A Word from China

After months of neglect, here I am making my triumphant return to writing, the prodigal son of poorly viewed blog articles (unless they are retweeted by George Galloway, as my weary rant about Scottish independence was).

In the intervening months, a lot has changed; unnecessary petitions have spiked in popularity, the UK is in the throes of electioneering and Glasgow Celtic Football Club have more in common with the taste in footwear of members of Real Estate than with their city rivals.

However, the most drastic change is that I have swapped strolling down the leafy roofed pavements of Kelvin Way while listening to Belle and Sebastian for careering down bumpy roads, under unfinished vehicle overpasses in rickety old buses through Wuhan.

Wuhan is a sprawling metropolis in the central Chinese province of Hubei where, in a completely unseen twist to my life goals, I have been teaching English to 50 strong classes of Chinese children ranging from 6 to 10 years old. I very quickly discovered first hand that teaching is hard (who knew?!). Foreign teachers here live a, comparably, very privileged life (as I expect they do elsewhere in China) and so while laziness, and perhaps the necessity of having to speak very broken and simple English for several hours a day, has kept me from putting finger to key on any document of my time here so far, the job has given me the freedom to explore and indulge a lot more than I have been previously able to.

I hope now my writing will recommence in earnest. I remember a colleague at a previous part time job once asked me what my blog was about. I explained that it was about my interests: music I’d listened to, movies I’d seen, books I’d read, things that I felt passionately about.  They replied with an answer that, unbeknownst to them, rather hit my confidence. They said that if it was actually about my life then they might be interested. So far I can very honestly report that China is not an uneventful place to live. So, hopefully, the things I write will be particularly and more obviously about “my life”.

A pretty large part of my life though, here and everywhere, is music. It’s what envelopes almost everything I do here, makes the negative moments more bearable and soundtracks a great deal of fascinating adventures and experiences. Inevitably, it’s what breaks through as a guiding force in everything I write. Well, everything I want to write, and everything I will write.

I discovered a criminally late love for Sleater-Kinney on an overcrowded slow train to Changsha.  If you ever want to avoid the invasion of personal space, listening to ‘The Fox’ at full volume on non-noise cancelling headphones is a useful tool.

Whilst attempting to decipher the calligraphic musings of a young Chairman Mao, I realised that Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear was the best album this year so far.  An older manifestation of the aforementioned Chairman loomed down on me in sculpture form later on that day as I learned about his formative years at Changsha Municipal Museum.
That opinion was trumped when I first listened to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly as I read and learned about China’s Uyghur ethnic population, a few of which I have made acquaintances with as they run one of my favourite small local restaurants. While this made for an interesting companion piece, listening to Kendrick’s new one and understanding the geography and politics of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region simultaneously is not recommended – they are both far too dense and complicated and require your absolute and undivided attention.

I’ve watched as my students perform an intricately choreographed dance routine to ‘Little Apple’ (Xiao Pingguo, in pinyin. My Chinese characters are not up to scratch for this blog) by the Chopstick Brothers. This is a ‘Gangnam Style’-esque hit here which is also more bearable on first listen, though not after multiple. The unofficial video of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s head being super imposed on the bodies of mental YouTube hits while accompanied by the tune is worth a look at least.

I’ve planned lessons in my living room while elderly women dance to traditional Chinese music on the street at the foot of our apartment building. I’ve revealed a previously unknown domesticated side of my personality, sweeping and mopping our flat to clean away the swirls of dust that, like an unexpected and unwanted visitor, rush in from the polluted atmosphere outside every time we slide our balcony doors open, all the time having my ears punished by the demanding, but exhilarating, cacophony of Swans. It certainly makes keeping the flat tidy a little more interesting.

The point is, I may try to write more about my day-to-day life here, but it’ll still probably end up being about the music I’m into, and I hope that’ll be interesting enough.  My locale may have changed but I’m still listening to ‘Sukie in the Graveyard’ as if I was walking from Woodlands Road to the GFT. Except now it’s from school to the rooftop football pitch of a shopping mall and in a taxi driven by a man with a death wish.

Until my next attempt at writing something interesting, here’s a (ridiculously extensive) Spotify playlist of songs, new and old, I’ve been listening to since arriving in China back in October. I realise if you don’t have Spotify then you can’t check it out. That’s ok, I’d recommend not having Spotify anyway – worst customer service in the world.

Till next time…

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