King's Birthday, Bangkok
Full Moon Party, Ko Phagnan
Steph Swisher's travel blog
King's Birthday, Bangkok
Full Moon Party, Ko Phagnan
1) I’ve started my new teaching job. Now I can literally sit on kids to make them go to sleep; bathe 16 3-year-olds in 30 minutes; make random children cry because I’m the strange white girl, and say “please go home now” in perfect Thai.
My new home, Udonthani, is a flat, hot, residential city, but it’s an easy place to live. The gym is $1 a day, massages $4, dinners $3, and my apartment has hot water, aircon and wifi, although I can’t afford to turn on the aircon right now. There is a park where the entire city goes at 6pm to jog around the lake or do free aerobics classes, and a fantastic night market with smoothies, fish and fried insects. There’s also a good group of western women and English-speaking Thai wives of ex-patriots who have taken me under their wing. Most work at my school, but in this town, no one speaks English so we find one another pretty quickly.
Teaching is good but EXHAUSTING. I have 16, 3 year olds split between myself and a Thai teacher, and all the children take showers and nap at school. I have complete control of the classroom so long as I follow the learning objectives, but we have to be careful with our English. For example, I taught the kids “I see” and “I hear" as in "I hear a plane" but “I hear” means F off in Thai…woops. I also confused the kids with my crazy American animal sounds because apparently, a Thai duck says “gap gap” and a pig says “ook ook.” The kids are in a pretty intense language emersion program, but I have to remember that they are only 3. They cry for their mom, they cry for another cookie, they cry because one naughty kid keeps hitting everyone in the face. They made me want to cry, but I finally have the classroom under control by acting ridiculous with the kids, using a “well done” board and stamps. (Kids will do anything to get a stamp on their hand.) Some days I will have good English lessons with flashcards, drawing, books, puppets, etc., but other days we just sing and dance. Last week, for example, we danced around a temple for Buddha day, prayed with the monks, made a giant fort out of mattresses in the classroom, took showers, and then we all took naps.
Some things bother me however. For example, the kids don’t use toilet paper, they use their hand and a hose-thingy to clean their bottoms or they do a little hopping/swaying jig to try and make the pee fall away. Its kind of hilarious…but also gross. The western teachers are cracking down on the program, which is fantastic because these kids are very bright, but it is a lot of work expanding the English program. I’m at school about 40-50 hours a week, but its all worth it when the kids wake up from naptime, take off their PJs and dance naked to Soulja Boy.
28.05.2010 - 18.06.2010
Dogs with fleas, they steal your bed.
And a monkey attacks your head,
Don’t worry, be happy.
When buckets for showers cause you suspicion,
And raw eggs put you out of commission.
Don’t worry, be happy.
The ceramic bowl doesn’t have any TP,
And Aaron’s haircut makes him look like Paulie D.
Don’t worry, be happy.
No ATMs put you in a bind,
But banana ketchup makes rice just fine.
Don’t worry, be happy.
Traveling to the northern Philippines is like going back in time a thousand years. Apart from upgrading their traditional houses to tin sheds with generators, the farmers there haven’t changed much. They work hard all day, give back what they can to the inter-related community, and live a very modest lifestyle. Sagada, my favorite town, is a schizophrenic mixture of a Spartan-like farming lifestyle, reggae influence, tourist restaurants, and a history of lizard-engraved coffins buried in caves or hung on cliff walls. The northern providence also self governs with a council of elders and a relaxed tribal law, which seems to attract foreigners and brings the younger generation back home after they study in Manilla. (Some villages only had an elementary school, so the kids were sent away to live with other family members if they wanted to finish high school.) Brian Lizardo, a native of Sagada, told me he would be lucky to end up in jail.
“Its like a hotel, where you sleep at night and have breakfast in the morning. I would be lucky to go there. You eat what the guards eat, and when they don’t have any vegetables, you go home for a while, then go back at night.”
Brian also told us we had to come back to Sagada because we needed to learn how to catch wild birds, electrocute fish, and harvest wild mushrooms. I just might take him up on it:
The fresh veggies up north were pretty tasty, but Aaron is an adventurous eater and tried Balut: a boiled duck embryo. Basically its a black body, beak and feathers curled up in a chewy white cocoon. Locals like to suck out the embryonic fluid with a touch of vinegar or salt. Totally gross, but he ate it like a champion, then described its flavor to my video camera like Anthony Bourdain on the Travel Channel.
Aaron got sick from another bad egg, ironically, so I hiked by myself to a large waterfall near Sagada. I made friends with some 8-10 year old boys that were really curious about me and they spoke faily good English, which made me really excited about my upcoming job teaching in Thailand. I decided to follow the boys back to the road on their “shortcut”, which took me off the sidewalk and under a mango tree. Then the boys told me to either pay them or “honeymoon” to get directions. These little brats conned me with their cuteness!
The next stop was Clark. Clark turned out to be the seediest, sketchiest town I have ever seen. Apparently it is a sexcation destination with strip clubs next to the Mister Doughnut and prostitutes everywhere, some shockingly young. We arrived at night, ditched the volcano idea, and found a hotel near the bus station to hide away in. SoGo hotel (“So clean…So good”) is a wannabe Chineese-style chain hotel that specializes in themed drive-in rooms like Pirates, Indiana Johan’s, or James Bond. You can rent their rooms in 3, 10, and 12 hour increments. We decided that 10 hours was enough time there and the next morning we hightailed it back to Manilla
Aaron and I are both budget travelers and we’ll ride on top of jeepneys (20 feet in the air ducking branches) in order to save a few bucks, so this was our splurge. For only $100 US, we hired a bangka (canoe/outrigger boat) to take us out to the best spots in the archipelago for 2 full days and 5 big meals. Highlights of the trip included a small lagoon that is surrounded by black, limestone cliffs and only accessible though a small cave, a secret white-sand beach also enclosed within limestone, jumping off a 10-meter high cliff and snorkeling the reef. We were usually the only people at these locations, especially because the captain took us anywhere we wanted. We spotted a random cave within the limestone, stopped to explore, and found a tall ladder used to harvest bird’s nests for soup. At night, we anchored at a private beach and slept on the porch of an elevated bamboo hut. There was also a rainbow, ridiculous sunsets/rises, continuous heat lightning at night and bioluminescent fish/algae. very cool
10.01.2010 - 24.01.2010
We started climbing Mt. Sinai around 2 in the morning so that we could see sunrise. Camels and the mountains Moses climbed were silhouetted against a cloudless night sky just before the entire range was slowly flooded by a red, misty light. Muslims fervently prayed and Nigerian pilgrims sang Catholics hymns---it was pretty humbling and inspiring. Unfortunately the mountain is splattered with trash, coffee shops and people trying to sell you overpriced camel-hair blankets, and the "burning bush" at St Katherine's Monastery has become a paid-entry tourist sight, so that kind of ruins the sacredness of the area.
Sinai is not very dangerous, but it is close to Saudi, Jordan, Palestine and Israel, and there have been tourist-targeted bombings as recently as 2006. Our biggest threat, however, turned out to be rain. Bedouins of the eastern desert were very excited to see clouds form over the mountains just before we left. It hasn’t rained there in 13 years, but that night, the skies opened up and Hurghada felt like a drowning Venice with canals replacing its dusty streets. You need to look at pictures to really appreciate how crazy it was and some houses still don’t have electricity. We took a ferry over to the Sinai Peninsula, but the bus to Dahab was closed because of erosion on the road, so we hitched a ride with a Bedouin in the back of his pickup, occasionally ducking down around security checkpoints.
We expected Dahab to be very traditional, but instead we entered into the most laid-back, Thailand-imitation town that is centered around a sunny lagoon. Very cool. (maybe Thailand is in my future now?) Asians run around freely in bikinis and tank tops and tourists who visit for a day end of working for years as a dive instructors. My Jordanian dive instructor was taught by gypsies to read palms and told me that I’ve already met my husband, and that I’ve seen him twice in the past year and M has something to do with it. So…does anyone know who this guy is? You guys need to hurry up and find him for me before I get a better camel offer that I can’t resist. 25 doesn't look too shabby in a place like this
my missed blogs from Cairo...
01.01.2010 - 11.01.2010
My first impressions of Egypt are: loud, smoggy, crowded, shocking, and disarming. When I blow my nose, I see soot, and my life flashes before my eyes every time I attempt to cross the road. Almost every woman covers her head and men have bruises on their foreheads, sort of like a fashion statement to show who prays the hardest. I've even heard some men will purposefully hit their heads against walls when no one is looking to get a better bruise. Everyone, though, is very friendly and I’ve heard “Welcome to Egypt” at least 100 times when I run on the streets.
I arrived in the Cairo airport at sunrise, just in time to find old women washing their feet in the sinks in the women’s bathroom for Morning Prayer. The taxi ride to the train station took forever because (male) drivers swerve, veer and honk their way around one another. I met with my aunt and cousin for the day in Alexandria. Drew lives in Tel Aviv, but the Jews and the Arabs are still in conflict with one another so we spoke in hushed voices about his job. Apparently there are only 9 Jews in Alexandria. We had dinner at the Fish Market, where you pick out the catch of they day, they weigh it and serve it along side a plethora of hummus dishes and fresh pita bread.
The next day my family left for Kuwait, and I took the train back to Cairo and was picked up by a Mercedes Benz driver who took me to the Cairo Villa where I will live for 3 more days with his daughter, L, who just graduated from college. The house is bustling with people who drive the family around, clean the house and take care of their 2 beagles, and a cook who made us dinner of pigeon, chicken livers on rice, fried cauliflower and eggplant. This is high-class living, and I am so awkward because I don’t know how to act with people waiting on me since I’m technically the help as well. L let me come along with her to a club that was on a riverboat on the Nile. All the young people, though, wore regular going-out clothes, drank and smoked like chimneys. The Egyptian girls are gorgeous and most looked like movie star in designer clothes and shoes that are worth more than my first pay check. The next day I went to the Egyptian Museum and saw the royal mummies, artifacts from 5000 BC and King Tut’s treasures, including the 110 kg solid gold sarcophagus and gold burial mask. When I got home, L told me I was going out with her again to her friend’s house and we chatted about Middle Eastern politics and ate more food.
After Friday prayer I went to the pyramids with L's driver, who had to pull over on the way home so that he could pray at a mosque at sunset again. They pyramids and the spynx are massive, but the area of Giza is very poor, dirty and touristy. That was a lot in the first few days, so today I'm taking it easy and practicing my arabic with the cool and the Philippines.
January 6, 2010
My First Week at Sea
I'm a crew member on a 68 ft Flybridge based out of Hurghada, Egypt for a retired investment banker, so my new address is the Hurghada marina in the Red Sea, for a while.
My first week living on a boat, I’ve walked into the glass door at night, fallen through the manhole to the crew quarters below deck, and had the roast slide out of the oven onto the kitchen floor. The job is hard work. Sometimes I wake up at 5, other times I sleep in till 730. Captain S was awake for over 48 hours on the first night, and the crew is busy all day helping the guests fish, dive, cook, and anchor the ship, so we nap whenever there is free time, which is not often. Meals are fresh and take up to an hour and a half to prepare, 15 minutes to eat, and another half hour to clean up after. We try to help each other out with chores and the crew taught me how to bake barracuda, garnish caviar, and make a flower out of a tomato peel. I’ve also learned how to make an elephant and a swan out of a towel…in case you guys ever need me to do that for you.
We cruised for 6 days south and got 40 miles outside Sudan, then came back to Hurghada. I missed New Years and worked the entire trip, but one day we got to snorkel the reef, see a group of wild dolphins, and caught a Tiger Shark and a 2-meter Oceanic White Tip shark in a net drag. Captain gave the meat to a passing fisherman since we had too much food on board. The Red Sea and the yellow, wind-shaped mountains are just like I pictured them in Biblical scenes, and the night sky is completely clear since there are no clouds or lights pollution. Captain can navigate by the stars and told me that Orion’s Belt points towards Mecca about 4-5 hours after sunset, so Muslim sailors know which direction to pray when they are at sea.
They’ve nicknamed me “Hanan”, which I think refers to a good feeling someone like your mother can give you. But it could also mean “clumsy American”, which still fits so I’ll still answer to it. I call M’s girlfriend “Harrigan” which I thought meant someone who talks too much, because she calls him at least 15 times a day, but the captain told me it means indigestion. The name has stuck though. I think the phone is a lifeline for Muslim couples who can’t express their feelings for one another in public or when you work 18 hour days at sea. When she doesn’t call, his phone is used to play love songs all day long, so the majority of my Arabic is along the lines of “beautiful flower” or “my love.” I’ve rarely, if ever, see groups of mixed genders walking down the street together. The boys gaggle in groups with gelled hair, jeans, knockoff designer shirts and a fair amount of axe cologne. The girls are usually accompanied with small children and either cover their heads or wear burkas. I’ve found that the most conservative woman are the friendliest to me when I run through their neighborhoods and wave, and the older men in traditional garbs clap and shout “good luck”, “welcome”, or “sport”. The young men usually throw out Russian swear words or make me run around their group. Hurghada is full of sunburnt Russian package-tourists, which is a hilarious contrast of cultures.
All the Blogs I forgot to Post...
08.09.2009 - 04.12.2009
I’ve only been in class for about six weeks, and already I’m on Spring Break, so I bussed down the south coast on the Garden Route. I started in Mussel Bay, stayed directly on the beach in a train/hostel and went shark cage diving. There’s a seal island there (5000 seals), and I saw 5 great white sharks that were about 3-6 meters long, and one even hit the cage while chasing the bait.
Next I went to Knysna to check out the lagoon, eat raw oysters and tour the township. The township is literally a kilometer from the hostel, but it might as well have been another planet. The road is paved with street lights and cute cafes, but when you take a turn, everything ends. There are dirt roads with cows roaming around, no running water, no electricity and roofs of shacks that are repaired with plastic sheets held down by rocks. Completely ridiculous.
Next was Storms River. The town has two roads and nothing else, but the national park is amazing. The river mouth is so powerful that it creates 10-15 foot high splashes against the shore. I hiked most of the day in the mountains and saw some whales and monkeys, then chilled around a fire with a good crowd from the hostel. One of the guys even goes to Univ. of Richmond, so no matter how far I travel, I will always run into American.
Port Elizabeth was really windy and sleepy, so I flew out to Durban, the 3rd largest city in SA and a mix of Indian and Zulu culture. The water in the Indian Ocean is also warmer than Cape Town.
This past weekend, I rented a car and drove up North with a friend from Germany. The northern coast is dry, sweltering and rocky, and we saw prehistoric cave art, hiked, saw shanty Afrikaner towns, learned a bit of Xhosa, and went on a safari. Fun fact: giraffes only sleep 30 minutes a day and are pregnant for 15 months. I also saw zebras, buffalos, springbok, wildebeest, cheetahs, lynx, and I got to pet a lion while it was in his cage after being fed. They are definitely kings of the animal world and even though he was behind bars, I jumped every time he roared or jumped up. My camera is still getting repaired, so I didn't take pictures, but this is something that I'll always remember.
I've been sailing on the harbor once a week, and I'm training hard for the volleyball tournament at the end of the month since it will probably be my last competitive game in a while. I'm also become a Goldfish groupie, having gone to 3 concerts already, and plan to go to one more on Sunday. Happy Thanksgiving!
Zone Six Volleyball Championships
Our first match was against Zimbabwe, but their bus broke down and they had to forfeit the match. The next day we played Lesotho, and won in 3 games. Yesterday we played the Botswana National Team. Those girls were tall, skinny, and had a lot of power to them. It was the highest level of volleyball I have ever played, but we lost in 5 games which was really terrible. We won the first game 25-20, they won the second 25-22, we won the third 25-18, they won the fourth game 25-20, and the fifth game 15-13. It could have easily been our game, but our serve receive got us in the end. We placed 3rd in my volleyball tournament, and the Botswana national team got first. I'm really going to miss my teammates. They're all amazing girls and I respect them so much now that I'm not terrified of Zandy or blocking against them.
I’m on my second week of classes and quickly learning the concept of Africa time, which ranges from now-now to eventually. Classes may start 10 minutes late, buses may or may not come, and when someone tells you they’re on their way right now, they’ll get to you sometime. My Travel Writing class is my favorite. Our professor is an editor of her own magazine and I secretly want to be her. My stories haven’t been picked up by a magazine yet, but the class is helping me market myself and write for a particular crowd, so that’s good.
I’ve also joined the University of the Western Cape’s volleyball team. Its very humbling. The training center is cold with a cement floor, cramped brick interior walls and metal poles that got knocked down last training, but these girls can still kick my butt. The coach is a professional player from Turkey and speaks in broken English. (“Yes reception, left foot here, good! Opa!”) I’m one of two white girls on the team and everyone constantly switches between English and Afrikaans. I have my first pick-up match tonight against the South African Police team, and my first tournament this weekend. If we qualify for Nationals in September, we’ll get to play some of the best African teams Namibia. It takes me an hour to get to UWC by public transport, and I have to wait around on campus for another hour so that I don’t travel at dark, but they’re the second ranked team in the country and I think it will be worth it.
I got to see Ally Amrick two weekends ago. She stayed with me in Cape Town and we went to the beach the next day. She’s volunteering in a Township colored school (colored children are more disadvantaged than black children here). I wasn’t able to reach her for a while and got worried, but she finally called and told me that one of her students got shot in a riot over government houses. I haven’t seen the Townships yet, but after hearing that, I signed up at SHAWCO to tutor elementary kids in Kayletcha for a few hours a week.
I still have a lot of free time on my hands, so I’m trying to pick up a bartending job. I sat next to a really nice South African in a taxi, and she’s trying to help me with that. A lot of the places I’ve applied to so far either won’t hire foreigners, or they pay 50 rand per 4 hour shift, about 7 US dollars. I’ll blog late to let you know how that turns out. Miss you all!
Longacre staff training was in Camden and Bar Harbor, ME. It rained almost every day, but got used to having my feet wet. The other staffers were great and we biked, hiked, and rock climbed despite the weather. Greg, Andrew and I left training early to drive the van down to Norfolk and pick up the campers. We had 13 kids and surfed, kite boarded, river kayaked, and even had stand up paddleboards for them in OBX. The wind knocked down some tents, but everyone had a good time in the end. My dad picked my up from Norfolk and I had a day to shave my legs, take a hot shower, and finish packing before I was off to Cape Town.
Traveling took 22 hours. I’m living in a massive house that fits 16 other people and has a night guard, barbed wire and an electric fence. CIEE scared us about safety for a week, but then we headed out on a bus tour of the area and saw the beaches, the furthest southern point in Africa, and even a township where the cutest kids in the world sang and breakdanced for us. We ran into a group of wild baboons when we were hiking and one mommy/baby baboon walked right up to me, sniffed my leg, then kept walking. I met some really cool Americans who want to see Victoria falls with me over break if the political situation settles down, but I’m also eager to meet South Africans. I emailed the UCT volleyball coach to try and play on their team, and I’m also going to find a job so that will help.
UCT orientation is this week, which will keep us busy. I’ll post again after that.