Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The things that amuse us

I am, this year, feeling very unchristmassy. This could be for any one of a number of reasons, which I won't delve deeply in to, but the reason is irrelevant. The fact is, I'm not excited about it, and quite frankly that's ok.

What I am, however, very excited about is a little competition we've set up for next week. The brainchild of Leigh Hallam (a Brit I work with, and the oldest member of staff at 36), next week Monday (the 29th December) sees the inaugural Great Britain vs. The Rest of the World challenge.

Some have already hailed it as the greatest battle to have faced the island since the summer of 1940. Others have said it's a ridiculous effort by a bunch of silly buggers in stupid uniforms running around making shouting noises. Personally, I'm not sure what the difference is.

Regardless, the fact is that next week will see a team composed of seven citizens of Great Britain take on a team composed of seven citizens of her former colonies, in three sports: Football, Rugby, and Basketball.

The Brits are heavily favoured in football, the ROTWs in rugby, and basketball is a total toss-up.

I'm on my way now to pick up our uniforms - a plain black strip, with names in white.

Wish us luck!

Assigning value

The value of something is as subjective as you get. Any substance, be it a product, or cash, or reputation, only has as much value as an individual will assign to it.

Which is why we get situations like this.

Question for the day - What do you find less valuable than toilet paper?

(PS - if you live in Ch, and you travel, the answer may be "Quite a lot")

Monday, 15 December 2008

Regions of legality

I've mentioned before the bike taxis in Huizhou.

I rode one home today, who, in a six minute ride, broke in the region of thirteen laws that I counted. Some small, like riding into oncoming traffic, and some larger, like not slowing down at a red robot.

Now, to explain a little more, the bike taxis themselves are illegal. Illegal, but ubiquitous.

So here's my "wonder" for the day.

I wonder, once you're breaking the law anyway, what the buffer is in terms of breaking "bigger and bigger" laws. If you get pulled over riding one of the bikes, you're in trouble anyway, so you may as well drive with no concern for other rules.

Thoughts?

Friday, 21 November 2008

Reactions

People who have known me for a while may know that despite having the agility of a cat and a deftness of movement normally reserved for master ninjas, I don't have the worlds quickest reactions.

However, you'll be glad to hear that they've improved.

Just today, while making my breakfast (after a row), the lid of the bottle of precious pesto, brought from Hong Kong, slipped out of my hand. Fortunately, my semi-lightning speed reactions have improved so much that I made a valiant attempt to catch it, and almost succeeded.

I would have, as well, if I hadn't been holding the lidless pesto bottle.

So now I'm drinking pesto flavoured coffee, and my kitchen smells of pine-nuts.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Not going into a full blown post, for various reasons, but below is one of the funniest things I've seen in forever. Mike sent it to me.


PS - watch this space.

Tuesday, 04 November 2008

Too many weekends away

To keep people happy, make sure they never have too little or too much of a good thing. I should have been a philosophiser.

Every weekend (being, remember, Monday and Tuesday for me) since the holidays, which ended a month ago, we have "done something". As a school, we've had an event, gone somewhere, partook/partaken/taken part in an activity, been on the razz. My birthday, halloween, beach trips, and other stuff that's fallen out of my memory.

Suffice to say, it's been a busy month. Taken individually, each activity has been fantastic fun, but when put all together... Well, some whining started to creep in last week, and so yesterday was our last school activity for a while. When you live, work, and play with the same people day in and day out, and have no escape route, things can get tough.

Yesterdays' activity saw us walking up Loufu mountain. Those that have been reading this for a while might remember that I cycled there last year, and that it's a sacred mountain and beautiful and whatnot. However, when we arrived there yesterday, it was... almost closed. Gone are all the little shops and restaurants. Gone are the eighteen million people crowding around making a noise. Gone is the gong. But they've replaced it all with rain, so that's ok.

Fortunately, the mountain remains, and we walked a part of the way up it, looking for the elusive "Butterfly Cave". On reaching a temple at the base of the mountain, the group from the school elected to go left, and I, being of a contrary nature and remembering that there's a sign to the cave elsewhere, went right. With Lisa and Tom.

I take this moment to put in a little aside. If, after living in a place for 14 months, and speaking about it regularly, you still don't realise that signposting is a joke and a trap, then frankly you're an idiot and you deserve everything that's coming to you. I am that idiot.

So, we followed the multiple signs to "Butterfly cave", and after about 15 minutes arrived at a small cave entrance with a big blue steel door covering it. No entry, piss off. It was at exactly this moment that I got a call from one of the guys in the other group, asking where we were, because they were "standing outside a cave, with butterflies carved into the rocks, and isn't this what you're looking for?". Bugger.

Anyway, another 15 minutes of walking and scrambling and whatnot up an ever deteriorating path in the rain, we crested a rise and landed smack on the road that the others were walking along, but some distance above them. We walked down, met them, listened carefully to their directions to the butterfly cave, followed them, and.... HAHAHA. Sigh. Bloody hell.

What we did find though was a really strange set of tunnels, which for 5Y we got to walk through. They are carved right deep into the mountain, and have fittings for what I would imagine were at one stage very solid doors sealing each end. Seriously, these things were built for what, to my uneducated mind, look like some desparate defence. I can't find any info about them though, so I guess that for now, they're just tunnels.

Anyway, after all this, we finally met up with the group, then headed off for some lunch at a restaurant where they forced all of the westerners to sit together, and faced massive problems when I sat down at a "chinese" table. Apparently the food was different at the tables, but having eaten at both the Western and Chinese tables, I'm hard pressed not to think there were other reasons.

A quick game of post-lunch touch rugby, a good bus-sleep home, and our last school event for a while came to a pleasant end.

It was, if I may be so brash, a bloody good day.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Narrator: When you have insomnia, you're never really asleep... and you're never really awake.

Night number two. Considering I'm well known for falling asleep at the drop of a hat, this is... unusual.

But it's not the first time it's happened, so I don't know why I'm surprised.

The hours between 2 and 6, are almost quiet here. As quiet as the streets of small town China ever get. So, basically, nobody seems to be hooting. Not a lot of traffic.

Sat on the balcony a few hours ago and watched three guys walking home in the middle of the street. If you know what to watch for, even from 17 stories up you can spot a seasoned drinker. No stagger, no real sway, no arms out balancing himself. But a definite gentle drift left and right as he proceeds down the road, happily marinading.

A little dread creeping in at the thought of having to face the day. Had our Halloween party for the kids tonight, which had some glitches. Personal responsibility a tough call here, but the buck stops with me. So tomorrow, today, time to speak to people, find out what went wrong, fix things for future.

Strange role, this one of transient manager. It's about building something, constructing a foundation and then a base and then a platform and then a skyscraper on top. But you've really only got a year to do it. Easier to keep the status quo. Except our status quo can improve. Have to improve it, knowing that there's only a year to do it. Less, now. Ten months. And then it's all up to somebody else to change it again.

Thoughts are weird when you can't sleep - they all come at once, and you just try to grab a tail of one as they swish through your head. Once you've got the tail though... then what? Hang on tight and see where it leads? For me, these days, nowhere. Bad bad lack of thinking ability.

Time to go, try force some shut-eye before assaulting the day.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The party itself

Having written that post about the wonderful people I work with, perhaps I should also tell you about the party itself.

All of the language department came, Chinese and Western, which was great.

We started the evening at a beer hall type place, which had incredible food and beer. And beer. And some beer. And food. Good good food. Yes, ladies and gents, I am the master of the adjective.

Anyway, this place is fantastic. They do beer in five flavours - grape, pineapple, coffee, bitter melon, and (thank god) standard. I tried them all, and they were not as good as you might think. Except for the standard. Which was.

At the end of the dinner, the western staff gave me what up until then was the best present I've ever received - a braai! If you're reading this from back home, believe me, you don't know how much you miss a braai until you miss a braai. Dammit. I think I may have cried a little bit in the restaurant.

From the beer hall, we wandered to a club, where we danced and drank and did some other stuff I don't really remember. The club is basically a series of short clips in my memory - nothing concrete, and the story doesn't really make sense. It's a bit like watching a Tarentino film.

Finally, ended the evening (for me) at the dorm, where the guys gave me the video featured in the earlier clip. I may have cried a little more when I saw that. I then fell asleep on the couch, as is my wont (evidenced in the party invite), and Rodd put his balls on my head, following which Emma squashed her boobs into my face. Photos are great.

Rodd and Emma then walked me home, which I don't remember at all, but apparently that included me trying to abduct some random Chinese bloke, who couldn't free himself from my vice-like grip and had to get the others to pull me off him, and threatening to do unspeakable things to my housemates door.

Yes, ladies, that's me - classy all the way.

What makes life extra special.

In a word, people.

And now, after that great opening line, words, those bastards, fail me. I want to say how special people are, and how lucky I have been to know the people I know, and a whole lot more besides. But I've written the paragraph innumerable times now, and it always sounds... less than it should.

Yesterday was my 30th birthday. I no longer live in the country I was born and grew up in, and so of course my group of friends that I could feasibly invite to a party is smaller. For those who don't know me, I love birthday parties. They are a wonderful excuse to get together with a group of people I like, and every year I try to have a goodie.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I had booked a brewery in SA for my 30th, some years ago, but my life had different ideas. Instead, I'm in a country where I don't speak the language, with a group of people I didn't choose, doing a job I'm really starting to doubt I'm any good at, and... and here is where luck comes in. I kind of feel that it's not fair, how many good people I know, and how good they are. And now, this group I didn't choose, it just so happens that they're great as well, and that they really made my 30th a night to remember. I mean, come on - is there bad news around the corner, or am I just living a charmed life?

The summary of it is that I work with some fantastic people, who, over the last god knows how long, have been skiving off work and making the following, as a birthday present for me.


So how do I put into words how I feel right now?

Thursday, 23 October 2008

I want to sit and cry

As I write this post, I have just come out of teaching my M1A class. That's the first year of middle school, so the kids are about 13 years old.

One of the lads, Peter, a good kid, had left the class and joined another class, because he's moved schools... You know what, I'm doing this arse about face.

In China, schools are graded - kind of like the prestige that we assign schools, but formal - and among the best schools (certainly in Huizhou) are boarding schools. Not, however, like the boarding schools we know back home. In these schools, you live at the school 6 days a week, you have to get a special pass to leave for any reason at all, and all of the students live there. Their entire lives are regulated according to the schedule of the school. Ok, so maybe a bit like boarding school back home. When kids go to these schools, it means that they are only allowed out from Saturday afternoon until Sunday midday, and so they can't come to us for their usual mid-week lesson. We therefore have special once-a-week classes that last 90 minutes, which they come to.

Anyway, back to Peter, and the reason for this deep funk I find myself in. Peter had left our class because he moved to one of these schools, but he found the new class too easy, and so his mother made a special arrangement with the school to allow him to come to class mid-week with us.

Today, Peter hadn't done his homework. Why not? Well, Mr. Wood, at my school we have to study schoolwork until 10pm, and then it's lights out, no option. But that's not enough time to finish all of our homework for school, so we get up at 5am to try and finish it before 6am, at which time we have breakfast (during which we have to read), and then start school. At school, we break for lunch, and dinner, and otherwise we are in class or doing homework.

I want you to think about this. Peter, who is THIRTEEN FUCKING YEARS OLD, works almost all of his 17 hour day, 6 days a week.

I can't remember when last I felt so gutted.

The big three oh

So, the party is arranged (more or less), the venue is booked (more or less), and the whole thing is happening on Sunday night (more), and some on Monday (also more).

This being my 30th, I thought it behooved (behove?) me to create a magnificent, daring, exquisite, sublime invitation. Thank heavens I'm so creative.

My attempt, which will have to do in lei of the above, below.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Good South African Blogging

This guy has become one of my favourite blogs to follow. Have a look.

Wednesday, 08 October 2008

The Filipino is worth dying for - As on the 500PHP note

And yes, they absolutely are. What a special place. I've spent some time thinking about how I'm going to manage this post, about how to fit so much into words, and about where to try and stop. The fact is, I have to accept defeat here - there just isn't a good way to do it.

So, below, absolutely verbatim (plus Ed notes), is what I wrote down while I was on holiday recently in Malapascua, the Philippines, doing my PADI Open Water certification. Excuse the excess of adjectives and adverbs - I was lightheaded, and I'm not going to try edit this into something approaching decent writing.

Terrible check-in with Cebu Pacific. 8 People, 3 counters, 20 minutes. People pissing about, sitting and watching nothing, doing nothing. 2 cust service reps finally, me on the verge of explosion; one steps in and directs me to a closed queue, where one minute later I'm checked in, with many sorries and excuses. Not impressed. Regardless, the plane is comfortable, and the hostesses are very gentle on the eye. Now, down to study for the course. (ED: My other flights with Cebu Pacific were actually very good, so I'm willing to overlook the initial issue and say they're a good low-fare option)

I understand why my students said they were worried I wouldn't come back - the girls here are gorgeous, and they add buckets of sex appeal, something most Ch girls I've met lack.

I'm a little concerned re: my blood pressure. I should have gotten my arse in gear and found an English doctor before coming through.

Angry security guard at Manilla airport passport control, to some Chinese tourists "You shouldn't be travelling if you can't speak English! Go over there and learn English, then you can come back".

Great taxi driver to hotel in Cebu - slowest driver in the world. He drove at around 30, breaking every time he saw another car. But he taught me some basic phrases in Visayan, the local lingo.

Tonight, sitting at a small italian restaurant, glass of decent red wine, and some appertif that is very italian. A great moment.

Back at the hotel, checking in, an American comes down the stairs with "his girlfriend" in tow, has called a cab. Comes back in two minutes later, sans prostitute. Receptionist stared daggers, she was visibly upset. But her and I had a laugh about it, and now I think I'm in love. This feeling may be recurrent for the next week (ED: It absolutely was. Many many times).

Filipino brides weight heavy on my mine. Terrible that such beautiful and friendly people end up having to marry ugly foreigners for money.

Many buildings and structures with "Donated by...." on the side. Donors - individuals, governments, etc.

Teacher Lee. A freakishly friendly woman I sat with on the bus from Cebu to Maya. I now know her whole life story. 6 kids, in various professions (2 teachers, 1 engineer, 1 computer scientist of some sort, 1 still in school, 1 unmentioned); husband works on another island, I got the feeling she doesn't really always approve of him (he wasn't her sweetheart), but God in His wisdom chooses our marriage, and marriage is like death - when it knocks, you can't keep the door closed. A fantastic woman.

Jason and Jamie - an awesome Chinese couple, heading to the same island as me. Live in Guangzhou, and my first new people I've met that I'll keep in good touch with.

First dive "You'll never forget the first time you breathe under water", according to PADI. Well, I've forgotten it already. Spent so much time and energy watching my instructor, I didn't notice anything else. The first proper dive (open water 1) also went by in a blur.

Very strange sensations all through the night, feel like I'm sitting under water. Body is kind of floating and bobbing. I remember this same feeling when I started rowing - not being comfortable on land afterwards. (ED: It's been six days now since my first time under, and four since my last, and I still feel like I'm kind of bobbing around)

Island life is very differet. So many things we don't even think about, are a real mess here. But it's very peaceful.

Third open water dive was the first one I've really enjoyed - had a little more confidence, relaxed, looked around. Saw a sea snake - black and pale blue hoops (ED: I think this one). Gorgeous. Apparently lethal, but beautiful - must be a woman. I am feeling more comfortable with bouyancy as well.

Unfortunately, no shark dive for me, due to blood pressure concerns. Safety first. Have to spend some time and money with a dive doctor in China first.

One dive away from certification as a PADI Open Water diver. Feeling confident. The theory tests were all too easy, but there is a difference between testing and underwater application, of course.

AAAAnnnnd, I'm certified. The last dive was incredibly easy, although I wasn't happy with my CESA (Controlled Emergency Safety Ascent), but Simon, my instructor, seemed happy with it, so ok.

On the boat ride back, "I'm busy doing something that needs concentration" Zak went for a walk (or a swim), and I don't think Simon knew what to do when I suddenly started talking. So now, I have two more days here, no more money, and no real idea of what to do. Discussion of a night dive tomorrow (I get credit towards my advanced open water), but we'll see.

Tonight, I think I'm going to drink till I die.

Fantastic night last night. Ended up with a Frenchman and a Swede, behind the bar, serving the "Ficus", a terrible concoction developed some time during the night, which everybody tried once, and few came back for. Only slight taint on the evening was that my cell phone was stolen. I gave all of my stuff (camera, wallet, phone) to a stunning German girl, Nicole, while I tried to commit suicide by sprinting 600m down the beach to fetch some more money from my hotel room. When I came back, no more phone. I don't really care, but for that she felt bad, and I think it rather ruined her evening it a bit.

Woke today feeling like a speared fish - alive, but not glad to be. Elected to spend the day exploring the island, a decision which was quickly changed by some arm twisting from others (the Frenchman, Swede, and friends) - I joined them on their day-long dive trip. Unfortunately, they were going deeper that my known limit, so I had to content myself with snorkeling. It was strange for me to jump into the middle of the ocean and swim around, but comfortable, which is a big change for me. Unfortunately, after diving, snorkeling falls a distant second. A fulfilling day though, regardless.

Spent some time on an extended sand bar - photos floating around of us walking on water.

When looking at the photos that night, one of the Filipino dive guys called me "The lonely man". Touche.

And so now I spend my last day on this lovely island. Phillip and Nila, Cyril and Maryanne, magical Abbie, Rose, and their pretty mocking friend have all left today. I walked around the island, chewing up sites, before retiring to Sunsplash for a hearty meal, mango juice, and as the afternoon wears on, beer. Tomorrow morning, 6 am, I catch a boat, then a taxi, then two planes, then a bus, then another taxi, and by tomorrow night I will be firmly back in China, very grateful for this life I live.

In the end, it wasn't quite that easy to get home - but the delay was the only real way to end a perfect holiday.

For pics of the holiday, see my Picasaweb album

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Outta sight, outta mind

I made the call this morning - I will not be taking my laptop to the Philippines, which means I'm going to be offline and out of sight for the next week. I almost promise a big post when I get back.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Another quick quiz

You are performing at a club in China. The roof is made from wood (or alcohol, or petrol, or some other flammable material). Do you:

a) Sing a bit, dance a bit, and shine lights in everybody's faces?
b) Down a lot of beer on stage, then shout at everybody?
c) Set off a bunch of fireworks, indoors, igniting the roof and burning the entire club to the ground.
d) All of the above

If your answer was D, congratulations, you are well on your way to becoming Chinese. Bonus marks for any other answer as well. Double bonus if you don't see anything wrong with C.

Follow up question, for a super-bonus round!

You are the government (or some part of it). You hear of a fire at a club in Shenzhen, where somebody set off fireworks indoors, and burnt the place to the ground. Do you:

a) Tell people to be more careful
b) Arrest the perpetrator (or sweep him into a pan), and press charges under the Public Stupidity Act of 2008 (which I just made up but would be a great idea)
c) Initiate a process of education and awareness of safety standards within bars, pubs, clubs
d) Shut down every single bar and pub in Huizhou, and implement - instantly applicable - safety standards that would make the Swiss blush, resulting in massive reconstruction all of which is being done with the usual disregard for anything approaching safe.

If your answer was D... Well, I think you see the pattern.

If you are a politician, and you like the idea of B, let's talk - I've got some great ideas on implementation.

A quick quiz

Something is blocking the piece of road you want to use. Do you:

a) Find a way around it
b) Get out of your car and see what the problem is
c) B, plus try and help correct the problem
d) Put your hand on your hooter for 10 straight minutes, while you block up another section of road

If you answered D, congratulations, you are well on your way to becoming Chinese.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Are you for SCUBA?

Amongst the things I've done for the first time since coming to China:
  • Been on a cable car
  • Gone snowboarding
  • Been on a roller-coaster
  • Taught kids
  • Eaten scorpion soup
  • Written a bunch of crap nobody reads on a website
And soon to be added to this list: Gone SCUBA diving.

A week from now, I will be landing in Cebu, in the Philippines, ready for a one week holiday on the island of Malapascua, where Thresher Shark Divers will be taking me in hand and teaching me all there is to know about not dying underwater.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus

For those not keeping up on their Latin "But it flees in the meantime: irretrievable time flees". And how.

Last weekend (14th - 16th), we had a long weekend, and so four of us decided to take a trip to Macau, the Las Vegas of the East. It is... a strange place.

Although technically a part of China, Macau is a special administrative region, which means it follows its own set of laws, for the time being. Among these is the legalisation of gambling, hence the LV reference. So, that's where it stops? NO!

This, my friend, is where it stops:The Grande Lisboa, the single most hideous building ever conceived, which you can see from almost anywhere in Macao, and which will haunt your nightmares more than Freddy ever did.

The best part is, the inside is laid out even worse than outside. It's small and pokey, lacks any kind of flow, and looks.... shite. Absolute sheer bloody rubbish.

Which is why I didn't spend any money there.

Instead, we trundled off to far classier casino's - The MGM Grand (Classy, in it's way, but boring), and the Wynn (The best of the lot, which is why I promptly pissed away a wee bit of my hard earned cash on a blackjack table).

At the MGM - That's Kelly next to an original Salvador Dali statue.




















Outside the Wynn, watching the Performing Fountain, to the sounds of Sinatra singing Luck Be a Lady. Beautiful, soul lifting stuff.









The next day was spent having a look at the non-gambling side of life, including:
Visiting the beautiful Ruins of St. Pauls





















Seeing some pig on a stick on a beach.





















Being some pig in some new trunks on a beach





















An obscene amount of drooling over this man's parking lot (Yes, this is from one house)

And finally, a lot of walking around.

Macau, apart from all the casinos, has some pretty beautiful little places, with real charm. We ate at a fantastic Portuguese restaurant, we walked around a great little seaside fishing village, and we saw all the things you're supposed to see in Macau.

Then, we saw the one thing to put all the others to shame. The Venetian Macau. At the time of writing this, the fourth largest building in the world, the Venetian is a wonderful testament to what man can do with a lot of money, a great deal of labour, and the brains of a textbook. The Venetian is an absolute copy and paste of all the worst parts of the last thousand years of building. Pillars and arches everywhere, needed or not. An indoor canal, where you can sit in a gondola, in two foot deep water, going past a bunch of people shopping. And strict adherence to the fact that nobody should ever leave once in. It was, in a word, mindblowing.

Having spent some time walking around the massive gambling floor, we decided to explore a bit.

We walked, at one stage, for about 20 minutes, and ended up where we had started. We were quite proud of the fact that we'd managed a lap of the place, until Kelly worked out on the map that we had in fact covered a quarter of it. A quarter, of one floor, of it. The scale of the place is amazing.

Walking through the shopping terraces at 3am, all the shops closed, but bright (and, I have to admit very well placed) light made it feel as though it was the middle of the day. Except for the closed shops, of course.

We then tried to find a club, which the brochures told us was on the fifth floor and stayed open until 6. Except that all the lifts go up to the third, and no higher. Asking the guy at information elicited a shocked look, questioning why anybody would want to go to the fifth, but he directed us up a lift, through a hall, round a corner, up a different lift, round a corner, and finally up an escalator. To a completely sealed off portion of building smaller than my flat. Apparently, the marketers at the Venetian are a lot quicker than the builders.

All in all, the place was hideous, but something you have to see once. The drinks were good, and not any more expensive than anywhere else. The gambling was decent, but not for shallow pockets like ours. And the prostitutes, hanging around the escalator and getting confused at how Kelly seemed to have three guys anatomically attached to her as they walked past, were gorgeous.

Tuesday, 02 September 2008

New Place (grid reference SP201548) is the name given to William Shakespeare's final place of residence in Stratford-upon-Avon during his retirement

Mine's not as nice as Old Bill's was, but it will do.

I promised a further update on my new living accomodation, and here, in pictures, it is.

I have, in my room, the largest bed in all of China. I can lie, just about comfortably, straight on it, without my feet hanging over the edge. More importantly, it's bloody wide.


The new flat is on the 17th floor, and affords what have come to be amazing views. Below are three shots taken from my bedroom window, which is a full length (floor to ceiling) glass place, right on the edge. Fortunately there are solid bars, preventing me from falling to my drunken death.

As an aside, I count seven cranes that I can see from my balcony.

The main living area of the flat is really nice - it's a long, open area. Wade (my new housemate) and I went furniture shopping day before yesterday, and managed to buy a round diningroom table, four chairs, a desk for me, an office chair for Wade, and a strange purple chair that Wade fell in love with, for the pretty incredible price of 770Yuan, which is about R850.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so...

Friday, 29 August 2008

"It's Oh So Quiet" performed by Björk is a renamed cover of the Betty Hutton song "Blow a Fuse".

I've moved into my new flat, at last, but there is no Internet connection, so I'm snatching moments out of a heavy heavy week at school.

I will post properly, with all the juicy details, in a day or three.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Zak Wood v3.0

Yip, it's coming like a steamtrain. V3.0 of... Meee! I am 30 in 2 months and a couple of days.

Back in my comfortable, strange, not quite sure what I was doing life, I had looked into booking a brewery in Himeville for the occasion, which was going to result in a great deal of debauchery and a truly obscene amount of fun.

I am, however, no longer in the good old South of Africa, so that's not gonna happen, as they say in the classics.

Now, the big reason I wanted a mahoosive thirtieth in SA was so that I could invite my closest friends, and get to say "Hi", and quite probably "Thanks for being a cool person - you've added value to my life". This , or those that don't know, is the same reason I try to have a biggish birthday every year.

Now, I'm going to be having a party in Huizhou, and it's still going to be drunken and debaucherous, and possibly still held in a brewery, but as much as I enjoy the people here, I miss you.

So here I'm opening up the floor and looking for some suggestions on how I can share the day with you. Maybe something virtual, maybe a blog post, maybe a direct upload of photos from around the world on the day - I don't know.

Please post any ideas as comments, so that people can discuss them.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Something I forgot

When I bought the ergo, I went down to the rowing course in Hong Kong. It is, in a word, fantastic! It's about 3500m of dead straight, 10 lane wide, canal - high walls on either side, and a bridge plus a turn at either end which reduces the wind.

So I walked into one of the clubs there, where I had a great chat with a very friendly guy, whose English was... not great, and since I know zero Cantonese, we settled on speaking a little English and a little Pu tong hua (The dialect of Mandarin which I... have heard).

Anyway, the point of the story. While I was there, I asked if I could have a paddle at some stage (not that day, since I didn't have anything with me), or even if I could join the club. He took me up to the administrator, and explained the story to the guy, who said absolutely I could join, and very efficiently took me through the process and prices.

Right up until the point where he said I had to complete a novice course first. I explained that while I'm not exactly A grade material, I am competent in a boat, and I have been rowing for a little under 17 years now. Nope, tough, have to do the novice course, because I haven't yet rowed in Hong Kong.

Fair enough. The problem, and this was where it all broke down, is that the course is only held on Saturday and Sunday, meaning I can't do it, since I work those days. Dammit!

So now I'm erging.

I see the beard and cloak, but I don't yet see a philosopher. - Aulus Gellius

Soooo... Wade (the other Saffer here) and I didn't shave for a couple of days, totally independently and for no good reason. Of course, a couple days of not shaving, leaves me with a healthy growth of stubble, and Wade is much the same.

Naturally, some wise-smart-alec-arse asked whether we were having a competition, which immediately meant that we were. So now I'm sitting with a three week old beard, which is definitely looking solid.

All thoughts of shaving, however, were banished from my mind, when Kelly (the female half of the New Zealand couple), mentioned at the bar a few nights ago that I should keep it, because (and I almost quote) "[I] have a funny face, and this covers it".

Bloody kiwis.

What was worse though was that all the other girls immediately agreed with her.

So I've started shaving my head instead.

Long story short, now I look like this.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Monday, 11 August 2008

Dancing malformation

I had a great idea the other day. In one of my classes - P5, so aged around 11 - the boys and girls seriously dislike each other, and they refuse to work together.

When I first arrived, I tried forcing the issue, but that worked like... well, like something that doesn't work at all. So then I became clever(er), and said they didn't have to, but gently used my mind control tricks to get them to do so. By the end of last term, they were almost cordial to each other.

Then they had a month holiday.

The first lesson back was such a train wreck, that I (and here comes the genius) told them to write 100 words about why the opposite sex was bad. In my head, I saw deep thought, a coherent set of arguments, and something we could discuss and debate. That's not really true - I saw nothing of the sort, but one can dream.

What I never expected was the sheer brilliance that came out of the boys. The girls didn't do it.

Below, quoted verbatim, are the two boys letters I received.

"Girls are bad because girls like cry. They are bastard. They aren't active. They all days absent-mindedness. Girls are boring, not promising, unconscionable. All the contry has not chosse a woman president. Like China's president is Hu Jing Tao. America's president is Joge Bush. Girls can't not lead a city or a contry. Some girls don't like sports. Like Girls in P5B, they are quiet. Very boring, make people laugh and abominate. I think they like dun. Girls are bad and nosiey." - Luke, P5B

"Why girls is bad.
Why girls is bad? They not very very bad, but they very crazy. They like beautiful. They like new skirts, new t-shirt, new trouser, new hairstyle. They like Bobby doll. They so babyhood. They often cry. They dance very malformation. They smile very stupid. Ok." - Danny, P5B.

God I hope Danny never watches me dance - he'll think I'm a girl.

Tuesday, 05 August 2008

BTW

I can now view the blog, so please feel free to leave comments, tell me what I'm rambling on about, ask questions, etc.

Monday, 04 August 2008

What the hell?

DAMMIT! I don't know why I do this.

People who have known me for more than... 2 years now, will remember a certain impulse purchase of a certain sight-unseen birthday present for myself. It came with four wheels and was silver.

Well, I've just gotten on a bus, then a train, then two feet, and bought (seen, but not actually tried), another silver machine, that only has two wheels. Well, two little wheels for rolling it around on the floor, and a big sod-off wheel for providing air resistance while you cry and tell the world you're sorry. THEN!, I got back on two feet, in a taxi, on a train, on two feet, on a bus, in a taxi - all with a massive sodding box sitting on one shoulder.

Yes, I've bought an ergo. It seemed like a great idea this morning - I have been battling to keep up training, because I haven't really been able to find anything challenging enough, and swimming just isn't doing it for me - but a six hour round trip to Hong Kong, along with a pot load of money later, and there's a box now sitting in my room waiting for me to open it.

Only I don't know if I want to.

Saturday, 02 August 2008

All I ever wanted

Now I'm not sure if the site Sinfest.net has died, or is just blocked here in China due to it's massive political statements and huge following (sarcasm alert), but I can't get to it.

And I found it bloody difficult to find the passage I was looking for, written by Tatsuya Ishida a long long time ago, so I'm going to post it here.

Tatsuya, I know I'm breaking copyright, but dammit I think this piece needs to be seen - If you come across it, and you're unhappy, let me know.

Passage follows:

All I ever wanted in life was to be worshipped like a god, live like a rock star, drive women wild, make a fortune, live fast, die young, conquer the universe, travel the world, meet interesting people, solve the Grand Unification Theory, find the Missing Link, fight the good fight, live for the moment, seize each day, know what really matters, end world hunger, cure cancer, change the world, vanquish the dragon, save the princess, be super popular but too cool to care, climb Mount Everest, scale the Great Wall of China, swim the seven seas, howl at the moon, sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world, tag up this earth with my street name, run around with perfect conviction that my life is the meaning of life, be master of my own fate, embrace my destiny, feel as much as I can feel, think as much as I can think, do as much as I can do, get down, get up, dance to the beat of life on and on and when I’m done let the people go, "Now that was a funky
man."

Friday, 01 August 2008

Unfinished stories.

I seem to have come over all nostalgic. I was browsing through my writing folder, which has grown in fits and starts over the years, and I came across this little passage, written one evening about two years ago.

A life of unfinished stories. As I sit here now, trying to finish off something that I should have completed an age ago, I look back over my writing.

Compilations, compositions, from years of jotting down the little thoughts and the big ones that came into my head.

The threads of coherent thought that I could grab and pull from the mounting noise and chaos.

Some of them are short, some a little longer. Some of them are deep and meaningful, some as shallow as a puddle.There are a few common threads though. All of them are well written. All of them have a meaning. And every single last one of them is unfinished.

What is it that my life is a collection of unfinished stories? What happens when I do finish one? What does it take to finish a story?

Needless to say, I didn't finish it.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Thrown together, torn apart. Without the tearing.

Today has been a day of... endings.

Of the nine people that started at the same time as me, three of them finished today. And it was strange.

Our director of studies, who has been at the school for three years (a lifetime in the transient world of contract teaching) finished today. And it was strange.

My summer school class, who I have taught 6 days out of seven for the last three weeks, finished today. And it was strange.

Three different endings in one day, each one final and finished, but without any of the big bang drama or massive earth shift you feel would be appropriate.

The three teachers who finished today - I said farewell in the staff meeting, we drank a toast... and that was that. They are no longer at the school. Sure, tonight we will go out with them and drink, um, at least a loaf worth of toast, but it's over. Very few tears, no thunder, no sudden bursting into song, nobody jumping out and saying "Wait, we've changed our minds!"

The director of studies - I said farewell in the staff meeting, we drank a toast. The last time I saw her, she came into my office this afternoon to talk about a decision I made that she didn't agree with. We spoke, I stood by my decision, she left. Last I spoke to her she was already half way to Hong Kong. We'll see her again in a while - she's coming back for a few days to show her folks around - but ultimately, it's over.

And the summer school class - A group of kids, 17-19, thrown together for two hours a day, for three weeks. Have to work together, have to do some difficult things together, have to 'bond'. And today, we finished class, I said goodbye. They hung around, we chatted, but finally, they all left. It's over.

Will any of us or them speak again? Maybe, but there's no way of really knowing.

Just people, pushed together, bonding through circumstance more than any real need to do so. And yet, I miss them all already.

Baby, it's two AM and I must be lonely

Having just gone to the pub, spent somewhere north of 200Y on other people's beer, walking home via McD's for a little preemptive hangover cure, walked past a security guard from around the corner, who I pass every day, washing himself (full on, having a shower) in the drain and outside tap of a restaurant. A strong reminder of how great the difference between rich and poor is.

When I consider that one our wages, we are still only in the first quintile in China, yet live a good standard of life, it brings home how little other people here earn.

A good perspective refresher - can't take things for granted. That said, this man - despite washing himself on the street - is alive and has a home. Also tells us that we shouldn't be scared - the worst that can happen is that we'll be alright.

Monday, 28 July 2008

That did not work at all.

A dissapointing evening rounded off with a useless trip to a bar. And so we find me, but only an hour later, back at home in front of the computer. Listless, lazy, languid, lethargic.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Pool parties, strange vibes, weird water

Half way through a party at the moment, have come home to drop stuff off en route from the pool to the bar. Strange vibrations in the air - bad, tense feelings. Not sure why, but able to admit that maybe it's just me. I'm definitely feeling irritable.

Hopefully a little sitting in a bar with loud music and gorgeous women and cold beer will soothe the sense of impending.... dread is too strong a word, I'll just leave it at impending.

Follow-up to follow. Up. Out.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Oh, and the most important thing


A truckload of personality.

The KMT and D party

Ripper of a party this weekend, complete with all the essentials for a storming good time, these being:





An eery glow around everybody.














One drunk Canadadian dressed as a terrorist (you don't even want to see the video clips we made)
















HORSEFACE!! Or, if you're Canadian, sloppy cheeks










A gorgeous Chinese girl and a very drunk Kiwi.


In advance, I'm sorry to all the Kiwis for what happened with Australia today. God, I hate losing to the ABs, but losing to the Aussie bastards is so much worse. Come on ABs and Boks - we have to stop Australia from winning the 3N.



Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Reading the blog

I'm not quite sure why, but China have decided to remove Blogger from their list of banned sites, which means that I can now get on and read all of the crap I've written in the year since I arrived in China. What a walk down memory lane, and suddenly I understand why everybody started (but finally stopped) emailing me and saying I was sounding like a depressed old bastard.

I think it's important to set the story straight here - I'm not depressed.

I am, however, getting older and older by the day, and certainly you wouldn't be the first to call me a bastard.

For those that don't know, I have signed on here for another year, which means at least one more year in Huizhou; but more prophetically, probably means a lot more years in China. I do like this place. A lot. And so, providing that the Chinese Government decides to agree that I am in fact a native English speaker, and I am also not a drug dealer (because that's what all of us Africans are), then I'm quite possibly going to stay here till I go slitty eyed.

On more... newsy news, I have just come back from a week spent in Kunming. Look up Kunming on any website, and it will tell you what a beautiful and amazing city it is, with many attractions for tourists and a vibrant and beautiful scenery. Bollocks. Kunming itself is as boring as curtains.

There is, however, a lot to do near Kunming, and Kunming makes a good base to go explore the absolutely beautiful Hunan countryside. Me, however, decided to spend my holiday huddled over my laptop preparing for next year, and so didn't actually see any of that. Still, I did get to eat a lot of Hunan food, which is incredible, so there's always a silver lining. Oh, and I am well excited about next year - I think we're in for exciting times at the school.

Not a lot else to talk about now, other than that it continues to be bloody hot here. I am way too hairy for this climate.

OOOOHHHH!!! And how could I forget! The bloody bok beauties! What legends those boys are! Except I was in Kunming when it happened, so I had nobody to celebrate with. I eventually drank myself off a chair in a small western restaurant/bar, while texting my poor New Zealand mate (on his birthday - ag shame) all kinds of abuse.

But enough, lest I use up all years worth of letters in one post.

Kisses.

Tuesday, 08 April 2008

It's been a long, long time

With apologies in advance to Bing Crosby:

Mail me once, then mail me twice
Then mail me once again
It's been a long, long time
Haven't felt like this, my dear
Since I can't remember when
It's been a long, long time

Yes, it has been a long long time - three months and four days, to be precise. But I have a terrific excuse, which is best presented by one of my favourite cartoons. It has, indeed, been quite severe.

Is it over? I'm not sure. Considering how long it's taken me to write (or copy and paste) this far, maybe not. Apologies again for the delay to both of my rabid fans (Mom, love you - I know you don't have rabies), but here goes.

Sooo, what have I been up to the last three months and four days? Many many. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail though, otherwise I'll be typing for a year, and will have said rabid fans all over me again in the interim.

I went on holiday to Hong Kong and South Korea with Mike.

I came back to Huizhou.

I taught some kids (taught being a word I use to mean stood in a classroom).

I did some stuff.

Among the stuff I've done have been some pretty cool events, each of which in truth deserved their own post, but I'm afraid they're going to be summarised.

I've been hanging out with our Chinese staff quite a lot on the weekends, and they've shown me to fantastic places around Huizhou. A couple of weeks ago, we cycled up to Red Flower Lake, which is a beautiful reservoir about 20 minutes away from where I live. Or, if you ride with the Chinese staff, about an hour and a half away. Seriously, I was amazed when I went back yesterday with a couple of the Western staff, at how close the place is.

Now don't ask why it takes four times longer to cycle there with the Chinese staff, but it does. It has something to do with the jeans and heels, or the catching lifts on bicycles, or the swerving across the road at every inopportunity. More than that, I'm not saying.

Then last weekend we went to a fish farm, which was basically a couple of olympic pool sized dams, filled with fish that you could catch and braai. It was AWESOME. Except I didn't fish. But.

I have also recently finished reading a book which I highly recommend to everybody: Wild Swans, by Jung Chang. I will be honest and say I don't know if it'll make as much sense until you've been to China, but I think it's a book that stands on its own merits well enough.

I do get to move into a new room in a couple of weeks! See, there are two sides to the dorm, each with a front and a back. The rooms at the back (which I'm in now), have big windows that look onto... the other half of the building. And they are rubbish. The rooms at the front, have beautiful bay windows that look out over Huizhou, and the river from certain angles. Our young Irish teacher is leaving, and I'm getting his room. God, the things that excite you eventually. Pathetic.

However, there is some really exciting news - Liz is coming to visit me. Am I excited about this? Yes. More than the new room? Incredibly, yes. Holiday is coming up, again, and we're going to look at Hong Kong for a bit, then head out to Yangshou.

So, with that little titbit of news, I'm going to close off this post. Will there be more? Will they be exciting? Will I try be funny again one day? Will Jack and Nancy fall in love? Will JR rise from the dead? Stay tuned.

Friday, 04 January 2008

New Years in Hong Kong

A few people have emailed and asked me what New Years in Hong Kong was like, and so I feel it behoves me to give a full and detailed account of it.

We left a freezing cold Huizhou in good spirits on Monday morning (remember that Monday and Tuesday are my weekend), to travel to Hong Kong by taxi-bus-train-taxi.

The trip was fairly uneventful, other than that I finished my book. 1412. It's a goodie. Read it.

On arriving at our hostel, I realised why I have for so many years been loathe to find the cheapest place, and why I should never have backtracked on that decision this time. Chung King Mansions, despite its illustrious name, wouldn't look out of place in Hillbrow. Ok, that's not true, because it's a lot cleaner, and nobody was dead, but the point is it looks seedy and rank.

Our hostel was on the 16th floor. No wait, sorry, we've booked out your hostel, you're on the 15th floor. What - you've got seven people, which is the number you booked for? Sorry, you're on the 14th floor. Please wait here half an hour while we kick the people who are in there out and clean the room. Now, can you prove that you booked? Yes, I do have this piece of paper in front of me with all your booking details. Ok, that's 1200HK$ please. No, we don't take credit card, despite the fact that you booked online and paid your deposit by credit card and the website says we take credit card. Sorry, I don't understand you. It's too expensive for me to accept your credit card - you have to pay cash. Yes, I know it's going to cost you more, but... Simon, please come explain - he doesn't understand.

At which point I lost my temper with a little old Chinese woman and two guys from Ghana.

So the day didn't start well.

From there, the girls went off to get their hair cut and coloured and stuff, and Tristan and I wandered about for a while.

Now this was my third trip to Hong Kong, but I think the first time that I've seen the really cool funky commercial wealthy side of it. We took a ferry over to the island, watched the Macau helicopter ferry landing, and generally got to be overawed by the vibe.

Lunch was expensive pizza and very expensive coke, followed by a visit to a bookstore - with ENGLISH BOOKS! YAY! (which I think Tristan regretted once I got inside, and I will regret when I get back to the real world and have no money left)

A quick ferry trip back over to Kowloon and a walk to the mansions, where we met up with the other guys. Tristan went off to do some shopping, and I got stuck into one of my new books.

"Enough!" I hear you shout - Enough of this random warble about your day. Tell us the juicy parts. Give us the meat of the story. We came here for blood dammit!

Fair enough.

Alan, one of the guys here, arranged very expensive tickets to a very exclusive party, where the theme was "The Bond and the Beautiful", and everybody wore tuxedos (except us, who, being teachers... didn't). I did however wear a formal Chinese outfit that I had made up specially for the occasion, which at least more or less fitted in.

Back to the party, in all its detail. We had a wonderful dinner on a patio overlooking the harbour, from which we later watched a massive fireworks display at midnight. There was also a buffet breakfast served at 3am, which was perfectly timed.

Otherwise, there was free champagne, a great deal of dancing, and a lot of talking to various people.

Post breakfast, those of us that were left pushed on to another bar, which I will never be able to find again, where the remainder of the night was spent talking and whatnot.

I caught a taxi back to Chung Kings in daylight.