An English teacher's blog about his travels and his digital art.

Tag: personal (Page 1 of 28)

Happy Birthday to Me

Yup, it’s that time of year again, where I’m reminded that I’m not getting any younger. As a matter of fact, I’m three quarters of a century old. Putting it that way, it sounds really old. But not as old as saying I’m in the middle of my eighth decade. Oh, well, looking forward to the next quarter century! I don’t have any plans to celebrate since I have to work today. Here’s a previous celebration, but this year’s party will be much less subdued. LOL

Speaking of work, I just had a nice three-day weekend as Laos celebrated with the annual That Luang Festival. I had attended the celebration at That Luang a few times in the past, but found it too crowded and too hot, so I stay away from the area these days. Most of my students felt the same way when I asked them if they were going to the festivities. Can’t say that I blame them; if you’ve been once or twice, there will probably be nothing new to see or do.

Next weekend is another three-day holiday as Laos’ National day is on tap. It’s the equivalent of July 4th in the United States. The communist party puts on a big show for this one, and I stay away from it also.

After next week, the term is finished and we get a nice month-long break. Around the middle of the month, Nai and I are going to Thailand and the beach in Phuket, one of our favorite holiday excursions. Surf and sand–can’t wait!

Gratitude

It’s Thanksgiving day (November 23rd this year) in the United States, a day to give thanks, overindulge (I’ve been just as guilty of that as anyone!), watch a football game, play family board games, prepare for Black Friday, and to be grateful for what we have. That’s one of the suggestions for art journaling in one of the digital art courses I take (Photoshop Artistry). Our mentor, guru, and chief cook and bottle washer, Sebastian Michaels recommends that at least once a week we devoted some time in our personal journals to list the things we’re grateful for. I don’t do nearly enough on that subject; I should definitely include it in my journaling efforts.

Here’s a blog post from Bella Grace Magazine, one of the many arts and crafts mags from Stampington, titled 15 Simple Everyday Moments to be Grateful For:

Without fail, life gets even busier as the holidays approach. Our never-ending
to-do lists become even longer, our calendars more full, and quiet moments
to ourselves feel impossible. That’s why it’s vital to seize these tiny pockets of
magic we may experience every day and take note of them, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.

1. Waking up to sunlight streaming through your
bedroom curtains
2. Hitting all green lights while running errands
3. A hot shower on a chilly morning
4. Watching the steam rise from a pot of something
nourishing cooking on the stove
5. An unexpected conversation with a stranger
6. That sigh of contentment when you’re finally done
with your tasks for the day
7. Getting that messy bun just right on the first try
8. The sound of cozy-scented candles crackling
9. Hearing the first notes of your favorite song
10. Finally starting that new book that’s been sitting
on your nightstand
11. Settling in to watch an episode of a beloved show
you’ve watched more times than you can count
12. The feel of a dog or cat’s nose pushing into your leg
13. Someone offering to take something off your plate
14. Slipping into your coziest loungewear after a
long day
15. Catching a scent in the air that makes you
feel nostalgic

Not all of these pertain to me (loungewear?), but I can add some more to the list.
16. The smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning.
17. The aromas of pizza and bread being baked or served.
18. Holiday breaks from work.
19. Showing off your handyman skills by fixing something around the house.

And so many more. What are you grateful for today?

Also, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Pride Month in Laos

You might think that recognizing Pride Month in a somewhat repressive, but mostly benign, communist country would be a no-go. That’s not true, though. First, there is an LGBTQI group in Laos with a presence on Facebook, Proud to Be Us Laos, that participates in quite a few public events (see the Facebook page above), and recently the government allowed for the celebration of International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT Day) for the first time during Pride Month this year.

Also, the U.S. Embassy showed its recognition of Pride Month by decking out part of their outside wall with the Pride colors. Here’s a photo I took when riding my motorbike to school last Saturday (sorry, it isn’t the sharpest of shots).

Pride colors on U.S. Embassy wall in Vientiane, Laos.

In addition, Vientiane College is also celebrating Pride Month with colorful streamers adorning our reception area. Here are a few shots I took on Saturday morning after classes had finished.

Pride streamers at Vientiane College, Vientiane, Laos.

Pride streamers at Vientiane College, Vientiane, Laos.

So, it appears that things are looking up for the gay, lesbian, etc. population of Laos. Let’s hope that more acceptance is forthcoming!

Relaxing in Nong Khai

I spent a few relaxing days last week in Nong Khai, Thailand, which is just across the border. My house is actually closer to that town than it is to Vientiane, since the bridge across the Mekong River is about 8km away, whereas the distance to downtown Vientiane is 16km. Nong Khai is a fairly small town that many tourists probably bypass if they’re heading to Laos, but there are a lot of expats who have retired to the area.

Nai came with me and we stayed at a small hotel, the Baan Mae Rim Nam, located on the banks of the Mekong and right on one of Nong Khai’s chief attractions, the Walking Street, a river walk that runs for several kilometers next to the river. It’s a great place for strolling, jogging, bicycling, or relaxing. I especially like it at night when it’s gently lit by streetlamps, and families and joggers are abundant. There are quite a few bars and restaurants along the walkway, and the one we frequented, Macky’s Riverside Kitchen, puts a few of their tables out in the evening next to the river’s edge. It’s so nice to sit outside, when it’s not raining, and dine or have a beverage and do a bit of people watching. It’s also great for viewing sunsets:

sunset

walking street in Nong Khai

Walking Street at night

dining outside

Outside Macky’s Riverside Kitchen

sunset

sunset boat practice

A crew practices for the boat races that will take place in a few weeks or so

Down a bit from Macky’s is the Irish Bar, which also features a decent restaurant and a good view of the river and the walkway. The owner, Mick, an Irish expat, of course, is a jovial fellow, so stop in and say hello if you’re in the area.

Another highlight is the Saturday Walking Street market, which has a number of food stalls, handmade crafts, and a stage area where bands entertain the market goers. Usually. Unfortunately, it rained quite a bit on the Saturday we were there, and the market was washed out. Oh, well, next time.

We also went to the former Tesco-Lotus shopping center (I think it’s just called Lotus now) and replenished our wardrobes. I needed some new shirts, jeans, socks and other types of clothing, and Thailand is cheaper than Vientiane right now, since the inflation rate in Laos is quite high.

All in all, it was a relaxing time in Nong Khai, but even better, it was a chance to get out of Vientiane and visit Thailand after being stuck in Laos since December of 2019, mainly because of the covid virus epidemic restrictions that had been in place. I’m looking forward to December when I have plans to get down to Bangkok and perhaps to one of the beach areas, like Phuket or Koh Samui.

New Laptop

I found that I’d have some extra time at the school this term because a couple of my scheduled classes were cancelled due to low enrollment in those particular classes. The number of students we have in all classes is up a bit from last term; it’s just the luck of the draw that these two classes lacked students. I still have two classes to work, from 6:45-8:15 in the evening M-F and at 10:45-12:15 Saturday morning. But, because I’m still receiving my standard salary I have to act as a cover teacher, filling in if someone calls in sick for the early class from 5:00-6 and 9-10:30 Sat. If there are no absent teachers, then I have that extra time to do whatever.

I tried hauling my big laptop back and forth from home to the school so that I could work on digital art or whatever else I wanted to do, but that laptop is a bit too heavy and bulky to run around with, so I purchased a new laptop a few weeks ago to use at the school and keep locked in my office desk. It’s a Lenovo Yoga Slim7 and it’s a nice portable rig, with a 1TB SSD internal drive, 14″ screen, and a few other nice features. Cost about $1300, which, of course, is more expensive than buying the same outfit back in the ‘States. Naturally, after I got it, teachers started calling in sick, so I haven’t had much opportunity to make extensive use of it, but I’m sure I’ll get the opportunity now and then.

The new laptop–kind of looks like this.

New Term at School

I’ve had the last month off after the first term at Vientiane College finished on April 9th, but we start our next term on May 9th. While the school had enough students during the first term to keep the doors open, so to speak, we’re all hoping that registration increases this time around, though the admin people don’t expect to reach pre-pandemic levels until next year, probably. But, everyone has their fingers crossed.

For the upcoming session I’ve got three classes so far out of my usual four. I’m teaching one class for middle-school aged kids, one adult class and one class in our Diploma program. That one is a Creative Writing class, something I’m looking forward to. I taught another writing class just as the pandemic hit back in 2020 and we had to cut the term short, so we didn’t quite finish our classes. Since then, the writing class has been revamped by the teacher who taught it last term and it looks like it’ll be a lot of fun!

For my fourth class time slot, I’ll be a cover teacher, covering for others who might be out sick or can’t make it to class for whatever reason at that time. Hopefully, the classes will fill up so that I can have a regular class then, but being a cover teacher is fine with me. It doesn’t affect my pay or the time that I have to be at the school.

Anyway, only a few days left until it’s back to work, though we have a mandatory workshop this Friday at 2:30 p.m. More later.

Boring Update

Well, it’s been a while, but there’s not really much to write about, though that is debatable. Vientiane is still in lockdown, but the government has eased some of the restrictions and has told all pertinent interests to prepare for more reopening soon. That’s not because the number of covid infections is going down; on the contrary, it’s been skyrocketing. The last few days Vientiane has had over 600 cases of infection with no signs of slowing down. I think the government has given up trying to keep this delta variant in check and is just continuing to get as many people vaccinated as it can. I think I read that about 40% of the population has been double dosed and many others have had one of two doses of the various vaccines that are available.

Schools, of course, are shut down for now, and they have been since near the end of April. However, some schools are doing online classes, and Vientiane College is among those who are doing so. I teach one class a day from 5 to 6:30 p.m., and one on Saturday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Teaching online has been fun and interesting, really. But, it’s sucking up my time like a black hole. I’m still learning and improving my ability to use Zoom and Google drive, classroom and other items from Google. It’s been somewhat of a steep learning curve, but I’m starting to get better at it. One of the major reasons I like teaching online is that I don’t have to ride my motorbike back and forth into Vientiane six days a week! But, if I want to go into the city to get groceries, there’s no problem doing that.

It’s left hardly any time to do any digital art for now, but I hope to get back into it soon. I miss being able to play around in Photoshop and other painting/compositing/etc. software. I could probably spare 30 minutes a day here and there, but I prefer to spend more time per session than half an hour. Hopefully, I’ll have some art to post here soon. I’ve got my fingers and toes and eyes crossed that we’ll be getting back to a near-normal state soon. More later.

Still Locked Down in Vientiane

Yeah, we’re still in lockdown here in Vientiane, even though there haven’t been that many cases of people testing positive for the covid virus. The Laos government has extended the lockdown in the capital until July 4th, at the earliest. They’ve eased some of the restrictions, but schools are still not allowed to open in Vientiane, and that includes Vientiane College (VC). Most of the rest of the country is doing fine and other provinces are not locked down. The government has previously stated that the lockdown won’t end until there are 14 consecutive days of no covid cases. If they stick to that rule, this lockdown in Vientiane will never end until everyone is vaccinated. Luckily, I received the second dose of the Astra Zeneca vaccine on Wednesday last week, and, happily, I didn’t have any bad side effects from it like I did with the first dose. Also, many people in Vientiane have been getting either their first or second dose of the various vaccines that are available, so that’s a very positive sign.

Although it’s mostly closed, VC will be able to start some of the daytime classes this week, classes that are restricted to adults that have been vaccinated. These are mostly scholarship programs and government or military classes. The administration is sending a proposal to let the school start evening classes next week with the stipulation that only adults who have been vaccinated will be allowed to attend. Here’s hoping this entirely-reasonable proposal will be accepted. Because our younger students can’t yet be vaccinated, they will be excluded from classes for the time being. The school has also begun training teachers in conducting online classes, in case we’re put into a rigorous lockdown later on. So, adult students who sign up now will still be able to have classes without worrying about being forced to stop, even if face-to-face classes wouldn’t be possible.

A big shout out to the administration; they’re continuing to pay teachers for June even though we’ve not been working, and it’s been indicated that we might get paid for July also, even if we’re still kept from teaching. Beyond then, I’m sure that if we’re not able to open, there will come a point at which the school will be unable to pay us. I’m prepared for that eventuality. This lockdown is starting to get boring, so I hope I can start teaching again soon.

Good News Day

This is actually from my journal of May 31, so it’s a bit old.

It was a pretty good day. First, I went to my doctor to renew my high blood pressure meds, and he told me that they had a new test that checks for the presence of blood clots, so I took it. They took a blood sample, ran the test and reported that the results were good-no clots. Hurray! That’s something I worry about because I have a bad case of varicose veins, but he said they shouldn’t be a problem because of the anti-coagulant I’m taking for the blood pressure protects against blood clots.

As a side note on visiting the doctor’s office, the attendant always weighs me. I’m down to about 163 pounds (74 kg), down 5 pounds from a couple of months ago. Awesome!

I’ve had it in mind to look at buying a smartphone, my very first one. I took a survey from Vientiane College (where I work) that wanted some information about conducting online classes if we get shutdown in the future because of a lockdown due to covid concerns. We’re closed right now until June 21st (hopefully, it doesn’t get extended). Some of the questions concerned phone apps, like What’s App. I don’t really have a good phone; I’ve got my old Lenovo tablet, which is basically good only for reading on the Kindle app. It’s pretty lousy for anything else, so after seeing the doc, I thought I’d go to one of the big Samsung stores and look at the phone I had in mind, a mid-priced Galaxy A52, which seemed to check all the boxes as far as what I was looking for in a phone. So, I was just going to look, right? Well, I don’t have to look anymore-I bought it. $412. I’ve never had a REAL smartphone before, so I’ll be having fun with this for a while.

This, from today’s events, June 8th. The number of cases of covid in Vientiane has been dropping steadily, down to just a few or only one for the last couple of days. Today there were only two found in the city and none found throughout the rest of Laos. That’s great news, of course, and hopefully we’ll be able to open school on the 21st, as planned. More later.

Digital Art–Taekwando Nightmare Dream

Vientiane lockdown has been extended for another few weeks, up to June 4th. At the rate people are still showing up with the covid virus, this lockdown will never end, it seems. The school is scheduled to open on June 10th, and I certainly hope that happens. The administration was kind enough to pay everyone for the month of May, though we didn’t do any work, but if the same lack of work extends far into June and beyond, I’m fearful that there won’t be any income for a while. Got my fingers crossed.

So, what to do with all this time off? Create some more digital art, of course. Here’s one I’m calling “Taekwando Nightmare Dream.” I was originally just going to practice creating displacement effects in Photoshop, but my Muse had other ideas. All the photos are mine, except for the fellow delivering the flying kick on the right side, which I got from Pixabay; they were taken when I worked in Andong, South Korea way back in 2005, and they’re photos from a phys. ed. student demonstration, except for the photo at the upper left. That’s one I took of my former taekwando master showing off. I added some textures and a few other bits and pieces. Enjoy.

digital art

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