Saturday, 16 October 2021

Students’ witticism: 03 (London)


As mentioned in Students’ witticism: 02, I teach Functional/Survival phrases to students right from the first lesson, so that they can start putting them to use in a real-life situation.

Two of those phrases are:

  • 你說什麼 / 你说什么 / nǐ shuō shénme / “you say what” = What do you say?
  • 對不起,我來晚了 / 对不起,我来晚了 / duìbùqǐ, wǒ lái-wǎn le / Sorry I’m late.

When I was teaching the evening programme students, I’d put the question to late arrivals, even if they were only late by a minute — just for the practice.  (Not that I minded their being late.  Chinese was just a hobby for them, after all, and most of them had to come from work, so I was always grateful that they bothered to turn up at all.)

To go with the question, I’d do the hands-on-hips gesture for visual effect.

A few months into the course, I was late.  Arrived to find the whole class, hands on hips, asking in gleeful unison: 你說什麼! / 你说什么! / nǐ shuō shénme!

(London, 1985)

Students' witticism: 02 (London)

It’s such fun teaching older mature students, I find.  They have the life experience and assertiveness that comes with age to engage in on-the-spot repartee.

(I say “older mature students”, because a student in her 70s said to me yesterday that anyone over the age of 21 is “mature”.)

One student (in his 70s?) is often late for his lessons.  (No criticism, just an observation.  I’m just pleased and touched that they come to class at all, especially when they’re in their 70s and live a long way away.)  

This gives the whole class the opportunity to ask him one of the Functional/Survival phrases I’ve taught them: “你說什麼 / 你说什么 / nǐ shuō shénme / “you say what” = What do you say?” — something they take great delight in doing.  (Yes, it’s a wicked-humour class, this lot.)  

The answer is another Functional/Survival phrase I’ve taught them: 對不起,我來晚了 / 对不起,我来晚了 / duìbùqǐ, wǒ lái-wǎn le / Sorry I’m late.

On-site students pay at the door.

This student was late again for last Thursday’s lesson.  As he was paying in the reception area (next to my classroom), I went out and said to the person processing his payment: “Don’t let him in until he’s paid!”  (I only dare do this with students who are “safe”, i.e., they know my sense of humour.)

When he came in a minute later, I said, “Have you paid?”

His reply: “No need.  Personality is enough!”

PS:  Yes, it was a lady processing his payment.

(London, 2021)

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Unconscious trend-following? (London)

Summer last year, I picked up a pair of ankle boots that were thrown out (left outside a house, on the pavement, which is what people do these days with things they’re happy for people to take — something the Swiss in Zürich were already doing back in 1987).  

I was going to see if Sienna, the girl I’ve been delivering to, and collecting from, school (along with her younger brother), would like them.  However, at age 10, her feet are already a little too big for the size 3 boots, so I thought I’d take them to the charity shop.

Then, it rained one day, so I wore them on the school run, as they’re waterproof.  (I have to wear two pairs of socks to stop my feet from sliding around inside…)

It was raining this morning, so I donned them again for the school run.  On the way to Sienna’s house, I suddenly noticed that her area’s council (= local government) rubbish bins are exactly the same shade of purple as my ankle boots.  For the rest of the journey to school, I started to spot more council rubbish bins with that shade of purple.

I’ve never been one to follow trends, hating to join the crowd.  (I used to sport a topknot, but when it became trendy some 15 years ago, I stopped doing it altogether.  Wouldn’t be seen following everyone.) But now, with these purple boots, it looks like I’m being trendy — joining the ranks of the council’s rubbish bins!

(London, 2021)

Sunday, 5 September 2021

How to shorten queues: 01 (London)


As mentioned in the other blog on the subject (Registering for evening classes), the queue could get quite long, with waiting times being as long as — if not more than — half an hour.

When I became co-ordinator, I decided to do something about it.

Continuing students (therefore known to me / the system, i.e., their levels) only needed to fill in the form without any need for us to speak to them.  They just had to hand in the completed form for me to sign my approval.  So, I decided to pull them out of the queue to shorten it: give them a form, let them go to one side of the room to fill in the form, bring it back to me, and leave.

This reduced the queue rather rapidly.

(The continuing students would still hang around for me to finish, so that we could go to the pub.  The regular pubbing ones would even turn up towards the end of the registration time window to do their registration, so that we could all leave together for the pub.  Yes, my students knew how to get their priorities right...  I’d trained them well.)

(London, 1995 onwards)

Registering for evening classes (London)


After ten years as a teacher on the evening programme, I was made the co-ordinator. 

The students on the evening programme were all mature students (no student under 18 was eligible to join), with a lot of them easily above 40, if not 50.  Some even had PhDs.  Some were high-flyers in their professions (an intellectual property rights expert, e.g.).

September is when registration for evening classes starts.  There’d be just two evenings set aside for it, one each in two consecutive weeks, although people could still turn up late, after term had started.  

Those who were not absolute beginners had to be assessed for placing in the right grade.  You had to ask them how much Chinese they knew, whether they knew any characters, and how many if they did.  You also had to give them a quick diagnostic test on the spot to help you place them, e.g., give them something to read out loud for character recognition, etc.

Because of the small time window, the queue could start to build up.  Waiting times could be as long as half an hour.

In my first year as co-ordinator, someone in the queue got a bit fed up of the long wait, and said, “Oh, why are we doing this?!”

A continuing student (who therefore knew me well) quipped, “Because the co-ordinator knows where we live!”

(London, 1995)

How to shorten queues: 02 (London)


I had built up a strong post-lesson pubbing tradition among my students, so those who came to the pub would get to know me (especially my perverse sense of humour) better than just as a teacher in the classroom.  

Students also knew that they could come and talk to me in my office whenever they liked — a lot of them would come in early for their lesson, so that they could have a chat with me.  These chats could be social, or about their studies.  They were always welcomed.  I’d always make time for them.

I had a perpetual store of food (fruit and nuts, mainly) in my office for snacking throughout the day.  When students came to my office, they’d always get offered something to eat.

One year, a queue had started to build up outside my office on a non-registration day.  This meant people were there for something other than registration, so each one might take even longer to process than straightforward registering for the course.  

I saw a few familiar faces — continuing students who could always come back another time, as they knew my office door was always open to students, or even discuss the matter in the pub after the lesson.  So, I handed each one a fruit, and said, “Take one and go away.”  They understood my sense of humour, but the faces of those people in the queue who didn’t know me were a right picture!

(London, 1995 onwards)

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Oops 3 (London)

I’ve always loved the bits of food that most other people don’t like or don’t eat.  

Bones would be sucked dry, if not crunched down (if soft enough) — I always say I must’ve been a dog in my previous life.  

There’s a street-food dish in Singapore called kway chap: mainly pig offal and skin cooked in a dark soya sauce, eaten with rice-lasagne triangles — I’d quite happily just have the skin.  I actually do make a version of it at home, now that such things as chicken wings and pork skin are available in multi-cultural London — they weren’t in the 70s when I first arrived, as white British people didn’t eat such things, it seems.  (Another great thing about multiculturalism.)

Eating a cooked English breakfast, I’d notice my British friends cutting off the bacon rind.  (Nowadays, the rind is already cut off before the bacon gets to the shelves, or the restaurant kitchen, it seems.)  I’d ask them if I could have their rind, getting strange looks in return.

Ex-student Jo had invited me over to hers for Christmas Dinner a few times.  Unfortunately, her daughter loves skin as well, so I’d be fighting her for the turkey skin.

Christmas last year, the planned Christmas Dinner at Nigel and Graeme’s got cancelled because of the Covid lockdown.  Jo, who was meant to be providing the turkey, put aside some of it (meat, skin, bones) for me, in three boxes.  With Jo’s daughter away studying in Australia, I had no competition at all.  Hmm, all the skin and bones to myself!!  Yum!!

Collected the three boxes on Boxing Day.  Got home, picked up one of the boxes at random to eat the contents.  Only meat.  No skin, no bones.  I thought, I’ll have to text Jo and “complain”: “What, no skin, no bones!? I’m being short-changed!!”

Ate the first box, took the other two round to Brazilian friend, to whom I’d been publicising the gift of Christmas turkey, all cooked and ready to eat.  (Like me, she has no work pension, and can only start claiming a small state pension next year, so I try and share my food and other things with her.)

In her kitchen, I started to open one of the boxes to show her what I’d brought, looking forward to her gleeful reaction.  It was full of skin and bones!!  Oh no, Jo had packed the food separately: meat in one box, skin and bones in another!!  And I’d eaten all the skinless, boneless meat!

Luckily, the third box had more skinless, boneless meat.  Phew.

PS:  The Brazilian friend cannot eat fatty food because of her health condition, so I couldn’t even leave her the skin and bones.

(London, 2020)

For those who might need help with the English, I give below my Mac dictionary’s definition for “oops”:

oops | uːps, ʊps |

exclamation informal

used to show recognition of a mistake or minor accident, often as part of an apology: Oops! I'm sorry. I just made you miss your bus!


natural exclamation: first recorded in English in the 1930s.