Thursday, March 30, 2006

Past Halfway..

5 more months in my contract left. Yesterday I was taken aside and asked to already start considering renewing my contract.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Internet, meet kids. Kids, meet internet.

I thought I'd do a post to show off some of the kids I named after family and friends.

On the left is Mia, named after my new little cousin, once removed. On the right is Kathy, named after my aunt.

In the middle is Jacque, named after a Korean friend in L.A. (Terry on his left and Bradley on his right)

On the left is Jared, named after my brother. Justin, his twin, is on the right. I think they're adorable. My bro is lucky to have such a cute namesake!

Here's Ross, named after a friend back home. Ross was hoping his kid would be smart. I think he looks like he'll grow up to be a bully. :( Hope not!

Here are more faces from that 14-kid class I opened last week.

These kids I didn't name, but they were next door and my camera was hungry. Foreground is Yun Gui and behind him is Jay. Both troublemakers! In the background is Ian and on the right, Sara and Lily, all of whom are good students.

I managed to capture 3 troublemakers in one shot. Jae Ho, Yun Gui and Daniel.

Who says it's just the kids who are troublemakers? Monica and I show the kids how it's done.

Here's the view from my desk. These are the muses who inspire me daily to become a troublemaker.

PS. Sorry, Joanna, Katherine and Julian. Unfortunately, the kids I named after you decided not to keep their names. Some of them already had English names unbenownst to us, so they reverted back to their original names. I'll try again later to proliferate your names ;)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Korean Class: The Afterparty

I left for Korean classes at 10:30 am today and didn't get back till 3 am. It seems every time I go to Korean class, crazier things happen.

Today I went to the beginner class, then jumped to the intermediate class after the break. There, I met some very rad people, many of whom are 'long-termers' here. In particular are Chelsea and Anne, who take art classes, play the guitar, love nature, dance, and reading. We went for bokimbap with a bunch of other Korean class people, then Anne and I headed over to Seattle's best for a book exchange. I picked up a compilation of John Wyndham stuff, which includes The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes and The Chrysalyds. They also have a book discussion club that meets twice a month. They're discussing something this month called 'Three Generations.'

Then we went to an orphanage to play with the kids! The orphanage was much better than I expected. The kids are quite socialized and it's more homey and less institutional. Mora and Cathy, the two ladies I met last month at Korean class, came as well. We folded origami, taught them some colours and alphabet. The plan is to go every other week and create a sort of two-hour semi-educational program for them, involving songs and activities. Weirdly enough, Mora's from Rockwood, the town I grew up in, and Anne studied at U of Guelph, which is right by Rockwood.

Then, we headed over to the Ariana. Anne told me she'd lived in Italy for a year, so I introduced her to Sprint's drummer, who is half Bulgarian, half Italian. Had spoken to him briefly last time we were there, and he recognized me at the buffet. The band is great. They had some really awesome songs with a violin solo, and the lead singer does a very convincing Alanis Morissette impersonation. The buffet is much better when enjoyed over an hour prior to the cut-off time. I loaded up on lychee, Weizen and Stout, mostly. And salmon salad. Mmmm. Then we hopped over to the Commune and met up with Kate, from Leeds, and a few other girls.. over to Thunderbird for a bit of foosball..

Then Chelsea and her roomie Mel headed over to Itaewon and Kate and I lost them. But we ended up outside with a bunch of hyperactive young men whose names I don't totally recall. Two of them were here just for a few weeks, working for Boeing. They managed to convince us to come to Gypsy Rock, where we had a jolly good time shaking our jelly rolls to Fiddy and Snoop. Apparently recent renovations removed the stage, but Darby, my dancing partner in crime, and I managed to clear out a nice section of floorspace in which to do the robot, shopping cart and many tailfeather-shaking moves.

Next week, a Palgonsan mountain trek with artsy things in tow is being planned. I <3 Korean class! ;)

The end.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


a small girl stands alone
on the seashore, an urchin
clutched hard in one fist, stick legs planted
in the sucking sand, her toes curled
and cold inside rubber boots three sizes too big
passed down from a growing brother; her other
hand at her brow, shading
her gaze
wind ruffles her wild
anenome hair,
narrows her obsidian eyes

her family is scattered along the eternal
curve of beach, their shapes smudged and dim in seamist
but close as a heartbeat

through white noise of surf
the girl kicks rocks onto their backs
crunches sand in her teeth
finds treasure in the dictionary
between flotsam and jetsam:
glass fishing float bobbed over from Japan
its eggshell bulb unbroken by the Pacific
kaleidoscope bottles, their notes dissolved and unread
if there even were any
and the million vermillion
who freely give her their name

on those long summer days she walked for miles
but the sentinel headlands distant
sprouting crook-fingered trees
remained static, remote bookends
through all the slow ebb of childhood.

Then a change
in the weather;
clouds take wing
seasons speed up

and one morning
the rubber boots fit, grow snug,
and by evening
are too small
cast away
to the licking tongue of the sea

Now she walks the beach with no shoes
the sand smooth on the sole
and the rocky headland
gripped by naked feet,
turns turtle and runs
under her new and moving horizon.

-poem by bradley

Monday, March 20, 2006

Ouvrir une classe avec un Jacque.

So I guess I've been procrastinating with writing a new post because I don't want to see that beautiful aquamarine tropical water in the previous entry disappear beneath new entries.

I guess I'll have to post sometime though. I was hoping it could wait until the day the local galbi restaurant handed over their keys and said "Here, we want you to have sole proprietership, including access to the secrets behind our recipes, particularly the onion salad and galbi marinade." Or perhaps the day all our students decided to go on strike, and made the picket line a neat little circle around South East asia so that we'd be forced to take refuge there and eat Thom Yam soup all day.

Alas, the galbi restaurant seems content without foreign ownership and the kids seem to prefer displaying their anarchism by stealing my precious stickyballs instead.

Today I opened a 14 kid class. I was a bit apprehensive, considering I had never had a 14-kid class before, let alone opened one (the largest classes at our school have been, up until today, 13 students). I do have a couple 13 student classes, but who's to say that one extra kid won't topple the fragile class ecosystem over like a teetering Jenga castle?

Fortunately that one extra kid did no harm.

Opening classes is kind of like doing a 25 mintute stand-up comedy act in a room full of Easter island moai.. Behind the baby-statues sit equally grim mother and father statues, lips pressed tightly as they seek to ensure their fledglings are absorbing the highest quota of West Germanic Indo-European language possible. As they quietly text-message their cousins' brothers, once removed, with frequent updates re: the performance, you sashay around like a spineless scarecrow, chanting 'put your tongue in, put your tongue out, put your tongue in, and shake it all about,' then hokey pokey like it's the coolest fad ever to hit Asia.

Another cool thing about opening classes is getting to name the kids. They all have Korean names of course, but their new English names will (usually) also stick with them for the rest of their lives. This humbling sense of permanency has lead certain other teachers at my school (ahem, names withheld) to name their classes after the Justice League, or certain sports teams. Luckily for my mini moai, I went primarily with names of friends and family.

So now we have a mini Joanna, Julian, Janet, Jennifer, Jacque and Katherine amongst others (Not to mention a Jared and Ross who reside in a friend's new class from last week). I even named one after an ex bf (I liked his name.. and that's about it) and a character off Lost, the TV show I still recommend very, very highly. In fact, time to go watch it right now.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

S.E. Asia Continued

Selamat Petang! Well, it took me 3-4 hours to upload and title my photos. Holy crap! I'm going to reference them now and pick up where I left off in the last post. The pics are all here if you want to look at them while reading this entry. Some corrections on the last post: the 'village' language is 'Hokkien,' not 'Fokkien.' The nightmarket is 'Petaling' not 'Penang' Market.

Anyway, in the last post, we were on our way to see Badu cave in Kuala Lumpur. We definitely enjoyed seeing this mother of all caves. The arguably best part was being surrounded by wild monkeys on the way up. They are indifferent about people being around them, and I think they are fed fruit by the Hindu worshippers who gather there, so they are overpopulating the area. I also held a python named Sobe, near the entrance of the cave. You can feel it's skin grabbing at your flesh. The interior of the cave was massive, with Indian music playing, and roosters crowing. I don't know whose idea it was to put roosters in there. They seemed pretty content pecking at garbage though. Later that day, we went to the National Museum. Unlike the history museum, which contains many artifacts, the National contains mostly life-sized diaramas of historic Malaysian life. Kind of like a wax museum. It also contains lots of stufffed Malaysian wildlife, like an alligator, and some rocks from the first trip to the moon, given by the U.S. as a present.

The next day, we hopped on a plane to Phuket. We were greeted by our tour guide, a middle-aged lady who later revealed to us she had once been a man. She had me totally fooled, which is ironic because I laugh at the absurdity when my youngest students mistake me for a boy (due to my short hair, which is uncommon on Korean girls). Our guide told us how she and her spa business had been swept away in the tsunami. She drank too much debris and saltwater. After she was hospitalized for 3 months, her esophagus valve no longer shut properly, so now acid reflux causes her to lose her voice often. She also showed us a dent in the middle of her forehead caused by debris. She told us how her maid had given birth to a daughter but they couldn't find the father. So she signed as the father, and the little girl asked her 'how can you be my dad if you are my mom?' She then talked about how the lack of tourism after the tsunami made her wish she had died in it. She told all these stories in a comedic way, but I still found them sobering.

I preferred the humid, tropical climate of Malaysia over the drier Thailand, but Thailand has some gorgeous beaches, and is a bit cleaner. The food was probably the best I've ever tasted, but I could say that about all the food we ate during the trip. Lots of coconut, seafood, and the to-die-for Thom Yam and Laksa soups, which are clear, sour broth with lime, lemongrass and seafood. I got some heartburn but couldn't stop eating that danged sour soup. We saw a Buddhist temple called Wat Chalong. It was very colourful and ornate; much moreso than anything I've seen before.There was no blank space on any of the walls on each of the three stories; they were all filled with paintings depicting stories.

On the way to Patong beach, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to ride an elephant. We opted for the 45 minute 'river tour.' The river was dried up, but we walked for the most part through a rubber tree forest. Our guide sliced some rubbertrees and I leaned over and touched some of the white oozing rubber sap. It was sticky and gummy at first, but after rolling it between my thumb and index finger, it dried into a small hard gob of.. well, rubber. Our guide also poked at gigantic black and yellow spiders. Deep in the rubber forest, we came upon villages with small, clustered houses. People were going about their daily business, feeding babies and washing dishes, mostly outside in the shade since it is so hot there. Our elephant was very docile and quiet. They are constant grazers though, always pulling up veggies with their trunks while carrying us around.

After that we went to Patong beach, which was hardest hit during the tsunami. You couldn't tell there was ever a tsunami there, aside from some new sidewalks that are still going in. I had heard stories about how this beach was unclean and filled with hookers, but I guess the tsunami cleaned off the beach. The beachside town is a huge tourist trap, and sort of an asian Vegas. Lots of fake goods for sale, and neon lights. That night we went to see the ladyboy show, which was better than I was expecting. The ladyboys were more feminine and pretty than most of us girls who were born female! Their performance featured elaborate sets and costumes including Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Egyptian and tribal. That night we went for Italian and I found the best pepporoni pizza I've had since Italy. I must find out where to get true Italian flat-crust pizza when I return to Van.

The next morning we got up super early and I was way too tuh-ired. But it was worth it. We hopped on a boat and set out for the Phi Phi islands. At one point, we moored near a beach, jumped off the stern of the boat, and went snorkeling. There were hundreds of fish all around us; mostly clownfish, but also bigger grey ones. Some jellyfish and small sharks were also spotted near the bottom. The fish cluster around you with mild curiosity and you feel like an ornament that's been tossed into the aquarium at the dentist's office. I'm not sure how the water is so clear, but once you stick your mask under, you can see all around for a distance of like 20 ft. I tried to catch some fish with my hands.. very close, but no. Finally, we arrived at Phi Phi Don island, the one where the movie The Beach was filmed. It was the most beautiful beach I've seen (except for maybe Long Beach in Tofino, but that's a different kind of beauty). It was the beach of my cliche'd beach dreams. White sand, clear water warm enough to swim in for extended amounts of time, palm trees, and most importantly, WHITE SAND! The nearby hut with a buffet lunch was an added plus. I wish we could have spent more than an hour and a half there.

Alas, we headed back to Phuket, ate a seafood dinner, played Go-Back-Stop (A Korean drinking game), had the best breakfast I've ever had, and flew back to Kuala Lumpur. From there, we stayed at Ming's aunt and uncle's place for another night. Every night we stayed there, an epic thunderstorm occured and I think watching the grape-sized pellets of rain beat down on the palm trees 16 floors below, seeing the lightning light up all the red rooftops, and hearing the birds in the rainforest beside us made me fall in love with Kuala Lumpur. Ming's uncle told us he hadn't seen monkeys in that rainforest but I was convinced I'd see some. After staring long and hard, I finally saw some in the top canopy, swinging across huge distances of 15 feet, their little monkey sillhouettes exactly how they'd look in a kid's comic.

That night we went back to Petaling market. Ming bought some rambutan fruit, which I tried for the first time, in addition to jackfruit and dragonfruit. The night before I arrived, Moolz went nuts buying his favorite fruit, mangosteen, as it's 20x cheaper there than in Van. The market mainly consists of two very long and narrow (as in 4 feet wide) strips with makeshift shops on either side. You're pushed through like in a pinball machine, and the salespeople are aggressive, clapping their hands, stomping, waving things in your face to get attention. I got a fake Coach bag. Moolz got a ton of tshirts for friends and some watches.

The next morning we drove 3 hours north to Ipoh, a tiny Muslim Malay / Indian town. Ming's Indian friend took us for lunch. All eaten by hand off banana leaves, of course. Really good roti. We saw another cave, and by then I was feeling quite nauseous from the heat, the airconditioning, the streetfood, the flights, and the many flights of stairs we climbed to get to the top of the cave-mountain. We carried on an hour north to Penang Island, which was altogether different from Ipoh. Penang is filled mostly with rich Hokkien-speaking Chinese. Lots of young people milling about with disposable incomes. We met up with a tableful of Ming's childhood friends for lunch. While Moolz was able to speak Cantonese in KL, he wasn't able to use it in Penang. It was very interesting to see a bunch of Chinese yakking away in something other than Cantonese or Mandarin. Hokkien speakers hide their knowledge of the language in places like Vancouver, because it's considered a 'village' language, something not up to par with Cantonese or Mandarin. What a shame, because the language sounds cool, and diversity is a good thing.

After checking out a couple more beaches on Penang, we headed an hour East, to Ming and Lee Ern's hometown. I was especially excited to see this place, and Ming got more excited as we got closer. Throughout the whole trip, and on the way there, I had been looking intently at the roadside banana trees trying to spot a banana. I must have looked at 1000 banana trees. At last I saw clusters of green bananas. Perhaps I didn't see them because I was looking for yellow objects. Alor Setar, Ming Ming's hometown, was quite the cultural icon. All the streets had bright red and yellow painted buildings; it looked like a historical China-town spruced up for tourists, and yet we were the only tourists. Apparently the government paid people to paint the buildings just for the sake of looking nice. Ming nearly exploded with excitement as she pointed out the type of rickshaw she used to ride to school in as a kid. Basically an old man pedalling a bike with a seat in front. She pointed out her grandma's old house, some mango and papaya trees, and a river she used to cross as a kid to get back home.

The river was extremely polluted, with old boots and garbage bags visable under the water and strewn across the banks. Ming mentioned the houses had no proper sewage disposal, so it kind of emptied into the river. To get across, you step into a small boat and a man rows you over. You leave 20 cents on the seat. Finally, we went to the mall where Ming's parents and brother run two optometrist practices. (Ming also works as an optician in the UK). It was great meeting her mom again after several years. We stopped by Secret Recipe for a last bite of divine cheesecake (All their recipes really are secret), and then went to Alor Setar airport, the most ghetto airport I've ever seen. Lizards and peeling paint adorned the walls, and the 90% Muslim presense there made it feel more like Baghdad. Moolz and I flew back to Kuala Lumpur and caught our respective flights home.

I'm very grateful to Ming and Lee Ern for being so hospitable and giving us such an awesome tour. I am also very lucky to call someone as awesome as Julian my bf. His insight and understanding, endearing humour, and carefree approach to life are all things I don't take for granted.

Anyway, off to sleep. Tomorrow is the start of a new school year for preschool. Then two more days till my birthday, and off to Seoul for some shopping, clubbing and possible hiking. PS. Happy birthday, bro!! (Bro's bday is March 1st).