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.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

On one page

I have a student who comes to me for private tutorials on Sunday afternoons. We often go through questions from his books that have left him puzzled. Today was especially interesting as it seemed to feature the full range of impossible to answer Chinese questions. Frankly it's the worst book I've ever seen.

Here is a sample of questions which all came from the same page and the reasons that I think they are ridiculous.

Remember that for any question there is only ONE right answer.


Choose the correct answer


3. Because the situation in that country __________, all the foreigners are leaving.

a) is getting worse b) has got worse c) was getting worse d) had got worse.


Clearly both a) and b) are correct.


4. What about going to the match tonight?

  Why notAnd I __________ my friend with me.

a)       am taking b) have taken c) take d) would take


The only one that comes close to fitting is d) but  it doesn't sound right and isn't logical. The best answers "can take" or "could take" aren't there at all.


8. I __________ Beijing tomorrow. Do you know when the earliest plane __________?

a) leave for; takes off

b) am leaving for; takes off

c) leave for; is taking off

d) am leaving for; is taking off


I'm fairly sure they want b) but all four answers are perfectly normal idiomatic English.


9. How long __________ here?

  I'm not sure?


a)       do you stay b) are you staying c) would you stay d) did you say


Both b) and c) could fit depending on the circumstances in which the question was asked.


10 Tom, you __________ books about.


a)       have always thrown b) always throw c) are always throwing d) always threw


All of the answers form perfectly grammatical sentences, albeit with slightly different meanings.


Fill in the gaps with the correct form of the indicated verb.


12. The students took eight subjects this term. They __________(take)  six subjects next term.


I can think of at least four immediately without even considering the possibility of modals  (take/will take/are taking/will be taking)


13 At this time tomorrow we __________(have)  a meeting.


Again several forms spring to mind


14. Tom didn't go to school today. He __________(not go) tomorrow, either.




17. My friends came over last night. They __________(come over) tonight too.


And that, as I say is all from one page of the book. No wonder my poor student was having a hard time figuring it all out. He made a lot of careful notes which he said he wants to show to his Chinese English teacher. I wonder what the reaction will be.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Inland Revenue Always Gets Its Man

No one knows my address in China. I haven't told anyone what it is yet. I don't actually know it myself.
And yet somehow the Inland Revenue (that's the UK equivalent of the IRS for anyone in the US who doesn't know) managed to get not one but two letters to me yesterday. They sent them to the address of the head office of my agency where someone forwarded them to my local administrator who came round to deliver them in person.
Normally I don't like to get envelopes with "her Makasty's Revenue and Customs" printed on them but in this case I was rather pleased as the first one was informing me that I was due a sizable rebate on overpaid tax and the second one was informing me that it had been paid.
I was expecting it to happen but I hadn't expected them to track me down and tell me. They are a bit like the mounties. They always get their man.

Anyway, that's by-the-by.
Here, for anyone that might need to contact me while I'm in China, are the details of how to do it. 

Print a copy of the picture below.
Make sure it's nice and legible.
Securely tape it to the letter, parcel or whatever that you need to send.


Robert Hale
Foreign Teacher
Middle School Number 11
Gansu Province

Send it by a trackable method. The post office will be able to advise on the best method but it must be trackable as quite a lot of post to Chinese addresses goes missing.

Cross your fingers for a couple of weeks and I'll email as soon as I get it.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Same River Twice

Last year we - that is to say, the foreign teachers comprising me Todd and Erika and accompanied by our Chinese friend Richard - went out on a day trip to the Yellow River Stone Forest in Jingtai county which is about 40 kilometres north of Baiyin. The weather was glorious and, a few minor irritations notwithstanding, it was a glorious day out.
On Sunday I went again, with this years crop of English teachers. As the only one remaining from last year I'm the de facto old hand who knows everything already. It was in many respects a repeat of last year's experience. This time there were five of us - me, Ben, Jess, Carole and Garrett accompanied by a Chinese teacher from one of the schools. We had the drive to the head of the valley through the bleak and rocky desert where, this year anyway, the few patches of flat ground were all cultivated and the green of the cornfields contrasted starkly with the brown background.
From the head of the valley we drove down the winding road into the flat and fertile river plain which is covered with orchards. Most of the fruit isn't ready yet. Paper bags have been put over the individual fruits on the trees to force their growth.
At the bottom we climbed onto the same sheepskin rafts as before and drifted slowly off down the river. The rafts are remarkable. A dozen sheepskins have been cured, sealed, stitched into bags and inflated. These are then lashed to a wooden frame. A couple of carpets to keep the water from splashing up through the gaps and there's the vessel looking about as unseaworthy as it's possible to imagine.
They are seaworthy enough for the calm currents on this stretch of river though and a fifteen minute lazy float and two  minutes frantic paddling by our boatman as a back-current took us perilously close to a rather too rocky bit of shoreline, we beached at the foot of the cliffs and disembarked.
We were immediately mobbed by a large group of Chinese tourists who all wanted their pictures taken with us. They don't get many foreign visitors in these parts and we're quite a novelty.
When we eventually got away from them we took donkey carts and horses up the valley again. This time rather than taking dozens of pictures - which, of course, I already have - I just looked at the towering rock formations around me. It's an impressive place. The valley is narrow and the rocks high. The rough bouncing journey ended part of the way up, where it had ended last time but this time we weren't stopping there. Instead we transferred to dune buggy style vehicles - low-seated, wide-wheeled motorised carts with all-round bumpers and steel roll-cages. In these we bounced further up the steep track. We passed the terminus for a cable car that was operating though none of the cabins seemed to have any people in them and continued up. The canyon walls were much lower now but also crowded into the track more closely. In places there was barely room for the buggy and once we rounded a sharp bend and collided with another coming down. When we could continue no further we alighted and carried on on foot. Steps have been provided to take tourists right to the high point where there is the other end of the cable car and a viewing platform from which the scenery is spectacular. Towering rocks and winding tracks lead off to the horizon in every direction. The muddy brown river and the narrow strip of green that is the orchard floor of the valley can be glimpsed here and there far below.
It's a popular spot. A young couple were there, dressed up very smartly, having some of the pre-wedding photography for their wedding album done against the amazing backdrop. This was much higher than I had come last time and made the repeated journey even more worthwhile.
We made our way back down, retracing buggy and donkey cart rides back to the river and then drove off into the town for what was, by now, a very late lunch. It might have been late but it was delicious with freshly picked and prepared vegetables in a variety of tasty dishes.
Then it was back into the cars and back to Baiyin.

The trip had been every bit as good as last year.
And unlike last year, here are a few pictures to give you an idea of just how good.


Anyone who talked to me during my summer break in England will know two things. First, you will know that whenever and wherever we were talking, it was raining. It rained a lot in England this summer. It hardly seemed to stop. The other thing you'll know - and you'll know because I told you - is that it doesn't rain in Baiyin. In my first three months in the city last year it rained twice - briefly.
Well, that was then and this is now.
This year is different.
I've been back here for four weeks and while it would be an exaggeration to say that it's rained all the time, it certainly has rained a lot. We've had almost as many rainy days as sunny ones and that seems very strange to me. Streets are muddy with the bright orange mud that comes from living in a place built in the middle of a desert. The situation isn't helped by half the streets and pavements being dug up for assorted roadworks. The entrance to my apartment can only be reached by negotiating an assault course of ditches, wooden planks and bogs.
It's raining write know, as it has been through most of the night. Looking from my fifth floor window I can see the water spattering down into pools and the cars slicing chaotic patterns of parallel tracks into the morass at the junction.
There is an upside. The parks are not the barren places they were; the trees that line many of the streets are not the brown skeletal things I remember. Instead there is plenty of green to liven the monotony of the view. There are flowers in the allotment area outside the apartments at the end of my street. The extra water has really made the place, mud notwithstanding, look rather nicer.
I mentioned the difference to a Chinese friend and was told that it always rains more in The Year of The Dragon. Whether this is true or just a folk myth I have no idea. It's certainly raining more in this one.
So, if you are not one of the people I talked to in the summer - if, instead, you are one of the people who has read the write-up I did about the city for the agency that employs me, then all I can say is is that I'm sorry for misleading you.
It does rain in Baiyin and in some years it rains a lot.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Time for that more detailed update.

Apart from a delay of about an hour at Beijing my return to Baiyin was about as uneventful as a long journey can be. I was met at the airport by a couple of people from one of my new schools and driven straight to a restaurant for another meal on top of the half a dozen or so airline meals that I was still digesting. It was, of course, a sign of things to come. When we eventuall did drive to my new apartment I was very impressed. Not only does it look better from the outside; not only is it my apartment, rather than shared; not only is it five minutes walk from the school - it's a very very nice apartment.
Before I decided to move to China, when my plans hadn't been set in stone, I considered staying in the UK but buying a new apartment. I looked at some new build apartments which were much smaller than this one, about as well-fitted and in a not especially nice area. They were a hundred and ten thousand pounds.
A few posters, a few nick-nacks on the shelves, all my old stuff moved over and it already feels more like home than last year's apartment did, though that was also good.

I've settled very quickly back into my routine. The new schedule is no more onorous than the old one. Neither of the two schools I teach at is more than a ten minute walk away. Both schools are friendly and welcoming and let me teach whatever I want to. The other new teachers in the city are also good. One, Garret, an American, is stuck out west away from everyone else but he seems to prefer that. Theother three here at the moment are a lind of set of ENglish northern towns. With Wolverhampton, I am the furthest south. The others are from Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield (or near enough in each case). They all seem enthusiastic and happy.

Our biggest problem in the first couple of weeks has been food.
There's just been so much of it. I've been out to dinner at least half a dozen times, with teachers, old friends, new friends. Ben, one of the new teachers, has a particuylarly friendly landlord who took us to dinner at his apartment. He must be pretty rich as he has one of the nicest apartments I've ever seen - and I don't mean just in China.

Two weeks in and there is already a week's holiday looming just around the corner. The other teachers are hoping to get off on a long trip to the Silk Road. I'm thinking about it but on the whole I'm inclined to just stay here, read watch TV and relax in a week when I don't have any teaching to  do. Well, almost no teaching as I expect I'll still have the little girl that I tutor five nights a week. I picked her up as a student when Erika left and it's such a boost to my money that I don't even manage to spend what her Dad pays me never mind have to touch my bank acount and school salary. Easy work too. Her Dad or Mom come with her and sit in the corner for an hour (in the case of her Dad, usually falling asleep on the sofa) while I go page by page through a pile of text and reading books. She's a bright, precocious and friendly eight-year old and it's the easiest money I've ever made.

And now here are some pictures of my apartment and the view from my window.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Back in business - sort of

I've been missing in action on the computer for a while now but I
should be back online soon. The problem hasn't been that the new
school failed to provide a computer. Far from it. They had the
computer and the internet installed in my apartment within a day of me
being installed. The problem is...

well, here's a poem about it.

The computer's hooked up and I've powered it on.
The logo's appeared and it's gone "bingly-bong".
I hover my fingers above keyboard keys,
but when the desktop appears, it's all in Chinese.
Of course there are icons, even some that I know.
I suppose I could click them and just have a go,
but I cannot tell OPEN from CLOSE (or DELETE)
so I guess that it's wiser to admit my defeat.
So that's what I'd do if I could but - don't scoff -
I can't even work out how to turn the thing off.

Well tonight they came and reloaded English copies of WIndows and
Office, set up the internet in English and Bob's your uncle. Well he
would be except that half the stuff on it doesn't seem to work. Still
at least it's not working in ENglish rather than not working in
Chinese so I have a fighting chance of fixing it.

Should be back soon.

Watch this space.