A Travellerspoint blog

August 2013

Back to Thailand

Chiang Mai

rain 88 °F

06 -18 August 2013

Up early and off to the airport. Even though our flight wasn’t until that afternoon – we decided to head out to LCCT (KL’s low cost air terminal – hub for Air Asia) with Brenda, who had an earlier flight. Being a few days before Ramadan…it was crazy!!!!

Brenda is such a good friend, was an awesome teaching partner and made a great travel buddy. It was fun for us to show her a little of the Asia that we love. But it was time to say “see ya”. It was hugs and “safe travels” as she was off to a new adventure in Bali. No tears this time, she lives close by in Chandler – we’ll probably see her shortly after we get home in October.

The morning passed quickly into afternoon and we were off to Chiang Mai. Upon arriving, it was back through immigration “again”, a quick taxi ride and we found (or rather our taxi driver did) Elegant Lanna down a narrow lane outside the moated Old Town area.

Jim and the elephants

Jim and the elephants

Gold leaf Bhudda

Gold leaf Bhudda

Temple with tribute to Thailand's Queen and her birthday

Temple with tribute to Thailand's Queen and her birthday

Temple in Chiang Mai

Temple in Chiang Mai

Colorful painting from temple in Chiang Mai

Colorful painting from temple in Chiang Mai

Temple Wats

Temple Wats

We’d been in contact with another guesthouse, but being full, they referred us to Elegant Lanna. Initially, we thought we wanted to stay about a month and thus wanted a little bigger place but as usual, things worked out, in the end, how they were supposed to.

The room lacked just a couple of things, but Elegant Lanna helped us out by bringing up another chair and a table for me to work. In addition, the street (I hesitate to really call it a street) was very quiet and the views from our room were beautiful.

Down the lane towards Elegant Lanna

Down the lane towards Elegant Lanna


Also, not serving breakfast turned out to be a blessing. The Cat House and Kamala’s (very close by) were our usual “go to” places. For lunch and/or dinner, we tried a variety of different places – most of them good with only a one or two being only “ok”. As well as the Cat House and Kamala’s, I’d recommend the Bamboo Café, the Swan Burmese Cuisine and the New Delhi Indian for dinner. They all had consistently good food.

Deep Fried Bananas with Ice Cream at Swan Burmese Cafe

Deep Fried Bananas with Ice Cream at Swan Burmese Cafe

The Cat House

The Cat House

Omelet and Salad Breakfast at the Cat house

Omelet and Salad Breakfast at the Cat house

Heart shaped French Toast at the Cat House

Heart shaped French Toast at the Cat House

My breakfast partner (at the Cat House)

My breakfast partner (at the Cat House)


It rained quite a bit the “almost two weeks” we were in CM which again made it good weather to work and organize and also for ….massage. Yes, again we indulged – we just can’t help ourselves.

Another highlight of our time in CM was meeting two ladies from Australia: Margarite and Irene. They were in town for a little over three weeks to have some dental work done. Many Aussies come to Thailand (Bangkok and other cities) for dental work and get the bonus of a nice holiday. Margarite was/is an artist and Irene a film maker…it was wonderful visiting with them.

It turned out that the amount of time we spent in Chiang Mai was just about right. It gave us time to relax and also to evaluate our future travel plans. Referring back to my journal, it was on the 10th that Jim and I were talking about “where to go?” He asks….”Where is Koh Samui?” I let him know that it’s off the east coast of southern Thailand….and within an hour we had booked flights and a guesthouse for five nights. Decision made: that’s just how we roll.

With those plans made, the question is what to do between 23 Aug and 11 Sept? Then, more questions from Jim. “Have you heard of Borobudur?” My response “no” – “well, it is the most visited tourist attraction in Indonesia.” Imagine that!!! Guess that’s where we’re headed. We booked travel from KL to Yogyakarta on 31 August and then into Bali on the 10th to leave on the 11th for Australia… but that means we still had some open time after Koh Samui….what to do ….what to do??? Not to worry, we always figure something out.

It’s time to leave Chiang Mai and with sunscreen in hand, we’re on our way to south eastern Thailand and some beach time.

View from our room

View from our room

Posted by pjburke 00:37 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

Bye Bye Brenda

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

sunny 96 °F

03 -5 Aug 2013

Off again, up early and now it’s Air Asia to KL. Short flight, easy through immigration and we grab our bags and catch the bus into KL Sentral where we can either get the metro or a taxi. We opt for a taxi but later we found out we should have gone to the taxi stand where you pay the meter price. We were lured in by a driver outside the bus. We had to pay a little more but he ended up carrying one of our bags and was pretty winded by the time we go to the car. Live and learn.

We arrived at Orange Pekoe Guesthouse http://www.orangepekoe.com.my and got settled. Nice place, well run and very clean – also with really fast internet. Time to catch up on the website (which I did)….a little!!

Brenda's first glimpse of the Petronas Towers

Brenda's first glimpse of the Petronas Towers

Our time in Kl was spent wandering a little, eating a little and planning …a lot!! Brenda was not feeling great and we’d been to KL before, so it really was a good time to make some decisions

Central Market

Central Market

Large prawns and soup

Large prawns and soup

A little Thai squid for dinner

A little Thai squid for dinner

Shopping for dinner

Shopping for dinner


Our original plan for the second half of our trip was to head to Indonesia, for a jungle boat, to see orangutans. With Jim’s reaction to his malaria meds, time and price – we started having second thoughts. Just on a whim, Jim asked me to check out Darwin, AU. We had thought about trying to add Darwin originally but threw it out as, too far and too expensive. Well…. Air Asia is now flying there and they were having a sale so……now we're going to OZ. Really didn’t think that was going to happen. It was one of the “Burke – last minute decisions”. But first, before booking, I got on line to see what the procedure was for EVISA’s – piece of cake. Ten minutes and $40AU ($20 each), we both had our EVISAS, and then I booked the air. Now, next decision: car and motels/guest houses or camper van??? We really enjoyed traveling by camper van in NZ - so that decision was easy. Before leaving on the 6th, after having sent out a couple of inquiries, we booked with Mighty (which was Backpacker – who we worked with in NZ). It seemed like a good fit.

Our last night in KL was pretty uneventful. Brenda still a little under the weather, so it was Thai food on the “street of food” near our GH.
We knew the next day was an ”early up” and sadly it was also the day we would part company with Brenda. She was heading to Bali for a few days before heading home and we’re off to Chiang Mai for a week or so.

The next concrete plans we have are to leave from Bali on September 11th for Darwin. We’ve got some time ….hmmmmm….I wonder where we’ll end up next????

Posted by pjburke 23:33 Archived in Malaysia Comments (5)

More Travels with Brenda

Siem Reap, Cambodia

semi-overcast

29 July 2013

It’s off to the airport. This flight will depart from BKK (Suvarnabhumi) the main international airport which will be another experience for Brenda. Two tuk tuks take us to BTS Skytrain station Krung Thonburi where we’ll take the train up to Siam station, change and then on to Phaya Thai station for the express train to the airport. It really is all quite easy….once one can get on the train. The first train comes and there is “no” room – not even for a small Thai person, and the same for the second train. The next train comes and we have a new plan!! The three of us split up and with more than a little pushing, we all make it on, feeling very much like sardines. The trip to Siam is quick, as is the next leg. 90 baht (about $3) gets us our tickets on the express train, which is almost ready to leave. Up the stairs, on to the train and we’re off. Jim and I have taken this train before and it beats sitting in traffic.

Our Cambodia Angkor Airlines flight to Siem Reap is a short one hour flight and we arrive through cloudy skies. $20 and a passport photo was all we needed for our VOA (Visa on Arrival), we pick up our bags and two tuk tuks await us. The ride to Siem Reap Rooms (SRR) guest house http://siemreaproomsguesthouse.com brings back great memories. We arrived just in time to beat the rain and were greeted by Vishna, ushered to our rooms and settled in for our five night visit.

The rain abated and we headed off to introduce Brenda to beers on Pub Street and a Cambodian BBQ for dinner. We found a little place on our last visit and fortunately it wasn’t far from SRR. What was a place filled with locals, on our last visit, was now about half westerners and half locals. Also the buffet wasn’t quite as extensive as I remember but for $4 per person (up from $3)- it’s still a good deal.

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30 July 2013

0800 and our driver Mr. Ce is waiting for us. His plan for us (which is a good one) is to start at some of the lesser known sites, lunch and then to finish the day at the Angkor Thom complex.

Temple-Map

Temple-Map

First, we must stop at the admissions gate to buy our passes. We opt for the three day pass ($40) that can be used any three of seven days, which will work great for us. Each person’s photo is taken and put right on the pass which must be presented upon entering most of the temples. They are much more diligent about checking passes than on our last visit.

Our stops included Preah Khan, Ta Prohm, lunch and then the Terrace of the Elephants. Unfortunately, our last stop was cut short by, as our friend Jay would call it, “tarantula rain”. But not to worry, we still have more time and will get to enjoy it another day. The area is truly about the sites, so I hope you enjoy the photos.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Apsara

Apsara

Faces on the East Gate

Faces on the East Gate

More Tom Yum

More Tom Yum

...just before the storm!!

...just before the storm!!

So many faces

So many faces

Bhudda in Temple

Bhudda in Temple

Inside Ta Prohm

Inside Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Stairs

Stairs

Preah Khan

Preah Khan

East Gate

East Gate

Farmer riding in the rain

Farmer riding in the rain

Brenda and Jim in the rain at Baphuon

Brenda and Jim in the rain at Baphuon

Temple in Angkor Thom complex

Temple in Angkor Thom complex

31 July 2013

It rained hard all night but the morning brings some breaking sunshine and we’re off to Angkor Wat and again, Angkor Thom.

Apsara Carvings at Angkor Wat

Apsara Carvings at Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat - overview

Angkor Wat - overview

Stairway to Angkor Wat

Stairway to Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Reflections in the lake at Angkor Wat

Reflections in the lake at Angkor Wat

Ancient Carvings

Ancient Carvings

One slight hitch to our travels is a lovely case of hives all up and down Jim’s arms. The only thing new to his diet was the doxycycline (Malaria meds) that we started upon entering Cambodia. An email off to our travel MD earlier brought an immediate response that morning– stop taking them!! Even though we’ve both taken this same med for extended periods while traveling, I guess our bodies change. Fortunately, we haven’t experienced a lot of mosquito activity but we’ve got some DEET along if needed.

01 August 2013

Today, we’re off the temple route and heading out to the floating villages with Mr. Ce. The ride is about 30km outside Siem Reap and then down a side road to a rutted dirt road that when the river rises in a month or so, will be underwater. There is a large community that lives on stilted houses – often referred to as floating houses (which is what they do in the high water season). It is a very difficult way to live but we’re told by Mr. Ce (who is from this area) that it was one of the safer areas (not that any area was really safe) during the Pol Pot regime because it was a farming community and a bit off the charts.

Houses along the river

Houses along the river

...waiting!!!

...waiting!!!

Tourists along the river

Tourists along the river

Floating Villages

Floating Villages

Floating Houses

Floating Houses

The Wash

The Wash

Living on the river

Living on the river

Floating Village Houses

Floating Village Houses

Children will alway find toys

Children will alway find toys

Young boater

Young boater

Rats!!!

Rats!!!

02 August 2013

Our last day in Cambodia and Brenda and I took off for Banteay Srei with a side visit to the Landmine Museum, with Mr. Ce.
Our first stop was the museum and we were lucky to chat with Bill Morse, an expat, who helps (a lot) with the museum. He opened our eyes to the continuing struggle of the Cambodians and the still present landmine problem. Unfortunately, just that week, three people had died when they activated a mine while farming. They are making great strides but more needs to be done. Currently, still more than 50 people, each year, are killed by landmines in that area.

There is also what used to be a home for landmine victims but is now a home for young people who have nowhere else to go. The approach of this facility is one that I totally agree with. The area the students live in is not open to the public. This is their home and they are not on display – kudos!!

On to Banteay Srei, which is a much smaller temple and actually very quiet. It was nice to visit but I think our visit there was tempered by our previous stop at the museum.

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei

Carving at Banteay Srei

Carving at Banteay Srei

Note on Mr. Ce….We asked for a driver on our first day in Cambodia and SRR hooked us up with Mr. Ce. After the first day, we knew that, if he was available, we would want him for our whole trip, luckily he was. He is a lovely, hardworking man with a wife, two children and one on the way, who drove in from Beng Mealea (about 20km) each day. When I mentioned to him, that it was such a long way to drive, he replied with his ever present smile “but that’s my job”. Thank you Mr. Ce for being such a great driver and also, for sharing your insights on Cambodian life with us!!

Mr Ce

Mr Ce


Off to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia tomorrow - another new stamp on Brenda's passport.

Posted by pjburke 23:51 Archived in Cambodia Comments (3)

Travels with Brenda

Bangkok

sunny 95 °F

Our time in Wuhan was not quite over yet. We (Patty, Jim and Brenda) had an 1815 flight from Wuhan, to begin the next part of our travels, in Bangkok, Thailand. Alas, our “til we meet agains” were not over. Charles, Wendy and Joy met us at the hotel and road with us to the airport. The hour long ride from the hotel to the airport is always “interesting”. As a passenger in a vehicle in China, especially on the highways, in my opinion, the ride is usually better done with one’s eyes closed or in conversation to avert your attention. Truly, I don’t know why white lines even exist on their roadways as they are not generally used. We laugh and say there are no rules of the road, only suggestions. But really, suggestions don’t even exist.

I knew it was going to be another sad farewell but I think Joy was a little excited about the trip. We learned on the way over, she had never been to an airport. Another lesson learned for me during class: air travel in the US is taken for granted. Of the 40 some students in my classes, less than a handful had ever flown.

Arriving at the airport, Chas, Joy and Wendy insisted on making sure that we got in ok. And then the time came for them to leave….and yes, more tears. I was ok until I looked at Joy and her eyes were full. We walked outside and spent a few minutes together, no words…just hugs. Good luck, my sweet girl…I know you’ll do well!!!

Farwell Charles!!!

Farwell Charles!!!

Our last photos

Our last photos

Bangkok bound……

Our flight was effortless and arrived into Don Muang Airport (Air Asia hub) without a hitch. We passed through immigration very quickly, nothing like the madhouse at BKK. Our bags also arrived quickly and our driver was waiting for us. A short drive (with a wide eyed Brenda in the back seat), we arrived at our home for the next four nights: Focal Local. www.focal-local.com It was late and dark but a kind gentleman met us and escorted us inside the small bed and breakfast. We were offered a refreshingly cool lemongrass tea and were escorted to our room. Akoon (I’ll apologize right now because I know that I’ve spelled that incorrectly) gave us directions for some local food and we were off. Brenda’s first taste of Tom Yum started what was to be an addiction. After our bellies were full, a good night sleep on an “oh sooo” comfy bed wa just what we all needed.

Down the street where we lived

Down the street where we lived

Street Market near our B and B

Street Market near our B and B

26 July 2013 (Friday) The next morning, breakfast was a huge hit. Wonderful Thai food – just what we needed to start our day and we were off…The photos to follow are from our visit to Wat Pho. Our day was complete with each of us getting massage and then off for dinner along the river.

Rush Hour on the Chao Phraya

Rush Hour on the Chao Phraya

Brenda's First Day in Bangkok

Brenda's First Day in Bangkok

Beautiful wats at Wat Pho

Beautiful wats at Wat Pho

Jim and his new buddy

Jim and his new buddy

Brenda and her new friend

Brenda and her new friend

Wha Pho

Wha Pho

River View

River View

27 July 2013 (Saturday) Again, yummy breakfast to start the day. We finally met the chef, Koran, who is also the owner, manager and the person I had been in email contact. He is a young man who had a dream and convinced his family to follow. With his father’s help, they rehabbed an old building in the Klongsan area into a wonderful B/B – just like the three bears: not too big, not too small but just right. If you need somewhere to stay and want to be away from the tourist areas: www.focal-local.com is your place. It is not the least expensive but well worth is…I’d stay there again in a heartbeat.

Off to the Grand Palace…(Note: Regarding appropriate dress in the Wats and holy areas. Dress appropriately which is no knees or shoulders. I thought I was ok with long (Bermuda type shorts) and a scarf for my shoulders. Nope – I was sent back from the entry gate. I had to return to the area of the front gate and be attired in a long skirt and shirt with short sleeves. You are not required to buy or even rent the clothing (which appeared to be laundered after each use) but you will need to leave a deposit. Due to the heat, I thought I would melt but actually, the clothing was pretty comfortable. The only problem was that Jim and Brenda were already through the gate when I was sent back. My attempt to find them upon reentry didn’t happen. I thought “somewhere” along the way I’d find them. Long story short, I made my way through and then out the “do not return” exit before I found Brenda. We pleaded with the powers to be and finally they let me back in to rejoin my incredibly patient husband who had been waiting (off to the left side – one area I didn’t look) the whole time. The promise of a really cold beer made up for my delay…I think.

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Brenda and new friends

Brenda and new friends

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Gold demons

Gold demons

Brenda and Jim....tourists

Brenda and Jim....tourists

On to another adventure!! Our late morning and early afternoon was spent at the Chatuchak Market which boasts “the world’s largest weekend market”. When in town, we usually head there for the experience and this trip thought Brenda might enjoy it. It’s all very crazy and with a couple of small purchases we left to return to Focal Local for an afternoon rest but not before meeting with Jim’s cousin’s daughter, Tara Milutis. Tara has lived in Bangkok for about three years. When we were in town last year we tried to meet but she was not available. We had a wonderful visit.

The evening brought a massage for Jim and pedicures for the girls and dinner ended a really nice day. (Note: Massages in Thailand are a great bargain. Focal Local recommended a little place that was just a short walk – 1 hour massage: Thai, oil or foot, 200 baht, which is about $7.)

28 July 2013 (Sunday) Our last day in Bangkok started again with an incredible Focal Local breakfast. Then we were off to Wat Arun (aka The Temple of Dawn). An early morning visit was definitely the way to go. It really wasn’t crowded at all and It was as beautiful as I remembered from 2002.

Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun)

Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun)

Ceramic Flowers

Ceramic Flowers


From Wat Arun, we made our way up to Siam Paragon Mall. There is a nice food court, a gourmet grocery store and also a Lamborghini dealership. Being as hot as it was, it was a good day to wander inside.

Another visit for a massage (yes, we did indulge) and a very basic but good dinner would be our farewell to Bangkok. Off to Cambodia and the mysterious Angkor Wat tomorrow.

Posted by pjburke 03:46 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Week THREE

It all came together!!!!!!

sunny 97 °F

21 - 24 July 2013

Upon returning on the 21st, I learned that a few of the students also decided to take a two day weekend but those that didn’t enjoyed a different learning approach by our fill in teachers. (Thanks so much to Debbie and Nancy).

The heat ended up being too much for several other students who went home over the weekend. Also, a few had family emergencies and a couple decided that the camp wasn’t their cup of tea. Talking with other teachers, this situation was not unique and we lost fewer than other classes.

I was encouraged that the majority of the students stayed, participated and left with a sense of accomplishment.

The final week of camp was interesting to say the least. With only three days of actual “English Camp”, we wanted to make it end on a high note, even before our last day party – which everyone was looking forward to. In addition to the student presentations and daily activities, we included “College Bowl” which was crazy but a huge success. We found out that our mild mannered Chinese students were ruthless competitors – all in great fun.

Zenobia working out a project

Zenobia working out a project

Prior to class beginning, Brenda and I had decided that we would ask each student to do a short (five minute) presentation which we spread out over the final three days. Suggested subjects were: their hometowns, provinces, Chinese culture and/or personal interests. For presentations, we put both classes together: another effort to let them meet more of their fellow students. So, for about an hour each morning and each afternoon, we were all treated to many wonderful projects, some of which included: hometowns (which students were so proud of), passions: calligraphy and Chinese knot making, Chinese culture: food (from all over China)and marriage ceremonies and also their personal interests: the singing group: Westlife, a favorite TV show: the Walking Dead and one student who brought us to tears with a recitation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech”. (On a side note, we learned that many Chinese students learn this speech in middle school. Both Brenda and I were very surprised by this fact.)

The evening of the 23rd, Brenda, Jim and I took our TA’s out for a dinner. (Phil – Jim’s teaching partner was having dinner with one of his classes and though invited – he wasn’t able to join us). We asked our TA’s to pick a place that would be fun and have good food. They picked HOTPOT!!! The restaurant was a local place near the university and we had a great time. With an all Chinese menu, we entrusted our meal selections to Charles, Wendy and Joy and they did a wonderful job introducing us to some new culinary delights.

Yummy Hotpot

Yummy Hotpot

Patty and Joy - hotpot facial

Patty and Joy - hotpot facial

Brenda and Wendy - Hotpot dinner

Brenda and Wendy - Hotpot dinner

Jim and Charles - Hotpot dinner

Jim and Charles - Hotpot dinner

Hotpot with our TAs

Hotpot with our TAs

In anticipation of the last day, Joy and Wendy came to us and asked us (as representatives of both classes) if we would like to join the students for Karaoke after the party on the 24th. We jumped at the chance. The students also wanted us to join them for dinner, but unfortunately we had to decline, the University had scheduled a dinner for the teachers and the TA’s that same night.

It’s very hard to put into words, the last day.

My task that morning was to pick up the cakes from a bakery near the hotel. I knew that we had ordered two cakes but had no idea they would be so big. As I was looking at the cakes and trying to communicate with the shop owner outside the bakery, I was approached by a young man who asked if he could help. It turned out that he was a grad student who had been a “Summer Camp” student a few years prior. He helped me carry the cakes to the classroom and we chatted the whole way. He let me know what a great experience camp had been for him and he was glad to help. This short conversation gave me insight as to the long lasting effects of English Camp....oh and regarding the cakes - there was a little translation problem at the bakery. Apparently, the only type of "party" they understood was a birthday party but it didn't really matter the cakes were beautiful and delicious.

Cake box

Cake box

Cake 1

Cake 1

Cake 2

Cake 2


Class was scheduled for 0930 – some students were there before and others made their way in shortly after. We ate and ate, laughed and took photo after photo after photo. Not all the students were able to go to Karaoke, so the end of class was the beginning of the farewells. To say that I have a hard time with “Good-byes” (I’m tearing as I’m typing this), is an understatement. I had hidden my farewell on the chalk board – raising the screen they found, “There are no good-byes – only “Until we meet again”.”

Patty with Merry, Vivi, Ursula and Zenobia

Patty with Merry, Vivi, Ursula and Zenobia

Party photos

Party photos

Merry, Christy and Daisy

Merry, Christy and Daisy

Kemo

Kemo

Brenda and Patty with the girls

Brenda and Patty with the girls

The Guys

The Guys

The Girls

The Girls

Brenda with Hunter, Naro and Jesse

Brenda with Hunter, Naro and Jesse


My hesitation about teaching evaporated that last day. From this experience, I believe the student’s reaction to teachers is cultural. They had never experienced the type of open education that we brought to them. Hugs from the tiniest to tallest warmed my heart in a way that I had never encountered……and then it was on to Karaoke.

School was out and it was time to party. The students were amazed that we (in America) do not have Karaoke rooms like they do in China and after being there I’m wondering “Why don’t we?”

Food, fun and singing

Food, fun and singing

Dandalion with the mic

Dandalion with the mic

Party after party...Karaoke

Party after party...Karaoke

Brenda and I arrived with Joy and Wendy. The students had reserved one of the “large” rooms. There were comfy couches all around, a huge screen TV and just about any song you could imagine. There were probably 30 of us in this one room, singing and singing. We arrived a little after 1pm and started our departure about 3:30pm. Both Brenda and I knew that this would be the hardest of farewells and ….it was. There were long, long hugs and many tears and as we walked down the hallway outside room, waving to the large group of students waving back…Remembering…..”Until we meet again!!!!”

With more than a bit of emotion lingering, we (me, Brenda and our TA’s) headed back to the hotel for dinner. Most of the other teachers had a very early morning departure from the hotel (0500), so what was usually a dinner away from campus, was held in the hotel in one of the private dining rooms at 6pm. It was a very nice meal and enjoyed by all. As far as farewells from the teachers, most of us live in Tucson, so we know that we will be in touch. A few of the teachers are from out of town, but still in the US and there is always email.

Joy and Wendy

Joy and Wendy


To wrap words around, the experience of those three weeks, is impossible.
But I can honestly say, I know now what other teachers have felt and it was one of the best experiences of my life.

The Class - Last Day

The Class - Last Day

Posted by pjburke 23:02 Archived in China Comments (3)

Wudang Mountian (Wudangshan)

overcast 82 °F

19-20 July 2013

The University offered all the teachers a two day trip to Wudang Mountain, which is the home of Tai Chi and Taoism in China. It would be a five hour ride up to the mountain. The tour leader would take the group to various temples. After a night stay in a hotel on the mountain, there would be a visit to the Golden Temple and a five hour ride back. Meals were also included and the trip was supplemented by the university.
At first I opted out but Brenda convinced me it would be fun …so always up for a little fun, I changed my mind. With only one day off, you might wonder how that was going to work. Some teachers who didn’t go volunteered to take other classes and Nancy Lutz (our group leader) would fill in where needed. There was also a little financial incentive for those teachers who didn’t go, so it was a win-win situation. In the back of my mind, I was wondering….”what would they do if everyone decided to go?”

We had heard that the trip up was actually more like eight hours, but it was an easy 5 ½ hour trip up to the base of the mountain. Private vehicles are not allowed up the mountain and there is a hop on/hop off buses that transports visitors up and down (similar to Zion NP – for those that have been there).

Mountian view in Wudang

Mountian view in Wudang

The only suggestion I would make for future trips would be to stress that people should take as “little as possible”. None of us were aware of the amount of walking we would have to do with our luggage. One saving grace though was the weather. Even though it was a bit rainy, it was much cooler than Wuhan. The different temples we visited were beautiful, as was the scenery around Wudongshan.

Making Wishes.....

Making Wishes.....

Wudangshan Temple area

Wudangshan Temple area

Monkeys.....

Monkeys.....

Tai Chi Performers

Tai Chi Performers

Tai Chi Master

Tai Chi Master

Chained Up Hearts

Chained Up Hearts

Tea Service after a long walk

Tea Service after a long walk


The hotel we stayed in was very nice and the beds were super comfortable. After very welcomed showers, we enjoyed a tasty dinner together. That evening, Brenda and I walked around the little tourist town checking out the various souvenirs shops. The only one we indulged in was from the little store opposite our hotel. We enjoyed a cold beer sitting in front of the hotel in the light from the full moon. As we sat there, we realized it was the first time since we arrived in China that it was actually cool enough to sit “out”.

The next morning we were up early, though some of us were up earlier than others. Lynne, one of our teachers, who is an avid hiker, decided to hike up the mountain. For us less hardy souls, it was a bus ride to the cable car and a quick cable car ride up the mountain. By the time we were half way up, the cable cars disappeared into the thick cloud cover and rain surrounded us and never left. Being a Saturday, the park area was much busier than the previous day but the rain stopped no one. Walking up and up and up in the pouring rain only lead us all to the conclusion that we would take the cable car back down also instead of our original plan to walk down.

Disappearing into the clouds

Disappearing into the clouds

Half way up to the Golden Temple

Half way up to the Golden Temple

...it's only a little rain!!

...it's only a little rain!!


Lunch and then a very winding bus ride down the switchbacks of the mountain lead us back to the base where our van driver patiently waited. A quick change into dry clothing and we were headed back to Wuhan. I, for one, was very happy that I had decided to venture up to the lovely Wudang.

Gateway to the Golden Temple

Gateway to the Golden Temple

Posted by pjburke 01:01 Archived in China Comments (1)

Week TWO!!!

sunny 97 °F

14-18 July 2013

Pretty much the same up and downs for me. One day, I wasn’t sure I should have even been chosen and then next day, so glad that I was. Sometimes it would be hour to hour. I think for me, again, it was the lingering effects of a cold and the HEAT!!! There were many three shower days that week!! Also, at the end of week one, students were asked to evaluate their teachers. After receiving my critiques, I felt a lot better. The comments made me realize that I was getting through more than I thought. I had to remember that the way the teachers in the TFF program were teaching was vastly different from our student’s Chinese teachers.

Throughout the summer camp, the University provided a couple of after class activities for the students (and teachers): English corner and English speaking movies. The big advantage for the students was that both were held in air conditioned rooms. I know you’ve heard me complain about the heat but truthfully I shouldn’t. The hotel we stayed in had A/C – none of the students had A/C in their dorms. It was not unusual to have students in the classrooms as early as 0700 just to escape the heat. Also, most would stay in the classrooms during mid-day break, have lunch and sleep at the desks– which never ceased to amaze me.

English Corner was an open forum for discussion. Each night there would be two or three teachers from TFF and also Becky (see note below) available in one of the big lecture rooms for students to stop by and chat. It was open to “anyone” and the times and places were also published on English social media sites. It was not unusual to have former students and even students from other colleges in the area attend the sessions. Many nights there were 50 or 60 students. No conversation subjects were off limits unless a teacher felt uncomfortable talking or sharing. For me, it was an opportunity to share and also to learn. There were many questions about US culture but we also talked about the Chinese government, religion, world politics and education (US and Chinese).

Regarding the movies, there was a nice selection: dramas, comedies and some animated flicks. Every evening, for each of the three weeks, there were five different movies to choose from including: The Great Debater’s, Argo, The Kings Speech and My Big Fat Greek Wedding to name just a few.

Note: Becky is the daughter of one of our teachers, a senior at Tucson HS. Since Becky was coming with her Mom and their plan was to travel for a short time after classes were over, her “job” was English Corner. During the day, she also came to many of the classes, spoke with the students, answered questions from a young person’s point of view and participated in class activities. It was great having her with the group and the students enjoyed the perspective of someone a little closer to their age.

Becky and girls from Jim's Class

Becky and girls from Jim's Class

The highlight of “week two” was the talent show[i]. Thursday evening we all gathered (crammed into) one of the lecture halls to entertain and be entertained. This activity (like the movies and English Corner) was an elective but quite of few of the students attended. The amount of talent (students and teachers) was incredible. Individuals and groups sang, played instruments and our (mine, Brenda, Jim and Phil’s) groups ended up being the last group to perform. With a “flash mob” theme we started with a small group doing a line dance to Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” and then more and more students joined in for our first song. A second song, “Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” started and our groups danced right up into the crowd and by the end the whole group was up dancing . The energy in the room was amazing. A great way to end the week!!!The Talent Show Cheer Section

The Talent Show Cheer Section

Melody, Christy and Max

Melody, Christy and Max

Yakecan, Leo and Arthur

Yakecan, Leo and Arthur

Posted by pjburke 00:49 Archived in China Comments (2)

Week ONE!!!

sunny 98 °F

08 – 12 July 2013

Monday – Friday After going over my journal entries for the first week of class, what I found was …not much!!

In the past, I usually spent time in the evening or early morning writing in my journal. This trip, there was no “normal” for me. I was exhausted.
I knew summer camp was going to be a new experience for me but…. It is really hard work. Hard and challenging but in an incredibly good way!!

Having been retired for almost six years, I think I’ve been a little lax in the disciple area. When you’ve got almost 50, of some of the brightest students in China, you’ve got to be on your game. It took adjusting; readjusting, adding content and subtracting when activities didn’t work as well as I thought they would. One of the things TFF teaches is to be flexible – boy, they aren’t kidding. At times, I have to admit I was frustrated, but only with myself. Looking back – it was an incredible learning experience and I thank all my students for, at times, serving as my “lab rats” (which I meant in the most affectionate of terms).

Classes started at 0830 and broke at 1130 for a three hour break, continuing at 2:30pm to 5:30pm. With six hours of English each day and the heat – we all needed that afternoon break.

My first week had its ups and downs. I found that each student had different expectations. There were as many preconceived notions about summer camp as there were students. Some could have done pronunciation, idioms and vocabulary for six hours a day. My job was to convince them that those types of activities would get “old” quickly, by presenting other fun opportunities to not only speak English but interact in conversations.

During week 1, Monday was a “housework” type class. Tuesday and Wednesday, I tried different activities. Some worked – some didn’t. The classes on Thursday and Friday seem to really hit the mark.

Jackson and Arthur's Proposal

Jackson and Arthur's Proposal

Cissy and Green and their Proposal

Cissy and Green and their Proposal

On Thursday, we put our (Brenda and my) two classes together and SKYPED with Scott Kuffer (our great nephew on the Burke side). Scott is a second year student at the University of Florida – Gainesville, which makes him the same age as our students. They prepared questions for him and were also able to do some impromptus face to face. It was a first ( I think) for TFF. Scott was open to anything they had to ask and the students loved it. Of course, once Jim heard how well it went, he scheduled Scott (and me because we know how technically challenged Jim is) for the following week.

Friday was a creative project with a CSI theme. But before becoming detectives, the afternoon class met the morning class for a party-type mingle thanks to the genius of Brenda. Even though the students were all HUST students, most had not met before. It was a huge success!! High fives over beers that night for P and B!!

First Class photo

First Class photo

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Apple and Yakecan

Apple and Yakecan

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Andrea and Naro

Andrea and Naro

One of the other activities that Brenda and I worked on that first week was our practice for the talent show – aka Hootenanny. Since line dancing had worked so well back in 2011, we decided that would be our contribution and Jim being the talent show kinda guy (NOT), he volunteered me to teach his classes also. Really wasn’t sure how this was going to work but decided to give it the old college try. First, was to teach each class individually and then next week – my plan was to get them together for a group lesson. I kept my fingers crossed.

Saturday – One day off between classes and truthfully – it was not enough. With the long days and the heat (Let’s talk about the heat – it was like Florida on a really hot, humid day with bad air quality) – both teachers and students really needed an additional day off. Also for me, still dealing with a cold – I was just tired. I never felt ill enough to have someone take over for me but by the end of the day – my voice was barely hanging on.

HUST offered a day trip around Wuhan for our one day off. Having done the same trip in 2011, both Jim and I begged off. It was nice not to have class but I did find I spent most of the day reviewing and adjusting my classroom activities for the next week. I re-evaluated how the previous week went and talked with Brenda and Jim and got some ideas from them and vice versa. I know that TFF advises that teaching background isn’t imperative to participate in this program but I think it helps especially when you need to pull something out of your little bag of tricks when things do go as expected. But that is part of the learning process – for teachers as well as students.

…..one of the many highlights of the week was getting to have dinner with Brian, John Korzick’s TA from September 2011. We’ve been in touch since 2011. Brian graduated in June 2013 and was back in Wuhan to get his immunizations ….because he’s headed to the USA for his Masters – U of V Charlottesville. We had a great visit. Good Luck, Brian. John would be so proud!!

Brian and Patty

Brian and Patty

Posted by pjburke 23:38 Archived in China Comments (1)

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