6th and final blog of My Trip to Asia-Homeward Bound

Angel and I on the final day

“I’m sitting in an airport gate waiting on my transportation. . . and I am homeward bound” at last! How’s that for working in not one but two songs!

In fact, last night I was so excited I could barely sleep. Thank Heaven I’m not sleepy yet. Hope I can crash on the trans-something flight to Atlanta. After 3 days of no internet service, I was finally able to text my family to let them know I’m headed home.

As usual, the flights have already been interesting but not eventful. Q Airport was CROWDED this morning but I was able to get to my gate, get a caramel macchiato to go and even purchased a magazine in the bookstore. Just wish I had located the rest of my money and used it to purchase a cute navy check loose dress I saw, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be and, no, I will not return for that or anything else.

We spent the last two nights in a nice hotel in the city very close to the airport and it had the best shower we’ve had the whole time. I didn’t fear for flies, mosquitos, or fleas and other bugs attacking me in the middle of the night as they did at camp.

Back to the city stay. We also had the best meals there we’ve had the whole trip. The first was an evening meal that was advertised as gourmet dining. (It said that on the front of the building so it must have been, right?) I don’t know about that but it was quite fresh and good. The next morning Angel and I had delicious coffee in Jul’s Coffee, a Korean coffee shop at the square where they dropped us off to go shopping. This group apparently does a lot of shopping. Anyway, I found a cute blue bunny crossbody purse for my 8 year old made out of fur that I hope she likes. I then purchased small keychain sized bunnies for all three and some hair accessories for my 8 and 3 year olds. I kept seeing panda bear items at each city since the country is known for them and thought of my 7 year old and wondered if he still likes them or has outgrown them. It hurts so much to be denied contact with two of my grandchildren, perhaps forever. Anyway, back to my account.
For lunch we met 7 of the native residents who were friends of members of our group and it was nice to get to know them. The good and surprising thing about our food was that we had sweet and sour chicken, my favorite Asian dish. I had about given up on having it thinking that it might be an American version of an Asian dish, but it was the real one exactly, down to the aroma. One of the natives seated next to me asked if I liked sweet chicken to which I responded with an enthusiastic “yes.” I’ve noticed that the Asian people are proud of their cuisine and want visitors to enjoy it, also.

Well, our gate number was just changed so I went shopping a little to spend my native coins. I found some peanuts and M&Ms for my husband and Disney chocolates and Skittles for my grandchildren. Then began the long wait. The waiting area was so packed that I ended up standing, knowing that I’d soon be sitting for a long, long time until we reached Atlanta. After riding the subway bus and climbing a double flight of stairs where a very kind man offered to lift my carry-on bag up the flight of stairs when he saw me struggling. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.

I’m now sitting in my Delta Comfort seat seat, exactly 2 rows from First Class which is probably the closest I will ever get to it. A group of 9-11 year old Asian children on an EF Tour just boarded. They are chattering away in their native language and one little girl smiled at me as they passed by. It looks like rather a large group for only 3 chaperones though and reminded me of my ACIS tour trips of the 80’s and of the children I recently taught in the English camps. It’s been 40 minutes since we boarded and the people keep streaming in. I just hope that we don’t have to share a restroom with all of them.

Two experiences on the flight stand out vividly to me. The first one occurred when the attendant brought our first meal. I unwrapped the silverware to eat and realized that it looked somewhat strange to me; not yet foreign but as a distant memory. So I spied the chopsticks, quickly unwrapped them and began eating. As I started feeling full, a sensation I hadn’t felt before on the 3 week trip, I began looking around at the other passengers and noted use of both utensils, a real experience of East meets West or really the other way around. The second event or coincidence happened when I was conversing with a fellow passenger across the aisle. After we had both talked about the reasons for our respective trips, he started telling me about a special city that he and his wife had discovered online for their upcoming retirement residence. When I asked him its name and location, I was quite surprised to discover that it is a neighboring city to the south of our recently adopted city, proving the old adage that it is indeed a SMALL, SMALL WORLD!

Fatigue and other dislikes

In our second city, the camp is located in a lush green mountainous region. But, with mountains, you get stairs which are not steep but numerous and some days, never ending. Angel jokingly says that we will have athletic calves as a result, but most days I’d opt for flat land. Nevertheless, this is where we are and with the steps we must cope. You may be wondering,, just how many steps does she mean? Unlike my usual habit I’ve not counted them but a conservative estimate would put them at 24 per level of which there are three to our cottages, plus a dozen more to get into our cottage,, at least 3 dozen to climb to the main building where we eat our three meals. So, on an average day, just how many steps do we climb and descend?
The amount is rather staggering since this includes 3 meals in the main building, usually six ascents and descents from our cottage to the other cottage where most of the other teachers are lodged, not including special events!
I’m sleeping an average of 6-7 hours per night. The rest of the time is spent in preparation or cleanup for 2 English classes, 3 art classes and 1 assist in Storytime per day. Most of us have had a stomach virus, sinus problems, and one had a toothache that sent her to the dentist for a whole day. Whew!
My physical pain from my wrists, neck, back, and lower GI tract often pales in comparison to the external and internal stressors I’m facing. One of the roosters in the zoo crows from early morning to late at night. The lightning and thunder in the previous camp and frequently in this one is interspersed with sauna weather. In America the weathermen talk about the heat index, but here it is more like a sauna index causing me to never step outside the door without a full water bottle and often a cap or sunbrella, an umbrella equipped with a black lining to shield one from the sun’s rays and heat.
Being here in Asia for me can only be taken one hour at a time, sometimes every 10 minutes or one task at a time.

Let’s Celebrate! An American’s experience of an Asian birthday party

Last night the couple who organized the camp had a birthday party to celebrate a 10 year old’s birthday since it occurred during the camp. The party was held in the students’ dining hall which had a stage at one end and the kitchen on the other. My roommate, Angel, and I walked down to the hall where we saw some of the other teachers and young adult camp helpers. Half the room was filled with the 30 students at the camp. One little boy was standing up on the small stage with the organizer who had a microphone he was passing around as s students would raise their hands, be chosen to go up on stage, given the mic, then speak a few words in their native language. After each one spoke the students clapped and then another one raised his hand to speak.

We found out today that the director had asked the children who would like to give a blessing to the birthday boy and that each one would bless him to “live a hundred years, live a long life,” and other niceties. Then one of the male native helpers came from the kitchen with a very large chopping knife which the director and the birthday boy used to cut his cake to serve everyone in attendance. The cake was made by a local bakery, was white with white icing and topped with various kinds of Asian fruit, all of which was delicious. Angel told me that one was called dragon fruit, her favorite, and can only be found in that country. Although the director had joked about having fruit at a birthday party, the children and adults seemed to enjoy it immensely. As the cake was cut and served to the students, the music teacher, a native, was asked to provide music with her guitar on the stage. She was later joined by two other teachers who sang kids’ songs and performed the hand motions to accompany the songs.

After everyone had their fill of cake, the lights were dimmed, the disco ball hung in the center of the room was lit, and the director played some dance songs. Some of the teachers and students started dancing. Angel joined the students on the floor to show them some country line dances and I showed G, one of the adolescent helpers, how to dance to disco music. Most of the students joined in and we danced to about 5 songs until we were tired and out of breath.

Then on came the overhead lights and the director brought a large white bag filled with fresh bananas. The children squealed with delight as they ran up to the table to get a banana. One student even brought 2 to Angel and me, the last teachers there. We hungrily consumed the bananas as did some of the students while others held them lovingly in their hands to take back to their rooms.

The party was over as the students lined up to return to their rooms in the “hotel” across from the pond and Angel and I climbed our way  back up the many steps to our cottage on the hill. It was truly an evening to savor.

The English Camps

Yesterday was the first day of camp; we were on the go from 8 am til 9 pm! I really like the students. Most of the students I have in Intermediate English are 10 and 11 year olds. I learned yesterday that I teach the same students twice in the day so had to quickly come up with a second lesson as the students filed into my classroom! Then in Art I get to see all the students divided into 3 levels. All of the students have American names so they are easier for us to pronounce. Mostly the boys are silly and giggly and the girls are rather quiet and demure. However, before the camp even started I learned about the twins, girls who are around 8 years old but act as if they are 5: they go wherever they want, such was entering my room at 9 pm the first night when I was really sick and getting ready for bed. Apparently, their mother is very lax in her supervision or discipline of them because I was told they acted the same way last year when their mom was a chaperone. The students range in age from 5 to 15 and most of them act about 2 years younger than their age.

Today I’m feeling better, thankfully, and hope it will continue. Also, our “monsoon” continues. We are lodged in a two story wooden building with a tin roof so we can hear the rain quite well. I love it when I have a little time to relax or at bedtime, but don’t when I’m teaching downstairs because it is loud, hot and humid. We have very small portable air conditioners that look like a small-sized box with a remote. The Asian parents who accompany the students to each class turn off the AC upon entering the room unless we tell them not to. Both the students and parents think it’s cold so they must not be used to air conditioning.

We have 9 teachers and our subjects include 3 levels of English, 3 levels of Art, Science, Music, Story time and Physical Education where they are learning how to play baseball. We have classes from 9 am until 4:30 pm. Then the students go to classes taught by the Asian parents such as playing the ukulele and other musical instruments. The kids finish these classes around 9 pm and must be very tired.

Our second camp was located about 6 hours away by high-speed train and van. It was outside a seaside town where the smog was almost gone and we could see the blue sky for the first time in 10 days. Like the previous camp, this one had a menagerie of animals, life-sized dinosaurs, a man-made pond. Additionally, it had riding horses, stables and corrals; “kiddie rides” from the fair, and a Western theme which was interesting, to say the least! There was a resident rooster whose crowing would awaken us some mornings and serenade us at other times of the day.