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A letter to London’s pigeons

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Dearest Pigeons,

I am writing with regards to the recent unpleasant experiences I have had with you and fellow members of your species.

If I may, allow me to begin by drawing your attention to the typical quirks of British behaviour, specifically the values of the Britons residing in London. The City of London is a cosmopolitan one, and – I like to believe – inclusive. Yet, I am sure none need reminding of the unspoken and unwritten conventions that regulate public behaviour. One need only think of journeys on the tube to know that London commuters favour minimal eye contact; exchanges between strangers rarely ever extend beyond “Hello, how are you? – Fine, and you? – Fine”, before both parties move on; and, unlike in the colder, northern recesses of the country*, Londoners are not over-friendly, and never too close.

Your kind, on the other hand, despite starting out more British (in this particular regard) than we ever were – flapping away as soon as a fellow human got a little close – have become so accustomed to our presence, that our behavioural norms concern you no more. No longer do the habits of Londoners influence you. Oblivious to our customs, it is as if you have lost all regard for our personal space, caring not for offending us with your total disregard for it.

Allow me to take this opportunity to remind you that, I, for one, value my personal space, and consider your ‘closeness’ to me an invasion of privacy. Swooping directly above me – flaunting your superior ability of independent flight – is tolerable,  but flapping your wings mere inches from my face is NOT okay, and trying to eat my sandwich with me is most definitely NOT okay.

On behalf of my fellow citizens, I request and implore you to adopt more British values, to learn from the way we interact with each other and implement your findings in your interactions with us. While I understand that societies and cultures are constantly transforming, and in fact, I encourage societal and behavioural advance, the changes as dramatic as the ones you are attempting to enforce take many generations before being accepted.

I would very much appreciate if the issues highlighted in this letter are considered seriously, allowing us to work together to foster a relationship of mutual respect and distance, benefiting both the humans and the pigeons of London.

I look forward to working with you, and thank you in advance for your cooperation.




*It’s called a joke, guys. I’m pretty much one of you; take no offence.


Who’s in the Library?

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I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently in unintentional observation of the creatures that often migrate to a particular book-filled place of silence at this time of year. Yes, I am talking about the university library, which draws students in their masses towards it when exams inevitably roll around.

Below is a short list of the different types of library-goers I’ve encountered on my travels. Perhaps you will recognise a few; you may even spot yourself.

1. Organisational overload

This person will come in, set down their lever-arch file, books, pens, paper, highlighters, post-it notes, spare pens, hole-puncher, stapler, spare pens for the spare pens… you get the picture. Naturally, their file is colour-coordinated as if their life depends on it: dividers all down the length of the folder, those colourful sticky labels, and not a sheet out of place. By the time everything is arranged on their desk, it’s almost time for lunch.

2. ALL the technology

They walk in with headphones on, iPod in hand, sit down. An iPhone comes out of their pocket, and onto the desk. They fish out a charger from their bag, and pull out a MacBook Pro, its charger and an iPad. I don’t know what they might be eating for lunch, but my bet would be on apples.

3. The one who’s always there

My library isn’t open 24 hours like most university libraries. But there’s always that one person who, when you go in just as the library has opened, is already there, head-down, scribbling furiously. They don’t move the whole day: you  take your lunch break, come back, leave at the end of the day, and come back the next morning only to find them in the same position, in the exact same spot.

4. The one who’s never there

In total contrast to the one above, this person will come in, claim their place, and then immediately leave, having marked their territory.

5. The water drinker

There is nothing more to be said about this girl (yes, it’s gotta be a girl) except that she is taking gulps of water before and after taking gulps of water. Nothing else is getting done.

6. The noisy one

They stumble in oblivious to the rustle of their rustly jackets, drop their bag with a thud, and proceed to rustle as much as possible while taking off their rustly jackets. They plop into a squeaky chair, jiggle around in order to confirm whether it was a one-off squeak or actually a squeaky chair – it’s almost always the latter – thus leading them to get up and swap it for the one at the next desk. Of course, there will be much banging throughout this oh-so-reckless process, followed either by excessively violent keyboard-bashing, or paper ruffling, or both.

7.  The cluttered one

Their work space will often be filled with a bunch of stuff that they will have undoubtedly convinced themselves are necessary: Vaseline, hand cream, an energy drink, hand sanitizer (why..?!), tissues, cereal bars, chewing gum.. Again, usually a girl, though I mean to make no generalisations.

8. The enigma

Typically an unshaven male wearing a crumpled-tshirt (again, meaning no generalisations) enters the library, takes the first empty spot he finds, sits down, opens his laptop and alternates between peering intently at the screen, typing with a furrowed brow, and biting his nails. After about two hours of this, he suddenly yet purposefully closes the lid of his laptop, tucks it under his arm and strides out.

9. The couple

This is a library. Go away.

10. Silent disco-ers!

A line of people came stamping (read: attempted dancing) through the library, in some sort of substandard recreation of a conga line. I’m not sure what the purpose of this was – I understand it’s a bit of fun, but seriously, there’s better places and better ideas. It actually turned out to be not-so-silent after all anyway, because muffled giggling was accompanying their failed attempt at marching silently through.

My exams for this year have only just ended, and I’m already actually missing the library! (Is that weird?)

H&M’s true beginnings

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La duzi, 拉肚子

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A quick story that our Classical Chinese teacher decided to relate to us today:
He’s a very nice man, quite old, but his sense of humour is really quite strange. He chuckles somewhat creepily after almost every other sentence, when it wasn’t even the least bit amusing, but today he said something which we’d probably be able to call half a joke by his standards, cos at least there was a punchline of sorts. So, without further ado, Chinese sense of humour for you, readers:

Teacher: Once, an American student who was also studying abroad here came and asked me if it was the Chinese water that had given him 拉肚子 (la duzi) = diarrhoea. *creepy chuckle*.
I said to him, “No, it’s not… maybe it’s because your stomach is an American stomach! Hahahahhaaaaaa..!”.

I’m sure you’re all just rofl-ing. We found it hilarious too. Genuinely… Almost genuinely.

He then proceeded to chuckle to himself and, still laughing, told us that when he went to America and drank milk, he got 拉肚子 (la duzi, diarrhoea) straight-away. More chuckling here.

Turns out he told us that story as a personal(ish) example, for the purpose of explaining a phrase, 水土不服, shui tu bu fu, meaning “not acclimatized”.

Although it may seem unusual for someone to casually go around talking about their bowel issues, 拉肚子 la duzi, is a really really common ‘topic of conversation’, so to speak. Kinda like the way the topic of weather is for the Brits…
We’ve all been told numerous times that eating this and that will give you la duzi, and that you better drink warm water after eating this in order to avoid la duzi, and don’t eat that food at that particular time of day otherwise you’ll get la duzi, and oh! What happened to you last night..? I bet you got la duzi, right?!
Uhh, no actually, and if I did, it’s not exactly the sort of thing that people typically broadcast.

A pen, anyone?

If, like me, you lack creativity, and find it difficult to think of a name for your blog site that you like, here’s a tip: Ask a Chinese taxi driver.
However, if it turns out that the name is already taken, I have no advice. In my case, I quickly settled for an uncreative name.
For those of you who don’t understand any Chinese, I will try to explain, but we all know what happens when you try to explain something amusing…
Over a week ago now, I had my first experience with a Chinese taxi driver on the ride from the airport to my hotel, where I’ll be spending a few nights until I can move into my new accommodation.
My friend and I were asked our names; not in the mood for repeating my name multiple times and then almost certainly still having to correct the taxi driver, I gave him my nickname, Ibby, to which he laughed and said: “ibby jì hǎo” (Ibby is easy to remember).
Shortly afterwards, when our names came up again in conversation, he turned to my friend sitting in the passenger seat, pulled an imaginary pen out of his shirt pocket, and offered it to her, saying ‘yī zhī bǐ!’ (literally meaning “a/one pen”) and then proceeded to laugh heartily at his excellent joke. (Just to add, I have seen him several times around the place, and each time, he says, “Iiibbyyy!!!” with a big laugh, so his method of remembering certainly has worked.)
Yī is pronounced ‘ee’ and means ‘one’.
Bǐ is pronounced ‘bee’ and means ‘pen’.
Zhī is simply a measure word (Chinese has LOTS of these) for objects such as pens, which I’m choosing to ignore here, for purposes of making this story work…
I then decided that yibi would be my blog site name, discovered that it was already taken, hastily settled on a boring name, took a few days to get past the Great Firewall of China to make an account and another few days to make it allow me to post this.
Not a very successful first post, but I hope to get better at this, so please do check back soon!
(I just managed to make ‘yibi’ the blog name rather than the site name, which is what I had originally intended, but I’m more than happy! I won’t edit the whole post though, after the time it took for me to get that one up.)