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The Silver Linings

Golden Apple cover-m

My own cover design for the book I am completing for NaNoWriMo this month (Nov. 2018). It is based on the cover page of Atalanta Fugiens by Michael Maier.

Today is Nov. 1, 2018 and it is time to begin another year of NaNoWriMo: the National Novel Writing Month program that encourages writers to complete at least 50,000 words during November. I will be splitting my writing over four major projects. The first is to catch up and maintain these blog posts here at Elements Unearthed and at my other post: www.spacedoutclassroom.com, where I have been writing about activities and lessons in astronomy education. My second project is to write a series of lesson plans on STEAM education projects for chemistry classes, which I will report on and share here as well. My hope is to create a collection of 20-30 lesson plans that incorporate the arts and history and publish them through the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). My third project is to write and illustrate a series of young adult (8-14 year old) fact-based books on exploring the world (and beyond) written from the perspective of fictitious youngsters who experience these adventures. It will be largely based on my own travels. The final project is to complete the first novel in my Trinum Magicum series, which I started for NaNoWriMo last year. This blog will describe that project and other silver linings that came during my job hunt last year.

prague-castle-map

A map of the Hradcany, the castle hill in Prague with St. Vitus’ Cathedral. Most of my novel is based in Prague in 1609 during the time of Emperor Rudolf II.

Upon my return from the Teacher Research Data Conference in Washington, D.C., I was faced again with the challenges of my situation. Just two weeks before, I had been laid off from my teaching position at American Academy of Innovation because of budget problems, and now I had to pick up the pieces and somehow find a new position for myself when the school year was already well underway. My situation seemed pretty cloudy and dreary, but for every cloud there are silver linings. Mine came in the shape of unexpected opportunities to fulfill two of my Bucket List items: to be in a community theater production (more on this in the next post) and to start my long-planned Trinum Magicum book series.

maier_emblem_6-s

A photograph of Emblem 6 of Atalanta Fugiens, written by Michael Maier and illustrated with engravings by Mathias Merian. The book’s central mystery involves this book, which was perhaps one of the first attempts at multimedia, as it contains illustrations, poems, epigrams, and fugues.

For the first few weeks of October, my priority was to get all of my materials, books, filing cabinets, and papers from AAI put away into my house, as they were all stacked up in my carport exposed to the elements. I had to build a bookshelf, clean out rooms in my house and workshop, and do a lot of sorting and packing, but I finally found a spot for everything. Then I took some time to plan out my goals for the coming weeks as I looked for work. I had to make at least four contacts per week to maintain my unemployment benefits, so that was the top priority. I signed up for quite a few job seeking aggregate sites, went for interviews at Workforce Services, filled out a lot of paperwork, and started applying for jobs.

Prague castle

An illustration of what Prague looked like around 1609. The main Hradcany was on a hill with a steep wall in front. St. Vitus’ Cathedral had only been completed to the transept – the nave wasn’t completed until the 20th Century.

One job opening was for an informal science education director at Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City, which I thought was an ideal job for me (and me for them). 35 people applied, and I was one of the five chosen for interviews. The interview went well, but I could tell that I didn’t have enough large-scale grant experience for what they wanted. They hired another person who had worked as an educator at a planetarium before and whom I had actually met before at The Leonardo museum in Salt Lake. It was disappointing on top of all the other disappointments, but at least I came close (although close only counts in hand grenades, atom bombs, and horseshoes).

st-vituss-cathedral-map

St. Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague as it exists today. At the time of my book, the Choir and Altar and Transept with towers were completed but the Nave was not (until 20th Century), so the cathedral had a truncated appearance.

Feeling down on myself for not getting this job that had seemed so right, I walked to a local bookstore to browse articles on job seeking and just to take my mind off my problems for a while. I picked up a copy of Writers Magazine, and it had an article about a program that encourages people to write novels, a kind of community tracking project called NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November. It was the fourth week in October when I read this, and I checked out the website and decided to go for it. After all, I finally had the time to complete another item on my Bucket List.

Carbboard model of Prague

A cardboard model of Prague built in the 1820s-1830s by a man named Langwell. You can see that St. Vitus’ Cathedral is truncated and incomplete, and that the Hradcany castle complex overlooked the old city (Mala Stana) and Vltava River.

I had an idea for a novel that had been simmering in my head for eight years, ever since I spent the summer in Philadelphia at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. It would be a time travel adventure into the history of chemistry as the protagonists searched for clues to an ancient mystery involving that remarkable book by Michael Maier called Atalanta Fugiens. I started doing research into Maier and the history of the book, and found that he had written it shortly after leaving the service of the Emperor Rudolf II of Prague, so I started researching the Emperor as well. He was a remarkable person living in an incredible city and time, full of many story possibilities including the kunstkammer (Cabinet of Curiosities) he collected, the Voynich Manuscript, the Devil’s Bible, enough artists and alchemists and scientists (Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Anselmo de Boodt, John Dee, Elizabeth Weston, and many others) to provide a rich cast of characters, and backed up by the intrigue of the events leading up to the 30 Years War. And there was that whole business about the Golem of Prague, too. Great stuff!

Prague_Hoefnagel_

Prague as drawn by Hoefnagel from the early 17th Century.

So I built a plot up, the first book in a series (I hope), and on November 1st started in on writing the novel. This was my second such attempt, the first being a novella competition sponsored by Tor.com in 2015 where I wrote a 39,000 word novella called Dead Stone Lions in about two weeks. That experience was remarkable in that the story wrote itself – minor characters would take on a life of their own and show up as major story points, and ideas just popped into my head as I wrote it, a process that is often referred to as discovery writing. I barely finished in time and had no time for editing, so of course the novella was rejected. But at least I got a first draft done, and will edit it at some future time.

Prague in 1606

A drawing of Prague in 1606 showing the Charles Bridge across the Vltava River.

For the NaNoWriMo novel, which I titled The Golden Apple, the protagonists discover that Atalanta Fugiens is actually a time machine of sorts. By singing the fugues in the book in three voices (Atalanta, Hippomenes, and the Golden Apple) while holding a crystal, they are able to travel to Prague to the Court of Rudolf II and find themselves in the middle of the machinations of Matthias, the brother of Rudolf who is gradually taking control of the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburg dynasty. Here is a synopsis I wrote for the book:

 

In the twisted streets of the Old City, a misshapen monster stomps its way through the fleeing crowd. Jeremy McGowan, science teacher and time traveler, is running for his life . . .

Golem_by_Philippe_Semeria

Since my novel is set in Prague in 1609, I have to include a Golem or two. Rabbi Loew, the supposed creator of the Golem of Prague, lived until October 1609.

His fellowship at the Nexus Foundation was supposed to be an escape from the constant reminders of his lost love, not an escape from the legendary Golem of Prague. When he stumbles upon a secret hidden in a remarkable book, Jeremy embarks on a journey with science historians Ankha Zalinski and Benjamin Johnson to the court of Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia. They hope to solve an ancient puzzle: as a child, Ankha memorized a poem handed down through millennia from her ancestors. It speaks of a Golden Apple, which may be the key to unlocking incredible power.

Emblem 1 color

The first emblem of Atalanta Fugiens, showing Boreas, the God of Winds. In 50 emblems and epigrams, with essays and fugues, Michael Maier laid out the steps needed to achieve the Inner Transformation required to make the Philosophers’ Stone.

Using the legend of Atalanta as their guide, the explorers become the Trinum Magicum, the three alchemical emblems of Paracelsus, on a perilous quest to the past. Pursued by clandestine agents of the Emperor’s brother, Matthias, and hounded by a dark entity from beyond history, they must grapple with the limits of their own humanity. With the aid of Johannes Kepler, Elizabeth Weston, Rabbi Loeb, and other brilliant scholars, they hope to find the Golden Apple, decipher the symbols of a strange manuscript, and prevent a war that will rip Europe apart.

Fire salamander emblem

One of the emblems in Atalanta Fugiens, showing a fire salamander. In some books, such as the copy in the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, the first ten emblems have been hand colored to enhance the value of the book.

In this unique tale of historical science fiction, what appears to be magic may simply be a technology beyond comprehension, if only the travelers can find it in time.

I made my goal, barely, with 50,380 words by November 30, although I had to write 7000 words that last day. Since then, I have taken the book on to over 68,000 words and it is now about halfway done. It is a different experience than Dead Stone Lions, as I’ve had to plot it out much more carefully and think through the details of the whole book series in order to lay a good foundation. It even required writing a long poem full of chemical history references. But it is certainly coming along. Now I need to get back to it, with the goal of finishing it up during this 2018 NaNoWriMo so I can edit and submit it by the end of the year. My goal is to write one of these each year. If I do succeed in finishing it, then in December I will work editing and finding an agent or a publisher that wants to print and market it.

Golden Apple progress chart

This is my progress chart through the month of Nov. 2017. I made my goal of 50,000 words just barely (by 380 words). It required a major sprint of 7000 words on the last day!

We see many space operas, biological science fiction, future tech explorations, and so on but chemistry science fiction is rare. I can only think of Asimov’s The God’s Themselves, which has some chemistry in it (radioactive tungsten, anyone?) but is also about physics, entropy, multiple universes, and space colonization. So I hope my book finds an untapped market, with its references to real alchemists and history and some fascinating mysteries to solve in a remarkable time and place.

NaNo-2017-Winner-Badge

My badge for making my goal of 50,000 words.

So there are seldom any challenges we face that do not have some benefits for us, including silver linings and opportunities that we may never have accepted if we weren’t in dire straits. These changes in direction are never voluntary, but they can be for our good. Sometimes you have to look for the windows that open up when the doors are closed in your face. Sometimes they find you, like these two opportunities that dropped in my lap. I am glad I had the courage to accept them.

Emblem 50 color

Emblem 50 from Atalanta Fugiens, another enigmatic symbol. Reading through the translations of the Latin and German epigrams and discourses doesn’t help all that much for understanding the book. Maier wrote in symbolic language that used many of the ideas behind Rosicrucianism. It will take me years to write all the books; maybe by the time I’m done I’ll have a clearer idea of what he was trying to say. Or maybe not . . .

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Capitol Bldg

I attended the Research Teacher Data Conference at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 13-15, 2017.

Oct. 13-15, 2017
Grand Hyatt Hotel, Washington, D.C.

One of the many ironies of being laid off at American Academy of Innovation is that I still had unfinished business as a teacher to attend to even if I wasn’t teaching any longer. The week before I left, I submitted a STEM Classroom Grant application to the Utah STEM Action Center asking for $1500 to pay for materials for our UAV workshop at the digital citizenship conference. I found out a few weeks later that the grant had been approved, but I have no idea if the money was ever received or used for its intended purposes.

Another holdover was my scheduled attendance at a Research Data Teacher Conference in Washington, D.C. on October 13-15, 2017 sponsored by the Society for Science and the Public, the people who administer the International Science and Engineering Fairs and the Regeneron Science Talent Search. I had heard about the conference and applied for the opportunity while I was still in Bali, Indonesia, then heard a few weeks into the school year that I had been accepted. The trip was all-expenses-paid and there were no out of pocket costs to deplete my non-existent income, so I decided to go ahead and take the trip as planned. They would even provide a $100 credit card to cover meal expenses while traveling. I had never been to D.C. in the fall, and this would get my mind off of my unemployment troubles and perhaps provide some good contacts and networking.

Grand Hyatt entrance

The Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C., site of our Research Teacher Data Conference.

I was scheduled to present with Cindy Rogers, a teacher from Texas I had never met, on the engineering design process. We e-mailed back and forth and put together a good presentation. I did the initial Powerpoint, with additions from Cindy. We would have the participants do the bridge building exercise I’ve done in my Innovation Design classes.

I took my normal flight, Delta 832, across the country and watched part of the movie Inferno with Tom Hanks based on the latest Dan Brown code-breaking thriller. We landed at Washington Reagan, coming in over the Potamac as usual for a steep and fast landing. I got my luggage at the baggage claim downstairs and met up with other arriving teachers at Baggage Claim 12. They had a shuttle bus all ready for us, and we stowed our bags underneath and climbed aboard. The best part of these programs is meeting teachers from around the country, and a lively discussion started as we drove across the Potamac to the Grand Hyatt hotel.

Hyatt interior court

Grand Hyatt Hotel interior courtyard

This was my fourth trip to D.C. in as many years, and I had lived and worked and visited here ever since I was in college, so I’ve gotten to know the city well. I was here just eight months ago for the Teachers for Global Classrooms symposium. This was my first time at the Grand Hyatt, however, and it is quite a hotel with a large inside atrium. I checked in at the main desk and took my bags to my room, which was around on the opposite side of the hotel from the bank of elevators.

We held an opening banquet downstairs from the main lobby and sat by geographical regions. There were two other teachers at my table from Utah, one named Enrique from West High School in Salt Lake City, the other was Charmaine from a charter school in St. George. There were about 200 teachers altogether, all paid for by donations from sponsors to the Society for Science and the Public. The main sponsor is now Regeneron. It used to be Intel, and long ago in my high school days it was sponsored by Westinghouse and was called the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, which I entered as a senior in high school with my project to make a system of methanol-air fuel cells. I did not make it in, but I did make it into the Utah Science Talent Search and won fourth place behind my friends Nicole Van der Heyden and Sven Berg. So this whole meeting felt to me as if I were coming full circle at last. My efforts as a high school science nerd were finally paying off.

Opening banquet

Opening Banquet for the Research Teacher Data Conference. Over 200 teachers were selected and provided an all expenses paid trip to the conference, including three of us from Utah.

Caitlin Sullivan welcomed us to the conference. The purpose of this meeting was to train and encourage like-minded middle and high school science teachers to promote and support students in their efforts to collect data and create science fair projects. We were to attend a series of workshop sessions over two days led by pairs of teachers, including the one led by Cindy and I. During and after the meal, I got to know the other teachers at the table. They were an interesting lot and people I wished I could work with at some future time. Not actually being a teacher at the moment was quite a hindrance for setting up collaborations, since I don’t have any students that their classes can team up with.

Church near hotel

Out to find some Matchbox cars, I walked past this church in the area near our hotel.

I realized on my way to D.C. that I had forgotten to pack some materials I needed for the activity the next day. I had tape and spaghetti and paper, but forgot gumdrops and Matchbox cars. I went out on a supply run, looking for a CVS pharmacy or other convenience store near the Hyatt. I found gummi worms at one place about two blocks from the hotel, and finally found some Matchbox cars at a convenience store near the main gate to China Town. It was just down the street from the hotel and next door to the Mongolian Barbeque place I had eaten at for the Einstein Fellowship interviews a year and a half ago. Now supplied for my presentation, I returned to the hotel and spent the rest of the evening in my room writing blog posts for my Indonesia trip.

The next day we had breakfast in the conference room and a video keynote address from the CEO and founder of Regeneron, who started out as a Science Talent Search winner himself. This company is creating new drugs and medical breakthroughs using the human genome data, and one of the themes of this conference is how to use Big Data. The main keynote speaker was Lisa Purcell, Senior Staff Scientist with Regneron, who discussed Innovating with Rigor. She talked about what rigorous science entails and how to foster it in our classes. Students need to gain inspiration from multiple sources, understand that the data they collect are the data but are open to interpretation, so the interpretation itself needs to be rigorous, and that they need to ask good questions. As teachers, our job is to find motivated students, stimulate innovative thinking, and promote science as a way of thinking. Teachers are the first line advocates for science. Impactful science is innovative, and good science must be rigorous.

Cindy Rogers presenting

Cindy Rogers presenting her portion of our presentation on Preparing Students for Engineering Projects. We had a good group of about 30 teachers in our session.

In Session 1, I attended Kate Travis’ session on Visualizing Science. She is an editor of Science News, and the session was fascinating. She started with one of the first infographics ever created, a map of a cholera epidemic in London that showed all the cases originated from the Broadstreet water pump. She showed a recent and much more sophisticated map of a MERS outbreak in South Korea that had 308 million data points with demographic data that showed super spreaders and airports as hubs of pandemics. She showed video timelapses of glacier retreats based on normalized tourist photos, skycrapers sprouting over cities, visualizations of human migrations, and even one scientist’s daily tracking of his gut bacteria for a year. One of the most fascinating was a collection of GPS location data from research buoys released into the ocean and tracked, which created animations clearly showing ocean gyres such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Another showed duration and speed of Category 5 hurricanes which is zoomable to individual storms, the area under the curve representing joules of energy produced or storm severity. One chart showed data on habitable exoplanets known to date.

Building bridge deck

Teachers in our session beginning to design and build their bridges. The purposes (specifications) were be 13 inches long and support the weight of a Matchbox car pushed across without the car falling into the Tacoma Narrows.

All these charts were zoomable and interactive, and she shared some online software for building such datasets, including StoryMapper, Tableau, and Google Charts. Now I need to check these out and learn how to use them, a big project in itself.

The workshop I chose for Session 2 was Research with Limited Resources by Mark Vondracek and Catherine Nolan. They said that Science Talent Search has 500-600 applicants per year, which is a lot, but many of them come from the same schools. There are 30,000 public high schools. Where are the students from the other 29,500+ schools? Most schools simply don’t have much training or budget for big science projects, but there are many types of projects that don’t require expensive equipment or where data are available online.

Mark spoke of three realms of student STEM research at small schools without extensive equipment: experimental, computational, and online Big Data. They shared a website: http://basement-science.blogspot.com. He talked about projects his students do, such as studying how liquids flow when poured from a higher position. They spread out in a laminar flow pattern for a few centimeters, but it quickly turns turbulent for reasons that are not well understood. They study fracture patterns in dropped apples, use online astrophysics data, NOAA climate data, and data from Fermilab, CERN, and other research labs.

Laying out bridge

Teachers in our session laying out the design of their bridges.

Catherine spoke of how she instills experimental rigor into her students’ projects. She focuses on extensive background research, because one must be educated to make an educated guess. They use online journal sources, keep research journals, and are trained to ask critical questions of the articles they read. Since not all professional science journals are freely available, she partners with universities to allow her students to use their journal access. Her students use Python, GDL-GNU, DS9, and other free resources to unpack and analyze data sources. They use local data from the Forest Service, contact article authors directly, and work with local businesses to meet their research needs through student projects.

After lunch we had another plenary keynote speaker, Dr. Ruth Krumhasi of the Oceans of Data Institute. She started with EDC, which has been around since the Sputnik Era and had 1500 employees collecting scientific articles and data as a central clearinghouse. The ODI launched in 2015 as a way to teach data literacy tools. She spreads her time between two houses in Taos, NM and Nova Scotia and works remotely (nice if you can get it!) and works with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope that is being built in Chile to set up a data analysis pipeline, among other things.

Working on the deck

Teachers putting together the decks of their bridges for the engineering design challenge we gave them.

She talked about why we should teach how to use data. The reasons include a workforce imperative: many jobs now require data analysis skills such as accounting to track doctor effectiveness and forensic science to solve crimes; an educational imperative: big data requires a global perspective and awareness that aren’t being effectively taught (sounds familiar); and a social imperative: basic literacy now requires numeracy, or the ability to understand charts and graphs and interpret data. Those that can’t understand statistics will be controlled by those that can and who know how to manipulate data.

She spoke about how to teach data literacy through an acronym: CLIP: Complex – using multiple sources for data and multiple data sets; Large – abundant data, more than is needed to provide richness and show patterns; Interactive – to explore data, visualize it, break it down, and develop multiple interpretations; and Professional – collected with accuracy and reliability. She gave some examples and talked about the CODAP – common online data analysis platform.

We got da bridge

A teacher group after successfully navigating a Matchbox car over the Tacoma Narrows gorge. Tubby the Dog didn’t die this time!

Session 3 was my and Cindy’s presentation on the Engineering Design Process and the importance of collecting test data to analyze and inform revisions of projects. We each took about ten minutes. I described the engineering cycle and Cindy talked of projects she’s done to incorporate that cycle. We spent the bulk of the time on the challenge: to build a bridge that is 13 inches long made out of spaghetti noodles, gumdrops (or worms in this case), a short piece of masking tape, and one sheet of paper that can support a Matchbox car that is pushed across it. I showed the video of Galloping Gertie to set up the problem, then let them go for it. The solutions were diverse and the teachers enjoyed the hands-on activity. There were about 30 people in attendance, and it was well received. We could have used more time at the end to wrap up and tie in data usage more, but overall it was very successful.

For Session 4 I went to a workshop on Teachers as Researchers led by three teachers. They shared many opportunities out there to do original research, such as the RETs that I already knew about but some that I hadn’t. Two of them did biological research, but one did astrophysics research at the Solar Observatory at Kitt Peak in New Mexico.

Diego_Martinez

Diego Martinez, from the Delphian School in Oregon, who was one of the presenters I attended at the Research Teacher Data Conference. I first met Diego as a MAVEN Education Ambassador at Goddard Space Flight Center in 2015.

Session 5 was called Out of Your League: Harvesting Student Persistence. One of the teachers looked familiar, and I finally placed him – Diego Martinez from the MAVEN Education Ambassadors program two years ago. He was in Alamosa, Colorado (which I traveled through last summer) but is now at the Delphian School in Sheridan, Oregon near Lincoln City. It is one of the oldest charter schools in the country, and talking with him afterwards, it sounded like a great place to teach. He invited me to come visit the school sometime. Since then, I’ve seen that he was chosen as for the 2018 Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award by the Space Foundation and Astronauts Memorial Fund (see https://www.spacefoundation.org/news/science-teacher-diego-martinez-2018-recipient-alan-shepard-technology-education-award). The bio that was posted with the award states that he has done some incredible things in two years he has been at the Delphian School.

Their presentation was on how to get students to persist when they are unfamiliar with their subject matter, including getting them to understand the vocabulary of the subject by circling and looking up any unknown words in their background research. As they become conversant in the language of the subject, they will be better able to understand the subject. They demonstrated the problem of dealing with unfamiliar material by having groups analyze random pages from the Zoom book for 30 seconds and then try to organize them all – they showed a boat on a bus on a street on a stamp where contextual clues were absent to get a sense of scale, and how hard this was to do without references. This is how students look at an unfamiliar subject – they have no context from which to understand it.

On our way to dinner

Teachers at the Research Data Conference on their way to dinner in Washington, D.C.

We met together in the main banquet hall and Caitlin finished up the day by talking about how to use I Wonder journals to get students to ask questions, then gradually build in more rigor and depth with time such as starting with basic questions, then deeper questions with research, asking experts, etc. until they develop a great research question. She wondered if one could open up a sample of air bottled inside a 7-11 or a Panera Bread and still be able to recognize the smell. The question became how one would collect the air – walk through the store with a sweater on?

We divided into groups and walked together to an Italian restaurant nearby. We had about 50 people in the group, but they were ready for us and had seats all arranged. I tried to sit by people I hadn’t yet spoken to, and talked with a lady next to me that had done an internship developing lesson materials. When I told her I had actually used those materials in my own classes, she was pleased to find out her work was still out there.

Capitol and Wash align

Alignment of the Capitol and the Washington Monument on our tour of D.C. on Oct. 14, 2017.

After dinner we walked back to the Grand Hyatt and had some time to change, then those that were interested met in the lobby where two buses took us to see some of the monuments around the Mall. We stopped at the World War II and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorials. I was able to get better photos of them now that I have a nicer camera. Then we bused across the street to the Korean War Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. A group of high school students were there for a party associated with their prom without much supervision, and they were a bit noisy but not really acting out too badly – it’s hard to get too active in formal wear. Some of the teachers with us complained. That tells me they must have very quiet students if this small amount of noise bothered them. Maybe they felt that the students were being too irreverent at such a hallowed spot, but if I lived in the D.C. area, I would probably take these sites for granted, too.

King Memorial

Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C. It was nice to have a better camera this time.

I was getting pretty tired by this point and I had been to all of these sites before, and was becoming weary of socializing. As good as this day had been, I still just wanted to get back to the hotel.

On Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 I got ready and went down to an excellent breakfast served in the main banquet room of the Grand Hyatt. I had taken my time packing up and getting out of my room, then checking my luggage at the front desk, and was one of the last to arrive for breakfast. While I finished eating I listened as Maya Amjira, CEO of the Society for Science and the Public, addressed us. She was an STS alumnus herself, with a project on duckweed growth. Then Allie Stifel, Director of STS described the program to us. Having submitted my own science fair project as a candidate for the Science Talent Search back as a senior in high school, it was interesting to see the program from the other side. 13 Nobel Prize winners started out in STS, including Kip Thorne. It is a direct apply program – you don’t have to go through qualifying fairs like ISEF. She went through the requirements and deadlines, the prizes for winners (I did win Fourth Place in the Utah STS, but never got close to the national STS).

Lincoln statue

Statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

We then divided up for sessions and I went to one by Joanne Barrett from Out of Doors Academy in Florida on Using Technology in Research. She spoke of the role of teachers to help scaffold the data that students use and how to teach critical thinking. Technology makes finding and analyzing data easy, but that doesn’t mean the students know what to do with it or what it all means. She went over some online tools for data analysis and citation management that I wasn’t aware of before and some tools such as Wolfram Alpha and MathLab that I’ve heard of but need to learn. Gwen Jefferson of Rialto, CA talked about using handheld devices and types of projects her students have done and how she’s managed the data reporting and abstract requirements of projects.

WWII fountain and Wash Mon

World War II memorial and Washington Monument.

This was the last session that I have notes for; I remember going to one other but can’t remember the topic. It had been a busy two days and I was dragging by the end. There wasn’t really a final session for all of the teachers together to summarize the experience, so we were free to make our ways home. We had scheduled buses back to the airport, and mine was a bit later than others, so I got my luggage from the front desk and put it in the belly of the bus when it first arrived. I had some time to hang out before the bus left, so I went for a short walk around the area – down toward China Town, where I found a courtyard with colorful vines growing overhead and interestingly painted animal statues.

Returning to the hotel, I climbed aboard the bus and waited for 15 minutes before it left. As other teachers got on, I talked with them and encouraged them to apply for the Teachers for Global Classrooms program, which several said they would look into. I guess that I am an evangelist for the program now.

Fall vines and colorful camels

Fall vines and colorful camels, in a courtyard near the entrance to Chinatown in Washington, D.C.

I took a few more photos of the Capitol Building and other monuments on our way back to the Reagan Airport. I was there in plenty of time, as my usual flight wasn’t until 5:20, so I checked my bag and walked to the terminal and ate a good hamburger there. I had to be careful about the amount of money I spent, given that I have no income. I wanted to have some extra per diem left over on the $100 credit card we were given to cover meals.

I walked through Security without problem and waited at the gate, the same one I’ve used for the last several trips to D.C. I had about an hour to wait, and tried to read Most Likely to Succeed but kept dozing off. Finally my flight boarded and I had an uneventful trip back to Utah.

Jefferson Memorial

A decent photo of the Jefferson Memorial as we drove past on our way back to the airport.

There are so many things I would like to try out that I learned at this conference, but will have to wait until I have students again. When I do get re-hired, I hope it is in a place where we can learn some of these possibilities. In the meantime, I have good notes. As much as I think my students have been doing these things, I’ve found there is so much more to discover, a whole level of effort above anything I thought was possible. I feel like a rank amateur compared to some of the teachers I’ve met this weekend.

Dr King gazing out

Dr. King gazing out across the Tidal Basin.

The previous 80 or so posts have focused on global education and my extraordinary adventure teaching and traveling in Indonesia. I wrote those blogs as one document while I was on the exchange program itself, filling in the details when I returned home so that I could post everything in chronological order and keep a coherent story thread throughout.

 I am doing that again with stories and adventures that have happened to me since. And much has happened, but since I don’t really know what the end of the story is yet, I won’t actually post these tales until I have a definite conclusion. I apologize for the gap in posting this will cause, but it will be better thought out this way.

David Black with fall colors

David Black enjoying the fall leaves behind Squaw Peak in late September 2017. Then the floor caved in . . .

Returning to American Academy of Innovation:

I had only two days at home to recover from jet lag before I had to report back to American Academy of Innovation for our teacher preparation and training days for Fall Semester 2017. Our school had grown over the summer, from about 220 students at the end of our first year to over 300 by the start of our second year, with the addition and replacement of a number of teachers. We would be re-working our project structure by separating out projects for middle school versus high school students. The middle school students would be in separate classes by gender. And we were adding to our Dell laptops and chrome books with all new Apple laptops, desktops, and iPads with new software, including the entire Adobe Creative Cloud and Autodesk Maya for 3D. I was extremely excited to hear of this, as it would turn my dreams of an innovative media design program into a reality. Much of what I had wanted to do the previous year was frustrated by inadequate computers and software.

Scott Jones eclipse

Scott Jones, Director of AAI, with students watching the Sept. 21, 2017 solar eclipse.

It took a couple of weeks into the school year to get the software installed and operational, but I then immediately set to work teaching the students Adobe Photoshop in two completely full classes. I wasn’t teaching middle school classes this year, but chemistry, earth systems, astronomy, and two sections of media design. We were planning on a school-wide project to host a digital citizenship conference workshop at AAI, and student teams were preparing demonstrations and sessions for the workshop. I was mentoring a team creating a racing course for UAVs and starting up a robotics club. All was looking good, and our new students were coming along nicely. I even received the long overdue chemistry lab tables that had been on order for almost a year.

Watching the eclipse

AAI students watching the 2017 solar eclipse. Little did I know that my teaching at AAI was about to be eclipsed.

For the solar eclipse on Sept. 21, we had glasses for most students and let the whole school out to watch. At our location in Salt Lake Valley, the eclipse was about 90%, and I got some good photos of it with my camera. A few days later, Shannon McConnell, the director of the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope Project (GAVRT) at JPL, stopped by my classroom and addressed interested students. She had been to Idaho to see the totality and had contacted me to see if I wanted her to stop in my school on her way back to southern California. I said yes, of course. She made a great presentation and we had a good group of students attend. It appeared that the school year was off to a great start.

Solar eclipse 2017

A photo of the solar eclipse. At our location in Salt Lake Valley, we reached about 90% of totality.

Then the floor caved in on me. We had projected having about 380 students for the year to justify the budget, teachers, computers, and other costs we were spending. At the first of October each year, the state of Utah sends auditors into the schools to get an accurate count of average daily attendance for final budgeting purposes. Due to a few families dropping out in September, instead of 380 students, we had 314. Suddenly, our budget had to be cut drastically. They couldn’t send back the new computers, so they decided to balance the budget by laying off teachers and staff and consolidating classes. I was called in on Thursday, Oct. 5 and told I would be one of the ones laid off. It was quite a shock!

Shannon McConnell in my class

Shannon McConnell, director of the GAVRT program at JPL, addressing my class.

Given all that I had done to lead the Project Based Learning program at the school, and all that I was contributing with global education and media design skills training, laying me off did not make sense from a strategic viewpoint. It did, however, make sense from a financial viewpoint – I was one of the most experienced teachers at the school and therefore one of the most expensive to employ. They could save more money getting rid of me than someone else. Since I was teaching higher-level classes, my class sizes were smaller and it would cause less disruption to students than if they laid off someone else. They needed to make a quick financial decision and they made it.

Shannon addressing class

Shannon McConnell talking to my students about NASA opportunities.

The school director agreed to write positive letters of recommendation, including for my application to the Albert Einstein fellowship program in Washington, D.C. which he did that night (as I was still employed for one more day). I had two days to pack up all my stuff and take it home. I didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye to many of my students; they found out on Monday when their classes were changed around and I was already gone.

Drone Races group

My group for the Digital Citizenship summit project. We were planning a UAV drone race event.

Staying Positive:

As with my blog posts about Indonesia, I am trying to stay positive in the stories that I tell and in my attitude toward my life in general. I looked at this as a chance to find something even better, but it was slow coming. I was 57 years old when they laid me off (and yes, there are legal issues about that) so it wasn’t easy finding a new job that would meet my salary requirements in the middle of a school year. I immediately set up accounts with many job search engines, the Department of Workforce Services, Indeed.com, and everywhere else I could think of.

Cameron Brown with drone

Cameron, the leader of the drone race group, with his quadcopter drone. The plan was to build a series of obstacles on our playing field, then have participants race drones through the course. We were well into the planning and building phase when I left AAI.

At first it was nice to have some time off to re-organize my life and my house, write my Indonesia blog posts, and work on some long-term bucket list items. I will write at more length about some of the silver linings my time of unemployment provided, but it was still a difficult time for me. You start questioning your worth, your competence, and your accomplishments when no one seems to care.

In between applying for jobs, I took the opportunity to enjoy the fall season. The colors in the mountains this year were incredible, the best I’d seen in many years. I took my youngest son on a trip up Hobble Creek Canyon to photograph the fall colors. As a whole family, we drove up to Squaw Peak overlooking the whole valley and the colors and view were amazing. I took walks with my wife, and I finally got the summer vacation I hadn’t had because of my trip to Indonesia.

Road to Squaw Peak-fall 2017

The road to Squaw Peak overlook with fall colors.

As the weeks dragged on and turned into months, I started looking at alternatives. My original plan was that this would be my last year of classroom teaching before I fulfilled an Einstein Fellowship or started a PhD program. I looked at starting my own business; I even took a class each Thursday night and got advice from the Small Business Development Center at Utah Valley University. I began to work on various science fact and lesson plan book projects again, and created a detailed plan of how to complete them to bring in some income. I even signed up for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) program to complete 50,000 words of a novel. It would be the first of my Trinum Magicum books, which I have been planning since my time in Philadelphia at the Chemical Heritage Foundation nine years ago. And I did it – I wrote 50,380 words in 30 days. I am about half way through the novel and just getting to the good part.

Provo Temple from Squaw Peak-fall

Utah Valley with a view toward Mt. Nebo from the Squaw Peak overlook: Fall 2017.

One surprising opportunity dropped in my lap in October. I walked onto a musical production of Miracle on 34th Street at the SCERA Playhouse here in Orem and was given four parts. We performed for two weeks in December and there is no way I could have done this if I had continued at AAI.

Goodbye to AAI:

Despite my ultimate success in the job hunt, I still miss American Academy of Innovation. It was (and is) a school with tremendous potential, if they can only get their financial act together. This wasn’t the first time they laid off teachers due to budget problems. Once is a stopgap emergency measure, but twice becomes a habit. Ultimately such a habit will undermine morale and any progress the school hopes to make. I miss many of the students, who were among the best I’ve ever taught. I miss the project-based learning environment and the chance to teach my STEAM it Up, 3D animation, and media design classes. I miss working with the teachers there, but my new colleagues are fantastic too. Some things I don’t miss – the long commute, the high percentage of disrespectful and overly entitled students, and the uncertain budget with its unfulfilled promises.

Fall colors back of Squaw Peak

Fall colors on the back of Squaw Peak.

I am getting almost the same rate of pay, and my commute is one half what it was before and in the opposite direction of traffic. I leave at the same time as before and get home by 3:30 each afternoon when I was just getting out of my last period class at AAI and not getting home until 6:00 or even 7:00. I have my homework all graded by the end of each day, so there is not much take-home work for me now. I have time to work on other projects in the evenings or do fun things with my children. So there are silver linings galore to my being laid off. It was a hard but valuable experience.

Hobble Creek golden trees-2017

Golden cottonwoods in Hobble Creek Canyon

I am a firm believer that when a door closes, one should start looking for windows to open up. They truly have. Onward and upward!

Fall colors on Timp

Fall colors on Mt. Timpanogas: Fall 2017

Hobble Creek-fall 2017

Maples and oaks in Hobble Creek Canyon

Return Flight Part 4: Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Fremont-Oakland hills

A view out my window of the hills east of Fremont and Oakland, California.

We landed on time at San Francisco, circling around the south Bay Area to come into SFO from the south across the Bay. This is a big plane, and it took some room to slow down and pull into the gate at the International Terminal.

I had been told by the Korea Air Lines lady in Jakarta that my luggage was checked all the way to Salt Lake City but that I would have to come out of security, go through customs, and check back in at the Delta Counter for my domestic flight’s boarding pass. The customs process was automated – you go to a kiosk and fill out the electronic form, then it prints a summary. I didn’t have any currency over about $5 worth of rupiah (yes, there were 1000 and 2000 rupiah coins and bills, but it was still less than $5). I had bought less than $200 worth of souvenirs, so nothing much to declare.

Sierra foothills

The foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We passed just south of Lake Tahoe, so this view takes in the area I first started teaching at, in Groveland, CA just south of Sonora. You can just make out the smoke from a grass fire near Mariposa. Sorry about the smudges on the windows.

The people at customs glanced at the form and waved me through, pointing vaguely to the security checkpoint without a word. They were almost rude in their bored lack of concern. I found a baggage cart for my carry-ons (boy, wheels are highly underrated) and took the elevator upstairs to a monorail that carried me over to the domestic terminal and the Delta counter.

I wasn’t able to get the electronic check-in kiosk to work – it wouldn’t find the ticket for my flight. So I went to the counter (the line was short) and the lady there couldn’t find it, either. One last gasp of poor customer service from United! Thankfully, the Delta lady was able to see that I had had a ticket before United canceled it and was able to fix the problem and get me a boarding pass.

Sierras

Looking down on the Sierra Nevada Mountains as we traveled east to the south of Lake Tahoe.

I found my flight’s gate and walked through Security. It was the same concourse and security checkpoint that Martin Horejsi and I went through after the 2011 NSTA conference in San Francisco, when we ran into each other in the airport and changed our seats to sit next to each other on the flight back to Salt Lake. He then flew from Salt Lake on to Missoula, where he runs the Teacher Preparation program at Montana State. I’ve known Martin since the old days of the Solar System Educator Program in 2000-2004. This time there was no one I knew in the line.

I ate lunch at a bar and grill place – a very nice hamburger. My intestines are finally coming back on line after backing up so badly in Indonesia. I sat at the bar and talked with the guy next to me, who used to be a physics teacher in Texas but is now back in industry.

High Sierras

A view down on the high Sierras. Yosemite National Park is to the south in this photo.

I had about two hours to kill, so I snoozed, charged up my computer, and wrote more of these blogs while trying to keep my right leg elevated, which is hard to do on those uncomfortable benches. Both my legs were aching fiercely after wearing the compression socks for two days. I changed my shirt into the fresh one I carried in my computer bag, and we finally boarded the plane after my seat was re-assigned to an exit row. That’s great – I have more leg room and a better view this way.

On our flight to Salt Lake I took some photos of the Sierras on our way over. We flew just south of Lake Tahoe, and out the right side of the plane I could just make out the smoke from the fire near Mariposa and what I think was Lake Don Pedro and Moccasin, where I first started teaching in 1990. I could see the High Sierras still had patches of snow, although I couldn’t make out Yosemite specifically.

Salt Lake City

Downtown Salt Lake City, Utah as I land after having been in Indonesia for four weeks.

I fell asleep once the Sierras were past us, and only woke up again as we were making our final approach to Salt Lake City. I took a few excellent photos of downtown as we flew over I-80 and landed. I packed my carry-ons off the plane. You have to pay for all the baggage carts in Salt Lake airport, so I lugged my carry-ons up the concourse and into the baggage claim area. There weren’t many people waiting by the time I got there (I had a restroom stop on the way) and my two bags did not show up.

When I checked at the baggage claim counter, the man was able to use my claim tickets to track them. Apparently, I misunderstood the lady in Jarkarta; when she said my bags were checked through to Salt Lake City and that I would have to go through customs, she meant I would have to take the bags off the luggage carousel in SFO and take them through customs with me before re-checking them onto my final airplane. Or the Curse of United and the problem with my missing flight reached out from the grave to haunt me one last time. Regardless, my luggage full of smelly laundry and souvenirs did not make it to Salt Lake with me.

Salt Lake City landing

Landing at Salt Lake City International Airport after my trip as an education ambassador in Indonesia.

I got my phone working again and called Becca, who was waiting outside the terminal with Jonathan and William. I walked to the curb with my carry-ons and she picked me up in the Dodge minivan. It was great to see them again. I hugged them all, got in the front seat and took my shoes and compression socks off before my legs fell off, and we traveled home.

My luggage took several days to arrive, the red bag on Thursday and the blue bag (which somehow made it to Seattle) on Friday. With its arrival, I was finally home. It took a couple of days to readjust to Mountain Standard Time – I was jet lagged in reverse – but by the time I reported back to school on Friday, July 11, I had pretty much recovered.


 

And now I am home after four incredible weeks in Indonesia, learning about their education system, teaching, and exploring. I saw the Southern Cross for the first time, as well as Alpha Centauri. I visited religious shrines, World Heritage Sites, went bamboo rafting in the rainforest, explored a diamond mine, saw silver jewelry made, learned batik, and did so very many things. I’ve written over 80 blog posts about the Teachers for Global Classrooms program and this journey.

Hat sampler

A sampler of hats that I bought in Indonesia. The large rice farmer’s hat was a challenge. I put it in a large plastic bag and ties the ends of the bag to the outside of one of my carry-on bags. In addition to these, I also bought a Yogyakarta cap and a Borneo prince hat for my son. The black hat in the front right is the same as worn by Javanese officials such as President Widodo.

As part of the requirements for the TGC program, I had to create a summary of what I learned from my experiences; a series of reflections that tie in to the guiding questions I decided on before coming to Indonesia. I had one overarching question with several sub-questions, so I made a separate reflection post for each one. Since they had to be done before September 5, I created them on a separate page so they wouldn’t be out of order. You can find them here:

https://elementsunearthed.com/reflect/

The page includes the following four parts:


Reflection 1: Finding Common Ground

Reflection 2: The Need for Self-Expression Through Art

Reflection 3: The Mysteries of Life

Reflections 4: The Extraordinary Adventures of an Ordinary Educator

As for what I did myself after returning home, I spent the remainder of August writing up these posts, in between starting school again. I had written as much as I could while in Indonesia, but decided to write the whole experience as one large document so that I could be internally consistent and chronological. I managed to stay up on editing the best photos as I went along, but my last few days needed work.

By September 5 the writing and photos were done and I began the process of posting the parts, creating a record 36 posts in September including the reflections posts. The TGC reviewers said I had made a good start but needed more required pieces, so I did edits and re-arranged the site, adding more pages for links to TGC materials and online resources by the end of September. You can check them out here:

Resources and Links:

https://elementsunearthed.com/assignments/

Global Education materials:

https://elementsunearthed.com/global-teaching/

In October, November, and December I worked hard to get all of these posts done by the end of the year. I still want to create a large Adobe InDesign book document with this text and photos and print it all out in a binder for posterity and my students. I’ll work on that in January.

As for this blog site, now that my TGC experiences are done and I am an official alumnus of the program, I can return to the central purpose of this site: to tell the stories of the chemical elements and important materials. I did do some of that through my Indonesia experiences (diamond mines, coal, batik, rubber, silver jewelry, rice farming, cinnamon, luwak coffee, Mt. Batur and Mt. Merapi, etc.) but it will now be my majority focus.

David by Lake Batur

David Black overlooking Lake Batur with the composite volcano cone in the distance.

It’s been almost five months since I returned from Indonesia, yet because I took the time and effort to write all of this down and share it with you, my memories of the experience remain fresh and detailed and hopefully always will. I thank the people at the U.S. State Department and IREX for supporting this amazing program, and I will do all I can to promote it and share it with other teachers and students. I hope my writings here will promote bridges of understanding in a world that needs more global citizens.

Thank you for staying with me. Please read on!

 

Return Flight Part 3: Still Tuesday, August 8, 2017

This is the KAL 747 that I flew on from Seoul/Incheon to San Francisco. As a Delta Airlines partner, KAL still runs a few 747s, but they are being replaced by new, more efficient Airbus models. These 747s will be retired by the end of the year, and so this will be my last flight on one. It is the end of an era.

I’m on a 747 Korean Air Lines jet between Incheon, Korea and San Francisco. The sun has come back up after a short night, but it’s still Tuesday, August 8th. I will be landing in San Francisco before I left Korea. I don’t know what time it is; my computer says it’s 2:23 a.m. We crossed the International Date Line heading east, so weird things happen to geographical versus personal time.

I got a little bit of sleep on the flight after watching five episodes of Season 2 of The Flash, which I’ve already seen. I watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 on the flight from Jakarta to Incheon, which I never saw in theaters, but there’s not much else on the in-flight system that I want to see. At least they have these systems now. I remember watching 9 to 5 on the 747 Japan Air Lines plane coming home from Taiwan, the last time I crossed the Pacific on this route. In order to see the movie, they had to set up a screen at the front of each cabin section and project the movie onto it. Now each seat has its own interactive computer screen allowing personal choices of many options. Just not the ones I want. I did listen to the Best of Carpenters, before pulling out my iPad and listening to my own music.

Yes, I am so spoiled by unlimited personal choices. And I don’t even have a smart phone, so I could only use the Internet at my hotels and in some of the airports. That’s one thing I came away with in this trip: I need a smart phone. It limited me to not be able to communicate with others in the group through WhatsApp. My dumb phone didn’t have a network in Asia, so I had to turn it off. It was useless. I am definitely not an early adopter of new technology, despite being a technology teacher. I pick the technology I use based on a careful evaluation of needs, costs, and benefits. But has this made me obsolete? Have I missed out on a useful technology simply because I am too set in my ways? A question I have to grapple with.

There are many questions I need to answer still about Indonesia, even after four weeks of studying that country from the inside. As I fly above the clouds just south of the Aleutian Islands, I am beginning to reflect on all that I have learned and all that I still need to learn.

This is another moment that reminds me of a song. This one is a bit more obscure, from the City to City album by Jerry Rafferty (the same album as Baker Street). It’s called Home and Dry:

 

This silver bird takes me ‘cross the sky,
Just one more hour and I’ll be home and dry.
Across the ocean way above the clouds,
I come sailing.

 

I feel tired, but I feel good,
‘Cause I did everything I said I would.
I think of you and I know how
You’ll be feeling.

 

This bird isn’t all silver, it’s mostly a bluish green aqua color. Otherwise the song is apropos. I do feel tired – even though we spun in and out of nighttime, it’s still the same day, and I didn’t get much sleep. But I do feel good – I have done everything I said I would, and more. I haven’t wasted any time in the four weeks I’ve been gone. When I had down time, I rested as needed, downloaded and cleaned up photos, wrote this account, and e-mailed my family. Soon I’ll be home and dry indeed, in the low humidity of Utah. I will miss Indonesia, but it’s definitely time to go home.

The question now is how I will make use of the experiences I’ve had. Whenever I’ve been to a conference, traveled to an amazing place, led a workshop at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or done anything that has expanded my consciousness or enlarged my horizons, I’ve found the hardest part isn’t going there and doing it, it’s coming home and trying to pour myself back into my little life. It’s trying to explain the numinous experience I’ve had to people who are only listening to be polite and hardly noticed I was gone. It’s getting apathetic students to care about something they haven’t seen or done directly. It’s the challenge I face every day in every class: how to translate my personal passions into a lesson that will engage their interest and curiosity; to ensure my teaching is enriched and made meaningful through the extraordinary experiences I’ve had.

The monorail system between terminals at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

Let me think on this some more. I’ll address this in the final section of posts as I reflect on my Indonesian adventures. But for now, this plane is descending toward San Francisco and my final flight home.

Stopover in Korea

Return Flight Part 2: Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Incheon airport interior

The interior of the Incheon airport, one of the largest in the world. Since I was to laid over for almost eight hours, I booked a free tour into the city for something to do and to put my “feet on the ground” so I can say I’ve visited Korea.

We flew directly over Borneo, the Philippines, and Taiwan (including Kaohsiung, Chiayi, and other places I’ve lived before). We seemed to be following land as much as possible, based on the in-flight pathfinder app. Then we crossed the East China Sea and headed for Korea.

Across mud flat

The mudflat of Incheon Harbor. The Incheon airport is built on an artificial island in the harbor, which is one of the shallowest harbors in the world. Tides change the height of the water by as much as 14 feet, and when the tide is out, it leaves a large mud flat with channels for the receding tide.

We landed at Incheon, a city on the western coast of Korea not far from the DMZ. Incheon is most famous as the site of a major battle of the Korean War, which I’ll talk about shortly. The airport was built on an artificial island built up in a tidal flat in the harbor.

Stranded boat

A small fishing boat stranded in the mudflat at Incheon Harbor, left by the receding tide.

I deplaned and walked through terminal. It was about 7:00 in the morning, local time. At least this flight stayed mostly to a south to north trajectory, so that I was only two hours ahead of Jakarta. But I had left the southern hemisphere behind. No more Southern Cross. My carry-on items were getting heavy, dragging on my arms and shoulders.

Hovercraft

A hovercraft and transport ship heading under the bridge to Incheon Harbor.

I saw the desk I was looking for, advertising free transit tours of the local area. I had read about this when I researched what to do in the Incheon airport when I found I would have an eight-hour layover here. I looked through the offerings, and the man at the desk looked at my next boarding pass and suggesting taking a 10:00 one-hour tour or a five-hour tour. I’m glad they didn’t have any three-hour tours. That could have been disastrous. And if you get that reference, you are a child of the 1960s and/or 1970 reruns. So sit right back . . . He gave me an immigration card filled out for the one-hour tour to a local temple.

Bridge pylons

Pylons to the new bridge across Incheon Harbor to the airport. This bridge and the airport itself are considered to be among the engineering marvels of the world.

Taking this tour would mean leaving the sanctum of the inner airport. I waited in the queue to get through immigration, and took my items downstairs and finally found a trolley. The lady at the tour desk at Door 8 said she would try to get me in the 9:00 two-hour tour, because that one was better. I ate some doughnuts at Krispy Kreme and waited.

New City

Once we crossed the bridge and approached Incheon City itself, we saw this New City which has been built to house over one million people.

At 9:00 my tour group assembled at the desk and we were led at a brisk walk across the terminal to the far end by our guide, Nikki. We met up with two German men, both with walking braces, and we boarded a small tour bus. We drove out of the airport and onto a toll road, which led along a roadway built on top of mud flats. The tide was out, and here it can change up to 14 m between high and low tides. I could see small streamlets leading throughout the flats where the water runs back and forth in the tides. Then the roadway arched up and turned across the main bay entrance onto a long, high bridge with amazing architecture. Huge pylons supported a modern suspension structure. I had seen documentaries about this bridge as one of the modern architectural marvels of the world.

Blue bridge to new city

A bridge from the airport freeway across to the New City near Incheon, Korea. It was nice to be driving on the right side of the road again.

It was foggy in the early morning, and on the other side of the bridge a large group of new buildings, some very tall, emerged from the mist, an entire new city built for South Korea’s growing 50 million population.

Incheon tour bus

Our tour bus from the airport to the sites in Incheon, Korea.

We did a U-turn back to the main city on the left of the highway. Nikki told us that Incheon is now a city of 3 million people. We turned toward hills and wound up to the base of a hill with a beautiful set of Buddhist temples at the top. This was the Heungryunsa Temple complex. She said that there were 108 stairs leading to the top and that local people would kneel and bow down at the top 108 times to bring a blessing to their families.

Streets of Incheon

From the main highway we turned into Incheon city itself and wound through the streets to the hilltop above the city.

This was very similar to Buddhist temples and monasteries in Taiwan. Different landings on the steps had statues of the Buddhas, including the Amitah Buddha (Amita Fwo or Maitreya, the Buddha of Enlightment symbolizing the achievement of Nirvana by the original Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha), Mi Lwo Fwo (the fat, laughing Buddha of prosperity), and others. All the statues were painted gold or coated with gold foil, and decorated with smaller Buddha statues. The landscaping and rocks were beautifully manicured and peaceful. At the top landing were a series of temples and a large golden bell with log striker. It was tempting to ring that bell, but Nikki forbade us on pain of expulsion.

Nikki and group

Our tour group at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea. Our guide, Nikki, is the in the center with dark pants and a white blouse.

This temple complex has been here for many years. It was destroyed by the Japanese in the 1300s and rebuilt. It has weathered many storms of time and ideology. Nikki called out that we needed to move on to our second stop – this was a short tour, after all. She made the last person who returned to the bus sing a song.

David at Incheon temple

David Black at the Heungryunsa Temple complex in Incheon, Korea.

We drove a short distance to the Battle of Incheon Memorial. In 1951 at the height of the Korean War things were going badly for the South Korean forces trying to prevent the northern invasion. They were driven back to the southern tip of the peninsula and Seoul had fallen when the United Nations stepped in, led largely by the United States military. Under General Douglas Macarthur’s command, the combined UN forces planned a counteroffensive. First, the North Korean advance was stopped. Then, in a strategic move, the forces attacked at Incheon behind the enemy lines. They planned many “excursions in force” at other spots to look like they were the real landing site. Incheon’s geography wasn’t good for an invasion – all those mud flats to cross with landing craft. But that was why they chose here – it wasn’t expected. Landing craft carrying U.S. Marines and other forces came ashore at three places and the attack was successful, cutting of the North Korean supply lines and forcing them to pull back.

Fat Buddha 2

A statue of Mi Lwo Fwo, the laughing Buddha of prosperity, at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea.

Then Macarthur made his greatest blunder. The North Koreans had tried to reunify Korean under their communist leadership. Now Macarthur saw the opportunity to do the same under United Nations control and he drove on the advantage, pushing the demoralized North Koreans back past the original border between the two halves of the country.

Main temple

The main temple at the Heungryunsa Temple complex in Incheon, Korea. The entire series of temples sits at the top of a long stairway overlooking the city and is a very peaceful place.

Mao Tse Dung warned the United Nations forces that they should not approach the 38th parallel, the traditional border between Korea and China. When UN forces got close, the Chinese army poured across and reinforced the North Korean line, making it a whole new war. The UN forces were pushed back to the original border, and after two years of stalemate, the two sides signed an armistice that stopped the fighting but not the war and established the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the two countries now. Technically, the Korean War never ended. No side lost, no one surrendered.

Golden gong

A golden gong/bell in a pagoda at Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea. Nikki, our tour guide, repeatedly threatened us to not ring the gong. But it was very tempting. I wonder what it sounds like?

My wife’s brother, Dan Bateman, was in the Colorado Air National Guard for years and served two tours of duty in South Korea at the DMZ. He’s shown me books and photos of the area and I would love to visit sometime because this kind of history fascinates me. The North Korean government wants us to think that everything is fine there, with happy and productive people. They have built an entire city within view of guards on the south side of the DMZ with people living there to prove how progressive and modern North Korea is.

Stairs to memorial

The stairs to the Battle of Incheon Memorial. The Allied forces stages a successful surprise attach behind the North Korean lines by landing at the shallow Incheon Harbor where they weren’t expected.

Except it’s all a fake. The buildings are like Hollywood sets with fake fronts. Lights are turned off and on at random to appear as if people live there, but no one does except a few random “citizens” who are walking about but are trucked in and out every day. We have binoculars and other surveillance equipment that can see the pretense easily, but they keep it up. The leadership of North Korea appears to be as hollow as the buildings of this town. Dictator Kim, son of the original Kim who attacked in 1951, is spending millions of dollars on rocket systems and nuclear research that his people desperately need for food and basic services in an attempt to join the “big league” of nuclear nations where he can set his own terms.

Scaling the sea wall

A statue of Allied forces scaling the seawall during the Battle of Incheon in the Korean War.

Nikki spoke of her hope to one day see a reunified Korea where she can visit the north and perhaps even travel to Europe by train. Much would have to change before that could happen, but then we never thought the Soviet Union would break apart as quickly as it did. Much has changed in twenty years.

Landing craft

A landing craft for the Battle of Incheon. This acts as both boat and tank, able to cross both water and mud while carrying soldiers to attach the beaches and seawalls at Incheon Harbor. The attack was successful and turned the tide of the war, cutting off the North Korean supply lines.

I didn’t have time to read all the displays and dioramas. As the son of a World War II veteran and a student of history, war battles and strategy fascinate me. I was the last one on the bus (barely) and had to sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

Incheon memorial gate

Gateway to the Incheon War Memorial.

We drove back to the airport and I got my bags out from behind the tour desk where I had stowed them, worked my way upstairs and through the queue at security. I didn’t even have to take off my belt or shoes. I asked at the information desk where my gate was. It was Gate 12, so I walked that direction, past a procession of traditionally dressed Koreans.

Korean war items

Artifacts from the Korean War, on display at the Incheon War Memorial.

This airport is supposed to be one of the best in the world, with cultural events like this procession and the tours I had just been on. But I wasn’t terribly impressed with the layout. Just another big space full of people waiting in lines and overpriced duty free shops. There has got to be a better way to manage travel without all this waiting in lines and waiting around at gates. Security should be more automated; putting in people as guards only slows down the process. I even had to wait in line again for another set of guards to recheck my passport and boarding pass for the third time after I had already gotten through the security check.

Silver building at airport

Part of the Incheon Airport in Korea.

I had three hours still before my flight. I ate lunch at Taco Bell upstairs, then waited at the gate and waited some more. I sent photos of my Friday activities in Yogyakarta to Becca and the boys and tried to sleep some, with my aching right leg elevated on the luggage cart, but it wasn’t very good sleep. The benches here are hard. There’s got to be a better way to design a waiting area. We’ve gotten better at designing airplanes (at least the First Class sections – the Economy Class cattle car sections haven’t changed much in 40 years). Why can’t we redesign airports to facilitate transportation instead of waiting, which is the opposite of transportation? Even the waiting is poorly designed. I read an article a few days back about how airports will use smart technology to transport luggage and people and become destinations in their own right, with retail shopping and entertainment. Not big cavernous spaces full of bored, waiting people. I’ve seen enough of these in the last two days.

Pink flowers

Pink blossoms and manicured gardens at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea.

Waterfall

A waterfall at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea. The entire complex and gardens had a very Zen, peaceful vibe to it, and it was well worth my time to take this free tour from the airport. If you get a chance, go for it.

Standing Buddhas

Standing golden Buddhas behind the main temple at the Heungryunsa Temple complex in Incheon, Korea.

Tour group at fat Buddha

Our tour group in Incheon, Korea at the Heungryunsa Temple. We were a mixture of Americans, Europeans, Australians, and Indians.

Zen stairway

A very Zen style stairway up the hillside behind the Golden Gong pagoda at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea.

Confucious altar

The altar to Confucius in the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea. All the writing and characters here were Chines, not Korean. This temple dates back almost a thousand years when Chinese culture (as the Central Kingdom) heavily influenced Korea.

Golden altar

Golden altar inside the main temple at the Heungryunsa Temple complex. The layout and decor of these temples was very reminiscent of the temples I’ve visited in Taiwan, except with more of a Zen feeling – perhaps representing Korean Buddhism as a mixture of Japanese and Chinese influences.

Across temple roof

The gardens and temples at the Heungryunsa Temple complex are beautifully designed and maintained. It was very peaceful here.

Gray buddha

A gray Buddha statue at the entrance to the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea.

Looking down on fat Buddha

Looking down on the Mi Lwo Fwo statue and across to the New City at Incheon. The Heungryunsa Temple is set on a hillside above the city with an amazing view down. All the levels are interconnected with stairways and the whole complex has a very Zen feel to it

Flowers and double Buddha

Orange blossoms and a double facing golden Buddha at the Heungryunsa Temple overlooking Incheon, Korea.

Airport procession

A mock wedding procession a the Incheon Airport. This airport tries to be a cultural center and does provide excursions around the city for passengers who have layovers, but in the end it is still a big cavernous space for waiting around, not really a place that accommodates transportation.

On My Way Home

Return Flight Part 1: Monday, August 7, 2017

Giant goddess

On our way from Ubud to Denpasar, we passed this gigantic statue in a round about. I don’t know what it is supposed to be about.

After my visit to the Prapen silver factory, my host drove me out of Ubud and south to the airport at Denpasar. I paid him for the ride (400,000 rupiah) and the two days’ room (800,000 rupiah) I was down to about 175,000 rupiah. I had no trouble going through the first security checkpoint, then checked in at the Garuda desk. I had to pay 270,000 rupiah by credit card (about $20) for my 10 kg extra weight (I had redistributed some things to try to carry on as much weight as possible – hard on my shoulders, easier on my pocketbook). After checking my bags, paying the extra, and getting my boarding passes I went through internal security and walked to Gate 2.

Bali coastline from air

The coastline of Bali near Denpasar. I never did get to the beach, but that wasn’t why I came. The large mountain looming in the distance is either Gunung Agung in eastern Bali or Gunung Rinjani on nearby Lombok. It’s hard to tell with the cloud deck.

I had plenty of time – I could have seen or done one other thing before coming to the airport, but I am tired and ready to go home and I was ready to head to the airport. I’ve seen and done many things in the last 3 ½ weeks, as much as I can possibly expect from myself. I knew that I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do in Bali with only two days; the traffic, winding roads, and my own age prevented me from seeing everything on my bucket list. I am satisfied that I did as much as I could do and saw the very best things. I can’t ask for more.

Bali coastline with boat

The reefs and beaches of Bali below.

I was getting hungry again. My appetite has been iffy these four weeks, mostly because I have been backed up. Of all the medicines I brought, I didn’t think constipation would be my biggest problem. So I knew if I was hungry, I should eat. I found a place called Beard Papas that served one thing only: cream puffs. That sounded good, and I had enough money left. I got one and a Pulpy Orange drink, and it was really good – the best cream puff I’ve ever had. So I stood in line again and had another. But that still wasn’t enough, so I had fish and chips at a place near Gate 2. The fries were good, the fish a bit different.

Towns and rice from air

Rice fields and towns from the air (approaching Jakarta). Some areas are clear (brownish) because they are between crops for a few weeks. Indonesian farmers can harvest two crops per year.

Note: Two weeks after returning home, someone tried to use my credit card information to get cash advances in Denpasar. The company flagged the purchases as suspicious and we cancelled the card. The only legitimate charge I have on the card in Denpasar is the restaurant I ate the fish and chips at (Hari’s) in the airport. I still have the card; it wasn’t stolen, so the card’s information must have been copied. The techniques for doing this have become quite sophisticated. But just in case, be careful dining here or anywhere you use a credit card. Pay cash if you can. Use a mylar reflective shield in your wallet with your credit card on the inside so that people can’t scan your card as you walk by.

Rice fields approaching Jakarta

Rice fields and villages approaching the airport at Jakarta on my last day in (or over) Indonesia.

I waited at the gate and worked on cleaning up photos from Friday’s excursions. I was able to e-mail Becca and tell her I was at the airport and ask her to look into the Booking.com problem. Then I thought I heard them call to board the plane, even though we were a good 30 minutes before the specified boarding time. The lady at the gate confirmed it was time, so I walked down the jetway and boarded the plane. I was in row 31, which is an emergency exit row, which I had entirely to myself. It was great.

Astronaut hydrant painting

Red fire hydrants are mounted at intervals along the white walls of the Jakarta airport concourse. Someone has painted whimsical murals that incorporate the hydrants, such as this Apollo astronaut on the Moon.

The flight itself was peaceful. I’m getting used to flying Garuda Indonesia. They may be a bit more expensive than some, but still cheap at about $100 for each of these intra-Indonesian flights. I saw Mt. Bromo again, then we turned more north and away from the volcanoes, out over the ocean, and back toward Jakarta. I listened to the Best of Bad Company. Somehow it seemed appropriate while flying.

Monster hydrant

A luggage monster eating a fire hydrant.

I got some nice views of rice fields in the late afternoon as we turned into Jakarta and landed. It was a bit of a hike from our entry gate to the baggage claim area, and I noticed some fun murals painted around each of the fire extinguishers, incorporating them into the design, such as using it as the tip of a lipstick or a scuba tank or the backpack of an astronaut or the body of a spaceship. I took photos, of course.

Spaceship hydrant

A fire hydrant turned into a space ship. This is my favorite of the murals in the Jakarta airport.

Lipstick hydrant

A fire hydrant turned into red lipstick for Marilyn Monroe’s lips (I know because of the mole . . . )

I walked out of the departure area, then took an elevator upstairs to the drop off zone and went through security again. I am on a Delta flight through Korean Air Lines to Seoul, a seven-hour flight that won’t take off until 10:05 pm. The KAL check-in desk wasn’t even open yet, so I sat in an area near the international check-in and plugged in my computer while working on the photos from Friday. I can’t get onto the Internet, so Becca will have to wait to hear from me until Korea. When the desk opened at 7:00, I checked in – my flights were listed. Yay! After the United fiasco, I was worried. I was happy to drop off my two bags – I even added some extra weight to them – and I’ll see them again in Salt Lake in two days. I have 21 hours of flying altogether and another 17 hours of layover time. It will be a long two days.

Balloons hydrant

A fire hydrant as helium tank for filling balloons. These murals were made in the Jakarta airport in order to dress up the mundane fire hydrants placed along the concourse of Terminal 3.

I don’t know if I will ever return to Indonesia. It will be dark when I take off tonight, so I won’t see anything. Those rice fields were my last view. I will miss this place, but it is definitely time to go home. Over the next few posts, I’ll try to summarize and synthesize what I’ve learned from this experience. I hope I have the chance to come back here, and bring my wife and children with me. But coming here at all was the slimmest of crazy chances, and there are other places I’ve never been that I want to see first. I think of what was new and exciting when I landed four weeks ago, and how I’ve grown accustomed to many things. I hardly notice mosques or hijabs any more, until I didn’t see them in Bali. I’m very glad I had the chance to extend and see more of Indonesian culture, because what I’ve seen and done in Jogja and Bali will enrich my life and my teaching forever. There is still much to learn here, and much to experience.