A Christmas Letter from
This is a brief glimpse of my life, and intended for family, friends, and those crazy people who actually enjoy my infrequent missives.
To recap: I came to
I currently live in a very spacious apartment close to all the amenities you could ever dream of – it is very convenient. Unfortunately I will have to vacate before New Year as the Landlord wants to move back in, so we are currently looking at other gaffs nearby. I am not sure today which we will move into, as we have a choice of dozens. I quite fancy a similar apartment to our current one, which has 3 bedrooms and a real bath! I detest showers immensely. We can get this for £200 per month + bills (£30-ish pm). My girlfriend Siu Ying prefers a Chinese style 2 bedroomed place, which at £130 pm is much cheaper. Whilst this is fine and spacious, it is not my ideal, especially as I do need an office and would also like a spare room available for guests…
Update: Today we signed contracts for a different 3-bed gaff with walls and ceilings in embossed woods depicting scenes from Chinese culture and traditional emblems. There is a large glass screen separating the kitchen from the dining area which is covered with carp and complimentary graphics. This apartment also has 3 bathrooms, 2 being en suite. The owner is an English teacher
So what have I been up to?
Well I originally came out to
After my original contract
ended I decided to stay for a while, and have now developed a series of
businesses mainly related to: Exports (Furniture and Bathrooms + many sundry
items), jewellery, education, and dating. The majority of my time is spent
either building or maintaining websites, or acting as sourcing and export agent
for foreign buyers. Next summer I will also be running a summer school for
Chinese kids on a nearby island, with reverse links to
This year I have become very
good friends with a great guy from
Regarding my personal life, I have made some very good friends, of which Eason is top of the list. He is a designer of condominiums and their interiors, in his early 20’s and a bit of a playboy. We simply get on with each other very well. He is a local boy and has reasonable English, and he is very good at teaching me the local Cantonese language, which we refer to as ‘Ba Wah’. He has also taught me a great deal about local people and how they see the world, especially concerning such things as relationships with the opposite sex, Chinese etiquette, and how Cantonese boys think and see their world. This information you have to experience and apply first-hand, although by reading these missives I hope some of this knowledge is now passed on to yourselves. Given our predilection for eating at outside tables of restaurants, drinking copious amounts of fluids (Beer) and chatting the girls, it is not surprising that we have become very close friends. It is through him that I met Siu Ying, as she was part of a group of girls, one of which he new. We had a great night + several others with this group, before I suddenly realized that Siu Ying was actually interested in me – well, the rest is history, and our full story is in another missive. Needless to say that our nights also involved meeting the girls for Disco and KTV, or seeing a live band. To this list I could add another dozen men and many more women, of which Candy Deng is most noteworthy. I hope you can meet these two when I do finally return to Blighty as we plan to travel as a group if possible.
Regarding language – I admit
I am hopeless! Perhaps it is because of people like me that English is now the
default world language? I can speak some Cantonese, which is enough for me to order
food and haggle in the local wet market; without having the need to mentally
translate back into English. Some of my dreams are also in Cantonese. I can
also follow general conversation with an overall degree of accuracy, although
following a TV programme is still a little beyond my capability. I cannot do
Mandarin full stop! For sure, Mandarin is the most important Chinese language
(Of which there are 9 distinct languages and over 70 tongues + a different
dialect in each city). Mandarin remains very difficult for me to pronounce, and
is very different from Cantonese, which incidentally is spoken all over the
world and in neighbouring provinces and countries like
Well, throughout history,
Greater China has tended to be an insular country, often barring contact with
About 30% of Cantonese words are extremely similar to Mandarin words, and some Cantonese phrases like ‘Mai Dan’ (The Bill) are now used in mainstream Mandarin. Mandarin speakers pronounce from the back and roof of their mouths, do not use nasal tones, have four levels of intonation, and can do tricks like roll their ‘R’s”. By total contrast, Cantonese speaker talk from the front of their mouths and have 3 nasal tones (M, N, and L). They have up to 9 levels of intonation and cannot roll their ‘R’s’. Most cannot even pronounce the letter ‘R’ and use a non-nasal ‘L’ instead. It is very different, and it suits me well.
Siu Ying’s native tongue is
Toisan Wah as spoken in Tai Shan (Mandarin placename), which is extremely
similar to Hoipeng Wah as spoken in the twin city of
I do commend
I now have a Chinese name,
which sounds like “Mo Yur(t) Han” (Cantonese). Mo was given me by a friend from
In Chinese thinking, people
from places like
But I ramble – as I am given to do…
I thank my Father for giving me the freedom to express myself, and my Mother for me being able to see both sides of any coin at the same time (It is a very Irish trait), and the Chinese for their un-ending hospitality and welcome.
I, myself, am very happy, and
have never once dreaded getting up in the morning since I came to
Allow me to relate what I have been up to during the last 7-days. It will give you an insight into my daily life and perhaps make you wish you were here? During the last week I have visited many places, conducted negotiations, ordering + confirming samples, confirmed orders for export, delivery dates and shipping with the following – lets use a list:
<![if !supportLists]>1. <![endif]>1 towel factory
<![if !supportLists]>2. <![endif]>3 bathroom factories
concerning a fully waterproof,
<![if !supportLists]>4. <![endif]>Worked with partners to develop a sensibly priced pop-up TV for installation in hot tubs, baths, and as a mobile /ancillary unit – using the waterproof TV of course. The prototype is due for testing in January, but I am driving development hard, as otherwise times will slide by many months
<![if !supportLists]>5. <![endif]>Confirmed specifications with a company that produces WPC wood products (Needs no treatment for 25 years outside). We intend to develop their range to include garden houses and gazebo’s – once I teach them how to make the planks in ‘tongue and groove’ format! Currently there range is only designed for decking = ‘groove and groove’. Hey-ho! Instead of paying for a new German extruder, I propose to buy a bench router and plane down one edge to leave the tongue. Job done at a fraction of the cost :- )
<![if !supportLists]>6. <![endif]>Found a second reliable supplier of taps
<![if !supportLists]>7. <![endif]>Visited a toilet factory
<![if !supportLists]>8. <![endif]>Found suppliers of ridiculously cheap doors, complete with door furniture and frames
<![if !supportLists]>9. <![endif]>Finally managed to locate a supplier of printer ink cartridges that are not Chinese copies = the ink sets solid if not used every day. The Boss of the shop travelled across the city to supply and fit these personally at standard cost. Excellent service!
<![if !supportLists]>10. <![endif]>Bought a pack of 29 Jet Li movies for 40 RMB (£2.66 = 9 pence each!)
<![if !supportLists]>11. <![endif]>Watched Die Hard 4 at the local cinema complex, complete with large popcorn – it was shown in English!
<![if !supportLists]>12. <![endif]>Finalised models and product range on the Eago UK bathroom website I have built for Dave. You can find it here: http://www.eago.uk.com
<![if !supportLists]>13. <![endif]>Meanwhile our new office is being painted and decorated, with 2 computers and desk sets due any day
<![endif]>I have looked at
15 apartments for rent, and we have decided upon a 3-bed gaff with balcony and
views over the
<![endif]>We have also
finalised our summer camps promotion for 2008, adding two new venues in
<![endif]>Summer Camps in
<![if !supportLists]>17. <![endif]>Obtained quotations for large outdoor signs (12’ by 8’), complete with mounting on foamboard.
<![endif]>Spent half a day
with the Boss of a glass factory, where we confirmed final specifications of
glass door sections for a shop front = prices ridiculously cheap, including
reverse embossing! Note: these are now fitted in
<![if !supportLists]>19. <![endif]>Spent several sessions with my friend who runs a hole-in-the-wall marble factory. Again, excellent results, with samples of work surfaces ordered, and design for a disability solid granite shower tray accepted for production.
<![endif]>Worked with two
other factories to develop an exceptionally good walk-in bath, which is due for
prototype testing in
<![endif]>Met with a
factory courier at 2.30 am on Friday night to receive a tap sample from a
neighbouring city 2-hours drive away. Dispatched to
<![endif]>Signed up our
first 4 clients for the dating agency (Marriage agencies are illegal in
<![if !supportLists]>23. <![endif]>Produced a new place-setting menu/advertisement for the local Canadian restaurant, and learnt how to use Corel Draw in the process
<![if !supportLists]>24. <![endif]>Almost finished designing his new 12-page menu, condensing the old one from 20 pages and attending to both Chinese and English spellings and descriptions.
<![if !supportLists]>25. <![endif]>Cooked beans on toast for breakfast = yummie!
During this period we also ate out about 70% of the time, one of which was at a Mongolian restaurant we love; entertaining a group of eight. Total cost for a great night out, and as much as you could eat and drink = £30
Mind you, there are some
things I miss from
Oddities? Technically a
tomatoe is a fruit, so you always find them in fruit salad = Yuck! I have to
travel 5-miles to buy bread that I can eat, as out of the thousands of local
breads, all are invariably sweet and never, ever, savoury. I also need to buy
many spices from HK – especially Indian and Italian ones. These are available
By way of contrast, we do
have an excellent Indian restaurant run by a very dark skinned and hospitable guy
who is native of
The Western restaurant serves
some excellent dishes including a delicious
Last night, 11th December 2007, Siu Ying and I went for a wander around the local shops. I did have a little business to conclude along the way, but nothing much. At 8pm we were sitting at an outdoor table in jeans and tee-shirts eating some deliciously large Oysters under a fig tree. The temperature is still in the low 20’s most days, and it hasn’t rained since … … Late August I guess? A very long time anyways. Thanks to the bountiful Pearl River Delta, we do not live in a dessert, despite little rainfall. We are situated inside the Tropic of Cancer where the land is verdant all year round and criss-crossed with waterways and irrigation channels at every turn. Thankfully it is not as humid now as in the summer months, and this December probably equates to a good English summer.
I realize I have only mentioned in passing one very important person in my life, and she is Siu Ying. I am extremely happy with her notwithstanding we have very little common language in the conventional sense. We do have very good understanding and tolerance of each other, to the point where being together is our greatest pleasure. We have now been a pair for a little over 6-months, and are both very happy with what we have created. She has just turned 30 years old, is street-wise, and has a classic beauty that is Southeast Asian rather than traditional Chinese. I call her my Monkey, for she is so full of life and the unexpected. She calls me either King Kong or ‘Oliphant’ depending upon how good I have been hehe! After all, I am considerably larger than local Cantonese men. For sure, we are both a little crazy – but then, who is to say who is normal?
Christmas 2007 was a time of joy and chaos. Our new office opened on schedule, whilst I played Father Christmas for two nights at the local Canadian restaurant. I’m not sure what the local Chinese made of a Santa that smokes and downs lots of beers, but the nights passed memorably for all participants! My whacky friend Ng was in for both nights also – he is the local ‘Art student’ looking person who wears some serious glasses and plays extremely good acoustic guitar. Meanwhile I grab a sip of beer when I can, and hand out presents from Santa to kids, and generally we all have a lot of fun. Later all the patrons want their pictures taken with Santa, and I oblige even though I am sweating cobs in this red suit and false beard. I remember to take off the uniform before I wend my way homewards. Eason and other reprobates were also there the first evening, so that night we go for late drinks and food at our favourite local outdoor restaurant. I think I got home about 4am, but cannot be sure – as sometimes ‘time’ is a fickle creature.
So, we staff the new office
the following morning, and I head off back to bed! Ho-hum! Later I throw some
things into our large suitcases and with Siu Ying, walk them across the 4th
floor to our new gaff. Oh! Ours is one of 6 apartment building, and called
number 7. I never have found out which one is missing? But obviously one was
never built according to the original plans. Here is
As with similar complexes, ours is an entire street block with all entrances manned by security. In traditional style, the ground floor is given over to shops. The planned supermarket that never happened takes over the 2nd and 3rd floors, whilst the forth floor is host to Building Services management office, and security accommodation. The rest of this floor is open, as the 6 tower blocks rise from this majestically. The open area is home to a swimming pool, kiddies play area (With things that young kids like to climb on and play around), and features a 5am Tai Chi class. Uggg! Anyway, the point of this paragraph is to illustrate that the 4th floor is a walkway and plaza connecting all the buildings and associated high rise blocks.
We have fortuitously engineered a week’s overlap between moving out and moving in, if that makes sense? Basically I have the keys to both apartments for one week = 22nd to 29th December. On 26th we have Siu Ying’s friend Tong Lin (Tang Leng) stay with us, and at 3am the girls decide to start the moving process. So off we go with wheelie suitcases and what we can carry, cross blocks across the 4th floor, and dump whatever in the new gaff. We do this for a few hours, and it seems to have been very successful.
I do have timing concerns, as I am a webmaster, and also a businessman, so timing the move of critical equipment is crucial. The internet to the new gaff was connected on Christmas Day (Not a Chinese holiday, although they love it as something very special), so it only remains to remove my private office before transferring the pc’s (Yes, I have several of the blighters!).
Having started the night before, we move the next day…
Tong Lin is busy this day (Hmmm?), and so Siu Ying decides we can move the rest ourselves = Crazy! I think she has overlooked the fact we have a large fridge-freezer, washing machine, and some extremely heavy boxes! After a bit of a tussle, I convince her we need the services of some guys with muscles. She eventually relents after I ask her to pick up a large box of brochures = mega heavy, even for me. Hehe! Boys will get their way with girls, one way or another ;- )
She departs, and 5 minutes later arrives back home with a couple of muscley guys in tow. Not quite what I was expecting, but you see, I made this a ‘Now’ thingymagig – so it is happening now. We haven’t half way packed everything yet, so as the lads drag out the first load of boxes, I frantically start throwing things in boxes and whatever is to hand.
By contrast, my wife hasn’t quite got this yet, and is dithering about taking her time over minutiae. Hmmm! The guys rock back up a few second later (Or so it seems), and are ready for the next lot to go. Fortunately we have the lift constraining their activities to a certain volume of goods and our possessions. We just about get them away full, and then Siu Ying realizes what else we still have to pack. Good girl, she throws herself into the task at last, and we are actually waiting for their return … if only by a few seconds. Phew!
Otherwise the move is non-eventful, and everything is ok. I pay the guys a couple of quid each for their efforts, and they go away happy. I have he computers back up and running within a couple of minutes, connect the washing machine … and we are moved. Ah, time to relax…
… Ring, ring, ring. Bill has had a surprise booking, and needs me to play Santa again – like inside 20 minutes. I say ok, and the evening and the morning become the next day. Siu Ying flakes out, but later reappears and we have dinner out together after midnight. Eventually we get back to our new home and try out our new bed = we go to sleep!
The next day I have a
business meeting in
We eventually get back to our new home at some grotesque hour of the clock, and I switch on TV, only to begin watching a Jackie Chan movie in Cantonese, then I proceed to fall asleep almost instantaneously on our new sofa. Part of the furniture then I guess.
So I hope to see you next
time on ‘A Letter from
I am very content with where I am, and who I am. My daily life is always a new day to treasure and give thanks for
I wish you the same, and may
your god walk with you - Here is