CITY: Similarities.

Good evening/晚上好

Walk into any Starbucks or anything McDonald’s and you pretty much know what you’re going to get. What if that model could be applied to cities? I live in Guangdong’s Chéngshì Qún (城市群) which is a city cluster or Megalopolis. From Guangzhou to Foshan to Dongguan to Shenzhen with Qingyuan and Huizhou nearby, there’s little escapism from a region also containing Hong Kong and Macau. Zhuhai, Zhongshan, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing add to the largest and most populated region of Earth. That’s a lot of Starbucks.

Last December I was lucky enough time visit Yunnan. I stopped by Shangrila city which was renamed from lesser exotic name like Zhongdian. The first place I travelled in 2020 was Suzhou. I’ve since traversed my way through eastern Shenzhen, walking 15km one day and 19km the next. In previous years I’ve visited Shanghai, Nanjing, Qingdao, Zhangjiajie, Beijing, Beihai, Guilin, Manzhouli, and other places taking me through many different provinces. Many Starbucks along the way.

The land is diverse here. The population is everywhere. The cities are like copy and paste versions of themselves. In summer, I visited Yingchuan, Xian, Chengdu, Xinning, Dali and the more places I passed through cities, the more I loathed cityscapes. Perhaps it’s the sudden and fast development of cities in China. They’re almost all modern. A population doesn’t grow from 540 million (1949) to 969 million (1979) to 1,374,620,000 people in 2020 without cities. Aside from a jump in the death rates (for sparrows too! Four Pests Campaign除四害; Chú Sì Hài) during the Great Leap Forward (大跃进 Dà yuè jìn, 1958-1962), China’s death rates have been steady. It’s birthrates slowed after the one child policy in the 1980s (to 2015). Of the population around 26% lived in cities during 1990. Following 2018, 59.2% of all people lived in cities and the or conurbations. McDonald’s grew and grew.

Of the roughly 102 cities of China, you can expect to see the same derelict and abandoned malls; matching apartment blocks rising like tombstones (less so now Evergrande ran a 355 billion USD debt); dense alleyways; laundry and cycles everywhere; lemon tea shops; fast food stalls; older wet and dry markets; strangled urban villages swallowed by expanding cities; modern architecture of the occupied sense – some rusting, some flappy and tatty, some shiny and unopened; or some older colony remnants. Don’t expect to see a temple devoted to Fǎlún Gōng (法轮大法) though. More likely a Burger King.

Expect a walking street or several. These high streets are often loud and feature the same range of sports or department stores. Jewelry etc. Same, same. The traditional gates, colours and lanterns give great character but battle against golden Ms and green and white goddess logos. Actually forms of cities in the West and East differs very little. It’s the older bits and the modern diversity that stands out. Not the segregation of tool shops, household ware and restaurants. But, cities need a bigger heart beat than Pizza Hut and Nike stores.

Whether the city is historic, a National Central City (国家中心城市), a Provincial Capital (省会城市) or one of the other several types, most cities lack appeal. They have bits and places worth seeing, but overall they’re towers, districts, factories and newness. Grid-lined of not. To the residents, and the communities within, they have hearts and character. But to the touring foreigner, most cities appear the same. They make good exits to proper local cultures, mountains and away from the norm.

“Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.” – Article 36 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国宪法 Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Xiànfǎ, 1982)

The positive atheism here contradicts the multitude of religious hubs found in the U.K. They each bring their lack of character. Here in Dongguan, a Pizza Hut may fill that void. I recall Albania having a growing religious influence and so much colour and character around the culture it forms. Here in Guangdong, KTV is possibly that central axis. Being irreligious has its benefits. Being religious has its benefits. There are constitutional and Confucian beliefs and values. It’s a mixed bag. I don’t claim to understand or know what makes a good balance. I just know there are too many Starbucks here in China.

Maybe after a few decades, each city will develop more character and less commercial faces. Who knows?! There are signs now but everything seems almost the same. The same difference. And Beijing knows that identity is key. The more time I spend in and around cities, the more I question their sustainability for our minds, as well as the environment and culture. Are cities a problem?

To be continued…

再寄/So long

Bon Voyage.

The little man darting up the tree.

The kid with stings, bites and bruises.

The joy at finding spiders and beetles to see.

The sad face when his team loses.

The dancing girl we could all look up to.

Singing about butterflies and happy times.

Telling stories through and through to me and you.

Whistling words with witty rhymes.

Proud teachers and parents gazing onwards.

The strumming rumbling tuneful times.

Their journey goes on and onwards.

The walks, the runs, the climbs.

This isn’t a time of sadness or madness.

You’ve touched us all, including me.

This is a moment to feel collective gladness.

The books passed around silently.

Your departure may come with haste.

Jet off, carry on the journey of life and love.

To the future, you go, do not waste.

Look back, look up, down, left, right and above.

We were here. We were now. We were one group, at one place, in one time. We were lucky.

Get out there. Carry on to share. Bring that spark of sunshine, in another place, in another time. You’ll be lucky.

Hey!

They’ll be lucky.

(Unless Mr Lee makes coffee again: for the love of God and all the holy characters, stay away from the coffee machines)

Farewell and Bon Voyage Shawver tribe.

Rain! Rain! Rain!

How do,

“Rain, rain, rain, a wicked rain
Falling from the sky
Down, down, down, pouring down
Upon the night
Well there’s just one chance in a million
That someday we’ll make it out alive” – Wicked Rain, Los Lobos

Pluviophile means a lover of rain. I heard that people who identify as lovers of rain are generally down to earth and calm. I’ve even been told that daydreamers and those inclined to imagine are usually associated with that of rain. I’ve never fact checked these matters as I was too busy dreaming.

The beat of the rain droplets finding their way from way up high to land and join their countless companions. Some land on trees. Some impact puddles. Many land and immediately get swept away.

Many days without rain make my heart feel dry and untouched. Rain is my pacemaker. I’m from Manchester, a city with a heart of regular rainfall. I now in Dongguan, a city that gets a fair amount of showers throughout monsoon season. Every drop of life that falls from the sky brings

The energy of the downpour fills me. The damp smell opens my nostrils. It fills my lungs and soaks into my blood. I’m drawn to puddles and want to stamp in them, no matter the cost to my sodden shoes. That’s when I know that running is needed. Not in sun. Not in cold. Not on a dry hot evening blazing with colourful light. No. I choose rain.

Thank you kindly and ta’ra for now!

Best of British.

How do/你好,

It’s been over twenty months since I stepped on the soil of Great Britain. I’m not saying everything is roses and sweet gooseberries but I miss so much about the lands I was raised in. I want to feel the winds off the Irish Sea, the saturating rains of the Lake District, and see the fluffy clouds over the Pennines.

I long to see my family, friends, football and food. I want to visit my ancestral connections and toast my grandparents. I want to wander down lanes and places to reminisce about my dog Pup and all those days gone by. I don’t feel old but I do miss the ability to choose to visit my past and explore the future of my homelands.

I haven’t visited a proper charity shop or heard the term Bric-a-brac in so long now that even passing a construction site here in Dongguan excites me. Some discarded or unwanted piece of summat or t’other may grab my eye. Or land me in hospital with need for a tetanus jab.

I want to hug my sisters, brothers, uncles and aunts, Mum and Dad and all the other members of my scattered tribe. Nattering, sharing good foods, talking nonsense and stories, or catching up like it was yesterday. The new norm? No. We’ll carry on, just like we always did. Keep calm and drink Vimto.

Yes, I love my job and can keep busy but the longer this goes on, the bigger then pull grows. It’s tugging at emotions and connections that are strong and resolute. But even hours for the confident can be testing. Home sweet home? I’m looking for my home. I’m comfortable and content here. Opportunity is knocking on the door and chance is presenting a good hand in? life’s game of cards. Just there’s no Whitby scampy. No fish and chips, like back home.

They talk funny here but not like the funny there. I miss St Helens, Wigan, Glossop, Lancaster and all those diverse accents that are so close to home, yet so far. Winter Hill, I miss it too. The slopes, the towering vast plains and the bleak beauty under grey cool skies.

Road signs. Bus stops. Proper speed bumps. Those bubbles that appear in warm tarmac. Rhubarb crumble. Manchester tarts. Live music almost everyday, every where. Yes, I know, things have changed. No thanks to COVID-19 but the good times will return.

Manchester City versus Everton sees the return of fans. Sing like you’ve been stuck indoors for months. Champions of England. We know what we are. MCFC, ok.

Ta’ra. 再见

Differentiation: the draft.

Good evening from China to your morning, afternoon or evening, or night or day…

The topic task is differentiation. Twenty words (at a font size of 28, my favourite number) per slide is a target. I need 8-10 slides. The presentation will take twenty minutes or so, alongside my translator Junny or Nicole. I’m nervous about making this stand, but my duties at Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) are varies and help me develop. Next week sees two days at a seminar in Shenzhen and from June I’m studying online again… until then here’s my draft copy of text to accompany the presentation.

Good parents want children to grow. You’re all eager to see your kids go from strength to strength. Your kids need to feel, to learn, grow and taste success. We can all share a journey together. That journey is getting the most out of your kids, both now and in the future. We can help develop a clear and positive pathway for beneficial and tailored learning.

As a modern and international school, with all the latest methods, we know that students come from various backgrounds and exposures to language. Our task is to provide different routes to gain further understanding. We can do this in the same classroom, through homework or via specialist areas within the school facilities.

Differentiation is a means to tailor learning instructions to meet the needs of individuals. The contents, the processes and the products can be differentiated. These can be coupled with changes to the learning environment. Flexible grouping and ongoing assessments make this approach an overall success.

It’s a framework and philosophy that allows provision of diverse teaching within or across multiple grades of teaching. It gives scope for students to progress at various speeds, with suitable framework to bring them up to and beyond the target speeds of their learning.

CONTENT – British music band Public Service Broadcasting have an album titled InformEducateEntertain. This is a mantra we can take to students to acquire content, enrich with processing, deconstruct, reconstruct and construct ideas. It must make sense. We develop teaching materials alongside assessment methods that match students and their individual abilities.

PROCESS – Plants need a variety of conditions to grow. Flowers only blossom at certain times. Culture, grasp of language, reading comprehension, gender, motivation, ability or inability, lack of interest or actual interest, awareness or preconceptions, style of learning, bias, the weather, the heat, the endless heat, etc can be barriers or they can be tools for teachers to latch onto and adapt their learning styles. Variety is the spice of life. Let’s act with it, and not against it!

PRODUCT – The classroom is our mission room. The launchpad of learning needs to be ready for lift-off. Students need to feel included. Different expectations may be needed for each class, with each student set realistic tasks that must be completed to a satisfactory effect.

LEARNING ENVIRONMENT – Classrooms need to be accommodating. They’re a proactive place to use varied learning methods. Optimal growth as a learner is essential. The days of ‘one size fits all’ are gone. The classroom environment can be turned to an advantage. Students may support each other in. paired-reading, comprehension or competitive tasks alike. Behaviour can be managed to give a safe and supportive surrounding.

Through pre-assessment, continued formative assessment and final summative assessment, the essential feedback dialogue between student, parent and teacher becomes a tool for improving the student’s overall study needs. We will focus on a student-centred instruction that is fair, challenging and champions an engaged student.

Differentiated instruction gives a lift up steps in the staircase of life that is education. It helps students move towards independent learning from various starting points. Growth is key. Skills and knowledge must be in tandem with widening a student’s range of interest, monitoring their progress and always drawing effective ways to learn. Students and their classes will better reflect a teacher’s understanding. You as parents will see that students gain solid roots, strong trunks and start to bloom in their development.

New benchmarks and targets can be set time and time again. Parents share their perspectives and teachers deepen the all-round feelings of a students. Interests can be aligned to tasks and changes over time can be discussed openly. A full and final picture can be seen of an end product that all wish to see: progress.

Thank you kindly for your time.

From the official TWIS WeChat communication (and my words):

成长中的树木成为参天大树之前,

往往需要不同的土壤才能生长。

对于不同的光照条件、空气质量和

土壤类型都有一定的要求,

同时也会受到周围环境的影响。

Many plants and trees

need different soil to grow.

They develop under differing conditions of

light, air quality and soil types.

They are specific to microclimates and subject

to influence from all around them.

学生亦如同许多成长中的树木,

需要用适合他们全面发展的多种方式来培养。

在差异化的课堂上,

教师认识到所有学生都是不同的,

需要不同的教学方法才能取得成功。

Students are the same.

They must be nurtured in varied ways

that suit their overall development.

When conducting differentiated learning,

teachers recognize that all students are

different and unique

and require different teaching approaches to

help students succeed.

如果您也对此教学方法感兴趣,

欢迎来5月22日的学校开放日,

倾听PYP四年级班主任的分享!

Come and join our G4 Homeroom Teacher

as he shares the importance of

differentiated learning

on May 22.

This is a true story.

Good whatever time it is,

“She used her body just like a bandage;
She used my body just like a wound” – Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are, Meat Loaf

I’m lay watching The Big Lebowski. I’ve finished three seasons of Fargo in the last few weeks. The original series based on the movie was fantastic. The second was equally addictive viewing. The third starring Ewan McGregor (from Perth) and David Thewlis (of Blackpool) was less enthralling but largely watchable. The black comedy crime drama is certainly well filmed, scripted and produced. Martin Freeman (from Aldershot) stars opposite Kirsten Dunst (Small Soldiers and Jumanji) reminds me that some child actors go on to better things. Allison Holman, Colin Hanks, Ted Danson and a host of others make for great casting. Billy Bob Thornton definitely gains points for portraying the word sinister.

This week has seen my first wild tortoise spotting. I moved the miniature mobile speed bump off the road to about twenty metres into forest grasses. I have the mosquito bites to show for it. That evening’s wander sighted many toads, frogs, moths and a few mantids.

I wasn’t going to watch the fourth series of Fargo until I spied Ben Whishaw (from Bedfordshire) is amongst the Star-studded cast. Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland is represented by singer Jessie Buckley. The original Joel and Ethan Cohen brothers have a long list of great movies as directors, producers and so on. What makes me a great fan is their script writing ability. They’ve written the script for Bridge of Spies for Steven Spielberg, and rumour has it that. a Scarface remake is under their pens. Joel, without Ethan, will be involved in The Tragedy of Macbeth. Denzel Washington as Macbeth is intriguing.

Anyway, when you can’t ride a bike, kick a ball and feel utterly energy – devoid, then movies are a good escape. That and the musical writings of the late Jim Steinman. No matter what, Jim Steinman’s music is all coming back to me now. Those who haven’t listened to his works, sang by others, should read ’em and weep. Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart and Meat Loaf‘s Bat Out of Hell are essential playlist features. Steinman was a highly influential lyricist, playwright and composer. He dabbled as a solo artist and expertly produced Sisters of Mercy and Take That amongst others.

“There are times I think I see him peeling out of the dark,
I think he’s right behind me now and he’s gaining ground” – Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are, Meat Loaf

Jim Steinman, 1/11/1947 – 19/4/2021

Enjoy your [insert time period]

Fight or flight?

Good evening, day, night, morning or afternoon.

Walking from Dongchong village to Nao’an or something like that, I passed a scene of struggle at the roadside. I didn’t call the police. I began to intervene but stopped myself as the majestic Under-sieged victim lifted itself up. It landed on a perch of twigs and then in some high grasses. Beating its wings with all its mighty energy

This may seem like a dead butterfly. It was battling to fly away against many ants. Eventually it made a tree but once I looked closer I could see the ants had mortally wounded it. It never seemed to give up trying to fly. Using every part of its fading energy. It twisted. It turned. It pulled itself away. Until the ants entered its body through their gaping infliction of a sound.

The magnificent coloration of its wings, a fluffy white underbody and shiny black to red legs made it look unearthly. The ants didn’t see beauty. They computed it as a meal and opportunity to support their queen and nest. Life is brutal.

Until the next battle.

Dongchong to XiChong (and back)

你好Hello

The voice came from the ground. It was a single loud clunk. Clunk! It sounded like localised thunder. It’s waves shot upwards towards my ears. A metre away in any direction it would be inaudible. Almost imperceptible that a large rock could move and create such a loud static sound. The eagle spotted a kilometre overhead may have spotted it. The black kite perched nearby definitely did.

Distracted by a pretty and handsome young couple saying, “Hello tall man”, I slipped on the loose near-horizontal dusted ground and hit my armpit on a pointy-up blunt branch. After all the near-vertical declines and sharp jagged spines of rocks, it made sense to slip on an easy area of walking. The now vanished chains of support weren’t there. Drops of suicidal angles had scattered behind me. Plain and simple became my hazard. Complacency in action. Or inaction in complacency. Anyway they looked a happy and cute couple. They witnessed a size-fifty shoe slide and a tall man wearing a Dal Bhat power 24 hour T-shirt ram a tree branch by armpit. The girl spoke, “Xiaoxin”. That means careful. So, I stumbled past them, 小心 indeed.

Today, marked a walk starting at 07:30 from Dongchong to XiChong and back, on the DongXiChong trail. I started with Dong (east 东) and ended west at Xi (西) but liked it so much I returned for a second helping of Dong. Like you do. This classic coastal pathway was at times stunning, at other times saddening. The mountains meeting the sea formed a terrific seascape. Clear blue seas and grey skies that eventually turned blue made trekking easier than being under baking sun rays all day.

The nearby Pingshan mountain and a view of Sanmen island did little harm to my vivid impressions of DaPeng peninsula. Cliffs and rock scrambling have long been my thing since experiencing it with Grylls Head outdoor adventure centre and Chapel Street Primary School in year 5. Rocks, holes, tiny islands, bridges, stacks, columns and landforms made by sea erosion towering over sea reefs and the omnipresent imposing tides of an angry sea can’t be a bad day out. It certainly perks your ears up for the cry of seabirds and the crash of countless waves. I wondered, as I wandered, how many stories can each shell tell?

Between the coastal villages of Dongchong and XiChong it is mostly undeveloped, save for the XiChong observatory and three small beach shacks. A few steps and chains have been fitted but nature mostly rules the route. There’s litter, at shameless quantities and annoying spray painted signs pointing out numbers for boats, lodges and so on. I’ve heard it compared and listed as one of the top ten routes in China. Perhaps that needs confirming. Also, that’s a worrying statement about the state of coastal routes. Yes, there are beautiful near golden sands at either village and some great pebble beaches between, but surely there’s more?!

The potential for ecotourism is high provided the litter mountain can be contained. If you can’t carry it back, why carry it there? Discarded wrappers, bags, drinks bottles, beach mats, hats, parasols, gazebos, barbecues and more were seen. Almost all was made in China, so no blame can be sent across the South China Sea. The blowing sea breezes and tides can only be responsible for so much. Humans as a disgrace for the rest. The National Geographic Magazine may need to review their write-ups. Although this walking route is not far from Shenzhen bustling centre, it feels remote and relaxing. Just about two hours from Futian via Yantian port!

16km of up, down, sideways, forwards and back ruined my Altra walking trainers. They’ll need replacing. They’re good for rough wear but not for smartness. This highly scenic route is dusty and tough at times. I enjoyed the 8km walk there and around XiChong so much that coming back made sense. Meeting nobody for three hours on my outbound journey was rewarded with meeting many friendly faces on the return journey, even if I was turned away Mary and Joseph-style by two coffee places in XiChong. On returning to Dongchong a kind shopkeeper pointed me to a shop selling Nespresso coffee. Not a bad end to a walk.

Finishing the day following a video call could only be done one way. Seafood. The local barbecue restaurant was perfect. There’s a few places to choose from. Most feature the animal kingdom, well the aquatic part, anyway. Reflecting on a day well spent, I thanked the trekking gods that I didn’t encounter whatever or whoever left behind all the crap that local village volunteers were bagging up.

再寄 goodbye

Making waves.

There’s probably a name for it. It’s got to be called something. It’s like a swirling swishing sound. The sound of wind under the sea. Billions and billions of grains of sands colliding and pushing and being pulled by unexplainable quantities of sea water. The rolling continuous sound that goes up and then down, over and over again.

The fragrance from the shore has a name too. I’m sure of that. I can’t place my name on it. I breath the fresh salted air in. A gentle gust rides off the waves up the freshly – dampened sand and over the lighter drier plains of the beach. It makes the hairs on my body move ever so slightly. I feel it without seeing it. I’ve always loved the smells and feel of the seaside.

My mouth is moist from water. I needed to swig bottled fresh water. The gritty sand accidentally blown to my lips grinded away in a glassy sound. I sipped to quench my newfound thirst following the blast of salty unwelcome taste.

The clouds surrounding this bay are grey and slated. Like the dark blue grey of a mine. There’s a haze in the air. It’s not bright enough for sunglasses but equally not comfortable on the naked eye. The sea reflects green and blue in multiple shades but mostly those of dull. Each wave like a white horse folding in on itself, breaking the dull monotone.

Sandwiched between my toes is a thick kind of sand. Chunky yet fine. It covers the hundred metre beach sea to land. It spreads a good kilometre of this bay. I watch as piles dry and gently roll into a pit. The pits dug by children have washed away. Trenches by men have also gone. Peace has returned job this beach. Only the sound of waves and passing sandpipers.

Dongchong beach cost 20 yuan to enter. Today, in Guangdong Eastern flanks of Shenzhen city, I’m relaxed. It’s been worth the walk.

Defending mosquitoes.

Good evening.

The sequel to yesterday’s post involves the sudden deaths of five winged attackers. Slain at my hand on entering the apartment. As I squeezed through my open door, in a heartbeat, and closed quicker still, these terrors followed me in. The ones spotted are gone. At least one more remains.

Beware the lone gun. They blend in. They lurk in shadows. Mosquitoes aren’t like you and I. They’re equally not all bad. Sorry to say that.

Mother mosquito is doing a good deed. She’s genetically-programmed to hunt you and I down. We’re targets stuffed full of proteins and nutrients that give her a child-bearing body. Our amino acids are like the prenatal supplement human beings buy at a pharmacy. They’re good for eggs. Daddy mosquito is busy eating fruit and watching the football.

Whilst his mouth parts are shoved into juicy fruits, she’s probing you and I with her elongated snout. Her segmented body is often so light that we seldom notice the deed until the girl has left. Her wings rarely touch their target. She uses organs called halteres to gather intelligence before dipping in on her target. The original bouncing bomb over a dam. And they have separately formed compound eyes which may explain why swatting them can often prove difficult. Olfactory systems are fine tuned to smelling our perspiration or nonanal, also called nonanaldehyde, pelargonaldehyde or Aldehyde C-9. By the time you read them, chances are you were bitten.

For the girly mosquitoes, they start as eggs (thousands clutched together like a raft of doom), turn to larva then a pupa before becoming fully grown irritations of adults. Their male counterparts do the same steps but don’t directly irritate by biting people. From floating on water, they hatch into algae feeding juveniles before turning into proboscis hammering adults. Some live up to a week. Some species can live for several months. Splattered specimens don’t live as long. The adults breed and lay eggs in cupped leaves, ponds, lakes, disused waste containing water, cracks with water, and all shape and form of water containing objects or places. Just when you thought it was safe to pour out the water…

Mosquitoes are actually about 112 different genera. That makes up several thousand species. Not all feed on man (or woman, or child, or LGBTQ+). Other arthropods are on the menu. They’re on most corners of the Earth, provided a meal ticket is available, invited or not. It seems at times like every species is having a crack at me, and thankfully they’re not.

They’ve got bad reputation because of their irritating bites, and other small matters like malaria, yellow fever, Chikungunya, Dengue fever and so on. The list is longer than the average serial killer’s whoopsy points. They’re adapted to their watery breeding grounds and that’s where a vector can bring a long a nasty friend. The circle of life in inglorious action.

Transmission of disease kills. Pangolins and bats can take a deep breath, knowing they’ve possibly spread less harm to the COVER-19 world than an ill-timed Celine Dion world tour or mosquitoes. In fact, it’s said that of over half of the people that walked the Earth, mosquitoes carried the vector that helped caused their demise.* They’re the UPS of death. Much like, as the WHO are indicating, perhaps COVID-19 started life from a delivery system. Or perhaps mosquitoes are not responsible for that many deaths?**

Tonight’s ideal human menu: a starter of O type blood, with a side of human prone to abundant skin bacteria. For the main course, a heavy breathing type (to test that legendary mosquito detection skillset), alongside high body heat release. Dessert will comprise the blood of a pregnant woman. The ideal menu will then be inherited as a genetically-controlled component, meaning that mummy mosquitoes daughter will love your taste too!**** Our crepuscular (or otherwise) feeders don’t like to be disturbed in the day, however the ferocious Asian Tiger Mosquito hunts during daylight. And its spread from Southeast Asia to the globe has been rapid. Thanks to international travel and freight, it finds itself feeding overseas. Its distinct striped appearance is best noticed as you squish its central nervous system outwards.

Many cultures say mosquitoes evolved from the ashes of giants and their mortal remains being incinerated. Punegusse may well be the cause or that if a 79-million year old piece of Canadian amber containing Paleoculicis minutus*** would be a good evolutionary story. Whatever was stomping around when old P. minutus was buzzing about, I hope it was equally as bugged as I am by one lone wolf fly zipping around my apartment right now.

Did you know that before Walt Disney even dreamed of Mickey Mouse, Windsor McCay animated the mosquito in 1912? How a Mosquito Operates was state of the art for? its time. An animation about a man being tormented by mosquitoes. Almost a hundred and ten years have passed. Who can’t relate?

Citations:

*Timothy C. Winegard (31 Mar 2021). The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator. Text Publishing. p. 2. ISBN TBC

**“More or Less – Have Mosquitoes Killed Half the World? – BBC Sounds”. http://www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2021-03-31.

***G. O. Poinar; et al. (2000). “Paleoculicis minutus (Diptera: Culicidae) n. gen., n. sp., from Cretaceous Canadian amber with a summary of described fossil mosquitoes” (PDF). Acta Geologica Hispanica. 35: 119–128. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-29. Retrieved tonight.

****Fernández-Grandon GM, Gezan SA, Armour JA, Pickett JA, Logan JG (22 April 2015). “Heritability of attractiveness to mosquitoes”. PLOS ONE. 10 (4): e0122716. Bibcode:2015PLoSO..1022716F. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0122716. PMC4406498. PMID25901606.

Blue Baron in battle.

The evening is March the 30th, in the 2021st year of the common era. Sergio Aguero has announced his decision to leave Manchester City.

Left leg. Right leg. Lower calf here, there and everywhere. Over the right shoulder. One to the elbow. In the right arm’s antecubital space. Also, the olecranal area above the elbow. They’ve got the measure of me. Wheal, really here. Them and their allergenic polypeptide!

Within minutes a puffy and reddish bump appears in one or two regions. Flaring up! Up to a day later, harder, more itchy incarnations show. On the right hand a small blister crests a knuckle. Allergic reactions of the microscopic level pus up to the macroscopic scale. Circumscribed erythema is on show. My hypersensitivity makes me feel like a monster.

I have had it up to here! No more! Mr Nice Guy has left the building. Diptera’s Nematocera family of Culicidea has been notified. War is coming. This tropical climate with its above thirty degrees of heat has openly spawned a swarm of camouflaged terror. Now, it’s time to fight back.

Left hook, open palm. Splat! Diving divinely off the sofa hands out like a rugby player forming a W-shape. Splat! That Dongguan Bulldogs tag rugby came in useful there. A lunging stamp. Game over. A swooping swirling slap onto the wood frame. Squashed like a boiled potato under a masher. As one sharply rises, seeking to blind me in the lighting, it doesn’t know I’ve been watching Reach For The Skies, and I let off thunder. No more flying for her. This Spitfire is out manoeuvring mosquitoes tonight. This one evening alone, I’ve been the Ivan Kozhedub of flying aces. Ten have met my fury.

For future use, my Johnson 3.0W Raid plugin hasn’t been enough. Nor has closing the windows. Mosquito foolproofing in numerous forms hasn’t worked at all this assault. The Blitzkrieg is upon me. The Erich Hartmann mosquito squadron armed with jet Messerschmitt Me 262s are here. Mosquito season is firmly in play. Even as I write this I’m distracted by the Alien-looking flight as one darts over me with its legs hanging back as if in a state of airborne crouch. The Red Baron of attack is out there lurking, waiting to feed…

We fight on. Itching all the way. Wish me luck. Until next time!

Back In The Saddle

Good evening from China,

“You’ve got to get up every morning with determination if you’re going to go to bed with satisfaction.” – George Lorimer, author and journalist.

It could be afternoon, morning or night where you are, but I’m greeting with my own time-influenced greeting. Why not? I mean, “G’day” is for the Australians, “How do” is rather Lancastrian and “Nihao” is local but not that local. Let’s stay simple. I’m sat watching Irish actor Ciarán Hinds in movie titled The Man in the Hat. It’s a Sunday night movie. Very gentle. A British independent movie, downloaded in China. Musical composer Stephen Warbeck (Billy Elliot, Mrs. Brown & Shakespeare In Love) has moved from scores to directing. It’s a flowing road trip comedy full of charm and great cinematography. It features five bald men in a Citroën Dyane car. Rather Good Films Ltd. have a modest name and now they have a movie befitting their studio title. This is a great movie to escape the news and doom or gloom of these most testing months.

“Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see further.” – Thomas Carlyle, Scottish historian.

This week has seen two visitors join the apartment. First, following Western Wednesday (on a Tuesday), I walked from Mr Ben’s digs outside, with Mr Oliver. Many kittens and cats were by the overflowing rubbish bins. On walking around the bins, in the gloomy post-Chinese New Year smoky air, I spied a white rabbit. Follow the white rabbit? I did. I picked it up. It was chewing plastic. It being around midnight, and following Once Upon A Time In The West, I was shattered. Oliver scooted off. I passed the garden security guard bearing a white bunny. I tried to explain, in my crap Chinese, where I’d found the long-eared lagomorph but didn’t get anywhere. So armed with the calm albino rabbit, I tootled back to my apartment, giving a mixture of dry food and a small bed to the new guest. After almost tripping up over him, I nicknamed him Speed Bump.

“The individual who says it is not possible should move out of the way of those doing it.” – Tricia Cunningham, author.

The previous night has seen me message almost everyone I knew within the gardens of residence that I reside, and the neighbouring phase one complex. Some clues were gained but nothing concrete. Nobody claimed the bunny. So, later that day, hearing that possibly two rabbits were regular lawn guests, I went back. There I found the second rabbit. On asking some kids on the lawn if they knew where the rabbits lived, i got nowhere. I did find a cage and the second rabbit chewing plastic with gusto. So, Second Coming joined Speed Bump. That was last week. It’s Monday now. Many small brownish black balls have been scattered throughout the apartment and promptly cleaned up. I’m starting to see why Elmer J. Fudd had such a problem with Bugs Bunny (originally a hare!). Whilst I don’t class myself as an adversary to my guests, I could do without them jumping on me whilst I’m reading on the sofa, especially whilst watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre late at night.

“When someone tells me ‘no,’ it doesn’t mean I can’t do it, it simply means I can’t do it with them.” —Karen E. Quinones Miller

The Friday of last week and the Saturday saw our academic team join the varied and diverse departments of Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) return to work. With an International Baccalaureate® (IB) task we made a video showcasing Songshan Lake, created some ideas for the next Unit of Inquiry (American English is acceptable). All in all it was two days after a 13 day break that was quite enjoyable. We finished Saturday with a barbecue (completed by Breakfast Champion’s black pudding) and looked out across our school grounds, over the running track and football field. I looked at the farm at the farthest reaches of our school perimeter. Perhaps the compost machine rabbits will join our school farm soon. Maybe an owner will come forward. We’ll see.

“I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” – Emile Zola, French novelist, journalist

Until next time, good evening/night/morning/afternoon/day… Have a nice day (if you must)

#VisitDongguan2021

Good morning/afternoon/evening/night/day,

Wherever you are, make sure it is a good one.

6th February 2021. Day 1 distance cycled: 94km. Tongsha Reservoir and Ecological Park (同沙生态公园) was the route chosen. Lodged beside the 107 National Highway, beginning at the Dongcheng District, the reservoir and ecological park stretches towards Foling Reservoir, linked by a stretch of road at the unknown named temple (under construction at grid reference 22.971147108234454, 113.82079775499022). The area is great for cycling, picnics, and walking. It has a mix of managed and wild forestry. There’s the odd farm selling fruits such as passion fruits, bananas and other such desideratum fruits. There’s often a good melody of bird calls and some wildlife can be found throughout, although patience is needed. The best way to enjoy the park, in my humble opinion, is on two wheels. There are some side cycle routes and the loop road throughout the area is safe enough to cycle on (with care). There’s a shop somewhere on the west flank and one towards the southern entrance (with cycle hire) which allows for snacks and refreshments. I often cycle to this parkland area just to buy my honey. I’ve yet to try flying kites or picking my own fruits. This park is the place for such joys.

On my return cycle, I swung by Songshan Lake and rolled through a new park (Central Park – ZhongXin GongYuan is next to 梦幻百花洲), discovering an abandoned theme park ruins and a good place to park my bottom whilst swigging a cup of hot cappuccino. Looking back at the day spent in a wetland and ecological park only built in 2006, I thought how quickly nature had taken hold of the area. For a teenage park, it has much more potential to blossom. The huge 40 square-kilometre region has small mountains, water bodies, flowery meadows and plenty of leafage. After that ride, I ate Hunan food with my friend Melody and then had dinner in Nancheng. It was a very pleasant day indeed.

7th February 2021. Day 2 distance cycled: 85km. Alongside my Spanish colleague Jaime, we set off for the most south-western point of Dongguan. We’re not allowed to leave Dongguan during the Chinese New Year festival. It’s part of the pandemic control. It makes sense. Why risk it? So, we headed to a place that overlooks Shenzhen’s most north-western tip. The new ecological park at JiaoYi Bay is so new that on arrival we found that most of the wild areas were under construction. The Marina Bay New District is being. Some land reclamation, some sea landscaping and plenty of soil was being moved. Still it was easy to work out what the end product would be. A Dongguan government propaganda piece has a alerted me to the area, and it wasn’t a bad wander. However the ride through Chang’an town and much of Dalingshan on the way there was an anticlimax. The ride back following the Dongbao river wasn’t bad even if sometimes the cycle path just vanished or had a construction site over it.

8th February 2021. Day 3 distance cycled: 70km. I went out for a coffee. I had no intention to do more than 20km. Songshan Lake has many inlets and side roads. Some areas are under intense building work, whilst others have immense environmental projects here and there. And then there’s Europe. Huawei’s European town is tacky and classy. It’s cheap and it’s extravagant. It’s simple and it’s complex. I’m unsure how I feel about this stack of contradictions. Although it does have a pretty cool railway system, I worry the scale is so large and so imposing that in a country struggling between Western and Eastern cultural identity that this piece of luxury is one step too far. Ox Horn Campus has 12 town styles inside it. And it seems to be growing, year on year, like a sinister James Bond nemesis set.

9th February 2021. Day 4 distance cycled: 0km. Today was our Murray’s F.C. x DGFC 30-man football tournament on Dongcheng rooftop. Between us all we had 5 teams, two fields (both 5 and 6 a-side) and a good evening of football, followed by beers and food at One For The Road and then Hollywood Baby Too. After many games throughout three hours, I was shattered and sore. The holiday needed me to have more energy…

Until next time.

Murray Christmas.

早上好。Good morning.

Having boarded a Didi taxi car (express service) to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport Terminal Two, I’m currently motoring up the whatever it’s called highway northwards. As the car hurtles towards the border of Dongguan, I realize that this is only the second time I’ve left Dongguan city proper since returning in Spring 2020. In October, I went to Suzhou and that’s about it. I haven’t been to Shenzhen at all. I had a football tournament with Murray’s FC in Foshan for a day. And, a school trip to Guangdong Science Centre, allowed a few hours on the outskirts of Guangzhou. Okay, so travel has happened, but not much.

As many people around the world, just like family and friends back in the UK can relate, travel these days is a rare thing. It’s not always wise. I’m lucky, no, I’m privileged to be able to move around in relative freedom. Many people will travel domestically in Chinese New Year. The mainland of China often resembles a fast paced Rubik’s cube at that time. I doubt that I’ll travel then. The risks will increase, despite the experts here saying the risks are low.

So, here I go, heading to catch a flight to Shangri La Airport. And it isn’t a fictional airport or city. Zhōngdiàn (中甸) was renamed to Shangri La (Xiānggélǐlā/香格里拉) to draw in tourists. Mission accomplished. The so-called picturesque Yunnan province city awaits. From there I hope to trek/ramble/walk into the wider area of Díqìng Tibetan autonomous prefecture [迪庆藏族自治州]. This will give me a risk free (although under caution and care) wander in a mountainous land. Armed with face masks, hand cleaning gel and common sense, tonight I’ll be sleeping at a higher altitude.

The Didi car driver called me to check I was okay for today, immediately after pre booking the journey yesterday. Powered by Cantonese and Mandarin power ballads, at an acceptable volume, the driver, Mr Yang is allowing his electric Toyota to zip forwards. This Uber-like service has been invaluable since it appeared on the scene to foreign customers several years ago. Using my poor Chinese, I feel quite proud to have understood many little phone and car conversations. Each driver has been my spoken Chinese tutor for some time. The cost of the journey today is about 330RMB for an estimated 99 minutes of travel time. I figured the cost worth it when placed against other options. Had I have gone by train (40rmb), stayed in a hotel for a night (120+rmb), used local taxis etc it wouldn’t have been far off the cost of this journey. Besides, I was able to enjoy flour noodles and hotpot yesterday evening.

So, with my bags packed, a litre of pure orange juice, a premade sandwich and familiar warm music, the darkness of 5am passes me by, occasionally punctuated by rear taillights and a rare street lamp. Strangely, unlike other solo or group walks, I’m far from excited. It’s Christmas time. I’m alone. I’m far from home. I expect that my green health QR code will be accepted but I may encounter some wariness or prejudices. I could be wrong. I hope so. I don’t believe people are bad but I do believe there’s lots of worry around. Worry leads to fear. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to suffering. Sorry, too much Grogu and Yoda there.

Last Saturday, Murray’s FC held its annual Christmas game and barbecue. There aren’t many places in the world where you can mix a large group of people and play football. We really are in a strange time. There were many missing faces and we all pass on our love and peace to Murray’s FC players, friends, associates, past and present. We may have adopted the Dongguan F.C. moniker but we’re still the same sharing and caring team that welcomes all. Even Man U fans. The game finished 7-7 and marked by second 8-a-side goal in three months. Gareth Southgate wasn’t there to witness it. He won’t get my rejection either. The ball, fueled by Alvaro’s strike, bears an imprint of my gonads to this day. I can still taste them. Horrible moment. Other than that, it was a very pleasant day culminating with a barbecue at Liberty bar.

In closing, my bag has simple cold weather clothes, a lesser spotted windbreaker (Sherpa brand from Nepal), a rain jacket layer, walking boots, a sleeping bag, a walking pole, a notepad, a camera and little else. Supplemental oxygen? No thanks. I’ll take the altitude change slowly and surely. No rush. No aims. Just explore. Waterfalls, glaciers, and mountains are all bonuses after months in the city of Dongguan. So, what now?

再见 Goodbye. Have yourself a Murray Christmas. 圣诞快乐。

School’s out for Christmas

How do. Nihao. 您好。

Parent Teacher Conferences? Check.

Student reports? Check.

Holiday homework? Check.

Bags packed? Check.

Pen and notepad? Check.

Green health QR code, masks and hand wash? Check.

Thunderbirds are go…

Can trekking be done in Yunnan, China? Only one way to find out..

明年见吗?See you next year?

TESMC IV: The Quest for Peas

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was a British-American superhero fantasy released in 1987. Lead actor Christopher Reeve penned it alongside Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal. It was bobbins. Proper crap. It was perhaps the reason the Superman franchise fell silent for 19 years. That and the unfortunate paralysis of handsome Christopher Reeve. The fifth movie followed Supergirl but slotted into the storyline arc after Superman III. The first four movies are good. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, remains one of my favourite pieces of cinema. Superman: the Movie has been regular viewing since I was a kid.

“We were also hampered by budget constraints and cutbacks in all departments. Cannon Films had nearly thirty projects in the works at the time, and Superman IV received no special consideration. For example, Konner and Rosenthal wrote a scene in which Superman lands on 42nd Street and walks down the double yellow lines to the United Nations, where he gives a speech. If that had been a scene in Superman I, we would actually have shot it on 42nd Street Richard Donner would have choreographed hundreds of pedestrians and vehicles and cut to people gawking out of office windows at the sight of Superman walking down the street like the Pied Piper. Instead, we had to shoot at an industrial park in England in the rain with about a hundred extras, not a car in sight, and a dozen pigeons thrown in for atmosphere. Even if the story had been brilliant, I don’t think that we could ever have lived up to the audience’s expectations with this approach.” – Christopher Reeve, Still Me

The final appearance of Christopher Reeve was ill-received by fans. Movie critics washed their hands of it. Plot holes gaped as large as life and special effects looked very much out of place. That’s exactly how my fourth instalment of TESMC will be. Read on to be convinced that I am right to state this early on. I make no apology. It is, what it is.

Literacy and learning must be multi-dimensional. A topic can be talked about, in terms of content and theme. Talk serves as a bridge to writing. Talking about those written and supporting texts will only support the learning further. Our primary school years are crucial to allow us to develop literacy skills across the curriculum. A range and repertoire of skills can be born here. The key role of spoken language can furnish a student’s developmental progress. This is the path to critical literacy skills. New topics, new subjects, new teachers, new methods and the all round goodness of new experiences facilitate, under guidance, can bring meaning to it all. Talk is a tool for thinking and communicating. We’re helping students to make sense of the bigger (possibly daunting or exciting) world around them. In one blink of an eye we are seen as a facilitator, or in another flutter of the eyelids, we become the tour guide. Likewise we are an expert or a caregiver. We’re the U.N. Peacekeeper. We’re the negotiator. We’re a nurse. We’re an advisor. Then we’re a play figure. We shape our role in the classroom to the need of each or all students. Our interaction is important. We must be flexible and varied in our approach.

The four stages of the teaching learning cycle (negotiating the field; deconstruction; joint construction; independent construction) are part of our arsenal to allow us to bridge the gap between oral and written language. We work tirelessly to integrate spoken and written language. We add clarity to muddy waters, interweaving the teaching learning cycle to give students a balanced understanding of concepts. We engage. We inform. We educate. We give opportunity. We task students to predict. We task students to evaluate. We check their prior knowledge. The students own their lessons. This becomes their own learning. It should shape their methods. Metalanguage builds up over time. These shared understandings about language and text allow students to look back on Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and agree it was crap.

I can interact with classmates confidently. [I’m not afraid to try.]
I can interact with my teachers confidently. [I’m Superman or Supergirl.]
I can try to volunteer relevant information about the topic in class. [I can raise my hands.]
I can express my personal opinion regarding a topic, when asked. [I have a view.]
I can give feedback about the ongoing topic. [I can talk about something, over a few days.]
I can talk and give relevant inputs in a group discussion. [I like teamwork.]
I can try to use meaningful vocabulary / terminology for answering questions. [I can find big words that are useful.]
Listening
I can listen with sustained concentration and retell things. [You say it. I say it again.]
I can listen to and follow teacher’s instructions/explanations attentively. [I know what you said I should do.]
I can understand the different kinds of questions asked by the teacher. [I am clever.]
I can respond appropriately to my peers and adults. [I am respectful.]
I can listen and respond to audio tapes appropriately. [I understand more than music.]
Useful rubric? From the fourth module of TESMC, I believe the above rubric to be of great value to my student’s self-assessment. I shall edit it further until it is of more use.

Multiple activities can be effective in the process of learning. Students can use interests as a scope of discussion. They can use discussion as a scope of their interests. They can find common ground and talk openly. There will always be moments of excitement and times when familiar objects or foods generate a real buzz. One or two sentences by students beats no input and it is important to allow students a voice. Some may tend to hide. A teacher’s job is to encourage. Encourage. Stand tall. Perform. That’s the key to effectiveness. Tasks, however, must be relayed clearly, always based on the English as a Second Language (ESL) learner’s needs.

I’m going to go away and find a downloadable copy of the Superman IV: The Quest for Peace script. Perhaps my grade four students can rewrite the script, and use a cast of garden peas. It can’t be any worse. Mark Pillow, A.K.A. Nuclear Man came from Leeds, Yorkshire (U.K.). Best forgotten.

I guess the writing just says that the movie is bobbins.

TESMC III: Colonel Bogey March

In the morning, the familiar tune of the Colonel Bogey March blazed out from tannoys filling the air. The nearby high school were performing their morning exercise. Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts had penned this tune way back in 1914. It has been rather odd to hear a pre-Great War marching song, based on a golf term, penned in the Highlands of Scotland. The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare is more apt, but no, here I find myself in Dongguan, Guangdong, the P.R. of China, humming Hitler Has Only Got One Ball”. I doubt very much I can teach this song over here. Well, just in case you were wondering…

“Hitler has only got one ball; The other is in the Albert Hall; His mother, the dirty bugger; Cut off the other, when he was only small; She threw it into the apple tree; It fell in to the deep blue sea; The fishes got out their dishes; And had scallops and bollocks for tea.”

The above discrediting tactic [Trump move] first appeared in August of 1939 in the U.K., yet I found myself learning it from classmates in Chapel Street Primary school as early as year 5/grade 5. Between the Jurassic Park novel and goals from Niall Quinn’s disco pants, Mike Sheron and Garry Flitcroft against Q.P.R. on September the 11, 1993, I was picking up the habit of reading at school. I am sure this is when I penned a story called Sam The Wonder Dog. Think Lassie meets Superman.

Using vivid and colourful games or activities like jigsaws can be advantageous to many students. It can be fun, creative and allow for thinking within teams. Group work solidifies strengths in teamwork by allowing discussion, and giving everyone roles to perform. It lessens worries and burdens. Everyone is valuable. It encourages relevant and meaningful communication with an emphasis on thoughtful questioning skills. The learning pace is dictated by the students and their needs. Collaborative working skills can be transferred to other activities later on. Afterwards it allows for a joint analysis of their work. This was evident in my grade 4 class when practising the Anna Kendrick song When I’m Gone [Cup Song] actions and lyrics. Two groups of four students, and two solo students seemed disjointed. However, with gentle persuasion and leading, eventually one student, Jimmy, encouraged a group of 6 to work together. Later he led both the group of 4 and his group of 6 to join forces.

Through sequencing the information in a classroom, it allows clear communication. With that collaborative working has a good chance of being followed through. The aim has to be visualised and that end goal can then be met. Some thinks can appear easy or simple, but maybe some of the scaffolding is lacking in the instructions. That’s why sequencing is so much more important to the learning environment. A huge advantage of team and group work allows for students to work through problems.

Deconstruction, however, allows for a clear context to be set. Modelling and construction can follow. With joint construction it can allow a group of students to work together. Independent construction can happen equally well but holds less advantage in terms of enhancing classroom dynamics and group work. Some students need to work alone. It may be in their character to feel better when acting solo, or feel more confident. Support and guidance from classmates may not make a student feel confident. They might already have the spark of self-belief to go it alone. Within my classroom, I’ve seen Amir demonstrate practical exploration, review and evaluation before then joining Terrance and Harry to show their final workings as one team. It allowed Amir to work efficiently and show his ability before joining others. The model of language they used throughout their interactions and participation differed according to their audience. With myself present, it was much more formal and well thought. With other students, they played and joked more, between little instances of shy behaviour. In front of a camera and no audience they started off shy and unsure, before gaining a rhythm and moved away from the tension of a camera being present.

Macro-scaffolding is the bigger picture. It’s the pandemic that grips the world right now. To the world of football this is like the great Sir Alex Ferguson speaking to his squad in the Old Trafford Theatre Of Dreams Swamp scaffolding stadium using encouraging words through growls, “Don’t be afraid to go down in the box on the 96th minute and get us that draw.”

Meso-scaffolding corresponds to the goals and activities required of a specific class. It’s the middle of a pandemic and the world are searching for vaccinations or a cure.

Micro-scaffolding zooms in up and close like a microscope on a COVID-19 virus strand. In football coaching some managers go in up close and personal. They take players aside and put an arm around the shoulder and talk about how to improve that player.

Without building on a student’s current knowledge and understanding, teaching would be like going up a creek without a paddle. Through the use of concrete experiences we can further understanding which will enhance their concept of English. Learning language allows the learner to have the tool to use it. The more contexts they can experience or talk about, the easier it is for them to understand it. Expecting a student to understand language without a proper concept means that student is now knee-deep up the. creek without the paddle or a suitable kayak. Language needs context. Let me write that again: language must have context. Without context, language is near useless. Think about the last time you were in foreign lands and used a handful of limited phrases. You wouldn’t say ‘Namaste’ or ‘danke schoen’ as ways to request directions in Greenland. Or maybe you would. I’ve never been there. I may head there after hearing of a catastrophic asteroid heading to Earth.

A clear plan of action when working with groups is important because it can give each student the opportunity to assume different roles, have enclosed experiences and learn using a different context. With every group work activity we need to evaluate it. This gives us an idea on how to improve the learning experience for future instances. Clear guidance gives a clear pathway for learning.

Oral language teaching is central to supporting the learning of a secondary language. The teacher has a crucial role of interaction that supports and scaffolds students during their development. Through a range of classroom tasks we can provide opportunities to use and develop oral language. This is an integral and essential part of teaching each and every subject effectively. The task shapes the talk. The talk shapes the talent. Now we can move on to the use of oral language. How should it be interpreted and how can it produce oral texts? This will allow us to scaffold students to become more effective in their listening and speaking.

Sometimes we must be reminded constantly of the best or better teaching practices to better serve our students. Waiting for a student to respond for over three or four seconds would significantly allow students time to use better language than the quick and easy answers by the first hands up. Students need to take a few more moments. Think time is essential. Give encouragement to think and then respond after rethinking. As an adult we need time and a conscience effort to think sometimes. So, why not give extra thinking time for students?

Having read about and watched students performing experiments before being introduced to key vocabulary, I find it clear that with experience those same students can relate and build on the knowledge they had prior. After some time and reflection, students can use new vocabulary more simply to describe what will happen. Having examples to relate to vocabulary matters. Practising vocabulary becomes more about directions and learning how to describe and use new concepts than the weight of new words (often without context).

Chaos can be avoided, in favour of a more comprehensible class, simply by instructions appropriate to the level of the students. The descent of chaos bobs up and down like an angry turkey’s head, knowing that Christmas is close by, but with an Ikea booklet to hand, the turkey can face up to some vegans for this year. Speaking, of course, leads into the development of proper critical literacy skills.

“Don’t worry about a thing; ‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.” – Bob Marley & The Wailers, Three Little Birds

Negotiate the field. The farm is tricky without navigation aids.

Deconstruction. Why not break the farm map and layout down?

Joint construction. This has nothing to do with Bob Marley. The farm is a mess now. It has been ripped to shreds. The tatters and remains need piecing together carefully, and with thought. Sit down and chill to Three Little Birds, as the students perform their tasks.

Independent Construction (of text). Well now the farm is running smoothly enough to advertise and run an article in the local Farmer’s Weekly magazine. E-I-E-I-O.

After the between module readings and module activities, many thoughts, as broad as as wide, popped into my noggin. Time constraints can inhibit development using these techniques. How can we ensure something isn’t rushed for all the individual students? Do those higher up the grade and year levels need further ESL support? How about giving extra support to incoming students that arrive midway through an academic year? What if fewer lessons were given to higher level students, would it allow more time to develop their English skills by way of concrete experiences, scaffolding and to find a range of appropriate contexts? Are all learning cycles considered in a proper integrated approach?

MATE MASIE – “what I hear, I keep” – wisdom, knowledge, prudence [from Adinkra, the language of west Africa]

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

Woolly balls, Alan & Xi’an

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

Is that…? No, it can’t be. But, wait, it bloody well is. I‘ll have a gander to check. I stepped into a stationery store in Dalang, attached to the Dongguan Dalang Football Association (DGDLFA). Football culture and community has always interested me. The crest of one of the DGDLFA clubs resembled Man Utd’s badge. I’m sure any do. It’s a curse in any Asian nation that most fans follow a red team. Their flags are red, their Communist brothers in arms are red, red stars, red scarves, red packets, lucky blooming red. Everywhere.

Instead of worn old leather footballs on the central axis, this club, Dongguan Zhicheng F.C. has in place two woollen balls. Zhī (织)means weave or knit. Chéng (城) means city or wall. So, here we have it a woolly mammoth-aged club wrapped in cotton wool. On the top of the crest there are kind of lucky bells, and golden scrolls. There is a ball in pace of Salford Rugby Club’s stolen red devil. Six people fail to adhere to social distancing beneath the ball. The sixsome is an oddity in itself. Most people I know play 7-a-side in China, and sometimes, every now and then 5-a-side. There is football in the traditional 11-a-side format, which is lesser-spotted. I only know of one 6-a-side field in Dongguan. We use it regular on a rooftop. So, Dongguan Zhicheng F.C., what is this mutant game you are playing?! I was in the stationery shop, a foreigner, a rogue and an unexpected shopper. I had to investigate further.

Inside a larger, and rounder older Cantonese lady kind of sneered at me. She eventually asked what I was looking for. I uttered my crap Mandarin Chinese, “Wǒ zài kàn” (我在看). This in itself was bad, as she was clearly Cantonese. I had overheard her recording a flowing barrage of Canton dialect into her right-hand-clutched-like-a-Lego-man-mobile-phone. Can we say phone now? Most phones are mobile now. Landline phones in China are mostly ornamental, right? I could have said to her, “Wǒ zhǐ shì kàn kàn” (我只是看看。) Zhǐ shì means just/merely/only. I didn’t. We all know by now, that I was on a reconnaissance gathering mission. If anyone is monitoring me, I am buggered. Proper buggered. She said, a simple, “Hǎo de” (好的) because it was okay to look around right. It’s a stationery shop and not Area 51.

After selecting some useful stickers and highlighter pens, of various shades of sky blue, a man emerged from the adjoining office door of the Dongguan Dalang Football Association (DGDLFA). He looked at me with suspicion. There was a smidgeon of something in his eye. It could have been dust, curiosity or any other emotion. Maybe the bright yellow faded to peach coloured football shirt I wore was too loud. We looked eye to eye for far too long. I had to buckle and break the moment. The man’s square face framed in black glasses and a thick head of black hair age no emotion away. His game could have been poker. I crumpled and folded my coolness but calmly let out a dry word, “nĭ hăo” (你好). After all, who doesn’t like hearing a stranger say hello. We can’t all be Villanelle from Killing Eve. Some of us must be polite and less murderous.

After selecting some gold dust items, I went to the check-out and here the Lǎobǎn (老板/boss) chatted to me. “Nǐ xǐhuān mànlián ma?”, he said. 你喜欢曼联吗 translates to something offensive to me, and to many. He had asked, “Do you like Manchester United?” My response was calm, and to the point, “Wǒ bù xǐhuān mànlián” (我不喜欢曼联). I do not like Manchester United. It’s a fact. You can check my social media for diatribe and other denunciation of that club. There are rants, periods of haranguing and tirades that probably go back to 1982. I crossed my right hand over my chest and pointed to the crest upon my left breast. “Wǒ ài mànchéng”, said I. I love Manchester City (我爱曼城). He looked me up and down, smiled, and wearing his red polo top, with the crest that resembled Old Trafford’s footballing giants, he proudly said, “Wǒ zhīchí lìwùpǔ” (我支持利物浦). He supports Liverpool. He eventually told me in a mixture of Chinese and his good English that his team liked the badge of Man Utd. I asked him about his connection to Liverpool. None. He didn’t even watch games before the Champions League win last year.

And, that’s one of the reasons football struggles in China. A lack of clear identity. The balls of wool made me think that this team in 大朗 (Dàlǎng town) had pride on their locally known and nationally famous name of wool. Instead I left wondering why a Liverpool fan, would create a team with an almost Man Utd crest. He told me how they’d started a team from a school field in 2018 and then two teams, other teams followed. They play regular 8-a-side because 8 is lucky. I asked why their badge only has 6 people. He said the goalkeeper is not a player. I said, for 8-a-side, this still leaves his team one player short. He said there are 8 outfield players and a goalkeeper. That’s a lot of players on a FIFA regulation 7-a-side field. And, they use a size four football, not a regulation size five football. Good luck to the China national football team.

As I paid my bill, we talked international and domestic football. The excitement that the Premier League in England is returning at a time, that China will also welcome a restart to football. The Chinese Super League is set to resume soon (2020中国平安中国足球协会超级联赛). On July the 3rd, the league will be split into two groups. As China closed its borders to foreigners, the CSL upped the maximum number of players a team could have, from six to seven (throughout a season). At any one time, only six are allowed within the squad, of which, only five can play in one game. Of those five in one game, only four can be on the field at any one time. Following me? Good. Of those four, no foreign goalkeepers are allowed. Taiwanese, Hong Kong or Macau citizens are Chinese as long as they started their professional career as a player there.

Alan Douglas Borges de Carvalho, born José Bonifácio, Brazil is Chinese now. As is Elkeson de Oliveira Cardoso, but he was born in Coelho Neto, Maranhão, Brazil (which you won’t find on a map of China). The former player, Alan (阿兰), arrived from Red Bull Salzburg on 2015. The latter, Elkeson (艾克森/ Ài Kèsēn) arrived in 2013. Chinese citizenship via naturalisation has given both the chance to play for China’s national team. Ricardo Goulart (高拉特) from São José dos Campos, Brazil awaits FIFA to decide if he could play in the stages of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification. Aside frome Mousa Dembélé at Guangzhou R&F, Paulinho at Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao, Alex Teixeira at Jiangsu Suning, Marouane Fellaini at Shandong Luneng Taishan, Stephan El Shaarawy at Shanghai Greenland Shenhua there aren’t too many players out there that are household names. 27 Brazilians and 3 former Brazilians make up the 80 possible overseas players for 16 teams. Amongst the Brazilians, Hulk, at Shanghai SIPG isn’t the incredible one, but former-Chelsea player Oscar at the same team has a few awards to his name.

So aside from my covert quest into the local world of football, this turned into a great shop too. I found two A4 paper trimmers – also known as guillotines! Nothing says stationer like a machine with a blade named after a French Revolution beheading device. I hope the Chinese parliament and security forces don’t round me up for beheading postcards or cutting corners.

Xi’an: The Original Home of Football? Think Cuju (蹴鞠)

球迷会名称/Club name: 西安曼城球迷会 Xi’an Manchester City fans Association Club

球迷会联系方式/Club contacts: 阿圭罗的小媳妇儿 [Aguero’s Wife]

微博或其他社交媒体链接/Weibo or social media links: 西安曼城球迷会(微博名)
微信账号/Wechat account: 西安曼城球迷会(公众号)

关于我们/About us: 古称长安。长安城作为古代第一个人口破百万的国际化大都市,北濒渭河,南依秦岭,八水润长安。在这座古老的城市里,住着一群有着蓝色信仰的人们,这群人的存在给这座城市注入了新的活力,这就是我们——西安曼城球迷会。

不论你是土生土长的西安人,还是身在西安的异乡人,亦或是远在他乡的西安乡党,只要你信仰蓝月,我们都向你敞开怀抱。

Xi’an, is an ancient town, once known as Chang’an. Xi’an was one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals. Xi’an is the original starting point of the Silk Road. Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army is based here. Bordered to the north by the Weihe River, the southern Qinling Mountains and known for 8 rivers, the city has great diversity and history. The sky blue and white faith of City reached Xi’an in modern times and adds vitality to a City mostly know for its great food and castle walls. Whether you are a native to Xi’an, or a visitor to Xi’an, Xi’an’s OSC opens their arms to meet you and your love for the Blue Moon. No reds allowed. 

Expect to eat: Roujiamo Chinese Hamburger (肉夹馍); Liangpi (凉皮); Paomo Mutton, beef, and Bread Pieces in Soup (羊肉泡馍); Biang Biang Noodles (油泼扯面); Jinggao Steamed rice cake stuffed with honey dates and black beans (甑糕).

Expect to see: Fortifications of Xi’an & Xi’an City Wall (西安城墙); Xi’an Bell Tower (西安钟楼); the Drum Tower of Xi’an (西安鼓楼); Mount Li (骊山); Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Qin Shi Huang) (秦始皇陵); Terracotta Army (兵马俑); Shaanxi Galaxy (陕西银河); Shaanxi Guoli F.C. (陕西国力)Shaanxi Renhe Commercial Chanba F.C. (陕西人和商业浐灞)Shaanxi Dongsheng (陕西东盛); Xi’an Evening News (西安晚报); Qinqiang opera (乱弹).
Did you know? Arthur Gostick Shorrock [from Blackburn, Lancashire, England] and Moir Duncan founded the Sianfu Mission in 1892.

U.K. Twin cities & Towns: Edinburgh, Bury St. Edmunds & Birmingham

爱与和平/Peace and love