Monday, December 31, 2012

Beautiful Bali

This Christmas I was lucky enough to have a couple of friends to travel with and we decided that the relaxing island of Bali would be our stop.  We booked our budget liner tickets (Tiger Airways... decent but nothing stellar... in a word: budget, so not a problem), perused hotels and resorts online for the best deals for us.  I had been to Bali one time before but had no recollection of where I had stayed (I suffered the sun burn to end all sun burns and saw more of the inside of the hotel than anything or anywhere else... thank you Sophia for being a good nurse and friend that time). Needless to say, our knowledge was limited.  We asked around and people told us to avoid Kuta (where all the nutty tourists hang out) and to try for Seminyak.  We narrowed our search but weren't able to find a hotel that would suit 3 people for a reasonable price in Seminyak.  So instead, we chose a newly developed area called Pecatu.
This is actually in Nusa Dua

The location was a little out of the way for our liking but the beach was close, the price was right and we figured we could deal with the rest.  When we arrived, we were smitten with Bali and charmed by the chaos (coming from super organized Singapore can make you yearn for the chaos of past locations).  We arrived at our hotel, pleased and ready to enjoy our time.  The room wasn't fabulous but had a sea view and bedrooms for each of us, so we were pleased, popped the bubbly and commenced holiday mode.
Our hotel lobby

Bali is the island of gods.  There are thousands represented there, even though our driver of choice (Mr. Pande... use him if you can when there, he's lovely) told us that the religion of Bali was "Bali Hindu" with just one god overall.  Temples are on every street corner it seems and in-between whenever possible it seems.  It also seems that ceremonies abound and cause traffic delays all over the island on a regular basis.  I think we were caught in one or two jams just about every day that we were there.  But for some reason, you overlook it... maybe it's the island vibe or the calm way that all the drivers seem to take the delays.

We checked off many of the amazing things to do on the island when there:

Go to Kuta - experience the markets and the craziness of the tourist chaos.
Shopping in Kuta

Eat on Jimbaran Beach - makes sure you go to Ganesha Restaurant... they have the *wiggling my fingers* live fish... not the *imitating a sleeping fish* dead ones (although they had those too), as told to us by our driver that day (clearly his English was a little limited).
Me and the girls at the beach (Christmas Day)

selecting our fresh catch for dinner

Delicious grilled tuna!

See the cliff-side temples of Uluwatu.

Enjoy the magic of a Balinese sunset (thankfully, we got to do that just about every night).

Even stormy skies produce magic!!

Go to Ubud and see the temples and artist displays.

Shop, shop, shop for batik and silver (came home with the batik but not the silver).

Lay lazily on the beach (although my back only permitted me to stand... but to stand in golden sand is a fine thing).
This was just a 10 minute walk from the hotel

Get caught in the traffic jam of a temple ceremony.
preparing for a ceremony the following day

The traffic jam was huge for this one!!

Embrace island life.

Although the chaos of Bali is charming in the beginning, I was more than ready to return to the organization and predictability of Singapore at the end of a week (more on that in another post, another time).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

God in Schools

I'm probably in for a world of backlash from some of my friends for posting this but the anger I feel as a human being, a Christian and a teacher over what is being said and agreed to is beyond the backlash.  So let me apologize up front for offending people, because I know that I will and I simply don't care.  This is my blog, my place to write about how I feel and right now I'm angry!

I've already written my response as a teacher and a person in general to the heartbreaking tragedy that happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. I've written how it broke my heart and made me angry but how I'm choosing a higher path in dealing with it and in living in general. I believe that this will better honour the victims, their families and God.  But then I see the above video plastered on Facebook and YouTube.  And I watch it.  I watch because I am curious and because plenty of the people who quoted from it or shared it are people I admire and appreciate for the strength of their faith and morals.  But I was so angry and insulted when I watched this.  I almost wrote right away but slept on it, ruminated on it some more and found I was still angry and that this post was brewing in my head... so I NEED to get it out.

Let's break it down... The gentleman in the video (Huckabee) talks about the reason for the shootings and he believes it's because God isn't in the schools anymore.  Um... isn't He?  The Bible tells us that where we are, so is He:  20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20.
I believe this.  I feel this whenever I know that my brothers and sisters in Christ are with me anywhere. I don't think this passage refers to the times we are gathered in a church or Bible study only.  I believe that wherever I go, God is with me and when I am where others are who also believe, He is there.  

Then there is talk that because schools don't have instituted prayers on a daily basis, we are shooing God from our lives and cultures and that's the reason this shooting took place.  Lord, give me strength and the right words because I simply want to scream at the ignorance and stupidity of that. Just because students don't stand in neat rows reciting a prayer they may or may not believe in, doesn't mean there isn't prayer in schools.  I taught in the US for two years (I'm a Canadian teacher who works internationally) and prayer was VERY evident in that school.  Several teachers gathered weekly to pray over the school and the students, and I know plenty of others who did so both in and out of the building on a much more regular basis.  Just the other day another friend of mine teaching elsewhere in the US was on lockdown because an outside shooting incident was happening not far away.  The students in that class were with another teacher at the time but when they returned, several of them reported to their teacher that they prayed for safety for themselves and their teacher.  Personally, I pray every single day over my students and school (usually its as simple as a thank you for a great place to work and great kids to work with  and please let me do my best there and with them today kind of prayer).  So please don't tell me that prayer and God aren't in the schools.  

There are plenty of countries around the world that do not have prayer or religious teaching in their public/government schools and they seem to get away with less violence than US schools.  Check out this link to see a startling timeline of school violence in the 1990s. So, no, I don't think that having prayer and religious teaching in schools in the magic answer to school violence.  I think we need to stop blaming it on someone and something else and start looking in the mirror.  The United States of America is a world leader that sells the dream of "you can have anything you want" and celebrates their villains (from the ridiculousness of The Joker from Batman to Bonnie and Clyde or Al Capone) in the same breath.  A society that's best selling films romanticize violence and crime (think Oceans 11, 12 and 13 - I enjoyed all three movies but when you think about it... the criminals are the heroes), thinks guns are the best way to protect yourself, and is by nature very litigious is bound to have issues.  I'm sorry to say it, but those are the culprits, not the lack of organized prayer or religion in schools.  Perhaps bringing respect, kindness, caring, communication, responsibility, thinking skills, tolerance, integrity and other such characteristics back into our teaching in schools would be more effective.  Perhaps teaching how to deal with our emotions, defuse problems and handle conflict would be more helpful than memorizing a prayer.  Perhaps setting higher standards and expectations for what we expect from each other makes more sense than simply telling everyone that prayer is the answer.  

God gave us prayer as a way to communicate with Him on a daily basis.  In fact, some have said that we should be ceaseless in our prayer and I love that idea of constant communion with your higher, spiritual Father (or however you see it according to your beliefs), but I'm not sure God meant that prayer was meant to be a mindless ritual recitation that is taught as some kind of voodoo trick to keep evil at bay.  And I'm sad that so many people think that simply putting Christian prayer back in schools is what will keep children safe.

Do I believe in the power of prayer? Yes, yes I do.  Do I believe that instituting Christian prayer in schools where children of all faiths attend is the right way to teach about faith and tolerance and love?  Nope, I sure don't.  I believe that we should all be allowed to pray wherever and whenever we want and that we should respect people's desire or lack of desire to do the same.  I believe prayer is powerful but I don't think having it in schools in an instituted fashion would have stopped the man at Sandy Hook Elementary or any of the other violent criminals from doing what they have done.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


On Friday night in Singapore, I saw a few posts here and there about what had happened in Newton, Connecticut.  I didn't look it up as I'd had my own terrible day and just needed to lay down and wish it away.  But on Saturday morning when I woke up, my Facebook and other sources of media online were drenched with the tears and blood of what happened in Newton.  I read what I could handle, watched the news reports that I could stomach and then thought and thought about what happened.  I posted my shock and horror and support for the victims on my Facebook. I talked about what happened with my friend and fellow teacher and then I thought and thought some more. Over the last few days I've seen speeches, tributes and more reports (I refuse to watch any that bring fame to the man who did what he did), and I've thought some more.
Today I knew that I wanted to write about this topic, I just didn't know what I wanted to write.  As I've discussed this tragedy with others, I thought about how angry I was that this man was able to get a gun (although from what I understand, they were legally purchased), then I thought about how angry that he made it into a school (but anyone would or could have buzzed him in, as I understand his parent worked there), then I thought about how angry I was in general that this happened.  But my anger had no where to go... and I didn't want let useless anger stew in my heart.
So I moved on to the sadness.  I was so so so sad that so many lost their lives.  I was sad that schools and students and teachers around the world will never be the same.  I was sad that we as a society failed those people that day and the man who took their lives (we failed to help him through whatever took him to the place where he felt this was all he could do).  I was sad for his family that will carry the stigma of being related to him for generations to come.  I was sad for the families of the innocently killed because they will never have a why or a last good bye. I was, quite simply, sad.  But that sadness had no where to go and having it in my heart was no more helpful than the anger.
As I thought more, I thought about how I had the power to bring change.  I thought about the knowledge I have in my heart and hanging all over my apartment about the kind of life I want to lead and the characteristics I want to share with the world as a teacher and a human being. I thought about how, if I could lead my life in this way (picture coming... don't worry) and teach it to others, then maybe... just maybe I could help the next generation be a generation that cares for each other, seeks to love each other, and lift each other up instead of one that celebrates criminals and crimes and mimics killing each other on the playgrounds.  Maybe I'm a dreamer... but in the words of a wise man... but I'm not the only one.
What rules/advice am I talking about?  I'm talking about the Seven Advices for living by the famous poet Rumi, also known as Mevlana.  They are so simple but if we all strived to accomplish them in our own right, then perhaps our world would be a little better... maybe.

And maybe if we all responded to life, both good and bad, by following this advice, we'd have less tragedy.  I'm not an expert and I don't know if it would work but I know that right now I'm choosing to practice this... and I'm hoping it helps me and others. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

TCM and other medical voodoo

So I haven't written much about my stay in Singapore so far.  I meant to write all about the amazingness of my new location, parts of my new school, and so forth.  But, truth is, life in Singapore is fairly mundane and it's easy to hop into the routine of it all.  At least until your health goes in the pooper.  Then it's interesting for sure!

Since October, I've been suffering from a really sore lower back and ever increasing muscle spasms.  At first I thought it was because I wasn't active enough and so I got more active, nope... that wasn't the answer.  Then I chalked it up to my weight... nope, not the cause but it sure isn't helping matters much. Then I thought it must be the chair I have at school since the spasms happen most often after sitting, nope... that wasn't it either but the sitting sure wasn't helping either.  So I found a groupon (if you have this in your city, get on it... it's an awesome resource) for chiropractic treatments (which are really, really expensive in Singapore).  I snapped that up as quickly as I could.

When I got to the chiropractor, she took the time to educate me about my spine during the consultation, ordered X-rays (which were $250 extra) and explained a course of action after putting me through some bending tests and so on.  She also started adjusting and mobilizing my spine according to what the X-rays and her expertise said.  Only problem was that the spasms came back with a vengeance, as did headaches and over all body soreness.  I ended up taking a full day off work because I just wasn't mobile.  At one point, I spasmed on the table and couldn't move for 30+ minutes.  I was making some progress but my muscles were fighting it tooth and nail.  Then I had a spasm in my classroom chair at the end of the last day before the Christmas break.  I managed not to scream in pain (a huge feat, trust), but I couldn't move for over an hour.  All my admin saw, as did my TA, the school nurse, several teachers and support staff.  It was embarrassing, painful and frustrating.  But at the same time, I was so grateful to have people there to help me and sort things out.

This is where the hoodoo/voodoo of medicine in Asia began. One of my good friends and colleagues is a counsellor at my school and is also certified in tapping and body talk.  We had discussed these practices when I had a spasm back in October when friends were visiting and I'd since used the tapping a time or two to help calm myself etc.  I don't know if it ever worked or not, since I don't really know what I am doing.  But on the giant spasm day my friend did some body talk to help me with the stress of my body.  I'd love to say it worked but I was so stressed and in so much pain that I simply couldn't let go and let it do what it was meant to.  However, I did get the number for a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor.

TCM can mean a bunch of stuff but I was sent to him primarily for acupuncture since that seems to help relax muscles most.  One of my admin had used this doctor and avoided a back surgery because of the healing it brought.  I was willing to do anything and went the next day.  By the way, I'm TERRIFIED of needles so I wasn't relishing this at all. The needles aren't too bad (although the one in my wrist today made me squeal and burst into tears), but the follow-up acupressure is excruciating.  The doctor hits all your medians of energy or chi and presses on parts that are blocked etc.  It hurts, let me be clear about that... really, really hurts.  But when the treatment is over and I've stopped sobbing, I'm able to get up walk around and even sit with some measure of comfort, which I haven't had in weeks.  Today, my voodoo doctor gave me some Chinese medicine to help speed the healing process.  When I asked what's in it, he just smiled, laughed and told me it was good for me.... hm... *shoulder shrug* Who am I  to argue with the doctor?

So there you go, in the Western world you don't often get the option of choosing between traditional, alternative or Eastern medicine practices.  That's one thing about Asia that I love.  You can choose from all of these and it's just considered normal here.  Let's hope that the TCM does the trick for my back... and just for my general health.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Truly International

This is my 15th year of teaching in general, and my 14th year of working internationally.  Not all of my schools have been truly international or even a little international but each has given me good lessons to make me the teacher I am now and so I'm grateful for that.

My current place of employment is the truest international school I've ever seen.  Not only are students from everywhere (and many of dual nationality that aren't even Singapore national combined with a foreign nationality), so are the staff.  This is the first school I've worked in that seems to be concerned with the quality of teacher more than where the teacher is from.  The curriculum is truly international from what I can see so far as well.  There are no SAT prep courses or focuses on any particular national  curriculum.  Instead, students are exposed to a variety of languages, literature and resources in order to be more globally educated and internationally minded.  This is the kind of school that I've dreamt of working for! YAH!  Please be reading in the upcoming days and weeks and I post about technology, Singapore and education.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Selamat Hari Raya, Singapore!!

It's a little late I know, but I wanted to make sure I did a little research about Hari Raya and had experienced it a little before I wrote about it.
Singapore (Singapura - island of lions) is a wonderful hodge podge of people and ethnicities and religions.  While a majority of the ethnic population is Chinese (I'm told it's about 77%), when walking in any area you will see people from Malay, European, North American and many other backgrounds.  And that goes for religion as well.  There are Buddhists, Christians, Agnostics, Atheists and Muslims everywhere and a real acceptance of each other here.
Ramadan has just ended and the celebration of that in Singapore is called Hari Raya. While one can say Eid Mubarak here, it's more often that you hear people greet each other with Selamat Hari Raya.  And like Eid Al Fitir in other countries (or Seker Bayram in my beloved Turkey), the celebration is family and food oriented.  Prayers are said (I woke on Sunday to the sounds of prayers being chanted in my neighbourhood and the smell of incense - not sure about the connection of these to the actual celebration as I couldn't see where it was coming from and perhaps it was from a different religious celebration), food is shared and family and friends are visited in homes.  One of the things that I found most interesting was to see Malay Muslim families all dressed in the same colours: silver, purples, browns, reds etc. I learned at the site listed above (link at the words Hari Raya) that this is a way that families show solidarity with one another.  Wonderful! 
I didn't go to any of the special bizarres that are held all over the city (particularly in the eastern areas) but from what I learned from articles and a couple of my new colleagues, they seem similar to those I've seen in Turkey and Oman.  I love these connections. 
I hope all my Muslim friends had a wonderful Eid and that they feel blessed from their month of fasting and connecting to Allah!!!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Arrival at the Next Posting

For those of you who follow my blog or who just know me, you know that I've moved on.  While I loved Turkey and the people I met and worked with there with my whole heart it wasn't the best fit for me at the end of the day.  After two years, it was time to leave and seek out the next location and hopefully a stopping point for a little longer.  I ended up getting an offer from a small international school in Singapore.  While Asia wasn't on the top of my list, Singapore is an amazing city and so I was happy to accept.

I've now arrived in Singapore and settled into my 8th floor apartment.  I'm not right downtown like I had originally hoped, I sacrificed a commute for the peace of mind of having a large two bedroom condo with the amenities of a pool and gym.  I'm close to the train and, like all areas of the city, the malls and shopping centres.

I've just begun the orientation process at my new school and while there is a lot of sitting each day there is so much good information and a little inspiration to reach for my best teaching self each day.  I'm really excited to see where this will take me.  I'm also super happy with the staff that I've met so far, they are kind, caring and SUPER FUN!!!

I will be posting more soon.  I haven't really had much time to see much of the city outside of the malls etc.  Soon though... soon.  :)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Road Tripping... Turkish Style

Just before my time was up in Turkey I was lucky enough to have my parents and their friends come for a 3 week visit. Three weeks can seem like a long time to visit anyone but when you are riding around the countryside exploring and seeing things, it goes by really quick. We started with them having to wait around Ankara a little bit so that I could finish up with my work at BLIS and then a couple of day trips to places like Beypazari and Eskisehir. When I finally got done with the job spot, we loaded up the two cars that we rented (we chose to do two small cars for more comfort and to save on gas - which we did do, the failing was that it was 2 cars and it was easy to lose one another in the busy city streets). Our trip included the main stops of Kapadokya (Cappadocia), Mersin, Tasucu, Konya, Pamukkale, and Istanbul with short stops for pictures and/or lunches in places like Afyon, Isparta and the Salt Lake.

The Salt Lake... like a moon scape of glittery snow.

Our first big activity was to go ballooning at sunrise over Kapadokya. I was a little bit nervous in the beginning because all that keeps you from your fate is the wicker basket you are in.

About 3 seconds into the flight, you are so relaxed and nearly 400 metres into the air.  It's spectacular.

We were fairly close to the flames and it kept me WARM!!!

My dad and I shared a compartment of the balloon basket.

No matter how many times I go to Kapadokya, I simply can't get enough of the beauty and the history.

Next stop was the underground city at Derinkuyu.  I didn't go down there, but stayed up to photograph the beautiful Orthodox church.

This was the view from my room in our little hotel in Tasucu.  This was the very same hotel that my grandparents stayed in when they came to visit us in 1983.  Back then it was the height of luxury in the area, now it is little better than a pension but still worth the stay. 

Near to Tasucu is Kizkalesi.  We decided to spend a morning at this beach sunning ourselves and playing in the water.

The view couldn't get much better than this.  This castle has a fabled history of a king building the castle for his precious daughter, to help protect her from harm (I think the story goes that a fortune teller told him she would be bitten by a snake).  Her food was rowed out to her daily and a snake got into the boat, onto the island and bit her, thus killing her.  I'm not sure if that's the story or not, but it's the one my brain remembers being told as an eight year old.

This is the restaurant that we ate at once a week  when I was a kid... it's still there and still being run by the same family.  What a treat to visit a piece of the past!

My parents, sticking their feet in the Mediterranean for the first time this visit.

Me and the fabled castle in the background.

Who are those cute people?!

This is the old townsite where we used to live, it is now overgrown and unused.  A heartbreak to see for sure.

The beach I spent most afternoons at as a child... not too shabby, eh?

From Tasucu, we drove to Konya, one of my favourite cities in Turkey.

Mevlana's museum and masoleum.

After Konya, we sped off to Pamukkale, a place I hadn't been to yet.  I loved it!

Hieropolis is at the top of the pools of Pamukkale and it's said that Cleopatra herself came here.

In the first picture of Pamukkale, I was standing down there, near the island... now I'm at the top... what a view!

The pools are made of travertine (a type of marble I think) and are snowy white.

This is called Cleopatra's pool.  For a fee you too can swim in the healing waters like the famed Egyptian did.

Our final stop was the beautiful city of Istanbul.  We flew into here because the traffic is just too crazy for foreigners to drive.

A dervish, sharing his worship time at a local cafe.

My favourite sight in the city: the Basilica Cistern.

The Blue Mosque

An Egyptian obelisk in the area of the old Hippodrome.

My beautiful mom and I on our Bosphorus boat ride... this is where I hustled the hustler!  Don't be afraid to demand the price you want for the activities you do on vacation!!

Picture perfect... enjoying the sun, surf and breeze.

If you are ever in the area of Turkey and are looking for a good holiday location, look no further... I've loved my time in this beautiful country and I know I'll be back to see more of it.