Saturday, October 27, 2018

Look at my dead dog and other stuff from our travels.

Sandy, Bella and I are traveling to Bejing this week to start a new job.  It should be great.

Our trip began in Baltimore where a lady befriended me because she thought Bella was so cute. Nice. She said her friend had a similar dog (it was a Maltese too) named Bella.  What a coincidence.  She decided to show me pictures of the dog the last one was a picture of the lifeless dog captioned, "Bella 2008-2018".  I asked if the dog was dead, and she said, "yes"Weird. I thanked the lady for showing me the dead dog and we were on our way to Seoul.

You may be wondering why we were heading to Seoul.  To understand the itinerary, you have to understand the Chinese pet inspection system. Each city sets their own policy.  We are heading to Beijing which has a one month quarantine. There is no way I can put our baby in quarantine for a month, so we found that Guangzhou is the only city that has no quarantine.  We decided to fly there. but there is only one flight a day that allows pets to fly in the cabin, I am a crazed pet owned and do not want her underneath.  Hence, we had to fly to Seoul wait 16 hours (!), to take the only flight to Guangzhou with pets in the cabin, spend the night, then fly to Beijing. 

The strange thing is, it turned out really well.  We flew for 13 hours and got to Seoul where we snuck Bella in the transit hotel which had a perfectly acceptable king sized bed.  We slept 9 hours. We got to Guanghou (city motto, "Trust nobody because we are all out to make money ethically or not") where we had time for some tourist activities (which made it a legitimate stop and not just a ruse to get around the pet inspection system). The hotel had the most interesting safety system...a mask/head gear for fresh air in fires.  It made no sense to me, but I liked the picture of the guy wearing the suit.

We got to Bejing and were surprisingly rested and mostly over our jet lag.

The Barcelona Flying Thief

Barcelona was our last stop on our fabulous trip to Portugal and Spain last summer.  It was fabulous except the taxis were on strike (something about Uber being permitted) so on our way out we had to lug our luggage, along with our baby Bella for 15 minutes to the subway.  The subway A/C was out so it was hot as hell there. We get to the ticket machine and a guy tries to scam us there.  We get to the platform and we have to wait 10 minutes in the incredible heat.  I am sweating and a bit irritated. 

The subway finally comes and I put my first bag on when I feel something in my pocket.  Some guy is trying to steal my wallet! Now I am pissed.  I grab his hand and start yelling for the police. Sandy is yelling at him too.  Next thing you know he rips his hand away and starts to run away.  I decide it is time to chase him (I am not so impressed with the wisdom here).  I catch up to him at the stairs (in case you were wondering, I was impressed with myself that I caught him) and I decided to shove him as hard as I could down a long set of stairs. He went flying. I realized at that point I was going down the stairs too and I think I looked like a cartoon character hitting the breaks trying to stop myself from going down too.  I grabbed the rail and stopped myself...lucky.

Standing at the top of the stairs, I hear Sandy yell, "Steve, the bag!" I run back to the subway just as the doors closed.  I pounded on the door as I watched my bag begin its Barcelona journey on its own. Crap.  Next thing you know, a police officer came (he would have come in handy a couple of minutes earlier) and told me the bag was gone. We dejectedly made our way to the police box trying remember what was in the bag that was not to be returned until the officer gets word that a good Samaritan has returned our bag. The officer says it never happens. 

This seems to be our life.  A lot of stuff happens uniquely to us...almost always good.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A crazy day...and then a spider jumps in my underwear

Incredible happiness, sadness, and weirdness. Welcome to Monday.

8 am
Abbha, a girl I have known for years got married. She is 26, she has graduated from college, worked some and, from all reports, is marrying a decent man with a good business.

This is not the way it was meant to be. She was born in a tiny village in the jungle. Her mom died when she was very young and she was given to a children's home. She had everything going against her except the good people at Baan Unrak and her spirit. I had tears in my eyes watching her taking another big step. Incredible happiness.

I met a friend who I have known for years. He is a great man who has saved many people on many levels. We always laugh so much I could not wait to see him. He told me he has cancer and is going to die, probably soon. Incredible sadness.

I met Boi Pop Chan, a girl my kids at the volunteer club have been buying medicine for. She is actually moving her eyes a bit and can recognize her parents. She will never “get better” and did have some serious trembles, but she looked better overall. Kind of happy.

Met Doung Dao, a really cute kid with a whole in her heart. She probably needs an operation, her mom is not sure she wants to do it and does not want to go to the doctor again until her daughter really needs it (i.e. shows serious symptoms). Kind of sad.

Went to see a friend but he was not home. His kids were and I am crazy about them. They have had a lot of bad luck in life. They were the happiest I have ever seen them. Kind of happy.

Ate dinner at my favorite restaurant. They were very excited to see me and I felt the same way. Kind of happy.

Watched a little boy picking the garbage for plastic. Kind of sad.

Went to a big festival at a temple and thought “Am I going to vomit or have diarrhea? It quickly became apparent that diarrhea was the winner and I hurried to the toilet. All toilets full of poo seats covered in mosquitoes. I think I will lift the seat and squat. Pants around the knees, squat over the toilet, begin business, freak out the spider in the bowl, spider jumps to rim of toilet. Spider jumps into my underwear. Perfect 10.

Time to write all this crap down before I forget. Drink a beer so I will forget.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Special Thanksgiving for 100

A few months back a colleague and I started talking about a Thanksgiving Dinner fundraiser. We capped the dinner at 70, but somehow it ballooned to 100.  As time went on we added No Uniform Day (kids can wear their regular clothes for a nominal fee), movie night, and  making and selling home made brownies, cookies.  It seemed like a colossal endeavor, so I had an open class (a class open for teachesr from around the region to observe my marginal teaching abilities) on the same day just to be sure I was totally screwed.

Then something strange and unexpected happen...things went well.

The kids did a great job making posters and billboards with no complaints.

We made over 300 brownies and 300 cookies and the kids did a great job with no complaints. The kids did a great job selling them, and they were gone in a couple of hours.

We made stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, apple crisp, the cafeteria cooked some turkeys, and I bought some pumpkin pies.  Then, we decorated our dining room with greenery, hundreds of candles and pictures of all the good deeds my kids are doing in the volunteer club.

Afterward, a dozen kids cleaned for a couple of hours.  No complaints.

My kids raised about $1000 to pay for a years worth of  anti-convulsion medicine for a little girl from Burma (the second year they did this) and most of the money for another eye operation for another little girl from Burma (they have paid for 3 operations for a little boy and this is the second for this little girl).

The most special part was after cleaning the kids said, "Teacher, you have to eat now".  So I sat down and began eating.  They were finished and started off to watch the movie they had paid too see, but missed half of so they could clean.  A minute later they came back, and one kid said, "We did not want you to be by yourself".  So the 10 kids sat down with me to give me company while I finished my meal.

As a teacher you spend so much time and effort on the kids who have problems you sometimes forget about the inherent goodness of the masses.  I am thankful my kids reminded me of this on this special Thanksgiving day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Great Time with the Volunteer Club

As I mentioned before some of my students in the volunteer club work with local disabled people on a monthly basis.  We just go to an area to help them play bocce ball  and chat with them. They love having the kids there...they bring lots of energy and help out a bit.  For the kids, it is a great way to get to know people they never would have.

The people who can throw the balls do.

 Those that cant use a little ramp.  One of the kids moves the ramp up and down, side to side.  The player holds the ball and lets it go on the ramp.

This month was special because there were new students and participants.  Of special note was a man with an incredible smile, great skin, and minuscule legs and tiny, disfigured, non-functioning hands.  He could not do much except kick everyone's but in Bocce ball.  Turns out he has the most incredible eye for the game.  He would have the helper adjust the ramp and then tell them where to put the ball on the ramp to get the proper speed.  Then, he told the helper to let go.

I told all the kids to remember him.  Even if someone is severely disabled, he or she can have some hidden talents.

It is funny how going to volunteer here each month has affected Sandy, me and the kids.  Before I would be uncomfortable when I was around people who were disabled.  Now I see them and I am looking forward to something interesting.  As usual, you get more than you give when you volunteer.

Movie Night For a Boy's/ Girl's Operation

I wrote a couple of times about a boy, Min Se Teu, who drank acid who needed operations in Thailand. We decided to help him again.

The school festival was last month and the school let us have a movie night in the gym after the festivities.  We sold tickets, made and sold brownies as well as drinks and popcorn.  We ended up raising enough money to pay for an operation for a little boy.

The problem was, the little girl I mentioned before,Hnini Woot Hlwa , went to the doctor and they said she needed an operation on her eye right away to save her sight.  She needed a new lens put in and my friend decided to use the money for her.  It was the right decision and the kids do not mind.  We need more money to pay for both operations, but I think friends will be helping with this.

Speech Contest Update 2011

Nearly three months have past and the kids are finally nearly ready for the contest on Saturday.  It has been three months of advising, scolding and laughing with the kids. I come to school a couple of hours early each day to meet with kids, I spend my lunches scarfing down food so I can meet with them during that time.  I am exhausted.

There will be about 24 kids this year, not bad, but less than I had hoped for. This year started with lots of kids, but almost all of the 2nd year students dropped out.  I think the ones who really wanted to do it, did it last year.  The others realized what a huge commitment it was and decided that they should spend their time on their studies.  A badly timed school trip also caused about 4 kids to drop out.

In the end, I am sure the contest will be like all of them.  Some kids will surprise me how well they do, others will forget.  In the end, I hope it will be a good time.  I will try to write again once it is finished.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Speech Contest 2011

I decided to have another speech contest this year.  Last year it almost killed me, and I expect the same this year.  I both love/hate these things because  I know the kids really benefit, but they make me crazy missing meetings and just being kids. 
I started the meeting by having the students who had the highest scores last year talk about what they did.  Last year we had 37 students in the contest  and it looks to be about the same this year...about 1/2 in recitation and half in the original speech part.  

New School Year

The school year began early in the month and it has been scary.  The first few weeks are always a feeling out process.  This one was rough.  I am not sure if the new kids are more unruly, or I am not used to them, but the first two weeks of classes were not good.

We are in our third week and I feel like I am finally hitting my stride.  We shall see.

Little Girl Update

It has been a bit more than a month and the girl, Hnini Woot Hlwa, can still only see a bit of color in her right eye. She is being taken care of by a wonderful friend of mine, but the medicine does not seem to be making a big difference.

With some luck, she will go to a proper hospital in Bangkok in a week or so to find out if she can get an operation to repair the damage. If an operation can be performed, there is a possibility that it can be done for free in a local Christian hospital.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bad Parents, Bad Eye, Bad Luck, Bad Future???

Hnini Woot Hlwa is a 5 year old and when her parents divorced, they sent her sister to live with relatives and abandoned her at a neighbors house.  Luckily the neighbor has cared for her.

She was playing with a neighbor and her eye got bashed.  The father of the neighbor got permission from the Thai government to go to a semi-big hospital in Thailand. The doctor looked at her and said they may be able to help, but it would cost about $ enormous amount of money when you earn a couple of dollars a day like most people in Burma. The man decided to return to Burma with a few eye drops.

I met up with her a few weeks later. She could not see from her eye.  Nobody was sure what could be done, but I wanted to try to help.  My friend Pone Pone, who is probably the most decent person I have ever met, and I started to make arrangements but we do not know what will happen.

Terrible to think, but a 5 year old one eyed abandoned girl....what kind of future will she have?

On a side note, the lady who takes care of her wanted her to look cute, so put her in this dress and some cute shoes.  We wondered why she was in pain and realized that it was the damn cute shoes.  We bought her some new ones, along with a purse and some sunglasses.  I told her I wanted to take a picture and she did this pose on her own.  Too freakin' cute.

Jungle School

I hopped to stop by the school in the jungle that we were sponsoring, but it just was not possible. The best I could do was get a few pictures that I thought were interesting.

Looking at the pictures, I wonder how the mothers keep their kids shirts so white in the jungle, and how the teacher is not distracted by his kid on his chest.

Meeting Boi Pop Chan

As mentioned before, my Volunteer Club had a fund raiser and one of the people they decided to help was Boi Pop Chan, a little Burmese girl who is paralyzed due to TB Meningitis. 

I visited her and her family unannounced with a good friend of mine.  We arrived at the simple concrete block house and the girl was lying motionless under a net much like you would find over a bassinet.   

We all sat down and had some tea and chatted.  The father, who speaks English quite well, told of the many hardships they face.  There were a few laughs, a lot of love and a fair amount of concern that only parents can give, but there was also unmistakable despair written all over the mother's face.

I wish there could be a warm ending to the story, but there won't be.  The best that can be hoped for is she is loved, kept comfortable, and gets medicine to have fewer seizures.  I am glad we could do a bit (medicine for seizures for a year) but it is too bad that these stories have such tough endings for poor kids.

Thailand Helping The Animals

There are over 100,000 stray dogs in Bangkok and they usually deal with the problem by poisoning them.  Some of my students decided they wanted to help these dogs, so they raised some money for an organization that works for them.

While in Bangkok we stopped in SCAD, which is a project to spay and neuter dogs and cats in Bangkok.  They have a spay and release program.  They try to work in areas where people treat the animals relatively well ( no need to spay a dog who will be poisoned in a week or two).  In addition, they have an education program.

They have their programs suspended right now because the local community does not like all the noise (who can blame them).  They are planning to open one of two new facilities to get things going next month. I think the education part of the program is most important since a thousand or so spays and neuters will have a limited impact on a 100k animal population that is growing due to discarded animals.

Nice people, good cause, good visit.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Indonesia-We had to get the hell out of there

We really liked the Indonesian people who we met who were not associated with tourism.  Universally friendly, most liked to laugh a lot, and very kind.  The problem we ran into is we just hated the lying thieves who were associated with the tourist activities.  We have traveled a bit and we are used to people trying to cheat us, but it was the worst in Indonesia that we have seen.  We ended up with a choice, take a trip that was supposed to cost $8 each but they were demanding $60 each, or leave early.  We left Indonesia two days early and headed to Thailand. 

On the way out of town I ended up chatting with a remarkably nice old man.  I met him on the street.  He had a bakery and he showed me around for 20 minutes just to be kind.  I really think this is the Indonesian culture.  I told him of my problems and said all the tourist say the same thing.  He said it was killing tourism and made him sad.

Flabby, Middle Aged and Exotic

A couple of strange things that surprised us;

The kids were so excited to see foreigners.  I guess they do not get tons in some areas and more than once a group of kids stopped us and wanted to have their picture taken with us because we were so exotic.

Another surprise to me was the concern about bombs, especially around Jakarta.  I was really surprised that cars were inspected and you had to walk through a metal detector (which was turned off) to go into the mall.

The final surprise was what was on TV...Christian broadcasting.  Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country. With all of the religious turmoil in Indonesia, I really did not think they would tolerate this.  I wonder if we would tolerate a station whose sole purpose was to convert people to Islam in the US.

Treking for Orangutans

We traveled to Bukit Lawang which is famous for having a large population of wild and semi wild Orangutans (semi-wild because many had been reintroduced from captivity). We did a two day trek into the jungle trying to spot the Orangutans. We saw about 7 or 8, a few with babies. Pretty cool experiences.

The hiking was a bit more than Sandy counted on, but I have to admit she held up really well except for the posibility of this rock face which does not look nearly as steep and slippery as it actually was.

Climbing up this ridiculously steep side of a mountain using the vines was a first for us.

Indonesia- Temples

We like temples and visited Borobudor, a 9th century Buddhist temple.  

Also visited Prambanan an old Hindu temple.  As impressive as this was, it would have been amazing to see when there were literally hundreds of these temples in the same complex. Unfortunately, earthquakes and villagers taking stones to be used on their foundations left only a handful for renovation.

Bali Highlights

The highlights for us in Bali were some of the temples and a botanical garden. The beaches are supposed to be great, but there was lots of rain and we are not beach people anyway.

My favorite was Tanah Lot, a temple in the sea.  It was really beautiful

I also liked one of the Royal Temples...beautiful, no hawkers and no tourists.

The incredible tiered rice paddies seemed to go on forever.

We love botanical gardens, especially in tropical areas. I think one tree had the biggest leaves I have seen anywhere.