May 2008



 
It has been a real joy coming to Taylor’s and teaching here for the past year. I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed getting to know you and interacting with you in class and reading your essays and emails. If I had known (past perfect, 3rd conditional) teaching in Malaysia would be this much fun, I would have (would + present perfect in the main clause) come long ago! (Once an English teacher…)

I just want to remind you that I would love to see your pictures. I don’t need to be in them. My wife has my camera back in Canada so I am relying on you. I pinched this photo from Yap’s blog. You can send by email to steve.wise@taylors.edu.my. If you have a weblog give me a link in my comments folder below so I can track back to your site.

I believe with all my heart that there is a God, and He cares for you. Furthermore, He has a plan for your life, and since He is loving and caring God, He means to bless and encourage you, and give you good things. I trust that I have been one of those good things for you. I haven’t always said nice things about you. Sometimes as a teacher you have to correct and direct your students, as well as praise them.

I hope that you have found that whether I have corrected or praised you, I have always had your best interests at heart. I would like to see you succeed at whatever it is that you attempt to do, and if I can be of any help to you in the future, you have only to ask. Good luck with your exams; study hard, and ask God to bless your efforts.

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I hate the Rolling Stones. I hate their music, and I hate what they stand for: denegerate living and drugs. But there was a time when I loved their music. That was because there was a time when the Stones played blues. The real stuff. Little Red Rooster, King Bee. It didn’t last long, maybe a couple of albums at best, but it was good, clean, honest music. Great for basement bands like ours to copy: simple progressions and dynamite licks.

The Stones moved on, as bands do, but I never lost my love for the Blues, I just migrated to other artists. The great of draw of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton was not their psychedelic heavy metal sound, but their blues roots, leading back to B.B. King and the Chicago blues. The blockbuster hits of those days for blues fans was Big Brother and the Holding Company and Janis Joplin’s Ball and Chain from their Cheap Thrills album and East-West by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, featuring Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. It was wonderfully powerful and driving stuff.

I’m sure music didn’t entirely die in the 80s. There was Genesis and Pink Floyd and of course Queen. But lyrical and gutsy music music was at at a premuim. For a while I gravitated over to country music, just to see what was going on, and found John Hiatt hiding out there. His 1995 album Walk On was about the only thing I listened to for about five months. It’s as close to a cross between Bob Dylan and B.B. King as you can get. Dust Down a Country Road, and Cry Love stand out on a great album.

Here’s a link to John Hiatt’s Riding with the King, performed by B.B. King, for whom it was written, and his old friend Eric Clapton. This album has been getting me through the long slog of marking exams with a bit of a grin on my old tattered face. I hope it puts a smile on yours.

“Unless a seed falls into the ground…” What does that scripture say? We all are planted someplace, aren’t we, and watered by love and experience. We grow up and bear fruit: degrees, jobs, children, houses. But what of us? Do we remain productive, producing fruit in abundance throughout our lives? Or do we grow old and stale, our fruit no longer of use or even evident to others. What then?

Then we have a choice. Put our feet up and watch telly or its mindless equivalent (J.R.R. Tolkein spent the last 15 years of his life inventing new ways to play solitaire) or die. I don’t mean literally. It’s a figure, and one that scripture uses often. “Unless a seed falls into the ground, it remains only a single seed, but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

I loved my life in Canada. I loved my job, my drive to work through the cornfields of Elgin County, my nice shiny new Pontiac G6 with its 200 watt sound system, my summers in my canoe in a northern lake. I loved my church and my friends, and our house down by the river Thames. Coming here was like a death for me, and I was not happy with the Lord for leading me here. In fact I was downright angry with Him.

Not that this isn’t a lovely place, don’t get me wrong. But I felt out of place, disconnected and ineffective. I don’t know when it started to get better. Round about December I think, when I got my course evaluation back from my students and I read how much they appreciated what I had taught them. Since then I have gone from strength to strength. There is a verse that covers this as well, “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). 

Morning has broken. Now I can see more clearly behind me, how stale and dry I had become and how much I needed to let my life in Canada die. The Lord knew that long before I did, and was preparing a place for me here in Malaysia. I see that my struggles to come to grips with new curricula and a different age of student has rejuvenated my teaching and made it vital again. Once again I am becoming fruitful for God, and that is worth the small death I had to die to get here.

I made the mistake of going to Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull with some of my younger colleagues. If I hadn’t I might have been able to convince myself that it was half decent. But I did. And I can’t. They laughed at its characters, jeered at its dependence on hokey computer graphics, and scorned its ridiculous plot devices. (He survives a thermo-nuclear device by hiding in fridge?? C’mon man, that thing’d be melted to nothing!) I did my best to turn the conversation to other things. One hates to give up on an old friend.

The cruelest cut of all came from those with a knowledge of what the original shows were about. (Hey, the originals were stories about the supernatural and the mythical, but they never got into science-fiction, did they?) No they didn’t. Yes, this one unfortunately does, and yes, it is weaker because of that. Another betrayal by George Lucas. Ho-hum.

The problem with this franchise is that twenty years have come and gone since the last one. Indy used to be a smart romp through exotic locales, but then Tomb Raider upped the ante on that with backdrops in Cambodia and Africa. Harrison may have been smart and hunky, but Angelina was smart and hot. The series was also known for its CGC, great for its day, but the Matrix series has come and gone and nothing in this show held a candle to that stuff. Indy also had some pretty good live action stunts in its day, but after the Bourne series, they look pretty slow and stodgy as well.

Oddly enough, for an action series, the strength of the original came down to the characters, and not just Ford’s laconic Indiana, but Denholm Eliot’s Marcus Brody, John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah, and of course Sean Connery’s Dr. Jones Sr. None of the current crop are convincing or even interesting. Even the remarkable Cate Blanchett,  seems lost in her black wig-helmet and is unable to project any serious malevolence. Shia Lebeof is a wuss with no presence, and Karen Allen, back as a motherly Marion Ravenwood is game, but lame. Her shots with Harrison Ford are difficult to watch, remembering their former sparkle, and their kiss at the end is actually painful to see.

I’m glad I went. Some things you just have to see. But I’m sorry they did it. I know you’ll see it regardless of my advice to the contrary. But then you’ll wish you hadn’t. Some things are better left in the past.

 

We got back from Nihiwatu on March 22 and I got right down to building a set for our play. I had been planning and ordering supplies, arranging a place to work and renting tools to work with for months, but I had held off starting until after the March break. Then I went flat out for 8 weeks. Every day it seems there was a new wrinkle to iron out. I learned the names of most of the men in the physical resources department by the time it was over because I spent so much time working in the parking spaces beside them.

I had some good help from Bill, who has done this kind of thing before and who was never stumped for an answer. And Les who had done some construction and was willing to put in time after his long teaching day. I also had help from my students, in particular Mehdi, who was invaluable, and Brian, who couldn’t seem to do enough.

The play was a smash success, although each audience needed about ten minutes to actually catch on to what was going on. The play is a play within a play, and the jokes escalate as the three acts are like fugal variations that trip over one another. If you never seen the movie, you just have to rent it. Once the audience caught on, there was no end to the laughter and the fun. It was a great success, and I was sad to see it come to an end.

After the last show we tore down the set and packed it onto a truck and all went and had supper. This week feels like someone died. We are all exhausted and depressed. We’ll get over it, and find other things to do, but they won’t be as much fun. There is a DVD coming out for those of you who would like to see what a really fine student production looks like. I can’t wait to see it again myself, but I confess, I am looking forward to seeing it with my feet up for a change!

I have to admit that I am feeling a little chilly!  However, that is all about the change of climate.

I have filled this last ten days with wonderful times with many friends that I have missed so much.  Al and Shelley have made me so welcome and comfortable in their beautiful home.  It is great to be back at West London Alliance for a couple of services and catch up with folks there, even attending a wedding shower for our friends, Ted and Linda’s daughter, Lauren.  A group of women can do a lot of chatting in a few fours at a shower.

Early morning Ladies Prayer  with Deb, Megan and Kim has been a most important and stabilizing factor in my life for a number of years and I felt so happy to be back.  Cyndi and Sheldon’s cell group graciously invited me to join them and I felt so at home with all of them again.

It has taken a couple of morning coffees with Kim – the only person I know who uses a thermometer to make coffee- to even begin to get caught up.  We will have to keep working on that.

Dropped by to chat with Mag at CPRI and I’m looking forward to more time with some friends from there next week.  Hanging out in Chris’s kitchen with her cats is always a good way to put things in perspective. Nice visit with Don and Maria but we will really need to go dancing with them before I feel at home. 

Even got to meet Milan, Sara and Mateo who are new friends but a joy to spend time with.

Still many people to find time to visit but I have made a good start.

Noises Off is a very funny play by Michael Frayne made into a very funny movie starring Micheal Caine, Denholm Eliot, Carol Burnett, and most improbably, Christopher Reeve, who shows with his performance that his unfortunate accident cut short a budding career as a comedian with great facial gesture and impeccable timing.

It is also the first – and probably last – sex farce ever produced in Malaysia. Two of the expats working here, Erin and Mark, have worked tirelessly for six months to get this show to performance level. It opens this Wednesday, and the run was sold out almost immediately.

I had the fun of making the set for this production, no mean feat when the school has no shop, or even a room that could be used for a shop. We had to work in the parking garage in 85 degree weather with lumber that could only be described as curiously bent. It took a month to build (much longer to plan) but it is finally up, and the cast have had the fun of trying it out for a week, slamming all the doors at a furious pace. So far the construction seems to be holding up.

The fun part has been working with the expat team here on this project. They are really a great group of teachers. Mark and Erin have put in an estimated 300 hours to bring this project to fruition, but others have contributed great chunks of their time as well. I am looking forward to opening night to see it all come together. Then we are all going to have a little party and get back to our marking, which has been piling up at an alarming rate!