Asian Hope

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Just when I think I’ve seen it all …

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As I opened the gate this morning (at around 7), I noticed a very odd sight. Checking left and right, there was nobody on the road as far as I could tell. Normally this road would be loaded with bicycles, motos, cars and trucks.

Was it  another holiday that I’d forgotten about? No.

Far down the concrete road, in the direction of school, I saw the reason. There was a large herd of cattle struggling to get between two cars that were parked on either side of the road. They had created a log jam.

As the beasts continued to lumber on by the cars, they started to fan out. In a matter of another half minute, they were scattered across the road and the floodgates opened. Motos blasted through first, with cars, and bicycles behind.

They were still a ways down the road, but closing fast. I took cover. Just another day in rurally urban Phnom Penh Tmei.

This is an emergency !

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Made ya look!

Actually, I was inspired by the writing of one of my students to do that. It’s a prank. And pranks actually have some value.The assignment was to write a paragraph which included a main idea (to be placed in the last sentence) and three supporting details. This student NAILED it! Such a creative literary work. One of the best I’ve seen.


                If you are touching this paper, you should know that I found it in the trashcan with cockroaches crawling all over it. I’m just kidding! The reason why I said that was that is because that is what pranks do to you. It wakes you up when like when popcorn pops. I walked around half awake and my friends pulled a prank on me and it got my attention. I was like a turtle coming out of its shell. Prank pulling is an activity that uses people’s imagination.  If people are looking for ways to be creative, this should be their way. To me, this world is a harsh world and it would probably be more interesting this way. When I am bored, I always find ways to get myself entertained, but most of the time, I can only think of watching TV. I usually Google what to do, but then I think about pranks and it keeps me entertained. I just spent the whole day thinking of pranks without being bored. By the way, if you just finished reading this paragraph, then you are about to get punched. I’m still joking! Well, prank pulling is really enjoyable to me.

Neck problems in Cambodia? You may have HSS

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Some time ago, I sat with my good friend, Dareth Ly, comparing notes on our perceptions of the Cambodian way of life. We laughed, shook our heads, and probably should have cried at some of the things we’ve seen here.

I want to focus on the fact that we spent some time shaking our heads. Actually, we spent a great deal of time shaking our heads. In fact, I sensed that Dareth was in pain each time he DID shake his head. As a result, I have come to the unscientific conclusion that my friend exhibits the signs of (what I am hereby declaring to be) HSS – Head Shaking Syndrome.

I’ve noticed it before in other expats who live here, and some who have gone from here. Yet, in those cases, the extent of the HSS was not nearly as pronounced as in Dareth’s case. It wasn’t until I noticed his extreme cranial twitching that I was able to make the association. The world of psychology, chiropractics and related quackery should take note of what I am suggesting. I am boldly making the assertion that overexposure to life in Cambodia will result in a major pain in the neck, which is a direct result of shaking your head too much.

In my clinical study of Mr. Ly, I have noted that he has been here far longer than most other expats. He arrived in the mid-nineties, and has seen every cultural oddity that exists. Others, who merely suffer mildly from HSS, have simply not had sufficient exposure to warrant the diagnosis of full-blown HSS.

To be fair, I have heard from others who oppose my theory (I’ll just call it a fact), by saying there are other causes which lead to the neck pain I’ve referred to. They would argue that years of going back and forth over primitive roads here on motos or land cruisers has jarred their necks to the point of having chronic neck pain. Of course, these notions are unsubstantiated and smack of envy over my astute scientific breakthrough. Let them say what they will.

Dareth has confirmed to me that he has spent YEARS shaking his head. Shaking his head at the site of overloaded trucks topped with piles of passengers; at unbelievable methods of taking care of medical problems; at the interesting ways that cars – or any OTHER mechanical devices are “repaired”, at . . . I could go on, but my neck hurts.

You Know You’re Too Busy When . . .

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Yesterday evening, I received an email from the office that cinnamon rolls would be served this morning at 9 am. I wanted to mark it as unread to make SURE that I didn’t miss out on this most cherished of events. As anyone who knows me, it doesn’t take much to make me content or overjoyed. I often repeat the old saying, it’s the little things in life.

Examples of such little things would include a cup of coffee; a student who suddenly “gets it”; a student who laughs at my stupid jokes; when I drive through the city without hitting a single moto . . .  I could go on.

So, the simple cinnamon roll was the thing that gave me renewed joy throughout the evening. I’m quite sure that I had some wonderful dreams throughout the night, as well. I just can’t PROVE it, though, because I never can remember my dreams. Unless they involve falling off a cliff into a pool of piranhas or something. On the way to school I was utterly oblivious to the wonderful reflex-challenging moto drivers cutting in front of me at every opportunity. Again, simply because of my focus on those gooey delights.

And so the day began with our regular class devotional time, which was followed by a long speech by myself to the class on what we would be doing for the day. Essentially, we would be doing some semi-final preparations for our BIG Bible play. We had boxes to spray paint and props to design. We had boxes of costumes to pilfer through and walls to paint.

Before I knew what was happening, I was running around like a chicken that wished its head would get chopped off. Some of the more mature students were outside by themselves spray painting. Some of the boys were making props in the classroom, while others were lining up Zenya bottles along the walls. Still others were cleverly acting like they were doing something, when I know full well they were not. I opted for the old, Don’t ask, Don’t tell policy.

At some unknown point during this flurry of activity, I swear that I had seen a blur (resembling my wife) go by and set 2 cinnamon rolls on my desk.

My fingers hurt from typing right now, and I sense that whatever readers have made it this far, are about to check out – so I’ll try to bring this to a close.

At some point after lunch, approaching 1 pm, I joined my wife for coffee and cinnamon rolls in the quiet, sanctuary known as the staff lounge. Lesley Weiss was there, too. She was lying down on the sofa and appeared to be near comatose. “How ya doin’ Lesley?”

She mustered her strength to turn her head, and she raised her limp hand a few inches from the floor as she smiled just a bit. Not sure if she even said anything. We were both in our happy places.

It’s the little things in life.

The Road Realm Mystery

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My wife and I witnessed a moto collision today.

It happened right before our eyes as the light we were waiting at changed from red to green. It was at a very congested intersection close to Russian Market. Just before the incident, we had been slow to move forward after the light change, for the simple reason that we had to allow the swarming motos on either side of our vehicle fill in the vacuum of space between the front of our car and the intersection.

And for all of her efforts at being the first to blindly push past the crowd, the unwitting young woman was awarded the opportunity to plow right into a numbskull and his two unfortunate riders. They had rolled the dice and blown through their red light and into this “winner’s” moto with a sickening crunch.

The human mind is astonishingly fast. I could tell from the corners of my eyes that the trajectories and speeds would result in a collision. I actually said, “BOOM!” as they made contact. Not that I wanted it to happen, but – it was just sort of a reflex.

It’s been bothering me for a long time now that moto drivers in Phnom Penh drive the way they do. I’ve dubbed it, The Road Realm Mystery. I’m hoping someone might read this and be able to solve or explain this mystery to me. Maybe someone who really understands human psychology can answer it. Or someone who thinks they’re tapped in to the psyche of these Khmer moto-fools.

Truly, there appears to be zero sense of caution among this group – NONE. It is a game of positioning on the road – that much I understand, and I have adapted accordingly. So, the moto dudes have this hard-wired programming they developed as children on the roads, that IF they have the position, nobody can violate that position.

But, why would they not consider the possibility that, even though they have the position, perhaps the person that they have out-positioned might not be looking. Or, if they have the green light, would it not be possible (and I know this is VERY far-fetched [but, for the sake of argument, let’s throw it our there]) that there are motorists that failed to see the red light, or are trying to impress their unfortunate passengers with their uncanny ability to blow through a red light unscathed? Heck, they’ve done it dozens of times and never hit a soul, with that kind of a track record – they’ll NEVER hit anyone. Maybe they’re extreme optimists.

Where is the sense of caution? Where? What are they thinking?

I don’t get it.

A Sneak Peek: 6th grader novels (2010-2011)

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This is my bittersweet time of year. The 6th graders are deep into their novel rough drafts and I am bursting with pride at their accomplishments – yet I see this as the sad beginning of the end! Soon they will be signing books (by the hundreds?) out in front of the school and bragging about how they’re going to be 7th graders! Next thing I know . . . they’ll be gone. From room 305, that is. For now, I want everyone to see some of the ideas that they’ve come up with in their stories. Here are some excerpts:

Here is a fine example of setting the scene in an exposition. The author has chosen a story that will appeal to kids her age.

The year was 2003, and the 4th graders were having their annual camp. “Ring! Ring!” Everybody was to be in class by now . Ms. Andy went to the front of the class and said,” I have exciting news for you guys. Next week we’re going to camp in the forest!” The students jumped out of their seats and did the happy dance. There were two girls that just got out of control, and their names were Amanda and Heather. They were best friends. Amanda always wore glasses because she had an eye problem, and Heather always wore a headband to school.

This next excerpt is from a story about a teenager who is investigating some peculiar disappearances in a Japanese town. I found some terrific descriptions here – an area we’ve been working on all year.

. . . From that day on we had been going everywhere together, and finding proof, but deep inside we had a fear. Fear of getting killed, fear of our plan failing, and fear of our loved ones disappearing. Well, one day our fear came true. We were walking in the park when three of those monsters ambushed us. There was nowhere for us to run – we were just standing there paralyzed as the enemy advanced toward us. And then Ryutaro started to shimmer, “What’s happening to me!” he screamed as he turned into a monster too. But unlike the other, his color wasn’t black, but blue. His hands were tentacles instead of scythes, his feet had sharp claws and were webbed, and his face was that of a wolf.

“Fitting in” is a HUGE issue for middle-schoolers. The next piece was taken from a story that deals with that very subject. This was very well written.

She saw a lot of girls hanging out at the mall. Cloe thought to act the same, but first of all she needed to buy the things she needed in order to fit in the group. She bought things like perfume, clothes, nail polish, to mention just a few. When she got home, she quickly put them on, and then went downstairs to see what her mom thought of it all.

“How do I look mom?”

“Wow! You look different.”

“Is that a compliment?”

“I guess so…”

So Cloe went out with her new look and everybody seemed to like it. She went to a coffee shop and all the girls came running toward her.

“Wow! You look amazing!” one of the girls told Cloe.

“Well thank you!”

“This is our group’s phone number. If you ever think of joining us, you can call , but you don’t have to decide now.”

“I don’t need to call you because I will answer you now, and I will surely join your group!” shouted Cloe excitedly.

MILITARY ACTION ! This is the kind of heart-pounding description that causes 6th grade boys to become completely oblivious as they read page after page inside their desks as important math concepts are being taught.

. . . A couple of seconds later, there were a series of explosions coming from the area where the smoke grenade had ended up. Phew! A strange whirring noise could be heard, and we turned around – only to discover that there was an immense tank about 15 yards away! Slowly, its turret turned towards our us and fired. Kah-BLAM !!! Dust was sent flying everywhere, blinding us all. Moments later, there was another explosion which sent Kent flying against a wall. Brown got up to rescue Kent, but there were soldiers headed towards them. Allen and I took out our sidearms and started to fire at this new enemy threat. Later, Brown arrived with Kent. We all turned and ran away from the soldiers. But like in a bad war movie, Kent tripped over a large log, and as Brown, Allen, and I started to help him, we could hear the crunching of the soldier’s boots close by.

By the time we got Kent up, we knew that we were surrounded. One of the soldiers barked at us to put our hands on top of our heads and drop our weapons. Before any of us complied, I managed to sneak an instant smoke grenade into my palm. While we raised our hands,  I lobbed the grenade towards the soldiers and POOF!! The grenade exploded sending up a gigantic plume of black smoke which temporarily blinded all of the Guragas soldiers. Fortunately, we had heat vision goggles, so we could see the other soldiers very clearly. We drew our melee knives and started to slash and cut our way through the mass of soldiers. Those who were left thought that we were still there so they started to shoot rapidly at each other. There was horrible screaming in pain and agony going on, but the other soldiers thought that it was us who were in agony; instead it was their team mates. How ironic.

From a story about two schoolgirls whose minds are switched comes this predicament. While passing notes in class in an effort to let each other know how they are “supposed to act” in their new conditions, the teacher becomes suspicious . . .

While the teacher was talking, Christina freaked out because she was afraid she would be found out; Stella is inside her body. Stella was abnormally quiet so Ms. Cale remarked, “Wow~! It’s your first time to not cry in front of me!”

“Of course. I’m not afraid of you at all,” Stella replied. Christina was giving a sign not to act like that , but Stella just couldn’t stay still because Ms. Cale was saying inappropriate words. Suddenly Stella stood up and shouted at her. The teacher freaked out and teacher thought that she was dreaming because Stella never acted like that. Christina rudely walked out of the room and Christina was crying, so everyone was staring at them and thought they were weird.

A young girl is plagued by recurring nightmares which began after the mysterious disappearance of her father. Later, she is transported to a strange world through a magical trap door. The particular draft that this has been clipped from appears to be on track to becoming a very thick novel, filled with vivid detail and captivating conflicts.

Dawn looked around. Everything seemed to be covered in dust except the little hut. The warm wind blew across her face, but she still felt tired, hot, and clammy. What happened to the trees? She thought bitterly. She was standing in the middle of a dirt road, and everything appeared to be treacherous to her.

The hut, thought Dawn. Is the hut a good place to ask for help or somewhere she should keep away from? She slumped to the ground and put her head in her hands and cried. She wished for anything that could take her away from this horrid unfamiliar place. Then she heard a crackling voice, sharp as thunder saying, “Chosen One, arise!”

Dawn gave a yelp and looked up. She couldn’t see anything clearly, for the strong rays of the sun were beating down on the atmosphere, but she could identify an old woman-like feature.

A hiking trip for 6 teenagers turns bizarre in this developing story which is rich with vivid descriptions.

“This way guys,” said William. He had hiked in the forest of Terra before, so he knew a magnificent place to set up tents. As the teenagers followed him, they gazed out at the beautiful scenery. They glanced at the squirrels and chipmunks in types of trees that they had never seen before. They passed a couple of rocky creeks and probably a hundred tall strong trees. William led the group to the banks of a river where they spotted some extraordinarily beautiful fish. This seemed a marvelous place to set up the tents, yet a weird feeling came over Alicia.

Alicia started thinking about why she had been so late that morning. She wondered why the van had gotten stuck on the way to the forest of Terra. She pondered why her dog would not let go of her leg earlier. She wondered why a weird feeling had fallen over her. “There must be a reason to this,” she thought . . .

The forest suddenly plunged into darkness and the feelings of each teenager turned from excitement to fright. Alicia was the most frightened of all.

“What’s going on!?” Alice screamed raucously. After she said that, a moon appeared out of the sky, a red one.

“Alice, I don’t know, but this has to be a horrible omen!”

“Walking on the path of God led to eternity”

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This simple sentence was penned by a student that struggles (albeit valiantly) with the English language.

I was doing a mini-lesson on how to use key words in a cause and effect paragraph. I would model the particular keyword in a sentence on the whiteboard, and then students would quickly try to come up with a sentence of their own.

Here was their prompt:

Walking on ___________ led to __________ .

This particular girl (who typically stays under the radar) raised her hand high and I called on her. She read these words: “Walking on the path of God led to eternity”

I will cherish the sentence for years to come.

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