Did Marco Polo have this much fun unpacking the Wonders of the Orient

The “new” blog has been up for ten days but I have not felt the compulsion to write in it each day. Honolulu is relatively boring compared to Kathmandu. And I am in a lull, just getting ready for fall semester to start.

Online Radio Interview mp3 link:

check out this link:


Time to prepare for school

My University always starts *before* Labor Day, unlike Universities on the mainland. Our first day of classes is August 22nd, and in fact, I begin taking students to clinical on Thursday of that week – the 25th. So we jump right in, with not much preliminaries. Actually, I like it that way. And I look forward to the return of the students – the  kids here are really bright and hardworking and motivated.

School always starts with a week of faculty meetings; in fact the new faculty have already had a week of orientation which just finished. There’s always a welcome back feeling of anticipation, and we’ll get to hear about every one’s summer.

My story will be “it was nice. Everyone should do this.”

Define “ready” – does teaching count as “work?”

The nursing building is very quiet these days. Faculty members don’t have to appear there, and many work from home. For a person who is used to punching a time clock, the transition to a faculty role presents a challenge. You have to accept a different definition of “work” when you become a teacher. I always think back to my first teaching job, when I set up my desk at home so as to look out the window at the (usually snow covered) former farm fields of my property in rural Maine. I would generally spend a day each week working at that desk, correcting papers and writing lesson plans. My first wife would request that I also do laundry, clean the place, fix stuff, etc. After not too long, it dawned on me that when she saw me spend a day sitting at a desk going through papers, sipping on coffee and listening to WERU-FM on the radio, it did not look like “work” and therefore did not count as “work.”

Oh yes it does.

That’s the peril of being on salary. To what degree does “work” become abstract? How do you explain what you do? justify your existence? Are you only working when you have an actual student in your presence? No. Faculty have homework just as students do.

Fast forward to the present. Everyone has a system for puttering around the office to get ready. I suppose you could quantify the ratio of procrastination to actual output; or maybe the number of hours spent to prepare for each course. In fact, My school had a committee to study the ways to assign workload in which the intangible factors ( new course; larger class size; writing-intensive etc) were included.

For that matter, every faculty develops their own system to keep track of stuff. I know one faculty who uses the floor space as part of the filing system. There are neat stacks of oak tag folders in rows like cubes of bricks in a brick yard.

Other faculty seem to do it with no clutter whatsoever. At the end of the day, their office counter space is squeaky clean.

Anyway, even during my procrastination times, part of my brain is churning away, digesting the upcoming classes and work, a subliminal processing of the task ahead. I like to think of this an an element of creativity, part of the process of turning the course concpets this way and that until they make sense. When I snap back to attention, the background processing makes it easier for me to get the work onto paper and into a plan.

Home decor

The Wonders of the Orient have been unpacked. This time I brought more trinkets from Nepal than usual. The new bedspread is on the bed – looking handsome, red with concentric circles of little elephants marching along. The large singing bowl is on display, even though unfortunatley it cracked in transit; I did not pad it well enough. The posters of Hindu Gods and Goddesses are back up on the wall, reminders of the 2009 trip. The coffee table book is – on the coffee table. The prayer flags are still up, in the living room.

I guess you could say that a South Asian motif has emerged. I like certain things they do. Most homes I visited did not have “clutter” and there was an airiness and simiplicity which characterized the place. Not many piles of paper or foofaraw laying around. I suppose this was because originally, the people did not own much ( and still don’t). Nowadays, it’s an indication that consumer culture has not caught on. I hope it never does.


The thangka I bought is now also framed and dominates one wall, as it should. I saw this in Thamel, and wanted it from first sight. I did not buy it until three weeks after the first viewing, a strategy which helped me get a good price (don’t ask).

A Thangka is a style of Tibetan painting that includes a lot of detail and helps to focus meditation the way a mantra or mandala would. In fact, a mandala is the most common form of thangka. For example, it might depict the life of Buddha, with a wheel showing the Six Categories of Reincarnation, etc. Oone popular theme is the more abstract one based on a sand mandala once constructed by the Dalai Lama. The one I bought, I was told, had been in a hotel lobby somewhere, but even so, it’s not all that old. Thangkas are never signed by the person who painted them; most are copies of an original and some of the designs are traditional designs. The copyist learns to be precise in the same manner of those medieval monks who took pains to transcribe each new Bible accurately onto parchment. Some thangkas have that quality of an illuminated manuscript.

Is bigger the same as better?

The one in my living room is large – fifty-one inches by thirty-one inches. Despite that, it’s not the kind of thangka that makes sense from thirty feet away. You need to be fairly close to it to enjoy the painting. For this reason, I was reluctant to photograph it; and I will not divulge the topic of it, over the internets. You will need to come here, sign the guestbook, and stand in front of it with me, perhaps with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon (Merlot is passe) as we discuss the layout and concepts. It hangs at eye level.


Some of Wonders of the Orient have yet to be mailed to their ultimate recipient. Soon. Be patient!




Filed under nursing education

3 responses to “Did Marco Polo have this much fun unpacking the Wonders of the Orient

  1. here is a wikipedia link to a thangka, a typical theme.



    • HI Joe
      I have so enjoyed your travels this summer, they have so touched my heart. When I was at Patan last November for Michele’s memorial we were presented with a lovely Mandala from the lady who runs the orphanage there in Kathmandu. The reason I mention it is how you were speaking about them on your blog. Her Father is a Master Buddhist painter and painted this on for us. It has Michele in the center reaching into all four corners of the world anyway it is amazing. I hope someday to show you. I just want to say thank you for all you do, you are an example of how one person changes the world. I hope to come to Hawaii one day to meet you. peace and blessing to you and to quote Michele,
      In Loving memory of our dtr Michele, “Give something everyday to others, even if it just a small kind gesture, be appreciative always for the gifts you have, and be forever true to who you are.” (her quote).
      God Bless you
      Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God
      Pam Avila,MSN/Ed., APRN, FNP=BC

  2. Mark Schnell

    A famous writer, I forget whom but it might have been Sammy Clemens, said that people don’t understand a writer is working, even if they see him just standing awhile, looking out the window. So it would appear writers are in the same class with teachers, so to speak.

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