It’s Korean style, lah!

February 20, 2010

Right across the border from Singapore is Johor Barhu, a busy, messy little city that has a place in my heart for two reasons now.  The first reason is that when I cycled across Asia, Johor Barhu is where I finished ( I flew out of Singapore to go home, but because it is impossible to cycle on the highway linking the two cities, I finished cycling there).  This time I wound up in the same hotel I stayed in last time.  Because it was Lunar New Year, they couldn’t give me a refurbished room, or a discount, but they did remember me.  And the air conditioner worked most of the time.

The second reason it  will have a place in my heart is that I finally got to see the lion dance and the dragon dance. As a major fan of Hong-Kong Kung Fu movies, I’ve always wanted to see the lion dance done live.  Well, I’ve been in Shanghai, Hong-Kong, and Taiwan during a lunar new year, and what do you know, I see the dance in a mall in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Who would have thought that?  Plus the food is pretty awesome– banana leaf curry rice, (served on the leaf, you don’t actually eat it) and a whole street filled with little stalls for every kind of food you can think of, and a few foods you never did think of, and a few more foods you probably wish you had never thought of.

After Johor Barhu I went on to Melaka, one of the historic towns, where I took a river cruise, walked several miles (or at least it felt like that) had some sugar cane juice, and walked some more.  Much of Melaka was closed because of the lunar new year, so I didn’t see as much as I wanted to, but one of the things I loved about it was the huge wall murals on all the new buildings, and the ‘enduring beauty’ display in the museum that I went into to beat the heat, but unfortunately had a broken air conditioner.

I’m not really wanting the cold and snow, but….

After Melaka I had planned to go to Ipoh, and I bought my ticket, and then they changed the ticket, and made me wait, and then changed the ticket again, and I waited some more in the Melaka bus terminal. That is far away enough from everywhere that leaving for a short while would be just a bit impractical.   Well, I finally got on the bus, and promptly fell asleep.

I woke up in Butterworth, a town that for some reason made me think of pancakes.  It was 6 am.  I had slept through Ipoh.  At Butterworth is the ferry to Georgetown, another historic town that I hadn’t originally planned on visiting, but thought, since I’m already here, why not?  I got a small little room in a dusty little hotel, with one of the friendliest hotel owners I’ve met yet. And that is saying a lot, as the hotel owners here tend to be pretty friendly.

I walked around Georgetown, and saw the elegantly decaying buildings in neighborhoods that are starting to tart up the old things.   But other than the curry, and walking around the old buildings, the only other thing to do in Georgetown is shop, but I’ve found that most of the things are the same or similar to what is in Thailand.  Some of the Batik in Melaka was truly gorgeous, and they did have some great artists there, but Georgetown was just a tourist town.  So one day was enough I think.

Especially since every time I look at some of the jewelry or hair ornaments, they look a lot like what I can find in Seoul.  And as I was thinking that, the woman at the stall said “You like it? It is Korean style”

I felt kind of proud, that Korean style is now a selling point in Malaysia.  Apparently Korea has come out in the world, as even here in Ipoh, a small dusty little town, there are posters for Korea – sparkling! and flights to Seoul at the travel agencies, and in Singapore and here in Malaysia at many of the parks and sights, not only are the signs in Chinese and English, but also now in Korean.

Even though I am not Korean, I do love my adopted home.  I have mixed feelings about the Korean signs and advertisements to go visit Korea. Part of me is kind of proud, and happy that Korea is finally taking its place in the spotlight of the world. Part of me felt a selfish sadness, because I liked that Korea was my secret treasure, a place not so many people knew about.

At least this way, when I get a hunger for kimchi, I won’t have to suffer for very long.


Singapore! a very brief post

February 13, 2010

Wow, Singapore is a great city, and I feel like I didn’t get a  chance to do everything – I met a very nice Portuguese man on my first night and he said one or two days is all you really need, but I disagree. I think you need quite a bit more.

The hotel I stayed at was very nice in a corporate kinda way, but I was a bit disappointed to learn that the hotel I had stayed at years earlier had closed. It was a wonderful hotel.

The first day I walked around the island, from my hotel to Orchard Rd, to Little India and then to Arab Street.  Orchard road was nice, and I liked window shopping at all the stores I could only dream about and all the little cafes where I could drink such lovely things as lychee soda (something not to be missed)– Little India is probably my favorite area of Singapore. I love the way it smells, with all the incense and spices mingling in the air.  I then moved on to Arab street where I could try a hookah and rose juice.  It actually tasted a bit like rose! nice.

The next day I went on a three park tour – the bird park, the zoo and the night zoo.   The bird park was awesome.  Did you know there are vegetarian vultures?  I didn’t until I met one.  The also had a prima donna ostrich that came around as soon as I took out my camera and posed for me.  Then I went to the zoo, where a cheetah posed for another couple, and actually the way they had set up the whole thing made you feel as if you were in a jungle, peeking out at the wild animals.  They had done a very good job, as most of the animals seemed healthy and happy and a bit cheeky.

I have mixed feelings about the zoo, and zoos in general. On one had it seems to like the animals are there for us as humans, not for themselves as creatures in their own right.  On the other hand a good zoo can conserve species that we seem hell-bent on hunting/farming to extinction.   I like zoos so I’m not sure I can be totally impartial in the debate.

The next day I went to Johor.   And I will tell you a brief version of this adventure later.

Meanwhile, adventure awaits.

Singapore and Malaysia-Let’s go

February 7, 2010

I’m off to Singapore and Malaysia for 20 days. Posting will be light. Have a great Valentines day and Lunar New Year!

You call this work?

February 7, 2010

All the teachers in our high school had to go to a weekend workshop. At least that is what they said we would have to do.  In reality we left Friday morning to the East sea. All of us climbed aboard two buses and took off.  It was quite organized.   When we arrived we settled into our rooms, then had two workshops.  Now, I don’t know if the workshops were interesting or boring. I don’t speak Korean and the whole thing was done in Korean.  I read my book.

After the two and a half hours of workshops we went to dinner.  Keep in mind that our school isn’t a party school.  Some schools do have beer in the second floor teacher’s lounge, and when they go to lunch booze is always part of the package. My school isn’t like that. My school is more a hiking/dancing/ activities school.  I kind of like it that way.  But this time our school became a drinking school. The booze flowed freely at dinner and then we all went to noribang- or karaoke.  I sang two songs and a duet to “Nobody” by the Wonder Girls (one of the most popular songs right now) with my co-teacher.   My vice- principal danced.  I have to admit to being a bit shocked because although he is a very nice man, he always seems so serious.  It was good to see the teachers let loose a bit.

Everyone woke up early, and I was surprised at breakfast because no one seemed hung over, and they were raring to go.   There were two groups, one went to the beach and one went to the mountains.  I chose the beach. I was not surprised that my co-teacher chose the mountain. She is an avid hiker. All the beach goers went in one bus and all the mountain hikers went in another.  I found out that my seat mate is going to be my new co-teacher.  Actually I have 5 co-teachers in the classroom, but I have one co-teacher for everything else – schedules, getting information, problems with my apartment, where to get things, etc.  Ms.Choi will be my new co-teacher and since she sits next to me she has been informally doing these things anyway.

So we drove about 15 minutes to get to the beach, and walked up a small mountain to Nam-ska temple.  The temple had burned down recently so they are re-building it.  My co-teacher apologized because it wasn’t ancient, but since it is a working temple I didn’t think it mattered that much.   I even found out that you could do a temple stay there if you like.  I think it would be interesting and I made note to myself to find out more about it in spring.

After we climbed up to see the giant  Buddha statue we walked down to the Beach.

This is for Raymond:

The food–

fish roasted with hot/sweet sauce and side dishesvarious side disheseven more side dishes

And they’re off….

February 4, 2010

The students in third year just graduated today.  I haven’t seen much of them, they took the entrance exams a couple of months ago and haven’t been in school since.  All along the road old women were selling flower arrangements.  Now this is Korea, so the flowers were not just beautiful on their own. They had to be improved with sparkle.  Glitter was sprinkled, and sparkley tinsely thingies were added and flopped in the cold wind.  The parents buy the flowers for their daughters, and juniors buy them for their seniors, and the seniors buy them for their teachers.  Photos were taken and tears shed.

I was a little sad to, because the system is changing and I will not be teaching my current first years when they move to second year. I’ll teach two special classes for the ones that ‘major’ in English, but I won’t teach all the classes like I did last year.  I will miss the students who ‘major’ in math or science.

I am excited that in March we will have a new slew of first years: I can train them from the beginning.  And I am being rewarded for taking two extra classes last semester, because this semester I have two fewer classes than my contract states.  Woot.  I’m already planning what I want to teach.

Friday we will go on a camping trip. We being all the school’s teachers.  It is an overnight thing, with hiking on Saturday morning.  I like hiking, but I don’t take it nearly as seriously as the Koreans do.  I don’t even have a color coordinated outfit.  We are supposed to be working on the next year’s plans, but for some reason I doubt much work will get done.  I will mosey on up the mountain, and probably have a much better time than I expect to have.  I just hope it does warm up a bit like they say it will.

Malaysia, and a meditation

February 1, 2010

I have  a ticket, a guide-book and my passport. I will leave next Monday for an adventure in Malaysia.  I should be able to fill 20 days with rest, relaxation and a few adventures.  Getting along vacation is one of the perks for teaching in a ‘real’ high school over a private tutoring academy.  I was talking to two of the women who replaced me at my old school, we were talking about the advantages and disadvantages of the academy and the public schools.

Now before I go on, I have to mention that many of the private tutoring academies here (hagwons) are not great places to work. Some are excellent, but some are…. let’s say, less than ideal.  A lot depends on the management and one of the risks you take is that the chemistry or the situation doesn’t suit you. And then you are stuck because you have a one year contract.  It pays to do research and talk to teachers that are working there and  past teachers; but even then you never know until you actually get there.

However, the academy I worked in last year “Reading Town” in Incheon was excellent.  When I was offered this job in the public schools I had a hard time making the decision to leave. The management is kind, and the kids are awesome. One of the advantages is that the classes are small, so there is a lot of interaction, and you really get to know your students and really get to see their progress. It is very rewarding as a teacher.   But. Most contracts only have 10 days of vacation, and unless you are in a huge academy that has a lot of teachers, the holidays are taken when the school is closed. So getting 10 days in row is difficult to impossible.

The 28 day vacation is what made me decide to leave.  I wanted to travel more here in Asia, because after this I want to explore another region of the world ( I’m still deciding between Turkey and Russia, but I will probably stay one more year after this contract)

Anyway, so I have 16 days of vacation in Feb, and because they don’t count the weekends it winds up being 20 days.  I am going to Malaysia.  I will arrive in Singapore, then depart from  Kuala Lumpur.  I want to wend my way up the coast, and perhaps see some jungles and some hiking.   I can’t wait.  This week is going to be hard to keep my concentration on my school.  Fortunately we just have some ceremonies and then on Friday we will go camping with the other teachers in the school. I’m not sure where we are going, but I’m sure it will be interesting no matter what.

This is the first day of the second month of the new year, I’ve been thinking a lot lately. I’ve been thinking of the nature of home and what is and is not a friend.  I love my lifestyle as a nomad gypsy living in different countries. However lately I’ve been thinking about what it is I want from my life.  I know I’m not ready to settle down ( by all the forgotten gods, I hate that term– to settle and not only to settle but to go down with your settling- it just seems so negative)-  however I’m also wanting to have something that is like a home.   I am also working on the kinds of people I want in my life. I’m doing a lot of cleaning up so to speak. I’m trying to find my happy place.  I’m not unhappy, I’m just re-evaluating my priorities and my goals.  I want people in my life that are positive and supportive. It sounds a bit more ‘woo’ and Oprahish than I’m usually wont to be, but it seems that this is the year that the universe has chosen for me to deal with these things.  I’m needing to replace the bad habits I’ve acquired, but I’m not sure what I want to replace them with.  So I’ve been thinking.