Showing posts from November, 2017

A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Okay, I promise not to do any more Charles Dickens quotations. In case you have not guessed, the two cities I am talking about are Shenzhen, just round the corner from Hong Kong in southern China, and Doha, the capital of Qatar. Why do I want to write about these two in particular? Because Irena and I were living in Doha for five years, just before we came here to the Middle Kingdom. So what are our memories of Qatar (and Doha in particular)? 

In many ways, Doha is not so different from Shenzhen because it is a modern city. Like Shenzhen, most of Doha did not exist thirty or forty years ago. Yes, it has loads of skyscrapers and some impressive (and even whacky) modern buildings, just like SZ, and there are even some parks. Both cities are near the sea. But that is where the similarities end. Doha was built by Nepalis, Indians, Filipinos, and anyone else that the Qataris could get to do the work. Shenzhen, on the other hand, was bui…

Don't Bank On It

The process of transferring cash out of China can be a bit difficult sometimes. Sensible people do not even try to take wads of money onto the plane - that is just asking for trouble.

No, you should go along to the bank and do a transfer. Yes, this can take a while, so bring your copy of War and Peace. In my branch of China Merchant Bank there is a machine. You press it somewhere and a small piece of paper comes out. Great! You now have a small piece of paper.

First of all, you have to wait for a long time. (This means that you will be able to read the first 297 pages, up to the bit about Austerlitz and Dolohov proposing to Sonya.) Roman Catholic churches have confessionals, those wooden cubicles where you tell the priest about all of your sins. In China, you go to the bank and tell the cashier your life story. This means that you have to wait a bit longer.

Then a very pretty Chinese girl, who looks about 14 or maybe 15 years old, tries to help you. She is very charming, but she does not…

In Defence of V.T.

Yes, but what about the beautiful, historic churches? The view of Tsaravets from the medieval wooden bridge? The eccentric and idiosyncratic architecture of the old town? The lovely countryside all around Veliko Tarnovo, perfect for camping and picnics? The charming little restaurants and bars, hidden away down alleys? No, all this nameless blogger wanted to tell us was how much he (or she) misses her friends and how hard it is to get paid to write a blog. (Well, why not get a proper job instead, like the rest of us?)

As I said before, the unnamed blogger did have some good photos of Veliko Tarnovo and I suppose we ought to be grateful for the pics, but complaining about how hard it is to be a “professional blogger” is not something that I will ever want to read about. Yes, it is your decision to pack in your 9-to-5 job and have freebie travel around the world, persuading companies to pay your hotel bills. Although you can put advertisements and “product placement” into your blog if yo…

Character Building

Before I came to China, I bought lots of books and other resources, in order to learn some Mandarin. After all, I had learned French and Latin at school, then Greek and Hebrew at university. Marrying a Russian lady meant trying to learn at least a little Russian, while buying a house and an apartment in Bulgaria has meant that I have even learned some Bulgarian phrases. “So Mandarin is not going to be too tough!” I thought. Yeah, well, we all make mistakes.
Mandarin is much, much harder for a westerner to learn than any of the other languages I have come across. There are just no points of contact, zilch similarities. If you know English, then German and French are not so difficult because there are so many German and French words that have found their way into English. Mandarin, however, is not like that. For a start, there are no singulars and plurals in Mandarin. You have to guess from the context. Then there are the tones. No, I am not talking about the delicate shades for your bed…

SZ versus BG

Why is this blog called Bulgaria with Noodles? Well, at moment we are here in Shenzhen (SZ) and then, next summer, we will be moving back to Bulgaria. In the meantime, I bore to death all of my unfortunate colleagues at Green Oasis School by telling them about that country in SE Europe. Although physically I am still in southern China, my heart is in Bulgaria. As this is now my fifth year in the Middle Kingdom, maybe you would like to read one or two points of comparison and contrast between the two countries.

Firstly, food. I am sure that all of my Chinese friends would agree that food ought to come first. Chinese food is, well, okay. Eating out is cheap in China. I am writing this after having eaten lunch in the Green Oasis cafeteria. For a school lunch, it was not bad. Yes, there are some particularly annoying things about haute cuisine Chinoise, such as the strange concept that a chicken’s head, fat, bones and feet are just as tasty as the actual meat. Salt is just one of the not-…

In the Red


So here it is! Money, cash, dosh or RMB, as we say in the Middle Kingdom. RMB stands for “reminbi”, which in Mandarin means “the people’s money”. Here, on my desk is a 100RMB banknote, proudly displaying the portrait of Chairman Mao. (It is mostly printed in red ink, just in case there are any ghosts around.) Before coming to China, I heard lots of stories about all of the counterfeit 100RMB notes that are supposed to be in circulation here. You could tell if they were genuine because the red ink would either stay on or come off. I cannot remember which! Anyway, so far I have not come across any fakes. Well, maybe I did have some, but I did not know that they were fakes and so I must have given them to someone else.

Of course lots of people in the West have heard of The Little Red Book, aka The Thoughts of Chairman Mao. But why do they still have Mao on their money? Yes, yes, in theory China is meant to be a Communist country, but just about every other car on the roads of Shenzhen…

The Sign of Four (or 3A in China)

This was the view from the main window of our old apartment, in the next block to the one we are in now. Inside, the apartment looked decidedly weird. Irena and I liked it immediately. We were so glad that none of the other new teachers (who were also looking at flats with us) liked it, so we grabbed the opportunity to live in such a splendidly eccentric flat. (The loo was electrically operated and the decor reminded you of a country cottage - or maybe a French bordello.)

Why does the lift in our apartment block (and in every other apartment block in Shenzhen) have a weird way of numbering the floors? 1, 2, 3 - yes, okay so far - 3A, 4, 5, 6 etc. So why 3A? Because the number "four" in Mandarin sounds very similar to the word for "death". No one wants to live on the fourth floor because it must be unlucky, even though the whole building is covered with reddish-pinkish tiles that are supposed to bring good luck. (As readers of my previous posts will already know, red…

A Life in the Day

Okay, so it is 5.30am on a Monday morning. It is time to get up. Showering, getting dressed and having breakfast are usually slow-motion action replays, only not so fast. Then, after a twenty-five minute walk along the street and through the park, I arrive at Green Oasis School, also known as GOS. It's a good school in the centre of Futian, the posh central district of Shenzhen. I am now in my fifth and final year as a Year 5 teacher. Of course I cannot speak much Mandarin and I cannot read any at all, but fortunately I have the wonderful services of my assistant or "teaching partner", Miss Yanee.

Friday, 15th of June, 2018, will be my last day in the teaching profession and then my wife and I will be returning to Bulgaria for our retirement. We will be leaving just after my 59th birthday, so I will still be a whisker away from being an OAP.

Teaching Chinese students is a delight. The nine- and ten-year-olds in my class have Mandarin as their first language and that is a b…

Saturday afternoon, in the park

Yesterday Irisha and I went to Lianhuacun Park, just opposite our apartment in the Bank of China Towers. There are supposed to be 16 or maybe 18 million people here in Shenzhen and most of them seemed to think that going to the park would be a good idea. The temperature must have been in the high 20s and it was a pleasantly sunny day, maybe the last day of the summer. Well, that was how it felt, even though it was the middle of November. (Why do boring Brits always go on about the weather so much?)

After a walk up to the pagoda, we looked at some special flower displays and then, like everyone else, we took lots of photos.

Irena was singing in the worship team on Sunday morning, so we had to get to church a bit earlier than usual. Our friends Bill and Julia arrived later. After church, we went back to Futian by bus (I hate the buses in Shenzhen, as all the drivers think they are at Silverstone) and then lunch, followed by writing this blog. Why is it so hard to add photos to a blog? I s…

Welcome to Bulgaria with Noodles!

Yes, I have done it! After reading several other blogs about Bulgaria and asking myself, "Yes, but how is my blog going to be different?", I have finally taken the plunge and made my very first blog. Bulgaria with Noodles is the title. Yes, yes, it really is going to be about Bulgaria, one of these days, but it is all going to start in China!

All the other blogs that have be written about moving to Bulgaria start with lots of anxious posts about selling the house, scraping together the cash, buying a tumbledown house in Bulgaria (usually in the mountains) and then driving all the way from the UK to BG. Well, this blog is different because we already have a house in Bulgaria, and an apartment, and a smug smile. The only problem is that we are still in China.

Well, dear reader, I say that it is a problem, but really being in southern China is not so bad, for various reasons. Firstly, it is now November and the weather here in Shenzhen is a lot nicer than it is in Bulgaria, whe…