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

Lost in Alternate Realities

I have spent as many hours as possible sitting in darkened movie theaters lost in alternate realities, and I have loved every moment of it. For a twelve-year-old boy, there was nothing better.

There weren’t many days spent in darkened theaters when I was that age. At age 12 we were living in Pointe Au Baril Station, Ontario. Our village, Pointe Au Baril Station, sits along highway 69 between Parry Sound and Sudbury. It is a small community of 300 people.

It had, and likely still has, a couple of gas stations, a liquor store, two general stores and a few marinas and lodges scattered over the North and South shores. We also had two churches, a small school, a bank, a Royal Canadian Legion Hall, and a privately ran post office/bait shop and a community center that had a few purposes. Dance place, meeting hall, and tourist information center being a few.

For me it’s most important purpose was the Friday night movie. Not quite a darkened theater. Enter the large hall with me. Sit down on a folding chair. There are always enough chairs. The old projector comes to life. The blank wall is filled with wonder.

This is also what comics did for me. I bought my comics at Higman’s Highway Market. Kennedy’s didn’t sell comics. I made my money for comics by cashing in beer bottles. The bottles were redeemed at Wing’s Shell station. No, We didn’t drink the beer … that came later.

With a summer tourist trade estimated at about 2,000 we had a lot of empties to cash in. My brother and I also had a lucrative sideline in frogs. I delivered lunches to construction crews, cut grass, tied boats, and shoveled snow. My younger brother Troy and I sold frogs to the local pool hall owner who sold them to sport fishermen as bait.

The frogs, the bottles, the snow and such helped to fill the blank canvas of a child. A mental landscape filled with Dr. Doom, a blind attorney, a playboy millionaire, and a collection of princesses, orphans, and misunderstood do-gooders. Many of those characters, and their worlds, were given form by Gene Colan.

Gene wasn’t the first artist I admired. At first I liked the cleaner lines of Curt Swan and Dick Dillon. Kirby leaped off the page for me, and then something happened. I found art that resonated. It stayed with me. It seemed to have a depth beyond the page. It flowed. It showed me a world beyond my own, and yet was reflective of that world.

Gene’s (if I may be so familiar) art allowed me to see a bit of wonder in my own reality. I didn’t need to escape as much as search.

Thank you for that clarity.

On the way to Wuhan

On Tuesday we will leave for China.
We will be there for three years.
We may not be able to respond as we don’t know what apps and social media are blocked. Please understand that we don’t hate you, well …. not all of you, and we will reply … eventually.
We expect to find things clean when we get back.
See you later.

All image below from https://www.topchinatravel.com



Yellow Crane Tower



East Lake


Jianghan Street



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

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.

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