Thursday, April 30, 2009

Odds and Ends Thursday 11

With no teaching responsibilities and minimal proctoring responsibilities, this week has been light on the workload front, which has been a bit deceptive. Though there’s been no lesson planning to do, I got 165 year 11 exams to correct, and tomorrow I’ll have 30 more from the 12s and 13s. My parents are also coming in next week. And a bunch of volunteers are getting together on Savai’i on Saturday. So it feels slow, but really it’s all kinds of busy. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • I paid to get laundry done and I got a haircut today, so things feel kinda fresh and new. Although in humidity like this, it’s difficult to feel fresh and new for very long.
  • I proctored the 11.4 science test this morning, and the kids seemed genuinely bummed when I told them I wasn’t coming back to proctor business studies after interval. I can’t tell if they enjoy having me there, or if it is easier to cheat when I’m there.
  • Based on the short excerpt of a song on Weeds and a relatively high score on Metacritic, I downloaded Rogue Wave’s “Out of the Shadow” album. I searched for it on my iTunes and realized it was already in there. $9.99 US down the drain. Boo. Who knows what else I have?
  • I sipped my tea during interval and it tasted familiar. I asked the teacher next to me what it was called. “Koko palagi,” she said. Hot chocolate. Like… real hot chocolate. It was exciting.
  • I had to get a shirt tailored for Culture Day next week. One of the teachers told me I could get it done in town for $30, but when I asked around town, the best I could find was $40. Then another teacher offered to do it herself for free. This was a better deal.
  • Cheating on tests is kinda rampant here. There are a number of distressing things about this:

    • They’re not slick about it;
    • They make no attempt to conceal it; and
    • They’re not good at knowing who to get answers from.

    If you’re going to copy someone else’s answers, at least make sure it’s a smart kid you’re copying from.
  • I printed a bunch of New York Times crossword puzzles at the Peace Corps office the other day, and I’ve been working on them while I proctor. It’s kind of a thrill. And nice to have current puzzle clues, e.g. “Obama:Bo::Roosevelt:____”.
  • How about that Arlen Specter?
  • Though we’re supposedly moving into the cool season, I’ve noticed my clothes have been smelling sweatier and I’ve been more dehydrated than usual the last couple weeks. Maybe temperatures are down but humidity is up? Maybe it is less rainy now, but that’s only because the humidity in the air can’t gain critical mass to actually precipitate? Maybe I’m talking out of my ass?
  • This weekend is the Cinco de Mayo party on Savai’i. There’s talk of staying at the fales at Lusia’s, a hotel close to the wharf. There are pros and cons to this situation. The pros are it is conveniently located for an easy return boat trip Sunday morning, and there will be a bunch of volunteers there, which will be fun. The con is it’s $55-$65 for the night, which isn’t that expensive, but after paying $45 for the locksmith yesterday, I’m feeling like I need some penance with my wallet.
  • They speak to me in Samoan at the Laundromat, and I can usually hold my own. In almost all my other interactions in Apia, things resort to English. I’m not sure why we’ve been able to maintain a strictly Samoan rapport at the Laundromat, but it makes me feel good about myself.
  • We’ve received a bunch of emails about Swine Flu from the Peace Corps, but it seems like all the advice is to avoid Swine Flu is the same as avoiding the flu of the non-Swine variety.
That’s all I got. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

This kid is sleeping while the others take the science exam. So I took his picture. I like this picture a lot.

Two people have asked recently about my water purifier. My water purifier is essentially an über-Brita. I pour water in the top, add a couple drops of bleach, and wait for it to seep through. These are the two filters pictures here. The bleach is necessary to prevent the living things that get filtered from setting up home in the top of the filter. I like that image... The bacteria hanging Bob Marley posters on the wall, inviting other bacteria over for parties. Bleach it is.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lock and Lull

I am an idiot when it comes to locking myself out. It has happened at every place I’ve ever lived. Here is what happened today:

7:34 a.m. Heading out the door, I grab my keys and put them in my right pocket as I always do. My wallet is already in my left pocket, but my cell phone—the final piece in the trinity of pocket necessities—is missing. It is still laying on my bed, where I used it as an alarm clock this morning. Everything in hand, I head out the door.

8:13 a.m. Though 3 teachers are late this morning, I am told I cannot proctor the Samoan language exam because I wouldn’t be able to answer students’ questions. It’s a good point. I head back to my house.

8:14 a.m. En route, I wrestle my keys out of my pocket, only to discover the front door key is missing. I went running last night and took it off the key chain to avoid the others bulking up my pocket. I immediately realize I am locked out.

8:18 a.m. I arrive back at my house after going back to the vice pule to get a knife with which I might be able to jimmy the lock on my front door. I wouldn’t even attempt this in The States, but now that I’ve jimmied the door of my computer lab several times, I’m more confident of my skills.

8:39 a.m. After 10 minutes of unsuccessful attempts of lock-jimmying (in sweltering morning sun, mind you), and my pule insisting he has no key for my house, I am forced to call the Peace Corps. Country Director Dale is currently in The States, so I get acting Director Kelly. “Hi. This is Matt. I’m here in Apia, and I am locked out of my house.” The Security Officer would normally handle this situation, but he left to go on vacation yesterday. Kelly says she’ll call me back.

8:50 a.m. Apong, the only remaining Indian missionary, walks over and asks what I’m doing. He thinks my jimmying knife is too soft, so he goes to find a better one. He comes back with a spoon and fork. This doesn’t work either. He goes to find the school groundskeepers thinking they might have better tools.

9:24 a.m. I give up trying to pick the lock with a paperclip I find on the ground.

9:27 a.m. I give up trying to jimmy the lock. I resign myself to the fact I am locked out until after I administer my computer exam.

12:39 p.m. My pule asks how my test went. I tell him it went fine, but I am still locked out of my house. He suggests I call the Peace Corps. I give up on the groundskeeper idea.

12:43 p.m. I call the Peace Corps. They say they have left 2 long messages with me, and 1 with my school. I have been informed of none of this. Kelly gives me the name of a carpenter who will come and “deconstruct the lock.”

12:44 p.m. I realize I have no cash on me and call the Peace Corps back. I ask them about how money will work. They tell me I will probably need to have money on me to pay the carpenter. Kelly adds, “When this is over, you may want to leave a set of keys with a volunteer who lives near you.”

I answer, “I should probably just leave a set of keys at the Peace Corps office since I live so close.”


“Wait. You live close by? I think we may have thought you were someone else this morning.” It turns out they thought I was the other Matt. They have me listed under my first name, which is not Matt. They say they will call me back.

12:47 p.m. Papu, an administrative assistant who works in the Peace Corps office, calls and says he and Tapu are coming to fix my door.

1:04 p.m. Papu and Tapu are unable to fix my door. We hop in the car to go to the locksmith. I sit in the backseat. Something about the dynamic of the car ride feels like I am 5.

1:13 p.m. The locksmith is available, but first must unload the whole fish from his car. We wait.

1:22 p.m. The locksmith is unable to jimmy the door.

1:24 p.m. The locksmith is unable to pick the lock.

1:38 p.m. The locksmith is still unable to do both of the above.

1:40 p.m. The locksmith pops the doorknob off and is able to open the door to my house. I ask how much I owe him. He says $45. I have $10.

1:49 p.m. The locksmith trusts I will come back to his shop with the money, or he’s not hard-up enough for the $45 to come to the bank.

And so ends another day of trying to assimilate and maintain a low profile and failing miserably.

I hope you don’t have to deconstruct your locks any time soon. Pictures below.

Riding in the backseat with Tapu and Papu.

My door, the locksmith, Tapu, and Papu in the distance behind the bushes.

Coincidentally, the locksmith is located in this building; the coincidence being I posted this picture yesterday, but yesterday I had no reason to post it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Proctor and Ramble

Since no new material is introduced during third term, the final exams of first term are considered to be “midyear exams.” For years 9, 10, and 11, midyear exams are standardized across the Congregationalist Church schools, and so they are administered in a very official style. Years 12 and 13 are only standardized at the end of the year, but they are still given schoolwide midyear tests. Each day this week is divided into two subjects, so the entire school takes a test on the same subject for their respective year before interval and another after interval. For example, this morning the entire school took year-specific English tests before interval, and religious knowledge tests after interval.

For unknown reasons, my proctoring schedule is quite a bit lighter than some other teachers on staff, so this morning was my first assignment. I administered the English test to the 10.2 kids. I don’t teach any year 10 classes, but I do see a couple of the 10.2 kids regularly, so I was familiar enough.

Though the testing structure is very official, things become much more unofficial in practice. This isn’t The States. There are no Scantron sheets. There’s no script to read before tests are distributed. No “make your mark heavy and dark.” And while the cover of the test said that students should be allotted 150 minutes, most other teachers collected tests a good 30 minutes early.

I’m thinking about asking if I can take an English class next year. I think the variety would be appealing, and I can also start transitioning the other computer teacher into teaching more of the computer classes. And while I don’t think today gave much of an accurate preview of what it would be like, it gave a little bit of the flavor.

Though I don’t currently teach the subject, I offered to answer any questions about English before I distributed the tests. “You know, I speak English,” I told them. “I’d probably do really well on this test. So you can ask me whatever you want before I hand it out.” They were not interested in this offer.

Tests are written by teachers in the school system. Year 11 students across Samoa are taking my Computer Studies test tomorrow. I stole a bunch of questions from past volunteers. I think most teachers get questions from other places. I’d be curious to hear where this teacher got materials.

On the reading comprehension part, different passages included sentences like “I really enjoyed the fortnight I was there” and “The play was enjoyed by the Congregation as much as those who acted it.” Do people really use the word “fortnight” anywhere in the world? I thought it was phased out in The States around the time of the Rutherford B. Hayes administration.

One kid raised his hand and asked what “multitude” meant in a particular passage. Out of sheer curiosity, I turned the page, and the next question on the test was “What does multitude mean?” Nice try, Slick.

In Oakland, I learned that students will work on the test as long as it is out, even if others have finished and are in the room fooling around. But the minute you start letting the ones go who have finished, the ones who are still working have too much incentive to quit. So I held the finished kids. They became difficult to control. I had been twirling my pen for much of the time I was in the room, and at one point I looked out and saw no less than 10 students trying their own hand at pen twirling. Many of them smiled at me, their pens flying across the room.

I let them go after 144 minutes. 2 stuck around to finish. I was happy about that.

Tomorrow I’m proctoring my year 11.1 class while they take my test. I expect it to be a different beast all together.

I hope this post was enjoyed by readers as much as he who authored it. Pictures below.

Today I noticed this island (of the street variety rather than that of the ocean) is not covered in tanbark, but rather coconut shards.

I also noticed that one leg of this tent is being held with a cinderblock and the other is being weighted by coconuts. They are a miracle fruit.

I have nothing to say here, except I find this to be one of the more colorful storefronts in Apia. Although the color got washed out of this picture a lot. Sorry about that.

Nothing to say here either, except I felt like taking a picture of it today. That's the Methodist bookstore on the bottom floor. Religious bookstores are the only variety of bookstores in Apia.

Monday, April 27, 2009

There is a Season

Over Easter Weekend, a bunch of us played a game in which we had to predict someone else’s answer to a question. For example, the might ask, “If Paul were a shoe, what kind of shoe would he be?” and the object would be to match Paul’s answer. One question I got was “If Matt were a season, what season would he be?” When I chose Fall, Dan asked, “Do you have seasons in San Francisco?” It was both genuinely inquisitive and smugly east-coast.

San Francisco has two seasons: summer and rainy. It’s important to note summer is not all that warm. There’s the old Mark Twain quote, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” True that, Mark. True that. Los Angeles had even less a concept of season. It was pretty much beach weather year-round except there was the part of the year when it was too cold to go in the water, and the part of the year where the water was the only comfortable place.

Yet regardless of experiencing posh New England seasons, Americans are constantly reminded of the time of year. The days grow shorter or longer. Daylight savings provides a biannual hiccup. Grocery stores promote goods for the upcoming holiday. Baseball in the spring and summer, football in the fall, basketball in the winter (No. I don’t want hockey.). Part of the success of American consumerism is creating the feeling you need to buy something to keep up with the ever-changing season. Even Starbucks has special drinks they offer seasonally.

In Samoa, there’s little concept of “seasonal,” or if there is, it’s far too subtle for my perception. The summer here is hot. The winter, supposedly the cool season, is still hot. The summer is considered the rainy season. Global warming seems to be doing its part to bring rain year-round now. Being so close to the equator, the change in the length of the day is not nearly as dramatic. Maybe the sun sets at 6:30 p.m. now and 7:30 p.m. in middle of December.

There’s not really commercial seasons either. I saw one display at Lucky Foodtown and one at Farmer Joe for Easter. Christmas is a huge deal, but other than that, shoppers here aren’t really bombarded with promotions for special seasonal goods.

The effect of all this is the feeling time isn’t moving. Group 81 arrived in October, and if you spliced in today’s weather and consumer climate into our first week, it would be seamless. It seems dramatic to compare it to the movie “Groundhog Day” where Bill Murray experiences the exact same day over and over, but it is something close to that. It feels like being in a time warp; like I understand that I’ve been here for 6.5 months, but only because my cell phone displays a different date each day.

The one clear exception to all this is the availability of fruit. Mangoes are only available in the Samoan summer. There are more examples than that, but I honestly don’t know of any others. Like I said, the seasonal markers here are too subtle for perception.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure it’s almost May. But really, it wouldn’t be that difficult to convince me otherwise.

I hope you’re enjoying the spring, America. Pictures below.

Apia in October.

Apia in January.

Apia in April.

Apia in July.

Easter display at Lucky Foodtown.

Finally, I want to pay special tribute to Bea Arthur. Losing her is almost like losing a Beatle.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Information Flow Management

At eCivis and at CNET, I loved gossip. I would sit with friends at lunch and compare notes on the goings on of corporate life. At lunchtime here, I sit with teachers and do algebra, occasionally finding interesting topics of conversation that take up 2 minutes max. Cultural and lingual barriers almost entirely inhibit gossip. I’m usually have to ask the person next to me what announcements were given out that day, and then I usually get a disproportionally brief response. There might be a half-hour conversation between the pule and other staff members, and then I’ll ask the teacher next to me what was said, and I’ll get an answer like, “Oh. There’s no sixth period classes today.”

When it comes to the Peace Corps, it’s difficult to know what’s considered news and what’s considered gossip. We’re so isolated from the world and from each other, we often have a lot to catch up on when we come in from the cold. Koa called me on Friday night around 10:00 p.m. to invite me out, and that was the first that I’d had any real conversation with Peace Corps volunteers in 2 weeks (except for a couple hours I spent with Jordan last Wednesday. He was just back from a week in Australia, so he didn’t have all that much Peace Corps Samoa news anyway.). My point is, a lot happens in 2 weeks; it’s a long time to be out of the loop.

For one, I had no idea it was Briony’s birthday and consequently there were many people in town. I also just learned Michael from group 79 left to go back to The States about a month ago. Craig and Allison, two ex-pats who have befriended many Peace Corps here are also leaving to back to The States next weekend. I heard about some volunteers from group 78 (which is scheduled to go home soon) who have opted to extend a year, one will stay in Samoa and the other is doing a year in China. Oh! And the group 81 Early Service Conference will take place at beach fales rather than in Apia.

Most of this stuff doesn’t affect me too much, but then, we’re all so isolated that none of us are directly affected by any of this news in our day-to-day lives. But much of it is legit news that all of us should be aware of, if for no other reason than to have an accurate idea of what’s going on with the 40 or so others who are in the same position as me.

And that’s why the line between sharing news and sharing gossip gets a little grey. On one hand, there’s a lot of stuff that people should simply be aware of; on the other hand, it’s rare to have much privacy here, and keeping information discreet becomes even more important. And when you’re talking to someone you haven’t talked to in 2 weeks or a month or 2 months, it’s difficult to know where to draw lines.

I’m not trying to justify the telling of other people’s secrets. I’m just saying occasionally conversations start out as news and work themselves into sketchy territory. Or people get overly cautious and omit what is essentially harmless news from conversation.

I suppose this is how news and gossip work everywhere, but I feel like the tension between the two is elevated in this environment. It sucks to hear Michael left a month after the fact, but it also sucks to have everyone on the island up in your business, particularly when we already lead high-profile lives. It’s difficult to walk to the local faleoloa without being questioned about you’re going by two or three Samoans.

So life is a tough balance of being under-informed or knowing too much, of managing your own flow of information.

I hope you’re keeping you’re holding your cards close. Pictures below.

Music at the Zodiac last night.

One of my neighbors brought me to'ona'i this morning; that is, traditional Sunday brunch. Soup in the bowl, taro and palusami on the plate. Palusami is coconut cream wrapped in a taro leaf.

The sky above my drying laundry. Sorry... I've just been really impressed with the sky lately.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I'll Walk

Koa and I just walked home from Italiano Pizza through pouring rain, and I had to acknowledge it was the second time today I had every reason to take a taxi except for the fact that I am proud and cheap. Living in Apia, everything is a walk and taking a taxi is a luxury saved for extreme circumstances. It’s difficult to know what constitutes extreme circumstances though. But as I type this blog, Koa and I are sitting around in our boxers while our clothes drip dry in my bathroom, and I think probably the circumstances of our walk home was extreme enough.

The day actually began with a taxi ride. Max from group 79, the computer teachers’ go-to guy for hardware and software expertise, was helping Blakey with her computer lab today, and I wanted him to look at my sick server. So I packed up the server and rode up the mountain to Blakey’s.

Packing up the server, I gave brief pause to the fact Blakey might not have a keyboard with a USB jack. I called her, but she didn’t answer. Ehhh, thought I foolishly, I’m sure she has a USB keyboard. When I arrived at Blakey’s lab, it was the first question I asked. Blakey was skeptical. And after a thorough search of the lab, it became clear I was going to have to go back down the mountain.

I was able to catch a bus with a route that luckily went right by my school. Blakey’s school is about a quarter mile back from the road, so it was already a hike to get to the road, but the bus pulled up just as I got out there. Score!

I ran into my house, grabbed the things I needed, and I was back out on the road in less than 5 minutes. This time it took a bus much longer to show, and when I gestured for it to stop and pick me up, it turned out to be the wrong bus. It took me about 3 blocks in the right direction, and as it made a turn that I didn’t want, I pulled the cord and got off.

From there I decided to walk. It’s difficult to convey the length of this journey. On one hand, it’s short enough that it was only a 40 minute walk. On the other hand, it is a sweltering, humid heat and a relatively steep grade. It’s not a walk that anyone, palagi or Samoan makes regularly, and telling people this evening that I walked there, people looked at me like screws were coming loose.

It wasn’t all that grueling, but it was the kind of deal where when I tried to dry my sweaty hands, I couldn’t because there was no part of my body or clothes that wasn’t also drenched with sweat. Also, I had no water. Also, there’s no sidewalk. Like I said, I was proud and cheap. I might also add that, in a muni-esque turn of events, the bus showed up just as I arrived at Blakey’s school. I did beat it by about 30 seconds.

This evening’s circumstances were different. Tonight is Briony’s birthday celebration and was also the computer teacher textbook meeting. I figured the meeting would flow into dinner, but it didn’t. The meeting, which happened over dinner, left those of us intending to celebrate the birthday with two hours to kill. So we walked home when the rain showed signs of slowing.

But rain here ebbs and flows without sympathy for umbrella-less pedestrians. And as quickly as the rain had slowed, it picked up again. And here we are, sitting around in our undies waiting for Briony’s birthday party to start.

I hope you’re calling a cab. Pictures below.

Blakey playing hostess.

Blakey's computer lab.

My feet after the walk up the mountain. They looked like the feet of a sandaled chimneysweep.

Silhouettes of Koa and Sara at dinner.

The other offputting part of the day was the power went out in Apia. Power was out for all of our dinner (Italiano uses a gas oven). This picture looks better bigger, I think.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Intro to Music

When brain-storming topics for Cultural Explorations, I’ve considered doing a music post several times, but the topic seems so dangerously broad it would be impossible to capture the music of a nation and a culture and a popular culture in one post. Music is everpresent here, whether students are singing at an assembly, godawful crap is blaring on a bus ride, or Vaiolo is playing music from her cell phone during class (which I’ve politely asked her not to do).

I’ve been listening to the radio for the last two hours, and it’s mostly been pop, but I swear, just moments ago, the Lord’s Prayer (the Protestant version) just came on with a fully synthesized instrumentation and one of those percussion tracks that my dad hates so much. Oh! And it just medleyed (medlied?) into Auld Lang Syne! The next song, not kidding or embellishing, is Jimi Hendrix.

This is indicative of the broad variation that happens on the radio here. It’s almost as though American pop culture came on so fast that Samoa hasn’t figured out what to do with it. It’s like a much more wholesome version of the American culture wars (Willie Nelson just came on.).

Part of the problem also comes from the fact that English is mostly a second language here, which makes it more difficult to differentiate between musical genres. Growing up in California, I heard quite a bit of music from Mexico growing up, and though I discern broad music styles from one another, music on my Spanish radio show would be all over the place. In fact, all of the Spanish music I have on my iPod is thrown into the same “Español” genre. So I guess I won’t be the first to cast a stone.

Part of the problem is also that I’m listening to the less popular Star 96.1. While music on the über-popular Magik 98.1 is distasteful by comparison, it is got a more steady consistency. That consistency involves a bizarre mix of ABBA and hip-hop and strange covers of popular American music with heavy, heavy synthesized backbeats.

One of my students wanted me to copy some files on to her flash drive, and I was able to copy a folder of music she had on there. I think the folder is a relatively accurate cross-section of popular music here. Among other things, it includes:
  • Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” remixed to the point that it is only recognizable through the words and melody. The voice has been sped up so he sounds like the 4th chipmunk. There are zooming noises, fake clapping, and man yelling “Ha!” over and over in the background (Incidentally, the real radio release of “I’m Yours” is also popular);
  • ”Get it Girl” by Keri Hilson (Do people know who this is?);
  • A Samoan hip-hop song called “Mou Malie ae Manatua Lelei” that has spoken word and a hook. It’s passable, I suppose. I think the title means something like “It’s Fine If You Go, but Remember the Good”.
  • A track by Samoan artist Vaniah. He’s like a Samoan Aaron Neville singing in the style of Jack Johnson. His stuff is good and catchy;
  • 16 other tracks of remixed hip-hop and R&B. R&B is referred to here as “slow jams”; and
  • ”Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White Tees.
Really, it’s difficult to convey all this without including links to samples. I regret this, and I’ll work on it and see what I can do.

In the meantime, Star 96.1 is playing a weird sound-alike cover of Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World,” which was originally recorded by Tears for Fears. And that’s the thing that really bugs me about these strange covers; Gary Jules’ cover was so vastly different from the Tears for Fears original that it’s almost like a completely new song. But doing a very close cover of his cover seems wrong. Make it your own.

Anyway, I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Note: The picture above is the silkscreen print on the side of a tote bag one of the teachers here uses on a regular basis. I like it because of the Diet Coke logos and the name "Patty" and it says "Patron Saint of Shopping".

More Culture Day practice. I like this one too.

The sky here is dramatic.

Culture Day practice drumline.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Odds and Ends Thursday 10

With Term 1 finals next week, this week has been mostly easy with nothing to do in class but review for the upcoming test. During my prep period today, I laid on the couch and turned on iTunes and thought about how if it wasn’t for this text book, I would have absolutely nothing to do. This textbook stuff has been looming all week. I’m about a third of the way done, even though I’ve had an entire month to work on the thing. Additionally, I wrote a holier-than-thou email about how my stuff would be ready by Saturday. So now that pressure’s really on. Here are some other thoughts from the week:
  • The IT place says that they can’t fix my server and that I need to load Windows Server 2003 again. They also said that the server is not under warranty and that we’re going to be charged for their services. My only qualm is… What services have they provided? Nothing was fixed.
  • I finally finished my tuna steaks I bought at the fish market 3 months ago. I only got 8 steaks back then, so I guess I just don’t eat tuna steak all that often. Anyway, the tuna was fantastic, but to get more of it, I have to wake up at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday, which sounds like a drag (and was probably the big deterrent for finishing the steaks).
  • I hate the roosters around here. But the other day I saw one running from my house with a huge centipede in its beak. Good job, I thought. Still not sure they’re worth all that damn crowing though.
  • ”Revolutionary Road” was much better than “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” I know David Fincher has a huge following, but I think he may be the most overrated film industry hack of our generation.
  • Wait no. Jerry Bruckheimer’s first. Then David Fincher.
  • We haven’t been getting muffins this week. Instead it’s been kekepua’a and cream pies, which are both staples here in Samoa. Kekepua’a would be called a pork bun back in The States. Sometimes the meat content is questionable. The teacher I was sitting next to told me she likes it best when they only have vegetables inside. Sounds good. The cream pies are somewhat similar to Home Run pies, except they’re more fresh, and the flavor is ambiguous. I’ve heard the flavor described as pineapple, as coconut, and as lemon, but I can assure you it’s none of those. I have no pictures of either of these. Sorry.
  • Today’s pictures below are really good. I often feel like I am hard-up for good pictures (see yesterday’s post), and then a day like today comes along, and I come across 3 or 4 gems. Frustrating.
  • It’s noticeably cooler than it was 3 months ago. I still sleep with the fan on, but mostly to keep the bugs away.
  • I was getting off the bus on Friday when I arrived in the village, and I felt something kinda sharp under my foot as I was walking down the aisle of the bus. The light was dim, but I figured out that it was a chainsaw. Just sitting there, lying across the floor of the bus. Okay.
  • My year 13s have the computer studies final next Friday morning. The last Friday morning of testing? I feel like I should bring in donuts or something. Maybe I will.
  • It’s weird how much Maengi’s absence is felt in my house. It’s not like we were best buddies or anything; in fact, we didn’t even talk much at all. But it used to feel good having another foreigner on the other side of the wall. And it’s fun to play my music as loud as I want, and to not have to worry about it when “Weeds” gets a little racy (I used to have to turn the sound on “The Wire” way down). But it was nice having a neighbor. Oh well. She’s supposed to be back in June.
I hope you’re turning your music up loud. Pictures below.

New sign on campus. Fa'amolemole alu lemu, please go slow. The speed limit is given in miles per hour. Interesting.

Boys practicing for culture day. I like this picture a lot.

Every day when the flag is being raised or lowered, a whistle is blown and everyone outside freezes in place. Like an episode of "Out of this World". Today it was funny cause they blew the whistle and everyone froze, and then they realized the flag was tangled. So a kid climbed the flagpole in the same technique that kids use to climb coconut trees. It was awesome.

I took a walk along the seawall today. This was there.

As computer teachers, we talk about the ins and outs of Microsoft Word often. I drew this on the 11.1 blackboard from memory. Perhaps it's not that special, but it still looks funny in chalk.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Nerd Alert

I heard a commentary on NPR once about how there’s no reason to delete email anymore, and when we die, our children and our children’s children will always be able to read our email and how strange that is when compared to history. For me, it’s my MyDocuments folder. I have stuff in there going back to freshman year of high school. Going through it is embarrassing and nostalgic and pack-rat-ish all at the same time. You never know when some of this stuff might come in handy though.

Early on in training, Dylan told us, “It’s too bad we couldn’t contact you guys before you left The States, because it would have been great if you guys could have brought some real life computer files—like from college or past jobs. They’d be great to use as examples.” Not to worry, I thought. I’ve got 12+ years of crap on my hard drive.

I had forgotten about this conversation until this afternoon when I sat down to insert some visual aids into the portion of the Computer Studies text book, which I volunteered to help write along with a committee of other volunteers.

I was working on the introduction to the Spreadsheet unit, and I was trying to brainstorm as many uses for Excel as I could, so I looked through my MyDocuments folder to see what I could find. And then I took a screenshot of the class schedule for the 12.4 class, because it seemed to take up space nicely.

It was an easy enough way to incorporate actual Excel stuff. And then I realized I had a plethora of material hiding in that folder. None of it is all that spectacular—we are talking about Excel files, so it’s not that exciting by any means—but like I said before, there’s nostalgia there. And it is kind of funny to put it in a textbook.

For example, during one span of my life at CNET, my cubicle-mate set up a dart board and organized a darts tournament. He was the social part of the organization, recruiting players, making sure games were being played, buying beers late in the afternoon on Fridays. I was more into administrative aspect, keeping score, updating tournament standings, keeping statistics. At one point, I convinced everyone that, since there was no round robin aspect to the tournament, we should devise a “Power Ranking” to determine rank within the tournament. Ridiculous and nerdy, yes. Even nerdier is I kept everything saved in an Excel spreadsheet. But what great fodder for Computer Studies students of Samoa! Hell, I could spend a whole week teaching my kids about the Power Ranking.

I also have a bunch sample internet advertising files I have from some CNET trainings. I can't promise it's interesting at all, but it shows a data trend, and then we can get into the nitty gritty...

See, the wonderful thing about internet advertising is there’s so much data you can get, you can micromanage the hell out of it. At CNET, I had one client who ran obsessive test after obsessive test, pitting two different ads against each other. This one with the blue font, this one with the red font. This one has the word “alike,” this one has the word “similar.” It’s bland as hell, but oh, the things you can show on a chart.

So I’ll throw it in. And maybe between lessons on spreadsheets, I can teach them the ins and outs of ad sales. How fun would that be?

I hope you’re finding hidden gems in your attic. Pictures below.

* Power Rating = ((Wins / Games Played) x 100) + ((Total Points / Games Played) / (Score of Player with greatest point per games played average) x 100)

This was from another job I had since college. No formulas, but still good as an example.

For those of you not familiar with internet advertising. This graph shows a monster click-thru rate.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Other Bastard Machine

After I started working at eCivis, I would come home and want nothing to do with the brand new laptop I purchased just after I was hired there. The thought of any more time with a snarky little machine was torturous. Was it the unwavering blank unenchanting glow? Or maybe the machine’s inability to understand the simple things I want it to do grew to be too much by the end of a long day. Or maybe working at eCivis sucked and using a computer didn’t mesh with my escapist mentality at the time.

In any case, computers can be stupid machines that cause more problems than they solve, and days like today, it seems foolish to introduce them to the developing world. This became very clear when I showed up at Culture Day practice smoldering from a stressful day of computer mishaps while the rest of the students and staff there were jovial and excited to be singing and dancing. I feel like pushing the computers off the school’s second floor balcony might be a better way to serve the community here.

Some of the problems were out of my control. My server has been down since last Tuesday due to some hardware issues. When I turned it on, the green light would show up, but a high-pitched sustained beep would come from the back and nothing would show up on the monitor. I don’t know how to fix that.

My first few experiences with IT in Samoa were surprisingly good. One of the computers in the lab had a loose video component on the motherboard. I admit, this was probably a simple hardware issue that took only a few seconds to fix once the tower’s shell was removed. But once again, outside my area of expertise, and it was nice that someone could fix the problem quickly.

So when they came to pick up the server after school on Friday, I had high hopes. They even called yesterday to get the password for the server since they got the machine to start. Cool. Done and done. Teaching’s been a bitch without the server, so I was giddy when they brought it back today; ready to kill the fatted calf. I turned it on and when to type in the password and the keyboard didn’t work. And then mouse didn’t work. In fact, no keyboard or mouse worked. The USB inputs weren’t functioning.

I called the IT place. “The USB ports aren’t working on the computer you just brought back.”

I’ve met the guy I’m talking to before. He sounds like my friend Andreas from college. He’s Hungarian. I’m not clear on how he ended up in Samoa. He replies, “Oh. We weren’t having that problem.”

“Okay,” I say, not sure how else to respond.

“Okay, thanks.” He hangs up.

I guess some IT experiences are better than others.

I spent the rest of the day trying to resolve that issue.

And then… One of the unexpected perks of teaching computer studies here is I also get to be professional typist for the staff. How fun.

I spent 9.5 hours typing up math exams last week, and while I have heard a few thanks, I have heard far more complaints about little problems: typos here, a missing number there. I admit, it is a math test, and it’s important to be precise, but part of me still wants to tell them that if they aren’t happy with it, maybe they should have done it themselves.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Microsoft Word is just a jerk sometimes. I copied the answer sheet I made for one of my tests into the Word file for another teacher’s test, and it keeps putting a couple answers at the top of column 2 rather than at the bottom of column 1. It’s not an issue of margins or font size. It’s just MS Word being evil.*

It was a lousy day computer-wise. And since I watch all my TV and listen to all my music and podcasts via my laptop, there’s no escaping the bastard machine tonight either. Oh well.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

* = The problem turned out to be that MS Word automatically evens out columns when they don’t take up the whole page. So I was able to fix the problem by simply throwing in some carriage returns at the end of column 2. It took quite a while to figure that out though. It was stupid.

My computer lab and the guy who looks and sounds like Andreas.

My school got trash cans! So exciting! It's very rare to see public trash cans in Samoa.

We saw this needlenose fish swimming in Apia Harbour last Monday.

The most popular pizza place in town is now serving pizza on the same plates I eat on at my house. This means that a.) the people who own the pizza place shop at Nia Mall and b.) it's less of a treat to go to the pizza place because it feels like I'm eating at home. There's that lingering feeling that I might have to do dishes later.

Monday, April 20, 2009


My server is in the shop still, so to distribute the practice CAT on the students’ computers, I had to walk from machine to machine with a memory stick, copying the file to each individually. While I was doing that, I said to my year 12s, “I’m not sure how many classes we’ll have between now and the CAT on May 8, so we may need to have classes afterschool or on Saturdays.” Having class outside the regular time isn’t unheard of, but I still was surprised with the student response. “Saturday!” They called.

I was still contemplating their reaction afterschool when I was with the boys from the Savai’I house who were practicing for Culture Day, which is coming up on May 6. And there was my answer. The kids preferred having class on Saturday to missing Culture Day practice.

The upcoming CAT focuses on Microsoft Word. I admit I hadn’t even looked at a sample of a past CAT until this afternoon when the students opened the file I had distributed. The directions ask students to type out a couple paragraphs of text and then format specific parts accordingly. Among other tasks, they have to bold words, right-align parts, and insert a table into the document.

This wouldn’t be so hard if we’d had time to practice this stuff, but with nearly a week off for Easter and interrupting the Microsoft Word unit to practice for the last CAT, there’s been little time for practice. On the other hand, this is exactly the problem-based teaching that I was trying to do a couple weeks back that never really took off.

So I think if we have the next 2.5 weeks to practice, I should be able to get them in shape before the big test on May 8— if I can find time between Culture Day rehearsals.

During spring break my freshman year of college, I went to paint houses on the Navajo reservation in southeast Utah. A bunch of us headed to a Navajo elementary school during some down time to setup a pen-pal program with a Los Angeles elementary school. But we got there in the middle of Navajo time; that is, the part of the school day when the kids did cultural activities. And the teacher told us, “I’d be quick if I were you. They love Navajo time, and you’re cutting into it.”

Growing up in the cultural melting pot of the East Bay, we had lots and lots of cultural assemblies, but when it comes to celebrating a single, unifying cultural background, I have nothing in my experience to compare to. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. I like being the product of a muddled place where we clung to the mantra that “Diversity is our strength, unity it our goal.” It’s hard to think of other places in the world that offer the breadth of cultural literacy that came with growing up in Union City. Or in the United States in general, for that matter.

But I have no frame of reference for cultural pride. I don’t mean to say that I’m not proud of where I come from. But still, being of Portuguese/Irish ancestry, I can’t get nearly as excited as my students here when it comes to attending a Festa, and I can’t stand Celtic dancing. But the kids here cannot get enough of preparing for Culture day. They love it, and they take it very seriously. Seriously enough they’d rather come in on a Saturday than miss practice on a weekday afternoon.

It’s impressive.

I hope you’re avoiding Celtic dancing. Pictures below.

One of my students, Pene (short for Penetekoso) in the wife-beater. He's kind of the equivalent of 2nd chair percussion. The kid in the white shirt is 3rd chair.

Rehearsal happens all over the place, so it's not all that important who you're standing next to. Or whether or not lines are straight.

E vevela le la. The sun is hot. Everyone crowded into the shade during a break in rehearsal.