Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Other teachers wanted.

While I am determining if I will go back to China in 2011 - I've been helping another lady with her C/V etc to prepare for an application to China.    And my friend in China has come down with Bell's Palsy.  The latter is of concern as it is not easy to feel confident with medical treatment in China.  Mainly language and culture, and their insistence on their own style of medicine - which differs from ours.

I guess I also have to consider that she (for whom I am house sitting) will need to come back to Australia - and I really will be of "no fixed abode".  

It is a reminder to anyone taking on an ESL role to have Travel/Medical Insurance. 

Meanwhile, back in Oz, I am preparing to go to Adelaide to see my folks.  I love Adelaide, my home city, but it is too cold to live there, although IF I did, I'd install reverse cycle airconditioning.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Will I go back to China?

I have been asked this several times lately and I'm not sure.  I could possibly go for the next semester, which will start some time in February 2011, but it depends on my family.  My mother is in a nursing home, and Dad is not well, so I am keeping my options open.  I suspect it will be my last time to go to China to teach, so I have mixed feelings about it all, but I don't have to make a decision yet.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Chinese dissident wins Nobel Peace Award but..............

The weekend newspapers in Australia reported that Liu Xiaobo, had won the Nobel Peace Prize.  Sadly he has been in prison since December. 

It is reported on the ABC's website that his wife, Liu Xia was going to visit him and tell him, but the reports are that she is now unable to be contacted.  There are reports too of extra ordinary security surrounding the prison in Jinzhou, in the north east province of Liaoning.

Of course, the fact that this Chinese dissident has won the Nobel Peace Prize is of great embarrassment to the Chinese government, and all reports of this award have been censored so that the ordinary Chinese will not know of this award to one of their own.

Here are some articles about the award here and here.

Watch the videos.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Lunch with a friend

I had lunch with another ESL teacher friend on Wednesday.  We both worked together here in Brisbane.  We talked about the changing scene in the ESL teaching industry.  It is hard not to get disillusioned with it.  

At the college we worked at we used to get paid for teaching hours - and none for all the documentation, planning etc.  It has a hard slog.  It was working almost full time but getting paid for only half of it.  The DOS was a difficult person too. 

To make things more difficult the government changed the rules and there are less students coming to Australia at the moment - and more schools too.

Anyway neither of us work there now.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

China's National Day

I hear from my friends in China that they are planning holidays this weekend as it is China's National Day. It is 61 years since the forming of the People's Republic of China.  I remember last year, and I was in Australia, that there were huge festivities to celebrate the 60 years.

Only today did I think to find a video of the celebrations in Tienanmen Square, in Beijing, and saw some footage on YouTube.  I can not help but be impressed when I see the Chinese military marching and performing.  The freshmen (first year university students) do what they call "military service" for 2 - 3 weeks at the beginning of the semester.  In uniform, they march constantly in the stinking heat of summer for most of the day.  

It is strange to the foreigners that the students never discuss this.  I wonder why?  Are they sworn to secrecy about the constant marching and military discipline enforced on them during this period? Do they just think it is not interesting enough to discuss?  We always found it a little curious.

This "military" precision is obvious with some performances too - but nothing beats the thousands of soldiers performing in Tienanmen Square.  Notice how wide the roadway is and count the numbers of people in each row.  I tried, but cannot.  On one video  I think there were about thirty across, but for the big event in 2009 there were more.  50 across?  Awesome.

See the precision in this display.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Baldy and her friends

Baldy, my friendly butcher bird is very friendly and she is first to the door each morning for mince meat.  She's very greedy, but as I've said I think she has a nest of babies.  I hope she brings them to visit soon!

A few days ago, another butcher bird, was squawking in a low bush.  It was sitting on the bush with wings slighty open and fluttering as the squawking continued.  I looked on with interest, wondering if it was not a smaller bird yelling for its mother.  Then, I saw a lizard - a slim long lizard about 12 inches long ran from under the bushes.  The butcher bird was swift and caught the lizard in its beak and quickly flew with its tasty morsel (I presume) to a distant tree.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

House sitting and studying

While in many ways I'd like to be teaching in China right now - I am house sitting and studying.  In the last week I was in China, I met with a former student who asked me why I was not returning to China for this semester, and I told her I was going to university. 

"Why?" she asked seriously, "You already have much knowledge."

I found her response amusing.  In China it is uncommon for anyone to keep studying unless they are already at university or need to study to improve their qualifications.  Doing it for other reasons does not make sense, and few older people tackle such study.

And so it is that I have enrolled in a Master of Arts (Writing) through Swinburne University in Melbourne. The course is all "on-line" - or in the CD's that were posted to me.

It will be hard going - but a good use of time as I am not keen to work at the moment.

I am in regular contact with Chinese friends - students and teachers from Yuexiu, or graduates.  I still feel connected and they still get English lessons from me.

Monday, 20 September 2010

My new friends...............

I have some new friends - of the feathered variety!  I am house sitting, while the owner is in China. L used to feed several birds and I continue.  There is a family of butcher birds, and one that I recognise easily as he/she has a baldish patch on the skull.  This bird is very intrusive and is usually the first to line up for a morsel of mince meat.  I think it must be a female, as it will load its beak with as much meat as it can handle and flies up high up into the trees on a hill.  I like to think that there is a little family there benefiting from my generosity.

I am trying to work out "who is who" - but it is hard. 

It has been raining today and I was surprised to see how wet the birds get.  One appeared looking like it had been swimming - opening its wings a little perhaps to help dry them off.  I promised it some food if it posed for a photo - which is how I managed the photo above.  

We don't get to see how the rain affects them!  I see a few birds with wet feathers taking refuge under the roof of the deck.  Lorikeets, butcher birds and noisy miners or mickey birds are abundant in this area and I've seen them all taking refuge.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Thinking of China

It is day one of the first semester at Yuexiu University in China and I feel rather wistful.  While I am glad I am in Australia and happy with what I am doing, there is part of me that would like to be in China. I've been in contact with students and FT's over the last few days - which does make me think for of being there.  Another time, perhaps.

One thing that I discovered is how the young people do not learn to cook - for a start they spend most weeks in the dormitory and live on a fare of canteen food (which is pretty good really), or take-away from the hundreds of stalls adjacent to the north or west gates of the camps - the little trolleys laden with food and fires to cook - appear late n the day and only depart after the last wave of students when classes finish at 9 pm.  We do laugh that Chinese people are always eating.  

When they go home for weekends or holidays mother or grandmother cooks in rather primitive kitchens - usually cramped and with few "modern" cooking facilities.  But mostly they eat out.

When the two students were visiting recently they loved cooking classes we gave them.  Not enough, but I've promised some cooking instructions.  One thing I learned of course is that they do not have the facility to measure ingredients the way we do.  No spoons, no cups, no kitchen scales, so I am creating recipes using measuring spoons and cups - I gave one of the students her own sets, so hope she can work out some of the recipes.

One of the foods that students buy is a flat bread.  I found some recipes for Chinese Flat Bread, and I've created a recipe that can be done without worrying about scales.  A cup helps.  I ate this bread several times,but as someone who is not an egg lover, I'd rather the street vendors mix the egg in the batter, so that the ingredients were properly mixed and that a clump of egg yolk was not visible.

What do you need to make it?  

A cup or container that holds about 250 mls.
flour (plain flour is best) - you will need about 1 1/4 cups.
some shallot or other green onion leaf, chopped fairly finely (about a quarter of a cup full)
2 eggs (whip them up in a bowl until they are mixed well - a whisk, chopsticks or other beater work well)
a cup of water (use drinking grade water)
Oil (I like to use olive oil) 
Salt (I like to use very little - a couple of pinches of salt)
Pan for cooking
Stove or fire
Wooden spoon


Add the flour, onion, oil and salt to the beaten egg, and mix until it is a smooth paste.  Heat the pan and put two spoonfuls into the pan and spread it using the wooden spoon.  When the bottom side is golden brown, turn it over and cook the other side.

You will have enough mixture to make several flat breads.

Clean up all your cooking utensils.

I'd be interested if anyone tries it.  Can you think of any other variations? 

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Brisbane Writers Festival (2)

The only session I was able to attend was one in the big red marquee between the State Library and the Gallery of Modern Art, in the area known as "the Breezeway."  I had no tickets for any session, and I knew that my time there was limited, so I slipped into the big marquee and did as was requested sat right in the front - not the front row, but two back.

The session was entitled "Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Illustrated" with Jacqueline Payne (a Queensland Magistrate) in the chair, and Rodney Dillon from Tasmania who was described as an "Indigenous Campaigner for Amnesty International",  Michel Streich, Illustrator, and Anita Heiss, author and social commentator.  I arrived soon after Rodney had started so I missed most of what he had to say, but I was interested to see Michel's sketch book of his work in the book which celebrates the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the declaration of human rights.  It was a little challenging to clearly see the illustrtions but will have to buy the book to see them all.

However it was Anita Heiss that fascinated me.  She spoke about and read from her book which targets 10 - 14 year old readers about an aboriginal girl Mary Talence who was given a diary for her 10th birthday, and what she wrote as she tried to make sense of her aboriginality in the midst of white people.  She read excerpts from the book and I set out to find it later in the bookstore but could not.  I will buy it - and read it myself before I give it as a Christmas gift to my 10 year old grand daughter.  Hopefully it will help her understand a little of the history of our indigenous peoples.

I do find some of the words used by the speakers  confronting.  They speak of the "invasion" by white people in 1788, and they object to the words "discovery of Australia" by Captain Cook - the latter of which I do too.  Why does our history not acknowledge that there were thousands of people living here before Captain Cook came?

In any case I do have some understanding of the way the aboriginal people feel about the way the country we know as Australia was taken over by the British all those years ago.

I will get Anita Heiss's book and I will try and be more open minded about some of the issues, and I would like to endorse Anita's wish for more indigenous studies to be included in schools.  That is a MUST.

Brisbane Writers Festival (1)

It was one of those weekends - so much on, and I had to make some choices that I'd rather not make.  The Alice Awards or going to an event where I would meet dancer and author Li Cuxin.  I chose to go to the Alice Awards, and missed meeting Li - but I now have my book, "Mao's Last Dancer" signed by him and the children's version ready for Christmas gift giving.

I stayed with my friend Heather Jacobs at The Chiffley at Lennons in the city, and after breakfast in the Mall we returned home early on Saturday morning.  I then had a meeting of WOO - Women on Oxford - a group of writers and we are currently working on producing an anthology for later this year.

From there I paid a visit to the Brisbane Writers Festival.  Now this event I like to spend many hours on as many days each year, but on this occasion because of other commitments with family etc I have only had a small window of opportunity to attend.  Saturday afternoon.

I started by going straight to the Information desk and collecting a variety of useful brochures - including the insert from The Australian (wish I'd bought The Australian in July and then I would have been able to research early.)   I was disappointed in the 12 pages of information - in previous years there has been more information about the writers and guests.  I'd tried to print out the brochure online but it was so small and such a waste of paper to print it ALL out, and even then it was unreadable.

My next stop was the Queensland Writer's Centre, which just on 9 months ago moved from its daggy but full of atmosphere digs at the Metro Arts Building in Edward Street.  The new venue is marvellous - housed within the hallowed walls of The State Library at the cultural precinct on the Brisbane River, between the Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art.

I purchased a few things there - one being the book that I savour each publication - The Australian Writers Marketplace.  Then I wandered the sparse collection of small marquees.  There were two publishing organisations - some writers organisations, and a display of paper making.

The artist Lesa Hepburn was a very friendly and chatty lady.  I had done paper making before - self taught (something that I do - too impatient to do classes, and when I do get to do them I am frustrated that I have to go through stuff I think I know!) - to show grandchildren about paper making.  Lesa's display was fascinating and I found myself drawn in to learn more about the art and she willingly shared some of her "secrets".

I saw some small cards - held together with cotton string to make a small booklet and I explored the making of the smaller cards.  My frame is A5 - and the papers I have made languish in a cupboard somewhere, but I learned I could easily make them into smaller versions with a pain brush, water, and a ruler.  It was interesting to see the tools that make up the paper making kit she has on sale.  I found things around the house - even tearing up an old cotton sheet to use in the paper making process and Lesa uses nappy liners.  

She's clearly one talented lady with a few paper arts in her repertoire.  And she does paper making classes, and paper making parties.  Will have to think about that idea - perhaps I can find a group of ladies interested in learning the art.

Meanwhile Lesa has an interesting website, and I'd reckon her paper making kit is worthwhile as it has not only the materials, but a CD with the instructions.  Sounds like a good investment to me.  You can check it out at her website.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

The Alice Award

Christobel Mattingly (left) and President of the Society of Women Writers Qld, Inc, Heather Jacobs.
Patron Estelle Pinney and Alice Award winner Christobel Mattingly.
I attended The Alice Award last night - this is an Australian award for an Australian Writers.  Previous winners have been

Eleanor Dark - 1978
Dame Judith Wright - 1980
Dame Mary Durack - 1982
Kylie Tennant - 1984
Ruth Park - 1986
Nancy Cato - 1988
Nance Donkin - 1990
Elizabeth Jolley - 1992
Mem Fox - 1994
Patsy Adam Smith - 1996
Kathryn Purnell - 1998
Jill Shearer - 2000
Kate Grenville - 2002
Margaret Scott - 2004
Rosemary Dobson - 2006
Brenda Niall - 2008

Last night's award function was organised by the Society of Women Writers Qld Inc, and the nominees were
Christobel Mattingly
Colleen McCullough
Sally Ogders
Hellie Turner
Hazel Edwards
Susanna de Vries

And the winner?

Christobel Mattingly.

President of the SWWQ welcomed the attendees - around 100 people - and writer Estelle Pinney, who is the patron of the SWWQ, announced the winner and presented Christobel with the trophy and certificate.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

So much reading....................

It is a big daunting - but I am finding it interesting as I wade through all the material for my three subjects.  I hope to have my first three exercises completed by Monday - they are due to be posted by Tuesday. So hopefully I will keep on track.

I have had some emails and skype sessions with students in China.  One wanting to help me to help her with her spoken English for an exam she has in the next week or so.  Oral English - and clearly I can help her with that via Skype.  But she was vague about what questions would be asked, and wanted just to "speak".  Mmm.  Not good enough for me, so I asked her to do some research on what TOPICS would be discussed.  I asked for more and more information.  Initially she said it was about "current affairs" so I asked her questions about the recent major airline disaster in China, and Expo, and clearly she had scant knowledge of these things.  I sent her off to do some research.  I smiled as she told me that "a plane was "damaged" in north China, and that there were 96 people on board.  OK, but it crashed, and around 40 people were killed.  Her knowledge of Expo was scant too.

So I gave her a task of doing research on some topics - and I'd create some questions.  I could check her English and we could then do the conversation on Skype but she would be following my questions and answers in English as I had corrected them.  

No one had taught her how to plan for such a test - so I will be keen to see how we go - and of course I will be keen to hear the test results.  Am I on the right track?  Then she has come back to me with a series of other topics that she will have to talk about.  Again, I have asked her to write down the answers that she would give -based on some questions that she had indicated.

I should hear today or tomorrow from her, and we will go onto the next step.

Meanwhile another student has been corresponding with me.  He's about 19, was at high school but forced to give up school as his parents wanted him to earn money so that he could buy them a beautiful home.  He's quite good at English, but totally lacking in confidence.  He wrote to me to tell me he hated the job, but his parents and sister had given him a lot of abuse about his wish to remain at school.  In the end he has given up the job and enrolled back at school, and has a dream to push forward with his English studies.  

He thanked me for my continued support and encouragement - and wrote a lovely email to me. 

The pressure many Chinese students have put on them is immense, such that the suicide rate for students is very high.  Just so much pressure - and as I believe, a lot of insults from teachers if they do not do well.  Sad, but true.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Uni starts

Have I "bitten off more than I can chew?"  We will see.  I thought I'd only registered for two subjects but find I am registered for three.  I will see how it goes, but think I might manage the bigger workload.  I'll know in a week or so.

What am I studying?  Master of Arts (Writing) at Swinburne University.  Clearly I am an external student - but will try and get to Melbourne at some stage to meet my lecturers and tutors but meanwhile it is all online or on CD.  

My, how new technology is changing things.  My study pack was all on CD - complete with all the material I need and the lectures, which I can listen to and read.  As often as I like.  The Swinburne website is awesome and a bit overwhelming too, though I think I have managed to understand most of it.  Certainly it shows me what can be done with the new resources - and I look forward to having the time to myself to study when I move into the house sit at Paddington next week.

 I have scheduled study days - and free days though I don't think I will have many of the latter as I have quite a few things I want to do - writing wise.

Also having some challenges with my parents.  Mum is in a nursing home - she has dementia, and she is not settling in well, though I know it will take several weeks to get used to her new surroundings.  I was told I could not speak with her - but I phoned the nursing home today and they have said I can speak with her.  She will not have a phone in her room, but I can have short conversations on the hoswpital cordless phone.  I did today.  She told me she was in the city, waiting for a taxi to take her home.  Sad.  I doubt that she has every used a taxi, and she certainly isn't in the city.

I have spoken with the nursing home sister in charge today, and she paints a different picture than that I had from my family.  She has been seen by a doctor (though a locum), and she has had her hair washed, and according to them, she is generally quite settled.  Dad feels terribly guilty about it all - but as she is 95 and he is 91 - there was little option.  He cannot manage her.  She does have moments when she is lucid - but they are rare.

I am hoping to get information from the Dementia people - just to check what else we can feasibly do for
her.  It is frustrating for me to be so far away, and I know it is frustrating for my father and sister to deal with it all on a daily basis.

I willl go to Adelaide in a couple weeks.  Meanwhile it is back to study.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Time goes so quickly..............

It seems like only yesterday that we welcomed Mandy and Rita to Brisbane - and last night it was all over as they departed via Singapore Airlines to return to their families.  Changed people no doubt.  I think  any travel changes one, but for these two young ladies to experience life in the freedom of Australia after the cloistered life in China will change them in many ways.

Apart from improving their English, and learning much about another culture, I suspect that they will question many things about life in China now.  They did find out about Tiananmen Square and the events of 1989 - not from me - but someone thought they would know, and then on finding out that they did not, chose to tell them.  

One of them saw the movie "Mao's Last Dancer" and this made her ask a lot of questions.  Why did Li Cuxun not return to China?  He should have!!!  One of the girls bought the book in a second hand book store, so I suspect they will both have the opportunity to read it and read ALL the story - not just the abridged version of the movie.

One of them learned some cooking skills, and we learned that there is little interest in cooking, and that they don't know much about "Cook Books" though I know I saw them in the shops in China.  Many people do not have much in the way of kitchen space - nor do they cook much at home.  One of the girls said that her parents have a cook that comes into their workplace and cooks for her family, in conditions that even she felt were unsavoury!!!  She'd like to cook at home.  One issue is that they do not have the tools that we do - and I sent one of the girls home with a set of measuring spoons and measuring cups.  I will send some recipes, and I know I will have to make sure that the recipes are simple - and the ingredients can be measured in measuring cups.  Kitchen scales are available - but not in many homes.

It has been an extra ordinary learning curve for us all.  Wonderful experience - but now I am not as time poor for my own endeavours as I have been in the past few weeks, so I can explore the study that I have committed to at Swinburne University.

My course materials arrived this week - I was expecting a large parcel - but a small packet arrived with 6 CD's which contained the welcome lecture, and course information on the subjects that I am studying.  I though I only enrolled for 2 subjects, but I find I have 3 - will have to decide in a day or two if I am going to take on the whole 3 - or bail out of one.

I am fascinated at how well it is organised using the new technologies which were not in use when I was last at university.  How amazing it all is!!!

I am glad I did not commit to returning to Shaoxing this semester, and that I can focus on the study.  I am really looking forward to it.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Students arrive

I've detailed the story of the arrival, and the touring with the Chinese students here.  It has been a busy time, and while looking after them, I've communicated with my father and sister, and other family members while I have worked in conjunction with my sister and father to find long term care for my parents.

My mother has been assessed and her new status is that she needs High Care,but the documents had not arrived when I last spoke with my sister, and our progress through the paperwork is pending the arrival of these documents.  I feel sorry for anyone who has had to go through this - it is bad enough to know that your parents' health is failing, but the running around to get any accommodation for them is distressing. I can't imagine how families that are fragile for any reason might manage the process.  Of course we have a lot of work to do on this - we are barely close to getting anywhere suitable for my mother.

Meanwhile I am back in Brisbane and racking up huge phone bills - but there is not a lot I could have done if I had stayed in Adelaide.  Much of what I need to do can be done from here.

Each day I have been with the students - until yesterday when the students spent time with their host families, and two other TESOL students.  I've not heard from anyone since I left the students on Tuesday afternoon, so I can only hope that all is well.

Today I had a lesson with Paul Farris - a photographer at Wynnum.  I will have to find time to practice some of the material that I learned today.  Maybe the weekend will have better weather, but today is cold, windy and not good for photography in any way.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Busy time

The last few days have been hectic.  On Sunday August 1st, my parents, sister and I, and my niece had lunch at the Warradale Hotel - a place that is a popular meal place for my parents.  We had a lovely time, and took Mum and Dad home later in the day.  

I was due to fly back to Brisbane that night, and was all packed and ready to go, and just about to have some soup that my sister made, before I left.  Then we received a phone call. Dad was not well.  We left her house in a rush, so much so that she backed into a car across the road doing a lot of damage to her own car and destroying the drivers door on the other car!!

We called an ambulance and Dad was taken to Flinders Medical Centre, and later I went and spent a couple of hours with him.  Mum cannot be left alone so when I returned late that night, I stayed with Mum.  I'd cancelled my plane trip of course.

Mum was unsettled and didn't sleep much, and I didn't either.  Especially as I was still in the clothes that I had had on all day!!!  On the Monday I did get my luggage delivered and could change my clothes, and  at the same time try and organise care for my mother.  

Of course I had another concern - the girls arriving from China on Tuesday morning and knowing that I needed to be there.  But I had to resolve the care of my mother.  Then the hospital decided to discharge my father!!


In the end I arranged a carer to look after Mum for a while, then I went to the hospital to get my father, and determining that Dad was OK to look after Mum for a couple of days with other help, I managed to fly back to Brisbane from Adelaide, arriving around 11 pm.  By the time I got home, unpacked etc, I got to bed well after midnight and then had to be up at 6 am to go to the International airport to collect the Chinese students.

Then I had to look after them all day before delivering them their host families late in the afternoon.  

Saturday, 31 July 2010

I'm in Adelaide

and will update after I return to Brisbane next week.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

My E-Bike

In 2008 I had a bicycle in China.  I had gone alone to a bicycle shop near the small Trust Mart in Jiefung Lu (there are two Trust Marts and they are both on Jiefung Lu - one in the centre of the city which is big - and this one, further along near a canal which was smaller and generally easier to access!)

 I'd looked at the bikes in the supermarkets, but chose to go to a shop, where I did a bit of haggling with the Chinese shop owner, much to the amusement of the locals.  I duly paid him the cash, he fixed the seat to make it comfortable and when we were both happy, I rode the bike back to the university.  It was quite alarming as it was late afternoon and the traffic was building up, but I managed to ride without any dramas!

The bike and I went on many adventures over the following months, and when I left, I gave the keys to the locks to one of the other teachers and left it behind to have its own adventures with whoever wanted to ride it.

It was a sad and rusted machine when I returned in 2010, but by then I'd become fascinated with e-bikes, which were in all shapes and sizes.  I wanted one that looked a little like a bicycle rather than a scooter, and I set off on a hilarious adventure to find the bike that suited me.

Other teachers advised me, and I went to several shops.  Most wanted to sell me something bigger and more expensive than I had planned, so I just kept looking.  I had been told about a shop not far from the campus and one rainy day I caught No 2 bus expecting to reach my destination.  There had been road words at one end of Jiefung Lu, and the bus route for weeks had gone via another road, the one the bike shop was on. It was a Sunday, and I was shocked when the bus did not take the expected route, and went  another direction as the Jiefung Lu intersection was suitable for traffic.

I walked back from the city in the pouring ran trying to find my way back to the road where the bike shop was, but in the rain, somehow I missed the turn off, and ended up back at campus without a bike.

The following day I set off again after classes.  By then another place had been suggested, so I set off on foot and did quite a bit of research as I walked from shop to shop looking at their wares.  Eventually I reached the shop I'd been seeking the day before and found exactly what I was looking for.  My students are in awe at times as I happily manage to negotiate without any English.  It is surprising what one can do with hand signals, facial expressions, and a sense of humour.  In the end I happily negotiated a price, and was soon practicing riding it on the footpath in front of the shop.  I handed over my money and with not a lot of confidence road it back to the campus.  I had asked for a purple one.  "Mayo" No.  So it was a pink one!

How I loved my e-bike.  The e-bike and I had many adventures.  It was perfect.  Never did I have a problem with it.  I could power up the battery through my kitchen window, and ride off to where ever I needed to go.  I wished I had bought it earlier instead of procrastinating the way I did.  

I didn't need to ride into the city - it was safer to go by bus, but I managed to ride along the canals, around the near suburb, certainly around the campus, to TESCO supermarket and other destinations nearby.

The road traffic is chaotic nearer the centre of the city - I didn't need to  take any risks.  I managed to dodge the strange traffic on the Ring Road, and I enjoyed my travels.  In the end I sold it.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Jinhu Lake

The day after we went to Houshan I went on a trip with the school - to Jinhu Lakes.  I was to learn that his area has been undergoing some transformation because "they are moving the city to this place."  Now this might seem a little challenging, but there is a habit of doing this sort of thing in China.  However, I think what is meant is that gradually they will be moving some major city enterprises or offices to this area, which clearly used to be old villages, but now raised.  Clearly there is rubble in many places, but it is also a very picturesque area surrounded by lakes and canals.  I'd not been there before, and clearly did not know it existed, and no one could explain to me what "was" there.

I have learned that I ask too many questions.  I'm curious, interested, and like some explanations for what I see before me, but in China, their culture has "taught" them that asking questions can get you into trouble.  I might be a spy, or if I was Chinese I might be someone reporting on what I say.  It is why no one will give you any explanation to what seems to be a simple question. If it is none of one's business why does anyone need to know. 

When we arrived there were few people around and one could hear traditional music being played as if some lone musician was playing in one of the pavilions in the garden.  Later I found the speakers hidden in the bushes, and deduced that it was recorded music. A nice touch - and not intrusive and certainly adds to the theatre of the tourist spots.

This bridge is 2500 years old, so I was told.
The boats are extra ordinary!
I love reading the notice boards - English wise, this one wasn't too bad!
Me.  I do get to have my photo taken sometimes!  Proof that I was there!

After our walk around the lake and up to the top of the hill, we were driven to another area which is famous too.  It was a sort of fishing village where there were many pens for the fish, and a long bridge that connected two areas.  I did go on the bridge a little but it was a stone bridge with nothing to hold onto - no rails, so after a few steps and a feeling that a fall might occur I retreated and had to satisfy myself just with photographs.

We had a lovely lunch at this area and plenty of time to explore the gardens and the surrounding area before the trip back to campus.  It was a little weird - I was the only English speaking foreign teacher to attend, so left to my own devices quite a bit.

However, I did spend time with the Vice Proncipal,  (NOT MY spelling error - that is what it says out the front of his office!!!) whose English was very good actually.  He was very good to me. 

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Getting to Houshan Was an Adventure.

I've posted about the Toffee Man at Houshan, but the story of how we got there deserves some space.  Another Aussie teacher and I were invited by a group of high school students to go on their outing one Sunday, not long after I arrived in China, and we duly met them at the West Gate and caught a bus into town.  I thought I knew the right bus out to Houshan as I had been before, but one of the students spoke to the bus driver (why, I don't know!) and for some reason that I  will never know the bus driver told him it was the wrong bus.  So we walked through the city streets to another bus stop, and again there were conversations with bus drivers and other on how to get to Houshan.  We eventually got on a bus - that clearly was the wrong bus so we got off after travelling some kilometers, and waited by the side of a busy road as they phoned another student who they thought could help.

Eventually taking long strides and panting for breath this student arrived and we followed him through a village, through the drying vegetables on the side of the road to another bus stop and there we waited.  No bus came, but Large (yes, that was the student with long legs!) raced off in another direction.  More phone calls were made.  Then a tiny van appeared and Large leapt out of the vehicle and herded us in.  There were two little wooden seats for the Aussie teachers, but the other students crouched and sat squatting in the back of the van.  It appears it was Large's uncle, a government official, and this was a government van.  

It was quite a hair raising ride as every time we went around the corner, the students all fell over into one laughing heap as we two teachers looked on in amazement wondering what our safety officers in Australia would make of this.

Eventually we reached the roadway entrance to the park, and we all climbed out the of the vehicle and walked into the park.

I had been in the park some two years earlier, but in that time it had taken on a new life.  There were more new gardens and it was now very commercial with the weirdest things.  There was a freak show with two headed children, and other strange mistakes of nature.  It was a very busy park, and we followed the students through the park like a small flock of sheep.

We wandered through the park exploring different places, and we saw the entertainers.  We climbed the mountain - I'd done it before, cement steps taking us higher and higher up the mountain towards the inevitable Buddhist temple.

The views back over the farms was worth the trip with the yellow flowers of the rapeseed visible for miles.

On and on we went until we reached the temple.  We spent some time atop the mountain taking photos before we made our way back down, this time coming a lot closer to the peach blossom.
We had lunch in a tiny room which was part of a very strange restaurant.  It was just so small, and so, well crappy I suppose.  No one in their right mind would enter such a place to eat, but we did.  Food was OK - just.  Filled us as we were all hungry from our running around all day and climbing the mountain.

The boys wanted to play on with some of the strange sideshows, but the girls had had enough so we caught the bus home.  Yes, it was THE bus that should have taken us on a very quick trip earlier in the day to Houshan.  Still, it wouldn't have been near as much fun as our journey there turned out to be.

The Toffee Man in Houshan

It was a Sunday and I'd been invited by a group of my students to go to Houshan. It is a popular tourist spot that I had been to some 2 years previously. It is famous for the peach blossom, as peach trees grown in abundance in the park. The last time I had been there it had been busy with tourists, but not much commercialism. What a change in two years! There were stalls and circus acts and on this occasion it was much more crowded than I could recall from the last time.

One of the features of this place is the landscape - not only the peach blossom, but lots of other trees, and some extra ordinary stone features left over I think from a stone quarry, and as one climbs high to the top of the mountain, the view back over the farms is wonderful, and at the top are tea plantations, as well as an amazing Buddhist temple.

On this occasion there were other things of interest too - a small group of touring artists performed in a pavilion. One of the things that I really enjoy in China is the opportunity to see traditional entertainment, and sadly there is little.

At the base of one of the areas, was a remarkable sight. A man making toffee in the most extra ordinary way. He had a little burner with a pot with toffee and using the back of a spoon, he crafted most amazing designs and then the set toffee was put on a stick and children went away delighted to eat the toffee. It seems a shame to eat it - the craftwork was so good.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

I'm a Little Nostalgic

I would love to have been there, but it was never going to be.  Perhaps I can share some of the magic of the World Choir Games in Shaoxing, but introducing some videos.

World Choir Games in Shaoxing

We didn't learn about this until early in the school semester, when students were auditioning to be volunteers at the 6th World Choir Games in Shaoxing.  They started on July 15th, '10.  Now I'm not sure that I would have extended my stay in China by 3 weeks JUST to include the Games, but I would have considered it.

It is surely a spectacular event, as China does not do anything by halves.  I've not had any reports from students, but I see this story made it to CNN.  You will enjoy the video - click on the link.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

How Time Flies

I've been back just over two weeks so far and still trying to get my life back into "normal" whatever that is, but I doubt that will happen any time soon.

I have applied to do my Master of Arts at Swinburne University, so will wait to hear if I am accepted, and next week I fly to Adelaide to see my parents, and then come back to meet up with two students from China who are going to stay in Australia for a few weeks, and I will be one of their "tour guides."  Shall be interesting.  I've started a blog to document their visit.  

Today I had a pedicure.  Oh, bliss. 

Tomorrow I will attend a business lunch and be the "official photographer."

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Seeking more teachers

One of the things I would like to do now I am back in Australia is help find good teachers for China. Good? What do I mean?

I'd love to see a program in Australia where quality teachers were registered, so that foreign schools (China, Japan, South Korea, etc) can check that the people who apply for work in those countries do in fact have the right qualifications. Especially that they are not fake. Fake?

It is not surprising to learn that on the Internet you can buy a degree for a relatively small sum, and no, there is no need to study. I know, because I know of one Australian who is working in China on one of these false documents.

The degree is supposedly from the same university that I worked hard to get my degree, and the paperwork looks very much like my certificate. I know it is false. I know it is a common thing in China, as no one actually checks that the documents are legitimate.

Not only that, it is common for males to go to China or other parts of Asia, with more on their minds than teaching. Sadly many of the young girls are enamoured of the foreign male teacher and to some degree they are putty in their hands. True, there are guys that are in search of a life partner, and who wil treat the girsl with dignity and respect, but there are some who are not interested in life long partners and they break hearts as the move from one girl to another.

In Australia, teachers having a relationship with a student (other than a teacher student professional relationship) is unacceptable, and often the male or female teacher involved in an unprofessional relationship with a student in China gets away with it without any repercussions.

Sadly in many schools, universities or other education facilities in China are managed by males, who seem to turn a blind eye to this behaviour - perhaps in part because they too are indulging in some unprofessional activities with students.

So, who do I think are good teachers? It is impossible to tell really. Though a mature aged female teacher may not be indulging in sexual or other exploits with their students, it doesn't mean that are good teachers.

I am not looking for mature aged women to teach, though I do encourage them to explore teaching in the Middle Kingdom. Young people are fine, but I tend to be a little suspicious of some young men.

Married couples are welcome - and they generally work well in foreign countries. I have worked with quite a few married couples. They work different hours, but have free time together, and most socialise with others as well as with their own partners.

It is hard to find god teachers - I will continue my search, as I do think the opportunity to teach and live in places like China is very helpful for us all.

Anyone one interested??? Let me know and I will help you find a good place to go.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Women Writers

I was pleased to be able to attend the meeting - having been out of the country for the last four months I've missed the regular monthly meeting. Only a small number turned up - apparently many folk have the flu at the moment, so not as many were able to attend. I'm glad I was one.

A few members read their works, and we talked about a number of issues, and then a senior member talked about book reviews. Something that really does not interest me, but I may have a closer look at reviewing - it should be helpful in my own writing.

Then the president asked me to talk about my China adventures. Which I did. I spoke about some of the challenges of living in the Middle Kingdom, about the one child policy of China, and the realities as I have learned from my own experiences and Xinran's books. I've read one book, half way through another and I've been advised that there is another one waiting for me at the library.

I could speak for hours about my experiences - but in just over 10 minutes I raised some issues and some interest in what I was doing. Had a few chats with members later. One had taught for a year near Shanghai so we swapped stories.

Also today I had an email from a lady in the US - she had seen my blog and wanted to know about teaching in China. I have put her in touch with Joanna at Yuexiu - so just maybe she will end up there. Who knows?

We had lunch in town - some great restaurants near the Casino in the heart of Brisbane. Must go again and have a wander around. It is ages since I've had a look around the city.

I've been back for a week now

I'm still trying to resettle. I am mostly over the fatigue - and am now trying to make some plans for my immediate future.

Yesterday I looked after two grand children on the Gold Coast, today I have a writers meeting, and I have a couple of other commitments during this week. Though by the weekend I should have some other plans clearer. I have to apply to do my Masters this week too.

It is an odd feeling getting back into home life again. Even in four months some things have changed.

I will go back over some of my adventures and post stories and photographs here. I have had several emails from students in China and one who went to America for work. One student in China is distressed - I'd had a long talk with him before the end of term. He was finding English classes a challenge, even though he was doing very well. He felt the pressure of study and wanted to opt out. I had hoped he'd stay - he was a good student, but he's decided to give up his education. He's worried about his head teacher - who is a friend of mine. He know she will be disappointed in him.

He is currently working in a factory - working long hours on very boring mechanical activities. He doesn't like it - but he doesn't know what to do. I can't help him much.

The boy in the US has not enjoyed his stay there - almost four weeks. He pushed the fire alarm out of curiosity and the fire bells went off, and everyone had to evacuate and the police and fire brigades came. He was terrified and hid under his bed.

Yesterday I received an email. Three black men had stolen his laptop - he called the police, but he says they are doing nothing about it. He's very upset. He's a good kid, but way out of his depth. Maybe he will grow up quickly.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Hong Kong

I arrived here late yesterday afternoon. The shuttle bus delivered me to the Metropark Hotel Mongkok after 5 pm, and after checking in, I walked around a little. I like to get my bearings, though my short walk has given me little insight to where I am. Plenty of shops around, though I'm not keen on shopping.

I found some street markets which were rather fun - though much of the merchandise was not of interest to me.

There was some great fruit and I bought some cherries, which I ate in my room later. They were fat, juicy and delicious.

The hotel is good - Mongkok is a big shopping area.

I'm off on a day tour today.