“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Beautiful friends!!! Hello to all you lovely people. 

Seasons Greetings!!! 

I hope you have having a wonderfully festive holiday season and that 2007 has gone well. Things with me are as hectic as ever... I do so love being busy! When I started writing this, I was about to take the soccer team that a friend and I coached to Chiang Mai, Thailand, for a tournament, and then a week later I also was preparing to take a group of students to Korea to see snow for the first time in their lives and go skiing. Now, of course, weeks have passed and all that has happened!!! If that isn't enough, this weekend, my brother and parents arrive for a two week sojourn here in Myanmar. We're going up north to the fabulous Bagan temples, the gorgously mystical Inle lake, and then have a beach relaxation session at Ngapali beach. 

The nights have gotten cooler--can you believe I actually need a blanket in the tropics? However, with the cooler season have also come power cuts--we're currently losing power for 6 hours every day. So I've had a lot of bucket showers, because of course, when we lose power, our electric water pump also stops working. But it's not the hot season yet... then I'll really feel the pain of it, but I suppose I'll be just like everyone else in Yangon, then. 

I truly love my peaceful, non-technology dominated, life in Yangon, and I live in a big house with a gorgeous garden full of beautiful birds calling out day and night, which I share with another teacher who works at the British Council here. However, despite all it's luxuries and wonders, I've decided that this will be my last year in Yangon, so will commence the exhausting search for jobs in January. Currently I'm thinking that somewhere in the former Yugoslavia, the Baltic, or Eastern Europe would be nice, but I'm not ruling out Yemen, Libya, Iran, Turkey or other places. Incidently, did you hear about the British Kindergarten teacher in Sudan who was sentenced to 40 lashes for calling her classroom teddy bear Mohamed? If you're thinking of visiting Myanmar (I know that won't include most of you!), you've only got 6 more months, but otherwise, you may want to consider my exciting new destination, whatever it is! 

Anyway, I must end here--apologies for being so short, but it's 2am and tomorrow I'm running errands around town, so need to be up early! Also sorry that it's a group email, but the internet here has made that task difficult enough. I just hope I didn't miss anyone out, though I'm sure I did. Still, if I don't send this now, it won't be sent at all! I will put a list of highlights for this year, though! I've been terrible about communicating this year... no doubt many of you are surprised to hear from me at all! 

Important and rewarding things I did this year: 
Spent New Year 2007 on a plane (again) on my way to New Zealand 
Witnessed monks protesting in Myanmar and experienced with the related wave of ramifications 
Backpacked through Colombia 
Completed my Graduate Diploma in Education from UNE in Australia --I'm now a certified teacher! Also spent a lovely week in Australia because of this!! :) 
Was bridesmaid for the first time ever - yay Amanda and Nick!! 
Joined facebook -- the best and most addictive site ever! (Do join and then you'll see all my photos, because of course, my other site, flickr, has been blocked here since the protests) 
Took 35 students to Beijing on Week Without Walls--more stress than rewards, but a great learning curve 
Spent a week with my parents in Dubai and Oman 
Taught another Model United Nations and Advanced Geography summer school for JHU CTY 
Attempted to start the AP Psychology course at my school, but have had to deal with no textbooks whatsoever (they only arrived last week!) 
Grew, changed, matured, aged, survived, lived, learned and all the rest! And I'm sure there's lots more, but really can't think of it! 
Best wishes for December and of course, 2008 as well! 
Hope you're healthy and happy. LOVE, LIGHT and LAUGHTER to your day!!! 

Thursday, December 06, 2007

In Chiang Mai

Just a quick note from a little internet cafe in the middle of the Airport Mall in Chiang Mai--gosh it is exhausting following teenagers. It's the trust factor... are they leaving and going to a bar? I'm glad I'm not on night duty!! We just had a tragedy amongst the group, so we're also dealing with that as well! All sorts of complications!!

Chiang Mai is interesting... a wee dinky city. I think it's quite pleasant as it's not a boom town like Bangkok, but has all the amenities needed. We were discussing over lunch though, how Thailand isn't really living abroad... too much is too easy!! :) Will explore the city some more and the night market tomorrow and will report back!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

News and events Oct/Nov 07

The other day, when I was looking everywhere to find Vaseline (which I didn't ever find), I watched a plastic bag scuttle across the street. Sure, plastic bags are everywhere, and they often crinkle in the wind. What amazed me was the speed and directness of this bag, until I realized that it was really a camouflaged rat! Then it rapidly descended into a pothole in the ground, and I had to smile!!

Such is life here as we return to normalcy, sans a few essentials, like my photo site flickr and of course, this blog. The internet is painfully slow, as usual, but life goes on. What have I been up to? Well, after I spent a week lazing around Bangkok with my dad (yay Chatachuk Market!!) I spent a weekend in Ngwe Saung beach on a special deal through a hotel here. Such a good weekend—a really good bunch of people from all sorts of walks of life in Yangon. We had a BBQ by the beach and I got sunburned because I rode too long on my motorbike!

Had my last assignment for this degree that I'm doing. Hopefully, my GradDipEd will be over and done with by Christmas. What a relief. I have time to read and do other things. Had better get along with the paperwork if I'm to use it for job searching for next year. Where do I want to go next? Former Yugoslavia? Yemen? Libya? The Baltic? Ethiopia? Eastern Europe? Iran?

A friend, Hayley, and I are coaching the girls' soccer team and that's in full swing… games every week. They're a great bunch of girls, and we head to Chiang Mai next week for a tournament as a culmination of the season. I've learned that it's a bad idea to be around them after 4 donuts at lunchtime!!

I'm also organizing a Week Without Walls trip for the first week of my Christmas vacation. I am overly ambitious of course, and decided to take them to learn how to ski in Korea. Things have been stop and start from the get go, and I'm still hoping things will smooth out, considering that it's in 3 weeks!   Anyway, it should be good… after which I get back to Yangon and my brother and parents arrive for some quality travelling time. It'll be January in no time.

Went to Kyaiktyo last weekend with some co-workers. It's the pilgrimage site of the Golden Rock. Yet another bizarre Buddhist monument in Myanmar, but it was a great weekend. Spent the first day up at the rock watching the hundreds of pilgrims who set up camp on top of the mountain. The second had, Paula, Tim and I hiked up to the rock—4 hours up! We went looking for the waterfall, which was a bit of an adventure and another 2 hour walk straight down then up again. Lots of steps, but was feeling very fit for not stopping all the time like I usually do! I was feeling poetic for the next bit, so excuse the fluty words.

We took a long lazy train trip back to Yangon. The sun filtered through the open windows and the breeze blew gently past our swiveling $4 dentist-chair seats. The haystacks glowed golden, the fields were green and fertile and ready to reap. We talked idly about whether water buffalo looked more similar to pigs or cows. The little muddy creeks we clicked past had tiny long boats loaded high with white sacks, pushing the sides almost under the water. When we came to a bridge, the train slowed to let us cross the cross-hatch iron structure, coincidentally allowing us maximum exposure to the cool river breezes. Little men's heads marched past, their bodies half hidden in fields of wheat, large loads of wood or branches piled high on their heads. Women in coned hats worked the soil or moved the animals near their simple wooden huts. Gleaming white and shining golden payas atop grassy mounds appeared in fields or simply as pointy tips above the tree-tops. Around noon, many lay napping under straw sheets. Horned Brahmins with sagging double chins flicked away flies and children ran joyfully through villages. The train's route was far pleasanter than the bus--going through the rural fields, and we were high up with an excellent view over the padis. We didn't go very fast, but the gentle lolling quickly put me to sleep.

                A romantic perspective this no doubt is, there were also clothes lines strung with shabby, holey, frequently-washed clothes, trash in random places along every path, and extreme poverty at every turn. Perhaps I idealize their happiness? Sure there are squalid ponds of mosquitoes and sewerage and a little family of mice appeared beneath our feet, zipping from the haven of one chair to another, scuttling under the blocks, almost too quick to see. The train doors flapped open and closed like a saloon, and the occasional faint whiff of toilet was putrid.

                The cool breeze combined with the wide open delta vistas provided for a very relaxing trip.

Anyway, am back in Yangon now, grinding away at our last few events of the semester. I just figured out that this email-to-blog thing works (Thanks, Sam!) so will try and post more often! Pictures are on facebook—if you're not a member, join now!!


Sunday, November 25, 2007


I just want to test my email-to-blog-function to see if its working because blogger is banned!!!

Natalya Marquand
Yangon International Educare Center
No. W-24 Mya Kan Thar Main Road
5th Quarter, Hlaing Township
Home phone: +95-1-562947

"Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder." (Thoreau)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

From Bangkok

This time my strange blogger language is Thai. I wish they'd create an easy link for English, though I suppose this enriches my travel experience. I suppose that I should just be glad that it's not in Hebrew (very likely--the internet shop I'm in has more Hebrew than English or Thai) because then it would be backwards.

I'm in the middle of a great internet fix. Fast connections, nothing blocked (all those website links that were accumulating in my inbox are now cleared), and no time pressures to be anywhere else. In fact, I'm feeling a little bit dazed: square-eyes is the TV version. Basically, I can do the impossible: feel my eyeballs! So let's see, what have I been up to? I read Liz's absolutely wonderful story of her newborn baby, Erica. 50+ hours of labor and wonderful blog-letters to her new daughter. What a wonderful way to record it for the world. It was bizzare to see Laura's post on Liz's comments saying "Has anyone heard from Natalya?" What a strange place to look for me! I'm here, helloooooooo!!! If you want to read her lovely stories, look here.

Okay... it froze there for a while, and since I couldn't read the labels (silly Thai script), I posted it. But I wasn't done. So all you automatic downloading people (including facebook), will have to just get it twice!!!

I was also reading someone's informative travel history on Myanmar. It's made MSN-NBC, which is a miracle. See here. Also, a great article from Outside Magazine this month on the mystical city: here.

I have also been browsing facebook (as usual, and checking long lists of emails). Sadly, I can't make it to Andre and Olya's wedding in November. :( Hi to everyone. I really am thinking of you, but just can't get online often enough.

Next mission is to do my two assignments. Hopefully, I'll be bored enough here to move on to it quite quickly. I almost did today, but then I found the internet!! :)

Anyway, just wanted to post and update my life. I'll do a couple of other posts, but less personal!

Sunday, October 07, 2007


Right now, things are different in Yangon. Tense. The internet has been banned for over a week, and there is still a curfew. There are multiple people still missing/arrested/detained/being mistreated. There are reports that those detained are not being fed, are all living in stadiums or race tracks or other non-detention facilities because normal facilities are full. Rumors abound. Fear is everywhere.

Right now I am on the outside, but once I'm back, that's it. No more communication with the outside world. Meanwhile the world debates briefly, then forgets about it. I didn't see it on the news once while in America, and while the immigration person knew what was going on, most were oblivious.

Where is this going?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Myanmar musings

It�s been a bit of a hectic week, or at least it feels like it! Last week was my B day week�the worst. I have my heavier day three times, and it sucks. Plus I had an assignment due on Friday, which I finished and submitted, only to discover it was actually due on Saturday, and didn�t have to stay up all Thursday night to finish it.

On Friday, there was a mega monsoon storm here. It was like that crazy one we had last April. At around 1pm, we all had a note delivered to our classrooms saying that students could leave when their rides came. A key to chaos, if you ask me: either dismiss them or not. So I tried to have half a lesson, but then let the students go in disgust. The elementary school had a foot of water. At least this time they had sandbags ready, but it still seeped in. The guards were catching fish on the soccer field!!!! I�ll upload some pictures soon. So we headed out, taking a long route home, thankfully in a big bus! Hayley had a birthday get together, but everything was flooded so many didn�t go. On Thein Byu Road, where the restaurant was, it was flooded. Taxi just barged through! The new American embassy had a little do to open it�s Marine Bar as well, so headed to that afterwards. A humongous tree fell down right in front of their property and knocked out the lights for the whole area. Isn�t it silly that an embassy built in the tropics doesn�t even have covered walkways to get around it? And of course we had to check our umbrella at the gate!! Driving home was insane�the top of Kaba Aye Pagoda road had around 3 feet of water. We were in a big SUV, and it came up to the bonnet of the car. When we went through we created a tidal wave, which slammed into the trucks (and poor passengers) of stranded cars and trucks. Everything shut down!!

Meanwhile, last week there were protests across Myanmar� You�ve probably heard about it on the news as this is the most action that�s happened in a long time! It started small and has progressively grown throughout the week. On one hand I feel hopeful that this will bring the much-needed change, and on the other I feel pessimistic that it will all either fizzle out or draw the violent and suppressive action that it has before.

The monks were incredible�long lines sweeping down the road. People were cheering and chanting in the most hopeful, peaceful, yet excited manner. It was an honor to witness. The rain kept coming down all weekend, but this hasn�t stopped any of it. There was supposedly a 15 minute prayer vigil last night at 8pm, but we couldn�t see any of it when we looked outside.

A lot of my students are absent today because they're saying the military is going to react today. University Avenue (ASSK's house) was double barricaded with about 150 special forces/riot police standing outside all of yesterday and this morning. Apparently whoever let the protesters in to see her shouldn't have. Also saw around 15 army trucks with troops sitting by the side of the road on my way to work today. Trouble brewing! As yet, YIEC has no emergency contingency plan, though George tells me that the BC will close if any violence occurs.

Today I came in and there was sunshine in my classroom, and it felt like a long while since I�d seen it. It�s been such a wet past week, and weekend, that the sunshine is quite welcome. Hope perhaps?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Busy times

I realised today how long its been since I posted on this blog and decided I should say something, even if its only an excuse as to why I haven't posted. Basically, in the last 4 weeks I've been to Ngwe Saung beach for a long weekend, been to Bangkok for a visa, completed 3 assignments (yes, almost one a week, so lots of long nights), and taught. So that's why. Anyway, still living it up in Myanmar, and loving the new house. The inverter broke and there were some low voltage days where I had to discover how to use the booster. Otherwise, no big deal! Oh, and we had a house guest!

Anyway, just saying hi and I'm still alive! :)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

You know you're in a Yangon taxi when...

The driver opens his window for air... and the rain splashes you
One window is shards of glass taped together with cello-tape
There is only one window
The window doesn't open
The window doesn't close
The window handle is gone
The window handle is shared (sitting conveniently between the two front seats)
The car next door goes through a rather large puddle and you get soaked

You sit down and your pants get soaked
You sit down and you're lopsided
You sit down and feel a piece of wood underneath you
You sit down and the spring pokes you

There are ants climbing up the wall
There is no wall--it's just the bare metal car frame
... and said car frame is so rusty it looks like it has sat outside unused for 6 months... or has gone through a war or two
You can see the ground rush past through the enormous hole in the floor
You can see the road through the door
The door is held closed with a little wire hook
There are holes in the ceiling
The front seat is propped up on a piece of wood... and held to the car by a piece of chicken wire
You've been bitten by at least five mosquitoes
You've squashed one of those mosquitoes and it's full of blood (your blood)

It whirrs
It mumbles
It moans
It rumbles
It shudders
It grumbles
It squeaks
It creaks
It goes no faster than 30km/hr

There are red spit splatters all over seat/wall/door
There is an enormous puddle of water on the floor
There should be an enormous puddle of water on the flooor but it has leaked out through the enormous hole...

Our house

So an interesting thing that happened when I got back... maybe I mentioned that we were having some problems when we first moved in. Things breaking... water problems, etc. Anyway, our landlady, being concerned, went to see her monk. She told us that the reason why we were having issues with our house was because the monk had said "something is out of place". Turns out that my Buddha statues should not be on the lower shelf and should face a certain direction. Interesting... I wonder what "element" in my life is so out of whack that I lose data, lose suitcases, lose textbooks, among all the other issues!! Will have to search for it no doubt! :)

Back in Yangon

Well, I've been largely silent on this blog for the last little while... not that I haven't had anything to say, but I'm been too busy doing things to write about it. I've been on three continents, working 2 jobs, etc, etc! Whenever I got near a computer, I also got a little bit depressed because my wonderful external hard drive died. Even though I had the best high-tech classroom at my summer school, the computer had surges and killed my hard drive... a week later it died too!

The hard drive never recovered but I did end up paying Best Buy $160 to back up the data on it... it took a lot of stress, missing my files, rewriting my lessons and around 5 tries (driving each time to the next town over, Amherst. The first time they only copied the stuff I told them was the priority, the second time they missed two folders together worth 15GB, the 3rd and 4th time the power went out in the middle due to a lightning storm, and the 5th time was the night before I flew out of the country, and it still had 50% to go at closing time so a friend and I (my fabulous, patient TA!) sat and watched their big screen tv while it finished). As it was, I didn't get the last DVDs done. To give you an idea of how small a town it was: it was the biggest backup they'd ever done (80GB), and I really stressed the poor workers. What a joke, but at least I got it back. I am now going to scourge Asian to find a fantastic guy to fix it :)

Yangon is the same as ever. All my clothes and shoes went mouldy. I probably should've thrown them away, but instead painstakingly washed and resorted all. I wish someone would organize another one of those boot/trunk sales because I need to sell stuff--both mine and Kate's! (Kate passed through on her way back to Australia, and heads off to Finland next month). It's been raining for ages, and must say I'll be glad when October rolls around and it stops altogether!

As for school, the typical happened... my psychology textbooks won't arrive for another two months. Of course, I expected this and worried about preparation, buying all this stuff in the states, but fate didn't want that. The suitcase that I put all the heaviest stuff into (thus the psych texts) was inconveniently left behind in the car that dropped me off at the airport. I'm still trying to track it down! Also left my uni books in there too... ooops. Haven't even gone online to check up on what's happneing this semester either. I will not stress!!

I'm certainly being tested however, for other than losing suitcase, losing hard drive, losing psych texts, my calling card decided not to work and my fees are due next week. Credit card seems to be having lots of trouble! I also had a new one sent to me in the states, but they sent it to Queenstown instead. My free mouse for my new computer also never arrived! :(

On the positive side, I had a fantastic time at my friend Sarah's wedding in Tacoma. Got to Seattle and to the hotel in the nick of time. It was disappointing that many people from Beloit didn't come... you guys are bums and should call Sarah and apologize!!!!!! We missed you Christy, but completely understand! The wedding was quite lovely. She's part Native American and had a special blanket sharing ceremony which was fascinating and touching. The wedding was held in the Tacoma zoo which was very unusual. The couple had pictures with the female tiger behind--what a neat idea! Afterwards, headed back to the hotel and caught a shuttle just in the nick of time again to go to the airport. Had to pay $350 for my seat (I'dwaitlisted it but never gotten a place), but concluded it was worth it compared to stress, hotels, etc, etc. Long flight home, got changed airline in Taipei due to delays. EVA air is a great airline!

Well, I've been rambling heaps--can you tell I'm trying to procrastinate from my work? I've got to teach a psych class tomorrow with no resources. Yikes. Must go!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Women rule in Colombia!

I can't make up my mind whether the women in Colombia are liberated or oppressed. In so many ways it amazes me just how free they are (and how free I feel here), and yet the machismo is still here, and there are times when the women seem like they're completely dominated by men.

How are they dominated?
  • Almost all women wear makeup all the time, and thick mascara is the norm, even when doing things like diving.
  • High heeled shoes, all the time, everywhere, as pointy and stilleto as you can possibly find
  • Thongs... my ordinary knickers feel very wide...
  • Most women, especially in the city, are a man's typical dream of sexy with long glossy hair, sexy bodies, etc
  • Plastic surgery is the norm... women even get their bums enhanced.
  • The Medellin art museum scattered throughout powerful photos of women abused

How are they liberated?

  • At the coast, especially Cartagena, they let it ALL hang out. Flab rolls (and rolls) hanging out, giving a new definition to midriff
  • Women wear the skankiest clothing everywhere, all the time. Anywhere else, they would be labelled as prostitutes
  • Their mannerisms show just how much power and strength the women have. The voices you hear are not men, but women demanding equal rights
  • The men are gentlemen, treated with respect. So many lovely men have been courteous and plesant. There are no leers, jeers, whistles or other noise
  • The Salsa dancing is a sensual dance where the women can take charge just as much as the men
  • The mood, the vibe, the appearance of equality.

Who knows which is more true... I really need to ask a Colombian woman what she thinks.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Colombia so far!!

So I am sitting on a freezing porch in the middle of coffee country in a charming little village called Salento. My Spanish is pocito pocito, but a lot more than when I arrived. Have had a fantastic first few days. Sadly, the first two were finishing my yucky assignments. Still have half a one to finish, but am not going to stress about it.

Arrived late on Tuesday night, and didn´t even leave the appartment that day... just sat on the internet and mucked around. H&S have a fancy appartment in the Northern part of town, and I saw a fantastic little supermarket just around the corner. The next night H&S took me out for drinks, dinner at Kathmandu (doesn´t every city have a restaurant called that?), then a beer at the English pub around the corner. I was charmed by Bogota's efficiency and modernity---but I hadn't been downtown yet! On Friday I ventured out to the Montserrate church on a hill. Caught a teleferica (gondola) to the top and of course it was covered in mist so couldn't see the magnificent view of Bogota.

Friday night was the night out. Fantastic dinner at a meat place--everywhere here is a meat place!! Hayley tried some udder--it was a bit like fatty sausage, but she says she'll have shuddering visions of it every time she looks at a cow! I had chicken! We then went to this great restaurant where everyone began to dance in between the tables. With our bottle of rum and cokes a plenty, we danced the night away--what fantastic music it is!!!

Saturday, rather hung over, H & I went to see the Salt Mines in a nearby town. Lovely little village on the rolling green hills (the greenness and coolness here amazes me!). The Salt Cathedral is an enormous modern structure under ground that we toured, before returning somewhere closer for "lunch". Another raging happy exciting place--dancing aplenty and festivities. Latin Americans really know how to party! And wow can they dance!

Today I took the bus from Bogota to Armenia to Salento. We must have gone through around 20 checkpoints, but never stopped. The ruddy-faced young soldiers are everywhere, though a couple who are motorbiking around the world said that when they were stopped all they wanted was money, so perhaps they're not so "safe" after all. The people in hostels really are fantastic. I swear there must be at least 10 nationalities here... all ages, and all interesting stories.

I wonder if these villages called Montenegro, Armenia and Circasia are called so because the people from there came here? Second puzzling question I had today... do horses get altitude sickness, and what would the symptoms be?

Anyway, to bed and warmth for me. 6.30am start tomorrow for a trip to see the highest altitude palm trees in the world, supposedly. Apologies that this is so general, I'm more tired than I thought! More later, and pictures to come!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Natalya is everywhere this summer 2007 and would love to see any and all who can see her!!


Colombia - May 28-June 18
Miami - June 18
Madison (Chicago) - June 19-June 21 (6am departure-anyone for breakfast?)
South Hadley, Massachussets - June 21-Aug 4 will try to make it to Boston during this time somewhere! Come and visit me!!!!
Seattle - Aug 4 (Yay Sarah J!)
Aug 5 - back to Myanmar for last year. Come and visit a beautiful country with lovely people!

Facebook, MySpace, Bogota, and Spanish

Well, I am back in a foreign language again. This time I'm signing into Blogger in Spanish. Thankfully, no new format so I found my way reasonably easily. Yes, I am in Bogota, Colombia! Wow, it feels good to be in exciting Latin America! I made it!! It's overcast and quite cold--13 degrees or something like that. I didn't bring any warm clothes at all, so will go out and buy some later today! The same thing happened last year when I arrived into Vienna. Silly summers are not really summers yet!

I tried to join mySpace, but it's got such a silly format. I'd add things and then they'd disappear. Not to mention that it tried to make me join the Spanish language page! Ooops. I love facebook. It's easy, and there's just so much in there. Everyone, please join facebook!!! It rocks.

Hayley and Stu live in a very fancy appartment highrise by the mountains. Haven't seen much except the airport. That was tiny and very crowded. Have heard horror stories of people gassing you to control you and take your cash. Apparently I'm never to hail a taxi off the street either. Otherwise, there are large hypermarts, pizza huts, and blockbuster video so no worries there. The internet is fast and uncensored, and the electricity hasn't gone off yet, so its automatically a step up!

It was such an insanely long flight and I didn't get any work done on it, so am trying to struggle through it all now so that I can enjoy my holiday. Still have no idea where I'm going while I'm here! I flew from Yangon to Bangkok to Taipei to Seattle (lovely airport) to Chicago to Miami (not so nice airport!). I was amazed at how multicultural Miami was, however.

Landing in Bogota was exciting--even the plane ride showed evidence of the cultural change. All the air hostesses had Spanish as their first language and their mannerisms. Gone are the polite niceties of Asia, in come the bossomy, energetic, vibrant latinas, shouldering their way down the aisles with their rapid, rhythmic responses.

I have never been anywhere in the world that has made me so ashamed that I do not speak the language. In most places, tourists don't speak the language, but here, EVERYONE is Spanish speaking, and I don't blame them for expecting it. I am truly out of my element. I speak almost no Spanish at all. I remember going into a Spanish class when I'd first arrived in the Philippines in 7th grade and feeling extremely overwhelmed by the foreign sounds. I quickly transferred to French, which, with my ballet experience, at least felt moderately familiar. I would have loved to have learned Spanish, but to be honest, it isn't until more recently that I've fallen in love with the Spanish sounds. I had to learn to love the music and the salsa dance, and hear the accents and see Spain. Now I want more! I want to come and live here--perhaps Buenos Aires will be my next post? Or Peru or Chile or Costa Rica. What exciting thoughts! Wasn't my last dream to move to Europe? It will change again, no doubt. The job will be the decider!

At the Bogota airport, everyone was excited--I could immediately tell that people were returning home. So few places show that kind of vibrant returning energy. Most are passive and polite! The musical rhythmic language! Wow. I truly was the ignorant foreigner out of my world. Haven't felt like that in a while. It felt multicultural as well, with blacks, latinas, and people who could've looked just like me. Perhaps its just that I've come from Asia, but I honestly would not have been able to tell who was a native Colombian and who was not.

I love it here!

Monday, May 21, 2007


It's 1am on Sunday night and I have a big computer assignment due tomorrow, but I think I will send off a note to procrastinate. It certainly beats hunting the mosquitoes that keep emerging in my room (there is at least one every 5 minutes, and when I zap them, others keep coming. I just don't know where they are coming from!!)

Things have been absolutely crazy for the last few weeks, and this week will be similar. I still have 3 assignments to finish, but now I only have 4 days to do them. They will be shoddily done, but I don't really care at this stage. I leave for my holidays on Sunday. Yay holidays!! This is what I'm doing-- On Sunday I will fly for the longest time I think I have ever flown--I go from here to Bangkok to Taipei to Seattle to Chicago to Miami to Bogota, all with 3 or 4 hour layovers, and on three different tickets! I hope it goes smoothly. For my flightback in August I'm still waitlisted--have never bought a waitlisted ticket before!! I'll spend 3 lovely weeks with Hayley and Stuart tripping around Colombia, and then I'll return to the states on the 19th stopping off to see Christy and Jonah in Miami (I hope!). I wanted to stop in Central America somewhere but the tickets were insanely more expensive (despite most airlines going via there anyway!)

My exam is in the middle on June 12th, and I will do it at Hayley and Stuart's school with perhaps them as my proctors! I go from there to Chicago to try on bridesmaid dresses with Amanda and have shoes dyed to match. I start work in Massachussetts on Thursday the 21st, and it will be nice to do nothing but work! :) At the end of 6 weeks, on Aug 4, I flyto Seattle, go to a wedding, then at 4am fly back to Myanmar to jump right back into work here (meanwhile, studies start up again on July 24th---thankfully a smaller load than before).

My house is wonderful, but not without pains--I knew that would happen though. We had some water leaks, and a small installation error with the washing machine--I'm so handy with a screwdriver that I fixed it myself. Yay for me. We've had 3 plumber visits and still no luck, though things have been changed in the offending toilet and the pump is working slightly less often! To be honest, if the plumber is so useless as to rig the washing machine wrong, I have my doubts about the rest of his work elsewhere! (People here often have a habit of not fixing things properly to ensure continued jobs.) We had two power cuts on Sunday evening, but only for 20 mins each... so far so good on that account.The 3 huge padlocks to get into the house are a pain, especially when I'm busting to go to the loo or if it's raining. There are odd little quirks everywhere (like a shower that doesn't drain well, the only laundry hanging space being upstairs off one of the bedrooms, and taps that aren't allowed to be fully turned off or they leak!). There are millions of geckos and frogs, some stray cats, but thankfully no snakes and no rats yet! Ants are a huge problem (they got inside the sealed glass jar the sugar was in and had a huge party!) and migrate within minutes of leaving anything unattended! The mosquitoes are AWFUL, but hopefully that will ease when rainy season ends. I went and bought the most hideous orange mosquito net yesterday because the night before was so unbearable, but slept blissfully last night.

Rainy season is here early and with full force. It rains every day in buckets and we've had at least two major storms pass over--nothing like that happened this time last year.We had a party on Saturday (in case I didn't have enough else to do). There was drunken debauchery, but I was too busy dealing with an empty water tank in the middle of a huge storm!! It turns out that we have 3 pumps...nothing is ever simple here! We have one that pumps the water in from the road to a holding tank (that must breed a million mosquitoes in an hour, not to mention bacteria and slime). We have another tank to pump from the holding tank to the high tank. We have a third pressure pump to pump from the high tank to the house because the high tank isn't high enough! Thankfully the pressure pump is automatic, but its problem would be OVERuse! The others, however, are run by a lovely little man who our landlady employs, and he fills ourtanks daily (but of course, not at 11pm on a Saturday night, even if we could get in touch with said landlady to ask her!). He even cuts our grass :). So I went outside to figure all this out (had a vague idea but no clue as to which tap went where, whether it was on or not,whether the pump would explode or not, or even where the switch to turn it on was. Found it (after slipping and sliding in mud and slime) and started filling, but of course the rains were so heavy I had no way to tell when it was full and over flowing! On the other side ofthe house an overzealous guest was throwing up all over our frontsteps--thankfully not IN the house, but still, it was under the awning where the rain would not wash it away.

Installed our clothesline today, and things are running smoothly in most areas (except mosquitoes!). We have to take our own rubbish out,which is a real pain. This means that every night after 6pm we must wander down the road in the dark through the puddles carrying our rubbish to the communal rubbish dump near the market. A big snake moseyed over the road the othernight! We get there, and no doubt our every item is thoroughly perused by those in need of an extra penny from the recycling that we are unable to engineer. We have about 40 empty beer bottles from our party that we have no idea what to do with because we have no means of transporting them anywhere. Perhaps our lovely maid will have the desire to take them somewhere tomorrow... we've offered them to her anyway! Where else in the world would people be eager to take such junk off your hands!

I am marking my exams for school at the moment (or actually, procrastinating from marking them). Yuck! But yay to no more teaching for a while. Farewell dinners, lunches, graduation and other festivities! Boo to boring assignments that pull me away from fun times. Never enough time in the day! You probably won't hear from me in a while, but will try and drop a line from Bogota.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Two weeks till the house!!

Things are really warming up here--it must be at least 40 degrees, and the humidity, ugh! It's unbearably hot and steamy... can't wait till it breaks and the storms come. Having a top floor classroom is the pits!

Aside from that, things are going to be insanely busy in the next two months... I know I say that often, and then list off my crazy life activities, and I'm going to do that again. I just want you all to realise that I'm justifying why I haven't posted!

So, apart from the 5 assignments due in the next 6 weeks to uni in Oz, packing up and moving house, giving exams (and marking them), flying to the US, connecting to Colombia then travelling around, then starting a new summer job I have my normal social routine! Next week US visa interview---can you believe that of all possible US consulates around the world, they decided to require that foreign applicants to the one in Myanmar need to prove residency. I never have official residency and certainly not here, though it's not my fault, it's the school's (and the country, of course). Sorry, getting sidetracked: I was mantraing my to do list! There was the ANZAC dawn service this Wednesday (and if you don't know what ANZAC is, look it up, it's very important!) and the related Digger's ball on Saturday--I have impossibly high shoes to fall over in. Hopefully no repeat of last year when I woke up with my appartment door wide open, bag and everything sitting outside and an enormous rip in my dress with no memory... ooooppppsss! I don't think that's ever happened to me, it was really quite scary! I also threw red wine on an obnoxious man that I continue to see everywhere. Double oooppss! On Monday I pay my housing deposit, then there are all the farewell parties and graduation. Very exciting-I do like the life of an expat.

Phones are off here. The one at school is dead completely, so when I need to send a fax to the US embassy downtown they try for two days then I decide it's easier to put the documents in the car with the driver and send them that way! Everyone in town is moaning about being unable to get a line out to call home. What a black hole!

One teacher got a job in Lahore, Pakistan today. I'd love to go there! Perhaps I should aim that way instead of Europe, Africa, or Latin America! All the exciting possibilities.

Just got back from Dubai and Oman on Saturday. Will eventually get some fab pictures up on my new facebook page (such a better idea than flickr) to show the dolphins and off road 4WD in the desert.

Okay, need to go and do work instead of procrastinating!

Here's a smile: http://www.sibir.bg/index.php?page=videoAlbumPreview&albID=44382&VideoID=13453

Another: www.stuffonmycat.com

A story of a guy and a horse -true too!


Monday, April 02, 2007

Worldwide blogs

Have spent hours this evening having good surf. Blogs mostly. Not quite sure where it started, but managed to travel all over the world. Visited Morocco, Afghanistan, East Timor, a kiwi in Brussels, and other fabulous places. There really are so many amazing people of my generation (and others) in the world. We're all out there leading our lives quietly.

One blog in particular was amusing so I wanted to share it:

It's from a woman living in Afghanistan. Her blog address is http://ahmt.dk/

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The story about the generator
Sometimes this country trips me out! Well actually every day! Even after being here for 3 years there are things I just never learn to understand. Here is a great example;Thursday our generator at the house started acting weird… It shut down without any reason so we called the service people who came out and told us that the load was too much… We couldn’t understand it – We have been running it just fine with the same load for the last months, and then all of a sudden the load was too much!? We turned off heaters, and water heaters and different things – but it still kept acting weird… But it ran and it worked… Then Saturday morning the Generator just wouldn’t start again. We called the service people who came out and once again told us that the load was too much… Stu – one of my housemates – started a search all over the house and then finally found a wire going through the guard’s room through to the neighbour house. There was also a cable running across the street to another neighbour house… Stu of course yanked the cable out the wall and cut the line to the house across the street. Then he started the generator and went back to work.A few hours later the generator died again… We called the service people – they came – cleaned the fuel filter and it still ran like poo… So Stu went on another tour around the house, back to guard’s room and guess what! The cable to the neighbour house that he had yanked out earlier was now put in again!!! So naturally he cut the cable again…Told the guards that NOBODY could enter our house etc etc10 minutes later we had half the street knocking on the door COMPLAINING that they had no power!!! I am not kidding; they actually came to complain that we had cut them off our generator. … It turned out that one of the neighbours is actually the Landlord – (which also explains why the guards would let him in) so of course he felt EXTRA entitled to the free power – and told us that if we didn’t want to give him electricity we would have to move out!They all stood there complaining… telling us how they only had 1 lamp and 1 TV plugged in! Oh man, this was insane! They just could not see anything wrong with what they had been doing!In a normal world I would assume that anyone who had been steeling power from someone else and then got caught would think; “Ooops! It was nice as long at it lasted, but now it is over and I guess I will have to pay for my own power myself!”.But these people!!! These people really feel entitled to use our generator and get free power!!! They thought that WE where wrong for cutting them off! Maybe something went really wrong when I was brought up – maybe it is just me… I just do not understand how this can be a right they really feel they have…Maybe this explains last month’s $2000 fuel bill!

Here's another one:

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Kabul (international) Airport
Kabul Airport is such a trip! … A trip before your trip.Last time I left, I had to go through the usual search routine – which basically means that the search-lady grabs your boobs – and try to steal half the stuff you have in your purse. "Chocolate? Oh – you have 2 pieces – you are only allowed to have 1! Cigarettes… Give me Give me!" Last time I had a Tampax in my purse – so of course the search lady had to take my Tampax out… look at it for a VERY long time… not understanding at all what it was she had in her hand. She asked me what it was, and I tried to explain to her – but she didn’t really copy. After a while she wanted to peel the plastic off – and I started to get a little bit desperado… So I had no choice but to show her in a very graphic way where this weird cotton-thing was meant to go! She gave it back to me very quickly!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Fun links

Our computer teacher does some fun projects--these are some of his demo pages.




The main reason I was showing these links is because of this one: The second image is of the foyer area of the appartment complex that I live in. The bottom one has my view from last year! It's really cool-- move left to right and zoom in and out. It's pretty cool--and I promise that if you wanted to, you could DO this. If my students can, you can! These ones were done with a program called Stitcher, and then saved as a .mov or .mpg file.

New Blog layout

Instead of working on my assignment this evening I was distracted by all the lovely possiblities within blogger. I've chosen a new template (to be honest, I didn't really like any of them, and was doubly limited because I want it to be as wide as possible, so had to have the pics/links/etc at the left side.

This decision to change was a bit hasty and I discovered I had to reload all the links and redo all of the formatting. Actually there wasn't that much formatting thankfully. Am starting to like the new blogger, even if it does take me about 10 tries to log in (for some reason it keeps taking me back to the login page).

Then I spent at least another hour creating the flickr badge, and got very annoyed because the pages weren't loading properly so had a bit of a computer cleanup to try and improve speed on my poor old beast of a computer. I've managed to put in a video stream as well, which might allow me to search on youtube from my blog (youtube was blocked here and I keep getting links forwarded to me that I just can't see!).

Then I decided to try and change my flickr account to PRO so that I'm not limited in the number of pics it can store. What a nightmare that was... they are an evil corporation and make you register with paypal, which I'm already a member of, but it wouldn't let you in. (Imagine me working on this where each and every click takes 2 minutes to load and you can see my frustration!). Anyway, I gave up in the end, so if anyone wonderfully generous is reading this, I would adore you forever if you gifted an upgrade to me so that I can continue to share all my lovely pictures. Pay the $23 and this country won't have foiled me again!

I'm still going to try and figure out a way to change the silly boathouse image they have posted in the corner. I also want to try and change the background color, but those will come with more time. Nothing loads properly here, so of course little lines of words are spread over the pictures from earlier posts. Ugh! I'm exhausted right now, and hungry too... I didn't stop to eat dinner!

Summer Plans

I've finally figured out my summer plans! I've had a vague idea but it really seems to be materializing now! So after I've left poor Georgina in our new house, and hopefully finished all my assignments, I've got three weeks before my job in Massachussetts.

At the moment I'm thinking of flying to Seattle (cheap flight on Eva Air via Taipei!!), where I'll pick up a new ticket to go down to visit Hayley and Stu in Colombia via perhaps El Salvador. I haven't been to Latin America, so that's a whole new world of experiences for me!

Perhaps on the way down to LA to catch the flight, I'll rent a car and drive through exciting west coast places that I haven't been like San Francisco, visiting friends along the way. Can you see this grand scheme boiling in my brain!?

Then after all this (my last exam will be somewhere in there, too, which I have to find a testing center for), I go to Madison via Chicago to get fitted for a bridesmaid dress for Amanda's wedding.

I'm working for Johns Hopkins Center For Talented Youth again. It's such a fun job! I'll be in South Hadley for 6 weeks, which will be nice and relaxing and I can do lots of shopping for my new house. My current computer is also playing up a lot, but it's had a long full life, so I'm in the market for a new one of those too!

I leave there on Aug 4th, and I've also managed to conveniently "slot in" Sarah J's wedding in my transit hours in Seattle in August on my way back here. It just worked out perfectly!

Something to give your money to!

I have now found a place where I want to sink all my money! I would love to work here, live here, love these fantastic animals!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sabai, my cook

My cook, Sabai finally left for Singapore a few weeks ago. She's earning some pitifully small wage for a lot of hard work. We were a bit worried she'd end up in a brothel somewhere, but she seems okay. She's earning $200 Singapore dollars a month with two days off. But she won't actually get any pay until she's repaid the job agent for their recruiting fee, and for her airfare. That'll be at least 6 months, poor lady. Her family is still here, being taken care of by her lazy alcoholic husband.

Meanwhile, I'm trialing her friend as my new cook. I thought that Sabai's English was bad. Sheesh! This lady just manages to babble about, but at least her written English is good. It does lead to some amusing items, however. She confused Chickpeas with Chicken and had no idea what Vegetable Stock was! It could have been disastrous but actually was quite good. Tonight we have a book club meeting and she's cooking for the host who lives at the hotel across the road at my place because I have an oven. It could be very interesting when we move and have an electric oven! She made kebabs without skewers, and I get mountains of food that I don't have time to eat. Still, I'm living the life, eh!?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Blood Diamond

Went to see Blood Diamond on Sunday at the cinema across the street. It only just opened here (very impressively recent for Myanmar) and of course the tickets were all sold out to scalpers. This was quite amusing from my perspective, but I guess it shows what dire straits this place is in. The most expensive ticket is normally about .90c (1000 Kyat)(getting cheaper from there), but the ticket scalper was asking about $1.60 (2000 Kyat). We agreed on 1500 Kyat for the best seat in the house.

It's an insanely cheap price for a movie, but keep in mind, the theater ends up being pathed in shells from nuts and trash, and people talk throughout the film. There are no subtitles (the movie the same as it's original release) so no one really understands. It's quite a family event, so I avoid Saturday nights because the kids really can't contain their excited chatter. If you hate people talking in the movie, you'd loath it here. The absolute worst, though, is the beetel spit. Everyone here has the ugliest brown teeth, and the sidewalks are lined with little red spit holes/streaks/puddles. The certainly don't abstain from spitting wherever they please, and that includes inside the carpeted theater. Woe behold the poor soul who angles their bag/foot/skirt the wrong way!

It is a very good film, with a lot of harsh realities in it along with the typical adventure/westerner storyline to hook the US fans. One of my American colleagues here said it was just another African war flick, but I disagree. So much of it was based on truth, and Sierra Leone really doesn't get that much coverage. The African lead was just a little too beefed up muscly to be real, but Leonardo DiCaprio redeemed himself in a role that finally fits him, though his South African accent slips a bit.

New photos up

Check out my flickr site--I just posted a lot of recent pics up of my new house, my social life, Beijing, etc.

Apologies for not putting them in the blog itself--it took so long just to read them that the prospect of waiting for upload twice is too painful.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A House!!

Wow--that last post was incredibly long!!!

Anyway, my latest adventure in Yangon has been househunting with my friend Georgina. We have looked at so many appalling places--rat poo everywhere, dust an inch deep, the derelict, the shabby, and we wonder at our agent for taking us to places that obviously we would never consider. We went to some wonderful places--a lovely old place with real character at the top of a hill, but too far away for George who works downtown. Then we found a lovely place with the best set of stairs I've ever seen--think ladder and stairwell, but impossible to describe, really! But it had 6 hours of electricity cuts per day, and a huge hulking ugly generator (which I suppose in retrospect, was needed!).

Then on Saturday, we found it. THE house. We were both excited and enthusiastic. It was within our budget, was wonderfully well-kept, and the land-lady seemed fantastic. So we agreed to come and sign the contract and pay a deposit the following morning. Overnight the electricity problems nagged us and there was a bit of back-and-forth negotiations for a generator, and finally everything was concluded this morning.

It's possible that we will still have electricity and water problems (they are very hard to avoid here!) but it really is a lovely place. Of course, the landlady told us after signing that we are responsible for things like installing the washing machine, finding a gas man, and getting an electrician to move the fridge, but I suppose those are all things we will now be responsible (as well as carrying all rubbish to the local market every day!). Still, I can get two kittens, enjoy the gorgeous gardens (complete with two mango trees), and as Heather says, the true cultural experience of Yangon-ites! Even if we pay our bills in $$ at some price so high it truly is robbery (normally foreigners are not declared and pay the local rates), it will be fun!

We move in on May 10th! Yay.

Will try and post some pictures soon.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Beijing with 33 young adults

I tried to post something about this earlier, but for whatever reason I didn't. Was probably too exhausted, crazy busy or the site was blocked.

I just got back from Beijing where 2 other teachers and I took 33 high school students for a Week Without Walls. It wasn't a cheap trip. Each student paid about $1000, which for Myanmar, is a pretty big deal. It says a lot about the caliber of our students, though many couldn't afford it as well.

The trip was a lot of fun, but it was truly exhausting. I felt like a mother a lot of the time... chasing after students, reminding them to get their gloves, sharing my hat when they got cold. I hated how agressive I became... I guess I felt like I had to in order to stay on task and target. I was constantly shouting to get their attention, but I suppose someone had to do it. I guess I wish I was more passive about things, but I'm just not.

It was a pretty grueling trip up there, taking pretty much all day. We flew on an Air China flight to Kunming, where we were literally herded through their airport to go through immigration and customs. We had to watch carefully because the students would disappear into the bathroom and could have been left behind. They left such a small time window for the transfer passengers. Being ensconsed in the hotel was amusing. The kids wanted to stay up all night of course. I feel like I got insufficient sleep for the entire week. I'm sure I did.

The first day was quite mild (our kids have never seen winter!), so jackets came off and even a few t-shirts emerged from the hardy few. We went to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. In typical Chinese fashion, we were halted outside main gate by rude and aggressive guards while someone important entered. Our tour guide was in a rush and we whizzed through barely seeing anything except the courtyards. Much was covered up anyway, in preparation for the Olympics. I did manage to stumble into the legendary Starbucks that's inside. It is tastefully done inside the typical souvenir shop. Didn't have time to buy, though, but would've loved to!

We had an evening of Peking Duck, which while fatty, was not overly remarkable. The eating style of putting it into bread was reminiscent of the Middle East or Mexico which I suppose was the most unusual. Of course, being teenagers, the students brought around a plate of scorpions to share! Because they're absolutely shopping mad, we let them have 30 minutes (with major threats that they had to be on time) on Wanfujing--the wide pedestrian avenue in downtown Beijing.

Of course the second day was freezing cold and the kids didn't realize how abruptly the weather can change at this time of year and were all ill-prepared. We drove out to the Great Wall at Badaling. We missed the tabogan down, but had a grand time climbing. I think most of the students stopped after 1 or 2 towers. It was incredibly misty, so we couldn't see beyond the closest tower anyway. A big contrast from the last time I was there in mid-summer! Luc (the other western teacher) and I climbed to the top of one section, where it was snowing. We collected some to take down to our astonished students. After lunch it began to settle everywhere and by morning there was 5cm of snow outside our hotel. Such a thrill for our students--I'm so glad they could see it for the first time on that trip.

Another evening shopping--this time we walked from our hotel to the nearby shopping mall market. It was interesting to see our students responses to the Chinese. They hated how agressive they were and kept telling me how unplesant it was and how rude they were as sellers! Despite a heritage of bargaining in Myanmar (where people always try to rip me off all the time as a foreigner!) it took a few days for the students to realize that they needed to pay only 1/10th of the asking price.

The third day was closer to the hotel but bitterly cold. The snow had settled, but with it came the winds from Siberia. The snow was also quite slushy so feet were frozen before midday, and of course, no return to the hotel to change socks. We spent the morning huddling at the Temple of Heaven (under glorious snow!). The students shivered and hugged each other, but were remarkably patient and understanding, rarely complaining or asking to go home.

The Temple of Confucius was closed (which our guide didn't know), but the Temple of the Llamas was in the midst of a festival, during which our students really appreciated the opportunity to pray and light incense (where, of course, one student managed to light his synthetic gloves on fire--he was completely unconcerned!).

The evening was wrapped up with a trip to the famous acrobats. I love them--they work so hard to produce a great performance. Luc told me that the Cirque de Soleil is better, but I'm sure they're different. One annoyingly spoilt kid nagged me through the performance to go and get candy from the stall downstairs, which of course I refused! He had also made us have to walk in 15 minutes late!!! Grrr! Later he snuck out to go shopping when we told the late ones they had to stay in the hotel. Talk about spoilt brats! :(

The last day was colder than ever, and the winds swept us through the Hutong Tour. The tricycles may have been exciting for western tours but they were nothing new to our Asian students. They were also unimpressed with the comparative poverty of the family's house we went into--but I must say they were very polite and friendly about it all.

With our free afternoon we took the kids ice-skating--another first. The skates were terribly blunt, but slipping, sliding, crashing and laughing was still a buzz, and well-remembered afterwards. More shopping of course, and a taxi ride home--a logistics nightmare, but easily done with Chinese speakers, and our mature students.

The last night I think I got one hour of sleep--Ohnmar (the Myanmar teacher who was my roomate) and I did a room check, and then an hour later wondered at the loud music coming from two students' room next door. No knock, phone call or doorbell would rouse a response, and lo and behold, next door was the same. We were sure they had snuck out so proceeded to wake up all the boys to check everyone. It turned out that they were all in their room, but were so exhausted that they did not hear the knock, but needless to say, it was very hard to believe!

Anyway, another long day to return, and when I got back I promptly fell asleep to catch up! It truly was a fantastic trip with some great kids, but I doubt I'll sign up for it next year--it was exhausting and definately indisputably work not fun!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bulletin Boards

As wonderful as new technology is, it can also be a pain in the neck when everyone discovers it at the same time! So I'm doing 4 courses at the moment, that means that there are 4 different bulletin boards. On every single one, the professor helpfully suggests that we introduce ourselves. While that's all well and interesting, I don't care to know that Joe is from Sydney and has 2 children or that Peta from Brisbane is a waitress but wants to get ahead so is doing her GradDipEd part time or that Jenny is from Melborne, studying full-time and is feeling stressed. So are we all, and all the chit-chat doesn't help! Four frickin' message boards, four frickin' sets of annoying greetings. Sure, they're all finding study buddies and old friends they went to Uni with. While it's lovely that I have yet another way to procrastinate, it makes actually using the board to ask legitimate questions REALLY hard. You have to sift through 180 messages (example in one course) to find the ones that really ask something instead of say "Hey John, did you go to Penrith High School and study music in 1994?". In one of the courses at least, the prof is limiting social chat to a Bulletin Board "Coffee Shop". I so do not have time for this stuff--and I'm contemplating moving into a house next year with no internet. Am I crazy?

Winter clothing

In preparation for our trip to Beijing this week (this week!!!), Friday was Jacket Check Day, where I had all my lovely but naive students bring their jackets in for me to check that they were indeed going to be warm enough. I told them that winter jackets and spring/fall/autumn jackets are not necessarily the same thing. I told them that in Beijing they will be the coldest they have ever been in their life.

So on Friday, one student dilligently came to me with a plastic bag. Out of it he pulled what I call a woollen sweater. Very nice, cream colored. I laughed and said "that's a sweater not a jacket". The poor student wouldn't believe me! When I said that if that was all he had, then he'd need at least 5 layers, his jaw dropped to the floor. I said... "what about the wind? what about if it rains?" and they said, but on the internet it says it's 11 degrees (centigrade). I said, yes, at around noon, and that doesn't take into consideration a wind (from Siberia) chill of -5. So off the poor kid wandered, now determined to go out and get something a little more suitable.

Overall though, I got the same thing over and over again. It's a real challenge to take tropical kids into a 4 season enviroment. I can't decide if I want it to be freezing so that I don't look like the fool, or if I want it to be warm so that they aren't all miserable. Can you imagine being on the Great Wall or in the wind tunnel that is the Forbidden City with the winds of Siberia at your back wearing a sweater? Keep in mind that they're wearing long sleeves here and it's pushing 30 degrees. Their winter just doesn't prepare them for the real thing.

Still, of the one or two that did get it right, it was pretty hilarious watching them pose like some kind of gangsta, arms crossed, all tough-looking, with the fluffy hoods around their heads. Still others came in with their parents clothing--ancient really out of fashion looking things. They have no idea that they're hideous of course--winter fashion doesn't reach here. It's refreshing in many ways that because they're together, it won't matter, because they're all as clueless as one another.

Trying to explain long underwear was also pretty interesting--is there a name that isn't a brand that crosses cultures, that these kids would have heard of. I couldn't think of it anyway. Long-johns. In NZ we call it poly-propelenes! Haha.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


So earlier this week when I was working on this (procrastinating from following my wall chart of readings), I wrote some lovely interesting news about what's been happening. Of COURSE I don't remember what I wrote now, that's why I wrote it down! Anyway, it was never posted. There's some glitch in the system. I've just spent another hour trying to figure it out in IE, but now in Mozilla it works fine. I suppose that teaches me something. I guess I should be using this browser, hey?

I will say that I hate this silly new blogger format. Screw me for accidentally allowing it to sign me up through gmail. Bugger Bugger Bugger.

Okay, now that I've vented that, let's move on to the actual news.

I'm in Week 2 of my uni course. They always assign about 100 pages (each course) per week. I know they did that at Beloit too, but I bluffed my way through most of it. My values and priorities have changed I guess--I must be more boring now. I worry about that a lot actually!!!! Certainly more serious. What happened to the carefree me?

Anyway, readings readings readings--why do they assign so bloody many? They even say that they're not going to use all of them. Sure, I know it's INTERESTING, but damn, I don't have time for interesting. I'm working full time and studying full time and still trying to maintain some semblance of a social life. Yes, I know I'm insane, but still, it's only for one year, and it's not like there are any exciting men in Myanmar anyway.

I'm going to Beijing next week! Yay! Was calculating yesterday that I'm up to country number 49 in my list. I'll post a link to that list eventually when I'm in a country that the internet actually works the way you want it to. Sam knows all about it... I aim to visit all countries before the age of 60, which means 4.2 new ones per year. Did well last year with 6 last year though my bumper year was 2004 with 8! I know I know, not really that exciting.

Anyway, my point was not that China would be a new country (I've already been to Beijing), but my point was that in the two months of this year I have entered a total of 5 countries already this year (NZ, Australia, Thailand and Myanmar twice) and clocked up god knows how many air miles. Yet even with this, I'll be lucky to get to two new countries this year (and none so far). I'm thinking perhaps I might be able to swing Oman if I visit the folks in June, and maybe something exotic like Sri Lanka in October, but this year looks like it's a year of revisiting. There is nothing wrong with that eh... see my glowing blog about Australia below. Great things happen when you REVISIT. Besides, one of my trips this year will be Amanda and Nick's wedding where I'll be a bridesmaid. What can be more exciting than that!? Still, my boss is a little bit antsy about me missing so much. I am now quite famous for going to weddings that are WAY out of my budget, WAY long-distance, WAY ridicuclous travelling time.

Anyway, Beijing... I will be escorting 35 bratty teenagers on a trip around the sites. I'm excited. The one time I went to Beijing it was summer, and I missed everything worthwhile (like the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven) because I was too busy crying tears and sitting for hours in Qingdao airport (they wouldn't let me on the earlier flight in an act of silly communist bureaucracy). Anyway, this trip is not likely to be any less stressful. Hopefully no tears this time, though maybe a few of frustration--I've already lost my voice attempting to TALK to them. What can I say, they're excited!

At first I wasn't going on the trip, but now I am, and can I say I'm REALLY excited. Something to look forward to in the drudgery of the semester of work. Especially now that my Model UN trip to Singapore was cancelled, this will be good. Okay, I'll stop raving now.

New plans! I've figured out what I'm doing this summer. I'm working. It's not as bad as it sounds however! I'm going back to CTY summer camp as an instructor. Everyone looks at me like I'm mad, but I enjoy it, plus I get paid well, which right now I need. I'll likely be at the South Hadley site in Massachussetts for 6 weeks Jun-July if anyone's in the area and wants to visit. I'm trying on bridesmaid dresses in mid June in Madison, but unfortunately won't get much tripping around in--time is short. I start here again for a new year on the Monday after the Friday finish--calculate THAT travel into crossing the date line and losing a day! It sucks.

Anyway, will probably spend two weeks in Dubai finishing study, a week in Australia doing the last exam, but don't know yet. Some enticing destination may yet appear on the horizon and tempt me away from studiousness. There's only one assignment due that week anyway...

Well, I have well and truly procrastinated the night away. Didn't do any of my readings, still have a test to write for tomorrow, and it's already 11pm. Bad Natalya. 'Night all.

NZ rules!

Here's news on why NZ is a global leader in terms of the environment. Our fab PM Helen Clark (yay women leaders!) has announced that we will be carbon neutral by 2012. Read and weep! :)

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


I love Australia! The summers are warm, the people are friendly and speak with the right kind of accent. They have the right mentality of life. There is beach everywhere!

So, yes, it does feel a bit like America. And yes, it's flat most of the time. And while the wilderness (bush) is not quite as beautiful as NZ, it still is magnificent.

I wonder why the Australians haven't asked me about my accent. Are they less concious of foreigners? Or is it just that I really have picked up an Aussie accent?

I'm having a glorious time on this beautiful UNE Armidale campus. It reminds me a lot of Beloit, actually, except all the buildings were built in the 60s. It's as isolated and in a similar small town. Similar weather. The grounds are magnificent--all parkland! There's a deer park right in the middle, and as I was driving to dinner last night I bumped into a kangaroo. I know that sounds like the awe of a tourist, but it was still fantastic. He bounded away from the car before I could get a closeup picture. But damn... it was RIGHT on campus!

It's stimulating being in a learning environment (me learning) again. I find it great to hear about new ideas and theories. The University bookshop is cool too! I love thinking about all the things there are to find out about!

Am past half way and will head back on Friday to Brisbane, then to Bangkok on Sunday, hen Myanmar on Monday. I must be crazy to come so far for so short a time. But it's great--almost like a holiday, but yet work.

Photos to follow--I'm really behind. I have Myanmar at Xmas, NZ, and now OZ to do! Oops.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Back in Burma

I arrived back earlier last week to discover that every proxy and way into gmail has been banned due to some secret government move around. The number one is supposed to be dying in Singapore. There was supposed to be an explosion in a post office on Monday as well. All these are rumors!

It's good to be back. This time last year I had a bit of depression at being here and not in NZ. Instead, I'm going to be having an insane year--not a moment to take a breath! I'm not quite ready for small town NZ yet!

Am off to Oz next weekend, even if I don't know if I'm paying full fee or not! I refuse to stress about it (I've certainly got a lot of other stuff that can worry me instead!).

Anyway, have a great 2007!

P.S. Wedding was wonderful!!! One of the loveliest I think I've ever been to.

2 quotes from "The Sisters"

"Say not that the struggle naught availeth." - Arthur Hugh Clough (from a poem)

"One must never be deterred from what one wants for lack of money." - Nancy (Mitford) Rodd

The Sisters

I finished reading "The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family" before Christmas, about an amazing family of British women that hob-nobbed in European society mixing with Hitler, Churchill and other famous people of the era. Their poltical views were extremely strong and often in start contrast (Communist vs. Fascist). It's amazing to see such a family of extremes and of course, they knew all the right people for their views of the times.

A huge amount of the information came from letters they wrote to each other. It's amazing that they wrote so much about their political opinions in those days. So many of the quotes are completely unrelated to themselves. What a self-absorbed world and society we have become! Most people I know wouldn't have opinions on these kinds of things. Then again, we're not likely to have a world war anytime soon, either.

People did have an opinion about Iraq I suppose, and are very adamantly Democrat or in Sam's case, Republican, but how much does the average while write to her sister or mother about the state of the world, or Africa, or any country but their own?

Now that I think about it, the only person I write to with any political feelings are my parents, so perhaps it's not that unusual. Friends are usually beings for frivolity and fun rather than seriousness. They're more for the problems of now than concerns elsewhere.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

From NZ

Am online in New Zealand-- it's funny how internet becomes so much less of a priorty in Myanmar that it's taken me this long! It's wonderful being home, even if everyone I meet thinks I'm from somewhere else. The food is fantastic, family is good, and the wedding looks like it'll be a huge hit! The setting is glorious and thankfully the weather seems to be good (even though it's quite cold for me!)

Coming back is so strange. Everything is so familiar and laid back. Everyone is relaxed and normal. No extra makeup, just ordinary people. The fashion is still weird and way out, with lots of funky hair dyes.

It's been a whirlwind trip. Stayed a night with Aunty Gay. Spent New Years Day calling to find a rental agency open with a reasonably cheap car. Found one for $35 from an Asian guy who looked like he hadn't cut his lawns in months! But it runs okay so am happy. U. John has bought a place at Cooper's Beach, and everyone was up there so didn't really see many. It's supposed to be good, with two flats on the property, but there was a leak in the water tank so no one could stay for very long! Spent the afternoon with Nadine and her cute (tiny) baby Ruby. She is very well and happy and quite domestic. She isn't working and spends all day as a mum. Felt a bit odd to see her and hear her comments on motherhood--it is such a different world than mine!

On Tuesday, I drove down to Hamilton and had lunch with Lisa, which was really great, but the kids were not there, of course. Had dinner with U. Garry and spent the night there. Shane was very interested in Myanmar and is buzzing with ideas of his impending trip to Asia.

Drove down to New Plymouth yesterday. Stopped at Waitomo Caves for a look... VERY touristy, but pleasant. Arrived for the hen's party, was given a netball outfit for the theme of schoolgirls and met all sorts of strangers of all ages. There were drinks (far too many) and games, and then the only stripper in the New Plymouth phonebook came to give Hayley a lap dance! It was all quintessentially kiwi, even the humility of the stripper (a very surreal experience, as he had his mum along as his "minder", and the bridesmade was worried that he'd be someone that she knew--I mean, New Plymouth is really not that big). She got a box of kinky goodies including a blow up doll. Hayley threw up all the way to town and it was a Wednesday night, so not much was open. The only place open was a strip joint, which of course is the only one in town so of course had the stag do. Stuart, the groom, was also throwing up everywhere.

Got up today and went to visit friend and baby #2, Sami. Huge contrast. Though only 6 months old, Rowan (from Korea, with Moroccan husband Zu)'s baby was 12 pounds and absolutely enormous in comparison! He was a very happy baby, however, and as we wandered about town we discovered all the faults with shopping malls that don't have pushchair access and properly designed baby change facilities (it was very obvious that no planner had ever actually had to USE any of the areas).

The wedding is tomorrow in some gardens down the road. NZ has been having a bit of a bad summer, but the weather has been gorgeous the last couple of days and hopefully that'll continue tomorrow. The reception is here at Hayley's mum's house (which is a dream), overlooking the Tasman Sea with Mt. Taranaki peaking above the rolling hills behind Oakura. On Saturday I'll be driving back up... what a quick trip!

Happy New Year to all!