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May 18, 2011

Poetry and Electricity

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – I am sure there have been millions, no billions, of words written about how technology has frustrated the people who reside on this planet. And here are a few more.


I received an evaluation from my boss about my classroom teaching. She suggested I use the thing where you project the poem. I now teach poetry onto a white board.


Here is the scenario. I sit at my computer at home because the computers at school get vicious viruses. One caused my computer stuff to be wiped away and the entire board had to be reformatted (Am I using the right terminology?). Most of my data was saved by a brilliant computer guy, but everything else was lost. But I digress.


Now, I pull up a poem. I stick my pen drive, which bears absolutely no resemblance to a pen or anything you drive, and save the poem. Then you take the pen drive to school. You then plug the pen drive into the computer in the classroom, if you can remember the password which I never can.


Next you boot the computer. Then you have to find a student tall enough to turn on the thing that hangs down from the ceiling. The poem shows up on the white board where you can point out the parts of the poem you are talking about. The Chinese and Malay students then watch in utter rapture as I convey knowledge about events that happened in ancient England and about ancient English hundreds and hundreds of years ago.


So far so good – except the school refuses to fix the electricity. This means the power goes out quite frequently.


This is not the fault of the local electric company or the government of Malaysia. In the three years I have lived in condos in Kuching, I believe the power has gone off for a total of 20 minutes, max. My in-laws live in a kampung and they also confirm they do not have many power outages. Even in deepest darkest Borneo, generators provide an uninterrupted flow until people retire for the evening and the juice is turned off. But I digress, again.


The school would rather have a person stand next to the main breaker switch and flick it on when it breaks off instead of fixing the electrical system. I believe the record stands at 10 times in one afternoon.


So, with this marvelous new technology, I must wait for the power to go on, boot up the computer, find the student tall enough to climb up to the thingy hangy from the ceiling and continue my talk. By this time I have lost the students, if I ever had them, while teaching The Flea by John Donne. You go and read this poem and see if you can make any sense out of it.


The old way of doing things was to bring the poem up on the screen, print copies and then distribute them to the students. You would ask them to refer to the page in front of them and scribble notes.


I am not sure exactly why the school will not fix the electricity. I have asked the headmaster and the director of the school why, and they both reply as if it a mystery of unfathomable proportions, like the Grand Unified Theory of Physics.


For other articles on Malaysian Borneo see Tom’s blog at


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