07 January 2024

Last class at the Yangpu Bilingual High School

woodworking tables and chairs

         On January 4th I conducted the final woodworking class of senior middle school students at the YangPu Bilingual school. The school officially refers to this course as Design and Technology but I wasn't made aware of this distinction until I was given the student roster. 

The guardhouse of the closed campus

             I came into this job through Chen Yonggang who has learned to supply contract teaching to school administrators who understand that there is a need to provide their students with handicraft instruction but lack the institutional skills to do so internally. He provides the materials, the teachers, and the projects that the students complete. He mainly hires young women to teach students in primary schools. I agreed to teach the high school aged students since I knew that their English level would have allowed me to actually instruct. Somehow accepting this job compelled me to also teach a class at the primary school level. My reasons for why I didn't think this was a good idea were irrelevant since Chen Yonggang had already promised to the school that he could provide with a foreign teacher.


            As it happened, the school informed me while I was travelling in Hungary that they were not pleased with my classroom management with the primary school students and upset that my class and the one being taught simultaneously in the adjacent classroom were not synchronized. So I guess in the end, my reasons won out. This worked out for the best since I was teaching the primary school students four days a week for . As a result I only needed to commute once a week to Shanghai.

The primary school class schedule

            This seemed to have been the first time that Mr Chen has been contracted for a course at such an upper level and with a western instructor. He decided in advance that the students would make model of a Dougong timberframed structure. He even hired an extra man to develop the prototype that would then be copied by the students. I entered the classroom with this in the back of my mind and stressed to Mr Chen that I needed the model as quickly as possible to help motivate the students onto their main task.   

         To his credit, Mr Chen observed the first class that I taught during which I introduced the themes of timberframing, the research and life of the architect, Liang Sicheng, the tools associated with the trade, and the recent rebuilding of Notre Dame. I conduct this style of lesson in order to gauge the students' level of English. It was evident that there was a wide range of abilities. 

Critical part for the turningsaw project

        Mr Chen confessed to my wife that he was there in the classroom with me on the first day so as to be able to offer me some tips to help me out in the classroom; he, instead, confided in her that he was impressed by the amount of information that I was able to present in an organized manner and how well the students remained focused.  Yeah, it's called teaching.  

Dougong model
            The bulk of the coursework were projects that Mr Chen has developed for his own courses and for sales. One of the projects, for example, was the same folding stool that I have already written about. Other projects included both a bowsaw and a turningsaw, a try square, and chopsticks. In this classroom, the students are given metal vises to hold wood. I donated a few bench hooks from my own failed woodworking school and a few students recognized their utility but there weren't enough. With this in mind and the upcoming dougong model, I decided on teaching the students how to make the Underhill style bench hook. 
Still from Lie Nielsen film studios
        The construction of this bench hook offered the students an opportunity practice layout, crosscutting with their newly made bowsaws, and paring chisel techniques. I thought it was a great addition but Mr Chen wasn't convinced until I showed him the video. And then he was very concerned that I would be teaching the students how to use a chisel. He is as much concerned with the possibility that a student might cut himself as how parents would react when they learned that their investments were being put at risk.

Painter's palette


 contact milkpaint fumes










            I conducted a lesson on making milkpaint on the Thursday before Christmas. There was less enthusiasm for this lesson than I had gotten in the past. There was however a lot of enthusiasm for painting which many students were very talented in. I don't think any of the students understood that the plywood forms represented spherical tree ornaments. Most students treated the precut pattern pieces as a flat board upon which they painted Christmas scenes.

Abandoned decoration

Common photo pose










On the last day, I repeated the instructions as to how the interviews would be conducted and I put a list of names on the whiteboard to help facilitate the sequence. I sat in an adjoining room and waited nearly 15 minutes before I reentered the classroom to remind the class about the interviews. 

Adrian completed the bench hook!

Peter, volunteer bodyguard

Eric and his two saws

Vanessa and her projects

            I got a final opportunity to learn the students' names and get feedback about the course and projects. While I did manage to routinely interact with all the students during the previous months of Thursdays, I wasn't always able to speak with them in a meaningful manner. In the interviews, some students were clearly imitating what they had just learned from their exiting classmates what to expect, having quickly memorized and rattled off answers to questions I had not yet asked. In other instances, the students revealed just how little working vocabulary they acquired: "wood make this."






I finished this last lesson late and discovered that the teaching assistant had already moved onto her next class period. I sent a pic via the social media app, WeChat, to her and she thanked me. Class was over.  

Hammers and saws

painted tool arrangement

As I was leaving the building, I poked my head into the adjacent classroom where an art lesson was being conducted. I saw that the woodworking tools had been repurposed for another teacher's painting class.

Geese and sausage

Bacon and sycamore


The preserved meats one can see streetside in a major metropolis   

To all those who celebrate, Happy Epiphany!

07 November 2023

Magyar Utazás (Hungarian Journey)

Outbound travellers
      I needed a new hobby to help me cope with the restrictions due to the Covid lockdowns, some sort of activity that would provide mental stimulation, be potentially open-ended, and enhance my employability. And in a nutshell such are the main reasons for my decision to begin studying Hungarian.   

    Indisputably acquiring a language, even one's mothertongue, can be a lifelong venture. Vocabulary is limitless. Libraries are ever expanding their selections. Language study is certainly a means of maintaining brain plasticity. I also wanted to test some of the methods that I have been encouraging my students to use while they improved their English speaking abilities while also developing new ideas gained through my own study process.

German, English, French Speaking Clubs

Another upside that I had not immediately anticipated was that studying uncommon languages potentially creates social connections amongst those who do the same. 

I needed to set some reasonable goals for myself and one was travelling to Hungary to put my language acquisition to the test. I admit that I am still far from conversant in this language; nevertheless, I did meet with some limited success.

On October 11th, the wife and I set off from Shanghai Pudong after travelling from Nanjing to spend the night in an airport hotel to fly out at 09:30 onto our first leg in Zurich. We ended up going through passport control in Zurich and made the mistake of getting a room in a hotel close to the airport instead of just settling into the airport facilities for those with long layovers. Live and learn. The Zurich airport, nonetheless, was quite easy to orient ourselves through, even though Julia had some containers of liquids confiscated because she didn't remove them from her carryon. Live and learn. x2

Study Hungarian and become a millionaire
    It was a brief hop onto the Budapest airport where I first began encountering Hungarian in its natural environment. I found myself pleasantly pleased by my ability to comprehend the signage. Our first challenge was discovering that our credit card technology was not updated to European standards. Most merchants only use credit card readers that rely on embedded chips that can be tapped to complete a transaction. Swiping is an increasingly obsolete technology, it seems. Fortunately Julia was able to work with one of the shuttle bus workers to buy the necessary tickets in order to wend our way across the city to our B&B on the Buda side.
Trilingual signage customized for our arrival
    The ride to our residence was an intense introduction to the landmarks and sights which awaited us.  After settling in, it seemed like time to taste some of the local specialties. We strolled around the neighborhood until we stumbled up the Dérnyé Bistztró. I ordered the Lecsó and Julia got the French Onion soup. Sadly, the soup was overly salted with rubbery cheese, definitely not Gruyère, which covered a massive hunk of bread that failed to come apart with a spoon. Recipe failure. 

Cheesy French onion soup
 `The Lecsó, which is often translated as ratatouille (no, it's not at all), was rather good, sautéed capsicums, tomatoes, and onions with an in-house bread. It went well with a local craft ale, Fóti Pils.  I boldly went ahead and indulged by ordering the túrós gomboc. Even the single gomboc was more than I could consume. Túró is basic cheese curd which is why it is often translated as cottage cheese or quark. It's mixed with bread crumbs and then poached and then was served with a yogurt, heavy cream topping with what seemed to be praline topping. Tasty, but the mouthfeel was diminished by grittiness from the breadcrumbs.
    On our way back to our first B&B in Hungary, we discovered Spar to stock up on groceries and alcohol. It's a good source for all that one needs to make a meal, although Aldi is cheaper. One discovery that is notable and worth sharing is that high quality European beers and wines can be purchased ore cheaply than the domestic Hungarian lagers. I was planning on doing a tasting of the common Hungarian beers e.g. Dreher, Borsodi, Pocsék etc. But then I made an interesting discovery. All of these doubtful beers were more expensive than Pilsner Urquell, which is of a known quality. I must admit that I didn't even try tasting the national industrial brews. It's worth pointing out here that while shopping at Aldi, I found one of the lowest priced reds was a Puglian Primitivo, which made the choice so easy. I did, in fact, but a bottle of Kékfrankos at a higher price point than the Italian reds, but I would not suggest that anybody do so.
NeoClassical façade of Buda tunnel
    On Friday the 13th, Julia decided that she needed to buy me a pair of shoes. She found a Birkenstock outlet and we headed there early. The shop carried exactly what I wanted and the service staff had a commendable level of English skills. Budapest, based generally on its level of English communication skills, is an international metropolis. With new shoes in tow, we walked around until Julia found a Turkish/Greek buffet where Julia saw some food on display that appealed to her. 
Buda Tunnel looking out upon the Lánchíd
    With our bellies sated, we stumbled around and into the Jewish quarter, a Zsidó négyved. I can now claim to have visited there. We trotted back to our apartment for a rest and to unload. Later at night we went out to a another restaurant, Plántan Grill Étterem, where the multilingual waiter tolerated my attempt to order in the local language. Julia had her coveted goulash/gulyas and and I tried the cíganpecsenye. We walked off the calories with a late night stroll along the Danube.
ülõlös étterem

Szechényi Chain Bridge: Lánchíd, opened 1849
    Saturday the 14th, we planned to meet my longtime language exchange partner, Tabi Gabor, who rode a train into the city from Hatvan. We met up on Blaha Lujza tér where I spotted the first McDonald's outlet in Hungary. Just down the street was a Chinese restaurant where he remembered eating years back. It has expanded much since his initial visit. Its interior was completely similar to any from the mainland. Gabor let Julia order and he even seemed to enjoy the boned chicken feet and steamed whole fish. He was gracious enough to pick up the bill. we spent a goodly amount of time in the restaurant but then we decided to seek out a café to continue our discussions. We treated at the coffeshop but Gabor only chose to drink water. 
Tabi Gabor appreciating his birthday gift
    We said our goodbyes as Tabi úr needed to return home to tend to his aging dog.  Julia got the idea that she wanted to pass by the Keleti Pályaudvar where we would board a train later to travel to Pécs. We wandered about, not following any clear direction through a rather decrepit section of the city and yet still managed to find it.

Kinai étlap



The cathedral around a corner from a Chinese restaurant

         On Sunday the weather was slightly stormy. After getting a bit lost trying to find a bookstore which seemingly no longer exists, we discovered a restaurant operated by a Fujian family around a corner from the St Stephen's Basilica. Later that same evening we connected with another language exchange partner who was able to spare a few hours to get away from his teaching responsibilities and graduate studies deadlines.


Keleti Pályaudvar


    On Wednesday, it was time to relocate to Pécs by train. Despite some confusion with the tickets and how we were charged, we boarded on time and watched as the scenery passed outside the windowpanes. The bigger challenge of the day was finding the B&B located near the university campus on Tibor utca 30A. We encountered a friendly father who was passing by to pick up his children from a nearby primary school. He admitted to struggling to follow the original Hungarian instructions that were translated by the app for us. As we came to understand, 30 was the lot number with segregated plots for different residential housing units.  The entrance to our B&B was discovered up a steep hill well off of Tibor utca. This frustration would prove to be foreshadowing. We found a Spar in the neighborhood and stocked up for our stay.

Pécs streetscape
    The next day, we decided to explore the covered the farmers' market. This is also where I ordered and tasted my first lángos and where Julia chatted with a Chinese food stall owner. Langós is simply fried  bread dough smothered with sour cream and other condiments. I bought two: one with shredded cheese and a second with slivered red onion. After the first bite, my first thought was that this bland mass of carbs and fat needs hot sauce. The dough is fluffy and the crust tears apart readily. And that was that.

covered farmers' market
Flower arrangements

Paprikák és más zöldségek

Julia connecting with the Han Chinese diaspora

From the market we moved back closer to the city center and found ourselves on a plaza bordered by the Synagogue museum. The building itself is now longer an active synagogue since the Jewish population is too low to require such a large edifice.
Pécs Jewish life museum built 1869


Cast Iron column

Stenciled decoration

Ceiling detail

We then continued exploring the downtown are where we knew that we would return to over the next few days. We returned to the B&B with enough sunlight remaining to enjoy a bottle of kékfrankos outdoors.

Zsolnay fountain on Széchenyitér
School group
        On Friday morning we headed directly to the Zsolnay Museum. The collection and the building itself display a wealth of visual stimulation.  We managed to avoid getting mixed up with the group tours.

Architectural ceramics

Highly trained ducks


Zsolnay ceramic tile sample
     The route thence to the Necropolis is short. While the content might be considered light, the design of walkways is in many ways more interesting which enables visitors to walk over and under the crypts in order to observe the painted interiors and carved tombs. I was much less impressed by the Medieval university building which doesn't even assert was a university. But it might have been.
Doorway sculpture
    We found lunch on the central plaza at a Turkish takeout. Julia and I afterwards walked along the outside of the extant citywalls and then reentered the perimeter near the Saint Stephen church where a wedding was underway.
drawbridge and arrowslit window

section of medieval city fortifications

Father and bride

Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul
     Saturday was so rainy that we decided to rest by staying in. On Sunday we made the decision to cut our visit to Pécs short. The list of complaints with the B&B hostess was growing. According to the description of her rental unit, we expected to meet with her. Even though she lived in the upstairs from us, she only communicated through texts in the app. When the internet service was down, her response was dismissive and rude. She also failed to provide the cleaning supplies that she listed as basic, telling my wife, Julia, when she asked about laundry detergent that this wasn't a 5 star hotel.
Atlantes on a Pécs street
    Secondly, I was not able to meet with any of the contacts that I made as part of language exchange. One  professor has relocated to accept a job at a different university and a second local English studying gentleman who had been very informative about what to expect in Pécs, casually ghosted me when I confirmed my arrival time. Budapest thus became a better place to be.

Neglected doorway

Modern transport

Former Grocerystore and streetscape
    After rebooking our tickets at the station, we decided to enjoy our last meal at Fõtér, which overlooks the historic central plaza. We began with a venison soup and a local beer, Pécsi sör lager. Both proved to be good choices. I chose a a chicken tikka masala for Julia to meet her rice needs; whereas, I selected a local cheese and charcuterie platter, a few morsels that helped solidify a positive memory of Pécs.

View from the main square towards train station

Pasha Qasim Mosque

Photo op photo opped
     When we arrived back in Budapest on Monday, we were booked into a downtown B&B where we could stay for two days until moving to our final lodging during our Hungarian travels. The building embodied all the features of a pre-electric era: large central courtyard, transom windows, and tall ceilings. It's astounding how much of the housing stock in Budapest retain their 19th century structure and decorative details.

Detail Keleti Pályaudvar interior

 19th century courtyard view
 It's easy enough to just poke one's head into a doorway to discover the handiwork and variety.

19th century vestibule

terrazzo and Greek key motif

View through a peephole

Randomly underfoot craftsmanship
     We relocated on Wednesday to an apartment closer to the Danube and with an equally impressive view. The next day we rode the full length of the M1 line and then walked back along much of its length. The Opera building stands out as a marvel of sculptural ornamentation.
windowsill detail

dedicatory muses

Archway key and metopes

Random sphinx ornament


    We got in a last round of souvenir shopping in an underground market, mostly refrigerator magnets. We chose a Vietnamese restaurant to lunch in because the wife needed a dose of rice. I am guessing the cooks have adjusted their recipes to accord with the local lángos eaters. My curry rice was inspid and lacked any flavor of curry spice.

Interior Nagy Vásárcsarnok

Szabadság bridge and tramvae

    We agreed to meet with a local woman who works as a English tutor at one of her favorite cafés, Green  Cukrászda és kávézó, within a short distance of the Nyugati Pályaudvar, another historic train station presently undergoing renovation and upgrades and designed by the same man who created the Statue of Liberty.  Gabor would also join us along with his longtime friend, Juhasz Max whose English speaking skills he always compares his own as inferior to. 

Nyugati Railway Station

Nyugato Pályaudvar from Eiffel square
     We spent a good part of the afternoon sipping coffee, tasting a selection of pastries, and chatting, mostly about topics related to Max's globetrotting career path, who has worked in both the USA and the UK in a variety of fields e.g. a CNC operator for a subcontractor to Boeing in CA and a homemover in the UK. We dipped a little bit into in international politics, too. I found that he much more quickly understood the dynamics within an authoritarian system as I spoke about the ongoing downward spiral in the PRC. He admitted that he didn't follow Hungarian and yet conceded that area where he lives is reliably supportive of the Fidesz party.

Neglected splendor

Subway Ironwork

Memorable Entryway

Tribute to a Germ Theoretician
     We all were feeling hungry so we decided to make a trek back to the first Chinese restaurant that Gabor introduced us nearby Blaha Lujza tér. The meal progressed with more friendly banter until we bid our last goodbyes.
Typical Hungarian fare

PRC allegience

Saturday was our last day in Hungary. We arose,packed, departed, and made our way to the airport. Since we had some spare time, we took advantage of the observatory platform and had lunch, experiencing our first yogurt bar. As if to help me experience a throwback to post 9/11 paranoia, the security officers forced me to remove my belt and shoes. Hú, I have lost weight.


Roof timbers

Wooden pavers

From Münich to Shanghai the flight felt quicker.

Memorial to the Revolution of October 23rd 1956
 To those who celebrate: Boldog Köztársaság Napját!


The musuem displays are citywide