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.

Thursday, 17 January 2013


I've just seen an old episode of the original US version of The Apprentice*. It was one where the candidates had to organise a celebrity auction - selling off experiences with the celebrities in question. Each team was allocated five celebrities to negotiate with.
Now I know this is the US and not the UK but there was not one single person among them that I have ever heard of. Not one of the ten.
That's OK though. I don't expect many of our so-called British celebrities - even the really big names - have made much of an impact there either.
What amused me was that in negotiating with someone who apparently has a succesful chat show one of the candidates said to him "Maybe the winner could meet you and a celebrity."

(*Look, I know. I'll watch pretty much anything I can get my hands on that's in English. There probably is a line I won't cross but The Apprentice isn't it.)

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Communications Breakdown

It probably goes without saying that one of my biggest problems living in China is communication. I have proven to be a remarkably inept student of Chinese and after a year and a half of living here am still barely past the "hello/goodbye/thank you" stage. (Given my pronunciation, some would say I'm not even that advanced!)

Oddly, for day to day survival, it hasn't seemed to matter.

For shopping, pointing and holding up fingers suffices and in the supermarket not even that much is required. For eating out I choose restaurants with picture menus or English translations. I have a card with my one essential phrase - "I am allergic to mushrooms" - printed on it. Other day to day needs have been met with similar strategies and if anything more complicated arises I call one of my English speaking colleagues and hand over the phone for them to speak to whoever necessary.

That kind of communication may be unsatisfactory, and is certainly a damning criticism of my level of commitment to learning Chinese, but it works.

What doesn't work has become apparent this week when, thanks to circumstances, I have been the only native English speaker in the city. All four of the other teachers are currently elsewhere. I have found it a rather lonely time. On the face of it, it shouldn't be. I know plenty of Chinese who have a high level of English competence. A few of them are approaching native speaker level. They may grasp for the occasional word here and there or lack a particular idiom but the speed, tone and accuracy of their speech is excellent. The problem isn't linguistic – it's cultural.

Our cultural backgrounds, the experiences and knowledge that form the backdrop to our lives and inform everything we do or say, are just too different to hold the kind of rambling, free-form, trivial conversation that I could have with any stranger in the pub in England (or to a slightly lesser extent America).

All my normal topics of pub conversation are useless. What is the use of my discussing my favourite rock bands with someone whose knowledge of western music begins with Justin Bieber and ends with Lady Gaga – the only two artists I can reliably expect most of my students, never mind the adults, to have heard of?

Television? Well I know one Chinese guy who is a big fan of both Desperate Housewives and Little Britain but as I have never seen either and he has never seen anything else, that's not much use. No one else I know watches any western television apart from my eight year old student who likes Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry. I have a large poster of a Dalek on my wall but who, over here, has ever even heard of Doctor Who? As for any of my other favourite series forget it. There is only one English TV channel and that shows almost exclusively social and political programs. The entertainment channels are all home-grown Chinese fare.

It's similar with films. One student asks me about ten times a week if I have seen the latest Resident Evil movie – apparently forgetting each time that I have already told him that I haven't. There is one cinema which shows one English film at a time, changing it about every four weeks. Always the latest blockbuster – Skyfall opens next week. But few here go to the cinema – it's very expensive – and almost no one has heard of any of my favourite films.

I can't, not that I would normally, even discuss sport. With a few notable exceptions where the names of sports stars (and almost nothing else) are known, few here know even as much as me (and I think we can agree that my knowledge is about as weak is it's possible to find in England) about western sport.

Now, of course it works the other way round too. They can tell me about Chinese music, TV, films and sport until the end of the world has come and gone but I know nothing that I can contribute to a conversation. The difference is that they can always find someone else to talk to. I can't.

So, I'm surviving – functional needs are being met – albeit in a rather basic way. Social needs are something else. I know there's something missing when I find myself thinking that even a conversation about football would be welcome.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Just because it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside

I had lots of cards from students this year.

I know it's a bit self-indulgent but here, complete with all the layout features and
charming mistakes are the greetings they wrote in them.


Merry Christmas to you. Have a

good holiday, happy every day

-          Terry



Good afternoon! Yesterday

was Christmas. Merry

Christmas! Teacher. I

write a Christmas card give

you all the best wishes!

merry Christmas

           Qing Yu Long



Good afterniin!

Happy New Year and Happy

Christmas. You are a good

teacher. I like to learn


I write this card, give you

the best wishes.

          Your student

           Zhang Gian

        Marry Christmas



Happy Christmas. This card is for you. It's very lovely. Do you like

this gift?

Happy Christmas

                    Your student:

                    Xiao Shuang Mu


Happy    Christmas

to   you  !   Thank

you for teaching

us! We all

like you



Dear Bob

Have a wonderfur


You don't at your country

But you can feel happy too





It's your gift.

Do you like it?

It's a peace apple.

Dear Bob

Merry Christmas

Here is a

Christmas tree

for you



Merry Christmas

You are a great teacher

Happy to you everyday.

     Your Chinese

     student: Wen Yi


My dear foreign teacher, Hello.

You very you I am very glad to be able to attend

class to us. When but attend class, discipline isn't very

good in classroom. my delegate's schoolmates make an

apology to you here. Also wish you were Marry Christmas !

          Your student

            Fan Ting Tong


Bob. Marry Christmas! I have

a Chinese name for you Zhang Yingbo.

Do more exercise.

           Li Yang

     English name: Jim


To Dear Bob:

Wishing you much enjoy

in the coming year. May

the warmest wishes, happiest

thoughts and friendliest

greeting come at Christmas

and stay with you all

the year through.

Your student


Give you a gift

at Christmas are two

luminous cups. I hope you

will like iy.


Bob. We love you.

Dear Bob:

You are a great teacher. And I love yo very

much. Because you are kind and

humour. New Year's Day is coming.

I wish you a happy new year.

         Your student



Dear Bob:

      Marry Christmas.

      Best Wishes to you!


Dear Bob




Dear Bob:

Christmas is coming. Do you feel happy? You're

a good teacher and we all like you. Do you like to teach us?

Goodbye. See you next year.


Dear Bob:

Hava a wonderful Christmas, You are good

teacher, thanks for you teach us. I like you.

I always remember you, Merry Christmas

            Your student

            Lu Shibo

Dear Bob

Christmas is coming! Marry Christmas!

I hope everything goes well. I hope you

have a good time. Wishing you good health

and lots of happiness. And I hope things go all

right with you!

           Your student

              Wei Jinke

            Best wishes to you!



Dear Bob,

Merry Christmas!

Hope you enjoy your days here!

Best wishes!

         Your friends,



Happy New year


Lovely Bob

Merry Christmas

and Happy New Year



Dec 25th 2012