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.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

China: A Day In The Life Parts 14 and 15

Of course there is only so long that you can play pool for and once we've finished it's off to the bar for a couple of beers (or sometimes more than a couple: the beer may not be good but it is cheap!)
We have built up a fair selection of bars now and we assign our own name to each as we have never yet succeeded in learning the local name for any of them -or indeed if they have local names.

Barroom Vignettes


  1. The Cat Bar


She is the queen of the bar:

striding from curtained booth

to curtained booth,

allowing her subjects to fawn upon her.


  1. The Five Litre Bar


On the stage she is singing:

eyes closed against the lights,

as we look down

listening to songs we cannot understand.


  1. The Hookah Bar


They smoke hookahs, shout numbers

in lively bar dice games,

drink shot glass beers,

and stare at us when they think we cannot see.


  1. The Barbecue Bar


Barbecued snacks on skewers

sizzle on tin-foil trays,

Tsing-Tao and Snow:

gathering a tabletop bottle army


  1. Richard's Bar


There is a motorbike

parked central in the bar.

We consider.

pondering how it might have come to be there.


  1. The Dark Beer Bar


Chinese leaders stare at us

from pictures on the wall.

We sip black beer

savouring the unfamiliar darkness.

And the final poem of this sequence s rather too short to merit a separate entry. It's simply a coda to the whole sequence.

And the Score At Close of Play


And the score at close of play

is that it's been a happy day.

So that's it, a day in my life in Baiyin. I hope you've enjoyed this brief poetic tour of my life in China. I'm sure there will be many more poems to come, some of which would fit in here but I'll resist the temptation to shoehorn them in and leave this little cycle to stand as it is. You, of course, will not miss out as more poems will be posted as they are created, whatever the subject matter may be.

China: A Day In The Life Part 13

(Forgot to post this yesterday)

When we've finished eating, the possibilities for entertainment in the town are, as I've mentioned before, limited.
There is always, however, the option of the pool hall.

Eight Ball Blues

We ain't got movies and we ain't got shows,

we ain't got music, but heaven knows

to make things better, brother, we got booze

and to pass the time away, we got the eight-ball blues.


We ain't got burgers and we ain't got fries,

we ain't got pizza and I tell know lies -

to make things better, brother, we got booze

and to pass the time away, we got the eight-ball blues.


We ain't got comics and we ain't got books

if you thought we got the papers you'd be mistook.

To make things better, brother, we got booze

and to pass the time away, we got the eight-ball blues.


We ain't got conversation, we ain't got Chinese.

Never got much past "hello", "goodbye" and "please".

To make things better, brother, we got booze

and to pass the time away, we got the eight-ball blues.


The hand that we've been dealt was from a deck that's stacked.

We ain't got much of anything and that's a fact.

To make things better, brother, we got booze

and to pass the time away, we got the eight-ball blues.


To make things better, brother, we got booze

and to pass the time away, we got the eight-ball blues.

Monday, 27 February 2012

China: The Illustrated Unchanging World of Mr And Mrs Sun

These illustrations go with the poem posted a few days ago.

China: A Day In The Life Part 12

OK. So now it's time for dinner. Sometimes I cook in the apartment, three or four times a week I eat out at one of the noodle or dumpling restaurants or, more often, at the barbecue across the street. There is however a mystery associated with the aforementioned barbecue.

The Third Piece


Down at the local barbecue the food is always great.

It's spicy and delicious and we never have to wait.

There's cauliflower and broccoli and beans and aubergine,

coriander wrapped in tofu, and peppers red and green.

There are chicken wings and sausages and - if it is your wish –

you can round your meal off nicely with a tasty piece of fish.

And if you order mutton, with four pieces on each skewer,

it's served up hot and sizzling and tasty to be sure

but with it comes a mystery we cannot solve and that

is the question of the third piece, and why it's always fat.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

China: A Day In The Life Part 11

So, after classes finish for the day I return to my apartment and contemplate what to do about eating for the evening. As I sit and ponder I look around. It is, as I have said, quite a nice apartment but there is something that I have noticed not just about here but about everywhere. I have blogged about it already. Everything works, but nothing works well. And here is a poem about it. It isn't even slightly exaggerated. If anything it understates the case.

The Importance of Technology In The Modern Home

Just what will go wrong, you never can tell

because everything works – but nothing works well.

"Good enough's, good enough" is the commonest creed.

"Do as much as, no more than, the job seems to need."


The washing machine didn't work from the start

except as a dryer, well that's working in part.

They gave us another that would hold just four shirts

and jiggle them slowly to redistribute dirt.


The DVD wouldn't connect to the set

though it seemed to be working in other respects.

The player we bough to replace it's OK

but selects randomly which chapter to play.


The gas ring's remarkable – I have to admit it.

There isn't a pot in the world that will fit it.

Pots, pans and woks, unattended will tumble

leaving breakfast or dinner on the floor in a jumble.


The windows – it's true – are almost a fit

for their frames, but not quite and that little bit

is enough to let out every last drop of heat

so the apartment is cold but it's warm in the street.


That the fridge has no plug hardly matters at all –

they've connected bare wires through a hole in the wall.

And you can't move appliances, you just have to shrug –

as, between them, the rooms have six kinds of plug.


Some days there's no gas and others no power

or else there's no water for the sink or the shower

and when it comes back it's an orangey brown –

not just for us but all over the town.


We could try to complain but complain to what end?

There isn't a thing that that they'll bother to mend.

We can search out the right person  to go and to tell

But he'll see, "Well it works – but it may not work well."

Saturday, 25 February 2012

China: A Day in the Life Part 10

This places me in a somewhat awkward position, paints me in a less then perfect light.
But let me explain.
Lessons are forty-five minutes long. Classes can have more than eighty students. That makes possible individual attention about thirty seconds, and that's without actually spending any time teaching. So what I do, mostly, is create groups and give them tasks to do as a group. Unfortunately when students don't work or don't want to work there simply isn't the time to try to persuade them so generally if they are quiet I just let them sit without participating.
I feel bad about it but I don't really know what else I can do without seriously disadvantaging all the students who do want to work.

Anyway, here's the poem.

Classroom Poem #2

In groups of eight they contemplate

the task I've set before them.

It's been designed with them in mind,

I hope it doesn't bore them.


Some buckle down without a frown

and try their best to do it:

apply their minds and try to find

the skill to get them through it.


The groups behind may be inclined -

at least when I am near them -

to put some thought in what they're taught

and talk so I can hear them.


But at the back, with faces slack,

they pay me no attention.

They can't disguise their panicked eyes

and lack of comprehension.


I do my best but if I'm pressed

admit I simply let them

ignore the class they'll never pass -

and go home and forget them.

Friday, 24 February 2012

China: A Day in the Life Part 9

Baiyin is full of clothes shops - it sometimes seems as if nine out of every ten sell either clothes or shoes - and many of them sell what are clearly, from the window displays meant to be clothes for the bride and groom. The Chinese, though, are not so unimaginative as to go for grey morning suit or white bridal gown all the time. I am not sure if the display in the small window that I pass as I return to school for the afternoon is meant to always be such wedding garb though it often looks to me as if that's the case.
The window is just big enough to contain one male mannequin and one female, and they are redressed in matching outfits about once a week. Otherwise they remain completely unchanged in pose or position.
It prompted this poem

The Unchanging World of Mr and Mrs Sun

Today I'm dressed in emerald green:

waistcoat, bowler hat and braces.

My wife, who by my side is seen,

is also dressed in emerald green

in a puffball skirt

and pleated shirt.

We're in accustomed places.


Today her dress is long and white:

a yellow sash is wrapped about

to match my shirt that shines so bright

and set off with bow tie of white.

The storefront glare

the place we share

is elegant without a doubt.


Blood red with black dots, black with red:

See Minnie Mouse, her theme today.

My clothes may be quite plain instead:

the trousers black, the shirt just red.

Dressed up so smart,

we never part.

We knock the fashion critics dead.


I have not changed except my hat

but my wife's mouse demeanour's gone.

She has a long silk gown now that

has matching shade to my red hat.

Gold threads entwine

in both designs

for all the world to gaze upon.


Today we've changed to shades of blue:

a shirt of sapphire, navy tie.

My wife's blouse has similar hue

and skirt and shoes are also blue.

We always try

to catch the eye

of all the people passing by.


Each passing day from shop front stand

we watch, consider, contemplate.

We're always not quite hand in hand

as side by side we simply stand.

While others race

from place to place

still all we do is watch and wait.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

China: A Day In The Life Part 8

So, I said that I'd do a poem about lunch.
Sometimes I have a roast potato or sweet potato from one of the street vendors.
Sometimes I just have fruit or a sandwich.
Sometimes I cook. Sort of.


I often make soup
but don't ask me what is in it.
Other people buy ingredients -
an absurd way to begin it.
I just open up the fridge
and take everything not spoiled
and chop it up together
and eat it when it's boiled.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

China: A Day In The Life Part 7

This is the inverse poem of poem #5 "From Here to There". Unsurprisingly it's called "From There to Here" and it describes my lunchtime walk back to my apartment. Lunch is a fairly long affair in China. The school closes from 12:30 to 2:30 and the teachers and kids all go home. Many families prepare full meals which in the Chinese manner consist of half a dozen dishes. I on the other hand am, as wiill be seen tomorrow, somewhat less elaborate.

As you might surmise, the poem is written in a series of inverse Fib verses in which the number of syllables decreases with each line.

From There to Here

The end of the lesson music plays.
All the children rise,
pack their books
and leave

I follow them into the street,
begin my stroll home:
a slow pace
through the

I head back to my apartment.
The dancers missing;
gone from

I buy bread from the corner stall:
though the woman there
does not speak,
she nods,

In the alley through the buildings
I pass the egg man
and his eggs:
brown, white

I climb back up the rabbit hole,
unlock the door and
like Alice
wake and

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

China:A Day In The Life 6

I teach two different levels - Junior 1 and Senior 2. For the Juniors I teach the same lesson to ten different classes and for the seniors I teach another lesson to seven different classes. When I was told that I had to teach Junior 1 - eleven- and twelve-year-olds, I wasn't happy. Not happy at all. I had specifically requested that I be allocated only older pupils and had been assured that I would get only older pupils.
As it worked out, it hasn't been a problem. There is a curious dichotomy involved with these levels. Although they are aged eleven and twelve they look, to my eyes at least, about eight or nine but for the most part behave more like fourteen or fifteen - which is, as anyone who knows a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old can tell you - sometimes a good thing and sometimes a bad thing. They can be intense and studious at times but sullen and uncooperative at other times. They can be wonderful to teach or little monsters. And that's how my Junior 1 class are. Variously wonderful and horrible, cooperative and disruptive, happy and sullen. For the most part I love teaching them and - probably because unlike their Chinese teachers I don't give them homework or punish them - they seem to love being taught by me.

Anyway, that's by way of a long and ambling preface to the next poem which is all about my Juniors.

Classroom Poem #1

A fragile little girl
with eyes that fill her face
and such a pleading smile:
it turns sullen
in a moment.

A boy with startled hair
cavorting on his head,
a wide eternal grin:
as a friendly

A girl with glasses frames
that have no lenses in
worn studiously in class:
follows me with
unaltered eyes.

A tiny damaged boy
can never understand
but wants to join the games:
I include him
and he transforms.

A boy who never smiles
at least not with his mouth
fires answers like bullets:
there in his eyes,
there is laughter.

Monday, 20 February 2012

China: A Day In The Life Part 5

There are about three thousand pupils at my school and before classes the all play in the yard. They all wear blue and white track suit uniforms and it's quite a sight.

Schoolyard Blues And Whites

There are patterns in the motion
strange whirlpools in the ocean
ripples waves and tides of blue and white.
Three thousand children's faces
their owners caught in chases
that weave chaotic dances left and right.

We enter at the gate
and cast ourselves to fate
and plot the straightest course we can achieve.
But there begins a sirens chorus
of "hellos" that rise before us
and six thousand tine hands grasp at my sleeve.

Like flotsam on the waters
of Baiyin's son's and daughters
I am tossed and turned but trust myself to fate.
My helm is true and steady
and eventually I'm ready
to reach the shore to which I navigate.

From the steps where I now stand,
like a Mariner on land,
I look back at the ocean with regret:
at the constant ebb and flow
as the children come and go.
The bell for morning class has not rung yet.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

China: A Day In The Life Part 4

The next poem is both a description of my walk to school and an experiment in form. The verses are each in the form of a Fib which is syllable counting poem. The usual form is a poem of six lines with syllable count 1/1/2/3/5/8. This is called the Fibonacci sequence - a numerical sequence where each number is the sum of the two preceding ones.
Mine isn't quite in this form as I only have one one-syllabled line at the start.

From Here To There

I fall down
a deep dark tunnel
and into a strange wonderland.

with strange fruits
stare at my face's
unfamiliar symmetry.

lead up
and over
and into the park:
market traders lay out their stalls.

quick, quick, slow,
throughout the morning:
pedestrians weave between them.

in bright arcs,
above and around
synchronised morning warriors.

 my coming,
anticipates me
with a thousand shrieking hellos.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

China: A Day In The Life Part 3

The next poem is a rather trivial description of my morning before I leave for school.

Before The Day Can Begin

Before the day can begin
...I must empty the bowl
...that catches the drips
...from the slow leaking pipe.

...I must town on the shower a moderate heat
...and wash off the night.

...I must iron a shirt
...and polish my shoes,
...pack my things in a bag.

...I must pour boiling water
...on instant oats,
...choose something to add.

...I must check my email
...and the texts on my phone
...send them all to the bin.

...I must open the door
...and step into the world
...then the day can begin.

As I said, rather trivial and not very good, but tomorrows poem - describing my walk to school - is better. Promise.

Friday, 17 February 2012

China: A Day In The Life Part 2

So. When I wake up in the morning, where do I wake up? What do I wake up to?
Well it is a nice apartment. I sleep in a nice comfortable bed and I hang my clothes in a portable, but adequate wardrobe. It isn't mine though. It clearly isn't mine. The apartment, for all that it's my home at the moment, belongs to someone else who is just letting teachers use it for the year. The furnishings are comfortable and high quality but not things I would choose. The room I'm in clearly belongs to a teenager with its posters of Manga and Pop Stars. I can't change it. Hence this next poem.

Unnatural Habitat

I am present only in traces;
faint whispers against a howling wind;
a spark against a forest fire.
I cannot read the books upon the shelves.
I did not choose the pictures or the posters,
the flowers or the furniture.
Almost, I am not here at all
and yet...
and yet, here are pictures of my family
and pictures of my friends
taped to the edges of shelves,
impermanent fixtures,
where I can turn my head and remember.
And behind this curtain are my clothes.
And in this suitcase are the remnants of my life.
I am present only in traces;
occupying another' habitat.

Which should of course have been...

part 3.

China: Spring Break Part 2

The next day I was meeting up with Stephanie and Jaques who are at a school a bus ride out of Xi-An so I took a brief breakfast (Dunkin' Donuts, since you ask) and headed back to the hotel to meet them. They arrived bang on time and we strolled down to the corner to get a cab, a walk briefly enlivened by a large group of chefs, in uniform, standing outside the big hotel letting off firecrackers. It really is a ubiquitous pastime.

A cab ride and a bus ride later and we were at their school in the Lintong District. The town was small and would, I imagine, be rather dull to live in but it had a supermarket and a few restaurants so it wouldn't be impossible.

Instead of concentrating on the town though, I was looking at the school. It was a very different affair to mine. To begin with it's a boarding school with all of the students and staff living on campus. Well, it is usually, with most of the staff and students away for the holidays it had a ghost town feel about it. There were a few hardy students playing basketball in the snow but otherwise it seemed more or less deserted. The school is spread out in a large number of buildings on the side of the hill and navigating between them in the snowy, icy conditions was tricky. In several places water had run down and frozen on the steps turning them into dangerous and difficult feats of mountaineering.

When we reached the apartment I was surprised to find it quite a lot smaller than mine and more spartanly furnished. I sat down drinking beer with Jaques and chatting and Stephanie set about providing lunch. She had told me weeks ago that they had bought an oven and that she would do something special for me and she did – she whipped a steak and kidney pie treat wit mashed potatoes and broccoli. And she followed it with an apple crumble.

And she put extra portions into paper bowls and covered them so that I could take them on my long train journey tomorrow and have them for lunch.

We had a long day just chatting and walking around the school site – which may be out of the way, but has much cleaner air than Baiyin and some spectacular views. All the same I prefer where I teach simply because the facilities are so much better.


When I returned to the city it was already dark, but that was to my advantage, as it gave me a chance to wander around and take some night photographs. At night Xi-An is something of a fairy land with the city walls and ancient buildings lit up dramatically and even mundane structures like the post office bathed in multi-coloured lights. For new year, with lanterns strung between the lampposts and all the trees covered in meshes of blue lights it was spectacular. Up on the city walls I could see more lights – the lights of the lantern festival – but it was late and I couldn't work out how to get up to it so I resolved that I would visit it tomorrow, albeit in the less ideal conditions of daylight.


And so I did. I was leaving the city that day but my train wasn't until early evening so I had plenty of time for another walk. This time I started with the park that runs in a narrow strip along the outside of the south wall. Pinned between the wall and a busy main road it ought to be an unpleasant place but it isn't. The path may be straight but it leads through pleasant rows of trees and parkland, stark but still beautiful at this time of year. There are frequent sections filled with all manner of exercise equipment – ping-pong tables, treadmills, climbing bars, rowing machines, badminton courts, mysterious devices probably copied from the Spanish Inquisition – and all of them were being used by people of every age.

AT the other end of the park I found an entrance that would get me up onto the wall and strolled back through the now unlit lantern festival. Even unlit it was about a mile of incredibly elaborate displays of lights on a "round the world" theme. I kicked myself for not trying harder last night to find an entrance.


Having done it once already, finding my train was much easier the second time. The station was probably the most crowded building I have ever seen. An enormous hall with locked gates at the far end was rammed solid with people. The signage was clear and I gradually wormed my way to the section I needed and waited. Every now and then one gate would be unlocked and the people who wanted that train would fight their way through. Eventually it was my turn.

I quickly found my berth and was disappointed to find it a top bunk. It was just a little too short and a little too narrow for me but the clearance was only two feet making it almost impossible to sleep in comfortably. I stowed my bag and tried. It was a twenty eight hour journey and I wasn't looking forward to it.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

China: Spring Break Part 2

The advantage to an overnight sleeper, assuming that it is a comfortable berth, is that you arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to face the day. This in theory should have made the task of finding my way to my hostel an easy one but in practice it hardly seemed to help at all. I wandered about outside the station , unable to even locate the taxi rank, and called Stephanie – the teacher who, with her husband, worked near to the city. She had booked the hostel and, crucially, could speak Chinese so that I would be able to just hand the phone over to the driver if it came to that. As I was doing that my friend from last night came past and with Stephanie on the phone and Elen helping I eventually managed to take a cab to my hostel. More accurately to the wrong hostel in an adjacent street but it was still not quite ten O'clock when, checked in, showered and changed into fresh clothes, I was able to get myself out onto the streets again for a walk around.

I had a map obtained from the hostel but had determined to leave it in my pocket as much as I could and simple stroll along a route that would, eventually leave me precisely where I started.

The streets of the city, the part within the city walls at least, all run either North-South or East-West so that getting lost is virtually impossible.

I started with a northward walk along the central street that leads – via the Bell Tower from the South Gate to the North Gate.

My hostel, the cheap and comfortable Xiangzimen, was very close to the ornate layer-cake structure of the south gate which was, for the festivities, surrounded by large red and gold decorations. I walked past the elaborate facades of the hotel on the street corner and turned onto South Avenue. Everywhere the ground was littered with the piles of red paper and ash that were the remnants of last nights New Year festivities. There was the constant acrid smell of the smoke still lingering and as I approached the Bell Tower it became obvious that the festivities would continue in their more noisome form throughout the day. The constant explosions from firecrackers filled the air and here and there clouds of dense smoke from the more intense fireworks rolled along the pavements. As was my intention I chose to eat not in a Chinese shop but in MacDonalds and as I munched on my MacBreakfast the loudest and longest series yet started just outside. The noise was amazing and the street was invisible from the smoke. I waited until it had finished and continued on my way.

My walk took me under the subways of the Bell Tower and down to the smaller Drun Tower where I turned off to head through the Muslim Quarter where the narrow streets are lined with a curious mixture of local food shops and tourist souvenir stalls. Side by side there are shops filled with ornaments and pictures and tea shirts with shops selling cuts of meat hanging on hooks, are flatbreads piled up on tables.

From there I wandered through the pleasant Lian Hu Park before continuing around the other two sides of my large square route and then turning to head back parallel to the South Wall to my starting point. Half way round I took my lunch in KFC and when I got back to the hostel I discovered, with some surprise that I had been out for almost seven hours.

I decided to eat in the hostel and take an early night. Sadly the food was the only negative thing about the place. It wasn't that it was bad but it was small and ordinary and, compared to anywhere I might have gone if I had gone out, rather overpriced.

Although I had slept reasonably well on the train I didn't feel completely rested and my long explorations had tired me so, though I briefly considered going out, I decided against it in favour of an early night.

China: A Day In The Life Part 1

I have been working for some time on a series of poems describing a typical day in my life here in Baiyin. Now I know that poems should stand on their own and that if I need to give explanations of what I've written then I haven't written well enough but, because I think people might find the background interesting, for this series I will be adding a few notes along with each poem.

So - here's the first one. It's called "All Through The Long Dark Night" and technically it isn't about my life in China at all. It's more of a scene setter; a kind of "previously on..." summary of the last season for those who missed it. It's also quite accurate in that I do dream a lot more than I used to and I do dream a lot about the past. Given the severity of the break I have made with that past, it's probably inevitable. I lived, for example, in the same house for forty five years and now it's nothing to do with me - sold and gone.
Hardly surprising that I dream.

All Through The Long Dark Night

All through the long dark night I dream my life anew.
I dream of gas-lit rooms and secret corners.
I dream of my grandfather standing in the garden.
I dream of remembered schools and forgotten school-friends.
I dream of hiding in the library.

I dream of standing at a window looking down.
I dream of the campus view and the clock tower.
I dream of the lecture halls and the lecturers.
I dream of leaving it all behind.

I dream of all the jobs I lived and all the jobs I hated
I dream of every time I turned the rudder of my life.
I dream of every new course I charted for myself.
I dream a drunkard's walk.

I dream a dark dream. a dream of death and dying.
I dream of fifty new lands and fifty kinds of forgetfulness.
I dream of standing cold and numb at a graveside.
I dream in silent sequence.

And I dream that all those days are gone; behind me.
I dream that when I wake it will be another time and place.
I dream that the past has no grip on the future.
And I dream my life anew.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

China: Spring Break Part 1

My original intention had been to fly to Guilin for my Spring Break but when I decided to break my trip in Xi-An to visit some other teachers who work near there it seemed more sensible to take the train. Baiyin is not an easy place to get to and, equally important, not an easy place to get away from. Plane or train, first you have to take an hour's bus ride to Lanzhou. Erika was also travelling out on the day so we shared a cab to the bus station and in Lanzhou tried to get a cab from the stand outside the bus station to go to Pizza Hut for lunch - in my case because I had taken a vow that for the duration of my trip I would eat no Chinese food at all, having no choice but Chinese food in Baiyin*.
I say "tried" because with the help of a friendly fellow traveller we discovered that the drivers had decided that as it was Chinese New Year's Eve they would run unmetered and charge ten times the normal price. Our friend told us that if we just walked along to the corner we would easily find a metered cab and not get ripped off.
He was correct and soon we were happily having our large pizza lunches.
At the station we were on separate trains and sent to separate waiting rooms. I found myself a little bewildered by the total lack of signage that was even in pinyin, let alone English and the total lack of anyone who spoke any English to assist me. In a bizarrely random attempt to help a station guard enlisted another passenger - who also spoke no English - to help me through the process of catching my train.

My Chinese is rougly at the level of "Hello, Goodbye, One beer please" and her English was on a par with it. However she was young and pretty and friendly and somehow, in spite of the utter lack of each other's languages I managed to find out that her name was Elen; she worked as a TV presenter on the local TV station; she was visiting her family in Xi-An for New Year, she liked the pop star singing on the televised New Year TV show and she didn't like noisy fireworks but did like coloured ones. We even managed to exchange emails and phone numbers. I never have that much success with women who I share a language with. It was quite a pleasant interlude.
Had I been able to I would probably have talked more with her about that TV show. It was, as I said, Chinese New Year's Eve which is calculated by a set of rules far to arcane for my poor brain to cope with and which this year was 22nd January. As a result outside the giant glass windows there were fireworks and explosions that looked like an invasion from Mars, inside people were handing out traditional plates of New Year dumplings and on the TV was the Chinese equivalent of our Hogmany shows with all the traditional elements - singing, dancing, comedy sketches, interviews with high-ranking military officers - that kind of thing.
Finally the crowd started to shift and mumble. I had no idea what signal had caused this but evidently the train was there so I followed my new friend to the gate and once through she escorted me to my carriage and my berth and when she was sure I knew where I was going said goodbye.
I settled into my quite comfortable bottom berth and went to sleep.
Ten hours later I woke in Xi-AN.

(*Well, there is one single branch of KFC, but there is almost no western food in the city.)

I'm Back!!! Did ya miss me?

Well I'm back from my hoiliday and later there will be more about that than even my most dedicated fan could possibly be prepared to read.
Meanwhile the main points are

1. I had a great time.
2. John, who was visiting me, says he had a great time.
3. We did quite a lot of hiking in the beautiful Yangshuo area.
4. We drank far too much beer.
5. I ate almost exclusively western food. John went almost solely for Chinese (apart from breakfasts).
6. I took some nice pictures.
7. I wrote or completed a ton of poetry which will soon be appearing here as a whole new cycle documenting how I spend a typical day in Baiyin.

As for those breakfasts, here's an unsolicited testimonial.

If you are in Yangshuo try the Mimosa Cafe where the breakfasts are bloody marvelous. Real bacon and real sausage along with fried eggs, fried tomatoes, mushrooms for those who want them and - the real winner - baked beans!
They also serve proper English chips not wimpy little American fries and the most perfect apple crumble in town. You can, I am reliably informed, also count on their Chinese food to be tasty fare.

More later. Much more.