Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I found out yesterday that I'd won an essay competition. The deadline was back in early December so I'd forgotten about it.

To those who don’t come from China, China has always been a mysterious country. Like all interesting things, the more you know about China, the more mysterious it gets. I chose to come to Changde because it is in the heartlands of China, in both senses of the word. Changde is a perfect example of what modern China is. There is a famous English poem that begins:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wildflower
To hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
You would have to be an excellent Scientist to see a world in a grain of sand, and I am not a Scientist at all. So the best I can attempt is to see a world in this small city.
I remember hearing the word ‘Changde’ for the first time, I don’t know where I was exactly, but I was somewhere along the Li Jiang River, swimming under the rising sun. The only person who was around for miles was a girl wearing all-white and carrying a white sun-umbrella. I looked into the ‘Beginner’s Mandarin Chinese’ book that I took everywhere I went, and asked her where she is from. She said she is from a small city in the Hunan Province called Changde. She could not speak English with any confidence so it was the wordlessness of our communication, and the beauty of the surrounding area that made this memory particularly different to my earlier experiences of China. Before that time, my experience of China had been the sound of car-horns and loud pop music. I decided then, in the summer of 2007, that I wanted to come to this person’s hometown and experience what life was like in the heartlands of China.
I came to China in May 2007, and lived in Huizhou for a year, a wealthy coastal city between Shenzhen and Guangzhou. At the time the above-mentioned incident took place, my only Chinese was a few useful phrases and bits and pieces of vocabulary. There are some similarities between Huizhou and Changde: both are quite small cities by Chinese standards, both have factories and Universities that they are proud of, both have very pleasant and large parks. But there are differences: I have always thought that Changde represents more of a real China. It is far away from Hong Kong, and far away from coastal boomtowns like Shenzhen. It has had less exposure to foreign influence and foreign people. Its economy is constantly growing stronger like an old tree. But most people here have a limited understanding of the outside world.
For me to get a clear picture of what is happening in China, I just have to walk outside the campus of our University. Beside the campus where I live, there are people who live in houses made of tin and even houses made of bamboo. At night, if the roads are quiet, you can hear the local KTV from outside of their little houses. Recently, as I walked past one such place late at night, there was an old woman sweeping leaves and singing along to “Make the Whole World Love Completely.” She stopped singing when she noticed me walking past. It’s moments like this that help me to see a world in this small city. It’s a mixture of ancient and modern, rich and poor, local and universal.
I chose to come to China and teach because there are not many jobs in which one can influence people. And in most of those jobs, you have to wait until you have grey hair to reach such a position. Now, ordinary Chinese people are ready to be exposed to foreign ideas and foreign people. Everywhere I go, I meet curious people. Their questions are predictable “Which country are you from? How long have you been here? Have you found a wife here yet?” But the important thing is that they want to listen to me, and they want to know what I think.
Without curiosity there is no intelligence. Having to answer personal questions everywhere can be inconvenient and uncomfortable, but it is also very empowering to meet so many people who want to listen. During the Beijing Olympics, the authorities introduced the “Eight Don’t Asks,” questions that local people should not ask foreigners, like “how old are you?” and “how much money do you earn?” but I am glad there are no such rules in Changde because it is very important that the few foreigners who live here take time to communicate with ordinary Chinese people. Last week, in a restaurant, I was approached by a man in his thirties. I could tell by the way he walked that he would approach me confidently. When he did approach me, I could tell from his accent and his use of words, that he had learnt English from Native-Speakers. This kind of person is increasing in Changde all of the time. He wanted to make a friend with me, this is because he wanted to know more about where I come from, and get more practice in my language. China is now a country that associates learning other languages with self-improvement.
Where I grew up, school children would traditionally study a modern European language, like French or German, as well as an ancient language that was no longer spoken: such as Latin or Ancient Greek. The ways in which schools teach modern languages is very different to the way they teach Ancient languages. When teaching a modern language, they would prepare us for dealing with real-life people from those countries, and understanding important cultural differences. When teaching Ancient languages, they focused on Literature, and the process of translating ancient texts, it would be unnecessary to teach a person how to converse in one of those languages. The way English is taught in Chinese public schools is much closer to the way Ancient Languages were taught in my childhood.
English is not a language that the people of Changde have daily access to. It is a very foreign language. “Foreign” is a word that doesn’t have an accurate translation into Chinese. It comes from the ancient “ferren” meaning out-of-doors But English is spoken in numerous countries, and in all of those countries except for England, it was a ‘foreign’ language before it became standard. Nothing in English can have the same meaning as ‘waiguode,’ because no English-speaking country is as populous as China, and China has a unique history and a unique relationship with the outside world. In Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, South Africa, or the UK, it is impossible to be of foreign appearance. In China, if you are black or white, it shapes your identity. A negative foreigner would complain that it is impossible to become a normal citizen here in Changde, but a positive person would use their outsider status to learn more about this ancient language and culture and develop understanding between China and the English-speaking world. There are few more important issues in the world today than establishing good relations between these two vast and varied cultures. The aim is not so that we can always agree, but so that we can understand why we sometimes disagree. Changde has given me an opportunity to play my own small part.
Two of the largest influences on Chinese life are Confucianism and Communism. In the beginning, these two schools of thought were as foreign to me as the teachings of Jesus or Plato are to a Chinese person. But there is a line from Karl Marx and a line from Confucius that can help us all to develop as people, and for understanding between China and the English-speaking world to improve. The first is from Karl Marx: “a foreign language is a weapon in the battle of life.” The second is from Confucius “don’t do to others as you wouldn’t want done to yourself.”
The sentence from Marx is not entirely wise, and not as gentle as the best of what Confucius said. But it makes the point that making an effort to know another language makes us stronger. It helps us understand why different cultures understand the world differently. It helps us deal with people who come from exotic, far-away places. Confucius lived at a time when England was populated by illiterate tribes whose languages are no longer spoken, and two thousand years before white people began to live in America. But every civilization, from Ancient Greece to the Middle-East, has words similar to those that Confucius said, and every society uses those words to guide itself morally.
I remember Confucius’ words when I go into a nearby supermarket. There is a local child who spends his time in the supermarket talking to strangers, and he pays particular attention to me. Sometimes I feel too tired to talk, but I must remember to treat this person how I would like to be treated. I have conversations with him, and sometimes it attracts an audience. I must never refuse to answer his questions about the differences between our two cultures, because it is important that this generation of children grow-up not just with a better understanding of English, but a better understanding of the countries that use it.
There is a poem on Poet’s Wall called “Some people” . In the poem, it says
“Some people
Ride on others' backs and yell ‘I am magnificent’
Some people
Crouch and act as other people’s horse”

It is easy as foreigner in Changde to do the first of these two things: to take advantage of people, to allow strangers to pander to us, to play with young girls’ hearts. But it is much more rewarding to do the second of these things. As a foreigner in Changde, it is possible to educate people about the outside world, it is possible to satisfy people’s curiosity, it is possible to present new ideas to people, it is possible to help people grow-up.
The last two lines of the poem are:
“He who lives to make more people live more,
The people look up to him at a great height.”
In China, it is commonly believed that English is the common language of the world. But my coming here as an English teacher is not just in order to pass on knowledge. It is also for my own education. I don’t believe education is something that only happens in classrooms. It happens to all of us everywhere from birth until death. In Changde, I have found education in the strangest places, from hearing an old woman singing to herself, to answering the questions of a curious boy in the supermarket. I have also found it in magnificent places, from Poet’s Wall to the University. Self-improvement is a process that should never end. And both myself and Changde are involved in it.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Reading the notes I made from some of the books I read between finishing my Masters and coming to China. Here are some quotes that jump out after two years.

From Alastair McIntosh's Soil and Soul:

The mainstream manufactures people as a monoculture. It turns people out
cloned rows of apple-trees on pesticide-manicured fields. The
"trains" people by pruning. It forces growth in standardised
ways. The song that
we sing from within the mainstream is therefore not our
own song. It does not
issue from the open gates of the soul.

In Memories, Dreams and Reflections in his Chapter on Freud, Jung points out that to be ignorant of nature is to be neurotic. For example to not understand paradoxes, like cabbage thrives in dung, is to be unaware of the delicate balance that we are part of, and that we are also organisms of the soil.

Also from Soil and Soul

No place is more sacred, no people more worthy of honour, than those who have
made beauty blossom anew out of desecration.

Prosperity has blossomed anew in China, but beauty?

Later on in Soil and Soul

A large company is, indeed, a mindless monster, unless people all the way
through the system devote themselves to making it otherwise. Then, and only
then, can it start to become something like a community with values, and maybe
even something of a soul.

Jung in the chapter entitled School Years on discovering Schopenhauer:

Here at last was a philosopher who had the courage to see that all was not for
the best in the fundaments of the universe. He spoke neither of the all-good and
all-wise providence of the Creator, nor of the harmony of the cosmos, but stated
bluntly that a fundamental flaw underlay the sorrowful course of human history
and the cruelty of nature.

Oh and, David Starkey in the Guardian article I'm reading right now: "Not to invent yourself is to be false. To follow preordained rules is a profound betrayal of what it means to be human" Take that Catholic Church and CCP!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Without Isms is neither nihilism nor eclecticism; nor is it egotism or solipsism. It opposes totalitarian dictatorship but also opposes the inflation of the self to God or Superman. It hates seeing other people trampled on like dog shit. Without Isms detests politics and does not take part in politics, but is not opposed to other people who do. If people want to get involved in politics, let them go right ahead. What Without Isms opposes is the foisting of a particular brand of politics on to the individual by means of abstract collective names such as 'the people', 'the race' or 'the nation'."
(The idea behind it is that we need to bid goodbye to the 20th century, and to put a big question mark over those "isms" that dominated it.)

Gao Xingjian

Monday, March 23, 2009

Not That You Care

But here are some fractionally less dodgy recordings of my newest Chinese songs:

There'll be a post with some controversy or some saucy details about life here soon, I promise.

Hey! We're born in order to feel
It's just the nature of mammal creatures.

Ah! Lay your head on my emaciated chest
We're all gonna end up being swallowed by the earth.

The earth may silently disappear,
Why don't you stand up and be counted?

Hoo! I'm just a monster of egotism
But I don't fail to make you sigh

Oh! You shouldn't tolerate the forceful behaviour of other lovers
But you're running out of time to choose me

Please tell me exactly what human history is?
It's just one fucking thing after another

If you are to get buried under the flagrant flowers
First at least take the opportunity to overcome your fears

Unn! The Universe doesn't care about us
This news may liberate you lover

Treat Me As One of Your Own

Several life-times ago
On the mud-covered road
I went from door to window
Seeking the help of strangers.
She came and held my weary head
She said "forget your misery"
Then treat me as one of your own
treat me as one of your own

I was the earth's enemy
Under a murky sky on a dark earth
Everybody refused to act.
She also didn't express her thoughts
She didn't consider herself or God,
All she did was fill me with peace
Then laid down her life for me
laid down her life for me


Swan, far away from home, will you ever return to where you belong?
Your Golden head and your tiny legs
are both unattainably beautiful.

At home, your potential is unfulfilled, you still want to go and change the world
The problems of our times all arise from a shortage of time
to daydream whilst scratching ourselves.

And your pitiful crying eyes,
I may never have to see again.
Optimism isn't really a virtue,
The cruel thing to do would be to comfort you.

Swan, all full of yourself. Fooled into thinking you're mature beyond your years.
Prepare for war in times of peace, your youth is already wasted
Don't spend more time dreaming.

The songs you sing are soul-stirring, I'd lay down my life for you,
The beliefs you have are like your closest friends,
As plastic as anything.

Go swimming on the street where you belong
Believing in you empties my soul of happiness
Your dreams are absolutely not satisfactory
The purpose of adult-life is actually just to survive.

I wait forever, waiting at home
You're really like the wind, the dirty dirty wind.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Room Wonderful

I spend a lot of time posting and talking about things I don't like. The Grammar school I went to, the people who run the first University I went to, some unethical organisations that have employed me, the various dickheads, wankers and jerks any observant human being runs into during the day.

Those things all belong in Room 101 and I don't regret writing about them. But I should post about some of the things I've been unusally lucky to have since the turn of the Millenium.

Good Teachers I've been blessed with well over a dozen fine teachers. They weren't bullies, they weren't perverts, they weren't egomaniacs, they weren't the kind of snake-oil salesman that would tell you that success in their particular subject (thus boosting their reputation) was an indispensible ticket to success in later life.

They simply presented us with information and then got out of the way.

Slapstick comedy A better explanation of this is to watch the ending of Woody Allen's Hannah and her Sisters. My own explanation is "I fucking love slapstick comedy."

Dirty jokes In the words of Tommy Tiernan, the English language is like a wall between me and the world, and the word fuck is my chisel.

Libraries They're clean and convenient, you can't catch VD, they're available any time and they're absolutely free.

Laowai Blogs It's really what makes the Laowai experience liveable for me. Admittedly, some bloggers are twisted mother fuckers, but they're still fun to read.

Cyberslacking It makes my learning process very fragmentary, which suits me fine.

Any more? suggestions welcome

Can You Do Me a Favour?


Time is very slow over here. Can somebody copy and paste this article and send it to me in a comment or an e-mail or a Facebook message?

Thankyou in advance.

Monday, March 09, 2009

More translations of My Songs

What Happens

According to the fire in my head, I'd better not believe
the freshest ideas or the ancient wisdom
I eavesdrop every night, for the music that might enlighten me.

I listen from the sewers and try my best to believe
that I hear the song of angels and see the shining stars
It seems I finally hear the only music that will ever affect me.

In books and on the road I've looked for this knowledge,
I've dreamed, I've thought, I've heard every kind of music
lived the eternal second and discovered the universe in my hand.

More mysterious than birdsong, more amazing than the waves of the sea,
The most beautiful music is the music of what happens.

More charming than laughter, more eloquent than silence,
The most beautiful music is the music of what happens.

Don't Look For Me
Please don't follow me girl, you're welcome any time to leave
There are feelings I can't express, there are feelings I can't give.
See the emotions I hide, and take them to heart,
don't look for me darling.

You're looking for a dashing young gent, you only see him when you close your eyes
You watch him ride a white horse while sniffing roses.
Only when you doubt everything can youi finally feel on top of the world,
don't look for me darling.

You would like to learn from a hero, what adulthood's really like,
You believe in the purity of youth, You are really looking forward to eulogising it.
Don't let traditional moral values prevent you from evelving,
don't look for me darling.

You thought my mind had touched your perfect body,
but your soul I can't see, your heart I can't understand.
You have an opportunity to start a fresh life, lose me in the polluted wind,
don't look for me darling.


I've put some extremely rudimentary recordings of the Mandarin songs I wrote onto Youtube with a view to making professional recordings as soon as I can afford to.

Here are translations of the titles and lyrics along with links to Youtube. Those of you with any experience of Mandarin will appreciate that it's a very easy language to rhyme in so it seems wasteful to play with the nets down.

Oh Well Never Mind
As he sees it, the guests at the party are all wonderful,
but so called civility closes the door on his head,
By the river side, he sits alone in the moonlight,
and drinks to the memories that never materialised.

Everything reminds him that death is persevering,
He has thought about this everywhere, including the bathroom floor.

He treats others as he wants to be treated, but can't be bothered learning people skills
The people who understand his deep, dark eyes, he can count on one hand.
On far-away roads, as if deep in thought, he walks terribly slowly,
racks his brain in thinking of ways to make the world a livelier place.

He's nostalgic for a time yet to come
Forever refusing to stop crafting gentleness.

Doesn't dedicate his life to saying what he doesn't mean
He seizes the opportunity to do the right thing.
Oh well never mind, oh well never mind, oh well never mind.

The Truth of Love
Give me a look at the truth, what does real love involve?
Some people believe love is an adventure,
Some people reply that's just seeing the world from one's own point-of-view
Some lovers feel their breath's been taken away,
Some lovers feel that their progress has been stunted.

Before I reach old-age I need the courage to discover,
The less I stick in the mud the more experienced I become
Let's appreciate the value of time, come and drift away with me
Let's really believe love can change our lives.

The poets would have us believe love is a baeutiful dream,
The doctors would have us believe it's a bodily function,
According to the broken-hearted love is just a form of weakness,
According to the wise, nobody knows the truth.

I've asked old men, I've asked madly-in-love teenagers,
To my disappointment it was the same story every time.
I've walked loves' forbidden zones and been a stranger in a foreign land
I formally announce that I will never think things through again.

Express yourself to this outsider, hug the zeitgeist, come with me back to our roots,
Let's not give a damn about fate, let's progress towards our ancestors.

Real love can't possible fix everything, the truth is not the slightest bit pure,
Let's end our ambitions, broaden our horizons, begin to acknowledge the whole wide world.

Please don't bother telling me that the recordings suck balls

Friday, March 06, 2009

Too Busy Living

Here's an indicator as to why I'm too busy living at the moment to post regularly. This is what a new Student posted to my qq e-mail address:

Dear kevin,
I am so excited
that you did not refuse to add me to your friends's file.
My name is Brave lee, but I was
not brave at all. I am now study at the east part of the Art and Science
University , It would take me nearly half an hour to get to the west part,
but I believe that I will get something more or less if I try my best in your
I used to be a lonely man.
I am too shy to talk to others, especial for girls. Because I have no
strongpoint, and I do poorly in my grade. I am not handsome, and I can not
even play any of the popular sport well.
I acted as if I were cool, and I
would never greet a person unless he or she call me first, because
it would be so embarass when I call a person and he don't feel like to rap
to me , it almost the worst thing for me . I smoke when I was depressed and in
despair, that's maybe the reason why I seemed not so friendly as I really was.
To tell the truth, its not right to smoke for this age, at least I think
My college life is not so colorful
as expected. Not all the students are so friendly, and a lot of them are waste
of their time here. They play the online games all the time and always skip
classes for them. When asked what they want to be in the future or what
they have learnt this year, they don't know how to answer. Prehaps they just try
to escape reality through the games. If the reality was not so cruelty, there
would not be so many people abandon themselves to the online
I ask my self again and again,
am I too rigorous to my classmates , my friends, my relatives and myself?
Unfortunately, the answer hadn't been clear untill I read a book about
psychological. And then, only then, I beginned to be on to my own
No body is perfect, and I also have a
lot of disadvantages, and this is why the world is so colorful and so attactive.
So I start to persaude myself to adapt it , to love it. It's not a easy
job for me at first, but I feel the others are better for me than I
expected bit by bit. The world is more beatiful when I wake up in the
Now I think I am brave enough
to greet the others , including girls. Of course, I am not so popular and there
are still some pepole don't feel like to talk to me. But I meet a lot new
friends in this way, what makes me much more happy than
I decided to take part in your
class when I heard my English teacher mention it. I think it is a chance to
improve my speaking skill and make friends. My first new friend is LiWenjun, he
is a sunny boy. And we have been partner for twice, and I will be his partner
whenever he want.
Last night in
your class, I met a beautiful girl , she is not study in our college and
she was late for class too.She is new here and she hadn't got a book. I
asked her what her name is and if she mind to sit beside me so that we can
read my book together. She agreed and came to sit with me . She told me where
she came from and asked me some questions. But I can't remeber her name now,
.......I didn't ask her number because I don't think it polite to ask a stranger
her number.
Next week I will make a
speech in your class, so I have to spent an hour or more to prepare it .
By the way , your teaching skill is wonderful and it is really a
feast to listen to it. I want to make friends with you, not only because
you are a foreigner, but also because I admire the people who go far away from
home to realize their dreams. They overcome all the dificulties, and they made
their dreams come true in the end. These moving stories only happens in the
movie in the past, but now I know you are one of them.
I hope one day, your dream will come true
and you will be famous. Whenever you feel down , or something
happens to you, just think that you are very success now,
and be confident . A lot of your students and your friend are ready to help you.
And if someone said something bad to you, forget it , they just don't kown your
feelings and just treat them as silly birds .

And one day , my dream will also come true . I

love from Brave Lee

Here is my reply

Wow, that's beautiful. I really don't know what to say. You say my teaching skills are wonderful. Actually, I have had many days, and I still have days when I don't know what to say or do in the classroom. Growing as a person and improving at your job always means working hard and learning from your own mistakes.
I never look, and I don't care what my Students' grades are. People are important, their grades are not.