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Vientiane Boat Racing Festival

Today is the annual Boat Racing Festival in Vientiane. Too bad I won’t be attending. While virtually every other institution, (schools, government offices, banks, embassies, as well as restaurants and other businesses) is shut down, our school, Vientiane College, has decided, as usual, to remain open.

I really enjoy going to boat races in Laos, but I’m not going today because I have to work later. Although my lesson plans for this evening’s classes have been made, I’m not going down to the race area to enjoy a few hours of the races. It’s sunny and warm today, so I’d just end up getting sweaty and smelly, and, then, I’d have to motorbike back to the house, take a shower and get back to school. Not worth it. I really like spending the whole day at a race, not having to worry about being somewhere else later.

The school always gives some flimsy excuse for not being shut down. There was a post on the notice board advising teachers to tell students that the school is not being culturally insensitive or unaware, but the reason for remaining open is that authorities don’t give the school enough advance notice as to when the race will be held. That’s pure hogwash! We received the 2018 school calendar a few weeks ago and it shows that the boat race next year is on October 25th, which, fortuitously, coincides with the beginning of the mid-term break next October. That’s more than a year away. Not enough advance notice? Bull crap. If any of my students who show up tonight ask why we’re open, I’ll just tell them to ask the school administration. I’m sure as hell not going to give them the school’s excuse of “not enough advance notice.”

Now, having said that, the school is still, usually, a great place to work. It just gets under my skin (and is depressing) that we’re one of the very few institutions that are open today, and that the school, since I’ve been here, has never closed for this particular holiday. Ah, well, next year, I guess.

Rainy Season?

A couple of weeks ago, after a week of clear skies and hot days, I began to wonder how short the current rainy season might be. The Mekong, rising steadily before, began to recede, little by little. But, of course, rainy season wasn’t ending early. It proceeded to rain quite heavily for a few days, turning the dirt road of the village into a quagmire. However, it’s now been another week of clear skies and plenty of sunshine. Thankfully, the road has dried out, but that means I have to ride through a cloud of dust when I go to work. We’ve had a few nice sunsets, shown below. Nothing spectacularly beautiful, but there are usually some awesome sunsets at this time of year, when a break in the rain allows for it.

Speaking of breaks, we’ve got a long one coming up at the school. Right now we’re doing final grading, filling out reports, planning for next term, etc. This term ends on August 4th and we don’t start again until September 12th. We were originally supposed to start on the 8th, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said we wouldn’t be good to go until the 12th. Why? President Obama is visiting Laos sometime during the week beginning on September 5th, so security will be insanely heavy and many roads will be closed, I presume. I’m going to try to get into the city to see him, but most likely I’ll be unable to get anywhere near where he might be giving speeches or whatever. I might rent a cheap guesthouse room in the city that week to increase my chances. I’ll let you know what happens.

Sunset

Sunset

drainage channel

This is a small (usually) drainage channel from the rice paddies to the Mekong. During the rainy season, though, it becomes quite a torrent. As the river rises it will fill this entire ravine.

Rainbows, Heat and Work

There have been a couple of beautiful weather highlights lately. First, there was this 180 degree rainbow a few weeks back, following a brief thunderstorm and rain shower. This is at the farm, looking east toward the Mekong and Thailand.

Rainbow

Looking east toward Thailand. Lovely 180 degree rainbow after a brief rainstorm.

Black and White Rainbow

I fooled around in Photoshop and made this partial black and white photo of the rainbow. Fun to do and not too time-consuming.

Just a couple of days ago, this weather phenomenon, iridiscent clouds, topped a large cirro-cumulus cloud. I posted about another occurrence that we had last year. They’re unexpected, but beautiful. The large storm cloud never did get any closer to us, but sailed into the west. After twilight the horizon was aglow with lightning flashes, presumably from our cloud.

Iridescent cloud

Iridescent cloud, looking west about an hour before sunset. The black streak in the lower left corner is the eave of our neighbor’s house. Unavoidable, in this case.

I used my telephoto lens for this one to try to capture a close up shot of  the right side of the photo above.

I used my telephoto lens for this one to try to capture a close up shot of the right side of the photo above.

Our four-week vacation is over, as the second trimester of the year is about to begin. Each trimester lasts thirteen weeks, so I’ll be working through all of May and the first half of the rainy season, June and July, before getting another long break in August. The time off is nice, but it gets boring near the end. Plus, it’s unpaid time, so it’ll be good for the pocket to be back on the pay clock again. Also, being back at the school will give me better access to the Internet, so I’ll be able to post more often and check in on Facebook. Out here at the farm, the connection is spotty and slow most of the time. I’m on a metered connection, so when things are actually working well, it does get a bit expensive. Always two sides to everything, I suppose. Slow and spotty = cheap; fast and reliable = expensive. Usually, I’m fine with slow and spotty.

Another advantage of being back to work is that the school is air-conditioned. The heat has been extremely oppressive the last several weeks, with daily temperatures usually topping out over 100 degrees F. (38-40 C.) That’s too much for comfort. We have a couple of fans at the house that are almost always on, but they don’t help much during the peak heat hours. I’m looking forward to the rainy season, which brings somewhat cooler temperatures. Again, though, the other side of the coin is that there are many more thunder storms and the lightning often knocks out the power for several hours. No power = no fans. Since many of these storms hit during the night, trying to sleep without the fans cooling us off is very difficult.

Hot and Busy

Yes, it’s quite hot in Vientiane today. According to Weather Underground, it’s 38 centigrade (100 F.) right now at 4 p.m. on Monday afternoon, but the other part of the current temperature, the part titled “Feels Like,” states that it feels like 46, which is 115 F. Hot. Very Hot. I’m glad that I’m at the nicely air conditioned school, working on my lesson plans and preparing to teach.

I was teaching just three days a week-Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday morning-but one of the other teachers went back to England for a 3-week vacation, and I was asked if I’d like to cover his classes until he returns. Never one to turn down some extra money, I agreed. So, I’m now also teaching on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. That’ll keep me pretty busy, so I’m not sure when I’ll get some more extensive posts (with photos) up. I want to do some posts that cover driving a motorbike in Vientiane (never a dull moment), harvesting green onions (very dull for me, but an interesting process), and a temple visit Nai and I made during the New Year celebrations last month. I’ll probably get the temple visit posted sooner than anything else, so stay tuned for more later.

Pi Mai Lao Holiday

No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. I’m working at Vientiane College and living at The Farm. The Farm doesn’t have a very reliable internet connection. When I can get connected, it’s painfully slow. About all I can do is give a quick check of my email, check the weather forecast and look at the baseball scores. Doing those three things takes about 30 minutes.

The college has a better connection, but I’m usually busy getting ready for classes, attending meetings for new teachers and getting used to the new teaching environment. At least I can take a more in depth look at my email.

Right off the bat, though, we’ve got an eleven day vacation. Lao New Year, Pi Mai Lao, begins soon. It’s the same celebration as Songkran in Thailand. The main thing the visiting tourist will see is water, water everywhere in the form of water fights. Prepare to get soaked by ice water thrown from small buckets or shot from Super Squirt Guns. It’s all in fun, of course, but it can get old after awhile.

Because the majority of people start celebrating early and finish late, the administration has called off classes this Saturday, the 12th, and we won’t resume again until Monday, April 21st. After this evening’s classes, I won’t teach again until the 22nd, since I’m on a Tuesday and Thursday evening, and Saturday morning schedule.

I’m sure I won’t be posting again because I’ll be at The Farm until the 22nd, but I’ll get some more thoughts and photos of Pi Mai Lao posted shortly thereafter. Stay tuned.

In Laos

I’m heading back out to my friend Nai’s farm, which is about 10 kilometers outside Vientiane. I’ve been in Laos for about a week now. I was at The Farm for a few days, and then I came into Vientiane to look for a job.

I became a “farmer” at Nai’s place. One day I helped to twist the stems and leaves off of red and green cherry tomatoes. Thousands and thousands of cherry tomatoes. I helped out for about three hours on a hot afternoon, sitting under the shade of a tree, twisting and pulling and culling. There were several family members and neighbors pitching in also. It was boring work, but satisfying. Nai’s sister took all the tomatoes to the morning market in Vientiane, where they were bought in quantity by restaurant owners. Nai told me that they use them in making papaya salad, a staple dish that’s generally served at every meal.

The next day was Green Onion Day. Again, uncountable numbers of green onions. Nai and other family members went into the fields early in the morning and harvested the crop, then hauled it to the house on two-wheeled pushcarts. I was alerted that they had arrived by the aromatic smell of green onions floating on the breeze throughout the family compound. It’s quite a wonderful odor. They spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon pulling the debris and outer skin from each onion. I was going to join in, but this chore required some expertise, so I sat this one out.

The last three days I’ve been in Vientiane, and I’m pretty sure that I got a job working at one of the local colleges. I’ll find out this coming Tuesday. The director is going to phone me and let me know what he might have open for me. I won’t say any more about the job until I officially get it.

So, I’ll be out of Internet and email contact until the middle of next week. I’m taking a bus to the Friendship Bridge around noon today, which is the border-crossing point over the Mekong River between Laos and Thailand. Then, I’m going to give Nai a call and have him pick me up on his motorbike. The Farm isn’t too far away from the bridge. I talked to Nai earlier this morning to let him know my plans. He was harvesting more green onions.

Lunar New Year, Numbers

Lunar New Year

It’s going to be a short work week here due to the upcoming Lunar New Year, the big Chinese holiday that is also celebrated in Korea, Viet Nam and a few other Asian countries. The three-day holiday is on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this year, so it’s a mini-vacation of four days, though my classes are from nine to noon everyday; that gives me an extra half day off on Wednesday. The weather forecast is predicting quite a nice week, with temperatures mostly in the fifties and approaching sixty degrees on Saturday. Time to get out and do some walking around.

Numbers

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy sending out job applications to various institutions here in South Korea and in Malaysia, Viet Nam, Thailand, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and other countries. So far, no luck. My age is the biggest barrier to getting a position. Many countries, apparently, have visa laws that restrict foreigners over a certain age from working in those countries. ┬áKorea has no such law. In Korea, the number four is considered bad luck, but 65 must be even worse. It’s as if the hiring committees see that number and their minds become extremely boggled. They can’t get beyond the number to look at my credentials and experience. That number is the only thing that matters.

Early on in the process, I was offered a face-to-face interview by one university (which shall remain nameless). I went to the interview, did good on it and was offered a contract, which I accepted. I was thoroughly relieved to get a job that easily. The night before the contracts were to be mailed out for signatures, I received an email from the university stating that they were withdrawing the contract offer. It seems that the administration staff had just noticed that my age exceeded their maximum age for hiring new teachers. They’d had my documents for two or three weeks and they just noticed my age? Unbelievable! They must have needed to find an elementary school student to do the math for them.

I had another offer a few weeks ago to do an interview via Skype. I wrote back to the university and gave them my preferred times to do the interview. I never received a confirmation email, so I wrote them an email asking for confirmation. They didn’t respond. I sent another email and they finally wrote back telling me that their “personnel committee” didn’t think that I should get an interview, so they cancelled me. Hmmm, I wonder why they didn’t want me to do the interview. Couldn’t be age related, could it?

So, it’s been thoroughly frustrating trying to find another position, so far. But, all I can do is keep sending out the applications and hope that somewhere a university or academy is interested in quality, rather than in a single number. But, that’s the reality in Korea. If you’re young and handsome, you’ve got a job, even though you have absolutely no experience in teaching English and no degree related to the field. If you hit that “magic” age, though, it doesn’t matter what your credentials are. They usually don’t even get looked at. I’ve talked to foreign teachers who have worked in the hiring process. They told me that the Korean managers first look at the photos and the age, toss out the ones they don’t like and then, and only then, do they look at credentials. So, in many cases, if you’re not young, white and good-looking, you’re probably out of luck.

At times I feel that I’m beating my head against a brick wall and I get discouraged, which I shouldn’t do. I’ll keep cranking out the applications, though, and hope for the best.

Anyway, Happy New Year, everyone, again.

Final Day of Finals Weeks

At last, today marks the end of the semester, the end of assessments, the end of all the paperwork involved that’s been required for the past couple of weeks. I have one more class at 2 o’clock (just 30 minutes from now), a short class in which I’ll show the students their final scores for the class and have them sign off that everything is correct. Then, it’s the start of a three-week vacation for the English teachers!

I’m not going anywhere; just gonna hang out in Yeosu, try to stay warm (i.e., stay in my apartment). It wouldn’t be so bad, but the wind seems to always be a bit more than a stiff breeze. We had a few lonely flakes of snow earlier today, but a friend in Seoul reported that they had 8 inches up there overnight. Better them than us.

I don’t usually take many photos this time of year, so maybe I’ll go back and sift through some that I took earlier this summer and spring and maybe post them here. Stay tuned.

Leaving Yeosu

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve been busy job hunting. Yes, I’m leaving Chonnam University here in Yeosu at the end of February for various reasons that I won’t go into now. No, I haven’t been fired and, no, nothing earth-shaking has been going on. I’ll write another post later and fill everyone in on the details, more or less.

I’ve sent out more than a few applications, and, as a matter of fact, I had an interview yesterday with the good folks at Hanseo University up in Seosan, a smallish city about an hour-and-a-half bus ride south-west from Seoul. However, from Yeosu I had to take the bus to Seoul and then another bus to Hanseo Uni. That’s about 11 hours round-trip normally, but because there was some road construction and the inevitable traffic jam in Seoul, it took 13 hours. I didn’t want to stay overnight in Seoul, so it was a long trip up and back.

I think the interview went OK, but there’s a lot of competition for English-teaching jobs in Korea, so I’ll have to sweat it out for a while until I find out if I got the position. I’ll let you know more about this whole thing later. In the meanwhile, I’m keeping my fingers crossed hoping for a good outcome.

SantaRon

Today, Saturday, we had to work several hours to fulfill with our contractual obligations, so we had a fun day with our special Vision English classes. As happened last year at this time, I was asked to be Santa Claus in one of the activities we did. Huh!? Well, our students had to go around to various places on campus in a scavenger hunt activity, find the relevant teacher, and complete the English language tasks that were assigned. For SantaRon (yours truly), the students had to tell me two presents they wanted for Christmas and one present they didn’t want, and they had to give me reasons for wanting and not wanting the gifts. We also had some sports activities in the afternoon, which were interrupted by rain.

Not withstanding the fact that a normal day off was taken away, everyone seemed to have a good time, including me. But Santa wasn’t impressed.

Santa Ron

Where’s the Action

Anyway, it was all kinda fun, despite the rain and Santa’s boredom. It’s still raining quite heavy right now with more to come later, but Santa’s kind of happy to be high and dry in his apartment, wondering where Rudolph is hangin’ out, and dreading another Christmas run. Ho-ho-ho. More later.