Chapter 33: Mulan Moment: How Trying to Be Someone Else Can Ruin Your Time to Shine

When I was a senior in high school, I participated in a speech contest, and I’m ashamed of myself whenever I am reminded of it. I didn’t win, but that’s not what bothers me; I didn’t do my best because I was trying to be someone other than myself.

Teen Drama Time (oh, how embarrassing it is now!): I was in Speech Class with my boyfriend at the time, as well as his ex-girlfriend. As you can imagine, I sometimes felt the need to compete with her in an effort to show her? him? me? that I was better.

During this time, I was also preparing for my summer trip to Italy, my first trip abroad and a super-exciting adventure. Part of this preparation meant that I needed, by honest-to-goodness order of my primary care physician, to prepare my fair, freckly skin for being out in the blistering sun for two-weeks by building up a tan so I wouldn’t have my whole trip ruined by a nasty sunburn on the first day.

The girls in my class started noticing my bronzing skin, and I got all sorts of compliments from the Barbie Doll Crew I used to despise for being shallow. I loved the new-found attention on my looks – my acne was fading, and it felt so good to be told I had beautiful skin!

Enter ex-girlfriend from stage right. She had noticed the change in my features as well, but she wasn’t quite so fond of its effects. Before class one day, she sneered across the aisle, “You might think you’re pretty now, but just wait ’til you lose all your hair from chemotherapy!”

I had had a long talk with my doctor about the realities of skin cancer, moderation, and the adaptability of the human body before deciding to move forward with her plan, so I knew that what this girl was saying was uneducated and was aimed only at hurting me. But I didn’t know enough to let it go.

I spent the next few weeks writing a paper on the medical facts of skin cancer, the biological utility of fair and tanned skin, and the likelihood of contracting a serious-enough case to warrant chemotherapy as drastic as would make one’s hair fall out. It was all spite and no real substance – what I was saying had nothing productive or positive to teach anyone; it was pointed at one little person whose opinion didn’t really matter to me, but who I wanted to show up anyway. Fickle and blind, I surged forward and chose that writing to memorise and recite to the whole school, knowing that when she heard it, she would know it was directed at her.

I kept adding colour to my skin, and I kept getting the compliments I loved from people I barely knew. I started wearing different clothes, got blonde highlights put into my hair, and wore heavy make-up every day. I felt like I was finally fitting in with what it was to be beautiful, but I didn’t realise that my definition was all wrong – or that it wasn’t even my own definition of beauty at all! I stopped wearing my favourite purple shoes because someone had called them silly, and I enjoyed them less than this special popularity.

I tried my best to memorise my speech in the weeks before the contest, but my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I wasn’t angry about her remark – time had quickly healed that smarting pain – and so the passion that had fuelled the piece was missing. They were just words on a page, and they seemed sillier and sillier each time I read it out loud. Stubborn as I was, though, I wouldn’t give it up, choose a new topic, and write a new speech. I stuck it out because I thought that was what it meant to be brave: doing something shocking to prove a point. Oh, how I pity that girl as I look back on her now!

On the morning of the contest, I chose an all-white ensemble that made me look like a caramel macchiato, and I got up on that stage with renewed vigour and the phrase, “I’ll show her,” stuck in my head. But because my head was filled with getting revenge and looking perfect on stage to impress my new fashionista friends, there was little room left for the actual speech. I fumbled my way through it, forgetting the next lines more times than I should have, and when I was finally through it, I couldn’t look out into the crowd as they applauded. I knew that speech didn’t belong in a serious competition, and I knew it could’ve been outstanding if I had done something I actually cared about; I had failed my teacher, my school, and myself. I felt like Mulan in the Matchmaker’s house; I had made a huge mess of things, and I just wanted to hide my eyes.

I got compliments from teachers and students about how brave I had been to go up on stage in front of so many people and speak, but their praise only made me feel worse. I knew speaking in public had never been difficult for me, and I knew that when it had counted, I hadn’t been brave in the ways I should have been. I had stood up there on that stage as someone other than myself because I was thinking too much about what other people thought. I felt so embarrassed that I had thrown away a real opportunity to speak out – that I had spoken for a good many minutes to a huge crowd of people about tanning, for goodness sakes! How superficial and dismissible I must have seemed to them then!

The funniest thing? The girl, the one who had inspired the whole speech, was absent that day with the flu.

I did learn an important lesson that day, and I’ve tried to live by it ever since. I stopped trying to get darker and darker, wore my make-up the way I wanted to, and let my highlights grow out. I realised that it was much more comfortable just being me, and I stayed that way.

And when I was asked to speak at our class’s graduation ceremony, I didn’t waste the chance to make amends. I didn’t falter, I didn’t fail, and even though there was no prize that day, I walked off the stage in my favourite purple kitten-heels feeling like I had won one anyway. The praise I got following the ceremony was meaningful because it came from people I loved and respected, but also because I knew I had done my best.

It can be hard to fight the expectations and visions other people have for who you should be, and you will probably not always succeed in feeling confident. However, if you stay true to yourself and persevere through those moments of questioning, you will find a wonderful, beautiful woman emerge – more beautiful because she is real. Remember this quote from e.e. cummings: “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”


Chapter 32: The Truth About Living in Thailand – the Highs, the Lows, and How to Tell if You’d Belong

I‘ve lived in Thailand for almost a year and a half now, my longest stay anywhere since my university days in Annapolis, Maryland 5+ years ago, and I’ve been amazed at how little I’ve written during my time here. (Please forgive me!) I thought this post would be a good way for all of you to get a glimpse of what life’s like here in tropical paradise.

Here is a little list of my top loves and hatreds from my life in Thailand so far:

The Highs

  • Wonderful, Cheap Massages
  • Excellent, Cheap Pedicures
  • Delicious, Cheap Thai Food
  • Cheap Rental Rates for Spacious Properties, Almost Always with a Pool Nearby
  • One of the Best Places in the World to Get Your Diving Certification
  • Frangipanis (a.k.a., the flower that smells like heaven itself)
  • (Almost) Unwavering Sunny Weather
  • Colourful, Cheap Silk Scarves

The Lows

  • Immigration
  • Thai Driving
  • Shopping for High-Quality Clothes

So how can you know if Thailand is right for you? Here are two lists that will help you consider some of the often-overlooked aspects of Thai life as a Westerner:

12 People Who Would Probably Love Thailand

1. Endless summer sounds like a dream-come-true, and you’ve tested your theory.

If your perfect day begins with a forecast of “hot and sunny,” Thailand’s got you covered. However, even people who swear they love summer best of all may not be happy to endure it for 90% of the year. If you have a history of skin cancer or fair skin that doesn’t tan easily, that endless summer may soon begin to feel like hell. So, before you pawn your furniture for a flight to Phuket, make sure you’re ready to give up the other three seasons, and pack your floppy hat and sunscreen!

2. You love golf, yoga, or swimming – or all three!

Thailand has a plethora of golf-courses and yoga retreats available for low prices in stunningly gorgeous settings. Many houses on the market come with pools, and community pools are common. Thailand also boasts of some of the world’s best beaches, if you prefer your swimming in the sea. If it’s your dream to be at any of the above, every day, this is the place to be.

3. Your summer wardrobe is your favourite.

The simple loveliness of a summer wardrobe meshes well with the Thai culture – casual and colourful. Flip-flops are worn every day by almost everyone in the country. If you have a pair of mile-high legs that look great in anything above-the-knee, pack ‘em up and show ‘em off!

4. Your ideal mode of transportation is a motorcycle.

Many people do have cars, but motorcycles (or motorbikes) are found in abundance in Thailand. They don’t drive and park on the sidewalks like in Vietnam, but the streets and traffic favour the slight frame and quick manoeuvrability of two-wheeled vehicles. Besides, the prolific clear, sunny skies and tempting breezes make driving out in the open quite a pleasure.

5. You enjoy living a relaxed life, just going with the flow without worrying too much.

Thailand’s catchphrase is “Sabai, sabai,” an idiom translated loosely into our English phrase “no worries,”  and that feeling pervades the entire Thai culture. Saving face is very important to Thai people, and becoming visibly agitated or angry is abhorrent. If you’ve got a naturally calm disposition and can roll with the punches, you’re going to find yourself in a world of like-minded people.

6. You’ve got income coming in from a foreign source and/or no debts left behind.

Thailand is an inexpensive place to live, but it’s not an easy place to build your funds by Western standards. If you’ve got an international employer, can work from home, or have income from rental properties abroad, you’ll be able to live in Thailand with ease on a fraction of what you would at home. However, if you have bills to pay or want to travel extensively in the West on your holidays, a career in Thailand is probably not going to be able to support you. Take a look at your monthly budget, see what expenses can and can’t be alleviated, and make an educated financial decision.

7. You believe most rules are mere suggestions and aren’t bothered if they are broken by yourself or others.

Thailand has operated under corrupt government officials for a very long time, and although there have been steps forward, the corruption remains evident in many ways. However, if you take no issue with small bribes to get you past the police and other bureaucratic absurdities, you’ll enjoy your generally vast freedom to do as you like – including the ever-popular driving the wrong way down a one-way street. 

8. You’ve had botox injections to quell your Western sweat glands, or you’re of Asian descent.

There’s no getting around it; if you are a Westerner living in Thailand, you are going to be amazed by the profuse amount of sweat that materialises in places you never knew could sweat…and by the maddeningly dry bodies of the local Thais. If your body has been blessed, by God or your parents or some alternative substance, to not produce obscene amounts of sweat in blistering hot weather (or if you just don’t care), come on over!

9. You prefer yellow gold to silver or costume jewellery.

Thailand is one of the best places to buy yellow gold jewellery of all shapes and sizes, and there are reasonably priced shops all over every city. The most spectacular attribute of gold in a place like this? It doesn’t tarnish. Silver and costume jewellery tarnishes in the warm, muggy weather more quickly than you can believe, and that same warm, muggy atmosphere breeds infection quickly from any dirt or grime. If gold’s your thing, not to worry: bring all you’ve got and add to your collection!

10. You’d choose the spa over shopping any day. 

Thailand is a magnificent place for spa enthusiasts because the treatments are high-quality, and the prices are great. Massages, facials, and mani-pedis are an easy thing to budget for on a weekly basis, if you choose, and there are so many salons that you’ll soon find you have a favourite for each soothing fancy you might have! I spent $10 on my OPI pedicure this morning, and I spent $20 on an incredible hour and half Thai & foot massage earlier this week. Both appointments were at high-end salons, so their prices are some of the highest I’ve seen – I have a friend who spends $4 on her basic pedicures and $8 on her one hour Thai massages! Shopping with a Western body is difficult and often disappointing because of sizing, cut, and low-quality materials, so make arrangements to shop abroad on your holidays or have packages sent to you from overseas (especially if you’re larger than a B cup and want a nice bra!)…or just get a consolation massage afterwards and forget all about it!

11. Rescuing stray dogs is one of your hobbies.

There are an inexpressible number of wild dogs living all over Thailand. Thai people feed them leftovers, but many go hungry or die because of preventable diseases. If you enjoy putting your dog-loving soul to service by adopting strays, arranging and paying for vaccines, or just volunteering at your local veterinary clinic, Thailand is an excellent opportunity for you to pair your talents with a hefty need.

12. Mosquitoes usually leave you alone.

If you’ve got the lucky pheromones that mosquitoes don’t seek out, consider yourself a wonderful candidate for an enjoyable life in Thailand. The mosquito season never stops around here, and the lack of infrastructure produces more than ample breeding grounds for the blood-sucking pests. I’ve tried so many different mosquito-sprays that I can’t keep count, but nothing has worked. While cases of malaria and the various viral encephalitis diseases are not common in the usual expat areas, dengue fever hits quite often. Not that you really need to worry!

If some or all of these characterisations match your style, take a look at the next list to make sure there aren’t any deal-breakers, and then get a move on! Thailand is waiting for you!

12 People Who Might Have Trouble in Thailand

1. You’ve got a 24-page passport that isn’t blank. 

Thai Immigration procedures require enormous amounts of space in your passport and will cut into your precious page-allotment at least every 3 months, if not more regularly. I suggest getting an upgrade to the 52-page book before arriving or as soon as possible once you do.

2. Following the rules is important to you.

If you like doing the right thing because it’s right, Thailand is going to be a difficult place to make your home. Corruption still runs rampant, and even if there are rules, they are rarely followed and are often purposely confusing or just plain ridiculous. Racial profiling will become a part of your regular interaction with the local police, and your stress level will go through the roof when you try to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops to get a Thai driver’s license, go through the proper immigration channels, or just drive to your destination in a direct manner without having to disobey something. Paying attention to how others manoeuvre their world will make you crazy, and you’ll start to wonder where all the virtue is in the world.

3. Your ideal mode of transportation is walking.

Firstly, the little neighbourhoods of typical expat-friendly housing are too far away from all the places you want to go. Even then, the sidewalks are broken or non-existent, and there are stray dogs barking at you, possibly chasing, in most areas – especially nice open ones that make you want to walk in the first place. Most walkers carry heavy wooden staffs they amusingly call “sticks,” but the general fear and disturbance of having a pack of wild dogs following you and barking isn’t assuaged by carrying it, in my opinion.

4. You think you should have the freedom to buy alcohol at any hour of the day.

In grocery stores and convenience stores, signs are posted to notify shoppers of the available times to buy alcohol, and they don’t just apply to hard liquor. Wine, beer, and cocktail coolers are prohibited to purchase except during specified times, and never on public holidays.

5. You’re deathly afraid of geckos or lizards (or bugs or snakes).

Thailand is fantastically green and growing, but that means that creatures that live in the forest roam freely in these parts. Our house always has at least five local geckos or lizards living in it at any time, feeding on the little bugs that come through the screens or cracks. Armies of ants frequently appear out of nowhere, scouring a box of macaroni and cheese or a bag of your favourite snacks that was unopened before their evil little pincers ripped through the packaging. (They are so ferocious that they once ate through electrical wiring on a friend’s rice cooker!) Snakes are commonly seen on the side of the road and often climb into yards looking for yummy frogs. Few are poisonous, but we did find a young python near the school one day last term.

6. You’re allergic to pollen or animal dander.

As mentioned earlier, there are too many wandering dogs for anyone with highly-sensitive pet dander allergies to be able to function properly. Most people will be fine unless they pet the dog itself, which is not advisable with the stray dogs anyway, but you should make sure you bring enough allergy-relief medicine with you to prevent your inevitable misery should one brush up against you by accident. The pollen situation is as bad as you can imagine from a tropical country; plants and trees and bushes are blossoming at various intervals all year long, and many restaurants and shops are open-air, so there’s no escape from the onslaught. If you shut all of your windows at night, you’ll likely be stifling by morning unless you crank your AC unit non-stop. 

7. You don’t want to learn Thai.

Unlike our experience in India, most people do not speak English in Thailand. Many do speak some, and there are some who can speak quite fluently, but do not take it for granted that you’ll have a common language with which to communicate. Thai is a tonal language, close to Chinese though much simpler in both vocabulary and grammar, so it’s difficult for Westerners to learn to pronounce at first, but it’s not difficult in itself. 

8. You’re a clean freak.

Again, compared to India, Thailand is very different; Thailand seems very clean after our most recent trip, but it felt very dirty coming from Korea and is quite below Western standards of sanitation. We have (unfortunate) white tile flooring in most of our house, which is luckily very easy to clean, but it shows the sheer volume of dust and dirt that is present in our tiny little neighbourhood. The water is unpredictable and can suddenly turn brown as you finish washing your dishes, or worse, your body, and you’ll have to wait hours or, during droughts, sometimes days for it to be clear again. You will find that everything will have a layer of dust on it within a day or two, and dusting will become a compulsive behaviour unless you give in to the nature of things here and restrain yourself to reasonable standards and scheduled dirt-attacks. 

9. Prostitution, cross-dressing, and/or indistinct gender lines are repulsive to you.

It is common to see women on the streets soliciting men, men dressed as women, or men who have decided to take on a woman’s persona, clothes, body, voice, behaviour, and all. At first you might find yourself curiously looking, just to find out more, but if your ultimate reaction will be one of disgust or obvious outward disapproval, you’d better just stay away.

10. You love physical books or Christmas or putting your feet up…but especially if you love putting your feet up to read a favourite book at Christmastime.

The sunny, humid climate in Thailand will be deadly to any of your favourite books you might have decided to bring along, and in a very short time you will notice their pages yellowing, their bindings breaking, and their covers warping beyond repair. Paperbacks are less susceptible to the latter two, but it’s still not a pretty sight. Leave them in storage, somewhere safe, or prepare for a teary parting. This same lovely weather is catastrophic to any sense of traditional Christmas and will make Christmas-lovers despair at the lack of snow or general celebration of the holiday. Many Western families travel home for the holidays to get their fill. In Thai culture, as in most Buddhist cultures, your feet are considered highly unclean (read: morally), and it is unquestionably rude to put your feet up onto a chair, onto a coffee table, or, God forbid, onto another person, even if it’s to be comfortable reading a wondrous book. (Fun fact: it’s equally horrible for someone to touch another person’s head, especially the top, and especially if it’s a younger person to an older person.)

11. Punctuality is a virtue you cultivate in yourself and expect in others. 

Going along with the “Sabai, sabai” culture of no hurrying, “Thai time” is a commonly amusing topic with Westerners who’ve spent time here. If someone quotes a time, say, that they’ll be at your house to fix your toilet, that person may arrive hours – or days- after the proposed time without a call or an apology. If you call a meeting, it’s customary not to expect it to start for at least 30 minutes to an hour after the decided time, no matter how much notice you’ve given for it to be held. Just this past week, I was having some new books delivered, and the delivery boy called to tell me he’d be there at 2pm. Forgetting myself in a busy moment, I called my co-worker to let her know to look out for him, but he didn’t show up until after 7pm, and then called, wondering why I was not still at school! The books weren’t delivered until 2 days later, for some inexpressible reason.

12. You’re an impatient or unconfident driver.

I consider the absolute worst part of living in Thailand to be dealing with Thai driving. I have yet to be able to stop myself from getting thoroughly upset when drivers do things I consider (weakly) absurd or (truthfully) incredibly dangerous. I’m hesitant to drive myself on busy roads because I simply cannot predict how Thai drivers will react to a situation and don’t trust my instincts enough to know I’ll be able to stop from crashing. One of the most commonly frustrating instances is that Thai drivers slow down to almost a stop as they turn corners, at every corner, no matter how busy the traffic is or how many cars pile up behind them. Additionally, it’s often seen that a car or truck is stopped in the middle of the driving lane, awaiting some passenger for a good few minutes and blocking all traffic in that direction. Calm, collected souls can just relax and wait good-naturedly, knowing that the few minute difference is not that important, but I can’t seem to stop myself from wanting to scream at the top of my lungs and bash something with a 2 x 4. There’s always room to grow, I guess! Haha.

Thailand is a fantastic place, filled with all sorts of amazing and intriguing things, but it’s not the right place for everyone. It’s good to challenge yourself to grow and adapt, but ultimately, when you’re choosing a place to live, you should strive to be true to yourself; know what you’re getting into, and make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time. Every place has its highlights, and every place has some infuriating parts, but make sure you focus your energy on the former – you’re sure to miss those gems when they’re gone, no matter how great the next place is! Learn from your experiences, and enjoy what you have, wherever you are!

Chapter 31: On Being Hercules: Balancing Your Own Conviction with Support from Loved Ones

Three years ago today, The Guardian posted an article entitled “Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” highlighting some sobering epiphanies as experienced by an Australian nurse caring for patients during their final twelve weeks of life.

Regret Number One? “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Just sit with that for a moment.

The author expounds further on the sentiment by relating it to their fulfilment of dreams: “Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”

I am utterly chilled by the truth of this expression, but I can also feel it set me on fire. I don’t want to live (or die) like that, and I’ve tried to live my life in the best way so as not to, but it’s not easy.

We often hear the adage “When one door closes, another one opens,” but what about the door we leave behind when we step through that doorway? Whenever a choice is made in favour of one path, that motion exists simultaneously as a choice against another path. And sometimes both doors seem right, and we don’t know where to go.

So how can we know how to make the best choices, how to make sure we’re following our own path rather than one dictated to us? Here are a few lessons I’ve learned:

Make a List (or a few!)

  1. Make a Bucket List of the things you’d love to do before you can’t anymore. You can peruse tons of lists online, but be sure to be clear about why it’s important to you before adding it to your list. (Do you want to visit The Eiffel Tower just because everyone else has or because it’s an iconic symbol of human ingenuity and architectural accomplishment?) If you’re better with tech than a pen & paper, there are apps for that!
  2. Make a Nectar List of the things you’ve already accomplished that you’re proud of or have made you the incredible person you are today. You can arrange it in time periods or just in “as you think of them” order. Be thankful and recognise that life’s golden moments aren’t always momentous occasions! (A few of mine: I had 5 wisdom teeth extracted, I bought a Burberry coat for $3 at a thrift store, I’ve built a Rube Goldberg machine, and I can pick up peanuts with chopsticks.)
  3. Make a list of goals in three tiers: short term, long term, and “end goals.” These should be definite and attainable aims in various aspects of life: volunteer work, religious, career, hobbies, family, financial, home, health or education. In the “end goal” category, think about the woman or man you want to be and what is essential to getting you there. (The word “essential” is key here: you don’t need to be rich to have a happy family, but being debt-free is a noble goal for anyone.)
  4. Make a list of your most personal fears. Our fears are sometimes the keys to seeing what we desire most. (For example: it wasn’t until I realised that I was afraid of not being good enough that it became clear how much I wanted to go to art school and succeed.)
  5. Make a Reading List. I’m working on a list of 100 right now, and I’ve got 40 completed – it feels good! (Check out a few example lists here or make your own: BBC’s Best-Loved Novel, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and the one circulated on Facebook a while ago falsely attributed to BBC)

Take some uninterrupted time to really reflect on what you want most out of your life, and then…

Choose at least one thing to tackle this week, even if it’s just starting to plan

Make your dreams a priority, however big or small they might be. If it seems impossible to complete a certain goal right now, make a plan for how you can achieve it in time with specific steps – How much money do you need to save each month to be able to go to Hawaii on that vacation? If it’s not possible this year, can it happen next year? If so, be diligent, and you’ll get the reward you’re after! One of my favourite quotes for making choices is this one by Gordon B. Hinckley:

Surround yourself with people you love and respect

You don’t have to do this alone, and you really shouldn’t try. Being brave enough to pursue your own path is a challenge, but having wonderful, supportive people around to help you stay true to yourself will make it easier. They can remind you of your goals when something’s fallen by the wayside, be partners in crime in that new class you’ve been dying to take, celebrate your successes with a glass of wine, or give you sage advice after a heartbreaking failure. Enjoying the relationships you’ve built and nourished doesn’t make you subservient to them; you can appreciate a friend’s congratulations on a promotion without needing it for validation of a job well-done, and you can follow your mother’s advice without living your life to her expectations rather than your own.

Additionally, an Australian study seems to suggest that having strong friendships will actually give you more time to work on those beloved dreams – check our the NYTimes article here. So write those emails, send those holiday cards, and make time for coffee and lunch dates!

But remember: it’s your life, and you have to live it.

There are going to be times when your own confidence is going to have to be enough – when a private chant of “I Can Go the Distance” is going to have to make do. Just like Hercules, the naysayers will come, and they will come in force to try to tear down your dreams – many times just because they’re scared. It’s not wrong to ignore the advice or desires of others, even of those you love, because you know where you belong. It doesn’t mean you’re selfish or stupid; it means you’re dedicated and strong. Your unique path in life is precious and has a right to be defended, and you’re just the hero for the job. You may have times when all you want is to have someone on your side, cheering you on Grecian Urn-style, and you’ll need to content yourself with your own conviction (and maybe a nice massage). Remind yourself of the goal at the end and your reasons for wanting to be there, and dig your heels in for a fight if need be.

…because when the time comes, it’s going to be you on that hospital bed with 12 weeks left, and someone’s going to ask you if you have any regrets.

Chapter 30: 5 Reasons to Teach Dance in Social Studies

I just taught my second Social Studies class that revolved entirely around dance. And it was fantastic.

We’re studying Zambia this month in my Nation Appreciation class, and I was really excited to get these kids exposed to a bit of traditional African music and dance. I knew it would be strange to them- and therefore thought-provoking and emotive. We had studied Ireland last term, and we all had a fabulous time learning some simple steps of Irish dance. This time was different, though;  I didn’t have instructions or demonstrations for these Zambian dances, and I was lucky to have even videos of them. I knew the students would question the seriousness and the reasoning behind such silly dances, and I wanted them to think more critically about what they were seeing.

As is probably obvious to Common Core teachers already, I have a lot of freedom with what I teach and how I teach it. However, even acknowledging a great deal of freedom, thumping our fists on desks and bobbing our heads back and forth doesn’t exactly elicit the easiest link to Social Studies for most people, I’d guess. But I promise you I’m not off my rocker – I had two outstanding classes on this crazy bird dancing (two different academic levels), and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Let me share my thinking about such seemingly unorthodox teaching:

5 Reasons to Bring Dance into Social Studies (and other classes!)

1. Kids need movement. This morning at breakfast, I witnessed a horrible crime against childhood; a mother, upon becoming upset because her very young toddler kept wandering through the restaurant looking at and touching things, swooped him up in her arms, pinned him to her lap, and redirected his focus onto her iPad. The boy tried to wiggle free to go back to his wobble-walking and exploring, but she held tight and reprimanded him repeatedly. I could have screamed, I was so angry. Why do people want to remove the movement that is so essential to learning and growing as a child?

Children need to move and play! It’s preposterous to expect children to sit still and passively take in information all day; they need to investigate the world with their own hands and feet! There is a Chinese proverb (changed a bit and adopted by Ben Franklin): “Tell me and I forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” Children need to be involved in their education for it to prosper and grow within them, and getting them up out of their seats is a great start.

2. Exercise stimulates the brain. There are plenty of studies, but take a look at this one for a brief summary. When my students get to move around and be active during class, they can focus their attention on the important nuggets of information much more successfully. As long as an appropriate level of control is maintained, the students can get a lesson in and help themselves to be stronger, healthier individuals. As a teacher, what’s not to love in that situation?

3. Dance is as much a part of culture as music, sports, or folktales. I love teaching my students about the world through different countries and their cultures because it creates a foundation for connection. They see similarities between their own lives and the lives of people on the other side of the world, and they can start to feel compassion for them. Or, as happens just as often, the students see differences between their own culture and the one we are studying, and they are confused and curious. Exposing them to diverse ways of life allows them to understand that there are often many ways to solve a problem (i.e. houses, governments, or ways to get drinking water). As we’re learning about foods and languages, famous people and famous stories, tradition flows widely through our study. We can see how beliefs, materials, or even colours are repeated, reused, and represented throughout different aspects of life in these foreign lands. Traditional dances (and modern, perhaps – though I won’t argue that here) invoke these patterns and reaffirm the basic principles of a society.

In one of my classes, I was stunned by a student’s astute connection between the greatly influential bird upon the flag of Zambia and the bird-centered dance we were witnessing. “Why do you think they’re dressed like birds?” I asked. “It’s like the bird on the flag! They want to fly over their troubles!” my student confidently answered. What an excellent observation!

4. Dance, as an art form, allows them to learn different ways of expression. We can’t know what troubles our students have faced, are facing, and are going to face; we can only prepare them as best we can to deal with any trouble in a healthy, productive way. It’s our job as teachers to try to teach our students not just academic facts, but skills they can use to become better people, hungrier for life, and stronger in the face of adversity. Dance can be a tool in their repertoire – something they know they enjoy and that makes them feel better. Dance can allow them to be creative, to try and fail and try again, and to build their confidence. Maybe they won’t all start taking dance classes and become professional dancers (and I should hope not), but they might dance around in their rooms to the radio or have the courage to dance in a talent show sometime; introducing dance as a mode of expression and a legitimate hobby allows them the freedom to choose it when, and if, it suits them.

5. A particular dance, treated as a piece of art, can be a tool of investigative inquiry. I took a great 6-week Continuing Education course through Coursera earlier this year called Art & Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies for Your Classroom, and it really strengthened my confidence in my own teaching. The course, based on the idea that minds seek knowledge of their own accord, inspires educators to use objects and open-ended discussion to help others become more engaged in their own study – to become leaders in their own study. Through it, teachers step back and allow students to direct the flow of investigation, following thoughts that may seem obscure or absurd because they are actually truly valuable. (Creativity doesn’t come from always following what others have set out for you. If we raise these young people to believe there is only one right answer, one correct path, we are crippling them before they ever have a chance to change the world.) I love that they’re encouraging teachers everywhere to have a more student-centered, discussion-based learning environment.

With regard to the role of dance in a Social Studies classroom, I think that this is the most teacher-friendly defense. If you’re concerned about parents or administrators becoming outraged, look no further than the highly-regarded name of MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art, and the thousands of students who have gone through their education programs.

In my class on Zambian dance, I used a video to jumpstart our conversation, but during the next class, I used some baskets; this methodology is so open-ended that it can be applied successfully to any age group in any subject. My students shared their reactions and thoughts about the costumes, the hairstyles, the environment around the dance, the sounds they heard, and the causes that might have resulted in such things.

“It looks like they made their clothes!”

“Yeah! Those skirts look like they’re made of grass!”

“Maybe it’s because they’re too poor to buy clothes!”

“Or because the grass is nature, and they love nature!”

“Or they’re just too hot in the desert!”

As we began doing our own version of the “Crazy Bird Dance,” they continued to observe and reflect on what was happening – shouting out their feelings, praising the dancers in the video for their skill and speed, expressing awe and respect for something that, before today, they didn’t even know existed.

When we compared the traditional dancing and drumming to the modern, popular music of Zambia, the students grappled with more interesting observations:

“I don’t hear any drums!”

“No whistles, either!”

“They’re not dancing crazy anymore.”

“They’re not really dancing at all! They’re just standing there!”

“Maybe they stopped dancing crazy because nobody else dances like that.”

“Maybe they stopped because they didn’t feel crazy anymore!”

“Maybe they stopped dancing like birds because they don’t live in the desert now; they live in cities.”

At the end of that class, they walked out excited, chattering away with each other about some aspect or other of the dances. They couldn’t help themselves – the world was just too awesome to stay quiet about. How could Social Studies class reach for anything higher or better than that?

Chapter 29: “Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall…” Do you get bored of travel?

This post is the beginning of a new series entitled “Mirror, Mirror.” The posts within this series are set up as questions and answers and will come from a variety of sources: a thought that has been on my mind, a question I was asked in class, or something that a friend or family member has inquired about. The topics will vary from piece to piece, but all are meant to be moments of reflection, just like a real mirror, for myself and my readers.

Do you get bored after travelling for a while? Does it all start to look the same?

Desensitisation is real and absolutely does happen. One of the struggles of living abroad is the constant battle you must have with yourself so that you don’t take the amazing world that’s at your fingertips for granted. Man is most definitely a creature of habit – whether he is living in a cookie-cutter apartment in the city or in an underwater hotel room in the Maldives. As we form the habits of daily life, we get used to certain things being around and things being a certain way. That “getting used to” is adaptation, and it’s part of our human programming – it’s there to help us be strong and safe and happy. I’ve gotten used to hearing the birds chirping outside of my window, to walking on the beach, to wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts to work. I don’t stop to smell every frangipani tree anymore, though my students still know they’re a favourite and bring them to me every once in a while. I’ve forgotten how cold the Korean winter was, and I’m waiting impatiently for it not to feel like I’m roasting every day (The weather today? Sunny. 95 – Feels like 107.). I’ve gotten used to my daily life here in Thailand, and it doesn’t seem so extraordinary anymore. It feels like any other Sunday.

Yes, I’ve been desensitised a bit to this lovely, tropical paradise; I feel quite at home here now. …But that doesn’t mean that I take it for granted. There are going to be times that we forget how lucky we are – it must happen to everyone – but I don’t think that the solution to desensitisation is to abstain from the things you love in the name of holding them more precious. I know that one day it won’t be quite so easy for me to get a massage every week or to sit down at a tiny little Thai restaurant and eat an amazing dinner for $3. I’m reminded of the Happiness Project idea to “spend out;” if we don’t enjoy what we have, what’s the difference between us having it and not? In any culture, in any place, there are advantages and disadvantages to living there; if you don’t fully enjoy the advantages that are available to you, you’re only cheating yourself out of the best experience. There will come a time when we won’t have the luxuries we do now (though we will have others, as it always goes), so we mustn’t hide them away just in case we might get too used to having them around.

In my experience, the greatest difference between taking your life for granted and enjoying it to the fullest is this: joyful wonder. If you can remind yourself, and often, to thoroughly enjoy with all your heart the treasures you have, desensitisation can never take a strong hold in your mind. Mediocrity is possible no matter where you might live or travel or visit; it’s your responsibility to remain actively in love with your life. Change it, maintain it, but don’t complain about it – your life is the product of you and you alone. If you’re bored, you’re doing it wrong. 

The Golden BuddhaEven so, as you become accustomed to great things, you’re able to move past mere awe and focus on contemplating the smaller details. Desensitisation isn’t all bad. Like I said before, there are definite reasons for why we adapt to our surroundings, why we get used to things and people and places. One of the most extraordinary things about this adaptation is that when you stop seeing and reacting to one thing, you will start seeing and reacting to other things. Once I got over the basic ability to eat as much Thai food as I wanted, I started finding my favourite dishes and my favourite restaurants and enjoying them over and over. I became desensitised to the availability of Thai food and became more involved in finding the best. When you stop squirming on your feet because you’re standing next to 5.5 tons of solid gold, you can take time to notice how the afternoon light makes it glow like it’s alive and how the fingers look like a waterfall. This change of focus happens quite frequently with learning a new city; when you have a basic map of the area ingrained in your memory, you start to notice shops and restaurants and kiosks that you never saw before, though you’ve passed them many times. You can step back from trying to see the bigger picture and are free to appreciate the intricacies.

Additionally, seeing monument after monument, artwork after artwork, temple after temple, has yet another gift: education through repetition. The more airports or scuba sites or cathedrals we visit, the more easily we can spot the spectacular things about them. It doesn’t start to look the same because you stop noticing the similarities and start seeing the differences. I couldn’t tell you how many Buddhas we saw on our trip to Bangkok, but I can still distinctly remember a number of them because there were certain striking features that set them apart. Perhaps in some ways like an assembly line, your continued exposure to one kind of thing makes you more attentive to the slight peculiarities of each piece. I remember my first few (or many) bus rides in Korea at night – how neon everything looked! I couldn’t keep track of where we were because everything just looked bright. It took me quite some time to distinguish one street from another because I had to get accustomed, in both my mind and in my eyes, to the one thing that made them all the same – their underlying commonality. Once I could accept the commonality, accept it and mostly ignore it, I could find the differences and separate one street from another.

Yet, things and places will constantly remind you of other things and places. There is interconnection everywhere. The back streets of Hanoi felt like Paris, those Oreo milkshakes tasted like pure America, but the noise of the traffic clearly recalled our time in Cairo. The countryside of Thailand reminds me of Pennsylvania and England and Bali all at once. The food court at Paragon reminds me of Shinsegae, and fancy embroidery and textiles will always remind me of my mother’s sewing room. But to think that these connections, these split-second recollections, make one’s travels boring or monotonous is simply not true. The syncing of two separate experiences, perhaps years away from each other in time, makes both memories stronger, and it makes you a whole lot smarter. You see, our world has been built on connections, and so it’s pretty darn helpful if you can see at least some of them for yourself. I am a very outspoken opponent against splitting up academic subjects as they’re taught in schools (you learn this in math class, this other thing in science, and this completely separate third thing in English) because, well, the world is just not made that way. The world is chock full of repetitions, patterns, and connections – someone thought of it, and someone copied it, someone reinterpreted it, and someone else understood its application to another field. Especially in this age of globalisation and rapidly free communication, there isn’t one single source for anything anymore. There’s a very good reason that Hanoi’s streets feel like Paris, and the fact that I felt it from my own experience rather than just being told so from a history book will help me understand colonialism and Vietnam to a much deeper level. You realise, through your own experience, that your expectations were misplaced – that the differences you assumed would always be present aren’t, but have somehow dissolved into a blatant unity. Noticing sameness in seemingly entirely different things makes us reassess, reflect, and recalculate. That is, it makes us more aware of the past, more knowledgeable about the present, and more receptive to the movements and changes of the future. Again, this isn’t boring: this is smart.

Getting bored of travelling would mean you’re getting bored with learning. And that’s just silly. Travelling, whether just for a few days or living somewhere for years, is essentially about learning. Constantly. Learning new skills, learning new facts, learning about yourself; travel is a catalyst for so much growth that it’s almost impossible to explain to someone unless they’ve experienced it. There will be days that your feet will be tired, your eyes will be tired, your neck and back and knees and arms and your everything will be tired. But your mind? It will be stronger and fuller and exhausted and excited all at once. That feeling – the feeling of growth as it’s happening – that’s the real reason people go on a trip and never return (or return with potent vows to do it again). Travelling produces this phenomenal sense of being able to see yourself change- being forced to come to terms with your own faults and those of others, to be pushed out of your comfort zone and bombarded with moment after moment of confusion, re-assimiliation, and reflection -after just a few days in a new place. There are people who aren’t ready to be pushed or prodded like that, and there are people who never will be; they like their comfort zones, and they’re perfectly happy remaining within them. I’m not one of those people, though. I can’t believe how quickly I’ve grown since leaving my home behind. For me, travelling is like watching an egg grow into a bird and hatch before your eyes, over and over – and each time, the bird becomes more exquisite and beautiful. You realise, in awe, that the bird is both you and not you – a better version of you, and only moving forward. And that’s quite addictive.

Chapter 28: Writing on the Board: The Realities of Being a Teacher

I was a smart kid when I was growing up, and it gave me a very sweet delight to be able to correct the teacher when he/she wrote something incorrectly on the board – be it a misspelling, a word out of place, or an unequal equation.  As I spend more time at the board as a teacher, however, I want to go back in time and hold my little smarty-pants tongue before every single one of those moments.

It’s just so much to think about all at once. A student is asking a question, you’re trying to explain something out loud to the class, another student is fidgeting at their seat making an annoying sound, and your mind can’t tear itself away from the 80 other things it needs to keep track of at this moment.

“Don’t forget to order those pictures. Who’s absent? Call this person and that person to check up on things. Check homework. Quick! Make a list of emails you need to send at the end of this class on a piece of scrap paper you found on the floor. Did I remember my vitamins this morning? Talk to the boss about this kid’s behaviour. Make copies of this page in the book. Check homework. Does everyone have the correct notebook? Why haven’t they gotten out their homework yet? Give this change to so-and-so-teacher. Don’t get snippets of paper stuck in the carpet loops. Where are all of the erasers? Check homework. What on earth is that word supposed to be? Fix this, please. We need to order the sandwiches for the trip. Start class. Stop! Three students will be absent tomorrow; you need to give them their homework early and explain it to them. Start class again. Wait! Why is he playing with that during class? Back to the topic of the day. Hang on: where’s the date stamp? No, no, make it a tall ‘t.’ How can I help them to remember superlatives and comparatives? Print those documents out. Oh wait; the computer’s down. It seems like they’re getting it: yes! Did I give back those writing assignments? Oh no, there’s the question out of left field – back we go! How do they use this in their lives already? How different their lives are from what mine was. What can I compare this grammar to? My board markers are running out. I wish she wouldn’t lie on the floor like that. What’s the right question to ask here? How hard should I push them? What time is it? So-and-so needs to leave early today. Should I let some of them go now? How many “relevant” stories are enough? How similar they are to how I was. Is any of this getting through? Take this ruler downstairs. Why is this stack of papers here? Ok, time to go. Everyone needs to write down their homework. How much should I really tell him about nuclear bombs? My next class should have started two minutes ago. Don’t forget to pick up your cushion! AND WHERE ARE ALL OF THE ERASERS?!”

Please, Little Me, have a little mercy; there’s so much more than what you see on the board.

Chapter 27: Around the World in 414 Days

John and I have officially travelled around the globe.  Horray for circumnavigation!

Upon our departure from Washington D.C. bound for Korea, we flew to Chicago, over the U.S. and the Pacific Ocean, to land in Seoul, South Korea. We each flew from Seoul to Bangkok in the fall, and when we returned “home” for the holidays in early December, we flew from Bangkok to Dubai, over Mesopotamia, Europe, and the Atlantic Ocean, to arrive back in the Washington Dulles Airport.

"Welcome Home!"

This is what we found when we arrived at my family’s house in Pennsylvania:

What a shock to our warm-weather-accustomed systems!

It was such an excellent trip – made so by the fantastic people we love and were able to see during our time in the States.

Besides visiting with our amazing friends and families, what else did I find myself drawn to in America-land? What made the short list of “must-do’s”?

A List of My American Pit-Stops, in no particular order

  1. Mexican Food.  Oh, the enchiladas and burritos! Glory to the guacamole, Alleluia! This is, perhaps, my number one qualm with everywhere other than the US (London especially should be appalled at its lacking in this department). The world needs more Mexican food restaurants!
  2. Yama. Yes, delicious, fresh sushi was high on my priority list, but it couldn’t come from just anywhere – it had to be from the best of the best, my favourite sushi restaurant in Annapolis. And let me tell you: it was just as mouth-wateringly wonderful as I had remembered.
  3. Wendy’s Frosties. Another gift of the good ol’ US of A that hasn’t been captured: making a decent milkshake with the proper consistency.
  4. (American) Chinese Food. Won ton soup is one of my two omnipotent comfort foods, and I ensured that I had gallons of it whilst I was home. Also, those delectable cream cheese crab wontons…
  5. A Shipping Address. I had been sending packages home to my family’s home for literally months before my arrival: from books and bras to dresses and deodorant. There were boxes everywhere, but I was so happy that I could spend my time with people I love instead of doing seemingly endless errands to stock up on some necessities.
  6. The Tea and Candy Aisles of Various Grocery Stores. I built a small fortress in the cupboard with all the boxes of tea I returned with from the States. Lemon Zinger, Dragonfruit Melon, True Blueberry – the list goes on… Also, Twizzlers. Five pounds of Twizzlers. Those achingly strange twists of addicting red plastic are irreplaceable in my palatal craving repertoire.
  7. Thrift Stores. I had missed the gleeful sense that only properly-fitting clothes at laughably-low prices can bring. However, I realised that it’s so much more fun to thrift when you actually have a home within driving distance – all those beautiful home goods and furniture pieces left behind! Alas! I did manage to snag a few picture frames from Hobby Lobby, but that place, too, was pure torture for a girl with big dreams and small suitcases.
  8. Our Alma Mater. St. John’s truly is a kind, loving mother to us both, and we had missed her brickéd walks and transcendent shelter from the wild world. Some things really do never change.

So, as you can see, I kept myself busy – mostly chatting and eating. Which is probably why I ended up being gone for almost a month and returning with a total of six pictures – five of the snow and one of the Christmas tree.

I hereby roll my eyes at myself.

Chapter 26: We Are Siamese if You Please…

I‘ve had a week to look over my new domicile, and I think I will maybe stay for quite a while.

So far, Thailand has been amazing.

I love our house.
First, it’s ours.
It’s lovely, comfortable, and is the perfect size.
And it has a beautiful new console table by the door. (And an enormous bed! Wahoo!)
Immediately, it felt like home in my heart.
There’s so much sun!

I love the city.
There’s tons of shopping of every kind (England, how I’ve missed you!), it’s affordable, and fragrant flowers and green trees are all around.
This past weekend I got a massage on an open-air platform above the beach. The air was filled with the songs of birds and the crashing of the waves from the Gulf of Thailand.
I’ve started (really) learning Thai! (And it’s gorgeous!)
All of the restaurants we’ve eaten at have been delicious, open, and breezy.
There’s so much sun!

I love my job.
The school is wonderful.
The kids are stupendous, and they’ve captured my heart so swiftly. (Of course I miss my Korean darlings, but these guys are definitely helping to smooth the transition!)
The people I work with are kind and passionate and awesome (John included, of course!).
Our morning snack today was sliced dragonfruit.
We’re going to a summer palace with mangrove forests for our Friday trip this week.
My classrooms have enormous windows that remain open throughout the day (unless the A/C is on!).
There’s so much sun!

Dude, there’s so much sun.

Chapter 25: Moments of Difference between American and Korean Culture

You always learn a lot when you travel, but there are certain poignant moments that seem to capture the gulf between the native and the foreigner. I wanted to share a few of those moments that I’ve experienced here in Korea that I think are particularly revealing.

1. Money Matters

On one of my first trips to the subway station to pick up John, I witnessed an event that was literally jaw-dropping for me as an American. The people at the station looked like schools of fish funnelling through a rocky passage in the coursing river. A man, as he was rushing to swipe his transit card at the turnstile, dropped some cash. It was not a lot – probably a few dollars worth – but it fell to the floor with a force like a bar of gold. The fish darted in panic. They scattered outward into a shuffling ring around the little rectangle on the floor. It sounded as if ten or more people shouted out after the man, but he did not return. To my surprise, no one touched the forgotten cash. Ten minutes passed. The crowds of people continued to rush through the awkward turnstiles, but now there was a strange detour in front of one of the centre ones. As if a hook had been thrust into a sea of well-aquainted fish, there was a very clear divergence around the strange object. When I left the station, boy in tow, it was still there – its blue folds rustling slightly in the churning drafts of the open doors.

I had a similar experience on a train heading up into Seoul. A single coin slipped from the pocket of a man as he stood up from his seat and exited the car. The elderly man who had been seated beside him noticed the coin a few seconds later, grasped it urgently between two wrinkled fingers, and hobbled out of the car looking frantically for the stranger. The doors closed behind him, and the train passed on.

2. Slowly, but Surely

My preschool class was having donuts as a special morning treat. The students chose theirs, and I picked up the remaining one and proceeded to eat it while I checked their homework. After five or six minutes (an admittedly long time for a delicious donut to survive in my hand), I cleaned my hands and returned to the table. My students were shocked. “Teacher! Donut is finished?” one asked. “Yes, it was so delicious!” I replied. “Teacher, in Korea, for delicious thing, eat like this,” another explained as he nibbled a tiny bit off of his own donut. 80 minutes later, all three students still had more than half of their donuts left.  And I had all of mine in my tummy.

3. The Gift

One evening after a long walk around the track, I began to feel some sprinkles as I rounded the corner of the park to head home. Thunder boomed as I ducked underneathe the covered staircase, and the downpour began. The soccer players yelled in revolt and were pelted with drops as they came streaming down the stairs with the rain. A man, presumably some player’s father, stopped as he passed by me, turned around and mimed “umbrella.” I smiled and shook my head, then shrugged my shoulders in indifference to the wait. I knew it would stop eventually, and I still had an hour or so before bedtime. He smiled back and continued on his way down to the parking garage. A few minutes later, the same man emerged from the parking garage entrance with an umbrella over his head and walked up the staircase. I assumed he was going back to the field to pick up something or someone. As he reached the spot where I stood, he stopped and reached out with his other hand. He was holding another umbrella. I smiled and tried to politely refuse his offer, but he insisted. He didn’t understand that I wasn’t going to the parking garage; I had walked there. I followed him to the mouth of the entrance and folded down the umbrella to return to him, but he laughed, shooed me away with the umbrella, and pattered quickly down the stairs. I smiled broadly the whole way home and every time I have used that umbrella since.

On the day of Chuseok, a Korean holiday akin to our Thanksgiving, I ventured out to find out what shops were open and was delighted to find that my favourite coffee shop would indeed be an available spot to spend some of the lovely day.  I ordered my drink and got my little corner nook on the patio all set up. When my buzzer went off, I went inside to pick up my Chai Tea Latte and was surprised to find a whole tray on the counter with a smiling worker in front of it. On a small post-it note, she had written: “Today is Korean Thanksgiving Day! This is for you – enjoy your meal!” She had made up a luncheon plate of various traditional Korean delectables just for me; I felt so loved (and thankful, of course).

4. A Great Big Family

One of my students, upon spying from our high window an elderly woman being brought into the hospital from an ambulance, exclaimed in genuine alarm: “Oh no, that grandmother is hurt!” All of a sudden, perhaps after nine months of hearing them, it struck me that many of the titles Koreans use to refer to or speak to strangers are words we would reserve for family members. When ordering lunch at my favourite kimbap shop, I always hear shouts of “Ajumma,” or “Auntie.” Many of my students refer to their friends (especially the sons and daughters of their parents’ friends) as their cousins. This gets very confusing during the early stages of English vocabulary – it usually goes something like this: “How many cousins do you have?” “I have eight cousins.” How many aunts and uncles do you have?” “I have no aunts or uncles.” “Wait, what? How?!”)

5. Copy Cat

A student completed her assignment and requested a coloring sheet: “A bear with a thing on his belly, Teacher!” That’s kid-speak for “Choose something from the Care Bears Coloring Book, please.” I asked around the class to find out how many other Care Bears coloring sheets we might need once everyone was finished. Three Care Bears and two Cars. Off I went to the copier. When I returned, a couple of the other students had finished their writing and were ready to color. Two Care Bear girls pulled chairs next to each other and got started. The one girl kept checking on the other girl’s progress and copying her color choices. Right down to the flower stalk in the right corner and the little stone beside the bear’s foot. Then, the moment of utter befuddlement came; the other girl decided that she was no longer confident in her own color choices and began peeking over at the first girl’s paper. An argument ensued: “You pick the color!” “No, you pick the color!” “Your coloring is more beautiful!” “No, yours is more beautiful!” The bell rang, and the potency of the disagreement collapsed. I was saved.