Friday, June 29, 2012

Semester 1 at the Kindergarten

It must have been almost a year and a half ago when Barbara went to our business man friend Jerry and proposed that he could open up an International Kindergarten in this city.  To her surprise, he said "Yes, let's do it.  Oh, and one more thing, you're in charge of it."

A few weeks later and Jerry put down a swack of cash for a cluster of apartments on the first floor of a new building development in our neighbourhood.  They finished all of the designing and installations of floors, doors, video cameras, computer screens, dance room mirrors, flat screen tv's, and everything else by the end of last Summer.  They let it sit for 5 months so that all of the fumes from the paint would be gone and it would be nice and safe.

So there we were, last Winter and only a few months away from the start of the first semester.  Barbara was in charge of everything to do with the Kindergarten; finances, budget, purchases, registration, hiring, lesson plans, answering a million questions from Chinese parents, in Chinese.  It was a tough time.  A lot of "I have no idea what to do" and a lot of stress in taking every day at a time with not knowing what each one will hold.

I recall one particular day when, after fiddling around in an Excel document for a few hours, when Barbara just got up out of her chair, fell down on the floor, spread herself out on the carpet and wept.  Who of us does not know that completely helpless feeling?  Not knowing what to do, knowing that a lot of money has been invested in something you are in charge of.  That sinking feeling in your stomach, those tense, sleepless nights, those shaky phone calls from mother's asking a lot of questions in an way that you are not culturally prepared for.  There is a lot to relate to for a lot of people, but for her (and for us) it was a pretty new thing to go through.

I felt for her, of course.  Our relationship is a tricky surgery sometimes.  I dabble in trying to help out by trying to give her answers to her problems, then the monitor flatlines and a black out for a moment.   I take a breath, get the sweat wiped from by brow, then go back in and realize that my approach was all wrong.  In the end, I hug my patient.  It's the medicane I often forget about, yet it works most of the time as a short term treatment.  She needs regular doses.

Then, eventually, March 4th rolled around and I was sending my son and my wife off to their first day of school.

From there, things seemed to get a little easier.  A lot of little issues and questions seemed to sort themselves out with each passing day.  She tackled things as they came.  She got a lot of help from a few key people in the know, and she had a great co-teacher who made things work so well.

The class consisted of kids from the ages of 4 to 6.  She had Americans, Chinese, Canadians, a Korean, a Mongolian, and a Tibetan.  It was a very energetic and diverse group, as you can imagine.  Every days they would learn things in both English and Chinese.  A few of the kids couldn't speak English, but after time they grew more comfortable with it.  The same can be said for all of the foreigners and their Chinese.

While picking up Miles from the school I walked with one of the parents.  Curious about how his daughter was doing in the school, I asked, "So, does she like school"?  Upon which his response was, "Are you kidding?  It's all she talks about."

One boy did not speak any English, and at first he was timid and shy.  After a few weeks he was starting to be naughty.  Barbara mentioned this to his mother, who replied, "Oh, good.  that means he really likes school.  He's being himself."  Barbara liked that reply.

I am sure that there are more stories.  At the semester ending party,  Barbara, of course, teared up while welcoming the parents and thanking them for entrusting her with their kids.  The kids did a little performance of their games, songs, and dances and we finished things off with ice cream.  Parents gave Barbara cards of thanks, one mother cried so was so thankful for Barbara.  It was really a great time to see all of the parents and all of the kids together and to see this part of the process finished up and in the books.

Spring Class of 2012

There is a long way to go, but this first semester was a huge step.  Next semester the school will be bigger, not to mention that Mr. Jonas will be attending.  He's sure to add some sizzle.

After being here for 6 years, 6 tough years of confusion and clueless as to how we can contribute to this great city, it is a great feeling to see this happen.  Totally worth all of the hard times.  It's an amazing honor to be able to contribute to helping these kids start off on a healthy, fun, and exciting education.

I am very thankful for my Barbara.  I knew she had it in her, but she blew away all of my expectations. Amazing woman, loves kids so much, and is the perfect person to help get this Kindergarten off of the ground.  I am just happy to be a long for the ride, and give her hugs when she needs them.

Goin' on a bear hunt...

Friday, June 22, 2012

The NBA's one man show.

Further solidifying my disdain for the NBA, this week LeBron James won the NBA title.  Not the Miami Heat, but LeBron James.  This is another example in a long list of reasons why the NBA is an annoying star-driven association I choose not to be associated with.  It's turned into a media circus worse than what goes on in Hollywood.

LeBron James has played in the league for 9 season.  He hadn't won a Championship until now, and by the looks of it he's finally relieved to get it over with.  I mean, all of that trash talk and 'decision' making and nicknames (The King) had to be getting to him.  Now, finally, he can boost his ego even deeper into the heavens.

Take a look at this little gem of an interview:

Obviously, he's a team player.  HE made enough plays to win the title.

He went back to the basics.  I'm guessing it was more than lay-ups.

"It's about damn time!", he says.  It can get frustrating talking about being the best in the world without actually being the best in the world.

But enough of what LeBron has to say.  ESPN has a "Ring Him Up" title for it's homepage, with a subtext of "LeBron's night".

TSN has a "Ring for the King" headline.

Yahoo! says it's the "King's Coronation."

How could he not think he is a god?  The whole sports world has been calling him that for years now.

I'm not saying that LeBron James isn't a great basketball player.  I'm not saying that he doesn't deserve the MVP trophy (I didn't watch the finals, but the stats seem to say that he's worthy).  What my problem is is that they've turned the whole league into a bunch of journeymen players with a handful of top guys running the show.  James, Bryant, Carmelo, Rose and whoever else out there are the top dogs.  Without one of these guys nobody cares about you, even if you win!  Who won it last year?  Dallas.  You'd never know it because they don't have a sexy American Superstar on their team.

In Hollywood, the movies make money because they have star power.  There are certain actors and directors who make people money just by showing up.  The Movies have The Academy Awards to pump up everybody's ego.  The NBA has the Championship, and it seems to be for the individuals who make the NBA money.  Once they win, the league and the media fall down and worship them.  If they lose, the league and the media ask them what went wrong.  You should have won last year LeBron, what happened to you?  What went wrong?  It's like they're interviewing Tiger Woods or something, forgetting that there are 8 or 9 other guys there that had a heck of a lot to do with Mr. Awesome standing up front with all of the credit.  It's too predictable for me to keep paying attention to this sort of thing.  Yet this is my 3rd of 4th post on how much I hate the NBA, so maybe I'm warming up to it or something.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Reading Sci-Fi in Silence

Lately, I have developed a whole new level of love for reading.  We are serious, and we are intimate.

About a year ago I bought a second hand Kindle from a friend of mine.  About 11 months ago they came out with the new Kindle for a few dollars more.  In the end, despite the new model's untimely release, I am very pleased with my purchase.

The Kindle has opened up a whole new reading world for me.  I could download any book I wanted to and read it within a few minutes.  This is an amazingly significant step up from wandering around a Chinese city looked for English books wherever they might be hiding.  I no longer need to ignore my foreign friends and their hospitality so that I can take a peak at what's hanging out on their shelves.  Using friends for used books does not make a lasting friendship.

So here I am, a year later.  Let me see.  It looks like I have read 26 e-books this year.  Way more than normal Brett.  Reader Brett is happy with the changes.  I am gaining wisdom, insight, advice, adventure, humanity, and laughter through the written word.  One such book that I enjoyed recently was a collection of short stories by the crazy Sci-Fi writer Philip K. Dick.

Philip K. Dick was the man behind the stories of so many amazing Sci-Fi movies; such as Blade Runner, Scanners, Total Recall, Minority Report, and The Adjustment Bureau.  Okay, well, I haven't seen the Adjustment Bureau, but it's probably pretty interesting.  Why would I say that?  It's because every single one of his short stories I read was very interesting.  For every one of them I said to myself, "Well, they should make this into a movie.  It will do so well that, 20 years from now, they'll remake it."

The most pleasant thing about it was that the stories really made my imagination roam.  I had thought that I'd heard of every single possible reason to tell a story about Space.  Well, these stories took the Space genre into new directions for me, made me really appreciate the creativity and beauty of these ideas and dreams that people have the things that they'd like to see way out there some day.

On another note, these ideas made me realize how big everything else really is.  How big the Universe is, how odd it is that we exist in it at all.  We're like a single person standing in the middle of an empty city, minding our own business and pretending that nothing really matters but ourselves.

I find a sacredness about it.

Someone once said that all of the laser and gun noises in Star Wars wouldn't exist in real life because there is no oxygen in Space.  In real life, the battle around the Death Star would have been silent.  Profound.  I imagine things more like Kubrick's Classical Music in 2001:  A Space Odyssey than J.J. Abram's laser light show AKA. Star Trek.  There is the peaceful sound of nothing in Space.  It's all up there, quite as can be.  It's all up there, sitting and waiting for the Chinese Astronauts to arrive, the same way the Americans and Russians arrived many years ago.  The intrusion of Man cannot disrupt the tranquility of Space, because Space can't hear Man when he arrives.  It just sits there, enjoying the view of our blue planet and the beauty and mystery that is itself.

The Bible says that Jesus is the firstborn of all Creation.  It also says that he was there in the beginning. So, likely, we are lead to believe that he existed before Creation did; thus he could have probably been there for, as we like to call things, Eternity.  Eternity is strange because, unlike what most people think, it is not a measure of Time.  How could it be?  When did it start?  When will it end?  According to how we measure time, Eternity is, at present, beginning, continuing, and ending and already ended.  If we say that something happened early on in Eternity, we might as well be saying that it hasn't happened yet, because how would we differentiate 'early on' with 'later on' when it has had no beginning to speak of?

Yet, somewhere around the beginning of the Creation that we know now, the stars burst forth and the planets moved around the Sun and a lot of other scientific stuff happened.  Maybe there was oxygen in Space, and maybe it messed stuff up, so maybe it was sucked down into the Earth's Atmosphere.  In any event, Space is void of air and void of sound.  A peaceful place, where Eternity spins on into itself and Christ holds all things together within and around it.  At least, that's the mystery, anyways.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Plateau Hockey

I am a Canadian from Edmonton living on the Tibetan Plateau in Western China teaching Tibetans, Inner Mongolians, Han zu, Man zu, and Tu zu Chinese students about the great sport of Hockey.  The easiest/cheapest/most practical way to do this is to play street hockey.

More details here, here, and here.

Here is the latest update

From Last week:

It was a good time this last Tuesday down in the parking lot at Min Da University.  It was a good time and it was also quite different from other times.  Here are the highlights:

-  Last week, one of my dog leash goalie pad straps broke, so this week I decided not to bring them.  No goalie means we can go "full court" with 5 on 5 teams without goalies.  I also wanted to do this to emphasize the importance of team defence.  I wanted to teach them how to keep the ball out of the goal, positioning, and how to clear it out of harm's way.

So, when I showed up and saw about 25 guys there waiting to play, I was glad that we were going to have more room for everyone.  We ran around a lot more, which was nice, and it worked out pretty well.  There are definitely a few guys picking it up quicker than others.  We might be heading towards some sort of mini-tournament one of these days.

- Last week I told the coach that I was going home for my brother's wedding.  He told the guys that they needed to think of good things to give me to take home to my family as gifts from Qing Hai.  The two ideas they came up with were yak jerky and Qing Hai yogurt.

So, this week the coach gave me these:

Yak Jerky

Now, before you get too excited about things I must tell you that I don't even want to start to tell you how not like beef jerky this stuff tastes.  I'll bring some of it back and you can see for yourself, if you dare.

-  I should also mention that the coach was a little under the influence this weekend.  How he does it is beyond me; he must have a good, filling lunch break.  At one point he did some Tibetan dancing with one of the players, at another point he grabbed a stick, rode it like a horse, and displayed his limited Mongolian horse riding dancing skills.  It was fun, though I will also keep a close eye on the situation.

From this week:

We had our first casualties:


The blue one snapped in a Tibetan guy's hands while he slashed at the ball.  It was one of the older sticks.  It will be missed.

I stepped on the red one while it was in the hands of another player.  I won the puck battle and got a good shot on goal, so it was kind of worth it, in a way.

Down to 8 sticks.  I have a couple more lengths of wood in the apartment, which I can cut into more sticks, but clearly I'll be looking for some real sticks sooner than later.

If you are reading this and you have a keen idea on how to get us some real street hockey equipment out here, then please e-mail me at

Regardless, we will keep on keepin' on...