Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

You think America's weird? Try China!

I saw on a friends FB page this link; and felt that I had to post a reply. Here it is.

Since I moved to China from the UK I have got used to all sorts of things. The writer of the article about the US doesn't know how normal and straightforward living in the US is compared to living in China. And I once described visiting the US as so weird that it was like having your attention distracted from the two-headed dog by a singing giraffe.

Comparing those "weird American things" to China…

1. Portions? We don't really have portion sizes over here. Sometimes meals are served banquet style with the dishes coming on serving plates for you to help yourself. Chinese hotpot has a boiling soup and raw meat and veg for you to drop in, cook and fish out. More food keeps coming whenever you finish what's on the table. The only way to stop people bringing more food is to leave some of the food on the table uneaten. This is a bizarre concept for Brits who are brought up to finish everything on the plate.

2. Flags? They might not be on every home here but they are in every classroom and on every public building. Perhaps not the ubiquitous patriotism of the US but strange enough to Brits who might see a flag occasionally on a town hall but might just as easily go their whole lives without seeing one at all.

3. Price tags? Pshaw, I say, pshaw. Prices mean nothing here. You bargain for everything except food (and even for food it's usual to ask for money off a large restaurant bill.) A friend once helped me bargain for some sweaters in a shop. They started at 300 Yuan each and she got me two for a total of 190. Price tags are an opening bargaining position. You don't know the price you'll pay until you run out of steam in the negotiations.

4. Tipping? Americans tip a lot. Brits tip only for good service, and then not much. In China tipping is almost unheard of. It used to be illegal.

5. Advertising. Hard for me to comment as I can't speak or read Chinese. When it's done in English it can be incomprehensible. You may have seen the attached photo before. It's floating around on the internet (usually uncredited) . I took it. In Baiyin a couple of years ago.

6. Cars? Ah, cars. Everything here isn't designed for cars. And that's odd because there are so many of them. The road quality is usually poor. Drivers make up the driving rules as they go along and crossing the road can be a perilous and nerve-wracking adventure.

7. TV? I don't really watch. Not much point. There is an English channel but it's filled with political programs that I have no interest in. What little I've seen of Chinese TV seems to be full of soap operas set during the war showing a stereotyped view of the evils of the Japanese in a way that says far more about China than about Japan.

8. Aerosol cheese? Lucky old Americans. Any kind of cheese would be welcome here. Chinese rarely eat it and on the very rare occasions that it appears in the supermarkets it's in the form of those cheese (and I use the word loosely) slices that are really a kind of solidified fat and are (to steal from the Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy) almost, but not quite, entirely unlike cheese.

9. Oh really? The problems of living in a country that speaks another variation of your own language are insignificant compared to the problems where they don't speak your language but would like to. I hear "Hello" about a thousand times a day. Total strangers engage me in conversations which are nominally in English but which I cannot understand a word of. Also they find it weird how much I say "thank you". At the check out in the supermarket I say it when I am handed a bag, when I am told the price, when I get my change. I hadn't realized just how much we say "thank you" in Britain until people here started giving me strange looks.

10. Toilets? All you can find to complain about is toilets that are too low? Try a country where the typical toilet is a bowl recessed into the floor, then come back and tell me about American toilets.

11. Pickles? I had lunch yesterday which included a fruit salad. A delicious bowl of banana, apple, pear, melon, kiwi fruit and mango. All drenched in a sour vinegary salad cream That's right. Over here they put salad cream on fruit salad.

12. Sport. One I can't comment on. I have no interest in sport, no way to watch it and nothing to see. They do a lot in school but I only see that from my classroom window.

13. Jaywalking. I don't know if it's a crime here or not but it seems to be a national pastime. Watching people cross the road fills you with amazement that there are any pedestrians left alive. I have literally NEVER seen any Chinese person check for traffic before stepping out into the road.

14. Sweet Bread? Where to begin? You can get unsweetened bread here sometimes but you need to search. Bread sold in the shops and supermarkets is so sweet that I find it inedible. It's like trying to make an egg sandwich on a slice of cake.

15. Soft drinks? You don't get refills here which may be just as well. The soft drinks are sometimes flavours you might like but just as likely to bean juice or corn juice. I couldn't manage to empty one cup so the lack of refills is a blessing in disguise.

16. Volume? Chinese people aren't loud as such but listening in to their conversations they often sound very angry. Only when you look at them and realize they are smiling and friendly do you realize that this is a feature of YOUR expectations about tone being different to theirs.

17. Water in toilet bowls? See 10 above.

18. Credit Cards? I tried to use mine exactly once. The Chinese machines wouldn't read the metallic strip on the back. Since then it's been in a wallet in my drawer.

19. Pledge of Allegiance? The patriotic levels of the US fade into nothing compared to the patriotic levels of China. There isn't a pledge as such but loyalty to the state is built into every activity and every breath.

20. Lawyers? I've never seen a lawyer advert here but Chinese bureaucracy is arcane and mysterious. Achieving anything that involves officials might take minutes or months and you won't know which until you try. You will never know why.

There are many other things that foreigners will find strange in China. I may comment on them. Or I may not. I've been around the world enough to know that it's the differences that make it fun. It would be really boring if everything was just the same as it is at home.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Wow! Lucky me.

Just got this email.
What I love about this kind of con-trick spam is the staggering levels of incomprehensibility they achieve. Apart from being mostly gibberish this one is especially fond of randomly using capital letters.

Dear Esteemed Beneficiary,

Inline with the United Nations Millennium Development Goal to eradicate
Poverty and hunger by the year 2015 i am directed to INFORM you that  your
payment is completed Verification and Confirmations, 'Therefore we are
happy to INFORM you that ARRANGEMENTS have been Concluded to Effect  as
Soon as Possible your payment in Our BID for transparency.

You have been Granted the SUM of $ 500,000.00 USD in the United Nation
Development Program UNDP world Aid / Support Promo, for your Personal,
community and Education Development and do Note that at least 40%
(Percent) of Total Fund These must be use for Such Purpose.

COLLECTS The United Nations of all the Email Addresses Online persons that
are active among the Millions that subscribed to the Internet and  only
five persons every Year as Our Beneficiaries are selected through
Electronic System without the winner Applying BALLOTING.

On that Note we congratulate you for being One of the Beneficiaries.

To File for your claim, you are requested to contact the events Manager /
Claims Department, send your winning Identification Numbers and  the
following Information.

These are your identification Numbers: 

Only five a year, eh? I feel so special. I wonder if anyone ever really falls for this kind of nonsense.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Making a difference

We do make a difference. I received an email about half an hour ago from a student I taught last year in Junior 1 (Grade 7, 12 years old). This was it (completely unamended, exactly as the student wrote it)

Dear Bob,
Hello!How are you?
I am a student in the No.11 middle school of Baiyin City in China.I am in Grade8 Class 1 now. Have you remembered?
We have not your class this year. And we have seen neither you nor Megan since this term began.Where did you go?Have you gone to another country? Or just have gone to another city in China? Will you come back?
Thanks a lot for returning every e-mail from me.Do so many students write to you?
Best wishes for you.And looking forwards your e-mail.
Miss you very much.
Yours sincerely,

I replied briefly and a few minutes ago received this one from the same student.

Dear Bob,
You always reply so quickly.I'm very glad to know that both you and Megan are still in China.And I'm surprised that you are still in Baiyin,too.
Our lessens are good.And we are still working hard.But without you and Megan, everybody is a little unhappy.
I'll tell my friend your e-mail.They will write to you.I'm sure.
Thank you again for your replying.It's deep night,so you needn't to reply.
Good night.

I really wish that I thought anyone in my current Senior 2 class (Grade 11, age 16) could produce work that good.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

A little bafflement

I've been watching with a kind of fascinated bafflement the redevelopment of one of Baiyin's parks. It's an impressive undertaking. Paths are being rerouted. Covered walkways and viewpoints are being constructed. Water features and elaborate fountains are being constructed. Stone steps are...hang on! Water features? Fountains? We are in a city in the middle of the desert. We don't have enough water to keep the little grass that we have green.
It's not unusual though. The nearest- and largest - park is Goldfish Park. There are several fountains there including, at the main entrance, two beautiful six foot tall goldfish which should, in an ideal world, spout streams that cross and then fall into the waiting pond. But it isn't an ideal world. We are, as I said, in the middle of a desert. I have been here for three years and I have never once seen ANY of the many fountains in Baiyin working.

But they keep on building them. The ones at the entrance to the newly redeveloped park are, if the publicised plans are to be believed, supposed to be very impressive. There are two stone bridges which arc over a flowing channel. Jets are to spray up and over in splendid powerful arches. Multi-coloured lights will illuminate them. Marvelous stuff.

And that's the source of my bafflement. Why, in a city that has so little water, do they go on building these expensive and extravagant water features everywhere? What's the point of fountains that never get turned on?