Saturday, 23 August 2014

Spirits of the Summer

The seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar is known as the "ghost month".  It is the month where the spirits of the deceased from netherworld are allowed to roam the living realm.  More specifically, a festival of rituals and offerings is held on the 15th day of the seventh month, when (according to traditional Chinese beliefs) the gates of hell open.

This festival is observed by both Taoists and Buddhists, for slightly different reasons.  To the Taoists, the festival is called Zhongyuan Jie (中元节) while the Buddhists call it Ullambana (盂兰盆会).  While there are certainly differences in the Taoists' and the Buddhists' rituals to honour the deceased, they share the goals of:
  • deliverance of suffering of the deceaseds' souls;
  • reminding the Chinese people the importance of filial piety;
  • bringing hope to those who are alive that their loved ones are in a better place.

As this is one of the traditional Chinese festivals, practices and interpretation of the festival have been amalgamted with folk traditions of ancestral worship to form a rather unique, grassroot type of mixed practice for the layman (i.e. those who are neither strictly Taoist nor strictly Buddhist) where many taboos are observed and a lot of paper offerings are burnt with a view that they will bring the deceased an 'easier' life in the netherworld.

I personally prefer the Buddhist story that explains the origin of the festival, because it emphasizes filial piety and the importance of living a life guided by moral principles.

In Asia, the rituals of the seventh lunar month are widely observed.  With many ghost stories and folklores being told amongst friends at this time, alongside the frequent sights of burning paper offerings and religious rituals, whether you like it or not, you will feel a slightly different atmosphere in the air.  There is not a hint of this festival in the UK, and it being the summer here, there is none of that ghostly feeling that one gets in Asia during this time.  However, I would like Tiger to know about this significant Chinese festival in relation to some of the important moral values in the Chinese tradition so I asked him to read up on this festival:

before showing him the clip below to let him have a sense of what it would be like to be watching an actual street performance of the Buddhist story of Mulian saving his mother:

Other than street performances, there are other more formal Chinese opera performances of the same story.  We watched one of them (see the clip below) and talked about the similarities and differences between a formal performance and a street performance in terms of the quality of the stage, costume, props, and skills required by the actors.

Of course, one cannot make a fair comparison between a street performance (where anyone can stop by and watch the show for free) and a formal performance (with a much bigger budget and crew, and where people pay to watch the show).

Tiger has watched La Boheme at the Royal Opera House before, so it has been interesting for him to note the differences between Chinese operas (in general) and Western operas in terms of style and stage techniques.

While we are not going to burn any paper offerings or observe any religious rituals while we live in the UK, I was still able to observe the festival in a small way: by making a simple stir-fry vegetarian dish using 10 different ingredients:
  1. bean sprouts
  2. bamboo shoots
  3. water chestnuts
  4. toufu
  5. green beans
  6. carrots
  7. pak choi
  8. courgette
  9. green pepper
  10. celery

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 8/19/14   
  2. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years #25  
  3. History and Geography Meme #131
  4. Collage Friday
  5. Weekly Wrap Up: The one with all the cell division
  6. The Homeschool Mother's Journal

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Half Way Through Our Summer

How has your summer been?  I hope it has been a very good one.  I know that most of our American friends have started their new academic year.  In Britain, summer holidays last until the end of August or early September, so we are just in the middle of our summer break.

Our summer break has been a good one so far.  We've managed to do all that I said we would do for the summer, so that's great.  This must be the first time we have kept to our summer plan, and I rather like the sense of achievement that comes with ticking off the boxes (in my head) even if that applies to summer activities.  I might try to replicate this stick-to-the-plan approach when we start the new academic year, some time in September, and see how we fare.

Anyhow, here's a quick round up of what we've been up to in the past few weeks:

1.  Classical singing school

This went spectaculary well for us.  During the week-long course, Tiger was exposed to much singing techniques, musical games, and music history.  The repetoire of songs was quite wide -- the children were taught Latin songs, Swahili folk songs, a medieval choral, and a few contemporary (not pop, or anything to be heard on popular radio stations) songs set to poetry.


Before the course started, I wasn't sure how Tiger would respond to it, as he was rather shy about singing out loud and in front of other people.  At the end of the first day, he told me that he enjoyed it very much and he was very receptive to all the games and musical history that were taught to the group.  Although he still won't sing out loud in public, he says he wants to attend future sessions of this course, so at the very least the course has achieved the purpose that I wanted for Tiger, i.e. to be able to enjoy singing as a form of self-expression.  We are not aiming for Tiger to become a choir boy or to aspire toward a singing scholarship.  My goal is very simple: to ensure that Tiger doesn't have any self-inhibitions about singing as a natural human activity.

2.  Photography and 2D animation course

This course was held at one of the leading university's School of Creative Arts.  Tiger was very impressed with the university's professional photography studio (he came home after the photography class and asked whether we could have a similar set up at home) and the animation labs.  In that week, Tiger was taught some cool tricks on Photoshop and Adobe Flash.

3.  Plays at Shakespeare's Globe

This season's plays at the Globe seem to be mostly tragedies or historical plays, which are heavier going compared to previous years' shows.  Titus Andronicus was particularly difficult to watch due to the amount of gore and violence written into the script.  I had to brief Tiger beforehand about a few scenes and put them in context for him.  Even so, I had to censor a few scenes during the play whereby I asked Tiger to cover his ears and look down at his shoes until I told him that it was ok to resume watching.

It is, by far, the most gripping and disturbing play I've watched.  I was on the edge of my seat through most of the play, and had probably forgotten to breathe on several occasions that afternoon.

4.  In the woods

We spent some time in the woods before the weather turned, but not as much as we did in the previous years.  We miss our long walks and adventures in the forest!

5.  Closer to home

While we were not running around outside, Tiger spent his time inventing adventures for himself in the garden, or we would hang out in bookshops to read.  On a few of the short walks we would make time to stop and chat to the friendly animals we met on the way.

One day, Tiger spent an hour in his room making a necklace for me.

There was a lot of banging and knocking sounds coming from his room that morning.  If I didn't know otherwise, I would have thought a blacksmith lived upstairs!

When the noise finally stopped, Tiger presented the necklace to me.  I think it's beautiful, and exceptionally well designed with the twists and turns on the pendant reminding me of Celtic jewellery.


I don't know whether Tiger was inspired to make the necklace after learning about the Qixi festival a few weeks ago.  Sometimes it is appropriate to just accept a gift without asking too many questions.  Tiger has always presented me with small handmade items since he was very little, so this might just be another one of his loving gestures.  He is a very affectionate boy -- much like his father -- and this warms my heart more than the summer sun does.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 8/19/14   
  2. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years #25  
  3. Virtual Refrigerator Blog Hop 
  4. Collage Friday
  5. Weekly Wrap Up: The one with all the cell division
  6. The Homeschool Mother's Journal

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Me, Me, Me!

Sue from Stories of an Unschooling Family has very kindly given me a blog award.  Thank you, Sue!

First, I'll get the rules out of the way:
  1. Thanks and link to the amazing person who nominated you.
  2. List the rules and display the award.
  3. Share seven facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and coment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
  5. Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

Here the facts:
1.  I find it hard to talk about myself.
Have you been to parties or functions where people are all trying to impress one another?  I've been many of these in my previous life working outside of home, and have found these types of 'conversations' (more like sales pitches) ranging from uninteresting to off-putting, so I always make it a point to let the quality of my work speak on my behalf.

2. I like my own company very much.
When I was single, I used to do everything on my own -- watch movies at the cinemas, travel to different places, eat at fancy restaurants, etc.  I am not anti-social, but I'd rather be on my own and doing my own things than to have to 'entertain' someone else because I need company.

3.  I don't like to talk.
My record for not seeing or speaking to anyone  is 3 weeks.  That was many years ago, before I got married, when I had the time and space to conduct a self-imposed three-week spiritual retreat.  I found out more about my inner life in those 3 weeks than in any other time.

My motto is: talk only when I have to.  I prefer to choose my words carefully than to make senseless chatter.  I'm trying to teach this to my son, who can talk for England if you let him.  I always maintain that I've had to talk more than ever because I'm homeschooling my son since most of his learning revolves around verbal instructions and discussions.

4.  I am not from England.
It's obvious from my name that I am not English.  I came to England 12 years ago to study, met my husband (he's English), got married and now my life is established here.

Although I am not from England, my husband and his family are, and Tiger was born here.  By the fact that we live here, it makes sense that our way of life is predominantly English.

5.  I didn't really understand English until I was 10 years old.
If you've noticed any ropey English in my posts, now you know why!

I grew up in a non-English speaking household but I went to school where English was taught.  I remember struggling to understand the lessons and the teachers' instructions.  My standard of English back then was similar to Tiger's standard of Chinese right now, so I understand how difficult it is for him to learn a foreign language that is not widely used in his surrounding.  Today, I am still more fluent in Chinese than in English.

The last thing I expected to happen is to find myself married into an English household and to be living in England.  It's funny how life turns out.

6.  I married my husband wtihout ever dating him.
No, I'm not a mail-order bride.

As you can see from points (2) and (3) above, it is actually very difficult to get to know me.  My husband tried to ask me out on a date but I turned him down to go watch a 3-hour lecture by Edward Said on my own.  He decided that it was going to be too hard to ask me out so he asked me to marry him the second time we met.  I thought he must be barking mad but I agreed to marry him (because he is cute), so I must have been quite mad myself.  We certainly caused much anxiety in our parents when we got married within two weeks.  We have been married for 10 years now.

7.  I prefer one-on-one interaction.
Given the points (1) to (6), you'd think that I'm the perfect candidate to be a social recluse.  I suppose I won't mind that, if that's what's in store for me, but I do enjoy social interaction from time to time.  By that I mean one-on-one type of conversation in a small setting.  It's more intimate, and I prefer to get to know people on that basis than doing the rounds at big parties.  That's why you won't find me on social media sites with hundreds of followers or 'likes'.  I have a handful of friends -- my best friend lives 7000 miles away and we don't see each other for years.  When it comes to human relationships, I value depth and quality more than quantity.

I am supposed to nominate 15 other blogs for this award.  The bloggers who I find inspiring are all listed on "My Blog List" on the right-hand side -- there are more than 15 there.  Not everyone likes to participate in such games so but I will open it up to anyone who reads this post and who feels like sharing something about themselves. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Where Does Tiger Go to School?

We (i.e. Tiger, my husband, our extended family, and I) get this question a lot.   When we answer that Tiger is homeschooled, the immediate assumption is that the poor child:
  • never goes out;
  • never sees anyone;
  • is made to work through heaps of worksheets/workbooks;
  • is made to work at a desk somewhere in the house from 8:30am to 3:30pm;
  • does not know how to behave in public;
  • does not know how to talk to other people;
  • must be socially isolated;
  • must be developmentally delayed ("why else would he need to be kept at home?")....

Someone once commented that the homeschoolers seem to belong to some kind of secret society, that little is known about what we do and how we do things.  It's all very secretive, it seems....

Well, well, well.

So where's our 'school room', then?  Where's THE DESK?

I looked through the photos for the last academic year (September 2013 to July 2014), and am slightly embarrassed to say that I have very few photos of desk work... but I hate to disappoint, so here they are, for what it's worth:

Working on our writing desk, the dining table, the patio table.

Has anyone noticed that they are not even the same desk?  It's outrageous, isn't it?  Not working at the same desk all the time?  What's the world coming to?!  I don't know about that.  What I do know is that my son seems to prefer working on the floor.  Maybe he doesn't find desk jobs overly appealing.

Sometimes, Tiger can be found working on the sofa:

Working on geometry and reading on the sofa.

He is sometimes found cooking up magic in the kitchen.

He also has no problems working in bed, in his dressing gown, just before lights off.

Drawing diagrams to explain how computer networks work.

My husband thinks it's misleading to call what we do 'homeschooling' because, as he says, "You two are always out!"  That's true.  A quick look over last academic year's diary shows that we were out most of the time.

Do we conduct our business in 'secret'?  I'm not sure how to do that, given the amount of time we spend outside our house, going about in public places...  Anyhow, I'll leave it to the readers to decide for yourselves.  Of course, I cannot and do not attempt to represent all homeschoolers in the many choices different families have of doing things.  I can only share what we do as one approach that has been working very well for my family.

In the academic year that has just gone past, Tiger could be found learning in the following places, other than in our home:
1.  On a back lane;
2.  In a farm shop;
3.  At castle sites;
4.  At fair grounds;
5.  In a bookshop;
6.  In big corporate conference rooms;
7.  In public parks;
8.  By the road side;
9.  At a reservoir;

10.  In music rooms;
11.  At ruin sites;
12.  In art studios;
13.  In someone's workshop;
14.  In abbeys and cathedrals;
15.  In a barn;
16.  By rivers;
17.  In a science lab;
18.  At theatres;

19.  On air fields;
20.  In scout huts;
21.  In a vehicle showroom;
22.  In someone's sitting room.

Other than the above places, Tiger also spends the bulk of his time learning at various museums and galleries,

different church halls,

in the woods;

or even in cafes and on the tube!

Reading and writing drafts on the tube, journaling in a cafe.

Am I being cheeky to use this as our "homeschool room" post?  I certainly hope this post doesn't come across to be so.  Maybe, one day, when we start to spend more than 50% of our learning time in any one room, then a picture of that one special room will be relevant.  So far, the one-room-one-desk scenario just hasn't been our reality.

This post is linked up to:
  1. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (8/9/14)
  2. 6th Annual "Not" Back-to-School Blog Hop: School Room Week
  3. Hip Homeschool Hop - 8/12/14
  4. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years #24
  5. Weekly Wrap-up: The one without a clever title

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Brave New Geography

Has anyone noticed something interesting in the news clip below?

Maybe the clip is too short.  Here's a still:

I learn something new everyday.  My latest new learning comes from the CNN -- not any dodgy pirate station, mind you -- that Hong Kong has decided to park itself on another continent!  Wow.  To think that all this time I have thought Hong Kong is located in Asia, a continent which is shaped quite differently from the South American continent!  Well, if the information comes from the CNN or the BBC, it must be right!  Aren't we lucky to have these brilliant, highly paid, highly qualified expert broadcasters tell us what's what in the world?!  How else would we have figured out that Hong Kong is actually located at where most people thought is Rio de Janeiro, a city of Brazil?

Hong Kong is part of China -- tell me that is still true -- I can't take another blow to my inadequate geography knowledge.  By extension of that logic, it should be located very near mainland China.  So.... looking at the CNN news map, the bigger country right by "Hong Kong", or what I thought used to be the country of Brazil, or is now China!!  Wow, the tectonic plates have shifted so much in the few hours that I was asleep, huh?!

It's troubling, isn't it?

Friday, 8 August 2014

2014-2015 Tools of the Trade

Based on the plan that was published on Monday, how on earth am I going to pull it off?  Well, with the help of many good books, materials and good people in my community, of course!


Various materials to be used in accordance to the theme that we are learning.



Various materials to be used in accordance to the theme that we are learning.


  • Drawing - The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain textbook and workbook, Sketching and Drawing for Children
  • Art Appreciation - various materials to be used in accordance to the theme that we are learning.
  • Photography and video - photography course*, digital video course*


Character Building

  • tennis*
  • swimming* 
  • yoga

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Summer Love

I'm a little late with this, but better late than never!

The Qixi festival (七夕), takes place on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. The festival has evolved from an ancient tradition of celebrating women's skills at handcrafts and needlework to becoming a commericalised "Chinese Valentine's Day", which emphasises more about love and romance.  Even though the legend behind this festival involves the separation of a couple, the original focus of the tradition was on the the weaving skill that Weaver Maiden (织女) brought down from heaven and taught to the common folk.  There's nothing wrong with celebrating love and romance, but it's also good to know the original context of the festival.

This year the festival took place last Saturday, August 2nd.  We did not do much with it apart from learning it is celebrated in modern day China:

and eating symbolic food that goes with the festival to represent sweetness and happiness: a fruit salad made up of seven different types of fruit.  I used the following:
  1. kiwi
  2. pear
  3. honeydew melon
  4. blueberry
  5. peach
  6. watermelon
  7. mango

If I were more organised, I would probably have found some needlework or craft to go with this festival, but I'm on my summer break (that's my excuse for this year)!

This post is linked up to:
  1. Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #18
  2. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (8/2/14)
  3. Hip Homeschool Hop - 8/5/14
  4. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years Week 24
  5. History and Geography Meme #128 
  6. Home Ed Link Up Week 10
  7. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with all the stuff that's working
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