Dinosaurs Mountain, Dinosaurs Sea

To avoid nasty dinosaurs one must jump in the sea.

This is the narrative of an eight year old. There are flaws with this logic which is probably why we don’t have youngsters running countries or performing complicated tasks like surgery or mechanical engineering. Could you imagine if a great power like the United States was ever run by an infant? I’m veering into dangerous territory here…

An eight year old once thought that if they lived in the era of big, carnivorous dinosaurs then the safest place would be the sea. A rampaging t-rex would have no interest in following someone into the water. Then my mother (yes, the eight year old was me) bought a book about sea dinosaurs. There were some nasty, bad tempered looking creatures in those pages which shot my theory to bits.

The Chinese have a saying – “People mountain, people sea“. It means that wherever you go, there are people. You can’t escape them. I have began to apply this bit of wisdom to my own circumstances and the abundance of children in all areas of life.

Where are we going with this conversation?

Your children are the land dinosaurs. The fiery pocket-rocket upstarts might be considered the carnivores – tyrannosaurus rex etc., whereas the milder but occasionally recalcitrant child would be the herbivore – think stegosaurus or triceratops. You might be able to find refuge in areas outside the home. This would be the sea. Perhaps your workplace is kid-free. A sports club or yoga group might be a nice release from a pouty face or high-pitched squeal! Go ahead and enjoy the water – harass a herring or flummox a flying fish. The sharks are nothing compared to what I’ve got.

Hello Daddy!

It’s about my job, you see. It’s an enjoyable job too. Parents reading this blog will understand just how tough it can be to raise kids (the land dinosaurs). Tantrums, homework, and sibling spats are just some of the dangers we face offset with periods of peace and harmony. Most (not all) parents will be able to escape at some point by heading off to an occupation (the sea) that doesn’t involve children. My job involves kids. It is kids. There is no escaping down to the pub with workmates on a Friday night. Kids on land, kids in the sea – which is not necessarily a bad thing. Life would be pretty dull without children around. It’s just…

It’s just that is has been quite a year (for everyone) and many private teachers didn’t get much of a break over the summer holiday. Oh well, if the money is good, best take it. We are on to week 13 now and things are getting a bit tiring.

Dinosaurs Say the Darnedest Things

Armed with notebook, I jotted down some of the things recently uttered by the sea dinosaurs in the jurassic classroom. All experienced dino-hunters (teachers) have heard naughty words, broken up fights, witnessed pant wetting (though pooey pants haven’t reached my island yet), mopped vomit, and inhaled mystery smells – “room clearers” that allow no space for other forms of life. Here is a snapshot of life in dinosaur-infested, southern Chinese waters during a weekend in late November 2020. All comments are in Chinese unless otherwise noted. Much of this chatter happens during break times but not always.

Why is your nose so big?” – Jacky, 4 (teleosaurus).

Hello ice-cream teacher” – Walter, 5 (mosasaurus).

I’m going to smack you on the bum!” – Jimmy, 5 (ichthyosaurus).

My favourite cartoon character is Bum Bum (unintentional faux pas – he was supposed to say SpongeBob Squarepants) ” – Tiger, 10 (elasmosaurus, spoken in English).

China doesn’t have any shortcomings” – Thomas, 8 (tankenginosaurus).

America’s president behaves like a little boy” – Kevin, 13 (trumposaurus, spoken in English).

Teacher, why are you drinking beer?” – Kyle, 9 (alkoholosaurus, upon seeing my can of Monster Energy drink).

Sam: “How many pencils do you have Justin?

Justin: “Swimming.” (This troubled conversation was in English)

I serve at the pleasure of Ultraman!” – Jacky, 8 (kronosaurus). Ultraman was a popular Japanese TV show. He said this before introducing a sofa cushion to an expensive globe that then crashed loudly onto the floor.

Ultraman dealing with wayward globes.

Imagine the Alternative

It could be the other way around. One could live alone or without the sound of little feet pounding up and down the hall. There is nothing wrong with this. Plenty of happy people live dinosaur-free (or with a pet as a companion) and they wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m not sure this is for me though… As I type, a radio blasts aggressive Cantonese sounds from the Kitchen. It belongs to my mother-in-law (a pterodactyl perhaps? Ho ho). We refer to her as the Adult (a secret code word we can use). Ten years of the Adult’s ear-shatteringly loud radio has made an impact. What would one do without it? One takes a sort of perverted comfort in the pain. Stockholm syndrome comes to mind. Not sure why.

Have you seen my radio?

One could work in an office. Here I’m reminded of the stale mid-1990s workplace. I’m sure it is very different now. Older, chauvinistic alpha men ruled the roost with a “harden up” approach to younger, more emotional, subordinates. What the heck was mental health awareness? Meetings were long, drawn-out affairs with someone called Mary or Dennis, wanting to reconfirm what we’d just spent an hour confirming. It is no surprise that most of my best line managers were female. They were empathetic to struggling youngsters but they also knew when valuable time was being wasted. Perhaps the sea is not so bad after all.

One Week Later

My second daughter, my little oviraptor, has taken an interest in dinosaurs. She pours over an encyclopaedia of world knowledge complete with science and high culture. She could learn about land mammals, Machu Picchu, the solar system, Ancient Greece, or Indian civilisation. Instead, we find ourselves at pages 98 to 112. Dinosaurs. I’ve seen some familiar faces. Old bosses, neighbours, grumpy high school classmates, an ex-girlfriend. The oviraptor asks why a corythosaurus (helmet lizard) is looking on retardedly while its mate is being ripped to shreds by a T-rex. Why did the deinonychus hunt in packs? I mumble something snarky about society not having changed much. She doesn’t know what society means.

Corythosaurus – not the smartest

Then we’re back in class. Walter is now jumping up and down on a coffee table and leaping into a newly bought Christmas tree. I think to distract him by pointing at a large, yellow horse.

Walter, what’s that?

A stinky fart!” he replies in Chinese.

I guess that’s what you call exstinktion.

School Exams in China! Yikes!

It’s the bane of parents, students, and teachers. A time of year violated by colourless worksheets, endless pages of fill-in-the-blank exercises. Mix-and-match. Mock tests.

Study materials are as dry as dust.

With materials like this, who wouldn’t want to study?

Final exams occur twice a year, at the end of each semester. It’s a stressful time for a number of parties. School teachers are under pressure to deliver results to the school leaders. Parents spent every spare free minute helping their children review for the exams. The possibility of bad grades is too much to contemplate. It gets worse at higher levels. A substandard grade could mean failure to enter a good middle or high school. Teenagers really have it tough when they attempt the dreaded Gaokao – China’s university entrance exam.

It’s common for children to be signed up to extra-curricular lessons. Most have an extra lesson of some kind – be it math, Chinese, English, art, dancing, or piano. A sport like table tennis, basketball, swimming, or badminton is also tacked on. Many have several lessons – often on the same day. Weekends are endurance tests to be survived, rather than enjoyed. Added to the average daily three hours of homework, you wonder the psychological toll on children here.

Parents regularly postpone these ancillary lessons at exam time.

A sample English exam paper. How did you do?

Exams affect nearly everyone. Sleep deprivation equals cranky kids. Parents get grumpy too, resentful that their free time is eaten up by hours of homework in preparation for the big day. Mummy helps with the study, Daddy keeps baby sister/brother occupied and out of the way. You hear grumbling in the lifts – a girl being admonished for a poor math test, a boy being read the riot act for doing poorly in his Chinese. Grandparents cop twice the abuse when they try to offer unhelpful suggestions.

They might have had Mao Zedong Thought, but they also had less homework.

I see the effect of exam time in my lessons. Polite, easy-going kids become overly sensitive and prickly with tears if they perceive a slight from a classmate. Cheerful parents look more distracted than usual.

Sample Chinese paper – it’s not as hard as it looks!

Soon the exams will be over and the relief will be palpable. Think of a caged rabbit finally being given run of the house.

How does your childhood compare?  Did you have exam pressures as an eight year old? And your parents? Did they encourage you with a stick or let you run wild? Perhaps you have children about to undergo their own examinations? How are they coping?  Please leave a comment below and share with fellow readers.

Today marks the beginning of the dreaded exams. The sounds of rejoicing will not only emanate from students but from the entire support cast and crew navigating this tortuous time!

Thank you for reading.





Chalkface: The Ungrateful Departed

A different class of students

I have a bunch of good classes filled with great students and super attitudes. Their homework is nearly always completed and many make a real effort to attend class despite having conflicting arrangements. One girl, Lucy, even turned down a weekend holiday in a 5-star resort to attend my English class. I couldn’t believe it. Others race from family dinners or dance recitals, make up still on their faces. Their level of commitment can never be questioned.

Then there’s the Sunday afternoon class. I’ve kept a wee diary of what happens whenever you put a bunch of lazy kids together. I hope you enjoy reading this more than I did teaching them!

Sunday 4:45

Harriet – The best of this motley crew, she is actually a good student who puts in the work. Homework is usually done well and she takes things very seriously. I feel a bit sorry for her being stuck with the other three kids.

Jeremy – A skinny 10-year-old boy that tries desperately to be funny but doesn’t always succeed. Jeremy has quite a few talents (math, piano, sport) but doesn’t always use his brain as evidenced by his struggles in learning Bingo rules.

Celia – Skinny younger sister of Jeremy. Seems to be smarter than her brother but also hellbent on jeopardising her own future. Her great-aunt warned me – “Don’t trust this one, she’s trouble!”  I didn’t quite follow her meaning, until well into this semester.

Jordie – A supposed math genius that hasn’t learned to tell the time yet. He’s always late. A chubby nine-year-old with a mild but rather unsophisticated personality.

The Plot

Week 1 – The class forms three weeks after all other lessons are already in flow. It was surprising there was a timeslot available for them to use. The contact parent hadn’t checked her messages (sent in February) to arrange a class. English levels are rusty (e.g. “My beast friend is Tommy” and “My sausages (science) teacher is Mr. Wang.”  Celia gets my name wrong (I only taught her 10 times last term).

Week 2 – Can someone let me into your apartment?  No-one bothers to let the teacher into the class. A ten-minute fiasco ensues as I thrice ring Block Five’s downstairs doorbell. I’m left waiting while the kids wait upstairs. Nobody has thought to go downstairs and let me in, not even Daddy Pig (a nickname I’ve given Jeremy and Celia’s father).


A new member (Harriet) joins the class. Things should improve as she is a top student. Games are played and Harriet wins every one, Jeremy is furious and violently beats the armrest of an expensive armchair.

Week 3 – “Our parents have just invested in a new Chinese restaurant at the local mall” the Yang kids tell me. Goody I think, perhaps I’ll get a free meal (yeah right, they’ve never even offered so much as a glass of water).

Week 4 – Harriet’s mother attends the lesson and gets to witness all manner of bad behaviour from the Yang siblings. Celia flips the middle finger at her brother while my back is turned. Accusations fly and the two of them burst into tears. This really is a bad cartoon. Harriet’s politely mother describes the siblings and Yang family in general as chaotic.

Week 5 – We’ve switched venues! We’re at Harriet’s apartment in Block Seven. There is a test today. Celia has gone missing in action. Jordie has joined the class as an additional member and scores 6/10. Not too bad for someone who hadn’t prepared. Harriet’s little brother, Kevin (aged five) offers everyone snacks and refreshments, several times over.

Week 6 – Still no Celia. I don’t think she wants to come to class! Jeremy has a temper tantrum in class. Jordie hasn’t done his homework – about three minutes worth of fill-in-the-blank exercises and a quick read of his textbook. Apparently, this is too onerous.  Little Kevin seems to enjoy / follow the lesson more than Jordie.

rainforest during foggy day
Celia went missing in action…..


Week 7 – No Jordie today. No reason was given. I think we can guess. Celia arrives 20 minutes late. Harriet’s little brother makes his presence known by climbing all over Jeremy during the lesson.

Week 8 – Jordie is given a yellow card warning for repeated laziness. He had recently been to our apartment for a (free) make-up lesson on Tuesday. He’d enjoyed our hospitality and got to play with Rachel Rabbit. Clear instructions were given as to which pages he should do. Total homework time – 10 minutes. Result – no homework done. The thought of this backbreaking homework load was obviously more than he could bear.

A flushed and book-less Celia is 30 minutes late. She gets my name wrong too (“Hello Cherry”). Celia also has a blub (cry) when it dawns on her realising that she’ll end up last place in a game we’re playing (revision Celia?).

Week 9 – It’s presentation day – the students are to display and introduce their freshly made advertisements (in poster form). They’ve had four weeks to prepare. Jeremy surprises me with a wonderful advertisement for cake. Jordie and Celia hide somewhere in the garden. Kevin is becoming a bloody nuisance and is threatened with court-marshal unless he behaves. Harriet’s presentation is compromised by her little brother’s clown antics. Mother is called to come home from work and take him away.


Jordie ran away to join the circus.


Week 10 – Celia doesn’t want to have the lesson in Harriet’s apartment so we shift back to her place.  Jeremy scores exceptionally well in the much harder second test. He takes pride in outscoring Harriet. We’ve finally turned the corner with him. This is what teachers live for – the blossoming of a student’s true ability. I return home elated.

Week 11 – Celia hiding in her bedroom. Apparently, they’ve been away all weekend at a n exclusive resort and mummy forgot to inform her of tonight’s English lesson. Where is Jordie? Jeremy starts the lesson well enough but becomes a gibbering mess by the end of it all. What happened?

Week 12 – The kids have been given a lecture by Coach KJ tonight. Harriet escapes censure as she has done little wrong and most things very well. Jeremy nods in agreement and promises to perform better. Jordie does his homework. Celia is a no-show, hiding in her bedroom the entire lesson. Am I some sort of monster? I didn’t raise my voice or hiss. No, I’m assured – Celia is a dreadful student who causes her school teachers quite a few headaches.

Week 13 – A rather uneventful lesson – thank goodness, though Celia arrives an hour late. She had been playing downstairs. Am wondering how their parent’s restaurant investment is going.

Week 14 –  I had to slap myself in the face. Was this some sort of a dream?  All four kids were in attendance. All had done their homework including “Clean-book Celia”. Praise was lavished upon them (though in reality, they’d done the bare minimum and only half what some classes willingly do). Stickers for everyone!

Week 15 – There’s a test today. Jeremy and Harriet perform well. Jordie barely scraps though and Celia scores a whopping 35%. She is disappointed, hoping to score 100% from absolutely no revision. Still no sign of those restaurant vouchers.

baby child close up crying
Gone on – have a blub

Week 16 – “boo hoo hoo”. The sound of Celia crying in her bedroom. Stay there little girl, for everyone’s sake! Jeremy has a remarkably clean looking book which suggests he hasn’t done a spot of homework this week. Harriet is perfect as always. She must be wondering why she is stuck with these buffoon students. Jordie was absent having gone somewhere to take photographs.

Week 17 – The semester’s final lesson. The circus is coming to an end!  I’ve prepared three of their favourite games plus some very cool gifts. It’s 4:40pm and I’ve rung the doorbell three times. Where are they?

“#@#$%$@#$%” – they’ve forgotten today’s lesson!

I wander down to the river, feeling like a jilted lover, and curse the horror that is this class!



This is a diary of one very atypical class, taken from notes made throughout the term. I cannot emphasize enough just how superb most of my other classes have been this semester.  You’re always going to get that one group that stands out for their complete lack of self-awareness or diligence. The 4:45pm class takes out the 2018 Classroom Circus Award. But wait – there’s more! I’ve just been told – they intend to continue with me next term!  Nuts.


I’ve been told that quite a few people have ended up with food poisoning from that restaurant!  One diner even found a metal bolt in her fried rice.