water

We have now been in our new home for just over two weeks and are feeling quite settled and comfortable. We marvel at God’s goodness every morning as we sip our coffee looking out over the canal outside our livingroom.

coffee

We love the place that we chose; it is everything that we hoped to find. Although we rented a place that was fully furnished and supposedly move in ready it has taken a considerable amount of effort to get it up to our standards. Fortunately, Steve is pretty handy with the tools and I am an experienced cleaner.

Furniture

livingroom

bedroom

We have managed to get driver’s licences, car insurance, bank accounts, phones, internet and utilities established and figured out some of the unique aspects of living on a small island. And we have wheels!! Two sets, in fact.

wheels

There has even been time in there to get to know some of the others in the incoming cohort of twenty three new staff. As part of the orientation the staff were treated to an evening cruise on the sound and dinner at a restaurant in Kaibo. A couple of the returning staff who live down the street from us threw a great welcome potluck so we could hang out together on Saturday evening.

jewel

IMG_3733

Tomorrow (today if I am late getting this posted) we will be on the road again, this time headed to the Caribbean where we will be for at least the next two years; beyond that we don’t know. My teaching contract at Cayman International School is for two years. If I am offered a renewal, chances are good that I would take it. We are itinerant, but transitions are always difficult, and we don’t like to move more than we have to. Besides, I have found that it is easy to get lost in the details of moving and lose track of what is really important.

IMG_0200

What is really important to us is our family and the those friends who have shown us by their care and faithfulness over the years that they are truly our friends. We count ourselves fortunate to have as many as we do, and this trip to Ontario has been all about renewing and restoring those family and friendship connections. We started off this visit to Ontario in the best way possible, by greeting our daughter, Liz and her husband and two year old son at the London, Canada airport. Despite the lateness of the hour, little Russ was as friendly and game as he could be, and apparently had been a little trooper on the plane. We would have been happy just to let Liz and Greg have some time together after their long flight from Calgary, but they were up for a walk through Victoria Park and eating a mountain of poutine before hitting the sack.

IMG_0343

On the Saturday we went to our niece Megan’s wedding – which was absolutely beautiful – and met up with several members of Pam’s family, some of whom have also married during the time we have been in Malaysia. It was great to hear brothers Ben and Joe thank their sister Megan for her godly influence in their lives. It was another late night for Liz and co, who then had to catch an early morning flight back to Calgary while we went to church to meet several friends who greeted us with love and warmth and offers of lunch and coffee. We accepted as many offers as we could pack in.

IMG_0419

We also took in a few local events, such as the Home County Folk Festival, now in its fortieth year, and a nostalgic visit to St. Thomas. We limited most of our visiting to the London area, but we did get in a great visit with missionary friends and colleagues from Asia, Beth and Stephen Laur in Cambridge, and a whirlwind visit with my family in Toronto.

IMG_0397

After a few days we settled into a routine of doing course work for our Master’s in the morning at the Byron Public Library, the afternoons doing banking, storage, and other maintenance chores, and then visiting in the evening. This evening as I write this has been the first we have been alone the entire month! We are very grateful for our son’s foresight in providing a vehicle – an Audi A4, no less! – for all this driving. It was an absolute joy, and we have kept the good vibe going by gifting it to Pam’s younger brother who is feeling a little pinched with three of his children’s weddings in three years!

IMG_0437

The end of all of this visiting has been a deep appreciation and gratitude for all the people who have affected our lives for the better. We didn’t see everyone we would have like to see on this trip home, but those we did see were so very encouraging and supportive that it has done our heart a great deal of good to be here. If you are reading this post and you were one of those, thank you. Eight years is a long time to be on the other side of the planet. We are looking forward to being a little closer in the future and being able to share with you the journeys that we are all taking.

IMG_0289

Our journey is taking us to the Caribbean next. We are most serious in suggesting that perhaps the next visit we have would be in our new place in Snug Harbour, Grand Cayman Island. We have a guest bedroom and it is a ten-minute walk to one of the best beaches in the world. We won’t even charge you for the room!

IMG_0176

ENG4U6

This will be my last English class in Asia, and I could not have asked for a nicer group of students to finish out my time at Taylor’s. They were bright, motivated, and kind. They were willing to take chances and push their own boundaries. They were also extremely faithful in their attendance, which is a huge factor when your class comes at the end of what is always a long day in the CPU program.

We did not get off the best start as I was in the States for the first three weeks of the term and the unit had to be covered by a colleague. Fortunately for me, Daniel Layng knows a lot about Critical Approaches to Literature and covered the unit well. I was around long enough at the beginning of the term to get the ISU novels assigned, and get the kids started on a reading schedule, and that was easy enough to pick up when I got back. The ISU essay is always a tricky bit of business, and I decided this time around to divide it up into two parts, rather than tackle the whole monster by itself at the end of the term. This allowed me to block out the essay into digestible parts for kids for whom the whole idea of a research essay in literature is an alien concept.

I have always maintained that the only way to properly edit your own work is to write it and put it away for at least a week. In our case, we researched and wrote the essay and even marked the first half of it, and then we put it away for two months. When we came back later to do the comparative past with a film that had the same thematic interest, the kids had a better perspective on the essay they had written, and a better idea of what movie fit for comparative purposes. I had kids doing Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby, Landis’ Trading Places, James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta, and even one able student doing Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Ii made for some good essays, and even better seminar presentations. In the past, I have found kids had a hard time filling the twenty minutes they had for their ISU presentations. This time around, I was forced to cut some kids off after thirty minutes! It was awesome!

We also had a new novel this year. As much as I love Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, I was frankly getting a little seasick! In my absence, the department had moved on to Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, a fitting follow up novel to The Kite Runner that is also set in Hosseini’s native Afghanistan and deals with the issue of the treatment of women in that part of the world. It is an important book for Asian students – especially females – to be studying in a culture that lags at least a generation behind the West in its understanding of the place of women in society.

We also studied Shakespeare’s Othello, again a pleasant change from the melancholy Dane, Hamlet, who quite frankly gets on my wick, despite the soaring soliloquies of Shakespeare’s most famous play. Othello is far more visceral and personal; a devastating examination of the demonic in all of us. Not nearly as accessible as either Hamlet or Macbeth (the latter being the Bard’s best, imho), I was forced to use film to explore the play’s nuances, and found Olivier’s 1965 version, blackface and all, to be a most faithful and useful version; with one glaring exception.

The 1995 version with Lawrence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh does a much better job of examining the oppressive victimization of women that Shakespeare so eloquently explores in a pivotal scene with Desdemona and her bff Emily. We then had the fun of staging that scene, and the final one where Emily just goes ballistic all over male entrenched privilege and the murderous implications of their ‘ownership’ of women (“Oh, you idiot! You stupid fool! As dumb as dirt!”). Feisty and fascinating to see the young women of my class come to grips with their own issues of oppression in a patriarchal hemisphere through the persona of their characters.

It was exhausting to try and cover this class to the standards I set for myself in thoroughness and comprehension while trying to wrap my responsibilities up as Project Coordinator for CSR. It was also rewarding and enjoyable and deeply satisfying, and pleasant to be back in class with a really nice group of kids. I am looking forward to getting back into a full teaching role in the Caribbean. It is, when all is said and done, the heart of who I am.

BotanicalGardens

As our time here in Asia comes to an end we get to thinking of what we would like to do one more time. Near the top of that list was one more visit to our favourite city in this part of the world, Singapore, which is always such a welcome treat. One of the nicest places in that very nice city is the Botanical Gardens, a little easier to get to now that Singapore has completed the extension to the Circle Line. We woke up to a cool and rainy Saturday morning but decided not to let that deter us. So we bought some cheap umbrellas and strolled through the Gardens enjoying those fabulous trees and flowers. After an hour, and still only half way through, we stopped and had coffee in a little garden café and listened to the splash of the water in the fountains nearby.

Birthday10As it was Steve’s birthday – my they do seem to come thick and fast anymore, don’t they! – we had booked reservations for dinner at the Equinox Restaurant on the 70th floor of the Stamford Hotel. The food was fabulous, much nicer and much more affordable than the pretentious and overpriced fare at the Marina Bay Sands, and the views of the city from this vantage point were spectacular. How pleasant to sit and reminisce about our time together: the walks through the park in the East End, the Christmas we spent at Blossom and McDaniel’s place, the meetings with friends and co-workers in the Lord. After dinner we strolled one more time to the river and walked along Clarke’s Quay just taking in the sights and sounds of the pleasant evening air.

Fullerton We ended up in the lobby of the historic Fullerton Hotel, once the Asian residence of Joseph Conrad, and presently home to a very funky display of scenes from The Little Prince, a book Steve had the joy of teaching to his beginning English students the first semester he was at Taylor’s. Steve had to return to KL mid afternoon on Sunday but before he left we did manage to get in a visit to Wesley Methodist Church for their Sunday morning service.

This is the home church of our friends Su Min and Sing Yu who have been great co-workers, mentors, encouragers and colleagues not only to us but also to our entire TWR team in Cambodia as well. Along with many others we have come to know and love, we will miss these dear servants of God and their warm fellowship. It was fitting that our last time together should be over lunch at one of their favourite restaurants, as during our time over here our best times together have been sharing one of the fabulous Asian meals that we are going to sorely miss! Su Min gave us a keepsake of a book he and his fellow urban sketchers have just published. It will be a treasured remembrance of happy days in Singapore.

10412033_10152284474548506_3613916454925083367_n

StepandBeth

Over the past eight years, I have visited Cambodia many times and have come to love and deeply respect my Khmer co-workers, friends and villagers I have had the privilege to meet. It was not the best time for my last visit, as my first few days here were holidays to celebrate the king’s birthday. However, that did give me an opportunity to revisit some of my favourite haunts and to spend some time with precious friends, Stephen and Beth who are also wrapping up their time in Cambodia. That fact that it was 39 degrees with very high humidity, creating the sensation of 60+ degrees, was also a brutal reminder of the other side of life in Cambodia.

tuktuk

On Sunday, I made the dreaded seven hour bus trip to Siem Reap to meet up with TWR staff and a team of medical students from Singapore who have been volunteering in our pilot project in Pourk. They will be here for two weeks spending the mornings teaching and doing research in the villages. In the evenings they will be leading educational skits at village gatherings organized by the community leaders. Last night there was a great turnout of both adults and children for two skits; one on the dangers of drinking and driving and the other on the physical damage caused by alcohol abuse. Following the performances, which are largely done by village volunteers who really shine when given the opportunity to take the stage, there is a question and answer time.

skits

A telling and very poignant moment occurred when a young girl of about ten years of age volunteered to come to the front to answer a question about alcohol abuse. When asked the standard CHE question: “Does this happen in your community?” this sweet little girl had no hesitation in stating “it happens all the time even my own Dad drinks a lot”. At this point, several community members escorted her father, who was decidedly under the influence, to the platform to answer the question. With his beautiful little daughter hugging him, he admitted to his own behaviour in front of his entire community. Alcohol consumption robs this village of at least 40% of their disposable income, leads to ill health, family violence and marital breakdown. It also leads to the loss of productivity, takes young people out of school and keeps people trapped in disempowering life circumstances that rob them of a future. Although not the focus of our project, it is a core and pervasive challenge that must be addressed as it attacks the dignity and identity of our listeners.

homeeconomics

As we rode in a tuk-tuk for the 20 kilometers out to the village for the evening session, we were reminded of just how vulnerable our Khmer brothers and sisters really are. A brief storm that blew through in the afternoon, seemed pretty innocent to us as we rested in our hotel. All the way out to the community; although the sky was brilliant with sunshine and a magnificent double rainbow, we saw trees and signs which had been damaged and destroyed. We later learned that more than fifty homes in our villages had been completely destroyed, leaving families once again having to start over from scratch. The lessons for Tuesday morning were cancelled while our team went with the village leaders to visit some of the families affected.

1510041_10206592500915293_8219014684807090672_n

There are so many people in our world for whom the reality of day to day life is incredibly difficult. This “minor storm” will never get international coverage because it is just taken for granted that people must just go on dealing with a capricious life and a belief system that offers little hope or comfort. It will not be easy to leave this ministry behind but I know that God is at work in this community and that our TWR staff will continue to build relationships with these leaders who are so keen to find the answers for their people.

11295597_10206592530396030_5166642598003883538_n

20150508_132509

I love drama. Some would say that is because I am a ham and crave attention. Well, all teachers have to have some sense of timing and teachable moment or they cannot be effective. But limelight? Actually I am painfully shy at heart and spent maybe the first 20 years as a teacher with painful sore throats that would often lead to strep for the first two months of every school year in absolute dread of having to stand in front of people and let them see how little I know. I have learned how to manage that stress, but limelight I leave to others. They are plenty of prima dons and donnas in this profession. Some of them are actually quite talented. Some of them simply have an inflated sense of self. Unfortunately, Drama Festival can bring out the worst in my colleagues as some of them cannot resist the spell of the spotlight. That is not what I love.

20150508_142904What I love about drama is how it brings a class together. Drama is more effective at doing this than almost anything else you can name. You can teach your class about working cooperatively together until you are blue in the face. You can design modules, and construct space, invent clever strategies, and provide endless examples. You can have literature circles and reading groups, you can plan seminars and workshops, but if your students have come from a restrictive and repressive education system – as Asians have by and large – then it will take months of patience and effort to bring them to the place where they begin to work together as a team. And even at that it may still not happen. Or you can let your class do drama and bring all that and much more about in a few short weeks. And have fun doing it!

20150508_142221

Drama has the power to take us out of ourselves and teach us in a very practical and unforgiving way the absolute necessity of working together as a group. You don’t show up on time? Everyone on your team has to wait until you get there. You forget your lines? Everyone in that scene suffers from your failure. You have to work together on where you stand in relation to everyone else on the stage. You have to work together to move the props about and organize your costumes around a theme or time period. You have to work together on script and accent, on gesture and response. Everything everyone else does affects you, and everything you do affects everyone else.

20150508_143957As for the performance itself? That is just the icing on the cake. It is fun to see and especially fun to witness those who are shy like me come out of their shells and lose themselves in their characters. There were many notable performances that day in other classes. There were individuals who clearly have greasepaint in their veins, whose performances who outstanding. There were those who commanded the audience’s attention and compelled their admiration and respect. I commend them for their performances and the characters they created. But I was trying to do something else. I was trying to create a caring community through drama. And that is something both much harder to do, and more enduring.

20150508_143042

I wanted my students to enjoy what others in their class were doing as they brought their characters to life. I wanted them to come up with their own suggestions on character and staging and share them with others. I wanted them to work together on their plan and then plan for little details. I wanted them to feel the rush of anxiety and anticipation and the absolute thrill of experiencing all of what you have planned take place in front of a live audience who laughs and applauds with approval at what you have created for their enjoyment. I love seeing the transformation in my students as they move from a sense of individuality to a sense of the unity of the group and the importance of depending on others for your own individual success. If you are thoughtful, if you are careful to allow the students to take responsibility for what they are doing, then what you build through drama is a community, instead of a class.

That is what I love about drama.

Bush2 We arrived in Malaysia with several married or soon to be married friends. Chief among them were Bill and Kim, a couple about our age with whom we shared many evening meals. Our circle of married friends expanded to include several Malaysian couples as well, such as Rowena and John, with whom we spent our first Malaysian Christmas. But since then, married couples have been pretty much outnumbered by the younger staff, who are not only more mobile, but less inclined to while away the evening lingering over a meal or just sitting and visiting. Bush5 But the longer the younger staff stick around, the more likely they are to get married themselves. Some of these marriages, like Yuri and Easton’s, have been pretty lavish affairs, with several course meals and lots of changes of outfits. At a recent wedding of one of Pam’s colleagues in Phnom Penh, we got to witness a traditional Khmer ceremony that featured eight changes of dress! We love these elaborate cultural affairs, and always look forward to learning about Asian customs and traditions. Bush4 This past weekend we got to attend the wedding of Anusha and Colin, with whom I have worked in the English department for several years. Anusha’s family are Hindu, and her father took a little while to warm up to Colin, although he is fine man and will make a good husband. The wedding took place in a Hindu temple, with all the attendant rites and rituals. So on the weekend we got to go and see a real Hindu wedding. Bush8 It came complete with two holy men performing the ceremony in a little canopy inside the temple, while two others played traditional Indian music. There was some parading around the icons, and some washing of faces with fire and some anointing with paint and oil, none of which we understood at all. Then we got to throw some rice at the newly married couple and adjoined for pictures on the beach at Port Dickson, where the ceremony took place. After a very pleasant afternoon sipping drinks at the Thistle Resort and Golf Course, we returned for the reception. Bush9 If you know anything about Indian culture, you know that it all centers around food, so we were looking forward to the buffet. We were not disappointed. In a Chinese meal, the dishes are all brought out separately, as they are in proper Italian cuisine. With all due deference to one fifth of the human race, this drives us both nuts. Oh boy, I get to eat a big bowl of kale? Okay. What else? Just kale? Until it is all gone? Indians on the other hand like the mix of flavours that you get when you pile your plate with all kinds of things and the flavours all get mixed up and interact with each other like sensory chemical fusion in your mouth. Love it! Went back three times! Bush7 Then there were the obligatory speeches, and the drinks and toasts, the mingling with the guests and some weak attempt at dancing. Honestly, aside from Bollywood dancers, can anyone do anything with those complex rhythms? We did get in one Cha-Cha, but the rest of it did not go so well. Oh well, small beans in such a wonderful, colourful, tasty and heart-warming wedding. All the best to the lovely couple!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 89 other followers