Former Students and Fulbright Teachers 17OCT2017

It’s as if my entire education career has come full circle these past two weeks.  I met with two former students, Mayulie and Eddie, that I taught back in 2006-2009 in the Bronx.  Mayulie was in Chicago for the Marathon on 07OCT2017.  I was fresh out of college when I first taught her math during her sophomore year of high school.  The last time I saw her was maybe back in 2009 when she was a senior in my AP Calculus AB class.  At the age of 25 now, she has already completed her master’s degree and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree.  She was a critical thinker from the day I knew her and never hesitated to push buttons.  Eddie was another student who came out to Chicago after completing high school.  He knocked out an architecture and civil engineering degree at Illinois Institute of Technology then started working for the city of Chicago as an engineer.  And, now, this former 5 on the AP Calculus AB test is working on his MBA at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.  I couldn’t be any prouder of these two kids.  They’re some of the most resilient kids (now adults) I’ve encountered.  When the going gets tough, they remind me that I can get through anything.


And, today!  What fun!  A group of international Fulbrighters came to my school!  Edwin from Singapore, Juan Pablo from Mexico, and Youssef from Morocco!  I probably shouldn’t have packed their schedules as much as I did but I really did want to share my love of Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep with them.  If I could, I’d show everyone our school because it’s an absolutely stunning campus with a terrific group of students, teachers, and administrators!  When people hear about the South Side of Chicago, I guarantee they do not think about our school and our students.


I tried to show them as much hospitality as possible as a way to pay forward all the hospitality and graciousness that everyone provided me during my time in Singapore.  From everyone at the Ministry of Education and the Academy of Singapore Teachers to Dennis, James, Elissa, Kaiwen, and Siew Hui to the trio on my WhatsApp group thread named “LayNazPei”…..a splice of Lay Kheng, Nazir, and Peiwen…everyone was so helpful!

I learned quickly how fortunate we are to be a part of these experiences.  A lot of change can happen at the ground level and through these small scale interactions.


Darwin, Australia and the Outback! 16AUG2017-20AUG2017

I didn’t know much about Australian history aside from a few readings but definitely felt it in Darwin and in Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks.  There’s the party scene along Mitchell Street in Darwin but you pick up on the racial and ethnic tensions really, really quickly.  Someone mentioned to me along my travels in Australia that the Australian flag has negative sentiments or connotations as the land belonged to the aboriginals.  This is maybe the first time in about 8 months where I’ve been in a setting with a black and white skin color divide and it felt too raw.  I couldn’t wrap my head around it.  I’ve felt it in the US (Chicago and Bronx) with my kids in different settings but I wasn’t really sure how to process the tension in Darwin though.  I’m still trying to process it right now.  It made me feel really uneasy.  This was just based on about a day and a half in the area.


Darwin Fest 2017 should be hyped up more!

I haven’t really camped in awhile which only added to the experience in Litchfield and Kakadu.  There were the starry nights and I learned a thing or two about constellations and I made my wishes when I saw two shooting stars.  Unexpectedly, I thought about my dad a lot.  We’re not particularly close but this experience was something I think he would’ve really appreciated and enjoyed.  He would’ve enjoyed the driving aspect: off-road; through creeks; up and over obstacles; wallaroos, wallabies, and kangaroos darting across the streets; what seemed like no speed limit or real rules except survival…..Mad Max, maybe?  He drove a taxi cab while in medical school to cover bills and learned a thing or two about navigating city streets.  He’s more of an offensive driver as opposed to a defensive driver.  Now, he and my mom watch out for the deer and coyotes that dart across the streets that cut through the forests and woods near their home.  He would’ve enjoyed the nature aspect: swimming in random watering holes; standing clear of billabongs known to have crocodiles as long as 4.5 meters (about 14 feet);  camping outdoors; feeling completely isolated from the rest of the world at Jim Jim Falls; complete silence; matching the various calls and shrieks to the birds and animals.  He was a boy scout back in the day, specifically a member of Plast, the National Scout Organization of Ukraine, and enjoys hiking or enjoyed walking with Yummers in the forests near my parents’ home.  One of these days.


Termite mound!  The Gwendolyn Brooks’ 9th grade science students do an inquiry lab on chemotaxis with termites and pen ink!


Waiting for sunset at Ubirr


Aboriginal rock art at Ubirr


Rock art is only done by aboriginal men


Selfie with a crocodile in the background….keeping their mouths open helps them cool down.


Sunset at Yellow Waters


I started using my bandanas under my cap to cover my face from sunlight…..the sun was sooo intense!

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Territorial crocodiles


Crocodile at rest

Cairns, Australia 13AUG2017-16AUG2017

Everyone was warned that the boat ride to the Great Barrier Reef would be a bit choppy.  I didn’t think much of it.  All I thought about were the blueberry muffins and coffee in the lounge area.  All I did was eat 7 blueberry muffins before we set sail.  About 20 minutes into the boat ride, my 7 blueberry muffins were in a vomit bag.  My mistake on that one!  It wasn’t so much the waves and wind that got the better part of me.  It was seeing a bunch of other people vomit that triggered my sea sickness.  The scuba diving and snorkeling made up for all of that though!  I got to pick up a sea cucumber while scuba diving which was super soft and slippery.  No, mom, I could not bring this home for soup.  I think the fish recognized me as one of their own at another point because I swam along with their school.  We were traveling together!  At one point there was this ginormous tortoise at the bottom of the sea while I was snorkeling.  I swear the tortoise and I were looking at each other.  The tortoise was maybe a max of 10 meters away from me.  I held my arms open for maybe 10-20 seconds and the tortoise started swimming toward me.  We had a connection.  Then some other snorkeler decided to swim super close to the tortoise so the tortoise changed its direction.  I really thought the tortoise and I would hug each other.

I think I also picked up a cold because of the change up in temperatures.  When I left Singapore it was in the low-30s C or high-80s F or low-90s F.  It’s winter time in Australia so it was in the teens (C) and even got into the single digits (C) which is like high 40s F to low 60s F.  Cairns blasts me with the mid-20s C temps which is in the 80s F.  The radio reported that there have been 70,000+ cases of the flu in Australia this year so hopefully my cough and congestion aren’t signs of that (sad face emoji).


All smiles after scuba diving:)


Shadow (under my left hand) and Jazzy (under my right arm) are the dogs of the Airbnb hosts.  I missed Yummers a lot!


Walsh’s Pyramid from Bruce Highway


A late start means not getting to the top of Walsh’s Pyramid:(

Sydney, Australia and Jim and Jude! 10AUG2017-12AUG2017

I first met Jim and Jude back in 2015 when Chris, Greg, and I were wandering the streets of Oslo as National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellows.  Jim and Jude invited us for a drink at a local pub before we all set sail on the Explorer for the Arctic Circle.  Two years later, I reconnected with Jim and Jude at Bondi Beach just outside of Sydney.  From fresh bagels in the morning to curry dishes for dinner with cherry and apple or just apple crumb dessert, they were unbelievable hosts!  Jude’s tour of the Bondi area and history and geography lessons taught me so much including how different parts of Australia have time zone differences of 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and 45 minutes!  Sleeping in Jim’s military room only added to the experience!


Jim and Jude!


Wendy Whitley’s Secret Garden in North Sydney


Maybe I’ll be able to catch a performance at the Opera House in the future!


Dashing as ever by the Sydney Harbour Bridge

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Personal tours of the Bondi area from Jude!

Botanic Gardens, Books Actually, and National Day Parade 01AUG2017-09AUG2017

This past week has been filled with continued reading and writing along with some fun events to break up the monotony.

Evidently the Singapore Botanic Gardens are open until midnight and it’s free admission.  Nothing beats picking up a halal rotisserie chicken, some barley drink, and various fruits and breads and dining by the band shell.  At the stroke of midnight, I thought guards would come around to boot people out of the Gardens but that didn’t happen.  The garden lights just cut off so it was super dark….and kind of eerie.  The only bummer was that the orchid garden wasn’t open when I was there….major players like Jane Goodall, President Obama, and Joseph Schooling get orchids named after them.  An orchid was named after Schooling (Singapore’s first Olympic gold medalist (100m fly, 2016 Rio)) just this week!

SingLit also seems to be popular with fried chicken.  The book reading at Books Actually featured some of the best S’porean fiction and non-fiction writers and poets too.  Some of the poets sang their poems.  I’m not sure if that constitutes a poem anymore or if that’s just a song.  Poetic licenses stretch the limits too far sometimes.  The 350 chicken wings from Four Fingers weren’t enough to last the 4 hour event.  I think there were just enough wings for the audience to snack on during the first hour of performances.  Taboo topics like sexuality, racial/ethnic identity, and mental health were not uncommon as was the usual theme of love.  I give all the performers a lot of credit for being brave enough to share their works with us.  That’s something I definitely couldn’t do.

I also discovered that Dennis had a poem published in No Other City: The Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry.  The anthology was still on the shelves which surprised Dennis….he wrote the poem during his teenage years.  The price of the anthology surprised my wallet (SGD $30, USD $21).  For all the random talks we’ve had over his kopis and my iced lemon teas at the various coffee shops, Dennis never once mentioned he had a poem published.  I felt proud like a parent.  I needed a copy.


Dennis’ poem!

But the best surprise was the autographed copy of the play Those Who Can’t Teach  I received from Darren as a going away gift!  Most of our friendship has been through emails but he still has a few more years in the US.  I know he’ll be able to snag one of those cheap Southwest Airline flights between Nashville (BNA) and Chicago (MDW) for under $150 so I can host and share Chicago’s history and culture.


Gift from Darren!

And! I finally had the chance to celebrate an independence day!  I haven’t been in the US for the last few July 4th celebrations but Singapore’s National Day Parade (NDP) on August 9th lived up to all the hype!  NDP was Olympian in grandeur, patriotism, and artistry.

Dinner with Darren Yeo! 31JUL2017

A year and a half after first being introduced to Darren, I finally got to meet him!  He grew up in Singapore and taught math here for a few years then started working toward a PhD in neuroscience at Vanderbilt where he collaborated with my undergrad adviser, Dr. Rittle-Johnson.  She connected me with him all the way back in March2016 before the Fulbright interview process so that I could learn a little more about the Singapore education system.  A year and a half later, we finally meet for dinner!  He’s been more than overly helpful since the intro emails and call.  At one point he emailed me a bunch of info about the school system and at a bunch of other points he’s emailed to check up on me while I’ve been out here.  And, on summer holiday in the states, he’s back here in Singapore and we finally get to meet!


Finally meeting Darren!

50 Cents Fest and Railroad Corridor Glow-in-the-Dark 28JUL2017-30JUL2017

My major writing breaks during this stretch came from adventures to the 50 Cents Fest in Chinatown and Railroad Corridor.

The Railroad Corridor just opened up this 100m stretch of track that uses strontium aluminate to light up the path.  The strontium aluminate absorbs the UV rays from the sun during the day which then lets it glow at night.  I tried my best to take pictures but kind of failed….a busted/inconsistent iPhone 5 (main camera lens) and regular camera (the Pentax) have made me bank on other peoples’ cameras/phones.  Side note: my phone was working well enough for me to google and learn that we’ll be getting a partial lunar eclipse in SG on 07AUG2017 not the total solar eclipse that can be seen in the US on 21AUG2017.  There were some loose pieces of the strontium aluminate so I collected them as a souvenir.  I was really, really hoping the entire area would be bright green but it didn’t quite have that effect.  I try to show the effects of the glow with the pieces I brought back home.  In the picture below, I let the pieces bathe in the sun light in my bedroom for maybe 10 minutes then brought them into the darkness of the bathroom.  It lights up pretty well.  It’d be cooler if the entire 100m stretch were made just of this material but it’s mixed in with some other compounds.

One word will summarize my time at the 50 Cents Fest: crowded.  There’s plenty of tasty food which means there’ll be plenty of people.  Lines were long enough where I just walked through the crowds and didn’t sample anything.  All food items are 50 Cents, a tribute to cheaper times.


50 Cents Fest in Chinatown!