Friday, June 4, 2010

Random Notes for the End of May

(Hanging on a Saturday morning in Taichung, anything is possible.)

Every night in the parks of Taichung and all around Taiwan, old people gather in groups under street lights and dance in formation to American music. You’ll be passing and see forty people in perfect sync doing “Thriller” or “Pump up the Jam.” Usually it is pretty casual, but you always see the grandmother in leopard skin leotard or leather skin pants and, at least for me, I hope I’m that cool in my seventies.
Tonight as I was walking with the girls after dinner in the park, we stopped to watch a new group spin and twirl to “It’s so easy to fall in love,” and I was thinking about how easy dancing is. Everyone has legs to stomp, hips to shake, feet to kick. I was lost in thought and looked up to see little Kinu had joined in and was shaking it with this old laughing grandfather. Pretty cool. The next song was “Achey-Breaky Heart.” I haven’t heard that song in ten years, and yes, the girls and I danced under the street lights to that as well.
(Students relax between tests during a break in National Exams. Most of my kids are incredibly overworked and stressed out. Still, I try to make my class laugh every day.)

I see magic every day. There is this old man who passes the school each morning on a bicycle and he has dozens of whirligigs tied to his bike. He is like a circus freak or some poor man’s dare devil, just cruising down the road with all these rainbow spinning fans. I want to catch him and have him take me to his pot of gold.
I couple days ago it stopped raining long enough for me to take my students outside and go stomping in puddles. I ruined a perfectly good pair of shoes just taking out my cooped up aggressions on some brown playground coffee spills, but it was worth it.
You should have seen my student’s faces. Why is our teacher hopping around in the dirty water screaming, “I want to be an Air-Born Ranger…?”
Writing this hours later, I’m still laughing.
(Students outside of class play Chinese chess on the wall. Looks like fun, no?)

The school I’ve been working at over the last year is a very posh private junior high of grades 6 through 9. The high school is currently in construction, and private school kids are cool and nice and affluent and wonderful, but just as misguided as any other kid in public school. Still, I have my favorites and am putting down roots and enjoying myself. Last semester my 9th graders put on “MacBackstreet: A Tale of Corporate Witches, Black Magic, and Boy Bands.” And um… you know it was awesome people.
Recently I was taken aside by school administrators and told to tone it down. Stop taking kids outside to play basketball on sunny days. Stop taking kids up on the school roof to scream poetry in the rain. You know, stop looking like I’m having so much fun, it makes the Chinese teachers nervous. Isn’t that hilarious?
My response, water balloon fights at lunch, of course.
(Caught this family dumpster diving the other day and couldn't resist the photo.)

I left the school briefly at the beginning of second semester to travel to India and Nepal, and when I returned they wouldn’t give me my old classes back, which was stupid and the students were pissed off and I was too.
Instead, they gave me one of the more challenging lower level classes. I met with the teacher before hand and he gave me the scoop. “These students just can’t do the work. They are not smart enough or don’t care and it’s the school’s fault.” Then he went through the roll sheet and gave me the dirt on each kid.
“This kid is a jerk. This kid is a prick. This kid will work but gives you crap.”
It was a depressing conversation.
My response was to immediately make this my favorite class and have the kids write an essay. Which we did, working through the writing process from brainstorm to rough draft to clean copy to peer edit, to… well, you know the drill, people.
The result… these bad apples, who could barely finish two sentences with their old teacher, were now typing three page essays for me analyzing books with literary terms and relating it to personal experience. I just wanted to take those essays, roll them up, and shove them down the throats of any teacher who doesn’t believe in his kids. How’s that taste? You like that? Told ya.
(Look who is going to get a visit from the Tooth Fairy.)

Xian lost a tooth. Actually two, and I knew this day was coming and have been looking forward to it with relish and mustard. That’s a sign, right? That your kid has turned a corner when they’re big enough to start getting visits from the tooth fairy. Anyway, watching children grow each day is the greatest joy I’ve ever experienced and also the hardest thing I’ve ever tried. Fatherhood drains me, but typing this right now in bed it’s just past 6 a.m. and I have one kid curled up next to me on the right and another kid snoring softly on my left, and it’s pretty sweet. Just so you know… the going tooth fairy rate for two teeth is five bucks. Nice, huh? I remember when it was only a quarter.
(Hartenstein poses for a picture one saturday in an Italian bistro overlooking the canals. Rainy season outside, but nice and dry inside.)

It’s Friday and I worked through the day grading essays and writing wonderful comments in the margins. Then I called parents, fifteen to be exact. I told these moms and dads how good their kids were. How they were acting responsibly, pushing themselves to be creative and expressive but intelligent and wise. How they were problem solving on their own and earning my respect. How they were turning their behavior around and becoming leaders in the class.
It felt good.
This evening I picked up the girls and we had fresh raspberries and blueberries and watched Peter Pan over scrumptious Thai food. Tomorrow is Taka’s birthday, this little Japanese boy who is Xian’s buddy and we are going swimming and for a ride on bicycles in the park.
Before bed, I played a couple rounds of Bingo, did some vocabulary drills with the girls, sang Kinu to sleep, then read passages from Much Ado About Nothing aloud to the girls.
The lights over the city come in through the window, and I am calm and at peace.

1 comment:

  1. Your children are so beautiful, Brian. Just like their father.

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