Saturday, January 12, 2013

Letters (more thoughts from the Pen Pal post)

Yesterday I got a handwritten letter from back home from a a friend and it was so exciting. Even though I have been playing around with how to combine the old and new, handwriting and technology when it comes to letters. I have to say getting a letter in the mail will always be my favorite way to communicate. I follow The Clever Sheep's blog and when I was going through my reading list I came across this blog post "The Power of Handwriting" 

This echoed some of the thoughts I have had but maybe didn't fully express in my blog post about pen pals. I remember in college having to write letters to myself for various lessons and classes. Some of those letters were really hard to go back and read.  I was always able to see how much I had grown and some of them surprised me as to my thought process at the time of the letter. When I taught in the US, both in Idaho and Wyoming, we had older students write letters to younger students giving them advice. It was always an enjoyable activity and meant a lot to the younger  and older students both.

This also got me thinking it would be nice when a teacher is doing his/her student teaching or when he/she gets her first job if a mentor teacher wrote the student/new teacher a letter to encourage him or her about the profession that was chosen. It could actually be implemented in several professions.

In both International schools that I have taught and am teaching at I have had students write letters but they don't ever given them to the person, so I don't feel it is always taken seriously.  I did write in my Pen Pals post about how in Malaysia I tried to have my students becoming pen pals with students from the US, but due to miscommunication it didn't work out. For one of my summative assessments at my current school for my year 8 students I had them write a letter to Petra Anderson, the person a news article had been written about as a victim of the "Dark Knight Rises" shooting. We had read the article previously and had used it also for a previous summative assessment, so I thought it would be a nice tie in to then write a letter to her. I noticed that several of my students struggled with writing a letter even though we had practiced prior to that in class. Since I had not lived in Indonesia for very long when we wrote the letters I didn't know how to mail letters, for one, and second, I didn't know if there was a way to actually mail the letters to this Petra if we worked on improving them so they were better. Time got away from me and I didn't remember until just now that I had thought about doing that. Some of those letters were really encourage though, and I wish now that I had looked into it. Since we change students at semester I no longer have those students to go back and do it this semester.

I think there are ways even with all the technology today to take the time to hand write a letter and mail it to someone, it might brighten their day. Instead of always texting, picking up the phone and letting the person hear one's voice, and laugh. One may never know how much that means to that person and how much they love their friend or loved ones' laugh. Instead of always using Facebook messenger, having a friend over for a cup of tea and visiting. I think letters, e-mails, twitter, Facebook, cell phones, visiting/having someone over, sms, etc. all have their functions and places, we shouldn't exclude any of them but should use all of them to better connect us and enrich our lives by those connections to others.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

6 months in Indonesia

Pool at  Ciputra club
I have now lived in Indonesia for 6 months. I decided since this is my second country overseas instead of blogging about all the little differences I have noticed I would just summarize and put into one post.  I have also made some comparisons between Malaysia and Indonesia.

School-  In Malaysia I taught at a school, using American curriculum, of 70 students (the 2nd year I was there-55 the first) from grades 7-12 with students from 20 different countries. The whole school was only 5 rooms and the second year I was there they brought in a portable building. Although, they are working on building a bigger school with the rapid increase of students. We increased to 9 teachers by the middle of my second year. Plus, the Director of Studies who also taught part time, two secretaries, the owner, a housekeeper and a bus driver. In Indonesia the school is an IB World School using the International Baccalaureate curriculum with PYP, MYP, and DP. They also have the Indonesian program. The school has three buildings and goes from toddler all the way up to year 12 and has 1,100 students total. Most of the students are from Indonesia with a handful of International students. There are about 70 staff members in just the high school alone.

Angkor Wat
Housing accommodations- In Malaysia I was just in a boarding house that was pretty restrictive. No cooking, or people over. I got permission my second year there to do laundry on Saturday.  The first year I had to take my laundry to friend's houses or a dobi (where they do the laundry). There were more rules, but that will give the reader a base for my comparison. In Indonesia I have a house. It is 3 bedrooms and three bathrooms. It is close to the size of my home that I had been living in before I moved overseas. I have a small front and back yard. There is also a washing machine that I can use any time I need to use it. I have a nice, little kitchen that I can with both stove and oven. I also bout a microwave, so I can pretty much cook or bake anything that I can find ingredients for (more on that later). I have a kitchen table and living room so I can have people over, I haven't yet as I have been busy getting settled.
Floating village in Cambodia

Transportation- In Malaysia I used an occasional taxi as they didn't have as many and were harder to get them to pick me up. I had people give me rides most of the time. I also had a lady I hired the second year to drive me to work and back and the occasional errand if I scheduled ahead of time. In Indonesia I have my own vehicle. I can drive myself to and from work, to the Super Mall (which is the end of my comfort zone) and other places around where I live. It is also super easy to get a taxi so when I need to go somewhere on the other side of town it is easy to get a taxi there and back.

In Seoul
Social- This is a larger school that I am working in so there are more employees. In Malaysia my school had two expats. The other expat had lived in Malaysia for 20 some years and was married to a local lady with a family. I did hang out quite a bit with the local teachers. They are all wonderful people and created some amazing experiences and memories for me by all that they invite me to do to learn about Malaysia. There were some other expat families in the town I lived in but most of the women did not work, so many of the activities were done during the day. In Indonesia there are about 15 other expats that work at my school. Plus, just across the field is another International school and not too far down the road is a third International school. I am also still trying to get to know the locals and do things with them. This is a much bigger city so there are more places to eat, movie theaters, malls, shops, etc.

In Seoul
Technology- In Malaysia I had a USB modem that I just plugged into my computer and could use anywhere around town. I was able to pay my monthly bill online with my bank account. In Indonesia I tried a portable wifi but the connection never seemed very good. Plus, it just used a cell phone sim card and I constantly had to run to the nearest mall to top it up. I recently got Internet through the telephone line and wifi. It does seem to work much better.

In Malaysia I didn't have cable television. In Indonesia I have satellite tv.
In Malaysia I had one sim card. I could put three different RM amounts on my phone using the Internet and my bank account and I could use talk for several hours to my parents back home before I had to top up on the Internet. In Indonesia I have a sim card and I have to go to the closest super market or mall and have them top it up or get them to give me a scratch card to put money on my sim card. I have learned to always carry a spare one. I have tried calling back home and will go through a whole Rp100.00 card in 10 minutes. So now I try to use Skype.
Seoul Tower

Help- In Malaysia since I just had a room and bathroom I did all the cleaning myself and once a month the servants would come in for an inspection and clean to make sure everything was up to snuff. In Indonesia, I recently got a pembantu or helper. It was a big adjustment for me. I resisted it for the first six months as it was not something I wanted to do. But as time has gone on I can see how having one can be helpful especially with the language barrier. The lady that I got speaks pretty good English. She is more knowledgeable than I am about where to get things done or how to do things. I think it will make things easier for me and take less time to do certain things. I also learned today how grateful she is to have a job and be making money. So, I am glad I revised my thinking. I still try to make things easy and not create a huge mess for her to clean up or anything like that.

Karanggongso beach
Weather- In Malaysia it was hot and humid all the time. During monsoon season it would rain for days at a time, all day long. In Indonesia it is hotter than Malaysia all the time. Probably because this city is not on the coast. It is not as humid all the time, but during rainy season it is just as humid. It does not rain as much. I might rain for 20 minutes to a couple hours and be done until the next day or the day after. This breeds more mosquitoes instead of getting rid of them.  I definitely get way more bites here. I am trying everything anyone is recommending to keep from getting bit but so far nothing has stopped them. I am worried that at some point I will get dengue, but in the meantime I am still trying to get them to quit biting me.
campsite at Karanggongso beach

Other- For the second time in my life I went camping. The last time I was two years old and it was in the mountains. This time I was on the beach at Karanggongso with students and other teachers for a total of around 70 people. It was an adventure.

I traveled to both Cambodia and South Korea on my two breaks earlier in August and October, respectively.

I went on a tour of East Java that included a botanical garden, tea plantation, Kaliandra and a temple. It was a great way to see some of the other amazing sites outside of the city. I am looking forward to another one this spring. 

I went to my first Sweet 17 birthday party and was amazed. It felt almost like I was on the MTV's show " My Super Sweet 16" only it was in Indonesian.
On East Java Tour

Every break from August 2011- October 2012 I traveled. I loved to travel and I want to make the most of living close to all these countries that I have always wanted to visit. For my Christmas break December 20, 2012- January 14, 2013 but nothing worked out. So for the first time in my life I spent Christmas and New Year's alone without my family. It was tough and I chose not to celebrate them, so I hope that I am not in that position again, but I survived. I didn't do much but relax, sleep, watch movies, read, and run errands. Sometimes it was boring but I had lots of things to think about and it gave me the time to do that.

At Kaliandra
Less people speak English here and more things things are written in Indonesian. It is more challenging in Indonesia to buy things, order at restaurants, etc. Most people in Malaysia spoke English and most things were in English, so it was much easier to buy things, get around and get things done.

At Kaliandra
Both Indonesians and Malaysian are a really wonderful group of people. I am truly glad that I have had the opportunity to live overseas for however long it lasts. I think it has made me a better person. I feel like I was open minded before I moved overseas, but I feel that I am even more open minded now. Media does not always portray the positive aspects of people and places, so I am glad I have seen and experienced many wonderful things and met many wonderful people in both countries.

East Java Tour

Purwodadi Botanical Garden

A man who has lived in Surabaya for around 24 years does tours of different parts of East Java on weekends. They are just day trips. I signed up for the Discover East Java Tour that took place on Sunday, November 25, 2012. We assembled at the meeting place and got on a small bus. There were a few people from my school that went on the tour and several from two other International schools that are close by. There was a little over 20 of us. A few people were sick and so they were unable to make it, but it was a nice number of people.

Purwodadi Botanical Garden
Our first destination was Purwodadi Botanical Gardens located in Pasuruan. We took an hour tour. We started off in a large cluster but they broke off into smaller groups. It was a nice place. There were not as many flowers as I thought there would be. I know botanical gardens aren't just flowers, but since we are in a tropical climate I thought there would be more of them.  I think the gardens are probably much larger than I realize, but with only an hour we did a quick walk through some of the areas. I don't remember seeing anything remarkable, but it was nice. There was supposed to be a huge suspension bridge, but we did not find it before we ran out of time. Maybe if the small group I was with had chosen a different route.

Haunted Hotel
 On our way to our next stop we passed this hotel. We were told that it is haunted because it used to be this guy's house and he didn't want his daughters to marry so they committed suicide by jumping off the roof to their death.

Wonosai Tea Plantation
Our next stop was the Wonosari Tea Planation. It is situation on the slopes of Mount Arjuna in Malang. I thoroughly enjoyed this place. I have heard of tea planations and there is one in Malaysia that some of the students, of my former school,  did an overnight field trip too, but the timing wasn't right, so I decided to stay back with the students at school. I really didn't know how tea was made. I knew there are tea bags and tea leaves, but I didn't even know what a tea plant looked like. They employ mostly women at the plant to do the picking of the tea leaves. It is a huge plantation. They also have houses for some of the more senior level workers. Plus, bungalows that people rent on the weekend and stay there. They even have ponies that give children rides. I am not sure if I would stay there only because I don't know what else there is to do in the area, but maybe if I had more knowledge I would. I could also see it was a nice weekend getaway for locals. It was very educational and we had a nice lady, that spoke fluent English that gave us a tour. The only part that was a bummer was that since it was a Sunday we didn't actually get to see the different steps in the process of making tea.

Chart that explains process

The lady did open up the plant for us and did explain each step, but since I am a visual person it would have been nice to see the actual process. At the end of our tour we got to sample some of their tea and then buy tea. I love tea, so it was great. I learned that the older tea leaves that are lower quality are what they use for tea bags and the process that they use for them is that they make tea quickly and dark. I learned that the new leaves are the best quality and make tea that is lighter in color and takes a bit longer to seep. They also had white tea leaves, but I passed on buying any of them. They were expensive and I wasn't sure if I would like the flavor. I like my tea very strong and with no sugar, milk or anything else.

After the Tea plantation we traveled to Kaliandra Sejati Foundation. I think this was my favorite part of the trip. We pulled up to this beautiful house. It is the owner's childhood dream house. The foundation was founded by Atmadja Tjiptobiantoro. It is to help improve the welfare of the people of Kaliandra, preserve Javanese culture, and help with reforestation of Mount Arjuna. His gardens are incredible. He has several peacocks and what look like deer. Plus, a few other birds I was not sure what they were.
Looking back on the main house
They do organic farming and bring the vegetables to Surabaya to sell in some of the grocery stores, they even will deliver to a person's home. I was able to buy actual lettuce and have been able to eat salads again. After having a snack we toured the grounds. People can stay at Kaliandra. They have rooms in the main house where people have stayed. They have bungalows that are accomodations for groups of up to six people. I loved the layout of them. They had an outdoor bathtub and shower as well as an indoor shower.

One of many beautiful buildings

 They have cottages for up to 12-15 people. They also had dorm style cottages for up to 70 people. One of the upper elementary grades at my school stays here for their camp week. One of the other schools has some of their students stay there as well. They had a villa that had a private pool for honeymooning couples. Since this is located on a mountain we were told it can get cool at night. They also had huge mosquitoes. I could see if I were to get married while I lived in East Java I would stay there are part of my honeymoon. We walked up to their restaurant. The food was pretty good. Next to it was a roofed but open sided area that had the Gamelan musical instruments.
Looking from back of main house

Another features was a plunge pool surrounded by Hindu deities. We were also told they do massages. Before we even got to the main house we saw they have a ropes course that they use with different groups for leadership and team building.  They also have packages for activities for people staying there: hikes, cultral experiences, tours, golfing, etc. It is also looks like they do quite a bit to help the people and the community to help them be successful.

Our last stop was Jawi Temple. We were supposed to have another stop besides this one but we were running behind all day and so early on we knew we wouldn't make that. It was a Hindu ritual bath. I kind of had a feeling when I read the original itinerary on the first e-mail that it seemed too much to accomplish in just one day and with travel time and making sure we stayed on schedule. I figured getting to see some of them was better than staying at my house and not seeing any of them. By the time we reached the Jawi temple it was already dark out. Our tour guide knew that sometimes they have rituals or celebrations at night and that many times it is still open. Luck was not on our side that day and the gate was closed, there  was one small light by the entrance gate but it was not enough to light up the temple and the moon didn't really provide enough light either.  I did take a picture, but it is really hard to discern what is in the picture. There were also tons of flying bugs by the light that kept attacking us. So we were just a few minutes before calling it quits and heading back to Surabaya.

We were told at the end of the day that sometime in the spring of 2013 there will be another tour to different sights and places. I am looking forward to going. 

Majapahit Hotel and Spa

This is from walking back to the Spa
I have been to the spa at the Majapahit Hotel three times and once to Sarkies restaraunt. I have to say it is my favorite place in Surabaya. I would like to go there more often, but with traffic it is almost an hour's journey.  I have gone for three spa packages. I have done the Eastern Princesss, once and the Chinese Empress, twice. I thought their prices were great and the experiences, wonderful. The Eastern Princess took four hours. I started with a facial, followed by a massage, steam bath, scrub, bath in a mixture of herbs, and then a smoke treatment.  I had never had a smoke treatment before, so I didn't know what to expect. The smoke was placed under me but I was wearing some clothing, not knowing that I was supposed to, so I don't think it really achieved its purpose. I felt wonderful after it was all done.
Another view walking back to Spa

The Chinese Empress Ritual is 2 and a half hours. It consists of feet washing, a massage, and a facial. It is not elaborate as the first one, but definitely still more than meets my requirements and I feel amazing after I am done. I am not sure how many rooms they have total, but I have been in three different rooms. I have been in small room for a facial. I was in a large room with a bathtub, shower, steamer (not sure proper name), and massage bed. This last time since I was by myself there was no switching of rooms. I was in a medium room with a tub, massage table, shower, and steamer. The two larger rooms are very nicely decorated and feel very calming.

Indigo restaurant
I have eaten at both Sarkies and Indigo. I went to Sarkies on a non-spa trip. There was a small group of us and we had dim sum. I really enjoyed the dim sum. After my latest Chinese Empress spa I decided that I wanted to eat at the hotel. I wasn't sure about trying to do dim sum for one person though, so I walked around on the main floor and discovered Indigo. Indigo has more Western food. What drew me in was their Chef salad, but then I ended up eating their club sandwich. I wanted both, but the waitress said the salad was large and I asked which one she recommended and she recommended the sandwich. The sandwich was good. They also had lamb on the menu, so I am hoping next time I go I will do a afternoon appointment and then eat dinner there. One thing I have noticed is that the hotel, spa and restaurants are never busy. The first three times I was there it was on a Saturday. This last time it was a Wednesday. My work has the week off, but I know that most people are probably back to work. I don't mind the quietness at all, it is just an observation.

The Pool

They do offer other things at this hotel, but these are the ones that I have personally experienced and recommend.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Pen Pals

I am on Facebook, Twitter and I have a couple blogs. They all have their purposes, but what I really love to do is write letters. I have been thinking about this the last few days. I like to write different things, but letters are my favorite. My second favorite would be poems; however, my poems are very personal and I don't like to share them. I took a poetry class and thought I could divorce my heart from my poems that I had to share, were critiqued and that I had to change. It was too painful and one of my favorite poems was ripped apart so many times that I could not even identify my original poem, and I evntually wrote another poem about how the first poem had died and would not be torn apart anymore. I haven't really been able to write a poem since and that was back sometime between 2003 and 2005.  I would love to write a book, but after the gripping beginning the story peters out with have crappy middles and lame endings. I enjoy writing essays, but with some much on my plate these days when do I have time to study something and write an essay. Since I moved overseas I have started a couple blogs about my experiences and my thoughts. So far, I have been more faithful to blogging than I ever have to keeping a journal. I even tried a new tactic of a journal called snap shots that were supposed to be like a picture, only with words, of events I had experience in Malaysia. It was hard for me to not fully explain the event. Although my blogs do get views it rarely gets any comments. So, they do not start any conversations.

My love affair with writing letters began when I was eight years old. We were on vacation, although I don't remember the location. I met a girl Amanda, I think from Colorado, at the hotel pool. This was before the traumatic move where I was picked on for the rest of my school years, so I was not yet shy. Amanda and I became friends quickly and were sorry when the vacation ended, so we decided to become pen pals. I can't remember any more how long we wrote each other, but I know it was for a couple years. With each person that has been my pen pal I have always continued to write as the other person's letters have slowly dried up and died usually due to busy lives and knowing we would most likely never meet. I had a couple in high school in Germany that I got through my German class. A friend in college and I wrote back and forth one summer. She had the coolest handwriting, but our friendship ended later. I still have her letters and have gone back to read them again. In my late 20's my best friend had me correspond with this guy that she wanted me to meet when I came to visit her, but we were on different paths in life. Even when I was in Malaysia I corresponded with a person for a short time, just a few weeks, giving an insight into life in Malaysia. That person gave me a compliment  that I wrote in great detail with depth and honesty, so that the person had a vivid picture and my "stories" interesting. Throughout my whole life, even to this day, my grandma and I write letters to each other. The only problem is that being on the other side of the world from her it takes a long time. My best friend and I also write letters. Many times though our letters have gotten lost and never made it to the other person.

When I taught in Malaysia I was taking an online class and through one of the conversations another teacher and I started talking about having our students be pen pals and write letters to each other. I talked about it with my students and they were really excited but there was some miscommunication between the lady and I via e-mail, so my students and I were waiting and waiting for their letters only to find out that she wasn't planning on doing this idea until the next school year. Needless to say my students and I were very disappointed and I never heard from that teacher again. 

I still send postcards when I travel. When I was in Seoul, South Korea in October I sent 18 postcards to different people I know.

One part I love about letters is that I can share stories about events in my life. As an avid read I enjoy telling stories. I used to tell stories in PE when we had to run laps around the track. It kept everyone entertained and got us through those miles. With letters though they are a story about a part of my life that I have decided to share with the other person. It is one way I show a person that I trust them. I also enjoy getting to know more about the other person.

I am a person though no matter what I write the process takes hours to accomplish. I start with composing in my head. I go over every line or sentence in my head repeating it over and over tweaking it until it sounds just right, then I put it down on paper or type it up and then I spend several more hours composing, rereading, tweeking until I think I have it say what I want it to say. One I post or save or e-mail I will take a break and come back to it and see little mistakes I have made that I automatically corrected in my head when reading through it, and I have to go back and make more changes. I do the same thing with letters and sometimes I will rewrite them. You are probably wondering why I spend so much time on letters when the other person may only read it once and may even throw it away after reading. I just like to make sure I am very thorough in my explanations as the other person has no other clues to help them interpret my words: no body language, facial expressions or tone of voice. I do not want them to misinrepret what I am saying because I didn't take the time to explain myself clearly. Of course, there is never any guarantee.

Back to my story on Pen Pals. So, I was lamenting that Facebook and twitter just weren't doing it for me and wondered if people correspond any more by letters not just posting or blogging. A fellow tweeter (I did not ask persmission to use name before I wrote this) suggested that a person could handwrite a letter, scan and e-mail to me. That is a brilliant idea, but neither my grandma or best friend are into technology, so they would not make use of this idea. I then thought that I would need a scanner as well, but the same person suggested that I could use a tablet and stylus. I thought finding a stylus would be hard to do as some things here that I thought would be easy to find have not been found. I was wrong and found one easily. Not many choices but I now have one. The next step was to figure out how to find a pen pal. I googled pen pals and they actually have several sites, I was surprised. In taking a closer look though many seemed like they were looking for romance. It was almost like online dating only under the name of Pen Pals. Then, I had the idea to maybe see about becoming a pen pal with some soldiers in the US military, but it appears that due to new regulations those services have been suspended. Many of the sites ask people to write letters and provide care packages every month. If I was in the US, I think that would be an easy thing to do, but with customs here I have a hard time getting packages and have a feeling there might be lots of complications trying to get care packages out and to those men and women. I feel like I am trying to force a pen pal into existence where in the past it has always happened naturally with no planning. So, I have decided in the mean time that I should find another outlet for writing until another pen pal comes along, because I know with my love for letters one will indeed come my way.