Thursday, May 12, 2011

Fall is Here: Random Thoughts

It's finally cooling down some here in the Kingdom, and that's a good thing. It's been hot this year!

Fulfill that Fantasy: At the Saturday market a vendor had official “2010 NCAA Champion: Butler” T-shirts, brand new, never been worn. So if you are mourning Butler's losses in the last two championship games, you can alter your personal reality by just letting me know and I'll get you one of these shirts. And now you now what happens to those pre-printed shirts made up for the losers: they somehow wind up in places like Tonga where nobody cares.

Critical Thinking: My favorite class to teach this year at my little university is our new Critical Thinking course, required for all new students and all who wish to graduate. Therefore it is the class with the largest enrollment, and even though it's the first class of the day (starting at 9 am.) I regularly have 9 or 10 students attending. On Wednesday a major assignment was due, their first cut at doing a critical analysis of an important problem in their life. However, at 9 am., no students. At about 9:30 one student arrived, but needed to access a printer to print out his assignment. By 10:30 (when the class usually ends) I had seen another 3 or 4 students, all of whom were seeking a computer and/or printer to complete their work (one of the requirements of this assignment was for the the assignment to be written using a computer word processor so that it can be more easily revised, and most students do not regularly use a computer for their school work, although most seem to be fairly adept with Facebook and Bebo). I shouldn't have been surprised; this is completely normal behavior for our students; planning ahead is not a mastered skill, and seems to defy any instructor’s attempts to teach it.

Bicycle Adventures: Recently my beautiful little Schwinn mountain bike was stolen from the front porch in the middle of the night while I slept. (That same night another volunteer home in my neighborhood was invaded and computers stolen, also while they slept.) Home invasion burglaries are rampant in the Kingdom, and palangi volunteers seem to be particularly susceptible. Anyway, I became acutely aware of how dependent I had become on bicycle transportation, and no matter how I kept repeating the idea that walking is the ideal exercise, I felt severely hampered in my ability to get around. Nuku'alofa isn't that big, but it's still a city of 35,000 and spread out.

But a few weeks later I was talking to a volunteer from Australia about my mobility problems, and she promptly offered to loan me her bicycle, which she brought with her but has barely ridden. Deterred by the cavernous potholes, the bike chasing dogs, and the roaming pigs, and because unlike Peace Corps volunteers Aussies can drive cars, she had lost all interest in riding. So my mobility has returned, and while I remain hopeful my bicycle will come back to me (this is a small island after all) I now have a pretty good ride and will be forever grateful to my Aussie angel! (And the bike is now part of the d├ęcor in my front room whenever I'm home.)

Diving in Vava'u: I spent the school break week last month in Vava'u, the Northern group of Tongan islands that is a favorite haunt of yachties from all over the world, thanks to its protected deep-water harbor. These island are much hillier than Tongatapu (where I live) and Ha'apai (where we trained) and are the best tourist destination in Tonga from the perspective of scenic beauty. I had a good time scuba diving with some Peace Corps buddies and generally just hanging out.

The big news in Vava'u was that the next season of “Survivor” was going to be set here, but last minute demands from the major hotel owner nixed that deal, so Survivor will be going back to Fiji instead. It's a big blow to the tourist industry in Vava'u and Tonga, as the kind of exposure from being a Survivor locale is priceless (had you ever heard of Vanuatu before Survivor went there?). The irony, of course, is that the operation that will be hardest hit will be the hotel owner's who scotched the deal; his big hotel was completely empty the week I was there (which is normal this time of year) and Survivor would have booked his entire facility for several months. Needless to say no one is very happy with him these days.

I'll leave you with the typical daily sunset over Vava'u's Port of Refuge. 

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