Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

SOME EDUCATION THOUGHTS AND A VENT OR TWO

February 25, 2013

Some Education Thoughts, and A Vent or Two

During the past few years, I have become increasingly disturbed relative to the directions that both local and national emphases have taken toward the demand for educational accountability. As a matter of fact, our state legislature this month stripped the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction of most of her duties and responsibilities, arguing that under her management of the State’s Department of Education, she had not effectively carried out the legislature’s dictates toward establishing a productive system for measurement of school effectiveness and student achievement. Instead, they are creating a Director of Education position within which the legislature’s directives constitute a major focus. The existing Superintendent will retain some comparatively minor responsibilities and function with only a relatively small staff. It needs to be mentioned that there were some other concerns expressed by Wyoming educators through their legislative representatives, so it was not only the accountability issue that precipitated the action.

As a part of this upheaval, the role of assessment played a major role in decisions about how schools should be held accountable. During the past 20 years, Wyoming has been a leader nationally in establishing high standards within assessment programs. In the early 90’s, school districts were directed to individually establish standards for graduation, a difficult task especially when most of the school districts are quite small and have a limited number of staff members having the time to accomplish such a complex assignment. Many of our districts looked to the three largest ones, ones that were well-staffed with specialists and having significant funding to support the “movement”. Materials that were developed in these “anchor districts” were shared across the state, but as they differed somewhat one from the other, there continued to be a lack of consistency in the measurement of student achievement throughout the state. Ultimately, the state offered standards in nine subject areas, that could be adopted by districts, and most did so. Unfortunately, the state left the task of developing assessments of those standards to the local districts, we were still left with the difficult issue of inconsistency throughout the state, and the problem of not having enough staff to create effective, well-aligned measures.

The district in which I was the Curriculum Director attacked the initial assignment in two directions; first, we hired two consultants to provide leadership in developing and aligning assessments with our district’s curriculum objectives, by subject area and by grade level. Second, we formed a committee of school personnel and community representatives to establish requirements for graduation.

That first direction was relatively straightforward, I doubt if there is any school district anywhere that doesn’t rely to either a greater or lesser extent on test data. But it was the second activity that was the most exciting; I’ll try to give a brief overview here and expand upon it at a later date. Here’s what we did:

Instead of looking toward tests and grade points as the foundation of decision-making, we asked the question, “What do we want our students to be able to do when they leave our high school?” This led to discussing what background a student needs in order to be successful, regardless of which path is chosen. This led further toward one of the main points included in a blog I just read, High Performing Educational Systems (in “It’s a Halal Life”, by Susan Labadi). I summarize some of her reasoning by stating that Learning and Living should not be separated, knowledge and performance are not conveniently divided into separate little cubicles but must be taken together. She goes on to provide strong support for not removing the so-called “liberal arts” from the curriculum in favor of providing more math, reading, and science; the areas which are the “usual” focus for assessment. To be really “educated”, students need to know that the liberal arts are the fertile ground from which most of “who we are” has grown; the Humanities represent the all-encompassing universal that brings it all together. Math and Science do not exist in a vacuum.

I was further excited to see that she, along with our current President, are making the case for students to graduate from high school with a marketable skill, something for which I was a proponent 20 years ago, but to deaf ears. I think that there has been too much emphasis on “going to college” when in fact there are lots of careers that do not require a college degree. Our state, for example, has a host of high-paying blue-collar jobs related to the mineral and fossil fuel industries. It seemed a bit ironic to me that a number of years ago, recognizing that our state often is “rolling in dough” from the mineral, gas, and oil extraction, our legislature established a scholarship program which would provide for many students’ tuition to one of our state’s higher education facilities. The advertised intent was to keep more of our Wyoming college graduates “in the state”. What they ignored was that there just aren’t that many openings for college graduates within our hiring community; in fact, the coal and oil companies have had to set up their own schools to train new persons for the specialized requirements of their industries.

To return to my overview, we wanted students to demonstrate that they could competently apply what they had learned from their four years of high school. To do this, we identified seven areas, each of which emphasized the interaction of subjects rather than their separation. The seven areas were Communication, Citizenship, Global/Environmental, Health/Fitness, Career/Vocational, History and Culture, Independent Learning. Within each one, a student was to make choices about topics and skills to use and select modes for communicating; the areas were stated in terms of what the student would do. An example would be “Health/Fitness: The student will use a research-based assessment to determine the state of his/her fitness, establish personal fitness goals and implement a plan of action toward meeting those goals.” A variety of evidence was to be used including portfolios, projects, videos, etc.

Note that we didn’t mention, math, science, or reading; since graduation also required meeting certain numbers of course credits, we assumed that the students had had their fill of testing of those topics within their classes. We were interested in seeing if they could use what they were to have learned. An interesting series of discussions focused on Writing; instead of requiring Writing as one of the areas, we recognized several things—First, most people don’t use actual writing as part of their jobs. Second, what they do need to learn is how to organize their thoughts in order to communicate effectively whether it’s through writing, speaking, use of technology, art, etc. Our graduation requirement allowed the student to choose a format with which he/she was comfortable; to choose a topic to either narrate, describe, evaluate, critique, etc.

Another example came from Global/Environmental; we wanted the student to be able to demonstrate understanding of how changes on one part of the planet affected things elsewhere not only environmentally but also economically, politically, and culturally. To be effective, the student would have to draw from a variety of courses. They might choose the Brazilian rain forest as a topic; it’s deforestation in order to grow sugar cane for ethanol has caused a spike in coffee prices throughout the world, due to the loss of coffee growing regions, and added ozone to the atmosphere. Here we see economics, agriculture, politics, and etc. woven together.

Unfortunately, our plan all went by the wayside in the mid-90’s, when the state decided to have everyone write assessments and use them as the basis for graduation along with the usual class credits and GPA. I still hope to resurrect it in some form, somewhere.

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Odds and Ends

Social Networks—-One current issue is the florescence of the “social networks” over the Internet. A trustee of our major university expressed his concern about the lack of involvement of students with creative writing; these short “tweets” and facebook texting are “dumbing down” good communication and, in my opinion, interfering with the thought processes that allow for any kind of in-depth introspection either personal or in one’s surroundings. I need to add that I’m also skeptical of all the “distance learning” programs; I’ve yet to see one that even somewhat approaches the effectiveness of a good classroom teacher having the skills described in Ms. Labadi’s blog.

Whom to Blame? A note about an issue in assessment—our legislature has been tussling with the whole “Teacher of Record” problem. If indeed student performance on the usual math, science, and reading tests is to be used to measure teacher effectiveness, then how do the shop teacher, the P.E. teacher, and the Social Studies teacher fit in? Who gets the blame for poor performance? The question remains unresolved!

School Resource Officers—I don’t think they should be expected to be able to deter one of these maniacs from doing terrible things to kids in school. After all, if the SRO has several schools to patrol, the perp only has to wait until the SRO goes to another building. Furthermore, even if there is an SRO for each school, I am of the opinion that if someone really is intent on malicious acts, they can do them. I would rather consider the SRO to be someone who coordinates activities that help to identify youngsters who might have the tendency to become a problem, such as loners, un-involved, social outcasts, bullies. I recall a film, “Cipher in the Snow”, from the BYU film library, which really brings home how some kids are “part of the wallpaper”, with sad results. Many of the recent killers are documented as not having “fit in” when they were in high school; perhaps if someone had made an effort with them they would not have gone “to the Dark Side”. I recall that in evaluating six alternative high schools, when I asked students “Why are you successful here but you weren’t at the regular high schoo?”, I always got some version of the same answer. “Because an adult took an interest in me and wouldn’t let me fail.” Identifying these kids and having activities to address their interests would go a long way to resolving these issues. The SRO could coordinate all of these.

Bridging the Gap—Last week, I referred a young teacher at a Christian elementary school to the series of blogs that I mentioned, written by a leader in the Islamic education community. It’s not much, but maybe a good start. “A journey of a thousand miles begins……..”

Core Curriculum—I think this is a good move because it will promote consistency nationally. At the same time, it raises standards by requiring students to be able to tell “why” along with the traditional “how”.  The latter is based only on the first two levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy instead of promoting knowledge and skills as tools to use in navigating through the avenues of daily living; the “why” moves toward the Applications, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation levels.

Travel—I’m still scheduled for accreditation visits to schools in Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf, in mid and late April. I cancelled a following stop for a school in Kosovo, needing to spend some time with a family member with major health issues. I may drop down to L.A. and Phoenix sometime in March, to deliver some items to my son and to see if I’m still capable of destroying a golf course. It’s become an issue that I’m now required to file an Environmental Impact Statement before setting foot on a course. I’ve been accepted as a volunteer worker at the Wells Fargo Golf Championship in Charlotte, NC, in early May after I return from Bahrain. I’ll also hit the Duke Law School graduation where a close friend’s son is finishing.

Health—-I was disappointed to learn that my correct diagnosis, MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance) is not treated, unless it turns into multiple myeloma (5%-15% of cases). I’ve requested a referral to Mayo, but my doctor hasn’t gotten back to  me about that. Perhaps I’ll hear something by next week, when I attend the Wyoming School Improvement Conference in Casper, where the neurologist is located. I’m still on one 10 mg. prednisone on alternate days for CIDP, and daily doses of the alpha lipoic acid supplement which may or may not help. Less feeling in feet, and maybe some loss of leg strength although I continue my thrice-weekly workouts.

Politics—-I’m tired of Lindsay Graham, John McCain, Chris Matthews. And I have concerns about Chuck Hagel. And how do some of these other idiots get elected—Is the citizenry that stupid?

I hope that the blogs I’ve read recently and referred to are saved for a book–they are extremely well-written and provide thoughtful insights into the educational process. I highly recommend them.

Always Be Happy!       To Our Youth!

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Coming Home, Again

May 26, 2012

I returned yesterday afternoon from a five-week, three country Odyssey combining professional courtesies, travel, physical challenge, and the opportunity to cross off a few more items on my personal “Bucket List”. As the trip ultimately involved a complete circumnavigation of the globe, I was a bit understandably upset that there was no one leaping forward upon my re-entry to present me with a gilt-edged certificate recognizing the “around the world” feat, much like the first time crossing the Equator, or the International Date Line (come to think of it, I didn’t get a certificate then, either). The fact that the temperature was only 37 degrees also cast a bit of a pall over the whole arrival thing, and I recollected that “Yes, we usually have snowstorms in May, in Wyoming”. This was of little comfort to someone who had been basking in the 105 degree readings in the Upper Nile Valley, only four days prior.

As a happenstance, I was fortunate this evening to read a quite eloquently-written blog, “Coming Home”, that encapsulates many of the same feelings I experienced upon entering the front door of the house. Fleeting thoughts abound, many of them repetitious of ones that invaded my personal thought canals while lying awake during the long, quiet nights on the Nile river boat; others appeared at odd times among the many hours of flight between target destinations. Often, that “stream of consciousness” of James Joyce would begin with a look back at the day’s events, and ramble on hither and thither trying to achieve some sense of completion or closure.

But always, there appeared to be a sense of unease; something was making me uncomfortable. In Korea, I had visited the DMZ, and felt, but what? When I looked at a palace, or a viewing tower, or a freeway, I saw, but I didn’t feel. When I viewed the pyramids, I was impressed, but the feelings I had didn’t seem based on the pyramids themselves. Temples at Aswan, Luxor, and in-between—they were all so similar that they blur in memory into one amalgam, one Ultimate Temple. Again, no feeling. Later, Buckingham Palace made no stirrings; the people and pigeons in Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly were more of interest; the stroll along the haphazardly laid out streets in Central London held my interest because of what people were doing, not where they were doing it. My visit to Stonehenge, high on my list, evoked nothing but fatigue from the long bus ride to and from, and registered only as an item of interest.  And then it was in the massive foyer of the British Museum, that an epiphany occurred—I suddenly realized that I really didn’t want to see any more “stuff”, I’d had it with famous structures built on the backs of the masses—folks like us. It meant nothing to me that, given time, money, and abundant labor, any of these structures could arise. And I began looking back upon my other trips for validation of this perspective—palaces in Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Istanbul, Cairo, Nurenburg, Paris, and others—-all a tribute not to an idea, or an ethic, but merely evidence that given enough resources, it could be done. And for whom? Therein lies my unease.

So, what did I learn? I reflected back upon people I had met—the Scotsman in St. James Park, with whom I shared a two-hour conversation beginning with observations about the weather, and expanding to discussions of our homelands, elections, and other “people topics”, and all on an uncomfortable park bench.

There were the people at the three schools in Cairo, and one in Jeddah; their passion and enthusiasm for what they were doing was infectious. One of the schools has the most comprehensive special education program I’ve seen (I was a special education director for a number of years), with total inclusion. One of the parents we interviewed has an autistic son, and had heard about the school while she was living in Saudi Arabia. She moved to Cairo strictly for her son to attend the school, and for the first time, he is showing progress. And this in a region of the world that barely recognizes special needs children. All because of one woman’s vision and perseverance in establishing this program; her early demise has led to a strong commitment by the school’s staff to carry on her legacy.

Many times during my voyage, I longed to be able to share thoughts and ideas with my former “muse”, no longer available. This was especially true when I met Rula Zaki, the wife of the principal of one of the schools, and a well-known singer in the Middle East. She has a personal “mission” not unlike that of the Muse, to break down the barriers between peoples to achieve Peace and Harmony. One of her songs I especially wanted to share, from the rula.zaki website, combining a video with beautiful pleas toward mutual understanding and the recognition that Islamic and Christian faiths share the same foundation. Ms. Zaki was delightful, and we had an enjoyable time singing Broadway song duets while her husband transported us in his speedboat, down the Nile to lunch at a riverside café’. Her husband, Muhammed, is a former surgeon turned educator, and they and their two sons are planning a trip to Yellowstone this summer, and may visit us in Thermopolis. Later, I shared one of my poems with her, one that mirrors her mission and stresses the concept that believers can find Safe Harbor and Serenity through their faith, regardless of their religion.

So again, I think I have grown. I now consciously recognize that people are the most important thing for me, not giant palaces or temples, or cathedrals, or anything else which is merely a product of resources and not ideas. I enjoyed greatly seeing how people do things, differently from us, I liked watching them argue in Egypt as their first Presidential election approached. My guide would provide me with summaries, after he cooled off enough himself from the various exchanges he had with his neighbors.

Yes, I will continue to struggle at golf, as the ravages of age interfere with achievement of unreasonable expectations. It is difficult to accept the fact that many of those days are in the past. I hope to be able to continue my travels, not so much to see tributes to power as to experience friendship and mutual respect with persons of many religions, races, and cultures, elsewhere.

I think I shall be able to resume chasing after some of those elusive thoughts, once again providing myself excitement and comfort as I further explore the inner workings of my own mind. I want my writing to improve so that each word is a necessary building block toward a complete thought, not so much for others to understand but for my own self-clarification. And who knows? Maybe the Essence of that Muse is still dimly somewhere in the shadows, urging.

Always Be Happy!                                                                                          To Our Youth Everyday!

TEMPLED OUT

May 19, 2012

This morning saw the end of temple visits, and none too soon! At some point during the numerous dynasties (31, by last count), there must have been one of those corruption guys bribing those in power to allow all the temple building to occur, sort of like Boss Tweed in NYC or Pendergast in KC. We only actually visited six, but others were pointed out at each turn of the head. And I learned a lot—for instance, the many figures and hieroglyphs on the walls often tell a story, with sequential panels just like the Peanuts or Beetle Bailey comic strips. There was even one humorous one, alleged to be the first joke, about a donkey complaining about having had to transport the wife of the King of Punt (not Ray Guy, but the ancient name for Somalia), an obese example of too much of the good life.

The main venue of the morning was a visit to the Valley of the Kings, the most barren, desolate looking place one could imagine. I was told that the reason it was chosen is that at the head of the valley is a pyramid shaped mountain, an important factor in the location. In the Old Kingdom, the pyramid shape was chosen because the rays of the sun god Ra formed a pyramid shape when they came from the sun, and the stairstep sides could be used to ascend to Ra; the Middle Kingdom saw more pyramids but smaller, due to the economy (sound familiar? Their own building crisis?). At the same time, pyramids made it easy for tomb raiders to locate goodies. So, later leaders thought that the Valley of the Kings is a great location, it retains the Ra-pyramid connection but the tombs are well-hidden—or at least they were. It is also so dry that mummies are easily retained, and the sides of the valley block out unfavorable winds.

Another interesting thing is that as soon as a new Pharoah takes office, they start building a tomb; sort of like the figurative image of Karl Rove after Obama’s election. Many of them are unfinished due to the prospective resident dying early, or at least before his or hers was completed. I went into three of the Ramses’ set, Ramses 3,4, and 9. Ramses #2 was shut down for repairs. It was recommended by my guide to skip the King Tut tomb; he said there is not much to see there other than an empty room. The others were fraught with a plethora (like those two words?) of pictures of gods and kings doing good and bad things; hieroglyphics telling one story after another, and many in vivid colors of blue, green, red, and yellow from malachite and ochre.

My first stop on the tour was Aswan, my air destination an hour or so out of Cairo. What a pleasure! I was met at the airport by a representative of the Gezira Travel Agency, who whisked me the 25K into town along a beautiful, wide parkway which at one point crossed the old dam and then snaked our way down a well-landscaped winding one-way boulevard to my five star hotel. I couldn’t see much as it was almost midnight, but got a sense that things were going to be much different from Cairo. And I was correct; the morning revealed pastel views of a placid Nile, a few feluccas raising their sails and gliding here and there below sand and rock-covered hills behind the river’s green swath. Traffic? No traffic, if one considers something that would be normal in the US, not during rush hours. I actually saw people being courteous, and there was at least one traffic signal.

My contact took me to the tour boat at noon, and I settled into my cabin after meeting the tour guide, my partner for the next four days. I had thought I would be part of a tour group; as it turns out, tourism is sadly way down on the list of activities that people seek in Egypt, due to the revolution, and very few people are coming here. As tourism is the country’s major source of revenue, that’s a real problem. There was an extended family group from France, about a dozen, as the only other residents on the boat. We chatted occasionally,  generally around or in the swimming pool on the promenade deck, in the shade during tea time, or watching activities of the boat such as going through the two sets of locks on the river. The river, by the way, is not very deep, usually around 20-30 feet.

The boat remained at its mooring until the next day; in the interim my private guide took me to the High Dam at Aswan, from which we had a good view of Lake Nasser, a 350 mile-long body extending south into Sudan, and then a short trip by motor launch to the Philae Temple on an island below the dam. After resting for a few hours, we took another boat trip to a Nubian village almost hidden away among a host of small islands and rocky outcrops below the First Cataract, a former waterfall before the High Dam was built. All of these were quite relaxing, albeit hot! I always had my trusty backpack with water, and tried to consume some every hour or so.

From my brief acquaintance with Aswan, I recommend it as a vacation destination during a cooler season—there’s plenty to see, at a leisurely pace. I asked to visit the Coptic Christian Cathedral, a beautiful modern structure looming over one section of the city, and easily a landmark visible from the river. I did not, however, visit the local McDonald’s, although I didn’t see the usual large arches anywhere around the circular building where it is located.

The boat itself is somewhat elderly compared to some of its brethren, but comfortable. Meals were good, each lunch and breakfast beginning with excellent varieties of soup, breads, cheeses, and meat slices. Normally, meals would be buffet style, but the small number of passengers made it more efficient to have a single menu item. Last night was shish kebab, lunch today was spaghetti. I’m writing this in the forward video conference room, an air-conditioned area next to a forward lounge. The boat is air conditioned throughout, although most areas have heavy doses of tobacco smoke—many men smoke, but fu Manchu (I finally found a use for that phrase!).

We finally weighed anchor, or whatever to heck they do with these tour boats, and headed downstream toward our final port, Luxor, where I would see the Temple at Karnak, the Temple at Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, and the Temple of Hapshepsut. Along the way, we stopped at two other locations, to see more temples, I’m “templed out”. At all of these, there were stairs, and not just stairs, but STAIRS! This country must be the Stair Capital of the World. My legs are not what they used to be, which may or may not be a good thing, but my slow ascents were not from being short of breath. And then there are the flies—all the while that I was keeping a lookout for a West Nile mosquito, even on the East Bank, these flies were smacking their lips in anticipation of an American meal.  I learned why folks cover up their bodies, even in the heat, and I began wearing long pants everywhere.

I won’t go on and on about this, preferring to tell and bore folks in person, but it was great! One other good thing, I did not die in traffic in Cairo, an event which was not on my “Bucket List”, but which appeared likely each time we took to the streets. The Valley of the Kings, and the pyramids, temples, and associated antiquities have been on my list since high school, but my father wouldn’t let me start a major in archaeology when I began college. And Monday, it’s on to Stonehenge, another pebble to put in my bucket.

Always Be Happy                 To Our Youth Everyday!

Korea Day 2–AND NOW TO WORK

April 24, 2012

Well, today dawned, sort of, with a heavy fog obscuring any stray sunlight that happened by. I actually got a few hours of sleep last night, from  9 p.m. until 3:30 a.m., certainly not enough. Tonight I’m going to try to stay up later and ease wakeup toward 5 a.m. Maybe by the time I head for Cairo it will be properly situated so that it can get screwed up again after another 12 hour flight.

As it appeared to have promise of a cool day, I wore my corduroy slacks, a long sleeved shirt, and a Travel Sport Coat, as we headed to the school to begin our work. Little did I know that a lot of that would come off later, when the temperature climbed into the 80’s. Momentarily, I thought I had been transported already to Egypt.

We met with a variety of groups throughout the day, including the school’s steering committee, students from grades 3-5, and the teaching staff after school. In between meetings we roamed the buildings, visiting classroom briefly to get an idea of student involvement and classroom management styles. The fifth grade classrooms are in the middle school, two blocks away and on the third floor. A barrier has been erected in their hallway to prevent them from contamination from the middle school kids. I met their counselor, an attractive, 6’1” lady blonde from Cheyenne, certainly not a person I would have expected to see here. I also was asked by the Korean Culture teacher if I knew a lady from Wyoming who is now in Germany; I immediately knew he was referring to Barbara Mueller, from Buffalo, Wyoming, and whom I had met two years ago on another of my assignments. Thus, one enters the World of DoDEA! It’s actually a small community where folks know each other in many places, and which turnover is not only among students (50% a year at this school) but also among staff (25%). I met with a group of a dozen teachers, the matriarch of the group has been at the school for four years; most of the rest only one or two years.

Given this situation, one of the problems faced by these schools is maintaining continuity, and in having an effective mentoring process in place to train the new folks. On the plus side, all schools in the system use the same materials while most professional development is dictated system-wide in recognition of all the transiency. All schools use the same curriculum, which does provide a strong element of security and comfort to those who move from place to place. One of my team was being interviewed late this afternoon for a potential move to somewhere in Bavaria, having been in the Far East for many years in Okinawa, Japan, and Korea.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) and Thursday will complete our visit to this school; we then have a few days of rest before doing the same thing at the high school, next week. Our plan to visit the DMZ is on hold, as we are on a waiting list for the tour this Saturday. If we don’t get that, we’ll go on one of the other offerings, either a special cave and lake, or the flower gardens in Seoul and a temple or two. Oh, I almost forgot, there is a golf course here, too.

I’m really wanting to get out to the countryside, and see the rice paddies and other local cultural settings. It may be difficult, given that I have lots of report writing to complete this weekend, but I need to make the effort. I do know that it’s comfortable to be back in a civilized place, one where people drive on the proper side of the road. And are not courteous drivers. Japan was totally opposite!

I’ll let you know if they follow through from North Korea with their threat to burn South Korea to ashes, in just a few minutes of time, and soon. I was trying to find their email address to ask them to hold off until after I leave, and I’d like to send them the name of a good hairdresser.

Always Be Happy                                                                           To Our Youth…Always

The Eagle Has Landed

April 22, 2012

After once again having to deal with United Airlines, I’ve finally made it to Korea. We landed among severe turbulence into a dismal, drizzly landscape, just like those pictures I still have in my mind from the Korean War days of G.I.’s struggling through mud, water, and snow toward their objectives. Speaking of that, I’m to travel next Saturday to the DMZ.
I shall be writing United sometime this week, to express my displeasure. First, the plane was two hours late leaving due to a problem discovered with the air conditioning after everyone had already boarded. We were directed to leave the plane and take our belongings with us, a lengthy, time-consuming process. With my usual optimism, I was able to find “the Sweetness in Adversity” by heading to the men’s room in the airport, for a lengthy rest. After about a half-hour, we were told to once again load, and then sat there for over an hour. It was well that the AC had been fixed; some passengers had personal hygiene issues that cried out for resolution.
I had a window seat, deliberately chosen in order to view San Francisco Bay on departure, the Aleutians at Alaska, Northern Japan and Kachatka Peninsula, and finally Korea, as we flew over. My “seat mates” were a Korean young couple who have exceptional bladder control; neither left their seat during the whole 12 hour ordeal!
Those of you who have read some of my previous entries recall my comparisons of U.S. airlines with Lufthansa and Turkish Air; my comments hold even more truth after this flight. Generally, the flight attendants were grumpy, non-smiling older folks as compared to younger, energetic and friendly individuals on the other airlines. At one point, I had my window shade up about to 2 inches so that I could occasionally check to see if we were flying over one of the previously-mentioned landforms; one of the harridans snarled at me to “Shut that window down!”, apparently either extremely exasperated or mildly perturbed. I asked why and she responded, “So that all those people over there (She waved toward the middle section of the passenger area) can sleep!” I looked, and all seemed to already be with the Sandman, but I complied with her “order”. Being naturally passive aggressive, I occasionally raised the shade not only to peek out but to irritate her if she happened by. Only two of the attendants smiled, the rest seemed resentful that we were even aboard. I could understand that in my case, but the rest of the passengers seemed to be pleasant and compliant, even a bit tolerant. At 73, I don’t feel I still need to be tolerant.
Now, let’s look at the entertainment. I was embarrassed about the perception that foreigners were receiving about the US, given the TV shows selected for viewing during the trip. The worst tone, in my opinion, was “Two and a Half Men”, the Charlie Sheen fiasco. All of the trailers I’d seen actually grossed me out from the perspective of decorum and good taste, this one was no better. It was about him appearing on a kids’ TV show and teaching children songs about “cutting the cheese” and “boobies”. Very bad taste. The next TV show was about a British soccer coach, and featured multiple uses of the “f-bomb” by the players and fans. The other offerings were fine, “30 Rock” and “Everyone Loves Raymond” with an episode that I’d never watched. And the movies were good ones—Sherlock Holmes, The Actor, Bad Robot, and The Tower Heist. I actually managed to doze and snooze briefly on this trip.
And now for the food. I still don’t know how Lufthansa does it. United offered only one meal on this 12 hour trip; and when I was offered the choice between chicken or beef, I chose beef. I got chicken. And it was not good, especially when coupled with the stale, whole wheat roll wrapped in cellophane, and a packet of spread. I missed my Lufthansa camembert cheese, real butter, and french baguette. A limp lettuce salad accompanied by a package of dressing completed the offering, along with a brownie. There were two other food occasions, one was a banana and stale roll wrapped in cellophane, which I refused, and a choice just before arrival of a turkey sandwich or fried noodles as a snack. The sandwich felt stale in its blanket of foil, and the noodles appeared unappetizing. This was affirmed by my seatmate, who chose the noodles and couldn’t eat them due to their gluey consistency. When The Snarler asked what I wanted, I told her that “What I wanted was a meal” and turned down both choices. She’s probably not lying awake nights worrying about it.
Fortunately, my next several flights do not include United. Turkish Airlines, from whom I had a good experience, and BWI are the next major carriers. I’ve been warned however, about Egyptair which will be my transport to Aswan. I was told that they spray for bugs just before you embark, and tell you that the spray is not harmful to humans.

Marco Polo
Always Be Happy     TOur Youth…Always

KOREA 1–THE FIRST DAY

April 22, 2012

I awoke to a repeat of the previous evening—a misty drizzle mildly attacking the blooming cherry blossoms, producing a carpeting of pink petals on the walkways throughout the airbase. The base itself is very unmilitary-appearing, more like a modern city built on and among the many hills in the area. Numerous apartment “towers” are interspersed with military office and service buildings, but all constructed to a similar theme of beige and modernity, and meticulously landscaped with a variety of trees, shrubs, bushes, and lawns. I walked to the Osan Elementary School, to gauge how long it would take to get there if “my team” and I decide not to ride; it was about 15 minutes. (more…)

THE EAGLE HAS LANDED

April 21, 2012

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April 18, 2012

AROUND THE WORLD

Well, don’t let the title fool you; it’s neither a variation of the basketball game of HORSE, nor is it an advertisement for a clandestine liaison. It’s actually what it says—-I’m going around the world!

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BBC Interview

March 26, 2012

Recently, I was interviewed for a BBC World Service radio program, “Witness,” which talks to people who have been involved in sometimes-momentous events throughout recent history. I was interviewed for a short program about the Peace Corps, my having been a member of the first group of volunteers that went overseas. Although the interview lasted more than an hour, only about 8 or 9 minutes were used for the 10 minute program. They probably decided that I didn’t say too much that is significant. In any event, you can access it on this URL,   www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p004t1hd   if you’d like to listen.

Also, I’m working on a short commentary about “Leadership,” including some questions for the reader to ponder. I hope to finish it this week, AFTER I do my income tax! Much of the content was created in concert with a valued colleague, whose expertise and insights often coincided with mine. This spark of scholarly discussions resulted in the decision to publish our musings.

There will be some new travel notes beginning toward the end of April, when I depart April 20 for South Korea, to evaluate two schools at Osan Air Base. Then, on May 4 I fly to Cairo, Egypt, changing planes in Istanbul. I will work at two more schools and, upon completion, am scheduling an air/cruise visit to Luxor and Aswan before heading to London for two days to see Stonehenge. And then home. I hope this body can withstand the cumulative jet lag!

For those of you in the Chicago area, there is what appears to be an excellent Educational Forum at the O’Hare Westin in Rosemont, April 6-8, sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America (http://www.isna.net/Conferences/pages/Education-Forum.aspx), with numerous non-religious presentations on current educational topics. Check their website for program information.

Always Be Happy!                         Here’s To Our Youth, Always…

Japan 5 “One Day for Tokyo”

February 12, 2012

Japan 5  “One Day for Tokyo”

It’s a bit ambitious to think of seeing Tokyo in one day, after all, the metropolitan area encompasses 35 million folks. However, if one thinks of this level of city as merely a collection of interesting sites, with the myriad of buildings and houses as merely filler between them, then you have a different perspective. Actually, I’ve been trying to “define” what makes a city interesting, and there’re probably more things in that “filler” than at the sites. For example, as I looked out of our tour bus, I saw a traffic cop halt traffic coming from one direction, then bow to the traffic he was allowing to proceed, from a different direction. I tried to imagine that happening in the US and, while I could picture them making some kind of gesture, it certainly didn’t include a respectful bow.

All cities have their museums, most of them have some sort of “tower” or extra-tall skyscraper from which you can view the whole area (there’s the Tokyo tower, about 1100 feet high with two observation levels halfway up), usually a few parks scattered about to offer some relief from the concrete and steel, and, if they’re lucky, maybe a river or lake. But none of those things really inspire thinking, one moves through them as an observer and merely makes a note that “now I’ve seen the Louvre”, or “I’ve been up in the tower”. It’s what one sees between these venues that provides the real flavor—why are those people doing what they appear to be doing and in fact, what is it that they’re doing?

Usually, when I go to a new city having the promise of lots of “things to see”, I take one of those double-decker bus tours so that I can see where everything is located, then go back on my own, on successive days, enjoying the walk and observing what’s occurring in “that filler”. But that wasn’t possible this time; the Army base is an hour train ride from Tokyo; then, when you finally get there, everything is so far apart that at times it takes most of an hour between stops. So, my two colleagues and I booked an all day tour ($162) and headed out, walking, at 5:30 a.m. to make sure we could find the train station and not miss our train (more on that later). It turned out to only be about a 20 minute walk from our quarters, out through the entrance and security gate for the base, and straight ahead for about 6 blocks (more on this later, also).

One of the things that is a bit uncomfortable, with which I became somewhat acquainted in Cairo, and even more so now in Tokyo, is the language barrier. Europe and its nearby neighbors are not so bad, as I have a bit of German and French to get me through if they don’t do English; but in these two new locations it’s difficult to find someone when we’re in need of help, including directions. Both Egypt and Japan, bless their hearts, post signage in their languages (you know, those squiggly lines and little rectangles) and in English, which is at least a starting point for getting somewhere. But Tokyo enjoys a plethora of mass transit trains, some of them privately owned, and displayed on large charts and screens in beautiful bold colors. However, if you don’t know how to spell the destination, it can be difficult. Our first issue was in purchasing tickets from machines; the charts indicated that it would be 400 yen for Tokyo. (That’s about $5, $1=76 yen). Not knowing what to do, once we had the tickets clutched in our hands sweaty from anxiety ( I did not want to waste that $162!), we finally had a conversation with one of the station agents, replete with hand gestures, pointing, and limited speech. The bottom line was to go to platform 3, and change trains at Mishiga.

Ultimately, we changed trains (with guidance) and made it to the Tokyo rail station. The interior resembled lots of other places in the area—as if someone had poked a stick into an ant hill. People scurrying in every direction, certainly having a destination in mind rather than what appeared as aimless sauntering by my group. We noted a number of young women attached to very large items being carried, covered, like a back pack, and we speculated on what was inside. Possibly a bassoon or other long musical instrument? Skis? Rocket propelled grenade launchers? Whatever it was, it didn’t appear to be very heavy; the girls didn’t look as though they were dressed to go on a sporting activity; more like students going to a conservatory. After a number of blind alleys, we were finally directed to the exit door near the hotel where the tours would start, and headed in that direction. Noting that we had about 45 minutes before assembling, we decided to have breakfast.

Hah! This was our first introduction to the Tokyo cost of living. In the hotel coffee shop, my two scrambled eggs were $14, a cup of tea or coffee was $12. Our colleague’s breakfast was $36! Remind me to starve when I’m in Tokyo. Anyway, we finished our snack, and went to the tour assembly area, and were on our way. The buses were plush, but the seats were a bit narrow for non-Asians—either that, or I had still not lost those extra pounds. Probably a combination of both. The tour guide spoke an interesting version of English, drawing out the sound of whatever word was last in a sentence. He gave the usual facts particular to his genre, and was constantly checking to make sure all of us were on the bus after each stop. Our first venture was the Tokyo Tower, and the only disappointment in the view from the top was that there were some clouds hiding Mt. Fujiyama off in the far distance. There were buildings as far as the horizon in three directions, the fourth being Tokyo Bay and the Pacific beyond. Tokyo must have the world’s greatest number of skyscrapers, there were hundreds gathered in clusters here and there throughout the landscape. I wondered what people do in all of those, is there a real need? All those tall structures, regardless of their architecture, seem composed of stacks of small cubicles, just like all the apartment buildings; the only difference is that you don’t see laundry drying on balconies on the sides. I kept thinking, “this is the City of Cubicles” as I failed to see anything else, regardless of where I looked. There were a few exceptions, usually something out of an architect’s fantasy in  their startling appearance, but not many. On the other hand, the only real traditional Japanese structures were in and around the Imperial Palace, and a few other venues having a pagoda or two, waterfalls, tea houses, and pleasant gardens. At one of these adjoining an ultramodern new hotel, there were 22 weddings being held at various locations throughout the gardens, simultaneously; some brides in traditional dress and others in wedding white gowns. One bride, emerging from the subway in her traditional garb, flashed a smile and the victory “V” at us as she headed for the altar.

We were taken to a tea house, to view a traditional tea ceremony; the highlight of that experience was a small tremor that shook the walls of the building. The “tea lady”, through our guide’s translation, said “Don’t worry, this building has been here for over a hundred years, through lots of quakes”, and we were reassured. There were only three weddings going on in this garden. We were told that one reason for all of them being held on that day is that the date is one of two national holidays, and celebrates the founding of the Japanese nation. At the same time, we were also told that a lot of Japanese don’t know that.

The tour included lunch, referred to in the brochure as “a barbeque”, and which turned out to be a series of vegetables, small slices of pork and beef, soup, and a salad, some of it cooked on a hibachi. It was very good, but hardly filling for those of us used to a bit more bulk. Later, at our next stop at the Imperial Palace grounds, the highlight was an ice cream sundae which I consumed to make sure it was safe for others to eat.

Our last official stop was at a “bazaar-type” of shopping area having 100 booths arranged in two rows, and leading to an elaborate Shinto shrine. There were only five or six types of booths, but 10 or 20 having the same stuff at the same prices, so it could be difficult to decide what to buy. I bought nothing and, tired and with aching legs, headed for the bus.

Arriving back at the tour departure hotel, we confidently zoomed through the lobby, down the escalator, and hiked the long corridor into the train station. Our excitement at knowing where we were going quickly waned, and we had to fall back on asking directions of the station personnel, who sent us to the appropriate platform. From there, we successfully negotiated the train portion of the trip, changing trains at the right place with no problems. I jokingly made the comment, “After finally and successfully getting on all the trains, wouldn’t it be funny if we got lost on the 8 blocks back to the base?” Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce are probably squirming somewhere; little did we know what awaited us.

When we left the train and exited the station, the scene before us was not familiar. “We must be on the wrong side of the station, let’s go up the stairs and down the other side. Whoops! This isn’t it either. Let’s try to ask someone. Zama is that way? Okay, let’s go. Say, we’ve been walking about two miles and we just came down a long curving hill that wasn’t here before. Let’s ask someone in that convenient store. That way? Let’s go. Hey, we’ve been walking another couple of miles, what happened to that 8 blocks? Let’s go back to the railroad station and start over. Look, there’s a police station! Let’s ask directions. Sir, we’re lost, where is Camp Zama? You’re kidding! We got off at the wrong station? But it said Zama. Oh, there’s another one with that name included. What—you had written it down but didn’t bother to look at it when we were seeking our station? Let’s get a taxi”. —And we finally got home, after walking about 5 or 6 miles over hill and dale. Thus ended the day.

Some random observations:

Black is the preferred color of every kind of clothing, whether it be a topcoat, miniskirt with leggings, slacks, or anything worn in public. If there is a color, it is muted. Women seemed to be as fashion conscious here as they are in  most large urban centers; well-groomed and nicely garbed. Saudi Arabia shared only the use of black, in women’s outfits; otherwise they were decidedly non-Western.

Whenever you ask, “How long will it take to get there?”, you always hear the phrase, “Depends on traffic” and it really does! We can say the same thing in Thermopolis, when asked how long it takes to get to the State Park—“Depending on traffic, it could take 50% longer—3 minutes instead of 2—and if you miss the traffic light”.

The Japanese love to play golf, but it’s very expensive here. Green fees for their courses are around $200; they are however permitted to play on the Zama garrison’s course for half that, helping the course be designated as the highest grossing course in the Army system. It cost us $27, including cart and rental clubs.

I had a haircut today on the base, from a highly-skilled Japanese barber. Although he began with the #3 clippers, most of the action was with deftly-manipulated scissors, with constant brushing in between snips. After finishing the cutting, he then gave a neck and shoulder massage, a mixture of those “karate chops” and deep kneading of the shoulder muscles. They sure don’t do that in Thermop!  And for only $12.50!

This afternoon, I went to an antique shop and bought a beautiful brocaded obi, the wide sash that  is wrapped twice around a young woman and anchored in place with another, narrower sash. I was told that people collect them and either use them for table runners, or hang them as tapestries. I like tapestries.

ABH