Ever Think Of


Ever think of
Sliding past gleaming
Crumbs, grime, talk-downs, blanks
And crawl away
Past the gate, past the guard, past the
Elves that make sure you stay in line
For every misdemeanor detected
Running, running from the
Ogre that killed Jack, down the beanstalk
Mother is waiting and you must
Heed the warnings to flee, running the
Entire stretch is useless because
Life doesn’t operate that way, does it?
Leave a trail of mock tears, mock smiles
Every shred of proof that you existed
Says that you’d rather be elsewhere
Chatting with funny sisters who make
Angels laugh, intelligent conversation
Punched through the stomach
Every time the ogre blew his top too often
For sand that blinds him
Raspy, hoarse voices
Over din, shriek, caveman, Neanderthal
May your troubles never be this
Hideous, never be this
Embarrassing as your own fault
Lest you conclude life begs no meaning
Like right this moment
Ever think of
Surrendering to the urges that keep you
Company at night?
After everyone has drifted to dreamland
Praying for the grace of a thousand
Endearments and embraces
Fluttering to your side
Rescued from a mean joke
Oh, not funny at all, not at all
Make me another offer, please
Hey, make it a side-splitting one this time
Ease me into the barrel of the gun
Lest somebody forgets the punch line
Lest somebody loses face
Ever think of
Shaking beans, random words that
Capture not one idea but billions
And bottling those in a paper column
Pierced with sticks and stones (that do break bones)
Enshrined in holy unholy light
Fingers dipped in the blood of war-torn
Raging countries
Open fire season
Mad babies atop thrones
Have you ever, have you
Ever conjured up this reality, in your
Lullabies of lilting lullabies
Lulled and dulled into sleep
Ever thought of creating universes where
Seventy thousand bridges are yours to
Cross, consume, play out theater
After theater, roles’ endless resurrection
Patterned nuances, pitting swords
Entering doorways to greener pastures
Flying as the complete colors of paradise birds
Roaming jungles,
Ordering food, choices that you can tick off each
Mellow, not swell-headed, humbled by
His glorious, purposeful answer in the
End, hiding is never the way
Lest we fail to shine
Lest we fall to our knees hungry for only
Scratching one surface out of many
Caving in to the lowest of denominators
Aping the base of who we were once
Pleading for another chance in
Exchange for throwing the dice, risking
Forty five years for infinity
Rolling over our ancestors’ graves
Over femur and soil, history and gravity
Measured by a blink
Hoping to wake promptly
Ending insanity, healing divisions
Left by assuming too much, ultimately wanting to
Let loose.


Democratic Education Around the World

If you are interested in education that allows students to choose their path in the broadest sense, that grants or gives each of them the freedom and respect accorded to every human being that the words “grant” or “give” should not even be used because they imply a “giver” or a “granter” when it is actually already everyone’s right, then you may be interested in the International Democratic Education Conference which will be held on March 2017 in Israel.

I am almost finished reading Yaacov Hecht’s book, Democratic Education, but I can’t wait to share some things from it because they jive with what I hope to study and research while traveling around the world with my husband and two sons.  The book details Yaacov’s experience of starting the first democratic school in Hadera, Israel and of being involved with setting up similar schools in his country and promoting the principles internationally.  The book does not paint a rose-colored picture but reveals the stark challenges and struggles of growth through failures and perseverance.  The idealist is also a realist with his feet firm on the ground, dealing with disappointments and mistakes as well as celebrating the triumphs.  The trajectory of the book goes from the small local communities all the way to the global stage where the network of democratic schools is empowered by knowing and studying each other, learning by example available worldwide.

And this is what I am so eager and stoked to put in table form: in Chapter Seven of the book called, The International Journey, Yaacov lays out an overview of democratic education efforts around the world.  Because I want to visit as many alternative schools as I can in the United States next year and in other countries in the future, I was high-school-crush-tickled-pink reading the general history of the movement in each country.   I wish I could join the IDEC in Israel but because we changed our plans to go to America first, I can only attend the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC) in Tokyo in August next year.

Plus there’s the talk of Yaacov and Simon on self-directed learning that we are organizing in Manila for July 29.  My friends, Donna, Lucy and I have this crazy, lofty dream that someday, mainland China and the Philippines would have their own democratic schools and be the future hosts of APDEC.  We also wish our own children can attend Summerhill or Sudbury.

Japan Democratic education system in Japan focuses chiefly on children who are defined as “school refusing children.” By establishing a large network of democratic schools, the democratic education system offers these students the possibility of achievement in non-academic fields.  A democratic university (Shure) was established headed by Kageki Asakura.  Each student chooses to specialize in a field that interests him with the accompaniment of a volunteer mentor (a high-level expert in that area).
South Korea A large network of over 100 alternative schools have been formed which operate with a democratic approach.  Some are for students who have dropped out of regular schools, while others are regular schools which have created alternative tracks to success.
India The central question occupying the educators of India is how to develop an educational system that would be active and relevant to street children and working children who do not come to existing schools at all.  Democratic educators in India began to operate frameworks that would enable children to choose from subjects that were close to them.  Recently, they have noticed that the young children prefer to learn from older children.  There are teacher-advisors aged 16-17 who work with younger children, where the subjects are determined together.
Thailand Saowanee Sangkara and Jim Connor have founded one of the most fascinating centers of democratic education, “Whispering Seed.”  This is an orphanage which runs on principles of democratic education and sustainability.
New Zealand Tamariki in Christchurch is the main democratic school in New Zealand.  It is an integrative public school subsidized mostly by the State.  The Institute for Democratic Education Aoteaora (Aoteaora is New Zealand in Maori) takes part in opening innovative schools throughout New Zealand.  These schools do not call themselves democratic but they implement most of the principles of democratic education such as individual learning programs and the use of the city and its many institutions as a major learning resource.
Australia Most of the alternative schools have been in operation since the 1960’s.  AAPAE, a network of 14 schools is the main organization working in alternative education.
Russia The Self-Directed School in Moscow was founded by the innovative educator Alexander Tovalsky with some 1,200 students.  This is a fascinating model combining Russian culture and democratic education.
Netherlands Around 20 democratic schools of various kinds were established recently.  These schools are recognized as public schools.
Scandinavian countries Democratic schools with partial or total government funding.  Regular schools are also undergoing processes of democratization.
Germany There are some 50 open schools (small, private school) some of them working with “free approaches.”  Arno Lange is operating a center for alternative education in the city of Jena.
U.K. Summerhill has some 100 students and continues to be the most famous alternative school in the UK and perhaps in the world.  In 1987, the Sands School was founded in Southern England.  In recent years, students and staff members of Summerhill have been involved in processes of change in public and private schools around the UK
U.S.A. The movement is large.  Every there is an AERO conference (Alternative Education Resource Organization).  Since 1995, there has been the Sudbury Valley Conference which unites all schools belonging to that stream.  Despite the large number of democratic schools in the USA (about 100), the majority of them are private and have few students.

The Big Picture Learning is a network of schools headed by Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor developing all over the USA, makes use of a school model based on every student’s points of strength and fields of interest.  The students choose areas of interest and twice a week, they study outside of school in the community, guided by professionals in their chosen areas.

The greatest challenge facing American educators is to try and create democratic schools that will be recognized by the State as public schools.

Canada Some ten democratic schools, the most prominent of which is Windsor House in Vancouver.
Brazil Lumiar was established in 2002 through an interesting partnership between the industrialist Ricardo Simler and Elena Singler, a leading educator in the area of democratic education.  They also founded the Institute for Democratic Education Studies which later became the institute for Democratic Education in Brazil which helps establish democratic schools throughout South America, as well as leading processes of democratization in regular schools.  One of the most significant activities of the Institute was the establishment of some 85 schools in the democratic spirit operating along the banks of the Amazon.

The Apprendiz City School in Sao Paolo is part of the program called, “the neighborhood as a school.”  The entire street, including workplaces, shops, restaurants, art galleries, a circus and sports facilities, all have become a part of the school.

Other Countries Other countries that have democratic schools:

Nepal, Taiwan, Hong Kong, France, Italy, Colombia, Honduras


The AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) has a  list of democratic schools around the world.  If you want to learn more about democratic education, you can go to the IDEC 2017 website where this is from:

Democratic schools are schools that attempt to use the democratic approach in all their systems:

Learning – The right of choice is a leading principle. The students build their own individual study program within which they decide what, how, and with whom they are interested to learn.

Assessment is based on a continuous dialogue aimed at developing the student’s ability to carry out self-assessment.

In management – The school works as a microcosms of a democratic state and includes the three democratic authorities:

The Legislative Authority – the entire decision-making process in school includes all the community (students, staff members, and in some schools also the students’ parents).

The Executive Authority – The parliament’s decisions are performed by execution teams which are comprised of students, staff , and members of the community.

The Judicial Authority – Disagreements in school are resolved by mediation and judicial committees, which are operated by students, staff, and members of the community. 

In personal guidance – Each student chooses a staff member to be his/her personal mentor in one’s learning quest. The role of the mentor is to produce a triangle between the mentor, the student, and the student’s parents. The goal of this triangle is to advance the student.

In the content – The learning contents are those selected by the students. The objective is to teach a subject as a combination of knowledge from the past, up-to-date knowledge, and references to predictions on future development in the area. In addition, the learned subject should never be referred to as a goal in itself. For instance, a mathematics teacher must ask himself how to teach math in a way which is mindful of human rights and promotes them.


The democratic schools are based on humanistic concepts which most likely, had an effect, to some degree, on the education world throughout the human history, and particularly since the organized education processes have started operating in schools.

The pioneers of the humanistic education were Rousseau, Tolstoy, Pestalozzi, Fröbel, Montessori, Decroly, Dewey, Janusz Korczak, A. S. Neill, and many others. Nevertheless, many single out Summerhill School (1921) as the first to implement a democratic system in it, and in all probability as the first to disseminate the idea on a large scale (the book Summerhill by A. S Neill was sold throughout the world and became a guiding light for numerous educators). In addition, it is important to note, that it is the only alternative school that exists and successfully operates since the beginning of last century (1921) and until today. Another guiding light is Sudbury Valley School in Framingham Massachusetts, United States. Dan Greenberg, in his books and articles, tells the remarkable story of the school that also made a huge breakthrough and is showing the way since 1968 until today to educators and schools all over the world.      The first democratic orphanage (without a school) was founded by the Polish-Jewish educator Janusz Korczak (1912). Korczak’s ideas also received a wide distribution and generated a meaningful effect thanks to the children’s books that he wrote (i.e. King Matt the First, which depicts the tale of a state run by a child); the newspaper in which children wrote for children; and the radio program in which he talked to children with children.


Bike Lust


Have you ever fallen in love with a bicycle?  Maybe you were infatuated with a motorbike, car or sailboat but I’m smitten by a bicycle that can never be mine.  It doesn’t matter because I can have him whenever I want.  I can never take him home but when I need to, I can hop from one to another, a temporary polygamy of convenience.

In efforts at being eco-friendly and eco-trendy, Jinghong which we have made into our new home base, boasts of public green bike stations scattered throughout the city.  You can rent the bike for an hour for the price of one rmb (US$0.14), two hours for two rmb (US$0.29).  You get the point.  It’s insanely affordable with a refundable deposit of 400 rmb (US$58) and you get this durable piece of hunk, built to take a daily beating, passed from one master to another.

I’ve been wanting to rent a bike or buy second hand but in our more than a month’s stay in Jinghong, we haven’t managed to get our bike act together until Jason’s bike ordered from Taobao (China’s biggest online store) finally arrived and was assembled the morning after.  Jason claims he purchased it for me but I repeatedly told him I’d much prefer to choose from a non-virtual store.  The one he bought was a foldable bike that neither of us liked and we got into a debate whether to buy bikes for the kids or not.

We checked out four bike stores and Jason didn’t think it was worthwhile to shell out money considering the amount of time we had left in Xishuangbanna before we started traveling again.  I was feeling frustrated because it was important for me to get the kids biking and the bikes could be stored with the rest of our things and used when we got back.  We couldn’t find any second hand bikes and we discovered the public bikes but those were only for adults.

Jason hit upon the brilliant idea of trading the new, unwanted bike with questionable quality for a smaller bike for Joshua.  The first bike store boss didn’t want to make an exchange without extra payment on our part but the boss in the second shop agreed.  To sweeten the deal, we also bought a bike from him for Jimmy.  Joshua got the bike he wanted with gears although not in the color he liked.  The boss offered it to us since it was a color combination (pink and green) that was harder to sell.

We biked by the river with much bliss and joy.  I love how sturdy the basket is on my rented bike.  You can adjust the seat so you can sit up straight, not hunched over the frame, like in the old style, traditional bikes, riding for leisure, not for speed.  The cushy seat is very kind to the butt and the handle is gentle to the palm with it’s curved support. Kudos to the designers who crafted the bike to be comfortable, stable and sturdy.   If there was a bike exactly like it for sale, it would be my dream bike to buy.  Maybe I could steal one but there’s no need.  The public network is quite convenient to use with a station located near our temporary home.  Finally, I have the freedom to investigate Jinghong in my own pace and time.

When I lived in TEDA, Tianjin in the northern part of China, I mastered the town’s layout by biking, eventually got my Chinese driver’s license and was able to drive.  The bike is my initial ticket to independence.  I don’t have to rely on anyone to bring me places.  However, TEDA and Dagang (the other town where we lived) are easy to maneuver around because everything’s within a grid.  Jinghong, on the other hand, has streets that meander much like rivers and streams.  The planning is more irregular and complex, confusing to a navigation klutz like me.  Biking would force me to know the roads and gradually complete a mental map of the city.

Biking is one of the best ways to travel, not as a tourist but as an almost-local.  Read about our bike ride in Dali here and check out my bike story in Taiwan through this link.  In our future family trips, we’d do well to include as much biking as we could arrange.


Gremlin Routes

slide11You start with one route and it multiplies like gremlins as the possibilities and permutations branch off.  My husband is terrified of the gremlins being produced at a pace faster than imagination.  He doesn’t even look at the critters even if he is the designated driver.  He reasons, plans keep changing anyway so I look for other people to bounce off ideas with and get feedback.  When a planner hooks up with a planning-averse, the planner has to do what the planner’s got to do — find fellow research aficionados who have as much fun in the preparation stage as in the journey itself.

Along the way, we hope to stay with families and friends, find couchsurfers who welcome families with kids, meet up with worldschoolers, homeschoolers, unschoolers.  I’m also hoping we could stop over some democratic schools, self-directed learning centers and check out other alternative forms of education.

Following is the evolution of options thus far that I’ve been tweaking and toying around with for the past nights.  I’d wake up earlier than usual itching to edit the power point but it backfires, making me an ill-assembled combination of tired and cranky. The Mexico part of the trip still needs more investigative work but since it comes at the tail end, we have time to gather more information.

In case we pass near your area and you have suggestions or would like to set playdates for our kids (ours are age 7 and 4) or if we could stay at your place, please do drop me a line:


I posted the first three original routes on the Worldschoolers Facebook page and received a number of useful suggestions.

Shannon Jones I vote NOT 3 as it skips Omaha lol.

I am partial, but our city is amazing, has beautiful green spaces and downtown, the best zoo in the country…I could go on and on. 😉

Lynn Perriera Honestly I think it would be a huge shame to do a route like this and skip South Dakota. Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the bandlands, Blackhills gold, corn palace, so many amazing things to do in South Dakota that are highly overlooked.

Carma Wallace My two kids (8 and 6) and I are taking a 6 month road trip next year. But we are starting later trying to avoid winter. I second the suggestion to go through South Dakota. On such a long trip, you are driving through a lot of the fly-over states

Tricia Denning McGhee I know this isn’t helpful, but I really liked Albuquerque! And you are skipping Kansas City too (ok. It’s my hometown but there are some fun things to see). Also Nashville or Louisville would be gorgeous in the fall, that part of the country is breathtakingly beautiful in those months.

Barbara Nebenfuhr Hoffer We did a three week cross country trip last April. We started in South Carolina then went to Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, and Kentucky.

If this route interests you, pm me with questions!

Barbara Nebenfuhr Hoffer Also, if you are hitting some of the northern states before May, some state park roads may be closed due to snow. This is the reason we went a more southern route.

Rebekah Brinner Don’t do any of them. They all skip Yellowstone

Mary Gordon Fonde Berman It all depends on what you are wanting out of the road trip. I am a southern girl and love all the southern states. Food, culture, music and scenery are great.

Kelley Myhre My only comment is that you’re driving through tornado alley during the beginning of tornado season (April-June). The timing also means you’ll miss out on several parks and need to double check whether roads are statistically open due to snow and winds (WY, MT, ND, SD).

Jessi E Hubbard Doula I would adjust your route to go through Michigan if you’ve never been. Our upper peninsula is pretty great.

Kayla Mac Looks like you’d have the possibility to do colonial Williamsburg at the end. Don’t miss that! If I had to pick D.C. as a kid vs Williamsburg, I’d pick Williamsburg a hundred times (we saw all the monuments and toured the White House, but seeing history alive was cooler than architecture as a kid).

Starr Gajdosova Ack, this is so hard! You’re missing out on many amazing things in the South! (Texas gal talking here.) Atlanta, Georgia! New Orleans! Austin/hill country/Marfa/Big Bend. Not sure if you’re looking to do the big cities or travel more off the beaten path.

Melissa Brander I agree that it all depends on what you want out of the city. But looking at the last map with the dots, it seems as if you are just driving through Milwaukee, which is a shame because we have many wonderful things here depending on what you are looking for.

Nicole Ratliff In Colorado go to Estes Park, it’s about 2 hours from Denver. You could spend a whole day doing the Trail Ridge Road in the mountains from Grand Lake to Estes Park. And then you will end up in either a Longmont or Loveland depending on how you exit the park. Either way you can take the highway back to Denver, about an hours drive from either city. I live in Loveland.

Esther Brumme Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, obvs! And Estes Park if you can time it to view the Elks. If you are sporty, you can climb one of the 53 fourteeners.. (mountain tops of 14000ft). Might also be worth coming in from Moab and Arches national park.. spectacular. Have so much fun!

Denise McKelvie Gonyea I would really consider going north from Moab to Salt Lake City instead of going east to Denver. So, north from Moab to SLC, then north through eastern Idaho to get to Yellowstone in Wyoming, then east to South Dakota to stop at Mt Rushmore and Keystone…

Denise McKelvie Gonyea I’d also suggest getting a National Parks passport which is a little book with all the parks in it that you stamp and put sticker in for each National Park you stop at. It’s just makes it more fun. http://www.eparks.com/store/home/9221/Theme-Passport/

Melissa Music If you decide on Route 1 or 2, keep Northwest Indiana in mind. We are 50 minutes east of Chicago and have the most beautiful lakeshore. It’s actually a National Park called Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Michelle Marie VanGurp If you school a kiddo in the general fourth grade age range, get the FREE Fourth grader National Park pass. Go to everykidinapark.org





People were also generous with their advice regarding the choice between a 4×4 or a gas saving VW van.

Robin McKee save the gas money and buy the most space for best gas mileage.

Robin McKee honda oddyssey is pretty good.

Valerie Jean Toyota previa. Great travel van… so much better than vw. If you can find an all Trac it’s awd…best of all worlds and 18 to 20 mpg

Joy Bell We have a Toyota Sienna. It’s reliable with great gas mileage and plenty of room. We get about 28 mpg, or close.

Robin McKee Toyota Sienna and Honda Oddyssey are both great (similar gas mileage).

Joy Bell Yes, I think the Sienna was a little cheaper. That’s how we ended up with one of those. I would have been fine with either. It drives through anything.

Caleb D. Nelson 4×4. It might not be as fuel efficient but it will get you into a whole lot more interesting places than a mini-van will!

Heather Todd I would get a class b or small class c motor home.

Ashley Severson Gilman 4×4 diesel! And like Caleb said, you’ll get through a lot more places than a minivan would.

Tim Lemons You might opt for an awd.. we have an AWD Rogue.. we enjoy the AWD at certain times.. but still have great gas mileage

Robin McKee My brother and I traveled across the country in a Honda Odyssey. We slept in it at night (saved money on accommodation), and visited nearly every place we needed. Rarely are you going to be going off-roading to need a 4×4, and if so, u’ll need more gear etc. We went down some pretty sketchy roads with our minivan and just had to be careful, but were fine there too 🙂 We did not miss-out by having a mini van.

Michelle Elizabeth Depends on what roads you want to explore. My husband likes at least one off road experience a week. Totally worth it because it makes us all happy!

Michelle Elizabeth We did the old wagon trail across the Mojave desert and in Death Valley. We love exploring old roads (need a 4×4 for that).


Ashley Swierczek Have you priced up the vw vans? We got a 4×4 diesel truck with camper for half the price of the underpowered but agreeably adorable vw vans.


Somebody suggested a website or an app that chooses the most scenic driving routes. I can’t find the particular thread that mentions it, but googling yields enough answers.

New GPS app lets you find the most scenic route

When I asked about the pros and cons of renting a camper vs. buying and selling at the end, somebody shared that they couldn’t sell the camper right away so they had to leave it with a friend to sell it for them.

If interested, get connected to Worldschoolers on Facebook.  It’s unbelievably amazing to see how many certified bat crazy families are out there engaged in this sort of thing.  And that’s just one site.  It dominoes, leading you to many more.   Just tonight, it pointed me to the Inions — a family of eleven (yes, 11!) going around the world and who have been awarded Travelers of the Year by National Geographic in 2014.  You have to click and read it to believe it!



Meet the Inions

X-Files 2


After the initial shock of witnessing a pig killed had worn off, I proceeded to eat the variety of pork dishes with gusto.  The gall bladder was too bitter and the big intestines tasted better than the small while  Jimmy just ate rice.  When the pig squealed out loud as he was tied and carried, it was probably a signal for villagers to rush and help with the party preparation.  The men cut and cleaned the organs and while the women prepped the massive wok and went on manual slicing machine mode.  And when the dishes were done, more people from around the village came – an instant fiesta!

So I didn’t feel that bad that a pig had been killed in our so-called honor because the perk was shared with many but there was still that nagging suspicion in my mind that there was something fishy about the whole “free” vacation because as many know, there is no such thing as a free lunch and indeed this came with the price tag of a few thousands cased in a rather small box of tea samples that my husband had to purchase.  Now, we know in China this is how business is done—that you have to “make” friends, build guanxi and business will follow.  In other parts of the world, this sort of practice would make people uncomfortable, sending alarm bells ringing but respect is still due since it’s a cultural thing: different strokes for different folks.  If people are happy doing biz the way they see fit and it’s consensual (doesn’t that sound kinky), that’s all that matters.

However, is it a form of chauvinism when the woman makes a mistake, the woman is made to feel stupid and dumb (i.e. negotiating a bad transport deal)?  When the man makes a mistake, it’s in the name of entrepreneurial exploration.  You need to spend money to make money.  As a friend who has always warned me about the chauvinism that exists in this part of the globe said, a pig by any name is still a pig.  It could be a wild boar.

Still, it was a lovely, picture perfect mini-holiday within an extended holiday.  Joshua and Jimmy found playmates for the too-brief weekend.  Except for the toddlers, the village kids come home Friday afternoon because they attend school an hour away and stay in the dormitory for five days.  Even if Joshua and Jimmy wanted to stay in the village, they won’t have much playmates most of the week.  In Jinghong, the city where we live, the capital of Xishuangbanna, we have been here for over a month and we still can’t find regular playmates.  The kids go to school and the only opportunity for us to catch them is after class.  It makes me exasperated with this homeschooling thing and wish I can put them into a regular school.

One weekend ago, we joined one of the outdoor groups of Xishuangbanna, climbing a mountain for six hours with fourteen friendly strangers.   I thought other kids will join but the adults thought the climb was too difficult for children.  They were amazed at how “lihai” Joshua and Jimmy were.  Lihai is a Chinese word meaning extreme and it’s a useful adjective to describe great feats but it’s not that lihai really, because in other parts of the world, it would just be a regular walk where kids naturally tag along.

Our legs suffered for a few days after but it was great to connect with fellow nature-lovers no matter how grueling the trek.  It seemed odd that it would hurt so much because we had climbed many mountains before for even longer periods but Jason analyzed that it’s because the same muscles were overworked continuously going one direction instead of having combinations of ups and downs.

An answered prayer already came weeks ago via a serendipitous supermarket encounter.  I spotted Chris and his son, Silas along one of the aisles displaying toys.  They hail from America and they eventually introduced us to a thriving community of foreigners who homeschool their kids and have an informal church gathering every Sunday.  Some of them have been living in Jinghong for more than ten years.  The families had 2, 3 or 4 kids.  Bingo!  Beat that, Bono!

It’s still not easy to arrange playdates, though.  All the homeschooling parents work so combined with family teaching duties, their schedules are hectic but gratefully, I’ll take once-a-week over none.

X-Files (X for Xishuangbanna)


While we were in the Philippines, Jason had time to go around Xishuangbanna for a month by himself, meet people and study tea right at the source.  The other day, he took us to the village of his newfound friend who graciously welcomed us to their home.  Mr. Luo and his family have been producing tea for decades in the Bei Yin mountain.  The tea trees there are so tall you have to climb way up high to pick the leaves, far from the rows of low bushes we usually see.

While sitting on the two-seater garden swing, blogging this morning, I was suddenly invited by Mr. Luo to hop on his motorcycle and get breakfast.  His wife who usually prepares the food left earlier to help pick up the wedding guests.  We rode up and up winding roads till we reached the house where the whole village was having breakfast and women were chopping up chili and other ingredients for lunch enough to feed hundreds.

We returned with take-away bags for the late-risers after which, Joshua and I borrowed mountain bikes.  I half-rode, half-pushed the bike while Joshua led most of the way with little fear and without the mental baggage I had.

Ten years ago, I biked every weekend with the MOB – the Mountain Bikers of Beijing.  My brother and I drove three hours from TEDA to hook up with a mostly foreign group who explored the mountains surrounding Beijing.  Although I was already the worst and slowest rider back then, I was never as hesitant downhill as I was today, perhaps due to the safety-conscious, maternal, survival instinct that kicks in after having children.  I tried to recall the power and care-free confidence of singlehood but I was content to lag way behind my seven-year old son.  The torch of courage has been passed on.  Well, I also put on a lot of weight.

Joshua and Jimmy have the time of their life catching fish with nets and their bare hands.  Two ponds were nearly drained of water so catching the slippery critters was easy except some still darted away too quickly.  With their clothes covered in mud the way childhood ought to be enjoyed to the max, the kids get cleaned up in the stream where the workers proceeded to wash the fish and remove the guts.

Mr. Luo explained that every family in the village contributes manpower to the wedding which last three days.  We join them for one lunch and one dinner.  I doubt if I could last more than that as I escaped the smoke and toasts.  All the wine was homemade, served in recycle mineral water bottles that we mistook as real water containers until I tried washing my hands with it and the women behind our table shouted, jiu, jiu! (alcohol, alcohol!)

On our third morning in the mountain village, Mr. Luo kills a pig in our honor.  I wish I could have convinced my husband that there was no need for this.  The spectacle of killing a pig was almost unbearable and I’m ashamed I still managed to take some pictures with my phone.  I saw her eyes pleading as the pig was tied up and brought to the table.  Now, bacon is up there in my list of favorites with chocolate and cheese but I don’t know how I’m going to eat the next meal.  Although this won’t make me into a vegan like Clement and Fanny because I love meat too much, it’s enough to temporarily stop me in my omnivorous tracks.

It’s good homeschooling/worldschooling biology material for Joshua and Jimmy, but I do have to request Jason that the next time anyone offers this sort of “honor” to please respectfully decline.  It’s one those experiences that once is definitely enough.  I don’t mind buying a rasher of bacon or ground pork from the grocery but this takes it to a different level.  Shall I be a complicit murderer all my life?  I just don’t need to see the eyes of what I eat before they’re killed.  What a ghastly sentence!  To make me feel better or worse or more confused, I research about slaughterhouses.

Then it dawned on me that a day before, I saw the eyes of the fish right before they were cooked over fire minutes after they were caught and I didn’t flinch or grimace.  It seemed a more natural progression — the idyllic scene of camp fire next to a burbling brook.   Does the life of a fish matter less than a pig?  What about dog meat which was served up in one of the dinners we went to in urban China.  I didn’t see it alive but people react with disgust when I tell them I tasted it.  At the end of the day, we will consume what we consume and glimpses of death will flit in and out of our consciousness, unrecognizable, unacknowledged unless a compelling detail disturbs us for a moment or two.

The freshly grilled pork is divine reminding me of my favorite Philippine liempo, only the sauce is spicy. We say goodbye to Mr. Luo and his family, amazed and warmed by their generosity while we have a hard time convincing Joshua and Jimmy to leave.

Visiting a Local Slaughterhouse Wasn’t That Bad

My visit to the slaughterhouse: crossing the line between life and meat



P.S. Bali Villas for Rent


Certain quiet beaches probably unknown to common tourists in Bali have big villas for rent.  You can live there for short or extended periods and live the touted Bali life complete with staff to prepare meals, clean the pool, be at your beck and call — a charmed life in the tropics for people from countries with more powerful currencies than the rupiah, more developed than Indonesia.  All around the villa, regular local life goes on, undisturbed, in a way unaffected except for the employment it generates but the contrast is quite staggering.   If the beach is dirty, you don’t have to swim there because you have your own pool.  The local houses are small and simple while the villas for foreign tourists are straight out of Architectural Digest.  It makes one ponder the hard-to-ponder.  It makes one ask the difficult questions.

I told Yoni (Rony’s husband) that if those beach villas were in the Philippines, there would be high gates and extra security.  Yoni said the security are the staff who work to maintain the villas with the lush lawns. The tourists can keep to their sanitized worlds during their whole stay in the island like in a bubble and never get to know real local life.  I guess I have the same issue with the Philippines where the most beautiful areas have been cordoned off, made off-limits to the public and accessible only to an elite membership-card-carrying few.

Although, it’s nice to fantasize living in one of those well-designed houses with unobstructed views of the sea.  Still, it begs to be asked, is tourism a modern form of colonialism?   But tourism and its ills are everywhere, not just the developing world.  It’s a worldwide exchange where people feed and feed off others’ innate curiosity.  Beyond the laws of supply and demand, lives hopefully improve and on a personal level, things are not as grim.

Joshua and I began an unfinished conversation about colonized countries and the colonizers and I promised him that I’d google the list of colonized and colonizing nations.  In the airport, I was able to research the list online but I haven’t been able to pick up on conversation with him.  It’s a conundrum still at the back of my mind, waiting for a catalyst to start the ball rolling again.

Spoiled in a Good Way


The first beach we went to in Bali was Sanur because it was known to be more quiet than Kuta, the party hearty beach.  I didn’t think I’d fall for such a touristy beach but when we finally reached Kuta a few days later, the cynic in me relented as we found home in the waves.  Joshua, the skateboarding snowboarder, predictably fell in love with surfing.  I was content to rent an umbrella-shaded lounge chair while watching the three of them have fun:  Jason trying to stand on the board, Joshua managing to balance with his teacher’s guidance and Jimmy body-boarding with another hired surfer dude.

So this is how the prices of the accommodation go.  If you want to stay as close to the beach as you can, there are older resorts which must have seen their heyday some decades back and which cost half of the newer, swankier hotels.  They may have a swimming pool which is ideal before and after slathering your body with sand.  You can find better value in the smaller, less busy streets.  And you must know already that to save on food, go local, not Western.  Bargain with the taxi drivers.  It cost us 500,000 rupiah for the three-hour drive from Sanur to Rony’s place in the north near Lovina, and 200,000 rupiah for a one hour drive from Kuta to the Green School area.

We met two guys from Lebanon who rented a car straight away from the airport and they said it only cost them 250,000 rupiah a day and was well worth it.  Jason and I originally intended to rent a car but we chose to hire a ride instead.  The guys from Lebanon were a part of a project called Earthship Biotecture and were filming a documentary about ecological architecture.

Eight days is not enough in Bali but it’s also enough considering the adventures that we’ve managed to squeeze in.  We hit three different beaches but never ventured to the nearby smaller islands where boatloads of tourists disembark.  We weren’t able to return to Sanur and rent bikes which I really wanted to do because the there was a perfect bike path along a lengthy stretch of beach.  We weren’t able to make it to Ubud which some people swear is the best part of Bali, but we can save that for another time when the kids are older.  By then, Bali might have turned into a nightmare if they are not able to turn around the garbage situation.

When we headed back to China, we passed by Hong Kong again and this time we knew better than to get a hotel in the city.  For the same price as a budget hotel in Bali that comes with a garden swimming pool, in Hong Kong you get a pitiful cubicle that makes an overnight stay in the airport, a luxury you would rather splurge on for free.  The kids sleep well but it may be harder for the parents.  What’s a few hours of rest anyway that can’t be compensated for in the plane?   Cathay Pacific may have the best selection of inflight entertainment that spoils us because mainland airlines don’t offer that ridiculously wide range of choices from indie films to commercial hits, from game consoles to meditation videos, from Jamie Oliver to TED Talks.  Ah, peanuts please and a glass of orange juice.

Joshua’s front tooth came off while he was brushing his teeth but the tooth fairy probably skips airports.


Can’t resist posting some more Bali photos:


P.S. Clement, the French couchsurfer we met in Bali just sent me a message on Facebook that Ubud was very touristy and crowded when they visited a few days after leaving Rony’s place.  Perhaps there is such a thing as a race to go somewhere unspoiled and unmarred by tourists.  As soon as a place gets labeled must-see or featured in too many guide books, the flock of phone camera-toting travelers (made worse by the selfie sticks now) swarm in, reaching a point of discomfort.

Made It to the Green School!


My husband was not impressed and held a skeptical view, but I’m an easy-to-please fan and it’s been my dream since watching John and Elora Hardy’s TED Talks.  My husband may not share my appreciation of the Green School, but my friend, Donna who has the same dream would.   Another friend of mine who has not gone there before was also doubtful when I told her that there was a substantial amount to be paid to tour the school, bamboo factory and Green Village, but then the money raised from tours went to sponsoring local children who can’t afford the tuition fee of the pricey international school.

Despite my husband’s discouragement, it was the architect in me who insisted on seeing the Green Village and the education researcher in me who asserted to bring the family to the Green School.   We had a bit of a night adventure going there since it was an hour away from where the hotels are.  I thought we’d be able to find accommodation nearby but the one available was at the Green Village with an astronomical price tag only the super rich can afford and the Green Villas which was fully booked.  We were fortunate that kind souls led us to Made, a common Balinese name pronounced ma-de, not maid.  Apparently, his house near the Green Village is a listed AirBnb.  For the past two years, architects, designers, teachers and parents the world over have made their way to his home, welcomed warmly by Made and his family.  The people who found their path to Made’s doorsteps were pilgrims like me: architects and engineers who wanted to study the amazing bamboo structures, teachers who wanted to learn from the Green School and parents who were hoping to send their children to the well-known, ecologically innovative school.  During the tour, I met a fellow Filipina who wanted to apply there as a teacher.

I don’t know how people cannot be impressed by what we saw but I guess like in everything else, I have to respect people’s opinion and views no matter how different they are from mine.  Perhaps it’s a form of sour grapes, or maybe they see the hypocrisy in the overriding elitist world order of things despite parallel actions reaching out to the local community, or maybe it’s not just their kind of thing but somebody else dragged them there.

The Green School runs a number of programs linking the school to the humble community outside the fantastic, almost mythical world inside.  Trash for class lets local children study English for a whole semester in exchange for 5 kilos of trash.    The middle school students built a bridge together with local engineers that connected two parts of the town, previously inconvenient for villagers to pass.  The school transforms used cooking oil into bio-diesel and produce bio-soap from the excess glycerin.  The nursery and aquaponic areas are roof tiled with windshields from junk cars.  They recycle trash, generate electricity from the river, use waterless toilets, compost waste, grow organic vegetables and do just about anything you can imagine eco warriors would do.

They have a maximum of 25 students for each class with three teachers – one international, one local and one assistant. There is a dedicated area where parents can relax, do their work, meet and organize activities.  The kids can wrestle in the mud or create whatever they want in the Ruang Mimpi or Dream Space.

After visiting school, our group headed for the bamboo factory where photos were not allowed to be taken.  Pictures were okay in the school as long as they didn’t include the students’ faces while in the Green Village, we could take all the photos we want of the unoccupied villas which are usually 80% full.  Seeing how restless Joshua and Jimmy were in the factory, I thought I should not have gotten that part of the tour which was quite educational, but then Joshua told me he found it interesting how the bamboo floor slats were put together by threading a long bamboo nail through the drilled holes.

The Green Villa is a feast for the eyes, designed by somebody who obviously revels in her wildly crazy, creative, genius mind and crafted meticulously by precise, patient, loving hands.  The Green School was founded by John Hardy who wanted to create a magical school and accomplished just that.  His daughter, Elora Hardy continued in the same vein but branched out on her own unique pioneering path producing one-of-kind luxury homes in bamboo.  Imagine taking a piss inside a giant basket or a having a TV room with woven walls to partially block off the light.  Circular bamboo-framed glass doors pivot.  There is joy in every joinery.

I asked the tour guide who were the superstars who have stayed in the villas and he said they weren’t allowed to take photos of or with the guests but he couldn’t help asking Vin Diesel whether he drove through Bali’s curvaceous mountain roads by drifting.

Before going to Bali, I studiously pored over loads of AirBnb options, tried to convince Jason to book but his decision prevailed to choose accommodation once we arrived.  It was plain luck and serendipity that we eventually ended up in Made’s Airbnb listed place and it was an experience to treasure just like our stay at worldschooler Rony’s.  One person who stayed with Made for six months filled the guest room door with tiny flashcards for learning the Balinese language.  Others left sweet little thank you notes and photos of Made with the foreign visitors so staying there, you felt part of a worldwide network sharing a not-so-secret secret.


Made in Bali


I always liked to believe that I was made in Bali.  My parents had their honeymoon in the most famous island more than four decades ago when it wasn’t riddled with resorts and the beaches were far from crowded.  I was born not long after but their December honeymoon could not have produced me because my conception was later around June as my birthday fell on the Valentine month. Paradise swayed little power and magic as the marriage ended in divorce but I’d still like to think I was made in the shores of Bali.

When I conceptualized our trip around the world, I wanted our first stop to be Bali because for over a year researching alternative schools, I have been intrigued by two TED Talks about the Green School and the Green Village.  Bali is also near, doable and requires no visa.  So we slung our backpacks on and did away with check-in baggage to practice our skills in traveling light.

A few days before going to Bali, I stumbled upon the Worldschoolers Facebook page which then led to World Schooler Exchange which, among other opportunities, linked globetrotting families with other families who opened their homes to the wanderlust-infected.

World Schooler Exchange is a platform for people using the world to educate themselves and their families through travel. This site is for all world schooling individuals and families out there who want to live like a local and fully experience another country. Rather than just the usual house swap for a week or two, here you will find swaps for people who want to spend a bit longer and totally immerse themselves in a local community. Everything here is really useful and relevant to making your global learning experience easier, helping you connect with other world schooling families round the world.

And that’s how I found Rony and her lovely family from Israel who have been living in Bali for half a year and before that, Spain.  They had extra space in their lovely beach villa and wanted their three unschooling children to meet people from all over the world.  They welcome couchsurfers too and we came almost at the same time as an artistic, vegan, couchsurfing couple from France.

When we arrived at their house located thankfully in a relatively non-touristy area, Yam and Dandu started painting on Jimmy’s face and arms while Joshua spun round and round the cloth hanging from the roof beams.   They took us to the Sing Sing waterfall and Dandu who was then one day shy of his fourth birthday, became our barefoot guide across the cool rushing water.   Rony carried baby Luna in a sling so she couldn’t cross the river with us.

Staying at Rony’s place, we didn’t feel like tourists but family.  She lent us their car to go to the market in the morning.  Jason drove on right hand side which he hasn’t done since living in England more than 10 years ago.  The market was an adventure with hawkers recognizing we were foreigners the moment we opened our mouth.  Jason took pictures of the weighing scales, the old type with small metal weights.  For dinner, Jason introduced Rony’s family and the French couchsurfers, Clement and Fanny to the Chinese home-cooked favorites: tudousi (potato strips cooked in vinegar) and xihongshi jidan (stir fried tomatoes and eggs).

At first, we planned to spend only one night at Rony’s so that we can arrive at the Green School before the weekend but we decided to stay for Dandu’s birthday.  Clement and Fanny also extended their stay and chose to join the celebration because what can be more important than a child’s birthday?  What a party it was with everyone pitching in their talents.  Rony’s husband, Yoni cooked Dandu’s requested chicken schnitzel after which we scrambled to prepare for the 4:00 shindig: painting the banner, blowing balloons, wrapping souvenirs, decorating the place, popping popcorn.   The adults took turns organizing games for the kiddies one of which was Stop Dance which had one young excited neighbor standing on his head on the sofa.  Clement acted the wild DJ swinging his long hair in the air like a rock star.  After the planned games, the kids took over playing hide and seek.

Clement and Fanny are quite an adventurous pair.  They have been traveling the whole length of Indonesia by hitchhiking and they aim to go back to France by land.  The year before, they drove around New Zealand spending two months in the north island and eight months in the south.  They bought a van, fixed it up and sold it at the end of their journey for more than what they bought it for because of the improvements they had made.  Clement makes wedding videos for a living while Fanny is a graphic artist.  We were mesmerized by Clement’s video of New Zealand with music he mixed on his own and shots taken from a drone.  We were equally awed by Fanny’s artworks on skin and paper.

In one of our leisurely chats sprawled on the couch, Rony told me how the pictures that she posted on Facebook seem idyllic living in a renowned “paradise” like Bali, so she also shares pictures of the kids crying and wailing every now and then.  In the spirit of Rony’s balanced reporting, not everything we did in Bali was perfect as the pictures we choose to take and upload.  The kids fought. Somebody punched another in the eye.  We argued.  We got bad taxi deals and learned our lesson.  It rained so laundry took too long to dry and smelled.  There were overpriced bad restaurants.  Garbage washed up on some shores or gathered by the road side.  Litter marred the coastline.  Vendors in the touristy beaches kept offering unwanted massage, bracelets and hair braids.


Still, dreams are made and dreams come true in Bali.  This is my wish list all ticked off in this trip alone: we were able to tour the Green School and Green Village, live with worldschoolers, party with couchsurfers, try a spontaneous AirBnB adventure and enjoy with local eyes.  Joshua rocked the waves surfing while Jimmy body boarded, swishing left and right, giddy with glee.