Friday, 27 February 2009


Today being the 27th of February means three things to me: it's my birthday, it's my sister's birthday, and it's my grandma's birthday. I am sure you can guess from this that I am a twin, with my sister being a whole five minutes older than me. I have never really managed to get my head around the bizarre fact that my mother's mother also shares the same birthday as Sally and I. The odds of such a thing must be an incredible number, something like, I don't know, 365-1?

Today was unfortunately also a working day for me -- and a working day with English Corner. I have explained my dissatisfaction with the "EC" plenty of times in this blog, today was no different. I thought, "Of all days to get away with murder, today would be it." I could use -- pardon the pun -- the birthday card. So I did. I announced at the beginning of both classes (one in the afternoon, one in the evening) that it was my birthday, talked a bit about my sister, and put on an episode of one of my favourite TV shows. I was happy to see that the afternoon class particularly enjoyed the episode I had chosen -- I knew then that I had got away with it. All in all I have had a pretty good day at Web. I had a delicious meal with Johann and Kimi at a Hong Kong restaurant, and also received a gift off one of my students and friends, Michelle. Kimi even gave me some gifts even though I had told her not to (the camera she bought me for Christmas was my Christmas and birthday present). One of the items was a red bracelet with gold Pisces fish on it. It is customary in China to wear something red when it is your birth year's animal. Mine is the Ox, and this year is the year of the Ox.

The two Pisces fish

I am not having a party tonight as with Web's terrible hours we don't finish until 9pm, so I will be having a gathering on Sunday night instead. I chose Sunday as it's the only day in the week we finish early at 7pm and don't have to work until 1pm the following day.

Happy Birthday Sally, and Happy Birthday Grandma. Have a slice of cake:

I'm 24 now unfortunately, I'll replace the photo with this year's cake when I get it

Thursday, 26 February 2009

New Look....Again

I hope you all like the new look to my blog. I have had the previous white background and header collage for a a few months now, so I thought it was time for a minor revamp. Once again I used the fabulously free Picasa to make the title, it was a piece of cake. Here is the new collage I made using more recent photographs of my time here in China:

My second China collage

Also, congratulations are in order for Kimi who passed the final part of her driving test today. She is now in possession of a Chinese driver's license -- a deadly weapon that should be used wisely.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Pollutiony (adjective: thick or having much pollution)

The weather in Wenzhou has been dull and pollutiony (I know that's not a word, but I'm not giving in to saying it's foggy, because it's not, it's pollutiony). There are clear days in Wenzhou and then there are days like these, it's all in the roll of a dice. I guess it might be to do with wind direction, sometimes we're lucky and the pollution is sent to Taiwan, other times it veils across the city like a pillow suffocating us all to death -- albeit very slowly. It is this point alone that makes Wenzhou not a place to live for a long duration of time. It's fine for now, but I am still not comfortable with the fact that I am unintentionally smoking the equivalent of a couple of packets of cigarettes every day.

I have used this example once before I think: above, The Wenzhou World Trade Centre on a clear day. Below, the same building today, ugh.

I had a class a few days ago which was centred around the environment. I asked my student if he knew which cities were the top pollutants in the world. This young man was clever, talkative, and inquisitive, so I thought he would know for sure. Actually, he didn't. He told me an answer which I have heard all too many times since I started working at Web: "To be honest, I think London is the most polluted city". He explained to me his reasons why, which were all correct -- if we were still in Victorian times. I told him it is not like that now at all, but he insisted that it is because of the 2012 Olympics, so the government are moving away all of the factories from the city. This highlighted to me how, once again, many people have been misinformed on basic facts.

Monday, 23 February 2009

An Oasis in China

400 RMB for each ticket

A few days ago Kimi noticed that the band Oasis will be playing in Shanghai in April. Fortunately for me, Kimi actually quite likes some of their music (and I like The Beatles -- something which Oasis have always tried very hard to be), so after a brief discussion we booked a pair of tickets. I have never seen them live in Manchester before, which would have made more sense considering that is where they are from and I am from. It will be a strange experience seeing them in a city and country that is thousands of miles away from our own. I didn't think they had a huge Chinese fan-base, but it can't all be laowais filling out the stadium.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Changing Faces of Web

The wall of Web's teachers and tutors

It seems that the already rapid turnover of staff at Web is about to drastically accelerate. On Friday all but one of the tutors -- the Chinese teachers -- will officially be resigning from the training centre. It was all a bit of a coup, and it seems that not one of them has altered their position. If anything they are all resilient to leave and start afresh elsewhere -- which is a good thing right?

The drama all kicked-off just before I was about to return to work at the beginning of this month. To cut a long story short, it began with the new year bonus money being an absolute joke (we got 500 RMB, better than nothing, but a few thousand short than most companies in the city would have paid to their employees), then on top of that our grand dictator, er....I mean, boss, decided that the global economic crisis is coming for Web so some wages may have to move south for a while. The final blow came when he announced that tutors were ten-a-penny to get hold of, and that they would have no chance of finding a better alternative. United they stood, and united they decided to show him who was boss, and quit. Of course he attempted to bribe them back (never with money though), all to no avail.

So now, here we are, with half of our office changing hands. It will be sad to see them go, I hope we keep in touch with each other. For some of them I feel it really is the excuse they needed to do what they want to do. Five new tutors have been hired -- a slight kick in the teeth -- but we shall see how smoothly things operate once the changeover begins. Somebody's going to be busy changing the staff portraits, although I will wager it doesn't get changed for at least a month.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

West Invades East on Valentine's Day

Yesterday I spent my first Valentine's Day in China. It was quite remarkable to see, yet again, how the West is influencing China. I wasn't expecting it to be any different from any other day really, I knew Web would make a big deal out of the occasion but I thought that would be it -- I was completely wrong, again. The streets were crammed with couples, flowers were being sold at extortionate prices, and it was near impossible to book a restaurant for dinner. I know for sure that China's own version of Valentine's day -- on 7th July in the lunar calendar -- is not celebrated anything like its Western counterpart.

Kimi and I, with Johann and his girlfriend, had planned to eat together in an Italian restaurant called Naples. Kimi called to book a table but she was told that we would have to pre-pay to guarantee our arrival. We didn't do that as we had no time to get there in the day, so instead we took a chance and went to the restaurant anyway. As luck would have it, as we entered, a couple were leaving.

The food was a welcome change, we ordered bruschetta, Cesar salad, pizzas, and steaks (I had a pineapple pizza). With a few drinks added onto that, the bill came to a very westernized price too: 530 RMB (about £54), as our jaws hit the table, Johann and I quiveringly took out our wallets. The restaurant had even hired a violinist who was playing a rather unique repertoire, with tunes ranging from "Edelweiss" to the theme from "The Godfather".

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Imagining Cars

Before I start writing my entry for today, I just want to reiterate my thanks to the people who left me advice in my previous post. Each comment has genuinely been of help, and I will obviously keep you all posted on the events that unfold....eventually.

I was back at work today, five classes again. It seems the credit crunch has only hit the shoe factories, as there are new students forking out thousands of RMB for English classes every day. Since I was away for over a month I don't seem to recognise a large proportion of the faces now. It is another disadvantage of working in the "training centre" business: the incredibly rapid turnover of students and teachers. In less than one year I have seen eight or nine colleagues leave; the job just isn't designed for long-term employment. I have made some good friends at Web, but most of the people I teach are temporary passengers in the mechanics of factory-farmed English lessons.

Today I had three salon classes (which are aimed at group-work activities). Each of them were frustrating, very frustrating. The first was a beginner class. It was a simple topic: fairy tales. The start of the lesson was OK, I explained "Little Red Riding Hood". Easy enough I thought. Next, I asked them to tell me about a very famous Chinese fairy tale: "Niu Lang and Zhi Nu". Of the seven students present, none of them could explain to me the story. In fact, I knew it better than all of them. Can you imagine not being able to summarise "Jack and the Beanstalk", or "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"?

I wanted them to tell a story in simple English. I wrote the first sentence and the last sentence of the story, and one-by-one we would go round the classroom adding new sentences until we got to the end. It was simple enough, very easy I thought. But I was wrong. Apart from one young man in the class, they couldn't do it. I was beginning to get a little annoyed as I waited in silence for the next student to reply. I wasn't backing down this time, and after a short while he piped up, "It's too hard to think in English". I knew this wasn't true, I wasn't asking for Shakespeare, so I asked him to just tell me in Chinese, we could easily translate it -- nothing. Not even in Chinese could he think of a simple continuation to the story. They were completely bereft of any kind of creativity, it was astonishing to see.

I have often doubted my own abilities with regards to explaining things, but now I have been given proof that even if I was speaking Chinese I would not get answers to many of my requests. It seems that using one's imagination is an incredibly difficult task for my Web students (a lot of them anyway). Is it the education system's fault? Have they relied on their logical left-side of the brain for all the mathematics and business related activities for too long? Has their creative right-side of the brain completely given up and gone on a permanent holiday to the Maldives? I do not know. But it's bloody hard getting anything other than "nothing" if I ask a "What do you think...?" question.

I won't go into detail with my following salons, but suffice to say, then next higher level class was equally as disappointing. I was asking for advice for simple problems like, "I can't sleep at night" etc. Again, I got the bare minimum. It was another painful hour. My final salon was different, it was better, but it was just too difficult for them. If they cannot understand the English on the handouts then I don't know what to do.

In other news, Kimi is on the verge of buying a car after passing most of her driving test (the final part of three is next week). She is in the lucky position of having her mother pay 100,000 RMB (about £10,000) for a brand new motor. We have been looking at small cars, which have all noticeably copied the design of the new Mini:

The Suzuki, I mean Swift

One thing that isn't cheaper in China is the automobile. An example of this is the Mini Cooper itself. To buy a second-hand new model -- barely driven -- can cost 340,000 RMB (£34,000). To buy the same Mini brand new from the UK costs just £13,000 (130,000 RMB). Why the price difference is so extreme I have no idea. It makes me really wonder at the amount of money so many Wenzhounese are making when they can afford these huge Porsche 4x4 cars -- all brand new of course, they wouldn't be seen dead with a second hand model I'm sure.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


I don't know exactly why it is happening now, but I have been constantly preoccupied with thinking about the unknown. It may have begun while I was back in England where I finally decided on a possible career that I am certain I would be happy spending a portion of my life pursuing. But I can't get on with my "plan" just yet because I want to spend more time in China. However, since I have returned back to my job, I can immediately tell that I am not where I should be. At the moment I am passing time by working at Web, and I am not sure for how long I can do it for. I have mentioned previously how I could not possibly leave Kimi, that is not an option, but what can I do in China instead of being a "laowai" entertainer?

Also, since I returned I have been speaking to Kimi about the possibilities of the future, and me returning back to England one day. Doing this to her is very difficult as she is completely happy in Wenzhou and has never had any intentions of moving away -- until I brought it up. The last thing I want to do is drag her from her home and job, but on the other hand I don't feel doing what I do is a suitable position to be in for the rest of my life.

All of this has been whizzing around my mind a lot, it has caused me to have a few sleepless nights which I am thankfully getting over now. But still, things are very uncertain. I am stuck with these facts:
  1. I want to be with Kimi
  2. I want to go home (although I am happy to stay-put for now)
Any advice on this matter would be hugely appreciated.

Oh, to have a dog's life....

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Home or Prison?

This is a view from my balcony of an apartment block next door. The metal railings are a common addition to many homes here. Sure, it makes it a much harder jobs for thieves to break in, but it also makes the place look like a prison. You may ask why they do not use a burglar alarm instead. Well, I am fairly confident it is because the sound of an alarm wouldn't begin to pierce through the blare of horns, fireworks, construction work, and neglected car and bike alarms.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


The Chinese New Year has started -- not in the best way possible -- but it's started nonetheless. I was meant to begin work at Web on Sunday, a day I wasn't particularly looking forward to. I managed to get in bed and go to sleep at midnight, only to be woken 40 minutes later by fireworks. If one thing has represented Chinese New Year for me it must be fireworks. Since I returned they have been exploding all day and everyday. Even now, more than one week later, they are still going off.

Anyway, I was woken up by the explosions the night before starting work. Maybe it was a bit of jet lag combined with a few worries, but I ended up having no sleep whatsoever that night. It was extremely annoying and continually frustrating. I watched the night turn into day and decided the time had come to take my first sick day -- the kind of thing I really hate doing, I always think I won't be believed. After telling Web that I wouldn't be coming to work I finally managed to have a sleep for a few hours in the morning. Watching a boring film helped surprisingly well.

If it wasn't for one of these going off in the middle of the night I may have had a better sleep

My body clock seems to have adapted now, thankfully. I feel a new sense of sympathy for people with insomnia.