Thor's Documents and Site Map

site owner: Thorold (Thor) MAY, PhD       nationality : Australian           d.o.b 1945

internet location (editing service)


thormay AT


Adelaide, Australia. Mobile tel. (+61)  0479 154 831


Writer, lecturer, researcher, teacher, teacher trainer (English language & linguistics), editor

CV tmChina-CV2019.htm

Published papers and a profile can be seen at these repositories: - -
Google Scholar -


An abbreviated listing of Qualifications etc. is available at


Thor running, 19 May 2010

see the video, "Born 1945 - Still Running Strong" (2.5 minutes) here.

Teaching English is Fun!

see the video, "Teaching English is Fun " (4.5 minutes) here

graduation speech

see the video, "The Journey of a Passionate Skeptic " (4 minutes) here

Table of Contents

1.  Self which our hero advertises himself : résumé, images of qualification documents, references, photograph, publications etc.
    1b. About The Passionate Skeptic website.
1c. General health & fitness (VO2 Max, 3 March 2020 from a Garmin tracker)

2. Teacher Training Materials - lectures delivered by Thor in South Korea to graduate trainee teachers
     - 2b. Seminars given by Thor to Chinese English teachers, 2008 , 2009
3. Samples of ESL Teaching Materials ...
brain surgery with a blunt axe
4. Language Teaching Methodology & Critique  ...a selection of papers
5. Technical Stuff .... papers in a) linguistics, and b) other technical writing (reports etc.)
6. Courses Taught - lectures and classes in seven countries over thirty-four years
Thor's Unwise Ideas - a forum for The Passionate Skeptic with regular additions
Thor's Korea Diary (September 2000 to September 2007)
9. Thor's New China Diary (September 2007 to January 2011)
Thor's Old China Diary (August 1998 - July 2000)
11. Thor's Travel Notes - Miscellaneous travel essays
12. Photography - The world caught with a sideways glance
13. Video & Audio - a small collection of YouTube videos & recitations
14. Poems...time out
15. Stories ... tales from long ago and far away
16. Links to Other Sites
17. The Plain & Fancy Language House - Thor's editing service
18. Thor's Shop - Books 'n stuff Thor has for sale (or would like to have for sale !)
19. Thor's Blogs - The Passionate Skeptic website (this site) has been accumulating material for 15 years or more, which is an eternity in cyberspace terms. It is a static site (no comments etc.) using simple technology, so Thor has begun to gradually duplicate material on a number of blogs, which should be a more interactive experience.
20. Language Study Index - languages currently being studied by Thor, with some added advice on what makes for successful personal language study, plus a big list of links to laguage learning sites on the Internet
21. China Readings -
Archived news and articles about China: I read a large number each year : a) General Readings on China from 2007 to October 2011; b) Readings on Education in China; c) Readings on Finance, Banking and Business in China.  Readings for all the world up to 2009 are indexed => here

<> Many of my publications are available in PDF format at my site: 

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1.Self which our hero advertises himself

About Thor - a basic statement of origins, personality and qualifications 
A formal Curriculum Vitae
A detailed description of Teaching Experience
A statement of Teaching Philosophy
Print Publication List
Photos of Thor
Australian Passport - Thorold May (page 1) : available on authorized request
Thor's The Ages of Man, Part 5 (a YouTube.come video autobiography of the years in South Korea, 2000 to early 2007)
The other parts of "The Ages of Man" can be seen on the Video Page

Facebook - Zhengzhou students (China) with Thor & some other photos
Zhengzhou student
Zhengzhou student
Zhengzhou student
Zhengzhou students
Zhengzhou student Zhengzhou student
Zhengzhou  student

Thor May qualifications in Korean
Thor May - qualifications translated into Korean

Documentation for Thor May

a) Accredited The qualifications in this section are accredited. That is, they are certified in the official way which academic administrative officers, employers and government departments require. Much more rarely (unfortunately) there may be a genuine interest in the real substance of what an indivual knows and has investigated in his field. In my case this goes well beyond formally accredited documents. Those interested in this extra range of knowledge are advised to also look to section b) below.

1. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 2010, University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia. Thesis topic : "Language Tangle : Predicting and Facilitating Outcomes in Language Education". Through examining a series of twenty case studies, this thesis deals with issues of knowledge worker productivity.

PhD testamur + transcript. (The transcript covers official enrolment in earlier studies too, 1978 to 2010, including long periods when I was actually lecturing linguistics in other places and mostly not studying).

An abstract of the dissertation can be seen here. The thesis itself (pdf) may be viewed here. The letter of completion from the University of Newcastle, formally announcing the award may be viewed hereA current reference (2010) from Dr Christo Moskovsky, Thor May's doctoral supervisor, may be viewed here. The thesis is also online in the University of Newcastle research depository at .A further link is the Australian Research Directory.

2a. Master of Applied Linguistics, University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia - Testamur 2005 (The University of Newcastle is a government owned university).
2b. Transcript - Master of Applied Linguistics, University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia 2005; [high distinction in all subjects]
2c.Transcript key - Master of Applied Linguistics, University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia

3.    Masters Qualifying in Linguistics. 1st Class Honours (Equivalent) - Letter of Approval University of Newcastle NSW,  Australia (1978). The research essays supporting this were also reviewed by an external examiner (Macquarie University). Most institutions today would document this one year program as a coursework Masters degree.

4.    Bachelor of Arts - Testamur
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand (1974); majors in Linguistics and Social Anthropology
13.   Bachelor of Arts - Transcript Document (1974)

5.   Postgraduate Diploma of Teaching - Transcript Document
Auckland Secondary Teachers College, New Zealand (1975; now a division of Auckland University); Teaching English as a Second Language specialization. Many institutions today would document this one year program as a coursework Masters degree.

6 .   RSA/Cambridge Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language 1996, Melbourne

7. Certificate IV in Workplace Training Category 2: Assessor (1997) Kangan Batman Institute of TAFE, Melbourne, Australia

8.  Certification and Recommendation from Professor Nicholas Evans, University of Melbourne (2004), on Doctoral Research work

9    PhD Enrolment Records, University of Melbourne, Australia, 1991, 1992, 1993 [note that Australian PhDs are on the British model, which does not involve coursework and therefore does not yield transcripts. The thesis production to date (about 50,000 words) was fully supervised by Professor Nicholas Evans, and may be viewed on this website under Generative Oscillation, as well as the published paper, Postsupposition and Pastiche Talk]

10. High school dux certificate - Belmore High School 1961 - 1st in English, 1st in History, 1st in Geography, 1st in Economics

b) Non-accredited

11.  Master of Arts in Formal & Applied Linguistics,Greenwich University, Hawaii 1994 - This document no longer has formal recognition since the supporting university became defunct in 2004. However, certified transcripts are available under the stewardship of Akamai University at http// The degree itself was based on extensive prior doctoral research and publication at the University of Newcastle, NSW, and examined by staff there who are still willing to certify its standard.

11a   - Diploma Document
11b.    Master of Arts in Formal & Applied Linguistics
          -  Thesis Approval Document
11c.    Master of Arts in Formal & Applied Linguistics
          -  Thesis - "Purposive Constructions in English"
11d.    Master of Arts in Formal & Applied Linguistics
          -  Degree Approval Document
11e.    Master of Arts in Formal & Applied Linguistics
          -  Transcript Document 1
11f.    Master of Arts in Formal & Applied Linguistics
          -  Transcript Document 2
11g.    Master of Arts in Formal & Applied Linguistics
          -  Transcript Document 3

References - 2010

3. Letter of recommendation, April 2010, from Dr Christo Moskovsky, Thor May's doctoral supervisor. [Chinese translation Chinese translation ]

2. Letter of recommendation, April 2010, from Professor Fu Li, [English; Chinese Chinese translation versions] Vice President of Zhengzhou Railway Vocational & Technical College (my co-employer in a joint venture with Holmes Institute).

1. Letter of recommendation, April 2010, from Iris Hong, [English & Chinese Chinese translation], former Academic Coordinator from Holmes Institute who observed my teaching for a year.

References - Korea (2000 to 2007) 

6. Letter of Recommendation, April 2007, from Professor Park Byungjoo, Department of English, Chungju National University, 123 Geomdon-ri, Iryu-myeon, Chungju-shi, Chungbuk 380702, South Korea. Tel. +82 (0)43 841 5497; e-mail Professor Park hired me for Chungju National University in 2004.

5.      Letter of Recomendation from the Graduate TESOL Students
         of Pusan University of Foreign Studies, 2004 [in Korean]

 In 2003-2004 Thor May lectured these students in English Grammar and Second Language Acquisition for a graduate certificate in TESOL (the course content is listed here). This course was taught to international standards and accepted for cross-crediting for a Masters in TESOL at various American universities. (Although the program was in English, the students felt they could express their intentions more precisely here in Korean).

4       Letter of Recommendation from Professor Han Young-ju
        Dean of General English at Youngsan University, Bansong-dong Campus
        Youngsan University, 249 Bansong-dong 612743, Busan, South Korea
        tel. 82 +051 540 7273; e-mail
        Professor Han Young-ju was my immediate superior in 2003 

3.     Letter of Recommendation from Professor Chon Hong-sik
        Director of the Institute of Language Education
        Youngsan University, 249 Bansong-dong 612743, Busan, South Korea
        tel. 82 +051 540 7250; cell phone 011 855 1761; e-mail
        Professor Chon Hong-sik was responsible for my initial engagement
        by Sungsim College (nowYoungsan University) in 2000

2.     Letter of Recommendation (in English) from Professor Eunjoong Kang
        Letter of Recommendation (in Korean) from Professor Eunjoong Kang
        Professor, School of Asian Business, Youngsan University
        San 150, Junam-ri, Ungsang-up, Yangsan-shi, Gyongnam 626-847, South Korea
        tel. 82 +55 386 9114; fax 82 +55 383 4374; e-mail
        Professor Eunjoong Kang was Dean of Academic Affairs & President
        at the time of my initial appointment to Sungsim College** in 2000
          [**note: in 2003 Sungsim College of Foreign Languages was absorbed
           by Youngsan University]           

1.      Letter of Recommendation (in Korean) from Professor Kang Uk-ki
        Professor of Korean, French and English, Youngsan University
        249 Bansong-dong 612743, Busan, South Korea
        tel. 82 +055 380 9213; h.p. 016 557 5116; e-mail

 Parent's & Associates' References - Korea

1. Letter of recommendation from Dr Jeong Jin-Hwan, PhD, dental surgeon. From January 2007 until August 2007 I did a 2 hour language exchange twice a week with Dr Jeong and his family in Chungju, South Korea. His contact: mobile 82 +02 043 854 1298.

2.   Letter of recommendation (Korean) from Mrs Seong Su-jeong, teacher and parent
       Sungsim Information High School, 249 Bansong-dong 612743, Busan, South Korea
       tel. 82 +051 542 1810; e-mail
       She observed my children's classes regularly.

3.    Letter of recommendation (English) from Mrs Kim Jung-hee, teacher and parent
       Letter of recommendation (Korean) from Mrs Kim Jung-hee, teacher and parent
       Sungsim Information High School, 249 Bansong-dong 612743, Busan, South Korea
       tel. 017-596-1170; e-mail
       She observed my children's classes regularly.

References - China (1998 to 2000)

1.   Letter of Recommendation from Professor Zhang Longsheng
       Head of the Teaching Group for Graduates, Dept. General English, 
       Huazhong (= Central China~) Normal University, Wuhan, China; 
       tel. 86 +27 8767 24 51 ; fax 86 +27 8787 6070 ; March 2000
2.    Letter of Recommendation from Mr. Zhai Jianjun
        Director of the International Office, Huazhong (= Central China~) 
        Normal University, Wuhan, China; tel./fax 86 +27 8787 5696  
        e-mail ; March 2000
3.    Letter of Recommendation, from Dean of Studies, Hubei Foreign Trade School
        Wuhan, China; fax [86] 27- 8780 3917; tel. [86] 27 - 8780 2011; 
        January 2000
4.    Letter of Recommendation [in Chinese] from Mr Heng Bin
        Dean of Studies, Affiliated Middle School, Wuhan University of Hydraulic 
        & Electrical Engineering Wuhan, China; e-mail

References - Australia

1.    Certification and Recommendation from Professor Nicholas Evans, University of Melbourne, on Doctoral Research work [2004]
2.    Statement of Service / Reference from Kangan Batman Institute of TAFE, 1998
3..    Statement of Service / Reference from Batman Institute of TAFE, 1997
4.    Letter of Appreciation from the Director of John Batman Institute of TAFE
5.    Reference from Professor N.R. Cattell, University of Newcastle, NSW
6.    Note of  Appreciation from Assoc. Professor Nicholas Evans, University of
         Melbourne, on my withdrawal from a Ph.D. candidacy in 1996
7.    Letter of Appreciation/Reference from the Co-ordinator, Language Studies,
         Northern Metropolitan TAFE, Victoria, 1995
8.    Reference from the Victorian Supervisor, Adult Migrant Education, 1978

Sales Awards [.. for a few months in 1998, between jobs, I decided to pay the rent by working in telesales. The pitch was to solicit donations for a charity, then put in a hard-sell on gift items. The ethics were uncomfortable, and it was tough cold-calling ! But I learned some useful lessons, and managed to score a few bouquets ... ]

1. April 1998 -- Highest donations for the month -- Postel Australia
2. May 1998 --  Highest donations for the month -- Postel Australia
3. May 1998 --  Salesperson of the month -- Postel Australia
4. May 1998 --  Sales Team of the month -- Postel Australia



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2. Teacher Training Lecture Materials

TESOL Program (2003-2004) Pusan University of Foreign Studies, South Korea
[lectures & course materials for South Korean graduates, cross credited for Masters programs in American Universities. 2003-2004 was the program foundation year, developed by Thor May & Dr Brian King. It was taught by us for two cycles and doubled enrolments. The university and its business partner subsequently chose to continue to program with staff hired at an approximately 30% lower salary - a situation unfortunately common in the TESOL industry].

- the materials here include Powerpoint slides, and links to extensive resources

Fluency and Accuracy in Language Teaching - seminar outline, 2009

Abstract : This is the outline of a seminar on teaching methodology given as a teacher inservice for Chinese English teachers in Zhengzhou, Henan, China, in November 2009. The seminar indicates a fundamental difference in objectives between language learning for certification and learning for live use. Whereas accuracy is an absolute goal within schooling contexts, its value on the street is highly variable. This difference is reflected in teaching perspectives.

Basic Tips for Language Teachers 2300 -  seminar outline, 2008

Abstract : This is an outline from one of a monthly series of seminars by Thor May on teaching skills. The seminars are given as a teacher inservice for Chinese English teachers in Zhengzhou, Henan, China. This seminar was conducted on 10 June 2008

The notes consist of three parts :

1. Some short backround notes on the profession of teaching languages;

2. A few useful links for teaching tips and content;

3. A collection of ten activities which the seminar presenter has invented or borrowed, and found to be popular with students.


3.Samples of ESL Teaching Materials
         ...brain surgery with a blunt axe


Popup English :

Overall index of materials prepared for ESL, including those developed in South Korea. Also an extensive list of links to ESL/EFL resources.

Barebones English

Materials developed specifically for tertiary students in South Korea. Most of these students have been at the lower end of the tertiary ability scale, with very limited English language skills.

English for Mechanics ..Paragraph Units on Topics in Automotive Mechanics for teaching to NESB students (non-English speaking  background) and others

Over ninety units of this material have been written and trialed with overseas trained mechanics who  are learning English in Australia. It has also been used with unskilled immigrant men who are interested  in mechanics. In 1996 it was licensed for use by a mining company in Indonesia. The content requires some further development, especially with regard to diagrams and extra learning activities.

English for Mechanics is for sale commercially by download or as a printed book, so only sample extracts are provided on this web site.

Short Texts from Oz  .. ..Paragraph Units on topics drawn from Australian culture and lifestyle   for teaching to NESB students (non-English speaking background) and others

    Sixty-eight units of material are displayed here. All the units have been trialed  over a number of courses with adult immigrants to Australia. Each unit is accompanied  by about ten questions. The content is intended to be delivered and questioned orally  (after dicussion and priming for vocabulary), then distributed in written form later.  It can be put to many uses, and should be adapted flexibly, expanding or contracting units for particular situations. Although the themes are Australian, their application is often universal and interesting cultural contrasts can be made. Short Texts From Oz can thus be used with foreign language students as well as immigrants.

 Bus to Heaven  A quirky story of unexpected events in an ordinary life... for teaching to NESB students

 Practice Dialogues for English Conversation

These little dialogues are best practised between pairs of students in a class after modelling by the  teacher. They are deliberately a bit whimsical (that helps recall) and should be delivered with  expression. Most of the scripts were written for industrial students in the city of Melbourne, Australia.

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4. Language Teaching Methodology & Critique

... lecture program online

TESOL Program (2003-2004) Pusan University of Foreign Studies, South Korea
[lectures & course materials for South Korean graduates, cross credited for Masters programs in American Universities. 2003-2004 was the program foundation year, developed by Thor May & Dr Brian King. It was taught by us for two cycles and doubled enrolments. The university and its business partner subsequently chose to continue to program with staff hired at an approximately 30% lower salary - a situation unfortunately common in the TESOL industry].


... a selection of papers


Child Language Teaching in the Pacific - A Project for Solomon Islands Primary School Teachers (1983) [large PDF file]

Abstract: This is a collection of legacy language activity guidelines for Solomon Islands primary school teachers created in the course of a 1983 Australian government funded aid project. I am putting it in the public domain now (2015) as a possible source of ideas for anyone who might find it useful. One of the lessons one learns in education over the course of a career is that what goes around, comes around again sooner or later. Good ideas are lost, then found again in the next generation, or sometimes much later. The ideas here might be good or bad or adaptable for other uses, depending upon your needs. For those unfamiliar with the Solomon Islands language and education scene, this will also serve as a partial introduction. Also online at]

International Language Testing - Standing the monster on its head (or PDF version)

Abstract: At the top of the assessment pyramid are multinational testing corporations, best known by the names of their standardized tests, such as IELTS, TOEIC, TOEFL, BULATS, TKT, Cambridge ESOL main suite, or G-TELP (there are many other aspirants). In some ways these testing companies can be thought of as the Big Pharma corporations (i.e. drug companies) of the educational world. Like Big Pharma they are subject to constant challenges to their ethics and reliability from within and without, and like Big Pharma they are rather prone to corrupt the issues which they were designed to assist with. The possible corruption of language learning by the requirements of testing is known as wash-back. Wash-back is not always malignant. The analysis in this paper is a tentative attempt to manipulate the wash-back from an international test in a manner which actually assists genuine language acquisition.

Monolingualism and How to Fix It (if it needs fixing)

Abstract: The argument I will develop in this essay is that the foreign students are a latent human resource who can assist with overcoming English monolingualism in the Australian population. Foreign students, properly rewarded, can be a major source of skills transfer. Every one of those students is a walking compendium of language and cultural skills that Australians need to know

Testing for Teaching; Teaching to What?

Abstract: The outline which follows analyses the two halves of a language teacher's profession: a) The first half is daily classroom practice : what is taught and how is it evaluated? b) The second half of a teacher's profession is to know or at least estimate what is going on in the brains of her students : what is learned and how is it learned? Teaching is a simulation machine. Learning is for life. The implicit professional challenge is in making the simulation useful for living.

Note: The discussion here reflects a teacher’s interest in actual language learning, rather than that special game which sets out to manufacture “the IELTS/TOEFL performing clone”. Also, I have termed these notes an “outline”. It would be an abuse of language to call them an academic paper in any finished sense, and the absence of referencing reinforces that. There are, after all, whole academic faculties devoted to the study of testing, though unfortunately most teachers have never heard of them. Still, for those in a hurry, these reflections of my own may crystallize some of the questions which, sooner or later, will trouble any thoughtful teacher.

Hidden Boundaries: A Joint-Venture Education Program in China

Abstract: This review is a post-mortem of an education joint-venture between an Australian college and a Chinese college in central China at the three year mark*. It has lessons for policy, management, teaching and learning. The focus is on foreign language teaching, but most of the elements also apply to other fields of study.

WHAT NEXT?: Eighty things to do with students learning English

Abstract: This is a collection of things to do in a classroom, plus a little explanation for teachers. The collection is not a syllabus, it is not graded and it is certainly not “complete” (what would “complete” mean here?). However bits of it should be useful for almost anyone teaching English.

Stress, Rhythm and Intonation   this piece is also on my blog, Thor's Language Teaching Notes

Abstract: Abstract: These are notes on English stress, rhythm and intonation. Part A is for students and Part B is for teachers. The treatment here is “technical”, as by a linguist, but in very plain language. Even with poor formal English, L2 speakers who “sound right” will gain social acceptance, and this in turn will greatly accelerate their learning. Firstly the concept of “the music of a language” is introduced. It is noted that languages are on a scale of “syllable timed” to “stress timed” (though this is not a simple matter). English is a stress-times language. Both word stress and sentence stress are essential in English. However, proper word liaison and elision marks native speakers from non-native speakers. Some advice is given on how to practice privately and in a classroom. The importance of teacher talk as a model is noted.

Please Tell Me Some Idioms to Learn   this piece is also on my blog, Thor's Language Teaching Notes   April 2012

Abstract :  What is an idiom? The answer is both complex and fuzzy. This short paper is a colloquial discussion that begins with a student inquiry about learning idioms and progresses to the realization that idioms are an indeterminate category which raise deep questions about the nature of collocation and cognitive language processing.

Fluency and Accuracy in Language Teaching 2000 words; seminar outline, 2009

Abstract : This seminar paper indicates a fundamental difference in objectives between language learning for certification and learning for live use. Whereas accuracy is an absolute goal within schooling contexts, its value on the street is highly variable. This difference is reflected in teaching perspectives. // This is the outline of a seminar on teaching methodology given as a teacher inservice for Chinese English teachers in Zhengzhou, Henan, China, in November 2009.

Basic Tips for Language Teachers 2300 words; seminar outline, 2008

Abstract : The notes consist of three parts : 1. Some short backround notes on the profession of teaching languages; 2. A few useful links for teaching tips and content; 3. A collection of ten activities which the seminar presenter has invented or borrowed, and found to be popular with students.// This is an outline from one of a monthly series of seminars by Thor May on teaching skills. The seminars were given as a teacher inservice for Chinese English teachers in Zhengzhou, Henan, China. This seminar was conducted on 10 June 2008

Grammar for Language Teachers 1595 words; seminar outline, 2008

Abstract : 1. What are we doing when we do grammar ? / 2. So what is grammar?/ 3. Where do the rules in book grammars come from ? / 4. So is grammar just about the links between words ? / 5.Language grammar always happens at the same time as lots of other things in your brain / 6. What should grammar teachers teach ? / 7. Do students learn useful language control from studying grammar books? / 8. Can teachers teach grammar? / 9. How can language teachers be most useful? / 10. Do grammar mistakes matter? / 11. Is accuracy more important than fluency?

This is the outline of a seminar on grammar teaching given as a teacher inservice for Chinese English teachers in Zhengzhou, Henan, China, on 13 May 2008. Thor May has been teaching language and linguistics since 1976.

Fractional Language Learning; 5218 words;published at Asian EFL Journal Quarterly Vol. 9, No.4, December 2007; presentation : Global Congress English International Language Conference, Korea University, Seoul, May 26, 2007

Abstract : Many users of a second language, especially English, have little productive mastery of the language. Rather, some requirement in their life forces them to use limited subroutines (maybe quite small and formulaic) which are effectively encapsulated as special elements within L1.

This paper proposes that fractional language learning is a valid objective for large numbers of users, and briefly examines some of the contexts in which it has a pragmatic application. It notes that much fractional language learning occurs outside of formal educational environments, and then goes on to consider how both the classroom teaching and evaluation can be adapted to give proper recognition to student achievements on a fractional scale. The paper suggests that this kind of graduated recognition is in fact likely to enhance outcomes across the full spectrum of language teaching, and can be consciously incorporated into curriculum design.

A paradigm shift to teacher acceptance (and community acceptance) of fractional language learning has strong implications for assessment practices. Most current measures of language assessment offer little or no recognition to the achievements of learners in the pre-production phase of acquisition. Attempts at language use in this phase are routinely punished by existing assessment tools. Partly as a result of this discouragement, large numbers of students never progress to independent language production. Fractional language objectives are one remedy for this deep flaw in language teaching outcomes. [more]

Corruption and Other Distortions as Variables in Language Education ; 8877 words; (pre-publication draft on this site); TESOL Law Journal, Vol.2 March 2008

Abstract : This paper examines some of the ways in which foreign language education has been affected by corrupt practices and various other distortions of best teaching practice. Particular attention is paid to South Korea. The nature of corruption and its social origins are identified. Pressures affecting students, teachers and institutions are all seen to play a part. It is noted that mass education is a simulation which leaves space for fraud, whereas actual live language performance is its own test. Perhaps as a consequence, the gradual insertion of a new language code like English into a speech community might succeed over the long term even where immediate educational practices suggest failure.

When Grammar Doesn't Help (an analysis of the role of grammar in language teaching), [ 6000 words; external publication pending; pre-publication draft on this site]

Abstract : This paper questions the role of grammar in language teaching and learning. Firstly it identifies the constituencies in academic language teaching, and their often conflicting notions of language programs. Several kinds of learners are discussed, with particular attention to the large group who are uncomfortable with any technical analysis, including formal grammars. Some conventional ideas about what a natural language grammar actually is are challenged. The consequences of a connectionist view of language processing are briefly explored. The power of collocation sets is identified as a key to language acquisition. Language is set in the broader cognitive context of memory processes and patterns of generalization. Pedagogical grammars are viewed as forced external generalizations with little organic presence in memory, but some suggestions are made about how to make use of them. Actual student language memory, as well as teacher self-insight into L1 are both contrasted with the idealized patterns assumed by academic language programs. Finally, the stubborn problem of average teacher behaviour is set against the real ways in which people appear to use grammars and learn languages.

Standing Room Only - Posture, Space and the Learning Process in ESL Classes, [ 4800 words; external publication pending; pre-publication draft on this site ]

Abstract : This article explores the role of posture in the language learning process, and concludes that it is sometimes critical for learning success. Principles of learning and moving are outlined. The history of physical movement in study is briefly traced. A Korean case study is presented of “failed” tertiary students who learn to learn on their feet. The paper is a practical guide for teachers who wish to experiment with physical movement and location in their own ESL/EFL classrooms .

Rude Thoughts About Information Technology in Language Education [2005; 7,000 words; full version on this site; a slightly shorter version published by IATEFL Poland, vol.5/2 May 2005; an earlier version published the Asian EFL Journal vol.1 2005 ]

Abstract : Information Technology in language teaching probably began with papyrus. It has attracted admirers and detractors ever since. This paper takes a slightly irreverent look at current IT, as well as its actual and potential uses in foreign and second language education. The power of commerce in IT development has always been a prime motivator, so the analysis here recognizes the essential economic context, with the resulting effects on language learning.

South Korean Language Policy - A Letter to President Roh Moo-hyun  (2003)

An open letter to the President on his inauguration in 2003, with some suggestions for language policy in South Korea.

Evaluating Linguistic Difficulty (1987) [advice for teachers]

Abstract: While ESL teachers cannot eliminate linguistic difficulties, with an awareness of the factors involved it is possible to minimise the confusion of their students. This article systematically analyses some important problem areas in language learning. It itemizes a range of syntactic and semantic phenomena, considering in each cas how the rule or pattern might pose a difficulty for some learners. This paper has been published for a number of years now, and the writer has become aware that many teachers themselves have found it a useful aid in preparing and presenting course material. Table of Contents: INTRODUCTION // orders of complexity // LEXICAL DIFFICULTY // Syllabic length:// Clusters // Irregular spelling // Irregular stress // Affixes // Multiple denotation // Range of connotation // Specialized application // Frequency of lexical items // Selectional restrictions // Subcategorical restrictions // MEASURES OF STRUCTURAL COMPLEXITY IN SENTENCES // Sentence length // Qualifying words // Adverbial and prepositional phrases // Conjunctive sentences // Equi-deletion // Deletion by convention // Permutation // Transposition // Embedding // Sentential complements // Topicalization // Presupposition // Tense // Aspect // Agreement (concord) rules // Anaphoric, cataphoric and exophoric references // DISCOURSE COHESION // CUEING // IDIOM // CONCEPTUAL DIFFICULTY // More accessible reference // Less accessible reference // Types of Inference // REFERENCES

This Is Your Problem, Friend, Not Mine: Towards A Cure For Formal Language Errors In Papua New Guinea (& Elsewhere) (1985)  (advice for teachers]

The material in this article is as relevant as it ever was. Some things don't change.  It was first published in Guidelines - A Periodical For Classroom Language Teachers, Vol.8, No.1,  June 1986, SEAMEO Regional Language Centre, Singapore. This is an extended version of a paper given  at the TESLA Conference in Goroka, PNG, in July 1985.

Plain Speaking: Judging an Oratory Contest  (1989)  [advice for teachers & speech judges]

Although this paper was first written in 1989, the state of oratory has not changed much, and the skills involved in judging oratory continue to receive little attention. This professional neglect is especially true of the "speech contests" which are held regularly all over the world where people are learning English. The requirements imposed for these speeches are always deeply affected by the cultural and educational values in each locale. This is understandable, but frequently such requirements, and the attitudes behind them, have little to do with good English speech. Of course, "good English speech" is itself a contested idea. Even putting aside all of the expected cultural biases, the judging of these speeches is very often a travesty.

In general, the "speech judges" have no training at all in judging speeches, and have never thought analytically about the task. If they are native English speakers, they are considered to be automatically qualified. Of course, they are not qualified, and if challenged are rarely able to offer a coherent defence of their preferences. The whole process is manifestly unfair to student language learners who think they are receiving an expert evaluation of their abilities. This little paper is an attempt to identify at least some of the issues involved in student speech contests. It deals with a specific speech contest in Fiji, but most of the comments can be usefully generalized to other situations.

Technical & Further Education in Australia: Is there a star to 
steer by?

This document has been tabled (December 1996) in the Senate of the Australian Parliament as a  submission to the Enquiry into the Status of Teachers. It has also been published in: Campus Review (a nationally distributed Australian newspaper); April 16, 1997 The News (weekly publication of the Australian Education Union); May 29, 1997

The De-Skilling of 100,000 Skilled Tradesmen
This document was sent to:

The Hon. John Howard, Prime Minister reply from A. Greer, 1st Asst. Secretary, 
VET Division, DEETYA 3/10/97
The Hon. Kim Beazley, Leader of the Opposition 
reply from Kim Beazley 29/8/97 ; reply from Martin Ferguson 29/9/97
The Hon. Jeffrey Kennett, Premier of Victoria 
reply from Phil Honeywood 18/9/97 (Minister for Tertiary Education & Training)
The Hon. John Brumby, Leader of the Victorian State Opposition reply from John Brumby 18/8/97
The Hon. Cheryl Kernot, Leader of the Australian Democrats Party

National Literacy

Note: This letter was sent to The Australian (newspaper) on 17 September 1997 in order to assist  informed community debate. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom on issues as complex as this one..

Apprentice Literacy: Designs for a Bonfire of the Vanities
[ref. CBT (competency based training), self-paced learning]

 Abstract: This is a study of the levels of literacy amongst apprentices in Victoria, Australia. Its context was the pending introduction of the New Apprenticeship Scheme by Australian state governments at the time of writing. This reform was essentially politically driven, and designed to redistribute much apprentice training away from purpose built institutions (TAFEs) into workplaces. Since the scheme would inevitably place a greater burden on apprentices' personal learning resources, especially their literacy, it was important to analyze the existing situation. It was noted that apprenticeship was a diverse category of skills studies that required varying levels of literacy. In heavily male dominated apprenticeship fields, the majority, there had always been severe weaknesses in general literacy. These weaknesses had been compensated by various stratagems, especially direct demonstration, which might not be easily available on many work sites.  The newly favoured pedagogical approaches of CBT (competency based training) and "self paced learning", had translated in many TAFEs into tick-box answer booklets, rampant copying from classmates, and a severe degradation of integrated skills learning. These trends were likely to accelerate as students moved away from an environment where remedial assistance with literacy or trade skills was no longer easily available. .

The National Reporting System: A Critique
[ref. CBT]

A shorter version of this paper was first published in Fine Print Vol.18, No.1 1996 (Journal of the Victorian Adult Literacy & Basic Education Council).  The analysis it contains is still very relevant to ESL teachers in Victoria.

Observations on the Adult Migrant Education Service's 
Certificate in Spoken & Written English
[ref. CBT]

This paper, and another entitled Assessment in the AMES CSWE, were circulated as memoranda in the  Adult Migrant Education Service teaching centres, Victoria, in early 1993.

Assessment in the AMES Certificate in Spoken
& Written English
[ref. CBT]

This paper, and another entitled Observations on the AMES Certificate in Spoken and Written English,  were circulated as memoranda in the Adult Migrant Education Service teaching centres, Victoria, in  early 1993.

Fraudulent Certificates of Language Competency [ref. CBT]

This was a letter forwarded to the Federal Ministers of Immigration and Employment, Education & Training  on 31 July 1997. Their minders showed no real sign of wanting to know about the issues raised. The  communication followed internal critiques of CBT which I had made to the Adult Migrant Education Service, Victoria.

Colour Sheet Publishing
[proposal for publishing standards in tertiary institutions]

Note 1: This paper makes a number of concrete suggestions about publication standards within TAFEs.  However, it goes beyond simple technical recommendations to identify an existing situation of plagiarism  and low publication standards which undermines the very educational mission of tertiary institutions.
Note 2: The document has been circulated privately to educational managers and others, twice, within a  two year interval. The silence has been deafening: there simply seems to be no genuine interest in reform.

Productivity in an Educational Institution

The Director of John Batman TAFE* in 1995 had hectored staff at length on the need for improved  productivity. He was dealing with "productivity" in the economic rationalist mode. It seemed useful to give a reasoned response.

Exit of a Hack Teacher

Note 1: This letter, written to the director of Kangan Batman TAFE in early 1998, records my exit from  the institution. There are thousands of such departures every day from Australian workplaces. The  details of this one are not of any special significance. However, taken out of its personal context,  the letter is a kind of historical window, for this moment in time, into the reality of teaching in a TAFE.
Note 2: Reply from John Parish, Director of Kangan Batman TAFE
Note 3: Reply from the Hon. Phil. Honeywood, Minister for Tertiary Education and Training, Victoria

Thor May, 1972  –  Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand - Appeal against academic exclusion

Howj an why does one become a teacher? My own path to the profession was not direct, and originally not intentional. This appeal letter for university readmission is included here to offer insight into the minds of students like me who, at an early stage in their life, seem to be poor academic candidates, but later aquire some sense of mission and put their earlier "wasted" experience to good use.


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5. Technical Stuff

       A. Linguistics


16. Language Reform in Revolutionary China

Abstract: Language reform movements in China over the last hundred years have found both their motivations and limitations in divergent socio-political objectives. Language has been seen as a vehicle of social change, actual or potential, by reformers  and conservatives alike. The apparent success of language reform programs has been closely tied to the fluctuating political fortunes of their protagonists. Pragmatic outcomes however have also been constrained by the fragmented nature of Chinese languages (plural) and dialects. To this day, an inconvenient reality is that a significant proportion of Chinese citizens cannot use standard Chinese (普通話), especially as spoken, while many others struggle with the standard form as a second language.


15. Aspects of Repetition in Discourse

Abstract: It is often claimed that  language is a system for communicating information. In fact, language has a multiplicity of functions, but when it comes to information, that which is to be given significance is always framed by the known, hence repeated, elements. The organization of language is largely a matter of what is repeated, when, where, why, by whom, how and how often. For the purposes of this analysis, I will take a much broader view of repetition than is normally found in linguistics, considering a cline from local (often idiosyncratic) repeating clauses or phrases to stable units such as lexical items which have become formal, generalized tokens in the language. This is not a paper which proposes a neat solution to some small puzzle in a linguistic model. Rather, it outlines for further study some properties of a very general phenomenon.

14. The Meaning of State in Grammar [pdf file]

Abstract: “State” has rather philosophical implications. The ideas in this paper won’t solve too many puzzles about the nature of grammatical state, but it will raise a number of interesting questions, at least as the concept applies to English. This material is extracted from a larger document on Grammatical Agency, already put in the public domain (PDFs at and also ). It is offered purely on an as-is basis for those who are delving into the idea of State. The analysis constitutes part of PhD research which was discontinued in the early 1980s. The reason for extracting a study of State from the larger Grammatical Agency document is that other researchers may be approaching Grammatical State independently.


13. When is a Presupposition not a Presupposition?

Abstract: This very short paper, in spite of its vintage (1979), may still be of interest to anyone delving into the murky relationship between language and intention. What is presupposed by a speaker about the understanding of a listener goes to the very heart of how natural languages work, since when we get it wrong communication simply fails. For this reason the failure of presupposition is also the common bane of those working across languages, or even moving into another community where the same language seems to be spoken. When I began to look at linguistics seriously, a little before this paper was written, I was intrigued and dismayed to discover that the study of presupposition had apparently been hijacked by formalists who only seemed to find linguistic significance in symbolic regularities. There are indeed whole classes of expressions in English, related to certain verbs like “realize”, which are a delight to symbolic formalists who have written volumes on their tidy logic. Even at that early stage of research, I had dark suspicions that the ways in which real human beings used real language was nowhere near as tidy, and all the more interesting for that. The paper below was a first attempt to probe the fortress of symbolic formalism. [Note that this is a PDF file constructed from old photocopied pages].


11. Grammatical Agency

Abstract: This document on grammatical agency is the incomplete draft of a doctoral dissertation in formal linguistics which was discontinued in the early 1980s. The reason for finally publishing it in 2015 is that even though unfinished it contains a significant amount of discussion in a specialist area which might (or might not) be of interest to researchers who have some involvement with grammatical agency, a topic with a very long history. [note that this is a PDF file constructed from almost 100 old photocopied pages, and is therefore quite a large download].


10. The Probable Language Brain

Abstract: Let us suppose that you are a research linguist, tormented by some doubts and questions about the state of your profession, and not constrained by having to repeat a catechism of "known truths" to Linguistics 101 students, and not worried about employment tenure. How would you actually go about tackling "the central problem of linguistics", namely how we acquire and maintain knowledge of the probability of systemic relationships in a language?

9. Generative Oscillation Model

Abstract: The GO model proposes a co-generative view of the emergence of language. Most conventional linguistics models conceive of language as a representational system of symbols which refer to events, either mental or external to the organism. This representational function is said to motivate the linguistic system and (depending upon the linguistic model) largely control its form. The GO (Generative Oscillation) model proposed here recognizes the representational role of language. However it notes that as the mental linguistic system itself becomes efficiently organized, it creates an internal logic and drive of its own. To some extent this internally motivated linguistic system is conceived to override the external motivation to represent another reality. Since the internal linguistic system is dynamic and generative, it may give rise to linguistic output which seems strange in an inter-human communicative context (or even within the reflective mind of the creator). Thus while the external communicative context can become a constraint on unmotivated non-representational "internal language", it might not eliminate it. The Generative Oscillation model proposes that actual language production is an oscillating compromise between the representational function of language and the mental "language bot" itself (i.e. an internal self-organizing system) which is generating language strings just because that is what language language bots do. As far as I know, the Generative Oscillation Model, or anything like it, had not been suggested before in linguistics at the time of writing. Some conventional linguists may find it a bit "off the wall"

8. Postsupposition & Pastiche Talk 

Abstract : Natural languages are examined as members of the class of complex dynamic systems in nature. The mathematical models of Complexity Theory have shown that complex dynamic systems as diverse as cyclones, the stock market and the human genome have the properties of a) being self-organising, b) existing in a precarious state of cyclical activity which alters slightly on each cycle, and c) containing an inherent indeterminacy. This last property, indeterminacy, is taken as a cue to develop an argument that language cannot be entirely representational, or altogether functional. It is proposed that in the generation of language there is a constant oscillation where thought sometimes gives rise to language, and alternatively, where unmotivated fragments of language force the development of post-rationalised ideas. Evidence is sought from the behaviour of formulaic phrases and apparent presuppositions  

7. Unclever Talk: Mnemonic Resonance and God Knows What

Abstract: This paper questions the sources of linguistic creativity by considering the corpus of an idiolect (that is, one individual's grammar). The objective analysis of this corpus led the researcher to speculate that the use of mental constructs, specifically language, in real time had a kind of immediate "resonance" in the brain which increased the likelihood of their repetition, either exactly or with simple grammatical modifications. The phenomenon is defined in this paper as "mnemonic resonance". If this resonance patterning were general then it would have profound consequences for listener decoding strategies which depend heavily upon collocational predictability. At a theoretical level, mnemonic resonance would also have consequences for many existing linguistic models.

6. Purposive Constructions in English 

Abstract : This thesis explores some of the syntactic & semantic properties of Purposive Constructions in English. The term "purposive" is recognized as a semantic concept which finds regular expression in a small range of syntactic configurations. Purpose Clauses (PCs) and Rationale Clauses (Rat.Cs) are examined in some detail. Briefer reference is made to several other configurations, notably Because Clauses, So-That Clauses and Infinitival Relatives. In general Purposive Constructions comprise rather fuzzy semantic categories. Nevertheless, the main syntactic features are fairly clear. Interpretation of the constructions requires a systematic account of the control of empty slots (ellipted NPs) by thematic elements in the matrix clause. General conditions of Government and Binding appear adequate to predict the distribution of gaps in most Purposive Clauses. However, the relationship between propositions predicated of a common argument in these constructions is found to sometimes require matching conditions too subtle for syntax alone to predict. A concept of Thematic Coextensiveness is introduced to account for such matching.

5. Verbs of Result in the Complements of Raising Constructions 

Abstract : The analysis considers the manner in which a class of matrix verbs, the so-called raising verbs, have been fitted into some generative linguistic models. Taking as a cue the difficulty posed for these models by sentences of the kind, *Linda believes Gary to murder David, the analysis proceeds beyond existing criteria for "raising" to the notion of Relative Tense.

It is found that Relative Tense has a direct bearing on the infinitival complements permitted by raising-to-object verbs and some raising-to-subject verbs. The relevant constraints are formulated for incorporation into Bresnan's Lexical Functional Grammar as the Independent XCOMP Singularity Condition. The IXCSC may be recorded for convenience in the functional structure of LFG as a complex feature. When IXCSC carries a positive marking the functional structure of a sentence, that sentence may only be interpreted if ASPECT (AUX) is also marked as positive.

4. Language in Suva: language use and literacy in an urban Pacific community 

Abstract : This paper is a preliminary report on a sociolinguistic field survey. It records the beliefs which 834 permanent residents of Suva, Fiji had about their own language and literacy skills in 1988-89. The interview subjects were selected from five census enumeration districts with populations ranging from 430 to 1200, and chosen for having a roughly equal ethnic composition of Fijians and Indo-Fijians. Bilingual interviewers (linguistics students) invited and assisted subjects to complete an extensive questionnaire, and offer unstructured comments. The collated and analysed outcome gives a complex and sometimes surprising picture of urban language change.

3. Language Shift and Language Maintenance - A Contrarian Viewpoint from Thor May

Abstract: This short informal paper stems from reflection on an address by Ken Hale, doyen of minority languages (and now sadly deceased). It looks at the role of linguists themselves in the dynamic of language maintenance and the twin phenomena of language loss and language birth. The uniqueness of each language is weighed against the costs and benefits of language homogenization. It is recognized that the majority of speakers are ultimately pragmatists about language choice, yet an argument remains for offering some minority language support to groups struggling with their ethnic identity. Finally, it is asked whether language maintenance or revival can actually pose other risks under certain conditions.

2. Human Language and Machine Intelligence - a linguist's reply to Dr Koji Kobayashi

[ article in Electronics Today International, 1984] - Dr Kobayashi on behalf of a Japanese conglomerate had declared that thinking, talking machines capable of interacting in a human-like ways with people would shortly be on the market. This article examines why the claims were not credible from a linguistic and cognitive viewpoint ...

1. Banjalang Transcript for a Language Course 1983

[middle Clarence dialect, NSW; 4Mb pdf file]. This is a rudimentary phrase book for the Australian aborignal language Banjalung (aka Bundjalung, Bunjalung, Badjalang, Banjalung & Bandjalang), constructed in co-operation with a surviving speaker and designed to encourage Banjalung language revival. It was untertaken at the request of Southern Cross University and local community members.


B. Technical Writing (reports etc.)

Consultant's Interim Report:  J.B.I. Technical English Program at P.T. Koba Tin, Pulau Bangka, Indonesia,
15 April 1996; pp.1-20

Consultant's Project Report:  J.B.I. Technical English Program at P.T. Koba Tin, Pulau Bangka, Indonesia,
22 April 1996; pp.1-26

Note 1 : These reports were the formal outcome of an offshore consultancy conducted by Thor May on behalf of John Batman Institute of TAFE, Melbourne Australia. JBI had extensive training contracts in heavy engineering mechanics throughout Indonesia. The purpose of this consultancy at the mining site of P.T. Koba Tin was to facilitate the training of Indonesian mechanics in technical English skills.

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6 - Courses Taught & Related Activities

a) University lecturing & tutoring





Second language acquisition


- Southern Cross University* - Lismore NSW (* at that time, NRCAE)

- University of the South Pacific – Suva, Fiji + distance ed. & satellite teaching; also Honiara, Solomon Islands summer program

- Pusan University of Foreign Studies – Busan, South Korea

Child language acquisition


- Southern Cross University* - Lismore NSW (* at that time, NRCAE)

- University of the South Pacific – Suva, Fiji + distance ed. & satellite teaching; also Honiara, Solomon Islands summer program

Sociolinguistics & Pragmatics


- University of Newcastle, NSW

- University of the South Pacific – Suva, Fiji + distance ed. & satellite teaching

- Southern Cross University* - Lismore NSW (* at that time, NRCAE)

- Pusan University of Foreign Studies – Busan, South Korea



- University of Newcastle, NSW (tutoring)

(note also own research, especially 2nd PhD work at University of Melbourne)




English phonology – segmental & non-segmental


- University of the South Pacific – Suva, Fiji + distance ed. & satellite teaching

- Pusan University of Foreign Studies – Busan, South Korea

Introduction to linguistics


- University of Newcastle, NSW (tutoring)

- University of the South Pacific – Suva, Fiji + distance ed. & satellite teaching

- Pusan University of Foreign Studies – Busan, South Korea

Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language – methodology and teacher training (including trainee practicums)


- University of Newcastle, NSW (Education Faculty)

- Southern Cross University - Lismore NSW (aid project for Solomon Islands teachers)

- Pusan University of Foreign Studies – Busan, South Korea

- Holmes Institute with ZRVTC (joint venture) – Zhengzhou, China (seminars for Chinese teachers of English)

Historical linguistics ( Newcastle)


- University of Newcastle, NSW (tutoring)

Critical Thinking Skills


- University of the South Pacific – Suva, Fiji + distance ed. & satellite teaching


b) Language Teaching & Related Activities


Curriculum Focus



IELTS and Preparatory English for Nursing & Business Studies students – needs analysis, curriculum preparation, delivery and assessment; program evaluation for joint venture partners; syllabus development of an English for Nursing program; teaching method seminars for Chinese teachers of English. The program aimed to send Chinese students to Australia.


- Holmes Institute ( Australia, China) in a joint venture with Zhengzhou Railway Vocational & Technical College, Zhengzhou city, Henan, China

English for Special or Academic Purposes

- Business Studies / Surveying / Civil Engineering / Biological Sciences. Needs analysis in close cooperation with specialist subject lecturers, curriculum preparation, delivery and joint assessment with specialist subject lecturers. Emphasis on writing skills, with some student seminar presentation.


- Adult Migrant Education Service - Melbourne

- University of Technology – Lae, Papua New Guinea


English for non-English speaking mechanics - needs analysis, curriculum preparation, delivery and assessment. I also authored and published a book in this field: English for Mechanics


- Kangan-Batman TAFE – Melbourne

Curriculum Focus



General Adult Migrant English - teacher & coordinator


- Adult Migrant Education Service – Sydney and Melbourne

- Hunter TAFE – Newcastle

- Australian Red Cross – Newcastle (voluntary teaching for refugees)

- Kangan-Batman TAFE – Melbourne

- Western Metropolitan TAFE – Melbourne

- Northern Metropolitan TAFE – Melbourne

- Box Hill TAFE - Melbourne

Industrial/workplace ESL – needs analysis, curriculum preparation, delivery and assessment


- Adult Migrant Education Service, Melbourne – at a variety of onsite industrial ventures

General & Academic English (also called “Practical English”) for undergraduate and graduate tertiary students including English language majors, non-English majors and teacher trainees. Emphasis on oral and aural skills, plus some note taking. Also some adult community classes in Wuhan.



- Wuhan University of Surveying and Mapping (now incl. in Wuhan U.)

- Central China Normal University, Wuhan, Hubei Province, China

- Youngsan University, Busan city, South Korea

- Chungju National University, Chungju city, South Korea

Child TEFL


- Youngsan University – Busan, South Korea

ELICOS teaching


- Adult Migrant Education Service – Sydney and Melbourne





Language consultancy for a mining company – needs analysis, technical report, pilot program. The brief was to find a way for Indonesian speaking mechanics to comprehend technical service manuals for heavy industrial equipment (bulldozers etc), write basic servicing reports and communicate with English speaking expatriate engineers.


- P.T. Koba Tin (a division of Renison Gold Mines), Pulau Banka, Indonesia – on behalf of Kangan-Batman TAFE


Language curriculum & resources development for Solomon Islands Primary school teachers.


- Southern Cross University - Lismore NSW. This was a foreign aid project, funded from Canberra, and mostly conducted on-site in Lismore where the teachers undertook the program.

Language rescue – Banjalang language. – very basic. See Case Study 7 in my doctoral dissertation.


- Southern Cross University - Lismore NSW (undertaken at the request of the Aboriginal Studies Unit and funded by a Commonwealth grant)

Secondary high school English in a NZ high school – standard curriculum, but the students were 75% Polynesian so the ESL component was significant


- Tangaroa College, East Tamaki, New Zealand

Secondary high school Economics in a NZ high school


- Tangaroa College, East Tamaki, New Zealand

7. Thor's Unwise Ideas

essays on a wide range of topics with regular additions

Note that topics are slowly also being  re-posted to my Wordpress blog, Thor's Unwise Ideas




101. Is globalization a failure, or can something worthwhile be rescued?


For a generation globalization has been sold as the yellow brick road to prosperity. What exactly is globalization? Can its benefits be cherry-picked? Where do we go from here?  


100. Count your lucky stars


What part does luck play in the success of individuals, enterprises and countries? Think of examples. From politics to careers to finding the love of your life, there has never been more advice available, yet at the end of the game, some people seem to have been lucky and others not. Why is this so? Can you really do much about it?


99. A Universal Basic Income: $400 per week indexed to the CPI


Pay everyone $400 per week (current Australian age pension), rich or poor, indexed to the CPI. Governments would enable an adequate money supply (as they do now), and so the money would go around. This creates an economic cycle. Employers would pay a margin above the UBI to attract workers if they wanted them (overall probably cheaper for them than now). A truer market would then influence most working conditions, with less of the current blackmail. The economic system would be stabilized with an underlying guarantee of minimum consumer purchasing power. Centrelink (Australia’s social security department, currently a failed organization) would hardly be needed. The tax system could be simplified with compliance costs hugely reduced. Automation taking jobs would matter less. Health costs would fall. Free university & technical training (like Germany) could also enhance a UBI. People could choose to learn, grow and think. Personal life choices would be easier, with options for employment for satisfaction, more money and/or career interest. Problems: a) getting from here to there; b) re-educating the public about the actual nature of money and how it is created; c) vested interests


98. Narcissism grew like an invasive plant throughout the 20th Century.   Now it is in full bloom


Firstly a lot (not all) of “modern” art and poetry and even music stopped saying much about the societies which hosted them and became purely self indulgent, often pompously “abstract”. This mirrored a lot (not all) of what was happening in many areas of academic work, and a lot (not all) of what was happening in so-called high finance. When the digital camera democratized imagery, “selfies” (or the ultimate self-indulgence, sexting) became the dominant form of photography. Now Donald Trump stands on top of the American political muck heap and asks to be anointed as the emperor of self-love.

97. When is Censorship Acceptable? Justify your argument


The struggle between censors and their opponents has always been a never-ending war of attrition. It always will be. Violence and extortion have been used to conceal, and also to expose. The law is, and has been used to conceal and to expose. Publicity media of every kind is, and has been used to conceal and to expose. The induced apathy and inherent mental laziness of overall populations is proving the most potent tool for those who wish to conceal. Because concealment is so often malevolent rather than benevolent, the ultimate failure of institutions or even states due to malevolence is in a way the cost effective brake on malevolent concealment. Of course, by the time of failure, many lives will have been ruined.


96. Politics and Politicians : a volatile mix? 


An interesting phrase recently slipped into news analyses. It referred to Hillary Clinton’s problems as a “retail politician”. Implicit in the mention of retail politicians is the working reality that politicians live at least two lives. There is the public face they must present to gain mass acceptance, especially in democracies. Then there is the persona they must exercise as back-room negotiators and deal makers to actually achieve anything. Politics after all is the art of the possible. The largest part of the public, regardless of the political system, can never accept that the dual persona of politicians is necessary, and there is often a quota of novice politicians who have trouble grasping the duality themselves. More sophisticated stakeholders will examine the behaviour of a politician in both spheres, their attitudes to those respective roles, and how they reconcile inherent conflicts of interest.


95. If half of all jobs disappear, what then?


This essay is about recognizing some irreconcilable trajectories, and wondering what comes after the singularity. The first trajectory is the automation of activities which have engaged workers in the production of goods and services for profit. The second trajectory is separation of the ownership of capital from investment in human resources. The third trajectory is the separation of the ownership of capital from commitment to particular geographical nation states. The fourth trajectory is the dissolution of individual and community belief in the will of the owners of capital to supply them with a secure and sustainable future. The fifth trajectory is the dissolution of individual and community belief in the capacity or will of political leaders to negotiate effectively on their behalf with the owners of capital. The sixth trajectory is the separation of the population into an internationally mobile, fairly small technological and analytical elite, able to manage the automated production of goods and services, from the largest mass of individuals for whom the complexity of the evolving civilization is simply not comprehended and is beyond their power to direct….


94. Understanding Active Thinking


The point at which we use “thinking” as a term worth mentioning beyond the normal background buzz of daily life is quite arbitrary. In principle, you can “think actively” about going down the street to buy an ice cream, and that might be closer to a normal usage of “thinking” than solving quadratic equations. This particular essay has  paid more attention to situations which require a somewhat sophisticated level of attention, persistence and ingenuity in a world where complex problems are constantly arising.


93. Adelaide, Australia - sample of a media-challenged city?

There are road accident reporters, but there do not seem to be investigative journalists and insightful commentators who interpret the city of Adelaide to itself. What is to be done?

There are two topics fighting for space within this discussion focus: the city of Adelaide, and journalism.Clearly Adelaide itself is likely to be of only passing interest to readers elsewhere, unless it is taken as a paradigm for the forces which can play out worldwide in small to medium sized cities, of which there are now thousands. What exactly makes a city something more than a town? As for journalism , it is a primary vehicle through which we are assisted to be informed and begin to understand the world around us. When a city and dynamic journalism are added together, does some new entity emerge with a greater meaning than the sum of the parts?


92. When does security become insecurity?


Imagine you are walking along a narrow path high in the mountains in the early morning. There is a heavy mist, clouds in fact, so you can’t see far, but it is quite peaceful. Suddenly the clouds clear and you notice that you are on a ridge, no wider than the path, with 1000 metre drop on each side. Your steps, relaxed and contented only a moment before, are suddenly terrified. Will you overbalance? You sink to your knees and crawl..


91. The Peculiar Interest of God(s) in Human Morality

For the ungodly, even as they dodge being stoned to death for apostasy or atheism, it is a perpetual puzzle why any god, mere mountain spirit or kitchen god, or a thundering master of the universe, would give a damn what humans do. And given the misfortunes of virtuous humans, and the prosperity of countless scoundrels, the ungodly search in vain for actual, non-magical evidence that god, gods, spirits or leprechauns do actually play moral favourites in any credible way with humans. For the godly of course, this kind of evidence has never mattered.

90. Probing the Limits of Tolerance


In those dull places where no demagogue offers permission to hate the neighbours, we might do our best not to draw lines in the sand, not to warn off intruders with a threat. Sooner or later though some threshold, hidden even to our conscious selves, will surely be crossed. We lose our temper, act impulsively, do something we regret in cooler moments, but it is already too late.


89.  The Unexpected Power of Stupidity 


Stupidity turns out to be complicated. Stupidity in its many guises does more damage on a daily basis than generations of clever ideas have ever been able to cope with. Human stupidity ranges all the way from planetary destruction to self mutilation by vengeful individuals cutting off their own nose to spite their face. Given the scale of stupidity’s ravages, it is a matter of wonder that it attracts so little systematic public research under its own name.



88. So You Love Humanity But Can't Stand People?

The explicit idea of a social contract between the collective interests of a political body, such as a nation state, and particular citizens is fairly new in much of the world. It is scarcely considered in those terms by a large part of the world’s population, and treated with frank cynicism by many of those who have seized power and act in the name of the state. However, in spite of ongoing gross violations of both individual and collective interests, there has been a persistent spread of the idea of “human rights”. It is a rare leader nowadays who talks openly about “the divine right of kings”, as an English sovereign could a mere few centuries ago. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an explicit and now widely known expression of the minimal acceptable relationship between individuals with their interests and the superordinate collective claims of nation states.


87. How much attention has $529 billion of advertising bought?

Marketing, mostly in the form of advertising, channels the attention and actions of tens of millions of people into common participation. Where that mass participation involves spending money, then industries with successful marketing campaigns are the ones which survive in the marketplace, and in doing so shape the kind of society in which we live. None of this is to say that the industries (or politicians) who prevail in the contest of marketing actually have the best products, or even have socially beneficial products. The opposite may be true. That is, the marketplace is apparently quite amoral. 


86. Are Men More Inventive Than Women?

It seems that the potential for women to be inventors is probably not less than that for men, although the way their inventiveness is directed (taking women overall) might not entirely overlap with that of men. In societies where the roles of men and women are becoming less divergent we might expect the markers of inventiveness between genders to also become more similar.


85. Surfing or Drowning in an Ocean of Change?


“Change”, and especially managing change, is sharply in focus for commercial and professional interests, and for governments, but only of intermittent concern for individuals. For individuals, change applies to particular things at particular times, often as a matter of dumb luck. There is little popular interest in change as a category of continuing experience which needs to be part of life preparation and education, or built into the planning as we anticipate careers, developing communities and countries themselves.


84. Fuzzy Degrees of Freedom – When is the Law a Burden?

Citizens, you and I, we live with the ever multiplying, ever more obscure barrage of laws and regulations which emerge from the political contest. The simple things, like not killing the bus driver, we try to get right most of the time. Beyond the clarity what Christian types call the Ten Commandments, for better or for worse we exercise our judgement as wise men and women, and hope for the best.


83. Start your own business – a mental experiment


Imagine that you are starting a new business. What would it be? Why did you choose it? Why would you choose a personal enterprise over working for somebody else (or why wouldn’t you)? What rewards would you be looking for? What personal costs would you be prepared to tolerate? Would you attempt it alone, or would you look for partner(s)? What are the ways you could fund such a startup? Would it be local, or seek a wider market?


82. Media Distraction and Social Control


Is the “white noise” of daily media distraction deliberate social control, or just modernity out of control? Everyone has only 24 hours in a day. In many communities worldwide the sheer struggle to survive occupies most waking hours. In some others, any “free thinking time”, especially for the young, is carefully manipulated by state directed activities, propaganda and censorship. A possible third model is that ruling elites and governments may prevent criticism by distracting the main population with sports, entertainment and endless trivial ‘news’.


81. Does religion emerge as a product of complex systems?


Why do people take up religions, persist with them, and abandon them ? Whatever you think of religions personally, or any particular religion, they seem to have been around forever amongst (most) humans, and seem unlikely to go away entirely amongst the species as a whole. Clearly though, particular cultures in various historical phases have many members who are attracted to religions or substitute ideologies, but tend to drift away from them in other phases. At a different level, women seem to be the most persistent believers by numbers, but religious hierarchies are almost always controlled by (humourless old) men… What is it in human psychology that generates these religious phenomena? Since religion is universal across human groups, yet not universal within groups, does it embody some optional extra mechanism in the complex systems we call mind? Is it species specific?  … the questions are endless, and we can scarcely answer them here, but following a long human tradition, I have written a small allegory to explore some possibilities.


80. So we had a few failures. Was that the end of university?

The source of this short document is intensely personal. It is the story of early university misadventure by one individual, myself. At first glance it might seem of little interest to anyone but the protagonist. I am publishing it because in fact pieces of this story fit the lives of so many students who simply disappear from the statistics and into oblivion. Educational administrators may make assumptions about them, perhaps based on personal prejudice and hearsay, while political decisions about which kinds of students to fund tend to be founded in ideology rather than the real life stories of actual individuals and their development.


79. The Problem of Work and the Rise of the Precariat

Work, as a life experience, has evolved greatly over historical time. For most ordinary people, their job is not something that they enjoy much. However, without formal work many lose focus, may become dependent on welfare, and certainly become socially stigmatized. It seems that increasing numbers of people will never be able to have secure employment. They have joined a new social class now called the precariat. What are the consequences of that? How have we reached this point?  What is a practical, long term solution to “the problem of work” for ordinary people?  


78.  Fakes, liars, cheats, deceivers, animals in the forest


Fake it 'till you make it is a much advertised nostrum. Well, anyone who is not pathologically naive and who has encountered the corporate-speak of today's urban living knows that the fake-it meme is already in the DNA of most institutional critters, large and small. The only news is that this virus might also be deployed by bus drivers and check-out girls. With this in mind, the essay takes the fake-it topic beyond some simple self-trickery sold as positive thinking, and looks at various extended mutations inside and outside of the law.


77.  Multicultures – communities of familiar strangers

 When a stranger asks “what do you do”, as he fishes for the right stereotype to pin on my chest as a mark of admiration or secret contempt, I am at a loss to answer. That is, I am a man of my age, a chameleon creature accustomed to slipping amongst a kaleidoscope of roles. This plurality of role plays does not mean that I am "values free". I don't care if you wear a hijab or burn incense in a Buddhist temple. I do care for a marker such as "above all, do no harm" - not always achievable perhaps, but at least a navigation beacon. It is of central importance to the discussion in this article that my way is not everyone’s way. We all make sense of the world as best we can, then have a habit of projecting our understanding as universal truths. The article attempts is explicit about the writer's own experience, but tries also to establish a context for other, more various ways in which multicultures have been interpreted, especially in Australia.


76.  Property and Life Choices


It is well understood by most governments today, whatever their nominal ideology, that encouraging the private ownership of residential property is one of the most effective ways of ensuring social stability. A simple Australian example would be that after World War II, very large numbers of footloose demobilized soldiers could have been a distinct threat to the established order. It made very good political sense to direct them as soon as possible into stable employment, and into household ownership. Amongst the first acts of states which give up the lunacy of total centrally planned economic control is to move rapidly to create a residential owning middle class. As Russia formally abandoned communism in the early 1990s it did just that, allowing citizens to purchase their accommodation at very low cost. After Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, China moved in exactly the same direction, even while maintaining a façade of communist ideology. The communist state of Vietnam has acted in exactly the same way. When you have a home and a mortgage, you are probably reluctant to start a revolution, and the political elites have a significant hold on your behaviour.


75.  The Purpose of Education - a hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy?


Any Internet search will reveal a myriad of articles and blogs on this topic. The variety of comment is not surprising since formal education of some kind affects every family and every individual in almost every country. Informal education has probably effected just about everyone since humans evolved. What the online material does show is that while the process is universal, the objectives are diverse and often in conflict. Indeed much of the discussion seems to be at cross purposes. I have been a teacher, mostly to young adults, for 35 years in seven countries with quite different cultures, so I am deeply familiar with the currents of intention and counter-intention which touch everyone in the enterprise of education. My own doctoral dissertation was an analysis of 20 case studies in institutions where the publicly expressed purposes of education were often sabotaged. Although I have seen some of the failures, the institutional reasons for such failures are so embedded and so internationally widespread that I can see little direct hope for major changes. What I do see is that for technological and cultural reasons, the relationships between public mass education and personal self-education are changing drastically. The outcomes of that melding are still unclear, but the process offers hope.


74. Some Uses and Misuses of Reason


When the sun rises each morning we may say the reason is that the earth on its elliptical orbit spins so that one point faces that star. Or we may say that the Sun God has mounted his chariot. Or we may say, after Ptolemy and the Christian elders until a few centuries ago, that the sun is moving around the earth. Take your pick. They have all seemed good reasons from reasonable men in their time. Our acceptance of what passes for reasoned argument has a great deal to do with the company we keep. Perhaps for most people, the word of accepted authority is the ultimate parameter on where those reasoned arguments may venture.


73. Democracy – Comment on a Proposal


The actual management of social, economic and political choices which are of citizen interest is at the heart of the governance problem, whether it is some kind of democratic governance or a more arbitrary alternative. Votes offer an option of yes or no. Life is harder than that. There is an inherent problem with binary choices in a complex society. Most important questions are nuanced. We could take almost any votable question and find within it a host of other questions. Most respondents will not have the imagination to see the impinging issues on the lead query. That is their responses will be shallow, and in any real political campaign easily swayed by partisan argument.


72. Crime without Punishment – the journey from means to ends 

In the real world of events, as opposed to philosophical statements of “should”, decisions about ends and means always come down to who, if anybody, is responsible for consequences. Where consequences are not clear for actors, and especially if consequences are not personal, almost any ends can be argued for, and almost any means might be rationalized.


71. Is learning “grit” is the best way to succeed?

Grit, persistence in the face of hardship, is an admirable trait up to a point. It is however a complex trait, and may be extremely sensitive to the nature of particular challenges. The dropout in one scenario might be the dogged hero in another movie. Also, above and beyond particular situations, grit is partly sourced in inherent qualities of personality, partly influenced by maturational environment, and deeply affected by the core values and practices of different cultures and subcultures. There are even intriguing hints that grit can be driven by brain physiology.


70. Are Diet & Exercise Really Personal Choices?

The title of this paper asserts a dilemma: “Are diet and exercise really personal choices?” At first blush the dilemma might not be obvious to everyone. The implicit question is the extent to which governments or other agents should interfere in the lifestyle choices of individual citizens. There may be a visceral response to this question, but hopefully the following paragraphs will show that the problem is quite nuanced.

69. How do we judge literary value and artistic value?

Art emerges from the hand of the creator, and the mind of the beholder. Art as discussed in this article is taken very broadly. The broad meaning can encompass not merely painting and sculpture, but literature, music, dance, film, syntheses made possible by electronic technology, and so on. It can be a little confusing, at least in English, as to how all of these enterprises might be collected under a single heading. We do have an expression in English though about any activity which requires mysterious but sophisticated human abilities: “It is more art than science”. The suggestion is that some human activities depend upon a dynamic synthesis skills, experience and judgement which is too complex to analyse, yet which yields outcomes of high quality. “More art than science” certainly underlies our understanding of what artistic creators have been able to achieve.

When it comes to particular judgements however, art, whatever its form, has no single criterion of interpretation. Depending upon the time and the place, the circumstance and the human actors involved, the status of art (or its rejection) is resolved through a multitude of prisms. Here are some, but not all, of contexts for considering art and literature: ....


68. Are We Too Wealthy?

Large numbers of educated, reflective people worldwide have become aware over the last generation that the globalization of extreme material wealth in its present form cannot be sustained.  In this awareness people differ from several preceding human generations where the prevailing belief was that economic growth (a.k.a. “progress”) was a good thing. In previous generations the political passions focused on how wealth was to be divided up – hence the broad labels of agrarian landlordism, market capitalism, crony capitalism, socialism, national socialism … and so on. Segments of present populations have decided that most prior ideologies were variations on a global Ponzi  scheme which is approaching its moment of collapse. That collapse might be expressed in the depletion of material resources, in ecological failure, or in the sheer breakdown through over-complexity of systems which failure-prone humans simply cannot manage.  Whatever the looming breakdown point in any given locale or society, the focus of political dispute becomes “what is to be done”? 


67. How Can We Treat Refugees Humanely? - An Australian Perspective

Where the Australian government is involved in immigration detention of some kind, offshore or onshore, there is an intense need for creative and humane solutions. It is no kind of  “solution” to multiply the psychological damage accumulated by refugees by warehousing them under punitive conditions. These people are not criminals, and it would be useful in Australian law to make it illegal to refer to them as criminals.

66. What will be the dominant ideologies of the 21st Century?

Ideologies are going to be with us forever. The question is how seriously the herd takes them, and who become the high priests for interpreting them to the unwashed masses. The 20th Century gave us some pretty horrible examples of ideologies used as vehicles for mass extinction while claiming to be vehicles for mass progress. There is no particular reason to expect that the 21st Century will be more enlightened in this regard amongst those people who always form the bulk of ideological foot soldiers. It is true that there are more formally educated people on the planet than ever before, and more available tools for critical thinking, especially in the online world. Yet it is also true that the tools for mass mobilization are more powerful than they have ever been, while their control passes with increasing rapidity to compromised governments, corporations and secretive elites. This secrecy makes a considered response to genuine threats especially difficult.

65. The Precariously Employed - that's you, today or tomorrow - A Search for a New World Order

And then we have the “precariat” – hundreds of millions of people for whom the idea of lifetime employment has become a mirage. If they work at all, it is part-time, or on short term contracts, or in intermittent jobs, and so on. In polite company they often describe themselves as "self-employed"... Now the ruling elites of the 21st Century are terrified of the Precariat. The elites know insecure people are dangerous, they know that precariat numbers are overwhelming. Yet the elites, the academy, and the commentariat have no theory, no language, no model to handle the precariat.

64. Democracy and War

There is no uniform pattern defining what a “democratic society” is. Therefore blanket statements about the relationship between “democratic societies” and war are incoherent...  All wars, without fail and throughout history, have been characterized by the deployment of “weapons of mass deception”. That is, the leadership on both sides invariably claims to have God, Fate, Luck, righteousness, history, economic or political necessity .. and every available virtue on their side. It is hardly ever the case that any of this is the real engine for war, but is usually mobilizes enough public support to enable leaders to prosecute war without immediate revolt (though that may come later).


63. The Freedom Enterprise and Other Yarns

Something has changed substantially, beyond the old narratives. That something is the Internet, with uncontrolled actors disseminating information, while elites scramble desperately to recover control of the spin. Such information is often incomplete, biased, or misinterpreted, but it is also not the official story (no matter how many shills governments and companies pay as online agents provocateurs). This new swirling mass of stories has its own dynamic with complex interacting currents beyond anyone's simple control.

62. Economic Complexity and the Engine of Psychology

Context: The essay considers economics as a psychological phenomenon with the characteristics of a complex dynamic system. It is an initial and somewhat playful exploration, not a mathematical paper on systems theory. The original context was a discussion group background paper which evolved away from its origins. The starting proposal adopted (for argument’s sake) was that “the most economically successful societies have always depended upon a high level of government collusion with commerce and industry, if not control. This argument is a way of saying that the “invisible hand” of the market is not enough to maintain an efficient market, at least beyond village level. There has to be an independent umpire, or forced control (dictator, mafia … )”. It became clear that the government-industry collusion issue was really a surface gloss on a much more complicated reality.l.

61. Ethical Behaviour is Harder for the Rich

Abstract: This little essay is about (my ideas of) the behaviour of the rich. Of course all kinds of people are rich for all kinds of reasons (ditto for the poor). Nevertheless I will argue that rich people demonstrate ethics in ways which are consistent with broad human tendencies. Depending upon the social context of their wealth (e.g. corporate versus inherited) that wealth might influence them to exhibit particular behaviours. Yet those habits will merely be a subset of something much more general. Ethics, at bottom, is sourced in the evolutionary behaviour of the species.

60. The Democracy Problem

Abstract: The material here comprises discussion points and some reference links for a diverse group of people in Brisbane, Australia, who fancy themselves as “gentle thinkers”, and who meet from time to time to talk things over. All kinds of things. The topic on hand, “The Democracy Problem”, is probably of interest to thoughtful individuals in many latitudes, so I am putting it online as a general stimulus for some creative discussion. Any opinions expressed in this piece are entirely my own, and may be dissected without mercy.

59. Super-Culture & the Ghost in the Machine

This little essay is a bit mischievous, and apparently politically incorrect enough to have sparked outrage in the minds of some sensitive souls from the polite dinner party set. Although it has no claims to academic decency, I have preserved it online as a stimulant to fancier research, since I think the metaphor the essay runs on captures some essential truths.

The essay had its genesis in the startled observations of a fresh expatriate teaching in foreign surrounds. In this case, it was the PNG University of Technology, Lae, Papua New Guinea in 1987. I found my untried liberal conscience struggling to comprehend the sheer incompetence of people faced with institutions and technology which didn't seem to work. Many of the locals were bright and friendly enough, but somewhere a spark of insight was missing. Much later, surveying Australia with the naked eyes of a returnee, it was all too clear that the paralysis of imagination was a universal problem .

58. Déjà Vu and Wicked Stories

This story is just a grumble about living in a world of predictable villainy and occasional charm. As pretty as snowflakes piling up on a bleak field, I've accumulated a passable knowledge of world history and international affairs (especially Asian). Yet snow is snow, while the seven deadly sins don't really change their cloaks regardless of the weather. No matter where I look and no matter at what time in history, the same underlying stories play out. Good ideas/ideals get subverted by the bad guys (in fact, one-time good guys are apt to be bought out and enlisted in the Evil Empire of the age), wealth funnels to the few, classes are entrenched, sex is exploited, trust evaporates ... If you are young enough, you KNOW that this sorry tale was yesterday: NOW the possibilities are different, right? Why else would we tune into the story again each morning?  The grumpy elder speaks: in truth, NOW the possibilities are worse, but only because the number of players (world population) is destructively larger and the tools of oppression chillingly more efficient. The Muse sooths us:  just to keep things ticking over, "Good", whatever that is, always fights back and the whole cycle of heroism and romance starts over.

57.  Anchluss or ANZAC? - A Solution for Taiwan

What would be the consequences, to follow a crazy thought experiment, if the Peoples Republic of China were to formally renounce all claims to sovereignty over Taiwan? Well, at first there would be a very confused Chinese public in the PRC and a desperate need for some inspired domestic persuasion out of Beijing. However, once that contradiction had been finessed (they've had tougher knots to untie), my guess is that within a short time Taiwan would become China's best friend and ally. They have so much in common. A free Taiwan choosing between America and China? No contest. Of course they would choose China. Taiwan has already shown the world what its enterprise can achieve under conditions of great handicap. Give its people back their hope and spirit, then Taiwan would be the best little brother that China could ever wish for. China would win immense international respect and trust. It truly would be on the fast track in that new Great Game, the contest for competence.

.<>  copies of this posting can be found on this website here, and on Thor's Wordpress blogs, Thor's New China Diary and Thor's Unwise Ideas

56. Choose When to Live and When to Die

The more your spirit lives in a culture, the more you  get what you pay for. After all, the culture has evolved, or perhaps been manufactured, to satisfy people just like you. Blessed are the average amongst us. Maybe your accepted culture has you salivating over a delicious dinner photographed on the plastic packet of a snap frozen supermarket meal. You will microwave the dubious mess inside the packet and suck it up. By the time you suck it up, your mind is on TV football or a soapy anyway. Such is one kind of happiness. If your culture is a millenium old and tells you that meat (or whatever) is unclean, you will smother some overcooked vegetables in curry and wash them down with a litre of Coca Cola to prove that you are up with the times. Such is progress.

These notes have not been written for average people in any known culture. 'Culture' is shorthand for a rough consensus on the grab-bag of events, habits, attitudes and actions that make up daily living. Once you start to ask questions about any of this stuff, you are stepping outside of the consensus. You are no longer average. You are alone in the big bad world, and there is nothing heroic about it because probably there is no one there to clap. So these notes are about non-average survival, specifically my own. Take what looks useful, ignore the rest. ...

55. If a Market is Not a Market

The Invisible Hand has been having a rough time of it lately. This is very interesting. Since the management professional class was invented by James Burnham in 1941, this priesthood has claimed to interpret the will of The Invisible Hand for the unwashed masses. However, like most priesthoods, they soon began to invent a self-serving scripture. A major tool of the invented economic scripture, as played by the sect of Investment Managers, has been Invented Magical Markets, operating beneath the veil of Public Markets and known only to the chosen few. Pretty early in the game of modern capitalism, it was seen that insider trading (or what I have called an Invented Market) was toxic to Public Markets. Solemn rules were therefore promulgated against insider trading. Ha ha. What a forlorn exercise. The enforcers were that very class of the economic priesthood most likely to benefit from violation of the rules. The history of economic booms and busts for two hundred years now has been a tale of new ways to pull off insider trading in hidden Invented Magical Markets. 

54. Snow Flower and The Secret Fan

When Wendi Deng (邓文迪 ), from China magically fell into the pan-national world of international business and married the media billionaire Rupert Murdoch, (who had abandoned Australia for the same stateless realm of five star hotels), at once we recognized that age old story of the gold digger and the sugar daddy. Perhaps though our belief in a simple storyline was, if not wrong, at least incomplete. Origins matter after all.

As a teacher to young women in Zhengzhou, central China for three years recently, I could sense the conflicting currents of duty, ambition and the hope for love that tossed them about in relationships. The mix for each modern girl was individual, and Deng herself is a product of those choices. It is surely no accident then that Wendi Deng and another high profile Chinese-American transplant, Florence Sloan, were co-producers of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a film which deals directly, though often through a veil of tears, with just these dilemmas.

The film is a fairly free adaptation of Lisa See’s now widely praised novel of the same name. What follows here are some personal reactions to the film, plus a few references to the book, which I have not read yet (some published reviews about the book are pasted at the end of these notes). Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a film about relationships between women. It also highlights the conflict between feminine friendship and how each woman deals with the men in her life. Partly because of the Chinese historical context, the dimension of affection between men and women gets little attention in the film, which makes a jarring contrast with the world many of us like to think we live in today (even if we are deluded). However, the film’s director, Wayne Wang, has done a masterful job of bringing to life the relationships between two pairs of women. The first pair, Snow Flower (Korean actress, Gianna Jun) and Lily (Li Bing Bing), were both born in 1823 and tied into a lifelong feminine sworn bond called lau tong (老同), which may have been more emotional and stronger than the man-woman contract of marriage in 19th Century Qing China. The second pair are two young and ambitious women in today’s Shanghai, Sophia and Nina, equally enmeshed in a lifelong but tempestuous bond of friendship.

53. The South Pacific and Someone’s Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is where we all hope to be on that expansive Friday evening when the curtain comes down for the last encore. There they are, that motley collection from history, lounging over their drinks, singing, weeping, roaring with laughter, for what else can you do when there are to be no tomorrows? So this, Earth Mother, is why we put up with those damned foreigners for countless millennia : the privilege of a seat in Luigi’s Galactic Cafe on a spaceship escaping to oblivion.

In the meantime, a few tens of millennia back in Milky Way’s time warp, you and I still have to scheme for tomorrow. This discussion paper is one Australian’s unvarnished view of his neighbourhood. If it wounds a tender spot here and there, call the writer a fool and chalk up a debt against him for drinks at the last gasp in Luigi’s. But try to find an idea or two in here as well, for if we stop communicating this vibrant planet will be a dead planet long before the musicians take a bow.

52. Performance-Linked Micro-Tariffs

51. Getting It Done - An Echo from the Philippines

Imagine meeting a man who, without asking, gave you gifts of great value. At first you might be pleased, though a little embarrassed since you had nothing of obvious value to offer him in return. However, this man had no interest in whatever humble things you might proffer anyway, but each day insisted on giving you new gifts. Shortly you would probably begin to resent the fellow, and wonder if you were merely a vehicle for promoting his glory (yes, there are echoes with religion in this business too). The sullen students that I meet have had the gift of education shoved down their throats for most of their short lives. They are held captive to receive this gift, and are considered ingrates if they question it at all. The human spirit would be entirely dead if they were not simmering with revolt...

50. Why Write A PhD?

The internal rules in universities rules which define a PhD invariably say that it must be an original contribution to human knowledge. Ground breaking dissertations have indeed been written from time to time. In fact though, few PhDs amount to some grand, original contribution to human knowledge. Many dissertations do include fresh assemblies of data, which may or may not be useful to someone. However, the interpretation of the data found within these documents is rarely original, except in a trivial sense...


49. Cultural Operating Systems

To those who wish to keep their "cultural operating systems", like the Korean or Russian or Thai or French, "pure", closed, proprietary, without outside influence, I say you are in great danger. Maybe your closed cultural system was elegant and refined. Maybe it has a glorious past history. But it ultimately comes from an earlier human civilization of small, savage tribal groups. Now we humans are many, crowded on a small planet, and communicating with everyone instantly. We need a different design, and that has to be an Open System. more

48. Somebody Else's Problem

The Peoples Republic of China has many faces, and its inhabitants come in every imaginable shade of character. The seven deadly sins are richly represented, and a healthy bouquet of virtues can be found as well. There are however some constants in public life. Whoever the PRC belongs to, it is not Joe Wang and Molly Liu on Jiefang Lu in any of the 700 cities or countless thousands of villages. It probably isn’t the old men in Zhongnan Hai either, or even the Black Hands that shadow every lucrative trade. Perhaps, in the tradition captured so well by Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , the place is really owned by some prissy field mice wheeling a UFO above the Yellow River plains. In any case, it is totally predictable in every imaginable situation that in China nobody traceable is responsible for anything, ever.   more

47. The contest for Competence

If some people don't break the rules sometimes, then a normal society will cease to function. Breaking the wrong rules for the wrong reasons is like breaking legs though. And if everyone breaks the rules, then a society will disintegrate. A paradox? Yes. See how this cake is baked...     more

46. The End of Capitalism is Announced

So the crookedest brains in Moscow, Beijing and Washington didn’t want to make a system that worked for you or me.  Has anyone managed to do it? Well, yes, more or less, for brief moments in history.  Virtue, like vice, is a temporary affair with unpredictable outcomes....    ... more

45. Mind Games Under Heaven

All the world art mad but thou and I. So it seems. The collective mind of peoples as nations expressed either through the ballot box or by the voice of the emperor (L’Etat c’est moi) seems erratic at best in most locales...    ... more

44. Australia Blue

Centre country scene:

A thousand miles of desert,
Ten thousand miles of shimmering heat.      ... more

43. Covert and Overt Values

Cultural patterns are often phrased as value statements. Ask someone what it means to be Chinese and they may offer you a list of virtues (this kind of response is the same in every culture). The virtues they state for you will be OVERT values — those actions and beliefs that are publicly approved in the culture. In practice the real shape of the society also includes behaviour driven by COVERT values. In fact, for several reasons covert values are usually a far better predictor of where a society is going than overt values... more

42. Life, Content Mangagement Systems,
and the Answer to Everything

From time to time I have picked at the CMS/blog machine, and wondered how to migrate the now denigrated "static" html of my sprawling site to the tidy content of databases. The main attraction has been the incorporation of some way to give readers a voice, assuming there are any readers left out there. A few years ago, they used to send a steady stream of e-mails, but now expect something more instant and public. The voices have fallen silent.... more

41. Ruddite

The dishcloth has landed. It was unfair, but the phrase kept nibbling at my ear, one of those ear-worms like an advertising jingle. Maybe that was the problem. I have never met the man, and the TV cut of an election victory speech is not the best way to get someone at their avuncular best....

40. Managing Downward Spirals - Getting from Here to There

Hey, will you be here tomorrow? Seg back twenty years and all the news was of a planet overrun by recklessly breeding humans. Today in the media of rich nations, the slightly hysterical whisper is that liberated women are on a baby strike and we’ll all be doomed to robot care in our old age. This downward spiral of fertility is an almost sedate affair in the grand scheme of things. Compare it to the supposed disappearance of dinosaurs after the nuclear winter from earth's traffic accident with a giant meteor. People though, count for more than dinosaurs, don't they...

39. North Korea - Pick Your Godfather

My friendly neighbourhood supermarket checkout girl greeted me with a joke about emigrating to Australia. Geopolitics is not the currency of daily conversation in this small, sleepy city in central South Korea, so clearly something was up....

38. The Doctor's Dilemma - Reading versus Active Experience

Long ago (1967) in a freshman literature class, in response to one of my jabs the tutor asked sarcastically if I thought I was an educated person. For her that meant quoting a canon of classic English literature. Even then I thought that like the rest of us, she was an 'uneducated person'. I was damn sure she wouldn't have a clue how to start her car with a wet distributor. I remain irredeemably uneducated in vast areas of human interest ...

(continued ...)

37. Some Mysteries of Language Learning

 I'm a veteran failed language learner, always a thousand miles from success, and an eternally hopeful beginner..

36. Teacher, I Saw Two Foreigners Kissing!

"Yeah, I've got something to tell you; listen up please. Yesterday, I went to Haeundae Beach. And I saw two foreigners kissing each other right in front of me... It was a real scene ^^ . I was shocked..." [student]

35. Why Our Schools Are Failing (... are they?)

In many ways "mass education" is a contradiction in terms ..

34. Ethnicity and Racism - Stirring the Pot

Of course, I have some sentimental interest in England, because that is where my ancestors came from, but I would never consider England to be my home.  Ethnic "Koreans" born in Australia will have some sentimental interest in Korea, but they are unlikely to feel that they "belong" in Korea...

33. Euthanasia - Whose Final Choice?

When a student asks my direct opinion, I try to give an honest answer. It is not always easy. Try this one...

32 A Harvest of Souls - Talking to Those Other Fools

..the Bushites were able to marry anti-intellectualism to a faith based movement. Faith corrupts, and absolute faith corrupts absolutely...

31. Article removed from the Internet

30. The End of War

In 1945 the atom bombs used by Americans seemed to make any future atomic wars between states unthinkable (not that the leaders of nation states have ever stopped thinking about just that). Now any failed state with a chemical fertilizer factory can probably achieve the same devastation...

29. The American Beacon of Post-Industrial Failure 

The Darth Vader face of America also has its analogues on every continent. The especially horrible aspect of the American Darth Vader though is that it forces its way into the lives of all the Earth's other peoples, squawking with electronic self-righteousness that it is the harbinger of freedom...

28. The Case for Favoritism  

...yes, there are men and women who have obtained their jobs unfairly. They are legion, and the burden of their incompetence has sunk countless companies and economies. Yet amongst their number are individuals of great ability, who lacking beauty, mediocrity or some other qualification of 'meritorious selection' by average fools, would never have had the chance to exercise their gifts without the unfair intervention of some wiser sponsor..

27. How to Get The Degree You Want OR Are You A Fake?

Are you a fake? This was the engaging header on an e-mail which recently arrived in my mailbox. Well, I admit to a fake tooth, but I think the rest of me is as real as real can be. Truth to tell, the odds are good that the world in general doesn't give a damn if I'm plastic, ivory or Martian rock. Still, the writer had in mind a qualification...

26. So You Wanna' Write a Poem??

We watched as he carefully unwrapped his little bundle from a scarlet kerchief, and spread it out on the dirt floor before our altar. It was given with a good heart, we could see. But we sighed. That sigh of a god who is sick to death of gifts of chicken feathers, and milk, and honey. Should we tell him? Damn it all man, we want GOLD ......

25. Third World Minds

The Third World is a state of mind. It is not a geographical place. It is not the plumbing in a man's house. The geographical place may be a stage for Third World living, and the plumbing may be a symptom of Third World limits.

The "Third World" itself though, if the metaphor is to be predictive at all, is a collection of designs for living -- that is, cultures -- which dominate the thinking of particular, critical masses of people.....

24. 9/11 and the Constituencies of Dissent 

...the US is waging war on a certain category of terrorists, notably those posing a threat to current American interests. That is a credible and normal objective for a nation state. Further, the United States has also declared that it will ignore the sovereign rights and interests of all other states and peoples in pursuing such terrorists. This is neither wise nor defensible...

23. Pissing On Every Lamp Post - the paradox of scholarship

Scholarship is that process of becoming familiar with, ordering, and acknowledging the thinking of earlier workers in a particular line of inquiry. It can easily become a lifetime task. The process is obviously valuable. Subduing the arrogance of an ignorant mind (especially one's own) is very healthy. Scholarship not only helps to avoid past mistakes and save the waste of "reinventing the wheel", but can also be a stimulus for new and more sophisticated ideas about a topic.

However, the largest body of scholarship always remains inert, not only failing to stimulate new ideas, but actually forming a bulwark against the intrusion of fresh thinking...

22. Gender Puzzle

Gender differences are the great distractor, source of misery, spice and occasional joy, but to make the most of more important human things, not shared by dogs, cats and goldfish, you have to settle for some kind of working compromise on gender relationships. One of the nice things I've found about being fifty-six is that it is at last occasionally possible to talk to a woman without both sides secretly (or not so secretly) sizing up the sexual equation...

21. Dead or Alive?

At this moment I looked around the carriage, and a chill went through my body. Of all those passengers, not a single one showed the slightest signal that one of their number had collapsed, and might be in mortal danger. The bodies remained lax, the eyes unfocussed, the woman on the floor invisible to their attention. It was surreal.

My disbelief gave way to outrage, and throwing decorum to the winds, in a loud voice I demanded in English, "SOMEBODY CALL A DOCTOR". Nobody looked at me, but an uneasy twitch rippled through the crowd...

20. Star Wars Revisited

We kidded ourselves for a while that Star Wars had gone away. We pretended that flower power was winning. But in our heart of hearts, in our 3 a.m. nightmares, we knew that no toy of destruction, once conceived of, has ever been left to rest....

19. The God Of Cracks Between The Floorboards

...Far more important to a wretched bug like me, is what the other silly critters of my species actually DO with their lives and TO mine. If they suspect there are gremlins at the bottom of the garden, then they'll act on that belief and affect my welfare. We have to live with the stubborn illusions and simple hopes of common people. Many a merry philosopher, realizing this, has set up shop as a fortune teller or guru to make a tidy income from their wishful thinking...

18. When Is It Rude To Be Rude?
(Korean translation also available)

Rapid global social change, the transmigration of millions of people within and across national boundaries, and the internationalization of employment have all made the preservation of social harmony both more important and more difficult. The traditional dependence upon formulaic politeness persists, but the swift punishment which might have followed violations of form in traditional societies is no longer sensible. In a dynamic and ever changing world, we wish each other well, but pause after each handshake to see if the other fellow is holding an olive branch or a gun behind his back....

17. Student Activism: Truth & False Prophets

The personal legacy of this Vietnam consciousness raising in young adulthood was a lifelong skepticism about power and the would-be powerful. But there were other spin-offs too. One was the assumption that the causes adopted by the educated youth of the age, that is, the students, would always be in the vanguard of enlightenment. That is certainly how students would prefer to see themselves.

Alas, accumulated experience and a wider reading of history, has made me increasingly skeptical of the proposition that students are typically in the vanguard of anything but their own fashion statements. Sometimes they are on the side of the angels, but just as often they are dupes...

16. Individualism or the Group?

Now let´s take a plane trip and look at the real world. Better, like me, let´s work for a while in a fair sampling of both supposed archetypes of culture. What do we find? We find that the real social content behind those supposedly individualistic and group-oriented labels is drastically at variance with the stereotypes...

15. Virtue Rewards Confucian Communists(?)

Ah, now this business of Rule by Virtue. Virtue's Reward is indeed an ancient and potent principle. Machiavelli and Confucius would both approve. The problem confronting all ambitious men and women on grasping power is how to discourage upcoming competitors. Ruthless opportunism which has been so successful for the winner must be discounted somehow. Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown, and never more so than in a community without rules. The Chinese crown nowadays is definitely made of thorns..

14. Why Grasshoppers Don't Have a Problem

Sometimes whole populations enter a downward spiral of lethargy, neglect and failure, so that by the minimal criteria of maintaining a mere animal population they begin to fall by the wayside. Grasshoppers and, say, fungal viruses, seem to have no such problem. What do humans need that grasshoppers don't in order to remain energetic, goal directed and productive? ...

13. Pain

Well how about your own pain? Could you do without it? You will fight to the death to keep your comfort zone, yet the edge of pain defines and heightens your sense of the real. Without it you would live in cotton-wool land, the mere shadow of a living creature. And here is one of the great paradoxes of life. We crave, as it were, the knowledge of pain, but shrink from its sensation. At the point of pain our courage fails us, we flee, or paralysed by fear, we surrender all autonomy and submit in misery to the conqueror....

12. The Case for Political Impotence

The most successful democracies seem to be those in which the office of president and/or prime minister carry strictly limited authority. These are not jobs for Great Men, but for corporate managers who can make reasonable decisions in an orderly manner, cheer the team along a bit, and keep an eye on the main game...

11. The Conundrum of Men & Women

Out in the backblocks of unreconstructed macho males and pumpkin scone women they never had a problem. They played the eternal seasons of struts and giggles, infatuated romance, white weddings, bawling babies, economic drudgery, drink and abuse, spreading waistlines, kitchen divorce and dad's shed up the backyard. Was it so different, after all, from some middle-eastern religious proscription on the genders?

Late, too late to play the game again, we realized our mistake. Regretted that nature had been politically incorrect and unfair in the apportionment of talent...

10. Teaching as a Subversive Activity

Enter the teacher. A teacher's role is to induce new knowledge into the knowledge systems of other beings. A desperate task, universally unwelcome to the owners of those working systems, no matter that they willfully put themselves in harms way by enrolling for a "course" in this or that. Until the moment of having to learn new knowledge, it doesn't occur to them that a threat to old knowledge is being posed. They bite, swallow a mouthful of the new stuff, and gag. It's foreign matter...

9. Nation States and Other Extremities

The state as an instrument of power will always be hostile in its purpose and ultimately corrupt in its methods. The nation-state, so conceived, has serious limitations. The state as an instrument of service has always had trouble maintaining the integrity of its service because its agents have always succumbed to the methods of power...

8. Average Savagery

The acid bath of fear will quickly reduce our average man to average savagery, whatever the price of his suit. It follows that every situation, organization or government which subsists by some degree of fear will harbour captive agents to spread its terror...

7. Principles - Do They Work?

The common experience of every adult is that the stated principles in a culture frequently fail to match the outcomes that they claim to promote, and indeed often seem to generate results that either contradict or block the realization of their intent. Why?...

6. Good Man, Bad Man

The conclusion which I am drawn to then, is that, as with most natural phenomena, the tendencies to "goodness" and "badness" follow a normal distribution curve in the population. I sense that beneficence is favoured in the largest number of individuals (maybe an outgrowth of the need to nurture), but only favoured weakly. That is, most people are easily lead astray either by misinformation, or by temptations of money, status, sex, ambition etc. However, their attachment to "evil" is likely to be as weak as their attachment to "good"...

5. The Art of Disproportion

So how does a writer differ from the language makers all around him, the cacophony of chatterers? By writing a symphony. The disproportions of our conversation are artless, for where there are patterns they are unconscious, and where there is significance, it is selfish. The writer is able to create patterns of disproportion which create newly defined significance. He marshals the trivia of random occurrence into an enterprise with purpose and direction, just as a musician marshals noise into music...

4. Making It Easy To Be Good

The truth is that when cultural paradigms start to fall apart, a few heroic souls will hold out against the tide, but most will bend. If we want virtue, then there must be incentives to virtue. It must be made advantageous and easy for your average timid soul to act professionally, honestly and humanely in his daily life...

3. Birth of a Salesman

With telesales there is a large component of luck. That is, in any bunch of telephone numbers there are X number of sales waiting to happen, and if you do something wrong they won't happen. I doubt very much if I ever persuade anyone who wasn't inclined to buy in the first place. The X number of available sales varies quite considerably, and unpredictably, from shift to shift...

2. The Poor Man's Fountain of Youth

Nobody argues that walking is bad for your legs, or looking bad for your eyes. More locally, procreation is Nature's basic use for all living things. The general pattern is, the organism breeds and then dies. Sexual organs which remain unused, or rarely used, may well send the biological signal that the organism as a whole has completed it's natural cycle. Wouldn't it be ironic if one quick wank a day fooled Nature into constant renewal, a perpetual lease in lieu of immortality. Maybe those gents as rich as Croesus had a point, but were let down by their wily concubines...

1. The Human Mind as an Error-Checking Mechanism

...nowadays I pay the rent (barely) by working as an evening telesalesperson, flogging a pen set at an outrageous price and fraudulently in the name of a charity (which actually receives 6%). This is the world of the salesman, where truth is contracted to the immediate goal of securing a sale. I hear from the booths all around me the insouciant lies of a sales contest. They are earnest, genuine, and wholly promiscuous. Once won, the customer like a fallen woman, loses all respect...

...Is the sales team so different from TAFE managements in so-called educational institutions? I think not. I have seen and heard them lying shamelessly about "competency", and "quality", and nonexistent specialist staff skills in order to secure contracts and tenders. "Yep, we can do that. ISO9000 certified". They don't see themselves as lying at the time. The presentations are also earnest, genuine and wholly promiscuous. Once the tender is won they lose all serious interest in meeting educational commitments...

7b. short takes

  Thor's Aphorisms 1988 to 2012  [continuous additions]

The two paths to a quiet life are to say nothing to anybody about anything, or to say everything that comes into your head. The second way is easily the most effective. Sooner or later the absolutely discrete person will be blackmailed or persecuted for something they didn't say. However, the purveyor of utter candour is regarded with mute horror by all dignified persons, and given a wide berth. Thus, like much else on this website, the Aphorisms have done a great deal to guarantee Thor perfect social obscurity.


251.. The Customer is Always Stupid
@ Fri 14-Dec-2012


"The customer is always right" or "the customer is always stupid" - which one is true? Well, it is a bit like having two sets of accounting books, one for the tax office and one for private profit. Any smart manager will say "the customer is always right" to a newspaper reporter. The facts more and more show that managers think "the customer is always stupid". (Come to think of it, lots of marriages seem to follow this kind of game script too, or am I being cynical?). Here are some links to make you think (read the comments too!): "Why we pay more for downloads" ( ); "Why pay more? Because they know where you click" ( ); "Australians pay double for flights" ( ).

more short cuts ....





7c. religion

 THE AGNOSTIC'S SURVIVAL MANUAL , 2007, 2013 arm-wrestle with the persistence of religion

. a 20,000 word e-book, also available in PDF, with a third copy (PDF) at my repository. . Dear reader, are you really hoping for a book of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’? Do you want gentle ideas and a comfortable corner in which to rest your half-formed prejudices? Alas, you have come to the wrong place. … The truly employable in this world are harmless blobs of not-quite-anything, or heroic knights of flaming conviction (best employed by others after safe removal to a site of sacrifice), or good old fashioned hypocrites with opinions for hire. This particular writer is entirely unsafe to hire or to know, being addicted to a deadly combination of moderation and candour. Luckily few people ever understand what he is talking about.


7d. older collections

  1. notes to myself from the bottom of the world

   Part I : Qualities and Values
    [dropping an anchor against the tide]

   Part 2: The Human Circus
   [looking askance at political culture]

   2. Social Innovation
       (and resistance to...)

            [ the odd idea to kick around ]

7e. bizarre extras

EDINN: Respinning Intellectuals into the Social Fabric (coffee shop babble ... or sparks for a new social order?)

Psychological Time & May's Constant

Curiosity Questionnaire

A Personal Declaration of Membership in the Human Community
(would you like to sign?)

Signatories to the Personal Declaration of Membership in the Human Community  
(... the pioneers) 

7f. some political leftovers

South Korean Language Policy - A Letter to President Roh Moo-hyun [2003]

Australian Parliamentary Senate Inquiry on the Status of Australian Expatriates

Exit of a Hack Teacher

Technical & Further Education in Australia: Is there a star to steer by?

Abstract: This paper, first written in 1996, should be an historical document. However, in 2012 it is a precise and current description of Technical and Further Education in Australia. The present state government of Victoria, Australia, for example, is currently de-funding TAFEs and aborting their mission, even as Australia is “forced” to import unprecedented numbers of skilled workers from overseas. The paper examines what is obviously a cyclical problem with technical education in many countries – its relatively low status leading to periodic cuts in funding, difficulty in attracting talented career staff, and the cyclical destruction of accumulated skills through casualisation. This document has been published by the Senate of the Australian Parliament as part of a report on the status of teachers.

The De-Skilling of 100,000 Skilled Tradesmen 

This document was sent to:

The Hon. John Howard, Prime Minister
reply from A. Greer, 1st Asst. Secretary,  VET Division, DEETYA 3/10/97
The Hon. Kim Beazley, Leader of the Opposition 
reply from Kim Beazley 29/8/97 ; reply from Martin Ferguson 29/9/97
The Hon. Jeffrey Kennett, Premier of Victoria 
reply from Phil Honeywood 18/9/97 (Minister for Tertiary Education & Training)
The Hon. John Brumby, Leader of the Victorian State Opposition 
reply from John Brumby 18/8/97
The Hon. Cheryl Kernot, Leader of the Australian Democrats Party

National Literacy

Note: This letter was sent to The Australian (newspaper) on 17 September 1997  in order to assist informed community debate. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom on  issues as complex as this one..

Performance-Linked Micro-Tariffs

Note: This letter was addressed to Prime Minister Keating, 8 July 1995.  The reply from a minder was what you might expect: vapid. Nevertheless the points  made here remain germane to any Australian government

The South Pacific & Someone's Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Note: This piece was written while I was a lecturer in Linguistics at the University of the  South Pacific, Suva, Fiji (1987-1990). Not so much has changed -- certainly not for the better.  The observations still have some currency.

Technical Innovation
Social Innovation (see also Philosophy)
Inventions we have to have 
** Do you have some bright ideas? If I like them, I'll add them to the list**


8. Thor's Korea Diary (September 2000 ~ July 2007 + extras)


My Korea will be an accident of personalities and experiences. From the kindnesses and the bastardry of this individual or that I will, no doubt, make profound statements about the "Korean character", Korean culture, institutions, and so on. Take it with a grain of salt...  [For an earlier Introduction, written in 2000, see the bottom of this page ]

67. North Korea – An American Accident

The reason that North Korea exists is that America, the superpower, exists. This was true during the 1950-53 Korean War, and it is true today. After World War II, American ignorance of the Korean peninsular was matched only by its disinterest. In 2013, oddly perhaps, the best friend of the North Korean regime is the American military-industrial complex. They need each other. That part of the American polity which persists in playing the games of empire absolutely craves a North Korean demon. Yet China in 2013 would happily erase North Korea into a dusty footnote, if it were politically possible. Kim Jong-eun and his coterie are not only bad for Chinese business, they are downright embarrassing for Chinese respectability.

66. The Penis Chronicles

This is not a story for everyone. But as Mao Zedong once almost said, men's penises hold up half the sky, so there is some interest in the subject. If you want advice on blue pills, penis stretchers, and all the other paraphernalia of fragile male egos, look elsewhere. This is a tale of medical misadventure in a South Korean provincial hospital (though it could probably have happened anywhere), and perhaps a small warning about what can happen when even well-intentioned medicos start to play with your dongle.

65. Is Assessment a Satire? - The Conspiracy of South Kogglebot

The wise elders and the feckless noviates, the desperate mothers and the captains of industry, even it is rumoured, the king, nowadays puzzle over backwash from the great South Kogglebot bell curve conspiracy....

64. North Korea - Pick Your Godfather

My friendly neighbourhood supermarket checkout girl greeted me with a joke about emigrating to Australia. Geopolitics is not the currency of daily conversation in this small, sleepy city in central South Korea, so clearly something was up....

63. How Samsung Failed To Sell Me A Phone

So there is was. Nobody in Chungju wanted to sell me a phone. What was to be done? Well, when the slaves run away, all you can do is go to the head cook and bottle washer, and here that meant corporate Korea...

62. High School Surveys - some students dare to ask and tell

.. They chose the topics, constructed the questions and conducted the interviews on anyone handy. My only rule was "this is an English zone : no Korean!". That was tough, but they played it pretty well.

61. Buggery Uprooted - A Review of Scott Burgeson's Korea Bug

One of the more harmless expletives in my native dialect is 'go to buggery'. This is a rather milder invitation to disappear than the damning 'go to hell'. Few users ever check the dictionary etymology, or suspect that they are willing their annoyer to have a fun time with the back end of a sheep.

Scott Burgeson's Korea Bug sort of creeps up on you like that. You can begin this book as an unreconstructed hedonist mucking about on the Korean funny farm, and finish up worrying about your existential qualifications to carry the white man's burden of civilizing the natives.

60. Meet Ticolette

"A car is not a noun. A car is definitely a family member, so meet Ticolette. Our acquaintance has been brief, and I hope it doesn't end in tragedy. So far we're mostly getting along fine, with a few passing little tiffs, and she did lose her radio voice half an hour out of the car sales yard, but every lady has the odd strange habit."

59. Teacher, I Saw Two Foreigners Kissing!

"Yeah, I've got something to tell you; listen up please. Yesterday, I went to Haeundae Beach. And I saw two foreigners kissing each other right in front of me... It was a real scene ^^ . I was shocked..."

58. Some Mysteries of Language Learning

I'm a veteran failed language learner, always a thousand miles from  success, and an eternally hopeful beginner..

57. Why Our Schools Are Failing (..are they?)

In many ways "mass education" is a contradiction in terms ..

56. Ethnicity and Racism - Stirring the Pot

Of course, I have some sentimental interest in England, because that is where my ancestors came from, but I would never consider England to be my home.  Ethnic "Koreans" born in Australia will have some sentimental interest in Korea, but they are unlikely to feel that they "belong" in Korea...

55. Euthanasia - Whose Final Choice?

 When a student asks my direct opinion, I try to give an honest answer. It is   not always easy. Try this one...

54. Copping It Sweet

Not such a bad life, he tells himself very quietly, lowering expectations once again just in case the gremlins get to hear about any hint of good fortune. But it is never quietly enough. Heaven knows, it's been a roller coaster from the moment he could walk and talk. Talking, huh. Now there's a dangerous habit..

53. All is Forgiven

I head for the lifts, but before I can escape an ancient gent in a blue baseball cap blocks my path. His face is as brown as a walnut, and creased with deep lines. Two large gold fillings punctuate his smile. He has a message but we don't share a language. No matter, he tells me anyway, in gutteral Korean with lots of hand waves...

52. Article removed from the Internet

51. Red Light, Green Light

The epitaph will say, "He had a green light", but he'll be dead. What a fool to believe a thing like that. Every day I cycle to work and back, twice, on a split shift. That means the best part of two hours on the road, and it is a crash course on the Korean traffic ethic...

50. Australian Parliamentary Senate Inquiry on the Status of Australian Expatriates

...I take a rather more dispersed view of cultural participation, Australian or otherwise. On any particular constituent of the cultural design, I would see individuals distributed on a normal (bell) curve. Those less attached to bar raffles, Akubra hats, Australian idioms .. or whatever, would be on the wings of the curve, with some issue-majority clustering at the centre. Some of that cultural minority on issue X or Y will be mad and bad. Others will already  treading new paths that the majority will follow in a generation or two.

The argument which I wish to put to the Senate Committee is that the concept of a nation as fortress is, in large part, destructive and counter-factual both at individual and institutional levels. It is destructive because any institution which creates a sharply defined perimeter of in-groups and out-groups also generates a standing invitation to conflict. Human history is riven with tragic examples, from tribal and religious sects to the sociopathic behaviour needed to sustain most empires...

49. Dog Days upmarket corners of Korean cities the apartment-dog, as opposed to the dog-soup-dog,  presently made his appearance. Dog as a love object to replace dog as a food lust object... Since every Korean secretly wants not only a Yangban (aristocratic) name like Kim, but also a BMW and the envy of his neighbours, pretty soon the apartment-dog could be seen in even the lowliest of working class districts. In no time at all there were dog hairdressers, dog cuticle polishers, dog clothes outfitters and dog hospitals. You would think that with all this lavish attention, the Dog had finally arrived. Well, there are dogs and then there are Dogs...

48. Korean, American & Other Strange Habits day you set foot in someone else's country and your world turned upside down. These people were *weird*, really off the wall. The neighbours back home might be slack, but at least you could talk to them. In this new place, it was, well, eerie. A bit dangerous too. You were 100% outnumbered, and they called you a foreigner. You kept a low profile, and sort of adapted. Maybe you changed a bit too. After living on Mars for a few years, when you went home for a holiday the old family reckoned you'd gone native. Well, come to think of it, *they* looked sort of silly now...

47. About Names

Names are funny things. You can summon the devil with them, marry with them and get sent to war because you own one.  Slaves in many a country,  including old Chosun, were not allowed to inherit one. As a prisoner or bank customer you might be dehumanized by a mere number. We have nick-names and pen-names and nom-de-guerre, not to mention intimate bedroom names and lately, avatar names for Net chat flights of fancy. In short, a name is our social mask, sometimes chosen at whim, sometimes imposed on pain of death...

46. South Korean Language Policy - A letter to Mr Roh Moo-hyun

A Korean colleague assures me that middle class Koreans are spending up to 30% of their disposable income on language study. If true, this is an extraordinary figure with unusual political implications. It seems to say loudly and clearly that South Korea needs to formulate a National Language Policy with a clear pragmatic base (not simply a forum for competing ideologies)...

45. North Korea - The Japanese Card

The Japanese public feels directly threatened by North Korean missiles. When that is added to a nuclear threat the imperatives for any Japanese government become overwhelming. The moral dimension in Japanese-Korean relationships (North or South) is potent on both sides, and can be rapidly swung behind support for violent action...

44. The Hermit Kingdom - A Book Review

"Click into the Hermit Kingdom" is a good place to look for outlines of 'nation' in the Korean style. Korea happens to have the most complete set of official historical national records in East Asia. Yang Sun-jin and Lee Nam-hee have combed a CD ROM compilation of these records covering 500 years of the Choson Dynasty, to produce an eclectic but revealing collage of reports on many subjects. In researching this review I was a bit taken aback to discover that the text of the volume is in fact available on the Internet at, so if you don't mind staring at an electron gun, you can read the whole thing for free...

43. Inside Pusanweb - An Interview with Jeff Lebow

Pusanweb has done much to make the English speakers in Busan aware of themselves as a community, and to define their public identity. As important as this role is, Pusanweb also has some potential to be an English language window on the world through which others may gain some sense of Korea, and hopefully, some Koreans may find a voice to express themselves to the international community.

The interview which follows takes a close look at Pusanweb in its present form, makes a stab at guessing the what the future holds, and briefly traces the evolution of this important website. The story of Pusanweb is really the story of its architect, creator and guiding spirit, Jeff Lebow. Jeff comes disguised as an English teacher for one of  Busan's universities, but his heart is,  well his heart is Pusanweb. Here is the tale in his own  words...

42. Crime and Punishment

The Kookje Daily News (Busan) asked me to write a short opinion piece for translation on the tragic killing of two young Korean girls by an American military vehicle. This is the English version. Writing on this topic was delicate, for it has aroused strong emotions on both sides. I hope the following account maintains some balance..[postscript 20 December 2002 : although Kookje commissioned this piece, I have been unable to find any evidence that they ran the story (they have published earlier stories I wrote). Ho hum .. ]

41. Travels With My Dentist

The life of a Korean peasant was in fact almost entirely self-sufficient, and this was a spare thirty years ago. The respectable Dr Kim, now an emblem of modern Korean success, had been completely awestruck as a sixteen year old, when he first came to Busan on a school visit. The most astonishing thing of all, he recalled, was the bitumen road, which he had never seen before. That black ribbon was indeed a highway to the stars...

40. North Korea - The Smell of Rat

The economic-military mess that is North Korea has reached a point where it can't be much fun even for the dictators. When you have to travel for twenty-four days in an armoured train just to visit the neighbouring potentate, well, the most armour-plated egos must take a hit. Heck, you are not even welcome to spend your ill-gotten gains in the twenty-first century's real palaces. That is, you can't strut in those international luxury hotels which live off the corporate criminal classes and respectable political scoundrels from richer climates...

39. Daegu Is On The Map

The Daegu mall area is different, a sleepy, down-at-heel compromise where the cars have been kicked out, but the slick operators, by and large, haven't moved in. I liked it. Maybe the money is just not there for ostentation (as with the railway station). South Korea by reputation is one of those countries where all glory goes to the capital, so perhaps the no-hopers left back in number three city have a more comfortable, but less funded set of values...

38. Busan Summer (poem)

Well she perished, / cross-cut on the instep, / Dissected at the kneecaps / by a low-flying baby blade-runner, / Stripped naked with fear / at curdling shrieks, / War cries of an approaching horde,/ the sub-ten roller blade elite.

37. Whose Chook Are You Anyway?

At this moment of supreme achievement I should have offered a libation to the gods and come quietly home, a contented man. Flushed with success though, giddy with hubris, I tried to impart the purpose of my purchase. "Fssssh", I growled, steaming an imaginary slice of bread. "Ppang (bread), mmmm", licking my lips. A stricken look swept over the woman's face. "Ppang", I repeated, stating the obvious, and grinning like a maniac. Her voice tense with anxiety, she shouted for help at the curtained back of the shop. Hey, this was getting out of hand. What had I done? After a couple of minutes a leathery little man whom I'd never seen before bounced up. "Can I help you?" has asked in flawless English. Ha, he couldn't fool me. At least ten million Koreans are able to ask "can I help you?" in perfect English, but retreat in confused panic when you smile and drawl "well yes, as a matter of fact I was looking for an early eighteenth century glazed pottery cornucopia...". This time I took pity and just muttered "well no, not really. I was just telling your admirable companion about my patent pending bread steaming invention..." The leathery man had the chutzpah to nod as if he had understood me perfectly. He disappeared behind a shelf of imitation jewelry, and before I could escape came pattering back with an ironing board under one arm, and a Chinese chintz curtain draped over the other....

36. The Second Hand Man

35. The Monk's Magic Moment - Stage  Blind

34. The Banker's Tale

33. Omen

32. A Tale of Two Kingdoms

31. The Bright Smile Love Club

30. Ghost Story

29. Thou Shalt Not Smile For The Photographer

28. Free Spirits On The Road To Unmoon Valley

27. Dead or Alive?

At this moment I looked around the carriage, and a chill went through my body. Of all those passengers, not a single one showed the slightest signal that one of their number had collapsed, and might be in mortal danger. The bodies remained lax, the eyes unfocussed, the woman on the floor invisible to their attention. It was surreal.

My disbelief gave way to outrage, and throwing decorum to the winds, in a loud voice I demanded in English, "SOMEBODY CALL A DOCTOR". Nobody looked at me, but an uneasy twitch rippled through the crowd...

26. Traveler on a Leash, or a Free Spirit?

25. Scouting Seoul

24. Skin Deep

23a. (Korean language version of 23)

23. When Is It Rude To Be Rude?

Rapid global social change, the transmigration of millions of people within and across national boundaries, and the internationalization of employment have all made the preservation of social harmony both more important and more difficult. The traditional dependence upon formulaic politeness persists, but the swift punishment which might have followed violations of form in traditional societies is no longer sensible. In a dynamic and ever changing world, we wish each other well, but pause after each handshake to see if the other fellow is holding an olive branch or a gun behind his back....

22.The Marathon Club

21. Embassy Follies in Haeundae

20. The Accident

19. T'aejongdae Tourist

18. Who Wants a Reunified Korea? -- some reflections on war, peace and the armaments business

17. Of Tampons and Honey

16. Captive Foreigner has Fake Consultation

15. Tiger in the Night  

14. Hill Gods and Ghostly Signs

13. So What is a Korean Anyway?

12. Pusan was a Haven

11. Them and Us, Pusan and The Rest of 'Em

10. Korea, North & South: The Geopolitics of Unification

9. Was Korea a Chinese Lap Dog?

8. Japanese Influence?? Believable yet absolutely wrong

7. The Bus Driver's Heaven Machine

6. An End to Beginnings

5. Mountain Walker

4. The Sports Festival

3. Visa Run

2. Pansong Dong

1. The Coming  

Photos around Korea

Links to Korea-related Sites



9. Thor's New China Diary (September 2007 ~ 2010 + extras) [Wordpress Blog]

13. The Cigarette

The small shop next to the bank was in the humble business of selling hot flat bread, shao bing, freshly baked in a coal oven, irresistible to those raised on its crisp crusts. It opened very early, and shut very late. The shao bing came piping hot, and sold for a song at five jiao apiece...

12. The End of Capitalism is Announced

So the crookedest brains in Moscow, Beijing and Washington didn’t want to make a system that worked for you or me.  Has anyone managed to do it? Well, yes, more or less, for brief moments in history.  Virtue, like vice, is a temporary affair with unpredictable outcomes....

11. Mind Games Under Heaven

All the world art mad but thou and I. So it seems. The collective mind of peoples as nations expressed either through the ballot box or by the voice of the emperor (L’Etat c’est moi) seems erratic at best in most locales...  

10. Choose Your Game

They have come all shapes and sizes, the fitness freaks and the slobs, the loners and the social butterflies. My trade is language teaching, not Phys Ed, but the best help I can ever give them comes by example : you choose your game, you do it for the love of excellence, you keep running, and by the measure that counts most, you will win.

9. Australia Blue

Centre country scene:

A thousand miles of desert,
Ten thousand miles of shimmering heat.      ... more

8. The Earthquake

The earthquake: I was running back to my apartment from the classroom for something, and didn’t feel a thing. The other foreign teacher here staggered out of her apartment and said she thought she was dying. I told her to put her head between her legs and I’d get a doctor. While I was racing back to the administration building all these people started pouring out of buildings.

7. Covert and Overt Values

Cultural patterns are often phrased as value statements. Ask someone what it means to be Chinese and they may offer you a list of virtues (this kind of response is the same in every culture). The virtues they state for you will be OVERT values — those actions and beliefs that are publicly approved in the culture. In practice the real shape of the society also includes behaviour driven by COVERT values. In fact, for several reasons covert values are usually a far better predictor of where a society is going than overt values...

6. A Child Goes Missing

Each evening I walk for an hour or two, and sometimes one of the students tags along. This is wonderful, since she can bring meaning to the blur of Chinese street life around us. Yesterday, she pointed out a tragedy that I would have walked right past.

5. Post Office Blues

The Chinese Post Office continues to excel. We’ve had scraps before. This was the outfit that wouldn’t let me send Christmas cards in different sized envelopes, or send copies of my thesis to an Australian university in any box but their own.

4. Chasing Out The Devils

Zhengzhou has been under heavy attack for several days, apparently to chase out accumulated devils. These aren’t minor explosions, though I have been dodging small boys for a couple of weeks. The streets are cleared of the usual surging crowds and most shops were shuttered yesterday. Every rooftop and courtyard is smoking with cordite.

3. The Iron Rooster and the White Dragon

.At last a sum was settled upon, and as I reached for my wallet, the girls as one tearfully pushed me away. “We pay!” they insisted, handing over forty-two hard earned yuan to a lady in hair curlers. Still brimming with tears they told me to be careful. “We never talked with a foreigner before”, one said. And they bustled out into the night, out of my life, but warm in my memory.

2. Christmas Story

There was a bitterly cold wind, and road workers were struggling to sleep on the pavement in their rags while Sunday crowds of factory workers stepped around them. A cavalcade of monumental buildings, like Sydney CBD in a bombed out horror flick, had gaping, semi-lit interiors full of more endless shoddy clothing stalls.

1. Well, Hello Again

Zhengzhou in Henan Province, central China does not look promising from a distance, but close up it’s not too bad at all if your survival kit is in order : an air conditioned apartment and a credible income, it least by Chinese standards. The city is as flat as a pancake, but made decent by its tree-lined avenues. Twenty kilometers away across the parched plains, the Yellow River wends its sluggish way between high earth levees, but Zhengzhou’s main claim to fame nowadays is as a railway junction. Amazingly the sky is often blue, something I never saw in Wuhan. The urban population is about 4 million, and seems to be growing fast. There are luxury shops and the direst poverty side by side.


10. Thor's Old China Diary (August 1998 - July 2000) + Postscripts  - about 70,000 words - vignettes, essays, stories

 Other Content on China

1. Thor's New China Diary (from 2008) has been started as a blog

 2. Here is a separate Index to the New China Blog

3. A YouTube video autobiography of my years in China (1998-2000) is here: Thor's The Ages of Man Part 4

4. Photos around China

5. Travel Notes (includes Chinese cities)

6. Rebecca's Place - where she teaches Thor about China

7. Links to China-related sites

8. Living in Wuhan ... a guide for visitors and others  (rudimentary, unfinished project)

Introduction (written in August 1998)

The entries in this diary are spontaneous, undiplomatic and likely to be regretted later. That's the nature of day to day living, especially in an unfamiliar culture and country. We all make as much sense of the world as we can. When it is a new world, the sense of the moment is often non-sense in retrospect, and the incomprehensible behaviour of foreigners ("them" or me, depending upon your starting point) may be perfectly logical within a framework of reality which we have not yet noticed or accepted.

I could have written what follows with ifs and buts and maybes. I could have left out the bits that might make me look dumb later, or that might offend friends who meant well. Well, personal names have been changed or eliminated. That is all though. It seems to me that the mistakes, the exasperation, even the paranoia sometimes, are part of the story. They give it freshness and authenticity. This writer will contradict himself, put his foot in his mouth. So what? If learning to live in a new culture is worth anything at all, it must mean that I will change and grow. Therefore dear reader, judge me if you will, but don't expect to find the same fellow here next time you call.

Happy reading, Thor.
Wuhan, China   1998


Table of Contents

Note: items appear in date order of writing from August 1998 to August 2000 + Postscripts

Postscripts :

2. The Chinese Car of the Future (2005)

...a Chinese designer is trying to figure out the likely Chinese taste for automobiles in 2015. Along the way, our discussion touches upon some key ideas about what might make China tick...

1. Letter from a Chinese Postgraduate (2003)

You know, all the graduates in every college are going crazy now. More and more graduates select continuing study as their goals. The competition in the graduates' entrance examination is extremely fierce in China now. It's not because more people truly want to be scholars in the future, but because they are escaping the pressure of employment...

1.Shanghai Arrival

While his brother drove, my new mentor got into the back to be sociable. We shook hands, I gave him my card, and with fractional English he indicated that taxis were not a big money business. I said that my Y2500 a month wasn't so hot either. Having proved to be mutually human, this slightly fleshy young man did his best to show goodwill. He stood by patiently while I went through the traumatic discovery at the Dadushi Fundian that not only was the room rate Y400, but that they wanted 10% bed tax and a Y200 deposit, as well as the room charge in advance, cash. I didn't offer to tip the bell-boys...

2. A Dream of Red Mansions 

Wx intimated that all the good things that were happening to me flowed from her unseen hand. She had personally sent Gx to the airport. A postgraduate would be put at my disposal to teach me Chinese. A second-hand bicycle would be found cheap. They would show me how to shop tomorrow. Each woman has undertaken to play matchmaker, and I am to choose between the brides in waiting. As payback their was a hint of many friends wanting their theses gone over...

3. WTUSM Welcome Dinner

Perhaps a half of the Chinese staff members present at the dinner spoke no English. Since the President decreed at the start of the meal that English was the medium, they were effectively struck dumb. The whole hierarchy of the Foreign Affairs Office was represented, including the man who invariably drives us on visits to shops etc. also had his place at the table. Perhaps he has some kind of security role as well (??)...

4. Bicycle Wars

Aha. Miss Gravelly Leather Face, like a general in the wings, had made her assessments on the changing tide of the battle. One dumb Long Nose she could stonewall; XB's male friends were an unwelcome reinforcement to the opposition, and called for a temporary tactical retreat. The professor's arrival, as an obvious blood ally of the enemy changed all the equations. Like the Original Celestial Jade Pure One, the Great Immortal overcame all opposition with a mere effortless sweep of his sleeve...

5. Barefoot Dentistry

She began to trot alongside in her old felt slippers. Stranger and stranger I thought. Suddenly the bike gave a violent lurch and started to weave across the road. My doctor had taken a flying leap onto the luggage rack...

6. Two Thousand Steps to the Mountain

It was the strangest meal I have ever shared. The small room was packed with ravenous teenagers, all slightly damp and cold, the floor was wet, the light dim. On a low table in the middle of the room they had dumped a couple of dozen plastic bags from various mums and roadside stalls. There was bean curd and puffed rice and a dozen kinds of unspeakable dried things, sweet bread, Snuckers (American) raspberry jam, jioutze (meat dumplings) and instant noodles ... There was a mess. It was the human zoo though that made this scene memorable. Chinese have to be the world's messiest eaters. They are also incredibly sociable. Amid the jostling and shouting and banter their darting chopsticks pushed food into the mouths, it seemed, of anyone who was within reach. I felt like a cuckoo in a nest of baby eaglets, and thanked my lucky stars for the my hepatitis shots...

7. Chinese Medley

The printed program was in Chinese, of course, and my attempts to get some kind of translation met with even more charming evasion than usual. The words were unfamiliar, my hostess said. I would naturally be able to tell THEM as soon as I heard the music. Hmm. I know what I like when I hear it, but my musical literacy is almost as sketchy as my Chinese literacy. The musical literati are apt to drift out of my presence with tight little smiles as I effortlessly fail their secret society passwords ... Here, in China, our mutually confused small talk might preserve my digity a little longer...

8. An Upper Middle Class Evening

Madam was playfully attired in a leotard and furry mini-skirt, with the paws of some kind of dead animal draped over her shoulders. She could, I decided at once, easily crack macadamia nuts between her thighs. Since the English language wasn't one of the things we had in common, we set the tone for the evening with some impromptu pantomime. To be properly respectful, I began to slip my shoes off. "Bu shi, bu shi ..." she shushed, pushing my feet back. "You can keep them on," advised GZ; "these are Westernized people."

9. Paralysis - The Core Problem with Chinese Universities

Not only do universities in China have no control over their syllabus content, they have no effective control over their staff or their budgetary allocations. Each Department has a (Communist) Party Secretary who often doubles as the personnel officer and controls appointment recommendations...

10. Foreign Experts Plant Trees

About five kilometres outside of Huangshi we crossed an invisible border, known only to the competing regional warlords (prefectural empires). Our Wuhan police greeted the waiting Huangshi forces with elaborate diplomatic courtesy, and we acquired a double VIP escort. To ensure that our status was impressed on the local yokels, from this five kilometre point at every hundred meters stood a police trooper, spick-and-span in his pressed uniform, white gloves, rigidly at attention and  -- wait for it -- saluting us as we swept past...

11. Chinese Tooth Torture

12. Letter Home

13. New China: Reflections on Political Rage

14. Fake Dream

15. Living With China Upside Down and Backwards

16. A Red, Black & White Culture 

17. Strolling

18. Dining with the Governor

19. The Rag Trade

20. When a Dog is as Tall as a Man

21. The Outside Track on Happiness

22. Sinned Against

23. Horse Horse Tiger Tiger

 24. Video Wisdom

25. City Traveler

26. Apples to Go

27. All's Fair

28. The Chinese Economic Union??

29. Mei Guanxi - Back with the Dentists

30. The General('s) Hospital

31.Interpreting China: Whimsy, where are you? 1999 … and now?

This snippet is clipped from my foreigner’s understanding of China in December 1999, on the cusp of the new millennium. At the time I was teaching at a university in Wuhan.(See Thor’s China Diary). The writer has mellowed a bit, older if not wiser. Noways in China they have bullet trains, and much more varied consumer choices than in 1999. Buildings are painted. There are signs that patches of the Chinese landscape are trying to slip out from beneath the grey smog of mass control. Real winds of change? Judge the weather for yourself.

32. The Photograph

33. Silence of the Elders

34.The Dialects of Wuhan

The Chinese provinces are a crazy patchwork quilt of languages and dialects, where the histories of migrations and cultural enclaves, the tides of influence from empire and commerce, the sperm trails that follow rivers and railway lines ... are recorded in a tangle of codes that no one has yet made a serious attempt to untangle. Note that these comments are obviously informal, not a part of systematic research. Chinese scholars themselves are now (2013) taking a much more thorough interest in dialects than was the case even in 2000.

35. Silk Barrier

36. A Business Proposal

 37. Virtue versus the Quick Buck

38. Sisyphus and the Rock of Education

39. The Factory Visit

40. Scooter Babes

41. Notes on Cantonese

42. The Bamboo Cage

43. Goodies & Baddies

44. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king

45. Corruption in Chinese English exams (note from a reader)

46. The boarding kindergarten

47. Till Death Do Us Part

48. Dining Out on Laundry Soap

49. When is a Museum a Museum?

50. Honesty, Spirit and the Communist Way

51.  The Bad Old Days of Planned Theft

52. Funeral by the Lake

53. Modern Dance Ballet

54. The Suit


56. Chinese Moments

11. Thor's Travel Notes - Miscellaneous travel essays

1. Introduction

Why write at all? One of the paradoxes of writing is that it typically takes longer to describe an event on paper than to actually do it. James Joyce certainly did not write Ulysses in the twenty-four hours of a Dubliner's life he purports to encapsulate. It is a seeming paradox because we persist with the idea that crafted language is no more than a representation of events...

The stuff in these Travel Notes really is raw material. That is, anything approaching art in their expression is purely accidental. If they have a narrative structure, it is the simple flow of time passing. You will search in vain for a plot, for brave beginnings, or for endings which bring more closure than going to bed with cold toes. In fact, looking at this material with a distant eye, its only unifying theme is often the gloomy catalogue of one cheap hotel room after another. My excuse for posting it on the net is that a) you just might find some occasional useful comment on a place you are heading for, and b) lodged up there in cyberspace, I can mine it myself for writing ideas from anywhere on the planet, without dragging around a library.Most of the existing Travel Notes actually apply to summer and winter trips which I undertook through China in 2000. These are a day by day slog, and will be added progressively as I get around to typing them up. There's also a snippet from Cambodia, and other oddments are likely to appear in the months or years ahead. I particularly want to get down diary notes from my first great adventure, overland from Sydney to London through Asia in 1971, but the material is buried in boxes elsewhere right now, so might be years coming.And now some noble self-justification ....Why write at all? One of the paradoxes of writing is that it typically takes longer to describe an event on paper than to actually do it. James Joyce certainly did not write Ulysses in the twenty-four hours of a Dubliner's life he purports to encapsulate. It is a seeming paradox because we persist with the idea that crafted language is no more than a representation of events. If that were true, then no one would read more than bus timetables. But a lived event, in the end, has more to do with quantum theory than sweat. That is, it becomes real, significant, even stimulating, purely because some alert mind is observing and shaping it. With five billion or more conscious human minds out there, our existence should be humming with excitement. Now maybe I've missed something, but a half century of close watching has persuaded me that the 24 hour cinescreen running past the eyes of those five billion people is, overwhelmingly, barely registered on their minds. They mostly have dull lives, not so much because the routine of existence is often dull, but because their brains have not seized upon whatever comes to hand and fashioned a symphony of the imagination. My struggle and my joy is to create such a symphony, gradually, working and reworking raw perception until a resonance is found. I am no Joyce, my reservoir of talent is fragile, but in the struggle to write, however crudely, I become more alive than blunt animal senses could ever grasp.

Busan, South Korea
September 2001

2. Traveler on a Leash or a Free Spirit?: A fake interview 

Q : Where do you live ?
A : I live inside my head. In gracious moments a scintilla of otherworldly oddments are invited in for tea and biscuits. About body stuff, my home is where my bed is, and always has been...

3. Cambodian snippet (1996) 

The taxi driver was... well, no taxi driver. He was obviously a very intelligent man who spoke excellent English. He was driving a white, very late model car which MIGHT have been a taxi, but I suppose that in a town like this on the very frontier of "civilization", if you wanted to know what was coming into your territory, then the best place to plant your intelligence officers would be on an erstwhile flight greeting service. I am only supposing of course...

4. Memories of Afghanistan (1972)

..this truly was the abrupt partition of worlds. South, somewhere over those unthinkable mountains was the steaming monsoon world of South Asia with its tropical profusion and teeming millions. From here to an unmeasured bleak north you would find only scattered remnants of humanity, or life of any kind. A harsh world of fierce pride and careful conservation, where precious water came from dark places deep in the earth...

5. Letter from East Timor (1972)

Late in the afternoon the supply barge from Dili is still there, half full. It will be unloaded, well, manyana manyana, and the labourers are playing tag like children in the shallow water. They are pleased, when we ask, to let us scramble onto the lorry with the gasoline drums. Travel on these roads is a violent experience, and I have to hang onto the tailboard with three fingers. Then of course, I want to blow my nose, which is tickling, but dare not let go...

6. Background Information on Papua New Guinea

My neighbours tut-tutted at the daily risk I took on a forty-minute jog past kampongs and galvanized iron shacks, up to a jail by a stony river bed. I can still smell the smoke from acrid cooking fires in the early tropical evenings, and remember the ragged kids playing under palm trees by the roadside. My neighbours were right of course. The risks were real, and monthly incident reports from the university security service were a grim reminder. But my evening runs were in the real PNG. The campus was on another planet...

7. Expedition to Snake River, PNG

Our convoy was waved down by a lapun (village elder) just before we entered Tawiane. Traditionally Morobe clans have no chiefs. The story goes that when white men first turned up and demanded to see the headman, the locals would shove forward the village idiot to see what happened to him. Anyway, this little old man claimed to speak for the people, and negotiated our entry fees at K5.00 per head for accommodation (eventually reduced to K2.50 because the roof leaked) and K5.00 per head for visiting rights...

China, winter 2000 :

1. Flying to Kunming least there was someone to talk to; (it is remarkable how rarely airline passengers will really talk to you. Something has changed since the days of long train journeys..). We did indeed take off this time, up into the cold grey clouds. The whole way we saw cold grey clouds, until descending we saw a land blanketed in white, the "land of eternal spring", as every travel reference brands Kunming...

2. Kunming by Shanks-Pony

When I first come to a city I am apt to do a lot of walking, and so it was with Kunming. The sense of proportion you get about a place from shanks pony is quite different from that on four footed pony, bicycle, bus or limousine. On this day I guess I walked for about ten hours altogether...

3. Kunming Cycle

The Camellia Hotel reputedly had bicycles for hire. Sure enough, the gatekeeper, with nothing else to do, had a stack of machines in a shed. Well, a machine is a functional object. His jumble of metallic junk hardly qualified. There were a handful of more or less roadworthy vehicles, but they belonged to staff and weren't for hire. I tried to pick apart the remaining wreckage. In the right frame of mind you might have even felt nostalgia for some of these old bikes, a sort of rear vision view of a failed evolutionary path...

4. Journey to Dali

With my arms full of bags, and a folded up trolley, I sort of staggered sideways, like Mr. Bean on holiday. When a No.4 minibus duly pulled up, packed to the gills, I barely managed to wedge my way in through the door, poking various people in the eye as I went, and then bulldozed a path through the crowd, dragging the bags across their bodies, to a clearer space down towards the back...

to be continued ..

12. Photography ...  the world caught with a sideways glance

CHINA 1998-2000

China photoindex page
page 2 thumnails (Wuhan)
page 3 thumbnails (Wuchang district, Wuhan)
page 4 thumnails   (Hankou & Hanyang, Wuhan)
page 5 thumbnails (Central China Normal University, Wuhan)
page 6 thumbnails (Qingdao, Dalian, Beijing, Xiamen)
page 7 thumbnails
(Yunnan Province)

KOREA 2000-2007

Bansong-dong Photo Essay ( Busan)
Scenes on the road to Unmoon Valley  (north-east of Busan)
Photos from Gyongsangnam-do (west of Busan)
Photos from Gyongsangbuk-do (north-east of Busan)
Haeundae in Winter (Busan)
Views of Busan City
Special ! The Virtual World Cup (Busan)
Visit to Daegu 
Gimhae - modern city, ancient Gaya culture - in Gyongsangnam-do (next to Busan)
Chungju photo essay (small mountain city 2 hours drive S.E. of Seoul)


Black & white prints, far away and long ago..

VIETNAM (1996)

Travels in Vietnam -  107 photos, south to north


15 Photographs of Phnom Penh, the capital

PAPUA NEW GUINEA (1985, 1987)

92 Photographs with links to contemporary stories

THE AGES OF MAN - THOR 2009 to 1945

Photos of Thor and some sundry ancestors

Thor with some of his students in Zhengzhou 2008


A few, mostly bush scenes from 1979

13. Video & Audio - A small collection of YouTube productions and audio recitations

1. Thor's "The Ages of Man" series : a selective autobiography in five parts.

a) Part One - 1945 to 1965 - The early years in Australia
(direct link for this video)

b) Part Two - 1966 to 1987 - First wandering - Australia, NZ, PNG, Asia overland, London
(direct link for this video)

c) Part Three - 1987 to 1996 - Second wandering - Fiji, Australia
(direct link for this video)

d) Part Four - 1998 to 2000 - Third wandering - China
(direct link for this video)

e) Part Five - 2000 to 2007 - Fourth wandering - South Korea
(direct link for this video)

2. Thor's Travels in Cambodia 1996 (direct link for this video)

3. Recitation of Henry Lawson's The Lights of Cobb & Co

4. Recitation of John Masefield's Sea Fever

5. Recitation of Thor's Tiger in the Night (a memory of Korea)

6. Recitation of Thor's love poem Extraordinary

7. Recitation of Thor's poem Times Sixty on Frosty Gyemyeongsan



14. Poems...time out

Time Passing -
(an anthology of poems - 1970 to 2006)

1. Advertisements For Modern Minds 1970
2. The World was a Poem 1970
3. The Clasp of Withal 1970
4. Herat 1972
5. Eyes 1971
6. Akiko 1972
7. Today has lasted for 4 billion and 2 years, 6 hours, 12 minutes and 13.5 seconds 1973
8. Making Friends with Mary Brown 1973
9. Once 1973 /
10. Hunger 1974
11. Letter Home 1976
12. Age 1976
13. Intent 1976
14. Honeysuckle 1976
15. New Growth 1977
16. Things 1978
17. Adrift 1988
18. Extraordinary 1995
19. Wood, Paper, Plastic 1999
20. Seventeen in 1962 2000
21. Tiger in the Night 2001
22. Whatever It Was 2002
23. Busan Summer 2002
24. No Regrets 2004
25. World's End 2005
26. Anemone 2005
27. Foreign Holiday 2005
28. Times Sixty on Frosty Gyemyeongsan 2006
29. Ladies' Day 2007
30. Stranger in Paradise 2008
31. Australia Calling Home 2008
32. Australian Blue 2008
33. The Cool Generation 2013

The Wrong Address - fragments from an Australasian life
Twenty prose-poems: a snapshot of one wandering life in Australasia, 1956-1985. The real story begins earlier and ends later, but a storyteller's time is always short ...

1. TARAWONGA Springwood NSW, 1956
2. THE PAINTED PATH Bridge Road, Belmore, NSW 1960
3. TRAVELING NORTH Australia, 1962
4. SEVENTEEN IN 1962 Nundah, Brisbane – 1st Job
5. PSYCHIC DRAMAS Canberra, 1965
6. THE WAVERING MOON Burton Street, Sydney 1966
7. THE ÉMIGRÉ Oriental Bay, Wellington, New Zealand 1967
8. WORKING CHRISTMAS Harris Street, Ultimo, NSW 1967
9. HEART OF THE REVOLUTION Wellington, New Zealand 1968
10. WIDE WORLDS East Putney, England 1971
11. THE BOARDING HOUSE Reading Street, Wellington, New Zealand 1973
12. SILVER SCREEN Epsom, New Zealand 1975
13. BARBECUE BLUES Waterloo Street, Howick, New Zealand 1976
14. DEMENTIA William Street, Armadale, Victoria 1977
15. THE LAST COCKATOO Illawarra Avenue, Newcastle NSW 1979
16. HALLS OF ACADEMIA Newcastle, Australia 1980
17. INFIDELITY Pitt Street, Newcastle 1981
18. FIREPOWER Tarania Street, Lismore, NSW 1983
19. RESPECTABILITY Tyrell Street, Newcastle, 1984
20. FRIENDS Irimo Street, Lae, PNG 1985

Stumpy and the Decision Tree
( a daggy epic of the unexpected (growing day by day)

I've gotta' admit, the gunner blinked, it's neat -
That tear-down screen, the instant con of command ...
Meg grabbed his ear and he flinched.
You tinfoil hoon, she hissed, you wouldn't know
A sacred sign from the flash of an arcade strip.
Now hit back a signal wrapped in respect
Before we get zapped to a crisp....

So You Wanna' Write a Poem??
{ advice from a silly old bugger to earnest young things ... )

We watched as he carefully unwrapped his little bundle from a scarlet kerchief, and spread it out on the dirt floor before our altar. It was given with a good heart, we could see. But we sighed. That sigh of a god who is sick to death of gifts of chicken feathers, and milk, and honey. Should we tell him? Damn it all man, we want GOLD ......

[go to top]

15. Stories ... tales from long ago and far away

Thor's New China Diary [stories from September 2007 ~)

Thor's Old China Diary [an ever growing collection of stories from life in central China from 1998-2000]

Thor's Korea Diary [transplanted to South Korea, more observations from September 2000 to July 2007]


The Cigarette

The small shop next to the bank was in the humble business of selling hot flat bread, shao bing, freshly baked in a coal oven, irresistible to those raised on its crisp crusts. It opened very early, and shut very late. The shao bing came piping hot, and sold for a song at five jiao apiece...

A Trashed Message

The apartment building for foreign teachers had an outside veneer of fake red brick trimmed with shiny aluminium window frames. The expensive front door of frosted glass firmly excluded uninvited strangers. Actually this haughty front concealed a dank and shabby interior staircase of stained concrete, and a cluster of dreary little apartments. The building was in an old part of town, a down-at-heel outlying settlement on the edge of Busan. The streets were narrow, and not very clean. The local people were rather poor, and fiercely resentful of luckier Koreans. They didn’t understand the foreign teachers. To tell the truth, both camps had a communication problem...

Alana's Story

Alana was a Russian teacher, a good teacher, and the unshakeable stereotypes of her host community in South Korea made her unhappy. She wasn't aggressive about it, she could put up with the unknowing contempt of strangers, but the casual disdain of Korean colleagues who couldn't parse the human equation of Russian + woman + professional, drove her to quiet despair...

Annabelle    [.. an erotic fragment]

"Here, give me a hand". The last terminal lights went off. She was standing beside him, very close, black as the night, her body richly aromatic, a mix of sensations as exotic as the rolling cadences of African dialect under her Oxford accent. ..

Stumpy and the Decision Tree   
[ a daggy epic of the unexpected growing day by day]

I've gotta' admit, the gunner blinked, it's neat -
That tear-down screen, the instant con of command ...
Meg grabbed his ear and he flinched.
You tinfoil hoon, she hissed, you wouldn't know
A sacred sign from the flash of an arcade strip.
Now hit back a signal wrapped in respect
Before we get zapped to a crisp....

Folk Tales    [Nasreddin & other stories] 

The song bird watched her neighbours debate, and knew that they had no dream of a wider world where the sky was egg-shell blue. At last, when the mayor was about to toast the visitor with six kampais, and send him off a little drunk into the night, she suddenly knew what she must do. With a single graceful dive she left her perch in the corner of the Great Hall of the People, and landed on the shoulder of the old man. Then she sang, an ancient beautiful melody, so that all were charmed, and the visitor in thrall to beauty declared that this Chinese song bird would certainly span the rainbow arc between their distant cultures...

The Five Minute Future   [Science Fiction (?)] 

A march steward with a black arm-band and a megaphone was just about to chase Clarry off the truck when it happened. The steward gasped audibly into the megaphone. It was enough to attract some attention, but Clare's shriek a second later riveted the crowed. A white hot bayonet had slashed his scalp, a shaft of heat so intense that all consciousness contracted into that dreadful, life-seeking sound...

The Price of Freedom    [an escape from Vietnam] 

Almost inadvertently a fishing boat seems to drift in towards the bathers. Nobody notices. No, twenty people notice; they have been waiting. Quietly, in ones and twos, they begin to swim out to the seaward side of the trawler where quick hands pull them aboard. Strangers, a girl here, a man there, see what is happening. Making immediate decisions - no time for preparations, for farewells, for betrayal - these instant refugees join the swimmers. A hundred people make it to the boat...

Amity Li    [a snippet of mischief]

There once was a girl called Amity Li who wasn't too pretty, but she was smart. She dated a man who worked in a shoe shop, and just to please him agreed that Kentucky Fried was the best of all possible places to go for a swish night out. The shoe shop man was ecstatic, and gave her his mobile phone, which next to dainty, lace-up shoes, was the nearest thing to his heart...

On Her Majesty's Australian Service
   [ a short story of  invented  truth, if that's what our memories are made of ...] 

The Australian Government gave him a gun. It was 1964, before the system got really professional.  They said, Put it in your pocket. Neat little Browning .32 automatic, but even that was bulky. The Lad's strides weren't made for carrying a pistol. It felt like an erection that had got out of control. Surely everyone would notice him walking like a crab, with this hard, bumpy thing on his thigh...

The Sale of Tabu Soro
   [a post-colonial parable]

Mr Vee Jay Ali came to the yacht club just before dusk. He was a slim and pushy young man whose saturnine Indian demeanour would immediately put him at arm's length from the European members, and invite contempt from the comprador Fijian aristocracy. Nevertheless, he had come, and we discussed the sale of the yacht...

A Year In A Life    [autobiography]

A long list of things that had to be done, as usual, and as usual most of them weren't. My problem is that I really need to have been born one of the landed gentry in London's leisured age, or a noble in Heian Kyoto, or one of history's other parasites. Not that Melbourne in the 1990s, after the hot & cold running wars of the century, and before the carnage of the next, is such a bad place to be. In the long autumn evenings you can walk the streets without fear, the air is mild, the water is safe to drink, and a bagman with a humorous eye for the passing parade can get by on good second-hand shoes at $8 a pair. But there is this obligation to look for some kind of official employment, and it eats into quality time..

16. Links to Other Sites


17.  The Plain & Fancy Language Company
        .... a word hospital for your valued documents; professional editing in English at a fair price

18. Thor's Shop - Books 'n stuff Thor has for sale (or would like to have for sale !)

19. Thor's Blogs - See this for a list of Thor's blogs and also Thor's research repositories.

The Passionate Skeptic website (this site) has been accumulating material for 15 years or more, which is an eternity in cyberspace terms. It is a static site (no comments etc.) using simple technology, so Thor has begun to gradually duplicate material on a number of blogs, which should be a more interactive experience.




  copyright (c) Thor May 1999-2013, all rights reserved