Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Little Villas in the Island Hills

The Philippines was a great vacation spot. Every day we sailed out into the Visaya sea on these makeshift outrigger canoes called paraws.  The water a kind of crystal clear aquamarine these photos can't possibly capture.
We snorkeled and caught fish and cooked them right on the shore.  We jumped from cliffs and explored underground water caves.
We swam in the ocean for hours.  The water was soft as marvelous silk.  Standing in the warm lapping waves I just laughed at the preposterous smoothness of the surf.
There were these little villas in the island hills perfect for exploring and deck sitting as the afternoon sun turned to dusk... but the day was never lost.
Is it true, is there always another day?  The little island path winding upward into the hills says... go see!

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Sea Song by Allan Cunningham

"A wet sheet and a flowing sea, a wind that follows fast..." -A Sea Song, by Allan Cunningham, the Boy's Book of Verse

I grew up with all these old poems in my head.
"All fills the white and rustling sail and bends the gallant mast..."   -A Sea Song, by Allan Cunningham, the Boy's Book of Verse

Poems of ships at sea and young soldiers at war.
"O for a soft and gentle wind!  I heard a fair one cry; But give to me the snoring breeze and white waves heaving high."  -A Sea Song, by Allan Cunningham, the Boy's Book of Verse

Banners and wars.  Trumpets and swords with names.  Masted sails and ships with oars.  Horse hooves upon the moors.
"And white waves heaving high, my lads.  The good ship tight and free.  The world of waters is our home and merry men are we."  -A Sea Song, by Allan Cunningham, the Boy's Book of Verse

But... they are just poems.  Don't worry, I know the difference between life and verse.... I think!
"There's tempest in yon horned moon, and lightning in yon cloud."  -A Sea Song, by Allan Cunningham, the Boy's Book of Verse

Today we hired a little fishing vessel, an outboard skiff and headed into the crystal clear Visaya Sea to drop our lines in the calm water and wink at one another while we wait.
"But hark the music, mariners! The wind is piping loud."   -A Sea Song, by Allan Cunningham, the Boy's Book of Verse

We caught our fish and snorkeled in the reefs and marveled at all that lay beneath this amazing blue green tranquility...
"The wind is piping loud, my boys.  The lightning flashes free."  -A Sea Song, by Allan Cunningham, the Boy's Book of Verse

But I kept these poems in my heart.
"While the hollow oak our place is, our heritage the sea."   -A Sea Song, by Allan Cunningham, the Boy's Book of Verse

Sometimes it's good to forget life and verse and just.... live in the difference between.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Just Me and the Visaya Sea, a Motorbike and Goat named Tamale

Cruising along the other side of Boracay.  Parked under a palm.  Sat beneath thatched eaves on a little wooden bench and drank black coffee from an old Christmas mug with the handle busted off.  Chatted with locals.  Toothless fisherman mending a net.  Gaggle of old ladies nodding at me and laughing.  A little boy yanking a goat down a dirt path into the trees.  These moments... all this sweet innocence in abundance.  You have to take them when they come, don't you?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Exhaustion of Hate

"I think I know enough of hate to say that for destruction ice is also great and would suffice"  -Robert Frost

When I was teaching in Saudi Arabia I had this one student named Abdullah-Ahmed who had this annoying habit of snapping his fingers in my face when he wanted my attention.  A half-dozen times a day just... SNAP!  SNAP!  SNAP!  I tried my best to be patient and explain to him that... "Snapping your fingers in someone's face is rude"...and "I don't appreciate it"....and "I'm the teacher of the class"... and "We must have respect for one another" and... all that civilized BLAH!  BLAH!  BLAH!  He just kept snapping away.  What made it stranger was that Abdullah-Ahmed was obviously the product of generations of "Saudi Family" and "Dessert Tribe" inbreeding.  His spine was curved abnormally and his eyes set crooked across his face.  He spoke with a spitting and stuttering lisp, his fingers were disjointed, and his coordination askew so that he actually fell out of his chair once. He was a twenty-six-year old man who could barely hold a pencil or stand straight and was illiterate in Arabic.  I witnessed the affects of inter-breeding countless times in Saudi.  I would be walking down the dirt road and see such a deformed person that I would literally have to look away.  Of course, this didn't stop Abdullah-Ahmed from driving.  He had a little white Toyota pick-up truck with a flat bed.  I saw him once while walking along the desert highway toward the small market.   He had a goat in the front seat and his wife in full black Abaya shawl rode on the back (the goat can sit inside the cab, the wife is out of luck).  His truck crossed two lanes of highway to swerve right at me.  Plunging headlong and gaining speed.  I had expected it.  It was a common occurrence for cars to swerve and try to hit me on the road.  Any foreigner in Saudi will tell you that.  I leaped into the gutter and was safe, but we stared at each other as he passed.  My student.  Abdullah-Ahmed.  His teeth gritting.  His crooked eyes fixed at me in hate.  I was telling this story to my daughters as we sat on the living room floor on Saturday watching the bombing in Paris unfold on CNN.  I find it very difficult to hate.  It's hard to hold onto something so destructive.  It's exhausting.  Of course, my daughters already know what ISIS is because in Taiwan the boys make jokes about how awesome it would be to join.  These are the same kids that wear Adolph Hitler mascot T-shirts.  Can love really win?  After all these thousands of years of breeding hate.  Does love even stand a chance?

Friday, November 13, 2015

What Do You Get When You Fall in Love, Burt Bacharach?

 "What do you get when you fall in love?  A guy with a pin to burst your bubble.  That's what you get for all your trouble.  I'll never fall in love again."  -Burt Bacharach

Wandering around Boracay, kicking stones and stomping in puddles.  Look up at the sky... here comes the rain.
 "What do you get when you kiss a guy?  You get enough germs to catch pneumonia.  And after you do he'll never phone ya.  I'll never fall in love again."  -Burt Bacharach

There's nothing like tropical rain in the Philippines.  Torrential.  It pours down so heavy it seems to rise from the earth.
 "Wake up and she's still with you.  Even though you left her way cross town."  -Burt Bacharach

Out in the street people wrap themselves in plastic and brace for waves.  Scooters honk, delivery trucks beep.  Power lines sizzle above like wet eels.
 "And if, if only fools are kind.  Then I guess it's wise to be cruel." -Burt Bacharach

There's nothing to do but take shelter under the eaves.  Smile at the old woman without any teeth.  Buy a papaya split in two by a machete on a tree stump table, and wait.
 "When I was down, I was your clown.  Nobody knows it, but right from the start, I gave you my heart."  -Burt Bacharach

Thatched roof sags and leaks.  Puddles widen.  Rats come out of the gutter holes and yawn.
  "On the day that you were born the angels got together and decided to create a dream come true.  So they sprinkled moon dust in your hair, and gold and starlight in your eyes so blue."  -Burt Bacharach

We all wait for the rain to stop pouring, for the blue sky to return.
 "Cross the Rio Grande and you will find an old adobe house where you leave your past behind." -Burt Bacharach

The man at the banana stand has a transistor radio full of static and muffled straw.  He grins as a Burt Bacharach song comes on.  I know these old songs by heart.  So does he.
"What do you get when you fall in love?  You only get a life of pain and sorrow.  So for at least until tomorrow.... " -Burt Bacharach

We stand there laughing, listening to old songs that can barely be heard, while the world, lost in memory,  waits out the rain.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Happy Cake Day!

 Ah yes... just another gentle reminder that Father Time is undefeated.
 Nothing says "LOOOOOVE" like ... having cake and eating it too.
 It's the thought that counts... right?
 Remember that... if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with.
Yes, these are the cleanest ones fit for print.  Thanks everyone!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Why You Shouldn't Care About Asian Math Scores

(Sports Day at School. Taiwan.  11th Grade History Teacher thought it would be funny to make a "Straight Outta Adolph Hitler" class mascot T-shirts for 60 students.  They wore them in the parade then the whole day during relay races)

Anyone who has read this blog over the past seven years knows I've seen everything in an Asian classroom.  I've been attacked by students, assaulted, had my name publicly smeared, been betrayed by inept administrators, had money stolen from me, had contracts ripped-up in front of my face, had my property destroyed, been back-stabbed by teachers, been threatened... the list goes on.  So what, right?
A few years ago I had this 10th grade student named Bert (Yes, nice huh?) who had the incredible opportunity to study in Australia for a semester.  When he returned, the only thing he could say was, "Their math was easy and their food gross."  That's it.  Six months in Australia.  His parents must have worked years to send him there.  That's all he got?  A kid from an island that's not even a country whose national dish (which permeates for blocks through the market) is known as "stinky-tofu"? That's all you gleaned?  All you experienced?
It doesn't matter if you're doing algebra in the fifth grade.  It doesn't matter if your geometry scores lead the world.  It doesn't matter if you beat kids with sticks and force them to memorize math formulas over and over and over again.  Without thoughtfulness, compassion, sensibility, awareness, understanding... you're just a fool.
This morning I was on the street and the light turned red and a car about 70 meters away started honking and racing toward me. Honk! Honk! As he blew through the light missing a woman and her two children on a motor scooter by inches.  Didn't care.  He's an Asian Big Shot!  Later, I was in the park jogging and a scaffolding structure collapsed over my head.  Just two workers drinking rice wine on their lunch break forgot to fasten the ropes on the metal bars.  I would have been crushed.  When I returned, the guard outside my apartment just stood twiddling his thumbs as an elderly woman's grocery bag broke at the seams and she crawled around on hands and knees picking up broken eggs on the sidewalk.  He just stood there, pretending not to notice her.
This place.  I'm telling you.  Asia, math is great.  It's great.  But you have to develop a soul too.  Oh, the above teacher with the Hitler shirt... nothing.  The school did nothing.    He is older, tenured... and his students perform well on memorization tests.  So, you know.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Growing Up in the Age of Masterpiece Theater

 My kids are born multitaskers.  They can watch a Japanese anime, read the subtitles, check their email, send a text, sketch in their journals, pose for a selfie, and converse in a third language all at the same time.  It boggles my mind.  I find myself telling them, "Do one thing.  Focus on one thing at a time.  The world is about seeing the invisible."  But... who does that anymore?
 When I was a boy I grew up in total isolation on a farm in Oregon.  I would watch an episode of Blackadder or Dr. Who or catch Stupid Human Tricks on Letterman and come to school the next day and nobody knew what I was talking about.  It was so difficult to find one person to relate to.  Nowadays children grow up surrounded by so much love and support.  They make brave and intellectual choices that are often public or viral... they 'come out' to an almost mandatory applause.  It makes me long for the days of quiet and focused youthful introspection.
 It's not their fault, really.  It's this age we live in.  This truly amazing age of back-logged information.  It wasn't too long ago that we actually had to wait for things.... I suppose we still do.  The world is awaiting Star Wars episode 7... but I waited my whole life for the first six movies to appear in theaters, but yet my daughters binge-watched all six in one day.  They have access to things we didn't dream of a generation ago.  Maybe patience is a different virtue now... because of the time spent in-between the times that matter.  The invisible meantime... is now the age of access.
 My kids teach me this all the time.  I'll play... a James Brown record or ... read them a Sylvia Plath poem... and two days later they will come back having listened to and read everything by that artist.  It's astounding.  They just have that internet access.  We were in the car once and a Maroon Five song came on the radio.  Before I could change the station to Prairie Home Companion (I am a total snob after all) they had downloaded the catchy tune, and we're asking me who Mick Jagger was.  Three days later, they had half-memorized the cannon of Rolling Stone songs.
 Do anyone even remember SPIN magazine anymore?  Remember reading about a band and maybe getting a fuzzy bootleg recording and waiting weeks for them to show up in your town and scrounging up a ticket?  Does anybody do that anymore?  There was such an honest pureness to it.  Perseverance.  A sustained curiosity.  I miss it.
 That being said... nobody is going back to the days of old.  No, we are plunging ahead full speed.  But the access of information allows parents an opportunity to present the world to their children in such amazing ways.  Gone are the days of sitting through reruns of TV sit-coms or rehashing last weeks' Reality Show shenanigans.  No, you can literally give your children a masterpiece a night.  Be it art, literature, music, history, film, documentary... you can present a life's work to them in a matter of hours... and they just consume it.
And so I do.  I'm careful in my parenting.  I find balance.  I take my daughters to these places... like the white sands of Puka Beach in the Philippines...where locals ice down Coca-Colas in the running stream and fan themselves with palm leaves and the only distraction is the surf and catching a fish with a spear we're going to grill-up over coals in the shade of a hut.  We will sit and close our eyes and focus on the that one invisible thing growing ever smaller and smaller in our feverish world.  Then at night, when I tell them, "Let's take the top thirty movies from 1962 and watch one, every day for the month of November." They will be ready.  Calm.  Eyes open.  They'll tell me, "Yeah Dad, go!"

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mary Norton Squared

 Oh Mary Norton... just read and savor: "Mrs. May was old, her joints were stiff, and she was-not strict exactly, but she had that inner certainty which does instead.  Kate was never "wild" with Mrs. May, nor untidy, nor self-willed; and Mrs. May taught her many things beside crochet: how to wind wool into an egg-shaped ball; how to run-and-fell and plan a darn; how to tidy a drawer and to lay, like a blessing, above the contents, a sheet of rustling tissue against the dust."  -The Borrowers
 Why read Mary Norton to your kids? Well, other than the fact that she uses words like 'hassock' which is a pouffe or tuffet (yes, you're already smiling) or that her characters carry trays of Bath Oliver biscuits and tall decanters of Fine Old Pale Madeira (which is reason suitable enough) but to truly seal the Mary Norton deal please find the series of books on the shelves called, The Borrowers, which, when furtively and wondrously attempting to instill an intrepid sense of adventure in your children, will come in handy.  Homily, Pod, and Little Arrietty rummaging shoe buttons and wax candles and child tea-services and living under a grandfather clock in the hall is all the inspiration a young explorer (even a deep-sea diver) needs.
Of course, one can back this up with another great Mary Norton book, Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Yes, Disney shouldn't take all the credit).  Just listen to this synopsis:  "During the Battle of Britain, Miss Eglantine Price, a cunning witch-in-training, decides to use her supernatural powers to defeat the Nazi menace.  She sets out to accomplish this task with the aide of three inventive children who have been evacuated from London during the Blitz."  Oh Mary Norton, I never look at a safety-pin again the same way.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Do you know how hard it is to find a pumpkin in Asia?  It ain't easy!  I searched three different traditional markets.  Braved aunties chopping the heads off live chickens... waded through puddles of muck and crates of rotting cabbage... sidestepped countless hissing cockroaches... and rubbed elbows with hanging carcasses of goat meat covered in flies...you know, a typical Wednesday.  All for the pleasure of cutting a Jack-O-Lantern up and dumping its guts on my living room floor.
 Believe me...I am the envy of every American parent in town.  "You found a pumpkin!!"  Every one of them laughs and slaps me on the back.
 Yes, they are about as big as a softball or small child's basketball... but we don't care.  Normalcy comes in small doses, and we're always grateful.
 There is nothing like carving out a pumpkin for Halloween.  Rebekah pulls double holiday duty.... making a gooey-guts snowman.  Too early for Christmas?  I say A+ for effort.
Just so you know...we're holding down the fort on this end.  Humbly, for sure.  Flaming pumpkins beware!  Ichabod Crane... I'm talking to you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Hobbit Hole, Boracay Philippines

 Speaking of dressing up as Literary Characters...  Here are a few words about Hobbits:
 "Hobbits are little people, smaller than dwarves.  They love peace and quiet and good tilled earth.  They dislike machines, but are handy with tools.  They are nimble but don't like to hurry.  They have sharp ears and eyes.  They are inclined to be fat.  They wear bright colors but seldom wear shoes.  They like to laugh and eat (six meals a day) and drink.  They like parties and they like to give and receive presents.  They inhabit a land they call The Shire, a place between the River Brandywine and the Far Down." -J.R.R. Tolkien
 While beach combing through lush Boracay we stumbled upon this little jem.  Middle-Earth murals, over-sized chess boards, round doors, and live music at night.  Perfectly festive...  perfectly Hobbit.
 It's the Prancing Pony or the Green Dragon Inn... but you never know who you will meet.
We'd spent all of September and October reading the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings... I carry books with me everywhere.  Rolled up in my pockets, bound with rubber bands stuck to maps... my daughters and I huddle around stories every night as we travel.  It's amazing the uses one can find for a book, even a small one like this.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Happy Halloween!

 We take a little break to celebrate All Hallows' Eve!  Yes, it's Big Foot!
 The kids did Trick O Treating at school this year.  Thanks to all the awesome parents who opened their 'Haunted Cars.'
 Yes, the Phantom of the Opera made an appearance.
 So did his awesome Trick O' Treat mini-van.  Nobody celebrates Halloween in Asia, you have to make it work.
 Speaking of Literary Costumes.... Young Potter also made an appearance.  Kinu's favorite book!
 At school they celebrated.  Parade of Princesses.
And a tired Grim Reaper...  All in all, a great weekend of fun!  Happy Halloween everyone.