The latest project from my Digital Art class involved collaborating on a class rotoscope. A rotoscope is when you take a video and draw over each from then compile it together again. It takes a lot of hard work and took my class of 14 over a month to make this 30 second film with over 2000 frames. We rotoscoped over a clip from Pharelle William's music video Happy. Take a look at the final project below.
As I watched fall arrive in New England from afar, I enjoyed a month packed full of goodness. October seemed a little shorter due to the full week-long holiday at the very end, but it was no less demanding. This stretch of time between the beginning of school and the first break is the longest uninterrupted time we are in school all year! We turned over to the second quarter which means that students and teachers are both getting overwhelmed, overworked, and just tired. But I have been uplifted with the great happenings this month, from visiting friends, to photo events, to a trip to Bangkok, it has made October fly by!
The rainy season came back full force in the first two weeks, dumping loads of rain across the city. There were street flooding and rainbow sightings. But soon there was a noticeable coolness in the morning air and the sun didn’t seem quite as scorching during the afternoon. We are all excited about the cooler weather, the upcoming holidays, and the school breaks.
Early in the month I had my very first visitor to Yangon! Megan is a fellow art teacher that I met at an AP Art workshop in Vermont the summer before I moved abroad. She is teaching art in Korea with Emily, a music teacher. They planned a short trip to Myanmar for their October break and stopped in Yangon for the last leg of it. It was so fantastic to show these two around and tell them all about Yangon. We went for Myanmar BBQ, walked the streets, did some souvenir shopping, and visited Shwedagon (the biggest pagoda in Myanmar). We had great conversations comparing living abroad and our different cultures. I only wish they could have stayed longer.
On October 8th I joined a group of photographers to capture some snap shots of our city. Every year Scott Kelby, a world famous photographer, hosts his annual World Wide Photo Walk. It is a time for photographers to get together and take photos of their neighborhood. It is labeled as the "social photography event of the year," as one of the main goals is to bring together a community of people with this common interest. On the single day hundreds of Photo Walks are held across the world with thousands of photographers participating.
The visa situation in Myanmar is very outdated and constantly changing. Even though we live and work here we (myself, Kim, and my coworkers) only have 70 day visas. This means that every 70 days we need to leave and re-enter the country to get a new visa. Other expats I have met have been able to get 6 month, 1 year, or even longer visas that do not require them to leave the country. The only reasoning I can find for the discrepancies is the connection or weight the business has with the government. Either way, it is most certainly a “don’t ask” situation where you must do what you are told.
Last year they revealed the option to get an in-country extension, which means that we could get another 70 days added to our visa without leaving. Kim and I choose to do this for this visa round because we were not planning on leaving the country. We submitted the paperwork to my school in September for them to take care of.
It was the second week of school when the HR office emailed us to say that the extension did not go through. Due to the election coming up (more about that next month) the government was not allowing any visa extensions. With the sensitive nature of the elections, my school did not want to risk us being “illegally” in the country so with four days’ notice they sent us to Bangkok.
Who can be disappointed by a free weekend in Bangkok? Yangon is a difficult city to live in due to the limited modernization so it was wonderful to be able to escape to the modern hub of SE Asia. We left Saturday morning and after an hour flight and a short tram ride we were in the heart of the bustling Bangkok. We spent our time wandering around, visiting a few western grocery stores, popping in a few HUGE shopping malls, trying to find somewhere to fix our external hard drive, and enjoying our western hotel accommodations.
Of course, the majority of our trip revolved around eating! We indulged in deliciously crafted sandwiches, one in particular was a steak sandwich which ended up being a whole steak layered between bread – it was unbelievable. It was difficult to find the “right” place to eat since it was such a special treat, we ended up walking around for an hour or two one night in search for something that would satisfy our high expectations, and I’m so glad that we held out because we stumbled upon the cutest little food truck that served the most scrumptious burgers I believe I have tasted. We continued to gorge ourselves on all of the food that we can’t get in Myanmar: beef, milk, good chocolate, cheese cake, pizza cones, street kebob, etc. Looking back my only regret is that we didn’t drink more milk.
Spending time together was certainly the highlight of the weekend but the entire trip was delightful. It was refreshing to get away and be in a place where we are not gawked at while walking down the street. I can’t wait to do it again soon!
One of my favorite times in the week is when I get a chance to make some art. Through photography, painting, digital work, or something else, creating fills my soul. This month I continued to work on my art journal. This is simply a sketchbook that I have been filling with (mostly) paintings based on what interests me. It is refreshing to work on smaller paintings that don’t have a purpose, taking off a lot of the stress that artists can feel about making a finished product and focusing on just the act of creating. Here are the pages that I finished this month:
The last week of the month was a Buddhist holiday Thadingynt. We had the entire week off of school so Kim and I set off to explore more of Myanmar. We spent half of the week in Bagan and half of the week in Mandalay. I have lots more to tell you about the week and of course bunches to show you but that will need a post of its own. For now here are a few teasers.
September has been a hot month here in Yangon. It is still supposed to be rainy season but there was not a lot of rain. Luckily there was usually a good amount of cloud cover making it a good month for exploring and being out. Lots of gatherings filled our calendars this month making it a great time for friends with an equally great time spent on our own. A bout of sickness kept us home over one long weekend, Kim has been cooking away at work, and there were birthday festivities. September was a great month with a lot of promise and happy times. Let's start with a few more pictures from around the neighborhood.
Last month I briefly mentioned Fahrenheit where Kim was hired in March of this year to run the kitchen of what would be a Mexican-Asian restaurant. Not being a Mexican or Asian chef, Kim has certainly met the challenge by creating truly unique dishes that highlight both cuisines. It has not been easy but it has certainly been worth it as Fahrenheit was recently moved to TripAdvisors #2 restaurant in Yangon.
Since our return, Kim has been working on developing a new menu to delight the taste buds of the hungry crowd that has already made it through the original menu multiple times. Some of my favorite dishes are the Potato Curry Tusquitos, Pumpkin and Tofu Enchiladas, Pad Thai Chimichanga, Chili Infused Hot Fudge Sunday (with homemade ice cream) and of course the Creamy Tequilla Margarita Pie. Lucky me, I got to be the first taster for all of this deliciousness. I thought you all might like to see some picture of this awesome place.
I took my students on my first Field Trip in Yangon this month and the experience was so much more than I could have ever imagined. I had a simple intent, take the students on the train to practice their photography skills. As we have just finished our photography basics unit, learning the ins and outs of our cameras, and the students were itching to try their skills in real life situations. Pair that with not having access to our usual computer lab classroom (because of standardized testing) and you have the perfect opportunity for a one day field trip. But what started as a simple field trip turned into a perspective changing experience. Read all about it HERE
To celebrate his birthday Mark, a co-worker of mine, held his annual Kegs and Kickball event. I was hesitant to join because I am not a big kickball fan but I thought it might be fun and it was a BLAST! About 30 people met up at the American Club field on Saturday and went through 3 kegs of beer while attempting to play kickball. There were also rules that involved having a cup of beer in your hand at all times even when you are kicking, and finishing your beer before second base and before home base. There was pizza, a speedo, some major kickball competition, LOTS of beer, and a fantastic time had by all! So glad I have such a fun community of people to be around.
It was a month full of birthdays in our friend Steven’s house. Firstly his little guy, Keean, turned 3 years old! I joined them in the morning for a trip to the park where we spent the majority of the time pushing a swing back and forth to each other. It makes my heart so happy to have this little man in my life. As someone who has always had children around it feels like having a piece of my family here in Yangon.
While we were wandering around our neighborhood the other day we stumbled upon an aquarium store. I use the word store very lightly because really this was a space on the side of the road with a chicken wire type wall and dirt floors. I had noticed recently that the shops and houses will often have giant aquariums in them, even the ones that seem to be not so well off. These aquariums always have GIANT fish in them! It’s crazy! So we meandered past a hungry looking cat into the store. It had huge aquariums stacked on top of each other from the ground up. Scattered along the aisle were liquor bottles of all sorts filled with betta fish. In the large aquariums there were all different kinds of fish. Towards the back of the store was a group of people who were working on cutting glass that would be the side to a new aquarium. It was a strange, strange place true to Myanmar.
Eating unknown snacks off the street is one of our favorite things to do. This month we found a few very interesting things to try. It started with the deep fried frogs at one of our local restaurants. Then when we were adventuring around the other day we discovered some interesting fruits. I also got Kim to try an “Everything Salad” which is a mix of all different noodles, sauces, and other things. Have a look at some of the videos.
I also tried sugar cane drink for the first time and it was delicious! The sugar cane is peeled then squished through a grinder resulting in a sweet, syrup-y drink.
I have been filled with creativity this month! I have been working on a body of work that I started in the spring and have made significant progress this month. The process involves using my travel photographs as a base and digitally altering them to create visual errors, or glitches, by corrupting the data in the photograph. I’m not quite ready to share them yet but I’ll show you this one:
During school time my fellow art teacher and I have begun using our collective prep time to work on art journaling. It has been fantastic to have a scheduled time in the week to get messy and create. It brings me back to my core interest in the arts and gives me the freedom to play and experiment. It has been a great reminder of why I am an art teacher and how much I love making art! Here are some progress pictures of one of the journal pages based off the idea of Positive/Negative Self. Also a snap shot of my morning bliss station
There were morning Trishaw rides
Scrumptious BBQ was had
My school held a college fair with about 20 colleges from around the world and one of the was Roger Williams University where my little sis just started law school. Funny that.
We found a movie store that has english movies and TV shows for only $1 a disk
Some funny things we saw this month, a "Cold & Drinking" restaurant sign, sushi sold out of the back of a truck, this hilarious sign.
A few shots for my "From Where I Stand" photo project.
I'll leave you with these two tasty dishes. The one on the left is my absolute favorite Myanmar dish: Tofu Noway. It is some sort of hot, melted tofu over noodles. The one on the right is the chicken soup that Kim made for me when I was sick in bed for our three day weekend.
It was another Friday night which means Friday festivities! A bit of a change from our usual scene, Kim and I headed to 50th Street Bar & Grill for a teachers event. 50th Street is a very well known expat establishment downtown. It has a very classy feel like that of a fancy NY pub. As I have come to learn here in Yangon, the nicer looking the establishment the higher the prices. This is the only place in town that you will pay $30 for a steak. In their defense though, this is probably the only place in town to get a decent steak. You could probably put every restaurant here in two categories: local and expat. As we tell our couchsurfers, with the local places you pay local prices and with expat places you pay expat prices. Plus the extra tax and service charges. Not trying to complain here, it is just a fascinating separation between the classes.
All in all it was a fun evening meeting other teachers from around the city. There were two other international schools there: International School of Yangon and Yangon International School - people are not very creative with their school names here (if you are keeping track you will know that my school is called International School of Myanmar and yes, there is a Myanmar International School in town also). It is strange to be in an environment (outside of school) where you can understand all of the conversations going on around you.
As I circulated the room and meet new people we had the same exchange of conversation over and over again: What school are you with? How long have you been here? Where are you from originally? Do you like it here? How long do you plan on staying? And so on and so forth. I did get to get to know some pretty cool people and am looking forward to seeing them again soon!
Art Show openings are held a little differently here. Unlike the evening openings that they have in the States, almost all openings here are morning events - often on weekends. With the opening there are a slew of treats available to munch on and tables to hang out at while drinking tea and talking about the artwork. There were a variety of food items at this opening including some sort of fried noodles, hot dog type things, and lots of little fried foods.
When we went grocery shopping this weekend we realized after we arrived at the store that we were getting hungry. Everyone knows that it is a bad idea to shop on an empty stomach so we decided to grab a bite to eat before heading in. We just wanted a snack so we decided to share one of these Hot & Roll. It turned out to be a crepe with a choice of toppings. We went for the BBQ chicken one which included cheese. It was actually quite tasty.
In the weeks leading up to the move there were many times I would be just going about my normal day-to-day business when all of a sudden the fact would hit me that we were moving to Asia. We, normal, simple, easy-goers from no-where Maine, were moving to Asia. It just seemed preposterous that a change that ginormous was about to happen. A change that would make the world as we knew it seem like a distant dream. I remember those moments vividly now, especially the strangeness of the feeling that accompanied them.
The other day I was just walking down the street coming back from eating lunch at a street stall near the school and, just as sudden as it had come before, I had the realization that I am here. Here. In this place. I am living in Myanmar. I am walking down the street, with all of these strange but friendly people staring and smiling at me. As I crunched one of the giant tree leaves that had fallen on the ground in front of me, a deep feeling of gratitude set inside my chest. This is what it must feel like when you succeed in finally achieving a goal that you have been dreaming about for so long, and that was so big it seemed more like a crazy dream than any sort of reality. And I smiled as I began to come to terms with the fact that this, this messy, beautiful, exotic, frustrating, peaceful, loud, confusing place is where I live. This is my life. I let that thought rest inside of me and it stills me. It wraps around me like a big comfy blanket on a cold night saying, “Shhhh, you can rest now, you did good.” It is asking me to take time to enjoy this place and all it has to offer, to be appreciative and to slow down.
Since I got here I have felt like I was going 100 miles an hour, trying to see all the sights, help our apartment feel like a home, plan enough for school to get me through the next day, and begin to make sense of this wild place. I’m finally here and there is so much, so much to see, so much to do, so much to experience. The words from my yoga teacher, Heidi, creeps up into my mind, “Be kind to yourself,” she would tell us. Just because you are capable doesn’t mean you need to. I take a breath and let those words sink in a bit further and remind myself that I am not just here for a week or a month, but rather years. I hold on to the weight of gratitude that settled into my chest and notice the lady feeding the lunch leftovers to the stray cat who was meowing at her ankles. And I am thankful, thankful for cats, thankful for only ladies that feed them, thankful for the rice and unknown type of meat that I just ate for lunch, but mostly I am thankful just for being. Here. In this place. Finally.
*These were taken by Kim on our recent trip to Inle Lake, be on the lookout for that post because it was epic!!*
At the first meeting of my photography club this week one of the students that joined handed me a note from another student who had signed up but was not in attendance. The note read:
I am sorry, but I won’t be joining Photography Club. My parents won’t let me since I can’t use the photos in any of my classes and it’s “a waste of time.”
However, I will still be part of RAVE Magazine (since my parents don’t know about it).
I hope to see you in RAVE meetings. : )”
I had heard and had gotten hints of the idea that the arts are not important to parents at our school, but this was my first solid piece of evidence to support this stance. My mind started filling with choice things I would like to say to these parents about letting kids be kids, and giving them the right to follow their interests. The art advocate inside me woke alert and ready to fight again. See, unlike other subjects, art teachers not only get to do all the tasks expected of the profession, but we are also constantly defending the right to do what we were are passionate about and were in fact hired to do. We must save the arts from budget cuts and continue to defend it’s right to be in our schools. Sadly, it has become a part of the job description to be ready to stand up for our programs to administration, school boards, communities, other teachers, and parents.
Although I have been a bold advocate for my art programs in my previous position to get them outside of the art room, I am lucky to have had constant support from all stakeholders in the school I used to work at. Of course we are in completely different water now.
Unlike many other international schools who have a wide variety of students from all different backgrounds, ISM is an international school with 95% local students. The students that we teach are from the wealthiest of families in Myanmar. Their parents are business people, doctors, lawyers, real estate owners, etc. mainly the people who have worked hard to get way ahead in this difficult country and are now reaping the benefits. As all parents do, ISM parents want their children to have “better” lives than they did. That means the best schools and a ‘no excuses’ policy for not achieving the very highest. For all of the rigger the parents push on the students they expect to see finite results in the forms of high grades, the best scores, taking the most advanced classes, and winning awards. There is a strange energy in the school where students strive to take AP (advanced placement) classes as soon as they are allowed to because they are constantly aware of the effects their choices can have not on their lives but on their transcripts.
Of course it is uplifting to be in a high school where students strive for excellence and take their education seriously but it almost to a point of detriment, where it is hurting the students more than helping them. They are constantly searching for ways they can look better on their college applications, be it a contest, community service (1/2 of our students are involved in a community service group), or a high grade in an advanced class. This is also reprehensive of the cultural divide and the class differences. I grew up in an environment where you were encouraged to make your own life decisions based on your interests and what makes you happy – so perhaps I am bias.
Just in the past couple years have students begun to branch out from the usual career paths when leaving ISM. The previous art teacher made a bit of headway by helping artistic students get into architecture colleges – parents seem to be okay with this since it is a somewhat prestigious career. There is just still so far to go in helping these parents (and students) understand that what is says on their transcript is not who they are.
And because I can't leave this post without showing how incredibly talented my students are, here are a few captures from one of their recent homework assignments (yes, a HOMEWORK assignment)!
Alisa & Kim
Two expats living, teaching, and eating their way across this beautiful world