Poetry Corner – End of Covid

End of Covid

(or Spring is Here!)

People out

Children playing

Mothers shouting

Dads catching

Babies crying

Friends laughing

Joggers running

Athletes training

Couples smiling

Guys joking

Kids frolicking

Teens flirting

Birds chirping

Cars driving

Ambulance wailing

Babies screaming

Dogs barking

Planes gliding

Gangs hanging

Crowds gathering

Bands playing

Music blasting

Cyclists cruising

Bells clanging

Men working

Seniors sitting

Boys chasing

Girls giggling

Balls dribbling

Clouds parting

Sun shining

Ice melting

Mood shifting

Depression lifting

THIS IS THE END OF COVID

Reel Vietnam – “A Little Goes A Long Way”

Reel Vietnam – “A Little Goes A Long Way”

By Cameron Brtnik


      On May 27, 2017 I jumped in a van – joined by my fellow teachers Peter from America and Marty from Australia, both living and teaching in Vietnam, and Toby, a winemaker from California and one of the sponsors, – and rode the hour long trip to Tien Hiep Secondary School in Ha Nam. This was my second excursion to a rural school in the countryside with BLV – Better Life Vietnam – a non-profit organization that promotes learning and reading to students who attend schools that don’t receive enough funding for school materials or resources or even programs like a library. BLV does this by visiting these schools, often located in rural areas of Vietnam, and providing English classes and activities taught by foreigners, an opportunity that students in these villages would not normally get. BLV also does this by donating books to those children who don’t normally have access to an abundance of learning resources.

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{BLV’s wonderful team of supporters and volunteers from USA, Canada, NewZealand, Australia and Vietnam}

      On my first trip to Hà Nam, I had such a great experience bringing joy to these underprivileged children I had to do it again! When you arrive at the school, the students’ eager looks, the excitement in their voices, their enthusiasm to speak and learn English – If you’re an English teacher in Vietnam, you understand that these are all the reasons we teach in the first place. This is an experience you may not find teaching at schools in the larger cities. It was no different this time around. When we arrived at Tien Hiep Secondary School, we were greeted by bright, smiling faces excited at our arrival. The students were very shy to speak to us at first; keep in mind their speaking level is at the “Hello, what’s your name?” level. We split up into various classrooms and each volunteer teacher taught the students a 30 minute class. They were so well behaved, they made us forget all about the naughty kids we had back in Hanoi!

See here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qUsEgl0qHg&feature=youtu.be

      We then hit up our second school for the day, Trinh Xa, where we played activities and handed out books to nearly 300 students! The organizers, Thinh Nguyen and Nhung Nguyen, hosted the school’s event and introduced each of the volunteers. One at time, we took to the stage to talk with the students, play games, perform magic tricks, teach English and give them advice – namely sharing with them the importance of reading – all this to 300 students!

Watch here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPnYx9Ws2ew&feature=youtu.be

     Then the best part: Handing out the books. It was like a hundred Christmas gift-openings at once! The children tore open boxes, reached inside and hurled out books, choosing a book that perhaps caught their eye or had a familiar title. Lots of photographs and video were taken throughout the day to document the day’s events. After all the fun and games, the organizers again took time to talk about the importance of reading, and encouraged students to keep learning no matter what their education or family’s situation is.

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After a full morning, we joined the school principal and teachers for a lovely locally-prepared  lunch, enjoyed with a toast with their local rice wine. What a splendid way to end an already awesome day!

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     Started by Thinh Nguyen in 2017, Better Life Vietnam was established as a way to reach underprivileged areas of Vietnam, and to help less fortunate children and families in Vietnam: “Better Life Vietnam was founded with the belief that access to education, food, healthcare, clean water and a decent quality of life are basic human rights.” BLV is an outstanding organization that develops programs to sponsor schools, provide educational material, donate books, and organize events – all geared toward underprivileged schools in rural areas of Vietnam. They also initiated a superb program that interviews students’ families about their family and financial situation, choosing one of those families (based on various factors) to sponsor by providing livestock so that they, typically farmers, can earn money. Visit their website www.betterlifevietnam.org for more information.

VOLUNTEERS WANTED!

BLV is currently looking for volunteers to help with teaching classes, hosting activities, taking photographs/video of the event and video editing, as well as other jobs. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to donate your talents and time to a worthy and fun cause: providing better living for students in Vietnam! Note: Some organizations in Vietnam make the volunteer pay for their time. This opportunity is free for all volunteers!

If you would like to get involved please contact Better Life Vietnam at
Email: betterlifevietnam@gmail.com

Cameron is a freelance writer, English teacher, and volunteer living in Hanoi, Vietnam

BLOGasides: The Big Comeback

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BLOGasides

The Big Comeback

Sep 22, 2016

     I’ve never had a comeback per se. Sure, I’ve bounced back from adversity, challenges, struggles, and disappointments. We all do. But to be honest, I always imagined a BIG comeback. Not from any one thing in particular, but from life itself. I am waiting on the day I turn it all around: My Big Comeback.

     What would I come back from? you silently ask. Well since you asked…

I would come back from all my mistakes, mess-ups, failures, and fuck-ups I’ve made – and I’ve made plenty – along the way. First, lets take a trip back to Junior High… An awkward time where I was shy, uncomfortable, and consequently an outcast. I was teased for being gay – perhaps because of my fashionable taste in clothes and boyband looks – and endured a daily onslaught of insults hurled at me in the hallways. And I was bullied because, well, I was an easy target. The bullies would slam me up against the lockers for no reason at all, embarrassing me in front of any onlookers. My mom used to have to wait for me outside after-school so that I wouldn’t be pummelled. I had low self esteem, and no confidence in myself. The pathetic part is I never fought back. I was too much of a pussy. I was scared, but looking back, I’m not sure what I was scared of….

I can see all the faces of those who bullied me now, and I picture My Comeback: Me, kicking in the doors to the entrance of the school, Backstreet’s Back playing on some boombox in the background while everything is moving in slow motion. The Bully, seeing me confidently walk in with my white Levis jean jacket, cracking his knuckles and getting ready for another beat down. As I approach him, I look him dead in the eye and say, “You’re a real dick.” As the initial shock wears off, both hands fling out to grab me…but I counteract by pulling his arms toward me, using his own strength against him, and watch, giddily, as he falls to the floor…all this taking place of course in front of every student in the school. As they point and laugh, Cory (I don’t actually remember his name but Cory seems like a pretty generic bully’s name) gets to his feet to throw a punch…but I catch his fist, midair, and uppercut his jaw, watching him stumble back on his ass in humiliation and the realization that I AM THE STRONGEST OPPONENT HE’S EVER FACED AND AM NEVER TO BE FUCKED WITH AGAIN. He even thinks he’d like to invite me to his birthday party, but I’d never accept, I’d never hang out with losers like him! And all the while everybody’s chanting my name “Cameron! Cameron! Cameron!”

As I snap out of this sycophantic fantasy, I realize this comeback comes twenty years too late, but only if I could go back….

Next came High School… A slightly, though not much better experience. I was used to the bullying by then, and didn’t pay them much attention. I made friends and had my own clique: “The Loners.” We certainly weren’t cool, but we had out own plebes we made fun of, like a natural food chain, everyone having their place, never to be messed with. I was a good student. I just hung out with the wrong crowd. I studied, did my homework, handed in assignments on time… That all changed when I met my best friend. He showed me a whole new world: A world of not studying history, but of studying ass. In the library, while everyone was checking out books, we checked out Sonya’s ass. They both had overdue fees. I’m sorry, that metaphor made no sense. Instead of doing homework, we shot pool in the local bar, never being checked for ID, and early on discovered our enjoyment of alcohol and the underbellies of society. Instead of handing in assignments, we rarely went to class, instead skipping to hang out in the lunchroom and watch movies on our smartphones. I’m just kidding, we didn’t have smartphones then, pagers were about be in vogue… I don’t know what we did in the lunchroom. But I know it didn’t help me with my final marks or report cards.

I can see all the faces of those teachers who failed me now, and I picture My Comeback: Me, strutting into class at 7:59 one minute before the cut-off deadline, and tossing my A+ project on top of the pile. Mr. Pelic’s eyes widening in surprise as he reads my above-grade level report on “Nature versus Nurture.” The bell rings at the end of class, and as the average students scamper toward the door to leave he calls out my name “Cameron, why don’t you stay behind for a minute,” and I do. “You know, I’ve read a lot of reports in my day and never have I read something with such..brilliance.” As I smugly reply that I was up all night writing it, Mr P, not believing I could’ve written such a masterpiece in only one night, shakes his head with pride. We both share a smile. I start studying and acing my tests, quickly becoming the top student in all my classes. Suddenly the word “genius” is thrown around and the other students are in awe of me. It’s clear that I have a bright future: doctor, lawyer, or even a writer… As I come to, daydreaming on the toilet again, I realize none of these things ever came true, but there’s still hope I tell myself, I can always make a comeback….

The girl I was crazy over chose another, more muscular guy There’s still a chance for a comeback a voice in the back of my head assures me. Another bomb at standup night – I pictured it going so well – We’ll get’em next timeI tell myself. I didn’t get the job I was sure I had in the bag. When I’m working for myself and making enough money to walk in, buy the company, and fire the manager, then I’ll show’em who’s boss!

     There will always be time, I tell myself. I can always make a COMEBACK.

By Cameron Brtnik

Cameron is a freelance writer based in Toronto who’s still looking to make that “big comeback”

Short Story – It’s Magic!

It’s Magic!

A (very) Short Fiction

by Cameron Brtnik

It’s Magic!

    “Magic! It’s magic!!” He said again. I didn’t believe him, nor did anyone else in the room. Mike had borrowed my pencil, held it between his fingers, shook it and – as if my magic – it “turned into rubber.” “It’s just a stupid illusion!” yelled David. “You’re not fooling anybody!” “But it’s real, I swear…” but by then nobody was listening, and had moved on to the next item of interest, in this case Gordy happily picking his nose and eating the boogers, enjoying the grossed out reactions from all his classmates. “Eww! Disgusting!!” Everyone exclaimed in unison, but I knew deep down they enjoyed watching it. The same way people enjoy watching some poor kid fall into a tiger cage and get mauled, all while the cameraman stands there filming rather than helping.

    Mike (“Mike The Magnificent” his full name) remained at his desk, uninterested in the childish antics of the other “less-developed” (in his opinion) kids. He was on to his next feat of the impossible: floating a straw in a bottle. All the kids knew it was done with a string – you simply tape a string to the centre of the straw, attach the other end to your body, and pull the bottle outward so the straw “floats” magically out of the bottle (this was 101 in any kids’ magic book). But as usual, Mike proclaimed this illusion “real” and some of the kids threw paper balls at his head. Although I never actually caught a glimpse of the string myself, I went along with the other kids (isn’t that what all kids do?) and made fun of him. “Weirdo!” “Loser!” “Freak!” all the kids taunted in unison. Even though I went along with it, I never actually said the words, but rather mouthed them (which I suppose was just as bad).

    Suddenly, Mike stood up, not visibly shaken (although I believe, deep down, all the insults bothered him) and walked defiantly to the corner of the class room. He clasped both his feet together, raised his arms in the air and…rose into the air!…about three centimeters. I was dumbfounded. But once again I joined in the jeers of my classmates: “He just stood up on his tippi toes!” “What a faker!” “My fish can fly higher than that!” But I wasn’t so sure he was faking… All of a sudden Mike started shaking, his whole body turning red, and an angry grumbling sound escaped from his lips…”Arghhhhh!!!” and he started rising into the air, a good three feet this time, and yet still some kids dismissed it as “a stupid illusion” but I wasn’t so sure this time it- Mike was a full six feet off the ground now! Some kids stood under him and grabbed his feet, attempting to yank him down. “It’s just a string!” Kevin, the little asshole, yelled. “A string attached to what, the ceiling you idiot?!” Liz retorted, and suddenly Mike fell from heaven, into her arms, with a big grin on his face and smiled up at her: “You believe me! Magic! It’s magic!!” No one ever made fun of him again.

The End

Cameron is a Toronto-based short story writer and professional children’s magician cbrtnik.com

Short Story – The Dollhouse Cafe

The Dollhouse Cafe
A Short fiction? by Cameron Brtnik
7.30.16 Gukeng, Yunlin
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Before reading WATCH VIDEO!!! https://youtu.be/FgEr1fXU6xI

WARNING: This is 90% true

The doll…the goddamned doll….

Why the hell would there be a doll in a cafe in the first place? What happened to this place??

    I walked in – a kind of unease came over me that you only feel in haunted houses (that’s what this place felt like – haunted): dusty, horribly weathered floorboards, dilapidated umbrellas lying carelessly on the floor (was there a storm in the cafe? Is that why everyone left??) and piles of random supplies – cups, receipts, flyers, garbage bags – were scattered everywhere. I let my curiosity get the better of me. It reminded me of the time I was about ten, swimming in the ocean in the beautiful waters of the Turks and Caicos, swimming out as far as I could, knowing there was a storm coming…
    I continued on my exploration, documenting my surroundings as I went. Atop the dusty, worn, bar countertop there was an old model of a windmill resembling the still-standing one just outside the entrance, rusty coffee spoons, a chipped ceramic trumpet, and a dusty bottle of plum wine (which I put in my backpack. I figured it must’ve aged quite well). I took stock of my surroundings, looked around the room: a creepy sight, and what made it more so were all these signs that had these comforting mantras like Fall In Love With Coffee and Love Coffee, Love Yourself – the complete opposite of the feeling this cafe was giving me at the moment. This was not a place of love – this was a forgotten place, where any semblance of love had left years ago… This was more like a nightmare from the far-reaches of your darkest dreams….
    There were piles of rubble strewn everywhere made up of trash, peoples’ belongings, a girls shoe?? (Yep, it was a child’s shoe, only one.) One room had a broken TV, DVD player and internet modem thrown on the floor haphazardly like the place had been looted by thieves, but they had left all the expensive electronics behind as if they were in rush to get out of there… Come to think of it, it seemed like everyone was in a rush when they left this place, nothing left in its original spot. I moved past a garbage bag exploding at the top and saw…I had to stop in my tracks. My heart was beating louder now – I was looking at what I was sure was a dead dog; it’s limp furry face facedown on the cold, dirty floor. It’s clean white fur looked a little too clean..so I used an umbrella and prodded it… Thank God – at times like this I am sure He does not exist – it was just a stuffed toy bear. I turned it over, peering into its black, button-like eyes, one of them dangling by a black thread barely hanging on to its pupil like an optic nerve, thanking God again it wasn’t a dead dog but rather some carnival prize left behind by a young boy (like he was in a rush…).
    I moved behind the bar, where it looked like most of the tragedy happened (whatever “it” was). There were paper cups, newspapers, business cards, playing cards strewn everywhere. But something strange caught my eye, smack-dab at my feet…. (after seeing the stuffed bear I didn’t think I could take much more) – it was a Goddamned doll. Every stereotype from every horror movie ever made lay inches form my feet. I stood there, motionless, no longer sure if this was reality or a cheesy nightmare… It, like the bear, was lying facedown. I slowly bent to pick it up… I held it in my hand – I think I was checking to make sure it was real – turned it around, and felt my heart sink.. (it’s just a doll!) It’s hair, crusty and full of cobwebs; its head, so lightweight it felt limp in my hand, a styrofoam ball wrapped in cloth; its face, stained with coffee and dirt, had an almost forlorn quality to it like its owner, undoubtedly a young girl no older than 5 at the time, after loving and caring for it for years decided it wasn’t worth saving from the…(saving from the what??)… I turned it back over and discovered a windup handle attached to her back – another cliche, I know. I wound it up, and the slow trickling of a familiar melody..barely recognizable..too slow to piece together…twinkle..Twinkle Twinkle! It was like the forgotten doll struggled at the strenuous effort to spit out a single note of the children’s classic nursery rhyme (originally a French melody titled Ah, most people mistakingly believe Mozart to be the original composer). I placed it on the countertop and continued exploring, all whilst listening to the haunting melody.. twin-kle..twin–kle…li–ttle—star. Sifting through the trash on the floor, avoiding broken floorboards and potholes as I crept behind the bar. I kept walking into cobwebs, the size of which made me not want to imagine the size of the spider that spun them… Then I saw the most sickening image yet: amid the chaos that was the surface of the bar, next to a lady’s (fake?) sapphire necklace and dusty bottle of perfume, like an aroma from the past, there lay photos – frayed at the edges and faded from light, which gave the impression they were damaged in a fire – of a father and his child, a baby boy. I stared at them for a long while, imagining this father and his son the day the photos were taken (what happened to them? Why did they leave these, only these photos behind?? Again, it seemed like everyone was in a rush to leave this place…). Were they alive? If so, where were they now?? Why didn’t they return for their belongings? The stuffed bear? The doll? The photos??
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    All of a sudden I had a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, and my inner voice (or is it our inner voice, shared by every human in times of danger, we call it instinct) said GET OUT OF HERE! I picked up the doll, stuffed it in my bag, and turned to leave…but didn’t move an inch. I felt light-headed for an instant, shook it off, then tried to leave again, but my feet wouldn’t budge… I started having a minor panic attack, like a blend of discovering you left the door open and the dog ran out, and the realization that you’re vulnerable, just a human living on a rock controlled by Mother Nature, a pitiful ant struggling everyday just to survive, and tried to shake that off too. I grabbed the edge of the counter to pull myself forward and one foot managed to come loose from – what?? There was only moldy floorboards beneath me, but it simply got stuck again. All of a sudden a sinkhole (in a wood floor?!) started opening up, and I heard a sound that didn’t quite compute at first, not in the secluded mountain region where this abandoned cafe was located: screaming. The screaming of a man, and the unmistakable cries of a young boy…and I started sinking. I was able to get both feet loose, but had to literally hang off the counter and edge my way along, lifting my feet off the ground to the exit of the bar. Just then a hand (WTF!!?) came out of the ominous sinkhole (was the hand attached to anything? It felt like it). It was small, but had the power of a fully-grown man yanking at my foot. I closed my eyes, squeezing them tight…all of a sudden I went back to that moment….

Out in the ocean, wanting to go further (always further, why do you always have to go further you idiot!), the storm on the horizon, and the fear that a great white shark would come out of the depths and snatch my foot….

    ….My sandal came loose in its hand – then I saw something and had an idea, a strange idea (though what was happening right now was strange – maybe desperate idea is a better way to describe it): to grab the stuffed bear and…I reached and grabbed it and threw it into the ever-widening hole…and the hand snatched it and disappeared…along with the hole….I was still holding onto the counter edge, gripping it in a death grip. I realized my knuckles were bleeding, but didn’t even wince. I was on my knees, missing a sandal, which I never saw again. I cautiously limped out the exit, wary of any potholes, and made it into the still-bright sunshine (I had lost track of time a while ago), blinding me momentarily, and headed for the fence I had hopped over not forty minutes earlier (right by a large DO NOT ENTER sign). I finally felt I was in the clear… I continued walking toward the main dirt road, if you can call it that, finally feeling a sense of relief and vowing, speaking to my inner voice again, never to disobey a DO NOT ENTER sign again. And all the while hearing a tring tringing tring sound (that’s the only way to describe it) coming from my backpack, which unnerved me because I completely forgot I had put that doll – that Goddamned doll – in my backpack.
THE END?

Cameron is a fiction writer living in Taiwan, and lover of all things creepy cbrtnik.com