Category Archives: Tianjin Laoren English Culture

Readings: Learning English

Dear Students,

this week we will do the following readings and have some exercises about them.

Reading 1. Who owns English?


The article is from your Face2Face Upper Intermediate text books, chapter one, page 6. The original article was from Newsweek, 07/03/05.

Reading 2. Michelle’s language learning.

Michelle's language learning

The reading is from your Face2Face Upper Intermediate text books, chapter one, page 7. The audio file for this is R1.1 (you can listen to it). 

Additional Exercise: using verbs in a sentence

Choose five of the following verbs and use them to make up sentences about yourself:

  • stop
  • avoid
  • persuade
  • remember
  • refuse
  • try
  • help
  • end up
  • hope
  • encourage
  • pretend

The exercise is based on the ‘quick review’ on page 12 of Face2Face, Upper Intermediate.

Reading Three: Evening classes.

BCFE evening classes


S: I what way?


The audio for this reading is r1.7.

Readings shared privately with students for educational purposes only.

The best classical music works of the 21st century (The Guardian online)

From left: The Tempest, The Minotaur, L’amour de loin, Hamlet

Over the coming week, the Guardian will select the greatest culture since 2000, carefully compiled by critics and editors. We begin with a countdown of defining classical music compositions, from X-rated opera to high-tech string quartets

Read an interview with our No1 choice

by , . , , , and

25 Jennifer Walshe

XXX Live Nude Girls (2003)

Jennifer Walshe asked girls about how they played with their Barbie dolls, and turned the confessionals into an opera of horrors in which the toys unleash dark sex play and acts of mutilation. Walshe is a whiz for this kind of thing: she yanks off the plastic veneer of commercial culture by parodying then systematically dismembering the archetypes. KM
Read our review | watch a production from 2016 BIFEM

24 John Adams

City Noir (2009)

Adams’s vivid portrait of Los Angeles, as depicted in the film noir of the 1940s and 50s, is a three-movement symphony of sorts, and a concerto for orchestra, too. It’s an in-your-face celebration of orchestral virtuosity that references a host of American idioms without ever getting too specific. It’s not his finest orchestral work by any means (those came last century), but an effective, extrovert showpiece. AC
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

Immediate … the Sixteen and Britten Sinfonia perform Stabat Mater, conducted by Harry Christophers. Photograph: Mark Allan

23 James MacMillan

Stabat Mater (2016)

The prolific Scottish composer has made an impact on choral music, by drawing on his Roman Catholic roots, most recently in his Fifth Symphony, Le grand Inconnu, and in his Tenebrae Responsories. His Stabat Mater for chorus and string orchestra, premiered and commissioned by Harry Christophers and the Sixteen, caught the public imagination, its message direct, immediate, radiant and impassioned. FM
Read our review | Watch the world premiere performance at the Vatican

22 Linda Catlin Smith

Piano Quintet (2014)

She holds the fabric between the fingers, she tests the fibres. She leaves space around the material to consider it from this way and that, then sinks in deep. Catlin Smith’s music is slow and quiet but it’s also lush. More than any minimalist, she takes her cues from Couperin, Debussy and the paintings of Agnes Martin. The results are sparse, rugged and sensual; quiet does not have to mean soft. KM
Read our review

21 Max Richter

The Blue Notebooks (2004)

Written in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, The Blue Notebooks is Max Richter’s meditation on violence and war, one that was recorded in three hours. The song cycle is linked by narration from Tilda Swinton, but the most compelling pieces don’t require words. Organum is a funereal organ solo, Shadow Journal a piece of ambient house, but the centrepiece is On the Nature of Daylight (since used on countless films and TV soundtracks), where ever-expanding layers of strings are used to heart-tugging effect. JL
Richter writes about his composition | Listen on Spotify


Watch Roomful of Teet perform Caroline Shaw’s Partita

20 Caroline Shaw

Partita (2013)

Caroline Shaw’s Partita, written for her own vocal octet Roomful of Teeth, is an explosion of energy cramming speech, song and virtually every extended vocal technique you can think of into its four “classical” dance movements. It might blow apart solemn, hard-boiled notions of greatness, but it has to be the most joyous work on this list. EJ
Read more here | Listen on Spotify.

19 Cassandra Miller

Duet for cello and orchestra (2015)

A slow cello pivots between two notes, a steadfast voyager on a road laced with spangly seduction (brass fanfares, ardent strings). The journey lasts half an hour; it sums up a resolute lifetime of holding the course in bright and heartsore times. Miller is a master of planting a seed and setting in motion an entrancing process, then following through with the most sumptuous conviction. KM
Read the review | Listen to an extract.

18 Brett Dean

Hamlet (2017)

The Australian Brett Dean, a viola player in the Berlin Philharmonic before concentrating on composition, found his operatic voice with Hamlet. An ingenious reworking of Shakespeare (libretto by Matthew Jocelyn) which opens with a fragmented “To be, or not to be…”, it was premiered at Glyndebourne in 2017 with Allan Clayton in the title role and Barbara Hannigan as Ophelia. FM
Read the review | Watch a trailer

Closure of sorts … the Kronos Quartet perform WTC 9/11. Photograph: Mark Allan

17 Steve Reich

WTC 9/11 (2011)

It took the quintessential New York composer a full 10 years to process the horrors of September 11 and compose this dissonant threnody, one that sets Reich’s sawing strings against manipulated voices. The recordings of horrified air traffic controllers and eyewitnesses are spliced and looped, the tonalities of their speech replicated (sometimes almost mockingly) by the Kronos Quartet, before we reach a closure of sorts with a cantor’s prayer. JL
Read the review | Watch a live performance.

16 Rebecca Saunders

Skin (2016)

Rebecca Saunders’s music always makes a visceral and violent, yet sensually resonant, poetry. Composed in collaboration with the soprano Juliet Fraser, Skin takes inspiration from Samuel Beckett, turning the writer’s image of dust as “the skin of a room” into a 25-minute evisceration of the sounds that the soloist and ensemble can make. Saunders burrows into the interior world of the instruments, and inside the grain of Fraser’s voice – scrapes and screams, breaths and sighs – and finds a revelatory world of heightened feeling. TS
Listen to a live performance

15 David Lang

Little Match Girl Passion (2007)

Combine Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Little Match Girl with Bach’s St Matthew Passion, and you have one of the most original vocal works of recent times. Extracts from Andersen’s story and from St Matthew’s gospel are interleaved with closely woven vocal writing, that is sometimes unaccompanied, sometimes punctuated by discreet percussion and often comfortingly tonal and hauntingly affecting. AC
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

14 Pascal Dusapin

Passion (2008)

Dusapin’s opera reimagines the final colloquy of Orpheus and Eurydice, on the borderline between life and death, as a meditation on the idea of passion as an expression of desire and suffering. The score subtly alludes to Monteverdi and French baroque, but the sound world it creates is uniquely Dusapin’s own: tense, quietly mesmerising and austerely beautiful. TA
Read the review | Listen to the work

Genre-straddling … Olga Neuwirth’s Lost Highway.
Genre-straddling … Olga Neuwirth’s Lost Highway. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

13 Olga Neuwirth

Lost Highway (2003)

David Lynch’s slightly baffling film – in which a jazz musician murders his wife, goes into a psychogenic fugue and becomes another person entirely – was perfectly suited for adaptation by this eccentric Austrian composer, whose genre-straddling work explores notions of identity. An immersive production, staged by the English National Opera at the Young Vic, used film, a chirruping electro-acoustic score and the terrifying, androgynous voice of David Moss to further confuse things. JL
Read our review | Listen to the work

12 Unsuk Chin

Cello Concerto (2009)

A series of concertos, for western and eastern solo instruments, runs like a spine through Unsuk Chin’s orchestral music. But the work for Cello is perhaps the most original and entertainingly disconcerting of all of them, cast in four brilliant movements that never quite conform to type, while doing everything expected of a concerto, in a fresh and unconventional way. AC
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

11 Gerald Barry

The Importance of Being Earnest (2012)

With the role of Lady Bracknell given to a bass, the row between Gwendolen and Cecily conducted through megaphones and accompanied by smashing glasses, and most of the text delivered with machinegun rapidity, this operatic take on Oscar Wilde isn’t for the faint-hearted. But somehow, it brilliantly captures the play’s absurdities while adding a layer of surrealism that is entirely Barry’s own. AC
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

10 John Luther Adams

Become Ocean (2013)

The monumental orchestral palindrome that made John Luther Adams an internationally renowned composer is a thrilling depiction of water in irresistible motion, in the tradition of music by Wagner, Debussy and Sibelius. But Adams’s intention is much more than mere description – it’s a warning of what lies ahead for us and our seas if we do not care for them. AC
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

Witty … Hashirigaki.
Witty … Hashirigaki. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

9 Heiner Goebbels

Hashirigaki (2000)

A Gertrude Stein novel, Japanese folk music and the Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds aren’t the most obvious sources for one of Goebbels’ uniquely personal fusions of words, music and image. But, as often in his theatre pieces, the most unlikely ingredients cohere magically, creating a witty, allusive dramatic world unlike any other, with the 1960s sounds counterpointing Stein’s rambling surrealism. AC
Read our review | Listen to a recording on YouTube

8 Jonathan Harvey

String Quartet No 4 (2003)

For live electronics and string quartet, this 2003 work is written in cycles rather than movements, with an idea of dying away, renewal and continuation. Harvey experiments with technology to discover new aural possibilities and keep the traditional form alive. He wrote all his quartets for the Arditti, knowing they would meet every challenge he put before them. The result is eloquent and lyrical. FM
Read the review | Listen to the work

7 Louis Andriessen

La Commedia (2009)

After collaborating with directors Robert Wilson and Peter Greenaway on previous stage works, Andriessen turned to Hal Hartley for his “film opera in five parts”, a series of reflections on episodes from Dante’s Divine Comedy. A Hartley film was part of the original staging, but Andriessen’s wonderfully polyglot score, with its host of historical references and exuberant embrace of jazz and folk music, stands on its own. AC
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

Kaija Saariaho  
Mesmerising … Kaija Saariaho. Photograph: Philippe Merle/AFP/Getty Images

6 Kaija Saariaho

L’Amour de Loin (2000)

Set in 12th-century France, the Finnish-born Saariaho’s first opera, which premiered in Salzburg in 2000, is a haunting tale of a troubadour’s quest for idealised love, as well as a contemplation on life, longing and death. Based on La Vida breve by Jaufre Rudel, with a libretto by French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, the music has medieval and Middle Eastern echoes but shimmers in Saariaho’s own distinctive and mesmerising voice.FM
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

5 Thomas Adès

The Tempest (2003)

It starts with a geometric storm and ends with a consolatory chaconne. Thomas Adès’s The Tempest was the catalyst for his creation of a musical language that is at once richly familiar and beguilingly strange. It was a piece that immediately fulfilled expectations for what Adès would do with the full resources of the Royal Opera House when it premiered in 2004 – and transcended them. TS
Read our review | Listen on Spotify

4 György Kurtág

Fin de Partie (2018)

Though it often seemed as if Kurtág would never complete the opera on Samuel Beckett’s End Game that he had obsessed about for more than half a century, it eventually appeared in the composer’s 93rd year. An austere, utterly faithful rendering of the original, mostly delivered in recitative, and reinforced with typically terse, wiry orchestral writing. It is a distillation of the uncompromisingly direct music that Kurtág has composed all through his career. AC
Read our review | Watch the production

3 Harrison Birtwistle

The Minotaur (2008)

After operas about Punch, Orpheus, Gawain and King Kong, the half-man half-bull protagonist of The Minotaur is perhaps the most sympathetic of Birtwistle’s “heroes”. His death scene, created especially for the bass John Tomlinson, is a majestic operatic set piece, the climax of a work in which the eruptions of orchestral violence are offset by music of lyrical beauty and pungent transparency. AC
Read our review.

Barbara Hannigan and Christopher Purves in Written On Skin at the Royal Opera House, London.
Gripping … Barbara Hannigan and Christopher Purves in Written On Skin at the Royal Opera House, London. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

2 George Benjamin

Written on Skin (2012)

George Benjamin’s first full-scale opera, with words by Martin Crimp, arrived in 2012 seemingly timeless in every way, its ultimately gruesome story told grippingly to a modern audience through Benjamin’s tense, precise and often glowingly beautiful score. Katie Mitchell’s thoughtful staging was only the start: no opera since has had so many different productions in so many theatres. EJ
Read our review | Watch a production

1 Hans Abrahamsen

Let Me Tell You (2013)

When the 21st century began, the idea that Hans Abrahamsen would compose one of the masterpieces of the next 20 years would have seemed extraordinary. At that time very little of his music had been heard for almost a decade – he had suffered a creative block that he’s since described as being “paralysed by the white paper”, and from which he eventually rescued himself by composing a series of arrangements, both of his own earlier scores and of pieces by others, including Bach and Debussy.

Born in 1952 in Copenhagen, Abrahamsen had begun his career as a member of a group of young Danish composers who reacted against what they saw as the overcomplexity of the European new music they heard and who sought a much simpler style. He explored minimalism and studied for a while with György Ligeti, and soon established himself as one of the younger European composers to watch, his works championed in the 1980s by conductor/composers such as Hans Werner Henze and Oliver Knussen. After early success came a long silence – he completed just one short piece in eight years, but he did return to composition with the piano concerto that he finished in 2000, in which he started to invent for himself a totally original and utterly personal sound world.

This list could just as easily be headed by the work that first exploited this newly invented world, Schnee, an extraordinary hour-long ensemble piece from 2008, as by the ravishing orchestral song cycle Let Me Tell You that followed it five years later. The intricate symmetries and microtonally tinged canons of Schnee define the icy, fragile world that Abrahamsen had been mapping out for himself, and which went on to provide the perfect environment for the settings of extracts from Paul Griffiths’s novel of the same name that he made for the songs.

Like Griffiths’s book, Let Me Tell You is a portrait of Ophelia, but one that tells her story from her perspective rather than from the way she is portrayed in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s an operatic scene as much as a song cycle, one of soaring lines and shivering pianissimos, and which makes use of the stuttering repetitions, stile concitato, that Monteverdi introduced into opera four centuries ago to signify anger or anxiety. The vocal writing is astonishingly assured. It is hard to believe this was Abrahamsen’s first large scale vocal work, and it seems perfectly tailored to the soprano Barbara Hannigan, for whom it was conceived, and for her precious ability to soar ethereally and effortlessly above the sometimes forbidding, sometimes ravishingly beautiful soundscapes that the orchestra creates beneath her. There is the feeling, Hannigan has said of the cycle: “The music’s always been there,” and the sense of there being something timeless and utterly inevitable about Let Me Tell You gives it a very special power. AC
Listen to the work




Article shared privately with students for educational purposes only. Note, this blog used for sharing, as sharing platforms in China limited by state censorship.

Tianjin English speaking, culture and society Autumn-Winter 2019-20

Autumn-Winter Semester ideas

Dear students,

this page has our ideas for next semester.

It is a ‘work in progress’ and will be added to and changed during the summer break.

Teacher knowledge and limitations.

First a reminder. I am a limited teacher for English language because I am not trained nor expert in English language learning.

I know cultural studies, sociology, history and politics, and have a lot of practice in helping students learn through discussing and writing.

But I am not an expert in grammar and enunciation. So the classes will be based on what I can teach, not the things I don’t know. For some of you it might be better to find a class taught by a real English teacher, as she or he will be able to teach you things I cannot.

Proposal for next semester: two classes

A large class is not very good for language learning because students do not get much speaking and interacting time. More speaking practice time in class should help your learning. I suggest we aim for class sized of up to (not more than) 16 students.

I suggest students chose to attend one of two classes next semester.

Each class is suitable for a different level of English language knowledge and ability.

Each class is also suitable for different learning preferences. They will have different learning methods and content.

Class one. Beginner to intermediate spoken English.

This class will be based on the ideas you developed during a few weeks ago. So there will be one or two topics each week of an everyday or social topic.

The class will focus on ways of saying things, and what the words mean.

Each class will have 10 or less new words. The list of new words will be sent via wechat, and will come from the Cambridge online Chinese-English dictionary.

We may use books like Face2Face pre-intermediate and intermediate for some learning exercises.

At some point in the future it might be good to replace me with a real English teacher for this class, if we can find one. But until we have one, I will continue.

Class two: Intermediate to Advanced English reading and discussion.

Each week we will discuss a text, topic or event (for example, an article from newspapers, a film, an art exhibition, some architecture, …).

Students will receive the class notes via wechat.  The notes will include the article (if it is an article) and some explanation in English, with additional explanations in Chinese (by Lu Jian).

The class will be based on reading, viewing and discussing.

Learning Resources

During the summer I will compile a range of learning resources, some of which some of us some of us already use individually. By the beginning of next semester I hope we will have a list of resources that students can use for their own learning.

Tianjin Lesson Seven: Time and the inner child

Nimen Hao,

We often think of time as a measurement, involving smaller or bigger units of time.

Time from smaller to bigger

Nanosecond Tiniest measurable portion of time
Millisecond One millionth part of a second
Second Sixtieth part of a minute
Minute Sixtieth part of an hour
Hour Twenty-fourth part of a day
Day Three hundred and fifty sixth part of a year
Year Three hundred and sixty five days
Decade Ten years
Century One hundred years
Millennium A million years
Forever Infinite


Time Differences: places

Is time always the same? We can talk about this question in terms of places.


Let’s look at the world time clock no (Tianjin time).


The time in Tianjin is?


What time is it in Hong Kong, Melbourne, Los Angeles, New York, Rome, London?


In English, we say that a place is so many hours ahead or behind.


So, let’s use that phrasing for the places whose times we’ve just described.


Some places deliberately change their time to make more hours of daylight during the working part of the day.

This is called daylight saving (do you know about this?).


Question: A question for the scientists in the room. Is time on a mountain top the same as time at sea level? Why or why not?


How we experience time: discussion and video


Time often seems different from the standard because of the way we experience it.

Group discussions

  • Describe how time sometimes seems different according to our individual perceptions. Think of some different ways time can see different to different individuals. Can you think of any phrases (idioms) about time?
  • Now, describe how time can seem different and be used differently for different cultures (for example, different nationalities, cities, rural communities)

Professor Pan’s video: personal time zones

Let’s play Laoshi Pan’s video and have a discussion

  • What do you think about the idea that people live in their own time zones? Does this idea apply to your life, the lives of people you know?

Childishness: discussion

Let’s talk about the idea that you are only as old as you feel and can retain some of your childish feeling for the world.

How (in what ways) can or do you/we keep our inner child alive?



Happy ever after: 25 ways to live well into old age

Happy ever after: 25 ways to live well into old age

Determined to enjoy longer and healthier lives, two women researched the science to find the key. Here, they share what they discovered


Illustration of woman meditating
Illustration: Guardian Design

When Susan Saunders was 36, her mother was diagnosed with severe dementia. “I had a toddler, a newborn, a full-time job as a TV producer – and I became a carer as well.” As a teenager, she had watched her mum care for her own mother, who had the same condition. “I became determined to do everything I could to increase my chances of ageing well.”

Annabel Streets’ story is similar. When she was a student, her grandfather died from cancer months after he retired; later, she watched her mother care for her grandmother, who lived with dementia and crippling rheumatoid arthritis for nearly 30 years. “When I developed a chronic autoimmune disease, I knew things had to change. But by then I had four young children and there was precious little time for my own health.”

Together, Saunders and Streets started researching the latest science on how to have a healthier, happier old age and how to apply it to their own lives, and blogged about their findings for five years. Their Age Well Project has now been published as a book, compiling almost 100 shortcuts to health in mid- and later life – and Streets and Saunders, who are both in their 50s, say they have never been in better health.

What did they learn?

Look to your ancestors for answers

If you are serious about ageing well, you need to become an expert in your own health – don’t be afraid to ask questions of your doctor and your family. We started our project to age well by compiling ancestral health trees, listing any known illnesses in old age and the causes of mortality and ages at death of as many direct ancestors as possible. We did DNA tests, built records of our blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol and vitamin D levels, and took note of our BMI and waist-to-hip ratio to devise more personalised ageing plans.

Could coffee be the elixir of life?
Could coffee be the elixir of life? Photograph: Pietro Recchia/Getty Images/EyeEm

Enjoy coffee

Coffee is rich in antioxidants, polyphenols and phenylindane, a recently identified compound that researchers think may help fend off Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Drinking coffee has also been linked to reduced risks for several cancers, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Drink your coffee without sugar or processed syrups, and don’t make it too milky: the antioxidant value appears to drop when milk is added.

Walk faster

Walking is good, but pace matters. Brisk walking has been linked to better memory, better health and a longer life. Increase your pace until you are slightly out of breath or sweaty and aim for 30 minutes a day, ideally outdoors to get the additional benefits of vitamin D and light. New research suggests that those walking first thing in the morning also make better decisions during the day, so consider swapping your morning commute for a robust walk.

Exercise in green space

Trees produce phytoncides which help to lower blood pressure, reduce stress and boost immunity. The microbes in forest soil have been found to reduce depression and may contribute to the health of our microbiome. A 15-minute walk is all it takes to reap the benefits, but researchers have found that a weekend in the woods improves immunity for up to a month, while a short afternoon run or walk somewhere green means better sleep at night.

Fast every day

Our bodies have adapted to go without food for short periods – the surprise has been discovering how beneficial this is for many of us. Intermittent fasting, made famous by Michael Mosley’s popular 5:2 diet, is a proven method for increasing longevity. It also appears to fend off Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes and weight gain. There are several forms of fasting and it is important to find one that suits your lifestyle. We like the extended overnight fast of 14-16 hours, which has been found to improve gut health, but was also followed by our distant forebears, who typically ate supper at sundown, rarely snacked, and then ate mid-morning the following day.


Why weights? They build muscle.
Why weights? They build muscle. Photograph: dragana991/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Build muscle

Experts believe resistance training is as important for ageing as aerobic exercise, eating vegetables and sleeping well. After age 40, we lose muscle at the rate of 1% a year, increasing our risk of heart attacks, strokes and osteoporosis. Recent research found that older adults who did twice-weekly strength training lived longer and with less illness than those who did none. We like rowing and weight-training for efficiency; we also keep pairs of weights near the kettle and the TV and lift them if we have a few minutes to spare.

Read books

Although reading is sedentary and solitary, frequent reading has been linked to longer, healthier life. A Yale study of 3,600 over-50s found that reading increased longevity by almost two years; readers of books outlived readers of newspapers and magazines. While those who read for more than 3.5 hours a week lived longest, the researchers said “30 minutes a day was still beneficial”. Meanwhile, every expert seems to recommend reading as a means of getting to sleep.

Work longer

While many of us dream of a golden age of retirement, a 2016 study found that people who worked longer lived longer, a fact reflected in earlier longitudinal studies that found correlations between retirement and poor health. Researchers speculate that this is because working usually involves social interaction, movement and a sense of purpose. Several studies have linked retirement with loneliness and depression. But working long hours year after year is not the answer either. Research shows that from mid-life onwards, the sweet spot for health and longevity is working at a less intense pace and perhaps for fewer hours.

Keep learning

Old brains are just as equipped to build new neurons and synapses as young ones. But this process works best when we repeatedly force ourselves to learn new things. The brain loves novelty: crafts, games, even cooking from a new recipe, all trigger the creation of neurons, but the more complex and more difficult the new activity is, the greater the rewards. Choose something that also involves social interaction and a bit of movement, such as singing. Best of all, try learning complex new dance moves.

Take a nap

Several studies have found that nappers have better attention and focus, better memory and better non-verbal reasoning. Oddly, nappers also appear to sleep better at night (with the proviso that your nap shouldn’t be taken too late in the afternoon). A Nasa study found that sleepy pilots had a 45% improvement in performance and a 100% improvement in alertness after a short nap. But the key is to keep the nap short (about 30 minutes). Studies consistently show that naps of more than 90 minutes can be detrimental to our health.

Clear out your medicine cabinet

In particular, clear out unnecessary anticholinergics, often found in antidepressants, bladder drugs, medication for Parkinson’s disease and some antihistamines and travel sickness pills. This isn’t something you should do without your doctor’s guidance, but several studies have now linked ingesting high levels of anticholinergics with the onset of Alzheimer’s, even if taken for as little as a year. Ask your doctor for alternative medication, particularly if you are taking several pills containing anticholinergics.

Only spend on vitamin D and zinc

Study after study has found that supplements have very little benefit; we invest in good food instead. However, when it comes to vitamin D and zinc, the data is robust: vitamin D – in the right dosage – can help us age well while zinc has been shown to reduce the severity of coughs and colds. Those of us in the northern hemisphere aren’t able to get the sunlight necessary for the body to make vitamin D, so a supplement of at least 1,000 iu daily during the winter months is recommended by some ageing experts.

Avoid pollution

Pollution is rapidly becoming the biggest threat to our ability to age well, with more and more research linking particulate matter to lung cancer, heart disease, dementia, hypertension and diabetes. It is vital that we are vociferous in lobbying for cleaner air and that we play our part in reducing our own personal pollution footprints. But we can lessen the damage of living in heavily polluted cities. Avoid congested roads, switch to an anti-inflammatory diet (shown to mitigate the effects of pollution in some people), invest in a good quality air purifier and rotate it round your house, and fill your house with pollution-fighting greenery.

Liquid gold … olive oil has many benefits.
Liquid gold … olive oil has many benefits. Photograph: Brian Hagiwara/Getty Images

Use olive oil

We think of olive oil as “liquid gold”, such are its benefits, with improved heart health topping the list. A four-and-a-half year clinical trial involving 7,000 older adults at risk of heart disease found that those eating an olive oil-rich Mediterranean diet had 30% fewer instances of heart attacks and strokes, as well as improved lipid and cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure. Olive oil consumption has also been linked to a slowing of the progression of breast cancer, reduced bone mass loss and better blood glucose control. Use it to cook or dress multicoloured vegetables.

Build bone density

The adage, use it or lose it, is never truer than when applied to bone strength. And it’s very specific: research has shown that professional tennis players have much higher bone density in their serving arm than their non-serving arm. The most beneficial exercise, if your joints are up to it, is jumping – try to jump 10 to 20 times a day with a 30-second rest between each. Other high-impact exercise, such as running or skipping, also increases bone density. Resistance training such as lifting weights also boosts bones, but exerts less pressure on joints. If that all sounds too sweaty, ballroom dancing improves balance and coordination, resulting in fewer falls and fractures.

The power of friendship can prolong your life.
The power of friendship can prolong your life. (Posed by models)
Photograph: Getty Images/Hero Images

Cultivate friendships

Loneliness is as big a mortality risk as diabetes. Research links social isolation to dementia, heart disease, stroke, depression and a 29% greater risk of dying. An eight-decade study found a clear correlation between having a large social network and living longer. More recent research shows the quality of friendships also helps keep us alive: ask yourself if your friends stimulate you and if they have a positive outlook. Helping and caring for others also strongly correlates with longevity.

Support immunity

It is often thought the immune system weakens with age, but research indicates that the reverse may be true: the immune system actually overreacts as we get older, creating more inflammation in the body when it is confronted by a virus, for example and speeding up the ageing process. With 70% of the immune system located in the gut, gut health is key. Support your immune system with a diet high in dark leafy greens, brassicas (such as cabbage and broccoli), alliums (such as garlic, leeks and onions) and mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms, in particular, have been found to have a powerful effect on the immune system. If you have a cold, try a simple miso soup with mushrooms, ginger and greens.

Change how you eat, particularly in the evening

Changing how you eat, rather than what you eat, can make a bigger impact on longevity than a radical dietary overhaul. Piles of vegetables, whole grains, pulses and lean protein fill up our plates now. We also aim to eat earlier, whenever possible, to allow digestion to kick in well before bedtime. This means less disturbed sleep and a longer overnight fast, too. Eating earlier has enabled us to eat more slowly – an essential but overlooked factor in the Mediterranean diet, allowing satiety hormones to kick in. And when we have eaten, we stop. Constant grazing and snacking means that the digestive system is permanently working – and therefore also permanently producing insulin, potentially leading to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

Spice up your life with turmeric.
Spice up your life with turmeric. Photograph: Alamy

Add turmeric

A natural anti-inflammatory, turmeric has been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, cancer and liver disease. It is also antiseptic, antibacterial and packed with antioxidants. Research suggests that curcumin, turmeric’s active ingredient, appears to counteract the low-grade, chronic inflammation that increases with age – it may also improve brain function. Other studies have linked curcumin supplementation to reduced pain for arthritis sufferers, improved liver function and some relief from irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. Start your day with our turmeric sunrise tonic: a cup of warm water, 1 tbs apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp turmeric, ½ tsp black pepper (which seems to increase absorption rates of curcumin) and ½ tsp ginger pulp. Add honey to taste and stir well.


Meditation isn’t just hippie woo woo: research shows it has a powerful effect on the brain. It appears to reduce stress and promote empathy, and regular practitioners seem not to lose grey matter, or suffer reduced concentration, as they age. Just 15 minutes a day is enough to strengthen telomeres, the “caps” that protect our DNA and, according to a Harvard study, to have a positive impact on blood pressure levels. A very specific form of meditation, Kirtan Kriya, involving chanting and finger movements, stabilises brain synapses and increases cerebral blood flow – researchers concluded that it should be considered for Alzheimer’s disease prevention. Can’t spare 15 minutes? Take a few moments to focus on your breath or your surroundings to promote a feeling of calm.

Eat more fibre

If you make just one dietary change to boost longevity, make it this one. An Australian study tracked the diets of 1,600 people over 10 years to discover the impact of carbohydrate consumption on successful ageing. The most successful agers (those most free of disease after a decade) were the ones with the highest fibre intake – usually from fruit, wholegrain bread and oats. The researchers suggested two possible reasons for this: fibre slows the digestion of food, thus keeping insulin levels in check, which in turn reduces inflammation (a key trigger of ageing); and some types of fibre ferment in the body, producing short-chain fatty acids, which also dampen inflammation. Fibre also helps reduce cholesterol levels, which in turn supports heart health, and lowers colorectal cancer risk by moving food through the gut quickly. The recommended daily intake of fibre is 30g; the UK average is 18g. A daily cup of beans or pulses, plus quality whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and granary bread, will help boost your intake.

Avoid blue light in the evenings

Our electronic devices play havoc with our delicate circadian rhythms. Screens produce blue light, which helps wake us up in the morning, but at night suppresses production of melatonin, the vital sleep-inducing hormone. Control your exposure by adding time-sensitive filters that block blue light from your laptop and phone; set an alarm to remind you to start a pre-bed wind-down; and keep electronics out of the bedroom.

Look after your eyes

The best ways to protect our eyes are to avoid smoking, keep active and eat healthily, including foods rich in macular pigments – anything bright yellow, orange or green is a rich source. Include plenty of vegetables such as corn on the cob, orange peppers, carrots and kale in your diet. Regular eye tests are a must: eyesight changes rapidly after the age of 40. Wear good-quality sunglasses on sunny days, even in winter, and take regular breaks if you spend a lot of your day looking at an electronic screen.

Four legs good … having a dog has health benefits.
Four legs good … having a dog has health benefits. Photograph: Getty Images/Maskot

Walk a dog

The health benefits of owning a dog are obvious: dogs need walking, caring for and routine, all of which help us age better. A study of more than 3 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 found that dog owners had a lower risk of death due to all causes. Pet owners also have lower blood pressure and cholesterol than non-pet owners: stroking an animal lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Having a dog means that your home might not be as clean as it could be – and that’s a good thing. Dog ownership increases the quantity of 56 classes of bacterial species in the home, which in turns boosts gut health.

Cultivate optimism

Studies have found that older people with a negative attitude to ageing have worse functional health, slower walking speeds and lower cognitive abilities than those with a more positive attitude. Negativity, unsurprisingly, puts stress on the body, elevating cortisol levels, which in the long term can impact heart health, sleep quality, weight and cognition. You really are as old as you feel, it seems.

The Age Well Project: Easy Ways to a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by Annabel Streets and Susan Saunders (Piatkus, £14.99).

Article shared privately for Tianjin Laoren Daxue discussion

Tianjin Lesson Six: Christian Religious Architecture

Nimen Hao,

welcome to lesson six. Today we will talk about religious architecture in the West and in China.


Talking about Religious architecture

The planned repairs after fire at Notre Dame in Paris made me think about the beauty of some of the world’s religious architecture. So for the rest of this class I thought we could talk a little about Christian architecture. These kinds are common throughout the world, and can be found throughout China too.

Christian clergy

Priests: a person, usually a man, who has been trained to perform religious duties in the Christian Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church. Usually responsible for a parish (the members of his faith in his local area)

Vicar: a priest in the Church of England who is in charge of a church and the religious needs of people in a particular area

Bishop: a priest of high rank who is in charge of the priests of lower rank in a particular area

Monks: a member of a group of religious men who do not marry and usually live together in a monastery. Often called Brothers (as in Brother Mark, Brother Jon …)

Nuns: a member of a female religious group that lives in a convent.

Often called Sisters (as in Sister Ruth, Sister Sarah, …)

Religious buildings:

Cathedral: very large, usually stone, building for Christian worship. It is the largest and most important church of a diocese

Barcelona Cathedral, Catalonia, Spain.

Church: a building for Christian religious activities


Chapel:a room that is part of a larger building and is used for Christian worship

A chapel in Fitzrovia, London. Originally part of the Middlesex hospital

priory: a building where monks or nuns live, work, and pray


Monastery: building in which monks live and worship


Nunnery/Convent: a building in which nuns (= members of a female religious order) live ????


Rectory: the house in which a priest (rector) lives


Vicarage: the house in which a vicar lives


Notre Dame Cathedral.


Notre Dame means a lot to the French.Let’s watch a clip to see how they responded to the fire (clip to be played in class).

After the fire there have been many plans for rebuilding the damaged parts of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Proposed Notre Dame Swimming Pool: Hao bu Hao?
proposed stained glass roof for Notre Dame

The building of Notre Dame began in 1163. It took about 200 years to complete. The period of construction lasted from the 12th to 14th centuries. This period is sometimes called the early middle ages, or the early medieval period.

It was  from oak, stone, and glass. Later, in the 19th century a lead covered spire was added.

Let’s have a look at some images.


it has beautiful stained glass windows in the shape of a rose
Notre Dame’s ribbed vault
Notre Dame Alter and statues of Christ and the saints


Let’s have a look at a short video of the Cathedral (as it was a month before the fire).

Notre Dame is an example of what we call Gothic Architecture.

The cathedral shows the influence of earlier cultures in several ways:

  • First, it is built on the site of a Gallo-Roman temple dedicated to the Roman God Jupiter. It shares features of the earlier architecture of the Roman Empire, and of Islamic architecture.
  • Second, many of its decorative statues were designed to appeal to common people, who had pagan beliefs that were older than Christian beliefs. These are chimera.
Chimera: a goat, a heron, a styrge




The devil at the north gate
  • Third, the way the structure reaches up to the sky and lets in the light reflects the way that common people used to worship nature. Pagan worshipped in a clearing in the forrest, looked up towards the sun through the tall trees.
Looking up through a forrest clearing

The Cathedral stone reaches up and curves inwards, encouraging worshippers to look up towards heaven,  in a space full of grace, beauty and peace (like a forrest).

Some architectural features

Two of the architectural features that help it to do that are the flying buttresses and the gargoyles.


The flying buttresses take the weight of the large heavy roof, so that the walls do not have to bear it.

The gargoyles help take the rain water away from the roof and the walls.

This video shows how (video to be played in class)

Tianjin’s St Joseph’s Cathedral





Discussion Exercise

  • Tell us about a religious building you know.
  • Describe it and where it is.
  • Tell us what kind of building it is it, what faith it belongs to.
  • Again, if you would like to, you can show us pictures when you talk about it.

Tianjin English Lesson five (continued): Dogs and gardens, and Churches

Of dogs and gardens and churches

Nimen Hao,

Today, we will continue the lesson from last week, talking about gardens and dogs. Then we will begin to talk about religious buildings.

  • Watch a short video about a Chinese and New Zealand family and their garden (there are subtitles in English).
  • Do exercise 2, which is about your pets. Again, if you have photos you can show us.
  • Do exercise 3, which is about your favourite art
  • I will talk a little about Christian religious architecture
  • Do exercise 4, which is about a religious building you know.

Please note, this lesson has some new words. Don’t worry if you don’t understand all of them, just try to learn as many as you want to.

Group Discussion One

What are your favorite plants (flowers, trees) in China?

Can you describe them, or what you like about them?

(If anyone wants to show pictures that will be good).

Gardening and Dogs: England and Australia

Two of the most common Australian and English social habits are gardening and dogs.

My family is both English and Australian, so let’s talk about them, their gardens and their dogs.

My father’s family lived in the south of England in a town called Margate.


They worked too hard to go often, but they loved its harbour and beach.


They had a new house and made their garden from scratch.


They loved gardening and and the things they could do in the garden.


garden tennis

Dogs (the one below was called Bella) were a central part of their lives and time spent in the garden.

David & Terry & dog
bella pensive

They migrated to Perth, Australia.


My grandparent’s Ge’ and Pop had generations of these dogs in Australia:


The English word for this kind of dog is “Pekinese”. I’m not sure what you call them in China (do you know the word?). They’re very friendly dogs with cute flat faces (which make them snuffle because they don’t breathe well).

This one was called Tricky Woo. She slept on the bed or the couch, got fed chocolate and carried a lot.trickywoo

She was thoroughly spoilt.

This is a view of my father (Terry) and his wife (Carol’s) home and garden (the photo was taken about ten years ago, they’ve changed it a lot since then).


Terry and Carol have raised generations of what they call Chows (the Chinese name is Jing Ba).


The one above was Dad’s favorite, Benny. His favorite things were Dad’s toes and running away. He was very fast!

Carol holding Beefy the Terrier, Ziva the Chou

Carol is holding Beefy (a name given to dogs that get big or fat). He was very greedy.

Ziva from NCIS

The Jing Ba is Ziva. Dad have her that name after some pretty actress from a tv show he likes. Her favorite thing in the world is Carol, whom she follows everywhere.

Apart from that she likes hiding from people and running away, as she’s very shy.

In fact the Jing Ba we’ve had have all been very anti-social, but loyal to the owner, so we think its the character of the breed. They can be very hard to train for the things that involve other people and dogs.


The gardens in our English and Australian house all have lawns because that gives the dog something soft to run around and lie on.


To have dogs like the Jing Ba you need a big enough garden (westerners think they wouldn’t be happy in a small space).

My grandparent’s Pekinese could live in a Chinese apartment, and they remind me of many of the dogs I see my Tanggu neighbours walking. The only big dogs I’ve seen in Tanggu are Labradors, or Golden Retrievers (a cousin of the Labrador).


That’s a good choice as well, because even though they’re big, they’re gentle and calm, so they wouldn’t be stressed by living in a small apartment.

Having a dog is good for my parents. They walk Ziva twice everyday and the walk gives them some exercise as well as a nice way to start and end the day. Because they’ve been dog walking the same roads for many years, they’ve made lots of human and canine friends.

Having a garden is also very good. For them it is a labour of love. Because they’ve been there more than twenty five years, the garden is ‘well established’, and friends often suggest they should open it to show the public.

My family has also kept birds in an aviary, and fish in tanks and the pond. They still keep the fish but these days prefer to feed the wild birds (magpies and cockatoos fly down for bread, the magpies come every morning and get a but noisy if anyone forgets to feed them).



Discussion 2: Pets discussion

Do you or your family or friends have pets (cats, dogs or birds)?

Describe the pets.

Describe how they are looked after.

What pleasures or burdens does having the pets involve?

Gardening styles

Many Australian gardeners started off gardening like my parents. They made an English style garden on Australian soil.

Other migrants did different things. Italians in Australia, for example, grew tomatoes, peas and other fruit and vegetables in their front gardens.

This video shows a Chinese mother in her New Zealand family’s garden. Let’s have a quick look.

(video to be played in class)

The Chinese mother in the video grows vegetables and herbs. Like the New Zealand man in the video above, I think my parents think gardens should have lawn and pretty flowers.

These days many Australians have native plants instead of English flowers (like roses). Have a look at these.

Banksia Flowers
Banksia Flower
Banksia flowers pictures. (4)
Banksia Flowers
Kangaroo Paw
Kangaroo Paw
Kangaroo Paw
Christmas Tree Flowers
Christmas Trees and Grass Trees

What do you think of them? What about these native gardens? Hao bu Ha?




Exercise Three

What kind of art do you like?

Can you describe it, and tell us about any of its artists or artworks?

How, where, and when was it made?

Why do you like it?

Again, please feel welcome to show pictures (either on our class screen, or via our wechat group)


Talking about Religious architecture

The planned repairs after fire at Notre Dame in Paris made me think about the beauty of some of the world’s religious architecture. So for the rest of this class I thought we could talk a little about Christian architecture. These kinds are common throughout the world, and can be found throughout China too.

Christian clergy

Priests: a person, usually a man, who has been trained to perform religious duties in the Christian Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church. Usually responsible for a parish (the members of his faith in his local area)

Vicar: a priest in the Church of England who is in charge of a church and the religious needs of people in a particular area

Bishop: a priest of high rank who is in charge of the priests of lower rank in a particular area

Monks: a member of a group of religious men who do not marry and usually live together in a monastery. Often called Brothers (as in Brother Mark, Brother Jon …)

Nuns: a member of a female religious group that lives in a convent.

Often called Sisters (as in Sister Ruth, Sister Sarah, …)

Religious buildings:

Cathedral: very large, usually stone, building for Christian worship. It is the largest and most important church of a diocese: ???????????????

Church: a building for Christian religious activities

Chapel:a room that is part of a larger building and is used for Christian worship

priory: a building where monks or nuns live, work, and pray


Monastery: building in which monks live and worship


Nunnery/Convent: a building in which nuns (= members of a female religious order) live ????


Rectory: the house in which a priest (rector) lives


Vicarage: the house in which a vicar lives


Notre Dame Cathedral.


After the fire there have been many plans for rebuilding the damaged parts of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Proposed Notre Dame Swimming Pool: Hao bu Hao?
proposed stained glass roof for Notre Dame

The building of Notre Dame began in 1163. It took about 200 years to complete. The period of construction lasted from the 12th to 14th centuries. This period is sometimes called the early middle ages, or the early medieval period.

It was  from oak, stone, and glass. Later, in the 19th century a lead covered spire was added.

Let’s have a look at some images.


it has beautiful stained glass windows in the shape of a rose
Notre Dame’s ribbed vault
Notre Dame Alter and statues of Christ and the saints

Notre Dame is an example of what we call Gothic Architecture.

The cathedral shows the influence of earlier cultures in several ways:

  • 260px-Gargoyle_Point_of_View_(3575829233)First, it is built on the site of a Gallo-Roman temple dedicated to the Roman God Jupiter. It shares features of the earlier architecture of the Roman Empire, and of Islamic architecture.
  • Second, many of its decorative statues were designed to appeal to illiterate common people, who had pagan beliefs that were older than Christian beliefs.


  • Third, the way the structure reaches up to the sky and lets in the light reflects the way that common people used to worship nature. Pagan worshipped in a clearing in the forrest, looked up towards the sun through the tall trees. The Cathedral stone reaches up and curves inwards, encouraging worshippers to look up towards heaven,  in a space full of grace, beauty and peace (like a forrest).
Looking up through a forrest clearing

Tianjin’s St Joseph’s Cathedral





Exercise 4

  • Tell us about a religious building you know.
  • Describe it and where it is.
  • Tell us what kind of building it is it, what faith it belongs to.
  • Again, if you would like to, you can show us pictures when you talk about it.


Tanggu Public Art Podcast


J: Hello, welcome to Tanggu District Public Art podcast!

M:This is Jean and Matt and this is our podcast on the Tanggu district’s recent art project.

Jean this is your home district, you grew up here with your family, and then you visited a lot while you were away working, and now we live here together. Um, what was it like here when you were a little street kid?

Jean: Ah, in fact is really different.When I was small kids, here was much much less people.

Matt: mmm …

Jean: Less population, and uh, mostly no high building, and pretty open. It’s somewhat like mixed with the suburb and industry style …

M: Yeah, you can still see the industry just across the river … pretty close to Jie Jie’s house.

Jean: Yeah.

M: Is a lot of factory and smoke. Right next to all the new business area.

Jean: Yeah. Even like this way I think that, maybe just in my memory, its pretty like a clean, quiet area, maybe not really as clean as now, but, in my memory. I think now, even, especially after that Olympic Game, err, in Beijing, several years before, it’s much better, looks better. They planted trees, all those things, and much clean than before.

But in my memory I always feel its quiet and clean and beautiful …

M: Yeah, in your childhood memory ..

Jean: Yeah, especially the road, when I ride back to the school, my Middle school,

M: Did you go to school?

Jean: We can say like this way … And also, when I come back from downtown, my grandma’s home …

M: Yeas…

Jean: Because Tianjin downtown pretty crowded, much much more crowded, and when I come back and take off the train, and can look, especially in the afternoon, look the sun go down, along that river, …

M: ..uhu.

Jean: I really love this piece of land.

M: Yeah, right. Feels good, yeah, and is beautiful in a way.

So one of the new things they’ve done, after the Olympic’s time, is the new beautification projects. In Tanggu. And the public art, I think the local government has placed around the main streets, near women de Baba de Jia …

Jean: Yeah …

M: And there’s ahh …tell us about some of the things they’ve done.

Jean: Yeah, we saw this you know, those statues, we call it. Is that art, or something else?

Is a little bit, how to say, is a little bit strange?

Ah, yeah, I think they all build recent years. And, ah, don’t know who designed those, and don’t know who permitted to build those.

M: Yeah.

Jean: But you see, if the flowers tree, trees along the road, they all looks very good.

M: Especially now, in spring. All the flowers have come out, and those blossom trees are amazing.

Jean: Yeah …

M: The colours of some of them, the pinks and the reds,

Jean: Yeah …

M: Is a little bit like fake tree. Couldn’t be real.

Jean: Yeah.

M: ’cause it’s super pretty.

J: Yeas, its surprised beautiful.

M: Yeah

Jean: mm…

M: And they’re all along the main road, but not inside … where Baba’s apartment is, there’s nothing like that, they just put it where the cars drive.

Jean: Yeah, I think maybe government considers maybe inside is not their main thing.  The inside part close by the wall, all those things … you see just a gate go in … maybe they consider like a single family for them … that’s inside, private area … they don’t care

M: Yeah, I agree with you, they don’t care … they just leave it …

But in the inside area, because they don’t care, some of the neighbors do their own thing right?

Jean: Yeah, they do very fantastic job. I saw them, last year of before last year, plant some really small tree, they build, you can see day by day, they put a little bit bricks the first day, second some small wood for the tree, to cover, and then, yeah, little by little they use their own small material, they have available, to do that … But, ah, a few days before I surprised they find that small tree have flower blooming …

M: yeah.

Jean: Wow, amazing.

M: They’re really good at growing things and they make it just anywhere. In England we call that Guerilla gardening.

Jean: Ah…

M: Yeah, use the public space, you just do it yourselves.

Jean: Yeah.

M: Its not like the government or anybody help you. But it makes those little streets inside the apartment complex nice to walk around. ’cause all of the neighbors do those things.

Jean: And also I think they pretty creative, some they build, is not the just the land is the base, by the bricks, they take the bricks make a square area ..

M: Yeah, that’s why it’s Guerilla. They had to pull the pavement up to do that ..

Jean: Yeah ..

Matt: Yeah, do a bit of destruction to make it.

Um, OK, I think maybe its time to get up and go and help your father get out of bed and have breakfast, right?

Jean: Yeah ..

M: And start again after that?

Jean: Yeah, let’s go.


Jean: The building on the corner, with the traditional garden, is Baba’s old office, where he taught classes for his danwei.

M: Yeah, for his factory group, right?

Jean: Yeah, this is a busy intersection where the drivers and pedestrians often have to wait for a while. Maybe that’s why they put artworks on two of these corners.


M: OK. We’ll call this artwork skinny Mozart.

I’m not really sure who its supposed to be, but it just looks like some kind of classical pianist I think.

He’s made out of a kind of plastic? Is that right?

Jean: Maybe.

M: And his piano is kind of just a sketch of a piano, and he’s all sharp angles, like a piece of Russian formalism.

Or a  rubbish version of Russian formalism.

They’ve given him some wavy green friends as well.


Jean: Yeah.

M: They’re beans right?

Jean: Yeah. Smiley beans, in front of an ornamental tree and rock.

M: Yeah, smiley smiley beans in front of an ornamental tree and rock.

Let’s cross the road.

Jean: Yeah, let’s go.

M: OK.

On this side we’ve got ants.

Jean: Yeah,  iron worker ants.


M: Yeah, working ants, and they look pretty worried, right?

Jean: Yeah, they work too hard!

M: Shi de. They work too hard. An maybe they’re worried because they’re right next to the busy intersection.

And behind them, what’s behind them Jean?

Jean: Yeah, its a garden with its own pagoda.

M: Yeah.It’s a… you could say its an ornamental garden, and ah, has its own pagoda.

OK, so that’s Baba’s corner… Let’s walk down to the next installation, the art works that are opposite the running track.

Jean: mm…

M: Where you go and do your running in the morning.


Jean: Rabbits!

M: Yeah, brightly coloured rabbits. In front of the old library, that looks like a prison building, or a toilet, or ….




Jean: Yeah, ah those rabbits looks, ah, how to describe it ..

M: Yeah, well, I think they look like children’s rabbits, we can talk more about them when we’ve see more of the artwork. We’ll come back…

And if we go towards Baba’s apartment now, we can see the piece d’resistance.

Yeah. Let’s show the listeners a photo.

Jean: This one?


M: Yep. What do we call this one Jean?

Jean: Pigu.

M: Yeah, we call it the pigu. Right, because the figure blowing on the shell has lost his trousers, and his pigu is basically pointing directly at the street he’s next to. So, yeah, he’s called the pigu.

Jean: It’s just a boy. Small kids.

M: Yeah.

Jean: Yeah, so in traditional Tianjin culture, we feel like the small kids without clothes, are more lovely, … like the traditonal Yang Liu Qing figures.


Ah, …hua, and the painting for the Spring Festival.

M: Yeah.

Jean: Some imagine, I can think the idea maybe come from that.

M: Yeah, could be… derived from that. Ah, Tanggu … or Tianjin culture.

Um, there’s a quite a lot of public art around these streets, but those pieces we’ve just shown people images of, kind of give a flavor of the art, that they’re government has put on these streets, so … let’s talk about them all together, people can see this photo shows all the five.


Jean; Yeah

M: Maybe we can identify something that unifies them. Ah, they have in common.

Jean: They’re all ugly?

M: Yeah. Also, you could say, maybe they’re made for children?

Jean: Maybe. They could be characters from children’s stories, or just figures designed to be enjoyed by very small people.

M:Yeah. Do you think kids would like them?

Jean. I think some of them maybe.

M: Yeah, I’m not sure.

We’ve walked past them many times, right? And, ah, I don’t think, have you ever seen any children enjoying them? Playing with them, or looking at them?

Jean: No!

M: Right.

I think they might scare children. The rabbits look like nightmare rabbits, like they should have really sharp teeth. And come alive at night.

Jean: To terrorise people?

M: Yeah. To scare people. If you don’t go to bed on time, the rabbits will eat you.

Jean: OK, go back early. Go to bed early.

M: Yeah. And the ants look seriously oppressed, like workers under some kind of vicious authoritarian regime.

Jean: Sounds not so pleasure …not for children then.

M: Maybe not for children. And skinny Mozart’s kind of scary and weird. I don’t think he could have been designed for children. They might not be scared of him, but I don’t think they’d be interested either.

Jean: The green beans?

M: Maybe two year olds would like them. Very little people. And…

Jean: The Pigu.

M: Hmmm. I don’t think children would be interested, unless maybe they think its funny.

Jean: Mmm. He’s pointing his pigu at the cars.

Matt: Yeah, he’s pointing his pigu at the cars.

They might ask, why?

Jean: Oh ya, that’s my question.

M: Right, just why?

Jean: OK, so the things that unite them is that they’re ugly and nonsensical.

M: Yeah, and they’re all made in vastly different styles. Like the rabbits are children’s book illustrations like Beatrix Potter.

Jean: Who?

Matt: She wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit) …

Peter Rabbit, illustration

It’s a famous English children’s book. There’s illustrations like that.

And Mozart is like an ugly kind of formalism.

Jean: The boy with the shell?

M: Maybe classical style.


Jean: The green beans?

Matt: Children’s playground?

Is that a style?

Well they have that shiny green plastic that they use, kind of primary colours, little children’s colour.

Jean: An anti-style maybe.

Matt: Yeah, anti-style, that’s the ants.

Jean: They’re just depressing. I’m not sure what kind of style you’d call that.

Matt: Insect realism.

Jean: No. Its kind of children’s illustrative, but ugly.

Matt: Yeah, So all of the styles clash, and the artworks clash with the surroundings, like you have these shiny plastic things, in front of traditional ornamental gardens and then that’s next to heavy traffic roads, but they children’s things.

And so, who do you think is responsible, and why did they do it?

Jean: Not sure.

Let’s make up some conspiracy theories.

Cool, let’s do that, after a break.


M: OK, so, someone is to blame, and why did they do it?

Jean: You know what? I really not know, who do that. I wonder … the designer you know, should know the environment, and know what’s need to put here …

M: Mmmm…

Jean: Ah, I really feel its strange. They designed these thing put here, and also the government department related to the planning things. They need to say this is allowed or not.

M: Allowed or not. So …

Jean: Yeah.

Matt: So somebody said its allowed.

Jean: Yeah … It could be. Otherwise, how could they stand here?

Matt: Yeah, has to have permission.

Jean: yeah.

Matt: So, somebody designed it, and somebody permitted it. Wo bu dong. I don’t understand.

Jean: Wo ye bu dong. And, ah, no system to show oh, we will do these, do you like or not? No-o. You just see it standing there someday.

Matt: You can’t say anything.

But I have two theories …

Jean: Mmhmm.

M: One is about the person who gave the permission. Or maybe got the funding from the government to do the art projects for the area … And maybe they kept most of the money … and just bought the cheapest rubbish things and put them on the street.

Its like a corruption, local government corruption story.

Jean: I couldn’t say anything to thins, but you know, even they spend less money ..

M: mmm..

Jean: They still can do something good. I don’t think they … to save money lie this …

M: Yeah.

Jean: It’s not the way, you know.

Matt: It’s not about saving money. Its not a local government corruption story.

Jean: Special taste.

M: Special taste. That’s my second theory.

Jean: mmm..

Matt: I think maybe the person who commissioned these works has a mental problem. Has a tou wenti. And its like “art therapy”.

Jean: No.

M: Psychological, not corruption, …

Jean: You know, if you say the mental problem maybe the question make, ah, very complex…

M: mmmm…

Jean: Who think is normal, or in-normal? Who think this is beautiful or not beautiful. Different people have different …

M: Right, so somebody could say “is beautiful” … The Pigu?

Jean: Why they put this there? If not? They shouldn’t say, “we purposely made this ugly … make here ugly”.

M: Yeah, should be. Maybe they don’t like Tanggu.

Jean: That must be foreigner.

M: OK, it was a weigouren. The foreigner did it.

Jean: Or a wei di ren!

M: Wei di ren. I like that theory.



















Age is no barrier: meet the world’s oldest top athletes

Age is no barrier: meet the world’s oldest top athletes

Richard Godwin catches up with five pensioners, aged up to 108, who thrive on extreme exercise

Edwina Brocklesby, 74, the country’s oldest ultra-distance triathlete, wearing a GBR vest and holding a weight-lifting bar above her head

Edwina Brocklesby: triathlete, 76, Kingston-upon-Thames

I didn’t do any exercise at all until I was 50. I remember trying out for the long-jump team at university for a laugh and I couldn’t move for two weeks afterwards. So that was the end of my athletics career. And then I had three children and I was busy with my job. I was a social worker and ran two adoption agencies.

One day, I went to see an old friend from Nottingham University who was running a marathon. I thought that would be fun to do, at least a half marathon, anyway. I came back and told my husband and he laughed and said I wouldn’t even be able to run as far as Northampton, which was about three miles from where we lived at the time. It’s good to have a challenge like that! Sure enough, it did inspire me to run my first half marathon.

Then my husband died when I was 52. By then I had a small group of running friends and they were brilliantly supportive. I trained as a counsellor myself, but I found running better than counselling for dealing with grief. For one, you always feel better after you’ve been for a run as the endorphins kick in. But I think what is more important is the social element. You’re with people who support you and value you. You can talk if you want to, or you can be silent if you want to.

The running club was only small, but it did have one place in the London Marathon – and that’s when it became more serious for me. I ran my first marathon in 1996, when I was 53. I moved to London and became a member of the Serpentine Running Club and, with them, I completed my first London Triathlon when I was 58. I don’t have an anterior cruciate ligament in either knee – my daughter told me that I’d need surgery if I kept pounding the streets like I used to – and that’s how I got into cycling and swimming as they’re a little easier on the joints. When I started swimming, at 56, I couldn’t do crawl at all and swam breaststroke with my head above water like most women of my age. But swimming is a wonderful feeling. It might have something to do with our spending the first nine months of our gestation suspended in water.

There’s so much evidence that if you keep physically active, you don’t experience some of the difficulties associated with ageing. There are lower rates of type 2 diabetes among the active, but falling over is the biggest thing. If you can keep your bone and muscle strength up, you’re less likely to fall – and you might also be able to prevent yourself from hitting the ground if you do fall. Falls are one of the things that costs the NHS the most money.

I’m getting slower as I get older, of course I am. I do manage to run 5k, but I walk a bit more. I feel lucky that I can still jog along the Thames.

Edwina Brocklesby is the director of Silverfit, a charity that promotes physical activity among ageing people. She is also the UK’s oldest Ironman triathlete. She was recently awarded the British Empire Medal

Eddy Diget: personal trainer, 74, Milton Keynes

Eddy Diget in a kung fu pose with his shirt off
Eddy Diget. Photograph: Pål Hansen/The Observer

I’ve always trained: cross-country running; ice skating; roller skating; fencing; cycling…  I’ve been doing weight training for about 45 years now and I was British bodybuilding champion twice, once at 58 and once at 68 … And I have been recognised as a Shaolin Master for my commitment to Chinese martial arts. Some Shaolin monks turned up at my studio in Oxford Brookes one day in their saffron robes and presented me with a piece of parchment. I broke down and wept. It was such an honour.

In a way, I have my father to thank. He was an extremely aggressive man. A big man, too. He used to knock me and my mother about quite a bit. The only way I could escape from him was to be outside and that’s how I discovered sport.

One day, when I was 16, I was fishing … when my mum came round with a black eye. She said: “Joe’s in a real bad mood. He’s coming to find you.” All of a sudden, my father came down the hill and started punching me. I think I was coming up to a brown sash in kung fu at the time – and I just tore into him. It was over in seconds, 16 years of pent-up fear and hate. I blinded him in one eye, which I wasn’t happy about. But after that we were the best of mates. And … he never touched my mother again.

People have become more educated about being fit over the years, especially the over-50s and over-60s. Mature people are much more aware of the goodness that can come out of training.

I am a rehabilitation consultant, so I train people who have had cancer, wheelchair users, people with chronic … amputees. But I also train Ironmen, ultra-marathon runners – and an Olympic fencer. … I feel incredibly privileged and humbled to do it. Personal training is not really about the training, it’s much more to do with the person.

I’d never been ill in 74 years, never even been inside a hospital. But last year, thanks to the NHS screening service, I learned I had bowel cancer. I went in … at 11am and came out a 8.30pm with a whole section removed. ..  I’m just pleased I caught it. And now I feel fabulous. I feel on top of the world.

Gwyn Haslock: surfer, 73, Truro

Gwyn Haslock, 71, holding her surf board vertically as she stands in front of her house in Cornwall
Gwyn Haslock in Cornwall. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

My family always used to go to the sea when I was growing up. We all started surfing in the 1950s on the north coast of Cornwall with wooden belly boards, which are like planks of wood. Then the lifeguards started to import Malibu longboards, which were 10ft long, and before long they started making them there in Newquay. I bought a secondhand one and started properly surfing in 1965.

I wasn’t what you’d call a typical surfer like in the Beach Boys songs. A lot of the good surfers worked in the surfing trade, in surf shops and so on, but I worked for the council as a shorthand typist. It was very 9 to 5, but I surfed at weekends.

I just liked the sea. And when I saw people standing up as if they were walking across the water, I thought, I’d like to have a go at that. It took me about a month before I could stand up and a year before I got any style. I entered my first competition in 1965 as the only woman, and was the first proper British ladies’ champion in 1969. But like any sport, you’re always learning.

Fistral Surf Carnival

I always say to people, the most important thing with surfing is paddling. You’ve got to paddle out, so you have to duck dive under the waves or push yourself over them. Then you’ll see a lovely wave coming, paddle for it and up you get. (A)nd then it’s like floating in air, but across the wave. Sometimes at Fistral, you get nice long rides right along the beach.

I’ve never seen any sharks in Cornwall. I have surfed near dolphins and you do see seals sometimes.

dolphins and people surfing at a Cornwall beach

I never married. I lived with my mother until she died seven years ago, and I’ve been retired for eight years now. When I was working, I couldn’t go surfing in the week so much, but now I can go whenever I like. I like playing tennis, too. I do a bit of fencing. Gardening. There’s lots of things to do.

I’ve surfed in Wales, Ireland, France and once in Portugal. Australia and New Zealand… they don’t appeal to me at all. I did go to California on holiday once and we drove through Malibu and I wasn’t that impressed with it to be honest. We have plenty of surf down here, why do I need to go anywhere else?


Ida Keeling: sprinter, 104, Harlem, New York

Ida Keeling sitting on a race track in kit, bending forward and holding the toes of her trainers, with her daughter behind her, kneeling and with her hands on her mum's shoulders
‘I go to the gym, ride my bike, work out, stretch, reach, do push-ups’: Ida Keeling with her daughter. Photograph: Poon Watchara-Amphaiwan

I was 67 when I started running. I had lost my two sons to drug-related violence – in 1978 and then in 1981. It was so quick. They were stabbed up or shot up or whatever they did to them. Too quick. No warning. It just broke me. I was very depressed.

My daughter Cheryl came by one day and saw I was down in the dumps. That isn’t usually who I am. She wanted to take me out for a mini run and since I was already so down I said: “All right, go ahead.” And it did good for me. It kept me moving. I could feel myself getting stronger and feeling more free. It helped me immensely. And I’m still running now.

I grew up in Harlem, USA, in San Juan Hill – they call it Hell’s Kitchen now. I was one of eight children. Everybody was poor. There was already a Depression there even before they called it a Depression. But there are happy memories. Children don’t have to pay rent. My dad took us to Central Park on his day off from the factory. We had a good time, looking at all the fishes swimming and doing all the things children do: run, play, jump, roll and all that type of stuff. In the summertime when it was hot, the police department would put a sprinkler on top of the fire hydrants for the children to play in.

We hung swings from the fire escapes at the back of buildings. And on Saturdays the bigger boys from around the corner would turn up with a pail and a couple of wooden spoons to drum on it and we’d do the Charleston, the drag, and everything else. We played hooky from school to go and watch the Lindy Hop dancers at the Apollo. We had some good times coming from bad times. But Harlem changed when drugs came in. Everybody wanted to make this quick money. And it dragged in my sons.

I felt like I was being held in a grip, or like I was in a bag or something. But the more I ran, the faster and stronger I became. As I was running like crazy, I released the hold that death had on me. From then on, I belonged to track and field. I said, shoot, sprinting is faster. I’m not going to do all this long-distance, I’m going to sprint. I wanted to go as fast as I could.

Now I’m 104, I’m not so fast. But I go whatever distance I can and if I start a race, I finish it. I’m always the winner for my age group as I don’t have no competition. I’m usually chasing myself. But I go with what I’ve got left. I go to the gym, I ride my bike, I work out, I stretch, I reach, I do push-ups, I do upper weights, I get on the floor and turn my feet up over my head, and when I don’t get out, I stay right here and work out in my room. I’m as healthy as a 25-year-old, my doctor says. I have no intention of slowing down. Age ain’t got nothing to do with it. When you really want to do something for yourself, go and do it. And if you fail, try, try, try again.

Fauja Singh: marathon runner, 108, Redbridge

Fauja Singh, fists pumping out on a street, wearing a 'marathon winner' sports top, and with a turban and long grey beard.
‘Freedom for me is being independently mobile’: Fauja Singh, who ran a marathon at 89 and stills walks 5m a day. Photograph: Hindustan Times via Getty Images

I was born in a village in Punjab in India in 1911. My memories are of a simple life without the stresses that people all over the world seem to have nowadays. I came from a farming family, and we learned to live within our means after working hard and honestly. We remembered God and were thankful to him. We shared with others less fortunate than ourselves. This is in keeping with the three tenets of my Sikh religion.

I had a happy childhood and I was nurtured because I was weak. I couldn’t walk until l was five. I wanted to be sporty, but until then, I lacked the strength. But I enjoyed watching all the simple sporting activities that were prevalent in the rural environment at the time. And I remember the joy all around me when I became strong enough to be able to walk.

As I never went to school, I farmed all of my working life. It was always handy to be able to run after straying cattle, but that was about as exciting as it got.

I didn’t really run competitively until I arrived in England 20 years ago.

Since then I have been looked after by one of my two remaining sons – this is the Asian culture where the parents are looked after by their children. I don’t speak English and not being able to communicate with those whom you meet does pose problems, but a smile always helps. I am usually accompanied, but over time I have become familiar with the routes and places I visit regularly. It must be equally frustrating for those who want to communicate with me. One thing is for sure: shouting or saying things slowly does not make it easier – this is what I observed from tourists visiting other countries! Being illiterate and monolingual does have its advantages – I am not aware of any abuse that may be directed at me. Anyone who is different sadly suffers this in the modern world.

When I attempted to run a marathon for the first time at 89, the reactions were mixed. Some were excited to see if I could do it and wished me well, others doubted I could do it. Those who have been constant in supporting me were my coach, Harmander; my running club, Sikhs in the City; and my family.

Training was easy: I just followed the instructions of my coach without question. If it was a training run, he never let me be exhausted as he said it is good to train but not so good to strain. When it came to the race, I was simply awestruck by the support from the crowds along the route. My coach always ran alongside me and held me back from exerting myself too much in the early stages of the race. He then encouraged me to keep going later on in the race, when the going got tough. I also then started talking to God to help me get through to the finish.

I don’t think I ran competitively in the true sense – it was simply a case of me finishing a distance as fast as I could. My records seem to be simply a by-product of my age. Records are meant to be broken and I wish the person who breaks my records all the best. If running a marathon at my age has inspired others to not give up then I am pleased to have had a positive impact on society.

My last race was the Hong Kong 10km in 2013 when I was 101. Currently, I am not able to run as I have a hernia, but I remember fondly the feeling of freedom when I used to run not so long ago. I am just pleased that I am still mobile and independent. I still walk about five miles each day.

Freedom for me is being independently mobile, and retaining a sound mind and a positive outlook. The rest is up to God.

Fauja Singh has been awarded the British Empire Medal. He is thought to be the oldest person to complete a marathon, but as India did not issue birth certificates in 1911, the record is deemed unofficial. This interview was translated by Harmander Singh


This article shared privately for the purpose of our English Class discussions.For subscriptions to the Observer or The Guardian please see the newspapers’ websites.





Tianjin Laoren English lesson 3: Being filial, making wishes.

Nimen Hao,

welcome to our third lesson.

Today we will finish the last exercise from lesson two (a F2F exercise, from the advanced book, copied below)

Then we will talk about Chinese beliefs in being filial, as this week is Grave Sweeping Day.

After that we can do some exercises on making wishes (from F2F, intermediate)

Class reading: Where’s my Mobile?

Listen to reading r12.1 from the Upper Intermediate F2F Book

Now let’s read it together. Here is the transcript.





Class exercise one

Fill in the gaps in these sentences with one word.

  1. It might be in the ….
  2. Yeah, of course, but it must be switched ….
  3. Or someone could have taken it from your ….
  4. But someone might be using it to phone
  5. Then we popped into that trendy new cafe for a ….
  6. OK, so you didn’t leave it in the ….
  7. So you may have left it on the …
  8. You can’t have left it at the ….
  9. He might have been waiting for a chance to …. my phone.

Being filial in China

This week is grave sweeping day, when we pay respect to our ancestors. Let’s talk that kind of respect and how its practiced in China.

Group exercise one

Try to imagine we are explaining the beliefs and practices to an English-speaking friend. How do you think it is different from the way English-speaking people regard their ancestors, and from how they behave towards their ancestors?

Making wishes (from F2F intermediate, p92).

Class exercise two.

Guess the meaning of the words/phrases in the following sentences.

  1. I really fancy going away for the weekend.
  2. I can’t be bothered to cook this evening.
  3. I’m completely broke at the moment.
  4. I don’t feel up to going out after class.
  5. I often hang around for a bit after class.
  6. I’d like to have a go at writing a book.
  7. I’m really into yoga at the moment.
  8. It’s not up to me when I have a holiday.
  9. I could do with a cup of coffee right now.
  10. I’m sick of working/studying so hard.
  11. I reckon I’ll do quite we;; in my next English test.
  12. I’m off now, bye.

Now, choose three sentences from the list that are true to you. Tell you group your sentences. The group should ask follow-up questions and try to keep the conversation going for a little while.

Listen to the following recording, and then read it with me (sentence by sentence)




Class exercise three

a. Fill in the gaps with one or two words

  1. I wish we had a …
  2. I wish I could come…
  3. I wish we weren’t so …
  4. I wish we didn’t have to go to this …
  5. I wish you were coming to the … with me.

b. Look at the above sentences. Do they talk about the present or the past?

c. Fill in the gaps with the correct form of the verbs in brackets.

  1. I wish we … (can) stay at home instead.
  2. I wish I …. (not have to) work so hard all the time.
  3. I wish I …. (be) a professional footballer.
  4. I wish we … (have) a new washing machine too.
  5. I wish we … (do) something more interesting.
  6. I wish she … (like) football.
  7. I wish I … (can) get out of going to this party.
  8. I wish we … (have) a meail in a nice restaurant.

Group exercise two

Working in your small groups, write sentences with wish for these situations.

1. I have to study all evening

I wish I didn’t have to study all evening.

2. I’m sitting in a traffic jam.

3. We have to get up early every day.

4. I can’t remember her phone number.

5. My husband’s working late.

6. I don’t know how to sail.

7. We don’t have enough money for a new car.

Group exercise three

a. Working in your small groups, take turns to tell each other about your wishes and how your life would be different if they came true. As follow-up questions if you can.

b. Now tell us eachother about your wishes for family members or friends. How do you think their life/lives would be different of that/those wish/es came true? Ask follow up questions if you can.

Which are the most unusual or surprising wishes?