Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Mess with the Best

Keeping one hundred students in line makes me think I should bring my whip. Perhaps I'll start the year off in my gi and call students up for demonstrations, Chuck Norris style. Or maybe I'll just tell them of my time as a martial arts expert in China...

Great Wall of China, Photographer Matt Higgins

Be Not Afraid of Greatness

I have recently experienced a startling change in plans, and to be quite honest, I did not feel up to sharing in the immediate aftermath. At the end of my second day I was thrown for a rather unpleasant loop and was out-of-sorts for the next day or so--I still feel a bit discombobulated at night when my thoughts spin in circles around the same subject over and over again--but I have recovered from the worst of the shock and look ahead.

I was hired as one of two ESL teachers, and I was quite happy with this fact. I was told I would be working with the effervescent Yuka Osaki, teaching English to a few students at a time. Our mentor, the previous ESL teacher, was going to show us the intricate machinations of Academia in her final week before she departed and left us to our own devices; and Yuka and I had imagined we would lean on each other when things seemed to unravel in this first of experiences. But this was not to be. I was pulled into Katie's office by Master Kelley, and they together told me firmly but kindly that because of unforseen circumstances, I would be the new middle school English teacher, in charge of the one hundred students of sixth, seventh, and eighth grade.

I now have to deal with daily, weekly, and yearly lesson plans, quizzes, tests, essays, poems, lectures, grammar reviews, irate parents, weekly reports, academic computer software, schedules, syllabi, extra novels, short stories, and heavy literature books that must be shouldered home on the backs of students. But I shall not be afraid of this. You see, dear friends, some are born into a life of teaching, some achieve it, and some have unmerited promotions thrust upon them.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Reporting for Duty

I have safely arrived in Singapore. This is my room for the time being with a view of palm trees and the pool. I am staying with a family who has graciously opened up their home to me whilst they are away. The father is Swedish, and thus far I have been comforted by various Swedish cookbooks and notes around the house. I am now so tired I am ready to fall into bed and be done with the day. I must report to work tomorrow morning at eight thirty sharp; I have a test to help administer. Still, I can't believe I'm here!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Back Again

I leave for the airport in a half hour or so, and the reality of it has not yet struck me down in my tracks. I am going back to Singapore! I haven't been back in three and a half years, and things, I know, will be remarkably different. I will have no family in the area; I'll be living on my own and making my way in the world without help. I'll have to unpack and settle in, create a place for myself, attend to friends, work, and invest in a new community. It feels rather odd to go back to a place that is at once familiar and different.

Celebrating National Day with the family

I have, after all, spent a great deal of my life in Singapore. I took my first steps and spoke my first words there; I celebrated National Day and Chinese New Year and the Lantern festival with our Singaporean friends. I feel slightly apprehensive about some things--my friends Sidney, who was twelve when I left is now sixteen--sixteen! of all things--and I wonder if we'll get along as splendidly as before. (I think we will, but I am the eternal optimist.)

In high school, I had to read a weepy story by an expat girl named Erika, about how she returned to Singapore, her childhood home, only to be disappointed with the strangeness of the familiar culture. She was unemployed and could not afford the maid or manner of living she was accustomed to as a child, and despite tossing and turning, she could not figure out why things were so different. I am happy to report that my family was never rich, which has left me with no illusions of grandeur, and I do not intend to cling to a static idea of childhood. I realize things will be different, and that's all right. They will be better.

Enjoying the surf at East Coast Park

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Castle Wear

And what did I wear on my day about Uppland's green expanses? 
Balloon trousers bought in Calcutta and a punjabi top my sister left behind.
 Cool and comfortable.

In the Park

 After our outing to Skokloster Castle, we all made our way to the Uppsala City Park to meet up with my brother and his wife Sofia, his parents-in-law Hans and Lotta, and his brother-in-law Martin and his wife Gabriella. We all get along splendidly. After our meal of potato salad, sweet grilled chicken, and chocolate cake, there was time for other things.

 Martin and my dad having a layabout in the sun

Dogpiling Joel


Contact improvisation-ing


and posing.

Skokloster Slott

Yesterday, my parents, grandparents (on my father's side) all took a trip to Skokloster Castle, built between the years 1654 and 1676 and erected by Carl Gustaf Wrangel, a major player in politics, fashion, and high society of seventeenth century Europe. Wrangel died before its completion, and the building still stands unfinished to this day. It was built primarily to impress upon his fellow bourgeoisie the might and power at his behest. He himself, owning sixteen other castles, spent only thirty days on the premises.

The church connected to the castle

An apple orchard, just like Cair Paravel's, though this one is well-tended

The castle was built above the river Mälaren, the main highway of the day, so that all the boats passing by could admire its expanse and beauty, and by extension the majesty of its lord.

Farfar waits for me on the steps, looking every bit like the lord of the castle.

Our guide

We joined a guided tour through the three levels of the castle. I am always fascinated by the many intricacies of the social hierarchy of the time. The bedroom was not the same as the bed chamber; the bed chamber was only used to receive visitors, conferring unto them the honor of having visited the lord's inner sanctum. (Louis XIV developed this to an art form in the French court, receiving visitors in various forms of undress, the more intimate the layering, the higher the honour.) Before entering the bed chamber, the visitors were asked to wait in the next room, where they were faced with a wall-sized painting of Carl Gustaf Wrangel majestically astride his gallant horse, holding the reins lightly in one hand and wielding a blood-stained rapier in the other. The visitor was expected to grow increasingly nervous at the prospect of visiting a count of such great esteem and unquestionable courage.

Did you know that the preferred physical form was pear-shaped, and that the men would wear wide breeches, garters, waistcoat (padded to give that desirable paunch), and colorful coat with sash, frilled collar, and hat complete with plume (to signify nobility).

And did you know ballet developed from the baroque period? Our guide showed us how any man of importance in the seventeenth century would enter a room. A man walked with his arms out, palms open, taking up as much space as possible, without bending his knees, which meant he swayed from side to side in a way, our guide told us, was known as 'frenching.'

Let It Show

 I stopped to view the artistic streak of a family.

Wooden clogs in the trees

Umbrellas with flowers

And even the rubbish bins were not forgotten.

God Bless!

Our beloved ice-cream man, who has greeted young and old in front of kiosks and storefronts for decades, has at long last left his bachelor days behind and found a lovely lady of his own. Many well-wishes to the happy couple!

On the Road Again

Two days ago, I packed my life into the car and mamma, pappa, and I drove south towards Uppsala to spend some time with the family before my imminent departure. We had a mercurial mix of weather along the way--brilliant sunshine, blue skies, and great cumulonimbus formations. I do so love to weather-watch. There is a saying here in Sweden, "Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder," or "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes." 

 For lunch we stopped at a restaurant in an old manor house built in 1898. 

I had pan-fried herring and smashed potatoes, with a side of lingonberries and a wedge of lemon. 

 We sat outside in the sunshine, but I wandered through the house to find the lunchroom. Reserved, of course.

There were many annexes attached to the manor house, old storage rooms that have now been turned into a very expansive loppis. Thankfully, my baggage limitations keep me from buying anything for a future home.  

I do quite like these spice jars.

 One day you will be mine. 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Allow Me a Moment

 Everything looks like goodbye. Everywhere I turn I have to bid farewell to the life I have lived for a year. I should be a pro by now, having said hello and goodbye to Sweden every June and August for years on end. I found that the endless summer days really did come to an end, and it was with sated mind I would board the plane back to Singapore, hoarding the smells of rain-wet grass and visions of bright evenings in my memory. I feel I haven't had enough summer just yet--there was a blur of activity for a while--TESOL, karate, driver's license--and those two weeks in America robbed me of high summer in the north, which is arguably the finest time of the year.

My mind is not quite sated.
I am not filled to the brim with lazy days and slow evenings when I can watch the clouds burn in the west. I don't have nearly enough mosquito bites. I haven't once gone swimming in tea-brown waters or unhooked the smallest minnow from my pole. I haven't seen the elves dance in misty arcs across the fields in early morning. I haven't reveled in the freedom that summer affords. And I am the less for it.
The more [God] gives, the more He likes to give, so keep asking.
- Bear Grylls

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

How now, brown cow?

Upon request, I am sharing my pictures of the prancing cows of Sweden. Earlier this spring, I, along with my mother and grandmother, attended my very first 'kosläpp,' when they let the cows out to pasture. The barn doors to the local dairy farm Norrmejerier were finally swung open to spring, and the cows ecstatically darted headlong into green open fields. It was quite an event. Hundreds of people showed up, and all were treated to cinnamon buns and milk at the makeshift tents to celebrate the cow and all she provides for the Swedish people.

 In Sweden, our superheroes are cows.

Grandmother's iconic bun

 The hero of the day

A boy waits and watches patiently from beneath the brim of his cap.

And they're off!

They frolicked into the field, swollen udders swinging contemptuously as they took the first prancing steps of spring. They headbutted! They leapt! They cavorted with ease!

Even Captain America came to see the sights.

 One finely-fuzzed lady brought her own camera.

And the day is not complete without diving deep into sweet hay in the hayloft. (The children did, that is, and not the cows.)