Monday, May 30, 2011

Taichung Food and Music Festival 2011

Spent last Saturday afternoon sitting in the shade next to the stage at the Taichung Food and Music Festival with my buddy Peter and his wife while Louis and Xian built forts with massive palm trees limbs fallen from the sky.
It's a great event, all the local food stalls were totally delicious. Any kind of food you want: hot Indian curry, oven baked pizza, Thai noodles. The crowds were mellow and relaxed, very neighborhoody and kid friendly.
Per usual... the hippies were dirty and out in full force. There is nothing that says Americana like a gut-busting, tight pant wearing, red cowboy hat pistol packing white dude. Kudos, my man!
And really, there's nothing better that awesome live music and creepy foreinger watching.
Except for maybe if this kid had gotten his head stuck into something... message in a bottle...?
Mayor Jason Hu everyone. Who is he? Hu. The guy on stage? Hu. You know, the guy standing right there? Hu. (Oh come on, that's kinda funny.)
A wonderful time was had by all, made all the more sweet by great local bands and hero drummers. Keep rocking, everybody! See you next year.

The Hartenstein Daughters Check In

A kid asked me today in school if I'd ever seen the Austin Powers movies? She said they were just hillarious. She asked me if I remembered Dr. Evil? How cool is that?
On Sunday I dragged my girls out into the hot sun in search of a light bulb for their little bedside lamp. It's the same night stand that I had as a boy. We went to six different stores and 90 minutes later I finally found one. An old lady walked me into a side alleyway where this woman was sleeping on the floor next to a fan.
The shop was covered with old boxes of faucet fixtures and boxed batteries, junky contraptions and of course, different light bulbs. She tested each on in a socket before putting the box. Success.
I work with this woman Renee, who is a bakery wiz... she brings all sorts of cupcakes and cookies into the office in handsome tupperware boxes. People that bake for office workers should get medals and streets named after them and tax breaks and days off.
A typhoon passed by over the weekend, thus making Saturday and officially blustery day. The panda kite was in full effect, I must tell you. He made quite a spash.
Just so everyone knows, the girls are fine, laughing and giggling and being crazy. We're getting geared up for summer. Miss you all.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose.

“I would see to that, that y’all have dreams… I have dreams too.” - Coach Eric Taylor

So it came down to the final play. 4th and 1. Goal line stand. No time left on the clock. No time-outs, no running out of bounds. This was it. Snap the ball. Go big or go home.
But it was a busted play. Scrambling around looking for daylight. Looking for a guy wide open and a once in a lifetime shot. Now or nothing. Leave it all on the field. Wind back. Swing for the fences. Hail marry. Ball in the air. Close my eyes, can’t look now. The crowd will tell me who won.
“You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once, so you take your memories where you can get ‘em.” - Jason Street

I gave stories to heal you. But you laughed in my face.
When Gerald was eight he burned down his grandmother’s house made of brick and wood after lighting a box of matches inside a fuse box in the kitchen. It was Lunar New Year and he later told the police he’d wanted to make fireworks so dragons would appear with wagons of good fortune. You didn’t know I knew that, did you? But I found out. You didn’t write it in some journal, or leave it on a note for me to find when cleaning your trash out from under the desks. I found out by asking around, by following your trail, by searching you so that I would know you more. So that I could reach you.
When the flames reached the ceiling you fled on a bicycle and your father found you cowering beneath the Buddha at the Temple of Earth and Sky. I know he beat the hell out of you until the authorities arrived and carried your bleeding body away.
“Today we’re champions. Feels good, right? Enjoy it while it lasts, cause tomorrow we’re targets.” - Jason Street

I know that there are no reform schools of psych wards for children here in Asia. Parents just pay their child’s crimes away. So your father paid, Gerald. He paid and time passed. Now you are in my class. One student in thirty-one. A fifteen year old with brown teeth and black glasses. Belligerent. Rude. Condescending. Entitled. Apathetic. You have such small hands, fidgety hands with fingers that always have to hold something: a spinning pen, a rough bottle cap, a slice of string. Busy hands, huh?
That Salem Witch Trial assignment was just for you. I wanted you to be falsely accused so you would have a chance to defend yourself to others, to your peers, to the world. To explain how you should be forgiven, because you’re just a normal kid. You should feel vindicated.
But you didn’t care. You laughed and didn’t take it serious. Couldn’t be bothered. Couldn’t care less. Didn’t even write out a defense like I asked and shrugged your shoulders and giggled when I put you on the stand.
Good luck, Gerald. You and your little busy hands are too busy for me.
“You think this is tough for you? You might try losing your child’s legs, and losing your child’s future, and every penny that you’ve ever saved. Try that on for size.” - Jason Street’s Father

When I was a boy I loved warming my hands over fire. I learned on the burner stove dad installed on the kitchen oven, surrounded by bricks mom painted black and white. I’d boil eggs for walks into the woods or warm milk for coco or soft pats of butter I’d pour into brown paper bags full of popcorn, close the lid and shake until the grains of salt greased up the sides.
I watched a lot of TV then, coming home often to an empty house while mom was teaching and dad designing machines. I used to strip down to my underwear and run around on the huge roof top high above the treelines and crouch in the corners looking out at Goat Mountain, then come inside and wrap myself in quilts and watch The Partridge Family and Gilligan’s Island.
Mom would only let us watch family shows: Happy Days, 8 is Enough, Laverne and Shirley. Simple plot lines with laugh tracks. She said other shows would rot our brains. She was probably right, but it also had the opposite effect: a revulsion of sweetness, an inability to stomach cheesiness. Sitting through corny episodes of neatly wrapped up plot lines in The Waltons or Little House on the Prairie, I began to crave something more real, more visceral, more true in both art and life.
And I found it.
“I know it sounds stupid, but it is an honor to just stand here with ya’ll.”
- Landry Clarke

I gave you chances to be brilliant and you threw it aside.
Taylor is the most talented kid in school, but she won’t even look at me. I gave her books, took math homework off her desk and replaced it with pastel colors, pulled her aside to talk every chance I had, but she didn’t care.
“I know I am ugly, and I know I am fat, and even if I try all of my life I will never be as great as Chagall or Mozart so why bother?”
“But you can be great for one person?”
“It doesn’t matter because I know it is nothing.”
Taylor that entire Satire Project was for you. I wanted to give your art a voice, a platform. I wanted the school to see your skill, your talent, but you couldn’t even be bothered.
“What, you will put it on your blog? Upload it to Youtube? No one will care.”
“Taylor wait. You are beautiful.”
“Just don’t, okay. You keep trying to make me something I am not. Just leave me alone.”
Good luck, Taylor. Hopefully someday you will show the world what I see.
“Trash talk is a sign of weakness.” - Smash Williams

A year ago I went to India. I was working at the International School and I quit and went to India to restore my mind. I rode on tops of trains. Slept on streets with lepers. Swam in the Ganges. Sat quietly in mountain temples surrounded by sand and snow. Listened to ancient wind. I saw unholy terrors. I saw nightmares.
I remember writing about TV then, about how you see things on the news and they seem so far away, but when you are looking at them face to face you are touched forever. I used to cringe at formulate plotlines in sit-coms. A boy and a girl falling in love while the crowd gasps. A father and son sharing a sweet moment while the audience sign reads weep and applaud. I used to get up and leave the room because I couldn’t watch.
Yet in India I couldn’t look away. I would stare right into the center of unthinkable terror and raise my camera and shoot. I wanted to keep it, to burn it into my memory. To make it my own. I came back a different person.
“He took a team that was battered, a town that was ailing, and he did more than put a band-aid on things. I’ll tell you that. He healed this town.” - Sammy Mead

I laid gifts at your feet and you acted insulted.
When I returned to Taiwan I had many job offers, but I returned to the International School because of Andie. She had been my favorite student, the one I wanted a second chance with, the one I felt I betrayed by leaving. But in the last year, she barely will speak to me.
James had been my replacement, a nice Mormon guy. Andie led a revolt. She threw books, knocked over chairs, wouldn’t sit still, made cow sounds during his lectures, drew grotesque portraits of him copulating with other teachers. He finally quit.
Because of you, Andie, James quit.
When I took over our class again in the fall I was overjoyed.
But you treated me like filth.
The boys sitting in class playing with their hair in front of mirrors, the girls raucous laughter chatting wildly while I was lecturing. It was like civil disobedience. I had to tell you to take out your paper, and to go get your books, and to put your computer games away, and to stop talking, and to stop throwing things, and to stop fighting and wrestling.
It was overwhelming.
Often the hours leading up to just stepping into your classroom felt like the dread of facing a firing squad at dawn. You were the reason, Andie. You were a cancer. You were a poison. I’m ashamed of how poorly you disrespected me. I can’t even comprehend it. I was powerless, the school did nothing to help me. You just watched it happen and shrugged your shoulders.
“I don’t care.” You said this to me dozens of times. “I don’t care.”
So good luck, Andie. You were the kid that meant the most to me. You were the one I was going to make a difference with. That persuasive newspaper project, that was for you because you told me you wanted to be a journalist. All those press clippings and video spots I loaded for class, all those discussion prompts I offered, those were all for you, and you didn’t care.
“In some situations, you need to ask yourself ‘WWRD?’ What Would Riggins Do?” - Landry Clarke

Suffice to say, I am now a TV snob. I blame Cosby and Mary Tyler Moore, but I just won’t watch the tube unless it’s art. I mean, sure, I’ll get lost in an episode of Dirty Jobs or The Amazing Race, but I flat out refuse to watch Glee, and I’ve never suffered more than a combined ten seconds of American Idol or Dancing with… Americas Got Talent?
The kitsch just makes my skin crawl.
But there are incredible shows that I do drop everything for. The Sopranos, and old episodes of Hill Street Blues, nostalgic M*A*S*H and the sadism of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I loved The Wire, which is the single greatest show in the history of television, not even a television show, but more like a wonderfully drawn out novel, and season four of that show is perhaps the best season in television history. Or Mad Men, with the enigmatic Don Draper, whose Carousal Speech at the end of season one is nothing short of poignant brilliance. But it’s only lately that I’ve discovered a new show to add to the list.
Friday Night Lights.
I have to admit, I didn’t give it a chance when it first came out. I’d taught the book, had the school order it just to make struggling student / athletes read it, but the TV show itself, completely caught me off guard.
Friday Night Lights is a show about the power of will. Like football players locking horns in a perpetual tackling drill, the characters don’t budge an inch. There is too much at stake, their hearts are too full, too strong. No one will relent or retreat. They know what they believe and will not be beaten. It is powerful and breathtaking and at times beautiful beyond words, and not since Andy Sipowicz of NYPD Blue has television produced a more tragic and flawed character as the self-loathing Billy Riggins, who pays in blood for every right choice he ever makes.
“Every man at some point in his life is going to lose a battle. He is going to fight and he is going to lose. But what makes him a man is at the midst of that battle he does not lose himself.” - Coach Eric Taylor

I cheered for you when the world didn’t know you were alive.
The first day of class after the 9th national exams, after the biggest day of your life, I want to talk about it, I’ve set aside the whole class to discuss. I know you are tired and I am making jokes, telling stories. You haven’t talked to me in a month. Haven’t seen me in a month.
You start heckling. Calling me stupid. Cursing me in Chinese. Saying my stories are a waste of time, asking if you can just go outside and play basketball or play cards or play a game.
“Game. Teacher. Game.”
You’ve been an English student for 9 years and this is how you talk to me?
I won’t say your name, but I want you to know that entire Shakespeare play we did was for you. I chose you to play Macbeth, the lead role. I could have given it to anyone, but you were the star. You were the one who no one knew. You were the one that had never been given a chance to shine.
Remember what you wrote in your journal, about how your mother calls you “shit” and your father…? Do you want me to write it here what he said?
I gave you this wonderful opportunity and you just mocked me, ridiculed me, flipped me off, spread rumors about me.
So good luck. I’m sorry that I didn’t reach you. I’m sorry that you saw so little in me. I see you now. I see the whole damn lot of you. Don’t need to listen to the audience to hear who won or lost. I saw you give up with my own eyes.

Greatest Hippy Chick Dance Video Ever

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Well... as per usual, the dirty hippies were out in full force yesterday at the Taichung Food and Music festival. Here a woman shows her sweet dance moves. I almost joined her... but then again... nope! (13 seconds)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Best Hartenstein Finds a Four Leaf Clover Vid Ever

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While hanging at my kid's playground, I found a little four leaf lucky charm. (18 seconds)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My stalker, my paleopathologist

The stuffed shirts were at the table. Dr. Miley, the belligerent pescetarian, was spouting once again how veganism gives her dreams a visionary power. Last night her grandmother Velma appeared floating with a bucket of boiled chestnuts saying how the secret key is hiding in her husband’s coffee can ashes. To my right is Peter Khan, PhD, the genealogist, who states off-handedly that humans and rice share 40% of their DNA.
He ain’t joking.
No one has a sense of humor in the Vulcan stoic world of after school sub-committees. It’s who’s got grad cupcakes for Honor Society, and who’s pushing a mop after Science Fair? All aboard, next stop: Snooze-ville.
It’s then I felt it, starting at my ankle and slowly rising up my pant leg. The gentle nubbing of a coy and equally precocious big toe, bare and naked, stroking my leg, rising up into the pristine folded arms of a lab jacket and seductive pair of eyes whispering to me from behind bifocals to keep still, remain calm, and enjoy the ride.
Attraction is weird. I mean, literally weird. I don’t know what makes one person attractive to another. I ask people to break it down for me all the time on a molecular level. Is it physical? Chemical? Biological? Psychological? Nobody knows.
Does a woman fall for a guy simply because he smells safe like her father’s aftershave? Or is it as random as the way he jingles his keys like he hasn’t a care in the world? And what about men? Do we all want hour glass figures and child bearing hips, or just somebody who takes pity on us enough to answer ‘Yes’ to the prom? Are women really willing to settle for a lummox who’s only discernable talent is opening a jar of peanut butter in the same way those prehistoric club and knuckle draggers are painting pictures on cave ceilings about the unobtainable Neanderthal that stole our gruel and got away?
Sheesh! I’m back to square one. Completely baffled.
I guess this all hit home last week when I discovered that yes, I had a stalker. Now I know, before you hit 911 on the speed dial, I’ve always thought stalkers got a bad rap. So what if they hang around outside your bedroom window? At least they’re showing a little initiative and determination. And so what if they sneak in through that window and dance around in your underwear? At least they fold and stack it nicely on their way out.
So I didn’t worry when she first appeared, following me across the street to 7-11 to buy my morning Snickers, and leaping behind a tree when I turned around. Or the next day when she dove into a bush after I came out of class with a group of students. I just felt she needed some practice. Really, she’s gotten much better. Like the other day, she donned a pair of opera goggles and an English driver’s hat, crouching behind a tripod imitating an ornithologist to peer into my second floor classroom. And then later she strapped on hip-waders as a cicada enthusiast to walk into the reflection pool and press and ear to a pagoda where I was holding a lesson on Naguib Mahfouz.
It was flattering, mind you. I certainly liked the attention, but even more certainly, understood nothing of the attraction.
So in an act of sheer curiosity, I began stalking her back. I quickly discovered professor Vivan Chou, it says so on her office mailbox, was a visiting guest lecturer from Taipei. She was single, I surmised from stacks of discarded fried rice boxes on her countertop as I peered through the rectangular glass door window, a sure sign of a workaholic with no home to go home to. And that she had a daring sense of humor (her hanging skeleton was wearing a bowler). I quickly slipped out a credit card to jimmy the lock, when the elevator bell dinged and I heard footsteps down the hall coming my way. There was nowhere to hide, no exit to escape from, this was it, total dual stalker confrontation. I closed both eyes and extended a hand…
The next words I heard were, “I’m so glad you are here. Teacher Brian is it? Splendid, I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”
“You have?”
“Yes, ever since I saw you at the club meeting, you have the most amazing shaped head.”
“I do?”
“Oh yes, tell me…” she put out her hands and began poking and prodding my scalp. “Have you ever had your skull drilled?”
Come to find out, and not to say the least, I misread the situation completely. Professor Chou was not stalking me at all. She’s just an eccentric nut.
In fact, she was completely oblivious to my very existence except for the unusual shape of my noggin, which she noticed from afar and had been hoping at long length to dissect its dimensions.
She was a paleopathologist by trade, a researcher of ancient diseases. From prehistoric animals to the antiquity of human beings, Dr. Chou liked nothing more than dirtying her fingers in Petrie dishes of tuberculosis and syphilis, bone spurs and samples of gout. She had done a masters on early 20th century bubonic plague tracings in rat bite victims of trench warfare in World War I, and a doctorate studying cranial deformations in the remains of Mayan house servants.
Oh, and that footsie she was playing… uh-uh! She’d lost a foot trekking Everest a few years back, showed me the wooden replacement. “That was my protruding hallux, Latin term, hallucis. I don’t feel a thing, see.”
She took a ball peen hammer and struck the dead black toe.
“Nope, no feeling.”
“But… but…” I stood trying to catch my breath. “You were following me everywhere.”
“Hmmm…” Dr. Chou seemed distracted, pausing to feed her two lab rats in glass aquariums, Louis Pasteur and Marie Anne Laurant. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of research, it’s that we sometimes see only what we want to believe.”
Truth hurts. So does loss. Even when that loss was really just a potential stalker, it still stings.
I left Dr. Chou’s office and walked across the street to buy a Snickers. In these moments, nothing satisfies like chocolate. Once inside, I drown my sorrows perusing the shelves. In Asia, 7-11 sells everything. You can buy cans of dog food, a camp stove, lucky red lunar New Year underwear, and gift sets of SPAM. You can buy airplane tickets and pay your mortgage, they’ll even arrange hospital visits for you. It’s a tantalizing smorgasbord of anything you desire.
It’s then I see it.
Sitting on stools by the big open window, the ugliest couple I’ve ever seen is feeding one another hot noodles from a styrafoam cup. The man’s face is covered by a large pink swollen birthmark. Dude looks like Mushmouth from Fat Albert. Big bucked teeth. Light traces of a pubescent moustache penciled over his upper lip, slurping and sucking on noodles out of his girlfriend’s hand. And believe me, she’s no prize either, got the body of a longshoreman, and is that neck hair, what?
It didn’t matter. They were completely engrossed in one another. Total Geek Love. I watched them for a moment, even picked up a copy of Tiger Beat to spy them. I wanted to know their secret, wanted to know what attraction they had that so many people crave. I thought I was being covert, Mr. Incognito.
I guessed wrong.
“Hey you…” Mushmouth barks at me. “Beat it!”
“Huh?”
“Stop stalking us, you creep. I said, ‘Beat it.’”
I did, walking back outside into the complete unknown.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Best Tom Petty American Girl Vid Ever

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Taking a little break to dance the ants out of our pants... here's some real American Girls in Asia.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Best Rebekah Kills a Cockroach Vid Ever!

videoOh yes... after doctor shots on Saturday morning, while riding the little kiddy coin-ups,Rebekah goes medieval on a puny bug. Nice work! (13 seconds long)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Happy Birthday Xian

To all those who sent well wishes and gifts, including an awesome Grammy H. care package full of Nintendo games and The Great Brain books, and lovely classic Monopoly game. Excellent. The girls had a great time, swimming and cake and ice cream, and international travel to Macau... what kid gets that.
I love you little munchins! Happy 7th sweetheart.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bras and Panties Hanging in the Wind

Introducing Jonathon Swift to my students I say he was an Anglican priest who proposed to the English the cannibalization of Irish children. That usually does the trick. Then I bring out my wig collection and Dublin accent and all bets are off.
I don’t mind modern day students thinking Jack Black helped the Lilliputians or that they have no reference for years: 1729 might as well be 2009. It’s just another page in the book we turn to, in the same way that Geoffrey Chaucer might as well be Garry Trudeau or Francois Rabelais morph into Lemuel Gulliver. Silver-dollar sized portraits next to words on pages, quick bios, bullet point objectives, key term definitions, brief explanations of history and significance. There’s even a teacher’s text for the lost educator. How nice is that, compact and sweet, seeming to grow from the earth like a yummy Irish potato.
Fact is, American students rarely put up a fight if you tell them there’s a video in the day’s lesson. You wheel that hulking TV and ancient video player into class and their eyes light up faster than if you had said, “Pizza party after recess,” or the two greatest words in American education: Snow Day.
American kids will plow through inky photocopies of the pilgrim William Bradford’s lengthy History of Plymouth Plantation in Plain Style with smiles on their face if you promise that the last ten minutes of class you’ll show the Will Ferrell SNL Blue Oyster Cult skit where Chris Walken has –Gotta have more cowbell.
But Asian kids are different. I have no idea what they are thinking. Every day I walk into class they holler, “Game! Teacher Game!” To which I can only reply, “No… No… today we study Mark Twain.”
Youthful joy blows from their souls like air-conditioned freon out an open door.
“But English class is supposed to be fun. You’re the English teacher. Play with us.”
This translation I understand. All their other classes are so boring and thick you could slice it with a rusty Ginsu. Teachers with microphones sitting in front of podiums reading from text books while the students follow along.
It’s no wonder they see me and think –Finally, something that doesn’t suck!
So when I stand in front of a class of eager uniformed students hooking up my laptop, there is a buzz.
“Are you going to show us Zoolander one more time? Please!”
“Yes, can we listen to Lenny Bruce again? His humor makes me inspiration!”
“Nope!” I shake my head. “Today is something different: The Marx Brothers.”
“The Marx Brothers?” The words pass from lips to lips as everyone gathers around my computer screen to take a look. In a moment the lights are turned off and the curtains are pulled. Harpo is staring into a reflection of himself he thinks is a mirror, moving slowly trying to see if it is real. The students have gathered on the floor, mesmerized by the black and white images. Me too. But I know the moment will soon be over, and it will be time to coerce them back to their books.
The following day we turn to the Egyptian, Naguib Mahfouz, with his enormous dark sunglasses and Nobel hanging in the closet. The idea to read him came to me in a dream during the lunar new year in Korea, when the world was glued to men with whips atop camels racing into crowds at Tahrir Square and the maniacal Korean businessman saying with such absurd confidence that when North and South unite, the Kimchi Kingdom will become the greatest power in the world. To understand Egypt, one must read Mahfouz, so we look at –The Happy Man, about how one person’s joy is seen as an illness to others. Like Swift joking about using an infant’s hide to cover the English nobleman’s gloved hand, I wait until the story’s end to say Mahfouz survived a knife stab to the neck at the age of 83 by a religious fanatic who thought his ideas to dangerous for the world.
Dave Barry is no bother, really, though at one point I remember him being overkill. Probably because he was stuffed down my throat as a kid by English teachers who didn’t have anything else to offer. I mean, I had to find Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces and O’Connor’s Wise Blood on my own. But to end the week I read from his –Staying at a Japanese Inn. It’s amusing and full of stereotypes my Asian kids don’t understand, even after I explain them. Half-way through class one student raises his hand and asks if we will watch Duck Soup again.
There is one long collective groan, and I sense the writing on the wall.
During the last ten minutes of class I tell the students to close their books and I show them pictures of my trip to Macau and last morning wandering around Coloane Village. I want them to see the intricacies of humor and beauty in ordinary things. How satire requires the ability to describe human behavior accurately and vividly in the tiniest traces. That the satirist must have a strong sense of right and wrong even if it goes against society’s norms.
The students humor me. The images are plugged into the television and so there is a bemused comatose like stuffed bellies after a feast, abundant in the room.
I tell them the story of the final picture. How after strolling these back alleys and hidden corners I came upon a woman’s undergarments hanging to dry in the sea air. Across the street the Pearl River rolled slowly by and the cement faced was so faded. I was moved, and began snapping pictures thinking about the loss of physical beauty with age and the discarding of personal intimacy when suddenly I was attacked by a screaming half-naked woman.
Belly bloated. Teeth frothing. She lunged out of the doorway swinging at me wildly with a bamboo broom.
It dawned on my later as she chased me down the street, that I had no business photographing her enormous brassier and lady garments hanging to dry on the street. As with everything, protocol my good man. Protocol.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lord Stow's Garden Cafe, Coloane Village Macau

We skipped out to Coloane Village along the Pearl River just north of Macau’s Taipa Island, rented a car and driver but could have walked. Here there is fresh air, pastel laden alleys to wander, hidden piazzas, and this wonderful blend of Cantonese and Portuguese life. I mean, come on, the place was attacked by pirates in 1910, what else you want out of an early morning jaunt?
At the Tam Kung Temple, the men gather to smoke while the women pray inside. Grandmothers in silk pajamas are led over steps to light incense and kneel. Bus drivers hike up their pants and gaze out at the sea. Couple of dogs nip and dodge a scooter. It’s a lazy morning before the tourists arrive, I know the stillness won’t last long.
Down a side street I carry Rebekah on my shoulders while Kinu and Xian run ahead. We stop to run our fingers across worn and cracking cement. Rebekah says it feels like burnt pancakes, she's right as always.
I came to Asia for Chinese, so that my daughters would learn this skill. In the same way they will return to Korea someday to learn alongside their mother’s family. I know they realize things I cannot. It gives me such satisfaction to know they are already smarter than me, like I've done my job.
We stop for fruit at the little market, peaches and bananas we peel beneath a banyan tree. My mother thinks my daughters don’t smile enough. She’s probably right, too. That night after bedtime stories, I linger a little longer to whisper while they are asleep, subliminal prayers blown across the dark room…. You are good… you are happy…. You are such beautiful girls… I hope they hear me in their dreams. I hope they see how beautiful they are past just a father's words.
Full circle, we stop for black coffee and juice at Lord Stow’s Garden CafĂ©, throw in a couple of croissants with blueberry jam and you’ve got a deal. Seats fill up quick. There are Christmas lights out back strung along a fence and a trail of ants deliberating over a fallen strawberry.
I love travel. Not a day of my life has gone by that I regret traveling the world, but it’s hard. It drains you. I miss my family. There is no price tag on having a brother or sister, and being away from your parents is like cutting your body in two, but moments help ease the burden. Catching something out the corner of your eye, following a little path leading nowhere. It’s worthwhile, but it's no real substitute.
There are so many people I love. Yet so many of them are unsatisfied with life, that want something more, looking for something greater. They sense something just beyond their fingertips but cannot grasp it for some reason. Good people. Kind and full of love. I know we all find it in the end. We all make peace. Here on these days, drinking black coffee and watching my girls smile, I make mine.