Which English football team do you think appears on Chinese TV most often at the moment? You might guess at Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea, but you'd be wrong! It is, somewhat bizarrely, the "international superstars" of Birmingham City! It seems their sponsors have some sort of Chinese connection and a frequently aired advert here has a ragtag Chinese football team ripping off their shirts and morphing into the "mighty" Birmingham City team! Go Blues!
Here is one of my students using some of the medical props mentioned in the last blog entry. With a home-made medical cap, wearing a toy stethoscope and clutching a syringe, "Windy" is giving advice to another student who has a range of illnesses. The role-play was part of a 40 minute "Open Class" where parents come to watch their children demonstrating their English skills. They then get feedback on their child's strengths and weaknesses and can ask the teacher any questions they may have. Each class has one or two Open Classes a term. I'm always a bit wary of these as half my classes are "Special Classes" where parents with gifted children pay more for a smaller class size and a "top" teacher. Some of these parents can speak English themselves and all expect fast and noticeable progress for their "single child". So far this term, they've been generally very happy with how things are going, and I'm also more prepared with slick answers to their likely questions!
My students are doing a "doctor and patient" role-play at the weekend, so I invested in a toy stethoscope and syringe set today to add to the realism. But now I'm wondering what the packaging means when it promises "amusive fun"? Is it meant to be "amusing" or "abusive"? I'm still not sure, so first I had a good laugh at the doll and then punched her in the face. Sorted.
Chinese prices have always seemed quite cheap and stable compared to the cost of living in the UK. But the longer I live here, the less I can be sure about UK prices and the more expensive things here seem to be. Expensive purchases - car, house, flights - are about the same price as in the West already. And China is currently experiencing hefty inflation. The locals are just not used to it. My litre of milk went up from 7.5RMB to 8.5RMB yesterday. "85p" may still be cheaper than the UK price (is it?) but a sudden 13% increase is a sign of the times.
So how can a missing full-stop completely change the meaning of a sentence? I saw one of my favourite ever Chinglish cock-ups on TV the other day. It was an advertisment for a Chinese drink, and they wanted to get across the idea that people with the best lives drink lots of it. Their English language slogan presumably should have read, "Drink more - No.1 lives!" But what popped up on the screen was, "Drink more - no one lives!" Ooops!
My UK friend, Ratch, is always telling me about how she makes her own of cards for people's birthdays, Christmas etc and to sell for charity. So the other day I was inspired to buy some card, cut up my latest two watercolour paintings and make some (fairly abstract) blank notelets. Considering the paintings weren't that inspiring, I'm quite pleased with how the finished cards look.
With gifts, grub, friends and fiancée all helping with the celebratations, I had a very special birthday this year. Ava drew the cartoon above for me - funny enough in itself, but the mental image of being "kissed by a bog" tickled my humour! She also bought me an electronic translator to help me with my Chinese studies which was very generous.
Other friends bought me toys and puzzles - people know me so well! Ava's reaction to my reaction on receiving a cute remote controlled car [see photo] was funny, too! I had two birthday cakes, a meal at Pizza Hut, lots of cards and a variety of bits and bobs from the UK too. I'm a lucky boy!
An enormous fire in a Shanghai 28-storey high-rise yesterday has left 42 dead and over 90 injured. It looks eerily like the 9/11 Twin Towers disaster, doesn't it? But this was apparently caused by the scaffolding material shrouding the building (for refurbishment) catching fire and spreading rapidly. Horrific. I've often wondered what I'd do if there was a fire in my apartment, with metal bars on all the windows. They are good for preventing burglars getting in, but equally good at stopping people getting out in an emergency.
My 6 hours a week of Chinese language lessons are continuing well. Cathy is proving to be a very reliable, able and patient teacher. As well as feeling that my Chinese is improving gradually, it's also fascinating to be a language student once again. It's giving me a real insight into how my own students act and feel. When my concentration lapses I find myself making silly comments in English to my fellow student Peter - just as my own students whisper little things to each other in Chinese. If Cathy speaks too quickly, there is a familiar stony silence which I recognise all too well from when I sometimes gabble in class. And when Cathy pulls out flashcards or introduces a simple game, I can feel myself regaining focus and getting excited - just as my students do. It's a learning process for me on so many different levels. I'm really enjoying it.
Last week I bought the Season 2 of "Fringe" - a sci-fi show I enjoy - but I first decided to rewatch Season 1, since I'd not seen it in over a year. However, I soon realised that the end of the first season didn't match up with the beginning of the second. It turns out that my "Complete Season 1" [see photo] only had the first 10 episodes of the 20 episode run (...still following?). DVD pirates sometimes do this in order to get their copies out on the shelves before anyone else, regardless of whether it really is a full season or not. So I went back to the shop that sold it to me, but found it's now full of empty shelves. I explained my problem, but they rather nervously explained that they "don't sell pirate DVDs". Another DVD shop up the road was also bare. It seems there have been a series of police raids recently, stripping shops of their illegal DVDs. All except one. The DVD shop next to the police station seems to have escaped totally unscathed. Their shelves are full to overflowing with pirate DVDs. I'll leave you to guess who may or may not own that shop!
As I was running my regular 10km on the gym's treadmill today, I witnessed an amazing sight in the street below. Two workmen were wheeling a 8m (20ft) tall scaffolding tower [like the one in the photo] down the middle of a busy road. Cars were veering left and right violently to avoid it. A traffic policemen strolled up to them, but rather than usher them off the road, he just started directing traffic around it. The scaffold was positioned under an overhead traffic light (they were presumably changing a faulty light bulb?) and one of the workmen placed a single cursory traffic cone beside the tower before starting to climb up the outside of the tower. Now as someone who has, in his youth, fallen off a toppling scaffolding tower, breaking my foot, when someone tried to climb up the outside of that tower, I know just how unstable that is. Still, he managed to get to the top and after a few minutes the scaffold was being wheeled off to another bulb-changing scene. Health and safety? Not here, mate!
Robert's School celebrated it's 9th Birthday yesterday with a Fancy Dress Performace Party for all the staff. The Chinese staff had been practising dance routines for weeks, but the foreign teachers only heard about the party 3 days beforehand. Most already had other plans and couldn't come.
However, I managed to cobble something together. Ava lent me an old wig and I turned up as "Yao Ming's Mother". Yao Ming is the most famous Chinese basketball player. At one point I was dragged into a dance contest [see photo above], winning a tube of toothpaste as a consolation prize! However, my rather odd clothes did later win me a £20 prize for "Most Unusual Costume"! Robert and Rachel [my bosses, photo right] came as Mr Darcy and... whoever Darcy's other half was (I must have missed that day at school!).
The various branches of Robert's School now employ over 90 staff and teach 4000+ students each week. It's doubled in size in the 3 years I've been there - an impressive feat considering the world economy and increased local competition. More photos below:
I went to a very interesting (and free) exhibition in Kunming today, covering the geography, flora and fauna of Northwest Yunnan using about a hundred large photographs, amazingly with English translations.
Equally fascinating (to me, at least) were the examples of typical Kunming folk "on display". Two giggling schoolgirls taking photos of the photos with their mobile phones. A very old and smiley guy loitering near one of the pictures, ready to share some story or background about it to anyone coming too close (I escaped with the universal hand gesture for "I don't understand"). Then there were two chefs in aprons and tall white hats, presumably on a lunch break, munching snacks as they wandered around. And a studious-looking guy noting down all the animal information in a small notebook, whilst clearing his throat and spitting on the floor at 30 second intervals (I timed him).
As well as the photos, there were the usual amusing examples of Chinglish. One frog was said to have "a worrisome habitat due to over-catch" and a picture of assorted bugs was entitled "Some inspects shot without intension". My favourite, I think, was this monkey photo with a sign that explained, "Deep love. The growth history of each child is a history of hardness of his/her mother. There is no exception".
I believe in using apostrophes. I believe in using them correctly. I believe it's means it is and not something belonging to it. I believe that apostrophes should not be added after words unless they are needed. And I believe this bag of snacks, spotted the other day, has totally misused its apostrophe.
My UK friend Vix sent me this fascinating optical illusion the other day. Look at it up close and you should see a well-known scientist. Look at it from more of a distance (or squint your eyes) and you should see a well-known actress. So how can one picture show both portraits at the same time? A real puzzler. Answers on a postcard please....!
When developers want to build (yet another) high-rise estate in Kunming they must first buy up the existing small, old houses in order to clear the land for the new build. But, just occasionally, they come across someone who simply doesn't want to move, often objecting to the rock bottom price being offered for their land. Whilst the houses all around are rapidly destroyed, these so-called "nail houses" remain stubbornly defiant, delaying the whole project. This one [see photo] has gained some notoriety. The frustrated developers recently built a trench around it to cut off the electricity and plumbing, and then filled it with water to reduce the occupant's movements. And now there have been reports of shots being fired into the building. Hang in there, nail!
My brother Dave and his family [see photo], plus my parents in tow, visited Disneyland Paris last week. They had a really great time by the sound of it. Dad's (edited!) report below gives a real flavour:
"Simply amazing! That’s my reaction to Disneyland Paris. I wonder if there is anything quite like it. Three days of lovely sunshine helped. Then we saw 4-5 big shows (missing perhaps a dozen others!). In every case we got so much more than we expected. I thought the "Tram Tour" would be a simple ride around the Disneyland area, but no.... at the first main set, we stopped to look at a large tanker, parked by a hillside of rocks. Then it began to happen. Loud explosions told us an earthquake was happening. Our tram began to rock from side to side. Then it began to pelt with rain (fortunately we were under cover). Next… the tanker explodes, all the “fuel” inside going up in flames - yes real flames, some 10 metres high and very warm as we watched. Then huge amounts of water came cascading down the hill straight for the tram. Miraculously just as it was about to swamp us, it went down underneath. Then we travelled on to “London” in WWII. A bomb had just landed and the streets were in ruins, with a train hanging above us, looking as if it could drop down at any minute!
Perhaps my favourite show was an open air theatre with some 5000 spectators in the stands. The scene in front of us was a large shopping centre. For half an hour we watched as cars and motor cycles did the most amazing stunts, quite impossible so it would seem. Again huge walls of fire went up with one of the motor cyclists catching fire and getting covered in flames. It was just one of many thrilling moments in the visit..."
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