Monday, September 17, 2012

A Few More Pictures of Penang

The island from the air, facing west. Google satellite image, our apartment location marked. The school grounds

This Is Where We Live

Images from top to bottom: Aya on the boat to monkey beach in the national park, view from our living room balcony, view from our bedroom, our car, view of our tower (the right one of the two)at miami green Now that we have been in Penang for around a month I feel ready to write down my initial thoughts. That and I have just been way too busy to write. After one of the longest flights of my life, 15 hours to Hong Kong, we spent the night and then took another 7 hour flight to Penang/Georgetown. As we came over the island of Penang (meaning betelnut island) the pilot informed us that we would be crossing right over the length of the island before turning about and landing on the south side. It was a clear evening and we could easily see the island with what appeared to be many jungle covered mountains and tightly packed urban areas. Upon landing we were collected by the vice principal and brought to a hotel where we would spend the next 5 days and it then occurred to me that we would be living in a place most people come to vacation at. Hawkers, sunburned skin, and beach wear abounded. The next week or so was spent in a frenzy trying to find an apartment and a car, neither of which was an easy decision. We finally settled on a place near Miami Beach which is a little strip of sand and palms a 20 minute drive from Georgetown and a 10 minute drive from my school. We tried to find a place that would put us somewhere in between so that Aya would not have to commute as far should she find a job in town. We picked an apartment in Miami Green Condominiums. I really feel satisfied with the living space here. We have a 14th floor apartment with three bedrooms/2 bath, a balcony facing the sea and decent sea views in all three bedrooms. The grounds is patrolled by security, has two pools, sauna, weight room, a convenience store and laundry and probably best of all it is set back from the main road so remains fairly quiet. It took us a little while to find a car as well, but we now own a 2003 Kia Rio. Cars here are expensive. Most of the new teachers have not gotten new cars, though I think in time they will. There is a nice transit system here, but it is still far more convenient to have your own transportation. Through an advert we contacted a Korean couple who was just about to move, lucky for us. Though getting the titled changed and insurance has proved to be a pain. Petrol/gas is very cheap. By my estimates I think it would be about 2.25 to 2.50 US per gallon. Other prices are cheap here too. Eating out at a local place will set you back about 3-4 dollars US unless you go to nicer restaurants or possibly even cheaper food stalls. Aya and I had some mediocre curry with rice, nan, and a drink each for 7 ringgit the other night. That is just over 2 dollars for the both of us. Food prices are cheaper than the US, but it really depends what you buy. Since Aya and I are prone to buying a mix of domestic staples and foreign luxuries, we aren’t really saving on that front but nor are we breaking the bank. Most unfortunate for me is that even domestic swill is 2 or 3 dollars for a 350ml can in a grocery store. I have plans in the works to start brewing my own. Services are cheaper than the US. I haven’t figured out yet if there is a minimum wage, but I have seen signs advertising no skill service jobs at 9RM an hour, which is about 3 dollars. Unfortunately Aya hasn’t found a job straight off so I keep urging her to apply for one of these service jobs, half in jest. I don’t think she has reached the edge yet, but there are only so many days you can spend by the pool/tidying the house/doing the shopping before you start to get stir crazy. Luckily she did just land a once a week tutoring job. If she can get a few more of those then I think we would be sitting nicely. Meanwhile she is going to keep working on getting her teaching degree in Japan by taking more correspondence courses and occasionally traveling there to attend classes and take tests. She may even do student teaching in her hometown this spring. Fortunately my salary, in this country, is good enough that she doesn’t have to work if she doesn’t want to and I think I could even save a bit as well. So far I have had one short week and two regular 5 day weeks at school. Before I came I was shocked at the schedule they were proposing that I do. That still holds. Currently I teach year 10, 11, 12, and 13 Economics. Year 10 and 11 are IGCSE, year 12 and 13 are IB. The year 13 may be confusing to Americans, it is the same as our system just notch the kids up one. The year 13s are just as old as seniors in high school. Within that I teach one section of the 10’s, two sections of the 11’s, a combined class of the 12’s (there were two sections, but it got lumped into one) and two sections of the 13’s. Of those I teach a total of 30 hours a week. I know that may not make sense to non-educators, but let me compare it to what the average teacher does in the US. If I were teaching in the US I would likely teach year 12 and 13 only, only the IB. There would likely be two sections of 13’s and three sections of 12’s. I would teach for a total of 25 hours a week. To recap, here at my current job 4 year groups totaling 30 hours a week. In the US 2 year groups totaling 25 hours a week. I’m not saying that the teachers in the US have it easy. I am saying that I have it hard. I am also now the head of department of Economics and so I am managing one person. Add on top of that a new school to get used to and I am working just about every moment of the day and weekend. This weekend we have three days off because of a public holiday on Monday and it is the first time I have spent an entire day doing no work. The students and staff seem pleasant enough. Many of the students will say, “Thank you, sir” when the lessons conclude and they seem very genuinely hard working and polite. The facilities are also on par except that the school lacks a track which I would love to have. Soon there should be another teacher who will take over part of my work load so hopefully that will help to at least have weekends a bit more free. The people here seem friendly, a bit of a change from Shanghai and another change is that the sky is blue every day. The weather here has been nice. It is hot, but not so hot that we don’t consider just opening the windows instead of using the aircon at home. Most days we do just that, but at night we turn the aircon on for a few hours to get to sleep, then have a timed fan come on to finish the job. It rains sporadically and intensely. There never seems to be a full on rainy day, just bursts of rain with big fat drops. As I said previously, most of the island is covered in jungle and low mountains. This past weekend we took advantage of that and went to Penang National Park taking a boat there and hiking back. Most westerners here warn of not swimming in the waters because they are dirty and full of jelly fish, but at just about every beach you can see locals swimming. Perhaps blissfully ignorant or perhaps just more practical. There are many beaches and mountain trails to explore on the island. There is also a plethora of temples, shrines, and old colonial buildings as well as cultural nooks and crannies and as I gain more free time I am sure that I will visit them. Penang has a very mixed culture vibe to it and I like that. I think I am glad we moved here. I think. I really don’t have time right now to confirm that and likely won’t until after the new year, which may lend to whether or not I am glad we moved here. For now, this is where we live.