Funny thing about Asian schools is the assumption that all teachers are also dance instructors and drama teachers and basically just wizards of the highest level. Usually, the last thing I want to hear at the end of a particularly hard day after I've tried my best to translate/decode the abstract concepts written in antiquated English of our Singaporean Science textbook into an ESL lesson for 20 rambunctious Lao kids (for example: Original text: Solubility is the amount of time that a material takes to fully dissolve in a solution. The inherent solubility of certain materials is affected by a great variety of factors. What I say: Solubility means HOW LONG until GO AWAY?) is "Teacher Ilse, have you been able to start training students for the performance?" Excuse me. The word 'performance' alone will simply undo me, even without taking into account what it means for me to drop all of my work and teach my students how to tastefully twerk to "Let it Go." I mean, c'mon: I'm already being a wizard every day in my classroom. Asking me to do this is akin to asking Gandalf to continue saving Middle Earth but also to start doing magic tricks at birthday parties on the side.
It's alright. These school events are part of the culture, even for the teachers, as I experienced at our staff Christmas Party last year, where I participated in a sexy-santa dance with several colleagues including the distinguished Lao principal (who wore a short red skirt, a garish clown wig, and no shirt). It's a funny place. However, I'll take it over the 'no-touching' rules of American schools, where apparently teachers everywhere are forced to deny children the simple pleasure and comfort of hugging or holding hands with a trusted adult.
The world is funny, I guess. I digress. Anyway, Erica and I are busy compiling our end-of-term exams, and we have learned to stuff the pages full of pictures, and matching and drawing exercises rather than traditional test questions. With the reality of the English levels in our classes, we realized that we have to set them up firmly for success, and since many of our kids can't read simple English or form sentences, pictures are the way to go. We have also stepped up our game in science in a big way, bringing our students together several times a week to do experiments that we barely understand, consulting each other for last-minute questions like "Wait, is it supposed to dissolve in the water?"
So between being a dance instructor and a daily translator of antiquated English textbooks, the rest of my time basically goes towards attempting to inculcate the future president of Lao with good values, and stave off any classroom behavior that seems to be heading the way of "Lord of the Flies." Both Erica and I have approached Pino in my class with various leading questions about his future prime-ministership/presidentship, such as "So Pino, will your dad become the next president after your grandpa?" or "Pino, are you the oldest child in your family?" Pino has more dignity as a pudgy 8 year old that I could ever muster as an adult teacher, and he always rather disdainfully responds with "yes, father will." "yes, oldest son." At this point in Pino's life, he seems to have a rather limited emotional response, so I may wait until later to ask him how he feels about his future leading Lao or how effectively he believes that I prepared him for this noble office. (Will the great Lao firewall block this blog due to my inappropriate admissions of the pudginess of the future president? Only time will tell).
In other news, Ford continues to be a box-lover and the most spoiled child I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Constantly in a state of flopping dramatically on the floor, sexually harassing anyone who comes into his path, and most recently taking off his shirt in class and creating maracas out of old water bottles, Ford remains to be my greatest and most adorable challenge. During my daily talks with Ford where I remind him that "Ford is like everyone else. Ford has to do the same things as other students like listen and participate. Ford can't, in fact, kiss/disappear/climb trees/take off his clothes/eat pens/wander off/sing opera/wear boxes on his head/do yoga poses during class because no one else can either."
Apparently dropping all academic classes for a day and letting kids run around and scream wasn't enough stimulation for Ford either. Ford pictures during his most recent dramatic flop on sports day:
Another student who has been coming out of the woodwork in my class is Bank. This is Bank:
Bank is a completely unique mixture of gangster, gladiator, and adorable 10-year old. Past nightmare of mine, this student has completely stepped up his game in the classroom by doing previously uncharted acts such as listening and doing his work(!). Still unchanged is his tendency to insert phrases like "what the fuck" and dramatic swagger in the classroom; the former I'm unsure how to deal with, since I'm 100% sure Bank has no idea what he's saying and also since it's the only thing he can successfully say in English. Small victories. And, nobody can stop his swagger. Confident in his sudden change in performance, he has turned into some sort of leader both inside and outside of the classroom! During class Bank helps his classmates with their work after he is finished, and recently during sports day, he led the Blue House through a series of athletic events to win the cup! Standing at the stature of a modestly-sized house elf, Bank turned into a gladiator on the sports pitch last week, and as the smallest and youngest male member of his team (which included 4-6 graders) led his teammates to victory through his astonishing performances in sprinting, baton racing, basketball, and obstacle course racing. Being on the blue team myself, I spent my day in ill-concealed hysterics as I watched Bank deliver insults and inspirational battle-cries equal-part to his teammates. I accepted his 2 be-jeweled iphones with pride every time he suited up for battle, happily noting the constant notifications from an app called 'gangsterkid' flashing upon his screens.
I unfortunately had both Ford AND Bank on my Blue team, which provided many tense moments! Picture this: During the one race that the blue team would agree to Ford doing, Ford falls spectacularly in his first steps, then several steps later drops his baton, then half-way through dissolves into laughter, and finally forgets that he is running in a race and starts doing cartwheels. The crowds part in the thronging mass of the blue team and at its epicenter, a storm of fury (formerly known as Bank) seethes and swirls, sending off a series of violent gesticulations like lightning bolts, and a great wind of screamed Lao obscenities at Ford. It was a long day.
Ford pictured in white shirt below:
Bank, Nini, Oh, and Maggie with their medals. Despite Ford's best efforts, the Blue Team came in first!
I believe also that my time living here has given me plenty of material to write a magical realistic novel. I daily come into contact with several individuals who are completely magical in their evilness, and provide such perfectly wicked characters, that I don't even have to rely on my imagination to create evil characters ever again. Thanks for the inspiration and for making my friends sad! More about this after I'm safely out of Laos!
I have been killing it recently in my life outside of school. Last night alone I drank a single glass of red-wine! On the way to eat pizza last night on our noble steed, Brian, Erica and I both had the same thought at the same time (a phenomenon I've heard happens with long-married couples!) and told each other in tones of sensible glee, "Honey, I think tonight I may have a glass of red wine!" Or in Erica's case, a 'women's cocktail,' which in Erica-speak means something sweet and pink and mysteriously named. Without a 'women's cocktail' in sight, Erica settled for a 'coca cola' which certainly means a big night for her, and I drank my red wine and promptly got a raging headache. Whenever Erica orders alcohol or in fact even a coke, it always sounds like she has just learned how to pronounce the word in a rare foreign language, and this time the waitress mistook her "coca cola" for "Gorgonzola pizza." We were nearly kicked out of the restaurant a few minutes later when Erica screamed because there was a baby next to her chair and she thought it was a lizard (the important distinction being that Erica loves babies and hates lizards). Needless to say, there's a reason we don't go out much.
Today we are both recuperating from the titillating activities from the night before (a pizza cafe! a lizard-baby! a coca cola!) by doing Amish things like writing, drawing, and drinking lots of water to get all of the toxins and tannins out of our bodies. Working Amish over-time today since we are also trying to make up for last weekend when we dressed up like Bond Girls and stayed up past 10pm for dear Otto's 25th birthday.
Luckily the skies remain clear of things like parties and tannins so rest-assured that we will most assuredly be resting. Tomorrow we have plans to venture out for a peace mandala meditation where I shall send many of you peace and love!
Love and Larping,