An English teacher's blog about his travels and his digital art.

Month: February 2008

Nai Update (3)

The very good news is that Nai is returning home either Sunday or Monday, so Pui told me yesterday morning when I called him. I’m not sure exactly which day he said because of his accent and the low quality of the connection. Anyway, everything sounds good.

OGM and others, thank you for your comments, and thoughts and prayers for Nai. Yes, he does have a helmet and I hope he was wearing it. He’s hard-headed anyway, but a little extra, real protection never hurts. More later.

Nai Update (2)

It sounds like Nai’s out of the woods, so to speak. I talked to Pui this morning and he said “Nai ok. Nai stay hospital two weeks.” He sounded optimistic, so I hope everything will be ok. Once he gets back home, I’ve got to get him to swear off riding motorbikes. He was pretty leery about riding them after his previous accident, so I suppose he’ll be amenable to agreeing to stay off them as much as possible. You wouldn’t believe the number of accidents and deaths that occur from riding the things. It seems like every week he tells me about cousin so-and-so who had an accident and is in the hospital, or about a friend of a friend who died in an accident. Terrible things, terrible drivers, but ubiquitous in such a poor country where not many people can afford automobiles.

Nai Update (1)

I called Nai’s brother this morning. I was able to verify that the family got the money I sent to Nai’s account. Then, I asked Pui “Nai ok?” He responded “Nai ok.” Hopefully, that means the original account about Nai’s accident made the event out to be worse than it actually was. I can only hope so. I also hope that Pui leaves the phone at the hospital with Nai so I can talk to him–assuming he can talk. The other accident he had a few years back left him unable to speak for several days, because he landed on his face when he fell off the motorbike. He told me later that “My mouth very big–same-same big fish.” I restrained myself, admirably, from making a comment about his big mouth. 🙂

Anyway, there’s not much to tell. I suppose no news is good news, but I’ll keep updating as I learn more.

A Sad Time

I received some terrible news from Laos this morning. Nai told me yesterday that he was going to Vientiane today to send me email. He’s not very tech savvy, so this is always a big deal and a proud moment for him, to show off his internet skills. Sure enough, there was an email from him in my “In Box” this morning. I eagerly clicked it open, only to read that it was written by a friend of his who has some moderate English language skills. He wrote that Nai had been badly injured in a motorbike accident and was in the intensive care unit at a Vientiane hospital. The doctor thinks that he needs an operation and they’ll probably have to transport him to a Thailand hospital with better facilities than those in Laos. Because the family has no money to speak of, they need about $4,000 for the operation.

I am totally devastated; writing this is very difficult for me. This is my best friend in the world, someone whom I love as a brother–more, actually. The money doesn’t matter. Of course, I wired it to his bank account today. His mother has access to the account, so she’ll have enough to pay the hospital bill. I also called Nai’s brother, Pui, who speaks a little (very little) English to confirm that Nai is in the hospital, to make sure that the friend wasn’t scamming me. It’s confirmed–he’s in the hospital, though Pui couldn’t tell me much more than that, due to the language barrier. That’s tough, not being able to communicate. I have a couple of Lao language books, so I’m going to really work at learning the language, but in the short term I can at least put together a few phrases to find out what’s going on.

That’s about all I know now. I don’t know where he’s hurt or how badly. His friend wrote that he might have to stay in the hospital for a long time, so it doesn’t sound good. One positive note is that Nai had to be fairly lucid and coherent to give to his friend his Yahoo Mail username and password.

Damn those motorbikes! Nai had a serious accident a few years ago, doing a face plant in the middle of a road near his house. This one sounds much worse. I constantly ask him to be very careful if he’s going to ride his motorbike. I’m sure he was, but there are many others in Laos who just don’t pay attention to what they’re doing (or are too drunk while riding). I’ll keep you updated, but please remember Nai in your thoughts and prayers.


Space Camp

For a few days this week, I was focused on the heavens. On Tuesday, the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Atlantis flew overhead, both easily visible to the naked eye, with the ISS particularly bright–brighter than any star, at about -2.5 magnitude, according to Heavens Above. The Shuttle was about 20 degrees ahead of the ISS, after separating from it the day before. The previous evening, the two were supposed to have been very close together, forming a more spectacular, tight, naked-eye duo soaring in tandem across the evening sky. However, at that time their altitude above the horizon was too low to be seen at my location. It was still a great sight on Tuesday, with the two artificial “stars” taking about six minutes to make their way from north to south, though they were only visible at the camp for, I estimated, about 4 minutes.

The following night, Wednesday, was the equally awesome total lunar eclipse. The event started about 9:45 p.m., my time, with totality lasting from 11 p.m. to midnight. I stayed up watching reddish-orange Luna until about 11:30, way past my normal bedtime. I slept in the next morning, forgoing my usual jog. I took some photos, but none of them turned out very well. The one below is probably the best of the lot. The bright “star” at the bottom of the photo, just to the left of an imaginary line drawn straight down from the moon, is Saturn.


Speaking of jogging, I went beyond my previous longest time last Saturday by clocking in at an hour and 23 minutes, 14 laps around the warning tracks of the four fields. I’m nearing my short-term goal of jogging for an hour and a half, and now I’m looking at, hopefully, being able to do 2 hours, non-stop, by July. That’s about 20 laps, and it sounds approachable. It’s good to see some results of the morning run and of other exercising I’ve been doing–my weight is now in the low 190s. (I can hear you snickering out there–that’s pounds, not kilograms!)

I should be able to get some photographs of beautiful sunrises and sunsets, now that burning season is here. It’s the time of year when the surrounding farmers and landowners start burning their old scrub brush, filling the air with smoke and particles, which scatter and reflect the sunlight (something like that, anyway) much more than cleaner air does. That’s another reason to go jogging in the early morning–there’s not as much smoke in the air, though there is a faint gray haze over the camp as the sun rises, and the “campfire” smell is always present.

Who’s lieing–Clemens or McNamee? I suspect they both are, but I don’t really care. The baseball season is upon us–the season when all of the Red Sox dreams of dynasty fade into harsh reality under the Yankee onslaught. Why? There’s a a new manager (Girardi), a potentially lethal crop of young, home-grown pitchers, and it’s the last year the team will play in The Old Stadium, before moving across the street to the new Yankee Stadium next year. The All Star Game will be played at the old ballpark this year, as will the World Series. The ghosts of Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, Mantle and Co., though they’ll be making the short journey to the new ballpark, will make their presence felt throughout this final year in The House That Ruth Built. Contrary to Boston fans’ desperate hope that the Yanks are down and out, there are going to be many championships to come for the Bombers–more now, and many more later.

Birthday and Baseball

It was Nai’s birthday a few days back, so I called to wish him Happy Birthday and to sing the birthday song to him. Did you know the B-Day song is, reportedly, the most sung song in the English language. It’s also sung in English in Korea and Laos. Anyway, Nai’s 35 and he said he’s an old man. Puh-leeeeeze. His family was having a party for him–lots of people, lots of food and BeerLao, and a birthday cake with candles. He wasn’t feeling too well, however, complaining of a headache (“my memory hurting me today”), an everyday occurrence, for the most part. I think he gets migraines, because he tells me he can’t see out of his right eye when the pain is really bad. Until I quit smoking, I used to get extremely painful migraines, and when he tells me he can’t see, it’s an exact description of what I used to go through. He experienced the same thing last year at this time, and then the headaches quit, more or less, for several months. He doesn’t smoke, so perhaps they’re triggered by cold weather at night (50-60 degrees) during the winter months.

Speaking of Laos, sort of, I found a couple more nifty blogs. One is Lao Cook, a, you guessed it, blog devoted to Lao cuisine. It’s written by a native Lao chef who is now living in Spain. Though it doesn’t appear he gives the recipes, the photos and narrative are very appealing. A couple of other good blogs, both about daily life in Laos, are Lao Meow and Lao Bumpkin.

For the first time, the Summer League players weren’t released from camp-tivity last Friday. They were a disgruntled lot, but managed to straggle into English classes, somewhat sleepy after emerging from their afternoon siestas.

They were also none too happy, most of them, about the scores they received on a short quiz I gave them last Wednesday. They did pretty badly, though some did well–but not enough. I don’t know whether this reflects on my teaching or on the difficulty of the quiz. Neither, I suspect. What it does reflect, I think, is on the motivational level of many, if not a good majority, of the players. Most of them don’t pay attention in class, and once out of class, they don’t study and they don’t use the language unless I’m talking to them on the field or in the cafeteria. There are, thankfully, a few who do care and put in a good effort. One guy told me at the end of class on Friday that his father was going to kill him if he saw his score. I told him that he had to work at it outside of class, that he had to study and use English whenever he could. He’s a great kid, very friendly and outgoing, as most of them are, but perhaps his father will provide a bit of motivation.

By the middle of next week, all the Dominican Summer League players, the ones who started camp in the middle of January, are being allowed to go home until the beginning of March, so my class sizes will be reduced substantially. The other players leave for Tampa on March 1st and will be replaced by a new crop of guys, most of whom were at the camp last summer. What a turnover, and there’s another influx-outgo around the first of April. Things don’t really settle down until then. It’s a bit of a teaching challenge, a very unique situation.

But, these guys are baseball players first, and there are some good ones here. Two stand out. I usually sit out on my balcony in the morning, writing up the afternoon’s lesson plans and watching batting practice, which takes place on the main field, with the batters facing me. One of the standouts is Reymond Nunez, who recently signed on with the team (beginning of December, I believe). He’s been crushing the ball, slamming some long, towering home runs. Another power guy is a 16-year-old try out kid, whose name I don’t know and which I probably wouldn’t be able to give you anyway, out of a sense of secrecy in case any scouts from the other clubs might stumble onto this blog (highly unlikely, but possible). He, too, has been showing some extraordinary power, especially for only being 16, matching the older Nunez with quite a few long shots of his own. Granted, it’s only batting practice and the wind is usually blowing out toward left field, but no one else is slamming the ball like these two. The Yanks need to sign the try out guy, in my humble opinion, and hope that both of them can hit a well-thrown curve ball, the bane of many a potential big leaguer.

I hope to get some more of the Montana 2007 photos posted soon, so keep checking back for information about them.

Whew! This is getting to be a long post, so I better save some for more later.

Belated Post

I don’t know why it slipped my mind, but I had written up a blog entry while I was in Boca Chica last Saturday. I was looking through my lesson notes when I found it. Here it is, written on Feb. 2, one week late:

Unexpectedly, the powers-that-be, here at the camp, allowed the Dominican Summer League players to return home on Friday, instead of Saturday. This is the same group that has been here since the middle of January, the ones who have been given Saturday off the past few weeks, about which I have already posted. Despite their absence Friday afternoon, I still had enough of the new players to conduct the usual classes.

A fellow from Baseball America was visiting the camp yesterday, so I introduced myself to him, something I do whenever an unexpected Norteamericano face shows up. He was interested in my teaching assignment, and he asked for a short interview. No problem. I told him that this was a dream job for a lifelong Yankee fan, and I gave him a condensed version of how I became a fan of the Greatest Sports Team in the History of the World and the Known Universe. (The Red Sox are merely a regional phenomenon.) I can even recall the exact date. So, for your edification and to satisfy your insatiable curiosity, here’s my tale.

My family moved from the small town atmosphere of Chesaning, Michigan, my mother’s hometown, to the oil city of Port Arthur, Texas, my father’s stomping grounds. This was in the mid-1950s (sheesh, I’m dating myself), and my awareness of, let alone knowledge of, baseball was nil at that time. One of my uncles–oh, let’s call him Uncle Red, since that’s who he was known as at that time–liked to rib me about being a Yankee; i.e., someone not from the South, specifically Texas.

I, of course, took umbrage at his constant disparagement of my Northern background and began to take pride in my Yankee upbringing. To the best of my recollection, I was largely unaware of the North-South split and the whole leftover Civil War attitude at that time. So, thanks to Uncle Red, I began to identify myself as a Northerner, a Yankee.

Then, in October of 1958, my dear Uncle pointed out to me that a couple of baseball teams were playing in something called the World Series. One of the teams was called the New York Yankees, the other the Milwaukee Braves. If I remember correctly, he began to disparage the Yanks merely because of their name, never mind that both teams were based in the North. He told me that the Yanks had lost the World Series the year before to the Braves and were going to lose again this year, because they were behind by 3 games to 1. One more win and the Braves would be champions again. Typical of any Yankee–losers. (That’s putting it in today’s terms and he probably wasn’t that harsh, but as a young boy, I took it very personally, as if he’d actually said it that way.) I defended the Yankees, because they represented, in name, my youthful pride. We made some kind of bet, one with no stakes involved except, perhaps, bragging rights, on the outcome.

Against all odds, the Yanks, for the first time in World Series history, came back from being down 3 to 1 to win the next 3 games and the Championship. I was ecstatic! My Uncle never heard the end of it, of course. It was then that baseball and the New York Yankees, my new boyhood heroes, captured my attention. I began reading every baseball book I could find in the local library, and I learned about the rich heritage of the Yanks. From that day when they won the Series, Oct. 9th, 1958, I’ve been completely loyal to them, never, ever wavering in that loyalty (unlike one of my brothers, a dastardly turncoat who now roots for the Tigers). Such is the stuff of which dreams are made. Thanks, Uncle Red. More (dreams) later.

P.S. Thanks to all the gods of baseball that {{link Johan Santana was traded to the Mets and not to the Beantown Pretenders to the Throne.

Beach Talk

I found out that my Weekend Office is owned by Cris Ozuna, brother of Pablo, who plays with the White Sox. It’s interesting that in choosing my “office,” I unknowingly picked one with a strong baseball connection, though you could hardly swing a bat in the D.R. without hitting something connected to the game.

One of the new guys working at The Office asked me about myself and got quite a kick out of the fact that I work with the Yanks, so he introduced me to Cris. I already knew about his brother, who was in The Office the weekend before.

The thing about this area of the beach is that there are a lot of regulars who come here, older expats living in Boca Chica, and the overall ambience is usually friendly and laid back. Not to mention palms swaying in the gentle ocean breeze and good (but not too loud) music playing from the bar just down the beach.

I also get a few questions about how it came about that I work with the Yankees, so I tell people about the English Language Fellow program and its connection with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the State Dept. Unlike people in some countries, Dominicans, for the most part, like Americans. It seems that almost every Dominican I’ve met has at least one relative living in the U.S.

That’s a thing I’ve noticed about Laotians, too. They seem to genuinely like Americans, despite what we did to their country during the Vietnam War. (See my previous post on this subject.) It’s always nice to be liked, eh?

Back to the beach. There are quite a few ladies walking the sand who will give you a massage, pedicure, or manicure, or who will work on your hair. This guy seemed to want the works, with three ladies giving him a makeover.


Oh, yes, I’ve finally started adding photos of my time in Montana this past summer and fall. Click here to have a look at Big Sky Country. A lot of the photos were taken from a moving car with a point-and-shoot camera, so the quality isn’t that great, though it’s not that bad either. Enjoy. More later.

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