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

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Death in Myanmar

What an emotionally draining day! What a lot of customs I learned
about today! What a new perspective I have on life and my students. I
am feeling my foreignness when I hear some of them. I'm also taken
back to an equally ostracizing yet enveloping experience in Manila
when something similar happened.

On Friday night, one of my former students, Myo Thet Paing, a senior
at our school, passed away after a car accident on his way home from a
birthday party. The circumstances of the crash are, from what I
gather, unknown (whether he was hit or not or why he went off the
road), but he ended up trapped in his suped up car, which exploded due
to the high octane fuel. Another tragic element is that another group
of students were driving behind him, and watched as the car exploded
and saw him burning inside. Any help, fire engine or ambulance,
arrived too late.

Our school was in mourning today, with the students organizing for
everyone to wear black. One student wasn't allowed to, because
apparently, for Chinese, wearing black brings harm to your parents. We
will bring in monks to bless our school and release MTP's spirit from
school. Buddhists believe that he doesn't know that he is dead, and
that we need to tell him and release his spirit/soul from each place
that he lived and/or died. Saying it aloud is sufficient, so tomorrow
at the funeral, we are probably going to read a letter from YIEC to
him. Students are also releasing him from debts (i.e. basketball
sponsorship), and calling out to him, grieving in a strong way. He was
a quiet student, and what I remembered him most for was when he jumped
the turnstiles in the Singapore MRT because he didn't want to tell us
that he lost his card!

The students are telling me many superstitions: They believe that the
ghosts of women were around the crash site, perhaps even causing the
crash. Bystanders reported hearing women screaming and thinking that
MTP was not alone in his car. Others talk about seeing him in the
mirror earlier that day and his reflection not matching his image. The
students consulted the fortune teller, who agreed that his cards and
fate showed his time/luck was up. Some students do not want to be
alone for fear his burnt ghost will return to them. Others confess
that they would love the opportunity to talk with the MTP they miss.
Many are afraid his ghost will haunt the school if the monks do not
bless it.

When I was in 11th grade, a student at my school in Manila, whose
brother was in my class, was killed in a car accident, and there was a
similar outpouring of grief as his family was a big part of the
school. It was a very memorable experience of grief--after all, how
many deaths do we experience of our peers at that age? I am
remembering that time now, and hoping that my students and our faculty
is as supportive of these students as Brent was for all of us.

Needless to say, we didn't accomplish much work today! While I did not
know MTP very well, I know that he will be sorely missed by all his
peers at YIEC, ISY, and abroad, and that this will impact our school
for a long while to come.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Classroom news

I had an excellent psychology lesson today. We're studying
personality, and I asked my students to list as many personality
temperaments and traits that they could think of, then we shared them
by writing them on the board. I told them that I'm really quite shy,
but easy going, which surprised many of them. We really are such
different people in the classroom. As we brainstormed I added more.

My temperament: easy-going, shy, calm, patient

My traits: curious, perfectionist, multi-tasking, devil's advocate,

It was really interesting to see what my students wrote about
themselves. One of my quietest students wrote that she was talkative.
Another two students wrote that they nag! One student admitted she was
blunt, and I could completely see it. Others were shy, impatient,
bossy, aggressive, obnoxious, perfectionists, obsessive, optimistic,
pessimistic, meticulous. Two of the best actors in the school both
said they were introverted! It was all very interesting.


Last week I had a day where I had the best and worst lesson I've had
for a while. In Psychology (again), we were doing a lesson on ego
defense mechanisms (on how we cope with anxiety inducing situations).
I divided them into groups and gave them two mechanisms each. They
were then responsible for creating a skit to demonstrate that
mechanism. What fun!! The best skit that I can remember was a
combination presentation where the students had 'regression' and
'sublimation'. They organized two students as parents having an
argument. Then one student "regressed" doing every single thing on the
textbook's possibility list: she had a tantrum, she peed her pants,
she got aggressive, she cried and she stomped around!! The other
student had to express his unacceptable emotion (aggression in this
case) in a socially acceptable manner (i.e. a sport). Instead of
choosing something more logical like boxing or basketball, he decided
to horse-back ride across the classroom!! Hilarious! Other skits
demonstrated projection (putting unacceptable feelings onto someone
else), reaction formation (transforming anxiety-producing thoughts
into opposites in consciousness), rationalization, repression,
displacement, and of course, the classic: denial. So that was the good
lesson: fun, motivated, interested students enjoying and learning.

The following class is my difficult class. They aren't motivated,
complain about everything we do, and there are hyperactive boys that
make it very difficult to teach. One student was half an hour late,
began talking back, and refusing to do any work because I wouldn't
allow him to go and get water and overall made things incredibly
difficult. I wanted to scream and pull out my hair. Unfortunately it
soured a good day.


I'm having my students do another exercise at the moment. It seems
incredibly rewarding for them, or at least I hope it is!

These were bonus exercises: the first requested that they interview an
elderly relative and talk with them about their lives in the various
developmental stages. What went well? What didn't? What have they
learned about love? Money? Relationships? Growth? Happiness?

The second exercise involved two letters. The first letter was to be
written to their imaginary son at the age of 18. They had to talk
about their strengths as a parent, what their ideal characteristics in
a person would be (akin to Kipling's 'If' or 'Desiderata'), and where
they hoped their son would progress to. The second letter was more
self-reflecting. It was to be written to their parents, thanking them
for being parents. It had to mention something significant in terms of
development that they had an impact on as a parent. They had to write
one strength and weakness of each parent, what their personal values
were, and what impact their parents may have had on this. I've been
thinking that I could benefit from such deep self-reflection!! Perhaps
I should write such a letter!
Anyway, I may just write them!!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Long overdue news!

Can't even remember the last time I posted, and since it's blocked I
can't even look to check. I'm assuming it was sometime near when I
went to Korea. Well, it's now February, and where does time go?
Anyway, I was inspired when I visited another Myanmar teacher's blog
so will try and share some news today. If only I could post pictures!!
Perhaps I can, I've just never checked.

After a fantastic trip around Myanmar with my family, I tumbled
head-first into another semester (my last!) in Myanmar. Within the
first week, I was well into my job search for next year. I secured
interviews and offers from Guatemala, Mongolia and Azerbaijan, and
since they all needed to know ASAP, I made my decision yesterday. I am
moving to Baku, Azerbaijan. It's very exciting! It was so interesting
discussing those places with friends and colleagues here. Almost all
of them had very strong opinions about me going to Guatemala or
Mongolia. I think they were thinking of what they would choose. Nobody
knows anything about Azerbaijan, of course, so it doesn't even figure
on their choice radars. I know about it, have even been there in fact,
so I was coming from a totally different perspective. While I would
have been happy in any of the three places, this was my choice. I will
make sure that in the next two years when I live there, at least the
realm of my friends will get to know more about it!!

Why didn't I choose the others? Guatemala was a wonderful job at a
wonderful school, but very poor pay, comparitively, and I would not
have been challenged in my job (I'd have been teaching the same thing
as what I am now). Mongolia had a very similar job to that in
Azerbaijan, but wasn't as good a deal, and I think wouldn't have been
a very plesant place come winter (the interviewer on Thursday casually
mentioned it was minus 25 degrees (either Fahrenheit or
Celcius--they're both cold!) and that everyone spends a lot of their
money getting out for winter break!). While cold doesn't faze me (I
also applied to Moscow and Iceland), I also wanted to be closer to my
family and Eastern Europe, and Mongolia is awfully isolated.

Where is Azerbaijan? You probably wouldn't be surprised at how many
people asked me that, and these are worldly people who live in
Myanmar, too!! Ironic, isn't it, that I will go from one obscure place
to another!! Well, Azerbaijan is the country on the Caspian sea
between Russia and Iran, roughly at the same latitude as Turkey (with
many similarities to it). It's one of the Caucasus countries (with
Georgia and Armenia), which I visited with my family in the summer of
2004. It's an oil town, with Muslim and Silk Road heritage, a "stan"
wannabe, and of course is still quite Soviet. I imagine it will be
similar to living here in terms of the civilization outside the
cities, the social life of the expats, among other things. I'm already
looking forward to having a winter, being nearer to Europe, travelling
south into Iran and Turkey, and having weekends in Dubai! Visiters, of
course, are most welcome, although from experience, living in obscure
places doesn't really entice many.

Anyway, am currently planning my exotic summer... on my dream list is
going around Myanmar, going back to NZ, going to the Philippines for
my high school reunion, going to Kara's wedding in the states, and
doing some travel with Mum and Dad--we've idly discussed the
Trans-Siberian, Bhutan and Ladakh. Not to mention I'd love to do
another dig in Romania, and my friend from here, Cecile is hoping to
have a nice French country house that will need visiting!! What a
wonderful time I'm going to have!

Well, I was supposed to be going for a pedicure an hour ago, so had
better get to it! Love to hear your thoughts on all this! :)