Monday, 6 October 2014

A Chinese Hospital

 ECP (English Coaching Paper (sic)), where I worked from Aug 2003 to June 2004

A lunch time football game  on the frozen river  in January

I'm working  on the third draft  of 'Hotpot and Dumplings', my book about living in the remote dongbei  area of China. That it's the third draft makes me feel better, because it's almost ten years since I started.

I've used  some chapters since as a basis for short stories or articles, but now I'm all set to finish the  book. I'll be posting extracts on a weekly basis  as I go through the chapters, which Word has arranged in alphabetical order.  The first,  'A Chinese Hospital'  is set in January 2004. My husband Roy had finally overcome his fear of the Dongbei Winter and joined me in Tonghua.

I was so looking forward to our first game of Ping-Pong in the dedicated room on the company premises, where my apartment was located. But he fell and broke his wrist in the very first game.

Luckily, I'd spotted a local building labelled 'People's Liberation Army Hospital Number 208'. But despite the English lettering on the outside wall, no one inside spoke a word of English. So it was quite a challenge.

The extract below is not about the treatment, but about how easy it is to get confused when you try to communicate in Chinese.

The X-ray was to be done in the main building, to which we were escorted by a young woman who happened to be passing through the entrance hall. By now I was feeling more confident and we fell to chatting. She insisted on holding onto Roy’s  arm as we walked along the slippery  path between the two buildings and told me her name was Meilin.  She lived locally and was visiting her sister, who worked at the hospital. She herself was a student. I asked her which subject, or ‘xue’
'Hu xue’
I looked at her with new respect. 'Hu', is Chinese for tigers, so she must be a Natural History student. Certainly there were said to be Siberian tigers still roaming in the Northeast forest regions, a source of  ingredients for Chinese medicine.  So it was quite likely that tigers were her speciality.
It wasn’t until I consulted the dictionary later that I realised my mistake. It was yet another example of Chinese tones making all the difference to the meaning. ‘Hu’ can mean tiger, but it is also means ‘nurse’, depending on the tone. Meilin was not studying tigers,  but how to be nurse!
No wonder she was puzzled, when I told her how much I admired her bravery in tackling such an unusual and possibly dangerous subject.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Hotpot and Dumplings: A Year in Dongbei

A Street in Shenyang, China

Maybe I should start a whole new blog about my China book, but on the grounds that three blogs are enough, I won't - not for now, anyway.

Ten years ago I worked for a Chinese company in a fairly remote region 60 miles from the border with North Korea.

I decided before I went that I'd write a book about it when I came back to London. I did just that - first as a chronological account compiled from emails, a journal and notes. I even had a Word  file that I kept open when I was in the Chinese office where I worked as a 'foreign editor'.

 It took me about a year to draft the material  into chapters when I got back. Other events hindered progress,  such as some part-time lecturing and a period  when I suffered from a near-fatal burst  appendix.

All I can say about the latter is don't get it when you're sixty so that it's the last thing they suspect. And don't get the symptoms on Friday night and  have to wait until Sunday afternoon for the operation.

I wasn't too happy with the first draft of the book, so I decided to make the chapters topic-based which worked better. It meant trawling through the  printed text, once I'd decided I'd decided on the topic headings which ranged from accounts of the canteen food to visits to  cities in the Dongbei, or Northeast, region.  (Except it's  Eastnorth because that's how the Chinese refer to map directions).

In the intervening years I've mined the material for articles and stories but never really finished it as a book.  I've also learned a lot about writing (I hope). So now's  the time to give it another go.

This blog will be about progress with the writing, although from time to time I'll include photos and extracts.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

My Years at the Park Scool

I was asked by a Lancashire Evening Post journalist to write about my school days.  Unable to get a link to the article, which appeared on June 10th, I've re-assembled it from the photos and text in my files.

Taken in 1959/60 this was a school outing to , I think, Cartmel Priory in the Lake District. I was part of a close-knit group of friends in our fifth (0-Level) year. Left to right: Jean Rigby from Bamber Bridge, Vara Latham from Walton-Le-Dale, Barbara Harvey, Audrey Blake  and myself (Sheila Livesey, as I was then).

Morning break  in the days of free school milk. I'm the one in the tunic on the right. 

My life changed when the headmaster at Eldon Street announced the names of pupils who had passed the eleven plus exam.  I went to the only Church of England Girls Grammar in Preston, The Park School, in 1955. My parents were proud but they struggled to buy the uniform and equipment, which included a wool swimsuit, a tennis racquet and a hockey stick. My father was a labourer, my mother a mill worker and I had two younger sisters.

I envied the other girls their real leather satchels on the first day. The school uniform was navy and white and I sewed silver and blue braid on a navy blazer as well as the badge, which was also the Preston symbol. It showed a white lamb with a flag and PP underneath. This stood for Princeps Pacis, ‘Prince of Peace' in Latin, but to us it was 'Proud Preston'. Underneath was the school motto ‘Weave Truth with Trust’

I also sewed a badge onto a navy beret. We were told to wear our berets at all times outside in uniform, and never to eat in the street. If a Prefect saw us we’d be reported and kept in detention.
My year was part of the ‘baby boom’ generation, so for the first year we attended classes at a large house in the corner of Winkley Square near the town centre. We were known as ‘Winkles’ and attended the main school one afternoon each week for domestic science lessons. We were supposed to walk to Moor Park, and detention followed if a Prefect spotted you on a bus. 

The house had a marble staircase and a bannister which we were forbidden to slide down, but of course we did, whenever we could. Our playground was Winkley Square itself. My best friend was Anne Jones, who had rosy cheeks and a pony tail with natural blonde streak. We talked a lot in class.  Her parents had a small farm in Longridge and she was one of the pupils who came and went in school buses to places like Bamber Bridge and Whittle-le-Woods.  Anne and I climbed up the ropes in the gym as far as the rafters, another forbidden activity.

When I started in 1955 there were five forms of 30 students: P A R K and S. We were placed according to our eleven plus test results and there were changes at the end of the first year exams. I stayed in A and was sad that my friend was placed in another class.

The main school was a short walk from where I lived. The Headmistress was Miss Shanks, a tall woman in a black gown and suede shoes with thick crepe soles, which to my mind she wore so she could creep up behind you without you hearing. She conducted daily prayers in the hall where we sat cross-legged every morning. The rest of the staff seemed to me strict but funny, so Anne and I made a little comic magazine in which we depicted their imaginary adventures.

Our teachers told us we were privileged to be at the Park School. We were to work to become useful members of future society. I was inspired by three teachers: Mrs Richards who taught my favourite subject, English; Miss Beard who taught a history syllabus that included the history of the cotton workers and the rise of the trade unions, and Mrs Auty, who taught art. Miss Beard also ran the school dramatic society, of which I was a member, and we put on an annual Shakespeare play at the small town theatre.

'The Taming of the Shrew' in 1958 . I'd auditioned for the part of Kate, but was cast as a tailor who appeared in one scene. To add insult to injury, my costume made me look like a pair of walking scissors (front row)  

A highlight of my school career was a week-long school trip to Statford-upon-Avon in 1959, organised by Mrs Richards and Miss Beard. There weren’t quite enough tickets to see all the plays, so some of camped outside the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre overnight so we could be there when the box office opened at 10 am. I remember Lawrence Olivier as Coriolanus and Judi Dench, aged 18, as Viola in ‘Twelfth Night’.

Headmistress Miss Shanks was very caring. She discreetly provided uniforms for me and other disadvantaged students. She even allowed me to do my homework in her house two or three times a week in my final exam year.  I did well as a result but my parents were keen for me to leave school and bring in a wage.

A grammar school course took a year longer than other secondary schools and my younger sister was by then old enough to leave Eldon Street.  Miss Shanks visited and, as I found out later, offered to let me live in her home and support me while I did a sixth form course, but my parents insisted I leave school. In 1960 I got a clerical job with the NHS Registration offices off Fishergate Hill. Shortly after that I met my husband-to-be and l left home.

My teachers inspired me to become a teacher myself. By 1967 I was married and living in London. I did my A Levels at evening classes and when my two children started school I did an English degree and trained to teach at Goldsmiths College. I taught English and Drama and then Media Studies for 30 years, in Secondary Schools and FE colleges, in London. I also taught English abroad for short periods.  Now that I’m retired I enjoy reviewing plays and writing fiction.  I feel that the Park School played a big part in my life.

 A recent photo