Tag Archives: teaching

Little Virgin Boy Pee Eggs

Today is Chinese New Year! That means it’s time for another China story from the vault. I’ve posted quite a lot here about China, like the time I ate brains and the time I got to be Bad Santa. There was also the snake shop, and when I got pulled in Shanghai airport and some beefy security guards tried to take my cheese off me. No way, mister! Even the most mundane things, like getting a haircut, take on a whole new meaning in the Middle Kingdom.

In 2009-2010 I lived in an extremely inhospitable northern industrial city called Tianjin. I imagine it was a bit like a Chinese Middlesbrough. I only went there to be closer to a girl I was dating, who then promptly dumped me for another dude leaving me alone, miserable and stuck in a job I hated. Said job was teaching English in a primary school. It wasn’t the teaching I disliked. it was the kids. There, I said it. It’s probably hard enough trying to educate children that young when you speak the same language, but at least then you can reason with them. If you don’t speak the same language, forget it. It’s like fighting a war with no weapons. Every class was anarchy.

Eventually I hit on the bright idea of rewarding the good kids with lollipops, hoping the naughty ones would see what they were missing and fall in line. It didn’t quite work out like that. Instead, every kid who didn’t get a lollipop threw an epic temper tantrum. Mostly products of the one-child policy, they were a mass of Little Emperors. They broke me. Regularly. I would cave in and give them all lollipops just to shut them up, costing myself a small fortune in sugary bribes.

One of the few things I liked about this school was the little breakfast stall stationed outside, selling a selection of traditional local food, along with some more normal fare like boiled eggs and corn on the cob. I stopped by there most mornings. It was cheap, and saved me time.

virgin-boy-eggs

There was a lot I didn’t like about the school. But the worst thing were the toilets. Toilets in China are gruesome places at the best of times. But in the school there were no locks on the doors, because the little shits would shut themselves in. That meant whenever I used it, I had a swarm of kids around me pointing and laughing. It was enough to give anyone a complex.

I noticed the boys all peed in buckets, which struck me as a bit weird. But lots of things struck me as a bit weird in China, and the buckets of piss just blended in with all the other weirdness. People would come in sporadically, carry the full buckets out, and come back with empty ones. Presumably, they were emptying them down a drain somewhere. I didn’t know, and frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t think much about it. Until one day, when I was talking to my teaching assistant and he told me something that first confused me, then horrified me to the core. The school was selling the pee. Those people who came in to take out the buckets of piss were actually paying the school for the privilege.

“What? Who would buy buckets of pee?”

“People.”

“What people?”

“Like the people at the breakfast stall where you go in the mornings.”

“Why?”

“Tong zi dan.”

“What’s that in English?”

“Not sure. Little virgin boy pee egg or something.”

He explained that in some regions of China, Tianjin included, urine from young boys, preferably under the age of ten is harvested. It is boiled, and eggs are soaked in it for a few hours. Then the shells are cracked, presumably to let the pissy goodness inside, and it is boiled some more. The practice has been going on for centuries, and is tied to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Eating little virgin boy piss eggs is said to reduce high blood pressure, stop you catching a cold, and relieve joint pain, and I’d been unwittingly eating them for months.

I’ve never been able to look at a boiled egg in quite the same way since.

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Trigger Warning #6

I am pleased to report that my short story, Little Dead Girl, is included in Trigger Warning #6deadgirl-945x945As you can probably gather, I wrote Little Dead Girl when I was in living in China. I tried to convey some of the isolation and disassociation you feel when immersed in a different culture, and the surreal sense of  unreality that permeates everything you do. The artist who illustrated the story, John Skewes, captures the mood perfectly.

Little Dead Girl was yet another story based on one of my fucked up dreams, probably inspired by the evil Little Emperors I was teaching at the time. Believe me, some of them deserved to be kicked down a flight of stairs or three. To this day, I can still remember the dream vividly, and it still gives me chills.

You can read Little Dead Girl for free HERE

 


What’s in a Name?

This week is Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival. Confusing because in the West it’s neither New Year or Spring. Anyway, this is the Year of the Sheep. To celebrate, here is a little glimpse inside Chinese culture.

During my time as an English teacher in China I met, and tried my level best to engage with, probably a couple of thousand students, with very mixed results. The vast majority were 18 to 22 years old and had limited English capabilities, even though most had been ‘learning’ the language since they were kids.

Not many classrooms have heating. This one didn't.

Not many classrooms have heating. This one didn’t.

To aid their education, the students are encouraged to take English names. It is supposed to help them identify with the language and more importantly, makes things slightly easier for foreign teachers. Most of the boys named themselves after basketball players or footballers they idolise. Every class had at least one or two Bryants, Lebrons, James’ and Davids, in which case I had to give them numbers after their name to differentiate between them. Bryant 1, Bryant 2, Bryant 3, etc.

There were also the customary smattering of cutsie girls names; Amy, Janet, Mary, etc. As mundane as they are, at least these names can be considered normal. However, a fair percentage had some pretty ridiculous names. Every foreign teacher will have come across this, and could probably supply their own expansive lists.

I know its childish and immature to make fun of people’s names, but these are not ‘real’ names. More often than not, they are just random English words the student likes the sound of. Some change their new, ‘names’ regularly, while others stick doggedly to the same non-name until they realise how stupid it is then get another one. Others kept forgetting their English names and didn’t respond even if you did remember it.

Welcome to the bizarre world of Chinese student’s ‘English names.

name-change-blackboard

Boys:

Aubrey, Casper, Cookie, Heaven, Blind, Black, Bing, Bet, Boss, Tail, Mars, Lemon, Wolf, Poseidon, Kite, Felix, Jonny X, Winter, Wisdom, Note

Girls:

Delete, Lenovo, Kitty, Emple, Emperor, Shiner, Five, Six, Seven, Turkey, Fairy, Darling, Momo, Panda, Canary, Funny, Flower, Volume, Crayon, Yoghurt, Soulmate, Dolly, Rainy, Sunny, Dolphin, Blossom, Nonchalant, Sin, Cipher, Bamboo, Jammy, Kamy, Lark, Oren, Oscar, Tequila, Wonderful.

The award for the most ridiculous name of all, however, goes to… Lube. The poor, confused thing. And a special mention should go to the most questionable CHINESE name I came across:

Wang Ke

Weirdly, as much as I protested, Wang Ke was one of the few that flatly refused to get an English name. Priceless.


Back to Reality

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It’s six months since I came back from China. And six months since I stopped trying to be a teacher and moved to London to work for a magazine. And only now I can put things in perspective a bit. At first I suffered from a weird kind of reverse-culture shock. After the best part of six years being submersed in one of the weirdest cultures in the world, even adapting to the UK again was traumatic. One afternoon I bought a meal deal in Tesco, and got served by a robot. Surreal.

In the time I’ve been away, a lot of my friends and family have moved on with their lives, got married, had babies (some of my friends seem to have a new one every year) or got themselves divorced or dead. For more than half a decade I called different little parts of China ‘home’, eventually settling in Changsha, Hunan Province. In the meantime, in my real hometown in the Welsh valleys, which I visited for a couple of months each summer, everything changed but stayed the same. Everything of note that had happened since my last visit got jammed into two months worth of drinking time. Then I had to remember all the relevant details, file them away, and leave again.

Meanwhile, the same thing was happening in my other life in Changsha. Just because you are not there, it doesn’t mean life stops. Far from it. If anything, life moves much faster in a place where the unofficial motto is ‘Go hard or go home.’ All in all, the past six years have required a lot of adjusting. I’ve been a social chameleon. With varying degrees of success. A bit like a 21st Century Paul Young. Wherever I lay my rucksack, that’s my home. For a while.

After the shock of settling back into society wore off and I settled into the job, I got too busy to write much at home. I also spent a fair chunk of time in the pub, obviously. And a lot more time than I would like on subways and trains. When the weekend rolls around, I can’t wait to have a lie in. This 9-5 lark is pretty brutal. Especially with a 2-hour commute each way. I knew that, which is why I avoided it for as long as I could. It’s a far cry from having two classes a day followed by a five-minute walk across campus in the sunshine.

Hunan Mass Media College, Changsha

Hunan Mass Media College, Changsha

Never mind, I had a good innings out there on the edge of normal society. Time to step back in line, I suppose. This is where I belong. I’m pretty sure of that now. I think.

Some people take teaching very seriously. To some its a vocation. Good for them, but I was never one of those people. I wasn’t the worst teacher in the world. I think I got better with time. It was hard to get any worse considering that when I first started at one of the most prestigious universities in Beijing, I had no teacher training. None at all. I was just given a text book, thrown in front of a class of would-be airline pilots, and told to ‘teach something.’ As my career progressed, I would consider myself lucky to even be given a text book.

I had some pretty awful lessons. I’ve crashed and burned so many times. I almost started a classroom riot one day after making a throw-away comment about ‘the Tibet problem’ in a particularly touchy class. The funny thing is, I don’t even give much of a shit about Tibet. I said as much, in slightly different words, and that just got me in more trouble. Oh well…

I had some good lessons too. There are some students I’ve stayed in touch with for four or five years now. But you never remember the really good lessons. I like to think it’s because by the end there were so many of them, my frazzled mind couldn’t keep track of them all. But I might be wrong about that. The bad ones, however, are burned into my mind. There is no lonelier place on earth than being on a stage in front of forty pairs of expectant eyes when your lesson plan has just failed, you have absolutely nothing to say, and you still have twenty minutes of lesson time to kill.

Goodbye, class!

Goodbye, class!

But you learn a lot about yourself in testing situations. If I’d wanted a safe, easy life I would never have gone.


Finding the Time

During Spring Festival 2012, which ran through January into February in China, I was an ESL teacher, which meant an extended break from class. One of the best things about being a teacher, especially at a university, is all the holidays.

Being a frustrated writer, I made it my first mission to submit everything I had lying gathering dust on my hard drive. Novels, novellas, short stories, articles, everything. As it turned out, it was a worth-while exercise. My love life might have been a perpetual mess, but writing-wise, 2012 was the most successful year of my career by far with a novel, a novella and eight short stories published in different places, along with a couple of articles and a bunch of reviews. Paradoxically, I didn’t actually write much more new material other than a new novella set in World War I called No Man’s Land, and a few short stories.

What I did do, apart from submit everything I had, was re-write the first book in my Joshua Wyrdd teenage adventure series for a publisher, who then rejected it anyway. Great start. After that I edited and re-edited the two books that did end up coming out last year, Devil’s Island (on Rainstorm Press) and Rainbow’s End (Flarefont Publishing). At the same time I worked on a screenplay for a client and a book I ghosted for a friend who recently had a stroke. I also kept up a steady stream of reviews for Morpheus Tales magazine.

I set up this blog in the summer of 2012 and set about trying to get a following, then I concentrated on trying to promote Devil’s Island. I sent out around a dozen review copies, and emailed around 50 horror magazines and websites offering review copies and/or a guest blogs, profiles, or interviews. In the interests of shameless self-promotion, I also updated my Amazon Author Central and Author’s Den pages, and did a lot of marketing on Facebook, etc. No sooner was the Devil’s Island promo stint over, then the whole thing began again with Rainbow’s End, only this time it was even harder as I was trying to break a new market, the subject matter not being what I usually write about.

No matter what else I’m doing, I always try to keep an eye open for any new markets and maintain my submission rate. That takes up a fair chunk of time. I keep other things up to date; my Duotrope tracker (when it was a free service), my professional log, where I keep notes on all my submissions, successes and failures, and various other things I have going at any one time, like my ‘Strange Communications’ file where I record some of the funnier or more bizarre verbal exchanges I have with (usually Chinese) people. Some weeks, that expands at an alarming rate. In addition, I read as widely as time allows.

I’m not complaining. I know nothing worthwhile is easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it. Also, I’m a firm believer in the philosophy that generally speaking, people are selfish bastards and do what they want most of the time. Meaning that if I didn’t really want to do these things, I wouldn’t. I’d watch TV or get drunk instead. I don’t know what drives me, that’s a whole other blog – one I intend to write after the intensive therapy sessions. Joke. I just know that wherever possible, I do what makes me happy. In the words of the great Bruce Springsteen… It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive!

But damn it, I wish there were more hours in a day. I never feel satisfied, I always feel like I could have done more. I get the feeling I’m racing against the clock. Which is exactly what I’m doing, every day, in a sense.

And so are you.


Rainbow’s End

My new novel, Rainbow’s End, is out now on FlareFont publishing and is available on Amazon, Smashwords, B & N, and all other online retailers.

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This is my first attempt at a grown-up novel, with no ghosts, zombies, serial killers, demons, aliens or anyfink…

And I just know it’s going to get me in trouble.

Life is a journey, right? We all make our way from A to B to C.

This is my journey. At least, part of it. I made some of it up for dramatic effect.

In a nutshell it is the story of a young man who leaves rural Wales in search of gainful employment, adventure, and enlightenment. In short, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

However, on his journey of self-discovery, he gets far more than he ever bargained for…

Rainbow’s End, written in first-person narrative style, is primarily a contemporary cultural and social study. Its underlying themes include national identity and the perennial search for ‘belonging’, and asks where Wales fits into the modern world.

The story begins as a bleak assessment of modern life in the South Wales valleys. The lead character has worked in the same local factory ‘putting things in boxes’ for eight years; he is bored in his long-term relationship and yearns for the freedom to explore, both literally and figuratively. A trip abroad stirs an awakening of sorts, and on his return to the confines of work the narrator begins a torrid affair with a colleague. This quickly turns sour; he feels isolated and restricted, and only does the things he needs to do, as opposed to the things he wants to do. As the relationship, and his life, crumbles around him he turns to writing as a means of self-expression.

Before too long his writing exploits make him a focal point of attention in the village where he lives, but this success is tempered by the worsening condition of his relationship. Eventually, after a run-in with the local police, he is forced to flee to Southampton, where he wins a place on a media course at university. At last, he is free to indulge both his fascination with writing and his wanderlust, as he finally breaks free of the chains that had bound him for most of his life. Belatedly, he realizes that life can be whatever you make it.

The blinkers have finally been removed.

However, in Southampton he discovers that the grass is not always greener, as he is targeted by bigoted racists who see him as a ‘foreigner.’ There are also problems when he returns to his hometown and his small group of lifelong friends reject him because of his perceived act of disloyalty in moving to England.

Disillusioned and perpetually luckless in love, he eventually decides to start a new life in Beijing, throwing himself headlong into the search for adventure, enlightenment, and ultimately…

happiness.

For more information, please follow this link:

http://www.amazon.com/Rainbows-End-ebook/dp/B00APLQMIS/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1356686896&sr=8-1-fkmr1&keywords=rainbows+end+cm+saunders

 

 

 

 

 


Christmas in China

Not being a Christian country, China has traditionally been quite reluctant to get the Christmas bug. This seems to have changed dramatically in recent years, with kids eager to get presents and shops and businesses all eager to make as much money as possible. It’s the perfect symbiotic relationship, and commercialization reigns here as much as anywhere else.

I often get Christmas cards, emails and messages from my students, past and present. They mean well, but unfortunately too many of the season’s greetings get addressed to Christ, instead of Chris or Christian.

To Christ, merry Christmas!

Being the son of God is a lot to live up to.

Almost every educational facility from kindergartens to universities and training schools have special events to mark Christmas. These usually take the form of a student performance. Last year at Xiangtan University, the drama club did a Shakespeare production. Juliet came out wearing a beautiful long, white dress, promptly tripped over it, face-planted, and gave herself a nosebleed. Romeo & Juliet never had so many laughs.

Spending Christmas away from home is always difficult. Of course, I miss people. But I have to work, and this is the life I chose, so all I can do is push those thoughts to the back of my head and get on with it. Luckily, we have a tight foreign community here in Changsha. Brits, Americans, French, Canadians, Germans, Poles, Danes, Swedes, Australians. We are all foreign to each other, but united in the fact that we are not Chinese. The Chinese rarely discriminate between nationalities (except the Japanese). To them its simple. You are either Chinese or foreign. A common Mandarin word for ‘foreigner’ is laowai. The etymology is complex, but tellingly, literally translated it means ‘always’ and ‘outsider.’

I usually have to work Christmas day, as do most teachers. It’s not a national holiday in China. Sometimes I have to be Santa Claus. I make a very bad Santa. A few years ago, when I worked at a primary school in Tianjin, the school asked me to host the Christmas party. Being the only foreigner there, I had no choice but to agree. They gave me this tattered red Santa suit and a script to learn. Yes, a script. Then they sent me into an assembly hall packed not just with hyperactive spoiled Little Emperors, but their parents, their grandparents, and it seemed like all their friends and extended family as well. All told, there must have been several hundred people there, all waiting to see Santa Claus.

I was a bit nervous, so I drank a bottle of Baijiu on the bus on the way to school, and by the time I got there I was quite pissed. So there I was, in a Santa suit, drunk, on a stage in front of hundreds of people, at 8 am Christmas morning, in northern China.

It couldn’t get any more surreal.

But it could certainly get worse.

I had been a good boy that year, and learned the script beforehand. So in my best Santa voice I bellowed my first line, “Ho, ho, ho, do you know who I am?”

To which a kid in the front row jumped up and shouted, “Yeah, I know who you are. You’re Chris. Our English teacher.”

What? That wasn’t in the script. How could I follow that?

There was a deathly hush, then a ripple of laughter gradually spread through the audience members.

Merry Christmas, you little shit.

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