地参观 – 上海
事搞 – 玉佛禅寺，静安寺，外滩（多多），豫园，辰山植物园，泰晤士小镇
书看了 – Killing Room 被 Peter May, Tick Tock 被 James Patterson, The Litigators 被 John Graham, Sharp Objects 被 Gilliam Flynn, Save Yourself 被 Kelly Braffet 和 Stoner 被 John Williams.
电影看了 – 星际异攻队2，神奇女侠，木乃伊。
时候 – 送 2017 4月7日 到 6月7日。
开始是旅程，五千八百六十七英里穿过地球。几乎半价我飞经由重庆所以我作的那是的。航班从盖侍威克很长和红眼，也讨厌的汹涌。在早上四点的（还英国时间）程度那得猛撞咖啡以后咖啡少数几个之一我的同西方人在飞机上。他住在重庆十五年但是不会说普通话。断断续续的睡眠我得到之前我也说到一个中国人坐在旁边我。他去过到爱尔兰和曼城（特定的老特拉福的球场）是当然一个曼联支持。我是切尔西支持的我提到他说“也切尔西，我西欢切尔西。” 我们不再说话了… 我确信他就试图是友好，但是你不可以说关于足球像那！
离开以前， 她说是的起我的女朋友来（我知道 – 她很疯！）。我从来不知道怎么这个应该做完。我倾向变应该至少多少浪漫的成一个非常尴尬情况。但是事末期了一个点头应允一个吻所以都很好了！
So this is what it looks like. Originally I wanted to translate the whole thing, but one page takes over an hour for me, and there are seventy-five like this…. It probably doesn’t make sense, but at least I tried.
Life in China – Part One
Places visited – Err… Shanghai
Things done – Jade Buddha Temple, Jing’An Temple, the Bund (lots), Yu Garden, Chenshan Botanical Garden, Thames Town.
Books read – Killing Room by Peter May, Tick Tock by James Patterson, The Litigators by John Grisham, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, Save Yourself by Kelly Braffat and Stoner by John Williams.
Films watched – Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Wonder Woman and Mummy.
Period covered – 7 April to 7 June 2017
To start was the journey, five thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven miles across the globe. It’s nearly half price for me to travel via Chongqing so that’s what I do. The flight from Gatwick is long and red-eye, it’s also inconveniently turbulent. To the extent that at 4am (still UK time) I’m awake and slamming coffee after coffee with one of few fellow Westerners on the plane. He’s lived in Chongqing for fifteen years but doesn’t speak Mandarin. Before the fitful sleep I did get I also spoke to the Chinese guy sat next to me. He’s been to Ireland and Manchester (specifically Old Trafford) and was of course a Manchester United supporter. I mention that I’m a Chelsea fan and he says “Also Chelsea, I like Chelsea.”. We didn’t speak again…. I’m sure he was just trying to be friendly, but you can’t talk about football like that!
We land in Chongqing at about 18:30 (now China time), this is 11:30 UK time, my next flight is at 21:30. That gives me enough time to collect luggage, get cash, find a drink, go through security and find my gate. All of that went well, but finding wifi was a problem, I had it for just a few minutes. Enough time to get a message to Yáoyao but not to my parents! Soon enough I’m on the plane bound for Shanghai, the only problem is it doesn’t move an inch! I didn’t know at the time because I was listening to music , but the weather is bad in Shanghai so we can’t depart. Just after our plane was scheduled to land we get off, it’s cancelled! I have three pounds of credit which I use for twenty seconds of Chinese data to send a message to Yáoyao. She’s waiting for me at Shanghai Pudong Airport…
But, at about noon on the seventh I land at Pudong. Another few hours to the hostel and I’ve made it! Approximately fifty hours door-to-door but seven of those are time difference and fourteen of them was the delay. Unfortunately, that delay scuppers our plans a little…. We only have five hours together before she has to leave (for reasons I’ll explain later). We eat and get coffee, we talk. Before leaving, she says yes to becoming my girlfriend (I know – she’s crazy!). I never know how this is supposed to be done and I tend to turn what’s supposed to be at least partly romantic into a tremendously awkward social situation. But it ended with a nod of assent and a kiss so it’s all good.
A night spent in this hotel
As you should have already noticed, I haven’t yet left Shanghai. There aren’t many cultural or historical things to do in Shanghai so they are exhausted quite quickly. I’ve been to two of the largest temples in Shanghai. One of these has a statue of Buddha supposedly made of fifteen tonnes of silver. The other (unsurprisingly given its name) has one made from jade that was brought to China from Myanmar. The number one thing to do in Shanghai is probably to go to the Bund. It’s a pedestrian walkway along the Huangpu River that gives great views of the Pudong skyline. I go there often, partly for the view and partly to practice my Chinese. Another hotspot in Yu Garden which is a nice, traditional Chinese garden. It’s good but now partially ruined by the skyscrapers in the background! Thames Town is more than likely exactly what you think it is. It’s like a piece of England has been flown over and dropped in Shanghai. It even has its own church! It’s the sort of place that newly married couples come to for their wedding photos. Indeed, there is a couple waering wedding garb every ten metres or so!
I try to keep up with things going on at home. The internet makes this easy! One Saturday when I’m staying in the hostel hosted a feast of sport including Chelsea playing the FA Cup Final shortly after Exeter Chiefs played their final. My intention is to find a sports bar to watch them at. In the hostel I’m offered some Shanghai wine by Ojoe. Rude not to… It’s quite nice for something that labels itself as wine. However, this does not agree with the subsequent consumption of beers… According to popular rumour, I returned at 04:30 and fell asleep on the sofa in the lobby. I then awoke at 6am to vomit. After that, I found my way to bed until I woke up after check-out time. I vomit twice more before heading to Yáoyao’s place. She just laughed at me…
Hostel life is different in these circumstances. I’m not travelling, I live here! So, despite staying in the same place as when I was in Shanghai previously, my attitude is different. I fall into my home habits of being very selective who I talk to so I don’t talk to many people. They’re all doing things I’ve done several times (the Bund). I’ve only talked to two or three people to the extent of learning their names. The first of which is Marcus, we play pool. “I don’t normally lose.” he declares after winning the first game. He lost 10-4. He’s a good guy, we chat a bit. On a subsequent evening, we go out with a German girl we mutually met, Anya. One of Marcus’s friends is to meet us at the underground station and join us. Marcus is quick to point out that she’s just a friend. Now I know why…. It’s safe to say she’s the strangest person I’ve ever met! She doesn’t travel because “Everywhere is the same…”, as soon as she says this, I know we won’t get along. I close my doors and raise my walls. Anya and I don’t like spicy food so we don’t order any. Strange girl (I can’t remember her name) then proceeds to cover everything in spicy sauce. I say “Why don’t you go to Sichuan?”, she looks at me inquisitively. I think ‘she doesn’t know’. I elaborate “There’s lots of spicy food in Sichuan, here they prefer things sweet.”. A glimmer of understanding now registers in her features. “But of course everywhere is the same!”. Anya laughs, Marcus stifles a giggle, weird girl doesn’t laugh. On the way back to the hostel we pass a tattoo parlour. We stop to look at the designs. “I hate these big ones with colour.” she exclaims. Yes, because you’d prefer to have a smorgasbord of random crap on your torso that makes you look like a Harry Styles copycat. Did I mention she also has a forked tongue? Each to their own…
Another person I’ve met is the aforementioned Ojoe. He’s a student at Cambridge University. He’s interesting to talk to because he is obviously uber intelligent. He just thinks about things and people in a different way. Although I think being bilingual and having large experiences of more than one culture also helps with this. I also must thank him for teaching me the rules to Chinese chess, perhaps I’ll be better when I’m sober! I still cannot bring myself to thank him for supplying (or plying) me with Shanghai wine!
One of the main reasons for going to China, although indirect, was to learn Mandarin. At what point did I think this was a good idea?! The first Chinese I hear is on the flight 女士们先生们 (nǚshìmen xiānshēngmen), ladies and gentlemen, a good start, I understand that. But after that I only understand 电话 (diànhuà), telephone call. Chinese would have been handy as there was all sorts of dialogue regarding the second plane not moving! We are put up in a hotel for our trouble. Of course, the staff only speak Chinese. Thankfully, a nice Chinese girl studying in London helped me and the only other white guy on the flight. In the morning, we are awoken at 7:30 by someone saying a lot of things in Chinese. I open the door, it soon becomes apparent to her that our Chinese is not good (that’s being polite about it!). She repeats 走 (zǒu), to go, and 八点钟 (bā diǎnzhōng), 8 o’clock. Luckily, I understand these things and we’re good. It’s so very satisfying when your understand something, anything!
You would think with over forty thousand Chinese characters they might have unique meanings but this is not the case! Take, for example, 花 (huā), most commonly this means flower. But, it also means blossom, bloom or anything resembling a flower or fireworks. Ok, that kind of makes sense. Then it can mean patter or cotton. Hmm, a little more obscure… Then it can also mean smallpox, wait… What?! Not only that, but it looks as though it can also be pronounced as wěi (still 花). And not only that but it also means spend as a verb! Easy, huh?!
On my course, to start with, there is just myself, the teacher and one other student. We’ll be studying together for about two months so I say “Hi.”. Approximately ten seconds later the other student manages to muster a “Hello.” In reply. He’s very odd, probably the most serious, introverted person I’ve ever met. I can’t really talk to him, the only things he talks about are trade shows and English exams. Fortunately, the teacher is excellent and makes the classes more bearable than they could otherwise have been. She’s a great teacher but the lesson structures get a little monotonous and repetitive. As a result I’m going to switch to a different school for my next course.
It’s hard to learn a language as an introvert. Probably the best way to practice is by speaking and listening to people. But sometimes, the truth is I’d rather die than do that! It’s also problematic because everyone else’s English is better than my Chinese. I’m often told, ‘You’re so lucky having English as a mother tongue.’. This is true and I’m grateful for it but it does make it slightly harder to learn foreign languages because everyone switches to English straight away. Although I guess this is the case for all caucasians in Asia!
It’s difficult to describe your own level of foreign language ability. I’m at the level where I think I should be able to converse, but I can’t! Natives speak too fast for me to be able to understand, and my vocabulary probably isn’t good enough either. Yáoyao and I speak Chinese sometimes but it’s just so much easier to change to English. My Chinese is often limited to 我要这个 (wǒ yào zhè ge), I want this one. Occasionally, I switch things up and say 我要那个 (wǒ yào nà ge), I want that one, but I start to think I’m on Little Britain! My language skills can probably not quite get beyond what can be conveyed by gesticulation. In class I get better but that’s not real life and in real life I struggle to remember how to say things.
The view from my first school. On the right is the top of Jing’An Temple.
Shanghainese cuisine is one of the most varied in China, but they do like sweet things here. Of course, it’s also easy to find restaurants preparing dishes from other parts of China and several Western restaurants too. Indeed it’s not possible to walk fifty metres in Shanghai without seeing at least one Starbucks or McDonald’s, probably two! I like Chinese food, ok not duck’s heads or pig’s intestines, but normal things like sweet and sour pork or fried vegetables. The main problem I find is that when eating alone this becomes a more expensive option, especially dishes with meat, so I avoid it. A fried noodle or fried rice staple is the only option that compares in terms of cost. So, as a result, I have my standard restaurants that I frequent often and leave the Chinese food to when I’m not alone. One of my favourite things I’ve tried so far is a fried pumpkin dish.
In spending time with Yáoyao I now have a new hobby, watching films. The good news is it’s much cheaper to do here! Firstly, it’s possible to stream many films on Chinese websites, like Netflix without paying! Although these are very often terrible! In the cinema a film and a drink is thirty yuan (just over three pounds). Cinemas are sometimes really quiet at the times we go (weekday afternoons). One time, it was just us and one other couple! The worst film we’ve seen is Wonder Woman. I didn’t really want to watch it but it was the only film starting at the time we wanted. This is becuase it’s not the sort of film I usually like. The plot confuses me, it’s superheroine crossed with a World War One historical drama! I don’t think it works. We’ve also seen the new Mummy film, which was ok although hard to follow towards the end if one is stupid, like me. In my opinion, the best film we’ve seen is Guardians of the Galaxy 2. I didn’t really expect much from it as again, it’s not the sort of film that I usually like, but it’s funny in places. My favourite part of the film was looking across to my right where Yáoyao was staring intently at the screen. Her face and smile would light up a the bits she enjoyed. I can just listen to the film, right…?!
I’ve got into the habit of talking about books I’ve read in blogs. The only problem is I’ve read six in my first two months here! So you’ll be pleased to hear that I won’t talk in detail about all of them, in fact I’ll do that with just one. I started Killing Room on my journey to Shanghai, I bought it at a market in my hometown. It caught my eye because on the cover is a picture of the Shanghai skyline. I know that place! That’s where it is set so I better buy it! I like Peter May, the first book of his I read was The Blackhouse which I think is excellent. Killing Room left me feeling a little disappointed , it’s too much genuine-thriller-plot and not enough characterisation. Speaking of no characterisation I then read Tick Tock by James Patterson. Only because it was in paperback form in the hostel. It was about bombs, that’s all I can remember, and one can guess that from the title. That’s all that needs to be said about that book.
It gets better after those, next is The Litigators by John Grisham. Before reading this I wouldn’t have thought a book set in the legal field could be this good. But the plots and characters kept me really interested in what was going to happen next. After that I read Sharp Objects (by the author of Gone Girl). I think it’s good, but not as good as Gone Girl. The plot centres around a beautiful, self-harming young woman that’s the victim of Munchausen Syndrome. It’s a good read with a superb twist at the end. The kind of twist that made me intake my breath resulting in other people looking at me as though I was weird! After being pleased with Sharp Objects I Googled similar books and authors and came across Save Yourself. The truth is I couldn’t remember anything about this book. I had to go back into my Kindle to remind myself! So, it’s not that good, obviously. It’s the kind of book you keep reading because you think it’ll get better, but then you finish it and it doesn’t. The final tenth is better, but it was predictable. That said, one of the characters has an affair with her boyfriend’s brother, that plot is intriguing but no more that that really.
But I’ve saved the best for last. A classic (I’m trying to read more classics and less crap like Tick Tock!), Stoner by John Williams. Supposedly akin to the author’s own life, it’s a semi-autobiographical novel about a university lecturer who also writes books. But it was not always thus, he grew up on a rural farm with just his parents for company. An agriculture scholarship comes up at a local university and his father stuns him by suggesting he should enrol. But, after completing the English section of his course he falls in love with literature. The main area of interest throughout the book are his relationships with those close to him, his parents, his friends, his teacher, his wife, his daughter, his boss and his mistress, more or less in that order! I can’t decide if his wife is psychotic, horrid or just strange. The part where his parents die is very moving. After that his in-laws die with echoes of the death of his own parents which is remarkable given their different backgrounds. His marriage fails within months, yet they remain together until his death about forty years later.
His father dies young after years of hard toil in the field. He rushes back and begs his mother to go home with him. She refuses, it soon becomes apparent that she’s waiting to die too and a short while later she does. Subsequently, the Great Depression strikes and his father-in-law commits suicide as a result of it. Reluctantly, Stoner tells his wife that her mother can stay with them. His wife replies in her patronising tone “Oh John, don’t you understand she’d rather die?”. He says “I suppose I do…”. Parents always know best don’t they, perhaps they could sense the toxicity. It saddens me that Stoner was only really happy for such a short part of his life. He gets through the rest of it, including the tribulations with his wife and a similarly manipulative boss, with a kind of heroic stoicism. It’s only when one lifts one’s head from the pages that one remembers this was a completely different age.
As a result of dumping myself over five thousand miles away from more that ninety-five per cent of people I know I’ve made a concious effort to make friends. Firstly, I attend some ‘Language Mix’ events in an effort to both make friends and practise Chinese. Neither goal is really achieved. Unfortunately, English as the global lingua franca is the most commonly spoken and I don’t meet anyone there I consider to be friendworthy! As an introvert I have to force myself to attend these events and I eventually stop. But, thankfully, I’ve found a really good group that I play football with once per week. It’s run by a lovely Ghanaian lady. Although, whilst I wouldn’t say I’m friends with anyone that plays, that’s ok, becuase that’s similar for the football group that I played with at home.
I’m not sure I can feel at home whilst living in a hostel. I get into my habits. I know where to stand for the Underground so that I’m right next to the escaltor that’s closest to my exit when I get off. I get coffee most mornings and the service lady likes me and gives me free cake. I now spend a large part of my day waiting for lifts. I live on the sixth floor, my first school is on the fifteenth floor, my new school is on the twelfth floor. One of my favourite restaurants is on the sixth floor but I usually take the escalators for some variety in life!
I spend a lot of time trying to get my head around Chinese culture and, more importantly, not putting my foot in it at any point! Twenty years ago I can’t imagine foreigners being offered “Sex, sex, sex, sexy lady, nice girl, massage.”, with massage pronouned as ‘mæsajē’ instead of ‘mæsa:ʒ’. Nowadays, it happens three or four times during the length of Nanjing Road. The fashions here are that young (and some old) people wear clothes with English words on them. Sometimes these are mundane, sometimes they aren’t. My favourite so far has been one that said ‘This shirt says fuck, it also says cunt. It also says machine washable.’! This one creased me, I was laughing for ages! I wonder if the people wearing said clothes know what the words mean. Another funny moment happened in the hostel. A Spanish guy arrives and sits down, clearly having just arrived. He then gets his phone out of his pocket. After a few moments he looks quite purplexed. “Is the wifi working for you?” he asks us. “Yes,” we chorus. This only adds to his confusion. “Do you have VPN?” Someone enquires. “What’s VPN?” He responds. Ah, this may be the problem. We explain that some websites are banned in China, like Google, Facebook and Youtube. Oh my goodness, his face… I thought he was going to cry!
To start with the weather was lovely. Although I’m still miles away from a full calendar year here I think spring is probably the best season in terms of weather. It’s now June and it’s gotten warmer and wetter. Just this week (at the time of writing!) We’ve had two days where it rained but the temperature stayed above thirty degrees. Sometimes now it rains the whole day. The adage of ‘Rain before seven, stops before eleven.’ doesn’t apply here! Apparently, the second half of July is the hottest time here so that’s not far away now…
I have also experienced my first Chinese holiday. The practicalities of this means everywhere is just busier than before (and it was busy before!). I was here for the Dragon Boat Fesitval, which is the Western name for it. In Chinese it’s called 端午节(duān wǔ jié), or double five holiday, because it occurs on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. So, of course, it’s never on the same date in our calendar. There’s a story here that’s coincides with the holiday about a poet who was alive during the Warring States period of Chinese history, just before it was first unified by the first Qin Emperor (circa 300BC). This poet’s name was 屈原 (Qū Yuán) and he was a court advisor to the then emperor of Chu. The Chu Emperor exiled Qu Yuan for proposing an alliance with Qi in order to fight Qin. But Qu Yuan was correct to seek this course because Qin captured and imprisoned the Chu Emperor. The successor emperor of the Chu state then surrendered the state to the Qin state. Qu Yuan had such love for the Chu state that on hearing this news he drowned himself in the Miluo River in Henan Province. The tradition now is to throw rice into rivers to feed Qu Yuan’s spirit. Some further mental leaps are required before understanding how dragons and boats are connected to this story but rest assured they are!
It’s strange to be so far from home yet still get ‘itchy feet’. At times I have a sudden craving to get away, not to anywhere in particular, just not Shanghai. We talk about leaving China for the National Holiday in October although I’m not sure my visa will allow it. If I can’t go it would be annoying because Sri Lanka was mentioned as an option of somewhre to go and that’s definitely a bucket-list destination! Also, and I’m partly afraid to admit this, but, for some reason, since turning twenty-nine, I have the sudden urge to go on a cruise! What is this?! I’m not old enough to think like this, am I?! Or maybe I just want to go back to Ha Long Bay…
Shanghai is different to other mainland cities in China. It isn’t often that I’m stared at like I’m an alien. But, still, it’s fairly obvious I am one. This becomes most appparent when I’m eating alone in restaurants. Occasionally, there will be a child (aged five to nine) eating there and they will use the opportunity to practise their English. At one time a very young boy, about four or five, was being urged to ask where I was from. But, bless him, he was really struggling with the words, much to the indignation of his mother! We got there eventually. But, the winner so far was a girl or about six or seven who sang the entire ABC song to me inclusive of ‘Now I know my ABC, come and sing along with me.’ I say 你的英语非常好 (nǐ de Yīngyǔ fēicháng hǎo), your English is very good, her face was a picture!
If the secondary reason for coming here was learning Mandarin, it doesn’t require a genius to figure out the primary one. I’ve already mentioned her a bit but how is it going? People think I’m crazy coming all this way for a girl I’d only spent four days with! Sometimes I lie and say we spent a week together because it sounds better and I save face. I guess it is a little crazy… With the small talk at the hostel and elsewhere people ask me why I’m learning Mandarin and I always reply “Because my girlfriend is Chinese.” That’s of course not the reason. The main reason is beacuse I want to eavesdrop on Chinese conversations in Western countries without them knowing that I can understand them! The conversation then inevitably develops into how we met, so I tell my story. Blokes always react with indifference but girls always say something along the lines of ‘Aw, that’s a lovely story!’.
But, it isn’t all plain sailing. There is one large problem that we should have foreseen, but didn’t. Yáoyao works and lives in Shanghai’s Songjiang district and my school(s) is (are) in Downtown. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem in most cities, but Shanghai isn’t most cities, it’s home to well over twenty million people! As such Songjiang is eighteen miles from Downtown. Door to door requires three Underground lines, a bus and some walking which can take up to two hours! This is most unpleasant in the rush hour where it’s standing room only. Although this has led me to learn a new skill. I can now switch songs using the buttons on my headphones, this is necessary because I can’t access the phone in my pocket! The distance problem is exacerbated because I study Monday to Friday and Yáoyao works Saturday to Wednesday! This isn’t changeable! So, it’s only at certain times of the week that we can be together. But, perhaps that’s a good thing, I can imagine I’m quite annoying in large doses!
I haven’t really answered how well it’s going. The truth is, I really don’t know how to. There are many things I was to say but feel I shouldn’t and many things I feel I should say but can’t. But things are going great, as I write this we are two and a half months together. There aren’t words in either language to describe how much I like this girl. We are still very much in the ‘honeymoon’ phase but we’re just starting to find out each other’s faults. She gets angry when she’s tired, I get angry when I’m hungry! Everything is just much better when we’re together. We meet with the manager of my new school to arrange my course. She says to me “I think you two love each other very much!”. We haven’t said that to each other yet but ok! It’s weird how you can just connect with someone like this. At the hostel I went for dinner with a Dutch girl who was also learning Mandarin. It consisted mainly of awkward silences. When I’m with Yáoyao we have silences also, but they aren’t awkward at all, why is this?! I’s like we’re perfectly content not saying anything until one of us has something to say. I’ve always wanted to be with a girl that’s happy with dinnner at McDonald’s. Not only that, but she let me have the last Chicken McNugget. If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is!
Strawbs – planned 3 June 2017, written 3-20 June 2017, translated 28 July – 5 September 2017, typed 5-29 September 2017, published 17 October 2017
Me wearing Yao’s glasses!