Tuesday, May 8, 2018

It's the end of the world as we know it...

I have stayed silent for far too long.

In vain, I have tried to write, but no words would come.

Or, words came, but they were not the right words.

At long last, I have a cause to revive the fervor within me.

At long last, I have a cause to rally behind. A cause to stir up the people who will fight this great injustice.

What is the this cause? What is this injustice?
Packaged, Pre-peeled Hard-boiled Eggs.


You can...buy...packaged....pre-peeled...hard-boiled eggs.

There is literally no bar lower in cooking than hard-boiled eggs. Even frying an egg takes more know-how than hard-boiling an egg. It's like, the simplest cooking task a person can do, apart from boiling water. Boil water. Put an egg in the boiling water. Wait ten minutes. Take it out of the water. Wait for it too cool. Peel it. Eat it.






But seriously...how?

When the zombie apocalypse inevitably arrives, I think most people under 40 are automatically doomed. Good luck, Millenials*. You'll need it.

*As a Millenial myself, I'm allowed to say things like this.

Saturday, February 10, 2018


Dear Me,

Remember these moments in the holding pattern, the "I don't want to get out of bed today" days, in the "I'm not sure if I want to be a teacher" days. Hold onto these moments - because it's these moments, not the stacks of essays, the complaints about all of the things that teenagers complain about, the stress over curriculum writing, the doubts and fears that quite simply I am just not good enough, and someone else could - and should - be doing my job, and the frustrations that come with day to day life - it's these moments that make all the other mediocre or rotten moments worth it:
  • The sweet 8th grade girl who brought me a bag full of chocolate after I sighed melodramatically to her class the other day: "I don't think I need to get paid more money for teaching you guys, but it's days like this I feel like I am not getting enough chocolate out of the deal."
  • The 8th grade boy who's all rough and tumble, all boy, all machismo - but begs to keep reading when independent reading time is up and can barely close his book (Thank God for Rick Riordian...).
  • The three or four students in every grade, every class, who say, sincerely: "Goodbye, Miss Bowers! Have a good day" after each and every class.
  • Intense, spontaneous discussions in the cafe with 9th graders about To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, and the ethics of publishing Go Set a Watchman.
  • 10th graders performing soliloquies from Macbeth in front of their classmates and teachers - throwing themselves into their performances in a way that might make William Shakespeare himself proud.
  • Showing the 1996 Much Ado About Nothing to those same Grade 10s, and acting super nonchalant about it - but secretly high-fiving myself when they are chuckling in all the right places. (This after they proclaimed "Shakespeare's comedies aren't funny.")
  • Heated discussions with my grade 11s over The Handmaid's Tale, and despite the uncomfortable content, having really good conversations about the ideas brought up in the novel.
  • The 11th grade boy who quietly purchases twenty Valentine's candy grams - one for each student in his class and the two class advisors.
  • Exploring the nature of hope and human dignity with my grade 12s while reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - that glimmer of a moment when suddenly we're not just preparing for an exam, but stopping to realize the impact that literature has on our souls.

And conversations like these:

Me: "Did you seriously eat a huge slice of chocolate cake at 10:00 in the morning?"
Student: "Oh - um - yes - um - did you want some?"
Me: "No. I just can't believe you ate it all."
Student: "Well, do you want to lick my saliva?"
Me: " - - -"
Me: "- - -"
Me: "- - -"
Me: "I do not think that you meant to say it like that..."
Stuent: "What? OH!"

Or this:
Student #1: Miss Bowers, do we really have to perform our soliloquies? We're going to make fools out of ourselves.
Me, deadpan, sweetly: Well, you make fools out of yourselves every day; I don't see how this is going to be any different.
Student #1: *pauses*
Me: *points to sarcasm sign*
Student #1: *pauses*
Student #1: Miss Bowers, when you roast us, sometimes it's like we don't even know we're being roasted. It's incredible.
Me: I know. I like to call it a "light roast."
Student #2: Light roast? Is that a thing? That sounds like coffee!

While discussing the casting of the actress who played Scout in the movie of To Kill a Mockingbird versus the casting of Gregory Peck as Atticus:
Student: "Ugh. She's like Walmart, and he's like Chanel!"

One 8th grader to another after "Fred" says something a bit foolish:
Student 2: "Fred, do you talk out of your butt?"
Me "What???"
Student 2: "What!" *laughs* "It's a saying in my culture!"

And the laughter - because there's a lot of it - when I forget to write down why we laughed, but only remember the feeling of laughing, of lightness, of thanksgiving in a moment of joy, however small.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

The 2017 Book Review

Hello friends! It's time for the 2017 Book Review!

(I'm going to pretend that I haven't not blogged (hello, double-negative) for the past um, like, 7 months, and just dive right in.)

It's a rainy, chilly Sunday afternoon in Hangzhou. In other words, perfectly normal. I'm sitting in Starbucks, marking some papers, reading, and enjoying the ambient sounds around me. I realized this afternoon that I love sitting in coffee shops where I can't understand the people around me, because I get the background noise without picking up conversations and getting distracted by listening in. Actually - false - I love listening to conversations in coffee shops, but I don't always get that much done. This afternoon as some English speaking people came and invaded MY Starbucks space, I was forced to eavesdrop, and didn't get as many assignments marked. Rude. (Them, not me for eavesdropping, obvs.)

Anyway, on to the book review!

It was a good year for reading. Over the summer, I spent a month in Mali with limited internet access, and rather than binge-watching TV shows, I binge-read books. I think I read about a book and half every two days. It was glorious! I miss it. The simpler times. The not feeling guilty when I pick up a book for pleasure reading. The not feeling like I have to prepare discussion questions or essay questions about a book.

There are pros and cons to being an English teacher. Man, I love discussing books. But I also sometimes miss the books I teach now from before I taught them. I'm weird, I know.

Hated but Recognized the Quality Because I'm a Flippin' English Teacher
The Dinner by Herman Koch.
This a novel about two couples who meet to discuss a mutual problem. It's got a lot of literary quality, and I get that. But I really hated it. I think it made me uncomfortable, and it made me feel a little sick. And, I think that kind of visceral reaction was intended by the author. But it's not something I would pick up for fun, and while I like thought-provoking novels, I really don't like novels that ultimately make me feel sick to my stomach at the thought of them.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King *quickly ducks as objects are thrown at my head*
I know that King is like, a big deal. And a phenomenal writer. But I just didn't get The Gunslinger. Like, not at all. I mean, I got it. But I really, really didn't. And I don't want you to tell me about the symbolism and all that crap. I just prefer to not get it, and move on with my life, and not watch the mini-series even if Idris Elba is starring in it and he's amazing.

The Worst:
Sense and Sensibility (The Jane Austen Project) by Joanna Trollope
This is not THE Sense and Sensibility. There's a project that has modern authors re-imagining Austen's books for contemporary times. And, most of them are about as bad as you might think, with one exception - Alexander McCall Smith's (of The Number One Ladies Detective Agency) acceptable adaptation of Emma. For some reason, despite having read several bad ones, I still read the Sense and Sensibility adaptation, and I wish I could get those hours back. It was just...lousy. I think Joanna Trollope is supposed to be a pretty well-known author, but I've never read anything else by her, and now, never will. She took a really cool opportunity to retell Sense and Sensibility in a contemporary way, and dashed it upon the rocks of broken dreams.

Just read the original.

Resounding "Meh":
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote *ducks again*
I know, I know. I really shouldn't have this on this list. But, while a good book, in the age of true crime novels and shows and Game of Thrones, it was pretty tame by comparison. I wish I could have read it before I became desensitized to this kind of thing. I expected it to be so much more shocking - and it wasn't. Not because it's not. But because it's not shocking, anymore, in a world where parents can chain up their thirteen children for years on end, and children are recruited on the internet to join evil terrorist groups.

Absolute Fluff but still Enjoyable:
Truly, Madly, Guilty by Lianne Moriarty
It's a beach read (or a curled-up-on-the-couch on a rainy day read), and it's really fluffy. But, I enjoyed it (it's a little exasperating till the middle of the book when The Thing That Happened At the Barbecue is finally revealed). And, the title is kind of a misnomer. I almost always enjoy Lianne Moriarty, although I frequently forget if I've read a particular book by her because they all sound the same. (I started Big Little Lies in a six month period not once, but twice, having forgotten that I read it already. (That doesn't sound like much of an endorsement...).)

Recommendable Re-Reads:
Looking over my reading list for 2017, I realize I re-read a lot of books. I'm not sure why - some years I just am in the mood for a books I've read before, I guess. Here are the ones that stood out:

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
I had to re-read The Handmaid's Tale because it was part of the curriculum for a class that I teach. And I didn't re-read it because it was trending, and everyone thinks Trump's America is turning into Gilead (it's really not...read the book). I read The Handmaid's Tale in high school, and I didn't remember feminist and pro-choice rhetoric, while that certainly exists in the book. I don't think I was really tuned to that kind of thing in high school, sheltered missionary kid that I was. Am. I do remember being challenged by what women have had to endure throughout the thousands of years of our existence. I remember thinking that the conditions of the women in Gilead reminded me of what I had read about in the Middle East, and it made me want to do something about that. Around the same time, I read The Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks, which explores the treatment of women in the Muslim world. My associations with two books are kind of intertwined in my mind. So, while I know that Atwood's novel is a parable warning against the religious right in America rising up - I think it's a parable for all kinds of extremism, and the things that humans do to have power and control over one another.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
This book is party comedy, part diary (well, it's all diary), part romance. It's surprisingly excellent, thought-provoking, and laugh-out-loud funny. It deals with the coming-of-age of sorts of the main character, Cassandra, her unconventional family, and a whole lot of antics (I love antics). The humor, and the antics, reminds me a lot of Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. It's delightful - read it. Don't watch the movie. It's stupid.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
It's a simple love-story set in the late 90s, around the time when companies started realizing that email could distract their employees from doing their work. The main character is hired to monitor employee emails and falls in love with one of the women who's emails keep getting flagged. Does it sound creepy and corny? Yes. But I don't really read romances, so, trust me when I tell you this is sweet and funny, and makes you feel all the feels without feeling like you're reading trash.

The Circle by David Eggers
Let's establish something first: the writing is terrible. I mean, just terrible. Like someone is beating me over the head with a very dull, boring stick. However, the concept is fascinating and extremely thought-provoking. I read it around the same time I was teaching a language and social media unit to my students, and honestly, I couldn't stop talking about it, and seeing the connections everywhere. I think it has a healthy warning about our dependency on social media platforms. The writing is terrible (did I mention that already?), but I would actually recommend reading it because it's got an important message. And I rarely ever forgive bad writing.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
I wanted to challenge myself to read more African American authors this year, especially the classics. I had never (much to my chagrin and shame) read The Bluest Eye. The writing is remarkable (honestly, it's genius) and the content horrific. I don't like reading books about sexual abuse, especially sexual abuse of children. However, this book made me think, pushed up against my comfort zones, and wormed its way inside them, wiggling around in my head long after I finished. It's not a comfortable book and it's not supposed to be. But I think (if you're over 18 because of the sexual content) you should probably read it.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
This -- novel? Account? Novella? is about the Japanese "Picture Brides" who came to America from Japan to marry Japanese immigrants. The book traces their story from their arrival in San Francisco to the 1940s when so many Japanese were put in internment camps. The curious thing about this book is that it's written in the plural first person - "We" - rather than the third or first person. It's fascinating, heart-breaking, and challenging.

Favorite Reads:
A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman
A curmudgeonly old man who slowly warms up to the people around him (spoiler alert, I guess). This book is more than a "feel-good" read, although you may feel good at the end, sorry-not-sorry. I love books about communities and people slowly coming together, despite oppositions. This book has some bitter-sweet notes on growing old, being lonely, and losing the people you love. It's a bit of a blunt and startling start, but it gets better. Actually, it gets wonderful.

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
The main character is hired as a teacher in a small town just before the eve of World War I. It's funny, romantic, and bittersweet. The mood and tone of the book reminds me a lot of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows (thought The Summer Before the War is not epistolary). Helen Simonson also wrote Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, which is excellent (though set in contemporary times). Both are really special.

Ready Player One by Earnest Cline
I was a little skeptical about this book - the description just didn't seem like "me" - video games? Virtual reality? 80s trivia galore? But while these three things form the basis of this book, it's much more than that. It's funny, adventurous, thrilling, and just entertaining. The concept is actually quite fascinating - a future society fifty years or so from now where people have almost completely escaped into virtual reality to escape the failing world around them. As entertaining as this book was, this book also made me think a lot about the implications of our reliance on technology today, and the power of story. Most people I know who read this book enjoyed it, even those who were skeptical like me. Try it - you'll like it!

And, since I didn't write a 2016 review (for shame!) here's one book I really, really liked in 2016:

Uprooted by Naomi Novak
It's a retelling of a Russian fairytale, and it's magical (but pretty dark). I love, love, love a good fairytale retelling (Beauty by Robin McKinley is one of my absolute favorite books). I don't know what fairy tale it retells, but it has many of the tropes of all the fairy tales we are familiar with in the West. This book left me wanting to reread it immediately. I didn't - but I will be rereading it this year for the sequel of sorts (set in the same "universe").

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? And what are you looking forward to reading this year? And what was your best read of 2017? Recommendations are always welcome!

Check out my previous book review posts:
2011Part II Part III 

{Thanks for reading...and pretending, with me, like I'm not the worst blogger in the world. I like blogging, I like writing, but I haven't had a lot of inspiration lately, or I've been reticent to share. I think I've become a lot more private in recent years - perhaps as my communities have grown, so has my willingness to what's on my mind, even the silly stuff. I'd like to get back to blogging a bit more in 2018, but heaven-forbid I call it a New Year's Resolution. More like...a New Year's That'd-be-nice-if-I-did. Cheers, friends.}

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Indefinite Wait

I'm sitting in the airport in Sanya, waiting on an indefinitely delayed flight. It's made me think about so many other indefinite delays - dozens of bush taxi rides and buses with ever so much waiting with no end in sight. It makes me weirdly nostalgic for dust and heat and bumpy roads and greasy roadside meat with raw onions.

There's the Christmas 2007 break trip, where we took a bus that only made it to the Senegal border after all day, and that I had to insist to the driver that we were getting off. 

There's countless hours waiting on a green machine to fill up in Diboli, bush taxis to fill up in Tambacounda, Kidira, and even sometimes Dakar. 

There's being broken down in our own car, at the mercy of drunken mechanics on New Years Day and missionary friends to drive through the bush to tow us home.

The bush taxi gare in Dakar at Sapeurs Pomiers

The bus we rode on one leg of our trip to Timbuktu - why didn't I blog about that?
And so many more. I've waited indefinitely a lot in my life.

The indefinite wait - you enter a sort of timeless state. There's no end in sight, and the beginning seems so far away. Six - eight - ten hours slip by strangely unnoticed because there's no time to look forward to. It's weird to write of all those far away towns, literally half a world and a continent and a half away - and yet I'm experiencing the same waiting in this little airport in this country that is still so new and strange.

But waiting I know. 

As I write this the seniors - an odd group, if I'm being honest - are across the way, being kids in this moment of waiting. They're playing heads up, dancing to music, and spending time with each other. Looking back on this trip, I suspect this will be the story they remember, the one they'll retell. It will reach epic proportions, as it should - it will be the best kind of "remember when." 

I haven't really clicked with this group for various reasons - none of them bad, don't worry, but I wish them so very well. I wish them a hundred more "remember whens" and a memory of moments on the edge of childhood, of just being in a crowded little airport somewhere in China. Before taking that step into adulthood, before having a hundred waiting moments alone, I'm glad they've had these long hours together.

Seniors playing Heads Up with Terry, the other chaperone. Also that reddish blond haired person is not me. Just my doppleganger.
Okay, this is a step up from my bush taxi gare days - there is no Starbucks at the Sapeurs Pompier yet...

p.s. As I finish this post, our indefinite wait is supposed to end at 1:00 AM. Guys, that's only seven hours late. Don't be so melodramatic.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Phuket Adventure, Part IV



  • I walked the two kilometers to the beach. I was disappointed in "the beach." It wasn't really any kind of beach you could walk on (and the tide was high). But, I enjoyed my walk down a local Thai road, and the little peeks into daily life that I got to see - the dog laying in the middle of the road, as one does, the old men riding around topless on their scooters, as one does), the little convenience stores, breakfast stands, shrines, and colorful homes.

Doesn't this look like a Car Rapide?

  • Went to 7-Eleven for iced coffees and Thai teas.
  • I sampled street food being sold outside the 7-Eleven - fried dough balls and barbecue meat of some kind. (I finally got the fouru-fouru-ni's I craved allllllllll Christmas break).
  • We were back to the elephant sanctuary by 9:00 - breakfast, rice & pellet balls, more shoveling sand, more cleaning up the pens, lunch (ah-mha-zing). 
View from the back of the truck. Photo credit: Tate

Such a lovely drive each day. Photo credit: Tate

Conquering our last pile of sand. Photo credit: Tate

  • After lunch, while we waited to be given a job, we played Nertz again (Tate won, again, but whatever). Lynn tried to teach us how to play Yuker, but it was complicated, and they called us over to feed the elephants their afternoon rice & pellet balls before we got the hang of it.

  • Our last job was planting grass along the stream bed and river with the workers at the sanctuary, including most of the mahouts. The men created little shelves for the grass, and then we placed thousands - almost 20,000, to be exact - stalks of grass on the little shelves and covered them with the dirt.
Photo credit: Tate

Photo credit: Tate

Photo credit: Tate
Photo Credit: Nong
After a hard day's work, Si and Niu took us to a waterfall at a Gibbon sanctuary, in the national park next door to the animal sanctuary. None of us brought our suits with us to the waterfall (except for Lynn), so we jumped in the pool in our dirty work clothes - which was one way to clean them up.

Photo credit: Tate

Some local kids joined in the photo. Photo credit: Tate

We had dinner at the same local restaurant, and talked late together about Myer's Brigg's personality traits (Michelle's favorite topic - I was much more interested in which fictional character matched up with our personality) while enjoying the free wifi and connection to the outside world. We became Facebook friends with each other and shared pictures of the week so far.

  • The last day for Michelle and I - so bittersweet. No really - so bittersweet. The elephants are wonderful, and the new human friends we made even more wonderful. You know me - I'm not sentimental, so they had to be pretty special for all this gushing. Geez. Get it together, Bowers.
Photo Credit: Si (the one hamming it up in the middle)
  • Street food and iced coffees again for breakfast.
  • Made rice and pellet balls again (are you sensing a theme?).
  • We all wore our Phuket Elephant Sanctuary shirts today, which meant the Day Trippers paid attention to us - one young woman asked us a lot of questions about the elephants, and we all answered them like we were the experts. Obviously, we were official as we sat around mashing bananas into pellets!

Blessed with an awesome volunteer group.

  • We had a good chat with Louise, the director of the sanctuary, about her vision and her story of working with elephants. She shared about their hope to help educate the local people, and the difficulties of doing something so counter-cultural. They have to be very careful of their own safety, and are quite conscious of how the local elephant camps - of which there are more than twenty on the island, with around 240 elephants total - see them as a threat. They are hoping to gradually change the mindset towards the elephant entertainment industry on the island, but it's a careful and slow process. 
  • She also shared that Leonardo DiCaprio had just recently visited the sanctuary.
  • I was extremely disappointed that I missed my chance to meet Leonardo DiCaprio.*
My heart will go on and on.
  • Louise told us that a private group was coming in this afternoon - and that they often host, for a premium, private parties who want a chance to observe the elephants without the other tourists day trippers around.
  • Before lunch, we cut fruit up for the first time - Michelle and Lynn cut watermelons and pineapples for days, Tate and I scrubbed pinapples and cut up payayas.
  • Ate another ah-mah-zing lunch. Okay, I'll stop raving about the lunches, mostly because it was the last lunch (for Michelle and I). It was pouring rain during lunch - a lovely, warm, tropical rain - the kind of warm, tropical rain I used to run around in when I was a child adult living in Mali and Senegal.
  • After lunch, we cleaned up the elephant pens, and loaded them up with fresh pineapple tops.
  • We headed back to the central pavilion, and noticed that the private group was there. We sat at the other end, and chatted quietly while Louise and Russell went over their information about the sanctuary. We watched the group - about fifteen people or so, head over to another part of the land to watch the elephants. I wondered how rich you had to be to arrange a private tour. I also wondered "How funny it would be if they were famous." We also took a lot of selfies. And by we, I mostly mean Si. 

Before leaving, we wanted a team photo with one of the elephants, and we were able to take a few shots with Gaew Ta (the blind elephant). Sadly, we weren't able to say a final goodbye to the other three, as they were off hanging out with the private fancy-pants rich tourists.

Because it was Michelle and my last night, Si, Nui, and Nong took us to a different local restaurant up the road. We enjoyed a scrumptious last meal together, and then it was time for Michelle and I to leave *insert sobbing emoji here!*  - we were going to a hotel for our last day in Phuket just to get a little beach and vacay time before heading back to reality *insert another sobbing emoji here.*

We arrived at our very swanky hotel - which is not too shabby for a somewhat last minute booking, and enjoyed the air-conditioning, furniture, and wifi. 

As I was scrolling through Facebook, a post from the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary caught my eye, and I nearly - I mean this quite literally - fell out of my seat. I think Michelle probably thought someone had died.

The fancy-pant super-duper-rich tourists touring the sanctuary?


Like, the band, Coldplay - was touring the Elephant Sanctuary.


I'm not a huge Coldplay fan, and I wouldn't have recognized them if I met them - which I didn't because they didn't want to see us (no really - they didn't want to see other people around - especially not smelly, sweaty volunteers with extremely frizzy hair), but still - pretty cool, eh? I mean, come-on - how often do you get to say you were ten meters away from Coldplay (other than really good tickets at a concert)?

Not as cool as Benedict Cumberbatch.

He's just so dreamy. *insert heart eyes emoji x3*

Oh, how did he slip in here? It's because he's always close to my heart.

More later on our swanky hotel and travels home (which hasn't happened yet).

*I'm not that big of a Leo fan, although he was my peer-pressure-everyone's-doing-it adolescent crush when Titanic came out. And he wasn't just a bad Jay Gatsby, either, if you go for fast cars and fancy parties, although I don't really want to date a guy who's hung up on a Daisy Buchanan. I would have been fangirling much more over Benedick Cumberbatch. I know, I know - he's taken. But a girl can still dream a little.