Saturday, 19 November 2011

Wulai and a snail called Gary...

I've been thinking recently that I haven't really spent that much of my time in Taiwan doing things that I used to enjoy doing in Indonesia quite regularly. Things such as hiking and going to see sights and generally just getting away from the city and urban life for the day sometimes. Ultimately, I think it was these experiences that allowed me to gain a greater understanding of Indonesia and its' people and accept them on their own terms, something that I haven't really allowed myself to do here yet, despite having plenty of time. I have been very lazy and let the western comforts around me prevent me from gaining a real taste of Taiwan. The cinema and Pizza Hut have recently taken over my life ;) ... so now I'm taking it back! Fuck you Pizza Hut!

I have recently picked up some books about hiking in the local area and have been astonished by the wealth of trails open to me that are easily accessible for a day trip. Having done a little homework and with an invite to go walking in the mountains I had decided that I should finally get my fat arse motivated again! So armed with a local friend and an intent to do something with my weekend, we headed to the town of Wulai – a town some 20km south of Xindian (I think) – in the southern extremities of Taipei County. The town is famous for hot springs and Atayal aboriginal culture but with a slight scepticism towards the cheesiness of local Taiwanese tourism I wasn't really bothered about trying to find any cultural performances in the “cultural tourist village" and was more interested in the natural beauty in the surrounding countryside and therefore we took the classic Wulai hiking route towards the Neidong area with it's waterfall.

The scene was quite dramatic as the afternoon mists were already rolling in and despite hindering our views of some of the mountain tops there was something rather atmospheric about the whole thing and the views of the greenery were awesome nonetheless. After about five minutes into the walk the rains started rolling in too but as I hadn't done anything of this nature for so long I was quite happy to persevere. The road towards Neidong follows a well paved mountain road through a small gorge with a beautiful rocky river through some rather jagged tree-lined mountains and waterfalls. I think I read somewhere that the original aboriginal name for the valley was 'The Valley of the Frogs' but due to a clerical error somewhere down the line – allegedly something to do with poor handwriting or a misrepresentation of the Chinese symbol for 'frog' – the character of the 'frog' was replaced by the similar looking character for 'doll' and is therefore currently named "The Valley of the Dolls" which doesn't really do the valley justice if I'm honest. I prefer 'Valley of the Frogs' personally.

Eventually we reached a bridge crossing the river that left the road and led to a stone path towards Neidong. Having already seen the impressive 80m waterfall in Wulai – which I thus far may have failed to mention – I was quite excited about seeing another major fall in the same day. Along the route there were many frogs and snails and even some wild fowl making their way down from the mountain tops to the river in the valley below. After about 2-3 hours of walking through the rain we arrived at the Neidong Forest hut. Basically this is a place where the local government can charge you to see the Neidong waterfall. Normally I'd be rather cynical about paying to see a natural sight however after experiencing the scenery in the local area with such ease, I think the accessibility is brilliant and the local authorities are doing a brilliant job of managing the Wulai/Neidong area. The only damage to the route has been from some recent rock falls but with the amount of minor earthquakes and things that occur in Taiwan it would hardly be reasonable to judge or criticise on these grounds. Unfortunately we had arrived too late to see the waterfall in the Neidong area as it was now getting dark and the final waterfall is about another 40 minute round trip from the hut. So with that we headed back to Wulai in the rain... I wasn't annoyed and was actually rather satisfied because there were some fantastic views and it really was the first time that I had gotten close to the natural Taiwan. Something I should be inclined to repeat … often. I was also rather relieved that a local bus driver offered us a lift in the rain back down towards the town and saved us from walking the last 30-40 minutes or so... by this point I was very appreciative and on further glance I should probably have offered him some of my chocolate or something...

P.S. Below I have attached a picture of Gary; he's the hardest snail in the forest and he knows Kung Fu, so don't mess!

P.P.S - He's my mate too so don't mess with me either!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Brain Fart

As I'm writing this, the realisation that summer has gone and winter has finally arrived is upon me. This realisation comes with the unfortunate reality of two days of ceaseless drizzle. I'm also listening to Journey and the B52s amongst other assorted cheesy music but all in the name of late night brain farting, so as you can imagine I am pulling at straws for entertainment! Basically I can't sleep and I'm bored so I thought I'd share some musings from my classroom...

When I walk past daycare the kids shout: "Teacher Lee!... Earthquake"... apparently...

Teaching here in Taiwan is “results driven” to say the least and this leads to a very assessment focused classroom environment. Sometimes I think to the point that the kids aren't necessarily learning much. What I mean is that in my most advanced kids' class, any of the kids could reel off a sentence in the future perfect tense with ease in a classroom activity or recognise it in a test and work some magical mathematical grammar formula in their head to produce a perfect answer and yet they will amaze you in a freer writing exercise or speaking activity where they have to produce an idea. Without picking on anyone in particular, sometimes I feel like I'm teaching in a vacuum. To try and avoid rambling incessant shite I'll try and give an example of one of the students from this class that has improved immensely over the last few months – in class and in tests and homework – but yet sometimes can't produce the most basic of sentences despite having the target language nailed down in the confines of an assessment. During the most recent oral test with this student, I had a picture of two children with faces caked in chocolate and asked the question “what do they need to do?” and after an extremely long pause I was given the answer: “don't know may be wash face”... The target language was “need to” so I was hoping for something along the lines of “They need to wash their faces”. This doesn't sound like a big deal but it is when the kids are learning pretty advanced grammar and yet are barely capable of producing it after passing written tests. Actually something more poignant is that the same kid produced the target language about ten minutes prior to the test perfectly during a quick language review and was quite capable of accusing his mate of needing to kiss a pig or some other such nonsense. I'm certainly not hoping for anything intellectual from the kids but I guess I really need to work on helping them to apply the stuff they learn to real life situations. Saying that everyone is happy because they got good results in last weeks' test so I guess my gripes are viewed as unfounded by the locals.

My new beginners classes are now in full swing and in general I find them very fulfilling. They are pretty straightforward to plan and the activities are simple. I still have a few gripes with the general parroting style of teaching at this level but actually, as they have only been learning for a matter of weeks, I think it is a completely justified method for the teaching of basic verbs and nouns. The thing I love the most about teaching young beginners is that somehow you really get to grips with the nature and character of the kids. So I'll limit my discussion of kids' personas to the larger of my new classes. There are all manner of personas in this class – as it is quite large – so I'll share a few of them with you. First of all there's the 'naughty kid' persona: basically he's the kid in the class that gets under the teacher's skin, in the class I'm referring to, 'the naughty kid' is quite viscious and rebellious, but is perpetually away with the fairies, dribbling and looking at the wall or trying to put a pencil up another kid's nose or some other pointless endeavor. However, rather fortunately for me I have a TA to handle that. Now, anybody who has ever taught kids for a prolonged period of time is familiar with the 'class clown'. Class clowns differ from 'naughty kids' because they are usually quite capable and aren't intentionally disruptive; they just can't help it. In this particular class I'm rather fond of one of the clowns. He makes monkey type giggles and is really clever so I know that he's paying attention. I guess my favourite personality type is the 'space cadet', I'm in fact rather blessed in this department and these kids are oh so loveable. These kids usually have a flaw in their approach to learning which reduces their ability to apply themselves in class. These hindrances are usually quite cute and elicit many a classroom chuckle from myself; some 'space cadets' have conditions such as sleep apnea and fall asleep while completing worksheets or answering the register, others are merely a little bit stupid or have a complex where they believe they are a cartoon character. I love them because they allow me to temporarily relive parts of my youth on a daily basis without losing focus and screaming “by the powers of grey skull!!!!” at the top of my lungs... Moving on from this there are also the 'boffins'. These kids are usually girl,s and as much as I hate to admit it – as the education system here is quite meritocratic – the boffins get the best grades and are the easiest to teach. My 'boffins' are awesome and I wouldn't change them for the world but in this class I have made a revolutionary discovery; or at the very least a very rare 'boffin' specimen. I believe her to be a sub-category of 'boffin'... She is the smartest kid in class so she is definitely a 'boffin' but she can be relatively disruptive to the flow of my lessons because she will antagonise the chorus of parroting during choral drilling merely to reduce the numbing of her super-brain. This obviously causes swelling in the minds of the 'space cadets' yet really is only a mild annoyance. I would like to term her, rather oxymoronically, the first 'superboff class clown'... I guess the last kind of student is the 'quiet and cute' type and they do exactly what they say on the tin really, they're not spectacular but they are great nonetheless and fun to have in class. To those of you that are wondering why the fuck you have read this far I did state that these are merely musings from my classroom! =p …

The majority of my group classes fall into the aforementioned categories of rather advanced for their age (and usually ability) grammar focused classes or complete beginners so as you can probably imagine private classes are somewhat of a welcome relaxing change of pace when they arise. At the moment I am currently teaching a lot of private students and have intermittently been teaching them since March. I have really been enjoying conversation based elements and so far as the students are concerned they are enjoying their classes... I think . While easy for me to plan, conversation focused private classes tend to turn into loosely structured chats if I'm not careful. To bring the post to a close I'm just really happy at the level of comfort some of my students are showing around me and at times I feel like they are really progressing; but sometimes here I'd like to describe people as being like light switches. They are either on or they're not and by that I mean that they are either very shy and timid or completely open and share their innermost thoughts which can be amusing but in the interests of privacy I'll refrain from exposing juicy secrets... However, what I'd like to refer to as 'the light switch phenomenon' permeates into all aspects of society here – in my experiences thus far - and people are either completely polite and courteous or they really aren't and it gets really confusing. The most difficult thing for me is picking up and using the local lingo. The other night I almost managed to succeed in ordering a Mcdonald's meal after pointing and grunting something that sounds like 'san' and translates to 'three' – in this case referring to number 3 on the menu ;) - everything was going smoothly until I said 'bu yao cur lur' which she seemed to understand and what intended to communicate was that I didn't want cola but hot tea, in order to express my desire for a soothing cup of tea I kept saying “Cha... Cha... Cha... Tea... Tea... Tea” and after a few repetitions of this I started to add “lur lur lur... hot, hot, hot...” which only further confused her and upon further reflection I realised that I probably sounded like a retard trying to beatbox. After what seemed like a few minutes of my painful ranting – of which the rhythm only gained momentum – it turned out the lady was fluent in English and said: “ohhhhh... you want a hot tea?!!!!” and I replied rather relieved with “yep”... and all was right with the world once more!... Apart from the fact that a guy watched me eat my entire meal without once pausing to blink. I smiled and said “ni hao” rather awkwardly and continued with my dinner, but he continued to stare but added a brief smirk :) … This was the first time that I have felt like a rare commodity in Taiwan and oddly, only by being a fat man eating a burger in Maccy D's!...

Big Hugz... Lee =p xxx

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Teacher Lee vs Dragon Sausage: my latest musings from Taiwan

A few weeks ago saw the advent of Chinese Teachers' Day which prompted me to write this post seeing as it seems like an absolute age since I last posted. This was pretty cool because I actually got a couple of cards – albeit complete with bad grammar and spelling mistakes – but who's complaining when it's an acknowledgement of appreciation or sucking up =p. My first class today were quite down but I think that has more to do with the overhanging seemingly endless drizzle than the lesson at hand – that's what I'm going with anyway.

I recently returned from a holiday to the Philippines with my friends Paul and Jo. Actually that was a couple of months ago but we had a good time and it was nice to chill out in the countryside and on the beach and see some weird looking creatures called Tarsiers, if I had the opportunity of naming them I'd call them Owl Eyed Hamster Monkeys but unfortunately I'm not entrusted with such honours :(... We went to an island called Bohol and also had the opportunity to go dolphin watching and snorkelling amongst other activites such as checking out coastal caves and scoffing Filipino scran like a dog eating hot chips. (I'll take solo credit for the last one)... it was really cool but as it was a while back my rather limited recent memory is struggling to recall the intricacies – there was a really big fossilised clamshell and a shitload of hermit crabs and star fish though. We also saw a couple of Bamboo bridges, which I always find pretty cool, and my expert advice is to take your time when crossing them. One of these bridges looked about as sturdy as a whicker basket woven by a paraplegic swimmer. My rather offensive simile aside I was cacking myself when I had to cross it. We also saw some rather pleasant hills known to tourists as "The Chocolate Hills" and these were a very pleasant way to spend an hour or so perusing. They were green at the time though because it was wet season – I guess their true majesty is at sunrise in the dry season. We arrived around 3pm so expecting to see them in their full glory probably would have been expecting too much, but they were very nice nonetheless.

Recently I've had a couple of beginners classes that have started. They are generally very fun and while a refreshing change from teaching grammar to semi-interested teenagers they present their own set of challenges. The first of these two new classes is large and having that many beginners in a small classroom can be quite difficult. I have a boisterous 6 year old in there and while he is very capable he is also impossible to keep in his seat and as he learns faster than other children he makes it difficult to individually check the other fifteen or so members of the class. My TA for this class is also quite amusing because he doesn't really know how to assist in classroom management, so the kids are pretty much free to scream "Teacher Lee!" continually until every aspect of their handwriting worksheet has been thoroughly inspected and verified with the royal seal of approval that is the badly drawn smiley face. This would be a minor issue in a small or medium sized class but because there are so many children demanding so much attention instantly – while the class clown looks on with his head between his legs trying to smell his own farts and inappropriately slapping his own derriere while shouting "Lee Teacher Bung Bung!!"... This seems quite normal and has alluded the attention of my local enforcer. Without being nasty I imagine the situation in this class at the moment is akin to hiring Graham Norton and Alan Carr as body guards... colourful but probably ineffective ;) ... My other beginners' class is a bit older with the average age being around ten. The kids pick things up a lot faster and the style of game can be a bit more competetive and diverse, that is if the sweet little 6 year old doesn't bumble in the way. She is very funny but can sometimes hinder the progress of classroom activities. We often do an activity where the incentive is to smash the correct answer with a plastic hammer and how she doesn't ever get accidentally knocked is impressive. She has a Mr Bean type quality to her that makes her cute and funny. Imagine the difficulties that arise when asking another student their name or how old they are, is interrupted by a small child with a rant about how the oversized hairy teacher is a pretty three year old girl or better still decides to pick her nose and wipe it on another kid's desk while lining up for her book to be marked.

In regards to the continual progress of other classes, I am still presented with the challenges of everyday teaching and trying to reinvent the same style of material to a captive audience. Usually students amuse themselves by disgruntling each other or drawing pictures of animals and labelling them with relative insults to the teacher or another member of the class. Students seem to get very jealous of each other here and exam results are a highly desired commodity and perhaps that is tantamount to the high level of competition in class. There have been a couple of incidents in the last few days that would have probably bothered me when I first arrived but I think after the first few months in a new country you adapt and learn to cope and brush off cultural differences. Here everybody is very emotional and quite sensitive but they can also see the funny side of games. Yesterday we were playing a review game where two students compete with their backs to the whiteboard while a particular vocabulary item to be reviewed is written on it and their team mates have to use their English skills to explain what is written on the board without saying any of the words before they have been guessed; I wrote "I want to kiss you" as the vocabulary item for a quick joke which obviously resulted in very excited outbursts of "Teacher, Teacher I want to kiss you!" and then very red faces and slight embarrassment when they have realised what they have just said!

Hugz xxx

P.s. If you're wondering about the name of the title my chosen Chinese Name translates to one of them ;)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Dirty Poo Face!

So I haven't written a post for a while and to be honest it's because I haven't really been up to anything that interesting. I'm not really one to be blogging about going to the cinema and the price of a Starbucks – some people do – but I thought I'd share some of the random stuff that has happened in my classroom over the last few months.

One of my colleagues recently went on a holiday back home to England and that obviously meant some extra cover work for yours truly. This was fine and meant that I got to meet some new students and mix it up a bit. We have some children from Pakistan and they seem to have a higher level of spoken English and confidence using it; and this was my first opportunity to teach some of them. One of the little lads was impressed with my "beat boxing skills" – of course I was just making noises to keep the kids distracted while I had them lined up to mark their work – and this resulted in requests for more. I'm shit at beatboxing, I just do it to make the kids laugh occasionally because I'm certain that it is a concept that is completely alien to them. A few days later – while walking in the corridor – I heard the call of "Teacher Leeeeee...." and I looked around to find the source, only to see little Basim standing there and holding a pair of sunglasses with a very informed look on his face. After a short, knowledgable pause and stare routine he took the sunglasses and placed them on the tip of his nose... and all of a sudden he burst into rhyme with hand gestures and movements, he was spitting lyrics and rhymes like a Compton Homeboy – okay so that is an exaggeration he didn't actually rap – I believe the routine went something like this: "Bumph and tut and Bumph and tut, tssh tssh Bumph and Bumph"... It was pretty cool, lasting around 30 seconds and I am very happy to know that I'm going to be the source of inspiration for the first Taiwanese-Pakistani beatboxing world champion! In fairness he completely put together the routine himself. You'll also be assured to know that he received the applause he was due. Albeit only from one cheeleader... me! =p

In Taiwan, more so than I've found in my experiences teaching in Indonesia, children seem to have a problem with spelling English words. This is no doubt down to the script issues between Chinese and English. This results in a lot of funny words being spelt in the routine vocabulary tests that the school administers on a regular basis. As a quick sidenote some children are also the victims of stupid names that are forced on them by their parents – not that either the child or parent are really aware how silly some of the names are – and the subject of my next tale and also classroom banter is a girl we nickname "number five" not because she is called Jonny (that would be cool as it would come from the short circuit movies of the 1980s) but because her name is... "Chanel". Poor little Chanel is actually one of the brighter members in her class of four. Which basically means she's a bit smarter than the thick kid. But the moral of the story is that kids often mispell words such as "blue" resulting in "bule" which is fun for me because it reminds me of my time in Indonesia where I would be called bule on a 100 hundred times daily basis because it means honkey in Bahasa Indonesia. The first word in last week's spelling test was "count" as in 1-2-3-4 or the ugly vampire puppet from Sesame Street, but little Chanel really had a problem hearing the vowel sound in the spoken utterance of "Count" the vowel sound obviously being like "Owww" if somebody hurt you or the bird "Owl"... Chanel heard a different sound and wrote down her answer accordingly. This is almost an exact extract of the answer sheet before the question two stage of the test: " 1. Cunt" ... I'm very proud of her, even if it is technically a mistake! English isn't a phonetic language and therefore poor students here not only have to learn the script but also the phonetics of the English language and the system we use to teach these sounds are extremely flawed as there is at the best of times a 30% margin of error due to the high number of irregular words that don't fit the rules we teach! = )

One of my private students is a very clever 10 year old girl. She is at a level of fluency or language acquisition where she can just absorb the language naturally. She also really enjoys banter and we often argue about mundane, irrelevant crap. We often argue about the pronunciation of Nintendo characters' names. I quite enjoy it too as I am really on the same wave length as a ten year old, so it's not like I'm even putting it on. During a game where I get her to write a list of items of a particular lexical set (vocabulary relating to something), she wrote down "bring bring", her pronunciation is usually spot on and is certainly not a major issue. I asked her "What on Earth is 'bring bring'?" And she said "you know, jewellery, I saw it in an American movie"... it took a few seconds for me to click but I soon realised she meant 'Bling Bling'. Which earnt her a fair bit of mockery that lesson!... Another thing she has absorbed naturally is "Dirty Poo Face" for which I admit resposibility. I often don't call her by her real name anyway as the school has managed to write it down wrong on the folder. I just call her 'Beanface'... she doesn't seem to complain. Although children learning language naturally that could be used in a negative context is also frowned upon here. I got a minor telling off for this but it's not really possible to completely control the way students are able to adapt language. Granted I make fun of the kids when they make small mistakes but that's part of what keeps classes fun and highlighting mistakes is absolutely necessary so I'm a bit confused as to what I'm supposed to do if a future situation similar to the following one arises, which it will. A lot. One of my teenagers, who is a bit of a clown, learned the word 'rubbish' from me. He decided that he would use it to banter with his classmates when they volunteered an incorrect answer in class. But for this I resent the criticism, solely because I have never spoken the utterance of "labbish" in my life!

With working 30 classroom teaching hours – not including marking and planning time – a week, I have recently been quite stressed. However, now that I'm back down to 20 I'm feeling a lot more comfortable. I was being criticised by management a bit more due to things like kids bumping their heads in activities. But I was also teaching a lot more classes – all of them younger kids – and playing games and being fun also results in kids potentially getting a boo boo (small, minor, bump or graze) the only problem is that 'injuries' here are not really dealt with by the level of severity and that is my only counter-criticism towards Taiwanese management of late. Other than that they are perhaps a little hard to please at times. You can't really expect me to stop an entire class for five minutes when a student bumped their knee on a chair and needs an ice-pack and savlon for something that needs nothing more than a little manning-up! Kids here are molly-coddled. This molly-coddling has been a bit of a problem with controlling one of my teenage classes. They will always do what I say but with a bad attitude or a level or despondence or reluctance which is very frustrating as I never make unreasonable requests of them. It's not like I ask them to wash my car!... I don't even have a car!... A big transition for me has been the advocation of a TA in Taiwanese language schools. The teaching assistants are always local and usually young, around 19-22 years old. They are in almost all instances very polite and usually support you and the kids in anyway they can. In some ways I think they are a cultural security blanket of sorts for the children and the parents and provide an understanding intemediary between teacher and student. This can become a problem, which it has in this case, when the kids are disrespectful to the teacher and the TA doesn't want to support the teacher in light of being seen as uncool amongst the teenagers. So in this case I've just become a little distant from the students and walk in the classroom and go through the motions. It's not as if I'm not teaching them anything but it's hard for me to care when the kids are disrespectful, rude and arrogant. Something I thought the management were also reluctant to support the teacher on as criticising Mummy and Daddy's little angels isn't usually good business practice. Actually I was wrong and when I was asked by my TA in this class to solve a situation in class "because it is my job" where one student is leaving and I need to rearrange classroom seating as a result "but these students can't work with those students because they aren't cool" etc I just shrugged my shoulders and said "you deal with it!"... it's not my problem. These kids need to learn some respect for each other and me. I just told my manager and she not only completely supported me, she went into the classroom and completely reiterated my sentiments. So I think sometimes my distaste for criticism from management, which I usually attribute to cultural differences, may not always be as justified as I think. In this case I was not only completely supported the kids got a right good old-fashioned bollocking, something I'm not sure if they are used to!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Daffodil

The Daffodil

Like a daffodil you budded early
yellow and bright
In spring your pollen did take flight
and there for all to see, radiant and elegant
you were taken from the garden

Moving into Summer, the garden misses your radiance
A certain emptiness is abound, that I do not doubt
However, in this drought we have come to learn
Coming of age is a beauty in itself

Like a daffodil it was hard not to appreciate you
you were the glue that sewn the garden together
This fabric will never be the same now that you've gone
But the spring of our lives will shine eternal thanks to you
Our daffodil, you will live in our hearts forever and a day
Seeds of wisdom that you've planted are here to stay

Now that May has gone and summer is upon us
We'll take your memory and with it stay strong
We're prepared for the Autumn, we'll embrace the Winter
We'll take the strength you had and keep it deep inside
Not sad that you're gone but proud that you lived
And in the end we'll appreciate everything that you passed on
The courage and wisdom that kept you strong

Like a daffodil you were bright
Like a daffodil you were strong and yellow
Like a daffodil you were vibrant
And like a daffodil in the summertime you were taken from us too early
You lived life to the fullest
But in this travesty that is a summer garden without a daffodil
We stay glad and humble for what we've had, while we've lost what might've been
We stay strong and true to what we have seen.

May peace be upon you and thank you for the memories...

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Earthquakes and Testicles: The first six or seven weeks in Taiwan.

I'm starting to get a bit skint again as it's about a week and a half until payday and I'm yet to earn a full months salary because I've only been here for seven weeks. Roll on next Monday!... I've had enough to survive and have managed to have a little tipple here and there and see people so life has been fine. As I'm writing this I've just experienced my first noticable earthquake!... At first I thought "who the fuck is shaking MY bed?!?!?!" ... and a split second later I realised I was alone in my apartment... my next thought was: "That's a big ass lorry on the road..." because I live next to a busy road, but then I saw the wardrobe and fridge shaking and came to the realisation that I'd just sat through a minor earthquake... I lived in Indonesia for a year and through all the volcanic eruptions and tsunamis and the like that occur there it's a very vast country so unless you feel it firsthand it still doesn't feel real.

My job here in Taiwan is a bit more demanding in the classroom and paperwork department than my job in Indonesia was. I guess I like that in a way because I feel like I've done a days work when I get home and haven't just made someone pay me to talk to them because I'm a honkey. On the otherside of the coin I had been doing a lot of travelling in Indonesia up until I left and have kind of missed that aspect of the country. People in Taiwan don't really notice you the way that your average Jakartan might and they certainly don't scream "BULE!!!!" at the top of their lungs at a moments notice, so I have to say that there are a few things that I miss about the old country that isn't really the old country but that is older than this one... if that makes sense?!... ;)

A couple of weeks ago I had my first classroom observation from my Line Manager at Head Office. She seemed pretty pleased and everything seemed to go okay. My TA for that class seemed to think I'd had an off day – as she is also my direct boss in her other role at our school – however the official observer seemed to think it was fine and just had the obligatory suggestions for improvement. Sometimes I think the Taiwanese are impossible to please. A friend here has suggested that you are doing a good job if your boss doesn't talk to you about the way you are teaching... if that's the case then I guess I won't be expecting a slap on the back and will find solace in cakes or something else more instantly gratifying... ;)

I'd like to be able to say that I'm struggling with the language here but that would imply that I'd made a bean of effort to learn it. I can't count to ten yet and now that I can compare my progress in learning Indonesian to my progress in learning Mandarin I can safely say that I may be able to order a cup of tea by the end of the year. That's not to say that I can't order a cup of tea already – I just kind of point and grunt and they get the message eventually – I guess my main gripe is that I had reached a level of profiency in Indonesian by which I could at least communicate with the locals and that is yet to materialise here. Cultural differences also seem to be more apparent here despite the quality in life being comparable to England. For example a teenage girl apparently got distressed in one of my classes because I handed her some tokens in a non-obliging manner... I still don't really know what happened but it resulted in a little micro-teaching from the school manager in how to hand things nicely to Taiwanese people! That's where I think the Indonesians are tougher. If I had handed a token of reward in a similar manner to an Indonesian with my left hand – extremely rude in their culture as it is the hand they use to wipe their backsides – they wouldn't dare correct me in case they caused me offence and that is where this Asian concept of 'saving face' confuses me as the application varies in different cultures. I still prefer to go with the Indonesian application when teaching or in a public context with strangers. For example one of my private students when using adjectives to describe personality mispronounces the word egotistical resulting in a spoken utterance of "ego-TEST-ical"... imagine the loss of face and embarrasment caused when he realises that people may think he's talking about male genitalia and not their overinflated perception of themselves!... This is relatively easy to deal with actually as I can just give him a lesson from a text book that I have regarding the dangerous mispronunciation of words and how sheet can sound like shit as another example. I certainly won't be giving him a peptalk on testicles. In another situation when getting my healthcheck I was legitimately taken aback when pointing a needle at me and readying herself to insert a needle to extract some blood the nurse made a pronunciation error. She said "relax your sphincter" when she intended to say "relax your fingers"; needless to say I clicked before I said anything and all face was saved! No pep talks needed!...

In sum, I'll be happily using metalanguage – grunting and groaning in this instance – to communicate for the forseeable future. I'll use saving face as an excuse for my ignorance and hope to get a grip of some day to day vocabulary and actually get out and see some things.

I've included a few photos from the classroom below and hope to get some of Taipei and it's surrounds up soon.

Lee xxx

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Settling in...

I've just finished my first week teaching in Taiwan and it's been quite enjoyable. There is a lot to get used to on the paperwork side, but all in all I've adjusted quite well to the teaching here. The job here seems much more focused on teaching younger kids than my last job. It's fun and the lessons have a lot of structure which is handy but I'm still getting used to adapting some of my stock games to the style of teaching here.

My first week here was spent in Central Taipei on a training week and was fun to be honest. It got a bit tiresome having to travel into Taipei every morning and evening but the bus home is only about 30-40 minutes so it wasn't really that bad. I had the fortune of bumping into Rob a friend from Rugby... it was quite strange! He's a cover teacher for the same company and seems to float around different schools on a daily basis depending on demand for cover... so it was quite interesting that he ended up at head office during the week I was there!... Another incident occurred in a similar vain. While observing a class in a different branch somewhere in the city, where exactly I have no idea, I got talking to the teacher I was observing during the break and it turns out we have the same degree, from the same university and graduated in the same year and we had never met each other before, we even have a mutual friend... a very peculiar situation!...

With all the novelty of being a newbie and peculiar happenings starting to wear off, I've finally been able to get down and dirty and start getting into the flow of my classes. I'm gradually getting to know the students but they're not as responsive as students in Indonesia... they react to games but struggle when it comes to writing because I guess they are dealing with Roman script and sometimes even understanding that they are competing against each other prohibits the fun in an activity from shining through!... Luckily the bright students kick in and get competitive and help the weaker ones out. My teaching here is pretty much entirely kids in public classes and adults in a private one-on-one scenario. I kind of like it because it encompasses all of the aspects I enjoy about my job and the school provides texts that allow me to teach the material I'm supposed to be teaching!... For the last six months or so of working in Indonesia I became kind of deflated due to the lack of academic support on offer... so I'm really grateful that that predicament has been reversed!!... I put together a lot of my own materials during the last couple of months and now that I have a new toy box to use in class to make activities more exciting, accompanied by full courses and my own archive of supplementary materials, I'm spoilt for choice of things to use in the classroom!...

The only thing that is getting me down is the weather. It's about the same temperature in Taipei as it is back home at the moment and I've just left a country where it's 30 degrees centigrade EVERY day... but hopefully summer is on the way soon and it will start to heat up a bit here!... I'm just about getting used to the way things are done in my new school but am still having teething problems... in Indonesia I managed to get to know most of the kids really well and I could bellow at the top of my voice to inject pace into activities and the students knew that I wasn't angry because they were familiar with me on some student teacher kind of a level and that is yet to happen here so when one of the girls didn't realise it was her turn to race for her team during a board relay I shouted “Vivian!!!...” and bless the little moo she just burst into tears!... That's only the second kid I've made cry since I started teaching and that was just an overreaction, I think!... Fortunately we have teaching assistants here and there was nothing malicious on my part just a bit of a wimpy overreaction from a ten year old girl! =p … The TA gave her a hug and eventually she was able to man up and during the final activity I let her hold some of the flashcards... She left the classroom smiling and I was free from an ear bashing off Mummy which happened on only my second ever day of teaching! ...

Peace xxx

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Leaving Indonesia... Arrival in Taiwan and Everything Inbetween

So for the last couple of months I've been somewhere between waiting to leave Indonesia and on holiday. I haven't really wanted to leave but I couldn't wait to go on holiday for five weeks and right now those five weeks have just finished. so I'm going to recant the last five or six weeks in the best fashion that I can as there is really too much to tell for one blogpost and I've been lazy!... So this is more of an update on my situation than an actual blogpost in the report style nature I usually employ...

My last weekend in Jakarta before heading to Thailand on a visa run was pretty brutal and I don't really remember that much. I got hammered beyond belief, which is quite rare, and just remember getting personal with a drain and is therefore very bad news in Jakarta ;) I said a few goodbyes to people that I wasn't likely to see during my last month on holiday and that was nice. Next stop was Bangkok. I arrived in Bangkok on the evening of the 31st and was pretty impressed with how well organised it was, in my mind it was going to be on a par with Jakarta but actually the traffic moves quite well. My friend Sam works there and while I didn't get to chill with her as much as I may have liked I was quite well catered for in terms of good company by her friends Olly and Sarah... I was very tired and proved useless when it came to getting around autonomously. We also managed to make it to an island called Koh Chang and it was really nice. It would have been nicer if I had been a little more adventerous during my trip there and seen a waterfall or something but only really for my photo album because I was really tired all the time. The food in Thailand was excellent and I managed to see some cool temples, the reclining and emerald Buddhas and Vimanmek Mansion, so really I had a nicely balanced week between activities and chilling out. There was also a beach party and that killed me the net day with the hangover as I'm really a big girl nowadays as i rarely really drink anymore.

After Thailand, I flew to Bali to meet Rob my friend from University. It was nice we spent a day walking around the Ubud area and saw the Monkey Forest there with it's temples and what not. We stayed with his Auntie there and her villa was gorgeous. I cooked a pasta dish to say thanks and did a fair job of it, I was quite impressed with myself because I've been really lazy with y cooking the last year or so!... Bali was just a meeting point really... it's really nice but a little too developed for my liking and as it has good links with Thailand and Flores it proved a useful meeting and departure point to get to Labuan Bajo. Labuan Bajo is in West Flores and is a popular jumping off point to visit the Komodo islands and that's exactly what we did. We hired a boat the next day to the island of Rinca, we only went for the day because of time and finance restrictions but I definitely want to return and see Komodo itself as well as swim with the manta rays and sharks that I was unable to get done... but on the plus side we did get to do some snorkelling a bit closer to Flores and I saw a clown fish... essentially I found Nemo!... The dragons were also pretty cool and we say plenty around the camp of Loh Buaya but on the trek we didn't see much more than a few water buffalos really and the great 'coastal savannah' style scenery that I'm at a loss to describe... Rinca is a really beautiful island. After Rinca we headed to a place called Bajawa with a pitstop in a place called Ruteng to catch a break from the 11-12 hour road journey. We arrived in Bajawa a couple of days after Rinca with plenty of time in the day to spare, so I for one, was very eager to get something done after a day and a half of buses and waiting around. We attempted to find the Wawo Muda crater, but seeing as there are no signs we essentially just went for a walk in the Flores countryside close to the Wawo Muda crater and despite not actually seeing the crater that day I wasn't too disappointed with the day because it was nice to walk in the mountainous countryside and not be on a bus! I also found it quite quirky that the locals hide or destroy the signs, not to hinder tourists but to spite the local government as the government in the local area want to turn Wawo Muda into a major attraction but won't contribute money to the local economy. The day after I had arranged for a guide to take us to the actual crater this time in the morning, and to see some 'traditional villages' in the afternoon. Rob wasn't so keen to hike back up the mountain due to his poorly knee but after being put on the spot at 7am and not being given time to 'see how he feels' he decided to man up and enjoy the glorious walk that it turned out to be. The crater was cool and there were beautiful views over to the close Mt. Inerie and views across clouds to the evn further Mt. Ebulobo. The villages themselves are generally the main attractions to people in the area, and while being pleasant they weren't at all remote from the main town and therefore the people live the same as people in all the other villages in that part of Flores and the attention they attract is purely from the style of the houses and not the lifestyle they lead. I don't mean that to sound critical, it was nice to see the traditional houses and some Ikat weaving but may be not so spectacular. The last thing we did before leaving the Bajawa area was to visit a natural hotspring and it was really very pleasant.

After Bajawa we took a bus to the small fishing village of Riung. We visited the Seventeen Island Marine Park to do some snorkelling, which was amazing and to see some flying foxes which were also really cool! They are these huge bats and Pak Duking (our guide) knew exactly where to find a colony, I was under the impression that he was going to use a whistle to awaken them so we could see them flying, in reality he just bashed a load of trees with a big stick to agitate them while grunting "hee-yar" at them... all good fun though and despite the mild distrubance by an odd few tourists such as ourselves they seem to survive in relative peace. The final stop on out Trans-Flores trip - before departing from Maumere - was to a place called Moni, where they have a fantastic volcano called Kelimutu that has three small lakes that change colour dependant on the gases and mineral content emitted from the craters that they sit on. We headed there for sunrise and it was beautiful. The craters were a deep green, a neon green and a deep black. We also managed to see a fairly nice waterfall in the Kelimutu area it didn't appear to have any special name so I'm going to christen it Air Terjun Moni! =p I wish I could provide more depth to these events but the peculiarities have escaped me because they were a few weeks ago.

After that we headed to Maumere. Rob flew home and I continued on to the island of Lembata. I spent around five days there I think with my only reason for travelling there being to see the whalers of Lamalera. I was hoping to continue on to the island of Alor afterwards but I was starting to become a little restricted by time and money unfortunately, however Lamalera proved to be a spectacle in itself. Within minutes of arriving in the village I had been escorted to the beach to witness them bringing in the catch of the day, which happened to be a "Lumba Lumba" or dolphin in English. I have been intrigued by these practices ever since I heard about them and I'm still not sure if I'm comfortable with what's happening there. They are the last village on earth - according to Lonely Planet Indonesia I think - that are allowed to hunt whales under internation whaling laws because they kill so few. I'm not against hunting as long as the prey is to be eaten and is not endangered. I don't like killing for fun or to extinction. I was perfectly at ease with the hunting practise I saw, despite using Bamboo spears the whalers managed to despatch of the dolphin pretty quickly although it was no doubt stressful for the dolphin. I still don't know how I feel about these practices, even after witnessing them first hand. They have been catching dolphins, whales and manta rays for hundreds of years and therefore the populations seem to be sustainable, there were literally hundreds of dolphins in the area, although I'm not 100% on these circumstantial suggestive premises and therefore would still like to reserve judgement before condemning or glorifying what happens there. It is well publicised and not hidden from any authority and completely practiced in the local area on migrating populations and is therefore seasonal. I just still don't know how I feel about it... I'd be a hypocrite to judge the killing of a dolphin for food and yet happily buy fish from the boats of fishermen who trawl and kill an abundance of fish that they don't even bring back to shore only the species that are deemed worthy for the market. More dolphins are caught in Tuna nets and not eaten than those killed for food by the small village of Lamalera... Food for thought?... I'm still not sure about this, it does however remain an amazingly unique experience and one that for its' right or wrongs I have witnessed.

My last stop in Indonesia before heading back to Jakarta to catch my flight to Taiwan was in a village called Leuwiliang on the outskirts of Bogor, a satellite city of Jakarta. I had always wanted to teach in a poor community during my time in Indonesia and had never really got around to spending a decent amount of time in order to achieve that aim. It was really cool and I got to work in a boarding school for orphans, although the students I was teaching were teenagers, and therefore didn't fit my imagined archetype of all orphans being youngsters!... I also got to teach in a couple of community afterschool courses that are extracurricular and quite good fun!...

I've just arrived in Taiwan and now have a new apartment... but it doesn't have a kitchen :( The school is nice and the people in charge are really nice and seem quite caring. Also the teachers are really nice and friendly and have been really helpful... It's also a lot more efficient here than in Indonesia which was higlighted to me this morning on a trip to a medical centre to have a healthcheck: I was rushed through an X-ray, a blood test and an eyetest and weighing session all in the space of fifteen minutes. That also included the admin of processing my paperwork! And so another year of teaching English and travelling begins... I'll keep you posted! xxx

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Christmas and New Year Dashing Around Central and Eastern Java

So Christmas time in the tropics isn't that 'Christmassy' really. The heat and the lack of crap adverts starting from the end of halloween are also amiss in Indonesia. I downloaded some Christmas music and played it at school for my last few classes and played some games and found some Christmas activities to replicate some kind of festivities but come midnight Christmas Eve I'd kind of given up. I did receive some presents from some colleagues and a card in the shape of a bouquet of flowers from one of my cool little students so it wasn't all lacking but my Christmas dinner was a Lebanese schwarma – I have no idea how to spell it correctly – in other words... a kebab... but a very good kebab with a shit-load of hummus! I enjoyed that part actually and to be fair it wasn't all bad but the vibes of Christmas were somewhat lacking... I did have some fun with my Santa hat and built in beard though. My colleague Laura was teaching a class of toddlers and as she turned her back I kept peeking through the window and waving at the children – in other contexts I could get arrested for that! - she wasn't sure why the kids were shouting "Santa!... Santa!..." with awe on their faces, may be she just attributed it to the magic of Christmas...

That was pretty much the extent to my Christmas as I was flying to Yogyakarta in Central Java for the holidays. I arrived in Yogyakarta at around 7am and found a cheap hotel room pretty much instantly. Unfortunately I hadn't managed to get much sleep and was pretty tired. After a couple of hours lying down and not even managing to power nap due to the heat I thought that I may as well get out and see some of the sights. I arranged an ojek and off I went – or so I thought – before the guy that had organised the transport for me introduced me to the bloke that would be driving it he decided that I should 'meet some of his students' who sell art to support child victims of the recent Mt Merapi eruption... with that in mind I reasoned that it must be some kind of charitable effort. I was wrong. This guy was full of shit and not one of the blokes in the place mentioned how the children suffering with the aftermath of the eruption benefits from the sale of this art. I'm quite open to charity work – especially in a third world country where people have so little – but using it as a con to sell trinkets to tourists is low. After the bullshit I got the bike and headed to my first stop of the day Borobudur Temple. It was really cool and had lots of old statues and things I don't know a huge deal about the history behind it but I know it dates from the 9th Century. It's a Buddhist temple and the first I've ever visited. The only thing that annoyed me was the casual disrespect/unawareness that some of the local tourists showed for the temple, adults were happily letting there children ride statues that are over a thousand years old, causing who knows what kind of wear and tear for the sake of a cheesy photo... in some cases the adults themselves were doing it! After Borobudur I headed to Prambanan – a set of hindu temples of a very similar age – which were no less spectacular!... I had a great time looking around Prambanan as it was a bit quieter and had less bellends getting in my way! =p ... One thing I've enjoyed about Indonesia is that a lot of attractions are remote and 'off the beaten track' as a lot of guidebooks describe. Unfortunately Central Java is pretty accessible and these temples are some of biggest attractions in Indonesia... and are therefore very busy and a little hard to really take in... there are just too many people.
The temples were certainly the highlight of Central Java for me and my second day in Yogyakarta was spent in a little more relaxed fashion. On the way to Prambanan I was really tired and had fallen asleep on the back of the motorbike! Keen to avoid this and hindered from doing anything considered active by the rain I decided that I'd take it easy before taking a night train to Malang. I essentially hired a Becak for the afternoon – this is a chair with three wheels a seat for the passenger and a saddle and peddles for the driver – he took me to the Kraton and the Bird Market and some other places inbetween. It was pretty cool – although I was duped by another prick trying to sell shit, puppets this time "wayang kulit" puppets made from buffalo skin – I managed to make it out without buying a puppet and headed for the bird market. The bird market was described by Lonely Planet as "squawking", I'm not sure if it was as busy or as noisy, or in fact as much of an experience as its' write up in there suggests but it was pretty cool nonetheless. I made sure that I tried the local delicacy of Nasi Gudeg – once in a car park and the other in a run down street "restaurant" – it was awesome. It's essentially some kind of jackfruit stew served with rice and usually a boiled egg and a chicken thigh. Really nice and pretty damn sweet! After I'd seen the Kraton and the market I just wanted to relax so I holed-up at an internet cafe close to the train station and relaxed for a couple of hours. I was waiting for quite a while as my train was at 1am. This was the most comfortable option to take to Malang from Yogya without flying as the firstclass trains here are pretty cheap and very comfortable... unfortunately, after waiting for about 7 hours I managed to catch the wrong train!... This is probably the first incident where public transport in this country has really pissed me off!... I had asked numerous Indonesians – staff and other patrons – whether I was waiting on the right platform... turns out that's not enough. Train stations in Indonesia are yet to adopt the latest in modern information technology "The Information Screen!"... I guess that would just make life too easy! It turns out that I was waiting on the right platform. It turns out that I got on the right service. It even turns out that I took reassurance from a member of staff on the train who after checking my ticket confirmed I was in fact heading to Malang. I was catching the Gajayana service which runs through a few major cities here but essentially between Jakarta and Surabaya I think by way of Yogya and Malang. While waiting on platform three about 10 minutes before my train was due to depart I saw the Gajayana pull into the station. After asking the ticket inspectors and having my ticket verified it turned out that I was on the Gajayana heading to Jakarta – the opposite direction – and I was pretty pissed off. When would it ever make sense to put two trains with the same name departing the station within 10 minutes of each other on the same platform?!... After a tough time of trying to explain myself the conductor was pretty helpful... unfortunately I had to take an economy service via Surabaya and arrived at my destination Malang at 4pm the next day, I was supposed to arrive at 9am... so as you may have guessed I wasn't amused...

After arriving in Malang I met up with my colleague and flatmate Alex. I managed to get a couple of hours sleep before heading to Mt. Pananjakan to see the Bromo Caldera at sunrise. This is a highly touted tourist activity in Indonesia and one of those things you have to do as a tourist in Indonesia. We got up at 1am and headed to the mountain. Unfortunately by about 5.30am it was quite clear that we weren't going to see sunrise. There was too much fog and we couldn't even see the crater from inside the caldera itself. It would have been a pretty cool experience as well because the crater was still in a mild state of eruption at the time at spitting out volcanic ash. Next stop was Kawah Ijen or the Ijen crater which is about an 8 hour drive from Bromo... I was pretty annoyed by this point as not much had worked out well for me during this trip, especially after all my other trips working out so smoothly!...

After the 8 hour drive we arrived at the Blawan Coffee Plantation in the eastern extremities of Java. A pretty nice spot. I didn't really take any time to explore it however as I was pretty tired and had to be up at 4.30 to walk the path that leads to the 2,400m or so high Kawah Ijen. After not seeing anything but an ash cloud at Bromo I was hoping for big things at Ijen... and, finally, it delivered! It was quite a nice walk with a really nice path that leads to the crater. When you're walking there are plenty of miners collecting sulphur from the crater. They are really friendly and pretty happy to pose for photos and have a laugh. We became friendly with two of them, they were quite funny and were making jokes about my weight – I look like King Kong apparently – but in all fairness they were pretty cool... they went by the names of Harry and Arsono. The miners at Kawah Ijen are part of what makes it so incredible. They carry between 75-80kg on average of sulfur up a rocky ascent and down the side of a mountain twice a day – some of them even do it in flip-flops! I had a go at lifting one for a moment and it was quite a lot of pressure with the weight and balance concentrated on the neck. Of course the huge turqoise lake – the largest crater lake in Java – and the endless cloud of sulphur bellowing from the crater all add to the dramatic and picturesque view from the top. I was also pretty happy on the way up when we caught a troop of local monkeys – not the ubiquitous macaques – going about their daily business and swinging frantically out of the way to try and avoid us. I was finally happy to have done something so rewarding after the ballache of the previous couple of days. The trip to Kawah Ijen was followed by a further eight hour drive back to Malang. The drive was a pain in the arse but at least it was comfortable and I arrived on time – for that I can be grateful!... When we arrived in Malang we quickly ate lunch and then I decided I'd have a little walk around the town as I wouldn't have time the next day as I planned to head to a small city called Blitar. As soon as I'd started to walk it started to rain and I didn't really want to hang around. At the mall I used as shelter I was approached by some girls who were students looking for someone to practise their English with... it's pretty common here and I didn't mind at all, in fact I'm rather accustomed to talking to Indonesian strangers now, in fact it's hard to walk past people in some places without looking and smiling while politely greeting practically everyone you happen to walk by, that and I got a free donut and coffee!...

The next day held a short 2 hour bus ride to the next destination Blitar. I visited Blitar just to see a volcano there that is supposed to be one of the most active lava volcanos in Indonesia. It was nice, but in the back of my mind I was hoping to see a lava flow. There was a pretty easy climb to the summit from where you could see a panoramic view of the crater. I was mildly annoyed that I wasn't able to get a decent shot of the entire crater in one photo but nevermind it was a great spot nonetheless. I was accosted by about 4 sets of Indonesian tourists wanting a photo but I didn't mind as I'd managed to sleep pretty well. In the crater of Mt. Kelud there was a large mound of smouldering rock – presumably lava in it's rock form – described as a 'lava dome' where a crater lake once lay. One thing I have been enlightened to since arriving in Indonesia is the temporary nature of what I can only describe as the physical geographical makeup of terrain (not sure if that's correct so geography geeks can shoot me now!)... Volcanos erupt relatively frequently here and blast new craters, dry up lakes and all sorts of things that don't really happen back home. I also managed to stop by at a hindu temple called Candi Panataran which was in good condition and very quiet – a welcome change to the bustle of the other temples near Yogya – I was happy with that as a day out and decided to head home so that I could get an early rise the next day to head to Solo.

Now I know there are direct buses to Solo from Blitar – and that was my last destination – but after arguing with the locals at the bus stop and a distinct lack of regular buses heading in that direction I reached the conclusion that I may be wrong. This meant that I took a bus to a place known whose name doesn't remain in my head; after convincing the conductor that I didn't fancy chartering the entire bus to take me all the way to Solo and was happy to change at the intermediary destination – the bus broke down – so I'm rather glad I didn't!... The tyre burst and we had to get it pumped up every kilometre or so for about 10km until we could break down and rest it on the side of a major road where other buses were heading in the direction we wanted to go. Fortunately, they charter another bus practically instantly and pay the rest of your fare to the operators of that 'service' to take you the rest of the way. I finally got to the terminal that linked to Solo and after missing the first bus that was rammed and fighting off a load of hawkers convincing them with my rather awful Indonesian that I can speak their language and don't want to buy a punnet of strawberries for my journey I managed to catch the connection to Solo. Things were starting to look up – this bus had aircon! - and I even managed to find a seat! There are a plethora of military bases in Central Java around Madion which fell on the bus route somewhere and once I'd managed to force my way onto a seat, no mean feat on public transport in Indonesia there was some prick of a sergeant who decided that he needed to sit with his legs as wide apart as his scrawny ass could spread. This annoyed me as I was already quite tetchy after being on public transport for so long that every time we hit a pot hole – and believe me there are loads – I accidently crashed into him... He also decided that he would endlessly smoke his shitty kretek clove cigarettes one after the other which meant that when he got up I extended my legs and then sat there with them as wide apart as I could – and trust me I'm a lot fatter than this goon – when he returned he looked at me with an authoritative glance as if to motion me aside so that he could resume the luxury of his massive seat... I returned with a smile that gestured something along the lines of "fuck you"... ;) I realise that I sound mean but after an hour and a half of someone else's smoke in my face gripping the edge of a seat to prevent myself falling into the isle and onto some unsuspecting Indonesian mother the tosser can go and fuck himself!... that's how bitter I am! ;)... Shortly after that my rather brazen attitude came round to bite me in the ass as the airconditioning on this bus broke meaning that they kicked everybody off and found another couple of buses to take us on the rest of the journey to Solo. During the melee of letting all the Indonesians cram onto the first bus that picked us up from the side of the road I was approached by a very clean cut bloke that asked me if he could help me. He spoke fantastic English and introduced himself as Tommy. Within about an hour and a half we were in Solo and I asked if he knew a good comfortable hotel that I could stay in – by this point in my holiday I'd been up two mountains and travelled a large distance – and he said that he'll call his friend who did. After not understanding any of the conversation, possibly because it was in Javanese or very fast Indonesian, he gestured for us to get into a taxi. After a short taxi journey we were at his friends house albeit in a military base! I was a little concerned until his friend introduced himself to me as the Major in charge of a squadron of military police in the Indonesian Airforce! Tommy then informed me that he was a fighter pilot and they were friends from the academy. After a round of tea and local bread I was dropped off at my hotel in the back of an Indonesian Airforce 4x4... They were really cool and went out of their way to help me while brushing off my gratitude as if it was no big deal... All in all a surreal day and I managed to sleep in a two-star hotel – pretty luxurious here unless you plan to stay at the Hilton – I managed to get a pretty good sleep!

The last day of my holiday was spent travelling to an area near Solo called Tawangmanggu it's not the prettiest of towns but it has a nice waterfall. I spent an age getting to the waterfall however but did manage to catch a peek at some macaques picking the fleas out of each others' fur while I was waiting. The waterfall is about 82 metres high and is called Grojogan Sewu, it was a pleasant sight but considering it was a public holiday too busy with the flock of local tourists picnicking and generally littering up the surrounding area. It was okay though I managed to see it and then clambered away to a local warung where I bought some highly recommended sate kelinci. I'm actually sure what sate kelinci is but it was a lovely, very sweet dish served with rice cakes (lontong) and a very sweet sauce. After eating I headed to the temple of an Indonesian fertility cult. While not having the age or grandeur of some of the temples that I visited it certainly was my favourite. Particular highlights for me were a headless statue grasping it's penis and a mural that appeared to be pooing while picking something out of it's teeth!...

That pretty much sums up my trip and attempts at seeing a lot of the highlights of Central and Eastern Java in just 8 days. I think I tried to do a little too much in the time I had but it was cool. During my time in traffic travelling through Java, one thing I have noticed is the Indonesians' inherent skill to get almost anything done with a motorbike so in descending numerical order I'm going to leave you with my top 5 most baffling observations:

5) The 'Egg Man' – this guy manages to deliver eggs on the back of a 50cc scooter and when I say deliver I mean he straps about 20 or so dozen eggs to a shelf on the back of his scooter with string and effortlessly glide through the manic traffic of Jakarta!
4) The family of 5 - All in the name five family members on a 125cc motorbike, granted one of them is a baby and another a toddler but I'm still impressed that the bike can even move!
3) Two goats: I've seen a guy heading through traffic with two baskets on the back of his bike. In each basket was a goat with it's four legs tied together delicately. Contrary to what you might believe these things seemed perfectly happy and relatively sedate... almost as if they were used to it!
2) The Horse: A few months back I saw a two guys on a motorbike. As I looked out the car I wondered why one of them was facing backwards... in my semi-conscious state I saw that he had reigns in his hand and was guiding a horse down a main road!... Surely it would have been better to just ride it?...
1) Breastfeeding: without doubt the most impressive thing I've seen someone do while travelling on a motorbike is a young mother feeding her baby the natural way. While incredibly dangerous and particularly dumb: why wouldn't you stop and let the wee nipper have a suckle on terra firma?...