Friday, April 07, 2006

For the First Few Years Overseas

For the first few years overseas, I couldn’t get enough time to write down all the impressions that were streaming through my mind like a waterfall. Whenever I had time, I would be in a coffee shop with my notebook trying to capture at least some of this, but feeling overwhelmed at all that was lost.

Now, I don’t have that much to say. Part of this is probably because after so many years living overseas, living overseas has become too familiar. It is Home; it is what I do; it is the common scene that I see every day. I try to get a fresh look at Micronesia, but it is hard.

No, it is NOT because I have gone local: I haven’t become absorbed by Micronesian culture. When I first went overseas this was at some deep level my goal. I wanted to get so much into Korea, for example, that I was Korean. Then I wanted to go and do the same for China, India, Saudi Arabia, and on and on.

However, after living four or five years in Korea I learned that not only was this not possible, it was not desirable. Asians who become to Western are called ‘Bananas:’ they are ‘yellow’ (Asian looking) on the outside, but white on the inside. Western people who become too Asian are called ‘Eggs,’ they are the reverse: white (Western looking) on the outside but ‘yellow’ (Asian like) on the inside. What I learned – what I learned amazingly slowly – was that being an Egg (or a Banana) was far from a desirable thing. It sounds ‘tolerant’ and ‘broad minded.’ It sounds like a great idea because you are opening yourself to new ways and experiences. But it comes down to the Golden Mean: in all things there is a balance, if you go to far from this – if you go to extremes – then you move exponentially (more and more rapidly) into dangerous traitorous waters.

To be more specific, by becoming more and more of an ‘Egg’ I was not only losing contact with my Western roots, friends, and associates, I was also losing contact with Asians. This last may sound strange, but as a Korean friend once explained to me when talking about another would be Egg, “Korean’s don’t trust people like that. We think that either they are pretending - they are for us when they face, but against us when they aren’t – or that there is something wrong with them. Why would they be trying so hard to fit into our culture? What is wrong with them, can’t they find a place in their own culture?”

About the same time, I got a supper hard hit from my daughter who is my touch stone for reality. She said, “You are always defending Koreans and criticizing Western teachers. I am Western, your family is Western. Why are you doing this?” Coming from her, this was a pretty heavy warning that I had gone way way too far. So when I got back to Korea, I started changing my attitude. It was amassing how little change was actually needed to suddenly see huge benefits in my life. Not only was I happier with my coworkers, but my contentment in Korea went way up. Even my relationship with Koreans – which was always very good – improved. All of a sudden I found that my coworkers who I had been complaining and complaining about were actually some pretty nice people.

I didn’t need to be a one man defender of Korea. I could go back to being a simple human being, a much more comfortable – although more modest – role.

Friday, February 17, 2006

I Have My Music Going, My Computer – But No Coffee. Is This Really Me?

I have just finished my classes AND my week. Although I like my classes – and my students – it always feels good to reach the end of a week. But then, this is the case for most people; it is certainly the case for all sane people.

It would not be that easy to describe why I like my classes. There is not really much dialogue or discussion, but this is very very common in Micronesia: students would rather have their toes pulled out of their feet one by one the speak out in class. Mind you, it has been a while since I have pulled any students toes off. It is a shame, but the legal systems of most countries do tend to make such things difficult.

One thing I like here is the basic ‘niceness’ of most – if not all – of my students. It is not that my students are wimps; there are some pretty ‘tough’ people here by any real standard. Anyone who will dive outside the reefs – in waters full of sharks (and BIG sharks) – at NIGHT, such a person is definitely not a wimp. I have been in waters with sharks around; I have never liked it, but I have done it. But going out at night – when the water is BLACK (‘Black’ may be beautiful, but Black dark waters with BIG sharks around sure ain’t) – no way baby.

My students are quick to smile and laugh; which they have to be if they laugh at my jokes. They love stories. And, best of all, it is easy to create a family like atmosphere in class that makes ‘teaching’ – what of it I can accomplish – a series of peaceful happy moments.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

It Has Been a Long Long Time Since I Have Posted Anything Here.

I vaguely remember something I read in my freshman sociology – can it be 40 years ago – about how, in life (especially as we get older) there are more and more elements and forces in our lives which are working with the persistence and irrevocableness of incline planes, each trying to consume all of our free time and energy.

Anyway, I have been over consumed by many things for the last six months.

One thing I have recently been trying is WIKIs. If you aren’t familiar with these, a WIKI is an ultra simple web page. The wiki I am using is “pbwiki” at As advertised, it was ultra simple to set up and to use. I have tried many times to set up a wbpage, but this is the first one I have going.

My first one is com-whiteboard ( I make no claims for my first wiki site: it is really super simple and definitely nothing special. It is used with my students at the college where I work on one of the Pacific islands in Micronesia. It has been very useful with them and a good training aid for me.

The advantage of this is that it has been ultra simple to set up and maintain.

  • The next wiki I hope to start will be a school newspaper. The advantages of using a wiki for this are:
  • Cheap, you don’t need paper
  • Freeform, you can set up your wiki so that anyone from any computer can add to it. Since it is freeform, it should be almost completely “maintenance free.” Since students can add whatever they want from any computer, there is no need for meetings, committees, planning, or supervising.

I will keep you posted on what happens with it.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Some Changes It is a rainy Sunday here in Micronesia. This time of year we get 'on & off' rain almost every day. When you want to go snorkeling, you have to kind of sit waiting for what looks like a break in the weather then take off for the ocean. Some news since my last entry: 1. I am in the process of 'upgrading' from a canoe to an ocean going kayak. This will be a mega change. The canoe was safe, simple, easy to use, and could take 3 people. The kayak will be a solitary thing, fast & sleek, capable of covering distant & being used in the open ocean, but harder to learn to use. I have gotten as far as I can with the canoe. Now I want to explore lots of my island and try to make it to some of the closer ones. This is the kind of stuff that few are interested in, so, in the end, one has to either figure on doing it alone or not doing it. 2. Two friends and I made the first swim from our island to the closest island - 1 mile off. This island was in the lagoon, so it was a lot easier - and safer - then trying such a thing outside the lagoon (where the big sharks hang around). It was surprisingly easy to do. 3. I have two goodies ordered. One is some 'voice recognition' software. I am a two finger typist, so this should speed up and ease up my typing and writing. One thing I want this for is that I have several notebooks of hanwritten journals that I would like to get into text form. The second thing is a kind of alternative light weight computer, "QuickPad IR." This thing doesn't have 'Windows,' so it is 'instant-on.' This is a feature that Windows may not get around to for years. Plus this beauty has a full sized keyboard, long long battery life, and weighs 1 pound. Sound like a dream hey. It should be here in a couple of weeks. I will let you know. I had a "Psion Revo" PDA, but it only worked a few weeks. I sent it back and it was repaired. It lasted less than a month. Now it is off in Japan getting fixed. It is to bad: my "Psion 3c" was really a great machine.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Swimming with the Whale Yesterday I went snorkeling with a small group at an island that is a few miles from here. The snorkeling there was great, but that is not what I want to tell you about. On the way back we spotted a whale. At first I didn't take it serriously, but then, sure enough, I saw it was a whale. We went toward it and as we got near one guy put on fins and mask, jumped in, and started swimming toward the whale. I had a lot of indecision at this point. I wasn't really scared of the whale, but we were in the middle of the ocean in an area where there are a lot of sharks. I have never swum where it is all deep blue all around. Usually I swim where there is a wall of coral to one side. But there was a whale!! I was afraid I wouldn't go in, eventhough I wanted to. Pretty much in a dase, I masked and snorkeled up, set on the boat and flipped in backwards. And was off swimming! Since the boat was following the first diver I was able to cath up with him. At first I could't see the whale because the waves were high. But after he pointed it out I saw it and we took off after it. I was able to get within 10 feet of its tail at one point. It is hard to describe how thrilling it was to swim after the whale. All around me was endless blue. I didn't know what I would do if I saw sharks, especially the really big ones that we have here. But there infront of me I could see the tail and half of the body of the whale. I was swimming all out. Part of the time I was gagging on water as a wave rolled over my snorkel. After a few minutes of the chase, two other divers went in. These were young women. Right toward the end, another diver went in. So there were 5 of the 11 of us in the water. All in all I was swimming after the whale for about 15 minutes. Most of the time I could see its tail. I got so tired it is unreal. Although I exercise, I haven't gone 'all out' in years. Maybe going 'all out' is something I will have to work in more in my exercising program. One of the divers said, "This is something we will remember the rest of our lives." I think it is true. I can shut my eyes now and see the whale swiming in a world of blue and feel my old body huffing and buffing trying to stay up with it. When I came out of the water I felt alive and a bit proud. Maybe I am vain, but I was proud that I overcame my fear enough to jump into open water in the middle of nowhere and swim after a whale for 15 minutes.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Answer To Roy To my surprise, it seems I do have a reader or two. How great!! Roy sent me a letter asking some questions about my island. I thought others might be interested in the same things so I will include some of my reply to Roy here. By the way, my 'guest book' doesn't seem to work, so if you want to reach me, please email. Answers to Roy's Questions: The College where I work here has about 1000 students, Typical classes are around 20 to 25. A lot of people say the cost of living on the island is high. Of course this is partly true since everything is brought in. But all in all I find it not that expensive. This is partly because there is little to do here, so you don't spend money on the trickle bases as you wonder around town. Kolonia, the main town on my island, is just a few stores. Standard of living is a difficult one. You can buy most things that you generally want. However, fresh fruit and vegetables come here irregularly and there is not a great choice. There are no coffee shops on the island. We have health insurance, a great doctor. The Dentists are good, but they are lacking equipment and supplies, there is no eye doctor (so you can't get glasses on the island. As to 'accessability.' I would think someone with a wheelchair would experience lots of frustration. Someone with a cane would be OK, but might still have some problems some places. I will look around more and consider this question ad give a better answer. A few things I haven't mentioned before in my Blog. One, there are NO BEACHES on my island. No one believes this, but it is true. Two, it is extremely difficult to go hiking across country here. I was raised in backwoods Kentucky and lived in a village in Alaska, so when I say 'difficult' I mean DIFFICULT. Three, the snorkeling here is very very good, the people are very friendly but keep to themselves. Four, the dogs here are about as bad as I have seen anywhere, so it can be 'very uncomfortable' walking on certain roads. Five, most people here have a car and find it necessary. Six, this is NOT like Hawaii, it is kind of remote being expensive to get to and from, so we don't have much of a cultural mix, very few tourists, and no 'tourist strip.' I didn't know my links to my archives didn't work, I will take a look, but may not be able to fix it. I am amassed that someone actually read some of my old entries. Mike
After Christmas Dear faithful readers, sorry it has been so long since I have written. Christmas was a busy time for me. By the way, I went back State Side, this was the first Christmas at home in over 15 years and the first time back in 4 1/2. It sure felt good. Did it seem strange to go from my island which hardly has a town and has very few people to places like Seattle, Detroit, and Vancouver? I was wondering about that myself. Of course, since I have lived overseas for such a long time, 'going back' is not an unusual thing to do. Still I was wondering if, or what, would feel strange. But nothing like that happened. It was like I had left yesterday. There was no 'adaptation' necessary. The same was true when I returned a month later. It was like the 'State Side Mike' (my name is Mike) woke up from a dream when I got off the plane in Seattle and that the 'Micronesian Mike' woke up when the plane landed here on my island. Strange!