Should’ve Listened To the Flintstones

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

From this very funny, absolutely not fake- and I’m not even being sarcastic- New York Times article from 2001, I know that Singapore’s population is aging disproportionately because its citizens are too busy to get busy.

I also know this because I just spent three nights in the hospital with what feels like most of them.  Three nights, I should add, of noises that I did not know the human body could produce. On the first night, I lay for hours in one of the bumper-to-bumper stretchers in an overcrowded room that was meant for 12 of us but instead held 30+.  The noises were continuous, a muted thunderous, and heartbreaking.

(Relatively amusing aside, though: this is the room to whom I flashed my boobs when they didn’t close the curtains all the way for one of my electrocardiograms.  Everyone was too sick or injured to throw beads at me or even make excited noises.  I was too numb to react at the time, but now it annoys me a little.  C’mon, people!  That was a rare and special moment for you!  Boobs!)

Anyway, I also spent two nights sharing a room with five other women who I can’t really talk about because thinking about them isn’t fun.  Sometimes you just know when people are waiting out their time.  You can hear it.

It all started when I couldn’t sleep for a few nights because I kept shooting terrified out of bed after I’d stopped breathing.  I’ve been going hard on the fruits and vegetables here but was losing energy, so I doubled down in Malaysia and tried to avoid all the rice and noodles, too.  The breathing issues got worse, however, and I started to get winded just walking from my chair to the beach.  I know, I know… trouble in paradise.

Back in Singapore, I started gasping all the time.  No sleep, couldn’t exercise, constantly fighting for a breath.  It was pretty scary, but kind of reminded me of the trip over here which was easily fixed.  Cool, I figured, one night around 11.  I’m not going to sleep- I’ll just find a 24 hour clinic and get some antibiotics and knock this out.  It is clearly time for something more than garlic pita, papaya, and mango therapy.

I hit the doc.  He sent me to the hospital.  BP exceptionally low, heart rate exceptionally low, slightly wonky ecg- they kept me for observation until 4 in the morning.  They let me go with a referral to a specialist and a warning to come back if it got worse.

It got worse.

On the way back to the hospital, I was convinced that it was my thyroid because I’d spent way too much time on the Internet googling symptoms.  I truly thought they would do a quick blood test and then he’d give me some hormones and I’d be on my merry way.

Nope.  The blood test thing happened (three times) plus a few more ecgs, a CT scan and some pulmonary thing that came out a blur because they kept grabbing my wrists to “settle” me- haha!  remember how much fun I think my wrists are?- which gave me outright panic attacks and left me shaking and crying uncontrollably while some sort of liquid highlighter pumped through my lungs.

Sample conversation:

Doctor (still in braces, not reassuring): I need you to calm down and take a deep breath.

Me: I (gasp) CAN’T!  That’s why I’m (gasp) HERE!

Doctor: (grabs wrist to hold me still to inject things into one of my symmetrical inner elbow IVs)

Me: (complete panic attack, inability to speak, instinctive physical battle against perceived lethal wrist touches, tears and hyperventilation)

It wasn’t pretty.

In my calmer moments, I had a heart ultrasound and a 30 minute cardiac scan.  My resting heart rate kept coming in at around 52 and often, they’d take my blood pressure multiple times and even move my bed around so my feet were above my head until they were satisfied.  I guess 86 over 54 is pretty low.

Regardless, they couldn’t find anything scarily wrong.  After the second night, they sat me down.  (Metaphorically, of course.  I did a lot of sitting there.)

Psychiatrist: We think you have anxiety.

Me: I don’t.

Psychiatrist: Well, when you can’t breathe, are you worried?

Me: Yes.  Because I can’t breathe.

Psychiatrist: Well, we think you’re stressed.

Me: I’m a teacher.  I know stress.  I know anxiety.  I’M A TEACHER.  I haven’t had to teach in two months.  My job now is to read and write and think about interesting stuff in this great new place I get to explore, plus I’m warm all the time.  I just got back from vacation on a tropical beach.  THIS IS NOT ANXIETY.  My life is really, really good except I CAN’T. BREATHE. DURING IT.

Psychiatrist: You need to take this pill which will ease your anxiety.

Me: (thoughts only, still trying to be an ambassador) I hate you- I hate you- why won’t you LISTEN?!?

I took the pill in the interest of making her go away.  I had the most miserable afternoon.  Breathing got worse, plus my mind was racing and my knees wanted to jump all around.  After multiple nights of sleeplessness, I felt like I was going crazy.

There’s a reason I don’t do drugs.

All night, I googled my symptoms and read websites and journals (did you know you can get actual science answers- journal articles- by using Google Scholar?  It’s a priceless research tool) when I could lift my groggy head from between my knees.  I tried to sneak downstairs to buy vitamins but I got caught and sent back to my bed.

Because you know what?  That’s actually what this whole thing was, I think.  Turns out there’s no dairy in Singapore foods, and I tend to stay away from meat.  All my efforts to eat more fruits and vegetables to make myself feel better actually meant I had dropped my b12 intake to approximately none per day.  I had accidentally gone mostly vegan, and you can’t get b12- an extremely vital nutrient and OH how I know that now- without meat products or a supplement.

Whoops.  Holy cow, have I had a lot of cheeseburgers in the past couple of days.  Eat the cheese or hurt yourself, it turns out.

So I’m out of the hospital now, and I’m feeling better.  Got a supplement and some Mos Burger on my way home, and was finally in the frame of mind to appreciate what a great situation I’m in here.  The Fulbright team in Singapore and back home reached out multiple times per day, and the US Embassy in Singapore did as well.  My buddy teacher from the Ministry of Education was phenomenal, visiting me on the weekend, talking to doctors, and bringing me things like a toothbrush and charger, which I don’t know what I would’ve done without. They offered a ton of support at a time it felt good to have it.

Better yet, I’m writing this from my little porch in Bali.  It’s school vacation week, and after I checked myself out I was able to salvage most of the vacation I booked a few weeks ago.  My anxiety level is zero (normal) and this temple is right down the street (not).  I’m not 100% yet, but I’m 100% happy that I’m here.


And that aging population thing?  Well kids, eat your vitamins.  If we have that long a road ahead of us, might as well do what we can to make it smoother.


March 5, 2018

My mom claims she always knew I’d be a teacher.

Apparently I’d line up my stuffed animals in my crib and babble nonsensically at them before my mouth had even developed the freedom of speech.  This was also how she knew I was really sick- because one day, I was quiet.

Also, my neck had swelled up to the size of my face.

Doctors didn’t have the first idea what was wrong with me, but before I was two years old I was lying on an operating table getting my neck drained.  No- let’s be more specific- I was strapped to an operating table in wrist restraints because they didn’t want to anaesthetize me without knowing what the dickens was wrong.  I was wide awake, frantically failing to flail to safety while the strangers sliced open my neck.

Years later, when Santa got me Swatch watches for Christmas because I wanted to be cool- hypercolor t-shirts were also an option- but then refused to wear them, my mom ventured a guess as to why and told me about the surgery.  It was the first my conscious brain had heard of it.

Oh!  That’s why I still don’t wear a watch, or bracelets.  That’s why I still can’t fall asleep unless my neck and both wrists are fully covered.

That’s why I was the only of my friends to sport the frighteningly regular mock turtle.  It’s why in high school, when my tooth doctor grabbed my wrist to ‘calm’ me, I reflexively kicked her in the face.

I had no real memory of what happened, but a piece of my brain retained it just the same.

Fast forward a couple 2, 3 decades, and I’m perched at a beach bar in Malaysia, eating spring rolls and watching the sun set over the limestone archipelago as my Kindle app is open to some brain books.  My mom was right- I grew up to be a teacher, and it’s my mission to be really good at it.  In fact, this is less a vacation than a change of working scenery; I’ve spent most of my time here reading and writing about social and emotional learning, stuff I’ve wanted to do for years but have been too wrapped up in “kids are right there and they need you” priorities of teaching to actually devote any time to.

So here’s what I’m reading:


They’re all pretty great, with sections devoted to neurophysiology- I dig it- and how the research can be applied to traumatized students, or adults, or ourselves.  There are lots of anecdotes about people with PTSD, and lots of fascinating, kind of soap opera-style voyeuristic case studies that keep the science accessible.

I was learning a ton tonight, taking copious notes, and just generally being inspired by what this means for my classroom when boom- in the midst of my Langkawi spaghetti with teeny garlic clams- I read this:


from Daniel Coleman’s Emotional Intelligence.

From this and more research, he contends that the brain makes emotional memories in the amygdala that are totally separate from factual memories in the neocortex.  Since the amygdala is more necessary for brute survival, it’s almost fully formed at birth.  The neocortex takes some years.  At any point in our life, sensory information goes to both of them, and both will interpret and tell the body to react based on their own historical context (and in our early years, degree of formation).

That can be confusing.  Turns out people can form very strong emotional memories well before we have the language to describe them or the factual memory to record the circumstances of them, and we then respond for the rest of our lives in accordance with those primal, inarticulate memories.

It could be why I have no recall of my childhood slicings and dicings, yet I’m still irrationally paranoid and careful of my wrists and neck.

It could be why we have students who respond to apparently innocuous circumstances in ways that seem bizarre or overreactive.

It’s why we have to teach them- and ourselves as well- how to be mindful of the way our brains work, and that if we use strategies to calm ourselves and slow our reactions long enough for our amygdalae to chill and our more rational neocortices to take over, we can potentially avoid some embarrassing and negative consequences.

Like mock turtlenecks, or kicking our well-intentioned mouth doctors.

I don’t totally know yet what to do with this.  As you can see from above, I’m only 12% done with this one.  Perhaps I’ll learn something that negates this stuff, or better, I’ll learn how to control it.

Because you know, I hear those hypercolor v-necks go great with a sleeve of bangles.

Eko Location: Langkawi

Sunday, March 4, 2018

In my Intro to Mass Communications class in college, Keith and Brandon and I all fell non-sexually in love with Dr. Lyombe Eko, who had perhaps the most charming attendance policy of all time.  Actually it wasn’t a policy so much as the fact that he would take attendance every class, three times a week for a semester, by announcing us by first and last name and then looking around until we answered.  All 100 of us!  It took fully 20% of our seat time. And I would always be laughing so hard by the time he announced, in his deep and intellectual West African accent,


that my mirthful “here!” would prompt a pleased “you are always so happy, Miss Fooster,” in return.

Sometimes Brandon would answer with a “YES.  I AM HERE,” in his Dark Helmet Spaceballs voice, which made everything even better (“I did not see you playing with your dolls, sir) and I think to this day we have fond memories of that class and that lovely, lovely man.

So a few years ago when one of my own students started playing with an accent because he had learned English by watching Nigerian movies with his sister, I was delighted when all the other kids starting calling me “Miss Fooster”, too.  At this point, it’s pretty casual.  “Yo, Foost, can you come give me some feedback?”

“What’s up, Fooster, what are we doing in social studies today?”

I kinda miss that.  I had 107 things on my to do list today (for real- I break everything up into tiny chunks so I can feel a sense of accomplishment as I erase them on my computer) and it’s a ton of reading and writing, which I like, but none of them have anything to do with the funny children.

On the other hand, somebody designed my perfect happy place, y’all, and I found it!

Okay, I need to tell you a quick story so you fully appreciate my bliss.

In Singapore, my only complaint is that it’s practically impossible to get unadorned vegetables.  That’s like 50% of my diet back home because of energy and vanity; my face HATES my Singapore diet and needs some detox.  Everything is delicious but it comes with a majority of rice or noodles and they’re doused in salty and sugary sauces.  Even the coffee comes naturally as like, half evaporated milk and sugar.  It took me a week to figure out how to order it black (kopi o kosong).  And I don’t cook at my house because my kitchen was so filled with hairballs and a thick layer of yellow grease when I moved in that even hours after cleaning, I still get nauseous when I consider using a hot plate and pan that was once in that condition.

Anyway, I’ve developed a breakfast habit of nasi lemak, which is this:


The Muslim Food (it’s actually called that) stall at the hawker center (a place with a bunch of food stalls where you can get a big meal for about three bucks) starts putting it together automatically when I get close now. When I get to my table, kopi has already been delivered by a man who speaks mostly Mandarin and always makes muscles at me and asks if I’ve been lifting, I think because I wear athletic shorts to breakfast.  It’s a pretty satisfying meal habit, as meal habits go. I feel at home there, although certainly not healthy.

Dinner tends to be veggie noodles or laksa (a Singaporean spaghetti dish in spiced up coconut milk with “cockles”) or dim sum or South Indian food.  Carbs are standard and vegetables are more of a saucy garnish. It all makes my skin pretty angry.

So imagine my delight when I discovered the Huggin Hippo!

Here’s what this place has going for it:

1: It looks like this on this inside


2. and this on the outside, where I’ve plopped myself for the past three hours and intend to stay until my charge runs out


3. plus Langkawi- a gorgeous island near the Malaysia/Thailand border and where the Huggin Hippo is located- sports this kind of sunset:


4. The soundtrack this morning started with acoustic, lyricless, soft rock versions of songs like “Wrecking Ball” and “Shape of You” and morphed into an extended playlist of Jason Mraz (my very favorite of all time) and do you guys know how much I adore soft rock?

5. the temperature is 86 in the shade of this palm tree, where the wifi still works,

6. and breakfast was a delicious ratatouille mix of protein and vegetables!

I feel so good.  SO GOOD.  I swear if I were to design something from scratch as “most ideal place in the world” it would be here.   My list has already shrunk to 95 things and I don’t feel gross and everything’s pretty as well as pretty great.

I might have to establish a Republic of Foosterstan so I can live here.  Think Dr. Eko will come do the census for me?


That’s Me in the Corner

Friday, March 2, 2018

I wouldn’t exactly call my experience of nine years at Catholic school an indoctrination, although I have never in my life seen a person as scared for eternal hellfire as when Oscar accidentally clipped a statue of the Virgin Mary in fifth grade.  She was completely beheaded; I actually think it rolled across the floor (although this cannot be confirmed as the entire class was too busy being frozen in the fear of our friend’s newly assured damnation to encode it for posterity).

I have two other favorite “religion in school” memories.  One is when Eddie- who used his time in the prayer corner developing a BFF-ship with Aaron instead of repenting his sins as ordered- wrote a letter to John Paul with the salutation “Dear Poop”.  Haha!  Make way for the PoopMobile!  I’m not six years old anymore, but that joke stands the test of time.

My final fave is when our regular priest was joined by the retired one for a special mass, even though his encroaching senility normally kept him resting in the rectory.  In retrospect, senility isn’t funny, but to an 8th grader, watching the guy tip back the communion wine, forget what he was doing as he was doing it, and take like a full minute to down the entire thing was top-notch hilarious.  And I’m glad I don’t believe in hell anymore, because Oscar and I would definitely be burning in it together.

I’ve been thinking more about religion in schools since I got to Singapore.  The government here is very conscious of respecting the cultures and religions of each of the named races: Chinese, Malay, and Indian being the biggest three.  Malay was the original national language because of Singapore’s location on the peninsula and because as recently as the 1960s, they were a state of that country instead of a sovereign nation.  In order to unite the races without elevating one ahead of the others, however, and in order to become a major player in world economics, the government adopted a bilingual policy.  The race-neutral English would become the language of government, business, and almost every subject in education, but students would additionally take classes in and master their own mother tongues: Mandarin, Malay, or Tamil.  In mother tongue classes, students would also learn the values inherent, which often stemmed from Buddhist, Taoist, Islamic, or Hindu roots.

A policy that sort of contradicts this- maybe, since this is solely my opinion and since I’ve been limited to the Web rather than live humans for my questions- is that students may not wear any symbol of their own religious beliefs to school.  This means no hijabs (which I’ve seen referred to as “tudung” here and I can’t figure out the difference so would welcome an enlightening comment) although many are Muslim, and no crucifix necklaces, although many are Christian. The reasoning, according to a New York Times article in 2002 quoting then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, is here:

“Schools provide the common space for us to mingle and socialize as Singaporeans, and not as Chinese, Eurasians, Indians, Malays, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, or Muslims.”  On religious accessories, he says “our schools will become polarized along racial and religious lines, as children will tend to mix with those who look and dress similarly.  Our effort to build a nation will be severely set back.”

I can certainly see his point.  People tend to seek community, and the most immediate way to identify someone who may have something in common is to look at that person.  If someone is sporting a Cavs jersey or displaying a rainbow flag or wearing a yarmulke, it makes it really easy to find a conversation starter.  That’s natural in the short term, but unfortunately people tend to make habits of whatever they do first.  When I see students habitually segregating themselves by race or religion or some other form of (usually visible) identity politics, it’s always an internal struggle between “cool, they found comfort in people who can really understand” and “how are they ever going to appreciate the beauty and necessity of diversity and open conversation?” I try to facilitate the talking in class, but it’s not enough.

So I have questions: should schools be so secular as to ban these symbols of identity? How does a society prioritize inclusion, equality, and religious freedom without compromising speech and expression?  Does passive allowance of social segregation promote extremism or intolerance in any form?

These seem like important issues to educators, issues that require extensive thought and a delicate handling.

The opposite of the kind of handling fifth-grade Oscar used on the V.M.

(Sorry, man… I’ll see you in Dante’s sixth circle.)

IMG_6730 2




Sunday, February 25, 2018

As a child, I was allowed one hour per day of screen time.  Since the only screen readily available to me was the television, that time was generally spent in some combination of Jeopardy, The Wonder Years, and maybe- if I wanted to get my exercise on- a Sweatin’ to the Oldies VHS.

(FYI this means my ideal man became a smooth mix of Alex Trebek, Kevin Arnold, and Richard Simmons.  Single and ready to mingle, fellas!  Do you fit the bill?)

Anyway, any curiosity I had about adult sedentary entertainment had to be sated by the snippets of show reflections cast by the dining room china cabinet that I snuck while crouched in a hidden corner.  I’m sure I missed quite a few major plot points.  And I couldn’t fill in the gaps with any realistic street knowledge because at the time, Augusta streets were pretty much for capture the flag and my Strawberry Shortcake Big Wheeler.  Not that I’m complaining.

The result however, is that, growing up, I thought drug deals were these shady, elaborately planned alleyway meetings involving code names and color coordination.  There would always be a Miami Vice kind of character plowing around a corner unexpectedly, and the bad guy would invariably be killed, caught, or cunningly escape into a crescendo of theme music and a fraught “to be continued…”

So I was nervous when Chingay was sold out and I stooped to consulting a sketchy internet resale site.  I risked it, though: hopped a train, palmed some cash to my contact for the ticket, and then melted back into the crowd to go to here:


Isn’t it pretty?  SO WORTH IT.  I was at the beginning of the parade route, too, so the 6500 or so performers (like this dragon and these stilt people) started just to my right, which was fun.

According to the event website, Chingay started as a Chinese culture fest celebrating costumes and masquerade.  It’s a Lunar New Year tradition, but has evolved in Singapore to be a multicultural celebration parade featuring not only the Chinese, but also the Malay, Indian, and Eurasian major ethnic groups.  Additionally, guests from around the world now participate via cultural performances, fancy lights, and sparkly, flamboyant costumes.

Exception: the handsome Japanese rhythm section.  Those guys were shiny, too, but only from the sweatiness of being powerful and shirtless drum warriors.  A THING WE DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH OF.

By the way, America, I’m also mad at us for not having cultivated the silkworm all these centuries.  Asian traditional dress is art and it’s gorgeous!  As a country I think we should open our fashion borders to the shinier and more intricate.  Stripey pants wouldn’t hurt, either.  Here are some more pictures:

Sadly I did not capture the people playing Hound Dog on light-up ukuleles, or for that matter, the Asian Elvis conga line.  This may or may not be because I was smiling so hard my cheekbones were about to pop right off of my face.

I did catch the Russian dancers, however.  They were dope:

All in all, despite my misgivings about the ticket deal, I must say I had a heck of a good time.  I’ll take Chingay for 2018 please, Alex!

With its Richard Simmons stamp of approval.

Gender, Language, and Hoop Dreams

Friday, February 23, 2018

“Hey, AJ,” said Rob, an esteemed science teacher at the school I joined in 2005, “a group of us play basketball early in the morning before school.  Great bunch of guys, good run- you should join us.”

My ears perked up.  I was hanging out with AJ because he was also new to the school and was one of my ramp buddies, which is nothing weird: his computer classroom was at the bottom of the incline over which my social studies classroom was perched.  Sometimes we’d come outside and yell jokes at each other and remind ourselves of how funny it was when that one kid tried to give him the clandestine finger while “shielding” the gesture with his other hand.  That was hilarious.

Anyway, AJ replied.

“Oh!  Nice. That sounds pretty fun- I’m really more of a swimmer…”

Insert eager-beaver me:

“I’ll play!  I’ll be there!  I’ve been playing my whole life; I miss it!”

My enthusiasm dampened as Rob slowly turned to look at me.  I could see him trying to figure out how to deliver the cordial, firm lack of an invite.

“It’s… it’s really just a bunch of guys who play…”

Rob wasn’t trying to be be mean.  You won’t find a deliberately mean bone in his body; he’s the kind of guy who volunteers to hold clubs for things he cares about, even if it’s all time and no money.  He’s the kind of guy who organizes to build a deck for a staff member, or a home with full accessibility for a former colleague who all of a sudden needs one.  A playground for a bunch of community kids we love.

I could go on.

I won’t, though, because this is a story about a time I was mad at him.

“ROBERT.  Are you saying I can’t come because I’m a girl?  No, I’m coming.  I’m playing with you guys.”

I have no idea where the chutzpah came from but all of a sudden it was less about basketball and more about proving something.

I went.  I was not in basketball shape, and I messed up, probably a lot.  Two or three of the guys there made rude comments, slightly over their breath to make sure I heard, about “what do you expect?  A girl.”  I fumed.

I did, however, keep going back.  I learned how to elbow people (sorry, AJ) and play harder and do better because I had more to prove.  I started cussing with the best of them (not Rob- he’s way tougher than I am but still shocked to his core when I call him an ass.  Hahaha!  It’s so fun!) so they wouldn’t think I was soft.  I way overdid it trying to fit in and act more “male” because I was so angry at the thought of being shut out from the fun kind of exercise based solely on my ovaries.

Over the years, however, basketball became consistently one of the best parts of my day.  Rob and AJ, who I may not have known well if solely through the context of staff meetings and “meanwhile, back at the ramp” time, are now part of a group of basketball people I like, respect, and trust.  We often test thoughts and run things by each other on the court, and that means better working relationships and collaboration for the kids.  Would I have that if I didn’t force a gender re-eval?

Last night, in my sociolinguistics class, the topic was gender in the classroom.  I thought I knew stuff from my own experience.  I sort of figured: keep high expectations for everyone, provide multiple methods for participation, form a positive relationship with every kid.  We good?

Nope.  Turns out, kids have been fed a lot of ideas subconsciously for years.  Like, check out the sentences in the Random House Dictionary of the English Language that H. Lee Gershuny studied in the ‘70s.  These are the sentences editors chose to illustrate meanings of words? (dated, yes, but I Googled some words last night and found similar results):

Screen Shot 2018-02-23 at 5.02.43 PM

Interesting, right?  We also learned about more recent research that has shown that boys overwhelmingly get more attention in classrooms, whether for academics or behavior.  It occurred to me that I have no earthy idea- without recording a class- where my verbal attention is going, which means I might unwittingly be perpetuating an inequality that (slight gutter language here) really pisses me off.  And the idea that I might be part of the problem pisses me off even more.

Finally, my professor presented some “nature vs nurture” science.  The newish field of epigenetics- the idea that while our genetic makeup is fixed, our experiences with others and what we do to ourselves and take into ourselves can affect how and if those genes are expressed a certain way- is fascinating to me.  The research presents gender not as something that’s nature, or fixed, but rather as a performance that we act out according to our various social contexts.

So with certain of my friends?  I act more stereotypically feminine, or to be more precise, more stereotypically American feminine since the idea of feminine changes across culture.  And then in basketball, for years, I tried to be more of my idea of a dude.

(It kind of worked, by the way.  An administrator once told me that in the new configuration of teacher teams in the school, there weren’t enough men to go around… so I was to be the “man” on my team.  I think it also says something about gender that I took that as flattering.)

So it’s an interesting subject, but the way it has in some ways played out can be damaging to kids trying to figure out what it means to be “boy” or “girl”.  If you’re reading a book like this one and trying to construct your social position, you’re going to get ideas:

Photo reblogged from

It also means people will get (or not get) opportunities based on society’s idea of what gender means, and not all of those losses can be mitigated by throwing an elbow and sticking a 3.  We need to work on that, and to talk about it in classrooms across content areas.

And finally, if you think that men are actually from Mars and women from Venus?  Well, methinks your problem is a bigger one. You should probably head on up the ramp for a quick what’s-what on geography.

I’ll be there, trying harder to be better at it all.


Happy/Somber Hols

February 15, 2018

The problem with a multicultural society is that sometimes, Chinese New Year (eat meat dumplings!) Ash Wednesday (don’t eat meat!) Valentine’s Day (love and lovers!) and Total Defense Day (a lot of people died horribly) line up their lunar and Gregorian selves and really serve to confuse a person.  I mean, check out this CNY gift bag swag.  Mixed message, right?  In a good way.


The cool part is that Singapore seems to have it all sorted.  “I got a dispensation for the eating,” whispered the Chinese Catholic to me at the party, “plus, the salmon is vegetarian.”

So that part was confusing, but in a way that I could at least understand.*  The calendar stuff, not the business about vegetarian salmon- that’s just bizarre.  I did have great fun throwing the “fish” around, though, in the traditional celebratory way.  I am loving the people I work with and how they include us in all the diverse food and parties.  Big kudos to the world for coming up with so many reasons and ways to have fun with each other.

On an “other side of humanity” note, however, today I headed with my partner school to a memorial dedicated to civilians who died in World War II.  There is some dark, dark history I’m currently too upset about to get into here, but what it boils down to is that in the 1950s and ‘60s, when Singapore was planning and building what was to be a newly sovereign nation, they kept finding masses of human remains at construction sites.  There had been multiple slaughters of civilians- especially the ethnically Chinese in unnatural disasters like Sook Ching, or “purge through cleansing”- during the Japanese occupation.  It was continually heart-rending to witnesses and survivors, and it was way, way too raw.

So the Singaporeans created a memorial.  They collected all the bones and reburied them at one sight, opting against cremation because of the various religious beliefs of surviving family members.  They commissioned this monument:


which has four towers progressively leaning toward each other until they are bonded at the top.  This represents Singapore’s four “races”: Chinese, Malay, Indian, and other (mostly Eurasian) and how they must always support each other as one nation.

51 years later, they invited some school children, with whom I limped along in my flesh-eating bus station shoes, and -WHOA!- the first female and current President of Singapore, Halimah Yacob.

I took a picture of the motorcade because I was kind of impressed.  And then, even though I was this far away for her speech,

I continued to be impressed, if more sweatily.  I like how world leaders are still able to emphasize the necessity of cooperation and unity across differences.  And I like that I can still be surprised by Singapore, since they included bagpipes in the post-keynote ceremony. Definitely did not see those coming.

I got a little closer for the photo ops, where I made eye contact and smiled in a way that I hope reassured her that World Peace: I’m For It.


I don’t know if the look worked, but my partner teacher has former students in impressive places, so we got a photo op ourselves!  Since I’m not a selfie taker, I just did this:


and called it good.  Somewhere there’s a professional picture of me and an actual President, though, which is pretty neat.

I hope I didn’t have salmon in my teeth.

*Not a “why the effing eff doesn’t Congress get their shit together like the entire rest of the world because children are dying???” kind of confusion.  Or a “further, why are we not voting the calluses out???” kind of confusion.  Because I’m really angry about those two things, but I’m keeping it down here because it doesn’t really fit the tone of everything else above.