Thor’s Hammer




Let me begin by thanking all readers who emailed me following publication of my last missive, ‘The Elephant in the Corner’. I was upset at the time and I know Englishmen and their dogs form a strong bond – sometimes stronger than family. I am also pleased that my writing elicited an emotional response from so many of you. Thank You!


However, please know I was caught up in the emotion of writing, and everything is now fine – the world did not stop turning and the stars remain at peace in the skies above. Please know I also remain friends with Uncle Sam and Mok Tai, and there is nothing between us at all. That stated, my wife Siu Ying did manage to garner a little information concerning our dog Be Loi – and it appears she did in fact end up at another home on the shore and is well looked after. I am still convinced that city apartment life would not have suited her at all, so this information is most welcome and has set our minds at ease.

Let’s move on…


Cats and Dogs and Elephants


China has bourn witness to various disasters during 2010, most notable of which were the earthquake in southern Qinghai Province, followed by unseasonable and prolonged drought in the central food producing regions of Hunan Province, and plains of the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. Whilst the reaches of Western China still suffer from near drought conditions not quite large enough in global terms to meet the requirements of the international press – know these are still serious problems many Chinese people face during their daily lives.


I am one of the lucky ones. I live in the lowland reaches of the mighty Pearl River Delta, on its Western approach to the sea. The neighbouring cities of Gongmuen and Zhongsan (Jiang Men and Zhong Shan respectively in Mandarin Chinese) have been very badly affected, and mopping up operations continue to this very day … as new Dai Fong (Typhoons) continue to ravage the principality.


Quite unusually, thunderstorms and associated floods have ravaged our locality, whilst Western and Central China still suffers from near drought conditions on a day by day basis. You could say that I never cease to be mystified by the irony. Having suffered from drought earlier this summer which destroyed a lot of crops; the weather now in neighbouring Hunan Province is quite the opposite with flooding and landslides now causing problems for residents. Many have been displaced, although this region has been less badly affected than parts of neighbouring Guangxi Province, Chongqing and Guizhou. These are all part of the watershed of the Pearl River – so rain and storms which affect them, will swell our mighty river within a week or so. This was particularly the case with Jiangmen and Zhongshan, as the river rose, so storms out in the South China Sea drove unseasonably high tides inland. Both cities are tidal anyway, with Zhaoqing some hundreds of miles inland marking the end of tidal ingress. In Tai Shan we are lucky, in that whilst the land is mainly flat verdant plain; this is more like a very low plateau – say 50 feet above normal sea level. Just enough to keep us all safe and sound!


For us this year has been wetter than any known before, with virtually continual rain since February. Fortunately the cloudbursts supply warm rain which comes as showers or storms, but rarely lasts for a long time. One pleasing aspect of living in Toisan is that it is a clean and unpolluted city. By this I mean there are no factories pumping obnoxious substances into the atmosphere, and the air is clean and pleasant. This contrasts markedly with the continual smog that seemed to hang over Foshan city permanently, and was blown towards our Gaogong island home also. After 6-years of it we are enjoying seeing the sun and blues skies of day, and the stars at night. The air is always fresh and energising.


However I must note that it has been raining, or rather we have experienced the effects of typhoons on a nearly daily basis for the last few months. Often these are thunderstorms of ferocious intensity, which maybe last 30 minutes before passing us by. With the typhoon season approaching in mid-August, I wonder what lies in store?


To be fair, there have only been two serious storms in the two months we have been living here. The first a few days after we moved in was most enlightening, as going out to check at 7am, I was confronted with virtually the whole apartment under water. I related this in an earlier missive, and the culprit was a blocked drain on the flat roof above. Fortunately ingress was via the Chinese cloakroom, which is tiled and set aside, so our lives were not disrupted unduly. We did worry about the wood flooring for some time after, this being the faced MDF type of stuff, but it survived pretty well.


I mention this because it has now become a habit of mine to check the drain on the roof whenever I am up there. The roof actually needs to flood by a couple on inches for the problem to occur, which intimates there is a weak point in the sealing somewhere … or should that read ‘ceiling’?


With the daily showers continuing, and being less severe or shorter lasting, we have not experienced further trouble – until a few days ago. It was mid-morning when the heavens opened and down came the rain. I ran a cursory check of washing and windows, and all was fine. I was actually very involved in updating the China Expat’s website at the time, so am not sure how many minutes had passed before my wife called. I’ll take a guess at 20. She was concerned about the roof, and then spoke at some length to her Mother who was staying with us for a few days. Mama got the message and kept an eye on the kitchen area (Where the Chinese trap is located to one side in an adjacent room). I returned to my work, adding new pictures to my Foshan pages – when Mama rushed in yabbering away and pointing towards the kitchen.


I guessed what was coming, and sure enough the toilet was flooding through the ceiling, meaning the drain on the roof was blocked again. Seeing as I was attired in simple boxers and flip-flops, there did not appear to be much point in dressing for the occasion, so taking an umbrella from the stand I headed for the door. Mama became frantic with worry and started shaking her head so vigorously I thought it might fall off! I brushed her protests aside as I have no fear of Thor, as I also have no fear of thunder or lightening, nor fire. It is my personal way in this world. Air, Water and Earth do pose problems sometimes for my personal equilibrium – but never fire. How odd?


Up the stairs I went and once outside I unblocked the drain, which then made a loud ‘whooshing’ sound as the blockage was removed. I noted the thunder and lightening were separated by milliseconds – meaning the eye of the storm was directly above. Hmmm! Whilst I have no fear of lightening, this does not mean I am stupid enough to stand exposed on the top of our apartment block with the metal tip of an English style umbrella pointing skywards, whilst my feet are covered by several inches of water. I decided to retreat to the safer vantage point of the open doorway atop the stairs.


It was whilst I was ruminating whether to go and get a cigarette and continue observation, or simply go downstairs and beginning mopping up, that a heard a male voice booming from below. That is unusual! Shortly after another block resident appeared and immediately rushed outside to check the drains. I told him I had already done it, which he ignored. Noting I had cleared the one, he then started poking around at a similar point on the other side of the flat roof. After a little trial and error, he located a second drain, and soon this ‘whooshed’ into life. Wow! I didn’t know that!


It was as he returned indoors and folded his collapsible Chinese style umbrella that I noted he was also suitably attired in boxer shorts and flip-flops - only. How odd? Well, it may be raining cats and dogs and elephants outside, but the temperature is still in the high 90’s and extremely humid with it. We then had a brief exchange in Cantonese, and a little respect for each other was ignited also. Soon he went on his merry way after agreeing we would have a beer ‘sometime’. I decided the roof was way too exciting and went below to begin clearing-up. I filled a mop bucket with grey water whilst Mama looked after Nonni. Then it was time for a quick shower and change; and back to work for Johnnie-Boy.


Thor’s Hammer


Thor is an Old Germanic God known all over ancient Europe and especially as a Scandinavian god (Viking) who was famous in battle. What we call Thor’s Hammer refers to the thunder we hear during storms. This is usually accompanied by lightening, although not always. It is said that Thor is making a new axe on his heavenly anvil, and the sparks emitted by his blows are the lightning.


Thor is venerated in the English language by having one of the seven days of the week named after him = Thursday – or Thor’s Day to be correct. Let’s try a list:


Monday                = The Moons Day, and Roman in origin

Tuesday               = Dedicated to the god Tiw, Tîwaz, or Týr ; is the god of war and law and associated with Mars.

Wednesday         = Woden’s Day, he was the ‘Big Boss’

Thursday             = Thor’s Day, the god who wielded a mighty hammer that smote the skies and enemies

Friday                   = Freya’s Day. Freyja ("Lady") is associated with love, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr, war, and death.

Saturday              = Saturn’s Day, and Roman in origin

Sunday                 = The Sun’s Day, and Roman in origin


Well, what a week that was! Do you know your months also? I’ll save that for another missive perhaps…


Well, that is now history, and so is Thor – except he still likes to wield his hammer in the skies above with apparently increasing dexterity and skill.


The rains appear to have finally abated this week, and in place of storms the Day-Glo Pirate is drenching us with his golden rays of sunshine. My good friend Paul Yuan gave me a thermometer when we moved to the island, and this has been monitored every day. My office, and in fact the whole apartment are continuously stuck at 90 degrees F. That is every day for the 10 weeks we have lived here, and 24 hours of each day. I have taken the thermometer outside on a couple of occasions, like just now – and each time I stand in the shade and watch as the red line zooms up to 120 degrees = 50 Centigrade. I have to stop then, as that’s as high as it will go. It’s bloody hot!


As a result we tend not to venture out much during the day, as with no cloud of smog protecting us from the full force of the Suns rays, it is asking for trouble. We still go exploring during the evenings, and have found some great places to eat and chill outside. Whilst I still love the ambience of the park restaurant, my wife is not so keen, so instead we have put together a good selection of alternatives to suit our mood of the moment.


On a couple of occasions over the last few weeks, and always during times Mama is staying with us; people from her village have come to visit us. They are part of the greater family and probably of a relationship that only my dearly departed Mother “God Bless” would understand – third cousins thrice removed, or some such similar gobbledygook.


From Wikipedia:


“The degree (first, second, third cousin, et cetera) indicates one less than the minimum number of generations between both cousins and the nearest common ancestor. For example, a person with whom one shares a grandparent (but not a parent) is a first cousin; someone with whom one shares a great-grandparent (but not a grandparent) is a second cousin; and someone with whom one shares a great-great-grandparent (but not a great-grandparent) is a third cousin; and so on.


The remove (once removed, twice removed, etc.) indicates the number of generations, if any, separating the two cousins from each other. The child of one's first cousin is one's first cousin once removed because the one generation separation represents one remove. Oneself and the child are still considered first cousins, as one's grandparent (this child's great-grandparent), as the most recent common ancestor, represents one degree. Equally the child of one's great (also known as "grand")-aunt or uncle (who is one's parent's cousin) is one's first cousin once removed because their grandparent (one's own great-grandparent) is the most recent common ancestor.”


Well, that’s as clear as mud to me – so let’s see a chart instead:



Now that makes it all a lot simpler doesn’t it?


However, Irish people intimately understand all this as part and parcel of general daily life and conversation. The last time I was in my other or matriarchal home, and in Ireland; I met my ‘third cousin thrice removed’ He was my age to a day, and looked identical to myself – just as if I had looked in a mirror. We were both really wowed by this and had a great time; despite this being my Irish Grandmother’s wake. She really did have a great send-off in true Irish style! But understanding my exact relationship with this doppelganger (body-double) proved to be too much for my small brain to cope with. Now – and with reference to the picture above, I can sort of work it out. I know he was from Sligo, and that greater family and ‘ancestors’ were definitely involved. To be my age, he had to be progeny of my ‘Great, great, great, great, grandmother’. My Mother knew all this family history intimately, and without so much as a blink! Crazy!


You can tell this is Irish by inception, because there are doubles. For instance, your first cousin twice removed can be either: your cousin’s grandchild; or your great-grand parents’, child’s, child. China is a bit like this sometimes. Bejabbers! It is also said that Irish are the only people to talk as the first person, in the third person. Here is an email funny I received a few days ago, and it explains quite perfectly Irish logic:


Patrick walks into a bar in Dublin, Orders three pints of Guinness & sits in the corner of the room,

 Drinking a sip out of each pint in turn.  When he had finished all three, He went back to the bar & ordered three more.
 The barman says, “You know a pint goes flat soon after I pull it
 .......................... Your pint would taste better if you bought one at a time."

 Patrick replies, "Well now, I have two brodders, one is in America; & de odder in Australia; & here I am in Dublin.  

 When we all left home, we promised dat we'd drink dis way to remember de days we all drank togedder."
 The barman admits that this is a nice custom & says no more.
 Patrick becomes a regular customer, & always drinks the same way ....... Ordering three pints & drinking a sip out of each in turn, until they are finished.  

 One day, he comes in & orders just two pints.   

 All the other regulars in the bar notice & fall silent.
 When he goes back to the bar for the second round  the barman says, "I don't want to intrude on your grief but I wanted to offer my condolences on your great loss."

 Patrick looks confused for a moment, then the penny drops & he starts to laugh, "Oh no," he says, "Bejesus, everyone is fine!  

Tis me ......... I've Quit Drinking!"


Now this makes perfect sense to me, so perhaps I better leave Ireland and Orr family history for now, and head back to our current days in Toisan…


Anyway, these couples rock-up and we entertain them to a meal out. They stay overnight and disappear early the following morning. Nonni really enjoys the extra company, and also our late night meals out. We, like most Chinese families do not exclude our children or babies from our social life. Neither do we inflict ‘bedtimes’ on our child – and it all works out really well.


Siu Ying has declared that on these occasions we will dine at Fu’t Lam Muen, which is a very good place for Chinese Tea. The Toisanwah version is almost identical to the Cantonese given above; except the ‘L’ is pronounced as a Welsh double ‘LL’ sound. Fortunately I learnt a little bit of Welsh when I was in my late teens, and can even play and sing one Welsh song (Dai Rosen by Meic Stevens from the album Outlander, circa 1970) - so this isn’t too big a problem for yours truly. You know, I can still remember the words of the chorus even now (Although not how to spell them in Anglicised form) “Dai rosen co’ch a dai la gardee, anabower flhacka, umwra gwarro fee”.  It’s all about love and red roses by the way. Now aren’t you pleased you now know this? I bet my Welsh friend Hywel would love it actually – I must pass it on to him sometime.


Anyway, you do not have to be mad to live in China, but it certainly helps me a lot!


Chinese Tea is called ‘yuerm cha’, and can be taken at any time of the day or night. Fu’t Lam Muen is open about 20 hours a day, with hours appearing to be from 6am to 2am. I guess we go there about once every two weeks or so, and usually arrive just after the late dinner rush, or about 10pm. Our group is normally 5 people = 4 in a taxi and I take a motorcycle, usually arriving first. Our unspoken agreement is that I go ahead and get a table.


On Tuesday 2nd August 2010, this is what we again did. I arrived and immediately went up, as sometimes we have to queue for a few minutes. However, all the lights were ‘green’ and opening the door I was welcomed by a beautiful girl in traditional Chinese costume with interesting splits down each side of the immaculately embroidered skirt. These are not sexy, but they hint at eroticism. I asked in my best Foshan Cantonese for a table for five, and after a brief chat on her hidden walkie-talkie thingymagig (Which is invisible), she guided me directly to one of the poshest tables set back on a raised platform at the rear of the establishment. This was pukka! It also impressed our guests, who arrived a few minutes later and found I had sorted everything already. Siu Ying even gave me a sneaky peck on the cheek and mentioned this time I was ‘velly number 1 boy’.


Bearing in mind this must be my 5th visit to this restaurant, as soon as we settled a lad came by and asked me if I wanted a beer = ‘Yes Please!’. Off he went and came back seconds later with a nicely chilled bottle of my favourite tipple, pouring one large glass and handing it to me. Now that’s what I call service! Meanwhile the girls began discussing the menu in a quite haphazard manner, being ably assisted by interruptions from a very curious Rhiannon. I have a sneaking suspicion the ‘womenfolk’ are already instructing her surreptitiously in how to be ‘female’! Then a guy from the village that I genuinely like and get on really with - suddenly appeares at the table! Apparently he has just finished eating nearby, and after grand welcomes and ‘high-5s’ were completed, he stayed and chatted to the other guy with us.


Now let’s get your mind right. What we call ‘going for Chinese tea’ conjures up images of stuffy places and formal tea drinking ceremonies. Completely wrong! Chinese Tea is a loose term meaning to go to a restaurant that specialises in certain foods and especially ‘Dim Sum’, as well as selling everything else. Most Chinese do not drink tea, they drink rice wine instead. I prefer beer. Pukka teas are available of course, and can be formally presented in the Kung Fu Tea style. The first discipline of Kung Fu is medicine by the way (Fighting is the last, and fifth), and Chinese traditional medicines are usually taken as a tea or soup.  Kung Fu Tea is a proper dispensary with little cups and many pots and contraptions. I am pretty dexterous with it all now, but will save boring you all with the minuté for another occasion.


After spending 7 years in this part of China, I still reckon the very best dim sum was sold at the small restaurant at the head of the ferry in Gaogong town – a very out of the way place in this cosmos. Fu’t Lam Muen is pretty good in general, plus offers full restaurant services including: dozens of fish tanks containing all types of fish, both freshwater and sea varieties. These are supplemented by a long row of chill boxes, which contain things like fresh chilled squid caught that morning, abalone, and so many types of shellfish it is remarkable. They even have a tank with a couple of giant lobsters in it – and I’m having one of those … one day! Imagine – a lobster that is a foot high and 18 inches long. Yum-yum! For foreigners I recommend the ‘Gui wah yue’, which is a sea fish without (Little) bones and great taste. My favourite is ‘Wong Fa Yue’ or yellow flower fish, which has a bright yellow belly. Again this is a sea fish, so no little bones nightmares; and it tastes quite like sardines or Mackerel. This restaurant also serves all manner of meats, although not western style; and many types of vegetables; sweets, juices and ice creams + Cantonese pancakes; and Chinese cocktails.


This evening I ordered ‘siu myi’, which are small pork pockets in a yellow wheat flour casing. They have an exposed top onto which are sprinkled a few roe of some orange variety (Normally prawn roe). I also had some ‘gao d’zhee’ which are fans of mustard or spinach leaves, with added diced water chestnuts, garlic, and whatever. These are first steamed, and then deep fried. I ate two with chilli sauce, and decided they only contained the cabbagey leaves = a bit tasteless and boring, although perfect for vegetarians I guess? Meanwhile, Siu Ying tucked into a tray of chillied shells, which are like 3-inch long cylinders you suck the contents out of. Not my thing, and whatever they are, I know they come from the sea shore. Mama was into the rice buns with liquid yellow filling, whilst others consumed bowls of ‘Sik Juk’, or rice porridge with chopped hundred year old eggs, bacon, and a little cabbage. I really like this stuff also, but the best was always served at the island canteen around 7am, and this didn’t match it quite. It was excellent all the same! I really must expand my recipes section to include all this stuff, as most of it is really simple to make, given a little native Cantonese culinary know-how.


As the meal progressed I sat back and watched for a while. I was seated opposite the entrance, meaning I was the host (And was paying). The girls surrounded me on both sides, whilst the boys were at the far end of our round table, and into talking local boys stuff in local Toisanwah. This suited me just fine, as I sipped on ice-cold beer and occasionally chopped my sticks into action.


I came to realise just how efficiently this restaurant runs, without any apparent orders. Three teams of support staff look after: one side, the other side, and the central portion by turn. They obviously know me already, and treat me with undue respect – but I can live with it. I actually marvel at how well the team I can see operate (I’m sure the others are equally professional also). This restaurant services about 120 tables + several dozen private rooms. Most are tables for 10, although there are a few larger or smaller versions. Now, if I guess there are 30 private rooms, then that’s about 1, 500 customers at any given time; and this place is always full! I notice some staff are only concerned with crockery – removing used items, washing in the backroom, and replacing with clean at table or the service centres along each side of the raised central bit. So there is an ordered chaos of trolley’s full of dirty crocks, others with clean crocks, tea trolleys, hostess trolleys pass by every 30 minutes or so offering round bamboo pots of various dim sum – it’s really all go out there. On another day I would have been involved with table conversation and never even noticed. Now that in itself says a lot!


“My Dan”, or correctly ‘Mai Dan-ah’ is one of the Cantonese words/phrases that is now fully integrated into the Mandarin language. It means ‘the bill’, and is known and used throughout all parts of China … except in Toisan! Here it is localised to ‘My Anne-Nurrr’. This brings us to the bill, which was spoken to me upon request by one of the grey suited ‘responsible’ staff in Toisanwah. I almost got it, but not quite, so had to ask for it in Cantonese. The manageress showed me the figures, whilst Siu Ying said ‘gao-sup lop man’. Ahha! Y96. Easy when you know, and I got it first from the spoken Cantonese. Anyone who has seen numbers written as English by most Chinese will know they have a very different written emphasis from those as taught in an English schoolroom.


We go home and the whatever’s, however many times removed; sleep well and departed unobtrusively at daybreak. They were decent, honourable folk and good company.


Since their departure I have just about caught up with all my current website stuff + that for Dave, and found time to add many small but important things, like: extra local pictures to support my Foshan and Toisan city guides. I also published a city guide to Shaoguan in Northern Guangdong, and a very interesting place it is also. I added a few recipes and generally caught up with all minor additions and reviews + updated all three sitemaps and adjusted the main menu correspondingly. I got Dave’s business verified by ‘Google Places’ … and a lot more other stuff that would bore you to pieces no doubt.


In between I have also taught Mama that occasionally on ‘Sunday’, the television is completely reserved for viewing Formula 1. I have also stripped down my wonderful and erstwhile Eko 12-string guitar and completely refurbished and polished it. I’m just about to wrap-up this missive, and then go add some strings … probably 9; and then finish my ‘Ode to Be Loi’, the first song I have written for 20-years or so, and a great ethnic blues track.


Zoiy Gin


Mandarin is d’Zhi-gen ….. or ‘until we meeting next time’.