‘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.