Monday, May 7, 2012

My First International School Visit

Whenever I do school visits, it seems that the farther away I am from home, the more of a big deal I seem to be. When I give a presentation at my kids’ school here in Brattleboro, VT, I am greeted as just another parent with a semi-interesting job. But when I go to schools in Alabama, or Wisconsin, I’m treated as a prestigious visiting illustrator.  So, by that logic, if I traveled to the opposite side of the planet I would maximize the amount of pomp that could possibly be associated with my arrival.

How's this for an ego boost?
Well, in April that theory was put to the test and it actually turned out to be true. I was invited by The Brent International School in The Philippines to come and give presentations and workshops regarding my work as an author and illustrator. Patricia and Kurt Lamb, the dynamic duo of international school librarians, played host and made my first international school visit a wonderful experience. It was a particular pleasure to hang out with the ex-pat teachers who teach and raise their families in the international school circuit and I got a glimpse into their jet-setting lifestyle.

Ruben's caricature of me.

Patricia and the teachers went above and beyond any school I’ve ever been to in terms of preparing the students for my visit. Aside from being familiar with my books, the teachers showed the students my cartoon drawing demos on Youtube, and even incorporated a little creative writing into the exercise.  I had a session with Brent’s cartoonist club, and Art Teacher and Cartoonist Extraordinaire Ruben Nacion  made a wonderful caricature of me and my “dinosaur tie”.
Patricia and Kurt
I wish I took larger photos of these.

This is only a portion of Brent's wonderful campus ( pre-k through 12).
Who wants to run? Heat humidity index of 200 degrees.
 Patricia and Kurt took me up to Taal Volcano, to listen to a trio of strolling musicians serenade us as we looked out at a lake, that was in a volcano, that was in a lake, which was in a …. (you get the idea). Quite beautiful, and the cool mountain air was a respite from hot and muggy Manila.

Taal Volcano

I had one day to explore Manila (which is quite the megalopolis) so Patricia and Kurt to me to Green Hills, a vast, indoor (with air conditioning, thankfully) shopping bazaar. The only way I can describe it is to take every flea market, shopping bazaar, and souvenir stand I’ve ever been to in my life, and put them all under one roof, and that would be one section of Green Hills.  Tee shirts, jewelry, Indonesian shawls, knock off ANYTHINGS, etc, and there’s a stall for that. Patricia was a fantastic haggling coach, giving me very clear eyebrow signals if anyone was playing  me for a sucker. 

Pretty cool, right?
I think she was curious to see what overlooked gems my artistic eye would discover, but ended up cringing when I went for the coin purse made out of an actual preserved toad .

 I am grateful for the experience, and here are a few of my lasting impressions.
#1 Warm, friendly people (I’ve never been called “sir” so many times in my life).
#2 In the Philippines, you don't need walls, but you do need ceilings (sun, monsoon rains).
#3 Colorful “Jeepneys” (small jeep-looking buses) with chrome fenders, overflowing with riders, zooming through traffic clogged streets).
#4 The juxtaposition of sky scrapers, gigantic malls, and corrugated tin and cinderblock shanty towns. 
I suspect that more and more this is the face of the 21st century city.
#5 Rice fields and fruit stand overflowing with pineapple, mangos and papayas.
#6 Lagoons filled with fish farms
#7 Gated residential communities, both humble and grand.
#8 Surprisingly few, if any, Manila envelopes.
#9  All the familiar commercial food franchises (along with the Philippines’ own Leslie’s and Jollibee).  
#10 Gigantic vertical billboard advertisements lining the highways, printed on fabric so they can be rolled up during monsoon season. I suspect that more and more this is the face of the 21st century city.
#11 The wonderful staff and students at Brent, who are more engaged in the world than I certainly am, and who humbled me beyond belief with their warm welcome.