Family Life in The Village


With my wife and child on extended stay with Siu Ying’s parents in their village near Toisan City, I have become a regular visitor these past few months. It has also given me the chance to witness their routines at first hand. Now whilst there is no set formula in place, Baba and Yee Lo both tend to work outside in the fields and allotments most of the day whilst the women tend to stay nearer the home.


Baba is not a person given to idling his time away, and is always busy doing something. The only exceptions on quiet days are when perhaps an old friend is visiting the village, or relative he has not seen for ages drops by. All the others will enjoy slack times by playing Mah Jong, or sleeping late, watching TV = the normal things people with time to spare do. Both Siu Ying and Yee Lo like to listen to music on my laptop, and surprisingly you may find he actually enjoy hearing and singing the same Chinese songs I like best!


At present the household comprises of: Baba, Mama, Yee Lo, Loi Loi (Yee Lo’s daughter), Siu Ying and Rhiannon (Nonni). Yee Lo’s wife visits about once a week, usually arriving Saturday and leaving late Sunday. I turn up every two or three weeks and stay for several nights. The house has four bedrooms, so there is more than enough space to accommodate everybody and rooms are dedicated to a family unit – so Siu Ying, Nonni and I share her bedroom. There is an extra bed in Yee Lo’s room for Loi Loi. One bedroom is reserved for Dai Lo, which Baba sometimes uses if Nonni spends time with Mama during the night.


Siu Ying is breast feeding, which is a great strain I am sure. Rhiannon is not the easiest of babies, and does cry often. This usually means she wants feeding, and instead of having a feast and sleeping it off, she tends to prefer a little and often. At 4-months old she is now a lot better than before, but still remains quite labour intensive compared to others her age. Her feed is supplemented by bottled milk, but she refuses to drink the Chinese brands, and will only have the same thing brought from Hong Kong. Interesting! She is now taking other fluids like special teas, which she prefers to drink straight from the beaker, not a baby bottle. I think she must take after me hahaha! During my last visit she also spent time munching on a very little rice, which she didn’t seem to enjoy too much, but was persistent enough to finish off a finger full.


Meanwhile Siu Ying is still on a restricted eating regime, something she must be fed-up with by now. She is very aware that what she eats will become part of Nonni’s milk, so since 1-month before the birth she has been taking hot water as her only fluid intake. She eats twice per day, and has at least 2 large bowls of rice with each meal. Her main course is always fish supplemented by a little chicken and cabbage. She also has a lot of soup, especially several forms of vegetable soups that are often served with every meal. Unlike the rest of China, the people of the village tend to eat two main meals each day, with brunch being served around 11.30, and the evening meal about 7.30pm.  Food is always readily available and all you have to do is go and help yourself. Occasionally either Baba or Yee Lo will have a small break fast around 7.30am, or perhaps those who stay up late will take late supper. This is reminiscent of my times spent as an exhibition Chippy (Carpenter), where we would arrive for work around 7.30am and make a brew. We then had a breakfast break at 10am; with the bacon, eggs, and sausage toasties served by the NEC workers canteen remaining one of my favourites to this very day. Sometimes I would order two runny eggs per sarnie – Yum-Yum! I think the reason was that whilst the toast was buttered hot, it was then placed into a servery warmer on a hot water bed, which sort of steamed the buttered toast, making it perfect for this dish. But I digress, as I am prone to do…


I think the thing with men who have hard labour in their lives, is that they do not like to eat immediately they awaken, but instead prefer to work for a couple of hours. Then a decent meal is just what their system requires, and does not leave them feeling bloated. Lunch is then a minimal requirement they often pass and nap instead, and the second big meal then comes at the end of the day. I now live quite a sedentary life, and my most used muscles are probably in my fingers, as used for typing this missive. I tend to eat only once per day, and it is a big meal which totally knocks me out. My wife has learnt this, and knows I will fall asleep very soon after eating. We are both night-owls, and before Nonni arrived, we would usually go to bed as dawn was breaking - I guess we are both a little bit crazy? Now wouldn’t this world be so very boring if we were all the same - Ahha! By the way, it is 3.35am now, and I am wide awake and in full flow. Time for a beer I guess, and perhaps I will finish today around 7am, and just in time for morning ‘Sik Juk’ (Rice porridge) as served by Peter Perfect The Porridge Pastor who works just up the lane. However, it is also time we returned to Mohr Dohr Soi Zheng and village life in Toisan as it is today: Friday, 30th April 2010.


Baba rises each day around 6.30am, and goes straight out to work. He will return around 11.30 for brunch, and again around 7pm (Dusk) for the evening meal. Sometimes he stays with the family, and sometimes he goes out to visit friends or finish his days work. His normal bedtime is around 9.30 at night, but this is never set in stone of course. I think that sometimes he visits friends and has the odd glass of rice wine, and may arrive back after midnight – but this is not a usual occurrence.


Mama also rises at 6.30, and for the last few months she has taken charge of looking after Rhiannon. In effect, Siu Ying has been her trainee for the last 3 months, as Mama has always bathed the baby and taken the lead in all baby related matters. It seems that Siu Ying’s apprenticeship is now over, as she alone now baths Nonni, and takes a lot more time and care about it. So what does Mama do I hear you ask? Well, she looks after the chickens and makes feed for them each morning. She runs the house of course, but in subtle ways, as everyone present knows their place. She also feeds to two cats, one of which is now heavily pregnant. She brings in the daily tinder and wood for the fire (Which Yee Lo and Baba have prepared already), and sometimes cooks. She works the rice fields with Baba and Yee Lo at planting and harvest times, but otherwise mainly supervises what is happening on a daily level. She likes to play Mah Jong when there is time, but still does some remarkable things on the side. For example; whilst we all eat, she takes care on Nonni and eats after we have all finished. Most afternoons she will strap Nonni to her back and carry her around in the typical Chinese back-pack contraption that apparently her own Mother used to carry her around in when she was a baby. There are numerous pictures of this. She is also quite vociferous when it comes to family matters, and is determined to have her way. Baba occasionally over-rules her, but in general he leaves her to get on with whatever it is. During the evenings both Mama and Siu Ying love to watch Chinese soaps on TV. These are everlasting period drama’s that seem to have neither beginning nor end? Fortunately they are usually in Cantonese, so I could follow the plot – if I had the desire too of course? Yep! Let’s take that as a ‘No’ then hehe! Mama usually heads for bed around the same time as Baba = 9.30pm, but sometimes a lot later as nothing hereabouts is ever set in stone.


Yee Lo is an interesting character, and the second of the three children. Dai Lo is much older, but lives away in Hoipeng (Kai Ping City), where he along with his wife and 14-year old son have a nice gaff with central location. Both Dai Lo and Yee Lo speak pretty good Cantonese which I can understand. Mama, and Baba mainly speak either Toisanwah (Taishanese) or Mandarin – both of which I am pretty clueless about. Whilst Dai Lo and myself show each other greatest respect, it is actually Yee Lo I get along best with – as he is more laid-back and we have enjoyed some good times and ‘Boy-times’ together. The sparrow shooting was a classic, which is related in missive: ‘Village life in Guangdong’.


During my last trip to Mohr Dohr Soi I made a point of finding out more about Yee Lo’s life, and it is interesting – if only for cultural exchange purposes. I still haven’t fixed what’s with his wife yet, as when I first met him he was living in a nice gaff in Toisan city, whilst his wife was away working in the States. He was raising Loi Loi on his own + working as a chef in a local restaurant. He is a very good cook by the way! Next thing I know, he has returned to the family home, whilst his wife has returned from America, and is now working as a waitress in Toisan City. Apparently she gets free accommodation with her job, but only makes enough money to support herself. I really don’t quite get this and think there is more to tell at a later point. However, this is their business - and none of ours!


Yee Lo’s daily life has altered recently, as he has started a new business in order to pay for his daughters kindergarten, presumably pay his parents for food and lodgings (?), and he is saving up to buy a new motorbike, as he thinks the two they already own are a load of crap. It would be difficult to pay more than about Y4, 000 RMB for a brand new motorbike or scooter – or about 400 quid in UK today. This would be for a genuine ‘Kwayahonduki’ (Kawasaki, Yamaha, Honda, or Suzuki) or fully spec’d ‘whispering death’ (Electric motorcycle or scooter).


Yee Lo’s daily routines are a tad bizarre, even by my own extremes! It’s the fish thingymagig you know? Well, Yee Lo tends to rise around 7.30, give or take half an hour. His first priority is to wake Loi Loi (Who is definitely not a morning person), and take her to Kindergarten. This is located somewhere on the main road and takes about ten minutes to reach by scooter. Loi Loi has just turned 4, and has been attending for the last 8-months or so. This costs around Y1, 000 RMB per 20-week semester, two of these being divided annually either side of Chinese New Year (February-ish), with a long summer break. Chinese kindergartens usually operate at least 12 hours per day, and usually offer boarding facilities also. Loi Loi is a day student, and has already grasped a high level of Mandarin, and enjoys English – which she sometimes tries to practice on me. However, she is really into the songs, or repeating Mandarin and English as taught. In her home they always speak Toisanwah, whilst I only understand English and Cantonese. This has me in absolute stitches sometimes, as I will speak to Loi Loi in Cantonese, and she will reply to me in Mandarin. Durrrh! My point is that at age just turned 4, this child can already speak 4 languages! Imaging that in UK? Well, ok, her English and Cantonese are not that good, but her Cantonese is far better than mine – when I can actually get her to speak it. You see, she expects everybody to understand Mandarin, and hasn’t yet figured out that I don’t. Ho-hum!


This leads me to thinking about Rhiannon and her own schooling and future. She may follow a similar route in her early years, and kindergarten will be central to this from 3-years old. This means she will end up with Toisanwah and Mandarin as her basic languages: except, I am British and speak English. Her only other option is to speak Cantonese to me, and by that I mean mainstream ‘Bahtwah’ such as Foshan speaking. If I were really cruel, then I would add International Spanish to this mix … but how much language can you responsibly inflict upon an infant, when music is the only true international language – and one I must also address for her future wellbeing. At night, Nonni likes to go to sleep holding my fingers in her small hand, and I am already trying to get her to shape E in the key of C. 12-Bar Blues hahaha!


Loi Loi is too young still for me to be effective with, as her English always reverts to the songs given in the textbooks and accompanying CD. I don’t even know the tunes, although was delighted to hear her singing Frere Jaque in Chinese – which is nothing remotely like the original in French btw (By The Way). Maybe I surprised her by singing it first in French, and then the English version (Somehow magically managing to translate the French directly into English as I sang – where the hell did that come from?)


But that’s my point – you learn without knowing, and language learnt at such early ages is so easy. I am now 56 years old, and my brain is already full of shit (I said it first Hahaha!) A brain is very like a computer, except, you cannot install a new operating system, nor delete items from memory. There is only so much you can put into a brain, and trying to learn a new and bizarre language is not something I am good at. Jesus! I am British, and the only reason English is now the default world language is because my ancestors refused point black to speak other languages, and only spoke and used English. I am pretty good at writing International Spanish, and have tried to introduce the word ‘Gringo’ to Madrid speakers of the tongue with little success. I guess I watched too many cowboy films as a youngster lol. But Madrid speakers of Spanish really do not know what a Gringo is = Durrrh! But who are you? Well, I am not a linguist, but can say hello, ‘cheers’, and goodbye in many languages: English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Toisanwah, Spanish, Russian, Polish, French, Breton, German, Ibiza Balearics, Greek, Turkish, Italian, Tunisian (Arabic and Berber), Thai, Nepali, Irish (Not quite the same as English), Welsh, Scottish, Danish, Japanese, and Kazak. Shite! That’s 25 world languages. I didn’t know I knew so much! Are those 3 words useful in every language? You bet! Why do I know all this? Well, at one time or another in my small life, each has been an important form of communication in some form or another. So I look at Loi Loi today, and ponder about Rhiannon tomorrow … What can I do now to make a difference to their future lives in this ever shrinking world we all live in? Well, I guess I can teach them both to pronounce English correctly, and introduce phrases into common speech such as: ‘Asi es la vida’ and ‘J’un es sais quoi’. If Nonni becomes her Fathers Daughter, then she better get used to “Nz’drovyen” as well I guess? Cheers!


The above probably relates little to Yee Lo’s life, but some could be important to his daughter’s future. This will be my honour as she grows into her future. But for now, until she works out that I don’t speak Mandarin, there is a pause – and it is for her to catch-up, as I am far too old and British too get my head around Mandarin. Having stated that, my Mandarin is actually coming on a lot, basically because if I want to write a Chinese character in the computer, then I need to know ‘pinyin’ (Mandarin written using the alphabet), and this is now quite common for me. But in order to write the pinyin, I need to know the mandarin word. Ahha! Yes, that simple and intriguing.


Just in case you ever wondered how Chinese people manage to write Chinese characters using a Western keyboard – it goes like this:


First of all you go to the language bar (Activate as necessary) and select an input language. I use Chinese Simplified (Mandarin) and Chinese Traditional (Hong Kong). There are other versions, such as Taiwan, but let us not complicate an already complicated situation further. Having now got your keyboard speaking Chinese, you then need to select a Chinese character input application. I use ‘ QuanPin’ as it is pretty simple. Other versions are quite complicated, or else you need to understand what Chinese ‘Radical’ characters are? Siu Ying prefers a touch-pad, as she knows how to write the characters freehand, but not their pinyin alternatives.


Pinyin is Mandarin written using the alphabet, and is excellent, if not always quite correct. Jyutpin is Cantonese written using the alphabet, except this is the weird type of Cantonese used only in Hong Kong by Foreigners and officials, only. There don’t appear to be any sensible input devices either. Mainland Cantonese understand most Cantonese characters, but would spell them quite differently using English. That is why one of my projects is to make a new ‘pin’ for Mainland Cantonese use. I am working on it when I have time, and have called it ‘Pinyue™’, as Yue or essentially means Cantonese / Guangdong Province.


Having started typing pinyin (In lower case only) the pop-up screen gives you a seemingly endless list of alternative characters in pages of 10 entries. This is refined as you add English letters of the pinyin spelling. I found the ‘Yue’ character listed at number 12; or the second one on page 2 if you prefer. Numbers are extremely difficult to find, so much so I usually copy/paste them. Chinese input keyboards do exist, and the only one I have ever seen in real life was used by Kelvin - a friend of mine in UK, and he was from Hong Kong. These keyboards are very complicated I think?


So now you know how to write Chinese characters using your own computer at home. My pleasure! Quickly moving on…


Returning to focus on Yee Lo (At last!) and I am developing a great respect for him – simply by how he lives his life. He works hard and makes money as best he can. Whilst his daily routines alter by the day, a pretty standard example follows:-


Awaken and take Loi Loi to kindergarten. Return home and second-sort his catch from the night before. His staple source of income is from fresh-water prawns, which he has a ditch full of somewhere. He supplies these to a buyer for local schools, and has a quota to fulfil each day. He makes around Y130 from this each day – but it is every day x 6 days per week (Not Sundays). Now that’s not bad money actually, as 6x130x4=Y3120 RMB per month. But he also catches a lot of other things as well, which are sold at local wet markets by traders, or end up on the family table. These about doubles his income. For example, I now know a small eel is worth 2RMB, and a snake is worth Y15 or 20. Last time he caught something that looked similar to a Chinese Adder (Viper), and was a nasty piece of work he handled very carefully (And with a little sweat). This was sold for Y34 RMB alone. Larger Eels and Catfish usually bring in around Y100/Y150 per day, which he takes to market early (Sometimes before daybreak). When you add this all up, Yee Lo is making around Y7K per month or more. Not bad at all in China, where English speaking graduates can expect to earn Y1500 on leaving University, or an export Manager earn Y3Kpm. Respect due!


After delivering and selling to market traders, Yee Lo usually retires to bed for a few hours. The guy who buys the prawns rocks-up before lunchtime, and together they grade the prawns for school quality. This takes about 5-minutes, and is a long standing relationship. The buyer sometimes takes certain other fish like smaller eels or a few Catfish. This sorted, then it is soon Brunch time, and often Yee Lo retires to bed for the afternoon; although sometimes we watch a Jackie Chan type Kung Fu flick together in the early afternoon.


Yee Lo then starts to get busy doing stuff around 4pm, and everything appears normal until after dinner. Now I did start this by stating his lifestyle was a tad bizarre if you remember, and his sleeping all afternoon is for a very good reason. At about 8pm most evenings, he dons his galoshes and heads out to work the ditch. He sometimes returns by midnight, and sometimes a lot later. He then first-sorts his catch – as you don’t really want predators and prey in the same containers now do you? Sometimes he chills afterwards while watching TV or eating, but usually he simply heads for bed, knackered I presume. This is each and every day don’t forget, and not a one-off. I would say he gets into bed around 2am each night, but I do not know if he is lucky enough to go straight to sleep – like many of us, I think not. So when you put this all together, you find his daily routine is a bit odd; but he seems to enjoy it … and sometimes he finds time to cook, which is always a treat!


Loi Loi turned 4 years old during the last days of March, meaning that Chinese people would now regard her as being 5 by the solar calendar. Often they use the lunar calendar when referring to ages and birthdays – which gets very confusing. The lunar calendar has roughly 28 days, so the extra days accumulate as time and years pass by. This explains why a girl who is 26 say, could actually tell you she is 28 if she uses the lunar calendar. Think about it – that’s 29 days per year 30 every 4), or roughly a year adrift and extra every 12 years or so.


I have mentioned that Loi Loi is not a morning person, but she has no problems dressing herself and getting ready for school. She remembers her school bag and makes sure everything she needs is inside. Then off she goes to kindergarten 5-days per week. Leaving home at 7.30 she will be in time for breakfast at the kindergarten; or if running late for some reason will eat a little at home before departure. I do not know her precise school routine, but virtually all others are like so: Overnighters rise about 6.30 am, shower/was and tend to ablutions. Breakfast is around 7.30, and class begins at 8am. Classes will be of 40 minutes duration, and will have a predefined structure and materials. They will also be a lot of fun, and feature a lot of singing and activities + some physical skills such as painting etc. There are 4 morning classes, therefore the lunch break starts at 11.40 am. Lunch will be scheduled for midday, but serving will begin early. The children then have a nap; with boarders returning to their dormitories, whilst special rooms with beds are set aside for day attendees. The staff will also take a siesta, and wake to arouse the youngsters around 2pm. Class will begin again at 2.30, with 3 afternoon classes often with different emphasis from morning ones. For instance, Wednesday afternoon will be set aside solely for sports. Day classes end officially at 5.30, and children are then ready to go home. As most parents are still working at this time, most kids will stop for dinner at 6pm; and be picked up later. Boarders have other activities during the evenings in their own entertainment room. Those being collected late will join them until such time as a parent arrives to collect them. There will be security on the gate, and no unauthorised persons are allowed inside. Whilst this sounds very officious when written, it is actually very amenable in real life. Therefore in other kindergartens I know well, parents will either wait just outside the school gate by the security office for their offspring, or in differing circumstances, at reception – depends on the schools layout really.


Chinese kindergartens lay heavy emphasis on fun and enjoying learning. Children love them and look forward to going. They also make many new friends, but also learn that friendship can be a transient thing sometimes – hence this also prepares them for the trials to come in later life. I haven’t quite figured out Loi Loi’s kindergarten routine yet, as some days she is home earlier than other, and for no apparent reason. However, she usually has dinner at school and on average returns home between 6.30 and 7pm every evening. That’s just about 12 hours! She is always cheerful and bouncy, so don’t let your imagination run away with you – it works for her and she is a very happy child.


Shortly after her return the family will sit down to eat their evening meal. Loi Loi is not normally included, but during my last visit she was allowed to have some tasty morsels like hunks of fresh steamed chicken and the like. After the main dinner people do their own things, which really vary a lot day to day. Loi Loi usually does her homework around this time, and it is very little actually. Most days she simply is asked to go over the days lessons as a review = a few minutes recital. On Friday she has English class, and then her homework takes longer, as supplementary to her normal daily review, she also has to practice the English letter of the day. Last Friday saw her writing the lower case letter ‘n’ in a special book designed for teaching letter representations. It is basically a book made up of small squares like mini-graphs. I also use these for learning to write Chinese characters. She uses hers for both Chinese characters and English (One book dedicated for each language), so late Friday she was writing letter ‘n’ 100 times or more. I the West getting her to do this would probably end up as a battle of wits and wills; but Loi Loi simply takes herself off to a quite area of the living room and sets about the task under her own free will. The Family never have to tell her to do this. I only noticed as happenstance I was passing her at an appropriate time. 4-years old! Some evenings she goes upstairs to an informal den/corridor thingymagig where there is a second television and DVD player. Her she will play the coursework CD-whatever and sing along to songs she likes. I have known Baba join her occasionally, but mainly she does this by herself, and all-by-to-herself. As mentioned above, she is still a little young for me to be more effective with, but some evening’s she shows great enthusiasm when I show interest in her schoolwork. Normally the rest of the family take absolutely no interest, which I find slightly discomforting.


After the dishes from dinner are cleared away the family haphazardly sets about having their evening showers. Each time fresh water has to be boiled by the Chinese Aga, and added to a large bowl which is then taken into the small shower closet. It has a cold tap and cold hand-held shower. This is the only time I have know Loi loi have to be told to do something, as the thought of showering does not appeal to her. She loves it once she is there of course, and I relate this to perhaps us taking a cold shower or dip in a cold sea – great once your there, but most of us do have a mental block beforehand. After showering she changes into her nightclothes and then has a little something before bed. For supper she often has a milky drink, or perhaps a small bowl of watery rice. They have now given up trying to get her to eat a small bowl of rice, and I concur. I mean, the rice is good, fresh grown in their own fields, organic, and fantastic. I am not a big rice-eater, and always find Chinese rice to be thoroughly cooked, and dry to the taste. It is superb however with a thick sauce or curry. I have known Loi Loi take several hours to get through a small bowl of the stuff – so not on her bedtime menu I guess. Me neither. Loi Loi does not have video games, whilst the family control what is shown on TV. The upstairs TV is not connected to cable service, so this is not something she is attracted to. She doesn’t have any toys either for that matter – something I just thought about. We did give her a Pooh Bear a few months ago, and whilst this was great fun for a week or so, it now resides untouched in the carrycot.


Now perhaps that has got you thinking? This young girl has her work from kindergarten, associated DVD’s, and nothing else except a full stomach and nice clothes to wear. By 4-years old, Western equivalents would have a cupboard full of toys, special learning aides, and probably a games machine, access to TV and internet. I exaggerate slightly I am sure … but not by much. Most would still be trying to speak English, let alone function in 4 languages simultaneously. This is the prime learning period, and just maybe by cluttering up this learning portal with toys, we are actually doing our children a disservice? Obviously I am playing the role of ‘Devils advocate’ by asking you this question; but I do believe it is a very valid one.


Weekends and holidays – and Loi Loi has her long-term friends in the village. Sometimes they drop by to play, and otherwise she goes to theirs to play. It is a safe and quite insular society reminiscent of the rural Ireland of my youth. There are special days when others are involved, or local ceremonies take place. She is always included, and usually a central bystander = learning for later use. She has no do dolls, but does have a real Nonni in the house. She plays with Rhiannon, just as other youngsters played with her once a mere year or two ago. Again I cross the cultural divide and ask myself whether it is better for a young child to grow up with dolls and imaginary relationships; or to have a real live baby to care for, play with, and look after?


I will leave this here for your consideration; as I am also considering future implications for my own baby. However I now witness first hand that Loi Loi knows what she can and cannot do with a 4-month old baby. She sees Siu Ying breast feeding every day, which also means she understands innately what a woman does in life = herself in some years time. She sees her Auntie, Grandfather and Grandmother constantly, and knows she is part of a greater whole. All I am doing is relating to you my personal daily life by way of the insights and understandings I observe. I do believe it is in such circumstances that true cultural exchanges take place. Loi Loi usually heads for bed around 9pm, although this is not set of course; and we will also leave her life for the moment and move on with this missive.


Meanwhile Siu Ying is tied to the house basically – excepting that Nonni really enjoys being outside all of the time! Looking after the baby is a pretty time consuming affair and I do worry that she has not slept properly for months now. Since her arrival back at the home she has taken over most of the daily chores and cooking also. She tends to go to bed most evenings around 10 o’clock, and rise somewhere between 8 and 10 am. Her routines are becoming more stable now as Rhiannon settles into her new life, but there are always nights when she gets little or no sleep. She generally cooks the 2 main meals, and also sweeps and washes the floors. She also hand washes laundry for herself and Nonni + myself when I am in residence.


Otherwise she has much free time, mainly preoccupied by the baby’s needs and desires. Nonni has her daily bath around 6pm, which she greatly enjoys. Siu Ying now always does this herself, and takes at least 30 minutes from beginning till end. Mama used to do this in about half the time, but there is bonding and love involved, and better not to rush these things I believe. If Siu Ying is tired, then some afternoons Mama will strap my daughter in the Chinese rucksack thingymagig and walk her around while my wife has a nap. Other days are more scheduled, like when vaccinations are due, which are administered at the local cottage hospital some 5-minutes away by charabanc. Occasionally they have also attended for other medical reasons, such as diarrhoea or small skin sores – nothing serious, but treatment required.


 As for Rhiannon herself, she is doing well and growing quickly. As with all babies, she loves bright lights, colour changes and movement. I am aware that babies can’t really see properly as yet, but she does love to gawp at the TV, or look at people doing things. At just 4-months old she can already stand her own weight (Safe, but just not quite supported by me), and has made her first identifiable sound. I don’t know who stumbled across this, but often Siu Ying will make a sort of high-pitched and rising yelling sound – and damn me but Nonni has already copied this and is pretty good at it! She hasn’t actually spoken a proper word yet, but I am very encouraged that this won’t be too far away. Without instruction, we all keep repeating about 8 words to her over and over again: Baba, Mama, Nonni, etc. She also smiles a lot, especially when either I or Baba makes a fuss of her – she’s quite cute actually. During my last visit she almost managed to turn herself over in bed at night, and I guess it won’t be long before we have to be a lot more watchful of her movements. Nonni likes to sleep in Siu Ying’s arm, and this suits us both as it is very handy for night-time breast feeding. During my last visit, I took her for a few hours, and was awoken by a disgruntled daughter trying her best to suck on my chest. I don’t think either of us enjoyed that experience very much hahaha! I think she has now learnt that there is no milk to be had from the hairy person. But enough of baby talk, as you may not be interested.


Yours truly comes from an alternative planet, and yes I admit to being very crazy; enjoy! I do enjoy visiting the village, but hate the travelling to and fro. Whilst the main bus ride is fine, my journey actually consists of at least six parts: walk to the ferry, catch the ferry, get a motorbike taxi to the main road several miles away, catch the bus, in Toisan, catch another bus to the local road, then finally another motorcycle taxi to the village. Hmmm. We are now decided to rent a gaff in Toisan City over the next month or so, as this is very convenient for seeing Mama, yet far enough away for us to live as three people in our own place. I am really looking forwards to it. Siu Ying is now in charge of finding somewhere suitable, and today she rang to say she had found a 3-bedded gaff of 156M2 with a couple of bathrooms etc for about Y700 per month. That’s only just smaller than my previous gaffs in Foshan (168M2), in case any readers know them and want to compare. Cool! At the present time I still don’t know how the visit went, or if it in fact happened yesterday – but its ok, no hurry.


Before I took the laptop down to the village, life for me there was very boring = I simply had nothing to do, and wasn’t allowed to go anywhere or do anything anyway (Safety concerns – Du-what!) Much of my life is actually spent in computer work, and these missives and associated website are one example. I also build, host, and maintain websites for others. Therefore I can now continue my daily work whilst I am there, and also write missives as they occur; which is really great.


When I was back in Blighty last, I also spend time transferring vinyl LP’s via my Sister Roo’s turntable converter, into digital media. These are basically one large file that needs click and sound removal, and then splitting into individual tracks. The software runs on the laptop, but not on my main pc at home = Weird? Anyways, I have already done Soldiers of Fortune by The Outlaws, and next plan to sort out The Great Society double album = a lot of work. Oh and just in case you wondered about copyright issues, these albums were originally released on media such as: reel-to-reel tape, cassette, 8-track, and vinyl. They were never released on CD, and we bought the vinyl many years ago now. Some of you may not be aware that in the first years of the 60’s Grace Slick was in a band with her two brothers, Darby and ???. This was called The Great Society, and is the only place you will find the original recordings of some Jefferson Airplane classics such as: White Rabbit and Somebody to Love – both written by Grace. After the untimely death of Darby Circa 1964 the band split after releasing only 2 albums: Conspicuous Only in its Absence, and a double album by the same name. Grace then joined Jefferson Airplane replacing the former lead female singer, and they had already released one album prior to Grace’s appearance. I guess the rest is history, although I did see them live when they topped the bill at the second Bath Music Festival circa 1972 – which later transferred down the road and became Glastonbury. Awesome! To finish - I usually make 2 copies – one HD (32 bit or better) and another that will fit on a standard CD. Roo is planning to add a tape cassette to digital utility for next time I return home … won’t that be fun! It will actually, because I have always supported live musicians, especially local ones, and have some rare and irreplaceable recordings of bands such as Fidgety Gig and Firing Squad amongst others on cassette. Once completed, and with new material due soon, I will add a section to the website supporting Fidgety Gig (Cheryl York, Hywel Evens and supporting features from Dave Oxley, Neil Simpson and others. This actually forms part of a planned British and Irish Folk section, as the website is all about cultural exchange; and this type of music fits very neatly with a lot of Chinese traditional and folk music. I’m aiming to introduce a little cross-over if possible, especially concerning the Chinese bow called an ‘Erhu’. Time I moved on…


As well as being a person used to only eating once per day, I also sleep little and normally about four or five hours in any 24. I don’t do ‘Time’ as you would know it, so whenever I am awake or asleep is ok by me. This gets very complicated for me to plan, on such occasions I actually have an appointment. Crazy things - Nightmare!


In The Village I am probably regarded a little like Number 6 (Patrick MaGoohan and Porthmerrion). Joking aside, whilst I could very happily become a central part of the family as my younger days spend on English and Irish farms bequeath, I have moved on in life, and am becoming used to thinking of myself as a writer. More and more I seem shifted towards trying to explain this fascinating and mysterious Land of the Dragon to others who only have their TV set for reference. This is counterbalanced by trying to explain the West to local Chinese people – both still works in progress.


 Therefore I usually go to bed with Siu Ying and Nonni somewhere around 10pm. I am bound to be wide awake again by 3am, so head downstairs for a coffee (I have some excellent 3-in-1 sachets from Malaysia), and fire up the laptop. This is good time for me, as I am undisturbed and can work without hindrance until around 10 am. It is then pointless to try and do anything sensible until after brunch, and often I spend the afternoons with Siu Ying and Rhiannon + taking the strain where I can. I usually have the option to do a couple more hours work late afternoon, but knowing that I could be disrupted at any minute isn’t the best circumstance for becoming immersed in something quite technical such as computer coding. I have learnt by my mistakes lol. However, for the last couple of months, both Mama and Siu Ying have become addicted to watching some weird Cantonese soap thingymagig during the evenings, which I mentioned above. I have found this another good time to switch-off and work for several hours undisturbed.


Let us now leave the immediate family to their daily routines, and look at other family matters…


Baba and I are the only people who do not cook. Normally this would be Mama’s task, but because of circumstances, Siu Ying now does most of this. However, both Mama and Yee Lo also cook a full meal sometimes, or add certain dishes to the table very few days. Each person except Baba, Loi Loi and myself does their own clothes washing, and washing up after meals. I do try to help where I can, but usually end up in the way. Therefore I have made a point of clearing off the dining table, a small fold-up affair, wiping it, and returning it to its home in the corner of the living room and putting the stools back in their places.


Outside the home life continues as it has for decades – possibly millennia? People work the fields and are open to extra sources of income. Children are born and raised, whilst the elderly are cared for by family before their departure. Boys are still boys, and girls are still girls – no matter where on this planet you hail from. The big city (Toisan) is 20 minutes away to the north, and is a place I will be writing about in far greater detail in the near future. Siu Ying just rang me to say that the gaff she mentioned was ‘mmm ho’ = not nice for whatever reason. However, she wants me to go tomorrow or the day after to see another home which Yee Lo has viewed and says is perfect; and also whilst old outside, is new inside. I guess it is equivalent to the one above, having 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, and all for Y500 per month. Geeez-zus! That’s change from £50, or $75 per month, and comes semi-furnished.


I guess this missive may have given some readers a lot to think about, which was totally intentional. Now whilst I will not be doing an ‘Andy Rooney’ on you, I just want you to set a little time aside to think about the quality of your lives, as compared to say … mine. Whilst I am not advocating you all pack up your things and move to China, as this place is not for everybody – I do want you to consider the real quality of the life you enjoy, and look for ways this may be improved. I remain an extremely laid-back person, and one who is not remotely interested in monetary gain. My reward would be for you readers to listen and perhaps make simple and beneficial changes to your lives, simply because someone perhaps pushed a door ajar aside to another way of living a life = Your future life.


Anyway, I just had a call from my great friend Jim, and it seems he will be coming around to visit us (Wherever we are) in a few days time. I have already invited him to experience the delights of Toisan City, but we are also keen to spend a few days dossing around on the coast of the South China Sea – probably chilling with a beer in the sun, or perhaps taking some deep-sea fishing or water sports if we feel active. This is a mere short bus ride away, and the town or small city I know of as ‘Gong Hoi’ which I have never yet visited – and which should probably be called ‘Guang Hai’ in Mandarin? I am definitely up for this caper, and Jim is too, so I guess there will soon be another missive concerning our exploits in coastal parts coming quite shortly. Meanwhile I will wind this missive up here, and put the finishing touches to my other current one about food. I also have a brand new social club online, a bit like Facebook and pukka – except it just doesn’t work right yet hahaha! Gonna have to do some serious coding methinks’


These pages are always open to everyone, so why not write about your life - and what you did today?


More next time…