the way to happy

What I really want is to go back to bed. To crawl back under the covers and hide there. Or else wake up and find it’s no longer humid and that there aren’t gnats all over my floor. And that that bright red spot on my face has faded away.

That’s what I want.

But life isn’t about getting what you want. Some people think it’s about what makes you happy, but I’m not sure it’s about that, either. Sure, it’s good to be happy, but at what cost? The long, warm shower I took this morning might well have emptied the reservoirs of malnourished children living in Africa. Maybe it would have been better to have just splashed my face with water and run out the door?

And what is happiness? Is happiness living in comfort and having everything you need? Or is it helping others get what they need? Is it getting or giving? Is it from within, or from without?

Honestly, I think it’s both. The best Christmas present I ever received was the feeling I got from giving gifts away. This life can’t be all about me, or all about happiness. This life is about so much more: it’s about loving others, and learning to love yourself.

sick day

It’s been a challenging last few days, to tell you the truth.

About four months ago, I started having eye pain. I am far-sided—very far-sided—and have worn contacts since I was 12 or 13. Usually, I have no problem with my contacts—I take them out at night and do everything I’m supposed to—but suddenly my eyes were red and glassy. My right eye was worse than my left.

Two months later, I saw a doctor.

He said I had contact-caused micro-wounds on my right eye—both eyes, actually—and told me no contacts for two weeks. He gave me an antibiotic drop for the daytime and a moisturizing ointment to use at night.

I did as I was told. And I got better.

Or so I thought.

Two weeks ago, the pain began again. This time it was worse than ever. I stopped wearing my contacts and increased the moisture to my eyes. To no effect. Over the weekend, I talked to an ophthalmologist friend from home, and, following his advice, left work early on Monday to go back to the doctor. Bad news. I had another, bigger wound on my right eye, this time right in the center. If it made it all the way through the epithelium or scarred, I could suffer vision loss—for life.

I was scared. But I was more scared because, even after receiving medication, my eye didn’t seem to be getting any better. With every blink, shooting pain seared across my eye, and it was worse at night, when my eye lacked the oxygen it needed to heal. I talked to my ophthalmologist friend again, and he, too, was worried. The treatment I was receiving here was not the same as would have been prescribed at home.

Nothing here is the same as it is at home.

I saw the doctor again yesterday, and I will see him again tomorrow. And, even though it is impossible to take time off here (we have no subs), I took today off. Part of my treatment now is a goopy, gooey, blurry ointment that feels like cement and looks like snot; I am supposed to apply this every few hours. A lot of fun that’s going to be tomorrow when I have to go back to work. (I work with 9- to 13-year-olds.)

But what can I do?

What else can I really do?

if i were a tree . . .

Recently, I discovered journaling with my students. I want to encourage my students to think outside the box (gasp!) and get more comfortable expressing themselves in English. In addition, journaling gives me a chance to breathe and maybe even catch up on some grading.

The other day we started our entries with “If I were a tree . . .” and “I wish trees could . . .” Check out what Jin, my Korean student, wrote:

If I were a tree, I would grow different kinds of fruit so people don’t have to go to tree to tree. I would grow watermelons and Iwould drop it on my enemy’s head. I could also give oxygen so people can breathe fresh air.* I wish trees could grow potato chips [that] fall in your mouth. And grow money. Nobody would ever be poor! I wish trees could be time machines so that I can go to the future or the past. I also wish trees could have arms so it could do my homework.

*We learned about photosynthesis in Science earlier this year.

Or how about this one about cell phones, also by J-:

What would happen if no one had a cell phone? What if you wanted to know your friend’s birthday? What if you and your friend is 5 miles apart! You walk 5 miles just to say, “When is your birthday?” You walk 5 miles for just a little thing. [Or what if] you get lost. How can you call your mom and dad? That would happen if no one had a cell phone.

Pretty cute, huh?

on discipline

A note about “beating your children” in Asia: As with any culture, the discipline of children (or lack thereof) often takes different forms depending on social status. While it is true that some parents beat their children for even minor offenses here in Hong Kong, the same could be said of parents of lower classes in the United States. We often do as has been done to us.

By comparison, there are many well-off parents in Hong Kong who are too lax. Poor Johnny got kicked out of school? Again? Well, I guess we’ll just have to find him another one.

The biggest cultural difference, then, is the demand for respect for elders and other authority figures. I am your father. You will obey me.

it’s about control

My student is crying because her father made her finish her food.

Usually, she brings a lunch from home. That’s why today, when I sat down, I was surprised to see her eating a plate of macaroni from the caf.

It would be an exaggeration to say that the food in our cafeteria is bad. The food in our cafeteria is terrible. Overcooked greens, limp noodles covered in thin sauce, grayish-brown tofu and vegetables served over rice . . . I stopped eating the caf food—and most of my students stopped buying it—after the first day.

One thing to know about the caf is that they serve huge portions. If a primary student goes through the “big kids'” line, they end up with a mountain of food that only a ravenous sumo wrestler could finish. My students are petite Asians.

When she had eaten as much as she could, my student asked to go talk to her father, who is also the local church pastor. He usually eats lunch at the same time and was sitting just across the room. Imagine my surprise, then, when a few minutes later a couple of my girls said, “Look, M-‘s crying.” I looked to where they were pointing. There was M-, tears streaming down her face and her father towering over her, scowling.

The next thing I knew, M- was trudging back to our table with her unfinished plate, sobbing. She had to eat all of her food.

She’s been teary ever since.

And my question is, “Why?” I’m not a parent, and my intent is not to criticize, but . . . Why? The cafeteria had obviously given her way too much food, and it’s not like the food is expensive. And even if she was eating caf food because she’d forgotten her lunch at home: who doesn’t forget their lunch once in a while? What had she done so wrong?

A friend of mine tells me M-’s father’s behavior is quite normal. Some Asian parents beat their children for less. It’s cultural, he says. It’s about respect and control: Asian parents like to exert their control, and Asian children are more disciplined than Westerners because of it. On the flip side, Westerners tend to be more creative than Asians. There’s no use in thinking outside of the box if you’re going to be beaten because you didn’t stay inside it.