Island Ahoy!


Part two of our Chinese removals experience. You can read this as a stand-alone, but you will get greater understanding by reading ‘Island Bound’ first.



So we find ourselves crammed into the cab of the ‘Professional Chinese Removal Peoples’ truck. All our possessions + a crew of 6 Chinese workers are in the back. Hardly anything breakable is packaged properly due to their early arrival and our sloth. However, the driver seems very good and quick, and heads from Le Cong out to the Superhighway aka FoKai Expressway. Expressways are normally named after the first character of the first and last city they link, therefore FoKai (佛开) stands for Fo Shan (佛山) to Kai Ping (开平) Expressway. The driver is adept at avoiding all bumps in the road, and my confidence re unpackaged items surviving transit is moderately enhanced. I can also smoke in the cab


Now, I was very aware that they would try and hit us for extra charges re their men helping us with the final packing. It is fair when all said and done. I had also told my wife Siu Ying where we were going to live, and offered her 4-separate occasions to visit – which she declined. I showed her where we would be living on a large scale map … but perhaps ‘maps’ are ‘a boy thing’? I also told the Foreman ‘Professional Chinese Removals Person’ where we were going to on two occasions, both in English (Not his best suit) and Cantonese (His third language, which he appeared to understand to some degree). ‘Doh’ in Cantonese means island, and I said we were headed to ‘Hoi Shao Doh, Gao Gong’. I showed him on the map as well before we agreed terms. But then, perhaps maps aren’t a ‘Chinese Boy thing’ either?


No matter, I knew what was coming, and that they would all be fine about it in the end


The Driver had no problems following my directions in Cantonese: left here, 2nd exit from the roundabout, right there, right at the traffic lights. I was actually pretty impressed with my communication skills.


It was when we were driving along the river front and he was asking me which house we were going to, that things started to become a tad iffy. I sort of held back a bit, simply saying ‘straight-on’. Then I told him to turn left = into the ferry terminal. This did not go down well, but he did drive to the queue point. Then the guys get out of the back of the truck expecting to unload our stuff, and all hell breaks loose. That is all apart from Siu Ying, who has woken up and is giving me looks as if I am an alien!


I decide discretion is the better part of valour, and having confirmed in various forms of Cantonese that we are actually going to catch the ferry to our new home; I retire a safe distance to a convenient log and have a cigarette. However, during our 10-minute wait for the ferry to arrive, the Forman spies me and comes to tackle me on the thorny subject of extra remuneration. I had expected Siu Ying (Financial Rottweiller) to come to my aid in this, but it seems she is also very upset with me and is not speaking. Opps!


Unfazed, I tackle it with a quick phonecall to a friend. I already know they will ask us for an extra Y100 for help packing, and this will incur another surplus charge. The line is very bad, but they have an animated conversation, with the phone being handed back to me. The line is truly awful now, and I can’t hear anything. Proactivity is key! I end the call, see no options for 50-50 presenting themselves, and ‘ask the audience’ (Which is growing considerably due to this spectacle) appears inappropriate, so I just say, ‘Yes’! Job done! The truck + all comrades embark.


I get a txt message from somebody telling me to hold the ferry as he is coming = Interesting!


Then I see my new friend Yuan running down the ferry access road. I am actually delighted to see him, as he speaks very good English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. Star! “WTF is he doing here? I think”. I am even more delighted to see he is sweating more than I am, but he blames it on the hot weather we are currently experiencing. Tell me about it! The island does not have the smog cover so kindly provided by Guangzhou and Foshan, so temperatures here are quite intense, even at 8-something am! There is also something I recognize as direct sunlight, and a big yellow thing glowering in the skies above – also unheard of in Foshan. To be honest, and to dispense with literary eloquence, I doubt it is much above 40 degrees in the shade yet, but shade is something we do not have…


I think they are all relatively happy to find the new home is nearby the island jetty, and easy to access with their truck. This is the first time Siu Ying has seen our new home, although Yuan has seen it a couple of times before. I will give her a tour later because copious boxes are already in hand as the ‘Professional Chinese Removal People’ instantly begin offloading even before the truck has come to a halt. We have not been given a key, but on a previous visit I noticed the spare key was kept in a small incense burner holder thing on the front wall. Fortunately the key is still there, so I unlock the doors and we begin offloading. Initially there are vague and half-hearted enquiries as to which box goes where, but seeing as we don’t really have a clue as to what is in most of the boxes, the dining area soon becomes the common dumping ground.


I did ask that our sofa go upstairs, but they all said it was too big to go up the staircase. Even 3-weeks later, I am not totally convinced by this, although I grant that it will be a tight and technical fit. I will get the measuring tape out sometime very soon and check for myself. I reckon that if the ‘angle of dangle’, perpendicularly adjusted to accommodate the invertature of sofa arms, parallaxed by the curvature of the Space-Time-Cushions Continuum, whilst also dissected by the attitude of the higher banister - is all convenient, then it should just about fit. However, having tried to explain this to a disinterested ‘Professional Chinese Removal Person’ in Cantonese, when he only speaks Mandarin, I thought – OK Johnny Boy, let’s leave it ‘Standin’ on the Landin’’. I take to calling the guy who is lifting all the heavy stuff ‘Fred’, for no apparent reason - whilst whistling a tune. He seems pleased with his new name. Result! Yuan says he thinks we should try and make some tea. In the light of his timely call, I may take to calling him ‘Charlie’.


(The song was by Bernard Cribbins if you can’t recall)


Well: ‘Tickle my Tits till Tuesday’! (A quote from the movie: Shirley Valentine btw), all done and dusted within 15 minutes, and in good time for the ‘Professional Chinese Removal People’ to catch the next ferry back. I end up paying them twice the original fee – so no free beers for you boys then! It is OK, as mission accomplished, and it was still extremely reasonable at the end of the day.


Oh, the end of the day. Right! I lot more happens between now and then…


Next up, Uncle Sam rocks up with his ‘Sister’ Anne in tow. Siu Ying and I mull over a paradox of boxes, whilst Yuan and Anne get to work doing some very useful things. I think to show Siu Ying around the new gaff, but she seems to have contracted a new disease called ‘Ferryitus’. Back to the living room and we get three fans working + the large overhead one.


I guess I should give you readers a tour though. The house is a three storey detached with tiled courtyard to the front, large lockable gates and room for a couple of cars to park easily. There is a side walkway leading to the back garden, which is largely overgrown. Both front and back have a couple of large, well established trees. The one nearest the house out front looks like it is bearing some form of ripening Chinese Grapefruit.


The front door leads straight into the downstairs living room, which is about 24 feet long by 14 feet wide. In the far right corner stands a traditional family altar – an ornately carved and embellished box of special wood. It stands about 8 feet high by 2 feet square and has an open front with cupboard beneath. This is a Buddhist thing, but it is not used to worship any gods. Instead it is more like a family shrine to the ancestors. On special days 3 joss sticks are lit at every one of these, with rice wine and foods placed out for any hungry departed family members to enjoy. If they don’t eat it, then the living family will consume the left-overs later (Always served as-is = cold). The room also has a long TV type sideboard with the only drawers in the house. The room is completed by a traditional 3-seater settee and armchairs, a dining table and 6 chairs, a couple of low tables, and various assorted stools. Apart from a traditional Chinese bed, this is the only furniture we have provided, and with the addition of our own padded sofa, the room is essentially complete.


In the middle of the internal wall is a doorway. I say doorway, because there are only 2 doors in the entire house, these being the downstairs and first floor bedrooms. Opposite this doorway are the stairs leading up, a cubby hole beneath, and the downstairs bedroom to the left = to the front of the house. Turning right is the dining area, and behind is a passageway about 5 feet wide. This immediately houses the kitchen, whilst turning right again (Behind the living room) is a washroom, and later the shower and toilet. There is no rear door. Except for the toilet, all water outlets are via a hole in the wall set at floor level. This is very traditional for rural Chinese properties in Guangdong.


Climbing the steep and narrow staircase brings us to the first floor (USA English = second floor). There is a small landing atop the staircase, with more stairs from it leading up. Right is another bedroom with lockable door. It is empty, but features two large windows that look south and west. South (Front) also supports a balcony with flowers and shrubs growing in profusion. West overlooks an abandoned property that is home to many large banana trees bearing ripening fruits. This room later becomes my office, and is a very peaceful and relaxing room. Returning to the landing and opposite the head of the stairs is another large room – the same size as the living room below it. It has large windows set in the east wall, while a door opens onto a large balcony over looking the front courtyard and extending the width if the property.


Climbing the stairs again brings us to the second floor. Right is another bedroom, although smaller then the one below (The balcony out front is bigger). Overhead is an open floor space ideal for long-term storage. Opposite is a door leading out to the flat roof and very large patio area. The patio extends to 3-sides of the property, and there is always a cooling gentle breeze blowing with views over the surrounding landscape. Nearly all the nearby houses are only 2-storey, so our view is uninterrupted and we can even see the river from here.


All this for Y500 per month, or about 47 quid! I have leased this place for 5-years, and already been quoted Y4, 000 by our Landlady to add another first floor bedroom plus shower/toilet. I am in no hurry to do this, but just wanted the principle to be accepted.


To wrap up this quick tour, let me add that the island is over 1-mile wide by about 5-miles long. It is surrounded by a dyke to prevent seasonal flooding; something nearby islands suffer from every few years. The last time this island flooded was back in 1962, or 47 years ago. The commercial centre of the island lies 5-minutes walk away, although there are also shops to either end of our small lane, with the far end adjoining the island school. The centre consists of a couple of corner shops, government building, police station (Which is always closed), a medical centre, and a restaurant that’s more akin to a large and rambling island canteen. There is also an internet café somewhere nearby, and early morning market (6am!). There is a smaller evening market here also (6pm), with mainly hawker type stands. However, this is for my next installment – Island Life, so let’s return to our new home…



Returning to the present, we find Anne out on the front patio fastidiously cleaning the ‘double-burner’ gas rings thingymagig, whilst in the toilet Yuan is playing with bits of gas piping he brought especially from his home. He has successfully made a hole in the adjoining wall, where he has connected to our calour gas container and washing machine.


Then a group of local ‘fixers’ rock-up, and in no time our calour gas water shower is attached to the wall and working! Crikey!


Anne then comes through with the pristine looking gas rings thingymagig, and they discover we only have one gas cylinder. No problem. The shower is disconnected in an instant, and the cooker is working. Top Hole!


Meanwhile, Mrs Mok (our new Landlady) has arrived and is attending to our household requirements with Siu Ying. I estimate about half of the island inhabitants are mulling around in various rooms of the house. There are a couple of dogs in the dining room, a chicken in the toilet, and a large fish flapping around in a small bucket. The place did not come with much furniture, and most of it Siu Ying decides has to be thrown out. So she tours the new home with Mok Tai Tai, basically saying everything has to go. And it does! The Island recycling expert arrives with his 13-year old son, and over the course of a few hours, the young boy removes everything on his three-wheeled bicycle with cargo hold. I see a wardrobe, dressing table, and piles of junk and old paint tins disappearing. This boy is really cute and outgoing, and walks just like a prize-fighter with shoulders back, and arms out with chest moving as one unit. He probably has more muscles than yours truly!


Every 30 minutes or so, an old woman who may have a form of dementia wanders in and starts saying things in very broad island language. I think most of her teeth are also missing, adding to our communication difficulties. It appears she is somebody’s grandmother, making her a living Great Grandmother. She is quite harmless, and I suspect she may have once lived in this house – it is just the air she has about her. She actually takes to wandering in and out at unpredictable times over the next four days or so – but then I think somebody has a word with her, as we have not seen her since.


Meanwhile, I am reduced to feeling like a spare prick at a wedding, as hosts descend to help us move in, and everything for a (very) basic life is accomplished. Anne is now sweeping rooms and washing floors, whilst I have been unable to locate the kettle. In my defence, that was a kitchen item, which I did not pack. Yuan boils a large pot of water, whilst I manage to find some Chinese tea and Chinese eating bowls. This suffices for a brew, and we all take a break (Except Anne – where does she get her energy from?).


The time is now 1.45, and it appears we need to rush off to an island eatery for lunch. All Chinese must have lunch at midday, and don’t be late – so this is very unusual!


Yuan takes me aside and knowingly says it may take 2-days for us to unpack everything…


I try to wake Siu Ying, but she has just started a nap and really needs to catch up on her sleep. So off we go to Island number 2 restaurant – there are about one dozen on the island. We enjoy some sort of shell type things – a bit like barnacles only smaller – in chillie sauce, a great big dish of prawns fresh from the river, and a couple of fishes. Uncle Sam is a devout Buddhist Chinese Buddhists are vegetarian), so this is augmented by various forms of cabbagey things and cooked papaya. I am heartily encouraged that they serve my favourite Chinese beer – and then some locals rock-up and festivities commence with alternate toasts of rice wine and beer. Awesome!


One thing I immediately noticed, and I am not really much of a veg person – was that they tasted so very good. I commented on this, only to be informed this was because after ordering, the staff went out to their allotment and cut the vegetables for our meal. Probably a couple of minutes from allotment to cooker, and extremely tasty! I will enjoy trying more of this green stuff in future!


We leave the restaurant and say goodbye to our new friends, only to spy Siu Ying coming down the steps to join us. We ask if she wants to eat, but refusing says she was kept awake by hordes of mosquitos. I don’t quite get this, or know how she knew where to find us, but we walk up the embankment hand in hand


On the way to the restaurant, Yuan gave me a lift on Uncle’s scooter, and I had to get off twice because of leg craps. Very unusual. At the start of the meal I had cramps in other muscles, but the wine and beer sorted it. Returning home was even worse however, and I decided to walk back. Something somewhere I not right, I note. But what?


During my walk I ponder this, and also realize I am short of breath, fatigued constantly, and taking just one small box upstairs leaves me winded and needing to sit down for a moment. The quick answer is that after 5-years of sitting behind a computer desk in Foshan, I have physically deteriorated drastically, or I am getting old and simply didn’t realize it was happening so fast. I am not totally convinced by these thoughts, as I have been walking an average of 6 miles each day recently, and am probably no worse than others my age. A worry all the same, but let’s move on…


Returning to our new home with Uncle, Anne, Yuan, and Siu Ying, we set about some basic and arbitrary sorting of boxes and ‘useful things’. They help us greatly settle in, and when all is sorted, they leave to catch the 6 o’clock ferry. Siu Ying and I are so tired we immediately crash out on the living room floor. Later, she finds a duvet, which we nest in and have a sound sleep, hard floor tiles not pervading. I wake with leg cramps a few times, and eventually am driven to try and discover where my Fathers Quinine Sulphate tablets are – something I purloined during my last visit to UK, as he hardly uses them and he gets one box every week for ‘night cramps’. I take one, and then two hours later take another. Something is not right you know, but what?



Day 2


We awake disorientated, our life in a variety of boxes, and to the sound of my mobile phone ringing. It is Uncle Sam, saying he is outside the door with Leung San (A very big boss), and we should open up for their visit. Dressing quickly and just about hiding bedding as they arrive, we

Discover Uncle Sam, Anne, Li San (The island Administrator), Zhou San 11 (Not the same one, this one is the island Policeman), and another guy who turns out to be the island building contractor and Zhou San 1’s boss. I get sorting Chinese teas and pass this on to Siu Ying. Anne then helps her and I return to our morning guests.


I already know the only reason the Policeman is here is because he needs to alter and record my permanent registration, altering this from Foshan to the island. I produce my latest Temporary Certificate of Residence and passport, which has him smiling immediately (No problems here then. I think island Policemen do not like awkward problems as much as city Police do). He asks for a photo and photocopy of my passport, plus visa + last entry stamp. Before leaving Foshan I had 36 passport type photos done by the local shop. I will need 8 alone for my Chinese driving licence application, and then one for each new visa, and later registration with Chinese Police. I know these are in my briefcase, and I also know where my briefcase is.


Upstairs I quickly find the photographs and a photocopy of my last but one visa and entry stamp that also has by passport info page on it. I spend a few minutes searching for the current one, before deciding the local Police in Foshan may have kept it, or I may have filed it elsewhere. I pause to consider where Leung San is … before deciding it is better not to try and understand Chinese ‘arrangements’ and just accept whatever happens when it occurs.


Back downstairs and I find our guests well supplied with Chinese Tea. I offer the Bobby (Inspector actually) a cigarette, which he hesitantly accepts, and we get down to business. The photo is fine, as is my prior photocopy. This saves a lot of hassle and I promise to pop round with the current one as soon as my computer and printer are hooked up. However, all this stuff is officially on file in Foshan, and all he is doing is completing his records locally. I think he was expecting a little more hassle, as this is the very first registration of a foreign national that has ever been done on this island. However, formalities are completed quickly and he relaxes and we all chat for a few minutes. My Certificate of Temporary Residency is passed around, as it is in both Chinese and English languages. They all find it quite intriguing, and it is a rare thing for them to see I am sure.


Well, this was all very efficient, courteous, and pleasant. Teas finished and the main party departs, leaving Uncle and Anne. Uncle then produces a bicycle he has brought for our use – how considerate! He also opens the back of his Toyota microbus and offers us a calour gas cylinder. I am about to remove this when Yuan arrives out of nowhere and lifts it for me. He then installs it and the shower is soon working again.


I doubt I can express adequately how touched I am by the thought and effort these people have put into helping our move go smoothly. The Island Bobby did not visit by accident – it was all planned in fine detail. Uncle thought to bring us a bicycle and second gas cylinder. They know we have just moved to a new place and won’t know where everything can be bought yet. They bring supplies appropriate for moving to a new place = toilet rolls, food, fruit, meat. All this first requires ‘thinking of others’, and then requires the corresponding actions to make it so.


This is perhaps highlighted a few days later, when Uncle sends Yuan to see me with an envelope. Inside is a considerable amount of money – because he has thought about our circumstances, and probably from past experience also, he knows moving-in costs! May his god walk with him. But I digress…



We settle to a round of chores and improvements, and an hour or so later entertain Leung San, his wife and son to Chinese Tea, show him around our new gaff, and then discuss Marina business for an hour - before heading-off to a restaurant for lunch. I particularly like Leung San (San means Mr. in case you were wondering, and comes after the family name), because he is one of the very few Chinese ‘Big Boss’ who is aware of common people, and as happy eating at a hole-in-the-wall, as he is in the plushest restaurant in town. He also treats all people equally. He does have a great liking for drinking huge quantities of rice wine, but on this occasion we stick to a couple of beers.


Halfway down our second bottle (2 drinking), his son orders a bottle of orange, and Siu Ying does the same moments later. I am suddenly beset by a craving for orange juice, and given it is a very large bottle, proceed to drink more than a litre of it. Weird! I hardly ever touch the stuff, except as a mixer for certain white spirits, if we are out of blackcurrant.


The meal finishes with me leaving beer behind, and we walk back to our new gaff as Leung San and Uncle all disappear off to catch the ferry. I ponder about my sudden addiction to orange juice? The cramps are also fluttering about in the back of my mind – until a very simple truth hits me like an express train!


I would normally attribute cramp to lack of salt (Old wives tale), or more correctly to body heat changes – like you get if you leave a fan running all night long and it chills your leg muscles, whilst the rest of your body is hot. This is a fact of life and one I am aware of. It causes cramp. My cramps are different, and I don’t know why – well, up until this moment…


My routines have been severely disrupted, to the extent that for many days I have been drinking: Coffee, Beer, and Rice Wine exclusively. I normally start each day with water, and take several glasses as I wake up + others throughout the day. You may also remember from the previous, that it is extremely hot these days = 40 degrees plus and rising. Then I took to doing a lot of manual labour for days on end, and sweating bollocks also.


My small mind names the natural diuretics = Coffee, Beer and Spirits = my recent liquid intake. My water intake has been severely reduced from normal. I think back to Biology class and remember the basics of human chemistry. Lack of water is my problem. My muscles are full of toxins, and there is no H2O to get rid of it (Simplified version)


I drink copious amounts of water and juice over the next few days, and not only do my cramps disappear, but my muscle tone and physical endurance reappear – as if by magic. Water is very good for us, so now the water carbuoy (Marked: 5 UK Gallons) is empty and I need to refill it, somehow?


Satisfied I have at least knowledge of my bodily problem, even if it is not yet fully sorted, as these things take time – I spend the rest of the day playing with boxes whilst Siu Ying goes out to do her thing. I reckon our new home has greater living space than the last ones, but set over 3-storeys, and with absolutely no storage. No inbuilt cupboards or wardrobes, a pantry type shelf for kitchen usage. Nothing at all! Hence, playing around with boxes becomes an addiction for a few days – or at least until things get sorted roughly into how often they may be required for use.


After a tour of the island in Leung San’s car, people slide off to catch the ferry and life begins a more tranquil phase.


Day 3


Meanwhile Uncle Sam, Anne, and Yuan continue to rock up each day bringing useful items with them, plus foods for cooking, and basically take over our new kitchen. Anne spring-cleans the house, and develops a bond with Siu Ying, which I find both curious and heartwarming.


I manage to teach them to call me when they are on the ferry, rather than ringing me from outside my door. Both Siu Ying and I are basically night people, whilst Uncle, Anne and Yuan are morning people. In Foshan we would normally go to bed at dawn – me for about 4-hours, and SY for 12. Whilst our routines have altered to more normal hours, we are still normally sleeping when others are banging on our door at the beginning of a new day.


During the morning I had fixed up a series if extension leads from the old and worn dining room socket to service the washing machine and assorted kitchen gadgets. By the afternoon the socket adapter was fried, and the world and his wife came around to sort it out for us. Yuan took me aside to tell me the adapter was no good. I tried to tell him I knew this, and it was because the actual wall socket was also fried – but he was happy with his thinking, so I let it be.


Enter Zhou San, the island electrician. He spends an hour poking around with ‘Odd-job’ (The Island Gofer), before informing us that the wall socket is fried. However, he also adds that the whole house electrical system is fried, and he needs Y4k to put it right. Hmmm? 4,000 RMB eh! I tell Yuan that I need to talk about this with my landlord = something they have already done. OK. Then I tell him that as I am living here, I need to be consulted about which rooms require what power supply. After consultation he replies that it is my bill at the moment, but Uncle will talk to the Landlord on my behalf. I remain not quite sure, as having checked the outside feed wires myself, I think they may be suitable for powering one main ring only, and not the whole house. In UK I would do it myself, but in China it is a tad more complex, as each ring main powers everything in a room = lights, power, ancillaries. Then of course, every wire is green in colour, although on occasions they also use: blue, red, white, and yellow – with no discernable relationship to what each wire is carrying; be it: Power, neutral or earth, all household wiring in China is usually green. I am pretty sure they only use the other colours when they run out of green wire. It is best to presume that all green wires are Live, until tested otherwise. Plug switches also normally control lights, and not the socket; although occasionally they are used to control other things like ceiling fans and air-conditioners.


Here is China!


Anne then takes a break from cleaning to cook for us. Both she and Uncle Sam are vegetarians, so they have also brought some chicken for Yuan and myself, which Uncle cooks exceedingly well. During cooking, Zhou San rocks up with Odd Job and they have a look at the plumbing. Apparently he is also the Island Plumber.


Mrs Mok very kindly installed a Western style ‘sit-on’ toilet for us, as neither Uncle now myself are comfortable using the Chinese hole in the floor. They also installed a pedestal washbasin, and the lot gave us change from 40 quid – but they paid it for us as a sign of hospitality. How can you fault these people?


However, the traditional basics of the property meant that only the main kitchen tap (Singular) was connected to the mains. The rest was supplied by an environmentally friendly water trough on the roof above. This had run dry, given it was just a square tank with rusted lid, and not designed for our type of water usage. Zhou San gives a simple report in Gaogong Cantonese, which I sort of follow. Odd Job then starts talking a lot whilst everybody ignores him. People say “Mmm, bye-bye” and they leave. I enquire as to the situation, only to be told not to worry, it will be sorted.


Meanwhile, our brand-new second-hand fridge is playing-up. It starts working and the freezer freezes, whilst the fridge part gets nicely cold. Then it switches off for 20 hours – or until everything inside is at room temperature, whichever takes longer. Others have noticed this as well, but after a few days it gets a bit better, so I put it down to the removal experience.


After lunch some local people arrive, and Uncle holds court teaching them the fundamental meanings of Chinese words, as written in Traditional (Complicated) Chinese characters. They leave around 4 pm, and his scooter is left at my disposal. Unfortunately he forgot to leave the keys; otherwise I may have given it a bash. I return to sorting boxes upstairs, whilst Siu Ying does similar downstairs.


By 8.30 pm we are both dead beat, and with no TV working yet, decide to call an early night and settle once again on the cold tiles wrapped in a duvet. She cries herself to sleep in my arms for the second consecutive night – saying she is very unhappy here. My heart goes out to her, and I tell her this is temporary, and will later be our office on the island. We will buy a new home on the shore – as I think the last ferry being 9.15 pm that is one of the main problems. However, the first ferry is at 5am, and given there is a 24 hour MacDonald’s just down the road – all-night-outers are a distinct possibility! She is not convinced I am sure, but soon retires to into the arms of Morpheus.


Day 4


7.50 And Zhou San along with Odd Job are banging on our door. Time for them to go to work in our home it appears. I was actually attending to nature at the time, when I heard them outside the back of the house – obviously looking at things and talking a lot, (Well Odd Job anyways). Quickly finishing my business, I got to the front door with due haste. Meanwhile a very sleepy Siu Ying bundled our bedding underneath the stairs, and we are apparently set to go. I make us a coffee, whilst the boys prod and poke around in the washroom and toilet. A measuring tape is produced, and Odd Job has a lot to say about this as measurements are taken. They then spend 5-minutes at the rear of the property, whilst Siu Ying and I enjoy our coffee. Then they are gone!


Before our coffees are finished, Anne appears at the door, complete with bags of things for us - which includes: Toilet rolls, rice, noodles, a couple of extension leads, green stuff for eating, half a chicken, and some cooking oil. She also hands me a bag of: lighters, matches and assorted batteries. She packs everything away before starting on more cleaning and sorting things out. We are a little stunned by her wholehearted support and caring.


It seems other people are running our lives these days, confirmed when 3 burly labourers arrive shortly after and start playing around with bits of cast iron plumbing pipe. Zhou San follows in short measure and gives them instructions whilst Odd Job is talking to anyone and everyone. One of them then produces a drill! I retire to sorting my boxes on the first floor, whilst Siu Ying helps Anne do whatever she is doing downstairs. I find the base of the kettle, and wonder where the actual kettle itself may be hiding? At 11.30 I am called away, because Yuan has arrived with guest businessmen, and after a short interval for Chinese tea, we adjourn for lunch. Anne asks if we have a fruit bowl, and I remember seeing one somewhere recently. After a little contemplation I head for a carryall in the dining room, and whilst retrieving the fruit bowl, I discover the kettle secreted nicely beneath. Things are finally coming together!


Up until this point, Uncle has always taken us to the second restaurant, whilst I am intrigued by the first and only one which is set on a boat. I persuade us to try this one instead (Nothing wrong with the other one), but I fancied a change and something new. It is accepted, and we have a great meal. Being afloat does alter the ambience to great effect, and we are all very happy with the experience.


After the meal, Yuan leaves with the visitors, whilst Anne returns to retrieve Uncle’s scooter, before also departing. We decide to have a nap, as this is all a bit overwhelming.


Day 5


After sleeping rough on the living room floor again, this time supported by Chinese mattresses (An inch of foam in a pretty cover), I am heartily encouraged that Siu Ying did not cry at all last night. Maybe she is adapting – or has just given up?


However, the reason for me being awake is because there are very loud chopping sounds coming from the other side of my front door. Why I ponder? Looking at the clock I register it is 7.05 am. The chopping continues unabated, and as I look at the window, a large tree branch plummets to the earth. Time to get up!


Dressing hurriedly again, I open the front door to find Odd Job hanging precariously from one branch of our ‘Personal Grapefruit Tree’ whilst wielding a Chinese kitchen chopper to hack off adjoining branches. I am appalled! I really liked this tree. It turns out he is the Island ‘Tree Surgeon’. 1700’s and Leeches spring to my mind, but he is actually a very nice guy. So after hacking off another limb, he climbers down and we share a cigarette. My Brand = cool. Neither of us are any good at Mandarin, so we settle for him speaking Gaogong Cantonese, and I speaking Foshan Cantonese – it works to an extent, and is akin to a Geordie talking to a Cornishman with a lisp – but we manage to communicate quite well. Therefore, whilst I am the ‘Most Respected Foreigner Tenant’, the ‘Landlady’ has ordered him to prune the tree in order to prevent damage to the first and second floor balconies. Somewhat appeased - but not totally convinced, I acquiesce.


Meanwhile the Plumbers have returned, and make light work of installing our new water supply system – I don’t even see them leave. Uncle arrives in a car with a mosquito net fit for a 4-poster bed, and various odds and sods. Having checked out the new plumbing, which is sound, I find our 4-poster bed outside being washed. Hmmm!


Other stuff happens whereabouts, some business dudes arrive to chat about Marina’s and boats, and then at 11.30 Uncle declares it’s time for lunch. We all go to the floating restaurant I took Anne and Yuan to last time. It is an instant hit, and Uncle has the kitchen staff learning new recipes, mostly based upon vegetarian cuisine. I take some kids out on the walkways to practice their ‘in-ger-wishy’ and look at cages full of fish in the river below. Each cage measures about 12 feet by 16 feet, and is a few feet deep. There are about 30 of them! Then Leung San rocks up = result! We have a great meal and discuss many things. The business dudes are big people in GZ, and want to hold a boat show centred on our island … next month! Cool


Our days continue in this fashion over the next 2-weeks with a break for National Day Holidays; whilst between times I sort out our crap into various boxes (Throwing out a lot of stuff we brought from Foshan, and Siu Ying makes Island friends.


I will not bore you with the daily details, as our days become a tad synonymous. Uncle arrives and guests follow for business lunches or evening meals. Anne continues to be a star, and sorts out our home. Yuan helps a lot. Odd Job continues to arrive and hack bits off trees every morning. I protest, only to be over-ruled. I finish sorting out our boxes into other boxes, and we get the 4-poster bed with mosquito net working. Therefore knowing our daily routines, I will only mention the memorable and significant from now on…



Day 6, Friday:


Lack of internet is a very serious problem for me personally – given this is where I spend most of my life.


Mrs Mok (Mok Tai Tai = coll. Mok Tai) also has her own concerns, so we agree Friday afternoon for sorting this out. Our itinerary is to go to Gaogong (Jiu Jiang) and connect my internet. We have to have a landline telephone as integral part of the deal. I know this. Here is China!


First stop, 3.30. We arrive and meet Mok Tai at Nanhai Rural Co-operative Bank. Durrr!


Obviously a Chinese thingymagig; and related to me being able to put money into her Chinese bank account. I later discern she is also actually opening this account = hence my deposits of  Y300 in cash. OK. It takes ages and we sit around. It is similar to what my Grandmother must have endured – everything in triplicate, and after chops (Seals) etc, I am given a waxed paper Bank Book to pay dosh into every month. Cool.


Now for the internet?


No. Next stop is China Power. Here the air-con is better and cooler. We still hang around for ages as a new account is created, related specifically to the new Bank Account. OK


Now for the internet!


Nope! Next we have to go outside and into the blistering heat, to discuss things in very quick Cantonese speaking?


Next thing I know: “John, stop wandering-off. Get in the car now, we are going!” I get in the car, which turns down an iffy side street, and we park beneath some bamboo scaffolding. Everyone gets out and enters a building site. Oh! Sorry, it is China Telecom’s (Soon to be upgraded) facility.


Despite 40 people waiting for service, we get ‘VIP’ and immediately escorted to a separate booth to conduct our business. Despite the re-façade-ing, this is actually one of the best China Telecom’s I have ever had the displeasure to visit. The ‘Greetings Girl’ stays with us and is probably quite High-Ranking. She certainly knows her stuff, and we are soon presented with lists for choices of: Landline, Free Mobile (Landline orientated + free local calls), and choice of Internet connection – do I want 1, 2 or 4 Mb? This is not as simple as it might appear, because in Foshan I upgraded from 1 Mb to 4 Mb, only to find this was in fact a sort of router which supplied 4-Computers with 1 Mb each = slower that the original 1 Mb by the time you add in the overhead of it working out which connection you are using. I start explaining this to Yuan, when the girl pops up and says that only 2 Mb is available on the island. “I’ll take that one then”, I say. I think Siu Ying is more baffled than I am (I have done this twice before, and this is her first time), so I chose our new home and office number from the thousands on option.


Then the girl moves to a more central desk, because the pc is not working anymore. We proceed to choose the local mobile number, and Siu Ying picks the same one I did. This tells me there is something very right and subliminal about our relationship, as there was no spying or cheating. We simply both picked the same number from an arbitrary 1, 000 given our different times of looking at them. Very Cool!


Having got our new; ‘landline’ mobile number, we then have to choose the mobile phone. Durrr! I go for either of the two middle ones with bits of Gold. I leave and go outside for a fag. 5-minutes later, Anne brings me out a glass of water. Westerners are definitely not as aware of others’ as Chinese people inherently are.


This deal is worth Y116pm VS Foshan Y125 pm. Mok Tai gets it for Y100pm + call charges. Deal!


Having been dragged inside by Anne as a matter of utmost urgency; I hand over 100 notes to Mok Tai, and notice Siu Ying has picked one of the two golden phones that were my choice. And that’s it!


This eve, I decide I really do need to get one specific snail-mail letter sorted, bound for UK. So ask Yuan to drop me off at the Post Office. We bid farewell, as all of us have other things to be doing. Largely, I probably hate going to China Post more than I do visiting China Telecom. They are both interminable bureaucracies’ with ever-increasing and related queues for service. Seems I hit this one just before closing, and Security guided me to the correct counter. I will no longer take bollocks from some Chinese queue-pusher jumping in, and set one interloper straight as to who was the next in line. Given I am speaking what amounts to ‘Pigeon Cantonese’, the girl behind the counter honours my queuing position, and we agree this letter is bound for England. After a minute, and stamping many forms in triplicate, she then speaks as quickly as possible to me in Mandarin. Durrr?


Given I am left with a quizzical look on my face, she then says (I presume?) something similar in speed-vocabulary Mandarin = Double-Durrr!


She considers me an imbecile, and produces a blue stamp with some Chinese on it, and the French words ‘Par Avion’. Damn! I say “Hoi Fai Gai” = ‘by airmail’, and she is happy I understand.


Cost me Y6, or about 50 pence Sterling. Job Done! I walk back to the ferry terminus and pass a shop that sells the Brand of water I personally like. The girl is not native and only speaks Mandarin. She is nice enough, but this is a problem for migrant workers – they seem to think they can come to Canton for work and not need to learn the local language. Wrong! Mr. Delivery Guy is a big burly man, and he does speak real Chinese (Cantonese). I work out he will deliver to the ferry, but not the island = ok, and as I presumed. I take a card, a leaflet, finish my free cup of water (Unchilled), and move on


I pass three hairdressers shops, two of which have splash ads and lots of hairdressing equipment inside. The third one just has an array of vaguely pretty girls who are very keen to show me what they can do. And that would be…? Having been married to Siu Ying for almost a year = that’s either tomorrow or Sunday. Yikes! I better check this one and plan something! Yes, I still think my wife is one of the loveliest and sexiest girls I have ever known, so why would I ever want to spend time here?


Moving-on, and next I find a local computer shop. The guy is quite young (Mid-twenties) and it seems this is his dream. His Mandarin is excellent, and his Cantonese is native local. However, we are talking computer specifics as I am enquiring about him building a new base station for me – so he links up to a translator, and we come to a proposed and vague deal for the future. I liked him a lot, as he reminds me of my Chinese Brother Eason in some respects. His shop is also a very short distance from the ferry, which I consider to be very important. I also have repairs and fault-fixing in mind, so local and very convenient suits me very well. Considering my next visit needs to be with someone who speaks fluent English and whom also understands computers, I hit the street and a short walk to the ferry


I decide to stop for a while at the local restaurant opposite the ferry…


Time passes…


I drink ice-cold Dragon beers, and my thoughts turn to ‘snappin’ (food) ’


It’s good to chill sometimes, and taking time out to enjoy the particular things within your immediate environment, which usually results in people interactions. We as Westerners usually miss these opportunities because ‘We just get busy’.


The staff implore me to join them for dinner (It’s 5.40 pm), but I am not yet hungry; although I am deeply touched by their offer. I do like Dragon Beer. It is brewed locally in Shunde Long gong, and goes down a treat. It was also the very first Chinese beer I ever tasted, on my individual explorations during my first ever night in China – now so many magical years ago. Sitting at this restaurant on the Banks of one of the world’s largest rivers, watching the sun go down, and feeling very comfortable with the nearby people and environment is one thing I cherish. Peace


Time and beers pass, and I start getting some crack (Irish for ‘talking’) with a couple of the staff – most notably the head chef and one of the senior waitresses. However, the star for me is the older woman who sweeps the pavement and washes the dishes. I understand her Cantonese easily, and she has a nice way about her. She soon works out I haven’t a clue about what this restaurant has to offer regards food, and becomes nicely protective of me, as if I were her fledgling.


Time advances, and at 6.50 I find myself considering whether I should stop for one more beer and something to eat. In essence, this should be simple. Ferry timetables complicate matters immensely, as the next ferry is at 7pm = 10 minutes. Then the next is at 8.30 and the last for today at 9.15. Perhaps Siu Ying is right about the ferries being a nightmare? I decide to have another beer while I think about it!


Then an adjoining table is served something I know as ‘Dim Sung’, or basically rice-pasta shells containing meat and veg – and these are served fried = my favourite. My mind made up, I order another beer and also set about ordering some Dim Sum.  The waitress immediately goes into ‘Stupedo’ mode, whilst the next table has finished eating theirs. I am just starting my mime, when the cleaner lady rocks-up and tells her what I am after. Sorted!


Nope! Next the chef I like comes out and together we do the mime stuff to completion. Even though I understand his local Cantonese, the cleaner lady pops round to confirm that what I want is correct – god bless. Happy he is cooking what I want, he departs. I also order a pot of ‘sic juk’ (HK: Congee), which is best described as rice-porridge with bits of meat (Ham) and veg (leaves) in it. I knew the sic juk was no problem, having ordered it before sometime ago, but I am made-up when the Dim Sum I wanted arrives, including a side dish of sweet and hot chillie sauce. This is the dog’s bollocks! Boy food at it’s very best. Damn me, but the bill for 4 beers (Or was it 5?), dim sum and sic juk comes in at less than 3 quid. Excellent – and I will be doing this again, and soon


But I note the time is now passed 8pm, so I pay-up and head off to the ferry. Siu Ying is spending a night with friends in Foshan, and I wonder how many day it will be before she returns. I am not hopeful to be honest. I take a leisurely walk back to our new home once island side, and figure our world has changed and we have a new future waiting to explore. I crash on our sofa almost as soon as getting back.


Day 6 - Saturday


I am awoken from my slumbers at 6.40 am, as Siu Ying comes home. Wow! Out of all life’s possibilities, this is one I had not considered. She must have caught the 5am bus from Foshan, which in turn means she set out at 4-something am. Brilliant! We put the mosquito net on the 4-poster bed, add Chinese mattresses and a duvet, and go to sleep for the first time in our new bed….


At 8 am someone is banging on the front door. I answer it and find a very ‘Chirpy China Telecom Guy’ with phone and modem in hand ready to install our connection. Damn me! That was quick. He starts talking to me in Mandarin, and I reply in Cantonese. Then being a proactive sort of guy, I take the phone and place it in the far corner of the downstairs living room, and take the modem upstairs to the first floor bedroom. He understands, offers some suggestions I have no intention of even considering, language or not, and so he gets out a big reel of cable.


Starting upstairs, he finds a hole behind the window frame and prods the cable through with the aid of a hammer and screwdriver. It’s a ‘hi-tech’ installation then? Leaving a few yards of slack, he then proceeds to run the cable around the side and rear of the building. I make us a coffee and we finish before he reappears at the front door. Siu Ying has gone back to bed, so I again explain that I want the phone in the corner of the living room. He looks for options and we decide on the third window from the front. All well and good, so he jumps on his motorcycle and goes away.


Having lived in China for a long time, I am not too bothered about this, although I remain intrigued. Perhaps China Telecom has some sort of lock-up on the island? Just then the Fitter rides by my front door and gives me a wave. He passes by several times before I hear his motorcycle in the adjoining lane, and it stops. WTF? My mind sees images of UK country milkmen stopping for a crafty brew, but this isn’t it, is it? I go upstairs to my computer, occasionally glancing out of the window. No motorcycle engines roaring – so perhaps he has a local girlfriend or something? Puzzled I continue my work.


A movement catches my eye, and I see a reel of black cable drop to the ground from the wall of the property opposite my frontage. Hmmm? A few minutes later a motorcycle engine roars into life, and shortly after, the ‘Chirpy China Telecom Guy’ reappears on our front patio.


By this time Odd Job has rocked-up, and we are discussing ‘Gawd only knows what’ over a cigarette, when the ‘Chirpy China Telecom Guy’ asks to borrow his bamboo ladder. Setting this against the wall of the other household, he then throws the reel over some handily placed power lines, and throws the remainder into our patio.



The light goes on in my small brain, and I finally work out he had been riding around the lanes looking for anyone else who had a telephone connection. Simple really when you understand it; as I later discover we are only the 7th household to have a landline telephone on the island, and we are the second to have Chinese Broadband installed.


Chinese ADSL does appear to be somewhat adaptive, as both telephone and broadband use the same cable. Having gained my CISCO Certificate of Competence (Whatever they call it), Chinese ADSL never ceases to amaze me … especially as it actually works damn fine!


The guy is pretty good, and my only concern was when he decided to use the top venting window as an entry point for the telephone cable. I checked the window still closed, and then he continued. The only problem was that this window pivots horizontally, and he was determined to tack the cable so it interfered with the window fully opening = there was no clearance and he was tacking it too close. I physically demonstrated the problem, then instantly Odd Job was there giving the guy a bollocking. He succeeded where I failed, and it was immediately installed correctly.


Forgive me, as I had until this point figured Odd Job was a bit of a simpleton. Oh no! He knows what he knows, and does it to his ability extremely well. Even in UK, in similar circumstances it may have taken me 10 minutes to explain this and make it so. Odd Job instantly knew the problem re window opening (Plus I suspect, future issues), and was straight in there = job done. I immediately re-evaluated my opinion of him, which has since bourn good fruit.


Connections are completed and the ‘Chirpy China Telecom Guy’ goes upstairs to finish my internet connection. Unfortunately, I only have the Laptop Dave gave me working at present, and this does not have, and we cannot install, dedicated drivers for a landline connection. However, it works fine on ‘Wi-Fi’ and I become aware this is the first wireless installation the ‘Chirpy China Telecom Guy’ has ever performed. We play around with my ‘D-Link’, whilst every so often he tries to connect via direct cable = going nowhere. He successfully chooses the wrong result for 50-50 on numerous occasions, so finally he calls a friend. I know the problem, but there are no words between us for me to explain. However, he is dedicated and determined to install correctly. After a short communiqué, he takes the D-Link modem, and turns it upside down. New to me? After careful study he calls up a webpage (Durrr! We are not connected to the internet yet), and enters some code from the bottom of the D-Link box. Hey Presto! Internet working!


It appears this D-Link has a secure password and set-up authorization, without which it doesn’t work … and it is printed (In Chinese) on the bottom of the unit. Glorified, the ‘Chirpy China Telecom Guy’ goes away, mission accomplished.


Meanwhile, I now have internet, and open my mail to find 10 Million funnies + some urgent mail that needs responding to immediately.


The evening and the morning becomes the next day


Yuan rocks-up after lunch, and we do what we do. Siu Ying heads off to town with a girlfriend to do ‘Girls shopping’ (Yuck!). Our boys stuff is about business and related issues, so I won’t bore you with the gory details on this occasion. Suffice to know we finish around 3.30pm, and head for Gaogong Mainland. He is kind enough, and offers to sort out my water carbuoy problem with the non-native Chinese girl. Non-local is more correct I guess? I take with us our empty carbuoy, showing we are already their customers from a different place. It is all very simple actually, and I probably could have sorted it myself, but help is appreciated. I have long since stopped worrying about these things, as China has ways of simply ‘happening’ to you. I’m not sure, but this girl is trying hard for her future, and we simply let it be known that she should at least try and learn some of the local language if she wants a successful future in these parts. She begins a reply along the lines that all Chinese should speak Mandarin, when I state she should speak the language as spoken by the local people, regardless of Beijing, or what she was taught at school. I get great and unanimous support for this, even from the Burly Brute Delivery Guy. The point being: I am a foreigner who only speaks Cantonese. Had this not been my favourite water from years spent in Foshan, then I would have gone elsewhere, and to a supplier who spoke my (Chinese) language.


So instead of the ‘Burly Brute Delivery Guy’ delivering 2 x carbuoys to the restaurant at ferry head, Yuan over-rules that they go into his boot (Trunk in USA English). Cash paid, we depart.


Yuan places these at the most propitious table, against my expressed wishes, and departs. He has a heart of gold actually, but this table, whilst being the one with biggest ‘Face’, also suffers from the exhaust heat from several a/c units = not good. I move the carbuoys of water to the back wall, noticing how heavy they are, whilst adjourning to an upwind table (Low-face) free of a/c outlet additional heating. Well, temperature is high 40’s, and I seriously do not need extra heat from a/c units adding to my displeasure.


Sampling my first Dragon Beer of the day, I have a momentary doubt – those carbuoys ain’t ‘arf heavy! Instinct tells me to let it be, and simply enjoy the moment. So be it!


Sometime later, Siu Ying arrives = where did she come from, and how come she knew where I was? I have a sneaky suspicion that wives’ always know what their husbands are doing? This must be something Mothers teach their girl children during beast feeding stages, or something similar? I don’t understand! I am very happy to be with her all the same, and Siu Ying decides to drink ‘Tea’. I order another beer…


I look askance at the carbuoys, and imagine I am some younger hurly brute capable of swinging one from each shoulder. I try to work out how heavy 5 Gallons is in English measurements … 20 Drams = 1 fluid ounce, etc…


Basically, these are not heavy things, and I am getting old. However, my mind is still very young, and sometimes it considers my body to be so also. I have a problem it seems. My reverie is interrupted because Siu Ying wants to eat. Cool. We order the ‘sic juk’ and I have a look at other and smaller Dim Sun the trendy waitress is making by hand to our side. I order the prawns version.


Given we’ve had some contact over the immediately preceding days, the head chef comes out for a chat. He’s a nice guy and Siu Ying likes him as well. Forgive me if I cannot recall what we talked and laughed about – it was for that moment. Before we know it, the time is approaching 9pm, and I again look at the carbuoys of water, that grow heavier with each glance.


From out of nowhere, Head Chef rocks-up with a trolley, and loads our water bottles onto it. I try to help but I am too slow, and too late. He then takes the trolley down to the ferry, and waits with us to load it aboard. Star! Could it happen in UK? Doubtful! Would a UK guy do this for a Chinese person, probably not? Was it helpful = extremely!


It was raining quite heavily also, so they also gave us an umbrella which I must remember to take back soon.


On board and avaste ye land lubbers! Well really I was thinking more and more about those heavy carbuoys, when just before docking, Siu Ying says that ‘Uncle’ will take them and us home. WTF!


This guy has a 3-wheeled, motor tricycle, and we pile aboard with Siu Ying perched precariously upon my knee. I have her in a tight but loose grip = meaning: she is free to move, but is going nowhere without me! Arriving home, we manage to tip the ‘Uncle’ Y5 as a thank you, at the third attempt.


And that about wraps up our moving story.


I have tried to keep ditties related to moving, separated from ditties concerning our daily lives, and succeeded quite well I think, although there is bound to be some areas of overlap.


I guess the epilogue has to be our final scene for this recantation, and it concerns our First Wedding Anniversary, and goes like this:


Basically: we are F####d. Too many things have happened, too many people have been in our daily lives: And our home is not the same home - as the home we lived in as our home, was, before the home changed (Adaption from Eric Idle, Inness Book of Records). However, I am heartily relieved to be aware that, just as later in Eric’s monologue, he refers to “only having Noddy and Big Ears to lock-up on a Saturday night. You made of wood? No? You can go home”, that local outlooks on life do not necessarily stop ordinary people from enjoying the moment and having fun – be they made of wood or not.


Everything is in its place then


For some unbeknownst reason, I am hesitating to include our Wedding Anniversary in this missive, and feel it is better suited to my next chapter.


Sometimes; things are only ever: Conspicuous by their Absence


Please join me again next time for the saga of our daily living:

Island Life


Thank you