This blog is supposed to be all about Bulgaria, but for five years we were in Shenzhen, in southern China. That is the reason for the weird title, "Bulgaria with Noodles". In June of 2018, Irena and I left China and retired to Bulgaria, to our villa 60km north of Sofia and to our apartment in Veliko Tarnovo. This blog is really all about some comparisons and contrasts between China and Bulgaria, two very different countries.
In the Red
"We like to collect his picture."
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.
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 is either a new-looking Mercedes or a
BMW. And if China is a Communist country, then why are those standard-bearers
of western capitalism and consumerism, KFC and Starbucks, on almost every
street corner? And how come, all over China, there are private schools springing
up like mushrooms after the rain? Let’s get back to Mr Chairman for a minute.
A wise Chinese friend once smiled and said to me, “We used to read his
thoughts, but now we just like to collect his picture.”
Clueless laowai on SZ's MTR
strange misconception that people have in the West is that China is cheap. No,
it isn’t. Yes, public transport will only set you back a fraction of what you
will pay in most countries in Europe. In Shenzhen the metro (MTR) system is so
much better than the London Underground in every way: price, cleanliness,
efficiency and ease of use. There are plenty of signs in English everywhere on the MTR,
so that even a clueless laowai (foreigner)
like me does not get onto the wrong train. But that is just the public transport.
A lot of things seem to be expensive here in Shenzhen, maybe even more expensive than in the UK. While
locally produced food is usually cheaper, imported stuff is not. Yes, cheap clothes and plasticky shoes are available, but anything of reasonable quality will be a lot more expensive. Cars, mostly imported, have 100% duty slapped on them. Electrical
goods and apartments are pricey. A modest apartment in Shenzhen will cost
you at least a million RMB, while a nicer one in one of the better areas might
be three or four million. Okay, these are still not London prices, but then again most Chinese people do not earn London salaries.
I took this photo just along the street from my bank.
Another thing that seems to be happening more in Shenzhen (and probably in the rest of China too) is that the gap between the rich and the poor seems to have become bigger in the four-and-a-bit years that we have been here. Yes, I daresay that is happening in the UK, in the US and in other countries too, but then again they are not supposed to be Communist countries and they do not have Chairman Mao's portrait on their banknotes.
really enjoy going back to England any more. Last year it was RTD’s memorial
service and last month I went back to try to sort out what to do with my lump
sum from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.
Well, why don’t I enjoy going back to my
own country? First of all, I think that it is because I just do not belong
there. Bulgaria is my home and therefore, more and more, I feel that my roots
are in my adopted country. Bulgaria is “home” now. Secondly, there are the
practical issues of going back, as I have no place of my own in the UK, no car,
no nothing. My old friend Peter Adams was very hospitable, as usual, and we
certainly enjoyed some splendid scoffing: lots of roast beef, roast potatoes,
Yorkshire pud and all the trimmings! This was then followed up with the
inevitable crumble and custard. Then we also had a good lunch with Peter’s mum
(fish and chips), followed by a delicious Chinese meal. But food leads on to my
next anti-British moan: the outrageous cost of just about every…
Even though we left Qatar more than five years ago, many teachers still contact me through the TES and ask me what it is like to teach there. Hi Hippo
I hope you don't mind me pre-emptively sending you a conversation about my job
GEMS Wellington Qatar have offered 13.5k which I think is reasonable for three
years' experience qualified (five including unqualified experience).
However, they are not offering medical insurance for my family nor are they
covering flights for them. At the interview, the Director intimated that my
family might even have to stay here in the UK while stuff like permits got
sorted out. My gut instinct tells me not to accept the offer as a result.
Also, I've heard Qataris can be quite racist towards non-white people. How true
is this? I've always fought against this sort of thing in the UK as an Asian
man and don't want any trouble when I go out to work.
Is the cost of living higher than Dubai or London? Obviously, I'd not have to
In many ways Veliko Tarnovo, also known as V.T., is a much nicer city than Sofia. It is smaller, less polluted and the traffic is nowhere near as bad as it is in the capital. Every year, we go and spend a week or so in our apartment in Veliko Tarnovo. For I don't know how long, Irena and I have been saying, "When you retire, we will move in V.T. and that is where we will spend the winter, as it won't be much fun spending the winter in Kalotina." The main problem with this plan is that we have not retired yet. Well, I was retired for six months, but then I started working again and now we have started to put down roots in Sofia, not in V.T. This trip to V.T. was rather different, as it was dominated by the presence of Tina. Yes, it was a lot of fun to have her delightful company, but she was also seriously ill. Several trips to the Vet were needed, along with quite a few injections and a course of antibiotics. First she was vomiting and had bad diarroheia, followed by …