A Tale of Two Villages

Kalotina and Berende Izvor are two villages in Bulgaria that I have come to know quite well. They are only about one kilometre apart, yet they are rather different. I suppose the most important difference is that Kalotina is a village that is dying or almost dead now, whereas Berende Izvor seems to be pretty much alive. Why is one village so full of decaying and abandoned houses, while the other one still seems to have some life in it? In Kalotina, there are some houses that are still inhabited, but even they look unkempt and neglected.
Both villages are on the map because of the River Nishava. In Berende Izvor, the Nishava is really still a stream, as you can jump over it, but by the time it leaves Kalotina it is a river. “Izvor” in Bulgarian means “bubbling” and, sure enough, there is a spring that bubbles up from the rock and then it flows away to join several other springs that eventually form the Nishava. Our Bulgarian friend Roumen took us to see the spring and it was quite unusu…

Married at the Mall

China is a strange place, a seriously foreign place. If you are a Brit, then France or Germany are not so weird or peculiar. They are really just the same as the UK, except that the accent is different and food (or probably the weather) is better. But China is not like that. China is a strange country.

I am not going to give the name of the church Irena and I attend here in Shenzhen. That would not be a sensible thing to do. As an elder in our international church here in Shenzhen, I do get asked to “do” weddings and this one was my second. First we had Hitched at the Hilton and now Married at the Mall. I “officiated” at Elmer and Lynn’s wedding on 1st January, 2018. Well, it made an unusual way to start the New Year.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of church here in China: officially-recognized government churches and “unofficial”, unregistered churches (often called “house” churches). There is no uniform policy towards unofficial churches. Sometimes there are crackdowns, with ar…

A Letter to Joel

A lot of teachers write to me, asking about what it is like to teach in international schools around the world. Joel wrote to me and he suggested that it might not be a good idea to teach Chinese students.

Dear Joel,
Well, you should speak as you find, as they say. If you have come across some lazy or poorly motivated Chinese students, then fair enough. But that is not my experience.
I have been teaching at Green Oasis School (GOS) for more than four years now. Before that, I was in the UK, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Romania, the UAE and Qatar. During my travels I have come across more than my fair share of badly behaved and lazy students. Now I am a primary school teacher and I wondered whether the older students at GOS became absolutely horrible as soon as they left the primary section, but my colleagues in the senior school all tell me the same thing. In so far as it is possible for teenagers to be pleasant and well-behaved, ours certainly are.
There are lots of reasons why Chinese st…

Snack Safari

When we were living in Kenya, just outside Nairobi, we would sometimes go for a little safari in the Nairobi National Park that was maybe ten minutes’ drive from our bungalow in Kisembe Road. On other occasions, we went on safari to the Mara, Samburu or Nakuru. The essence of a “game drive” is that you never know what wild animals you are going to see or if you will see any at all. On a smaller scale, I get a similar feeling of excitement whenever I am walking down the street in Shenzhen around lunchtime and there is a simple reason: street food.
Why do I like street food so much? Maybe it is because I have no idea what it is called or what it is made out of, but my guess is that it is going to be delicious and it usually is. Another thing that makes street food more enjoyable is the amazingly low price. However, one of the best things about street food is that they cook it right in front of you and it is always fun to see how they mix up the ingredients so quickly and flip over that p…

City by the bay

Hang on! That is San Francisco, isn't it? Yes, I think so and there was a sentimental song about leaving one of my internal organs somewhere or other. Anyway, Shenzhen is more or less on a bay, although perhaps it would be more precise to say that it is on a muddy delta. There is, however, a rather pleasant park that goes along the seafront (or maybe the mudfront). My dear Irisha insisted on calling it "the Corniche". Memories of the Nile in Egypt or Qatar, I should think. Actually, this waterside public space reminded me of the Aspire Park in Doha, as it was all a bit too new and antiseptic. At least there was no fake birdsong on the loudspeakers and there were no Qataris throwing trash everywhere (and expecting all of the Nepalis to pick it up for them).

The waterside park is the foreground for some silly sculpture and some even more silly buildings. These outlandish constructions came First, Second and Third in in the International Crazy Building Competition. This show…

Ping An and PM

For several weeks, Irena has been feeling unwell. She has been waking up in the morning with swelling on her forehead, face, lips and throat. Usually the swellings gradually fade away after a couple of days.
As well as the physical discomfort and the embarrassment, she has found it difficult to plan anything, as she never knows when these swellings are going to come back. For a long time, we thought that perhaps the swellings were caused by some sort of allergic reaction, but we really did not know what was causing the problem. Irena does not have much faith in doctors anyway and she had already been to the clinic once about this problem. Finally, this morning I managed to persuade her to give the medical profession one more go.

Green Oasis School gives all of its teachers and their families free medical insurance through the Ping An group, so our visit to the Chiho clinic did not cost us anything. More importantly, the doctor was able to tell Irena the cause of her problem: the …

A Chinese Christmas, December 2015

There isn’t one. Well, what I mean is that there is no Christmas holiday for most people in China. 
Tomorrow is Christmas Day, 25th December, but for just about everyone it will be just an ordinary working day here in the Middle Kingdom. I am a foreign teacher at Green Oasis School and so I am getting a two-week holiday, whereas teachers at ordinary Chinese schools get no holiday and neither do their students.

Today is Christmas Eve, 24th December, and it is a Sunday, so my church, Shenzhen International Fellowship, had a Christmas service this morning. Afterwards we invited our dear Chinese friends, Bill and Julia, to have lunch with us at our apartment. It was nothing too fancy, as Irena had been on the worship team and so she wanted something quick and easy: jaozi (dumplings) and salad, with Julia’s excellent apple pie for dessert.
(As readers of my blog will already know, the best thing to do is to boil the jaozi and then fry them in hot oil, so that the pastry is a bit brown and…