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May 17, 2017

Back in the Classroom….for a Day

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – I was asked by somebody if wanted to teach again. They meant English as a Second language and not my beloved subject, biology.


The trouble is, I demand too much of myself. It would take hours of preparation and imagination to walk in a classroom. Then there were be the grading of papers as well as all the other administrative work.


Besides, my disease and I are on good terms. I take my pills and my afternoon nap and it leaves me alone. Sometimes it flares, but then I just take an extra pill or two to put it back in its place. We have an understanding, but I am afraid teaching with all of its challenges would make it angry with me, and I would have to return to the States for infusions, something I don't want to do.


I still love to teach and a very famous professor from Singapore, Dr. John van Wyhe, asked me to help him with a group of students coming to Kuching for a visit. Dr. van Wyhe is a scholar of Alfred Russel Wallace, the guy who, along with Darwin, came up with the Theory of Evolution. He has written three books on the subject. As an amateur historian on the same subject, I agreed.


I first talked them into going to the Matang Wildlife Center, a rehab centre for jungle animals including orangutans.


They were greeted by my friend Leo, the person from a non-governmental organization from England who participates in the endeavour. He gave the students a two and a half hour walking tour of the premises. Since I have known Leo for about eight years, I really didn't think much of his tour, but the students stated "Boy, was he depressing!" Yes, I guess he was since he houses critically endangered species such as Tomisona Crocodiles, Sun Bears and orangutans. (Google them!)


Our second part of the trip was to the Brooke Museum. The three Brookes were Englishmen who ruled Sarawak for more than 100 years. Some people established a Brooke Fund in England, and they took an old cement fort on the river built in 1879 to stop the Russians from invading. I have no idea why the Russians would invade Sarawak, but there you go.


Anyway they built this museum in the turrets to honor the three rulers. It was impressive as they brought all the stuff back from England for a display. Of course, it was all positive. We toured the centre and then I told them all the negative things the Brooks had done, like steal the wealth of the country and starting wars, killing people. Many, many locals.


Another not so depressing activity was the finding of the Drosera spatulata, which was discovered two weeks ago on the compound of the museum. It is a carnivorous plant which lies on the ground, about the size of a quarter. The trouble is, it is supposed to be found only in wet areas, but these were in dry sandy dunes.


Another species? The students weren't sure, but they certainly did find about 15-20. Of course, it will have to be taken back to the lab and examined, something I would not allow the students to perform because they were on a hip-hop tour of Sarawak and Sabah (Google it).


It was an amazing day teaching these students and satisfied my yearning to be back in the biology classroom if only for a day.


...Life is good. . . . .


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