Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I can let go / 捨得


I have been racing against the clock in the past few months. Granny loses her abilities day by day, while she suffers from more and more physical pain. I figure that if I visit her more often, I won't lose her at such a fast speed. Last month, we had ten-minute afternoon tea one day with Granny reminiscing how to go from Chi-du to our place in Taipei. However, one month later, she couldn't sit up anymore.


     On the last day of 2014, Granny is hospitalized again. We whiz by the crowds that are celebrating the new year everywhere in the city. Though she is currently in a coma because of the painkiller, looking so thin and withered, all I remember is her glowing face with a beautiful smile. This morning she told Meili that it is time for her to go, but now she is trapped in her degenerate body. None of us can stop shedding tears upon seeing her. 


     On our way home, I can't help wowing at the fascinating night view of Taipei city outside the car window. If Granny is freed, she can enjoy it all. Though I am still learning to let go of her without feeling sad, I would like to say to her, "This is all yours my beautiful. I want you to embark on a care-less and pain-less journey with everyone's best wishes!"

Sunday, December 28, 2014

the gift I can give / 給得起的禮物


This past week the school was literally inundated with chocolates and sweets. The fact that we had six school days this week made Christmas endless. Luckily, my colleague Emily introduced an extremely meaningful activity--everyone brings a secondhand object with them to school, shares its story and trades it with another person. 


      I have two classes. When I first announced the activity, my class voiced their opinions strongly. They argued that if it's an object they cherish, they won't be able to give it away. It'd be preferable if we changed it to "Show and Tell." However, I really wanted to see how far everyone could go, so I insisted on the exchange part. The girls in the other class also shared similar ideas, but they didn't protest so vehemently.  


     On the gift-giving day, a lot of girls in the other class started their stories this way: The object reminds me of something really negative, so I don't want to keep it. I had explained that the activity is to give best wishes. Instead, this turned out to be a healing camp for many traumatized kids. Still, I am glad because I go to hear many stories I wouldn't have known. 


     In the past two years, I've had some chances to have heart-baring group talks with my own students, but I kind of shunned away. To my surprise, today the girls were so frank that they didn't hesitate to share stories about their heartaches, disappointment, and growth. More importantly, the objects they offered might be the only memorabilia from an important relative or friend. Their generosity really impressed me. 


     The story-tellers shed tears as they narrated their stories, while tears rolled in the listeners' eyes. I can never stop finding fault with people whenever their talks are incoherent, but I relaxed today. In the quiet building, the other classes were busy studying, but I insisted on exchanging stories on the last weekend of 2014. 


     Having been touched by stories full of emotions, those who hadn't talked yet were worried if they could move the audience. Maggie was so anxious that she couldn't help inviting the girls that sat next to her to make up stories for her object, which made the whole class burst into laughter. We cried and laughed at the same time. 


     After the activity, Enci came to me saying how wonderful it was. I agreed, but what came to mind was the change of this kid within two and half years. She's' come so far after all those ups and downs, which is a fantastic period to end year 2014. 


     Though I've been teaching for more than a dozen years, I still have to remind myself to open my heart every day. Santa gave me a perfect gift in return--the girls' honesty. I often wondered if my words had evaporated into the air, but now I know they are of some use. 


     Every day at work it is not the same because of the different chemistry between me and the girls. I'd thought this would be an extremely tiring Saturday. However, I was so moved that the rest of the day I could feel the good will. 


     We are approaching the last semester together. Looking back on the past two and half years, I am happy to have come so far, but meanwhile, I know it's not easy to let go when we say goodbye. 

後記:照片中的練習取自Keri Smith的Living Out Loud。 

P.S.: The exercise sheet is excerpted from Keri Smith's Living Out Loud

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Weekend Children's Museums 2 / 假日兒童博物館 2


In the last workshop of the weekend children's museums, our group task is piecing puzzles. I choose the fruits and seeds of three kinds of trees--small-leaved Barringtonia, the mahogany tree and Taiwan Hemlock (Tsuga chinensis). 

   In the workshops before, children don't need much of their parents' assistance. However, this time, the adults can't help taking part in the game. Some groups work fast, while others take much more time. In the beginning, I forget to remind the groups if the pictures are landscape or portrait, so in the end, some of them have to start all over again. 


   It looks like the moms are going to get it right, but the image is landscape. Surprisingly, I get to see the interaction between kids and their parents because of teamwork. Some mothers are more involved than their children. One extremely beautiful mom who looks like a mix seems to love my pictures, plants and the herbarium! 


   This is the finished piece, but this boy is from another different group than the moms and children in the photos above. 


   We have some small-leaved Barringtonia trees right outside in the garden. Isn't it nice to see with our eyes what we have learned? The tree is also called Powerpuff Mangrove. 


   Small-leaved Barringtonia trees grow near the sea, so the fruits are carried off with the tide. They are waterproof. 


   The fruits are rather light! 


   Our next star is the mahogany tree. 


   These two boys are very committed. Their mom standing behind them is a teacher. She's the first adult that asks me if she can draw as well. 


   The tree trunks of a mahogany tree is symmetrical, growing from the single sturdy stem. I was in a hurry to finish the picture during the week, so it is not until I walk by the row of mahogany trees on the campus of NTU on Saturday that I realize I didn't draw very precisely. 


   The fruits, which look like reddish-brown capsules, split along five seams on sunny days in around March. Then the propeller-like seeds will be carried far away from their mother tree by the wind. 


   Our last star today is the fruit and seeds of Taiwan Hemlock. 


   Taiwan Hemlocks are found above the altitude of 2,000 m in Taiwan. The male pine cone disperses the pollen, which lands on the purple female cones. They are then tightly closed in to protect the eggs. The purple color will gradually change into brown. The cones of Taiwan Hemlocks are about 1.5 cm to 2.5 cm. 


   When the seeds are ready, the hemlock tree will cut off its supply of water to the pine cone. This causes it to dry up and open up, allowing the seeds found at the base of the scales to fall or be blown out of the cone.  


   It always brings me much delight to look at children drawing. 


   I adore a group of adults and children so much that I can't help mailing their postcards for them. 


   The tour of the outdoor gardens are super enriching. The guide James can talk on and on when it comes to plants. 


   You can't miss the common tree fern outside the herbarium. It is our special feature. 


   I really thank the staff and volunteers of the herbarium for making all this possible, also, for giving me so much freedom to plan what to do. I seem to have spent much time and effort preparing the teaching materials, but Saturday afternoons are my favorite. I never leave the herbarium without feeling fulfilled during these weeks. What more can I ask for when I am  blessed with a life with children and plants? 

Monday, December 01, 2014

A room with a view / 窗外有樹景


I used to sketch students when they were sitting for monthly exams. Now I realize there are various views outside the windows. The 12th graders live in a building which is surrounded by trees on the two sides. The views of classrooms on different floors differ. I had planned to sketch the Alexander Palm from the bottom to the top on the day of the midterm, but it didn't occur to me that I was assigned to go to a classroom on the other side. In the morning I sketched the leaves, but when I went back there in the afternoon, I noticed that the tree had blossomed. Best of all, I found the name of my new friend on the same day by asking my colleague, which is the mango tree. 


   My class lives on the top floor, which gives me opportunities to observe the top of the Alexander Palm trees every day. Now I always look at the rounded bright red fruits with amazement. I wonder if the girls, who are buried in books, also notice the beauty of the real world. 


   We are counting down our days together. I say, "This classroom is the closest place to my dreams. I went to London from here. I am reaching my dream of being a book writer and illustrator from here too." I so hope the room has the same significance for them too. 


   I want to say, "Thank you for your company!" to the trees and the girls! 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Weekend Children's Museums / 假日兒童博物館


Every spring and fall, there are mobile weekend children museums prepared by the animal museum in front of College of Life Science in NTU on Saturday afternoons from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Students and staff come up with various activities for children. This fall, the herbarium decided to join hands with the animal museum. For the six weeks, the staff and volunteers will give children and adults a tour of the outdoor gardens. Meanwhile, I will host doodling workshops in the herbarium. In fact, on the first Saturday, we only meant to draw some visitors to the herbarium, but I found the experience rather pleasant and inspiring. Thus, starting from the second Saturday, we officially became part of the weekend children museums.


   Though I made some preparation, I couldn't help feeling a little bit nervous in the beginning. The quiet herbarium was going to liven up because of children. I focus on some star specimens to be the teaching materials. 


   This is the eye-catching Elephant Yam. I bet the specimens are excited about the children's coming. I mean, I would blush with so many eyes staring at me! 


   I appreciate the enthusiastic help of the staff and even my ex-students. However, every weekend before the workshops, I can hardly believe that I have to say the same thing for six times. Yet, I feel more at ease than at work. Upon seeing this, I do feel that I can go on and on. Shouldn't a museum look like this on the inside? 


   Every group of children is different. Yesterday, some kids felt so at home. I found the image to be very moving. When it came to the last group of kids yesterday, each of them held a colored pencil in their hand, unable to draw anything. I kept saying, "It's Saturday. Don't think too much. Just draw whatever you want to." In the end, three boys of different sizes from the same family came forth and showed me their drawings shyly. How thoughtful and indirect, yet how lovely! 


   I can't explain why every weekend my heart is filled with joy. These are just some tiny moments, but they are unforgettable. For example, I can't help bursting into laughter when the kids try so hard to answer my questions only to bring forth really really hilarious answers. They are so involved in the drawing activity even only for ten minutes. Maybe what I see at last is an abstract drawing, but I don't mind. Some kids don't feel like drawing, but they will ask me with worries, "Can I not draw?" Even that is appealing to me. Or it might be a two-year-old who doesn't know how to hold a pencil. Still, she insists on drawing short lines at a slow pace. A little boy carries a super beautiful English book bag on his back; a group of kids who rushes outside look confused when I ask them to go to the exhibits near the entrance; a big boy says with confidence, "I like plants." A talkative boy finally stops talking and draws hard when I announce he won't get a gift if he does not put his mind to it. One really young boy asks me who drew the teaching materials. I answered like a kid too, "Me. Lovely right?" Last but not least, there are always some works that make my day.  


   It's fun to observe the parents too. Some are so tired that they fall asleep right away upon sitting down on our magic long bench. Others participate in the workshops and interact with me. Somehow I am always glad to be where I am. It's wonderful to be a temporary babysitter. I am constantly asked if I have children because I speak their language. I guess it's because I don't that I have time to learn their language. 


   After half an hour, the kids wave me goodbye, which is a beautiful moment for me too. To make them leave, I will remind them, "The outdoor gardens are fantastic!""The next museum is even better!" I feel I have known some more children in this world. If we happen to run into each other in the evening around NTU, they will greet me with passion. Maybe we will forget each other, but the short encounter is just great. 


   Still, I know I have stayed in some people's memory cards. 


   The weekend children's museums will last for another three weeks. You will find us from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday afternoon in front of the building of College of Life Science! 

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Chance / 剛好


My Saturday afternoon in the herbarium is usually spent in complete silence. It's my perfect study away from home. The three hours are dedicated to doodling and writing postcards to my big and little friends.  


   I have planned the series I am going to draw in the herbarium beforehand, but God has a surprise in store for me. I am sent to pick up more than fifty visitors from the animal museum. However, our tiny exhibit room can't accommodate so many people all at once, so I take the children to the outdoor gardens. It chances that I have prepared more than thirty pieces of blank paper today. It also chances that I carry two packs of colored pens with me. So each child is given a piece of paper and a colored pen to draw their favorite plant. Some kids finish the task within seconds. Fortunately, it chances that I have a stack of colored paper with me. They are invited to create collages, and I do see some brilliant ideas. Anyway, I try to keep them busy for half an hour, which is amazing since I wasn't even informed of their coming in advance. 


   After the crowds leave, there come some more visitors in small numbers. Half an hour before the closure, a seven-year-old girl lingers out of love for plants. She doesn't feel like going away until her mom asks me to give her a hug. I have been working in the herbarium for more than a year, but I have never got such a fantastic gift.


   I am just a very tiny fern leaf. I don't even know how to spell the word "important," but my appearance in time turns some people's garden green for a second.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

White picnic / 白色野餐節


Play hard when I run out of inspirations. I lie on the grass looking at the city sky, which looks like a super big bowl. It's impossible not to feel elated. 


   I am surrounded by picnickers in white. We are accompanied by a white horse. What a dreamy day! 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Aura / 氣場


Once A-mei said to me, "I went to this design company, and the lady in charge has an aura that reminds me of you." I was amused to hear such description because I hardly used the word "aura" to describe others. 


   Lately I've always met up Granny in the hospital. Usually I am trapped in a certain kind of dilemma before going. However, I do not feel more frustrated upon seeing Granny tortured by physical pain. She has an aura that makes me see warmth and new life. When I leave, my universe is reconstructed one more time. 


   Several months ago Kai doodled on my Moleskine book. I took over afterwards. We created a dazzling Granny Bird dressed in a glamorous outfit. She looks so carefree. Though the acrylics have gradually fallen off, I still love her very much for she always makes me recall my one-of-a-kind granny.