Just yesterday, I had left the Starbucks not far from central Oxford and was headed to the town hall, apparently for “lunch”. Tracy got me into a room in the town hall, which was to be used in the afternoon for an event we would take part in. She asked me to come to the lectern for a photo opp. (You like doing that and giving speeches all the time!, she said, so on I went to “the set”. There was also virtually no-one else there, and it would be at least a full hour until the event would be underway, so we had plenty of time.)
I thought about using this pic (look at this great shot, my wife said to me) so to tell you all about a key shift in my life as I prepare for what’s next my end, career-wise. Now Tracy and I had just finished a few weeks where we consulted one other for solid plans. I myself am putting behind unpredictable times and have a fresh new vision, but also am true to that age-old adage — If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! I have to say she is far more optimistic than I dared imagine — and both of us were also realistic. ▶
I attended and presented a talk on Invisible Censorship in China at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the afternoon hours of 04 February 2015. I also was part of the panel which took questions about the debate.
My presentation wasn’t an easy one to give — it wasn’t as if I was ever a “problem” in China, but far more because in Chinese cyberspace, there are an alarming number of blocked “false positives”. As someone who had to scale the wall, I had to speak from experience without the emotions — and that I did, by presenting as objective a view of the matter as possible. The blocks in China, I argued, are certainly an irritant, but they form part of the Internet in China. I argued that the late 2014 term “internet sovereignty” was in fact a non-topic as it had existed de facto for much earlier.
I outlined three challenges and “ways out” for China in this day and age when most of the Anglophone media tend to equate it with outright censorship: government can either choose to tackle, tame, or harness what’s on the Web, where I was in favour of the final option — listening in and harnessing the views of the population.
The event was hosted by the China Development Society of LSE, an influential body in the university, and featured Professor Charlie Beckett, director of Polis, as chair, and Professor Hugo de Burgh, director of the China Media Centre at the University of Westminster, as the other speaker. Around 80 turned up and it was a memorable afternoon of debate and learning. ▶
I joined fellow Radio Beijing co-host Alison Zhou onstage at the Tuanjiehu community’s English event, when we were given the stage not only to promote the newly-created Handbook of Everyday English for Beijing residents. The event was held in the morning hours of 31 May 2014 at the Tuanjiehu local community activities centre.
When you come to think of it, it was a big deal at the end of the day. Both city authorities in charge for international affairs and Radio Beijing, as well as leading English experts in town, took the time to come together and to create a book for the rest of us, telling people how English should best be spoken and used.
Kids, seniors and local residents all joined us in the free two-hour session to get people more and more excited about learning English. Many said they loved listening to our spoken English as they could really learn from this. The event finished at 11:30 with a commitment to take such events to more places around the city. ▶
I served as a judge in the recent Beijing Vocational Teachers Final of the 5th Shanghai Foreign Languages Education Press Foreign Languages Teaching Contest, which took place on 24 & 25 May 2014. The two-day event saw 19 contestants in the first day of contest (semi-finals) and 7 in the finals on the second day.
The goals were simple:
- For the semi-finals: Give each contestant 20 minutes to teach a mock class
- For the finals: Allow 10 minutes for each contestant to describe a lesson plan; finish it off with a 5-minute Q&A session.
Like many contests, this one was a “mixed bag”. Some contestants did minimal interaction (although none did the feared “Boring Lecturer Position”); others were very interactive. Contestant 2 from the first day was my early favourite. He did everything I would do when teaching:
- Allow group activities and permit plenty of interaction
- Be encouraging; sprinkle your lessons with a healthy dose of humour
- Use technology right: in large classrooms, pass at least one other microphone to students and allow them to speak in the same volume as you are (if the teacher uses the mic, get students to do the same)
- Warn students of potential pitfalls
Competition was very fierce, though. In the end, Contestant 4 (who was Contestant 3 on Day 1) won my vote by mentioning role-play as part of her lesson proposal. She also shrank all lessons to 45 minutes (other contestants wanted 90 minutes). Her presentation was extremely persuasive: you could tell she was in it for the long run, and it was all helped by the right mix of body language and eye contact. ▶
On Saturday, 17 May 2014, and again on Sunday, 18 May 2014, Beijing will hold its annual Foreign Languages Fair (World Languages Fair). I’ll play a very active role this time ’round.
Readers, both old and new, of the book, as well as subscribers via the WeChat / AM774 web site channel, are welcome to join me onstage or offstage. I intend to make this an open forum so that people go away with lots of learning to make their next overseas trip smoother, or to make their next encounter with expats in China less difficult.
So to make this conversation two-way and to make the learning “stick”, there will be take-home handouts (expected to be plenty in number). ▶
Things haven’t quite been much the same my end after my 2011 Chinese-language book on Chinglish was born. In the first few months, reaction was somewhat muted — but I had intended for it to have a slow, progressive start instead of a huge media release event. This was my first “real” book, so I’d rather not have messed it up in the beginning.
In 2012, language experts took note and recommended me to people at city radio to do programmes on the very topic. These programmes got off to a start in 2013 and I was on radio nearly every Wednesday.
My active involvement meant that I was invited to take place at the city’s Foreign Languages Festival, which I myself also think of as a World Languages Fair. I had a few minutes on the main stage, followed by a one-hour show that I pulled off live, on air, with everyone tuning in — both via the air waves and folks at the event. ▶
I presented a speech in early 2010 at Ignite Beijing about exploring China on Twitter, which featured my tweeted train travels in the country.
My first “go” on the rails in China came as Beijing’s Subway Line 5 opened in a city which was increasingly stuck in awful road traffic. The love of the rails then spread to other cities as the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity High Speed Railway opened on 01 August 2008.
Travels by train to much of Greater China has opened up me to new destinations and interesting people, and as I also tweet a lot on Twitter, nationwide tweetups with my followers and friends have emerged, making travel by train “with the Twitter factor” that bit more special. ▶
I presented a speech on 05 December 2009 at TEDxGuangzhou entitled The Twitter Story.
I first asked the audience to define what Twitter was — taking special note that Twitter is actually about you, the user. It showed people whom you were — and because it was “mobile”, it could show you — everyday — on the go. This made it a vastly different mode of communication in the day than traditional platforms.
I explored the fact that employers would potentially do a search on a user’s Twitter profile and tweets in future before deciding whether to employ someone new. He pointed out that whilst a résumé might “not always tell the truth”, the blog, and increasingly on Twitter, true feelings were posted. ▶
So, I approached the situation by making use of one of the skills students are really able to perfect over the course of the IB: I procrastinated.
That quote, of course, is from my friend Jeanette at high school — at her graduation ceremonoy. The opposite applies to yours truly. I was thinking about what I’d be saying when I finished my high school. I finally got a chance to do my graduation speech (at the Riverside School in Zug) on June 10, 2000.
It was actually a pretty easy affair. Everyone had their own bits of paper on the lectern, and the rule was that you “felt” yours and read your line. ▶
My driving school teacher back in Winterthur, Switzerland, had some golden words to say about a year I got my driving license. His words of wisdom: Once you know how to drive, you can pick it up pretty much from where you left — even if you had a gap of several long years. The same applies when you grab the microphone as much as it does when you grab the steering wheel.
Having done speeches early on, I know what being in front of the stage means. It means one thing — not having stage fright. If you act stupid, at the very best, expect a hundred blank stares; if it was a mistake on the stage in a fashion contest (as was the case with yours truly on April 16, 2004; the masses, not the mistakes), you’ll look like an idiot in front of a good thousand.
But what if you dump it for the best part of three years? How does it feel picking up after three years? That’s what I did. I haven’t spoken to an audience over around 110 in about the best part of three years. So to me, it felt kind of like of… you know, new frontiers, and stuff like that. I know I’ve been through this before. Yet it’s been three years. My mission: to tell the audience about a five-minute video I’ve done about Beijing in the run-up to 2008. ▶