7 April 2022
I was so delighted that you addressed your last email to me by using my first name, ‘Robert’. Yes – I was absolutely delighted because it’s a symbol of our special relationship. Maybe one day I will have the chance to tell you some of the thoughts and feelings that have arisen for me about you (and in relation to you) during the times that we have known each other. You have been very good to me and I have great affection for you. But I think you are already aware of that!
As I write this letter I am, by chance, listening to a lovely song by Angel Olsen entitled ‘All the good times’; somehow it reflects several of the moments that we have shared in the last few years. It’s a very sweet song.
In many ways I am not surprised that, at some point in the future, you wish to return to the UK. Perhaps one of the best things about UK culture is that anyone (any person) can be what they wish to be and can express themselves however they choose. As I said before, it must be so different for you now that you are back amongst the wider family and the social conventions in Hubei Province. After your freedoms in the UK I suppose that there must be quite a contrast with the culture in Zhong Xiang. I even wonder what kinds of music you hear, what books and magazines you read and what you see on the television as well as on the internet. I wonder what sorts of things you discuss and what gives you most pleasure.
Over the years we have often referred to the various books and articles that we have been reading – sometimes for the purposes of study, sometimes just for pleasure and sometimes for information. When I look back at our email correspondence it is almost unbelievable to review all the subjects that we have addressed and all the questions that we have considered. It’s astonishing really. Sometimes I remember the extraordinary challenges that we had to overcome when you were studying at Goldsmiths – and how you would tell me about reading difficult texts on the buses in London! I even remember your reaction to the tutors at the University – and we could never forget your thesis which focussed on the informal teaching of a second langue to Anke! I imagine that you are continually being very supportive of both Anke and Ying Lun in their language development. Anke (Emily) must be very strong in her use of English. By now she will be far more accustomed to the style and type of education in her new school.
On Tuesday 5 April I bought a vintage copy of a book dating from 1952 entitled ‘Hare and the Easter eggs.’ The book is by a writer called Alison Uttley. She was an author of a series of children’s books (known as the Little Grey Rabbit books) and, in my judgement, she used the kind of English that was – and is – perfect for the development of a child’s language and imagination. When my daughters were very young I would read them one of the stories every night. I bought the book because soon it will be the traditional Easter time in the UK (do you remember that Anke used to have Easter holidays!) and I thought it would be a great present for Nadege’s twins. Although they are far too young to understand the text, one day, when they are older, they would have the pleasure of discovering the fact that, when they were almost one year old, they were given a book that was almost 71 years old! It is very charming story and uses some very good adverbs such as ‘haughtily’ and ‘softly and swiftly’ as well as ‘politely.’ It also has beautiful descriptions such as:
‘Away in the east the sky was bathed in golden light, and rosy clouds floated above the rising sun. All the animals gazed into the sky, and they saw the great orb of the sun come up from behind the hills, and dance to and fro that Easter Morning.’
This morning I read something which rather surprised me but which makes me want to relearn Latin. I discovered that a new approach to learning Latin in the UK is going to begin in September 2022 and which aims to help more state schools teach Latin in the UK. Latin teaching, in many schools, is still based on old 1950s models and, according to a new guide from the University of Cambridge, a fresh approach would attract more state-educated pupils. The guide’s author, Dr. Hunt, who has been teaching Latin for 35 years and trains new teachers, believes students should be taught to speak in Latin as well as learning written grammar and vocabulary. Wei, I am sure you would agree with many of his Ideas. He thinks that Latin should be exciting and relevant to young people’s loves and interests, and structured in the same way as the teaching of modern foreign languages – based on the four skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing. He notes that new approaches to learning Latin might be more engaging, should contain more variety, and reflect what we know of how young people learn languages. As I read this I thought about you and the way English is taught in China. Apparently, the new Latin guide includes a reference to a university lecturer who uses Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” to teach how to start for writing in Latin. Another teacher uses a YouTube channel featuring translated songs from the Little Mermaid and Frozen. I hope that Anke is continuing to enjoy learning English by making use of all sorts of ‘fun’ resources!
I also read some information about the training of nursery school teachers in England. I realised that various courses are offered and they include summaries of the responsibilities of the nursery teacher. I thought that you might be interested in what they have to say: for example, as we would expect, ‘A major priority is for Nursery Teachers to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for children aged 3-5.’ Nursery School teachers should also have a genuine passion for the development of very young children. They should always use a range of imaginative teaching resources and planned activities (including anything from stories, songs and games to drawing and creative play) which are designed to aid and nurture the development of children’s basic skills – like language, literacy, and numeracy. They are also responsible for the children’s overall wellbeing. This involves providing pastoral care, as well as promoting good behaviour and cooperation. Amongst the typical tasks and duties for a Nursery Teacher include the preparation of engaging learning activities as well as observing and reporting on children’s development. It’s very hard but very worthwhile work.
Most recently, life has been difficult for me. I have been troubled by a recurring back in my lower back and finally I had to make an appointment to see a doctor. As a result I had an X-ray and I await the results. Life has also been difficult because I have been terribly disturbed by the war in Ukraine and I do hope that a way will be found to arrive at a peace settlement. I have found it difficult getting to sleep because I keep seeing the images of death and destruction and I imagine the awful suffering of so many people. But I do not want to dwell on such a depressing state of affairs.
I also very much like seeing the photographs that you send to me. I would like to see many more of the one’s that show and describe more of your life in Zhong Xiang. You mentioned that you think I do understand you. Sometimes I do – but sometimes you remain an enigma. Sometimes you are very mysterious. I wonder, sometimes, what you really wish to happen in your life.
Yes – one day we may have the pleasure of meeting face to face. Well, I shall finish this letter now and I hope that you are doing well and faring well.
With very best wishes,
4 April 2022
Several months ago my daughter Nadege told me how charming, unusual and interesting you were as a character. She has a fond memory of you. I, too, have enjoyed your buoyant and generous personality. I thought I would write another letter to you because it may well be that aspects of life in the counties of the West (of Europe and North America) have changed or will be changing. The war in Ukraine – the illegal invasion of a sovereign country by the Russians – has been both shocking and unbearable.
But first, and on a happier note, I must make a reference to a recent cultural event: I think you would have enjoyed seeing the so-called ‘Grammy awards’ that celebrate the best popular music of the last year – and which attract the various stars and celebrities of the music world. The photos of people like Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish and Lady Gaga (as well as Dua Lipa) are wonderful and full of style. Here is Dua!
But now, I must turn to a very serious matter: I think that, for a long time, we all knew (here in the free democratic countries of the West) that Russia, its politics and the belief systems held by a large majority of its people were (and are) awful – but now we know for certain that Russia is a very nasty country. As I mentioned, we have been completely appalled by the conduct of Russia’s political leaders, its armed forces and the majority of its people as it has caused enormous suffering and trauma to the people of Ukraine. War crimes have been committed. (Of this there is no doubt.)
It appears that a new era in international relations has begun.
I have been studying the perceptions of people in the free countries which border Russia and which were once subjected to Russia’s former oppressive regime. These are countries such as Latvia and Poland and Slovakia. These thoughtful people – who know their history – condemn Russia. To give you an example of their thinking, here is what a senior army officer in the lovely country of Latvia said:
“I see a new Iron Curtain coming. Though this time, we’ll be on the western side,” reported the colonel: “We are living a new reality. For us Latvians the security environment is now gone. We spent 20 years fighting in Iraq, in Afghanistan. But now our main focus is here. How do we defend our freedom and our country?”
He said that ‘priorities have now changed across Europe’ and added: “People used to focus on economic wealth. Now it’s about defending our values and way of life.”
Latvians – along with their Baltic neighbours in Estonia and Lithuania – have been warning us about President Putin for years. Since all three countries were once part of the Soviet Union they understand the Russian leader and the Kremlin’s mindset better than most. The Prime Minister of Latvia, Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš, demands that the West has to accept that “Putin is not like us”. Using diplomacy and fine diplomatic words to try and persuade him not to attack Ukraine was always pointless because he, Putin, wants to replace democracy and destroy ‘our’ way of life.
And he warns: “He will not stop at Ukraine.”
So, Wei, there is a dreadful spectre haunting the decent countries of Europe. It is the spectre of a horrible Russian authoritarian regime (that none of us wants to see.)
As a result of Russia’s barbarism the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) and the European Union (the EU) are working more closely together than they have in 30 years. And this is why there may well be a new era of what is known as ‘Cold War’ politics. This means a complete distance in political and economic arrangements with Russia (and, most, if not all, of the countries that support or are allied with Russia. This means China is no longer seen as a friend.)
On a personal level, I have seen the verified films telling the truth about the atrocities committed by the Russians as they continue their savage and appalling invasion of Ukraine. China, though, has failed to condemn the Russians. Now, day after day, Russia has continued to attack, devastate and destroy civilian targets – such as hospitals, schools, churches and places where innocent civilians shelter. There is an excellent organisation called ‘Human Rights Watch’ that simply documents the facts of atrocities. It reports what actually happens – and what is objectively true. It shows us brutal killings of innocent civilians and the rape of women and girls by Russian soldiers. But despite the reality, Russia denies the truth and makes absurd claims that it is all ‘fake’. Well, it isn’t fake news. (I could give you the web address of the ‘Human Rights Watch’ but I am sure that you would feel really upset if you were to read the details of the atrocities and see the horror.)
However, China has still refused to condemn Russia for the invasion and has even stated that Moscow’s “legitimate security concerns” should be taken seriously. But in fact, Russia has no ‘legitimate security concerns’ with regard to Ukraine. (How can Russia have any legitimate concerns if Ukrainians do not want to be ruled by Russia?) The Russians do not have any right to destroy Ukrainian democracy. In the West – in the UK, Europe and the USA – we feel fury and deep anger towards the Russians as well as, inevitably and understandably, their allies – such as the Chinese. I have to say that China is now not particularly liked by the West. I think the west will try to achieve a distance from China and not rely on it for the manufacture of so many consumer goods. (I have already noticed that businesses are far less comfortable with the consequences of long-distance travel and transportation costs which are detrimental to the environment.)
This has been a sobering letter to write. I hope that you will be able to enjoy peace and stability in China. I hope that you are very happy with your life in Zhong Xiang. I often think about the good conversations that we have had over the last few years and I sometimes picture you as you continue your search for knowledge, happiness and goodness in the world about you,
With very best wishes,
7 January 2022
In this letter I shall focus on something you really like: I shall focus on Fashion. China has more and more amazing international fashion shows – in places like Shanghai and Beijing. If you haven’t had a look online at some of them – well, you must! For example, here is a picture of a fabulous design by Shuting Qiu.
But first, before I focus on some more fashion that I think you will find attractive, I simply must remind you that your mother and I had a great conversation on Saturday. It was the 1st of January 2022 – the very first day of the New Year. As you know, we really enjoyed each other’s company and we laughed a lot. Sometimes I saw you too! (And I heard all about the ‘revenge’ that you would be taking on your unfortunate father because he had been rather cross with you!) At one point your mother asked you, firmly, to ‘be quiet’! At that moment I thought, ‘Oooops, Emily! It’s not a good idea to be in your mother’s bad books!’
Your mother also told me about your exciting visit to the Universal Studios Centre. I was pretty sure, before you went, that, most of all, you would enjoy the Harry Potter rides. And you did! Then I heard about the incident with the ice cream – after which I heard about the excellent hotel – and that you had been swimming in the hotel’s swimming pool. It must have been a superb visit. (I bet you swan like a fish. Maybe you can dive like an angel, too…)
During the conversation with your mother you showed me the pink coat that you had bought at the Universal Studios Centre in Beijing. In fact, I had already had a glimpse of you wearing it. Your mother had sent me some photographs of your hotel room in the NUO hotel. And, in one of the photographs, you were wearing the coat. I could see the words that were written on the back: IT’S SO FLUFFY. It must be good fun to wear it – especially as pink is your favourite colour. Well, Emily, all the sales are ‘on’ at the moment in England. They are in full swing. So, it is a very good time to go shopping. Just before the end of December I visited a small city near to where I live and I went to Zara. When I was there, I thought of you and your mother. I was certain that both of you would love seeing all the clothes that were on display. Zara’s latest fashions are wonderful; they are really attractive – and, Emily, I know that you would like to wear some of them. There were stylish jackets and hip coats and amazing dresses and cool jumpsuits. In fact, I think you would have wanted to buy the shop! (Incidentally, I bought some sand-coloured trousers in Zara.)
I also read some reports about the Shanghai fashion week: Lots of people who saw it talked about the emergence of a ‘new Chinese style’. This style is perhaps best summed up by Shushu/ Tong (a brand founded in 2015 by Jiang Yutong and Lei Liushu) which combines Chinese aesthetics (tastes) with the energy of London streetwear. Chinese fashion designers are now far more confident in their use of Chinese design elements. So, it seems that in both showrooms and shows, there is a new trend in the Chinese fashion industry. You can see the traditional Chinese art mixed with striking new patterns. However, the top-performing brands that were most studied online included Dior, Versace and Louis Vuitton.
So, Emily, you too can have a lot of fun looking online at all the new styles and fashion trends for 2022. Because pink is your favourite colour, you might like Balenciaga’s pink and black track sandals
Zara has some great casual street looks as does Lola + the boys as well as H and M.
(Emily, here is a link for you: if you visit this site you will see some of the best modern fashion designs.
Well, Emily, the shops and shopping malls in Beijing are full of so many attractive clothes in all sorts of different styles; they have everything you could ever wish for! I can just imagine you going on a shopping and spending spree. And maybe, whilst you are in the shops, you would enjoy listening to C-Pop and to singers like Jolin Tsai. Someone told me that she is the ‘Queen of C- Pop’. She is a ‘trend-setter’ who is always changing her style. Her music is a mainly pop with a mixture of other genres like techno and even reggae. Have you listened to her songs ‘Ugly Beauty’ and ‘Play’? (But maybe it would be better to save most of the money that you were given for Christmas and the New Year …)
That reminds me: What are your New Year’s resolutions? Have you as many as the 14 that your mother has made? I think she has made some excellent resolutions; many of them are all about improving her quality of life. Like her, I want to ‘keep in shape’ and in good health. She is going to walk up the stairs to your apartment – perhaps two or three times a week. I am going to do my best to have at least 5 walks a week. I must also continue to avoid eating the wrong kinds of food. It has been difficult over Christmas and New Year because there are so many tempting things to eat – such as hot mince pies with cream – or Christmas pudding. But I have not eaten one mince pie nor any pudding.
Whilst I have been writing this letter I received a message from your mother with the news that she was on the train to Wuhan – before travelling by road on to the city of Zhongxiang. I am so pleased because, at last, you will be able to see your wider family. I hope you have a thoroughly enjoyable time in their company. They will be delighted to see your younger brother. I can imagine you telling your grandmother, your great-aunts, your cousins (and anyone else who you know) all about your new life In Beijing. Perhaps you will also tell them about the some of the many things you did when you were living in England. Perhaps, too, you will describe how you have settled into the new bilingual school! I am sure everyone would love to hear all about your travels – to places like Dubai – too.
Well, I will finish this letter now. I thought I would end by showing you a picture of a fashion style that I really like. Do you think your mother would suit these clothes? I think she would …
29 December 2021
As I begin to write this letter, you will have just finished your visit to the Universal Studios Resort in Beijing. You must have had an absolutely wonderful time. It must have been sensational.
I saw a very long film about the resort that was posted on Youtube. As a result, it was easy for me to imagine that you and Jack will have had one of the best times of your lives. It was so full of attractions! It was packed full of great experiences. I am wondering which one was your absolute favourite. And, I am wondering how many times you said, ‘Wow – that’s amazing.’
I am sure you had a fabulous time in ‘The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’. You must have really enjoyed ‘The flight of the Hippogriff.’ (And, Emily, a hippogriff really is a legendary creature. It had the front half of an eagle and the back half of a horse.) Did you see the pumpkin patch – and Hagrid’s hut? Did you fly on a broom over the Quidditch pitch to catch the golden snitch?
Perhaps the best part was going on the ‘Forbidden journey’ inside the towering castle of Hogwarts. Was it a dark ride full of thrills, drama and surprises? Wow – it must have been spell-binding!
Sometimes I think you would have loved to be a student in Hogwarts: Just think of all the fun and excitement you would be having as you learned to play with all that magic! Imagine, too, the friends you would make amongst the other students. (And inside Hogwarts you do not have to worry about your parents being around!!!)
I bet you loved being in the Kung Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness. It looked fantastic – with all those brilliant colours. And what about Hollywood? Did you feel like a star? Maybe – just maybe – you had a delicious burger with chips and a coca cola in ‘Mel’s Drive-in’ restaurant. Did you notice the big old jukebox there? It had some of the most famous old American pop songs? Amongst them was one of my favourites: it’s the song, ‘Summer in the city’ – by a band called ‘The Lovin’ Spoonful’. And did you see the huge American cars parked outside?
Minion Land had Minions everywhere; ‘Despicable me’ and ‘Super Silly Fun Land’ must have been funny and cheeky – and then there was that place with the special Minion ‘meet and greet’. (And I I mustn’t forget to mention the ‘Super Swirly’ either.) Emily, did you get a popcorn bucket? When the park first opened there were very long queues for the popcorn! Everyone wanted their bucket of popcorn.
Lots and lots of people say that they loved the Jurassic Park experience and the Jurassic World ride. If I had taken that ride, I would have been terrified at being chased around by a gigantic Tyrannosaurus Rex. And then there was the ‘How to train a dragon’ show – which was obviously awesome; the special effects were stunning. They were ‘out-of-this-world.’ They were fabulous.
Perhaps you bought one or two souvenirs to remind you of your amazing visit. But which ones? (I think I would have chosen a magic wand from ‘The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’.)
Did you stay at the NUO Resort Hotel? I learned that the 400 large smart rooms are filled with natural light and inspired by the Qing dynasty. (The Qing dynasty was the last dynasty in the imperial history of China. It was established years and years ago, in 1636. It ruled China from 1644 to 1912.) So, if you were lucky enough to be in that hotel you were keeping in touch with some of China’s history. I saw pictures from inside the hotel of the Lobby Lounge and the Cafe Royal. They are beautifully stylish. If you had the chance you may even have dined in the Cafe – or drunk tea in the Lobby Lounge. What a superb experience! As I said, it must have been two of the very best days in your whole life. I hope that your mother will have taken lots of photographs and that she will send me one or two.
Emily, I have a question for you: If you were going to design a theme park like the one in Beijing – what theme would you choose? Maybe it would be based on ‘Minecraft’. If I were designing one I think it would be all about the Greek myths and stories. Your mother once bought you a book called ‘The Usborne illustrated stories from the Greek myths.’ Do you remember this book? Well, one of the myths in the book told the story of the Greek hero, Heracles. He did amazing things because he was so strong. Imagine: it would be possible to have a great show all about Heracles. But I would also make sure that the park would include the famous story of ‘The Odyssey’. That is an epic tale – about a man called Odysseus and the very long voyage that he took across the seas. During the voyage he battled against dreadful monsters. Many strange and terrifying adventures happened; in one of them, Odysseus and his sailors met the amazing and beautiful goddess called Circe. She lived in a palace in the midst of a dense wood on her very own island. She sang with a lovely voice and she wove gorgeous clothes. She also had magical powers. She even had the power to turn some of the men who sailed with Odysseus into pigs! But she liked Odysseus very much and, to please him, she agreed to turn those men back into humans. (She even had a wand – just like the ones in Hogwarts!) Eventually she said, ‘goodbye’ to Odysseus – and so off he sailed for more incredible adventures.
Well, Emily, a new year is beginning. It will be 2022. Soon you will be looking forward to your birthday. You will also be looking forward to the Chinese New Year. Perhaps you will spend some time living in Zhong Xiang in Hubei province – or in your apartment in the great city of Shenzhen. With luck, during some of the year, you will have a good time with your wider family – with your aunts and cousins. And, in 2022, you will also make great progress in learning Chinese. In fact, I know that you will make excellent progress in all the subjects you study at school. It will be a year like a Tiger – of strength and power. Emily, when you wish you will be like a Tiger!
Before I finish I hope you will have also had the chance to practise some English words and phrases when you were at the Universal Studios Resort. Did you use any words like: ‘awesome’, or ‘breathtaking’, or ‘fabulous’, or ‘heart-stopping’, or ‘marvellous’ or ‘wonderful’ or ‘sensational’ – or even ‘jaw-dropping’? Or simply, ‘Mum, that was one the coolest rides ever.’
Now I will finish this letter – and as I do, I wish you and your family a very Happy New Year,
With best wishes
21 December 2021
Today, my home town is shrouded in fog. There is a stillness everywhere. Then suddenly I see that something is moving in the trees; it’s the grey squirrels! They are running along the bare branches – before leaping hither and thither like acrobats – and then sometimes pausing, proudly, to flick and twitch their bushy tails. They are still gathering nuts in preparation for the ice and cold of the forthcoming year. Sometimes the squirrels bury nuts in my garden. And then, when the Spring arrives they try, in vain, to find them again!
Soon it will be the 25th of December! It is almost ‘Christmas Day’ and nearly every house in the whole of England is full of Christmas decorations. In the centre of town I can see Christmas trees in many of the windows; they are covered in shining garlands and shimmering tinsel. More and more people have attached beautiful lights – which look like sparkling icicles or cascades of golden droplets – to the outside of their houses. And even the trees and bushes in the front gardens are aglow with special fairy lights and lanterns. I think you would love the atmosphere in England at the moment. (You may even remember having eaten some mince pies or Christmas pudding when you were living in London!) But I am sure you are having a very special time in Beijing – and you may even go to the cinema to see a film or to the theatre for a fabulous show. Perhaps, in Beijing, they will have a musical about Peppa Pig …
In my last letter to you I mentioned the name of another pig. His name, if you recall, is Wilbur. You can meet him in the book, ‘Charlotte’s web’. His life was saved by a spider called Charlotte who used her weaving skills to tell the world about how special he was. How did she do this? Well, instead of making the usual type of spider’s web she wove, in one of them, the large words, ‘Some pig’. When the farmer saw these words in the web that was right above Wilbur’s head he was amazed. He began to realise that Wilbur was extraordinary. Later she created another web with the word ‘Terrific’. Because of this the farmer decided to keep Wilbur.
Right at the end of the story Wilbur asked Charlotte a question:
‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it …’
‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life anyway. We’re born, we live a little while, we die … By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a little.’
It’s a good story – and, Emily, on the subject of pigs, I simply must introduce you to another one; this pig is a most amusing character. I first discovered him in a book called, ‘Friends’. The book is absolutely marvellous and has lovely, charming and funny illustrations. It is very short and simple – but some of the best things in life are short and simple. ‘Friends’ is about three animals; the story begins with the words:
‘Every morning, when Charlie rooster – the cockerel – strutted into the barn to wake the other animals, Johnny mouse and fat Percy the pig went with him to help. “Good friends always stick together,” they said. When this job was done they wheeled their bicycle out of the barn and set off for their morning ride. They could ride down the roughest paths and up the steepest cliffs.”
And the story continues by telling us about their adventures together. They even ate too many cherries one day – and I am sorry to say that they had dreadful tummy aches after their indulgence. (It is rather like eating too many lollipops …) But the great thing about Johnny mouse and Charlie the cockerel and Fat Percy is the fact that they are good loyal friends. They even try to sleep together but realise that sleeping in a pigsty isn’t much fun!!! I have taken a photograph of the illustrations of them and I imagine, Emily, that one day, you may decide to draw pigs like Fat Percy! He is quite a character.
(I must add that at Christmas time in England people often choose to eat something called ‘pigs in blankets’. The dish is made up of trays full of small sausages (called chipolatas) which are wrapped in bacon and flavoured with rosemary and mustard. They are delicious!)
In my last letter to you I described some of the sensations I had whilst I was out walking in the large park in my home town. Yesterday, in the early evening, I had another walk – but this time I walked past a river that runs through the centre of Farnham. As I walked, I noticed the scent of damp fallen leaves gradually mingling with the blue-grey smoke that was drifting from bonfires; then, to my surprise, I passed an iron grill upon which someone was cooking chestnuts; and, as I walked on through the town, I noticed the aromas of cooking; first, it was the distinct smell of curries; then it was kebabs with onions; and finally it was the marvellous fragrance of someone cooking Chinese food. I think they were using aniseed and chilli and sesame seed oil. And that reminded me of all the different types of spices that are used in so many of the most popular dishes in China. Which spices? Well, they include Ginger, Garlic, Star Anise, Cloves, Chilli, Chinese Cinnamon and Sesame Seed (oil). (Emily, I must say that just writing the names of these spices is making me feel hungry … )
As you know, in England we love Chinese food. (We love Indian and Thai curries too.) But ‘Star Anise’ is something that is not very well known here. In fact, most Englishmen and women may never have actually seen the little brown 8-pointed star-shaped seed pods. However, millions of people from northern to southern China love the taste of star anise and think it is a very healthy ingredient to mix with the ‘high Yang’ herbs and spices.
I have also been thinking about Chinese cuisine because your mother had the pleasure, recently, of being invited by Jack’s father to a rather special restaurant in Beijing for lunch. I have a feeling it was a fancy up-market restaurant! (After the meal the luncheon party went off to play golf!) But I wonder what your mother chose to eat from the menu! I am guessing now – but could it have been Kung Pao Chicken – the famous Sichuan-style speciality? Or Twice-cooked pork, another one of the famed Sichuan pork dishes? Or even Steamed turbot, a traditional steamed fish dish originally from Guangdong Province? Maybe it was Oyster omelette or even Fried shrimps with Longjing tea … And your mother will have dressed beautifully for the occasion. I hope she had a wonderful day.
Your mother also told me that instead of going to live in Shenzhen you may return and enjoy the closeness and support of your family in the city of Zhong Xiang. I think that this is a very attractive idea. You would feel the warmth and love of all your relatives. In fact, it will be your birthday on 23 January 2022. That’s just before the Chinese New Year celebrations and the beginning of the year of the Tiger. Imagine, Emily, if you moved to Zhong Xiang you would be able to enjoy the year of the Tiger in the company of so many of your family relations. One of the most important sayings in China is: ‘During difficult times, it is your family that supports you.’ And in our last conversation your mother mentioned to me the Chinese word that is used to describe the importance of maintaining family bonds and connections. But what is the word, Emily? Is it ‘Ganqing’?
I shall end this letter with a prediction. I should have mentioned this to you when we were conversing last Saturday. I was on the point of saying this to you but you were so absorbed by something on Youtube that I did not wish to interrupt you. What is my prediction for the future? Well, it’s about you and your baby brother! I think that as your little brother grows up he will think that you are the best ‘big’ sister he could ever have! He will be very proud of you because you are clever and talented and spirited and beautiful; he will admire you and he will always be faithful to you. What is more, you will be able to teach him many things – and even help him to learn English. Yes, Emily – he will adore you!
With very best wishes to you and your wonderful mother,
PS. I have included some photographs of the illustrations of Fat Percy, Johnny mouse and Charlie cockerel. The illustrations are in the book, ‘Friends’ by Helme Heine.
14 December 2021
A few days ago it was your birthday. Congratulations, Emily! It was your ninth birthday! On such a special day I expect your parents will have chosen one or two wonderful birthday presents for you. If you had been in England, I would have sent you a parcel containing some of the very best books for children. (In fact, I sent your mother a short list with the titles of some of those books.)
And guess what? On the day of your birthday I was in an old bookshop. I bought a hardback copy of a very special book called ‘A letter for Tiger’. The book has beautiful and sometimes very amusing illustrations. It’s about a little tiger who is a bit depressed and who doesn’t want to get up in the morning. (Wait a minute! Does that sound familiar? I think your mother told me that you also don’t want to get up in the morning !!!) Anyway, the little tiger asks his friend, a little bear, to write him a letter. And, to make the little tiger feel better, the bear really does write him a letter; before too long many other animals – such as the fast-running hare – become involved with more of the letters; and, they help to develop a delivery system. But, because they are so ingenious, they begin to create an early form of the internet. (Good for them!)
I also bought a copy of ‘Charlotte’s web’ by E.B. White. Many people say that ‘Charlotte’s web’ is an outstandingly good book – and really heart-warming to read. I know that Peppa Pig used to be one your favourite characters – and the story of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ tells us about another pig; this pig is called Wilbur. (I don’t think Wilbur ever met Peppa but if they were to meet I am sure they would be the best of friends.) Wilbur is a fat little pig – and nearly all fat little pigs are destined to meet the same fate: Yes, Emily, you’ve guessed it: they will end up as roast pork. (Or perhaps as ‘sweet and sour’ pork.) Anyway, ‘Charlotte’s web’ tells us how Wilbur (who, of course, didn’t want to die) was helped by his friend Charlotte to escape his fate. (But I cannot tell you how they did this because that would spoil the story.)
For the last few weeks I have been reading a famous book by a French writer called Marcel Proust. He was a rather unusual man because he spent much of his time in bed. I have even seen a reconstruction of his bedroom in a museum in Paris. Despite the fact that he spent ages in bed, his writing was always brilliant. His descriptions tell us of the way he ‘looked’ at nature: for example, he saw paintings in the skies; in the shapes of flowers, he saw the spires of cathedrals; in the delicate first blooms of Springtime he saw ballet dancers. And he saw ‘the burning blue flames’ of the tiny violets. When I go for walks I often think of the way he, Marcel Proust, might describe what I am seeing.
Well, Emily, you can see the influence that this writer has had on me: during the week, I went for a long walk in Farnham park. On the day before (which was a Monday) the sky had been clear and blue and bright. There were still plenty of leaves on the oak trees. All the other trees had lost theirs – but not the oaks. When the sunlight shone upon them, the oak leaves glinted gold and bronze and yellow ochre; but, the next day on my walk the sky was overcast; there was a slight mist in the air and the leaves of the oaks were now turned the colour of russet – a dull-faded brown. But when the sunlight suddenly reappeared, well, just for a moment, they shone in gold once again. Then, and after a while, I began to look above the trees at the sky: it was just like seeing a watercolour painting; all the soft greys of the clouds had merged into one another. It could even have been an oil painting in which the artist had blended all the colours together; there were no edges to anything; the gentle damp mist cast a hazy veil over the outlines of the trees. And, I wondered if you would have enjoyed looking at those oak trees and the sky and the mist – and then painting a beautiful picture in which all the colours would be merged into one another. (And now I am wondering if you received a box of water-colour paints for your birthday!!!)
When I last spoke to your mother I asked her if you would be going on a ‘spending spree’ before Christmas. And she replied that, for the moment, you would not. But she did say that she would be taking cup-cakes to your school. Emily, why are cup-cakes so perfect? Why are they the ‘bees’ knees’? I don’t know the answer; that’s one of those great mysteries. And then she gave me the dramatic news that you may be going to move to the city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong. If you do move to an apartment there that will surely be a special event; Shenzhen is described by the authorities as a ‘model city’ – not just for China but for the world. Imagine that! You would find yourself living in a really modern – in fact, a ‘hyper ultra modern’ city. And that would be an enormous contrast with where I live in England. My home town has hardly any modern buildings – and not one high-rise tower block. It has alley ways and crumbling brick walls and an old market square. It’s the kind of town that everyone likes because it has such a long history and the old houses are charming to see.
It is not long now before Christmas. I wonder if you have seen two great Christmas animation films: the first is ‘The Snowman’ and the second is ‘Arthur Christmas’. ‘The Snowman’ is a lovely film about a young boy who builds a snowman that comes to life. After a while, the Snowman takes the boy’s hand and they fly off to meet Father Christmas at the North Pole. There, the boy is given the gift of a ‘snowman scarf.’ When they return to the boy’s house he goes to sleep but when he wakes in the morning the snowman has melted away. But the boy still has the ‘snowman scarf’ and he treasures the memory of the snowman. It is an absolutely lovely film.
‘Arthur Christmas’ is about something that happened during one Christmas. What happened? Well, very sadly, one little girl didn’t received her Christmas gift because something went wrong with the delivery system. So, it was up to Santa Claus’s eager younger son, Arthur, to find a way of solving this problem. He tries to do this with the help of his grandfather and an old sleigh … (but Emily, I will not say anymore – in case that would spoil your pleasure in seeing the film.)
Last week you asked me a question: you asked me at what age I was when I started drawing. In fact, I was about 11 years old when I started to draw properly. I drew maps of the world. I did this because I loved our lessons in geography. And I put different colours around the edges of each country. Of course, I coloured the seas and the oceans blue. Then, when I was 13, I started to study biology. I drew plants and animals. Later, at university I even drew the shapes of microscopic plants and animals. I had to draw what I could see through microscope. It was not until I was older that I drew ‘still life’ compositions. So, Emily, you have begun to draw 3-dimensional objects at a much earlier age than me. What is more, your designs are very artistic. I think your mother was correct when she said that you are very strong in art.
As I write this last paragraph the night is beginning to fall. It is getting dark. From a window at the front of my house I can see a magical sight. What is it? Well, a large number of primary school children have assembled. They have lanterns and candles and they are singing Christmas carols. They sing beautifully. They finish with ‘Silent Night’. You may even remember some of those carols from when you were living in England. When we next have a conversation you may wish to tell me some of the songs you are now singing in China.
With very best wishes to you and your mother,
PS. Here are two photographs of the first illustrations in the book, ‘A letter for Tiger’.
The first one shows the little tiger lying on a table. He is telling the little bear that he feels very lonely when the little bear goes fishing. But, of course, the little bear has to go and get food otherwise they would have nothing to eat. And the little tiger is also asking the little bear to write him a letter so that he won’t feel so lonely.
Then, the second illustration shows the little bear taking a break from his fishing – and writing a letter especially for the little tiger.
You can see, in the first picture, how the little tiger is looking a bit depressed. In the second, you can see the great care that the little bear is taking as he writes the letter. But this is only the beginning of the story …
7 December 2021
In my last letter to you, I mentioned that the town in which I live has a castle. It is a very old castle and it began to be built over 900 years ago. Its most ancient parts are made of a light-grey coloured stone – whilst the more recent additions are made of a reddish-brown brick. Sometimes I visit the gardens that surround the castle buildings; they are beautiful and very well-maintained; they have a profusion of different types of flowers and shrubs and it is a delight to see them – especially in summer. (The scent of the roses is just like a perfume made by Chanel.) In the middle of a large sweep of grass lawn there is a small pond; its water is the colour of transparent olive-green and bronze. If I look beneath the surface, I can see some clusters of goldfish in their colours of orange and coral pink. Many long slender reeds grow upwards from inside the pond; in summer, the dragonflies come to rest on the tips of those reeds. Sunlight sparkles and dances on the delicate wings of the dragonflies – which shine and shimmer in brilliant iridescent colours. I am sure that you would create wonderful sketches of these lovely creatures.
However, Emily, in addition to the castle, the town of Farnham in Surrey also has an Art College. In fact, it is called ‘The University for the Creative Arts.’ I think that one day, in the future, you might even study at this University. Why do I think that? Well, it’s because I saw your drawings and colourful sketches! In addition, I heard you telling me about your absolute love for playing ‘Minecraft’. So, I ‘put two and two together’, and I had the idea that, because of your artistic talent and your imagination, you may become a first-class graphic designer or illustrator. And that is why I could imagine you becoming a student at the nearby ‘University for the Creative Arts’: it offers very good degree courses in those subjects – in the subjects of Graphic Design and Illustration. It also offers courses in Animation as well as in the design and development of computer games like ‘Minecraft’. I often see people making amazing cartoons and creating fabulous magical moving images. What is more, there are lots of Chinese students who are currently studying at this University. I know some of them and they tell me that they are having a ‘great’ time in the UK.
But, guess what Emily? As I write this letter to you, I can actually look out from my window and see the buildings of the University! It is only 100 metres from where I live! It even has a new centre dedicated to the Performing Arts. I remember that both you and your mother used to go to dance and movement classes in England. In other words, you were beginning to practice some of the Performing Arts. I am sure you will have danced to Miley Cyrus’s song ‘Nothing breaks like a heart’.
At the moment, one of the most popular singers and performers in England is a young woman called Olivia Rodrigo. She is an 18 year old American singer (who writes her own songs) and she is also an actress. Her songs include three that have been chosen as some of the very best ‘popular music’ records of the year 2021. The first is ‘Drivers License’ – which quickly went to the top of various charts worldwide. It also won the award of ‘Best song of the year’; this was followed by two others: ‘Deja Vu’ and ‘Good 4 U.’ (‘Deja vu’ is a French expression which is sometimes used in English; it actually refers to a strange experience or feeling: it is very difficult to describe this particular experience in words – but it relates to the fact that sometimes people feel that they have lived through the present situation before. I wonder if your mother has experienced this feeling of ‘deja vu’; perhaps you can ask her!)
Last Saturday, your mother told me that she had been thinking about some of the most important things in human life. In other words she was describing to me some of her values. She said that she thought it really important not to be selfish; instead, she said that we (all of us) should try to make a contribution that would be for the good of humanity; we should also try to make a positive contribution to society. Your mother also thinks that politeness and showing respect for others are two very important virtues. And I agree with her. (I imagine that you are also familiar with the teachings of Confucius – and the importance of ‘benevolence’ as well as ‘fidelity’.)
Soon it will be Christmas in England. It is meant to be all about friendship, kindness and the importance of the family, even in the hardest of times. I cannot remember how many Christmases you were able to enjoy when you were living in London. I think your mother once told me that you saw the sparkling Christmas illuminations in places such as Oxford Street and Regent Street. I even recall that you saw the shop window displays in Harrods, displays that were choc-a-bloc with luxury goods. That must have been a great experience. Well, I am sure that Beijing will now be full of Christmas decorations and so, it will be the perfect time for you to dress up in your favourite party clothes. (And why not choose something that glitters and sparkles?) And, as I think about things that sparkle, I imagine that, in the evenings, the view from your apartment on the 8th floor must look very special – as you see all the lights and the reflections in the glass windows of the surrounding apartment buildings …
Since I have mentioned the names of a few colours in this letter I thought I would finish by referring to four of the ways the word for a colour appears in a special type of English expression. This kind of expression is called an ‘idiom’. The four I have chosen are: ‘Out of the blue’, and then, ‘Green with envy’, next, ‘A red rag to a bull’ and finally, ‘A white elephant’. When we next have a conversation perhaps you will be able to tell me what those expressions mean!
With very best wishes to you and your mother,
PS. And, Yes, Emily – for fun, you could, for example, say to your English teacher: ‘The other day, and right ‘out of the blue’, I built one of the best shelters ever created in Minecraft’. (And then you can tell the teacher how you made it.)
2 December 2021
Earlier this week something very unusual happened: one evening, a few days ago, I decided to go for a walk. It was already dark when I left my home – and I set off for a nearby park. Once in the park, I began walking along an avenue of tall trees. They were bare and leafless. By now it was so dark I could scarcely see a thing. After a while I started to feel something touching my face; it was as if the tail of a cat was gently brushing against my nose. What, though, was it? What was touching my face? Then, as I passed a lantern in the park, I could see, in the soft glow of its light, that tiny flakes of snow had begun falling. So, it was these little drops of ice that I had felt on my face. However, the more I continued walking the heavier the snow became. Little by little, the snow began to settle upon me. And so, by the time I arrived home, I looked just like a snowman! I was covered from head to toe in snow. That night it was bitterly cold; the next morning, when I looked out onto my garden, I noticed that a thick layer of snow was covering the frozen ground. A sharp frost had made icy patterns on the windows of my house. I knew that if I were to venture out of doors I would have to wear my warmest clothes. I could see that all the water in the bird-bath had turned to ice; it meant that the unfortunate birds would have nothing to drink. I had to break the transparent ice and fill the bath with some fresh water. So, Emily, this year, after a mild warm autumn, winter has suddenly arrived. Here, in my home town in England, it is very unusual to have a fall of snow before December.
Since it is so cold, Emily, I imagined that it might be just as cold – or even colder – where you live in Beijing. Your mother had told me that sometimes the temperature was already below zero. And, Yes! – when I looked at the weather forecast it said that in Beijing you were going to have some wet snow – and that it would go down to minus 4 degrees (-4C) during the night. So, when you go out, it will be necessary for you to put on your coat and ‘wrap up’ warmly. You will have to be as ‘snug as a bug in a rug.’
The cold has made me think of the Winter Olympics! Soon, as you know, the Olympics will open in Beijing and in Zhangjiakou – which is in the Chongli mountains. In fact, Zhangjiakou will host the majority of the ski and snowboarding events – including the exciting snowboard races. (I really like watching the snowboard races because I can never tell who is going to win.) I noticed that it takes no time at all to travel by the high speed train from Beijing to Zhangjiakou. But, I also noticed that it can be extremely cold in the Chongli mountains – especially when the icy wind blows.
All this reminds me that China is a country with a great range of magnificent scenery. And Emily, I wonder if you have heard of two of China’s very special places: The first is ‘The Reed Flute cave’; the second is ‘The Stone Forest’. Perhaps you have already visited them. But if you have not you might go there one day accompanied by your parents and your little brother.
‘The Reed Flute cave’ is in Guilin in the Guangxi region. The cave has a great number of various exquisite stalagmites, stalactites and stone pillars. Why is it called ‘The Reed Flute cave’? Well, it’s because abundant reeds grow and thrive outside the mysterious cave – and these can be used to make flutes. That is how the cave came to be named. Just imagine how lovely the sound all those flutes must be! Today, the inside of the cave is made even more beautiful because it is lit with gorgeous coloured lights.
The other very special place is the famous ‘Stone Forest’. The Stone Forest is amazing to see. It is located in Shilin Yi Autonomous County, in the Yunnan Province, and, as the name suggests, it looks like an enormous forest of huge stones. (In the history of China it was known as the ‘First Wonder of the World’. That just shows you how special a place it is.)
So, Emily, if you go online and search the internet with your mother, you can discover more about the ‘Reed Flute cave’ and the ‘Stone Forest.’ You will see many beautiful photographs that make those places look magical. Perhaps you will also discover other wonderful places to visit in China. If you do, then I hope you will take your coloured pencils and pastels with you and create some lovely works of art. I was most impressed with the drawings that you showed me last week. They were excellent and, as your mother said, you are very good at art.
Well, Emily, I live close to a place you once visited when you were living in England. Do you remember that you went to see the Peppa Pig Park (in Hampshire)? The town in which I live is not far from that Park. The name of my town is ‘Farnham’ – in the county of Surrey. It is a very old town; it has a castle and most of the houses have gardens and the town is really special because it has very many different types of trees. In my garden I have apple trees, a tall silver birch, lilacs and one or two fir trees. I really like these trees because they attract the birds. I even had a woodpecker that came to visit me as I was writing to you!
I will finish now; I hope you have enjoyed reading my letter – and I have included one or two words that you may like to use when you are next with your English teacher at school; Words like: ‘mysterious’ and ‘venture’ and ‘abundant’ – and even the phrase ‘snug as a bug in a rug’! You could even say: ‘Hey! Guess what: today I’m as snug as a bug in a rug!’
With best wishes to you and your mother,
27 November 2021
It is now the end of Autumn in England. Today a cold wind, coming all the way from the frozen lands of the north, has begun to blow across the country. Everyone has begun to wear warm coats and beautiful woollen scarves with matching woollen hats.
The town in which I live has already adorned itself with Christmas lights. In the evenings, when the sun has set, they sparkle and glow in silver and gold. The shop displays are simply lovely to see. They are full of Christmas gifts. I remember that your wonderful mother used to tell me about some of the presents she chose for you at Christmas-time; and she told me about the books that you would both read together. (Maybe you even read some books by Roald Dahl.) And she told me that she took you to see the ‘Lion King’ when you were living in London. You went to see Peppa Pig too. Now that you are living in Beijing I wonder if you remember all those days that you spent in England. I wonder if you remember all the books you read and all the sights that you once visited.
Your mother used to tell me about the progress you had made in learning English. Sometimes it was difficult for you and sometimes you did not really feel like having to study all the time. But, little by little, you became bilingual; You must feel very proud to be able to use two languages. To speak both Chinese and English is a great achievement. It is a privilege to be able to write in both of them, too. So, ‘well done’ to you, Emily.
How different Beijing is to Kensington in London! Beijing is huge and full of skyscrapers and tower blocks. London is different: it has a large variety of buildings and is full of houses made of bricks. Your mother used to tell me that you would catch the big red London buses, sit on the upper deck, and travel around the various parts of the city; she told me how you would look out at all the shops – as well as at all the people hurrying here and there. And she would tell me how you learned all the English words for travel. Words like: Journey – and Trip – and Adventure – and Expedition – and Exploration.
Then, one day she even told me that you loved a special song by Miley Cyrus: Do you remember it? I am sure you remember that it was ‘Wrecking ball.’ At the moment Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish are also huge stars in England. I even recall that your mother told me about your favourite foods – like hamburgers and ice-cream – but she never told me which was your favourite flavour. (Maybe you will tell me.) How different the delicious Chinese food is in Beijing compared with some of the typical English meals.
Then, after living in Kensington, you moved to the outskirts of London. I never quite knew where you went to school. When you were there you had a holiday in Dubai. Once there, you had a great time in the shopping malls and you loved seeing all the luxury goods.
Well, Emily, I saw you for the first time on Saturday 20 November; You had the most beautiful lustrous hair that I have ever seen: it was very long and dark and shining. You were wearing a special T shirt (I think it was a T-shirt) upon which was the design of an Ox. It’s the year of the Ox in China. So, it’s a great year for being a bit like an Ox: In China the Ox is the symbol of diligence, persistence, and honesty.
Emily, if you are diligent and persistent you will be very good in Chinese and excellent at English. It’s a good thing to be honest and conscientious too. (Conscientious is one of those ‘high-level’ words that your mother likes to use.) Hey! You can tell your English teachers that you are ‘conscientious’.
It’s evening now in England. The wind has become even colder. Tonight it will freeze. It is time for me to finish this letter to you and to wish you great happiness in your new life in the great capital city of China, Beijing.
With best wishes to you, your mother, father and your little brother too,
November 27 2021