#Chinese #Dance: A Charming Combination of Beauty, Colour, Culture, Grace and Incredible Skills

Traditional Fan Dance

Traditional Fan Dance

Last Saturday evening, just as I was finishing off a simple Sichuan Style dinner, with the usual rice, sweet potatoes and spicy chicken, I received a surprise phone call from Monita Hung, a friend and colleague whom I met during the Professional Interpreters’ protest in London nearly three years ago.

“I have a spare ticket for a Chinese Performing Arts event and I am in the centre of Birmingham right now. Would you like to come? ” She asked.

Right now? I checked the time and the performance was to start in about an hour and half, ten miles away from where I was. I had ten minutes to put on a nice evening frock to get ready and catch a train. I did not want Monita to waste her expensive ticket. After all I had nothing planned and it was Saturday night.

Before the show, I met a few of Monita’s friends. They came all the way from London and Telford. We happily introduced ourselves and took a few snaps, just to prove that we were at the show, as we were not allowed to take any photos during the performance.

Monita and her friends

Monita and her friends

For the next two hours, it showcased a number of Chinese dances, from retelling Chinese classical tales such as Journey to the West, Three Kingdoms and Outlaws of the Marshlands to ethnic minority folk traditions of Mongolia, Miao and Yi villages.

It reminded me the amazing variety show John and I saw while visiting Zhangjiajie in the spring of 2008. I am a big fan of Chinese music and dance, acrobatics and gymnastic skills.

Colourful Miao Ethnic Folk Dance

Colourful Miao Ethnic Folk Dance

The traditional Chinese costumes were stunning colourful and eye-catching, with various combinations of pink, green, blue and bright orange, purple and yellow. The movements of the dancers were fluid and graceful, displaying great skills and elegance associated with all Chinese dances.

Flowing Grace of Spring

Flowing Grace of Spring

Watching them inevitably reminded me of the days when I used to dance, in my school years in China. It was a fun part and something I enjoyed doing while growing up in an otherwise quite harsh and simple environment.

It also brought back fond memories of my time in Scotland. In 1990, Glasgow was named the Cultural Capital of Europe. As a result, I was part of a dance troupe organised by Strathclyde Regional Council. A choreographer was invited from China and we performed in one of the theatres in Glasgow and received rave reviews.

Can anyone spot me?

Old album: can anyone spot me?

Following that mini adventure, I later taught a group of Scottish Chinese youngsters to do a number of Chinese traditional dances using the fan, handkerchief and so on. These children performed at the BBC Garden Party one year and I was really proud of them. With a friend of mine, we also toured a number of Scottish schools to give them a taste of Chinese culture. Dancing and music has to be one of the best ways to reach out across different cultures.

Back to last Saturday. I was very glad to have been there, to watch a show with my friend Monita. It surely was great to see her again, in a much more relaxed circumstances. Guess we can say that an evening in Birmingham’s glitzy centre was quite a contrast compared to holding banners and marching towards London’s Westminster Abbey and shouting outside the concrete building outside Ministry of Justice.

With Monita & Interpreter colleagues  in London in 2012

With Monita & Interpreter colleagues in London in 2012

So thank you again, Monita. I am already planning another evening out for you and me in the near future!

For those of you who love Chinese dancing, I’m sharing a beautiful peacock dance video featuring China’s most skilful dancer Yang Liping. Enjoy!

Posted in Arts & Culture, China & East Asia, Entertainment, Music & Poetry, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Watching a Solar #Eclipse in England’s #Birmingham

Solar eclipse from an airplane

Solar eclipse from an airplane

At 9.20 am on Friday, 20th of March 2015, armed with a boxful of biscuits, chocolates and sweets, I made my way from University House to Parkside, a couple of blocks away within Birmingham City University’s city centre campus. I was on my way to give a lecture to some of our MA students and Visiting Academics from China.

The sun was shining, above the lovely building of a pub called The Woodman. I saw groups of people gathering around, taking a seat on the benches or the steps, or standing, waiting.

What were they waiting for?

We are curious :)

We are curious, but we need protection :)

Waiting for the eclipse which was happening

Waiting for the eclipse which was happening

The solar eclipse, of course. I took a seat on one of the wooden benches, next to a couple of students, and waited too. My teaching was to start at 10, so I had a few moments to spare.

What was going to happen? Would the sun disappear?

My knowledge of this natural phenomenon was limited, but I did know that it was something special, just by being there, with anticipation.

I also knew that I was not supposed to look at the sun directly. A few prepared people held special devices in front of their eyes. I had my sun glasses on. They should protect me, shouldn’t they?

With my ever handy iPhone, I took a few shots, expecting the bright ball in the sky suddenly to be covered by descending darkness. It didn’t.

I peeked at my watch, pointing at 9.35. Time to make a move. As I walked along the Millennium Point heading towards our Parkside building, I saw more crowds, and several with big cameras with long lenses, pointing at the sun high above. I have never seen such crowds on the open spaces of campus before. This had better be worth it, I thought and reluctantly went inside the building, feeling that maybe I had missed something important.

crowds outside BCU's buildings

crowds outside BCU’s buildings


Later in the evening when I decided to share my few photos I took, I spotted something remarkable in each of the pictures. Looking beyond the bright sun, on the vast sky, above or below the shining sun, something small was shining too, like a sickle moon. If you look at the photos, you should be able to spot it.

Can you spot the sickle moon?

Can you spot the sickle moon?


On Facebook and other social media, there are bigger and better pictures than mine. Depending on where we were, we saw the eclipses at a different angle.

I read a story on WeChat. An EasyJet pilot was flying from Belfast to Iceland and he had calculated that he would be passing the total eclipse zone en-route. Shortly after taking off, he realised that he was flying too fast. So he decided to make up for it by flying in circles for a while before carrying on. Look at what the passengers saw below and top left.

An unforgettable flight

An unforgettable flight

Yes, I think that would have been a journey worthy of a delay. After all, next time if you want to see a solar eclipse in the UK, it will be year 2026, and that will be a very long wait indeed!

Have you seen it?

Have you seen it?

Posted in Social Media & Photography, True Life Story, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Second Liebster #Blog Award and My Favourite #Reads

P1000918A few days ago, I received a notification on my blog which says “Happy Anniversary” to me. On clicking it open, I found out why. Apparently, I started blogging exactly four years ago in March.

It’s a bit of a cliche but time does fly. I have written and published over 300 blogs during this time. There was a time when I was writing two or three blogs in a week, but for the past year, I’m keeping it at one a week, and time permits, I hope to continue.



Anyway, today I noted a message on my site from a Facebook friend and fellow blogger. She nominated me for a Liebster award. I won this award over three years ago and once displayed it on my site. It is originated in Germany.  Liebster means “favourite” or “dearest”, so you know.  According to the rule, the recipient of this award agrees to:

1 Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.
2 Display the award on your blog.
3 Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.
4 Nominate other blogs that you feel deserve the award.
5 Create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.

As it’s my second time, I am going to break the rule here by not nominating any bloggers. However, Jho’s questions look interesting, so here we go.liebster

1 What is your favorite genre?

John gave a reading of my book, Land of Hope

John gave a reading of my book, Land of Hope

Currently my favourite genre is crime fiction, although I enjoy reading other types of fiction too, but mostly contemporary, literary fiction.

2 What is your earliest memory on reading?

I think I started reading quite young, perhaps four or five years old from nursery school. I don’t actually much else about my childhood :(.

3 How old were you when you started reading for pleasure?
During my school years, it was the so-called ‘Cultural Revolution’, so not that many books available for leisure reading. I do remember ‘stealing’ classical Chinese literature from my parents’ locked suitcase and read banned books which my mother confiscated from other students, under bed cover at night when she wasn’t watching, of course.

4 What is your favorite book of all-time?2940015778229_p0_v1_s260x420

Jane Eyre – Can it possibly be anything else?!

5 What makes you read a book?

Sometimes the author (ones I read before and enjoyed), sometimes the back jacket, and sometimes recommendations from other book lovers.

6 Do you read MM fiction? If yes, what made you decide to read one? If not, would you try reading one?

Honestly? I had to look up to see what is MM fiction. That says it all, doesn’t?

7 Who is your favorite author and why?

Charlotte Bronte, simply because she wrote Jane Eyre, a classic gem like no other.

8 Do you read books with tragic endings? Why or why not.

I absolutely love books with tragic endings, hence my adoration of Thomas Hardy, another of my all-time favourite authors. Maybe that’s also why I like reading Scandinavian crime fiction. Not too many happy endings in Nordic Noir, of which you can be sure.

Reading one of my favourite authors

Reading one of my favourite authors

9 Ebooks or printed?

Fav holiday pastime: reading

Fav holiday pastime: reading

I love both. But my eyes hurt some evening after a long day staring into a computer screen at work, so nowadays I am reading more paperbacks.

10 Favorite rereads?

Do I dare to mention it again? Guess I do. Jane Eyre.

11 Do you read memoirs?

Not much. I prefer fiction, and some fiction do read like a memoir.

12 Okay, so I know it should only be 11 questions, but: Standalone or series?

It depends on how good they are. One of the most memorable series I read is Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. I also loved all the books by Henning Mankell, both his standalones and Wallander detective series. I loved reading, full stop.

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 17.00.20

Last but not least, my sincere thanks to dearest Josephine Litonjua who nominated me for this fabulous blog. Check her out!

Posted in Author Support, Interviews, Reading & Writing, Social Media & Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

My British and Chinese Mothers: Two Different Lives

My English Mother-in-Law

My English Mother-in-Law

My Mother

My Mother







While browsing through posts by friends on social media, i.e. Facebook and Chinese equivalent WeChat, as I usually do first thing in the morning, one post caught my eye: 中国老人抱怨儿子儿媳不孝顺,英国老人说的一段话让所有人沉默了…. To roughly translate into English: When the Chinese elders complain about son and daughter-in-law for not being filial, what do the British elders say in response?

I have seen it before. It is a mock dialogue between an elderly English parent and an elderly Chinese parent, and it started something like this:

Chinese parent: My son has no conscience, no heart.

British parent: What do you mean?

photo 3Chinese parent: He asked me if I was willing to live in an Old People’s Home!

British parent: Old people’s home is very good. I live in one.

Chinese parent: Oh? How could you go to such a place?

British parent: Why not?

Chinese parent: That is a place for the lonely old people. If I went, I would be the laughing stock among my relatives, and my life would be cut short.

British parent: That so? When you’re at a certain age, living in a Home is very convenient. How could it be a laughing stock?


This conversation goes on, talking about Chinese parents living with their children and grandchildren, British parents choosing to live on their own. There are also debates about why British children strike on their own from age 18, and they don’t give their parents money nor expect their parents to look after the grand children etc.

My grandma with her extended family

My grandma with her extended family

Obviously this conversation never took place for real, but I can easily imagine the scene if it did. You see, I have a very typical Chinese mother, who gave birth to four children and lived in China all her life. My mother in law, a beautiful Derbyshire woman, also has four grown-up children, like my own mother.

Chinese parents regarding looking after grandchildren as their duty

Chinese parents regarding looking after grandchildren as their duty

Today, I want to tell you a little bit about my two mothers, and how vastly different their lives have been. To show their differences, I’d like to start with the similarities between them.

My Mother Yijun and Mother-in-Law were born in the same year, 1933; my mum 6 months older. While my mother grew up in Sichuan province, had an University education, worked in a secondary school all her working life, retired when she was sixty and now happily living in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province. She never lived anywhere outside of Sichuan, and the furthest she has ever travelled to was Hong Kong. (I sometimes felt sorry that she was never able to visit me in the UK, but that is another story).

My Mother-in-law Maureen was born in Chesterfield in Derbyshire, the eldest daughter of a coal miner. Her family didn’t have enough money to send her to University. Working as a secretary she married an engineer who joined the RAF and travelled with him to Kenya. Following him to the USA she expanded her international experience before returning to the UK.

My Mother-in-Law with three of her her four children, John, Mike and SJ

My Mother-in-Law with three of her her four children, John, Mike & SJ

Free hospital treatment in the UK help ease the financial burden

Free hospital treatment in the UK help ease the financial burden on the family

Both my mother and mother-in-law were politically active in their time. While my Mother is a Communist Party member and spent many years of her life teaching political science in school, while I and my siblings were being brought up by our grandmother ( as was the case for Pearl Zhang in The Same Moon). My mother-in-law, on the other side of the globe, was active in the British Labour Party while working and bringing up her four children. Although they both shared an enthusiasm in politics during their prime, I suspect that my mother’s motivation was more a case of being embroiled in the political heat rather than a matter of choice.

In the last twenty years or so of their lives, while my Dad was still alive, they lived in a number of places in Sichuan, sometimes with one of my brothers, other times on their own with a full-time nanny – My father suffered from poor health and needed full time care for the last ten years of his life. After he passed away in 2006, my mother has been living with a full-time nanny of her own, although she spends some of her time with either of my brothers who are busy businessmen with families and children of their own.

With Mum and Dad in 1999

With Mum and Dad in 1999

Mum with Brother Bin's Family 2015

Mum with Brother Bin’s Family,  March 2015

My mother-in-law has separated from my father-in-law for more than twenty years, so for many years she lived on her own. We once offered for her to come and live with us. She didn’t even want to entertain that possibility, being the independent soul that she had been. It saddened me deeply when she was eventually diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease. For the past few years, she had full time care in her own house, but in the past weeks her conditions became so poor that she was transferred into a specialist care home.

With Maureen after she fell sick

With Maureen after she fell sick

It’s a real pity that my two mothers never met in person, although they talked on the phone  with me as their interpreter. Their conversation was not exactly like the one I cited in this post.

My own mother has fared better health wise. We talk on FaceTime sometimes and she recently started using WeChat and able to download Music, although I know that she had never used a computer and sent an email. But hey, this is the Internet Age and even an 82 year old dog can learn a new trick or two.

Celebrating two birthdays together in 2011, mum's and mine

Celebrating birthdays together in 2011, mum’s & mine

Shopping in Chengdu with Mum & Brother Jun

Shopping in Chengdu with Mum & Brother Jun

On this positive note, with the Mothering Sunday approaching at the weekend, I wish to send my love and prayers to my British and Chinese Mothers, and all mothers in this world. Have a great life no matter where you come from!

Happy Mother's Day to all Mothers!

Happy Mother’s Day to all Mothers!

Posted in China & East Asia, Economics & Society, Health & Sports, Social Media & Photography, True Life Story, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments