Monday, October 31, 2011

Peking Duck and Cover

Wandered around Nan Louguxing Street in search of a mechanical fish. Our friend and hostess Trish the librarian has an amazing tin toy fish on her coffee table and I asked her where she got it. “I knew you were going to ask me that,” she said.  So she drug these two poets down to a really hep little part of Beijing – the Hou Hai district.

sweetpotato buy001

We purchased the fish – careful to be sure it worked before paying for it – a good thing because only one of the three in stock was operational. We lunched at a Vietnamese place called Nuage and then, that evening had a roast duck dinner with John and Nadine – the rest of the triumvirate of librarians who are responsible  for our visit here to the smoggy capital of China.


robot 2001




The astounding whale eating fish

Stay tuned, more to come…

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Taxis, Pearls, Street Fights, and holes in the ground to pee in.

Okay -
Sunday morning here in Beijing – the 12 hour time change has got us waking pretty early so I have already walked to the vegetable market and made juice from my purchase – several carrots the size of dining room table legs something that looked like fat spinach, three tomatoes, a stalk of two foot long celery, four apples and a hunk of ginger - the whole lot, fresh from the farm, cost me about two bucks.

street fight001

Yesterday we worked in the morning getting together our lessons and presentations for the coming week at the Western Academy of Beijing and the International School of Beijing. Then in the early afternoon Trish collected us and we cabbed to the pearl market where she introduced Sara to her favorite jewelry maker Cheryl. Now I am not a jeweler aficionado by any means – but I know a deal when I see one and the pearl markets in china are a bargain and a half. Unfortunately, in switching lenses on my camera I messed up and turned the auto focus off and everything taken is too fuzzy to discern – so take my word for it – it’s a bustling flea market kind of place with enough pearls to fill an Olympic swimming pool. Needless to say Sara walked away with about seven pounds of stuff for herself and gifts to pass out when we return.

street fight002

Before going into the place – a five or six story warehouse type building divided into shops and stalls – mostly named for the woman who is running the establishment, Lisa’s, Cheryl,s, Connie’s etc etc - we stopped for a quick lunch at a small restaurant across the street.

I had a very nice bowl of hot and sour soup, Sara ordered some fried dumplings and Trish got a plate of sautéed greens and garlic – once the food arrived we realized we all liked what the other had ordered so we just shared everything and had a fine nosh. It was here I got to experience that charming overseas custom of peeing into a hole in the ground. The bathroom consisting of a slot in the floor with a small open drain. Not a problem for a guy – but I do wonder how a western woman would approach the situation the first time. I also wonder if it was really necessary to hang the sign warning “NO BOWEL MOVEMENTS ALLOWED”.

bike repair001

We ran into a little excitement as we crossed the street from lunch into the pearl market as there was a little dust up between a couple guys. Something Trish assured us was a popular pastime in Beijing – arguing in the street with an audience. I grabbed a couple quick shots of the combatants and it was then, switching back to a different lens that I messed up the focus thing. I didn’t catch it until taking shots of the mobile bicycle repair gal you see here.


So that’s it from day three in Beijing – I’ll keep you posted.

Great Wall vid

Found my way around the firewall - as promised here's a vid of our visit to the great wall.

A really really really good wall

Okay so Sara and I are here in Beijing getting ready to start a two week stint at the Western Academy of Beijing and the International School of Beijing. we’ve come in early a couple days ahead of time in order to get our brains accustomed to the 12 hour time change.


I don’t want to jinx things by saying that we are getting used to this long distance international travel – but I think we are getting used to this long distance international travel. Of course being greeted by a hostess as gracious as Trish McNair – the middle school librarian at WAB and her intrepid driver Mr. Tsi makes things a whole lot easier.

We arrive with no drama, I wander off and find a sim card for our travel phone and Trish (bearing Starbuck Lattes) finds Sara. Nothing to it. Boom shaka laka we are cruising down the road headed to the city. Beijing is much flatter than a lot of the major cities I have visited in Asia, at least so far in my experience here. It reminds of a Midwestern city in the states more than a coaster metropolis with skyscrapers and neon. The streets are wide and there is no sense of claustrophobia that one might experience in New York City, Hong Kong, or Singapore.


We visit the teachers we are going to be working with the next week for a couple hours. A luxury that we find invaluable. It is so nice to have the opportunity to speak with the folks whose classrooms we are are going to be sharing beforehand – kudos Trish, this was a brilliant idea.

After we are settled with the crew at school we jump in Mr. Tsi’s car and he drives us out to the great wall of China. We speed along the Changjin highway for a bit then navigate onto smaller roads, through orchards and stone masonries, beeping at cycle carts and mopeds as we pass. We enjoy reading the Chinglish signs, my favorite showing a crossed out cigarette reading “Fobit the Flame” Sara favored one which spelled the word closely as clowsley.


Mr. Tsi drops  us off at the foot of the great wall where we have lunch at a converted school house that now is a restaurant and art studio. We have a wonderful repast of pumpkin soup, pasta and lamb curry while our driver  goes to the back of the joint where he picks up his lunch which he takes back to the car. I pass this driver/guide part of the restaurant as I head to restroom and I see several seated around wood tables and benches eating giant bowls of what looks to be some pretty delicious soup. I overheard a guide seated at a table near us tell her clients that the restaurant provided free food to those who dropped their charges there for meals. She said it was simple food – I was kind of wishing I had ordered it, but those of you who know me know I am a soup head.


After filling our bellies we take the two-seater ski lift type cable car up to the wall ( a bit harrowing) and slide back down on a toboggan.  The slide down was rather disappointing because of a lady in front of us who road her brakes the whole way down so that by time we reached the bottom there were 26 grumbling folks piled behind her.

Even though the ride down from the wall was not as exciting as I had hoped I still have great wall height hopes for the rest of our visit here. I’ll post a video of our excursion once I find a way around the other great wall here in china – that great firewall that blocks YouTube.


Monday, October 10, 2011




White strips of rags

Dangle and wave attached to the tips of bamboo rods

Knuckle jointed

Fifteen feet long

One grasped in each sinewy hand

Of the Vietnamese duck man

As he steers this hungry flock

From one rice paddy to the next

Eating the insects that would wish

To snack on

Fresh green shoots

Quacking foul and boisterous as

Traffic in a Hanoi roundabout

The face of a clock

Reading quarter past ten

His arms soaring forward

As if outstretched wings

The birds nested in the center

Of the walking flock are of little concern

To the leather weathered skinned duck man

It is the outliers that he eyes

From beneath his straw non la

Those few who would rather snap at the muslin scraps

Than attend to the task at hand

Just as one is gently tapped back in at the right

Another attempts to escape to the left

Dreaming of pastures not within the constrictions

Of this day's curriculum

And every good tender of livestock knows

One never plays favorites


How can he help but admire

Those who push at the edges

The ones

Who make him work

The hardest?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Singapore was fine and I ain’t lion

lion001Currently I am  hurtling through space at 478 mph 30,000 feet above the earth somewhere off the west coast of Norway  outside it is minus 57 degrees Celsius and I have eight and three quarter hours before I touch down in the United states.  As chilly as it may be outside of this plane I will certainly harbor warm feelings toward the kids and teachers I met at Singapore American School. I don’t care how cliché I may sound. Remember kids - I am a professional here – I am allowed to break the rules. So, like the Singapore Merlion, allow me to gush a bit.


The past three weeks have been one of the best residencies I have participated in since bubble001going fulltime as a teaching artist over  a half dozen years ago. Lots and lots of credit goes to Dr. Nancy Johnson and the whole eighth grade Reading and Language Arts department at SAS. This was the epitome of an author/consultant visit. Here’s the formula: Each Monday Sara and I  started with an assembly program that focused on a different facet of our classroom workshops – sharing examples of our and other’s work highlighting some of the strategies we would be teaching – imagery, metaphor, word choice and oral presentation. For some of the audience this was a precursor for others a review – read on and you’ll see how.



Then the rest of the week we divided and conquered one of the three  teams of RLA teachers which consisted of a pair of of teachers who taught five classes between them. Two as solo instructors and one as a duet. This meant Sara and I saw each class two times during the week tag-teamed the shared class and then started the pattern again with a new dynamic duo the next week. (It really isn’t as complicated as it sounds in print) So – every eight grader saw three different assemblies and participated in four workshops. I know having this much time with the kids and teachers made all the difference in the world. This is a unique arrangement  but if I am ever asked what makes for a successful visit I will always refer to this model as a gold standard.




It was so cool to see the kids employing strategies that Sara taught them the day before while I was teaching my workshops and then taking my lessons into their next session with Sara. We developed a writer’s vocabulary that we shared during our classes and we got to know many of the kids by name and even almost figured out the block schedule before it was time for us to go.




Of course this couldn’t happen without teacher buy in. Thanks so much to Nancy, Brian, Crystal, Scott, Erin, Rebecca and Brenda for letting a couple crackpot poets loose on their classrooms. I know a lot of schools might think they could not get away with such a schedule – but I really believe we got some super work done and didn’t fall behind at all of classroom goals. Plus, I know Sara and I learned a lot, pushed ourselves and are better teachers for the experience.



Honestly – this one is going to be hard to top. At least until the next time…


as promised kiddo – you made my blog

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Singapore Jungle biking addendum

Okay – I was having trouble getting this uploaded earlier:

Singapore week two

sing001Okay – our second week of work at the Singapore American School was as rousing a success as our first. We collaborated with the B-side students  this week (don’t think these kids are the flipside of any hit singles though) they shared an enthusiasm only rivaled by the A siders one floor below. The upcoming week we will work our way to the top of the floors and inflict ourselves upon the C-siders.

sing002It is really a pleasure to get to know the kids a little better than we usually have the opportunity. Sara and I are both meeting with each class for two hour and twenty minute sessions. Four contacts! And it’s so heartening to see them employ strategies we’ve taught in prior sessions when participating in later workshops. This is an excellent model for getting the most out of a couple teaching artists. Again, kudos to Dr. Nancy Johnson and the whole eight grade RLA team. We will certainly miss you when we leave.

sing003On a side note – one of the A side teachers, Brian Arleth, took me into the rainy jungles of the city for some biking. Mud, roots, monkeys, lizards, a capella singing, flat tires, long climbs, arm-hair raising descents and a lot of sweat later he returned me safely to the pavement of the city and a dip in his pool.

Some boys we came across when popping out of the jungle into a park biking around Singapore.