#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.