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A Letter From China

Isn't it strange how for some periods time appears to pass so slowly, whilst at other times it simply flies past?

I was reminded of this a few days ago just after watching the Monaco Gran Prix. I had rescheduled my day so that at 8pm I would be ready to sit down and watch the race live in China on CCTV 5. It had probably been nine months since the last time they did not actually show F1 live (Including practice and qualifying on the days before), so I settled down to watch … three and a quarter hours of some badminton cup.

TVS, the other sports channel we get was the same, but at least they sometimes spoke in Cantonese or Toisanwah. They actually had a break to watch the football match in the middle – some definitive game between Guangzhou and I think it was Shandong? Guangzhou equalised in injury time, and this appeared to mean they had won something…

After China had won the ‘Suliman Cup’ (Something like that) by beating Denmark 3 : 0 I stopped to wonder. You see there were five matches total, the ones not needing to be played being the women's singles and doubles. For interest, South Korea and Indonesia came joint Third. CCTV5 stuck with the show and we saw them all get medals and then flowers (?) Important people gave speeches, and so it went on.

Meanwhile TVS was into a 1-hour sports news review, and I determined not to watch it for fear of learning the result of the Gran Prix. I started channel hopping and found a disastrous B movie on Guangzhou English channel, Pearl was showing Pirate’s of the Caribbean – the locker one – which I tried to get into before finding it totally fuckwitted and giving up. TVB was by then showing CSI Miami, a repeat but a decent enough episode all the same.

By chance the adverts came on at 23.30 and I flicked over to CCTV5 just in time to catch the start of the Gran Prix! It proved to be quite an entertaining race, although the end was perhaps ‘arranged’ and certainly full of controversy. For me, Driver of the day was yet again Kamui Koyabashi who I believe will one day become world champion.

You may be inclined to infer from the above that I think watching Badminton to be a waste of space? This is definitely not the case, and I would prefer it to watching the vast majority of modern football games (Soccer for my US readers). China also shows a lot of women's volleyball, another great spectacle to behold, and again preferential to the fixed and deeply flawed version of the beautiful game that suckers most into watching nowadays.

Now for me, football lost its appeal many decades ago when diving and fouling became the norm, and football skill was made irrelevant. A person I used to work for was a coach for nine and ten year olds, and he once told me that he spent his training sessions teaching the kids how to dupe the referee = how to foul and not get caught.

I doubt I will ever bother to watch football again until they get rid of the cheats, and by that I mean the executives of FIFA and the FA, who are all in on the scam. Next, introducing Goal-line technology a minimum; with off-side review as standard practice + action replays and a second referee for all events. Shirt pulling = 5-minutes in the sin bin. Do it to prevent a goal being definitely scored, then goal awarded, player banned for 2-weeks, and has the 5-minute sin bin to start his next appearance. Football is in a very serious mess, and at times resembles wrestling match!

A third referee is also desperately required to monitor off the ball incidents, and criminal proceeding brought against those players who still think it their sporting duty to elbow people in the face and especially – the back of the neck! I have no idea in any true sport why such measures are not already in place, as they have been in Rugby and Cricket for decades … or are the football results already fixed?

I will leave sport for now with the wish that Li Na manages to do in the French Open what she so narrowly failed to do in Australia – not that western media every gives any Tennis reviews of unfavoured players of course.

I have called this missive ‘Timeline’ for several reasons, which will become apparent as we progress. The first occurred just after I finished watching the Gran Prix from Monte Carlo. I wanted to find out which idiot decided to red-flag the race, and yet let it continue, and why? Then there were updates required to Hamilton's suicide mission of the day, and some other stuff I was interested in.

I thought to have a look on only to find I couldn't access the internet. This was shall we say, ‘A tad irksome’, but it does happen in China sometimes. Occasionally the internet will be gone for 24 hours or so, for no apparent reason, and then come back. Therefore the next day found me getting more and more upset, as the 24-hour mark passed and still there was no ADSL! I was cursing like a trooper truth be known, but then my wife solved the situation for me with one phrase, “It’s one year”.

What? It can’t be for we have only been here … let me see, erm…

I get out the paperwork and find that 1-year and 1-day has passed since I opened the broadband account. Blimey!

So the next morning I go to China Telecom, pay Y800 RMB, and have another years’ broadband connection activated before I walk the five minutes to my home. That is what I call excellent service!

Siu Ying did ask me to top up the landline whilst I was there, which is a sort of ‘pay as you've gone’ as opposed to paying before use. I couldn't find the number of the phone. I asked her for it, and it seems she doesn't know it either. To top up all we need to do is wander into China Telecom, punch our phone number into a machine, and feed it some cash – maybe four or five quid for the month. Easy – if you know your own phone’s number. If you do not happen to know your own telephone’s number then topping-up becomes highly improbable and certainly a quantum dynamic.

Meanwhile many of you regular readers have been asking for more missives, and when they will be due. All I can say is that ‘I just got busy writing my Trilogy’. I also considered that little happened during the period, except that my best friend Eason got married, Vilma came to stay, and Rhiannon is growing hourly into her future. Apart from my funniest missive ‘Wasabi’ and my all time most viewed one ‘Fat Cats’, I have shared little since early January 2011 – so let me put this right…


Therefore I’ll start filling-in the gaps towards the end of January, when I had planned to join my buddy Jim in Siam for a few weeks. This looked to be a go before the dates of Chinese New Year put the kibosh on our plans. You see, China is closed for this period, especially where governmental departments are concerned. Therefore I had delayed joining Jim so that I could attend for a medical in order to apply for a one-year ‘Residency’ visa. Please know these things for ordinary mortals like yours truly are as frequent as rocking-horse shit, and I was having me one!

My intention was to go for my medical in Jiang Men at the approved hospital for issue of the obligatory ‘Chinese Health Certificate’ around about Monday 25th January, thus allowing three clear days to receive and action the application before the Chinese holidays.

All was going well until a few days before I was due to head for Gong Muen (Jiang Men in Mandarin), when I developed an extremely painful foot. I couldn't put any weight on it by the end of the second day, and even bedcovers brought intense pain. We sent for the Doctor as I simply couldn't walk – I was even using a wheelie chair to get about on! The Doctor was great and soon had me sorted. He gave me a thorough examination and basically told me I needed to exercise more. Moderate drinking was encouraged, and smoking was never mentioned – how nice. That night I got my first proper sleep in days, although it would take about three days for me to fully recover.

I thought better of going for the medical, as the day was soon the Friday before the holidays began, and I could guarantee nobody would be working – and even if they were it was definitely not the ideal day for a medical exam! So this was put on hold with a chance to do it after the Chinese New Year still available.

Then Dave my great friend from UK wanted me there in Blighty to attend to some take-over business he was planning, and so a couple of days slipped as we looked at logistics and timeframe's. Meeting Jim was getting a tad iffy for the next week or so, but was still the plan for later in February.

Then Chinese New Year happened and basically China closed for two weeks – just like British Christmas and New Year. As it was coming to a close, so I came down with an infection that was like a bad flu that just hung around and would not go! Siu Ying had it also, and it was very debilitating, especially where breathing was concerned. One of the many checks for the Chinese Health Certificate is a breathing test … therefore time passed and I decided it better not to go for the examination this time.

The week-days were dropping very badly for our calendar anyway, and to such a degree that I had to virtually cancel holiday plans with Jim – but we still held out a hope of meeting up. Therefore I apply for a 6-month family ‘tourist’ visa instead and it takes a few days longer than planned due to the holiday backlog. However, I am strongly informed that next time I must apply for the 1-year residential visa – something that I really want! Out of interest, it will actually cost less than the 6-month tourist visa – Here is China!

Anyway, it turns out that Jim needed to return early to prepare for teaching in GZ, and this leaves us a period of a couple of days when we could be together in Thailand = not an option; so we postpone it for another year. Let’s hope we make it next time!

Eason's Wedding

The next event in my small life came with the advent of Eason's formal wedding. I have written that as a separate missive for your ease of reading. However, March was a popular time for weddings so I will pick this up with a mention of my dearest friend Meals wedding.

You can find the missive here:
Eason's Wedding

Meals wedding

We were also invited to Neal and Jacqui's wedding in Thailand at the end of March, this time way up north in Chang Mai, which is very popular with Expats. Their trip would cover several weeks, so there was also the chance to catch up in Bangkok, or even head south to the islands after the wedding.

I thought this would be a far more interesting trip for my wife, as her previous experience was with a Chinese tour group, and even I thought it was virtually like staying in Canton. It took a while to actually confirm the dates, as in the meantime I checked out local hotels on the internet. Flights were extremely cheap, and I am talking fifty or sixty quid here, return; so it was all looking very promising.

Unfortunately both time and circumstances got the better of us, so we had to tell Neal we could not make it. It was a great shame as we both really fancied the trip, but it was not to be. However, he did send through some great wedding photo’s and proved once again what a resourceful and international person he is. Nice one mate!

Jim comes to Visit

Having failed to meet-up in Thailand, Jim found himself with a few days free, so came down to stay for a while. It was great to catch up with him and do ‘boys’ stuff. He caught the inter-city coach from Guangzhou (GZ) in the afternoon and was scheduled to arrive just a couple of hours later. There are actually only two major bus stations in Toisan, so I knew he would be arriving at either one of them, and probably the one across the road from where we live.

Time passed and then I got a call on my mobile from him asking me if I knew where he was? That's a tad odd I thought. It seems he got off the coach with everyone else, and this was somewhere near a roundabout with a lot of sculptures on it. I think I knew which roundabout he was talking about, but it was a long way from where I was. Having tried his phonecall, he then asked the audience, which didn't get him far; so he hailed a cab and managed to get dropped of outside the main bus station where I was waiting for him.

Time was getting on and we both fancied a beer, so after dropping his stuff of at the gaff we headed out and went to the best local western restaurant. What can I say? It was fine and hit the spot exactly. Having ordered cold beers and made it plain we would order later, we chatted for an hour or so before tackling the menu, which was only in Chinese.

We both knew what we wanted to order, but neither his Mandarin nor my Cantonese seemed to quite be getting us there. However, eventually we did make a breakthrough of sorts, and our order was placed, with more beers on the way. Then the food arrived, well the steaks and broccoli in garlic sauce instead of black pepper, but the chips (Fries) did not. I complained about this, and eventually we got a large bowl of excellent chips. We actually ordered another they were that good, which arrived in due course.

Then it was time for a wander, and rather than go to any of the centres we wandered up the road and found a street bar almost opposite the road to the apartment. We got through another dozen large bottles of beer before ordering a stir fry and calling it a night.

Rising late the next day I was surprised to find myself teaching Jim how to make Nescafe – for it seems he only ever uses a cafetiere (Plunger jug) or for best coffee, the Italian / Spanish pot thing – one of which I have thanks to my dear friend Marisol, brought all the way from Madrid.

With the caffeine hitting we plan a wander around the shops, as he has eyes on some more crockery and things for home if we can find them. Therefore we headed off to the pedestrianised area where Jim picked up some local food for breakfast, whilst I raided the ATM. Then we headed to where last time there were some excellent ceramics for sale – art nuevo plates and that sort of thing. Unfortunately the stall wasn't there this time, so we wandered around for several hours, generally browsing and doing a loop.

From previous we both new we were near the serious catering section of the city, and Jim was hoping to find a particular type of cast iron plate with which to cook on. It was the sort of thing I would use to make chapatti’s on, plonking a large and flat lump of iron on top of the gas ring – if you get the idea.

I then found a deep fat fryer! I mean, a proper restaurant kitchen one and wanted to buy it, except for the logistics of getting it home. The marked price was Y220, which is very, very cheap. I almost bought a consumer version in Hong Kong a year ago, but $ 985 HK for something that was flimsy and felt really cheap and nasty put me off. I will be back!

Having tried a few shops we actually found what he wanted, and this included something to lift it with, and almost a lid. Well chuffed we continue on thinking to look for a taxi somewhere. One sidestreet backed along a wet market, and here we found supposed western ingredients. I was first, buying some Miracle Whip and other jars of stuff. A few stores further on Jim found some Worcestershire sauce (That was a horrible Chinese copy), and I found the holy grail – Hellman's mayonnaise! This later turned out to be another Chinese copy, containing three tons of sugar to each small jar. Thankfully I only bought one of the ghastly things.

I admit I was flagging a little, so we stopped off nearby for a coffee, finding a Catholic church in one of the roads along our way. I found the cappuccino was totally excellent, but the thirty minutes serving time was a little odd for a place that was pretty empty. There is a picture of this in the gallery, and for a couple of $ USA I really cannot fault it. I have paid a lot more for far worse coffee all over China. Jim had a standard coffee which he also enjoyed, so that was a hit.

By this time we were beginning to catch the evening rush hour and having failed to get a taxi we started to walk back along the main road. We didn't have to walk too far before we got a ride, and returning to the apartment chilled and took a while out before showering and changing to go out for the evening.

It took us a while to decide where to go, for although there are thousands of places to eat, we didn't want Chinese Tea or a posh restaurant. We had tried one of the streetbar areas before when Duma was with him, so it was either do the same as last night – which we both really enjoyed; or try somewhere else. I already knew there were a dozen decent restaurants near Number 2 bus station, so we headed there. I was in front and got my wallet out to pay, before getting out and actually looking up.

All the restaurants bar one were gone – closed down, not there any more! I couldn't believe it. If I had noticed this before we left the taxi then I am sure we would just have headed straight back to last night’s venue. As it was, this still remained a strong option, but we sat down for a beer while we were deciding what to do. Looking around the food was actually quite decent looking, and soon staff came by to practice their English.

One young thing became a great laugh and even sat down with us for a while, as we ordered food in three languages and relaxed in fine spirits. Then many of the staff left, including the girl we had gotten to know; who came to us as she was leaving and wanted to know if I wanted to take her shopping? This was certainly no ordinary request, for the air was thick with double entendre, supported by her cheeky smile and wandering eyes. Oh my life! I told her I would take her next time, planning to never go back there again – at least without my wife to protect me!

With the place closing and we getting thirsty, we repeated the streetbar from late last evening, and being greeted back enjoyed another case of fine cold beer. It was perhaps 2 am before we got hungry again, and we saw several things that we quite fancied trying. So we ordered by using the little communal languages we had, and basically pointed at things. This time we did not quite get everything we had expected, but one of the things that happened instead was monstrously good – a sort of miniature pasta wrap with minced meat and lots of flavour inside.

Jim and I have a similar outlook to life, and so we went with the flow and simply enjoyed the experience. I have no idea what time it was when we got back, but we had another couple of beers before going to bed at our customary 4 am. Jim is adamant that I am a bad influence; whilst I am convinced it is he that keeps me up all night drinking!

However the next morning rolls around far too quickly, and with it Jim returns to GZ for he has other plans. It was great to spend some quality time together and know that our friendship deepened through the contact. He made it back to GZ inside 2 hours, and therefore you may wonder why it takes nearer three hours to get to Foshan, which is an hour closer? I’ll let you into a secret. The destination is reached by using the expressway, not having to use the ordinary road, that apart from busy has the roadwork's on it = total nightmare!

I’ll finish here with an example of why Siu Ying and I simply get along so well together, for we both accepted she would not enjoy being with us all the time = us speaking English and she getting bored from not understanding anything much. Jim and I also discussed the same theme at some length, the other way around – for the number of times we have both gone for a meal and then sat alone as everybody else has a great time speaking quickly in languages we only have a slight grip on, and doing things that may not come naturally to us either.

So, some weeks later I was finished for the day and it was maybe three am. She got a call from a friend wanting to know if she fancied a ‘Siu Yeahr’ or eats and drinks. She was game and so was I, and do you know where we went – the same streetbar Jim and I had used. Apparently she uses the place often as it is the best around. We thought the same also.

Switching on the old mobile

After the holiday disappointment above, life continued as normal for about a week, and I continued to baffle Word (English UK version) with my British English. However I had been in contact with Vilma from Porto Rica for several months, and she wrote to say she would be arriving in Canton around the end of March.

You may be aware that I had switched my old mobile phone off for several months because people kept ringing me on it. You might be forgiven for thinking that is the whole idea of the things? Let me put it to you another way:

I spent a very large proportion of my life waiting for the telephone to ring. This is because I was on call, my job required me to be contractible 24/7/365, or during later times of my life when I was the operations manager, keyholder, whatever. It seemed to me that since I was late teens, until very recently; I always had to be available to leave for work or an emergency as soon as the phone rang. This makes life a drag you know.

But then things change as always, and my last year or so in UK was fine as I was able to view the communication aid in a more convivial way. This lasted well into my time in China – but there is one thing Chinese always do that infuriates me … if they do not get an immediate answer from you, they simply keep on ringing you until they do.

Now, I am of the opinion that I have a display of all missed calls, and if I was busy when you rang, then I will get back to you as soon as possible. Some Chinese cannot accept this, and by force of numbers of telephone calls, coerce you into answering.

Well, I also have another idea about this: it is my choice whether I choose to answer a call or not – regardless of who the caller thinks they are. We all get busy sometimes don't we, and I repeat for effect. Three times now I have had people sent to my home to check if I am all right – simply because after fifty phone calls I had switched the phone off so I could concentrate on my work – which when you are talking about computer code or laying a delicate plot in a novel can become extremely complicated and precise.

So to cut a far longer story short, one day I was trying to write an almost ‘love’ thingymagig; a bit like the old Nescafe series of adds along the lines of ‘will they, won’t they’. I'm actually weaving this into certain point’s further back in the book also, and trust me, altering something that is already written throws up all sorts of wobblers!

Then the phone calls started, and did not stop! I knew who was calling and why they were ringing – basically to confirm a vague appointment for next week. I would be very happy to reply to this … in an hour or two’s time – but definitely not right now!

So I switched the mobile off and couldn't be bothered to switch the confounded thing back on again. Well, what I actually did was swap the sim card into my stupid Vizaz and use a new sim card in my old, cheap, and reliable Nokia. However, with Vilma's impending visit I felt the urge to turn it back on again – and contacting some old friends, so the stupid calls started multiplying once more. They spread much like a ‘pandemic’ actually.

An example: Knowing I am very, very busy these days I get three calls one morning aimed at browbeating me into attending a dinner near the island where I used to live. It will take me three hours to get there, but less than two to get back – Chinese coaches are like this sometimes.

My problem is the timing, for my last bus home leaves at 8 pm, and the meal is eventually scheduled so it will ‘suit everybody’ for 7.30. That would be everybody except me then! But I am told this is no problem because I can stay on the island and join them for Chinese tea the next morning. Then we can visit a factory for the boss wants me to look after all his export business, and then we can have lunch. Isn't that grand!

It was grand the first dozen times; and sometimes entertaining the hundred times thereafter – if I had nothing better to do. These days I have a lot else to do; so I ask myself, ‘Jonno, what is it about you being busy that they do not understand?’

By the forth day I the stupid phonecall's were in the dozens per morning, totally disrupting my work, and more importantly, my equilibrium – for you cannot write a delicate love scene if you are fuming mad because of constant interruptions!

So I switched the thing off again : -)

The peace and quiet was wonderful. No people always wanting a piece of me (On their terms), and so having lost the best part of a whole week, I was once again able to get on with my work.

Now; you can call me selfish, disrespectful, or many other terms. But do not forget, a telephone is simply a device. It is not something that is supposed to run or ruin your whole life.

Some of you love to hear about my life with Siu Ying, for we are from very differing cultural backgrounds, family beliefs, etcetera. We tend to speak our own language, which has bits of English, Cantonese, Toisanwah and occasionally Mandarin in it. We both laugh that we are waiting for Nonni to grow up so that she can translate for us and we can talk to each other properly hahaha!

However, our level of instinctive understanding goes far beyond words. Perhaps it would surprise you to know that my wife appears to have the exact same philosophy regarding telephones as I do! Let me explain:

She was very happy using her mobile phone and the landline when we first came to Toisan. Then I noticed her checking the landline caller id, before many months ago she didn't bother to top it up at the months’ end. Then she went off to buy me a new mobile, but came back with one for herself. This then got a new sim card and she was using two phones for a while.

A little later she gave her old phone and associated sim card away to a friend, so now she only had the new number. A month later she came back one day with a new mobile for me, but kept it to try for a week lol. I knew that eventually I would get my hands on it, even though I hardly use the things; but this had great camera and video just like the stupid Sony, so it suited me well, especially as the camera automatically activated when you slide the lens cover back.

We now have four mobiles and four sim cards, so Siu Ying takes over the old Sony, which looks great, and she hates immediately – a loathing that grows ever stronger as the device’s total fuckwittedness becomes ever more apparent over the forthcoming days. Two weeks on and she has given up with it all together, swapped the sim cards, and turned her old phone number off. I asked her why and she said “Stupid people calling me”. Same as my reasons then!

It is small things like this, or both of us independently preferring the same street bar; where the love grows between us, for I guess neither of us is normal?

Vilma's Visit

This story is again presented as a separate missive, and details how Vilma contacted me in 2010 simply because she was searching for her ancestral home town - Gao Gong, or the place where I used to live at that time. Her Grandparents married in the town, and then moved to the States and Costa Rica circa 1918.

This missive relates to her recent visit and our first meeting, which you can find here:
Vilma's Visit

My Birthday

In 2011 my birthday fell on a Sunday, which is the actual day of the week I was born on all those years ago. They say the good die young, so I am coming to accept my aging and longevity hehe! As you get older I think it is fair to say that the occasion of your own birthday takes on less significance, excepting for a few major milestones yet to come.

This year the Gran Prix was due to run on Sunday afternoon, so I cautioned everyone that birthday dinner would not be before 6.30 pm, by which time the chequered flag should have been waved. As it turned out, we planned a family get together for the Saturday evening and a meal at the local hot pot restaurant that is owned by a lad from the next village to the one where Mama lives.

The meal was made from two main meats, chicken and pork, which were cooked together in the creamy sauce; to which we added other things such as mushrooms and later, other vegetables. It was a shame that due to unforeseen circumstances Siu Ying's brother and his family were unable to join us, but of our small group, Nonni enjoyed herself greatly – and especially after a high child seat was brought for her.

Later that evening we enjoyed a hair-washy and massage before making our way home at around midnight. The next day, and the day of my birthday proper passed quietly as I worked on the second book of my trilogy until mid-afternoon. I then watched the Gran Prix and broached a couple of well deserved beers. The evening arrangements were a little vague with the timescale varying quite a bit. The evening meal had been scheduled for around 7 pm, but in fact this never sort of happened. Therefore I went back to work for a couple of hours while I waited for an update of the evening plans.

At twenty to ten Siu Ying rushed home and said we had to leave immediately. I was already prepared, simply needing to change my top and put on my shoes. We then walked very quickly through the backstreet's and shortly came to Club 520, where Siu Ying had reserved a large room with two tables and enough seating for more than twenty people, without needing to use the stools. We sat down and I ordered thirty six beers to begin with, and another twenty four for later.

This was the first time my wife had ever been the hostess of such a large gathering and she wanted to make face by paying with one of my foreign credit cards. It seems that whilst they did accept a wide range of cards, my Visa was not one of them, and so she ended up paying cash. Then a guy came in to get the karaoke working, only to discover it was a serious fault, so we moved to an even larger room across the hall. This room again had two tables, but as well as one large video screen, had two smaller ones beside the main one. In addition to the main room, which was large enough for thirty people to dance on, there was a private toilet by the entrance, and a rather curious room set to the other end, complete with bench seating and a lockable door. I’ll leave your imagination to answer the possible uses for that room!

A little later the beers were brought in, the first dozen being in a large bucket filled with ice. Siu Ying chose music by our favourite rock band Beyond, and we settled in to enjoy ourselves whilst waiting for our friends to arrive. As the time passed so we were asked if we wanted some ‘pretty girls’ to sit with us for the evening. This is common in better establishments, and basically they come in and drink your beer, play drinking games, and add a lot of fun. We did not need these girls tonight, although we did order one dozen mixed plates of snacks and fruits.

It was eleven o'clock before the first party joined us after finishing work. I knew several of them and soon a second group arrived consisting of the owner of the restaurant from last night, plus some of his staff. As often happens one or two naturally gravitate to the control panel, whilst others grab mic's and start singing. Soon the beers were beginning to disappear and so before long the second and then third buckets were brought in. We confirmed the order was five buckets, and then the place became manic. People continued to arrive over the next couple of hours, and interest was provided when one of the buckets of ice melted and sprang a serious leak. There was water all over the floor and vain attempts were made to mop it up, without first removing the leaky bucket. You have to wonder sometimes?

We were on the point of considering ordering yet more beer when people began to drift off and soon the evening came to a timely end. The clock said it was two thirty already, and I have no idea where the hours went to. I enjoyed the evening and the people were great. We were then driven to a streetbar afterwards where another crate of beer was ordered, along with a lot of food to soak it up with. This was just round the corner from our apartment, but not the one my wife and I independently prefer. However with good company it hit the spot that night, and we eventually staggered home around five in the morning.

Mama stayed with us for a few days after the party, and so one day we went to ‘Wah Yuen’ to do some supermarket shopping and I had an ulterior plan! But first let me explain about this major centre of Toisan, one of only two that are connected by a pedestrianised shopping street well over one mile long.

Wah Yuen has a monument set in a small traditional display area to recognise the achievements of one of the city's most notable sons. The locals will all tell you that he was the first ever Chinese person to drive a motor vehicle, but I saw a television program recently that credited him with making China’s first manned aeroplane flight way back in 1908. Which ever version you support, he is a very famous man in Chinese history, and did this at the time of the last great Chinese Empire, The Qing Empire. In those days Guangdong (Canton) was a very forward thinking hotbed of revolution, due mainly to the local hero of the revolution known as Sun Yat Sen. Although the founder of the first democracy in China, and forefather of those who now live in Taiwan; he is still classified by Beijing as being one of the three great leaders of modern Chinese history – Mao ZeDong and Deng XiaoPing being the other two.

However, let us leave politics and history aside and return to my small future. Every birthday deserves a treat, and playing this card most insistently, I headed for the shop that had two deep fat fryers in stock. The girls were mollified when I let them spend time shopping for shoes, Siu Ying almost buying several pairs, and her mother buying something that suited her rural life, although would never grace the feet of modern streetwise girls in the city. Siu Ying stated as much, but Mama was well satisfied with her weird footwear purchase.

Once back on the street I headed for KFC and turned right into a sidestreet. Siu Ying was not a happy bunny, but did help be to carry our heavy bags of shopping. I think she may have revolted, except for the fact that now the nearest taxis were in the direction I was headed. However, her enquiries of ‘How much further’ were becoming more frequent until I spotted the shop I wanted a short way ahead.

I lead her inside, greeting the owner and staff who remembered me from Jim's visit. I walked straight up to the deep fat fryer and stated that this was what I was buying today. My wife insisted on seeing the inside, and then got the price down to Y200 plus a couple of free bamboo mats. I then chatted in Cantonese to the owner and his mother who was guarding the till, whilst my purchase was packed for carrying. Having complimented me on my Cantonese during our conversation, it should come as no surprise to anyone reading that when I asked the price, it was given to me in Mandarin! I then stated it in Cantonese, which they all agreed was correct, and so we left shortly after, although it was clear to see that Mama really liked the shop and on another occasion might have bought several items for her kitchen at home.

As a footnote I should add that after buying a gallon of good fat some days later I soon got the thing up and running. It is totally excellent, although on the third use I did suffer a small drama: Normally I stick the chips in whilst it is still heating-up. This saves time for hungry boys, although I am well aware the correct temperature for cooking chips is 130 degrees Centigrade. However, using my preferred method I save ten minutes and end up with chips finishing around 175 degrees = crispy on the outside, and nicely cooked all the way through.

On this occasion I was delayed because my pork steaks were still a little too frozen to cook with, so thawed them quickly using the cold water method. We have all done it I am sure. With spuds peeled and cut, rinsed and left to dry I attended to other things, and once set with the crackling already in the pan for a crunchy treat, I tipped the chips into the fryer and shook them until they settled. Apparently settled that is!

The chip fryer, along with my small oven is in a nearby room, as our kitchen is just too small for these extra devices. I set about cooking the pork steaks and preparing the rest of the meal; fried eggs, chopped tomatoes, and a little onion relish.

I swear it was only a minute later when I checked back on the chips, only to be confronted with hot oil foam bubbling out of the top and drowning not only the work surface, but also dripping down to form a large pool of very hot oil on the wooden faced MDF floor. I recall thinking to myself, ‘Jonno, this is not good, especially as the wall plug is on the far side of the pool of hot fat on the floor’.

‘Uh-Oh! Houston we have a problem’. I look down at my flimsy cheap flip-flops and decide they will likely melt if I step in the oil, or even worse, cause me to fall into it. Neither is a good option, so I think laterally as foaming hot oil continues to leave the deep fat fryer in copious amounts. ‘A chair, a chair, my kingdom for a chair’, I shout; and unlike Richard the Third have one handy in the dining room where I am watching the disaster unfold from.

Reacting quickly I throw the chair in the middle of the small room and first remove the lid from the fryer. I then carefully reach across and pull out the plug from the wall socket. I then remove the chip basket from the fryer, and all is well for the moment. Obviously my cooking strategies have been marginally compromised by this unexpected event, so I take the meat out, but leave the crackling chunks to continue cooking, if on a low heat.

Once more I survey the room and find the fryer has now stabilised and dunking the chip basket back in, find only a small reaction as the fat has cooled. I guess it was all down to excess water in the bowl, something I will monitor closely next time. However, I am hungry so plug the fryer back in and settle it to cook without the lid on. I watch for a minute and all is fine. I return to the kitchen and finish off the meat, with very regular checks on the chips, but all is fine this time. Then with eggs cooked and everything ready to eat, I sit down to watch Criminal Minds series 6 on the internet, and will worry about the cooking oil problem another time.

The next day takes several coffees before I know I must go and clean up the mess. I am slightly worried about the floor more than anything else. I use an old tee-shirt to get rid of most of the excess oil, before cleaning the surfaces also and then mopping the floor. It is actually pretty easy once I get started and completed in five minutes + our floor is definitely glossier than before!

Since then I have used the fryer, albeit with a lot more caution, several times each week and have found it to be one of my very best investments of all time!

Ping-pong Nonni, Nonni oh!

As April becomes May and then turns to June, we have a new system in place regarding our daughter, Rhiannon. During March she had attended a local kindergarten for very young people a few days per week, but this was not quite working for us, and Mama was definitely not impressed. Therefore the girls took the decision that she would be shared between us, one week with us followed by one week with Mama.

Therefore this became the plan that is still running to this very day in late June. As you may know, toddlers are very time intensive, and in China this is moreso because they accompany the Mother or Grandmother everywhere, and for all hours of the day and night. I have become a great advocate of the papoose thingymagig, as the baby is always safe and secured either to mother’s back or front. We do have a baby chair, but have used it only a very few times, as this seems very impersonal and unless the situation is exactly right, the toddler does not like it as much.

This is in fact a natural extension of Chinese communal society, for the Grandparents traditionally look after the babies whilst their children go out to work and make money for the greater family as a whole. In their turn, the sons and daughter will eventually become grandparents themselves, and acknowledge their own duty to look after their aging parents, now great-grandparents, plus the next generation of babies produced by their own sons and daughters. Chinese society can still accommodate this philosophy as being a duty and a right. However, the times are changing and I worry that future generations will become mired in the same distant relationships that require state support of both the youngest and eldest members of society, whilst the ‘family’ as a unit become more self-centred and devolved to parents and children only.

However as you might expect, I look at this situation through different eyes at times, and monitor how things are going. Nonni is fine and I have ensured she enjoys both her times spent with us, and that other spent with her grandparents. With us she has a modern lifestyle and an emphasis on learning, regardless of what hour the clock reads – for we are two very crazy people, with Rhiannon sure to be a third. On the other hand, life in the village is safe and Nonni can wander around as she likes, safe and secure. There is one dog I do not trust, but her truculence seems to be reserved only for me, as she is fine with the local toddlers. And yes, this is the thing. Whilst Siu Ying's brother Yee Lo (Number 2 Brother) is one of the very few twenty or thirty-something's to still live permanently in the village, the numbers of old and young people are great.

Yee Lo’s own daughter ‘Loi Loi’ lives in the parental home with him, and at four years and many months, is now one of the eldest of a dozen kids, some of which are younger than Rhiannon. I have watched as Loi Loi speaks ‘Baby Talk’ to Nonni, a language they both understand, yet seemingly passed-by by modern science. Today Loi Loi is a mentor, and perhaps our daughter’s only source of Mandarin.

However, they speak Toisanwah (Taishanese) at both homes, whilst other’s and I provide Cantonese and English. I know she can understand questions in all three languages already; and she is only 18 months old. Example: “Hoi sai san-san”, “Hoe clie shin-shien”, and “Go for a wash” all mean exactly the same thing to her. I do not know what the Mandarin phrase is, but she will learn this when she starts school proper.

Understanding a language vs speaking it are two very different things, as I and many other students of languages can tell you. Regards speaking, Nonni is doing fine, and has learnt the most important words first of course – the ones that matter to her view of the world: Mama, Baba, Lie-Lie (Milk). Every day she surprises us with a new word, some of which are forgotten quickly, but most are added to her growing repertoire, regardless of which language they are from. What pleases me the most is that already she has many of these words and phrases in three languages, and has learnt to swap between them depending upon who she is talking to. Amazing!

Meanwhile her walking has turned into running everywhere, and her feeble scrambles are now definitely classified as ‘climbing’. Reaching 18 months I am very aware that this is the time for her to begin comprehension of more abstract ideas, such as numbers and counting.

Having a child also changes the way you think and the way you see life. Through the eyes of my books I also look to examine what sort of crazy world she will grow into, and worry for humanity as a whole. I can only be optimistic, whilst ensuring she has the skills to cope with our contrary world, and worlds to come. However, I am blessed with the chance to observe the world through a child's eyes as our precious moments take on fuller and greater meanings.


2011 has seen us witness unseasonable storms, early heat in April, and with the arrival of June the blistering hot temperatures of high summer. We have missed all the typhoons and earthquakes, associated floods and disasters, for we live in a special area that just seems to miss all these things. The predominant wind is from the south-southwest, which also ensures we have a clean and pollution free city. In turn this means that by day the sun is fierce, and by night we get to marvel at all the stars in the heavens above. Seeing either the sun or moon in Foshan was a very rare event, the pollution hanging like a stationary pall of smog over the entire area and surrounding countryside.

You may also be interested to know that the word ‘Typhoon’ is actually an English corruption of the Cantonese ‘Dai Fong’ meaning great wind. Nearby Taiwan is also more normally referred to as ‘The Island of typhoons’, for it naturally lies in the direct path of the majority of cyclones as they head up from ravaging The Philippines.

Normally the weather in this area is quite predictable, with each month seeing an increase in temperatures, which steadies in May as it rains for about four weeks. This year the temperatures kept rising and during April were already in the high 30’s. We experienced about the normal level of rainfall, but instead of it mizzling for weeks on end; this year brought many hot days punctuated by a day or two of monsoon rains. This trend continued into May before early June saw the mercury hitting the 40’s.

I was suffering badly as my office receives little wind, so many days I found myself walking around the apartment and taking a break where it was a lot cooler. Then by the middle of the month the heat became unbearable, as hot air was added to the already overly heated office by my computer, monitor and modem. There is only one solution, ad that is to install air-conditioning.

I discussed this with Siu Ying, stating that I wanted a good quality unit that also did heating (For the very bitter winter months), and that I wanted the heat exchanger put on the roof above. Normally Chinese fit these units just outside the window, which is very stupid as the heat simply comes straight back into the room you are trying to cool. She has spent the last week looking at all options and we have finally decided on a unit by Electrolux, which offers everything we require at a very good price, and it will be fitted on our roof for free.

However, just before we placed the order a couple of days ago, so two things happened: the weather got a lot cooler, and my gallant old pc started playing up again. I can be typing away when it suddenly freezes = no mouse, no keyboard – nothing! The only option I have is to reboot it and hope I haven't lost too much work.

Fortunately this has occurred after I finished and completely saved book 2 of my trilogy, and had updated pages on the website. These recent missives are really the only things affected, so I am typing them on my laptop and taking the chance to upload them whilst the pc is behaving itself.

Yesterday I rebooted fifteen times within one hour, so the a/c is now on hold pending either repairs to the old computer, or buying a new one. One of my problems is that I cannot work out if it is a software problem or a hardware failure. This is important, because if it is software then I will simply reinstall the operating system and set it to my preferences. However, this will leave me spending days adding all the applications that I want, such as Dreamweaver, CorelDraw, and Acrobat writer. There are hundreds of them, although most are already in a reinstall file saved separately and on many discs and memory sticks. I see no point in creating all this extra work if it is actually a hardware failure, like a resistor somewhere breaking down every so often. I’ll let you know how this develops over the coming months.

Website updates

I still continue to update the main China Expats. website, although this year I have been primarily focused upon writing my trilogy. However, after spending the majority of every day for the last six months writing, I simply need a short break before continuing. I need to spend a little time in the real world, not the imaginary society of my own invention.

Therefore I have been catching up on the basics; updating the home page and adding new content to the recipes and missives sections. I have also included a page regarding Vilma's homes for rent in Gaogong, and added a few other specialist pages.

However, the next major update is to add a full index cross referenced in both English and Chinese to the recipes section. There are now over one hundred items and around five hundred recipes, so this is becoming an urgent improvement, for the existing menu system is simply becoming unwieldy and incoherent. Therefore I have designed a simple A – Z index and am currently listing all manner of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish et cetera in alphabetical order. Most have two entries, which are cross-referenced in English and Cantonese Yueping (Spelt using English letters). I have added a small thumbnail for each and also a short comment, plus indications for recipes, so it is compact and full of information.

The thumbnails are deliberately very small with my idea being to provide a larger image when the surfer’s mouse passes over the picture = no clicking. That is quite easy to do, but what is not easy is to have the image close when the mouse is moved off it. This sent me back to coding school and many hours of research plus trial and error. Over the days I came up with several very suitable alternatives, but each required a ridiculous amount of code to be added at two places in the page. I also had the distinct impression that both methods may not be accessible to older browsers – for Internet Explorer 2 is still our fifth most popular browser each month!

The only alternative I had was to make a separate small pop-up page for each picture, which eventually I have done. It is simple to do, if quite time-consuming and boring. However, the good thing about this approach is that I can also add an extended description and make the image clickable to take you to the page with the details and recipes.

However, to automatically close this new window on ‘mouseout’ as we call it; meant that once again I had to write a line of code that is seriously not approved of by those self-appointed idiots at W3C Schools (Coding Standards Police for very large and rich companies). I had to do this before with the printable text pages of my 10 Word Cantonese – for you only want to print the actual text of the main section don't you, and not the whole webpage with its menu’s and pictures? However, my close pop-up window code is understood by all browsers and most importantly – it works perfectly, where all approved alternatives do not!

Hopefully I did not loose you in computer gobbledygook above, but please accept my apologies if I did. The results are very good and I am now slowly updating the Food Index to include every possible item and recipe. It is a lot of work, but hopefully when my main computer is working properly again I can finish it off quickly, and hopefully before July when I will return to my trilogy.

Just to let you know my main desktop computer has now been fixed and my hours of torment reference remedial action were correct, for several condensers on the circuit board had fried = not holding charge. I had a sneaking suspicion is was hardware failure, and not a virus or operating system problem. The cost of five new condensers and new CPU fan + two home visits and fixed within three hours came to £8.

My Books

As you will have gathered, my main interest this year has been to write a trilogy of books that are highly readable and very original. For budding writers or those wishing to learn more about the books I have written a separate missive that is almost complete apart from final review.

Final review and editing are probably my next target when I resume writing at the end of this month (June 2011). However, I may continue and write book three instead, I really have no idea until I begin. I know that book 2 is highly readable and that through both tomes I have grown considerably as a writer. I actually do consider myself to be a writer of novels. These missives are of a considerably different approach and style in case you wondered.

At one point quite near the end of book 2 I did have a problem, for I couldn't remember specifically which year I was now in. Sounds crazy? Well read the book and you will understand – for time jumps 18 months. I had also changed the original 2010 start date to 2011, which I later changed back again. Now perhaps you begin to see why clearing your mind and re-reading the work as a whole is so very important.

What I decided to do was write a ‘timeline’, which saw me going back to day one of the story and date stamping any notable event or passage of time in a separate document. What I was not expecting was to be drawn into reading my work on several occasions, for the story kept grabbing my attention and making me want to finish reading the whole chapter – and then the next!

If it can do that for me in its unedited form, then hopefully the same will hold true for readers. However, the editing process is an unknown factor for me, as I need to proof read it, and also second guess criticism – so any offers to read it and offer constructive criticism will be favourably received - and yes, it is already subject to copyright. On the other hand, with each book around 190, 000 words and likely to exceed 500 pages in standard paperback form, it is not something for the light reader to take on, enjoyable though it may prove to be.

This missive brings us up to date with my small life and the small events that is encompasses. In six weeks time I will be applying for my first Chinese Residential visa, and then later we will see if the British government will allow Siu Ying to have a visa to visit UK. Last time I was in Blighty I suffered culture shock, and I am expecting it moreso during this forthcoming trip. However, my Father is now my wife's Father also, and she desperately wants to meet and care for him.

So we will have to wait and see what comes to pass. Details of our exploits here of course in a few months time, and with that I will wish you adieu until the next time we meet on these pages.

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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