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Entries in mandalay (7)


Dr. Scary & Mrs. Marbles

Tell me a storybook about Burma. Your first time was in 2013. How long were you there?

All fucking day.

No. Really is an adverb.

Five weeks. I was the first teacher in and the first one out. They bled teachers after I left.

Why did you go?

To grow. To experience a Montessori learning environment at an expensive private school in Mandalay. See how things worked. On the ground. Wander around. Scribble words. Make images. Meet kind, curious, smiling people.

(Alarm bells clang)

A private school sounds dangerous. I spell uh I smell money. Cash for kids.

Education is a busine$$. Profit before people.

Didn't you learn this lesson in 2008 for a year at St. Laurensia near Jakarta when you helped 4th graders develop social and moral character with humor and curiosity?

Private school, parents rule fool.

Yes, however I needed to see Burma for myself, analyze the management and system. Connect with smiling people. Learn, laugh, grow, glow and flow with the go.

Trust and verify. That's what I say.

And you say it with clear pronunciation.

Make it new day by day make it new.

The school had 700 kids from Montessori (3-6 years young) through grade 9.

That's big money. It's a numbers game.

Yes it is. Don't ask me how much. Big.

Bigger than the infinite sky?

Almost. The financial bean counters wore out abacuses. Click-click. They'll raise tuition next year. The Burmese Managing Director lived happily ever after.

I love fairy tales and fragments. It’s all I trust.

He hired Dr. Scary Snobson as principal two years ago to open the facility. He had a Ph.D in Reports and Updates. He loved organization, management, forms, protocol, procedures, paper and administrative drone head duties.

He recruited former Peace Corpse teachers to get foreign faces and mouths in front of spoiled rich kids and parents. Marketing 101. He practiced Hathaway yoga and invested his princely salary in offshore rice paddy accounts near Burmese refugee camps bordering Thailand and Bangladesh. He was thrilling and running scared.

Did he run for fun?

He ran in the tropical sun for sums. Kids in = count cash. Numbers numbed wealthy Burmese wallets. Pay here. Drop kid at classroom ABC. Minders/babysitters/Burmese educators in training will take care of them until you pick them up at 3. If you're late we sell them to China. A boy is worth $3500 in a one-child Orwellian culture.

I have two boys, said a Burmese parent. Do I get a discount?

It depends on their passing a physical with Nurse Dull, said Dr. Scary. Let me ask my passive Xaimen wife. She's very proud of her green card. She talks like her mouth's full of marbles. She believes in acquiescence.

You mean the sad-eyed, lights on-no one home, space cadet reactive one wearing the cheap floppy Chinese hat, Gloria Swanson sunglasses and magic slippers inherited from her grandmother outside the gate-less gate standing lost and forlorn Monday-Friday mornings as horrendous traffic spewed noxious hydrocarbons into faces of emotionally deprived children and struggling nanny slaves dragging children’s suitcases of books and carrying cheap bright plastic baskets of food while parents, wearing diamond and imperial green jade jewelry necklaces yakked on imported cell phones walking their kids to classrooms in the tall gleaming metropolis of a school?

Yes. Her marble mouth machine droned her official mandatory sequence.  Park here. Drop off here. Parents ignored her.

That's her. She's his baby. Her attention span was shorter than an apology to Burmese parents of neglected children about the hidden cost of grandiose theoretical classless plans. Read the fine print. You paid suckers.

Sounds like the blind leading the blind. Where did they meet, these educational super heroes?

They mated at the Day Grow Country School in Manila. She was head babysitter. He ran a doctoral marathon between Tainan and Rota.

What does she do in this improbable profitable scheme?

Yeah-Yeah is the bureaucratic stone face of the Macaroni Monti Sorry Money Story program.

She hired thirty female Myanmar university graduates for the Monti Sorry program. They signed a five-year - no option out contract - same as teachers were required in China. She and the good Doctor sold the Burmese Managing Director great expectations of wealth. The school paid a discounted rate of $3,500 for each teacher's training and certification program. Sublime slavery. Yeah-Yeah took her cut.

Is she a certified Monti Sorry trainer?

No. She learned the methodology in Havana ten years ago. She's not certified for anything. She’s a little fish out of water.

For three months the local teachers have been training from scratch. Yeah-Yeah goes through the motions. School started on May 20th. Now it's on the job training, learning and laughing plus six tedious hours on Saturday. They watch videos featuring an OCD state side teacher, create materials and practice lessons. They "graduate" next year after being certified by a real Monti Sorry woman in the states of confusion.

Smells like a shell game.

Teachers make $200 a month. The average Burmese makes $804 a year. A SIM card costs $300. One percent of the population has Internet. 26% are unemployed. 16% do not have electricity. If local teachers are late thumbing a fingerprint after 8 a.m. at the admin office the school charges them 25 cents. Live and learn fear school.

She and Dr. Scary run and mismanage (if intimidation, fear and stupidity is management) the Great Educational Scam Machine. She reminded me of Chinese teachers in Fujian schools screaming, Just blend in. I only want you to bring two things to class. Your ears! 

Welcome to my nightmare, said Yeah-Yeah.

She invested her princess sums in offshore rice paddy accounts near Burmese refugee camps bothering Thailand.

Why did you leave?

I'd witnessed enough of the dystopian Kafkaesque-like suffering. The teachers' apartments resembled prison cells. I've more useful things to do with my time, energy, love and compassion.

Give me a urine sample.

Yeah-Yeah in her infinite wisdom minus kindness and compassion expected me to write a lesson plan for the Kindergarten experience in the library.

You're joking.

It was Friday, June 8th, 2013 at 1:17 p.m.

I'd taken the geniuses to the bibliotheca for thirty minutes. They found books, sat reading, looking at pictures and sharing with friends. She wandered in and sat down.

I see you brought the kids to the library.

You are very observant.

Where's your lesson plan for the library?

You're kidding.

At 3:10 p.m. I gave seven-days notice to Dr. Scary. Here's my lesson plan. Probation is a 2-way street.

Good for you.

Yes. Life is too short for this nonsense. I shredded the truth with kids. I helped you. We helped each other grow. We walked slowly. We danced. We sang. We discovered sharing. We meditated. We had fun. Now it's time to ride my elephant through jungles back to Cambodia.

I left a sewing machine and umbrella on an operating table in the teachers' cellblock. I departed Burma without delay. It was a close shave.

That's another story about creativity, independent thinking and free choice.

Yes it is.

Weaving A Life (V1)


Mandalay Burma Teacher Talk

Give us the fifty daze M-F 5:30 a.m. short van trip to CAE, the private school in Mandalay where you helped 10th graders become more human with humor and curiosity.

One class was from 6-7 another from 7-8.

Four male teachers left starlight and climbed into the van. Three were morose. Two early. Their dialogue mentioned sleep disorders, international menus and the quality of their shits.

One African-American guy muttered about Kuala Lumpur fast food choices cursed mosquitos smashing them on windows.

The others talked about teaching adventures in China. We are all peasants.


Yeah, I’m going to miss them like you miss a rock in your shoe.

I understand your student-teachers rearranged desks into groups to facilitate sharing. You played jazz, blues and classical music. They drew and colored their dream in creative notebooks. Daily.

Yes. Eye – hand – heart. Two won't do.

I reminded them their creative notebooks would sustain them for years, long after the textbooks gather dust. Long after they vomited material to pass a test. Get marks.

Give me specifics.

My room was the only team-building configuration. The other teachers maintained rows of wooden benches where students hearing a dull lecture stared at the back of someone’s empty head.

The Black guy mumbled. They replaced him with a dour business scholar from Papa New Genie.

One British teacher lectured from the book and played cartoons.

A drawling American teacher projected The Star Spangled Banner lyrics on a screen and had the class recite words.

You’re kidding me. I wish I was.

You heard parrots…”Oh say can you see…”

Our team-groups shared ideas prior to discussing diverse topics improving their speaking confidence.

In his final class Southern Comfort had them singing “Jingle Bells.”

Boughs of folly. Oh yeah.

My geniuses played a round-robin chess tournament the final two days. Great fun.

They’d practiced chess every Thursday and Friday for a month. They focused on tactics, strategy, activating pieces off the back row, castling, attacking through the center.

They developed critical thinking skills, planning and logic, problem solving, accepting responsibility for their decisions, respecting their opponent and sharing ideas with friends.

Life skills 101.


Fire's Aftermath

Mingalar market fire, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma).


Mandalay Mingalar Market Fire

To the west a dancing sun burned yellow-orange. It filled the sky shading orange and blue.

The rough dirt street paved in places by jutting stones was crowded with residents staring east.

A billowing black source cloud swirled high into gray wind whipped smoke. Spectators gawked, gasped, and yakked. Speculation, supposition, myth.

Down below, out of sight, out of mind, flames spread from rows of makeshift food zones near the west entrance of Mingalar Market.

A spark? A moment as charcoal embers flamed cloth and wood? An errant signature glowing slow and steady.

Near the narrow food area were fabric shops and plastic food in plastic bags – elements of combustible material.

Women with organic fruits and vegetable piled into mountains scattered screaming grabbed children heading for exits. Two children died of smoke inhalation.

Flames bolted into around and through wooden stalls filled with cloth.

Colors exhaled in the heat.

100 sewing machines glowed red.

Flames indulged their fantasy. Fruits and vegetables fizzled, cracked, exploded. Frenzy of fire.

Street 73 was packed with cell phone amateurs, beeping motorcycles, police cars, fire engines and ambulances all trying to get through…night fell, crashing into waves of volcanic billowing smoke floating north, gaining speed at higher elevations.

A full bone white moon witnessed the spectacle.

Water cannons extended from fire trucks directed streams of life over exterior stonewalls and shuttered shops into the center.

Red flames leaped, licking black clouds.

Firemen scrambled with hoses seeking more H20. Flashing emergency lights illuminated shifting crowds flashing strobes on phones.

White helmeted men yelled instructions to firemen. Sirens roared down streets looking for a source in a sewer drain.

The morning after – lines of police down the middle of 73rd and adjacent streets. Squads of orange vested street cleaning women huddled in groups having tribal discussions.

Fire trucks lined the street blocking off the market.

Vested women hauled out bamboo baskets and lifted them to men in garbage trucks.

Gawkers lined streets.

Firemen rolled up frayed hoses – police cadets marched in formation.

Trucks with armed soldiers left the scene.

Gutted shops, debris, and memories danced near boys leaning against a fence staring at burned mattresses. Salvaged hair dryers on a sidewalk reflected puddles of water.

A medic in a white Red Cross helmet waited for no one.

Two tired firefighters lying on top of a truck closed their eyes.


Man Delay, Burma


Wandering Mandalay.

Hey Orphan, your Mystery bike is faster now.

Yeah, we visited a shop after seeing the old tire hanging on a nail next to a white shirt drying in the sun.

It had four months of accumulated dust and grime and road songs.

He was a nice guy, filled the tires, blasted Mystery with water, soaped and scrubbed it down, air hosed it dry, oiled the chain, re-calibrated Shimano gears and said, I'm going to Japan next year to see my family.

Say again. Spin them wheels.