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

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…

DUCT TAPE

Thank you kindly to everyone who has wished me well today. A few moments of kindness have made my heart feel warm inside. x

If I leave here tomorrow,
I’ll travel far on your love.
If I need strength to walk on,
you’ll carry me further.
If I find myself lonely,
memories will strengthen me.
If I stumble and fall,
I’ll stand up once more tall.
If all around me crumbles,
you’ll be there to hold it altogether.
Hope, relentless hope, you’re inside my heart.
Dreams big, and small, realised and unreleased, you’re in my company.
38 years and I’m still here. 38 years and you’re still here. The years, we’re still here.

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

SAVE PEGGY

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

“When I stopped working five years ago, I went on vacation, I rested, I traveled. And when I decided to work again, I told myself it would be in decoration, more than fashion.” – Kenzō Takada, fashion designer and founder of brand Kenzo, 27 February 1939 – 4 October 2020

First there was a mixed message about face masks and then there was a law. The UK government has flapped around on this subject and caused derision and disparagement. The UK healthcare system, National Health Service (N.H.S.) is quite clear on the matter. Disrespect of a simple face mask has shrouded the UK. Yet, here in China, people respect the masks on the whole. They understand, it isn’t just about choice, it’s about making sure they don’t become part of a chain of infection that passes to vulnerable and senior citizens. The humble face mask has had its golden year in 2020, having really stepped up following 2003’s SARS outbreak that originated in Guangdong, China. Production following the spread of our time’s infamous COVID-19 pandemic. The socio-economic disaster of the year has been constantly in our eye. Oxford University, England and Duke University, U.S.A. and actual actions taken in China and other Asian nations saw huge and fast reductions in the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. So, based on science and experience, health officials around the world advise about wearing face masks. A simple request (even if by law) to help stop spread the risk of transmission. Just like handwashing.

“It’s not a law. There’s too many f***ing liberties being taken away from us now … I choose not to wear one. If I get the virus it’s on me, it’s not on anyone else … it’s a piss-take. There’s no need for it … They’re pointless.” – Noel Gallagher, singer, Matt Morgan podcast.

So, populists like well-respected bobbing-head-mascot Donald of the Trump (P.O.T.U.S. for now) and Noel Gallagher banging on about not wearing masks doesn’t help. Just remember that Trump and U.K. Prime Minister didn’t wear masks and both endured hospital care. Maybe, it wasn’t as bad for them, with their super healthcare plans and support, but for Joe Bloggs and Belinda Blogg of Birmingham, furloughed on zero salary, times may be much harder. Much harder if they attend a Noel Gallagher solo night at the Crown and Anchor pub, then spread his germs onwards to their aunty, uncle and widow grandma. Flattening the curve of active transmissions allows hospitals to raise their game. As they increase their capacity, they can deal with their already stretched resources and add a few more World Health Organization (W.H.O.) posters about wearing face masks. Just like the use of condoms, prevention is better than the cure.

Face masks are just a barrier. When we speak, we release microscopic water droplets and other stuff. This stuff carries that stuff that harms. Expiration was learned as part of primary school science in the U.K. I recall quite clearly that when we breath out, we release water. Talking can spread the simple cold virus that comes and goes annually. Doesn’t it make sense to protect each other? If I was in an enclosed shop, say Aldi or Waitrose, with the presence of Peggy Gallagher perusing the frozen mushy peas, then I’d ensure I was wearing a mask. William John Paul Gallagher and Noel Thomas David Gallagher would be a tad annoyed if I passed on something bad to their mam. So, Noel, if you can’t talk proper, perhaps shut your mouth. Bigmouth Strikes Again was The Smiths, but perhaps another cover version needs Noel’s focus.

The world needs less xenophobia, racism, fear and worry. Religion and politics are taking a hit during this pandemic. Cinemas are closing. Movies are being delayed. Concerts are being cancelled and shows moved online. Football is just about making it to television screens, albeit a flatter atmospheric version than what we’ve experienced for decades. As Manchester City ground out a 1-0 win over London club Arsenal, famines rage on (after locust infestations), recessions cripple families, crimes rise and fake treatments slip under the radar globally. There is hope though, with Yiwu, Zhejiang (the manufacturing hub of all hubs) offering vaccine shots. That’s before they have been approved by any medical organization. It hasn’t even completed medical trials. Vaccines can drive pathogens to evolve, so let’s hope this speedy jab in the arm isn’t a driver to a more complicated future. Our immunogenicity, mucosal immunity and reactogenicity are being tested, as much as our patience. These jabs could protect many non-vaccinated by interrupting transmission. The world watches anxiously. Or, in the case of English learners, they keep busy by cracking on and learning the basics of their new language, such as:

English nouns that people really need to know include the words people [plural of person], thing [What is that thing?], time (What time should we meet?), day [Have a good day], man and woman [The man is by the woman], and child/children/son/daughter. Armed with these nouns, how many questions and sentences can you make? I’d argue there to be near-countless varieties. Now throw in the verbs (to) be [I want to be a scientist], have, do, say, go, get, make, know, see, come, look, want, and use. Then put your knowledge to use:

e.g. Noel Gallagher is one of many people who may or may not want to wear the clothing brand Kenzo. Maybe Noel Gallagher will use a Kenzo face mask.

“Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.”  – character Ian Malcolm, from Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park

Thank you kindly for your time.

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.

ALL CHANGE.

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

August 2020 has seen a few new components to my life. A new apartment. A new place of work. A new kettle. A new model bridge in the balcony garden. And finally, like Star Wars, a new hope. Moving from Changping to Songshan Lake and Dàlǐngshān (大岭山) was relatively straight forwards.

The new apartment sits over the line of the township borders. I live in Dàlǐngshān but I work in Sōngshānhú district (piànqū / 松山湖片区). Dàlǐngshān Zhèn (大岭山镇) is part of Sōngshānhú but these days Sōngshānhú is a very high-tech centre within the 6 townships that surround Sōngshān lake itself. Shilong (石龙), Chashan (茶山), and Shipai (石排) aren’t really that close to the lake area but they’re part of the district. The lake area is mainly surrounded by Dàlǐngshān, Dàlǎng (大朗) and Liáobù (寮步). Sōngshānhú as a town has grown from 2003, from a simple high-tech park to the mammoth green living space around the lake that is now. Huawei and many other tech giants are here. It has a railway station on The Dongguan West to Huizhou railway and will soon join the subway with three stations in Dàlǐngshān on the line 1 route (东莞轨道交通1号线/Dōngguǎn Guǐdào Jiāotōng Yī Hào Xiàn), and one at Sōngshānhú itself. The new line opens in 2022, so I won’t get too excited right now. The subway Line 3 will also have 4 stations in Sōngshānhú but that hasn’t began construction.

The new job has been welcoming, well-paced and full of encouragement. I am confident that this is a new start with great potential. Two former students are following me from grade 3 at St Lorraine Anglo-Chinese School to the new Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS). I’m sure that they will enjoy their grade 4 class – and I will have to work hard as their Home Room Teacher to ensure that they do. Between various conference calls, meetings and introductions there has been good coffee and ample time to down tools to think of a plan of action. I am terribly excited about the coming semester. Even amongst these COVID-19 times there is a lighthouse and beacon when we look in the right places.

Dàlǐngshān town isn’t far away, and in the relatively short time since I first went to Dàlǐngshān, the place has grown and has modern districts, several branches of Lauren’s Pizza and even a Walmart. There are universities and amongst the Guangdong Medical University is just over the road from me and DG University of Technology (东莞理工学院) isn’t far off. The lake has one large section that is completely free of cycles and cars. There is a parallel cycle route below a highway and under a cooling tree canopy. Cycling around the rest of the lake is a must. It is a great spot for tourism with backdrops of Huawei’s impressive European-style town and numerous picturesque places along the way. Lotus leaves, lush green sprawls, flowers and bird call should be abundant. Around the many tranquil pathways, you can see Tai Chi, yoga, dates holding hands and families flying kites. I can’t wait to hang up my hammock sooner or later.

“I feel invigorated.” – Those were my words spoken to a new colleague on Friday. The evening was finished with a leaving day drink for Calum from Murray’s F.C. He’s only moving to Shenzhen but felt the need to arrange a leaving meal and drinks. I didn’t attend the meal as all new team members of Tungwah Wenzel International School were treated to a splendid buffet meal at the stylish Dongcheng International Hotel (owned by Tungwah/Donghua group). Even the coach journey was on a Tungwah group coach. They own factories, gardens, estates, hospitals and schools. They’re a sizable group and well-known in this region. Between the blooming peach and plum trees of Dongguan, the group’s assets aren’t far off. The ministry of optimism within my head is thankful for such a great opportunity. My only regret is not buying a crane from the car park exhibition at the Dongcheng International Hotel. Dahan Construction Machinery have some great pieces, ideal for placing hammocks within.

There are plenty of places within a short cycle ride now. Tongsha lake and the parks around it are just a stone’s throw away. Dalingshan Park is between here and Houjie. I’ve already cycled back to Irene’s Bar for a sandwich. There’s much to see and do in the area that I have yet to explore. On my doorstep, I will find the Tongji Bridge (通济桥 Song Dynasty, 920-1279) and cross that bridge soon. It will help me forget my worries. That’s the literal meaning, I believe.

“Quite apart from its meaty content, we believe we have found a real dramatist” – Gerry Raffles of Theatre Workshop speaking about Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste of Honey.

Every story should have a beginning, an end, and some middle parts. There should be a plot, a setting with characters, some form of conflict (because something must happen), and a resolution (the smooth end). Some books carry the resolution or conflict over a series. That is life. Some things drag on. Others happen and fade away. There is no one-size-fits-all story to life. There will le a logical following and flow to a story because they must run smoothly to allow the follower to tag along. British dramatist and screenwriter Shelagh Delaney (who featured on album cover Louder Than Bombs, by The Smiths) intended A Taste of Honey to be a novel. It is a very famous play now. The drunken working-class single mum of Helen, and a daughter called Jo have spread from the monotonous 1958 skyline of a desolate Salford to London’s West End, Broadway, BBC Radio 3 and the Royal Exchange Theatre amongst other places. Peter, the wealthy southern lover of Jo’s mother Helen and a black sailor called Jimmy feature alongside a camp art student called Geoffrey. It is a complex and heavily questioning piece of drama. Class, gender, sexuality, and race are dissected which for mid-twentieth-century Britain was highly risky. The stars have followed the play with Stockport’s Sally Lindsay, a cluster of soap TV stars and Dr Who extras, Joan Ann Olivier, Baroness Olivier, DBE (born 28th October 1929) and notably Dame Angela Brigid Lansbury DBE joining the productions. A certain Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) has also featured on the stage for this production. From Salford to Home and Away to a Galaxy far, far away…

But, right here, right now my story at Dongguan’s Tungwah Wenzel International School has just began.

Wilson x Silva: Musical Football Hero

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

Spanish footballer David Silva is a part of Manchester. Tony Wilson is ‘Mr Manchester’. What an ace city to be part of?! It’s got Shameless, it’s got Coronation Street and it’s got football and music by the bucketload. Some are born here. Some arrive here and fit right in.

I remember hearing the local tones of Anthony Wilson on Granada Reports news as a kid. In contrast to the home counties accents of England, used by the BBC, here was ITV’s regional voice with a proper twang. Known for his nightclub (Hacienda) and Factory Record, Anthony H. Wilson was deeply rooted in Manc culture. He still is, even after his early death, aged 57, in 2007.

Born in 1986, in Gran Canaria’s Arguineguín, a small fishing village, David Josué Jiménez Silva’s rise in football has been dramatic. His 5’ 7” (1.7m) stature has been iconic in the Premier League since his arrival at Manchester City in 2010. He leaves the club having won 4 league titles, 2 F.A. Cups, and 5 E.F.L. League Cups. There were also 3 Community Shields. During his time at City he has represented Spain and gained two UEFA European Championship trophies. All on the back of 2010’s FIFA World Cup crown. Bizarrely there has only been one Premier League Player of The Month award (September 2011). Many other individual awards have been picked up. David “El Mago” Silva is and has been Mr Manchester City.

“The best signing we [Manchester City] have made.” – Carlos Tevez, former Manchester City footballer, October 2011.

After finishing the delayed Champions League campaign, David Silva will leave the sky-blue base of Manchester for a new challenge. Seen as one of the best and exquisite midfielders around, he will leave buckets of memories for his adoring fans. His possession-retaining ball play, his rarity in losing the ball, his deft passes and his nimble runs along the Etihad Stadium turf will be missed.

Born in Pendleton (Salford), the man dubbed ‘Mr Manchester’ slotted into journalism, concert arrangement, and radio. His record label, Factory Records hugged Britpop and Mancunian music. His love of the city of Manchester can be seen throughout his colourful career. As an entrepreneur his Factory Records gave us Happy Mondays, A Certain Ratio, Joy Division and New Order. Madchester was born here in the late 1980s. Amongst the gloom yellow smiley faces and exciting vivid colour schemes gave pride back to the people of Manchester. He threw money at music and was a little careless in terms of making a profit. By the end of the 20th century both Factory Record and the Haçienda went bump. No money. No glory. His voice carried on and even down the road in Liverpool he was identified with. He didn’t like centralisation and clearly wanted more regionalism.

Xavi and Andrés Iniesta played alongside David Silva, and it can easily be argued that such dynamic playing styles will have influenced each another. Between the trio, how many future stars, current players and fans will have been inspired or motivated by them. The drool spilled from each twist and turn would probably fill Victoria Baths (Manchester) many times over.

“He pulls the strings on the pitch. A brilliant footballer with great movement, he can score, assist, a player who decides a game. He’s got so much to his game, that I would consider him one of the best ever.” – Andres Iniesta, footballer, Manchester Evening News, January 2020

Steve Coogan didn’t do too much of a bad impression in 24 Hour Party People. In fact, if anything, he elevated a charisma known to few of the younger generation and brought real warmth for Manc culture and the main man, Anthony Wilson. I’ve seen him star on World in Action and After Dark amongst other shows. What always truck me was his voice and his belief in what he said or did. When he started on Channel M it was exciting but never lasted beyond one episode due to his illness.

“I used to say ‘some people make money and some make history’, which is very funny until you find you can’t afford to keep yourself alive. I’ve never paid for private healthcare because I’m a socialist. Now I find you can get tummy tucks and cosmetic surgery on the NHS but not the drugs I need to stay alive. It is a scandal.” – Anthony H. Wilson, BBC News, 11/7/2007

In Spanish and Mancunian footballing history David Silva ranks at the highest orders. The boy from UD San Fernando (Maspalomas, Gran Canaria, Spain) will leave Manchester as a man – a man who has touched the hearts and minds of many City fans. His son Mateo will be able to look back on his father’s time at City with pride. Not bad for a boy born into City’s culture without knowing it. At the end of the day David Silva has been an exemplary custodian of Manchester City. To think that he started his playing days as a goalkeeper before switching to a winger and then midfield dynamo or trequartista. It’s been a journey with City and it all started under Roberto Mancini. The rest they say is history. Tomorrow night’s game against Real Madrid could be his final, or it could be close to the last game. The UEFA Champions League final would be a fitting farewell, but not all fairy tale has a happy ending.

Manchester Town Hall’s flag flew at half-mast in August 2007 following Tony Wilson’s death. FAC 501 was the number on his catalogued coffin. Peter Saville, famed designer and artist, alongside Ben Kelly (an interior designer) designed the gravestone. The headstone is marked as Anthony H. Wilson, ‘Cultural Catalyst’. Since then Factory Records has been reborn in some shapes and forms, and HOME/First Street in Manchester has a new square, Tony Wilson Place. A fitting tribute for a true champion of Manchester.

“Mutability is the epitaph of worlds/ Change alone is changeless/ People drop out of the history of a life as of a land though their work or their influence remains.” – Mrs G Linneaus Banks’s 1876 novel The Manchester Man