3 Tips to Deal with a Stressful Person or Class

Matt | Problems | Sunday, December 14th, 2008

Recently I was in a stressful situation, dealing with people that I didn’t want to deal with, but had to and I needed some strategies to help me deal with these difficult students (teachers?!).  I found 3 strategies that work for me that I call: “the A, B, C technique.”

A – Ask “What’s the mature thing to do?”

Often I’ll just explode on somebody and go off on a rant, especially if I’m upset.  I find that by asking this question, “What’s the mature thing to do?” or “What’s a mature answer to this situation?”, will usually give me a few solutions that I can use to solve the stressful situation.

B – Breathe

Facing a tough student, teacher and or person, often the best thing I can when I notice I’m getting angry and before I respond is to breathe.  Taking deep breaths in through the nose, filling up my chest, the exhaling completely and squeezing all the air out of my stomach, usually makes me feel much better.  Taking 3 to 10 deep breaths has helped tremendously!

C Count to 10

This is the strategy I’ve used the most usually in connection with breathing, is I’ll count to ten to try and de-stress.  This will usually allow me to mentally calm down and to think clearly.

If all these strategies don’t work then I’ll give you my last tip

Z – Go to the ZOO!

No, not seriously.  But seriously, if you are feeling overwhelmed in a situation and feel like you might respond in a way you may regret later, try to LEAVE.  Go for a quick walk outside, breathe, count, think about the situation from a few perspectives or ignore it together.  This will usually allow you to return with a clear and calm head and allow you to respond more appropriately.

Remember, you can’t always control a situation, but you can always control how you respond to a situation! Control what you can!  If anyone has other tips or strategies they use to remain cool, calm and collected, please let me know.

PS – I’m in the most stressful situation I can imagine, I’m by home, living with my parents for the holidays!

A $4 Bowl of Cereal

Matt | Cooking Chinese Food,Living in China | Monday, December 8th, 2008

A little while back I was wondering why, on the one hand I was earning pretty good money teaching English in China, but on the other hand, I didn’t have much to show for it.  Then I realized, the biggest expense I have is food.  This is mainly because I eat like a foreigner.

A lot of people ask me about what is a common salary is for teaching English in China and I say, that depends.

I know people who earn about 5,000 RMB a month (about $800 CAD a month) teaching English.  I also know people who earn 15,000 RMB a month.  Additionally, I know people who earn 25,000RMB a month and higher. When I ask my students what a common salary is for Chinese professionals who earn about 5,000 or so a month or 10,000 per month as a family.

Often I struggle at the thought of how does a family of two or three people live on this amount of money?.  For me, I spend almost this much by myself and I don’t think I live very extravagantly.   When I factor in the cost of my annual flight home then I pretty much spend this entire amount.

When I look at where I spend most of my money each month, my number one expense is….food (next is rent).  Sometimes, I find it tough to believe the amount of money I spend on food each month, about 3000RMB.  But when I think about it more, I realize that I spend a lot of money because I buy mainly western food. Even though I try not to eat out much, but yet I still spend loads of money on food.  Why?

Because I eat western food – cereal, toast, coffee, granola bars, instant coffee – for the most part.  For example one bowl of very healthy cereal costs me about $5.  That’s right, one bowl!  How?  The cereal I like costs about 60 RMB for a box (Nature’s Path Optimum Slim). I get about 4 bowls so that’s about 15 RMB a bowl ($2.50).  If I throw on top a handful of almonds 50RMB for 350g or about 8 RMB per handful ($1.25).   Then I add the milk about 6RMB using half a 250ml container costs 3RMB ($0.50).  Okay so it’s not $5 per bowl it’s only $4.25, but still it’s costly. On top of this, I drink a fair bit of coffee, which adds up to the weekly grocery bill.  This costs about 60RMB for a 250g bag of decent coffee ($10) which lasts me about 2 weeks.  My granola bars, Nature Valley Granola Bars, costs me 25 RMB ($4) per box of 6.  Eating western food costs a lot.

Now these sound expensive and they are, but actually these are a LOT cheaper than my previous eating habits, of eating out.  A Starbucks coffee costs 15 RMB ($2.50 CAD) for a medium black brewed coffee.  A muffin there also costs about 15RMB and the cheapest muffins I’ve seen, that are edible, cost about 7RMB ($1 CAD).

So what?  I guess if you are trying to save money while living in China you can:

  1. Eat like the Chinese cook your own food at home. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Eat healthy fruit as snacks.  Buy a rice cooker!
  2. If you are going to eat western, eat at home – if you drink coffee daily, get a coffee maker and brew your own it’ll save you heaps from Sbux.
  3. If you have to eat out eat more Chinese food.  In Beijing when I go out to eat a nice meal with my girlfriend it costs about 50 RMB for two of us (25 RMB each) for 3 dishes and a beer.  If I ate the equivalent in a western restaurant it would be at least 100RMB (50RMB each) for 2 dishes and a drink.

I hope this can help you save a few dollars while living overseas.  Also remember, don’t be afraid to treat yourself once in a while as there are a lot of amazing restaurants in China.

The Road not Taken

Matt | Decision Making | Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long as I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that, the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Recently, I went back to my old neighbourhood in Toronto, High Park, and took some pictures.  The one above reminded me of my favourite poem, The Road not Taken.  This poem helped me a few times when making decisions, like when I made my first decision to come to China 3 years ago, as well as recently when I decided to apply for Teacher’s College.  Follow your heart and choose your own path.  I hope I will always have the courage to do this.

9 Basics of English Grammar

Matt | Teach English: Grammar | Monday, December 1st, 2008

Recently I came across a fantastic summary about the basics of English grammar in an unexpected source.  I came across the grammar summary in the book, The Dangerous Book for Boys, which is a great book for young boys or older boys such as myself.  Still like Confucius (and Emerson) said, anyone can be your teacher, so here goes.

The structure of simple English grammar has only 9 pieces to it.

1. Nouns – gives a name to things.  Names people, places, ideas or things.

  • Proper nouns – names of people or places, “Matthew” or “Ottawa”
  • Common nouns – general things, “dogs”, “cats”, “mobile phones”
  • Abstract nouns -  ideas or qualities, “courage” or “truth”

2. Pronoun – are words that are used to replace nouns.  So instead of Matthew went with Matthew’s girlfriend to buy Matthew’s girlfriend a present.  Too many Matthew’s here.  Instead we can use

  • I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they
  • me, you, him, her, it, us, them
  • my, your, his, her, its, our, your, their

3.  Verbs action or change words, “to become”, “to wash” or “to eat”.

to eat

  • First-person singular: I eat
  • Second-person singular: You eat
  • Third-person singular: He/She/It eats (Need to add ‘s’)
  • First-person plural: We eat
  • Second-person plural: You eat
  • Third-person plural: They eat

4. Adjective – modify a noun or a pronoun.

  • the cow vs.  the brown cow

5. Adverbs – are the words that modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs.  Usually adverbs end in (-ly).

  • The dog was smiling nastily (nastily ends in -ly)
  • I often go to Starbucks (often modifies the verb “go” and doesn’t end in -ly)

6. Conjunction – is a word that joins parts of a sentence together.

  • For example, “and, so, if, then, but, however, although, because, since, while”
  • These usually do not start in the beginning of a sentence and instead join two simple sentences into one.

7. Articlea/an/the

  • Indefinite article – a/an – are used when the object is unknown. A dog is in my yard.  (We don’t know whose dog it is.)
  • Definite article – the – is used when the object is known.  The dog is in my yard.  (We know the dog, it’s probably ours.)

8. Prepositions – are words that tell us the position or relationship of different words to each other.

  • For example, in/out, on/under, front/behind, between, beside, above/below

9. Interjections – these are simple sounds used to express an inward feeling.

  • Oh! I didn’t know you were married.

That is all nine.

Here is an example sentence.  Can you define all the words?

“No! I saw the old dog growling viciously at his children and friends.”


(Answer: “No!” – interjection, “I” – pronoun, “saw” – verb, “the”- definite article, “old” – adjective, “dog” – common noun, “growling” – verb, “viciously” – adverb, “at” -preposition, “his” – pronoun, “children” – common noun, “and” – conjunction, “friends” – common noun.)

For more information you can visit this grammar site and click on the left-side link Sentence Elements. This will give you all the details you can probably want and more.  Enjoy.  Yeah!

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