Wednesday, February 27, 2008

No business like snow business

Snow Day!

The equivalent of winning the lottery for a 6th grader. Today I was supposed to start a three day residency in a middle school outside of Oberlin Ohio but at 6am I got a call from a teacher at that school informing me that there was no school today because of snow.

Now we do winter pretty well up here on the north coast of the United States of America. Cleveland has plenty of snow plows and rust bucket cowboys to careen them about at breakneck speeds throwing blinding salt laced slushies across windshields of automobiles they pass and knocking down the mailbox in front of parent's house on a regular basis. An approaching snow plow will send whole cadres of grade school bus stop denizens running shriek squealing away from the roadside to avoid being covered with an icy batter of dirty frozen street sludge. And plow drivers never stopped their trucks to get out and give chase when pelted with snowballs – they are the one safe moving target that can be besieged with impunity - nonchalantly shaking off the icy missiles like a buffalo quivering its shoulder to send a fly on its way.

Usually the snow doesn't slow the populous here in town. Well, it might slow down things a bit but there is none of the crippling insanity that happens in places like Washington D.C. and further south where an inch of snow shuts the world down and is the impetus for stampeding in the Chinese made and most likely flammable electric blanket aisle at Wal-Mart. (Okay, I misspelled Wal-Mart as wallmart and MS word spell check caught it and corrected it with the trademarked spelling – that's a little creepy.) Anyway, snow generally doesn't stop us here. Chicago, Detroit, Green bay, Cleveland, Buffalo etc. etc. we can handle this.

Now the snow has stopped out there and it is a winter wonderland – the fluffy white stuff hasn't been tossed around wheel wells and drug around until it is all dirty and the colors of toe jam. Perfect for sledding or any other wintery fun time activities – none of which I care to partake in. Really, they could have had school today – it was worse yesterday when they did have school. But see, up here there are snow days built into the calendar – so just as often as not, snow days are called kind of as an afterthought – a reward for the inconveniences suffered the day before. But hey, I'm not one to complain. I got to stay in my warm bed a bit later today.

Hard to believe that just a little over a week ago I was walking around in 90 degree heat and humidity in a rice paddy on Bali. Well, another week and Sara and I are off to teach and speak at a conference in Istanbul – I don't think they get any snow days there.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jakarta International School

I would be remiss in not saying what a wonderful experience it was working at the Jakarta International School! Now one of my favorite places I have visited. Not only were all the kids above average ;) - but Sara and I were treated like royalty the whole time we were there.

Dianne and then Kate - the High School and Middle School librarians respectively - fed and watered us, had us carted around the city, gave us valentine roses etc. etc. etc.

What a great great experience - Terima Kasih!

We were welcomed to the middle school by the Jakarta Middle School String Orchestra - How classy is that?

A group of the middle school kids - not at a pep rally but at a poetry reading!

Coaching a reluctant - but brave - performer.

Classroom workshop.

Sara - the middle school library guru, Kate and yours truly.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Zen what happened?

If I am going to live in a police sate – at least give me dancing girls

One thing I learned in Indonesia this time around was to smile. The indigenous folk may give you a wary eye walking down the street, but a quick flash of the pearly zoobies from you and the person instantaneously returns the gesture with gusto. The state of the teeth flashing back at you seems to come in only two varieties – glaringly white and straight as an arrow across (especially in Bali where tooth filing is practiced) or barely hanging in there like a row of stalactites that have been brushed against by too many oily hands of weekend spelunkers. But, nonetheless, a smile is echoed.

Try this in immigration hall at LAX international airport in Los Angeles and the response one gets ranges from quizzical to downright disdain. Almost three hours it took to pick up bags and exit customs. And this was without any kind of luggage search or anything out of what should have been ordinary – nope this was just plain good old American ineptness. Seems this batch of neo-cons is expert at outsourcing the TSA contracts to their cronies so that they can "run lean" amassing nice profits allowing them to jet privately around and avoid the insanity that is our first front against terrorism while the rest of us Joe Slobos sweat over missed connecting flights.

Similar to the inability of some to organize a two car parade – the crew at LAX was unable to create a couple of lines around the baggage carousels. Instead the influx of bags mixed with folks hoping to form some semblance of a procession leading somewhere, people cutting to get ahead into what they thought was a line only to be told by one blue jacketed lackey that this particular queue was not real. "But the person in the blue jacket over there sent us here…" Complete and utter confusion and I say this after experiencing rush hour in Jakarta.

Allow me to digress:

Traffic moves in Jakarta at a slow boil, like a pot of some spicy gumbo, bits and chunks of all the ingredients rolling over each other taking turns rubbing and gently careening about in the bubbling gelatinous broth. In order to merge one must simply and patiently insert one's automobile into this frothing olio of trucks, cars, busses, vans, three wheeled becaks all which are minimally separated by motor bikes flowing in between like water droplets coursing along the grout of steamy shower tiles. Lanes are nonexistent although in a rudimentary sense Indonesians do drive on the opposite side of the road than we in the states compounding the confusion of it all in my mind. Vehicles pack the road like a biology class video of red blood corpuscles microscopically filmed to fill the screen.

It is the utter lack of rhyme and reason that makes this non-system work. I saw no road rage – only folks determinedly moving across four imaginary lanes of bumper to bumper as carefully as one walks against the current of a stream flowing over algae covered slate – young men stepping into and stopping traffic like the sole soul in front of the tanks at Tiananmen and then collecting a nickel from a grateful driver backing into the commuter slurry – motorbikes taking to the sidewalk when four wheeled traffic wheezed to a congested standstill. Out of this unqualified chaos rose an almost Zen state of order, snatch the pebble grasshopper – become part of the current.

This is exactly what DIDN'T happen at LAX. For all the braying and mewing about American individuality we sure are enamored with rules as of late. The lack of clear cut instruction, neat median strips, and right turn lanes etc. etc. short circuited the vast majority of golf club toting, beer bellied middle managers and their parrot festooned straw hatted spouses. Pandemonium – but no underlining order to be found.

My stage asides of of "God bless the Republicans.", "Do you feel any safer?" and "Three cheers for privatization!" were met with blank stares of total unrecognition and unmitigated derision. "Who let Che in to ruin my vaction?", they were thinking.

These fleshy Coppertoned all inclusive resort denizens were clueless when faced with the task of merging eight squid like tentacles of meandering baggage carts into one lane.

So everything stopped.

I coached a sister duet of middle aged Latinas in front of me to just calmly continue moving in the general direction of the exit, forget about the folks you think are cutting in front of you in line (mostly southeast Asians who undoubtedly figured everything was moving along swell) and just go with the flow. I talked them down convinced them that is was okay to move within the imaginary twelve inch barrier they wanted as a comfort zone explaining that the gap was an invitation for merging from the flanks. Eventually, we got out handing our declaration slips to the customs agent, "No I do not have a rabid squirrel monkey in my duffel bag" and the two senoras thanked me as if I had just guided them through an infra red laser protected vault to the best shoe sale of their lives.

Welcome home I thought, please form an orderly line to the left.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

taiwan on

cooling my heels in Taipei airport waiting for a flight back to the states - 5 hour overlay.

I have a bunch of stuff to post - most is still in note form and will take awhile to get organized. internet access was intermittant at best and usually dial up quality in Indonesia.

But here are a couple pics:

Rice paddy in Kaliki Village, Bali and flags used to scare away birds.

Some kids playing with masks and cymbals in their yard in Ubud, Bali.

It's been a pretty amazing trip - I have at least three or four long posts and a buttload of pics!

Next stop LA.

Monday, February 11, 2008

well hello Bali

On this island the inhabitants make offerings to appease the evil spirits. It's not that the malevolent gods are held in any higher esteem than the "good" deities it's that the flavor of Hinduism adhered by the Balinese (our driver from the airport – himself a practitioner- says it is heavily influence with Buddhism and an even older belief system called Anamism) believes that the best one can hope for is a balance between the two forces. This is how it is explained to me by our hosts at dinner, stepped rice fields and setting sun over their shoulders. So, when the women proffer their gifts to the gods they put one up high in a niche built into a small shrine or atop a stone wall and the second is placed on the ground. The higher offered to the respectable gods the lower for those rakes of disrepute.

I am told that everything Balinese is infused with allusions to this balancing act, religion, art, dance, and not knowing the language I can only assume their literature. It has been written that all Balinese are artists; shopkeepers, airport limo drivers, waitresses all leading duel lives as dancers, musicians, painters, and perhaps even poets. Indeed, we bought a pen, ink and acrylics drawing of Ganesh, the elephant headed Hindu god, from the young man waiting on us at the café where we lunched after our visit to the sacred monkey temple.

You want to talk about a personification of duality? One need only have the twelve pound long tailed macaque that was looking so cute sitting on some temple steps suddenly launch herself onto your head and shoulders to better deduce the possibility of fruit in your backpack. One second you've a cute cuddly photo opportunity and then suddenly a miniature mugger hoping to roll you for bananas and lychee nuts is clutching your neck. Then, once you've acclimated to these little vagabonds to the point that you are scratching the one in your lap behind the ears it will inexplicably jerk its head to you and bare some pretty businesslike canines and hiss. Monkeys got that whole Yin Yang good evil thing down with the nonchalant balance of an acrobat. Not that a native Balinese would describe anything as evil per se, the darker side of the duality is described as not so good – so ya got yourself good and not so good.

We are staying a short walk from a small village called Kaliki which itself is a thirty minute ride up and down hairpin turns through rice fields and past dozens of temples from Ubud, the island of Bali's acknowledged artistic heart . Motorbikes carrying anywhere from one to three passengers, baskets full of livestock or other goods for town are grumbling up the hill along side our little villa then just around another hairpin, honking their approach, they head downhill to Ubud. Here a horn honk doesn't shout get out of my way, rather it announces, "Here I am" or "here I come!" with staccato bursts reminiscent of tree frog or gecko.

Our vista is coconut palm, banana and the incredulously fast growing balsa trees along with an infinite coagulation of extraordinary lush green vegetation pollacked with color splashes of aromatic flora. Across the valley terraced rice paddies imitate temple steps climbing to the top of a ridge past which Mount Agung is playing hide and seek behind a miasma of humid clouds. We are inland away from the beaches and night clubs. Gamalong music mixes with dogs' barking, and birdsongs wafting up from below. Roosters crow throughout the day with no regard to their traditional morning duties as avian alarm clocks. They, as the rest of those folks indigenous or fully acclimated to this island, work according to their own chronometer – a system known as "rubber time."

The Kecak pronounced Ket-check both syllables equally emphasized and in rapid progression, does start pretty close to the time promised on the tickets we bought from a young man dressed in sarong and headscarf on the main street of Ubud though. The version of the Kecak Ramayana dance that we see is one half traditional sacred ritual and one half entertainment for the audience sake. Actually Kecak is the vocalization that accompanies the dance produced by one hundred men chanting in intricate and multi layered patterns most evocative to my western mind of the sound of trains clattering down the track. That is of course assuming that these trains could syncopate poly-rhythms intermixed with long tones, and shouted asides while performing mass Bugsby Berkleyesque choreography. The basic refrain sounds like "check- check- check." This show is also known in English as the Monkey Dance. The chorus, sitting cross legged, forms a large inward facing circle wherein the principle dancers perform the story that is the Ramayana to the rhythmic chanting and synchronized movements surrounding them.

The Ramayana is a Hindu tale involving Rama and Sita, monkey generals leading monkey armies, giants, jesters and your general Hindu caste of thousands told in four parts. The story is as complicated as it is enthralling to watch and is best when allowed to wash over one like a Bali cloudburst accepting the fact that the drenching one receives is refreshing, cleansing and probably just what you need. In the end, as I understood it, the vanquished giant antagonist's lifeless body is prepared for acceptance in heaven by the heroes of the saga. See, the giant wasn't bad – he was just in his nature to be not very good, so his acceptance into the afterlife is presupposed since he was only doing what he was meant to be, and more importantly doing it well.

To be cont…

Monday, February 4, 2008

Jakarta International School - high school

Can you believe it?

Sara and I visited the high school here at the Jakarta International School today. We started the day with an all school assembly performing some of our poems - singing for our supper and hopefully giving the kids a reason to pay attention when we worked with them in their classes.

I can't say for sure that our performance convinced them but I can say the kids I worked with today were a whole bunch of fun. Now of course if your campus looks like theirs it shouldn't be too hard to have a positive attitude.

high school library

the school mascot is the dragon

it's the rainy season and everything is lush and green

in the classroom

and of course...

Flat Stanley is puttin' the moves on the ladies again.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Dim Sum good dumplings

Flat Stanley putting the moves on Hello Kitty store employees at the Taipei Airport

Back home it is 9 in the morning – I haven't a clue what time it is outside the plane right now as we cruise 35,000 feet above the Pacific ocean, my last adjustment to my watch was for LAX where it is 6am. This leg of the trip is a 13 or 14 hour flight. We're on a great big 777 run by EVA Air. If you ever get a chance to fly on an Asian airline, EVA, Thai Air etc take the opportunity and see what deregulation has done to the US air industry. All thanks to St. Ronnie the great deregulator - patron to the rich - that middle class was such a nuisanse anyway.

On the way over to LA, Continental serves us our "meal". An anemically lukewarm turkey club that looks like it is the love child of a white castle slider and an hot pocket straight from the nearest Kwik-E-Mart microwave and a fun size Milky Way bar. We are wedged three abreast in a space as wide as the back seat of a VW Bug so I am leaning into the aisle a wilted sunflower pinching my spine over like a glow stick right before it pops luminescent. Of course since I am listing into the aisle in order to have enough room to breath I get smacked by everyone trying to pass – flight attendant, running kids, and people in walkers headed to the bathroom. It's not quite as bad as a train in Marrakesh but I'm sure the seating charts were based on one. I'm getting grumpy.

Am reading an interesting book that I heard about from Amy Sparks called What is the What – by Dave Eggers. It is a chronicle of a story of one of the lost boys of the Sudan – their trek across desert, forest, against rebels, government soldiers and wild animals ending up in urban Atlanta, Tucson, Arizona and other diaspora splash downs. It is a good book to be reading on a flight such as this – a reminder that others have made much harder journeys – even so, my disposition is flagging. Flat Stanley naively grins on.

In LAX we switch to EVA Air – it is like going from a golf cart to a Mercedes. The seats are a third bigger reclining enough to actually comfortably nap (without dropping into the lap of the person behind you.) You want some extra Karma points? The next time you are on a plane and you are going to recline your seat – look back and warn the person seated to your rear. One time in my life of traveling has someone actually done this for me – an African American gentleman on a flight to San Francisco – I salute you brother traveler and raise my mini glass of orange juice with ice in your honor.

We get to our seats and are given warm towels to refresh ourselves, we are served a real hot meal, given a blanket that might have been stolen from my grandmothers davenport in Collinwood and offered beverages every 20 minutes or so by an attendant who simply quietly walks down the aisle with a tray of juices and water that you may just take at your leisure.

The cost is no more than an US carrier – the service is seven hundred and fifty three bugzillion times better. Do the math jo jo. Oh yeah – I'm typing this with no fear of my laptop battery running out because there is an out let in my seat.

Okay – next stop Taipei – where I'll roust Stanley for another photo op.


Made it here safe and sound – eating dim sum in the EVA lounge! Next stop Indonesia.

putting Jakarta before the horse

So we made it safe and sound. Just had time to meet our hosts and grab a yummy dinner then hit the sack. Now it's almost 4am and I am up - eyes wide like a bush baby. Teaching today and tomorrow at the high school then it's Chinese New Year so we are off to Bali for a couple days then back here to teach at the middle school.

Here are some pics I grabbed on the way in town from the airport.

looks to be a tire store or a garage.

songbirds for sale

indonesian answer to 7-11 with chicken and cats for added flavor

umbrella for the sun - reminiscent of the Kazakhstan photos and the corrugated fenceline, albeit the climate is a bit different.

Flat Stanley is resting for his day at school today.

More to come!

Friday, February 1, 2008

It's a tough life but someone has to do it.

Hector and Flat Stanley helped me drag the bags out. We're (Flat Stanley and I - Hector is staying home with the housesitter) off today for Jakarta and Bali. Should be interesting - it'll be a bit warmer than Kazakhstan - about a hundred degrees warmer!