Starting to notice people taking out umbrellas doubling as parasols to protect themselves from the suns rays. The sun in Changchun is particularly bright (I often have to wear sunglasses) and surprisingly strong, much stronger than it ever gets in the UK.

The Chinese have a notion about white skin that those in the west may find peculiar, most of all that getting a tan is not a good thing. Many associate darker skin with uneducated peasant workers or people from the countryside that work on the farms. Their skin is darker because they have to stay outside all day trying to make a living. Whereas, In the west, many think people who are too white look unhealthy but here it is considered a form of beauty to be whiter.

There are many beauty products available on the market – just watch TV and you’re sure to be constantly reminded of this through those never ending TV adverts -about things that can make the skin more pale and ‘whiter’. I have explained, much to the surprise of those being told, that in the west some people actually pay money to make their skin darker, either through cosmetics or sitting under a light for a few hours.

It strikes me that wherever you go, people always have this idea that being something you’re not is somehow better.

Personally, I have a dislike of tans not only because I burn fast but because I think it is silly. Besides the obvious cancer concerns, I have no interest whatsoever in getting a tan, I see it as like putting yourself in the microwave for a few hours, and that’s not something that I really want to do! In this sense I’m with the Chinese in terms of the way they protect themselves from the sunshine, though I disagree with the idea of one colour of skin being better or more beautiful than another.

One of my favourite pastimes of late has been to go swimming. Even though I’m not a very good swimmer, It’s a great way to relax and forget about things, however, It can at times be a little intimidating as everyone stares at the man with the white skin. I know foreigners that wont go swimming here as they can’t stand the stares, Chinese don’t have much body hair and seeing a man with hair on his body, is for some, akin to seeing a monkey at the zoo! Therefore, I guess I’m lucky in that I’m on a par with the Chinese men when it comes to this, so once I’m in the pool with goggles and hat on, nobody can tell! 🙂

烹饪法 Cuisine

I’ve pretty much recovered from the incident on Friday 😀

Unfortunately its not so uncommon, apparently groups of thieves operate (especially in the summer) and bag snatchings/pickpockets taking phones are most common.

I count myself lucky that I got my camera back and apart from a horrible feeling in shock, I escaped unscathed.

It is nowhere near as big a problem as cities in the south of China (where women wont take bags with them at night), I would still say that Changchun is a pretty safe city and that I was just unlucky, indeed I feel much safer here than I would in a UK city of similar size (i.e. london).

I guess the big difference is that if something happens to you the chances of the police catching the perpetrators and you getting justice are very slim/impossible, whereas in the UK there is actually a reasonable chance of catching the offender.


I almost always eat out as it fits in best with my work but also because I can’t be bothered to try and cook something myself as I don’t have time and the economics of it make it not worth my while. It’s dirt cheap to eat out, I generally spend less than 10 yuan a day.

I thought to myself a while back, when I’m in the UK I won’t be able to get this kind of food anymore. Especially the dongbei (north eastern) cusine and as that’s one of my favourites it would be such a shame to not be able to eat it。 It’s a pitty that in China dongbei food is often forgotten about – people talk about Cantonese food, Sichuan food, Shanghai food, Hunan food but seldom the food from Manchuria.

My initial way to choose different types of food was to pick out random dishes from the menu, It was always fun wondering what was going to be ordered, and If anything, it gives you the chance to try some rather interesting stuff. I’ll try pretty much anything once, however, I’ve learnt that it’s often best not to ask where something is from if it tastes good – being told you’re eating pigs intestins is an instant turn off 😕

The reason I write about this now is that I can see a serious problem developing, that is I don’t really like the food back home anymore. There are exceptions, I’m looking forward to a sunday dinner; but my tastes have changed in that I find myself saying things that Chinese people would say about western food – ‘it has no flavour’ ‘it’s too heavy’ ‘it’s bland’.

I also eat less food, a UK portion is now too much for me to eat….
So over the last week I’ve been trying to learn a few dishes, so that when I go back I can at least make some Chinese food that I’ll like, as Chinese food from UK takeaways doesn’t taste good to me.

It’s English-Chinese food just as the western food here is Chinese-western.

Luckily, I have a decent sized kitchen that I should make the best of, I also have all the utilsils and equipment, and now, I actually have the time.

jiangtang tofu soupActually it’s not so difficult to learn, I am no chef, but It’s only taken me a few times to get it right. When I first got to China a friend taught me how to cook two basic Chinese dishes- Eggs with tomatoes and eggs and rice.

For me, I have about 10-15 favourite dishes of which realistically, I could learn 5 to cook, given the timeframe and my lack of culinary knowledge! 😉 I’m also thinking in terms of the of the ingredients that are available in the UK (Unfortunately dog meat is off the menu!), my suitcase will no doubt will be full of various sauces, spices and other cooking stuff! haha.

Most of the foods don’t really translate into english well (as many restaurant menus testify!) so I use the Chinese name and an English description.

disanxian 地三鲜 potatoes, aubergine, and peppersdisanxian
tudousi 土豆丝 potatoes sliced thin
shuijuniurou 水煮牛肉 bolied beef with cabbage and lots of spices
jiangtang 酱汤 – tofu based soup with bean sprouts, kind of smelly – one of my favourites. 🙂
tiebandoufu, 铁板豆腐 – Tofu with peppers
tudoushaoniurou,土豆烧牛肉 -Beef and pototoes
baozi 包子 – Steamed roll with meat/cabbage inside
tudoujiang 土豆酱 – Mashed potato with sauce
bing 饼 -pancakes bing pancake
malatang 麻辣烫 – Hot hot hot!
dafengshou 大丰收 – ‘gan’ Tofu rolled up with Chinese onion and egg/meat based sauce. 做那个真是小菜一碟!
jioazi 饺子 Dumplings, boiled, steamed of fried.
zhajiangmian 炸酱面 – noodles with silced cucumber and egg based sauce.
suantianrouduan 酸甜肉段 Sweet and sour.

And two foreigners’ favourites; gongbaojiding 宫保鸡丁and guobaorou 锅包肉– About a year ago, I spbaozient some time trying to perfect gongbaojiding -the problem with this dish is its really time consuming as it requires much preparation and everything being diced up. But I now know how to make this and It’s something I can use in the future.

I would like to know how to make guobaorou guobaoroubut I think It would be too difficult for me to do! 😕 Anyone know how??:?:
At present I’m going through a Jiangqiezi 酱茄子 (sliced aubergine with beef) craze, kind of addicted to this at the moment. 🙂
Even better it’s dead easy to make, the hardest part is knowing the sauces to use to get the right flavours. I asked the chef at the local restaurant that I reguarly frequent if he could tell me what he uses – and that I wasn’t going to steal his recipe! – It’s really easy when you know how, you can get everything you need from the supermarket and it costs next to nothing.
I’m sure there will be many types of food that I shall miss – hotpot 火锅, 咸菜 Specifically Korean, 新疆 Xinjiang, 回 Hui, 肉串 Kebabs, 铁板 (cooked in front of you on a hot steel table), 骨头 Meat on Bones (bad translation I know) , 北京烤鸭 Beijing noodles!!!Duck(different here from beijing, not as crispy, cooked differently -better in my opinion) 混沌 Dumpling things in soup, 羊腿 Mongolian style lamb’s leg and 米线 Yunnan noodles , in to name but a few…

However, I certainly wont be missing 美国加州牛肉面大王 or 臭豆腐!! 😀

小偷 Thief

I was at the South Lake earlier this afternoom, I often go there as it’s a cool place to study and I like the environment as it’s kind of an escape from the city.

Today though something bad happened to me, I guess it was only a matter of time but you never expect it to happen to you.
I decided to have a walk around the south side of the lake as I wanted to get some good pictures of the lake from this side. I took a load of pictures then realised that I didn’t actually have any pictures of myself from this place.

So at about 3.30 I asked a passerby if he could help me and take a picture of me. It is just my luck that the person whom I asked was probably a thief, though how was I to know? He was about my age, smartly dressed and seemed co-operative, all too co-operative as I was to find out.

I stepped back, asked him to get the side of the lake in the background and take the picture, however just as he was about to do this he bolted. He ran as fast as he could with my camera in his hand, along the side of the lake.

I instinctively ran after him, I didn’t have time to think about what I was doing. I am a fast runner (my long legs are useful sometimes! :)) but he had a good advantage over me and the fact I was carrying all my books in my rucksack made it harder to catch up.

As I ran I shouted ‘ 小偷’ ‘xiaotou’ but in such a situation you don’t really plan what you are doing, it just happens. People just stood-by and watched the laowai running after the thief , chuckling im sure, but did any of them consider helping out, I think not. 😡 It is huge indictment on a society when nobody will lift a finger to help somone in distress, and when it happens to you it makes you feel sick.

It makes you feel disgusted at other human beings.

I ran for about 100 metres, probably the fastest 100m i’ll ever run – it all went so fast – I could see he was tring to get onto a red moped that was parked. We’re still in the park, on the promenade, in the middle of the path. I’m still shouting to help, but still no response. It’s at this moment he has to stop to get onto the parked bike, I manage to catch up with him, just behind the bike, and I make a rugby tackle from behind.

I connected, my hands wrapped round his neck, I’m running as fast as I can run . The bike veres off to the right, my hands wrapped round his neck, then I lunge and he falls of his bike. He fell down the embankment and I fell onto the path.
In the fracas my camera was dropped by him, I quickly pick it up. His bike continued for a few metres then hit a stone pillar on the right on the path. stone pillar on path His lights his bike in the distanceand mirrors smashed and something fell off the front of the bike.

He was lying on the grass trying to scurry away I ran over grabbed his neck, gave him a piece of my mind – every single swear word I could think of, he was trying to escape, so I punched him in the face. I have never hit anybody before, i just did it, but it felt good. Again nobody thought to help, despite there being many people there.
I then thought what now, what do I do? I could call the police, but we all know how totally useless they are at anything to do with solving crimes and I’d probably be put straight through to an answer machine like the last time I tried to call 110! Or the laowai would get into trouble, I’d risk puting myself through an ordeal.
I could just beat him into a pulp (i’m certain that’s what any dong bei nan ren would do) until he can’t move, but that could cause me problems (being the laowai) and I want to teach him a lesson not put him in hospital for a month.

So I sat on him for few minutes, figuring out what to do. I called a few people but nobody answered, so I decided to let him go. He got up, picked up the debris from his bike started swearing at me saying all sorts of nasty stuff – so I retaliated again with my long list of nasty chinese insults (and I know so many insults!) 🙂 and pushed him over. He must have been about 1.7m tall compared to my 1.87, I’m a beanpole but there was no doubt that he was fighting a losing battle.

He then turned round and rode off into the distance. I took pictures of him, but the memory card had falled out of my camera and so they didn’t work!!! 😡

Once i’d found the card on the floor i took another picture but it was too late. I got his number plate, so I could persue this through other channels if I so choose. But I havn’t go t the energy to do anything more about this at the moment. his bike in the distance

Now, I hate violence, I am not a violent person but when something like this happens to you, its difficult to predict how you’ll react.
At that moment I wanted that guy to suffer for his actions. I saw the red mist, reason was not something i was going to think about. In my opinion, people who think you can train for these situations are mistaken, your instincts cut in, self preservation, and for me extreme rage.

Now I feel physically sick from this, my gut is churning and to be honest If I didn’t stil have work commitments, I’d be on the first plane out of here. 🙁

Dealing with the boss.

Waiban 外办 Foreign Affairs Officer (FAO)
The waibans (Foreign Affairs Officer) I’ve experiened range from bloodyminded crooks to incompetent halfwits – Out of the 5 I’ve dealt with 2 were incompetent, 2 serial liars and only 1 I would consider a straight person.

My current waiban would squarly go into the second category. Waibans are quite powerful people and have a lot of authority, therefore they delegate their real work to others, usually a over-eager student looking for a foot on the university career ladder. However, this person is given no authority to do anything of any consequence, therefore cannot act without first asking the waiban for permission. You would think this defeats the purpose of having subordinates to do your paperwork but there is a very good reason for it.

Ultimately everything that is done by the waibans dept (at jida this is ironically titled the dept of international co-operation… haha) comes back to the boss. If there is a problem he or she will take the flack for it. This is what they told me anyway, but I’m not convinced.

I think a bigger reason is that by delegating to somebody else, they may do a better job than the boss and so could ultimatly threaten their position. By keeping everyone under them, the boss exterts a lot of control and keeps his/her own positon secure.

Often therefore, if the boss isn’t around nothing of any consequence can get done! A great example of this is when I needed to get my visa extended, a quite straight-forward process for them you would think. However the boss has been on ‘business‘ in Taiwan for the last month and so I had to wait until she got back!

The impression I get is that people in positions of power and influence are terrified of losing their status, and will go to lengths that are detriment of others to protect themselves. Based on recent history they have good reason to be so, it wasn’t long ago things were so different here.

So, trying to get what you want from the waiban is often very difficult if it involves them actually doing their job, doubly so if it invlves money owed to you. The waiban’s primary function, in my eyes, is to skim as much of the foreign teachers salary as possible into their own pockets, and to perhaps help out the foreign techers if they feel inclined to do so!

The FAO is no fool and knows the inner workings of the system much better than you and so uses this position to achieve a degree of inequality of bargaining power , in induces duress to get what he/she wants. The law will not help you, contractual issues are simply not so important.

The waibans favourite tactic is to agree with you and say ‘ok, we’ll sort it out’ so you leave happy thinking things are resolved. Wrong. 😡 Come the next week nothing has been done – it’s the oldest trick in the book the ‘tell you what you want to hear’ line.

I have learnt a few ways to deal with this, firstly:

Complain, complain, complain. Call them all the time, keep hasseling them in the end they will capitulate, as they simply want you to go away so they can get on with playing QQ games and downloading that lastest Korean soap.

If you dont have the time or patients to do this tape record and or ask him/her to write down what has been promised. If they have nothing to hide they will have no problem in doing this. Actually, this is my favourite technique, I like to throw it in during a meeting as an off-the-cuff comment ‘so you’d have no problem in signing this, right?’ 😀

Don’t threaten them with ‘but in my country bla bla bla‘ that’s meaningless here and just shows how little you understand about this place. I also would never directly threaten somebody directly face to face – do not get angry or shout – act forcefully but don’t lose your temper for that is a big faux pas. I prefer more sinister and subtle tactics, like anonymous letters and picking up on something that is of value to the waiban.

In my instance, the reputation of the school, they were at pains to tell me how great this university is, how great the students are , how we’ve spent billions yuan on this, that and the other… Actually, I don’t really care. Honestly speaking, there isn’t a great divide (reputations aside -the name of the school means everything) between the levels of schools. I’m more interested in the things that impact on me – like accommodation, where/when I work, salary and will you actually pay me!

And so i made a veiled reference that it would be a shame for people to hear bad stories about teachers at Jida, that you don’t pay your teachers….They’re still sorting things out, but they owe all the teachers their vacation pay – I’m talking more than 10K per teacher… I’ll write in depth about it if they dont pay up…..

They will speak big words, promise so much, and fool many -afterall they’ve been doing this for years – the crunch is in what they do, not what they say.
Someone said to me that you seem to keep stepping into holes, I answer this by saying it comes with the territory. It’s the way it is in this job, especially so in provincial Changchun. it’s not a question of falling into holes but a question of there being holes everywhere. You have to deal with it and in a way, it’s like a game.

Direct action should be used sparingly, and is a last resort – I have used this once in relation to my apartment. I simply said I won’t teach until you sort this out as it is very serious. This worked and within 24 hours I had a new place, but this should be used carefully, you must have other alternatives first.

I think I suffer more than most as people don’t take me seriously, because of a combination of my age my appearance. They think he looks friendly, young and inexperienced, so we can mess with him. He won’t understand, he probably won’t care, he’s fair game. I still get this despite people knowing I’ve been here a while and I know how things are, Maybe If I could grow a beard and shave my head then people would be afriad of me?

It’s annoying when people judge you like this, but we all judge people by the way they look to an extent, its a fact of life.


出乎意料的我只有两个月在长春了,才开始写博客! 但是迟到总比不做得好 – better late than never!  我想尽可能的多做一些事情,练习我的汉语。 我要试着天天在这里写。
我今天下午去南湖了,天气很热, 人太多了。 可是我为有空闲的时间而感到高兴。 我认为那是个很好的教室, 下周我去那学习。 


Mandarin is the Beijing dialect, or common language 普通话 putonghua, as the communist government like to call it (its called the national language 国语 guoyu in Taiwan). Also it’s known as Han language 汉语 hanyu, or simply Chinese 中国话 zhonguohua. Some people get upset when using the ‘hanyu’ as it denotes the ethnicity of the language (i.e the Han nationality) in certain parts of China there is much resentment towards the Han majority .
I always have to explain to people that you should say Mandarin or Mandarin Chinese and not just Chinese, for a person who is not so familair with China may think you speak Cantonese, certainly in the UK this is the case due to the history with Hong Kong.

For anyone that comes to China, there is an assertion made by most Chinese that Mandarin is the toughest language in the world and that it’s next to impossible for foreigners to understand, let alone communicate.
Sometimes this barrier is the biggest obstacle in trying to communicate with someone as they immediately believe you cannot possibly speak their language and so don’t even try to listen what you are trying to say! It can be a confidence blow when you go outside, try to say something and get a blank face. Often though, only a few seconds later they suddenly reaslise they just understood what was said!

Being in Manchuria there is an accent, but people here are clear with their tones and pronuncition, I think it’s easier to learn here, than in the south of China, where you have to deal with vast pronuniation differences and dialects. Rather like the UK, there are accents everywhere in China, even here in the north east where Mandarin originates, city to city there are marked differences- Just within Jilin Province there are varying accents.

The other issue is the education level and familarity the peson has speaking with non-native speakers. So trying to communicate with a migrant worker is harder than a educated person from the city. I sometimes wonder what I would sound like to a Chinese person – Probably like Inspector Clouseau speaking English, which would explain why people laugh when I speak! 🙂
English and Chinese are both not easy languages in different ways, where English has complex tenses, irregular verbs, Chinese has different tones and characters. There is a good arguement though for saying that Mandarin has considerably more logic to it that English does.
However, with Mandarin there’s a massive initial hurdle that makes most switch off and ultimatly give up, but beyond this initial stage things get easier. After a while you start to be able to recognise characters, sounds and begin to develop a basic vocabulary, then you hit a plateau.

When I fist got here I got hung up over the different tones when speaking; this is something that takes a lot of time to get used to. I’ve learnt just to try to copy the way other people speak and it seems to work.
My personal opinion is that conversational speaking and listening can be picked up pretty quickly. Reading takes some effort but writing takes much time and real dedication. Which is probably why the only thing I can write with a pen in chinese is my name! To become good at handwriting takes years of practice. However, Writing is not of so much use for me, for if I have to use the written form I will use a computer or a phone to write, and this is pretty easy to do if you can read.

I couldn’t live here and not be able to communicate, It hampers your independence and makes it so if you want to do anything worthwhile you need Chinese assistance. I cannot understand the foriegners who choose to live here, yet are uninterested in at least learning the basics of the language. The idea of being helpless and relying on other people all the time annoys me, and it reinforces the stereotype (that some Chinese hold) that foreigners can’t do things on their own.

I’ve read much about the craze to learn Mandarin at schools in the UK, the idea that to do business in the next superpower every child should be learning their ji qi xi, zhi chi shi. The idea of learning a foreign language at a young age is laudable, but ultimatly a language is only any good if it can be practically used- is there an environment for it? I suspect the people behind such initiaves probably have never been to China, and base their ideas on what they read in the press and as such is probabbly a waste or time.
People may say that French and German are not the languages of the future, but the fact remains British people who leave their country at one time or another will be speaking one of these languages on holiday, not Mandarin or Arabic. How many people will come on holiday to China and actually have a chance to use the language effectively?
You may think im a hypocrite for saying this but I make the distinction as I live in the country, It’s useful for me and I have an environment.

As well as this, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to try to learn Mandarin in the UK, outside of China. It is hard enough for Chinese students here leaning English but at least they have an element of outside influence to help them. e.g. Films, TV. Also, I think that if you really want to learn a language well, you must have an interest in it and learning from another country makes it very difficult for students to have that interest.

I’m forgetting that many lucky/rich Chinese are learning English from a very young age, there is a huge national drive towards getting all of the population to be able to understand basic English. This is many, many years away and probably will never happen , but it shows that China is far ahead in promoting English than other countries are in promoting Mandarin.

Of all the businessmen I’ve met in China, not one of them has been able to speak Chinese, English is the language of business and it is here to stay. Learning Chinese is useful for social purposes, but to assume you can get a job just because of it is a little delusional, unless you plan to become a translator, or follow an academic persuit.
I have learnt that It’s essentailly cheaper and easier to have Chinese employed that speak English than vice-verser, even if they don’t quite understand the cultural nuances.

More importantly, I believe, is a deeper cultural understanding that lies beneath the language. To fully understand this one has to have a knowldege of the language, as this allows you to be able to start to understand how Chinese people think. It gives you the chance to communicate with people with whom it would have been impossible before and I find this apsect most interesting – Finding out new things and the reasons behind why people do things in certain ways.


This is rather a long entry, over 2,000 words with some pictures of me from over my time here. It marks the beginning of the end of my time here in Changchun – This may take a while to read.

When I first got here in October 2004, I remember landing at the airport, looking out of the window and the first thing I saw was soldiers marching on parade and fighter jets. As the plane taxied in it passed a man in olive green uniform standing to attention and saluting the plane. I thought ‘Oh god what have I let myself in for‘ and I was rathervery cold!  Me in winter gear concerned. – actually the military presence was there since I arrived just after the national day celebrations and due to the fact that the old airport in Changchun is also a military airport, but i didn’t know this.

The titillating wait for my luggage at the airport, then the walk out of the main door hoping that the person there to meet me was actually there. I remember being terrified about what would happen if he didn’t show up, I couldn’t speak, or read a word of the language, I was a duck out of water.

When I look back at this time I don’t recognise myself, I didn’t know anything about anything. I was eager –fresh-off-the-boat and pretty naïve.

Very soon I have to make a very important decision that will have an impact on my life for the next few years. There are three possible scenarios but I am only really seriously considering one of them at the moment. 1. Do nothing, stay here 2. Stay in China, elsewhere 3. Go back home.

For the last two years, like so many other foreigners here, I have decided to extend my stay here. However I believe the time has come for me to go back -if only temporarily- and buid upon my skills.

Career Advancement.

I believe that I should start to think a little more long-term. I feel that now I am 25, is the best time as if I leave it any longer I will have missed the boat and will be considered too old to train by many. There are some people who have been here too long and have become stuck, pigeon-holed and unable to advance their careers further. I don’t want this to happen to me. I am also well aware that the grass is always greener, I may look back in six months time and regret this decision but I would rather regret doing this than not doing anything at all.

silly smle for my 25th birthdayI can still come back here. The door is always open for me to continue doing what i’m doing. I’ve spent 31 months here and I feel it is probably time to call it a day. I have reached the top of the pile in terms of teaching positions here, I have a very comfortable well paid job, I am treated very well but there is no chance of progression. I am not interested in opening my own school or pursuing any other educational related job, I’ve done enough. The big reason ‘why’, is that I know I can do more, I don’t want to be undervalued all of my life- for I couldn’t imagine how unhappy I would be if I was still here in 10 years doing the same stuff as now.

As any teacher can tell you, once your in it for too long you’re stuck -it’s a job for life.

Most importantly though, the time just feels right, as if a cycle has ended – most of my friends (Chinese and foreign) have left for pastures new and if there is as good a time as any, then it is now.

If there is one thing I come away from China with it is the unequivocal importance of networking and making friends. There is a certain sense of ‘being outside of the loop’ that concerns me, in that If I am working in a big city there are always opportunities that present themselves to those who are actually there. It’s difficult to do this when you are the other side of the world, and to this extent I am missing out. Here teaching is a real lone-wolf profession, you are basically left to your devices, which gives you maximum potential to create your own curriculum but it also means you seldom get the opportunity to network on the job.

So what would make me come back and stay here?

I would stay here if I was in a job that I considered to be able to give me long term opportunities and career prospects and that challenges me. In all my time here I am yet to find this, I do not have the connections in such fields but most importantly I don’t want to be stuck on a Chinese pay scale.

However if anyone is interested in my services give me an email! :mrgreen: :mrgreen:
Unfortunately, I believe what I am looking for is only available outside China, whereby one can be sent out here to work and live whilst still attracting the benefits a western salary brings. I am not overly concerned with money, but if I were to get into a job on a Chinese pay scale it would become very hard to go back home due to long-term financial restraints.

I have done other things in Changchun besides teaching and tutoring such me and my friends!as editorial and publishing work. Even this suffers the same problems, that is, no long term prospects. The only place this can be done in Changchun is working for a foreign company, and basically they are FAW and its associated companies and suppliers. The westerners working for such companies are sent here from their home countries as specialists, and as such the way to get these jobs is to be in a western country and come out here as part of the job. I believe I have an advantage over others in this regard as know the turf, can communicate and the cultural differences are not an issue. Unlike most westerns sent here, I like living here. I know how things operate, I can sort out problems, I am self-sufficient.

As I have said before, Changchun is a nice place but it is not a place to advance your career. This is not just for foreigners but also for Chinese, many (if not all) of my students will seek employment in the big cities after graduation. However, I am happy and content here, and if I were older and more interested in teaching, I would consider staying here for the rest of my days. In China, teaching commands much more respect than it does in the UK and if I were Chinese (where there is room for progression in teaching), I would probably keep my job and stay in the profession for life.

My quality of life is very good, I have free time to do the things I want to do. I can eat some of the best food in the world, every day. I can travel to so many interesting locations, meet people whom have had such different lives from me and study languages and cultures that are unheard of in the west. I expect once I am home, for my quality of life to decrease significantly and the next few years to be tough. I probably won’t like this but as I have said it’s the best place to be in terms of long-term career advancement and I think that is what I must aim for.

On a philosophical note, perhaps this all boils down to what do you want out of life and what are your priorities?

Many people have an idea of where they want to be in the future some even have plans – house, car, married, family etc. I don’t have such plans as I see them as constrictive at present, however I believe it is important to have some sort of goal, or it could become all too easy to drift and get lost. My medium to long term plans, is to be working in China for a foreign company, on expat terms.

Making tough decisions is just part of life and I just have to get used to that fact, sometimes I look for guidance, advice, suggestions from others, but that does not change the issue that I am the one who must ultimately decide what to do. Sometimes I wish I had a time machine so I could try out all the different alternatives and choose the most appealing outcome, but that would be too easy and would take away the element of surprise that makes life worth living.

旅途本身就是收获 The Journey is the Reward

My dishevelled lookFor me there is something uniquely challenging about living abroad that is difficult to put into words and almost impossible for those never have done so to imagine. In many ways I like being out of the country and away from the things that annoy me back home. Many aspects of the culture and way of doing things I can much more relate to than here than in the UK. There is no such thing as a perfect place; everywhere has its ups and downs, its similarities and contrasts. Therefore it’s not surprising that I’m now feeling a certain amount of trepidation about going home, whereas when I came to China I never felt like this, Infact, I felt the opposite.

I’m also concerned that I may be going back to a place that I dislike and will find it difficult to relate to people, but I believe we all adapt, and that will only be a matter of time before things become ‘normal’ again. Life in the UK –for want of a better word – may be ‘boring’, that things will become a question of routine, ordered and straightforward

Overall, I will say that being here is, and has been, the most inspiring, eye-opening and interesting time of my whole life. I cannot emphasise enough how many new things I have picked up, how much I have learnt about different civilisations and cultures and how much I have improved myself as a better person. I have a lifetimes worth of experiences, memories and stories to tell. I have discovered new parts to myself that I thought I didn’t have within me.

My confidence has improved a lot since coming to China, If you can live here alone then you can do pretty much anything, indeed I’m sure things back home will seem so easy and simplistic in comparison. One of the more advantageous things is that this has allowed me to become a bit of a ‘china expert’ on so many things here and I’m sure this will stand me in good stead for future dealings, especially when I work out here again.

I am acutely aware that I have been very fortunate to be able to experience this; indeed most Chinese do not have the luxury of being able to live and work in another country. It is one of those injustices of life that the colour of a passport makes so much difference.
Those that do have such chances should grasp them.

Before I came here I was cynical about going to another country to live ‘Why should I go there?’ I said to myself ‘What can I learn from being there?’ and of course, the answer is a great deal. I can understand those who do not have the ability, whether it be physically, monetarily or politically to stay in another place but people who never leave their own country –but have ability to do so – I believe are failing to give themselves the best possible chance in life to improve themselves.

This may sound difficult believe to some, but I assure you that if you want to broaden your mind and improve yourself as a person, then coming and living in a place like Changchun can only help. It is at times, too easy to emphasize the cultural differences, in some respects things seem the opposite to the west- where white is the worn at a funeral, lilles are given at weddings, where north east is east north and where people row boats backwards, but actually, a great deal of things are pretty much the same here as they are in the west.

It is with great sadness and a certain degree of apprehension that I’ll say goodbye tome at north korean border near dandong Changchun (for the time being!) for when work/live in China in the not too distant future, it probably won’t be in Changchun, though I will always have a friendly holiday destination even if I only get to visit here once a year. I will always feel a part of me is here, rather like a second home and I have so many people to thank for making my stay here worthwhile. I have many good friends from here and I shall miss them dearly, it is the closing of a chapter in my life.

I thank all those that have spent the time to read what I have written and manage to decipher the poor spelling and grammar. There have been many ups and downs, but I only hope that you enjoyed reading the web log’s material as much as I did writing it.


I shall continue to post on this blog until late July/early August when I shall be leaving.


One of the biggest advantages of working in education over other areas is the working schedule. Today marks the beginning of the end of my time teaching here and I know I shall miss the holidays, and not having to be in one place from 8-5. In previous times I have kept myself extremely busy, doing many types of work all over the city, on top of my regular contract.

 This has allowed me to experience much, much more than if I was stranded behind a desk all day, but it also is quite a lone-wolf profession in that I work by myself and seldom have opportunities to network on the job. For the next few weeks- and for the first time in a long time -I am only doing my regular job, Monday to Friday. My schedule is perfect for me to be able to study full time without it interrupting with my other activities. I currently only work in the evenings, therefore I can comfortably study in the morning and do things I want to do in the afternoon. Furthermore, I only live 2 minutes from where I work! actually its 1 minute 40 seconds from door to door, beat that for a commute!)    

In a vein hope to shake off my bad stomach (still feeling the milk 🙁 ), this afternoon I donned my shades (more to stop the dust than the sun) , picked up my camera and umbrella and spent the afternoon exploring. The weather today has been a little wet and windy -very much like the UK in April- most people here don’t like this kind of weather but I think its good to have rain once in a while, as it really does a good job of clearing the air.  Since I live in the centre of town (and I am easily amused) there is much to see.

There’s something about doing things on your own, be it at the market, the post-office, on the bus or any public place really, whereby other people are much more inclined to start up conversations with you.  I’m still trying to work out why this is, perhaps it is that most foreigners do things with others (friends, translators etc), though sometimes I get the vibe that people think that because I am doing something alone (and in a foreign country)  it means that I have no friends and need to be talked to!! :). 

When you are by yourself you are much more likely to be approached and get into converations with people – It has to be the best way of improving your conversational Chinese by far.  

 I’ve lost count the amount of times people have tried to help me,  wishing to offer assistance for something or other.  Sure, there are idiots (as there are in any country) that make stupid ‘haaallloooos‘ and those that swear and say bad things behind your back, but this is a tiny proportion and thses type of people can be avoided if you keep aware of your surroundings.

  A good example is the very old lady who stood behind me whilst I was taking a photo of a building being demolished.  She must have been about 4 foot tall and in her 80s, wearing a blue mao-style suit buttoned to the top.  She was looking at me very curiously and then rather surprisingly asked me what I was taking a picture of?  I told her that this was a good example of old and new contrasts and that in my country I can’t see this.  She seemingly understood and said the usual superlatives about my Chinese (this is nothing to do with my Chinese, which is no more than average for someone that has lived here for 2.5 years, it’s just that most Chinese here believe that for a foreigner to speak their language, however bad, is amazing – even more so for those that have never spoken to a foreigner before as I think this lady was.)

Whilst walking down a small hutong I decided that I visit the one of the hundreds of small  markets that are dotted all over Changchun and would try a bit of bargaining -since I haven’t done this for a while. Of course, as any foreigner that has travelled here knows, at times it is frustrating, but also I believe, rewarding.  When you’re Just trying to buy something, often a crowd of people stand around watching the you bargain, knowing full well that they are seeing what kind of price the laowai can get so they can try and come back later and get a cheaper deal! 😀    

Often if this happens I won’t buy the goods because the shopkeeper won’t lower the price to the amount I wish to pay (even tough he/she could) as lots of people are watching and giving away a decent bargained price is a little bit like giving away a state secret. 

I used to find bargaining incredibly annoying and chaotic, the ‘Why can’t he just tell me the price and I pay’ attitude.  For me now, there is no doubt in my mind that bargaining is a huge skill, something that can be used in other areas of life, yet it’s something that we don’t really have to think about in the west.

 Bargaining is like a vein that runs through the very fabric of Chinese society, someone once told me that, ‘in China everything is negotiable’ and that is probably true.

Bad Milk

So earlier this afternoon I was sitting at my desk typing up some notes for my classes that begin tomorrow. I went and made myself a cup of tea, I added the milk to the tea then took it back to my desk. I then took a couple of mouthfulls and gulped down the tea. I drank some more of the tea, then with about half a cup remaining suddenly felt very sick.

It’s just my luck that I get sick during the holiday! 🙁

It was if I was about to explode. I rushed to the bathroom opened up the toilet and vomited like I have never vomited before. It was non-stop for about 30 minutes. I felt as if the inside of me was being turned inside out, my stomach, chest, throat all straining. I then spent the next two hours on the toilet getting rid of anything that would have been in my body.

I’ve had food poisoning before and it’always incredibly nasty, but this took it to another level.
Of course, living here from time to time you get some really bad instances of puking but this has to win the prize for the most awful and painful. It was just so quick and horribly intense. It’s at least 10X worse than what I have expereinced before -even worse than drinking too much baijiu – and that is bad.

The source of this I believe is from the milk I put into my cup of tea. The milk must have been bad, and I am a total fool for not noticing this. I can only guess that it’s because I’ve become so accustomed to drinking the UHT milk (always tastes bad to me) that I didn’t notice it in my tea. I can’t help wondering whether anyone has considered using bad milk as a form of poison, afterall it’s fast acting and highly effective!

Unfortunately I have now been put off anything to do with milk for a long, long time.

A friend told me this proverb and it fits nicely: 一年遭蛇咬,十年怕井绳

yinian zao she yao, shinian pa jing sheng

It’s loosely translated as: Being bitten by a snake makes you afraid of the rope for a very long time.
The best english equivalent I’ve found on the web is: Once bitten, twice shy


It’s funny what you stumble upon when surfing the web. Yesterday I was checking out a few Chinese websites and found this. Coincidently only last week I learnt the characters for this 破产 pochan (bankrupt) but I didn’t expect to find a story quite as interesting as this.

Sources: Readingchina CDT (proxy) Zhaomu Yulung
Jilin University is crying for help from whom? Zhao Mu Jilin university is in financial crisis. It cried for help a few days ago. A few days ago, the finance office of the Jilin University put up a notice on campus internet: “Notice: A consultative conference on the solution to the financial difficulties of the Jilin University ”

“Since 2005, the Jilin University has paid loan interest as high as 150 million to 170 million each year. The university increasingly suffers from expenditure over revenue. The debt is mainly used in two areas. The first one is infrastructure. Another one is salary. We have increased salary to the high level.” From the annual interest payment as high as 150 million to 170 million yuan, one can estimate the huge amount of loan (it is estimated 3 billion yuan). The crazy loan is for infrastructure and raising salary.

Are the banks, who went so crazy that they lent such a huge amount of money to the Jilin University, really brave enough to force the university to apply for bankruptcy through legal procedure? Would the court close down this university and liquidate its asset? Would the banks sell the campus by auction to get back their huge amount of money? Ah… ah. I can prove to Minister of Education Zhou Ji and the supporters of “bankruptcy” theory that this possibility does not exist at all. And I strongly believe that our great state-owned bank will write off most debts of colleges. Despite without complete statistics, this huge debt already reaches as high as 400 billion yuan.

The debt is apparently as high as 4 billion yuan (250million pounds) just to see how big a figure that is:


So the biggest university in China is out of money. Jilin University is a mammoth of an institution, I’m told there’s more than 50,000 students here and according to some it’s one of the best universities in China . It’s got to be one of the most federated universities in the world, It has so many departments, colleges, associated colleges, campuses, branches, sister schools, feeder schools, the list goes on…

To be honest it doesn’t surprise me and in some ways it’s no wonder the cash has run out. As it happens I do a lot of work here myself and can confirm that the article is true, there were posters up over the campus saying as much. My initial selfish thought was that I hope this doesn’t have an impact on my salary but then I remembered something. Going back a few weeks, a certain university bigwig (name withheld for obvious reasons) thought it would be amusing to bugger around over my holiday pay i.e reneging on the contract (nothing changes!) it now occurs to me now that he/she perhaps had prior knowledge of what was to come This is another story in itself, will write about it another day.

I asked some of my students about this and the reaction was typically assuaged. All of them said things like ‘this is a problem all over china‘ ‘many universities have such problems‘ and ‘the university will get enough money‘, which of course is true, but for me, misses the point.
When I pressed about ‘where will the money come from?’ they said the government will pay for it, which is probably what will happen. There’s huge face value here, bail the university out far exceeds the potential economic losses involved in fixing up the bad debts. There’s also recent historical government precidents of bailouts of industries over stridden with debt.

I was surprised that very few were concerned about the fate of their education but not so shocked that (for obvious reasons) nobody asked whether those in charge should be sacked or prosecuted!
I resisted the urge to ask ‘but this university is one of the few directly run by the central government – the Ministry of Education in Beijing’. (Of course all the better universities in China are all under the control of the Ministry!)
‘Therefore this is a government problem!’ Imagine a university in the UK under the direct control of the Department for Education announcing that it’s university has run out of money because it took on too much debt and now is unable to service the repayments! It would be a scandal, heads would roll. There has been some coverage of it here but very little in the mainstreem media and of course it’s always ‘a China problem’ nobody ever takes the flack or considers the deeper reasons behind such things.

So more money arrives, people get on with their jobs, end of story.

What has happened at Jida is just a small example of how many organisations operate here and is probably a warning for the future.
People may ask (actually they probably wont!) ‘how did this happen?‘ and even though I’m not privy to the politics of this, for what it’s worth, there are probably two principle factors at work.

Firstly, an absolute lack of financial competence. People in important, powerful positions of responsibility who you wouldn’t trust to run a tap. The only reason they have the job is because they’re the uncles 2nd cousin to the president of the school ‘关系’ – Of course this happens everywhere but here it is king. This is coupled with a serious lack of a ‘business way of thinking‘, money doesn’t grow on trees anymore – this isn’t helped by constant state bailouts and easy access to capital from friendly bank managers.
There’s no real financial transparency and accountability here, many tell me this is because ‘发展中国家’ ‘China is a developing country’. That’s as well as maybe but it cant keep on being like this forever, there comes a point, when things must change and move on. When people will be able to ask – Where does the money go and what is is it spent on? Can anybody show me detailed breakdowns of where every single fen is spent?
Sometimes, It’s not diffficult to see where some of the money is used , anyone who has been to the south campus at Jida will tell you how nice and modern it is – there has been a lot of money spent there on new buildings and infrastructure. It’s nice compared to western campuses and in Changchun that really is saying something.

However there are other more disturbing questions about where some of the money goes. Here there exists a culture of embezzlement and backhanders that is historical, cultural and constantly perpetuated through inadequate checks and balances and a lack of the rule of law. I also truly believe that many people who have access or ‘operate’ the accounts think they can simply print more money when they need it and use the organisation as their own piggy bank – acting with total impunity. Which, of course, they can.
The thing is everybody else knows this goes on, but understandably, is too frightened/disaffected/uninterested to say so.
I’m sure this kind of malpractice goes on in the west too but the difference is here they don’t try to hide what they are doing, it’s open and to an extent accepted. Infact I think some people strive to get into the high managerial positions – through patronage- if only so they can do exactly this themselves and In many ways I don’t blame them.