Thursday, May 31, 2012

Porky Pig, Salvador Dali, and the Do Do Bird Cartoon

Today was a pretty typical day of school. My students scooped runny cabbage soup out of a metal barrel that has been sitting on the same beaten piece of cardboard for years.  They love it!

A kid named William mocked a kid named Sally for her test scores then made matters worse by admitting he was an idiot... that she was even most stupid than an idiot.  This caused Sally to climb out the fifth floor window... she had to be pulled back inside and spent the rest of the day at home.

An eighth grade kid named Sebastian got 8 stitches on his left index finger after it was slammed in a door while he was trying to grab the bottom of another boy.  Blood squirted all over the hallway.  Thank God the Taiwanese students are handy with mops.

My buddy Paul (posed here as the Human Worm) scolded a 7th grade boy and girl after they were fighting over a box cutter.  Later, the two were wrestling over the dangerous weapon again, blade exposed, when he had to confiscate it.  The students thought it was funny to cut each other.  When he told a school administrator the man just laughed and waved the children along.  I brought this matter up to my school administrator she said, "Thank you for telling me, what do you want me to do about it?"

In class, I spent the first few minutes telling students about a deranged psychotic man in Florida who chewed off the face of another man, but my students were more interested  in this popular trend of wearing over-sized hipster glasses without lenses.  Two years ago it was Trucker this.  What does the world need less:  Real Zombies or Asian Hipsters?

So after work... nestled into a comfy booth of the Early Bird Cafe, enjoying a luscious cheese burger and my daughters trying to impatiently share a strawberry malt... an old cartoon came on that I hadn't seen in years.  My daughters stopped sucking on their straws and watched in wonder with me... asking... "Who's that pig?  Why are all those clocks melted?  Daddy, what's a Do Do Bird?"
Well...where to begin?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

hartensteinabroad ep. 57 "Adventure on Inle Lake, Central Burma"

Hi Readers,
Check out the latest hartensteinabroad episode #57 "Adventure on Inle Lake, Central Burma" to see how even the best laid plans always go astray...

Hiawatha Sailing

"Thus aloud cried Hiawatha, in the solitary forest, by the rushing Taquamenaw, when the birds were singing gayly..."  -Longfellow

I love taking my daughters out into the night.  Out into the city to look at the lights and the shadows.  To see how the real people live.  (This is the little neighborhood temple behind our apartment where the old people gather to drink hot tea and swat away pesky mosquitoes.)
"And the tree with all its branches, rustled in the breeze of morning, saying, with a sigh of patience, 'Take my cloak, O Hiawatha!'"  -Longfellow

Tonight in the park was an old man painting, his student approached me and explained his process.  I listened while my girls darted in and out of the trees under the street lamps... we watched for a while then moved on.  Good luck, Mr. Painting Teacher!
"Give me of your boughs, O Cedar!  Of your strong and pliant branches, my canoe to make more steady, make more strong and firm beneath me!"  -Longfellow

Around the corner we came to this constructed wood and chicken wire building with all these discarded bottles attached to it.  I guess this is supposed to be... art?  Well, at least that's how I explained it to my daughters and they ran in and out holding their nose.
"And thus sailed my Hiawatha, sailed through all its bends and windings, sailed through all its deeps and shallows..." -Longfellow

It reminded me of this road trip I once took with my parents and how I started collecting bottle caps along the way from garbage on the road... and we stopped to sleep in this parking lot when about a million ants infiltrated the minivan and my treasure of bottle caps... yeah... I learned a lesson about garbage that day!
"Made a passage safe and certain, made a pathway for the people, from the springs among the mountains, to the waters of Pauwating..."  -Longfellow

There was also this clown... I know... I know...clown in the dark park.... run away!  But he made the most amazing balloon animals for my girls and we tipped him and scooted back home.  A nice night out in the cool breezes.  Summer is almost here, which means June rain.  We're ready.  We can feel it coming.

Oh, Betel Nut Girl... What to Do with You?

Betel nut, the seed of the Betel Palm, is big business all through Southeast Asia. Estimates claim the industry nets an annual NT (Taiwan Dollar) 100 billion. (That's a lot of yucky disgusting red puddle spit all over the sidewalks!)
Betel nut is wrapped in the areca leaf, topped with this sick looking mayonnaise paste, and chewed without swallowing by almost every dude in this country. Taxi drivers grinning with blood on their gums, truck drivers rolling down windows and spewing mouthfuls of dripping juice on your shoes, old men in parks grunting and sloshing their red gums... it's pretty awful...
Then there's the bin-lan girls!
Scantily clad women, mostly in bikinis or short skirts and colorful padded bras, dotting the landscape popping up on street corners and roadside stops. In 2002, excessive nudity was banned within Taipei... but that doesn't stop these girls from making a living. Oh... betel nut is also a known carcinogen, and Taiwan has one of the highest rates of mouth and throat cancer in Asia... Now... I love oddities, but I'm just saying!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Solar Eclipse over China 日食在中国

Big thanks to one of my readers in China for sending me this awesome picture of the Solar Eclipse over Guillin.

I had heard that overcast cloud cover had limited viewing, but as seen here,a great show was had. Thanks, and well done. Keep Reading!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

O' Willa Cather, the Answer is Yes

“The coffin was got out of its rough box and down on the snowy platform.” -Cather, The Sculptor’s Funeral

Soft morning with the warm breeze outside, I'm sitting in the classroom by the window drinking coffee in the quiet before the day begins. There are no students yet to groan and slump in chairs, no administrators with clipboards pacing in the back of the room during my lectures, no guards in the hallway standing uniformed kids at attention while they blow whistles and glare. No. It's just me in the quiet dawn with Willa Cather.
“The daughter- the tall, raw-boned woman in crepe, with a mourning comb in her hair…” -Cather, The Sculptor’s Funeral

I know it's dangerous to think of artists as lovers, to read their words or stare at their paintings or drift away to their sounds and call them friends, guides to the soul, I know that gets one into trouble... isolates you... makes the "real" people in your life upset... perhaps it's best to just think of them as companions and leave it at that.
“We meant to be great men. Even I, and I haven’t lost my sense of humor…” -Cather, The Sculptor’s Funeral

People don't necessarily understand when you say it either... try telling someone that you consider Jacque Loussier or Anton Vivaldi to be your soul mate. You're either an idiot or pretentious or worse... they're going to make you pay.
It was all about the American Midwest for Willa Cather, who was born in 1873 and shortly after her parents moved to a farm in Nebraska. Schools were far away and so she was taught Latin and English Literature by her Grandmothers. I love that. That a family member could teach you a love of literature and language and that somehow you could make a career of it. Cather wrote two of my favorite books, O Pioneers! And My Antonia. She died in 1947.

But I feel that way about Willa Cather this morning... as I prepare to read her to my students who will undoubtedly nod off and complain about how the pioneer spirit has nothing in common with their life... or how the frontier is gone so why study it... or why can't we read The Hunger Games instead... and I will hold you very tightly in my hands Willa, I will clutch you to my chest, absorb their strong objections... and then very quietly explain why I love you to even the deafest of ears.

Monday, May 21, 2012

御三家 Sushi House Taichung Taiwan

Welcome to 御三家, a cute and quaint little authentic sushi house just off JingCheng 7th street behind the Early Bird Cafe on Zhong Ming Rd.

This is a cool place. Friendly well dressed staff, sweet Japanese interior with the dark stained wood benches and decor, soft tatami mats, warm tea, and excellent fresh sushi.  Oh... and did I mention the Zen Rock Garden?  It Rocks!

Get your reservation in because this place always fills up.  Service is a tad slow... but that just means they're making it fresh... and it gives you plenty of time to sample some of their different drinks.  Especially an assortment of tea.

It's quiet, romantic, authentic... and clean.  Even the neighborhood is cool.  So many of these residential houses have been turned into coffee shops, small pubs, cool cafes, and live music venues.  It's a fun place to stroll or just hang out.

Kid Celebration!

How do you celebrate an awesome championship win at the Citywide Speech Contest...?  Well, ice cream and swimming... of course!

Here's little Captain America doing the Rebekah Dog Paddle.

Big Sister Xian wasn't allowed to compete this matter... let's dance instead.

Rebekah Jumping!

Jumping Again!

All in all... there is this fine line I keep thinking about... between total failure and total success.  Rebekah could have easily just started crying or given up, she could have walked on stage and vomited for all I know... she was the 16th of 18 competitors... there was a huge bathroom break just before her speech.  I know she was nervous... she could have just forgotten the who three minute speech... any number of things could have gone wrong...but it didn't... and she won instead.  As a parent, there is nothing worse than watching your child compete... just hoping for the best... that they will be successful in their attempt...not giving up, persevering, being humble... thankful at the chance.

So we spent the day celebrating the good things in life:  Swimming... ice cream... sushi... long walks home in the spring breeze.  Believe me... my kids deserved it.  All kids do.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rebekah Wins City Wide Speech Contest 2012

Last night she was in tears... she didn't want to do it.  She curled up on the bed and just cried in my arms.

I played with her... I bounced her on my knees and made up funny songs... I danced around the room being silly... we'd practiced this speech for six months... six months!  She'd already been through two tough speech rounds... I just wanted her to do her best... I knew she would.

Her voice cracked... she choked back a tear at the beginning... and then settled down... and nailed it!  Just like we'd practiced.  Just like her big sister Xian two years before... just like we were jumping around on the living room floor... Rebekah won first place!
Thank you to all the teachers, parents, judges... everybody involved.  And Thank you, Rebekah.  YOU did it.  I'm so proud of you.

Wild Kid Costumes at the Taiwan Speech Contest

Cowardly Lion...

Angry Bird...

Pipi Longstockings...

This is a boy...

Jungle Fever...

Fury Mouse...

This kid's topic was... "No More Kisses..."

Kid in a bathrobe...

I thought this little angel did a good job... her topic was about what people around the world do with a loose tooth... she did great... in fact, all the kids did a great job... but the winner was....?



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Froggy Went A Courtin'

Froggy went a courtin’ and he did ride
Sword and a pistol by his side, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh

I went looking for orange Gatorade last night. Yeah, I have hunger cravings too. I miss melted cheddar over my greasy McMenamins Communication Breakdown burger meat and colorful rainbow sprinkles on my chocolate VooDoo Doughnuts. I’m human, way too human, and I felt lucky a buddy tipped me off about a new shipment of black market goods at Finga’s Base Camp.
Took Miss Mousie on his knee
Said Miss Mousie will you marry me, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh

When you live as an expatriate in Asia, nothing is more depressing than food. Surrounded by Yam Tea flavored bread and Shaved Ice over Bean Curd Vanilla, sometimes you just want a little slice of home, but you can never get it. Dig into that golden movie popcorn tub only to find it’s covered in sugar. Tear into a bag of Doritos at 7-Eleven but gag at their apple flavor. Order a hot dog at a ball game and it comes to you covered in tuna-fish and mayonnaise.
Moments that should be so normal… frequencies that are so familiar are now turned on their ear.
Without my Uncle Rat’s consent
I wouldn’t marry the President, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh

Of course, this doesn’t hit you at first. No… initially it’s fun. Finding orange flavored Oreos and Seaweed and Kelp chewing gum adds to the foreigner experiences. But over time, it wears you down. When the ketchup on your McDonald’s cheeseburger tastes like sweet yams and the chocolate syrup in the bottom of your Starbuck’s mocha is runny water… you feel cheated.
Sure, they’re small complaints, but over time it defeats you.
Uncle Rat laughed and shook his side
To think his niece would be a bride, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh

Talk to any expatriate who has lived overseas long enough and they will tell you the same thing. It’s a slow dripping water torture that adds to a complete collapse. Soon the motor scooters that don’t stop when you’re in the crosswalk, clipping your shoulders as they race by, and the boys in the park who laugh at you and run away, and the woman in the market who jacks up the price with dollar signs in her eyes, and the girls in the department store that stare at your children and talk loudly about them... well... it starts with having no slice of home to run to and ends with a feeling of complete isolation. You’re even more depressed than before.
Where shall the wedding supper be
Way down yonder in the hollow tree, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh

Of course, you’ve got to find ways to make yourself happy. That’s part of survival.  One of the best ways is letters from home. I got a letter this week from a kid named Taylor I used to know. He’s an old student (Forgive me for printing our conversation here. Maybe it will make more sense within this story) but Taylor told me he doesn’t want to meet me or know me now that it’s been years since his graduation. No, he just likes checking my blog every couple of weeks, just to know I’m alive… to know I’m out there. He says it’s comforting.
First to come was a big black snake
Went up and ate all the wedding cake, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh

He said it was like this with his grandmother, who used to knit him a different scarf every year. He didn’t care for the scarf. In fact, he never wore the hideous, itchy yarn at all. But he liked receiving them. He liked knowing that someone in the world was spending hours and hours making something for him.  It made him remember he would always have a place called home.
Next to come was the old gray cat
Swallowed Miss Mousie and Uncle Rat, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh

He told me that I was his favorite teacher because I was always talking about love in class. He explained that I was the only teacher he ever had who said something he wrote down just for himself. That I’d said every kid grows up to fall in love, that you know you’re in love with every fiber of your being. You are consumed by it. And you know when someone is in love with you because they burn the same way. Only for you.  Conversely, you also know when someone is not in love with you, because the feeling is gone.
So Froggy went a-hopping off away
And we sing his song to this very day, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh

Taylor wrote that he had asked me then… asked me if I thought this was true. That everyone falls in love, and… well, would it happen to him?  Did I really believe he would find someone who would make him feel like home?  He asked me if I remembered what I said. 
Taylor, what I said was… you'll know only when it's gone.