December 2014


QZ8501

Red Alert

I am not a huge video game fan, but there are some games I definitely enjoy. Probably some version of golf is my favourite. There is a lot of strategy involved, as opposed to hand-eye coordination, so the playing field is pretty level for an old guy like me. The absence of gratuitous violence, pneumatic sex slaves and buckets of blood, gore and mayhem helps maintain my attention span as well and the graphics get better every iteration. When I was younger I enjoyed problem-solving games like the Legend of Zelda and Myst, though anymore I just don’t have the time to invest in such a lengthy puzzle. I did used to enjoy Frogger, back in the day, and I think I still hold the family record in Asteroids, whatever that is worth.

Red Alert is an older game that eschews blood for strategy, and there is plenty of that to keep one occupied. Or two, for that matter, since like Risk, it is much better to form alliances and take on a common enemy that fight alone against all comers. Last year as our grandson turned seven, his Dad and our other son in Calgary played an online version with limited success. Limited by my ignorance, largely. I had trouble just getting things built, let alone deployed. It was pretty much a rout as Dave had to bail my sorry ass out on too many occasions to be able to fend off his brother as well.

This year Ben is about to turn eight, and his strategy skills have improved. However, this year I acquitted myself a little more honourably as well and between Dave and I were able to win best two out of three against the Yanks in Seattle. First taste of victory for the old man, and although I had the least number of “kills” I’d like to think that my defenses were strong enough to have least slowed down the attack enough for David to rally and win.

My life doesn’t allow for much leisure, so this was an added treat to my holiday down time. Dave and I had a back channel open through Skype to talk strategy, which was only fair, given that our grandson and his Dad can play sitting beside each other and it was very nice to visit with him as the game progressed. In fact, the whole thing was very enjoyable and I am looking forward to this becoming a Christmas tradition. Now if we could just get an online golf game going I might have an outside chance of winning!

Jpeg

Malaysia does not have the worst drivers in the world. In my experience drivers are worse in both Italy and Vietnam, and I have yet to drive in South America. Bangladesh has the worst drivers I have ever seen from the passenger side of the vehicle, although I never got to experience driving there. On the other side of the coin, Germany has far and away the best drivers I have seen anywhere, and during the entire year we were there we only saw one accident. That despite the fact that there is no speed limit on the autobahns. There is a speed limit on the highways here, but it is routinely ignored. So are most safety protocols that you can think of. They tailgate, switch lanes with no warning, park on curves and simply abandon their vehicles if there is no parking spot readily available. I’ve seen children sitting and even standing in Daddy’s lap as the car is hurtling down the road. It is shocking and alarming and you’ve got to think that if you stay here long enough – eight years is plenty long enough – you are going to get hit.

Fortunately, I was schooled by one of the best drivers anywhere: my father, who had been taught when he was still a teenager by Raymond Mays, the reigning world driving champion before the war. My father was incredibly detailed in his training. The rear view mirrors had to be just so. If you could see your own car they weren’t right. You had to be able to see the car in the mirror until you could see it with your peripherals. He trained me to look under the wheels of parked cars for legs in case some child would dash out. You had one shot a parallel parking and you had to be less than six inches from the curb. I wasn’t allowed to listen to the radio, or I wouldn’t be able to hear the revs of the engine to know when to change gears. Oh yes, it had to be a manual transmission. By the time I took the driving test, I knew more than than the instructor. Naturally he failed me.

In adolescent anger at this totally arbitrary failure, I foolishly took my brother’s car and unfortunately lost control on a gravel road, totally smashing it in a farmer’s field north of the Toronto airport. I was very lucky to have survived the crash. But the accident embedded in my stubborn head (along with the shards of glass from the windshield) what my father had tried his best to impart: the cost of inattention. I have never forgotten that lesson, and drive with a fierce attention to detail. I rarely listen to music, never eat, barely talk. When I drive, I can tell you what is happening ten cars behind and twenty cars ahead: who’s going slow, who’s cutting in and out, who’s signaling, who’s heading for the same gap in the traffic as I am. All the time. That attitude and attention to the task has kept me from having another accident for nearly 50 years in driving on four continents. Nearly, but not quite.

There is a roundabout between the university, where I work in the morning and early afternoon, and the college, where I work in the late afternoon. Normally I avoid it as it is one of the most congested in town, and with the lack of lane discipline in Malaysia, one of the most dangerous. Nobody signals, nobody stay in lane going around corners, nobody has much patience with other drivers when they want to exit. Usually I take the long way around down the Federal Highway and in by the back streets behind the college.

This day I was running terribly late. The website was chewing up every spare minute and I just could not get out of a meeting to get over to the college on time. The work I had loaded myself with in three courses for my Master’s was keeping me up far too late at night and I was sliding ever deeper into sleep deficit. On top of that, I had become terribly sick and really shouldn’t have been at work at all. The illness made me fuzzy headed and inattentive. I made a bad decision to go through the roundabout to save time. I was driving in a fog of pain and stress and quite frankly, I didn’t even see the guy coming. I was in the left, outermost lane in the roundabout; he was to my right in the next lane and wanted to exit. I was in the way. He ploughed into me, just behind the passenger door. He didn’t beep the horn; he didn’t even try to brake. He just drove into me at speed.

I pulled over and got out on the passenger side just in time to see him remove the license plate from the front of his car and put it into his vehicle. He took no responsibility for what he had done and dared me to go to the police. He said I would be at fault. I was incredulous, but it turned out he was right. The sergeant took one look at me and immediately started to shake me down for 300 ringgit or he would charge me with the accident. I refused to pay him the bribe. He wrote me the ticket and sneered at my naiveté. I called my insurance agent who told me that he would not file a claim for me since the sergeant had determined that I was at fault. It would be too much trouble and the company would refuse my claim. He instructed me to call they guy who hit me and offer to pay for his damage so he didn’t claim against my insurer. I refused. Three days later, still woozy and now with colossal headaches, I checked myself into emerg at the local hospital for a workup on my neck and spinal column.

To be sure I have had plenty of lower points in my life, but this one was weighing on me. However, I was determined not to act in any way that would bring offense to God. I played it entirely by the book. I insisted on filing a claim, and it was not only honoured, but my insurance rate actually went down for the following year. The car was not only fixed properly, but I got a nice rental car for the interim at a fantastic rate that we were able to use while our friends Al and Shelley were here from Canada. God honoured my integrity. Even more importantly, I learned a little humility about what I can and cannot do at my age, and am determined to slow down, both on the road and in my personal life. No, I didn’t make 50 years accident free, but I might have gained something more important than a numerical record. I might have gained a little wisdom.

OISE

I have been a teacher for a long time. To some that is a declaration of incompetence. G.B. Shaw famously declared that “those who can, do; those that can’t, teach.” I’m afraid that is the view of many, and perhaps you might have your own negative views to throw onto the pile. I admit that I have met and taught with some so-called teachers that would have been far better off training Dobermans, with whom they shared many personality traits. For myself, I have always found teaching to be the most intellectually rewarding thing I do, and far more challenging than most realize. I have also continued to push my own intellectual boundaries as far as I have been able. Taking an additional qualification (AQ) course through OISE at the University of Toronto this last term has been part of that push.

Frankly, I would just have soon put this off until another term. But I am in the midst of looking for a new job, and I needed to show that I am keeping current. So, like the other two courses I took this term, with Fuller and AOIC, this one turned out to be unavoidable. It also turned out to be hugely demanding. It the first place each forum post – and there were two a week – required an enormous amount of reading and viewing, probably in excess of three hours each. Then you had to post your reflections on this material and respond to your colleagues’ posts.

Given that there was a cohort of 50 students each posting their reflections and including their own suggested readings and videos, it all got to be too much. By the time the course was over there were three thousand posts to read and respond and watch videos and read articles from. And that was in addition to the readings and assignments of the teacher, who has been doing this for years and had a incredible rich treasure trove of resources to rely upon. Then there were the assignments, only one of which I will post on Google docs in case you are interested. See https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5hmBgyBYRnfXzNIYjcyZWFsRVU/edit

In the middle of all this work, I got really, really sick, and as a result of that illness and stress had an accident. You might think that the result of all of this would be that I hated this course. Not so; in fact I loved it and would willingly take another if it were offered. It was great to be reading solely about educational materials again, and there was a certain synergy among this and the Fuller course I was taking that expanded understanding in both areas.

While recognizing that a cohort like this is a skewed sample, as only the motivated take these courses, there was a tremendous amount of knowledge and insight being offered and I was greatly inspired by my teaching colleagues who represent some of the finest examples of practical pedagogy anywhere in the world. Barb Knechtel, who taught the course, is a veteran like myself and still completely committed to excellence in all its forms. I learned a tremendous amount from her.

But I must confess, all of this took its toll on my health and ability to concentrate on just keeping myself safe in what can occasionally be a dangerous city. I am willing to admit that I failed to sufficiently count the cost that all these courses would have on me, and I was about to pay the price. In more ways than one.

Asus-Zenfone-4-A450CG

When I finally broke down and bought a smart phone, one of my colleagues said that I was likely the last person in Malaysia to get one. That might be overstatement, but not by much. Malaysia in general, and Kuala Lumpur in particular, prides itself of being up to date. Smart phones hit the market barely days after they were unveiled in the States and now have a 70% market share countrywide. That translates to an estimated 95% in the big city. The price, as you will see below, was ridiculous. And Christmas was coming.

I bowed to the inevitable when my boss insisted that he get in touch with me through What’s App. He gets a hundred emails a day and claims reads none of them (I think that too is overstatement for I know for a fact he responds to the important ones). I can’t function in this position without his signing on for the initiatives I am pushing, so I got the phone. Turns out I love it, and the What’s App is great. I immediately got on and immediately got connected to what the boss wanted. Turns out the principal of the school in Bario, Sarawak where the largest CSR project is being built, also uses What’s App and she started sending me pictures of the hostel being built. I send them on to the CEO. He thinks I’m the man.

My next download was the Kindle App. Pam and I are big Kindle users, and having the App on my phone means I am never without my books. Sitting on the bus while my car was being fixed (next post) I could keep up with my reading on all the courses I was taking this term. The phone came in particularly handy when I got sick and had to do my course work flat on my flat staring up at the ceiling. Someone on the OISE course I was taking (next post) raved of her success with a smartphone app for BlackBoard. OISE uses Blackboard. I downloaded the app in seconds, found the OISE site in minutes, and was happily trolling through and responding to my cohort’s posts within the hour. All flat on my back. There is no doubt that this smart phone saved that course for me.

I know you are thinking this kind of service doesn’t come cheap, right? It has been the cost that kept me from buying all these years. So, I just refused the service; I’ll just take the phone. Who needs service when we have Wi-Fi at work and a hub at home; Starbucks is wired, as is MacDonald’s and most shopping malls. We pay nothing for internet service, and aside from a driving GPS, never miss it either. Pam was so impressed she went out and got her own. To my delight, there she was chatting to our daughter through Skype on her smart phone the other day. Don’t you be giving us none of that old dog nonsense. We’ve got tricks.

Oh yeah, the cost. Well each phone was 300 and we got matching black and white Azus Zen 4s, so that came to 600. Ringgit. That translates to 200 Canadian for two smart phones, all in. This is about 170 American, including tax. For two smart phones. Merry Asian Christmas everyone!

a-modern-nativity-scene-julie-rodriguez-jones

It has become fashionable in the West to become churlish at Christmas. ‘Bah Humbug’s fill the air like noxious smog. Instead of greeting Christians cheerily, the airwaves and printed pages are filled with venom and invective towards us. Ebenezer Scrooge – at least before he’d had a change in heart – would be delighted. I know that has been going on for some years now. We had one particularly vindictive shrew at the school where I worked who would instruct her class – I couldn’t help but think of the Nazi Youth League at the time – to roam the halls inspecting ‘seasonal’ decorations on our doors to ensure that nothing Christian was in evidence, and report us if there was. Then we would be ‘eliminated’ from competition by the ‘decorating committee.’ There’s a woman who clearly missed her calling by a couple of decades.

This could well be our last Christmas in this part of the world, and there are certain things that are true about Malaysia. Yes, it is unbearably hot at times. Yes, it does rain – torrentially – for weeks on end. Yes, the sidewalks are broken or non-existent, the traffic congested, the roads like tortured spaghetti, the government corrupt and incompetent, the illegal immigrants and refugees persecuted and abused, the muezzin intolerably loud, especially at 5:30 in the morning or 7:30 in the evening when you would like nothing better than a little quiet conversation with your date for the evening. All of this and much more is true, and none of this comes as any surprise to those of us who live here.

But this is also true: the people here are kind and friendly and generous to a fault. They are as happy to wish you, as a Christian, a Merry Christmas, as they are delighted that you wish them a Happy Deepavali or Eid al-Fitr, Theravada, or Gong Xi Fa Cai. There is no craven Happy Holidays, or the even more smarmy Happy Festivus. Malaysians are of the opinion that there are times in everyone’s life worth celebrating, and are large enough in spirit not to begrudge you your celebration.

Imagine someone refusing to wish you a Happy Birthday because it wasn’t their birthday, and therefore not worth a greeting. Would such a person escape being labeled boorish and inconsiderate? Such are those who withhold the greeting appropriate to one of faith, whether that faith be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Shinto, or Christian. Fie on them. Merry Christmas! It is a time of great celebration. The God of all creation came to earth to show us how to treat each other on earth and to show us the way to heaven. If that isn’t worth celebrating, then nothing is.

In celebration Pam and I went dancing last night. Badly, I’m afraid. We are out of practice and both heavy on our feet. But it was a pleasant evening, nonetheless. Tonight we will celebrate Christmas Eve with my longest serving buddy in Malaysia, Easton Hanna and his new wife at their apartment. Tomorrow morning we get to Skype with our grandchildren in Seattle as they open their presents, and enjoy another Skype visit with our family in Calgary. We have a boys only online video game scheduled for Boxing Day. There is much joy in our hearts as we anticipate all of this happiness. Is that not cause enough to be merry? Casting aside our usual frugality in honour of the special occasion, we even bought each other presents.

All of this to say Merry Christmas to you, gentle reader. Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers this past year. It has been a tough year for us personally, as it has for the world at large. But yet there is much to be thankful for, and I trust that you also will remember what has cheered your heart and encouraged your spirit. May peace be your portion, and glad tidings of great joy, as you think upon God’s great Gift to us.

AOIC class

There are a couple of Christian Bible Colleges in Kuala Lumpur that offer courses at the Master’s Level. The colleges here occasionally offer courses from visiting lecturers, and it was through this venue that we were privileged to sit under Dr. Ajith Fernando, Sri Lankan National Director of Youth for Christ and author of more than 20 books just last year. This year we signed up a course on a Christian view of social justice being taught by a very prominent leader in the Christian social justice movement, Amanda Jackson, the Head of Advocacy for the influential Micah Challenge. We were very fortunate to get her to Malaysia at a very busy time in her schedule. Nevertheless, as a previous post explains, I had no idea when we signed up for this course that I would be taking two other courses at the same time as well, or I wouldn’t have signed up. Then I would have lost out on a very significant learning experience.

The course was called ‘Speak Up or Stay Silent.’ Those of you who know me well know that ‘silent’ is the last thing anyone thinks of once they have met me. Poor Amanda had a hard time getting a word in! But it was wonderful being able to interact with Asians over this issue, many of whom struggle with the traditional deference to authority, even when that authority is clearly unjust and oppressive. The readings, as has ever been the case with our studies over the last two years, were deeply unsettling to preconceived notions of easy acquiescence to the status quo. From the deeply spiritual Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, by Quaker Ron Sider, to Generous Justice, by Timothy Keller, we were challenged by a more Biblical understanding of just how costly to Christ our compliance with injustice truly is.

In addition I worked through some of the supplemental readings by Walter Wink (Engaging the Powers) and David Korten (The Great Turning), monumental works of scholarship that have shifted the ground under my complacency with structural social sin. Perhaps in a later post I will explore some of these ideas. For now I will simple provide a link to the Google doc where my essay for this course may be found. Just click on the link if you are interested https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5hmBgyBYRnfeEVYWXk5ZjBXSzA/edit

I even got to stretch my dramatic muscles in this course, as we were challenged to think through what any Biblical character might say on the issue of speaking up or staying silent. I chose my old (literally) hero Caleb, and came dressed and spoke in character, much to the delight of the class. Asians share my love of drama! As a special treat, we had the pleasure of Amanda’s company on a day off during the course and got to hear of her heart for social justice and her desire to see Christians have a greater impact in the development of the Millennium Development Goals for this hurting world. For all the burden of the work, Pam and I were both richly rewarded in fellowship and understanding.

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