Friday, January 28, 2011


How many ways can you conjugate green? This is a view from our porch at Alam Sari Keliki. What I can't show is the soft sounds of wooden cow bells, the bird songs and the rooster who thinks that it is dawn at least once on the hour. Of course there is also the persistent buzz of motorbikes on the road below, which I'm sure I would find a lot more annoying if we didn't drive one too. Here we are following our Cleveland friends Larry and Rai Collins down a back road south of Ubud on our way to meet with their supplier of organic incense for their store in Cleveland Heights, City Buddha. The kids were just getting out of school at about 1PM. No snow days here, but the kids don't seem too upset about it.

The making of the incense is a fascinating process involving a secret recipe of flowers, herbs and spices. The house where we visit has to be one of the best smelling places on the planet. First the sticks are coated in coconut charcoal held together with tapioca, dried and then dipped in the secret recipe and then burn for over an hour with a rich but not overwhelming aroma that is pure Bali. Go here for information about City Buddha.

Sampling flavors of incense and sampling Balinese coffee and incredible little cakes. Yum.

This is the picture of the inside of a Balinese house -- which is really outside. A series of little buildings with a wall around it. You can see the incense drying in the sun -- not a quick process as this is the rainy season.

Our first trip to Bali about four years ago only lasted three days and was basically consumed by doing all the first time tourist stuff. The fire dance, the gamalongs, the jaw dropping vistas -- all with the help of the hotel minivan. On this trip we had a chance, fun-filled encounter of the Facebook kind -- Larry happened to see that we were going to be in Bali, not only in Bali, but very close to where they live in Ubud. Here are Larry and Michael standing on the path by their house. These little streams run all around and outside of the city we see people bathing and washing clothing in them.

And yes, we did negotiate this path on the motorbike. Well, Michael did. I just hung on.

For better or worse, the movie Eat, Pray, Love has had a big impact on Ubud and we are very grateful we came here in the off season. The traffic can be pretty intense. But no one gets angry, The flow is very organic and many many smiles. Here are some kids we met. They wanted to practice their English -- Hello! What is your name! And they could all count to 10. At Michael's urging I taught them my shortest poem, which they acted out and thought was hilarious.

Boo Hoo.

A universal.

Hong Kong

The thing about us Americans is that we just plain need to get out more. Seriously.

While we are in Hong Kong riding spotless subways, double-decker buses, viewing the latest in technological gadgetry and neon, some bonehead in congress is introducing legislation to force teachers into teaching creationism. Where did anyone ever get the idea that the road to the future runs through limiting our scope of knowledge to a single book written thousands of years ago? Hasn’t this woman seen the latest from Afghanistan? They used to be among the leaders in math, engineering, and poetry.

Nighttime streets of Hong Kong

That said, Hong Kong is a lesson in contrasts. Eye popping high rises and open air markets. The well-heeled go to private schools, the general population goes to public school if they can afford the fees. Everything is for sale here except fresh air. The taxi driver tells us that the smog is floating in from mainland China, land of few (or non-existent) environmental regulations. It is ubiquitous. A lesson to us all on the true costs of zero pollution controls.

View from our hotel window.

Still, Hong Kong is a destination I would like to revisit and explore, if only for the restaurants we didn’t get a chance to sample. And I’d love to bring a boatload of neighbors, friends and family with me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Canadian International School of Hong Kong

To paraphrase that NPR philosopher Garrison Keillor: The Canadian International School of Hong Kong is a place where the faculty is bright, the facilities are ultra-modern, and all the poets are above average.

Every new school is an unknown destination – whether it is across town or on the other side of the world. But setting up a school visit in Hong Kong means emails, phone calls, travel agents, and a certain amount of risk taking on everyone’s parts. After all the front work (not to mention the 15 hour plane ride from Newark) you sure want everything to go well.

And it sure did. We wrote in groups, we wrote individually, and we practiced our oral presentation skills. The school itself is a ten-story testament to modern learning technology. From the school issued laptops to the well-stocked library the school is all about learning in the 21st century. So here was my question to the students: Why Poetry?

I mean seriously. These kids are multilingual, more digitally literate than your average poet and on the fast track to world citizenship. Why do they need poetry? I asked.

Among the answers:

It helps release what is inside of me.
Poetry helps with self-expression.
It helps us appreciate each other’s differences.
It is fun.
Poetry makes beautiful times more beautiful.

Thank you to Joanne, Tanya and Myrna for all their good spirited hard work in making this visit happen. Thanks to Stephanie for showing us some cool classroom technology tips. Most of all, thanks to the kids for their eager curiosity and welcoming enthusiasm.

Maybe the best part? Michael and I silently standing to the side and watching kids requesting and checking out poetry books in the library after our presentation.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Voices in the Virtual Silence

It wasn't on the calendar in advance. No prior knowledge on my part. But as the weather cooled and the travel escalated, I kind of withdrew from my blog and facebook. Virtual silence. I've been lurking around, reading, an occasional comment, but I was putting my creative energy into other buckets. And then came the holidays and family and ahhhhhh relaxing.

The first week after the new year Michael and I flew to Aiken, South Carolina for the first school/teacher visit of the year. What a great way to come back into the world, not the virtual world, the real one. Real kids. Real classrooms. Real words put on paper. Thank you Beth and Sue and Joanne for all your hard work in putting the visit together.

Sad. Shy. Proud. Crazy. Here kids acted out an emotion before they wrote to put their movements into words, focusing on the motions of emotion.

Days like we had in Aiken, surrounded by a tumble of kids and ideas are what I need to feed my spirit and enable me to be strong and hopeful in the face of societal tragedies like what happened in Arizona.

Today we pack and get ready for our big trip to Hong Kong, Bali and Jakarta. Two big cities with paradise sandwiched in between. More excited writers and a vibrant green respite to do some of my own writing in Bali.

HONG KONG! See you soon!