This Letter from China carries on directly from the previous missive, Moving Apartments, picking up events of the new day. The aim of this was so I, a Brit living in China,
could apply for a U.S. tax code with the IRS. Yes, you did read that correctly.
There is Vulcan logic at work; you see, my first book is a thriller set in San Diego, and written in American English. With a population of 300 million vs UK's 60-odd million, it makes sense for me to publish it in the U.S. To do that,
and even were I to self-publish using Amazon or similar, I need a U.S. tax code first, and before I even upload the book for publishing. Such are the realities of Amazon.com.
In order to apply to the IRS, I needed to get my passport (ID) notarised by a suitable authority, namely the American Consulate in Guangzhou, before submitting my physical paper application to Austin, Texas. It was also a great
excuse to catch up with Jim, and buy unobtainable food.
Two Gongzhao’s, One Day
As happenstance, I was awake at 10 PM, and went through the night. I am very much a night person. With my pc active I saw the printer queue, and knew I needed to print my appointment document. In that moment I saw the blinding flash
on the Road to Damascus, because I realised the printer would actually print the document without drivers from fuckwitted HP, but by using Windows ones.
I printed the document out, after waiting for serious spooling to become evident. I have absolutely no idea why printing a document can take hours, and still employs prehistoric parameters of something akin to the Stone-Age of computer
development. Believe: *Spooling* refers back to the times when computers ran on pieces of cardboard with holes divvied into them. You can guarantee I have one of my series of Tempus Fugit missives coming regards, ancient printer software.
I left the apartment just before 6 AM, and caught the 6:10 bussy to my wife's mother’s home. Oh, there was a small row as we went to sleep – because although I have a piece of paper in Chinese, stating where I need to get off this local
bus, I wanted to speak it.
The destination sounds like *Gongzhao*, but that is also the name of the city I will visit later today (Guangzhou in Mandarin). I asked my wife to say the buses destination very slowly, and with full intonation of each letter/character.
I needn't have bothered. She bollocked me about Guangzhou = Canton, and could not understand what I was trying to ask her. I was cautioned that there was no bussy from the main road near the family home that went to Canton. I know this,
so asked again.
I guess I stuck my head in the noose there, because she only was locking on Gongzhao as Guangzhou, and not the stop of the local bus where I needed to get off. I decided to play it in the wild and see what happened, confirmed by her
piece of paper in my wallet. I don't know if this is a personal thingymagig to me, but I wanted to say it on the bus myself: Simple.
It turned out that my *Gongzhao* was understood by the driver, who always checks the intended destination of foreigners, just in case. I need not have worried, except, I know I was speaking quickly and missing an inflection or two. Cool.
The minutia of the trip are probably irrelevant, but reminded me so very much of growing up in Ireland. For instance, there was no conductress for the first few miles. We picked her up on the outskirts of the city, complete with doggy
bag of breakfast. Unusually, the bus was half empty, probably due to the early hour. She understood my destination was *Gongzhao* at once, and asked me for Y8, which was correct. We had a win-win situation.
Some 40-minutes later the hills receded and my stop was due. I hoisted my rucksack onto my shoulders and prepared to escape. The conductress saw me and cautioned me to sit down until the bus stopped. She used a visual inflection, and
this is when you realise that only 17% of all communication between human beings is verbal.
She ensured I remained seated until the charabanc stopped, and then I rose and left, thanking them in Cantonese for great service. The usual horde of motorcycle taxis was not there waiting. I wandered across he road, and deftly towards
my destination. I beckoned an arriving motorbike and said, “Hoi Moh Dor Soi”. He understood me, and off we went.
Perhaps I should not mention that there was a second crash-hat left dangling from the handlebars? The cool morning air and wind in my remaining hair suited me just fine. I like it this way, in essence: Freedom. Then I wondered, “Would
the family even be awake at that time of day?”
We passed Mama headed for the local market, and if I do not tell a lie, her eyes lit up at the sight of me on pillion. I paid the local rate – well, I told him the cost of the fare, and handed over Y5; and went to see my daughter, full
of anticipation. Before I even reached the house, Baba let Rhiannon out to come and greet me, and it was soooo good. My only child. Wow!
Later I would come to reflect upon how he already knew I was there?
But then again, sometimes it is better to simply enjoy the moment, and not complicate things with stupid questions. There are no secrets in a small village. Nonni and I enjoyed our personal time as Baba pottered around in the small yard
doing whatever. Mama soon returned and asked me immediately for the family book. I did not understand a word she said, but knew what she wanted and gave her the book at once. Her radiant smile lit the room, and my first duty of the day
I stayed with my rucker and produced many bags of crisps, and two large bags of a multi-cereal drink that the kids really enjoy. Mama hid all but one bag of crisps, allowing Rhiannon to tuck in, and it was soon obvious she had recently
eaten her fill, but she was determined not to pass-up the salty treat.
I had intended to tell Mama my day’s plans, but she disappeared once again before the wit took me, so absorbed were we with our inner family reunion. Duly Mama returned from the wet market, and I knew she had bought extra especially
for me. They had turned the fridge/freezer on for the summer months, so I knew the stuff would keep. They turn it off for most of the year to save on electricity bills, comparable with modern UK = meaning a lot of money for rural farmers.
I was ordered to stay for brunch at 11.30, and I insisted I had to leave at 9 AM. We battled a little, but eventually she gave way, as I was most determined to keep my appointment with the American Consulate. The time passed much too
quickly, and it was not long after Yee-Lo and Loi Loi awoke, that he was ferrying me to the main road to catch the bus back to the city.
I told Nonnie I was leaving, and her face dropped, and I mean wilted. Yee-Lo offered her a ride to the main road, she standing and clutching the handlebars as we made our wobbly way along the country road on his scooter. During the ride
her hand reached back to grasp mine, and we squeezed for a moment, before Yee-Lo wobbled again and she put both hands back on the handlebars. That brief touch meant the world to me. Perhaps some day she will read this and think how silly
The main road was heavy with coaches all headed for Toisan. Another couple pulled up just after us, the presumed wife leaving and we hailed the first bus together. She got on, but there was only one seat, so I got off. For 9 a.m. it
was already damned hot, but I was a gentleman about it, and so was Yee-Lo, who sat and waited to identify the next bus for me. Nonnie was not impressed. It would have been far easier for her limited understanding if I were simply gone.
The next half-dozen busses passed without stopping, for they were already full to overflowing. The minutes passed, and we got hotter by the roadside. Nonnie rejected my first two advances, but stepped down and hugged my thigh like a
Labrador dog on my next entreaty.
A bus half-empty went by, Yee-Lo deciding it was not good. I looked up and saw “Toisan Chair Jam* (Tai Shan City Main Bus Station) = my destination. I realised my long-range eyesight was better than his, and I was reading the Chinese
characters, just like him.
2-busses later I got one, and the a/c was magic. I hugged Rhiannon goodbye, and waved to her from the step, promising it would not be long until she was living with us once more. Settling into my seat, I knew I was still ahead of the
clock, but needed an hour or more in hand; I had two.
The wait at Toisan main bus station was short; I got my ticket and managed a hurried cigarette, before boarding for the main city in this whole region, and China's Third City. The trip took just under two hours, which is remarkable.
I arrived at Guangzhou Main Bus Station a moment after midday, and had 150 minutes until my appointment with the American Consulate.
I grabbed a token from the automatic ticket machine at the metro station adjacent, and headed off for my destination. I knew it was only a few miles away above ground, but the logistics of underground railways do not always follow terrestrial
delimiters. I could either go one way around, which was full of changes of lines, and all carriages would be full, or I could go out, and with one change, come back in. I chose the latter. This was almost a mistake.
I got a seat for both legs, and the air-con cool was magnificent. I got out at Guangzhou East Railway Station, one of my extremely least liked parts of this massive city. I knew from studying maps the American Consulate was very close
by, but it turned out the map on their website was totally wrong.
I passed Jusco supermarket, and spotted Ikea across the square. Both were virtually next-door to the Consulate, I knew this. The square was massive. It had a large open area out front, a seldom-used ten-lane highway in the middle, and
a park opposite. It was damned hot also.
I could see Citic Tower (Citic Bank) and Plaza ahead directly to the south, and knew from the Consulate map, the building I needed lay to the west and north = where I was. The street names bore no relationship to the map I had. I lit
a cigarette and asked for direction. One guy with great English told me the location was a long way from where I was, and advised me to take a cab. He wrote down the address of the Consulate in Chinese, something unavailable from the
Consulate website, which is entirely in English.
I hailed a cab, but the Mandarin only speaking driver appeared not to know the area. I sensed a con. He peered at the written Chinese (Mandarin) characters and said he did not know where the destination was. I got out of the cab and
walked west for a block, before thinking I was probably headed in the wrong direction, for the name of the road I wanted had the word “Zhong” in it, meaning middle, central, middle, or anything like that. Guangzhou has a lot of Police
Posts on the streets, so me being a fine and upstanding Cantonese lad, I asked the officer where I should go.
The Sergeant spoke only Mandarin, but I showed him my pinyin, or Chinese written as English, and spoke it as best I could in Mandarin. He scratched his head for understanding, but only for a split second. He played with the sounds I
had made, and stated the address I sought in Mandarin. I knew he was right. Do not even think to ask me how I knew; I simply knew he had nailed the place.
I turned round and walked in the other direction. I re-crossed one of the main roads thereabouts, and then trudged across the long square, before crossing another. The time was just after 2 PM, and I was very glad to have kept more than
one hour in hand. Guangzhou is like this, and I knew it. Across the square was the road I needed to be on, completely different from the Consulate map. The building numbers were close to my destination. I thought to head north, and stepped
south. The numbers reduced, so I was now on the same block as my destination.
I walked in the door, and knew there was a Consulate hereabouts. These building are all alike. I made my way to the 5th floor, only to be stopped on the 4th, and politely interrogated. Chinese security was very polite and American in
attitude. I got out the copy of my appointment form, and was waved through after my passport was preliminarily checked.
I went through the next checkpoint unhindered and up the elevator. At the top I had to do the body-scanner thingymagig, and set it off as usual, but only just. They had my money, my keys, and asked to keep my mobile. I had no problem,
and understood their concerns.
I had expected a reception desk, and girl’s ushering people around. But I was back in the West now, and such service is not available. Instead I stuck my face into one of the Bank-like row of booths, and was ticked off at 2:15 as appearing
for my appointment. I was asked nicely to take a seat.
For me, I cannot believe I just made it with 15-minutes to spare! I hate Guangzhou – it is too big and impersonal; and fast becoming one of those rip-off cities, just like London, New York, and Hong Kong. I was already looking forwards
to leaving this metropolis – bearing in mind I had only just arrived.
I looked around as I was in the American’s only section. The main two players were typical US who probably spent their weekends playing baseball, a game I understand, but have never entertained the thought of playing. There were several
Chinese in the room, most of whom from their looks were Cantonese. The competent staff, mainly US citizens, switched from Mandarin, to English, to Cantonese in mid-sentence. Whoa! Not just one of them. They were all high quality speakers
of all three languages. I hankered to try some Toisanwah on them, but that was perhaps a tad unfair?
I was called to the hatch within a few minutes, and well before my scheduled *appointment*. This apparently was my appointment. Cool - Move with it Jonno. The woman was nice and experienced, but remained unsure that they could issue
what I required. I told them I had emailed them and it was confirmed to me they could. She asked for the email, and I could not even remember the person’s name. I guess I should have printed it out.
No problem, and I was told to go and pay whilst they processed my request. I was away for 5-minutes, as the payment stall I was allocated was empty. The girl returned after doing whatever, and efficiency resumed. The Americans are very
good at efficiency, once they begin work.
I went back to the main hall and watched, as a woman I would regard as from Italian extraction, processed visas for her Chinese husband and children to visit the States, long-term. She gave me a knowing look as her business was concluded.
The staff were outgoing and proactive with her children, something we British would not condone = Interesting, and very good also.
The Chinese guy I presumed was from Hong Kong was next, and he turned out to be an American citizen trying to get his Chinese partner and child to the States to visit relatives. He seemed to get what he wanted. I was called and had to
swear an oath. The guy was cool, and the paperwork precise. I left thinking America (Guangzhou) was pretty OK.
I retrieved my mobile from the guys outside, and only spoke Cantonese, as they did naturally, and back to me. They did not pay me any mind, which I thought was very cool.
I left the building feeling like I actually spoke two world languages, and called Jim. He was due to take Mandarin lessons, but had problems connecting with his teacher about his class. He told me to go for a beer and he would be along
soon: Grand Idea!
I headed away from Guangzhou East Railway Station, simply because I hate the place. I came to Citic Plaza, and passed across the front, and wandered on by. I was looking for a back street, or small Cantonese community. I got Zero, except
an expensive western beer bar called *Wunderbar*. The street was hot and sticky - inside was cool and air-con. I tarried for a pint.
The place was empty, apart from a few business types attended by ravishingly beautiful girls. I looked, but was never interested. Guess I've been here too long he he. My leisure was very pleasantly interrupted when the manager came over
and we started to chat. It turned out that despite looking Chinese from Hong Kong, he was actually a born and bred in Australia. It’s always good to meet Aussie's, especially on neutral territory. We talked cricket, before moving on to
our small lives. He was in his 22nd year there as an expatriate, and like me, had a Cantonese wife and child.
The logistics of Jim getting to where I was, melded in a wave of Chinese helpfulness and telephone conversations; before I talked to him directly, and went outside to wait for him. He saw me before I saw him, but then, I know my long-range
vision is pretty useless, unless I am searching for a bus with Yee-Lo. A-hem.
Jim rocked-up as I was finishing my third metric pint, and I was very glad to see him again. We chilled and chatted, before moving on. Was that only two-hours ago = time check - Opps! Better make that: three-hours. Doesn't time fly…
One Night in Guangzhou
We took a cab to Jim's Garden, or secure and private housing complex if you prefer. We walked in passed security and soon Jim was approached by some Expats searching for a party they had been invited to. It turned out to be with his
neighbours upstairs, who duly arrived, searching for invited guests. We were included, but deferred to our own plan.
We walked through as a straggling bunch, when a small dog started running with us. Jim realised his girlfriend Duma was nearby, and sure enough, she had been waiting for us near the entry, but became distracted watching the inhabitants
play badminton, or was it the others playing basketball? It’s irrelevant to me. Seeing her again was good, and we exchanged a friendly hug. I was told the dog was a stray and new to them. Apparently it liked to bite people a lot. We got
on well together, and I was never threatened, growled at, never mind bitten during my short stay.
Jim's gaff was great, twin-bedroomed, and with a very nice ambience. It was also pretty central. I dropped off my rucksack in the guest room and we chatted as he checked his email. There was little of immediate importance, so soon we
headed out for the bar district along the river he had mentioned years before, and I always wanted to visit.
We got a cab and were soon walking into a pedestrianised area that appeared to be empty. Nothing was happening. Jim was deliberating alternatives, when a table appeared and we were offered seats. The Supervisor took our order for beer,
Bud only nowadays, and we chilled into *Boys talk*.
The night wore on, and we both had a great time. The empty area filled and tables were everywhere. I passed being awake for 24-hours without notice, and my beer-goggles were working perfectly. I have no idea how much we put away that
day, but it was very good between us. More serious conversations soon turned to laughs and simply enjoying the moment. We watched as models strutted around the vicinity, returning a little later in a different outfit. It was like being
at an haute coiffure and fashion show. Delightful.
For some curious reason my wife took to calling me quite often that night. I am sure she was not jealous, and there was absolutely nothing to be jealous about. I did miss her, and all her calls were most welcome. The next afternoon I
discovered that my bottle of orange juice in the fridge, and two inches of Gin had disappeared in my absence. So had two bottles of beer. I was not worried, for this was marriage, not some passing fancy. Anyway, the timing of her calls
was far too late to be checking if I was coming home to Toisan that night. I have no problems, and am sure they all enjoyed themselves, just as I did innocently with Jim.
During our time at the bar, we exchanged toasts with people nearby. I had plateau'd, but Jim threw the towel in after 2 a.m. We ate food before leaving, I thinking of ordering a large vat of Sik Juk, or rice porridge to you. It was expensive
at Y70 for the cheapest and smallest version = enough to feed a small army. We hit the street with the intention of hailing a cab … a forlorn hope at 3 a.m. Ooops, another hour gone by somehow.
One taxi stopped to drop off and I collared it, thinking our luck was finally in. The driver got our destination, which was a couple of miles away across the river. He refused, stating he was not licensed to take people over there. China
is this fuckwitted, I have met the situation several times before, most notably in Hunan Province. I guess I should write about that trip sometime, but then that's where I met Naila. Hmmm.
Anyway, changing the subject quickly, we continued walking, as taxis passed us in droves, all full. The area was very popular, with bars and disco's everywhere, and it was coming up to chucking out time. I was still hungry, so we entered
a dodgy enterprise seeking food. The table was clean, and our order taken.
The wait was not too bad, and soon dishes were arriving: two plates of Chips [Fries in American]. They came with a dip of tomato sauce, and were stone cold. Neither Jim nor I finished our first bite, and put the dishes aside. We hoped
for better, but it got worse. Given that we had both been drinking quite heavily since mid-afternoon, we both knew we would have to be incredibly drunk to eat anything that restaurant was offering as a food substitute.
I had doubled the bill by ordering what appeared to be a Thai curry. This arrived just as we were considering cutting our losses and trudging homewards. Jim was not interested at all, and blow me down with a feather – it was totally
delicious! Hot, mouth-watering, and easy on the green curry spices. I could have downed the whole thing there and then, but was replete half-way through. We both ordered a doggy-bag, which turned out to be almost identical in Jim's fast
improving Mandarin, and my more slowly acquired Cantonese. The Matron understood both of us, and even filled the take-out for us. Service at last.
The bill was an astonishing Y125, of which the curry was Y78. I tried to get her to drop the charges for the inedible, cold chips – but then for some mystical reason, she wasn't able to understand either of us. We went Dutch, as is our
habit, even though I am sure I ate most of what was vaguely edible. The curry was worth the money, the other stuff a total rip-off.
There again, it was by then almost 4 a.m.. in Gongzhao, on a lovely summer’s eve. We were on the central river, and had been drinking seriously for 12-hours. The trek home was never-ending.
Whilst Jim had given me the drinking award for the day, something I am sure I did not deserve, he showed me up when it came to walking home. I gave him the athletics award. God was it a very long way. My muscles were already in rebellion
because of our recent move, and my right knee was protesting.
This is an old squash injury that was never properly sorted. The inside of the knee swells when under concerted pressure for a long time, and believe me, exercise only makes it worse. Before it finally went, I did actually accomplish
a marked and timed Mile, on city streets, in just under 5-minutes [4:48] – which is not bad for a guest runner. Try it yourself sometime and see how fast serious runners move.
Tonight I was hobbling up a steep pedestrian bridge, with Jim pleasantly drawing a deep breath, and waiting for me to catch up. Eventually we arrived back, and I slept the sleep of saints. I awoke before the others, petted the supposed
ferocious dog, and had a cigarette on the balcony. I needed fluid, water. They had a carboy of chilled, and I took my fill.
Despite yesterdays’ antics, I felt pretty good. I did look at the now cold curry take-away in Jim's fridge, and was tempted – but we had plans this day. Jim roused, and Duma was soon in the kitchen. Jim made some excellent coffee from
beans he ground, and it brought me properly awake. I went back for seconds, despite the lack of sugar. Excellent coffee!
The night before we left Duma cooking dinner at home. This day we left her cooking brunch. She was always welcome to join us, at any time – but then, I guess the prospect of us speaking native English all the time was a bit overwhelming.
I already know, in reversed circumstances, that for both Jim and I, the prospect of spending an entire meal listening to good friends speaking colloquially in a foreign language is not something that appeals. Too many times, both he and
I + Duma and Siu Ying have suffered this fate. No more.
We left and headed for Guangzhou Food City. This is where all the restaurants for hundreds of miles around get their stuff. I was determined to buy: Cheese, butter, and real mayonnaise. Corned beef was a possibility, and by that I mean
British Bully Beef, not the American Salt Beef of the same name. I was not disappointed. But first we had to catch the bus. This was not good for my frayed knees, and I jumped into a pew as soon as one became available. Jim did not and
hung around holding the bar above head-height, in case we wanted to chat. We did not, but it was no problem for either of us. You know when you are with a close friend simply by their presence – there is no need to talk inanities.
After a roundabout route – a bridge was closed and probably being demolished / replaced? We ended up travelling for miles around Guangzhou Shoe City. It was a massive area. I made the mistake of offering to go there and buy some trainers.
Jim looked at me with wisdom in his eyes, and replied, “They have a million outlets there, and the largest size they sell is 42, that would be 9 for you British”. It was a statement of fact. He did know where to go to get larger sized
footwear, so next time I may make the trip with him.
1 Billion shoes on offer – for sale, and nothing bigger than size 9; C' mon! China is like this. There again, I can get sizes 10 to 14 at the local shop above the local wet market in Toisan, so why bother with Guangzhou? Ah, Cheese!
Jim told me we were headed for lunch, and I could choose seafood or noodles. I was ambient, so we end up in the fish place. It was very nice and expertly run. We ordered on the way in, Jim selecting barnacles, sorry, clams: from the
tanks, and then a net full of large prawns. This looked very good. I left selection up to him, although, one day, I do want to sit down and eat an incredibly large lobster. This is one wish for my life. I could have done it there, but
the charge appeared to be extravagant.
We left potential meals swimming happily in their tanks, and found no room on the ground floor. We went upstairs, which was also full. The next flight of steps brought back memories of last night, and my knee began to throb again. We
eventually found a birth on the next floor, which turned out to be the non-smoking bit. Jim had not considered this, but realised at once. Typical, the only free tables were in the non-smoking area.
China has recently signed up to the worldwide, World Health Organisation ban on no smoking; I am sure you are aware, in order to become a member of the World Trade Organisation, these un-elected and unaccountable committees had made
it policy that no ratification would be considered, let alone condoned, of China's full admission to the WTO, unless the no smoking ban was implemented. I know you did not get a vote on this, as neither did I.
Unlike UK and Hong Kong, Mainland China passed this into law last year – but there was no penalty set. The Central Committee left it up to individual City Regions to implement as they saw fit. With 90% of males, and 20% of females smoking
in China, this became a revolutionary issue.
I could have smoked at the table, but it was fair of me not to. I know this. The house knew this. I have always been a very considerate smoker. However, as anyone that has given up knows full well, there remain a few times when a cigarette
is the most pleasurable experience, like: After great sex, after a sumptuous meal, and generally accompanying alcohol. Jim is a long-time non-smoker, but even he bummed a couple of cheroots off me towards the end of the night before …
I would propose The Loyal Toast, but perchance, nowadays, that is also illegal in UK? And with it, our heritage and traditions are also muted, and left to waste.
Our times in China moved on swiftly, as we shared the bill and left for Guangzhou Food City. It is about where there is a massive Cathedral, not marked on any online map. Jim stated that this juggernaut of a building just appears out
of nowhere, and so it did: Awesome!
We took photographs before heading for Food City, a step away. We tarried to the main road shops; I bought all I needed and more. I got a whole Edam cheese for Y125 – they sell off bits of wedges in some supermarkets for Y30 or Y40 =
indecent profit. It was like a cannonball, and heavy. It later turned out to be the very best Edam cheese I have ever tasted = matured.
I flinched at the opportunity to by a 2-foot length of processed, pre-packaged Anchor Cheddar. The thing looked like a slightly yellow kerbstone, but at Y400 notes for one kerbstone, it was probably a great buy, but I did not get it:
Apologies New Zealand, it looked like a lot of cheese. Later I discovered my over-matured Edam had that Cheddar bite. Wicked!
Back in the present time of this missive, I found the real GZ Food City to have a frontage of half a mile. It went back 600 yards, before veering right another long way. The stalls inside the real marketplace were small, like an indoor
town market. The scale was massive. I was sure it would take me several days to visit every retailer – it really was that big. I was drawn, because I knew the prices outside on the main road reflected easy access for foreigners and casual
traders on a limited timescale. The smaller stalls inside would probably offer a far better deal; but where to begin? The place was just too big.
When I return in a few months time (Sorry Jim), I want to see the inside of this behemoth market. This time I got one tin of badly rusted corned beef (Bully beef). It may, or may not be edible? I am British, so will give it a go, if
only to pass beneath my wife's nasal senses first. It is 3-years and more now since I last ate Bully Beef. I used to eat it several times per week. It may even be next month (Sorry Jim) considering the rate I am getting through the wronky
Regards China, the marketplace was an eye-opener. I am going back, just as soon as I can afford it, or whenever I run out of essentials = flip a coin on that one. They had catering gallons of mayo, by unknown brands (To me), or pint
bottles made of glass with known names on the side. None of them said Hellmann's, but miracle whip copies will do for now. I am not stupid regard’s China; never forget.
There was a pound tin of Coleman's mustard for sale, but I considered it would take me years to get through it, and it does attract a black mold unless perfectly sealed; cockroach nymphs love it by the way. I settled for some French's
in smaller containers, and came to regret my decision. Jim did not understand English mustard, and had never heard of the brand. He cajoled me to buy it, and I should have done. However, I was still feeling ripped-off from last night’s
excesses, and knew my money would be low, once I returned to Toisan.
We parted shortly after, both of us happy with our purchases. He bought nuts for Duma, and recognising one of my wife's favourites, I did the same. We wandered across nearby roads, and came to his bus stop. I knew I should have waited
with him, but he was fine alone. I meandered off to find the nearby Subway, as they call the underground railway system hereabouts. The mid-afternoon sun was very hot, again.
I got the tube fine, then came to choose the exit. I thought I was reading both the In-ger-wishy and Chinese characters quite well. I found the correct intersection, and headed for outlet D4. I emerged somewhere I did not know.
I knew I was extremely close to where I needed to be, just not in the right bit of it, quite. The time quickly passed from just after 4, to just before 5 P.m., and I was getting nowhere fast. I asked the Cops again, and this time one
told me I was at the correct building, in reply to my Cantonese. It looked nothing like where I arrived, so I looked at the overpasses and tried to work out my cardinal directions. I briefly considered heading back down into the Underground,
and trying every exit until I found the exact one I arrived at. This also appeared to be a waste of time, for I was so close – perhaps the side of a city block away.
There was extremely limited English, or any other language available outside this most major transportation hub in central Guangzhou. I was lost, even with the Police Officers directions. Unlike Foshan, Guangzhou does not have town or
city region maps at every corner. This is extremely unhelpful; nothing made any sense.
The Cop had directed me to an internal garage, a pick-up place for local buses, and the queues were horrendous. There was a local bus ticket office nearby, but I knew it was not the massive halls I had passed on my way in. It resembled
a cubicle set aside for locals to get a coin for the bog. It was nothing … Zero.
Remember I am outside the very main and central bus station in Guangzhou. It was a lot worse than Victoria Coach station, and if you have ever had the misfortune to go there, then I am very pleased to know you survived. The Main Coach
station in Guangzhou is ten times more fuckwitted, and everything is only in Chinese.
Instead of helpful information, either from signs, or the Police, I worked it out myself. I was almost at the right building – taking up the whole of a large city block, but was in the wrong place. The street to my left was extremely
unfamiliar, so I crossed the carriageway below using the walkway above, and came to a small booking hall. It was not the same one I saw on my way out from arrival, but appeared to be intercity. I looked at the boards, noting no coach
to Toisan. I asked the guy in reception as I left, and he stated in local Cantonese that there was a bus to Toisan City.
I retraced my steps and passing the small booking hall, found another one hidden inside. It was not what I was expecting. There was hardly a queue, and I soon got a ticket to Toisan, querying before I left why it did not state Tai Shan
City Chair Jam as destination. The teller assured me in In-ger-wishy it was the correct destination.
I got my ticket and walked away, searching for the waiting area. There wasn't one. There were no signs for one. I waited and watched what others did. I followed them out of the far door, and along the walkway, where we eventually entered
a large hall. It had a lot of traps, all beginning with 1xx. I looked at my ticket and it said 312. I presumed this was the first level departure hall, so took the nearby steps that had an arrow up, and numbers associated within the range
200. This gave way to another flight of stairs, no escalators, and eventually I made the third level.
The hall was about 600 yards long, and I eventually tracked down my area to the far end of the hall. I had time, so went to the toilet, and returned; noticing then that the large seating areas formed an open square to the outside. Between
them ran extremely narrow pedestrian channels for accessing the numerous gates. A sign by the gate said Toisan in Chinese characters. I was going home.
The coach was late, and not on the main board; as with all world-wide transportation hubs, this one did not have a clock. I was sitting beside the induction to clearance board, and it stated in Chinese Toisan. The main board above the
gate always showed other and later destinations. I was alarmed.
Then a coach pulled in. The announcer was speaking, and eventually mentioned Toisan in Cantonese. By that time I had already gotten out of the queue, because the height of the interior window bars was the same height as that of the coaches’
destination: Bad design. I went down to the front after leaving the queue, and saw a sideline stating Toisan on the bus screen, so I knew this was my bus. It just didn't feel right.
It turned out to be one of those high-riders, you know, the type that have the lower portion blocked-off so the staff can hold a personal party below, whilst we were all crammed into the roof. Time passé, and eventually the coach stopped.
Somebody who was not a native speaker, was shouting something that almost sounded like *Toisan-a*, but his language skills were atrocious.
I was expecting to arrive at Toisan Main Bus Station, but it was not to be. After a few minutes of his awful bawling, he approached me directly. He knew the Cantonese and local words for Toisan, and then balled ME out in fuckwitted Mandarin.
C' mon! Itinerants – I hate their audacity and presumptions that all of China only speaks fuckwitted Mandarin.
I departed Guangzhou disgusted and dismayed. I arrived in a part of Toisan I never knew existed, with an itinerant imbecile trying to bollock me in Mandarin. It became apparent I needed to get off the coach, something later confirmed
by a Cantonese assistant, who by comparison was extremely polite and helpful. He even pointed me towards a local bus, stating it would take me to the main city bus terminus, in Cantonese. I thanked him profusely, and offered a bad sign
to the associated and impolite itinerant.
I did not run for the bus. I stopped to have a cigarette, and wake up properly. Jim has visited twice, and both times he got dropped off at this roundabout in the middle of nowhere, right on the edge of the city … somewhere? I never
understood that, but now it was happening to me.
The reflection did not take long to determine. I had left from the correct bus station, but the wrong part of it. The coach I caught was inter-city, with a destination I did not know written horizontally left to right. The characters
for Toisan were to the side of this, on the left as I looked at the front of the bus. They were smaller and written top to bottom, meaning this was a drop-off point en route. Now I understood everything.
My only remaining puzzle was that coaches run every 20-minutes from Toisan main coach station to Gongzhao. They go into the same massive complex, so where were they? I was definitely and 100% certain I had been in some part of the same
place I had arrived at yesterday. Where was the main inter-city ticket hall? I decided that next time I would sort all this idiocy out before I left this most extremely fuckwitted of coach stations. That was a promise I kept.
As it was, I finished my cigarette in contemplation, and looked at the unfamiliar streets of my home city. I hailed a cab minutes later, and it pulled in near the adjacent bus stop. An itinerant leapt out of the bus queue and tried to
grab it. He held the door open, and I leapt inside. Thank you. I would never have considered doing such a rude thing before I came to China. However, I had hailed the cab, and the driver acknowledged he had stopped for me.
It turned out I had been dropped off at the extreme outer limits southeast of the city. I live to the central north, and two minutes walk from the main coach station. 15-minutes later my taxi passed the familiar *Wah Yuen* Plaza, and
I was almost home. The taxi cost Y14, but my coach ticket was Y8 cheaper; meaning this journey cost me Y6 more. The time taken for the trip was about the same overall. My backpack was growing heavy, and I headed homewards.
Even with the heavy rucksack on my back, I made it up all the way to the 6th floor without stopping. The relief of arriving home was soon followed by the urgent urge to excrete – funny how that often happens when you have been abroad?
My immediate problem was our still ceramic hole in the floor - I grinned and bared it.
Once done I opened an ice-cold beer, and set about catching up with my life, and in time, whatever the internet had to offer. That night I simply hacked off huge chunks from the wronky Edam round, and ate them with pickled onions and
crisps [American: Chips], washed down with a talented and slightly chilled, Italian red wine [Chianti]. Fantabulous! I ate slices of Edam that night, simply because it had been over 4-years since I had tasted any cheese, apart from Chinese
copy cheese slices. Bliss!
I filled the refrigerator: several blocks of real butter, same of Miracle whip, the Edam of course, and one tin of questionable corned beef. My other purchases were put away, and I looked for our new cooker, which had not arrived yet.
We are talking about a couple of calor gas rings here. Ovens do not exist in modern China.
The next day, flush with butter at last, I put a small wedge into a dish to warm up, and got a loaf of bread out of the freezer. I ate ham slices with Edam, fresh tomatoes and onions, with added mayo, French's mustard, and seasoning.
I did the same the next night, and the next; for we still did not have anything to cook with. I guess that is a lie, because I do have my toaster that the push down broke off a couple of years ago. It still sort-of works if you press
the insides with something metallic. I have tried to buy a replacement, but they are not sold in western orientated Toisan. There were 2 in a Gongmuen supermarket, and neither filled me with the slightest confidence. I have seen the industrial
Duralit types in Toisan food city, so that is a must-buy sometime in the future.
Interestingly, I had an email from an American Lady recently, wishing to buy a Mongolian style divided casserole for hot-pot. I have looked, but not thoroughly. If you are reading this, then know that next time I will be searching for
one for you, as I fancy one myself. I will be in touch, do not worry.
Note: I have since sourced these an another Guangzhou food city Jim discovered, and one I prefer.
Meanwhile, back in my present kitchen, I had the deep fat fryer and nothing to cook in it, and a miniature oven/grill thingymagig. The logistics of unpacking and using these appliances, paled before the ease of making sandwiches.
Jim sent me two txt messages that first night back, one to ask if I was home safe – nice bloke. The other was to tell me that last night was a Blue Moon. During our session we had commented that The Lady in the Night Sky was looking
very fine, but a Blue Moon = Wow! She just looked wonderful to us.
Meanwhile, I had engaged 2 new editors to rip my books to pieces. One started immediately, and worked well, offering me first 3-chapters, and then another 3. There were surprisingly few changes, and only two queries about my American
English. I was well impressed, and definitely improving significantly as a writer.
Then I lost a whole day to answering emails. They came in from friends, links exchanges, and others seeking our help re China Expats – two people wanting to study Kung Fu in Foshan, and one seeking advice about getting a student visa.
Then Vilma’s niece contacted me about a proposed visit to Gaogong next year, and after website updates; one whole day slipped into the next.
All I wanted to do was write my next novel, my best-seller for sure hahaha, and book number five. I was determined to get back to it, then one week later. In the intervening week I had completely cleared my desk, this missive being the
last thing of any note. One day disappeared converting my Home page to Lightbox picture links—something that had needed doing for some while. I would need this for the pictures associated with this missive, but the coding would take a
lot of time, and be extremely repetitive and boring. I knew that once I had a very long page done, modification would be a breeze, and I was just one day away from this, but not that day; later...
I still find it odd that I had to travel, for what would be four-hours direct, to buy common commodities like cheese and butter, don't you? OK, I could most likely have got them in my Chinese home city, Foshan, but at ten-times
the price for miniscule quantities.
I am going to leave this missive here, but know Jim came up with Guangzhou Food City number two, which I tell about in a later Letter From China = great place, and much cheaper than the one described above + 2KG packs of bacon,
sold for a song; but that tale is for another day...