Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Review - Teaching with Chopsticks by Jonathan Last

So the next indie review is here. Teaching with Chopsticks by Jonathan Last. Another book you’re not likely to see on the shelves of WH Smith, Tescos, or even Waterstones.

Teaching with Chopsticks: TEFL from the Frontline

Once again this is a book about teaching English as a foreign language that’s a must if you are or ever have been a TEFL teacher. Or even if you’re thinking about taking that year out and would like a heads up on what it’s really like. More so than Stranger in Taiwan because this is essentially all about teaching.

In fact that’s the great thing about this book. Not only does it include the obvious drama of overcoming initial feelings of loneliness to create a new set of friends; acclimatising to a foreign environment, and plenty of nights down the local bar… it’s also very much about the job you have to do when you get there. It’s primarily about the experience of being thrown into a room with a group of children, staring up at you: expecting you to be their teacher; then gradually learning the skills needed to cope with all the ups and downs of the work.

Jonathan Last went to Korea with the intention of writing a book about his teaching experiences and it shows. The detail he puts in and the way the plot moves around his ever changing attitudes towards the job and Korea in general… this is no memoir, you’re actually there with him, which makes for great reading.

I also enjoyed the subtle sense of humour, the way Last manages to fit in jokes almost accidentally… or incidentally… but I’ll stop rabbiting on and leave you with a short quote:

I must have arrived between lessons because children are running around everywhere, stopping to examine me with great curiosity. The standard interaction is as follows:

Child: “Hello. What’s your name?”
Me: “Hi, my name is Jon.
(Child runs off giggling)

Those are the bolder ones; the more shy specimens just hang back and observe me from afar, in huddles. Uniformly black-haired creatures running around like some sort of sped-up negative of The Village of the Damned, an alien language filling the air and plastered all over the walls – I’ve definitely arrived.

(If you’d like to read the first 2 chapters in full you can get a sample from the Amazon page).

The only problem with this book is that it isn’t available in print. It’s been published by a small company specialising in e-books called e-books publisher. One day I hope to see it picked up by a larger company because it definitely deserves a wider readership.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Story 12 - ...rs

I’m happy as I am. Staying in this hotel bar for the whole of my two week vacation is not so bad. Making it here was my objective; boyhood dream finally realised. Took a lifetime to save up the money and now I’m too old and decrepit to walk to the bathroom without suffering pains in my legs and toes. Climbing the highest mountain in the solar system was never on the cards anyway.

The expedition set off this morning. They asked and were polite to but I graciously refused. A young American with bleached blond hair and a pretty girlfriend said, “You not coming then grandpa?” and I laughed at their earnest expressions.

Alone at a table sipping on red-bean milk (famously the local drink here in Wyndham Village) I feel entirely satisfied. The walls of the bar are of glass – there’s a magnificent view of Olympus and the famous red dessert surrounds me: is there any real need to go outside?

By evening I can sense from the murmurings of bar staff that something has gone wrong. Then, at 9 o’clock a short announcement is made:

“The party of twelve that left for Mount Olympus this morning has met with unforeseen difficulties.”

They say friends and family members will be notified of the exact details – but they never tell you the whole truth, do they?

Even later a tall local woman (I can tell from the fashionable brown cloak and hair that twirls round to a point at the top of her head) sits down opposite me to start a conversation about a rumour she’s heard of aliens. She looks worried. It’s folklore here after all. She’s pale, wide eyed and interested in me because I come from Earth. My age probably puts her at ease: the conversation at least is not inhibited by our difference in gender.

I’m familiar enough with the stories she’s telling me but nod politely so as not to insult her. They say that dismissing the idea of native Martian life is a major faut pas so I listen, offering no contradictions.

There’s the face of course (another tourist attraction; better viewed from space) and other rock formations that people like to think are constructions of a past alien civilisation. The idea of these beings remaining in existence has inspired many stories. But it’s the legends of a dark mass that can swallow you up in the night that brings fear to most locals. A tale they tell to children about a black cloud that will rush down upon you (if you tell a lie or are naughty) is embedded in their culture – it’s obvious to me that such story telling is the true source of this belief. Although people have disappeared over the years… mostly explained by the number of illegal emigrations back to Earth; but we’ll never know for sure of course.

She’s pretty. I wonder if she’s a prostitute, entertaining me with her conversation, buttering me up for the kill. Then later when I realise she was offering genuine friendship it’s all too late.

A few hours afterwards she drops to the floor clutching her throat. Surrounded, then swallowed by a crowd of bar staff, fellow drinkers; two robots arrive on the scene to remove the body. A further announcement informs that a woman has died in Bar Lotus of the Dominion complex. A tall grey haired official comes on the scene, tells us no one is to leave until we have all been interviewed.

I finish my latest glass of red bean juice and glance once more to the profile of Olympus against what is now a deep and murky, dark pink sky.