Sunday, December 21, 2008


Borsch is the remedy to whatever ails me . . . when it's done right. And my mom--she done it right. I haven't tasted this fulfillment of man's desire since last I tasted Borsch in Russia six years ago. Many an artist has tried her hand at recreating the love I lost in leaving, heaven knows I couldn't do it, but tonight it has returned. My genius mother in all her culinary glory reinvented the wheel so long confined to Russian kitchens, and I partook of moments lived by a 19 and 20 year-old Joseph--my other childhood. For childhood it is when suddenly new senses replace the five you knew before. If a man is to all at once see and smell and feel and hear and taste new matter as I did in Russia, he abandons the former and is again a child, or else he loses his senses. I chose to acquire the new. Yet lose my senses is what I almost did upon returning home, I loved the new set so intensely. And every time I managed to inspire efforts at awakening the new set sleeping, I only roused the dead, irritated a man in slumber. Each bowl of Borsch stung worse than if I'd left it untouched. It was soup--just soup, no matter what they called it. And then tonight! My mother made it live! The unused flavors meshed with unused taste awoke the unused senses lost to memory. I was in Russia again. I couldn't even be tempted with dessert until my taste buds cooled. It was that real. My mother is a genius, she really is.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Cards

Since I know you'd be confused with a Christmas card that had a picture of a Nativity scene on it instead of a picture of the person or family who sent you the card, I've kept to these same social stipulations: Merry Christmas--here's a picture of me.

Nothing against people who go to all the work and expense of sending out self-portrait Christmas cards--I recognize the effort and the opportunity to tell people how you're doing, and I've received several already this season from family and friends I value highly--but the guys who grew up with the ambition of recreating the scene of Christ's birth on a Christmas card are out of work. So all those cards I bought back in the 90's and never used?--they're good for Christmas decorations around the house, but that's it. You think you can still use them, save some money by simply inserting a family pic, and be considered just as hip as your neighbor? You're wrong. No longer can you add yourself to the card; you have to be the card. So anyway, here's an e-Christmas card. The printers and tree-cutters aren't making a dime on this either. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Relationship Status

More of this:

Less of this:

More ladies swooning over my creative genius;
less guys standing in front of BFF posters with me.
More artistic finesse; less awkward-ness.
More proportionate arm length; less disproportionate arm length.
(I mean, check out those arms? Have another look. It looks even weirder the second time).

Nothing against Steve, but he found a better BFF than long arms over there. So is it really too much to ask for the same? I'm talking ladies lined up at my front door and outside every class waiting to offer me their name, number, and favorite color. I can deal with that. But until then, I tell my dad, my hands are tied concerning the advancement of my relationship status. Pops isn't hearing it. You have to go looking, he says. What? Go looking? I don't have time for that. Plus, I liked the good old days in seventh grade when they came to me. And anyway, who said they could stop? Is my hair less attractive now? I used to have a bowl-cut. Maybe I should get one of those again--bring back a movement lost to the toddlers. What about a mullet--those are time-less? No? Well, come on Dad, what could it be then? I don't look 27. I'm as hot as I was at 21. And I didn't have to do much looking then. So when did the screening process turn into a hunt? What? Of course I brush my teeth, Dad. I'm telling you, it's got to be the hair or something. Personality? Well, I don't know. You may have something there, but again, that didn't used to matter. Girls dug my bowl-cut and personality was incidental. Maybe I should work on a few jokes or something--let them know I'm funny so they don't think I'm so into my hair, even though I can't stop thinking about it and how I'm going to lose this one if the wind doesn't stop fro-ing my curls out. If I'm funny, I'll have a personality right? Sort of? What do you mean 'sort of?' Long walks on the beach? Dad, you're killing me. How's that personality? No one does that up here. It's Ohio. And it's freezing anyway. Ok, so you think I should at least try to talk to girls somewhere, in some venue, somehow, about something. Nice. Well that just kills it doesn't it. Dad, you know I can't talk to girls. They're weird. And their brains work in a way I can't get. I never know if I'm speaking their language or not. They have this weird text language that gets into all forms of communication and I'm left squinting at them, something they don't always like. LOL, :), U R (a picture of a sun), all sorts of variations on a smiley face theme, about a billion of these !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and another lol. What are you saying (squint)? I'm no good at this pops. I don't know what it's going to take to match me up with a representative of the other gender, but if it ever happens, it will be a miracle. But I'm a big fan of miracles, so I'll bank on that.
Until then, "Table for one!"

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Win a Cruise! (please excuse model #4)

This is not now. This is months ago. This is not here. It's Taiwan. But you will pardon me, Steve took so many pictures I keep coming upon ones I've never seen. It feels new to me. My apologies to those of you who do not share this feeling. Congratulations on paying better attention than me. But indulge me. This shot reminds me of a Sears clothing ad of mixed decades and genres. Steve represents casual youth with his "Who Says" T-shirt and jean shorts. Mary goes back nearly six decades--the baby bottle, loud shades and a sun umbrella proving moms can still be fashionable. I'm obviously catering to the "wealthy business man on a cruise" group. And Sara? Sara kind of throws the whole thing into a satire. She fits in by undoing the accomplishments of models #1, 2,and 3. Nothing will sell now that suddenly we have a model looking at the camera, suddenly a model with a broken arm and a white cast in stark contrast to a black shirt, a model holding an umbrella blown inside out by an apparently angry wind. But stranger still, a model who is smiling despite frailty, a model that shows signs of being human. Models represent perfection and the non-existent world of human fancy. Ironically, that's how they sell. Steve, Mary, and I could be made of plastic for all anyone could care and they'd still bet on us, pay down the big money on a gamble for happiness. Model #4 isn't a model. She's obviously real. She'll make Sears no money . . . though she might make Hallmark some money if this picture included the caption: On your birthday we wish you all the love and joy money can buy! (Please ignore model #4).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

. . . AFTER I go to Russia

Lena's right. What was I thinking? I won't go to Taiwan, I'll go to Russia.

Maybe I can go to Russia and then Taiwan, and then Russia again, and then Taiwan again to earn money, and then Russia again to spend it. Taiwan can fund my trips to Russia. Hurray.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

This year

If every night turns out to be an all-nighter,
If that guy in class doesn't stop spitting on me from trying too hard to make his point,
If I still haven't found enough time to get my bike fixed,
If Obama's grassroots blitz doesn't ease up once he's in the House,
If I haven't managed to get past High Street unmolested,
If I still can't feel comfortable with the other gender,
If none of my internships for this summer work out,
If I can't get funding for next year . . .

I'm going back to Taiwan.

Who's in?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Dear Maren

I don't have a kid, so I don't have a camera, so I don't take pictures, so my graduate school experience is not documented in photos, and I don't have Steve here to take them for me, which is the only reason I have any pictures from Taiwan, which is old news, which is why I don't have new news, which is why I haven't updated my blog, which is why no one likes me, which is why I don't have a girl friend, which is why I'm not married, which is why I don't have a kid.

But I went to a wedding in D.C. last weekend and Becky was there and Becky has a camera (but not a kid--go figure) and Becky has friends and Becky wanted me to take pictures of her with her friends and Becky gave me her camera and I took a picture of me.

So here is a new picture of me so you don't have to look at old pictures of me so you can think I'm "an OK guy" so you can hook me up with your friends so I can get a girl friend so I can get married so I can have a kid so I can finally get a camera.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What's on your refrigerator?

BexLiz Creations (posted first on Becky's blog. re-posted here for purposes of necessary redundancy . . . then again, is my face ever redundant? apparently not.)
Bex and Liz sent me a care package for my first week of grad school. This was inside, accompanied by other goodies. Still struggling to acculturate myself to a new town, new house, new people, new life, new me? Not anymore; not with this thing staring back at me every morning from my refrigerator.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The CHronicles of Riddick

Have you seen this thing? This gem of all cinematic gems?

Reasons you should compromise your intelligence by viewing:

1) Vin Diesel
2) "There'll be one speed--mine. If you can't keep up, don't step up. You'll just die."
3) "What was that? You don't care if you live or die? ... Well, maybe I do. KEEP MOVING!"
4) Vin Diesel
5) "Me? I'm just passing through."
6) "I'll kill you with my tea cup."
7) Vin Diesel
8) When Vin dumps a canteen of water on his head to protect himself from scorching flames.
9) The steam coming off his head after coming out of the flames.
10) Vin Diesel
To Jared, to every bad-movie-night we had, to every dose of this mind-altering narcotic, to all the brain cells I lost in the process, and to our sponsors Vin Diesel and Ice Cube (xXx), thank you.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Steve's phone works again. For those of you interested in a sequel, that's it. I could hear Steve on the phone yesterday more clearly than when we used to live in the same room. So in case you were afraid to call him after reading my previous post, fear no more.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Hi steve .... what?

"Hey Steve, I can't understand you."
"Oh, weel I grrrt thrrris nrrrrrew pho...kurrr."
"No you didn't. You got weesled by some phone salesman. That ain't no new phone."
"No, I said-krrrr, I berrrrrt it'sssss the crack-k-k-k-k in the pho sssss."
"Like I said Steve, I can't understand a word. And that sounds nothing like what you said the first time."
"Hey, marrbe youkrr earses are messssst ooop!"
"Easy Steve. My ears aren't messed. Your phone's what's messed. And if you start turning on me, I'm going to think you's messed too."
"Is that a dog? I didn't know you had a dog."
"I don't have a rrufff. Hey Joe, remember rugrrrk do krrruchchch straggrrl?"

Pretty soon I just gave up trying to understand and started rotating through generic response A B and C to keep the conversation going as smoothly as possible.

"Joe, grphsed to foojellfff."
"Ikcruchrr tosnoxxf"
"Riggle mic smiggle bigs."
"Exactly. Well, good talking to you, got to go."

This is the same courtesy Steve showed me on the back of a scooter in Taiwan. I'm sure he didn't hear a word I said with the wind catching each one and flipping it inside out before it got back to him. But I always left with the fuzzy feeling of having just had a very agreeable conversation.

Hopefully Steve went to get his phone fixed after our chat. Or at least to chew the company out until they promised him all sorts of technical compensation. I'm rooting for you, Steve. It would never do for the most technically savvy guy of our Berhan outfit to be stuck with a phone that transforms him into Chewbacca.

Speaking of cell phones, I finally got one. It's this shiny blue thing that does everything including shave my face and pop popcorn. There's no way of actually discovering all the gimmicks on it, but I enjoy new surprises every day. Besides breaking up ear plaque still lingering from my trip to Thailand, it also plays an Asian jingle whenever I'm feeling nostalgic for Taiwan, vibrates in my hand when I need a hand massage, and tucks me in at night after telling me I'm OK and people like me. I think it's alive. Kind of like Herold Crick's wrist watch in Stranger than Fiction. But I can't get it to palm-read or tell my fortune, so it does have limitations. If you want my number, call somebody you think cool enough to have it. Steve's one. But if you call him, don't complain if you can't tell what language he's speaking, let alone hear the number right.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Constructing a new template, not a new blog

Out with the old and in with the new.
But not completely out.
Remember the old. Prune it. Bring in new seeds,
Though these will need pruning soon enough.
Then do it again.

It wouldn't do well to forget Asia. Especially since it will be present in my studies (my Russian program will focus on Russian-Chinese relations). But I can't continue writing more chapters in a finished book, like epilogues good only for pampering the past. So I'm changing the book cover. It's a new book, set in the same binding with the first for consumer convenience. So go ahead, buy the set. Feel them the same, see them separate.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

no longer in the virgin cheeks club

minus the media

I don't actually have a camera. I'm going to stop pretending I do. Steve gets credit for 99% of all media posted to this blog. The other 1% divides up 11 ways, the breakdown of which I don't care to specify. But if you're ever wondering why some of my posts do not carry weight, it's because words mean nothing. Pictures and video clips mean everything. And sometimes I'm too lazy to ask Steve for a picture. My sincere apologies go out to all your overly stimulated senses. Mine too, actually. I skim blogs the same way and get all depressed when after skimming I discover the only way to get any entertainment out of it is to read the words. It's the same reason kids don't want a story book void of pictures. It becomes a chore or task. Chores are what your mom makes you do before you can go outside and play. Tasks are what your teacher assigns you at the end of each class. You want neither. And by golly you sure won't do it if it's anybody else besides mom and teacher. So when you skim a blog looking for media to jump start your desire to read, and you find nothing, it better be a darn good friend or relative's blog or that engine ain't starting. Because if it does, you're sure not doing it for kicks and giggles--you know your hide's gonna get it if you don't read. And then, maybe then do you start reading. And if you're lucky, very lucky, it's worth the read and you stop reserving 9/10ths of your brain to plan out what you're going to do for entertainment once you've finished your chores. That said, 10 points to anyone who reads this. And I'll know if you're faking it because I'll ask you how many pull-ups my dad can do--something I'll swear I included in the post.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Class Profile

So they hand me this form to fill out. There's always a form to fill out. This one says ELE Class Profile. As if there's a way to map out the dysfunction and chaos of this evening kindergarten class. But hey, there's a form to be considered. The new teach needs to think he/she has a reference guide to successful teaching before he/she discovers he/she was very much mistaken.

Classroom Management

1. Seating Chart: What? You want these kids to sit down? Not going to happen.

2. Discipline System:
Behavior Record: Sure, this class holds a record. Not the one you want.
Punishments: Capital
Rewards: Less than Capital

Suggestions, Special Needs, and Encouragement

Suggestions: Go back to America
Special Needs: You must have some if you want to teach this class
Encouragement: Guns are illegal in Taiwan. These kids won't have them.
(Discouragement: Guns are illegal in Taiwan. You won't have one.)

What BMCs and CCs can your students use without relying on a model?

1. "I'm sitting nicely." (Which they're not)
2. "Today is Sunday." (Which it never is. "Class is Monday to Friday kids. Sit down James, and stop choking Louie. Then again, keep choking Louie. That way he'll stop choking Frank for a minute.")

Indicate where next semester's teacher should begin teaching:

We've been working on such phrases as, "Stop choking me. Stop kicking me. Stop poking me in the eye." You can start teaching them things like, "I deserved it. It's my fault. He choked me because I was choking him first." Mostly though, you'll be the one learning new phrases. Such things as, "Danny, keep your pants on. James, take your hands off Tyson and go to the corner. Shalee and Shalene, that's only legal in Massachusetts and California. Hey, if you're going to spit, you're going to lick it up. Hey, get off me already. HEYYYYYYYYYYY! STOP YOUR HONKING!"

They're sweet. Have fun.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


And so it was that Sara kidnapped Joe and buried him deep in the jungle after dark, with nothing but an empty gas tank and a scooter attached to it. She thought it was fun. He thought it was "fun." Notice how differently you read the word "fun" from the way you read the word fun. The pause means everything.

"I love living on the edge," was followed by, "I thought the road would be turning away from the mountains by now," and, "Wow, would you look at that gas gauge!" and, "It doesn't really look like anyone lives out here, does it?" Everything being said was being said by Sara. And a good thing too. I go into survival mode when minutes are all I have before motor melt-down, and before my super sonic metabolizing tummy is stranded miles from food. And then if I let myself talk, I'm wasting precious energy.

The jungle doesn't offer too much by way of light either. Especially at night. In fact, it shrouds any that might have been, were the moon and stars visible. So pot holes and sharp bends in "the road less traveled" become unanticipated guests--the kind you don't invite on purpose, but who find out about the party anyway and come--the very characteristic that keeps them off the invitee list in the first place . We almost died 37 times that night. I counted. Not out loud, mind you. And who's idea was this anyway? Why did I go along with this? Once again, not out loud.

"Wow! What an adventure!" and then, "Gee, I've never seen the gas gauge so low!" Man Sara, could you just pick one? I have a hard time keeping track of what mood we're in when you go from excited to aghast so quickly. I'm focussed on the one: what our first move is when the engine stops and the head-lights go out. It's a good thing you're here telling me what an adventure we're having. Somehow I forget that part until I'm safely at the dinner table with a mound of edibles in front of me and a crowd of thrill seekers around me waiting on a good story. Yes, then it's an adventure. But now, it's survival.

And then the engine stopped. And the lights went out, and we had to use scooter parts as make-shift weapons to hunt food for the next three weeks. Not really, but unfortunately, there's nothing more exciting or dangerous about the story. The road eventually headed back out toward civilization like Sara predicted and within a few miles we saw a gas station. The only other thing remotely interesting about it was the three wrong turns I took within a five minutes span at the same intersection. I was still in survival mode, still thinking we were lost, so I couldn't recognize a thing and my internal compass kept changing it's mind every time I made a decision. Then Sara says she's known where we are for a half hour now and that she's "letting me figure it out" for fun. Oh wait, for "fun." Give me something strong. A beer with as much root in there as possible. How long have you known where we are, Sara? What kind of freakish double sided, slap job are you trying to pull here? Lure a trusting joe into the promised bliss of nighttime scooter riding, throw in the suggestion of a mountainous view point, and then pretend to get lost coming down the other side. It's your fault I had to change my drawers when I got home. See what I go through here? Oh, you think I'm your cute little brother? That I love getting tricked, poked, stuffed in laundry machines, and picked on by big lovable sister bear? Well, not this one. I'm letting you know right now, a storm's coming . . . a storm's coming.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

had a birthday

I had a birthday.
They shouted.
They chanted my name,
brought down houses,
scattered little pieces of colored paper,
wrote me tributes,
made me cakes,
made me smiles.
And then they sang to me.

But then they weren't singing.
No more smiles were being made,
no more cakes,
no more words or colored paper.
The houses stood straight;
no shouting brought them down.
No chanting reached my ears.
Everyone was sleeping...

and I was sitting.
I was sitting and being 27
for the first time--
the stillness finally confirming it.

But "the tree was happy"
and so was the aging boy.
He was sitting and he was happy.
He had been given a birthday.

Monday, May 5, 2008

"Where's Waldo the White Guy" and other typical pictures of an American in China

Dear Meagan (my cousinly one),
In an effort to meet your request, I've posted here a few pictures more focused on my Chinese experience and less on my glamorous complexion.

. . . Although, it's a bit difficult to see the sights without being a sight, if you're American. Hence, the continued element of "I'm a rockstar--at least, I must be because people I've never met keep asking to have their picture taken with me." Gavin may actually be a rockstar, but I can at least feel like one, right? I don't write songs, I just wear white skin and a ball cap.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

... you are my haha!

Steve once received a love note from one of his students with these sentiments, "you are my haha!" Any man would be jealous of such open adoration from a student. So I'm unashamed of my jealousy. And being thus unashamed, I work to extract similar displays of affection from my own students, and if I can, everyone else's. A few weeks ago I began unleashing the secret weapon I keep hidden atop my humerus bone and beneath my bulging right sleeve. The kindergarten children have never seen something so defined in their life. Or so their bugged out eyes and shrieks of amazement tell me. Everyone wants to palm the mass. Because for little people, seeing isn't believing--touching and poking is. I've never felt like a bigger man than under the awe struck gaze of little Taiwanese children. We get a lot of language out of it too. The kids now know how to say, "buff stud, ripped, cut, you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger," and other everyday phrases. It also works with teaching comparison modes. "Mr. Joe is bigger than Mr. Steve, Mr. Joe is hotter, studlier, and gets more girls than Mr. Steve." Then we go on field trips . . . over to Mr. Steve's class to demonstrate what we've learned. There's a rumor going around that Steve is secretly convening with some of his students after regular school hours to form a fight club bent on beating me and my class into submission. But this is English class, Steve. It's all about the talk, not the walk. So make sure at least you draw out the language while you prepare your little army.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Steve blogs again

Steve must have needed something to get him out of writers block or something. Otherwise, why write an entire entry devoted to the description of obscure details about my character? Yeah, he must have needed something to spring board off of. But I won't say it isn't a tad bit flattering. Significant, insignificant, major, minor, useful, useless, liberating, incriminating--it still brings a smile regardless, to think someone has pictures of you and doesn't mind posting them. Click here for Steve's entry.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Steve blogs

Steve blogs. I don't seem to have it in me, so click here and read his.

Monday, April 14, 2008

someone said "manship?"

For Sara's special report on me and Steve's "manship," as she calls it, click here.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Man time

Sometimes Steve and I go shopping together. Sometimes we go out to eat together. Sometimes we stay up late and talk about girls. We have matching man-bags, t-shirts, and bath soap. We plan on buying matching shoes and matching pants. You could say we have a close relationship. And that we've possibly been influenced towards a more feminine nature from the lengthy and very close living arrangements we have with eleven females. But you might also be a guy reading this and see something else. You might see our "manship" as more survival mode than unfortunate evolution. Which is the perspective Steve and I like to take. Have you ever felt like an only child adopted into a family of eleven girls? Have you ever felt like you were a girl? If you haven't, you've had nightmares about it...if you're a guy, that is. And upon waking, you've sought out your guy friends, not girl friends, to ease the horrific memories of the night before through root-beer, pizza, and a bad-movie-night (bad acting, I mean. Not know, stuff). And it's not that you hate girls that you need man time. It's that you're glad you're a guy and not a girl, and the more crowded you are with girls the more you need to remind yourself you're not one. Girls are fantastic. But both genders agree there's a definite need to celebrate gender differences. And that's what Steve and I are doing when we spend time together away from the girly types. This however, does not explain the feminine nature of our manly celebrations. For that I ask, have you ever been to Taiwan? Is there really anything that manly to do in a land where grown men wear pink and giggle like girls when they say "hello" to a passer-by American? Don't get me wrong--I like Taiwanese dudes. They have their gender going for them. But I'm having trouble remaining a manly man in this culture. So we're girly men. But given our living situation, I'm glad we're still at least that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I was offered a fellowship at Ohio State University. I got excited. I started playing with a miniature basketball and bothering people all over the house. Mary was none too impressed by the offer or the bothering, but staged congratulatory remarks for purposes of conformity. I saw through the drama and bothered her more. She began hating. . . and eventually confiscated my basketball. Then we got along, but only because I began staging the norm, and I'll continue until I find where she done hid that basketball. Then I'll make her hate me again.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

tiny hands

Since I already have a blog reserved for poetry, I can't very well post any here. So I'll just invite you to click here and read the poetry that would be under these pictures.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dear Katie, you didn't miss much.

I found myself in an Asian candy store of culture last night. The teachers at Berhan went to a "Feel yourself Chinese!" spectacle put on by a traveling Chinese performing arts group. The Berhan teachers minus Katie, that is. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, Katie and her ticket never met, and she was forced to sit at home and crochet Easter baskets for the upcoming school Easter celebrations. After reading this though, I hope she feels her unfortunate circumstance were not so unfortunate.

It's not that I don't like culture or music or dancing or flowers, but something about all the soft colors and fuzzy borders, the "Nessun Dorma" -like ending to every song, and an emcee who jokes between each number, doesn't thrill my overplayed senses. A man can only take so much frosting before needing a water closet. Give me more grits. Some cornmeal and chili. Even cow tongue or chicken feet. Something hard before the fluff. There's a reason we attribute the craving for sugar to a "sweet tooth," not "sweet teeth." Teeth have always had a hankering for meat. But there was that odd ball tooth who demanded chocolate. And we like that sweet tooth, but he'd never amount to anything without iron-fisted friends. Chocolate might be all that's worth living for, but if everyone's a chocolate bar, who's to do the living? You'll rot your teeth on sweets if not for the grit inside you asking for substance. You'll fight to down those vegetables just so desert will taste better. Last night I ate too much frosting and too little veggies.

To the performers credit, they had talent and skill. I was impressed at several points: the back flip those guys did in that one dance, and the really really loud high note that tenor held for 2 minutes. Both moments saw my eyebrows raise an inch. Whitney and Sara, who sat near me in the audience, will argue against my right to criticize on the basis I nodded off during several of the first half moon-dance numbers, but I was awake for several more and I have a hard time believing the frosting that I missed tasted any different. The multi-media power-point rainbow frame behind the glittering dancers, backed by mystical lullaby sounding orchestration, and the tireless smoke machine off-stage, made for a magical evening difficult to forget . . . or dislodge in the water closet I ran to once we got home.

Credit should also be awarded the power point screen in the back that displayed the Chinese characters for "Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance," often enough to let me memorize the strokes, and to Mr. and Mrs. emcee, who mustered a two-person skit between each number, despite the inaudible laughter in return, yet very audible chatter among audience members.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

locked in song

You want to see what we teach. No, that's not a question, so stop swooping up at the end of the sentence. You do want to see. You've been wondering the what and how ever since I told you I was teaching English in Taiwan. The following ends your wanting--yours and my students'. Neither could want to see anything more after seeing this, in or out of class. You'll be sorry you wondered. Just try to go home and forget about it. That's what my students do. But they can't. They can't shake the darn tune from their spongy brains. And neither can we. Who wants language skills bad enough to mimic this? Everyone. Even the teachers. We already speak English, but can't stop the songs built to teach it. They beat the insides of our skulls. A Saturday bike ride out in the country, finally away from the screaming children, away from the dry-erase board dust, away from the larger than microscopic spittle in which a kindergarten teacher showers everyday, and we still find it necessary to pull off the bike trail and disengage the kindergarten songs pounding at the walls of our brains. And yet, it's hopeless. Our efforts to molt the songs we wrap so tightly around us, like snake skin two sizes too small, serves only to constrict us further. Singing never solves the problem of singing. You'll only get better at it. If you want to kill the thing, leave the dead skin on. Suffocate the unwanted. But for kindergarten teachers, what's the point? You have to sing and dance the same gig everyday for the next 5 out of every 7, so why choke to death in the monster's grip Saturday and Sunday? Shake hands with the beast. And sing like an idiot whenever it comes knocking.

digression of a proposal

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Steve, what time is it?

Nearly every afternoon, during our basic reading classes, Steve, Laura and I take our kids to the park 30-40 yards from the school. Steve has a class of eight, Laura has about the same and I have ten. Half-way into their three-hour class, these kids need a break, and they get it too, regardless of whether or not we take them outside. The mania is easier to work off in a park than inside four walls of a classroom. I've been tied down and tortured by these little people like Gulliver in his travels, for trying recess indoors. Kids gotta breathe.

Unfortunately, break can't last until the end of class. This necessitates a watch. But none of us ever have a watch. Like clock-work though, Steve asks me on the way out to the park each day, "Did you bring your watch Joseph?" This is only a cue for me to reply in the negative. "No. Forgot it again." Both Steve and I own wrist watches. Neither of us bring it anywhere. Why don't we bring it? Both of us know the time shows up on Steve's digital camera after every picture he takes. Steve takes at least three pictures during break everyday just to check the time. In consequence, Steve has a lot of really important pictures on his camera like the one you see above. Is there anything in the picture indicating...anything? No. You might have already asked yourself, "is there any reason this picture was taken? Is Joseph running out of pictures to blog about or something?" No on both. The picture was not taken to capture anything Kodak and I'm not running out of pictures. Steve takes just as many Kodak moment pictures as time-check pictures. So why did I post this picture? To remind me of the times we didn't need a picture, but needed to take a picture.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Book Review

My sister Rachel recommended this book to me. I brought it with me to Taiwan. I just finished it. If you are looking for a good read, try this one. It has action, history, and perspective. It wasn't written by an English major, but what it lacks in word technique, it makes up for in personal perspective. If you've ever been curious about communist Russia and the difficult transition away from 70 years of this regime; and if you've ever wanted a little more detail on the real life drama of people engaged in espionage (not just Hollywood drama) and factual clandestine work; and if you have ever wondered what an intelligence officer/agent with LDS beliefs might think about during covert missions; and if you have ever wanted to know why I'm facinated by Russia when you aren't--pick up a copy of "A train to Potevka." It's worth the quick hours you'll spend between its covers.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

They have monkeys here

...even stone ones. This sculpture is a monument dedicated to my Taiwanese namesake. After being called "Mr. Monkey" by what seems to be at least two or three students in every class at Berhan (even classes I don't teach), I'm starting to think someone tipped off the kids before I got here. Who told them I was Mr. Monkey? It appears that trying to keep that a secret totally flopped. Word's out and now I spend my free time at photo shoots next to giant monkey statues, then signing souvenir photos of the same. Every kid wants one--an autographed picture of Mr. Monkey standing beside a statue of something that looks just as monkey-like as he does.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kids love me part II

I do gym with the kindergarten every day. They love me more than you do. Does your face look like this when you see me? Are you ready to poo your britches with excitement every time I say, "OK, climb on my back!" No, you are too mature for that. But these little folk? Their love knows no bounds, and they wear their fan t-shirts everyday. If I didn't think that was what I needed when I first started teaching here, it is now. Just one look at their miniature gleeful faces and I get all the warm fuzzies I need. It reminds me of something my good friend Jared said upon realizing he had a little person clinging to his fingers. "Here, take my credit card, my bank card and my beard card. Take all the money in my wallet. Sell what ever I have and take the cash. Do what you will little smuggly mumpkins--just keep holding onto my fingers."

Plus, they give me a good workout. Can you do push-ups with ten little miniatures on you? Try it sometime. It ain't the simplest feat, but you'll never let them down. No sir, you'll do that push-up if it's the last thing you do in this world. They never doubt you can do it, and neither do you.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

sand dance

The sand dance is an Eastern Taiwanese Tribal rite dating back to 5 billion B.C. when man discovered political persuasion. It was found that human beings, once assimilated into societal groups, could be driven as a single entity when moved upon by the power of one orator. One could manipulate the movements of a whole society by mere suggestion. The only difference between the one and the mass was instigation, the voice of opinion, the sound of reason. You could move mountains by saying something to a herd, regardless of merit. "Someone said food, and I come running." "Someone said fun, and I come running." "Someone said dance on the beach like an idiot, I come running." Billions of years later, a group of Taiwanese aborigine wannabes, in which I find myself included, decide to revive the dance on the basis of the same timeless motivation: someone suggested it. Someone said, "Hey Joseph and Tammy, we're on the beach! How about you do some neat frolicking moves for the camera?" Don't ask me why the fact we're at the beach has any power to force Tammy and I into karate-kick formation, it just does. They didn't know 5 billion years ago and they don't know now. They also don't know why once the idea has been voiced and carried out by a second and maybe third party, every establishment inside the unique human being that defames lemming-like behavior, crumbles and makes way for the stampede. And there's no way of stopping it once it starts. Every member of the group wants to dance like an idiot because, "hey, we're on the beach!" Go ahead, check the blogs of the other group members. I'm sure they have pictures of their totally wicked awesome sand dance routine as well. We all did it. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

More names and dates, they say. Less philosophy. So here's what you want: The other Berhan teachers and I spent Chinese New year in Hualian, a nice beach town on the east coast of Taiwan. The first day we rode five hours standing up on a packed passenger train until liberated in Hualian. We checked into our hostel, checked the local cuisine and checked the activities that would seek our involvement over the next four days. Toroko Gorge would require the first full day, riding scooters down the coast would take the next, and hot springs would be the main course for the third. The last day would more or less be a repeat of the first--5 hours standing on a train headed back to Feng Yuan. My favorite part of the trip was the scooters. I will die riding into the sunset on one of those things. A few others had the same idea, only they tried the dying part earlier than I plan to. Turns out, sparks fly when the metal of a motor bike meets asphalt at high speeds. My other favorite part was soaking in hot water, the origins of which apparently reside deep in the earth along with unique minerals useful to fertile women hoping to birth a man child. My other favorite part was coming home each night to the hostel where the ten of us all bunked together and talked 'till the wee hours of the morning debating the rightful name-sake for the initials MJ. The first night Mary Jackson wouldn't admit that MJ was universally recognized to mean Michael Jackson before she was even born. Steve argued it a slight to Michael Jordan and to the entire empire of sports not to attribute the initials solely to him. And the second night Mary pretended she never really went by MJ in grade school like she so vehemently declared the night before, but that she'd always thought of Peter Parker's girl friend whenever she heard a reference to MJ. Emily Joy took the torch from Mary, though, in campaigning her own rights to the initials, claiming that MJ stands for the first syllable of her first name and first letter of her middle name. It seems people will go to great lengths to ride the coat tails of the true MJ. MJ always did, ever does, and ever will stand for Michael Jackson. My other favorite part of the trip was kiwi bingshaws and coconut pudding. Then we came home and I was happy.

Monday, February 4, 2008

we play

Wholesome family games. The options are hide 'n seek, super hide 'n seek (involving the additional element of a tin can), or hide 'n seek with murder. We're all over seven years old, we need death and dying in our FHE games, so we choose the last. The rules are explained as such: dress in black, extinguish all sources of light, draw a card, don't ask round-ending questions like "what does a 'W' mean?," run for your life, die when you're tapped on the shoulder, yell "body!" when you trip over a dead person, and debate the circumstances surrounding the deceased. If you can figure out who the killer is and lynch them before the next round, the game's over and you draw cards again. If not, you'll probably be dead ten minutes into round two. The game's a real thrill. We got all sorts of nooks and crannies at Berhan. The rooftop and outdoor laundry room are favorites. Tammy never hides anywhere but in the washer and Steve and Jessica dance on the roof through most of each round. I'm usually pretending I have the license to kill and following closely behind people until they freak and run or start yelling at me for being a jerk and not ending their torment already with the highly anticipated death tap. I get bored being innocent. But then there was that one time when I finally picked the killer card and successfully convinced everyone that we should change the rules to allow multiple deaths in one round. I killed three people in the first ten seconds and got lynched in the next ten. Way too trigger happy, they told me. How'd they know it was me? Was it the shrill laugh I gave after each killing or the smug look on my face during trial? Everyone's an ace detective. Back to being innocent. I try to follow Whitney into dark hallways just so I can see her go nuts with fear when I don't even have a gun. So mad at only being the murderer for ten seconds this whole evening. Now she starts to get nervous, now she starts to run, she screams! And then she kills me. Oh, the shame of it! I was limed! Now she's got the smug look and no one is going to guess she's it because she's always helping old ladies cross the street and undoing knots in kids' tennis shoes and stuff. She walks away after the slightest wink, the only gesture anyone will ever see to prove her maliciousness. And I'm the only one who sees it, but I'm dead! Pray, someone find me and sound the discovery of my corpse so we can end this round and I can get back at Whitney! No one finds me, no one cares. The game goes on for another ten minutes and everyone's dead. True to the rules, none of us move or speak the rest of the night and Whitney is the only one who sleeps in her bed. Nice. Great game. Who picked this anyway? Let's go back to super hide 'n seek.

Friday, February 1, 2008

better pictures

If you would like to see pictures of my habitat at Berhan, click here.
They're on Mary's blog and give accurate depiction.

If you would like to see pictures and short bios. of all the teachers I live and work with at Berhan, click here. I paid Sara a lot of money to say what she did about me. The other bios. are pretty accurate without bribery . . . except Mary's--she paid a bit extra to get 13 children in her family instead of 11.

If you would like to see pictures of my kindergarten kids, click here.
If you would like to see pictures of my former first and fifth grade kids click here.
If you are wondering why most of these pictures are on Mary's blog, it's because Mary and I pretty much swapped classes two weeks ago when all the legal turmoil of who's teaching where the working permit tells you to teach hit. Now I teach in the old school where she used to teach and she teaches in the new school where I used to teach. Mary takes good pictures. I don't. So you should look at her's. One draw back, she makes the kids sound like angels. Don't be fooled.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

you be feel good, just we can . . .

I teach kindergarten now. These little people are high energy and darn cute. I teach gym class. We do push-ups together and then we see how many push-ups Mr. Joseph can do with all the kids piled up on his back. What--I love wrestling. You can see in the third picture how Steve benefits from the way I run my class. He teaches kitchen. They still think it's wrestling practice. "But Mr. Joseph lets us...." Steve loves me for it. The fourth picture is our first rain since I arrived one month ago. And you know I have to celebrate long awaited rain by forgoing the umbrella. I'm from Washington. Next: we found a donut venue in a shopping center. No-yeast, no-sugar was not my best friend right then. Last: I donned my florescent rain jacket to venture through the rooftop escape hatch. It was raining and I had the perfect suit for bright-florescent- color-loving Taiwan. Oh, and the first picture: "you be feel good, just we can..." is the reason we're here in Taiwan teaching English. Does anyone think whoever wrote that phrase and approved the construction of a food stand with those words on it really knows English well enough to be using it? Chinglish, they call it. It's everywhere.