Thursday, 4 February 2016

A Portion Of Warmth, Please - Part 1

"I want to go to Disneyland in Hong Kong!"

I found myself staring at the received WeChat message for a good few minutes, before I eventually responded, asking my friend when she planned to go. I'm not a fan of Disney, nor am I really interested in spending a day at Disneyland, but I am most definitely a fan of Hong Kong, especially the food.

Within a few days we'd made plans for me to come down to Shenzhen to visit my friend for a few days and even though we didn't actually manage to go to Disneyland, something my friend was rather miffed about, we did have a blast. On the bright side, I managed to get a full refund for the tickets we booked. I do have some magic tricks left up my sleeve!

View of Shenzhen from Mt Lotus in Lotus Park.
From Wuhan the most convenient way to get to Shenzhen is via the bullet train, it takes about five hours and is a lot less troublesome than flying. Wuhan Tianhe Airport is in the middle of nowhere and although connected to the city by a more or less regular shuttle bus, there is no subway and post people opt to get to the airport by car or taxi. From where I live it takes me about an hour to get to the airport, so I mostly try to avoid it. Wuhan's train stations are easily accessible by subway and it takes me about half an hour to get out to the high-speed railway station. Quick, convenient and no traffic jams, just crowds of people shoving in and out of the subway cars, but when you live in China you get used to that. In fact you'll start pushing and shoving yourself because you know that you just won't get anywhere if you don't.

When I arrived, the first thing Shenzhen impressed me with was the mild temperature. I immediately peeled off a layer of clothing, much to my friend's amusement. The last couple of weeks have been rather cold here in Wuhan and it snowed quite a few times, enough of a reason for me to escape for a few days. Wuhan's winters are somewhat nasty, no matter how many layers you are wearing, the wet cold seeps right through, making it impossible to stay warm, unless you keep moving around. My air conditioning's been set to 30 degrees Celsius ever since I got released from the hospital in November last year.


Shenzhen on the other hand is wet, very wet, but the temperature is mild and the wind continuously attempt to freeze your nose and fingers off. It gets a little chilly in the evenings and it's not pleasant first thing in the morning, but it's definitely much better than Wuhan.

I was also impressed by just how clean Shenzhen is. Compared with Wuhan, drivers have a much better attitude and people don't push as much getting in and out of the subway/light rail. I found it fairly easy to find my way around the city, of course it did help that my friend has been living in Shenzhen for the last year or so.

It was great to catch up with friends and meet new people, enjoy amazing food and walk, walk, walk.

Shenzhen Bay
The bay area is simply fantastic, amazingly clean and to my utter astonishment all public toilets we visited were equipped with toilet paper and soap. In Wuhan the toilet paper would be gone within two minutes and the soap would most likely go unused. You know you've been living in China for quite some time when basic things such as toilet paper and soap excite you. To my disappointment the shopping malls in Shenzhen are equally as badly constructed as those in Wuhan. It's very easy to find the entrance but almost impossible to find an exit in the maze of shops once you enter. So if you have a credit card or some spare spending cash, don't tell me I didn't warn you. You'll end up getting so frustrated about not being able to find your way out that you'll spend money you hadn't planned to spend.

Despite my time in Shenzhen being rather short, we still managed to have plenty of fun. It involved food, more food, walking, more walking and did I mention all the food? I spend five days stuffing my face with divine Guangdong cuisine and still managed to lose a kilogram.

Dim Sum

Hot Pot

I can finally tick 'cycling in the rain' off my bucket list, although I'm not sure if that was ever on my bucket list. I also climbed a palm tree, well okay I admit I didn't really, I just pretended to, and of course took plenty of pictures. At some point I visited a marriage market and got chased after by some guy who didn't dare talking to me and fleet up a mountain to escape his advances. 

Anyone looking for a husband or wife?

We also managed to got lost in the local park and discovered a lake that my friend never came across before, despite having visited the park four or five times over the course of her stay. When I told her that all Chinese parks have lakes, otherwise they don't qualify, she laughed and told me that I'm more Chinese than her.

Attempting to climb a palm tree.

Cycling in the rain

I just loved all the greenery. Shenzhen is green, very green indeed.

Everything's wet and green, green and wet.

Posing on the grass beach by the bay

Two happy campers, stuffed full after Dim Sum

The lake my friend didn't know existed

More beautiful greenery!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

How To Successfully Teach Medical English In China

What with an electric hot water bottle exploding all over my thigh in February 2014 (you can read up on my experience here and here), I've had a rather unique opportunity to experience Chinese hospitals from the inside. Since my treatment was tedious and lengthy, and even included surgery and a hospital stay, I had the chance to make quite a few new friends. I also stayed in hospital again in November 2015 for a voluntary, cosmetic surgery on both my upper arms.

Since I can speak Chinese, communicating with the doctors and nurses in the hospital wasn't as difficult as it would have been for let's say someone without any Chinese skills. Throughout my treatment I was very lucky to be under the care of a surgeon, who studied and lived abroad for many years, and therefore speaks fluent English. However other doctors and nurses, who cared for me, lacked that ability. Here my Chinese skills came in handy, enabling me to still communicate more or less effectively. Whenever my Chinese failed we resolved to body language and/or drawings...

After a few dinners the topic of teaching English inevitably came up (and has come up a good few times since then) over the last two years and while those doctors and nurses, I've come to call friends, have no trouble understanding complicated articles in medical journals, what they all agreed on was that they struggle with everyday communication and have no or little faith in their oral English. Most of them said they don't even dare to speak English for fear of not knowing how to communicate with their patient or simply not being able to express themselves in simple terms.




I am by nature a very curious person, so following those discussions I went on a research mission to educate myself on how to teach Medical English effectively. While there is a lot of material available online, including great books published by Cambridge University, what I just couldn't find were helpful tips and or suggestions on how to teach Medical English. I downloaded a ton of material and even read a few articles, published online, but they mostly just focused on the importance of doctors and nurses being able to speak English. Despite having downloaded a folder full of fantastic material (and also preparing my own material), every time I pictured myself standing in front of a bunch of doctors and nurses, attempting to teach them Medical English, I just saw myself breaking out in hives.

So how on earth do you teach people who willingly spent about five years in university with their noses buried in a mountain of books, then spent another five years putting all that theoretical knowledge into practice, before finally being allowed to call themselves doctors. The thought of teaching someone who is able to mix together a delightful cocktail of very potent drugs that will put you into a coma and cutting into you with a very sharp knife is just a little intimidating...

After asking my new-found friends for their opinions, I discovered that their needs are actually quite simple. Most of them struggle to remember how to explain a diagnosis (or the requirement of a test) in layman's terms. When put on the spot, they could accurately recall a bunch of complicated medical terms, then felt frustrated when I just stared at them blankly. Others said they were worried about their pronunciation, worried that a patient might not understand them. Sadly one of my friends even asked why I would want to go and see a Chinese doctor when Western doctors are so much better. That just made me sad. I understand where that way of thinking is coming from, and while I would love to go into that, it's a topic for another post.

You definitely don't need to be a doctor to successfully teach Medical English to those in the medical profession whose first language isn't English. All it takes is a little understanding and common sense. Doctors and nurses have not need for complicated terminology or repeated reading practice, those are things they can learn and practice in their own time. What they really need is to first of all be given the chance to understand the differences in culture. Most of them have no clue about the how and when people in the West visit a doctor... What on earth is a GP? Why do people not go to the hospital to see the doctor? Why do doctors in the West have their own private surgery? I want to see a cardiologist, why do I have to go to my GP first? Why do hospitals have no pharmacy for patients to pick up their prescriptions? Giving them the chance to listen to your personal experiences from back home and ask questions gives them a better insight into a patient's expectations. Let them share their own experiences and ask them to compare. This simple discussion is actually a great way to boost their confidence as they are using English to talk to you and either classmates. If their English isn't good enough to have this discussion and you speak their mother tongue, then use it! Don't make the lesson harder on them than it already is.

If your students are in the medical profession, you will quickly discover that they are very used to studying and will take the class very seriously, sometimes even too seriously. E.g. You might end up listening to the doctors among your students debating about a diagnosis (and the nurses might debate about the correct way to care for a patient), determined to show off their medical skills and diagnose your imaginary patient accurately. If that happens gently remind them that a correct diagnosis isn't the top priority, however if they are debating in English, do give them a couple of minutes to get carried away. They are after all using English!

When improving their English skills, doctors and nurses often have to get medical histories from their patients, so practice this often. Pretend to be a patient, state your symptoms and ask them to get a through medical history out of you. Put them into pairs with one student playing the patient and the other playing the doctor. Ask them to take notes when taking a medical history. Pre-teach the most common questions, but be sure to keep them simple. Why teach them a complicated, long question, when a short one works just as well? Instead of asking for two or more things in one question separate them, there is nothing wrong with asking three questions instead of one. It might be a little more tedious but the result is the same, and actually better. I recommend showing the students the more complicated question and the simple one side by side, they might want to remember both, but make sure to stress the importance of focusing on the simple questions for effectiveness.

Do practice new vocabulary with them, but remember that learning random words is of no use to your students, they need to learn those words in context and where and how to use them. If the vocabulary isn't useful to them, don't teach it. Make a point to tell students what abbreviations such as ECG (electro cardiogram), CT (computer tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) stand for but do stress that even native speakers mightn't be familiar with anything but the abbreviations.

Get students to explain simple procedures and tests to you, and remind them to keep it simple. This is why I believe a doctor or nurse isn't necessarily the most qualified person to teach non-native English speakers Medical English. A doctor or a nurse might easily overlook the need for simple, basic explanations every patient will understand, and as such ignore to stress the importance of this.

Use pictures, flashcards, videos and PPTs to make the class visual and colourful. Doctors and nurses are well used to leafing through tons of heavy books, writing page after page of medical history. Give them the chance to escape into a more colourful word. Show them video clips of some popular Western medical dramas, mute the sound and ask the students to explain in simple terms what's happening in the clip. Play memory games where the students have to match words and pictures and possibly even put them into context (e.g. tell you a short story). Doctors and nurses work in a highly stressful environment and will appreciate the light-heartedness and the chance to relax but still learn. Even doctors and nurses enjoy letting out their inner child every now and then!

Don't be afraid to correct their grammar and pronunciation. Doctors and nurses won't think you are questioning their ability to treat a patient but appreciate the opportunity to improve. Do let them use their dictionaries to check unknown words, but be careful when they are using a dictionary to translate words from their native language into English. Depending on the quality of the dictionary the result can be either spot on or so far away from the truth that you'll have to correct them, so do your research. Prepare a list of some common words in their native language and the corresponding, correct English translation to avoid problems like that. Tedious but well worth it!

Don't use the entire class time to tell stories or moan about the medical system in your own country, but do let your students complain and discuss problems with medical care in their country, providing they are doing it in English!

Repeat, repeat, repeat! Don't bombard the students with class after class and lesson after lesson of new material, but instead teach two or three classes filled with new material, then go back to something you have done a while back and check just how much the students actually remember. Your students will be grateful for the opportunity to remember things they learned and show off their new skills.

All in all, teaching Medical English isn't all that different from teaching English as a second language, with the exception that you need to do your homework for every class. You don't have to be able to recite the content of a medical dictionary but you should know the names of a couple of common drugs and be familiar with how they are taken and their side effects. You should also be familiar with a bunch of common diseases and how they are treated and every ones in a while you can even research a somewhat rare disease, remember the symptoms, then ask your students to diagnose you, in English. Keep it light-hearted and let them win if they get close but can't actually name the disease in English.



A Few Resources:

ESLFlow: Human Body Lessons

Hospital English

At The Hospital

Busy Teacher: Medicine & Health

English Med

English for Nurses & Medical Professionals

Medical English for Doctors & Patients

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Saying Goodbye to 2015 with home-made Apple Puree

six easy steps for home-made German apple puree

A decade ago, I picked up this odd habit/tradition of doing something new, something I've never done before, on the first day of each year. Granted I haven't always strictly followed said tradition, just like most of us seem to struggle with sticking to the New Year's resolutions we make, which is why the only New Year's resolution I make each year is not to make any. *grin*

Today I spontaneously decided not to wait until next year to do something new, something I've never done before, but instead chose to finish the last day of 2015 on a high. I made this decision when I spotted a bag of about 10 apples lying on top of my fridge, a present from a friend who visited me in hospital in November. She must have given me about three kilograms of apples when she visited. I ate about half of them while in the hospital, since the nurses kept telling me at least four times a day that healthy food was important for my recovery. Since an apple a day is supposed to keep the doctor away, I was a good patient and listened to them. The result of my little unplanned experiment? An apple a day does neither keep the doctor nor the nurses away, at least not while you're hospitalised. Oh well... Getting daily visits from handsome doctors isn't a bad thing at all.

I didn't want to throw an entire bag of apples away, but I'm also not a fan of sandy-tasting apples. I love crunchy, juicy apples, the crunchier and juicer the better. I'm spoiled, what can I say... So what do you do when you're stuck with 1.5kg of apples and no desire to eat them? Well, if you're German you make apple purée.



What if you're German and currently living it up as an English teacher in China? You momentarily worry about the lack of resources when it comes to cooking Western food in China, then remember that making apple purée doesn't really require many exotic resources and finally you boldly dare yourself to go ahead with your unplanned project anyway. When you realise that you're fresh out of sugar and lemons, you curse under your breath and dash to the supermarket across the street to get the missing ingredients, even though you've only just been there to shop for supplies for the next couple of days.

Ingredients Needed:
1.5kg of apples
4-5 tablespoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
300ml of water

Making the actual apple purée is astonishingly simple. Simply peel the apples, remove the seeds and cut them up into small pieces (see third and forth photo in the photo collage at the start of this post). Don't make the pieces too small or you'll spend an entire afternoon just cutting apples, which defeats the purpose of having fun entirely.

Once done, measure 300ml of water and pour it into a pot. I don't recommend using a wok so if you're in China I really do hope you have a good, old-fashioned cooking pot. I suppose you could always try to use a wok but since I haven't tried it myself, I have no idea if the result of that wok-adventure can still be called apple purée. If you dare to try it, do send me a photo of the result as well as your thoughts and I will update this post accordingly.
Note: I warned you, so I am not accepting any responsibility for a failed wok-adventure and 1.5kg of ruined apple purée. I will however send virtual hugs, chocolate, cookies and tissues and tell you that I told you so.

Add four to five tablespoons of plain, white sugar and one tablespoon of lemon juice. You can add a little more if you like, I squeezed about a half a lemon into the water, but don't go too crazy with the lemon juice. German apple purée is supposed to be naturally sweet, not bitter as hell.

Add the apples to the pot and bring the whole mix to a boil. Stir carefully until the apple pieces are soft and mash when you continue to mix. Turn the heat down and continue to simmer for a couple of minutes, then turn the heat off. If you want perfect purée, you better have an immersion blender. I suppose a good, old-fashioned blender (the one you use to make your smoothies with) will do the job too, but if you're not opposed to a little bit of exercise then just take a fork and happy mashing!!!

I prefer my apple purée with some bigger apple pieces in it so I just used a fork to mash it all. The finished purée can be enjoyed hot or cold. In my opinion adding a few sprinkles of cinnamon gives it a wonderful wintry taste. If you want to store it, go right ahead, use some old jars but clean them and the lids with boiling water first. This will effectively reduce chances of mould.


I kind of lied when I said that I don't make New Year's resolutions any more. I have wishing bottles...

On that note I'm wishing all my readers a very happy new year, and I'll see you in 2016!!!