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.
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.
I took my students on my first Field Trip in Yangon today 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.
The train is an ideal option for this trip. There is a train station that is only a 10 minute walk from school and it takes a four hour loop around the city, returning back to the same station. After a few calls to the station from my assistant teacher, we had the schedule and a plan. The students were mildly excited mostly because they wanted to get out of school. They were less enthused by our 7:30 am meeting time.
Permission forms were signed, the principal approved, and the day finally came. Nine half-asleep AP 2D Design students wandered into the lobby, cameras in hand. We set off quickly, knowing that the train waits for no one. We rushed through the bustling market and down the dusty streets arriving at the station already sweating in the tropical heat. No sooner had we purchased our tickets then we were swept away on the train.
The students stayed huddled together as a group in a corner of the train car surrounded by people. My first thoughts were that they were frazzled by our hasty departure but as I observed them I noticed an interesting occurrence. The students seemed to act more like tourists, strangers to this place that they call home. They were nervous around the unknown people and hesitant to leave their well-known classmates. As I encouraged them to break off and explore down the train they stayed attached to the group as if they were in a foreign place.
I began considering what I know about these students. Firstly, they are privileged. The school we come from is a private school for Myanmar’s wealthy class. Secondly, they are very isolated. Being ushered from school to tutors, from events to formal functions, from home to their chafer driven car, these students rarely experience the street life of Yangon. It took me aback when they showed up this morning in jeans, long sleeve shirts, and sweatshirts. I would have thought it obvious on such a hot day that we would need to wear cool clothes, but I later realized that these students are never outdoors. They have no reason to walk around the streets. In essence they truly are foreigners in their own city, seeing and experiencing the life of a “commoner” for (perhaps) the first time.
For an expat who spends her weekends exploring the streets on foot, riding the local transit, and eating at the street stalls, it was strange to be introducing these students to their own home, one that I have only been living in for a year. To think that I have experienced more of the daily Myanmar life in my short time then they have in their whole lives is mind blowing.
As the train began to empty, the students got a little more adventurous, wandering to the lengths of the car in small groups. They moved from taking pictures of each other to being comfortable at taking pictures of the surroundings and the people. Having no separation between themselves and the local environment, they began to truly observe and record what they saw. No longer were they sitting in their fancy cars with a window detaching them from the world, they were immersed in it.
We arrived at the main station to switch to the train that would take us the rest of the way around town and back to our station by school. We all took off running through the insanely crowded platform to catch the next train. I counted as each student stepped up into the train car but came up missing two. Hoping that they had gotten on through the next door, I hopped on the train and quickly searched through the adjacent car to find it empty of students. My worry heightened as the train began moving. I sped through the train, rushing past people, looking for the rest of the group in hopes that I didn’t see correctly and they actually made it on before us, but, no luck. Resisting the urge to panic, I had a student call the phone of one of the missing members, who were in fact left back at the main station. After insisting that they stay where they were we departed at the next stop and quickly grabbed the next train in the opposite direction where I found the two students sitting calmly on a bench taking a selfie.
Reunited we quickly regrouped to make a new plan. Luckily my time in Myanmar has taught me a great deal about not being attached to how things are “supposed” to go, and always having a plan B (and C, and sometimes D). So after confirming the train schedule back to school we had a quick retreat at a local café to cool off and fuel up. Then we continued on to explore the downtown area while waiting for the next train. I led them through streets where they explored and (in some cases) interacted with the local community.
One student ate as much street food as he could manage. It made me laugh when he bought something from practically every stall that we passed. Later in conversation I found out that his parents don’t let him have street food. They believe that it is not sanitary and prefer to eat in proper restaurants or at home. The last time he had street food was when he was young. He used the day as an opportunity to make up for lost time.
It was also interesting for the students to see how people treat me differently as a foreigner. A couple times on the train locals stopped to take pictures of me. At one point a woman excitedly pointed me out to her young son by pointing to me and then touching her face to bring attention to my skin color. In addition I got stopped a few times by sellers on the street hoping I would buy a bus ticket, a tour, or a souvenir. The students related these experiences to ones they have had in the US or Thailand or other countries but had no idea that it also happened here. As these students are being groomed to be the next leaders of Myanmar, they are gaining worldly education through international trips and mindsets but we forget to connect them with their own back yard.
As our short but eventful trip came to an end I was not the only one who had a sense of euphoric fulfillment. We walked back to school from our station drenched in sweat with huge smiles on our faces. Stopping one last time for a street snack of fresh squeezed sugar cane juice (the first time for almost all of us) the students excitedly talked about where else we could take a trip to. As they chatted about different possibilities I heard a different attitude in their voices, one of anticipation in getting to know more of their own country, their own culture. It might by my hopeful teacher brain but I think next time they might be looking forward to a little more than just missing school.
We have been back in Myanmar for over a month now and we are settling in quite well to our jobs and home life. It seems crazy to be back, yet comfortably familiar at the same time. The amazing summer we had back home left us feeling reenergized and refilled with the calm patience necessary for life in Yangon. This crazy city with its insane traffic, constant market callers, chanting monks, dinging bells from passing trishaws, and always bustling streets, has welcomed us back with its usual chaos and smiles.
Our biggest news is that we moved to a new apartment. Not only are we no longer living in school provided housing, but we are living in a more local area only a short walk from school. We found our apartment before we left in May with two friends of ours. Shelly and Luis both teach at ISM with me and have been awesome roommates! This apartment is very inexpensive which means we will be saving even more money this year with our housing allowance that the school provides. It has great qualities to it like a huge living area, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large open kitchen, and lots of windows. We were able to buy all of the furniture from the previous tenants so we were all set to move in as soon as we returned from summer break.
The move itself was interesting. Back home we would call up a friend or family member with a truck to help us move, but in Yangon no one we know has vehicles. We could have gotten a few cabs together because we did not have that many belongings but we do have a large house plant and two chairs. So we arranged for a truck through a kind friend of ours who has local connections. It was a confusing time meeting the truck and a scary ride to our new place with Kim and our plant hanging out the back, but we made it and only had to pay $15 (plus a $5 tip for each of the guys who helped us lug everything up stairs).
We have had a couple of challenges like bugs and electricity. But instead of waiting hours or days or even weeks for a worker from our old condo to fix our issues we are able to fix them quickly ourselves with the help of our attentive landlord and our kind neighbors. There was this one time when the power went out, not unusual for Yangon, but annoying nonetheless. Strangely it was still out a few hours later even though the other apartments in our building had the power returned. So Kim tried to talk to one of our neighbors, the man didn't speak any English so he went and got another man who got another one who got another one. This final man, Aung, not only spoke some English but he "make power work" (works as an electrician). He quickly got his toolbox and came up to the apartment, took an hour working on our regulator, and finally fixed the problem. When Kim tried to give him a payment he simply replied "We neighbors, we help."
Then there was the first morning of school when I woke up early to have a quiet start to my morning, I poured myself a cup of tea and opened a window to let some air in, and sat down with my journal when a BAT flew in the room! It was an entertaining 30 minutes of running around with a laundry basket trying to catch it as it swooped around my head. In the end everyone in the house was up watching me trying to usher it out and it just flew right back out the same window it came in.
A few weeks ago we hosted a big housewarming party in the new space. It was great fun to have our friends over to fill the apartment with great vibes.
Here are a few pictures from around the neighborhood
Living close to school has so many benefits! Instead of dreading the hour plus bus ride home in the afternoons I have been staying late to enjoy teacher activities that other teachers offer like ultimate Frisbee, yoga, and work out classes. I feel very lucky to be able to take advantage of all of these great things!
Plus, Kim is so close on her days off that she has been joining me for breakfast or lunch occasionally. We usually eat at our favorite shan noodle and tofu noway stand in the mornings and enjoy a lunch stall run by a Pakistani man in the afternoons.
On the school front I have been busy as a bee developing a curriculum that better fits my teaching philosophy and designing two new courses. Last year I taught Art 1 (foundations, intro art class for mostly freshman) and AP 2D Design (advanced placement digital art course for upper levels). Continuing with those classes I have also added a Digital Art course (photography, digital drawing, animation, and other graphic media) and an Advanced Digital Art course (independent study for a small group of students interested in continuing their work in digital art). Having four different classes to prepare for has been challenging but so rewarding! Here are a few photos from different classes that I have taken this month.
I am very proud of the classroom website that I have redesigned. I have used various methods in the past but feel satisfied that this website is one that can grow with me as an educator. I have set it up with resources for both students and fellow teachers. I’m excited to continue growing the content of this site and making it usable for a wider audience. The site is called In The Art Room, take a look at it here.
Kim has been enjoying being back at work too. For those who don’t know, Kim is the executive chef/kitchen manager for a Mexican-Asian fusion restaurant called Fahrenheit. Taking the tex-mex basics and infusing Asian elements, Kim has created a truly original taste that people love! The chic atmosphere and the craft cocktails make for a perfect surrounding to enjoy a great night out. Since Kim has returned, she has been hard at work making new delicious concoctions for the new menu. Favorites like the pad thai chimichanga and the garlic curry chicken tacos will now be joined by items like pumpkin tofu empanadas and (my favorite) frozen margarita pie. Kim is really going to the extremes at stretching her culinary skills to bring together two of the top cuisines. Just wait until you try her hand made chocolate ice cream with chili hot fudge sauce. I joined a few friends down for a private tasting a couple weeks ago that was out of this world!
One of my favorite things I have started this month is baking bread. The other week Kim was planning our weekly dinner menu and I voted for homemade pizza. She agreed on the deliciousness of that idea but said that she wouldn't have time to make the dough. I piped up saying that I could make it. Seeing as Kim is a professional chef and I well ... burn things, she reasonably laughed. A lot. I tried to defend my capabilities by evidence of the last time I made dough but it had been so long that she didn't believe me. This made me so sad to realize that something I love, baking doughs and breads, hadn't been experienced in so long that it was forgotten. That week I made the pizza dough and the smell of the yeast mixed with the kneading of the dough and the anticipation of the rise brought it all back. Since then I have spent the past two Saturday mornings devoted to making bread. Such a calm, meditative, and satisfying time creating something from nothing. Plus, there is nothing like the taste of fresh made bread straight from the oven.
Another perk to living in SE Asia is insanely inexpensive spa treatments. I joined my friend Ashley on a weekend trip to her favorite spa to get pampered. I got an hour long full body massage that was on the rougher side (I had requested oil massage since they are not so rough but it got lost in communication) (cost $10). Then I enjoyed a “Shampoo” which I found out did not only consist of shampooing my hair but also a 30 minute head and shoulder massage that finished with a blow dry and style (cost $1.50). Afterwards we both got our nails done by a spectacular nail artist who did immaculate designs by hand (cost $6.50). It was such a fun afternoon! A treat that I never would have been able to afford in the States, my total cost was $18.00!
A week after my spa day with Ashley, I was home with the roommates on a Saturday afternoon when the power went out for the whole neighborhood. I suggested that we take the opportunity to check out one of the many hair salons on our street. So we went across the road and found a place offering “Shampoos” for $3.00. After listening to them pump water from a hand pump in the back of the salon Kim, Shelly and I all enjoyed a (slightly rough) massage and (slightly chilly) shampoo. Luckily they had a generator that they turned on to blow dry our hair. Shelly also got a trim for $1.00.
We bought a rice cooker (one of the only things that didn't come with our apartment, a necessity in Asia)
They are now selling frogs at the market.
I ate my last bowl of honey nut cherieos from the stash I brought back from the States.
It rained. A lot.
We were reunited with our favorite expat family.
Overall it has been a fantastic month reconnecting with friends and students. We have had dinner dates, night wanderings, rainy afternoons inside, school events, parties, and so much more! I am grateful to have the opportunity to continue working and living in this still confusing, still frustrating, still enigmatic place. I am happy to have a great place to live with great people making my day to day life so much easier. Here are a few random photos from different times throughout the month.
There is only one word that can truly summarize this year: adventure. There has been more change in the last 365 days than any other point in my life and with change comes spectacular opportunities. The year was filled with family, culture, food, photography, travel, celebrations, and huge life changes. It has been a beautiful journey and I have loved sharing it with you. Here are 14 AMAZING things that made 2014 an epic year.
14. Rode an Elephant & Got Chased by Monkeys
Not too far from my new home is a park where you can visit a variety of different animals. Halwga National Park is most well known for it monkey filled area where you can drive through and meet creatures along the way. We spent an afternoon feeding monkeys out the car window and getting to know the elephants that we were lucky enough to get a chance to ride on.
13. Help Portrait & FotoMarathon
I participated in two photography events this year. The first was FotoMarathon Yangon where we were challenged to go out in groups and take photos around town based on specific themes that were sent to us every two hours. You can read all about it here. Shortly after that I helped lead a group of students in creating a Help-Portrait event. This is a worldwide initiative that I also participated in when I was in Maine. The event involves taking photos for families who would not normally be able to afford professional photography, we invited the local staff and trishaw drivers from the school, dressed them up, did their makeup and hair, took their portraits, and printed out photographs for them to go home with that day. It was a beautiful experience that was not about taking photographs but about giving them. (Post coming soon)
12. Taunggyi Fire Balloon Festival
As many of the best things do, my trip up to Tanuggi for the famous Fire Balloon Festival came very spontaneously as a weekend getaway with my friend Ashley. Thousands of people flock to the otherwise quiet town of Tanuggi each year to witness and participate in the traditional act of launching fire balloons. It was an experience like no other. Read about the whole festival here (videos included).
11. Watched Amanda & Josh Exchange Vows
The hardest day of homesickness I have had was the day of Amanda and Josh's wedding. Luckily we have amazing technology now that allowed me to watch the entire event. I stayed up all night since there is a 12 hour time difference and was able to skype/facetime in for everything from getting ready, formal pictures, ceremony, reception, cake, toasts, dance party and everything in between. Although I wish I could have been by my little sister's side and joined in with my family I was certainly celebrating from afar. Photo credit to Pipyr Photo.
10. New food. SO much new food.
Myanmar was certainly not love at first taste, it has taken quite a while to find the true gems of the cuisine but now that we have there is no going back! Tofu Noway, Kay-O, Tomato Salad, Steamed Dumplings, Fried Tofu, Mohinga, and so much more. This year has truly been an adventure for my tastebuds alone now if only I could adjust to the spices.
9. Safari in Africa
No trip to Africa is complete without a Safari and I completely understand why. There is no experience like that of watching a baby zebra nuzzle it's mother or a herd of elephants protecting their young. Sure I've seen most of these animals in zoos before but being able to watch them in their environment, in their world can't compare. My favorite were the giraffes with their long legs and their even longer necks, seeing them galloping around on their stilt-like legs was quite the site.
8. Honeymoon in Cancun
Although we were crunched for time after our wedding with only two months before the big move we wanted to take a breather and enjoy married life. With our big adventure right around the corner we decided the perfect honeymoon would be relaxing on the beach with drinks in our hands so we headed to the best place for it, an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, Mexico. We spent five beautiful days with our feet in the sand, swimming in the spectacular pools, drinking all sorts of tasty beverages, indulging in choice restaurants, and enjoying our new time together as a married couple. Although it was hard to pull off (scheduling and other wise) this was the absolute best wedding choice we made and I will always look back on this time fondly. See the rest of the photos here.
7. Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival
Unforgettable experiences are around every corner of my new life in Myanmar, but certainly one of the most spectacular has been the trip we took in October to Inle Lake. We were very fortunate to visit at the time of the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival which is a celebration that involves ferrying around five giant golden buddha statues to each town in the lake. The lake is so big that it takes almost a month to complete the whole route. Not only did we get to watch the parade but we also got to experience the rest of the stunning Inle Lake including traditional leg-rowing fishermen, long-neck women weaving, traditional silversmiths, hand paper weavers, the floating gardens, and my favorite, the crumbling pagodas of Indein. (PS Blog post coming soon with sooooo many more photos)
6. Welcomed Baby Zane into the World
Zane Andrew Simmons joined the world on March 8th. I can't believe this little peanut is over 9 months old now! He is such a sweet little boy who has brightened every life around him since he arrived most certainly the lives of his parents, my sister, Andrea, and my brother-in-law, Steve. I have missed him dearly since I have been away, luckily Andrea has been great at sharing about all the milestones - big and small - with pictures, stories, and videos. Can't wait until I get to snuggle this little guy again!
5. Photographed 5 Stunning Weddings
Capturing the moments of one of the most special days in a persons life is an honor and privilege, I know that sounds cheesy but it honestly is. The joy, celebration, and love that fills a wedding is unparalleled. Leaving behind Adorn photography was very difficult for me because I truly loved every minute of photographing wedding and portraits. Within the first few months of the year I was invited by five spectacular couples to photograph their wedding days and each one was so very special. I am certain about few things in my future but one of them is that I know I will return to photographing weddings at some point in my life. For now I will enjoy using my passion to capture the world around me through my travel photography.
4. Spent the Holidays with Renee in Tanzania
Ask either of us just a few years ago if we thought we would be spending the holidays together on safari in Africa or on the beaches of Zanzibar and both Renee, my sister, and I would have simply laughed. Such an unlikely story for two small-town New Englanders. Yet, this is exactly where we found ourselves this holiday season, see just two weeks before my winter break from school Kim flew back to Maine to be with her ill father which left the perfect opportunity for me to hop the Indian Ocean to visit Renee. Renee has been living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for almost two years now where she freelances web design when she is not busy working on her passion of free diving and the resulting website www.seaunseen.com. We spent three amazing weeks celebrating the holidays, on safari, hanging out on the beach, diving, and having some much needed sister time.
3. Found Juicing and Lost 50 Pounds
It was actually December of 2012 that I started my health and fitness journey, dedicating most of 2013 to challenging myself physically and educating myself on proper health and nutrition. In January of this year I made the ultimate commitment to a 30 day juice fast and my life has not been the same since. Juicing allowed me to realign my expectations of food and reset my appetite. It not only gave me results in appearance but in self-confidence and strength of mind. With my juicing I finally felt in control of my body. I took the beginning of this year to fully commit to myself, focusing on goals like working out everyday and setting up a regular meditation schedule. It was an amazing time that I hope to revisit now that my life has settled down.
2. Moved 8151 miles away to Yangon, Myanmar
Without a doubt, the craziest thing that happened this year was packing up our belongings and moving to -literally- the other side of the world. Following my dream to teach abroad, Kim and I picked up and left everything behind (that couldn't fit in our 6 suitcases) to explore the world. Three days and 8151 miles later we found ourselves in a land like nothing we ever knew before. Myanmar has been everything we never expected, our time filled with awe, frustrations, curiosity, and a whole lot of laughter.
1. Married my Love
Without a doubt the most important day of 2014 was May 10th, the day that I married my love, Kimberly. As with any journey, who you travel with can be more important than any destination and nothing could have been half as wonderful this year without this amazing person by my side. Having someone to share in all of the adventures I have had this year and will continue to have into 2015 and beyond it the best thing I could ask for.
(Read all about our full wedding day here. Photo credit to Justine Johnson Photography.)
Alisa & Kim
Two expats living, teaching, and eating their way across this beautiful world