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.
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.
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.)
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)!
Kim and I were itching to have a day in the kitchen so we invited a group of new friends over for a big family dinner. As Kim created magic in the kitchen I ran back and forth to the store across the street retrieving different ingredients that were forgotten about on our big shopping trip. Music blaring, water boiling, and broom sweeping, we danced the day away in the kitchen. The evening was spent with a large group of our new friends sitting around the table enjoying every bite of Kim’s delicious feast. For most of them this was the first time having any sort of actual American food (or food from home as we like to call it) since arriving and it was beyond appreciated. The buffet was set with slice roasted pork, French style red wine braised beef, garlic mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, honey glazed carrots, potato salad, and fresh garden salad. As Nora Jones sang out from the speakers and wine filling our glasses the night drifted along at an easy pace. But this was nothing compared to what was happening right before they arrived.
About an hour before everyone was set to arrive I pulled out our table to the middle of the room and expanded it to ready it for the large crowd we had coming. No more than a few seconds later, there was a big drip of water that splashed all over the table. Shortly after, another one followed on the other end of the table. See we have two consistent drips in our kitchen ceiling which have been mildly annoying up until this point but we had been told that there was no use fixing it in rainy season. But tonight this would just not do. So I sent Kim down to the office to see if someone could come up and put some more packing tape over it (I would have gladly just done this myself if we had packing tape and a latter but alas). Surprisingly Kim came back a short while later followed by three workers. I say surprisingly because things almost never happen immediately here, it is always “Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow” aka sometime in the distant future after you have asked at least three more times –or- “Please wait for me” aka I will come at the most inconvenient time you could possibly imagine most likely in another month or two.
In they came, the three workers, and Kim got back to cooking as I attempted to ask them to put more tape over the cracks that were leaking. I thought they understood when they left only to return with a latter and three more people. As one of them took to looking at the ceiling the rest stood or sat around watching. Apparently here repairs are a spectator sport. Since we had so many extra helpers I decided to tell them about the leak in the spare bathroom coming from the shower area. Silly me to think that one of the extra people would work on it, instead they called down the guy who was working on the ceiling, off the latter and into the bathroom. After some more scurrying around the one worker person was compounding the bathroom tile as his audience watched idling around him.
With the bathroom now covered in compound (because it wasn’t enough just to put it over the leaky area – it had to cover the entire floor and toilet too), the one worker guy got back on the latter to inspect the ceiling some more. No sooner had he gotten up there were bits of plaster falling all over. He decided that he needed to get a good look at the situation and to do so meant pulling down all of the plaster that was put in place to “fix” the leak long ago. I hastily grabbed the dinnerware from the table as chunks began dropping from the ceiling. He apparently felt satisfied in what he was seeing because he came back off the latter and went with a few of the helpers to retrieve some more tools. When they returned I stepped out of the bedroom with hopes that they had found some tape but what I saw instead was a handsaw about to go through my ceiling. I frantically screamed at them to stop and with wild hand gestures and muddled English tried to explain to them that I was having a dinner party and the guests were set to arrive in 15 minutes. Somehow I managed to finally get through that all I wanted for “now” was it to be taped and they can cut “tomorrow.” Relief came when they finally sent someone who returned with tape and patched up the drips with a temporary fix.
Of course tomorrow came and of course the workers did not. We gave them until Tuesday when Kim went down to the office and demanded someone to come up again. “Yes, yes. Very soon.” After returning the office hours later Kim stayed until someone followed her up to the apartment. Making sure they were all set she left to run to the grocery store. Returning a few hours later she saw the horrid sight of two gapping holes in our ceiling, but what was even worse was Kim’s knife sitting on the table now covered with plaster dust and bent at the tip. Yes, they had used one of her brand new professional chef’s knifes to cut a hole in the ceiling. Needless to say Kim was furious and rightly so. On top of everything they hadn’t even fixed the leaks! We can handle quite a lot with a good amount of grace and patience but this was one epic fail Myanmar.
It’s cobra birthing season. Who would have known? Twice this week they have found snakes on campus, in my building! Apparently they were just little baby snakes that can’t even open their mouths large enough to bite anyone but try telling that to Kim. Knowing her fear of snakes I decided to keep this information to myself, however Sharon spilled the beans and I was met at the apartment door on Tuesday with a bug-eyed Kim holding a knife and insisting I check all of my bags for snakes before I enter the house. This greeting kept consistent for the next couple days. Apparently this is a common thing here, last year they had a huge issue and were finding snakes in lockers and backpacks. They ended up closing school for a day or so to have a specialist come in. Good thing I don’t mind the little slithery creatures.
Early in the week Kim had a small break out of eczema on her hand. For those of you who don’t know her, she has been fighting regular breakouts of sever hand eczema for over a dozen years not. During a break out her hands go through stages of itchy, uncomfortable, painful, dry, and much worse. I don’t want to be too graphic so I will leave it at that. Any who, although we have yet to find a cure or preventative for the eczema, sometimes if she gets to the doctors in time she can get medication to slow down the process. So on Wednesday afternoon we found ourselves headed down the road to Asia Pacific, the local clinic that was highly recommended to us by other ISM teachers. After waiting just under five minutes (as a walk in) we were escorted to the patient room where the doctor quickly arrived. As Kim explained the situation the doctor patiently listened and asked questions. After examining her hand the doctor brought back a few medications for her (anti-inflammatory, steroid cream, solution to sterilize the open wound, etc.) then insisted that we return in a few days if the hand wasn’t better.
The appointment took all of one hour including walking time. The total amount paid for the appointment was $15 usd and the medication was another $8. It was the easiest experience I have every had with a medical situation – no unnecessary tests or vitals, no irrelevant questions or fancy words, simply listening to the patient and providing the necessary care in a (much) timely fashion. We could get used to this.
On Thursday Kim went to the Zoo with Sharon and the two kids, H & K. In Kim’s recount of it, the zoo was kind of depressing. The housing for the animals was very bleak with little vegetation. The animals themselves were few and not very exciting. The word is that when they moved the capital from Yangon to a no-ones town up north they took all the “good” and “interesting” animals with them to create a zoo up there. On the bright side it was a fun adventure especially for the little ones. I will have to go back with Kim sometime and have a look for myself. Kim only got a few pictures before the camera died unfortunately.
On Thursday evening I had an Open House at the High School. It was my first time interacting with any parents (aside from the lunch that the PTA held for us when we first arrived). The experience was kind of dull seeing as I only got 5 parent visitors in to see me, which is about average as the school tends to have very low turn outs at parent events like this. Although all of my students speak very good English from having been in this international school setting for so long, the majority of the parents do not speak any English. Luckily I had my assistant with me to translate but it was still a bit awkward to know what to talk about. Surprisingly most of the parents wanted to know about how to get their kids set up to take AP Art courses. More surprising is the fact that these kids are only in 9th grade right now. (Seniors, occasionally juniors, take AP courses as preparation for college) Students and parents at this school have somehow gotten the idea that the more AP classes the student takes, the better chance they have for getting into college. It is a crazy sort of epidemic that many of the teachers and administration here have a difficult time figuring out what to do with.
Although I don't have any pictures from this night, here is a slideshow that I played for the parents throughout the evening of the students working so far this year:
Alisa & Kim
Two expats living, teaching, and eating their way across this beautiful world