A Pilgrimage to Literary Mecca

Day 3 of Portland

After boosting the American economy on Tuesday, it was time to get down to brass tacks. After all, I wasn’t in Portland for a shopping spree, or to bulk up on American goods (made in China, by the way). I was here for a conference, the very same one I mentioned in the last post: The 39th Annual Middle Level Educator’s Conference, affectionately referred to as AMLE.

And though I work in China and teach in China, I am, to the surprise of many at the convention, an American teacher working in an American school. One person was so surprised that they stated, “There are Americans in China?” Of course, this might be new to many people, but since I’d just come from China, having hung out with many Americans (and Australians, though not many British), I could say, with finite authority that yes, Virginia, there are Americans in China. Many of them, in fact, who live and work there around Shanghai.

I have to say though, it was pretty sweet to have my name along with “Shanghai, China” on my ID badge for the conference. That gave many people pause, and I was able to have some great conversations, not the least of which began with, “So, China. Why China?” Well, I wanted to say, consider the way schools are going, and you’ll answer that question quite well. I’m already “addicted,” shall we say, to international education, and it’s pretty sketchy whether or not I’d return to the States to teach in the foreseeable future.

I also realized that most people think that, if you teach in China, it must be teaching English in a faraway village. While that is true of several teaching programmes, it’s not the only way one teaches in China. With the enormous influx of expats living in cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong, there are many schools to staff and meet the needs of either American, British, or IB curriculum students. I highly recommend checking out this, if you want to spice up your teaching career.

And if you don’t, that’s lovely. But, having sat through the conference courses and listening to the laments of fellow educators, I realize that I am extremely blessed to have the job I do, with class sizes capped at 18, two similar sections of humanities, and kids who are not only very eager to read, discuss, and write, they are well-behaved and have really made classroom management easy. I love them. And I walked out of the conference loving them even more – and feeling energized to keep teaching.

City of Books, no lie!

I attended several sectionals that day, including ones on poetry, using graphic novels in teaching humanities, global citizenship, and teaching creatively in the social studies classroom. I felt like I was running all over the convention center from here to there to get from A to B. But then, afterwards, I tossed my things into the hotel room and took a tram into Portland proper to visit the post office because I needed a flat-rate box to mail home and then romp over to Powell’s Books, a must for any bibliophile.

When I find Powell’s, it’s dark and a bit misty outside, and there’s a chill that gnaws into my bones. It gets damp and cool at nights in Portland, and I’m wishing I had put on a heaver sweater under my jacket. It’s up a few blocks from the tram station, which means I’m passing all sorts of interesting places on my walk there. I’m such an architecture person; I like to look at the buildings and wonder at their history and function. That was what I liked most about Chicago history, besides such things as the Great Chicago Fire and the 1920’s, of course. Buildings have stories, just like people. I would say that a good 91.2% of my desire to visit Prague had to do with architecture and history. The other 8.7% has to do with being half Czech somewhere in the family tree.

Rows upon rows – so much to choose from!

Powell’s Books looks small from the outside, but that bookstore has so much junk in its trunk that you have no choice but to be amazed by the labyrinth of bookshelves peddling every sort of topic you can imagine, from Pacific Northwest history to the classics and everything in between. I head for the young adult section and, sadly, there is no way to fit all the novels I want to buy for my classroom in my luggage. Clothes and shoes or classroom books…hmmm. Tough call. Can’t teach barefoot…

I think I spent only two hours in there wandering in and out of tall, ceiling-high shelves. I felt like I had entered a real Narnia of books, or, at the very least, the Beast’s library. I had to restrain my desire to buy, buy, buy and settled on a few books and some souvenirs for friends and family – very cheeky magnets with funny “e-card” sayings and other little bits and bobs like Magnetic Poetry sets. But oh, the books I had to leave behind!

The levels of awesomeness

After discovering the joy of literature at Powell’s, I wanted to find a place to eat. There was a Noodles & Company on the street corner, but that’s so generic. I wanted something local and something fun and unique. After a little bit of searching in the dark, I found a little Thai Restaurant called Thai Peacock and decided that sounded good. I like Southeast Asian food; as if I don’t eat a lot of that now! But what sold me was the roasted pumpkin curry on special, the hot Thai tea, and the chicken satay. I mean, after roaming around in the cold, damp night, the tea absolutely hit the spot! It slipped through my cold body so wonderfully that I could have sunk into the chair and never gotten up again.

The chicken satay was delish, but the best dish of the night was the roasted pumpkin curry, to which I added medium spice and chicken too. I tossed in the pearly rice, and BAM!, it would have knocked Emeril’s apron off. I was all over that curry like…white on rice?

Roasted Pumpkin Curry – oh my!

But it’s in those moments, when groups of people or even couples wander in to a restaurant like that and you think, what is the purpose of my being out by myself? Well, unless I want to order the Crazy Cat Lady starter kit, there has to be something I do myself, even if I earn weird looks from others like, what are you doing in here on your own? At least I had a book, I guess, but I like to people watch. Guess at their worlds. Again, since my box o’ cats hasn’t arrived yet, I’m going to wander out and see the world instead of pinning it to my “Places to Visit” board on Pinterest. Besides, if they’re people watching too, I wonder what stories they have about me…

After a particularly satisfying meal, it’s time to take the tram back to the hotel so I can watch American cable TV (okay, so I watched Duck Dynasty and laughed inordinately loudly all night), update my pictures on FB, and catch up on Skype with my family when we aren’t past the international dateline.

I’m still worked out the magnificent time warp that occurs when you cross it. ::Scratches head.::

Anyway, it was a lovely Wednesday in Portland, and the weather held admirably, even if the skies had turned to the same color as the steely bridges crossing the Willamette River.

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