Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sweet Dreams!

“If we shadows have offended think but this and all is mended…”
“You have but slumbered here while these visions did appear…”
“While these visions did appear and this weak and idle them, no more yielding but a dream, gentles, do not reprehend.  If you pardon, we will mend.”
“And as I am an honest Puck, if we have unearn’ed luck…”
“Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue.  We will make amends ere long…”
“Else the Puck a liar call.  So good night unto you all…”
“Give me  your hands if we be friends, and Robin shall restore amends.”

Eyes of Mr. Chung

Friday was the last day of school.  The play is finished.  Grades done.  I'm all packed up and ready to roll.  Just a couple of Taiwanese classes to proctor.  Turn in the exams and I'm out the door.
The last class of the day was Mr. Chung's.  He teaches Chinese history and is retiring at the end of the year.  A tall, angular faced, rather magnanimous older gentleman who strides through the hallways with hands folded behind his back without a care in the world.  I see him every day and we both nod and bow very solemnly and seriously in each other's directions as little ripples of recognition pass between us.
The thing is, Mr. Chung has the most serene looking face.  A quiet absolute confidence about him.  I noticed it immediately.  Austere eyebrows above the kindest eyes.  A pondering look that doesn't come naturally, one must earn it over years and years.  As if he'd spent half a lifetime whispering to students about right and wrong, about their hidden potential, about the greatness he sees in them.
Only a teacher can have those eyes, that stare directly into the souls of young people, leading them, correcting them, holding them accountable, inspiring them to be great.
Ten years ago I might have been happy about the last day of school.  I might have run through the hallways and thrown my folders full of paper into the air and danced in the raining confetti, played Alice Cooper and peeled out my tires and raced toward summer.  Now, I just sigh.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Midsummer Night in Reflection

It's been a few days after the play and the school year is almost officially over.  I got to see the students for the last time this morning.  Here are some of their last journal entries:
“I learned the quote:  Practice Makes Perfect.  I can feel it wholeheartedly.  Everything succeeded because of practice.  We practiced every day speaking, acting, singing, just to make our show perfect.  We spent a lot of time trying, so we performed a wonderful show and all of us tried our best.  The second thing I learned is being brave.  If you have a chance to act out, but didn’t have enough courage, things won’t succeed.  Bravery helps you to prove yourself, it will turn nervous power into a higher level of excellence.  The third thing I learned is to be happy of the things you are doing and let other’s shine.”

-Angie, Snout the Wall
“I like this play so much! And I learned many things from the play.   The first thing I learned is about Shakespeare, his life, the plays he wrote, and his language.  The second thing I learned is “the character.”  It is very difficult to act  in a different character from who you are.  Another thing is you have to “enjoy the play.”  Being a lion is very hard to act and it takes a sense of humor which I don’t know if I have or not…maybe I discovered I have one.  Finally, the third thing I learned is “team work.”  Everyone has to be quiet and work together.  If you do it by yourself, you can’t do anything, you will have too many problems.  So doing this play taught me all these things.”

–Belle, Snout the Lion
“I learned so many things in this performance, but the most important thing for me is how to speak out loud and not be nervous on the stage.  Second thing that is important is how to stand on stage perfectly and not play with my hair or touch my face or talk to others.  The last thing is the most, most, most important… it is a special memory for us and a great experience.”

-Stacie, the Narrator
“In our play, Midsummer Night’s Dream, I enjoyed my time with my classmates.  Our whole semester is just to spend our time feeling the literary effects of Shakespeare.  What a great way to spend our time!  In fact, it is good to act.  Sometimes, I have to do some ridiculous actions or say silly phrases, but I learned to do these important things that can only be happening in a performing arts class.  I could say that this class is my favorite.  I like the way Mr. Hartenstein teaches and gives us great experiences  that are fun.  I learned to let down the pressure and laugh loudly.”

-Joy, Helena
“It was my first time to have a big play in front of many people.  We practiced so hard before the play.  I got different experience and learned something from this play.  The first thing I learned was practice really does make perfect.  Through our play, I learned that by practicing something and giving all my attention, I can accomplish anything.  Second, I knew that if I want to make the character perfect, I have to pretend I was the character.  The last thing I learned was to try to love what you are doing, and you will be happy doing this and do your best.”

-Jessie, Titania the Fairy Queen
“Well, Midsummer Night’s Dream finally ended.  We all woke up!  It’s still exciting to think of that night and how we prepared, how we felt nervous behind the curtain, and how we did a good job in our last play.  To perform the best play we can, we practiced over and over and over.  Every day at lunch, the first thing we talked about was, “Oh no, is Mr. Hartenstein coming to take us during nap time???”  We learned that when you practice, you can accomplish anything. I am so proud of us.”

-Ling, Hippolyta the Amazon Queen

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Lovers and Madmen Have Such Seething Brains

"Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, such shaping fantasies, that apprehend more than cool reason ever comprehends."  -Midsummer Night's Dream

It's unbelievable all the things that went wrong even before the curtain opened.
Amanda as Puck and Jessie as Titania get their fairy make-up.  Big thanks to Ricky and Jenny for their awesome brush skills.'s a list of all the crazy things that happened.  Louis and Sam both dropped the drum set down the cement stair case, you could hear the cymbals clanging all the way across the campus.  I packed all twenty pieces of said drum kit into the director's tiny KIA and made two trips through the forest campus to the stage.  On the second, both boys had to hang out the back, pinning the snare to the bumper.
George as Oberon talks Mermaids Riding on Dolphin backs.

When we got to the theater, the air-conditioning didn't work, so I was looking into the electrical circuit board when suddenly, a fuse blew and all the electricity in the theater shut off.  Total Blackness.  I was standing frantically checking switches labeled in Chinese with a flashlight.  The lights came on only when I slammed the circuit board door shut in a fit of desperation.
Then suddenly the stage lights went out because the electrical plug broke off into the wall socket.  So...I took a pair of wooden chopsticks and pulled them out and hurriedly taped the wires with bandages from a First Aid kit and stuck them into the holes with my fingers.  SHOCK!  SHOCK!  SHOCK!  Little sparks went flying as my fingers burned black.  But I got it to work!
Of course, that's right when Chris, who plays Lysander, started jumping his skateboard off the stage ... and Jerry, who is a singer in the opening act, knocked over a row of trees.
Then dinner was served (and the Taiwanese always stop everything to eat) and the fairies all ran into the bathroom to compare... God Only Knows What Girls Do In The Bathroom Behind Locked Doors!!  So I had to chase them down and force them into the make-up chair an hour before curtain.
Then we ran through a quick dress rehearsal and all the kids panicked and forgot lines and when to enter and basically fell apart just as the crowds started arriving.
The only thing we could do was come together as a class, to focus, to shut out nerves,to believe in ourselves and all our practice, and to trust one another.  We did.  When the curtain rose, after all the hours that day of setting up the stage and burning my fingers and solving every problem imaginable, I finally felt... butterflies.  My hands started to shake a little as the school director called me onto the stage and I stepped into the light to introduce our play.

Monday, June 23, 2014


"Over hill, over dale,
Through bush, through briar, 
Over park, over pale,
Through flood, through fire.
I do wander everywhere.  -Midsummer Night's Dream

Thank you so much to all the teachers, administrators, parents, and students who braved the heat and mosquitoes and attended.  Thank you for the set builders and make-up artists and photographers and all other volunteers.  It was for myself and the students, a magical night.

Pajamas at 3 a.m., Watching the World Cup in the Dark

Staring through one bleary eye, siting in the dark living room in my pajamas at 3 a.m., watching the World Cup huddled in blankets, clutching a mug of coffee with the sound off.  Ronaldo's hair makes me want to puke!

Takasago Koku (高砂国) / Turning Japanese I Think I'm Turning Japanese I Really Think So!

Between 1895 to 1945, Taiwan was a dependency of the Empire of Japan after China lost the first Sino-Japanese War.  Even before that, Japan has always had its eye on this little mountainous island named for the Formosa flower.
In fact, Japan had been seeking imperial control over Taiwan since 1592, calling it "Takasago Koku," or "Highland Nation."  This led to centuries of attempted invasion and take-over plots by different Japanese rulers, mostly all  being unsuccessful.  The Taiwanese resistance was very strong. I mean, come on, do you really want to pick a jungle fight with a bunch of aboriginal head hunters?  Seriously...?
One of the strangest eras of Japanese rule in Taiwan erupted during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and ended with the conclusion of World War II in 1945, during which Japan sought to utilize resource material in Taiwan for the war effort.  It was believed then that Taiwanese people should be fully assimilated as members of Japanese society.  This was called the "Kominka Movement."  Its aim was fully "Japanizing" Taiwanese society.
 This meant locals had to speak Japanese language and wear Japanese clothing and live in Japanese style houses.  Pretty cool if  you like your sushi on a tatami mat while wearing indoor geta clogs.
But of course... the Taiwanese weren't having it!  They are revolutionaries at heart.  (Look at this mustache and tell me this guy doesn't want to brawl?)  So... in the end, the Taiwanese had to fight for their right to party just like every body else.
The funny thing is, there is still large Japanese support among elderly Taiwanese...but the young people have completely forgotten their history lessons.  Korean music, movies, and celebrities now dominate, creating a new area of colonization.  (In fact, when my students discover I can read and write in Korean, they instantly discard English for this new hipster mania)
It has taken me five years to really see the Taiwanese people for who they are.  Revolutionaries.  Still trapped between powerful warring nations, attempting to carve out a national identity, looking to neighbors for hints on style, still evolving.  I hope to leave them better for their cause.  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

There Was A Young Belle of Old Natchez

There was a young lady whose chin
resembled the point of a pin
so she had it made sharp,
and purchased a harp,
and played several tunes with a grin.
There was an old man who supposed
that the street door was partially closed;
but some very large rats
ate his coats and his hats,
while that futile old gentleman dozed.
A bather whose clothes were strewed
by strong winds that left her quite nude
saw a man come along
and unless I am wrong
you expected the last line to be lewd.
The marriage of poor Kim Kardashian
was krushed like a car in a krashian
her kris kried, not fair!
why kan’t I keep my share?
but Kardashian fell klean outa fashion  -S. Rushdie
There was a young belle of old Natchez
whose garments were always in patchez
when comments arose
on the state of her clothes
she replied, "When Ah itchez, Ah scratchez."  -O. Nash
And let me the canakin clink, clink
and let me the canakin clink
a soldier's a man
a life's but a span
why, then, let a soldier drink.  -Shakespeare, Othello
Too much Chinese is not a good thing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hecate's Dragons Come Forth

"Now the hungry lion roars and the wolf behowls the moon..."  -Midsummer Night's Dream

After much confusion throughout the play, three pairs of lovers, including Theseus and his Queen, Hippolyta, are about to be married.
"Whilst the heavy ploughman snores all with weary task fordone..."  -Midsummer Night's Dream

Here Puck, a mischievous spirit, prepares for the fairy blessing of these weddings, banishing all the threats to the lovers' happiness.
"Now the wasted brands do glow whilst the screech-owl, screeching loud, puts the wretch that lies in woe in remembrance of a shroud."  -Midsummer Night's Dream

He calls Hecate's team of dragons to come forth and bring the darkness.
"Now it is the time of night that the graves, all gaping wide, every one lets forth his sprite..."  -Midsummer Night's Dream

Hecate is the goddess of night, and only after the darkness can we see the light.
"In the church-way paths to glide and we fairies, that do run by the triple Hecate's team..." -Midsummer Night's Dream

(Above pictures:  Hermia & Helena)
"From the presence of the sun following darkness like a dream..."  -Midsummer Night's Dream

(Lysander & Demetrius)
"Now are frolic, Not a mouse shall disturb this hallowed house."  -Midsummer Night's Dream

(King Oberon)
"I am sent with broom before..." -Midsummer Night's Dream

(Titania & Nick Bottom)
"To sweep the dust behind the door."  -Midsummer Night's Dream

(And Robin Goodfellow, of course)  Bring on the day!