26.02.2008 - 01.03.2008
It was hard, really hard, to pull ourselves away from Luang Prabang, but duty calls, and we were due to report for our English teaching jobs on the 26th. We got there by way of Bangkok where we stopped to pick up the clothes we had left behind. When we first arrived, two hours late, we had some trepidation as to whether our hosts would be there to meet us. But after checking in through customs without any problems (they didn't even notice our mispelled name on the visa), there they were, Bob and Jamie, as promised. The airport itself was small and mostly shut down at 10pm, not unlike the Albany airport. Aside for the occasional policemen and woman standing at rigid attention, there was nothing to indicate that we had entered a more autocratic realm.
They brought us by taxi to our apartment, and we stopped off to buy a few things at the nearby 7-11 store. We are on the third floor of a 14 story building in a vast residential complex. Our apartment is bigger than we imagined, two bedrooms and a living room, but it is sparsely furnished, somewhat dark and shoddy in construction with rock hard beds. We do have a TV, DVD, and internet connection.
View From Our Window
The support staff of WECL, our school, are all Chinese, but a few of them speak English fluently. There are four other teachers. Bob, the head teacher and his wife Marg, both Canadian, in their mid 60's, Morgan, a 22 year old New Yorker , just done with college, but fluent in Chinese, and and Bill, another Canadian single man in his 60's, recently fired from his job at the much bigger Xiamen University, after a fight over his apartment and new age restrictions.
At Olympic Torch Relay
Left Front, Sunny, Deli, Marg, Back, Mars, Morgan
The owner of the school is Chinese, in her mid 30's, and took us all out to lunch the first day. In the Chinese tradition, it was far too much food, with 2 two kinds of soup, pork and chicken dishes and several veggie dishes, but delicious nonetheless. We have had several other great meals at local restaurants for incredibly cheap prices, and have already discovered that it doesn't pay to cook at home.
The classes are much smaller than I expected, as the school has an enrollment of only 38 this semester. However, we have been assigned to work in the evenings with older adults and so our schedule is all over the place. We teach a few classes during the day to the college students, and then have more than 6 hours a week at night and then another 4 on Sunday. The night classes are tiny, too small really, and it is not clear yet whether they will be successful or not. We are trying to get up to speed with the materials they have given us, some of which are okay, and some not. Overall the kids are delightful, but there is a big difference with the group levels. The more advanced can and do speak relatively well, while the beginning students are much worse and therefore harder to teach. Most seem interested in playing ping pong with us or chatting about what our lives are like in the States.
We have not gone to many places on our own, but yesterday attempted to go to Walmart by bus. That was an experience. Hardly anyone speaks English in this non-touristy town that is off the radar screen for most foreigners. The store was very crowded and it was hard to find what we wanted. Turns out they didn't have much of it anyway, and the prices, surprisingly, were higher than they are in the US, especially considering that almost everything is made here. On the way back we couldn't find our bus among the hundreds that seemed to be arriving nearby. Finally I pulled out my talking dictionary and managed to ask, but were told to go in the wrong direction anyway. We finally found the right one on our own, and then got stuck in a half hour traffic jam, even though Walmart is probably only 15 minutes away. I had to dash back to school without lunch in order to be available for "office hours."