December 2014’s posts

All that and Play-Doh.


“Cheers, thanks for everything…” enthuses the lyrics to Selfish Jean by Travis in a cheerful fashion.  Last Thursday evening, the entire staff of Dao Ming’s English teachers gathered to eat good food at a local Guǎngdōng styel restaurant.  The food of Guǎngdōng is not overly spicy but nevertheless very good.  Initially, Cherry had told our foreign teacher contingent, that nothing needed to prepared for the foreign teacher exchange to other schools.  On returning from lunch, I met a throng of teachers with greetings to hand.  Each foreign teacher was then assigned to a school and departed in an uncharacteristic fashion, not on time, but before the denoted time.  I departed with Mr Wong, affectionately known by his English name Edison, to a state school named Qiáotóu.  Edison, explained, the 100 or so students waiting were very excited, for few had seen a foreigner before and none had seen a foreign teacher ever!  The 100 students rattled me a little, but since Cherry had told us, you need not prepare anything, just go and play games at the school, I was certainly fine.  That changed hastily on walking through the doors of the soundlab, a 200 seater theatre with central stage and glowing powerpoint.  Edison said, “Okay, I will introduce you, and then you can play some games.”  I panicked, struggled to think of any games, and then did the typically Eric Morecambe stance of lacksidasical adlib concoctions.  It worked.  The bag of chocolates I had in my pockets, made good prizes.  I thought ahead, on some levels.  After my self-introduction, question and answers and simplified hangman, I had to teach a poem selected by Edison.  I should explain, at this juncture, that each school and teacher was under the impression that all foreign teachers knew what Thanksgiving day entails.  I tell you now, I don’t.


Aside from eating lots of food, eating turkey and spending time together, I could think of nothing simple to teach.  So, I extemporised something fast.  Elwood Blues once said, It wasn’t a lie, it was just bullshit.”  This was Grade-A top quality perfect impeccable unflawed textbook honed bull-dung.  I edified the traditional family game of thanksgiving, which we will all know, now… …ad being hopscotch.  Take that America!  You gave us Black Friday riots in our branches of Asda, I’m clogging up your driveways with chalk covered hopping and skipping merriment.


The last act of the class involved each student creating Thanksgiving Cards for family, friends, teachers, and for me.  I have a stack of them.  It was a most gratifying and pleasurable moment to receive so many cards, and there are some Tate Modern worthy examples in the pile.  It was a very touching moment.  I posed for photographs with so many students, signed autographs and received comments about being handsome.  I put this down to a limited vocabulary and students, parents and teachers being unable to enunciate phrases along the line of “you’re down right hideous, leave the country Mr Repulsive and don’t return so unsightly or revolting ever again.”


Friday arrived, it always follows Thursday around, waving a happy hand and belting out a song of triumph.  With it, I departed for Hong Kong.  Nikki had booked tickets for Clockenflap purely because Travis were playing.  I don’t need an excuse to listen to music.  On arrival to Kowloon island and the area of Mong Kok, it was apparent the Constabularies of Hong Kong were driving back hundreds of chanting, cheering and generally polite protestors without destruction on the menu.  In the U.K., there’d be looting, an unclear message and the threat of menace.  In Hong Kong, civil disobedience was just that, courteous, civil, considerate, and commonly gracious.  Over the two nights in Mong Kok, it was apparent the heat was on the up, with a few impromptu roadblocks, barricades and Police charging crowds to be seen.  I didn’t encounter the tear gas or umbrella versus baton jousting seen on local T.V.


At Clockenflap, highlights included the beautiful voice of Chhom Nimol, the Cambodian lead singer of U.S. rock band Dengue Fever; The Turbans, perhaps the most ethnically diverse band on Earth; Kool and the Gang featuring the original Robert and Ronald Bell brothers, George Brown, and Dennis Thomas are still with the group – Jungle Boogie of Pulp Fiction fame and Celebration seemed timeless; Rafe’s talented beatboxing and percussionist talents in Club Minky was awesome, although the sit down cushions made me sleepy; Ozomatli combined a street music vibe with Latin hip-hop and rock to provide a welcoming summer vibe in a cool damp atmosphere; and even Brett Domino Trio (there are two of them, kazoos, stylophones and a Yorkshire twang filled the air) proved good entertainment.  Travis headlined, and a bearded lead singer in Fran Healy delivered a powerful set with fantastic guitar work throughout.  Dougie Payne (bass guitar), Andy Dunlop (lead guitar, banjo) and Neil Primrose (drums, percussion) backed up a great line up with a mixture of old and new songs throughout.  Travis have always been one of my favourite bands, more so live, than recorded.  Sadly, due to school and travel times I missed out on the other two days – Tenacious D, The Flaming Lips and Glaswegian’s Mogwai featured.  Still, if ever you’re out Hong Kong way, look out for Clockenflap.


Monday pounced once again up the grand running of things.  I immediately erected my sky blue Christmas tree and hung up a petite stocking alongside it.  December has arrived after all.  After a few hours spent going over the Art Festival routine with Joe, Micaela, Kira and Emily I departed for football.  Class 803, 804 and 603 had ran smoothly and constructively.  Partially, due to lollipop prizes.  In the evening Murray’s F.C. Owls lost to F.C. Italiano.  My team Murray’s F.C. Smoggies won against Fred F.C. (a first victory awarded over all-Brazilian opposition) and then went on to be outshone by Brazil F.C.  The all-Brazilian side conceded a few but otherwise were lethal in attack.  Afterwards Marcelo gave me a Fluminense Football Club away shirt with Fred on the back and a Real Madrid home shirt as a gift.  I said I’d use them at school and give them as prizes.  They will come in handy today with my funky coloured socks and other items for my pretend shop!  All that and Play-Doh.

I’ll be back…


…around July.

Day 304 and yes I am still here.


Last week marked the beginning of rehearsals for the Art Festival, to be held on Monday the 22nd of December.  The theme is a Disney Melody, starting with Snow White’s Heigh Ho, fizzling into Frozen’s Do You Wanna Build A Snow Man?  Following that comes Toy Story’s You’ve Got A Friend In Me that blends into The Little Mermaid’s Under The Sea.  Did we stop there?  Did we ‘eckers?!  No, Everybody Wants To Be A Cat from The Aristocats and I Wanna Be Like You will jolly up an ending with some shuffling swinging movements.  I hate dancing.  I hate singing.  This is a challenge.  This is turning out to be quite fun.  Audition number two is this Friday at 12.30pm.  Are we ready to rumble?  I’d say around 80% ready.  Once we all decide on costumes – something giant westerners, or westerners in general struggle to buy locally, we should let go a little more and properly go for it.


On the Tuesday just gone, we were asked to prepare the oral English exams for primary school, which shall be fun.  I have the tasks of Grade 6-8’s papers.  It is unclear if I’ll formulate the oral exam test for Grade 9 or not.  It is also unclear when my finishing date is.  My company told me around January the 9th at the beginning of the semester, January the 24th today, whereas the school gave me a different date entirely… so I should be done by August.  Holidays will follow.  As Christmas and New Year approach, I am studying the Chinese tourism laws carefully.  My tourist duties include:

“Tourists shall observe public order and respect social morality in tourism activities, respect local customs, cultural traditions and religious beliefs, care for tourism resources, protect the ecological environment, and abide by the norms of civilized tourist behaviours.”

There is no indication of the punishment I could face for disobeying the above.  I’d assume they’d just blow a whistle at you and tell you to get back in line.  Oddly, on looking up the tourism laws, I discovered that cockroach farms are in this region but import an American species as it tastes better.  The roaches are for medicinal and food purposes.  I’d happily offer them access to the dozen or so that arrive in this apartment every nocturne.


So, Christmas.  Does it feel festive now?  No.  Do I miss the Christmas feel?  No.  I miss family and friends.  I missed going to see wee Damian and Alexander’s first birthday this week.  They’ll have many, many more birthday parties and my plan to get them signed on at City’s new super football academy will happen, if I can persuade Dan and Vanessa.  Actually, I won’t, they’ve asked me to be a Guidefather.  I think Guidefather is like a Godfather but with less Italian Amaretto and Scotch whisky.  And less God, the chief antagonist in all major world divides.  I believe you should respect other’s beliefs, even if based around a fictional character.  I’m not saying God, gods, Ahura Mazda, deities, Aten, Hari, Al-Rahim, etc are fictional or unproven but if we respected each other’s beliefs without enforcing them on others or preaching to convert one and all to different faiths, we’d have less need for conflicts, borders and traffic wardens.  Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow agree that the idea of someone creating everything is possible, but that ricochets a new question, “Who created God?”  We personify too many things.  Anyway, I detract, Guidefather, yes, a duty similar to Godfather.  One I am honoured to take and one I hope I don’t need to do too much for.  Dan and Vanessa are great parents.  My role, from afar, will simply be to be a good role model.  Oh dear.  I’ll just buy the ginger juveniles some football tickets…


My office has a Christmas tree, nine (that is all that was available) blue and white Santa Claus decorations, some blue and white snow spray – although one label reads as Merry Christmas 2015!  It has been explained to me, most factories regionally are producing good for next Christmas.  There is a secret factory dedicated to production of Star Wars Episode VII material.  Nobody can take photographs, phones are taken from the staff and bodies are strip searched.   Still, knowing Chinese manufacturing someone will manage to smuggle a Ja Ja Binks Doll out using two clenched cheeks.


On the 25th day of December, our band of foreign teachers are off to Irene’s Bar to have lunch, dinner and merriment.  The school have allowed us the day off.  It is not a national holiday or requirement here.  Marcus and Irene run the bar, one is Maori, the latter Chinese – they are wonderfully welcoming.  They spoil us.


This weekend is Murray’s F.C.’s Christmas barbecue, themed around Argentinian steaks and styles.  Du-du-duh-Pablo Zaba-leta… Du-du-duh-Pablo Zaba-leta…  Last weekend I broke my scoring drought in his style, rounding three defenders to rocket a shot into the top right corner.  Then, soon after I lobbed the keeper from 10-yards.  It didn’t matter too much, we drew 12-12 in an uncharacteristic flat and subdued game against Chinese opposition.  The 20km cycle ride back was met with a puncture in the last 200 metres.  That was lucky!  Inner-tubes purchased since arriving in China will now go above the total of five.


Saturday night/Sunday morning was spent watching City versus Everton followed by a sleepy Sunday day lazing and practicing the school show song and dance.  Following this Irene’s Bar had a barbecue with some fantastic food to brighten up a gloomy damp Sunday evening.  Monday saw the return of 22°C and sunshine.  Today, is a mild 19°C with 24°C predicted as the highest temperature.  The weather last week saw some heavy rain on Wednesday night.  A game for Murray’s F.C. played through the rain whilst the nighbouring pitches stopped their games.  It was rather bizarre.  Our Chinese opposition wanted to carry on as much as us.  That was rather sweet of them considering how much the Chinese hate rain.


In school classes have been up, down, sideways, every which way but loose, and some.  On Friday class 703 ended after five minutes.  A math’s teacher had her birthday that day and my class was selected for a surprise birthday party – complete with a massive cake, a small food fight and plenty of smiles.  Not a bad way to end the week, even if Disney’s Frozen was put on later on.  A student in the class said, “I wish you were my Dad.”  I didn’t know what to say to that, didn’t respond, and he then carried on with, “I’ll ask my Mum.”.  Let it go…  Today, I had a class cancelled to allow me to coordinate the erection of a Christmas tree complete with Santa and reindeer outside.  There are teachers building a small house as I speak.  The display made by foreign and native teachers looks great, considering the Christmas tree is the tallest, scrawniest and most woeful looking tree you’ll ever see.  Burying it with tinsel, fake presents and covering it on tacky ornaments has helped somewhat.


My fully prepared, assessed and tested Grade 6 oral exam paper is complete.  Care to try it?  See below.


Grade 6 Oral Lesson Test


Name: Class: Number: Scores:


1) Read the words in the selected group: [20 points)

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4 Group 5
by car on foot bike bus stop train
traffic stop wait country how
library hospital where bookstore cinema
then right left straight turn
tonight tomorrow morning afternoon evening
magazine newspaper dictionary together buy
hobby jump violin something show
ride teacher go to the watch read
singer write dancer artist firefighter
hotel wave turn on lollipop high five


2) Answer the 4 selected questions: [40 points)

How do you go to school?

How do you go to the U.K.?

Where is the police station?

Where is the cinema?

What job does your father do?

What is your hobby?

What are you going to do this weekend?

Where are you going this evening?

What are your hobbies?

Does he go to school by bus?

Where does she work?



3)  Use two sentences to talk about the pictures:

[40 points)

NB:  The images are of Big Ben and the Underground sign; a bicycle; a boy writing a letter; and a selection of jobs.

So, 2015 approaches.  I’m signing a contract to stay until at least Summer.  I’ll be in the U.K. for at least July…


圣诞节快乐 ( Shèngdàn jié kuàilè / Merry Christmas )


Last Friday, I sat at my laptop not knowing what to type.  When I started to type, I had to correct the poor quality regularly – and that was just the first sentence.  My head was light, fluffy and flopping around like a daisy in a strong breeze.  The contents read like airline refund terms and conditions tangled in an enigma code strengthened DNA-strand of mystification.  The good news at the time was that I hadn’t used the toilet or surrounding areas to projectile bodily fluids upon for many hours.  I felt like a drug-user in rehab, “it has been 16 hours since I last…”  Thursday morning, early hours, maybe 3am, maybe 4am, I woke up needing the toilet.  Somewhere I remained on or off for 3-4 hours.  I decided to try some Dioralyte.  It transpired, I did not need that.  Within seconds I jettisoned what little remained in my stomach.  And it wouldn’t have been much.  I played football Wednesday night, so didn’t eat too much before or after.  Nikki’s left over pizza slices from the Wednesday night quiz at Irene’s Bar could have been one of a billion causes.  Either way, all of Thursday and Friday was spent confined to the bed and bathroom.  The Doctor on Thursday being kind enough to provide medicine which alleviated all heaving and toilet-seat clambering.


I wanted to eat on Friday evening.  I just didn’t know what to eat.  I know rich and spicy options are off the cards.  That left me Weetabix (but I couldn’t eat dairy), rice, noodles, and not much else.  All free of flavour options were open.  I really fancied chips.  A chip butty, proper English style chunk chippy chip shop chips – on a barm (muffin/butty/oven-bottom/cob/bread roll).  Those thoughts made me homesick.  I quickly dispelled them.  Many hours later I settled for simple fast food from the golden-M signed establishment dominant the world over.


The previous weekend involved 20km to football only to find out the football was cancelled; a perfect Argentinian style barbecue (by Federico) at Murray’s Bar to celebrate Christmas; a Monday night defeat in football whereby Murray’s F.C. Smoggies still managed to hold on to third spot and claim a bronze medal in the Dongguan Foreigners’ Football League; and many busy hours at school.


I started the Oral English exams in Grade 6 last week, managing between 15-10 an hour.  Classes are usually 40-strong.  I’ll need to carry these on next week – as this week is subjugated by Christmas activities.  I have managed to grab two classes from other teachers to cover the two missed Christmas classes from last week.  The problem is Primary and Middle School teachers do not talk to each other.  So, I have to liaise like the U.N. sat between North Korea and the Democratic Republic of Sony Enterprises.  This avoids clashes with my Grade 7 classes, and Grade 8 classes.


This Thursday is a day off for Christmas Day.  The plan is to spend it at Irene’s Bar, where Marcus and Irene have invited many expatriated souls.  Our foreign teacher group has assimilated another group from nearby and bolstered the numbers to at least 15 teachers.  I hope none of the other expats bring any students.  It could be pretty intimidating.  “Hurray, I have the day off school… Wait a minute!!!”  I’ve decided to make a small hamper [after explaining to Kim that hampers aren’t just for dirty laundry (use a washing or laundry basket)] for Marcus and Irene as a thank you.  First into the hamper, courtesy of a shop in Tesco, was a triple gift bag of Tyrrells Hand Cooked Crisps.  I’d never have thought that Tyrrells Court Farm back in Herefordshire would supply crisps this far out.  The world is truly getting smaller.  Is there a Starbucks in the Forbidden City?  [No, it closed in 2007!  It doesn’t surprise me China ejected a corporation that has branches at Guantánamo Bay, the CIA top location, and aboard the USS Boxer].

There is no turkey at Irene’s Bar’s Christmas dinner.  Here are the foods on offer:

Soup and baguette
Roast beef
Roast pork
BBQ Chicken
BBQ Pork
Roast potatoes
Roast sweet potatoes
Mash potatoes
Hot vegetables
Garden salad
Fried rice (It is China after all!)


This Friday is set aside for the Art Festival performances.  On Monday the 5th Annual Science & Technology & Art Festival of Dongguan Dao Ming Foreign Language School opened alongside the weekly flag raising ceremony.  Enforcement of all foreign teachers to wear a Santa outfit (in red) was on the agenda.  Oh, and we had to sing, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” – and not even a version we were too familiar with.  We entered the stage, previously performed upon by student and his drum rendition of Gangnam Style, we came on wished the students Merry Christmas, sang the song, received presents from the school and exited.  Soon after Miss Jiang said she was displeased with our lack of actions to the song.  I genuinely could not have made any actions up on the spot, as asked by Cherry minutes before the stage arrival.  The other teachers seemed equally perplexed.  I tried moving a little, but when nobody moves and one person moves – it looks crazy and disorganised.  So, uninspired, I did not lead.  Yes, I regret it.  Was I prepared?  No.  Could I have adapted and reacted?  Yes, but I didn’t.  Live and let learn.  I hate that something so simple, can rattle me.  I hate mistakes and being ill-prepared.


Meanwhile, the entire population of this region are braced for winter.  As temperatures plummet to lows of 11°C at night and daytime temperatures only in the mid-teens, everybody, and I mean all and sundry, have invested in scarves, hats, mittens, multiple layers (above four in most cases), which sits way below the average annual temperature of 23.3 °C.  Whilst I have felt rough these last few days, I doubled up my layers but now I am starting to feel warm.  The surest sign that I am okay and no longer ill!  The looks I get for wearing shorts are not just on account of my ethnically non-native skin, but for the fact I am wearing shorts.  Then the viewer looks up and spots me sporting a t-shirt and shades.  Sometimes I feel I should catch them as they faint from shock.  The average low temperature drops by one degree next month, barely enough to be noticed.  The average high in winter sits above the summer average high of my native city, Manchester.  Compared with Manchester, howling winter winds, chilly glacial rain, and discomfort, it feels just right here.  I’d flutter that the chances of precipitation falling as snow here, sit so close to absolute zero, they’d rival any equatorial desert.


Today, class 703, followed a late rearrangement class of class 602.  602, or Tofu class have nicknamed me after the bean curd based food.  They even answer many questions in other teachers’ classes using me as an example.

“What should you be afraid of?”

“Be afraid of Teacher John.  He is king of the Tofu.”

“Where can you find the answers?”

“I can ask Teacher John.  He is a smart Tofu.”

I’m not sure the fascination with tofu is a healthy one, and I hope they aren’t comparing me to the stinky dòufu.  Click the link for some interesting stories relating to Wang Zhi He (王致和) in the Qing dynasty and how this form of Tofu came about.  It stinks, but it is by far the tastiest form of Tofu, especially if spicy in the Ānhuī-people’s style.  Anyway, this particular class are great fun to teach and have buckets of imagination.  They are witty far beyond their early years.  Class 703 followed, again, they have good imagination, eagerness and focus.  The class sadly was trunciated midway through the learning of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.  On looking for a good version of this song I learnt that banjoist Harry Reser and his band on October 24, 1934 first recorded this song.  I knew Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band or Sesame Street hadn’t published it first but I did not expect it to be 80 years old.  Mariah Carey murdered it once but my students have done it justice, albeit ended for morning exercise at 11.45am today.

Oh, and I have started work on Murray’s F.C.’s website.  More content shall be added soon.



Shèngdàn jié kuàilè

Merry Christmas!

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