Teaching (with) Kids

29 November 2020 (the correct date this time!)

Global Covid Cases: 62,563,184*
Bitcoin Price: $17,661.80
Gold Price: $1,787.50
ZAR 15.26 = 1US$
Number of Stresemann’s Bristlefront (a bird) known to be left in the wild: 1**

Days until Trump leaves office:
52 days
1,250 hours
75,038 minutes
4,502,310 seconds***

And Diego Maradona passed away this week. RIP.

I am not 100% sure, but this could indeed be Fake News. [Facepalm]😝

I now teach a morning and afternoon Grade 6 class of 11-12 year-old boys and girls. Each class has 33 kids. I teach 3 lessons to the morning class, and repeat the same 3 lessons to the afternoon class. Needless to say that my afternoon class gets a far better, and slicker teaching product.

A fair bit has changed since I was in Grade 6, which, in my day, would have been called Standard 4 (possibly even Upper III?). I have racked my brains to try and remember what it was like as an 11-12 year old at school. Truth is can’t I remember much. I remember a lot of dictation, and copying down lots of words written in various colors of chalk on the blackboard. I do none of that now. All of my classes are presented on Powerpoint – which is great, because I love PowerPoint (In China we call them PPT’s – as in PeePeeTees!). I don’t even have a blackboard. I can spend ages updating and formatting old inherited Powerpoints; improving their fonts, updating the images and animation to make them look like slick corporate presentations. How effective they are as a teaching tool is open for debate. Compared to my elementary education there is also a much bigger focus on group communication and group work.

While I do my best to entertain the kids and keep them interested, there is only so much I can expect from them. I absolutely hated Afrikaans as a second language at school, so I can’t expect my kids to think any differently of their second language English classes. 

Reading, writing, speaking and especially listening to a teacher speaking in another language is exhausting. Add English grammar to the equation and its little wonder that some kids choose not to work, preferring instead to chat to the person next to them, pass around notes, take their pens apart (springs, and bits of pen are forever flying across the classroom), drill holes into their erasers, or simply put their heads down on the desk and fall asleep.

Trying to explain to a struggling second language leaner that the word “dog” is the “name of a thing”, which is a “noun”, which is the “simple subject” of a “sentence” is not really fair on them. They really just need to know that a dog is a dog which is English for Gǒu 狗. I try to keep it simple.

As for discipline, except for me trying to stop the constant chattering there is very little that I have to do. The kids, for their age, are pretty well behaved, and mischief is largely good natured, never malicious.

I recall my teachers having the authority to kick students out of a classroom without warning. I spent many an English lesson “talking to the birdies” outside in the quad, as Mr Johnson would say. There were times when we had to run laps around a rugby field in full uniform, with our backpacks, if we were all misbehaving in History.
Back in my day kids were shouted at, slapped, pushed and given a good whack by the teachers. Our books and stationery could also, on occasion be thrown liberally across the classroom, by the teacher. I recall one incident where the teacher threw a glue stick at one student and missed, hitting the wrong boy. Those things were pretty normal in a classroom in the 1990’s. Nothing of course when compared to classrooms in previous generations. None of that happens now.

I recently discovered, from my students of course, that the words: “succeed”, “thin”, and “ratio” all sound like naughty Chinese words****. So I try and use them as often as possible in class now. “If you work hard you will all succeed!” I remind the students. This always generates a laugh. If anything at least these will be the three words of English they remember!

*Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
**Source: https://abcbirds.org/blog/four-rarest-birds-in-americas
***Source: https://www.timeanddate.com/countdown/to?csz=1&iso=20210120T00&msg=Time+left+until+Trump+leaves+office&p0=263
****whether it’s Mandarin, Cantonese or another dialect has not been made clear to me.

Here’s a dad joke to end the blog post.

White House Super Spreader

22 November 2020!

Goodness gracious me, its been a long time since my last post!

3 months or 93 days days if anyone is counting. Thank you to the two people who reminded me that this blog has been somewhat neglected (shout out to Jason and Roy for the reminders)! Neglected like democracy in the U. S. of A! But I’m back now!

So what has changed in 3 months:

An additional 52 million people have contracted the dreaded Covid – 52,031,778 to be exact (according to the website: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ )

The bitcoin price has sky-rocketed back to its highs of 2017 gaining some $6,697 to reach $18,381 (US$19,359.90 as of 25 August!)

The orange man is still president and he may still be in charge, in his mind at least, but not for long.

One of my favorite memes of the past few weeks.

Shauna and I also celebrated our 10 year anniversary on 6 November. Not that we remembered! Thanks to Kath, on one of our WhatsApp groups, for the reminder. Shauna’s aunt had erroneously wished us a happy 10 years on 6th October. One would have thought with this heads up that we would have remembered. 

After we both realized that it was indeed our anniversary, and had had a bit of banter about it on the WhatsApp group, I walked through to Shauna and said: “I’m going to go buy chocolate to celebrate!”
Shauna, cramming for her Psychology Honors finals looked up from her laptop and with great excitement said: ” Did Biden win?”… 😂😂😂


Perhaps one of the reasons it has taken me so long to get round to a blog post is that we have been fairly busy. I am now teaching Grade 6 English Second Language full time, having graduated from my sojourn into kindergarten teaching. This blog should really be called “Teaching with Kids” rather than “Birding with Kids”, as I am definitely doing a lot more of the former (more on that in the future!). 

The only birding that has been happening is the tapping of a Light-vented Bulbul at the kids play room window at about 7am every morning.

“Dad! The birds back!” says Isla as soon as she hears the familiar tap-tap-tappity-tap-tap every morning. Why it knocks on our window is anyone’s guess, but it has turned into a fairly reliable alarm clock. 


Although we don’t go out too much we did manage to get to a Halloween themed quiz at a large bar called GOAT (Greatest of all Trivia). Being Halloween, and doubling as a birthday celebration for one of our friends, our large group all dressed up as Alice-in-Wonderland characters. Our team names included: Alice-in-Chains and Down the Rabbit Hole.

Alice in Chains
What a card!!

The quiz questions were tough. We placed around 16th out of about 20 teams. We failed miserably on the American Candy, and Mythical Figures from Literature rounds (no surprises there), but, unlike most teams, we did fairly well on the Creepy Crawlies round. Apparently I can identify female earwigs from a photograph. A high point of my quizzing career I would say! Bitterly disappointed that we couldn’t identify the Gila Monster and I forgot that spiders belong to the phylum arthropoda!!

One of the teams was called: White House Super Spreaders – they came third. They did not ask for a recount, or declare the quiz a fraud. They were, of course, mostly Canadians.

Gila Monster – a prominent lizard in most of our kids animal picture books! source: https://www.nps.gov/para/learn/nature/banded-gila-monster.htm


The night before GOAT Robbie needed stitches just above his left eye. The kids were playing an epic game of hide-and-seek with their friends down around the small pizza place across the road from our building. Shauna and I were sitting having a few drinks with the Kindergarten teachers and out of the darkness Robbie, and his friends appear. Robbie had blood pouring down the left side of his face and a large cut above his eye…

“Is there blood?” He asks?
“Yes…A little” I say
“Noooooo…., I dont want to go to the hospital!!!” His panic rising to a scream…

Our last experience at the hospital had not been a good one (see detailed account here)

As we were leaving for the hospital, a teacher from Ireland shouted out: “At least you won’t need to buy a Halloween costume!”

In the taxi on the way back from the hospital, and a traumatic 5 stitches later, Robbie asked: “What was that man with no hair shouting at me about tonight?” Given the intensity of the evening this was the one question that Robbie needed answered on the way home.


Halloween itself was nuts. About 30 apartments signed up for the trick-or-treat and there were at least 30 groups of parents and kids going through each of the buildings to trick or treat. There must have been between 150 – 200 kids going to each apartment and loading up on candy.

We got into the spirit of Halloween big time this year. One of our neighbours gave us two dummy hairdresser heads a couple of years ago. They are for hairdressers to practice hair styling on. She thought Isla would like them. Isla has never touched them.

We put them away, in our non-existent storage space (i.e. on top of a cupboard). We finally found a use for them this HALLOWEEN… Hence: “The beheaded bride” (mosquito net), and “floating red skull”. The stand on which Red Skull is floating is designed specifically for the dummy hairdresser heads…and has never been used for anything else in our house but as a stand for the Red Skull. The stand does however fit really nicely above one of our cupboards. An amazing use of non-existent storage space!

The beheaded bride” (mosquito net), and “floating red skull”.

We could not find last years HALLOWEEN stuff that we had carefully packed away, deep inside the tiny, crammed cupboard spaces in our apartment. But we found the heads and mosquito net and bought a ton of new plastic decorations which have been packed away, not to be found next year.

Arriving in China – Day One

Experienced June 2017

Our move to China in 2017 was rapid. Too rapid. It was an unusual move. I have been asked (and often ask myself) “How does a geologist from South Africa get into marketing for a biometrics group in Guangzhou, China?”. Glad you asked. Here’s how…

I first heard of the available position from my friend Paul on 21st March. An opportunity. Could not be turned down. The prospect was exciting.

China had never been on my list of “places to see” let alone places to live. What I knew about China was limited: The Great Wall, Beijing, Mao, Hong Kong, Confucius, terracotta soldiers, elaborate dragon dances, fireworks, kung-fu, Hong Kong, chopsticks, sweet-and-sour pork and chop suey.

We decided to give it a go. It was time for a change of the 3C’s: career, country, and culture!
Things moved quickly and I was on a plane to Guangzhou for an interview on 5th April.

Having secured the job, I had 6 weeks to wrap things up in Joburg and get back to China.

I arrived back in Panyu, Guangzhou, at midnight on a very hot and humid Saturday 3rd June. I would be starting work immediately on the Monday and I would have about two and a half  months to set up before I headed back to SA to pick up Shauna and the kids in August.

For the first month I was put up in a hotel called the Mao Feng. It suited my needs, although the floor smelled a bit, and there was a functioning KTV on one of the top floors above my room. Sure it was noisy. My room was directly above a very noisy market street, and adjacent to a busy highway, but it was convenient being within walking distance of Global Villa, where the majority of my colleagues lived, and on the bus route to work. There were a couple of western pubs that served good western fare over the highway from the hotel and a McDonalds if I got desperate. I would inevitably get desperate: the first Chinese I learnt was: Jù wú bà 巨无霸 “Big Mac” (A McDonalds extra value meal is approximately 35 RMB ~ZAR 70).

More importantly the Mao Feng was on a busy and relatively authentic market street which had everything. Excellent, cheap, local food, and plenty of small stores that sold Pringles, sweet bread, and Gatorades that would became my staple diet for the next month or so. I would only get into the cheap local food later when I understood how and what to order.

By the time I had checked in on the first night it was about 1am. I had no money, and no way of communicating with anybody at the hotel. I was pretty hungry by this point. Luckily there were some Pringles, and a pot noodle in the room. I finished those off pretty quickly. Other in-room food included vacuum packed chicken feet and a century old egg. Maybe another time, I thought.

Waking up the next morning, I realized I still had no money, and no way of communicating with anyone. Luckily I was getting picked up by a colleague to go shopping for supplies and later a traditional South African family braai. My colleague arrived on his scooter, and soon enough I was on the back of his scooter, driving up the wrong way of the very busy highway adjacent to the hotel. Guess this is how its done in China.

It’s not unusual for bikes and sometimes cars to drive up the wrong way on the roads here. Driving is a passive activity in China, not like the aggressive fast driving that I am used to back in South Africa. If someone cuts you off on a road in Guangzhou, then they cut you off. If there is a gap, why not take it.

If a driver wants to swerve across three lanes without indicating, or slow down to read his text messages in the fast lane of the highway, well, as long as everyone else slows down behind him then it’s fine. There is no aggressive hooting, or negative hand gestures, no banging on the steering wheel, or shouting obscenities out of your window. The odd glare maybe. But it’s rare.

The shops we ended up at that Sunday could be mistaken for a Sandton or Eastgate shopping mall. A large, bright, modern, air-conditioned mall with all the brand name shops, sparkling floors, LED screens, and a large grocery store. Given the limited choice of food I had at the hotel I decided to stock up on granola bars, cereals, fruit and snacks. There was plenty of good fruit, but on the granola-bar front, there was nothing. There were rows and rows of sweets, and packeted sweet treats (typically red bean with puffed wheat or puffed rice – nothing substantial) but none of the snack-type food I was used to. Woolworths and Pick-n-Pay had spoiled me in South Africa. I would have to adapt my diet somehow.

The variety of live turtles, fish, eels, crabs, prawns and other sea-food that swam around in the tanks at the back of the grocery store reminded me that I was not in South Africa anymore. Those were all for eating.

Back at the hotel I still had no money and no working SIM card. So I still had nothing to eat or any supplies for the next day (except some left over meat from the braai). Walking up and down the market street none of the stores would accept my credit card. It was time to find an ATM. Most places I have travelled to have an ATM at the hotel, or one down the street. But not in Panyu. It was getting late now, and I was tired and hungry. After walking up and down the market street, I eventually found the ATM tucked in right next to hotel. Virtually hidden from view (I would struggle to find it again). I was really hungry at this point and the thought of eating vacuum packed chicken feet did not appeal to me.

Looking at the ATM I then realized that I could not read any Chinese… bloody hell.
I needed to get a translation app on my phone – rapido (why had I not set this all up already?). Without any network on my phone I had to head back to my room (with WiFi) and download a translation app and then get back to the ATM, and translate the writing on the screen. After some fumbling I eventually managed to work the ATM and withdraw the cash I needed to buy some food. I was super chuffed with myself for problem solving this challenge. I recall telling myself, “Yeah! I’ve got this! I can use translation apps to translate Chinese” I’ll be up and running in China in no time!

I pulled out my card only to see a button on the bottom right of the screen that read “Press for English”.


Did you see my Ninja Roll!

Not sure what it was exactly, but 3 weeks into teaching Kindergarten I decided to throw myself off my scooter, fracture my right wrist and damage the tendons in my left wrist…

40 years old and I’m still throwing myself off skateboards and scooters…should have got all of that out of my system when I was 12!

It happened mid-day on a boiling hot Thursday of a 6 day week. 6 day working weeks can feel a little long when they start on a Sunday. That may have subconsciously been part of the reason for the decision to throw myself off the bike.

I was on my way home for my usual 3 hour lunch break when it happened.
I had just overtaken the Clifford shuttle bus, and was heading down a short hill when I slammed on the front brakes to reduce my speed before hitting one of the many speed humps on the Clifford roads. My front tyre jammed and skidded to the left, and the scooter stuck in the road while I hurtled over the front, doing a magnificent forward roll with all the impact being absorbed by my hands and wrists.

I stood up immediately and checked my wrists. I could still make a fist (of sorts) and move them up and down but something was definitely not right. I was amazed that I was not scraped to bits, and there was no blood. Not wearing a helmet I was thankful I had not hit my head. It was definitely my ninja roll that saved me.
I managed to pick up the bike pretty quickly, and it started first time. There didn’t seem to be any damage to the scooter, so that was a relief too.

I turned and looked back at the bus which could not have been more than 30 meters behind me. The bus driver was staring at me in shock, waving his hands. I think I motioned something to suggest “I’m absolutely fine! Did you see that!? I did a ninja roll!!”

Somewhere I hope there is dash-cam footage of that ninja roll. If anything I hope it provided some decent visual drama for the bus passengers. Those 20 minute shuttle bus rides are pretty dull and agonizingly slow. Too many stops, and far too many speed bumps for a 2 kilometer bus route.

Anyway, I got back on the bike, and with ears ringing, sweating heavily, and feeling feint I rode the scooter back to the flat. On arrival I greeted Yu and Isla as if nothing had happened and headed straight for a shower. It was only when I was out of the shower that the heavy throbbing in my wrists started….oooohh. Ouch!…..Hmmmmm….Okay this is bad, I thought.

The door bell rang. The McDonalds takeaway I had ordered before leaving school had arrived. Good, I was hungry. Can’t be hungry with broken wrists. That would be a special kind of hangry. I shouted from the bedroom: “Isla, please get the door – its McDonalds delivery”…

I had run through a bunch of scenarios in my head in the few minutes between the accident and the throbbing. Calling a taxi, or catching what would have to be two different slow shuttle buses (a possible 20-30 minute journey) or walking to the hospital all seemed like real options while the adrenaline was pumping.
The throbbing put a stop to those ridiculous ideas.

There was really only one option. Shauna would also be on her lunch break – very convenient.

Fumbling with my phone I managed to dial Shauna’s number: “Hi,….I’ve had an accident, can you take me to the hospital?”…The words every spouse loves to hear. Not.

Trying to fill in the COVID declaration and hospital admittance forms at the emergency ward was fun without working hands. Communicating with the doctor would have been impossible without Shauna to operate the translation app on the phone. I have yet to do the Hospital lesson on DuoLingo. That would have been useful!

I tried to get McDonalds fries into my mouth while we waited in the emergency room. That was amusing.

The hospital is very pro-SelfService kiosks, and you get to print your own X-rays. So we printed the X-rays ourselves and tried to decipher them before seeing the doctor again. Everything looked fine!

But that’s why we are not radiologists, or doctors.

Despite our hopes of limited damage the doctor confirmed that my right wrist was indeed fractured. A second visit and follow up X-ray on my left hand later in the afternoon came back all clear. The doctor confirming: “Méi wèntí 没问题 (which means “No worries”)…No worries! Bloody hell my left hand was in more pain than my fractured right wrist. But okay, hakuna matata!

Adrenaline is pretty amazing stuff when you need it. A day later and there was no way I could ride my scooter – but I had managed to do so immediately after the accident.

I took a couple weeks off from teaching to recover. One thing I could not do was teach. Impossible to teach kindergarten kids to count to ten without working fingers.

There are a lot of things one can not do when you don’t have two working hands. Give it some thought. Be thankful for your hands. Very thankful. Opposable thumbs!! Thank goodness we have those! Evolution is amazing.

But two weeks break was enough. There has been a bit too much lazing around at home this year. Covid breaks, retrenchment breaks, and now fractured wrist breaks… enough!
I was back teaching for the last 2 weeks of the school term, and am now teaching 3 week summer school. Once again I am being challenged by the kids to pronounce the word tomato the American way (Toe-may-toe) and not the proper English way (Toe-maah-toe) and singing fun songs like “Do you like Broccoli-IceCream?”.

Wrists are getting better and I’m clearly able to type again. Sorry for you 😛

Can you say “thorax”?

Following my recent redirection into teaching, I have been substituting as a second language English teacher at a bilingual kindergarten. It is a 7 week gig courtesy of the restrictions COVID has placed on the poor teachers who have not been allowed to return to China since they took leave for their Chinese New Year holidays – 5 months ago!

Fortunately for me, but sadly for the real teachers (and possibly the students too), it does mean I have a job!

I am teaching 4, 5, and 6 year olds. 5 classes a day:
> A one hour class of K2s (the 5 year olds)
> Followed by a one hour class of K1’s (the 4 year olds)
> Followed by a one hour class of K3’s (the 6 year olds)
This is followed by a much needed three hour lunch break. Yes! Three hour lunch break!!

Its time enough for me to have a decent lunch, then go home for a much needed shower, and possibly even catch a revitalizing nap before the 1.5 hour session with the K3’s in the afternoon…

I’m pretty much sweating through my shirt by 10am! 
I get a full on work-out when marching around a classroom like an ant, or buzzing like a bee five or six times before the lunch break.

Any song that include the words:
> Can you stretch up high?
> Can you touch your toes?
> Can you turn around?
> Can you say hello?
are as challenging for me physically as they may be for the 4 year old’s linguistically!
Here’s that song: You can add it to your morning exercise routine!

My step-count is up at 6,000 steps by lunch time. Some of that achieved by jumping around like a grasshopper. I will have done about 5 hours of customer facing time by 4pm. I have not been this active at work since doing field work in the mountains of the Yukon 12 years ago.

I realized after the first week that my knowledge of kindergarten teaching was extremely limited. I thought that by being a parent of a 4- and a 6-year old, I would have access to kindergarten education at my fingertips…but that’s simply not true.
The only kids word game I know is “I-spy” and the only craft I know is making paper airplanes…That is not enough for 5 lessons in one day! How do you fill the remaining 4 hours and 45 minutes!

I’m having to familiarize myself with craft work that includes paper plates, toilet rolls, glue sticks, glitter, and those little metal clips you use to attach two pieces of paper together so that you can spin the one piece of paper around…you know the ones: they are called “split pins”. I had to look that up, here is a sample: https://www.pinterest.pt/pin/19984792081798059/.

Split pin caterpillar artwork copied without permission from https://www.pinterest.pt/pin/19984792081798059/.

I have a new found respect for kindergarten teachers and the time and effort they put in preparing for classes and getting it right.

Trying to make sure the lesson is age appropriate, relevant and pitched at the right level is challenging. I found myself asking these questions:

  • What parts of the English language does a 5-year-old Chinese speaker need to learn?
  • How do you build on what they may have learnt when they were 4?
  • How do you make sure you don’t pitch them something that they only need to learn when they are 6?
  • How do you integrate English phonics, vocabulary, writing skills, craft skills, colors, shapes, numbers, games and free play into the lesson and keep them interested and entertained for the entire hour?
  • And how do you keep to the weekly theme of insects, or transportation, or zoo animals or “around the world”…while doing all of the above?

Does a 4 year old really need to know that the middle section of an insect’s body is called a thorax? Probably not, but it’s good exposure, and the ability to break up parts of an insect into numbers helps the kids to learn to count, and pronounce the letter “x” and the “th” sound …At least I think that was the point of that exercise. I don’t think I have spent too much time talking about thoraxes after 40 years of speaking English, and I’m into insects.

Talking about insects does mean I can spend at least ten minutes standing up and acting out the following:

> 2 antennae (fingers pointing out on my head)
> 3 body parts (pointing at my head, torso, and legs)
> 6 legs (shooting my arms out 3 times)
That’s more exercise for me at least.

There are about 20-25 kids in each class. The range of learning ability and grasp of the English language varies massively within each class. Some kids are fluent in English, even at 4 years old (as much as a 4 year old native English speaker may be). Amongst these are some incredibly bright and enthusiastic kids whose hands shoot up at every opportunity.

There is then a set of quiet kids who understand what I am teaching them but don’t say or participate much. But judging by their worksheets they know exactly what is potting.

Then there is the set of kids who don’t speak a word of English and don’t seem interested in the lesson at all…These are the hardest to teach as its tough to engage with them.

Amongst the middle group there is one particular 4 year old boy who does not speak a word of English, but he is engaged in class. He likes to come up and speak to me in Chinese during the 5 minute milk and bathroom breaks…
He looks me straight in the eye, and speaks to me very sincerely.
With my limited Duolingo (Great App!) level Chinese skills I do my best to understand what he is trying to tell me.
It’s either: “Have you tried the milk in China? It’s not too bad” or 

“As a kindergarten teacher, I think you may be in way over your head”…:P

PS. Of the 6 western teachers at the kindergarten 3 of them are called Ian. One can’t help but think that some of the kids are going to grow up thinking that all men are called Ian.

Overlord Pigs Feet Medium Rare

3 June 2020

No blog about one’s experiences in China would be complete without some reference and descriptions of the food. The 2011 Lonely Planet guide to China states “Guangzhou has a gastronomic culture and legendary cuisine” with “world renowned Cantonese cuisine”. If you are a foodie, then expectations may be high.

If your experience of Chinese food has only been the familiar Westernized dishes such as Chicken Chow Mein, Beef Chop Suey, or Sweet & Sour Pork then you have probably not eaten much authentic Chinese food. I for one have yet to find these western style Chinese dishes in Guangzhou. I really like these westernized Chinese dishes but since arriving in Guangzhou 3 years ago I have had to rethink my perceptions of Chinese food a little.

I’m no foodie, and have pretty bog-standard dietary requirements and an unsophisticated palette. If asked I’d probably say my favourite food is a hamburger and chips (or a really good sandwich), so I’m really not the person to talk to about culinary adventures.

Still, I have eaten a fair bit of the local food and sampled some strange dishes. Some have worked, others have not. I can only describe the taste of some of my worst experiences as a mixture of some fatty meat (with tiny sharp bones), something oddly sweet, boiled tofu, an unidentifiable herb, and a fragrant fungus, all combined into one mouthful. It can be tough to swallow. If you have ever tried tea eggs, or durian, then you may know what I mean.

Having said that, there have been plenty of really good stir fries, fried rice dishes, dumplings, dim-sum, and noodle broths that I have eaten here that are delicious (if you don’t need to know too much about what may be in them). If you like noodle broths, and boiling a variety of ingredients in a “hot-pot” then Guangzhou is definitely the place for you.

Any description of the food in China has to be accompanied by a description of what the food is called.
Now, for any westerner, the majority of Chinese menus will be incomprehensible. We simply can not read the Chinese writing. The names of the dishes will also be unpronounceable, especially to those of us still struggling to speak the language.
However, the menus will often come with pictures of the food, but they can be misleading. You can easily confuse offal for pork, or certain mushrooms for meat in the photographs. So you have to tread carefully and stick with what is recommended to you by those who have bravely gone before you. Or if you are the adventurous foodie type, and don’t mind the odd unpleasant meal in the hope of finding something delicious then you just have to accept that some dishes will be hit or miss.

The majority of local food that I have consumed has been eaten at the selection of small humble restaurants over the road from the factory where I work. These are very basic restaurants, but very authentic. Serving food for the working man at good cheap prices. You can get a really good meal for 30 RMB (ZAR 60 or $4-5).

We have named the restaurants “Cheap Yellow Chairs”, “Expensive Yellow Chairs”, “Expensive Red Chairs”, “The Noodle Place”, and “the one that serves Halaal food”.

For our benefit a number of these restaurants have had their menu’s translated into English, with some great results.
Below is a selection of some of the interesting meals on offer at the place we call “Expensive Red Chairs”*. See if you can spot some of the choice dishes!

I have never tried the Overlord Pigs Feet, One Frog, Remote Blood Duck, or the Fish Head Tofu Soup, but I can definitely recommend the Sizzling Beef with side orders of Iron Chips, Hand Bag Food, Perilla Decoct Cucumber and The Market Long Beans.

Once you have asked for the menu (请给我菜单 – Qǐng gěi wǒ càidān) it may then be useful to ask: 请您告诉我这是什么吗?Qǐng nín gàosù wǒ zhè shì shénme ma? (Please can you tell me what this is?) Have your translator app at the ready before placing your order, otherwise you may end up with the complete chicken on your plate:

Bon apetit!
Xiǎngshòu nǐ de shíwù

*Note: If you read the top of the menu it is in fact called the “Soil of Hunan Restaurant” but “Expensive Red Chairs” is easier when letting a colleague know where you are going for lunch: the place has Red Chairs, and the prices are a little on the expensive side compared to “Cheap Yellow Chairs”.

What is the Memeing of CoVID

1 June 2020

I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks. At a loss for ideas here is a collection of some of the better COVID memes.

From the start the Coronavirus has inspired a number of viral memes*. The first round of memes referenced the obvious Corona Beer:

Then came the references to China:

And then came the crazy applications of masks and preventative measures to avoid catching the coronavirus. I was always told to avoid putting a plastic bag over my head…

Someone has already ranked some of the best crazy applications of face masks…I do think some people may have mistaken CoVID for Halloween and / or the opportunity to become a viral meme with their improvised Hazmat suites.

And with the spread of the virus around the world came panic buying, social distancing, lockdowns, quarantine, working from home, home schooling, and the endless washing of hands.

Panic buying came first – in the western world this meant buying out all the available toilet paper:

Some of the best memes have been about Social Distancing:

There have been memes about hygiene and washing hands:

And how to be a hero during lockdown:

And the monotony of quarantine and nostalgia for “normality”:

There have been plenty of memes about staying sane during lockdown: whether its carrying on like nothing has happened, or starting a new hobby, watching Netflix (Tiger King in particular has been a smash hit during COVID), endlessly surfing the net, exercising (or not exercising), learning to cook, baking, not doing anything, or just drinking through it!

And with quarantine has come the inevitable “Quarantine Fifteen”

Any parent can relate to these homeschooling memes:

As a Liverpool fan the 2019-2020 season started so well. Liverpool was smashing all the records, and it looked like the Reds would finally win the league by a massive margin. Possibly even save the world from COVID… But on March 13th all games were suspended…Liverpool only needed to win 2 more games of its last 9 fixtures to be guaranteed the league title. I can only hope that fixtures do resume on 17th June.

*Note: these memes have all been gleaned from various WeChat and WhatsApp groups. I have not searched the internet or online social media platforms for any of these – there must be millions out there on the interweb.
I have also stuck to static images for this post. There are plenty of YouTube videos, GIFs and TikTok videos out there.

Eels and Tofu

Experienced 15 January 2020

In the days before Corona, before COVID-19, before Wuhan, before isolation, before face-masks and social-distancing, I attended Robbie’s end of term “Open Day” at his Kindergarten.
The kids put on some song and dances for us in the class room, following which we went outside where there were a number of stalls set up like a mini-fair. There were stalls to cook traditional foods, arts-and-crafts, and sports activities. Each supervised by the teachers and teaching assistants the activities were set up for both the kids and the parents to tick off on a piece of paper. 18 activities to complete in all.

One of these games was set up around the shallow swimming pool which had been stocked with hundreds of 15cm long eel-like fish (they could be some kind of catfish, but let’s call them eels). It was very popular, and there was a lot of excitement around it. 

In this particular pool activity the parents and kids try and catch live eels with their hands. 

The popular “Catch-an-Eel or Two” activity

Robbie and I had to give it a try. After many attempts we managed to get two eels! I watched as some participants caught as many 10 or 20 eels.
But the required number in order to complete the task was only two. And we were good to go.

Robbie with the successful catch!

As we left the activity area we were also given a packet of tofu to go along with the packet which held our eels, and a small pink piece of paper with a bunch of instructions in Chinese.

How interesting!

Why would we get a packet of tofu, and what are we supposed to do with these fish I wondered?

I soon learned that the piece of of paper was a recipe that involved the cooking of fish and tofu. It required that you put the eels and the tofu into a pot of water. Set the pot on the stove, and boil the water.

Then as the water boils the eels look for the coolest place in the pot. The coolest place in the pot will be the block of tofu, so they swim into the tofu. 

And what do you end up with as a result? Yes, you have a boiled eel-in-tofu snack! Yum!*

Now that is what i call an activity at a Kindergarten!
Certainly beats pinning the tail on the donkey!

As expected, and because my kids are pet lovers we “saved” the eels and let them live in a large plastic bowl for a few days. Isla called hers Ash. Robbie called his Dusky.

I told them the tofu was food for the eels, which in a way, it would be, if you boiled them.

But you can’t keep eels in a small bowl of water forever. So we had a little ceremony and slipped them into the lake in our estate where they may still be swimming around looking for a discarded bit of tofu.

Ash and Dusky living the life in a bowl prior to their freedom.

Hamsters and Yu

8 May 2020

CoVID-19 Pandemic Day #107

Our hairless hamster died last week.
It died hairless, and had been hairless for about 2 months due to the ringworm it had picked up. It had also developed an abscess on its cheek from scratching itself. So the poor thing was a bit of a mess.
Her name was Snowflake or Snowy, and for a brief time had also been known as Cupcake.
Thankfully, for Snowy, Shauna, being the saint that she is, tended to the hamster every day with ointments and care. 

When Isla first learned of Snowy’s death her first words were: “Can I get a dog now?” She was then very sad about Snowy’s passing. Not the other way around.

For closure and for the kids sake there was a little ceremony when the time came to commit Snowy to the great beyond. 

Shauna told the kids that she was going to bury the body, and that Snowy’s spirit had departed this world. 

Shauna: “All that’s left of Snowy is her body, which now needs to return to the earth, from where she came. But her spirit is free and has now gone to a better place”.
The kids, astonished at this: “A better place? A better place than this?” (As if there could be a better place than this!)

Shauna, a bit taken aback replied: “Yes, a better place. Like that place your friend’s grandfather went when he died.”
Isla: “You mean heaven?”
Shauna: “Yes, like heaven.”
Robbie: “Is that in space?”
Isla: “In the sky?”
Shauna: “No, not really in space, it’s more in another dimension.”
Robbie and Isla: “Another dimension!? Ok. Can we go get ice-cream now?”


We have taken on a new Ayi. An Ayi directly translates as “Aunt”, and means “Nanny” or “Maid”.
Her name is Yu, and she is wonderful.

However her name has lead to a few strange conversations between Shauna and I when planning our days.

Shauna: “Yu will start work at 9am tomorrow. Are you okay with that?”
Me: “But I am at work by then already?”

Shauna: “Yu did a great job cleaning up the lounge after the kids today.”
Me: “Oh, thanks for noticing.”

Shauna: “Please can Yu look after the kids tomorrow afternoon?”
Me: “I’m busy!”


Summer has returned to Guangzhou.
Humidity up at 80% and temperatures up over 30C.
Let’s hope they open the swimming pools as its unlikely anyone is going anywhere over the summer.

Ni Hao Daughter and Son

I received a text message from a Chinese colleague on 21 January this year.
First, he complimented me on the family photograph I have as my WeChat profile. He then went on to write:

“You know in Chinese, we say “Hao” [which] means “Good”,
[and] “Ni Hao” means “How are you?”.
Do you know how the Chinese character “Hao” is?
It is: 好
It is formed by 女representing “girl”, and 子 representing “son”,
It means if you have a girl and a son, then you are the best.
So you are the happiest guy in the world because you have a daughter and a son.
They together is: “好”.

This is perhaps one of the nicest and most complimentary things anyone has ever said or written to me.

After thanking him for his kind message, he went on to write:

“Yes, Chinese characters are amazing. It is quite different from English. They are different types of forms. Chinese character is formed by image, and English words are formed by [only] 26 elements. This is why in China, handwriting is an art, because the writing could be looking like an image or a picture.
For example, the mountain in Chinese is “山”. It really does look like a mountain.
And, also water in Chinese is “水”.
In ancient Chinese type it looked like this:

“Does it really look like water?”, he asked.

“Yes, I think it does” I replied. A waterfall, flowing water, ripples, or water from above perhaps.

I might have mastered the mountain character, but many more are required to master this language. According to Wikipedia: “Functional literacy in written Chinese requires a knowledge of between three and four thousand characters.”
It is indeed a mountain to climb! 🙂