Teacher’s Day

teacher'sday

Last week, Malaysia celebrated Teacher’s Day.

And it was a big deal.

The best way I can think of describing it is a formal pep rally. Students and teachers get really excited about it, there are games and performances and instead of school shirts, teachers get matching baju kurungs.

My favorite parts of Teacher’s Day:

+ How it made me reminisce about my own amazing teachers. I had so many teachers who were passionate and knowledgeable and they literally changed the course of my life. They taught me how to think and how to care about our world. And I didn’t know how hard that is to do until I tried (with little to no success) to do the same with my students. So, yeah. Teachers are amazing.

+ My school recognizing not only the teachers, but also the school staff, including the janitors and gardeners.  Major props. Sidenote: one of our janitors wears a Bass Pro Shop shirt from time to time, and it never fails to make me smile and think of going to the mall in college.

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+ Seeing my students in their element. I only see the majority of my students for forty minutes a week in the classroom. All I know about them is their ability to speak, read or write English, and for a lot of my students (and me), that’s a frustrating experience. So seeing them sing, dance and do whatever it is they’re good at helped me recognize them as people and not just English students.

+ My principal unfurling a banner while The Final Countdown played in the background. Because why not?

So, get on it, America. I expect to see a Teacher’s Day complete with tiger dances and karaoke by the time I get home.

Tioman

tioman

This year was the first time I spent my birthday away from my family or close friends. Though birthdays aren’t really a big deal to me, I didn’t know whether I’d feel sad or homesick on the day. So, I decided on a treat yo self trip was in order. Luckily, my birthday lined up with the Malaysian election and a state holiday, which gave me a four day weekend to enjoy Tioman Island.

Tioman was named one of the world’s most beautiful islands in the 1970s and though I’m not a professional beach judger, I completely agree with that assessment. The water was incredibly clear and it was definitely the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been too. On my actual birthday, we took a speedboat to a more deserted beach and seeing more of the island with its jungles and mountains was breathtaking. As for what I did, it was pretty much eat, sit on the beach, and marvel at the fact that this is my life right now.

Also, I have 15 more days until my next vacation. Getting a real job where I don’t go on vacation every month is going to be a hard adjustment.

Scorpions

scorpion

Back when I first found out a little about where I’d be living, I wrote this post that mainly consisted of me freaking out about scorpions.

I proceeded to look up YouTube videos about how to kill scorpions, interrogate my program advisers about how they went about it, and generally bemoan the fact that, holy crap, there will be scorpions in my house.

After getting settled into my house, I was slightly embarrassed by my initial post. One, I totally misread the packet of information I was given and up until the moment my mentor deposited me at my house, I thought I’d be living in a small town. I’m actually living on a school campus in a village, but my school is in town about 5km away (which, I’m still not convinced that three alleys with half a dozen stores makes a town). And, two, I hadn’t seen any scorpions after three months, so I slowly began to think that perhaps I had taken the possibility of scorpions a little too seriously.

That was until last week, when we actually found a scorpion in the house.

First of all, when I had looked up YouTube videos on how to kill scorpions, the guy on there had a tiny baby scorpion in his sink, which he crushed with an electric toothbrush. So, my scorpion killing knowledge only pertained to scorpions the size of a bottle cap. Well, Malaysian scorpions (aptly known as Giant Forest Scorpions) are considerably bigger. Like, the size of my arm bigger. I know it doesn’t look that big in the picture above, but scorpions are hard to photograph, especially at night, and this was after one of its pincers was smashed off by my intrepid roommate.

Secondly, there was a scorpion in our house. After some screaming and cursing, the scorpion proceeded to walk into my room (the gall!) and strolled around while I sat on my bed freaking out and yelling to my roommate about its whereabouts. My roommate called her mentor in the meantime and we formulated a plan of attack that involved bludgeoning it to death with a frying pan as it crawled out of my room (all the credit goes to my roommate for killing the beast). And then we took photos, because that’s what my generation does.

At least now I know that scorpions are not deadly and are not that difficult to kill (and we now have a designated scorpion killing frying pan). The part that worries me is not knowing whether there is a scorpion waiting to inject my toes full of poison when I get out of bed in the morning. We doubled our efforts to scorpion proof the house, however, so I hope this will be our last encounter with one. If not, I guess we can make a YouTube video on how to kill large scorpions so that future ETAs are prepared.

Principles

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I’d like to think that I’m a fairly principled person. But the past few months has made me realize (again) that it’s a lot easier to stick by my convictions when I’m comfortable.

A few ways in which I’ll be letting my principles lapse for the next 6 months.

+ Chemicals: In the U.S., I was in favor of using natural remedies for problems. Even when confronting a mice problem in Baltimore, I stuck cotton balls soaked in peppermint all over my room. Not no more. When I first moved into my house here, my bed was covered in bugs for the first few nights (until I changed rooms and got a mosquito net). I immediately reached for the aerosol can of insect killer and slept in a chemical fog those few nights. Even in my new room, I’m spraying chemicals every few days.

+ Music: I’m not a fan of terrible pop with base lyrics. But my students seem to like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and the like, so I’ve learned a few of their songs on the guitar. I’m trying to introduce my students to better music, because every time I hear Ke$ha on the radio, I feel like I lose some of my dignity*.

+ Reading material: Although there are tons of great e-books, I can’t carry my Nook everywhere (and I need some time away from a screen). Luckily, my mentor gave me some books to read. Unluckily, a lot of them are romance novels. My roommate’s mentor also gave us some magazines. And they’re all the Malaysian version of Cosmo. My favorite quote from one of the magazines (illustrating how terrible these magazines really are)– “…my mum cooks really well, so I was brought up to believe that all women should be excellent cooks…Equality is what I believe in…

+ Food: No fair trade chocolate this year (I did bring fair trade coffee with me, and ohmygoodness, it was the best packing decision I made). But to make up for that, most of the food I eat is locally sourced. There’s more to say about food, but I’ll save that for another post.

*Maybe that’s a little dramatic, and I certainly am grateful that they play American music here because it’s comforting to hear English. Also, I’ve heard Muse on the radio a few times, which makes me really happy.

Yogyakarta

I was really excited to go to Yogyakarta because I heard that it had great street art and some awesome cultural places. Well, the street art didn’t disappoint, but the rest of Yogya didn’t exactly live up to the hype. Maybe because the temperature there was an unwelcome return to the land of sweating as soon you walk out the door. Or maybe because it was hard to go to a dusty city after the peaceful countrysides of Bali. Or maybe it’s just because I was comparing it to Bali.

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We went to go see Prambanan, a huge Hindu temple and UNESCO Heritage Site. Initially we were put off by the admission fee ($20 is a lot in SE Asia) and the sarongs that foreigners were forced to wear. After walking around for a bit, we came around and I thought it was a pretty cool place. I liked it a lot more than Borobudur, the more famous temple outside of Yogyakarta.

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Bali

Over my March break, I headed to Indonesia for a week. I would say it was a much needed break, except I feel bad saying so, considering I was in Singapore a few weeks earlier and Cambodia a month ago. But, teaching is hard, and I was really excited about this vacation.

On the flight to Bali, I was struck by how lucky I am that this is my life right now. I’ve been to four countries in the past three months, and that’s pretty amazing. Being in Malaysia is kind of difficult at times (again, teaching is hard) but the traveling perks make up for it.

Anyway, I didn’t go in with any expectations and Bali kind of blew me away. I know, it’s touristy. But it’s touristy for a reason (hint: because it’s awesome). We stayed in Ubud, which was wonderful because the temperature was much cooler than in Malaysia, which is burning up right now. I also got my first full length massage there, so that might contribute to my warm and fuzzy feelings about Bali.

balipole

We were there while the whole island was gearing up for a holiday, so we saw a lot of people constructing these huge, decorated poles that lined the streets. The poles were all different, and made from bamboo, leaves and I don’t know what else, because I tried to inspect one and ended up knocking parts of it off.

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One night, we went to see Kecak, a traditional Balinese dance and drama that recounts the story of Ramanya. The music in the drama was comprised of about 150 men chanting “cak” over and over again, and it sounded amazing.

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Outside a lot of the temples, there were statues dressed in pieces of fabric. I’m not sure if that’s an everyday occurrence or just for the holiday, but either way, they were fairly jaunty.

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We visited a lot of temples in Bali. My favorite was Ulun Danu, which is on a lake surrounded by mountains. There were colorful rowboats, a guy fishing and a couple getting their wedding pictures taken, and the setting was just incredibly peaceful.

Singapore

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Last week, my parents came to visit me and we headed down to Singapore for a quick visit. But this post isn’t really about Singapore (because I lost almost all of my pictures to a corrupted memory card and you can’t write a blog post without pictures, obviously).

No, this post is more about city life versus country living. Going to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore last week was my first time in a city after a month of my rural placement. And I found that I really missed the city- something that I never thought I’d say. And it’s not about having grocery stores and hot water and all that (though I do miss those things). Rather, I missed things that I didn’t really think about, like public transportation, seeing people from different countries, and street art.

Man, I missed street art. There was this awesome underpass in Singapore decorated with sea creatures and objects, but alas, my pictures of that now lives in the land of inaccessible memory cards.

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Maybe I should just bring some street art to my village? I’m pretty sure I could find a way to sell that as an extracurricular activity for my students.

Dreams for Malaysia

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I’m not really sure how to teach. Or, at least, I’m not really sure how to teach in a secondary school in Malaysia.

What I’d love to do is what my teachers back home did for me. They taught me to not take anything at face value, to think critically, and to work for justice. My 8th grade teacher changed the course of my life and my career with his lessons on human rights. So yeah, I’d like to be that person for my students. Not too tall of an order, right?

But it’s a little harder to do the same sort of thing in Malaysia. Maybe because my students don’t know the English words to talk about these things, or they’re not encouraged to talk about them at school. School here seems to be all about canned answers and passing tests (though to be fair, those things are definitely emphasized in certain classes in the U.S.).

All this to say that things didn’t go as planned for my lesson on Black History Month and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech last week. My plan was to introduce Black History Month and mention Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dreams for American society before asking students to draw their dreams for Malaysia.

And I thought it was a great plan. That is, until I presented the lesson to several classes, and they showed little interest and just drew pictures of the Petronas Towers, Malaysia’s most famous landmark. I had several students who said that they had no dreams for Malaysia, something that really frustrated me. I contemplated ditching the lesson, but didn’t because I wanted to at least introduce MLK, Jr. and Black History Month to the students who were paying attention.

So, it wasn’t a great week for being a teacher. Until I got to my 5SCI class (the “best” class), and they had heard of “I Have a Dream” before. They got the lesson. They gave me examples of what they wanted from their country. And at the risk of sounding cheesy, it was beautiful. I teared up several times during that class because I was so excited to see these students care about their country and want to better it. The picture above is a list of one student’s dreams. Yeah, there were some kind of funny/cute things on there, like the dreams of having one day of winter, not being forced to study history, and for Malaysia to “have many artist like K-Pop star.” But there were also some really awesome ones, like equality among the ethnic groups here, support for the poor, and increased employment.

And lest you think that I only enjoy classes with the best students, on the same day, several girls from my 5C class (the “worst” class) came to ask me to tutor them in English. And as proud as I was of my 5SCI girls, I was equally proud of the 5C girls for taking the time and effort to practice a language that many of them struggle with.

So, yeah, teaching is hard. But experiences like this make it all worthwhile.

Siem Reap

Before I left for Malaysia, I was telling someone that I was excited to travel to Cambodia to see their genocide memorials (since I have a somewhat morbid goal of visiting all the major genocide memorials in the world). They responded that I had better go see Angkor Wat too. So I did.

cambodiatreeMy favorite temples were the ones with tree roots climbing over the stones. The temples were astounding in and of themselves, but the way nature has interacted with them is fascinating.

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There were lots of headless Buddhas. The whole religious aspect was kind of confusing for me, since the temples are Hindu but there were tons of Buddhas there.

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We also went to a silk farm and crafts workshop, and it was pretty awesome seeing the raw materials and people making gorgeous fabric.

Phnom Penh

Since we had the week off for Chinese New Year, I decided to head to Cambodia. It was a last minute trip, which was slightly stressful for me (and I found out that I’m kind of a nervous traveler to begin with). We flew into Phnom Penh and spent a few days there. And since I find the prospect of going through every part of the trip more than a little daunting, I’ll just try to put up pictures of the things that stood out to me.

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We saw a lot of temples and palaces and the like. I loved the architecture there; it was so unlike anything I’d seen before.

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I saw these flower type things in a bunch of places. I like their sculptural look.

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This is from Tuol Sleng, the site of S-21, a prison and torture center during the Cambodian genocide. I want to say more about this picture, and how it reminds me of Murambi, because it’s important and it deserves to be talked about, but I don’t have the eloquence to write about it, especially not on a blog.

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From the killing fields of Choeung Ek.

There was an audio tour that walked you through the killing field. At the end of it, they played this beautiful song, Oh Phnom Penh.