Thursday, May 28, 2015

Year Two Begins

If I live to be 90, today is the half-way point in my life. Today is my 45th birthday. It's the beginning of a personal new year in more ways than one. Although I arrived here in Myanmar in March of '14, this last week has felt like it's the start of year two for me. Professionally, I've gone and got some training and a certification that are affecting how I teach. Structurally, we're coming off the month long Spring break. As I've had to renew my teaching contract for 18 months, I've committed myself to improving my living space and have done so tremendously, so my home has way more amenities. In March I had a fling that's not worth detailing but yet renewed my confidence that I can actually have a love life here in Myanmar. In many ways, punctuated by my birthday, this last week has been a demarcation line. It's the beginning of Year Two for me in Burma and I couldn't be more excited.

NOT the fling I referred to. Another thing about this being
YEAR TWO is saying goodbye to old friends, like John
Lidbetter here in this pic.

We've been having some pre-season storms coming in off the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal. It's not quite the monsoon proper yet, but it's been raining. Hard. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you may remember I had significant problems with leaks here in my Yangon penthouse apartment during the last monsoon. While I was away, I insisted that my landlord and his crew work on the roof. I wasn't going into another rainy season with this leak problem. It was a verbal condition of me re-signing my lease for another year. Would they come through?

When I came back from my 6 weeks away, my apartment was spotless. They'd cleaned it up. It rained quite a but in my absence, and who knows how that flooded my place, but it all looked when I came back. First night back, the rain came and all the other leaks in the roof seemed to be fixed except one: the one directly above my bed!

Nothing to do with this blog. Seems that everywhere I turn in
my neighborhood, they're repaving and improving the
drainage of the roads. This is good! Development!
Buckets and towels were enough to deal with the issue, but its almost like I've forgotten what it's like to have a leak-proof roof over your head. I've become resigned to the fact that heavy rain means putting out stuff to catch the leaks. Thats not right. I shouldn't have to do that.

Last night, after the latest round of roof patching, it rained really hard. 20 minutes into this, the landlord came for a visit to see how the ceiling was holding up. He doesn't speak English. My Burmese is regrettably still very elementary. When he arrived, the repairs seemed to be holding; there were some minor leaks seeping down the walls (which are actually more annoying because you can't catch them in a bucket), but nothing major.

The landlord got enticed by one of the recent purchases I've made to make this place more liveable for the long term. I got myself a microwave oven, and I'm guessing this is the first time anyone has ever owned one in this building. I'm not sure what the landlord was asking, but it sounded like he was saying “you can cook chicken in this thing?” over and over. I know the Burmese word for 'cook'. I don't know the word for 're-heat' which is what a microwave is good for. He seemed so fascinated by the device that I ended up heating up a glass of water just to show him that the thing actually worked. He was amazed by this piece of 50 year-old modern technology.

As we dallied in the kitchen, the rainwater built up in the attic and suddenly began pouring through to demonstrate to the landlord the need for effective repairs. The landlord told me he felt a na (embarrassed, ashamed) by the whole thing and said the handyman didn't know what he was doing. I refused offhandedly my landlord's suggestion that I just move my bed. We'll see what happens next.

As for what I did for my birthday, well, I've invited people over to my place tonight as I've just upgraded my room. I bought a new sound system for the computer as the wires gave out on the old one. This one is powered and has a subwoofer (seen lower left of the pic). Plus I got myself a real bed frame with headboard and everything. Go ahead and leek, roof! I got one of the basics of human living now: a raised platform on which to sleep. 

Lots of new videos on my YouTube page from the recent Chiang Mai adventure. I also got new video creation software, with new background music to play with... which I did with Chiang Mai 7. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tour d'Joko: The Mae Hong Song Loop

The journey took four days. 600 kilometers (372 miles) on a little, 115cc Yamaha Spark. I was surprised by many things on the first day. First was the breathtaking views in the crisp, misty heights of Doi Inthanon, the highest point in the Kingdom of Thailand.  I was also surprised by rain; it's been the dry season here for so long, I didn't think to take rain gear.

On day two of the journey, we explored the town of Mae Sariang, where Anthony is living these days. The second leg of the journey was the wettest, but this time I was prepared with waterproofed luggage and ponchos.

I made it to Mae Hong Son, the middle point of the journey and checked out this quirky, little border town... and had the pizza by the lake a friend suggested.
Hope you enjoyed them. More to come.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Lesson for Experienced Teachers in Surviving the CELTA

Wow... what an amazing day. It was my first of four days on the Mae Hong Song Loop that I'd written about previously.  Spectacular doesn't come close to describing the views, sites and culturally fascinating stuff I saw today.

  Unfortunately, I don't have to write about it at the moment either. Right now, I'm in a town called Mae Sariang here in northern Thailand. My friend Anthony has been living here for the last 6 weeks, as its also the home of his fiance. We're meeting up again here in a little bit.

Of course, this also means I've finished my CELTA!  I passed, but I won't know if I got one of 'graded' results until after a few more days. I've written quite extensively about the CELTA experience over on my blog. Now, it's written with an audience of other English teachers in mind, but if you'd like to check it out... click here.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Almost There

Week three is in the books and week 4 is about to begin.  Yeah, it was tough.  A lot of written assignments were due on top of the grueling demands of having to write comprehensive lesson plans pre-teaching and difficult self-evaluations afterwards.  Having to deal with critiques, failing, resubmissions... a lot of my peers had a hard time handling it.  I heard quiet sobbing in the computer room.  More tears in the cantina.  It was a tough week.

Again, I spent my weekend getting a jump on the week's assignments.  Right now, I've finished my final writing assignment, and have planned my 7th of 8 teaching practices.  When it comes to the hard work, I'm pretty much done.  Whew!!

So tonight, I thought I'd catch up on the editing the video footage from my vacation week that came before this whole CELTA course... Two videos for you (if Blogger will let me do that, which it usually doesn't..._

And now, part 4... The Tiger Kingdom

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Half Way There!

I've been told that the first week of the CELTA course would be the toughest.  Getting adjusted to the intensive nature of the course, the long hours, the lack of free time, these are all things that cause a lot of stress for many candidates. Two students dropped out in that first week (out of a group of 16).

The second week hasn't been as difficult, and I really think I'm making a lot of progress in learning how to be a better teacher. At first, I didn't know what I was doing wrong. Then, I learned what I was doing wrong, but kept finding myself
doing it anyways.  Now, I've learned how to do it right and am consciously making an effort to teach in the "CELTA Way".  It's coming along. After my last teaching practice, the feedback I got from my trainer was very positive. He said I had made huge improvements and his only critiques were very minor issues that are easily correctable. The next step is for me to internalize doing it right so that it becomes habit and I teach in this way unconsciously.  A friend posted the chart on the right that illustrates this learning process very effectively.

What I've been genuinely excited about are my results on the first writing assignment, which was returned to us yesterday.  80% of the trainees have to 'resubmit' this assignment as their first draft isn't usually up to what they're looking for.  I was very happy to be one of the 20% who turned in passing work on the first try. It was a happy Friday and so we celebrated by the pool.

 I've also heard that the third week of the training is the toughest. By this point, the trainers are going to be pretty much hands off. We need to work individually and in groups to come up with our lesson plans.  We're given some raw materials and a broad aim for the teaching practive, but no direction as to exactly what to teach or how to teach it. We should know that by now. Previously, we were given specific direction as to what kinds of activities to be doing, something I wanted to deviate from even then, so I'm okay with these looser guidelines.

In other news, I've decided what I want to do after the course ends. I'll have 5 days in Thailand before flying back to Yangon, and I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I've decided. I'm going on the Mae Hong Son Loop... described here are one of the ten most beautiful drives in the world.  It's about 400 miles through the mountains, but I'm going to take 4 days to do it, so it should be fine.  I'm really looking forward to it.


I thought I was going to retire there. I was the senior staff member. I'd been there longer than anyone. It. Is. Not. Fair.  But on the ...