Sunday, March 22, 2015

new school, new apartment, new housemate, new location ……. same old me

We have now been in back Bhutan for just over a month and those anxious and worrying weeks of waiting and hoping for visas in both Australia and Bangkok are slowing receding into a distant memory, so it is more than time to reflect on our new circumstances.

I have really landed on my feet at my school. I don't think I could have found a better match for the way I love to work and the way the school system operates. As our housemate and friend Jonathon said very early on in the piece, "You have finally found a school that matches your own work ethic." That may or may not be a positive thing but it certainly rings true.

While I am still the first teacher to arrive most mornings, that is largely due to the fact that the house to which I belong is conducting house for this first month and that means running all the school programs, assemblies, events and meetings as well as taking turns with other teachers in Earth House, at being Teacher On Duty (TOD). I can't say that I will be sorry when it ends. When that happens, I hope to be able to leave home at the same time and walk to school each morning. So far I have really enjoyed walking home most afternoons: most especially because there is a walkway for most of the way and I often bump into former students from Rangjung days. I am equally glad to say that I am rarely the last person on campus, these days even when we depart at 7pm.

There are an incredible number of meetings, of which I am no great fan, but the end result is we have uniform, well-administered and inclusive policies, which most teachers have contributed to establishing and are therefore happy to comply with. It doesn't get much better than that, especially when you are a newbie, with a million questions and completely unaware of what the expectations are. I can genuinely say I have never felt more warmly welcomed and more instantly at ease. I am frequently asked for my opinions and input and have been thanked more times in the last month than ever before in Bhutan. I hope this honeymoon period last forever.

The first few days were a frenzy of planning and learning the ropes. Having reported, as they say here, with only a few days before the students were due to arrive and almost a fortnight later than the rest of the staff, I started behind the eight ball and had a lot of catching up to do. All the classes had already been allocated teachers and  for me it was a delight to know that I would have a section of class IXs and therefore would be dealing with at least one very familiar and well-loved curriculum and age group. I was, however somewhat surprised to discover that I would be taking a primary class. That is one section of class VI and in addition I have a class VII section as well. As I have never taught either of these age groups before that has necessitated a great deal of work and diligent planning and I can honestly say I am still learning how to approach teaching these classes. Thankfully my new colleagues are both keen to share their ideas and happy to keep me in the loop with what is going on in their classes and we have been able to assist each other and share plans, teaching strategies and experiences with individual students and classes. This support is fabulous and exactly how teaching colleagues should relate but in my experience they rarely do. It is refreshing to be part of this team and be considered a resource whilst also having young (and some not so young) colleagues with brilliant ideas and the confidence to discuss and share them.

My surprise was nothing compared to Ian returning from his first day with the news that he had 4 sections of PP (Pre-Primary). This is the equivalent of kindergarten in Oz and requires not only buckets of patience but highly specialised skills in our collective opinion. It was nothing short of a baptism of fire when added to that he had no free periods. Every class in a room exploding with unrestrained energy and boundless enthusiasm to say nothing of wilfulness, is not easy task. Add to that the language barrier and the fact that many of these under fives had never been separated from their parents before and a real circus could easily unfold. Luckily with the arrival of more teachers at his school there are now some free periods and learning is slowly but surely beginning to take place. Ian has most certainly got some very dear little mates there already.

 My school also has students from level PP up and I am completely enthralled with the antics and behaviour of the younger students. I, of course do not have to teach them so it is easy for me to see just how cute they are and how adorable their interactions with each other and older students are. I do come into contact with them often and participate in activities designed specifically for them as well as observing their behaviour, reactions and engagement in whole school events and programs.

One thing is for certain, being in private schools and living in the capital with a housemate is a whole new ball game and so it isn't true "that you can't teach an old dog (or 2) new tricks" 

My school is also orange inside and out!! How appropriate is that!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

oNe PhOtO a DaY:

 wEeK oNe FeBrUaRy 2015


2. MAIL: Although it has been a long time since we have had a mailing address, these items ordered by us and sent to a dear friend’s house in Melbourne, were the mail waiting for our arrival when we got there today. (All are destined for Bhutan – the books to help children celebrate the year of reading in our 2 schools and the hat along with a lot of other gifts not purchased on line are for the many Bhutanese colleagues and friends who have helped us in the past year) The mail we were actually hoping to hear was that our stalled visa applications had been approved and were not going to delay our return but that was not to be… still hoping to go ‘home’ to Bhutan

3. WATER: This social enterprise funds safe water access to those in need and you can even track the exact project your purchased bottle is assigned to fund. Drink water and be the change you want to see in the world at the same time- it doesn’t get better than that.

4. REWARD: After being on tenterhooks for over a month and fearing the worst last week, the reward for patience, perseverance and a positive attitude was this message we received today. Just mine to go but our faith will be rewarded. Yay, Yay, Yay. We are going 'home' to Bhutan and the journey begins tomorrow!!!!!!!!!

5. SOMETHING BLUE: This is the new blue Boom Swimmer waterproof speaker we bought yesterday, as they are so useful in the classroom

6. MAKES ME SMILE: to see my inspirational husband and this hotel worker who takes just delight in his humble job and has welcomed us back into the fold in Bangkok like we are family so many times in the last 4 years. We can learn a lot from the Thais with their winning smiles and genuine joy for living. Thanks Yuth for making me smile when not much else had all day.

7. STRIPES: The shadow on the ceiling created by the lampshades in our favourite and most frequented vegetarian restaurant in Bangkok tonight at dinner

8. IN MY BAG: The eclectic collection of things that I believe will make our lives in Bhutan more comfortable, help celebrate the year of reading or be good gifts for friends in my bag, waiting to go back with me. There were actually some clothes and a set of sheets too but not everything is visible when you have close to 30 kilos!

wEeK tWo FeBrUaRy 2015


9. ENERGY: Consumption and generation of energy must be one of the most important issues facing the world today. Signs like this give me hope that we are getting the message and learning to become more conscious of the role we can all play in saving the planet

10. THIS INSPIRES ME: to believe that I will be going back to Bhutan very soon. The relief is palpable. Sorry that 2 photos this month are screen shots of emails, but delighted at the messages they contain

11. ON THE WALL: These ticket vending machines and the fare calculation charts are on the walls of every BTS station in Bangkok. Having prepaid rabbit cards is way more convenient however because it means we don’t have to use the machines, remember to have coins available or join long queues and we even get a discount on the fare. We have had our cards for over 3 years and the credit is always there when we return even if a year has elapsed. It is a smart and easily used public transport ticketing system – Australia could learn from this!

12. POINTY: The headdress of traditional Thai dancers is very pointy and glittery with it. We stopped to admire these girls going through their routine at the outdoor venue at Erawan Shrine in central Bangkok and couldn’t help but notice their pointy headdresses. 

Second photo to show the entire headdress. The women performed regularly throughout the day accompanied by a group of male musicians and are paid by worshipers in return for having their prayers answered.

13. TEMPTATION: The temptation we most often give way to in Bangkok is to eat exquisite Thai vegetarian food at Khun Churn almost every meal and this trip was no exception

14. LOVE: This is an archive shot but given the anxiety and effort that has gone into first getting approval and then finally getting our visas issued I think Valentine’s Day pales into insignificance, and the truth is we LOVE Bhutan and couldn’t be happier about going back tomorrow! It is a sticker on the window of the café half way up to Taktsang and I took it on only our 3rd day in the country back in 2011

15. SPOT: This is one day late as yesterday we finally flew into Bhutan and I knew I wanted to be right here. There was a time when I thought I would never be standing in this spot but there I was this morning standing in front of my new school happy as a lark to be starting the new school year with some preparation time still left before the students begin

wEeK tHrEe FeBrUaRy 2015


16. FROM WHERE I STAND: on the balcony of our fourth floor apartment in Mothithang this is just one of the captivating views and we were very glad to see it after our first night home this morning

17. ROUTINE: Having only been in the country 3 days, living in a new place and going to our new schools for only the second time we haven’t really established any kind of routine yet but breakfast on these chilly mornings is porridge and coffee. That is a routine that has survived the relocation

18. BEDSIDE: My improvised bedside table

19. FRESH: The fresh and reconstituted dry ingredients that turned into our dumpling filling for the Chinese banquet we cooked for dinner tonight to celebrate Spring Festival and Losar in Bhutan.
恭喜发财! 新年愉快!

20. THIS IS SO ME: I love orange and this is the new cup I bought today to use at school this year. I am also very fond of cooking especially when I have free time so I can potter about in the kitchen at my leisure. Therefore today on the second day of a 5-day weekend I just had to whip up a chocolate cake for no particular reason and use my newly acquired cake tester. Improvising a cooling rack by balancing a sushi rolling mat is also pretty much a ‘so me’ thing to do!

21. MATCHING: These students were part of the performances to celebrate His Majesty The King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s Birth Anniversary in Changlimithang Stadium today. Not only were all the students in matching clothes but also the scarves they used were matching the huge banners hanging in the corners of the stadium and the same 5 colours used to represent Buddhism (green, blue, yellow, white & red) 

22. MACROS:  I captured these ornamental plum blossoms blooming on our now familiar walk into town from home and this is a sure sign that Spring is on its way. Even though minimum temperatures are still falling below zero, I have seen these magnificent trees in full bloom in the snow in northern China and they always herald the arrival of Spring and remind me of a friend there who bears the same name – Hong Mei

wEeK fOuR FeBrUaRy 2015


23. FIX: Chang Gangkha Lhakhang is one of the oldest and most precious temples in Thimphu. It features in a novel taught at class IX level and we were delighted to discover that we can clearly see the roof from our new apartment. Today we had the joy of visiting it for the first time and these workers with the aid of only a minimum of resources were undertaking their duty to fix the now crumbling walls. They were also as fascinated by us as we were with the work they were doing

24. 12 O’CLOCK: Today was the last day at school without students and I am thrilled to say that at 12 o’clock the corridors were completely empty because every teacher was deeply engrossed in preparation for the arrival of students tomorrow: some were working on lesson plans, some were collecting textbooks, some were decorating and setting up their classrooms, and some were immersed in writing registers, updating students’ bio data, completing timetables and a myriad of other admin tasks. It is so nice to be part of a dedicated, motivated and energetic team. Hope we all can maintain it throughout the term 

25. REFLECTION: This scene in the parking / drop off area of my school today is a reflection of just how different my current school is from those I have taught at in the past. Never before have I seen Bhutanese school children dropped off at school quite like this, nor have I been asked to supervise this process, but the most surprising of all was the number of student-volunteers who came forward to direct the traffic flow, cheerfully greet the arrivals and open and close car doors for them!

26. GROW: This tree on the very edge of the school parking lot seems to grow as we watch. Only a week ago it was completely barren and adding to the wintery landscape but now it is coming to life before our very eyes. More evidence that spring is really on the way now

27. STILL LIFE: of a teacher’s desk in week one of the academic session, only 2 days into teaching. With a variety of tasks to complete, many meetings to attend, essential planning and preparation to submit, an unfamiliar system to master and new responsibilities to embrace at this early stage in the term, a concerted effort, constant multi-tasking and never wasting a second at school are required but the rewards with the students and especially in the classroom make it all worth the effort

28. THANK YOU: Druk School staff and students for making me feel welcome, taking the time to explain and answer my million and one questions and embracing new ideas when there are already so many other demands being made on your time!

1. STARTS WITH R: This is my ceremonial scarf known as a “rachu” and women wear it to all formal events in Bhutan.