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A Letter From China

Christmas 2014

Christmas, or the days thereafter, are often times for westerners to review the year just gone, and make interim plans for the year yet to come. Mostly, we get lost within a plethora of family and friendship commitments, mostly not of our own inherent design, but those of either others, or dictated tradition.

Imagine a world where this does not exist. A different part of our known terra firma, bereft of true Christmas spirit, except perhaps for opportunistic commercialism = sales. I am not necessarily mentioning China, but the seemingly differing world’s of expats living in other cultures, whom face these obstacles annually.

Nevertheless, life is never so simple, for any of us. I do have to ask, why is there never a suitable WPC when you need one urgently, and by that I mean a Water-closet Protective Cover.

Toilet Troubles
Life in China can be a tad curious at times, even after living hereabouts for ten years. There are still odd or unusual things that happen from time to time, some of which I have not mentioned before. Take for instance our Chinese bathroom, well, cubicle really. It features a Chinese trap which most visitors prefer to use, despite our two sit-on western style WC's.

This room also has a shower that only Yee Lo ever uses, complete with his personal bath towel. One interesting aspect is there is a tap and bucket, complete with plastic saucepan that is used for flushing. When Mama is with us, she sets the tap to drip slowly. This is to save on water charges, which average £1.30 per month. I used to turn this tap off when the large bucket beneath was full, but she would always turn the tap back on, if only very slightly.

Nowadays I occasionally leave it to drip, and sometimes the floor is wet. Mama maintains that the water meter does not pick up the slow drip, so the water is free. Maybe so, but bearing in mind this toilet is seldom used, how much are we actually saving; a few pence per month at best. Were I to have a green moment, I see this as misuse of natural resources; wastage.

However, don't criticise this mote in mine eyes, when there is a beam in your own. I'll take any constructive comments below, thank you, but back to what this missive is all about...

There is another closely associate curio, the large sink just outside the room. Although technically part of the kitchen, this is a bathroom style sink, and used by visitors for washing hands. Remember that Rhiannon has her own bathroom en suite, but Mama always takes her to wash her teeth at this sink, as does Loi Loi when she is visiting. Her father, Yee Lo does not, he prefers to wash his teeth and maybe have a slight morning wash, using the sink on our balcony, next to the washing machine. Neighbours, especially men, often do similar with their own balcony sinks, so I put this down to a local habit. It is most odd, and a tad vulgar.

I had been slow to realise that the cistern in Rhiannon's bathroom no longer flushed, and no one mentioned it to me. I realised when replacing the toilet roll holder with a new one that worked properly; the spindle of the old one having broken. I noticed the flushing handle was at a strange angle, and investigated. The string used to connect to the flush mechanism had snapped through old age. I gathered the toilet must be original, as the former metal chain was also broken, and wrapped strangely around the inside top of the flush handle. It looked pretty stupid, so I removed it, along with the old string.

Being clever, I turned off the water supply nearby, flushed till the cistern was empty, and repaired the connection with a piece of stout wire. It was more than strong enough without twisting the ends closed, but I made a professional job of the repair, leaving the top only slightly twisted around for final adjustments. Thinking the job complete, and flush working, I threw the old string and chain in the bin.

I had some other small jobs to attend to nearby, and in time needed a leak. Being the nearest toilet, I used Rhiannon's Uh-oh. The handle returned to position too soon, and before the flush was completed, this was an old style system. I realised the old chain had been used as a weight, so got it out of the bin, where it had landed in unused food. Yuck. I washed it and left it out to dry near the main kitchen sink.

In time I got down to my real work of the day, but greeted my wife when she came home some hours later. I finished my immediate work, and went through to make her a coffee. She was busy preparing dinner, and I went to give her a cuddle, noticing in the process, the old chain was missing. “Oh that old thing; I threw it away.”

The kitchen bin was now almost full of bits of leaves and scrapings of yams, plus debris from the twin kitchen sink plug traps. After ferreting around in the mess, I retrieved the old chain, and washed it again. I decided to take no chances, as it would soon be wet again regardless, and fitted it back on the internal handle near the end. The additional weight solved the problem of return, but while I was there, I slightly tightened the length, as the old wire I had used had stretched a little straighter, as I had expected. The job was a “gud’un.”

My plumbing exploits led me to attend to one final job that was becoming more and more imperative. During renovations, Siu Ying had travelled to neighbouring Hoi Peng (Kai Ping), or ‘tap city’ to purchase a new WC. The one we bought for the old apartment was siphonic, and she quickly came to detest it, as did I. The latest one was ordinary, and has proved to be the only Chinese toilet we have ever experienced, where the cistern cover has not been removed in order to operate the flush; “Touch wood.”

The problem we had was the seat, which our ‘friend the fish’ had arrived with several weeks after installation; the toilet did not come with a seat. In China, a toilet seat would be considered an optional extra. The seat was the correct shape, if slightly on the small side. My concern was that it felt very flimsy; I knew it would not last. It did not. I kept a casual lookout for a replacement when out and about, but nary a sign of a single toilet seat was in evidence, even in bathroom shops or large plumbers merchants.

I had managed to crack it by the second week, and over time it continued to degenerate, the four feet slowly breaking loose, the rough, sharp plastic edges conspiring to puncture the throne’s incumbent whilst attending to their business. Things had gotten so bad, it was difficult to sit on the thing at all.

Gallantly, I decided enough was enough, and attended to the matter with a pair of heavy pliers. I was more than surprised when the four feet came away easily, a simple wiggle and twist being enough to remove them from the remainder of the seat. This now has four rectangular holes in it, but is comfortable to sit upon once more.

Published Author
During the lead-up to this festive season, I had become immersed in publishing my books; you understand I am a writer, and wrote books whilst waiting for editors to come back to me. I have since resolved that issue, but have five books in various stages of publication. I have recently put a team together to accomplish this, but all things, it takes time, especially to perfect.

I have managed to publish my first two books, but only on Kindle so far. The printed books are ready to go, as are versions for other outlets: Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo (Sony Reader), and Lulu, to name but a few. The delay is entirely due to Nielsen, the sole UK agency responsible for issuing ISBN numbers. They took my money on the second of December, promising them in ten days … I am still waiting, five weeks later.

I did toy with the idea of telling family and friends about finally publishing the first copies of these books, but without the option of a printed book, or alternative purchase option, I have told few so far. There will be a future missive coming concerning my experiences of publishing, which is already mostly written, and will probably be released in February. Someone has told me that it is a very interesting read, even in draft format. The missive will be entitled ‘Editor Chicks’, and is not forgiving of the accepted face of the publishing industry. Their emails of first reply, remember, these are business letters, are semi-literate.

A good example is at the side, the only communication I have so far received from Nielsen; what is wrong with this email? Yes, if you said the structure was completely biased and disrespectful, you would be correct. Literary types can seldom be bothered to name the person they are writing to, never mind adhere to accepted literary and grammatical convention of official business letters. It only tells me they think more of themselves, and clients such as the writers they make their commissions out of, are an unavoidable nuisance, and almost irrelevant.

The other reason for not telling people is that during January I plan, and am on schedule to, release the first two books of my Star Gazer trilogy. The covers are nearing completion, as are 3D character rendering, and supporting website. My author website is also virtually complete, at least as regards first landing. I will develop this website over time, but see no point at the moment.

I will of course be letting readers of this column know in due course, most probably around mid January when the basics should hopefully all be in place, and the books available from different sources, and with print options.

Merry Christmas 2014
Christmas Eve was Rhiannon's 5th Birthday, and we hit Pizza Hut. We all had a great time, including myself. You may deride this, except, know this is new hereabouts, and the nearest other Pizza Hut is over 100 miles away. There are zero alternatives—c’mon Pizza Express, come to China! If I still lived in the West, I’d never go to Pizza Hut. As it was, it turned out to be a great and unusual get together for family and friends. I’d go again, but in twelve months time is soon enough.

My best ever experience of Pizza Hut, was in Blighty many moons ago; M6 junction 10. We ended up there by chance, and I ordered a Chilli Con Carne pizza, if only for the hell of it. Damn me, it was the ‘Bee’s knees’. Wow! I did not expect Pizza Hut China to offer it, but their menu was perverse; only one offering with pepperoni sausage, and that was mugged with pineapple? Durrr? Only girls eat pineapple with pizza, boys never do. It’s fruit for Christ's sakes!

Same with the spicy beef, I mean, I can do this with chilli; mugged again by fuckwitted pineapple. My only conclusion, Pizza Hut in the Orient, bears little, if only passing resemblance, to what we know in the West. That is probably a good thing, right?

Returning to the evening in question, there were nine of us: eight adults and the Birthday girl. She loved the cheese-filled edges best, and the chicken wings. I ordered chips, and potato salad as side dishes; the fries an instant hit with all. Mama really enjoyed the salad, which surprised me greatly. I told her I could make it much better at home, but she seemed content to devour what was provided at table, without needing a homely repeat. Hmmm?

One of the strange things was, the Chinese present all expected me to eat steak, which featured on the menu as a 4 oz rump, complete with some form of a brown sauce. Nope! I was ready for western style pizza. I did offer a few suggestions, but apart from complex pizzas with no extra or definable toppings, the Chinese participle ordered for all. I was merely picking up the tab, so what was it to me?

They ordered three relatively large pizzas, I’d guess at 14 inches. What amused me when served was that they had ordered the same pizza three times. Fortunately, it did not come with pineapple. Despite the pizza selection being rather limited, there was one that had two toppings, and enough variation to order three different pizzas, sort of try it and see. We were accompanied mainly by couples, so a bit of trial and error I would have thought appropriate. Nope.

It was just as well that everyone enjoyed the version ordered. This proved to be quite filling, and I now have three left-over slices secured in the freezer = result! Overall it was an odd experience, if only because the fries were hidden away at the edge of one picture, only, and were not mentioned in the bulk of the menus. They gave us three menu packs, thrice, all different versions of the same food, with different pictures and accompanying blurb.

The pizzas cost £8 each, expensive, but what I was expecting. The thing is, the supermarket next door, Wah Yuen (Vanguard) sells their own pizzas as rounds or slices, freshly baked according to demand. They offer a great range of toppings, ones I like a lot, except for the fish mush. They come served hot enough to eat, or leave to cool and freeze. Their equivalent of what we had next door being seventy pence with much deeper topping, so I guess Pizza Hut are making a fortune.

The only Pizza Hut in Toisan, is located near the Expressway, and on the very eastern outskirts of the city – like it’s a bit of a haul to get here, and hardly a taxi back. Therefore, I was quite surprised to end up virtually opposite Pizza Hut on Christmas Day, night, for ‘Christmas Dinner’. I use the term loosely, see picture.

There is something definitive about Christmas dinner, which is usually held midday in Blighty. The main meat should be roast turkey, although traditionally Goose and Cockerel are important alternatives, (English and Welsh respectively). Were I to cook, to lay the table, then I would make bread sauce, gravy from the roasting pan, mashed and roast potatoes, and most definitely sprouts. There would be stuffing - versions perhaps, sausage and bacon wraps, and a plethora of other dishes, sweet courses, and cheese … you know it, so I won’t go on; China does not…

Apparently, Brussel Sprouts are one of the few vegetables that we are genetically programmed, from before birth, to either love or hate. I love them. In UK, I always kept a bag of frozen sprouts in the freezer; Yummie! You may disagree, but isn't that what the diversity of life is all about? That stated, I've never been a fan of roast parsnips, cooked spinach (brilliant as raw leaves), or anything remotely to do with rhubarb, except wine.

I won’t bore you with my ideal Christmas meal, the national newspapers have already overdone that sad tale for commercial profit of the gullible. My actuality of Christmas 2014 was similar, if different; let me explain. There was no turkey on the menu, nor fowl of any kind, except for Buffalo Wings = chicken wings in British English. Neither was there bread sauce, nor any form of gravy. On the plus side, the waitresses wore Christmas hats, some sporting antlers, short and skimpy dresses, and most understood a smattering of English. They did not serve beer, or any alcohol; and smoking was relegated to the miniscule patio outside the main doors, where many of us congregated as the meal progressed. I t was not damp, it was wet and raining, but smoke we did and persevered.

I returned inside to find Mama demolishing the fried rice I had ordered, because I knew she would need this. She was also spooning heapfulls of mashed potato onto her plate, telling me it was delicious. It was at best ‘Smash’, and I offered to make her the real thing; yet again to be denied—you understand, this restaurant had ‘western face’, my cooking it at home did not. Bah-Humbug.

Rhiannon loved it all, that was until we all got full, and tired. This major not-city centre, centre had zero cabs. Taxis were as scarce as honesty from British politicians; a remote possibility, at best. We got one after twenty-five minutes, and I think he was a Hong Kong veteran in his early thirties, because he spoke English, Cantonese, Toisanwah, and presumably Mandarin. He proved to be very entertaining on the long drive home, and I understood virtually all he said. So, what is the most important thing I took away from this night?

You would be close if you thought of cultural exchange, early enrichment of my daughter’s, my greater family's perception of life. Well, no. I left with a wallet of tissues, which had the name and address + map = I know how to go there again, on my own. Not that I would, but being able to give a taxi driver my destination, speaks more than words; independence, and local knowledge. There is a big supermarket there I will need to investigate in greater depth next time; perhaps they sell ‘cheese’? No where else in this city of 3 million people does.

Despite the above, cultural exchange works in both directions, even though one may not be aware of it at the time. Most of my tales relate how Chinese, Cantonese culture affects me and the people I know. I try to compare to the western model, and both appear lacking at times.

Something strange happened to one little girl in the very early hours of Christmas morning 2014, a man with long white hair and beard, dressed in a silly red suit, left a stocking filled with presents at the bottom of her bed.

She never saw him, but awoke to learn of the giving of Christmas. The sack was filled to the brim with all the treats and toys the maternal side of the family tried frequently to deny her. Strangely, these were ignored after due inspection, because the bottom of the sack held one last surprise; a small and older model iPad. It purposefully had no connectivity, but that did not matter one iota, 'She' had what her peers coveted most ... and true to form, later left it lying nearby, as she ate normal breakfast and went to school. This is the Chinese view of the world.

What Mama discovered, was that on Christmas morning, Santa (as they call him or her, here), leaves presents for good (sometimes not so good) children; and bless, she played along admirably. This time, it was my culture entering their world, and this was received with grace and enthusiastic support. Bless.

The radiance emanating from my daughters face left no room for doubt, nor need for words.

I will finish this missive here, and follow next year, next week actually, with a recounting of Dave's recent visit. In the meantime, I wish all my regular readers, and those new to this column, a great 2015. May all your dreams come true, backed by great health, wealth, and happiness. God Bless you all.


This work including text and associated photographs is Copyright of Jonno Morris (Unless stated otherwise), and may be reproduced for personal and private use under Collective Commons 3 Licence. An email would be appreciated in such circumstances, as would a reference.

You are not allowed to use this information to make money from my work - regardless of how fancy or well paid your lawyers may be.

Some artistic licence has been used arbitrarily in some of these Letters, and whilst most facts are in essence correct, some personal and literary interpretation may have been employed to greater or lesser degrees.
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This Missive

Image: The lid is fine, just don't look underneath - Click to Enlarge

Image: A standard Chinese trap - Chinese people prefer this - Click to Enlarge

Image: The sink Yee Lo prefers to use - Click to Enlarge

Image: The shower only Yee Lo uses + his towel - Click to Enlarge

Image: The sink where Rhiannon brushes her teeth - Click to Enlarge

Image: Nobody ever uses this sink, or the shower, I don't know why? - Click to Enlarge

Image: The cistern mentioned - Click to Enlarge

Image: Wah Yuen supermarket, Pizza Hut is next door, right - Click to Enlarge

Image: Christmas dinner in China = food, but not as we now it - Click to Enlarge

Image: Rhiannon loves fries - Click to Enlarge

Image: A Princess book, paper, and fries - 'know your daughter', the wise man said - Click to Enlarge
Image: Nielsen reply, what is missing from this first contact, business letter? - Click to Enlarge
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Image: Rhiannon's first moments of her first class - Click to Enlarge

Image: Rhiannon at kindergarten, the first day - Click to Enlarge

Image: Rhiannon has already mastered Mummy's Note 3 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Rhiannon's bedroom, view 2 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Rhiannon dressed for housework - Click to Enlarge

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