Balcony Gardening in China

April 10, 2011

In China, they call a lot of apartment complexes “gardens” (花园 / Huāyuán – literally “flower park.) My garden has 10 buildings. Each building has about 17 floors, each floor has about 6 apartments, most apartments are inhabited by families, most families consist of about 5-6 people (Mum, Dad, Son, Granddad, Cousin, Aunty, etc.) So if you do the math, my garden has about 5000 people living in it, which doesn’t really allow much room for individual plots of land. So most city dwelling Chinese don’t have gardens, yet only one or two generations back, they would have been been rural people. What this scenario leads to, is some pretty impressive balcony gardens from the richer Chinese, and some random pseudo-farms planted on the sides of highways from the poorer Chinese! Anyway, inspired by all this urban growing, I have begun to create my own garden/farm, for results so far, scroll on down:

Mint - 薄荷 - Bòhé

I was always banging on to Hazel, about how I wanted to grow mint so that I could make mojitos and have fresh mint tea on tap. And just before she left shenzhen, she gave me a (puny/scrawny) mint plant, which with a bit of TLC, has started to flourish. Thank you Hazel!

Lilac - 紫丁香 - Zǐ dīngxiāng

When I moved into my apartment, some Chinese friends came round with this Lilac plant, with loads of leaves and flowers. They instructed me to water it everyday, which I tried to, but soon it appeared to be on death’s door. For some reason, I continued to water this apparently dead plant, and a couple of weeks ago, it started sprouting “green shoots”! It was only this week, that I found out Lilac only flowers once a year…

Coriander - 香菜 - Xiāngcài

The beginnings of what I hope to be a thriving Coriander plant. For some reason there is something more satisfying about growing a plant from seed than buying it already growing and maintaining it.

Lettuce - 生菜 - Shēngcài

No story behind the lettuce. Except maybe that, although they eat a hell of a lot of greens out here, they generally don’t eat it raw. Always cooked or steamed. So I have one Chinese friend that says she loves the way I “cook” salad… which always entertains me, as I don’t think chopping lettuce and tomatoes really constitutes any cheffing skills!

Chilli - 辣椒 - Làjiāo

This one has the best story. One of the teachers from the school I was at, came to see my new apartment on the way back from her home town. She was ferreting about on my balcony for a while.. and when I asked her what she was doing, she said she was planting Chilli seeds. I told her that nothing would ever grow in that tired soil, which seemed to have been there forever and a day. Yet, 8months later it has a stem as thick as two pencils, and at least 3 semi-decent chillies!

table.cnt,tr.cnt,td.cnt,tbody.cnt,div.pyl,pre.pyl,p.pyl {border:0 none;border-top:0;border-right:0;border-bottom:0;border-left:0;padding:0px; margin:0px;font-family:Verdana,Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif;font-size:16px; font-size-adjust:none;font-stretch:normal;font-style:normal;font-variant:normal;font-weight:normal;line-height:normal;}table.cnt,td.cnt,div.pyl,pre.pyl,sup.pyl,a.pyl,p.pyl {color:black;background:#F9F9F9;text-decoration: none;}a.pyl:hover{text-decoration: underline;}table.cnt,div.pyl,pre.pyl {width:auto;}pre.pyl,div.pyl {overflow:visible;}div.pyl {position: relative; float: left; padding-left: 3px; padding-right: 3px; height: 55px;}

Aberdeen Dingxiang
zǐ dìng xiāng
仔定襄

Shenzhen Photblog #3

March 21, 2011

Inedible tangerine things, on sale to welcome in the Chinese New Year
OCT SHENZHEN - 深圳华侨城

In case of emergency, use the INTERPHONE to call the MOTORMAN
SHENZHEN METRO - 深圳地铁

".... .Please be calm and comply with the the instruction of the securers, bend over..." You have to read this in
HE XIANG NING ART MUSEUM - 何香凝美术馆

My 86year old Grandfather and his wife, being "mobbed" by Young Chinese Girls
SHENZHEN SPLENDID CHINA FOLK CULTURE VILLAGE - 锦绣中华民俗村

I think the Chinese were so proud that they had recycled the water, that they forgot to pay any attention to the wording on the signage.
COASTAL CITY MALL - 海岸城购物商场

A solid attempt at a Sunday Roast, using only a portable oven and our wits!
MY HOUSE - 我的家

At an Italian dominated New Years Eve party, I decided to emphasise my Englishness by making the strawberries and cream into a St. George's Flag 🙂
ITALIAN'S HOUSE - 意大利人的家

Guinness Sir? That will be £6.50.
McCAWLEYS IRISH BAR, FUTIAN, SHENZHEN - 深圳福田区爱尔兰酒吧

Look closely... this is the sheet to buy a new SIM card for your phone. The more "lucky" your number, the more you pay for it!
NANSHAN SHENZHEN - 深圳市南山区

SPOTTED! My arch nemesis YKK, delivering zips in Hong Kong. Their customer duly noted, will set about bringing them over to KSB!
LAI CHI KOK, HONG KONG - 荔枝角; 香港

Guan Shanyue Art Museum – 关山月美术馆

February 27, 2011

So much for the dearth of culture in Shenzhen. Looked down upon (if not sneered at) by her Hong Kongese neighbours, Shenzhen has a reputation for being a soul-less metropolis, punctuated only by fake designer goods, ladies of the night and contaminated baby milk powder. Not so I say.

After a year long self-imposed abstinence, I have reclaimed my weekends. No longer do I have to get up at 8am on Saturdays and Sundays to teach little Maos to say ‘I want candy’. Yesterday, I had three options available to me :

  1. Go to a “massive, ginormous, amaaazing antiquey furniture factory warehouse type place” in Zhuhai      (My friend’s description, not mine. Something like this I guess.)
  2. Cycle up to Xili Lake (西丽湖) to see the peach tree blossoms
    (though I’m not sure if something hasn’t been lost in translation here, peach trees+blossom really?)
  3. Head to the Guan Shanyue Art Museum and catch the graphic design exhibition finishing the next day.

The bright sparks among you may have guessed my final decision from the blog title… and what a good one it was! I will admit that my excitement about the exhibition was fuelled by the lack of available culture in Shenzhen. There are museums, theatres, cinemas, etc., but generally speaking, the target audience is not Lawowai (老外) (Foreigners). Therefore we rarely get to hear about these events, and often when we do, they are of poor quality – because the focus in this twenty-years young city, does seem to be more on things that are  fast/new/shiny than things that are slow, historic and textured.

Nevertheless, seek and ye shall find. A lot of foreigners living here do complain about the lack of cultural activities, but I fear that these are the same people who don’t make a lot of effort to find them. When you live in cities like London, New York and Paris, it is difficult to avoid the opportunities to interact with culture. However, when you find yourself living in a place described by the Lonely Planet Travel Guide as thus:

… China’s wealthiest city… Shēnzhèn isn’t a pleasant city… Most travellers give the place a wide berth, but it is a useful transportation hub if you’re coming from Hong Kong.

…You might need to make a little effort. Anyhow, back to the exhibition: “Chinese Graphic Design in the 20th Century: A Documentary”. The first section, Republic and Life (1920’s-1930’s) drew mostly from Shanghai calendar paintings:

Interesting that in the early part of the 20th Century, the Chinese were craving to emulate the west (here, smoking Virginian Tobacco). Now, as I sit and observe the beginning of the 21st Century in China, a familiar pattern seems to be forming.

Do these paintings disturb anyone else?

The second section, People and Heroes (1950’s-1980’s), displayed mostly political posters, all evidencing heavy Russian influences:

Clearly they are chasing off an American. But the other chap.. in black and white, is he supposed to be British?

NOTE: Communists all have very very big arms.

The final section, Citizens and Today (1980’s-present day) featured commercial posters and artwork:

Did Channel 4 copy this, or did these artists copy Channel 4? Either way, one of my favourite pieces from the exhibit.

No idea what this means/says, but I liked it all the same. (Translations/interpretations anyone please?)

I explored the rest of the gallery after taking in the exhibition, and stumbled upon a stunning section of Shadow play (皮影戏, pí yĭng xì) pieces. The intricacy of the cuttings was stunning.

This was approx 4m x 1.5m. The lightbox positioned behind the cuttings.

Cool little demon soldier dudes.

As some of you may have guessed, all photos were taken on an iPhone 3G (hence the average quality). So along with my weekends, I have reclaimed my easy-access camera. Allowing me to take this photo, on the bus, on the way to the museum 🙂

Chinglish at its best.

Lessons from Teaching in China

February 14, 2011

For the past year, my official job title has been: English Teacher.  My official location has been: Shenzhen, China. However, my ideal job title and location would read: Entrepreneur. Sydney, Australia. Thus the life I have been living represents almost the polar opposite of the life I aspire to live. Yet there are no complaints from this corner. The past year was always going to be a springboard for me. Having achieved take-off, I now inhabit the mid-air section of my journey. But before I let you in on the ups and downs of starting my business in China (so that I can one day move to Australia :-), I really should wrap up the first chapter of my journey: being a Teacher and being in China.

No, I am not peeing on Australia. I am just crap with graphics!

Teachers can manhandle kids in China

At first I was shocked by the heavy-handed ways of Chinese kindergarten teachers. Not shocked because I thought the kids were suffering particularly from the odd clip round the ear, but because it’s so frowned upon back home, that you just don’t do it. However what goes on in the state-run kindergartens and schools, doesn’t necessarily occur in private education centres (where I mostly worked). As the Chinese strive to adopt a more and more Western way of life, they are beginning to eschew the ways of old. So whilst what Amy Chua has to say in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is very interesting, the ethos is largely being eroded in her homeland. Further proof of changes taking place in Asian education: Beating Ban stirs debate in South Korean Schools

All the kids were smiling, none of them had been beaten that day 🙂

Chinese kids are getting fatter and fatter…

One day, I was teaching that age old favourite: Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes to a class of 4 year olds. To aid the process, I decided to go to each kid, one by one, and point out the head, shoulder, knees and toes that belonged to their own bodies. This was a great idea. Candy, Apple, Angel, Tiger and New all seemed to have light-bulb moments. Then I arrived at Phillip, he was wearing shorts… but where was his knee?!? No knee. This kid was so overweight that his knee was indecipherable from the rest of his leg.

Eat some sandwishes, and maybe getting fat will come true.

(All) Kids respond well to discipline and boundaries

Phillip was a bit of a handful in the beginning. Unlike in the UK, where bigger kids might be teased, leading to shyness, in China there is no such discrimination. This means that you can, nine times out of ten, assume that bigger kids in China have been given whatever they want, whenever they want it, and are not used to hearing the word “NO”. So when I say that Phillip was a handful, I mean that he was naughty and difficult to control in the classroom. But after weeks and weeks of putting him in the corner, kicking him out of the classroom and having stern words with his grandmother, he turned a corner. As evidenced by numerous other cases I came across, if you set the boundaries and stick to them, usually the kids respond. Without a shadow of a doubt, the kids I will remember most fondly will be the naughty kids that came good.

The Chinese do not own up to mistakes they have made.

The topic of one of my Winter Camp courses was “Amazing Buildings”. The course was to last fourteen days, and I decided that we would spend five or ten minutes at the end of each day, doing a puzzle – The Leaning Tower of Pisa. The puzzle was laid out on a table and after the first day, we had completed the majority of the edges. I carried the whole table into the Teachers office, expecting to take it back into the classroom the next day. You can imagine my shock when I arrived at the school the next morning, to find all the pieces back in the box, all progress gained had been lost!! Who would do that? WHY would they do that? I went out to the Chinese teachers and staff and asked “Who destroyed my puzzle?” Silence. I asked again. “Maybe it was one of the kids” offered one girl. It wasn’t, the puzzle was intact when I left, and I left after the kids. There were only about six staff, not one would own up. So for the entire day, I kept posing the question: “who destroyed my puzzle?” After lunch, I was still asking and finally one of the girls (Jenny) said “Ohhh, the puzzle? Yes, I tidied it away”. Tidied it? You tidied the puzzle? WHY? “…because I thought it was messy”. At this point Vivian chipped in “puzzles aren’t very common in China, maybe Jenny has never done one, and didn’t realise what is was for”. So I turn to Jenny “Jenny, have you ever done a puzzle before?” Jenny: “Yes, of course!”

In China, there is a sociological system of Face (read more) at work. Chinese people would rather lose money than lose face. Rather do something they hate to do, than lose face. And indeed, rather not tell the truth than admit to a mistake – because if you have made a mistake then you are deemed to have lost face. Phd theses have been written about this, if you want to know more, I suggest you seek them out. In the meanwhile, I hope my little anecdote has given you some small insight to living/working with the Chinese.

Smile, deny everything.

Celebrate Everything. (As long as it involves presents)

Nowadays, it seems that every Christmas, Chanukah or Wedding that comes around, someone will complain that the true meaning of the event has been forgotten, and it is now nothing more than a materialistic exercise in gift receiving and excess. I would suggest that this person doesn’t visit China anytime soon. The Chinese seem eager to celebrate anything with great enthusiasm. Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, you name it, they do it. (Ok, maybe they don’t do Chanukah 😉   However, ask them who Jesus or St. Valentine was, and you’ll get a blank face. Ask them how much a Christmas Tree or a dozen red roses cost, and you’ll get a full market appraisal.

The most I have ever participated in Halloween!

Finally, a small disclaimer: I am aware that sweeping generalisations have been made in this post. Of course, these observations do not apply to every single one of the 1.4billion people living in China. Actually, the observations probably don’t apply to the people living in the countryside at all. However, I live in a city and if the government has its way, within the next 10-15years, so will everyone else in China. I hope you can accept that just because I have made these observations, it does not mean I dislike, frown upon or have a lack of respect for the people of China. I am an alien, living in a foreign land, and what you’ve read is simply what I’ve seen.

For the past year, my official job title has been: English Teacher.  My official location has been: Shenzhen, China. However, my ideal job title and location would read: Entrepreneur. Sydney, Australia. Thus the life I have been living represents almost the polar opposite of the life I aspire to live. Yet there are no complaints from this corner. The past year was always going to be a springboard for me. Having achieved take-off, I now inhabit the mid-air section of my journey. But before I let you in on the ups and downs of starting my business in China (so that I can one day move to Australia :-), I really should wrap up the first chapter of my journey: being a Teacher and being in China.

Teachers can manhandle kids in China

At first I was shocked by the heavy-handed ways of Chinese kindergarten teachers. Not shocked because I thought the kids were suffering particularly from the odd clip round the ear, but because it’s so frowned upon back home, that you just don’t do it. However what goes on in the state-run kindergartens and schools, doesn’t necessarily occur in private education centres (where I mostly worked). As the Chinese strive to adopt a more and more Western way of life, they are beginning to eschew the ways of old. So whilst what Amy Chua has to say in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is very interesting, the ethos is largely being eroded in her homeland. Further proof of changes taking place in Asian education: Beating Ban stirs debate in South Korean Schools

Chinese kids are getting fatter and fatter…

One day, I was teaching that age old favourite: Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes to a class of 4 year olds. To aid the process, I decided to go to each kid, one by one, and point out the head, shoulder, knees and toes that belonged to their own bodies. This was a great idea. Candy, Apple, Angel, Tiger and New all seemed to have light-bulb moments. Then I arrived at Phillip, he was wearing shorts… but where was his knee?!? No knee. This kid was so overweight that his knee was indecipherable from the rest of his leg.

(All) Kids respond well to discipline and boundaries

Phillip was a bit of a handful in the beginning. Unlike in the UK, where bigger kids might be teased, leading to shyness, in China there is no such discrimination. This means that you can, nine times out of ten, assume that bigger kids in China have been given whatever they want, whenever they want it, and are not used to hearing the word “NO”. So when I say that Phillip was a handful, I mean that he was naughty and difficult to control in the classroom. But after weeks and weeks of putting him in the corner, kicking him out of the classroom and having stern words with his grandmother, he turned a corner. As evidenced by numerous other cases I came across, if you set the boundaries and stick to them, usually the kids respond. Without a shadow of a doubt, the kids I will remember most fondly will be the naughty kids that came good.

The Chinese do not own up to mistakes they have made

The topic of one of my Winter Camp courses was “Amazing Buildings”. The course was to last fourteen days, and I decided that we would spend five or ten minutes at the end of each day, doing a puzzle – The Leaning Tower of Pisa. The puzzle was laid out on a table and after the first day, we had completed the majority of the edges. I carried the whole table into the Teachers office, expecting to take it back into the classroom the next day. You can imagine my shock when I arrived at the school the next morning, to find all the pieces back in the box, all progress gained had been lost!! Who would do that? WHY would they do that? I went out to the Chinese teachers and staff and asked “Who destroyed my puzzle?” Silence. I asked again. “Maybe it was one of the kids” offered one girl. It wasn’t, the puzzle was intact when I left, and I left after the kids. There were only about six staff, not one would own up. So for the entire day, I kept posing the question: “who destroyed my puzzle?” After lunch, I was still asking and finally one of the girls (Jenny) said “Ohhh, the puzzle? Yes, I tidied it away”. Tidied it? You tidied the puzzle? WHY? “…because I thought it was messy”. At this point Vivian chipped in “puzzles aren’t very common in China, maybe Jenny has never done one, and didn’t realise what is was for”. So I turn to Jenny “Jenny, have you ever done a puzzle before?” Jenny: “Yes, of course!”

In China, there is a sociological system of Face at work. Chinese people would rather lose money than lose face. Rather do something they hate to do, than lose face. And indeed, rather not tell the truth than admit to a mistake – because if you have made a mistake then you are deemed to have lost face. Phd theses have been written about this, if you want to know more, I suggest you seek them out. In the meanwhile, I hope my little anecdote has given you some small insight to living/working with the Chinese.

Nowadays, it seems that every Christmas, Chanukah or Wedding that comes around, someone will complain that the true meaning of the event has been forgotten, and it is now nothing more than a materialistic exercise in gift receiving and excess. I would suggest that this person doesn’t visit China anytime soon. The Chinese seem eager to celebrate anything with great enthusiasm. Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, you name it, they do it. (Ok, maybe they don’t do Chanukah 😉   However, ask them who Jesus or St. Valentine was, and you’ll get a blank face. Ask them how much a Christmas Tree or a dozen red roses cost, and you’ll get a full market appraisal.

Finally, a small disclaimer: I am aware that sweeping generalisations have been made in this post. Of course, these observations do not apply to every single one of the 1.4billion people living in China. Actually, the observations probably don’t apply to the people living in the countryside at all. However, I live in a city and if the government has its way, within the next 10-15years, so will everyone else in China. I hope you can accept that just because I have made these observations, it does not mean I dislike, frown upon or have a lack of respect for the people of China. I am an alien, living in a foreign land, and what you’ve read is what I’ve seen.

I like play football

October 12, 2010

Last week I bought a new (waterproof) camera in Hong Kong. To replace my old (waterproof) camera, which broke as a result of water damage. The first picture taken with the new camera, is below. To capture this shot, I had to infiltrate the apartment complex opposite mine, identify the best building for the photo and finally locate and sneak up to its roof.

In the right of the picture, you can see buildings #6 and #7 of my complex. To the bottom and in the centre is the football pitch where we play every Tuesday. Also where I choose to acquire most of my my injuries. Building #8 and the beginning of #9 can be seen to the left (I live in #9). Finally, the large well lit building in the background is Tiley Plaza – part of the Coastal City shopping complex.

Football & The City

p.s.  read this article… please show some sympathy: How do you teach Head, shoulders, Knees and Toes, to a kid who can’t tell the difference between their knee and the rest of their leg!!!!?