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, 29 December 2012

It's the thought that counts

I've had plenty of small Christmas and New Year gifts from my students - mainly apples and sweets but some ornaments and the like - and lots and lots of cards. On closer inspection the cards are quite an odd selection. As well as Christmas cards in both English and Chinese they include a couple in Spanish and a couple with scripts I can't easily identify.
That's not the starnge thing, though.
The strange thing is that in among them are birthday cards, valentines day cards, mothers' day cards, general cards with unidentifiable purposes (like the one that has no words but lots of pictures of Miami Heat players) and at least one "Congratulations on Your New Baby" card.

Of course, it is the thought that counts.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012


The astonishing level of hospitality accorded to even minimally friendly foreign teachers can be a little overwhelming. Take yesterday for example. Yesterday was of course Christmas Day. Originally Carol and I were going to have a quiet meal in our favourite restaurant and a couple of beers in our favourite bar. That was the plan as it stood at the end of 23rd December. On 24th of December it changed because some teachers from Carole's school invited her, Jess and me (I used to teach there, Jess still does) to eat with them on Christmas Eve. But then I got to one of my two schools on Christmas Day to find an invitation to eat with my department. I felt obliged to accept that one as I haven't had much chance to go out with them this year - and they had already booked the restaurant, in anticipation of my saying yes.
On my way home to change, my other school rang to ask if I wanted to go with them. Arriving at home, my next door neighbour asked if I wanted to eat with them. In my email in-box one of my private students was inviting me to eat with his family. Before I had reached the bathroom my administrator was ringing up to ask if I wanted to go out to dinner.
To finish it all off, while I was already having dinner with my school, someone I have met exactly once, rang me up inviting me to come over right away to a party. (I didn't go, I was too full and too tired.)

Now all this is wonderful but, as I said, a bit overwhelming, and the biggest problem of all is that of the eight possible evenings I could have spent, six of the invitations came at less than a couple of hours notice, four of those at less than twenty minutes notice and the one while I was eating at less than no notice as the party had already started.

This is entirely typical in China. Arrangements are made on the day, invitations made mere hours before events. I explained to one of my colleagues that if I am making dinner arrangements for a group in the UK I will start checking availability weeks in advance. She told me that in China you might, only might, start telling people two weeks in advance for something as big as a wedding. For less formal occasions it's completely normal to just do it on the day.

Anyway I had a good meal with my colleagues (which, again in typically Chinese fashion, started at 5:30 and went on till about 9:00 - explaining why I was too full to go to the party) and an excellent night out, but I do sometimes wish they would arrange things a bit less spontaneously.

Saturday, 22 December 2012


Next morning:

<tears up poem, scatters from fifth floor window>

Friday, 21 December 2012

The End of The World: A Poem for the Apocalypse

Today is the end of the world (so say the believers in the Mayan calendar, at any rate).
As a poet I can't let such an occasion pass uncelebrated so here is my poem for the apocalypse.

The End of The World: A Poem for the Apocalypse

So this is the end of the world
and this is the last poem,
sent out into the darkness,
forgotten words on a fluttering paper –
as infinite and empty
as the Universe itself.

So this is the end of the world
and this is the last poem,
unknown, unloved and unread
the poets last immortal gasp, then silence –
an unvoiced dead language
for a dead eternity.

So this is the end of the world,
and this is the last poem,
surviving the apocalypse,
outlasting every other word in every tongue –
this, and only this, lives on
in memoriam.

So this is the end of the world,
and this is the la

Sunday, 16 December 2012


It's probably just an after-effect of the terrible cold I've had for the last couple of weeks, but I had a night of the most weirdly depressing dreams ever.

It started with me standing in the drive of my old house, realising that it's no longer part of my life and walking away.

It continued with me walking through completely deserted streets looking in through the windows of houses where happy families were all eating lunch together.

It progressed to me searching through a ruined castle for something without really knowing what.

And, weirdest of all, it finished with me being led by a rabbit into a cornfield where there was a baby rabbit on a drip in a hospital bed.

Anybody know the Chinese for "psychiatrist"?

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Another Google Translate Oddity

One of my friends replied to my Christmas Greeting email from yesterday.
At the end of his post were four Chinese characters.


I don't read Chinese but I figured they were probably "Merry Christmas".
All the same, to be sure, I popped them into Google Translate.

It detected the language not as Chinese but as Japanese and provided a translation that said

誕快 Lok St.

Switching to Chinese I did, of course, get "Merry Christmas.

Christmas Greeting

Yesterday I sent out my group email Christmas greeting.
It  occurs to me that there could be people I missed in the list.
Don't be upset. There are always people I miss when I create a google group (and always some I include by accident, who probably scratch their heads and mutter - why is he sending this to me)

It's incompetence on my part, nothing more.

So, if I missed you, here is the post - now aimed at the whole wide world.


So, it's time to send out my Christmas greetings from China - my email Christmas greetings, as the cost of sending actual physical cards to everyone on my list would make it cheaper to fly home and deliver them in person.

I'm still having a fine time here in Baiyin though there is no real visible sign of Christmas. It just isn't that important here. I have to work on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day but it doesn't matter – we've just arbitrarily decided to move Christmas to December 23rd and celebrate on Sunday instead. One of the other western teachers has decided to throw a party that's intended to last all day. Between us we are cooking a traditional Christmas dinner and looking forward to watching our Chinese friends tackle knives and forks with the same amusement that they watch us tackle chopsticks. I've stuck a load of old TV programs onto a flash drive for us to watch – after all what is Christmas without Morecambe and Wise or the Christmas Day Top Of The Pops?

We scoured the town to find actual flat plates – a task that we almost gave up on because they seemed to be impossible to get. Then, by sheer dumb luck, I found some in one of the supermarkets – the one I only go to because they sell baked beans!

It's shaping up to be a proper Christmas Day (albeit two days early!)


Now for the greetings card bit. It's become something of a personal Christmas tradition to write a verse on the subject so here's this years.


The attached Christmassy picture is, I'm sure you will realise, of Prague not Baiyin but what they hell – Prague is far more Christmassy on its worst ever day than Baiyin will ever be.


Merry Christmas.


Bob Hale




I must pick up a festive pen,

it's that time of year again.

I must write about the Christmas Day

that's happening so far away,

because I kind of miss the O-T-T

way that things back there could be.

I never used to be that way;

people always heard me say

"Humbug! Bah! Just call me Scrooge."

My season's joy was hardly huge.

But I find I miss the neon lights,

that make the houses look such frights,

snowmen, polar bears – inflated –

no decoration understated.

I miss checkout girls all dressed as elves

piling baubles on the shelves.

I miss the way the Christmas songs

play end-to-end December-long,

the festive names of Christmas Ales,

carol singers with wassails,

Christmas trees both real and fake,

Yuletide logs and Christmas cake,

the same-old, same-old on the box,

my auntie's gifts of gloves and socks,

college closed down by the weather,

family parties all together,

snowflake silhouettes on panes,

streamers, lanterns, paper-chains,

cards from everyone I know,

holly, robins, mistletoe.


Something here has gone askew,

I shouldn't miss them but I do.

Perhaps it's true – I need to ponder –

that absence makes the heart grow fonder

and when I'm back I'll be once more

the grousing Grinch I was before.

But now, in China, one more year

I'll raise a glass in Christmas cheer;

wish one and all a festive season

and never mind the rhyme or reason.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Forgot to say...

I forgot to say, if you use a coupon code of FELICITAS (all caps) there might be a discount of 20%. I'm not sure if it's authors only but they usually aren't. The coupon expiures December 14th so you'll need to hurry.

Give it a try.

And about time too...

Just letting you all (assuming there is anybody out there still reading this) know that my latest collection of poetry - The Unchanging World Of Mr And Mrs Sun is now available.
Get it at

Why not buy a dozen and give them to some of your friends.
Or perhaps your enemies.

To whet your appetites here is one of the poems from the book, the title piece, in fact. It's illustrated on the cover.

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.

A life together is our way.

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 a 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, 6 December 2012


I had my students creating stories from picture prompts today.
Loved the one that started...

"The butterfly was friends with the chocodile."

Nice word

I've had a couple of days off school with a bad cold and a sore throat. As always the teachers have have been kindness personified. One of them picked up some medicines for me at the pharmacy - real ones, not bags of twigs and stones. I was asking her what they were and she used the dictionary on her phone to tell me.

The blue and white capsules are, apparently, "antiphlogistication medicine".

What a great word!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Best And Brightest

What do the schools teach them these days?
I have just watched an episode of Young Apprentice where the teenagers were engaged in a variation on the usual "treasure hunt" task. Mostly it was unremarkable but I did find it amusing that one team spent the whole episode discussing the meaning of "candelabrum" without managing - even once -  to pronounce the word correctly. Presuming that the use of a dictionary is banned (surely, if it isn't, SOMEONE should have thought of it.) but even so it  isn't that uncommon a word. They still didn't know by the end of the program when Alan Sugar had to tell them.