Friday, October 28, 2011

Where did October go?

The view from the rooftop pool of our health club.

We still find ourselves saddled with more than a few items of furniture that we don't particularly care for, but we have much of what we need. A few weeks ago I was up early on a Saturday morning and was passed by at least a dozen buses filled with workers being brought into the city to work construction or clean the streets and park in the hot sun. They have very few possessions and most live in pretty crowded conditions. Being confronted with a population that has so little can really make you feel bad about whinging (Great Word! it's how the Brits and Aussies talk about complaining) in the slightest. We're making do, but in reality we're more than making do, we're thriving.

I have to admit that the part of town we live in has just the right amount of bustle--not so much as to overwhelm, but just enough to enliven. Every now and again we toy with the idea of making our break from the city in order to approximate a suburban lifestyle, but the pull of all the amenities, conveniences and activities is just a little too strong.

This is basically Liam minus the green skin and shell.
Karate and Kobudo continues to go well. James is really enjoying it, and the fact that they keep letting him come back is a testament to the patience and kindness of the senseis. For the past few months, there was a sign at our dojo indicating that they were looking for a new location. The building they were in is pretty old for the city, maybe twenty five or thirty years old, and it's slated to come down so as to make room for something new. We were a little worried that the dojo might be moved more than a short walk away which would put the onus on me to get them to their lessons, but it turns out the location they found was in our very building. The kids are excited and I'm relieved. Speaking of Karate, Liam recently tested and passed his green stripe belt in kobudo. Basically what that means is that he is getting quite good with nun-chucks and the bo staff, and that he's now allowed to play with marshall arts daggers called sais (for those who aren't sure what sais are, they're the weapon favoured by the teenage mutant ninja turtle Rafael). They are fortunately a blunted instrument, but they're pretty heavy and every time he starts twirling them about I fear a little for his toes. It's pretty cool to watch him. If he wasn't enjoying it so much, I might worry that I was trying to relive my childhood through his.

The new play sets at one of our favourite parks.

It can be very tiring.

I've written about the Corniche before, a long strip of waterfront with beautiful beaches, fountains, and a fantastic bike and walking path. It's about a fifteen minute walk from our apartment and is one of my favourite things about Abu Dhabi. On Thursday we participated in the 1st Annual Walk for Hope. It was great to get out with the family. James was hoping for more of a race, but the rest of us were more than happy about the forced saunter, and the weather was, as always in late October, absolutely perfect.

It has been a few weeks since my last post and we have been busy. It's just hard to identify what we've been busy at. Work continues to be both interesting and challenging for me. I am finding that I'm both becoming more efficient and feeling like I'm actually getting less done. I don't think that it's supposed to work like that.

I've been reading a lot more education related books and feeling more excited by my profession than I have in a long while. Like with most jobs, it's easy to get into a bit of a rut and to become so focused on the day to day that you never get a chance to step back and look at the big picture. These books have forced me to look at some specific things I am doing in the classroom and forcing me to evaluate the effectiveness of certain teaching habits I've held for a very long time. I'm not a bad teacher, in fact there are some things I do quite well. It's just that the things I've always been confident about as a teacher may not actually be the things that matter in the long run.

For anyone looking to justify hours and hours of video game playing, you might want to read Jane McGonigall's Reality is Broken. It turns out that all that during all that time I spent saving virtual worlds I was actually developing certain skills and habits that could help me save the real one. She's a little optimistic about the hopes and dreams of your typical World of Warcraft player, but she makes some interesting points about why we play games and how we might apply the reward systems built into the best games into real life scenarios. It's another book that's got me thinking about how I can better motivate and support the students I work with. And it turns the many hours I spent playing Portal and Super Mario into training for better world citizenship.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Masdar City, Wendy's, Avatar and Apple

A relatively unremarkable past few weeks. It's been good to get back into the routine of work. I've been enjoying working with my students and colleagues. I like teaching. It can be immensely satisfying when done well; however, it is an occupation that continues to daunt me. Years ago, when I was going to school, I worked at a mail order company specializing in Smokey Bear merchandise ( I had a few responsibilities, but my main job consisted of the timely packaging of stuffed bears into the perfect box. After a few years of it, I have to admit to a certain level of skill. In fact, I feel like I was a pinnacle of packing perfection. When I was in the zone, I could look at an order and know, without question, the perfect box and just the right amount of packing material. I was as good as a man could be at that job. I doubt I will ever enjoy that feeling as a teacher. Every day I feel like I'm learning new ways to teach, and that there is always room for improvement. It's a profession that keeps me humble (to a certain degree) and for that I should be grateful.

A couple of weeks ago, we had an honest to goodness outing (owning a vehicle allows you to do stuff like that). We went to Masdar City, located not far from the Abu Dhabi airport. It's an ambitious project in the heart of the desert. Designed to be a model of sustainability and green technology, it has the potential to revolutionize our approach to building and sustaining viable living accomadations over the next few decades. I was taken with the architecture and design of the place; the kids loved the driverless electric cars. You might think it a little ironic to find green initiatives in the heart of an oil rich nation, but there is a real vision and desire here to use the wealth of this nation to create a lasting legacy.

We also went to the first Wendy's in Abu Dhabi. Now that I can get a spicy chicken sandwich here, I don't know why I'd ever leave.

James turned five last week. He's owed a belated birthday party with friends (Miranda too for that matter), but I think we acquitted ourselves pretty well as far as cake and presents were concerned.

It's a volcano!

As a family, we just finished working our way through Avatar:The Last Airbender, a cartoon series the kids had watched a couple of times through already but wanted me to watch. It's been a little tradition of ours to watch an episode before the kids march off to karate. I had heard good things about it, but I never would have anticipated enjoying it as much as I did. The humour was genuine and I laughed out load often, but there was also some real emotional depth that I didn't anticipate. By the end of the series, I was fully invested in all of the characters and their respective journeys. Definitely one of the most satisfying things I've seen in a while. It's available on Netflix streaming and even if you don't have kids, I'd recommend it. Warning, you might be tempted to watch the live action version by M. Night Shaymalan. Don't.

Also, I thought I'd link to a commencement address that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford a couple of years ago. Obviously, there's been a lot written about him and his genius, and I don't really have much to add. When I learned that he had passed away, I was much sadder than would have expected. I've been a fan of Apple products for a very long time, and after some effort, I've converted pretty much everyone in the house to them, but I was sad for more that not having him at the head of one of my favourite companies. I was sad because a person who had an actual, tangible impact on my life and the way that I do many things is no longer with us. It would be hard to measure or quantify his impact. Obviously, he changed the way we consume media, and he was directly responsible for some of my favourite movies of all time. Even as I look at some of the pictures of Masdar City, it's hard not to see the Apple influence. The speech below is worth your fifteen minutes if you haven't seen it before.