Welcome

I guess you are here because you have discovered one of my books and enjoyed it enough to find out more about the author, me. Either that or you’re a potential employer who is investigating me to see if I would be a good fit for your organization. In which case, surprise, I write books as well as teach. Some might look at that as a bad thing, and if so, please explain to me how.

For whoever finds my site, I want to welcome you, and also allow you the opportunity to follow me on a regular basis. Anybody is welcome as long as you keep your posts appropriate, and respect the other followers to this site. As long as everybody follows those two simple rules, I won’t have to kick anybody off. Let the friendly banter begin.

I am hoping to create an interactive site that everybody can enjoy. Of course, I will keep you up to date on the latest writings coming out of my head, and I will also let you know when and where I will be in the world, so someday you might be able to meet me in person. Most people regret that decision, but who knows, maybe you’ll be in the minority.

I will also tell you about my world-wide travels as this is something I do on a regular basis. I’ll show you pictures from places I have been (this one is from Dubrovnik, better known to fans of The Song of Ice and Fire as King’s Landing), and tell you the exciting stories that happen to me along the way. You are also welcome to ask me any questions you may have about the place I have been, and I will try to answer them in a timely manner.

I know it all sounds amazing, and I can see you wondering why you haven’t been a part of this fantastic experience so far, but let me tell you about the most exciting part of following this site – the interactive part.  You were probably wondering when I would get to that part I had promised you earlier. Well, I plan to create a list every month, and I want you to participate in its formation. I do love countdowns, but I am always disappointed in them. So I have decided to take matters into my own hands. You will be able to post your top ten of each monthly list and at the end of each month, I will comprise the total list to give you the countdown for that subject. Look for each new subject on the first day of each month, and the final list of the previous month by the fifteenth.

Otherwise, it is very nice to have you a part of this experience, and I look forward to all of our future posts together.

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The Activist

My silky hair needs expensive shampoo
With fine ingredients such as palm oil.
I also need to fix things with strong glue
‘Cause it easier than having me toil.
I can get all my cheap electronics
From a local sweat shop deep in China;
I don’t think ’bout the darker specifics
If the workers have a ma or a pa.
But be sure not to hurt the elephants
Who get killed for their healing ivory.
Those creeps are nothing more than sycophants
Who don’t care ’bout this endangered species.
I will never be a contributor
‘Cause I live the life of a consumer.

An Air Travel Love Song

Make sure you get you place in the herd’s line
‘Cause there are places we need to take you.
We will plop some slop on a plate to dine,
So make sure to obey your cabin crew.
Take your seat in that tiny, little box,
And you do not have the right to complain.
Get some shut eye as the plane gently rocks,
But no one gets sleep that they can sustain.
If you feel you deserve entertainment,
Open the shade and look out your window.
Being so high, you will wish to repent,
So you don’t end up in the place down below.
There’s nothing like modern transportation,
A happy way to your destination.

A Free Market Look at Education

I am going into my thirteenth year of being a teacher, and as the demand grows for teachers grow in the United States, I am amazed that the government does not try to make this job more appealing for people to pursue as a career. I know that many people think that teachers should not receive much benefits because they do not work as hard as other professions do. I could sit here and tell you that this is not true, but those people will not listen to me as they have already made up their minds that teachers are overpaid people that don’t work much to begin with. And if that is your perception of education then you are correct, teachers should not get the raises that they are begging for right now. So I have decided to look at this from an economic, free market perspective as this might be a better way of reaching those individuals who believe that we should not be taking care of our teachers better.

In order to make this argument, I first need to establish that education is important for the future of the country. Any community needs an educated workforce, and the more educated a community is, the more powerful its economy becomes. If there are a bunch of people that don’t know how to count money, communicate properly, or work the ever evolving complicate advances in technology. An educated workforce is the foundation for any thriving economy. Just look at South Korea. Here is a country that has no real natural resources, and because of their unique relationship with connecting nations, they are basically an island, and need to import most of the food and resources that they need in order to thrive. They do not have anything of significance to offer the world, yet they have the eleventh largest economy. How is this possible? They looked to the one resource that they had, and utilized it to their advantage, their people. They educated these people and then sent them out into the world in order to help their economy grow, and they created one of the biggest turnarounds ever with an economy, going from one of the world’s worst in the 1950s to where they are today. They did this through an educated workforce.

On the other hand, if a government wants to repress a people, the first thing they do is to take away their education. Hitler did this by burning all books he did not agree with. Pol Pot did this by taking the doctors, professors, and lawyer out to the Killing Fields and getting rid of them. Mao did this by promoting the reading of his red book and only that book. I don’t think that anybody would say that these societies weren’t repressed and the people under the control of these ruthless dictators suffered because of the lack of education. These leaders have gone down in history as some of the greatest killers to have ever walked the earth, and nobody within their societies were able to stop them from these atrocities because they did not have the mental capabilities to bring about the change needed. They were not given the education that was needed to start the revolution because revolutions are not started from gun but from ideas, and it takes an educated individual to create the idea that will inspire the masses into action.

I do not think that there would be many people that would argue that a basic education is needed for each individual, and because of that the future of our nation is dependent on the skills of the teachers that provide this education for our youth. There are numerous studies that show that this is true. In fact, it is not technology that produces great results in the classroom, but it is the strength of the teacher and the size of the class that does it. If you have a child and you want to make sure that he or she gets a good education, you want a skilled teacher leading a class of no more than twenty people, so that skilled teacher can give each student the attention that they need. In order to do this, money needs to be put into education to make sure that this happens.

None of these arguments are new to the person who does not wish to raise their taxes to make this happen. They still think that teachers are given enough money to perform their jobs, and they do not see why more money should be given to them to have them stick around. Well, there is one little trade secret that many of these people do not realize that is already have profound effects on the educational system in the United States, and it has to do with the principle of the free market.

To best understand this principle, think of it from the perspective of a teacher. They want to paid fair wages for the job that they are performing. They want a strong health insurance so they can take care of any medical conditions that might arise through their stressful job. They want to make sure that they are taken care of financially after they have retired from their jobs. They want a place with a diverse population that can add to the educational experience with the unique perspectives that the students bring into the classroom. If they could get this job with great working conditions, as well as somebody paying for their housing, and the added perk of being able to travel to exotic locations during their breaks, what would stop a teacher from doing this? Some people would have to ask about these teachers’ children and the opportunities afforded to them from such a place. Well, if those teachers had children, they would be provided with one of the best educations in the world because they would be able to go to that teacher’s school for free.

I know that there are many people out there that do not believe that a situation like this exists because if it did, many highly qualified teachers would be rushing to get one of these jobs. But I am here to tell you that these jobs do exist, and there are so many of them, that schools are desperate to get the best teachers to fill in those vacancies. It is a simple matter of supply and demand. Because of years of painting educators as greedy individuals who spend most of their time sitting around doing nothing more than babysitting children, many people have stopped going into this profession. Because of being vilified, many teachers that are still in the profession are looking to find a place where they can get the respect that they deserve. If the current practices are allowed to continue, it will only be a matter of time before there is a  serious brain drain in the United States concerning this field. The best in the field will take their skills overseas, leaving schools to scramble to find anybody to fill in the spots that they need to fill. There is already a struggle to fill in science, math, and special education positions because there are already other professions that pay better and are looking for these people to fill these positions. For those that truly love the passion of teaching and being able to connect with the future generations, there is now another option made available to them. And there is a huge demand for English teachers overseas because this is the language that most of these schools teach in and the students want to graduate with a strong grasp of its intricacies.

The best education will eventually come from schools that have been exported overseas. Colleges and universities will look to these same schools to find the students that they believe are worthy enough to attend their institutions, and the people that attend will take their education back to the counties that they come from. Some might claim that this is a slippery slope argument, and there is no way that we can predict the future in the manner, but the truth of the matter is that this is already happening, and as the other countries of the world continue to get smarter, Americans continue to discredit their own educational system, and not fund it to the level that it needs to be funded at. I have seen countries like Korea, Japan, and Cambodia take an active approach to education, and they have seen the benefits of this push already within their economies. America needs to take the same approach to their schools if they wish to compete in the future. Education is not about having a certain part of the population given the privilege of being smarter so they can gains the advantages of a capitalistic society; it is about making sure that we are all smart enough to maintain what needs to happen to make that society sustainable. We should not be sacrifice this aspect of our society because of the financial burden that it puts on us because it is a vital part of what makes America great.

It is the government that eventually decides how they fund their school, but it is up to the people to make sure that the government is doing the will of the people. So during this election cycle, pay close attention to the politicians that are looking to take over the positions of leadership and make sure that you choose wisely. The future of America should not be compromised because a few people do not find a value in it. We should all find a value in it because it affects us all.

The Night Market – Taiwan Day 7

If you are looking for nightlife in Taipei, you should not go try and find the fanciest club or the greatest bar, but instead, you should head to one of the many night markets, and participate in what the locals like to do for fun, eat street food. It is a great tradition here, and the food that you find at these markets is not just good, but it might be some of the best food that you can find in the city.

I went to the Raohe St. Night Market, and the city sections off the street to traffic so vendors can set up their stalls and cook their food. You know you are in the right place because you can smell the aroma of good coming at you from a few blocks away, and as soon as you enter, your stomach just yearns to be filled with some of the things that it is smelling. That is except for the stinky tofu. It is a fermented tofu that is a delicacy of Taiwan, and when you get close to a booth that sells it, you know why it now has that name. I did not try any partly because of the smell, but partly because I am not a big fan of tofu, but that does not mean that I couldn’t find other regional delicacies there.

One of my favorites was a steamed peppered pork bun. Basically it was peppered pork that was rolled up in a dough and then baked on the wall inside of a round oven. They would pull them out hot, put them in a wrapper and sell them to you. I knew it would be good because of the queue of people that lined up to get one.

That was the best way to find out which type of food was the best. Besides smelling something that would grab your attention, there were always those lines of people. If it wasn’t for one of those lines, I would have missed another one of the better dishes that the market had to offer.

There was a desert that could only be found in the market, and it was fun to watch the guy make each individual one. Basically it would start off with a crepe, that he would first fill up with the shavings from a block of a peanut brittle. He would then add in three scoops of a pineapple ice cream, and then add a little cilantro before wrapping it all up in a small little burrito.

It was the perfect treat to end the night with, and it was one of the more memorable experiences from going to Taipei. It is a stop that has to be made while visiting here, or it would be like you never learned what the place and people were actually like. It is the heart of the city, and it doesn’t matter which one you go to, you’ll always find a pulse there.

The Typhoon that Never Came – Taiwan Day 6

We were lucky on this trip to Taiwan. The whole time we were in Taipei, there were rumors rumbling around about a typhoon that was supposed to hit the island on Friday and Saturday. It was to bring with it heavy wind and rains, and most of our time looked like would be spent indoors as we tried to ride out the storm. It was to be a big one too. The first reports of the storm talked about it as being a category 5 typhoon. We even got an alert early on in the week to see if we wanted to change our plans to avoid the destruction that was soon to be unleashed on this tiny island in the Pacific Ocean.

But as the week progressed, the tale of the typhoon soon changed. The course it was going to take started to veer away from the island and took a more direct course towards Japan. The power behind it started to diminish as well and the typhoon turned into a category 3 storm. This did not mean that we were not supposed to get rain on the last days of our vacation, and we spent those days carrying around umbrellas in case we started to get hit with the downpour that was predicted to come.

But the rains never really came. Yes, we did get a few bursts of rain here and there, and we even got to use those umbrellas that we carried around with us all over the place, but for the most part, Taipei is used to the rain, and built its city accordingly. All of the streets have really wide sidewalks with at least half of the sidewalk covered with part of the building. It makes the city a great walking town, even in the rain. Yes, if you forget your umbrella, there are couple of moments you need to dash across the street so you do not get wet, but for the most part, if you play it right, you can stay pretty dry.

The city also knows that the rains can create some beautiful scenery. I have been to many other cities in the world that do not get this fact. They build their buildings and let the rain pound on the outside of them until they look like dirty representations of what their glory used to be. They could go out and clean those buildings or repaint them, but why do that? The rains are just going to come again and turn them into the dirty eyesore that they are destined to be. Taipei definitely takes this attitude as well, but they have also built some great parks with lots of trees and flowers that distract you from the ugliness of the buildings and give you a little reprieve from the bustle of the city.

One such location is Elephant Mountain, or as the locals know it, Xiangshan. It is the last stop on the red line of the subway and takes you out to the far reaches of the town. If you go there, you do need to walk through one of the more beautiful parks that the city has to offer, and find your way to the path that will take you up to one of the best viewing spots of the city. The hike is not that hard, but as soon as you hit the forest that covers the mountain, the humidity jumps up a couple of notches, and drenches you in sweat. It is also the perfect environment for mosquitoes, so if you do go, I would recommend bringing some bug spray with you because without it, you will be eaten alive. Or all of this might have been that we went to do this little hike when there was supposed to be a typhoon hitting the city of Taipei, and we were just getting the residual after effects of what it really could have been.

Despite these minor annoyances, the hike was worth it. The views were spectacular, and there is even a little platform that was built so people could see the perfect spot to watch the crazy fireworks that come whenever Tai Pei 101 decides to shoot them off. It is also really close to that building as well which would make for a great day if you start with the hike and finish with food and exploring that area of the city of Taipei.

Outside of the City – Taiwan Day 5

One of the nice things about Taiwan is that it is a small island, and it is not always focused on its biggest city, Taipei. In fact, the real heart of this country comes from getting outside of the city and connecting to the natural surroundings that can be found on the island. There are many beautiful hikes that are waiting to be explored, and there is a huge coastline with beaches, and other features that are worth your time. The best part of all of these features is that they are not that far away from the city. By bus, it only takes a little over an hour to get to Yehliu where you can explore a geopark there with many crazy rock structures.

The battering of the sea, and the unique geology of this place has created its own natural art gallery. Everywhere I turned I was able to see a new piece that would allow me to come up with my own interpretation of what it is. Some of them are a little more famous than others, such as the Fairy’s Shoe, and the Queen’s Head, but there are enough of them that did not have a sign telling me what other people have called them, so I was able to come up with my own names for those stone structures. These were also the ones that were not crowded with tourists, so it made it not as bad to stand there and look at them for awhile.

And yes, the tourists are here. Like any other natural structure in the world, people will flock to get their pictures with the sights. But once again, I was lucky. I went on a day that was promising to dump rain on the tiny island, and this kept many people indoors afraid of what would happen if they would out in the open when it started to rain. Luckily for me, it never rained. Instead, I was able to enjoy the sights with the cool ocean air blowing in, and I got the added bonus of being able to watch the waves crash into the shore, and watch as the slow chisel of time continued to create the sculptures.

There is also a path at this place that lead to the northern tip of the island and the lighthouse that is perched on the cliff there. For some reason, there were not many people on this path. It could have been that there was long stretch of stone steps that I needed to climb up in order to get to the top of the cliff, or it could have been that there just wasn’t that many people there to begin with, but either way, it was worth the hike. The views that were offered because of the extra effort were amazing, and it was nice to get away from what crowds were actually down by the rocks.

There were also some other structures that were a ways away from the other ones that nobody seemed to care about. They seemed to be ignored, but were some of the best ones out there, and only a couple of brave photographers made their way out to these structures to get the picture of them. The best part was, I do not think that any of them had been named yet. I could be wrong, but this one will always be called New Moon Rising in my mind. It is not important what the real name is because that is what it is now.

All in all, this little day trip from Taipei is worth the hike out, and if you are patient enough, and go on the right day that is a little overcast and threatens rain, you will be able to get a bunch of pictures that make it look like you had the whole beach to yourself. It helps to get you away from the crowds of the city for a little while, and find something new and interesting that is not one nature’s artistic eye can create.

And Then Came the Rain – Taiwan Day 4

Like all big cities of the world, Tai Pei is more a collection of small boroughs that come together to create one metropolitan area. Each little corner has its own distinct flavor and attractions, and people make their way to spot to see what they have to offer while never really leaving the loving embrace of the city. I wish I could say the same of Xinbeitou, but when I took the subway to this part of the Tai Pei, I felt as if I had traveled out of the city and found myself in a small mountain town on the island of Taiwan. It had more of a sense of community than other places I have seen here, and it gave off a slower vibe than the heart of the city.

There was probably two reasons for this feeling. The first was because of the rain. This little corner of Tai Pei is really a touristy part of the city, and I am sure on nice sunny days, I would be able to see people wander all over the paths that this place has to offer. But like all rain storms, more people found the shelter of indoor activities instead of braving the weather and coming out to this place.

The second reason is because of the hot springs that are located here. If you have never immersed yourself into these healing waters, you never have understood what it means to unwind and let the problems of the world disappear. There are public pools that can be found by taking a short hike up the hill from the subway station, and it houses three different pools with varying levels of heat to them. Unlike other natural hot springs, this one does not smell of rotten eggs, and the waters here are so relaxing.

Granted, being one of the few people that come from the western part of the world, I had many people stare at me, wondering what I was doing at this location, but it was the perfect outdoor activity to do on a rainy day. While I soak myself in the water, the cooling rain beat down on my head, and I was constantly in balance between the two varying ways that water can cleanse. It also helped with what would have been an overcrowded situation. I am sure if it was not rainy, there would have been more people at this location.

I am sorry that I was unable to get pictures from inside of the hot springs, but the place has a strict no picture policy that makes sense to me. People are going there to relax and they probably do not want to be a part of many people’s vacation photos, so in order to respect their privacy, nobody takes any pictures. If you do ever go, you need to make sure that you bring the right kind of swimsuit. This mean that the fabric has to be a swimsuit and not beach shorts. They checked my suit before I entered, and I did not have the right one. Luckily, they sell the right kind of suits at the place, and are willing to let you buy one after they yell at you a bit for not bringing the right swimsuit, but I am used to this. It seems to be something that happens to me on a regular basis while I live in Asia. I am always doing something wrong based on the customs out here, and they are quick to let me know this.

Even with these minor stresses, it was still the place that allowed me to breathe for a moment from this busy life that I live. It wasn’t only the hot springs that made the voyage worth it, but the small town feel, and the beautiful sights that were around every corner. This is a must do thing for anybody coming out to Tai Pei, and it doesn’t matter what the weather is like when you go. I would assume that the colder and wetter it is outside, the better the experience will be.