One of the most unintentionally thought-provoking scenes from television that has always stood out in my memory comes from a Chinese television show I watched several years ago. Its a love story between a fairy and a mortal. You know the deal. These things aren’t supposed to happen, but what are you to do when love comes a knockin’? [Bleh! Turn the light off till it goes away! Or call the cops!] They convince their parents to let them marry and as a wedding present the father of the bride presents them with 5 envelopes he received from the powers that be. In each envelope is a certain length of time and whichever one they chose determines how many days they can spend together. So the newlyweds choose an envelope and go home excitedly to open it up and…its a week. Understandably deflated, the fairy decides her father wasn’t happy for them after all and somehow was responsible for their being gypped out of more time together so she marches off to complain. How could the father truly love his daughter and leave her with such a short time with her beloved?! What happens next is the real teaching moment for me. The father opens up the envelopes that she didn’t pick to reveal 1 hour, 1 day, 2 days, and 4 days. They had picked the longest time, not the shortest. They hadn’t gotten gypped, they had been fortunate. Suddenly what they originally had considered so little seemed like so much. Perspective makes all the difference.
For as long as I can remember, I have put myself in the category of ‘not smart’ people. Once, maybe twice in my life, I have confessed to people that at the time of confession I felt smart. I have always been insecure about my intellectual abilities, neither owning up to being smart or hard-working, just somehow good at convincing people that I was both. Particularly the last two years in graduate school I did nothing but complain and be sad about not knowing enough, not being smart enough, my poopy research skills and an inability to read and digest information. What a difference perspective has made.
Its Thursday which means its time to be thankful and what I am really thankful for this week is my mind and the opportunities I have had to improve it. I say this partially because of what I’ve learned of the education system here in Laos and partially because my brain knows some cool tricks that I’ve gotten to dust off and use here.
Yesterday, I was talking with one of the staff about their future plans and we got on the subject of school. I said school (meaning college) is expensive in America and I borrowed money to go to school so I probably would not live in Laos forever because I would not make enough to pay that money back if I did. My coworker chimed in, “School here expensive, too. You have to pay for primary school and middle school and high school. Sometimes, if you pay for primary school then you can’t pay for middle or high school, or if you can pay for middle school you can’t pay for the others. We also can’t borrow money from the government to go to school. Most of us just don’t go. Maybe if you’re from the city you can go through high school, but if you are from the village, no, you can’t.” Even if you are able to go to school in Laos you may graduate from highschool never having written a report, read a whole book, written an outline, or any of the things we consider standard. And here I am, a dozen musical instruments and several languages later, with a master’s degree and a mind that can do cool stuff (which is not to say that my co-workers don’t also have minds that can do cool things).
Yesterday I sat down to make comments on the staff outlines that they wrote. Within a short time, I had come up with at least 10 different ways you could teach someone how to write outlines, assuming they are starting from not knowing how to organize information at all and aren’t able to tell the difference between general statements and details. (If anybody’s interested how I’d love to share). It doesn’t happen often, but I was impressed with myself looking over those ideas. It included a puzzle and games with fruits and labels.
There’s a guy who works in the museum cafe who speaks Japanese and so while I can’t speak with him in Lao (yet) we can talk a little in Japanese. Tonight when I was scavenging for dinner (I look forward to the day when I can write my Thanksgiving post on FOOD) I ran into a guy traveling by himself from Nanjing who I spoke with in Chinese.
Also, because I love to see people absorb and apply new information in meaningful ways I am grateful for my job. There are not only endless opportunities for me to learn, but for me to teach as well. And those moments when people acquire a new metacognitive tool or learn something they find genuinely interesting are really special to me. There are several reasons why getting this job was possible that I think have nothing to do with my mind. But without this particular mind and the opportunities I’ve had to improve it I could not do this job. And this job makes me very very happy.