Thursday, May 29, 2014



Girls in the apartment riding scooters.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Helen's Beauty in a Brow of Egypt

 "The lunatic, the lover, and the poet are of imagination all compact: One sees more devils than vast hell can hold..."  -Duke Theseus, Midsummer Night's Dream

We were all out late, just wandering around in the shadows, trying to shake off the week's dust.
 "Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt.  The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to earth..."  -Duke Theseus, Midsummer Night's Dream

Hoarse and abuzz...
 "As imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet's pen turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name."  -Duke Theseus, Midsummer Night's Dream

I started thinking about Duke Theseus, how in a quiet moment with Hippolyta, he tells her that imagination distorts his reality.
"Some tricks hath strong imagination, that if it would but apprehend some joy..." -Duke Theseus, Midsummer Night's Dream

Altering what his eye sees...but sometimes the imagination may see truths the human eye cannot.
"Or in the night, imagining some fear.  How easy is a bush supposed a bear."  -Duke Theseus, Midsummer Night's Dream

I'm marking these last days well.  Here, my eyes are wide open.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cow Tongue Cakes in Lukang

It's graduation season once again.  Time to say goodbye.  This time, a trip to historic Lukang, or "Deer Harbor" a traditional little town south of Taichung serves as our farewell stop.
Graduation will always be bittersweet.
You work so hard and give so much and then...poof!  Time is up!  Books are tossed.  Kids run away without so much as a ..."Smell ya later, Dude!"
But these trips with the students bring about a certain satisfaction.
I've always held to the idea that students must be put on a physical journey...that they must pass through something... the experience is theirs, and the teacher is a guide.
That disrupts the normal pattern here.  I ask these graduating students if they've ever had a teacher that was special or if they've really felt inspired by an completely shocks them.
They reject the question completely.  Here teachers don't connect, they don't relate...they yell, they scold, the only question they ask is..."Is if finished yet?"
It's no wonder that my students have no connection to the material...that they are unable to think or reflect... they just want me to tell them the answer...they want me to tell them what to say...I ask them what they think and they stare back at me so sleepy eyed and empty...their heads slowly laying on the a matter of seconds they are fast asleep.
In this cultural vice of cram schools and pointless worksheet education...where the very creativity of a kid is squeezed and strangled out of them with multiple choice scan tests and useless memorization tasks... it's no wonder most students crack.
Well, walking around Lukang that day, it felt so good to be out of the school with the students.  Walking around and laughing, telling jokes, observing funny things, seeing them for who they really were, just being together as people.
Well... maybe I'm just  being reflective too.
This time in Taiwan is drawing to a close...and I'm searching for meaning in everything.
So sweet little days like this are extra a gracious serving of cow tongue cake!  Sitting here in the street cafes, breaking bread with students... even if it's only for me...feels just right.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Taipei Train Stabbing

Plenty of TV news cameras out today.  Somebody made the point at the staff meeting this afternoon, he could have walked a few minutes down the hill onto our campus.  

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Why Nick Bottom, You Are... Translated!

This past week the rain has fallen like Buicks and Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs from a foreboding and ominous sky and the students are constantly tracking their muddy filthy disgusting feet across my neatly swept floor. I stand at the entrance of my little class room and plead with them to stomp and shake and dry their feet upon the mat, upon the newspaper, upon the towel, upon the old ripped t-shirts I’ve laid out for them but it makes no difference… they just look at me and groan.
“Oh! He’s talking again! Why is he always talking?”
“I can’t even listen!”
“Won’t he ever shut up?”
“He’s so motorcycle.” They rev with their hands to resemble my sputtering lips.
And so I order them to take off their shoes and leave them with the umbrellas outside. Now they throw a fit.
“I’m not taking off my shoes!”
“You can’t make me!”
“Why you say such stupid things?”
I explain that it takes me almost an hour to clean the class every day. That I tell them not to bring food but they secretly eat and leave garbage containers of half-eaten scraps in the desks, and on the floor, and stuffed into the cupboards. I tell them I’ve been cleaning this classroom so diligently, that I’ve killed rats and snakes in here, that I am trying to make this classroom a home.
They roll their eyes, “Ok. Ok. Ok. Ok.”
“He’s so mean.”
“What a bully.”
“He's such an ass.”
I listen to them curse me in Chinese. There’s nothing I can do. I wait until class is finished and reach for a broom.
During the break time the boys get together and hump. They lay their faces in each other’s crotches to nozzle and hold hands and spank their bottoms and grab each other between the legs. They slide hands into each other’s shorts and blow into each other’s ears and sometimes even kiss.
I have tried everything to dissuade it.
I ask them to stop. Set clear guidelines for behavior. Make consequences for rule breaking. Force them to separate. Go to the administration. Call parents. Even write letters home. I council the boys. Sometimes even shame them. But in the end, it’s an epidemic. Nearly one-hundred percent of the boys practice this form of heavy gay-petting in class almost every chance they get. If I turn to write something on the board they touch each other. If I go to help a student, they get out of their seat and wander the room. I find them sitting in the lap of another boy, hips rocking, their hands in each other’s pants.
The Taiwan teachers never stop it. They don’t even bother to address it. Today at my window two boys were hugging each other so violently in a wrestling fervor. They would not separate, but instead grappled and thrusted and banged their crotches into each other. I finally got them to stop but turned around and another couple of boys were heading around the corner hands in each other’s pants.
I went into my classroom and closed the door. I gave up. I simply gave up.
I stand in front of class and motion for the students to be quiet. It takes a few moments but they all settle down. I smile. I look them one after the other. I don’t speak. I let the silence create a vacuum, a stillness that ever so slowly begins to fill the cracks of the room. A deafening, low hum of silent vibration. There is a method to this, a wisdom, and I wait.
It is raining outside. A driving, pouring, onslaught of rain like a mechanism. I open the door and watch it crush the earth in rising puddles and flooding sewers and pelting ponds. The rain is so loud it overcomes the silence and the students submit so quickly it’s painful.
“Teacher, can we play our cell phones?”
“Teacher, can’t we sleep?”
“Teacher, do you even know how difficult our life is? We have tests every day and cram schools at night and everyone gives us homework?”
I look at this boy, his name is Robert and he just turned sixteen. His uniform is worn threadbare like an old pair of pajamas, brown with holes in the knees, rising above his ankles like he’s grown seven inches over the last four years. I want to tell him this is the easiest time of his life, that it only gets harder from here, that he needs to be more responsible, tougher…for crying out loud, you’re a sixteen year old boy wearing pajamas to school?”
But I just stare at him and let the pounding rain speak.
During Midsummer Night rehearsal we finally get to practice the lovers in the forest. Helena is in the middle of a human tug-of-war between Lysander and Demetrius. I chose the actress to play Helena because she has this unmatched maturity and eyes that look a thousand years old. I pull the two boys next to her and they both look like they’re going to faint.
“You have to put your hands on her. Right on her wrists.”
Both boys recoil and refuse.
“Take your hands and hold her here, touch her here.”
They boy completely refuse, shaking their heads no.
“Listen, she’s not going to bite you. You’re actors. We all understand this.”
The boys are shaking with fear. I feel their body heat. Their shoulders soaked in sweat. I grab them by the arms and pull them closer.
“You must touch her. It’s ok. Lysander, you hold this wrist. Demetrius, you take the other.”
They jerk their arms away in disgust. Helena is staring at me, deeply into me as if she has left her body. I try again, prying the balled up fists of the two boys open and grasping them onto Helena’s wrists.
“See, you didn’t die. Now you pull this way and you pull that.”
The boys are frozen. They cannot move. A musty smell wafts from one boys underarms and I fear the emitting of a bodily fluid. I stand back to direct the scene, to motion for Hermia, Helena’s best friend to come in and say her lines, but the two boys have separated, their arms are crossed in tantrums. Suddenly the bell rings and they are gone. Now I am alone in the room with the mud covered floor and the torrential rain and the loud boys in the hallway wrestling and splashing one another and laughing and I sit down at my desk and wait for the buses to leave.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Mr. Clapper

(Captain America... we meet at last, mon ami)

Last night during basketball this new guy showed up I like to call… “Mr. Clapper.”
(It's no wonder I'm confused all the time)

Mr. Clapper is a tall, lanky aboriginal Taiwanese with pockmarked maroon skin and deep dark eyes who bounds up and down the court with these long loping skips and strides like a gazelle running from lions and every time his team scores or steals the ball or does anything remotely positive… he stops dead in his tracks and smacks his palms together in a rapid succession of thunderous claps and lets out this wild barbaric “Yelwp! Yelwp! Yelwp!” which fills the gym with savage abandon.
(Like this for example)

The first time he did it I stopped in amazement. We were already five or six games in and I’m drenched in sweat riding out the last night of my lucky gray shorts and cerulean blue Cambodian t-shirt combo that has served me so well over the past year with incredible games of swooping lay-in drives and raining threes and impossible crossovers that I can attribute to nothing other than…my lucky gray shorts and cerulean blue Cambodian t-shirt.
(Sweet Little Red Riding Hood in Wonderland Display)

I like believing in these things. Believing in a fire inside. Even if it’s nothing more than a pair of lucky gray shorts and t-shirt I picked up in a market while trekking some far off temple like Angor Wat.
(Sad Winnie the Pooh)

So it’s the last game and in comes Mr. Clapper and I can tell right away he’s going to be trouble. First, he has a long scraggly ponytail held by a pink scrunchy that flops and bobs up and down the middle of his back. Believe me, nobody wants to play with scrunchy ponytail guy let alone guard him. I watch in disgust as it takes him five minutes to coif his perfect black mane atop his head with a hand mirror then tuck his uniform precisely into the hiked up waistband, pull a pair of white tube-socks over his knees, and start clapping and howling in an incomprehensible war cry. Yelwp! Game on.
(Kid Pirate Pencil Case)

So the very first play I come up baseline and catch a pass and turn swiftly to fire a no-look to Peg Leg… (Yes, Peg Leg and his wooden sidekick are still on my team) and Mr. Clapper comes out of nowhere to steal the ball. What? I reach down and unstick the material of my t-shirt from my soaked skin and race back on defense. I’ve been having problems all night. Short on my jumper. Missing bunnies. Now a turnover to Peg on the first play of the game. I can feel it’s definitely NOT my night. When suddenly Mr. Clapper gets right up into my face and starts howling.
(Anything wrong with this picture?)

“Yelwp! Yelwp! Yelwp!” Then a bursting rapid fire of applauding gyrations and war cries. What? I attempt a steal but the ball soars over my head down to the end of the court for a streaking lay-up. My legs are tired. I’m spent after two hours of sprinting but am ready for this final game. I cross half court and demand the ball, which I get, turn right, patiently dribble to the top of the key, jab and step back. Shoot a quick three. Brick! Mr. Clapper grabs the rebound and tosses it down court again for a streaking lay-up. This time, his hand clapping is even more intense, getting right in my face and shouting.
(Ice Cream Anyone?)

I shove past him, a little chin music with some extra relish he doesn’t appreciate. It’s all part of the game. But what I do mind is his breath. A lot of Taiwanese have rancid teeth and gums. This is attributed to the fact that teachers give out copious amounts of candy to pacify dissent and so kids grow up with these brown stalactite formations in their mouth or worse…a bright orange gingivitis that resembles a toothless Jack-O-Lantern grinning with bright flaming gums. Totally frightening. Mr. Clapper had one of these mouths on fire. I can see it burning as he screams at me on defense. Slapping the floor and clapping wildly in my chest.
(Test Package for Teacher Brain)

Peg Leg attempts to inbound the ball by throwing it directly to the other team. He backs this up by dribbling off his foot out of bounds. Great. In a matter of minutes were already down 8 points. One more to game point and I’m going to lose my last chance at a tribute farewell to my good luck charm gray shorts and cerulean blue Cambodian t-shirt. Time to get serious or be sent packing.
(Angela's Correction Tape)

I come off baseline again, catch the ball at the foul line, spin and shoot. Swish. Then get a steal at the other and go coast to coast. Then assist on a three pointer. Block a shot and assist on a fast break. Just like that we’re back in it. Maybe it's going to be my night after all.
Mr. Clapper’s face is in a murderous scowl and his thunderous hand displays are even louder. Of course, I should mention that I’ve also started being antagonistic by clapping louder than I’ve ever clapped before after each of our plays. Staring right at his ponytail and, “Whoop! Whoop! Whooping!” This obviously, had a dramatic attempt. For now, you see, there are two completely idiotic over-aged buffoons battling for no apparent reason as time on the clock expires. One team headed for victory the other to the showers.
(Clean up your cereal bowl!  It's been two weeks!)

The following morning I awake early and roll out of bed. Muscles sore and tight. Legs strained. Balls of my feet twisted in knots. The street lamps are still buzzing as I walk out of the apartment and cut through an alley in the park toward the little Buddhist temple on the corner sidewalk overlooking the city canal. There is a wide banyan tree with thick hanging vines and small abandoned tables set up for grandfathers to play chess beneath the temple eaves. A black dog lays lazily beside the coiled incense and an old man burns bright yellow ghost money in a large bricked urn adorned with rich mosaic tiles of tigers and men fighting with swords and bearded monks sitting peacefully on clouds.
I walk up to the old man and nod, dump my bundle into the small fire opening of his religious pyre, step back as the sparks shoot out, heat blazes, and my bundle burns. The old man looks at me strangely.
Why is this big nosed white foreigner burning his clothes? It was the same look Mr. Clapper gave me the night before when I buried the final shot right in his clapping hands and walked off the court in total silence.
(My Chair... got the grooves to prove)

I knew right then I what to do. How to say goodbye. My lucky gray shorts and cerulean blue Cambodian t-shirt, I’d throw their spent luck on the flames. Keep the fire forever inside. Rely on whatever fortune was around the corner and headed my way.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Little Slice of Home

 My daughters attend the only real American school in Taichung city.  Built by missionaries over 60 years ago, every time I step foot on Morrison's campus it's like a time machine  straight back home.
It's all in the details...smooth wood concession stand... soft carpet on the library floor... stinky cleats outside the gym... it's a little slice of America in the middle of all this Asia.
 On a Saturday afternoon birthday party today around the pool...I was looking at the palm trees swaying and the blue sky (first real sky in weeks that wasn't full of rain) and all our wonderful friends here and I thought... Taiwan can be a paradise sometimes.
 The girls had a ball!
 Cannonballs off the high dive!  Look out below!
Another day in the bank.  SPLASH!

Friday, May 16, 2014

I am That Merry Wanderer of the Night

 "When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile
Neighing in likeness of a filly foal..."  -Puck

Shakespeare only makes it worse!  We practice and practice and practice and the rain falls outside in bathtubs and then the sun comes out and we walk all squishy Oregon toes and wet sneakers into the trees picking garlands and gathering branches for our set... whispering Shakespeare in these kid's ears....for my sake and theirs.
"And sometimes lurk I in a gossip's bowl
In very likeness of a roasted crab..."  -Puck

My old anthology of plays I dragged from the shelves of Colton is starting to mold on the little wooden desk by the classroom door filled with leaves and postcards and four-leaf clovers and funny keepsakes from all the lives I've had the pleasure of living.
"And when she drinks , against her lips I bob
And on her wither'd dewlap pour the ale..."  -Puck

Who doesn't get a number of lives...and Thank God for it.
"The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale
Sometimes for three-foot stool  mistaketh me..."  -Puck

Rain seasons shouldn't make one depressed.  Rather...Soulful.  Mindful.  Reflective.
"Then slip I from her bum. down topples she
And 'tailor' cries, and falls into a cough
And then the whole quire hold their hips and loff
And waxen in their mirth, and neeze, and swear
A merrier hour was never wasted there..."  -Puck

Gather up all these bodies to do this play with me, for me, because of's my idea hammered and drilled into their lives.  A stake to hang something on...anything to splinter the monotony of tests and memorized math problems and formulaic paragraphs of Chinese history.
"Thou speak'st aright... I am that merry wanderer of the night..."  -Puck

Sometimes after class...when all these bodies have returned to their world...I stare at the walls for a good long time and count my breaths...then before I know it I'm up...running in the trees...out in the mountain woods.  I chose right.  This one time, I chose right.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

10,000 Gladwell Outliers

 It's a beautiful placid morning here on the island.  Yesterday's torrential monsoon washed afresh the city's grit and grime and now the sky is a tranquil blue.  Early before class, I sit beside the open window of rickety wood and glass pane, this old classroom's starboard side, and ponder the day's most certain events.  This is when I always put pen to paper and write letters.  Now I am writing to you.
 Leaving the city up the slow hill we turn and drive into the mountain forest.  Park.  Walk through trees past stone pagoda temples and chapels and places of higher thought, up to my classroom ship.
 So much time spent here.  Planning.  Thinking.  Wondering.  What a life.
 A stack of books on my desk.  Stones to hold them down.  Unscrew the cap of my favorite ball point pen.  Black ink stains on thumb and palm.   Wooden desks.  Chalk dust in my ears.
 There's such quiet in these days.
 You live and you thrive in your own way.  You carve out a place for yourself and seek contentment.  Able-bodied.  Sound heart and mind.  You become something.
Gladwell said, "...if you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires..."  but no one needs to tell you this.  You're that very thing.