This One is for the Writers.

This one’s for the writers.

Image via hellogiggles.com

The ones whose lyrics get sung and faces never get seen.The ones who ghost write for our Presidents and our social leaders, but who never get to see the light. Presidents and leaders who don’t remember what it’s like to put pen to paper, to push words out like pushing out new life. Birth. The ones whose work has been plagiarized, and you feel like someone has taken your heart out of its place. You feel violated. Empty.

This is for you.

This one is for the ones who write and write and never get published. Because we’re too radical. Because we’re too “ugly.” Because we’re not “worthy.” This one is for anyone whose words have lifted up and received breath, but by people who never created them in the first place. This is for all the selfless editors, the painstaking men and women who wordsmith and solder for someone else’s name on the byline.

This is for you.

This is for the English professors who have to defend their life work and position everyday and do it spectacularly. This is for the high school literature teachers trying to irrigate deserts with Jhumpa Lahiri and Oscar Wilde. This is for intercity school kids, pouring out Spoken Word like the Holy Spirit, enveloping us with the Truth and the pain and the heartache. This is for anyone who has ears to hear or mouths to speak or pens to write and bleed.

This is for you.

This is for little words with big power, like “I love you.” This is for words that roll off the tongue like creme fraiche, like “ceylon green” and “Shenandoah.” This is for names that make you want to dance in fir tree forests with the smell of earth, like “Caroline,” or the ones that make you remember and say reverently, like “Jeremiah”…or jeremiad. This is for the words that made you cry not at your college commencement, but the giggling bursts said by friends in funny looking hats — the ones which roll and rumble with not Pomp but Circumstance. Chance, Happenstance. Beautiful, lovely words.

This is for you.

This is for every Anonymous who has ever penned something so beautiful, they couldn’t even sign their names because it was like God was speaking for them. (Anonymous always writes the best things). This is for every poet that has ever given heartache a sonata. This is for the ones who are scrawling on toilet paper in prison camps or scraps of milk cartons with pencil stubs, but who hold entire universes inside their souls. This is for the word warriors, the ones who battle gargantuan monsters like racism and discrimination like a strict teacher striking out bad grammar. Just another day to speak the truth in permanent, red ink. The ones who bleed poetry from the mouths and ears, who see it in the banalities of pidgeon holes.

This is for you.

But most of all, this is for You. The One who wrote not just one galaxy, but an entire universe into motion. This is for the One, the original Writer, the Creator, the Architect of words so perfect they spoke Earth. They spoke Heaven. They spoke Love first. He spoke it first, and taught it to us. Students of the Word, students of words, students of word. He made the first nouns and enacted the first verbs, writing in tongues we no longer have the ears to hear the tones. This is for the One who speaks the lull of Mandarin on the lips of an early morning, a baritone of Cantonese to a beaming dusk, Swahili whispers at sunset, Italian lullabies in a sun-dappled afternoon and Hawaiian Pidgin just because He likes it. He is the Unspoken, the Written Unwritten we all want to read. The Library of Congress is an angelic chorus of He is here. If we are doing nothing but breathing, it is still the unavoidable Truth that His grace is sufficient. We write with breath from the dust, for the One who wrote us.

This is for You.

Friends Before Facebook

If you’re waiting for a travel update, it will come. Eventually. When I’m not swamped with applications or small children reading the days of the week correctly. So…eventually but surely.

Image via Mashable.com

Do remember what friendship still sometimes, but always used to mean? Not just the people in college willing to play Settlers of Catan at 2am on a Thursday because you want to, but the kind of friend who will sit next to you in a bathroom after you’ve just tried to commit suicide. The type of friend that wants to know how you’re doing and won’t settle for your BS cheerful smile when you’re tearing up. Do you remember them? It seems this valuable population is getting smaller these days, while our Facebook friends are bursting at the seams. Tell me, out of those 2,000 people on that little blue and white platform, how many do you actually talk to? In person? How many do you actually trust? Most of all, how many are your actual friends?

Today, society’s buzz word is virality. I’m one to talk, since this blog, upon publishing, will be shared with a dozen other of my social networks. It’s thrilling, but when you think about it, kind of strange. Why do I want someone who has no idea about my life know about my travels and innermost thoughts? Why do I want such internet intimacy? Perhaps we lack real friendship and intimacy in our real lives. We care about how we look in that newest selfie, the cousin-of-a-friend’s Newsfeed, and the top Buzzfeed news of the day, but we forget to care about real, everyday, perfectly imperfect people. I’ll be the first to say I’ve failed many times at making friends, but nothing beats the feeling of making a genuine friend In Real Life, not just clicking a little blue square to “add” someone. It’s not about clicking, it’s about loving. Are you willing to love someone outside of the network and off the grid? Then, maybe you’re ready for a real friend.

It’s almost the Christmas season, and homesickness has hit me full in the face. I miss everything I ever took for granted during Chicago polar vortex winters–the Yuan family awkward Christmas photo of the year (honestly, I always look weird in those), YALG dinners, CBCOP church services, and meet-ups with old friends. I even miss the hectic holiday season of too many finals, too much coffee, not enough sleep, praying at ungodly (but godly) hours and those hard-hitting CFC holiday sermons. I miss it all, and honestly, I want it all back. Why? It was so much pain, heartache and endless mistakes. I failed so many people so many times in so many ways. However…it was in college and in CFC that I learned how to love. Not just the sappy sort of aggressive lust you see in rom-com movies, not really, no. I’m talking about the kind of painful, sacrificial love the father character has in Most. I’m talking about hard love, that kind of love that makes us want to lay down our lives for somebody else. It makes absolutely no sense and all the sense in the world.

I’ve shared before about my past with bullies and Regina Georges. If I was as self-righteous as I used to be, I would hate everyone and have no friends. It was true for me once. However, I think C.S. Lewis describes it best when it comes to Eustace Scrubb and his transformation into (and out of) a monster.

“Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.”
C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”

Hate and anguish, whether directed inwards or outwards, can only destroy. It shouts and tears and rends apart, but it does not heal. Healing is something humans are not capable until we think higher. We always seem to have time to complain or curse at people (at least, I know I have), but when was the last time we actually, earnestly cared for someone? Made the time to pray for them or meet with them? When was the last time you were actually a friend? When was the last time you behaved like one?

Last week, I made a lot of apologies. I offended many people. But, something I know I did right was to be honest and speak in truth. Now, I just really need to learn how to speak the truth in love. I hope, starting today, you remember what it means to be a friend.

14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. -Ephesians 4:14-16 ESV

Cheers & Merry Christmas,

S.

Interstellar Love

*WARNING: SPOILERS (Please do not read until you’ve seen the film)*

The following is one Christian’s interpretation of the blockbuster 2014 Christopher and Jonathan Nolan film Interstellar. All thoughts expressed are my own. 

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953

“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” –Cooper, Interstellar, IMDB

STAY

STAY (gif via Tumblr)

Let’s get one thing straight. Interstellar is not a perfect movie, just an incredibly smart, innovative one. While I personally would opt for a more diverse cast to represent the whole of America (for a moment in the theater, I gave a slight fist pump, mistakenly thinking Dr. Mann was Cantonese based on the sound of his last name.), the gracefully written extended metaphors rang true for me. In Interstellar, our distant, dystopic future seems bleak. The world back tracks into corn farming, seemingly letting go of technological advancement to merely pursue basic survival in the midst of starvation. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) plays the part of the bold, brazen NASA astronaut turned farmer out to protect his two children. However, the now underground NASA scientists, in a turn of strange events involving a ghost, recruit Coop as the pilot for their interstellar Lazarus mission headed by the Dr. Brand (Michael Caine).

Alright, enough of the plot summary. What was it about this particular sci-fi film that distinguished itself from other deep space odysseys? I would have to say the profound awareness of love as something tangible and not of this world, yet somehow slightly outside of our complete understanding. As someone who identifies as a Christian, this is the Gospel for me. Tangible, steadfast love seen through often inexplicable series of events. Love that is so fine and gossamer that it cannot possibly be made from rough human hands (though we try, imperfectly to replicate it), but from somewhere else. Despite all of our examination and study of human emotion, do we fully grasp what on earth true love is?

I believe, in many ways, Interstellar not only crosses galaxies, but also crosses minds as a depiction of love so pure we cannot help but pay attention. It relays a love that crosses galaxies. I think for me, that’s who God is. A Father, somewhere in the 5th or even 9th dimension that many other people do not see or believe, but who is, as Murph says, “my ghost.” He’s my Ghost. I was never afraid of Him, just curious and trying to read the signs so mysterious to earthly hands. Strange circumstances, often seen as tribulation or pain, but rising to the surface as another lead in the right direction. Granted, God is not stuck in a bookcase somewhere or put there by “Bolt Beings”…He just was, is, is to come. Perhaps His form of communication is more through Scripture, just one book (but what a book it is). Interstellar convinces us that one finite moment in time can connect in a beautiful, tapestry-like stream woven together by a determined father. For me, this is a beautiful metaphor about how God cares about us. However, God is a perfect version to Coop’s flawed human one, even sacrificing His own Son to change the world. Some might say that Coop is a metaphorical representation of this sacrifice, leaving behind his two children in order to save all of mankind, an anomaly that hurtles through time-space for love. God cries for us, He laughs with us, He misses us. In the middle of hardships, I’m trying to remember that God is a God who cares across time and space. He sees us, even when we feel like He doesn’t.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” -1 John 3:1 ESV

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A father’s love. e(gif via Tumblr)

Wrapped into that sacrificial parent-child bond, the film revels in creating a sense and longing for home. Interstellar may journey into the great unknown, but it is also a journey to find our way back. Like its namesake, the Lazarus project aims to bring people back from the brink of death to find a home among the stars. Dr. Mann, brought back to life from his extended hyper-sleep only to be dead to his humanity. Lazarus, who came back from the dead a verse before the plot to kill Jesus is revealed in the Bible (John 11). These aforementioned examples all express a desire to rise, to come back, to begin again. As humans, we want to start over all the time. Christianity believes just that, that the living God allows us to rise again through His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s not a love that stops searching, but continues to draw us back home, to an interstellar God. If you’re into metaphors, God created a wormhole into heaven by sacrificing His Son. It is a means for us to return home.

“He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”-Matthew 28:6 ESV

As in any great film worth its salt, Interstellar explores the depth and depravity of mankind. We feel the heartache and springs of joy with the crew of the Endurance. The same way, we experience the utter disgust and loathing for Matt Damon’s character, so hell-bent on his own survival and self. Fear is a power all its own (as Nolan covers in Batman), but it is a selfish love that warps human relationships. Mann admits to his cowardice and his weakness, but does nothing to combat it, destroying everyone in his wake (or at least trying to). As much as I detest this character (I actually yelled, “Die, Matt Damon!” in the Luodong theater. My bad, Matt Damon.), I think when I try to operate without God, I end up behaving exactly like him. I fight for my own desires and wants, never acknowledging what it is to love someone else more than myself. In the impenetrable depths of hyper-sleep on a lonely cold planet, living next to “the literal heart of darkness” (Doyle, Interstellar), I sink into selfishness. It’s the easier, human nature choice. I can’t bear my own pain, so why not choose to stop it and cause more for others? I think our natural inclination is not to love God or people, but ourselves. Cooper embodies the exact opposite, “the best of humanity.” (Insert comment about mainstream media and diversity/equality here…but that’s another story). He will do just about anything for his children, even when time passes differently. Love defines us, refines us, and makes us that much more like God…willing to give it all up for the sake of someone else’s salvation.

Image via ghantaguy.wordpress.com

Image via ghantaguy.wordpress.com

I could write about Interstellar for ages because it’s one of those movies that sticks to your ribs, something hardy and worthwhile. To be honest, it really strengthened my Christian faith. I felt like Murph growing up. I didn’t know my Father, and I desperately searched for Him. In the eleventh hour, I called out, and He answered. You might vehemently disagree, but I can’t explain this kind of love that crash landed into my life…something with gravity, with weight.

He’s my (Holy)Ghost.

cooper

Image via Tumblr, Muukalaiskana.

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”–John 8:32 ESV

Ode To Chicago (A Culture Shock and Home Sick Piece)

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I miss you city of wind and wild things,

City of cold steel and crystal clear mornings.

I miss your Midwestern hugs,

so tight they knock the soul right back into you,

Airplanes bustling in and out of O’Hare,

the sound of never-sleeping, but always coming home.

I miss your pizza.

None of this thin crust papery nonsense,

but layers of polish sausage, extra Malnati’s sauce on the side,

heavy on the butter crust,

leaving me feeling like a pizza can really love you.

I miss you, Chicago.

Smooth city, some kind of troubled city,

city with the Sears Tower, never Willis.

You are the beating of a rocket-fueled heart,

Your polar vortexes a reminder to slow down and stay awhile,

somewhere warm where love lives.

I love your coldness,

the way your icicles glint and shimmer,

making garages look like kingdoms.

I miss you for your “polite” drivers,

no scooter driving on sidewalks, at least,

speed like sweet breeze and the drone of the AC,

radio blasting as if tomorrow needed a wake-up call.

I am that jade jazz giant,

halfway between home and somewhere not-so,

Not knowing who exactly I can be, but singing the blues all the way

  home.

So, remember me.

Like Oak Park block parties and “Oh, Lord” neighbors,

Like biking my Scwhinn down Green St. racing the sunlight,

Like “through the garden” Chicago dogs eaten at Wrigley,

memories so sweet I have a heartache.

Remember,

Remember,

Remember that I love you, Chicago.

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All photos are my own.

~S.

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The Perks of Being A (Reformed) Wallflower

The world is a big place, and I always felt so very small.

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Credits for photograph to Samantha Freitag

Not going to lie, I grew up painfully shy. Timid as can be, this particular trait, coupled with a serious case of crying at the drop of a hat, caused me great social anguish early in life. However, now an elementary school teacher, I’ve definitely spanned the full spectrum, from standoffish to…standout? Meaning, I’m basically teaching (shouting) in front of at least 75 to 100 kids per day. Last week, I had an incident with a fourth grade class due to ignorance. The basic thought behind the loud yelling was “You’re not American because you’re Chinese-looking. You look like you’re Asian, so speak Chinese.”

At first, I felt like this after class:

Image via Idealist Career.

Seriously, why? Why were these kids being rude and obnoxious during class, while I’m talking about Thanksgiving? I didn’t do anything to deserve this, etc, [insert self-pitying, exaggerated commentary here.] After venting in a FB status, my friend Matt offered me his own Multicultural America powerpoint as a suggestion to make the situation a teachable moment. Looking through the creative content, I based my own Prezi on his fun “Who is the American?” cultural activity.

Take a look at Multiculturalism in America. Or, if you’re too busy for that (really?), at least take the time to watch this pretty insightful Coke commercial.

After the disconcerting incident at first, I’ve been playing “Who’s the American?” with all my cultural classes in the mornings. They’re learning how not to judge people by the color of their skin, but as MLKJ would say, by the content of their character. It’s been a whirlwind journey, coupled with blood, sweat and tears, but with more than my fair share of laughter and proud Mama moments.

The classes give me so much work to do, but work I embrace with gusto. As crazy as it sounds, I do love these kids who are sometimes rude, but always curious. With speech competition season in full swing, I’ve been writing, editing and rehearsing story speech scripts like the crazy poet lady I was destined to be. I’m looking forward to what else my kids have for me.Whatever it is, I’m ready.

~S.

When You Get The Love You Think You Deserve.

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A break from our regularly scheduled programming to talk about courage.

If I must confess, I was a low self-esteem junkie. You get a strange sort of rush acknowledging the hate that surrounds you in catacomb mouths of taunting children. While the optimistic may deem this nervousness fight or flight, I prefer to think of it as eat or be eaten. I remember being pitted against other girls in gladiator-esque fights while a patron older girl laughed, repeated kicks to the stomach just to see if I would succumb to pain and the ever present fear of being deserted. Attack or risk broken bones and bruised flesh, the metallic tang of defeat against your teeth. I don’t remember ever feeling completely comfortable in my skin as a child.

I grew up in corn fields and plains flatter than roads can reach. Kansas, Iowa, then an oasis gap in Maryland before moving down south to Arkansas. Coveted beauty reflected the rustic scenery, with flaxen-haired girls batting cyan irises.  A visitor once asked why the people weren’t as nice and kind as the churches looked. A peer once asked a teacher to tell me my outfits were hideous. A girl wouldn’t stop laughing and mocked me as I wept from bullying. (The teacher did nothing.) People announced I would never attract a lover– far too hideous, too nerdy, too squinty-eyed and yellow. Hours spent huddled in reading nooks away from lunchrooms. The click of cameras and snickers in noisy gym changing rooms, the resultant shame in my own body, my own skin. Pleasure in binge-eating, hours of television, running…anything to block out the sound of just not belonging.

“Chink.”
“Fugly. Mugly, even, she needs a muzzle.”
“Go home.”

Hate is not something you can run away from. After a near breakdown in middle school, it was difficult to distinguish reality from paranoia. I thought people in the hallway were talking behind my back. What made my suspicions worse was when reality actually cut in–many of my paranoid thoughts came true. “Friends” who told me I could never amount to anything. Bullies who dared to only whisper behind seats in architecture class. “Fugly hermaphrodite toad.” Of course, never forget the body shaming. “Have you seen her eyes? She looks like she’s been punched…permanently.” It’s funny, despite being in my dream job in a faraway location, how stubbornly these memories stick to you. At the time, death sounded like it would become me.

Silence. Stillness. Not even pleasure, I gave up hope for that, but just hung onto the the thought of not being bullied. I entertained jumping, electrocution and choking. Drowning, downing pills or simply wasting away. My mind became a bizarre factory for frantic nightmares. Household items morphed into possible weapons.No place was safe, especially in my mind.

Then, there was God. I know my story is not special or alienated by extremity or type… but God. I was so downtrodden and ready to die…but God. No one loved me…but God. It was all hopeless…but God. I wish I could do this story more justice, to tell you what it was like to actually have an encounter with Christ, yet I do believe it’s one of those things you have to see for yourself. Perhaps, for you, it won’t be bright lights or sunrises. Perhaps for you, like me, it will be a struggle through dark tunnels and caves, yearning for a glimpse of light as faint as a distant star.

If God can speak through broken hearts and the broken body of Christ, what makes you think he wouldn’t speak through yours? (Credits to Oswald Chambers for that one.)

The best part is that the Christian life doesn’t end in brokenness, at least not mine. It’s more of an ongoing mending. I rip, I tear, I mess up things. Then, God.

When people scoff about how antiquated they think Christianity is or how dumb Christians are, I want to tell them that if I didn’t read the Bible, I would have killed myself. If I didn’t know how to pray, I would have taken that bottle of painkillers or worse. If God didn’t reach into my life and comfort me, I would have completely shut down. You see, most people don’t realize that God’s love is made to last and all Christians are sinners of all sorts. Liars, cheaters, prostitutes, pimps and drug dealers. Imperfect people worshiping a perfect God, so no wonder the view gets distorted sometimes. We were made to reflect Perfect Love as fallen people.

When you get the love you think you deserve, you tend to get less. I believed I didn’t deserve any love, so I received nothing. I didn’t even want to look at myself, let alone like anything.

When you gain the love you don’t deserve, everything changes. Perhaps heaven opening up for you is just one day of no negative thoughts. One day of no discrimination or racial slurs. One day of no domestic violence. One moment of peace.

For me, God is all of those things. When you gain the love you don’t deserve, you gain God.

Nothing’s better than that.

Psalm 136:1-16ESV

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

to him who alone does great wonders,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who by understanding made the heavens,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who made the great lights,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
11 and brought Israel out from among them,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
13 to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
15 but overthrew[a] Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
16 to him who led his people through the wilderness,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

That Taizhong Life

The weekend before the craziness of school, we jumped ship and went south to a little city called Taizhong (Taichung).

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We promised one of our (former) soldier boy James (aka Mama Giraffe) that we would visit his hometown. His amazing family put us all up in their wonderful flat for an entire weekend. 龍龍, James’ adorable little pup, also welcomed us into their beautiful home.

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We began the journey with some color, in a little known blogger hotspot called Rainbow Village. The gorgeous, vibrant environment reflected our own crazy personalities in the Yilan group. The fact that a street performer dressed like an artistically inclined Iron Man made a guest appearance to brighten our day. The painted streets and obvious backdrops turned everyone into supermodels for the afternoon. That, the terrific lighting and our high spirits added up to an amazing conglomeration of joy.

baobei bears footprints

bridges

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bff Kerry

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Dazzled by the beautiful colors and the refreshing breeze so foreign to those of us usually drenched in humidity, we traipsed into the city for a spot of dessert. Oh, but not just any dessert. A classy ice cream establishment inside a refurbished bank…that type of fancy. Actually, we originally wanted to go to the first shop, which was modeled after an optometry hospital…but the line was ridiculous. We luckily just gleaned the line for the second shop and avoided the queue craziness.

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Ice cream making, especially waffle shell making, is a technical affair here.DSC_0324

The line we barely missed by coming just 20 minutes beforehand…mwahaha.icecream

Don’t let my photograph fool you…I may have gotten all fruit flavors and sorbets, but Barry had 3 scoops of chocolate, varying countries of origin and percentages (of course), that we shared…noms.

The grand finale, of course, were the Gao Mei Wetlands. Astonishing what a little water, windmill action and sand can do on a sunset. What a number.

amigos emi look

Kenyamodels

As the sun glinted off the wetlands and launched us into dusk, my travel companions whisked us away with lulling laughter and chatter. At our closing bbq, thanks to Mama Giraffe, I couldn’t help but think the highlight of the trip wasn’t any specific sight, but were in fact the beautiful people.

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I love you guys. ^___^

Earnest Thoughts from a Young Teacher

Image courtesy of Key & Peele.

Image courtesy of Key & Peele.

There are some days when even getting out of bed sounds like an insurmountable feat.
There are some days when you could jump out of bed from sheer excitement. Most of my days so far have been spent dragging my feet in bedsheets, dreading the morning light because it brings on the weight of responsibility and dashed expectations. While I respect the past ETAs for sharing their thoughts on Yilan teaching, I sometimes believe only the best and brightest moments were documented on their blog, as they should. However, I do not share this mentality of merely glorifying schools, as future ETAs might benefit from some no-frills, no-nonsense reality. Fulbright teaching is my dream job, but that doesn’t mean it comes without a price or a pound of flesh.

ETA-ship is hard. Your LET might let you teach, they might not. You might have a substitute who stakes her claim in student minds for a month, terrifying them with bi-weekly exams and dreadfully boring lessons relying on horrible CD songs. For the record, CD song company, English speakers sing songs about normal topics, not about mothers confusing their children with fleeting emotions (though perhaps that might make an interesting ballad) or incorrect math equations. Further, you cannot treat children like robots. Listening to the same nonsensical song 50 times in a week will make them despise English and you. I honestly don’t understand  how a teacher expects her students to react after playing the same God forsaken monstrosity for the umpteenth time in a row. They will not suddenly develop respect for you, nor will they find you more intriguing if you let them scream and yell under the guise of “expressing English feelings.” A classroom is an environment in which both the teacher and students deserve to learn.

Further, your LET might go off the deep-end. We have heard some horror stories about LETs terrifying their class into submission. Teachers have used everyday teaching aids as projectiles against students. Others shout at or embarrass students until they cry. Perhaps I’m less of a disciplinarian than most, but I think psychologically damaging a child hurts more than it encourages. Further, some LETs have abused their rights as a co-teacher. ETAs tell of certain teachers who demonstrate clear signs of mental disorder, often screaming at their co-teachers or wrongfully accusing them. Some are just plain racist. Bad teachers, it appears, rear their ugly heads no matter what culture they reside in. Others, of course, fall on the exact opposite of the spectrum. LETs take on their co-teachers like their own family, accompanying them to restaurants or bbq with them on national holidays. Some go hiking or give you a taste of Taiwanese family life by just hanging out with you on the weekends. My LET even took me on a workshop on international education at a local junior high school. It’s kind of like marriage, I suppose. There are good times, there are bad times. There are times when you want to bash your head into a wall.

You will survive on the smallest of kindnesses. A care package sent by a loving friend. A postcard from Boston. Updates from your small group back home. Communion taken in your newfound church home as a broken child of God. You will weep as if the ground could sprout trees from your tears, as if you could collect salt from every droplet. But, oh, you will also laugh until you shake. You will giggle and snort until you feel like you will explode from joy. I’m not going to pretend and say that being an ETA is easy, but I do not hesitate and tell you that it will be everything you make of it.

Reality toes the line between your highest flung dreams and your darkest nightmares. Some moments lay outside of your grasp on the cloudy edge of hopelessness. Others pull you in and remind you what it means to take hold of your faith and know that some things, some dreams, some kids, are worth fighting for. Those are the times you shine the brightest.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” [Romans 5:1-10 ESV]

Despite the fearsome paths we tread, in the face of dire situations and great evil manifested in ordinary clothing, we know this to be true. Kids deserve the best. They deserve us at our best. Further, it DOES NOT MATTER WHERE THEY COME FROM. I am sick of teachers and even parents putting students down because they are poor or need special care. It only matters how big their dreams are and how much they want it. It’s up to teachers to show them how much they are capable of.

As teachers, we have a chance to be somebody’s best friend, a parent and, to some, a superhero dressed as Clark Kent. The more we discourage our students, the more we become their Kryptonite and their greatest weakness. In many ways, we just need to do our jobs, but we must also find a means to encourage students out of the stereotypes that inhibit them. It’s not about us. It’s all about finding light in dark places.

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” [James 3:1]

I guess it really comes down to one thing only. Why are you teaching? What is your purpose? Is it to glorify yourself? Is it to terrify someone “under” you? Or is it to foster the future? Like it or not, we’re doing just that.

The future stares us in the face everyday, and they call us teacher.

Thoughts on School Mornings

Time to get up...

Time to get up… (all credits to Animal Care College & Grumpy Cat)

  • This alarm is ruining my favorite song.
  • What do you mean that was my third alarm?
  • AHHHHHH-I’m late-I’m late-I’m late
  • Gah, dragon breath needs to die a Colgate death.
  • Do I have time for breakfast?
  • I can be late because of breakfast, right?
  • Why is the toaster making that mysterious ticking noise?
  • I unplugged it and it still ticks…what the…

10 minutes later…

  • I should wash my face. *splashes water haphazardly*
  • I should comb my hair. *shrugs*
  • I’m ready!
  • Where’s my phone? *runs back inside*
  • Did I turn off the A/C? *runs back inside*
  • I left the powerstrip on, noooo…. *runs back inside*

Another 5 minutes later…

  • I press the elevator button right before our floor…and it skips it.
  • It proceeds to go up passed my floor 20 levels…and back down again.
  • I wait longer than it would take me to just take the stairs.
  • I finally scoot to school! Huzzah!
  • Remember that awkward time I had to adjust my skirt during a light, forgetting there are other scooters behind me? Me too, me too.
  • SUCCESS! The finish line emerges at Cheng Gong Elementary.

Time to do that just a few more times this week. =___=’

Happy Monday, students and teachers!

Best Kept Secrets at Cheng Gong Elementary School

Thought I’d leave a post for the next ETA stationed at my elementary. I figure if we build on previous ETA knowledge, we could avoid quite a few awkward situations while simultaneously enjoying our experiences here. Just my two cents on the issue. For those of you based in Taiwan as ETAs now, I’m sure you can relate to several of these points. Perhaps they’ll inspire your own survival guide to the newbies next year. One can only hope, eh?

chenggong

Waiting to explore Nan’Ao

  • If you forget to make your 7-11 or Family Mart coffee run in the morning, there is 30NT (10centUSD) coffee in the teacher’s lounge on the first floor. However, this is legit rocket fuel, so BYO sugar and cream. Or you know, you might like it black and very, very dark roast.
  • Participate in Teacher’s Day activities. We danced to this popular Chopstick Brothers song called 小蘋果 (Little Apple). With costumes. No joke, even the principal did it because Cheng Gong is awesome sauce.
  • Make sure you go on at least one field trip. Sure, you might not know the class very well, but you get to hang out with the kids for a whole day, not to mention take part in the fun activities. Hiking, making food, you name it.
  • There is one seated toilet located in the 3rd floor girls bathroom, first accessible stall on the right. All the others are squatty potties, so make sure you really have your, um, “technique” down if you know what I mean. Squatties are so very tricky sometimes.
  • Your LET tends to travel a lot, so be prepared for alternative classes and teachers to teach with. Keep your eyes peeled for side projects if she’s away on a longer trip.
Students on a recent field trip to Nanao.

Learning about sustainable living.

  • Incorporate art and music into your lessons. For the younger kids pure enjoyment,  you might even want to add some dancing as well. The second graders and I have a blast with the “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes” song. My LET wants me to do it with the older grades, but I’m thinking I’ll try the Cup Song with them. Awka-awesome.
  • This one’s another bathroom tip: go first thing in the morning or in-between class periods. During the first and last periods of the day, students tend to clean the stalls. Talk about uncomfortable environments to relieve yourself in. Not fun, especially when the Taiwanese version of cleaning bathrooms involves drenching the entire floor in water. You do not want to slip on that floor. Death by squatty? No thank you.
  • Apparently, Cheng Gong hires a pizza truck once in a while. That’s right. A PIZZA TRUCK. Where you can make pizza…it’s a dream come true. Unfortunately, it comes today when I have Fulbright workshop, but be sure and make pizza at least once. I had it with the sixth graders on their field trip and it is truly the best pizza you’ll ever DIY in Taiwan.
  • Do not fall into the trap of eating school lunch every day. Sure, it’s free and semi-tolerable, but there are several restaurants in the area which do a speedy and delicious job. There’s pasta, Japanese food and a curry place (I think). I think I got sick from school food two days ago, so it’s always good to take a break.
  • There’s a bunch of free food in the office after Ghost Month. People tend to pick their favorite foods for offerings, so they can eat it later. I kind of have some qualms with this (since I’ m Christian), but there are plenty of snacks if you’re hungry and not easily spooked by sacrificial ghost food.
  • Get involved in an activity. Apparently, there’s yoga lessons and calligraphy club here, so I’m definitely getting involved. I think there’s badminton in the gyms at night too, so it’s time to get active!
  • There’s nap time everyday for everyone. So get your zzz’s right after lunch. Noms and yawns galore.
  • If you look at swing dance pictures from events, make sure there are no cabaret shots. So awkward when your clean-up kids come and there’s a picture of a risque lookin’ dancer up on your screen. Further, the firewall’s here are super vigilante, and they will even block music websites (8tracks) if they think there’s inappropriate content. So get your computer act together, people!

I’ll probably post one of these every two weeks or so, depending on what other secrets I can unveil at Cheng Gong.

Hope your Wednesday is full of good food and laughter. ^  ^

S.