Monday, 26 May 2014


We have a new cleaner on my floor at work. I'm worried that his predecessor might have died. There is no welfare state in Singapore so old people do the jobs that no one else wants to: clearing the tables at hawker centre and cleaning our offices.

Well, I say cleaning. The cleaners don't do very much actual cleaning. They empty the bins, occasionally hoover and mop parts of the floor, never the whole thing but patches. This is considerably less cleaning than was done my last company and says a lot about this place, an organization where to send a letter you need to fill out a form and get the HOD (Head of Department) to sign it. Not for something to be couriered mark you, I'm talking about the price of a stamp. Crazy.  

Anyhow, I have bought a squirter of Cif, sponge scourers and ant traps for my desk. The last cleaner was so withered and wasted that he looked as though he might snap when he bent over to empty the wastepaper baskets into his binliner. It was clearly painful for him. His gratitude when I emptied mine into his binliner for him was embarrassing. His replacement is mildly disabled but far more sprightly though still well over the age of 70. When I try and empty my bin into the liner for him he won't let me, so I'm reduced to nodding and smiling, my most reliably fallback until the Mandarin lessons kick in.

This will take some time. My teacher (laoshi) is also an extremely old, shrivelled man. Last lesson someone asked him what would happen at the end of the course. Could we move onto Conversational Mandarin Beginners Level 2? He looked extremely surprised and said no one had ever asked him that before. Usually, he said, he just goes back and repeats Conversational Mandarin Beginners Level 1 over and over. No one ever wants to continue. This isn't very shocking. He's a rubbish teacher and the class is extremely dull.

You know that stage babies get to when they chatter conversationally without any actual words but it almost sounds as though the chatter means something because they've got the cadences and rhythms right? Well I'm a really long way from getting that advanced with my Mandarin. I need to find a better teacher. I need to learn fast. Half my students are Chinese I need to understand as a matter of urgency. The comments that float. You can understand why.