The Best Reflection Question E-V-E-R

10 May

Image“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

― Søren Kierkegaard

This quote screams TRUTH louder than a Blue Whale’s lustful invitation during the mating season (200 decibels!).  Children are constantly searching for ways to understand their own world.  And as educators, it is our responsibility to facilitate this process.  When I was working toward my master’s degree in education at Columbia University, my professors loved to tout the importance of encouraging children to verbally reflect on their experiences in the classroom.  But that’s just part of the whole enchilada (or pizza if you’re more into the American/Italian clichés).  What about the other part of the reflection equation?  Like, um, me?  I mean, it’s all-good that we need to help kids learn how to reflect on their learning.  But don’t I, the teacher, need some reflection time as well?    YES! Because Teacher reflection + Children’s reflection = Super Awesome Happy Success Reflection!

But what are some good questions to ask the children and ourselves?  There are many of course.  But there’s one reflection question in particular that I hold in the highest regard.  I give this question Knight status.  Yeah that’s right.  It is Sir Question to you. I believe Sir Question is extremely vital to the quality of the satisfaction a teacher will feel in and out of the classroom. And the award to the most important reflection question goes tooooooooooooooooooo….

What did I (we) learn from this experience, and how will I (we) us this new knowledge to move forward?

You’re probably thinking, “Hey! That’s two questions in one!  Allen wrote an entire paragraph – and a circumlocutory paragraph at that – to make a big deal about how this one question was so important.  And then he put in a second question?!”  Ok maybe you’re not thinking that.  But I’ll bet you’re wondering what hell “circumlocutory” means.  I felt like using a big word to describe being unnecessarily wordy, so I went to and found it there.  Get the irony? A wordy word to describe a wordy paragraph? He-he.

Ok so anyway, back to this awesome question for teacher to ask.  I try to ask this question at least twice/per day: one time to the kids as a whole group, and one more time to myself after the kids go home.  Since I started doing it consistently, the positive impact on our learning in the classroom has been tremendous. 



The Sour Cream Incident

4 May

I paced up and down the dairy section of Topps Supermarket in search for sour cream.  Knowing that dairy products in Thailand make for slim pickings, I wasn’t necessarily expecting to find it, but still had a raging hope that the fermented pearl of lactic goodness would be hiding somewhere among the million other weird products. I had already decided that it would be there, especially after drawing up a beautiful schema in my head for why I needed sour cream that evening: you see — I was meditating at home earlier that day, and then my still mind decided to feed itself the psychological equivalent of heroin – it injected my heart with DESIRE.  I induced a tantalizing lust to bake my own fatty, unwholesome, scrumptious balls of grease.  And to validate this desire, I forced my mind into hard labor – I quickly devised a romantic scene from childhood of my grandmother, Luba teaching me how to make “ponchiki” – Russian doughnuts.  Then we would smother the sizzling doughnuts with spoonfuls of sour cream and sweet clouds of dusty powdered sugar.  A strict warning to all: if you have never tried this, it’s simply amazeballs!  DO IT!

I’m sure your mouth is watering by now, and so you can understand why my pacing up and down the aisle turned into a crestfallen dally, which quickly turned into a mope, and eventually turned into a blatant loitering session of despair.  I just couldn’t get myself to believe that the sour cream wasn’t there.  I needed a miracle – something to snap me out of my woe.

Miracle gently tapped me on the shoulder.  Her real name was Tasanee, as the pinned nametag on her polo shirt suggested.  Tasanee must have been sent by the gods who show mercy on grumbling nudniks like myself (Nudnik is a Yiddish word that means one who complains…I’m familiar with this word from years of personal experience.).  Tasanee was beaming at me with a look of commiseration.  I was sure she was there to pull me out of my predicament by helping me find the sour cream. But in fact she did something quite different.  Instead she politely gestured her hand with an open palm toward the girl who was promoting and serving up samples of Hagen Daz ice-cream.  She was perfect for the job: tall, skinny, pretty, killer smile, no speaking skills required, and she fit perfectly into her low-cut 1960s skirt.  I figured, it was time to give up my quest for sour cream and wait in this ridiculously long line for a small taste bud-teaser-spoon of ice-cream.   Seriously, it was kind of silly to observe the 6 or 7 shoppers shamelessly waiting in line for such a teaspoon.  I laughed at myself while I waited, since I was being just as silly.  When it was my turn, the ice cream girl quickly scanned me with her eyes, and then handed me two mini paper cups of ice cream!  I gratefully took both cups, but intentionally put on a look of inquiry.  Why two when everyone else gets one?  She responded with: “Khun Doo Sow Djai Mak!”  Which translates to: “You seem so sad!”  I glanced at Tasanee who was nodding her head with an empathic yet stern look of agreement, as if telling me, “Hmmm, yes, indeed, you look quite sad.  You’re better off with double rations tonight.”  And then the three of us all laughed together.

I was overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude and light-hearted cheer.  Two strangers went out of their way to respond to my feelings of sow djai.  Indeed, this sour cream plight of mine is quite trivial, yet I somehow feel a greater significance in the outcome of this story: an exchange of smiles and joy.  And those few moments of ice cream were sooooooooooo good.  I left the store with yogurt as my alternative to sour cream.

This story would be good fodder for the writers at Mentos Mint Company.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  How their commercials are super corny, and in the end, the protagonist and the other actors look at each other, tilt their heads to one side, and exchange dumb smiles.  That’s pretty much what happened here.

And now, off to bake ponchiki and smother them with yogurt and sugar! Sweet!

I’m Just a Kid

14 Dec

I sat on the bench at the front gate of my school for afternoon duty.  Almost every Friday, Yok, my fifth grade student, would arrive at 3:30 to hang out and keep me company.  I would sit on the bench and she would hop and skip around me, exuding her boundless reserves of positive energy.  Today was like any other Friday.  3:30 rolled around.  Like clockwork she came waltzing in. I felt a warm surge of joy to see her.  She sat beside me to begin our conversation about life.  Today we shared stories about all the times we broke or dislocated our bones, or when we did other stupid things to hurt ourselves in the past.   Then after 10 minutes I changed the subject during the first long pause of silence.  “Yok,” I said. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“That kind of talk is for grown ups,” she replied.  “I’m just a kid.”  She watched me in silence, studying my facial expression to her astute remark.  I waited for her to say something else.  I was hooked on the story of her life, and I was excited to find out what she would say next.  “And besides,” she said.  “The future is unbalanced.”  Her eyes trailed off into the distance along with the echo of her words that lingered in my mind.

“Unbalanced? What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean the future is an unbalance.  By the time I’m your age I will have changed my mind 100 times. So what’s the point of thinking about it now?”

“You’re so right,” I said in excitement.  “Thank you for being such a good teacher.”  She humbly nodded and extended her hand to gesture a high five.

The future is unbalanced.  What a wise and beautiful thing to say.  Yok understands the sheer futility of living in the future.  I agree with her completely.  It’s so much easier to cut our delusions if we try to absorb ourselves in the holiness of the present moment.  After all, it is the only moment that exists in our whole lifetime.

And her comment, “I’m just a kid.”  She reminds me that I too, am just a kid, and will be forever.  Being just a kid has nothing to do with one’s physical attributes alone.  Being a kid is a way of thinking.  And like all kids, Yok’s thinking is an important teaching for us to live happier lives.  That’s what kids do!  And they do it with purity, sincerity, and compassion.  Thank you, Yok, for reminding me to make the effort to live with joy in the present moment; thank you Yok, for reminding me to always be a kid.

From Zero to Whitney in 60 Seconds

25 Nov

I stood in the crowded Skytrain as it zoomed me to my destination.  The LCD screens blasted continuous cheesy slapstick commercials; the local Thai Bangkokians were glued to their I-phones and tablets; the foreigners studied the electronic train maps; the white expats dumbly stared into space, and I carefully observed the utter monotony of it all.  The usual.  And then a short series of events occurred.  All of a sudden, the volume of the TV commercials became mute.  And there was this weird silence, as if everyone realized that we were all actually not real people but actors in a movie.  And then Whitney Houston waltzed right into the train car!  I’m fucking serious!  In the dead of silence, a beautiful voice of Whitney screamed into the air for all to admire:       


Where was it coming from? I looked around but nobody even cared!  WTF!  OMG! Whitney!  Why wasn’t anyone reacting to this situation like I was?  Finally a middle-aged Thai dude in ripped jeans and long black dread-locked hair, nonchalantly took out his I-phone, from which Whitney was singing.  His facial expression clearly spoke the following: “I don’t give a fuck what ya’ll think of my I-phone ring tone.” Still everyone was glued to his or her electronic devices as his phone blasted the pop classic.  Then he pushed the talk button; Whitney went away, and he proceeded to have a conversation with whoever called him.  Well I was impressed.  From boredom to Whitney in 60 seconds.  Awesome! 


18 Nov


I hid for nine months
From the masses who waited
For a chance to get faded
Off the novelty of being elated

Then suddenly from somewhere
So fast I couldn’t tell
G-d threw a candle my way
Into the light I fell  

And with no time to plea
He summoned for me
To take to the frontline
To leave immediately

For my first day as human
My call for duty was clear
To carry the light for the Madmen
Through the most painful chasms of fear

In the wake of tough love and compassion
Of mistakes that I failed to replace
I illuminate the way, for the Mad-Man – My Mind-Man
For his joy is my last saving grace

He visits my dungeon
My jailer, my savior
My Mind-Man embracing
Until I break
Promising me he’ll be back for another
Grand invitation for our great escape

He crept up behind me
Entered inside me
Then drew out a new path
Of a pure bodhi mind

Now embracing the pirates
My fantoms of terror
In one heart together
A step at a time


At Heart

3 Nov

It took me 7 years to write this song, with lyrics and guitar music and all.  Now the song is complete with the influences of my post-juvenile angst during my 20s and the present journey in my 30s.

Mind made up from the get-go
Now paying dearly for being me
For staying me
For sharing my deepest, darkest secretes with the world

It hears my cry, but it doesn’t listen
Because it can’t, why should it?

Because I cry to a world delusion
Because this world is mine
And it breaks my heart

I lost my way so long ago
And so long ago I thought that I would find it so soon
Lying awake, alone with a madman
The mind-man of sorrow
And he breaks my heart

He visits my dungeon
My jailer, my savior
My mind-man embracing
Until I break
Promising me he’ll be back for another
Grand invitation for our great escape

He crept up behind me
Entered inside me
Then drew out a new path
Of a pure bodhi mind

Now embracing the pirates
My fantoms of terror
In one heart together
A step at a time


I’m From

23 Oct

32 years ago  

The Universe planned

To hurt the crap out of my mommy

As I pushed out of her tummy


I began to grow up

In search of some acumen

Fixed to the fate of being born human


Then suddenly, finally, something dawned on me:

Being an Earthling ain’t meant to be dandy

It meant being burdened with dumb and stupid feelings

Of sorrow and confusion with no apparent meanings

Of poopy times and tears

Of sadness and despair

With fits of frustration

When you just wanna rip out all your hair

But all of that grief

Puts more hair on my chest

(Though I certainly hope it is different for a woman’s breast…cause a woman with a hairy breast would be gross!)


So when something seems wrong

In fact it is right!

Indeed, a cool concept

In fact, it’s hella tight!

“Hella” is a word that speaks to my home

With Minister Tony, Bro’s Jerome and Derrone


And that’s where I’m from:

From a sanctified past

That managed to transform

Into the here and now really fast


I’m from getting in trouble with Darren for prank calls

From Mom and Dad’s devotion to absorb all my falls

From G-d and His weirdness

Like, come on, G-d’s totally weird

It’s not like He just sits up there with a long nappy beard


I’m from Yom Kippur marathons

With Izya and Moisha

And having the privilege of being nicknamed “Kiddosha”

I’m from love love and more love

Love from my cat Smokey

Who I keep reincarnating into plants…okey dokey (I couldn’t find any good word to rhyme with Smokey)


I’m from the happiest moment of my life’s current bend

When my brother Mark, told me I was his best friend

I’m from travelling the world

With Robbie – (he may as well be my kin)

With all our adventures of “Shinsky and Hin”

I’m from laugh-out-loud sessions with Danny Bendett

From Desire’s writing – for which I have way mad respect


I’m from role models and teachers – the real McCoy’s

Such as Wilson and Paul: my deepest sources of sharing joy

From the building of temples, within and without

With Oom and her kindness, with her high Karmic clout


I’m from Luba and Izya, the best grandparents ever

From Luba’s growing radiance

And Izya’s sincere endeavor

To spit some serious wisdom

To teach my naïve mind

To be vigilant and clever

To cherish all that I find 


So what I’m really saying is

Listen to your teacher

Whose purity is clearly defined by one feature:

It comes packaged as a present

That is, this moment here and now

And wants to inspire

To draw from you a “WOW!”