Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Years!

Dear Reader,

It's been a good six-year run.  The Hartenstein Family ends the 2014 Year of the Horse riding high into the sweet bye and bye.  I would like to thank so many people for finding this blog, supporting it, reading these stories, and contacting me from around the world with yours.  I stared writing here for one very singular and personal reason, but that changed over time and renewed something in me.  I’m grateful for it.  Thank you, my dear friends, and Happy New Year to you all.

Crook's Christmas

 “I tell ya,” he cried.  “I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick.” 
-Crooks, Of Mice and Men

All I’ve ever really wanted to do was read and talk about books, and this semester I’ve been so fortunate to teach some of my favorites.
 “I think I’ll be a clown when I get grown… yes sir, a clown.  There ain’t one thing in this world I can do about folks except laugh, so I’m gonna join the circus and laugh my head off.”  -Dill

Often it’s the minor characters of novels that stir us so deeply.  The bit players who strut their hour upon the stage and are heard no more.  
 “Hesitation of any kind is a sign of mental decay in the young, or physical weakness in the old.”  -Lady Bracknell, Importance of Being Earnest.

Whether it’s Lady Bracknell’s cucumber sandwiches or Charles Baker Harris sprouting whoppers from the collard patch or Desdemona’s superstitious father fearing his daughter is bewitched by a Moor or Charlie Bates who traded it all in to become a farmer…I loved teaching the minor characters this year, and none more than Crooks, the black stable buck from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.  
 “With this irrepressible ebullition of mirth, Master Bates laid himself flat on the floor…”  -Charley Bates, Oliver Twist

It’s hard to build compassion in others.  Here in Asia, it’s an impossible task, but reading the tale of the ranch boss who drops a jug of whiskey on the bunkhouse table at Christmas for the drunken men to kick fight and give hell to the negro…and watching my students giggle and squeal in delight at the thought of Crooks’ isolation and pain, then stepping outside at the break to leg sweep and punch and ridicule one another… is often more than I can withstand.
“O thou foul thief, where hast thou stow’d my daughter?”  -Brabantio, Othello

So I return to books as a solace and bunker down with humanity.  That’s all one can really hope to become in life, isn’t it?  A bit player in the masterpiece narrative of someone else’s life.  A brief confidant.  An impassioned bar-stool soliloquizer.  An off-the-cuff anecdoter.  A stealer of scenes.  I hope this blog is reminiscent of that for people, a place they visit, just for a moment, and old friend they return to and take solace in.  Merry Christmas Everyone!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Universal Studios Singapore

 Hey! Hey!  It's time for some fun at Universal Studios Singapore.
 What a fantastic day.  Very short taxi ride from downtown.  We arrived early to avoid the queue.  Had a blast.
 Frankenstein meets... Hartenstein?
 Yes, the Singapore Universal Studios has it all.  Transformer Robots, a Marlon Brando On the Waterfront set, a Madagascar inspired (It's a Small World) type ride... serious roller coaster...and American Graffiti Mel's Diner.  Hey!  We were just in San Francisco!
 I make no apologies for my absolute love of Shrek!
Awesome fun.  Ready to head back to the hotel and relax!

Johnny Two Thumbs

I was just a kid, coming out of the hot Sumatra jungle after a twelve hour bus ride with chickens and goats winding through mountain passes with sheer thousand foot drops... Indonesian island hoping toward Batam where I was jumped by a gang of street kids and saved by an angel on a passing motor scooter who dropped me at a cockroach infested hotel without a cent in my pockets... I slept that night on a mattress bunk coiled up around my pack as rats scurried across the floor and thought...if I can just get to Singapore tomorrow.
I did.... a short fishing boat ride plopped down on huge balls of net and wrapped twine watching the sun head down over the horizon...and the tall buildings and harbor of this new concrete jungle rising out of the sea.  Singapore saved me.  Three days later, after recuperating in a hostel from heat exhaustion... I replenished on modern luxury.  Antibiotic shot for foot ringworm, a rare and savored cappuccino, a replacing of two abysmal hiking socks, an afternoon lounging at the Long Bar, and... Die Hard III?  Then I got my first Tattoo:  Here, at Johnny Two Thumbs!  It was 1995.
So of course...nearly twenty years later, I returned.  The man with two thumbs on his hand is long gone... but the folks inside enjoyed my tale.  Did I let them ink me up again...?  Well, that's another story, isn't it?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Singapore Silk

It's no small secret the names of my daughters and their connection to silk.
Singapore took it to a whole new level.
Hanging with some lemonade....
Chilling in the hotel...
Even Buddha knows what's up...!  

Midsummer DVD!

It was great to see this and thank you so much for all the school support and help.  (Including our infamous 'sender of the Fairy Ears'!)  The DVD is great and students loved it.  Thank you!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

“that black nigger yonger ruttin’ on my Mayella”

(The following pictures were taken on the Singapore Cable Car over Sentosa Island)

There’s nothing like teaching literature.  Nothing in the world.  Working a kid, working a whole room of fifty kids through a book of classic art that you chose for them in hopes and prayers and pleading begs and shattering will for it to point them in life’s right direction.  Only those that have attempted this can understand the joy and heartbreak.
Knowing every twist and turn of narrative yarn.  Setting ‘em up.  Knocking ‘em down.  Pausing at just that right moment to milk a word into existence.  Breaking at just the right time to tell a story from your life that brings it home.  
It’s like having fifty individually intimate conversations with every soul about who they are and what they want and dream and scorn and secretly wished they had the guts to go after... and of course, what they fear most in life.
On your best days the earth actually tilts in your favor. Time stops.  A buzzing surge enters you.  You’ve done something.  Created a thought in someone’s head.  Provided a mental axiom for someone’s hat to hang.  Given clarity, or just…been the one who listened without judgment.  You were exactly what you were supposed to be.
But on your worst… you’re reduced to ash.  Human rubble.  A blithering sobbing mumbling manic sitting in the dark on the floor wondering…what just hit you?
For my money…perhaps the greatest sentence in the entirety of American literature is:  He stood up and pointed his finger at Tom Robinson. “I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin’ on my Mayella!” (p. 231).  Harper Lee nailed it.  The courage it takes to write that sentence...completely baffles me.  Yet here I stand in a classroom and deliver it for analysis...offering it as a sacrifice.  Armed only with words, shielded only by thin wrinkled pages.  God Bless You, Harper Lee!

Langnaa Restaurant and Little India Singapore

Deep into the pockets of Little India Singapore...
Past the news stands and the sidewalk seamstresses...
Past the deities and the colorful temples...
In fact... there are a whole lot of deities to see...
And the colors that only India can produce...
If you follow the footsteps...
You will arrive at Langnaa... maybe the best little India restaurant in Singapore!
I know... doesn't look like much...but the upstairs is cool and comfortable with little low tables and throw pillows...and the food.  I have to bite my lip thinking about it.  Oh my!  Such spices...even the owner will come and sit with you to recommend a perfect dish.
I won't say much more...please, if you see this post, go find this treasure.
Perfect for the weary traveler... Believe me.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Oliver Twist, Singapore's Year of the Horse, and a Bait of Air

“Everybody knows the story of another experimental philosopher, who had a great theory about a horse being able to live without eating, and who demonstrated it so well, that he got his one horse down to a straw a day and would most unquestionably have rendered him a very spirited and rampacious animal on nothing at all, if he had not died, just four-and-twenty hours before he was to have had his first comfortable bait of air.”  -Dickens, Oliver Twist

I suppose this year was dominated by three stories:  Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream (our play was fantastic, the DVD just released) the musical GREASE, and Dickens' Oliver Twist!
“Some people are nobody’s enemies but their own.”  -Dickens, Oliver Twist

I had no idea that Oliver Twist would affect me so mightily.
“People like us don’t go out at night cause people like them see us for what we are.”  -Dickens, Oliver Twist

I had attempted teaching Dickens before:  A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations and even in honors classes it's difficult to force kids to read those books.  But Twist was different.  I enjoyed it as much as any book I've read or taught in years.  It was a feast.  The rich characters so poor in morality but mighty in catechism...I found myself reading passages aloud over and over and enjoying it so much.
“Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine.” -Dickens, Oliver Twist

I know for many educators it's very challenging to break a new author or narrative into the dusty canon of books they use so brilliantly (and often lethargically) to their students as if we're so starved that we sustain ourselves on only a handful of titles bereft at the chance of falling in love with another.
“It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes, and softens down the temper… so cry away.” -Dickens, Oliver Twist

It's nice to be surprised... imagine that, by a book no less!

The Legend of Pork Bone Tea

Oh Boy!  Time for some street eats.  There is no better street food in the world, that merges cultures and cuisines, like Singapore.
I won't take picture of food.  While table after table around me is pulling out their camera to snap close-up of dishes so sweetly delivered, I'd much rather pick up my chopsticks and spoon.
Incredible bowls of Laksa, a Chinese/Malay curry blended with Vermicelli, coconut milk, and fish slices so powerful it cleans your pores... and delightful Hokkien Prawn Mee which combines rice and egg noodles and Biryani a kind of Indian/Muslim fried rice with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and bay leaves... Bak Kut Teh and Satay and Sambal Sting Ray and... well, you get the 'real' picture.
One of the great dishes in Singapore is Pork Bone Tea/Bak Kut Teh and it even has a legend (any food with a legend is worth trying) that states once a beggar was wandering through the land and stopped at a local noodle vendor to ask for scraps.  The proprietor, who was also so poor, did not want to send the wretched man away hungry, placed an pork bone in small bowl and threw together leftover spices including anise and pepper with warm soup...resembling a brown cup of tea.  Thus, a national dish was born.
Spice and sense and unbelievable aroma.  I can still taste it now.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Think of Me / The Phantom's Cycle of Memory on the Singapore Flyer

“Think of me, think of me fondly
When we’ve said goodbye.
Remember me, once in a while
Please promise me you’ll try.”  -Think of Me, Phantom of the Opera

Preparing this week for a short performance of Phantom at the Christmas Festival here at school.  I've been blessed this year with a group of about ten sophomores with voices like angels and one German exchange student who will make a fantastic Erik...(surprised how little effort it took talking him into the cape and mask!)
“When you find that once again you long
To take your heart back and be free
If you ever find a moment
Spare a thought for me.” -Think of Me, Phantom of the Opera

We talk a great deal about the cycle of memory during this play, about thinking back and remembering so that when we re-live certain feelings and experience again, we recognize their importance.
“We never said our love was evergreen
Or as unchanging as the sea
But if you can still remember,
Stop and think of me.”  -Think of Me, Phantom of the Opera

Especially love, which is such a powerful force.
“Think of all the things
We’ve share and seen
Don’t think about the way
Things might have been.”  -Think of Me, Phantom of the Opera

Staying with us for years after it has us years later when it returns.
“Think of me, think of me waking
Silent and resigned
Imagine me trying to hard
To put you from my mind.”  -Think of Me, Phantom of the Opera

The memory of love is often sweeter than it's reality...the mystery more alluring than its confirmation in our hearts.
"Flowers fade, fruits of summer fade
They have their seasons, so do we
But please promise me that sometimes
You will think of me!”  -Think of Me, Phantom of the Opera

Standing in front of these students today, hearing them sing so innocently... brought such joy... knowing our performance will bring that same feeling to others.