Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sweet, sweet, vacation time

I had decided back in August that I would go to Thailand for Christmas break. Mostly because I made friends in Bangkok and could stay there for cheap. Also, other reasons that I'm not going to discuss quite yet on the blog (I'm teasing you!).

Because of the political turmoil in Bangladesh and the upcoming election, our return to school was pushed back a week, which means we had a one month Winter break. The first week I ended up staying at a friend's house in Dhaka. It was filled with Netflix, and other relaxing activities.
Check out the head shots my friend Alicia took:
To see this headshot in action, head over to my landing page
about.com/emilyjohnson314



I ended up going to Koh Samui with a group of friends from Dhaka and a couple who are living in Cambodia (they had previously lived in Dhaka). We rented a condo via AirBNB.com and had a great time scooting around the island, eating delicious food and lounging on the beach. Also, Christmas!

In a taxi!

On a train!

On a boat!
From the mainland to Koh Samui
Who knew the iPhone 5 panoramic setting was so awesome

Big Buddha!

Ham, egg, cheese, mushroom, crepe

Chocolate Banana Crepe

Fishies!

The beach!
Scotch egg. It's a soft boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, and deep friend.

Pork belly with mashed parsnips.

Chocolate souffle. Perfect end.

View from the condo


We had an extended trip back to Bangkok because of the train being 4 hours late. I love me a train ride, but the Thai railway is the worst I've ever ridden. The trains are comfortable enough, but they are never on time, not even close. So unreliable.

The next couple of weeks in Bangkok was mostly uneventful. It started with a visit to a fertility park behind a hotel. Women go to the park to pray for fertility and, if they become pregnant, they return with a phallic statue to place there.




There was also three occasions of honey toast. It's a cube of bread, soaked in honey, topped with deliciousness. 


Lots of wandering through malls. Love these shoes.



Terminal 21 mall had some amazing bathrooms. This one was on the Tokyo level. 

Siam Center mall had some interesting shoe choices.

 Siam Discovery had Tom Cruise.

 Waiting for the BTS.

I went almost the whole last week without taking a picture. Not sure why. Probably distracted by...other things that are not yet disclosable on the blog. Wow. I don't mean to be cryptic.

One last shot, on the flight back to Dhaka. Regent airways, the best Bangladeshi airline so far. Best flight attendant ever. Almost on time, which is saying something.



Saturday, December 7, 2013

3 Things I've been thinking about

I realize it's been well over a month since I posted anything. There could be several reasons, most include procrastination and general exhaustion. It's a busy time of year in any part of the world, but there are special circumstances right now in Bangladesh. I'll get to that.

First, I've been thinking about free time. More specifically, how to build constructive free time into our learning time. Teaching ICT, I find that the most success I have is when introduce students to something and let them be creative and explore it on their own. The big movement right now are Maker Spaces. Where you are given the tools and you can make anything you want with them. I love the idea, but with limited resources you have to limit yourself somewhat. In a couple of months I'm in charge of doing a Leadership and Leisure studies class (after school activities essentially) and I'm going to have an indoor potpourri/maker space/craft time class. I have a lovely Pinterest board with all my ideas, it all depends on if I can get the supplies together (which is why I've started gathering stuff already).


Second, can we talk about the political situation in Bangladesh? I really don't want to, because I find it mostly ridiculous, but inquiring minds want to know. Let me preface everything by saying, I live in the countryside, so things in Dhaka don't have as much effect on me. Also, I'm enrolled with the US State Department's STEP program (and consequently, monitored by the NSA, I'm sure), so I'm not in any real danger. It's election season in Bangladesh, which means the Awami league (the ruling party) and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP, the opposition) are duking it out to organize an election and maintain their power over the country. The Awami League has set the date for elections for January 5th, which the BNP loudly protests. The BNP also protests the fact that the Awami League hasn't set a caretaker government in place to oversee the elections. This caretaker government would be a neutral party that, according to the BNP, would ensure that the Awami League wouldn't rig the elections in their favor. Because the Awami League refuses to instill this caretaker government, the BNP has begun a program of blockades in Dhaka until their demands are met. Blockades are violently enforced, causing havoc across the country when goods and services are held up in transit, but are most destructive to the everyday laborers who can't get to work or are in risk because they can't not work. I'm on the fence (because I don't really have a stake in Bangladeshi politics) about which party is right and wrong, but I do know that using human lives and livelihoods to gain or maintain power is morally reprehensible. I'm not sure how it will turn out, but I certainly hope the leaders of the two parties (both women) guide their parties to a more peaceful solution.

The third thing is going to be a palette cleanser. Something light and airy because politics are depressing. I'm thinking about Thailand...where there are currently huge protests against the Prime Minister. Oy, you'd think going to Thailand for Christmas would be getting away form the protests and violence, but, alas, no such luck. The protests are mostly in Bangkok, I'll be in Koh Samui (an island!) for a week and then in Bangkok, but not anywhere near where the protests are happening.

Okay, for reals, a palette cleanser, look at how my adorable cat is asleep in my lap right now.

Stormageddon, dark lord of all, not really living up to her name

Bonus fourth thing, if you read past the photo, I had Dengue fever! I can cross that off my list now. I'm still feeling/seeing the effects of it, even after a month. Dengue starts as a fever (hence the name), then you feel like crap and are fever-y for 2-3 days, then you get this super awesome rash that covers your whole body and your feet and hands turn beet red, then you're really exhausted and have no energy for a few weeks. Yeah, just what I needed.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Book Reviews in Three Lines or Less

I've not written a book review in a while, although I've read several books. So, here's a quick review, in three lines or less, of the books I've read since June.

All book cover images courtesy of Amazon.com


Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Review: A magical fairy tale set in the English countryside. Gaiman interweaves this fantastical story with humor, thrills, and mystery. American Gods, but without the unnecessary prose.
Good for my library: Nope. An adult fairy tale.

Title: A Canticle for Leibowitz
Author: Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Review: Three stories set at varying points in our future. Science fiction, fantasy, philosophy, and humor mingle together to tell the story of the human race. Asks the question, are we doomed to repeat ourselves?
Good for my library: Older students should be capable of reading it, but it has a lot of existential humor and the storyline veers around without context on several occasions.



I'm going to review all these books at once, because they're basically the same thing.
Title: Killing Floor, Die Trying, Tripwire, The Visitor, Echo Burning
Author: Lee Child
Review: The male version of a romance novel: easy to read, interesting plot line, he always gets the girl, the bad guys always get what they deserve. Reacher is a likable main character and is always ending up in somewhat insane situations. They're not anything challenging, but perfect for reading at breakneck speed while you're riding on the metro.
Good for my library: Probably not, mostly for violence and adult situations. Although, some of my students have read The Godfather, and they've all played Grand Theft Auto, so it's not really something they aren't familiar with.




Title: The Yiddish Policemen's Union
Author: Michael Chabon
Review: Imagine if Israel never existed, and the Jewish people were instead forced to live in Sitka, Alaska, now their lease on the land is coming due, but first there's a crime to solve. I didn't like this as much as I hoped I would. It had great noir elements, but got bogged down in Yiddish lore and tangents.
Good for my library: Nope, not even remotely.

Title: Tell Them I Built This: Transforming Schools, Communities, and Lives With Design-Based Education (TED Books) [Kindle Edition]
Author: Emily Pilloton
Review: This TED book delves into the story of Studio H, a revolutionary design-based carpentry program started in North Carolina. How and why we should be implementing design-based education in our schools. A perfect, short, fascinating, and inspiring read.
Good for my library: Definitely for teachers, although we don't have Kindles.

Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Review: The story of a near-future America where radical Christians have overtaken the government. Woman are second-class citizens (if even that high) and we follow the story of a hand-maid, tasked with bearing children for barren couples. A terrifying and all to possible story (have you heard about the new abortion laws in Texas, they're so close), female empowerment, but without overt feminism.
Good for my library: Probably not, although some of these kids could use a lesson in feminism, they definitely wouldn't understand the Christian undertones.


Title: Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (Kindle Single)
Author: Will Richardson
Review: In this ever-changing world, with instant access to information, how is an education system based on wrote-learning and regurgitating the right answers going to survive? The thing is they're not going to, but we're at a precipice now where we can help mold the educational future for everyone. Is public education, such as the US system, going to survive; more importantly, should it?
Good for my library: Definitely for teachers. If we want to see schools make a difference, we need to change the way we learn. New technology tools can help us change them for the better, if we use them right, we can hook an entire generation on learning collaboratively and cooperatively.

Title: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and
Other Things That Happened
Author: Allie Brosh
Review: The award-winning Hyperbole and a Half blog features homemade (using the Paintbrush program on a Mac) cartoons about the hilariously heartbreaking life of Allie Brosh. The novel is equal parts humor and memoir, incorporating previously published comics with brand-new ones. Brosh's battle with depression is the most moving and relatable stories of depression I've ever come across.
Good for my library: Hmmmm...yes, with caveats. I feel that Brosh's writing about depression in particular would appeal to students who are struggling with similar problems.


Right now I'm trying to finish up Allegiant, the third novel in the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. Unfortunately, it's also time for end of quarter comments and grades, so I haven't had as much time to read as I would like. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Sundabarans

Waiting for the train.
Mid October we had a break for Eid Ul-Azha and Durga Puja. An Eid is just a festival, this one in particular is when Muslims honor Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac by sacrificing a cow. For the second year in a row I wanted to miss out on the streets running red with blood (because where do you slaughter cows, but in the street, right?) and took a chance with some awesome strangers to go on a tour of the Sundabaran mangrove forest in southern Bangladesh.

We started out by riding a train from Dhaka to Khulna. Since it was Eid and everyone was headed home, we were lucky to get 7 tickets together in Shovan class. There are several classes on Bangladesh trains, as follows:

First Class-Closed, air-conditioned car with reclining seats (seats are somewhat comparable to airplane seats)
Second Class-similar to first, except that there are fans instead of air conditioning
Shovan-fans and bench seating with cushions (assigned seats)
Third Class -fans and hardwood bench seating (unassigned seats)
Roof-illegal roof sitting (I so wanted to join them, but, being white, blonde, overweight, and female is not really conducive to participating with such activities.

I do love riding a train.

Our seat neighbor. She spoke a little bit of English, but never
once asked where I was from.










We finally arrived in Khulna 11 hours later. Exhausted, dirty, hungry. A full stomach, a nice nap, and a short boat ride later, we collapsed into bed on our rescue boat.







The next morning we cruised down the river towards the bay of Bengal. It was a lovely day of relaxation, morning naps, afternoon naps, learning how to play Euchre, and delicious Bengali food (which, up until now, I thought was an oxymoron).

We stopped in Mongla, which is the second largest port of Bangladesh, after Chittagong. There is a small museum which features poorly cared for examples of Sundabaran wildlife.







That evening we went to a local village and were treated to four hours of Durga Puja celebrations. It was somewhat awkward being shepherded around like royalty, but the locals were friendly.
Photo taken by fellow traveller, Ian.
The next morning we cruised along for most of the morning. We stopped at the main forest station to pick up our armed guard. To help protect the forest, they charge outrageous rates to foreigners and they require them to have a security guard at all times.
Photo taken by fellow traveler, Ian
The gun wasn't loaded. He had a belt with bullets in it. They carefully counted out 10, because that would definitely stop an attacking tiger.

We even bought a crab from a local kid
We wandered through the town and were followed by a mass of small children, as usual.

After cruising through the afternoon, we landed at a forest station. We wandered through buildings that were ruined by a cyclone in 2007. Because the Sundabarans are essentially below sea level (they will be entirely eaten by the sea with the next 50 years), they are extremely susceptible to any large storms that sweep through the Bay of Bengal.

While at the forest station we swam in a rainwater pond. It was lovely and refreshing. We only got out because we were menaced by a Monitor lizard.
Photo taken by fellow traveler, Dana
That's our tour guide in the center.

That night, after dinner, we were cruising towards our nighttime resting place, playing a rousing game of Scum (which most people know as A-hole, but I grew up in Utah, so, you know) when we beached our boat.

Because the tide goes in and out so quickly and the difference in low and high is so vast, we were quickly left with an unusable boat. They tied some lines down to stabilize us and shored up the tilting boat with some poles. After a terrible night of not sleeping (I'm weird like that), the tide came in and we were able to get a boat to help us get un-stuck.
Photo taken by Ian

Photo taken by Ian
Unfortunately, during the melee, I lost my Chacos overboard. A sad farewell to a great pair of shoes. I bought them in the summer of 2009 and they've been with me ever since, even traveling all through southeast Asia. I also lost  a ring, we're guessing it rolled out of my purse, which was on my bed at the time of the beaching. This was a bigger loss, since it was more

While they prepared breakfast, we went on a trip up the canal.



I took a good 20 minute nap during the canal trip. It was peaceful, warm, and quiet. Afterwards, we walked through the forest station, which is where we were supposed to be docked the evening before (it was literally 5 minutes from where we were stuck). 
A pig!

Bees nest. They are rather large bees as well.
We then cruised to Tiger's Point, where we hiked about 20 minutes to swim in the Bay of Bengal. It was absolutely deserted. We ran around in the very low surf and threw mud at each other (like you do).
The mud was black and glistened like glitter, but it left our skin and hair beautiful.
Photo by Natalia
Photo by Dana
Photo by Ian
(actually, one of the local escorts took it on Ian's camera)
After hiking back to the boat, we showered off, and headed towards our final stop for the day.
There were little holes all over the beach,
with little balls of sand from the crabs.



















The final morning, we visited a forest station. Swam in their drinking water pond (only because it was Eid and the guard was already in there). And cruised back to Mongla.

Did I mention I walked barefoot most of the time. Remember,
I lost my shoes. My one pair of shoes. It was awesome.

We stopped briefly in Mongla to drop off our small boat. They bought me a new pair of sandals (which were too small, so I didn't wear them all day anyway). Then, we booked it towards Khulna. Our bus home left at 9:30. A small boat transferred us (while still moving) from our boat to the dock, we sprinted to some baby taxis (tuk tuks), showing up at the bus station at exactly 9:30. The bus ride home, I slept for maybe 20 minutes. We arrived in Dhaka at 4 am, hazy from lack of sleep, needing to use the toilet, and overall, pretty dang happy.

An amazing time. A beautiful country. So glad I could visit it before it's too late.