Beijing Tour

We just spent the week in Beijing.

We returned home last night by high-speed train (6:14 to 22:30 pm).IMG20180713194952.jpg

Emily and Wyatt had to renew their Indonesian passports so we had to make the trip to Beijing. Unfortunately, there is no online option. We took the hard-sleeper to get to Beijing. Three berths stacked on either side of a small compartment, Emily in the bottom bunk, Wyatt in the second bunk, and me kissing the ceiling. All good so far … then the family shows up.

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Two little boys, their mom, and their grandparents. Luggage is strewn on the floor. The noise level escalates. Grandma immediately lays down. The kids take the middle and top bunk. It’s about 8:30 pm. We are finishing our takeaway meal and hoping to sleep the hours away. Hope and sleep are both fleeting on this journey northward.

Now, what is happening with grandpa and Mom? Surely they don’t intend to sit outside the room all night? Surely not. At 10:00 pm the lights go off and they snuggle into the middle and top berths, thankfully they choose the correct ones.

The noise dies down except for sneezing, coughing, and intermittent conversations.

Now in the hallway, we’ve got a steady procession of old-smokers making their way to the bathroom, their passage heralded by hacking, throat-clearing and the uncertain shuffling of feet – following by the gentle horking and spitting for which older Chinese seem to have a knack.

I sleep for a few hours, and the kids start up. Then the two grandmothers begin to talk, as we discover there is no mother in the equation. She may have wisely jumped from the train. 2:30 seems an ideal time to have a conversation. This goes on until one of them nods off and then the kids wake up. This is followed by climbing, almost falling. Oh why did I feel the need to interrupt the plummeting children?

At about 4:00 am one of the Grandmothers decides it’s a good time to catch up on some family photo-taking and begins snapping pictures with the flash. I showed her my own phone for a time-check and she seemed to get the point.

We arrived in Beijing a bit before 7:00 am and the tour had sent a driver for us. Beijing has changed considerably since my last visit in 2004. Some amazing new buildings, lots of plants and trees. enough shrubbery to keep the Knights of Ni happy.

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More Later
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Weekends only postpone the inevitable

What lurks behind that portal?

A friend just posted something about teaching a something something workshop on Saturday. As much as I respect and have genuine affection for this friend, I do find myself questioning his sanity. See, he’s at the point where he could decline and could possibly assign the work to others. Although, as I said I respect this man and I respect that he wants the work done right. But Saturdays!?!

There are reasons classrooms and offices have doors – so you can close them tightly – because doors are portals that must be physically shut and mystically sealed against annoyances and nonsense which needs not have purchase in our times of rejuvenation and regeneration – in other words, don’t screw with my free time. I’ve worked a lot of Saturdays and a frightening number of Sundays; I’ve done it for money, for friendship and for escape. I’ve done it out of loyalty, out of desperation, out of necessity, and until I was out of my mind. If you can manage to avoid it: through negotiation, compromise, intimidation or guile; Saturday needs to become sacrosanct. It needs to be set aside, untouched, pure and unsullied by schedules, calendars, watches and social media reminders.

On Friday afternoon you close what needs to be closed, hide whatever evidence that your work actually ended on Tuesday around 11:30 – and run- don’t walk. You will actually feel care slip away – like oversize footwear. As distance and time grow, 200 meters and/or 30 seconds sounds about right – you may have only a vague recollection of what lurked behind that portal.

Saturday morning you awake, a temporary resident of an alternate reality. You may be suffering from trans-dimensional ‘ jet-lag’. Saturday afternoon is spent trying to remember some of Friday night. This disconnect doesn’t require any substance other than distance and actual enjoyment.

Sunday morning finds you still dimensionally detached, and this will last through the afternoon. This disconnect may last longer if you linger over brunch with a few friends. Adult beverages are optional.  … Eventually, around 7:00 pm you feel an ominous presence – some obscure and ancient warning that may cause some to feverishly plan a duvet-day escape plan- but it will only delay the inevitable.

Monday lurks, and it will arrive, like an elephant in musth, intent on trampling your tranquil oasis and befouling the waters of your serenity. You must face Monday with calm bemusement and feigned self-assurance. Monday will smirk knowingly. Don’t take it personally, that’s just how Mondays are.

Monday greets you at the door. It accepts your sneers generously and chortles as you capitulate, broken and sobbing, to the inevitable beginning. Your mandated 100% of effort is fueled and on deck. You suit up and wait for the go signal. Maybe today you’ll have the nerve to buzz the tower. As lunch approaches, you’re not sure if you can make it. Two o’clock seems so far away, and five is a dream left for the mad and newly employed. Somehow you make it, with only a little sweat and a few tears. Careful, Mondays feed on tear-stained dreams … and coffee-soaked anguish.

Tuesday is waiting and you’re there ready to give your full 70% – after all, you’re saving yourself for Wednesday. Be warned, if you’ve managed to dodge Monday, Tuesday is quite prepared to emulate, imitate and stand-in for its much-maligned sibling. After all, that’s how weekdays are.

Wednesday is festive, zesty, and almost giddy. It’s a quiet giddiness that may occasionally titter and has been known to share a shy smile. Energy levels are neck and neck with productivity, cruising at about 50%, slowing for the occasional coughing fit or sarcastic chants of love for the company.

Thursday arrives, and your commitment to giving your full 30% is the only thing keeping your toes on the office side of the threshold. Your toehold on a fast dissolving reality isn’t really fooling anyone, but surely even a not quite halfhearted effort is appreciated.

You slip into Friday almost effortlessly. You even manage to remark,” I can’t believe it’s already Friday.” You then look around nervously just in case Thursday has overstayed its welcome. Friday, when even your shadow isn’t fully committed to being in the office, is a day both joyous and fraught with tension. You have to be light on your feet because extra work, unplanned meetings, and the dreaded question, “have you got any plans?” dwell just out of the corner of your eye. Move quietly. Don’t jingle keys, or slam doors, or linger at the copier. The clock, your watch, and the artfully inaccurate timer on your desktop all conspire to keep you at work longer than necessary. Certainly, it’s longer than the time required by human-decency and that provision of the Geneva Convention that applies to working-class heroes.

There is a sharp clang as the gates open. Your desk is done. Your bag was packed on Wednesday morning. You burn rubber leaving the parking lot – and you’re walking. The lingering beast snickers, but you don’t have time to care. You’re out.

Don’t work for the weekend. Work to stop the senseless waste of hours in the unending quest to appease the beast behind the portal.

Zhangjiajie, Hunan, China

IMG20180407113130IMG20180405182807IMG20180406141627IMG20180406145625IMG20180406151545We finally got to Zhangjiajie in Hunan province, China.
High adventure with new friends.
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March For Their Lives

What Emma González Said Without Words at the March for Our Lives Rally
Ms. González, a survivor of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla., used her time onstage at Saturday’s rally in Washington to convey the length of the attack.
nytimes.com

This young woman, these young people, these heroes, have demonstrated that they are indeed the heroes needed by America and the world. March For Their Lives

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.

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

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.

Are we missing something?

I miss libraries.

Here in Indonesia, libraries are as rare as safe drivers and clean water. It’s not because people don’t like to read, or because they like to live dangerously at high speeds, or because they love the idea that toxic substances are freely available at the turn of a handle.

When credence is given to the misguided notion that unrestrained capitalism is a benefit to anyone then we will see the demise of education, healthcare, and public safety. When we allow corporate interests to dictate education and to funnel public monies into programs that benefit their bottom line, we allow human decency and dignity to be kicked to the kerb. We allow our future to be stamped with best before dates, and then left to rot on the shelf.

Obviously, greed and shortsightedness are not the intellectual property of the Indonesian archipelago. We see these wonderful expressions of boneheaded stubbornness in every hovel, hamlet and high-speed hub on the planet.

Without independent sources of information, books provided and made available by libraries, we have little chance for the current or the next generation to be intellectually curious, environmentally aware, or woke in any measurable sense.

Common sense, intellectual curiosity, and basic decency may have always been rare and whimsical creatures, but perhaps we shouldn’t willingly turn away as they’re kicked to death. Please don’t take this as a pat on the back if you have libraries. If you’re not using them, if you’re not supporting them, and if everyone does not have access; then they’re no longer libraries. They’ve become warehouses, or even worse they’re mortuaries waiting for the bodies of lost knowledge and hope to be claimed by uncaring relatives.

A Library
http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca