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Stap Me Vitals, It's An Ironing Board...


It's 4am and I'm awake. Yesterday I was awake at 3am, and on both days I woke wanting my supper; because I'm acutely jet-lagged, and my body hasn't yet worked out that I'm in China and it it's time for the land of nod, not to be desperately chasing Morpheus round my enormous suite on the 35th floor.

Mind you, I'm learning a lot: completely satiated with the loop of news that CNN offers - Brexit ad nauseam, Trump cubed - I've turned to Chinese MTV, and have discovered a completely new line in music that I never want to hear again. My personal Room 101 of noise garbage. There's a weird fascination in some of this stuff, partly because the videos (do they even call music films 'videos' anymore?) are like a bizarre and unhappy conflation of War of the Worlds with David Cassidy - lots of pretty young men wailing in minor modes while misty figures of young girls drift soundlessly past them. Actually, although the one I'm currently watching does have a winsome wailer, exercising his falsetto fully, the video images seem to be all about football and a video game. Bewitching.

Since I arrived in Shenzhen on Friday...or was it Thursday?...since you lose most of a day flying east, it's almost impossible to know what the day is by the time you have been shaken and stirred across three continents in a vast tin can...anyway, when I arrived, the first thing that struck me was the smell: instantly, I was transported back Proust-style to Shanghai 2014, the last time In was in China. That smell, or aroma would perhaps have kinder implications, is a combination of spices, steamy warmth, and damp vegetation. I remember the same thing in Hong Kong, and came to associate it with the endless flocks of ducks I consumed over the four weeks I was there.

I've already found an underground shopping mall right by my hotel; and that same smell follows me all along the two miles of its length. Whereas in the hotel, they have cottoned on to some kind of olfactory marketing tool, so the minute you walk through the enormous plate glass doors, your nostrils are assaulted by a cross between Febreze and Blue Grass, both scents I am not particularly committed to. I'd rather have the indigenous rotting vegetation smell really. This other thing makes me sneeze and wheeze in a very unhelpful manner.

My first foray into a nearby grocery store yielded some interesting discoveries: who knew that cucumber crisps were a thing? To me, cucumbers are firm, cold, wet (sorry if that sounds vaguely pornographic...) whereas crisps are de facto crunchy, dry and crumbly. And made of potato. Put the two sets of texture together, and your taste buds have a nervous breakdown; but so do your neural pathways, as they try the impossible: bringing together totally counter-intuitive responses.

On the other hand, a soup cafe where you choose your own ingredients, ranging from lumps of fish to a vast assortment of vegetables, have the whole lot weighed, before it is all drowned in a spicy broth and turns into a complete meal in one bowl, strikes me as fairly close to food heaven. And all for £2.

I'm still trying to get used to a hotel room that has an entire suite of chambers: a bathroom with a round bath tub surrounded by windows looking out onto the distant plains of Shenzhen skyscrapers; a separate shower room...just in case you didn't get round to washing all your bits in the bath; a dressing room; and a bedroom with a bed the size of a small planet. Well, quite a big planet actually.

The cupboards are plentiful. Bluebeard, I feel, would be right at home.

When I was in Shanghai, I rang down to reception one evening for ice. After a conversation that had all the clarity of pea soup, I eventually answered a knock at my bedroom door, to find a porter standing there with an ironing board in his hands. This spawned a whole new lexiconic reference, whereby a stiff drink became 'an ironing board'. So on this trip, I'm eagerly awaiting my new additions to The Traveller's Dictionary. I had a good start this morning when I asked the lifeguard at the swimming pool for a swim hat, which is obligatory apparently. After a great deal of hand waving and incomprehensible chattering, he turned on the air conditioning. Very helpful, but not remotely what I needed.

My work starts tomorrow, and I'm preparing for the usual sense of water finding level - that wherever you go in the world, the business of assessing candidates taking music exams is exactly the same process; and more importantly, exactly the same principles apply, whether it's Shenzhen or Skegness: the good is enjoyable, the bad is torturous.

However, now that I've established that my cupboard has an ironing board, that Chinese MTV will keep me amused for weeks, and that I can get all the exercise I need by running round my suite, especially after eating a surfeit of cucumber crisps, I look forward to the next month more than I can say.