Showing posts from January, 2018

In Praise of Sofia

Sofia. You cannot get away from it. If you are coming to Bulgaria, then sooner or later you will find yourself in the capital. Serdica, the ancient Thracian and Roman city now has plenty of crummy Commie concrete around the edges, mostly built in the 1960s and 1970s and now crumbling, not so elegantly. However, this piece is not going to be downbeat, so let us focus on the good things that Sofia has to offer.
Now I have to admit that this post is inspired by that self-confessed greedy goose Claire’s excellent piece about the food in Sofia in her splendid blog, Claire says that she is always on the look-out for places to do some of her favourite activities (eating and drinking, of course!) I am sure that Claire will not mind if I include some of her recommendations, but I am also going to add a bit more sightseeing stuff and bits and pieces of general interest.

The Airport Terminal 2 is the international one and the new one, built with EU money (like lots o…

And so to bed

“Oh botheration!” exclaimed Drusilla Kennington-Oval, her gamine face puckering in a tiny moue of vexation.
She had come to the end of her novel, Heartsease by Monica Liphook (Olympia Press) and it was time for her to get out of bed and face another mad, jolly, gorgeous day. She widened her slim, artistic fingers (and a thumb) and let the book slip to the cottage floor with an unaccustomed plonk. Immediately, she was out of bed, long limbs flashing, and down her knees mopping up the plonk – a bottle of cheap but agreeable Yugoslav Chablis that she was trying out.
Although it was only eight o’clock, already she could hear the sound of her farmer neighbours beginning to stir: the slam of a shooting brake door as one sped off for a round of golf and the cheerful clatter of helicopter blades as another one was whisked away to some boring business meeting in Brussels. Throwing on an old pair of patched jeans, Drusilla flung open the back door and bounded down to the garden fence. “Hello, Mr …

Taxing Time

The end of the semester is not the easiest of times. 
First I had three (yes, three) separate trips to the bank, in order to send a pile of cash to our account in Bulgaria. As readers of my previous post, Don’t Bank On It, will already know, a visit to a bank in China comes near the bottom of my “Fun Things To Do” list, just above going to the dentist or having brain surgery. Each little trip to the bank took at least an hour and the first two were unsuccessful. It was a case of third time lucky, after an epic hour-and-a-half, plus the obligatory question, “Where is your old passport?” (Well, I have now had my current passport for four and a half years. That makes my “new” passport quite old, doesn’t it?) The heart of the problem, when transferring money abroad from China, is that the bank wants to know that you have earned the money legitimately and paid tax on it.
Then Irena had her most interesting modeling assignment to date. 2,000 RMB is more than two hundred quid, tax free! That i…

Lunch with Bill and Julia

Firstly, I was delighted to see that two of my favourite blogs, Peter and Minty's, and Claire's, have new posts. Minty had not posted anything for ages, so we were wondering what had happened. Secondly, my own blog has now had more than 6,000 "hits". That is pretty good for a blog that has only been going for two months.
Bill and Julia are our dear friends. It would be difficult to imagine our years in China without them. Even though Bill and Julia are younger than us, Irena and I always enjoy their company. We are always laughing when we are together. 
Of course, this is China and so one of the most important things the four of us do is – yes, you guessed it – eating! Bill and Julia love Irena’s cooking, so they often come to our apartment for a meal. We often go out to a restaurant together and so that means leaving the ordering to Julia! On Sunday, after church, we had yet another lunch with Bill and Jul…

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…