Friday, September 27, 2013

Rules of the Road

Well, that title might not be exactly appropriate. I think it might be more accurate if it said "Suggestions of the road... but really, do whatever you want." I've officially been driving in Malaysia for 2.5 weeks. Before I started I would go back and forth daily about whether or not I REALLY wanted to risk it.

Good days: "Yeah, I got this. I know lots of Americans who drive here without any problem."
Bad days: "I just heard about 3 people hitting motorcyclists or buses. Taxis aren't that bad are they?"

I decided it needed to happen, and so I did it. It was actually surprisingly easy to pick up! I was most nervous about the other side of the road thing, but that seems to be the least of my worries. Mom just kept reminding me that the driver is always in the middle of the road. I think learning to drive in the DC Metro area was actually extremely beneficial to driving here. You learn how to drive with an 'aggressive defense', as my co-worker explained it. I told my new roommate it was like driving in Fairfax and she, also having lived in Fairfax, (and even graduating from my high school... what are the chances!?) said... "Maybe a little worse." Haha. True. Very true.

Without further ado, here are some of the "rules" I've learned of how to drive properly in Malaysia.

1) If you want to park there, just park there. Seriously. Anywhere. Behind a car. In front of a car. In the middle of the road. Next to the fire hydrant. You may get honked at if other people can't get out or through, but if you're not there to hear it, they'll usually find another way around. Or find a way to call you or have you paged (at church you always here announcements about such-and-such license plate needs to move his or her car).
2) If you want to merge, merge. Don't use a blinker. Don't feel the need to speed up to the moving rate of traffic. Don't worry about cutting me off in the middle of an intersection as the light is turning red leaving me nowhere to go. Just get over whenever you feel like it and maybe if you're having a good day, give a little wave behind you.
3) If you want to make a new lane, make a new lane. In the middle of an already 3 lane wide round-about? Sure, why not. If you want to exit from said inside lane, do it. You'll only cause crazy traffic and a bunch of horns honking, but at least you'll be on your way. At a light next to two turn lanes turning onto a two lane road? Do it. It will only prevent 75% of the cars from getting through the light, but no big deal. 
4) Honk. All the time. No matter what the problem is, that will solve it. 
5) Red lights are suggestions... if that. As long as there are no cars coming, or at least any coming quickly, you can go through the intersection... you and the three cars after you. I'm not even really sure why they have yellow lights.
6) Don't pay attention to the arrows painted on the road. They'll most likely tell you incorrect information. I drive past two daily that have a straight arrow connected to a turn arrow.. if you continue straight, you quickly discover the lane is a turn only entrance to the highway. There's also one that has a right turn arrow (which I later discovered is actually their 'merge' arrow) in a left turn only lane. I'm still hoping to get a picture of that one. It's just too good. :) 
7) There will be a motorcycle within 10 feet of you at all times. Usually more like 6 inches away. Even when you don't see them, they'll be there any second. They just pop out of nowhere going way too fast and weaving way too much!
7) Be ready for anything. ANYTHING.

I'm sure there are plenty more to come. Let's just say, driving here has definitely strengthened my prayer life and made me just a teeny bit homesick for driving the back roads back home.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Great Car Search

Two weeks into our school year, we moved locations. We knew we would be doing this going in, but it didn't really make the transition any easier. Since the location we moved to is about 10 extra minutes away (at the 'right' time of day... 15 minutes - forever longer at the "wrong" time) and kind of in the middle of nowhere, I felt my life would be so much less stressful if I had my own car. At the other school it was very easy to walk to the mall, restaurants, or even home, and very easy to get a taxi as well. Not the case with the new place.

So, my search started over the summer with me emailing a few families here to ask if anyone knew of a budget car for sale. For whatever reason, cars in Malaysia are incredibly expensive. Like, ridiculously. Multiple times when I told people my price range, they looked at me with a strange "are you joking?" sort of look. I figured I only needed the car for a year and it only had to get me around town. I didn't need anything fancy, just something that runs. Also, since I know absolutely nothing about cars except how to turn them on and drive them, I was thinking it'd be nice to go through a trusted source. The only other car I've bought in my life was in America, with my parents, test driven by my car-fixing uncle, and inspected by our family mechanic before purchase. As you can imagine, that is not how it went here.

Enter Car #1. One of the families from our school has a business and said they had an extra car they could sell me. The price was right, I waited until they could bring it... and it was a manual. Oops. I guess I should have clarified, I don't know how to drive that. And I'd prefer not to learn on the other side of the road in a country that doesn't really follow traffic laws. But, it was ok. They said they had another one that was automatic. So, I waited another week, they brought it out to me and...

Yes, yes that is a cassette tape player.
Yes, yes that is 417,493 KM on the odometer (259,418 mi).

But, no big deal. I said I didn't need anything fancy as long as it ran. Right. Except it didn't. For the first day, everywhere I drove it would shake, make weird noises, check engine light flashed, etc. On the second day, it had a flat tire. On the third day, it wouldn't start in the morning. Prayed. Tried again. It worked. Got it to school and it didn't start that afternoon. I texted our friends and told them I so appreciated their help and effort in getting me wheels, but I was going to look for something with a few less miles.

Thankfully, mom showed up for a short visit the day it didn't start, so for the next two days we were checking websites, making phone calls, visiting dealers, and eating lots of yummy food. After one other test drive that just didn't feel right and a few other "Malaysia" moments, we found "the car."

It's a 1998 Kia Sephia (yes, I understand that that is more than twice as old as my students, but I told you I had a budget!). It has less than 150,000 km on it. It's purple and has a CD player. What more could I need? Oh yeah, and it works... pretty well. It's definitely not the 2005 Altima that I had in VA, but it's perfect for what I need it for.

I couldn't get that 'dead yak' (as my co-worker called it) off my dashboard quickly enough! WHY would that ever be put there?!
I'm so blessed by and thankful for this car! It's been amazing having the freedom to go wherever I want whenever I want without having to rely on taxis or friends. The driving itself has been interesting, but that's a blog for another day.. :)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Friendship Salad

I am not and will never claim to be a true Kindergarten teacher. You can spot those teachers from a mile away with all their cuteness and bubbly-ness and creativity. They can tie shoes, wipe noses, and sing a song about anything and everything all at the same time... while smiling. They are incredible. That is not me. Moving here, I was the only one with any semblance of little-kid teaching (I student taught in 1st grade way back when!), so that's the role I got. Thankfully, this year we hired a full-time Kindergarten teacher, so I am only doing 1st and 2nd. But, they're still little.

I taught 4th grade for 3 years and during that time I thought THOSE kids needed a lot of help and training in things that I always took for granted as being 'everyone knows that'... not the case. Kids actually do have to be taught how to take turns talking, how to solve their tiffs with words and without pouting or fighting, etc.

One of the standards for the First Grade Social Studies curriculum is, "Understand that good citizens work hard in school and play fairly." When I read that, it was kind of a 'Duh!' moment for me.. as in "Duh! Everyone knows that!". But, wanting to do my job well and make sure I taught what I was supposed to teach, I headed to the internet to find some ideas. One of the first ones I found was for Friendship Salad and I remembered making this when I was student teaching. I thought it was ridiculous then, and I thought it was just as ridiculous as I wrote it in my lesson plans. Summer brain has made it quite difficult to once again put myself in the place of a six-year-old to think about what is funny or cool or too hard. Alas, we made the salad and they loved it and I think they might've actually learned from it. Ha ha.

The idea behind Friendship Salad is that you build a fruit salad with each piece being symbolic of something in the classroom.
Grapes - Students. (I told my kids they were the closest fruit I could find to looking like a head). These stand for smart, tidy, helpful, and kind students.
Strawberries - Hard-workers. Students who try their best and finish all of their work.
Mini-Marshmallows - Sweet, nice words that we say to one another.
Yogurt - The happy, good feelings we get when we are using these words. The bond that holds our class together.
Mix it all together and talk about how beautiful and yummy it looks. Then, you pull out a rotten banana and act like you're going to put that in. The kids all say, "Ewww. Don't put that in. Why would you do that? Etc." Then we have a little discussion about what kind of "rotten bananas" we can have in our classroom (fighting, mean words, disrespect, selfishness, laziness, etc) and we all agree that we don't want that. Then we eat the yummy salad.
"Show me your best "Rotten Banana Face'"
You may think this is the corniest thing you've ever heard of, and I would agree wholeheartedly. It was clearly thought of by someone way more Kindergarten-y than me. However, it does provide a good reference point for the future when kids are showing 'rotten banana' behaviors and gives us something to can refer back to.

Oh, and did I mention it was super yummy?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

You Know You Teach Overseas When....

We've started our second year at the Learning Center in Malaysia. Our school has grown to 35 students (K-12). After the world's longest summer (literally! It was 94 days!!), it's been fun to see all the returning kids and meet all of our new ones. I'm pretty sure my brain is still in summer mode, while at the same time it feels like we've already been teaching 130 days instead of 3. This could be a problem!

I have 4/6 of the same students as last year and I'm loving it. It's so nice to already know their levels and what they were taught last year, to know each others' personalities and quirks, and to not have to spend so much time on rules, routines, and expectations (although we have been doing quite a bit of review!).

Over the past couple days I've had a couple moments where I just had to step back and say, "Yup, I'm definitely not in America anymore." Here are some examples...

1) We did a "get to know you" math activity on the second day. The students each got a little pack of M&Ms and were asked to sort them by color (sorting is a first grade skill, they aced it!). Then, they had to count how many of each color they had. On the board, I had questions corresponding to each color. We went around first and whichever color M&M each student had the most of, he or she had to answer that question. For example, if she had the most blue M&Ms, she had to answer the question on the blue paper. Then we did the same thing with least. (Comparing numbers is a first grade skill, again, aced it!) After we were done answering the questions, each student had to create a bar graph with their M&M data. (Graphing is a first grade skill.. we might need a little more time on this one!) My questions were:
a) What was your favorite summer activity? Why?
b) If you could be any animal, what would you be? Why?
c) What are you most excited about in school this year? Why?
d) What is your favorite school subject? Why?
e) If you could go anywhere in the world for one day, where would you go? Why?
(There are actually six M&M colors.. I forgot about brown! Oops! If I do this again next year, I'll add the question, "If you had $1,000,000, what would you do? Why?")

Question #5 is the one where I realized that some of my students might be American by nationality, but definitely are not AMERICAN. :) I imagine my students back in Virginia would've said they'd go to Busch Gardens Amusement Park or maybe Washington, D.C. or even something as crazy as California. Not the case here. My six-year-old student said, "China. They have dumplings everywhere and I love dumplings."
Then, one of my boys said, "I'd go to Russia."
Me: "Why?"
Him: "No, maybe not. I think I'd go to Thailand or Indonesia because they have good food and beaches."
Ok. Point taken. You already know more countries than most adults in America. :)

2) I sent home an "All About Me" form with them on the first night to fill out with the help of their parents. One of the questions was, "Who is your favorite celebrity?" One of my students answered, "Miss Wacek". Ha ha! Clearly 'celebrity' doesn't have the same meaning over here.

3) We were doing a "Math All Around Me" quilt for our lesson today. I asked them different places in the 'real world' that we use Math. They started off with answers like "if you're a teacher" and "when you give us homework," but we were finally able to get to "points in a soccer game," "prices at the store," "what time gymnastics starts," etc. For the quilt, they have to make 8 different squares related to numbers and math in their life. They started off with easy ones like how many siblings? What time is your favorite subject in school? When is your birthday? The last one of the day was "What is your favorite restaurant and what is their telephone number?" Instead of McDonalds, Golden Corral, and Taco Bell, I got answers like "Nasi Kandar" (Malaysian food), "Din Tai Fung," (dumplings) and "Thai Thai".

I love my little international babies. Here's to a great year! :)