The summer wife has retired, and the school year wife is back. Mind you, I am not necessarily saying this is a positive thing; it just is what it is. Marty and I returned to school last Wednesday as new teachers once again. After 22 years in education, I think I have lost count of how many new teacher orientations I have actually attended. They all involve some sort of formal meetings to go over protocol, taking pictures for photo IDs, and a luncheon of sorts. Our Malaysian new teacher orientation was quite ‘chill’ as far as orientations go, and we were able to walk away with a few fun stories to tell.
The school we are teaching at is relatively new, in that it is only five years old, and this is the third year they have been housed at the new fancy pants facility. This is precisely one of the reasons Marty and I chose to work here, apart from the Olympic-sized pool and two soccer pitches, of course. We knew there would be room for growth, and we liked the idea of having a hand in creating a stellar school. There are roughly 25 newly hired teachers that started the school year with us. The new teachers come from the U.S., Canada, Australia, South Africa and India. Some of us filled existing positions, and some of us were hired for new positions due to growth. I believe the school year ended with about 350 students last year and it is starting with roughly 500 this year. Of those, 85 are full time boarding students. It has the capacity for 2000, so you can see where the school is headed in terms of growth.
As a getting to know you excursion, we were all taken out to lunch last Friday. We were told we were going to eat at a seafood/venison restaurant in Forest City. First of all, I didn’t even know there were deer in this very tropical “it really feels like a giant island” country, and second of all…. what a bizarre culinary combination. I had heard that Forest City was a massive futuristic ‘city’ built on a man-made island of sorts right across from the Singapore border. When we saw it from the immigration bridge last week, it truly looked like Oz… a gleaming city in the distance, jutting out into the middle of the ocean. I suppose I was expecting a fancy restaurant surrounded by luxurious condos, gigantic malls and glorious coffee shops. We boarded six vans at the school around 11:30 and fifteen minutes later we were meandering down dirt roads lined with shacks. Honestly, I thought it was a bit sketchy when we pulled up to a barren dusty ‘parking lot’ with nothing but a long, rickety pier and a plywood structure in the distance. We proceeded to make our way down the pier and sit under a gigantic covered outdoor patio with large round tables and plastic chairs. There was no inside restaurant, just an enormous covered rectangle on stilts 500 feet out in the middle of the water. I suppressed forming an opinion at that moment, and just followed along and went with the flow. Turns out, it was one of the most amazing meals I have ever had. There were nine people seated at each table and the waiters brought out plate upon plate over the next hour. We had two kinds of fish, venison, calamari, prawns, three different kinds of vegetable dishes, soup, tofu hot pot, and rice. It was a tad mind boggling, and when it was all over the ensuing food comas came on quickly. All I could think about was a nap, but before we could return to the school we had one more stop to make… Duty Free.
A small amount of background info is needed here. Malaysia is a primarily (60%) Muslim country, which means that 60% of the population does not drink alcohol. Therefore, alcohol is heavily taxed. Going to a local restaurant or bar, a local beer equivalent to Budweiser is approximately $8 U.S. dollars. If you buy a six-pack in a local store like Tesco (a British version of Wal-Mart) you pay roughly three times more than you would in the States. Therefore, drinkers (and ex-pats tend to be drinkers) will go out of their way to avoid paying taxes on their alcohol. Enter FOREST CITY. Not only is it a billion dollar planned community/city dreamt up and mostly funded by the Sultan of Johor (the ‘King of sorts’ in the state I live in), but it also has a duty free zone (like you would find in an international airport) where you can purchase alcohol for similar prices like you would find at home. Forest City is an amazing GREEN city (literally green with plants cascading down every building, but in the eco-friendly sense as well), and although 80-90% of the apartments and condos have been purchased, they are only about 10% occupied with human beings. It is impressive and eerily post-apocalyptic at the same time…. It feels a lot like the Will Smith movie ‘I Am Legend’. I imagine in about ten years it will be teeming with life and the investments people made will have paid off immensely, but for now it is a bit odd. The bottom line is that we went to the duty free center, the newly hired teachers bought an amazing amount of alcohol, and we left… interesting field trip if you ask me. I suppose on the list of things new teachers need to know, the duty free zone ranks pretty high.
Another fun start of the year story has to do with my new kindergarten class. Sure, I haven’t taught kinder in 17 years, but insert ‘just like riding a bike’ metaphor here. As a general rule I find that international educators are incredibly spoiled, and no, they don’t realize it. Not only do we often get incredibly amazing benefits that you would never get at home, but more times than not you have shockingly small class sizes and a full time teacher’s aide (TA). I hate to admit it, but at the moment I have nine students and a teacher’s aide (plus two planning periods a day!). Seems like a dream, I know, but wait… there’s more. First of all, when you have a TA you have to find something for them to do all day. Second, they are generally not from a western country. This is great because you learn a lot about other cultures; on the other hand, it’s not so great because they think your ideas are insane. Case in point, over the past two days I have been assigned two different TA’s due to scheduling changes. The first one insisted on rearranging my room because she did not like the way I did it… it was unsafe and having semi-enclosed spaces for children was not a good idea. I nicely explained to her that it was my room and I knew what I was doing. Then today, I went to a meeting and when I came back my new TA had taken the liberty of rearranging my entire room to the way it was last year because obviously I did not know what I was doing. I really try so hard to suppress my “American”, but to be quite honest I think at times I fail miserably. It is one thing to love and be fascinated by other cultures from afar, and something else entirely to find a peaceful way to do what you think is right and function in a place where your ideas are completely different from the norm. I am trying to step outside of my western arrogance and think about things from a different point of view, but man, that is easier said than done. I suppose I’ll add that to the growing list of things to work on!
Other than that, life is pretty normal… except for the CROC-O-DILE!
Before we left for Malaysia, my father insisted that I watch some Netflix show called ’72 Dangerous Animals – Asia’. I scoffed at the idea for several weeks, but then finally caved to appease him. Just as I thought, it freaked me out. Now I am here, and basically I live in the middle of a jungle that was demolished to build a futuristic city. From what I can see, in the reclamation fight, the jungle seems to be winning. Seriously, in the mornings when I take the dogs for a walk there is a cacophony of tropical bird sounds all around my neighborhood, an abundance of intimidating insects at every turn, and exotic lichens and plants growing on everything in sight. My neighbors swap stories of vipers, cobras and constrictors seen around the neighborhood, and I have seen at least three monkeys crossing the road outside of our school in the past week. I suppose it should have come as no surprise when we saw the crocodile in the middle of the highway, but I assure you, it did. Marty and I were driving down the highway (and I mean a large three lane highway on either side) when we saw a crocodile lying in the far right lane being run over by a car. It was about five feet long and it was crossing the highway when we saw it get hit. I’m not sure where it was coming from or where it was going to, but we were driving in the middle of a heavily populated area and that was just not what we were expecting to see. I really hate to admit it Dad, but perhaps it was a good idea to watch ‘72’.
Soccer season starts soon and the girls have already joined an area co-ed club team to prepare. During the first practice we attended, only 12 players showed up. The following week, there were 25 players, all but 3 of them boys… I suppose word got out about some American twin girls with mad ball skills. The great thing about practices is that there is an infinity pool with a full restaurant and bar that overlooks the soccer pitch. This adds an entire new dimension to the role of soccer mom… one that I think I could really get in to. Marty and I plan to watch soccer practice tomorrow in the pool sipping on adult beverages and cheering the girls on. Should be rough.
The students show up to school on Thursday and hopefully we will survive. Until then we shall hope for reptile free days and not a single American teacher classroom incident report.