Happy St Patrick’s Day

Students see English as … a) Unnecessary b) A burden c) A strange, possibly alien, elective d) Something that interrupts naptime e) A chance to catch up on homework.

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Happy St Patrick’s Day, unless you’re a snake. If you are a snake perhaps you see this day as something to be dreaded or you actually sneer at the ridiculous notion that you were driven out of anywhere. Do snakes sneer?
Truth be told, we’re not celebrating. Some people are, even here in Wuhan … just not us. That doesn’t mean we’re snakes, have any sympathy for snakes, or secretly in league with, in cahoots with, or otherwise compromised by … snakes.

Life is okay here. From time to time the classes can be more stressful than they need to be.
Students see English as … a) Unnecessary b) A burden c) A strange, possibly alien, elective d) Something that interrupts naptime e) A chance to catch up on homework.
We’re still training teachers through TEFL International but the current situation in Indonesia, with random checks and inconsistent rules, means running a course is more difficult than ever.
We have just cancelled this year’s June and July courses.

 

I should elaborate on my current state of discontent. The students are good, but the level of English isn’t. I have been pushing them to be more responsive, engaging them in ways that are unfamiliar to them, and generally having expectations that take both students and myself out of our comfort zones.

Students generally sit in a classroom and those in the back tune out.  I don’t teach from the front of the class, I move about and interact and engage. I want students to speak, to respond and to participate. I don’t care if the answers are incorrect, but I do care that they attempt an answer. I don’t worry that they stumble over words or phrases, but I won’t allow classmates to talk over, or belittle the efforts of their peers. I do not ask for unwavering attention or cowering subservience, but respect is a must. Don’t read or draw when you should be listening. don’t leave the class without asking. Don’t come late and start a conversation. Don’t do your homework in my class.

I will answer any question you ask but try to be on topic. I have one student who constantly asks how old I am.  I am beginning to suspect short-term memory loss, perhaps complicated by a genuine lack of interest in any answer I may give. Perhaps he needs a list of non-sequiturs to add and broaden his range of non-conversation starters?

What does any of this have to do with St. Patrick’s Day?

Not much. Just that, since the world has kindly embraced a barely remembered religious figure and created a day of green shakes, green beer, funny green hats, and small fictional gold-hoarders. Perhaps my students will embrace English; in the same way some people learn Klingon or the migratory habits of sponges.IMG_20180202_024331_798IMG_20180206_235627_704IMG_20180209_112919_513

Adjusting to Wuhan

 

We have internet at home now, and have been able to watch some TV although streaming is a bit slow. I am on Facebook every few days but it’s more annoying than useful.

Having good people to work with makes a real difference. We have a good group of teachers here, foreign and Chinese. This makes it a pleasant place to work and it helps to adjust to life outside of work.

Wyatt has gotten so used to wearing sandals and crocs that he tends to drag his feet when he walks. He is improving as the 1.5 km walk to school and then the same home have given me opportunity to encourage the lifting of feet. It has also increased his appetite and endurance. At the start of each walk I hear the familiar shhhh shhhh of sole against pavement. It does give us time together, and is good exercise for me as well.

It’s all digital now, so lack of access or spotty connections can really limit things. Banking also requires the internet. On the plus side a couple of online shopping services have meant getting things for the apartment much easier. A well-equipped Walmart, and a few night markets have also helped. We have most things we need now, and have found places to buy water, beer, groceries and even a burger place nearby.

Christmas decorations have appeared in shops and in advertisements. Christmas is business here, but pales in comparison to the economic, cultural and emotional impact of the Spring Festival(Chinese New Year. We have one day off for Christmas and three weeks for the Spring Festival.

Back home in Indonesia they had a few small tornadoes in our neighbourhood. The twisters tore tiles off a neighbours roof and felled a few trees, but nothing too serious thankfully.

Hope all is well.

Rare and Delicate Legacy

We want to believe that each and every person is imbued at birth with a nigh mystical quality. We hunger to know that we are heirs to a rare and precious legacy that has been rumoured, and even had its nature insisted upon by some fanatical believers. In fact, there are some, perhaps even now, that claim to have seen evidence of this ephemeral wisdom. Perhaps they’ve glimpsed its magic out of the corner of their eye.
They call this fabled ability‘common sense’. It seems logical that untold millennia of human development and progress has imprinted gifts upon our character, our race memory, and perhaps even our DNA. Unfortunately, each and every passing moment makes that elusive quality seems as likely as unicorns. The only horns we’ll see are likely to be worn by violent cynics as they kick the last of our naïve hopes to death. Then again, we might just walk into traffic while texting with angels.

Say hello to my little fiend. Tomcats … Part II

TomcatOn the 27th of August I managed to expose my self to Tomcat venom once again. Annoyed followers may remember that I’ve done this twice before. On the 28th I exposed people to something even more toxic … photos of my bare skin.  I promise not to attempt either of those unpleasant experiences any time soon.

The combination of bee oil, a medicinal balm, and a daily ingestion of antihistamine has resulted in a quick recovery. The exposed areas of the skin were red and swollen. There were blisters that quickly relented to treatment. The less said about that, the better. The skin remains dry, much like a sunburn.

As I said before, there was very little pain. Swelling on the right shoulder and behind the left ear was only troubling when trying to sleep. The secondary advantage of antihistamine is that it makes you drowsy, so sleep was quick.

I will source where we bought all the remedies and post the results.

Here There and Nowhere

He sings the body incredulous.
Existing between never was, and never will be.
Existing without substance, yet heralding shifting bedrock.
Occupying no fixed space, filling no specific need.
Both the unexpected journey and the probable consequence.
For all his banal and baleful presence, he is neither cause nor solution.

A Few Nights Later

This was originally written in 1998 … I haven’t changed much, other than punctuation.

Teachers from three of Surabaya’s largest schools met a few months ago. This wasn’t a summit on education, or on international relations, just early parole.

For many of us, it was our first night out in a week. The early part of May in Indonesia had been marred by riots, and rumours of riots. The streets were not safe. Many people had left. (A Husband’s Perspective)

We met, as we had met so many times before, in The Tavern. The Tavern is a small, fairly intimate pub in the Hyatt Hotel(Now the Hotel Bumi). At that time Thursday nights were half price, and affordable. The week before the meeting had been spent incognito and effectively isolated. Ten teachers, a visiting friend, two girlfriends and Emily, my wife. Also present, in an unsupporting role, was a motley assortment of Bules (foreigners)

In the back of the Tavern, where the more clandestine meetings usually take place, a group of young Chinese were enjoying a night of freedom. Perhaps enjoying isn’t the right word. They were almost motionless.

The Bules gained motion as soon as the next group appeared. A television crew from one of the local stations had entered the bar. Suharto had resigned the day before and they were looking for reaction shots. Pak Suharto Keluar (Suharto has left)…. Where were you?

The reaction was forthcoming. One Bule pried himself up from his barstool and stormed over to the crew. His basic problem was a belief that this was a foreigner’s bar and these guys weren’t allowed in here. Well, their presence was unusual, but the presence of a number of local ladies would seem to dispute The Tavern’s Foreigners Only status.

The ladies are a permanent fixture of the Tavern. You can’t go into any bar, disco, or nightclub without seeing a few Chickens. Locals call them Ayam Kampung, Ayam Kampus, or Ayam Malam, or village chickens, high-class chickens, and night chickens. The number of young women making themselves available has increased since the crisis.
As for the Bule’s reaction: his statements were loud, laced with profanity and mercifully brief. The television crew left, the Bule fumed for a bit then resumed his chair and his conversation. His gathering of four had increased by one. One of the previously mentioned ladies had added herself to the group.

For everyone, it was business as usual. A quiet couple of hours, a few beers, some excellent hot pretzels, and a few rounds of cards. As I am perhaps the world’s worst card player, I sat out the game. Most of the conversation was about the previous week. Who had stayed, who had left, who was about to leave – three more teachers left that weekend – and what was going to happen.

Most of the people that stayed have been here for awhile. I’ve been here for nearly two years. Geoff has been here for three years, and Chris a bit longer than that.
There are no absolutes in this situation. John Koeman, a teacher from Holland, had been in Surabaya for seven years. He decided it was time to go. He’s in Taiwan now, as are Marcus and Allison, and Jo and Paul.

Probably the main reason that teachers stay is that they become integrated into the community. Unlike the engineers and hotel managers who come here and are effectively isolated, a teacher is effectively mixed with the population. Some teachers are more mixed than others.

People react positively or negatively to the mixing. Their reaction may be based on their reason for being here. If they’ve come for the money, they’re just here to do a job – and then leave. Anything that interferes with that purpose is a nuisance.
Many teachers are here for the experience. They’re geared up to live in another country, to experience a different culture, to try new foods, or just to learn the language. They’re generally disposed to mixing.

Mixers and non-mixers alike come from every social, ethnic and geographical grouping. The experience we all shared was the temporary release from the unique blend of cabin fever and stress that is Surabaya.

For me; a good remedy for stress is stepping away, physically and mentally. When I take a few moments to relax with friends and family I can then re-enter the fray with a clearer, calmer perspective.

Living in Indonesia: A Husband’s Perspective

This was originally written in 1998 … I haven’t changed much, other than punctuation.

Vantage graphics ... accept no substitutes

For me, the stress of this crisis began on Monday, May 18th.

“You’ve been ordered to leave.” Dini’s voice was rapid and strained.

“When?’ I asked as if someone was telling me the bar was about to close.

“This afternoon. Everyone’s meeting at the Shangri-La hotel.”

Dini, from the Canadian consulate, has been a great help. She’s helped with paperwork for our marriage; she intervened with an employer, and she has been a conduit for official information. Dini is also a very professional and pleasant person. Her clipped speech and frantic tone were completely out of character.

Basically, here was the situation. The Canadian Embassy and the US Consulate General Surabaya had chartered a flight. Canadians, Americans, Germans, Dutch and a couple of Turkish nationals were going to fly to Singapore.

For this excursion, they would pay the bargain price of $500 USD. Now, if you’re a businessman or an engineer – no problem. Teachers in Indonesia make between $300 and $450 USD per month. When you have a family, with children in school, you don’t have an excess of cash. My wife Emily and I have two children, Emily’s from a previous marriage, but nonetheless – our children. The wolf may indeed have been at the door, but that sucker was going hungry tonight. My family is my life and no crisis will change that.

On Sunday night we had a family meeting. I outlined the options.

Canada: We could spend everything we have and take the family to Canada. Canada is where I have family and friends, but no job to go back to. More importantly, I don’t have a place to stay, at least for any extended period.

America: I have friends there. Emily, my wife, has a visa. I love the country. It’s a damn expensive trip, and again I don’t have a home or a job there.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is a big, beautiful and exciting city. Emily speaks passable Mandarin and her mother is fluent in Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese. The children’s Chinese is like my Indonesian: pathetic but earnest. Emily has family there. Hong Kong is impossible without money. Finding a job could be next to impossible. I want to see Hong Kong, but I’d prefer the experience to be a positive one.

Taiwan: The jobs are there in Taiwan. Many teachers have left for Taiwan. Would my family be allowed in? I can’t take the chance.

In the end, we decided to wait it out here.

With Wednesday’s impending madness (see story) almost upon us we discussed hiding out in one of Surabaya’s hotels or going out of town. We decided to wait on developments.

No one could give me a clear answer about the family. They’re Indonesian citizens, but they’re also Chinese. Even if Emily could come – as she’s my wife – what about the kids? Even if Emily and the kids were allowed, what about Emily’s mum? their Grandmother? my mother-in-law?

Do in-laws count as carry-on luggage? Don’t freak gentle reader – I love my mother-in-law. She’s a great lady. The bottom line is; I’m not leaving my family.

Norm Mcdonald from the Canadian Embassy said later that my family might be able to come out with me. On their own, Canadians have returned home. Some remain in Singapore waiting out the crisis.

Some will undoubtedly go to Taiwan or Thailand. Some will even go to Bali.

Some American friends are now in Bali, waiting.

We are now at home waiting for the situation to return to normal. Here we sit, packed suitcases and documents at the ready.

Local children are in the street. They’re playing volleyball. The ball makes a dull thud when they hit it. The balls here never seem to have enough air. They’re having fun.

Meanwhile, we sit behind our seven-foot iron fence – waiting.

Some streets, like the one directly in front of our house, are blocked by rusting cars and vans, while other streets are occupied by soldiers. The men seem decidedly less rusty than the cars and vans. The men seem to be having less fun than the children. The men are waiting.

People sit in small groups, talk, drinking and eating. Kaki Limas (five-legged men) the street merchants with their pushcarts, sell food and drink. The voices on the street are uncharacteristically low.

Sharing quick smiles, and nervous glances, hands together or resting on knees – they wait.

A young woman, eating food from a Kaki Lima, shakes her hips slowly and seductively to Ricky Martin’s ‘Maria‘. A large black rooster intrudes on the volleyball game. He exits quickly as the ball narrowly misses him. Too bad. He’s probably the noisy bugger who woke me up this morning, at three o’clock. The dancer has finished her meal and joined the game.

Young men, previously content to watch, have now joined the game. For now, they are moving, playing, and laughing. The waiting may come later.

Part Two fewnights2

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