar: (as above)

 

School desk prop, with piles of school books and a stupendously large red pen.

 

Keep your head up Only rainbows after rain
The sun will always come again and
It’s a circle, circling around again
It comes around again

I said only rainbows after rain
The sun will always come again
It’s a circle, circling around again
It comes around

But, you gotta keep your head up
Oh oh
And you can let your hair down
Eh eh
You gotta keep your head up
Oh oh
And you can let your hair down
Eh eh
I know it’s hard, know it’s hard to remember sometimes
But, you gotta keep your head up
Oh oh
And you can let your hair down
Eh eh eh eh eh

Keep your head up
Oh oh
And you can let your hair down
Eh eh

 

04:12 – 05:16

 

 

Exercise dance

 

Hey-ho

 

 

My Spring festival finishing date is January the 1st… but because we have that day off for a holiday, it is December the 31st.  The return date is either February the 18th of February the 22nd.  Time to budget (tightly) and plan the 50 plus days inbetween.  I expect learning Chinese, writing and sightseeing are on the agenda.

 

Just watching the news on TV regarding the UK’s debate on airstrikes in SyriaBombs fix things. Simple. They fix the potential for global escalation of warfare, the arms industry and possible extra pipelines. They fix hate into the physche of the desperate, the radical and the stupid. They fix the need for global powers and regions to split apart. Troops on the ground moderating and ending genocides, villages under occupation, etc are fare bettter ideas but equally complex and why should anyone in the world care about that in this day and age when we’re too busy fighting over discount TVs at a Friday non-event that was never previously a non-event but now we’re enforced to believe it is a non-event that is worthy of promotion to the Champions League of non-events. Nuclear weapons are there for a reason, use them. The worlds gone to shit since humans came about, and the Mad Max utopia doesn’t look that bad, unless you’re ginger. You may get sunburnt. All this is because of ISIS. Everyone should direct their abuse to ISIS. The International Species Information System is inncent though.

 

After wèishénme (why?) comes shéi/shuí (who?)…  Chinese can often seem like reverse engineering and in trying to understand a different language I’m torn between literal translations and learning by examples.  Instead of thinking, that is a little apple, should I be thinking “tā shi xiǎo píngguǒ.”

 

I’ve just exited class 704 which refrained from using the fish word, although one potty-mouthed boy keeps directing his obscentities at me.  I’m not proud, but I gave him a lesson in humility and after that he fell in line.  All of his teachers have real problems with him.  He is the smallest student and did not enter Dao Ming until the beginning of the year.  He has a very cruel smile and also a demeanor where he does not try, he just expects.  To the credit of the whole class, the team with the student insistent on the word fish, actually controlled the rest of the class.  Midway through, one boy even admitted they were too naughty and were sorry for their behaviour in the last few classes.  With exams looming, they know they have to up their game with respect to oral English lessons.  Class 702 before them were equally well-behaved and tried equivalently as hard.  The difference there being that six students were constantly using glue sticks to make small rubbery balls of glue.  When asked about it, they’d respond uniformly as, “We’re making snow.”  The answer clearly intended to justify their actions and for me to allow said motions to pass.  It was quite a quiet non-distraction and didn’t stop the students talking in English, so why say no?

 

This weekend I shall mostly be watching曼城 Màn chéng (Manchester City) on their quest to be Guàn jūn (Champions) in the Yīng Chāo (Premier League).  I may or may not be calling into Hong Kong for the 2016 Christmas Santa Stroll.  I’m hoping I can, but is so expensive to go for a day out there – and a night away is far more expensive there than in the U.K.  Having skipped a game for Murray’s FC last night due to school work, I’m skipping Murray’s FC’s Footgolf trip to Mission Hills tomorrow too.  There is a Craft Beer event in DongCheng I’ll be missing too.  So much happens, all at the same time.  Isn’t it always the way?

 

Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

An optimist went to The Optimist (and came out optimistic)

7th December 2015

Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

 

So, that’s that.  The weekend moved before me like a blink of an eye.  Luckily the exhaustions of last week are behind me and the week ahead can be greeted with energy.  With respect to how much positive and negative energy is anyone’s guesses.  Looking at my recent niggling injuries and fitness, most of the griping pains have eased to nearly nothing but fitness still remains average to below average.

 

 

 

At the weekend Manchester City Football Club Official Supporters’ Club Hong Kong branch has their Santa Stroll.  The stroll started at the closed Trafalgar Brewing Company 2 in Wan Chai, a wander to the nearby ferry, over the sea into Kowloon’s Harbour City [It looks great, it is clean, it is busy, it is tidy.  It isn’t for me.  Malls are for those shopping and those who love it.  It seems to have everything, yet nothing.], a walk around some stores and back.  Along the way chocolates and sweets, with Christmas cheers were given out, for free.   Many a bemused onlooker asked questions by the becketload and many a photograph was taken.  The sky blue Santa Claus costumes stood out from Hong Kong’s winterwearing public with ease.  With the air temperature cooled by blustering rain and howling wind at around 14°C, it felt like late autumn back home (to a degree).  As the Star Ferry, named Northern Star (北星號 in Cantonese) set sail, the waves lifted her gently, placing her bow down with a smack and splatter of spray.  The gentle chorus of “we’re going up, we’re going down, we’re going up, we’re going down…” could be heard in amongst the engine grinds and whistling wind at the windows.  As the vessel landed, our sky blue army spilled out onto the pier like the sea soothingly caressing disturbed sand into a smooth surface.  Not bad value for HK$3.4 (on weekends, it is a little higher than weekdays).  The diesel-electric ferries are to Hong Kong as the tram is to Blackpool, a tough of nostalgia and decorum.  Jump on board, dream a little dream, this is the boat to take you from A to B and on the way, switch off and take in the majestic scenery.

 

Or you could take a tram in Hong Kong.  The Hong Kong trams are tiny and busy but they have character and draw in the attention of those on board.  I love hopping on and off these shopping trolleys on acid.

 

 

During the weekend’s wanders of the wonderful ways of Hong Kong I sampled many great foods.  The first being a Californian-Mexican venture I’ve eaten at before and the last meal being one at The Optimist.  Located at G/F-2F, 239 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai it is worth noticing the outside façade stands out.  Emerald green tiles and large iron-looking windows with a sideways passage reminiscent of an old public house greet you.  Modest signage and little décor simplify.  As the waiter opens the door, a wide feasting area and bar greet you.  Up some stairs, decorated with a menagerie of images you enter a larger dining area.  Up top on the third floor is an impressive open-plan kitchen and classic feeling furniture.  Nothing appears false of cheaply placed.  The lunch menu, though concise, featured many dishes of variety and depth to please the palate.  Opting for shrimp tempura, a Spanish omelette [with a very mouthwatering bravas sauce], aubergine fries [with honey and Kimuchi sauce] and ham with mushroom croquettes [I haven’t enjoyed a croquette as good as this since the 1990’s when my Nana used to make them] in a starter of tapas wasn’t a bad idea.  In fact it was bloomin’ gorgeous.  For the mains I had a medium-rare minute steak baguette, with mushrooms and cheddar cheese (give the option of pickle/pastrami and they’d be on to something…).  I was full.  I’d ordered dessert and was greeted by the best potted cheesecake ever.  The strawberry coulis sauce was delectable and scrumptiously running amongst the thick cheese to the crumbly biscuit base.  The side cappuccino and a flow of water with bread and dips prior to food arriving made for a wonderful touch.  Not having and clearly saying no service charges or extra costs were to be made, I did something I have never felt compelled to do.  I tipped the waiter.  Not only that but I even calculated 15% in my head, thinking and knowing they deserved it.   I’ve never been an optimist about eating western-style food in Hong Kong, but now I am.

 

“You’ve gotta pick a pocket or two.”  Hmmm… a song apt for this morning’s stroll to work.  I live 500 metres from school.  On exiting the gated gardens of … I enter a small square area, cross over Liaoxia DaDao and walk less than 200 metres to the school gate.  As I crossed the road something seemed odd.  I could sense someone very close.  And not a student.  Thankfully I felt a hand and stopped the man escaping with my keys.  He legged it.  I went my way.  Always be vigilant.  Just another reminder that closer to new year, thefts and pickpocketing rises in China.

 

I made the mistake of looking at Facebook earlier and was instantly hit by the number of dirty laundry messages.  You know the kind, the xenophobes and harbingers of doom.  Living in China at the minute, and with all the armed police here, X-ray checks, double standard treatment (if you’re white and western, you can sometimes skip security checks quite often), police everywhere (there was an entire stand at the football once, chock full of coppers, and not a steward to be seen), and generally feeling like a policed state… thank feck the UK isn’t like this.  However, if the UK’s intelligence services and democracy panders to the call for arms to be more freely deployed it is terribly worrying.  Where did we go so wrong?  I don’t want watchmen on every corner judging me and my fellow man. Fight terror and the hatred of Daesh with love and carry on the way we did when the Nazis were on the doorstep of Britain. Keep buggering on.

 

Monday’s classes passed by with no real concerns noted, other than students’ tired attention spans and constant talking in classes 801 and 803.  The Chinese English teacher can’t instill discipline into either, but luckily 803 are massively enthusiastic and try hard.  There are 9 girls to 27 boys in that class.  It is an odd balance.  Class 801 is the smallest class with just 26 students.  That said the hierachy is a tough one, with only 8 girls.  The boys dominate class dynamic behaviours and activities.

 

Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

Sun and anarchy

9th December 2015

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

 

Comparable to a dogfight in the movie Star Wars, cycling on the roads of Dongguan can be eye-opening.  I always ride with a helmet, lights and appropriate clothing.  I tend to stick to the rules that have kept me alive back in Blighty.  Stopping at red lights, avoiding pavements, giving way to large vehicles such as buses and lorries – and so on.  Last night’s ride back from football made me think, as I often do on bike rides, “Do people have common sense?”  This isn’t me having a pop at the Chinese, this is simply me slating the often reckless behaviours of others that I have encountered here.  The questions below will assist in your own judgement.

 

  • Is it safe to undertake (on the nearside) a slow moving lorry with only the tiniest of tiny gaps before swerving on front of it’s path to turn left (across the lorry’s driver’s side)?
  • What compels someone to cycle against the flow of traffic on a road with 6 road lanes either side?  [Are they depressed?  Do they need to call for help?]
  • How many people should sit on a pushbike without an engine?  [Is three or four inappropriate?]
  • How wide should a thing be when carrying it by bike?  [Are two metre tall ladders acceptable when carried wide, rather than long?]
  • Should you modify a bicycle to have one wheel bigger than the other?  [A BMX wheel on a mountain bike, is it wise?]
  • Should you talk on the mobile phone whilst riding?  [And is it okay to use messenger services typing in the missive?]
  • If you enter a road from the nearside, should you look before entering it?  [And then, why on Earth would any sane person ride to the farrest lane?]

Following last night’s 5-1 win at football for Murray’s FC, the ride back was equally as interesting with activity happening left, right and centre, but I do wonder, why?  Why, why, why?  Why?!  Stay safe people.  Don’t be stupid.

 

Oh, and it is raining, heavily now.  The temperature has barely hit 17°C in this last week.  Some of the players at Murray’s FC turned up in thermals, trenchcoats, gloves and scarves.  I can’t relate to the feeling of cold as much yet, but when it is damp here, you can feel it.  It is very damp today (like a soggy moggy).  Winter is coming.  That said, the forecast for the week ahead includes highs of 22°C and lows of 14°C.  It won’t be long until summer time…

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

Strange fruit

14th December 2015

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

 

“Once there was a mountain called peak 15.  Nothing was known about it, but in 1852 the surveyors found it was the highest in the world and they named it Everest.”  After umpteen countless myriads of attempts at editing the soundtrack for our school performance, Friday I have finally had the “Eureka” moment and thanks to the software Audacity, I’m onto something.  Yesterday, I blended the vocals we have sang, with the backing tracks and added a few unobtrusive sound effects to balance the levels but it needs more work.  Of all the musical events during school, I am the mist confident about this.  The first semester Children’s Day performance with Esben, Liam, James and Birgitta was wonderful and comedic.  In my second semester Micaela, Kira, Joe and Emily performed a Disney medaly but my heart wasn’t in it and on the day it felt so flat.  I let the side down.  Semester three swept along, giving us Children’s Day once again – adding colour and joy with Mikkel, Liane, Catherine, and Andreas.  Now all we need are sunglasses, some colourful t-shirts, a few more rehearsals and we’re good to go.  We won’t quite be The Play That Goes Wrong or The Beatles, but we’ll damn well give our all… or 32% of our all at least.

 

Spring Festival is looming and all I seem to hear is, “John, where are you going?”  “John what are your plans?”  “John, are you going home for the break?”  “John, why don’t you go to blah, blah, blah?”  My inaudible answers are ones of I’m still looking.  They are often met by peaceful reminders that “the world is your oyster”.  Plan A isn’t written off.  Plan B of西藏 (XīZàng /Tibet) is near unattainable until April due to government restrictions on tourists domestically [even as KFC plans an opening there…].  The dream places of Lhasa, Shigatse (you can see Everest nearby!), 昌都地区 (Chāngdū Dìqū), Ngari, Nyingchi, Nakchu, and Shannan

 

After school Friday, I zipped back to apartment, rushed over to a shop near LiaoXiaWeiLiXinCun 7th alley and the North Ring Road.  Outside the store I noticed boxes of trainers and shoes with some close to my size recently, so I made the effort to return.  I searched and found a black with red trim pair of skateboard trainers.  Happy with my find, I went in store but then decided to ask if the shopkeeper of there was any more sized 49/50 trainers.  She said she’d look.  Immmediately she found crates with some ideal but lightweight trainers.  I selected two further pairs.  As I paid my 390RMB (Roughly £39.00), she gestured to me to drink tea.  Her husband arrived and suddenly I have a rice cake in my hand.  As I glug the first Chinese cup (like a small saucer, but more 1950’s B-movie UFO-like in shape), the lady gives me another pair of trainers for free.  Soon her youngest boy arrives home from school.  It transpires he is a grade 1 student at my school.  He practices his English with me.  His two younger sisters are transfixed on me.  One can toddle, barely older than crawling age.  The other is only just a kindergarten student.  As I try to scatter from the welcoming shop (I’m in a hurry to go to a party in Dongcheng), another child arrives [One child policy?] and it is a student from my grade 6 classes.  I recognise him straight away.  He is a shy boy with a slight nervous twitch that causes him to flick his head back and forth whilst talking.  Another cup of tea is thrust into my hand.  My student and I talk as his family look on amazed at their child’s ability.  Not once do we get lost in translation and the conversation flows well for two cups further of tea.  The tea is delicious.  Armed with my pigeon Chinese, I bid farewell and thank them for their hospitality.  As I depart, yet another pair of trainers is stuffed into my bulging carrier bag.  Am I a caterpillar?

 

With the shoes plonked in the apartment, a swift taxi journey to Dongcheng to meet the folk of Hubhao and enjoy their Christmas revelry.  The merrymaking involved a random prize draw (I won two bottles of imported French red wine) and a White Elephant gift draw.  In essence, you bring a gift valued between 50-100RMB, place it on a table and collect a draw ticket.  The first person opens a gift-wrapped present, and there their turn ends.  On successive turns, each individual may open a new present or gets the choice to pilfer another person’s gift.  I unwrapped my gift to reveal goat’s milk soap and some towels, so I stole from Oggy his toy football set.  He now had the goat’s milk soap and would remain to have it indefinitely.  Later June, Eddy’s girlfriend, filched away the football set, leaving me with two books.  The two books remained in my custody.  One of which is a Chinese illustrated book, translated painstakingly by pencil (until the half way point of the book) and the other, I can’t remember the title… but it looks interesting!  Adam Crase at HubHao is a fine leader of group activities and events.  His promotion and marketing work is fantastic.  HubHao has so much potential but is limited in resource and is only growing slowly but steadily.  As local area magazines go, it is edgy and spirited – open to all in the community.  Since its launch, it has kicked Here Dongguan’s magazine into a healthy competitive drive that has boosted innovation and information locally.  There is room for both, and in some ways, both fill in gaps left by the other.  I personally think, they need to merge and utilise each other’s resources as alternative rags.  After an excellent buffet and some drinks, I headed back to Houjie in a 70RMB taxi journey (expensive for that time of night, but lately taxi drivers are becoming hard bargainers.

 

The following day, Saturday, was  the Murray’s FC night out.  Eddy and Weng booked a large KTV room with three microphone stands, multiple seating options and ensuite of sorts [it had toilets set inside for our use only].  Many spirits had been purchased and smuggled in via various means.  Weng assisted me at KFC, next door to Nancheng’s Rubiks Cube KTV (located within One Mall’s gargantuan location), in acquiring two drinks cups to decant my velvety but piquant tasting blueberry-tinged single malt whisky.  The night started around 8.30pm and ended up in Murray’s Irish Bar by 1.30am.  After 2.30am we retired to Eddy’s gaff to play FIFA 15 (it’s in the game) and generally continue the party.  Over the night we shed many of or 40 plus crowd.  As we hit the last four men standing, I scattered by taxi [70RMB again] to Houjie – and was tucked in, asleep for 6am.  It was to turn out that Sunday was to be a write-off.  Aside from a tired conversation to home and my Aunty Carolyn back in Manchester, sleep and inactivity was the order of the day.  Rest and recovery.

 

Today, I feel a tad annoyed.  On Thursday and Friday, I discussed the plans for the remaining 4 weeks for the foreign teachers with Miss Jiang, the head of foreign languages (Cherry was off enjoying her honeymoon).  We decided that this week would be best to start the oral exams, use next week for Christmas – it being the week of Christmas, and use the following week to continue the oral exams.  That would leave one more week for Tess, Anna, Albin and Asger to complete the oral exams and also allow some final week activities.  For me, it makes sense, Christmas in the week of Christmas.  So, I relayed that message to the other foreign teachers by word of mouth and in WeChat (a phoneapp messenger we can use, that leaves accountability by way of message histories being stored).  On Friday, I went to photocopy my 350 oral English exam papers but the copiers were out of action.  One for today.  On checking my phone I see Cherry and the other foreign teachers are confused.  Miss Jiang has changed her view and wishes to start the oral English exams next week.  This does not make sense.  In the end Cherry has asked for one revision class and a Christmas class this week.  Next week oral exams can be begin for the other foreign teachers.  Whilst it doesn’t affect me directly, it does make me wonder the value of conversations, discussions and ideas.  The negative part of me is fuming and thinking I should avoid being involved with any leadership.  Why do we ask questions and discuss ideas?  The positive spark, subdued probably in a combination of exhaustion and dehydration, is up and active.  Get on with it, forwards and not backwards.  If it was simple and easy, it’d be boring.  Euphoria, exultation and elation can defeat downfall dreary dread and dullness.  Let’s bamboozle the past by learning from it and moving forward.

 

At least I have my horned melon to try tonight.  Known by many names this fruit resembles a Hedgehog.  Cucumis metuliferus, horned melon or kiwano, also African horned cucumber or melon, jelly melon, hedged gourd, melano, in the southeastern United States, blowfish fruit.  In one supermarket I spotted this fruit for 38RMB, complete with a straw inside the box.  So, on spotting one for 18RMB in another store, I figured now is the time to try it.  More to follow.

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

Toilet humour.

December 14th 2015

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

 

Qĭngwèn, cèsuŏ zài-nǎ?  (Cheeng-wern, tser-swoh dzigh nah-urr) 请问,侧锁在哪儿?

Every now and then I have to use a public squatter toilet.  Now these toilets are the pits – and I mean it.  Yesterday, I located a convenience without convenience.  It was a long grey slit on the Earth, encased in a tiled block, so dreary in décor it could have doubled for an abandoned building, lost in time.  Instead it had a sign, with the Chinese word for toilet and specified the genders.  I opted for the sign saying man (Nan, a stocky character with a big head – notNü, said to resemble a woman’s figure).  I should have stood outside and crapped my pants.  I hate squatter toilets for many reasons but one jumps ahead of others.  It burns my calf muscles!  My calf muscles hate squatting actions and I can feel the strain on my meniscus (the fibrocartilage strips behind each knee).  My other key issues are:

  • Tissues.  You have to pack a bulky packet for every journey, no matter how short or far because nobody wants to be caught short.  Tissue paper cannot be flushed.  It must go in the overflowing volcanic looking bin that resembles something from Swamp Thing.  I pray for the caretakers who move such industrial waste.
  • Baggage and clothes.  Now, often toilets don’t have a hook or for that matter anywhere to hang your bag.  I’ve implemented into my travel bag a hook, to hang my own bag over a toilet cubicle wall, or affix to any bar (provided it can take some weight).  If no one is there to hold onto your bag, it can be a pain.  Also, you have to pay so much attention to not letting any clothes drape or droop on the floors.  Sometimes they can be dirty – and often wet from humidity, messy previous users, very soggy cleaning skills by caretakers etc.
  • Knowledge.  To a degree, knowing where toilets are, whether in a restaurant or coffee shop etc, it is useful to know which places have clean, tidy and functional pans.
  • Communal toilets.  So instead of cubicles, you have no walls, no boundaries and sometimes to make it entertaining two rows of toilets will face two rows of toilets.  So, if you look up, it looks like the bemused Chinese man opposite you is inspecting your movements.  Then you could look down to avoid the obvious stares, but you’d be facing a grim floor.  Look left or right and nine times out of ten someone else is watching.  Look up and your balance may be thrown off.  It is best to power squeeze and escape quickly.  Once someone took a photo of me in action.  I daren’t ask why and the look of shock on my face as they ran off with their prize quickly turned into a bemused, if not a little psychotic, laugh.  Privacy invaded.  I’m told making eye contact or looking down is frowned upon.  These are two things I’ll happily avoid.
  • The squat itself.  I’ve mentioned the pain.  I’m told the grooves either side of a Chinese toilet are where you put your feet.  No thank you.  If I do that, my large body frame will miss the dropzone and the bomb-bay doors are far from the target with no windage for added guidance.  Also, the grooves are often the muckiest, wettest unwelcoming area on Earth outside of Old Trafford.  I’m told the squat is the healthiest way to pass your body’s excess detritus.  It is not dignified and never shall be.

I must admit to rarely having to queue in China for a toilet, but I have had to wait once or twice for someone who has emerged on their phone and clearly been on said phone for some time and thus frustratingly not using the toilet for the purpose of the toilet.  So, if you can and you’re in China, write a letter to the China’s National Tourist Administration about toilets being bad.  One small step for civilisation is needed.  There are star ratings for public outhouses and so far I have yet to see a good public loo.  My ambition is to use the Tiger Leaping Gorge (Yunnan) toilet.  Going to the toilet, here, there and everywhere is necessary – but so are tissues, hand gel, a sense of humour and a sh!tload of humility.  There are many survival guides, handy tips everywhere (World Toilet is amazing!  By amazing, I mean I am amazed someone has put that together… for the benefit of society?) – but I’ll never enjoy crouching, bending my knees or hunkering down.

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

“I am sheep”

17th December 2015

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

 

Whilst looking up the character for man, I found out that 男 has two components.  One being 田 field, and one being 力 for strength.  I guess there was an old fashioned feeling that men would be strong and work in fields.  A book called the imaginatively titled Explaining Simple and Analyzing Compound Characters says as follows, “Men rule on affairs of the outside.”

 

Okay, so let’s look a woman or 女.  It is said to look like a woman’s figure.  This is the most beautiful of the characters?!  If you see女in any character, a woman is involved:  妻 (wife), 妇 (housewife) and 媽 (mother).  The upper part of 妻 (wife) is a broom.  The creators of these characters were chauvinists in a time ruled by field going strong men.

The more I read about characters, the more I understand – even if I don’t remember them.

Some are simple, such as 一, 二, and 三 for “one”, “two”, and “three”; and 上 for “up”, 下 for “down.”  Some are tougher but equally interesting, 安 “peace” is a combination of “roof” 宀 and “woman” 女, meaning “all is peaceful with the woman at home”).  Then there are the pictoral characters,山 for mountain, 人 for man, etc.

I quite like learning about Chinese and the cultures within and from those who have visited China but for every simple element there seems to be a pitfall or something equally as difficult.  The six groups are quite clear in form but there are far too many characters to learn and understand.  象形 Xiàngxíng, pictographs “depicting directly”; 指事 Zhǐshì, ideograms “pointing out the facts”; 會意 Huìyì, ideogrammic compounds “combination of meanings”; 形聲 Xíngshēng, phono-semantic compounds “form and sound”; 假借 Jiǎjiè, phonetic-loans “under false name”; 轉注 Zhuǎnzhù, reciprocal meaning “turn and pour”. 

 

Even if I poured my heart into it, I’d not have the time.  仁 (ren) the left side 亻signifies man, the right side is the number two, 二 (er).  Somehow it means the relation of man to the dignity/ethics and earthy things.  So, 仁 (ren) actually means goodness, heart, compassion and the desire for others best wishes.  In the beginning kids are taught the simplest character of one, 一 (yī).  There’s tonnes of philosophy and history behind this simple character.  Previously to female (陰 yīn) and male (陽 yáng), only一 (the One) existed as the creative power; the Entirety, the Tao.  There are lots of texts, e.g. The Epochtimes, around to explain the One or陰 yīn/陽 yang.  If you seek complexity, look at義 (meaning loyalty, justice and honesty).  I can see羊 (sheep) on top and 我 (I, myself) below.  Sheep are tasty.  Fact.  Sheep are also obedient and kind in nature.  Sheep, are seen as a symbol of good luck and prosperity in China [like the Superman symbol elsewhere].  Some translate it directly as, “I am sheep.”

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

The bipolar sunshine of 7th grade

18th December 2015

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

 

Wagons are rolling, they’re rolling along the pathway of the final 9 days of school.  As the 31st bears down on me like an allied/Russian/Syrian/Turkish [delete as appropriate] jet flying at a terrorist/peaceful/opposition [delete as inappropriate] target in Syria.  This is the last act, the final furlong, the end of the world is nigh, semester one is almost over.  As is traditional at school, the school performance rehearsals are deep into the final fine tuning and shaping for the show.  Here we go again, whammy… we’re on the road to Wembley… or the curtain call.  Wednesday’s classes in grade 7 were fantastic, with students engaging questions and answers at levels of 100% in each and every class.  I applied the rule, “each student must try otherwise your team cannot win” and to be honest every student tried at least twice.  The four forty minute lessons in classes 701, 702, 703 and 704 flew by faster than Superman racing a speeding asteroid.  As an extra incentive, each winning team gained two sweets (candies) and the runners-up had half the prize.  It wasn’t much but after 48 winning sweets and 24 secondprize winners, that’s 72 candies from bags that usually total 24 at most for 6RMB each.  That’s 18RMB or around £1.80… and I’m from northern England.  And today, I returned to grade 7 for classes.  Class 702 were a delight and each received a candy Christmas treat – before asking me to play a short Christmas video or song and then singing Frozen‘s Let It Go.  Class 704 were 50/50, at best, in terms of effort.  I rewarded the top two teams.  This class features several very naughty boys, one of which wrote an English phrase“f%*$ you” on the board and told me, “I am beautiful like an ar$ehole” in Chinese, followed by “you are a yellow movie star” – yellow movies being the Chinese equivalent of blue movies, or porn.  His teachers do not like teaching him and I can see why.  The boy who usually says “fish” and “bird” frequently during class, didn’t say it once though, so manybe he is getting bored of it too.  It turns out “bird” is slang for penis.  That’s why I am often asked, “How big is your bird?” followed by giggles…

 

It is 9°C here and 16°C in Manchester right now.  Manchester is finally warmer than here in Houjie (South China)!  This hasn’t happened this year, from what I have seen.  Enjoy your warmth Manchester because winter is coming…

 

Oh and Wuzhen has been plastered on the news – world news and not domestic news, that is.  A few bureaucrats from countries that appear to silence freedom attended the World Internet Conference.  Cyber sovereignity sounds like a virtual reality queen, and precisely the thing they want to block!  Who exactly watches the Watchmen?

 

Now, I’m going to listen to some Bipolar Sunshine before lunch and a rendition of Jingle Bells infront of the school leaders.

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

 

Autographs later:  “We are 20 million strong!”

 

Dàlǐngshān, Liáobù, Chángpíng, Shílóng, Wànjiāng & Wàngniúdūn

18th December 2015

Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

Dongguan has just been awarded the title, “City of Forests”…

I am based in Houjie, but there are many more districts within Dongguan than my realm.  Houjie has some odd titles and is up there with all thoughts that sway towards where-did-they-get-that-name-from?  “Town of Hygiene in China”, “Famous Town of Exhibitions in China”, “Town with the Strongest Education in Guangdong”, and a “Civilized Town of Dongguan City”.  There’s a sports park (体育馆), Fushengang (福神岗), Henggang Reservoir (横岗水库) and Dalingshan (大龄山).  More info on Houjie can be found here.

In the meantime, here are six local areas…

Area best reached from Hòujiē Zhèn (厚街镇) by bus(es) (Houjie): Reasons to visit/Places to eat or drink/Landmarks etc
大岭山镇

Dàlǐngshān Zhèn

L5A: Dongguan Central Bus Station – Songshan Lake (6:15-20:30)

Main stops: Dongguan Central Bus Station, South China Mall, Keyuan Garden, Guangcheng Culture Square, West City Gate Tower(Ying’en Gate Tower), Economy &Trade Center, Jusco, Labor Bureau, Education Information Center, Power Supply Company, Dongcheng Center, New World Garden, Dynatown Residential Garden , Yujing Residential Garden, Huying Park, Dongguan Xiangshi Zoo, Songshan Lake

This area is pretty big, it has a forest park that covers many small mountain peaks.  Within Dongguan it arguably has some of the most remote and quiet of areas.  There is an entrance to the western area of the park on the border of Houjie, although by bike or on foot it can be a pretty steep climb.  If you want to see something really unusual, go to the Anti-Japanese War National Base (1937-1945). You’ll find it in the romantically named Dawangling Village Revolutionary Site.  The Memorial Museum of Dongjiang Column is well worth a look.

To the northern aspect of this region sits Songshan Lake  Established areas sit alongside more modern technology parks with tourism far and wide.  Snake soup, Dàlǐngshān Roast Goose (head to Xiangdong Road in Ailingkan Village) and Hakka Casserole Dog Meat [no thank you!] can be found on a few menus.  Look out for the delicious Hakka radish rice.  The local government website is here.

寮步镇

Liáobù Zhèn

Liáobù could easily translate as concrete in some ways but don’t be fooled.  Beyond the bright lights of western bars like 28 Over Par there is much more to see and do.  This area was founded in 627-649 (Tang Dynasty) and has changed a little since.  Liáo means huts.  Huts appear all but gone alongside the HanXi river.  Rice, lychees, longans and other fruits are numerous here from season to season.
常平镇

Chángpíng Zhèn

L3: Dongguan Central Bus Station—Changping (Yingxian Villa)( 6:00-20:00)

Main stops: Dongguan Central Bus Station, South China Mall, Keyuan Garden, Guangcheng Culture Square, Donghu Residential Garden, People’s Park of Changping, Changping Bus Station, Yingxian Hillside Resort

Changping Town, belonging to the city, is the vital hub of Guangdong-Hong Kong Railway, Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong High Speed Railway, Guangzhou-Meizhou-Shantou Railway and Beijing-Hong Kong Railway.  Within this realm there is a leisure and resort park of sorts.  There is also a link about this area here.  This is the aptly named “Famed Town of Best Logistics in China.”  Where do they think these names up?!

 

 

石龙镇

Shílóng Zhèn

L2: Dongguan Central Bus Station—Shilong (Jinsha Bay)( 6:00-19:45)

Main stops of the L2: Dongguan Central Bus Station, South China Mall, Keyuan Garden, Guangcheng Culture Square, Dongguan University of Technology – City Campus, Fruit Wholesale Market, Liuhua Park, Shijie Government, Yuan Chonghuan Memorial Park, Shilong Railway Station, Shilong Zhongshan Park, Shilong Jinsha Bay

Shílóng is famous for weight-lifting.  In 1984, Shilong gained the honorary name of “Town of Weight Lifting.”  There is history behind it and a statue.
万江街道

Wànjiāng Jiēdào

Look for any bus going to the Wànjiāng bus station, often referred to as Dongguan Bus Central Station. The Wànjiāng region has history dating back to the Ming Dynasty (around 1464).  Heritage and culture can be found here.  Such as the Tower of the Golden Turtle Oasis, which is listed as protected by the provincial government; and the Lv Dongbin Temple, the Ancestral Hall of Surname He, the Ancestral Hall of Surname Hu, the Ancestral Hall of Surname Xie, and Chongguang Institute.  Wànjiāng sits on the DongJiang river.

Wànjiāng has an excellent street for sports gear, known far and wide within Dongguan.  There are many good places to visit in this distict.

The notorious South China Mall is located here complete with indoor rollercoaster, theme park, cinema, restaurants, themed areas and a vastness of emptiness.

望牛墩镇

Wàngniúdūn Zhèn

Wàngniúdūn is known more for the dragon boat races that occur in the LiaoXia district every year alongside the DongJiang river, with some side channels offering entertainment or great photography options also.

Local foods include Duwu baked goose, Xiacao fish balls and three-boiled bones.  Hand-picking (Shouzhua) is also present.  Xindiancheng Road has an interesting arrays of foods.

My favourite thing about this town, is the title it once earned… “the town without unverified internet cafee.”  This town also holds this title, “the town with the strongest education in Guangdong.”  Is there a “town with the most peculiar and inexplicable title” yet?

 

Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

 

Why do I enjoy teaching?

18th December 2015

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

 

Why do I enjoy teaching?  Let’s be fair, by comparison I’m not doing half the job that the Chinese teachers here at Dao Ming do, and nor would I ever put myself in that demanding position.  Nor am I teaching in the U.K. where it seems every second news article seems to report about the poor teaching pay, union strength and so on.  I know my role here is one of authenticity and to help further the students’ spoken English skills – and help them be confident.  Some classes are hectic, eventful and sometimes students are preoccupied, over-worked and the classes may have fell out of my control before I’ve stepped through the door.  Sometimes, I have to accept, I can only do my best, lead and let the students follow.  Today, I have been harried by students in the afternoon periods.  703 and 701 delivered tremendously and two Cadbury’s Miniature Heroes were given to the winning teams in class 701.  The remaining students and each student within class 703 had just one small chocolate.  All seemed appreciated and the thank yous came thick and fast.  I did not expect a pen with a little note in return.  The little gift is wonderful.  The best gifts though are ones where you see how quickly students have changed in a short space of time.  Apprehension replaced by eagerness.  Worry replaced by confidence.  Indifference swiped away and interest in place of it.  Industry triumphs over idleness.  For no matter how hard I think teaching is, learning a second language is just as hard, if not harder.  My students must learn English, whereas I choose to learn Chinese.  Without choice, necessity demands on your soul and mind in ways I cannot understand.  There were no repercussions for not learning German at Reddish Vale High School for me.  Here, if a student doesn’t learn English, their highy contended places in High Schools are waved away.  Entrance exams are a key to a different world.  I’ll let others debate the use of English to the Chinese whilst I embrace an overall fantastic day at school.  What I like about Dao Mingf Foreign Language school, is that this school emphasises the need to speak English – and not just quote, copy and paste text or memorise a paragraph.  An effort is made to make the language tactile and useful in everyday life.  There isn’t a push to become a robot, or precision memorisation apparatuses.  The skill of memorising is there, but not as badly pushed as some state schools.  The school has the objective to provide a foundation for students in the future.

 

Globally English is the most used language by number of countries and regions it is spoken in.  Spanish, Portuguese, French and German are widely spoken but to less lands [even if English spread due to our dark colonial past/often English is the second language of countries that speak Spanish, Portuguese etc].  Mandarin is much more limited in its global reach although the most spoken language on Earth.  Most employers look for bilingual speakers in terms of jobs flitting between different territories.  In the entertainment business, English speaking bands tour the globe with ease and English movies are common in most countries [even if subtitles are affixed].  Science has been globally communicated in English forms, especially common units.  As sad as it is, English speakers (for example, in the United States) earn more money than non-English speakers.  It can increase your standard of living.  Also, as demonstrated by many students today, it can arm you with weapons of cheekiness.  Cheekiness is a good quality, when deployed skillfully.

 

Why did I enjoy being taught?

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

Shèng dàn kuài lè [MERRY CHRISTMAS] 圣诞快乐

19th December 2015

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

 

Shèng dàn kuài lè圣诞快乐.  Merry Christmas to each and every one of you, whether religious or not religious.  Let’s embrace each other culures and wish for a fantastic festive season.  Whether you are here, there or everywhere, enjoy this season and be jolly.  Stay sensible – and if not, have a drink or two too many (if you choose to do so).

Nadolig Llawen i chi

Feliz Navidad

愉快な

Lystig jul

Рождеством Христовым

Vrolijke Kerstmis

Natal feliz!

Joyeux noël!

Fröhliches Weihnachten!

عيد ميلاد مجيد

শুভ বড়দিন

Nollick Ghennal as Blein Vie Noa

Танд зул сарын баярын болон шинэ жилийн мэндийг хүргэе

Kirismas wacan & Iyo sanad cusub oo fiican

كریسمس مبارک

Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

“Definition of the week: TV set—the box in which they buried Morecambe and Wise.”

22nd December 2015

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

 

The week of Christmas began with classes 802 and 804.  Class 804 were wonderful as always and yet more Cadbury’s Heroes were handed out as a tiny gift.  The four tubs are came to an end that afternoon.  Classes 803 and 801 will completed the afternoon and there should have been just about be enough chocolates left to treat the wee devils individually but we fell one shy – so I improvised an awarded a star student something better, a larger chocolate bar.

 

Yesterday I was at my desk, with the best of the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show playing in the background.  Des O’Connor, was in this one particular sketch and the comedy duo of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise are in splendid form with a combination of satire, observational, ad lib humour, spontaneous variety and musical comedy second to none.

Ernie, “Where’s mine?

Eric, “Pardon?”

Ernie, “Where’s mine?”

Eric, “Just turned 50 and you’ve forgotten?”

Christmas for me should always feature Morecambe and Wise.  From 1969 until 1980 (skipping 1974) the shows were always broadcast on Christmas Day – and I’m certain that every year since they have been repeated, losing so little affection and charm.  Many years I would watch this on television with grandparents, with my immediate family, with friends and so on.  I don’t need an excuse.  Sitting watching Morecambe and Wise with your Mum, Dad, Nana, Grandfather or Gran is something everyone should experience – a feeling of total security and warmth.  Some topical features and stars of the days featured may be out-dated but for me this only accentuates the value of comedy greatness living on.  You recognise the news reporters, TV stars, actors and musicians as being huge commanders of the stage.  Alongside Morecambe and Wise there is a great respect of their guests and this is infectious.  It beats watching naff commercials featuring stars of the day selling you any old tat.

 

Sunday night Murray’s F.C. lost 5-3 in a close game, after going in at the break with no goals for either side.  With a fantastic beef sirloin streaks, rice, egg and mushroom meal  [niúnǎnFàn 牛腩饭] in my belly from lunchtime, the cycle ride to Binjiang (to play) was great.  Afterwards, after 2 hours of football [we stopped for only ten minutes at half time], the ride back was strenuous and almost backbreaking.  Murray’s Irish Bar held a fantastic barbecue for the football team on Saturday night, with copious amount of slaughtered beef and lamb on the menu.  A great pre-Christmas get together.  Too many Strand Ales were drank amongst shots after shots.  Whilst writing an article called Cases Against Having An Ayi yesterday I was a tad head weary and worn.  Want to know the content of the Ayi debate?  It’ll be published in January.  In the meantime HubHao have listed my latest ventures in writing online.  There’s a Badass of Chinese History in Yue Fei.  Eddy’s article on ten pin bowling gives me a mention after we had a game across the road from my apartments in Houjie’s Wanda Plaza.  I argue against learning Chinese (even though I find learning Chinese amazing).  Here’s my archive of articles to have a gander at in your free time.  They have a backlog of pieces sat in waiting to be published.  Echo’s article on a street devout to décor is worthy of a read, as is the Ecologist’s view on hanging gardens.

 

Due to last night being busy with school work I opted for the same beef brisket, rice, egg and mushroom meal [niúnǎnFàn 牛腩饭] alongside some crispy fried wonton [zháyúntūn 炸云吞].  And today I am battling stage 2 Man Flu, headaches, aching joints, dizziness, fatigue and a sore throat.

 

In national news here, people are still being searched for at the tragic landslide, at the city of Shenzhen, just south of me.  The aerial footage would look worse if it wasn’t for the smog.  The scale of the disaster and nature’s power is overwhelming.  I hope few people fell victim to the landslide.

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

Made From Manchester

22nd December 2015

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

 

I wasn’t going to write anything more.  I was going to sit back, read the Manchester Evening News and other online media sources before waking up properly with some class lesson reviews.   Flicking through the links of the M.E.N. online, I came across an article about Callum Ballantine passing away.  Through charity work and his (and assistance from his best friend Samir Kamani) fashion line “Made in Manchester” has spread love about our city and given the Teenage Cancer Trust, and in turn the valuable support.  The shirts sell at £10 each and make an ideal Crimbo present for those struggling for ideas.  There are many popular music options, red and blue too – as well as things inspired by Manchester’s roots.

 

#RIPCallumBallantine #MadefromManchester.  #WeWearPink #OneofOurOwn

 

http://www.madefrommanchester.com/

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

Merry Christmas. 圣诞快乐 (Shèngdàn kuàilè)

25th December 2015

Merry Christmas. 

圣诞快乐

(Shèngdàn kuàilè)

Watch a video here

 

Sunshine on Christmas Eve!

26th December 2015

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

 

Christmas Eve spent in the U.K. was often just an average day.  Maybe I’d be working, maybe there’d be some last minute shopping, and often there’d be some form of queues – but it shopping or traffic.  Or there’d be travelling, with Chris Rea playing a festive ditty.  As a youngster there’d be excitement, eagerly anticipating Lego, or dreaming of Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or many other latest must-have action figures.  There would be the added bonus of divorced parents, meaning two possible Christmas meals or at worst, staggered gifts to be received and chances to see multiple Christmas trees and décor across the two split extended families’ relatives.  There are many fond memories out there to hide away the three Christmases spent vomiting from that pesky winter noro-virus.  Once I keeled over midway between my Dad’s and Mum’s.  Christmas lunch was returned to Earth.

 

In 2015, I had one of the merriest Christmas Eve days of my life.  I don’t often use the word jolliest as it doesn’t strike me as a very jovial or jocund words.  Yesterday was fluently buoyant – a crest of a wave of joy.  The day started at the beginning, as it often does.  Sliding along the highly humid corridors to the lift, I swiped “MCFC, okay” onto the damp wall tiles.  The lift bell pinged to mark its arrival.  In I went and down it went.  I skipped out the door, excited by the sunshine in the sky.

 

On entering the gates of school, clouds starting to sweep over and a little mist rolled around the school buildings.  Hints of spitting rain followed.  Miss Jiang stood anxiously by the middle section of the school complex.  Her apparent unease at the heavens unfolding.  I calmly looked up and told her, “it’ll pass.”  Miss Jiang said they would delay the start until by fifteen minutes.  As I went to Albin and Anna’s office, I could see from the window that stage readying was under way.  Three giant boards covered in Christmas wrap sat proudly centre stage.  Speakers and wiring soon followed.

 

To quote Santa Claus – The Movie “the light of happiness in a friend’s eye” was seen many a time over the last few days.  The show with Asger, Albin, Anna and Tess went smoothly, we did our rendition of Jingle Bells, dived off stage, dished out candies and swapped glad tidings with grade 5/6 and everyone else that stopped me.  Many a happy photograph was taken.  After which I ran home, showered and headed back for jolly Christmas lessons with 601 class and 602 class.  Lunch followed and I grabbed three gingerbread house sets for the teachers to share.

For the afternoon, the former leader of the English teachers at Dao Ming Foreign Language School came by our school.  Miss Jiang had pre-agreed for me to hop to Bright’s new school.  So, Bright, his driver and I made the short journey to Nancheng.  Bright now works at the catchilly titled and off the tongue东莞市南城阳光第七小学.  The school’s title in English would be something like Dongguan City 17th Sunshine Primary School.  That’s right, there are 16 others and one more is opening soon this year.  Dongguan (东莞) Shi (市Market or City) Nánchéng (南城south town) Qu YángGuāng (阳光sunshine) diqi (第七17th) Xiǎo Xué (小学primary school) is a mouthful coming from Chapel Street Primary School, a school in Manchester not using the locality of Levenshulme or city name in the moniker.  In some ways it isn’t too dissimilar to Man City’s new crest dropping the M.C.F.C. and flipping to just using Manchester City without identifying it as a football club.  Anyway, I digress… At the school, Bright and I created a short play (10 minutes) long about a 100-year old Santa Claus coming from Manchester to China to deliver gifts to the school students.  It ended in We Wish You A Merry Christmas and a Challenge Anneka (where is she now?) style run from classroom to classroom amongst the 840-student filled school.  Some sweat later, over a couple of teas, Bright and I caught up.  I do hope one day he gets accepted to be a professor at university.  He’s taking a break from it now.  Third time lucky.  As a thank you the school gifted me a paper cutting (chuāng huā 窗花 – “window flower” the school is famous nationally for this; they usually decorate windows).  They are usually reserved for foreign visitors and government officials.  Chang’e (嫦娥) – a moon goddess – is depicted on my cutting. So, armed with that I returned to LiaoXia, then joined my fellow English teachers, domestic and foreign for food and games at Wanda Plaza.  Christmas Eve was great fun.

Oh and in the evening it rained.  I don’t think the day actually saw any real weather sunshine, but at 24°C it was warm!

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

 

A very Mandarin Christmas

27th December 2015

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

 

Firstly, I hope you all had a very joyous and Merry Christmas.

 

Christmas Day should be an exciting day.  It should be filled with family, close friends, fun and happiness.  My Christmas Day was much more placid than previous years.  I’d already reserved myself to thinking it’d be bobbins.  My Christmas dinner consisted of beef and noodles with some fruit, before watching Mr Walrus at Brown Sugar Jar.  I’d been asked to write an article about the gig already and decided I’d go at the very last minute.  HubHao shall have the article sooner or later.  Undoubtedly a link shall follow in due course.  The way Christmas Day panned out, I wouldn’t change for the world.  As the last of my man flu dissipated, I felt very relaxed indeed.  A day without presents and gifts being received wasn’t all bad.  I’ve grown out of that and prefer to give gifts so much more.  Next Christmas will be spent with family and not in China!

 

This Christmas, I gave myself a challenge.  I signed up to something tough.  I completed enrolment to study and complete the HSK (Xīn Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì 新汉语水平考试).  This is a Chinese Proficiency Test.  This is administered by the Hanban (汉办) – an abbreviation for the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (NOTCFL).  I’ve registered for Hanban already.  I’ll aim for the HSK 1 & HSK 2 as both don’t require writing ability.  It could be a foundation to build upon.  With respects to purely an oral test, I could aim to complete HSKK 1-6 levels ( 汉语水平口语考).  My first test (HSK一级)  and second test (HSK二级 ) will be on 7/5/2016 and 12/6/2016 respectfully at东莞南方科技专修学院(网考).  The main oral Mandarin test is at孔子学院远程教育中心网考(广州)on 21/5/16.  Until then I need to learn and besides online materials like Chinesepod.com, online dictionaries, personal tutoring (e.g. http://www.newconceptmandarin.com), pronounciation tools, cultural websites like ChineseWhisper.com and of course friends here.  Learning Chinese is not easy but I’m determined to feed off a mental challenge in Spring.  Time to immerse…

 

I need to download Radio Chinese Plus onto my phone; talk and sing to myself in Chinese (singing Little Apple/Teresa Teng/Wang Fei/Zhou Huajian); listen to those around me more; pay more attention to signage and announcements; watch some popular Chinese videos online; maybe pay more attention to the likes of Jackie Chan (Chéng Lóng/成龙) or another famous star; watch some Chinese tele and movies (Shower 洗澡, A World Without Thieves 天下无贼, Eat Drink, Man Woman 饮食男女, and To Live 活着. Good Chinese TV series include Home With Kids 家有儿女,Journey To The West 西游记 and Fen Dou 奋斗.).

 

Yesterday, a mostly lazy day, involved the watching of many movies including A Very Murray Christmas.  In the evening I ate a turkey sandwich at Irene’s Bar whilst watching Manchester City win 4-1 and unveil our new old modern classic crest.  I am just tucking myself in bed and judging by the news online the U.K. is far too wet.  Keep safe everybody!  And, whilst the U.K. floods, let’s look at cheery news:  A bicycle in a tree?

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

Up in smoke

28th December 2015

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

 

School may have an idea now to who my replacement will be.   A piece of woof justice, if ever there was one.  As I typed that I just sneezed so powerfully, I could have ripped my diaphragm and groin muscles.  That bloomin’ ‘urt.  The projectiles dispersed thankfully into a tissue and not through my laptop’s screen.   I had a tissue handy because I’m at the exit stage of Man Flu.  Tissues are everywhere, on almost every student’s desk.  There are many colds, viruses, man flu cases etc flying around.  Handerkerchiefs?  Forget that.  Not here.  Not a chance.  When someone sneezes, it is as if Mount Etna herself has spewed volcanic matter over the immediate sky.  Any signs of sneezing should be given a wide pathway around the sneezer.  Otherwise, expect decoration of an unwelcome variety.

 

All this being said, we can’t keep throwing antibiotics around like toys, the superbugs are coming… as discovered in China recently.  Everytime I hear of a teacher with a cold, they soon seem to share photographs of intravenous drip-administered fluids and antibiotics on their WeChat moments (like a Facebook wall).  We can’t go on this way.  We need to build our own resistance and stop depending on drugs [they should be a last resort/used for the more vulnerable].

 

Other things that disgust me are smoking.  Almost every man smokes here in China.  Every boy seems to light up as they show they are now a man.  Very few women smoke, although you do see a few in western bars joining the filthy habit.  Each province in China has its own brand of tobacco.  I’m told there are around 900 brands nationally.  Some have names like 红双喜(Hóngshuāngxǐ or Red Double Happiness), 中华(Zhōnghuá/National smoke – the slogan is Love our Chungwa, or love our China – and 毛泽东Máo Zédōng smoked them, so they are immensely popular!), then there is 红塔山 (Hóngtǎshān/Red Pagoda Hill), brands named after Communist party buildings, Pandas, Pride, good cats, and YuXi has a theme park named after it!  It doesn’t matter what their names or packagaing is, on the mainland they all belong to China National Tobacco Corporation (中国国家烟草公司 Zhōngguó yāncǎo zǒng gōngsī).

 

I can’t see many people giving up smoking.  Every shop has at least 25 different brands.  Each street and almost all signage often has a brand advertising freely.  Non-smoking bars and restaurants often have signage saying not to do so, next to an ashtray.  The extremely lax enforcement of smoking laws here, taxi drivers sparking up enroute, school bus drivers chugging away in full view of students, teachers bunking off to toilets, P.E. teachers unreservedly lighting up in their ash-filled offices… the list goes on and on.  I often see Chinese footballers smoking as they play.  They have their hands free.  Why not?  I’ve seen basketball games pause every five minutes for a team talk/filthy fag break.

 

Cigarette packages globally often contain warning signs and symbols.  Some are devoid of anything other than the bare minimum.  In China, expect artwork, lavish symbols and bold bright colouring.  China has major health problems in most areas.  Smoking is one of them.  It won’t disappear any time soon.  At least four or five teachers I know that arrived started smoking again here.  In fact some of the guys at football only smoke here because it is so cheap.  2.5RMB (or 25 pence) a packet is common, with few being much more than this.  Unless, you want luxury or foreign brands illegally imported.

 

Who gets rich from the habit?  The government (7% of GDP comes from tobacco – but then someone may have to foot the health bill eventually), the tobacconists, the shops… Sung et al. estimated the economic costs of smoking in China in 2000 at US$5.0 billion (based on the exchange rate of 8.27RMB to US$1), of which US$1.7 billion were direct healthcare costs of smoking and $3.3 billion were indirect morbidity and mortality costs.  There is a relatively large amount of money to be made and lost in relation to the habit of chuffing one and other’s lives away.  That said, with air pollution [it is estimated to kill 4000 people a day here] being so bad in places, does it matter?  Sadly, 33% of young smokers are likely to meet an end prematurely – with disability numbers also expected to shoot upwards.  Whilst Chinese women (less than 1% of the population are believed to be smokers) have deceptively young looking skin, often many many have deceivingly old looking skin.  Although with the inventor of the e-Cig being a dual user of traditional and modern methods, what chance does anyone have of stubbing out this bad habit?

 

Smoking is a social custom in China.  I’ve been shunned for not accepting cigarettes.  It is a sign of respect and friendliness, but one refusal can end social interactions.  Here news reports have advised smoking as being good for you.  In 2009, the Chinese Ministry of Health issued a decision to totally ban smoking in all health administration offices and medical facilities by the year 2011.  No such enforcement is ever evident.  Concerns about how China is perceived by way of image may one day win over tough enforcement and end promotion of tobacco but until then, good luck in the smoke filled alleys, restaurants, taxis, bars and steeets here.   Whilst secondhand smoke is a major health concern, ability to enforce has not been brought about.  Some even claim it cures mouth ulcers, relieves schizophrenia and so on.  I guess if you have asthma then a dose of Ebola might cure you.

 

In 2011, 2011, State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, proclaimed that it will forbid “inappropriate smoking scenes” in movies and TV shows.  Few shows feature smoking.  Old movies, the kind watched by many, always seem to show long smoking action shots.  This bad habit won’t disappear like smoke in the wind.

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

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