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

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!