Saturday, March 19, 2011


I don't read the news. I don't get newspapers. I don't access news websites. Apart from the brief period of time I was trying to watch the Colbert Report online daily, I get most of my news from Facebook (results on the Bachelor or American Idol, Philadelphia sports news, and the death of celebrities---all the things my generation finds important). But with recent changes in my ability to access my News Feed, I was off-line for almost a week. The same week that I traveled to Shanghai for an ACAMIS meeting and some observation and collaboration with elementary art teachers at local international school, and was thus cut off from the morning bus discussions--another news venue in my life.

A week later, I don't understand the magnitude of the natural disaster in Japan. Like an ostrich, I've buried my head in the sand, refusing to seek out information. I am not sure I want to understand the weight of the event.

Because of my traveling, I spent the first school day after the disaster at Shanghai American School, Puxi campus. The student body was more diverse than my school, especially among Westerners. Not knowing the kids' backgrounds, I couldn't identify the passport country of the Asian students. Until they opened their mouth. A few sweet kids, while working away on their art projects, would just start talking to me...

          "Did you know about the tsunami in Japan?"

          "My whole country is destroyed by tsunami."

          "Did you know about the earthquake in Japan? I'm from Japan. My uncle, aunt, and grandparents are there,
          but they're safe. There's no tsunami coming for now."

My heart broke, hearing their little voices. The fear, the anxiety, the uncertainty. Everyone in the school was affected, regardless of passport country. Many had been to Japan, all knew someone from Japan, and a few had loved ones currently living in Japan.

Yet I couldn't help but wonder if students in my home country even knew about the event. Did it affect school? Did it impact their childhood? Did they have any understanding of what was happening on the other side of the world?

I don't remember any global concerns from my childhood. I have some memories of US news: the Unibomber, Oklahoma City bombing, OJ's white SUV and trial, and September 11th in 10th grade. Perhaps some awareness of hurricanes in the states. Even living through an earthquake in San Francisco.

In college, there was the tsunami off the coasts of Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka.
          My first memory of a tragic event outside of my passport country.

Did nothing happen before that?

Certainly the world has become smaller, as information travels around the world in seconds. Tweets, pictures, and streaming video. I just finished reading Little Women and marveled at the letter writing from Europe to North America. The cost of travel, the sacrifice of relationships, the limited information. This week, a coworker from my school who lives one apartment building away here in China is in Ethiopia with his wife, picking up their son. Many miles away, they sat in the lobby, chatting with a family from my parents' church who are also adopting from Ethiopia, through the same organization, and ended up in country at the exact same time.

My circles are so small, and intersect over and over again.

          My brother's first friend from Pennsylvania currently teaches in Japan.
          I have four students from Japan.
          And did I mention yet that in Shanghai, I was staying with my friend from first grade?
               She is in her first year teaching internationally, and ironically teaching first grade.

In first grade, did I know Japan existed? I certainly had no connection to the country or its people.

My first grade students live a very different life. A few weeks ago, one American boy was walking with his dad past a mural in the secondary building. The mural has been there as long as I've been at the school, and he has probably walked past it hundreds of time. But it struck him in that instant---he was looking at famous landmarks from around the world. And he knew them, by name. I don't know all the names of the places, but at seven years old, he told them to his father.

At the end of the day on Monday, the school I was visiting in Shanghai observed a moment of silence for Japan. I sat there and prayed for the country, for the people, for the ones I know. The little children, grieving for their country.

And that is what it means to teach art.abroad

Sunday, March 6, 2011

(masterpieces) Ugly Doll

Do you remember these guys from my first year teaching? This masterpiece comes from the same lesson.

(teacher's note) First grade learned about Uglydolls, a brand of toys created by David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim. Before they got married, David drew a silly creature on the bottom of a letter to Sun-Min. Sun-Min sewed a stuffed animal of the guy, named Wage, and sent it back to David. Ten years later, they have created many different “ugly” but lovable stuffed animals. Tom named his ugly doll “Crazy Horse Ugly Doll.” He wrote that he loves his ugly doll because “I mad(e) this Ugly Doll.” After the projects were finished, first grade read You are Special by Max Lucado. Punchinello, the main character, learns that he is special because Eli, the woodcarver, made him, and Eli doesn’t make mistakes. Like Tom’s ugly doll and Punchinello, the first graders acknowledged themselves and others as individuals created with intrinsic value (one of the Emotional ESLRs).

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Whistle While You Work!

When I was in 5th grade, all four 5th grade classes at my elementary school put on an operetta together--How the West Was Won. I had some speaking lines as a narrator and a solo in the final song. I was also in the square dancing scene, dancing with my neighbor Al.

Things have come full circle, and I am directing elementary dramas.

Co-directing, that is, as a part of Melmansiek Productions (the "Mel" part).

Truly, this was one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of my life. From reading the initial script to last night's performance, it has been a great ride. Planning meetings at Starbucks, branding the show, building excitement before auditions, casting, afterschool rehearsals, Saturday rehearsals, posters, banners, Thursday's matinee, and Friday's show. Phew! It's been a lot of work but filled with laughter and smiles. The 28 kids in the show were a blast and it was terrific to work with all the adult help, especially my partners in crime.

I initially created the silhouettes with the possibility of colorizing them with bright colors and bold patterns. Before we reached that stage, we decided to place Snow White within a China context. What was a Chicka Chicka Boom Boom-inspired cutting style (and possible color palette) morphed into the childlike red Chinese papercuts.

I was incredibly grateful to find the font Paper Cutout by Kimmy Kirkwood on
              The letters were perfect for our aesthetic.

I've translated the logo for many uses. This long format was the header for all letters to parents.

We sell tickets with options for transportation since campus is outside of town and most people don't have cars.

The cast shirts were red with the logo in black on the front and "Cast" on the back, along with the names of the students. The adult shirts were black with red ink and said "Crew" on the back.

Check out some group shots below. Be sure to notice the elements of the "papercut" set in the background. It was fun to think through how our papercut silhouettes would translate into the set.

The dwarfs' house is inspired by Kailan's grandpa's house and the palace is inspired by Forbidden City.

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