Well, we’re alive and still abroad, just impossibly busy. Running the upper school while trying to teach four classes has been challenging- my hardest teaching year so far. I’m enjoying seeing education from both teaching and administrative angles, but it gives me little leisure time outside of a regular visit to Tortuga in the evening once the family is asleep. Finally we are on a more substantial break, and I’m typing this on the balcony of our hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, 7 km from the Angkor Wat temple complex, a location that has been deep in my bucket list. I won’t spoil the report on that just yet.
We hit the ground running after new teacher orientations, as our friends returned from their summer vacations and we quickly settled back into our jobs. Cian is now a full fledged kindergartener still under the wing of Ms. Elsa and Aine started at a new, better fit pre-school. Our weekend routine has become a visit or two to the school pool, which is in easy walking distance, quiet, and gives the kids lots of time to practice their swimming. Cian continues to become a fish and Aine around the middle of October decided she likes swimming after all, and now cries when she has to get out of the pool.
Halloween came quickly, and the usual gang of teacher kids made their way through Paladian Park to the teacher apartments trick or treating. Thanksgiving soon followed, and PAFA (Parents and Friends Association), costumed as culturally inappropriate and somewhat too revealing pilgrims and Native Americans, threw the student body and faculty a huge Thanksgiving dinner, from cranberry sauce to pumpkin pie. Soon it was time to prepare for Santa claus’s arrival with the kids decorating their postage stamp-sized Christmas tree and making Christmas cupcakes in our toaster oven. Despite any Santa naughty or nice list, the kids made out like bandits without one question of how Mr. Kringle gets into our apartment. Sarah and I are on the Naughty List, however, because we dead-on lied to the kids and put Christmas on December 20th, since we were leaving for our winter break vacation and didn’t want to lug all the presents with us. Sorry, Santa, but we got no magic sleigh for our stuff.
In typical fashion, our school’s central office couldn’t get their heads or their organisation around the idea that teachers need their work visas renewed for the next school year. After weeks of preparation, dodging the Ministry of Immigration, and applying for temporary visas, we finally received the go-ahead in the beginning of October for the business office and I to arrange all the teachers and their families flights and stays in Singapore so work visas could be processed out-of-country. The logistics were astounding, but we closed school for a Thursday and Friday, shipped everyone to Singapore, sorted out visas, and returned to Jakarta on Sunday.
Singapore is a cement and steel, impeccably clean, vertical ultramodern wonderland of a city, in stark contrast to many of its Southeast Asian urban neighbours. Stepping off the plane from dingy, dystopian Jakarta we were dumbstruck, like humans abducted to an advanced alien civilisation. Between my runs processing teacher visas, we went to the world renowned Singapore Zoo, the snazzy Science Centre Singapore (a kid favourite) and took a stroll through China Town. The prices in Singapore, however, were astronomical and the whole ambience seemed too, well, eerily perfect. Chewing gum is outlawed in the city and you can be caned for such crimes as vandalism, (though it does help in deterring the casual litterbug). By Saturday, we all secretly longed for our pollution-filled (yet charismatic) Jakarta back.
Our October break brought us to Jogjakarta, the cultural centre of Java and the pride and joy of the Javanese people. Originally a sultanate and still considered a special region in Indonesia, “Jogja” and its surrounding lands are steeped in Indonesian history. It is the base for exploring two phenomenal monuments constructed in the mid-ninth century, remnants of the great Mataram kingdom that once ruled the area. Prambanan is an ancient, towering Hindu temple built to honour the Trimurti (the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer). Although ravaged by time and crumbled by earthquakes, most recently in 2006, Prambanan temple stands as a vestige of the expansive Hindu empire that ruled here. The complex has gone through extensive, careful reconstruction, and many of the monuments can still be climbed today. It provides a historical background to the complexities and beauty of Javanese culture, and their Hindu roots are still apparent today. Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, is truly enormous, almost pyramidal in shape. As you make your way around the concentric, rising layers of the temple, the detailed engravings along the walls tell the story of the life of the Buddha, but not without a healthy sprinkling of Javanese beliefs. At the top are 72 hollow stupas surrounding the tall central stupa, each containing a Buddha statue inside. The architecture and stonework are exquisite and the view from the top breathtaking.
We were also able to take a peek at Taman Sari, the 18th century Sultan’s holiday resort, where he would get away from it all. Known as the Water Castle, many now empty bathing pools can be found, some of which were once used for swimming by the Sultan’s numerous concubines (its good to be the king). The highlight of the trip for the kids, however, was our visit to the active volcano Mount Merapi, which we accomplished off-roading in an open Jeep. Smoke and ash can easily be seen rising from the central crater. The makeshift museum from the 2010 eruption contains a haphazard array of items damaged by pyroclastic flow all under the damaged roof of a home that once stood before the eruption. Cow skeletons, melted cassette tapes, and boulders thrown from the volcano, all on a dusty Jeep ride- what else do you need for a youngster’s wow-factor?
So, what’s next? What’s next is now, our winter break vacation exploring Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. Its a whirlwind tour of mainland Southeast Asia and already chock full of adventures to tell you about. Much more to come, folks, so stay tuned.
Happy Holidays, everyone!