Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas All Year Long

"Said the night wind to the little lamb, do you see what I see?  Way up in the sky, little lamb... a star, a star, dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite."  -Do You Hear What I Hear?

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!  A little late... but Merry Christmas just the same.
"Star of wonder, star of night.  Star with royal beauty bright.  Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light."  -We Three Kings

We're actually in Vietnam this week running around in the jungle, taking cable cars up impossible mountains to explore caves and trek temples...
"City sidewalks, busy sidewalks. Dressed in holiday style.  In the air there's a feeling of Christmas.  Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile, and on every street corner you'll hear."  -Silver Bells

We've even floated down rivers on little wooden canoes and fished for our supper on sandy shores.
"It's the most wonderful time, of the year. They'll be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near..."  -The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

But no matter where we go, Chirstmas is always so close in my heart.  In fact, I kind of secretly sing Christmas songs in my head all year long.
"Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle-doves..."  -Twelve Days of Christmas

Of course, Christmas in the Hartenstein family means heading to Colton to sit in Grammy and Grampy's house beside the fire and the huge tree decorated so amazing, with yummy pies and perfectly wrapped gifts and there's always a hint of snow...
"Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask you to stay.  Close by me forever and love me I pray.  Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, and fit us to heaven to live with Thee there."  -Away in a Manger

We sit together and sing around the piano, used to before Mom's fingers would cramp up with all the cooking, and then open to Mathew and Luke to read the Birth of Christ.  These are the family traditions I know will always live on.
"Later on, we'll conspire, as we dream by the fire. To face unafraid, the plans that we've made. Walking in a winter wonderland." -Winter Wonderland

You can't always be where you want or surrounded with whom you wish.  But Christmas is that one day in the year where you dream as big as you want and wish for the impossible.  It matters nothing if you're a child sitting beside a blinking tree and stockings hung by a fire, or a forty-year old with children of his own resting his legs up on broken stones outside a mountain stuppa.  It's Christmas, and everyone is allowed to dream.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Red Barron and Snoopy the Flying Ace

 "Christmas bells, those Christmas bells... Ringing through the land.  Bringing peace to all the world, and good will to man."  -The Royal Guardsman, 1967

Flying down the island highway in the middle of the night in the back of a taxi.  Little Kinu curled up asleep in my lap.  Xian and Rebekah staring out the window at the UFO streetlights passing in blurs overhead.  We had one night left in Borneo.
"Twas the night before Christmas, 40 below... When Snoopy wet up in seach of his foe.  He spied the Red Baron, fiercely they fought.  With ice on his wings, Snoopy knew he was caught."  -The Royal Guardsman, 1967

The girls say so many funny things.  Rebekah will say... 'Did you know the wisemen brought gifts of gold, merchandise, and fur?'
"The Baron had Snoopy dead in his sights.  He reached for the trigger to pull it up tight.  Why he didn't shoot, we'll never know, or was it the bells from the village below."  -The Royal Guardsman, 1967

Xian catches me off guard with jokes... 'What do you call Santa's dog?"  -Santa Paws!
 "The Baron my Snoopy fly to the Rhine and forced him to land behind the enemy lines.  Snoopy was certain that this was the end, when the Baron cried out, 'Merry Christmas my friend.'"  -The Royal Guardsmen, 1967

Once again, its another Christmas away from home.  Away from the crisp snowy air of Oregon, with the green trees and winding roads and the crackling fireplace on the farm.
"The Baron then offered a holiday toast and Snoopy our hero, saluted his host.  And then with a roar they were both on their way, each knowing they'd meet on some other day."  -The Royal Guardsman, 1967

So Borneo it is...and tonight it's a taxi drive back to the hotel in the dark beneath the lights.  Little voices speaking to me, whispering, laughing, telling me it's okay, for now.

Wacky Asians on Sapi Island, Borneo

I don't know and I can't be sure...

But something tells me it's going to be another glorious year surrounded by Asians.

Look, I love Asians...I've been from the temples of Japan to the beaches Philippines to the mountains of Burma to the jungles of Borneo (where these pictures were taken along Sapi Beach)

The biggest problem I have with Asians is... you're everywhere!

It's like I can't get a break from you guys and your wackiness...

Are you surrounding me?

Stalking and following me?

The more I am around you, the more I understand nothing.

I guess I better just go sit on the bottom of the sea.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Curmudgeon's New Year's Resolutions: More Water Balloon Battles, Eliminate Gangnam Style from Existence

  "A cynic is a person searching for an honest man, with a stolen lantern." -Edgar A. Shoaff

So it was deep in the summertime while on vacation on the island of Borneo when these pictures were taken... It's winter now, cold and damp and frosty and moldy... and as the year closes, I was thinking about things I've completely bombed and cut out of my life and others I definitely need to hold onto. I encourage you all to make similar lists for 2013.
  "Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Brownist." -Linus

I don't want to know or be associated with people who take pictures of food before they eat it. I certainly don't want you to post those meals, pre-consumption, on your Facebook page with captions like, "Good Times. Great Food. Even better Friends." All I think about when I see your full plate is, how it's going to look post-digestion before you flush.
  "When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools." Lear, Willy the Shake

I need to win more battles with the Chinese. Yesterday I walked into a coffee shop, stood in line for ten minutes, finally pushed my way to the counter and ordered and the young pimply, brace-faced kid said, "Sorry, we don't have coffee." I lost it. He would make a sugary macchiato, a watered-down Americano, or a frizzy cappachino, but he wouldn't roast me some coffee because he was too busy texting. I had to just walk out of the store.
Then I went to the phone company, took a number, waited in line thirty minutes, but they wouldn't -reactivate my phone because I only had one piece of ID, a passport. I needed two. I had to walk out of the office and come back another day.
Then, as I was strolling back to the apartment, I was struck from behind by a car. Yes, it was only the side mirror, but the guy kept driving. I chased after him and tapped on his window, he rolled it down, but all I could think of to say was, "你是一个坏司机" (Ni Shir yige haui siji: YOU ARE A BAD DRIVER) I've got to learn more Chinese curse words.
  "My honest opinon and friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it, you will regret both." -Soren K

One thing I need to do more of is sharpening pencils. I know this sounds crazy. But I have all these wonderfully colored pencils for my daughters and we sit for hours just sketching and drawing stuff and sharpening the wood over little coffee cans. It's like that with sewing too, which I've taught them how to darn socks and make little puppet faces with funny buttons. This Christmas we made ornaments out of Popsicle sticks and glitter and just sitting on the floor with my girls gives me amazing peace. 
Medvedenko: "Why do you always wear black?"
Masha: "I am in mourning for my life." -The Seagull, Chekhov

Cut all Top 40 Radio out of my life. This is such a blessing. Part of it was living in Saudi Arabia where there is no music, but... do you know how fortunate I feel to have never listened to PSY and his Gangnam Style? I've never even seen it, and I live with Koreans...! Total Win!
"I had a lover's quarrel with the world." -The Lesson for Today, Rob Frost

Finally, my last resolution for 2013 is to do nothing. I'm going to eat and get fat! I'm going to be lazy, shiftless, and an idler. I'm going to make more snow angels on the living room floor, take up the banjo, do impossible trick shots with Nerf guns from prostrate positions, and speak almost entirely using the Oxford Comma. In short, I will reinvent myself as a fresh, newly formed, potential, lump of clay.

Zat You, Santa Claus?

Gifts I'm preparin'
For some Christmas sharin'
But I pause because
Hangin' my stockin'
I can hear a knockin'
'Zat you, Santa Claus?'  -Louis Armstrong

postscript:  Happy Birthday SungJoo!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Rapping Jihadist

  Okay… there was another school stabbing in China.  A bunch of elementary kids were caught off guard by a lunatic with a knife until… oh yes, he was tackled by… wait for it… TEACHERS!.  So as I was cruising around Borneo's Kota Kinubalu Central Market, I was looking for something funny to take my mind off it.  I think I found it outside a small fisherman's mosque down a back alley.
  Please tell me you've never heard of Omar Hammami?  He’s an Alabama born “terror rapper” who goes by the eponymous (no street cred) name “Abu Mansur al-Amriki.”  He has released several rap songs praising... jihad?  But they are so bad and awful that the Muslim Brotherhoods around the world have been plugging their ears and quietly shushing him up for years.  Apparently, other songs are pro-jihad a capella love songs…which, (and this is no laughing matter because the FBI wants this scumbag) but…  I mean, come on… a capella jihad… merits half a giggle at least?
But it made me think of rap music in general and how the White Establishment infiltrated this Black art form and created all these Vanilla Ices and Eminems and now R&B genital warts like Justin Bieber and even more putrid... this Asian wave of copycats... and how Black artists must just think…oh for Pete’s Sake!   I’m going to go start a new art form.   To which the White Establishment said… “Gosh, that worked out swell!”
  Maybe that’s the best way to defeat Muslim aggression, just create legions of these smarmy, musk scented (assuming), heavily bearded crooners singing unrequited love ballads to their dynamite belts or how their camels have “back.”  Let's create a couple of ashmatic Muslim Little Waynes or ridiculous chest pounding Tygas and see how long until they change their tune.  I think this Jihadist rapper should be the subject of Sacha Baron Cohen’s next film.
If I were still teaching in Saudi Arabia, I can only speculate the trouble I would have caused by just mentioning this subject with students.  I could have faced imprisonment or worse.  In fact, it’s not funny.  Nothing funny about it.  I’m only laughing because I made it out of there alive.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Paragliding off Mamutik Island, Boreno and the Monsters of Oz

Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife.  -Baum, The Wizard of Oz

Flying by parachute over the Indian Ocean off the coast of Borneo's Mamutik Island, well... I guess I started thinking about L. Frank Baum, and the wonderful Wizard of Oz.
From the far north they heard a low wail of the wind, and Uncle Henry and Dorothy could see where the long grass bowed in waves before the coming storm.  -Baum, The Wizard of Oz

Dorothy is such a bright eye'd little kid thrust in a world of monsters. 
"She was the Wicked Witch of the East," answered the little woman.  "She held all the Munchkins in bondage for many years..."  -Baum, The Wizard of Oz

From Quadlings to Winkies, Munchkins to Kalidahs, Dorothy must learn their stories so not to fear them.
When Boq saw her silver shoes he said, "You must be a great sorceress."  "Why?" asked the girl.  "Because you wear the silver shoes and you have killed the Wicked Witch..."  -Baum, The Wizard of Oz

She helps one whose insides are stuffed with straw who proves to be most resilient and intelligent, another, a heart broken amputee of tin who feels so deeply, and finally a weeping feline who, well, doesn't see his own potential.
"But, alas!  I had no heart now, so that I lost all my love for the Munchkin girls... but during the year I stood there I had time to think that the greatest loss I had known was the loss of my heart..."  -Baum, The Wizard of Oz

Of course, all three, at least in the novel, become kings.
But the Tin Woodman would not let her do this.  "We must hurry and get back to the road of yellow brick before dark..."  -Baum, The Wizard of Oz

Like many people, I grew up with the 1939 film, popping buckets of buttered corn on Sunday nights bundled up in quitls on the sofa, singing along to the television.
"The streets were lined with beautiful houses all built of green marble and studded everywhere with sparkling emeralds."  -Baum, the Wizard of Oz

The book is much darker.  From the Fighting Trees beaten with an ax to the Dainty China People who break off their own limbs, to the great terrorizing Spider with the body of an Elephant and the Hammerheads of the Hillside, even the plagues that the cyclope Wicked Witch of the West orders to destory Dorothy, first the wolves, then the terrible crows, finally the black buzzing bees, it is only the truest most nobel character within that can defeat them.
So the Scarecrow follwed him and was admitted into the great Throne Room, where he saw, sitting in the emerald throne, a most lovely lady."  -Baum, the Wizard of Oz

As a boy, I was scared of the Flying Monkeys, I think the film version freaked me out, but in the book, they are Dorothy's saviors.  Once she finds the Golden Cap and sets them free.
The Ball of Fire burned fiercely for a time, and the voice said:  "Bring me proff the Wicked Witch is dead."  -Baum, The Wizard of Oz

How silly our worldly fears can be.  How much more real they become when the stories are not in books.
Aunt Em had just come out of the house to water the cabbages when she looked up and saw Dorothy running towards her."  -Baum, The Wizard of Oz

Mostly, we just hold life so precious.  We want every moment to count.  We don't worry about the stories.  They come later, safe on the sofa, listening in whispers that sail into dreams.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

American Guns in American Schools

No offense to your weekend in Amsterdam rolling fat blunts or that choreographed wine tour through Tuscany with your great aunt on the luxury bus, but backpacking Europe doesn't make you a traveler.  And all of you idiot pundits standing outside that school in Connecticut or safely tucked into your make-up chair doing mouth exercises don't understand it either. This is not an isolated American problem.
I have been in schools around the world.  I've had students from a hundred countries during the past twenty years.  Do you know how many times a day I hear a boy laugh at the idea of gunning down his classmates?  Or a girl draw sketches or write in her journal or pass around a blood note in which she expressed an interest in murdering another girl?  Do you know how many Asian boys have come to school dragging their feet and falling asleep in class because they spent the night playing first person shooter games, barely able to remember to eat because they loved the thrill of killing that much? 
 Do you know how many times I've seen two foreign drivers stop their cars in the middle of the highway and brawl on the side of the road because one cut off another?  Or how many times I've seen drunken fights on the street?  How many times I've seen deranged lunatics screaming on the corner surrounded by onlookers while they smashed bottles and dug shards of glass into their flesh until the police arrived and carried them away?  Do you know how many times I've had a student threaten violence to me or think the idea of killing me was funny?  Even describing it with a knife or with an assault weapon and when I've gone to the administration time after time they told me I was overreacting? 

So this is for all you foreign countries wagging a finger in America's face this morning, thank your lucky stars you don't have guns in your country.  Thank your sea gods and reclining buddhas and temple shrines, thank your holy books and your wooden deities... else what happened in Sandy Hook would be a weekly occurrence in your land.
And the reason you don't know this... is that you've never traveled.  Not real travel.  The very fact that America looks inward during these times is because it's a compassionate, introspective, and thoughtful nation.
When I was teaching in Saudi Arabia, and the male students would open the page to reveal a female picture, they ALL would take out their pens and stab and cross out and slice up her face.  Why?  I would ask.  And they would ALL say because she was a whore.  During EID holiday when a goat was slaughtered, they would ALL pass around phone videos of this bleating, screaming animal having its throat sliced open slowly and maniacally, standing in circles in the corner laughing and leaping up and down in elation.  When there was a fire at that girls mosque, and all the young children were evacuating and scurrying outside, and the mutawa locked the front doors because... how dare those women and children step outside without their faces properly covered in hijabs... how dare they bring such dishonor?  And dozens of young girls died... or when my students found out my last name was Jewish and half the class refused to work the rest of the afternoon making throat cutting gestures at me, dragging their thumbs from ear to ear laughing saying, "Allah Akbar.  Kaffir.  Allah Akbar!"

So, as sad and horrible and soul wrenching as this tragedy is, and how anybody with an ounce of humanity is gutted by the events of Sandy Hook... just don't you dare say this is an American problem.  It's not.  It's a sign of what lays ahead for the world.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Wisdom and Prayers of Khalil Gibran

  “A voice cannot carry the tongue and the lips that give it wings.  Alone must it seek the either…”  -The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

When I was teaching at Sunset, we used to have these lockdown drills a couple times a year.
  “And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, "Speak to us of Children." And he said: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself…”  -The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

Whenever there was a bank robbery in the area or a suspicious person walking around, we'd turn off all the lights and pulls the classroom shades...
 “They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you…”  -The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

We'd lock the door and baracade the desks and all the kids would huddle up in the corner...
  “Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?”  -The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

Giggling and laughing usually, there was a dance scheduled that Friday and the girls would talk shopping deals or a big game and the boys would trade smirks...
 “And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”  -The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

I would try to keep them quiet and still, standing in front of the class, on the other side of the locked door, just praying it wasn't real.
  “These things move within you as lights and shadows in pairs that cling…” -The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

I pray a lot in the classroom.
  “Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul…” -The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

And it wasn't that I was scared to death this day could somehow become real because I knew it could.
  “The musician may sing to you of the rhythm which is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear which arrests the rhythm nor the voice that echoes it…” -The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

And it wasn't because I was terrified, because I was.
  "And if you but listen in the stillness of the night you shall hear them saying in silence.  Our God, who art our winged self, it is thy will in us that willeth…” -The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

No, I prayed because in the deepest part of my soul, that's what I longed and needed to do.
“And a cry came from the people as from a single heart, and it rose the dusk and was carried out over the sea like a great trumpeting. Only Almitra was silent, gazing after the ship until it had vanished into the mist. And when all the people were dispersed she still stood alone upon the sea-wall, remembering in her heart his saying…” -The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

And long after the students left and the classes finished for the day, many an afternoon I locked the door of my little dark room and knelt beside a desk and talked to God.  Pleading.  Begging.  Asking.  But it wasn't about being safe there.  More, that Rhonda would hold her sister safe under the bed when their father came home drunk, or that Hernando would not open the door that night when the boys came looking for a fight.  In the end, we're all just alone, whispering to God, asking to be heard.