Saturday, 31 January 2009


Yesterday my father told me that Sadie died. She had stopped eating much food at all when I was at home, but she was still her normal -- non-stop talking -- self. My parents took her to the vets on Friday where it was found that her auto-immune system had shut down. They stopped any suffering in its tracks and put her to sleep. She was 15 years and five months old.

I will always love you Sadie, goodbye for now.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

"Xin Nian Kuai Le!"....

....or "Happy New Year!"

2009 is the year of the Ox -- my year!

If you have guessed, this means that I am back in China now. I arrived a couple of days ago after a tiring flight where I sat next to a mother and baby. When the baby wasn't laughing he was crying -- very loud. It was a sleepless 11 hour journey from Zurich (I flew with Swiss Air this time), but at least the food was surprisingly tasty. The most unfortunate part of the trip was the fact that I had to wait for six hours in Shanghai airport while I waited for yet another plane to take me to Wenzhou. If it wasn't for that I probably would arrived here feeling quite refreshed. Instead I was completely exhausted and barely managed to keep my eyes open for the events of the evening -- the beginning of the Chinese New Year celebrations with Kimi's family.

Today is my third day back, and I think I have finally slipped back into my Chinese body-clock. Another five days of holiday left to go, and then it's back to Web -- something which I am not completely looking forward to for two reasons:
  • English Corner
  • Working until 9pm
Maybe it is time to start looking for new work when my contract runs out in April....

While I was at home I started to think more about my future. I do know that it will be very difficult for me to stay in China, I simply cannot be an English teacher forever. I would like to return to England again in the future to pursue a "career", and I have come to a conclusion of what I would like to do (which has noting to do with teaching or music). Unfortunately, if I go back home, then I cannot let Kimi stay here in Wenzhou. But by requesting this I am turning her life upside down, moving her away from her family, friends, job, familiar environment etc. We have had some difficult discussions about this, but right now we have come to very few conclusions. First thing's first, Kimi will come on holiday to England this year. Then she can see first-hand if it could be the place for her or not. It is just what I unintentionally did when I came on holiday to China one year and a half ago. I know I wouldn't be here right now if I had not gone to see China on a holiday first.

I feel quite lost at the moment, but I know I can't leave China without Kimi being with me....

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Meeting the Reason I Came to China

I met up with my old friend John (Chinese name: Yang Yi) today. I originally met him while studying at Hull university. I had forgotten to pay my deposit to live in the halls of residence, and he was a latecomer to the university. This resulted in us both living together in the same house. I have mentioned this in an earlier post before, but if it wasn't for him I very much doubt I would be living and working in China now. I never would have met Kimi too. It was he who invited me to Beijing on holiday in 2004, in turn I invited my friend Richard -- who I knew would be interested in travelling there too. Richard fell in love with the place so much that he returned one year later for another holiday (I couldn't afford to go then), and after we graduated from university he went there to work. I worked in England for half a year (I talked about that here) and saved up to visit him in Hangzhou for two months. I enjoyed my holiday so much that I decided to return to live there too. In short, that is pretty much how I ended up living and working in China.

So today I met up with John for the first time since I left university, more than two and a half years ago. He is still studying at Hull where he is currently finishing a masters degree. At the moment he has so much free time that he decided to come to Manchester to see me. We didn't do much really as the weather wasn't up to much. Our first stop was China town. I was hungry so we went for something to eat there. We found the first adequate-looking Chinese restaurant and went in. I was surprised to find a couple of dishes that I recognised from China. With interest I ordered Mapo Tofu (I have mentioned this dish here), fried rice, and Sichuan style green beans. The beans at least looked the same as in China, but the taste was completely different, especially the tofu. Quite disappointing really, especially taking into account the price difference.

Gan bian si ji dou: looks the same as in China, tastes completely different

After lunch we walked around the city centre for a while. I love Manchester, it is a brilliant city. It is just a shame that a few of the people living there have to ruin it for everybody else. There seems to be a big population of uncivilized youths in the downtown areas. Because of this, Manchester and other similar cities have a bad reputation for street crime. Compared to Wenzhou, where I feel incredibly safe walking around at night on my own, I do not feel safe walking in Manchester. It is a problem that should be addressed, but how I do not know.

After having a coffee with John in Starbucks it was dark, raining, and time for him to go back home. I walked him to the station and said goodbye. I just hope it isn't another 2 and half years until I see him again.

Outside Selfridges: the big wheel in Manchester

Monday, 12 January 2009

Home Studio Feng Shui

One of my hobbies (I guess I can call it a hobby now) is making use of, and adding to my home studio. I studied a music degree at university, and started piecing together a DIY studio in my second year there. I decided that I wanted to compose, record, and produce some music in the comfort of my home. At university everything was time restricted and of course there were many students in the building. I sometimes felt inspiration was hard to come by this way. After much researching I realised that I could put together some of my work at home with the right gear. This is where the credit cards came involved (I'm still paying them back now). After a few months I managed to rig together a fairly impressive studio that I could use for many musical purposes.

After finishing the course I decided to take a break from music altogether. My aim was that this would be a temporary thing. I would work for a while, have a holiday in China, come home, and start it all up again. Things obviously didn't turn out that way. Once I had decided to come back to China I knew that leaving my keyboard (a Roland Fantom X8) at home would be a mistake. Not only would it be neglected for a year or two, but it would also be devaluing by the day. So I logged onto eBay and sold it immediately. Actually, the money of the sale paid for my plane flight and financed my first two months in China.

I returned home 5 months later, and felt that more of the equipment should go. Just like the keyboard, some of the other items would just get old. New technology is released all of the time, it is wasteful to keep them in my bedroom collecting dust. So I sold some more. By this point my studio was down to more than half the size.

Today I posted off the remaining pieces of gear that I own: my Mackie 1402 VLZ Pro mixer, and my M-Audio BX8 speakers. The reason I had kept these for so long was that I didn't want to see them go. Unfortunately I don't know how long I will stay in China, and after reading an article about Feng Shui the other day, I realised that getting rid of them was the right thing to do. When I do return from China for good, I can slowly rebuild my studio again -- I hope.

Mackie Mixer, I will miss you the most

My studio speakers (confusingly, in music we actually call them monitors, not speakers)

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Practise Makes Perfect

I am sorry to myself that I have not posted much on my blog since I returned to England. I don't know why really, maybe it is because currently I have less time at home by myself (Kimi doesn't live with me in my Wenzhou apartment). I keep thinking about posting something on here, it has been at the back of my mind for a few days, but then another night has gone and I have forgotten all about it. I nearly ended up not writing anything today, but I have forced myself onto the computer before I go to sleep.

Just like when I played the piano and the trumpet on a regular basis, I found that sometimes I had to make myself practise just to keep the momentum going. If I didn't do that then I could easily imagine weeks -- if not months -- going by without touching an instrument. This was not at all because I didn't enjoy playing the instruments, but once you commit to doing something in life that is long-term, sometimes you need a little push to keep on doing it. In reality, it has not been weeks or months since I played the piano and trumpet, but actually years. The last time I was really playing must have been May 2006, just as I finished my course at university. I never would have expected my life to turn in such a strange direction. I really must do something about that soon, I do miss playing music a lot now.

My old and broken trumpet (my newer one is in China)

Anyway, I am saying all this because although I love writing my blog, I feel almost guilty for not adding to it much since I returned to the UK. I know there are many genuine reasons for this, but I am only scared that this blog may end up like my music if I don't do something about it now.

I have spent a few days in my holiday working with my dad at his shop covering for my mum who has been ill with the flu. She is almost back to normal now, but I will be going to work again tomorrow and earning a few fairly worthless £'s.

The shop window at night

Monday, 5 January 2009

If it's Cold, Wear your Woolies

Today was cold -- very cold. The plus side of this meant that everything looked beautifully white:

My garden -- with a primary school behind (if you were wondering)

I am working with my dad at his shop at the moment. Usually mum works with him, but she is still suffering with the remaining effects of the flu, so I have stepped in to take her place. The shop is primarily a picture framing business which also sells greetings cards and gifts. My father is also a photographer and sells his work in the shop too. It can be a very pleasurable experience working there, especially when the majority of the customers are so friendly. It is the polar opposite of my previous job in retail: working for Woolworths, a British chain store which sold a variety of products from toys and sweets, to televisions and lawn mowers.

When I graduated from university in 2006 I had to find a job -- any job -- to fund my trip to go travelling to China (my initial plan was only to holiday there for two months, come home, and get a "real" job). After a month or two of unemployment, I decided that Woolworths could be an appropriate means to my end. It was probably my favourite shop when I was younger, I used to love running right to the back of the shop to look at the toys.

I was successful with my job application, and started working immediately. The staff I worked closely with on the entertainment department were all brilliant, and I had a very enjoyable time with them. On the other hand, everything else about the job and the company was a shambles to say the least. The management was a disorganised mess, and it was obvious that the store was very dated; it could not even compare to the likes of the Apple Store which fits right into a 21st century high street. After my seven months of saving came to an end, I genuinely couldn't wait to get out of there. It was certainly a change going from Woolworths to Hangzhou.

My "Woolies" name tag

I am only recounting my memories of this because today is the day that the remaining Woolworths stores close for the last time. For those who don't know, about two months ago the company went into administration as it was millions of pounds in debt. There were no buyers for the company so it was announced a few weeks ago that all of the 800 stores across the UK would close. Of course, the global economic crisis has had something to do with this, but in my mind it has only quickened what was a certain inevitability anyway.