Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sidewalk Images #4

Scenes that would be considered unusual in western countries are common enough that even we expats eventually barely give them a passing glance. This offering of food and drink, set on modern styrofoam trays, conveys the traditional intent of paying homage to spirits. Not a Buddhist tradition, it nonetheless is practiced widely by Thais, keeping alive the animist beliefs of their pre-Buddhist ancestors. This scene is near my school, and is refreshed on a regular basis, perhaps to please the spirit of a relative who died at the spot in a traffic accident.

Friday, February 26, 2010


It seems that a big chunk of conversation found in emails and on Facebook deal with the weather. Apparently, few of us are satisfied with the conditions in which we find ourselves. People from the American midwest let the rest of us know about how terrible the ice-covered roads and street-choking blizzards are, while Floridians, well, they have plenty to report about heat, freakish ice storms and hurricanes. Recently, I got an email message from a relative in the heartland that simply reported on the current temperature, which was -17 F (-27C), a record by the way. We love to report on how we endure weather extremes. So, I decided to report on the weather here: 97F (36C), but unfortunately not a record. In both places, people are complaining. We have something in common regardless of the weather: we all have it, and it usually isn't what we really want. From experience, I can predict that many of the same people who hate the winter will also write about how unbearable August is. And if it happens to hit a record 100 F (38 C) in so many consecutive days, even better: We'll have more to write about how terrible it is.

What is it about these extremes we love to hate? Or is it that we feel a bit of pride having endured them, and want to brag a little? I'm pretty sure that's what it is for me. What do you think? (Whew! I had to take four showers today just to cool off!)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Making Connections

Here's how teens connect with each other. At least that's how it is at my school, representative of nearly every place on the planet, I'm sure. Everyone needs a break from the often tedious rigor of study. These girls show how it's done in the 21st century! "Who's winning?" "I don't know!" "Why are you playing it?" "It's fun!"

Still, there's no substitute for just being in nature. Two adolescents (daughter of a colleague and her friend) accompanied colleagues and me on a recon trip for an upcoming field trip. As we walked through a beautiful mangrove forest, tinny pop music wafted around us from one of the girls' MP3 player. Admonished by her mother, the girls said, "What can we listen to?" "Nature!" came the reply from all three of us. By the time we were ready to return, the two girls were enraptured by the goings-on in a tide pool on the beach, oblivious to anything other than the fascinating creatures they were observing.

Recently, a group of advanced biology students cautiously picked through a mowed lawn on campus to explore diversity, such as it is on a manicured field. One girl even asked if she could wear rubber gloves. These are kids going on the ecology field trip. I know for a fact that they will be as enthralled by what they find as the two younger girls were. I've never seen it fail. What has failed, is our ability to encourage kids to experience the wonder, beauty and mystery of nature. Far too many are disconnected from it.