Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Value of Experience in Vietnam


Having now arrived to my third and final country this summer, I am noticing a pattern of how each of these explorations begin. At first, there is trepidation because I have no clue about the area, where to go or what to do, but as soon as I immerse myself into it (which is always just to hit the streets and start walking), that wall crumbles and I feel completely confident in becoming a part of the community in my own, small way. There is no judgment as to what I choose to do because I am alone and no one around me really cares what I am doing. I also make sure to embrace the opportunities as they offer themselves to me. Today, I was walking down a street and saw a sign for art classes. The owner of the art studio came outside and we spoke briefly. He asked if I would like to learn how to paint and of course, I said YES! Tomorrow I have my first lesson.

Suddenly, I started to feel more connected with people and places as I am striving to get that feeling of overwhelming beauty or awe (my ultimate goal every time I go somewhere). Walking around, talking with people, or just observing what is happening around me, I begin to tap into the ideas within me that aren't yet  fully formulated, but soon construct themselves through exploration, questioning and thinking. The more I expose myself to the new people and places, the more I feel like I am not only learning about them, but I am also learning more about myself.
The challenges where I know I am in charge of building my own safety net in the midst of it all happening are the kinds of situations I sometimes hate while they are happening, but when I look back on them, I am so incredibly grateful. I continue to learn that the second I say I am ready to quit, if I just keep going, what's on the other side is beautiful, beneficial and worth more than I could have ever imagined.

"Okay everybody, how are you feeling? Are you done?" The tour guide asked us this question after we cycled about 20km in a heat index that was well over 110 degrees. I looked him dead in the eyes."Yeah, I am done." I said it, but I must not have actually meant it because I kept going. My head was spinning, I was well past a "runners high", my water was empty and I barely remember that stretch of ride. Even in the shade, I felt like there was no escape. At that point, I wantedto give up but, not enough, because I didn't. The energy from the group and the fact that I would have been the only one who actually stopped, helped me to keep going. And I am so glad that I did because if I had given up, I would not have experienced sitting in a basket boat on a river with an old Vietnamese tour guide making rings for me out of palm leaves and I wouldn't have experienced listening to CCR on the ride back through the rice paddies thinking about what it  was like for the people of Vietnam in the 1960's.

If I had given up after an 11 hour train ride, 3 hour bus ride in (still) 100-something degree weather with a stomach ache, no sleep and no food and no traditional bathroom to use, I would not have experienced the life of people in a village where the first hospital was built in 2015 and they were given electricity in 1995. I would have missed out on looking up at a house built on stilts and seeing two children screaming "hello!" and waving frantically at me. If I had given up after finally rinsing the sweat off while standing next to a toilet only to be covered in mosquitoes and more sweat, I would have missed the home cooked meal the family was so proud to make and serve for us. I wouldn't have experienced freshly squeezed sugarcane juice or learned how 4 generations of families live in a one-room home. I would have missed out on the first hand experience of seeing how happiness can come from simplicity at its most basic definition. 

There are so many things I learned while spending time in Vietnam, but one for sure, is to never give up when times get tough. These are just some fun examples and don't compare at all to life's most toughest of times, but today they are serving me as a good reminder.

Life can suck, but if we give up or take the easy road, what are we missing? If you stop when it gets difficult, you know what the ending will be and it involves you surrendering. But if you keep going, the possibilities are endless and who doesn't like a good surprise?!

Below are some of the highlights of the trek through Vietnam. I hope you enjoy!


Art combined with nature

His motor bike wasn't making it, so another man helped him over the bridge.

Woman making rice paper

Pagoda

Year of the Monkey

Hand stitching with silk

Boats on the river in Hoi An

Many couples come to this setting to get pictures taken the day before the wedding.

Ride up the mountain

Mom making sticky rice

Sisters enjoy a game together

Rice Fields against Beautiful Mountains


You haven't had an adventure until you tried riding a bike through traffic in Vietnam![/caption]

I learned how to make rice noodles! A great cause that teaches kids English and hospitality. (Planterra)[/caption]

Monday, July 30, 2018

Silence as the Educator, my time in Tokyo

The eyes behind silence get a glimpse into the realities of the unknown 

- me  

As I was thinking about how to describe my (too short of a) time in Tokyo, I decided on peaceful observations. I feel it's quite fitting as I did not have much to say (giant language barrier) and the calm and mellowness of the people was contagious. I felt like I was walking on clouds the whole time without a care in the world. Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), few people in Tokyo speak English. And, there is something to be said about keeping your mouth shut and simply taking in your surroundings. So not being able to communicate was not really that terrible. The city and metro is easiest enough to navigate and pictures really do speak a thousand words!

If you are in Tokyo anytime soon, you might want to check out the MORI Building Digital Art Exhibit. Definitely a little mind-blowing!

For me, being in Tokyo was like being in another world which is a feeling I haven't experienced before when traveling abroad. While in Costa Rica or Panama, for example, things were different, but I had a reference to the language and I could figure out menus, street signs, etc due to the fact that they use the same letters as English and a lot of the words are similar enough to figure things out. Generally, the people act the same as I am used to. You can look at a person and guess how s/he is feeling. In Tokyo, I had no clue what people were thinking or feeling. Pretty much everyone had no expression on their faces, were reserved and kept to themselves. However, they all were friendly, patient and helpful. As soon as someone realized I was trying to communicate with them, they were more than willing to try and work with me. They waited while I pulled out my phone to type in my translator app and then answered as best they could or took out their phone to let me read the Japanese they translated. Staying in a hotel that was outside of the traditional tourist areas was also a great (unplanned) idea. Where I was staying was the only hotel around. (I found it on Airbnb, but booked it through booking.com). I definitely was an outsider and could feel that with the curious stares both from adults and children. Except, I didn't feel that being an outsider was anything bad. People were just wondering what I was doing there.

If you go to Tokyo, I highly suggest getting some nail art. I also got hummingbirds on my toes! So fun and I met the nicest people![/caption]

Me and Mee! She was my toe nail artist!

One of my favorite things to do at the end of a long day and after the sun had fully set, was take the metro to Shinjuku station and then walk 45 minutes home. I loved it so much because this was when the streets became even more quieter than during the day. The weather was perfect and I could only hear my footsteps, the humming of a bicycle quietly riding by me or an elderly lady watering her plants. If any cars came down the street, they drove very slowly and cautiously around me. Occasionally, I would see a mom pushing her child in a stroller heading home or with her child strapped to the back of her bike. Every night, people were making their way home in a place that felt like the perfect world. Everyone follows the rules, is conscientious of each other and respectful of their environment. I have always been a rule-breaker of sorts and actually, when someone tells me notto do something, that's what I end up wanting to do most even if the thought never crossed my mind before. So I was surprised at how much I appreciated this aspect of the country. I guess I never really considered what it would be like to live in a place where the rules weren't questioned or generally broken because I grew up questioning all the rules and that was perfectly acceptable in a lot of ways. Hell, I teach my students to question everything though I like to call it critical thinking ;-) The last book I read with my class this school year wasA Wrinkle in Time, and I swear, this place felt like Camazotz (an awesome debate my students had was whether Camazotz is, in fact, the perfect place or not). Later in my trip, when I was at the home of a lady named Yuka, she was explaining to me that Airbnb had been outlawed in Japan starting June 15 and everyone was informed on June 1. She told me she  wondered why they didn't give more notice and then said to me "It's the rule so we have to follow it" and then shrugged her shoulders. 

Yuka taught me to play the Koto. She also lent me a kimono that her grandmother handmade. That's her awesome dog, Pooh!

Now she is applying for a license and putting her Airbnb overnight host plans on hold. There was no protest or outrage from the country. They were told that was the new law and complied.
I don't want to forget the relaxed, contented and calmness I felt the entire time I was there. I learned a lot in the short time and hope to make it back soon to do all the things I now have placed on my Tokyo To-Do list. 

Next is Vietnam! Something tells me it will be very different...

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Follow Me through Tokyo, Vietnam & Bali!


This past September, I decided to plan an experience of culture, landscape and adventure. For the next 5 or so weeks, I will be  on a journey through three countries: Tokyo, Japan, south Vietnam up to the northern city of Hanoi and Bali, Indonesia. This plan is Part 2 of infinite parts ;-)

Part 1 happened last summer when I was driving across the country alone over the course of 12 days. I had the opportunity to reflect on what I want my life to be and it's a road I continue to travel down. I definitely don’t have all of my answers yet and I know that my answers are not necessarily yours, but I did realize/finally face that teaching and working had taken over in many ways and as a teacher, I am pretty sure you have felt this before. Even though I have been able to experience a lot of really great things, there still felt like something was missing. I needed more excitement and I truly believe that this new path which involves stepping away from the job more will actually make me a better teacher (See? That’s still the focus in many ways, so it’s all good).

Discovering what makes us feel alive and taking part in it is essential if teaching is your chosen career. As teachers, there is way too much time and energy spent on providing an education and safe space for others that we often forget about ourselves or think that we don’t matter as much (we do!). For years, my life literally revolved around teaching and in some ways that will never change just because that is the nature of the job. However, teaching doesn’t have to deprive us of things we are worth having. Heading into my 13thyear, I look back and realize that I felt like without me the world for my students/our classroom would fall apart. I am much less egotistical now and I am working to break free of this notion. Giving up our lives for others is not necessarily the best thing for everyone.

To read the rest of this blog post, please find my new site here!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Last Day of School Plans!



Hi! Thank you so much for following my classroom tales! I have recently updated my blog onto a new site called Teachers On Point! Please find this blog post there and sign up for a FREE, EXCLUSIVE teaching resource while you're there! 

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