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.

Friday, 18 November 2011

China: Some more random observations

A few more random observations that may sound judgmental but aren't
really meant to be. It's just that when giving factual descriptions of
some things it's hard to avoid sounding that way. Judge for yourself.


Smoking is allowed everywhere in China.
No that's too weak. Smoking is encouraged everywhere in China and as a
lifelong non-smoker I sometimes find it difficult to cope. Virtually
the first thing that happens in any social encounter is that someone
offers cigarettes. Teachers smoke in schools. Doctors smoke in
hospitals. Barmen smoke in bars. Shopkeepers smoke in shops. Customers
smoke in department stores and supermarkets.
In restaurants, before you even sit down, open packets of cigarettes
are placed on every table by the waiters and people smoke before,
during and after meals.
Well... that's about half right, because by people I mean "men". You
never see women smoking in public, and I do mean never. It is
considered to be a sign of loose morals or even prostitution. Int the
three months I've now been here I have seen women smoking exactly
twice. Once I was in a bar in Yangshou and a group who clearly were
prostitutes were sitting smoking in a corner. The other time I was in
the pool hall, here in Baiyin and there was a teenage girl playing
pool with her boyfriend and both were smoking. All of the men and none
of the women. It's a very odd aspect of the culture.

Children and Sanitation

One oddity is that most toddlers walk about in specially designed
trousers which are completely open at the crotch. When they want the
toilet, their mothers simply find a patch of dirt and squat them down
without removing any garments so that they can do it there and then.
It's far from uncommon to find piles of human poo on pavements or in


I've mentioned before the adult-sized playground-style equipment that
is dotted about the city. What I haven't mentioned is the peculiar
habit, especially among the elderly of walking backwards. In the park
I often see old men walking backwards and either glancing over their
shoulders to see where they are going or being guided by a
forward-facing friend. I sometimes also see it on the crowded
pavements on my way to work. I'm told that it's a vey good form of
exercise which brings me to my next point...

Odd health advice

I'm constantly offered health advice among which has been

- never drink cold drinks, they are bad for your stomach
- do not walk about your apartment without shoes you will get a fever
- eat plenty of dog it is a hot meat that is good for the stomach
- do not eat too much donkey because if you have had an illness in the
past donkey meat will bring it back
- do not eat after seven O'clock in the evening, it is very bad for you
- wear lots of clothes, even in the hottest part of summer because if
you do not you will catch a cold

And while I'm doing lists, here are some of the...

Things we have confiscated from students

Electronic Games
Packs of Cards
Assorted pieces of origami
A desk lid
A whole desk
An electronics circuit board
A basketball
A screwdriver
Food and drink
A torch (flashlight)
A pair of spectacles to which cardboard tubes had been taped making
strange binocular like things.
Love letters
An extra pair of shoes

All of these were confiscated because they were being played with
during lessons. Occasionally I have also made the students stand up at
the back of the class to separate them from the friends they were
talking to or messing about with but that's my only punishment which
brings me to my final list...

Cruel and Unusual Punishments

Chinese teachers have no restrictions on the punishments they can hand
out to the kids. At first I thought that the kids cleaning the toilets
were being punished but apparently not. That's actually considered a
privilege. However among the actual punishments I've witnessed are

standing at the back of the class for a lesson
standing facing the wall at the back of the class for a lesson
ditto and ditto but at the front for added humiliation
ditto but for a whole day*
being hit with an open hand
being hit with a closed hand
being hit with a stick
having the chair confiscated and being made to squat in a sitting
position without a chair for a whole day of up to nine hours (for
forgetting a homework book!)*
being given double homework (which doesn't sound so bad until you
realise that single homework keeps most students busy until midnight)
standing in the front centre of the class, at the board, facing the
class while the teacher ignores them and works around them
having items confiscated and not returned until the end of the day
ditto but the end of the week
ditto but the end of the term
ditto but never

I'm sure there are others, the teachers are quite creative in their
cruelty. Incidentally when I walk into a class where students are
suffering the punishments I've marked *, I instantly rescind them for
the duration of my lesson and tell the students that if their other
teachers complain, send them to see me and I'll argue it. It hasn't
happened yet because the moment my lesson is over they return to their
punishments knowing that if they don't the next one will be worse.