After retiring from SCPR, Aelfthryth joined John to set up the new Guardian office
in Shanghai (2001-03). She taught business English at Jiaotong University, volunteered at the Shanghai Children's Orphanage,
and travelled with me frequently, watching out for the police when I was not supposed to be "news gathering"
in a particular place. These included the birthplace of the Dalai Lama at Taktser, Qinghai province (2003). Previously,
Aelfthryth had stayed in Beijing in summer 1987, visited the Li River and Guilin (1993), Tibet (1994, we returned in 2002),
Xi'an and Yan'an (1997) and the Three Gorges (1998).
LETTER FROM SHANGHAI, 2001
FieldLink, June 2001 (National Centre
for Social Research)
little thought when I retired
August that 6 months later I would be teaching "Business English" to
MBA students at
University. I have a class of 44 students - and I used
to grumble that training courses of 15 were too large.
The students, who all have responsible positions in business and industry, are a
pleasure to teach and keen to improve their English, though it
is already very good. It has been a learning experience; we have a textbook of business case
studies and my
"Business English" stays one jump
ahead. Though my experience of training at the National Centre helped
get the job what counted most is not just being a native speaker, but speaking
Attempting to learn Chinese is not nearly so pleasurable - it must
be one of the world's most difficult languages. Not only
are there characters which have
to be individually learnt instead of a written alphabet,
tones which mean that the same word can have several different meanings depending on the tone, but the
grammatical concepts are very strange to people used to European
languages. I found it difficult to come to terms with a language that has no words for yes
and no, verbs that do not change for past and future tenses and no difference
between singular and plural
nouns. All this means that even when you have learnt some vocabulary
struggled to master the tones, sentence construction is still very difficult. But I am struggling on with it - going to classes twice a
and hoping that it will slowly become easier.
We have moved into a lane in the
French concession -
the area that gave Shanghai the name ''Paris of the
East" in the 1930s. It's a house with style - tall ceilings and
long narrow windows, with touches of art nouveau in the detail.
Sitting on the veranda seems a world
away from the bustle and dust of China - and then you look behind to see
more and more tower blocks rising as the new Shanghai reaches towards its goal of being the financial capital of
Asia. The lane is full of activity: in
the morning pensioners do their tai chi exercises with musical accompaniment outside our bedroom window. And all day long there are hand
bells ringing. Some are hawkers selling lychees, chickens feet or other
delicacies the exact nature of which I shall not know till my
Chinese has progressed rather further - though
I am relieved that in the year of the snake it is not considered good form to eat snake. Other bell ringers are collecting cardboard
and scrap that can be sold and recycled and we have been told that one
of the morning bells tells you it is time to open your windows and there is another
the evening when it is time to close them.
There are about 1,500 members of the
British Community in Shanghai and an active social life centred round an Irish pub called O'Malleys and
a club which holds regular coffee mornings - a great help with practical
information about things like shopping and water delivery while settling
They also organise voluntary work at the local orphanage
I have just started helping there one day a week - a great
incentive to try and improve my spoken Chinese. However I hope before too long, through the
students and teachers at the University, to have a social life which breaks free of
the expatriate mould.
The National Centre still feels
very close. I keep its website as the home page on my
computer and thanks to e-mail I
can correspond speedily with former colleagues and old friends, but it is particularly good to see a few on my visits back home.
|1994: Sera Monastery, Lhasa
|2002: View of Potala from the Jokhang, with pilgrims crossing the square.
|2001: |Shanghai Children's Orphanage
|2001: Wuzhen canal village, opera stage
|20003: No. 8, 1006 Huashan Road, Shanghai
|2003: Shanghai synagogue, former Jewish quarter
|2001: Panda snoozing at Wolong
|2000: The Great Wall at Simaitai
|2002: Jokhang, Lhasa
|2003: Dalai Lama's birthplace, with his nephew, Taktser, Qinghai