Clingwrap reminds me of some aspects of modern society - plastic, man-made, functional," writes Pearlyn Chua when explaining her new sculpture Still Life with Clingwrap.
The exhibit was created as a critique of the restoration efforts at Singapore's Boat Quay. She says that the outside of many of the quay's historic buildings have been restored and preserved, but their inside, the souls of the buildings, have been discarded and renovated. Any natural ambiance that the architects might have intended the buildings to have has been squelched with aircon and dry wall.
I had a chance to meet this artist before I saw the exhibit and she was indeed obsessed with shrink wrap. She briefly described how it is used to artificially preserve food in unnatural ways, how it clutters landfills, and even imitated the irritating sound that shrink wrap makes when you remove it from the carton.
The message of her work personally touched me because I vividly remember the massive construction and renovation projects going on back at the University of Missouri. They are keeping most of the old architecture, but inside they are making all of the buildings look like new. Is it really necessary? Should century old wooden desks and chairs be scrapped for cheap plastic and formica counterparts? Does every classroom really need an ethernet jack? No one ever asked me, but I think the quiet protest made by this exhibit is a positive change of pace.
Pearlyn Chua's exhibit will be on display for the next week at Singapore's National Library.
Monday, February 27, 2006
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Don Knotts was one of the funniest people. Whenever I had a day off of school and during the summer when I was not at camp, I would always watch the old Andy Griffith Show reruns on KY3. I always groaned if I heard the Old Fishin' Hole song and saw a color picture, because I knew that the best episodes were in black and white and had Barney. If there was one comedian that I would have really liked to have see preform live, it was him. He will be missed.
Official Don Knotts Website
Don Knotts Dies at 81
One of my best friends is starring as Jedi Knight Aurek Tanin in the new Star Wars fan film, Star Wars: Ghost of the Rebellion. He and his buddies have been working on this thing for the past four years and they have finally put in online to download. I was able to see them a few times as they were working on it, and the most impressive thing is the homemade rotoscoped lightsaber effects.
I haven't seen the finished product yet, because the download for the 106 megabyte file is going kind of slow from Singapore. I'm on my third try and right now the meter is at 27%. I suggest they put a link to a Bittorrent file and allow people to host it.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
It is nice to work at a Christian school. I mean it. It really is NICE to work at a Christian school. Everyday the teachers get to show up early to sit through devotions, usually some iteration of The Purpose Drive Life or My Utmost for His Highest; the students all wear uniforms and, except for a little unnecessary talking, they usually behave themselves; and the curriculum that teachers get to teach is full of pat answers to most of the world's problems. There's no wry humor in teacher's lounge, I work for the most caring and helpful administrators on the planet, and even the grammar books I use in my classes are filled with spiritual references and didactic moral reminders.
I've only worked for Christian schools eight months and I assume that this is the way that most Christian schools carry on across the world: pleasant, moral and controlled. Unfortunately, stuff happens that sometimes can throw a kink in such a pleasant system. Fortunately, I haven't experienced any of these kinks in the Christian school setting yet. But I have had the opportunity to read about them.
In issue one of the Association of Christian Schools International publication Christian School Education for the 2005-2006 school year, I was able to read how a principal dealt with one of these kinks, the pregnancy of a student. The anonymous principal boldly explained how he deftly and diplomatically managed the entire process. He first consulted a group of "wise, discerning, prayerful, and Godly people" and then made his decision. His solution: make the girl stop attending normal classes, cut her from all "school activities, clubs, sports, and special events," and have a "spiritually mature volunteer" meet weekly with the student so that she could still get her high school credit.
Truthfully, I'm not sure how to dignify that much nonsense with a response. What a nice solution! The school gets to keep sucking tuitions dollars from the poor child while isolating her and making her feel even more ashamed and alone. I am disgusted that the principal even talks about grace in his essay. If a kid vandalized the school, as soon as the blight was cleaned up and he served a little detention time he probably would be forgiven. Unfortunately, pregnancies can't (or at least shouldn't) be cleaned up and tossed in a garbage can somewhere. Pregnancy is a situation that sticks out in more ways than one and doesn't convey the squeaky clean image that Christian schools hope to portray. That poor girl is a victim of the worst kind of culture control, a bunch of sincere believers who are so sucked into the idea of creating some kind of "Christian culture" that they disregard the very reasons that Christ came.
I was able to work in a public school for two years, and the experience wasn't nearly as nice as the one I'm experiencing while working at a Christian school. The teachers were full of crude humor in the lounge, the administrators cared more about balls, beans, and buses than academics, and the closest thing to devotions I ever experienced were principals delivering canned pep talks.
However, if I use this article as a measuring stick, one place where public schools clearly have the Christian schools beat is in the area of dealing with pregnancy. When I taught in the public school nobody thought twice about having a pregnant student in class. Unless they were simply too big to fit in the desk, nobody minded that they came to school. In fact, I had a stronger desire to teach these students, because I knew that they would soon be out in the work force having to use their skills to support their family. They wouldn't have the luxury that many kids have to bum around a lavish University campus on their parent's dime. Most of the girls that experience youth pregnancy are sixteen or seventeen anyway. Why shouldn't they be able to cherish the last months of their youth? I'm all for conservative sex-ed, but I certainly hope that there aren't some Christians out their who want to hide the fact that unmarried people can get pregnant from their children.
Granted, these girls have chosen a difficult and sinful way to enter adulthood, but I'm pretty sure they know that. Some of girls that I have known might not even be as repentant or as sorry for their actions as my male evangelical mind would wish them to be. Yet, who can they blame them? When a person is constantly faced with a bunch of stone casting hypocrites, the natural human response is to attempt to preserve your dignity.
I believe that the small size and close community of Christian schools could actually be an ideal place for a girl to deal with the issue of pregnancy. There are lots of experienced mothers around and the teachers are people who presumably like to be around kids, so why not welcome the kids of kids. Most Christian schools also possess an abundance of ministers who are caring and kind and considerate. Yes, a pregnancy might make a school look bad for a short time, but in the long run learning to deal with the problem can make the school that much more beautiful. Some people might even turn away from a school that has pregnant students, but a Christian school doesn't need those people. If Christian school administrators can't deal with little ostracism themselves and if appearances or so high on the list of their constituents, then perhaps they aren't Christian at all.
GRACE AND CONSEQUENCES
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Friday, February 17, 2006
Today I went to the hawker near my workplace and had some delicious Indian food. On my way out of the hawker I stopped and bought my favorite hawker dessert. The woman at the stand happened to be mopping her stall when I arrived. That is not a problem. However, after I interrupted her and said my order across the counter, she stopped mopping and then washed her hands in the mop water and then served me the food. That is a problem. I ate the dessert anyway. Yum.
Note: Out of respect for the people, I have deliberately left specifics out of the account.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Each day when my students enter the classroom I have them sit down and do "Bellwork." They have to write a paragraph based upon a writing prompt that I place on the board. It lets them practice writing in paragraphs and gets them quiet and on task. Today, I was a bit lazy with my prompt. It is the middle of the year and my decorative prowess is on the wane, so I asked the students, "How would you decorate the classroom bulletin board?"
Most of the responses oscillated between practical and fantastic. One student suggested that I allow students to write book reviews and post them in the back of the room for others to read. Another student suggest that I put 100% spelling tests on display. A few students wanted a giant LCD screen with a built in X-Box 360.
However, the response that actually made me laugh was from a sixth grader-cum-entrepreneur who suggested that I sell the space and put up an advertisement.
I suppose the next thing I could do is auction off my curriculum.... I'm kind of tired of teaching students how to scan lines of poetry. I could change that part of curriculum to a lesson on the health benefits of soda pop. I'll give preferential treatment to the brand of the highest bidder. The bidding will shortly commence on E-Bay.
Monday, February 13, 2006
I guess I am being strongly influenced by the Asian mentality. I looked up at the moon and I didn't see the familiar man smiling down; I saw a rabbit!
I remember learning about this in one of my Japanese classes, but I had never noticed it until today.
Here's a link about the phenomenon.
Rabbit in the Moon
Sunday, February 12, 2006
A few months ago I visited Singapore's Sculpture House located on the corner of Middle and Waterloo street. It was the first and only time I have seen Asian minimalism on display. In the United States I have had opportunities to visit large art museums in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York. The art in those museums is impossible to miss. Old and new pieces by big name artists are proudly placed on display.
However, if you enter the sculpture house you will get a different experience. First, the place is only one room. I felt like a Midwest country bumpkin when I entered the House and then asked the desk attendant where the exhibit was. Before asking, I had actually tried to enter a closet, thinking it was a door to a larger exhibit housed in an upstairs or adjacent room. Nope, I had no such luck.
Cheo Chai-Hiang's work consists of delicately painted Chinese characters and abstract pieces that utilize every day objects. One piece titled There are Two Trees consists of five chairs with different cut outs and neon signs on each chair. Another abstract sculpture was a piece of wax tissue paper draped over dowel rods.
I was confused enough by what I saw that I actually bought the book the exhibit was selling titled Erased, Mislaid, Rejected, Revisited.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
A slightly different version of this was published in the school's paper this week. Names have been altered to protect the innocent.
Over Christmas break I had an opportunity to leave my comfort zone and visit the country of India. Mr. I, the school's IT director, invited me to spend some time with him and his family in India. I mulled it over in my mind and eventually decided to go. When I accepted the invitation, I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn't realize that any trip to India began with a hassle ridden visa application process. God must have been with the timing of my decision, because if I had applied for my visa even one day later I would not have been able to go on this memorable trip.
I began my Indian adventure with Mr. Immanuel in Chennai. Immediately after picking me up from the airport, Mr. I took me to St. Thomas Mount, the site that the disciple Thomas died. It was an odd feeling to think that I was on the same site as someone who was so close to Jesus. Since Thomas' devotion to the gospel was strong enough to motivate him to come all of the way to India only to be martyred, it made me reflect on how incredible Jesus must have been and how real the faith must have seemed to Thomas.
After a few days in Chennai, I rode a train, the Tamilnadu Express, to Delhi. The thought of riding on a train made me more than a little nervous; I would be travelling alone for more than 36 hours. Yet the adventure and novelty of the journey quickly numbed any anxiousness in my mind. Travelling long distances by passenger train is almost unheard of in America. Just the thought of it evokes mental images of the desperate 1930's and the wild Old West. Fortunately, by God's grace I was able to arrive in Delhi without trouble or incident.
In Delhi, I was greeted at the airport by some of Mr. I's more distant relatives. They showed me the way to a nice bed and breakfast, helped me book a bus tour of the region, and gave me an invitation to spend Christmas Day with their church. Even six months ago, I never would have dreamed that I would have the privilege of spending the holiday by drinking hot, delicious chai with Indians and listening to Christmas carols in Hindi.
I could write several pages about the incredible and unusual sights that I witnessed in Northern India, but the most impressive place that I visited was the Taj Mahal. Even though the monument was created four hundred years ago by a ruthless Mughal emperor, the building rivals anything created by modern architects. The white marble and perfect symmetry of the building makes it a breathtaking sight to behold.
Unfortunately, despite being a country with sites of unspeakable grandeur, India's most pervasive sight is its terrible poverty. Almost every place I visited was peppered with beggars of all shapes and sizes. Even in the shadow of the gorgeous Taj Mahal, poor children would ask you for a rupee and disfigured, handicapped people would extend their arms wishing for a coin. The saddest group that I witnessed was the children of subway construction workers. Many of them lived in impoverished camps in the medians of busy roads, never escaping the pollution or the persistent noise from passing vehicles.
When I asked some wealthier Indians why their government allowed people to live in such despicable conditions, most blamed it on a problematic triumvirate of a corrupt political system, a spiritually destitute caste system, and a poor educational system. As a short term tourist, I certainly don't have any solutions. For me, from a tourist's perspective, to even suggest solutions to such deep seeded, historical problems would be a blatant display of arrogance. However, I do know that as first world Christians we should pray for India's charity workers, missionaries, and government every chance that we get; and, we should do everything that we can to contribute our abundant fiscal resources to an incredible country that has so little.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Yesterday I made it down to the movie theater to see Walk the Line. The acting is pretty good, but the script is a little weak. However, I'm not really sure how you could cram forty years into two hours.
I was sent a link to an excellent article about the movie. Read it!
READ HARD CASH: THE PATH OF THE MAN IN BLACK
Friday, February 03, 2006
This year my Christmas morning wasn't so typical. Instead of waking up and rushing downstairs with my sister to see what teeth rotting goodies Santa placed in my stocking and what electrical gadgets and undergarments my parents placed under the Christmas tree, I was listening to people sing Christmas carols in Hindi and sharing chai and teeth rotting goodies with the Laymen's Evangelical Fellowship of Northern India. Fortunately, I was able to maintain a little bit of normalcy and tradition in my holiday mindset upon arriving back in Singapore, when I discovered that my folks had Fed Exed me a box of Little Debbie snacks, dress shirts and socks, pictures of my them standing next to the Christmas tree, and a few CDs produced by the Springfield, Missouri, indie outfit MayApple Records.
One the CDs is Life After All, the debut album of Todd Minks and Brett Miller. I hadn't asked for it, and I was a little surprised when it arrived in the mix. However, ever since I had left for college, I had been sneaking off to see the pair perform at the Well Fed Head bookstore on return visits to my hometown in Springfield, Missouri. The duo originally sang under the name Brother Wiley, but they later changed it. (I suspect they did so after having to explain to too many people that they were not really brothers and, even though they are ugly, their act had nothing to do with coyotes.) Their shows were always pretty good, but after the first few concerts only a few people bothered to show up. Even though Brother Wiley crooned original folk ballads, covered Dylan, and attempted some original white-boy blues with all of their might, there just didn't seem to be much interest. Fortunately, they have friends and neighbors in high places who realized their potential and helped them put out a professional quality CD.
I don't know much about Todd Minks, a sarcastic educator from southwest Missouri, but Brett and I have a fairly long relationship. Consequently, it will be tough for me to attempt objectivity or even analytical distance when discussing their album. Brett was one of my teachers in high school, but unlike many teachers it was evident that he cared about his students. I vaguely remember that he scrawled something about "friendship" in my high school year book. Now that I am a teacher I recognize how difficult this must have been for him to do. It is at graduation that teachers usually sit back satisfied that they have worked their way out of a job. Yet in the almost seven years after graduation I have continually kept learning from him. In occasional times of spiritual distress he has often provided guidance or rebuke. And recently, it has been encouraging to read his blog and enjoy his music. The message that has most consistently resonated with me from him is that one should never settle for superficial, unreasonable, or party line answers to tough questions, rather one should search for an understanding of truth that comes only after radical, sacrificial displays of love. Consequently, this is the theme that I continue to hear as I listen to the new CD Life After All.
The first track on the CD is titled "California." I remember Todd Minks explaining at a concert that he wrote this remorseful song after the realization that he wouldn't ever live the California Dream, the life of fame and glamour that most people desire when they are teenagers. Unlike most who produce media, Minks and Miller believe that a broken heart and a contrite spirit is a good thing. In catchy lyrics, the song encourages those who have broken dreams not to relegate themselves to a life of shame and disgrace , but to continue to live daringly because "its only life after all."
Following this track is a song that continues this theme, "Shaken, Not Broken." The lyrics are essentially a character sketch of a man who "smokes without a filter, and loves without reserve." According to Brett's blog, this isn't a song about some mysterious character cloaked in metaphor. It is a song about his brother-in-law who had to undergo brain surgery.
"Dear Brother", the third track on the CD, is a haunting anti-war plea. Disturbingly written in the second person and sung in the backdrop of Mark Bilyeu produced guitar riffs, the song hurtles a barrage of questions and accusations at young soldiers about their motivation for going to war. Fitting with the album's theme of sacrificial love, the lyrics feature potent references to Christ's teachings and the importance of examining your motives. If I had written this song, I'd be hesitant to even let it out of the box. A high school student that I taught is married to an American soldier who has spent a considerable amount of time in Iraq. She once explained to me of the heightened state of alertness that is required to be successful on the battlefield. Anything that clouds a soldier's mindset could result in his death. I believe that if an American soldier listened to this five minute song, it could get under his skin and into his head much faster than a million of Sadam's outbursts or a thousand of Osama's speeches.
Another memorable song on the CD, "Kristofferson", attempts to frame a tribute to Johnny Cash through the eyes of actor and songwriter Kris Kristofferson. The catchy chorus references several of Cash's songs and works really well. It sounds like the type of thing that might eventually show up on a pop country radio station to sell a box set commemorating the fifth year since Cash's death. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, the emphasis on Kristofferson obscures the song and may make it lose relevance to a mass market audience. Most people in my generation don't realize that Kristofferson chummed around with Bob Dylan on the set of Billy the Kidd and collaborated with and romanced Janis Joplin. They see him as the guy who gave bitchin' toys to the vampire killer Wesley Snipes in the Blade movies.
Notably missing from this CD are any of the blues songs that the duo often preforms at concerts. An early independently produced demo CD that I picked up at a concert had two of these songs on it, a song about a couple in love called "Good Day" and a satirical poke at middle class America titled "Wealthy White Man." Minks and Miller do briefly escape the folk rock genre with a goofy fiddle-laced ditty called "No Downside." It pokes fun at the stock market frenzy that most middle class consumers find themselves in, harshly criticizes right wing education policy, and reminds people of the foolishness of environmental apathy.
There are several other songs on the album that I could go on about. "Yesterday's Sun" is deeply introspective, and "Happy Endings" is a creative pastiche of mostly unconnected literary references. If you haven't sensed by now, I definitely recommend that you purchase and listen to this CD. In a society that often seems to have lost its way and violently clings to its desire to be right, "Life After All" provides an alternative that gently urges people toward solutions found only by showing grace and love to others.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
I heard a sad story at a Chinese New Year party the other day. As many people who live in Singapore do, a colleague of mine has an Indonesian maid working for him. When he told me her story I was shocked. It turns out that members of her family were murdered when she was a little child. She grew up a resilient child, becoming the major in her high school army corp and finishing near the top of her class. When she entered the workforce, she was hired to work at a Fujitsu plant and within six months she was supervising seventy five people. Unfortunately, she is here in Singapore because even though she is in a servant position, probably making less than eight thousand U.S. dollars a year, she still makes more than when she would at the factory. The good news is that unlike most maids who often get less than one day off a month, my colleague gives her one day off a week and lets her go to church and take classes. She hopes to enter the medical profession.