Tuesday, 19 December 2017

We are the Laowais

What then is freedom?
The power to live as one wishes. Marcus Tulles Cicero
 Marcus hits the nail on the head concerning my experience of living in China. It's one of those strange contradictions we love about the Middle Kingdom that for all the bad stuff we read about Communism the reality for us expats is somewhat different.

We have the freedom to be who we want to be. Didn't like yourself back home? Hell, you can make up your own biography and tell the story of your life to every other barfly you meet. You can be the man or woman you really want to be.  We are anonymous; no one knows who you are or where you came from.  And to be frank no one cares – most friendships are here today - gone tomorrow, sort of affairs. Most of us in China have an edited past we trot out in conversations. Things we don't want our newfound pals to find out about us. Those things that set us on the road to China - and keep us here. Failed marriages, failed businesses, failed careers, failed personalities. We can then impress our newfound best buddies with the tales of our travelling - fiction or non-fiction - who cares? If it's a good story its worth repeating. Let me tell you about the wonderful times I have had wandering around lonely as a cloud through S.E. Asia with only bar girls as company. Or the great money I was making in Korea. Or that time in Cambodia when... recounted a hundred times to the similar faces, in similar bars all doing similar things to maintain our sanities.

  There are many other freedoms. The UK has one of the largest totals of CCTV cameras in the world. The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) estimates there are between 4-5.9 million cameras. In the UK I am constantly being surveilled. This is for my own safety I am informed. In China I can go about my legal business without being filmed and analysed. This is a joy. There’s a weightlessness that goes along with this freedom – it can make one feel a little giddy. The positive side of CCTV in China is all the road junctions are monitored and in the event of an accident there will be film. But still I remain giddy - the iron cage of rationality has not imprisoned me yet.

  At work, I am not being constantly micro managed. I get on with my teaching with little interference. We all know our classroom practice gets fed back to the managers and parents through the spies in the classroom. I have never found out who my classroom snake in the grass is but whoever it is they seem happy enough with what I do. So I enjoy my work and get to be creative and feel I am helping my students get to the foreign universities they dream about.

The consequence of the freedoms I enjoy in China is a lack of stress in my day-to-day life. I can do what I want, go where I want to without having to constantly look over my shoulder or worry that my 'performance' targets are not being met. For me that is a massive plus in my life.  That ‘freedom’ does not give me the right to break Chinese law though.  Let me quote my namesake Robert Burton (1621) here – ‘When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done.’ Many foreigners ignore this maxim parading about as if the laws of the country do not relate to them. For instance, our local police come to the campus (where I live) once a month to check up on us. They are friendly and chatty, they do not want to enter my apartment, they are just checking everything is okay. A British colleague told me I should refuse their visits as it was a 'bloody cheek' and this would never happen 'back home'. I think he has been away from the UK for too long and is out of touch with what is happening in the world. 

Other expats work illegally, drive motor vehicles illegally, take and sell drugs, despite the very severe penalties should they get caught doing so. It's like they live in a bubble of 1st world privilege that saturates a colonial mentality evidenced by the way the use racist language to speak about their friends and colleagues - 'chinks, slopes, chinky, japs, gooks and other racialised ethnic slurs.  
  China is not without its idiosyncrasies. Many of the things expats hate are things that are culturally different to the ways we think things should get done. As a sociologist I am more patient, understanding we can get too ethnocentric about the way life is lived here. One thing that irritates even me, Dr Laid Back, is that last minute management thing when they call, 'Oh Dr Rob there’s a meeting tomorrow do you have a PPT for it?'  'What? You just this moment told me, how can I possibly have a PPT ready?' - 'Oh Sorry.'  Or your phone rings at 7:48am  'Dr Rob, you have a class, where are you?' 'I'm in bed, my first class is this afternoon.'  'No Dr Rob we changed your timetable, you have a class now. Class A Room 3.' 'But no one told me.' - ' Oh Sorry.'

  Yet the Chinese teachers suffer the same problems, for less money, I am told it’s a management thing whereby they expect employees to jump to their slightest whim to show commitment to the employer. I still don't get it though and it’s annoying.

  This forments within many expats a resentment that allows them to witter on about 'Oh we didn't do it like this in my last school' or just ignore last minute requests from the people who pay them. It's as if we are so much better and worth more than our Chinese teacher colleagues who have little say in how their employer treats them. It annoys me that some expat 'teachers' (I am using the word 'teacher' advisedly here because some people I have met in schools are plainly not teachers) think they can swan up to class, fill their 45 minutes with something or other they might have put together at the last minute, and swan off down to the local bar for another evening of telling each other the same stories they have told each other a hundred times.

That attitude breeds an arrogance (not far removed from the racism mentioned above) where we can blame the Chinese for all the things that go wrong with our easy life. How often do we hear - 'Oh the bloody Chinese, they haven't got a bloody clue, bloody idiots.' I will admit I have fallen into the same trap myself – it’s so easy to push the blame somewhere else, mindlessly disregarding that this is their country and their systems. We are the visitors; we are the aliens, the immigrants, and the refugees if you will. It is WE who are different - not them. We are the Laowais.

This is my sixth year here and I am not yet tired of the Middle Kingdom. I will be here for many years, my adventure is not ending - I will continue to live as I wish.

Happy New Year.

Dr Rob Burton

Friday, 1 September 2017

In my day this was all paddy fields you know.

One of my favourite night views the offices that have appeared recently

That's it. I've been in China far too long. Now in my sixth year, I have become one of those expats who lean back and yawn "Well, of course, when I got here this was all paddy fields you know. And there wasn't a Western Shop or Bar to be seen, and now look at it, Starbucks, KFC, McD's its all gone to pot."

But the fact of the matter is that here in the Eastern part of China, the industrial belt, Nanjing City is flexing its muscles and creeping outwards at an alarming rate swallowing up vast tracts of land as it throws up apartment blocks, shopping malls and factories at breakneck speed.

When I first arrived in China severely jet lagged after the 17-hour flight from the UK I badly needed my bed. But my jet lag keeps me up until about 5 in the morning which is when I fall into my bed and shut my eyes. The thump thump thump of the pile drivers in the vacant lot outside my window started at around 5:30 am. I was not amused. The following night the cement trucks were arriving until 2:30 in the morning. This went on for weeks.

This is what they were building

But looking out of that self-same window five years on the apartment block that arose there is now looking shabby and used. In fact, it looks more like a high-security prison such is the Chinese paranoia about burglars that everybody has huge chrome security cages over their windows. God knows what would happen in the event of a fire.

Note the bars on the windows it must be like living in a prison

Down the road are high rise office blocks and an International Hotel that have risen, seemingly overnight.  The bumpy old roads I used to negotiate on my electric scooter to the market at Longmeindadao have been smoothed out, and all the buildings knocked down. The roads are now bordered by shrubs and trees with paths meandering around the precision planted flower beds. Smart guards stand outside new apartment blocks and building set upon lakes that weren't there just a few months ago looking like posh spas or the offices of a National Security department. I can't tell because I'm too scared to try to get past the para-military uniformed gate guards.

Around the back of my school, there was a small community and as is the case in China every inch of spare ground was being used to grow vegetables. Until the diggers turned up. In China, the land is owned by the State. When the State want's it back, they take it. So with no short shrift, the small allotments were bulldozed away. The place was infilled with rubble and earth, and a small lake was created. Today as I drove past, the mature trees were being planted, and an army of gardeners was working on the landscaping.  It will all look very nice. But I wonder where the green fingered gardeners will get their greens from now on?

This was once a verdant field of vegetables
As the monster that is Nanjing City starts to devour Jiangning, the district I live in, so the State starts to tidy up the place and update the often shabby and dated facades of the local buildings.  The street I drive down to get to Herdinquio is about 2 kilometres long and is lined on both sides with scaffolding as the buildings get titivated in the newest styles. But underneath the slap, the same old same old will be carrying on. My guess is that the only people making money along this street are the girls in the pink curtained 'massage' parlours (thirteen in all, I counted them in, and I counted them out) as the army of workers look for somewhere local to 'relax' after a hard days scaffolding and sticking faux bricks to the front of the old shabby buildings. No doubt Grandma's patched and frayed red knickers will still be hanging out over the pavement dripping on unsuspecting heads as soon as the scaffolding is removed.

New frontage on formally shabby old building

Getting the treatment
Also upgrading services below the road. 

I do my shopping in the local Sugou supermarket and to get there it's about a 5k drive on my scooter. Shanggou Lu is a rough old street. My Chinese friend tells me it's just like China was when she was a girl 30 years ago. People live on the street. The barber is next to the hole in the wall noodle guy who is next to the guy who has wedged a large CNC lathe into a space the size of a one car garage. The metal swarf, stained blue by the heat, spills out of the doors in twisted ribbons. The smell of the coolant takes me back to my teenage years when I was an engineering apprentice. The rudimentary dentist surgery is open for all to see into that theatre of the macabre that plays every day in that cupboard sized space. You can get a shave and a haircut for five RMB from the old guy with the rickety barber's chair and the rickety hands holding the cutthroat. The live chicken shop is next to the farmer's hardware shop. The mobile phone dealers and the electric bike shops are a slash of 21st century life in a street where you can watch the blacksmith beating out an urgent new part - sparks flying from under his hammer or the woman washing her hair in a bowl while her little girl squats, and unconcerned, takes a pee in the street. The acidic aroma from the only public lavatory mingles with the garlic and chilli scents from the numerous restaurants and eateries that serve the residents.

But I think this fascinating street's number is up. As you leave the bumpy streets and the life lived raw the tarmac smooths out where once were potholes and ruts.Walls have been demolished, and the road widened. A new train line is coming just up the road. Shanggao Lu is now looking like an anachronism as modern China marches on. I think the place is now ripe for demolition. I have been documenting the fall of some communities in downtown Nanjing, but now it is happening in my back yard. I need to take my camera down there before the iron dragons get their teeth into this microcosm of Chinese street life.

Entering Shanggao Lu

The old community

The newly laid and extended road.

Last week you could not imaging this was a river - it was basically a stinking, fetid, tip.

The new railway line and new apartments. 

The paddy fields of Eastern China are disappearing as are the local communities as mammon takes it toll. Does the local community need three major shopping malls right next to each other all selling the same stuff because just up the road in Baija Hu that seems to be the norm and I do have to ask the question who buys the stuff on sale there? The Guardian newspaper reports that China will lose up to one-quarter of the GLOBAL cropland loss due to urbanisation. (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/world-on-a-plate/2016/dec/28/growing-mega-cities-will-displace-vast-tracts-of-farmland-by-2030-study-says_)

Whereas Chinese sustainability experts noted in 2016 'At a metropolitan scale, the Shanghai-Nanjing-Hangzhou (SNH) and Pearl River Delta (PRD) areas underwent high levels of agricultural land loss with a decrease of 6.12% (4728 km2 ) and 6.05% (2702 km2 ) of their total agricultural land areas, respectively' (Urban Expansion and Agricultural Land Loss in China: A Multiscale Perspective Kaifang Shi,  Yun Chen, Bailang Yu, Tingbao Xu, Linyi Li , Chang Huang , Rui Liu, Zuoqi Chen 1 and Jianping Wu.  Sustainability 2016, 8, 790).

The local government is certainly spending wads of cash in making the local environment beautiful. The local waterways now have winding footpaths that are being linked to create a network of paths. The lakes and rivers are being cleaned and landscaped. Grandads can now sit peacefully with their rods and contemplate the water lilies where once rotting rubbish and detritus once swam.

When I compare this to my experiences when I return to my hometown in the UK all I see are the dirty and decrepit streets. High Streets where nearly all of the shops are charity shops or Poundland. Local investment in the infrastructure is minimal. Britain in the time of austerity is a grim and gloomy place reminiscent of those old Movietone news stories from the 1950's.

I like China; I like living in the 21st Century, in a forward thinking country that excels (in my opinion) in creating a better, nicer, more social environment (after all this still is a Communist country at heart). But I worry about the loss of the paddy fields. I do wonder what the impact of losing the growing plots is on the locals. It's all very well for the place to look 'beautiful' which is a popular word here, but beautiful doesn't put rice in your belly.

Life is lived on the street.

I wonder what Jiangning will look like in the next five years? I hope to be here still to find out.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Meditations on Murder - My debut novel is published.

My debut novel Meditations on Murder is published on Amazon Kindle where it is available for sale for less than a Starbucks Coffee. 

Charlie Simpson had it all. A partner who loved him, a best friend for life, and a cushy job in the family run firm in the City of London. When he arrives home to find his partner and best friend have run off to start a new life together, Charlie's world collapses in on itself. Now he's out to kill them both. So powerful is the murderous energy raging in his soul, it awakens Nye, a twelfth-century Scottish ghost. With Nye standing over him, Charlie embarks on a voyage into homicidal madness from which there may be no escape. Can he really be the stone cold killer he wants to be?



Thursday, 1 June 2017

I have published a new IELTS book

One of the benefits of working in China is that I get a lot of time to follow other interests such as writing.

I have been teaching IELTS speaking over the last few years and if you remember I did publish a book a few years ago in Beijing.

This time however, I have published one myself on Kindle.  Again it is about how students can do well in their speaking test so a pretty niche marketplace - but at the same time their are many many students who need the IELTS qualification to enter a foreign university of a professional job in the English speaking countries.

I just did a free promo over the last weekend and over 70 copies of the ebook were downloaded.

Here's the link if you want to look on Amazon.

Friday, 24 March 2017

I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in - the musings of a loose cannon.

I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go

I'm filling the cracks that ran through the door
And kept my mind from wandering
Where it will go

And it really doesn't matter if I'm wrong I'm right
Where I belong I'm right
Where I belong.

See the people standing there who disagree and never win
And wonder why they don't get in my door
I'm painting my room in the colourful way
And when my mind is wandering

There I will go (Lennon–McCartney.)

I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in because for the first time in four years in China I am feeling pretty down about it all.  That's not a bad score card I know but I'm feeling down in the dumps, mainly about my teaching and the school I'm at.

If you have read my last two blogs then you might just get a feeling for whats happening here. I am getting more and more uncomfortable with the style of management that is happening. The teaching is fine, I have no problem with that at all and I think it's going well. Student's are achieved good levels on their IELTS speaking exams which is what I am responsible for.

It's just I'm feeling that after four years here, I am being taken for granted. It all started as I mentioned  in previous blogs when we got new management. Now I know for a fact that these people are only here for the short term, they have an interest in a new school being built up North, in fact that have been trying to poach me for their new school.

One of the minor problems of having the PhD is people want it, not you, so they can use it in their marketing to prospective parents, - 'Look we have a British PhD - a University professor (I use the word professor here in the American sense - as lecturer). Then they conveniently forget your actual teaching ability and want to start 'managing you' and getting you to do stuff you don't want to do.

I actually think they are trying to make me unhappy at this school so that I will jump at the offer to go to their school. Call me paranoid, but I'm not completely stupid and gullible.

It might be arrogance, but I will not be treated like a floor sweeper by anyone, I have lived that life, being told to jump and never question it, and  even then I didn't jump, and I'm certainly not going to do it now.

Some of the fun has gone out on Nanjing too, some of the excitement at being here, its getting a bit tedious. Most of the people I knew have left - but that's the lot of the ex-pat. Friendships are transitory, ships that pass in the night.

But it also saddens me when old friendships are forgotten because new ships have docked at the beery harbour. And they are more attractive, more shiny and brighter than the old familiar faces. Someone new to get along with, some one new to tell all the old tales too, someone new to impress with the local knowledge you have accumulated. You can take the role of pack leader.  But unfortunately that does not bring with it an elders wisdom. It brings an arrogance whereby they think they are the senior voice, they can lecture and they will be heard. But it often falls on deaf ears, none more so than I.

I don't need to be lectured. I am my own man. I do what I want and say what I want. The pack leader here is an American as are many of the so called teachers.  Americans are strange. They defend freedom of speech - in fact they have to write it down so they can remember they are meant to be defending it - until they hear something they don't like. Then somehow free speech - the speech they don't like, turns into hate speech. And they become disdainful and passive aggressive or even downright aggressive. And I get told I deserve everything I get - especially if the little puppies want to flame me on Social Media. What I DON'T deserve is to have memes posted on Facebook calling me a paedophile. The big dog though is fine with that because hey, its my own fault, I bought it on myself and he makes money off them fuelling their drunken rants.

But you know - fuck them. I don't know them and wouldn't piss on them if they were on fire.  Oh by the way I am sorry for the bad language Americans, I know some of you snowflakes are offended by that shit. But here's the kicker - You are NOT offended by your smart bombs, by the way, or your murder and carnage in the dusty middle east and your foreign policy of bombing women and kids in Iran and Afghanistan and Syria and your support of the Nazis in Israel, but GOD FORBID I say FUCK, or call some pack rat retard a CUNT or that they are all a bunch of MOTHERFUCKERS then you get all upset and cry about it. Find a safe space retards.

Now the big chief, if he is reading this, will say 'I told you so'. He pointed out in his long letter to me that  'I would regret it' and that 'This is going to cause you pain, for a while, and not just from all the people you have been fighting with. It is going to cause pain within'.  Thank you, but no thanks Yoda, keep it to yourself.

He might point to this blog and the fact that I'm feeling pissed off as proof positive that what he says is true. But as you can see, if you look at the past two blogs, I have been feeling pissed off for a while. This contretemps with a bunch of Yankee pack rat retards was nothing more than an afternoons amusement. - But of course people will say hey look it is affecting you because you feel the need to write about it. 

Here's the thing, I write. I've been writing blogs about my feelings since 2004. I've been writing this Blog since 2011. I currently writing a memoir about my last five years in China I FUCKING WRITE right. So it's not a new thing me having an opinion and writing about it.

Some people seem to read my blogs but not actually understand the words that make up the sentences, then  their brains make up other words and emotions, that are actually, if one read the bloody thing, not even there. My earlier blog, (go read it) I'm told it is a diatribe against Americans and how I hate all my ex American colleagues. In fact I use the word 'American' once - and barely mention my colleagues. I write a bit about my own emotions and diss China a little but I was suffering from PTSD I think from a road accident I was in. So maybe people could be a little more forgiving and actually read what I wrote, not listen to other people who think they know what I wrote.  Or think I am a loose cannon.

So I'm writing that's the good part of this gig. I finished a novel that's with a publisher for consideration. I have lots of time to write and think without concerning myself with what other dickheads in China think. If you look at my blogs from a few years ago you will see exactly what I think about the quality of teachers here in China are especially those who just come here to party and fuck about.  To call themselves Teachers is a travesty. I piss more intelligence away every day than they have in their tiny brains. I am halfway through a second novel and I am writing a memoir about my last five years in China - this is shitloads more than the knucklehead Americans have ever done with their lives and ever will do - the losers. 

I am feeling a bit of a general malaise regardless of all this fussin and a fightin - that is a mere distraction and an entertainment.  It's probably do to age. I am feeling my mortality, even more so since my good friend Mark passed away suddenly around  this time a year ago. A couple of other ex-pats has passed on in sudden circumstances, and an  Australian was repatriated out because he was so ill he couldn't work. Out West an English teacher, much younger than me, suffered a heart attack and was stranded in a Chinese hospital. His brother had to resort to crowdfunding and getting huge loan to fly him back home to get treated in a UK hospital. It brings it home to you. Its a worry. 

We live on a tightrope. At work from one year to the next we never know if we are being re-employed. I'm over 60 so cannot get a Z visa I am working out the 5 years I have on my residency visa, I have a year left what then?

I have no loyalty what so ever to Nanjing or this school - although the big boss slipped me five hundred yuan today (£50) and told me I was the Senior Teacher.  Here today, gone tomorrow friends are not in the equation because they too will move on. I cannot and will not concern myself with them. It is pointless. We all move on. It was great while it lasted, it's not you, it's me. 

I need to find another colourful room with door you will never enter. 

Once you were welcome.

Once you were my friend.

Now you are nothing. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The O'Jays - Back Stabbers

They smile in your face - the backstabbers

I am sure we have all come across these people at work. They make out they are your friend, smile, bye nice, even give you little presents. But all the time they are working to undermine you and to stab you in the back.

This has been happening to me since September. And I'm not a happy bunny.  We had new foreign teachers turn up. Not so much foreign as a Chinese guy who had been bought up in Australia and his Chinese Girlfriend.  Apparently she was going to be our new Academic director and he, well he was here to teach business studies, and sort of manage the four foreign teachers.

They re making a right hash of it, And atm I am too pissed off  to even  finish the post.

I'll leave you with some music.