Saturday 22 October 2022

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Seventeen

So, back to writing again. New position at the school has me writing a lot more than I am used to, so keyboard time is preoccupied with that. That is all to say, being the lazy ass writer that I am, here I am again.

I ended my previous post with the dinner party we were going to have for all of the new teachers. Went really well. Our house is obviously not meant for having eight or nine guests over but we managed and those that came over seemed to survive okay. My wonderful wife cooked up something exclusively vegetarian and it was tasty and good and everyone ate their fill. Add in a little conversation and it was nice to have people over. Not sure when we will do it again but hope we will.

We had a bonfire get-together as well near my boss’s house and that was fun. Except that my poor wife felt left out since people wouldn’t/couldn’t talk with her. Hard when your first language is non-local and your second language is not the preferred method. French is dominant this year in the school, with very few attempts to provide translation or guidance. But in a social setting? It would be nice that a few would at least try rather than ignore. Cannot control it so we’ve learned to live with it.

Speaking of French, Thy’s application for her Permanent Residency has been more or less rejected, again. Or at least sort of. We were told that we have lived too long in Quebec and would have to submit a new application via the French authorities in Quebec. So, we did - and lo and behold this new twist in the road has been approved by the powers that be. The acknowledgement letter was all in French so using Google Lens we translated it line by line. I am not ashamed to say I cried like a little boy when I realized that the letter was saying, yes, ok, let’s get this new ball rolling again. Man, the stress and worry and sweaty moments has been a lot to deal with. Now we sit and wait, again, hoping someone will give us a new direction soon.

I was fortunate enough to have one of my colleagues also read the acknowledgement letter for me, to confirm what we thought was true. He’s just a really nice guy, pure and simple. We noted that he was looking a little sad a week or two ago. Then he decided he would adopt one of the neighbour’s puppies. It is really gratifying to see how happy he is now, to see the internal love flood out in real time. Pilou is a delightful little girl, one of seven puppies we used to feed on a regular basis. There are only three left now, Socks, Socks Two and Dirty Socks, plus Mommy Dog and Auntie Dog, and the occasional Daddy Dog, who crowd our doorstep on a regular basis for the daily handouts. Hunter has a major league crush on my friend and she has been granted visitation rights to him and his puppy. Amongst all the weirdness (more on that later) a little love goes a very long way.

“Thy’s Kitchen” was going fast and furious, with steamed up windows, frantic preparations and very happy customers. Then, for some reason, the business slowed a bit - it felt like after Thanksgiving people were running out of money. Then this week things exploded again and she was hard at it for nearly twelve hours. Crazy! Regardless of the ups and downs of just about any new business, we are making all sorts of new friends via Thy’s culinary masterpieces… culinary art, indeed.

We did have a first of the year potluck at my boss’s place. It was really fun, except that Thy and Hunter couldn’t attend due to colds. Lots of good people, lots of amazing food, good chats, silly laughter - kind of what you need when you are a teacher. We have a good crew this year, all working hard to work together - which, as it turns out, may become the theme of the year.

Weirdness. Well, I had a student threaten to kill me with an upraised chair - is that weird enough? Outcome was simple enough - I talked him down from it, simply because I was confident his intent was not for that but more along the lines of crying out for help. His is a sad case that keeps me awake at night, but I haven’t given up on him. He has since advised that he is quitting school (he is 18) and since that pronouncement I have bumped into him twice, each time imploring him to come back, don’t give up on yourself, etc. We’ll see how it develops.

Weirdness, too. The level of animosity in the school is way above normal levels. That’s partially due to all of the new teachers this year and the atypical approach by all the kids: push a button or two until you see where you are at. The button pushing has gotten way out of hand though, with cussing reaching filthy levels, spitting, farting in teachers’ faces, etc. Madness - stuff you know if you did it on the street someone is going to get fucked up.  Eventually someone is going to snap, unless as a group we step up and follow the process of how these things are handled in the school. What we are seeing is a consequence of non-consequence based, harm reduction teaching. Couple that with an inability of following processes set in to place to help these kids and you get some really ugly situations.

And there is more that just makes me sad but I really cannot comment on it in this very public forum. Nothing with my immediate family, just with my work family, <sigh>, the folks I spend a lot of time with. And care about. And worry about. And want to see as successful and happy and smiling and laughing human beings.

We’ll figure it out, simply because we have to - the kids are counting on it.

Take care everyone, until the next time! All blessings to you and yours, continued safe passage on all your journeys.

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Sixteen

NOTE: I started writing this on 8 June, 2022 - and I have been dodging it just about ever since. Now that is it nearly three months later - it is obviously time to catch up.

We’re almost at the completion of our first year in Salluit and thus, Canada. It has been a  very interesting year, needless to say.

Just wrapped up my 13th year of teaching. It was a very interesting year.

Interesting is a good word.

The sun has been out and shining many hours a day (sunrise is 03:21 and sunset is 22:41, but honestly the sky never really stops glowing). Sadly we’ve all had the local influenza so walking about has been somewhat curtailed. That will change, no doubt helped by a trip down South.

Had our first report of a polar bear this past week. No need to panic, no doubt just passing through - global warming will make this an all too common occurrence, unfortunately. Local folks have been out hunting - it is ptarmigan, Canada Goose and seal harvesting seasons; with the good weather we don’t see a lot of people around the town now-a-days. The ice in the bay has started to break up, you can see the sky reflected on the water now; won’t be long before the first ship of the season arrives.

We had Arctic Char for dinner tonight - a gift from one of my wife’s customer’s - pan fried with light seasoning and butter. Good on Thy, as she had to cut and gut it on her own for the very first time. It was wonderful!

As for “Thy’s Kitchen” Thy has been very successful in churning out fresh goods that people want. Chicken/pork stuffed buns, with Swiss Cheese, carrots and onions - yum! Cinnamon buns are a particular favourite - rarely she doesn’t sell out. Sourdough bread, sourdough/potato bread, the latter flipped into sandwiches have all proven to be well liked in the community. My beautiful wife is a “maker”, a “creator”. Making leather goods has not been as practical up North, so she found another niche she can work in. Baking and cooking for purchase, with all sorts of positive results. Yes, there has been the occasional dud, but very few and far between. As we are heading down South soon she has backed off for a bit - you can see the sadness in her face and, I hope, a hint that she can hardly wait to get back at it.

It was good to get down to family and friends again. We missed not seeing my brother and his family - too many other things in the way. It was really special to reconnect with my close friend Matt - I have missed him and his hugs (some of the best, trust me). Same for seeing our sister Kym - another great hugger. Unfortunately we did miss out on some others - when you have only so much time things sometimes get lost. Will have to work harder at that this Christmas.

Our eldest daughter and our granddaughter are emigrating to Scotland, so we did try to spend as much time as possible with them. It was hard to say good-bye, although I understand her reasons for the move, I still worry about the risk she is taking and how it will all work out. She’s a smart kid, so I know it will all come together, maybe not easily and smoothly, but hopefully with some light at the end of that rainbow.

Otherwise most of our time was spent running around getting the things we need and cannot get easily Up North. Both Thy and I were able to get new winter coats while the pre-season sales were on, so that was a welcome addition to our closet. It was not like layers were not working but having actual down at a reasonable price was totally worth it. We eventually found the school’s warehouse and in addition to packages we had already mailed there we added some more. Hard to believe we have already added to the 43 boxes from Vietnam but we have, easily.

After a very whirlwind twenty days South it was time to come home. And it is most definitely home; we missed Salluit. We took the time to walk around to see the parts of the village we had not seen in the previous year. This village, despite its relatively modest population is large and spread out - we got to see a lot of things we didn’t know existed. We didn’t make it to the top of the Western mountain, but that is on the agenda for the coming year.

Ah… the coming year. I was allowed to go to training this Summer, essentially a more face-to-face version than last year. It was great to put faces to names and shake a few hands and bump a few fists. Learned lots:

There are three bonafide art teachers in the entire school board.

There is no pedagogical counsellor for the Visual Arts. I made my pitch to take on this role, But…

Despite the distinct feeling that Visual Arts is not taken seriously (where have I heard that before?), based on what student examples I saw, we have a lot of work to do.

Then came the email on Friday afternoon. We had the sudden and unexpected departure of three teachers the day before. That meant the shuffling of existing resources and would I be interested in teaching Secondary 3-4-5 English/ESL and Social Studies. Ah… crap. My principal and I had talked about this risk last Spring. As the only returning English as a first language teacher I knew I would be demand, but honestly I didn’t think it would be this type of placement.  I figured I could still teach art and have some extra periods to help with English/ESL. Instead I was offered something I really didn’t expect.

Ah… if expectations were always accurate, eh?

So I have a minimum of 24 periods a week with the those who really want to be here and those who are seriously considering staying. Couple of kids on the cusp of greatness, a few who really should not be in school. As always tales of sadness and wonder and all of those teenage things that even I can remember from my own days in hormone madness. And really and truly my own home room. And that is the saving grace for giving up my art practice - my own room. Never knew being a homeroom teacher could be so rewarding. To bond, to see your kids grow, that’s a powerful feeling.

And sure it is hard and challenging and crazy, but it is only work, nothing more than that. I worry about how tired I will be, but doing something new will be taxing, at least for the first little while. I also worry about future planning - how will this sudden and drastic change look on a c.v.? Ah… damn those expectations. Damn those lame excuses.

Got a pile of new colleagues at the school this year. A wide and varied list - from never taught before to 20+ years experience. We’re having them all over for dinner this week - I’ll let you know how it goes.

For now - all the best to you and yours, be safe, be well.

Sunday 1 May 2022

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Fifteen

The first of May, Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

Or something like that. 

With Nine Inch Nails back on the road, maybe…

I believe I can see the future

'Cause I repeat the same routine

Nah - everyday is a blessing, isn’t it?

Up at 05:00; washroom; morning meds; exercise (that’s new - bought a resistance band “kit” and have been at it for a couple of weeks now - the prodigious belly has not changed); prayers; breakfast; catch up on the world news (the horrors of the Russian invasion and silent fistbumps everytime I see another Russian tank get creamed); catch up on the sports (sad to see the Raptors knocked out, hoping the Leafs and Jays find a way to dominate); shave/shower; get dressed; kisses and hugs (if they are awake); off to work.

The walk is strange one now - the sunrise is around ten to five and sunset is about quarter past nine. The sun remains relatively low in the sky and it is very white. Really glad we got those extra dark sunglasses dialled up in Vietnam before we left (glasses are so cheap there - miss buying ‘em).

This past week was a crazy one for walk-ins. On Monday the local pack came to visit - first time they were aggressive and even one of them was displaying a really strange stumbling gait. Didn’t realise it at the time but that one was probably rabid. The word did come out later that we apparently had an outbreak of rabies in the community. On Tuesday I did not see a single dog, save for one tied up on the porch - people were taking extra steps. By Wednesday I was met up with two dogs who were super aggressive - the first time I can remember being scared. Reported them to the local authority and then assisted in pointing them out to him on Friday.

School has been challenging; as of tonight we have seven teaching days left before exams. There is the unfortunate tension that comes about when you have to sit down with a youngster and explain that the past practice of showing up was enough to pass Visual Arts was over, that you actually had to do work to earn your grade. Some kids get it, most have never heard of the need to be responsible. I feel I have given everyone a fair opportunity, but still I am setting up extra “recovery” classes for those who are in dire need of a passing grade. I did have a student tell me flat out that she was not interested in passing. I honoured her request, knowing that it was more likely the daily frustration of existence speaking then a real desire to fail. She has come to me asking for a second chance - no problem at all; of all people I don’t want her to  go on with the stigma of failure, we’ll figure it out together.

Home life has been very good. My beautiful wife is establishing a place in the community through her remarkable breads and delicious stuffed meat sandwiches. Of course her cinnamon rolls are a big hit; quite the little bakery we have going at our humble abode. Planning for even more in the Summer/Fall is underway, stay tuned. The Hunter has begun to read and with a real fervour. English/Vietnamese, it does not matter - all is fair game to her curious mind. The evening games before bedtime are starting to include more and more of the “ABC’s of something, something” - her capacity to learn amazes me.

We’ve made our plans for a short Summer visit. That means for some of my intrepid readers we are hopeful we can get together and catch up. Looking forward to it!

All our love…

Friday 18 March 2022

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Fourteen


17 March, St. Patrick’s Day. Never was one for green beer - did it once, didn’t like what happened later, never did it again. 

Some of you know that when I was in Vietnam I had to stop my magazine subscriptions. Partly due to censorship, mostly due to the unpredictability of the mail system. No way I could spend the money and not be assured of delivery. 

When in Canada I subscribed to Harpers, The Wire and Juxtapoz. Juxtapoz went to a quarterly subscription format and as much as I miss it, it became too expensive in the process.

Upon our return to Canada I decided to re-subscribe to Harpers and The Wire, but also picked up the New Yorker (worth it for the covers alone) and The Atlantic (a recommendation I am so glad I acted on - great, great writing). Still having problems with mail way up North, but at least there's no censorship risk.

Harpers has these two features every month called “Harper’s Index” and “Findings”. The former is purely statistical information on some of the oddest demographic datasets and the latter is just oddities, curiosities and such. I read them both each month before I plough into any of the main articles. 

So, with them in mind, some oddities, wrapped up in some rants, from working and living up North.


After being here for nearly eight months now the family is doing ok, we are well fed and generally happy. However, there are a few things that are annoying that make being here a little more difficult than necessary.

Let’s talk about health insurance. The school board has contracted out our group insurance with SSQ. They are, without a doubt, the worst group insurance company I have ever dealt with. Their customer service is inadequately trained, save when it comes to deny, deny, deny. They allegedly do not take any notes when you call, so if you have to call back with the same issue you have to tell the agent the same story over again - very frustrating, since you are left with the impression that you are starting all over again. Other than during a criminal proceeding, do you ever have to repeat your story, verbatim, six times? Really poor customer service.

Now, it appears, they are having some employee problems. If you call in, like I did at the time of writing, you get a message that they cannot take your call at this time due to some “pressuring tactics by some unionised members”. I wonder how that makes those unionised members feel, when they are being centred out like that.

Here’s the note you get if you try their web based services:

Our service levels are currently affected by limited and sporadic pressure tactics, but most of our services remain operational. We therefore encourage our customers to use our online services. We apologise for any inconvenience this situation may cause and thank you for your understanding.

Nice how they drop the reference to unionised employees when it is writing, eh?

Why the rant? Well, I was told during the interview process that the insurance we use is great and that all my prescription drugs would be covered, no problem. 

Unless, of course, as I have now discovered, you are:

  • From Ontario

  • 65 years old or older

  • Diabetic

  • Use a lot of different drugs to stay alive

  • Live so far from a pharmacy you need to get six months of drugs at a time

In April, ‘21, when I reached out to the local nursing station to see if I could get drugs delivered there I was told:

Based on what seemed to be your health issues and what stated above, maybe reconsider the length of your stay.

I raised hell about that comment and my fears were generally assuaged at that time - you will be fine but do make all the necessary arrangements before you come North. With the prior assurances that my drug costs would be covered I figured I was going to be ok.

Instead I am out $1800 and still waiting for final resolution to the problem. I am ok, my health is excellent and no one is at risk of getting seriously ill. However, if the insurance guys think I am giving up, well, get ready for knuckles.

And I get their reticence in paying out my claim. They only get $350 a month from me in payment and the likelihood of me requesting about $3600 in coverage per year makes it a somewhat less than profitable situation. Great, I get it - however, I also have family members who work in the insurance sphere and I have actually worked as a consultant with the several insurance companies; no insurance company is starving, unless they are incompetent or legally compromised.

 Just pay me, ok?


A good friend and colleague was recently on Facebook lamenting the implementation of a welfare state on her people here in the North. Essentially, live for free and why strive for anything better? My response:

You are already aware of this, but education is the key. A thorough, compete on the world stage education. I was appalled when I was told that we should be training our students on how to fill out application forms, so they can get that great job! With absolutely no eye for the future, the long term.

The North is changing, irrevocably and with no or little control over its own future. The old ways are going to die out simply because the planet is changing.

Keeping someone uneducated and ignorant, allows them to be exploited. That, coupled with a welfare state mentality, will keep those of the North down and out for the foreseeable future.

So, let's be the agents of change, recognizing that every child deserves an education that allows them to have options, to grow, to thrive. Let's give them the room to know there are opportunities, that they can still dream of a better life. That they can make mistakes and instead of giving up, it is a chance to stand up. To paraphrase an old favourite quote: "You know what the most dangerous thing in Canada is, right? An Inuit with a library card."

I am an old man, I won't live to see the change happen. Doesn't mean I am not going to try to help. I am betting you want to, too.

This dialogue reminded me of a conversation I had in my classroom with one of my students. I mentioned at the time that our daughter was on the cusp of reading, that she was demonstrating some real skills in that regard. That conversation went like this:

“How old is your daughter?”


“She’s fucking fours year old and she is fucking reading? Fuck. When I was four I was outside playing with my fucking dog.”

Both my wife and I read to our daughter every night, me in English, her in Vietnamese. We really believe in the strength of the written word and how you can learn and form opinions based on what you have read, tempered, of course, by your own experience. Hunter may be only four but we can already see that she will read and read with a purpose.

That reminded me of My My. Before she took her own life, My My was a reader of renown. When she came to my classroom each day, we immediately discussed what she was reading now. She was feeding her brain and had nothing but questions based on what she was reading. Her mom used to complain to me that her daughter read too much. I had to explain to her that My My was using reading as her escape. I encouraged her to reach out and discuss what her daughter was reading, to enjoy the discourse, to engage. Even if you don’t understand, try. 

No one will ever know if that was enough. I missed visiting with My My this year - I hope she could hear me.

So, parents here and anywhere: are you encouraging reading by reading to your little ones everyday? Too old to be read to? Great: what are your children reading? And if they are not, why not? Again, remember that power and what it means long term to your child and your community.


Speaking of reading, my wife is working on getting her permanent residence status here in Canada. One step on the long process of getting Canadian citizenship. We made the first application in August, just prior to landing in Salluit. It took them all the way to January of this year to let us know we had screwed up, that we had failed to sign one document and pay one fee. We were asked to re-submit, which we did immediately - good news is that they have acknowledged receipt of the new application and we’ve even got to the next step, a medical examination.

Why did we screw up? I swear we read everything at least a dozen times, that we checked and rechecked, but we didn’t do it thoroughly enough; we did not read with purpose. Too tired, too much on our mind.

Hopefully we were better in our efforts this time around.


One final rant and it is a long one. I add this in honour of my dear friend Corleen who passed away suddenly on 6 February. She knew what it was like to be bullied in the workplace and I owe it to her memory to finally share this with everyone.


Let’s start this with a little story from the past. Nearly thirty years ago I was a computer salesman at a small, boutique, specialist shop. We had some competitors who were always trying to beat us on price. When a prospective client came in they’d challenge why we charged so much compared to Company A or Company B.  All of our computers were hand assembled from high quality components and had a full Microsoft operating system and Windows installation, with supporting documentation and disks. In other words: legally compliant. Our competitors were not, using copies of the operating system, cracked copies of production software, etc.

My sales pitch to counter the cheaper prices argument was a simple one: if Company A or Company B were willing to break the law and take on multi-billion dollar companies in the process, what were they willing to do to you?

Some bought that argument, some did not. All I know is that I could go to bed at night safe and secure in the knowledge that I never screwed over a customer, never lied to them, never cheated them. And I sold an awful lot of computers.

The moral of the story? 

Be honest and you will be rewarded.

Unless, of course, you are the employee of the management group of a certain international school in Vietnam.

What follows are a series of revelations I experienced during my tenure at the Canadian International School, Vietnam (CIS). Some are my own, more are courtesy of some former and current employees. The key? All are true; these are facts, not fiction. Everything written here can either be substantiated by written word, slideshow presentations, video/audio recordings or combinations thereof. No names will be revealed, but there are obvious connections that can be made, innocent and guilty alike. History will judge them, just like it will judge me, so I will not offer any opinions; you can draw your own conclusions.

There comes a time when you have to start looking clearly at what is happening around you, to recognize that despite your best intentions, you don’t want to be, you should not be in that place anymore. 

I can forgive, but I cannot forget.


The Company, as they like to refer to themselves, has been managed by a Board of Directors since its inception, back in 2009. The structure has been fairly fluid over the years, with a heavy emphasis on the family that essentially owns the business. The male half, Mr. Dong made most of his money in transportation, while his wife, Ms Oanh managed the household affairs. Their son and eldest daughter joined in the last two years I was one of their employees, to further augment The Board’s strategic planning and subsequent implementation.

Let’s talk about the kids who I worked with during my time at the school. 

The one major project I worked with the son was a school yearbook over the summer months, while I was doing ESL assessments. When he showed up, about fifty percent of the time, he slept in a back office or under a desk. Result: zero contribution to the book and certainly zero work accomplished in anything else. 

To his credit he seems to have improved his work ethic and the one meeting I attended, before my departure, that he managed, it appeared he was actually prepared and willing to make an effort. It was a shock to everyone in the room, trust me.

The eldest daughter I actually taught when she was in grade ten. Back then she wanted to be an oncologist, to save people from cancer. Her study effort was excellent and she was looking like a success story: smart, witty, committed to excellence. She was a pleasure to work with. 

Then something flipped her mindset completely from “I want to help” to “I want to make money and show off the money I have made.” The pictures she posted of her driving her Jaguar to the University of Toronto spoke volumes relative to this attitude. If you can find her on Facebook you will see references to her Porsche and the multi-million dollars in real estate the family has owned over the years. The best Facebook vanity post? It's her, standing by her Porsche, school in the background, captioned with: “My Kingdom”.

The saddest thing of all - these kids were actually smart, they had the whole world ahead of them and they ended up dropping the ball. The youngest child, the second daughter, I never really got to work with, but the current path she is travelling means taking a gap year and “find something that makes me lots of money” after I get back. 

You want to grab them all and say, “What happened to you?”


I worked for The Company from August, 2011 until June, 2021, almost ten years. During that time I signed five two year contracts. Every two years I received an Offer of Employment (OE) that invariably offered a bonus payable in the second year of that contract. This bonus was paid out over the second year, a raise in pay if you will. Please note that although the OE was not legally binding it constituted an offer that all of the interested parties, The Company and myself, signed off on.

And every two years, just as invariably, there was confusion if this bonus was a severance payout (more on that later) or an actual bonus. 

With my last OE, in December 2018, I received a significant bonus offer, roughly a month’s wages. I, of course, signed. Once I received my contract, eight months later, The Company demonstrated that they were using a bait and switch technique to trap employees into staying longer. In my contract the bonus was now deemed severance and thus I was not going to get paid what I was owed.

A note about severance. As detailed in the Labour Code the employee is owed one half month’s salary for every year of service. The Company failed to do that for the first four years I worked, saying it “was an accounting error”. People who left after two, three or four years never got their severance. They were called on this discrepancy and decided to start paying out a severance estimate on an annual basis. Problem is it was never clearly stated as such, the amount sometimes called bonus, sometimes “additional income”, never clearly stated as severance. At best more accounting errors/not knowing the Labour Code or, sadly, more likely simple fraud.

When I discussed this with the new HR manager she simply didn’t seem to be aware of what was really going on. She had only been on the job for a couple of months and was clearly not aware of what she had stepped into.

Again, more lying, more unprofessional, amateurish behaviour. The tone of these actions was getting pretty loud at this point.

Then comes my new OE for 2021-2023. A 5% pay reduction. 

Explanation: I was being paid over the grid for years and they were carefully realigning all of the payroll to match this grid. Can I see this grid? No. Why not? It is never revealed. So, the grid “ceiling” could actually be anything, couldn’t it? No response.

The latter conversation, documented in writing, took place between the HOS and myself. I complained, loudly, this was an unfair change in my pay scale, since it wasn’t disciplinary or performance based but instead based on some sort of nebulous grid. I copied The Company in on these conversations, directly appealing to their sense of fairness. Hadn’t they signed every OE full of knowledge of this grid and the consequences? Not a word in response.

The final statement about all of this: “ should consider it your good fortune to have been paid what you were being paid over the years. And I shouldn’t be raising this as an issue knowing the financial hardship The Company had undergone after the impact of COVID.” 

Good fortune - like the OE’s had no value at all, that The Company’s signature on the same documents was written in disappearing ink, that it was all happenstance, serendipity that I got paid at all.

As for financial hardship, let’s review the stable of cars The Company drives to work (well, when they come to work and they, of course, rarely drive their own car - they have a number of personal drivers at their disposal):

  • Mercedes Benz Maybach, the v12, four door model

  • Porsche Taycan*, the all electric one

  • Landrover

  • Jeep Rubicon

Rough estimate of the “on the lot” cost: a cool million US dollars. They ain’t exactly eating rice and beans everyday, know what I mean? 

To be fair, they lease these vehicles - they save money that way. Good for them.

The “shiny bauble” syndrome.

They must be hard up for cash, as I never received the four year’s worth of severance that was owed to me. I am willing to concede that from 2015-2021 I received some sort of severance, although it was never called that. It was only when they were called out in late 2014 that the lack of severance pay was brought to the foreground. However, they never paid out for the first four years. When it came time to pay up they were mute. Rough estimate of the money they owed me, but never paid out: ten thousand US dollars. I can forgive them from stealing from me and my family but I am not going to forget.


In 2019 the school and The Company began the task of trying to obtain their Council of International Schools (CoIS) accreditation. Already running under the Ontario system for both Elementary and Secondary panels, with International Baccalaureate (IB) for grades 11 and 12 (the Diploma Programme or DP), this accreditation would further cement the school in the international school universe. This would be a significant marketing tool as well; a shiny bauble to show off to friends and family and prospective customers.

By 2020 the accreditation process was in full gear - this was something the school Administration actively encouraged we teachers to investigate and understand. And I did.

The CoIS is essentially a consultative practice. You can bring them in (and pay them) to analyse your school’s capabilities and advise solutions. There is a heavy emphasis on child safety. The school initiated a child protection programme, with extensive research and development and officially launched it before the application was made to CoIS. The pamphlet/document and follow up training were comprehensive and would appear to have fit the need. The important thing worth noting here is that this programme and supporting policy grew out of a need to meet the criteria established by another organisation; why now and not before is a worthwhile question. A question that will be repeated, unfortunately.

With the application approved by CoIS, the next phase was to get the actual accreditation. As the campaign in language and attitude ramped up in the school, in early 2021, the school was advised that a health and safety inspection by the Department of Health was necessary. The inspection was part of a campaign by the local authorities to start weeding out those fly-by-night schools that risk the health of their students. A negative result for the school, of course, would weigh heavily on the accreditation process.

A bizarre memorandum appeared shortly thereafter. We were told to remove all of the plants and water we had in our classrooms. The memo also asked that we post a document on our door that was a 100% fabrication, alleging that we did a series of regular steps in order to ensure that we had a focus on our student’s health and wellbeing. Think of those checklists you see in public washrooms, indicating that specific targeted activities were accomplished by the cleaning staff. The reason why this was going on was clear: this was to create the illusion that the students’ needs were first in all that we do. It is not that teachers didn’t care about their students, but there was no way they took all of these poorly worded, wholly inadequate steps to protect the students in the classroom.

One final twist in this tale of fraud and deception. The morning of the Department of the Health inspection I went to my mailbox to secure these (now considered, by the staff, as) laughable documents. When I found the Operations Manager and asked where my copies were, he advised, not to worry, the inspection was already complete. All by 8:10 in the morning. It was obvious that no inspection had taken place - the school is a big place, big enough for twelve hundred students. Two hours, maybe, to do a thorough job.

I don’t know if they paid off the inspection team or what happened but the email that came out later that day congratulating us on achieving a 96% on the inspection was ridiculous. No inspection took place and if they had actually talked to any teachers they would have learned the truth.

At the end of the day, this is what this all means: if the school, the Company, the HOS are willing to commit this act of fraud with a government agency what would they be willing to do to the staff and, more importantly, the children in their care? 

This for me was the last straw - the camel’s back was broken; time to leave.

I was very fortunate to have worked with a lot of dedicated, hardworking education professionals. Every person has their eccentricities; me, too. Even with that in mind, the majority of the people I worked with really believed in what they were doing. Again, me, too. Despite the repeated shenanigans and outright grifting by The Company I thought I was doing a good job, I was making a difference. My students were thriving, as evidenced by the work they did. There were many positive relationships that could be enjoyed by anyone: staff, parents, students. This was a good place to work.

Unfortunately, over the years, a sort of rot has creeped in. A mould so insidious there was very little I was going to be able to do to rectify or correct its trajectory.

Put COVID** in the mix and the risk of health and welfare for my family compelled me to pack my boxes and get out. 

I could still be working there, I could still be trying. I just won’t.


If you made it this far, good for you. There are more stories, I do know where all the bodies are buried after-all, but that’ll be for another time. All blessings to you and yours; continued safe passage on all your journeys.


*The Taycan is a funny case. The Company’s eldest daughter started with a straight Porsche Carrera, but wanted to be more environmentally responsible. Hence the “lead sled” and its very impressive credentials. And very expensive. She might have been trying to be environmentally responsible but in reality she was just showing off - Vingroup in Vietnam sells an electric vehicle, the Vinfast, at around 29,000 USD - if she really wanted to go green she could have leased six or seven of the Vinfast models for the same cost of her one Porsche. And remember the Porsche requires a very specific charging station, of which there are two in Vietnam, one in Ha Noi, one, of course, attached to the school’s gymnasium. 

**A COVID story that finally cements an image of what The Company is and how they function. Every year we actively participate in the Terry Fox Run. The Company is quite generous in their contributions and the subtle but persuasive arm twisting they invoked with their rich pals. The presentation of the charitable cheque was an event not to be missed and there was always some murmuring about how big it would be this year.

So imagine our FIBA specked gymnasium filled to capacity with students from all the schools - CIS, BCIS, AES and CVK. Thousand or more? Every child with a mask, every teacher with a mask. Counsel general from the Canadian Consulate, in a mask. Various other dignitaries, all masked and ready to go. Social distancing is optional, but at least everyone is wearing a mask.

In marches The Company, the Board of Directors, mom, dad, son, daughter. Son in his favourite (legit) Chanel suit, daughter with a light blue, oversized Louis Vuitton purse (colour matches her Taycan perfectly). And… not a mask amongst them.

Mad scramble ensues, masks, masks are needed now! Run minions, run!

The Company is now masked, all is well in the Magical Kingdom again.

Monday 7 February 2022

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Thirteen


Today I complete my sixty-sixth year of existence. Sixty-six laps around the sun, as is my way of acknowledging the passage of another year. 

A bit about why I always acknowledge the birthdays of family and friends with “hey hey happy one more lap around the sun!!” A number of years ago a good friend was lamenting the fact of her birthday taking place; how, as a man, I did not know what it was like to “turn 40 and become transparent”. I agreed with her that I did not know, but perhaps we put too much stock in a birthday and what that means to us and others. It is, after-all, just another lap around the sun. I am long past feeling birthdays to be special, with parties and gifts and things; give me a good meal with the ones I love and that is plenty special to me.

I’ve heard it said that time is an abstract construct and that in reality clocks and calendars are mere conveniences and contrivances of the capitalist state. We’d be better off if we threw them all away and lived by what Mother Nature shows us. The sun in the sky here in the North has started to change already as that inexorable tilt begins to change. So, instead of it being “X hours in the morning”, it might be better to look at it as a time where the sun is just over the local church steeple as my stomach says it is time to eat. Or some other more natural agreement.

As much as I may wish it to be, the reality is that we live our lives tied to the needs of something and/or someone else. So I get up at 05:00 as dictated by my alarm clock. How I have to take my morning pills right around that time so I can have my breakfast beginning at 05:30, because the digestive tract of my body consumes those pills right around 30 minutes later and they will be effective against whatever ailment they are meant to treat. How the intervening 30 minutes I use up by reading the news, saying my prayers, shaving (only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, mind you) and other washroom duties. By 05:30 it is breakfast time and more reading about what was going on in the world while I was asleep. Catching up on sports, since 90% of what takes place I cannot listen to/see. Watching the goings on in Africa via the Namibia streaming cam (look it up on YouTube - strangely calming).

One interesting thing about reading about the news is that it is history by the time I read it. It is reporting on something that has already passed. I like Twitter for its sense of immediacy, but honestly it too is sending things that have already happened. I am a history buff and that makes this really a moot point, but at the end of the morning, although I have been caught up on what has already transpired, I am now more focused on what happens next.

Of course I am up so early to allow me to make it to school as early as I can. Up by five o’clock, out the door by seven-thirty. It takes me forever to get dressed to go outside, so I need the time to get to the school at my agreed time.

And it is a time I choose - the school opens its doors at 08:45, but I like to be there at least an hour earlier, to prepare, to get ready, to throw down the first cup of tea.

School has sort of re-opened in the week of 31 January. We had two professional development days to try to get all the gears turning in the right direction and then we started having classes with only 50% attendance. All to mitigate the risk of yet another COVID wave sweeping through the school and the community. If we were being truly frank and honest we’d admit that COVID has won and it is time to move on with our lives. Most in this little community will not follow the necessary protocols and make an effort to stay free of the virus; the lack of trust of the system that has hurt them and their families so much in the past will just not allow it. Then there is the very need to keep connected with those members of a very large and complicated extended family structure. 

To that point, I’ve only recently come to the realization that visiting with other members of your family is an essential element of good mental health. The people of Salluit don’t want to visit: they need to visit. As the winter months start to dampen down (and, trust me, it has been colder than  I have ever experienced, with more storms and high winds than I can count) it is becoming more difficult to visit. With the added necessity of being safe because of COVID you can see how those two realities come in conflict. We have had over 500 cases since October, in a population of around 1700 - nearly a third of the inhabitants had the virus. That didn’t happen because of someone bringing it in from the outside - although that was probably the original source, the patient zero, if you will. No, those cases exploded here because people needed to share, needed to visit and feel as one. They didn’t wear masks while visiting; hell you can see by the mask litter around the various community venues that wearing a mask is optional, that people never wear a mask until they are told they have to. Thus the transmission was inevitable.

Personally we have remained cautious and careful. We wear a mask wherever we are, in contact with people or not. We don’t wear them at home and we don’t have a lot of visitors (and when we do they are wearing masks when they come in the door), but we are still keeping to the necessary protocols. I am opening all of my classes with a little slideshow illustrating to them how it is personally important that we are all wearing masks. With a child at home with ITP and me being the old fart that I am, it is kind of important. So far the kids have been compliant; we’ll see how this re-start of school progresses.

And it really is a re-start. Having only taught 21 days from August to now, this is like starting completely over. With sixteen weeks of teaching left (not counting a week off in March - how/why? - and who knows how many “snow/cold” days) there isn’t much I can accomplish. I’ve decided to keep it as simple as possible, to more or less ensure that they have something artistically in their back pocket when they walk out the door in late May.

As to walking out the door, I’ve already committed to another year. I essentially did nothing this year pedagogically, so I feel I owe it to myself, my students, my colleagues, my school, my employer to re-up, to give it another shot. Sadly, most of my colleagues will not return next year. Although this is only my thirteenth year of teaching and I have seen some very weird shit over that time, this has been a teaching year like no other. For some it was enough to say “enough”. I don’t judge or blame them - they need to be good to themselves, to protect their mental health as much as they can. There is a tremendous amount of goodwill and, dare I say, love between staff and students that needs to be maintained; it will take some special people to replace them that is for sure (replace is not the right word, of course, as that will never happen). I am hopeful I will be one of them.

I know I will try.

I know over the course of time I will make the effort.

There is only so much time - best to make an honest use of it.

All blessings to you and yours; continued safe passage on all your journeys.

Saturday 15 January 2022

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Twelve

 Been a long time since I last wrote - lots to report.

The Going South Bit

My boss gave us an option of flying out a couple of days early since a big snowstorm was heading our way. Once I was able to secure some hotel rooms we said yes. Then came the long wait from our travel connection in HR. When they finally called the conversation went like this: 

“Do you actually want to leave on the 15th, the 16th or wait out the storm?”

“Ah, you suggested the 15th - there’ll be no flying out on the 16th and waiting out the storm is not an option - we’d lose our rental car, three days of our rental accommodation and there is no guarantee that Air Canada could suitably adjust our flight from Montreal to Toronto.”

“So… the 15th is okay?”


I know they were trying to be accommodating but the logic was pretty obvious. This was going to be a big storm, getting out now was the way to go. There would have to be a standby for seats from PUV to Montreal, but they reserve eight seats on every flight for medical reasons (something I didn’t know) so we should be good.

And we were. The ladies working the counter at PUV were wonderful and made it happen.

The flight from there was a very busy one - it was jammed packed with Air Inuit employees as they were trying to beat the storm, too - it was Christmas after-all. We made what was to me an unscheduled stop in La Grande; weird logic: everybody off the plane, re-x-ray all the luggage and submit to a search. Everybody knows contraband goes South to North, not the other way around, but that’s what they made us do. Didn't help that we thought initially we were in Montreal. Didn't matter to Hunter - the walk from the plane to the terminal meant time to kick some snowflakes.

Note for the future: Air Inuit’s transfer of luggage at Trudeau is abysmal - at least 90 minutes of wait time; hit Tim’s before you get your luggage cart.

The stay in Montreal was largely uneventful - we did some light shopping and generally hung out in the hotel room. It was damp and that made the cold feel all the more unpleasant. Hard to believe a twenty-thirty degree difference in temperature would translate to feeling cold all the time. I guess we are becoming Northerners.

The flight from YUL to YYZ was noteworthy only for the weirdness of being offered alcohol at ten o’clock in the morning… and the flight attendant's whispered reluctance to offer the same to my “daughters”. Oops - definitely looking too old to be with those two beauties I guess.

Arrival at Pearson was interesting since we arrived with some punctured luggage. Went to baggage claim to report the damage and discovered something else new to me: they regularly keep extra pieces of luggage, brand new, to make an exchange for any broken pieces. They didn’t have one that matched our size and so we filed our claim. (Fast forward a couple of weeks later and we received our claimed amount and a 20% discount anywhere Air Canada flies, good for the next three years. Wow.)

We next had to track down our rental car. First time I rented off the airport, however, it was the best option in terms of price and availability. It meant taking the Skytrain to the end where the ALT hotel is. (Note for the future: last summer when we were forced into quarantine I thought of getting a room at the ALT, but it looked to be too far away from the airport to be practical - now we know it isn’t and that might come in handy if there is a next time). Quick shuttle ride to the car rental guys and off we go.

And then I promptly got lost. Foggy, sleet-like weather and I got us going in a variety of different and very wrong directions, baffled, confused - should have taken the map option… <grrr>. Eventually we found 427 South and humped it down to the 401. Made a stop at the Halton Hills factory warehouse spot and had a nice hot lunch; needed it - the dampness was setting in and we were freezing just from walking from the car to the food area. Damn, it is not the (lack of) heat, it’s the humidity.

We took our time getting to Kitchener, having stopped at SAIL and going slower than usual and arrived after dark.

Note for the future: the metal posts they use in Kitchener to identify where not to drive when near the super train/blue rocket tracks needs to be a helluva lot larger and lit - came within an eyelash of taking out the front end of the car. <shudder>

Found our humble abode, wrangled the key out of the key lock (ugly process, trust me) and then did some grocery shopping at Conestoga Mall. A bite to eat, then home and sleep… it had been a very interesting return to the South, no question.

Down South

This was our first time travelling from Salluit to Ontario. We had a lot of things on our agenda, most importantly meeting with family and friends. Each time we came from Vietnam to Ontario we sponsored get togethers, generally a meal and conversation and that was the plan this time around. Where we used to only see these folks once a year, this was an opportunity to see them every six months so we really looked forward to it.

Sadly our first meal/chat didn’t happen as our dear friends Rick and Terry had a family emergency and had to cancel. We look forward to seeing them this coming Summer Break and catching up over a meal or two.

The next event on the calendar was scheduled for London and our family/friends there. Sadly part of that didn’t happen as one of my best friends had decided that vaccinations were not for him and thus he would not be able to come to the restaurant we had chosen. I respect his right to make this choice but it saddens me because of circumstances we could not break bread together. Hopefully things will improve enough in the coming months that the hug I am missing can be shared again. The meal we did have was wonderful - nice to be in the company of old friends (honestly, more like family members) and pick up on conversations like we were never, ever apart. If we could just stand there and hug I would call it complete and satisfying; everything else was just extra special.

Next my brother and sister-in-law came to visit us! We met at the final resting place of my mom, dad and sister and then trooped off to the closest Swiss Chalet for a nice long lunch. It was so nice to just sit and talk - unfortunately my niece had contracted COVID so they couldn’t stay and visit some more; they had to get to the hospital where my niece was receiving care. Regardless, for me, it was special to share teaching/war stories with my brother and sister-in-law - between them they have over sixty years experience so it was good to hear their take on my current situation. Again, they totally get the Maslow versus Bloom equation. Good to see them, good to feel them.

The next week was time to visit with our older kids and our granddaughter. We decided on a visit to the Aquarium and dinner afterwards. The visit was wonderful - cannot beat the wide eyes of wonder whilst looking at the flora and fauna - and the kids were excited, too. =) I’d go back in a heartbeat - and I am sure the kids would like a return visit some day. The dinner options were down to Swiss Chalet again. There was a problem with delivery, much confusion was taking place and hungry bellies were a-growling. However, my eldest got on the phone and sussed a solution out and the real reason why there was a problem in the first place. Her use of persuasive language and appropriate tone made this old guy smile like you have no idea. How quickly they grow up, I know my late sister would have been so proud of her. I know that I was. The visit ended all too quickly, but with a long drive ahead we did have to leave sometime.

The only other special visit we made was just for Hunter and Thy and I - The Royal Ontario  Museum. There was a special exhibit on whales and then, of course, the primary reason for our visit: dinosaurs! It was really fantastic to watch Hunter traipsing along, checking out all her favourites. We actually managed to do the museum from top to bottom and that was unexpected and exhausting… couldn’t stop the little one though: so much to see and enjoy. Clearly a place to keep coming back to.

And the day before the Museum was Hunter’s fourth birthday. She got a chocolate cake with pink icing and many little gifts, but honestly I don’t think she knows how much of a gift she is back to us. Bright, curious, an active, active imagination - such a sweet little girl. I look forward to celebrating more birthdays with her.

The weather down South

While in the South we got to see everything from plus sixteen to minus ten - snow, rain, fog and back again. It was difficult to predict when and what would happen next and even when you thought you had it right you were probably wrong. It got to the point where I have to say I missed the cold predictability of the North.

Coming Home


Time to get up early, clean up the apartment we stayed in, one last fill up for gas and Tim Horton’s, print all the paperwork we thought we would need for our return to Salluit, load the car and get on the road.

Didn't get lost coming back - did a Google Map check before we left - pretty straight forward, makes me wonder how I screwed it up so badly two weeks before. I did forget that the rental office was a part of a Comfort Inn so that took a U turn to get back to, but otherwise no big deal. Nice guys at the rental place, who took good care of us, right back to the airport.

Getting on the plane to Montreal was initially puzzling as we had pre-boarded but the system wouldn’t give us baggage tags. Then an Air Canada representative took us by the hand and led us to the “fast” line; nice.

Found our gate and got some more Tim’s and… hmmm… the gate seemed to be populated with passengers but not Air Canada folks. Strange with an hour to go before boarding. Then comes a series of announcements about delays and, damnit, outright cancellations. Off to customer service, got our new boarding passes and new gate and new time - ugh - three hour delay. Ok, chill, we’ll still get there in good time for the hotel and dinner.

And we did - got our luggage in plenty of time (for the very first time in flying for over 50 years I had to ask someone to give back a piece of our luggage), grabbed a cab, checked in, got some of the great hotdogs that can be served up within a three minute walk from the hotel (we knew the neighborhood better this time) and crashed.


Good night’s sleep, followed by a dash to Tim’s - looked like they had completely changed the staff there - wonder if my complaints had anything to do with it. Doesn’t matter - teas, bagels, and croissants for the trip later. Killer shower at the hotel, hot water amundo, great shower head, excellent shampoo and conditioner - could have stayed there for hours.

Adios Montreal, off we go to PUV then home. Anyone else notice how Air Inuit issues tickets and they are rarely correct in terms of departure times? Our tickets showed us leaving one half hour earlier than expected… just a typo?

Oh and never buy food at the restaurant near the departure gate - stupid expensive.

Uneventful ride to PUV, other than full knowledge of not leaving the airport - they went RED just before arriving. Watching a family come in at PUV and flying on our plane - two kids with throaty, phlegm filled coughing - think they’d be wearing a mask, right? Nope. Told my lovely wife: “We are going to try and sit as far from them as humanly possible, ok?” <shudder>

The guys came through with the truck. The short walk was very eventful, as in freezing cold - man, how quickly it can change, eh? The South was humid and cold, the North just blistering cold - wind chill was biting through every gap I had in my coat and hat/scarf combination… brrr.

Cracked the door at home (thank you to whoever shovelled our front steps), threw in the luggage, stowed the truck and the key, quickly ran to Co-Op for milk, then finally home. Bathroom sink not draining, hmmm. Liquid plumber time? Nice and simple dinner, unpack most of everything - crash.


First morning back… and woke up to both the kitchen and bathroom sinks still not draining. The drain cleaner I used last night on the bathroom sink had zero impact. Reaching out to maintenance.

Got a response from Pierre and KI/Ikusik maintenance right away - coming today. And a curt reminder to use the work order system - something no one had mentioned in the five months we’d been here. Go figure.

We passed the first rapid test. The process seems too simple to be honest, easy to make mistakes and maybe generate misleading results. Will have to watch how we do this once the school re-opens.

While we wait for maintenance/J-C, I go out for some shopping - shelves are pretty empty, problems getting materials in I reckon due to weather and COVID - Quebec is really getting kicked this time around.


Drains still plugged, 24 plus hours now. Poop truck came by and I was hopeful that would do it but no luck. Hoping we are hearing from maintenance soon.

Drains working again, after 3 hours of yeoman service from J-C - had to snake out years of grease and grime - likely this was going to fail no matter what we did. Kudos to J-C, wasn’t going to leave until he had it all under control.


Passed the second rapid test. Not sure if we are doing everything correctly but negative is negative. We’ll have a brain scratching test next week so we’ll see what is going on. On the way to bed I noticed that it felt kind of chilly… turned up the heat to 25°C…


…woke up at 06:00 wondering why it was so cold in the house; one of our indoor thermometers said it was only 12 degrees …and falling. I checked on Thy and Hunter (Thy had moved over to Hunter’s bed during the night) - they were snuggled in and probably wondering why the chill in the air. I cranked on the oven and made out a maintenance work order. Threw on another hoodie, thick sweats and socks and even a pair of light gloves - damn, it was cold. The wind chill was officially minus 48, near the magical 50 I’ve been waiting for.

J-C had to put in another three hours of work later in the morning - an actuator had failed and needed replacing, so that was the culprit. We noticed the house warming up nicely - thanks J-C!

Wandered over to Northern to scoop up some cake mix. First time this year I didn’t wear my glasses, but also didn’t wear my goggles… managed to have my eyelashes freeze up - not doing that again, trust me.

And today is Thy’s birthday. I have had the good fortune of sharing eight birthdays with her now - in a way it is a special day for me, too. I baked a cake and made dinner - again, nothing too wonderful but it all worked out; everybody was happy. Nice to be home, in our home, together.


We all woke up today toasty warm and happy. Minus 30 outside, windchill of minus 40, but today we didn’t notice it as much; cold, but not crazy my-toes-are-numb and I-cannot-feel-my-the-tip-of-my-nose cold. A quiet Sunday ahead of us - plans to flip the bedroom, some reorganizing of the living room, do some prep for returning to remote teaching, nothing too special. A lazy, slowly progressing Sunday - ok with me.

We passed another every-two-days rapid test again; now three in a row - five day test at the clinic tomorrow, with Thy getting her third shot as well.


Went up to the nurse’s clinic and got our PCR tests done. Read recently that in the US they are considering moving to a saliva based testing methodology - couldn’t come soon enough for me; getting my brain scratched is not something I look forward to. And try looking into the eyes of a (now) four year old and telling her it just tickles. Yep, a change would be most welcome. Thy successfully got her third shot - the pain, fever and brain fog will come tomorrow.

Since we got back we have been slowly but surely weeding our way through the property that arrived from Vietnam. Finding past memories and wispy dreams in a shipping box is something worth doing. Yes, we had to wait a long time, but now the good part begins. Knowing us it will take forever, but we’ll do it at the pace that makes the most sense to us.

All our thanks to those who helped get this far. All blessings to you and yours, continued safe passage on all your journeys.

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Seventeen

So, back to writing again. New position at the school has me writing a lot more than I am used to, so keyboard time is preoccupied with that...