Friday, December 26, 2008

0812261100 The day known throughout all of Christendom as Christmas Eve

On Tuesday, the day known throughout all of Christendom as Christmas Eve, I went with a friend and his son, Brad and Michael, to a golf driving range.
The golf driving range is a lot of fun, it takes all the administration and tedium out of the game and
just leaves the fun part, that is, whacking the ball downrange without having to go and get it.

When I was kid growing up in rural Australia we played cricket in the summer and football in the winter. There was an interesting primary school variation on both these games that made them a lot more fun. The variations basically
removed all the rules. In cricket, there were no teams. Whoever owned the bat would bat first, whoever owned the ball would bowl first and all the poor kids that could not afford either would be fielders. I always started out as a fielder. The idea was to get a turn at batting. If you caught the ball, it was your turn to bat. This is a game of cricket at it simplest and purist form. Football, or Australian Rules, was refined to its simplest and most basic level of fun. Two teams of kids of roughly equal numbers and ability would stand a reasonable distance apart and kick the ball to each other. If you caught the ball, or “marked” the ball as it is called, then it was your turn to kick. There was no score, no teams and no stopping. Sometimes, in an utterly unheard of variation on every sport, there was more than one ball in play. The golf driving range is like that – just hit the ball. Players compete against their own internal perceived, real or imagined shortcomings.
Golf is an unusual sport. The winner in a game of golf is the one who played the least. There is no way that anybody can get that little ball into that little hole, all the way over there relying on their hard-earned skill and practice alone. When anyone gets a hole in one, anybody, it is simply one of those cosmic coincidences where everything that the golfer does is utterly canceled out by everything else that the universe is does. The hole itself is only 108mm across – about 10cm. A trained soldier must fire five rounds into an area 10cm across at a range of 100m to pass a marksmanship test. It takes a specialised weapon designed and built for the purpose of delivering accurate aimed fire to achieve this. A golfer tries to do this by a method that is more or less an overly complicated way of hitting a ball with a stick.
The driving range, like an army shooting range has a variety of targets in the impact area. In the centre was a basket about two meters across that the owners must have set up in a moment of either hopeless optimism or insanity. Their idea is that the golfers simply and effortlessly hit the balls downrange and pop them into the basket, thus making the whole laborious job of retrieving the balls so much easier. I spent most of the time trying to hit the basket. It was soon apparent that I do not have the golfing skills to do this and having a military background I resorted to a tactic that would increase probability of hitting the target by increasing the rate of fire. Brad said “I have never seen a golf game turn into an aerobic workout”.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

0812201630 Abandon Ship.

Star-date 0812201600 - The crew have left the ship and taken a journey across time and space to the home planet. The crew quarters have been abandoned and so in an attempt to save power and conserve oxygen they have been locked in a time-freeze vortex and hermetically sealed. The remaining crew have retreated to the common areas and set up life support and communication systems while the crew are on planet leave.

There is a strange emptiness about the ship, silent and motionless. The only sounds being the humming of exterior life-support machinery and the long lonely wailing of the ships mascot, the friendly EBE known as Taj – also known in the local language as “Mau mau mau” as he stalks the silent corridors, sniffing at the air trying to pick up the trail of his beloved and conspicuously absent crew. He has elected to remain in hypersleep rather than face the bitter solitary loneliness alone, by himself, unaccompanied without company, companionship or other people.

With the remainder of the crew temporally absent, an immediate change in rations was instigated consisting of a local resupply of curry, hot chillies, lush succulent mushrooms and abundant local fruit and vegetables. Dinner menu for the remaining crew on day-one consisted of Ki-Si-Min – a meal from the home planet with the main ingredient being curried cabbage. This particular meal is rarely on the menu due to it being unpopular with the Jr. Navigation Officer. Menu for day two: Spaghetti with mushrooms and bacon.

The usual daily routine continues unabated with reminders for regular customs and rituals being handled by various mechanical and electronic devices.

The ship is empty and bereft of life, it drifts slowly through time waiting for the return of the crew. Estimated time of return: 384 hours.

References: I was genuinely surprised to see this!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

0812182200 Teaching English as a Foreign Language

I have started an online course in TEFL - Teaching English as a Foreign Language and I am about half-way through. I had to write an assignment for lesson seven about what I learned regarding grammar.

What is Grammar? & Language Awareness

Describe your experience in school learning grammar.
My experience learning grammar at school is non-existent. I do not remember a single lesson although I am sure the public school system in Australia in the nineteen seventies was at least up to world standards. I can vaguely remember being corrected by my grumpy grandmother, now deceased, whose grammar was such that she spoke as if she had learned the language from an illiterate Spanish pirate.
One of the many motivators for learning grammar as an adult was when I found it odd that managers at work seemed to use personal pronouns the wrong way. They all referred to themselves as “myself”. One day, after a particularly nasty corporate restructure, a new manager walked in and grandly stated “You have been transferred to myself”. I looked at him in bewilderment. I had only been speaking English for forty odd years at the time and so I wondered if it was just me that had the grammar rules all wrong. Maybe there really was a rule that allowed authority figures to abuse personal pronouns in the same manner that the Queen of England can refer to herself as “We”. There is no such rule, and if a rule ever becomes acceptable then Baden Powell, if he was still alive, would turn in his grave.
How much preparation will you need to be ready to teach in the ESL/EFL classroom? Or, do you prefer to ´learn as you go´?
I will need, and I will do a great deal of preparation for the classroom. It can either be hard now, at the beginning of my new career or even harder later, and probably more embarrassing when questioned by a student. I believe that preparation is also a major component of confidence. The December school holidays will be a good opportunity to catch up on some of the grammar rules and get ahead in the lesson plans. It has already been said by a greater man than I, “Be prepared”.
How could knowledge of the basic rules of grammar work to your advantage?
Some of the great advantages of knowing the grammar rules will be confidence and professionalism. Part of my career plan is to be a TEFL teacher in China – having a professional approach to the role must include a working knowledge of the rules. This approach may result in favourable references and lead to a lucrative contract.
A working knowledge of the grammar rules is the shifting-spanner in the tool box of a TEFL teacher. It should be a goal of the TEFL teacher to become a general authority on the English language at the workplace. Someone is paying a TEFL teacher to solve any and all English language problems at a school or an international business. It would be like hiring a repairman and have him scratch his head and walk away saying that he can’t fix it. I, for one, would not call that company again.

You saw many examples of ´metalanguage´, or, language about language, (noun, verb, clause, etc.) in the test. How important will this be to you as a teacher?
Metalanguage will be important to me as a teacher because it enables conversation among peers. It enables other professionals to discuss specific terms within their professions. It will be used in the classroom to describe the rules, phrases and conventions used in the English language that result in specific actions being carried out. A clear, unambiguous and concise description of the grammar rules can be conveyed to the students who in turn will be able to ask the right questions using the correct terms.
Were there any surprises that you encountered in this module? Describe them and what they will mean to your future as a teacher.
This module had a few surprises. It has taken me four days of constant pondering to accept that the statement “I have gone” is really present perfect tense. My mind was perplexed – I was riding my Vespa along a winding mountain road on the south side of Hong Kong Island oblivious to the majesty and splendour of the scenery because of this grammar rule. I was thinking “Surely it must be past tense?” as I instinctively rounded a sweeping left corner without paying much attention to the speed at which I was travelling. How can being gone be present? - I pondered as I deftly flipped the Vespa between a bus and a tip-truck while zipping through a busy round-about. Eventually it became apparent, the rules state clearly that the sentence is quite definitely a present condition of being gone. Being gone is also a condition that I nearly found myself in as I realised that riding a motorscooter around Hong Kong requires constant attention.

Monday, December 1, 2008

0812012130 One day while riding a Vespa in Hong Kong.

Today while riding my Vespa scooter along one of Hong Kong’s most treacherous industrial arterial roads, I noticed a truck in front of me with an interesting load. It looked expensive. It looked like one of those huge missiles that the former Soviet Union liked to bring out by the hundreds and parade through Red Square in Moscow on their version of National Day – except this one was shorter, as if they were only transporting the dangerous business end. It was wrapped in its own custom made green thermal blanket and then secured with a snug fitting cargo net. When I pulled up closer I could see that it was an engine for a Boeing 747 that probably belonged to Qantas. There was a documentary for the A380 Airbus that said that each of the Rolls Royce engines cost more than their equivalent weight in gold. I wondered what the insurance was for this thing, it was just hoiked on the back of a truck and was now the responsibility of a Chinese truck driver who was being paid the very minimum that they could and still have him diligently arrive for work with a smile each morning. There were no guards, no escort, nothing.

Aeroplanes are a frightfully expensive commodity in our modern society. They take an enormous amount of land to land and they take up just as much to take off. The area of the Hong Kong airport is bigger than the CBD of Hong Kong or it could cover the Kowloon Peninsula. The land on which the old Tia Tak airport in Hong Kong used to occupy has not been fully developed even after ten years of record population growth.
I can see a day in the not too far future when air travel will be a dreadful inconvenience. The security measures that we must endure now are already bordering on absurd but soon we will look back at a time when it was so easy to board a plane.

One day all travelers will have to arrive five hours before the departure time in order to undergo the rigorous security procedures.
Travelers will have to change into disposable airline-issued flight overalls. One size fits all. The luxury of wearing the clothes of your own choice will be done away with because some idiot will try to sneak onto a plane wearing a jumper made from nitrocellulose. All passengers will have to wait in a quarantine until they have a bowel movement because some criminal will try to swallow something dangerous in order to use it later – despite the obvious social faux pas and embarrassing risk of disease. All baggage will go on separate aeroplanes – having baggage and people on the same plane will be too risky – the cargo planes will be radio controlled pilotless airliners. The risk of your baggage not being at the same airport, or even the same county, will increase in proportion to the distance that you travel. There will be no meals, not even drinks, and no movi
es during a flight. There will be no need. Passengers will be sedated via an intravenous drip so that everyone will be unconscious. The airlines will save a bundle on all that service that passengers insist on while hurtling along at some inhuman speed at a height where nothing that lives chooses to go. After a few hours of enforced unconsciousness, passengers will arrive fresh and rested as if they have just had their appendix removed – now there’s an idea – seeing as they will be anesthetised for a few hours, why not take the opportunity to have that rhinoplasty done.

This is the sort of thing that goes through my mind while riding my Vespa instead of paying attention to the traffic.


I had a typical wonderful day at the Chinese Catholic Girls School at which I work. First up, three lessons with delightful first year students where the lesson plan called for the teaching and testing of just two words – sunny and raining. Then my favourite subject – lunch – one of the wonderful
students bought me some che faan. I know that there is a saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch but I had one today. Then, as if I had planned it to happen this way, students spontaneously arrived to practice their performance song to be ready for Christmas. They have an amazing music program at Our Lady’s Primary School and it is to this music program that I attribute the students ability to be able to sing Away in a Manger after hearing the melody once. Rhythm, rhyme and meter all assimilated in one pass. It was as if they had read the notice board and decided to learn the Christmas song 3 months in advance. Then something occurred that I always wanted to happen – one of the teachers was not expecting me for the “Speaking English” class in the afternoon and after a brief exchange of “I can do the lesson if you like” and “Oh no it’s OK I have a plan” and “I can help with if you like” and other such niceties I went and had a extra bonus little-lunch break.

On the way home I was reminded again of trucks with expensive loads when I saw that a truck had lost its load of Christmas decorations and there were hundreds of silver and gold baubles lining the road.

Tent 900 engine is 14190 lbs. 14 190 lb, lbs = 227 040 ounces = about USD$170M