Sunday, December 21, 2014

Maylaysia, Day 1

Sunday, December 21, 2014

I'd planned to sleep in but the damn cough kept waking me up.  I finally got up at 8:00 a.m., after about five hours of fitful sleep.  The bathroom of my room is tiny.  It would fit comfortably in the walk in closet of my FL house, with room to spare.  And it has the most awesome shower ever.  Good water pressure, hot water and the steam helped my chest.

My goal was to head to Low Yat (which I keep calling Low Fat) Plaza.  It is a multi-story mall of nerds.  You want anything tech related?  They have it.

I took the free bus from in front of the hotel.  A nice lady on the bus told me when to get off.  Another nice lady tried to help me get from the bus stop to Low Yat Plaza and asked several other people, none of whom knew where it was.

I had a map and struck out, having no idea if I was heading in the right direction.  I asked people along the way and everyone was consistently friendly and helpful.  I'm proud that I have a Masters Degree but feel even prouder when I venture to a new country, not knowing the language and am able to get where I want to go. It makes me feel brave and independent to venture out alone and find my destination  Ok,  I'm no Sir Edmund Hillary Scott, but still.

I took the scenic tour but after about 30 minutes of walking, found the IT plaza,  I expected something like the big IT mall in Bangkok.  No, better!  Floor after floor of geeks selling every electronic toy you could imagine, including amazing home theatre systems.

I talked to a lot of guys and finally found the computer I wanted.  I'd considered a convertible or touchscreen but they were more expensive and heavier.  I settled for the little beauty I'm typing now, which is very porrtable and has all the features I need.

After the walking, exploring and shopping, I was hungry.  There are a lot of options, so I just followed an Asian family through a doorway, down an escalator.  We ended up in a fabulous food court.  I'd eaten American Subway on my first night in Malaysia.  My next meal, at the food court, was Korean.  And while I enjoyed it, a 3 generation family of Chinese women stopped to ask me what I was eating and where I got it.  Traveling alone does not mean being alone.

I took a short cut back to the free bus and sat next to a local woman.  We started chatting (her English was fluent) and she was very curious about why I was alone in KL for Christmas.  She was excited to discover that I'm a Christian.  After a 30 minute bus ride, she hopped off with me at my stop.  She is 60, the youngest of 10, a KL native and offered to show me around.  We exchanged contact info and I hope our schedules will connect.

After resting for a couple of hours and working on my new computer, I set out again to explore the area around my hotel.

I'm incredibly close to both the Central Market and Petaling Street.  I'd hoped to find a new purse and discovered the only problem is deciding which one to buy.  I then started contemplating what to have for dinner.  So much fried chicken.  Or dried/fried meat burgers?  I ended up at another local food court.  I opted for Indian food.  Tandoori chicken and garlic naan.  $3.

I've walked more today than I have in a month.  I've met lovely people who seem genuinely friendly and helpful.  I'm comfy in my $35 a night hotel room.  I'm looking forward to tomorrow's explorations

Finally, I'm doing something worth writing about

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted but really, I was doing you a favor.  My life is pretty routine.  Not the same kind of routine I'd be living in the US but Mandalay has become routine for me, in a good way.

I could give you details of teaching first grade.  There are some really funny moments.  Some very frustrating moments (and days).  And some days (to paraphrase a great author) "that pass like junket on the tongue, leaving no taste behind."

Mostly, I'm content and happy.  Especially this time of year when the weather is hot and sunny during the day and cool at night.  If only it were like this year 'round.  But then, it would be crawling with tourists.

Anyway, I'm posting now because I'm doing something worth writing about - at least for me.  I hope people enjoy reading about where I am but I mostly use this as a way to remember cool stuff that I get to experience.

So here it is, the beginning of my journal of my three week vacation in S. E. Asia.

Day One:  Leaving Mandalay.  I was very excited.  Just three weeks off work was going to be great.  The last week was bittersweet.  The kids were over-the-moon excited about vacation and Santa and a bit out of control but also sad that we'd be apart for so long.  I got a lot of hugs and was ambushed on numerous occasions by groups of 6 year olds giving me group hugs.  There were some tears, from just an overload of emotions and that was me, not the kids.

I like to leave things neat and tidy when I go on vacation.  The kids helped clean and organize our classroom.  I cleaned the 'fridge and left everything shipshape in my apartment.  I was packed and ready to go early.  Thanks to mi hijo Matt for carrying my giant (almost empty) suitcase downstairs to the bus.

We were all ready and one teacher didn't show.  She was late the last time we went to the airport, too.  She finally showed up, taking her time to say goodbye to staff who were staying behind.  Once on the bus everyone was pumped as we rolled out toward the airport.  Until we had to turn around and head back to the school because the teacher who was late forgot her passport.  Eye roll.

After we were finally on our way the trip was uneventful, except for the amount of military presence at the Mandalay airport.  No problems but a bit disconcerting.

I spent my 2 1/2 hour layover in Bangkok eating.  I started with a Big Mac, then got a Subway to go.  While I waited at the gate I had the smallest Dairy Queen cone they had.  Delicious.

We landed on time in KL, about 9:15 p.m.  Immigration was a breeze, with no paperwork to complete.  Usually they take electronic fingerprints but the system was down.  I headed to collect my suitcase and was one of the first to arrive.  In the new KLIA2 baggage area it's kind of fun.  You can watch the bags come down what looks like an America's Next Top Model runway before it hits the.circular belt.  I saw a lot of luggage.  None of them was mine.

I went to the lost luggage counter.  They sent me to another office.  It was now 10:15 pm and I was tired and getting cranky.  A nice young man from Air Asia asked if there were any bags that looked like mine.  Hmm.  Big, black suitcase.  Yes.  He suggested that someone took my bag by mistake and I'd have to hope they returned it..  I politely suggested that perhaps between Mandalay, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, Air Asia had misplaced it. He agreed that was possible, especially since Mandalay doesn't use computer encoded bag tags.  We're old school in Myanmar.

We headed to the luggage belt where the sign flashed "Last bag delivered".   We stood in a sort of Zen trance watching the few unclaimed bags circle the track.  It was soothing, really.   I had resigned myself to 3 weeks of vacation wearing my current clothes.  That's why I always travel in something comfy.

Then, a bag was launched onto the model runway - a bit battered but it was mine.  My young Air Asia friend and I high fived  and I rolled off to Customs.

KLIA2 is new, a bit industrial feeling and very nice.  It was also odd to me that to exchange money you had to walk through a "mall".  Whatever, I got money.  I'd planned to take the train to the city, then get a cab but decided to just treat myself and take a taxi.  It was 74 RYM, about $25.  It would have been nice if the driver knew where my hotel was, but it gave my heart a good aerobic workout as he programmed his GPS while driving in traffic on the freeway. 

I finally spotted my hotel and he let me out.  Check in was easy and I took the elevator to a small, not-luxurious but clean room. It was now almost midnight.  Thank goodness for the Subway I'd been carrying from Bangkok.

I got to sleep around 1:30 a.m., which is midnight, Mandalay time.  I was exhausted but didn't sleep long.  I'm still struggling with a bad cough and finally found I could sleep only if I sat propped up in bed.

It wasn't a great travel day.  It wasn't a bad travel day.  The point was, I was in my 69th country and ready to explore!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Photos of Mandalay

Life goes on in Mandalay.  If you imagine that I lead an exotic life, you're wrong.  I work.  I come home.  I hang out with friends.  But, because I'm doing my working and hanging out in Myanmar, it's a little different.  I'm still loving it after more than a year.  Here are some photos to let you know what I've been up to the last week.

Can you tell what this is a photo of?  My feet.

A new spa charges $1.50 to let you soak your feet in a tank filled with fish.  The fish love to eat the dead skin off your feet and legs.  To make it even more fun, locals were in the doorway, taking pictures of me.
Saturday started at a tea shop.  Next, fish nibbling on my toes.  Then, shampoo and massage.  After that, a fabulous lunch at a new-to-me restaurant.  Then shopping at Mingular - a local market that has everything from clothes to fruit.  These young Buddhist nuns were collecting food for their daily meal.  Someone gave them bananas, which they were carrying on their heads.  I gave them money.  They gave me smiles and giggles.

At Mingular I bought roses (10 long stemmed roses for $.50)  I gave them to one of the school staff who I love.  I bought these orchids for $2.00.  That's the view from my living room.

Everyday we start off by writing how we feel on our slates.  This was from Friday.  One of my kids likes school.

Another boy was happy because Friday is Funday!

I don't have a photo but lunch at My Cafe, which is over the SP Bakery on 78th by the train station was great.  Terrific chicken burger for 2,500K.  Amazingly, mozzarella cheese sticks for 1,500K.  That's $2.50 and $1.50 USD.  Plus, free wifi.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

More Travel!

I've been struggling with making vacation plans for my Christmas break.  3 weeks, limited funds and so many options.  I worried that I'd become too jaded.  Nothing seemed to really catch my interest.  At least nothing that I could afford.

Cooking class?  Yeah, swell.  The description "You'll experience exotic ingredients like lemon grass and tamarind..."  Really?  That's everyday stuff when you live in SE Asia.

And the promise of seeing rows of monks?  The novelty of seeing monks wore off about 11 months ago.  Not that I'm not still amused seeing 3 monks on a motorbike or taking tourist photos, but the idea of flying to see more of the same just didn't get me excited.

And pagodas?  I've seen pagodas.  And monasteries.  A lot of them.  In multiple countries.  Not that I won't visit more but again, the idea of paying to fly to visit more?  Not really excited.

I sat down and thought about what I really want from this vacation.  I want culture.  Shopping for local crafts and antiques.  I want options for dining.  I want a nice hotel room with all the amenities and I don't want to pay much for it.

After days on the internet, I've finally booked what I think will be a great vacation.  Plus, I'll be adding two more countries to my list, bring me to 70.

From Mandalay, I'll fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with a 2 hour layover in Bangkok (where I plan to eat either a Big Mac or Subway).  After a week enjoying the urban life, I'll fly to Vientiane, Laos for a couple of days and then fly on to Luang Prabang, Laos, where I'll spend a week.  From there, back to Bangkok for a few days and then back to Mandalay.  It should be a good combo of new sites and relaxation, developing world and luxury.

I promise there will be photos.

Catching Up

I can't believe it's been a month since I last posted.  The first weeks of school have been good, but busy.  Lots of changes.  A lot of new teachers in the apartment, a new class of kids who don't know the routine yet and just going about every day stuff has kept me busy and distracted.

I continue to enjoy living in Mandalay.  It is changing so rapidly here.  A new Ocean Superstore opened.  It's a mall with the grocery store (and more) as the largest tenant.  It is modeled after a western style store and is large, clean and wonderful.  The products are pretty much the same but the shopping experience is so much nicer than the old, crowded store.

The new store is in an area that is undergoing a transformation.  Across the street from the new stadium which was built for last year's SEA games, there are new luxury homes and condos going up, along with more stores.  It is totally different in "feel" than the rest of Mandalay.

A week ago a friend and I sat and watched people pour into the store.  It was a nonstop stream of mostly very well dressed, very wealthy people of a variety of ages.  Unlike an American mall, where sweats, flip flops and gym shoes prevail, the new Ocean customers are dressed to impress.  More like they're going to a nightclub than a grocery store.

I reconnected with a local friend I hadn't seen for quite awhile.  That was excellent - he's terrific and lived in the US for ten years and speaks fluent English.  He has the perspectives of both cultures and is able to communicate what's going on so it makes hanging out really interesting.

I promise to try to do a better job of posting.  In the meantime, here are some recent photos:
I taught the kids "Slap It" - a card game to help them learn odd and even numbers.  They love it.

We studied maps all week and on Friday they read a map to find a treasure.  All four teams were successful!

Happy times playing "Slap it"

Sunday morning view from my apartment.  The rainy season has finally begun.

I love the green and the view of all the pagodas.

The water buffalo strolling home after grazing behind my apartment.  There were also goats and cows today.  Water buffalos rule, though.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Orientation - Day One

Today was Day One for a week-long orientation session for new and existing teachers.  I put the first draft of the orientation schedule together so really wanted it to go well.

I did two sessions today, one a tour of the campus and the other on resources (personal and professional) for teachers.  They went ok.

The new group of 24 is eclectic and seem like they'll be a good addition to the school.  I must confess it was a bit disconcerting to have several of them say they'd read every word I'd written in this blog.  They were complementary and expressed thanks for giving them insights into living in Mandalay.  I hope they don't think they were hornswoggled.

I'm struggling with a technical problem this seems my electric cord for charging the battery isn't working properly.  Hopefully, I'll be able to buy a replacement cord as inexpensively here as I did in Malawi.

We were also told a new Ocean Superstore opened yesterday and is much larger and has more variety in products.  The school sent a bus for teachers to experience it but I was too lazy to go.  I'm hoping the reports are that it is as good as first reported.

Have to go.  Internet is out.  Charging my laptop is not working.  I don't seem to have great technology karma.  Admin keeps saying how much better the internet it but I have yet to see it, either in my apartment or classroom.  Arrggh.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

I'm Glad I Don't Live in Bangkok

I spent a very relaxing day, sequestered in my hotel room in Bangkok.  I'd planned to hit Chatuachak  Market and then some grocery shopping.  But it was grey and overcast and I just wanted to stay in, read and relax.  So I did.

But, a woman needs her food.  I had McDonalds deliver.  For about $1.25, they showed up in 15 minutes with my order.  I could also have ordered from KFC or a number of other restaurants, for about the same price.

Why don't we do more delivery in the US?  Why don't restaurants in Mandalay deliver?  They have motorbikes. It would be cheap.  It would also be bad for my diet.

For my last official day of vacation, it was perfect.  I'm playing with my new smart phone and charging my batteries.  I'll be flying home tomorrow to Mandalay.  I'm sorry vacation will be ending but am looking forward to being back home.