October 19, 2015

Monday Morning Me(w)ditation

Life is pretty short.

Life is also pretty sweet sometimes.

Alan and I adopted a kitten over the weekend. If you know me well, you know that cats are one of my greatest pleasures. One of the things that Alan and I wanted to do differently in Thailand was to make choices that prioritized our quality of life. For both of us, that meant a pet.

Given the size of our apartment and our long work days, a cat made more sense than a dog.

On Saturday, we made the one-hour drive to Mae Sai (Thai-Burmese border) to check out a litter of kittens that we had seen advertised on a local website.

We spent a long time getting to know the litter, and after much deliberation, decided on a mellow, strawberry blond kitten that passed our tests of not squirming when held by the belly or scruff of the neck.

On the drive home, she slept in the box we had brought.

We named her "Egg." We don't remember how that suggestion came up, but it's strangely fitting in Thailand, where almost everyone has a short (and sometimes silly) nickname. I've mentioned some of the names my students have: Piglet, Mint, Milk, Donut, etc.

Her coloring is exactly what I would expect if Alan and I produced a kitten baby: strawberry blond with green eyes. She has white feet and a white belly, and a very light pink tongue. Clearly, she is the cutest cat on the planet.

Her mellowness has since given way to a playful and inquisitive "cattitude" (I'm really not a fan of cat-related puns, but I can't help myself sometimes). I think getting out of a somewhat dirty and crowded environment has given her health an instant boost. She is no longer competing with 10 other cats for the food bowl or human attention either, which probably makes a big difference in her personality.

We also bathed and de-fleed her the first night. She didn't like the water, but I'm sure getting rid of those pesky parasites was worth it. The funniest moment was when she got a little too warm from the warm bath, and stuck her tongue out to pant. I had never seen a cat do that and I was actually disconcerted until I realized what she was doing. She was fine, and so cute!

Although she has more energy, she is still cuddly. She likes to sleep close to her humans. Especially the first night, she alternated between snuggling me and Alan all night. It was too cute. Last night she was more settled and I assume that she slept through the night, just a few feet from my face. I didn't wake up at all during the night to her meows or face-bumps. I hope that the restful nights continue.

This morning she woke up at 6:00 and I decided, rather than sleep another hour, to get up and spend time with her before my long work day. My original intention was to write my Me(w)ditation about this part only, but in the interest of providing context...all the previous paragraphs happened.

This morning, Egg and I did a lot of things together. We played with various "toys" (aka pieces of plastic from water bottles that would have been thrown out if they weren't so fun to play with). She ate breakfast while I drank coffee. I gave her a cotton ball wipe down to get the dust out of her eyes. We built a tunnel out of an old box. Of course we also snuggled together in the aptly-named "Egg Chair."

Here's why I like having a cat: I didn't worry about work or money this morning. I didn't obsessively check social media. I didn't even take any pictures of her to post. I was finally in the moment, enjoying the simplicity of one of life's pleasures. It was refreshing and energizing--truly a great way to start the week.

October 10, 2015

Reflections on Gun Violence as a Teacher

As a teacher, I am a small blip in the lives of many people.

I made a few students cry this week by giving them "zeros" on assignments that included plagiarised material.

I've handed out a lot of tissues and advice to students who are going through life's struggles while trying to also pass my class. I've said, "Let's walk over to the counseling center together."

I've celebrated students' successes in my class and beyond. Study abroad, landing an RA-ship, getting a scholarship, even meeting a boyfriend/girlfriend via one of my group projects.

Today I can add a new and very painful part of being a teacher: losing a student to gun violence.

There was a shooting at Northern Arizona University, where I completed my master's degree and also taught full-time. I heard the news last night.

This evening, I found out that the student who was killed had been in my class in 2013.

I recognised his name, and although the news source I was reading mis-identified him as a freshman, looking at the photos confirmed my suspicion. He was a friendly and smiley guy who looked a lot like one of my childhood friends. I always wanted to call him "Ben" because of that. He sat in the front, which is a notable characteristic of a student, as most sit as far away from the teacher as possible. Although I remember that he occasionally came late, he participated in class discussions and turned in his assignments on time. By my account, he seemed like he would survive the challenges of college life just fine.

I did not count on one of those challenges being a bullet fired at his chest after a party. His life was taken away by an 18-year-old student who often posed for Instagram pictures with automatic weapons. I don't know the details of why the shooter brought out the gun, and I don't really care.

What I do care about is that gun violence appears in the news too often and the laws aren't changing. There have already been three shootings at university campuses this month. It is unacceptable that guns are so readily available in our country, and that in states like Arizona, it is legal for college students to have guns on campus as long as they are in a car. Moreover, I don't believe that civilians need guns at all, and I definitely don't think 18-year-old should have guns.

I'm sick of seeing gun violence in the news, and I'm heartbroken that someone who I knew was killed in such a senseless way. As a teacher and as a human being, I believe it's time to change our laws to be sensible in a world where gun violence has become normal, and where parents have to worry about their children going to school, to a theatre, or to a mall. Limiting the availability of guns is the first step to stopping gun violence and needless death.

October 5, 2015

A few unrelated topics including volleyball, tires, and lady-boys

Readers, I'm sure you've been on pins and needles waiting for the next post.

In the last entry, I think I mentioned that I was going to try out the volleyball club. Well let me tell you, they play some ball here at MFU! The first practice I attended was easily the hardest I've worked in the past 5 years. We started with a mile job at the track, then did some stadium stair jump training. That would have been a tough work out for me, but we followed up with a legit practice for 3 hours. I could barely jump by the end. It could be argued that I can barely jump anyway, but the point is, I really couldn't by the end of that practice. I ended up going the next 3 nights in a row, mostly to prove it to myself that I could.

They've asked me to be the assistant coach for the women's team, which I've sort of accepted, though I'm still not sure whether I can make that commitment in addition to my teaching load. Without a command of Thai or much knowledge about how the team runs, I don't know whether I'm ready right now, but I'm sure that I can bring a lot to the table as a pseudo-coach with a fresh perspective. I definitely bring up the average height by a couple of inches!

The good news is, the players are athletic, friendly, and most of them speak English really well, so they help me get through the practices. Since the first day, practices have gotten easier. My body has adjusted to the incredible buckets and buckets of sweat that I produce and we haven't done some of the more difficult drills.

So when I haven't been on the volleyball court, I've been on the motorbike, getting flat tires. It happened when Alan and I were on our way to dinner with friends. Our best guess is a pinch flat for the extra weight (me) on the back of the bike at a higher speed on rough roads. It was a stroke of luck that we came to a stop in front of a shop where the employees were willing and able to help us. One of them asked around and found a shop close by. The other literally escorted Alan and the bike to the shop. I stayed with the grandma at the shop who was literally sewing doggie clothes. Could that be any cuter? She also had a guinea pig which I tried to play with, unsuccessfully.

In other news, Thailand is so different from Turkey. Our university literally has a drag queen pageant called Miss Satellite. There is a huge poster of biologically male students dressed in black gowns, beautifully made up. In Thailand, so-called "lady-boys" are part of the gender spectrum. It's hard to write about in a way that doesn't other-ize too much, but sometimes, you just see a person wearing a man's uniform with his hair braided and make-up on. It's Thailand. It's a lady-boy. They play volleyball, too. Very well! In any case, if I could sum up how Thailand is different from Turkey, this might be the example I'd choose. I hope I can attend Miss Satellite 2015!

I think I've pretty much covered the news. Volleyball, flat tires, lady-boys. I also saw a big snake get whacked by a gardener, just a few feet from my office building. No biggie. Actually it was a biggie--a big snake, but not a big deal.

Clearly time for me to stop writing.

Best from Thailand--