March 30, 2017

Eloquent ambassador

Visiting scholar brings Chinese culture to area schools

Feb. 9, 2012

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff


Chinese teacher and scholar Tao Ye (above) is currently teaching Chinese cultural studies at Champlain Valley Union High School as part of the University of Vermont’s Asian Studies Outreach Program. She will be at Williston Central Allen Brook schools in the coming months. (Photo courtesy of Tao Ye)

The Year of the Dragon, which began on Jan. 23, is considered the luckiest year in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese lunisolar calendar.

But for 27-year-old Chinese teacher and scholar Tao Ye, her luck began last fall — during the Year of the Rabbit –—when she began her sabbatical in the Chittenden South Supervisory Union school system.

“I think I’m so lucky I can come to CVU (Champlain Valley Union High School) and come to different schools to learn, because it’s good for my teaching method,” Tao said.

Tao, who pointed out that the Year of the Dragon is deemed the most auspicious time to get married, have a baby or start a business, began teaching Chinese cultural studies at CVU in January after spending time at primary schools in Hinesburg, Charlotte and Shelburne.

A native of Lijiang, a city in the mountainous Yunnan Province of southwest China, Tao said classroom sizes are much larger at her home school — often greater than 50 students per class — and that academics in China are focused more on book learning and preparing students for standardized college entrance exams. Another difference, she said, is that the school day is longer in China.

“At school (in China), students have a long schedule every day — from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” Tao said. “Most students will have breakfast, lunch and dinner at school.”

She added that Chinese schools differ from their American counterparts in terms of a rigidly enforced set of personal conduct and appearance codes.

“In China, the schools have a lot of school rules,” she said. “Boys cannot have long hair. Girls cannot dye their hair.”

As a result, Tao observed, Chinese classrooms are less participatory and students are less assertive.

“The most impressive thing I learned from students (in Vermont) is they are very brave,” said Tao. “In China, the classroom is always very silent. Here, students are very brave. They will give you feedback.”

Tao, who will have lived with eight host families by the end of the school year, is one of several Asian instructors who have traveled to Vermont as part of the University of Vermont’s Asian Studies Outreach Program.

Since arriving in the Green Mountain State, she has instructed students in Chinese history, geography and calligraphy. She also teaches about and cooks Chinese cuisine — including Kung Pao chicken, which she has made no less than seven times for students.

“Every province has a different kind of flavor, so if you go to different parts of China you can taste different kinds of food,” said Tao. “In Lijiang, it’s almost the same as the Sichuan Province. We like spicy foods.”

Tao will remain at CVU through the end of the week and will move to Williston Central School on Feb. 13. She will finish out the school year at Allen Brook School and return to China in June.

Reflecting on her time spent thus far in the CSSU, she said she has learned as much as she hopes she has taught students.

“This is a very nice program for Asian people to come here and share something, but also they can learn lots of things from here,” Tao said. “It’s good for us to come here and learn something new and take this new way home. It’s good for our students.”

Citing the American teaching techniques of student-teacher dialogue and positive reinforcement, Tao said she hopes to incorporate these methods into her instruction style back home.

“I think after I come back (to China), I will change some teaching methods,” she said.

While she has occasionally felt homesick for her country and family — particularly during the Chinese New Year celebration — Tao said that the welcoming nature of the community and the school system has made for a natural transition.

“This is like a big family for me,” she said.

Popcorn: “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”

Doesn’t Quite Grab You

2 & ½ popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

film critic


It is what it is.


I contemplated saving approximately 805 words by simply having the above overworked phrase stand as my review of director Edward Zwick’s “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.” However, despite its relatively appropriate description of this action-thriller starring Tom Cruise as the title maverick, fear of a random audit by the American Film Critics Oversight Committee induced me to proceed with the usual study in tortured prose that follows.


In this second film based on the character developed by novelist Lee Child, the ex-military police major-turned-vigilante once again fights for truth, justice and the American way…in his very own way. Expect the usual array of Benedict Arnolds, innocent victims, hidden agendas, lots of derring-do and, of course, the most despicable of villains. He just may be as formidable a juggernaut as our knight in jeans and ubiquitous t-shirt.


But it’s the further honing of Jack’s iconoclastic, lone wolf image and the hope that we might get a peek into his enigmatic character’s soul that are the film’s primary allure. Not that we really want to know. That might spoil it. For it is a literary tradition to be entranced by the mysterious stranger…someone who must work from outside our fallible system to correct our foibles and wreak vengeance on our enemies. When, at the end of his courageous intervention, the hero rides off into the sunset, we are actually being rhetorical when we ask, “Who was that stranger?”


Still, there is an eloquent diversion from the jaded norm when Jack Reacher comes into town courtesy of a hitchhiker’s thumb that symbolizes his independence. Hmm, we fantasize….must be great…no mortgage, college loans, lying contractors or expensive car repairs and, for the most part, no obligations. That is, unless a suddenly inserted sub-plot in your life suggests that somewhere along your shadowy travels you spawned a child.


While the chief purpose of Mr. Reacher’s visit to a military base is to thank a pretty confederate, upon his arrival it becomes apparent that things aren’t only rotten in Denmark. Cobie Smulders’s Major Turner, the lady pal who helped him on his last covert foray in the name of righteousness and virtue, has been arrested on the charge of espionage. Oh, and by the way, notes the fishy commanding officer who relays that bad news, a paternity suit has been filed against Jack. Congratulations…it’s a girl.


Of course, quicker than you can say Jack Reacher, our boy seeks out the result of his alleged assignation some fifteen years ago. Doing the gumshoe thing, he follows her until, alas, the street-smart teenager ducks to the side of a convenience store and, turning the tables on him, asks why he’s stalking her. He comes clean and, courtesy of the normal amount of script contrivances, the possible daughter is soon inextricably embroiled in the possible dad’s sleuthing. So it’s Jack, Major Turner and the upstart against the unknown cabal.


Naturally, the kid takes to the gambit with alacrity, causing Jack to wonder if Samantha, astutely played by Danika Yarosh, mightn’t be a chip off the old block. He gets all paternal. Well, as paternal as a hermit righter of wrongs can be. Ooh, maybe now is the chance get a look into the inner sanctums of his psyche. The big question looms: Is this child of a dope-addicted prostitute really his offspring? As they drag it out, we have to ask, “Why don’t they just do a DNA test?” Then again, it’s not easy stopping off at the lab when the bad guys are breathing down your neck.


It’s doubly impractical if the chief heavy is someone as obsessively determined as Patrick Heusinger’s rendering of the type. Identified in the credits simply as The Hunter, he’s like the snake that keeps moving even without its head. Possessing that single-minded, zombie-like resolve, surely he’d pursue his nefarious wickedness even if he weren’t paid to do so by those greedy, conspiratorial powers that be. All of which confirms the theorem that your hero is only as great as your evildoer is vile.


Because the troika of uninspired screenwriters couldn’t avail themselves of any help from O. Henry, the story remains fairly typical of its genre, with a bunch of needless convolutions making it a long way to go for far too few surprises. Hence, even if like me you’re not good at figuring these things out, rest assured you kind of know where this is going, right down to the big showdown.

But then, unless this is your first rodeo, you don’t see this film for its artistic appeal, but rather for the daredevil action and the central figure’s pluck, both of which are present in fine fettle. In short, considerably out of grasp of a more creative screenplay, “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is what it is… more or less.

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” rated PG-13, is a Paramount Pictures release directed by Edward Zwick and stars Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders and Danika Yarosh. Running time: 118 minutes

Popcorn: “The Magnificent Seven”

They Ride Again

3 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

film critic

[Read more…]

Popcorn: “Southside with You”

A Sensible Romance

2 & ½ popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

film critic

[Read more…]

POPCORN: “Far From the Madding Crowd” Cinema Sanctuary

3 popcorns

3 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer


“The only reason we came to see it was because my wife read it in high school.”


Thus spake, within earshot of my wife, a disgruntled viewer unimpressed with the dose of literary culture he had just been so eloquently dealt by director Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd.” Exiting the theater, he further disparaged the experience, informing how the author might have dispensed with the tale’s love quadrangle and cut to the chase, as it were, saving the lead from all the fuss of having to decide which of her three, socially disparate suitors she would choose. In other words, delete the plot. [Read more…]

POPCORN: “Danny Collins” Idol for the Ages

 Popcorn - 3

3 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer


I suspect there will be a spate of movies custom made for Baby Boomers as they proceed into the sexa- and septuagenarian periods of their lives. They will nurture and extoll the virtues of this mixed blessing that’s certainly better than the alternative. Call them the Dick and Jane films for golden-agers: i.e. — See Dick have a hip replacement; see Spot sympathize. Hopefully, most will be as entertaining as writer-director Dan Fogelman’s “Danny Collins.” [Read more…]

Little Details: Lessons for the living

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

Australian writer Bronnie Ware spent years tending to hospice patients. Caring for the dying extends beyond administering palliatives and checking vital signs. Caring for the dying is about keeping vigil, bearing witness to the parting thoughts, words and deeds of people facing their final stop on the continuum of life. [Read more…]

The ghost of Halloween present

Joe Citro, supernatural storyteller extraordinaire, pauses for suspense during a Saturday afternoon appearance at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

Joe Citro speaks to library listeners

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The “Ghost-Master General” was on schedule Saturday, delivering a package of supernatural tales to a 1 p.m. gathering at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library.

Joseph A. Citro, Vermont’s foremost chronicler of all things ghostly and ghoulish, is the author of a half dozen works of bone-chilling fiction and nine books “that might not be fiction,” per his website.

Yet despite appearing less than a week before Halloween, Citro’s talk was more concerned with the metaphysical mysteries of the paranormal.

“In the final analysis, we still don’t know what ghosts really are. The knee-jerk definition is that they are the spirits of the dead, but we don’t know that. No one has ever proved it,” Citro said. “But whatever they are, people continue to see them.”

Dressed in blue jeans and a baseball cap, his black blazer and T-shirt providing stark contrast to his snow white beard, Citro spoke with the deliberate pacing of a practiced orator.

He spoke of the fabled Dutton House, which despite being disassembled and relocated from Cavendish, Vt. to the Shelburne Museum, is still alleged by museum staff to be haunted by inexplicable noises and shifting furniture.

He told the tale of a French Canadian woman named Marie Blais, who was hit by a train in 1900 near Burlington’s Queen City Cotton Mill. Her ghost was allegedly sighted by hundreds of millworkers and ghost hunters—until 1908, when the city built a pedestrian footbridge under the elevated tracks and her apparition was no longer reported.

But the weirdest of all of Citro’s Saturday afternoon stories was a firsthand account of what he pledges is “swear on a Bible true.”

It occurred in 1994, in the kitchen of his house in Burlington’s south end, where he heard “a muted screech, a constant unwavering sound.” Entering the kitchen, he discovered “one single drinking glass: a thick, squat French tumbler spinning on its base, spinning perfectly, like a top, slightly angled, though not rocking or wobbling, spinning with an aerodynamic certainty so unbelievably fast that it, by itself, seemed to be generating the high-pitched whining sound.”

He recalled that as he stared at the spinning glass, it suddenly exploded, “like a wine glass shattered by an opera singer in a TV commercial.”

Haunted and puzzled, Citro said he consulted with a Burlington neighbor, Dr. Donald Slish, a biology professor across the lake at SUNY Plattsburgh. According to Citro, Slish conjectured that the exploding glass was a phenomenon so atypical that it can’t be scientifically studied.

“How can such things be studied, when they occur rarely and non-repeatedly?” Citro asked, paraphrasing Slish’s rhetorical question. “Dr. Don, I think, had just eloquently summed up the essence of my life’s work.”

In conclusion, Citro suggested that his tale of spinning glassware is no stranger than the more macabre events which populate his fiction stories.

“In the entire scheme of world weirdness, I must question the unremarkable nature of this seemingly insignificant event,” Citro said. “Bigfoot sightings, UFO reports, monster tales and ghost stories are weird, but are they any weirder than a singing, exploding tumbler?”

The question, like any great ghost story, was left unanswered.

Little Details: Notes from the journey

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

As I sit in my Williston kitchen sipping Scottish tea, a gentle rain falls outside. The gift of time—two months in Edinburgh—reminds me that life goes on, even when it rains.

My husband and I are settling back into the gentle rhythms of Vermont. The lawn is mowed. Our garden is planted. The fridge is restocked with local flavors—dark amber maple syrup, mixed greens from the Intervale and leftover slices from Leonardo’s Pizza are among the pickings. The pool is coming along, albeit slowly.

We returned to jobs that not only pay the bills, but bring a sense of personal accomplishment. Recession in Europe was felt very tangibly, as we encountered well-educated Scots who couldn’t find work. We met migrants from less stable economies (e.g. Spain) coming to the United Kingdom in search of employment. The Home Office—the UK version of Homeland Security—was bracing for a possible onslaught as Greece’s economy teetered precariously.

We learned the streets, the cobbled alleyways, the bookshops and the cafés where one could sip tea with milk while reading “The Guardian” in undisturbed bliss. Early morning runs in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, a long-dormant volcano overlooking the city, preceded breakfasts of steaming bowls of porridge.

I indulged in delectable fruited scones at The Elephant House, the café where J.K. Rowling penned Harry Potter. Rowling, who lives in Edinburgh, wrote in the cafe while her daughter slept in her carrier. The then-single mother found this a cheaper alternative to heating her flat during the day.

Volunteering in the UK is not an easy task for a foreign national. A work permit, which costs several hundred British pounds sterling, is required. Fortunately, the law didn’t prevent me from connecting with civil rights and domestic violence organizations to interview staff, participate in trainings and provide informal consultations on fundraising strategies. I learned much from our conversations and anticipate continued dialogue with these “colleagues” across the pond.

When I saw a flyer for a six-week writing course offered by Scottish poet and novelist Sophie Cooke, I signed up. Our class was small, just Sophie, a poet named Mary, and me. We met Wednesday mornings to present and rework our writings. My first piece of fiction, a humble short story, sits on my computer awaiting final edits.

Sharing this very intimate writing environment with two extremely eloquent Scottish women reminded me that, although we all spoke English, words, idioms and semantics vary. I embraced humor over embarrassment each time I interrupted to ask, “What does that mean?” I learned that in Scottish English a “thong” is not an undergarment, but rather, a piece of string holding a pendant.

We discovered the wonderful concept of meet-up. Started in the United States, it’s an online tool to bring people of similar interests together for outings. There are meet-ups for hiking, biking, cinema, theater, music, food and numerous other events.

Joining the Edinburgh Walking and Socialising Meet-up enhanced our experience immeasurably. Each Saturday morning, we met at a designated bus stop and rode somewhere into the countryside for a 10 to 12 mile hike with a volunteer leader. We explored the Fife Coastal Path along the North Sea, the Pentland Hills and numerous green roads through forests and past meadows dotted with sheep.

A typical Saturday found us in a group of 15 or 20 hikers. Walking beside someone for 10 miles on a succession of Saturdays, you really get to know them. Judith is a globe-trotting geologist who recently returned home after a six-year stint in Italy. She and I discussed politics and social issues. Michelle, an administrator at the University of Edinburgh, illuminated me on what it felt like to have to abandon Ireland in the 1980s to simply find work. Kim, a doctoral student from Denmark, recommended Danish poets and playwrights. We’d stop for lunch on dry ground or in a makeshift shelter before pushing through sun, rain, mud and an occasional snow shower. Each hike concluded at a pub; that was the “socializing” part. I learned to drink pear cider and shandy, sweeter alternatives to beer.

Connecting with a faith community was a top priority. St. Mark’s Unitarian Church in Edinburgh is one of four UU congregations in Scotland. Maud, the Irish minister, brought us into the fold with her warm and welcoming ways. Taking time each Sunday, as we do in Vermont, to reflect in a spiritual way exposed us to the workings of our liberal faith in the UK. Coffee hours following services paved the way to friendships with Scots and expats alike.

Time for reflection, time to learn, time to connect, time to reevaluate life’s priorities—these are the gifts of a sabbatical. If you’ve ever contemplated an adventure to live overseas, drive across the country or write your book, I say start planting the seeds now.


Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston.  Reader comments are welcome at or

Right to the Point

Obama’s speech misses the mark

June 30, 2011

By Kayla Purvis

United States President Barack Obama’s June 22 announcement regarding our presence in Afghanistan was a short one. I got the feeling that this speech was more of a reelection move than anything else. And, to be honest, it was an empty speech of fancy phrases and adjectives. Obama’s speechwriter tries to paint a picture of a deep, reflective president.

I don’t want a smooth-talker for a president. Come on, if you’re going to make a speech about what you’ve done in Afghanistan and Iraq, and your plans for Pakistan, do it straight up – just the facts, nothing overly eloquent. It is so obvious that he (or his speech writer) is trying too hard to sound pensive.

But, this is nothing new. I have rarely been impressed by any of Obama’s speeches because they are chocked so full of descriptive and inspirational words that you spend the whole speech trying to wade through them!

Perhaps the thing that grabbed my attention the most was the part when Obama said, “…Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security….”

Hold up!
I don’t recall us being legally obligated to that. Yes, we are a world leader. And yes, we are often willing to provide aid and protection to countries that ask for it, but responsibility? I’m not so sure that’s fair.

We can’t be selective with our “responsibility.” We can’t look at some countries’ situations and proclaim, “That’s not our business or responsibility,” and turn around and preach to ourselves that we are a world leader with a responsibility to take care of the rest of the world. We are not! As far as I am concerned, our main priority should be our own nation – not what we look like to other countries.

Either way, we look bad. We either insert ourselves into situations, or we ignore them. We need to work on only participating when our help, advice, protection, troops, etc. are solicited or if it’s a matter of immediate danger to our country.

Another good Obama line: “When threatened, we must respond with force.” He then said when the force could be targeted; we do not need to deploy large troops overseas. It looks like someone is trying to justify Libya air strikes?

The president also said that our supportive actions in Libya are giving Libyans the chance to determine their own destiny. What? We’re only over there because we have oil at stake – it has nothing to do with wanting to help Libya “determine their own destiny.”

I found it ironic that Obama mentioned our need to spend within our means, while he has proposed many unnecessary policies that do not do this.

I am pleased that Obama is trying to appeal more to both parties by inching toward the center, but I am not sure what to make of it. Is he truly moving toward the center? Is he getting nervous and reacting to the pressure to appear more centered? Is he just trying to gain reelection brownie points? All of the above?

I think Obama is grasping to solidify his presidency. Our unemployment rate has not gotten much better, and he is struggling with that. It’s not an easy task to drop our unemployment rate – I get that – but he made it sound like he was going to come to America’s rescue. He has not delivered.

The approximately 13-minute announcement was kind of a publicity thing. But that’s to be expected.

Williston resident Kayla Purvis is a 2011 graduate of CVU High School.