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, 23 November 2012

And in your local news...

Reading that Walsall council have decided that they will refuse to collect rubbish if anything is in the wrong colour bin


makes me feel rather more at home here in my apartment in China. Outside the apartment the rubbish pile continues to grow. It is now twenty five feet long by twenty feet wide and four feet deep throughout and hasn't been collected for eleven weeks. It stinks so bad that on the fifth floor I am unable to open my windows and whil I haven't yet seen rats it certainly seems to be the main attraction for a million flies.

People back home don't know how lucky they are.


As for the so-called "pot-hole crisis",


over here most of the streets – whether lit or not – have holes dug in them by the workers who leave them unprotected and unsecured at night. So far I have managed to avoid falling down any but it's more luck than judgment. One of my friends fell down one outside her apartment last year. She was fortunate to escape with only minor injuries. I'll bet that I can't walk half a mile in any direction from my front door without climbing over at least three or deep, dark holes.

It all makes me feel quite nostalgic for the dear old West Midlands.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

What should I tell him?

A teacher – English not Chinese – today asked me if I could give him a quick run down of the English tense system, as he isn't confident of his grammatical knowledge. This isn't at all uncommon here. In fact, as someone who actually has more than the most basic grammar knowledge, I am very much the exception rather than the rule when it comes to foreign teachers.

Trouble is I don't really know where to go with this.

I could explain to him in detail about tense, aspect, voice and mood. I could show him that English really has only two tenses, as such – present and past – and that what we commonly think of as the future is really formed with the modal "will". I could explain why anybody who says the passive must not be used is an idiot (though I'd have to get that explanation of "voice" done first.)

The trouble is, I'm a teacher here myself and I know that this isn't what he needs. I don't even know how I should tackle these things with my students. The Chinese grammar books are all at odds with my understanding of this area and the important thing to a student here isn't that he is any good at English, it's that he can pass his exam and go to University.
And I've gone on at length before about why a good knowledge of English grammar actively works against Chinese students in exams.

Imagine how much harder it will be for a teacher that got his grammar second-hand from me to make the call on what to pass on to the students.

Of course I could teach it to him as I learned it in school - where pretty much everything I was ever told was wrong. I could teach that English has twelve tenses (which is what my teachers told me) – the various combinations of what I now know to be present, past, future (modal will) with continuous/simple/perfect aspects. Of course that would be ignoring mood (no great loss there) and voice (a rather more substantial loss).

Or I could just do a "lies to children" version giving him just the information that he needs to pass on to his students to get them through the exams.

He's not a stupid guy, but he does suffer from having gone to school in England in that period when the powers that be had decided that grammar should no longer be taught, so he lacks even the very basic stuff like a broad understanding of what a noun or a verb is. He's actually a pretty good teacher for the job we do. He gives the students interesting discussion tasks, has a great connection with them and works hard in the classroom. His need is more perceived than actual, as we are discouraged from teaching grammar. All the same grammar questions come up – especially with private students – so he wants to understand well enough to answer them.

But what is well enough?

What would you tell him?

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Roundup Part 2

Roundup Part 2


Now that the Chinese political machine has rolled to a halt and the new administration is in power perhaps the firewall restrictions might be relaxed a little. Internet has been hell here for weeks. It has been taking up to thirty minutes of repeated attempts just to log in to gmail and then it only loads with partial functionality. Perfectly innocuous sites that just happen to be hosted somewhere other than China have been unavailable and the whole internet experience has been a nightmare.

Hopefully it will be back to it's normal pain-in-the-arse status rather than it's completely unusable status soon.


Not Chinese news but I was amused to receive an email from England about the recent British election of Police Commissioners. Lowest ever turnout, eh? One polling station having a turnout of zero, eh? LibDems beaten in Coventry by spoiled ballot papers, eh?

Ah, democracy in action.


No such problems here in China where the transition of national power to a new assembly is now complete without any of that messy business of voting. I was also amused by this, though...


I may have mentioned before that I think China is the noisiest country in the world. The current manifestation of this is at the Postal Bank of China across the street from my apartment which has some kind of event or promotion going at the moment – as the signs are in Chinese I can't be more specific than that. What I can tell you is that in addition to the large inflatable arch in front of the building it has two very loud speakers which have for two days been playing loud, pompous, militaristic music at a volume that can be heard in the park more than two miles away. Perhaps it wouldn't matter quite so much if it weren't the same piece of loud, pompous, militaristic music over and over again accompanied from time to time by a deep, stentorian voice proclaiming something or other in Chinese.


The pile of uncollected rubbish outside the apartment block continues to grow, though many of the holes and trenches that were, theoretically, the reason it could not be collected have now been filled in again. It's currently (and I've paced it out) twenty-two feet long, eighteen feet wide and four feet deep at the centre. A smaller separate heap blocks the other route out of the block so, either way, there is a bit of wading to be done. If it gets much bigger and deeper it will actually start blocking the windows to the ground floor apartments.


Finally I ought to say that during a few days off when the school had exams I managed to complete the draft copy of my new poetry book. It's currently with a few friends for proof-reading and review and will, in the next month or so, be available to buy. Here is a sneak preview of the cover picture. The book will be called "The Unchanging Wolrd of Mr and Mrs Sun" and will contain a mixture of poetry about China and selections from my previously unbpublished British work.

My next post will be a taster in the form of one poem from each section.


Bye for now.

Friday, 16 November 2012


Lax, lax, lax. And I'm not talking about an airport in Los Angeles. I'm talking about me and this blog. I've been letting things slide, failing to post, generally not keeping up with the task. The trouble is that there isn't really all that much too say. Life here is very easy, very pleasant and very much the same as the last time I didn't have much to say.

Here's me saying it anyway in a brief round-up of stuff from the last few weeks.


I went out with the rambling group for a second trip which was a little easier than the first and didn't feature insane scrambles down loosely-packed, peaty hillsides or apparently endless flights of knee-jarring, stone steps. It did feature a nice climb up a dry river bed, a steepish few minutes up to a tiny temple and one of the most amazing views I have seen in a very long time. through the mountains to the river. It was a couple of weeks ago now so that the trees hadn't yet lost their leaves but had turned red and gold in the bright sunlight. One kind of tree (don't ask me which, I'm nearly as good an arborialist as I am an ornithologist) lined the river with thin, straight, silver trunks and had started to shed. Its leaves were paper thin and white, covering the ground with a strange carpet as if someone had cut book pages into leaf shapes and scattered them across the path.

Here and there, there were areas of burnt stubble or piles of crops awaiting transport to town for sale. One small home was almost completely buried under the piles of sweetcorn – some glistening and yellow, some still wrapped in its darker leaves.

We had lunch on a sandbar in the middle of the river, an odd choice given the intense heat of the sun assaulting us both directly and reflected from the water.

The Chinese group were holding a bit of an impromptu disco when I left to climb to the road and get the bus back to the city.


The following week the weather had turned and a bitter blizzard on Friday gave way to thin icy rain on Saturday so their next walk was quite sensibly called off.


I took a visit to an art gallery a couple of days ago. I hadn't realised that there was such a thing in Baiyin and, truthfully, it's really more of an art studio. One of the other teachers, Ben, is a keen amateur artist and he had found it in his quest to locate materials. Usually, he tells me, it's hung with paintings from multiple artists who work there but on this occasion it was all the work of the owner that was on display. I'm not sure what I had expected but I hadn't expected it to consist of faux-impressionist landscapes, reminiscent of Alfred Sisley. It did though and they were all remarkably well done, though landscapes always leave me a little cold. The artist works in various styles, though, and dragged out a few more modern pieces for me to take a look at while we sipped green tea. They were much more to my taste with bold shocks of colour subtly enhanced with gold geometric designs. A very talented man, albeit a man with a rather wide collection of styles.


On the same night I went for a stroll to the local barbecue the streets were lined with people burning joss paper ghost money and gifts for their ancestors. I've talked about this before. Whenever there is a Chinese festival you can see this phenomenon. People burn piles and piles of paper gifts and these can be representations of money or paper bottles of imaginary alcohol or paper clothes to keep the spirits warm; or they can be more elaborate and imaginative paper cars, houses or i-phones.

I checked which festival this one was and was told "Ghost Day", though all my internet sources agree that we are a couple of months too late for that.

Anyway, I counted at least fifty people making offerings in my short walk and probably three or four times that in piles of ash where others had already completed their ceremonies.


In the barbecue I met up with Carole and we had finished eating and were about to leave when a Chinese couple on the next table ordered a dozen bottles of beer and persuaded us to join them. Their English was roughly on a par with my Chinese – which is to say virtually non-existent but somehow they communicated the rules of the drinking game they were playing and an evening of drinking Chinese-style ensued.

Let's explain what I understood of the game.

Lay out three cards. Put the rest of the pack as a stock. Take turns. On your turn choose a pile. Turn the top card of the stock. If it is the same suit as your chosen pile put the card on the pile and drink a shot glass of beer. If it is the same rank, drink three shot glasses of beer. If it is either next or next but one in rank – in either direction –  drink a shot glass full of beer. If it is the same suit AND next or next but one drink two shot glasses of beer. If you had to drink, it's still your turn and you choose again.

A quick count will show you that for any given card you choose there are twenty cards that make you drink one glass, four that make you drink two, three that make you drink three and twenty four that don't involve drinking. A better than evens chance that you'll have to drink something. You could try noticing what cards have gone already to improve your odds but you rapidly reach a point of inebriation where that's no longer possible.

This is very typically Chinese. A large part of their drinking culture revolves around games that get people very drunk, very quickly.

By the time we left – still quite early at a little after ten thirty – four of us had gone through two dozen bottles of beer.


It's time to go to get ready for my morning lessons now so, if I remember, I'll complete this round up of recent weeks tonight.