27 August 2014

bali, indonesia

Well July (and nearly August!) came and went in a flurry. This post has taken me days to complete, so thank you for your patience! I hope you can make it through the whole thing, and if nothing else enjoy the pictures...

My main man (okay, only man...) returned on the first or second day of July from Alaska and we proceeded to have an exciting month... my birthday, vacation, our friends from Norway visiting, and our vacation to Bali... my contract says I get 10 weekdays off in the summer and 10 in the winter, but my darling co teacher said before we left for vacation, "off the record" I could take an extra 5 days. And so I enjoyed the extra week and of course waited until Sunday night to plan my lesson for the following week. While we were in Bali, the new Noonday fall line launched and it is simply stunning. I can't wait to show you what our artisans have crafted and the HUGE ways Noonday is growing and impacting so many corners of the world. But first, you may want to hear about Bali...I'm excited to show you these pictures, and hopefully Tyler will work on a video of our adventures.

Bali is still a good 6-7 hour flight from Korea, but both Tyler and I thought it was really fun to be able to sit and watch movies the whole time, since we don't watch any sort of tv here (besides the occasional Jimmy Fallon clip on the computer) We landed in the late afternoon and sat in a few really long lines in the airport getting through customs with the rest of the tourists who traveled the short distance from Australia before we were finally released into the city of Kuta.

Ty and I flew in a day and a half earlier than Pal and Kristin, and for that one day we were apart, my darling husband had his heart set on traveling from the southern part of Bali to the northern, in order to get on a ferry and go to huge island of Java so we could hike into a volcano in the dead of night in order to see blue flames only visible in the dark. Yeah. You're thinking what I'm thinking. I must love him a lot.

Side note: I couldn't get enough of the Indonesian smoothie, called a lassi. Made with some kind of fruit and yogurt, it is the perfect combination of tangy and sweet. I sat sipping on this mango lassi and enjoyed some wifi while Tyler went in search of a honest and cheap/fair driver to take us to the ferry.

Tyler agreed on a price to pay our driver to take us the 3-4 hour trip to the ferry and we got kicked out no more than 20 minutes into the ride. The price was set before we got in the van but as soon as we passed a petrol station, the driver motioned and said that we will fill the van up at the end of the trip, when the tank is empty. Tyler disagreed and said that we didn't agree to pay for petrol and the driver got upset with us and kicked us to the curb outside of town. I accidentally closed my door a little loudly and made him even angrier. Fortunately, there was a taxi driver across the road and he came running over to us and asked if he could bring us someplace. He agreed to the price we were going to pay the previous guy and when Tyler clarified that we weren't going to pay for his petrol, he seemed surprised we would think that.

When we finally made it to the rickety ferry that crammed as many cars and motorbikes into the basement as possible, we went to the top as soon as possible. It wasn't but a few minutes into the trip that we were asked to take a picture with a family. And then another family. And then with them by themselves. It would have been fun for us to get a picture with our camera, but I didn't want to keep encouraging it.

We checked into a hotel in the town of Banyuwangi, got dinner and then were hoping to get some sleep before leaving to hike at 12:30am. Ty fell asleep and I, of course, tossed and turned until our alarms went off. Our bathroom was being invaded by large black ants when we left for the hike and I was worried we'd come back to them crawling all over our luggage so we closed up our suitcases and put everything on the bed. They must have been just a nighttime ant (?), though, because there was no sign of them when we returned, thank goodness.

We hired one guy to drive us up the mountain and another guy to guide us into the volcano. I had no idea what to expect and quite frankly, was hoping to get the hike over as soon as possible so we could head out of the visibly impoverished Banyuwangi and back to touristy, photogenic Bali. We had great timing, naturally, as our hike corresponded with when the local students had vacation and during such was was their tradition to hike this volcano, apparently. So the entire 2 hour hike up, we were surrounded by mostly male young adults, talking, laughing, pushing each other, running past us and then stopping for a snack and smoke break - not exactly what you want to surround you when it's pitch black and you are going up a mountain. And if I thought it would be a quiet, serene hike in the middle of the night, I was dead wrong. There was never a peaceful second. I didn't want to stop for any breaks so we would just zoom past everyone looking and talking about us. But that didn't last too long. Thankfully, when we finally made it to the edge of the volcano, we had passed a lot of the people and only the really hard core ones were still hiking with us.

After hiking 2 hours up the side of the mountain and then along the ridge to the edge of the volcano, we could finally smell the sulfur coming from the depths of the volcano, even if we still couldn't see the blue "flames". We got our masks out and covered our faces so we'd be able to handle the odor of the sulfur. Then we hiked 25 minutes down into the volcano and once we got closer, could finally see the blue flames. They were stunning when the wind was moving away from us, but we could only handle a couple big gusts of the sulfur straight in the face before we had to hike up.

We knew the pictures (and this terrible video) would do nothing to properly show how amazing the blue flames were. But hopefully they help a little. If you're really interested in the more scientific explanation about the sulfuric combustion, maybe this article will help, if nothing else will show better pictures.


And as stressful and frantic the hike felt, watching the sunrise behind us and the light take over the dark so we could see where we had been was more amazing than I can say. 

There are sulfur miners who work in the volcano carry out 90 kilos/200 lbs each trip (to make less than 25 cents/lb) - the same trip we had just done (and I had whined maybe once or twice about). The picture below is what they use to carry the sulfur. They get paid extra if they work in the night. A little perspective.
We thought this sign was ironic because there was trash everywhere on the entire hike, even in the volcano.
We made it safely back to Bali and enjoyed a couple days on the beach after meeting up with Pal and Kristin again.

The Balinese people mostly follow Buddhism, so everyday they set out tiny offerings at the front of each business and household and in restaurants. They were beautiful, but sadly by midday were usually trampled by oblivious tourists.

After a couple days at the beach, we went inland to Ubud and enjoyed a few nights at this villa outside the town. We found this gem on Airbnb, but they failed to mention that it also comes with resident lizards. One bigger than I've ever seen in a zoo, and it was on the wall in our room. Terrifying. They do have nets over the bed, but I don't know how much that would protect us if the lizard decided to jump on the bed. shudder.

Our villa came with it's own spring-fed pool.

Walking around the artsy (and touristy) town of Ubud.

I had my heart set on taking a cooking class, which the manager of our villa said he'd arrange for us. What we had read about online was that you'd be picked up and brought to a local market and shown around and explained what common Indonesian ingredients were for popular dishes. Then you'd be taken back to the kitchen where you would help cook and learn how to cook some amazing things. Some places would even give you recipe cards to make the meal back home. Welllllll let me tell you that what we got was laughable compared to descriptions we'd read about. First, yes, we were taken to a "market" to get ingredients. BUT it was a supermarket and our cute little escort didn't tell us unless asked what items she was throwing in the cart. And by the amount of food she was piling in, we thought we were being scammed and were going to be cooking food for the entire hotel. Then we were taken to a hotel (turns out, it was run by the same family who manages the villa we were staying in...ah ha!) on the opposite side of town and past way too many rice paddies and shacks. We finally got to the kitchen and knew what kind of treat we were in for. The kitchen was tiny and not exactly sparkling. The selfie you see below was most of it. And our job, as the cooking class students, was to peel and chop onions and garlic. No joke. Oh okay, and shred water spinach. The two women, on the other hand, were busy at the stove and would every once in a while turn to us and say what they were putting in the pot. lemongrass. garlic. tomatoes. chicken. I finally asked if we could do anything else and we were ushered out to the dining area, where we sat for quite a while. Kristin overheard a German family trying to get food and they were told the kitchen was closed for a cooking class. Yikes! The food was finally brought out and oh my goodness was it a lot. And delicious. There was fried tempeh, noodles, chicken, water spinach, rice, and corn patties (okay, most of it was fried, which was probably why it was so good) but still. We hardly did any damage on what they brought out. And while we didn't exactly get the cooking class we had thought, it was still quite the experience!

I had to take this picture of our cab driver going in the wrong lane around this entire line of cars. As soon as the light turned green, he cut everyone off to make a very sharp right. (they drive on the opposite side of the road)

We got to see some monkeys at the Uluwatu temple on the way to our final villa of the trip. I was almost suckered into paying for an escort to protect me from the monkeys, but my husband overheard him trying to sweet talk me and said it was not needed. But the monkeys really were ridiculous. They are trained to steal things from you so there are signs everywhere that say to not go in with sunglasses or loose clothing or shiny electronics. And if you don't listen to the warnings and the monkeys get away with something, the clerks will charge you to get your items back. Yep. I watched a monkey try to rip a girl's purple skirt off and try to yank a sandal from the bottom of another girl's foot!

The cliffs were truly stunning. We stayed a short distance from here.

Monkeying around...

The not-so-cute monkeys...and my husband trying to provoke him with the stick he was supposed to be protecting me with. There was only one cute monkey and he managed to groom Pal for a little while.

Another lassi in Uluwatu...

This was our second villa, on the cliffs of Uluwatu. Of course, any beach was a little bit of a drive and then a hike down the cliff, but totally worthwhile. And this villa was amazing and very close to a few local restaurants. And look! Do you see? That's BLUE SKY. aahhhh...something Korea has taught us to never take advantage of.

We were told to find this place, called Bingin Beach, where not many people go and the crowd is small and laid-back travelers looking for some good surfing. And we were not disappointed. The view was perfect, the water refreshing and it felt like we were finally on a tropical, secluded island compared to Ubud and Kuta, where we had spent the first part of our trip, along with thousands of other tourists. Being at Bingin beach made me wish I was a tan surfer girl with a few weeks or months to kill doing absolutely nothing. If only.

Our last night we enjoyed freshly grilled seafood while watching the sunset. Not a bad way to go out.

Our flight didn't leave until midnight on Saturday, so we got to spend the entire day relaxing on the beach and doing some last minute shopping and eating. Of course, I couldn't leave Bali without a little sunburn.

It was such a fun trip with our good friends. We always thought it would be great to vacation with another couple and it was even better than we could have thought!

I just had to take this one last picture of Bali trying to rip it's tourists off. It was sad to see how much extra money the island and country gets from people who come to experience their culture, everything from an entrance fee off the plane to a government restaurant tax AND a surcharge, to the taxis and the service charges and finally, this "passenger service charge". It was a great example of the good and bad tourism can do for a beautiful place.

23 June 2014

Korea is teaching me...

My husband left for a few weeks, and someone else stole my heart.

It might have been day two or three, or maybe even the first time I heard them repeat a word in English, muttering as to not disturb anyone, but still wanting to hear themselves say it. Maybe it was when they called me, "Teacher" for the first time, or explained and then apologized why they fell asleep in my class. I'm not sure, but either way, I do believe my heart was stolen politely and quietly by the youth of Korea, and thus, Korea itself.

I've said this before, but it is so hard to explain the gravity of a student on the edge of their seat, waiting for you to say a word they don't know so they can repeat and commit it to memory.

Today I met with a woman I will be tutoring once or twice a week after we are both finished teaching at our respective schools. She is a Korean who teaches Chinese who has a dream of learning English well enough that she is no longer shy or nervous to speak it. She told me she was nervous to talk to me, and I made sure to tell her she was much more adept than she realized, which was no stretch.

I have found it to be true with her, my students, co teachers and the people I have had lunch with on schools days that it is a challenge to talk simply (and slowly...) but also use regular jargon that makes everything seem much more natural than the rules they know so well from studying their books. And this has done wonders for my understanding of just how complex the English language is, something that I have never totally had to understand. For example, when I greet the students when they come in to class, I have to make a conscious effort to not say "hello", followed by "how are you" because they have learned and will repeat until their death to say hello and also immediately "I'm fine thank you, and you?" It is like clockwork. This is a typical conversation at the beginning of class:

me: "good morning! how are you today?"
student: "I'm fine, thank you, and you?"
me: "I'm doing really well today, thank you for asking...how is your day going, good or bad?"
student: "I'm fine, thank you, and you?"

Forcing myself to speak as I would normally, in a regular-school setting is something I hope will stick with them in order for them to learn other ways of greeting each other. Of course, every single textbook tells the students to respond how they do, so they will still do well in the grade book.

I didn't realize but the second I stepped foot in that school, I would be regarded as the "expert" of the English language. (if they were to examine my test scores and school records, they'd find how misguided that may be) I am asked daily, sometimes more than once, to check the grammar and usage of a particular sentence or paragraph, especially now that finals are coming up next week. If you know the really weird things about me, you probably know that editing is something that has always gotten me excited. There is no better flattery than someone asking me to edit a paper of theirs. And here I am not only allowed to do that any day of the week, but it is expected of me.

There are other ways Korea has stolen my heart. Seeing it through the eyes of people who have just arrived to the squadron make the country come alive. I took a few people on their first train ride to the shopping mall a few stops away (which is coincidentally just a 10 minute walk from my school) and even though Tyler and I spent his birthday there, and I have been a couple other times, was blown away anew by each of the 10 floors, and the rooftop garden that I had never noticed before. Korea does shopping and entertainment really well, and this building is no exception.

I couldn't help but snap a picture of this clothing rack in the mall/plaza...my brother Andrew will appreciate another great example of the korean/english that is so entertaining. I can't wait for his visit here!
The plaza had a basement half devoted to little "fast food" eateries, but the other half devoted to amazing Korean produce and fish and otherwise impossible to find (outside of our American commissary, of course) imported food, like this awesome sauerkraut.
somewhere over the yonder, there is a patch of green that resembles some sort of football field that belongs to the school I teach at. :) It was fun to find that and point it out to my friends.
I couldn't believe the other times I'd been to AK Plaza I have totally missed this rooftop garden. It gave an amazing view of the city of Pyeongtaek and surrounding area and was great to imagine bringing up snacks and drinks in the future to enjoy it even more.
Kory and I met in January, at our mutual friend, Emily's baby shower in Tucson. Tyler and I were on our way to Korea and Kory and her husband Jason joined us this summer. It has been fun showing her around a little bit and even better that I talked them into living close to us over in the Pine House :) 
Back in April or May, I was able to go to a rare cultural briefing on base given by a man whose position had been the liaison between the Korean and American militaries in Korea. He spoke Korean fluently and had lived as the Koreans live with his family for quite some time and was very knowledgeable in explaining the vast differences, and few similarities, of our two cultures. It was here that I learned about how important food is to the Korean culture and that eating by yourself is taken as a sign that you have been excommunicated by your family and friends. So while I usually have lunch buddies in the cafeteria in Mrs. Kim and Mrs. Pa, a couple times they haven't been able to eat lunch with me so I've been handed (very politely) off to someone else, so I never have to eat alone and risk the public humiliation that would apparently ensue (not that I would know about it, not speaking Korean and all...) Today's lunch buddy was a guy whose name I knew I could remember, until he said I can just call him "Mo" and prior Korean association went out the window. We talked on the way to the cafeteria and realized that we were nearly the same age, him being born just a month and 10 days after me. Apparently that meant we were friends and he reached out and shook my hand (the first time in all of the introductions I had made that a hand was extended to me) I know that one's age is on the same level of importance as the food thing, so I took it as a great sign that I now have an official "friend". We ate with my faithful lunch buddy, Yung Sun, and I was glad to have someone else in the school who is no longer too shy to practice their English on. When we got back to the teacher's room after lunch, Mo told me that he was "ordered" to treat me to coffee, but he decided that coffee would be too hot and disappeared to the "lounge" side of the room. I didn't know if it was the fact that when we shook hands, he could tell how sweaty I was from the humidity and heat, or if he was sick of watching me take napkin after napkin to wipe my sweaty brow from the spicy kimchi and soup at lunch. Either way, he came back with this pouch and said it was much better than coffee today. The pouch was frozen like a rock but melted very quickly when I held it up to my neck to help me cool down (where were these things hiding?!?) it finally melted and I was able to enjoy the "milk shake" pouch, which was basically sweetened frozen milk. And it was awesome. Thank you, Mo.
I know you're not supposed to have favorites, but my last class of first graders (16 year olds) on Mondays might just be it. I have never seen a more excited group of kids to play the game "stay standing" and I dare say that after 3 rounds, they still don't fully understand how it works. 
This sweet boy came wearing his friend's blanket as a cape, so I made him hold it up for a picture. He was very kind and explained that he and "many others" were awake and watching the 4am Korea World Cup game so they might be a little sleepy. I told him I understood, but hopefully class was fun enough that they would stay awake. It worked for everyone except him.

Of course, I would be amiss if I didn't acknowledge the fabulous Fiendettes who stuck around this summer, even though our husbands are all away. I have received a couple awesome gifts from my Secret Sister and it is driving me nuts trying to figure out who is spoiling me! Whoever gave this awesome personalized breakfast tray (with both of our names/"call signs") had it delivered to my front door by the time I got home from school last week!
Korea is not without it's quirks and inconveniences (as I had to pause just now and kill yet another centipede-looking bug) but it has grown on me rather quickly. Even saying such today might mean that I risk having a terrible day tomorrow, as things have been going, but I am not the least bit concerned that these students and this country have swept me off my feet.