Better and worse

Bike and books.

Yesterday, John the Maths Teacher happened to say that he was interested in buying a bike, which has prompted me to do what I’ve long bee saying I’d do, viz. buy a new bike. I thought I may as well do it today, but when I got to school, I found that Lisa the Librarian, who alliterates much better than John the Maths Teacher, was going to be unable to get into the library until about midday.

I decided, since I had little better to do, to go and buy a new bike, and wandered up to the Giant Bike Shop on 人民西路 only to find that they no longer had the Hunter 3.0 which had been there only a few weeks ago. Instead, I had to go out to the Service Centre to buy the only model they had there before going back to the first shop where I was going to buy a lock and a basket. Unfortunately, there’s no bracket for a basket, which would have to go on the carrier instead and means that I need to carry my rucksack on my back.

The U-lock posed another problem because the mechanic attached the bracket on the side of the frame, which meant that it stuck out such a way that I had to hold my right leg at an ungainly angle to avoid bashing it against the lock. I was able to remove the bracket when I got to school, but I’ve since reattached it so that the lock now sits on top of the frame and, I hope, well out of the way.

But, the bike is certainly a decent piece of kit. I’m guessing it has a light-weight aluminium frame. The carrier seems to be plastic, again to reduce the amount of weight. It has 21 gears, which are operated by something akin to paddle shift levers. It’s all single click stuff rather than the levers that I used to have on my ten-speed bike which I’d push or pull wondering whether anything was ever going to happen. A lot of the time, nothing ever did.

The frame is red, the spokes are black, the wheels look to be 26-inchers, and it has front shocks, which is a first for me.

I went back to school. I went and bought lunch, and went back to school. I sat around. Eventually we went over to the library with some books and staggered up and down the stairs because Lisa had forgotten where the library was. We eventually found it and unpacked the boxes of books, which seemed to contain some books which were more relevant to the A-level programme than to IB, but I have no idea whether those volumes were ones I’d ordered or they’d been specifically ordered for the IB library. Anyway, I have them now.

But things don’t get any better. While there are spare copies of the AS books, there appear to be no spare copies of Listen to Learn, Level 1. There are also no teacher’s manuals for either of the Listen to Learn books (actually quite useful to have); no audio CDs (which renders the listening books useless for the time being); no teacher’s manual for the NorthStar TOEFL book (less vital); no discs for the main TOEFL book; no copy of the main TOEFL book (not counting the one we already have).

I’m going to have to try and keep AS4 amused for as long as possible tomorrow, but ultimately I think I’ll give them some newsademic. I was having another look at the Scheme of Work, to see whether I could tell them anything much about the programme this year, but it all looks so vague, and above talking about IELTS and TOEFL skills, I can’t really say much in detail.

PAL is less of a bother. I probably have enough to keep them amused for at least a class or so, and since I have the Lucantoni book, problems with Listen to Learn are less of an issue.

Still, it’d be nice if one year the audio CDs and teacher’s manuals would be delivered with everything else instead of eventually or, more likely, never. It’s still possible that they’ve ended up in the main library, but that’s like a fortress guarded by dragon.

New books. Where are the new books?

And the old ones are obsolete. Damn.

What’s a boy to do this time? PAL’s not much of a problem this Thursday because things more or less stay the same, but I forgot that for AS things change quite a bit. We’re still using NorthStar, but a different book in that series, and Listen to Learn has been cut in half (Book 1 for PAL; Book 2 for AS). Some of the book I’ve been using still survives in both parts, but not really enough to be able to continue using it.

I’ll be seeing AS4 first thing on Thursday, and since they’re the new AS class, I suppose I have to do some sort of introductory spiel, which will include revealing just how little I know about what we’ll be doing this year. Not having seen one book and having a hunch-backed mutant for the other, I can’t really say anything much beyond, “TOEFL. It’s, er… The dog’s bollocks!”

Actually, I don’t really give a damn about TOEFL. Or IELTS. A whole term of this stuff? Yes, there does need to be some objective means of measuring the proficiency of non-native speakers of English, but if the aim is to see some improvement in the language, then learning English would help far more than learning how to do the exam.

So, if you’re a non-native speaker of English and the words “IELTS” and “TOEFL” washed you up on the shores of my island, you should spend your time learning English instead of wasting it on exam preparation, which won’t make a significant difference. There’s no quick and easy way of improving your proficiency in another language, and exam preparation, which can be left until the last minute, impedes your improvement.

But people who know nothing about languages and learning languages always know best, and that’s why I have to waste whole terms on something which barely helps. I think you’d better go because there are internal rumblings which are making me think last night’s tea is still having its terrible revenge.

The rise of ¥1

The fall of the coins?

Have things changed in Pyjama Province? When I last lived in this part of the Empire, I noted a fondness for ¥1 coins, and when I came back, there was still that fondness for them. In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve barely seen a note, and have to go to places like Chengdu to get them as change. But in the past week, I’ve suddenly been getting more than the occasional note. Perhaps the imperial government is going to ship them to the States so that the Americans will have some money to spend. (“Shiny metal things? Them’s used fer buyin’ stuff.” Grandma, you’s bullshittin’ us. Everyone knows we ain’t got no… no… “Money. Leastwise I think that’s what they call it. Ain’t seen none since 1984.”)

Got my timetable for school today. No major changes. All right, none at all really. I have both PAL classes, and AS3 and AS4. I assume the former are last year’s PAL 3 class, and AS4 are the new arrivals. The pre-IB classes are also doing the IGCSE ESL exam, though just this year.

There wasn’t much point in hanging around at school today. No textbooks yet, but I know what I’ll do on Thursday and Friday. Yes, it starts again on Thursday. It’s not a matter of what I’m going to do for two days, but rather why bother?

When I got back to school, the money plant appeared to have had it. They’re meant to be robust, and I didn’t hold out much hope for mine, but watered it anyway, and found that there was some life in it yet. A few of the leaves have perked up, but may have survived because, in my ignorance, I overwatered the plant last term. I note that the money plants which were in the loo over the holiday have flourished without the slightest amount of watering.

Script: US$5,000; SFX: US$5,000,000


Since the IMDb was blocked because… (well, who the hell knows what got up the imperial government’s collective posterior to cause that?), I haven’t really been completely au fait with the latest releases. I certainly hadn’t heard of Skyline, but if it’s alleged pedigree was anything to go by (300 and Alien vs. Predator 2), then it it was bound to be a cinematic turd.

One night some bright blue lights come falling out of the sky and start mesmerising people to walk into the light. Then the lights go away and some spaceships appear in the sky, plucking people’s brains from their bodies so that the aliens can control their machines. Oh, and not just any brains, but the brains of Americans, which would make the aliens feed on carbohydrates.

Eventually our heroes are beamed up to the mother ship, but Mr Large-Chin’s brain isn’t properly assimilated, and he defends his pregnant girl friend from the aliens. The End. Really, that’s where it ends.

Skyline may have quite good special effects for a B-movie, but the script was completely phoned in and when the film was released, catharsis must’ve happened at other cinemas.

I tried watching Bad Teacher this afternoon, but when it hit chapter 8 on the DVD, the disc declined to co-operate. I assume that by the end of the film, Cameron Diaz the bad teacher would have become Cameron Diaz the good teacher. It wouldn’t end any other way.

When is a review not a review?

When it’s this review.

I watched Little Deaths last night. It was one of the DVDs I found in the shop round the corner from Vanguard and Suyou, and because it was British, I thought it might be worth a glance. Oh dear, was I quite wrong.

The two themes of the six stories were sex and death. How very novel. I would never ever have thought to put them together. [I think this is sarcasm. –ed.] They were all unrelentingly bleak and not for people with weak stomachs or readers of the Daily Mail. Presented consciously or otherwise, the stories were clearly metaphors for the economic crisis, employment, unemployment, etc.

Ultimately, none of this was, I think, material of any great quality, and it looked like the sort of thing which would appear on C4, E4, BBC 3/4 late at night when no one was watching; and there’s a conclusion – no one need watch this stuff.

From silly to sinister

3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy.

I heard about this film a few months ago because it’d been getting imperial citizens overexcited. It starts as a silly Hong Kong sex romp about a man who is under-endowed in the trouser snake department going to see the sybaritic Prince Ning as a consequence of his little problem.

But eventually the film turns violent, unpleasant, and tasteless, and what­ever little sympathy I had for it evaporated. The whole thing ends up being tacky and vulgar.

I don’t know what the film’s message is meant to be, but it appears to be that there can be enduring love without sex. It ends many years later with our hero, who lost his donkey-sized transplant during the final con­front­ation with the Prince of Ning, and his wife, still in the unremovable chast­ity belt (though that’s ridiculous because they would’ve been able to recover the key easily enough), still together and no less fond of each other, much to the surprise of the newly married couple seeking their blessings.

Lost Girl.

I wasn’t certain what I was getting with this, but it turned out to be one of those Showtime TV series. Bo has been drifting from one place to another because every time she gets hot for someone, she sucks the life out of them. She rescues a chancer called Kenzi from a date-rapist, but is then caught by the police who, as it turns out, are not your ordinary boys in blue.

Bo is informed that she’s a fey called a succubus, and is forced to undergo a test before choosing whether to join the light fey or dark fey. In the end, she chooses neither, and ends up living with Kenzi in a dilapidated old house from where they run a P.I. business. Cue adventures.

Dyson, one of the two policemen who caught her, is a werewolf and her kiss-fight-kiss-fight boyfriend. Seriously, one moment they’re together and the next moment they’re not, and it even becomes the subject of a bet by Dyson’s partner, Hale, and Kenzi. There’s also Lauren, the human doctor who works for the light fey leader called the Ash, and would like to be Bo’s girlfriend, but that also goes pear-shaped.

Meanwhile, there are lots of hints (Trick, the barman, and Dyson both know, and then predictably start arguing about whether to tell Bo) that some of the fey at least know exactly who Bo and her parents are.

Bo still wants to find out who her parents were and eventually meets another succubus who calls herself Saskia, but is, in fact, Eva (Efa? The medial consonant was definitely voiceless), her mother, who was handed over to the dark side to bring a war to an end, but subsequently tormented, which has driven her stark, raving mad.

The series ended with mummy maddest trying to start a war between the light and the dark fey while Bo seemed to throw her brain out of the window by gushing about how she wanted to get to know her mother even although she knew the woman was a couple of thongs short of a knicker drawer.

This felt like some cheap, fantasy fun that didn’t try to take itself too seriously, but overall felt too much like it’d been phoned in.

Brevity is the soul of wit

But though this is brief, I’m unlikely to be witty.

Our start-of-term conference has been vacuuming up my time one way or another over the past three days. It hasn’t been completely pointless, but the extra day the English teachers had served no real purpose other than to overload us with information starting with SATs, which we won’t have to worry about until the second term. Yesterday, the excess continued with a 90-minute lecture which overran by about half an hour, which truncated lunch, and which was then followed by a (much briefer) Q&A session.

We had dinner at the Kempinski last night, which is where the out-of-towners have been staying. Won’t be rushing back because although it’s nice, a pint of beer was ¥58 (not including additional gratuitous charges) and a glass of Pinot Noir was ¥88, which I would rather not pay for a whole bottle of wine, let alone one glass.

But the weather has been foul, especially yesterday as we waited outside the school for a taxi to go to the hotel. Once again I ask, “Drainage, where is thy sting?”

I had thought we’d only have two English teachers, and a librarian (for the IB programme), but there are actually three of us just teaching English. We’ve been wondering how that’s going to work, but we won’t really know till Monday. My theory is that Mark and I will probably deal with the standard part of the programme, while Fred may be doing some business, and English-related matters.

And once we’re done, I have to go shopping. Bollocks!

The end of the hols

And not a golden sunset in sight.

Final day of the holidays, more or less. Our start-of-term conference begins tomorrow with an extra day for us lucky English teachers. Actually, there are one or two parts of that which will be useful since we’ll be dealing directly with SATs for the first time.

I’m hoping that this year’s AS classes will be less painful than last year’s, and not just because we’ll be focusing on TOEFL, which they supposedly want to do. Honestly, I wish we could get away from any IELTS or TOEFL preparation classes until, say, a month before the actual exam. As I mentioned a few posts ago, I ran into three of my students in 远东百贸, who were off to TOEFL classes that afternoon; and they’ll be putting up with me for double periods nearly every day of the week doing the same.

I’ve been wondering again whether out little darlings think of school as where they do their IGCSE, AS, and A-level subjects, and English First or New Oriental as where they do English. Thus, we’re the elephant in the room which they wish would go away, at least after their PAL year.

But though I’m hoping that this year’s AS classes will be better than last year’s, I think I will put my name forward to switch to the IB programme when the call goes out in January. I’m fed up with the absence of any intellectual content for one thing, and not counting at AS and A2 level for another.

Summer continues to wind down. More cloudy today, but the thin stuff through which it’s possible to see the disc of the sun searing overhead. Feels a little cooler, but the humidity level remains defiantly high. I tried to air out the flat again yesterday, which was successful to a point, but I find that 70% humidity in my bedroom means 70% humidity outside and is not just a micro-climate figure.

Where did the summer go and why couldn’t the holidays be much, much longer? I know where I’m going – to buy lunch –, and the only way I can get longer at my age is sideways. Ugh. See you later.

Humid is as humid does

Even the air sweats.

We haven’t had much of a blue-skies-and-sunshine summer this year. The weather before I went on holiday was grey and wet, and then briefly clear and sunny when I got back, but it’s mostly been grey and cloudy with bursts of sunshine, rain, and thunderstorms. The humidity level has been hovering around 70% in my bedroom for the past few days, and even nudging 80%, which is still short of the 93% Linda and I experienced in Hong Kong. Even so, although the temperature has dipped a little, it hasn’t felt cooler because of the humidity.

It is cooler outside today. The thermometer in the bedroom says 28°, but I’d say it’s 25° or 26° outside, and I’m a little sceptical about Baidu’s claim that it’s going to be 25° to 30° today, though I don’t doubt the likelihood of a thunderstorm in due course. It was very dull and grey this morning and has turned dull and grey again this afternoon.

It cannot be said that there’s been much happening of late. I have been keeping myself occupied, but by and large with nothing so blogworthy as the weather. It’s the end of summer and the hols, and that feeling that the grind is about to resume is on me: another dull, uninspiring and tedious year of intermediate EFL teaching and TOEFL.

The A-level results have come out in the UK accompanied by much hysteria about pictures of blonde girls who have got seven A*s. The Guardian did try to compensate with a picture of as couple of gingers. The pass rate has gone up a smidge, but excuse me while I snort derisively at the idea of an E being a pass. Anything below a C should be taken as a failure to attain an adequate standard of proficiency in a subject.

I spoilt myself last week by buying a subscription to this month’s Commando comics in a burst of boyhood nostalgia. Anyone signing up also got four back issues for free, which included Jack’s Private War, a story which I once owned. But tempus mutatur, as the saying goes, and I’m wondering where the female characters are. Another of the female agents who worked for the SOE in France has just died, but I cannot recall a single Commando comic with a woman as the protagonist, and very few in which there were any women at all. Even W.E. Johns had Worrals as the female counterpart of Biggles.

The other sense I got was that Commando is a throwback to a bygone age even if they’ve expanded their portfolio into other times and places. The comics, and their stories and language seem dated.

I’m just looking at the covers of the Worrals books on the W.E. Johns website. The cover of Worrals Goes East has her stealing a camel from some Arab at gunpoint (or she’s making him exchange his camel for her plane; “I’m not even a pilot!” complained the ungrateful Arab. “Shut it, tea towel stand,” snapped Worrals). The cover of Worrals in the Wastelands has her holding a rifle while standing over a man and I imagine she’s saying, “Yeehaw! I bagged me a husband.” On the cover of Worrals Down Under, I’m sure she’s saying, “My girls will cost you more than that.” And on the cover of Worrals Goes Afoot, I suspect she may be saying, “How many times do I have to explain we’re not lesbians?” “Actually,” said Frecks, “about that…”

As a result

2011 IGCSE ESL results.

I’ve just been sent the results for our little darlings. The overall breakdown for my two classes is

  • A* 3
  • A 4
  • B 22
  • C 14
  • D 17
  • E 6

I’m pleased to see some A*s this year although none of them were surprises. On the basis of these figures, two-thirds got A*-C grades, but when I break down the figures by class, 59% of PAL 2 got A*-C grades, whereas 74% of PAL 3 achieved that. That seems to be quite a big difference, but I’m not making my surprised face because PAL 2 did have a rather inflated opinion of their own abilities.

PAL 2 were much more evenly spread over B-D grades whereas PAL 3 had twice as many Bs as they did Cs and Ds combined (the latter two being nearly equal in number). Although I don’t rate anything below a C, I note that unlike last year’s PAL classes, no one got below an E, which represents an improvement.

As I probably mentioned in an earlier post, quite a few students in the AS classes repeated the exam. 50% managed to get A-C grades in AS 1, but 76% did in AS 2 (the latter outnumbering the former by two to one; the sample isn’t that big, though, hence I’m not going to make too big a thing of it). The students who did manage to get As were new to the programme this year.

In comparison with last year’s results, 10 students improved; 6 remained the same; and 4 got worse. Unfortunately, improvement for most of them meant shifting from dire to mediocre, and even if none of them did the slightest amount of preparation for the exam, I would’ve expected that after another year of instruction in English, they ought to have improved more markedly.