Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I'm off to Portugal and Spain this morning. It's not like I've been working really hard and deserve a break but I am dying for a change of scenery. And the prospect of slightly higher temperatures is quite exciting. I'm hoping to come back with lots of ideas and eagerness for 2007.

(my competition has been withdrawn due to lack of entries... shame, shame on you all!)


Christmas was lovely. I've put a picture of the food here but PGL has more photos on imagestation (instructions on her blog). There are two Christmas celebrations there so don't get confused (the other one had a bigger turkey and roast pork, I feel outdone!).

All I've done since Christmas is eat. We leave for Portugal (and then Spain) tomorrow and I'm on a mission to consume all the leftover Christmas food. I made turkey curry yesterday and turkey soup (which wasn't so photogenic).

I'll be away for a week and a half but I'm coming up with a game to entertain you all until I get back...

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! It's morning here and I've just spent an hour on the phone to family. I'm off to church soon and then friends are coming over to eat at three.

A lot of food preparation has been going on and the gingerbread people have made a reappearance. Last year someone suggested that the character you chose reflected your future partner. With that in mind, we've tried to cater to a range of tastes. It may look like sexism is at work but it's very hard to make these things look female without putting them in swimwear:

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Losing composure

The endoscopy/biopsy went fine. I opted to go without sedation - not because I'm tough but because I really hate needles. It was much more exciting than I anticipated, I was in a real operating theatre with three nurses and two doctors. They can't all have been necessary so I guess that some of them were trainees.

It wasn't painful at all but it sure was uncomfortable. I kept retching and my eyes watered the whole time. When they finally reeled the thing out, one of the nurses handed me a huge bunch of tissues and said 'try to compose yourself'. That sounds a bit harsh but I think he meant, 'rest and wipe yourself off before you try and do anything'.

Now I just hope that getting the results doesn't take too long. Getting the appointment was a 4 month kerfuffle in which the hospital lost my referral form twice. I'm not in the mood for any more waiting!

Monday, December 18, 2006


After months of waiting for an appointment, I'm finally having an endoscopy tomorrow. They're going to investigate my small intestine and snip out a tiny bit to see whether I have celiac disease. I guess that the procedure is something like this (not for the squeamish!):

Celiac disease is kind of like an allergic reaction to gluten in the small intestine. I've already had a positive blood-test so it's quite likely that I have it. It's important to be sure, however, because a gluten-free diet is so restrictive, thus the endoscopy. After being unwell for years, I'm dying (hmm, bad word choice) to get diagnosed with something and start trying to get better.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


For the last month I've been watching this hideously trashy drama about young Australians in London. Part of the enjoyment was getting to feel slightly smug: I don't live in west London, I've never been in a Walkabout pub and I've only picked up that free Australian newspaper once.

On Monday last week the show finished. On Monday this week I was off to collect to my own troupe of young Australian immigrants at Heathrow. Suddenly I'm living the dream. The living room floor may be a sea of backpacks, cushions and 'doonas' but it's good to see old friends.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Yuck. The restaurant opposite has acquired new signage. Their very tasteful painted sign has been covered over with this gross thing that floods my bedroom with pink light.

Perhaps they were inspired by the theatre down the street - a much more acceptable use of neon...

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Work at the school is going well. The dodgier it gets the more I seem to enjoy it. Muggings outside the gates, knives, fights... bring it on! My students are all fantastic so it's not really affecting me.

My feelings on living in London are similar. Sure, armageddon may have started early here, but I like feeling that I'm in a place where things are happening. The dysfunction (of everything) can be infuriating. But once I stopped expecting things to work or go right, the challenge started to make life interesting.

Anyway, back to the school - the principal sent out a memo to all teachers last week saying that despite requests from students, no religious groups or meetings will be allowed on campus. I was surprised by the harsh tone of the memo until I read the last sentence: 'We have all had a close experience of the tragedy that can result from fundamentalism'.

I went straight to google and searched for "(the name of the school)"+terrorist. An ex-student was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay! Suddenly, muggings are not such a big deal.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A little busy

It's incredible how little extra busyness it takes to distract me from blogging.

I've been covering shifts for a sick colleague at my adult teaching job and I've also had the dreaded 'observation week' with both my bosses watching me teach.

I explained to all my students in advance that I was having a test. They did a fantastic job of looking engaged. 'Sally' even stood up at the end of the lesson and gave a little speech to my boss about how much they are enjoying themselves :)

My classes are also getting bigger, meaning a lot more preparation. My beginner men's class now has thirteen students aged 19-82. They have lived in the UK for anything between 3 months and 36 years. The pace and abilities of the learners are so varied that I basically have to plan several simultaneous lessons to keep everyone involved and suitably challenged.

My hourly rate of pay for this job is really good but when I factor in all the preparation, admin and tidying up, it's about equal to minimum wage. Less, if I consider all the travel time and expense involved in working 2 hour shifts!

I've been looking for a third job but I'm not sure how I would fit one in. It would be much more manageable if I was offered some additional hours from my current workplaces.

It's lucky I love my work!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Remembrance Day

Quite accidentally, a war theme ran thoughout my Remembrance Day.

After work in the morning (11 students aged 19 to 76!). I headed over to Blackfriars to meet PGL and K. It was the Lord Mayor's Parade and we had turned up to see Jason playing in the army band.

As one of only two non-white bagpipe players, he wasn't hard to spot. We tried our best to embarrass him by running alongside, stopping every couple of minutes to take more photos.

The weirdest thing about the parade was this tower of what seemed to be polystyrene buns. They must have climbed the tower before I saw it because it was looking kind of tired. Nothing like seeing the real thing on Cheung Chau last year!

The bun tower put me in the mood for dim sum so the three of us headed over to Baker Street for several hours of eating.

And in the evening, I went with friends to see that classic WWII tale, Andrew Lloyd Webber's new stage version of 'The Sound of Music'. Connie Fisher, who plays Maria, was chosen in a contest on the BBC called How do you solve a problem like Maria?. She was my favourite contestant and she was fantastic on stage. .

I was delighted that the start of 'The Lonely Goatherd' seemed to have been tweaked to sound like Gwen Stefani's 'Wind it up'. I love this clip. The part where Gwen makes curtain outfits for the Harijuku girls is genius.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Scotch fingers

I've started work at the school and finished at the farm. It's weird not being the only teacher and I'm enjoying the staffroom. My department has its own little room so it's not the intimidating experience I expected.

I seem to be the only male teacher working in learning support and I get the sense that I've disrupted some kind of equilibrium. For a start, I'm the only one who eats more than salad and fruit for lunch. My colleagues seem to be competing for some kind of self denial award.

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying a kitchen without stinky litter trays. So far I've taken curry, meatballs and caldo verde for lunch and witnessed the suppressed envy of the salad eaters. It's weird that until last week I was the health freak, the only one at the farm who never ate chips for lunch.

Weird things happen when women get together. At a meeting today someone went to put a scotch finger in her mouth and everyone watched. Just as she took the first bite, someone said, 'I hate it how the school refreshments always means scotch fingers, they're just so fattening!'.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


The best part about having a stats counter is getting to find out the google search terms that refer people to my blog.

Many of these search terms confirm (as the song from Avenue Q goes) that 'the internet is for porn'. Despite the wholesome language on my blog, I get frequent hits from people searching for hairy businessmen, wet sari and many things inbetween.

The most frequent search in my stats counter, however, is for a song that I once wrote about. I complained about the daggy lyrics to who put the cold in the snowflake, a song we sang at my church in HK. I never dreamed that a couple of years later I would still be averaging one hit per day from people looking for the lyrics!

Occasionally I have become an authority on a 'hot topic'. When I wrote about Vanessa Feltz a couple of weeks ago I had over fifty searches for variations on 'Vanessa Feltz kissing new boyfriend' over the following few days.

Only rarely, however, do I get a search for a topic on which I am a true expert. A couple of days ago someone searched Hong Kong ladies interested in asylum seekers. I am sure that the search was done by a client using one of the free computers at my old work in Hong Kong.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Eid Mubarak!

Yesterday I went to the Eid celebration in Trafalgar Square with House Negro, Jason and the person with an expired blog.

This is the first year for the Trafalgar Square event and it was a bit of a disappointment. The onstage entertainment consisted mostly of speeches, it was much more of a public rally than a celebration.

The tents didn't offer much of interest either. I hoped for food stalls and instead got a stand selling portable bidets. Yuk!

Thankfully, the crowd offered much entertainment.

There was Britain's tallest Muslim. It's hard to comprehend his height here because the woman next to him was very tall herself.

There was a lot of interesting headgear.

There were these two Elvis inspired dancers who gyrated while a little girl sang a song dedicated to the children of Pakistan.

And there were fund-raising fairies eating burgers. Given the nature of the event, I don't think they'd chosen the best outfits to promote their cause!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

2: When Hakeem met Sally

When I started teaching a new class several weeks ago we began the the first session by introducing ourselves. An Egyptian lady started:

Egyptian lady: Hi, my name is xxxx but you can call me Sally if it is easier for you.

Spanish man: Hi, my name is xxxx.

Egyptian lady: Oh, your name is difficult, can we call you Hakeem?

The whole class laughed and the new names stuck. Life is so easy when people have a sense of humour and are willing to compromise. I was reminded of the different names I've had in different countries.

During the three years that I was in Hong Kong I learnt to respond to ah-Joe, Jo-san, Mr Joe and loaf of bread. My favourite, though, was being called 'handsome boy' by stallholders in the wet market (yes, flattery goes a long way). In Hong Kong I learnt that integration can be a choice. Living in a tiny room in Yau Ma Tei gave me so many experiences that I could never have had in a villa in Repulse Bay.

While I was studying in India I picked up more names including Yusuf, Jogendra, Jo-Jo, Joker and a collection of puns based on translations of my surname. In Hindi/Urdu it is necessary to distinguish between free as in 'buy one get one free' and 'free Kashmir'. I realised in India, however, that integration is also about oppurtunity. Much to the advantage of my language study, I spent most of my waking hours engaged in conversation and was invited to eat in people's homes on a daily basis. Even when I escaped to my hotel room, friends would knock on the door, wanting to come in for a chat.

So it was Indian culture that made my language learning experience so positive. People who migrate to western countries often find things much more difficult. Even my Australian friends in London complain that they don't get chances to make friends with English people. Much harder then for my students who are limited by language. Even if they work, they are usually in low-paid employment where most of their colleagues are also immigrants. All of my students would love to be more 'integrated' than they are. So it frustrates me to hear about immigrants 'refusing to integrate'. These things work two ways.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Integration 1

I've been following the debate on veil wearing with interest. Veils themselves don't deserve this much coverage (hehe), the amount of veil wearers in Britain is not that significant. What interests me is the potential for some balanced discussion on the topic of integration.

I've noticed two levels of criticism of the niqab. The politicians (lining up eagerly to issue their own statements) usually say that veils can make people 'uncomfortable'. One of my colleagues wears a veil and I haven't witenessed it bother anyone. The wet patch in front of her mouth grosses me out slightly but not half as much as people in low slung jeans bending over on the tube (a frequent London occurrence).

At a more extreme level, some people quoted in the media have said that they find veil wearers frightening. I find this hard to believe, particularly coming from the tough types who usually state it. Gosh, imagine what new immigrants make of goths!

It is true, however, that veils make communication more difficult. At a recent work meeting my veiled colleague spoke for several minutes to a group, mostly muslims, from a range of countries. Had all people present been native English speakers there might not have been a problem. Without seeing facial expression and mouth movement, however, most found her too difficult to follow and just tuned out.

There are so many things more worrying and common than veil wearing. Yesterday I saw a girl jump out and yell at a cyclist, almost causing him to go under a bus. A few weeks ago I walked past a bus shelter where two boys were doing a similar thing, jumping out and screaming at anyone who approached, old ladies included.

And in terms of integration, I'm much more concerned that English language learning provision in the UK is underfunded and disorganised. I hate it that immigrants are blamed for failing to integrate as if integration should be a one-sided effort. More on this later...

Monday, October 16, 2006


When I was working in Chungking I loved Ramadan. Every evening, buckets of samosas and huge fruit platters would travel down the elevators for communal fast breaking on the ground floor.

Yet again, I've become caught up in Ramadan without actually doing any fasting. Students in my 6-8pm evening class are fasting and we stop mid-class for them to pray and start eating. Huge quantities of biscuits (untouched by fasting day time students) disappear in minutes and the class becomes much more lively as energy levels rise.

On Saturday we had an outing for students and their families to Kew Gardens. It may have been partly due to the fasting but everyone was much more interested in the edible plants than the decorative ones. Our tour guide mentioned that he had never needed to drag a group away from the allspice plant before.

There was a harvest themed exhibition sponsored by a cranberry juice company. I couldn't help feeling that it was a huge waste and tried to calculate how much 6 million cranberries would cost at Tesco. They had been dumped into a lake to demonstrate how the harvest is done by flooding fields in New England.

I really hope that someone is going to eat the pumpkins and squash on display. My local supermarkets only stock the butternut type and I was tempted to slip some of these into my backpack. With Diwali coming up, I'm thinking of making pumpkin halva.

Actually, it's been over a week since I cooked anything. All I've done in the kitchen lately is write down recipes and wash up. Hooray for guests who cook banquets!

Friday, October 13, 2006


My new Cantonese teacher taught me a hilarious expression today. One of those fantastic old ones that makes you sad to think that it will soon be extinct.

In Hong Kong in the olden days, people were encouraged to catch rats. After catching one you would deposit it in a 'rat box', a squarish receptacle stuck on the side of a 10ft lamp post. I suppose that the rats were then taken somewhere for incineration.

What prompted this little description?

We were looking at the newspaper and spotted a picture of Vanessa Feltz...

...with her tall new boyfriend.

Lamppost and rat box. I love it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Last Sunday I accompanied visitors to a nearby church, a denomination I don't often attend. Unlike many services I've been to in London, it was a very mixed congregation, particularly in terms of age.

Most people seemed quite well to do but there was a one very obviously homeless man sitting a few rows in front of me who mumbled throughout the service.

As time went on his mumbling grew louder. During a very generic, unenthusiastic prayer, 'Lord we pray for all priests everywhere blah blah blah' the homeless man spoke quite loudly 'I don't believe a word you're saying!'. A couple of people looked up but the prayer rolled on.

Following the prayer there was a hymn. Despite the beauty of the song and the large congregation, the singing was a mere whisper. Part way through the second verse the homeless man shouted 'louder!'. His aggressive tone made everyone jump.

There was a nervous fumbling with hymn books and people actually did begin to sing up. I loved it!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Hello Hoodies

I went for a job interview this morning at a senior school in outer London. The place seemed pretty edgy. Gangs of hoodies sat out front smoking. There were swipe cards and turnstiles at the front entrance, is that normal for the UK?

Anyway, the interview was for a job working with students from non-English speaking backgrounds. It sounds like nice work. Unfortunately it's only two days per week so I would still need to look for a third part-time job in addition.

At this stage I should be trying to find one full-time job. Problem is that there are not many around and I'm keen to hang on to my other part-time job which I'm loving. I've become very attached to my class of North African over seventies.

They called this afternoon to offer the job and I accepted. It should be fun... and hopefully good blog fodder.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Was that a question?

Two and a bit weeks ago I checked the net for the review for a Hindi film I had been waiting for. To my surprise there was another film releasing on the same day which I hadn't been aware of. This was strange considering that it was produced and directed by the acclaimed Ram Gopal Varma.

Later that day, I was listening to the BBC Asian Network when a presenter mentioned that the film was having a London premiere. It was to be held the following day at a cinema nearby and RGV would be present for a Q and A session, along with Mohit Ahlawat, the film's lead actor.

I walked over to the cinema immediately in the hope of getting a ticket. There were plenty available and the cost was the same as a regular movie ticket. I expressed my amazement to the guy at the counter. He looked at me like I was a complete weirdo.

When I arrived at the cinema the following day I was struggling to control my excitement. Waiting for the film to begin, I started chatting to the lady next to me, happy to find someone who understood the importance of the occasion.

When it was announced that the director was sick and would not be present we shared our disappointment. As the film started, the star was also nowhere to be seen. Ten minutes into the film, Mohit Ahlawat strode in, sitting just two rows in front of me.

The film was about an honest police officer beating all the corruption out of the Mumbai police force with his bare fists. It was well shot but the plot and acting were terrible. Surprisingly for a RGV film, it was pure masala, an unsatisfying mix of violence, comedy and flesh. To my amusement, Mohit left the cinema for the duration of the sleazy post-wedding song. This may have had something to do with the presence of his family members in the audience.

At the conclusion of the film, my friend and I moved down to the second row for the Q and A session. I was determined to compliment the hero's performance and ask intelligent questions.

As the questions started, I realised that I knew more about RGV's work and Mohit's career than the rest of the audience. Except, that was, for a complete sycophant in the front row who professed his love for Mohit's previous film, a critically-damned flop, which he claimed to have watched three times.

Determined not to be such a suck up, my first question came out sounding harsher than I had anticipated. I mentioned that his upcoming role seemed to be very similar to the two he had played so far. Did he have plans to move beyond the 'angry young man' thing?

His answer was a little curt and I regretted my question.

My friend then expressed her surprise at the number of songs in the film and the inclusion of a wet sari number. Ram Gopal Varma criticises other directors for stuffing their films with unnecessary songs. Did Mohit think that the songs added value to the film? Was he planning to become a regular dancing hero?

The hero professed that he would have liked less songs. He reassured us that he was not about to start dancing around trees. 'Dancing isn't necessary for success' he said. 'Look at Shahid Kapoor. He's a great dancer but his career has not taken off. The necessary thing to success is ability to act'.

I wasn't convinced. Shahid Kapoor has a big Diwali release coming up and he is dating megastar Katrina Kapoor. He's even managed a high-profile kissing video scandal, conservative India's equivalent of the Paris Hilton sex tapes.

Mohit, on the other hand, has starred in two spectacular flops, despite his proud claim that a riot had occured in Andhra Pradesh outside a cinema showing 'Shiva'.

At this point, I made a fatal mistake, forgetting my intention to ask intelligent yet flattering questions.

'Don't you think you are restricting your role options if you don't dance?' I asked.

'I can dance' he barked back, causing the audience to laugh.

I was in shock. I had insulted an idol! How could I repair the damage?

'I suppose I was talking about intention rather than ability' I said.

Then it happened. Silence. He stared at me. I stared at him. He obviously hadn't grasped my meaning. I was burning with awkward embarrassment.

After what seemed like minutes he spoke.

'What that a question?'

'No, no', I mumbled, 'I'm finished'.

Question time finished shortly after. Forgetting my plans to ask for an autograph and photo I ran out of the cinema in embarrassment. It's taken two weeks for me to be able to tell the story...

Saturday, September 30, 2006

What goes up...

Some ridiculous conversation topics can float around for ages before reaching a satisfying resolution. They persist long after you forget how they came up in the first place.

For the past few weeks, dinners with friends have included repeated references to bullets being fired into the air. Do they come down with the same force as they go up? What happens when they come down? Don't people get injured?

Unfortunately, the answers lay out of reach of a group of solicitors, accountants and one teacher, all from gun-scarce Sydney, who retained only hazy memories of high school physics.

But at dinner tonight, the circle widened to include someone originally from Pakistan's wild North-West Frontier.

Yes they do come down very fast. Yes they hit things. Yes, people can get killed. On occasions, bullets even enter windows on the return leg of their parabolic journeys. Perhaps as a result of such damage, the practice is increasingly frowned upon. When it occurs at weddings in Pakistan, the groom is often carried by the police as a reprimand.

Next topic?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Congratulations to my sister and her boyfriend who got engaged on Saturday. Thank goodness someone is taking steps towards producing the much-demanded great-grandchildren. Engaged at 22. At that age I hadn't even had a first kiss.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I will not be returning your calls

Last night I discovered that my home phone has voicemail.

I went to check it and the message box was full. Mostly they were from my parents and I called them straight away to apologise that I have never returned any of their calls. Ironically, they were out and I left a message.

The voicemail service only keeps messages for 3 weeks. I dread to think how many unchecked messages have been left over the past year! My apologies to anyone who may have been affected.

So much to write about but work has been busy this week... like how I met and then unintentionally insulted a bollywood idol!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Last night

I'm not a great appreciator of modern art. On hearing 'installation' I usually roll my eyes. Mention 'stream of consciousness' and I'll start feeling queasy. Take me to the Tate Modern and I will giggle a lot and mutter 'emperor's new clothes' more times than you can count.

Still I'm glad to have a couple of arty friends. Otherwise I'd miss out on a lot of experiences.

Without arty friends I wouldn't have been shut in this tiny room with a cup of Japanese tea and asked to imagine that I was having a drug hallucination in the 70s.

I wouldn't have been shut in this room and asked to ponder the love/hate relationship that punks have with buttons.

I wouldn't have fulfilled my dream of going on a Japanese-style 'follow the umbrella' tour.

I wouldn't have been taken through an old graveyard at night by the lead member of 'The Frank Chickens', famous for their 1984 hit 'We Are Ninja (Not Geisha)'.

I wouldn't have got to watch this girl hang from a rope while listening to her narrate a story about a run away flour mill that joined the circus and then fell in love with the moon.

And most of all, I wouldn't have had the incredible pleasure of hearing someone tell her that they loved it when she 'created obstacles' for her performance by repeatedly forgetting her lines and asking for prompts from a friend in the audience.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


The mayor of London announced this week that there will be another rise in transport costs next year for people paying cash rather than using Oyster cards. For some journeys, paying cash will be more than twice as expensive as using Oyster.

In theory I like this idea. I loved the Octopus card system in Hong Kong. And it's frustrating when people paying cash fares slow down bus trips.

But in Hong Kong, Octopus cards were taken up quickly by the public despite savings incentives of only about 10%. The number of Octopus cards in circulation is now much greater than the number of HK residents.

Part of the reason for the slow take up of Oyster cards is that ticketing on London public transport is so complicated. The system of different travel zones and travel cards is very hard to learn. Many people don't understand how this complex system translates to Oyster cards.

A further problem is that the Oyster system still doesn't work all that well. Tube stations have many more machines available for purchasing cash tickets than they do for recharging Oyster cards. Many overland train stations still don't have facilities for Oyster cards. Unlike in Hong Kong, the swiping machines don't give a balance each time I start and finish a journey. About 20% of the time, the machines flash an error message and I swipe again, worrying that I might be paying twice.

Another issue became obvious when I taught a transport themed class yesterday. None of my students have Oyster cards and thus they waste a lot of money buying cash tickets. They don't understand the complicated ticketing system and tend to take buses only (paying cash), thinking that they are saving money. As a result they waste money and time.

Unlike Hong Kong, London contains a huge number of residents who are only minimally integrated into mainstream society. The majority of my students struggle to use tube and bus maps and don't understand the complicated ticketing system. These are the people who are suffering with the increase in cash fares.

And that's just local transport. Long distance rail travel in the UK is hideously complicated. Yesterday I found out that one of my students pays significantly more to go to Birmingham by coach (the government moved his daughter and girlfriend there but kept him in London) than I do on train. The system discriminates hugely towards educated locals with internet access. Hmm.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Walking to work

Today was 29 degrees, the hottest day since July.

I'm developing a typically English fixation with the weather. It makes sense when the stakes are so high. Right now, I worry that each good day could be the last before 8 months of cold and darkness set in.

The threat of oncoming cold is making me determined to enjoy this last bit of summer. I've figured out that I can walk the diagonal length of Hyde Park to get to my job on Portobello Road. It's beautiful and avoiding the stinky tube is a major bonus. London's public transport may be gross but the parks are fantastic.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


I've just finished the last assignment for my MA. Yay!

It's not due for two months so there's plenty of time to send it by mail. Putting something in the postbox is so much more satisfying than submitting online.

Now to start working full-time. Or maybe just less part-time...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Two of my students went for a registration day last week at the same local college. The guy from Chechnya ('me English zero') was referred to another organisation because the college's beginner classes are full.

My student from the Ivory Coast didn't make it into a class either. Instead, they asked him to become an English tutor for other students. I think it must be voluntary but I felt it was bit rude to ask.

And I'm teaching them in the same class. Ha ha. Anyway, we seem to be having fun. And the guy from the Ivory Coast might be learning something about teaching, even if his English isn't improving much.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Thank you India

Steve Irwin's death has had an incredible amount of coverage in the UK. I guess that it makes good news. I was starting to wonder whether the coverage here exceeded that in Australia. That was until Jason emailed this list of most popular articles from the Sydney Morning Herald online. Click for a larger view.

Like the crocodile hunter, my conservationist credentials have also received a recent sudden boost. A follow up appointment at the hospital for tropical health today revealed an exciting array of positive results.

'You are cultivating quite a menagerie of parasites', my doctor told me. They are all allowed to stay for the moment except for one variety of worm so large that the doctor had to hold up two hands to demonstrate its length. I start medication tonight.

Ooh the suspense! Can I keep myself from posting a photo? How many will there be?

Friday, September 01, 2006


My family move house today. The new one is in the bottom right hand corner. I know which one it is because I have a collection of postcards sent by mum, all complete with arrows and 'our new house!'.

The greenish water in front was one of the areas where we used to go snorkelling for school sport. There's a lot to see there - lobster, crabs, huge groper, smaller fish and urchins.

Meanwhile it's the first day of autumn here in the UK. It's looking kind of dark and gloomy outside. Weirdly, the uni task I am working on is an analysis of a conversation about huge cockroaches in Manly.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Chef's tip

When I start a new job I want to work in a place that divides students into classes according to their English level. I'm tired of teaching multiple simultaneous lessons for students at completely different levels. I don't cater to anyone's needs and end up just struggling to keep everyone occupied.

I started a new class at the farm last week. I was hoping that everyone would have similar levels of English. I started the first session by asking students to tell the class their name, country of origin and amount of time they have been in the UK. A student from Chechnya could only manage 'me English *zero sign*'.

By our second lesson, he was able to have the following interaction with a student from Iran. It looks a bit nasty but it was all said in humour:

Iranian: 'You always looking Russian dictionary, you love Russia!'
Chechnyan: 'No, Russia bad'
Iranian: 'No, Russia good! Russia good!'
Chechnyan: 'Russia good!?! Russia Saddam friend!'

I'm also supposed to be working on numeracy with this class. The guy from Chechnya is a construction engineer. The guy from Iran was a farmer who had very little formal education. Yikes.

A student from the Ivory Coast has very advanced English. Yesterday we were working on instructions and I gave a task which involved matching recipe steps with pictures and putting them all in order. He finished this quickly and I asked him to write a set of instructions for making a cup of tea.

This only took two minutes and there was nothing to correct. At the end of the instructions he had put, 'Chef's tip: for extra flavour, add two mint leaves'. 'I watch a lot of cooking shows', he said. 'I got that tip from watching Gordon Ramsey. The mint leaves give it a wow'.

Fluent in the langauge of lifestyle television! What more can I teach him?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Monica, oh my darling!

My second job starts again on September 16th. Until then, I'm only working one day a week. My job at the farm is two days but I have enough annual leave to take one day off per week until I finish there in November!

This means that I'm moving through my final uni subject pretty quickly. I should finish within a couple of weeks and then I'm going to start applying for more jobs. Not sure how much I'm looking forward to that.

I'm trying to spend all of my free time on study but I'm very good at getting distracted... old Hindi film songs...

chopping vegetables...

shopping trips to Chinatown... all of these are slowing down progress. When I sat down to eat this meal I realised that I'd recreated my favourite Harbour City foodcourt main course and dessert combination. Yum!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Leamington Spa

On Saturday Cal and I went to Leamington Spa to meet friends who are on holiday from Hong Kong. We went for a canal walk which was very beautiful in a very English way.

The friends who were visiting run an import-export business with a lot of contacts in Chungking Mansions. I was very happy when they told me that my fame (notoriety?) lives on there, even in my absence.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Thanks for all my birthday texts, cards and emails. I'm having a quiet but happy day. If only I could import friends from several countries for the day then I'd have enough for a real birthday party.

I'm horrible at remembering birthdays so I requested this book as a present. It's very empty at the moment - so along with the barrage (please?) of birthday comments please give me your own dates!

(have I just passed from mid to late twenties?)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Germs on a plane

I haven't written anything for a while. I was in Stockholm with friends last weekend and I've been feeling yucky with cold since then. I catch something nearly every time I fly - I wouldn't make it as one of those Australians in London who does 'city breaks' every weekend.

Leaving Heathrow the day after the terrorist scare was an event. Our flight was 7am on a Friday morning and SAS had cancelled all its flights the on the previous day. When we arrived at 5am the check-in area was a writhing mass of queues. Thursday passengers were hoping to get on flights. Friday passengers had all turned up early.

People had been waiting for hours without any staff to direct them. It was impossible to figure out where the ends of queues were. Queue rage erupted as people who thought they were at the ends screamed at people who pushed straight into the middle of the crush.

At 5:15am a single SAS staff member turned up and started to organise the queues. Some people were incensed to find out that priority would go to people with tickets to fly that morning rather than people at the front of queues. After a long wait, we checked in for our flight and it left just a couple of hours behind schedule.

I was expecting to like Stockholm. After all, I used to work in Ikea and the first album that I bought as a ten year old was by Roxette.

It was a beatiful relaxed place. Almost so nice that it was creepy. I was reminded of the hilarious 'Sweden' song by The Divine Comedy:

"I would like to live in Sweden
When my work is done
Where the snow lies crisp and even
'Neath the midnight sun
Safe and clean and green and modern
Bright and breezy - free and easy

I am gonna live in Sweden
Please don't ask me why
For if I were to give a reason
It would be a lie
Tall and strong and blonde and blue-eyed
Pure and healthy, very wealthy"

While bordering on clinical, Stockholm also has quirkiness. As in Norway, I found some of the street signs quite wacky. I've seen this one before.

But never this!

The strangest thing about Stockholmers (and all Scandinavians?) is their predilection for heavy metal. I haven't seen so many heavy metal band t-shirts since 1990. My only theory is that it has something to do with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Stockholmers, as we found out, go for all kinds of rock music. And on Saturday nights big groups of them pack into all kinds of vehicles and turn it up as they cruise around the city. I was mesmerised as car after car went past blaring everything from Elvis to Metallica.

If you're planning to go Saturday night cruising in Stockholm then a tough car is a plus.

But even mum's people mover will do.

And obviously, it's cooler if you're sticking out of the car.

Being wholly outside the car is the ultimate.

And this is as cool as you can get.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


I spoke to my goddaughter on the phone this week. She can say a lot more than she could when I left Hong Kong a year ago.

It took her a while to get speaking because of all the languages she was exposed to. Now she speaks English at home and Cantonese at school. And if she speaks English with school friends she uses a Honky accent which she doesn't use at home. Her dad finds this strange but I reminded him that he does the same thing!

Her parents still speak to her in Bengali and Tagalog which she understands but doesn't speak much. I guess that in time she will also learn some Mandarin at school and Hindi at home. I'm so proud!

Friday, August 04, 2006

I hate cats

When I arrived at the farm on Wednesday the desk I share was covered with the usual stuff: bits of paper, dog toys, cold cups of tea, garden tools and animal medication. I cleared stuff off the keyboard and tried to print out the worksheets I had made for the day. Both printers weren't working.

Giving up on the printers, I went to start cleaning the classroom. It stank. A cat with diarrhoea had been locked in overnight.

I had just finished scooping up the diarrhoea and mopping the floor when my boss asked to speak to me. The application for continuation of funding for the project I am working on had been rejected. It will end at the start of November

He seemed surprised that I wasn't more disappointed. 'That's okay' I said, 'my study will finish around the same time so it will make sense for me to look for a full time job anyway'. I was thinking about cats.

It will be nice to go out on a high though. The final three month course starts in three weeks and it is oversubscribed already. Apart from the cats and general filth, I've really enjoyed working there.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hand luggage

A woman was escorted off a Cathay HK-Tokyo flight on Monday after refusing to stow away her Gucci handbag. She protested that the overhead compartment was too high and the floor was too dirty. An hour after the plane was supposed to depart, she was escorted off by police as other passengers applauded.

I always board flights with a small, non-luxury brand backpack. I have noticed, however, that each time I fly, the size of my fellow passengers' hand luggage increases. The overhead compartments are always full and the aisles clog up when the plane lands. I know that people take large hand luggage to avoid checking baggage in but I always see people waiting at the baggage carousel to reunite their pull-along carry-on suitcase with a larger check-in sibling.

Speaking of things which annoy me, I can't believe that John Howard is running for a fifth term as Prime Minister! I'm too much out of Australian politics to know if there's a chance of him losing. I doubt it.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


Today DR Congo holds its first free election since 1960. It has been postponed several times over the last couple of years and I've followed each develpment in class with Congolese students - first in HK and now in London.

Despite a number of reported problems, including 5 million additional ballot papers, the UN has been pleased with preparations. Most observers expect the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, to remain in power. I find this hard to reconcile with what my students say about Kabila. I guess I have only met people who have fled the country.

In any case, I hope that the election is a step towards peace and the end of the incredible suffering in DR Congo. I've left a spare hour in my Wednesday class to fill with some election news.

Friday, July 28, 2006


Last week I rented a car and drove for the first time in a year. Cal had recommended a trip to Canterbury Cathedral and the surrounding Kent countryside.

Canterbury Cathedral was very cool. So was Cal's old school next door, slightly more grand than the now-bulldozed local comprehensive that Knuffy's Owner and I went to!

After Canterbury we were keen to see the coast and drove to the nearby seaside town of Deal. As we arrived, the comment was made (not by me!) that England is 'the most underwhelming country in the world'. Could the grandeur of the cathedral have been forgotten so quickly? Ok, so Deal was pretty ugly.

But later I found out that dissing Deal has become something of an English literary tradition: Samuel Pepys called it 'pitiful' and Daniel Defoe wrote that 'The barbarous hated name of Deal shou'd die'. Even Jane Austen and Dickens have made unfavourable references!