Our Sackville Diversion

Cranewood on Main

With the kids having so many days off over the weekend I thought a road trip of some sort might be in order. My first thought was a trip up West, but as I don’t recall ever travelling past Summerside I had no experience to guide us. So I relied upon Peter Rukavina’s Visit West Prince Every Five Years post to build out a 2 day 1 night itinerary. Unfortunately, almost every point on his route has disappeared or was closed for the season. I forgot how the Island tends to close down come November.

So as we often did in Taiwan, I looked into booking some time in a resort – the only one being the Mill River Resort near O’Leary. Unfortunately, questions sent to the resort via email were never answered, so I scuttled those plans for a last minute day trip to Moncton.

I’ve had on my todo list for some time, whenever en route to Halifax or Truro, to make a quick diversion to Sackville’s Cranewood on Main Bakery and Café. We haven’t been able to find the time during out last couple trips, but I made a deliberate route change on our drive to Moncton. I wasn’t disappointed. The coffee and food was fine, but the main attraction for me is the ability to sit in an interesting place, whilst soaking up the conversations of arts students intent on changing the world.

I like small college towns and after we finished our sandwiches, soup, latte, hot chocolate and cookies, we went for a quick walk around the town and campus, buying some used books as we went.

We’ll likely visit again – despite the extra bit of milage, it’s a much more interesting waypoint than the admittedly more convenient Irving Bigstop that we have been visiting in the past.


Relaxed education

We are in the midst of a long 5 day weekend for the kids and as I sit to organize my calendar for the next couple weeks I see that they have yet another 4 day weekend coming up this month. Though we consciously came here for a change in how our kids are taught, coming from the frenetic system that they grew up with, the education system here still comes across as a shock. The amount of paid PD days teachers get here would be the envy of the people I have worked with in the past.

Thus far the greatest challenge they have faced, other than English writing, is that they no longer face the overwhelming workload and pace of study that they had in Taiwan. The effect of this was that their days from early morning to night were completely prescribed. Often my daughter would start the day at 5:30am with the swim team and end it at 9:00pm with test prep classes. My son hasn’t had any homework to date and my daughter hasn’t much in High School either. Tests are few and far between.

I fear they will become complacent or bored.

The positive side to this new found freedom, is not that they can brag to their old classmates about how relaxed everything is, but that they now must be self-directed learners. There are no requirements or pressure of any kind. If they want to achieve excellence then they must do so on their own, without the goading of a teacher, or a long checklist of things that must be finished. They only have to put up with me – which is likely enough for any child to bear. If they can manage to study above and beyond the modicum that is provided here than I think they will be far better off in the long run.


What we miss

Wether it’s in a supermarket like this or one of the many corner fruit markets I miss the abundance of high quality great tasting fruit that we could find in Taiwan.

Dinner time for us is a time to catch up with the days events, a time for me to pontificate on the importance of academic performance, and an opportunity to discuss whatever topics pop into the kids heads; lately it’s been a weird mix of cannabis use, Korean pop and my sons desire to attend Rice University (my daughter wants to escape to Europe). I have been trying to ensure that, in spite our active after school schedule, we keep this routine, which means we might be eating dinner at 4, 6 or after 7. Facilitating these conversations was a role my wife played in the past and a role that I am trying to temporarily fill in her absence. Luckily the kids have lots to talk about as I’ve never been in the habit of sharing the banality of my day over food.

One of our last conversations included all the things they miss since leaving Taiwan. They listed the usual things that Taiwanese would mention: the food, the convenience of everything and of course their friends. Friendships seem a bit harder to cultivate here than in Hsinchu; Camren was incredibly active these past few years but while having made friends here, there doesn’t appear to be any shared activities yet.

One curious revelation came from this conversation. My daughter now identifies herself as from Taiwan, and yet while in Taiwan she most recently would state she’s from Canada. Of course we all knew there would be an adjustment period, you can’t expect to land in any new place and expect to be connected in the same way someone who has lived here there whole lives. I, having grown up here, still feel more like an immigrant than anything else.

During the course of the conversation they asked what I missed and I stated the expected, the fruit, the coffee and the language. I have regrets about my rapidly diminishing Chinese language ability. I didn’t mention how much I miss the work; which would be as much a surprise to them is it is to me (It was common for me to come home visibly stressed many nights).

Right now, I’m fairly certain if I returned to Taiwan or China to work at a tech company in some capacity I would regret the decision fairly quickly. At my age and experience I might not be a great fit for many organizations. But I do miss the pace, the variety and challenge of the work, being a designer, and the smart people who pushed me to keep up. It’s an exciting place with the expectation that almost anything can be done, a real emphasis on making vs marketing. And having an office full of colleagues with all the antics that often come with that can be a big bonus. Now when I come out of my cave here in Stratford, I sometimes forget how to talk.

It’s common to romanticize a memory, “in the old days” things were often better we say, but in reality the work culture in Taiwan was insane, with too many having no life outside the office. Living here is great and I’m sure the kids will adjust to ice cream over fruit, hamburgers instead of beef noodles, and enjoy the international feel that Charlottetown now provides.


Reading is a pleasure and a skill

“My grafted, spasmodic, online style, while appropriate for much of my day’s ordinary reading, had been transferred indiscriminately to all of my reading, rending my former immersion in more difficult texts less and less satisfying,” she writes. Wolf soon tried again, forcing herself to start with 20-minute intervals, and managed to recover her “former reading self.”

I’ve found that my appetite for reading as much information as quickly as possible, all of it screen based, has affected my ability to read more difficult texts as well. I consider it more a problem with patience – something that can be solved my taking a deep breathe, slowing down, and taking the time to wade through writing with more substance.

Wolf recommends that early-childhood education continue to focus on print materials, with digital devices and lessons added over time. That includes how to code — essential for learning “that sequence matters,” whether it’s in a piece of writing or a piece of software — and how to handle time and distractions. (Sign me up.) Wolf calls for teachers to be better trained to use technology effectively in classrooms. Handing out iPads does not teach children how to read well on those devices or manage time on them. That requires active guidance from adults in the classroom and at home. She also wants more (and is involved in) research on how best to support learners, including people with dyslexia, who are not served by traditional approaches to literacy. It’s one of the brightest prospects sparked by the digital leap.

Both of my kids are required to read from print materials everyday which is more of a challenge than it should be; my son is more enamoured with the sliding images under glass devices, and my daughter, who used to read multiple novels a day, but has since discovered the joy of online Chinese comics.

Book review of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf


Giving thanks and feigned apology

We have a lot to be thankful for. A life thus far filled with rich experiences, food to eat, a warm place to live, and healthy family and friends.

This past long weekend was spent at friends and relatives dinner tables eating wonderfully prepared food and enjoying some non-work related conversation. It was a welcome respite, especially since I have found myself recently a bit out of sorts, a combination of reverse-culture shock and the stresses of being alone in the house with two warring teenage kids.

Eating copious amounts of good food that others have prepared does wonders for your temperament.

Yesterday was my turn to prepare dinner, as I invited “the old folks” over for some turkey and the traditional fixings that they might enjoy. No one starved but I lack the patience or skill to prepare these types of meals.

Unfortunately the weekend didn’t have a happy ending. In the early afternoon, my son and I were butting heads and he decided to walk to the Stratford library, where he might use a computer without my restrictions. I knew the library was closed but thought him taking a short walk might be good for both of us. On his way home he walked by a house just when the owner of a large German Shepherd opened the door to let their dog outside. The dog charged and attacked Camren, breaking the skin, and leaving a large painful bruise (and torn pants). The owner feigned an apology and my son hobbled home.

Later we drove back to the scene, and I realized that this was the same dog that when outside on lease, would threaten me every time I ran past the same house.

I contacted the RCMP and we are going through the process that the Island provides for such instances. It’s sad, a dog like this is a threat, and I’m hoping that the dog can be properly cared for either by it’s current or future owner.


Calabina

This of all the photos I have taken of Catriona these now 15 years wouldn’t rank anywhere near the most “share-worthy”. Taken inside the environment we built to house my tangible interface exhibition, the work in which she inspired by her love of making music, with all manner of objects found around our home. She, and Camren, have continued to inspire me and send us in all kinds of directions that we would never have had the joy of exploring if we hadn’t had them. She’s 15 today, and adamant to follow her own path, which is exactly as it should be.


Jordan Peterson as bedtime author

In some political circles admitting that I read from Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life for my son’s bedtime story would constitute a form of child abuse. But thats exactly what I did these past nights, delving right into how we are related to lobsters and tying in our usual talks about zombies (which seems to weave in well with Peterson’s storylines). The whole lobsters brains exploding is perfect stuff for young boys.

Though perhaps beyond the age of having a bedtime story my son always loved listening to my wife read to him in English, a great contrast to his daily use of Chinese, and wonderful mom and son time. They have continued this night time tradition despite being 13 hrs apart, but sometimes the stars don’t align, and we can’t find the time to connect via FaceTime. So I have been filling in.

I’ve seen Jordan Peterson called all manner of vile terms, often from people who prove they are unfamiliar with anything he has written beyond the occasional soundbite. Personally I’ve found him to be a skilled debater and I can find a number of things he has said or written that make particular sense to me. I’ve long hoped that someone far more intelligent than I would debunk him on facts, not ideology, but I haven’t had the privilege of witnessing it. I do find his writing a weird mixture of his interpretation of research, oversimplifications, weak attempts at humour, and conjecture as statement of fact.

I like exposing myself to all kinds of ideas (I like Jocko Willik too), especially from those who are so different from myself, or have ideas I might not readily agree. I would hope my children might do the same, and would study with an open mind the works of a wide range of thought leaders, forming their own opinions. Which is one of the reasons we head to church on Sundays, where they revel in the glow of liberal Canadian ideals, wrapped in a conservative establishment.

After I read chapter 1 of Jordan Peterson’s book, I wanted to discuss the lobsters, wrens, and the more complicated stories within, and what it all might possibly mean. But my son had already fallen asleep which might just make Jordan the best bedtime storyteller ever.


Whereby I torture my son into recording a video

We spent some time on the North Shore on Sunday and it was surprisingly pleasant. It’s a surprise as I hadn’t considered a beach visit during any time other than the summer. It’s a bit like beaches cease to exist once the cold comes – except in Thailand of course, where the beaches become more enjoyable and exist all year round.

My son’s interest in becoming a Youtube star has waned, he blames the fact that we don’t have our old iMac here, but I suspect it’s just part of his changing interests


Spelling will come in time

I think it was my son who tried to fill out “Choir” on our fridge whiteboard. The latin alphabet and their connections to phonic sounds is still taking root, but I’m certain he will be speaking and writing like a local in no time flat.

For kids, putting these events on a physical representation of a schedule, and at eye level, seems to serve as a better reminder of the weeks activities than my preferred method of putting it all in a shared Cal. I’m debating whether to teach them how to manage their time using digital or analog tools; daytimer or iCal/reminders/etc. I’m leaning to the analog.


The start of an adventure

Last week not only marked the first day of Canadian school for my kids but also the first time they have had the opportunity to ride a school bus. In the days since, all seems to have gone well, with the biggest complications being that the girls that my daughter has met “only seem to only talk about their looks”, and the fact that everyone plays Fortnight and my son doesn’t. I think we can live with challenges like that.


Band camp

Camren doing his Freddie Hubbard impression

Camren participated in band camp this past week for fun, and as a means to get a start on playing trumpet in the band program in the fall. His motivation for playing trumpet may have been in part due to my own long history with the instrument.

If the amount of students who participated is any indication, the band program is thriving on Prince Edward Island. Fantastic. The benefits of music education are apparent, and of all the places I have visited PEI would appear to have one the more successful programs. Too often music education is positioned as an extracurricular, at a high cost, forcing parents to make hard choices based on their available resources. More often than not, this results in many children missing out on this valuable experience. In Taiwan in particular, music education is expensive, and often neglected after elementary school, in favour of language or math. It’s a shame but I’m so happy that my son can take advantage of this opportunity, like I did when I was his age, while we live here on the Island.

Look at all these wonderful trumpets:


Things just got real

Last Friday early morning I took my wife Sheryl to the airport so that she could begin her long journey back to Taiwan. That marked the start of what should be a challenging, and I hope rewarding, year here on Prince Edward Island. For all practical purposes I am now an unemployed single parent of two kids.

We’ve been planning this move for years now; saving money, taking on new responsibilities, and making time for experiences that we had procrastinated on. But as my early morning inspiration Jocko Willink has said, the best laid plans don’t survive contact with the enemy, so in the end in order to make this plan a reality, one of us had to stay behind working (we made the move realizing that I likely would never work in a job in Prince Edward Island like I had in Taiwan or China). I could have gone back to China, but there are few jobs as stable as my wife’s, so she volunteered.

We have experience living apart from my year in China, but I was home frequently, just a 90 minute flight away, so this will be very different. We won’t see her but twice this coming year.

So far, other than some boredom on the kids part, something I hope will disappear when school starts, everything seems to be going fine. They are experiencing some culture shock and some communication issues, as am I. It will be a good chance for them to learn some independence, something lacking in their lives in Taiwan, and I can be assured that they will survive, if not thrive, no matter how many mistakes I make.