Saturday, April 19, 2014

Quiet Easter Weekend

It's very quiet on the compound today.  One teacher left this morning for the US.   Another is due to return but I'm not sure when.  That will make five of us here.

I cleaned my apartment this morning and love that everything is spic and span.  I also rearranged the furniture a bit and am really loving this apartment.

I also made brownies with a cheesecake topping.  Delicious.  I shared with the guard on duty and the only other teacher around.

I've been in touch with some folks who've recently been invited to work here, to answer their questions.  One is from Tucson, AZ.  What are the chances that there would be three of us from Tucson working together in Myanmar?

It's a quiet weekend and I'm loving it.  Reminds me a bit of quiet weekends in Faga.  But with air conditioning.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Updates on Thingyan

It seems that tourists pay a lot of money to come to Myanmar and Thailand to enjoy each countries' Water Festival and New Year.  The New Year, by the way, coincides with Buddha's birthday.

From what I've seen and heard from the school compound, I'd be more inclined to pay money NOT to go to the water festival.  I've been debating with myself. Am I just getting old and losing my spirit of adventure?  I don't think so.

Every time people (security guards or one of the few teachers still here this week) come in on their motorcycle, they are soaking wet.  As in, head to toe, dripping on the ground.  There are "stages" set up around town.  They blast music and water at everyone who comes near.  And people crowd in to get soaked.  Most in Mandalay are locals and many are in their teens.  People are packed together pushing, yelling, laughing, singing.  They're having a great time.  Personally, I'd rather be at a quilting bee. 

What I have been enjoying is the group of people who stand on either side of the main road near the school with buckets of water.  They don't bother with cars but anyone on a motorcycle or standing in the back of a truck or jeep is fair game.  After work yesterday a couple of other teachers and I were watching from our balcony.  These folks, adults and kids alike, have been tossing buckets of water for two days straight, all day.

I commented on how boring their daily lives must be to find standing in the sun for hours on end, heaving water at strangers so much fun.  One teacher commented that compared to their normal daily work in the rice paddies, this must be highly entertaining.

I then realized that we'd been standing, watching and cheering them on whenever they made a direct hit for over an hour.  Whose daily routines are boring?

I do want to experience the water festival in a village or two outside of Mandalay.  Friends described riding into a village and seeing three kids under the age of five.  They were standing by the road, pots of water in hand, ready to douse anyone riding by.  My friends were kind enough to stand still to make sure the tiniest kid had time to aim.  Then they whipped out their super soaker and got revenge. Apparently the kids loved it.  That's more my speed.

On another note - it's the dry season, which means the large swamp next to the school is just cracked, dry dirt.  So where are the mosquitoes coming from that have been keeping me up at night?  Someone suggested using the battery operated bug zapper that is shaped like a racquet ball paddle.  "Just keep it next to your bed and whack 'em."

Let's think about this for a second.  True, it might work and it would give me great satisfaction to fry the one damn mosquito that seems insistent on buzzing in my ear just as I doze off.  Then again, I could whack myself or everything on my nightstand.  And, really, as fun and attractive as I am, would any sane man be drawn to my boudoir, knowing he might get accidentally incinerated?  

Friday, April 11, 2014

First Week Back

I arrived in Mandalay one week ago, after 4 weeks at home in Florida.  The staff had moved my stuff into a new corner apartment so I spent most of Saturday and Sunday getting organized and preparing for work on Monday.

The work week went well.  I'm teaching four classes of ESL for AIS staff.  My first class is seven cleaning ladies.  One knows some English.  The rest do not.  I do not speak or understand Myanmar (I'm starting lessons with a private tutor after the holiday).  We are doing fine, even without a common language.  They are eager to learn and are so much fun to work with.

My second class is a debate class with Montessori teachers.  They speak English well and the goal is to help them fine tune their English and critical thinking skills.  Each week we'll be debating a different topic.

The third class is for the electives teachers and school nurses.  They worked with another teacher while I was in the US and complained that the text is too basic for them.  I think that's true for most of them so plan to use the text and add additional, more challenging materials.

My last class each day is for a small group of teachers/admin staff who are studying writing.  They are bright, enthusiastic and well educated.

I love teaching first grade but have to say it is nice to not spend my day saying things like "Stop licking his head!" and "Please don't chew on your chair."

After work on Friday I climbed the three flights to my apartment (why did they decide a four story apartment building didn't need an elevator?).  As I was getting out my keys, I noticed a man and three boys walking down the street.  I made a noise and they looked up and saw me.  And waved.  All of them, from the four year old to the dad.  I waved back and for a good minute we just stood and waved and smiled at each other.  The father finally started walking on and the boys followed, still looking back and waving.

Because Thingyan starts today, I had to stock up on groceries.  Everyone (except me and a couple of other foreign teachers) is on vacation for the next week and a half.  Stores and markets are closed.  People are spending time either with family or getting drunk in the streets and spraying each other with water.  I hope to venture out at least one day to experience it but don't know if any taxi drivers will be working.

Last night I went to the small grocery store across from Diamond Plaza.  I was hoping they had some frozen naan but they didn't.  When it came time for checking out, I was frustrated.  Usually, people line up but last night at Orange, they just clustered and shoved in front of me.  I was getting frustrated but was too hot and tired to get into the fray.  Luckily, the security guard at the door was watching me and noticed my frustration.  He came over, spoke to the cashier (a trainee, according to her badge) and pulled my cart over behind the cashier.  I was checked out next, much to the chagrin of the dozen or so people who were trying to shove their way to the front of the counter.  I was very grateful.

I'd finished my shopping quickly and considered going to Ocean to buy some bread but didn't want to carry everything (potatoes, rice, flour, sugar = a kilo each) into the other store.  (I bought jasmine rice, by the way, for $.85 for a kilo. ) Nor did I want to face the crowds there.  Instead, I bought a can of beer so I could make a loaf of beer bread this week.

I got back to the bus at 4:45 p.m., along with another teacher.  Five minutes later two other bus riders showed up.  Then we waited for the last teacher.  He arrived at 5:25 p.m.  By then we were all sweaty and a bit cranky.

When we arrived back at the school, the father and three sons were walking in front of the school.  They saw me on the bus and we all waved, old friends now.  Good to be home.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

It's Great To Be Back

I've been back in Mandalay for 30 hours and in some ways, it feels as if I never a good way.

I'm loving my apartment and the view.  Here are some thoughts about what I've seen/done in the last 30 hours:

  • Today I got to watch five different processions of young men and their families.  The boys were headed to become monks.  The processions involve music, trucks and honking.  Fun to watch.
  • I watched the cattle grazing.  Then I watched as the water buffalo showed up to graze.  I now know that if there's a face off between a bull and a male water buffalo, the bull will back down.  Quickly.
  • I watched one truck and one car with new drivers practice as they drove around the school compound.  The one in the car needs more practice on backing up.
  • I can't remember how it's spelled but a yogurt was being advertised on Indian tv today - it's pronounced "doodie".  Eat your doodie today!
  • I was warned that the town is crazy busy and the grocery store was nuts no matter what time of day you went.  And Sunday evenings are always busy times.  They were correct.  People everywhere and the grocery store was packed.  But I scored at the bakery outside Ocean.  Tons of people in line and I just wanted a loaf of bread.  One of the employees recognized me and just grabbed my bread, put it in a bag and took my money - ahead of about a dozen locals.
  • People seemed more fascinated than usual with what was in my buggy today.  Perhaps they were from out of town?  Just hadn't been to the store to see what I've bought previously?  I was the only Caucasian in the large market.  People noticed.
  • They had zucchini!!!  My very favorite vegetable.  I'd already stocked up on okra, tomatoes, cabbage, basil and mushrooms.  I almost walked past the zucchini then realized what I was looking at.  It was expensive, about $1.20 for a single zucchini.  But since everything else is so cheap, it all worked out.
  • They had meat!!  Usually, by late afternoon on Sunday the meat is either nonexistent or a bit "ripe".  I guess because everyone is stocking up because the store will be closed next week there was a bunch of meat.  I was able to buy hamburger, steak and pork belly because I have a real freezer now to keep it in.
  • They had cheese!!!  I bought cheddar and mozzarella.
  • They had no bacon, oatmeal or canned tomatoes.  
  • I was quickly checked out (not the norm at Ocean) and a wonderful young security guard helped me schlep my backpack and 5 bags of groceries up the flight of stairs to the sidewalk.  All that food, by the way, including a small rug for outside my bathroom and two bottles of liquor, was just over $36.
  • I carried my loot back to where the bus was parked.  No one else was there so I sat my stuff down and waited, enjoying the breeze.  About every third person who passed either smiled or waved at me.  Myanmar people are so friendly it is simply amazing.  
  • After awhile, I left my groceries by the door of the bus and went to sit on the curb.  No one made a move to take the bags, including two dogs who sauntered by.  Eventually a security guard came running up when he saw what appeared to be unattended bags but then relaxed when he realized I was keeping an eye on them.
  • The driver came back first.  I was waiting for Aye Aye Than who was the only other shopper.  The driver opened the bus, helped put my groceries in then ran off.  He and Aye Aye Than came back a couple of minutes later.  I thought she was just making her own grocery run but realized that she'd only come along because she assumed that after being gone a month I'd be buying a lot and would need help carrying it.  She'd been waiting by the main entrance to help me but I left by a side entrance and missed her.   She'd given up two hours of her only day off just to help me carry my groceries.  And she insisted on carrying more than half the stuff up the three flights to my apartment.
I've got a kitchen full of groceries and Aye Aye Than has already arranged for a shopping trip this Friday after work, since starting Saturday everything will be shut down.  She's also arranging for someone to drive me to the pharmacy tomorrow to pick up some stuff I need.

Yup, good to be home.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

New Apartment!

Apartments at the school are assigned based on tenure and when you sign your contract.  I re-upped early so got to snag one of the primo corner apartments.  A teacher who'd been here for two years left so it was vacant.

School staff did an amazing job of moving all my stuff while I was gone.  I did a little rearranging and unpacked my bags and I was settled.  Still need to hang art work and do some other decorating stuff but basically I'm settled...just in time to get back to work tomorrow.  Here's my new apartment.  Exactly like my old place but with more windows.  Love the light!

View from my bed in my new studio apartment.  Love the windows.

The "bedroom".


Kitchen with a proper refrigerator.  For new teachers:  please note that you'll have a dorm size "mini" fridge.  And, most of the stuff you see (chairs, shelves, etc.) I bought.  The school provides a desk, straight back chair, trunk, twin bed.  I splurged on satellite tv, comfortable chairs and lamps.

View from the kitchen.  It's an overcast, windy day with dust blowing like crazy.

Ramblings About Being Home

It's Sunday morning and I'm enjoying being home in my new apartment.  Enjoying the view through the floor to ceiling windows and listening to Sarah Brightman.  I thought I'd use the time to capture some impressions I've had during the last month.

  • First thought when I deplaned at JFK:  "What a dump!"  After the airports in Bangkok and Narita, which are sleek, comfortable and modern, JFK suffered in comparison.  Second thought:  "Americans are so fat!"  Yes, I own a mirror and I'm aware of the pot calling the kettle stuff...but after so long in a country where people are very slender, it was amazing to see so many obese people, most of whom were eating giant slices of pizza courtesy of  the nearby food court.
  • I love to drive.  I never used to but during the last 4 years I've had limited access to a car.  Being able to hop in my car and run errands or just go for a drive was such a treat.  One morning I talked to a friend as she drove in to work at 6:00 a.m.  I told her I'd already been out to get my favorite 7/11 coffee and go for a drive.  "Why?"  she asked.  "Because I could."
  • Long haul flights aren't so bad, if you know how.  Because I have lifetime status on Delta (thanks to flying over a million miles on them) I'm able to reserve my seat when I book my flights - even the restricted seats.  I fly either 747s or 777s on the Bangkok/Narita and Narita/US flights.  I've discovered the perfect exit row seats.  Tons of leg room, ability to get up without crawling over anyone or vice versa.  Almost as good as first class.  I take my down blanket, which folds away to nothing, noise cancelling headphones, eye mask and moisturizer.  I read and watch movies.  Time flies. Pun intended.
  • I love my friends.  We pick up where we left off and it seems as if I've been gone a days rather than months.  I can't express how much their love and support means to me.  I miss just hanging out with people who get me and laugh at the same stuff I do.
  • I love my new Myanmar friends.  Two of the guys on the staff were waiting at the airport - nice to see familiar faces.  BTW - because I get a work visa on entry, instead of standing in line with all the tourists/locals at immigration, I go to a small office.  The ladies there know me now and are always friendly.  After 5 minutes to get my visa, one escorted me to the "Diplomat" desk.  As people in the long immigration lines watched, wondering who the hell I was, I laughed with two of the immigration officers.  Some started to get into line behind me but were firmly told to get back in their long line.  Did they think I was really a diplomat?  Rock star?  What a disappointment for them if they saw me hop in the Ayeyarwaddy International School bus.
  • When I got off the bus at school two friends were waiting with flowers.  They and the staff carried my luggage upstairs and we checked out my new apartment and gossiped.  More friends stopped by to catch up and welcome me home.  I miss my old friends in the USA but love my new ones in Myanmar.
  • Saw a billboard on the way to the airport in Bangkok:  "Do not tattoo Buddha.  Do not buy or sell Buddha for decoration.  It is disrespectful."  Glad I've refrained from buying any of the beautiful statues and paintings of Buddha I've been tempted to buy.
  • As I type this, I'm watching a small truck pass.  It's making about it's 20 pass on the small road outside my apartment.  People often use the road to help new drivers practice because they can drive on the deserted road that stretches in a square around the school compound.
  • Mandalay is a desert.  Flying in yesterday it was obvious that the rainy season hasn't started.  The land is parched and everything is even dustier than when I left.
  • I was assured it was "cool" yesterday at only 100 compared to recent temps of 106.  It wasn't so bad in the shade but brutal in the sun.  That didn't deter the boys I saw playing in a field near the airport.
  • Why is a Big Mac $1 cheaper in the Bangkok airport than in my local McD's in Lake Mary?
  • I'll be dining on Subway today.  Purchased at Don Mueang airport yesterday.  Yum.
  • I heard yesterday that there's no cheese again at the store.  Damn.  I hope it returns soon.  
  • One of the English classes I'll be conducting for school staff starting this week will be using debate as the format.  Should be great fun.  Another teacher is already doing it and said that they get big crowds for the weekly debate.  
  • I miss my kids.  Many of them will be coming to summer school but that doesn't start until the end of May.  Hopefully I'll run into some of them around town.
  • Construction is booming in Mandalay.  Mostly large hotels and giant private homes for wealthy Chinese families.  Mansions on a scale that would make Real Housewives green with envy.
  • A bus, followed by one of the white pickups used for local transport just pulled into a driveway across from the school.  Wonder what's up with that?
  • I'm planning to expand my social life this year.  I hear the American Center has a great library and weekly classes/events for expats in Mandalay.  I'm also planning to see if I can get a book or cooking club going for parents of the kids at the school.  Would be fun and a good way to socialize more with locals.
  • The full-size bed I'd been promised didn't appear in my room.  I slept last night in the same twin bed I've had for the last 8 months.  I'm torn - is it better to have the comfort of the larger bed or the space that I have in the room with the twin?
  • The small truck continues to circle the school.  I'd better quit watching it and typing and head for the shower.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Errors in My Blog

I recently reread several of my blog entries.  I was horrified at the number of errors I found.  Spelling, grammar and syntax.  Must make people wonder how effective I could possibly be as a Language Arts teacher.

In my own defense I would just like to say that my goal is usually to just get ideas down.  I may or may not edit my work.  Because I'm usually typing quickly, I miss words, reverse words or just make stupid mistakes.

I apologize for the errors and hope it doesn't bug you too much as you read.  Because I'm too lazy to go back and correct everything.  I'll try to do better in the future but can't guarantee anything.