Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What is Yangon?

“Vibrant and dynamic, sweaty and steamy, gasping at the future but trapped in the past, Yangon is at the cutting edge of Burmese culture and a fascinating introduction to Myanmar.
This despite the fact it was stripped of its status as a capital city in 2005, when the generals were spooked by an astrologer and decamped north to Nay Pyi Taw.
Today Yangon remains the biggest city and economic hub, but the government’s attention (and money) is elsewhere and infrastructure is really starting to creak.
Despite this, Yangon remains a hive of underground intellectual debate and the gateway for most international visitors.
The stunning Shwedagon Paya is the centerpiece, a gleaming golden stupa visible from all over town.
Closer to the waterfront, downtown Yangon is a warren of historic streets concealing some of the best British colonial-era architecture in the region.
A walk along the Strand or Pansodan St. is like strolling down Pall Mall- sans paint.
It’s diverse too… home to Burmese, Shan, Mon, Chinese, Indians, and Western expats.
So spend a couple of days soaking up the chaos, it will grow on you.” -Lonely Planet, Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, 15th edition, pg 544-45.
I don’t usually include whole passages from Lonely Planet on my blog, bug this one seemed to fit. Perhaps it is because Yangon’s first impression leads you a little speechless. It’s languid and decayed, brittle and vibrant, pieced together by a life that seems ghostlike now. People crowd the streets selling, hawking, throwing garbage, spitting, chatting, dropping their filth at their feet as if nothing could be more normal. I spent my first day just walking up and down the streets for hours and when I returned to my room, to whole body was caked in ancient dirt and grime. I felt I’d been washed in muck.

Arriving in Myanmar


Finished the semester, got the grades in the book, and didn’t even really say farewell… SungJoo has the girls in Korea for the Lunar New Year’s and so I hoped a flight to Burma / Myanmar.
Midnight flight to Bangkok, slept on a bench in the new modern but overcrowded airport freezing under an air-conditioning vent, wrapped myself in the airplane blanket and shivered until dawn.
The flight to Yangon was quick, stewardesses in heavy rouge offering me wrapped sandwiches and stale coffee, arriving into the heat and squalor of one of the world’s most isolated capital cities.
I am traveling light, only my pack and a couple of throw away t-shirts, pair of shorts, hat, socks, umbrella, torch, first-aid kit, mosquito netting, toiletries, pocket knife, one pound bag of ground coffee, extra batteries, warm jacket to act as a pillow, trusted boots, flip-flops, Lonely Planet SE Asia, camera, Ziploc of adaptors and extension cords, jar of peanut butter, sketchbook, ziplock of pastels, hard ziplock of documents, day pack, and rolled up jeans.
I’m ready. I’m seasoned. I’ve been on the road for years. There is nothing Burma has that I can’t handle. At least I thought…
At the airport queue the passengers stand ready to have their visa stamped. There are well shopped Germans in their beige travel vests, and unprepared Chinese women in high heeled shoes, arguing Frenchmen in their groups, and there are other travelers. Neru Indians in white caps, scarved Muslim men stroking their beards, and the Burmese men in their longshin skirts wrapped tightly around their waist.
I pass through quickly, grab my bag and haggle for a taxi. I quickly learn that Burma is a county that has no internet, accepts no credit cards, and is a cash only society. An array of smoking, red lipped betel nut chewing men with calculators in their hands surround me, pulling at me for a taxi. I pass them and walk through the parking lot to where the low class taxis are parked. Here there is no haggle. Here there is just get in and drive.
We pass through the dirty streets. Grime. Decay. Mud roads. Horse carts. Barefoot children playing in soot. Crumbled buildings. My children need to see this place. On the wide thoroughfare of Yangon, we detour toward the Panda Hotel. I’d made an online purchase for a single room, my own personal travel tradition of staying somewhere nice on the first night to get acclimated and find information from well meaning hotel staff members. It paid off.
Hotel check in and up to the room… nice hard bed, crisp sheets folded and tucked into wooden frames. The man carrying my luggage wouldn’t accept my dollar bill as tip. He said it was too old, so I let it go
Open the curtain to look out over the city hustling and bustling beneath me. A thin layer of dust has already settled onto the back of my neck and coats my glasses. Just the drive from the airport and I am asthmatic , my throat scratchy. I stand back from the curtain and strip, pull off all my clothes and stand naked in the room looking out high over the city. Time to head out and explore. Time to see what adventure and trouble I can find. Time to see Yangon.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Backpacking through Burma

Hey Everybody, I'm backpacking through Burma / Myanmar and internet is spotty. I'll update as often as I can over the next two weeks...after that, if you don't hear from me... assume the worst. (That's a joke, Mom) Love you all. Keep Reading!
- Hartenstein

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Object Lessons in the Adventures of Tom Sawyer in Asia

“He was not the Model Boy of the village. He knew the model boy well enough- and loathed him.” Pg. 13

I know I kick and screech like a mule here in Taiwan but the single truth is that I’ve got some amazing kids that surround me like a family. I know they are not my actual family, but I always think of them like adopted kids, and that makes all the difference. There’s Yuki who comes in every day to talk about The Beatles and baseball and likes showing me the inner workings of wristwatches, and Joy who forgot his homework and so copied word for word the pages out of the textbook and glued them into his notes because it was the right thing to do, his mom is a teacher upstairs and it shows. There’s Edison in his little round glasses drowning me in questions, and Tiffany, who is leaving for Canada, and who I wrote the part of Mario Anthony in our Julius Scissorhands for her
I make it a point to say that yes, Aunt Polly may whack Tom across the temple with a thimble, but she loves him so.
“Tom appeared on the side-walk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him…” pg. 18

These kids work so hard and never complain. There is the school curriculum and then the national curriculum and then my own curriculum that I force them to do… why? And this is my way of conning them toward greatness…I say, “if I ask you to write a sentence, then you write me a two… and if I ask for a three to five sentence paragraph you write me seven…why?”
And all the kids groan: “Because we’re the best students in the school.”
That’s right.
It’s a confidence game, I know. And if one kids wants to stop class to show me the acorn he found outside, or another a piece of silk from the hem of a dress or how another found a brass door knocker outside…well… then we stop class to talk about it, don’t we?
“As he was passing by the house where Jeff Thatcher lived, he saw a new girl in the garden- a lovely little blue-eyed creature with yellow hair plaited into two long tails, white summer frock, and embroidered pantalettes. The fresh-crowned hero fell without firing a shot. A certain Amy Lawrence vanished out of his heart…” pg. 26

I tell the kids that someday they will grow up and fall in love. All the stories we read about have romance… and they hew and haw and fall out of their chairs in disgust at the mere thought… but others sit very still and listen. They stop passing notes and gazing out the window because finally, school is useful. I tell them the language of men and women… how sometimes we say the same things but in different ways and words…how Tom makes Becky cry because of his previous engagement to Amy, and feeling so low down, he puts his prize possession in her hand, parting with his favorite slimy green toad. Becky shrieks and runs away, leaving Tom bedazzled and perplexed, and wanting her even more.
“’Now, I know you’ll tell me,’ said the lady. ‘The names of the first two disciples were---‘
‘David and Goliath!’” pg. 41

This is maybe my favorite scene in the book, how Tom trades bullfrogs and dead rats swinging by their tail on a stick for the yellow Bible tickets…anything to get close to Becky Thatcher, who is being introduced with her family to the church that day. Tom thinks, if he can just make them believe that he’s a good and earnest and holy boy, then maybe…well, maybe he’s got a shot.
It’s a lesson my students learn all the time. How they are trapped in these young bodies… hormones out of control, post-puberty jumping out of their skin. The ickiness of peach fuzz on boy’s upper lips and the awkwardness of young girls asking girl after girl after girl and then finally heading to the lavatory carrying small handbags in twos.
I try to tell them… you’ll figure it out, your body and your emotions…you will, but it just takes time. And just like Tom learns he can’t steal his way into heaven, you will find that you can’t steal yourself through middle school. You just have to take your lumps, let yourself be purged clean.
“Tom shot a glance at Becky. He had seen a hunted and helpless rabbit look as she did, with a gun leveled at its head. Instantly he forgot his quarrel with her. Quick! Something must be done! Done in a flash too!
…He sprang to his feet and shouted: ‘I done it!’” pg. 148-49

I see these teachers beat the kids. Believe me, there are some sadistic maniacs in this school and country. Glaring. Carrying sticks. Making kids stand for hours with their nose in the corner. Hurling insults. Isolating kids. Breaking them…
But there are also good teachers here. Those that use soft voices. Who sit and drink tea with young people and try to know them outside of school. It’s not easy for Taiwanese teachers to do this, it pushes them outside their normal abilities, but I see some adapting, challenging themselves, and changing.
But as always, what I most love are the students. Standing up for each other, helping one another finish assignments. I see them learning how to be friends, and that is very rewarding.
“Shortly Tom came upon the juvenile pariah of the village, Huckleberry Finn, son of the town drunkard. Huckleberry was cordially hated and dreaded by all the mothers of the town, because he was idle, and lawless, and vulgar, and bad- and because all their children admired him so…” pg. 51

It’s a private school and there are a lot of rich, privileged kids. Black Mercedes dropping off at the ‘kiss and go.’ Parents who corner their children to give up a name, any name as a scapegoat… my name, many times… But there are also the kids whose parents drive the motor scooters wrapped in sweaters and shawls and facemasks. Kids whose dad owns the machine shop and whose mother works in the bakery.
I love those kids the most.
I know that Huck is a miscreant, a dirty, dead-cat lugging racist, son of the town drunk. But in my years as a teacher, I’ve met so many of these kids who just didn’t know any better, and the only thing that saved them was a heart of gold. I see you. Even if no one else does.
“Tom’s mind was made up now. He was gloomy and desperate. He was a forsaken, friendless boy, he said; nobody loved him… so he consented to be a pirate…” pg. 99-100

The biggest problem for my students, I think is that there is no escape for them. They have no place to run to, be free in, to play pretend. I think that’s why so many of them get lost in anime and ‘cos play’ and video games. They need time to walk the plank and dig for buried treasure.
I try to teach them about escape and guilt. How they are both important to feel and experience. That people need to get away, live their life and follow their dreams, but it is also important to know when it is time to come home. Tom knows that, running off to the island but then returning to kiss Aunt Polly at night when he misses her most. We need both: run and come home, always these two.
“’As the doctor fetched the board around and Muff Potter fell, Injun Joe jumped with the knife and-‘ Crash! Quick as lightning the half-breed sprang for a window, fled his way through all opposers, and was gone!” pg. 168

Kids keep secrets all the time. The good teachers, know when to let secrets stay buried and when they need to be surfaced. I’ve kept so many kid secrets over the years, damaging ones, ones that would crush them, and kids have kept secrets of mine. You see, sometimes you have to just tell the truth, and sometimes telling a lie is the only way to protect what is real.
But in the case of Tom and Huck, it’s not the secret they keep that will set Muff Potter free, it’s that the whole town keeps a secret that no one is willing to talk about… it’s written in the character of the man-child called Jim.
“At last Becky’s frail limbs refused to carry her farther. She sat down. Tom rested with her, and they talked of home, and friends there, and the comfortable beds, and above all, the light!” pg. 218

Setting in Tom Sawyer is always talked about. People who have visited Hannibal Missouri know what I’m talking about. White picket fences and boys in straw hats, little girls in curls singing songs on their way to church, Twain tries to capture the innocence of idealism before the murder and rage of the Civil War. But lurking underneath, always boiling to the surface, is evil… and Tom and Becky find that in the cave… Tom and Huck find that in Injun Joe in the abandoned house too. Always there, waiting to strike.
“’Huck don’t need it. Huck’s rich!’” pg. 240

What an ending! What kid wouldn’t love to find buried treasure and be hailed a hero? Well, may all our children be carried off the field on the shoulders of their hometown, at least once. May we all find redemption, somehow, I hope.

Tom Sawyer Homework Reading Quiz One

1. How does Tom trick his friends into helping him whitewash the fence?
a. He offers them cake.
b. He promises to go swimming with them later.
c. He tells them Aunt Polly wants their help.
d. He convinces them the job is fun.

2. After the whitewash scene, what can be concluded that Tom learns about work?
3. Why is Becky Thatcher angry about Amy Lawrence?
a. Because Amy is very pretty and Becky is jealous.
b. Because Amy spread evil rumors about Becky.
c. Because Tom was engaged to be married to Amy first.
d. Because Tom gave the brass door knocker to Amy.

4. After breaking up with Amy and chasing after Becky, who acts deceitfully to him, what can be concluded about what Tom learns from love?
5. What does Tom do to win a Bible in Sunday School?
a. He memories 2,000 Bible Verses.
b. He takes the blame for someone else’s misdeed.
c. He trades the other children for their tickets.
d. He testifies at Muff Potter’s trial.

6. What is ironic about Tom trying to “steal his way” into Heaven by lying to get a Bible?
7. What does Becky Thatcher write on her chalkboard after Tom takes the blame in class?
a. I love you.
b. Meet me later, Baby.
c. Let’s complain about the teacher and get him fired.
d. How could you be so noble?

8. What does Tom learn about education after his experience in the school with Mr. Dobbins?
9. What is Tom’s most prized possession that he gives to Becky Thatcher?
a. A brass door knocker.
b. A dead cat.
c. A half-eaten apple.
d. A slimy toad.

10. What does Tom learn about men and women after his exchange with Becky, where he gives her his prized possession and she runs away crying?
11. What does Huck Finn do outside Tom’s window to call him for their midnight adventures?
a. Barks like a dog.
b. Crows like a rooster.
c. Meows like a cat.
d. Hoots like an owl.

12. Why do Tom and Huck first go to the graveyard?
a. To dig up a body.
b. To charm away warts with a dead cat.
c. To dig for buried treasure.
d. To look for ghosts.

13. Who is Huck Finn and what does he represent in the novel?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Two Letters of Rec and One Quick Edit

I was asked this morning to write a quick letter of recommendation for a student and my thoughts quickly ran away with themselves. After submitting, I was gently reminded that an edit was needed. I couldn’t have agreed more. See for yourself.
To: The Paris International Youth Summit on Leadership,
This letter is to recommend my student Suzie Cho for entry into your Youth Summit. Suzie is a 7th grade student in my Literature and Writing class, and I have known her for one semester. In this short time, I feel I can write an accurate and meaningful evaluation of her talents and gifts.
Suzie is a very creative, thoughtful, and dedicated student. Whatever the academic task, she seeks to personalize it through artistic expression. Whether it is writing an essay, creating a poster, organizing a personal dictionary, taking notes in class, or completing a critical thinking puzzle, Suzie shows flair, interpretive design, and personal touch.
On examinations Suzie is well prepared and prone to answer more than is asked of her. On oral presentations, she is careful and insightful. Furthermore, Suzie’s classroom behavior is impeccable. All of these things combine to make a perfect candidate to represent her school, city, and country in any kind of environment.
(This part was edited out)
Yet perhaps the most important reason that Suzie should be considered for this Youth Summit is that she would benefit greatly from it. Leadership is not a strong subject for many Taiwanese students. They curse each other publically, create divisions based on petty disagreements, they don’t foster trust, don’t offer support, and are trained from an early age that success means being number one, and everything else is failure. I believe Suzie has the traits to be a new kind of Taiwanese student. One that compassionately encourages others, who councils troubled peers, who speaks out against injustices and isn’t afraid to enact changes if necessary. I believe Suzie has that potential courage, but has never seen it in action.
To be honest, when I first heard about a Youth Summit that a Taiwanese student could attend, I was surprised. After three years teaching here, that should tell you something. I am honored to recommend Suzie for entry into your camp and believe she is just the kind of person, student, and future leader you are looking for.
(It was replaced with this)
Yet perhaps the most important reason that Suzie should be considered for this Youth Summit is that our school culture would benefit greatly from having someone with foreign experience. I am honored to recommend Jenny for entry into your camp and believe she is just the kind of person, student, and future leader you are looking for.
In the end… the school will select one candidate and ask the parent’s to pay for her trip completely. I just wish they’d ask me to chaperone… but I can say with some certainty that, they won’t.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Taiwan Election Syndrome

Before I came to Taiwan, I’d seen chaotic and ridiculous scenes of Taiwanese senators and congressmen punching each other, throwing hissy fits, and basically threatening each other with Samurai swords, rakes, wiffle ball bats, and tasers. After being in Taiwan for three years, the adventures continue. As my students say, “It’s isn’t a Taiwanese election until somebody gets shot.”
With this in mind, please read the following article from the China Post about this weekend’s Presidential Election, and believe me, as impossible as it sounds, they are actually being serious.
Headline: Polls Play Hazard with Helath Clinic

On the eve of Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections, “election syndrome” patients should get plenty of rest and keep calm to avoid aggravating their symptoms, doctors at a Taipei clinic said yesterday.
“Election Syndrome” refers to the physical or psychological issues developed by overzealous supporters of political candidates or people addicted to election coverage. Symptoms include sleeplessness or sore eyes from watching long hours of television coverage of the races, or body aches and bladder infections after attending campaign rallies.
Chiang Han-kuang, director of the psychiatric department at Shu-Tien Urology Ophthalmology Climic, said constant replays of election rallies on the news can easily provoke psychiatric patients and make it difficult for them to sleep or cause emotional ups and downs. Family members of patients with psychological disorders should turn the TV off, focus the patients’ attention on something else and spend time walking outdoors with them.
If patients experience serious problems that affect their daily lives, however, they should seek medical assistance immediately.
Clinic directors said every year many enthusiastic supporters suffer shoulder and neck aches from shouting slogans and waving flags at rallies. Sometimes people will endure the pain and refuse to see medical attention, requiring long-term rehabilitation. People are reminded while attending campaign events to go to the bathroom before heading out, because there are few bathrooms and rallies may involve walking several kilometers.
People who do not get enough rest the night before and hold in urine during such rallies may develop urine duct infections or bladder inflammation. People may also suffer sore eyes and headaches which will require hot packs and massage for their eyes.
It is also suggested that supporters could prevent eye fatigue syndrome by maintaining a regular daily schedule of TV viewing and refraining from watching TV alone in the dark.
So there you have it folks... sage advice from a ridiculous season of political ups and downs and things that go "Bang!" in the dark...and always remember,if you feel your television is actually talking to you, time to go outside and read a book, or at the very least, talk back.