The Effects of Colonialism

 

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If you look out your window and down on the streets of your neighborhood, or the area where you work, you expect to see a diverse population moving about their business. You believe that your community has people from different backgrounds, from different cultures, and from different heritages. If you are in America, you believe that this melting pot of people is part of the reason that the country has grown into what it is today. But take a closer look at those people as they pass by your window. Is it really as diverse as you think it is? Do you really see a huge mixing of cultures, or are you only imagining it because this is the way we have been taught how to think? I know that when I look out my window it is not a vast collection of cultures, but then again I live in a place where this melting pot idea has not taken root yet.

Some people would claim that this segregation of cultures is one of the downfalls of the American society and something must be done about it. But how are we to combat this problem if  we are not the ones who segregate ourselves? Look at a lunch room at any local high school and you will see a phenomenon that will make your stomach turn. The cultures that you believe should blend so well together move to different tables to be with like-minded people. You can’t blame these people for doing this. It is a scary thing to get up from one table full of the people you are comfortable with to make that huge journey over to the next table of people who might not see the world the same way as you do. What if they don’t bring you into their fold? What if they don’t listen to the new ideas that you have to offer them? What if they shun you for being different, or even worse, what if they just kill you? It is better to stay put with like-minded people and not deviate from the place where you find comfort. There is no place on earth where this mythical blending of cultures exists anyways.

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I have pondered this problem for many years wondering if there was ever a way to create a society of diversity that would be accepting of others and was about to give up. This was until I visited the city of Hong Kong. This is where the melting pot of the world happens. I have never seen such a blending of cultures in my life. Any corner you turned would introduce you to a diverse group of human beings speaking different languages, practicing different beliefs, wearing different clothes, and yet still managing to get along. How could this be possible? It went against everything I had observed so far in life. What event brought all of these people together to work towards one common goal of bringing a great city up from the depths of a small fishing village? It must have started with the British occupation of the town.

Even though diversity is present in Hong Kong, there are still two major influences occupying this city, that of the Chinese and the British. The clashing cultures seemed to find a way to work together in harmony, and I hate to say it, but the thing that probably brought them together was the concept of money. Hong Kong is definitely one of the economic hubs of the world. It makes sense due to the fact that it is nestled in the perfect location for shipping trade between Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and even North America. Goods and supplies must have come in and out of this location for years, but it would not have happened if it was left under the control of the Chinese. This is not meant to criticize that culture in any way, but it has only been in recent history that this country had opened its doors and was willing to let visitors in to witness its greatness. If the British had not colonized this small portion of the country, it would have taken a lot longer before people could have experienced their unique brand of culture. It would have been as closed to the world as the rest of China had been.

Combine the British colonization with the economic rise that this city experienced over the years, and it is no wonder that more cultures found their way to this place. They all started to work together to develop the city into this fiscal giant it is today, as well as the true melting pot of the world. So now, when you visit this bustling metropolis, it is easy to experience many different corners of the world all at once.

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Hong Kong doesn’t only leave its mark on the world financially, but it is also one of the greatest film producing cities in the world. I did not know this when I came to visit here, but after walking around for a few minutes, I quickly realized that I was in the East Asian equivalent of Hollywood. Pictures and statues dedicated to the legends that this industry has produced are all over the town. There is a walk similar to the one in Hollywood where you can see how your hands and feet match up with some of their greatest stars. And if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, you will be asked to wait as a film crew pieces together a scene that will be used for an upcoming blockbuster. I was lucky enough to experience this on the first day I was in town. As I was checking into my room I looked out my window and watched as a film crew shot a scene on the busy streets of Kowloon. Once again, it was an aspect of the culture that I was not expecting.

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I was also surprised at how green this city was. Not very often do I think of a city in the protection of China as having the ability to take care of the nature that surrounds it. Expansive parks are in the middle of the city inviting you to take a leisurely stroll through them. You no longer feel like you are walking through one of the largest cities in the world. There are even surprises along the way. What you thought was just a pond placed in the middle of a park after further inspection would reveal that it is actually the home to flamingos, another inhabitant that I don’t believe is indigenous to the region.

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While I was walking the streets of Hong Kong, I started to believe that there couldn’t be a place more diverse than this place. But on a day trip from there, I soon discovered I was wrong. I traveled over to the city of Macao. This took an hour to get there by high-speed ferry. It was another city in the China region that was influenced under the sphere of another European country. This time it was Portugal instead of Britain. The difference was that this city did not become the giant economic powerhouse that Hong Kong had become, and because of this, the flavor of this city is different than the one I was staying in.

First of all, the Portugal influence is huge. There are city squares placed strategically all over to allow the fine citizens of the city to congregate and the merchants to sell their wares to visitors. These plazas are still there and in recent years they have undergone some revitalization to attract more visitors. It has worked because these are now the central meeting places in the city.

Besides the city layout, other Portuguese architecture  can be seen here and there. St. Paul’s Cathedral was one of the first Catholic churches built in East Asia, and the Jesuits opened the first university in the area as well. Sadly, early in the 19th century, the building caught on fire, and all that is left is the façade of the building. It is now one of the biggest landmarks and the greatest tourist attraction of the city. There are thousands of people milling on the steps of the cathedral to take picture and stroll further up the hill to the other structure that reminds visitors of the colonization of this city, the old fort that was built to protect the citizen of the town from would-be invaders.

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It is quite the fortress on what used to be the highest point of the city. Of course, modern buildings have overtaken the peak’s high point, but it is still interesting to wander around this structure’s great vantage point to see the various parts of the city that have been left behind. This is when you start to see how diverse this city actually is.

The first thing that you notice are the collection of buildings situated near the ferry terminal. They seem a little out of place, almost like the Portuguese ruins. This is because they are replicas of the casinos that you would find in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is as if a piece of the United States has been placed in the middle of the East Asian city. When you start to think about the economic structure that has been set up by the modern Chinese government, it sense of irony really starts to bug you. This bastion of capitalism really seems out of place in a country that has lived by the precepts of communism for so long. It adds more to the mix making the argument for the most diverse place on earth even stronger.

There is still, of course, the various temples to old Chinese gods, and Buddha. The biggest one is the temple to A-ma on the southern tip of the island. It is an old maze of stone staircases, and shrines that ask practitioners to light some incense to pay homage to the god of the fishermen. By doing so, it ensures that the next catch they make will be a good one. It is amazing that this ancient temple has been preserved for so long. It makes you wonder about what that says about the strength of certain institutions and how some can withstand the test of time while others are only there for a shorter period.

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My trip to Hong Kong begged for me to search the path of enlightenment to find the true meaning of togetherness. Which path has led us to this ideal. Is it the great American melting pot, or is it Hong Kong? Should togetherness come through assimilation or should it come through acceptance? I know my trip to Hong Kong opened up my eyes to different possibilities, and I now must ponder the question further to come up with the better answer. Therefore, I will find a tree to sit under, gather up its shade and think about this as I travel this voyage to true enlightenment.

The Danger of Complacency

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I am now a month into my second year of teaching in an international setting. It has been easier this year to make the transition into the teaching grove. By this time last year, I was still wandering the streets of Seoul with my eyes opened wide believing that I was on some magical vacation that would never end. It wasn’t until later that I realized that this foreign environment was now my home and I needed to figure out how to work within its confines. I struggled with this during my first year, and it felt as if I was starting my teaching profession all over again.

But then the second year came around. I touched down in Incheon Airport knowing exactly what I needed to do to get through customs. The bus to my neighborhood was now routine. I snickered and felt for the new teachers who wore the wide-eyed look that I wore the previous year. There was nothing that this country could throw at me that I couldn’t expect and handle. I was now a part of the team and I felt a sense of acceptance that I had not previously felt. The experiential education trip I was in charge of was going smoothly as the team the school had given me took on the challenge, leaving me to pick up some of the loose ends to make sure all the little details were accounted for. I could lace my fingers behind my head and lay in the tall grass without a care in the world. The trip would take care of itself, and there wasn’t much I needed to worry myself over.

Of course, you know that this isn’t that kind of story. Nobody wants to read about a man without any problems. There has to be a monster lurking around the corner the man doesn’t know about that will bring about his demise. My monster has a name and it called itself Complacency. This idea that you are in control of your destiny just because you have done something before could be the most dangerous idea that you can allow to possess you. First of all, you are never in control of your destiny. There is always somebody, somewhere that will create a problem for you that will delay the path you have laid out for yourself. Secondly, without any struggle you never grow as a person. It was this look for a struggle that caused me to give up my comfy home in the United States so I could grow as an individual and a teacher, and here I was in my second year already believing that I had everything under control.

I should have paid attention to the music industry’s warning about artists’ second albums. Critics always warn listeners about this album for any band or musician that exploded onto the scene after a successful first showing. They even have a name for it, the Sophomore Slump. These musicians who were so hungry for fame and finally got the chance to taste it, now had to create a follow up that lived up to what they had just done. They don’t know this though. After producing such a masterpiece, they believe they can do no wrong. They are invincible. They are creative. They are popular. Of course, all the drugs they are doing does not help them see what is really going on. What they eventually come up with does not come close to the fresh and original album they had just created. It falls flat because it is just a reproduction of what they had just produced earlier, and it is all because they became comfortable in the role that they were in, and chose not to challenge themselves to take a chance and move out of their comfort zone. They became victims of that beast, Complacency. Their devoted fans moved on because they felt the passion missing and no longer believed in the magic the band had produced on their first album.

This was the trap that I found myself falling victim to. The group I was working with had taken over so many aspects of the trip that I could rest and reap all the rewards when everything worked out beautifully. We had just been on this same trip four months earlier, and it was so fresh in our minds that we could not possibly think of what would go wrong. If television has taught me anything, it is when somebody starts to think this way, something inevitably will go wrong.

A series of logistical nightmares presented themselves to me two nights before the trip started. I soon found out that this was not going to be the same trip we were on last time. When we were at Boramwon last April, we had the whole facility to ourselves. This was not the case this time around. We were sharing the place with two other schools. I did not know all of the students we had taken with us because it was early in the school year, and I did not have the time to get to know them. Add into this mix a bunch of students running around from the other schools and I don’t know who I can discipline if I find them doing something out of line, and who I can’t.

This was just the first of our problems. Boramwon then threw another ruffle into the mix. Our perfect schedule did not work with them because they did not have enough guides to cover our events as well as the other schools who were also going to be at the place. I had to rearrange things quickly, and found out that there was this huge spot left over where we had no activities planned for the students. I had to come up with a couple of new things that fit in with our overall theme of ensemble on this trip. Luckily, I had a member on my team who was a P.E. teacher and he was able to come up with a bunch of activities that could fit into this empty time slot.

I thought even though we had a couple of minor bumps that things would be smoother from here on out, but that was not the case. The night before we left, I was told we had lost five of the dorm rooms we were going to use in order to house our students. I needed to quickly rearrange all of our dorms to make sure we could comfortably fit everybody into a room. Once again, another one of my group stepped up and made arrangements to make this work. There was nothing else this place could throw in my way to make things fall apart.

This is when mother nature took charge. There happened to be a typhoon hitting the shore of Japan the same time we would be having our outdoor adventure. Now I know where I was taking my students to was miles away from this force, but we were close enough that there was a steady rainfall coming down during the whole bus ride out to the facility. We were not going to be able to do all the activities we were hoping to do. The hike would be a little dangerous, and the mountain biking would be a muddy mess with the challenging courses maybe a little too challenging with the weather. In fact, as soon as we arrived at the camp, we huddled the kids in the lobby of the dry dorms and I went to talk to the director of the camp to work out plans to keep the students safe and get the keys to the rooms.

This is where a new wrinkle in the story comes along. We quickly changed our plans, and things looked like they would work out, but the place was holding our keys hostage. Apparently, just like United Airlines, they had overbooked. They needed somebody to give up some of their rooms, and we were the obvious choice. They wanted us to relinquish four more rooms on top of the five we had already given up. In order to make this happen, we were really going to have to pack these kids into the room, and at first, we were adamantly opposed to the idea. But then again, we couldn’t get into the rooms if they wouldn’t give up the keys. We had to work out a deal or put everybody back on the bus and take them back to the school. They had us more than we had them, and the only thing we could threaten them with was that we wouldn’t be booking any more business with them. With the struggle we had booking this place the first time around, this was not really a threat that they would consider. We eventually gave into their demands, and tried to make the most out of the experience we had designed for the students.

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That is the thing I learned from this trip that I could apply to every experience in life. Even if I have done something before, and believe that it should be easier the second time around, there is still an element of an uphill battle that I will have to deal with. This is the problem with being complacent about each of these challenges. When you lie down, the hill looks like a gentle plain, and perception does not change the rules of gravity. You need to pick yourself up to take on the challenge because you will be able to handle it a lot better standing up than lying down.

Granted, even though I came into this trip thinking that it would be really easy, and the unsuspected troubles surprised me, we were still able to put together a great trip. I really want to emphasize the word “we” because this was not a solo effort. There was a great group of people behind me that never lost sight of the ultimate prize. They also were ready for the challenges thrown our way, and I am glad that they were able to pick me up to make sure that I contributed my share to solving all of these problems. I learned as much from this recent experience that my students did, and it makes this experiential education trip one of the most memorable ones I have ever been on.

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My students got a lot out of the experience as well. The bus ride back to school was one of the quieter ones I have experienced. They were all worn out, and a lot of that was because we made sure that each moment was filled with adventure and excitement. Of course, there will be moments that they did not enjoy themselves, but when they look back at this weekend they will remember some of the fond ones, and they will realize how they have grown as an individual, just like I did.

The Road Back Home

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When I think about the place where I am from, the thought of the Rocky Mountains instantly pops into my mind. Ask anybody who grew up in Colorado, and they will tell you the same thing. There is a purple outline of them always stretching out in the distance any time you look to the west. Even at night, when you cannot see them, their comforting presence is there. It is something that you start to take for granted the longer you live in the state. Even a visit through its winding path and majestic grandeur doesn’t always impress you the way it once did when you first were able to witness them.

But you should never take those stalwart things in your life for granted. You should treasure every minute that you have with them because you don’t know how it will make you feel when they are no longer there. I recently had lost the luxury of staring at these mountains for a whole year, and I was lost because of it. I know Coloradoans will joke that is because I could no longer find west, and there is some truth to that. I have spent my whole life relying on this natural compass to help guide me through the streets of Denver, so now, when I look for west and can no longer see the mountains, it leaves me a little disoriented. But it is something more than that. It was that sense of have something strong and immovable suddenly no longer there; it was that sense of loss; it was that sense of being some place out of my comfort zone that caused this pain in my soul. So when I realized at the end of last school year that I would be heading home again, the longing in my heart grew stronger and I desired to see those mountains again to set it at ease. In my mind’s eye, I could see that purple outline in the distance and I desired to be back among its rocky grandeur.

But the road back home is never short and many adventures needed to happen before I returned.

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My voyage home took me through Japan first. The hills there were beautiful and they reminded me of home, but the tree capped tops of these mountains were not the Rocky Mountains that I longed for. They made the longing for home even larger, but I needed to put that behind me and enjoy the sights of Japan instead. I always talk about how you should enjoy the moment in life and not worry about where you will be tomorrow because you will lose something with the experience, and here I was not listening to my own advice. But when the heart longs for something that advice is hard to follow.

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But whether I wanted to or not, I still had to follow it. I was not alone on my travels. My wife, Christine, and her parents were also along for the ride. Christine felt much the same as I did. She wanted to get back to the states and the thought of returning home excited her, but her parents were in a part of the world that they had never been in before, and they were looking for us to guide them through the experience. We had traveled to Japan eight years earlier and many of the places we were going to were the same places we had traveled to in the past. Though we couldn’t remember everything from that first trip, there was enough there that allowed us to show them some very exciting places.

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Kyoto was our first stop on our trip and it is an amazing place to start on the road through Japan. Every turn you take in this city is a cultural experience. You know you are in a part of the world that has preserved its ancient culture to remain true to its past. The cobblestone roads are clean and lined with shops, and restaurant house themselves in old buuildings. Some might think this is done just to help support the tourism needed in order to keep the city on the map, but that is not necessarily true. image

There are many times when I turned the corner and find myself staring at a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine. They are all over the place, and they are not just there because they were built years ago and it still brings people to the city to witness its culture. People come to these places to worship and connect with themselves spiritually. The Japanese possess an amazing ability to blend together two ancient religions into one. You see in many Buddhist temples and their surrounding grounds the shrines to nature that is connected to the Shinto belief.

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A great example of this is the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The grounds for this place is found on the mountainside on the outskirts of Kyoto. It is an extremely popular tourist spot and thousands of people can be found walking around. The grounds have the Buddhist bell, and drum, and there is definitely a place where worshippers can pay their respects to his teachings. But there are many other natural connections that found there as well. A great example of this are the two rocks placed thirty meters away from each other. The story goes that if someone touches one of the rocks and close his or her eyes, they travel across the busy walkway between the two stone. If they find the other one without the help of anybody else, it then that means that they will someday find their true love.

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A spring running behind the grounds is another example. People line up to drink water from one of the three different spouts coming from the stream. Each one holds a certain power behind it that helps a person gain success in a certain part of their lives if they drink from the spout. I can’t remember what exactly the three different aspects of life are, but I believe they are health, wealth, and love. I was told what they were eight years ago when I first visited this place but have since forgotten them. The first time I was here, Christine and I were walking through the entrance to the grounds when we were stopped by a young Japanese girl. She was working on her undergraduate degree in English at one of the local universities and she wanted an opportunity to practice communicating in this language. So she looked for English speaking tourists and asked if she could take them around to explain everything to them. We happily obliged and the experience was great.

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The same thing happened again on this visit except I was asked for an interview from a local girl in a middle school. She wanted to practice her English as well, and she had a script to help her get with the questions she needed to ask me. I told her all about where I was from, what I did for a living, and what I thought about Japan. It was a fun experience for me, but I believe that it was terrifying for her. The funny thing is I will probably always hold this moment dear to my heart; whereas, she will forget about it soon after and think about it only as something she needed to get done to complete an assignment for school. It is funny how people take for granted all of the things that they see on a daily basis while a different perspective will give it a greater value.

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It would always blow my mind when any of my relatives would visit us from out of town and we would take them up into the mountains. They would gape at them as we drove through. I couldn’t understand why they would be this dumbfounded by something I had grown up with. When I was able to drive myself, I would get mad at the tourists that would slow me down as I drove I-70 into the mountains because they were too busy rubbernecking to see all of the sights around them and did notice the awful job they were doing driving these dangerous roads. But the more I travel on my own road around the world, I start to understand why they did it. My heart may have longed to be back in Colorado, but there were times along the way where I needed to turn my head to see something I missed the first time around.

The first time I went to Japan we took a trip to the edge of Kyoto to see its Imperial Palace. We went there because we were looking specifically for the bamboo forest used in the filming of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. We thought it was held on the grounds of the palace and we did find a small corner of a bamboo grove, but it was not the impressive place I had thought we were going to find. That was because we had actually missed it. We needed to travel down a path outside of the palace and this expansive grove would have spread out before us. I don’t know how we missed it the first time because it was huge and packed with people as they explored it. It took the second time going to Japan to be able to find it. This is when I felt like one of those tourists that annoyed me so much from my home state. But I was able to gain some clarity from the experience.

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When I get out of my comfort zone and see something I have never seen before I can appreciate it for what it is. When I see something on a daily basis, it no longer holds that special quality of something new and exciting. It is not until it is taken away that I will start to appreciate it again with the quality of a child looking at a forest of bamboo trees for the first time. When I had found the bamboo grove, this idea was tickling around in the back of my mind, but I hadn’t formulated a stronger connection with it until I arrived in Nara.

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This smaller town in Japan sits on the edge of the mountains. People flock there for a couple of reasons. One, it holds the largest wooden building in the world, a Buddhist temple, and secondly because of the deer.

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And let me tell you, there are a lot of deer.

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They roam the streets, and they are not afraid of humans. A lot of this is because of the attitude the Japanese take towards the animal. They believe that it is sacred, and should not be hunted, and definitely should not be eaten. With this being the case, there are many generations of these creatures who have never felt the cruel side of the human race, so why should they fear them. It also doesn’t help that there are many carts in the area selling cookies you can buy to feed the deer with. Of course, they will hang out in the area for the free meal. Some of them are big and a little bit of a bully, but for the most part, they are gentle and looking for the handout. It is funny to watch them as they walk around after people because it looks like every individual is out walking their deer. That is until the deer realizes that they have no food and they go off looking for a different person who might feed them.

I had to walk through these herds of deer and people to get to the Todaiji Temple. I started to wonder if people even get there because of the distraction of the deer, but when I finally arrived, I saw that people had put aside playing with the deer to check out this world heritage site. It is an impressive place that is filled with school aged children who are taken there by their schools so they can connect with their heritage. They are a lot like me with my mountains. The interest I would think that they would have at the site is just not there. This is something they have seen on a daily basis and they didn’t find it exciting enough to pay attention to where they were so they could gain a new perspective on their lives. In fact, they were more interested in yelling hello to the English speaking tourists to see if they could get the English speakers to say something back to them. There were many times I obliged them by waving and saying hello. It was kind of fun but I guarantee that their teachers hated the fact it was going on.

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A lot of it had to do with what the students were not taking from the experience. At this place, the children could find huge wooden statues carved centuries ago to guard the entrance to the grounds. It blew my mind that these statues existed. I had no idea where they would have found a tree large enough to carve such a masterpiece in the first place, and there were not only one of these giants to look at, but two. How could these kids miss these behemoths as they walked by? But then I would remember the fact that I would no longer pay attention to my much beloved mountains when I was back in Colorado unless there was a way I could have some sort of fun while I visited them.

The kids of Japan were the same way. It wasn’t until they made it inside the temple that they started to enjoy the place. First off, there is one of the largest Buddha statues inside. There are smaller replications of the building showing how the design process was made and it isn’t until I made it to the back corner of the building that I found the area that help the children’s interest. At the bottom of one of the columns holding up the roof, there was a large hole carved in the middle of it. Legend had it that it was as large as one of the nostrils of the Buddha housed in the building. If you could wiggle your way through the hole to the other side of the column then you would be able to find true enlightenment in your life. It was fun to watch these students line up to have their try at squeezing their way through the hole.

There was an older Buddha on the outside of the building that was not viewed as much though. If the students had paid attention to this, there was magic within its wood they would have appreciated as well. Apparently if you rubbed the part of the Buddha’s body that ailed you and then rubbed that same place on your body you would find relief from the pain. I can sort of see why that many of the children would not pay attention to this Buddha, but it was one appreciated more by the older generations.

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The path through Nara prepared me for the next stop on my road trip back home. It was a place I had been to before, but I was excited to see again because I remembered the profound effect it had on me the last time. In fact, I can’t imagine anybody who would venture to this location without feeling its significance. Hiroshima is one of those places that holds that much power in this modern age.

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Just wandering through the Peace Park is enough to make people feel the event that happened here on August 6th, 1945. You might not be able to see it because of the beautiful modern city that surrounds you, but the quiet respect that surrounds the eternal flame reminds you.

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And if that is not enough there is the shell of the building left behind. It was right under the blast of the atomic bomb that fell on that fateful day, and even though the tiny sun that the explosion created leveled the city, it was not enough to destroy this skeleton. At one time, the people of Hiroshima demanded to tear down this eyesore, but more forward thinking folks won out. The structure remained to remind visitors of what happened that day so we could avoid repeating the same mistake in the future.

Just going to this place, I wondered how people couldn’t help but be affected by what they saw. That was until you looked across the street from the park. Office buildings sit there. There is a hospital just down the road from it. Men and women dressed for business move about their days without ever looking over at this building. Why should they? The impact it had on me loses its effect when you see it every day.

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I guess that is the joy of being a tourist. You get to notice the things that the people who live there take for granted.

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They can range in size from monstrous to minimal.

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They can be displayed proudly.

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Or you may have to wander through the woods to find their special location.

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The point being that these places are in all great cities in every country on the world. They bring thousands of people away from the comfort of their living rooms every day just for the chance to see them. Yet, you might live right next to one and you might have forgotten about its existence or may not have ever noticed in the first place.

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Just by being more aware, these little things become more spectacular every time you take the time to notice them. My trip through Japan became one moment after another that sparked within me awe. And even though I was able to look at my trip through this lens, I still longed for the thing that I had once taken for granted, Colorado.

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I marveled at the mountains that presented themselves wherever I went, and even though their green majesty was a sight that I enjoyed, it wasn’t the same kind of mountain you would find in the Rocky Mountains. Growing up, I always thought that there was only one kind of mountain, and if you had seen one, you had seen them all. But this is not the case. Throughout my travels, I have come to realize that each range of mountains holds their own contours. The science teachers have worked with have explained to me that this is because of the way they are formed. Even though the Rocky Mountains do have some of their formation due to volcanic activity, it is more the pushing together of two plates that has created this rangge. This is completely different from the mountains in Japan. They are definitely on the ring of fire, and because of this, each one of their hills were formed due to some form of volcanic activity. Because of this they look different, and the ecosystem they belong to allows for a different type of flora, and a different kind of animal inhabits the wilderness.

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The hills are greener. The rivers are wider and deeper.

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The animals we found would be considered more exotic. It is not everyday in the state of Colorado that you can take a short twenty minute hike up to the top of a mountain to feed monkeys peanuts from your hand. While we found this an amazing activity, it was still only something mainly done by the tourists of the region, just as there are people who travel all the way to Colorado to watch the elk at Rocky Mountain National Park. I would never think of an elk as an exotic animal, but then again there are probably a lot of Japanese that don’t find the monkey to be that exotic either.

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If it hasn’t become evidently clear yet, everywhere I went I saw scenery that would have, for most people, been place in their most spectacular vacation ever, but I couldn’t enjoy it the way it was meant to be enjoyed because I had been long away from the place that for so many years had been my home that all my thoughts would drift to that place.

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The next stop on my journey did not help to quell this longing for home. For the casual observer, it should have though. The scenery was dramatically different from anything I could have found in Denver, or even Colorado for that matter.

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And even though herons may be found in the United States, they don’t venture so far inland to be seen in the Rocky Mountains, and when they do, it is not in a place that is as much of a dessert as the landscape that can be found in my home state.

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The artwork that I found on the streets was foreign as well. But for some reason, the vibe I felt here made me feel like I was back in Denver. Of course, I knew why, but for many people who travel here they don’t. The place we had arrived in was Takayama. It is a small mountain town that loves their dogs, and gets cold and snowy during the winter. The good folks of this town know that they are so similar to the city of Denver that they got together with the good people of my home town and all of these good people decided to become sister cities. Sadly, the good people of Takayama celebrate this fact more than the good people of Denver do, but Denverites should start to pay attention more because this is really a wonderful place to visit.

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The streets are fun to wander around, and even though they do not brew as much beer as Denver does, they are one of the major producers of sake in the world. There is an old-town area whose alleys have many buildings with large rice balls hanging from the front of the door. When you find one, you know you are the place where they make the traditional Japanese liquor, sake. After a couple of sips, you start to understand that sake can be just as complex and varied as either beer or wine. It makes for a fun day to go from place to place and sample all that they have to offer.

Many of the sake breweries have these foxes in front of them as well. It is a common accompaniment with many businesses in Japan. The spirit of the fox is believed to bring good luck to the establishment and to protect it from any enemies. The business needs to satisfy the fox with food and in this case a bottle of sake. It also helps the business as well to know that the protector of the establishment also enjoys the product.

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If you are looking for the more traditional kind of Japan landscape, Takayama is also the place. On the outskirts of town there is the Hida Folk Village with its traditional houses and thatched roofs. These structures are the perfect buildings to house the people that inhabited these hills. They would keep them warm in the snowy winter months, and cool in the hot, humid summer days. It is also the perfect place to breed silk worms. Many of the attics of these homes held apparatuses that would house these creatures as they produced the thread that is so coveted by many of the people in the world. The folks who work in the village still take that thread and weave it together by hand into beautiful pieces of cloth. It is one of the reasons that makes Takayama one of the more special towns in the country of Japan.

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But the main reason that this place made me feel like I was at home was the people. They were friendly and took joy out of just being alive. We went to one of the traditional bar-b-q places in town one night. It is a fun experience. They have grills right in the table that they heat with briquettes of hard wood. You then order the vegetables and meat you wish to eat. If you ever go there, I would suggest that you order some of the beef. Hida beef may not be as famous as Kobe beef, but it is just as tender and it melts in your mouth the same way. You will not regret the experience.

The night we went, we were being given a demonstration by the owner of the restaurant who asked us where we were coming from. Of course we told him that we were originally from Denver. It was amazing how much this one word excited the people of this town. The owner started talking about the Nuggets, and the people sitting at the table next to us started to ask us questions about my home town. It turns out that the person at the table next to us was the main coordinator from Takayama who promoted the sister city aspect between the two towns. The conversation that ensued made me feel like I was at home again. There was talk of the Broncos, Michael Hancock, and the Rocky Mountains. If this was to help with my homesickness, it did not. It just made my longing for the place I called home even stronger. And even though the road I was on took me closer to the place my heart desired, I was still a ways from getting there.

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There was still one more stop on my trip through Japan, and that was Osaka. We had not planned to do a lot in this town. In fact, it was just a place to lay over until we were able to catch our flight back home, but I caught enough of the flavor of the city that I wished to learn more about it if I ever found myself here again. There is a vibrant energy running through the people who live here. Whether you are in the numerous shopping districts, walking around the back streets with their punk-rock attitude or watching the tourists as they wander by the waterfront, you can feel this vibe.

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This only problem was, we did not participate in this feeling. Instead, we ventured to the one place that felt the most like home. Osaka is home to one of the world’s Universal Studios. As soon as we heard this, we knew that we had to by tickets to the amusement park, mainly because Harry Potter’s World. I know this is not the cultural experience you look for when you travel to the exotic places of the world, but we had spent over two weeks soaking up the culture of Japan, and it was time to see what their take on this iconic story was like. Of course, it was like any other Universal Studios in the world. You could taste a butterbeer, take a ride on a broom with Harry and Ron, and shop for a wand at Olivander’s. The only difference was these characters that I had fallen in love with both in literature and film now spoke fluent Japanese. I knew I was nowhere near home when I saw the sorting hat tell me important details about the wizarding world in this foreign language. I still did not let this bring me down because there was enough things in this place to distract me from the fact that I wasn’t in my home town that it didn’t really matter. It was the perfect distraction on the last day away from the United States.

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We were so excited about returning back home the next day, that we packed up our bags on rushed to the airport. It was our last leg on the long road back home. This was the longest of the legs, and it ended up being an exhausting day. I won’t even go into details, but just know that it involved a lot of delays on airplanes on tarmacs that made the travel of getting back home that more painful.

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We knew we were close when we landed in Vancouver, and for the first time in a long time we were able to hear English again from the conversations around us. I felt a little bit of a heal  when I would listen in on people’s conversations. I wasn’t doing it to be a jerk, but because it was one of those little things I missed so much. If you have ever lived for a long time away from your native language, you know what it is like. Any opportunity you get to listen to the words you are familiar with, you just soak it up. You will eavesdrop. You will talk to complete strangers. You will read every word you see on a bathroom sign, not because you need to know about the blowers, but because you can the language. It was just a short hop from this airport to the place I longed for the most.20160710_020024

The next morning, I was able to wake up to this site, the Rocky Mountains. I was home again. Over the last year, I have had the opportunity to talk to many people from many different corners of the world. They have told me all about their experiences of living abroad, and talked about how each year they adjust to the changes around them. They have talked about missing their home towns, but they have also told me that this longing for familiar places gets smaller every year they live abroad. It might be true, but I do know that I had a strong desire to see these mountains again because this was the first time in my life I had lived without them for so long. It was one of the most welcoming sights I has ever seen.

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I even started to appreciate the small things I did not notice the first time as much while I was living here. I knew about the wild flowers that grew in the mountains, but I never knew how amazing it was when you were to come across a group of columbines in bloom in Colorado. It made me know that I was home.

There were other things I got to see in those first few days that made me excited about this trip home. Many people who live  in the United States would take these things for granted. I remember walking into a grocery store the first day back and being blown away by all the various types of food I saw on the shelves. If I wanted to I could find all the stuff I needed to make a delicious meal, and I wouldn’t need to travel all over the city to obtain each item. Visiting Target had the same kind of appeal to me. Not only was there food, but I could find music, movies, clothes and games there. It was pure heaven.

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A vibrant, colorful world was all around me. Wherever I turned on my trip back to America, I was greeted by things that I, at one time, had taken for granted, and it was like viewing them for the first time. But there was something I came across on my long road back home and throughout the trails I traveled through while I was there that I discovered was more important than anything else.

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It was always in the background. Sneaking into the photos being taken of me. It was something I missed more than anything else during my year away.

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I would run into it on backwoods trails in the Rocky Mountains. They were always there with a smile, and great conversation.

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It was the greatest part of being back. Its strength is more powerful than the Rocky Mountains, and I will take it in my heart as I travel back to my job in Seoul. It is my family.

I know that a lot of people take their family for granted. They expect them to be on their beckon call at all times, and my family would be willing to do anything for me as I would for them. But you learn as you make your way out into the great big world that distance might make that harder to accomplish on a regular basis. That still doesn’t mean they are still not with me as I travel from country to country. The experiences I have had with them combine together to create who I am now. And as I meet and get to know other people in this vast world, they are really getting to know my family better. It took me a year away from them to figure this out, and more importantly, to figure out what they mean to me. It is this new understanding of the importance of family that I take with me as I go off into my second year of teaching abroad, and I will never take them for granted again. I will treasure every moment I get to spend with them from now on.

(42 pictures were used to tell this story.)

Tag: A Cautionary Tale

Book Cover (r.4) (1)

4 out of 4 stars


Review by Scerakor

What I liked most about this book, however, is that after a few chapters pass, the genius of this story comes out in droves. Like an onion, once you rip off the outer layer that is the simple childhood game, you are rewarded with layer after layer of sub-text. There is the (still light-hearted) suggestion that this group of kids not only “invented” the game of tag, but in the process of doing so, also “invented” many other childhood games we know and love. There is the witty banter between the naïvety of the old man and the sassy, but not exactly wrong, little Lizzie. This banter reeks of a battle between the super-ego and the id. There is a dark and foreboding layer that outlines how low humanity can stoop simply by imposing rule after rule upon its occupants. This layer is eerily redolent of books like Animal Farm or, even more so, Lord of the Flies. Finally, there is also that silent warning layer that screams how difficult (if not impossible) it is to pull out the deeply rooted traditions, prejudices, conventions, and preconceptions that are littered throughout our society. It shows how, despite being pestilential to our very existence, it is extremely difficult to change how we think and feel once we have an idea in our head and are willing to fight for it. – OnlineBookClub.org

Top 25 list for 2016.
Everyone needs a Little Lizzy & old man friend. – Tony Parsons

A Good Read Indeed! – Amazon Customer

A perfectly timed read with infuriating characters and unbelievable events that somehow represent what the United States (and much else of the world) seems to be going through more and more these days. This story gives light to the incoherent and twisted perspective of those who abide by the Just World Phenomenon and should motivate those who don’t share that view to get off their butts and change the conversation. A good read…Read More
 

Available for purchase at

http://emsapublishing.com/books/tag-a-cautionary-tale/

and Amazon.com

Opening

The old man shuffled his way to the foot of the great hill where sat a smooth boulder, protruding from the ground. He arrived every day, at precisely at 7:01, with the precision of a German engineer, as if he’d just disembarked from a bus or a train somewhere around the hill, and taken only the time needed to waddle over to the rock, and sit in the indentation worn into it by his butt over the years. He’d become a slave to this routine over the years, sitting there, on rock at the foot of a burnt out hill, undisturbed by the people who passed him as they moved about their day. They probably didn’t even notice him, seeing as they had other priorities to possess their time.

The man remembered a time, long ago, when the hill possessed the highest peak in the town. If a person climbed to the top of it, he could look down and take it in at a glance. But progress had seized the town, and large buildings soon grew to obscure the view, until the hill served as no more than the outline for the roundabout, designed to take busy people to their busy places. If any of them ever took the time away from their busy pace, how many of them would wonder how this old man found his way across that busy street to sit on his rock?

The current aesthetic labeled the hill an eyesore, an abomination, best residing on the other side of the tracks. If any of the fools ever put forth the effort, they’d march up to their representatives in the city hall and demand that the
representatives move it to the place where it actually belonged. No doubt those representatives would get right on the task, filing injunctions, posting notices, and writing bills about the town’s eyesore. And still the hill would remain as the busy people rushed their way through the roundabout towards their destination, never considering the state of the hill’s dilapidation. The representatives did, however, get around to putting a chain-linked fence around the hill with imposing ropes of razor sharp barbed wire on top, to keep out all the busy people who never wanted to go in in the first place. The fence marked, to all who cared to notice, the speed of “progress”.

After all these years, the hill remained. Nothing would grow on it. No one would walk on it. Not even the birds would feign to fly over the flimsy, metal barrier to land upon the hill’s desecrated domain. No one else seemed to even care about it but the old man, and he cared enough to visit it on a daily basis. So often had he visited the hill that he’d almost became a permanent addition to it. Except for the fact his clothes would change from day to day, people might have mistaken him for a statue.

He sat on the rock leaning heavily on the cane he carried with him, craning to get a better look at the nothingness the hill had to offer. What had begun as a mild interest in the hill had grown to such an obsession, that he would often squint his eyes at it, as if hoping to read the words somehow typed into the typography. His bald head protruded from his shirt collar so much that an onlooker might mistake him for a turtle, taking its first trembling steps onto the sands of some foreign beach, if, that is, they stopped long enough to notice. He thought he might need to find a place to rest his weary head, or it would fall from his body. Instead it came to lie on the gnarled and knobby hands he’d wrapped around the handle of his sturdy oak cane.

Day in and day out he sat, fearing any change in his routine, until Little Lizzy showed up to change that routine for him, having found her way across the traffic to the burnt-out oasis of the hill. Her blonde curls bounced giddily as she skipped her way over to where the old man sat on his rock. She wore a pink dress barely long enough to cover her chubby knees. She carried a box in her hands, about the size of a Bible, which she brandished with extreme importance.

The old man watched as Little Lizzy made her way around the fence line to approach him. When she noticed him, she stopped and stared at the sight, as if she found it hard to believe another soul had found his way over to this parcel of land. She dropped the box in her hands and it disappeared in the shadow of the rock. Because items not in the immediate view of children are seldom remembered, the box remained there as she slowly walked towards the ancient anomaly.

The old man sat there, unmoving. Little Lizzy approached with caution, as if she feared chasing him away by her approach.

First, she waved at him from a safe distance; the old man did not move.

Then, she skipped into the old man’s peripheral view and tilted her head; still, the old man did not move.

Finally, she took a spot in-between the old man and the object of his attention. She grabbed the sides of her fluffy skirt and twisted it right and then left, wearing a pouty expression on her face. At last she said, “Hi.”

The old man responded, “Go away.”

She took a step closer and said, “My name’s Lizzy.”

“Go away, Lizzy.”

Little Lizzy looked at the old man closely, then turned her head to follow his gaze. “Whatchya looking at?”

“Right now? A little girl who won’t go away.”

Still Lizzy was not deterred. She ignored the slight and went on with her questioning. “What were you looking at before that?”

The old man lifted his head from his crooked hands, and looked at Little Lizzy with renewed interest. “You’re not going to leave me alone, are you?”

Lizzy also ignored the man’s attempt to change the subject. “Are you looking at that hill?” she asked.

The old man finally gave into the girl’s interrogation. “Yes, I’m looking at the hill. Now, go away.”

“Why would you want to spend all day looking at that hill? It’s sure an ugly hill. Not even weeds grow on it. It is probably the most worthless plot of land in the whole town.”

The words of the young child enraged the old man. He stood up from his seat and used his cane to point at the hill. “How dare you call Arbella Hill a worthless plot of land? If it wasn’t for that hill, this town would never have existed. It’s thanks to that hill that you see all this around you.”

“Why?”

“Why? Why? WHY?”

Little Lizzy looked at the exasperated old man as if wondering why her question would illicit such a response. “Yes,” she said, undeterred. “Why?”

The old man considered Little Lizzy’s question with a new respect. He placed his sturdy oak cane back on the ground, and snuggled back into his groove in the rock. “Well, that requires a complicated answer, little girl.”

Lizzy’s eyes brightened up. “Does it involve a story?”

“Yes, and what a story it is!”

Lizzy took this as an invitation. She sat down Indian style on a soft patch of grass in front of the rock, smoothed her skirt out, and rested her chin in the crag of her fists.

The old man’s eyes grew foggy, as if looking at a faraway place. He cleared his throat and began.

“This place once looked quite different than it does today…”

Chapter One

Back then, roads didn’t exist. Big buildings didn’t block out the blue sky. Even the cars didn’t hurry off to the places where cars hurry off to. Tall trees circled the expanse of the field. Of course, a few stray trees here and there offered their shade to those in need on sunny days, and shelter to those in need on rainy days. Arbella Hill stood over there, the steep sides of it also covered with trees. On the top of it stood the mightiest of all trees, a proud oak. And, of course, this rock I’m sitting on sat right here.

Back in the day, we didn’t call the hill Arbella; that name came later. We only called the hill, “The Hill”, just as we called the rock, “The Rock” and each individual tree, a tree. We didn’t spend a lot of time naming things back in those days. We had more important things to do. We had a big field.

I couldn’t tell you where everybody came from, but we came, none the less. We all wandered out of the woods and across the horizon, drawn by this majestic mound. It stood above everything else on the plain, rivaled by no other formation in its beauty. On it, assorted fruit trees and tall pines pointed their peaks towards the heavens, wondrous wildflowers blossomed, rearing their heads to the world, animals scurried under the protection of the hill, peeking their happy heads out whenever they saw fit. If they ever noticed us looking at them, they would dart back into the shadows. They didn’t know they had nothing to worry about because we cared about them as much as they cared about us. We had many more exciting things to do, besides.

We ran. Not to or from a specific place—doing something like that didn’t interest us much. We ran more for the why, rather than the where.

What was the why, you ask? Well, why not?

But just imagine a huge field stretched out before you, soft and supple grass growing just tall enough to tickle your toes as the drops of dew danced upon your bare feet, the subtle sun warming you as you wind your way through the maze of dandelions. And if ever its heat gets too hot, the shade of a nearby tree is there to comfort you. If you’d rather continue on your run, the wind was there to blow a refreshing breeze your way. As far as we were concerned, the field had been created just for our pleasure, and we took every opportunity to partake in that gift.

As was the case with the hill, the rock, and the trees, we didn’t bother with each other’s names. We didn’t even bother to acknowledge each other’s presence. We weren’t very social at that time—running occupied most of our time.
We didn’t care about speed or direction—some of us sprinted from one end of the field to the other; some of us twirled in circles, arms outstretched; some of us darted this way and that; and some just meandered from place to place, spending more time taking in our surroundings than those who surrounded us. It probably helped to get it all started, I guess.

The first uproar was caused by two kids of opposite natures. I later learned that their names were Tommy and Franklin, but I just knew them as the Fat Kid and the Focused Kid.

Tommy ran with purpose. He focused directly on where he wanted to run and when he got there, he turned right around to focus on getting back.

Franklin didn’t run so much as meander all about the place. His head constantly turning to observe the world around him, darting from place to place, to stoop down to look at a wildflower, or up to the sky to watch an eagle fly. Rarely was his head in what he was supposed to be doing down on the field.

As in all other aspects of life, when you have two opposites such as Tommy and Franklin, they are destined to clash, and clash, they did.

Franklin backed into Tommy one hot Thursday afternoon, too busy watching a wild turkey dart across the field while trying to get out of its way, running backwards, not really looking where he was going. Tommy, on the other hand, was so focused on where his run was taking him that he didn’t see Franklin coming. Franklin weighed more than Tommy, and it was he who took the tumble and landed flat on his butt.

Tommy wasn’t much of an orator at that early age, but of course none of us were. Later, Tommy would become the great speaker you may have heard about, but on that fateful day, he looked at where he’d landed in that big field of grass, and said the only thing he could in that situation: “I’s It.”

Rather, that’s what Franklin thought he’d said, for even though Tommy talked as if he’d marbles in his mouth, he wasn’t one to practice such bad grammar. He also didn’t back away from a confrontation, particularly one spurring from an intrusion concerning his right to run.

Tommy stood up, and walked over to where Franklin was standing. Franklin tried to stammer out an apology, but was unable to articulate the thought before Tommy pushed him, and Franklin landed on his butt.

Franklin could not believe Tommy capable of performing such an act of anger. He looked up at his antagonist, hoping for an apology he knew wouldn’t come. Instead, Tommy responded with a retort that would endure in the cannon of our consciousness for all eternity.

“You’s It!” he said.

Interlude One

“And that’s where it came from.”

“That’s where what came from?”

“Why, Tag, of course, Sarah.”

“Lizzy!”

“Whatever. Tag started that day.”

“What’s Tag?”

“What’s Tag?”

“Didn’t I just ask that?”

“I can’t believe that you haven’t heard of Tag.”

“I can’t believe you were there to see the beginning of this so-called Tag and you still can’t tell me what it is.”

“It’s a game.”

“And the object of this game is to push each other over?”

“No! You’re not listening to what I’m saying”

“I am. You said all they did was to push each other over, so they would sit.”

“It was a little more complicated than that.”

“It doesn’t sound that complicated. I push you down and say, ‘You sit,’ then you push me down and say, ‘You sit,’ and apparently, if I get really tired I can sit down and say, ‘I sit.’ It sounds more boring than complicated to me. Maybe you should have called it Sit instead.”

“We called the game Tag.”

“Well, I like Sit.”

“Well, that’s just stupid.”

“Like calling a game Tag when all you do is sit isn’t?”

“No, you don’t understand the game.”

“What don’t I understand? I mean look. I sit. You sit. We all sit. It sounds like a game my mom would make up when it’s her Special Juice Time.”

“The game had rules.”

“Like how to sit?”

“No! Just…listen, okay?”

“Okay, but this had better get interesting quick because skipping sounds a lot more exciting than this story does.”

The Challenge

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Books are important. Any educator will tell you that. You might even be able to dig that answer out of the more obstinate P.E. teacher with the help of healthy snacks and lot of hand signals. But those reluctant P.E. teachers would constantly complain that there is also value to their contribution to education that should not be ignored. Not every educator will feel the same when confronted with that idea. That pretentious English teacher with the curly mustache that he always needs to pet will be the first to tell you that anything you need to know can be found in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. And as much as I would like to agree with the opinion of that stuffy English teacher, I do have to give it to the P.E. teacher in this case. Some times you need to put the book down, and go out to experience life.

I have talked about this type of learning before, and I still believe strongly in the importance of it. The last school I worked in used experiential education to show at-risk students the value of putting their addictions to the side and seeing the world for what it has to offer. The strange thing is that this is the same thing that the Korean students I am teaching now need as well. The addictions are a little different though. One involves a bong; whereas, the other involves a book.

It is obvious to many people that there will be a pot problem in the high schools of Colorado, but nobody thinks that there could be a problem similar to it in South Korea. For many years, South Korea has been on the top of the list for the best educational system in the world. Sometimes it is number one, but sometimes it slips to number two behind Finland. Both countries have great educational systems, but they both take different approaches to education. Finland thinks that less is more, and South Korea doesn’t believe that it can ever get enough. Students are required to work exceptionally hard in school and when they get out for the day, it is traditional for them to go to hagwons, a kind of specialized tutoring center, where they are asked to study even more. Some of my students spend up to sixteen hours a day with their studies. They are constantly tired, and have a hard time keeping awake. From middle school until they graduate high school, these students spend their time in their books. It is their addiction.

Granted, a lot of this is due to their culture and history. Americans can take a lesson from the South Koreans about how to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get back on their feet. South Korea turned around their economy faster than any other nation in the world. They used to have one of the worst economies in the world, but now have the eleventh biggest one. The craziest thing about this is they accomplished this feat with very limited resources except their greatest one, hard-working people. This is where the notion of needing to work hard comes from and why the Koreans continue to push their children in this effort.

Now as a writer, I am always going to say that books are the greatest thing that has ever been, but like anything else there is a danger to them. Besides the obvious danger of introducing new ideas into the world, and pushing people’s thinking, there is another danger, getting addicted to them. The desire for learning is great, but when it comes at the expense of a person’s health, and takes away from them the chance to actually live their life, then education has gone too far. You can only get so much out of books. You get a lot more out of experience. A book will tell you how to do something. An adventure will require you to do it. That is where these trips come into play. We take our students out of their comfort zone, the safe world of stuffy books, and out into the world where they don’t know exactly what is going to happen.

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It is amazing to see these kids take to the challenges presented to them. They climb mountains, traverse rope bridges, ride on mountain bikes, and paddle on makeshift rafts. For many of these kids, they have never been able to experience this kind of life. Their existence was limited to the confines of the big city and their ideas of the world around them were only learned from books. Even though the intellectual challenges that they gain from this style of learning is great, they still never know how far they can take themselves and what mountains they can conquer until they are out scaling those stony cliffs.

This specific group of students took it even farther. They not only learned what they could do for themselves, but they also learned how they could work with each other. There were many times on the hike where I saw students helping each other out to make sure that they all got down the path safely. They cheered their peers to as they took the challenges that the adventure course offered to them. But the area that I saw them work together the best was on the pond with the rafts. My students were broken up into different groups and sent out onto five rafts with about eight students on each one. The four teachers that were chaperoning the event were placed on a separate raft. It took us awhile to get on the pond; whereas, the students had a little bit of time to figure out how to maneuver the boats around and how to splash each other. Of course, by the time the teachers got on the pond, we were the targets of their new attacks. The way they organized the boats on the pond made it difficult for us to escape their attack. Even though I knew I was about to get soaking wet on a cool spring day, the moment made me really proud. I was able to see a good portion of the sophomore class come together to work against a common enemy. It showed that the learning that we wanted to take place was actually happening.

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For these students, these trips are traveling through a dark long tunnel which sometimes does not appear that it will ever end. But halfway through that dark tunnel they start to see a small pinprick of light far away. So they keep on traveling to see if they can reach that other end. As they get closer to that end, the light gets bigger and bigger until they get to the other end. When they emerge from that tunnel the feeling of joy is huge. They can’t help but smile. For the most part, this is the same way that many people would describe their high school experiences.

For the teachers, these trips are the moments that they can guide the students through these new experiences. They can watch their pupils learn new skills as they go through these challenges. In the process, they get closer to their students and each group is able to learn about the other because we get to see each other out of the classroom environment. It all translates well when everybody gets back to the school. The students have experienced something new that they could never have learned from books and they trust their teachers even more and are willing to do the work that is asked of them. The teachers get to apply what they teach to something bigger outside of the classroom, and create those lasting relationships with their students.

With all of these benefits, you begin to wonder why more schools don’t try to create programs like this. Some day they will come around to this kind of thinking and each school will become the powerhouse of education that they can be. Until then, they need to continue to walk down that dark tunnel making their way to the guiding light.

My Side of Paradise

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Paradise.

It is the place that we always think about while we slave away at our various jobs throughout the year. We want that place we can go to that will allow us to forget the worries always piled on us. In most people’s minds, it is the same kind of place. There is usually a beach involved where somebody can come out to serve you various kinds of fruit concoctions. The weather is always warm, and there is not a piece of responsibility to be found anywhere. It is the lifestyle that we wish we could subject ourselves to on a daily basis, but we are lucky enough to be able to enjoy it for one week a year. A short list of places come to mind when we think about paradise: Maui, Manuel Antonio, Cancun, and the place that I traveled to over my Spring Break, Boracay.

This sliver of an island is a part of the Philippines and is a huge tourist destination for many of the people living in Asia. Thousands of people flock daily to the sandy beach, sunny skies, and laid back attitude of this slice of paradise. It is hard not to lose yourself to the culture that this place has to offer as there are many fun activities to do during the day: swimming, paragliding, diving, paddle boarding, and sailing. And there are many ways to lose yourself to the nightlife: great restaurants, wonderful bars, strong drinks, and fire dancers. Instantly, when arriving here, you forget about the cares you have and indulge in the fantasy the place has to offer.

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During our stay there, we weren’t able to stay on the beach itself, but that did not mean that we couldn’t find a place that had spectacular views. It required a little bit of a workout to get there. 224 steps up from the beach to the patio of the villa we rented made the hike worth it. This was what I had to wake up to every morning. It was great to have my morning coffee while watching the morning storms blow in to cleanse the island of all the dirt that had collected the night before. Also being so far away from the beach but still being able to enjoy its view forced me to ease into my day instead of attacking the relaxation that I believed possible at the place.

Too often when we go on vacation, the idea of squeezing all the fun out of the moment is all we think about. We try to pack our days with so much stuff to do that we forget that we had come to this place to relax. This is exactly what I did on this trip. Of course, I needed to plan a little bit before I left my villa every morning. If I forgot something back at home, I would have to trudge up those 224 steps to get it and that would have ruined the whole purpose of this trip. So after the morning rains turned into the afternoon sunshine, I would grab my beach gear and a good book and make my way down to the lounge chair that was waiting for me somewhere on the sandy landscape.

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That left me time to enjoy the important things in life — drink and food. Even though when you think of the Philippines you don’t necessarily think about the cuisine, Boracay offers a wide selection of dishes. There are a couple of dishes that are from the area, and they usually come with fresh fruit, but if you don’t want to try this, there are many other restaurants there that serve any kind of dish. There was anything from Indian to Italian. Restaurants would serve burgers to baba ganoush. It just meant that I would never get bored with what I was eating.

And if I didn’t feel like partaking in what the restaurants had to offer, there was a market where I could pick up some freshly caught fish. There was a grill at our villa that we could use, and it was nice to be able to BBQ again. This is not a luxury that you can find if you live in an apartment in a big city, so it just added to the atmosphere that this small treat was made available to us. I did spend one night grilling a chicken that was probably killed and plucked that day, and we were going to do the same thing with some fish. This was until the maid that we had working in the villa came in and grilled the fish for us. It wasn’t the way I would have cooked it, but it did give us an opportunity to try it the more traditional Philippines cuisine.

The drinks in Boracay are also good. Beer is not what the country is know for, but on a hot day, a cold San Miguel is a welcomed refreshment. Most of their mixed drinks come with fruit juice that was squeezed that morning, and if the drink required coconut milk, the bartender could grab one that had fallen from one the nearby palm trees. I don’t know if it was invented on the island, but it was the first time I had ever encountered a drink called the weng weng. It had seven different types of spirits in it mixed with various juices. It reminded me of those drinks I used to be able to find at college parties usually mixed in a large trashcan. People at these parties would bring a bottle of something that would be poured into the mix followed by more juice. The juice would tone down the alcohol, so it made it feel like you weren’t drinking anything at all. The sad thing would be a hour later after sucking down a few of these drinks you would be reminded that you had been drinking all along. This was also the power of the weng weng. It could make an evening very interesting or shorten it up altogether.

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Despite the cultural experience that could be found in a weng weng, around certain corners, you could find little gems of the culture that is offered on this island. Statues of lions, and other cultural icons could be found everywhere.

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The sight of these statues made me wonder more about the culture of the area. I feel that something has been lacking in my education when I travel in the Pacific and Asian countries. The American-centric view of the world makes me wonder how a whole culture can ignore such a large population of the world. The history here and the culture is just as rich and probably even older than anything that Europe has to offer the world. But the only way that I can experience it or learn anything about it is by visiting these countries because this little corner of the world is ignored in the history text books back home.

It is not the only thing that is ignored out here. Even though there is slice of paradise out on this island, there is another aspect of it that is not often talked about. It requires people to look through the cracks to find it.

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Even though the sun might always be in the sky, and the sandy beach seems to stretch on forever, the people who live here aren’t always given the opportunity to enjoy it the same way the people visit it do. In 2014, one out of every four people in the Philippines lived below the poverty line which was slightly higher than it was the previous year. Things are not getting better, but in fact they are getting worse. There are always signs of this problem wherever you go. Children on the beach yell at you to give them some money because they are hungry. Mothers with their newborns wrapped in their arms sit outside stores with a cup to collect unwanted coins. In fact, if I looked out the back window of the villa we stayed in, I was welcomed by a different sight than when I looked out my front patio.

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The reality of the situation is more people live like this, but the tourist industry does not want you to think about this when they create a picture of the paradise you can visit out here. They don’t want you to think about the people who have made shelters out of any scrap that they find lying around and then call it a home. They don’t want you to think about the hungry mouths and unclothed people. They do want you to think about the great time you will have by visiting this paradise. And there is the fact, that when you do come out here to visit you pump a lot of foreign currency into their economy. But if tourism was the solution to this problem then the poverty rate would be declining instead of rising.

It has to be even worse for the people that do live here. Every day a new shipment of visitors come in with huge wallets ready to ignore the poverty all around them. They sit on the beach, consume the food, sip on fruity concoctions and go back to their first world problems to quickly forget about the struggles that other people in this world are experiencing. The people who live here are reminded every day what it is they will never be able to have.

Does that mean that I am a contributor to this problem by being one of these tourists that comes and enjoys their time while ignoring the plight of the Philippines’ people? What could I do? Throwing money at the problem won’t solve anything because it will only end up in the hands of the people who don’t really need or it will just continue to serve the poverty by giving the ones who live there a meal without showing them the way out of it. How can I make the world a better place and eliminate this debilitating social disease?

Well, it can always start at home. An honest person would look at their own community and admit that poverty exists there as well. We can not solve all of the problems of a country half a world away, but we can make a dent into the problems that we have at home. The only chance that these kids have of rising themselves out of the lot they found themselves born into is by becoming a productive part of the work force, and this can only be obtained by a good education.

During my days on the island, I saw lots of children playing in the cool water and on the beach when they should have been in school. They were getting a personal education when they were rewarded for their begging, and even though this was an easy solution to their problem, it would never help bring them and their country out of poverty. They need to be in that classroom, and the classroom needs to be well supplied and have a great teacher at the helm. There they will learn about the truth of their situation and gain the tools needed to fix it.

This same solution works for the children struggling with poverty in your corner of the world. If they are given the tools to succeed, then most of them will. You will always have the ones that fight against the charity given to them, and there is not a lot you can do about it except to not encourage the damaging attitude. For the most part, most children want to make something of themselves and are grateful for the opportunity.

This is where you come in. Support public education in your community, and country. Respect the professional attitude of the teachers, and understand that they are doing their work for the right reasons. Fight against the standardized tests because there is no job in this world where filling in the appropriate bubble on a piece of paper is considered productive. If you do this then every child who works their way out of poverty will make the whole place a better one to live in. This way when you make it out to paradise, you won’t feel guilty because of the poverty that is hidden behind the beauty that you came to see in the first place. The trickle effect of your contribution to the world will make all places into true paradises.

Best Movies that didn’t Win Best Picture

Citizen Kane

#1 – Citizen Kane

Often referenced as the best movie ever made, Citizen Kane, was Orson Welles first movie. He has said that he didn’t know exactly what he was doing, so he took every cool trick that he learned in film school and applied it to this movie. This is the movie that you watch to see what can be done with film, but it still did not take home the best movie trophy in 1942. This was a case where the academy awards really got it wrong as they gave it to How Green was my Valley instead. It doesn’t really matter though because Orson Welles’s classic is still study by millions of film students still to this day.

The wizard of oz

#2 – The Wizard of Oz

In 1939, movie goers were introduced to a new technology. No longer would their stories be told in boring black and white, but instead the magic would happen in color. The Wizard of Oz was the first movie to bring this technology to audiences everywhere. It literally brought us from  black and white Kansas to the colorful world somewhere over the rainbow. You would think that it would not hold up very well after almost 80 years since its release, but people still enjoy this masterpiece today. What movie could have beaten it out for best picture that year? That would go to another iconic movie, Gone with Wind, so even though it did not win the coveted award, it is a little easier to swallow this bitterness knowing that another great film took its place in the top spot.

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#3 – Boyhood

I know that this movie is not considered a classic yet, but I do believe that it was snubbed in 2015. If there was any movie that I wanted to win over it, it was Birdman, but the idea behind this story was so original that it will never be repeated. It is interesting to watch this movie and understand the cohesion that Linklater created by recording slivers of time. It is not just the story of this boy growing up in America during 9/11 but it is also a story about us, who we are, and the culture that we have created.

It's a Wonderful Life

#4 – It’s a Wonderful Life

Before Ted Turner obtained the rights to this classic, every American associated the Christmas season with this movie. Every channel was able to have rights to this movie, and they used that right to show it at least once during the holiday season. The weird thing was that even though you knew it was going to be on at least twenty times during the month of December, you would somehow catch all twenty showings of it, and never be disappointed that you wasted your time watching it again. It is not only a great story, but it is an iconic piece of the American culture. It just shows that sometimes the academy gets it wrong.

pulp fiction

# 5 – Pulp Fiction

Quentin Tarantino has always been one of my favorite directors. When Pulp Fiction had come out in 1994, Reservoir Dogs and True Romance had already topped my list as two of my favorite movies. I had sat through Natural Born Killers earlier that year and was blown away by its story, and I found out later that he had written the script for it. But it wasn’t until I sat in the movie theater and experienced this new exploration in filmmaking that I realized what power a movie might hold. It was an instant classic and redefined the movie industry for years to come. It will always top my list for greatest snubs of all time.

Shawshank Redemption

#6 – The Shawshank Redemption

I don’t know how many times I have been at home on a Saturday flipping through channels and this movie comes on. For some reason, I always catch it at the very beginning, and I can’t do anything until I finish it. I never get bored with the story, and am thoroughly satisfied with the ending even though I know exactly what is going to happen. The story entranced me so much that I actually sat down once and read the novella by Stephen King, and this is the one time that I can say that the movie is better than the book. Why didn’t this movie win best picture? Well, 1994 was a good year for movies and even though this makes the number six spot on the list, it wasn’t even my second favorite movie that year.

Dead Poets Society

#7 – Dead Poets Society

Anybody who knows me knows that this is one of my favorite movies of all time. The ending gives me chills every time I watch it. It is the story that made me want to be a writer. It is the story that made me want to be a teacher. It is the story that taught me to take chances in life, and make the most of it. I don’t remember which movie won the year that this gem was in the running, but I do remember being mad that it wasn’t this one. It holds up really well too. Every generation discovers and falls in love with this movie.

The Graduate

#8 – The Graduate

Every year, the Academy Awards likes to nominate at least one comedy. In 1968, this was their pick for that honor. There are rare occasions where the comedy takes home the coveted prize, but just like in 1968, it does not happen. That does not mean that the movies are not incredible, and worth watching over and over again. It is also hard to compete against the socially conscious In the Heat of the Night which took the top honor that year. It just shows how good the field was in 1968.

Apocalypse Now

#9 – Apocalypse Now

When talking about the greatest movies ever made, this one usually makes the list and ranks high on it. So what great picture took down this classic look at the madness that is within each of us and the journey we need to take in order to wrestle with that issue? Kramer vs. Kramer took the top nod in the year 1980, and it just shows that sometimes the academy does not always get it right. Apocalypse Now, even with all of its production problems and behind the scene stories, has held up well through the ages and will always be analyzed and discussed for years to come.

A Clockwork Orange

#10 – A Clockwork Orange

I am actually quite proud of the fact that the Academy nominated this movie for best picture. Of course, it could never win. It was a seriously disturbing piece of cinema back then, and even by today’s standards, it still makes people cringe just to watch it. But the genius of this story lies in the fact that it is not just about the horror and gore, but there is a deep message imbedded within the story even though Stanley Kubrick didn’t know about the final chapter of the book when he created this masterpiece. If you have not seen this movie yet, sit down and watch it. Just make sure there are no small children present when you do because you will scar them for life.

Good Fellas

#11 – Good Fellas

Sometimes an iconic movie doesn’t win the Best Picture category because it is up against a juggernaut that year. This was the case with Good Fellas. It was up against the heart wrenching and socially conscious Dances with Wolves. There was still hope held in the hearts of many that this would Martin Scorsese would finally win that coveted prize and this could easily be considered his best movie he has ever made, but it just was not to be. The funny thing though is this movie is still discussed as one of the best pictures of all time whereas Dances with Wolves is hardly ever referenced. This movie still garnered some awards with the best speech given by the winner of the Best Supporting Actor, Joe Pesci, when all he said was, “Thank you.”

Saving Private Ryan

#12 – Saving Private Ryan

In the year 1999, many people believed that this gritty war epic was a shoo in for the Best Picture win giving Steven Spielberg his second real academy award. But as all the years before as he sat in the crowd and watch somebody else take home the prize, he had to do the same this year as Shakespeare in Love won. Many people still cry out bloody murder for the way this movie got passed over. Never has D-Day been portrayed in such a way that we understand what it felt like to actually be there. Because of this alone, it should have won best picture.

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It has been awhile since I have done a list, but now is the perfect time to get started again. The Academy Awards were just held, and after each year, there are complaints about who won and who didn’t. Granted all the movies represented are great works and should be applauded, but there is always that one who got robbed. That is the list I would like to create this time around. What were the best movies that were nominated for best picture but did not win. Spend some time thinking about it and send me your lists to jacollings44@gmail.com. The final list will be compiled by March 31st, and will appear in April.