Friday Flava

A variety of dishes and sauces. Yummy good stuff!

Japanese dishes, along with Korean cuisine are extremely popular in China. I guess from looking at the picture you can see why.

Inhale deeply and imagine the rest.

It’s Friday Flava


Why Are Chinese Beds So Hard?

Chinese customers take advantage of IKEA’s try before you buy policy. Maybe I should join them!

Nobody told me.

I left my comfy bed with its wrap-itself-around-me-while-I-sink-into-it-blissfully-mattress and travelled 4,000 miles south to China.

Would I have come if somebody had told me that Chinese people like to sleep on rock hard beds? Probably, but would I have given it some serious thought before I packed my bags and left England? Oh, for sure.

The common belief in China is that ultra firm mattresses give better support to the back, promoting a good night’s sleep (now I sound like an advert, sos) and are therefore better for your overall health.

So this is the reason why so many Chinese people live to be 200 years old? Except that they don’t.

My brand new mattress. Looks pretty doesn’t it? But don’t be fooled it’s tough with a capital T. One bounce and you’ll break your foot. 

Traditional Chinese furniture is far removed from comfortable.

It’s beautiful to look at, sure, but not so great to sit on for long periods. It’s made of wood which seems to come from the toughest tree in the forest, the one which took 20 men and six months to saw down into submission. And, if the sofa that this tree gave up its life to make, has any cushions on it at all to protect your butt bones, guaranteed the cushions are THIN.

Added to to this is the fact that the settee will have a straight back also made from the same unyielding wood, so there’s no possibility of slouching, reclining or even chilling. Once you sit down, you remain at attention at all times.

Under normal circumstances, you could escape the torment of Chinese chairs and sofas by lazing around on your bed, but really, there’s no difference.

If you’ve only experienced the welcoming softness of a Western bed or deeply padded sofa cushions you can’t know what I’m talking about. Indeed I didn’t know till I got here.

Like I said, nobody told me. Not a word, not a whisper.

My mattress with its hardwood base. If I close my eyes I can’t tell which one I’m  lying on. Yes, they feel exactly the same!

They mentioned the language barrier. Being stared at and having my picture taken, making good friends and the kind of people to avoid. They talked about  the difficulties of being a vegetarian, but nobody mentioned just how hard (there’s that word again!) it would be to get a good night’s sleep.

How can I describe it?

When you lay down the mattress doesn’t give, it kind of pushes back.

When you toss and turn seeking some ease, you soon give up, after quickly realising that there is none.

When you flop wearily onto the bed after a long day the solid mattress feels like it’s just slapped you in the face.

Do you get it yet?

Find a piece of hardwood 6 feet by 5 feet and lie down on it. Now stretch. Turn over. Lie on one side then the other. Comfortable yet? Nope?

Congratulations, you’ve just experienced a typical Chinese bed.

For my solution see the picture below.

I don’t know who conceived of and then created the cushioned, foam mattress topper, but boy do I love this person!



Unusual English Names Among Chinese People

Erm, well if I had to choose standard English names I’d probably go with Michael and Roger

It was a bit of a shock when I first came to China and was asked to name a Chinese child.

In addition to their given names all of the children in my classes had English names apart from one child whose parents weren’t sure what to pick.

Initially I balked at the request.

Not being a Priest or part of any religious heirarchy I didn’t feel worthy of bearing the heavy weight of naming another human being, plus I was scared of the possible ramifications of my choices. What if the child did or didn’t live up to his English name? What if I gave him a tough guy name like Axel and he turned out to be more of a soft and gentle Vincent? Would the parents later hunt me down and demand retribution?

So, I demurred, deferred and avoided, despite being asked repeatedly. Eventually one of my Chinese assistant teachers helpfully pointed out that English names were ‘just for fun,’ frequently changed and without any weight.

Phew. What a relief. With the burden of responsibility lifted I happily provided names for their four year old sweetie along the lines of Clive, David, Jeff and Danny.

Sumatran elephant, Riau, Indonesia
Does he know he has a namesake in the form of a young man in South China? Probably not.

Over the past four years I’ve given English ‘just for fun’ names to many including children and adults, male and female. Usually they prefer a list so that ultimately the choice is theirs. I prefer this option too, it just makes sense.

Sometimes the requests are pretty specific along the lines of ‘I want something that’s cool in America, (how would I know?!)’ or ‘I love all things vintage’ and even, ‘I want names beginning with J, T or S because those sound like my Chinese name.’ Those I like even more because they present a challenge and being so specific actually makes it easier to produce a list.When a student or their parents requests a name followed by an airy; ‘oh, just choose what you think is good.’ I sigh on the inside.

Naturally they prefer standard English names, sometimes opting for ones which aren’t so common but it would be interesting to see what they’d make of a list with names like Demarco, Shaniqua, and Aisha.

I have a feeling they’d be rejected.

Which brings me nicely to my next point.

Apple is a common English name for young Chinese girls


Some Chinese people don’t need any help or advice in choosing a Western name. They’d  rather select their own.  I’ve met many Brandys, Candys, Cocos and variations of Anne, along with Davids, Kens, Stevens, Bobbys and one or two Sunnys.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that everyone follows the  crowd.

Many people go to the extreme by choosing irregular off-beat non-names which no-one else is likely to have thought of or want.

For example, I once had a job interview with a man called Banana. Fruity names such as Cherry, Strawberry and Apple are quite among 7 and 8 year old girls, but a grown man sporting the name Banana is in a different arena entirely.

Other examples of ‘you won’t find anyone else with this name, ha!’ include, Elephant, Lieman, Hairy Bear, Water, Nevoli, Garen, Coffee, Foxy, Weezy, Focus, Seven, Aki and from a guy I was introduced to today, Cigarette.

Yes, Cigarette.

I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to exhale, right?

Why? Why would you do this?

My first thought was ‘and what’s your wife’s name, Nicorette?’

Just when I think I’ve gotten used to the eclectic madness of China something comes around to shake me up. Except with this name it was more like a wallop to the face.

By the way, it also works in reverse. Sometimes Chinese friends will gift us with Chinese names but every foreigner I know has a good Chinese name, nothing along the lines of Hairy Bear.

Mine was given to me a couple of years ago and is Ai Hua which also translates as Love China, something is probably true on the days I don’t have to call someone Cigarette.





Is It Try or Trying?!

Students debate the many questions posed by learning English. (all photos; AvaMingImages)

For obvious reasons I’d always taken the English language forgranted.

I’d simply enjoyed its nuances and rythyms never paying too much attention to its vagaries or illogical and contrary rules.

It wasn’t until I started to teach students from other countries for whom English was a second language that I was forced to actively examine a tongue so familiar to me that speaking it, thinking in it and dreaming in it came as naturally as breathing.

Two pens, one pencil, countless pieces of paper and an overworked brain. The joys of studying English.

Teaching radio presentation to adult students from Nothern Africa and the Middle East was the first time I really thought about how I used language to share knowledge. In order for them to understand me it was neccessary to use simpler words and phrases and frequently find synonyms which they were more familiar with.

When I described a ride in a brand new Mercedes as floating along the street, their looks of confusion were priceless.

I also had to vary my speed, speaking slower than in normal speech, but not so slow that I sounded unnatural. Hand gestures and facial expressions held more weight than in conversations outside of the classroom with other native speakers.



Here in China I’ve taught English to children, teenagers and adults all with varying levels of ability. It sounds like this could have been a headache but on the whole it’s been fun.

One consistent theme has been about the different forms of English words. This is in stark contrast to Chinese words which rarely change their form for context or tense. For example, English words change according to if they are verbs, nouns or adjectives and according to the tense. Added to this is the fact that often they just seem to change form for no reason at all!

For learners it can be almost impossible to know when to use ‘environment’ or ‘environmental.’ ‘Trying’ or ‘try.’ ‘Going or go.’

Just when you think you’ve mastered this, despite all of the contrary rules which make you constantly re-think things and second guess yourself, then you have to learn a whole new set of vocabulary for past and future tenses. Not easy, especially when there’s no apparent connection to the root word.

Case in point, why is the past tense of go, went? Shouldn’t it logically be ‘gont’ or even ‘gonned?’ Likewise, why is the past tense of find, found? Again, logic would dictate that it should be ‘finded,’ right?


What about idioms, homophones, antonyms, synonyms, and acronyms? Are we trying to give our learners heart attacks?

After teaching English for four years in China and on occassion in England, I now have the greatest respect for non-native speakers who tackle the language and refuse to give up in the face of its non-sensities.

I love English. I love writing it, speaking it, talking about it.

I love seeing how far I can push its boundaries, but sometimes, many times, it’s very hard to explain and I can only conclude that its founders devised it after a liquid lunch or two, or maybe three.

China Has Its Own Opinion on Foreign Religions

Look at the white writing on red background just behind the cars. In Shekou, Shenzhen, China (all photos AvaMingImages)

This sign of praise to God is prominent in my neighbourhood.

There doesn’t seem to be a church attached, it’s surrounded by apartments and factories but the sign remains strong. The authorities pay it no mind and passersby mind their own business.

Where it came from and why it’s there are questions I have no answers to.

Not too long ago I attended a Christmas Eve carol service at a huge, white three balconied church in the heart of a Chinese neighbourhood complete with lighted crosses and ushers wearing white feathered angel wings.

There were even community security officers patrolling the grounds to ensure people’s safety.

The congregation was ninety-nine percent Chinese.


Interior of Shangmeilin Church, Shenzhen, China

In the last four years I have seen Catholic churches and Muslim mosques in my city and other cities and been invited to church many times by both Chinese and foreigners.

Contrary to popular opinion in the west, foreign religions are not suppressed in China, but they are controlled. Maybe with good reason. When you look at the history of countries which followed non-indigenous religions it hasn’t always worked out for the best.

Here’s the full report from the UK Express newspaper.


You’re Jamaican? Share the W…, Man!


The long legged man with the blue eyes, blonde hair and thick Scandanavian accent bumped his shoulder against mine flashing me a co-conspiratorial smile despite the fact that we’d only just been introduced by a mutual friend.

When foreigners in China meet for the first time one of the initial questions asked in the getting to know you process is usually; ‘where are you from?’

As the conversation ensues, racial heritage and history also come into play. I’ve become used to hearing about the 1/3 Irish, 7/8 Polish and 2/5 Scottish parts of various American and Canadian friends, (why do they do that?), but one thing which I wasn’t expecting was to be told how cool I am when I mention that my family is Jamaican, as that’s where my parents and elder relatives were born.

It seems that hailing from the land of wood and water, sunshine and reggae gives you a certain status, an air of affability and congenialty. It also causes some to believe that I can satsify their need for a waccy baccy fix.

First comes the slap on the back, followed by a request or demand to ‘hook them up!’ Sometimes they’ll even sing a line from a Bob Marley song as if to highlight their desire.

Why are they asking me? Do they think I just walk around with the stuff in my handbag?

I’ve learned to deftly change the topic, not wishing to offend new aquaintances with a lecture on stereotypes.


As I’m suddenly hip enough to have their complete attention, I could tell them fascinating things about Jamaica.

For example James Bond creator, Ian Fleming, lived on the island’s north coast for years writing many Bond books from his home there. You can now even stay at the luxury Golden Eye boutique resort.

Marijuana is still actually illegal in Jamaica.

In addition, just to show off a little bit, I’ll state that Jamaica is famous for more than it’s sportsmen (Usain Bolt) and entertainers (Bob Marley).

It’s the home of noted and prized, also deliciously smooth Blue Mountain coffee.

Finally the capital city, Kingston, has an old and sizeable Jewish population stemming from Jews fleeing the Spanish inquisition several hundred years ago.

See, there’s so much more to my homeland than its reputation for its relation to the five fingered plant.

Beautiful beach at Golden Eye Luxury Resort, Jamaica. Easy to see why Ian Fleming was inspired.




Man’s Best Friend

The annual pet show, Taipei China (photo credit: Sam Yeh/AFP-Getty Images)


Just a few feet away from the shopping mall gathered a group of young, attractive men and women.

I thought it was some kind of social club, or maybe a group date until I noticed the large amount of furry, four legged friends that darted around them. On  a cool weekday evening dogs from a variety of breeds were being given an opportunity to socialise.

All over China dogs are treated like a member of the family, but still the tradition persists where dog meat is sold by the side of the road and is the choice delight in dog meat festivals.

Nowadays, many Chinese people are against this practice and there are regular calls for it to be banned or classed as an illegal activity.

This article from China Daily has more