Drawing a blank or not

Drawing a blank or not

Raffles and the British Invasion of JavaRaffles and the British Invasion of Java by Tim Hannigan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, by Tim Hannigan, is a well researched and well-written book. Tim Hannigan presents Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (6 July 1781 – 5 July 1826) in a way he has rarely been seen; not as a liberal paragon, but as a flawed, overly-ambitious man. He is presented as intelligent and creative, but also as willful, petty and somewhat of a hypocrite.

An examination of the life and legacy of the man often credited with the success that is Singapore. This book looks at what happened when the British invaded Java. It’s not an alternate history or an episode of Doctor Who. The British did invade and occupied Java for almost five years (Aug. 1811-March 1816).
The changes, reforms and consequences of that half-decade resonated long after they left. From government structure, land division and the administration of tax districts Raffles policies and decisions would have lasting consequences for himself, his family, Indonesia and for Great Britain.
The man who is touted as a great reformer is more often revealed as an example of colonial excess, greed and cultural disregard.

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Happy St Patrick’s Day

Students see English as … a) Unnecessary b) A burden c) A strange, possibly alien, elective d) Something that interrupts naptime e) A chance to catch up on homework.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, unless you’re a snake. If you are a snake perhaps you see this day as something to be dreaded or you actually sneer at the ridiculous notion that you were driven out of anywhere. Do snakes sneer?
Truth be told, we’re not celebrating. Some people are, even here in Wuhan … just not us. That doesn’t mean we’re snakes, have any sympathy for snakes, or secretly in league with, in cahoots with, or otherwise compromised by … snakes.

Life is okay here. From time to time the classes can be more stressful than they need to be.
Students see English as … a) Unnecessary b) A burden c) A strange, possibly alien, elective d) Something that interrupts naptime e) A chance to catch up on homework.
We’re still training teachers through TEFL International but the current situation in Indonesia, with random checks and inconsistent rules, means running a course is more difficult than ever.
We have just cancelled this year’s June and July courses.


I should elaborate on my current state of discontent. The students are good, but the level of English isn’t. I have been pushing them to be more responsive, engaging them in ways that are unfamiliar to them, and generally having expectations that take both students and myself out of our comfort zones.

Students generally sit in a classroom and those in the back tune out.  I don’t teach from the front of the class, I move about and interact and engage. I want students to speak, to respond and to participate. I don’t care if the answers are not correct, but I do care that they attempt an answer. I don’t worry that they stumble over words or phrases, but I won’t allow classmates to talk over, or belittle the efforts of their peers. I do not ask for unwavering attention or cowering subservience, but respect is a must. Don’t read or draw when you should be listening. don’t leave the class without asking. Don’t come late and start a conversation. Don’t do your homework in my class.

I will answer any question you ask but try to be on topic. I have one student who constantly asks how old I am.  I am beginning to suspect short-term memory loss, perhaps complicated by a genuine lack of interest in any answer I may give. Perhaps he needs a list of non-sequiturs to add and broaden his range of non-conversation starters?

What does any of this have to do with St. Patrick’s Day?

Not much. Just that we embraced a barely remembered religious figure and created a day of Green shakes, green beer, funny green hats, small fictional gold-hoarders. Perhaps my students will embrace English in the same way some people learn Klingon or the migratory habits of sponges.IMG_20180202_024331_798IMG_20180206_235627_704IMG_20180209_112919_513

I resolve to be hopeful

Happy New Year. Best of the year ahead. May you greet the year with new optimism, and may the year respond with health, happiness and renewed prosperity.

Looking back on the last year; there were things we could have done differently, things that didn’t go as we hoped, and things we left undone. A few things to reflect upon: If we remembered to say ‘thank you’; if we chose to ignore rather than react; if we took a disappointment, not to heart, but as a call to action, then we’ve done okay. Let’s move into a New Year with hope, optimism, and a renewed desire to leave things better than we found them.


Weekend in Wuhan

Friday night rolls around and you wonder what to do for the next couple of days. No matter where you are, that is a universal constant. Even if you’re unlucky enough to have to work on Saturday you still look forward to the weekend. Like the Loverboy song said so eloquently, ” Everybody’s working for the weekend.”

For Wyatt, Emily and I  it was a chance to relax, and to explore a little. It was also a chance to spend some time together.

Living in Wuhan

We had a nice unexpected holiday, so we had a chance to relax. It was much needed as I had a flu to get over and on Sunday we had a chance to explore the neighbourhood a bit more.

These are photos from this morning as Wyatt and I prepared to walk to school. They were taken as Wyatt intoned mournfully, “Oh Dad, you’re so embarrassing.”

Sports Day at Weiming

All the grades, and every student, participated in a cultural and athletic event at Wuhan’s Weiming Experimental School.



Emily’s Photos of Wuhan


Emily has offered to share a few photos of the market and the courtyard of our apartment complex.20171104_121314[1]20171106_072417[1]20171120_130917[1]



It is actually

cheaper to eat in restaurants than to cook at home, but likely a bit less healthy. Food tends to be cooked with a lot of oil, so it’s delicious but slippery.

On the plus side all the walking will keep us trim and strong. IMG-20171121-WA0016[1]

Lost in Alternate Realities

I have spent as many hours as possible sitting in darkened movie theaters lost in alternate realities, and I have loved every moment of it. For a twelve-year-old boy, there was nothing better.

There weren’t many days spent in darkened theaters when I was that age. At age 12 we were living in Pointe Au Baril Station, Ontario. Our village, Pointe Au Baril Station, sits along highway 69 between Parry Sound and Sudbury. It is a small community of 300 people.

It had, and likely still has, a couple of gas stations, a liquor store, two general stores and a few marinas and lodges scattered over the North and South shores. We also had two churches, a small school, a bank, a Royal Canadian Legion Hall, and a privately ran post office/bait shop and a community center that had a few purposes. Dance place, meeting hall, and tourist information center being a few.

For me it’s most important purpose was the Friday night movie. Not quite a darkened theater. Enter the large hall with me. Sit down on a folding chair. There are always enough chairs. The old projector comes to life. The blank wall is filled with wonder.

This is also what comics did for me. I bought my comics at Higman’s Highway Market. Kennedy’s didn’t sell comics. I made my money for comics by cashing in beer bottles. The bottles were redeemed at Wing’s Shell station. No, We didn’t drink the beer … that came later.

With a summer tourist trade estimated at about 2,000 we had a lot of empties to cash in. My brother and I also had a lucrative sideline in frogs. I delivered lunches to construction crews, cut grass, tied boats, and shoveled snow. My younger brother Troy and I sold frogs to the local pool hall owner who sold them to sport fishermen as bait.

The frogs, the bottles, the snow and such helped to fill the blank canvas of a child. A mental landscape filled with Dr. Doom, a blind attorney, a playboy millionaire, and a collection of princesses, orphans, and misunderstood do-gooders. Many of those characters, and their worlds, were given form by Gene Colan.

Gene wasn’t the first artist I admired. At first I liked the cleaner lines of Curt Swan and Dick Dillon. Kirby leaped off the page for me, and then something happened. I found art that resonated. It stayed with me. It seemed to have a depth beyond the page. It flowed. It showed me a world beyond my own, and yet was reflective of that world.

Gene’s (if I may be so familiar) art allowed me to see a bit of wonder in my own reality. I didn’t need to escape as much as search.

Thank you for that clarity.