Friday, 29 October 2010

Haircuts, Full Moon Parties & Endless rain - Alexandra in Cambodia

Although the wet season in Cambodia is supposedly drawing to a close, you wouldn’t be able to guess that while here. Every few days it begins to pour rain without much notice, and sometimes doesn’t stop for hours. However, this heavy rainfall has it’s upsides along with its downsides. On the upside, riding through the country was absolutely breathtaking for about a week after a particularly heavy downpour of rain. As I rode home I felt as if I was riding through fields of sky – the water covering the ground reflected the bright blue of the sky perfectly and this scene surrounded the tracks on which we ride to school. On the downside, the puddles of water were not only limited to the sides of the road and although exhilarating at first, the idea of waking up at 5 30am to go riding through increasingly dangerous and deep puddles discouraged everyone’s dedication to attending school. Riding through the pond which casually set itself up in the middle of the road (I use the term “middle of the road” lightly though, as really it just took up the whole of the road) directly before SHCC, though fun at first, became progressively more difficult as the days went by. However, as soon as we reached the school it was all worth it – sitting in the library while reading Dr Suess books to eagerly listening children while having my hair braided by two gorgeous young girls reinforced this fact.

Jay’s back at Jay’s school now, along with his wife and new baby (!) and Beckett and Alana have been kept busy with teaching and bonding with their students. Both of them are getting so into their teaching – Beckett’s been rounding up more and more students at gradually more unusual places (the other day at a bar he started talking to some of the bartenders in order to practice his Khmer and ending up gaining a few more students by doing so!) and Alana is having a dinner-date with one of her students as I’m writing this. At Sangkheum centre all the students got new haircuts by some Japanese hairdressers who volunteered their time and expertise to the school – I thought this was a great idea! The idea of the children needing haircuts had never crossed my mind – what a brilliant thing for those hairdressers to do! Supposedly the children were all extremely excited, and even some of the teachers got to have their hair cut as well.
Olivia and Jenny just got back from the Full Moon Party in Thailand (according to them it’s every bit as good as it’s said to be) and as an alternative to doing this (owing to everyone’s depleted bank accounts) the majority of the group returned to Phnom Penh to have a better look around.
Alex, Mitch, Tristan, Christie, Morgan and I have been cleaning up the classrooms at SHCC (the white boards are so much easier to write on now they’re not stained with blue marker ink!) and are preparing to paint a few of the walls. Also with the organic farmers of the group being busy building fish ponds and bridges and tending the gardens, I’ve got to say the school is looking better every day.
I’m finding it really difficult to believe this program is going to be finished in a month as of today – how am I going to be able to leave all this behind? Although it’s a slightly biased opinion – afterall, I have been living here for over 7 weeks now – I honestly believe that these children have got to be some of the most beautiful in the world, they’re all so lovely despite their poor circumstances and all have beautiful personalities to go with their gorgeous appearances.

P.S. I’ve found the most amazing flowers! They’re called “10 hour flowers” (from what I could gather) and they bloom at 10am every morning! At nighttime they retract to their bud form, ready to bloom again in the morning. They probably don’t sound all too remarkable to anyone else, but I was thoroughly impressed with them.

One Incredibly Scared Llama - Zoe in Peru

Elaborate costumes, ritual llama sacrifice and fire breathing – that´s right, we went to a local school play. It seems that the school health and safety rules are a lot more relaxed over here. I should probably mention that the sacrifice was acted with a large cut of meat, an incredibly scared llama and a bowl of thick red dye. By the end of the performance my host mother delighted in pointing out that I was EVEN whiter than I usually am!

We were invited to view this Luna Festival see two of our younger host brothers perform – one for the first time. Each year the whole school trots out in their costumes performing dances and carrying amazing props including cloth whips, bowls of smoke, offerings of fresh harvests to the gods and upholding the Inca King and Queen.
The whole dance went for three and a half hours, culminating in the fire dance in which the eldest year created moving patterns and imitated fight scenes with lit torches and fire breathers. I remember saying that if Peru could offer anything more beautiful or exciting I would be delightfully shocked. It was only a week later that we visited Nazca.

The first stop was the Inca salt lines. These are lines carved 15cm into the earth in perfect abstract designs of a monkey, tree, fox, humming bird and quite a few others. Many people have questioned how the lines were formed in such perfect shapes considering the Incas had no access to a bird eye view and also no one knows for what reason the lines were created rendering them an age-old mystery. Spiraling over these beautiful designs in a light plane was an astounding experience and this was only the beginning of our four day trip away.

A short bus ride took us to Ica where we took a boat to ´Islas Ballestas´. Swooping through the air and diving in the wind were hundreds of birds signaling our arrival at the famous islands. Shortly penguins appeared waddling around, much to the amusement of their Australian audience. Within a couple of hours we also saw dolphins frolicking in the water and sea lions sun baking on the rocks.. it was spectacular how many species of animal inhabited this tiny island!

Absolutely exhausted we were taken to our hotel, which we expected to be a small dorm-style place with showers and with luck the internet. We walked into a hidden oasis in Huacachina, complete with sparkling pool nestled at the foot of an enormous sand dune. I couldn´t imagine how this place could get any better until one of the parrots in the hotel squawked ´hola´ at us! This was truly the hotel of our dreams!

We concluded our trip by rocketing down Arabian-style Mountains of sand in both buggies and on sandboard!
Another thing of note actually happened in Cusco upon our return which I feel it is my duty to report you. This is a story of danger, heroics and thievery, the birth of the crime-fighting duo, Hustle and Rage,.

It was a cool September Evening in Cusco, Katherine ´Hustle´ Evans and Rachel ´Rage Raymond were just two ordinary girls on the way to a late night volleyball game. The atmosphere was tense with excitement and anticipation and Rachel scarcely noticed the small boy push past her in the crowd. Suddenly she felt the empty space in her pocket. ´my camera!’ she exclaims. Without hesitation they dive into the crowd, hot on the heels of the assailant. Catching up, Katherine accosts the boy in question while Rachel swings round and demands her possessions be returned. Cameras can be replaced but she was damned if she was going to let her memory card go without a fight. After a moments struggle the boy relinquished the goods and was carried away by a crowd of bystanders.
Wherever thieves may strike or cameras are in danger, Hustle and Rage will be here – fighting for Justice, truth and a month´s worth of photos.
Until next time,

NSW Schools Travel Simulation Day

The Travel Simulation Day

This is a day where the students of each Expedition team work together to travel through their home city with their Antipodeans Abroad Leader and teaching staff. The team visits a number of sites in the city while using different methods of transport (usually including train, bus, ferry and hiking) to simulate what travel is like on an Expedition.

On a sunny day last month, our NSW teams came together from schools such as Roseville College, Brigidine College, Loreto Normanhurst to participate in their simulation day, and begin the preparation for their Expedition.

The students of each team are responsible for planning the day and this starts in the morning when each team is divided into smaller groups and each group is then responsible for choosing a site of historical, cultural or geographical interest in the city. Each group then has to work within certain constraints (budget, time, geographical limitations) and plan their day. Then the entire team joins together to execute the plan and explore the city!

While some groups chose to stay in the city, discovering The Rocks and Darling Harbour, other teams ventured out via ferry to Manly on the northern beaches.

The travel simulation day is an important step in the preparation and training for each Expedition team. The day affords the travellers and an opportunity to work together and practise the different leadership roles on an Expedition while focusing on sites of geographical, cultural and historical importance and all of this takes place in a city they know well – a pretty handy simulation of what they are likely to experience while on Expedition!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Lucy Visits Students in South America

I had a fantastic time visiting the students in Argentina & Peru, they really seem to be having a wonderful experience and really getting into the South American way of life. Buenos Aires is such a great city, so beautiful with plenty of things for them to do. All the projects are running well, unfortunately I only managed to see a few students in action, firstly Josh in his class at the private school in Recoleta. Josh has giving the students in the class an overview on recycling water in Australia, I was very impressed! Secondly, I went to out to the ‘villa’s’ (slums) with Julia and Julian. It took us hours to get there as the buses were on strike so the traffic was awful, but it was well worth the visit! The work they’re doing is really in a challenging environment and you can see how much the local kids like coming to the classes. The NGO that the students work with, LIFE, also provide food for many in the community and you could see how much this was appreciated. 

I visited two of the community centres where the students are working and they were certainly being kept busy, teaching maths, English and games, in a very informal setting.

Later on in my visit I travelled to see Ali’s placement in La Boca, again a very poor part of Buenos Aires, although quite central. The centre wasn’t open to children when I went to visit so Ali wasn’t there either, but it was great to see the things they do, teaching and games with the kids, a workshop for the local women and a computer room to assist with teaching skills.

I spoke with all the students and they all seemed to be enjoying their placements.
I can see why many of them who are working in the ‘volunteer’ work are continuing with Spanish. It is so important to be able to understand the kids and to be understood!

Sam, Henry, Josh, Chirag and James are all excelling and enjoying their placements in the private schools. Josh, Henry and Sam’s school is right next door to the student residence so it’s very handy. The lessons are mainly taught in English so it’s great for the students at the school to be able to practice speaking English. They get the benefit of being able to hang out with some of the students as they are similar ages, apart from Sam who is teaching at the primary school.

The homestay’s are all going well. I met Josh and Chirag’s host mother (a photo of her attached with Agu - one of the staff in Argentina) and saw the house where they are living. It’s very comfortable and close to the student residence. Julian was still happy with his family and those in the student residence were loving it. There’s a good mix of nationalities which makes it a lot of fun in the house, with there always being something going on. All those students in homestays seem to hang out here a lot too.

We had a good evening at the student residence, once a month our partner organisation Road to Argentina, host a pizza night for all the volunteers. Luckily I was there for this night so it was a good chance to see the students one last time before I headed off to Peru.

After a long journey, and a few hiccups like locking my passport in my hotel safe!, I made it to Peru. I had such a wonderful time seeing the group in Peru and how they have settled in. They were all very well and in great spirits, despite the fact that many were in and out the clinic whilst I was there. The work they’ve done is amazing, they have put a huge amount of effort into the perimeter fence of the school and in-country agent, Jane tells me this week that it’s nearly finished. They should be really proud of themselves. Not only the work, but the funding for the project. It’s a government requirement that every primary school is fenced and the community had asked for it as a priority over any other project. It not only protects the school from theft (only last week many of the fish were stolen from the trout farm), but also keeps the young students safe from running onto the main road that goes by the school.

They were doing a great job at teaching as well. Jane has been full of praises for this group, they have really spent time planning their lessons and thought about what needs to be done. I went on the school excursion to the Sacred Valley which was great fun. The kids were just so excited about their first school trip and it was great to see them enjoying hanging out with our students. 

I went to visit a few of the families (Martina / Sarah and Alex, Lachy and Clancy, Rachel and Katherine) - they were being well looked after and all the families seemed lovely. I had lunch with Lachy and Clancy’s family which was delicious!

We managed to have a night out at a great pizza place and then ended up having a salsa class in one of the clubs in central Cusco, very amusing!

They were all looking forward to further travels or returning home. All in all, a great trip to Argentina and Peru - it's so rewarding seeing the students and projects in real life!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Extreme Banos - Our gappers go thrill seeking in Ecuador

Half Way Point!
Typing up a blog on Word when it is set in Spanish is always an interesting experience. Well, how time flies. The Ecuador Antipodeans group has now completed half of their placement and everyone is definitely settled in to their schools, Ecuadorian life, and the Spanish language (as long as people speak sllooowwwlly – not a common occurrence)!

Since the political instability of the riots, Ecuador has calmed down a lot and thankfully nothing more exciting of that nature has occurred. Weekends have been spent travelling, with Baños, Riobamba and Mindo all visited and many more exciting trips planned. In the coming weeks, the group is heading off to the Amazon, Coast and Galapagos Islands over various public holidays and in the last week of the placement when we are given the opportunity to travel.

For most of the group, the highlights so far have been the trips to Baños and Mindo. The weekend after the riots, everyone headed off to Baños on either Thursday night or Friday morning for a weekend of spa treatments, hot springs and maybe not quite in the same mood, adventure sports. There was jumping off bridges, intense white water rafting (in which everybody went overboard, whether by choice or by a helpful push from the guide) and then on the opposite end of the scale, early morning rises for the natural hot springs, with chilly dips in waterfalls and massages. It was certainly a weekend that was enjoyed by everyone!

The next weekend took a bit of a downturn with a trip to Riobamba to catch the famed Nariz Del Diablo train ride. After getting there late on the Friday night, it was a tough break to discover that the train tracks were being repaired and wouldn’t be operational until next year (so don’t come to Ecuador for the train ride for a while!) There was still the option to do part of the train ride, coming back towards Riobamba which we gladly took. Sadly though, we managed to catch the bus to a beautiful but incorrect spot for the train! We decided all we could really do was laugh about it and then have lunch and head back J Needless to say the rest of the weekends have been looked into in a little more depth! The rest of the weekend was enjoyed by everyone though with a night out on Saturday and Breast Cancer day in Parque de Carolina on Sunday. I have never seen lines so long, or heard such ‘interesting’ internationally renowned singers!

Throughout the weeks, everyone has been going to placement and now that we have all been there for a while, our efforts are starting to show off. The kids are remembering our names (although more often than not you just hear “Teacher!! Por Favor!”) and slowly starting to remember some of the English they are being taught, although “Hello” followed straight away by “Goodbye” is a common occurrence at INSFIDIM. Everyone is beginning to contemplate how they might manage to fit their favorite kids into the suitcase for the trip home!

Yesterday we returned from our most recent weekend away, and many people’s now favorite place in Ecuador, Mindo. Mindo is about 2.5 hours from where we all live, in the cloud forest region of Ecuador and is definitely a beautiful tucked away little village (to call it a town with its one paved road might be pushing it!) We all stayed in a hostel called Casa de Cecilia, reminiscent of a tree house, with some rooms only having three walls and hammocks abounding! Mindo was a very relaxing weekend, with visits to waterfalls, butterfly farms, a frog concert and naturally lots of reading by the river. Of course that was balanced with speeding through the forest canopy at up to 70 miles an hour, sometimes upside down doing ‘the butterfly’ and if you were feeling particularly adventurous a 5m plunge off the rocks to the waterfall below (we did have some brave people that day!) Mindo was definitely beautiful, peaceful and fun and a place many people want to come back to in the years to come!

So for the Antips Ecuador group, it has certainly been a full on first half of placement, and with trips to the Amazon, Coast and Galapagos in the planning stages and people learning to manage their classes more each day (they’re learning something now!) everyone is having a great time. They say time flies when you’re having fun!

GapBreak France - A Trip To Paris

Sup everyone?
I'm in France still, but it's not long till I finish! Another month, it has gone so quickly that I can barely remember what I've been doing. It's been a very busy time lately and going to get busier! I went to the lovely city of Lyon for the weekend with Laurent's ex wife Laeticia. She's really nice and we stayed with her cousins who are my age. So a good weekend shopping and lunching in french cafes!

The kids all have a one week holiday from school this week, so the family has all split up to go visit relatives. My french father Laurent has taken 3 of the kids to visit his sister in Touloun, while little Hugo has gone to visit his father up in North France. I'm in the little town of Orange with the youngest, Mateo, staying with Laurent's parents. And my french mother Sabine is staying at home to paint the house!

And this friday I'm off to Paris by myself to visit the friends of the family Lucille and Christophe. They're taking me further north to Normandy to visit Lucille's parents. Then Lucille and I will do some sight-seeing around Paris for the rest of the week. Then after that, I'm spending the weekend with my American friend Elizabeth (I met her when I was first in Paris for my one-week french course). Then back home to my french family! I will certainly be very tired afterwards, so will most likely stay at home and teach the kids for the rest of my stay in France. Which by that time will only be another two or three weeks!!

So that's what's happening in France!
Love to all!
Brooke xoxo

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Friday, 15 October 2010

Dalian, the Sydney of China

Yes, so I returned to Shenyang two days ago now, and can I say that it was the most productive holiday I've ever had. Brief itinerary: Arrived in Beijing last Thursday evening, spent two days in Beijing, travelled to Hohot on Saturday evening on a sleeper train. Arrived in Hohot (Inner Mongolia) Sunday morning, travelled to the grasslands then Bautou, spent Sunday evening and Monday in Bautou in the desert, then travelled back to Hohot Monday afternoon and spent the rest of the time there. Then Tuesday night we travelled back to Beijing, again via sleeper, and arrived Wednesday morning. Spent all WEdnesday and Thursday in Beijing and got back to Shenyang 10pm Thursday night. All ready to teach the next morning.

So anyway.......

Quickly, Dalian was beautiful. Three days there, reminded me a bit of Sydney. Clear skies, wider cleaner streets, just the whole scape was like home. Went to the beach one day, pebbles and windy and cold, but all the Scandinavians/other Europeans went swimming regardless. Emily and I just slept on the beach. Such a good three days. There's a photo on facebook of us all at the beach. Check it out sometime.
Beijing was awesome, like it always is. It felt familiar, kind of like returning home. Friday the 1st was national Day, and the crowd at Tiananmen Square was intense. We didn't quite make it to the parades in the morning, as the previous night was spent re uniting with other TTCers and the TTC staff in the expat bars. When we returned to our hostel, crowds were already streaming towards the square at 4am. Our hostel was 5 minutes down from the square, in one of the Hutongs. It was lovely btw, we had a ten bed dorm to ourselves as there were seven of us, and the breakfast was amazing. Anyway we managed to make it to the square about midday, and climbed all four stories of the gate. Walked around just absorbing the atmosphere and crowds, got our Chinese patriotism on. It was beautiful, there were so many flowers, and a water fountain and two huge screens displaying montages. The roads were closed off and Qianmen subway was closed for two days just because everyone converges on the square that day. Stll, quite an experience.

So yes then Inner Mongolia. Never seen such open sky in China. On the Sunday morning, after not much sleep on the train (I had the top bed in a three tier bunk) we travelled straight to the grasslands and rode horses for two hours. It was so freaking freezing, apparently 1 degree. Tyler and I almost died, but some were just in Tshirts just like, whatever this is what i do. Lunch was amazing though, they brought out a whole lamb, just sitting on the trolley (huge btw) piled it on the plates and just let us go wild with it. Never devoured so much lamb in my life. Travelled round the grasslands for a bit, then went to Bautou. Next day was spent in the desert, camel riding and doing general touristy desert activities, if you can imagine. It was actually really pretty, Tyler has photos which I can show you sometime. Then we returned to HOhot and spent the rest of the time there, doing Hohot things. The last evening before I train we pretty much just wandered the city, spent most of the time in the central square. Comes alive at night, there were flowers everywhere, people singing, playing instruments, balloons, kids in huge bubbles in the fountain, red lanterns which they were releasing into the sky. And that is Inner Mongolia.
Brief sidenote, it's now two days later- yesterday our school organised an excursion for the teachers because we had a day off. Went to Bengxi, two hours away, to see the mountains. The area is famous for its fung ye, all the leaves turn a brilliant red, before falling. It is amazing, next time anyone is in Liaoning province in qu tian (autumn) definitely need to check out Bengxi and the mountains. Smile, one of the teachers, home town is half an hour away, so she could tell us all about it.)
Next two days in Beijing, visited Temple of Heaven which is 300 hectares. Biggest green space in Bejing thus far. Next day we visited Beihai park, again huge, and spent the afternoon on a paddleboat on the lake before we had to catch the train. Made me miss Beijing and everyone who's there. But still good.

And yes that's my holiday. Back at school now, getting better. My two year olds are pretty much used to me now, I had a really good class this morning. It's Smile's class, they pick things really fast, although they're quite rowdy. Just had some of my four year olds ten minutes ago, they were not interested today, they started packing up my materials before i finished teaching and all said good bye. Slightly offended, but I think they just wanted a nap.


Wednesday, 13 October 2010

G'day to mysterious China


I"ve been teaching this to all the Chinese teachers at my school. Bless. They now say it to me upon my arrival in the morning. I suppose this journey abroad has somewhat instilled a sense of patriotism in myself. It is true though, only in my absence have I realised the luckyness and opportunities bestowed upon us, merely by being born where we are. I mean, just having the basic security of a fair wage commission, adequate welfare, support for those with disabilities. The list could go on for days. Don't be mistaken though, I am relishing my time in this vast land called China, so much so in recent weeks I have endeavoured outside of the Shenyang community to places including; the wonderful Beijing, a small coastal city called Dalian and a few locations in Inner Mongolia. What a delight this country is.

I wish I knew more about Chinese culture. Their traditions and holidays are so mysterious to me, even still. From the 22nd to the 24th of October a celebration called the Mid-Autumn Festival took place. It was a grand time. I got to try the Chinese food delicacy, 'Moon Cake' and have 3 days of no teaching.
''What does a foreign teacher do during this time?'' I hear you ask! Well, us Shenyangians (Shenyangians; n; a term used to describe the 16 or so teacher interns placed in Shenyang, including myself, which hang out on a regular basis) got our travel bug on and after much difficultly, boarded a train to Dalian. The train ride was so lovely. Train rides that last for 4 hours are simply wonderful. I can just gaze out the window and admire all the wonder. Read a book. Listen to some tunes. And not get annoyed.

Dalian, what I liked most about this little metropolis were the blue skies. Everyday. Upon our arrival, we checked into the hotel, just so our basic physiological needs could be met. It was nice. Our view of the city was incredible (20th floor). Then just had a general browse around the city, it was small. Small for China, I should say. It just had this relaxed atmosphere, this vibrancy and intriguing architecture. I don't really remember the chronology of the trip, so I will just pick out a few highlight worthy moments. Finding Dairy Queen! This place completes me. They serve their ice creams upside down. Just saying, it's a bit awesome. That evening we went for a miscellaneous wander around the city and stumbled upon a small congregation of Chinese teenagers rollerblading. Their skills were really impressive. They were weaving around witches cones and doing various other tricks I'm not sure how to word.

I almost failed to mention, our trip to the beach. Potentially one of my favourite days in China thus far. Just chilling at the beach.
Jumped on a bus, jumped off the bus and there we were. I got really excited to see the horizon. The sun just decided to be golden that day, so thank you sun! Upon reaching the shoreline however, I did notice something obscure. PEBBLES, and sand. Mainly pebbles though. I imagine that is what every beach in England resembles, but for Australia it is an obscuirty. Not one that displeased me, just one I wasn't used to. I basked in the sun's glory for a short time, then went for a brisk stroll up and down the beach. It was stunning, mainly due to these gorgeous islands visible in the distance.

Another highlight was on the last day, and our trip to 'Labour Park'. The Chinese know how make a day at the park memorable. They make it aesthetically wondrous, fill it with an abundance to do and put a TV tower at the top- only accessible by a strenuous walk or cable car, ohh and they give it a most remarkable 365 degree view of the city. I only know because I went up there. Which transportation method did I take? It's irrelevant. I toboganned down. Which I enjoyed more than thoroughly.

I may be incorrect in saying this, but National Day on October 1st, potentially the 2nd largest holiday in Chinese culture? Ah well. I spent that particular day at Tiananmen Square, which is a kind of big deal considering 61 years ago, on that day, the People's Republic of China was founded by dear old Mao Ze Dong. And they celebrate this day by holding military shows at none other than Tiananmen Square. Millions converge on the square for this day, and that is believable. It was massive. They decorated the square with flowers, and these extremely long stone blocks which had none other than televisions inside of them. It was quite outlandish.

Our hostel was within walking distance of the square and a bit off topic, but our hostel- actually the greatest hostel ever. The walls were filled with notes from all those that travelled through it's halls and we got to leave a message there to. It was nice. I quoted Kahlil Gibran. He is appropriate for every situation. Back to National Day, which I should clarify is not exclusive to October 1st. Most of China has a one week holiday, and I was part of that lucky majority. I once again went travelling, first to Beijing then to Inner Mongolia, then to Beijing again.

Inner Mongolia was incredible, absolutely incredible. I remember when I stepped off the train. This chill just hit my bones. A chill I was not anticipating. Wearing only a jumper and jeans I was not expecting 1 degree celsius temperatures, but we dealt. By we, I am a referring to myself and my roomates Molly, that wonderful Australian and Konny, the crazy but hilarious German. Okay, so Molly and I didn't really know what to do at all, except shiver and wear as much clothing as possible. We boarded a tour bus straight away and went on our way from Hohot (the capital of Inner Mongolia) to Bautou, a city about an hour and a half away. Upon reaching this destination, the cold weather still subsisted, but the scenery distracted me from any negative feelings. Just these vast, open and wide landscapes. Stretching so far into the distance. There was not a single sky scraper in sight.

This place was called the Grass Lands and I liked them very much so. We went horse riding for two hours through them. And by horse riding, I don't mean anyone led us by string. These were real horses and we rode them by our lonesome. Sometimes the horses just decided to be non conformists and trot off and freak everyone out. No injuries took place, suprisingly, just sore bottoms the following day. We made a few pitstops on the horses, first to eat some Mongolian sweets, which were quite delicious, second to make a wish on this stone structure. I think mine came true.

After horse riding, it was lunch, where we were presented with a Mongolian scarf. I still have it in my ownership. A king and queen were selected for a ceremony to carve the lamb-lamb is kind of a big deal in Inner Mongolia. They cooked it like I would have on a Sunday evening back in Australia. It made me crave gravy. My friend Anna was the queen, she is Swedish and an absolute menace. I call her a behemoth because she is so tall. The king was moderately smaller than her, so when he had to piggy back her around the entirety of the restaurant, hilarity ensued. Baijo! -rice wine. Like, the most alcoholic drink ever. It's quite common in Inner Mongolia apparently. We had to take a shot of it upon arriving in Bautou and then again at the lunch ceremonial thing. Anna though, being the queen had to have 2 (quite large) bowls. Let's just say, she got a little intoxicated and later did some Mongolian style wrestling. I love that girl. Good egg.

The second day in Inner Mongolia involved going to the desert, which was once again amazing. I took quite a few pictures, potentially too many of merely sand. But it was just so visually stunning, these silhouettes of sand. At first it was a cable car ride, then a camel ride, then a train ride, then some walking and then we reached some sand sculptures which were quite remarkable. Took a few pictures of them. And a few moments later a traditional Mongolian dance occured. It was quite spectacular, I attribute it mainly to the guy which was playing with fire. Inner Mongolia was being pretty awesome. With it's beautiful landscapes and the wonderful company it kept.

Slightly off topic, but I was a bit of a popular gentleman in Inner Mongolia. First instance, eating dinner and the waiting staff start taking pictures of me on their phones- no, not the attractive blonde girl next to me. Second instance, visiting a temple in Hohot- a family of ten all ask for individual photos with me, then a collective one. This was subsequently followed by another two families asking for my face in pictures with their children. Most cities in China, locals are quite fascinated by Westerners, but not usually so much those with brown hair and eyes. It was flattering nonetheless. By far the most flattering occurence was when I was escorted off the tour bus by the guide because there was a young Chinese girl that had seen me through the window and wanted to know my name and phone number. Cute.

Inner Mongolia was great. But then it was back to Beijing, before the last stop- home, Shenyang. Upon our return to Beijing, it was straight off to the Temple of Heaven. Which was stunning. And huge. It was just such a lovely day spent there. Almost 6 hours. It was just filled with greenery and parks and, suprisingly temples. When the sun was setting it was most wonderful. At one point during the day, in the late afternoon. Molly, Anna and I helped out a busker by singing for him and attracting a large crowd of Chinese people. Earlier in the day I made up this song, in Chinese. Basically it just says 'ni feichang piaoliang' many times, which translated means 'you're very beautiful.' People were bopping along and smiling. It was nice.

The next day was the final day of the holiday, and it was spent at a place called Beihai Park, directly adjacent the Forbidden City, it was really lovely. I didn't get to explore it as much as I would have liked. This was due to time constraints for the train ride home. But let's just say I had a most endearing and memorable afternoon on a paddle boat in Beihai Park. That was it. All has been swell since my return to Shenyang, I have resumed teaching and love every moment of it. The weather is cooling down, last evening it was 6 degrees celsius. I am excited for what is about to come. Yet to get home sick, which is nice. That's not to say I miss every member of my life back in Australia.

I know this is long, and probably at times boring, but I just really wanted to provide a detailed synopsis of my adventures. I hope it was enjoyable for the most part.

Love from Tyler.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Bhaktapur; Characterless or Charming?

Today we are in Bhaktapur; a very medieval plae. It has a beautiful rural backdrop. Over the 2 days, I developed my appreciation wandering the streets aimlessly over a few hours with Bee and Rachel, to discover undiscovered temples and long, outstretched, walkways not found on maps or mentioned in any guide book.
We found mothers bathing their children near a well on narrow, sunlit alleyways. On the cobblestone streets we see most of the locals wear ragged clothes. A lot of the children are grubby. On the outskirts of Bhaktapur are many dusty brick houses and tiny and tight convenience stores. It took me an hour or 2 of exploring the inner streets to develop an appreciation, let alone the sheer enjoyment.
As Rachel later consulted her Lonely Planet after her aimless wander, she found the advice was exactly ‘to wander aimlessly’. As we have complete faith in our Nepal Lonely Planet, we figured we’ve probably travelled Bhaktapur as a true traveler is supposed to.

Jane and Bee’s mission was the find the Nepali lolly ‘jerry’, (Rachel; “It’s Garry!”) wheat flour deep fried with sugar. Megan and I also found what we’d like to add to our collection of masculine named lollies ‘Rocky’ (basically a tasteless pastry that is too hard to bother 2nd glancing).

We are staying in a lovely quaint hostel called ‘Big Bell guest house’ where we enjoyed the textual-perfect boiled eggs and banana porridge at Big Bell. “Solid well-run cheapie” says our ‘Nepal Lonely Planet’. Yes. We do have complete faith in it to a tee. We also devoured amazing spinach and mushroom enchiladas chowmein and buttered toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner at “Sunny Guest House”. The sunny place had a gorgeous pink sunset one night as we ate our first dinner there, and in the morning it was a glorious light blue as we were speaking on skype to our lovelies. It was also a good balcony overlooking a type of Nepalise fighting set up for tourists and the town folk to watch and witness. A DJ played annoying and out of tune remixes of lady Gaga and the Black eyed peas, yet it was interesting to watch this small arena full of people anticipating a good Nepalise fight, a bit like boxing, not as nitty gritty. On the last day we were there the Nepalise fighting teachers competed against each other, so that day had rather a large crowd.
There were a few crazy sightings including 3 sick dogs running at a chicken that got so scared it flew - and yes I did scream. There golden temple was small but stunning. Rachel, Bee and I strolled down to the Potters square. We took videos of the men carving and shaping the pots…and then ran away after they held out their hand for money. Skillage by us! We peeked inside barn structures and found there was lots of labor. The pots they form are quite dainty. Small little pots that fit in your hand are approximately 15 rupees (25c).

As we continued our little self tour down the side streets with multiple shrines and temples (supposedly there are more than the population of Nepal), Bee and I realized how brilliant beyond brilliant we were for thinking of the coolest present for our brothers; knives, we wondered how we could possibly get knives through airport security. Our plans from scheming unfortunately led us to be ending up in Thailand jail.
We walked past many shops on the small silent cobblestone streets that sold paintings painted so delicately with real gold, silver and bronze paint. I watched a few young men painting whilst sitting what seemed to be the Australian equivalent of aboriginal paintings, with the only assistance of a very fine brush. They seemed very patient and focused, only moving their hand muscles. Other places that sold paintings with handmade paper and pastel water colours seemed to soak up my heart. I want all of them. I am determined to buy a whole shop worth if I can. I did however buy almost a whole shop worth of beautifully beaded pillow cases…yeah… but they really are dazzling with the colours and beads in their little patterns. I promise mum!

We were very “happy snappy” (As Bee says) as we took photos hugging stone elephants and posing in front of 1000 year old courtyards. Paying for a walking tour? Nah…we’re experts! We live here now! We’re not tourist, pfft! When in sight of other foreigners, we’re like, ‘Nup! Get out! This is our territory. Durbar Square was crowded as it is tourist season, however it is hardly as crowded or tourist infiltrated at Bhaktapur compared to Kathmandu. The majority of us prefer this.
I really am glad I did Bhaktapur properly and walked through it taking in a lot more meaning with my meandering as I grew quite a connection and appreciation for a place I found dirty and basically unappealing to begin with.

Little tid bits:

Bhaktapur would not be the same without:
• Bee’s Happy snaps
• Kiri finding 3 museums in 1 day
• Esther loving her fried rice

• Megan and I bonding over our banana porridge every morning outside thevillage, regardless of which hotel we are staying at. (Megan always seems to pick the best thing on the menu. That really is talent)

• Bee and my chocolate hunts at the local supermarket and chocolate renditions regardless of where we are for dessert.

• Peanut butter is a must for Rachel at supermarkets – even in Bhaktapur
• Kiri and her amazing 15 rupee small pot buys

• Kiri, Rachel, Megan and my ‘Beaver Gang’ and mini ‘German Monopoly charade’ a restaurant. Yes I really do think that ‘Plein S-Gravenhage’ ‘Vreeburg Utrecht’ and ‘Ketelstraat Arnhem’ indicates that we may have sat at the wrong table. We weren’t wrong when a mouse showed up. A foreigner from the next room heard us squeeling and tried to assure us with “Don’t worry. In Nepal mice are pets.” Yeah…wee know. We do live with a bat, cat, 2 ‘more than friendly’ mice, a group of mosquitos we accidently befriended and not to mention a visit buy a 2m snake under our brothers pillow, Rachel, Kiri and Suza’s bedroom poles, and my bedroom food stash. Due to our Nepali not being much better, we’ll deffers try and sit at an English table next time, and away from ‘Vreiden ville’ or whatever it was. Maybe our friends Jerry/Garry and Rocky will be there to greet us and let all problems ooze out of our tastebuds.

• Waking up to “Banana Pancakes” on the roomie of the weekend; Esther’s ipod.
• Greeting Nicole and Suza on the ‘Calamushi’ bus ride home after their week in Putan/Bhaktapur.

• Going to school before heading home to play netball and throw and catch with a tennis ball for our Sunday sport day.
• Spinach and mushroom enchiladas
• Chowmein
• Glorious morning walks in the cool sun
• Internet sessions and hearing one of the 7 of us randomly laughing or gasping at the computer screen after reading news

• Shopping for toblerone at the supermarket
• Nepalise men wrestling
• Meandering
• The dogs and chickens fighting

International Grammar School Nepal Trek

We have arrived in Pohkara after completing a 7 day trek. All of us are resting as he trek was lots of fun but quite exhausting. On the trek there were some amazing views of some of the biggest mountains including Annapurna South and Machu Puchre, the mountain which has never been climbed before. We passed through many mountain villages, and although we slept all 6 nights in tents, 3 of the camping grounds were right next to village. On the first night, after a 600 meter climb we reached a camping ground which we shared with soldiers who were training. The camping ground was on the side of a hill and it had an amazing view, especially in the morning when the clouds had cleared. On the second night we camped in a bog. It was lots of fun. On the afternoon of the following day we got to Poon Hill, the highest point of our trek, at an altitude of 3.2km. We then walked down to a village called Ghorepani where we washed and camped. The next night we camped again in a village, this time called Tada Pani where we could wash again. The following day we walked down into a massive valley, and then camped halfway up the other side at Landruk. Finally we go to our last campsite at the Australian campsite, located 1 hour north of Dhampus. Today we walked down a long way to get to a wide valley floor from where we got a bus back to the Fairmount hotel in Pokhara.

School Term Begins in Cambodia - Alexandra's 5 weeks in Siem Reap

I have always been an avid scholar, and have always felt a seemingly unusual affinity towards the prospect of learning new things and befriending new people. Instead of dreading attending school every day and coming home even more half-cast than leaving, I was always the one who came home bursting with stories no-one truly cared for (which I told everyone anyway). Now, with my position somewhat reversed - me being the teacher instead of the student, I still feel the same way. My initial fear of teaching a class of students who neither understand the majority of my language, or have little background knowledge of it has been replaced by excitement at the prospect of seeing all of my students again each morning.
With the school term now officially begun (on October 2nd), more and more students are attending the morning classes at SHCC, and the Sangkheum girls have finally started their proper lessons. Alana and Beckett have been kept busy (as usual) at Jay's school with the constant stream of developmental plans they were encouraged to work on. Along with the website they've been creating, the excessive flooding at the school, the extraordinary amount of cleaning they have had to do and the arrival of Jay only days away now, they've been working extremely hard over the last few weeks to get to where they are now. However, a variety of sicknesses and ailments have got everyone here dropping like flies - from infected cuts to dengue fever, someone's had it. I suppose it will all make for interesting stories in the long run though, and everyone seems to be taking it in their stride.
After over five weeks of being in Cambodia, I feel I haven't properly expressed the brilliance which this country is bursting with. Our weekend trips are constantly filled with everyone's child-like awe at the surrounding beauty of this wholly foreign and completely new country, along with the rich excitement which can only come from the exploration of new places and situations. From attending a pre-dawn Buddhist ceremony at 4am, to visiting the floating village and floating forest, to once again hopping on a multiple hour bus ride (made even longer by a burst tire along the way) to Phnom Penh, and then back to teaching in a small, poor village just outside Siem Reap, we are all really beginning to get a picture of Cambodia in it's entirety. The horrifying past of Cambodia only succeeds in making me realise how truly amazing this country is, and how exceptionally fortunate I am to be able to live in a country like Australia where our past has not been coloured by terrible genocides or extreme poverty.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Oktoberfest in Argentina? Quick update from our GapBreak students

It's been a very hectic few weeks here in the roadhouse! Spring is truly here in Buenos Aires, and free time is spent soaking up sun on the terrace of the residence with some newly purchased speakers. One month in, everyone has more or less settled into their various routines of either ESL assistant teaching or volunteering and Spanish lessons. Those of us who chose to continue with Spanish lessons with our extremely patient teacher, Gabi, are finding our skills improving, although far too slowly for our liking! Myself and Lucie are starting to realise how great the language barrier truly is and how frustrating it is not being able to properly communicate with the children or the workers at our placement. Although, the children seem to be warming to us lately - instead of being "those strange two girls who don't understand us" we are slowly becoming "those strange Australian girls who understand a bit of us", which is definitely a positive sign. Those doing ESL assistant teaching, although working less hours than us volunteers, are enjoying their work, and from all reports seem to be treated like Gods by their students in the local private schools. Everyone is excited about our upcoming trip to Cordoba, where we are told the second largest celebrations of Oktoberfest in the world take place. Germany + Argentina can only equal greatness! All in all, Buenos Aires is a fantastic city and it's hard to believe we have already spent a month here!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Special Education in Ecuador. Kelly's first month!

In one day from now we will have all been in Ecuador for a month. It seems crazy to think we have been here that long, because the time is flying by really quickly! We are all in the immersion stage of our volunteering placements, and getting the opportunity to learn about what our roles and responsibilities in Ecuador are for the three month volunteering period.
The placements that we are completing fall into four main categories: Medical assistance, early childhood care, teaching and special education.Each placement incorporates different expectations and levels of teaching for all volunteers who are participating. Although it took about a week for us all to choose our placements (some members of the group rotated around the placements for a few days to find the one that they were most comfortable completing) we are all enjoying the roles that we have been given. The placements occur primarily at primary schools, but also at medical clinics and day care centres. The placements so far are:

• Teaching: Edwina, Tess, Samantha, Alex, Olivia, Emily
• Early Childhood: Melissa, Garigarra, Bec
• Medical Assistance: Jess, Chloe, Katelan
• Special Education: Kelly, Steph, Klara, Katy, Erin, Caroline

More information on personal experiences of each placement will come through in later blogs. I know that for the special education placement at the Insitituto Insfidim por los ninos discapacidad, we are all being exposed to different disabilities. The exposure to different disabilities makes it more difficult to plan lessons (what you teach to a class of physically disabled young people is different to a class of mentally disabled children, and again different when there is a combination of abilities under your care). Although it is sometimes difficult to accommodate these varying abilities, when the lesson plans work out well it makes it all the more worthwhile and special ☺

Also in the last week Ecuador has made the news with another round of political instability. This occurred whilst we were at our placements on Thursday the 30th of September. Due to the quick thinking and telephone abilities of Alex, Caroline and Marcelo, all volunteers left their placements early to return to their apartments (in the safer part of Quito). We were informed that riots had broken out within Quito city regarding new government laws in relation to the financial benefits given the police force and the military.

During the day on Thursday we were informed that the main airports in Ecuador were seized, the national assembly was stormed and the president was held captive in the police hospital. On Thursday night the president was freed by the military (unfortunately 8 people died in the attempt) and since then the situation has changed completely. I have never seen a political situation change from one extreme to another extreme in such a short period of time! On Friday you could barely tell that anything had occurred the day previously. The only difference was the higher military presence on the streets of Quito.

Our group of volunteers had intended to travel to the town of Banos on the weekend of the riots, but were unable to go due to the traffic blocks that had been put in place. Instead we remained in Quito for the weekend, sticking close to our houses and spending time with the volunteers that live within a close proximity to ourselves. This was a bit of a change of birthday plans for Melissa, who celebrated her 19th birthday in the midst of political instability. The majority of our group will be travelling to Banos on the 8th of October instead, as it has become a lot safer to travel outside of the city now.

Another blog coming soon!


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Team A IGS - Hello from Nepal!

Hello from Nepal!

This is team A of International Grammar School just letting everyone know that we're alive and well :)
Right now we are in day 5 of the trip and day 2 of the community project in the Tibetan monastery. Yesterday we started with a bang and finished a three hour task in only one hour! the worker men were very impressed with our speed and i think we gave them a few tips by our stone and brick passing chains. Nepal right now is SO very hot!! Everyone is drinking as much fluids as we can get our hands on and sunscreen is being slathered on frequently! But we are none the less working hard and vigorously to get this kitchen done for the monks. After we finished work for the day yesterday at 5.00, us Australians and the monks versed each other in some soccer matches outside. it was so lovely to see the two of us relate and converse over something so familiar to us both.

Day 1 of the trip was a slow start having a 9 hour plane trip then stopping for the night in the Novotel in Bangkok. Waking up and then catching another 2 hour plan trip straight into Kathmandu where we were greeted by MANY people eager to take a look at us Westerners and smells like no other. We then had a bus trip and a walk to a lovely lodge called the Holy Lodge. After the most amazing walk into Durbar Square followed by a dinner of sitting on the floor in our own room and laughing, being entertained by our amazing group.
The next day we woke up and started our supposed to be 7 hour trip that turned into about 10 because of the traffic! But we eventually got to Pokhara, settled in and then spend the night shopping in the rain. After that night we got a bus trip to the monastery where we settled into our amazing rooms of (girls) all sleeping together in one big room and the boys having their own rooms.

So that was a little bit of a recount of our first 5 days in Nepal and as the internet time of this small internet cafe place is running out i'm rappnig this up.

Team A IGS