Hi there!Mark Whitworth I am Mark Whitworth -
writer, educator, traveller
and all round good guy.
Welcome to my website.

September 2009

markSettling In!

Over the last four days the site has been seriously re-vamped, every article has been reformatted, some now contain pictures, and all the photographs have been reloaded, many, many more being added. It has become a work of art for which I can only claim responsibility for the content. John Pritchard put the hard work into the appearance, functionality and support for the project; my most grateful thanks to him.

Quite seriously some of the pictures are awesome, a word so overused in North America it has ceased to have any meaning, but in its truest sense can be applied to some of the images; my particular favourites are the Yunnan and Family files, although Andrea’s Waterworld is right up there. The articles remain as written, with the odd editing tweak, but are reformatted and have had photos added to make them a little more visually appealing.

The “hits” counters on all photo files and articles have been reset to zero, so I wait with interest to find what people might be looking at! Rest assured, unless you comment on something, I won’t be able to tell who is looking, just what is being looked at!

Obviously, the more hits I get on the website the better! Those of you who are teachers might find some of the photographs and the school articles useful, so if you could get your whole class to access them individually that would be fantastic! Please don’t be afraid to use these resources, except where mentioned they are all my own work; just let me know if you find them useful.

markI’ve set up a competition on the site. The objective is to identify as many of the animals in the UK Wildlife and US & Asian Wildlife folders as possible. Each photo is numbered, all I need is an email from you with the list of numbers and the animals name (not “Billy”, but “goat” would do). The prize is £60 (US$100 or 700RMB) to be paid by myself into a charity of your choice. Multiple entries are welcome, so if you want to get the kids to have a go they can! Have some fun and help your favourite charity at the same time!

The last thing to say is that henceforward the only email I will send out is to say if something has changed on the website; Suzhou’s Prodigal Sun will cease to exist in email form. Rest assured these emails will only be for major changes such as a new journal entry or a particularly interesting article, not whenever I correct spellings or grammar!

Enough, I do have another life, even if it has been minimised for the last few weeks; I guess I’ll be able to resume writing now!

One “high point” of the last few weeks was refereeing a series of football matches at SSIS. I’d been asked along by Dom, a demented Norwich City supporter, and had to take on the task of three consecutive forty minute matches, commencing in the heat of the day. The three teams had substitutes and only had to play two games each; I had no substitute, had no linesmen and had to run all three matches. It was surprising that the legs held up, although they were somewhat weary by the end, and in the course of three hours I consumed six litres of water; I still didn’t pee until late in the evening!

It was a little unfortunate that my presence appeared markunwelcomed by some at the school and I’ve had to tell Dom that I’ll only ref the odd match when it is comfortable to do so. I would have quite liked a weekly run out to keep my weight down.

Ian Self, one of my mates from south London, visited us last week. His presence had no weight reduction aspects at all; far too much food and far more beer was consumed It was great to see him and, as always, a visitor is a very good excuse to go and visit a few tourist spots that often get ignored in the millrace of normal life. We managed the Fisherman’s Net Garden, Panmen Gate, Confucian Temple, Twin Pagodas Jinji Hu and Lake Taihu as well as a little strolling around. The Lake Taihu trip was completed on public bus and not only proved excellent value for money but also gave a better insight into the surrounding countryside and urban development than a car ride would. It never ceases to surprise just how large Suzhou now is; the return bus ride took two hours to the centre of Suzhou and an hour and a half of that was within the urban sprawl.

I would estimate that greater Suzhou is now 50 X 30km more or less on a par with Greater London. Obviously the population density is higher and it has to be suspected that the official population statistic of 6 markmillion no longer holds good. (The figure is now 2.2 million for what is termed the “city proper”.) Just looking out of the window the buildings go on forever, even on a clear day and I’ve included pictures of the growth of our local skyscrapers (at the bottom of this piece).

We got a bit lost going and took three buses; it still only cost six RMB (45p). We passed through some new development, it seemed to be a massive expansion of the university, some old industry, particularly an aging concrete plant, adjacent to the site of the hill that had been consumed by it, and a few very worn residential properties that looked as if they were about to be demolished. It was a surprise to see a squadron of tanks, with their crew, and the feeling occurred to me that they might be preparing for October 1st.

The first of October is the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China and it is due to be an immense celebration (interesting that my parents markand China share the same anniversary year). Already there are more than the usual number of fireworks and there is an extended holiday for all (except those people who never seem to get holidays that is). There has been a little concern that China may see a little tension from the Tibetans and the Uighars but they appear to have prepared as well as they can. I wonder constantly whether the joint NATO and Pakistani pressure on Al Qaeda and the Taliban is moving extremists into the far western regions of China. As I’ve said before, this is not good for China and is not good for the world, I hope China cracks down hard if required, from a practical stance, not necessarily a humanitarian one.

Ian’s desire to buy a cashmere overcoat prompted me to go for a wholesale shirt replacement. They were more expensive than last time, but are beautifully made and extremely good copies of the originals I gave to the tailor. We picked them up yesterday (the coat’s ready Ian, I’ll post it soon) and it was almost impossible to find fault with the workmanship.

markObviously Ian and I had to go to Bar Street where, as lone males, we attracted the attention of nearly every female in a five kilometre radius, regardless of our looks! We eventually ended the evening sitting at a bar with two girls hanging on like limpets regardless of the fact no business was on offer; it would seem trade is pretty poor. They were nice enough girls and the one I was chatting to had just given up nursing in Nanjing because the pay wasn’t good enough for her to support herself. I did feel heartless, and possibly misinformed, when I suggested she’d be better of going back to her old job.

I have two teaching jobs going now. One and a half hours a week with two Chinese girls (11 & 12) who have lived in Orange County, L.A. since birth. They’re very bright, receptive and fun to teach. I’m also doing three hours a week with a Taiwanese lad (14) who is not as enthusiastic. However, I knew Billy the Bat would come in useful; he’s occupied a full lesson with the lad and half a lesson with the girls. That’s a value for money story for you! I don’t really want to take on much more markwork because I’ve got to get my writing going; I need the time and some proper research, I can’t get bogged down in too much routine!

Finally, the weather! It’s been fantastic, most days in the low twenties, and perfectly pleasant to stroll around. There have been a few exceptions, such as this weekend, when it has hit the high twenties, and the day of the football, which was incredibly hot, but generally one of the nicest autumns we’ve had here. The only downside has been the night-time when the cloud cover has trapped in the heat and without winds it has been quite stuffy; we continue to use the bedroom A/C to sleep. Unfortunately this particular beast (the A/C) has developed an irritating fault and on three occasions now it has shifted from “cool” to "heat" while we have slept. We awoke at some ungodly hour the other night to find the bedroom temperature was up to 31°C; it made for a rather sweaty session!

I’m going to have to check it out and find out whether Billy gave birth in it; anything’s possible!



markLeft Sept 29th 2008. Right Sept 20th 2009.