Thursday, June 30, 2011

Watching from Afar

Well, it’s final exam season here at the school. Today kids are dressed in yellow t-shirts as they sit quietly in rows sniffling and scribbling over long formed paper questions, algorithms, charts, and multiple choice. The smart ones prepare solitarily between breaks, the social ones scream and make a dramatic show out in the hallway where the bags are packed and stacked along the wall. It’s my job to proctor. So I sit and watch and reminisce like the big old sap that I am.
I have my rituals too. Before I pass out the test I have all the kids lift up their hands, “Show me your palms, you scalawags!” As if any of these kids would really cheat. I’ve seen some doozies in my many years: Answer sheets on shoe bottoms or rolled up inside mechanical pencil canisters, stuck to the lids of baseball caps and inside the cardboard holder of Startbuck’s cups.
I tell this to kids to break the ice, let them feel a little relief before the crush of exams. I don’t know if it helps or not. It helps me.
I’m losing a number of my favorite kids this year. There is Oliva, the strong willed New Yorker with stories of Brooklyn subway crazies and a long list of authors she loves, everyone from Jodi Piccoult to Maya Angelou to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Every day of class this kid was awesome. She cracked jokes, kept others alert and awake, said the most sincere and sweet and profane things. She’s a total original going back to a place that she will help shape and define. I will miss her tremendously.
Andy is another. Man I remember how he used to be so snarky. But the kid outworked everyone. While the other boys where playing ping pong, he sat in the shade and reviewed. He was the one who gave me the idea to clear out the desks one rainy afternoon and there, five stories above the city in our little cement classroom, run basketball drills to prepare for an upcoming school tournament. He’s bright and quick and has learned to be thoughtful, my favorite quality in a boy.
Salina is moving on to Canada. For the longest time I didn’t think she even knew, I mean, I think her parents were just going to pack a bag and send her. Let me tell you about resiliency, this kid has it in spades. Unassuming, standing in the middle of the pack, but when she lets you see it, when for the briefest moment she shows you her drawings or lets the poetry shards slip out of her notebook and onto the floor, you see that she’s brilliant. Just an average kid wanting ever so much to be average, yet inside she is a star. How cool is that?
Most teachers would say good riddance to Phillip. I mean, they would have reason. The kid was a blight. He’d curse, he’d yell, he’d throw stuff, he’d shut down and people out. He was a ticking time bomb. Born here in Taiwan but raised in Canada, the kid had gall and pent up frustration and a pair of stones like you wouldn’t believe on a pint sized munchkin two years younger than his classmates and a whole head and shoulders shorter.
Yet he turned it around. He did. They made him carry rocks at lunch in buckets, and stand with his nose in the corner for hours, and scrawl sentences a thousand times on paper, and it worked, maybe it worked. Who knows? Maybe all the letters home highlighting the good things I saw, maybe just talking to him with respect, maybe just talking to him at all? Anyway, I’ll miss it.
There are others. They come they go. But the thing about this time, about graduation, is that it is the loneliest time of the year. When people say goodbye. Everyone is so excited and homework is being ripped up into confetti and textbook set on fire and kids cheering and squealing tires in the parking lot, and teachers barricaded in staff rooms waiting for them to leave.
And then there are guys like me, standing there like some dope seeing them go. I stand on the periphery a great deal, watching from afar. I think they know. I think they understand, but I can never be sure.
Every couple of days or so I get a surprise letter from an old student. Just out of the blue something cool. Sometimes it’s just a friend request, how nice is that, you know. That a kid from years ago now all grown up would want to me your friend. That simple thing tells me a lot.
So, this is just to say I had a wonderful year. A great year. Laughter and learning, whispers and serious talk, reflection and realization, hard work that paid off and little trivial daily practices that have now become good habits. I love you guys. Thank you so much. Thank you so much.


Greatest Kinu "Little Legs" Jumping into a Swimming Pool Video Ever

Of course, what makes this video so awesome, are Kinu's little moving legs. At least, that's my favorite part. Go Kid! Go. So sweet and silly. Nice jump!

Greatest Wistle Nazi Video Ever

Oh yes, here he is in all of his annoying splendor, The Whistle Nazi. And yes, the kids he's attempting to chirp at are over 100 meters away, but that won't stop Whistle Nazi from blowing that sharp ear splitting noise maker. Thanks, buddy! Please, keep it coming. You're making the world a better place.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Joyful Noises Unto The Lord

I am surrounded by silly things. Every day laughing like Micah in the desert lost in translation. Little porcelain cat waving to me beside a bird bath. I see you hiding there. Do you see me smiling? Yes.
Today on a walk just as the sky darkened and gray rolling clouds the shapes of gravestones came lumbering over the building tops, I saw a tiny tree frog drop beneath a lily pad. Oh, how I wanted to say hey to you.
School’s falsely advertise all the time, this one has a running track. Sweet! If you are a hamster.
Xian ties her sisters up in chairs in the living room, I think she is considering building a bonfire beneath. Kinu loves it, she nibbles almonds from a bowl and sighs.
This was supposed to say, “Lovely Monkey.”
Johnny brought in his Terra Cotta Warriors today in a box he latched with a metal cinch. When I was in Xi’an, I mailed mine back to my mom wrapped in newspaper. They made it.
Rebekah likes to draw fish so we went to the market to stare into their eyeballs. Glub. Glub. You’ll be in my tummy soon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

99 Problems of Ai Wei Wei

“If you’re having girl problems I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.”
- Jay-Z

Ai Wei Wei ain’t talking. He stands haggard and hallow on the steps of his Beijing studio after being released from 11 weeks in the Chinese gulag tank. Reporters ask if he’s been mistreated, beaten, if he’s worried about family members who have been imprisoned because of their allegiance to him? There is no answer. No emotion in his face, just a wave and a smile, and fear in his eyes.

“I got the rap patrol on the gat patrol, foes that wanna make sure my casket’s closed…” -Jay-Z

Wei, 56, is the most prominent Chinese artist and outspoken critic of the communist regime. He was arrested April 4th while trying to board a flight from Beijing to Hong Kong. Ai has spoken widely about the “heartlessness” of the Chinese government, seeking reform.
“I don’t know what you take me as, or understand the intelligence that Jay-Z has. I’m from rags to riches… I ain’t dumb…” - Jay-Z

An outspoken critic, Ai Wei Wei was the artistic director of the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium, who later had harsh words for the government’s handling of the games. He was arrested in the western city of Chengdu in 2009 and beaten so badly that he required surgery to have blood drained from his brain.
A year later, he was detained in Beijing attempting to board a flight to South Korea because Chinese authorities feared he would attempt to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo for colleague Liu Xia.
“So I… pull over to the side of the road I heard, “Son do you know what I’m stoppin’ you for?” ‘Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hats real low? Do I look like a mind reader sir, I don’t know. Am I under arrest or should I guess some mo’? “Well, you was doin fifty-five in a fifty-fo…”” - Jay-Z

The Chinese government has also prevented Ai from having a solo exhibition at a Beijing gallery this year and demolished his Shanghai studio. In March, Ai announced he would be opening a studio in Berlin to escape restraints on artistic freedom in China. He was arrested a month later.
“And there I go trapped in the kit kat again, back through the system with the riff raff again, fiends on the floor scratchin again, D.A. tried to give … the shaft again, half-a-mill for bail cause I’m African, all because this fool was harrasin’ them, trying to play the boy like he’s saccharin, but ain’t nothing sweet ‘bout how I hold my gun…” - Jay-Z

Ai’s wife, Lu Quig, has also been taken into custody and police have blocked off the streets around his Beijing studio, raided it, and even held certain staffers because they must be in cahoots with this dangerous man.
On a lighter note, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Tour roars into Taipei this weekend. Tickets went on sale this week and sold out in minutes, mostly by my students who worship her. Shoot me, please.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Week in Ridiculous

(Oh yes, this would be an example of the cafeteria food slop trough. Yummy Yum Yum)

“Facebook Foolishness”
I was friended on Facebook this week by a woman from Oklahoma who’d read my book. She seemed young and earnest and all together well intended. I thought, sure. Okay. But can I really internet friend someone who, under the interests section, states that her favorite books are: Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Vegetarian Times, Yoga Journal, and Glamour? For movies she selected: The House Bunny and No Strings Attached? But here’s the cherry, for People who Inspire her, she chose: (In Order) Marilyn Monroe, Coco Channel, Audrey Hepburn, Albert Einstein, and Kim Kardashian.
No way, baby. I’d friend you, but I’m too busy reading Nicholas Sparks.

(This would be my Rubik's Cube Mobile. I finally just confiscated them and smashed them into little pieces and hung them. Paul said it would bring me great joy to see it. It does.)

“My Chinese Teacher is a Five Year Old”
In all of her goodness, Rebekah has taken over my Chinese language training. Yesterday I learned three words:
1. 狗屁 (goupi) Poop
2. 放屁(fangpi) Fart
3. 尿液 (niao ye) Pee
Thanks, Kiddo! (AND… the Chinese Education System)

(This bird fell from the sky and was scooped up by a couple of awesome kids and put in a cookie box. Later it woke up and flew out of the box around our classroom startling the crap out of us.)

“Ryan Dunn Dead at Age 34”
You know, there was a time when people thought Jackass would be the demise of American culture. Obviously, it wasn’t. But it was the long overdue death of one such idiot. To me, and Dunn’s death has no social significance compared to the blurred out bodies carried through revolution footage from Syria, Egypt or Libya on CNN or the BBC, but his passing is only the morbid end to a mundane cautionary tale.
What was disappointing was Roger Ebert’s backtracking comments after the imbecilic “Bam” Margara said, “Millions of people are crying…shut your mouth.” I thought Ebert was supposed to be a social commentator and critic? He’s a cancer survivor for crying out loud. How you get through starting down the black death and not have the stones to stand up to a pipsqueak skateboarder is beyond me.
And how about Margara? This bottom feeding scumbag. He’s famous for laughing hysterically while sticking light bulbs up his rectum and waking his father up out of a dead sleep and beating him into a bloody, welting pulp with his fists. His father that would never fight back, that had bought the house they were living in, who had given that selfish prick everything. Whenever Margara comes on TV I want to vomit.
I can’t tell you how many students I had that emulated those Jackass morons. Slapping each other with phone books. Cutting their skin with staples. Hitting beer bongs and running full on into cement walls. Darwin was right about one thing, your death just means more living for me.

(These are the two students who found the bird, just proving that there are still awesome, well meaning, cool kids still alive who know the right thing to do. Thanks, girls!)

“I Read this Sentence Today”
Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, also known Joseph Anthony Davis, of Seattle, and Walli Mujahidh, also known as Frederick Domingue Jr., of Los Angeles…”
You’ve got to be kidding me.

(One blurry photograph taken by Rebekah in her bedroom. Nice posters, huh?)

“And This One Takes the Cake”
A woman from Taichung, Taiwan (where Hartenstein is currently living) known only as Mrs. Lui, ticked off the owner of a local beef noodle dive after posting a negative review on her blog staying the food was “too salty,” that there were “cockroaches,” and the owner was a “bully.” This was in 2008. After learning of this, the restaurant sued Mrs. Liu for defamation and won, since she was unqualified to pass judgment on the seasoning of the entire restaurant, even though she had a witness about the cockroach. Mrs. Liu was sentenced to 30 days in jail and order to pay about 5 thousand U.S. dollars. Hoping to teach her a lesson, Huang Cheng-Lee, a lawyer in our city here, said bloggers and reviewers should remember to be “truthful, objective and fair.”
Oh, and for all of you who have been emailing me with outrage about that teacher I work with who disparaged the kid… nothing happened to her. I took it up the chain of command and was told to “button it” because there was no evidence she said it, despite multiple student witnesses. “You didn’t get it on tape,” I was told. “Besides, if we pursue this, the school will be angry, lose face, and there will be even more of a division between the English and Chinese departments. So forget it. Drop it. Please." That's what they said.

Instant Karma's Gonna Get You

John Lennon said:
“People say I’m lazy, dreaming my life away.
Well they give me all kinds of advice, designed to enlighten me.
When I tell that I’m doing fine watching shadows on the wall,
Don’t you miss the big time boy you’re not longer on the ball?
I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round…”

John Lennon said:
“Well we all shine on, like the moon and the stars, and the sun.
Well we all shine on. Everyone, come on.”

From the stats on this blog I know when you read this. I know, when you are here. Be well. Be good.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Minotaur Man

I am frothing. I am seething. I am so furious as I finish class and can do nothing but walk all through the lunch break, down past the vegetable markets where the women pluck live chickens and cut off their heads with cleavers on wood stumps, past the river canals that empty into sewage ponds bubbling in the heat, through the maze of streets to the park benches beneath the pagoda eaves in the shadows of the old men pushing stale chess pieces across the boards.
She had no right.
She had to know better.
She boasts that she’s been a teacher for 30 years.
And she hadn’t a clue what she did was wrong.
Some days just unfold funny. You wake up and have notions and preconceptions, but no one knows how they will end any given night, where the twists and turns the average day will take them. Monday I gave the kids Dave Barry’s “Staying at a Japanese Inn” with an eye toward discussing the importance of exaggeration in humor, but instead spent most of the class describing the ancient art of cormorant fishing, even sketching on the chalkboard the jagged hilltops around the village of Yangshou, China, and what it was like to swim in the Yi river alongside naked children and bamboo fishing sleds, one of the coolest moments of my life, only to wake up two days later with ringworm all over my body.
Tuesday I gave the kids Erma Brombeck’s “Can’t We Have an Apartment of Our Own?” in an attempt to show how dialogue is used to move a humorous theme along, but instead got lost in a youtube clip of an Australian news reporter trying to tell a joke to the Dalai Lama. It goes something like this… and the reporter is sitting face to face with Mr. Buddhism himself, apologizing profusely before he even gets to the joke. Both men sort of giggling as he begins…
“The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza parlor and says, ‘Can you make me one with everything?’”
The news reporter is shamefully wincing now. He’s crawling under the sofa, repeating over and over again how his seven year old thought it was funny, so… apologizing for the joke’s bomb.
The Dalai Lama just laughs, looks over at his translator, “What is pizza?” he says.
Wednesday I gave the kids this Wagner Opera called Loengrin, about the wandering night Percival who saves this distressed damsel from ruin. It’s German and full of breathy arias and big busted women with winged hats. Opera kills me. That people pay to sit through it.
I’m taking the girls to Rome and Athens this summer and we’ve been reading about ancient classical life, how the citizens used to lay on the floor to eat. I feel music concerts should be done the same way. Just lay and nap and if you wake up and the fat lady is still going… well, snooze some more.
Thursday was all about the myth of Theseus, which over the years has become my favorite due to the Minotaur. I don’t know why esactly, but I love the Minotaur, this bloody beast that is born into pain. Here’s a line from the text, “It happened that Pasiphae, the wife of King Minos, went mad and fell in love with a bull. With him she bore a child that was half man and half bull and the child was named, the Minotaur.”
Nobody does bloody truth like them Greeks.
I read this story to Xian and Rebekah at night while Kinu is already cooing fast asleep. I tell them that the Greeks understood pain, that longing and loss and death are a part of all life, that some characters, like the Minotaur, are born to be slain.
They understand. They don’t understand. It doesn’t matter.
Their father is a literature teacher.
So then I tell them about Marcus.
Marcus is a kid in my Rock N Roll Romeo and Juliet play. Yes, once again Hartenstein asked a very talented and brilliant young boy to dress in drag and ham it up, and yes, once again it worked to perfection. Marcus killed! He was absolutely hilarious. He brought the house down. Everyone remembered him.
After the play I just was so proud. Marcus and the others had memorized Shakespeare in a second language (Wow, that should be the name of a book), they had acted, taken criticism, improvised, worked on blocking, taken direction from peers, practiced, learned music, performed in front of an audience. They were amazing. Amazing!
So then today it came to my attention that my old nemesis. Another educator from the Chinese department, called Marcus a homosexual epithet during math class.
She said, “The reason you were so good in that role is because you are really a woman inside. You’re a sissy. A faggot. Everyone knows it.”
Then she had the gall to ask the class. “How many of you think Marcus is really a girl inside of a boy’s body?”
The class had no idea what she was doing.
This is one of the heads of the Chinese department ridiculing this boy, openly mocking him in public, questioning his sexuality in front of his classmates at school, and there is nothing I can do about it.
The administrators have checked out. My superiors don’t want to cause a scene. Her peers are afraid of reprisals. I am alone. If I even begin to opening confront her I could lose my job.
The thing is, Marcus is the best kid in the 8th grade. He won the speech contest and the spelling bee and starred in the Romeo and Juliet play and is leaving Taiwan for America this summer. He’s spectacular. He can take it. He listens to her and laughs it off.
But not Jacob.
Jacob is the poorest student in the class and sits right next to Marcus. The one all the other kids shy away from because he’s awkward and clumsy. Jacob who is creepy and slouchy and screams when you toss him a basketball and instead wants to sit in the shade with the girls and talk handbags and memorize Elton John songs.
That Jacob. You get it?
You dumb, stupid, lunatic windbag.
That Jacob. You insensitive loud mouth bully. You ignorant, close minded ninny!
That Jacob.
I don’t care what anybody says. Teaching is not for those who can’t do anything else. Teachers are supposed to be the best we have. The brightest. The smartest. The ones among us with the most love, most compassion, most daring, most imagination, most willingness to sacrifice sanity and power and accolades and financial incentives and sweat and blood because we believe in what is right.
But this teacher failed today.
You failed, you understand?
You failed Marcus, you failed Jacob. You failed me. You failed all of us.
I’ve blown it before. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve crossed lines and paid prices, but not like this. Shame on you. You ugly, ranting, horrible monster.
Shame on you for us all.
So I walked. I walked halfway to the city’s edge and back. I returned to school in time for a lesson on the Quechuan Indians of the Bolivian Andes who live on sat flats that stretch up to the horizon in the thin, barely breathable air. I brought in their poetry and even a video.
I wanted to show barren landscapes. To prove the need for laughter. For love. For understanding. For humor. Hold my hand, Marcus. Take my other hand, Jacob. Let me tell you a funny story about what happened to me on my walk today back from the edge of the city. In the center of town I met a monster crying that he was born with horns and that no one would ever love him. You know what I told him? I said, “Make me one with everything.”
And he smiled, because he understood the impossibility of dreams.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Father's Day, Brian

In the end, the sweetest gift a Dad could ask for. Thank you so much!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

ep. 41 "Chinese Doctor's Office"

In this episode, Kinu has been diagnosed with a uti, but still complains about her throat, so we go to the local clinic for a second opinion, along the way, the other girls go in for allergies and we all end up peeing in cups. Enjoy!

Asians Taking Pictures of Other Asians: The Graduation Edition

So graduation came and went this week and believe me, you ain’t heard the end of it from me. I’ve a lot to say and will. But for now, please just enjoy the awesome cheesiness of these action photographers getting down and dirty.
By the way, the lens on this guys camera could stop a charging rhino, and he was taking a picture of someone four feet away.
The 9th grade graduation was held at the school stage, and afterward, many parents complained it was not the right venue. I totally agree, and will attempt to swing some influence in the right direction for next year. I’m learning Taiwanese politics on the fly, people. It’s not easy. I’m learning it’s about what you leak to the right person knowing that person will blab it to the REAL right person. So we’ll see.
Oh, and another thing, this guy must have been like a Navy Seal in a former life, he was crawling under chairs, sneaking around getting the shot… but I got you, buddy. You’re mine.
Oh yes, the cheesiness abounds and has no end. The funny (or sad) thing is, that students were forced to take these “memorable” shots with teachers after vandalizing my room with no repercussion, starting a fire in a classroom, again without any penalty (the foreign teacher was cited as having mistakenly NOT had to put out the burning paper with his foot. He was just “mistaken”), and constantly berating their homeroom teachers with insults and ridicule (they loathed their teachers), but this photo-op looks good for parents, doesn’t it?
Ah… yes… every kid takes the exact same picture. Awesome!
Of course, this is your graduation stage, full of unisex cartoon animals popping out of magical mushrooms and butterflies and “I love you” heart signs. No wonder Taiwanese kids jump off of ten story buildings. No wonder someone as talentless and morosely obligatory as Lady Gaga can become a national hero to young people who chant “Born this way” as some secret anthem as they quickly change out of their school uniforms into LeBron James jerseys and Jersey Shore Ed Harvey t-shirts and turn their trucker hats onto the side of their head.
I mean really… they weren’t even given robes and tassels, they had to turn something.
The after graduation party was nothing. The dance I had petitioned for fell flat. School administrators just completely dropped the ball. The English department party was canceled due, again, to school administrators thinking it a bad idea. There was nothing. Just graduate, then quickly and without planning, cancel all student classes, without telling the teachers, and make all the students in the school stand for an hour in the 98 degree midday heat before shooting blow horns and spraying silly string as a final resort.
Yep… happy graduation.
Oh, and not one student came to say goodbye, thank you, I’m sorry, have a nice summer, sign my yearbook, or smell ya later. Nothing.
Happy Graduation!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dragong Boat Festival, Dirty Hong Kong Feet, and Random Hero Suicides

(Taiwan Lotto Sign... if hot chicks tell you to gamble... they will come!)
Dragon Boat festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month and is one of the three big insane Chinese holidays that people across Asia celebrate despite their total disdain and disgust for the Red Communist Center of the Universe. It’s kind of like Cinco de Mayo (actually senor… it is Cinco de Mayo) or St. Patrick’s Day when all the world gets drunk on whiskey and tequila and sings Danny Boy or La Bamba and wishes it were Irish or secretly loathes the fact Mexicans are living among us illegally while they strap on a blindfold and bludgeon a Dora the Explorer piñata to death.

(Dude mounting bike on He-An Lu)
Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated by, what a surprise, Dragon Boat Races, hanging calamus and moxa on the front doors of houses, and drinking a rot-gut winey substance called hsiung-huang that repaints the lining of your stomach like nail polish, fetching noon-time water in buckets, and eating magical rice balls called zong-zih.

(Poster Boy for Whipped Asian Men who Carry Purses and their Girlfriend's Umbrellas in the Sun.)
Okay… those are a lot of foreign words… I mean, I had to look some of them up on Chinese Google, which doesn’t exist anymore because of hackers... well, Chinese hackers... but I did find out that “calamus” is also known as the “water sword,”( that’s cool, sort of Arthurian slash Tennyson’s Lady O’ The Lake… or is that Shalott?), and is usually hung above doors to keep away evil… like invading Mongols or Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Moxa is even cooler despite it sounding like a skin cream for pubescent girls.
You see… most Asians are super-superstitious, and many Asians believe moxa can stop sickness, make the body stronger, fill out your taxes, program your DVR, and get you on the Ballot in an Iowa Primary… so they hang it above their doors as well just to keep the good times rolling.
(Taiwanese Beauty Salon... nice laundry, huh? Those are chickens in a cage by the door.)
The noon-time water fetching is… well… honestly I’d say that would piss me off. I mean, if I were a Taiwanese kid and my mom asked me to hike up the local mountainside and stand in line to collect water from some greasy community bath tap, I’d be pretty sore. That’s almost as bad as the traditional game of standing an egg on its top at 12 p.m. sharp so that next year will be lucky.
You ever tried standing an egg up on its top?
You’re better off spending time building a large suspension bridge out of popsicle sticks in your back yard or trying to have an in-depth conversation with a mushroom. They may have told Cool Hand Luke that no man can eat fifty eggs, but trying to stack one of ‘em on its top is pure goose-jerky.
(View out my bedroom window... yeah, thank God for air-conditioning!)

But finally, where would Dragon Boat Festival be without the legend that started it all, the reason people of all ages get into colorful boats and throws leafy balls of rice into rivers so polluted they wouldn’t dare dip a big toe in?
Well… I’ll tell ya. They'd be dead in the water.
Once upon a time back in ancient China, there was a soldier named Qu Yuan, who was wise and heroic and totally suicidal. One time, an enemy from another country invaded (seriously, why don’t more people invade China anyway?) and Qu Yuan fought so well and so bravely that his reward was tickets to the Lady Gaga Born This Way Tour… NO! Instead, in perfect Chinese wisdom, they exiled him to Mongolia. I mean come on, have you been to Mongolia? There is nothing there but yak butter and women who look like the bovine offspring of Snookie from The Jersey Shore.
Qu Yuan didn’t waste his time though. While away he wrote some really syrupy poetical collections like: I’m so happy I think I’m going to hit my head with a hammer, and the classic, Life is so perfect maybe I will drown myself (which he did by the way).
In a genius move, Qu Yuan threw himself into the Miluo River and was eaten by alligators and sharks and hungry island savages with Hong Kong feet (That's an actual Taiwanese expression by the way). Of course, local fisherman tried to stop this by throwing balls of rice called zong-zih, into the water, but that only made Qu Yuan sadder, whose last words were, “Couldn’t you just throw me a rope or an inflatable yellow duck or a copy of Byron? Gurgle. Gurgle. Glug!”
Thus, the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival was born, celebrating this amazing story and teaching children everywhere that if they want to be famous in legends, they need to kill themselves when life is hard. Nice huh? Happy Dragon Boat Day Everybody!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Letter to 9th Grade Parents from Teacher Brian Hartenstein

(The following letter was sent home to my graduating 9th graders.)

Dear Parent,
I want you to know that this letter is not easy to write. I have been your child’s English teacher for a year and a half now. The first half year was wonderful. Your child behaved excellently, was a joy to teach, and showed great potential.
Yet over the last year something has changed. Your child has been incredibly difficult to teach. He/She has been belligerent, rude, apathetical, and disrespectful. He/She does not listen to me. He/She does not follow directions. He/She ridicules me, mocks me, and is openly defiant.
I have not contacted you before because I believed supremely in my ability to connect with students. This is not the first time I have faced a difficult class. Yet now, at the end, I know I need to explain to you how your child has acted.
Your child plays games when I talk, interrupts me, won’t open a book when I ask, is not prepared for class, and constantly acts rudely when I attempt to teach. He/She shows me and our class no respect, they have to be constantly asked to “get their books,” “stop talking,” “turn around and listen,” and “please put away your other subjects.” When I ask your child about their behavior he/she speaks rudely to me, or laughs, or doesn’t care.
I have tried to be a good teacher, consistent, energetic, supportive, cautious, intelligent, modest, kind, strict, and helpful. Yet everything I try fails with your child.
I could have helped your child a lot in the future. I could have been a good friend and mentor to them. I could have written them letters of recommendation, offered help with international schools, assisted in trips abroad, and called potential employers to put in a good word. Yet now there is no relationship. Not once this year has your child apologized, said “Thank you,” or even “Hello,” when I enter the room or “Good-bye” when I leave.
Your child graduates with only disappointment from me.
I am sorry. Forgive me for this letter. Teaching is a very emotional thing for me. I just wanted you to know.

Teacher Brian Hartenstein