Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Never was I a big enough Foodie I could pay for extravagant meals on a very regular basis. Nonetheless, I would, on occasion in my past American life, make it out to classy sometimes pricey places for dinner. From what I can tell living in Samoa, most of the locals don't care much for food prepared by someone else; that is, most people prefer not to eat out. Most of the other patrons at the pizza joints and other restaurants in town tend to be other palagis. In Samoa it just doesn't make sense to spend a lot on a gourmet meal.

Which is why it was such a treat to attend the Rotary Handover at Visions, the hospitality learning center at the National University of Samoa. The meal, which comes with a complimentary 'mocktail', costs WST$40, and was worth every penny. Here are more photos from last night's dinner...

For my first course, I ordered the scallops as seen on the end of the fork at left. Rapi, who sat at my table, ordered the Tuna 3 Ways, one way of which was in a "Wasabi Shooter".

My second course was the breaded pork and souffle with orange and black pepper.

For dessert I opted for the cheese, lavash, and fruit. There was brie, bleu, and cheddar. Blakey and I calculated there was probably WST$50 worth of cheese on the plate.

A bunch of the Rotaract kids attended.

Rapi didn't want the wasabi shooter. So I ate(?) it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lost in Translation

I’ve heard that, to a certain extent, alcohol consumption can increase language comprehension. It makes sense. Much like playing a musical instrument or playing sports or accomplishing most other feats, removing the analytical mind and letting intuition take over can often lead to a smoother performance. Playing piano at church, I would sometimes look down at my hands and try to hone in on just how the mechanics of the movement worked, how exactly my brain was telling my hands what to do. And it was precisely those times I’d screw up. Think too narrowly about anything, and the big picture is lost.

Phil, Koa, and I attended a Head-of-Department meeting for the Congregational school system today. The meeting, held primarily in Samoan, was held to review and analyze the midyear exams students took at the end of April. The Education Director handed out packets of statistics broken out school by school, subject by subject. The same exam for each subject was given to every year 9, 10, and 11 student in the school system, which means, theoretically, all of the year 9 scores can be compared to one another to make broad extrapolations. High scores tend to mean a school or specific teacher has done something right; poor score show areas that need improvement.

As one can expect, the teachers present at the meeting had quite a bit to say about this. Some noted discrepancies in the way curriculum is taught. Others noted that students with poor English skills often do poorly on tests in other subjects because the test is offered in English.

And then Vaifale stood up.

Vaifale teaches at my school and lives a couple doors down from me. He’s an older gentleman and a really nice guy. He starts out with the usual, “Fa’afetai mo le avenoa...”, Thank you for the opportunity, and then launches into his perspective on the whole comparing grades thing.

All of his comments are made in Samoan, and they essentially amount to the following: Each school uses its own marker to judge student success, and since we’re all using different markers, it doesn’t make sense to compare one school to another.

2 things I should note: First, while I did all of the translating above myself, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you his exact words. As I said above, the less I think about the literal Samoan, the easier it is to translate the big picture. Second, Vaifale would switch to English whenever he used the term “marker”.

So what I heard was, “Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan marker Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan marker Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan.”

When he finishes, I come up with the translation above, and I’m a little baffled. But Phil turns to me and says, “That’s a good point.” Huh?!

As usual, I resign myself to the fact Phil’s Samoan is way better than mine, and I wait for him to explain. So Phil says, “Since we all have different people subjectively marking the exams at each school, it doesn’t make sense to compare from one school to another.”

I nod.

It takes my brain a minute to retrace its steps. How had I understood nearly everything that Phil had said, and yet still been baffled? Where did I err?

And then I realized the word that had thrown me off: marker.

Here I was thinking Vaifale was talking about different markers, i.e. arbitrary levels or indicators, each school was using to grade tests. Maybe some schools set 50 as the marker for above average or below average, or something like that. I don’t know. Like I said, I was baffled.

But it turned out he was using the term “marker” to mean “someone who marks the answers right or wrong.”

So it’s just funny because normally Phil has to translate the Samoan for me. But today he had to translate the English.

I hope you’re well. Picture below.

This water was on the floor next to the door in our meeting hall. The assumption is it was sent over in response to the tsunami. Cool because it's from Richmond. Strange because it's apparently from a Methodist, but it's being stored at the Congregationalist's. Also strange that it has yet to be used.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Samoa Shrugged

During the last World Cup I was teaching summer school in Oakland, and the many of the games conflicted with my teaching schedule. So I recorded them on the DVR, much to my roommates’ annoyance. 6 hours of soccer every day takes up a lot of memory; add that to my other two staples, Jeopardy! and The Daily Show, and I was suddenly a memory hog. Was it my fault for being into the World Cup, or were my roommates out of touch with the world?

From what I’ve seen, Samoa would side with the roommates. Samoa does not have World Cup fever.

First I need to draw a line here. I have Samoan friends who are very excited about the World Cup. One was all too tickled when it almost looked like New Zealand was going to make it out of group play into the bracket. Another posted a Facebook comment admitting she had a tough time following the competition because she’s been too busy ogling the players (It was a bluff. She was the one who broke the news about New Zealand not making it.). Clearly there is a sub-culture of young urbanites who are emotionally invested in the World Cup. But it seems like the rest of the country’s interest is fleeting. Sounds like America, doesn’t it?

I admit, my host family’s TV was part of the allure of visiting the village this past weekend. TV1 has agreed to show all 64 matches, which seems like a lot until you consider matches air at 12:30, 3:00, or 7:30 a.m.—not exactly prime time. When I asked my family the night before if we could watch US/Ghana, they seemed baffled as to why such a match would be shown on Samoan TV, but they agreed to let me watch anyway.

It’s a little strange because living in America, I always felt we were in some soccer bubble; as though everyone else in the world cared, and we just couldn’t find it within ourselves. When I signed up for the Peace Corp I had this romantic notion of finally witnessing the supposed madness that America can’t seem to catch. Yeah, that didn’t happen.

On the other hand, as with other World Cups, I have been impressed with the people who rise to the occasion. I always thought Maengi was cool, but since she’s been consistently going to bed right after dinner in order to wake up for nearly every game, my respect is at a new level. Hell, she keeps a packet of papers next to her couch so she can track the tournament.

The one thing that felt cool about watching TV in the village was the tentative reception pulled in by the makeshift antenna. With the fuzzy picture and the snow coming in and out, often during important moments in the game, I felt both the isolation of south-island Samoa as well as the global connectedness that every World Cup spectator feels.

Go Portugal!

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Male prefects receiving their new shiny ID badges.

More ID photos this morning. This was clearly an outtake. I like this because it looks like the girl on the right has so much contempt for the girl on the left.

I was working on the introductory slideshow for Group 83, and I needed a picture of a male teacher in typical teaching clothes. So I turned the camera on myself. That kid in the background was only too happy to jump into the frame.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Spot

Did last night really happen? When I woke up this morning, everything was just as it should be—the cat was fed, my glasses were next to my pillow, the sky was blue. Last week I had a dream in which a foul-mouthed Steve Gutenberg asked me questions about my Peace Corps experience. That was a dream. But all of the evidence today points to the stirring possibility that what I remember of last night actually took place.

The night began unremarkably: a bunch of us met up at the Peace Corps nightclub du jour, Y-Not, for drinks and conversation. I played poorly in a game of pool, watched some of the replay of the Fiji-Samoa rugby game from yesterday, and commiserated with a few other Americans over the USA’s loss to Ghana in the World Cup. When the waitress came around to announce Last Call, I was sitting at a table with Blakey and her Fijian ex-pat friend, shooting the breeze.

Blakey’s friend, who had not been drinking, has a car, and even though I live walking distance from the club, I graciously accepted a ride home. On the way, we stopped to pick up some kekepua’a at a faleo’oloa, where Blakey ran into yet another of her friends. “Something’s going on at The Spot,” the faleoloa friend said.

I should stop and say that “The Spot” is not the name of the place. Truthfully, I don’t know the name of the place. I’d never been there before, and I’d have no idea how to get there again. The fact that I don’t know the name only adds to the mystique and illusory feel of last night.

In any case, someone knew where The Spot was, and we went.

Ever since the Road Switch, bars and nightclubs in Samoa close at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. But for whatever reason, The Spot opened around 1:00 a.m. As is usually the case, we were one of the first groups to arrive. Peace Corps often tend to be the awkward kids that miss the memo about arriving fashionably late.

The Spot is a sprawling house up the mountain. A large wooden patio outback had a breathtaking view of the Apia Harbour, and a baby grand piano sat regally in the entryway. We sat at a table on the patio, chatting and taking in the view.

As people began to arrive, it became clear the guests were a veritable who’s who of Apian young adults. The party had the feel of chic secrecy; like the people in our car stumbled on a surreptitious gathering of Apia’s ruling class. It was somewhere between the Springfield Stonecutters and the secret model party George snuck into on Seinfeld. Among other glitterati, there was the guy from the Digicel commercials ubiquitous on Samoan TV, the attractive bartender from Y-Not, and the guy known as DJ OK.

There was mingling and dancing. I saw a guy playing guitar next to the baby grand, so I sat down and accompanied him on piano for a bit (I was horrible. Really rusty.). Several times he brought out an electric guitar tuner as if to check if he was the one who was hitting the wrong notes. It was a charade to help me save face, and I appreciated it.

The party went on into the night. I think we left around 4:00 a.m.

The whole thing felt fleeting and dreamlike. Even if I knew where the place was and I was to go back this afternoon, I feel like there’d be nothing but a dingy, abandoned house with missing floorboards and dustcovers on the furniture.

And amid all the rubble, there’d be an electric guitar tuner.

I hope you’re well.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Prodigal Host Son

I didn’t receive any inheritance from my host family, so I therefore didn’t squander it, also there was no slaughter of a fatted calf; but there was an air of guilt in my return to the host village last night because I hadn’t been back in 3 months. I guess I could attribute it to the string of visitors I had mid-April thru late May, but that would be making excuses. After living in Apia for a year and a half, my life is a lot busier than it was at first, and there are a lot more weekly commitments. But whatever. I was welcomed with open arms.

The adults in my host family smiled when I showed up, but Keleme, the baby, started yelling when I still pretty far from the house. “Mati! Mati!” She wore only a pair of tattered shorts and her hair, which is finally beginning to grow out, was all over the place. It was as good a welcoming party as one could hope for.

Much of my host mother’s children (i.e. my host siblings?) have moved to New Zealand or American Samoa, but right now one of the sons, Solofa, is back in the nu’u. I said hello, and then sat down at the kitchen table where Asolima offered me whatever leftover breadfruit and some fried fish that was sitting under the fly-cover.

Akanese, whose excitement was muted at first, quickly found her old giddy self, and suggested we go on a walk around the village.

I feel like my IMDB celebrity rating in Fausaga has dropped a few percentage points. People shake my hand and greet me cordially when I run into them along the road—many of whom I don’t recognize at all—but no longer do I feel like a curiosity. No one shouts at me from far off in the distance, no one really stops what they’re doing.

Though dinner was nothing special—we ate the leftover fried fish I’d declined earlier—there was a brief moment of red carpet when I tried to pour my own cup of tea. I was admonished by every adult in the room. “If you want tea, you tell Cousin Fialupe to bring it to you,” Asolima scolded me. Thankfully, when I slipped away from the table to fill my cup a third time, everyone let it pass.

Bingo is a primarily female activity, but no one raises an eyebrow when I show up anymore. Asolima let me play my own card, although she took over for me when I carried a sleeping Akanese home and then later when I did the same with Keleme.

I returned in time to tie for 3rd place in the jackpot round! My prize, which I donated back to my family since they had sponsored my bingo card, was $0.60. I think the jackpot round is so-called because of the large first place prize. Third place is menial; even more so when there’s a tie.

In the end, the best part of the visit was how un-spectacular it was. Nothing feels more welcoming than not having the red carpet rolled out. No one put on a show. It was all the hospitality with none of the fanfare. How nice.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.


This was a strange moment. Out of nowhere Akanese tosses a bunch of boxes of medicine at me. She then asks me to pop open one of the pills for her. Yeah, yeah. In America 6-year-olds are given medicine and everything else is kept out of their reach. Blah blah blah. She clearly knew the drill with the pills so I gave her one. Then she asked me for help with filling a spoon with a syrup of some kind. Yeah, sure. Whatever.

Akanese and I watched USA lose to Ghana in the World Cup this morning.

That's big baby Filipo (named for Phil 81) on the left and the baby's cousin (Apologies for not knowing her name) on the right.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Badges?! We Don't Need No...

I lost my ID so many times growing up. I loved getting a new ID at the beginning of the year, and I’d stick it in my pocket and carry it around for no particular reason, and then it would be gone. In high school our high school had to be visible on our person so it was a bigger problem then, but in middle school I think it was so easy to lose my ID because it never had much use. What was the point? I was reminded of those halcyon days while making IDs this morning.

I’m pretty sure my pule woke up in the middle of the night, sat straight up, and epiphanically screamed, “IDs!” As I mentioned in Odds and Ends yesterday, he was giddy as he guided me through his big presentation of this ID card business. “They can use it to check out library books! They can use it like a passport!” I don’t know what he meant by that second part—or the first part for that matter—but he was clearly excited about the idea, and I don’t want to rain on that parade.

So I took ID photos of the prefects after school yesterday. I positioned the chairs at a ~15° angle and had them turn their head to face the camera as I’ve been taught to do.

When I was a manager for Union City Leisure Services, I was the ID photographer, and on occasion someone would slide into the chair and mug for the camera. They’d try to be all stone-faced and hard, and I’d chuckle a little and say, “That is the lamest mug I’ve ever seen,” and if my timing was right I could get the person to laugh at me making fun and during that laugh I’d snap the picture. I was a natural.

But yesterday I was flustered and in a rush, and I let the muggers mug. In fact, I was pretty skeptical of the pictures I took yesterday, but for the most part I was able to take care of everything in post-production. With some strategic cropping and some manipulation of contrast and hue, I was happy with the photos.

I slapped the school crest on there, and my pule had asked for Date of Birth (says Maengi, “I don’t want to walk around with my date of birth for everyone to see!”.

We printed the first sheet of badges in my pule’s office this morning. I’d designed them so they’d print to exactly the right size, but I didn’t tell my pule this. It made for a slick moment when I slid it into the badge holder and it fit exactly. “Awww! Seki a!” he cried.

His satisfaction can hardly be overstated. As far as job execution goes, I think the final product I put out was pretty darn close to his vision. And it always feels good to have an idea come to tangible fruition.

We laminated the cards. I assumed I’d be doing this with the school secretary, but instead my pule followed me to the school library, where he rolled up his sleeves and went to work with the laminator.

I’ve definitely had that moment of stationery euphoria at Kinko’s. I know the feeling.

I hope you’re well. Picture below.

Our school librarian and pule put together laminating sheets.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Odds and Ends Thursday 57

June’s been expensive. May was expensive, but I had expected that; whenever school’s out money seems to burn through my pockets a lot faster. In fact I think part of June’s problem is we were paid before the end of May, and May borrowed from the future. My financial situation is sound, but the accountant in me is scratching his head and putting his foot down—at least until we get paid on Monday, after which we can start borrowing from the future. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • I can’t log into my LSAC account. LSAC is essentially the law school admissions website, and my password hasn’t been working. When I enter my information in the “Forgot your password?” section, it claims to send me an email, but 2 weeks after the fact, no email. I’m going to try and call them in the morning.
  • My plan was to wake up at 3 a.m. Wednesday to watch the USA / Algeria game at Maengi’s. I woke up at 4:16. I could have caught the end of it, but at that point it was a lost cause. I might head over later tonight to watch Brazil / Portugal. I can handle a 12:30 a.m. kick-off.
  • We have Parent’s Day at my school tomorrow. Last year Parent’s Day consisted of me lying around my house doing nothing. I’m crossing my fingers that happens again tomorrow.
  • My pule called me into his office today to ask me to make ID cards for the student prefects. His presentation was quite the show. He made a big deal of taking out his wallet and showing me a ID card and talking about all the things ID cards are good for, and then he slides a shoebox across his desk. Inside are a whole lot of clear plastic name-card holders. So I’m essentially making ID badges. “Make sure it has their date of birth,” he told me. Sure thing.
  • I’ve been assigned to be a recorder at next Friday’s inter-church athletics meet. Last year I brought my laptop and had all kinds of issues with battery life. This year the laptop stays home.
  • The lamb-flavored cat food at Lucky Foodtown has been marked down, so Scouts been getting a lot of that lately. For whatever reason, it seems to make her pee a lot more. And she’s been going everywhere. It’s great. I know you wanted to know.
  • The new panelist on “Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me”, Peter Gross, was hilarious in his debut. The guy’s a natural.
  • I broke down and bought Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” on iTunes. If you can, try listening to the first 5 seconds of the song and then compare it to The Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes” and tell me there’s not a little bit of borrowing going on there.
  • I sat next to Suasami at Interval today, and she asked what I will do when I return to America. I mentioned law school, and she tsked saying I should become an engineer instead. “All lawyers do is tell lies.”
That’s all I got for this week. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Boy standing in front of controlled fire next to my house as I leave for dinner. House was still standing when I got home. Score.

I had the kids take ID pictures 2 at a time this afternoon.

We got a plate full of pastries at Interval today. See the maple frosting on the cinnamon roll? Yeah, that's peanut butter.

Peace Corps Safety and Security Officer Fono.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


When I trained to be a Resident Advisor at USC, they used to say the program was full of 2 kinds of people: the people that were inspired by terrific RAs and the people who were disgusted by terrible RAs. I fell into the latter group. After the fact, I got to be good friends with my freshman year RA, but during my freshman year, the guy was never around. I was reminded of this inspired-by-the-uninspiring today when I brought out The Periodic Table of Elements in my year 9 science class today.

My high school chemistry teacher was lousy. At a very basic level, he was not a good teacher. His idea of providing a lesson was to hand out large packeted worksheets that we’d work on in small groups with little-to-no prior instruction. He probably would have described the method as Socratic and “problem-based”, but came across as apathetic and “lazy”.

But worse than his methods was his attitude. He was, perhaps, the most discouraging teacher I’ve ever had. It wasn’t that he didn’t inspire any passion for chemistry, he made us feel like we weren’t worthy. Sometime later in high school I took one of California’s standardized tests for chemistry, and I did surprisingly well—the only reason it was surprising was because I was under the impression I was terrible at it.

For some reason, I look back on this as a crucial point in my education, and I sometimes wonder how my educational path would be different if I’d had a more inspiring chemistry teacher.

All this floated through my head as I drew an abbreviated Periodic Table on the chalkboard. The year 9 book only requires the students know the first 20 elements on the table, which meant I could cut out all the precious metals in the middle, thus making it easier to write out.

I’ve always had a lot of respect for the classic Periodic Table (Yes, there are new iterations, I know.). It’s a very simple visual representation of lots of different points of data. I like to think this respect came out in my lesson as I read off the first twenty elements.

Also, the first twenty elements have a lot of fun aspects to them. Helium in balloons, chlorine in swimming pools, calcium in milk. There are a few week hangers-on like beryllium and boron (although anyone who’s ever been to the Borax Museum in Boron, California would beg to differ), but really the first 20 carry themselves.

Did I inspire a new generation of chemists today? Probably not. But I like to think that I didn’t discourage the possibility.

I hope you’re well. Picture below.

The rest of my diagram.

Monday, June 21, 2010

No Good Deed...

My free time lately has been wall-to- wall with “The Wire” lately, a show in which blind loyalty toward one’s co-workers, whether they be police or drug dealers, seems to be valued above all else. I think I had a pulse of that mentality running through my head today. That and any time there’s a classroom full of students and things are on certain path, it just seems easier to ride them out rather than to try and turn the boat around.

As with anything, it started out innocently enough. My 5th period year 13 class had ended, and I have a prep period 6th, so I sat at my desk playing Minesweeper while a few of the dawdlers finished up their assignment. I’d shut off the rest of the computers in the lab, and had 2 more minutes passed, I would have been out of there, finished for the day. But then the door opened.

Three girls from the 11.1 class poked their heads in. “Where is Mr. Tulei?” Mr. Tulei is the other computer teacher at my school. He was hired back in February, and though we never really hit it off socially, we have a good working relationship. “Are we having class in the lab?” the girls asked.

I didn’t know the answer to either of their questions. I don’t keep tabs on Mr. Tulei, and I had no idea what his lessons plans for today’s class were. But I had seen him in the lab with the 11.2 class earlier today. They were taking notes on spreadsheets. Adding all this up in my head, I figured it was likely they were indeed having class in the lab. I told the girls as such, and soon 11.1 came flooding in.

I hurried around the room turning all the computers back on; I wouldn’t have turned them off if I’d realized there’d be another class today. I logged them all in and then setup the teacher computer to broadcast the spreadsheet lesson. The kids sat on the floor, squawking and squealing. There was still no sign of Mr. Tulei.

At this point we’re 15 minutes into the period. It seems silly to let the kids sit around and do nothing in my classroom, but it also seems like we’ve come too far for me to send them back to their classroom to wait out the period there. What to do, what to do?

So, feeling that surge of loyalty and covering for my comrade, I taught the lesson.

But of course the kids have 30 different opinions on where they ended last week and where I should pick up. Also they have a terrible time getting themselves focused after 15 minutes of sitting around. Also there aren’t enough chairs. Also there are a ton of new faces, and though I taught this class at the beginning of the year, I remember maybe 10% of their names.

Mr. Tulei never shows up, the lesson is a disaster, I’m annoyed because the kids won’t stop talking, and the kids are annoyed because they don’t have chairs. It’s a mess.

And to think, if I’d just left 2 minutes earlier I would have had a free period.

I hope you’re well. Picture below.

At one point the girl on the right, Ruby, took out a bottle of perfume and sprayed it on herself and the boy and the other girl in the picture. They were bored floor-sitters.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Perspective is a funny thing. Last night someone brought up a scene from an early episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in which a Holocaust survivor and a contestant from the television show “Survivor” argue over who had the more difficult experience. It’s dark and absurd and arguably tasteless, but it provides an extreme example of the way we look at life through the lens of our own experiences. I watched the first 2 episodes of David Simon’s “Treme” this afternoon, and I think Peace Corps life dulled some of the show’s more shocking elements.

The show is set in New Orleans three months after Hurricane Katrina hit, and it follows an array of characters that face, in addition to the normal obstacles of life, the challenges inherent in living in a post-disaster city. I followed the news back in 2005 when Katrina hit, but with characters and a narrative the whole the show lends an intimacy to the disaster.

Many of the show’s images are devastating: a man comes home to find his living room floor caked in mud, a musician who didn’t move his instruments to the second floor before he evacuated, entire communities in darkness. The show doesn’t wallow in all of this, but the horror and the difficulty of life provide a backdrop. I feel like the difficulty of my life here in Samoa, to which I’ve grown accustomed, lowered the shock value.

Early in the first episode a man frets over taking a cold shower because he lost his water heater in The Storm. New Orleans is surely colder than Apia, and I wouldn’t want to trade places with the guy, but I’ve done that cold shower dance lots and lots of times since I moved into my house.

Also, the mud on the living room floor didn’t feel too far off from my life here. I admit my floor isn’t caked in an inch or two of mud, but I do have piles of dirt the ants build along many of my walls. There’s a dead millipede in the corner, lizard feces under the window, and ant piles along the floorboards. And I swept this morning! My house has four walls and a roof, but life here still feels a little like camping.

I don’t want to sound insensitive. Coming to a developing country for a finite amount of time is very different from having your entire life taken away by a natural disaster. The devastation is difficult to stomach, and my heart goes out to the people of New Orleans. I can’t imagine what it feels like to have your hometown, your possessions, your livelihood, your community washed away.

I’m just saying certain aspects of life in the developing world seem similar to those in the re-developing world.

At one point a man walks down the street and drinks from a can. For a moment my mind was transfixed by the obvious faux pas, but then I realized the show is set in New Orleans, not Samoa.

In any case, it’s a really good show. You should watch it.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

I ran into Dana and Matt (both 82s) tonight on my walk home from the grocery store. They are in town to help Erica 80 with a soccer clinic.

Jordan 81.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


It's a busy weekend, and I admit I've spend most of my time at home lay around the living room re-watching "The Wire". So I don't have much in the way of commentary to provide today, but here are some pictures. Enjoy.

Dan, AJ, Jordan, and Casey riding back to Apia after our soccer game last night. We lost 1-0.

There was a big event at the Peace Corps office today where we purged a lot of the old books in the office's resource room.

Erica 80 and Koa sorting shelves.

Dan, Koa, Paul, and I went to see the new Tanoa Hotel on the site of the old Hotel Kitano. They're building this massive fale, which among other things will house the reception area. Interesting fact: they have no blueprint for this thing. The hotel management told them how big they wanted it to be and where they wanted it to go, and then the construction workers just started building.

The new pool area at the new Hotel Tanoa.

Blakey and me Thursday night.

Blakey's brother, Peter.

There's a new cafe, Roma's, in Palagi Alley. Apparently Dan Quayle is in charge of labeling.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Odds and Ends Thursday 56

School is finally starting to feel like school again. This is our first full week back, and though there was still some business with grades earlier in the week, I’ve managed to teach almost all my classes this week. Maybe because there are still guests in town (Blakey’s brother and Jenny 82’s sister), maybe because there was a big shuffling of classes on Monday afternoon, maybe because I’m starting to feel the senioritis kick in; for whatever reason it doesn’t feel like school yet. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • The cat’s been in a terrible mood lately. Also, she can now jump high enough to walk on the kitchen counters. Also, I think we’ve got a flea problem. Has the cat really been in a terrible mood, or am I projecting? Hard to say.
  • I can’t get the Blogger “List Gadget” to post new items to my book list. I finished Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, his (lame) follow-up to The DaVinci Code, on Tuesday. I started Zadie Smith’s White Teeth yesterday. Three paragraphs in I realized I’ve started the book before. Hopefully I’ll finish it this time around.
  • I don’t go by my last name at school. The kids just call me “Matthew” or “Mister”, which is fine with me. It was funny yesterday when one of the new kids in my year 9 class tried to get my attention but didn’t know how to address me. He yelled, “Hey... uhhh... Sir!... ummm... Hey, Matt!” It’s difficult to convey his tone of familiarity, which was hilarious and moderately inappropriate. But it got my attention.
  • I haven’t been back to the host village in a really long time. I feel guilty about this.
  • Hey Max, I found your comment about “Good to hear KK is still in business” was strange. KK is always busy, and they seem like the shrewdest businesspeople on the island. I would peg them as one of the sturdiest businesses in town. Is there something I’m missing? Did you get the sense they’re on the brink?
  • I’ve been craving pepperoni lately—like raw and served on crackers with cheese. And wouldn’t you know it, Farmer Joe had ridiculously cheap pepperoni on sale last Friday, just in time for the World Cup party. It was well-timed.
  • I’ve been requesting Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” a lot lately. Not sure why. I always thought it was pleasant, but never felt passionate about it. But lately I can’t get enough. I’m considering purchasing it on iTunes. That’s passion.
  • I got into a conversation last night with a Kiwi who was trying to teach me how to pronounce “Auckland”. “It’s sounds just like the word ‘awkward’,” he said. Of course, once he heard my pronunciation of “Awkward”, he had to teach me how to pronounce that too. It was, well, awkward.
That’s all I got for this week. I hope you’re well. Pictures from the World Cup party below.

The TV's view.

The breakfast spread.

My view from the couch.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I'm Ready

I’m almost qualified for my job now. The main thrust of my job, teaching computer classes, has always been within the scope of my ability. Sure, I’ve never had a teaching credential, but I’d say I have good teaching instincts and I’ve been capable of that all along. It’s the fixing hardware issues and speaking Samoan and maneuvering staff politics and living without hot water in which I have no background. But at this point I think I’m finally qualified.

At my Peace Corps interview the lady sitting across the table told me that engineers and other highly qualified computer professionals often find teaching computers to complete novices to be below them, which is understandable. It doesn’t make sense for a networking whiz or a systems expert to teach a 14-year-old to use a mouse.

But it would be nice to have a little more expertise in Microsoft Server. Also I came in to this knowing almost nothing about hardware. But I’ve learned plenty about both.

Sometimes I forget what recent experience has taught me, and I slip into a pre-Peace-Corps mindset. For example, one of the Dells in my lab stopped functioning at the end of last term. When you pressed the power button, nothing would show up on the screen, and the system unit would make a high-pitched whining sound. My first instinct was to leave the machine alone and teach with one less computer.

And that’s what I did. But then yesterday—six weeks after the fact—I thought to myself, that’s probably just a RAM issue. The humidity here does funny things to computers, and with RAM all you have to do is take it out and put it right back in, and that fixes the problem. Sure enough, I popped them out and then popped them right back in. Success!

I also realized moments later I could consolidate parts from the machine missing a SATA cable and the other machine that needs a new power supply. Both of those have been out of commission for months. What a waste. I switched the SATA cables (and the hard drives for good measure), and now there’s a working computer at that station. Success again!

I’m not claiming to be an “expert”, but I have learned to deal with very specific issues in my lab, almost to the point I’d be willing to hire me to work here.

I’m not particularly good at living without hot water, and my bucket-laundry leaves something to be desired, but I’m functional. And that’s progress.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Notice anything weird about this picture? That's right. The lights are on. For the most part, there is more than enough ambient sunlight here that we almost never have to use the classroom lights. But today it was so rainy, the cloud cover so thick, we had to turn on the lights. It was crazy.

The kids from the school across the street racing in the rain.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hot Air

For those of you who enjoy This American Life, I highly suggest you check out RadioLab from WNYC. The format is similar to that of This American Life, except with a scientific bent. You can download old shows via their iTunes podcast; they've got entire shows available going all the way back to 2007. A couple of good shows that aired recently include “The Bus Stop” and “Vanishing Words,” both about different aspects of Alzheimer’s. The stories are depressing and fascinating; much like This American Life.

I bring this up because I nearly brought it up back in February when my Vice Pule asked if I’d feel comfortable teaching a science class. As part of my credentials, I nearly submitted my RadioLab podcast subscription, but then I thought the better of it.

On one hand, I feel completely qualified to teach my year 9 science class. Though I didn’t major in science, I did well in the science courses I took in college. In fact, I’ve always done reasonably well in science going back through high school and middle school. And my cursory interest in pop science keeps things fresh. RadioLab is just another installment in a long line that’s included Mr. Wizard, 3-2-1 Contact, MythBusters, and Discover Magazine.

On the other hand, I feel like I could be exposed as a phony any second.

I felt like I came stunningly close today when the text book gave me a question to pose to the class, but didn’t supply an answer, as though it was obvious I should know. The bizarre thing was I had pondered the exact same question less than a week ago.

As I mentioned in Odds and Ends last Thursday, I walked my bike to the Peace Corps office to get fill up the tires. While working the pump, I got to thinking, just why do we fill rubber tires with air? Why not a cushion of pressurized water? Or, for that matter, why do we need cushioned tires at all? Why not ride around on tires of solid rubber? Looking back now, the answers to these questions seem obvious, but at the time I didn’t come to any definite answers.

Fast forward to today when after the lesson about solids, liquids, and gases—we got farther than I had planned—the book asks, “Why do we fill car and bicycle tyres with gas?”

I find moments like this are when my teaching is at its best. It’s happened before when a student asks a good question and I’m immediately forced to re-think the material, wracking my brain for reasoning, pulling a rabbit out of a hat I hadn’t intended to wear. Students recognize when I get into territory I hadn’t intended to tread, and I actually think it brings an air of spontaneity and freshness to a lesson.

I was greeted with silence when I posed the question, and then one kid raised his hand. “It’s easier to recycle air. It’s all around us, and it can be used and reused easily.” Not the answer I was looking for, but shockingly astute. That kid gets an A.

What was the answer I was looking for? I thumbed through today’s lesson again. Of course. Gases are far easier to compress than water. And gases expand to fill a confined space, ensuring constant pressure throughout the entire tire. A tire filled with water would be heavy and, even if you could pressurize the water, if pressure decreased at all, a bike ride would be sloshy and uneven. As I said, this seems quite obvious now, but last Thursday bike tires filled with water seemed whimsical.

And science is always most fun with a little whimsy. For proof, tune into RadioLab.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

We're doing impromptu speeches in my year 10 English class tomorrow. This is a list of possible topics.

There's a guy working in the alcove on the right. If you look closely, you can see there's no floor. Also, he's 3 stories off the ground.

"Curry Pockets" from K.K. Mart, the store next to the Peace Corps office, are a favorite among volunteers. Until today, I'd never had one. They lived up to the hype. They were delicious.