Monday, February 28, 2011

Last Batch of Korean Flickr People!


Hi Readers... yes, all the Korean Flickr pics are uploaded and ready to view. I hope you see them and they inspire you a little in some fun and silly and beautiful ways. I am a very lucky person. I always have been. These pictures show just what one person can have and accomplish in their life if they just believe and throw away caution and follow their dreams. Thank you so much to my family and friends for all their love and support. I hope you enjoy!

Wind Through Wood

One of the best moments I had on this last trip to Korea was early Lunar New Year's morning walking away from the beach hotel and up into the dried yellow grass of a small forest mountain temple.
I was the only one there and got to sit and look out over the ocean and feel the wind on my face through the trees.
I have many moments like this where I am completely alone in the world, where there is no one but me and my thoughts drifting along and alone away from the mass movement of the people around me.
I stepped inside and sat for quite some time as the floorboards creaked and the hanging lanterns swayed back and forth from the heavy wind that passed through the wooden cracks.
There is this moment in Walden when Henry David talks about the wind through wood, the dripping rain onto the floor, the sunlight passing through the wall in little shards of day and night. All because wood does not fit together with other wood.
Instead it bends and twists and knots to its own design, its own cut, its own will. Much like the people in our lives we want to be closer to but who shrink and warp and bend away.
I think about that a great deal when I am alone. Wood makes me think of people. All the air between us, that I can only feel but never hold.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Goat Soup

“Dogs, sir? Oh, not just now. I do enjoy a good dog once in a while, sir. You can have a three-course meal from one dog. Start with the canine crudités…” - John Keating

There is this moment in Dead Poets, Keating’s got the boys huddled up on the hardwood and he’s killing. I mean total stitches. There’s Neil who plays Puck in his father’s face and Todd who dreams nightmares of Walt Whitman’s scary toothed madman, and Pitts and Meeks and they are rolling, just roaring with laughter as if anything Keating says is going to put them over the edge. It’s THE teacher film, right? And Keating’s the master, you know? Or that is to say, Robin Williams is the master, don’t worry, I’m not delusional. I know the difference between a character and a real person.
I know it as clear as I know this moment I’ve seen on screen.
Because I’ve lived it.
That moment in class where time stops. Where it’s just me and the kids. Heads leaned forward. Books tossed aside. Eyes wide as saucers. Grinning teeth. I’ve got ‘em. I’m killing. And they’re mine.
Downstairs Teddy is crying. His eyes are welled with tears that run brown streaks of mud down his cheeks. The boys were in class when Johnnie pulled out his chair and Teddy dropped to the floor in a helpless heap. Later Johnnie put Teddy’s binder in the garbage and dropped his pencil case in the toilet. Johnnie is fueled by Tony who throws wet tissue wads at Teddy’s neck when the teacher leaves the class. Tony is egged- on by Dallas, who has no creativity, and just trips Teddy and holds his face to the wooden desk until he cries uncle.
Teacher Karen lines all the boys up in our office and starts screaming. Top of her lungs for twenty minutes in Chinese. I understand nothing. I understand everything. I want to walk over to Johnnie and put my fist through his face. I want to hang Tony by his heels out the fourth floor window. I want to burn Dallas at the stake and stand laughing while Teddy lights the match.
But nothing.
Teacher Karen screams and the boys snicker and then she says, “Get back to class. We have a test in ten minutes.”
The boys leave and as soon as the door closes, Johnnie puts Teddy in a headlock and slams him into the wall.
Very well done. Excellent.
Cameron is late with his second writing project. Two months late. He has no excuse. I talk to him. I plead with him. I tell him he is the only student in all my 8th grade classes that didn’t finish it. I meet with him and show him how. I sit with him and we talk it out. But nothing. He does no work.
Then he goes on vacation. Then there is the lunar holiday. And now he is back and his mother wonders why there is a zero on the report card. She is angry. She is calling the school. She wants to meet. She wants to know why. There is only one answer in her mind. The teacher is to blame.
I am told this while I am walking to class.
"Oh, and by the way," the administrator suddenly smiles, "The Taiwan National Television Network is doing a feature story about bilingual education in the country and your class has been selected to be interviewed. There will be cameras tomorrow in class. Teacher Brian, you are going to be famous.”
That afternoon I spill the beans. I start with John Lennon. I tell my class that we live in a funny world where everyone is now self-aware that they will have 15 minutes of fame at any moment. That camera and news crews and paparazzi are right around everyone’s corner and that anything one does is a potential YouTube soundbyte. We start laughing about how silly it will be to have TV crews in the classroom.
“Can we dress up?” Miley asks.
“Should we rehearse, like in Romeo and Juliet? Franklin ponders
The kids are full of questions.
“No, let’s just be normal.” I tell them. “Our normal is pretty good enough.”
“Hey, you never told us about the goat soup,” Amber says. The Taiwanese eat hot goat soup after new years to freshen up the body, bring good luck in the new year, and revitalize male stamina. It’s been a running joke since the school provided all the teachers with restaurant coupons.
So I start talking about all the disgusting food I’ve eaten: dog, monkey, snake, silk larva, grasshopper. The kids are dying. Rolling. Then Amber asks why I haven’t tried goat?
“Because no one will go with me.”
“I’ll take you.”
“No, I’d just embarrass you by asking too many questions. I’m a hippy Oregonian. I’d want to know if the goat had a name or if it was fed organically. I drive people nuts.”
The kids crack up.
“I don’t care. It’s very fashionable to take a foreigner to a restaurant.”
“Huh?”
The kids are laughing. Guts busting.
“Yes, if we are seen together people will envy me.”
“What?”
“It is true. Ask anyone.”
“So … you want me to be your pet? Like some monkey?”
The students roar with laughter. “Yes, my goat soup eating monkey.”
When I get back to the office after class Teddy is crying again. The boys have taken his metal lunch pail and have hid it outside. Then Johnny threw his white-out tape in the garbage and Dallas took his mechanical pencil and never gave it back. Through shaky sobs, Teddy explains that the boys torment him, that he is helpless to it, that he is so afraid.
Seven boys are lined up with noses to the wall all snickering.
“Silence!"
Teacher Karen yells and strikes each boy’s head with her hand. “You are not to speak!”
Karen is interesting. She is one of the only Taiwan teachers to even acknowledge my existence. She is young, about 26, unmarried and in her 4th year as an educator, her first as a homeroom instructor at our school.
I teach in her classroom once a week. 7th grad social studies. So I know these boys lined up against the wall in punishment very well. On the first day of school last semester, just as the bell was ringing, Karen came in and stood in front of the class screaming. I mean, Mussolini-esque type screaming with folded arms across her chest. “Shut up! Silence! You will not speak. Respect me or I will send demerits home.”
Then she turned to me with these huge red lips and red gums and brown teeth smiling. “You may begin teaching now,” and she left.
I let this go once. Then I stopped her the following Monday at the door. “You cannot do that again, teacher Karen.”
“I am only trying to help.”
I walked her out of the room. Then she stood in the doorway scowling for the first ten minutes of my class. It was absolutely comical to see me talking to the kids and having this woman standing outside the door staring at her students daring them to smile or have a good time.
Again, I let this go once then stopped her. “Karen, it is not my way.”
“But this is Taiwan. These are Taiwanese students.”
“Yes… I understand but… you’re wrong.”
The day with Teddy I watched Karen yell at those boys for bullying for over twenty minutes. She stuck fingers in their faces. She slapped them with sticks. She pushed them against walls. In the end, each boy’s punishment was the same. Turn and bow to Teddy and apologize.
The boys acted as if this were a death sentence.
I watched in disgust as each boy turned to face Teddy. They jogged in place. They turned and twisted their necks. They thumped their chests like prize fighters. Then one by one, with a gallows poll reluctance, they lowered their head and mumbled…. “I’m sorry…” then returned to the back of the line to burst out in laughter.
There is a knock at the door.
It is Thursday's evening class and we are ready for the cameras. The chalkboard is full of diagrams and student scribbles. The wall posters have been newly taped and set straight. Student work hangs proudly. I even made a new seating chart. The students are so excited. We had such strange discussions that day like, “Do you think it is okay if I sit cross-legged on my chair? I don’t want my parents to see it on TV and be angry.” And “Is it okay if we make jokes with you like usual? I don’t want my grandmother to think we never study?”
“Don’t worry, kids.” I tell them. “Just be yourselves.”
Outside in the hall I am told the news. The camera crews will not be coming after all. The principle has been talking to the reporters about his childhood for most of the day and they can’t get away. He still wants to address his political aspirations and his vision for our school to become the richest in the city. To be number one.
“Sorry, teacher Brian,” the administrator tells me, “But the cameras have gone home.”
I step back into class and give my students the news.
I am standing at my desk the following morning talking to another teacher when Cameron walks in and throws his writing project on my desk. No excuse me. No thank you. No I’m sorry. Just throws the papers, turns and walks out. I call after him but he doesn’t stop. I am about to go after him when Cameron's mother appears with an administrator. She wants to talk. She wants to know why I don't frighten her child more. Demand a better performance. She wants to know my classroom rules. She is frothing angry and it is 7:45 a.m. standing at my desk with her jade jewelry and blue eye-shadow. She is actually carry a Harrods paper shopping bag with a neatly shaved poodle in it.
I try to collect myself. I try to keep it cool. I escort the fuming woman to the empty classroom across the hall and begin to call her down from the ledge of insanity. Two hours later as I walk into class and Cameron and I make eye contact and instantly I see it written all over his face. He is not ashamed and it will translate to nothing.
Just before Friday ends I am called to the fourth floor. Teddy has lit a fire in the boy’s washroom and is standing over the flaming pyre of books watching it burn. Geography. History. Algebra. English Comp. All melting into the tiles like rainbow candy. He is shirtless. No emotion on his face. Weightless as he is carried away.
The fire is easy to put out. Water from buckets filled at the tap. Breathless in the smoke we stand. Teachers looking at one another. Dumbfounded. Lost. Hollow. Through the door and into the hallway I see Teddy standing in front of teacher Karen. His head is bowed. She is screaming and hitting. Raining her hand down again and again on the back of his neck and shoulders.
I am empty. There is no more strength in my body, and the next moments are blurs. Suddenly I am holding Teddy’s hand and we are walking down stairs, out of the building, down the street. He puts up no resistance. There is no more fight in either of us. In fact, it’s a couple of blocks before he even speaks.
“Where are you taking me?”
“We’re going to sit down together. You and I are going to talk.”
“What?”
“Don’t worry. I know this place. They serve goat soup. Come on, have a bowl with me.”
Teddy is so light. He takes five steps for each one of my strides. I feel he is floating beside me like some kite I am trying to set in flight.
“Yes. Okay. Goat soup," he murmurs, "That would be nice.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

ep. 32 "Chinese Fashion Models"


Hey Readers... here's the latest video blog of life in Asia. Sometimes really cool opportunities present themselves and you just have to grab them. In this episode, my daughters and I become fashion models to sell a Chinese Software Product, and as you will see, it will truly be a ONCE in a lifetime experience. (Thanks to Apple's Angry Bird, by the way.)

Korea Flickr PIcs...

Here are the first round of the Korean Flickr Pics. Please click on the right to see. Hope you enjoy.

A Good Man is Hard to Find

I never do this… I swear, but I read this the other day online, and I just laughed out loud. Here goes:

EVERYTHING about Douglas Mercer, 38, is intense, from what he reads (Shakespeare) to where he travels (Rwanda, India, Nicaragua). He is passionate about experimental theater, scuba diving, Buddhism and Boston sports teams. In his teens, he liked the Grateful Dead so much that his mother, Carol Ann Mercer, drove him to concerts the way other moms drive their kids to soccer games. “Grateful Dead songs were like poetry, and Doug is attracted to things that really mean something,” said Lisa Kroiz, his sister. She added: “He’s a soul-searcher. He’s moved by poetry and music and beauty and travel.” He studied film at the American University of Paris and later went to graduate school in theater at Boston University. “Most people go from theater to TV to film,” he said. “I went the opposite way.” He prefers going the opposite way, he said. While at Boston University in the fall of 2001, he met Sara Jane Katz, an undergraduate from Manhattan who wanted to be a Broadway actress. He remembers thinking she was studious and boring, not his type. He preferred outgoing, hippie-ish women. Ms. Katz hates the smell of patchouli oil, and friends say she loves shoes way too much to go barefoot.

Source:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/20/fashion/weddings/20VOWS.html?ref=weddings

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

“She’s a rich girl. She don’t try to hide it. Diamonds on the soles of her shoes.” - Paul Simon

Nampodong, Pusan. 10:54 a.m. Brian Hartenstein picture. This is one of the luckiest shots I’ve ever taken. The man was thirty meters away walking toward me facing the sun. I was leaning against a tree, must have snapped a dozen pictures of passing people in a little five minute span. I had no idea that it was even in focus until I got home later that day.
“He’s a poor boy, empty as a pocket with nothing to lose.” - Simon

Chinese Pharmacy, Gukchae Market, Pusan. 11:44 a.m. I’d been having trouble breathing through the night and luckily this pharmacy, which has been in the same location for decades, remembered me and still kept inhalers in stock. I snapped this photo of the manager checking his handwritten ledger because of the abacus. Again, it was a very lucky picture of an old way of Korean life still thriving.
“She was physically forgotten then she slipped into my pocket with my car keys.” - Simon

Old Woman in Sneakers, Kwangalee Beach, Pusan. 2:43 p.m. She had been watching the ocean for over an hour while my daughters shoveled sand and searched for small sea shells. I liked that she had a cane and a small bucket for a seat.
“And I could say oo oo oo as if everybody here would know exactly what I was talking about.” - Simon

Young Blond Boy, Soemyun Movie Theater, Pusan. 11:17 a.m. It’s called the Korean Wave, this electric movement of music and movies and art that has swept over Asia. Years ago this boy’s style would have never been thought possible, now it is accepted and profitable. I caught him walking with his friends on a chilly morning. He looked like the future.
“You’ve taken me for granted because I please you.” - Simon

Pusan Bexco Subway Platform. 9:32 a.m. Snapped this old man that didn’t want to have his picture taken, but he just looked so suspiciously like a man on a caper, I had to let him know I was on to his devious plan.
“The poor boy changes clothes and puts on aftershave, to compensate for his ordinary shoes.”
-Simon


Old Man Selling Roasted Walnuts, Nampodong Theater District, Pusan. 11:31 a.m. Nibbling street food on a frigid morning. I like pictures with steam. There were many smiling street hawkers that morning, this one was very grumpy. So I got him.
“She said honey take me dancing but they ended up sleeping in a doorway.” - Simon

Daeshindong Restaurant Delivery Woman. 1:00 p.m. Just finishing some Chinese food when this woman passed in a flash. I love the newspaper covering the food. Some things never change.
“She makes the sign of a teaspoon, he makes the sign of a wave.” - Simon

Bundled Woman in Lace Gloves, Chagalchi Fish Market, Pusan. 10:33 a.m. This is one of my favorite places to visit whenever I am in Pusan. I don’t know what fills the senses more, the sea, the exotic fish, or the locals who frequent there.
“By the bodegas and the lights on upper broadway.” - Simon

Rich Woman who can’t be Bothered, Sinsaegae, World’s Largest Department Store, Haeundae Pusan. 12:47 p.m. I took this picture while waiting for our names to be called outside an expensive restaurant. Xian saw her first and said, “Dad, that would make a good picture.” Gaudy, huh?
“People say she’s crazy she got diamonds on the soles of her shoes.” - Simon

Young Woman Dreaming, Westin Chosun Beach Hotel Lobby. 12:49 p.m. Saw this woman looking off into the distance and wondering what she was thinking.
“Well that’s one way to lose these walking blues.” - Simon

Old Man Stunned, Hadan, Kalag-Town beneath Dong-A University, Pusan. 11:44 a.m. This old man was across the street staring at something above me. I had to take this picture because he didn’t move for a few minutes, just stood there frozen with his mouth open. It was both hilarious while simultaneously freaking me out.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

ep.31 "Chinese Haircut"


Well... it's haircut time again for Hartenstein. What could possibly go wrong? Good thing he's got his daughter with him. Check out the latest funny video here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chagalchi & Nampodong: Pusan Highlights

Took the girls into Chagalchi fish market right on the harbor and then across the street into the glitzy fab street markets of Nampodong.
Chagalchi is one of the best streets in the country. The fish hawkers, the old women shouting prices, the men carrying boxes of ice dumped on the road, the steaming bowls of soup, and all the old women with make-up and lace gloves cutting salmon and squid.
There were monks beating wooden drums and men thatching straw brooms and young women laughing and chasing my daughters down the alley with king crabs.
In Chagalchi, we sampled some o-deng fish sticks and drank hot steamy soup from bowls.
For lunch we strolled Nampodong. This is one of the most famous areas of Pusan with Yundusan Hill and the Pusan International Film Festival. Loaded with nightlife and daylight sights. Wonderfully fun.
Afterward, I saw this monk and woman leaving a restaurant. I thought it was cute. In Asia, you see a lot of monks in bars drinking or driving expensive cars are shopping for jewelry or riding the bus. It’s funny to see these people you think should be sitting under a Bodhi tree living like regular folks.
The back alleys of Nampodong is where the action is happening. Busy streets, amazing people, loads of fun.
But the best was spending the time with my daughters. They loved it. Xian ran here and there questioning everything, and Rebekah just rode on my shoulders. A wonderful day for sure.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lunar New Year in Korea

Stepped off the plane in Pusan, South Korea to frigid air and steamy milk coffee from vending machines, kimchi pots sleeping soundly on tiled roof tops and boiled chestnuts on street vender carts.
Blue sky high as a horse’s tail, sheets of ice on rivers with banks covered in greasy mud, and old men pulling carts of flattened cardboard on bicycles with square kickstands.
Dusty patches of grass beneath trees and cold sand on my toes, hotel lobbies to stand in and whisper about, late night taxi rides through cities alit and aglow with possibility.
Back alleys to wander with my bare camera, no case, just me and my thick shoes and heavy socks stomping along, notebook and ink pen in my back pocket.
Jogs high up in the sparse mountainsides my legs raw and red and burning from frozen wind or rummaging through markets, winking at my girls who love it as well. Watching them sleep on hard hotel beds with the TV running silently in the corner in the middle of the night, just breathing in the silence. Walking to the window looking out over the city, so thankful at life.
And I can speak… oh the joy of being able to say anything to anyone. That first morning I bought three doughnuts for my daughters: a glazed old fashioned for Xian; cream filled for Bekah, and strawberry for Kinu, and laughed with the woman behind the counter about how happy being a father makes me, that I can return to this county and show my daughters the world.
But the true joy of returning to Korea is in the personal things for me. In seeing how much the country has changed, grown up, spread its influence throughout Asia in music and movies and culture and art, but yet remains infinitely the same. Wandering streets I have walked now for a decade and a half. Visiting old friends and family, former teachers and students from past lives. So happy. Just standing in the cold sunlight laughing, wanting more.

Friday, February 11, 2011

ep. 30 "Chinese New Year"


Ridiculous and silly video episode of my two younger daughter's Chinese Lunar New Year performance. Also, there are some disturbing Bunny hip-hop scenes. Warning, for sure.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Damn, You. Whistle Nazi.

The Whistle Nazi is this Chinese dude, probably mid-thirties, big beer barrel drinking chest and sturdy tree trunk legs, who has appointed himself head of the noise patrol Gestapo over the helpless children of the elementary school cafeteria where my daughter Xian is now a first grader and where I, equally helpless and more haplessly, find myself eating lunch every day.
Back home this guy would probably coach a death sport, storming around the cafeteria blowing his shiny silver whistle in sharp staccato bursts.
Zip! Zip! Zip!
Right in old Mrs. Chang, the school secretary’s ear, causing the grey-haired woman to scream and pass out.
Zip! Zip! Zip!
Across the massive cafeteria he scares the snot out of me, and I drop my tray of soggy spinach and mystery meat.
Ahhhh. Damn you, Whistle Nazi!
As fate would have it, he’s a math and engineering teacher. I loathe math!
What in the world do third graders need an engineering teacher for? They should be running around in forests building tree houses and jumping from rope swings into rivers.
Yet he’s here every day, and despite the children barely coming up to his waist, he just keeps blowing his whistle and screaming, "Shut up, children! You are too loud. Stop Talking. Shut UP!"
Zip! Zip! Zip!
“Or I’ll feed you to the ovens!”
He terrifies the kids. He torments the foreign teachers. He is running totally amuck. Amuck, I tell you. Who does this guy think he is? Well, I’ll tell you. He thinks he’s the Whistle Nazi, of the master whistle race.
To make matters worse, the Whistle Nazi has not neck. I mean, what the hell is wrong with people who have no necks? It’s Asia, I get it. This place can be a freak show. Cleft palates. Noseless lepers. Midgets with tails. I don’t mind most of it. Take hunchbacks for example. Some of my best friends are Quasimodoes. I can see how during the Cultural Revolution that good posture wasn’t a top priority, okay? But the Whistle Nazi’s head just sits on his shoulders like a giant unmovable melon. He’s this freakishly deformed ogre that towers over children and no one is brave enough to scare him away with pitchforks and torches.
Disgustingly, the female Chinese teachers adore him.
“Oh, he is so strong and authoritative. Just listen to his powerful whistle blasts.”
“Yes, he is so majestic as he strides past the napkin dispensers and garbage bins. Oh, here he comes, is my pancake foundation okay?”
As an American writer in Asia, I get a lot of letters, usually from creepy American guys still living in their parent’s basements and trading Yu-Gi-Yo cards on-line. Guys with screen names like Chocolatethunder69 or RiceFeeVa2000. They ask: “Isn’t Asia like a candy store for hot females?” Or, “How do you stand being surrounded by so many fine Chinese women?”
Well, I’ll tell you, because it’s not what you think. Most Chinese women drive me batty.
This is what it is like to be around a Chinese women. It is an all-out onslaught on your privacy. Almost every conversation I’ve had with a single Taiwanese or Chinese women begins like this:
Hi
Hi
How are you?
How are you?
So… Do you want a serious relationship with me? What about a girlfriend? I think you are an American, you must have a girlfriend? Why not? It is easy for you I think? What about your job? What is your annual salary? I am a third year university student majoring in engineering. When I graduate, I want a career, will you support me? What about children. I want a family. Will you expect me to raise your children? Also my parents are getting older. They will want to meet you. My father is especially excited to teach you many things. They are from the countryside so they cannot speak English. I will check your pronunciation of their names…
This is basically the first thirty seconds of a first date with a Chinese woman after you sit down in the restaurant.
Fun, huh?
Nowhere is this point illustrated better than with the front door of our junior high school. Here in Asia, I find myself uttering the phrase, “You would logically think…” but it just doesn’t apply. For some unknown reason, the front doors to our school, the only doors in the building leading in or outside, are barred and locked. (Okay, I do know the reason, we were audited by the labor bureau about six months ago, and the school wants to keep out the rift-raft. The Whistle Nazi self-appointed himself as door monitor…) But that means to exit the school, each student, teacher, or admin has to walk over 400 meters out of our way, over the bridge connecting the junior high and elementary schools, through the courtyard playground, past the 100 or so children playing dodgeball with one ball, around the perfectly formatted lines of gym classes doing foot and ankle tai-chi stretches, to the guard station, knock on the door, wait for the sleepy man to fall out of his chair, put his glasses on, rub the 1,000 year-old dust from his eyes while he stares at you blankly and buzzes you out the metal gate.
Sigh.
So, in an act of total defiance, I have started to sneak out the front door.
This got me caught on surveillance.
This got me noticed by the superiors.
This put the Whistle Nazi on my tracks.
This got him laying in wait for me one morning as I snuck out to grab a Snickers bar at 7-11.
This led to him leaping out behind the tetherball pole and blowing his whistle at me like some lunatic jail escapee.
This led to me making a break for it.
This led to him chasing me down the street on a motor scooter screeching his whistle.
This got me tackled by a group of indigenous construction workers mixing cement out a second floor window. All of which had peculiar facial tics concealed by tribal tattoos.
This led to a gaggle of old grandmothers in MC Hammer pants doing yoga hip stretches in the park to come to my defense.
This led to their eventual questioning of me laying face down in a pile of wet cement, painful lip grimaces, plumber’s crack, and shrieking whistle hysterics.
“What you doing? You so handsome? You American? Why you running so fast? You going to meet your girlfriend now? What’s a nice boy like you doing all alone?”
I had no other alternative after that. It was me or him. I was going to take the Whistle Nazi down. It was go time. So I started to mess with him, bringing my own whistle into the cafeteria the very next day, sitting nonchalantly with the other teachers, varying my position, waiting to strike.
And just like every day, the Whistle Nazi also took his position in the middle of the cafeteria, towering over the little black heads slurping down rice and smacking their lips on fishsticks, and when the hum of student voices reached a moderate buzz.
Zip! Zip! Zip! He filled the cafeteria with Blitzkrieg terror as little children dove their frightened faces under metal trays for cover.
Pause ten seconds.
“Chirp.”
The Whistle Nazi dropped into a defensive stance.
Pause another ten seconds.
“Chirp.”
The Whistle Nazi turned on a dime and squinted over the dark heads of the entire elementary school.
“Chirp.”
The Whistle Nazi grabbed two third graders cowering in the soup line. “Who did that? Was that you?”
I eek out another chirp from beside the metal spoon rack as the Whistle Nazi tackled two pig-tailed and freckled fourth graders. “You there. Halt! Show me your papers…”
“Chirp.”
It was like waving a red cape in front of a bull. The Whistle Nazi was incensed. He began lunging at students. Knocking over metal rice bowls. Spilling metal water cups. Slipping on metal chopsticks and falling over backwards into a pile of stacked metal trays. Screaming and shouting and cursing and attempting to stand and slipping on a slippery slug-trail of discarded cabbage, falling face first into the food dumping pail of fish guts and sea-oyster gruel.
“Chirp.”
I made my way up the stairs, out the front door of the school, and over to 7-11 for a well-deserved Snickers.
The next day when I got to the cafeteria mayhem ensued. Hundreds of children, standing on tables, leaping from benches, running in circles totally amuck, and all blowing whistles. Orange plastic whistles, silver metal shining whistles, and long tubular slide whistles that go up and down. There were even a couple of kids with harmonicas and kazoos.
Kazoos?
The Whistle Nazi was beside himself. Hurrying here and there trying to confiscate every single noise maker he could get his hands on, blowing his whistle, screeching it, but to no avail. The revolution had begun.
The following day a flier appeared in my mailbox:
“All students entering the cafeteria will be searched. Any student carrying any kind of illegal paraphernalia noise maker will have them confiscated and be escorted immediately to the main office where they will receive a serious punishment and black mark on their permanent record. Signed, the school authority for a quiet and orderly lunchroom."
It was only a matter of time now.
I was called in later that day. As I entered the main office, most of the staff had already gone home for the night. Yet there, sitting behind desks were the school principle, the dreaded head of discipline or “The Jagwan,” and of course, the Whistle Nazi himself, sneering at me from behind a white bandage wrapped around his bulbous and enormous melon-sized head balancing miraculously like a bowling ball on his shoulders.
It was confirmed on school surveillance. I was the vile instigator of the cafeteria whistle revolt. I was not to be punished. No, punishment was not in store for me. They assumed I was only a mere pawn. A disposable player in a larger scheme to somehow discredit the school or merely an agent of chaos bent on destroying school stability.
But who sent me?
The Labor Bureau?
Perhaps the American media trying to infiltrate perfect Taiwan testing scores?
Nonetheless, I was to relinquish my whistle at once and never cause any trouble again.
I did so without remorse and with complete insouciance.
Afterward, I ventured upstairs to collect my bag but while standing in the office, all the lights in the building were turned out. I was completely in the dark. Racing downstairs to the front of the school, there was no one to be seen, only lights on the street, a few passing cars, and fading figures of the last staff members walking away.
I began banging on the glass.
Here.
Wait.
You locked me inside. Frantically, I started pulling on the doors locked tightly shut. If only I had something in my pocket, some high pitched signally device.
But nothing.
It was then I heard it. Shuffling behind me. Faint. Slow. Muffled. I turned around to see creeping silhouettes. Half human in the shadows. Dragging feet. Hands reaching out to me. Grinning in rows of brown teeth. There was nowhere to run. I was completely sealed in. It was my worst nightmare. Mops in buckets. Push brooms sliding across the floors.
It was the all-night team of Chinese cleaning ladies. It was too late. They were already upon me.
Say… you American teacher, right? What you doing here hiding in the school? You don’t have girlfriend to go home too? What about wife? You looking for a serious relationship? I think for you, so easy. Come, I have daughter? She very nice. Good student. If you marry her, will you support me? I no have to work no more? Come on, you spend night here. We let you go in the morning. What you thinking?
Damn you, Whistle Nazi. Damn you.