ride. The back and neck’s any person or heart problems
should no to ride this to ride. Those who are not pregnant
should ride a horse. Holding hands of a clock to continue.
Being an avid Chinglish hunter, I was amused to read about this sign in Coney Island, USA where, apparently, the Chinese is just as mangled as the English I see here day in, day out. This sign's Chinese translates as:
Warning: The Cyclone Roller Coaster is high influence to
ride. The back and neck’s any person or heart problems
should no to ride this to ride. Those who are not pregnant
should ride a horse. Holding hands of a clock to continue.
Worrying news about England's crucial World Cup match tonight. My namesake, "Paul the psychic octopus" chose to eat the food in Germany's box first [see photo] and, being psychic, this means Germany will win the game. Bang goes my bet of sick squid (six quid!)...
I had a lovely and totally unexpected surprise the other day - a parcel from "Willow", the Chinese girl I adopted (sort of!) some 16 years ago in Guizhou Province. Willow (Gao Ren Mei) was only a tiny orphaned baby when I stumbled across her and her "gran" in a countryside village an hour's walk from Duyun, where I was living and working at the time. I offered to give her the English name "Willow" as she was weeping so much at the time, and then was a bit shocked to be told that only a Father can name a child, so I was now her honorary foreign father. I've kept in touch ever since with postcards, photos, birthday and Spring Festival gifts. After I left Duyun, I've only been back to visit twice, once last year with "honorary mother" Ava, but have been made very welcome each time. However, I've never had any postal reply from Willow or her family, until yesterday. She sent some beautiful laminated photos, a handwritten letter in Chinese (and a little English) with some very kind words in it, and some hand-stitched handicrafts made by her grandmother. I was quite moved to finally have some sort of two-way contact. My "baby" is all grown up!!
Some examples of some of the Chinglish encountered at Carrefour supermarket the other day. And at least we weren't evacuated whilst there, as happened last Saturday when a man called Yue Jinwei planted a "fake bomb made from toilet rolls(!?)" in the toy department before demanding a 300,000 RMB from the store... caught within hours! Haha!
Yesterday I was asked, at very short notice, to teach a one-to-one lesson with a Kunming banker who needed to know about the British banking system. Apparently she was due to have a phone interview with a British bank manager a few hours after my class about a job in the London branch of the Bank of China! Now what I know about British banking can be written on the back of a postage stamp, but hey-ho! When she arrived 45 minutes late for our hour's lessons I was a bit miffed. And her excuse that "a hotel had fallen onto her bus" seemed unnecessarily elaborate. But it turns out she wasn't lying. A demolition of the Yunnan Hotel went very wrong this morning, spilling onto a busy road and injuring 5 people, one seriously. Thankfully my hastily Googled banking summary was just what she was after and she left happy (and uninjured).
Yunnan finally declared its 10-month drought to be over this week, ironically at the same time as other Provinces in the south of China are experiencing flooding that has killed hundreds and left tens of thousands homeless. What is it about China that leads to major disasters almost every month? Is it just a media that is freer to report them? Some disasters are certainly man-made (mining explosions, landslides, contaminated milk) but others are natural (floods, earthquakes, droughts). It's a large and populous country for sure and there are definitely low "health and safety" standards, but I wonder if it's not just a bit unlucky too? Maybe Mother Nature is a secret capitalist?
Jiajia has been keen to try and cook Western food for some time now. So with a recipe sent from my Mum at the ready she tried her hand at goulash yesterday (once she'd stopped laughing... "gou la shi" in Chinese means "dog poo"!). We shopped for the ingredients in the morning, tracking down paprika, failing to find button mushrooms (we settled for Chinese "not wild" mushrooms instead) and later realised that Ava's house does not contain a tin opener (for our tinned tomatoes). The finished product was very tasty, served with fresh bread (from the French "Carrefour" supermarket) and looked just like the picture in the recipe [see photo]. What a good cook I've found! We're tackling casserole next.
Yet another trip to the dentist today. It's the last one until September, when they start work on the left side of my mouth! As ever, it was the usual mix of good and bad - I got bumped to the front of the queue (although there were only two folk ahead of me) but then had to endure the usual procession of random people wandering into the treatment room to chat to my dentist while I was being drilled and filled. I just had to hope she wasn't too distracted.
I am lucky though to have a dental teaching hospital just 5 minutes walk from my flat, and the wonderful Prof. Liu Juan as my "personal" dentist. Trained in the USA and now teaching other dentists in Kunming, she has excellent English and a very kind demeanour. She also encourages me to ring her personal phone if I have any pain or wish to make an appointment, which I doubt any UK dentist would! Mind you, I have seen quite a lot of her over the last 2-3 years. She's repaired two chipped teeth, built and installed two crowns and given me 11 or more fillings. Thankfully, dental work here is about half the price as in the UK though, on my wages, still a significant expense. And it always feels a bit odd to be paying someone to inflict pain...
Short of anything obvious to blog about, I popped my camera into my school bag today, thinking I could take a photo of one of my classes. I needn't have worried. An almighty crunch as I walked out of my flat proved to be two buses who had both decided to head for the same bus stop at the same time! The drivers were not showing any bus company loyalty either, shouting noisily at each other in the road. Where are the action replays and Formula One stewards when you need them?
Only a few weeks ago it seemed like our World Cup group represented the easiest of routes to the next round. How things change. What an utterly dismal performace I put myself through at 3am this morning! Was it really worth the resulting six hours of teaching in a mild daze? Dare I watch the Slovenians running us ragged in the early hours of Thursday?
So how do you clean the outside of windows when you are on the 4th floor above a busy street (and your balconies have been ripped out by the powers that be)? Yesterday Jiajia remembered she had a cleaning tool which she had bought some years ago and never used. It works a treat. Two cleaning pads cling to each other through the window using strong magnets - clean the inside of the window and the outside gets cleaned too! (The outside part is also attached by a string in case it does suddenly drop).
Tonight is England's second World Cup match. Let's hope they also go clean through against Algeria and qualify for the next round.
I drove the 8 hours back to Kunming yesterday, braving heavy rain, wide-bodied trucks and some outrageous overtaking manoeuvres on the steep mountainside roads! It was probably a rather extreme way to get back into driving after 5 years doing virtually none, but despite Jiajia owning a nice automatic car, she hates driving and was happy enough to let me take the wheel! The trip was definitely worth it though - we had a fantastic time. It was especially nice for me to see Jiajia getting to know the LEAF family for herself before they leave for pastures new. Now we'll both miss them
Our last half-day in Simao and Jiajia was keen to get some souvenirs. So the LEAF family took us to a large market which at this time of year seems to specialise in roots [see photo]. They were on sale everywhere and, even with his encyclopedic knowledge of local foliage and how to cook it, Ali was bemused at what it could all be used for and why it was only on sale at this time of year. But there was also lots of fruit (which keeps Jiajia happy) and we all munched through fresh corn-on-the-cob.
Then we found the "woven items" section of the market. Lesley and Jiajia were in their element (with Edi's help) thinking of alternative uses for what are basically handmade items for farmers; egg boxes become knitting wool holders, bird cages become lamps, etc. I was just wondering how they thought they would get it all back to the car, when I noticed they were all looking at me... Next came the cloth section of the market. Ali and I sidled off to let the girls wear themselves out.
After watching England's dismal draw with the USA in the World Cup from 2.00-400am (yawn), I managed to rouse myself for a lunch appointment with an old friend and ex-VSO volunteer Jayne [left in photo] and the most recent bunch of Lattitude volunteers who I was training a mere six months ago - now confident and experienced teachers in China! It turns out they also represent some of the many "secret readers" of this blog! It was good to see them once last time and hear their tales before they head back to their respective countries.
We spent the afternoon in the company of the LEAF family, on one of their legendary walks through the tea fields around Simao. What started as a concrete path in the warm sunshine soon dissolved into a mud slope in the rain! But getting lost and finding little surprises is what it's all about. Freda and Edie are very knowledgeable about the local plants, wildlife and culture and happily chatted with Ava (in Chinese!) for the duration of the walk. It was nice for me to catch up with Lesley and Ali and hear what their longer-term future might hold, depending on what happens in the next few weeks.
The most intriguing discovery on the route was a small overgrown building, half-hidden in the bushes, with amazing hand-painted Mao Zedong portraits above each door. A glimpse into China's not too distant history. None of the locals we spoke to were sure what the building had been - a storehouse? a school? a military barracks? (OK, the last one was just my fanciful idea!). We made our way back to the town and our favourite Muslim restaurant with the two girls covered head to toe in mud... "Ava said it's good for our skin!"
Our arrival in Simao coincided with the last day of a Festival in the main square celebrating the cultures of various local minority groups. Our band of foreigners got as many stares and photos taken as the minority groups did, though they certainly looked a lot more impressive than us in our jeans and T-shirts! We visited each replica ethnic house (think bamboo, rope, grasses) and bought some of the various wares for sale in each.
Simao is a town in the south of Yunnan Province, about 4 hour's drive from JiangCheng where I lived for a year in 2006-2007. It's amidst fields of "Pu'Er tea" [see photo - tea plantations and Simao are top right], which is why the tourist-minded Government tried to rename Simao as Pu'er some years ago (and then had to rename the real Pu'er as Ning'er) ...it hasn't really caught on!
Getting out into the countryside is a real breather from city life. The journey down to Simao goes through some gorgeous scenery with cloud-shrouded mountains, swathes of forests and roads that cling precariously to the sides of sheer drops. It's a cliché, but true, that the pace of life there is slower and the locals are much friendlier. The wildlife is more evident too. This enormous spider, fully 30cm across, wasn't given a second glance by the nonchalant students on the LEAF's campus. For Ava and I, it was certainly worthy of a photograph.
We met up with the LEAF family for a yummy, locally sourced, cooked breakfast before the wildlife interupted us again, with an enormous swarm of bees passing the window [see photo] and settling on nearby roofs and phone lines. Quite a sight.
This weekend is "Dragon Boat Festival" (or "DARGON Boat Festival" according to some shops!). With no classes at school, Ava and I have made a snap decision to drive down to Simao to meet our good friends, the LEAF family, there. It seems a good chance to stretch my driving muscles and to say our goodbyes to LEAF who are nearing the end of their five years in China.
Ava made the wise decision to get her car serviced yesterday, but only 20 minutes into our drive today the ABS braking system started bleeping and flashing. So we headed for a garage and let them diagnose the problem, before setting off again. Over seven hours later we arrived in Simao. The 550km (350 miles) journey is mostly expressway, although lots of sections had been reduced to one lane for roadworks, and the last 100km is a windy two-way road where getting stuck behind sluggish trucks and overtaking on blind corners is the norm!
Yesterday evening was the last adult class of the term (though we have a Graduation Party next week). I was on other "training" duties last year, but requested an adults class again this term, having missed the more "grown-up" atmosphere and regular trips into an unusually quiet school (adults classes take place three evenings a week). I've had the pleasure of a fun and very commmitted "Level One" group this time, too with all seven students attending most, or indeed all, of the forty 2-hour lessons. They are all promising to continue with me up to "Level Two" next term too, which will make for an excellent core group on which to hopefully build higher numbers.
The children's lessons continue for six more weeks more though, with the crazy "double lessons system" through July (to compensate for the students daring to have a holiday in August!). But this weekend is Dragon Boat Festival - no classes - so Ava and I are driving the 6 hours down to Simao tonight to visit the LEAF family (and watch England's first World Cup match! Come on lads - do us proud!!).
Jiajia and I set off early today (ignoring the amusing "Don't drive tiredly" sign!) to get to the Driving Test Centre before the queues built up. My 76% mark on the computer multiple choice exam last time was somewhat short of the 90% pass mark and I've been studying hard ever since. Not easy when the Highway Code is only in Chinese and many of the questions are written in Chinglish (eg The registration of motorized vehicles excludes the registration of: A. Loss B. Registration C. Alternation D. Revocation).
Twenty questions into the exam, my computer froze and I started to panic. Then I realised that all 100 computers had crashed and I wasn't the only one in a sweat. Thankfully, after they all rebooted, my 20 answers were still there and I ploughed on. Some questions threw me: "What should you do at a red light? A. Stop B. Yield C. Not pass D. Go faster" Clearly not the last option, but which of the others makes most sense? Others were ridiculously easy: "When schoolchildren are crossing the road in a queue should you: A. Drive through B. Weave to and fro C. Honk your horn until they move D. Respectfully slow down and stop"! By the end I was hoping I'd scraped through with 91-92%, and was therefore pleasantly surprised to get a score of 96%! I drove Jiajia back from the Centre with a big grin on my face.
It's exam time in China as literally millions of students sit the national College Entrance Exams, which sort out who can progress to University and who must settle for less prestigious further education or join the job pool. Pressure is intense - a recent study showed 62% of American High School students felt high levels of exam stress, while in Japan it was 69%. Korea was 75% but China topped the table with 86%! So it comes as little surprise that suicides and cheating are widespread. State school teachers often turn a blind eye to students cheating, knowing that their own pay will get docked if their students do badly in exams. I sometimes catch my own students trying to cheat in dictations or exams. They may get away with it in a class of 50+ students, but it's easy enough to spot in a class of 8-12!
There was a programme yesterday here on Chinese TV showing some of the high tech methods some students use to cheat - earpieces, internet phones, glasses with mini-cameras, even small digital screens built into erasers. Less high tech, but possibly more insidious, are the incressing number of public school teachers who offer their students paid-for "extra lessons" with the promise that this is where the real exam secrets will be explained. If they do have inside information that is only being passed on to the richer students, that's pretty shocking. If they don't have any special secrets to share, then they are just playing on the exam nerves to make money - equally reprehensible.
China's 300 million smokers together get through a third of the world's cigarettes, and they start them young here! A million Chinese a year die from smoking-related illnesses, and that is due to double within ten years. The constant smoking is something I really hate about life in China. The UK's smoking ban was such a pleasant discovery during my return there last year. But China has now followed suit with a ban on smoking in indoor public spaces, places of business, and public transportation from the beginning of January, 2011.
How much of a difference that will make is yet to be seen. Smoking has been banned in hospitals for some years now, but it doesn't stop the odd patient, or even doctor, from lighting up. I was at the dentists yesterday and had to do my "glaring and pointing at the No Smoking sign" to shame one miscreant into stubbing his fag out!! For the 60% of Chinese men who smoke 15+ ciggies a day, it will certainly be a hard habit to kick, especially here in Yunnan Province where most of the tobacco is grown (and most of the taxes are gathered).
Most popular sports in China? Forget ping pong or kung fu... try basketball and football. With a couple of extremely tall players in America's NBA league, China can claim to have make their mark in international basketball. But their national football team is a bit of a joke and deservedly ranked 84th in the world. And yet they somehow managed to beat France in a pre-World Cup friendly yesterday. Love it! Poor France - how embarrassing!
"1-2-1" road runs by my flat, named after some past Red Army victory on the 1st of December (12-1) I think ...it might have been the 12th of January (1-12) come to think of it! Anyhow, one of the buses that runs along the road is the 121, so it seemed apt to jump on it today and see where it goes! Feeling dizzy on a bus seat isn't much different from feeling dizzy on my sofa, right? Turns out it actually passes within 5 minutes walk of Ava's flat (which is useful to know) and terminates at the new NorthWest Long-distance Bus Station (which is convenient if I ever need to take a bus from there). I spotted this rather resplendent lady there [see photo] in a marvellous ethnic costume. Just look at that hat! She was as interested in me as I was in her and I forgot to ask which minority group she is from - I'm hoping the LEAF family might help there, with their encyclopaedic tribal knowledge!
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