Thursday, May 31, 2007

School and all that

Thank God for the long weekend (tomorrow is the Buddhist holiday Waisak). It’s about time we had a small break. Then again, next week is last week of school. Just that it’s been a huge term, a lot to do and a lot to get through. The past week or two we have all felt tired, people are starting to let things slip a bit, and it takes some effort to start thinking about next year and what has to be done in preparation. It’s a bit hard to gee up the troops but you give it your best shot, though at times it’s the last thing you feel like doing!

Today I had a meeting with all the diploma teachers and the discussion was about preparing a study camp for the new students entering the DP next school year (July). It was going fairly smoothly until one of the expats decided to raise some objections to what we were planning. It can be difficult if an expat raises cons against something, as it affects how the national teachers view it. Possibly I wasn’t explaining well enough what we were going to try to achieve. Still, some good points were made and it did make us focus more closely on the overall aims.

Left the meeting feeling a bit drained trying to balance the nationals with their concerns, the expats with theirs, and noting that for some, all was going in one ear and out the other. Never mind. We will revisit it all next week on a student free day and try to get some closure on just what is expected from the various departments.

The CD photo magazine I had been trying to get off the ground is finally almost there. Spent literally hours sorting through thousands of photos selecting the best ones etc, gave all the files to the computer guy to put into a template to then be burnt onto a CD-Rom which is given to every family in the school. I made it very clear that I wanted it done by a certain date so we wouldn’t have to go through the same last minute agonies of the previous year when we did it. I impressed upon him the importance of working to a schedule, checked on him every second day and discussed developments, checked and worked through the bugs etc. Thought it was all going swimmingly but then had to deal with checking the hundreds of report comments of other teachers for grammar etc so left him alone for a few days. Big mistake. He apparently decided to let it sit when it was due last Friday. Monday he tells me, and then he says Tuesday, and then Wednesday, finally he delivers Thursday afternoon. It still has to go the publisher to be printed, around 500 copies and be ready by next Wednesday. The time line is once again screwed. In some ways Indonesian teachers just don’t see the requirement to work along guidelines nor timelines. It can be very frustrating at times. Still, he finally got it all together (albeit with some errors that we just don’t have time to fix but small enough that hopefully they wont be too noticeable) so now it’s just a matter of hoping the publisher can get it sorted by next week.

We had the MYP (IB Middle Years Programme) graduation at the Sheraton hotel last night. The students organised most of it and did a great job of it. The whole thing went off very well. It was out first fully MYP educated group (years 7-10) so we were all justifiably proud of them. They received their certificates, sang songs, played instruments and generally did themselves and us proud. Made me feel that even though there are frustrations at times, the kids really do make it all so worthwhile. Guess that’s why I enjoy the teaching as much as I do. Feeling down? Grumpy? Tired? Just walk into a classroom and they will soon have you right. I’ve lost count of the number of times my students have made me feel great, so good that when I leave the classroom all is rosy once more with a spring in the step.

You just cant remain grumpy when you are faced with all these kids looking up to you for guidance, showing off their accomplishments, smiling, cracking jokes, eager to prove they can do the work and then some. You wander around the classroom, a quiet chat here and there, give advice where needed, point some back onto task (which they do with a sheepish grin), and let them be what they are meant to be. Enquirers, independent, risk takers and so on. All the attributes of the IB student learner profile and attitudes. For some they might just be words, but for our kids, they take on a life of their own. We seek to demonstrate and show them that by living the attributes of the student learner profile and attitudes they are both free to take on their own studies with academic rigour and at the same time achieve much more than what we and they may expect.

Yes, there are problems with the MYP, at times it can be a bit nebulous for some teachers and indeed parents who are not up on just what it is we are trying to do, but the results speak for themselves. One of our year 9 students flew to Sweden last week to take place in the Volvo Environmental Challenge competition which had entrants from over 70 countries. We heard yesterday that she and her partner from another school won first prize! An amazing accomplishment for an Indonesian ESL student up against students from all over Europe.

Sadly, parents still think that we don’t deliver in the senior high school even though our results are just as good as any other school. They mistrust our methods, preferring to think of school as a place where rote learning is paramount. Since we avoid such archaic practices, students are regularly withdrawn at the end of year 9 when they finish the national school exams and placed in the older established schools which cram 40-50 kids into a room and drill them until they can do the year 12 exams. We get exactly if not better results but prefer to use the student centred model of learning which allows them to become independent learners. Then again, it could be that parents distrust making their kids into independent thinkers. Group harmony is a big thing in Indonesia, where kids do as they are told and follow their parents slavishly even if they have little desire to do so.

I remember one student I had in year 12, a very bright girl who wanted desperately to go travelling overseas and study elsewhere. Her father vetoed it, placed her in a local university to study accounting so she could help the family business and ruled that she would only ever work from home until she was married.

Females here are still very much second class citizens in many homes, even those which are in the upper echelons of society in terms of material wealth. A girl is second always to her brother. The boy gets what ever he wants; the girl is made to stay home and is protected until she marries.

So, anyways, this is the culture I live in and given there is little I can do about it, one just goes along with it as best you can. It is incredibly rewarding, and at times, incredibly frustrating. To survive and go home at night without carrying extra baggage, you have to either let it go or deal with it. If you can change it, do so. If you can’t, try to figure out a way to deal with it for the best possible outcome.

Teaching. It’s a life. It’s consuming. It’s annoying. It’s rewarding. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lil C finds Monty for a cuddle so Lil D gets the next best thing, his truck!
They play as another day begins.


Early morning and Lil C comes downstairs. C is busy reading the children's school diaries and Patsy is making their lunches.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

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I've been practising with the zoom on my camera, a Canon A540. Difficult to get it just so, but an attempt none the less.
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This is Monty, the kitten that joined our household after found wandering around the street by our neighbour. He has become a favourite of the kids, and delights in lying behind corners to jump on unsuspecting people wandering past. He is also quite the scamp, but puts up with the uncomfortable holds lilD persists to use when picking him up, suffers all sorts of indignities and comes back for more.
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Tulip and associated matters

Had a good night last night. It was the annual Tulip foundation quiz night held at the one and only Jatim club. The foundation is a worthy one, finding and treating children with cleft palates, and also renovating rundown schools, providing financial assistance to orphanages, and school fees to those deemed most worthy. It’s run by a small group of 12 people, my wife one of them, and last night was a fundraiser in the manner of a quiz night. There was a good turnout at the Jatim, tables having loud and great fun. At the last minute I dropped out of my schools table of expat teachers and went and joined some other friends as there were only 3 blokes. The wife of one of the fellas also joined us so it was the five us ready to do battle. So we raised the banner and set to the quiz with intent, beer, snacks and laughter. By the end of the quiz, we hadn’t done too badly against the larger groups, coming in second last but only trailing the school team by 8 points which I thought was pretty good!

The night then became a general one of drink and conversation, and by 1am it was, as usual, only C and I and a few others left. So we headed off into the night somewhat weary but well satisfied.

Did have some interesting conversations through the evening. One fellow told me that having lived O/S for the last 17 years, in various countries, his favourite was Argentina, and said I should check it out, strongly recommending it as an interesting place to live, specifically Buenos Aires.

So, I will, nothing ventured…

Another conversation that came up was the seemingly dwindling number of expats in Surabaya. Companies are outsourcing, moving their operations due to reasons of being more tax friendly and the presence of legal certainty to be found in countries such as Thailand and Vietnam. For instance, the local and one and only American international school has buildings which can fit up to around 650 kids, but instead manages a total of fewer than 250 kids. Most of the students are Korean, Taiwanese, Indonesian, and only a small group of western kids. One does wonder why the parents would send their kids there given that it’s an American curriculum and we offer the International baccalaureate which is transferable to most other countries these days, while the American curriculum is fast losing its presence as more and more schools switch to the IB. But that’s by the by. What is of some concern is that expat families are being reduced, the costs for companies to settle a family in the corporate lifestyle is enormous, and thus companies are now focussing on either single men or cutting expat numbers altogether. While it’s a great lifestyle here, far less traffic, greenery, golf and family clubs galore etc, it’s really a city for young families; as children get older parents want them to be introduced to their own culture.

The one fellow I was talking to who has been overseas for 17 years has kids who have never lived in Australia. They are truly third culture kids, but he and his wife feel its time to give them a taste of their own culture. Well, in reality it’s the parents culture. The kids will probably find it quite difficult settling into a very different lifestyle without maids and drivers and the natural sense of being in a status class of their own. The eldest is twelve and I think for him to adjust to a different way of life and social interaction will be difficult in the sense that he has only ever really experienced belonging to a select group of kids. Thrown into the mainstream Australian schooling most probably will be quite a shock to the system. However, he and his younger siblings are just that, young, and should adjust fairly quickly.

Their parents are a different story. I posted some years back an article examining how people who have lived overseas a long time find it increasingly difficult to settle back into their home culture. To move from what could be considered to be a pampered and fairly exclusive lifestyle to one of middle suburbia. I wonder how we ourselves would cope with moving back. While always self sufficient and we haven’t made it a policy of depending on maids etc, I’m sure it’ll come as a bit of a culture shock to have to fend for ourselves and do all those things we take, at times, for granted.

Anyway, as I was saying before, the expat community here is dwindling in number at the moment. I’m not saying its only a small group but in the past two years we have seen off a number of people moving either back to their home countries or to another country due to work. SBY (president of Indonesia) will have to do some hard work in ensuring factories and businesses currently here or contemplating moving here is supported. The fact that there is little legal certainty here is always a worry.

For instance, in Jakarta at the moment, there is a 78 hectare development of housing, government buildings and schools etc that have suddenly been informed that the land they thought belonged to them in point of fact belongs to a little known land developer. This Supreme Court ruling has everyone scratching their heads. The company doesn’t have an office, is represented by a few lawyers, and somehow, they manage to convince a court that the land people have been living on for over 30 years belongs to them. Go figure.

The governor of Jakarta has swung into action due to wide spread protests and is reassuring people that they wont lose their homes. However, the court ruling is still there. For the past couple of weeks the Jakarta Post has been carrying the story every day. Not once or twice, but everyday. I believe the concern out there is so great that the paper feels it has to defend these thousands of people who stand to lose their homes. We aren’t talking about a shanty town but developed housing estates people bought into in good faith. They have legal documents etc. but the court has ruled that the developer had prior ownership of the land and it was sold by a third party over 30 years ago with the help of corrupt government officials.

That no one knows who the developer is, a shadowy company with no office, no public records, and no representation except for some lawyers, is to say the least, very weird.

Another case in point. Well known company “Wedgwood” wants to spend around 25 million dollars upgrading its factories, building a new plant etc but feel they can’t as the existing one has been held to ransom for the supply of natural gas. They didn’t go so far as to say this but their meaning was made clear in the papers. They have appealed to the government to help sort their problem out which is basically that for the past few months the supply of natural gas for their factories has been reduced significantly, resulting in layoffs and reduced production. Waving the carrot of 25million to ensure resupply of the gas is, it seems, the only way the feel they can get resumed supply.

This was exactly the same problem that hit my friend who runs a very large factory producing x. I won’t say what as it would be a direct pointer to him and the company. Suffice to say that his company is one of the largest multinationals in the world, has a name going back years, and is instantly recognisable. Gas was cut, resulting in massive losses and layoffs, and they were screwed for paying more. It took six months and countless ‘negotiations’ before the gas supply was returned to its full volume. He has since left for another country to take stewardship of a subsidiary of the same company, but not before saying that unless the government steps in and ensures corrupt officials are dealt with, the manufacturing industry is in its twilight years here.

Another storm brewing at the moment is the presidents arch enemy, a presidential candidate from the last elections has been accused of receiving funds for his campaign from sources he shouldn’t have. Quick as a flash, he has turned around and said well, if I am guilty, then so is the president as he also rec’d the same sort of funds. SBY made front page news this week denouncing his opponent and stating that he might sue for defamation. SBY has run on a platform of accountability and anti corruption so to be accused so publicly has seriously damaged him. This will either simmer or will boil. Guess it depends on what the opponent’s next step will be. He has been very publicly warned off, and I’m sure that even now he is considering if he went too far in accusing the most powerful man in Indonesia of corruption. Would not want to be in his shoes. Then again, to make such a public accusation could mean that he has something up his sleeve. I mean to say, would he dumb enough to threaten the president if he didn’t? Nothing surprises me here.

Hmm, all this from what was supposed to be a small post on a worthy charity called Tulip. If you feel like donating to this worthy foundation, let me know and I’ll put one of the board members in contact with you.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Drivers and all that

I've been trying for the past few days to upload pictures but for some reason it just doesn't work, either directly through the blog or through picasa.

Not sure why.

Anyways, apart from that its all been pretty quiet on the home front, not much except work etc. though we did go to a friends house on Saturday night and enjoyed a good gathering to farewell another expat who is leaving, heading home to Brisbane. Sunday spent the day recovering after getting home uncharacteristically in the wee hours of the ironing. a good bash though!

One thing that did happen that has caused some problems was the sudden departure of Suki our driver. After a few words with C on Tuesday morning, when she queried him where he was after he disappeared for awhile and she needed him, he upped and left. In some ways its not such a loss, he was, we heard later, hassling some of the maids around us, and they were getting a bit upset with him, though why on earth no one told us is beyond me. He was also starting to take time off work, which always leaves us in the lurch as it means C has to to make five trips to the school for drop offs and pickups which upsets the study pattern quite a bit.

We haven't heard from him since though as a colleague is finishing up in June we offered his driver the job which he was keen on until Suki rang him and told him he didn't want him to take it. Apparently Suki thought if I couldn't find a driver I would ask him to come back to the job. Not a chance as far as we are both concerned. So the friends driver backed out, worried of causing bad blood and we have had to accept this.

This whole business, does give an interesting insight into the silence that surrounds the doings of the maids and drivers. We are, as my principal is fond of saying, the last to find things out by the very fact that we are expats and not kept in the loop. We had noticed that Patsy has been moping about a bit, to the point that C sat her down and tried to find out the problem but to no avail. In the end C asked her if she wanted to leave she seemed so miserable but she didn't yet also didn't offer any explanation. Since Suki has gone she has suddenly cheered up considerably, C reckons she is a changed person so we can only put it down to the notion that Suki must have been pressuring her, not sure whether it was sexual or financial (he had borrowed money off her in the past). That we had not noticed any of this is sad, somehow we/I feel responsible even though I know Patsy would not have said anything if I had asked her directly about Suki.

To compound the problem, C leaves for Australia on Saturday for two weeks which means we need someone to take and pickup Lil D and pickup Lil C after school. For the moment we will have to rely on friends drivers until we find someone.

So, the drums beat, the word goes out, and within two days we have had two chaps turn up on our doorstep asking for a job.
Did interview one of them this afternoon, and he took the car around for a spin, slowly and nervously I thought, and while keen for the job, had little idea how to change gears or use them for that matter. Also, both too young, I would feel more comfortable with an older experienced driver rather than someone in his mid twenties. I know,I know, ageist leanings are taking the fore here, but I figure an older fella would be more calm under pressure of traffic etc. and know how to drive in Surabaya traffic which only comes with years of experience.

This evening we have had two friends ring with news of friends or husbands of their maids wanting the job so it looks like I'll be interviewing a few this weekend. Hopefully we will get someone soon as I don't like imposing on friends.

Tomorrow is Friday and yet another going away event is going to be held at a friends place for the same couple whose going away we went to last weekend! Apparently someone thought it would be fun to have one more together so we figure why not? Any excuse for a party :)


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