Boys' Toys

Today it is exactly three months to go before I retire, so of course I spend a lot of my time crossing off the days and thinking about what I am going to do once I have come to the end of my teaching career. No more boring meetings, for one thing – three this week – and I will not have to check that the alarm clock is set to go off at 5.30am. In fact, I might even give away my alarm clock and not bother having one at all.
However, one of my main pleasures is thinking about what we are going to spend our money on over the summer and when we return from the Crimea. (That is, of course, if we actually go to the Crimea. The British government and Mr. Putin are not the best of friends at the moment.)
I once tried skateboarding, when I was about 15. It was fun, but falling off a skateboard onto concrete or tarmac is probably a lot more painful than falling off a snowboard onto snow. How difficult can snowboarding be? Okay, so we do not have any draglifts or chairlifts in Kalotina, but on the …

Spring in Shenzhen

There are four seasons here in southern China, but they are rather different to the ones you get in Europe. Most new expats, especially teachers like me, arrive at the end of the summer. It is hot and wet. Either it will be raining or else it is about to rain or actually it does not matter whether it is raining or not because you are already sweating so much that you’re soaked anyway. Then, sometime around the beginning of October, it stops raining and the weather is pleasantly warm and dry. This continues right on into December, but in January you will get a few cold weeks. No snow or frost or anything like that, but it will be a lot colder, especially if your apartment only has single glazing and the windows do not fit properly. Then, around the beginning of March, it warms up and you get some pleasant and fairly dry weather through to the middle of May, when the rain seriously begins and Shenzhen becomes one big sauna.
I cannot believe that I have written so much about the weather! …

It's All Over Now, Baby Red

Yesterday I received my little red envelope, hongbao, from my school and it finally signalled the end of the Chinese New Year. Yes, it is nice to get a little present to welcome you back to school, at the start of the new semester. 100RMB is not much, but it is a little Chinese New Year tradition to give these red envelopes and one I rather like. 

Apologies for the Dylan-themed title. (My dear Irisha hates Bob D's music, but I always listen to it while marking my class's Maths homework.)

The CNY all started back in early February, with the Miaohui that we had at the end of the semester. No, Miaohui is not a cat being sick: it is a wonderful celebration of Chinese culture and traditions. Lots of traditional music, food, dancing, costumes and, of course, red. Just about everything should be red, as red is a lucky colour in China, well-known for its ghost-busting properties, as readers of my blog will already know. In fact, a red dog appeared in the school's foyer, to mark the …

A Whale of a Trip

We decided that we wanted to go on the Whale Shark Tour. We have done several other tours in the Philippines and really this was the only one we had not done. The hotel told us that we had to get up at 5.30am, which we were not too keen about, and they said that the trip would cost us 1,200 pesos each. They also told us that we would probably back at the Bee Farm by 2 or maybe 3pm. Well, we duly got up at the right time and took a tuktuk, one of those three-wheelers that does a passable impression of a WW2 Bren Gun carrier.
We soon arrived at Alona Beach, on another part of Panglau island, where the Whale Shark trip was supposed to start. A couple of Filipinos paddled us out to the ship in what looked like a plastic box. More than two hours later, we were still at Alona Beach, waiting for the trip to start!

We finally left and had quite a pleasant sail past Virgin Island (Richard Branson seems to be everywhere these days) and across to Oslob, on the island of Cebu. (Is Oslob full of m…

Food, Glorious Food!

One advantage to the Bohol Bee Farm as a holiday venue soon became apparent: the food. Yes, it’s good and there is lots of it. The breakfast buffets are a feast in themselves: home-cured ham, scrambled egg, excellent fish and chicken in breadcrumbs, delicious fruit juices, fresh salads and of course the yummy squash bread and dark brown muffins. In the Philippines, the coffee is usually pretty bad, but here at the Bohol Bee Farm it is hot and tastes as though it has just been brewed. All of this and a sea view, with smiling Filipino waitresses that always say, “Good marneen, sir!”

Breakfast was included in the room price, so we have had some serious scoffing in the morning. I had never eaten salad for breakfast before in my life, but perhaps it is something that I could get used to.
The lunch menu was as varied and as exciting as the fare on offer for breakfast. Particularly good were the complimentary starters (pumpkin bread with mango and avocado spreads), fish and chips, chicken stir…

Hell's Holidaymakers

It was of course J.R.R. Tolkien, in The Hobbit, who wrote, “It is a dangerous business going out of your front door.” The truth is that more and more Chinese people are not just going out of their front doors: they are heading overseas for their holidays each year. Should we be celebrating the adventures of these Middle Kingdom (not Middle Earth) Bilbos? 
In the Philippines, the waves of Chinese tourists that invade the archipelago, especially during the Chinese New Year holiday, bring lots of tourist dollars. The problems that Mr and Mrs Chen and their children bring with them are not so welcome. (Those who have read An Unexpected Party may recall that Mr Baggins was rather put out by the large number of uninvited dwarves that appeared at Bag End.) For example, the Chinese young men in the next hotel room to ours were talking and laughing loudly on their balcony until after 1am.   
Although Chinese children are so well-behaved in China, especially at Green Oasis School, on holiday they…

Bee Happy

The Bohol Bee Farm is not on Bohol: it’s on an island called Panglau. Apart from a couple of hives that are used for demonstrations for tour groups, there are no bees. It also is not a farm, as there are no tractors, cows or pigs. Yes, they do have some horticulture going on, as they grow on site the key ingredients of the delicious salads that are served in the restaurants. During the Chinese New Year, the main crop at Bohol Bee Farm is Chinese tourists. This is a bit of a problem because I have the impression that the staff do not really like the Chinese guests. An elderly Spanish couple, on the other hand, seemed to be very popular with the Filipino staff.
When we arrived in Manila, an internal flight took us to Tagbileran airport and then a minibus took us to the Bee Farm. It was raining and the Bee Farm seemed to be full of (yes, you guessed it) Chinese tourists.
After some greedy goose gobbling, we usually had a rest in our room for an hour or so, before the morning swim.