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, 24 April 2014

Things I never got round to posting.

When I came here to teach - almost three years ago now - I had limited access to a computer, and no access at all to many sites because the Chinese firewall stops them. Of course now, like everyone else, I get round this ridiculous restriction, by using a VPN.

One of the effects of this was that I wrote a lot of stuff on paper that would be better on the computer. But I am notoriously disorganised. I lose things. There used to be a joke around my office that I could work with paper and pen and my desk and blink once and lose the paper and pan. Blink twice and I'd lose the desk. So I lose most of the papers. Yesterday, while going through a large box of papers I found some of them. So I'll post some of those early observations here. 

Some may have appeared before, in the intermittent access that I had back then. Some may be no longer relevant. There may be things I thought that I don't think now. I'll post them anyway.

The originals are written on various scraps and in various books so they are in no particular order.

This one is on a piece of paper and was probably written last year when I had a couple of hours in the office every Tuesday afternoon at school eleven.

* * *

There probably isn't a school or college anywhere in Europe and America that can't tell you on day one of the new school year when every holiday and every exam day will be. Probably for several years to come. Here, in China it's different. The impression is that they make it up as they go along. For example there are a couple of days due for Tomb Sweeping day and I'd quite like to get away to Xi-An for a break but the best information available is that it will be "some  time in early April".
And we may or may not be required to make up time on the weekend. Given that today is MArch 26th this is rather short notice.

This last-minute culture runs through everything from schools to organising a dinner party. No one ever seems to plan ahead by ore than about five minutes. It makes life difficult. I want to make that trip to Xi-An but it's far enough away that's it's only practical if I can go for several days. I am certain there will be periods when I have several days off consecutively but I probably won't know when they are until the day before they happen... far too late to book flights and hotels.

And it occurs to me now that, cynical though this may sound, it's a hell of an effective way to control the movements of your population without being seen to do so.


Back in England I probably went out to dinner three or four times a year. This may be atypically low but there are many people who go out less. There were no places to eat out in th immediate vicinity of my home but a bus ride into town would put me instriking distance of twenty or thirty - if we include pubs that do food.
Here in Baiyin there are probably more than that within a hundred yards of my front door. Thre are three in my building*. Most of these are tiny places seating a dozen or less but they are almost always full. Eating out here is considerably more common than at home.


My apartment* building occupies only a little more ground space than my house and garden back home did. When we moved into that house, way back in1963, there were five of us. My parents, my grandfather, my brother and me. At the end, when I moved out in 2011 there was just me. That same ground are here has an apartment block containing six floors of four apartments with an average occupancy of about three. That's 72 people. That's the pattern for the whole city.


People in China don't drink cold water. You can get it if you try hard enough but it's an uphill struggle to convince the waiters in a restaurant that you really mean cold water. Even when you convince them it's likely to be lukewarm rather than actually cold. Iced-water is flat out impossible to get.
Instead they like to drink hot, even boiling, water, What caught my eye in the office today was that when one of the teachers wanted a drink she poured half a cup of hot water from the large flask in the corner, washed it around to clean the cup and threw it onto the floor. In school eight, where i also teach, this wouldn't be a problem. The floors there are of untreated concrete and would soon soak it up. The school eleven floors a re all tiled and polished. the water just sat there in a puddle that gradually dispersed over the next thirty minutes as people walked through it. It seemed an odd practice.

* * *

And that's all that there is on that piece of paper. It was probably time to head off and teach at that point and so it would have been stuffed into a pocket and forgotten until I found it yesterday. Next up we will have some slightly edited posts from way back when I arrived in China.