Friday, December 30, 2011

Flickr Pics: Taiwan Autumn and Winter

Hey Readers,
As 2011 closes out... here are the last batch of Flickr pics for the Autumn and Winter months in Taiwan. I wish you all a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Life on the Mississippi

“When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman.” -Mark Twain

There was this moment today, in between the breezes on the fifth floor balcony where I sip hot coffee from this porcelain mug my second daughter painted, between classes as the students pass, between lecture notes and the worn leather creases of my satchel, where I closed my eyes, held my breath against the wind, and remembered those days.
Out in the trees I would find you, between the crush of brown leaves beside the brook, hidden as the nightingale or the fawn, waiting for me in secret.
“We had transient ambitions of other sorts, but they were only transient. When the circus came and went, it left us all burning to become clowns; the first Negro minstrel show that ever came to our section left us all suffering t try that kind of life…” -Mark Twain

Introducing Samuel Langhorne Clemons, I show the students pictures of Hannibal Missouri, white picket fences and barefoot boys in straw hats shouldering fishing poles, houses with wood burning stoves and porches meant for corn cob pipes, the slave quarters out back and the faces of weeping blacks. I tell them that Clemons lived in between the words, full of confounded irony and stubborn wit, where self-deprecation was a moral vanity and whose loftiest ambition was to contradict itself, such is the universally accepted father of American Literature: Mark Twain, who said, “I am not an American, I am the American.”
“Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.” -Mark Twain

There was a fire around the school yesterday. Off in the industrial park, a small temple and home caught ablaze sending black clouds and glowing sparks rolling past the windows in the twilight dusk. The boys acted exactly as they should, crying, "Fire! Fire!" and running off half-cocked and brazen in the direction of the burning smoke. I stood on my rooftop balcony and watched them race down the streets on their bicycles, some sprinting alongside until their legs gave out, until they blurred into the dark raging glow of the inferno toppling down onto the street.
How perfect it is to be a boy racing toward the fire. How it calls us. How we must see and know the danger for ourselves.
“These ambitions faded out, each in its turn; but the ambition to be a steamboatman always remained.” –Mark Twain

I joke with the students, I am sitting on a chair in the front of class reading from an old paperback, the kids sit above me on their desk tops. I do not fear their vantage, I see it as more of a protective shell. I tell them, Twain was not the first American to go abroad and write about it, but he is the first to bring America with him. Before, writers traveled to exotic places and described it as the center of the world, but Twain, no matter where he went, stood in the center of the American compass and saw it as home.
He made it possible for all of us, to be Americans abroad.
Out on the balcony in between class I am approached by this young girl Hannah. She reads this blog religiously, steals my books of the shelf, try as I might I can't be rid of the poor soul. Hannah tells me that she believes Twain wrote like an American so that he could stay close to the people he left behind. She asks, "Is that why you keep writing your blog, to keep those you love close, to always be there for them in some small way, even if they don't want you or need you anymore, to offer them a kind of protection, a kindred spirit when no one else is there?"
She made me laugh, this young girl did. In between the breezes on the balcony, in between my secret place in the high trees, she found me. I told her, "Yes, because that's my compass. I've always given myself away for free.

Brian Hartenstein Year in Pictures, 2011: Autumn & Winter

The last remaining months of 2011 were mostly about sticking around home, teaching classes, and watching the girls grow up.
There were some exciting events, like the Lady Gaga concert and the Taichung Jazz Festival.
And Hartenstein continued doing his best in the classroom.
And out of the classroom, here flying the Panda Kite off the roof of the school.
Yes, Xian got sick, but she will get better and return to her usual bouncy fun self in no time.
And the upcoming 2012, The Year of the Dragon, I'm sure will hold some surprises as well. Thank you, and Happy New Year to you all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Greatest Vid Ever: Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You

Well, speaking of old photos and videos, this one comes out of the vault from Dec, 2009. We had first arrived in Taiwan, Rebekah is so little, and Kinu is just 2 years old riding around in a backpack through Sogo Department store when... one of the greatest 80's songs of all time comes on... you know what I'm talking about. Check out the little kids staring at me... awesome.

Brian Hartenstein Year in Photos, 2011 The Summer in Europe

You can't go wrong taking your globe trotting with your kids, and this summer was awesome because we backpacked southern Europe. This has been my life's dream, and we're only getting started. Above, in Kotor Montenegro.
Mykonos Beach, after chasing windmills, Greece.
Harlequin masks in Venice, Italy
Acropolis, Athens Greece
Gondola ride, Venice Italy
Old Quarter, Split Croatia
Santorini, Greece
Bodrum Castle, Turkey
Roman Ruins, Itlay
Twilight in Venice with Xian. Italy

Brian Hartenstein Year in Photos: 2011 Spring

Hi Readers, check out these photos from our Year in Review, April through May. Above, a little morning Buddhist Temple in Busan, Pomosa, South Korea.
Brian Hartenstein's novel, Me Gook, presented to one of the mysterious characters the book is based on. Busan, South Korea.
Hartenstein and his girls beside kimchi pots, Busan, South Korea
Korean Man Smoking, Nampodong, Busan South Korea
Chagalchi Market and Nampodong Side Streets, Busan, South Korea
Macau, Venetian Casino, China
The last days of the Taichung People's Park, Taichung, Taiwan

Brian Hartenstein Year in Photos 2011

It was another great year of travel for Team Hartenstein. Check out these photos from January through March, 2011. Above, Wat Pho, Bangkok
Phi Phi Island, Thailand
Phuket Beach, Thailand
Thailand Souther Coast
Bangkok River Taxi
Taipei 101 Building, Taiwan
Dimsum Chefs, Taipei Taiwan

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Holidays 2011

If there is one thing this holiday season has reminded me of, it's that you can't let it slip away without putting up a fight. Say what you need to say to the important people in your life, let them know how you really feel, spend the quality time you have. That's all that matters. Love boldly and often. Fall flat on your face for love. Happy Holidays Readers!

Ain't No Joy In Mudville -A Running Diary of Three Weeks in China Medical

“The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play…” -Thayer

The following are journal entries from Xian’s three weeks as a patient trapped in China Medical University Hospital. My reason for publishing these pictures is to show how brave and awesome my daughter is and was during that time, but to also encourage parents to seek second and third opinions from doctors, to challenge medical authority, to do research on your own, and especially in Asia, to demand quality service from physicians.
“A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast…” -Thayer

(Day One, Afternoon) When she first entered the Emergency Room I thought it was routine, a bad cough at worse, prescribe some antibiotics and let’s get out of here. I had no idea she was suffering from a bacterial infection on her lung. I started racking my brain, she had been complaining about tightness in the chest, but I just thought that was asthma. The first night I just sat in the chair kicking myself, couldn’t we have caught this sooner.
“They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat….” -Thayer

(Day Two midnight) We move from the ER to the PICU by Volkswagen van, sandwiched together with other patients, the iv bag connected to a screaming infant is hanging from a bent rusted nail between my legs, Xian is behind me in the seat, her hand straining through the other bodies to hold onto my finger as we race through traffic.
“And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat…” -Thayer

(Day Five, Morning) We’ve just had a quick sit down with the doctor who has finally arrived. After battling with nurses in the PICU and sleeping on benches outside in the waiting area and looking at undecipherable x-rays, we finally see the doctor. Xian’s condition is very severe. Blocked breathing passages, intubation procedures, pig-tail surgeries, and fluid drainage. Further surgeries are discussed and a mortality rate is mentioned. The specialist is furious, she won’t take our questions. We want backup plans and contingencies and she just scowls. I ask her point blank, “Do you have children? You don’t? Well then what do you know about it?” The meeting ends, and I am escorted back to the waiting room.
"Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said." -Thayer

(Day 6, afternoon) We are still in the PICU, stranded outside behind the big pink metal door. Parents aren’t allowed to go inside. There is a little call box at the door and I hold the buzzer and plead to be allowed inside. An hour later a nurse arrives and explains I cannot enter because of fear of infection. The elevator door opens and a groaning man in surgical bed is pushed through the hall, all of his equipment, heart monitor, oxygen tank, iv bag, are hanging from the bed as two orderlies roll him down the hall. I turn and the door has been closed in my face. I stand back and take my place along the wall of filthy plastic chairs and wait.
"The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate. " -Thayer

(Day 8, Morning) SungJoo has been amazing, I have to basically drag her from the hospital just to get a cup of coffee. She blames herself and she shouldn’t. To her credit, while all the other mothers take the doctor’s advice and sit quietly, she barges into the PICU and demands to see the attending physician. I thought they were going to call security. She has files upon files of questions for the doctor and demands the best treatment, it is the first time in a long time that I realized she is stronger than me, that I am not doing enough, that I need to be bolder, that I am failing my daughter.
"And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow." -Thayer

(Day 12, morning) I am standing by the window watching the first light come in over the city, Xian is laying fast asleep under blankets brought from home. I’d spent much of the night holding her hand as she winced in pain at the doctor’s brutal hands and reading her stories: We finished John Fitzgerald’s Me and My Little Brain, Louis Sacher’s Holes, and a number of American poems including her new favorite, Casey at the Bat, which she made me stand up and act out. She loved the part where Casey lets the first two pitches sail by but on the third, is poised for greatness. As I watch her, my brave little daughter looking back at me, I realize once again how much we need poetry in our life, something to keep us moving… sometimes words are all we have...
"Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light..." -Thayer

(Day 15, afternoon) Xian is feeling better and there is the beginnings of talk about going home. She only uses the respirator to sleep and there is a chest percussion instrument we must use to beat her chest and back to loosen up consolidated masses in her lungs. The nights are sleepless and hard. The nurses barge in saying nothing. They lead with needles and say nothing when Xian scowls. The doctors are brutal, using my 8 year old as a translator. I block them at the door, try to get answers. Nothing. I want out of here so bad.
"And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out." -Thayer

(Day 17, dawn) Trying to sleep, wake up with asthma attacks. The hallways are empty except for the screaming of little babies. There are cockroaches on the toilet and mold on the air-conditioning vents. Xian is awaken by the doctor who barges in the door and says we must go downstairs. I ask where, he doesn’t answer. I ask him again, and he stumbles…explains, ultra sound. Okay… as we step into the elevator, a nurse pushes a rolling incubator in beside us covered in a blanket. Inside there is a small red infant. Already we have seen two babies die. Both in the PICU: One had an enlarged heart, the other had brain surgery. My only memory of this is just seeing the doctors in white coats standing around the staring at the child connected to the machines by tubes.
In the elevator I take Xian’s hand, inside the incubator the baby is groaning and screaming out. The doors open and we hurry out. Into the ultra sound the doctor oils the machine and begins rubbing the cold handle against Xian’s ribs causing her to cry and squeeze my hand. No response from the doctor who begins labeling the screen: Heart, liver, lungs… this goes on for twenty minutes. When he is finished the two doctors leave the room and I am left to wipe Xian up, fasten her robe, and carry her back upstairs. The doctors say nothing to me. I am furious. I stop and tap the operator on the shoulder. I want him to explain. Tell me why you are writing notes on my daughter’s organs. Explain now. He scoffs.
Four hours later the lead doctor is in Xian’s room holding a clipboard between us with pictures. She says the consolidated mass in Xian’s lungs has gotten smaller and her white blood cell count is stabilizing. It is a numbers game now. I rest easy. It will be three more days before Xian can go home.
(Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer first appeared in William Randloph’s Hearts’ paper, the San Francisco Examiner in June of 1883.)

When we are released from the hospital I can’t tell you the amount of joy and relief we all felt. Toward the end, Xian was literally bouncing off the walls. There is still a lot of treatment left for her to finish, but it’s Christmas, and my daughter being home is all that matters. The thing is, no one ever imagines that this will happen to them. One minute you are planning vacations and buying stocking stuffers, the next minute you are standing in the ER ward listening to a doctor speak in Chinese about the fate of your child.
That night, as Xian was laying in bed, wrapped in blankets by the space heater, I started to read Casey at the Bat again, but she said she didn’t want it. Wasn’t there something new? Something I hadn’t read in ages? Of course there is sweetheart, of course.

China Medical University Hospital

Now that's it's over, now that Xian is back home and the doctor visits do not involve stabbing needles from inept nurses in fake eye lashes poking holes, and doctors eating mayonaise sandwiches on break while my daughter is screaming for help.... I thought I would share some pictures of Xian's three weeks in the hospital.
It was a struggle. In the end, I have to say, "thanks," I mean, the technology and the doctor ability saved my daughter's life.
But I also believe they may have permanently damaged her.
Xian will have to speak to this herself, and she's getting to an age where she will soon be typing her own journals onto this blog, but the real pain inflicted from this hospital stay was not in the illness itself, but in the lack of any kind of suitable bedside manner.
My friend Paul was in the Taichung Hospital recently with a very serious malady, and he would speak in horror of nurses waking him up for meds by slapping his face and shoving needles into his skin multiple times until they found a correct vein.
I believed him at the time and just hoped I would never have to go through it.
But when Xian got sick, I knew we were in trouble.
And yes, we considered flying to Korea, or more dramatically, flying back to America if her conditioned worsened, but in the end... her little body toughed it out.
By the way, in checking out of the hospital, not one nurse said "goodbye."
Not one doctor stopped by to offer a "congratulation" or a pat on the back. NOT ONE!
So here's to you, China Medical University Staff... here's to your future.
Good luck, God Bless, and Good Riddance!