Sunday, October 30, 2011

Brian Hartenstein Video Travel Blog: Hartensteinabroad episode 50: "The Windmills of Mykonos"

Yep... hartensteinabroad is still traveling around Europe! In this 50th episode, we travel to the Greek Isle of Mykonos to chase windmills... come on, you Greek travelers... take a look.

Halloween 2011, Asian Style

Well... the school threw the annual Halloween block party and invited the neighborhood to attend.
(Yes, this is Brian Hartenstein dressed up as... you guessed it... Medusa)
The ghosts and goblins, killers and freaks came out in full force. There were games and haunted houses, and enough fried food to smell it on your clothes the next day.
The bloodier the better... that's what I've learned also... these Asians, they love being scared, they love ghost stories, and nobody sees a problem with gore amid a children's function.
Zombies too... they're quite popular nowadays... here is Andrew staggering around terrorizing little children and making young middle school girls scream. Can you believe this guy is the author of like five different grammar text books? Pretty awesome!
The kid costumes were really good this year, and for some reason, the Taiwanese have really taken to Halloween as their own holiday.
(Yes, this is Ching Ding Ling -actual name... Our School President... how cool is this guy!)
They love the dress up and the silliness of it, they really have thier own Halloween style... one of the big dress up ideas is "Cos-Play" which is a hard thing to identify outside of Asia.
But is is essentially dressing up as an Anime character and flashing these "Vogue-Like" poses. To the untrained eye, it just looks like a regular costume and then... something strange happens...
The person really takes on the character and apparently "becomes" a new person. I think that is important here in Asia where everyone must be so similar and "fit" a certain expectation. Halloween therefore becomes a real escape for many people.
(Chris works the ping-pong pumpkin throw at our booth)
At least that is what eveyrone tells me... and I pay attention. Maybe I'm wrong and these are just really cool costumes put on by kids who have spent half their life in English classes.
Anyway, you may not be able to Trick O' Treat door to door or be able to find an actual pumpkin to carve or a haunted house without an inflatable jump pit somewhere in the middle...but Asia is doing all right.
And that's all you can hope for isn't it? To have a little piece of home when you are far away... people trying, you know? People coming together to laugh and be sweet and share a little bit about themselves... even if it is just their inner goul and freak.

Halloween with the Hartenstein Girls

Oh yes... we did get candy. The school threw a bunch of Halloween parties and my kids made out pretty well.
Still, it's not the same as if we were back home, but it's pretty close.
We recycled some costumes from last year, basically, my girls don't mind being Pocohantus or Ballerinas... but they really still want to be princesses.
The Spiderman and Batmas costumes are still around... but that's boy stuff...ewwww!
And yes, just like in years past, I hoarded all of the candy and ... well... nibbled some of it myself after confiscation.
But we had an awesome time and made a great memory. By the way, kudos for all the Asian parents that threw pencils, erasers, notebooks, puzzles, and game kits in the Halloween grab bag rather than just yucky sweets. Keep up the good thoughts, Mom and Dad!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thoreau Makes Love to the Night

“Whenever I looked out on the pond it impressed me like a tarn high up on the side of a mountain…” -Walden

Once again, running around in the darkness watching the faces of others in the night, what is there to this life, this world?
“It’s bottom far above the surface of other lakes…” -Walden

The things people become in life are the secrets they hide from others, even those closest. No one really knows anyone.
“As the sun arose, I saw it throwing off its nightly clothing…” -Walden

And therein lies the mystery, to be unlocked, to be revealed in time. We need the mystery like some bread crumb trail left innocently for another to find, but they have to be looking. If not… the secret has no power.
“And here and there, by degrees, its soft ripples or its smooth reflecting surface was revealed…” -Walden

I tell my students –You don’t know Thoreau. You don’t know what he saw or knew, out in the darkness wading into the water, what thoughts were in his head. I show them passages, we talk about similes and metaphors and the purest notions of the transcendentalists… we put in the work to understand how Walden was his greatest love.
“While the mists, like ghosts, we stealthily withdrawing in every direction into the woods…” -Walden

They tell me –ah Hart, Thoreau just needed a girlfriend… look at these lines, he’s so lonely.. he’s like a man starving for someone, so much that even the trees look like the shape of a woman. What’s that cartoon, the two guys in the life boat and one looks at the other like a hotdog, his mouth starts watering… that’s what Thoreau has got… it’s not sexual longing it’s just a mirage of the human heart lost in the woods.
“As at the breaking up of some nocturnal conventicle.” -Walden

Yes. Yes. Yes. Tell me more, young mind about your experience in the ways of love. Tell me how love is the answer, love is the key, love will set you free… but you don’t know Thoreau, because the illusion is all that is real. So let me go into the night as well, out into the darkness, where my secrets can run free.

Yep, Got a Massage from a Dude (中医推拿)

It's been a tough week... paperwork stacks and essay attacks, co-worker conspiracies and oh yeah... I'm pretty much alone in an unsympathetic country that tries to suck the blood out of me on every turn. So what'a guy to do... down on his luck... kicked around... dust on his dungarees...
Sometimes you've just got to get a massage...from a dude.
Actually, there's a great deal of misunderstanding about Asian massage. Most people think it is back alley parlours with girls on the street in mini-skirts beckoning you to enter...
Yes and No. But high end, fashionable massage is quite popular here. Well lit, incredibly comfortable chairs with personal sound systems, capable staff members trained in various arts...
I mean, the Asians invented all this stuff… aromatherapy and specialized pressure point massage of scalp and foot, and specific herbal drinks to relax and refresh the mind… it’s absolutely cool!
And a big hit with locals. There are hundreds of massage places in any Taiwan or Asian city. Some are just local joints that employ handicapped people, such as blind or deaf workers, which is wonderful for them to be a part of the community…
And others, like tonight, that are fashionable establishments servicing all ages of customers. Beside me were two women, one an elderly lady whose head was covered in a towel, the other a younger woman who got her back beaten like dust from a hanging rug.
That is one thing to be careful of... these massage guys... they will wrench and twist and grind their knuckles into you... it's a bit like torture... so you've got to tell them where your pain threshold is at...
Anyway... it was an awesome experience and one I will do again and again... of course, I woke up the next morning with all new kinks and cricks in my neck and back...looks like I'll be heading back... ahhh, maybe that's the ancient Chinese secret after all.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe

“TRUE! Nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad?” -Tell Tale Heart

He was born Edgar Poe, in Boston, the child of traveling actors…
“Romance, who loves to nod and sing… with drowsy head and folded wing…” -Romance

Before he was three, his father deserted the family, his mother died, and he was taken into the home of John Allan, a prosperous merchant of Richmond, Virginia, who treated his faster child with alternating leniency and harsh severity. Poe was baptized with the middle name of Allan, but John failed to adopt him legally.
“Like ghosts the shadows rise and fall! Oh, lady dear, has thou no fear?” -The Sleeper

After five years living in England, Poe, returned to Virginia where his schoolmasters judged him “not especially studious” but “excellent” in classics.
“Lo! Death has reared himself a thrown…” -The City in the Sea

At seventeen, Poe entered the University of Virginia, where he distinguished himself in Latin, French, and soon gained a reputation as a self-proclaimed ‘aristocrat,’ poet, a wit, a gambler and heavy drinker. Poe had a falling out with his step-father who refused to pay a gambling debt of 2,000 dollars, which he lost at cards. Fleeing, Poe ran away to Boston, where he enlisted in the army.
“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing…” -The Raven

He began writing, poems mostly… but after his step-mother’s death he was reconciled with John, who helped secure a position for him at West Point… it failed. Poe quickly began breaking minor rules… cutting classes, not attending church, and he was dismissed.
“She was a child and I was a child…” -Annabel Lee

Poe moved to Baltimore where he began to write, winning contest and being published in newspapers to burgeoning success. When Poe was 27, he married his 13 year old cousin, Virginia Clemm.
“No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within…” -The Cask of Amontillado

Poe’s success grew, and with it rivals… one being Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whom Poe claimed plagiarized five of his works… thus beginning what was called “The Longfellow War.” Poe argued incessantly with publishers, often violently. He was prone to wild accusations, mental depression, drunken binges, and crazy abusive attacks. He lost friends, left no one to vouch for him or set the record straight, and fell into massive debt. Bitter literary squabbles, crippling psychological childhood deprivations, and overwhelming poverty, finally took their toll on the drug addicted and alcoholic Poe, who was found unconscious on the street and pronounced 4 days later, October 2, 1849.
“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed!- tear up the plank! Here, here! -it is the beating of his hideous heart!” -Tell Tale Heart

Henry James said of Poe… his work was… “The mark of a decidedly primitive stage of development…” and Mark Twain said that he would only read Poe… “on salary.” Despite this, Poe remains one of the most prominent and popular writers in America today.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Emerson Tattoos (A Classroom Exercise on Self-Reliance & Civil Disobedience)

(The following is the poem- Forbearance, by Ralph Waldo Emerson. My students tattooed this and excerpts from his essay on Self-Reliance, onto our bodies with sharpies last week in American Lit class… take a look!)
FORBEARANCE, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?
Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk?

At rich men’s tables eaten bread and pulse?
Unarmed, faced danger with a heart of trust?
And loved so well a high behavior,
In man or maid, that thou from speech refrained

Nobility more nobly to repay?
O, be my friend, and teach me to be thine!

The students had a great time studying Ralph Waldo Emerson and his essay on Self-Reliance, we looked at quotes and read about his life, his challenges, losing a wife so young and leaving the ministry to travel and write.
To mark his life and prepare for the next lesson on his Emerson’s friend, Henry David, we tattooed our bodies with Self-Reliance quotes in an act of Civil Disobedience.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On Performing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Hiawatha’s Childhood” to my American Lit Students

“By the shores of Gitche Gumee, by the shining Big-Sea Water
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, daughter of the moon, Nokomis…”

I’ve been telling the students this more and more, how they feel more like my children, how I treat them like they’re my children, how I want them to know the world like my children do.
“Dark behind it rose the forest, rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the first with cones upon them; bright before it beat the water…”

So today in class I sang to them, I sang this favorite little poem, written by the old man winter, with his long beard gray and snowy, beating banging on a drum bed, beating banging with my rough hands.
“There the wrinkled old Nokomis, nursed the little Hiawatha
Rocked him in his linden cradle, bedded soft in moss and rushes…”

How I want them to know secrets, secrets of this earth and beauty, that there’s beauty all around them, waiting whispering on the soft wind, waiting lingering behind them.
“Safely bound with reindeer sinews; stilled his fretful wail by saying.
“Hush! The Naked Bear will hear thee!” Lulled him into slumber singing…”

So I jump and sing a-howling, have them howl right there before me, beating banging on their desk tops, stomping shouting with their toe taps, clapping yelling with their voices, all to this little old man’s poem…
“Ewa-yea! My little owlet! Who is this that lights the wigwam?
With his great eyes light the wigwam, Ewa-Yea! My little owlet!”

When we finish there is silence, silence echoing in hallways, silence ringing out of windows, silence raging on the rooftops, silence running in between us, silence that we know as love.