Saturday, May 25, 2013

Farewell, Taipei


Thanks, Taipei.   Thanks for being the nest that has nourished and protected our new family during this important year. We’ll always have a soft spot for this country and we hope to keep Taiwanese people and culture in our lives after we move back into our own culture.

What have I learned from this city?  For starters, I’ve learned how to be kind and hospitable to foreigners, how to cook tofu a thousand different delicious ways, how to live in a 200 square foot apartment comfortably, and how to blend urban convenience with a small-town feel.  Most importantly, the incredible affordability of the city has given me the economic freedom to do a job that really matters – being a full-time caregiver, teacher, and partner to my son.


Taiwan will be missed, but I am very eager to anchor myself and the family closer to our beloved family.  Taiwan has been a terrific home, but there is no substitute for family.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Happy Birthday to Abel

Abel has some pretty simple material needs at this point in his life - clean clothes, nutritious food, and some blocks, boxes and sticks for playing.  His material needs are simple, but his need for emotional connection and belonging are profound.  For his 1st birthday I decided to write him a letter in lieu of buying lots of toys. We'll make sure he has fun stuff to play with, but I hope he will appreciate this gift more when he is an adult, or a parent himself. Although I wrote this as a personal letter to Abel, I decided that I would like to share it because it fits in a theme of my writing this year - growing into parenthood.  I've done a lot of growing thanks to Abel and I look forward to many more years of growing with my little man.


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Dear Abel,

You’ve taught me so much in one year.  I always imagined that as a father I would do the teaching and you would do the learning, but that is far from the truth. I have learned more about humanity, love, language, and myself from you this year than I have in all of my previous years as an adult. Actually, I don’t believe I became an adult until a year ago when I saw you emerge as a perfectly formed human, completely capable, yet totally dependent on me for protection and love.  Until that moment, I was still clinging to my own childhood.  Thank you for helping me to become a man.

Although I have been doing most of the learning in our relationship, I do hope to guide your learning as you grow.  I have no doubt that you will learn language, math, social skills, reading, and athletics with ease – you have already proved to be an incredibly adept learner.  What I hope to instill in you is not a set of specific skills, but a way of being in the world.  Your mother and I had a beloved professor who said it best, “open your heart and open your mind”.  These were her parting words to her children when she dropped them off at school, and I think they are simple words which contain profound wisdom.

Open Heart

Being a child is hard and growing up is a painful process.  You will be hurt more times than you can count.  People will do terrible things to you. You will be involved in unfortunate events that will cause you emotional pain.  These things will happen to you and there is nothing I can do to stop them. 

You cannot stop many of life’s painful experiences, but you can control your reaction to these events.  Your heart and soul may feel so wounded and hurt that you want nothing more than to hide your emotions close yourself off to anything that may be able to hurt you in that way again.  You must fight this defensive urge and continue to open your hear to the people and experiences that make life worth living.  Experience the pain, but don’t retreat from it.  Learn from your experiences and let yourself be open to embrace beauty wherever you find it. 

Being a child is hard, but it is full of wonder.  You may be hurt, but you will also be loved.  Some people may do terrible things, but look for the kindness in all humanity.  Unfortunate events will happen, but always focus on the beauty and good-fortune that surrounds you.  All aspects of your life will contain a positive and negative element and I hope to teach you that looking past the negative and opening your heart to the beauty of life is an infinitely better way to live.

Open Mind

Your mind is yours. I love you unconditionally, irrespective of your opinions, beliefs, view, and attitudes.  I have no intentions of teaching you what you should believe, but I do hope to teach you a deep respect the diversity of views in our world.  You are entitled to your own opinion, but your opinion is the product of your unique set of experiences and circumstances.  An open mind allows us to learn from others and to understand our own position in the world more clearly. Without an open mind learning is distorted and shallow.

Clutching on to a belief or view can be extremely comforting in a tumultuous world.  Everything seems to be moving and changing at an inconceivable pace, so it is reassuring to anchor yourself to a fixed position in the sea of information.  This can be comforting and safe, but it can also be dangerous.  The world is transforming rapidly, but I don’t believe that struggling against the change is the best way to live.  All life evolves.  All living creatures alive today have one thing in common – they adapt to a changing world.  Adaptation is the key to survival for all life, and our world requires adapting at a pace not seen by our ancestors.   Change should not be feared, it should be anticipate and embraced.

Embracing change is not the same as drifting aimlessly with the current.  While opinions and views should be constantly reexamined in a changing world, values can remain constant.  This is the essence of what I hope to teach you in this letter – valuing an open mind and an open heart will help guide your through experiences and changes that I cannot anticipate.  I believe Valuing beauty, love, kindness, and embracing the complexity and transformative nature of the world will help you to live gracefully and happily in the future regardless of what it has in store for you.

Together

My only wish for you is that you are happy.  These humble words are my best effort to guide you to that end.  I’m sure that in ten or twenty years, you will have taught me a great deal more about how to live and I may have very different words of guidance for you.  We are growing together and learning together.  I could not be more happy to have you and your mother as partners in this journey.

Monday, May 6, 2013

You Can Never Go Home Again


That is the adage that you hear over and over, “you can never go home again”.  I never understood that cliché, even after I became older and left home.  Sure, home always changes, but so did I.  As I matured and my visits home became more sporadic, it seemed that the ability to go home again was one of the few certainties in life.  I changed a lot in my twenties, and my family underwent a major transformation, but I could always go home to Silex, Missouri and the community was blissfully unchanged.


The static nature of Silex was something I always took for granted.  My family history dates back to the founding of the town in the mid-1800’s.  Both sides of my family have been in the same rural area for over 150 years, and in that span of time little has changed.  The town has stagnated for the last half a century due to the constant threat of flooding from the nearby Cuivre River.  The ambitious plans for the town laid out by my great-great-grandfather were never realized due the unpredictable flow of this small tributary of the Mississippi.  Silex has remained roughly the same size for most of its history.  It once functioned as a regional hub and its main street was filled with diverse and vibrant businesses, but these family owned shops closed down one-by-one as locals traveled farther to larger stores in nearby towns.  Main streets across the country shared this slow death caused by Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

The Silex of my childhood may not have been as vibrant as it was during my grandparents’ youth, but it was a fully functioning community.  The town boasted a general store, a gas station, funeral home, hardware store, automotive shop, independent bank, beauty salon, and most importantly, a school.   The old brick buildings on Main Street and  the lone flashing yellow light above the main intersection gave the town at least a hint of legitimacy, but only if you failed to notice the sign at the city limits that advertised the population of 206.

In recent years I relished my time at home.  Two years ago I managed to spend an entire summer living in town while staying with my Mom.  It was both frustrating and idyllic.  It was blissful to spend slow-paced evenings riding my bike around the quiet streets and walking to friends’ houses to drink a beer and shoot the breeze.  It was irritating to have to drive twenty minutes each way to buy groceries and to see nothing but conservative white people day in and day out.  Irritating, but enjoyable – that is how I’ve always felt about my hometown.

Everything changed two years ago.  The Cuivre River flooded again, perhaps the worst flood in the town’s history.  The people in town were caught off-guard and a majority of houses were flooded.  This has happened before, but this time the response would be very different.

As a result of Hurricane Katrina, the federal government had made a decided turn away from relying on levees to protect populations from flooding.  Instead, they would rather pay to permanently relocate people out of flood zones.  The government was tired of paying disaster relief for people living in these flood prone areas, and Silex is undoubtedly a flood prone area.  There would be no more disaster relief and no levees would be built.  Instead, they would just move the town.


Yes, a town can be moved.  The process in Silex is being completed as I write.  The government buys everyone’s home, provides them with a small lot on a nearby hill, and helps them with relocation expenses.  There are too many complications and exceptions to discuss here, but that is the basic idea.  All of the existing homes in the previous town would be owned by the city and then demolished.  The town that has been home to my family for several generations would be leveled, and the people relocated to a subdivision build over an old pig lot perched on a nearby hill.

If I hadn’t been there for the process, I wouldn’t have believed it possible.  I was present for the “lot lottery” during which the entire town gathered in a tent on the proposed new city and chose numbers out of a hat.  These numbers gave them the order that they could go to a huge printed map and choose their new lot.  It was like a surreal gameshow that I can imagine occurring in a strange dream, but not in reality.  People’s location in the old town was based on decades of individual decisions about who they would like to have for neighbors and what part of town was the best fit for their family, but in this lot lottery, it came down to sheer luck.

The new town is completed – a cheap subdivision a half a mile down the road.  I don’t want to be too negative because for many people the town relocation has been extremely helpful.  Giving people the opportunity to own a new home that is not in danger of flooding is certainly an improvement.  My resentment of the process is purely selfish - I want to be able to go home again.  The character of a 150 year old town was not taken into consideration when the relocation was planned.  If I had the opportunity to get a new home out of the floodplain, then I would likely feel differently about the process, but I want my son to be able to bike down the same streets that his great-great-great grandfather planned out.  I can get over not being able to go home again, but it is hard to accept that my son will never know my home.  I have memories, but I can’t give those to the next generation.

It is as if some cosmic power did everything imaginable to get me to understand the cliché to which I thought I was immune.  Ok, I get it, you really can never go home again.  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Smell Like None Other


For the last week or so there has been a distinctive new fragrance in the air around markets and grocery stores in Taipei.  Actually, it is more of a stench.  The culprit – Durian fruit.  This big prickly fruit has an unforgettable, unavoidable, and unpleasant odor that can spread across a city block.  The fruit just came in season and has been popping up all over the city recently.  I’ve been totally intrigued– why on earth do people eat something that smells so foul?  Not only that, but it is expensive – one fruit is $300NT or $10 USD. Since I have been fascinated by trying new foods, especially new fruits, here in Taiwan, I had to find out what the stink was about. Today we hesitantly bought some dissected pieces of the fruit at the local grocery store.


The packaging says it all – each chunk of fruit is individually double wrapped in cellophane before wrapping all of the chunks together in more cellophane to minimize the smell.  There is no way to completely mask the odor – it somehow manages to leak through any container.  In order to not infect the entire apartment with the signature smell, we had a little durian picnic on the roof.  When we cut through the several layers of packaging, we realized that we made a very wise decision.  Durian is banned in hotels and on buses for this exact reason.


At this point I should probably make some attempt to describe the Durian’s omnipresent odor.  No, I’ll let some more colorful writers do it for me:

“Its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away” Richard Sterling
"completely rotten, mushy onions." Andrew Zimmerman
"like eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory" Anthony Burgess
“indescribable, something you will either love or despise. ...Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother" Anthony Bourdain

Yeah, those give a pretty good idea of how intense and riveting the smell of this fruit can be.  You will love it or hate it, but not fall anywhere in between.  Interestingly, one of the first English writers to describe the fruit was Alfred Wallace in 1856.  Most people from the West find the fruit repulsive, but Wallace loved Durian. Here his description of the fruit:

“The five cells are silky-white within, and are filled with a mass of firm, cream-coloured pulp, containing about three seeds each. This pulp is the edible part, and its consistence and flavour are indescribable. A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat Durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience. ... as producing a food of the most exquisite flavour it is unsurpassed.

Now that I have tried this powerful fruit, I can make my own pronouncement regarding its flavor.

Bleh.

I am an extremely adventurous eater, as many people can attest, but I did not like Durian.  I got over the smell easily, but the taste was exactly like sour, or rotten, onions.  That is what immediately came to mind even before I read other people’s similar descriptions.  I didn’t stop at one bite – I ate probably a half a pound of the mushy yellow flesh before I called it quits.  Abel was also adventurous enough to take three bites, but then flat-out refused to let me put the fruit anywhere near him after that.


As I sit here and hold back stinky oniony belches, I can say with some confidence that today was my first and last encounter with the durian.  An experience worth having, but not worth repeating. 




 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Top 10 Things I’ll Miss about Living in Taipei

Our time here is winding down.  I’m quickly checking out of Taipei and migrating my thoughts to relocating in the US.  I’m narrowing in on a job and we are searching for apartments in Columbia, Missouri.  Being near to friends and family is an extremely exciting prospect, but I know that leaving Taipei won’t be so easy.  This is a great city that has been incredibly kind to our little family.  We have thrived here and I know we will miss it.  What will I miss the most?

10. Fruit and Vegetables
Fresh greens and ripe fruit all year round – what’s not to like?  My favorite veg is Chinese Broccoli and my favorite fruit is papaya, which I used to despise. 

9. Public Transportation
Cheap, clean, affordable, and far-reaching public transportation that everyone uses.  In my hundreds of trips on the subway (MRT), not once has a train been delayed or late.  Never.  I’ve never had to wait more than five minutes for the next train to come.  The buses and train cars may get a bit crowded on certain routes during peak hours, but people take it in stride.

8. Punctuality
People and activities are on time here.  If someone says “I’ll be there at 1:30”, you better believe them.  I think that punctuality is a sign of respect – showing someone that you value their time and presence, so I always appreciate it when people try hard not to be late.

7. Affordability
Taipei is a world-class city, but even the ritzy parts of town are affordable for part-time teachers.  Eating out, getting around, and renting an apartment are all very affordable.  Compared to major cities in the US and Europe, Taipei is an incredible bargain.

6. Amazing Food
There is a reason why Chinese food is popular around the world – they have spent thousands of years combining flavors to make a universally appreciated menu.  Not only is the Chinese food great here, but there are hundreds of Vietnamese, Japanese, and Thai restaurants all around the city.

5. Parks
We are spoiled.  We live between the two largest parks in the city – Da’an Forest Park and Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Park.  Even without these two large green spaces, every neighborhood has its own block-sized park with trees, a playground, and benches.

4. Efficiency
I’m still surprised almost every day by how efficient everything is here.  Hospitals, government offices, transportation, even restaurants – they all operate quickly and at a high standard of quality.  The people here have an incredible work-ethic, and it shows. 

3. Safety
I cannot exaggerate how safe we feel here.  Walking alone at night in a dark park in the city is safe. Random violent crime is unheard of in the city.  I completely take this for granted on a day-to-day basis, so I know that I’ll experience some culture shock when I return to the US and have to worry about theft and other random crime. 

2. Walking Everywhere
We walk to the grocery store, our favorite restaurants, the doctor, the pharmacy, the home-goods store, the post-office, and pretty much every other business of interest.  Most neighborhoods are self-contained units that have everything you need.  Public transportation is great for getting to and from work, but the rest of the day I prefer to hoof it.  This is definitely something that is not possible in most places at home, so I’ll have to get used to strapping Abel in a carseat rather than the baby-carriers every time we need to run to the store.

1. Nice People
I’ve been to a lot of different places in my travels, but I can say with confidence that the Taiwanese are the nicest people I have ever encountered.  Genuinely kind and even-tempered.  There are exceptions to this, of course, but amazingly few.  I could count the unpleasant encounters I’ve had in Taiwan on one hand, which is especially surprising because I moved to their country without speaking a word of their language!  Imagine a Taiwanese person moving to the US without speaking a word of English – I wish I could say that they would experience as much hospitality as I have, but I know that they would not.  The world can learn a lot about manners, kindness, and hospitality from this little island.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Feminist John


Women are undoubtedly objectified and marginalized in mainstream US society, but imagine a place where it is taken to the extreme.  Women outnumber men 3:1, the only job they can get is in service, they are expected to dress in a sexually provocative manner at work, and prostitution is so widespread and commonplace that it is institutionalized.    I wish this scenario was just a feminist dytopian nightmare, but I can tell you first hand that there is such a place.  Welcome to Barrio Barreto, Philippines.

I can’t exaggerate the level of exploitation that takes place here.  Thousands of women are employed as a “bar girl” which is a euphemism for prostitute.  These women, some of them as young as 16, come from poor provinces where the employment prospects are bleak.  They can make more in the bar than they ever could at home, and many of them are supporting their extended family in the home province.  This is what makes the “bar girl” situation so disgusting – it’s economic as well as gender exploitation.

Let me paint the scene.  Overweight and alcoholic men in their sixties stumbling from bar to bar with sunburns and ill intentions.  The bars all employ upwards of twenty young and scantily clad girls, who have to compete with each other to get “lady’s drinks” bought for them by the patrons.  These drinks cost twice as much as a regular drink and are a payment to the girl for her attention.  The goal of being a bar girls is to get “bar fined”, which means bought for the night.   The prostitution is so overt here that the prices are totally standard and you can even charge it to your room or a credit card.  1500 pesos is all it costs, which is less than $40.  That means that my dive course cost as much as 14 “bar fines”.  Sickening.  I suppose the price shouldn’t matter, it is the exchange itself that is the problem, but if women are forced to sell themselves to disgusting old white guys then they sure as hell deserve a lot more than $40. 

At this point I should probably interject with why I spent five days in this place and how I came to know so many details.  I ended up here for a cheap and quality SCUBA diving course, which worked out incredibly well - great instructor, good equipment, and gorgeous surroundings.   I knew before I arrived that prostitution was common in this area, but I was completely unprepared for how visible and unavoidable it is. After the days dives were done, my instructor and I would go to the resort bar to have a beer, and I was immediately swarmed by the bar girls.  I can’t convey how guilty and dirty I felt just because I was there.  As a single, white, male traveler, I couldn’t separate myself from the institutionalized exploitation.  Buying beer at the bar undoubtedly supported the establishment, making me a supporter of a horrible system that goes against everything that I value.   The only way I convinced myself to stay for a few beers was because I really wanted to know how the system works.  I wanted to learn about where these girls come from, how the money changes hands, and how they feel about it.   I was probably just fooling myself, but I thought of it as ethnographic fieldwork. 

To counteract the support of my patronage, I tried to do what I could to express my disgust for the situation and to help a few of the girls who are exploited daily.  Instead of buying the “lady’s drink” my instructor said that if you give an under-the-table tip, then the girl gets to keep all the cash, rather than just a fraction she would get from a lady’s drink.  When one of the girls insisted on giving me a back massage while I sat at the bar, she said she was paying her way through massage therapy school.  I gave her a generous tip that covered her next tuition installment.  After my second beer, my disgust for the scene grew.  I asked two of the girls about their plans after they stop being bar girls.  They couldn’t, or wouldn’t, answer.  After I asked, I felt terrible because I was making them feel even worse about their situation.  I was making it sound like it is there fault for not having made other plans beyond being a bar-girl.  If you are forty years old and have been a prostitute for 20 years, what kind of job could you possible get in a developing country?   I asked a completely stupid question, but I still wanted to know if there was any hope for these girls after they are considered too old for the very old clientele of the bars. 

As I was at the bar, I couldn’t think of anything else except the future of these girls.  They are forced to sit next to you and chat, so I was going to make sure that I told them exactly what I thought of the bar scene.  For my own benefit, and for decent white guys everywhere, I wanted to be sure that they knew that not all white men are pigs.  They spend almost every day with white guys, and probably 95% are sexist assholes who have no respect for human dignity.  I was as careful as I could be not to insult them for their position, letting them know that I understood why they were working as bar girls, but that I sincerely wish that they could be paid the same amount of money for a different job. I wanted to yell to all of the girls “we’re not all like these scumbags in here!” 

During my stay I developed a particularly strong contempt for the manager – a morbidly obese Australian who is insults his staff in front of customers and sleeps with a different bar girl every night.  Something about the way he strutted around the resort barking orders to local staff who are working in 100 degree heat for a few dollars a day made my blood boil.  On my second to last night my instructor and I had a few beers to celebrate my course completion and it wasn’t long before I was giving my guilt-ridden spiel to the bar girl who came to sit next to me.   I was delighted when she seemed genuinely touched by my attempts to explain that I think she deserves better and by my apologies for the way my countrymen act in here.  She opened up and told me about her plan to get a degree in IT at a call center.  She is saving money to pay for tuition and has a plan. As she talked, she was always glancing over her shoulder because if the other girls or a manager heard, she would probably get fired.  She had only been there for one month and she was the first girl would tell me that she hated the situation as well.  She had finished high school, but this was still the fastest way for her to make money. 

One of the most common defenses for prostitution, especially in the context of a poor country, is that if the bar girls weren’t working a prostitutes, then they would be starving in their home province.  This is the same way many guys justify giving money at strip clubs – “at least it provides an income to these under-privileged women”. “It is money that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”  Bullshit.  You can still give money to a girl without her taking her clothes off, and you can give money to a bargirl without having sex with her.  Give the money, but pass on the exploitation.  So that is what I did.

As I was ranting to this girl about how disgusting I found the other patrons, I specifically mentioned the manager.  She told me that he tried to “bar fine” her last night, but she refused.  I was surprised that there is any element of consent, but she said that she continued to refuse she may lose her job.  This was too much for me to take.  First I was furious, then I was sad.  Really, deeply sad because this sweet girl who traveled hundreds of miles to provide for her family is forced to sleep with a fat sadistic jerk.  She had the courage to say no once, but she is virtually powerless in the situation.  I teared up right there in the bar.  I told her that I wish there was something I could do to help her and the other girls, but that all I was doing was sitting there drinking beer acting like I’m above the situation, which doesn’t help anyone.  I knew there was no way to destroy the system, so I thought of the only way I could help this girl that I could.  I paid her “bar fine”.  In the sick rules of this place, that means she is mine for the night. I’m sure when I told her that I was going to pay her bar fine that she thought that everything I had said up to that point was a lie.  I explained that I want her to have the money that she would get from such a transaction, but she shouldn’t have to be exploited to get it.  I also made sure she knew that all I wanted was for her to have the night off to do whatever she wanted.  I tried not to let myself feel like a hero for such a small gesture – I could and should do ten times more to help these victims.  I realize that I probably benefited from the transaction more than she did – I get to feel holier than thou and sleep well knowing that at least one girl is not having to sleep with a stranger for money. 

After I paid the bill –  unbelievably, you really can do this with a credit card  - she escorted me to my room.  As we passed people on the way to the room, I couldn’t bear the fact that they thought I was doing exactly what I was trying to prevent.  I told her that she really didn’t need to walk me to my room, but she explained that if the others see her leaving on her own after I paid, she would get in trouble and they would assume she ripped me off.   The last thing I wanted was for her to get fired, so she came in to my room and we sat at the foot of the bed for about five minutes watching videos of Abel on my computer.  I’m sure it was the strangest bar fine experience she has ever had, but I hope it was one of the more pleasant and memorable.  Even after all of that, she didn’t seem to believe that I was just going to let her go.  When I told her again that I didn’t even want a massage, I just wanted her to go home, I could tell that her smile was genuine.  Until that moment, I doubt she believed anything I said about my distaste for prostitution.  Why would she?  She has been exposed to some of humanity’s most revolting and sordid specimens for a month.  If my gesture gave her just a hint that there are more decent men from the West, then it was worth it.   It kills me to think about her back in that bar, competing with other girls for attention from perverts who think that having money gives them the right to use other human beings any way they see fit.

I used to think that prostitution should be legalized because making it legal will make a common activity safer for the woman involved.  Now that I have seen institutionalized prostitution, I could never support legalization.  It may seem consensual on the surface, but more often than not a woman turns to prostitution only because it is the best opportunity available.  Until every single girl has a guaranteed education and opportunities for employment in any field she desires for good pay, prostitution should not be allowed because it isn’t truly consensual.  No one should have to sell their body because it is the best economic opportunity available to them.  That is often the case in the US, and it is definitely the case in the Philippines.  There will always be men devoid of dignity who will pay for sex, but I will never support a system or law that caters to them.

After reading this it may sound like I had a terrible experience in the Philippines, but that isn’t the case.  The diving was fantastic, I had an awesome day on a secluded beach BBQing and hiking with a fun family, and had lots of time to relax on my own.  The food was great, the locals were lovely, and the weather was perfect.  The only negative experience was being exposed to the human toll of sex tourism.  Despite the distress it caused, I’m glad I know more about the situation.  It opened my eyes, tested my patience, and helped me to solidify my values.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Confessions of a Monoglot


I have earned two degrees studying other cultures, traveled to many different countries all over the world, worked in a culturally diverse school, and studied three languages in my life.  Despite these experiences, I am helplessly monolingual.  I deeply value linguistic diversity and the importance of bilingualism and multiculturalism, but I have been unable, or unwilling, to achieve proficiency in any second language myself.  This is no one’s fault but my own, but I do think it is worthwhile to look at the cause of my monolingual dilemma, especially since I know I am not along in this predicament.  Americans are notorious around the world for being incredibly linguistically inept, despite high levels of education.  Why? The following list is not meant to be an excuse for my language deficit, but a look at possible causes for the glut of monoglots in the United States.

English as dominant global language

Why learn a foreign language when most of the world is rushing to learn English?  I have been to some pretty remote places in the world, but there is almost always someone who can speak enough English to communicate.  There are more people learning English as a second language than speak it as a native language.  English language schools are booming around the world, fueled by the need for a common tongue in our rapidly globalizing world. English is the language of commerce, education, medicine, and technology, not to mention the lingua-franca of the internet. 

As an effort conservationist (someone too lazy to expend unnecessary effort), I have always found it difficult to find motivation to learn a foreign language when I know that many people who speak that language can also communicate in English.  For example, when I did a summer-long Spanish immersion trip to Costa Rica, nearly everyone I encountered spoke better English than I did Spanish.  Also, they were eager to practice their English with an American and preferred to speak in that language.  This made it difficult to experience true “immersion” which requires that one be forced to use the language being studied.  Had I been in a less-developed country than Costa Rica, I probably would have had a different experience, but any large city in Latin America has plenty of English speakers.

Ineffective language education

US schools get language education all wrong.  It may make sense from a management perspective to wait until high school to introduce a foreign language so that students are able to make an informed decision regarding which language to study, but it flies in the face of biology.  Language acquisition is a neurological process that is governed by our brain chemistry.  Essentially, we are hard-wired to learn language when we are young, and the portion of our brain responsible for acquiring languages solidifies as we age.  The “critical period” for language acquisition is from birth to age five, with some flexibility until puberty.  Unfortunately, we usually don’t start learning a second language until after puberty, which makes for an inefficient and laborious process of memorization and hours of practice.  For most people it is nearly impossible to become a native speaker, which means speaking without a noticeable accent, if you don’t begin studying a language until adulthood.   Attaining fluency as an adult is possible, but it takes years of study and practice. This contrasts with how children can acquire multiple languages simultaneously without any formal instruction. Which way would you rather learn – flashcards and grammar drills, or playing with friends?

Language skills not valued

One of the reasons why foreign language instruction is not a focus of primary education in the US is that it is not valued by society.  Speaking a second language is “neat”, but most parents would prefer their student spend extra time on reading, writing, math, and science rather than learning a foreign language.  I think this is part of the larger attitude of isolationism that has been present in the US for centuries, which largely due to our geography and cultural homogeny.   In most places in the world, there are neighboring areas or countries that speak a foreign language.  In order to travel, trade, and interact, it was necessary to speak the language of your neighbors.   Think of Europe or India – a landmass the size of the US that contains dozens of diverse languages, often intermixed in the same towns.   In contrast, the US has wide oceans on each side and only one (or two if you count Quebec) neighbors who speak a foreign language.  Since we are the regional, not to mention global, superpower, it is expected that our neighbors function in the dominant language of the continent – English.  Thankfully, the US is slowly become more bilingual due to the influx of immigrants from Latin America, but this is being meant with strong reaction from more conservative populations.

Preventing Monoglot-ism

The US is one of the most monolingual societies in the world. Despite the increasing prevalence of Spanish, I doubt that will change.  I hope to be part of the solution, but it may be too late for me.  I do hope to someday get to a conversational level in Spanish, but that is not on the horizon in the near future.  Instead, I am going to focus on giving Abel the gift of a foreign language.  I don’t want to pressure him to study a language simply because it is something I wish I had done when I was younger.  I know to be careful in trying to “over-correct” the perceived deficits in my childhood with my own children, but I want to attempt to expose Abel to language in a more natural and effective way.  Since Jess is fluent in Mandarin, we hope to continually expose him to and encourage his use of Mandarin.  No worksheets or study sessions yet – just lots of listening and play with the language. 

Eventually, we hope to find a nanny or playmate who is native speakers. If we continually expose him to the language and give him ample opportunity to use it, in theory he can become a native speaker.  At least continued exposure will make studying the language much easier as he grows up.  Of course he could decide at any age that he doesn’t want to learn Chinese, and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t push a little.  I can’t imagine him as an adult cursing us for not having helped him learn the most widely spoken language in the world when he was a young child.  If he does, at least he can curse me in multiple languages.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

5 Days and 7,000 Islands


As a new father, it is seldom that I get two uninterrupted hours of time to myself.  I occasionally will take the afternoon off and go to the library for a few hours to get some work done, but that is a special treat.  Since alone time is such a scarce commodity, I was stunned and very touched that Jessica gave me 5 days in the Philippines as my 30th birthday present.  I won’t know how to act without a baby strapped to my chest!


To say I’m super psyched up for the trip would be an understatement.  I have already signed up for a SCUBA certification course and hopefully I’ll have another day to kayak in a volcanic crater lake.  Even if I do nothing but eat seafood on the beach, I will be very happy guy. 

Of course one of the coolest parts of the trip will be experiencing the culture of a very unique Asian nation.  Although the Philippines is very close to Taiwan, it is incredibly different culturally, geographically, and historically.  Over 7,000 individual islands make up this nation which has almost 200 distinct living languages.  It is by far the most Christian country in Asia with 90% of the population belonging to the Catholic church.  Beautiful beaches, stunning mountains and volcanoes, incredible cultural diversity, and cheap delicious food – Jess obviously knows what I like. 


Since the trip is relatively short (although it will be the longest, by far, that I have been away from Abel), I won’t be traveling around to see many different parts of the country.  Actually, I will be staying and diving in Subic Bay which is only a short drive from the airport - minimize transit and maximize activities.   


Subic Bay is supposed to be quite a nice place, maybe not the most naturally beautiful in the Philippines, but it does have some incredible wreck diving.  I’ll be exploring ships from the Spanish-American war and WWII, along with natural reefs and coral.  I’ve only had one dive experience before (Great Barrier Reef in Australia) but honestly I remember little to nothing from the dive, so I am basically starting from scratch.  I’m taking the online learning portion now which consists of 10-12 hours of vidoes and slides to teach my about dive equipment and protocols.  Better get back to studying . . .

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Lukin Murphy, BCBA

I’m finally beginning to internalize it.  I’m done – finished – certified for life.  The process towards BCBA certification took almost three years of coursework, fieldwork, and exam preparation, so I can barely remember a time when I didn't need to be studying or reading.  It was the omnipresent “to do” item.  Marking it off the list, permanently, feels amazing.

That being said, certification comes with a lot of responsibility.  I need to maintain my credential with 16 continuing education credits per year, stay up-to-date on all the research literature, and attend regional and national conferences.  Some of this is optional, but Applied Behavior Analysis is a rapidly changing field and it is easy to get left in the dust if you don’t keep up to date. 

Of course the credential doesn't do me much good without a job, so that is my next big “to do” item.  I’m hoping to find a meaningful and rewarding position in Columbia, Missouri, if possible.  Since my experience is in public schools, that is most likely where I will land.  There are a great many private organizations that offer ABA therapy in Missouri thanks to the autism insurance mandate, so the job market is healthy for BCBAs.   Or so I’m told.  

Before I start worrying about getting a job, I’m going take some time here in Taipei to bask in the victory.  I deserve a short rest after jumping through three years’ worth of hoops for four little letters.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fruits of our Travels


One of the best parts of living in a semi-tropical environment is the incredible variety of year-round delicious fresh fruits.  While some fruits are imported from distant places, such as Fuji apples from Washington, most of the fruit comes from Taiwan, China, or the Philippines.  I’ve had to cut myself down to one piece of fruit a day because I developed the habit of eating kiwis, bananas, mangoes, and apples to satisfy my frequent cravings for sweets.  That is the downside of the plethora of tree-ripened fresh tropical fruit – too much accessible sugar.  That being said, there are way worse ways to load up on sweets.  Below are my three Taiwanese favorites.

Custard Apple
aka “Buddha’s Head Fruit”


I don’t know why I have never heard of, let alone tasted, this amazing fruit.  The name gives a clue to the fruit’s most interesting attribute – a rich and velvety texture that is reminiscent of cream or custard.  The flavor is somewhere between an apple and a mango, quite sweet and mildly tropical.  While mango has a more distinct flavor that is unrivaled as an ingredient in smoothies, ice creams, and candies, the texture of the custard apple is much more satisfying than the sometimes stringy flesh of a mango.  People call mango the “king of fruits” but I prefer a custard apple any day over a mango. Maybe it is a good thing that I can't get these at home because I'm not good with moderation. As you can tell from Abel's smile, I'm not alone in my love for this ugly fruit.

Guava


I think I have had guava in the US, but I don’t believe it is very widely available or recognized.  This is the down-home fruit of Taiwan – cheap and ubiquitous.  Initially, I really did not like Guava.  The texture is much firmer than most fruit and the flavor is subtle.  When I realized that there was no escaping the guava, I made an effort to learn to like the fruit.  I made myself eat one daily for a week, and sure enough by day five or so, I was looking forward to my daily guava.  Part of the conversion to a guava-fan was learning that there is a huge difference between an almost ripe and a ripe guava in terms of both flavor and texture.  A guava at the peak of ripeness is still firm, but juicy and sweet.  An almost ripe guava is just plain hard and completely devoid of flavor.

Wax Apple
(according to Wikipedia, it is also known as . . .  love apple, water apple, java apple, royal apple, bell fruit, and rose apple)


It looks like it is covered in wax, is shaped like a bell or heart, and has a rosy color, so the long list of names for this fruit are all quite descriptive.  What makes the wax apple a stand-out at the fruit stand is its texture – very crisp and extremely juicy (hence the name ‘water apple’).  The flavor is very subtle, which is a euphemistic way to say that it doesn’t really have much flavor.  I have no idea what wax apple flavored candy or ice cream would taste like.  However, the wax apple’s lack of a strong flavor actually makes it more refreshing.  Think about it as a miniature watermelon with firmer flesh and no seeds – perfect for a hot Taipei afternoon.

We’ll miss these fruits when we leave Taiwan. I guess we’ll just have to compensate by drinking the gallons of delicious coffee and pounds of amazing cheeses that we have at home.  Fair trade.

Friday, February 15, 2013

30

When I think about turning thirty, I’m surprised.  My surprise doesn’t come from the realization that I’m no longer in my twenties because for the last few years I have forgotten that I was twenty-something.  During the last three years I have been consumed by building a career in education, studying for my behavior analysis certification, caring for Jess while we were expecting, planning for our big move to Taiwan, and then welcoming Abel into the world.  Perhaps turning thirty would cause anxiety if I thought my life would change in the coming decade, but I can’t imagine how my lifestyle could become any more middle-aged.  Going to the gym and cooking dinner are my top hobbies, social events revolve around babies and potlucks, and if I have two beers in the evening I can feel it the next day.  In reality, my twenties have been over for a while now, and I couldn’t be happier about it.


When I think back on my roaring twenties, I have a lot of fond memories.  I also have a lot of regret.  I don’t regret that I partied hard, behaved recklessly, dated frivolously, or imbibed excessively, but I do regret what I missed during those years.  I missed out on countless opportunities to be myself.  Youth is all about figuring out “who you are” and for me that involved trying out many different roles and characters.  Since I wasn't yet comfortable with myself, I was always working hard to create a personality that others would find interesting and fun. 

It wasn’t until I met Jess that I was able to really put down all the pretenses of youth and learn to embrace my core values.  I never believed that the real me was interesting enough to hold someone else’s attention, so I used a lot of facades to shield people from knowing too much about me.  Jess’s honesty, kindness, and innocence slowly brought me out into the open and I learned to trust that she loved me for who I am, not who I thought I should be.  She has taught me that real maturity is being secure in my me-ness.  She has never lectured on the topic, but she models it every day. 


Ten years ago, I would have had nothing but negative associations with a thirtieth birthday.  Now I realize that thirty isn’t the end of your life, as it is portrayed by so many people in our youth-obsessed culture.  Rather, reaching thirty signifies the beginning of a much more meaningful life that is free of the insecurity and extended adolescent angst of my twenties.  Although I feel like the wisdom of my wife and the birth of my son helped me to cross this threshold before I reached thirty, I am ready to embrace this birthday as a welcome milestone. 

I am looking forward to my thirties as a decade full of embracing my growing family, learning how to be a better educator, and challenging myself to live a healthier lifestyle.  This doesn’t mean I am ready for my forties – that just sounds old. I’ll deal with that milestone in about nine and a half years.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Happy Chinese New Year!

Xin nian kuai le!


It has been really interesting to watch the New Year celebrations in Taipei as an outsider.  Although the two holidays have very different origins and cultural roots, Christmas and Chinese New Year have a lot in common.  They are both the most important holiday on their respective calendars, celebrated in the winter, and involve family gatherings full of eating and exchanging gifts. The two holidays have also become quite commercial and often cause adults a great deal of stress due to all of the money and planning they require.  I would say that the Christmas and Chinese New Year holidays serve many of the same cultural functions – occasion for family reunions, strengthening of relationships through gift exchange, and an opportunity to feast on traditional delicacies.  

That being said, Chinese New Year is very distinct from Christmas and has some very interesting aspects that are quite different than the traditional Christmas celebration. First of all, Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, has no connection to a major religion or dogma.  The holiday is as old as the Chinese calendar, which has been around for thousands of years.  While the holiday is not strictly religious, it is a time that many people offer thanks and praise to and ancestors and a variety of deities. Many of the traditions surrounding the holiday have supernatural or superstitious origins, such as lighting fireworks to scare off evil spirits and sweeping out the house prior to the holiday in order to make room for good luck. 

Some of the traditions that I have observed include:
  • Giving red envelopes of money to children in order to give them good luck in the new year.
  • Putting couplets (short phrases written in calligraphy on red paper) over the door to welcome good luck into the home.
  • Lighting fireworks the night before New Years to scare away bad spirits.
  • Lots and lots of food – special fruits and cakes that are traditionally eaten

I’m really glad I was able to witness such an ancient and beautiful holiday.  Hopefully we’ll be able to celebrate this holiday in some way even after we have left Taiwan.  Since there are people of Chinese descent all over the world, there is a good chance that we’ll be able to find someone to celebrate with no matter where we live.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

What Year Is It?

You can feel it in the air - children are anxious, adults are hurried, and the shops and streets are bustling.   Chinese New Year, the most important holiday in the Chinese world, is less than a week away. But didn’t we have a New Year celebration with fireworks and partying?  It is already 2013, so why is New Year being celebrated again in February?  Thanks to Wikipedia’s seemingly infinite knowledge, I have found the answers to these questions.

China has used a lunar calendar for thousands of years.  According to this traditional calendar, the solar equinox typically occurs during the 11th month, while “new year” starts two months later.  It is all actually much more complicated than that since a truly lunar calendar would not contain the 365 ¼ days that it takes for a complete orbit around the sun, so adjustments have to be made.  The Gregorian calendar that we use also had lunar origins. Why else would months (the word month is actually derived from moon) have nearly the same number of days as a lunar cycle?  We have to adjust our calendar with leap years to average at 365 ¼ days a year. 

The Chinese eventually adopted the Gregorian calendar in modern times to conform to the rest of the world and to facilitate communication, trade, technology, and so forth.  While the Gregorian calendar may be used for official purposes, the traditional calendar was not discarded.  The Chinese lunar calendar is still used to schedule weddings, inform farmers about when to plant and harvest crops, and the celebration of holidays such as New Year, which is actually more accurately translated as “Spring Festival”.  

The topic of dueling calendars gets even more confusing when it comes to numbering years.  Traditionally, Chinese did not number their years as we do with the BC/AD system.  At some points in history years did become numbered using the beginning of the current ruling family as the starting point.  In China today, there is debate about what number to use, with various scholars referring to it as either 4709, 4649, or 4710 using the beginning of the Yellow Emperor’s reign as the starting point. 

Taiwan, often seeking a separate identity from its neighbor to the West, uses a different numbering system.  This was very confusing for me because I would often see the year listed as 101 and could not understand the significance of this number.  China is obviously thousands of years old and Taiwan was occupied by the Japanese until 1945, so couldn’t figure out the significance of 101. I assumed that this was part of the lunar calendar, but my confusion increased when the year changed from 101 to 102 on January 1st, so it wasn’t lunar after all. Thanks again to Wikipedia for clearing up my cloudy historical thinking – settling on the island of Taiwan was not the significant event, it was the founding of the Republic of China by Sun Yat-Sen in 1911.  This event was the birth of what we now refer to as Taiwan, which, until recently, claimed control over the entire Chinese mainland.    


So to answer the title’s question, depending on how you reckon it and where you are located, the year is either about 4700, 2013, or 102 and the calendar will change on either January 1st or February 9th.  Clear as mud.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Give Dads a Chance

While it is hard to explain how fast the last eight months have come and gone, it is equally hard to believe that eight months and one day ago I had yet to meet Abel.  The milestone prompted me to think about what being a father means to me and how that conflicts with our cultural stereotype of the father. These stereotypes and views aren't just theoretical constructions - many of my close friends and relations truly believe that men are inferior to women at caring for young children and have expressed these views openly.  Sometimes these remarks are framed in humor, but I don't find them funny. I don't believe that as a father I am an inferior parent and I believe this widely-held view is harmful to not only fathers, but also mothers and children.  Mothers are therefore expected to be the primary caregiver, fathers are discouraged from an active role, and children are deprived of a second nurturing parent.  Fathers are different than mothers, but no less capable.

Slow Start

There are many differences between expectant fathers and mothers. One key difference is that it is much more difficult for the father to feel connected to the baby before it is born. This isn’t a shocker – the mother can literally feel the baby while simultaneously experiencing a shift in hormones that trigger all kinds of maternal responses.  For me, it just looked like Jess had a beach ball lodged in her stomach.  I read lots of books about fatherhood, thought long and hard about what my future baby, and talked to dozens of other Dads about their experiences, but I didn’t feel like a father or bonded to the baby.  Not yet. 

Although a mother may have a head start journey to parenthood due to her biological connection to the baby, a father can catch up.  For most mothers, the emotional bond with the baby is automatic and tangible.  Hormones released during birth and while breastfeeding forge a strong relationship deeply rooted in our mammalian biology.  Bonding with an infant is not automatic for fathers – we have to work at building a relationship.  This takes time and patience.  Many fathers wait to feel a connection with the baby before getting involved in the day-to-day care.  I think this is a big mistake.  Father-child bonds are built on familiarity and trust, both of which take time to develop. 


Cultural Challenges

There are a lot of reasons why fathers are hesitant to care for their new baby.  Many fathers, and mothers, believe that it is the maternal relationship that is most important to a baby and that the paternal role is secondary, supplementary, or even optional.  This belief is deeply rooted in our culture.  Fathers “bring home the bacon” while mothers stay at home with the baby.  Thankfully, this has been changing, but the underlying view of fathers still has a long way to go.  

Another reason fathers are hesitant to step into a more active parenting role is that the media is constantly sending the message that fathers are incompetent buffoons who do nothing but screw up, usually in humorous ways.  Think about what Homer Simpson, Tim Allen, Peter Griffin, and countless other sitcom fathers have in common. This CNN article does a good job of discussing the bumbling Dad stereotype.  In addition to the cultural messages that fathers are superfluous and incompetent, fathers are also deterred from being nurturing caregivers because it is in conflict with the dominant image of masculinity.  Hopefully more society will learn to embrace a more sophisticated version of masculine identity that allows men to feel secure in their choice to be the primary caregiver to their baby. 

A more tangible reason why fathers find it more difficult to become involved with their baby is because they simply don’t have time.  In the US, paternity leave is non-existent or very short in duration for most employees.  With the expense of having a child, it is difficult to take additional time off and almost impossible for most men to switch to part-time employment.


Dads Are Capable Too!

As a new father, nothing irks me more than someone implying that I am a less capable parent than my spouse.  I may not be able to breastfeed, but I can do everything else just as well.  In fact, since I am the stay at home parent, I have more familiarity with many of Abel’s routines and habits.  Men are just as capable as women of becoming nurturing, loving, and competent parents, but it does take some effort.  You must be able to ignore gender stereotypes, derision from simple-minded peers, non-stop depictions of inept fathers, and work against a system that does not promote or encourage paternal involvement. 

I don’t mean to imply that I am some kind of super-dad.  Caring for my son can be very rewarding, but at other times it can be incredibly frustrating or numbingly boring.  Spending six hours with Abel is hard and I don’t always look forward to it.  Working, even as a teacher with a classroom full of children, would be easier and in some ways and more gratifying.  There isn't a lot of prestige in changing diapers or cleaning spit-up out of the rug. 


Despite the often drab nature of the work, I am very grateful for the opportunity to spend so much time with Abel because I know it has made me a better dad.  Undoubtedly I would be less comfortable with Abel and less confident in my parenting abilities had I not spent so much time alone with him.  Not only do I feel more comfortable with him, but I am sure that he feels more comfortable with me and that our relationship is solid due to the trust forged during our afternoons together.  It is very satisfying to know that our relationship was not a given – not a product of biology – but was earned.  I may not have nourished him in the womb and I certainly can’t produce his milk now, but I've successfully  managed eight bouts of teething, thousands of dirty diapers, hundreds of bottles, and dozens of adventures around the city.    Men can become capable, caring, and nourishing fathers if they are given the necessary time, encouragement, and support.

The significance of mothers in the lives of children cannot be understated, but it is time for the importance of fathers to be fully acknowledged.   

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Brief Hiatus

I won't be posting anything for the rest of January in order to spend time preparing for the BCBA exam.  Also, this little guy tends to take up any other free time.  At least I can say that it is time well spent.



February should provide ample time to write since I'll be finished studying and Jess and I will have a break from work due to Chinese New Year.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Why ABA?

As I face one more month of studying for an exam that has required almost two years of coursework, supervision, and study, I think it is a good time to remind myself why I choose to pursue a credential in the field of applied behavior analysis. The answer that jumps to mind is that I needed the skills and knowledge to be an effective Special Education teacher. ­­My Special Education training in Texas was . . . sparse, to put it mildly.  Students with profound disabilities such as autism, require specialized curriculum, environment, and teaching techniques that are often very different than what is found in a regular education setting.  Special Education is so broad – including students with math learning disabilities to emotional disturbance to Downs Syndrome – that it is not a useful category when it comes to teacher training and certification.  I didn’t know much when I started teaching, but I did know that I needed to learn a lot more in order to effectively teach my unique students.

There are several different methodologies for teaching students with disabilities, but Applied Behavior Analysis appealed to me for several reasons:

Scientific – I have always had a strong personal interest in the methodology of science.  To me, science is the only way to search for truth about the world.  If I could name the number one contribution that our civilization has made to the history of humanity, it would be the development of the scientific method.  Just look around you – the computer you are using, the lights above your head, and the medicine that you take area all the result of the rigorous application of science.  The foundation of ABA, radical behaviorism, is science based.  Not only does ABA strictly operate within the scientific method, but it is structured like a natural science (physics, chemistry, biology), not a social science (psychology, sociology, anthropology). This makes ABA unique – using the power of the natural sciences to work towards social goals.

Universal – We are all on the autism spectrum.  You and I may be at the far end of the spectrum that is considered normal, while most of my students were at the other end, but people labeled with autism are not fundamentally different.  I have a number of autistic traits (need for routine, ritualistic behavior, difficulty understanding social cues) and can relate with many of my students with autism.  If a teaching methodology is truly powerful, then it should be effective with everyone, not just students with autism or another diagnosis. Applied Behavior Analysis was not developed for students with autism, it was developed for everyone.  The techniques and strategies derived from ABA are equally effective in a general education classroom, a factory assembly line, a company office, and a Life Skills classroom. ABA not only works with people of all ages and intellects, but it works with all animal species. The principles of behaviorism were originally developed by B.F. Skinner and others in laboratories using rats and pigeons.  Those same principles of behavior are applicable to humans and other animals such as dogs and cats.  Dog trainers use ABA, as well as dolphin and killer whale trainers at Sea World.  To me this demonstrates that behavioral techniques work on a powerful and fundamental level.

Useful – One in eighty-eight children are currently being diagnosed with autism in the US.  This “epidemic” has caught the education system and social service system off-guard.  Regardless of whether it is an increase in incidence or diagnosis (I’m staying out of that debate), there are a lot of children who need some extra services in order to function in society. The techniques and strategies derived from ABA have been empirically proven to help students with autism to increase their level of independent functioning in a wide range of areas. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of ABA practitioners available in many areas and students are not receiving the level of care that they deserve.  To fill this gap, a host of pseudo-scientific methods for “treating” autism have popped us – such as radical diet change, mega-doses of vitamins, and hyperbolic chambers.  These methods are not only ineffective, but they give families false hope that their child’s autism can be “cured” with a simple treatment.  Perhaps a cure may one day be available, but right now the best treatment for autism is systematically teaching them skills and language through behavioral training. 

I’m genuinely excited about the things I can do with the letters BCBA after my name.  As a career move, it gives me a great deal of flexibility and mobility.  More importantly, it will give me the authority and knowledge to improve the quality of education for students with disabilities.  Teachers need all the help they can get - I know first-hand.