A Time to Think

Even the most mundane of activities, out here in China, can be filled with a sense of wonder. Sometimes you just need to look for the positives, and take a moment to appreciate the environment and everything good in your life, instead of dwelling on the things you can’t change. 


People that know me, know that I’m a firm advocate of the ‘Polly Anna Glad Game.’ If you’ve had a bad day, get it out of your system and offload- but for every negative thing that has happened, swing the pendulum far the other way by coming up with three positive things- ‘I’m glad that I have matching socks – I’m glad that I can still watch Casualty (even if it is a day late!) and I’m glad that I can think of an abundance of things that I’m glad about!’

The bus journey home from school, on a Monday night, after the staff meeting can seem to take forever and is one of those times that the glad game needs to be played. I know – I write this, sitting on the bus as the time approaches six thirty (I’ve already been on the bus for 20 minutes) knowing that my ETA will be approximately seven pm. The ‘glads’ I take from this: number one – I’m glad I’m not driving. Number two- because I’m not driving, I get to gaze out of the window. Number three, I have chance to think about the little things I have to be grateful for, and I am grateful that I am here. On this bus. In China. Heading home. 

The school bus tonight is almost empty – the meeting finished earlier than usual so most of the staff took the opportunity to jump in a DiDi  and beat the traffic.  

I catch snippets of conversation, between the mother and daughter (a younger student in the school) in front of me, about word construction and how suffixes can subtly change the meaning of the words. This leads on to a verbal tennis match of words ending in ‘-tion’ the soft pronunciation of ‘shun’ is emphasised in every ending of every word and it gently bounces between the pair of them. A well- loved tennis ball hitting the court over and over. For me this is a song over a melody of Chinese. The local admin staff sit affront the bus and I hear their tones rise and fall – I enjoy all of it though I understand little.


The freeway takes us past silhouetted apartment blocks, some proudly outlined in dancing lights. The apartments themselves act as a digital canvas and thousands of led lights chase around the outlines and systematically cut through the imposing rectangular monoliths. In parts, the city is Minecraft on steroids. The vibrancy with which the lights chase across the evening sky is contrasted with the muted tones inside.

Inside, the bus is a dusky mixture of browns and deepening greys, and looking ahead, the lights of the traffic in front blur as the cars weave in and amongst each other. 

Driving (or being driven) in China is an experience within itself, and certainly not for the faint hearted. The rapid economical and structural growth of Shenzhen, has led to a shift away from the fishing industry as people seek employment in tech and innovation in this newly evolving city. This sudden growth of wealth has in turn led to a mass expansion of newly emerging drivers- and driving is a very very different experience to what we are used to in the UK. There are rules and regulations that govern the road, and occasionally people might even adhere to them. The unspoken rule of thumb seems to be – if there is a space, get in it. The horn is perhaps the most used tool in a car, and the sound of hooting is a constant. What is a refreshing change is the way it is used, usually, without aggression. ‘I’m here – move over,’ ‘let me in,’ or just ‘be aware, I’m right next to you as you pull out into my lane.’ 

As ever, the journey ends without mishap, just a healthy number of near misses. It pulls up on the side a a dual carriageway and we dodge traffic from each direction as we take our lives into our own hands to negotiate a safe route across. Ok – enough of the melodramatics, it really isn’t that bad -although in the first week, this scared the wits out of me! I’m hardened to it now and I’ll step out as blasé as the rest into the oncoming traffic.

The locals are also more used to our presence now. The early days must have been as unnerving for them as it was for us. For us, walking down the street en masse, we would cause everybody to literally (and I really do mean literally) stop and stare. Here, there is no sense of political correctness, or privacy, or social boundaries. Kids and adults alike would (and still do) physically and obviously  point at the western people walking along. On one occasion, my daughter and I were stopped by an old lady and a girl who I presume was her granddaughter, who repeatedly pointed to our noses and laughed. How big your noses are! Look at the size of them! Massive noses! (The theatrics that accompanied the pointing led to no mistaking that was what they were saying!) Like the honking of the horns, this is all without aggression or malice. Just curiosity. A multi cultural society is most certainly in its infancy in Shenzhen. To have around 50 westerners move into one apartment block, in an area that previously had none, must have been a shock to the system. 

The 5 minute stroll down to the apartment block is great at this time of night. The streets come alive, as activities for all ages (but mostly children) come into full flow. Huge sections of the road are cordoned off with low level bright plastic freestanding gating, and activities take place within these boundaries. There is a huge market for self improvement in China, and the leisure complex to the side of our apartment block houses a flight simulator, and fencing classes amongst the more mundane music and language classes. This self improvement and constant engagement in activity spills out onto the street, with informal dance groups, roller blading for toddlers, and dodgems careering across the pavements- honk honk – watch out pedestrians we’re sharing this space with you now! 

In rural Yorkshire, and I’m sure, much of the UK, life closes at 5.30pm. We retire to our respective abodes, shut the doors, and turn on the tv. The media propagates stories about the lack of morals and invasive youth culture. The streets at night  can be a place to fear and avoid.

Here, I love that I can walk along, alone, be stared at, and yet not feel any threat at all.


2 thoughts on “A Time to Think

  1. Hi my lovely eloquent friend what a beautifully written piece it was just fab to read and as ever l was in total awe at what you three have done. I remember vividly the Polly Anna moments we had at PL and gosh there were many. They made us laugh, gasp and lift our heads high which we did with great dignity. Never ever change you are a delight.
    Keep on filling in the blog and living the adventure you were so brave to go on.
    Missing you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s