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, 24 October 2015

Buying Food (Reposted from FB)

 I've noticed something odd about my behavior.
Occasionally I make a trip to Guilin because there is a European grocery store there where I can buy things that are impossible to get here in Yangshuo. So I go there - it's about a four hour round trip - and I buy canned goods (soups, baked beans, pasta sauces, canned tomatoes), all kinds of sauces (BBQ, Thai curry paste, satay etc), packs of flatbreads, decent quality bacon, cheese. I usually end up spending fifty to sixty pounds - 500-600 RMB. It's a lot more than I'd pay either for more easily available stuff here in Yangshuo or for the same stuff if I was back in England.
None of that is odd though.
The odd thing is that I bring them back to my apartment and put them in the freezer or on the shelf AND THEN DON'T EAT THEM. The reason I don't eat them is because every time I look at them and think of eating them I know that I can't replace them by popping across the street to Asda or Tesco. I have to make that four hour round trip again and spend a sizeable chunk of my salary.

Then, about three or four weeks later, I think, OK now I can start eating them. It's amazing how China can make you rethink your habits on normal everyday stuff like buying food.

And while we're on the subject

And while I'm on the subject I think it's marvelous that the spirit of Mary Whitehouse lives on. That lovely bunch of people over at One Million Moms want to ban the current version of the Muppets because it's "promoting interspecies romance and promiscuity".

You couldn't make it up.

In the interests of accuracy One Million Moms actually have around three thousand twitter followers while Kermit (who, for the hard of thinking, is a puppet) has more than seventy six thousand.

Would you like to hear my conspiracy theory?
I think they are actually a secret advertising agency. Anything at all that they want to ban, I want to see. A Million Billboards couldn't be more effective publicity.

In another campaign it was nice of them to bring to my attention the bizarre series "Black Jesus" of which I had previously been unaware. Thanks 1MM!

Alice and the Wolf?

I recently read that Alice Cooper's next project has him narrating an updated version of Prokofiev's Peter And The Wolf. 

This is of course the same Alice Cooper of whom moral mischief-maker Mary Whitehouse once said

"Because of this millions of young people are now imbibing a philosophy of violence and anarchy … It is our view that if there is increasing violence in the schools during the coming term, the BBC will not be able to evade their share of the blame." 
 How times change.

Are you still in China?

I posted a small and very insignificant story to Facebook about something I saw on my way to school one morning. I was walking along the street when I saw an old lady crouched by the side of the road with a blowtorch attached to a large gas cylinder. As I approached I realised that she was using it to roast a pig's trotter.

My brother's response?

"I didn't know you were back in Wolverhampton."

T-shirt of the month

 A girl in school last week was wearing a T-shirt with a large picture of a shuttlecock and the slightly mistranslated legend "Shuttledick".

Kindergarten Games as a Preparation for Life

One morning a couple of weeks ago, in between classes, I leaned on the sixth floor balcony watching the kindergarten kids playing in the yard. Their game was this. The boys and girls lined up facing each other. Each girl chose a boy by pointing at him. Then they all ran around with the girls trying to catch their chosen boys. When one was caught he had to stop moving while the girl held tightly onto him. However if one of his uncaught friends could tag him she had to release him and start the chase again.
Seems like there ought to be a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

Mooncake and pomegranates (Adapted and extend from my FB post)

I had a Friday off sick last month. I'd had a bad cold for few days but, as everyone does here in China, had continued to work. (Remember that a couple of years ago I was back at work, in plaster, two days after breaking my leg!) On Friday though I had one of those "gargling with razor blades" throats and I could barely speak enough to ring in sick. It was approaching the mid-Autumn festival and throughout my day off people kept coming to my apartment and giving me things. There was off course fruit - oranges and bananas and a large box containing more pomegranates than I could consume in a month. I still have some of them left to prove the point. As well as the fruit, though, there was mooncake. Everyone who came brought some mooncake for me. I ended up with quite a lot of it.It's the traditional Chinese food for mid-Autumn festival, rather like we eat Easter Eggs or Christmas Pudding. They all look very similar. Small round pastries about six centimeters across and about two centimeters deep, stamped with Chinese letters on the top. A couple of them had a white pastry rather than a brown but otherwise they were, to the eye indistinguishable. 
The trouble with mooncake is that it's a bit like the Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans in Harry Potter. You never know what's inside till you bite it. It could be delicious chopped mixed fruit. It could be not so delicious red bean paste. It could be the weird chopped lotus and green teal leaves. Or it could be the one that's a mix of sweet fruits and nuts and savoury fried pork which is, to be generous, not compatible with western palates. Some of the more... er... unconventional tastes I couldn't even hazard a guess at.
Now I daresay that somewhere in the packaging it tells, in Chinese, exactly what to expect but that is, of course, no use to me.
I tried all of them. Of about twenty there were maybe four that were delicious, four that I could force down and the rest I had to spit out the first cautious bite and then throw away the remainder. And that is of course why I always waited until my visitors had gone before trying the treats they had brought for me. I didn't want to give offense. Of course they will probably give me even more next year. 
Would anyone care for a job as my food taster?

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Another (Mostly) Facebook Roundup

It's Chinese National Week here, which means I'm now off for seven days. Unfortunately as I was told quite specifically two weeks ago that my school was only off for two days (Saturday and Sunday - how does that count as holiday?) I didn't make any arrangements to go anywhere. I was told it would be seven days by a student on the morning of the day before it started leaving no time to actually arrange anything. Oh well, you've heard "c'est la vie" and "c'est la guerre" - now you can add "c'est la Chine".

It does mean that I have time to do my occasional re-blogging exercise and add a few of the things that have gone onto Facebook since... oh wow... is it really almost four months since I posted anything here?
Anyway, this time, rather than just cut and paste, I'll paraphrase - mainly because I'm bored but also to give anyone who reads both this and the FB page, a marginally different experience.
Back in June the end of the school year was rapidly approaching and lessons were being shuffled around and end of year activities shoe-horned into the schedule. I was invited to be a judge on two occasions. The senior one students, who are now my senior twos this year, invited me to judge performances of sketches they had written. This event was to take place out in the school yard but thanks to the weather was on, then off, then on, then off, then... well you get the picture. In the end it was on - on the only night in the whole month that I couldn't actually make it. So I never did get to see them. On the other hand I did get to judge the speaking competition where twenty two of the students from my (then) senior two classes made near identical speeches on the subject of "Yangshuo". As I had helped them prepare, I was happy that there were no clashes to prevent my attendance. The evening came and as judges we were seated seated in a row at the front and I was in the middle. The two Senior 2 Class 1 students who were comperes started out by introducing the judges. They introduced judge number one who stood up and was applauded. The judge two, then judge three. Skipping right over me they went on to judges five six and seven. Then, after a slight pause they added, "and finally the most handsome, interesting and funny teacher in the school... Bob" and the whole auditorium was filled with cheers, shrieks and foot stamping. They even asked me to make a welcome speech before the competition started.
I noticed the school headmaster nodding with approval, a fact that made me quite happy as, at that stage, I had no idea if they would be renewing my contract or not.
Of course it was also the time when my school, for no very good reason and against the practice of practically every other school in China, wanted me to do exams. You may recall that I tried to explain last year that it's impossible to do oral exams for sixty students in thirty five minutes and expect anything meaningful to come out of it but there they were, insisting again. So, having, after a lot of effort arranged for the school to let me do my oral exams over two weeks, which was still inadequate but, at least, possible, I then had to reschedule Monday's exam for Saturday as Monday was the Gao Kao* exam day. I was told categorically that I had to finish by Friday that week so the results could be handed in to the office. Then I got to school on Tuesday and another teacher - my administrator being absent - informed me that I couldn't do senior exams then or Wednesday as they were sitting other exams. Another "discussion" ensued in which I tried to explain that I couldn't hand in results for exams that hadn't been done and they insisted that I must. Eventually it was agreed that I could now work the following week on Tuesday and Wednesday and hand in the results on Wednesday afternoon. China is one long stream of right-hand/left-hand communications interface failures. 
(*The Gaokao is the Chinese University entrance exam.)
In July I went up to Baiyin to visit Theresa and see some old friends. While I was there I witnessed (from the outside only) the setting up of a Chinese circus. I was taking a walk  to the coffee shop to meet a student when I came across it. Just across the street from the coffee shop is an open space where a circus was setting up. I walked past a crowd of people looking at two tigers, a lion and a black bear in cages. It was one of the saddest spectacles I had ever seen. All the animals were lethargic and looked horribly malnourished. The lion's cage was barely two inches longer and six inches wider than the animal. The tigers (in separate cages) fared little better. Worst was the bear which was chained inside a cage smaller than my bedside table and which looked to be on its last legs. I know that animal welfare isn't something most people on China are concerned about but it was pitiful to see.
While I was there in Baiyin I had my first problem with mushrooms in ages. Usually I have been quite adept at avoiding them but sometimes the restaurants just don't get it. I think I might have been reasonably safe from the dreaded mushroom at one dinner as I was eating with five Chinese friends all of whom are aware of the problem including two doctors and a nurse. When the pumpkin soup turned out to have mushrooms in the resulting chorus crying to get it replaced could be heard streets away. It was rather embarrassing really-I could just have ignored that one dish but they wouldn't hear of it. It was on another occasion, when it was just me and Theresa, when things went wrong, I don't understand why they find it so difficult. My food intolerance to all kinds of mushroom and fungusis quite severe so I make very sure that restaurants know this. So, when we went for hot pot, Teresa explained for a full five minutes that I can't eat mushrooms or food containing or cooked with mushrooms. The soup came and we checked again and were assured that it was ok. I put some vegetables in and started fishing them out and eating I'd eaten quite a lot when I fished out something that was very clearly a mushroom. The staff said in Chinese that it wasn't a mushroom it was a wild fungus. We told them that this is just another kind of mushroom. They brought a new bowl of soup which I think was just the same thing with obvious bits strained out. Too late, the damage was done. I had a night of hot and cold sweats and stomach pains and a morning of  hasty dashes to the toilet. It's not the first time. No matter how carefully it's explained they just don't get it. Why?
While I was there I did a few English lessons - some for Candy, my old private student who still managed to brighten my day with her ten-year-old enthusiasm and some for the young son of one of Theresa's colleagues. He was a little shy but did inform me that his favourite TV program is The Walking Dead. He's eleven. Later that same day Candy had brought our old books over and we were looking at a chapter about countries which included Puerto Rico which she insisted, quite deliberately, on pronouncing as "potato rico". When, the following day, we came across the word Toronto, she told me clearly that it had to be pronounced "Tomato" so that someone could move from Potato Rico to Tomato, which is actually quite a good language joke from a second language student aged ten.
Waiting at the airport for my flight back to Yangshuo I looked around. I was sitting in a crowded airport lounge waiting for the plane and realised that over eighty percent of the people I could see were using their phones either as phones or to play games, watch movies or send messages. The woman sitting next to me was simultaneously using three - one to send text messages, one she was talking on and one to watch a movie. Isn't modern life wonderful?


Of course I still occasionally comment on things that are not China related. For example

Sometimes I wonder about the people who release software. On my edition of Word most of the settings are still at the defaults. This means if I type. '"Good morning." said the boy.' It changes the "s" to an "S" (because it thinks it's the start of a new sentence AND THEN underlines it in green to tell me it's wrong and then I change it back to lower case and the green line disappears to tell me it's right. So it "corrects" my correct sentence , identifies it's own "correction" as wrong then lets me change it back and identifies my original as right. Ridiculous.


A comment on a post elsewhere read simply. "ooooooooooh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Facebook offered the option to "see a translation" so I did.
The translation read "Ooooooooooh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
That capital "O" makes all the difference.


So Vin Diesal has signed on for Guardians of the Galaxy 2. I imagine the conversation went like this
Agent: Sorry Vin, Groot isn't in the movie.
Vin: Come on give me a chance, we haven't started to explore my range yet.
Agent: Look, Groot just isn't in the movie.
Vin: Listen, "I am Groot.", "I AM Groot.", "I am GROOT". There's just so much more I could do with the character. We haven't scratched the surface.
Agent: Leave it with me. I'll see what I can do.


A nice little story cropped up when I was teaching my "What do you know about the UK" lesson. One of the questions I ask is "Who is the UK Prime Minister." As part of the instructions I always tell the students that if they don't know an answer they should guess. Walking around and looking at answers I discovered that one of the students had written "Bob Dylan." When I asked him why, he shrugged and said "I don't know the answer, but I like Bob Dylan." He was pretty knowledgeable about his music too.


Finally, I've had a poem accepted for the forthcoming Offa's press anthology of poetry about Staffordshire. Here, exclusively on the blog, is a sneak preview.

Staffordshire Not

The emblem on my school badge was the Staffordshire Knot.
It's visible in all the fading photographs.
I could write my own address before I even started school
And the last line that I wrote was “Bilston, Staffs”.
But then came '74
And we were Staffordshire no more.
They had changed us at the dropping of a hat.
Our badges stayed the same,
But our home had a new name.
West Midlands.” Where's the character in that?

Some objected; they considered that they were of sterner stuff.
Continued to use “Staffs.” in weak defiance.
Wrote letters to the papers, to their MPs to the PM
But it could only end in their compliance.
The fait had been accompli
And thoroughly and promptly
The boundaries of Staffordshire receded.
The ears they turned were deaf.
No use appealing to the ref.
Any opposition to it went unheeded

But some of us, like history, will take a longer view
Not everyone thinks bigger must be best
And identity's a tricky thing to try to take away
Not something that can just be dispossessed.
Here's my old school tie.
I look at it and sigh.
To see the emblem of the knot repeated there.
Nostalgia? Well, perhaps.
But though the years elapse
Some bonds exist that are too strong to tear.