Monday, 22 February 2010

hi,nice girl,glad to know you

There is an english language social networking site here called - I have access to FB and Twitter so was quite happy ignoring it completely until one of my Electric Shadettes suggested we advertise our screenings there. So I've joined and am befriending anyone who asks in an effort to get the word to out as many Beijingers as possible.

Here is a selection of messages I've received from my new pals:

"hi,nice girl,glad to know you"

"how r u there babe?"

"Hi pretty, Glad to meet you on this website I am 100% made in China by the way :)"

"hi how are u cute ?nice to meet u here my friend, wanna be ur friend?"

Also, apparently to aide this burgeoning dating scene, names appear in either blue or pink depending on whether the user is male of female. Sophisticated stuff.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Dirty Fingernails, Dusty Knees and We All Learn Something

I feel like I have spent this week wholly on my hands and knees flicking through pile upon pile of dusty dirty plastic sleeve encased DVDs. I can't possibly have spent a full 7 days doing that, and yet...

One stays in China for a certain amount of time and finds oneself becomes a little more "local" in the way one operates - at least that's my current excuse and I do believe I'll be sticking to it for now. Amongst the myriad of activities that I fill my time with here, nestles our film club, where every so often with timely irregularity we screen films in a small cafe in 798, the art district.

A quick rewind and recap to summarise my 17 months of film based adventures: there are a whole host of reasons that most films from most countries don't make it to cinema screens here, suffice to say the result is that the cinematic landscape is as barren and dry as, well, as the rest of the city in the height of the airless summer days. And so it happened that mere weeks after my arrival with nary a clue as to how best involve myself with getting back on the filmmaking horse, I started plotting and scheming and planning and dreaming for ways in which to adorn this city with cinematic baubles.

Having never worked with any UK based film festivals, galleries or other forum for the public sharing of films, I can't accurately compare the experience with doing it China style. But things here certainly feel more loose and fluid than the health and safety happy environment at home. If you do business out here you might start getting anxious at the apparent lack of planning, organisation and general forward thinking. But you would start to go mad if you stayed in your British/ Western head. And so you become used to doing things in a new way, you don't quite plan every small detail. You start to think things will just fall into place. You relax. You take your eye off the ball. But, dear reader, beware, as a wise fellow recently said to me "assumption is the mother of all fuck ups". This is how I found myself, hours before an informal screening in a small cafe, sans advertised film.

I've often tried to explain the prevalence of pirate DVDs here by saying to friends "I wouldn't even know where to buy genuine DVDs". Well, yesterday minus one vital ingredient to a successful film screening I tried to find out how you buy a genuine DVD, with authentic Chinese subtitles. I failed. I went to every not-quite-legit DVD shop within the third ring road. I failed. I literally looked at hundreds of films and on my hands and knees I went through boxes of uncategorised discs in flimsy plastic sleeves encrusted with grime and I failed. Dirt under my fingernails, dust on my knees, sorrow in my heart and sheer infuriating self-loathing in my head, I picked myself up, mentally bashed myself against a brick wall and showed a different film.

It wasn't the end of the world, and I learned a lesson. Yup. It's like an episode of Saved by the Bell right here, the one where Jessie gets addicted to ProPlus springs to mind, and like Jessie I learned that lesson good. I also learned that the DVD shop in Xinjiekou has an amazing selection, that the man in the art film shop on Nanluoguxiang speaks more English than I realised, and that the DVD shop on the West side of Yaxiu is cheaper than on the East, despite the fact I thought they were run by the same guy.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Tiger Paws and Ten Foot Roses.

A few months ago I spent hours hunched over my computer in my wee office, rain and wind howling outside the window, the sky a vile pollution-tinged shade of purple-y yellow, and tapped out an eloquent yet efficient and wryly humorous summary of my time in Beijing from the most previous blog post to date. And accidentally deleted it. Being the grown up lady type I am, I went in an almighty huff and refused to go anywhere near the blog till... well, now.

So here we are, 1 year and 4 months on. Cripes. Today is 春节 Spring Festival - aka Chinese New Year, the first day of the Year of the Tiger. What will this year bring? Well no spring for a start (the Year of the Ox had 2 apparently, so that's that..). Because of this, I have been advised not to get married or have any babies this year because it would be unlucky. So, ok, ok I'll try not to.

Last year we were invited to our neighbour's flat for a midnight meal of jaozi (dumplings) and watched the sky light up with thousands of fireworks, this year though they had their family staying so we were left to our own devices. So last night, I found myself having drinks with friends and as we were wandering back through the streets a man proffered a half-smoked cigarette at me, I smiled bemusedly at him until I saw him gesturing at a brightly coloured box in the pavement and realised I was being invited to participate in an age old Chinese New Year tradition - setting off masses of fireworks in the street mere inches from people, cars, buses and overhead tram lines. Naturally I enthusiastically took this opportunity to risk having my face melted onto my hand bag and spent a good 20 minutes lighting a whole range of fireworks, as more cigarettes were lit and handed to me, a never ending supply of whizzers, bangers, and general sources of ooh-aah-ness were brought out of this fellow's house. Eventually my friends called me away, probably for the best as a rogue component of someone else's fireworks had just ooh-ed and aah-ed right into my knee and burned through two layers of tights.

Having had a fitful sleep interrupted at 20 minute intervals by unnecessarily loud explosions of pure Chun Jie joy I joined approximately 98% of Beijing's native population and hopped on a subway to my nearest Temple Fair. Despite going with my friend Shirley, who is a genuine Beijingren and goes to at least one temple fair every single Spring Festival, we managed to get lost in the grounds and ended up at the performance area just as it was finishing and so managed to see nothing of any cultural worth. We did however play some fun fair type games (of the hooplah type which one never wins, and sure enough with my unrivalled hand to eye co-ordination, we never won) and had a pleasant time browsing the stalls selling an enterprising mix of New Year and Valentines paraphernalia. I bought Shirley an inexplicable hair band with rabbit ears and she got me an enormous plush red rose and we both looked longingly (but skintingly) at the inflatable ten ton weights, fake sugared haw berry sticks and huge tiger paws-gloves with claws. We ended the day by drinking the world's most expensive and tiny hot chocolate in a small bar which never quite managed to get the door shut and thereby left us frozen throughout. Good times.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Pot Plants and Perspiration

Week seven:
In which I tell you about moving house
(which we did in week five)

When I first arrived here, some of you may know that I was sleeping on the couch in Halla's flat as her place didn't have a spare room, but a month in we got a new flat with a plenty of bedrooms for Halla, her flatmate, Aisling (our flatmate now, of course), and little old me. A week or so before we were due to move in we went round to the new place and met the landlady. This was my first peek at the flat and, as promised, it was a bit of a step up from where we were already. The flat is right at the top of the building (sixth floor so not exactly Taipei 101, but no lift so quite high enough thanks), as it's on the top floor it's a duplex and pretty much twice as big as the last place. I had a quick shufti and confirmed that, yes I had a bed in it's own room but that it was approximately a fifth of the size of Halla's palatial suite with private balcony and we were to be paying the same in rent... hang on a tick. Cue a furious whispered discussion where I managed to broker a deal giving me a second room in the house - a wee box room upstairs which seemed to have marvellous potential for a studio/ office - great, finally I can stop suffering and start writing that symphony...

We were anticipating a fairly stress-free move as the old flat was in a compound directly across the road from the new place, however, as previously mentioned the new place is on the sixth floor and the old place on the fifth.... nice, and not a lift in sight... Luckily, this is China where there is an abundance of people who can be hired for just about any purpose and we managed to get a couple of chaps to cart everything over in a little rickshaw then run up and down the stairs with the large piles of stuff, bits, bobs, odds, ends and large pieces of furniture which over the last year or so in the old place, Halla and Aisling had managed to amass. Credit where it's due, we also had lovely Anuj helping Halla and Aisling out at the old flat and me at the new one shifting their stuff into their respective rooms, providing the increasingly sweaty movers with cool drinks and just generally being a godsend and a wonderful help to all involved. By mid afternoon time was running out and the two moving men were going to have to leave and do their real jobs. Halla, Anuj and Aisling were at this point slightly frazzled, standing outside the old place, surrounded by a mountain of boxes and bookshelves, on the phone to me asking how quickly the two guys would be able to get back (one of whom was, by now, on the verge of a heart attack but going out in style with a cigarette permanently dangling out his mouth), when luckily, sensing the pickle they had gotten themselves into, some of our old neighbours managed to produce a van out of thin air and between them and the two heroic moving men they got the job done. Bish, bash and, indeed, bosh.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks and a couple of trips to Ikea later and we're pretty much all unpacked and settled in. George (the little cat who came with the flat and sits on a mat while scratching our tat and meowing - the brat) has come out of his shell. He was understandably a bit miffed for the first few days that his owners had moved to Australia, left him behind and had three strange women move in without so much as a by-your-leave but I think we won him over by buying two enormous 40 kuai houseplants from Ikea which he now, every day without fail, gleefully clambers up and munches on before lovingly throwing up green bile for us to find with our newly showered bare feet. Lovely. At least he hasn't started presenting us with disembowelled vermin - yet.

So nice and settled in the new flat, have started private Chinese lessons and also had my training for the exam marking at the British Council, unless I made lots of mistakes in my first 21 papers I should be doing that every week from this Sunday. I have also bought a digital camera so the next blog will be jam packed with photos and also more stories about my adventures learning Chinese, trying to hold down a job and The New Beijing International Movie Week.

Competition Time!
This week a worthless piece of Chinese tat for anyone who can correctly identify the film reference in this week's blog. Closing date Oct 27th '08.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Great Leaders and Fun Times

Week two/ three:
I still can't speak Chinese but I can say Hello in Korean

Whoops! Where did those two weeks go? After such an inspired start (I'm sure you'll all agree) I'm afraid to say my blog has become a little cobwebbed and neglected. But you'll be heartened to hear that all it took for me to pick up the proverbial pen and start writing a new entry was thinking about the faces of my forlorn and disappointed readers, whose hearts no doubt felt a lightning bolt of sorrow and grief upon logging in day after day and seeing no new words of wisdom and inspiration on the screen... ahem, sorry, it seems I'm still channelling the mp3 voiceover man from the mausoleum of the Great Leader Kim Il Sung. Ahhh, sweet memories of DPRK, but more of that in a tick - first things first:

Jingle Balls, Jingle Balls...

When I last wrote, I was in the grip of Paralympic fever - well probably fairer to say I was on the cusp of Paralympic fever, having not had the chance to see anything other than lots of posters and billboards proclaiming "Two games Equal glory" (or somesuch slogan equating both "Lympic" events to finding a cure for cancer). So I was very excited indeed to actually be seeing an event, Halla and I had tickets for blind football but she had some major cross cultural media crisis she had to attend to so was going to meet me halfway through at the stadium. Luckily with my innate sense of direction finding the Olympic Hockey Stadium was going to be no problem whatsoever... Actually though, it was hardly any bother at all. The Chinese have built a whole new subway line for the Olympics (can't quite imagine London doing the same thing) so there's only a limited margin for getting lost and - joy of joys! - when I did get to the subway stop nearest to the football match I just asked one of the blue-clad volunteers where to go next. It transpired that the hockey field was almost off the map but my volunteer had some free time so he said he'd take me there himself. We walked through the Olympic Green, past the bird's nest (ooooh!) and the water cube (aaaah!) and waited for a free Olympic bus to take us up to the other stadiums, we had to let two past before he would allow me to squeeze myself with the masses onto the bus. There are a lot of people on Beijing but I have never seen a bus so crammed since I was in Bangalore (ah yes, on the bus and having to stand on one leg with your face squished into some Aunty's armpit - lovely times) - and the strangest thing? This was for the Paralympics. When I asked why so many people had come the only response was because tickets were easier to get than for the Olympics. Can you imagine that at home? I hope I'm wrong but I don't see the London Paralympics proper stowed out with locals because tickets are available... 

Anyhoo - I finally got in, had my photo taken with my volunteer before he had to go off and do some real work and trotted off to find the ground. I stopped off to get some food first (popcorn and the strangest bready-hot-dog-cheese'n'sauce combo ever. And no - it was not a sandwich) then walked into the stadium clutching my "lunch"-filled big brown paper bag to be greeted with a deathly hush. I surveyed the scene, quite a few of the spectators had displayed spectacular fashion innovation in transforming their paper bags into sun hats (I tell you, I chuckled at the time at the sight of these men looking like the most impoverished of chefs, until the next morning when I realised I had sunburn all over my head and had to have cold showers for the following week in an effort not to exacerbate it..). So there I was, halfway through China v Korea with a predominantly Chinese crowd wearing natty brown paper bags on their heads and not a peep out of any of them, I was about to put it down to eastern asian manners until I saw the signs. The volunteers were periodically holding up A4 laminated notices saying "Silence Please" in about 4 languages. Why? Because the players couldn't hear the ball. That's right, they couldn't hear the ball. 

Let me explain a little about blind football: to ensure fairness on the pitch, and because some teams have only partially-sighted players all players wear blindfolds (which makes for a fantastic aesthetic and be assured just as soon as I find somewhere to develop my film I'll upload some snaps). The goalkeepers, however, are allowed to be sighted (by the way, I learned all this on the big scoreboards between matches). At the sides of the pitch there are soft barriers in case the players run into them (and yes, that happens. A woman sitting in front of me was thumped quite hard by her mortified daughter for laughing when it happened during the China/ Korea match but the poor woman continued to shake violently for a good five minutes with her fan pressed to her face in a fit of involuntary, and quite inappropriate, hysteria). The second best thing is that they have special balls with compartments holding bells so whenever the ball is kicked the players can hear where it is. The best thing? As I said, the goalies can see. So they can direct the players (and this was especially noticeable in the next match with the GB team) - there is also someone from the team situated behind the goal you're trying to score into (so if you're defending the goalie can tell you where to go and if you're about to score the guy behind the posts can tell you). Penalties were good too - the referee puts the ball underneath the striker's foot and the behind-the-goals-guy taps the right goal post and then the left and then stands in the middle and goes "Middle! Middle!" It's very odd. You're sitting there trying not to shout something encouraging and watching these guys trying to following a jingling jangling ball while an irate goalkeeper goes "go forward, no not you, no, you've lost it, stop, stop, you've not got the ball". Worth seeing if you ever get a chance. 

After the blind football I managed to find my way back to the main Olympic Green and ooh-ed and aah-ed my way into the Bird's Nest for the athletics and I can confirm - athletics events are as dull in real life as they are on the telly. I did get an enormous amount of pleasure in watching the mexican wave travelling around the stadium (Chinese crowds are the best at mexican waves because they are so excitable and when it stops two-thirds of the way around they'll just start it again, no wonder the opening ceremony was so impressive, these people just don't give up till the job's done) and obviously being in the Bird's Nest was too cool for school but I, for one, look forward to when they start showing something worthwhile there like, ooh, I don't know, live versions of Summer Holiday (...wonder if that London bus is till in the 'Jing..?). By this time Halla had joined me and with our Western dress sense, British and Chinese flags in our hair and... well... Caucasian faces, we were the number one attraction after the athletics finished. I can confirm that at least 25 Chinese families now have a photograph of themselves with Halla and I clogging up their memory cards.

Our final Paralympic event was also our most hotly anticipated: Wheelchair Rugby - AKA Murderball. Everything about this game is just brilliant - it's not really rugby, it's played with a round ball and has to be dribbled at least once very 10 seconds (a la basketball) so that players can't just sit it in their laps. To score a goal players have to cross a line with the ball in their hands (like a try in rugby) but the most striking resemblance to rugby is just how unbelievably violent it is. Players have specially modified wheelchairs all metal and battered, Robot Wars springs to mind. I half expected fire to start shooting out of them and little hammers to come out of the sides. But no, just sheer unadulterated speed and violence - these men (and women) would just bang straight into each other and quite often knock each other over, usually when this happened people would come on from the sides to help the player right themselves but a couple of times they would get themselves up - and the crowd would go crazy. It was the most exhilarating, fast, and compelling sport I've ever seen - able bodied or otherwise. Check it out online if you can! We saw the US v. UK match and the UK lost of course, but we had the pleasure of meeting the family and friends of the team after the game and I can report back that apparently the US only won because the ref was siding with them and we had three goals disallowed so that's a comfort, at least.

The greatest man who ever lived...

Literally the day after the wheelchair rugby match Halla and I went on holiday (I've gone from being a workaholic to being a holidayaholic - which is more fun to do and to say). We did debate it a little - Cocktails in the Maldives? Too passe... Yachting in the Med? Too European... Temple -hopping in India? Snoresville... Visiting the Pyongyang International Film Festival in North Korea? By jove! I think she's got it! The most perfect minimalist retreat cum cultural experience for the post-modern holiday-goer.

We flew out to North Korea - or DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) as they call it out there - with Air Koryo, a must for any fans of aviation. The plane was 1960s vintage, which while preferable for clothing and cameras is not necessarily the first choice for hurling oneself through the air at great heights and speeds. It was the cutest thing ever inside, flocked wallpaper, air hostess buttons with an actual picture of an air hostess, just darling. As soon as it started moving, however, I was gripped with terror squeaking - why is she (the air hostess) not wearing her seatbelt? (during take-off and landing - casting doubt on the supposed necessary safety procedures employed by western airlines, I think you'll agree) and - when four pilots walked past us - who's flying the plane? It does have to be said though, that despite appearances the flight was exceptionally smooth and we landed safely and without incident but, still, I allowed myself a slight sigh of relief when I discovered we were to be travelling back by train.

Now DPRK isn't your usual holiday destination - these transport decisions-  plane/ train/ horseback/mule - weren't technically ours to be made. DPRK don't just let anyone into their country willy-nilly - you have to be accompanied by tour guides at all times. We booked a tour with Koryo Tours, based in Beijing, who, as well as organising trips to DPRK, also make films (and why not - after all, I come from a country where key cutting and shoe-fixing go together like bacon and jelly). Before we went I watched A State of Mind - about the mass games and The Game of Their Lives about the progress of the DPRK team at the 1966 World Cup  (- who knew? Turns out England weren't the only team playing..) I would recommend both for anyone interested on an alternative view of a country so inextricably associated with Nuclear programmes and a puppetified Kim Jong Il singing "I'm So Lonely"...

On our trip we were to see two different performances of the mass games - synchronised gymnastic displays with between 80, 000 and 100, 000 participants commemorating the 60th anniversary of the founding of DPRK and to honour the Great Leader and Eternal President Kim Il Sung and the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il. It's almost impossible to describe the mass games - the sheer volume of people was mind blowing and more than one of our group was swept along in patriotic fervour ("get out of town!!!!"), I'm sure almost all of us burst into enthusiastic applause when thousands of yellow-clad gymnasts transformed themselves into a field of wheat and the smiling face of Kim Il Sung appeared in the backdrop (made up of countless boys holding books with different coloured pages - google it). It's no surprise to me everyone we spoke to about the leaders were full of love and pride - I was there for less than a week and was ready to renounce the west. 

We were on the Pyongyang Film Festival tour, so we got to see the opening ceremony of the 11th bi-annual Pyongyang International Film Festival (brass-band-tastic) and a couple of films. We also saw umpteen amazingly enormous monuments erected to the glory of the leaders and the Juche Idea of self-reliance which the society operates under. We visited the Pyongyang film studios, met some actors and I was told by the film studio guide I was very active and going to live for a very long time - which is always nice to hear. We went to the North/ South Border and had our photographs taken with surprisingly easy-going soldiers. We visited the war museum and learned that the American Imperialists started the Korean War (fact) and saw the captured spy ship Pueblo (where we learned that the President of the Imperialist Aggressors was brazen faced and told a sheer lie). We had our mobile phones taken off us at the airport and there was no internet - we were told where to go, who to talk to, what to eat and when and where to take photographs. I loved it. I think part of me liked being told what to do all the time, so I could relax my mind and just soak it all in. 

There's no doubt it's a troubled society with massive social problems, most of the population are extremely poor and there is no freedom of press, of association, of speech - of anything we take for granted here. But from what I saw the people are very proud of what they have and who they are - and everyone I spoke to was sweet and kind and lovely. I also really enjoyed being in a group - I think we were extremely lucky, we didn't have anyone very arrogant or disrespectful or disruptive, just 14 very different people. I floated about in a state of awe but other people were asking pertinent questions and filling me in on the history and current situation, on the bus to and from places and in the evenings we swapped our impressions of the place. I would go back tomorrow if I could... As ever, photographs will be up as soon as I get my films developed.


Back in Beijing then and employment and the ability to speak Chinese are still eluding me. I've decided to start formal Chinese lessons (apparently it's quite hard to just "pick it up") so that should be next week and joy of joys I have a job interview on Monday! It's for the British Council marking exam papers so fingers crossed I am in any way even able to do that. I've also got in contact with a British filmmaker who needs an assistant and waiting to hear back from the people at The Beijinger magazine about copy-editing so surely it's only a matter of time before I've got at least one of three jobs I'm completely unqualified for and of which I have no previous experience. 

It's getting dark now and I cycled here so I'm going to have to finish up and make my way back home - loving cycling in China, none of those inconvenient hills you get at home and the traffic is slooooow so you can happily cycle across three lanes safe in the knowledge that no one's going to run you over (note to family - I am being careful, truly, that was just a whimsical remark to make the blog seem more fun. Honest).


Ps. If you read right down to the bottom of this insanely long blog you get a prize - send me a comment quoting the code below and your postal address and I'll send you a trinket:


Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Pink Cows and Pedicures

Week One: Beijing.
I can't speak Chinese yet and I don't have a job.

Let me paint you a picture, Halla's flat doesn't have wifi so I'm sitting in Starbucks - I know, I know, but I promise when I find a quaint traditional Chinese teahouse with wifi and air conditioning I'll be right there. Anyway, I'm actually being very Chinese, just y'know, modern day financially secure Chinese, but I promise I'll go to a paddy field or something while I'm here just to offset my multinational sins... Anyway, even in these upmarket areas, it's totally different from home. It's pleasingly nutty. Just across from me there's a table of young professionals playing a very exciting sounding game of cards and hi-fiving each other, all the women have a mini branch of Accessorize hanging off their mobile phones and, out the window, there's six giant chinese lanterns hanging off the roadsigns. Best not to get too excited though, it's probably for the Olympics (the lanterns, not the mobile phones). That's what people keep telling me. I go oooooh, look at that and they go, oh, that's just for the Olympics. Oh well, I don't mind. This IS still Beijing, isn't it? I like it, it's fun.

Of course, I missed the Olympics but no matter - guess what greeted me at the airport? A giant inflatable pink cow.

Hooray! Fu Niu Lele! The official mascot of the Paralympics! Luckily I'd seen it (her?) before, otherwise I'd have worried the two seven hour back to back flights had messed with my mind a little. I hope London makes as big a deal out of the 2012 Paralympics as they're doing here, it's really nice, and as with the Olympics, the changes they've made to the city will continue having a positive effect long after the international athletes go home. When I was here last year there wasn't so much as a sniff of accessibility and now there's disabled loos and ramps all over the place. Later this week Halla and I are going to see the wheelchair rugby (AKA Murderball - who wouldn't want to see a sport with a name like that?) and something unspecified at the Birds Nest, I'll try and find a camera from somewhere so I can upload some pics along with the post-event sporting analysis (ahem..).

I've been spending the last seven days doing nothing much at all, having manicures and pedicures, eating out with Halla and her work people, dotting about, even doing a little shopping (although I've decided to abstain until the Paralympics are over, the prices are too high and I can't enjoy bargaining with my usual sparkling charm and ruthless efficiency because there's about 100 other tourists milling behind me who will pay the prices I won't). I can't stay on holiday forever though (apparently). I don't have a job yet but I am actually making some headway. Halla works for an English language magazine called The Beijinger and they're looking for new freelance copy-editors to proof the articles and check the spelling and grammar. Sample sentence: "soundtrack speeds the movie considerately". Hmm... not my dream job perhaps but beggars can't be choosers. Once I've re-written the two articles I've been sent and the grammar test (whomever/ whoever - let's call the whole thing off?) I'll find out whether they can give me any work. There's also plenty of listings on the Beijinger website which I need to follow up on and I will do... just as soon as my nail varnish dries.

Problem number 2: I can't speak Chinese. They speak Mandarin here and I can say Hello, Goodbye, Thank You, You're Welcome and I can do my numbers (up to 99, I keep forgetting what that 100 is..). Obviously I need to be able to communicate with people and really, hardly anyone here speaks English. Although the taxi drivers have started saying Bye-Bye, which I like. It's just ever so slightly informal, I feel like we're all great chums really. I've been considering paying great sums of money to go to formal Chinese classes (which would help me meet people as well as teaching me the lingo) but in the meantime I have managed to acquire a language exchange partner.

You see, Halla is incapable of having an alcoholic drink without immediately craving Chuan'r - little skewers of lamb covered in chilli flakes - the perfect snack for the partially sozzled. On Saturday night then, just around the corner from a hutong filled with trendy bars, we found ourselves in a small restaurant drinking cheap beer and lining our stomachs when a young Chinese man came over and said he was looking for someone to practise English with and that he could do half a conversation in Chinese and half in English. It was about midnight and while he seemed very polite and whatnot, I really was just sitting there waiting for Halla to fob him off with a "thanks but no thanks duck" you can imagine my surprise then, when she exclaimed "Oh good! You can teach my sister Chinese!". Marvellous news. But actually, we met yesterday for the first time and he's not strange or threatening and he didn't ask me out or try to grope me. He's 21 and studying English at University and he did teach me some Chinese. It was actually rather helpful to have someone I could practise my pronunciation on. He says I sound like a native and that in a couple of weeks we can do the whole lesson in Chinese but then, he's a sweet young man and, of course, lying.

So week one: one new Chinese chum, one potential job and one new pair of flip flops (50 yuan, at least twice what they should've been). I'll continue with my informal Chinese lessons and hopefully have some exciting employment soon, until then I'm going to continue pottering around doing not a great deal, I'm also going to attempt to get my hair cut - in Chinese! That'll be fun! Or dreadful.... Hmmm... watch this space!