Pavarotti and Weetabix

Previously on TESMC (Teaching ESL students in mainstream classrooms): Factors impacting on ESL students…

In conclusion, language is a tool, a mode of context and something that gives a valid outcome of learning. Success will depend upon fluence of the language. By success, I mean success in learning. In an ESL setting the fluency of English shouldn’t outshine or exceed that of the mother tongue. Students in an ESL environment, as a necessity, must develop and advance the native tongue’s skills, which will allow a faithful and genuine proficiency in English. The language environment with adequate support facility are vital. Attitudes, family ability and support alongside realistic expectations are just a few or many factors that influence language learning.

Language demands or language choices? Name, praise and the words we, our, and us. Connect as a team, and support will follow. A reduction of hesitation will allow confidence. The teachers and classmates need to avoid laughing at each other to promote a stable and safe space to allow expression and exploration of a second language. There will be a need to use their own native tongues to support one another.

Do students feel the pressure of their future on their shoulders? University, a life overseas and so on may follow…

Student-student interactions are different to teacher-student interactions in terms of language demands. Varied support is available. Language accompanies actions. Teachers can prompt, even just through one word. Encouragement follows. Small questions that act to prompt students to question and define facts. Students can direct a sequence, through shirt-sharp input. Collaboration can assist students to create a report, through gentle guidance. Abstract reports need definitions and information to educate and to report clearly to the reader.

Realia and materials allow negotiation of language without full technical statement. It and this are valuable words too. Students can support each other.

Process of routines can allow students to try to work alone. They can guess first, then do. Students can be observed before the teacher pushes them to use a little harder sentence structure. Simple experiments. Smaller groups make a comfort zone and task ownership. Once a teacher joins, they can expand the technical language and methodology. Strong guidance replaces exploration without prevention of free-thinking.

Last week, Supreme Training Leader Ben set us the task of gaining a profile of a specific student. To protect the student’s identity, I chose one, and for the purpose of writing, I’m going to call him Jay-Z.

Jay Z likes the colour yellow. He is about 10 years old. He likes football and basketball. He prefers football. He has an older sister and she attends a school nearby to our school. He shares a classroom with 9 other students. He joins his Dad running. He likes board games but doesn’t like to pay attention for too long. He is happiest studying maths but prefers online maths games to written work. At times he can demonstrate good leadership and organization skills. He likes to eat meat from the bone. He doesn’t like girls. 

Now, let’s imagine that famous Star Wars theme music in our heads:

Not so long ago in a galaxy where Earth resides, and I’m sat in a room admiring the sunset reflecting off Donghua Songshan Lake Hospital’s windows. The day has been long, and noisy. The room we’re in smells of pulled pork and pizza. There isn’t a beer in sight. EIP Supreme Training Leader Ben Greuter is overseeing a cohort of TESMC course learners and module 2 is on the approach…

(Did you picture it scrolling?)

In this module we introduced the theories of language, learning and teaching that underpin the course. It’s essential. A backbone. We develop our understanding of the relationship between text and context and the implications for our classroom. Interactions give us expectations, whether written or spoken. We can’t react to a piece of meaningful language if it misses key points or lacks weight of content. Text and context are often related, and gibberish is just that. With proper text set in the right context, we can predict how to respond.

A text message (SMS), and e-mail between friends, a letter or communication between a medical expert or letters between schools and parents all have different contextual usage and language content. Nuanced functional models of language are much like cultural changes. Those tones can be regional, national, or global. Likewise they can be like friends with shorter interactions or deeper in content. American, British and Chinese cultures influence the output language whereby an American kid, a Chinese child or a British brat is placed within. “Hey man, wassup?”, may be appropriate for the playground at an International School, but would it be heard in that same school’s principal’s office? By the principal? To their students? The student who always chooses trouble over calm? You know the student, the one with real energy? That student who makes teachers leave for foreign trade jobs? Language is influenced heavily by the context of the situation, which is in turn impelled by the context of language. Think specifically about the genre of a situation.

Genre – what’s occurring? E.g. Doctor-patient consultation. Genre is kind of like a topic.

The field is e.g. a doctor and his/her patient establish the problem. It is also a place to allow cattle some much needed energy-producing food consumption. Fields are good places to have music festivals, one such musician belted a song out in a Milan field in 1990 that many may recall. The London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta had triggered a call for that one song.

A tenor gives the commanding role. The tenor and the relationship to the e.g. The doctor is producing a dialogue and leading the conversation. Luciano Pavarotti Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI was one of three tenors that always had something to voice. My Nana loved those three blokes singing their opera pieces. Nessun dorma, alone is a soft classic, made globally famous by football at FIFA Italia 1990’s World Cup. That aria from Turandot, and the voice of James Brown alongside James Brown, for It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World are such wonderful songs. They use the medium of songs, which is what needs discussing next…

Mode: how does the text and context take place? This is the channel of the language. E.g. face-to-face, using spoken language not usually found in written text. It’s a good example of contextualized language. In mathematics, the mode is the value that appears most often in a set of data values. Mode can also mean a way of living, operating or behaving.

Register time…

Is the field/subject matter everyday and concrete or technical and abstract? Students can feel uncertain or out of place, just like some foreign workers do overseas, or office workers do when they’re sent to run a warehouse. The rules of the playground at home, or school can be two different beasts. Socio-cultural practices differ. As do rules. Home is where the heart is. School is where the art is. Schools help students find comfort or ability to move from everyday fields on the field continuum to highly technical fields via specialized fields in the middle. New technical vocabulary, new challenges and a continued need to develop the everyday language makes the task all the more daunting for those learning a second language. Links and examples galore will be conveyed or pointed towards. Finer meanings will be challenging.

Is the tenor informal, personal or novice? Are they formal, impersonal or informed? That tenor continuum is important too. Flitting between informal and formal language, or other situations that require a slightly increased formal spoken ability could be as common as wearing a football shirt, business suit or the casual dress in between. Without the tenor continuum or field continuum the mode continuum would be useless. The ability to use most spoken-like dialogue, needs an air of spontaneity and to remain concrete and shared. Or, it could be written, as a reflection, shared or not, or better still presented well, concise and clear and edited or organized in an engaging way. Between these two polar regions sits language as a means of reporting (think BBC News) or recounting (The World At War), or gossip down The Sidings pub in Levenshulme, Manchester (post-lockdown).

Is the mode mostly spoken, “here and now”, with language accompanying action or mostly written, generalized or the language constitutes the text? Students need to know that they can flip between a good register continuum. A student who can write or talk as a professor might be needed for one task, but a functioning student needs to flip in and out of popular, social and other scenarios as and when. Talking like a Shakespearean actor is all well and good but will it be appropriate at a DMX concert? Many scientists engage in workshops and debates, but after these professional meetings, they may enjoy a game of chess, golf or a beer down Ziggy’s in Chang’an, where a good Reuben sandwich may be the topic of discussion, more than blooming COVID-19…

The classroom environment will have the inevitable spoken stage at which a challenge is given to students. It could be homework or guided classroom written work. It could be almost anything. They will need preparation for that written work task. The students need warming up and encouraging. Student engagement is everything. Engage. Inform. Educate. Make the students want to talk about something or ask questions. From my experience, correcting students too early will only switch them off from the task. Ensuring that students engage is not easy. It’s a challenge for sure but early stage conversation can be key to generating interest.

The mode continuum is a tool. This tool allows students numerous ways to break down and build both spoken and written forms of English. It helps students and adults alike to prepare writing and thoughts in a crisp clear way. It gives precision to a situation. The school life offers ample opportunity to play with, experiment and develop the mode continuum. It should allow students confidence and comfort in talking about what they’re learning and give opportunities, to learn that quite often some things can be written in different ways to how they are spoken. It can help to standardize the various ways and means of speaking and writing English as a language too. With or without this tool, students have the support or not, to take risks with language. This allows time to reflect on what was said as being accurate or inaccurate for a certain context. Can it be improved upon?

“You can’t write it if you’ve never said it. You can’t say it if you’ve never heard it.”Pie Corbett, Poet, storyteller and educational consultant.

Literacy is for life. It’s not just a test! This skillset is important. How well a person conducts themselves in conversations or writing can open or close doors, according to their ability. A fully articulate person at a job interview will have benefits, but without their written skills of a suitable level, they may find some careers beyond them. Talk For Writing, modelled by Pie Corbett & co., highlights the need to build oral literacy before pushing for excellent writing. At the end of the day, a good teacher brings words alive. Teachers have the power to guide language learners in ways others may not. With great power, comes great responsibility. So, if a student lacks that essential scaffolding, perhaps they weren’t exposed to beautiful elegant flowing constructed phrases or well-thought arguments. How many great teachers stick in your mind from your school days? What made them stay there? Mr Jones, Mr Meheran, Mr Mack, Miss Hodges, Miss Rowe, and so on all remain influential to my reading passion, and the biggest teacher of them all: my mum.

“Give me the place to stand, and I shall move the Earth.” – Archimedes of Syracuse (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC), Greek mathematician, philosopher, scientist and engineer.

Is there a link in the class between proficient readers and superb writers? If one reads a large quantity of books, expect a larger quantity of output in their writing. Give a child Lego blocks, and they’ll build. Give a child Lego blocks, some demonstrations, some blueprints, some instructions and some examples and then take them away, and they’ll build something better. Just as an architect needs to be able to draw or use computer design technology, so do writers need to be readers.

Language and its context will always have a relationship. The two broad concepts of culture enveloping that of the situation register were well illustrated by Halliday and Martin, in their 1993 hit number: model of language. Language exists within a situation, which in turn exists within culture. From that, the genre, is usually a pattern or predictable way that language can be put to use for the purpose of something social. Have you had your Weetabix? It could be an advertisement, an information broadcast or a conversation about cheese. Lancashire cheese, crumbly, hands-down, every time, always the winner. Melted. Of course, some cultures and contexts may need to be learned cariad. And, as sorted as it is, that doesn’t just mean country or ethnicity, oh no! Not so buzzing, right? We’re talking ginnels and proper local dialects, regionalization and popular trends, religious stuff, organisations, schools, professional bodies, schools, families groups, clubs and fragments of society integral to making a diverse way of life into a patchwork quilt of living, breathing, amazing beauty. And Manchester Utd fans.

The more words we hear, the more we can use. As a second language learner, kids need more chance to see and hear new and unfamiliar vocabulary. Maybe they’ll like the sound or the way the word looks. Maybe they’ll hear a new word and it won’t be new next time. It could be the word that leads to a curious question. Word up! Being word poor can hold students back. With the power of words, students can be culturally enriched and have access to beautiful books, watch movies at cinemas with subtitles from many countries and feel confident talking to anyone. As someone in education, it is my responsibility to look to close these gaps. That chasm between word rich can be closed or bridged. By mastering standard English, students will both speak and write better.

Giving value, the Halliday and Martin model, helps us as educators to discuss the connection between language and context. It tells us there are patterns, and to our students, these are valid and predictable, to allow our students to choose contexts for each given situation.  

Language and learning and the role of scaffolding is all about producing texts for given contexts; finding the context in the text; a functional model of language (in terms of genre, field, tenor, and mode); plotting texts along the register continuum; patterns of the ESL development; implications for programming, teaching and assessment; teaching and the learning cycle; and all, in relation to the scaffolding of language. We as teachers can explore how we can make meaning-making systems, the benefits of visuals and music, so as to focus on the literacy demands that are intrinsic to curriculum statements. The battle for second language teaching goes on… but it can wait for me to tuck into a bowl of Weetabix. Cheers Taobao!

Tally ho and away I go.

Here are some cats:

The Mountains Are Calling

Greetings from Dalingshan, Dongguan, P. R. C.

I slept too much. Having showered around 6pm this evening, I lay on the bed drying in a towel. I woke up by 11pm. A glass of grapefruit juice and a bowl of honey nut loops followed. The crisp cold milk gave me a breakfast feel, despite no sunlight finding my balcony. I slowly awoke and reflected over a simple weekend.

For a few hours today, my Australian colleague, Mr Oliver and I walked up Lotus Mountain in Chang’an town. We descended towards Dalingshan. It was a pleasant walk but the questionable air quality and lack of visibility outside of the grey spectrum made it less impressive. Numerous people covered their mouths as two foreigners strode on by. The insulting behaviours have been less of late, but today it happened often enough to feel deliberate and perplexing. On the flip side, enough men cleared their throat whilst staring into my face, enough for me to remember this unusual yet familiar passing greeting. I still wonder if they clear their nose and throat out when they pass others, or even alone. If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear it, did it make a sound?

Today’s sweaty walk was riddled with steps. Yesterday’s activities involved an exchange of the B. Twin Rock rider 520ST for a Merida Challenger mountain bike. A need for a larger frame necessitated such a move. Plus the Decathlon bicycle seems cursed. Three punctures, two collisions and a creaky seat later, I feel 8 months of regret about this cycle needs to be resolved. Those who resolve conflict, seek solace.

A class with Tina, and a good salad made with heart yesterday were highlights amongst a day filled with BBC’s McMafia TV series and very little else. The autumn grey skies are here. It feels cooler but also warm at times. My mind is muggy and in need of something more. The mountains are calling.

Time to sleep. Peace and love x

Understanding Thursdays.

Bonfire night in England has been marked by an explosion of COVID-19. As Guy Fawkes Night comes and goes, Britain goes back into lockdown for an entire month.

“And then mother took me to Grammar School; But I stopped all in the vestibule; Every time that bell would ring; Catched me playin’ with my ding a ling” – the song My Ding A Ling by Chuck Berry

Meanwhile on a murky Thursday night in a warm Dongguan, at Tungwah Wenzel International School, I found myself taking notes on Teaching ESL in the Mainstream Classroom [TESMC]. There are several modules which start from a zoomed-out overview to a much more-closer and specific look at our teaching area. Quality of teaching matters, especially for English as a Second Language learners. Collaboration is key withing all teaching environments, so here I was surrounded by technology, Chinese, English, science and other specialist teachers.

Interrelatedness of culture is important. ESL (English as a Second Language) students bring culture capital and funds of knowledge that can be tapped and used in the weapon against Minecraft and all other manner of distraction. Sat with Mr Jason, Miss Keats, Miss Cindy, and others in groups around, we all observed teachers Mr Ben and Mr Cherlito in leading a great classroom workshop.

Classrooms should set high expectations and resource in their mainstream classes. There should be a bar to jump up to, rather than a bar to meet level. Expectations should increase to allow students to learn the language through the language and learn about that language. There is a plethora of learning theories, many tried, tested and tired, but a good teacher should know that there’s always more out there to bring about a good learning context.

Oral and written language must be treated separately. In our youth we make sounds before we scribble words. Those sounds and phonetics become words, sentences and eventually conversation. We crawl, walk and then run – until we get old enough to walk, drink beer and crawl again. Writing needs codes. We start with a few letters, then we pair a few more, and we build words. Following that a few simple sentences, and then they expand bit by bit, until we’re banging out sonnets like Shakespeare was our teacher. Some of the braver kids that write carry on writing and move on to be Dan Brown or Anne Tyler. They all started with the ABC though. Patterns and a need to make technical and abstract meanings fit educational contexts a little before we hit our double-figure years. Why do we do it? The world is demanding and so are parents. Teachers backed by educational curriculum standards encourage students. Students push themselves – or not. Accountability is something learned or not within teenage and early years. For some it takes a little longer than others. Some will never learn it.

Teachers and the school community adapt and evolve support language, not just to improve students, but to find strategies relevant and achievable for the classroom, and in this instance the ESL classroom. Improve our teaching, improve our target students. With that we must recognize that not all students have the name needs or motivations. There are many variables that need to be taken into account to ensure students participate in schooling and beyond.

What do I hope to gain from the course? Self-enhancement, bettering one’s self, being more invaluable and experienced in order to help and work closer with my colleagues. Yes, all that and some. Actually, I really want to understand my students better.

Students cross a broad range of identities. We all have multiple identities. I act differently around colleagues, friends, family, football friends, near strangers, and other groups. This is life. We are social butterflies and act accordingly to comfort surroundings and situations. What identities do we have?

Think about diets. Do we eat differently or behave in varied ways? Perhaps around vegans, vegetarians, American Embassy-eaters (that’s McDonald’s) and so on. How much respect can you give a total fructivore? Does a sister command a special response that is distinctive to that of an aunty or a mother? What’s the atypical reaction to dad? Relations matter. The position within the family, the runt of the litter is that kid that gets the passed down Manchester City F.C. shirt, according to their big bad bold brother.

If you want division, look no further than religion, it’s an age-old area of conflict. Don’t trust me? Google it. Even your choice of search engine can separate you. Sorry Baidu, you just won’t do for me! Age category, maturity, sexuality (LGTGB+ etc), members of book clubs, groups, communities (C’mon CITY!), neighbours (noisy or other), sports, language-speakers, ethnicities, creeds, hobbiesprejudices, Marvel or DC comics Star Wars or Star Trek; Trekker or Trekee… The list goes on. And on. And on, and on, and on and on. With all that in mind it is clearly difficult to understand your colleagues, let alone your students. We still must push on (gently, softly or otherwise) and probe ways to understand any potential barriers to learning and find range and depth suitable for extraction. Some negatives can be turned into positives. Some cannot. Here as good teacher is digging for positivity and the factory in each student that manufactures optimism. What do students struggle with? Locating a pencil case? Someone looked at them with a squint? An ant walked into the classroom doing ballet?

Some of the roles or aspects of having multiple identities will cause internal conflicts, doubts, and worries. One place that I feel tensions are my political views and belief in human rights. So, to be in America or China, I must respect the head gaffer and the regime that rules the joint. As a guest, I can only say or do so much. Imagine being a Chinese kid flung into international education. Will that kid’s neighbours or young relations also be in that same international school setting? They’ll be strengthening and weaking on one and the other. You can’t follow two systems perfectly. ESL students, a widely used terms for many nationalities, at a school that uses English as a primary target language are privileged to expand their cultural window, but they may find their own cultures closing from them. As they develop language for an increasing range of purpose of contexts, their world is changing in ways that they may or may not notice.

For an Irish kid learning at an ESL school in Wales, who studies only in English, they may not be exposed to much Gaelic language other than that at home, infrequently. The Welsh kid at school may be using English at home, attending Welsh classes online and immersed in a bilingual environment at home. The Chinese student on exchange from Dongguan to Aberystwyth may get to speak English, Welsh and a spot of Chinese with fellow students. They will all face improvements in their English language, but which students will improve their native tongue? What range of langue will they be exposed to? For the ESL teacher, this, like many other factors sits outside the scope of control. Awareness of these facts is important. Which students enjoy the same access to range of language as their peers? Is immersion in English to the detriment of other tongues? Do some students slip, trip and flip-flop from one school to the next? I know of at least a handful of students that I’ve taught that are in their third primary school in as many years. I shouldn’t judge because I also attended three primary schools as a kid. However, I didn’t have the pressure of a second language… unless North versus South Mancunian dialect was it. Barmcake or muffin?

The evening featured acronyms galore. EMI wasn’t Electrical and Musical Industries records; it was English as a Medium of Instruction. When CALD was mentioned, I expected to hear the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, but it turned out to mean Culturally and Linguistically Diverse.

Other notes (not typed up in any depth yet):

WHAT FUNDS OF KNOWLEDGE MIGHT AN ESL STUDENT BRING TO THE CLASSROOM?

Understand classroom exposure (Chinese vs Int’l); different opinions about the future (environment; conservation; search engine exposure) …

LANGUAGE/COMMUNICATION – visual artifacts / bilingualism / translation /

/ EXPERIENCE/WORLD KNOWLEDGE – A.I. / surveillance / icons / cultural exposure /

/ ATTITUDES OF FUTURE

/ WAYS OF THINKING – Wikipedia/media literacy / transfer of knowledge / attitudes in academic context / curiosity

/ MULTIPLE IDENTITIES cultural norms / family backgrounds / expectations / regional knowledge / local

Possible consequences of failure to acknowledge the above include neglect of diversity and cultures. Value it. Ignoring the valuable resource will limit their world view. Disenfranchising and discouraging, devaluing, disempowering – don’t handicap

Attitude of a teacher: transition / support / how do students feel in terms of students who finish first or take longer? /

My homework (A.K.A. the between module activity) is as follows. Select one class student. Understand their life, experiences, impacts on their ability to learn, hobbies, favourite biscuits, and so on. I can use any strategy to do so. Perhaps an untargeted questionnaire, a survey of the class, discussions with other teachers, an insight from their family, a photo of their favourite thing at home and so on… What do they miss when they’re at school? The old who, when, what, why, how, do, etc scenario is with me until next Thursday’s class. That student’s funds of knowledge will be valuable to teaching them.

And with that, I’m sat listening to Chuck Berry live and reading about things other than books that students can read to enhance their reading skills. Books are the gateway to knowledge, but in these modern times books are not the only medium for reading. In the age of information, words are all around us. Students should be encouraged to read (digital or hard copies):

books written by each other

dictionaries and thesaurus

play scripts

road signs

maps and atlases

song lyrics

poetry

travel brochures and leaflets

blogs

websites

encyclopedias

newspapers

magazines

social media and micro posts

catalogues and listings

programmes of events/sports meetings/games

manuals and ingredients on food labels

recipes

Anyway, that’s all for Thursday night. Let’s hope this COVID-19 scatters away soon. Keep busy. Eat a toffee apple for me and some Parkin Cake. I had to make do with McVities Hobnobs (the ones without chocolate). Stay strong. Peace and love x

John

It all starts with coffee…

It all starts with coffee…

Coffee foam shimmers on top as art is one thing, but swirly creamy pieces as masterpieces are another. Her Coffee have long been decorating coffees in dragons, hearts, swirls of passion and all manner of gorgeousness. One when enters Her Coffee, there’s an air of freshly grounded coffee. An instinctive pull to the counter in order to select a fine coffee gives you chance to observe three pieces of unique Suzhou artwork. Behind you on a brick-style war sit three cute animals peering at you. A waving cat signals for good luck sat on a marble-style worktop. East and west have met here perfectly. I have a massive discrimination for bad coffee. I’m sure that I have written that line many a time. So, here it appears once again. Drifting from Her Coffee with a takeaway smoothie, fruit tea or latte is forgivable but the cappuccino is the star attraction, so why not?  

At last a warm mug arrives and instantly appeal to one’s sensitive palate. Opened in the hardest year on record, Her Coffee has defied the odds and gone from strength to strength. Tina Peng opened it, inspired by her own visits to local coffee shops. “I sat there thinking, I can do this”, Tina beamed with enthusiasm, “and soon enough I was looking a place to call my own.” Her Coffee is ideally situated for an escape from the hustle and bustle, sat between Changping’s centre and the edge of Huangjiang. “And then we needed a name,” Tina smiled, “and the Chinese word for drink sounds like her, and I’m definitely a her, so that’s how it began.” Coffee culture has many corners across our city of Dongguan and few blow their own trumpet loud enough. Her Coffee has something of a blended fusion of comfort and familiarity.

Known within the local and expat community for consistently good coffee, Her Coffee also offers meals, snacks, sorbets and a selection of fine beers. Outside there is a patio area beneath palm trees and next to a lawn. A fountain display is within short eyeshot. Inside it is snug, with plush sofas, chairs and a variety of seating plans. There’s warmth and ambience with a lively family team running the business. Manager Tina Peng has been experimenting with the menu from the first day of opening, “With some market research and after listening to our customers we enhanced the salad range. We’re always looking to better ourselves.” Whilst green and black logos of mainstream coffee shops and many brands that have modelled themselves upon their success litter Dongguan like discarded coffee cups, this place stands out as different.

There’s space upstairs to watch a movie, share sporting events, throw a party or relax with those nearest and dearest to you.  Tina’s ethos is about making the coffee shop much more than a place for a hot brewed beverage. She explained, “We have fruit teas, from the freshest ingredients, and the finest quality. We believe our coffee shop is your coffee shop and your place to come to enjoy. We return your respect and trust by delivering a value for money experience. We want you to come as a stranger and leave as a friend. We even have an English corner, to help build confidence in spoken English. Everything is possible over coffee.” Tucked on the edge of Changping, behind the American Embassy that is McDonald’s and straddled by a future Spar supermarket, Her Coffee is worth a warm cup of coffee (or tea). The chance of hearing good music is never a bad thing.

It all begins with coffee…

Mobile thoughts

Good evening, from a bumpy road somewhere between Changping and Dalingshan. I’m sat in the back seat of an electric car. Right now they seem almost normal around here, yet it’s probably only been three years since I first noticed them in the taxi and Didi car (Chinese Uber) industry. They’re zippy little cars, which is more than I can say than for some of the roads.

Have you ever travelled away from somewhere else you’d rather be? Even though I’m tired (and sore from last night’s Murray’s FC football), I wish I could stay out a little later, or even all night. Sadly, but truly not sadly, I have to go home early. I’m an adult. The days of 1am on a school night are not with me. They haven’t been for a long, long time.

After a terrible salad at Mixed Salad, in Changping town (Dongguan) and a little walk, I’m heading back. My mind is with other thoughts but I am also previewing tomorrow’s lesson plans and actions for? the day ahead. I’m seriously enjoying my job and the challenges faced on a regular basis. There are so many great things to explore with my class and so many monotonous tasks that need bringing to life to capture the imagination of my students. I’m feeling rather thankful for this.

Having ate a little salad and pasta, my belly is full. My head also. I don’t recall many times in life involving discussions centred around white shoes and discounts. Conversations need variety and that’s the spice of life. That or Costa Rican coffee.

Is there a point to this latest mobile-phone- typed dribble. Not really. But, I feel good. James Brown on the mp3 player certainly helps but good company feeds the soul. To next time, and hopefully not quite so late…

Peace and love x

From the mobile #1

Good evening,

Well it’s 2300hrs here in China. This is the first post ever typed on my phone and slapped online. There won’t be much by way of content, thought or matters of interest. Nothing changes then. Same old junk e-mail style blog. Here’s a thought, and by no means original, imagine I was typing crap at 23:59 (or having an actual pooh on a loo), but didn’t finish either scenario until two minutes later. Same crap different day?

Today was spent with good company over coffee and a great salad full of beans and healthiness. Following that a swift train ride got me from Changping town to Xiping in Nancheng inside 40 minutes plus waiting time (easily 20 minutes). Football was tiring and hard, with Murray’s FC playing 8 a side in a training game against ourselves. Although during the game, I felt it was more against myself and my body than usual. Age and recovery are not best friends these days. Long before tearing muscles in football, I had to tear three sheets of two-ply at Changping South Railway Station. Big bro’is having a gander, and he knows that I tried to scan twice. Luckily, I only needed three sheets but prior to deploying my excess materials into the squatter toilet, I didn’t know my demands. The pleasure of the Dambusters reenactment over a Tony reservoir was met by the need for only three sheets of paper.

Today wasn’t all doom and gloom. Stay shining. Peace and love,

John

Rails to Suzhou

Good day/Namaste/S’mae/How do/Hello/Nihao,

I’ve never done the U.K.’s longest train journey. If you depart Aberdeen at 08:20 you can be stepping into the Cornish night at 21:43 that same day. The destination of Penzance is around 13.5 hours (1162km/722 miles) from Aberdeen station (built 1867), via about 33 stops. The CrossCountry train costs £102.50 in advance or £241.00 on the day. It isn’t a sleeper train. It sounds tortuous.

So, boarding the sleeper train from Humen (Dongguan) via Shenzhen North (深圳北站) to Shanghai was a little less daunting. I could spend most of the journey kipping. I departed at 19:43 and arrived by 06:50 in Shanghai Hongqiao (上海虹桥站). Aside from a man taking my photos and two girls playing on their bright phones in the shared bedroom cubicle, it was an unremarkable but comfortable journey. Wearing a mask for the duration was a necessary evil. The return journey (10:20 from Hangzhou East[(杭州东站) to Shenzhen at 20:39) was much tougher, having to be seated for so long with little chance to stretch. The connecting journeys at either end made for a short wander (less than an hour each time). Considering Shenzhen’s station opened in 2011, Shanghai’s station the year before, and Hangzhou was built in 1992, but refitted in 2013, and all the trains were modern, it was surprisingly easy to scan my passport and travel ticketless, all for about 700rmb each way (around £79.10). Modern rail network. Fair prices – even if they were inflated for the Golden Week holiday period (黄金周).

Why did I travel so far? Well, madness. I haven’t left Dongguan’s city prefecture boundaries since March 26th 2020. The post-COVID-19 restrictions and worries haven’t helped. The first holiday of the school year gave me 8 days to play with. So, armed with an invitation by Tina, my coffee shop friend, off I trotted. The ancient city of Sūzhōu [苏州] is twinned with and often compared to Venice. It is in the same province as Nanjing, a walled-city I visited last summer. I liked there. I was certain that with everyone’s love for Suzhou that I wouldn’t be disappointed. For years I have been hearing from Tom, Dick and Harry how good the city is for travelling around. The hotel selected was the swanky Pan Pacific Suzhou (苏州吴宫泛太平洋酒店). Located close to the Auspicious Light Pagoda (1004 B.C.) it included access to the Panmen gardens and original South Gate of the once-walled-city. Built in 1996, the hotel bizarrely has U.K. plug sockets and other western trimmings but is now undergoing a substantial refurbishment. The location is ideal and relaxing with a great Xinjiang restaurant over the road, and restaurants onsite. The swimming pool looked good, but I didn’t take my trunks.

Suzhou’s tourist areas are colourful and lively. They’re a blend of the old world and new. There’re heaps of plastic and mass-produced goods claiming to be handmade and local. The shops that sell them, and snacks, are numerous. It can feel like Groundhog Day going by the frontages but amongst the clutter there are some genuine brilliant pieces of gold dust. There are collectible shops offering keepsakes and relics, coffee shops that have art galleries and art galleries that have coffee shops. There are hidden away alleys with tiny teashops and real dabs of history throughout the city. There’s a Finnish restaurant, the usual array of western food (Sera Nera [十全街吴衙场40-1号, 近迎枫桥弄] is one Italian place I will recommend), Ann’s teahouse offers English-style food, and then there’s local bites from bugs to great fish to choose from. Suzhou seems green and spread out, it’s rather like Norfolk in that hills and mountains are rare (as goes most of that general region to Hangzhou and Shanghai). It isn’t a terrible place to be, but it isn’t amazing either. Perhaps I hanker for the sea and mountains more.

So after a few days, I am sat back in Dongguan. Echobelly’s Great Things has just played on BBC Radio 6 Music. The bass and treble were just perfect for a summer’s day. It’s not summer here. It’s 24°C. This is autumn. It’s cooler and much more comfortable than other days this year. Yesterday’s walk around Dalingshan (from Cháng’ān [长安] town’s Lotus Mountain) was nevertheless a little sweaty and warm. I’d ate an excellent breakfast (English, of course) at Ziggy’s American Diner before zipping past Chang’an Park, and heading for what’s know as Lotus Mountain. Here I spotted a lake by the Lotus Villa Hotel (莲花山庄酒店, 长安镇莲花山). Within seconds the familiar flash of a kingfisher whisked by, and disappeared into a tree. Various herons, bitterns and egrets scattered around the quiet lakeside. A smell of sewage ruined the impression.

From the lakeside I headed upwards along a road, gently winding its way to a temple under restoration. Beyond that steps and a clearly marked-path guided me to numerous summits, but not the main peak (capped by radio masts and fenced off). The huge advantage of walking to the peak is that you can carry on towards Dalingshan Forest Park (大岭山森林公园)/. That is a far quieter and greener route, however like the Lotus Mountain litter lined many pathways and piled up hugely at rubbish bins. For a country with so many plastic reusable water bottles, single use plastics really do ruin parks. The reward of a wander through Dalingshan gave me the sight of the worst camouflaged moth ever and a pretty green mantid. That and a good stretch after the long train journey back from Suzhou via Hangzhou, Shenzhen North station and Humen town.

I’ve lived in China for six and a bit years. Too many flash bars pop up, look shiny and then go. Ziggy’s Bar has come, evolved and carries on, withing Chang’an town. With the nearby diner, and a proper set aside bar, it is a refreshing collective. Mitch, the boss, and his team are welcoming. The bar has great decor with movies, music and western culture slipping between a touch of the east. Expect great ciders and beers (domestic and imported). There’s Boddingtons Bitter from Manchester (well, now Luton), cider from Beijing, great ales on tap and in bottles. Spirits needed? Plenty here. Worth a ride out of central Dongguan or other areas for a proper knees-up, pool game, board game or a chill out session. Live music is also available. I didn’t visit the bar before the walk. I stopped by the diner. Joining friends, I grabbed the English breakfast and supped good coffee. The breakfast had great bacon, hash browns, warm beans, proper black pudding and filled my belly nicely. I can also recommend the fish and chips or the burger range, having been a few times in recent weeks. I don’t too much like the colour red, but the mood of the diner, with a jukebox, appears like an advertisement for Coca Cola. There’s other décor that makes you feel you’re no longer in China. It’s an oddity to step from the footpath of Chang’an into a different world. The good thing was that my belly enjoyed the leap of faith.

The world’s first purpose-built railway station terminus was Liverpool Road in Manchester. It opened in 1830. It was the start of the first true railway too. Two tracks, timetables and proper stations accompanied the steam locomotives. Not surprisingly the first railway warehouse, Liverpool Road Railway Warehouse followed. It houses much of the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry now. Looking at that example, it’s amazing to see the speed at which China slaps railway lines across its national soil. That day when Manchester and Liverpool opened their railway, the MP for Liverpool William Huskisson slipped and was ran over by Robert Stephenson’s Rocket. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR) was the first of its kind, and just 50 kilometres long (31 miles). Now, in China, the network of rail covers 121,000 km (75,186 miles) and it is growing every year. It plans to plan to expand the network to 274,000 km (170,000 miles) by the year 2050. I am just thankful that the 1,758 kilometres (1,091 miles) from Dongguan (Humen) to Suzhou involved music by Los Lobos and the latest Doves album, alongside John Bude’s The Lake District Murder novel (a classical detective yarn with plenty of detail and little happening).

Thank you kindly for your time.

Setting Sails

Good day/Namaste/S’mae/How do/Hello/Nihao,

“Here we go”… “all aboard”… “the packet steamer is ready for departure”… “the flight is ready to depart”… “my God, it’s full of stars”…

BLAST OFF!

I’m not going to lie. It has been an eventful and busy few weeks. Today is the final day of the first teaching week. This marks the third week within Tungwah Wenzel International School. It’s been emotionally charged, eye-opening (in a refreshing kind of way) and wonderfully welcoming. This school is modern and dedicated to the International Baccalaureate methods and standards of practice. It aims to develop rounded young people that enquire, have broad knowledge and use their skills with care. The idea is to create peace and harmony whilst ‘promoting intercultural understanding and respect.’

The school is very well organised with clear hierarchy and methodology. There’s much to learn and many places to look for the knowledge. Resource is plentiful and accessible. Each classroom is equipped with a Smart Board (digital white board/multimedia unit) and at least four white boards. The room started out as a blank canvas. With the aid of desks that can fit a variety of teamwork positions or solo working spaces, and great chairs, the students can work at a breakfast bar-style workspace overlooking the green sporting facilities or slot in and out of double, treble, quadruple or quintuple team areas. I think up to decuple is possible, but I have yet to try that configuration. Differentiated instruction at its best.

The first few weeks involved introductions, meetings and workshops. Between brainstorms, buzz groups, bug lists, stepladder techniques and synectics, I discovered mind maps, which I have seen and can interpret but have never attempted to create one. My mind map virginity was lost to the theme of transdisciplinary learning.

I like the I.B. mindset. Classrooms encourage open celebration of diversity through their displays and their activities. The reading corner it Chinese and English, but Spanish and French should and will be included to facilitate the students from those backgrounds. Their mother tongue is just as important as the primary medium we teach in: English. Multi-lingual exposure will widen everyone’s minds. The displays will mostly be at the eye-level of our students. At the end of the day, they’re learning more than we are. So, parents should expect to come and crouch down to see their kids’ best efforts. We have a corner set aside for curiosity and special objects. Things are great examples of realia and generate wonderful questions. Our classroom is there to stimulate and be inviting. Whilst the framework may have been organized by myself and my assistant Miss Sheryl, the bulk of the display work will be a showcase for our students.

Learning stations are proving to be a challenge. Some students must get used to not playing with everything placed in one area. The literacy, numeracy and U.O.I. (Unit of Inquiry) class regions seem to be mixed up on a daily basis. House-keeping is something we’re encouraging the students to do, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. We have a couch, a proper sofa, beanbags, stools and chairs of various heights. Our common room and classroom are separated by a wall, but hopefully a doorway or a crawl space will bring the two spaces together. Different activities are blessed by different zones.

Resources are important. The students have an iPad each, books, things to use such as stationery and so on. The facilities are spacious and numerous with dedicated areas and ample room for multi-purpose functions. Of course, there’s a Godzilla-sized amount of responsibility, but few rules are seen. Instead students are asked to create essential agreements. They choose positive sentences and then pledge to abide by them. They even set them for their teachers. My grade four students elected the following essential agreements for me:

Make our school day special and fun.

Understand our students and their needs. [They even mentioned that this applies to the whole school, rather than just our one classroom]

Bring a smile to the classroom.

Make our classes interesting.

Be equal and fair.

Try to play more games in the classroom.

Help us to learn.

As for the students, there are the standard hints at keeping the noise down as well as about respect and politeness. Their collective of ten agreements are easily said, and I’m sure in time, they’ll also be habit. I will let them choose their content, but shuffle in some Roald Dahl and my own interests as and when fit and proper to do so.

The students could have even added, ‘Mr John must share his cakes’ because based on today’s lunch, they cleaned my dessert plate of fruits and three small slices of cake swiftly. I didn’t even have any watermelon left. I’ve two students in my class from three previous years at St Lorraine Anglo-Chinese Primary School. Kitty and Marline are now like best friends. They’ve linked up well with two other girls yet still seem to hate working with boys. So, as girls hit around 9 or 10 years of age, that’s when boys are ‘disgusting’ as they say. Maturity comes at different ages of course but the age-old battle of boys versus girls roars on.

These last few days have involved plenty of studying for myself, but with online resources and three libraries (teachers’ / primary / middle years) to select from, I haven’t had any huge problems. I know that smooth seas don’t make good sailors and the challenges ahead will present themselves in time, but I feel I’m in the right place surrounded by the right people, all with the right attitudes for the road ahead. There are trials ahead. Nothing easy is ever worth doing, right?

Thank you kindly for your time.

Exam stress: COVID-19 style.

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

This has been the most testing semester of my time teaching within China. When we look back on the spread of the pandemic from China outwards, we can count the tragic loss of lives, the social effects and far more damage to community. Many will look back at the economic impact with aversion. There will be hatred by some, about how governments and leaders globally have failed some and their nations. Loathing and abhorrence towards such matters as travel. There may be limited opportunity to flourish in this COVID-19 era. Trouble is already rife. How many people have lost out? How many people plan right now? Is there a disinclination to trust bug business? Has repugnance crawled around the globe like a thick mist? Do many feel a new kind of animosity?

My personal antipathy is towards the setbacks slung upon education. For many students and parents, they were locked in. Properly shut away. No outreaches and limits held over their head like a noose. Some students have been apart from one of their parents for so long. A mother in China here. A father over in Singapore, or Japan, or Korea, or France there. This isn’t a way for a kid to grow up. How many families are split up by the control of disease? Some will find their father or mother as close as Hong Kong to Shenzhen is, but to their tiny innocent minds, the distance may as well be as far as Kathmandu is from Sao Paulo. These are testing times as we approach the examination periods. Students are being drilled in test papers, exams, and assessments at a rate like bullets spraying from a machine gun in battle.

These poor little minds need protecting with less demands so early in their primary life. In China, students are tested mid-term, end of semester, mid-term and end of year. On top of this there are other tests, so many tests, and very little time to stop thinking about tests. Outside of the primary classroom, they may be assessed at extra learning and training centres, or even via online teaching assessments. I don’t recall seeing a test until I was in year 6 of Chapel Street Primary School. And then, year 9 of secondary school was key for testing. After that every secondary year, college and university year had tests. Yet, outside of England, and the U.K., testing can be little (like Finland) or frequently often (like China).

The pandemic claimed weeks of teaching, then came online teaching which many believed to be near-ineffective. The excitement and rush to the classroom was filled with joy, but soon the happy faces fell away as the weight of condensed programmes filled their tiny blossoming minds. A nine-year-old girl shouldn’t tell you she feels pressure. A ten-year-old boy shouldn’t break down in tears and worry about missing his drumming class. They should be playing in sand, building towers of Lego or shoving their fingers up their nose with not a worry in the world.

Last night’s defeat in the football game between City and Liverpool F.C.’s feeder team Southampton is thrown away. The perspective I have today is clear. These exams should be lighter and easier on the young minds of primary school kids. This is not a way to learn. My first foray into contact rugby on Saturday with Dongguan Bulldogs was tough physically but mentally it was far easier than what these students are facing in China. The gloomy feel of a pandemic lurking in shadows, worries about family and life are entering the world of children too early. Let’s be sensible and try to help them out. Less exams please.

The Mancunian Way, Dongguan

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“I feel so extraordinary; Something’s got a hold on me; I get this feeling I’m in motion; A sudden sense of liberty.” – New Order’s song True Faith.

I’m patriotic towards the U.K. in a way. I sing praise and fly the flag for great people, wonderful history and fantastic places. I know that the story of the U.K.’s history has often been brutal, cruel and deserves little love. Even within the 21st century the U.K., as it moves away from a colonial and European past, and becomes less connected, yet more dependent on overseas trading and manufacture is and always will be a wonderful country. It’s my home. I was born in Manchester, England. I don’t call myself English. I’m British, when I choose to be. I’m Mancunian always. I have Celtic blood in me from my Irish and Welsh great grandparents. My roots are clear and free. But this tree doesn’t cling to the past and history. This tree wants to expand and be watered by different skies. For me tradition and culture are important but understanding and freedom to choose your own pathway are far more intrinsic to living. This tree is currently sat on its arse in Changping, Dongguan. Today’s and yesterday’s rugby and football have been washed out by Dragon Boat rains. I have some free time.


Today, I want to show a gallery and write a little about the culture of Dongguan and China. I’ve been here for the vast majority of the 2308 days now (11th February 2014). I believe many great days have passed and many more will follow. That’s why I am right here, right now. I arrived and didn’t feel too much way of culture shock. Around me a reasonably established cultured expat community threaded amongst the fabric of the local workforces and people of Guangdong.

“Because we need each other; We believe in one another; And I know we’re going to uncover; What’s sleepin’ in our soul” – Acquiesce by Oasis.

Since, I arrived I have seen Dongguan grow and grow. It is now classed as a Megacity. It seemingly will never stop growing. There are skyscrapers and apartment blocks skimming the sky in every single district of Dongguan. Whereas in 2014, I’d notice dozens of these mammoth constructions and many more sprouting buildings, now I am seeing hundreds and hundreds of established communities and hubs here, there and everywhere. I used to consider Nancheng and Dongcheng as the central axis of Dongguan. Now the townships of Chang’an (home of Oppo), Changping and the ever-growing former fields of Songshan Lake (home of Huawei), and the sprawls of Liaobu town could easily be seen as central areas. The arrival of the Huizhou to now West Dongguan Railway Station (soon to be Guangzhou East) or 莞惠城际轨道交通  /莞惠线 Guanhui intercity railway has added to rapid growth. As it joins the short-named Pearl River Delta Metropolitan Region Intercity Railway System (珠江三角洲地区城际轨道交通). That’s more than 65 railway stations in close proximity to Dongguan. Like all of the Pearl River Delta, this city is growing fast – and going places.

 

When not hopping on 200 km/h (124 mph) railway systems, I have ample opportunity to meet great people. Dongguan‘s community is largely migrant with people coming from all over China and the world beyond. International jet-setters with lives here, include Serbians, Kiwis, and even Scousers. They can be found in some of the office places, factories, bars and restaurants throughout the city. Playing football with Brazilians or Russians, or cycling with Dongbei people is possible or a spot of chess at Murray’s Irish Pub with Ukranian opposition. Anything goes here. Drinking homebrew at Liberty Brewing Company (曼哈顿餐吧) in Dongcheng after playing tag rugby with Tongans, South Africans, Germans and Malaysians makes me realise how lucky I am. This is a city that is tidying up and beautifying itself at an alarming rate.

Throughout the 6.5 years of life in and around Dongguan, I’ve slipped up and down ginnels, seeking out the new and old. There have been trips to pizza joints in obscure areas, Dragon Boat races watched, Cosplay events attended and English competitions observed. Dongguan, like Manchester, has a heartbeat that shows anything is possible and if it isn’t here, you make it. You can make something new, or your bring something to the party. You can sit and complain about people taking your photo or saying, “wàiguórén” (foreigner/外国人) or you can show the people around you, your worth.

This week I was asked by the Dongguan Foreign Bureau to teach them. Sadly, I cannot fit their demands into my day. I’ve bene lucky to narrate advertisements, wear watches for model shoots, test-drive new bicycles and play with new robotics before they reached their target audience or global factory floors. Daily life has been far from mundane here with oddities and pleasures as varied as can be. What’s around the next corner? Well, visas are quicker and easier to get, despite more rules and demands. It seems far quicker than when I first arrived. Sometimes, I doubt that I have done everything right, yet it seems clear and simple. Just a checklist. This week I received my medical report back. Now, I need just a few other items for the 2020/21 visa… That’s progress.

Bridges have been made and links that could prove lifelong. The west and east have collided in bizarre ways often forming a touch of the unique. There has been colour, rainbows and diversity amongst the traditional and the common. There have been flashes of light and inspiration. There have been days when solitude has been sought and there will be more, no doubt, but one thing I find, and have found throughout my time here, people are just that. Just simple down to earth, regular people going about their days, looking for peace and good opportunities to survive or better themselves. There are more cars and less bicycles, which shows that some people’s bank accounts and credit-ratings have improved. Quality of life needs balance, and with that the subway/underground system of Dongguan is projected to change from one line to seven lines.

Words can say how thankful I am for my time here. I am enjoying life in different ways to others, and being who I want to be, when I want to be. I’m selfish or I’m sharing. I’m open or I am closed. I read or I watch. I write or I dictate. There are times to slip unseen, and times to lead an audience. It is good for the mind to be bored or alone. I truly believe that’s where creativity lies. It sits there waiting to be tapped and delivered to paper, computers or other outputs. I can wander from craft beer breweries to model car clubs to fusion and western food restaurants with ease and all of the time remain connected to modern and old China.

There is plenty of ugly in Dongguan, just like the rest of the world. To quote the 18th century French phrase, “ne saurait faire d’omelette sans casser des œufs“:  You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Humans must learn from the stains and damage we have caused to our planet globally, whether disease or pollution. We can’t give in. Our cultures, our pride and our people need to fight on and find solutions. Just as #BlackLivesMatter, all lives matter – whether human or worm or bug or panda. Life must find a way. Dongguan is radically changing its energy consumptions, factory practices and the way its environment is being respected. This is good for all. Maybe, I should really put my words into action and finish studying towards the HSK (汉语水平考试 Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì) course for the Chinese Proficiency Test.

 

Dongguan has gone from a place with a handful of limited cinemas, to those with the IMAX, vibrating seats, private screens and many of the latest releases from the west. KTV bars make way for baseball batting cages, ten-pin bowling, archery cafes and all the latest crazes. The great thing is that with Wechat (born 2011), Alipay etc, you can leave your wallet behind and pay swiftly with ease using these simple electronic methods. Gone are the days of using equations and haggling to get a taxi a short distance. Piles of services are available via your phone, including electrical bills, water bills and Didi (driver and carshare service) is one such saving grace.

During these COVID-19 pandemic times, your phone provides your health code, advice in travel, guidance on health services and help. Dongguan’s local services for healthcare, private insurance and banking are on your fingertips, rather than a a few hours out of work. Life can be as fast or as slow as you wish. In 2010, Dongguan was named a National Model City for Environmental Protection and greenways, green belts and other greenery followed. There are hundreds of parks now, over 1200… it is easier than ever to stay healthy.

There is culture around us, old temples, modern pagodas, relics of time and shells of history. Dongguan’s landmarks are a tad tough to visit now. The Cwa humid subtropical climate here is far above the reported average annual temperature of 22.7 °C (72.9 °F). The rainfall is typical of the land below the Tropic of Cancer now. It is raining cats, dogs and occasionally elephants. Wellingtons and umbrellas are common sights these days, rather than the Dongguan Yulan Theatre, GuanYinShan (Budda mountain), Hǎizhàn bówùguǎn (海战博物馆 Opium War Museum) or Jin’aozhou Pagoda. Even a trip to my local coffee shop, Her Coffee, is like a swim in a river. It is blooming wet lately. As a Mancunian, I feel at home.

I’m here for education – to both teach and to learn. This city has hundreds of educational institutions, even Cumbria’s St. Bees are opening a school here. I’ve heard there are around 550 primary schools, 480 kindergartens and several universities now. To bump into a teacher amongst the 21,000 plus teachers is not unusual. Although it seems every second teacher works for one of the many Eaton House schools here. I’ve heard Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) in Songshan Lake is one school to really watch. Like its neighbouring Huawei school, it is massive with around 1,000,000 square metres of surface area. I’ve seen the modern sports gyms, performance space and technology labs. It uses the latest gadgets and networking. It really is 21st century over there at Songshan Lake. Although Huawei have a German-style train-tram zipping around, piping back to older days. Dongguan University of Technology(DGUT; 东莞理工学院) is one of universities in the area meaning that you can educate beyond your teenage years here. It really is a place to learn. Watch out Oxford and Cambridge! Maybe that’s why Trump is always bad-mouthing China’s growth?

From eating chicken anus, to two weeks of quarantine in XiHu Hotel, Dongguan has given me more time to turn the contents of my head to words. Now that I am ready to publish a novel, I need a publisher, but how to do this during a pandemic? I haven’t a clue, but I know one thing, the challenge will be tough and worth it. Nobody ever climbed a mountain to sit at the top and look down without seeing another mountain, right? At the end of the day, the sun sets only to rise again. Dongguan faced lockdown impeccably and other challenges, just as the world did and does. Chin up, keep going and let’s crack on.

Last night, I ate Korean barbecue with great people to celebrate a treble-birthday, followed by proof that I am terrible at ten-pin bowling and awoke today feeling optimistic. The world is often reported to be going through a pandemic-sized recession. As the world sailed a wave in 2008 and Dongguan grew from that recession, I will everyone to go on. Manufacture a bucket of optimism. Just like the strings of New Dawn Fades by Joy Division, there is darkness but remember these famous lines: It was me, waiting for me; Hoping for something more; Me, seeing me this time; Hoping for something else. In 2008, low-tech industry switched to the high-tech. Boomtime arrived. Chances are that one in five phones around the globe were made in Dongguan. Is your phone Vivo, Oppo, Honor or Huawei? It was probably made down the road from me. So, Dongguan is closer than you think.


Manchester isn’t any place I will visiting in person for some time, so it has to come to me via playbacks of Oasis gigs at Maine Road and the written word. Over the next few months, I plan to read the following Mancunian-connected books:

Hell is a City – Maurice Proctor; The Manchester ManIsabella Varley Banks; Passing Time – Michel Butor; Magnolia Street – Louis Golding; Fame is the Spur – Howard Spring; Lord Horror – David Britton; The Emigrants – WG Sebald; Cold Water – Gwendolyne Riley; The Mighty Walzer Howard Jacobson; Manchester Slingback – Nicolas Blincoe; Vurt – Jeff Noon; A Man’s Game: The Origins of Manchester City Football ClubAndrew Keenan; Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell; Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell; North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell.

“I was thinking about what you said; I was thinking about shame; The funny thing how you said; Cause it’s better not to stay” – The Last Broadcast – Doves