The Saddest News of the Day

Was one that I read this morning, about China banning the sale of children’s books from different countries.

Although it is true that children’s books could potentially influence children’s perceptions, there are thousands of children’s books now that try to break those stereotypes, just a few days ago I read about a revolutionary children’s book of true stories about 100 great women. Rebel Girls aims to educate children and show them that not every girl has to dream of being a princess, which is what most books aimed at young girls promote. But I doubt a total block on all children’s books from outside Chinese borders would stop children being influenced.

As a nation of people who stream and download thousands of MB of films and TV shows each year, it is easy for Chinese people to download children’s TV series such as Peppa Pig, Teletubbies and all the other shows that are shown to children across the world. What’s the difference between TV and books?

I was reminded this morning of Malala, another book lover, here is one of her quotes

Let us pick up our books and our pens,” I said. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.

I was also reminded of the book burnings that I know to have taken place in China from the time of the first emperor Qing Shi Huang, and later again during the Cultural Revolution. Is this another modern day method of burning books? A way to control the people’s thoughts and opinions, to forcibly guide them into only reading certain types of literature, because other types are deemed ‘unsafe’, ‘defamatory’ or ‘blasphemous’? Whatever reason China has for banning foreign children’s books being sold in the country, I’m against it.

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How do ads work?

Do you ever stop and look at the adverts you’re seeing on the banners of websites, on your Facebook and Instagram news feed?

Well, recently, I’ve been very confused, a lot of the adverts that appear on my pages include things that I have not and probably will never search for, such as:

  • Am I ready for a role where I can develop the next generation of Veterinary Surgeons? No, I’m not a vet, nor do I like animals
  • Book a Renault test drive today. No thanks, I already have a car 
  • Save the Date – Wedding Fayre Nope, not even close to getting married
  • Choose and online therapist now Could be useful, but I don’t need a therapist
  • Medicine elective abroad Am not a medicine student, so nope
  • UK Coffee Shop Owners, want to improve profits? I’m not a coffee shop owner
  • Sponsor me ‘Mr Darcy’ at Dogs Trust Not a priority of mine sorrys
  • Special offer on a cruise I don’t even like boats, nope!

Then don’t get me started on Instagram, where every advert is an _cl account, from Chile. I mean, yes I spent a year there, but I’m not there anymore, and I’ve never uploaded any photos from my time in Chile to Instagram. Why Instagram is showing me all these Chilean brands is really confusing.

So how do the ads work? Does it depend on your cookies, what you google, the links you click on, the photos you like, the pages you interact with, your friends list, your location, what’s on your Amazon wishlist, or a whole algorithm based on all these factors? Sometimes the ads come true, I searched for accommodation in Glasgow, then for the next couple of days, I saw adverts for hotels in Glasgow. But some of them are downright random.

What’s the strangest ad you’ve seen today?

World Book Day

It’s World Book Day this week, and I’m forever hearing adverts on the radio, advertising fancy dress options, as children across the UK will go into schools dressed up as a character from their favourite book. Does this practice happen in other countries too?

Back in primary school, my usual costumes would be:

  • Tracy Beaker
  • Mildred Hubble (The Worst Witch)
  • Hermione Grainger
  • Sophie (from Sophie’s Tom, Sophie’s Snail etc)

The were quite easy to dress up as, because the first three had appeared on TV, and the final one had a drawing on the cover of what she looked like.

But now I’m wondering, if I had to dress up this week as my favourite book character, who would it be, and how would I dress? As an adult, many of the books I read aren’t made into films or TV series, and even less have illustrations on the front and inside the book of what the character looks like.

There would be two options: dress up as a character that people can recognise “oh you’re dressed as Hermione, that’s great”, but even better, would be to dress up as a character and have people ask who you are. That way you can describe to them in detail the character, why you chose them, what book(s) they appear in and encourage them to read a book you like too.

Characters that in recent years who have made an impact on me have been

  • Don Quijote in El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedrea
  • Empress Dowager Cixi in Empress Orchid – Anchee Min
  • Harriet Ann Jacobs in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl – Harriet Ann Jacobs (does an autobiography count?)
  • Hassan in The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini 

I should have nothing in common with these people and characters, they all come from very different parts of the world, and I haven’t shared any of the same life experiences as them. But their characters show passion, enthusiasm, persistence, bravery and determination, which is something I truly admire.

If you had to dress as a character for World Book Day tomorrow, who would you choose and why?

Guys on Facebook

Something strange is going on and I’m not the only one to wonder about this. The question is, what is it with guys on Facebook?

Facebook is a strange place, and people use it differently, I get that. There are people who share all their personal photos, emotions, dreams etc on their profile, so wish to keep their friends list restricted to below 100. There are people who use it as a networking tool and add everyone they come in to contact with and end up with a friends list of over 1500 ‘friends’, even though some of these were people they met once and will never see again. Then there are the people in between, who share some aspects of their life but not all. There are Facebook lurkers who see everything, but never admit they’re watching you by ‘liking’ your photos and updates. There are enthusiastic people who go through your whole album and like every single photo, then send friend requests to the friends tagged in your photos. You get my point, people use Facebook very differently.

I have a very private Facebook profile, so people who aren’t my friends can’t see much at all, but once we’re friends, you’ll be able to see my photos, links to my blog and the articles I share. 659 friends I think is a decent amount, but I no longer rush to add people as Facebook friends.

Back to the question… what is it with guys and Facebook?

Let me just list some case studies that cause me and my girl friends to send long voice notes back and forth to each other. In all these cases, we’ve met the guys in a club, out and about, or through some other method, meaning we wouldn’t have each other on Facebook already

  • Guy tells the girl he’s dating if she added him on Facebook, he would leave her in the buffer zone (neither accepting nor rejecting the friend request) for at least two weeks. She sends him a friend request and three weeks later he accepts, even though within those three weeks the two have met up in person
  • Guy tells girl he’s really hard to find on Facebook, so there’s no point trying to find him ~ Challenge accepted, girl and her friends launch an investigation and find his profile and links to his twitter and insta
  • Guy tells girl he doesn’t use Facebook, so there’s no point adding him ~ girl and her friends find him on Facebook, he’s recently updated his profile picture and has added three new friends in the past week
  • Guy sends girl friend request after they met each other for the first time (she didn’t tell him her last name but he found her) ~ she accepts after a few days in the buffer zone and his profile is empty (I thought social media was meant to be that – social, when there’s nothing to see, alarm bells start ringing)
  • Guy goes back to old photos/status updates of the girls and unlikes them to prove some kind of point

I think these guys are all hiding something*, whether it’s another relationship, friends, political views, a child, embarrassing photos from year 9, who knows? But what other reason is there for you to not accept our friend requests, or pretend that you don’t use Facebook, when you clearly do, and have over 1000 friends. Are we not one of the select few to be blessed with access to your profile. 

Besides easy communication through Messenger, one of the reasons to add someone on Facebook is to get to know them a bit better, right? To see their photos, their updates, the articles they share, the sports teams they like etc. Not all of this information is obtained from stalking their profile. When you’re browsing your news feed, photos come up X likes this… X checked in to Y and is feeling happy. Guys, by adding girls on Facebook, she’s not going to necessarily start downloading your photos and making them into a collage, if that’s what you’re afraid of. She can’t use Facebook to access your internet history, so please, what is the deal with guys on Facebook? What are you hiding from us? What game are you playing? 

*ps, if you are hiding something, we will find out about it eventually

Native Speakers and the Equality Act

When applying for jobs, especially in languages, you often come across the words ‘native speaker’. Whether it’s for a language teacher, a translator, an interpreter or any other general roles that require you to speak another language. Some companies are direct and put in the job description ‘must be a XX native speaker’, which kind of makes sense when it’s a language teaching role, or translating – you should always translate from a foreign language to your native language, rather than vice-versa.

But then again, does it make sense? During secondary school, all the teachers in the language department were British, and that didn’t effect my grades or learning experiences. We had native language assistants who would come in a few days a week for conversation classes, cultural immersion and other things, but the majority of my Spanish was learnt from a British teacher.

So now, as I’m actively seeking a job where I can use my language skills – particularly my Mandarin skills, I do get disheartened and angry when I see employers demand native speakers. In some cases, native Chinese speakers’ native language isn’t even standard Mandarin, their native language is a Chinese dialect, and many dialects in China are incomprehensible to speakers of other dialects. Whereas my Chinese is so 标准 that native speakers are amazed at my almost textbook/newsreader style of correct pronunciation.

I know if I was invited for an interview, I could probably impress the employer with my Mandarin skills, but I’m often either dissuaded from making an application because they ask for a native speaker, or am rejected at the first stage (because I’m not a native speaker).

It seems some employers are aware of this possible breach of the Equality Act, so they sometimes include a line that says something like you must have terrifically great Chinese language skills, and have good English skills too.  This to me shouts ‘we want a native Chinese speaker but are too afraid to state it so directly’.

So, are employers breaking the Equality Act by requesting native speakers? I have studied Mandarin for over 5 years, including a year and a half studying at Chinese universities. I have passed the HSK Level 6 exam (HSK is the international standardised test for non-native Mandarin speakers). Level 6 is the highest, and the description says ‘…[HSK Level 6 holder’s] language application ability is close to that of a native speaker’s’. I often sit here thinking to myself, what more do I need to do to apply the skills I’ve spent so much time on acquiring in a suitable job? I have a university degree, an international qualification, firsthand experience of living in China and I am so passionate.

The UK Government is currently pushing for more people to apply to be language teachers, but from my experience, continuing languages at higher education has not reaped me the rewards I believed it would have so far. If the UK wants to encourage language learning, there should be opportunities for linguists to flourish in jobs that are challenging and rewarding, not restrictions imposed on us because we were born in Britain.

Mayday’s Latest Album 五月天最新的歌曲选

I don’t often write about music here, but I started listening to an album last night, and can’t get enough of it. It’s by Mayday, 五月天, a popular Taiwanese rockband who have been going strong since the 1990’s. The members now are all pretty much in their 40’s, they’re not anything like the young heartthrobs of One Direction.

Their latest 2016 album《自传》(History of Tomorrow) is said to be their penultimate album, and although I haven’t listened to any of their other albums from start to finish, this is one that I keep playing on repeat.

I understand Chinese, but often with songs, it’s harder to tell the meaning on the first time of hearing the words > see misheard lyrics so as it’s only the second time of me listening to the songs, I’m commenting more on the sound of the album rather than the lyrics. But Mayday are renowned and famous for their hard-hitting lyrics that are easy to relate to, talking about courage, patience, heartbreak and other such matters.

This album has a mixture of titles ‘party animal’, ‘what if we had never met’, ‘greatest day’ etc and they’re all pretty upbeat. They’re just an all round great boy band that’s stood the test of time.

Here’s a video to one of their new songs, it has English subtitles too if you switch them on on Youtube. The band are in the future as old men, they open a special vault, go back to the past (present day) and make all these people stop working hard and start partying, including yes, the token laowai (foreigner) and a girl who looks like she’s studying for her gaokao (Chinese college entrance exams you take in secondary school).

I plan to listen to the album a few more times, and look up the lyrics to some of my favourite songs, since Spotify isn’t like QQ Music and doesn’t give you lyrics (unless that’s on the premium version?)

I stumbled on the album by chance, after wanting to listen to one of my favourite soppy nostalgic Chinese songs 《倔强》 also by the band. I thought the band was done with recording, so was pleasantly surprised to hear some new music from them. Keep it up guys, I’m waiting for your last album and next world tour!

 

Compost and the neighbours

I’ve never been a fan of food waste, but when you’re living alone, it’s really hard to avoid wasting fresh food. Usual culprits of what I throw in the bin are spinach, curly kale, mushrooms and potatoes. I’d like to blame the supermarkets for packaging them all in plastic bags rather than selling them individually, but I’m just as much to blame, since I could cook them into meals and freeze them, but never get around to.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading up on composting. A blog post came into my inbox about composting and it seemed like a logic thing to do. I would love to compost myself, but there are several issues: compost takes 9-12 months to create and I haven’t lived in the same house for longer than that for a long time, gardening isn’t a hobby of mine and lastly, I live in a contained flat and the house is a corner house without a garden. So yeah, I know the landlord has a rule that says no pets or smoking, and I’m sure indoor composting wouldn’t be approved of either.

But I’m still on a quest to compost the spinach I never get to eat, and the odd apple I throw away after not eating it. I’ve decided the best course of action will be to find someone else in my local area that composts, and simply add my scraps to their compost bin, this is a good idea right? Surely if you’re creating compost, the more stuff you put in, the more stuff you get out? I am slightly concerned it could turn into a situation a bit like a charity shop where this poor composting neighbour keeps receiving my unwanted goods (50 Shades of Grey) that he’s unable to use (or sell) but he still feels obliged to take them, cos every little helps.

Either way, it will give me an opportunity to get to know my neighbours, even if it is just them remembering me as ‘the strange girl who wants to dump her bags of rotting veg on our pile’, it’s worth a go. I’ve got two places that I’m going to target first of all – one is a large house on my road that had a very well kept garden. There are potted plants of all colours and it looks like the person likes gardening. I’m not sure whether to snoop around their bins at the back to see if they have a compost bin, or whether to just knock the door and ask.

Then, there’s Arthur Street. For some reason the postman confuses my street with Arthur Street. I started to think the postman fancied me when he kept accidentally delivering packages for Arthur Street to my door, but he hasn’t been in a few weeks, so either he’s found Arthur Street or they’re not ordering parcels anymore. Anyway, there is an undelivered package for someone on Arthur Street in our hallway. Nobody here (there are 5 flats) have gone to take it round (such good neighbours we are) and when I looked earlier, the package was dated November. So I will take the parcel to their house and whilst delivering their missing parcel, I’ll ask them if they compost, or know anyone on the street who does.

So I’ve got a mission – to find a compost bin in my area that I can add my food scraps to AND to try to get to know my neighbours a bit better. Which will be easiest? Will they come hand in hand? I’ll keep you updated.

You can’t swim with me.

What is it with guys that want to go swimming when girls do? I don’t mean in general, I mean I’m sure most men go swimming because they want to keep fit and enjoy being in the pool, but within the last week, whenever I’ve told a male friend that I’m going swimming, they have almost exploded with a huge desire to suddenly come swimming with me. If it was running, or yoga, or boxing that I told them I was going to, they would not say anything about it, but as soon as it’s swimming, they get animated. But no, you can’t swim with me.

Maybe I am being selfish or rude or just awkward, but there are several reasons behind my refusal in letting them join me swimming.

1. You don’t swim like I do

After years of swimming competitively, I get in a pool and swim at least 750m for a warm up. How many lengths is that? That’s another reason why you can’t swim with me…swimmers like myself not only swim longer and more structured sets than your average public swimmer, but we count differently too. My standard warm up looks like this

3 x (150 S/K/P per 50 +10s)

which to you would be 2 lengths normal swim, 2 lengths using the kickboard (legs only), 2 lengths using a pull buoy (arms only), then rest for ten seconds after doing those 6 lengths. Repeat three times.

I also use the clock a lot, so will be thinking in terms of ‘red top, black bottom’ (which are the same thing) instead of looking at the actual time, seconds count a lot in my swimming session. There is a huge difference between a 10 second rest and a 15 second rest.

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My swimming style

2. It’s not sociable

Swimming with me is not sociable. I get in, I swim and I rarely stop for chats. If you came swimming with me, what would you be doing besides trying to race me or watch me?

3. You can’t teach me

I’m a very good swimmer, I know the weaknesses of my strokes and I have plenty of sets and workouts for myself. Unless you’re a swimming coach with years of experience, there’s really nothing you can teach me that I don’t already know.

4. I won’t teach you

If I pay for a public swimming session (average price seems to be about £3.90 these days) I want to make the most out of my time and session. Teaching a beginner how to swim is hard and it takes months, even years for a beginner to learn how to swim, it’s not possible to learn in an hour.

So, sorry guys, but actually I’m not sorry. You can’t swim with me unless you are a dedicated lane swimmer who agrees with me about these nuances , until then – you can’t swim with me!

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Boy bye

Gifts to send abroad

I’ve lived abroad for several years in different countries, and I am always so grateful and excited to receive any type of post from home, but when it’s a package, that excitement increases even more than getting a postcard. A huge thank you to everyone who has sent me postcards and letters over the years, I have kept every single one of them and I found some earlier, which prompted this post.

When you have friends of family living abroad, and want to send them a gift, here are some things to consider…not all home comforts can be sent abroad.

First and most importantly, I think you should never send anybody anything valuable. You should send things with the back thought that ‘it might not get there’, because trust me, not all packages arrive. Some are opened by customs or nibbled at by mice before it gets to the receiver and some just never ever arrive at all.

Food

Food and comfort food is always great to send. Always check the date on what you send, as parcels could take from 10 days to 10 weeks to arrive. Coming from the UK, I always request Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and it’s much better to send a multipack of individual bars, rather than a big 500g block. Because if you open a 500g bar, you have to either share it, or eat it all within a few days. 10 x 50g bars last a lot longer. Plain chocolate is always better than anything with caramel or sticky things inside, as they sometimes leak (creme eggs).

I missed cereals when I was in China, and a friend of mine had the greatest idea to send one of those Kelloggs multipack of cereals, you know, the ones for indecisive children. They’re light, so cheap to send and also nostalgic.

Stuff to read

If you’re a book fan, like me, you might run out of things to read. Even with a kindle, there is still nothing greater than a nice paperback book, a magazine or newspaper clipping from home. Most charity shops sell books for between 50p and £1.50, so they are not expensive to buy.

Cosmetics

Not all foreign countries have the same brands and types of cosmetics as they do at home. Asian countries that attach a high importance to looking pale, use a lot of whitening products in their cosmetics, so it’s nice to receive some moisturiser or hand cream from home, knowing that it won’t bleach your skin. Make sure it’s properly sealed, cos a leakage of creams could be devastating.

Teaching aids

If your loved one is teaching overseas, ask them if they need any teaching aids that you can’t get abroad – like blu tac, ‘well done!’ stickers or colouring books to make photocopies of. Blu tac really isn’t sold overseas!

Finding a suitable working café

Finding a café in the UK is not so hard, if you need a caffeine fix there is usually 5 Greggs within a mile radius in any city centre, and now chains like Costa and Starbucks not only have standalone cafés, but also now have drive-thoughs, are inside clothes and book shops, you’re never too far from a hot beverage.

But when you want to sit down and enjoy your coffee, whilst working on a laptop or tablet…that’s more difficult.

Parking/walking distance from home

When I first moved into my flat, there was no wifi, so I had to find places to work – in hindsight the library would have been a good choice, but I only remembered that public libraries existed about 10 days into my wifi-less home situation. It needs to be somewhere close enough to walk to, because carrying your laptop, charger, phone, notepad, diary, pencil case, purse, hand cream (etc etc, you get the picture) is heavy, even if you have a proper rucksack. If you drive to a cafe on a retail park, you need to check there’s not some silly maximum 2 hour parking rule if you’re planning on spending the whole day there (which of course you are). Or if it’s near a football stadium on match day and there’s a one hour max or £50 in purchases rule to park there…Don’t think you’ll get away with it cos you haven’t seen a parking warden – ANPR (that’s Automatic Number Plate Recognition). As soon as you drive into the car park, the cameras know you’re there and if you’re even just one minute over your time, you’ll be sent a fine.

Free, unlocked* wifi

And not just free wifi for 30 minutes, or free wifi that only works intermittently, you need a good solid wifi connection if you’re working online and using the Cloud to save everything. Also, I need to be able to connect more than one device. Generally, I trust and can rely on The Cloud wifi hotspots (but sometimes that doesn’t let you use Whatsapp).

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Plug socket

This is the bane of my life. I cannot understand why nobody in the UK seems to care about letting their devices run out of charge. Looking around me, I hardly see anybody with portable power packs and there is a serious shortage of plug sockets in BRITISH (the Chinese are on it with the plug socket thing) libraries (even university libraries, let alone the public ones), coffee shops, airports and hotels. Virgin trains must be commended here, they provide plenty of plug sockets and have done a very good job in that respect, but nowhere else are there enough plug sockets.

But seriously, in a cafe like Starbucks or Costa, that will have seats for 60 customers, why are there only 4 or 5 plug sockets? If there were more plug sockets, I would spend more time, buy more coffee and maybe even a cake. C’mon, wake up! Normally, after assessing the wifi, the first thing I will do is scout for a plug socket and plug my laptop straight in, that way I get fully charged so if someone comes along with their phone on 4% I will let them use it. Plug sockets are 98% of the time on the wall and not on the floor, so there’s no point looking at the tables in the middle of the cafe, start by searching the walls. Sometimes in Starbucks they are on the wall but under the seat, so check there too.

There’s nothing worse than seeing your pc screen go darker as it runs into ‘low battery’ mode and then having no way to charge it. I have quite a long cable to my laptop, luckily I’ve never needed to bring an extension cable with me – a trick I learnt on one of China’s slow trains. The train will have one plug socket in each carriage, so that’s what one per 100 people? 200? A woman travelling with her extended family brought 3 extension cables with 6 sockets in each, meaning that one plug socket turned into 15. Everyone probably got a tiny trickle of charge but it was enough and other people used the plugs too, thinking about it, she could have charged a few kuai for letting them use it.

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Check amount and location of plug sockets

Chair with a back

It’s better to sit with a chair that has a back on it. After getting there, checking the wifi is good and finding a plug socket, you need a chair with a back on. No stools! A table is kind of a luxury, most places have them, but I’m fine balancing things on my lap if there isn’t a table available.

A drink

After all that (and once you’ve found that perfect spot and reserving it in the truly British style by putting your coat on the seat), it’s probably time to go get a drink. By this point, I don’t care about roasted arabica beans or rainforests or decaf or skinny and any of the rest of that coffee talk. I just want something warm, that I can sit with for a while, so the baristers will leave me alone to enjoy. Try to keep hold of your mug for a while, so that when new staff come on shift (remember, you’re playing the long game) they won’t turf you out for not having purchased anything. If there is free tap water available, take a glass of that and leave it topped up on the table. If they take your mugs/cups/plates away and although you probably won’t be directly asked to leave or purchase something, you’ll be made to feel guilty by other customers (looking at that plug socket you’re hogging) or staff who wonder why you are here, alone, sitting on your laptop and haven’t moved for a good 2 hours. You’ll see it in their eyes.

In summary, finding a suitable working café for me involves (in this order):

  • Ease of access – free parking, or within walking distance of my home
  • Good, reliable wifi – that I can use with no time or device limit
  • A power source – the more plug sockets the better, and they should be in reach of my table
  • A chair with a back – for sitting back in and resting – no stools
  • Drink – reasonably priced hot drinks available – preferably loose green tea with a huge flask of hot water for refills, but I haven’t found such place yet.

*This isn’t China any more where you can guarantee that 98% of the time, locked wifi passwords in places are either 88888888 or 12345678, or less common but still good to try if the first two don’t work – 66666666.