Thursday, 31 December 2009

Sushi making - a great way to spend time with your loved ones

It always comes as a surprise to people that I don't like Thai food, as I lived in Thailand for ten years it must seem so, I suppose. I do like Japanese food though - a lot! I had incentive discount cards for 4 or 5 Japanese restaurant chains in Thailand. My favourite was Sukishi, a hybrid Japanese/Korean affair; very tasty Korean barbecue and excellent sushi at reasonable cost. The cost of sushi in the UK however, is unbelievable to the point of prohibitive for a lowly-paid English teacher.
There had to be an answer that would assuage my longing for unagi (smoked eel) and ebi (prawn) on delicious vinagared rice with a garnish of nori (seaweed). As so many other things in life the answer is in your own hands. Do it yourself, hmm, DIY Sushi? I'd heard that sushi chefs take years to become fully trained and the best Japanese chefs command huge salaries. Well, I may have a long way to go before being hired by a Tokyo sushi house, but I'm pleased with my efforts so far. The best thing about DIY sushi though is the fun you can have making it with your family.
We kitted ourselves out from Tesco, Sainsbury's and added a few authentic plates and sets of chopsticks from Thailand and Japan. We managed to get Japanese curry, rice, flavouring, ginger, seaweed, wasabi and miso soup from the supermarkets and supplemented a Thai sushi rolling mat with an imported Japanese one from the same source. All set to go, but how to turn all these high quality ingredients into a reasonable copy of the genuine article? I wanted curry and ebi tempura with a selection of sushi and sashimi and, of course, wasabi. Not as strange as it sounds, just think lightly smoked salmon with horseradish.
Here are the results:-

Sunday, 6 December 2009

IATEFL conference in Harrogate April 2010

Some weeks ago I made a list of things I'd like to achieve in what is left of my life. At number 3 on that list was the wish to present at an international English language teaching conference. Such a conference will take place at Harrogate, about 20 miles from York, in April next year. The International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) annual conference. I was bold enough to send in a proposal during September, and it has just been accepted as a poster presentation. The subject is the case for teaching only a basic version of English - English Lite if you will. The intention being that students could learn to communicate quicker and have no need for such complications as idioms or question tags. I'll post the abstract here later this week.
I presented an earlier version of my work at ThaiTESOL in Khon Kaen, Thailand in 2005 and again at Thammasat University in Bangkok later that year. People either agreed with or dismissed the ideas - no fence sitters.
I'm nervous already, IATEFL is the big one - what have I done?

Sunday, 29 November 2009

A link to a petition all UK based EFL teachers should sign

Following on from my letter to my MP I would urge all EFL teachers to consider signing this petition. It is an attempt to draw MPs, and in particular PM Brown's, attention towards the consequences of raising the bar on English levels for Non-EU students intending to study in the UK.
Please take a look and, hopefully, spend a few moments registering your support.

Thanks - Ian

Monday, 23 November 2009

More UK visa nonsense - this time for students.

I always wanted to write to an MP - this is what I wrote to Hugh Bayley (Labour MP for York) yesterday.

As an ex-employee of the British Council (Thailand) now working in York at the English Language Centre I am concerned by the present government's alarming anouncements regarding further student visa regulation tightening. I hope it is just sabre rattling, but fear Mr Brown is attempting to win the BNP deserters back into the Labour fold and may actually try to make them happen!.

While working for the British Council, a UK government funded organisation under the directorship of Neil Kinnock, I was always given to understand that the idea was to attract as many students to the UK as possible. The reasons were manifold but can be summed up briefly: foreign students equal cash for the UK via:- tuition fees, VAT and other taxes paid by the students, text books sales - largely UK publishing houses, use of British made products in the students' fields of study fostering a familiarity and trust of that product therefore lifelong trade with the UK, accomodation fees paid to UK citizens, etc, etc.

Non-EU nationals are now about to be squeezed again and made to jump through more UKBA hoops. This will drive prospective students to other English speaking nations offering less stringent visa conditions.

For example; an uplift in required level of English before being accepted for a study visa is ridiculous - surely the students want to study here in order to become proficient at English.

I implore you to bring the utmost pressure to bear on Mr Brown to abandon these ill thought through ideas. Liase with the right honourable Mr Kinnock and get his angle on attracting foreign students.

There must be hundreds and possibly thousands of your constituents who would be directly affected by such measures, and many more indirectly. Look at the language schools, universities, landlords, shopkeepers etc. in York who rely on foreign students for all or some of their livelihood.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Oxford University Course

This week sees me embarking on another course with Oxford University, this is my fourth. This course does not carry any transferable credits but is a CPD or continuing professional development course. Don't you just hate TLAs?  A prize for the first reader to identify what a TLA is.
So, what is this course about? It's entitled Effective Online Tutoring. So far it looks great, based around Moodle; explore the link below if you'd like to know more about what that is. It uses blogs, wikis, VLEs (there's another one), and all manner of e-learning type tools. I figured it was time to update my knowledge in this area as the future is definitely along this path. Who knows, if I enjoy it I may pursue some postgraduate modules in e-learning. I've taken a peek at some blogs written by one of my old colleagues from the British Council and the content of these e-learning degrees interests me greatly. 
The best thing about this course though, is that the certificate will be in my name but the invoice will be in my employer's name. 

 Here is a link to the Moodle website  

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Season of mellow fruitfulness

England is a lovely place! I had forgotten the smells of autumn, the colours of  deciduous leaves and the sounds of dried leaves underfoot. I watched my girls playing in dried leaves today; throwing them up and laughing as they fell all around them. Clad in warm jackets, scarves, hats and gloves; so different from Thailand, where I swear it was hotter when I left than the day I arrived. We bought pumpkins on the way home to carve into lanterns.  I'm very glad to be back again in England.

Air battle of the gulf states

England once more. Home this time via Manchester airport and train to York. I will never understand airline fare structures and have stopped trying to see through the illogicality to the kernel of sense; I don't believe there is one anymore. Those of you who know me will know that I have travelled inter-continentally by Emirates for many years. Sometimes another airline may undercut them a little but the good service and growing number of air-miles I am amassing on their system outweigh any serious financial considerations. Not so this trip. My wife and family were returning with me so we were going to book them on the same Emirates flight as I was booked on. Shock! even horror at the quoted prices. Suffice to say I flew home via Doha on Qatar Airlines. Even paying for train-fares from Manchester for four, then to Newcastle for one (my car was in Northumberland), it was cheaper by Qatar for me to forget my paid-for return and buy four new tickets plus rail fares. How much cheaper?
Well, I'm writing this on a brand new Acer Timeline Laptop, bought with the remaining difference. As I say airline pricing is a black art to me.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Visa at last!!

After months of waiting, my wife now has a settlement visa for the UK. She can now get on with life in the UK. The last few weeks have seen the whole family in limbo; not able to get on with anything. Now she can apply for a national insurance number, apply for further education courses, etc.; in other words - get on with life.
I appreciate that the new stringent regulations are to protect the country from 'undesirables', but the vast majority of applicants, particularly those asking for spouse visas, are not exactly high risk. You and I can see this, why can't the immigration authorities?

Monday, 28 September 2009

Back to Bangkok

Eight months, almost to the day, since leaving Thailand I landed here again yesterday. I flew by my usual airline - Emirates. Happy that they now allow 30 kgs. of baggage per passenger because I was carrying a lot of brochures and promotional material. I'm spending two weeks holiday with the family then a further week in the land of smiles promoting my school in York. I will be presenting the school to agents in Thailand and my wife will provide the Thai input for those agents with poorer English skills.
I have a few things lined up to do that I never got around to in my ten years here. A bicycle tour of the lesser known parts of Bangkok using the longtail boats as well as roads and paths. I'm looking forward to this a lot especially as the weather is not too hot at the moment.
I always wanted to eat a meal in the revolving restaurant in the Baiyoke Tower, Bangkok's highest building. This too is going to become a reality. I'm hoping for some good photos looking out over the city.
Photos as and when I see some interesting subjects.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

A 'to do' list with a difference

A 51 year old male - the impermanence of human life hurtling towards him, coupled with several weeks of peace and quiet to contemplate what he has and, more importantly, has not done in his life.
I have decided to make an abridged 101 things you must do before you die type of 'to do' list. I am being sensible and only adding items that I can afford to do, in terms of both time and money.
So here is the list, in no particular order:

1) Learn to fly a powered light aircraft 
2) Write a short story and have it published in a magazine

3) Present a paper at a truly international conference
4) Learn to ride a unicycle
5) Teach my daughters to use a map and compass
6) Make my own cider
7) Plant a small woodland
8) Sponsor a micro solar/hydro project in a developing country
9) Write an online course using Moodle 
10) Learn to fly a glider

11) Find a Victorian bicycle (boneshaker or penny-farthing) to restore which costs less than a small house. 
12) Climb all 217 mountains and fells on A.W. Wainwright's list 
13) Fly in a hot-air balloon 
14) Learn to paint with the set of acrylics my mother bought me 5 years ago
15) Find something of value with a metal detector 

As these things get 'ticked off' or added to, so the list will change. I'm hoping it will give my life some focus as I feel the last 10 years in Thailand flew by with indecent speed. A sign of increasing age I fear.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Flying to toyland - (again!)

I am flying to Thailand on Saturday 26th September. Why? As a person who has made no secret of his recent dislike of the place it seems a strange destination. Well, it has to do with more permanent roots in England. My wife is in Thailand as I write with our children. I work full time so could not look after the girls hence they are with their mum. Why is my wife in Thailand? One word answer - visa.
Having lived for the last few months in England on a  tourist visa and quite liking the UK experience she decided to make the move more permanent. With this in mind she has applied for a visa granting leave to remain in the UK. They have been back in Thailand since July. To quote a line from 'Casablanca' - they wait, and wait, and wait. An appropriate quote because the speaker is describing people who need visas for America in Casablanca during the war and the difficulty of obtaining them.
It seems incredibly difficult to get a settlement visa for the UK. let's look at the situation: married to a British citizen for almost 10 years, mother of two British citizens, registered at the consular section in Bangkok, as indeed was the marriage. Educational qualifications include a BSc and an MBA. Some of the interview questions included "Have you any evidence that this is a long term relationship?"
The cost of this visa? 800 pounds - yes!! EIGHT HUNDRED POUNDS. The waiting time? "for your benefit and convenience", about 16 weeks.
They wait, and wait, and wait...

Friday, 18 September 2009

Laws of Physics Revision

Take a look at the latest piece of kit I purchased for my trusty steed. Classic black, compact, multi-functional, reduced by 70% in the shop. I had to have it. A compass, coupled with a delightful sounding 'ding' bell; what's to dislike? The original price of 6.99 was knocked down to 2.49, it was mine!
Fitting took all of two minutes and off I pedalled; what's this, a rougue unit? The direction indicator slew wildly from North to South, at times inexplicably spinning - directionless - like a dog in a butcher's shop.
I should explain at this point that my trusty steed is a classic British roadster, a Humber Sovereign dating from 1951/1952. A distinguished looking upright bicycle, much more suited to York commuting than a day-glo mountain bike.
It differs from a mountain bike in so many ways. 25 fewer gears, classic black enamel, 1950s brakes. It has drawbacks I'll admit but the practicalities of it outweigh the shortfalls. I wouldn't swap it for the daily commute, perhaps at the weekend, but don't let her know.
Back to my problem, why does the compass refuse to settle down and direct me? One word will instantly strike chords with the more scientific of you: aluminium! Modern bikes are mostly constructed of aluminium, a non-magnetic material which does not attract magnetic things like compass needles. My bike is made of good sturdy British steel. Oh well, anyone like to buy a classic black, combination bell-compass?

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Industrial chic

10 years in Thailand seemed to fly by. A couple of jobs and a few rounds of golf. Two children born, but it all seems like yesterday. Meanwhile in England things moved at the speed of light. I remember Leeds as a run-down, frayed at the edges kind of city. I visited last month, a school trip to the Royal Armouries and was stunned. The canal basin area, which I remember as industrially depressing and bleak, is full of life. Where there were rusty supermarket trolleys and decaying lock gates there are flowers and restored industrial heritage; lovingly cared for, cast-iron makers plates painted black with white lettering fixed to green lock gates. The warehouses of broken windows now airy balconied student accomodation. The cycles are no longer discarded in the canals but being ridden along the towpaths; all carefully signposted for a whole new generation of cycle commuters. I feared for England when the oil runs out, but windmills and bicycles are not dead yet. And they're so much more pretty to look at than petrol stations.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Birds in the garden

I'm writing this on a Saturday morning while looking out into my garden. My garden is in a suburb of York, England. I'm watching a bird feeding station I recently set up for the education and pleasure of my children. I am amazed at the variety of species that feed here. So far I have seen the following birds:
Robin, blackbird, thrush, starling, blue tit, coal tit, great tit, house sparrow, hedge sparrow, lesser-spotted woodpecker, magpie, collared dove, wood pigeon, wren, greenfinch, wheatear.
17 species, not a bad result for a garden. However the eighteenth and latest species witnessed this morning at about 6.55 a.m. simply took my breath away. A sparrowhawk! She, for it was a female, struck silently and efficiently in the garden, over in seconds, but we now have one less house sparrow to visit us.
I've seen golden eagles close up in Scotland. I was walking up a Munro in Glen Lyon just approaching the ridge while a Golden Eagle was using the updraught on the opposite side of the mountain to ascend, we met, eye-to-eye at the sharp edge of the ridge with perfect timing. I don't know which creature was most surprised, the eagle dropped some superfluous weight, as indeed I nearly did, and looped back into the wind and away.
This morning's episode was even more shocking however, in part due to the brutality of the kill; a set of talons through the throat. The speed of the whole affair was, and I shall use a word which is beggining to lose its power but is the only word I can use for the scenario - awesome. Nature at its most brutal, life goes on and all that, but this kill left a deep impression on me. Efficient, mercifully quick, but so damn fast!
Isn't nature wonderful? - scary but wonderful.

New country, new job, new hobby

Blighty once more. It has taken me a little while to adjust to England again - reverse culture shock after all those years in S.E. Asia. However I have my feet firmly under the table now and life is good.
I'm still teaching English, for a lovely school in York, but only in the mornings; afternoons are for my new job: Resource Manager for the school. I am sourcing and writing IELTS questions, writing exercises for the school's guided e-learning site, training teachers on IWBs, the school has 4 shiny new Promethean interactive whiteboards. And a hundred other varied little tasks. Very refreshing after 10 years plus of teaching. Best of all, the job carried a payrise.
Now the new hobby, it's not really new but something I have returned to after far too many years; cycling. I cycle to work in the city consistently voted Britain's most cycle friendly place. There are traffic free cycle lanes into work, 20 minutes travel time along the river side, versus 30 plus minutes of stressful motoring followed by truly unbelievable car parking charges. Leisure time too is pleasant by bike, I have taken to the national cycle network around York for pleasure, the English countryside is so green. I had forgotten the myriad shades of green, the smells of nature - mushrooms not in a supermarket, squirrels, fish jumping.
England, a poor substitute for New Zealand, but way better than Thailand in so many ways.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Hi readers,

An update and the first post in a while. I am settling down at my new job in York, Yorkshire. The family have arrived and are getting to know the surrounding area. Photos later.