Lesson 6 focused on getting the most from text. The key points were about using That Reading Thing to supplement texts, levelled readers and those furthering their literary journey.
Reading must: · Be of interest. · Not be embarrassing. · Be encouraged by the teacher or mentor. · Be of a suitable size of text. · Be matched to high school students, whether the lowest level or readers, intermediate readers, or those most able. · Allow students to decode the text. · Encourage fluency with minimum pausing and misunderstanding of punctuation, etc.
The teacher or reading mentor should: · Challenge the student appropriately. · Ask relevant inference questions, e.g., “Can you picture what is going on whilst you are reading?” To visualise the book is a good way to understand it. · Reread and clarify a selection of key points. · Encourage the student to connect to prior knowledge, context, and within the text. · Discuss points of possible empathy. · Prompt the students to find facts, infer the gist of the main ideas, and summarise them accordingly. · Encourage questions and predictions from the text. · Build on enthusiasm and embolden the habit of reading. That energy needs direction. · Promote the use of a thesaurus and synonyms. Challenging the student to replace words with alternatives can be a useful tool for learning.
Combined with my knowledge of reading, Malcolm Pryce’s How to Write a Kick-Ass First Novel website, Jolly Phonics and the best part of my education delivery, I feel that That Reading Thing has stripped back a few basics, highlighted and reinforced some ideas and methods that will not just supplement or enhance my methods of delivery, but add a freshness that always follows any personal development.
Tricia Millar and her That Reading Thing course have made me, like many a good self-development session, want to dig deeper, do better, and expand my own knowledge. That desire is one that I hope carries through every session and class, inspiring readers and writers and perhaps planting the seed of a love for words. Some students may not know it now, but later, when the bulb flashes and the green man at the crossing lights up, a jolly new route may be taken. In closing, I have identified the necessary key parts and take homes of the That Reading Thing training, and now I must deliver them. With the access to materials, a good That Reading Thing guidebook to hand in, and seven weeks of access to the initial course, I feel confident in my ability to improve my output. Wish me luck. And, make sure you join the course, if you’re into that sort of thing…
I read a few chapters before bed. I carry a book in my pocket almost religiously. I aim to have books on my desks and near my bedside. The bookshelf I have is full to bursting despite attempts to forever re-home unwanted texts. If I can read on a walk, at lunch or between classes, I do. It has always been my way. Reading is a lifelong pleasure and habit. It helps me to feel relaxed and whenever I have felt tired, alone or under the weather, reading has been my medicine and friend.
Having a to do list is seen as normal in many households. Why not create a list of texts and books to read? Mine keeps getting longer. It never reduces. That’s the joy of reading: there’s always something new to expand your horizons. I find my television and movie viewing list also remains quite lengthy. By being balanced and principled, I can reduce my screen time in favour of reading. I often use TV as a reward for completing a reading target.
“One of the greatest gifts adults can give – to their offspring and to their society – is to read to children.: – Carl Sagan (Scientist)
I recall the joy of Mum and occasionally my Dad reading to me when I was a child. Those bonds and memories never fade. As a child I listened to it as we shared a reading habit development together! Such quality time is essential for reading habits. I recall how my Mum used to log when I would start and end a book. There was a list of great books we read together, those I picked up at school and some I had read all alone. Reading can instill self-esteem.
“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.” – Kate DiCamillo
The library was a weekly excursion. It was a few hours outside of the house to explore new worlds from the pages. And, on occasion, Mum would ensure I had a special trip to buy secondhand books or new books from stalls at Manchester Victoria railway station. There, I’d often find books that gripped my attention and make me want to read. Not everything read must be a masterpiece. Those books would make for a wonderful day or hour here and there. Having a day, every month set aside just for reading has become a way to slow the pace of life down and enjoy new works. Mum gave me lots of choices for reading. That’s important. What interests me may not interest you. You can recommend reading materials but giving a child a chance to pick will always work best.
“I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.” – Roald Dahl
The below is a huge draft that will be edited and chopped probably into less than 150 words, or maybe just a handful of sugar, or likely whichever earns me the most coffee cups. It all started when Miss Hannah in marketing asked me to create something for social media in relation to holiday reading. I immediately wanted to share Roald Dahl. Then, I thought about international mindedness, books with messages and genres that leave your heart tickling. Of course, there are many mainstream examples and some are quite well-known, but that’s the magic of a good book – it cannot stay shut! It fails to remain quietly shut in a dark corner of a room. Books cry out for attention. They’re living breathing monsters that grip you, hug you and leave sloppy kisses on your cheeks. So, that’s the introduction to the opener below.
“I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” – C.S. Lewis
Do you remember the first time you opened a book and it truly grabbed your attention? Perhaps that text took you away to a whole new world. Maybe that story whisked you off on a never ending story. Certainly the protagonist had your attention. You were hooked! You find yourself nose-deep in the book, living and feeling the words! Breathing in a rollercoaster ride or feeling the love from the rows and rows of the word beneath. Importantly, age groupings are never always accurate. Students read and write at various levels of ability across age and year groups. It’s important to differentiate to an appropriate reading level. It is worth noting that opening new books may not prove too challenging, however, it can always awaken a part of a new imagination.
“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” – Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Whether you’re an avid reader or a book guru, books such as The Animals of Farthing Wood (Colin Dann) can stick with you for life. Reading about characters such as Tintin and adventures such as The Lord of The Rings can shape our expectations of movies or provide us with hours of conversations amongst thinkers and friends. As we reflect in life, we’re often granted opportunities to communicate our recommendations. Here are a few books to get you going.
Emerging readers: Kindergarten & PYP levels 1-2 / grades 1-2 / UK nursery school or years 1-2 (5-7 years)
Books at this level should be packed full of sight words, colour and invention. A trio of examples shall follow. The Reverend W. Awdry wrote Thomas the Tank Engine and friends. His 26 stories were aimed at his child Christopher. It must have worked because later on, son followed father, adding a further collection to the series! Eric Carle was a colourful writer, creating a list of books as long as my arms and legs (which are very long indeed). The Very Hungry Caterpillar is an iconic place to start reading his works: “One sunny Sunday, the caterpillar was hatched out of a tiny egg. He was very hungry.” Janet and Allan Ahlberg are no strangers to children’s fiction. This married couple worked together for over two decades. Funny Bones, Mr Biff the Boxer, and Kicking a Ball.
“Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words!” – Betty Smith
At these ages students are now working out how to segment words using phonics and recognising an increasing number of sight words. They’re differentiating homonyms whilst learning to love books. Read daily and often with your kids now and they should develop at their fastest! To that mind look up the following books: All Join In (Quentin Blake – one of the greatest and most distinctive illustrators of all time); Peace at Last (Jill Murphy); The Runaway Wok (Ying Chang Compestine); Mr Wolf’s Pancakes (Jan Fearnley); Owl Babies (Martin Waddell & Patrick Benson); Suddenly (Colin McNaughton); Grumpy Frog (Ed Vere); Oi Frog! (Kes Gray & Jim Field); The Squirrels Who Squabbled (Rachel Bright & Jim Field); Flotsam (David Wiesner); Guess How Much I Love You? (Sam McBratney); Slow Loris (Alexis Deacon); I Want My Potty! (Tony Ross); Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell); Meg and Mog (Helen Nichol and Jan Pienkowski) and so many more… (further inspiration can be sourced here).
PYP 3-5 / grade 3-5 / UK years 3-5 (7-9 years)
Flat Stanley, penned by Jeff Brown, tells the story of a boy squashed by a bulletin board. His newfound flatness allows him to slip under doors like a piece of mail. He can even fly like a kite! This story series has been around for more than fifty years. The authors six original stories have inspired a catalogue of stories by other authors. There is also the Flat Stanley Project which brings together an awful lot of people around the world. Jackie Chan approves of it.
“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” – Lemony Snicket
Anything from the collections of Dr Seuss, A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh), Astrid Lindgren (PippiLongstocking) and Roald Dahl should capture attention at this age. René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo‘s Asterix the Gaulseries can open up new frames as to how a story can appear. I would recommend this following group too. The Nothing to See Here Hotel (Steven Butler); The Bee is not Afraid of Me (Fran Long & Isabel Galleymore); King Kong (Anthony Browne); Dilly the Dinosaur (Tony Bradman); The Diary of a Cat Killer (Anne Fine); Mrs Cockle’s Cat (Philippa Pearce); The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark (Jill Tomlinson); Where The Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak); Mr Majeika (Humphrey Carpenter); How to Train Your Dragon (Cressida Cowell); The Sheep-Pig (Dick King Smith’s book was made into the movie Babe); Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White); The Iron Man (Ted Hughes) Cliffhanger (Jaqueline Wilson); Peter in Peril (Helen Bate); Coming to England (Floella Benjamin) and other great books for PYP3, PYP4 and PYP5.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss
MYP 1/2 / grades 6-7 / UK years 5-6 (9-11 years)
“The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest (people) of the past centuries.” – Descartes
After developing imagination and experiencing adventure, books tend to favour realistic fiction and serious topics for older students. At this age, books open doors into many new worlds and offer insights into many other cultures. Encyclopedia-style texts lure in the curious and student inquirers. Hard-hitting and dark stories sit between classics and familiar friends of the literature world. Look up: The Boy At the Back of The Class (Onjali Rauf); Illegal (Eoin Colfer – think Artemis Fowl); Abomination (Robert Swindells); The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien); What Katy Did (Susan Coolidge); The Chronicles of Narnia(C.S. Lewis); The Borrowers (Mary Norton); Silverfin (Charlie Higson’s young James Bond series) and so on.
“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place, you can install a lovely bookshelf on the wall.” – Roald Dahl
MYP 3/4 / grades 8-9 / UK years 7-8 (11-13 years)
“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” – Groucho Marx
Recently the language and literature class tackled Bridge to Terabithia by China-born Katherine Paterson. This novel became a Disney-adaptation. Few students favoured the movie over the book. Books have often been adapted for the silver screen, the television or the stage. A great checklist to read and then watch can include the following: Madame Doubtfire (Anne Fine); The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton); The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Mark Haddon); The Day of the Triffids (John Wyndham); The Hound of the Baskervilles (Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes); The Plague Dogs (Richard Adams); The Woman in Black (Susan Hill); Watership Down (Richard Adams); and The Giver (Lois Lowry).
“Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary.” – Jim Rohn
MYP 5/DP / grades 10+ / UK years 9+ (13+ years)
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin
At this age level, the vocabulary is expanding with new words dropping down like rain. Students are better armed to scaffold and learn these familiar unfamiliar phrases and terms. Using their decoding techniques they can swiftly move through lengthy text. The classic The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and Maus by Art Spiegelman are fine examples of texts that would sit well on a student’s bookshelf. Students who watch movies such as Dune and Jurassic Park, should at this point, now be lifting the text that inspired these movies. The respected authors Frank Herbert and Michael Crichton have sizable and diverse reading catalogues suitable for those who claim to be knowledgeable. Writers and readers alike should explore diverse texts, such as: This Book is Cruelty Free (Linda Newbery); Atonement (Ian McEwan); Long Walk to Freedom (Nelson Mandela);Touching My Father’s Soul (Jamling Tenzing Norgay). I would also thoroughly recommend Paddy Clarke Ha, Ha, Ha by Roddy Doyle and William Golding’s Lord of The Flies because by now a rounded reader is a communicator of text. Just ask the students of language and literature at TWIS. Further reading suggestions can be found here and there.
“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” – C.S. Lewis
Tired of heavy paper books? Do your children favour electronic devices? Try a popular e-reader like Kindle or Kobo. They may be devices that are limited, but that’s the beauty of it. Why worry about bad eyesight or distractions? There are stacks of available titles, some free and many can be read from .PDF documents. Many are portable. The anti-glare screens and lack of blue light make most devices unobtrusive to eyesight. Some even have onboard dictionary features.
Consult your librarian or find a suitable booklist, then check off or list how many books you have read! Be principled!
Many of us are traditional and favour paper because of the smells and textures, as well as the tangible aspect. We like to touch things. Make sure the next thing your son or daughter touches is one that reaches back and captures their heart. On top of that, books exercise brains, and to quote Roald Dahl, “If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books.” There you have it. Read it. Read it all. Read everything! I read everything. I read every little thing. That’s not true. I wish I did. I’m still working on it.
224 words shaped so many bedtime reading sessions. Bedrooms around the world were greeted with a heart-warming tale of growth, albeit through humour and a spot of seemingly obesity. The story has radiated like the light from the moon, from pages in over 60 languages to beaming eyes looking at the colourful intricate nature of the tale.
“That’s something I learned in art school. I studied graphic design in Germany, and my professor emphasized the responsibility that designers and illustrators have towards the people they create things for.” – Eric Carle
Eric Carle didn’t just write that one book of course. His designs, illustrations and words have appeared in numerous texts. Having dropped his first drawings in 1965, Aesop’s Fables for Modern Readers (Peter Pauper Press), the new-to-the-scene and relatively young illustrator was spotted by educator and author Bill Martin Jr. One red lobster in an advertisement led to a lifetime of colour and creation.
“We have eyes, and we’re looking at stuff all the time, all day long. And I just think that whatever our eyes touch should be beautiful, tasteful, appealing, and important.” – Eric Carle
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was an award-winning book collaboration with the late author Bill Martin Jr. Thereafter cardboard editions, die-cut holes, inflatables, plastic pockets and multiple versions of artwork with words began to grow and filter from Eric Carle to the world. Countless children have lived and learned through rhyming picture books and used string in one of his many creations.
“One day I think it’s the greatest idea ever that I’m working on. The next day I think it’s the worst that I’ve ever worked on – and I swing between that a lot. Some days I’m very happy with what I’m doing, and the next day I am desperate – it’s not working out!” – Eric Carle
The story of the story-teller is ever more remarkable. This was a man, who his wife Barbara Morrison, strongly believed had held a form of post traumatic stress disorder. He’d dug trenches on the dreaded Siegfried Line of a World War II battlefield. He’d seen death at first hand, aged only around 15 years of age. But then, darkness turned to light over the years: “One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.” Okay, it wouldn’t have been that simple, but Eric Carle refused to bow down and give in. Years of toil brought his mind to a place where writing was permitted. An audience was earned. From Germany in World War II, he returned to his country of birth, the U.S.A. and found his way from Syracuse to the New York Times as a graphic artist.
“Let’s put it this way: if you are a novelist, I think you start out with a 20 word idea, and you work at it and you wind up with a 200,000 word novel. We, picture-book people, or at least I, start out with 200,000 words and I reduce it to 20.” – Eric Carle
Via stints back in Germany, for the U.S. Army (during the Korean War) he went on to be an art director at an advertising agency. His collage techniques, rich in hand-painted paper, featured layers and slices of vivid imagination set out as tiny pieces of artwork. Nature and wonder have set tones throughout his simple stories. These stories have been warm and inviting, and give hope to children, especially those new to schooling and education.
Papa, please get the moon for me is a tale of great importance in my opinion. It shows us that imagination is wonderful, even if it is breaking something seen as impossible. Whoever told me that Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny weren’t real, or anybody for that matter, that breaks the dreams of a child, deserves a good long look at themselves. Reality and imagination can sit side by side, otherwise Neil Armstrong, or Elon Musk or Celine Dion would not be around. Ability and knowledge need the company of spark and dream – and that’s where imagination grows.
“They are deceptively simple. I admit that. But for me, all my life I try to simplify things. As a child in school, things were very hard for me to understand often, and I developed a knack, I think. I developed a process to simplify things so I would understand them.” – Eric Carle
As I sit typing words and reading about Eric Carle’s history, I recall flicking through glossy covers of his books, and the joy as my face beamed when I discovered a translated copy in Hengli, Dongguan. That beautiful familiar white cover with a caterpillar and a red apple missing a mouthful, all slightly imbalanced, as if to say, and to appeal, that things aren’t always neat and tidy. One day when COVID-19 passes and the world is a little more tidy, I dream to fly to Amherst, Massachusetts to see the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. That would be as good as finding another Uroballus carleion a trip to Hong Kong. The Caterpillar Jumping Spider’s Latin name is testament to the reach and pull of a world class picture book writer.
“My father used to take me for walks in the woods. He would peel back the bark of a tree and show me the creatures who lived there. I have very fond memories of these special times with my father and in a way I honor him with my books and my interest in animals and insects.” – Eric Carle
#1 Audio books. See below. Books read by people, for people. Surprisingly good ways to read on the go. Well Remembered Days, written by Arthur Matthews, but read by Frank Kelly (Father Jack from Father Ted) is a great exposure to Irish (Ireland, where they often speak English) culture and accents.
#2 Books. These are the best things ever. They’re diverse and they’re almost everywhere. Read one, pass it on. Read another, share it. Read a great one, keep it on your shelf to read again. Recommended authors include Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park/Timeline), Roald Dahl (The BFG/Matilda), JK Rowling (Harry Potter series), Janet and Allan Ahlberg (Funnybones), Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar). Comic books, graphic novels, audiobooks, and even short stories in newspaper serials can all add up to the book experience. What are you reading next? Feel free to ask me for suggestions.
“I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.” – Roald Dahl, writer, former pilot of a Hurricane fighter, and conjuror of dreams.
The Cafe Book: Engaging All Students in Daily Literacy Assessment and Instruction, by self titled sisters Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, attracted me in library. Or because of the literacy element. Nor so that of instruction. The word cafe stood out. Its abstraction and my liking of coffee met perfectly.
Hoisting the 204 paved softback down, I noticed the bump in the cover. A CD-ROM. I haven’t used a DVD or CD for so long. The Tungwah Wenze International School staff-issued iMac doesn’t come with a drive. I don’t have one on my personal laptop. The TVs at school, my TV at home and all the smart board systems at school don’t have a place for discs. Printed in 2009, I started to wonder if the contents would have dated as fast as the technology they employed. The longevity of books however remains stalwart.
Seven sturdy chapters opened before me. I skim read the acknowledgements, unable to connect to the names on the page, but fully aware such matters as teaching and writing needs a cast of many. Last Friday, Grade 4 had a COLA (Celebration of Learning Achievement). Mr Jaime, Mr Richard and Miss Aria with support from Miss Keats and Miss Belinda set our class on a good course.
Chapter one asks why and what are assessment systems. It refers heavily back to the authors and their previous book, Daily Five. The general idea being: students read to self, read to someone else, write something, use word work and then listen to reading. In an ideal and disciplined world, it makes a big difference. The appendix of the book I had in my hand though made more sense. I could see how CAFE system could be of use to the busiest of teachers. It is simple.
Notebooks are often overlooked in these times of electronic record keeping. These can be filled by simple strategy forms. Students set their goals and post to a classroom chart. Small group work is encouraged, much like what I’m trying, time and time again. Whole group instructions and flip charts caught my attention. I’ve neglected flip chart paper for far too long.
By the time I’d reached chapter two, the key details that came across were that teachers want to do more; the importance of scaffolding; and teachers take offence to be told to follow a set template. They want to find their own ways to adjust the scaffolding needs of individuals. Can’t say that I disagree.
The evolution of a calendar from post it notes and scribbles on paper has certainly met all the best teachers. Our methods evolve and practices adapt. Reading literacy takes time for monitoring. Tabs, pages and menus of reading form. A bulletin board showing comprehension, fluency, accuracy and expanded vocabulary certainly feels like it should be at home in every classroom. Just like a daily ongoing story book. A chapter and day helps work, rest and play.
To get students to know their target, classes often need exemplars. These set a clear visual goal for their work ahead. The CAFE book covers familiar grounds of observation, encouragement, tracking and how to push interest. It develops wall display ideas and recommends strategies to develop readers. There are bucket loads of suggested reading books, group activities and then reference forms. Before the evening expired, I had read the book cover to cover. Ideas will have sank in. But, first, just one chocolate Hobnob biscuit…
Eck and Timu, otherwise known as Echo and the late Tim Mileson, can be found in a book just shy of sixty glossy pages. The compact pocketbook is presented through poetry and story alike. It is conventional and yet unconventional. Interpretation is a skill you can choose to use, or just float on the muse.
Sandwiched between Tim’s personal writing, Eck explores emotions such as loss, belonging and echoes nature throughout. Cute eye-catching illustrations using a variety of sketching styles follow an imaginative route to deliver a peaceful and loving tribute in the form of a poetic manuscript.
There are lines throughout that transport the reader, catch them, hold them and bring them downward. There are uplifting words, moments of hope and flashes of light. It’s a sweet little book deserving of a wider audience. The book comes in both Chinese and English editions. My grade four students at Tungwah Wenze International School greeted that with joy. Next up they’ll interview the author…
or maybe passed on from brother, to sister to brother or cousin or read by many a dozen.
They may become forgotten in time;
or triggered memories by one rhyme.
There are 14 of them, plus two and two more. Two for over there too. For Kitty. For Harry. For Jim and Kim. For Jimmy and Marline. For Alex, Sofia, Alice and Jerry. For Angela also. Not forgetting Amir and Owen. And last but not least Lucy.
One for me. One for the library.
Either way, I wish their echoes go on. And on. And on. And on and on. Ripples in a pool.
The Little Picture Book: Lost and Found arrived. Thank you Echo. Tomorrow I’ll sit in a tree by Songshan Lake or a cafe (if it rains) and soak up all the words, with illustrations. I can smell the spirit of Tim Mileson and the lively love of Echo. Mr Bee is happy.
I wanted to write this on Dad’s birthday. I procrastinated. A habit I possibly learnt from Dad. Let’s talk about my Dad. He’s half of the reason why I exist. Now, where to begin? Last week, I had a video call with Dad on his birthday. He was sat on his lounge sofa and the frustrations of being unable to get out were etched on his face. Dad’s never been a mountain climber or a road cyclist, but he’s always been someone who enjoys the outdoors.
Dad, as father to Shaun, Tina, Asa and I, hasn’t always been perfect. Who amongst us, can say they are free from mistakes or poor choices? This is life, and the consequences of one action or inaction ripple like a stone crashing into a millpond. Things between Dad and I haven’t always been gloss paint or even matt, or emulsion. There have been paint spillages. I still love my Dad and I feel his love too. I’m lucky. I can’t imagine life without a Dad, and I truly don’t want to feel the loss of my Dad (or Mum): that would hurt too greatly.
Dad mentioned, in our last call, he’d been ‘cutting back Himalayan barbed-wire‘ or in layman’s terms, chopping the plants of blackberries. It was good to hear that the garden was once again embracing Dad. I grew up at Joyce Street allotments listening to City’s away games, or playing with our dog Pup on the nearby Broadhurst Park. Dad always seemed to have his allotment patch (and at times, two allotments).
Before my teenage days, I was acutely aware that Dad bodged things together. A loose panel fastened awkwardly here, and a piece of perspex draped there. Never quite fitting. Always in a place that served purpose. Not pristine, always functional. Dad would show me blackbirds nesting in his grey monolithic-looking shed. He’d feed me coriander and thyme, unwashed from a patch of ground. I would eat delicious tomatoes, rich in flavour, second only to my Granddad’s – and truth be told, not by much! I recall eating cucumbers, strawberries and planting potatoes, dancing with goats, finding old toys in impromptu concrete paths and losing races to my older brother Asa. The allotments were a good place to be. With Dad.
During the summers, sometimes he’d help at the Joyce Street Farm and I’d get to feed ponies, gain the trust of feral cats, collect chicken eggs, much out the horses and play with ducks. The goats were always my favourite. They’d be loaned out to allotment holders to go mow their plots or let out to feed on an adjacent banking of grass. Chickens and poultry would scatter up and down on a free range grass plain. Sometimes I’d stay there and enjoy the peace. Other times Pup and I would go bonkers and break the peace.
Dad with Granddad would take us to Tottington for cuttings and chrysanthemums. We’d go to Chester for seeds. It wasn’t unusual to serve Granddad leaning over walls taking a few freelance cuttings of his own, from other people’s gardens. Dad, Asa and I would walk ahead seemingly oblivious but totally aware. Other days and evenings we’d meet his friends, the legendary John ‘The Ghost’, Ernie at the farm, locals at the Working Man’s Club, etc.
Whether it was spam butties, salad from the allotment, a pie at Newton Heath market or reduced to clear food, I can’t say I ever went hungry. Boxes of broken biscuits at Manchester Victoria station or vanilla custard slices were probably where I got my sweet tooth. What I’d give to sit down with a shandy at Newton Heath Working Man’s Club, or Two Dogs Alcoholic Lemonade at the defunct Castle and Falcon, and talk with Dad.
From an early age, caravan holidays have been a thing. Actually, since Nana and Granddad passed away, Dad has maintained a. succession of caravans in Morecambe. They’ve been a holiday home for family, neighbours and friends of the family. Ritz Carlton they’ve never been, but a stone’s throw from Morecambe’s famous Midland Hotel, they’ve always been cosy and convenient. Walking with dogs, Snowy, Suzie, Pup, Nomaz, Jerry, Nobby, Blue, and others, even cats Sky and Lucy, around the caravan park resort or along the beaches to Heysham have given a great sense of relaxation to many an Acton.
There’s no place like home. I miss Dad, equally as much as I miss my Mum and other tribe members. I live and work here in sunny Dongguan, and have no plans to leave here. I enjoy the challenges of my job far too much. I respect the freedom it affords me. I hope in this troubled year I can be home for Christmas. The COVID-19 pandenic has probably stopped a summer jaunt to Manchester. And even if I could go back, could I visit all the family at all their houses without myself being the risk of spreading this godforsaken virus?
Dad loves trains, and as a former painter and decorator of ‘anything but the trains’ he’d steam through stories about the places he’d been, witnessing snow on Winter Hill (in summer) and what painters do when watching paint dry. It took me a while to understand that the word crumpet wasn’t always food. These days the meaning would generate the #MeToo on Twitter. We’d visit steam trains or famous stations, as long as there was no cost. We’d ride in luggage cars, behind diesel trains or then speedy Intercity 125. Being sat on huge sacks of seaweed heading for Manchester’s gardens seemed normal to me. It was a pungent form of social distancing, far ahead of its time.
My Aunty Christine tells me Dad was a talented artist, and studied so. I’ve seen some of his works but it seems time has hidden them in Dad’s clutter. Uncle George, the youngest of Dad’s brothers and sisters, told many stories of them at Wembley, away games and Maine Road following the mighty Manchester City and occasional scraps with hooligan types. I could always see the family love in Aunty Irene’s eyes for Dad, but an awkwardness towards Dad’s habits. Our family, like many, has its quirks and oddities. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
One birthday, I pretended to sleep. I think I was disappointed that Dad hadn’t picked me up that weekend. Dad was supposed to pick me up every Saturday. My parents had divorced at, for me, an early age. I wasn’t in a broken home, thankfully, but the new norm for us all was different, yet not unheard of in Manchester. So, one night Dad opened my bedroom door and I was sleeping. But, I wasn’t. The gift was wonderful. I regret not sitting or waking up. I regret not hugging my Dad.
Gifts were always welcome. Books from the barrow at Manchestet Victoria Station, from Mum and Dad were always a treasure. Animal books, and adventures became habit. Over the years Mum would collect tokens and send off for hugely discounted books. I still have some here in China now. They’re both sentimental and functional. Dad would sometimes find stray Lego bricks and these little tokens (of an expensive luxury toy) fitted well. The two square road pieces with a helipad and three lanes were rarely out of use. I know that the once-paraffin barrel of Lego passed from me to Astrid and Paul, and then over to Shaun and Christina. So, a collection started by Mum and Dad has served well.
After completing the Morecambe Bay CrossBay run, I spotted Dad near the finish line and he took some photos of me looking shattered and void of energy. Cheers Dad! I was so happy to see Dad, that day, at Hest Bank. I think Christina and Shaun with there with the West Highland terrier Jerry. Either way after a mostly solo half-marathon distance through Morecambe Bay, it was a heartwarming sight. Also, it was at one of Dad’s favourite places, a sandy bank on the expanses of Morecambe Bay, complete with passing trains in close proximity.
There’s much more I can write about Dad. Perhaps I will one day.
August 2020 has seen a few new components to my life. A new apartment. A new place of work. A new kettle. A new model bridge in the balcony garden. And finally, like Star Wars, a new hope. Moving from Changping to Songshan Lake and Dàlǐngshān (大岭山) was relatively straight forwards.
The new apartment sits over the line of the township borders. I live in Dàlǐngshān but I work in Sōngshānhú district (piànqū / 松山湖片区). Dàlǐngshān Zhèn (大岭山镇) is part of Sōngshānhú but these days Sōngshānhú is a very high-tech centre within the 6 townships that surround Sōngshān lake itself. Shilong (石龙), Chashan (茶山), and Shipai (石排) aren’t really that close to the lake area but they’re part of the district. The lake area is mainly surrounded by Dàlǐngshān, Dàlǎng (大朗) and Liáobù (寮步). Sōngshānhú as a town has grown from 2003, from a simple high-tech park to the mammoth green living space around the lake that is now. Huawei and many other tech giants are here. It has a railway station on The Dongguan West to Huizhou railway and will soon join the subway with three stations in Dàlǐngshān on the line 1 route (东莞轨道交通1号线/Dōngguǎn Guǐdào Jiāotōng Yī Hào Xiàn), and one at Sōngshānhú itself. The new line opens in 2022, so I won’t get too excited right now. The subway Line 3 will also have 4 stations in Sōngshānhú but that hasn’t began construction.
The new job has been welcoming, well-paced and full of encouragement. I am confident that this is a new start with great potential. Two former students are following me from grade 3 at St Lorraine Anglo-Chinese School to the new Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS). I’m sure that they will enjoy their grade 4 class – and I will have to work hard as their Home Room Teacher to ensure that they do. Between various conference calls, meetings and introductions there has been good coffee and ample time to down tools to think of a plan of action. I am terribly excited about the coming semester. Even amongst these COVID-19 times there is a lighthouse and beacon when we look in the right places.
Dàlǐngshān town isn’t far away, and in the relatively short time since I first went to Dàlǐngshān, the place has grown and has modern districts, several branches of Lauren’s Pizza and even a Walmart. There are universities and amongst the Guangdong Medical University is just over the road from me and DG University of Technology (东莞理工学院) isn’t far off. The lake has one large section that is completely free of cycles and cars. There is a parallel cycle route below a highway and under a cooling tree canopy. Cycling around the rest of the lake is a must. It is a great spot for tourism with backdrops of Huawei’s impressive European-style town and numerous picturesque places along the way. Lotus leaves, lush green sprawls, flowers and bird call should be abundant. Around the many tranquil pathways, you can see Tai Chi, yoga, dates holding hands and families flying kites. I can’t wait to hang up my hammock sooner or later.
“I feel invigorated.” – Those were my words spoken to a new colleague on Friday. The evening was finished with a leaving day drink for Calum from Murray’s F.C. He’s only moving to Shenzhen but felt the need to arrange a leaving meal and drinks. I didn’t attend the meal as all new team members of Tungwah Wenzel International School were treated to a splendid buffet meal at the stylish Dongcheng International Hotel (owned by Tungwah/Donghua group). Even the coach journey was on a Tungwah group coach. They own factories, gardens, estates, hospitals and schools. They’re a sizable group and well-known in this region. Between the blooming peach and plum trees of Dongguan, the group’s assets aren’t far off. The ministry of optimism within my head is thankful for such a great opportunity. My only regret is not buying a crane from the car park exhibition at the Dongcheng International Hotel. Dahan Construction Machinery have some great pieces, ideal for placing hammocks within.
There are plenty of places within a short cycle ride now. Tongsha lake and the parks around it are just a stone’s throw away. Dalingshan Park is between here and Houjie. I’ve already cycled back to Irene’s Bar for a sandwich. There’s much to see and do in the area that I have yet to explore. On my doorstep, I will find the Tongji Bridge (通济桥 Song Dynasty, 920-1279) and cross that bridge soon. It will help me forget my worries. That’s the literal meaning, I believe.
“Quite apart from its meaty content, we believe we have found a real dramatist” – Gerry Raffles of Theatre Workshop speaking about Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste of Honey.
Every story should have a beginning, an end, and some middle parts. There should be a plot, a setting with characters, some form of conflict (because something must happen), and a resolution (the smooth end). Some books carry the resolution or conflict over a series. That is life. Some things drag on. Others happen and fade away. There is no one-size-fits-all story to life. There will le a logical following and flow to a story because they must run smoothly to allow the follower to tag along. British dramatist and screenwriter Shelagh Delaney (who featured on album cover Louder Than Bombs, by The Smiths) intended A Taste of Honey to be a novel. It is a very famous play now. The drunken working-class single mum of Helen, and a daughter called Jo have spread from the monotonous 1958 skyline of a desolate Salford to London’s West End, Broadway, BBC Radio 3 and the Royal Exchange Theatre amongst other places. Peter, the wealthy southern lover of Jo’s mother Helen and a black sailor called Jimmy feature alongside a camp art student called Geoffrey. It is a complex and heavily questioning piece of drama. Class, gender, sexuality, and race are dissected which for mid-twentieth-century Britain was highly risky. The stars have followed the play with Stockport’s Sally Lindsay, a cluster of soap TV stars and Dr Who extras, Joan Ann Olivier, Baroness Olivier, DBE (born 28th October 1929) and notably Dame Angela Brigid Lansbury DBE joining the productions. A certain Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) has also featured on the stage for this production. From Salford to Home and Away to a Galaxy far, far away…
But, right here, right now my story at Dongguan’s Tungwah Wenzel International School has just began.
Today marks the memorial of the terrible fire and Grenfell Tower disaster that claimed 72 lives. The enquiry goes on. The battle against protected imperialist privilege remains. The racism of yesteryear hasn’t faded at all. These days a man born on November the 30th in 1874 at a palace (Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire) is gaining rather a bit of attention. This, a man who, somehow appears (on camera) to have been meddling in Police affairs in 1911. This is long before you look at Sir Winston Churchill’s cash for influence…
“…ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new viceroy seated on its back” – Winston Churchill, on Gandhi, “a half-naked fakir”
Hussein Onyango Obama is better known to many as former US president Barack Obama’s grandfather. He was one of thousands held in British detention camps during Kenya’s Mau Mau Uprising of the 1950s. Winston Churchill served as leader there from 1951–1955. Not many people know about that. Even the Imperial War Museum’s web link skirts over the wartime leader’s involvement.
“Many of our friends in Muslim countries all over the East have already expressed great appreciation of this gift.” – Winston Churchill addressed the cabinet in 1940, They set aside £100,000 for a London mosque to honour the Indian Muslims who fought for the British Empire.
At the weekend thugs and far right fascists waved Hitler-style right arm salutes in front of the Sir Winston Churchill statue. The very character who helped Britain and her allies to overcome Nazi Germany, fascist-state Italy and a hugely militarist Japan hellbent on expanding their Empire. In April 2014, Labour candidate Benjamin Whittingham tweeted on Twitter that Sir Winston Churchill was “a racist and white supremacist”. The Labour Party removed the post and apologised to Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames – and the world. In February 2019, before COVID-19 ravaged Europe, Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell called Sir Winston Churchill a villain. Newspapers often dig up some rusty pieces of Churchill-bashing and The Guardian’s Gary Younge’s piece from 2002 is hugely relevant today.
“I think my grandfather’s reputation can withstand a publicity-seeking assault from a third-rate, Poundland Lenin. I don’t think it will shake the world.” – Sir Nicholas Soames (Grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, The Daily Telegraph, February 2019.
Groomed by class, and shaped by his headstrong opinion, Sir Winston Churchill helped deliver Britain through its darkest hours. Strong leadership and action needed to prevail – and it did. People gave their all for freedom and choice. Without such actions, Britain and Europe surely would have fell to Nazi ideals. To freely discuss Sir Winston Churchill and his party’s feelings of other races is easy now. Back then, in another lifetime and era, many were obsessed with master races and strong genes over others. There are even religions, cults and countries now pushing and plugging that notion, but that is another story, for another day.
Sir Winston Churchill was not a stranger to eugenics and controversy. The man himself adorns countless history books, five-pound notes and was and is celebrated by many. Many British-Indians see Sir Winston Churchill as a figure of division. They have a just case, and rightly so they are free to argue their cause, after all the defeat and prevention of Nazi rule on British soil was all about that. Freedom of speech belongs in the U.K. Even during Sir Winston Churchill’s time pre-war and after World War II many argues his faults and his seemingly eugenic views as far more than just class division. His speeches were often tinged with venom and fear-mongering: watch out for those pesky East Asians…
I’ve always found Sir Winston Churchill’s books – of which there are volumes to be fascinating and idiosyncratic. They’re outlandishly eccentric pieces from a time of Empire and fear of Communism and Fascism. They’re contradictive deep pieces of opinion and words twist and turn hither and dither to form a kind of blog or diary or history bibliography. Many have deep direction. Most have one-sided takes. The more that people can read into Sir Winston Churchill’s works the better. They’re illuminating and showcase an often-troubled mind full of intellect and discovery. One moments they pour with respect, the next they stand over their quarry and stamp their feet down. Like all heroes, he’s a troubled kind. To question his legacy is natural. There is no alternative narrative from his dealings in World War II. But there are other stories, lesser told and lesser written about. Sir Winston Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples is by and large referred to as social Darwinism in a manuscript.
“I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” – Part of Winston Churchill’s address the Palestine Royal Commission in 1937.
If given a school report for his handling of World War II, Sir Winston Churchill would be awarded an A* with all possible distinctions and awards. For his relationships to the Suffragettes, well, how can you offer bail one day and then imprison many just a few years later? That’s the mark of a poor Home Secretary. Sorry, Sir Winston Churchill that’s a U mark on your report card: unclassified, as in terrible. Historians and defenders of the recently desecrated statue of Sir Winston Churchill are now doing battle in the foreground of society. Was Sir Winston Churchill a racist? Hmmm, these knights, there must have been a few over the years that have fell foul of the race cards. How about his treatment to the working classes and liberals he once represented? Scribe another U on the report card please. How about using the Army (Lancashire Fusiliers) against Welsh miners in 1910? That Tonypandy and Rhonda Valley matter deserves another U. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, superfan (in the girl group sense of things) denounces any such things.
Without looking over the Atlantic at the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, we have a few of our own in Britain, in recent years. Racism has never gone away. I recall the Stephen Lawrence enquiry in 1999 said that the killing of young black teenager was “institutionally racist”. Disparity in races has been around all my lifetime and I don’t believe anyone who thinks otherwise. Social-economic constraints act as shackles and supress. I always wondered how shows like Little Britain and Bo’ Selecta could get away with playing black characters. But, me being white, I didn’t question them, I just assumed somebody somewhere in the ages of political correctness had said these shows were portrayals on not to mock anyone. Now it seems actors, comedians, writers and more are apologising for fun. Others like Ricky Gervais are making video blogs.
#BlackLivesMatter and other protests, as well as raves in Daisy Nook (near Oldham, Lancashire), and seem to cast a shadow over the COVID-19 coronavirus problem that is filling our lives right now. The bug is back in Beijing, China and should serve as a warning that suppression of the virus globally is far from achievable – right now. Just as the establishment presented Sir Winston Churchill as a hero and awarded him a state funeral, I can’t help but think that the powers that be will paint all the protestors with one dirty paintbrush and dishonestly claim that they’re the problem. Sir Winston Churchill was made to look like he won World War II with speeches and dogged determination alone. As the Red Army of Russia rolled over Nazi Germany and into Europe, Sir Winston Churchill campaigned so fiercely to take out the Communist threat that he was swiftly shuffled aside. The coalition with the supportive Labour Party sent him packing. It was his ousting that paved the way for Dominion of India to gain independence from Great Britain/the U.K. on 15th August 1947 ( a day after the Dominion of Pakistan). That led to the Republic of India.
Indian history is complex – and British intervention, colonialism there only makes things more complicated. Hindus and their belief, have been around far longer than second testament Christian values and have experienced more fusions, branches away. Nobody has the right to say their religion is better than any other religion. But, as history tells us, our species is pretty damn good at enforcing and passing the message of the latest Messiah, God or entity to pray to at some temple, home or prayer mat. Sir Winston Churchill was raised a time when 24% of Earth’s lands sat under the British Empire’s flag. He knew that “the empire on which the sun never sets” was fragile. The ruins of European nations and the balance of global power now swung between the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. Anti- European colonialism and anti-imperialism thoughts. Peaceful disengagement led to a British Empire of 700 million becoming just 5 million.
Our modern multicultural society is really privileged. We have the freedom and the questions to tear apart pop idols, song lyrics, scientific facts and history. We can have discussions that our parents and forefathers could not. Well, some of us. Don’t deny the good things from history and hide the sculptures and portraits away. Dig out the dirt and add it. Let people make their decisions and choices about how to remember people from key historic times. Nobody is perfect. I wasted a punnet of blueberries this weekend. They went mouldy. I feel ashamed. I hate wasting food.
Sir Winston Churchill had read about the Irish Famine and knew of its bleak effect on humanity. This knowledge was useless to him. The man who sacrificed Coventry, would let down Bengal to an even greater effect. The Japanese occupation of Burma and its affect on Bengal led to Sir Winston Churchill having to do something. He didn’t. He actively refused to send aid – and perhaps as Britain was engaged in austerity it was a justified lack of aid, or not. There is great debate. Some estimates say 2-3 million people died. British Empire colonial policies did not come to the rescue. Sir Winston Churchill had served in the Boer War he had seen concentration camps, he deployed the infamous Black and Tans (Irish War of Independence, 1919). If you think Saddam Hussein was bad or ISIS (Daesh), look up Mesopotamia and a certain Winston Churchill, Colonial Secretary. Perhaps there is reason as to why some memorials keep getting targeted with paint. Maybe the Indians shouldn’t as Churchill called it, bred “like rabbits”?
“Churchill was very much on the far right of British politics over India. Even to most Conservatives, let alone Liberals and Labour, Churchill’s views on India between 1929 and 1939 were quite abhorrent.” – John Charmley, Churchill: The End of Glory
Voted as Britain’s Greatest Ever Briton in 2002, today’s society is understanding this complicated man in ways less fitting for a late Sunday night TV drama. In 2007, Sir Winston Churchill’s legendary statue on Parliament Square was splattered with red paint. The once mighty Churchill grew up in and around an era where racial hierarchies and eugenics were plentiful. We, on the other hand, have the chance to fight and discuss equality. The man who sent tanks and troops to Glasgow in 1919 should not be spared our discussions – and he should not be met with hate, for it is too late. Now, more than ever, we must embrace the past and educate – or learn.
“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: