The last broadcast II

Dear T.W.I.S. community,

I arrived with optimism and I leave the same. I hope along the way to have added a little more than I have taken. I believe that I have left this T.W.I.S. (Tungwah Wenzel International School) community, all the more mentally and academically stronger. I feel like I am a much better person than when I arrived.

I recall meeting Mr Arturo Ruelas and Miss Ann Gaillard as the school community opened up for a scholarship opportunity for potential news students. I recall doing some due diligence before accepting the role, and an online interview during COVID-19 quarantine and feeling quite excited. I believe it was Jorge, from the then Murray’s F.C. that recommended me to the school. Joining a school with an experienced Head of School (France, Thailand, Oman, China, the Philippines and Japan) seemed like a no-brainer.

I must confess that the International Baccalaureate (I.B.) seemed very much like a pyramid scheme at first. The holistic approach seemed more sales package than education curriculum. My attitude to this has flexed and bent since those preconceptions. As Miss Ann explained on the first day of meeting, the programme and curriculum would be delivered with structure. This was a positive start.

I wish to convey my thanks to the community and staff at TWIS. I would also like to thank you for entrusting the education of your children to our school, during my stay. I noticed that we had a highly professional international teaching staff facilitating the best possible learning experiences for your children. Long may that continue.

I was happy and proud to be part of a team that persevered to provide an environment where children feel safe and secure to take risks in their own learning, as well as raise their game. They could challenge themselves to innovate and try new things. We, our diverse team, lived to help our students to be jolly and strong-willed members of the TWIS herd and community.

Throughout the two years, I experienced much and grew in my learning. I tasted a year of leading grade 4’s primary school, ably supported by Miss Jenny and a wealth of experienced specialist teachers like Mr Richard, Mr Lee and Miss Robin. Miss Cindy welcomed me with open arms to taste the Chinese classes and collaboration with Mr Oliver and Mr Esteban made for pleasant times.

Not only did I teach but I learnt a high-quality, challenging international curriculum through leaders and peers. We held Curriculum in Action days (days for parents to attend), assemblies (Celebration of Learning Assemblies), and parent information sessions (to help all grow in their knowledge and understanding of the varied curriculum). And a few hours swimming in Managebac. That online lesson planning and management system will not be missed. Not one iota.

On the final day, a few personal goodbyes were made and loose strings were tied. There was no pomp and ceremony. No future talk and bridges were not burned, I hope.

Words about the last week are limited. Here’s a few images of the stay. All published via DGTWIS.com or approved as appropriate, without identities being recognisable. That’s all folks. So long and thanks for all the fish. Next. Time to move on. But first, most importantly:

May the future be bright and wonderful for the students and staff at TWIS. All the best!

In June 2020, I left St. Lorraine Anglo Chinese School for two years contracted to T.W.I.S. Just like I left Dao Ming Foreign Language School in June 2017. As of Thursday afternoon, that’s me. Done. The China education experience draws to an apparent conclusion. But, who knows? Perhaps, the door is still left open and bridges remain unbroken. I’ll be back? Definitely maybe. Never say never.

“SO HERE WE ARE; AT THE LAST BROADCAST; HERE WE ARE; OUR LAST BROADCAST” – THE LAST BROADCAST – DOVES

So, what now?

Yours in teaching; yours is passion for learning; peace and love; yours truly and faithfully,

Mr John

P.R.C.* – The Diary

[*Pets Removal China]

Leaving China with a pet dog or cat? On one hand are the rules & regulations, on the other are my experiences (so far). In China it is highly likely every staff member you encounter will follow the rules to the letter. Bureaucracy is the right of officialdom.

At first, I was really confused. Almost everyone I asked mentioned this mystical Shenpu, so I hit Dr. Google up for information and found their website: a veterinary hospital in Shanghai. But… I’m 1508lm away in Dongguan, Guangdong province. So, then I found Joanne (Wechat: Joanne_Taylor) who added me to a Wechat group called UK Pet Travel Support. Through Joanne, I have shared and received information from a wider community. I’ve offered to collect cats and dogs for others (which was my original intention)… now completely focused on getting Panda back to his Anglo-Scottish origins. Following joining this group, confusion faded and has now fully been replaced by hope.

DurationRequirementActual datesTask
Immediately.Register your pet (locally)
4 months before flying to the EU/UK;
1 month before flying to USA
Microchip. 8/3/22Inserted by vet, Dongcheng, Dongguan (at a cost of 50RMB).

Not recorded anywhere. Three stickers given. One affixed to pet passport.
Scanned and checked. ISO chip purchased from ICVS, Beijing for 275RMB. Wechat: ICVSAsia
Same date as the microchip.Rabies jab(s)December 2021: Rabisin®;
8/3/22 NOBIVAC®; 8/4/22: Rabisin®.
Vaccinations given by local vets, Dalingshan, Dongguan.
Only for Europe.

USA does not require this.

Await results then add 3 months/90 days before date of flight.
Blood extraction & serum, for the Rabies titer antigen test.
Send to the laboratory.
4/4/22-8/4/22;

12/5/22 – 23/5/22
Attempt one failed.
4/4/22: Serum extracted, Dalang, Dongguan.
8/4/22:
Report received by post/Wechat message as passed. Cost: 800RMB.

Serum extracted @ vets, Dalingshan, Dongguan: 12/5/22. Sent same day.
Received at the lab/ 800RMB fee paid: 14/5/22.
Tested: 21/5/22.
23/5/22: Report received by post/Wechat message as passed.
E-mail: RabiesTest@163.com       
Wechat contact at Guangzhou: YuAn-mEi-Mel
The sooner the better.Crate. Get it on Taobao etc. Check your pet’s sizing for mobility. Get your cat & dog used to this enclosure. Remove the wheels at the airport. Petsfit, Petsmate etc are decent. e.g. copy this to Taobao:
【淘宝】https://m.tb.cn/h.frXmlmQ?tk=fg4i2Q3O7B0「禾其挂碗猫粮盆挂式狗饮水器固定宠物水杯狗盆架猫碗吃饭喝水碗」
点击链接直接打开
Ordered May. Arrived June 2022. Delayed by COVID-19 delivery problems.Ordered via Taobao.

Ordered a water bottle & a snack bowl that clips on the cage door.

Grabbed a packet of cable ties.
Book as soon as you get the titer rabies antigen test results.Flight. To quote comedian Jeff Green, “Book it. Pack it. F*** off.” eventually.
Places aren’t easy to find. Get onto KLM, Air France, Finn Air, Etihad Airways, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airlines, Lufthansa, etc. Flexibility and patience may be required.

Pets cannot be flown directly into the UK, other than via highly expensive (30000RMB+) cargo plane routes. Using Turkish Airlines costs about 1053EUR for an 18kg dog with a large crate. Hold and cabin (cats/tiny dogs) prices differ.
Booked it in May 2022.Ten phone calls, a few e-mails, a changed flight date, some worry and frustration spread over one week.
1 week before the flight @Shenpu (Shanghai) or your local Customs Export authority or quarantine bureau (e.g. 东莞海关. +86 769 2241 0751, asking for the “animal export department”).

Pick up 2 days before departure @ the Customs Office (Bund if Shanghai).
Export certificates. Apply. Pick up.August TBCYet to perform.
As each document becomes available.Photocopy documents (twice). One for the crate. One for you.As each document becomes available.Started. It’s fun. Yay.
The date of your flight.Departure. Due to COVID-19 restrictions it may be necessary to ignore the arrive 3 hours before departure and choose 5 hours or another amount. Keep an eye on these and check with the airport.August 31st/September 1stYet to perform.
The date of your landing somewhere other than the P.R.C.Sign of relief on landing in destination (or transit country before hopping on a ferry). Keep all documents handy.September 1stYet to perform.
Everything was correct-ish as of 7/6/2022. Don’t believe the truth.

9 useful images

These are not my creations but a useful collection of reference. For reference only. Not for legal facts. Things change! Everything was correct-ish as of 7/6/2022

Last updated: June 7th, 2022.

Online reflection.

A recent e-mail at Tungwah Wenzel International School, invited teachers to reflect about their online teaching experience. Students were also invited to complete a similar survey. Reflection about enforced online teaching is important. The pros and cons of how effective classes were, when following government instructions, need discussion.

Being confined to a garden compound indoors and working remotely is like asking a fish to walk on land. Some species can do this, but they are rare, highly evolved creatures…

Online learning requires additional training to tailor classes in order to properly provide highly informative means and structures to students. Lost routines and structures make at seat teaching feel highly immobile and unfamiliar.

The duration of online classes were prone to technical issues and excessive screen-time for both teacher and student. One size does not fit all. Several students had access to some platforms but not others. Speed of internet varied.

Online learning requires students to focus and have self-discipline. As we know some students can work independently, and some have never learned this skill under supervision by adults or teachers. Fidgety students may have an extra abundance of materials to provide distraction. I found myself handling things in and around my desk. It’s damn hard to focus on a black mirror, without an episode of Ozark playing.

The comfort of home can be a huge distraction. Some MYP students haven’t gained the maturity to stop showing off, change their settings or abuse the systems. The convenience of location can be distracting. It can be too comforting and the draw for a student to reach for their pillow or slope away on the sofa can be all too tempting. And, that’s before fart noises. Or rude words. Lego too.

Thin walls between a neighbour’s house and my own allowed excessive drilling sounds. Thankfully, few sounds came from outside but the air conditioner sounded like an aircraft engine, in a relatively quiet room. Factoring in Panda the dog, occasionally invasive and ever seeking of attention proved tough. However, walking Panda at lunch time was a pleasant break.

Worry about other external factors, lockdowns, life, extra time on screens planning, possible and actual enclosure of self etc. also proved to fill my mind. Remaining entirely dedicated to teaching online, was not easy.

Few students requested one to one support, and those who e-mailed queries refused to answer the calls I returned. Also, my eyes needed a substantial eye break. So, trying to maintain contact was tough. Student engagement and involvement was sub-standard. Even, the most positive classroom students looked bored, dejected and worn out.

Miss Ann advised me to keep my books handy long before this online teaching spell. I’d carried them home daily and ensured my wireless-fidelity connection was ready. I’d looked at sites such as Padlet and other known online teaching platforms, used by online teachers. Few stood out, but I tried to vary tasks to incorporate tools used by successful online teachers.

Being able to walk the dog at lunch and having more choice of salads proved benefits of online teaching. Let’s hope this is the last online experience. Nothing can be a substitute for in situ schooling or reality as a learning experience.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 Nucleic Acid Tests to date (update).

By December 26th 2021, I’d experienced 35 NAT Covid-19 tests. For the remainder of that month,

January Nucleic Acid Tests: 1

February Nucleic Acid Tests: 3

March NATs: 9

April NATs: 15

It’s getting tedious… May Day, or Labour Day in China. 1 test already.

64 tests (to date). More to follow.

Screen time.

How do.

Twenty classes a week of forty minutes each time. That’s 1600 minutes of screen time. A further week of online teaching to follow. That’ll be another 13 and a third in hours. That’s 40 hours looking into a camera before adding marking time, writing comments, preparation time and other activities needed to perform online classes. There are 360 available hours across 15 working days. Upto 120 of them should accommodate sleep (based on 8 hours sleep). At least 2 hours a day should be spent on reading, writing by hand and keeping the brain sharp.

The above discounts relaxing watching a TV series to switch off a little. That further screen time is an optional necessity. Hobbies and pass times make us who we are. A further 15-30 hours slips like a victim of Ozark onto the screen time tally. The addictive nature of the American drama-thriller Ozark drives further screen time. Marty Byrde’s predicament and the twists in the tale place that screen time closer to the full 30 hours. You need to know how series one concludes. Six and two thirds of an hour fills that first week of our daily post-online teaching.

Putting aside the Mexican drug cartels for walking Panda the dog takes up at least two hours a day. His little black and white legs need the pavement pounding. That’s a minimum of 30 hours gone. Happily gone, in fresh Dongguan air and winds with rain. Songshan Lake town’s reopening greeted our walking routes well. The township has treelined paths and gardens with roots. a the North-eastern end of Dalingshan does not quite match it. This town has its own long-lasting industrial revolution.

120 hours of sleep. 40 hours online. 30 hours dog walking. 30 hours of TV. 30 hours of reading, writing and puzzles. 360 hours over 15 working days. Too much screen time. My eyes have suffered. Coupled with the need for air conditioning at times, the dehumidifier for external 98% air humidity sweeping through the doors and now I’m feeling an opticians maybe a good shout. Apparently, after enquiry, I was told I must book one via my phone. Screen time.

Tonight is Earth Hour between 8.30pm and 9.30pm. It shouldn’t be difficult to switch all devices off. The desire to disconnect has been rampant this last two weeks. I suspect the next week shall be no different. The tomb-sweeping festival follows the week after this. Qīngmíng Jié (清明节) means ‘pure bright festival’ and this brightness or clearness celebrates ancestors. Around March and April, spring arrives bringing warm air, clearer skies and a more jovial atmosphere. It gets warmer, although in South China’s Guangdong it could be argued that the climate here hasn’t really been cool for some time, despite occasional cool snaps.

Qingming festival has a Cold Food Day, the day before the festival. No fire or heat should be used. Think of it as an old-fashioned Earth Hour dating back to around 1046-221BC. The Zhou Dynasty’s festival has origins in celebrating emperors and the wealthy. Even today some celebrations are extremely extraordinarily extravagant. Most people simply upkeep and repair tombs. They use their big brushes go sweep away the many fallen leaves of spring in Guangdong. Food, wine and incense are placed accordingly. Joss paper is set alight and a few thousand plastic plants are distributed regionally. Families often go on spring outings too. Although in Dongguan, following a smattering of COVID-19 cases, gatherings and tomb visits are banned this year. Bloody coronaviruses. I’m sure Dongguan did the same last year and the year before. Bloody COVID-19.

Screen time has also given me chance to communicate with home. It’s good to see Mum up and about on her road to recovery, accompanied by Paul and their adventures of pottery and gardens. Tomorrow is Mothering Sunday (or Mother’s Day) in the U.K. Every day should be Mother’s Day. Happy Mum’s Day. I would send flowers but that means more screen time ordering them online.

That’s that for now. Tally ho. Toodle pip.

Plan C.

How do!

Today’s plan C ended up at 崖山古 (Yáshāngǔjì, cliff mountain historical place). It wasn’t meant to be this way. Moiz, Aaron, Matt and I, alongside two dogs had a roundabout wander.

Abandoned theme lodge; roadblock (translation); no dogs signs at major parks…

The Yashan mountain monuments are located north of the Li Village of Xiegang, a town in Dongguan City. The approach is made up of abandoned theme village with hollow lodges and skeletal outdoor structures, which suits the tombstone-lined face of the short hillock. A round trek loop of around 6km is possible, assuming you brave the ridges and scree slopes surrounding a small pagoda at the top. It’s ideal for walking a dog. Panda and Matt’s dog certainly enjoyed it.

Tan Xian Temple (Ming Dynasty, 1882) was rebuilt in 2001. It’s brick and concrete isn’t so appealing for tourism, despite the green mountain location. The site has been protected by the Dongguan government, however, due to the cultural value of a poem inscription and something about a waterfall. We didn’t find a waterfall. The eastern flank of the hillock unfolds to a large dry quarry. Not exactly the lush wetness of a waterfall.

Plan A had been BaiYunZhang (白云嶂) over at the edge of Huizhou (惠州) and Dongguan. On arrival by Didi car we found the road by the Pangu Temple (新圩约场白云嶂盘古庙) we found a barrier and two guards. Also, a half dozen dogs. The sign translation shown as something akin to “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” There was no pleading with the guards. Something about a virus case had closed the temple and all hiking routes.

Plan B was equally disappointing. Yingpingshan in Dongguan is the tallest mountain and part of a huge nature reserve. No dogs allowed. Not even if you pick up their turds. No well-behaved dogs. Go away dogs. So, after a stroll around a lower reservoir, Aaron and Matt located a small hillock for us to explore. Plan C, in the recently arrived 20°C temperature, wasn’t the worst way to end a second Tiger year trek. Better than house arrest, for example.

Various scenes of the day.

That’s all folks! Ta’ra!

Kicking this habit?

Hello! 你好! Nǐ hǎo! S’mae!

“A book is a gift you can open again and again.” – Garrison Keillor (author of The Lake Wobegon Virus)

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.

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.” – Kofi Annan (Late UN Secretary-General)

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)

Pale Blue Dot: food for thought?

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. 

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” – Stephen King

reading with parentsset times
always carry a bookexplore bookshops
create reading listsreduce your screen time
log ituse the library
find compelling bookschoose a quiet & pleasurable place
Ten possible steps to positive reading habits.

“We read to know we are not alone.” – C.S. Lewis

Some of my favourite places to read: the old Levenshulme Library; the domed Great Hall of the Manchester Central library; hiking towards Everest Base Camp (at various points); a really cool tree in Songshan Lake park (Dongguan, China); my apartment office; on train journeys (especially The Cambrian Coast line in Wales); a rock at the Old Man of Coniston; near an abandoned cabin in Yunnan; and my bed.

Goodbye! 再见! Zàijiàn! Ta’ra!

Ts & Cs

How do! 你好!

The fuse? Candle wax? Tree into tied activities? A trapeze act stuck inside?

Life has so many pieces of small print, tucked under the seams, crammed into the crevices, and dropped into long forgotten pockets. They can be found as hints, messages and moments in our history. Some are beautiful, dutiful or testing. Most can be learned from, such is the way of life. The small print keeps coming though.

Rainham Steel and their hot flanged joists or cold circle angles being advertised at British football grounds has never ever made sense to me. Yet their imagery on football photography for years on end has stood out and crept into my psychology. The sign doesn’t have a phone number or website. Nothing. It stands out. No terms and conditions. Just a bizarre advert targeting football fans (in attendance or otherwise watching via television) who needs industrial standard steel. Rainham Steel have no clear purpose other than to be present through tradition and maintain their historical connections to the beautiful game. Now, where do I place my girders?

2021 started with optimism, way up in Yubeng village. Through a mixture of local hospitality, Oliver, Piotr and I finished a few days wander with a countdown below snow-capped mountains. It really recharged my mental batteries. Again in summer my passage followed the flow of Yunnan, as if swept a long by a calm river. That’s where I grabbed my first and only tattoo on date. No contract was mentioned. It was surprisingly easy to scar myself for exchange of cash.

A few days after leaving Yunnan for New Year and life’s finality was highlighted as City legend Colin Bell passed away. I never saw him play football. I lived off his video footage and stories from friends and family. I filled my heart with his warmth from a very reluctant biography. Somewhere at the back of my mind the joys of trekking clashed with the feeling of the passing of time. This is life. A condition of living is death.

Three cycle crashes in a year and one trip to hospital as a result of the latter crash brought me down to Earth. My first outpatient visit to an emergency room to patch up cuts and check some impact marks to bones happened. My first inpatient visit and night stays at hospital later in the year terrified me but left me thinking I need to improve my fitness and recover stronger than ever. Even if age is a small print, this challenge shouldn’t get the better of me. I’ll kick a ball again and find mountains to trek in 2022.

I now approach 8 years of life in China and Dongguan. That’s a hefty chunk of my thirties. It’s almost a quarter of my life. I’ve spent two Chinese New Year holidays in Dongguan and it looks like 2022 will be the same. This whole COVID-19 thing just drags on and on. Even my third jab (the booster) has left me lagging behind. I’m on analogue when all around me is on digital. Creased by politics, changing attitudes and a global pandemic of fear, working and living in China is increasingly less attractive. A new two year contract hasn’t been signed yet. I love the job but I must think deeply. There are many implications of signing.

The year 2021 has been quite mentally testing. Unable to travel to the U.K. to see family and friends, blighted by world news of fear, panic and that bloody virus, I’ve sought solace in gardening my balcony and giving a new home to Panda the Border Collie. The little fur ball of joy joins me on the sands of Huizhou to welcome 2022 in. Alongside his doggy girlfriend Sasha and her human slaves Miss Keisel and husband Charif (with student Amir and his sister Emma). Talking with them I feel that homesickness is strangling talent. If we want to leave China to visit family and friends, it seems to be mostly a one way ticket. So few who have left have returned and 2021 had more than its fair share of leaving events.

On the subject of leaving, Sergio Aguero, scorer of that 93:20 goal, amongst his many records and City’s all-time greatest scorer, announced he would leave City. Then he left. He was warmly welcomed at new club Barcelona but the optimism evaporated as he was soon forced to hang his boots up due to a health problem. 2021 wasn’t a great year for Sergio but he did bow out with 2020/21’s Premier League title and a Champions League runners up medal. The perfect ending doesn’t always happen. That’s for fairytales.

Great writers like Jim Steinman and Eric Carle passed away, having influenced countless souls on their life journeys. Their words accompanied me at Scholastic’s Guided Reading conference, throughout three I.B. training periods and some Jolly Phonics. At the end of the day, reading has got me to where I am in Tungwah Wenzel International School (T.W.I.S.) and I intend to do my best with the knowledge I want to share. Perhaps, guidance is my destiny. Only 2022 can tell.

Summer witnessed the departure of many international colleagues to pastures new. Not before Mr Oliver and I trekked around Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia and Gansu together. Not a bad way to say, “Bon voyage!” And then Autumn flew by. The October holiday gave me chance for hiking and wandering but nothing amazing happened. 2022 could be that year. If only the bloody virus would fizzle out. The movies Outbreak and Contagion each hand happy endings. Rene Russo and Kate Winslet didn’t do bad. 2021, however, is the poorer cousin of 2020.

Discrimination and prejudice have risen; borders have increased with social segregation and some countries closing to others; lifestyle changes such as Zoom and a plethora of online teaching, working and scamming; and misinformation became the norm. Afghanistan went backwards as if to illustrate a world trend of fans being hit by turds. Glasgow held COP26 and the world climate crisis was averted. I think. It’s been a funny old year. The most important thing though, is to forget the traditional ways and go for something sustainable and new. The old ways led us here. Let’s go new for 2022.

Happy new year and all the best!

May 2002 deliver hope and dreams.

Ta’ra! 再见!

圣诞快乐 A very merry Christmas

Dear all,

From the bottom of my heart, I would like to wish each and every one of you a very merry Christmas. Greetings of this special season that shall live on in and spirit and memories far beyond just one holy day. Christmas is not just a day for the religious, nor just little boys and girls. It’s become a multi faith and cultural key to bringing people together no matter their creed, race or religion. You don’t have to believe in Jesus or God to follow Christmas. It’s about togetherness.

Love thy neighbour. Surely every religious follower, no matter their faith or upbringing can agree on that. We’re on this planet Earth together. As one. So, wishes are sent to you to hope something magnificent and magical can happen in the season of Christmas, and beyond in the New Year. Happy New Year!

May all adults have the same wonderment and cheer that juveniles around the world embrace on this special day and morning. As gifts are unwrapped, joy is felt and some disappointments and worries or loneliness melt in a moving, mixing bowl of emotions, don’t feel hate and don’t look back in anger. Tomorrow, or some day we’ll find a brighter way. Stay positive. Try positive thinking.

‘Tis the season to watch The Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show

We receive so many messages during this heavily commercialised season but try to grip in our heart’s hands, the messages of joy, hope and love. May you and your family find laughter as a medicine for the challenges you’ve overcome and the trials ahead. It can be a season comparable to a snowstorm with murky unclear weather all around you, but the eastern horizon, when you find it, is a place where the sun will rise again. Each brand new, bright tomorrow shines our way.

Let our arms be as warm as the sun from up above. Bring peace home. Feel jolly. Let someone or something give you a sparkling and shimmering warming touch. The season of giving is about living and loving. Find your solace. Express your gratitude. You’re here and now. Who can you thank today? Who can you wish a merry way?

Christmas is a time for families and communities. They may be divided by that bloody virus or other factors. Don’t let it get you don’t. Don’t let the bastards get you down! Share every ounce of your energy with those who deserve it. I’m glad of the football community, the T.W.I.S. (Tungwah Wenzel International School) education community, my pocket of Dongguan and China people, the Shenzhen Blues and City fans over here and the groups I belong to and communities I engage with. Christmas would not be the same without you all. Together we are stronger!

Last Christmas, I spent time in Yunnan, alone, in my own relaxed way. This, virus outbreak permitting, shall not be too extravagant and hopefully be once again at Irene’s Bar in Houjie (where 2 from 8 of the last Christmas dinners have been spent), but next Christmas is the one I’m looking forward to most. Who knows what it can bring?! Hopefully, it’ll be on Mancunian soil.

With each passing Christmas, I recall memories of yesteryear and flood myself with warm moments of those who were part of my life. The absent but present grandparents, the friends watching from the tier above our grounds, the lost silent loud noises of the musicians and stars of our lives. Wherever they exist now, thank out for being amongst us. You’re missed.

I hope that 2021 inspired you to be extra good, thus allowing Santa Claus to find you. I pray you fell asleep dreaming of the chimes of bells as reindeer slipped through the sky overhead. Dream deeply of the love that arrives at this time of year remaining for the year ahead. Imagine that! It doesn’t matter how we say it, just say it with passion: Joyeux Noël, happy holidays and seasons greetings.

Dad, I don’t tell you how much I love you. Thank you for always caring and listening. Thanks for taking me to Nana and Grandad’s to see the delightful decorations on the tree and enjoy trips to Aunty Christine’s for Boxing Day. Mum, you are always there for me, no matter what. I love you unconditionally. Went I think of Santa, I always think of you, sneaking in after midnight (when I was a kid, not now) and delivering jolly gifts and fruit. I miss the pillow case fruit hampers more than the chocolate selection boxes. You always put your heart into it. Aunty Christine, stay strong and beat that bloody virus so we may have Christmas lunch in July, with Uncle Ed, Uncle George and whoever else is available.

To my brothers Asa, Shaun and Paul; for my sisters Astrid and Christina, did I miss anyone? You are all missed. I may not be the closest sibling but I care and I really enjoy hearing from you. In a better world, I wish you could visit here and I there. The pressures and cares of life are with us all throughout the year, and if I can listen or help, you know my number (although the phone bill may be expensive and I believe we’re genetically tight-fisted). You’re also my friends. I miss you all.

For cousins, aunts and uncles, you’re resigned to a few short lines of love. I’d be here all day otherwise and I really need to wee. I could save a draft and come back later. That’s not going to happen. May the light of the festive season shine on you all. My Aunt Carolyn has been messaged me often throughout my time in China and I wish her and Uncle Phil a pleasant holiday. Aunty Irene and cousin Sophie enjoying Spanish skies have served as an inspiration for living overseas. Uncle George, enjoy the festive flutters – and up the Blues! Aunty Susan has been battling X, Y and Z yet remains resilient. That’ll be the teacher in her.

Dan, Vanessa, Damo and Alex, have a very Merry Christmas. Last year’s gifts and this are in a box with the ones from the year before. Santa couldn’t pick them up due to stringent quarantine conditions in the People’s Republic of China. However, in the style of Royal Mail, they’re not forgotten or misplaced, they’re just delayed. Dan is my closest friend and teacher. I’ve learned much from my brightly haired chubby – faced friend. As an Irish proverb says, “May you never forget what is worth remembering or remember what is best forgotten.” That’s my gift to you Dan.

This was my Christmas prayer to all. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Peace and love, John & Panda “WOOF!”

Vimto Underdose.

How do! Hello! 你好~

I’m up to 4 subcutaneous injections and 6 other blood extraction or CT Scan related pricks. That’s ten holes more than my nod started with on Tuesday morning. It’s been a funny old brace of days. The red notice behind me is still red. I’m still on oxygen. I’m checking my urine and stools for blood. The fantastic attentive nursing team are keeping me on my toes whilst keeping me firmly off them. The bed complete with side bars feels like an oversized cot. I haven’t breast fed but the toilet methods are dangerously close to nappies (diapers). Something to catch the manure for salad farming is always necessary.

It seems that today’s ultrasound from feet to neck, missing nowhere, is key. It missed nowhere. Nowhere. Everywhere accountable. Shyness wasn’t an option. Anyway, this full body check aged 39 and week isn’t a bad idea. We all need a check these days. Men’s health. Women’s health. All need it. So much to watch out for. Best to catch everything sooner or we’ll be customers of the Grim Reaper.

The love and care shown by colleagues has been overwhelming. Betty in Human Resources has gone above and beyond the call of duty. Her peer Maggie has called by once too. They’re a lovely team within our TWIS (Tungwah Wenzel International School 东华文泽国际学校). When the first doctor suspected myocardial infections and heart troubles, Betty supported me and calmed me when I worried that’d be the end of my job here. It could still turn that way. Maktub (it is written).

My first day in was not only scary, it was terrifying. I’ve never really been in hospitals. I still cry every time I go to Crumpsall hospital in Manchester. I was born there. My Nana and Granddad passed away there. I hold fear for these unknown wards and uniformed peacemakers. It’s a mixture of illogical and emotional over – thought. They’re so often the keepers of our destiny.

Jamie and Jaime delivered some essentials like positivity and snacks on my first day. The comedy duo born in different lands were well welcomed by a nervous and worrisome patient in bed number 9. We nattered about owt and nowt for a wee while before they left putting wood in t’ hole.

Miss Ann, our esteemed principal and leader, swung by with Miss Nicole and Miss Junny from her office. It was like a Royal visit. I couldn’t get up and bow. A deeply touching visit. They brought a huge basket of fruits and enough water to fill a swimming pool. Very caring indeed. I’ve heard many, including Miss Ann, are covering my classes. I’m thankful. Also, Betty called by again.

Yesterday, the doctor in perfect English explained everything about pulmonary embolism. She said they’d investigate my veins. All of them. Neck to feet. There’d be particular attention given to my right calf and thigh. Today’s ultrasound definitely lived up to her words. I’ve never needed to pee so much! Ultrasounds mean nil by mouth and no toilets in the preceding four hours. Since then I’ve been told I should be out in a week’s time and under a three month medicine recovery programme. Accepted.

I miss my Dad’s salads. Dad is my no means a chef. Michelin stars were not meant for him. He’s an artist trapped in a body that was formerly a painter and decorator. And he should be a gardener. Dad does gardening well. He’s a clever man but his calling seems unanswered these days. Age is not an excuse. I love my Dad and I miss eating his salads. They’re rich in cucumber, fresh tomatoes (locally grown ones, always), seasonal greens and mushrooms. Never a bad salad at Dad’s house. Our kid, Ace, with his Mrs Stephanie do good salads but Dad’s is best. Simple and hearty. Sorry to Mum’s Paul who also makes a fantastic salad. Too much thought goes into these artisanal salads. They taste delicious. No doubt. They’re in my top five salads. Sorry, but Dad wins. I say all this because the Lauren’s Pizza salad I had for a late breakfast/lunch wasn’t bad.

My homeroom in Grade 8 have been busy planting my mint outside my classroom. They’ve also prepared a card. I do like Lisa’s little steamed bun-pooh shaped character on the bottom right. I hope this unfortunate hospitalisation gives students the motivation to create and do things because time is precious. They’re young and have the chances to do anything with a bit of hard work. They shouldn’t be anywhere near a hospital. Even though I’m here, I’m wishing their studies well. All of them. I can’t wait to hear poetry and Shakespearean arguments from the Language and Literature classes. That’ll be when I’m out. Soon.

Ta’ra! Goodbye! 再见~

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

Fuck You COVID-19!

Bad morning. Bad evening. Bad day.

Actually, I want to greet you all positively and wish peace and love. It just doesn’t seem suitable. The title of the writing seems like bad language, but it reflects my mood for an approaching date. My Mum always said that words like fuck, bastard and arse, amongst the plethora of curses are just ways of expression. I agree. When we say that piss and twat are bad words, we empower their misuse. Some words like cunt are extremely terrible. I try my best to avoid usage of all these fecking shite words but some days they are just so appropriate.

I am writing this on September the 4th. It’s fast dawned on me that September the 12th is on the horizon. I want to vomit out the words that are rattling around my head now.

September the 12th hasn’t always represented a bad day in September, and for many there have been far worse. For me personally, it isn’t the absolute disaster of a day. Far from it. I’m sure it’ll be a pleasant and wonderful day indeed. It just marks an unwanted anniversary. It represents exactly two years since I left Mancunian soil for China (via Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region etc). The day after the Vincent Kompany testimonial, Uncle Ed delivered me to a flight, alongside my friend Maria and a shedload of luggage. Who’d have thought that the world would go tits up?!

The summers of 2015 to 2019 have all been enjoyed in Great Britain. In fact 2014, marked the longest I’ve gone without summer at home. It being shortly after the February of moving to China. 2020 and 2021 have not given chance to see family or friends back on British soil. Nor has there been a chance to meet half way or for overseas visitors to call by.

I understand that for many, it is the same. For a many people, losses and tragedies have been their visitors over this pandemic of annoyance and continued uncertainty. It’s the uncertainty that this winter or next summer, mobility to see family and my best friend may or not be possible. I’m optimistic but these days it is better to be realistic as more sensible. Right?

Concluding the writing should not involve a message of peace and love. I’ll always wish you all, friend or for, family, flamingo doing flamenco or fungi, peace and love. Today’s scribbling will partake in a list of fuck you messages. It’s only appropriate.

Fuck you to COVID-19. With all due respect to viruses and diseases globally, you’ve really got on many people’s nerves. Enough is enough.

Fuck you to the origins of COVID-19. Tut. Tut.

Fuck you to the conspiring conspiracies. Don’t believe the truth?

Fuck you to the bullies of Wuhan. It’s a city. It has people. People have feelings. Spread love, not hate.

Fuck you Donald Trump. Profits high? Definitely.

Fuck you to those who divide. See above.

Fuck you to those who profited at the detriment of others during this hugely annoying era. There’s a huge increase in billionaires and millionaires, and wealth shares.

Fuck you Man Utd. Always appropriate.

Fuck you to all nations who have politicised this pandemic. You know who you are.

Fuck you those who failed to act and swept away those who wished to speak. Also applicable to the Afghanistan situation. And Rwanda. And countless other events, mostly involving Team America: World Police.

Fuck you to the silencers of the voices. Opinions may be like arseholes, in that everyone has one, but words are powerful and beautiful things. As Mel Gibson said, in Braveheart, “FREEDOM!” before he got in trouble. Terms and conditions apply.

Fuck you Boris Johnson, the budget Donald Trump. Sniveling little inhumane turd of a shriveled up scrotum of a man.

Fuck you to the dismantling parties of the NHS (a bonafide British treasure). See above.

Fuck you to the sneaky laws and regulations that exploited the pandemic conditions. UK included. The RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) could be fined for saving the lives of migrants? Those laws as are fitting for the 1930’s Nazi Party.

Fuck you to anyone who doesn’t believe this pandemic is real and that COVID-19 is a lie. Wake up! Tackle it. Don’t deny it.

Of course, using the phrase fuck you is negative and wrong. I rescind all of the above. Stay positive.

Until the next time, when I see family and friends, peace and love!

John

TWIS#1: Back to School

What a wonderful place to be.
What an excellent team to see.
The beginning of another school year.
Facing it without any fear.
Confident in the team founding.
Faithful to the conditions surrounding.
The seasons and reasons full of hope.
To the next climb we have our rope.
Up the mountain and down the hill.
Great days we have to fill.
To the team, teachers, staff and all:
Let’s go have ourself a ball!

Thank you for these days.
May every moment be full of rays.
We’re going to change many a mind.
New roads we can find.
Values and morals we can teach.
Making new avenues in reach.
Guiding one another with the other.
Father, sister, friends, mother and brother.
The family are invited together.
This new week brings bright weather.
Thank you all for sharing all you know.
You’re the community I want to grow.

Stage I: Xi’an

Departing Shenzhen International Airport for Xi’an city in Shaanxi province proved a problem. The 1050am flight was cancelled. That was a pretty hefty stumbling block. But, in checking the trains, Mr Oliver and I booked a long haul train from Guangzhou South to Xi’an via Zhengzhou East (wherever that is). We hopped in a Didi car and jumped on a high speed train from Dongguan’s Humen Railway Station.

Almost 11 hours later we arrived at Xi’an and used another Didi taxi car to take us to the Lemon Hotel. The wrong one. Turned out there are more than one, with similar names. We almost ended up at yet another incorrect Lemon Hotel. Bitter luck followed us to the right hotel though. Our reserved rooms with given away because we were late. So, we had a family room and checked out the next day rather annoyed.

We left our bags at left luggage, and gravitated towards to Xian city walls. The walls are around 14km around, although I didn’t do the maths. After just under three hours the circuit was completed. There was annoyingly a lot of sunburn. Oops. Major oops. The wall is a seriously good place to feel the city and get close to the historic grounds. However, most is quite commercial and bare. Nevertheless, the city walls and castle features are vast and photogenic.

Breakfast and dinner has been delightful. Xi’an really lives up to its reputation when it comes to variety and delicious foods! It seems everyone wants you to try something new or local. The belly may grow these days…

With the wall completed, and attempt to see the museum was abandoned due to sold out tickets. Some further walking was had followed by a park with an entertaining roller skating rink. Tomorrow, terracotta and upright old fashioned Action Men figures await.

ERIC CARLE June 25th 1929 – May 23rd 2021

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 carlei on 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

ERIC CARLE June 25th 1929 – May 23rd 2021

‘Wooden trumpet’

Nihao/How do/Hello/S’mae,

Congratulations to Aberystwyth Town (founder members of the League of Wales in 1992) on avoiding the bottom two for 29 straight seasons. Alongside Newtown FC, both have remained ever present. Good luck to the Robins of Newtown as they chase a place in Europe. Further congratulations to Andy Morrison’s Connah’s Quay Nomads on retaining the Cymru Premier (previously Welsh Premier League/League of Wales) title. The Nomads ensured the title did not cross the border to England-based The New Saints.

To decide on something, as an individual is easy. To decide as a group, lesser so. As the world and its dog takes on China over various sensitive issues, I sit in relative freedom of Dongguan, thinking of the week ahead. I’m lucky. I’m working. Others around the world are not. Those last few sentences were written almost two months ago. They still apply now. They may still apply to some regions as variations of COVID-19 ravage and unravel around the globe. Good luck to all in the battle against the pesky persistence of coronavirus.

“This is how a democracy works. We talk to each other.” – quote from the dialogue of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

On April 11th 2020, Saturday Night Live featured Alec Baldwin playing Donald Trump. He was drinking COVID juice based on Clorox bleach talking as Covfefe-19. It referred to Donald Trump’s former Twitter account and a message he posted on May 30th 2017 (‘Despite the constant negative press covfefe’). Now the world has staircase-fearing Joe Biden. Since Trump departed (on his own free will, with graciousness of course), President of the U.S.A. Biden has given a new hope to growing East and West closer together whilst keeping Russia and the European Union sweet. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are also cosy with U.S.A. after distancing itself from floundering Trump’s administration and its death throes.

I was born in a member state of the E.U. Now, I am a national of an independent U.K. in a world that seems to be simultaneously getting closer yet fragmenting. Our shared fate may be staring at the abyss making predicted violent struggling motions showing great pains but it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of having a standing competition to see who can urinate higher than the other, Biden’s administration could have headed to Alaska to talk to China constructively. Instead, a confident Chinese delegation showed no weakness. Across the table from Team America World Police, angry signals could be seen from the world’s 3rd of 4th biggest country (surface area) – depending on your source. Anyway without Trump, the world, even during COVID-19 and arguments between countries seems a much more pleasant place. It’s made me long for the path of optimism. Pumped up on my first vaccination against the 2019 version of the plague, I think borders will re-open sooner or later, and Euro 2020 football will join the Tokyo Olympic Games of 2020 in 2021. With City claiming the EFL League Cup and the Premier League on their march to Istanbul Wembley Villa Park Porto in the UEFA Champions League final, why not have a cause of feeling positive? The Estádio do Dragão may be a stadium of dragons, but isn’t 2021 the year to banish beasts? And, I’ll be joining Shenzhen Blues at 3am one Saturday night-Sunday morning to hope that City banish their quest for Europe’s biggest title…

“Please take my hand. I give it to you as a gesture of friendship and love, and of faith freely given. I give you my hand and welcome you into my dream.” – Wonder Woman, comic episode 167

Banishing beasts takes determination. Much like realising a dream. My dream of playing a musical instrument successfully is now. Now, I’ve paid for some classes, and I have two tools here. Terre World Instruments sent me my wind instrument. The didgeridoo (also known as a mandapul) can be found in plastic, redwood, yellow wood, bamboo and other wooden forms. Mine is made of Eucalyptus (a yellow wood). It’s tuned to D, I believe but can be tuned in other notes. It’s 180cm long and came in packaging longer than my body. The dense sound characteristics are fantastic. It booms from lineseed oil-finished wood, both inside and out. Luka, my teacher, also helped me get a wooden Didgebox .

“…don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it.” – Wonder Woman, comic episode 25

The spiritual instrument has always intrigued me. Stephen Boakes from The Levellers calls it a ‘wooden trumpet’. The former Klanger and the Soupdragons band member has featured over the years for folk rockers The Levellers yet not one mention of the lad can be found on their Wikipedia page (a reliable place of purity and facts). This is a travesty. Nor can the word didgeridoo be found. Boakes is a punky player of the norther Australian Aboriginal people. It’s been around roughly 1500 years and carries haunting spiritual sounds. The touring electrician from Brighton has fitted his take on the yiḏaki* wind instrument into the ethos of the band since at least 1993’s Levellers album. The mako* sounds at home on song, This Garden.

Djalu Gurruwiwi, Ondrej Smeykal (Czech), Ganga Giri, David Hudson, Mark Atkins and Shibaten may not be household names. Indeed to most, they’re just a list that I prepared for my journey into the spirit of the didgeridoo sound. Possibly one of the world’s oldest wind instruments doesn’t have a reed, finger holes or other hand-eye coordination pieces. The voice box is the key. Practice will be needed. I’m far, far away from kookaburra sounds or other Australian wildlife but David Hudson and Luka are explaining things and giving me techniques to help along the way. And it can also be a drum. I’m learning control before speed. Dubravko Lapaine has ample amounts of speed in his training instructions and technique tips but highlights the need for slow learning. That, and I need to get some beeswax to make a smooth rim. That will seal in the air better.

Sharp raspberries are needed for this instrument that has probably been around 1000-1500 years or so. Softly blowing the musical piece (with about 45 names) is needed. Twangs and wobbly tongues too. Every time you b low out, your nose must suck in air, which is not easy! And relax, that’s the advice. Each day means more practice and more air being pushed into the lungs and not just in the cheeks! It is hard! All the while, I am practising to inspirational combinations such as the Australian Youth Orchestra with William Barton (Spirit Gallery Didgeridoos).

Maybe in the future I’ll buy one of Charlie McMahon‘s didjeribones. These sliding version is closer to a trombone. He invented this instrument which has a modern twist on an ancient tool of sound. Early Jamiroquai song When You Gonna Learn featured a didgeridoo.

“I’m asking: Oh, when you gonna learn? To stop it goin’ on?;
Now when you gonna learn? To stop it goin’ on?” – Jamiroquai song When You Gonna Learn

With that, goodbye, zai jian and ta’ra! I’m off to confirm that the 2005 British Medical Journal study about playing the didgeridoo has health benefits or not.

Hwyl fawr!

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]

XinJiang: Itinerary

你好 / nǐ hǎo / How do, here we go again…

“Hey, are you coming to Ürümqi with me?”, an Aussie called Oliver clamoured. By clamoured, I mean kind of yelled, bawled, wailed or yawped but not in a negative kind of way. You see, Oliver is one of those nice Australian folk who happen to be part human, part megaphone. I don’t think I have heard him whisper. Not once. It may be the only way to get heard over his 21 grade 5 students. I’m not sure. But, anyway, he definitely said it in a voice where people in the far of Dongguan could have heard, or perhaps even the people of Ürümqi heard a little.

We were sat eating ‘shāokǎo (燒烤)‘ and not because barbecue is an Australian’s go-to meal. We’re not reinforcing stereotypes here! It was Friday evening, after school. Laura’s fella was having his birthday and it felt like a good thing to do. A mixture of Chinese, Spanish, French, Moroccan and Venezuelan, American, Australian and British people outside a Xinjiang-family’s restaurant eating great lamb, livery bits and other wonderful breads on a Friday after a long hot week seemed like a good idea. The Wusu beer and Nángbĭng (新疆烤馕 flat bread) went down a treat, following spicy peppers, mushrooms and okra. the chäyza (茄子, qiézi) was a little spicy but pealed away on my chopsticks delightfully. With Oliver’s words in my ears, I told him how I planned to go see my mate Waits up in Gansu province, but it would be a little rushed and not easy to get there and back again.

Having tried to order a rice dish polu (抓飯, zhuāfàn) containing raisins and carrots, I gnawed on meaty lamb skewers (新疆羊肉串) covered in red pepper flakes, cumin seeds and various peppers. The salty taste complimented the juicy flesh well.Oliver growled on, “Come see the Jiaohe ruins, mate.” The Jiāohé Gùchéng (交河故城) ruins have been on my radar for some time.The word mate has been echoing since the day I met Oliver in August, “Would you like an orange juice, mate?” He swiftly blended an orange or two with ice and has been ever-present at school in positive form.And now, after a recent December wander in Yunnan, he’s telling me Piotr and I are being called upon. He’s putting the band back together.

Elwood: “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.” Jake: “Hit it.” – The Blues Brothers starring John Belushi & Dan Ackroyd

Flights were booked hastily and probably without due diligence. Hand me the international baccalaureate risk-taker profile certificate please, Now, it’s time to book a swab test for the old COVID-19 proof that freedom of travel is okay. Then, there’s the weather. It could be a sandstorm, blizzard, snow, or sunny. Depends on the zone. And because China has one timezone, sun rises later and earlier than here in Dongguan. Next Sunday, sun rises around 07:46hrs over Ürümqi and sets at 20:39hrs. More than an hour later in difference than here in Dongguan! So, I am sat here with about a week to go making a loose itinerary. One that sadly won’t take in the songs of Dilraba Dilmurat. All this information research has happened inside a day. Pages 502-515 of the DK Eyewitness Travel China edition have been read. All this because of Oliver! Not Lionel Bart’s Oliver! Our very own colleague, Áleifr (the name meaning ancestor’s descendent) has set about a trip to a region of Uyghurs 维吾尔/Wéiwú’ěr) people one of China’s 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities. The region itself is a hotbed of multiculturalism and history.

On arriving, as I land in Ürümqi a day before Oliver, because I believe in maximum holiday time, the Xinjiang Silk Road Museum (新疆丝绸之路博物馆) next to the Grand Bazaar at No. 160 Shengli Road should be visited. Here I hope to find more information before Oliver lands on the Sunday, and hopefully catch Piotr up, who will already be there. The lay of the land and a good map may be helpful. My friend Ty, of Murray’s FC. has already said he will put us in contact with a driver and a guide from his home town area. Maybe I’ll look up sand therapy. Sadly, far east of there is Hāmì (哈密), famous for sweet melons of the same name, although the area and its fascinating ‘Devil City’ moniker intrigues. As does the ‘Ghost City‘ around Karamay and Wuerhe.

Nature needs to be seen and the receding faster than my hairline Urumqi No. 1 Glacier (乌鲁木齐1号冰川; wū lǔ mù qí 1 hào bīng chuān) seems to be a good start. Half of China’s 20,000 glaciers are all located in Xinjiang, and its proximity to the peak of Kyrgyzstan-Chinese Jengish Chokusu (托木尔峰) makes sense. That towering peak (7,439 m/24,406 ft) forms the roof of the poetically-named Mountains of Heaven (Tiān Shān 天山) mountain range heavily influences the geology and geography of the whole region. They’re part of the Himalayan orogenic belt so there’s certainly diverse terrain near to Ürümqi. Time spent in one of the world’s most remote and distal (to any seas) shall be a new experience.

At 6000-year old Turpan (tǔlǔfān/吐鲁番), there’s Huǒyàn (火州 place as hot as fire), the Flaming Mountain (火焰山 Huǒyànshān) to the north, an irrigation exploration at Kariz (meaning well) Well (吐魯番坎儿井乐园) and the Sugong Minaret(苏公塔) to the east. The Bezeklik Grottoes could be possible. Then there’s the Apandi people and their Grape Valley (葡萄沟), the Bezeklik Grottoes (Bózīkèlǐ Qiānfódòng 柏孜克里千佛洞), Gāochāng Ancient City (高昌古城), and the Astana cemetry (阿斯塔那古墓 Āsītǎnà Gǔmù). There’s certainly the oasis-village Turoq valley (吐峪沟 tǔyùgōu) 70km away. Travel around the region may be difficult but the lure of rail travel hold strong. Two railway lines pass through the region: 南疆铁路; Nánjiāng tiělù; and one from Lanzhou (兰新铁路第二双线). Seems Turpan will need a few days. And that’s before finding information on Biratar Bulak. I hear this region is often nicknamed as China’s Death Valley. Earth’s second-lowest depression is an incredible 155 metres (509 feet) below sea level! The world’s largest Naan stove sounds more at home in the U.S.A. but can be found at Darwaz. I’ll try and convince Oliver and Piotr to go.

The journey to the west will hopefully meet with less difficulty than the Monkey King met. In Journey to the West, by Ming dynasty writer, Wu Cheng’en, the protagonist met a wall of flames, which was likely at Xinjiang’s Flaming Mountain. Uighur (the people of the region) legend has it that a dragon lived in the Tianshan mountains (south of Ürümqi) but was slew by a hero who had grown annoyed at the dragon’s diets of children. That spawned the dragon blood to form a scarlet clot: eight valleys of the Flaming Mountain. One for each piece of the chopped dragon.

I told Waits that I’d go to Gansu in summer (because the UK is not a viable option) and from there I’d probably head to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors. The armies of Qin Shi Huang really should be marketed to the basketball crowd here. I’d buy a basketball shirt with Terracotta Warriors Basketball Club on it. Maybe I should suggest to T.W.I.S. that Terracotta Warriors International Society would make a good history club. Or perhaps, in summer, I will enjoy the humidity and heat of Dongguan. Nothing is certain, but optimism and positivity being made by our souls. Scatter!

To quote Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, “That’s all folks!” That reminds me, I have still never watched Space Jam, and I heard there is a sequel this year!

yǒu kōng zài jù / 有空再聚 / See you soon


Some possible places to stay include the below, just in case somebody needs to see where we can stay. Or not. It seems camping is ill-advised.

Hotels in Urumqi
Bestay Hotel Express Urumqi Hongshan:No.49 Yangzijiang Road, Shayibake District, Urumqi
Bayinhe Hotel Zhongshan:No.71 Wenhua Road, Tianshan District, Urumqi
Sheraton Urumqi Hotel:No.669 Youhao North Road, Sayibake District, Urumqi
Bogeda Hotel: 253 Guangming Road (光明路253号), Urumqi Tel: 0991-8863910
Xinjiang Metian International Youth Hostel: 726 Youhao South Road (友好路726号), Urumqi Tel: 0991-4591488
Pea Fowl Mansions: 489 Youhao South Road (友好南路489), Urumqi Tel: 0991-4522988
Yema International Business Clubhouse: 158 Kunming Road (昆明路158),Urumqi Tel:0991-7688888
Suba Hotel: 140 Gongyuan North Street (公园北街), Urumqi Tel: 0991-5590666
Siver Birches International Youth Hostel: 186 South Lake Road (南湖路), Urumqi Tel: 0991-4811428

Hotels in Turpan
Huozhou Hotel:Shuiyun Square, Donghuan Road, Turpan
Silk Road Lodges – The Vines:Muna’er Road, Muna’er Village, Turpan
Tuha Petroleum Hotel:No.230 Wenhua Road, Turpan
Jiaotong Hotel: 125 Laocheng Road (老城路), Turpan Tel: 0995-8531320
Turpan Hotel: Qingnian South Road, Turpan Tel: 0995-8568888
Xizhou Grand Hotel: 882 Qingnian South Road, Turpan Tel: 0995-8554000
Dongfang Hotel: 324 Laocheng Road, Turpan Tel: 0995-6268228

© Google Earth

#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.

Farewell 2020. Happy New Year.

Dear all,

All the very best for 2021.

Let’s not dwell on COVID-19 and it’s terrible spread throughout the globe. It’s been a challenging and upsetting year for many. The less said on this eve of a new year, the better. Stay positive.

With trips to Nepal, Thailand (as a Corona refugee), Suzhou and now Yunnan, I’ve been lucky to experience a variety of cultures and religions in different shapes and forms during 2020. All have stood the test of time and all have stories about being adaptable. 2021 for the human race will be no exception. I’ve been lucky to get some travelling in, during this new norm but unlucky not to travel and see loved ones. The future is tingling with uncertainty but when a reunion comes about, I’m certain it won’t be wasted.

Climatic change, political indecision, blundering idleness by an impenetrable elite, racism and divide, disease and worry. Twenty twenty’s themes will carry on into this year as we all live as best we can. The gloom of a serious Sir David Attenborough message should stay with us. As should Amnesty International. Black Lives will always matter. #MeToo? Where changes are needed things will always need to happen. Vaccines and immunisation can only cure so much.

2020 allowed me opportunity. I’ve been blessed to start work at Tungwah Wenzel International School. A few weeks of expensive quarantine and drastically overpriced return flights got me back into China, as others faced even tougher routes to work or pathways no longer open. It’s been a good ride at work so far. I can only see it getting better.

Football for and with Murray’s FC has provided a regular escape from a landscape tinged by trepidation. Having also joined Dongguan Bulldogs, for a few games of tag rugby, and several solo bike rides, freedom has been a privilege.

I’m writing from a cold bed in YuBeng village, Yunnan, China. I’d like to write more but like the new journal in my bag, there’ll be plenty of opportunity and positive days ahead for the writing of new well remembered days. All the best for 2021. Keep hope in your head and heart.

Peace and love x

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]

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…

Dear Diary

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

Wednesday, October 28th, 2020:

What was my favourite moment today? Was it receiving a beeswax candle from a student as a surprise gift? Was it passing the walking grade one students who all sang me happy birthday? Was it seeing a message from mum and the tribe first thing this morning? Perhaps it was the many well-wishes from polite students hither and dither? Maybe the unexpected gift in the post? Actually, it was one student, often of the alive and kicking variety, showing his gentle side and writing happy birthday on the whiteboard. That, and the many great displays of hard work he exhibited today. It is really pleasing to see some of yesterday’s frustrations shape into today’s delights. By the evening, I was shattered and went to bed early.

Tuesday, October 27th, 2020:

The Hunters has been a dynamic TV series so far. Brutal, grim and tantalizing with all the right comic book feel of fantasy and fiction overlapping reality. That’s the series I am watching after binge-watching series one to six of Borsch. I do like a good detective show, especially with the gritty cast, a splattering of suspense and the odd bit of wit. Titus Welliver plays a fleshy version of Michael Connelly’s novel character Harry Borsch. Some good co-stars in Amy Aquino and Lance Reddick make for a good run of episodes. The main star has his flaws and the first season justified a follow of five more seasons, with a post-COVID finale season in expectation. Having read several of Michael Connelly’s novels, this Amazon production was attentive and steered well. Little was overcooked, leaving an engaging piece of TV pie to chew on later. 

Friday, October 30th, 2020:

Our school, TWIS (Tungwah Wenze International School) held a marvellous book character parade and house sports day, sandwiched around parents’ day and a fantastic lunchtime buffet. After quite an exhausting day, I retired to my apartment before scooting over to Houjie town and Irene’s Bar. Here, without the day’s earlier bee costume, I met my friends Echo and Ani. Ani had recently returned from Argentina via Amsterdam and quarantine in Shanghai. Echo shall shortly say farewell and depart to Yunnan to live an adventurous life as an artist. Catching up was good. Also, Irene, Marcus and their staff at the bar were super-welcoming and the food was fantastic. It remains my favourite bar in a country of 1.5 billion plus people. A mixture of the west and China at its finest.

Thursday, October 29th, 2020:

My birthday cheesecakes arrived the day after, due to an error on my part, At the age of 37, I’d ordered them fully in the belief that my birthday fell on a Thursday. It didn’t. My class and immediate colleagues devoured the majority of the blueberry cheesecake. The chocolate cheesecake made the staff room refrigerator and mostly survived a whole night before being gobbled and scoffed accordingly. I had a slice the following day too.

Saturday, October 31st, 2020:

In the afternoon, I played 5-a-side with Murray’s F.C. for the best part of two hours. Following a late dinner, I had another early night’s sleep. I plan to work extra hard this coming week, so a spot of avoiding Halloween didn’t worry me too much. It has surprised me how a festival from Ireland became very American and is now very much here on Chinese shores in all its commercial glory. It’s for kids and adults to enjoy equally, but it certainly has become part of the fixture and fittings here as east meets west. Not bad for a festival supposedly banned in primary schools.

Sunday, November 1st, 2020:

Today, I discovered that the WeChat yearly balance is limited to 100,000RMB (12,504.44-ish Pound sterling). That’s great. My SPD bankcard has expired, possibly. Now, I need to affix my Bank of Dongguan card (which I have been trying for 3 years, and recently thought I had attached it, but it hadn’t). During this last year I’ve certainly handed over 340RMB weekly (football pitch hire, having received just under that amount from our team players) and at the weekends a similar of larger amount. So, that’s probably 14,950rmb since April, plus flights, salary, accommodation, travel, etc for me, and even others. So, I can see how I hit that limit now. Hindsight of a wee problem.

Monday, November 2nd, 2020:

Manchester Utd. footballer and social-influencer Marcus Rashford is campaigning to end child starvation in the U.K. He’s pushing for the Conservative-led government to subsidise and help kids eat during Britain’s pandemic conditions. Like many hungry children, Marcus Rashford is up against the elite House of Commons membership who get subsidised or paid lunches in the heart of the government. All this as England enters a month-long lockdown from Thursday. Not immediately does lockdown come. Only Britain, can delay it, as if it was a train due at London Paddington. The socio-economic nightmare that the U.K. faces is well and truly into a new wave. Godspeed and good luck. Stay safe.

Thank you kindly for your time.

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.

ALL CHANGE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Reelin’ In The Years: The Soundtrack of a Northern Life

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

51RNDnzailL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Reelin’ In The Years: The Soundtrack of a Northern Life is Mark Radcliffe’s fine written take on music. It features a track of music, some background on the odd year and bits about the evolution of music. Mark Radcliffe’s love for music shines throughout. His knowledge is in depth and music expert Brian endorses the cover, “Brilliant, funny and original. If I wanted to study the history of a modern music, I’d have Mark Radcliffe as my professor.” The book is simple. The author selects one rack from each year to twist and bind key points of the year as one. British culture is slapped together in a rather unique take. The choices are diverse and bold. Some, to me, are regular listened to tunes, thanks in part to people like Mark Radcliffe highlighting Mancunian music and great artists such as Kraftwerk and Slade. There are pointers throughout the book that I am now listening to, such as Stereolab, Cocteau Twins (from Grangemouth, Scotland) and Talk Talk. His book was published in May 2012. I picked it up in June 2020. Better late than never.

I grew up on a diet of Key 103 radio, Piccadilly Gold, some BBC Radio One and BBC Radio Two. By the time I’d reached Aberystwyth, Radio Ceredigion would be a new option. Mark and The Fall’s Marc “LardRiley on Radio One were witty and seemed to have the best playlists ever, covering pop music, some rock and a little indie. Steely Dan’s song Reelin’ In The Years was probably played at some point. After each show, I’d always want to listen to more. I’d try to recall the latest album or single that would make me head to a music shop Our Price, HMV, Zavvi or Fopp! But of all the music shops, the famous Piccadilly Records and Vinyl Exchange on Oldham Street would always get my attention. Often, they’d get a few quid, and sometimes I’d be lucky to bag a CD that was ‘for radio play only’, or a demo copy. Puritans love vinyl. I like compact and easy to carry.

Marc Riley and Mark Radcliffe could rival John Peel for eclecticism. Since those halcyon radio days, Mark Radcliffe moved on to join fellow Lancashire-born Stuart Maconie. Then he moved on again to a folk show. City fans Marc and Mark remain friends and probably went their separate ways at the right time. Both are immensely talented and have great connections to music. Marc Riley’s plugging of Massive Attack, Pixies and Happy Mondays can’t be a bad thing. The parody band (The Shirehorses) he and Mark Radcliffe made was comedy gold and remains a great period of music. You’re Gormless was a great play on Babybird’s You’re Gorgeous. Parody will only go so far. So now, I await the next dose of Marc Riley show on BBC 6 Music or The Folk Show with Mark Radcliffe.

Anyway, that’s how I spent today, in the COVID-19 era, reading this great book. I hope you can pick this book up, but better late than never – and if you want to find my copy of the book, after its own journey, it’ll be in Irene’s Bar, Houjie, Dongguan, Guangdong, China awaiting you.