What is writing, what are words?

I’m currently reading Exhalation by Ted Chiang. One of the short stories involves the interactions between a missionary and a child he has met. They talk about writing.

“Moseby explained to Jijingi how each a person spoke could be indicated with a different mark on the paper. The marks were arranged in rows like plants in a field you looked at the marks as if you were walking down a row, made the sound each mark indicated, and you would find yourself speaking what the original person had said.”

Then words.

”… But you need to leave spaces when you write.” “I have.” Jijingi pointed at the gap between each row. “No, that is not what I mean. Do you see the spaces within each line?” He pointed at his own paper. Jijingi understood. “Your marks are clumped together, while mine are arranged evenly.” “These are not just clumbs of marks. … Where I come from, we call them ‘words’. When we write we leave spaces between the words.” “But what are words.” “How can I explain it?” He thought a moment. “If you speak slowly, you pause very briefly after each word. That’s why we leave a space in those places when we write. Like this: How. Many. Years. Old. Are. You?” He write on his paper has he spoke, leave a space every time he paused. “But you speak slowly because you’re a foreigner. I’m Tiv, so I don’t pause when I speak. Shouldn’t my writing be the same?” “It does not matter how fast you speak. Words are the same whether you speak quickly or slowly.”

It just struck me.

As a Year 1 (kindergarten) teacher, these are things we support students to learn every day. It was interesting to see a discussion that included someone who had never been exposed to the idea of writing or ‘words’.

Cold showers

It started with my sister saying she was doing a challenge of going in the ocean every day and she got mum involved but they live in places you can do that, whereas I don’t. Then I read Leo Babuta’s post on ‘What I Learned About Facing Fear from Cold Swimming;’ which he is doing as part of his ‘discomfort challenges’.

So, as I was meditating a couple of days ago I put 2 and 2 together and got 4 but maybe 5 and decided cold showers should be a thing this week.

Daily Dad - The harder path is worth it

I liked yesterdays Daily Dad

It’s not fair to subject your kids to all the things that have broken your heart in this world. It’s not fair to let your experiences deprive them of the hope and belief they need not just to survive but to be happy.

We have to stay positive. We have to keep trying. We have to remain strong—against the pull of bitterness and anger and hopelessness.

It makes me think of a couple of things that often come to mind. The first is them knowing my fears, or the things that I find difficult. The second is how I’m feeling and how they are aware of that - particularly the negative emotions.

Carole King's Tapestry and its memories.

Carole King’s Tapestry is 50 year old but I can still listen to it. For me, it reminds me of Mum and Dad playing it in the car. Which makes me think of road trips to France and staying in a tent or that time we stayed in Dad’s colleagues holiday home - I remember reading James Herbert horror novels because that’s what was on the shelf and the supermarket playing 7 Seconds by Neneh Cherry and Youssou N’Dour.

Other albums/artists I think about in the same way are by Kate Bush, Elton John and The Eurythmics.

Exercise continues.

Having someone to go with makes it harder to not go and more fun when I do.

Having someone working a different level has been good too, in that it forces me to consider what I’m doing more. As I creep towards 40, I’m making choices about working out so I can work out again this week and next month and for the foreseeable future. I’m happy with the programme I’m doing, I like this quote from their website.

It is for these reasons and more that Linchpin focuses on long-term health and fitness. We want you (and your back, knees, and shoulders) to be fit, happy, healthy, and extremely capable for decades to come.

26th Day of a Mile a Day

Today was my 26th day of walking a(t least a) mile a day (in one go) in December. Tonight, I forgot to start my Outdoor walk workout on my Apple Watch but I got a buzz half way around to ask me if that was what I was doing and it had recorded the walk so far, which is cool.

I was thinking of writing a top 10 things I learned and I did honestly start thinking about that but I’m struggling to find the time at the moment. So, i’ll leave with you the two that I thought of so far.

  1. I thought it would be a struggle to find the time, but it hasn’t been. Most of the walks I’ve done between 8 and 10pm. Probably a lesson there.
  2. I’ve walked the same 2km route most days and that’s been fine too, I thought it would be monotanous but it really hasnt’t been. Probably a lesson there too.

As well, I’m happy with not doing any running at all, I meant to but with the walk I’m out of the flat pretty quickly as long as everything is charged and I don’t need to do anything


2020 is the year of the Kind Movie — and it couldn’t have come at a better time

Also, tv because it mentions Ted Lasso and while I don’t think I agree with all the kind films I do like the idea. There’s lots of recommendations and discussion too in the Metafilter thread I saw the link.

And while I’m at it, I had meant to talk about Speed Cubers and Queen’s Gambit because they both caught my eye for similar reasons. The first is a documentary ostensably about people doing Rubik’s cube’s REALLY fast and that’s why I started it but it turns out to be about the rivalry and friendship. The latter, I just like how it resolved it in the end.

'Want to change the world? Start by being brave enough to care'

I’m trying to be more focused today, possibly tomorrow too, which mostly means not picking my phone up every ten seconds and using my computer more purposefully. Today’s struggle was trying to sit through of all of this TED talk without opening a new browser window to search for the speaker’s name or sending a message to someone about it. I managed it, which I’m pretty proud of.

It’s called Want to change the world? Start by being brave enough to care and I liked it a lot because it was something I benefited from hearing.

no finish line

I read yesterday about how Austin Kleon was writing about there being no finish line and talked about the Big Dog’s Backyard which is a race, of sorts, where you have an hour to 4.1677miles and if you can do that, you do it again and again and again.

the race format where you are always tied for the lead….
until you give up..
the race format where anyone can win.
all they have to do is to never quit.

It’s not surprising it’s from the man who started The Barkley Marathon. One of those things I’d never do but would like to, it’s a little out there. I like that even if I don’t like running but there was a time when a friend and I did 35miles in a day just because and that was different. Maybe because it was outside, the UK has some beautiful countryside.

Which is a round-about way of getting to my point, I read about someone doing The Character Mile where you run a mile a day. I was considering doing something, for me that’s normally burpees, so I’m going ot try and step outside my comfort zone a little.

Since I started reading it at 10pm last night I walked the 3.2km home today and that’ll have to do for the first two days. I also drank 2 beers as I did it, but we’ll see if I stick with that…

5 Nice Things

Kottke just linked to this post titled An Easy Way To Practise Gratitude which is about a game where you simply name 5 nice things in your life. The rules are ‘don’t overthink it, and be specific.’

It ties in nicely for me with something I do about noticing nice things in my life, which I got from this Kurt Vonnegut quote

Anyway, here are mine…

  1. The security guard at school said good morning in English to me yesterday. Normally they would greet us in Chinese but he’s obviously been practising. Even though I had my headphones in it made me smile. Going against my normal programming I shared it in a school chat group and it turns out other people had noticed too. It made me feel a little more connected with people at school/work and I’m glad I shared it.

  2. A teacher’s friend is doing takeaway food from his flat. Yesterday he did bbq chicken with chips, peas and coldslaw and it was amazing. We ate it with a few friends and I had a couple of drinks and didn’t even get too annoyed with the kids!

  3. It’s the weekend and Lyra and I are going on a date tonight while the grandparents babysit. Curry and cocktails. I think I might get my hair cut today aswell. “My hair is long because I haven’t had the time to have it cut.”

  4. It’s the morning, Lyra and Yumo are asleep. I’m having coffee and Elise is getting some screentime. No one is crying or angry and it’s a very pleasant start to Saturday morning.

  5. The Apple photo widget has such a noticeable, positive impact on my life. Opening my phone to old photos of my wife, kids and family is just THE BEST.

New plan: Have something to do in the evening.

I find I come home from work and spend time with the kids and eventually get them to bed and then I have time. The thing I want most in the whole world, beyond a home gym and a British supermarket.

Yet, I inevitably waste it with idle browsing, being annoyed or stressed or anxious, some of this and some of that. Then suddenly it’s late and I really should be in bed and I’m feeling no better for the time.

So new plan is to have a plan in the evening. Monday was go to the gym, which was awesome and then. Yesterday Lyra and I started watching Monsters and Love - which is fine if the voiceovers are a bit much.

I think I just need to be specific. Using the time to go through my RSS feeds or even catching up on some YouTube videos is fine. There just needs to be purpose.


New me continues. Am I peaking too early?

Broke out the kettlebell and did this:

Perform 5 circuits of the following:

5 Dumbbell Snatches Per Arm
5 Dumbbell Swings Per Arm
10 Burpees
Rest 60 seconds and repeat


The burpees slowed me right down. I should do more of them I suppose.

It occurred to me that I am, finally, becoming more pragmatic about doing exercise. Not by choice you understand. I would dearly love a gym outfitted in a way that China doesn’t do - by which I mean like a Crossfit gym - but it’s not going to happen. Maybe one day.

The one at school is actually pretty close but I can only use it straight after work and that doesn’t work. My family will come first. Always. Even if it gratesd, and it did. It still does a little. The pragmatism is there now, I’m happier about finding something that works for me, and that being ok.

That said, the big issue is not eating so much rubbish. That’s the real struggle!


The few hours Lyra and I just had were just what I needed. A chance to reset my mindset and for me to start again.

I’ve found it difficult when I’m either with my own children before and after work and other people’s children between 6am and 9pm. Much as love my own children and I do enjoy my teaching other people’s.

It’s one of those things about teaching that, when you’re working, yes you’re in charge but your time is very much not your own. You can’t leave the room to go to the toilet or go speak to someone, you can’t sit and have a think. While we do get some ‘free’ time during the time, it’s incredibly difficult to switch off. When you’re teaching them there’s a million other things to do.

Anyway. I feel very much better for the evening off of parenting and teaching.

Best thing you can do for your children sometimes, is to be away from them!

24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

When your job involves working with young children (I teach Year 1(kindergarten)) and you have small children of your own at home. So your life involves the associated testing of patience before, during and after work. It’s a little emotionally taxing.

In other news grass is green and water is wet.

This is also me thinking I should be a little kinder on myself.

Ok, I didn’t make it to the gym this evening but I did do some KB swings, squats and press (push) ups on the balcony - which is better than nothing. Only in 31c heat, so not too hot…

Feeling all the better for it too.

exercise plans

In theory it made sense.

I want to exercise more regularly but I’m also aware that when I exercised straight after work it impacted on the kids and my wife. Since I was getting home late. I didn’t like it and always felt guilty for working out so it never felt like ‘quality time’ and, honestly, it wasn’t enjoyable as a result.

Over the summer, we joined a gym and while the equipment selection was dire it was better than nothing.

So the idea was that I could go to the gym after the kids went to bed in the evening. I could come home straight from work and spend more time with them and help with cooking dinner etc.

In theory it made sense.

Except, unsuprisingly, after being at work all day and then coming home and dealing with that stuff, picking myself up to go to the gym and work out is proving tricky/difficult/impossible.

I did it once last week.

And today is the same.

I like the time I get with the kids but I also would like to exercise - for my emotional and physical health. I don’t know, I don’t have answers honestly. Just lots of questions. Should I put myself first more often? What about my wife? Or is always that my children come first?

Do. Not. Know.

The Home Office

This story of a British lawyer being refused a visa he didn’t apply for always gets me as I imagine us in that situation, trying to navigate the UK Home Office to get Lyra a visa. It’s not a simple process.

Rereading and enjoying Ted Chiang’s - Stories of your life and others, a collection of short stories that includeds the story that the film Arrival was based on. Now, want to watch the fim again.

A friend came around this evening so Elise could give her her birthday present.

Elise and Yumo were very excited to see her and help her unwrap her present. Elise didn’t stop talking.

I felt like I saw Elise through different eyes today. It’s the wood from the trees isn’t it?

Deep breath

The classroom is nearly as set up as it’s going to be. We have new students coming in tomorrow for a short while to meet us. Then we start in earnest on Monday. Most of our students will be in school, with a few not because they’re unable to get into the country.

It feels like this will be the last pause before everything becomes chaotic next week. Trying to take a moment to breathe before that all starts.

FYI running in 36 degree heat will leave you feeling unwell. Wouldn’t recommend it. Who knew?!

Nervous flyer

I remember the first time I was nervous flying.

Growing up, it’s not that we flew a lot but when we did it was relatively long flights. So i’ve always been fine flying. It’s the safest form of travel! All the same, you’re pretty high in the air arent’ you often over boundless stretches of water,

It was after Elise was born and suddenly everything was different. The first time we flew a shortish flight and I was suddenly nervous on take off. It wasn’t about just me anymore.

I think this thought popped up because I was in the hospital today and that’s always a good place to get you thinking about things.

Full names.

It’s interesting to hear Elise talking to classmates as she leaves school. In Chinese she uses their full name - which is normally two or three characters and so that many ‘sounds’. So, it doesn’t make saying the whole name too long.

I thought how strange that would be if children did that in the UK or similar places.


Workout today was supposed to be 3 X 1000m row but I was forced to run instead. First time I’ve run in quite a while. I realised:

  • Sometimes I like running - it felt pretty good
  • But I don’t like treadmills as I could maybe have gone faster but wasn’t quite brave enough.
  • I’m not confident about my Airpods Pros staying in.

After I did some farmer’s carry’s and then some side plank. Lyra and I have been exercising more regularly than I have in the longest time and I feel so much better for doing it. Would love to continue but how I fit that into my schedule when I go back to work is to be decided.


Our youngest likes to see the light rail trains.

We always point them out when we see them. Yet, we don’t ever take them even though the station is only 5 minutes walk from our flat. It’s easier to drive or take a Didi (Chinese Uber). So this afternoon we took the kid on it. Lyra found a restaurant near* a stop that’s 6 stops away. So we donned our masks since it’s one of the few places that you still have to wear them and we went.

It was nice. It felt like an adventure.

We walked (and walked). We saw things. We explored a new area a little. It made us realise we didn’t do this much. We drive and and we go to the same places a lot. We said, we should do this again soon. Admittedly we also said it would be easier when the kids are bigger too!

Then we found the place, a Korean bbq restaurant, that was busier then we expected but was worth the wait. We’d bought some baozi (steamed buns) for the kids on the way to keep the kids occupied a little. I had a couple of beers, Lyra and I shared some plum wine too. The place was busy in a good way. I started to feel a little drunk, in the best kind of way.

Here’s to next time.

*It wasn’t near.