Monday, 1 May 2017

Bikes, Bulbs and Bollicks in Xi'an, China

I've probably mentioned that the simplest things in China can be utterly traumatic. Washing clothes, ordering food and paying bills are complicated affairs for the intrepid yet bumbling foreigner. A new activity can be added to the list: changing light bulbs.

I call it Le Soupé de Mushé
I never ventured into the kitchen during the first month here, however, I've started cooking since then. An endeavour not undertaken since leaving Geordieland in 2006. The reasons are many:

1) The food here's good but there's not much meat.
2) I can't read menus so always order the same few things.
3) Cooking's healthier, cheaper and more nutritious.
4) There's a kitchen and I've got nowt better to do.

So, armed with a knife and a pan I've started making soup each night. A whole chicken breast, two eggs, fresh veg and shitloads of chilli powder. Spicy, healthy, cheap, easy.

Photon failure
Many different kinds.
Halfway through a culinary masterpiece the kitchen light went out. No worries, I unplugged it and took it to the nearby supermarket the following day. No dice. I cooked in darkness for three nights as each supermarket I tried didn't stock the light. It was then the Chinese teachers told me I would have to buy it online.

Online? A f*#cking light bulb?

Turns out China doesn't do standard light fittings like the rest of the world. A teacher took me through a warren of small streets to a man in a junk shop who (luckily) had a replacement. I paid 8RMB and set off home to replace it .... but .... it still didn't work. Bollicks. Must be the starter then?

I asked a teaching colleague where I might purchase one and they looked at me blankly. I showed them a photo. More blank looks. Is there a light shop somewhere? More blank looks. I was beginning to think I'll never get this bloody light fixed.

I went home to disconnect the starter so that I could take it to the junk shop. I was shocked to see no ceiling rose!! Shoddy!! And more worryingly .... only one wire hanging down. Presumably, the live had disconnected with no way to retrieve it unless I start drilling holes in the ceiling. Mint.

I gave up. Conceded defeat.
China 1 - 0 Steve.
I ended up buying a small plug in lamp. It doesn't plug into the socket properly and the plastic casing's cracked. But f*ck it. At least I can see Le Soupé de Mushé now. Building standards in developing countries are not what you're used to in the West. And that's being polite.

I'm reminded of the classic:

How many theoretical physicists does it take to change a lightbulb? Two, one to hold it and one to turn the universe.

Health and well being.

The food thing's really about getting more protein into the diet. A chicken breast a day keeps the middle-aged flab away. It's been over four months since the last beer/tab session (22nd Dec). I feel stronger, more alert and composed. I'm hovering around 74kg and recently started benching 75kg, reaching a goal set back in January. Proper chuffed. Buying a weights bench is a solid investment in yourself. Do it lads.

No beer guts
It's good to combine some physics with your workouts too.

The first equation is a simple mechanical model of the force on the bar. The second one is modeled on harmonic motion.

Body and mind. It's all good.

However, we should be careful about over-training. I had to take a week off as everything ached and progress had stalled. I wasn't giving the body enough time to recover between sessions. This is especially critical for old bastards in their mid forties.

Leg power

After 8 years of fossil-fuel-riding, I've devolved to a motorbike's renewable-energy-ancestor. This one has a 0cc engine and a fuel economy of 80km/L (of water). Here I am filling up. Pretty cheap. It does 0-10km/h in 20s giving a terrifying horizontal acceleration of 1% of g. You really have to hold on tight.

After two months trapped in Urbansville, I felt an excruciating need to escape. Nick and I pedaled 20km east, up a hill, to rural China. It was good to see some greenery and villages with only two story buildings. Looking back to the infinite sprawl of skyscrapers was quite a sight.

I was wrecked after the 40km round trip and spent the next 6hrs on the sofa, writing this. Need to build up some biking stamina. My arse is giving me grief because the seat was like a razor blade with zero cushioning - proper Tour-de-France style. Ouch.


My family doesn't do computers or internet, so I was chuffed to see a facebook photo with my Dad inadvertently captured in the background. Haven't seen him in 11 years. Pleased to see him in a canny fettle. He'll be chuffed the Toon got promoted.

Residence Permit

Another page gone
It took the Public Security Bureau three weeks to stick this in my passport. It means I'm good until 2018. The good thing about Chinese Immigration is that there's no 90 day reporting or re-entry permits (like Thailand).

In just two months I've saved what most foreign teachers in Thailand earn in five months. It would be very hard to teach back there now! I save so that I have the freedom to take breaks from employment as and when. Minimalism is key. Less is more. 

I achieved the goal of retiring before 40. However, the investment unraveled a year later and I lost it all. I'm not moaning. The new goal is to knuckle under and start again. Next time I'll be more careful where I invest. Probably ETF index trackers and/or property. No dumbass IFAs and plenty of diversification! The ultimate goal is freedom. Self-autonomy. Not having to rely on others for income. Keep setting goals.

it doesn't take much for a man to live.


Tennis elbow
With so many people comes intense competition. Nowhere is this more apparent than school. Students seem to be there - perpetually. Evenings and weekends see no respite. After a couple of months I've developed a sense of sorrow for them. There's fierce pressure from parents, teachers and society for them to succeed academically. There's little room for play. I feel bad they're missing out the carefree childhood I enjoyed growing up in a small Northumbrian village.

We're at school. We're happy.
Not contrived at all.
They want to study in Western Universities so the pressure is even more acute given the financial investments at stake. I offer alternative perspectives. I tell them how I left school at 16 yet still managed to become a teacher. There's more to life than just school/jobs. You're not your job/possessions. Do what you love etc. They listen but shrug. It mostly goes unheeded.

They're simply itching to become society's future units of consumption, each more successful than the next. Because more possessions = more status in today's world of vapid materialism. I guess academic qualifications help them get there. Perhaps I'm exploiting them? Who knows? I'm simply glad that I jumped off the hedonistic treadmill of consumerism a decade ago.


I'm having to adjust my style of teaching to China. Normally, I like to throw questions out to the whole class and engage in large group discussions on awesome topics like: Why do motorbikes lean when they turn? etc. Here, I'm always faced with a wall of silence.

These kids are undoubtedly talented when it comes to maths. The rote learning style deployed here suits that subject. However, they're poor at writing essays or anything that doesn't involve rote memorisation/repitition. My biggest battle is trying to get them to paraphrase ideas in physics, i.e. explain things in their own words. They're not too hot at that. However, I'll cut them some slack. They're doing all this in a foreign language! I doubt I could do it in Chinese.

You can see the level of conformity required in this photo. Reminds me of the Navy. Perhaps exercises like this promote Orwellian group-think and sap an individual's independent critical thought? I'd like them to be a bit more light-hearted, fun-loving and spontaneous. Less robotic.


So life in Xi'an has settled down after a couple of months. Enjoying the job, working out, cooking, learning 中文, a healthy diet, writing, saving hard and soaking up life in a modern Chinese metropolis.

I should get to those Terracotta Warriors at some point. ZaiJian. 再见


  1. Hey, I've been following your updates for about 2.5 yrs now after I stumbled on your blog while looking for info when traveling in Chiang Mai. Always an interesting read, only thing missing since your move to China is an update on the birds! Or have you given up on them along with the tabs and the booze?

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Cheers mate. I think I've gone into some kind of introspective-monk-mode. 2017 has been free of tabs, booze and birds. And it's fine. There was a woman last week who sat next to me in a cafe. Spoke good English, late 20s, reasonably fit. She asked if I had a gf? No. Ever married? No. On and on. I sat there bored. It's either: 1. I've had so much pussy it's lost its novelty or 2: At my age (43), I just can't be arsed with the BS one has to go through. The juice just ain't worth the squeeze.

      During the conversation (which felt a bit like an interview) she pressed me more about marriage. I explained how every exgf had tried to pressure me into it.
      "Why didn't you?"
      "Because, for a bloke, there are no advantages, only resposibilities. Additionally, I treasure freedom."
      She seemed a bit shocked but reluctantly conceded those points while I felt an overwhelming sense of release - free from the shackles of female validation, gynocentrism and endless pursuit. Bliss.

      I may get back into it in the future but for now I'm content with peace.


Please be nice.