A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: safemouse

First thoughts on Season 2 finale of Sherlock

Sitting in bed having just washed last episode of season 2, Sherlock Holmes. I realise I'm a little late to join the discussion on how Sherlock faked his death but a couple of immediate thoughts...Was Moriarty actually dead? No reason why he should be...could have also been faked. Second, if he is dead, was it Moriarty who fell to the ground? There was that 'I am you' business. Third, we never found out what that favour the lab assistant granted. Fourth, I don't believe Mycroft screwed up. Fifth, the cyclist obviously intended to obstruct John. Sixth, maybe Sherlock did kidnap those children...maybe he was hypnotised or something...I could sit and think about it and watch again but I won't. I have to tidy up my flat.

Posted by safemouse 18:23 Comments (0)

Girls girls girls

None for months.. then five come all at once. Well, let's not get too excited. 5 women were texting me on Wechat today. An ex that dates back to 2006 and got in touch recently, a Mongolian girl who turned down a place at Oxford (silly billy), a Polish girl I've not been in touch with for over a month, a recent fling and a Couch Surfing girl from Xi'an who is doing a 'project' at the university here until December. It does sometimes seem that girls mysteriously get wind of your popularity- albeit ever so flimsy and transient- and jump on the bandwagon.

I met two of them and showed them both my Ovilus III, an obscure ghost detector that set me back over two hundred dollars and may or may not contact the dead. It is a mail order device hand built by an American engineer and you can look it up on Youtube. I had never used it until today. It apparently will do nothing until a ghost manipulates the hardware/or it just randomly selects a word from the very limited dictionary. Still, the results were interesting.

I was with the Mongolian girl in the afternoon and just before she had to leave I brought out the device and switched it on. We waited for a few moments and then it selected the words 'time'- 'country' and 'descent' in that order. It was indeed time for the girl from the other country to descend the stairs.

Later, when I was with the Han girl I did the same thing. brought it out just before she had to go. (The curfew). I recall it came up with maybe 3 words again but I only remember two. I asked if there was a ghost there. It returned the word 'placebo'. Then I think the word lay. And maybe I had just been considering as a potential 'lay' and the person in the room was not a ghost, but a spirit. (Ghosts are trapped, spirits are not).

Anyway, authentic or not the Ovilus is a bewitching device I might use to persuade students to study harder.

NEWS FLASH: Just been speaking to Urhan on WeChat and she asked me to remind her what the words the Ovilus said were. I told her and she replied 'it was very strange, it indeed read my mind'.

Posted by safemouse 08:09 Archived in China Comments (0)

Mid-Autumn festival

I had a bedside phone call this morning from a mysterious Chinese man wanting to know what the extension number was for reception. I truthfully told him I didn't know (wasn't odd he'd phoned me direct?) and then he passed the phone over to an antipodean guy who asked if there were any free rooms going in our apartment block. I told him I wasn't the person to ask-us foreigners are usually the last people to know such things- and gave him the F.A.O's telephone number. He said his name was Mike and he'd been teaching at IMAU for 2 weeks. In the meantime, he'd been in a shitty hotel.

As for me, I was in bed because it's Autumn Festival and we have 2 days off, which means I'll have only worked Monday and Wednesday this week, which is very nice thank you. Of course, we were told the day before, which is quite normal. Sometimes you hear about it on the day or when you turn up at your class and it's empty but hearing about it late just made it all the more welcome.

I needed a Deus ex machina, if I may be slightly flippant with the meaning of Deus ex machina, to give me a breather. I'm not enjoying this 22 hour stint. When I left Xi'an (where I did 22 hours) I deliberately found a job that had less hours and now I've wound up back in the same situation. Better teachers can cope with more hours. The one reader of my blog does 30. But then he's not trying to write a novel, direct a film, make a ghost documentary and do half a dozen other things. I need more time.

The film is going to pieces. Joe seems to have lost all interest in finishing his bits and Airuna is getting busier and busier. When I know Joe is definitely out, I'm going to take his dialog and subcontract it to a voiceover artist on Fiverr. Then I'll have to take it into software so I can sync it to his lips. The scenes he hasn't done will either have to be suggested or will be filmed without showing faces.

Posted by safemouse 18:15 Archived in China Comments (1)

Blip one

And I haven't mentioned the TOEFL course yet...

Unusually, I had my job interview face to face and it was with Ms Liu and Mr Jiang, the boss of the Foreign Affairs Office and her boss, the director of the College of International English (or some such place). In many senses, this was somewhat of an honour because at the Medical Uni I was simply interviewed by the F.A.O, who is something akin to a general dogsbody.

At the interview, I asked how many teaching hours they wanted to give me and they said it depended on what subjects I taught. They had an 18 hour schedule and one that was twenty something hours; I don't recall the exact figure. I could see, reading between the lines, that they wanted me to work the twenty something hours per week and I was emphatic that I'd only do the job if they gave me their 18 hour schedule. That is my upper limit, I actually prefer about 16 to deliver a fresh, quality course. The problem is, when you pile lots of hours onto a teacher the job becomes a big drag and it affects all your classes. At Xi'an, I had 11 classes (22 hours) crammed into 3 days, teaching post graduates whose degree was something obscure like Systems Processing or something electronics/computer language related. They did not want to be studying English, I can tell you. It was an unappetizing little side dish they'd been served, not the main course. Teaching them was particularly character building.

Even English majors are students who, for the most part, are learning English reluctantly. English is a choice of evils in China and in a class of thirty students you may only have one or two keen ones. Particularly in the lower performing universities, where I have honed my trade. It's not like in the West where you choose a subject that is a stepping stone to your dream job. In China your parents most likely told you what degree to do and the great mass of mediocre students deemed unworthy of a special subject, are only good enough to study English and spend their days in a Middle School teaching by rote. The plum job is actually a university one because the hours are fewer and they can do business on the side.

There is an unwritten rule in many universities that nobody tells you about. The rule is, it's just a kind of English club really, and you should pass all the students. Unless you really crack the whip you soon get students skipping class, sick notes being faked and a teacher can fall into bad habits too. In fact, the worst story I've heard is of a guy in Baotou who would come to classes hungover, stick a video on and go to sleep at the back. That may sound irresponsible but in fact our classes are a kind of box ticking exercise to fulfill government instructions. We are not valued and we are not always, by any means, all that valuable.

In the face of all this I want to do a good job. And I kind of relish the teaching challenge that this presents with, on occasion.

I need money but I'm not here to make as much as I can. When I signed the contract I made sure it said 18 hours. Dennis, the F.A.O, was clear. If it says 18 on your contract it'll be 18 hours. It comes as no Hohhot shock to me today that Ms Liu rang me up and asked me to do more. That's how it goes. Now that I'm all settled here of course it's damned difficult for me to say no and I suspect that was the plan. She claimed that it's due to unforeseen circumstances and perhaps it is. But I knew it was coming, had prepared myself psychologically for it and said yes without too much dissent. There was something about Ms Liu's tone of her voice. She was giving me a hard luck story in a poor little me voice-something that normally doesn't work with me- but it reminded me of a favourite student of mine (from Inner Mongolia) I had taught many years ago at The Tianjin University of Commerce.

I mentioned that we'd agreed 18 hours and Ms L said they were only talking about the writing course. But the fact is, I said I would only do 18 hours, period.

So in short, before I came I thought about the sorts of things that might go wrong and how I would deal with them and this helped me to respond amicably. I've no doubt there will be some more blips.

Posted by safemouse 05:37 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Foreign Experts' House

(Curfew 10.30 pm)


Posted by safemouse 06:43 Archived in China Comments (1)

Home, sweet home


I told you in my last blog that where I was living rather resembled a hotel in some respects, especially the rooms, which were designed exactly along those lines. I thought it curious at the time, but this next place has gone one better.

The Agricultural University has a reception downstairs, with the clocks showing different times round the world.

Upstairs, where my apartment is, there is the typical old style hotel furniture with the old-fashioned bedside table with its switches that control different lights and a phone that dials downstairs. The bedroom is south facing and has a small concrete balcony, albeit one that overlooks hoards of passing students who can wave at you. In due course I'll get a clothes horse and dry clothes on it because it catches the sun nicely.

The kitchen is north facing and overlooks a nice landscaped garden the students can canoodle in on the left and a rather tatty yard with some rubbish in it on the right. The Hohhot mountains are two- not more than three miles- directly ahead. They stretch all the way down to Jin Shan, where I was before, 20 miles to the West, and beyond.

Initially, two antiquey chairs were arranged on either side of a round side table in the lounge with a tray with two cups and they had put the dining table in there and that was all. No sofa or comfy arm chairs.

In the bathroom were the usual freebies: comb, shampoo, body wash etc in little packets with the 'hotel' name on. With the exception of the kitchen and bathroom, the apartment is carpeted.

I initially thought that because this was a one bedroom place it was my smallest apartment yet but all told I think all my apartments in China have been about the same size. It's just that they all carve up the floor space differently.

The partitioning of this place in particular would be strongly criticized on one of those numerous property programmes we have in the UK. This is because there is a a lot of dead space in the bathroom and kitchen- which are both maybe twice the size they need to be- and a tiny lounge.

Nonetheless, I've set about trying to make it home. I've bought a very nice new sofa that splits in two and lined the large mantel shelf that tops the radiators with my books. I've moved the dining table into kitchen, which is L shaped, and feels almost like two rooms.

The bulky tube television has been moved from the corner of the bedroom to opposite the sofa in the lounge. And I've taken a lamp out of the bedroom and put it in the corner of the lounge, because the strip ceiling lighting was casting an awfully harsh colour.

My rugs are down, pictures going up and a clock here, a clock there. Some finishing touches are afoot.

It isn't all apartments. They've designated some of the rooms as offices. The foreign affairs office is downstairs opposite reception, the director's office is on the second floor and the Dean's office is right opposite my front door on the third floor (British second).

I'm told that an American girl lives above me and his married to a Chinese man who doesn't like her to associate with other Westerners. I haven't seen her but I think I've seen him and I've heard the child.

I believe a teacher from the Philippines (teaches English) lives above them. I met him briefly a few weeks ago but have not seen him since.

There is another male teacher, married and in his early fifties, but he lives elsewhere.

At the medical university we were locked in at 10.30 but they often got slack and left the door unlocked all night, especially during the holidays. Here, I don't think there's any possibility of that. They have women on duty all day downstairs and at night they're ready to lock the doors. If I go out in the evening they ask me if I'm going to be back and at 10.20 the metal lattice that covers the doors has already been partially closed.

Posted by safemouse 03:28 Archived in China Comments (1)

Killing time in Beijing

Yesterday I stumbled across a shopping mall oddly named 'Joy', on my way back to Chaoyang. I wanted to buy a shirt so I thought I'd give it a go. On the whole, it seems that wealthy middle class men in China go for the classic out-for-a-stroll-on-the-promenade look. They wear chino shorts and striped t-shirts and a pair of sandals and look well turned-out but bland. I also look like this because I buy from thrift stores in the UK which have superb value clothes if you don't mind looking like a 55 year old Telegraph reader. It seems that Blue Harbour, the M&S line, is the charity shop mainstay, what lettuce is to salad. Blue Harbour equals timeless cotton striped shirts that could have been made in 1989 or 1994 or 2007. You can wear them and maybe feel confident enough to do a bit of sailing or gaze at the horizon whilst standing next to a sand dune.

Anyway, I've got the chinos and the smart casual shirts but I need to tilt my wardrobe just a little bit back towards my inner rock star, my inner bad boy wrestling with his demons. I don't want to look like a man who sits in a deck chair doing the quick crossword.

As I wandered past Jack Jones, the Danish chain that's popular in China, I heard the unmistakable voice of David Gahan, lead singer of DM. For those who don't know, Depeche Mode have made a career out of crafting songs full of guilt and sexual themes and are probably the best 'alternative' band out there. David Gahan almost killed himself with a heroin overdose. I don't know what their songwriter Martin Gore gets up to in his spare time but I should imagine he hires sex workers by the room load, and asks them to urinate on him. Anyhow, this music is far more me than the more mainstream and mainly Chinese music playing in the other shops. The Jack Jones stuff is therefore correspondingly more edgy, colours are darker, to hide urine stains.

I walked in and a girl approached me. I know the game. I was very laid back and polite, said I was just looking. Ok, she said. What I did not say was, please call two of your mates over and then all three of you can say 'hello' to me. Hello, hello, hello.

You know how it goes with me and hellos. I beat a retreat to a piece of understaffed shop floor.

But I saw in the reflection of the back wall that one of them was pursuing me with a shirt. Not one I was looking at, just a shirt that happened to be at hand. Surely she couldn't be suggesting I...She was. I walked out, telling her in my primitive Chinese that I was leaving because she was giving me trouble. Not in her book.

I walked into an American chain whose name really escapes me. Buffalo, or Bridge Fork or Bridle Camp or something beginning with B, plus Man and Woman. They were playing one of China's greatest pop songs- 有没有人告诉你- which seems to have the lyric-'is there anybody who can say they love me?' as its main hook line. The acceptable face of Chinese music is soft rock and the clothes definitely reflect a certain type of safe shallowness. They have t-shirts that give the vague idea that you are some sort of frat boy educated in some sort of upscale American university or other but not really. The weirdness of the semi-real ideas that get printed on certain t-shirts. People make themselves into impressionistic extras on a stage.

Clothes are just clothes I suppose. But what it boils down to is peacocks. I'm telling you, I'm just going to cut to the chase and buy a big hat. I could spend thousands on trying to attract attention from girls, otherwise.

The only thing that caught my eye was a t-shirt that was actually stylized in their way but also somehow at the same time a Sponge Bob t-shirt. It was 200 RMB (twenty pounds) and I wasn't going to buy it but I really got into Sponge Bob when I watched it with my niece and nephew recently.

Next was Uni Qlo. They were playing cool, somewhat monotonous modern disco sans lyrics. Probably something cooked up by a Belgian DJ. But there's just one problem. They have a shout welcome at every customer that walks past policy. You read that right. Every time a customer walks past a member of staff the staff are obliged to shout welcome (in Chinese). I don't mean at the entrance, I mean at any location in the shop. But supposing there are lots of customers walking around, you might think. You suppose right. There is the constant sound of someone shouting welcome. I got so annoyed by this, I left. Finally, I went to Costa Coffee and ordered a sandwich and a drink. My sandwich was still in the toaster when I was asked to leave because they were closing.

Back home, I read Howard Storm's 'My descent into death'. I'm going to write a review and post it on Amazon shortly.

Posted by safemouse 03:41 Archived in China Comments (2)

The Goodish Samaritan

I told you my next entry would be positive...here is some chicken soup for the soul.

I was trying to find the Cinderella hotel. The number hostel world had given me was out of service-I'd tried it 3 times- and there just seemed no way I could find this place. As is the custom in China, different people were earnestly pointing in contrary directions or even telling me I was in Shi Fo Ying Dongli when I wasn't and I was covering rather a lot of real estate with a rucksack and laptop. Been on foot for over an hour, in fact, and getting to the point where I'd have to quit and find somewhere else, though I'd paid a deposit online.
Finally a guy outside a shop was obviously interested in helping. His whole attitude was immediately helpful, I knew I'd found a friend. I told him the hotel was 99 Shi Fo Ying and he said there was no such hotel he knew of. He handed me his phone to do a web search but I loaded the hotel's own website on my phone and got another number. The guy rang it on my phone and said the hotel in question wasn't far, but it wasn't at 99 Shi Fo Ying... He'd take me in his car. I asked how much and he waved '5' with his hand quickly.
Well 5 RMB is nothing- very generous on his part-this was a very helpful gentleman indeed. We drove 2 miles down the road.
“You happy happy in Beijing?” He asked.
“Yes....happy.” I said, unconvincingly.
It was when we were on the expressway that I realised something was awry. We couldn't possibly be going to a hotel that was just round the corner. I expressed my concern.
“You want the cinderella hotel, don't you?” He asked.
“Yes, but there are three in Beijing.”
Then he realised what misunderstanding had occurred and said sorry profusely and mock slapped his cheek a few times and I said not to worry it wasn't his fault and we shook hands.
“I good, I not bad,” he said.
Didn't I know it. My mind was simply full of gratitude to this man who was just trying to help me. Only yesterday Judy was telling me a story about how she was told by a Western friend how Chinese people (except Lynn and Judy) are always trying to get something from them. Even my good friend Laurence said this to me.
“Give us an apple and we'll take a tree,” he said.
But this man came out of the blue and rescued a foreigner in distress. He phoned the hotel again on my phone and found out where the hotel at 99 Shi Fo Ying was. It was at 99 Shi Fo Ying, which was almost next to where I'd met him. So then he drove me back almost to where I'd met him but to the spot where the hotel was, which was very helpful.
“You happy happy in Beijing?” He asked.
Then we arrived at the hotel Cinderella, hidden down an alley that had eluded me. And yeah, it was getting on for midnight.
Now, he'd done a round trip and he'd quoted me 5 RMB so I assumed he wanted 5 but that seemed absurd. I gave him 20.
“That's not enough. Give me forty,” he said.

Posted by safemouse 19:57 Archived in China Comments (0)

Hello goodbye

I'm in Bayuquan, a coastal boom town. Coarse manners and things I formerly complained of are at fever pitch here. The spitting, the shouting and yes, the thing I formerly mentioned. There would be more chance of winning the lottery than me getting from one end of the town to the other without hearing 'low wai!' and being talked about, laughed at, pointed at. This morning I just went to get some breakfast at the next door restaurant and then back to my room and was accosted several times. It seems not one single Chinese person is kind enough to realise that I have to put up with this shit all day. Marching quickly through the reception and up the stairs, I thought I'd escaped the last of them, but one last 'lowwai!' by an extremely observant woman in that hard, 4th tone way the Chinese say it sailed up the stairs.

Many moons ago when I did my TEFL one of our instructors had just left Turkey and was bitter about the fact that he'd wasted 8 years of his life there. He was fed up of the place and wished he'd got out sooner. Next year I will have been in China for 8 years on the trot. I took his story as a warning not to fall into the same trap; but fell into it anyway. Of course, one could argue that the problem is really me and that wherever I go I'll have to take myself. It's not that I don't know I have shortcomings. I'm sure all this business is connected with me taking myself too seriously but I've mislaid seeing the funny side of this and can only find it again when I'm drunk or stoned (and I've now given up the latter option). The thing about China is though I have been angry here for so long, I've seldom been depressed like I was in Europe and I do have the odd day of happiness/optimism when I feel like continuing my life here.

Though England is so much more beautiful than China I find something about the decay and dislocation of society depressing. Perhaps different countries just show me different aspects of my own illness. In any case, something has always kept me on in China. It was the apartment and the easy money but it's never really been all that easy. Nonetheless, I promise I'll post something more upbeat next.

Posted by safemouse 19:02 Archived in China Comments (0)

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