Saturday, July 5, 2014

Riots Continue

After school on Friday, I took a taxi to stock up on some supplies.  The driver was one I know well and trust.  As we drove off from school I experienced a moment of panic.  About a mile from the school, on a main road I saw many cars and lots of people.  A large group suddenly ran across the road.  It took me a second to realize it wasn't a mob but a group of parents taking their children from the government school.  Clearly, the information we'd been given that all schools were closed was incorrect.

We went first to the outdoor Chinese market.  It was business as usual.  One lady pointed at me and said "Laday", which means beautiful.  I gave the symbol for "no" and pointed at myself, then pointed at her and said "Laday".  All the vendors nearby laughed and kept pointing at me, saying "Laday".  That never happens at Publix.

Our next stop was to be Ocean, the grocery store, to buy flour.  I'm baking cookies with the kids next week and needed supplies.  But as we approached, it was clear that things were not normal.  There were groups of employees standing on the sidewalk, other people milling about.  My driver, having been on his cellphone, informed me that every thing was closed.

We drove off, toward the school and it was eerie.  Men stood around.  Women seemed intent on getting away and I saw a few women walking quickly down the street, sobbing.  There was clearly tension in the air.

We stopped at a small store near the other outdoor market and I was able to buy flour.  $3 for about 20 lbs.  There, the mood was calm and everyone seemed comfortable.

When I got back to school, the principal was talking with a group of teachers at our apartment building. He'd gotten a call from a staff member who lives near the Muslim area.  She told him that they'd just had the funeral for the Buddhist man who'd been killed on Tuesday night.  They'd paraded his body through the streets, which had increased emotions and tensions.  That is why the owners of Diamond Plaza/Ocean and other stores in the are had decided to close.  There were fears of increased violence.

I'm safe in the school compound.  I know that traffic was very limited last night and this morning, even on the main road that I can see from my window.  Internet is limited (normal) so I don't have access to news.  I'm planning to stay on the compound for the weekend and anticipate no problems.  I hope and pray that things calm down in the city.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rioting Continues

Last evening a member of the admin staff came to my apartment to tell me that I couldn't leave the compound because of a government-imposed curfew.  She had no other news.  I found out this morning that the principal came to the apartments and gave an update on the situation to staff members who were hanging around but those who didn't happen to be there were left in the dark.

The curfew is an effort to stop the riots which have become a nightly event, with large mobs on motorbikes riding through the streets, singing the national anthem and targeting homes, businesses and religious sites of the minority Muslim community.

As far as I know, AIS is the only school which opted to remain open.  My class is all present and other than the kids talking about the situation before school, it's business as usual.  The field trip, which I'd just rescheduled for next week has been cancelled.  I'm not telling the kids yet, though, in the hope that the situation will clear up and we can still go.

The school has opted to shut down the internet for the entire weekend for maintenance which means I'll have no source of news and won't be able to communicate.  Since we frequently don't have internet, that's nothing new.

This is the first time that this type of violence against Muslims has happened on this scale in Mandalay.  The violence has been going on for over two years but mostly centered in the western Rakhine State. 

On the bright side, I feel safe but will not be visiting the monastery to take the new pencils I bought for the orphans who live there.  While it is unlikely that there will be violence there, I'm not willing to risk it.  I'm going shopping right after work to make sure I've got enough food/baking supplies so just in case things get worse I'll be set.  For me personally, I think the greatest danger is I'll just be holed up in my apartment, baking and eating too many cookies and brownies.  It could be worse.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Violence in Mandalay

I got to school early today, ready to head out on our field trip.  Basically, a road trip with Flat Stanley to photograph him at a variety of sites around Mandalay.  The kids were pumped and had worked in teams of two to prepare posters.  In English, they described the location and why Flat Stanley would enjoy it.  Even more challenging, they did it from the voice of Flat Stanley, in the past tense.  Not easy stuff for first graders working in their second or third language.

One of my kids arrived early and asked about the "city problems" that she'd overheard her mommy talking about.  I immediately emailed my boss and the local woman in admin.  We started piecing news together.  It seems that in the middle of the night on Tuesday night, July 1, over 300 people stormed a Muslim neighborhood.  A car was either set on fire or it was a car bomb.  People were threatened with knives, sticks and machetes.  I heard directly from a local friend who lives a few houses from where the car bombing happened.

After more information and much discussion we decided to postpone the field trip.  By 9:00 a.m., Mandalay time, the Myanmar army had closed roads around the affected area.

The kids were very disappointed and I told them we'd postponed because I was afraid it would rain and that because FS was made of paper he would lose his head, arms, legs, etc.  They thought that was funny and wanted to protect their Flat Stanley's.  So, disappointed, I offered them options for the first period.  They chose Math Bee, their favorite activity.  I made it even more special by allowing them to challenge one of the three teachers.  Teachers won, but it was close.

After recess, they got a surprise.  Dr. Gary, the principal had agreed to challenge each team.  He won, by a landslide.  I think they were intimidated.  He said he'd be happy to have a rematch any time.  I think they'll be ready next time.

After school, I took a taxi to a grocery store far from where the violence had happened.  I'd heard that Zeygo market was still closed down (owned by a Muslim) and the area blocked off.  I saw no signs of problems on the roads.  It was much like being in Bangkok during the coup - lots of reports but no sign of violence, problems.

Hopefully, things will be back to normal tomorrow.  Sadly, the Buddhist/Muslim issues that sparked this violence have deep roots.  It's not going to be resolved over night.  And, like most religious/ethnic conflicts, the people I spoke with today all abhor the violence and are appalled at what is happening.  That's the case in so many areas of the world today.  Why is it the extremists who are in control rather than the sensible majority?

I'm hoping that my first graders will be enjoying a Flat Stanley field trip next week and we won't have to worry about anything but which snack to buy at the bakery.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Blog Title Will Be Changing Soon

I've long dreamed of visiting 100 countries.  So far, I've made it to 67.  At the end of July, during the week between summer/regular school, I'll be visiting Bangkok and Siem Reap.  That means Cambodia will be my 68th country.  I'm excited about going there and especially seeing Angkor Wat.

I have three weeks off at Christmas and while my plans aren't firm, I'm planning to visit Malaysia (#69) and Laos.  If I can get good deals on air, I'm also hoping to visit Sri Lanka.

If you've been to any of these places and have suggestions about what to see/do and where to stay, please let me know!

More Photo Updates - Playing Tourist Around Mandalay

And the fun continues...
Still in Pyin Oo Lwin, we headed to the famous waterfall.  Having lived in the south Pacific it was quite a let down.  

This guy was enjoying the cool water, though.

These folks saw me taking a photo of the man in the water and came up to take my photo - they're all related and live in Mandalay.

View of Mandalay from the road coming down the mountain.  POL isn't far but the road is all switchbacks as you climb to a much higher elevation.

I cut these roses down so they'd fit in my mug.  They cost a whopping $.80 for a dozen.

My assistant teachers are awesome and made this bulletin board.  First grade has come a long way from Dick, Jane, Spot and Puff.

We celebrated Sally's birthday with a cake her mom brought.  She also provided balloons and hats for the kids.  She brought a bunch of bananas and rambutan for the teachers and I and a beautiful piece of amber for me.  It's believed to bring good health when you wear it.

I needed something notarized and shipped back to the USA.  I was told only the highest ranking attorneys could do it.  I had an appointment and expected an office but the attorney works out of his home.  The man working/kneeling is a junior attorney.

This is the 81 year old married attorney.  He asked me out as he notarized the documents.

The process included a seal.

Friday night I had the best meal I've had in Mandalay at Mr. Barbecue (on 71st at 31st).  You choose a table then walk over to select what items you want.  The food is then grilled and brought to your table.  I thought it was ironic that the dishes were sealed while there were flies crawling all over the food.  I didn't mind since I figured it would be cooked.  And, I ate a lot of flies when living in Samoa.

I enjoyed dinner with Glenn.  We met when he and his mom visited Samoa in 2012.  We've stayed in touch and finally reconnected.  He came to visit me in Mandalay for 4 days on his way to vacation in Phuket with his family.  He's originally from Taiwan and attends Michigan State.  We ordered a ton of food and ate it all.

In the foreground are grilled green peppers - similar to poblanos.  At the top of the photo is a plate with (from left) potatoes, a type of nut and mushrooms.  It's a bit ironic, the first time I tasted these large nuts was in Salelologa, Samoa, with Glenn.  They're delicious, by the way.

Chicken stuffed with vegetables and grilled.

Two giant prawns.  Unbelievably good.

Did I mention we ordered a lot of food?  This is a list of items we bought.  All the food, two draft beers and 4 large glasses of freshly squeezed fruit juice (grape, orange, watermelon) came to a whopping $21.  I'll be going back to Mr. Barbecue frequently!

On Saturday, Glenn and I enjoyed breakfast at a tea shop then headed to the monkey pagoda.  We drove past rice paddies on our way.  

We stopped on our way and bought bananas and sunflower seeds for the monkeys that live at the pagoda.  A monk said there were over 1,000 of them.  To get to the pagoda, head out of Mandalay on 35th and turn right onto the Pynn Oo Lwin road (35 dead ends into it).  Take the first left toward the rice paddies and follow it to the pagodas.  It's about a 10 minute drive from the main road.

The monkeys loved the bananas and took them from our hands. 
Saving his banana for later.

In addition to the monkeys, there are pagodas, built on a steep hill.

I don't speak enough Myanmar to know exactly what she was saying but the gist was clearly that she wants Glenn as her boyfriend.  Several people spoke to him in Myanmar, assuming he was a local.
I met these kids at the monkey pagoda.  We now have photos of each other.

Very close to the pagoda is a monastery.  Our taxi driver took us there because I'd said I was interested in mediation and they offer classes there.  I was quickly surrounded by kids and discovered they're orphans who live at the monastery.  I plan to go back and take crayons and puzzles and teach them some English.  They seem to have a good teacher already and all knew how to count and the abc's.

After our morning at the pagoda and monastery, we headed to Diamond Plaza.  We decided to try VIP Korean Barbecue, which is across the street from Diamond.  It was good but not what I'd call authentic Korean food.  This fish was delicious.

Speaking of Korean food, I bought this package of "ramen-like" noodles recently.  Couldn't resist the description.  Glenn said he's had it before and it's good but a bit on the sweet side.

After lunch, shopping at Diamond and a break to have some fresh fruit juice, we went to get pampered.  We went to a typical local beauty salon (although salon is really stretching it).  I think Glenn was a bit leery but he was up to give it a try.  We both had the hour-long shampoo/massage combo that is typical here.  In this case, while one person (woman for me, man for Glenn) shampooed us and massaged face, head, neck and shoulders, another person massaged the rest of us.  That included walking on us (after the shampoo was over and we could lie on our stomachs) and doing some serious stretching stuff.

Next came the foot and leg massage, which was heavenly.  The two hours of pampering cost $9 each.  We were having so much fun we forgot to take photos.  At one point during the foot massage I was laughing so hard I almost wet myself.  I'm really going to miss Glenn.

Our next stop was the Yandarabon Hotel, where Glenn was saying.  It was now after 8:00 p.m. and we were going to the rooftop restaurant for a drink, dinner and the free puppet show.  The food was only average but it's a lovely setting and the free puppet show was terrific.  At sunset, they offer free run sours to enjoy as you watch the sunset.

After the show and dinner, Glenn walked me out to our waiting driver.  It was sad to say goodbye but I look forward to seeing him again.  With any luck he can meet me in Malaysia at Christmas.

Update in Photos

I've been slow in posting lately.  Partly because I'm lazy and I've been busy, but mostly because the internet has been even worse than usual lately.  Rather than boring you with a long narrative of my recent adventures, here are some photos of what I've been up to.

Mickey D. at Don Mueang airport in Bangkok, giving the traditional sign of respect.

Taro isn't just popular in the South Pacific.  It was sold out at the MacDonalds in the Bangkok airport.

I sold my chairs to a new teacher and replaced them with these.

I've gone all uptown.  Bought this microwave from a teacher who moved on to China.

This was the start of a powerful storm.  The view from my kitchen window.

My Saturdays usually start with breakfast at a typical Myanmar tea shop, followed by grocery shopping and a shampoo and massage.  Life is very good in Mandalay. 

Made a day trip to Pyin Oo Lwin, about 1 1/2 hours away.  Up in the mountains, it's cooler and absolutely beautiful.  The town is small and lovely and I plan to spend a lot more time there.

View from a pagoda in Pyin Oo Lwin.

People in Mandalay take my picture occasionally but it was crazy in POL.  This family took my photo with them as a group and with each individual.  It was fun. 
Between photos, I admired this Buddha.  Made of marble, it is covered with gold.

Outside the pagoda.

At the caves, which felt like part amusement park and part shrine, this guy was trying to sneak a photo of me.  I noticed him and smiled and motioned for him to take my photo while I took his.

Nuns on vacation, posing in front of the cave.

The cave is filled with religious statues.

My POL traveling buddies.  From left, Cat (USA), Kannaki (Singapore) and Rialda (S. Africa).  Fellow teachers.

When not just hanging out, I actually teach.  Here, the kids are making Father's Day cards.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Great First Week of Summer School

Maybe I'm counting my chickens before they're hatched, since it's only Thursday night, but so far the first week of summer school has been great.

I think we're in the honeymoon phase.  The kids are excited about all things new and so well behaved.  Or maybe it's because they're technically second graders, more mature and know the rules.  In either case, we're all having fun.

The daily schedule is different than the regular school year and focused on reading, writing and speaking in English.  And fun.  While a few kids have vacationed and spoken no English for a couple of months, many have continued to study.  It was gratifying this morning when we were talking about parts of speech that most of my students from last year remembered the difference between nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.

One challenge is that it is hot.  Triple digit, humid hot. All staff but the foreign teachers do not have the luxury of air conditioning at home.  That makes it hard to sleep.  And yet, they continue to smile and work like crazy.  The rainy season was supposed to arrive in June and help cool things off but we're still waiting.

Another challenge, for me, is Justin Bieber.  I'm not a fan but the kids are.  And, before school, I play a variety of classical and popular music while the kids work on puzzles and homework.  The Biebster is very popular with the younger set.

I started Monday morning with a cold and am happy to report that I'm feeling much better. Did you know that first graders move constantly?  They are filled with energy.  They talk, they fidget, they sing and dance.  That's a lot for a senior citizen to keep up with.  The cold didn't help.  But I held my own, even dancing along to the Biebster.  And One Direction.  And a couple of other groups I don't know the names of.  I don't dance well but I have great enthusiasm.

One change for summer school is that one day a week I have lunch with a team of kids.  We "dine" in the classroom and I remind them of their manners.  The first group went really well.  They were fascinated by the leftover tuna casserole I'd brought for lunch.  They agreed it looked and smelled disgusting.  That was an opinion delivered by kids eating tiny fried whole fish, heads and all.

On Wednesday, I opted to go shopping in a taxi right after school rather than waiting for the bus to leave later.  I'm glad I did.  I was able to stop and custom order a stool for my classroom ($18), buy my groceries and get frozen food home still frozen.

Sadly, the mind games at the grocery store continue.  We had cheese, then we didn't.  Then we did.  Now, it's very limited again.  Mozzarella but no cheddar.  We had pasta but now we don't.  We had bacon but now it's gone again.  But there were lots of olives.  I didn't buy any because I have an unopened jar but what if they're gone by the weekend?

In any case, the week has been a success.  The kids and I have a new schedule which seems to be working.  In my cards and games club, I have kids in both groups I teach who are addicted to playing Uno with me, which I think is great fun.  Just one question.  Is it bad to teach first graders to talk smack about playing cards?