A Murder Most Heinous

“What?!” you gasp, reeling from the news, for how could it be true.

“Dr. Black is dead?”

Days, weeks, maybe even just moments later, your thoughts return to the circumstances surrounding Dr. Black’s death. Isn’t it suspicious that a classy, social climber like Miss Scarlett would find herself snooping around in the basement? And why aren’t the local police force taking an interest in this case? Something fishy is going on and anyone aged eight or above should be interested in finding out what.

At least this was the premise behind introducing Cluedo, or Clue, to my students in Chengdu. But why introduce it at all? This goes back to a particular event taking place at my ESL school, Vertigo.

We had an entire week of “homestay”, or living with your teacher, to bat activities around. There were only so many times we could get the kids to race through activities like making the bed (a great game by the way), formal lessons, exploratory walks through the neighbourhood, and craft sessions. Most of these tending to be appropriate only during the day (see photos below). So then, what to do with long evenings? Board games.

I was fortunate to be working with Yoyo, a passionate language teacher of vivacious character. We had been teaching phonics together and had been focused on developing educational activities for the kids that would engage and interest the children. We were teaching kids aged from 3 to 9. Due to a lack of English language comprehension in our students we found that physical activities with verbal prompts produced a better level of engagement as well as a higher frequency of use. We saw this as using language in context. Games became a cornerstone in our teaching methods.

Many of our activities were site based and used the materials immediately available to us. So in that respect we didn’t always need to create materials. For the youngest children, learning the interplay of nouns and verbs meant following instructions or giving instructions that resulted in funny outcomes. Sometimes this was revealing of the children’s perspective, many children loved saying things like, “Can you stand on the table?” because it was strictly prohibited otherwise. Or, as in the case of one little boy, “Can you kiss Teacher Sharon?” displaying what we supposed was an infant crush.

We had began moving to board games after we had played around for some time with floor mats. We had began looking at classic games and because of the upcoming “homestay” excursion, an oxymoron I know, I put together an adaptation of Cluedo which is available here for download.

The purpose of recreating it was simple; to fill time. The idea of teaching vocabulary was actually secondary and a bit naughty of me. I should have adapted the language to be simpler but became carried away.

The primary school children enjoyed playing the game and picked it up well with supervision. However I would recommend adapting the vocabulary further if you have the time and means to do so.

I’m providing in indesign file (via MEGA) and a PDF. The indesign file would require Adobe software to edit but if you are looking for a quick fix, the PDF should suit you fine. In either case, the file was designed to be printed on A4 paper then stuck together. We laminated ours.

Good luck solving that crime!

Red Repels Demons! Design Your Own Red Packet

It was 2014. A huge family event was taking place, all of my to-be-in-laws were gathered together. Noodles were being happily tossed and relations chatted away. These little envelopes, ang paos, were being handed around but I couldn’t understand how I was supposed to accept them. In fact, I found it difficult to accept them all the way up until recently. So what changed?

First of all I discovered how I fit in the picture. I’m woven in, I can’t just receive ang bao’s I have to pass them on too. The ang bao is supposed to be symbolic of a blessing or well wish and it would be discourteous and rude not to pass them on. But where do these ang baos come from?

In popular stories the colour red, loud noises (think of drums and the dragon dance), and coin shaped charms are revealed to offer protection from an evil spirit that lived in the sea or mountains. He was known as Nian, 年兽, and he typically terrorised villages, most famously Peach Village. This sets a mythical origin for the gifting of money packaged in red.

That’s bad news because if we have to start at a myth, then the evolution of the ang pao to what it is today cannot be clear.

The connection between money and blessings, seems to have origins in early China, likely predating the time of the Three Kingdoms (220C.E). Eminent officials and leaders had began producing coins with blessings on, or coin shaped charms, that have survived until today (primaltrek). The most obvious continuation of this idea is the string of replica coins and charms that are continually for sale for the purposes of fengshui. Then as now, carrying these charms is believed to offer protection, luck, or fortune, amongst other things. Given the symbolism of the colour red, passing a red bag of such positively charged coins to a loved one or a neighbour would have been an extra compassionate gesture.

祥庆荣华 — happiness and celebration, prosperity and high position

Coins, as a form of money, represent power.  Coin-shaped charms are, therefore, a very compact form of power.primaltrek

Today, the ang pao remains a symbol of well wishing and blessing and its contents echo that intention wherever they are distributed; at WeddingsTea Ceremonies, the Lunar New Year, in exchange for a service like Lion Dancing, a bribe, or a baby’s first month celebration. However, ideas, particularly those disconnected from an original purpose or belief, are quick to change. Mystical coin charms are still occasionally found in effigy, printed on ang paos, but it’s rare. Ang pao’s are more often emblazoned with corporate logos instead of blessings and they do not even need to be red.

After using Italic&Bold’s special themed design of red packet, we wanted to create ang paos of our own. First we trawled the internet for templates. This is a good way to start because then you have some print ready layouts and the measurements are all predefined for you. There are some already available online, see below examples, but usually you can just inquire at a printers directly.

Easitech — Singapore (Ai.)

e-print — Hong Kong (Ai. Cdr.)

The Copy Boy — Singapore (Ai.)

Print100 — Hong Kong (Ai. Cdr. Psd.)

Presuming you have the correct software, you can quickly adapt the colours and image to suit your taste. Do you remember that coat of arms we were talking about using? Well that ended up emblazoned on our red packets. We didn’t specify that all the specs on our ang bao were supposed to be in gold foil so we got the CMYK version of gold instead. My bad.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about printing techniques but just know that you should be able to print in “foil” if you have marked a colour or layer for printing in a shiny colour. There is also hot stamping if you want a raised image but honestly, what does this add?

We scanned around in Singapore for a good price and almost went with the company Print City. But in the end we went with a printer in China for cost reasons. Whether printing in Singapore or abroad, ask about gluing, you don’t want 500 unglued and unfolded red packets to deal with.

Prepare to print in advance of your event as designing might take a week and printing can take anywhere from 3 days to three weeks depending on where you’re sourcing the print from.

Extra note: As a teacher, these ang baos were perfect for giving a token gift to my students. We used The Natural Confectionary Co. chews for most packets and YumEarth organic pops for the kids that don’t eat meat or pork. See below.

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Coats of Arm: Part 2

Last week we looked at the design of a Coat of Arms as well as some of the basic ideas behind it. This week I want to explain the design I went for and what direction I want to take it in later on in life.

It’s important to me that my design is practical and malleable. At some point I will want to change it to include my children and maybe they will take it and make it their own too.

First of all you must know what presumptions the design is based upon.

  1. The shield design is only important as a “space” for symbols to reside.
  2. The peripheral elements of a coat of arms are disposable/optional.
  3. The traditional symbols are out-dated.

I wanted a family coat of arms, so I needed something that could speak for myself and for my partner. The Chinese zodiac was an obvious choice. I had been working on another project and had found myself researching the uses of the 12 animals.

The character and personality attributes of the animals are fun but I had to discard them. These are inherent or imbued characteristics that I can’t really use or play with. A few other aspects of the animals, like their yin and yang associations, were also dead ends for me but could be useful for someone else.

Instead I decided to base my design on the four Earthly Branches found in BaZi. These assign an animal and a character to you based on the year, month, day, and hour that you were born. These animals are supposed to have descending influence on your character, the year animal being strongest and the hour animal being weakest.

Year or “Birth Animals”

  • 1900, 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008 — RAT (鼠)
  • 1901, 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009— OX(牛)
  • 1902, 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010— TIGER(虎)
  • 1903, 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011— RABBIT(兔)
  • 1904, 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012— DRAGON(龍)
  • 1905, 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013— SNAKE(蛇)
  • 1906, 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014 — HORSE(馬)
  • 1907, 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015 — GOAT(羊)
  • 1908, 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016 — MONKEY(猴)
  • 1909, 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017 — ROOSTER(雞)
  • 1910, 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018 — DOG(狗)
  • 1911, 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019 — PIG(豬)

Months or “Inner Animals”

  • January — Ox
  • February — Tiger
  • March — Rabbit
  • April — Dragon
  • May — Snake
  • June — Horse
  • July — Sheep
  • August — Monkey
  • September — Rooster
  • October — Dog
  • November — Pig
  • December — Rat

Days or “True Animals.”

  • Monday — Sheep
  • Tuesday — Dragon
  • Wednesday — Horse
  • Thursday — Rat,Pig
  • Friday — Rabbit, Snake, Dog
  • Saturday — Ox,Tiger, Rooster
  • Sunday — Monkey

Hours or “Secret Animals.”

  • 11am -1am: Rat
  • 1am – 3 am: Ox
  • 3am – 5 am: Tiger
  • 5am – 7 am: Rabbit
  • 7am – 9am: Dragon
  • 9am – 11am: Snake
  • 11am – 1pm: Horse
  • 1pm – 3pm: Goat
  • 3pm – 5pm: Monkey
  • 5pm – 7pm: Rooster
  • 7pm – 9pm: Dog
  • 9pm – 11pm: Pig

What I liked about this most, was the idea of being able to approximately represent the birth time of an individual to within a few hours. With four animals.

Now, what I felt was somehow extra special, was the method of calculating the time of birth. It is strictly tied to the lunar calendar and the passing of the sun. How much of a difference do you think it can make?

Well, I am born in 1988 which is usually listed as the year of the Dragon. Yet Chinese New Year occurred fairly late that year and with my birth taking place on the 6th of February I ended up being a Rabbit instead.

Then when calculating the hour, you need to know the latitude and longitude of the birth site so that you can compensate for changes to the sun’s position in the sky. This could easily change your hour animal significantly if you were born in the northern or southern hemisphere or even if daylight savings time was in operation. This means charts offering a western time to “eastern time” conversion cannot be 100% correct.

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As an example of how this plays out, I’ve sourced this table from Kevin Foong’s Feng Shui website. We are only using the Earthly Branches to identify Donald Trump’s animals, they in the first table. The second table of branches were those waving about around election time.


In my own case I had two sets of data:

  1. 1991 August 27th 15:41 (solar time 16:47) = Goat, Monkey, Snake, Monkey (Monkey).
  2. 1988 February 6th 11:03 (solar time 11:23) = Rabbit, Tiger, Dragon, Horse (Horse).

Abandoning the conventional shield shapes, I chose a circle for the symbols. A circle is easy to find balance in visually and is a particularly auspicious shape. In Chinese culture, the circle stands for fulfillment, oneness, and unity. This meaning is mirrored in Western thinking.

At the centre of our coat of arms are a clock and a dinosaur. These are two characters we found for ourselves, these two icons of time and age walk hand in hand as lovers and friends. The meaning of these two characters are of a personal nature and may be lost in later evolutions of this design.


I’ve used the design on two projects in Singapore so far. Some tweaking is in order but I love this design. I think everyone should be able to use something like this.

In coming weeks I’ll write up some details on how the ang bao and the Christmas card printing experience went.

The angbao.
The Christmas Card.


Catching Up With Oneself

When I started blogging in 2010 I had begun stepping out of the protected world of my family and of academia. The ground was moving beneath my feet, I was traveling, and my home and university were comforts I knew well. The intellectual shelter offered by university and school was something I tried to hold on to. If only there had been a way of retaining a world like that with its restrained criticisms, disagreements that wouldn’t flare up and spiral into personal attacks or insults.

Instead of being rudely shocked awake at university, a false sense of non-consequence for my actions emerged. Not only was I allowed to pursue fruitless ideas but was actually encouraged to do. At that time leaders within the local arts community thought that self-realisation and the ability to independently evaluate ones research could lead to interesting or fascinating conclusions. Whilst occasionally true, many people drifted into dead end pockets of thought. Investigating themselves introspectively but not able to make a link back to the people living around them. When it was time to leave university, we left university romantically challenging niche communities unable to discern what was valuable within our ideas and more importantly without concern of how to sustain what we were doing. Starting a blog was a part of this romance, whether I realised it or not.

Having a blog meant there was a platform for debating ideas even if it were only with myself. The few comments that crossed my blog didn’t matter, the debates and ideas being explored mimicked the writing assignments that a university education asked of me.

Fortunately, I stayed with the arts community for a while, there were other minds involved in my projects. We found relevance and made connections as we needed.

Years passed and the blog entries continued. Little did I think about it but having a blog gave my brain exercise and often pushed me into projects and explorations that I now crave.

Maybe you are in a similar position. The past is dotted with curiosities and adventures, some small, some significant, yet here sits someone who feels bored of life. Stifled by routines that don’t go anywhere and habits that do nothing but waste time.

So here is to setting myself in motion. Here is to starting a new adventure. Let 2017 be the year when I learn to be a husband, a father, and an adventurer.