Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Typical Lesson

Here is a typical lesson. This week we've had some interesting discussions in the Grade 3 classes. Teenage pregnancy, advantages and disadvantages of girlfriends and freedom of speech!

After a multilingual hello, we get going with a long word - disestablishmentarianism! Nine students have to come to the front and each take a syllable (or part of). Practice speeding up until they can say it. They have never been taught this method of reading new words as they rely on the complex phonetic system.


Hello...; Long Words!

Next I have an optional mood lifter - depending on how tired they look - a crazy hopping, vertical twister sort of thing - just to make them laugh and wake up!

Then it's about 15 minutes of me droning on. Trying to give them a balanced view of the UK and what it's like to live there. I think it's important to build an awareness of the problems in 'rich' / 'western' countries as these are rarely portrayed on the imported media that they are exposed to.

The UK: Good or Bad?!

For the alcohol one, I tell them about excessive drinking and the inevitable accidents. For the Salary one I get them thinking we're rich until I tell them about the cost of living which is almost exactly 10 times greater than in Beijing. We all end up with zero, wherever we live in the world. For old people, the sorry state of caring for the elderly in the UK and the lack of interest shown by many families to their Grandparents (as compared with here!). For young people, I try to explain the problems and shock them a little with the teenage pregnancy problem. Unfortunately that then leads to the question: "Do you have any children?" "Errr... No!" They confidently tell me it's not a problem in China. Hmmm.

The next part is for them to choose a topic, think of some good and bad points and then have an argument! For me, this is the most interesting part. The topics vary from school - the easiest and most immediate choice; to girlfriends - one guy telling another that girlfriends were good because love makes you happy! I was also pleased to see some of them discussing China. Good - beautiful; friendly people. Bad - overpopulated; polluted; poor. I think one group listed freedom under bad. The power of suggestion!

Choose your Topic!

Getting them to argue is also fun. I go around shouting, "You're wrong" ... "No, YOU'RE wrong!". Some really get into it. Some, I suppose are just scared!

The last part of this lesson is a poem. I'm trying to get them to have a more natural spoken style - a more undulating pattern to sentences. Mixed success - it's something for them to work on.


Romance by Robert Louis Stevenson

Then, it is just to say goodbye (also in 5 languages!) and I'm off again. Normally to repeat the same lesson to a new set of unsuspecting 15 year olds.

Adios! Auf Wiedersehen! Au revoir! Goodbye! Zaijian 再见!

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Long March

Last week, the entire school visited (over three days) the National Army Museum to see the Long March exhibition. Let's not get into the rationale behind this trip which comprised of 4 hours on buses, 1 hour queuing in freezing temperatures and 30 minutes in the museum!

The interest for me was to compare the informatoin I had gleaned from a semi-fictional novel I read about a British pastor who had got caught up in the march and the reality as presented by the Chinese government (which one was less fictional?).

Museum; Walking in Circles

To give them their dues, the museum was actually pretty good. Multimedia, interactive. Unfortunately 100% Chinese! The pictures told part of the story for me though. I was surprised about how much the march had moved in circles. I remembered the description of the marsh and the mountain from the novel.

Through Marsh and Mountain

Altogether I felt almost inspired by the exhibition. Consider the motivation driving these people to put themselves through such a painful and difficult experience. Imagine the force of character that the leaders of the march must have exhibited to get these people following them.

Mao's words; Mao and Later Chinese Leaders

I suppose my personal position is that it was, like so many things, an incredible idea that drove people. The idea that everyone can be equal and better off. Unfortunately, the reality was somewhat short of the idea.

Donkey Dumplings

Here is a Chicken's head:

Organic Chicken Restaurant

Actually, I'm told that people don't really eat the head but it goes in the soup for flavour. If you're unlucky you might get it by accident, then there's the big debate in your head about whether you're expected to eat it or whether letting it go back to the soup is really bad manners?

Last weekend I went for a meal and ate some Donkey Dumplings (hey that rhymes!). They were pretty tasty! The donkey meat was minced pretty much as beef would be.

Oh and I had some pig's stomach and before that some pig's liver.

To be honest, meat is meat. It doesn't make a lot of difference where it came from. Liver, though, tasted pretty bad. All I could think about were the images were shown during GCSE Biology of smokers' livers with all the grey dead tissue which looked a little crumbly. Well that's what the liver seemed to taste like!

Now I'm getting a bit more adventurous... I'm determined to try some dog before leaving - after all - where else in the world can you eat dog at almost any restaurant?! Oh and in case you wondered - actually they don't eat cat in China (or at least that's what I'm told!).

Ni hao xiao gou! Ni haochi ma?

Sunday, November 26, 2006


For Camille:

I WILL make you brooches and toys for your delight
Of bird-song at morning and star-shine at night.
I will make a palace fit for you and me,
Of green days in forests and blue days at sea.

I will make my kitchen, and you shall keep your room,
Where white flows the river and bright blows the broom,
And you shall wash your linen and keep your body white
In rainfall at morning and dewfall at night.

And this shall be for music when no one else is near,
The fine song for singing, the rare song to hear!
That only I remember, that only you admire,
Of the broad road that stretches and the roadside fire.

(By Robert Louis Stevenson)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hello World

I've missed you! It's been too long!

Today it snowed! Why is snow beautiful? What makes it so inspiring? Well even if the causes are a mystery, the effects are clear! It made a good start to the day - the sun not even brightening the horizon and the moon hidden by pollution, the cold seemed to refect off the snow and enhance the freshness of the air.

I have a question. Is it normal to question your direction so much? I think that sometimes I wonder where I am going so much that perhaps I don't get anywhere. I am also in a deep conflict between the need to do something and my personal theory that we can only be happy if we accept our lot and enjoy the experiences that life offers us. In other words, 'going with the flow' is the only route to happiness. Contrary to this, though, I tend to feel most happy when I'm going against the flow. Even more confusing though I don't feel happy when I feel like I am pulling other people against the flow. Imposition is something I have a real problem with!

Now I am confusing myself. Perhaps to summarise:

1. Happiness comes from acceptance.
2. Society expects you to do something.
3. Is acceptance going with the flow?
4. Is going against the flow making problems for other people?

Much clearer! My current resolution goes something like this:

Assuming that other people are able to make their own decisions and voice them, I can discount problem number 4. I can also argue that 3. is logically inconsistent. The fact that most people don't accept their lot makes acceptance a positively disruptive step to take. However, I think it is not a black and white system. Acceptance could be understood as 'accept you will never succeed and never achieve anything so sit at home and watch Sky TV for ever more'. This is more like denial. I suppose I see acceptance as coming to the realisation that everyone has the potential to make a positive impact on the world (however small) and that with this potential comes some responsibility - the responsibility to follow it through. Happiness then comes from fulfilment. Fulfilment is the realisation that you have taken responsibility, achieved something and helped people.

And to summarise again:

1. Imposition is in the eye of the imposter (so to speak)
2. Acceptance is going against the flow
3. The role we should accept is that of a responsibility to make a positive impact
4. Happiness is derived from fulfilment.
5. Fulfilment is dying with the knowledge you took responsibility, achieved something and helped people.

So the next question is, When is the best time to die?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Weather...

Well, I am British, after all:

The forecast for London, United Kingdom on Saturday: sunny. Max Temp: 10°C (50°F), Min Temp: 5°C (41°F), Wind Direction: W, Wind Speed: 10mph, Visibility: moderate, Pressure: 1013mb, Humidity: 53%, UV risk: low, Pollution: low, Sunrise: 07:21GMT, Sunset: 16:08GMT

The forecast for Beijing, China on Saturday: sunny. Max Temp: 13°C (55°F), Min Temp: 3°C (37°F), Wind Direction: NW, Wind Speed: 3mph, Visibility: poor, Pressure: 1028mb, Humidity: 71%, Sunrise: 07:01HKT, Sunset: 16:57HKT


So, interestingly, London has a narrower band of temperature, a shorter day, more wind, lower pressure. But Beijing is more humid, more polluted and less visible.

Less visible...hmmm. Maybe the weather is a political signal?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

If you had 1,000,000 RMB...

Take a group of 45 14 year old Chinese children. Every day they spend 15 hours awake and about 3 hours not working (yes that means approximately 12 hour days). Every lesson they sit in tiny desks with piles of books. Every minute they are over-worked. Every month they are examined.

Then tell them to dream - tell them that they can do anything - tell them they have more money than they can imagine. Suddenly there is excitement in the room. Everyone wants to talk - it's a magical effect! They want to learn!

It is also a pleasure to hear that many want to help people. And many want to help themselves. They are a bunch of normal human beings. Will they lose these dreams? Will they live them? Will they pursue their hopes or will the world beat them out of their young minds?

Optimism is self-fulfilling, so I am happy to believe that it is inevitable that some will achieve their dreams. Surely China will become a better place when these Children grow up!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Beijing Today Extracts

Animal Attacks
Over 11,300 people in the capital were injured by animals in the first 10 months of this year, up more than 28% on the same period last year.
Connected news from previous edition: Beijing plans increased pet controls. Connected 'hearsay': Government plans major 'cull' of pets in run up to Olympics!

Kids tarred with stigma of stupid
On IQ tests for badly behaved children, currently being recommended by schools.
"Being labeled an idiot could turn a happy child into a sad one"
"We encourage those who have study issues but do not have mental problems. We tell them they are clever and give suggestions on how to improve themselves. As for the goofy ones, we tell them the results too. It's also no problems, as they don't even understand what it means."

Obesity becoming a health problem in China
"60 million of [China's] citizens are obese. Thats equivalent to the entire population of France... At the same time, about 24 million Chinese still live in abject poverty and suffer malnutrition"

A dream comes true for AIDS orhans
A school is set up for AIDS orphans and they have been taken on a trip to Beijing. The school has been set up to seperate the children from the mainstream due to bullying.
Can't decide if this is good or bad but you can be sure there's more to it than is written.

Mandelson talks of China's global role
"In a speech Tuesday at Tsing Hua University, EU Trade Commissioner Peter mandelson has argued that a resurgent China should be opening its markets wider to foreign cometition and ready to take up global responsibilities for the preservation of the open trading system"
Guess what the Chinese minister said?

Private Aircraft: playthings of the rich
"The market for private airplanes is heating up with new aviation regulations and competitive prices. Pilot training schools are eyeing the commercial opportunities like tarts with the rent due."
For a slightly dull article and a clearly consesrvative paper, that was a startling line to end on!

Beijing previews 2008 Olympic traffic plans during China-Africa summit
"The combination of control and pursuasion proved remarkably efective taking off the city's streets about 30% or 800,000 of the capital's 2.8million vehicles during 6 days of meetings between Chinese and African leaders over the weekend."
Try doing that in London! Ken would be shot at dawn.

Hidden at the bottom of the front page of this paper is the following:

"Under the auspices of the Information office of Beijing Municipal Government"

What is fascinating to think about is how much a constant stream of carefully planned and subtle articles can affect peoples' opinions. Corruption is a common story for this paper but only ever focuses on low level officials. People don't think the country is perfect but they are only aware of the problems that the government wants them to be aware of and these problems always seem remote. Oh and the government is always doing something about them - perfect example is the AIDS story on the front page.

Check out

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Shanghai Zhongwu (上海中午)

"A famous historical and cultural city"
"A paradise for shoppers"

For me, what stuck out... Probably the beggars. I have seen only 1 in Beijing and to be honest I thought that the government just rounded them up and put them out of sight. Perhaps the further from Beijing you are, the lighter the hand of the central government?

But I did like the city. Safe. Vibrant. Interesting. Functional. Cheap. The contrast is, I suppose the stark reminder off where you are:

Rubble and Skyscrappers

The city has a lot of parks and good places to walk. I spent some time watching the Xiang Qi (象棋) or Elephant Chess in ZhongShan Gong Yuan. A man invited me to play but I couldn't as I didn't know how. I'm going to learn now though as it would've been really great to give him a game! It is a very common thing to see the old men playing cards / chess in the park like this. It was nice to be invited though!

Timeless Beauty

Something I really wanted to do was experience the city by night as you almost always see what I suppose are now cliche pictures of the lights. I have this thing about getting the same photos as I have seen in the past so here are my versions.

Shanghai by Night

I had great fun on this day in Shanghai mostly due to the completely random conversations. Firstly a beggar who I tried to explain why I don't give money to beggars out of principal. Then a random student who wanted to practice English. Then the art students who wanted me 'just to have a look at their exhibition'. Then the numerous hawkers on the Bund. Then the chess players in the park. Then a long conversation with a guy who shared my birth year who was selling large paintings on the Bund. Oh and finally an Australian traveller in the Youth Hostel. I will never meet any of them again. I will never know what their lives held after the point I met them. I do not know if they even exist, really. All I know is what they told me and what I told them. Maybe the guy, my age, on the water front will grow rich and one day visit the UK. Maybe he'll starve if no-one buys his paintings. I hope it's the former.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Happy Birthday Camille!

It's your birthday and you'll cry if you want to, cry if you want to, cry if you want to! Remember remember the 5th of November - it's Camille's Birthday.

Camille 我爱你

Chinese Alcohol from 1980s

Chinese Alcohol from 1980s

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On Friday I was randomly invited to tour a Brewery along with the visiting group of Singapore high school students. It turns out the brewery exhibits poems from poets who only write while drunk; reliefs of Confucius - the Chinese thinker who defined their social order; a courtyard used by the Emperor; an insight into Chinese factory workers' lives and NO tasting opportunity!

I was bemused more than interested. What surprised me was the extent of choice in Chinese strong liquor! This side of the culture seems to be well hidden from foreigners. The alcohol on sale is all in excess of 45% strength.

Again and again I see that I should not make assumptions about any people. I suppose, again and again, I can see that underneath all people are the same.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Beijing Traffic

Here is a taste of a highway in East Central Beijing. It could so easily be anywhere in the world. It's incredible to think that only 30 or so years ago this country was in a state of anarchy. The advances made are astonishing. About this there is no question.

The question I have about China is the nature of the advances.

Beijing Sunrise; Beijing Sunset

No matter what the sheperds say most days are pretty similar. But when you get a clear night, the sunrise can be stunning - something I've never really seen before.


From the 9th floor of the dormitory building you can see the sun rising in the East in the area just outside Shunyi and near the cemetary.

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From a footbridge over a busy Beijing urban highway. The skyscrapers and traffic could be anywhere in the world. But walking behind me is a man with a typical Chinese three wheel bike carrying some goods from somewhere. It is the contrasts which make the facts more evident.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Life In China

Have been silent for a few weeks! Too busy by far!

Last week my happy predictable life was uprooted. I was meant to be teaching a few classes. Suddenly I had 12 in 3 days, having only taught 28 in 5 weeks! Then I was somehow meant to be designing 'external' sessions on Sustainable Development - Our Reality and Entrepreneurship! In addition I got requests to help with children doing various competitions in English, help a teacher to pronounce complex sounds correctly and just chat to people. To say the least it was a crazy week. I got to Thursday and suddenly became ill with what seems to have been a 5 hour bout of nausia brought on, as best I can tell by drinking from a cup which may have had some mould on I suppose.

Well, I finally got all the material for the session on Thursday night and set off for the conference on Friday. It took 3 hours to do a 1,5 hour bus journey. I arrived 3 hours later than hoped! Then I found that my role on the first day was quite heavy and that I was facilitating what amounted to any random strikers who turned up.

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Fine but not really allowing me the time to finish the session as I'd hoped. The conference went until 10pm and I couldn't really find the space to do any session prep. So at 4am, I finally closed the lid of the computer, happy with the session and the materials! Crazy.

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The conference was good - very odd feeling to be back in the middle of the AIESEC bubble. I have some 'developing' thoughts on what it's like. Not sure yet what I think.

So it's been a very busy week and I wasn't really prepared for it so set me back a bit I suppose.

This week is more balanced and there is light at the end of the tunnel (as opposed to last week). So I'm going well. Still the random unpredictability continues as on Monday I was told I would have to move rooms on Tuesday. In the evening I turned up for a lesson and the children told me it had been moved 15 minutes later - no-one told me! Today I was told that next week all the children at the school would be having exams so I wouldn't need to teach! Thanks for the notice!

That's life though! It makes things more interesting.