Epic Trivia of a Small Life
Many of you will be aware that I have dedicated the last couple of years to writing fiction novels, and please understand that these letters are written in a very casual style, which helps with the comedy. My serious writing is to a
far higher standard. However, I know people enjoy reading about my life in China, using this style, so I will continue.
I am currently writing Book 5, a horrendously dystopian novel, set in the UK of today. It took me a while to discover the *Voice* of the lead character, but once I found it there was an identity I could work with. Book 5 is also unusual
in that as with the best writers, it does not start at the beginning. This really threw me for a week or more, and too the point I would have been far better starting at the beginning, and then swapping sections around later. It is also
based entirely in fact – only the locations and names have been changed, as I weave the lives of several peoples and divergent plotlines into one unspeakable whole.
I was happy. I had the Voice; I had the heavily annotated, researched, and referenced plot; and was a go – all except for the visa thingymagig, and moving home once again. My creativity already plundered by the visa uncertainty and various
appointments, was completely ravaged by the move. Let me pick-up where we left off last time…
We had been told we would need to vacate our first apartment in Toisan at the end of the following month, because the Landlady wanted to rent it to her friend = OK. I packed up a few things over the weeks that followed, which upset
my wife. I eventually worked out that instead of moving *Now*, we would be moving in a couple of months time, or around the end of August 2012. Apparently Siu Ying had talked to the owner, and the existing lease would be allowed to run
its full course. I let things alone until the time came.
I settled down to write once more, but finding a reliable editor took up much of my time. I sacked 2 before they even started, basically because I had expected revisions, and there weren't any. A third one had a go at the first book
of my trilogy, and completed the whole 400 pages in 5-days = a little bit quick. She was good to the extent that I have a complete rewrite of Book 1. However, there was not the feedback and comment that I am used to.
I got reinstated with Elance – a great online resource for those seeking talented people to do freelance work. They provide a great service, supported by the ability to manage and pay for Jobs via their own interface and Escrow. This
means that both the contractor and author have a large level of security, especially were money and payment are concerned. The copyright is also highly documented.
Why I was originally banned was my fault I guess in the first place, but now I was back and found 2 other editors who appeared to be The Biz. I was rapidly learning by my previous mistakes, so was a little cleverer this time around.
However, creative writing of novel standard was being constantly interrupted. Instead I wrote the last missive, and put physical plans in place, which are echoed in the words below. One of those was to get an American IRS tax code, which
also meant the chance to visit my good friend Jim in Guangzhou.
Meanwhile, as August progressed Siu Ying became ever more inquisitive about finding us a new home. She used her street-cred and nouse, for this is where she excels. On Tuesday, 21st August she bounded into our then home full of delight.
She had found somewhere at last.
I sat down with her and she showed me a video of the place, and whilst not of a professional standard, it was enough for me to say, “Yes” on the spot. It was also cheaper than our current gaff at Y650 per month + bills (Less than Y300).
She spent the next 2-days cleaning the place with *Auntie*, who turned out to be the owners Mother.
I knew there was a lot of work to do in preparation for our move. During the preceding week I had already resumed shoving stuff into boxes, but now I began in earnest. However, this tale truly begins on 20th, when I went down to the
bank for money, and also popped into the largest supermarket in the city, for during the last month they had been out of butter, or any kind of bread-spread.
I arrived with a wallet full of cash with which to buy what I desired, only to find they were still out of butter: boxes of butter, individual portions of butter, and no margarine/olive type spread either. Nightmare!
I bought 2 large pizza slices, 3-white onions (It is extremely difficult to find anything other than very sweet red onions in China), which have the outer skins removed so they go off more quickly. I have absolutely no idea why they
insist on only doing this to the white onions, for the red ones are never presented this way. Must be a local custom I suppose? Or should I state the obvious? It is so people know they are not red onions, which very few Chinese ever use.
I bought 7 lbs. of minced pork for Y27, with which to process for my version of beef burgers. Beef, if available, is horrendously expensive. It is often of lowest conceivable quality, or displayed in minute trays on supermarket shelves
with all the fat and skin removed. Lean is not always a good thing for meat-lovers.
Pork works for me. I also made a breakthrough with Kewpie, the local provender of mayonnaise. Chinese mayonnaise is always either Sweet, or ultra-sweet. Cantonese people do not do savoury, and too the extent that they will cook boiled,
sliced potatoes with diced molasses sticks, rather than ever consider using salt.
I thought I had tried all the versions of Kewpie *Mayonnaise*, but I was wrong. They have now started labeling the jars with English subtitles, and seeing as Miracle Whip, (Still too sweet for me normally), has been unobtainable from
Toisan Food City for 3-months – that's the area restaurants buy from, I decided to give the red labelled one a go. I tried it as soon as I got outside, and it tastes exactly like UK supermarket own brand Salad Cream. WOW! It is definitely
not mayonnaise, but it is more than close enough for me – at least until I see Jim in Guangzhou next week.
I got home and had a shower, for the heat was fearsome that day. A few hours later I took the minced pork out of the fridge and diced a couple of white onions. There was a tug to water my eyes, so they were good. I made my mix, folding
in the meat and onions, + adding a little herb, salt and pepper. It required two runs to get it all done, but I ended up with 20 burgers ready for cooking at a few Yuan apiece. They are excellent value, and definitely worth all the blood,
sweat, and tears. Top Hole!
I took photographs of the process this time, and even shot a short explanatory video. In time I will add this to the food section of this website. I finished and put the patties, (USA for burgers) in the freezer and knew I was set, before
wondering how to pack-up the fridge-freezer, or not? I left the idea to hang, but reveled in eating brilliant pork burgers that night. Yummy.
As well as the burgers, I left a good half-pound of minced meat with just onion, thinking to either use it for the base of something vaguely Italian, of perhaps add Banger sausage spices and have sausage burgers – no casings in China,
and there is no way I am spending hours faffing around by hand with lengths of pig gut. Get real!
Over the forthcoming days I learned that it would be left up to me (Again), to box up our present home for removal. I also discovered that although the new home was about the same size as the one we were currently living in, we were
only allowed to use 2 of the 3 bedrooms – we were not to despoil the marital bed of the owner = fair enough I guess.
I worked my bollocks-off on Tuesday and Wednesday, finding complaining muscles scattered all over my body. I knew I was close to cramp attacks = lack of fluid, a lesson it took me many years to learn in this super-heated and humid part
of the world. I was showering several times per day, and drinking 6 or 7 pints of water + no beer. My urine was practicably non-existent, and what little there was, was deep orange again. I was battling dehydration once more.
I worked for 15-hours the first day, and 13 the second. I knew I had broken the back of the task when evening shadows saw me convalescing with a well deserved beer and a computer game. However, things continued to drift through my mind.
I got out the internet contract and put it with my wallet and passport. I would not be without internet for long.
I received an email from Jim, and although he had things to do the next week, we agreed Monday would be suitable for a visit. I made an online appointment with the US Consulate in Guangzhou, submitted the form, and was returned to the
booking screen. It knew it hadn't worked. I filled out the form for a second time, and was rewarded with a confirmation screen. The only problem being they wanted me to print off the form, and I hadn't got around to installing the drivers
on this computer. I found the CD and it loaded the program, well all of it except for any lettering on the 5-option buttons. It was totally useless, and I had no intention of downloading the software that evening so simply took a screenshot
and after cropping it, saved it to my memory stick.
Then Eason, my best Cantonese friend rang, inviting me to see a school he had just bought. I think it may have been an English language school, but we communicate much better face to face. The school was open on Tuesday, Thursday, and
Saturday evenings, so I agreed to visit it on Tuesday after spending Monday night with Jim.
After two heavy days I could hardly move on Thursday, despite our move being scheduled for Friday. However, there was a distinct lack of confirmation from Siu Ying - almost as if the day was plucked at random from a lucky fortune bag
within her head.
I was awake at 6 AM on Friday, and seeing as we would be moving at any time, decided to pack up my office, leaving only the pc and monitor + modem in a usable state. Everything else was taken into the main living room and joined the
growing pile of stuff that was beginning to hide the far wall opposite the main door. I spent some time cleaning all of the office, leaving only the desk with computer in there.
Life became more bizarre a little later when my wife woke up around midday, and stated the Landlady did not want to rent her first home to us because I was too old to manage to get to the 6th floor. WHAT!
She soothed me and told me she had spoken to *Auntie* and it would all be fine. I asked her who was going to do the move for us today, and she became reticent. I tried to press her, before she announced that tomorrow she would speak
to the scavenger woman's husband and ask them for a price. I presumed from this that we were not moving *Today*.
Things either happen in China, or they do not. It applies to all walks of life, and business as well as personal things. This is one reason why I cannot recommend life as an expatriate here to everybody – you need to be a little laid-back
and go with the flow.
Having made great inroads into the packing, I pottered around finding how best to fill the remaining boxes, and allowing for essentials to be packed at the last minute. This in turn meant planning what I would eat tonight, and what items
I would need to cook with. Later Siu Ying left to speak to the scavenger people, who were not around in their usual spot.
I set about the deep-fat fryer, one of my best purchases ever at Y200 (£20). It is industrial grade, and brilliant for cooking chips. It was also caked in oil and congealed goo. I emptied it out into a dozen jars far too small for the
task at hand, and looked at it. I touched it. Every part of the machine was very sticky. I used a dozen small plastic bags in turn, to protect my fingers from the inherent gooeyness. In time I put the contraption into a very large plastic
bag, and then into its’ original box. I would deal with de-greasing it later … a lot later.
Saturday came and went. A guy came round to fix the TV again, as it had worked for just one-day after he fixed it last time. He can speak some Toisanwah and Cantonese, but invariably reverts to Mandarin. I'm pretty sure a lot of what
he says is trying to chat my wife-up, but she is definitely not interested. Don't forget, I am a man and a husband, and know these things. Nothing to do with her, and her rebuttals were obvious.
He switched the TV on at the set, waited a moment, and pressed the channel button up. The TV came to life instantly. We had been without it for many days, and I felt so stupid. Ho-hum. However, the set was by then 8-years old and showing
it’s age. The remote control had also stopped working, so he got a new one out of his small bag and by pressing the sound-up button repeatedly, got it tuned into our TV. It will also control the cable box, at least superficially. All
done for Y30, or £3 if you prefer, and then he stopped to chat. I excused myself, as I could not understand his Mandarin, and was not actually sure how much I liked him anyway's. My wife soon got rid of him, declining his entreaty for
lunch in Toisanwah. Don't call me stupid, for I am not.
Siu Ying left some hours later, and reappeared on Sunday, stating the scavenger woman's husband would be along later to quote us for the move. During the interim, I continued to try and write, but my creativity was badly compromised
by all the upheaval. I sacked one editor, and tried another.
The scavenger guy actually appeared mid-morning, with a buddy. They are itinerant Mandarin speakers, and quoted us Y650. It was a lot of money, considering our move from the Island, including 200 km of travel (Whatever that is in English?)
cost us Y450, although I did pay Y10 for the ferry crossing.
The guy stated it was because we were moving from floor 5 to floor 6. Siu Ying was very close to bawling them out, and they swiftly departed, after bumming a cigarette each off me.
Itinerants are like this = maximum price and con what they can. I wouldn't mind so much if they would even try and learn a couple of words of Cantonese, the only other official language of China, and the only one spoken in these parts.
They determined to remain indifferent; so did we.
Siu Ying followed them out, and came back an hour later with a local guy. I was told to stay in my office, probably because as soon as they see a white person, the price usually doubles. Fact. I let them get on with it and she was quoted
Y300 = half the price. The deal was done as soon as I agreed. I asked when we were moving, and did not get a reply. I explained to Siu Ying that I was away on Monday and Tuesday, or could change my plans. She liked that idea.
I knew Eason would be OK, but emailed Jim, and later called him. He basically needed the middle of the week free to attend to his personal business, so Wednesday was out. We agreed on me coming up on Friday, and I would see Eason either
on Thursday or Saturday. I cancelled the appointment with the Consulate, and made a new one for Friday at 2.30 PM. It was the last slot available, and I wanted time on my side.
Began on the last minute jobs, and set about disconnecting our washing machine. I turned off the tap and I looked at the old connector; I remembered having to wind the pipe off the tap, as it was stuck fast. I got the old pipe out and
tried to worry, twist and then prise the adapter I needed out of the socket. Wouldn't you know it—The outside part span across the floor. The connecting bit broke off inside. I turned off the water supply and removed our large size tap,
replacing it with the original one from when we arrived.
The packing was virtually complete, apart from my wife's clothes and personal effects. I asked her if she wanted me to pack the baby clothes, but was told to leave them as someone was coming round to look at them.
Monday came and went, and nothing happened. Well, Eason called and I rang him back – Tuesday was out because he had work in Jiang Men City. I countered in Cantonese, and so it was he was away in Gongmuen for the week. We would not be
meeting-up on this trip.
Tuesday came around and Siu Ying was adamant we were moving that day, but I could never get a precise time from her. It was always *Aan-di*, meaning, “Some time later”. She went out to do something, and I finished packing everything,
except her clothes and personal drawers.
I was ready to move at once, only to discover it would be some hours yet. When she returned, she told me we would be moving as soon as Auntie had finished cleaning the apartment. She told me it would be, “Ch’idi”, meaning a shorter time
Now, here is one for you to consider: I was raised to leave a home as I would wish to find it. I had already scrubbed the kitchen tiles of 2+ years of cooking, and was setting about smaller items, like the living room furniture, and
not just the obvious bits you can see.
To my mind, they way you leave a property, whether rented or not, says a lot about you. It would never be perfect, but then, it showed English Face. Like they way the more educated may leave some small remains in cleaning bottles and
associated rags, makings for tea of coffee, perhaps a bottle of water; whatever.
Siu Ying told me off, stating, “The Landlady's Mother will do this work. You are very stupid”!
I told her it was because people will judge us on how we leave the place, something she did not understand at all.
If you take just two things away from this episode, then the first is that Foreigners have ‘no face’ in China, when it really comes down to it. The second, and potentially more important, is that ‘The owner’s Mother’ is expected to clean
the apartment after we leave – not the owner herself. I hope you understand this cultural difference? I guess it is alien to us? A-hem!
I had been wondering when we would be moving, as Siu Ying was ensconced in front of the TV, watching Wulam (Hunan) TV, or China’s version of a totally ridiculous, mass dating show. I boxed the computer and peripherals, and had nothing
else to do as the apartment was completely packed, except for her clothes and personal stuff. I watched as much as I could bear, before asking her, "When exactly we were moving, today?" The time was already well passed midday.
She ignored me for 5-minutes, then made a few phone calls. After the last call she told me the removal guys would be arriving in 5-minutes. Great!
I asked her when she planned to begin packing her clothes, but our conversation was interrupted by a call, and second’s later, by who I now know to be the Mother of our new Landlady, coming round to leisurely inspect Baby-Clothes. Durrr?
Whilst they were in the bedroom sorting out the old baby clothes, I disconnected the calor gas water heater and put it in its box. I threw the last of the general bathroom stuff into a box, and began a full tour of the apartment. I found
the ancillary room next to the kitchen just as I had left it, so packed a box of small items, and found a niche for the large bowl of washing powder.
I went back into the living room and found the pair sitting down. I cussed as I hurried past. Then the removal men arrived, and suddenly Siu Ying started work. Auntie was helping her pack, before she found an excuse to do something else,
and I held the bags open as my wife tossed mountains of clothes into them. They were completely mixed up, but then, she can sort it all out at her leisure.
The men began around 1 PM, and by just after 2, everything was down on the pavement below our apartment. The boss did take the very heavy stuff, like the fridge-freezer and washing machine. However, he disappeared before the job was
done and I wondered if he was taking stuff round to the new gaff. I understood it to be very close by.
Meanwhile the worker kept trudging up and down the stairs, his almost naked body a sheen of sweat. Chinese labourers are very strong, something I have noted before. He kept going without a break, and even refused a drink of cold water
I offered him.
Just as he was taking the last few things down, the boss arrived with a truck. My wife, Auntie, and a gaggle of women with nothing better to do were all encamped below, as I watched him reverse the wagon. The day was one of the hottest
of the year, and I was leaking like a sieve. I felt sorry for the guys working, and had no complaints when the boss asked for an extra Y50 because of the extra stuff from my office. Still very cheap, and my wife agreed with the merest
nod from me. I understood what they were saying, even though it was all in Toisanwah.
I hung around on the street as the men made short shrift of packing the truck, although they threw things in rather than working to a loading plan. It was done, and the worker carried round our small table come up-lighter, something
nobody could comprehend, even after Siu Ying explained it was actually a light.
We arrived at a hole in the wall, which apparently was the access to our new apartment. I still had not seen the place for real. It was 50 yards up our alley, then down a short flight of steps. I doubted they needed the truck, but up
to them. Auntie dived off immediately to take Chinese tea in a shop that wasn't a shop. I'm not sure what it was actually, as it appears to be somebody's front room, but it was always open to the public. Perhaps it was an office, or drop-in?
Toisan is like this.
I stayed with the worker as Siu Ying left to go shopping. The boss drove the truck passed the end of the road, causing both of us to monitor both access roads and hail him to us next time he appeared. 5-minutes later he came back and
saw us, reversing the truck up the smaller of the two alleyways set at right angles to one another.
My wife reappeared, and gave both a bottle of ice-cold water, then headed on up the stairs. She had possession of both sets of keys. Before they departed she pointed up and showed me which apartment I was headed for. It looked a very
long way up. I let the hare’s race ahead and took my time scaling the heights. My muscles were complaining, and my right knee had swollen to twice its normal size – one of the results of playing competitive squash at County level for
several years. In those days we used the British scoring system, so you only won a point on your own serve, and I prefer the game that way.
The First Floor, or second floor to Americans and Chinese, was an open plan walkway where the tenements rose from what could pass as a promenade. The pair were trying to open the closed captive access door to our building, but I shooed
them off. The doorway consisted of two heavy metal doors just over 4-feet wide.
A large flower bucket held the main door back. The other door was showing its age, and after removing the Heath Robinson locking device, I found the lower hinge was broken and the thing tightly held in place with strong metal wire. I
managed to open it a little for access, as this door faced the stairs. Unfortunately, there was no way of opening the door without breaking the metal string; even then, the top hinge was a worry, and I doubted the door would ever open
The gap between the closed door was not enough for the refrigerator to pass through, so I eased the captive door a little to widen the opening. There was also a 4-inch fire main running across the bottom step, complicating matters a
trifle. I did my best and knew it would be OK. The wide staircase stood before me, and I headed on up. I stopped to rest a couple of times, not because I was short of breath, but because I was sweating hard and couldn't see where I was
going; my knee was also quite painful.
The voices from above became louder, so I paused so as to appear fresh for my arrival at the 6th floor. My wife was still trying to open the outer apartment door. She was not a happy bunny.
The metal security door would not open at all. We all had a go, including the boss who came up with a load of boxes. I actually knew this door must function, simply that there was a knack to it, like many Chinese doors I have confronted
before. Eventually I persuaded Siu Ying to call for assistance, as asking the audience had already proved fruitless, and I would take a 50-50 on trying to divine how to open the damned thing myself. The three others disappeared down the
stairs, leaving me with both sets of keys.
The door had two locks. There was a Chinese Yale set centrally, and a mortise lock below, which was definitely not doing anything – None of us could even turn the key. I relaxed and battled bravely on. Finally I got the mortise lock
to turn, and the small locking button popped up just a fraction. Pressure on the door let me know this was now unlocked.
My moment of glory was snatched away from me, as the Landlady arrived. She was in her 30’s, and proceeded to scold me politely, and show me how to open the door. She simply put her key in the top lock and turned it fully to the right.
She pulled the catch of the mortise lock back, and the door opened. I tried to explain I had just that second fully unlocked the bottom catch, but my efforts were wasted. I smiled ruefully and thanked her.
I hope you were paying attention above? The Yale-type lock is on the right of the door, and she turned the key clockwise to open it. The deadlocks sounded released when turned in our normal anti-clockwise fashion. Many things in China
work in the opposite direction to the one you expect. If you have a kettle with a button on the top, then you will always have to press it up for power, not down.
After this minor comedy, the move proceeded post haste. The men came and went, and Siu Ying had disappeared again. I was left speaking to the Landlady and her mother, both of whom only spoke Toisanwah. I think you know that I can work
out what they are probably saying some of the time, and they were doing likewise with me, but conversation was pretty impossible.
By contrast, the new gaff was eminently affable, even though it did exhibit many *Chinese characteristics*. You could play volleyball, or 5-a side football in the living room, the kitchen was very large, and antiquated. The two bedrooms
we had were fine. Siu Ying had managed to take the mattress from our old place, with the owner’s permission, so I showed the removers where it went. It overhung the existing bed frame by 6-inches each side, but time would remedy the situation.
I was not worried about it, for at least we now had a bed to sleep upon that night. I spent most of my time sorting out boxes and placing them in suitable rooms. The ladies departed and I was left alone.
I must have been preoccupied, because the fridge arrived, and they were done. Time passed so quickly. It was half-past three, so 2 and a half hours to complete the move. Not bad at all. My wife arrived, and then the guy who delivers
my beer came up with 4-boxes, or 48 bottles @ 600 ml each. He sparred in jest with the removal guys, leading me to believe they knew each other quite well. The boss tried to get an Y10 tip off Siu Ying, but she refused. I had no problem,
and had intended to give them a beer each, but the moment passed and they left as soon as I paid them.
I asked Siu Ying to get China Telecom to transfer the internet. She called the number I had on the documentation, which went unanswered. She said, “Tomorrow”. There was time left for me to go down and do it that day. Instead, I put five
beers in the fridge, and two more in the freezer. I knew I would be thirsty later. She went out, and I pottered around, getting used to the new surroundings, and trying to work out where my office would be. I got boxes and bags into the
respective rooms, and unpacked essentials.
I got the TV working, and noticed my wife had brought our cable TV remote, and we had another one there. It was still there one week later, but would be returned eventually I supposed. I worked for a few hours, before settling down with
an excellently chilled beer, and relaxing. The move was complete.
There did not appear to be much on TV, as I was still pondering where my computer would live. Then I was drawn to something a bit strange on CCTV 5, the Beijing official Sports channel. It turned out to be the opening ceremony for the
Chinese Mongolian Games, and was very different, with horses a major feature. I saw riders picking things up from the ground at full gallop – Impressive!
I normally switch off opening and closing ceremonies, but this was interesting and very unusual. It drew me in and I really enjoyed the spectacle. I was disappointed that Britain did not send a team, when most other European Nations
did; even Bangladesh and Guam managed a single entry apiece. I looked out for the games themselves over the days that followed, but there was no sign of them. Curious.
The new apartment was about the same size as our 5th floor apartment from last time, except one bedroom was out of bounds. For the very first time in China, I was living in a place that did not have a balcony; well it did sort of, but
was a low, tiled wall where the fish tank is in the photograph. The area behind was a dumping ground, which we soon filled. The apartment was very cool, comparatively, having the only south-facing window in the room that was locked. The
main area came equipped with two monstrous ceiling fans, so cool was the order of the day.
We had a traditional Chinese 3-piece suite, and both three and two seater settees. They took up about half the living room. Towards the kitchen was a large dining table, and a space where I thought I would make my office. I had toyed
with removing the cabinet in the corner near the kitchen door, but it was full of stuff, and exactly the right height for printers and other stuff. It already had a microwave, something I had not enjoyed for 3+ years. Heaven.
What did I like?
I love the fact there were large ceiling fans. Of our previous 5-fans, we were using only two; one for my office, and the other in our bedroom, which also had air-conditioning. That was on all that first night, as Siu Ying returned and
we made the space into a home together.
I liked the fact that all the rooms, and the whole apartment was Big. The ceiling fans and a/c of course, but I also loved the proper Daoist shrine that sat high up on the wall above my office. Our main room would look empty if throwing
a party for less than twenty people, and yet it remained intimate for a couple.
The floors were all tiled, and was much cooler than the wood paneling we had last time. Siu Ying had asked for the microwave to go *To Auntie*, but I vehemently objected, cooking pizza in it that first night. It was simple enough for
me to use, and worked well, even though it was quite old. It was clean, and did the job very efficiently, 800 watts no less. There was also a relatively large fish tank, which I thought to get going again. It was mainly complete, but
without a bottom filter and heater. Otherwise it was ready to go.
I was not so keen that we had a lot of cupboard space taken up by the Landlady for her things, but then again, that was probably why the place was so cheap, and also perhaps why we had a 2-year contract = very good. Later, Siu Ying told
me the Objet d'art could either be kept, or thrown out.
The next day, that would be Wednesday if I remember correctly, Siu Ying left with my paperwork to go and change the internet over to our new address. I got a call from her shortly after, to say I had to do it because I had signed the
original contract. I needed to take my passport and they would sort it out immediately.
I went downstairs, meeting my wife and collecting my parcel of original forms and renewals. I took the new address on the still unsigned contract, and headed in on my own. I was approached by a girl wanting to '*plactice* her *In-ger-wishy*',
and let the situation roll.
Despite my attempts at humour above, she was extremely efficient and her English was pretty good, and far better than my Cantonese, if it was a close call when not talking specifics. Remember, she probably learned English at college
and had doubtless seldom had cause to use it since. She checked and photocopied relevant documents, before showing me to a vacant counter. The girl was professional, but insisted on speaking Mandarin. I replied in Cantonese and English,
as appropriate. She was a local girl.
We got that sorted and I was told 2-days, in Cantonese. I guess she had finally realised I wasn't speaking either Mandarin or gibberish, but another language she actually understood. In Foshan the internet was moved within the hour,
and that was Sunday evening and only took a phone call. Ho-hum.
I did not miss the internet, as I was busy once more. I unpacked boxes as my wife went out to do whatever. We slept together and *Christened* the place, but that was about it. I got the office sorted, and then learned about the kitchen.
The main work surface was above my mid-thigh, and most others were at knee-level. The large, strange block set to one corner used to be a Chinese Aga, except it had been completely tiled over; next to it was a typical water trough, also
covered over and no longer in use.
The kitchen was a very pleasant and colourful room, but it needed gutting basically. We did not have any gas rings (Calor gas fired). Siu Ying said, "I am going to do this today," correction: … well, soon I presumed? The toilet
was a ceramic hole in the floor. Her friend would go to Hoi Peng (Kia Ping) to get a medium quality one for us, as every WC I had ever used in China always needed the top removed from the cistern. Remarkable. One-week later, and my knees
were still suffering under incredible strain; I hoped it would arrive soon.
The guy would also fix our old water heater in the bathroom, because the one there simply did not work. The water needed to be turned off at the First floor, so forgive me for not bothering. I can tell you that repeated cold showers
are breathtaking – although I may not mean that in any positive sense.
Sometime later a curious thing happened; Siu Ying came home with two very large glass carboys with self-sealing, ground glass tops; A bit like medicine bottles from a past age, but I'd guess their capacity at four gallons each.
She left immediately, only to return some time later with a carboy of cheap rice wine, and a large sack of red berries.
This was to be my introduction to art of Cantonese home brewing. The berries were washed thoroughly, and put into the carboys; Siu Ying adding a ton of solid, glace sugar to the containers. Our friend Su'ang fortuitously arrived with
more rice wine, and it was duly tipped into the containers. They told me that some months hence, the resultant concoction would not only be very nice, strong, but also most efficacious (in every way). The song "Medicinal Compound"
by Scaffold, came to mind, and I sang it for some hours thereafter, occasionally casting a glance askew at the portentous witch's brew. I reasoned it was a Cantonese equivalent of Sloe Gin, which I have unduly enjoyed in the past—totally
different cultures, and virtually the same thing; small world...
Then one day, Siu Ying gave our old wok to a scavenger man. I knew they argued the price he would give us for far too long. The thing was lethal actually, as a screw secured the central handle. What actually happened was when it became
even slightly heavy, the handle stayed in my grip, and the pot attached rotated. The first time it did this, it dumped my cooked food on the kitchen floor, the hot oil just missing my feet in the process. I hoped that come the morrow,
we would have a new gassy range, and a new wok. However, I remained slightly unsure of Chinese logistics?
You know, I was going past knackered during those days. I had re-awoken muscles long dormant, and protesting. China Telecom fitters rang to say they would be arriving soon. I decided to open the last box, which was a box full of cables,
mainly computer cables. I still have no idea why it happened, but I sliced the end of my left middle finger quite badly. Blood dripped as I cussed my stupidity. The cold tap worked, and my blood was a very healthy red colour. I don't
know why it was, nor why when I have to give a blood sample it is always a blackish shade of maroon. Asi es la vida!
Anyway's, the personal leak had just about stopped, which I thought was very impressive, when China Telecom arrived to sort out my internet. The China Telecom guys arrived early Thursday afternoon, and the young guy was cool. The guy
was looking for a connection box in the main room, of which there wasn't one. Trust me, I know about these things. I found an old telephone point, and these thing never work in older apartments. He connected a weird sort of mobile phone
to it, and rang his mate. The main man arrived moments later, and God was he quick. He tacked the new cable around the living room quicker than it takes to say, “Jack Robinson”.
I knew what was required, as the young guy spoke both Cantonese and English, and to high standard. Modem = assemble the pc. I was looking for cables and setting out hardware as fast as I could. I attached the power line to the back of
the computer, then realised I was dripping blood again. Somehow I had reopened the wound from just before. Dammit!
I spend another minute under the tap, as the young guy wired up the pc. I threw out required cables when I returned, and he told me to stop and leave it to him. They were both sweating 120 degrees, so I offered them both a bottle of
ice-cold water, the younger indulging.
Then I noticed the floor between the boxes and pc was covered with drips of blood. My blood. I made haste with apologies and took a rag to clean up the mess. Chinese are very funny about blood, and my efforts were rewarded as they still
continued to work, oblivious.
They did not leave until I agreed they had pulled up an arbitrary website. Service with a smile, and a joke between us to end the experience; those guys were excellent. The whole installation took less than 5-minutes; believe.
I did check my email, followed by online news, and found out we had finally whopped the South Africans at cricket, albeit a one-day game. Otherwise I closed my beloved computer down and got about my work. Tomorrow I was headed for Guangzhou,
or Gongzhao as we call the city.
Opps! This was when Siu Ying came home, and stated firmly that her mother needed the Family Book back, pronto. From my previous experience I understood the new girl at the Police Station could ask for any and all documentation, so needed
the Family Book until she was happy. I left moments later, Siu Ying already asleep on the settee.
The time was 2:34, and the counter was still closed after luncheon. I made a point of checking the time on my mobile, something a nearby police officer picked up on. He strode through forcefully, and raised the shutter. The admin staff
inside had nowhere to hide, so by twitches and shakes, came forwards and began to process my forms. It was not rocket science, but still, the girl was new and something remained not right.
As it turned out, I did not need the Family Book, but had to get a photocopy of the new rental agreement, something I had already done btw (By the way). This girl seems to faff about a lot, whilst not doing anything. I think it was her
style. Then she asked for my wife to attend with her Chinese ID card. I called Siu Ying, waking her up, and she said she was on her way. I related this, and was duly released, with a new Certificate of Temporary Residency, now at my new
I passed my wife on the walk back, telling her the police would need both sides of her ID card photocopying, and asking her if she needed any shopping done. I have absolutely no idea why Toisan police require this, as they never did
in Foshan; but there again, the latter are a lot more used to foreigners.
I did a little food shopping on the way back; Man (Family) sized bags of crisps, and some pot noodles. Orange juice, I really do not remember, whatever. I got back, and the outer door entrance of the block of flats, set on the second
floor, not street level, remember, it was shut, my first time at this. It did not open until I twiddled the key in the lock. Then I was set, and 5-floors up to go. It was OK, and I did it all in one go.
I had no problems this time with our outer apartment door, and later; revived from a sit in my chair, turned my mind to Friday, and seeing Jim in Gongzhao. At that precise moment, Siu Ying arrived back and told me most definitely that
her mother needed the Family Book, immediately.
My time had moved on from early to late afternoon, and to the point where I knew that whilst coaches still ran the route, they would be at best, infrequent. I also wanted to spend quality time with Rhiannon, and she would be asleep before
I got there. There was only one thing for it – an early start the next morning…
This letter picks up the next day with One Night in Guangzhou
For ease of continuity, I have added the end of that missive below; detailing the final flourishes and distractions regards the move...
Whilst I had been away in Guangzhou, a guy came round and sorted out the tap in the bathroom: That was the one I had decided to change the washing machine outlet for my old tap. When I had tried to change it, the body of the old tap
broke off, leaving the screw thread inside ancient cast iron piping. Not good! It came out of a knuckle, or 90 degree bend that was fast against the wall = no way to remove it without disturbing two other joints, one of which was not
switched off from the mains. The only stopcock was way down on the 1st floor. I had told Siu Ying that in UK I could sort it, but in China, erm … No.
The reason for the change was two-fold: A. The water was very slow, and we suspected the cast iron pipes were baldy corroded inside. B. The washing machine had a special snap-on connector, and only my old tap with the larger spout would
do the job, the connecting washer feed would snap straight into it.
In my absence, the plumber had done his stuff, and the new knuckle and my old tap were in situ. I did vaguely wonder why my wife was not using the washing machine, and doing laundry by hand. She never said a word to me, but after several
days had passed, I had to ask. It turned out the guy had affixed a weird and old style tap end and coupling, and they never work on our larger type tap. Those are the things with four screws you tighten to make a seal. There was no seal,
just water spouting everywhere.
I had already bought a longer (Washing machine to tap) connector from the local plumbers. I got a 1.5-metre one, and it was perfect. I just couldn't connect it to anything because of the wrong tap outlet connector. China is like this.
Siu Ying now understood exactly what we needed, and why; I went down to the local handyman shop and got the part, it cost all of Y0.5 RMB. Ridiculous. Later, our washing machine worked.
You may wonder why we needed such a long hose, when the rear of the washer was physically six inches away from the bathroom supply tap. Well, there was a solid brick and tile wall in the way, so we needed to loop the hose through
the bathroom door, which was of concertina style.
During this period, Siu Ying had not unpacked any of her clothes, but we did get together one evening and put away all our boxes. We were still going at it at 3 a.m., which is normal time for both of us to be wide-awake. She was adamant
one box needed to go up well above head-height. I knew this was very heavy, and probably the heaviest box we had. It was only small, not much bigger than a box of 18 large beers. But Oh!
I guess in my 20’s, or especially when I was a Carpenter, this would not have presented any challenge. Today this was a mammoth undertaking, but I knew I could do it. I had to show my *Olyphant* strength to my wife's order, so manhandled
the bugger out of hiding. It was very heavy.
The apartment had many large shelves atop bedroom and kitchen walls, ideal for stowage. We had done most of the work already, so now for the finale. I carried the box through confirming the weight, and placed it on the bed. My wife got
the stepladder out and went to pick it up; she could not even move it.
I could, and put it on the top of the stepladder, where there was a settle. The next bit was the tricky bit, for I still had 3-feet to raise it. I decided it was too heavy for a normal approach, so took the box on my head, African style.
I almost lost balance, before realising Siu Ying was behind me settling it in place. Man was it heavy!
I changed my grip and just like a *Clean and Jerk*, threw it into the sky. I was an inch short, but it was almost up. It was caught below where the marble begins. Siu Ying reacted immediately, climbing the steps to free the catch. Meanwhile
I simply used boy-force and powered the thing up and over until it was safely stowed, and no longer likely to land on my head from a small height. Damn, but that was one heavy box!
Once it was up there, Siu Ying couldn't move the box … and I mean she could not even move the box by pushing or pulling it; so I went up and put it into place within her arrangement. Afterwards, I left her to the rest—feeling like a
man, and with her unexpected respect. Cool.
The days passed, and I still did not have anything worthwhile to either cook or shite with. I guess those are related in some way? I knew I was beginning to pester her, but my hobbled knees were giving out, and I was getting tired of
eating sandwiches every night. The first major breakthrough occurred two days later, when Siu Ying arrived home with a new stove (2-gas rings) of high quality, and a new wok—I used it for everything.
I coupled-up with the gas tube she got, and had to light the rings first time. Chinese appear to have a fear of Fire = nothing for me; Aries, a Fire Sign. I was informed 'Today' was Double-Ninth day (The Ninth day of the ninth lunar
month), a traditional double-Yang day, and one to be wary of. Siu Ying told me she was cooking Toisan Chicken, one of my local favourites.
The cooking always takes forever, in this case 6-hours. I was asleep when it was ready. I fell asleep on the couch, and after Siu Ying woke me up—know it was the very best one I had (or have) ever tasted. I like the version with Ginseng
root, it adds a delicious twang; but this was plain, un-spiced, and beautiful just the way it was. I drank 2-bowls of the Gee chicken fat it had rendered into, and it was magic.
Meanwhile we were still working on how to get the shower to work, or the hot water for the bath also. Cold showers and no options were becoming a tad boring, and very cold. We replaced the batteries, but that did not help, even after
I scraped the rust of one positive terminal within the appliance.
I would go ahead and install our previous water heater, except that meant turning off the mains, which was on the 1st floor, and I had no stopcock wheel for the turning it off.
With our new Western WC due tomorrow (Again), I told Siu Ying to let the guy fit the old shower heater also, as we knew that worked, or at least it did a few weeks before. He could also tighten or renew the main seal just below the bathroom
sink, and I knew that was either loose or broken; it showered my feet with water every time the sink was used. China is like this.
For some arbitrary reason, I had started singing the song *Unbelievable* at curious times.
So that's about us up to date with my small and insignificant life. No doubt more trivia will happenstance for me to bore you with; until then...
Apologies, there are no dedicated photographs to go with this missive, so I have added some related family shots of questionable quality, and ask you to interpolate the background shown in them, thanks.