We are live! I'm excited because it's a new shop experience. We have our debut postcard series in the shop and you'll see some Art-Prints appearing there soon.
You can buy a set of 6 cards to send to friends, especially cool if you know some Singaporeans abroad!
If you have any cool ideas for our prints, anything you want to see, then please make a post :)
Ink and Brush on Vegetable Parchment, Teck Kee Coffeeshop, Tanjong Pagar, Singapore.
It was breakfast time, Anthony, his wife and their two friends sat eating kaya toast and soft boiled eggs, each with a cup of “teh”.
My attention has been elsewhere of late. On the coffeeshop project. I would recommend you to follow and support it. It is a lot of work and deserves a lot of attention. You don’t need to be an artist to appreciate the effort that goes into ink works like these and you don’t need to live in Singapore to take an interest in the subject matter. We live in countries that simply aren’t all that different from one another.
Some people call in civilisation, although I am partial to the term human nature. There is no problem on Earth that can’t be found elsewhere. There is no condition of the human body that is truly unique either. I’m disenchanted with exoticism, it contributes little, maybe nothing, of value to society. I am also not convinced that religion should be considered an important difference either, seeing as beliefs are fundamentally carried within us and using them to segregate the people is a choice that is made by religious leaders first and by the people last. Though all societies can change, after realising Singapore’s ethnically diverse harmony, it appears empirically true that the co-habilitation of various religions is realistic. However, perhaps also illustrated by Singapore’s ethnically diverse culture, the largest of all differences is really just language.
The Teck Kee Coffeeshop exhibition marks the birth of The Coffeeshop Project. With the supportive permission of Teck Kee’s proprietor this exhibition is on show in the coffeeshops secondary eating area. An area that is packed with business types from the surrounding office blocks each lunchtime. This is in a central business area and the flow of people through this area is very high.
Before this work was installed, and also afterwards, there is a apprehension towards the installation of these artworks. We say that we will install these images partly as a study of the coffeeshop environment and partly because we believe that art can be appreciated by anyone who crosses it. It must be known that this exhibition could not be possible without support and least of all without that support that has emanated from Teck Kee’s proprietor. To different people, art is many different things, in this case it is a decoration adorning the walls and a respectful gesture to the people who work and eat in this area. It is also an attempt to document and preserve an image of coffeeshops in Singapore, an identity that is unique to those privately owned businesses.
This project features ink and brush work that features techniques adapted from Chinese calligraphy and drawing styles. Over coming months new studies will hopefully lead to more interesting interventions of Singapore’s established food culture and this contribution to it’s art culture.
Where food culture meets art culture. A series of works based on Singapore’s coffeeshop culture that also seek to raise an interest in the arts on a local level.
The Coffeeshop Project aims to create a space where an established food culture can meet a burgeoning art culture. Based in the hawker centres of Singapore, this project is a creative initiative to capture the image and atmosphere of a number of important socio-cultural hubs whilst developing an interest in its preservation. Another intention, running parallel to that of drawing attention to the coffeeshop culture, is to increase an interest in visual arts whilst encouraging the notion of proprietorship over such artworks as those being presented in the coffeeshop environment.
The Coffeeshop Project was initiated by Anthony Askew (UK) and Gloria Wong (SG) 09/2013.
For more information go to:
To the reader; this is a highly subjective review of Spirit Kids, an English language training centre in Guangzhou, China. It is in direct response to working at the Guangzhou centre where the school has it’s headquarters. Any reader should note that schools in China appear to function in a very similar fashion to this one, regularly Chinese nationals living in China would tell me that this school was not unique in how it behaved. Yet those Chinese teachers who I worked with would tell me that Spirit Kids was the kind of company that they would hear about in the media but never imagined that they would end up working for. In English, this is for Chinese teachers, a nightmare school. For English teachers it is just another school founded on lies and manipulative practises. Despite this it can be an acceptable school for foreigners to work in.
Another point to be aware of, I am writing this here as a warning to future employees of SK. TEFL websites have not encouraged this criticism which makes me wary of advertisers like TEFL.com and ESLbase.com.
A quick note for Chinese Speakers from Chinese Teachers:
SK = 对员工苛刻，管理乱七八糟，没有归属感。只会利用别人，一旦觉得不需要了，随便找个理由让你离开。工资不按时发放，还理直气壮。
My resignation letter was as follows:
This is to notify you of my immediate resignation from Spirit Kids. I will outline a few of my reasons for leaving in the order of legalities, company ethics & working standards, and finally, the company’s responsibilities to it’s paying clients.
What of issues of legality at SK?
Where to begin? The question, “What is illegal at SK?” results in hours of discussion, and, “what is legal at SK?” leaves us stumped as to what to say. But whatever path a discussion on legality might take, it is disconcerting to find oneself placed squarely in the centre of matters.
As a teacher working in China one necessarily requires a working visa, an arrangement that the school should arrange whilst they seek employees. Many employees have been working on business and tourist visas, this is, and was, illegal and jeopardises the employee’s safety and security as well as potentially costing the company. Many employee’s including myself have been employed at SK and have been initially unaware of our illegal status. The illegal status of the teacher is not discussed at any point during recruitment, not even as temporary state of being, as it could be if SK had intended to employ me formally. Instead, it was only upon arriving and being gradually made aware of the situation that I myself began to understand my status.
At this point I should stipulate overtly the situation as follows: I have been working illegally in China. Now lets look at the contract. “Party A” refers to SK and “Party B” refers to me.
V.Party A’s Obligations 甲方义务：
1. Party A shall introduce to Party B the laws, decrees and relevant regulations enacted by the Chinese government, the Party A’s work system and regulations concerning administration of foreign teachers. 甲方有义务向乙方介绍甲方所在当地的相关法律、法规以及甲方工作机制、规程、规定以及与外教管理相关的规章制度。
VI.Party B’s obligations乙方义务：
1. Party B shall observe the laws, decrees and relevant regulations enacted by the Chinese government and shall not interfere in China’s internal affairs. 乙方必须遵守中国的法律、法规和将关规定，不干涉中国内政。
In this light it is obvious that neither party is observing the law and if they are observing it they are certainly not acting on it. Therefore neither party fulfils the obligations of the contract and this renders the contract obsolete.
We could stop there but I want to discuss the school, looking back at activities that have recently taken place. We should bear in mind each parties obligations as we go, since the standards agreed upon are cemented in its content.
I should note that I can speak only of the school HQ in Guangzhou [RM1301,Jinbin Tengyue Building, Zhujiang New Town, Tianhe District, Guangzhou City], under proprietorship of Ms. Susan Shen, as the franchises have their own managerial systems. SK franchise schools have a managerial reputation that I have no authority to comment upon.
The Spirit Kids Training Centre, SK, in Jinbin Tengyue is privileged to have (in general) a sincere, supportive and caring faculty of chinese teachers (though this appears to be in a state of upheaval) a number of whom have been with the school for over a year. These teachers care for their students and co-workers and actively support the school in it’s extracurricular activities.
Unfortunately there is a problem in respecting the (presumably illegal) contracts of the Chinese employees. Some members of staff, such as the sales staff, HR employees, and some members of management, are not paid on time or paid the full amount allotted to them. This practise has been going on for months and contributes to a high turnover of employees at SK.
In one month in 2013 an entire, ethnically Chinese, sales team walked out having not been paid. Around mid 2013 an Australian member of staff who had assumed the role of principal at the school also made a retreat from the school. In June another Australian HR employee walked out after having been issued the task of informing Chinese teachers that there is not the funds available to pay them. His resignation came under the pretext that the school’s management was not acting ethically, was not acting to fulfil it’s contractual obligations, and was ultimately deceptive and manipulative in regards to its employees.
Is it acceptable for any management to discuss it’s financial situation with it’s employee’s since the company’s only obligation to it’s employee’s is to pay them for the work that they do? Above and beyond all else, financial matters are the concern of the business owners. How can a teacher have any affect on the income of the school, they can only contribute by teaching? The purpose of this act is to emotionally blackmail company employees into accepting cutbacks on their pay. It is worth noting that these conditions affect Chinese employees considerably whilst English teachers might only receive minor alterations to their pay such as failing to meet requirements to receive bonus pay. Such cutbacks for the Chinese employees are not a part of any proper legal practise as they are made without any agreement being made between both parties. Rather, SK’s management takes liberties given the average Chinese employee’s beleaguered social status: It is difficult for them to find employment.
The school’s english teacher’s from outside of the PROC often appear at the school only to leave a few months down the line. The comparably high wage offered by the school does not appear to compensate for the behaviour of the schools management.
In regards to the school property, management has allowed the school to become increasingly rundown. The teaching centre is consistently low on resources such as paper for displays and pens for board-work and colouring exercises. The rundown appearance of the school does not reflect the high prices it extorts from its clients. Whilst this is not a matter of legality, it is certainly something peculiar to observe. SK is allegedly one of the more expensive schools in Guangzhou that is constantly expanding through via it’s franchise clients.
To illustrate the curious lack of attention being paid to the school’s decoration two weeks prior to the beginning of summer camp. One public display is still adorned with the words, “winter camp”, above two miserably crude six-inch snowmen.
Lastly there is the most severe and deeply rooted deception that is the school’s syllabus. SK’s syllabus is a custom-made pre-school course comprising of 40 books, 10 per year, with a corresponding number of songs and chants. The company has produced or acquired software corresponding with its books. Those games included in the software are occasionally nonsense but are very often used unwittingly by Chinese teachers or irresponsibly as time fillers by the foreign teachers. The books and software are promoted as exclusive co-productions of Manchester University and Spirit Kids.
“Spirit Kids is the English course researched for Chinese children by Manchester University and Spirit Kids Teaching & Research Center. This course is based on the early childhood education standards of British Royal Education and combines the children English education norms issued by the Education Ministry of China.”
I would like to clarify the school’s position regarding the use of fraudulent teaching materials. SK maintains that the books were made in collaboration with Manchester University. On all SK materials this is written as Manchester Deyu University which is purportedly an offshoot of Manchester University. There are no records of this company or organisation existing anywhere other than at SK. The materials are entirely fake but SK maintains that they are genuine. Subsequently SK management lie to every teacher, foreign and native, every parent, and every child that passes through their doors and stumbles onto their website. Dr Deyu Cai, (The University of Manchester, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Electrical Power Systems, 2008 – 2012) the advertised founder of Spirit Kids appears to disassociate himself from the company. Though interestingly he states, “I did the spirit-kids project with my friends when I was a Ph.D student in the University of Manchester, UK.”
Manchester Deyu University are not only the publishers of SK’s material, or the collaborators connecting SK to Manchester, but they are also an alleged band of musicians. Those who wrote the songs and music that is used in the educational software.
The books themselves are occasionally grammatically incorrect, are host to spelling errors, and uses of unusual terminology, and this is the area where foreign teachers tend to focus their criticism. They neglect to consider the more serious problem of the language’s overall inappropriate complexity within SK’s books and software. This may not be a serious issue considering that the children can’t read to learn the mistakes and lingual problems can be addressed as they continue through their education. However, if we rush to a conclusion one can assess that the school commits its teachers and students to useless educational practises.
Students join classes with SK from the age of two. The SK material can take them up to the age of six, at which point they currently enter into a class with genuine Cambridge materials. At ages two until five it is unlikely that students see a phonics book and are rote taught to pretend to read. The routine presentations SK makes to it’s patron families are of children who have rote learned the sounds of words. To be clear, the children are capable of learning a great number of nouns but struggle to put the language into functional sentences as to say what they are doing, where things are, etc.
Actually, children are rote taught words and sentences with little opportunity for them to find meaning in the language. An example dialogue that a five year old should learn to produce is:
Question: “Can you tell me how to get to the post office?”
Answer: “Go straight, and then turn left after seeing a bank. Then someone else can give you further directions.”
This dialogue cannot be grasped by a non-native pre-school child in 4 weeks. This language would be difficult for an adult beginner learner let alone a five year old child.
English is not a language with which they can generate the kind of familiarity that native children can. These five year olds are not exposed to language outside of the school, so it is not easy for them to deduce meaning logically from experiences. These kids also have very little from which they can deduce meaning. Aside to some vocabulary that can be learned from flashcards and through games, an SK education is wildly inefficient for them to know the language.
The same argument holds for younger learners. Take an example sentence from a book for four year olds:
Q: “David, what are you looking for?”
A: “I want a triangle olympic flag”
The Olympics may be a notable event for adults but it is not common language and is certainly not a common adjective. There is also a sense of inconsistency between the present continuous verb in the question and the unusual reply of wanting instead of stating what he is looking for. Though in this case, an answer to this question would be, “the triangle flag”, since we are talking about a specific object and since we have acknowledged an understanding of the verb to look by correctly answering the question. The discourse the book provides is logical but is incorrect. The point to be understood is that the literature is not designed for children and is certainly not designed for the purposes of education. Language is learned without meaning and moreover what learning does take place is not progressively built upon over the course of the year.
As previously stated, SK’s materials are not from England, they are not made in collaboration with Manchester University. The lies that SK propounds are true are damaging to it’s social and international relations with parents and teachers alike. SK conforms to a body of businesses that routinely deceives its customers and maintains an image with little to no respect for the content of education that it’s patrons receive. I reiterate for clarity, there have been no experts on education who devised this material or supported its publication. The school’s participation in fraudulent activities not only damages the education of its young students but also damages the professional development of teachers within it’s teaching faculty. I do not wish to work for this school and I send my apologies and commiserations to my ex-work colleagues who continue to work at SK.
Since leaving SK it has came to light that there was an exodus of teachers, both native speakers and Chinese teachers, from Spirit Kids. This would mean that my statements about the school’s teachers would not necessarily apply to the new staff.