Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bangkok's Chinatown

Eddie and his predecessor Erwin had their own dinner plans tonight, so Erwin's wife Angelina took me to Chinatown. We left the kids back in the apartment with a sitter. Traffic was good.

Angelina wanted to show me where to find Malaysian-like durians. We both aren't keen on Thai durians, not even the highly-raved about Monthong durians.

Unfortunately for me, the usual Chinese lady selling durians from a van wasn't here tonight. She is usually somewhere behind these group of fruit-sellers. I am noting this here so I'll remember where to look next time.

Angelina also showed me Soi 11 here, a street filled with food vendors at night but which has a wet market in the morning. I'm not to bother coming on a Monday as many stalls are closed.

Seafood...mmm...I saw a delectable big plate of clams being served from this stall.

Now, I'm supposed to walk along Soi 11 to the end, turn right and find this lane during the day. This area is called Sampeng. There'll be shops selling bags along this street. I should walk towards the end and there'll be many alleys selling all kinds of stuff including cheap stationery, cheap Christmas ornaments, cheap water guns during Songkhran, basically, anything and everything you can think of, cheaply! Haha...

We walked back to the main road and I packed wantan noodles for the boys (40 baht a pack, pretty small portion). While waiting, I got myself a cup of coconut juice from this lady (15 baht a cup). I found it pretty sweet and wasn't sure if it was naturally sweet or if syrup had been added. Angelina said I am to tell vendors Mai Wan (Not Sweet), else everything will be really sweet.

Angelina packed duck rice from here for her girls. I also bought some juicy pomelos, they're supposed to be healthy for you.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

I heart Bangkok

I can't explain why but I am just a happier person when I'm in Bangkok. I first noticed this the last trip here with the boys. Stuck in traffic inside a van on our way to one of the schools we visited, and looking out at the view of shiny skyscrapers contrasted against low-lying slums, I just took it all in and then found myself smiling. I felt that I felt really happy then. I was actually conscious that I was happy.

Today, just 30 seconds out of Suvarnabhumi Airport on the highway to the city, I found myself feeling really happy again. Maybe it's some initial irrational euphoria and I'll soon come landing with a big thud. I dunno, but for now, I'm just enjoying this unusual feeling. Unusual because seriously, I am not by nature a happy person.

Traffic to the city was just perfect. After checking in, we went for lunch at Siam Paragon, and again, smooth traffic. I think people are staying home because of the red shirts. But the whole time I was out, I saw only 3 red shirts and they were not on the streets protesting, they were riding on a tuk-tuk. So for sure, there is no Bangkok Shutdown. Fingers' crossed of course that things remain this way.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tokyo --> Singapore --> Bangkok

We left Tokyo last night, arrived in Singapore at 130am today and will be off to Bangkok tomorrow morning. Needless to say, it's been quite a mad rush this past week. It's so hard to believe the day is finally here. I have been waiting for this day since we first got news of the posting to Bangkok. We are so happy and grateful for this new adventure.

On the one hand, I'm very excited, on the other, there's apprehension, that the reality of day-to-day living will come a lot short of the idealistic picture of "life in Bangkok" as I have painted it in my head. Or maybe it's just me trying to temper my own expectations.

I am determined though to make the most of our time in Bangkok. There's so much to be excited about, I want to recapture that early exuberance and not spoil the joy by overthinking things the way I always do!

So keep us in your prayers, that all of us settle well and settle quickly, at school, at home, at work and at play. Just typing this has been good, I am feeling the excitement return :), as it should.

Bangkok here we come!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Goodbye Moscow

We have already left Moscow. Our last day there was on the 19th, that's two days ago. We spent a day in Singapore and this morning, flew to Tokyo for a short holiday. The boys' school emphasises on steps to help when in transition from one school to another. I think the holiday takes their minds (especially Brian's) off the people they will miss and the life they had in Moscow.

Here is Sean with his assistant teacher Ms Olga and teacher Ms Jayne.

His classmates crowd around to say the last, final, goodbye.

Big hugs.

Sean doesn't quite know how to react :)

The boys seem fine. Brian was a little pensive and quiet and touchy when we were leaving Moscow, I cut him quite a bit of slack as I think he misses his friends a lot. He's much better now. I think the holiday is helping :)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Last day in Moscow

Photos from our final day in Moscow...a very cold farewell to this city we called home for 2 years and 9 months.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Middle School timetable in Moscow

I've been meaning to share what Brian's school timetable looks like now that he is in Middle School. School starts at 830am and ends at 330pm just like last year but the way their days are structured now is pretty clever I thought.

Each class day operates on a "four-day semi-rotating block" schedule. Each period lasts 80 minutes. So you don't think of your days as Monday, Tuesday etc...but as Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, and then back to Day 1.

This model allows students to have classes at different times of the day, thus avoiding the same class always being studied the last block on Friday. It also ensures a more equal distribution of classes. For example, holidays (including self-declared ones :)), often fall on a Monday or Friday, so Monday and Friday classes are typically missed. A 4-day schedule means that the next school day's schedule is simply the next Day number, which avoids a student regularly missing the same class.

Humanities covers both Language Arts and Social Studies and takes up 80 minutes each day, or 400 minutes in a full week. That's about 6 hours and 40 minutes.

The same amount of time is allocated for Math, Science, World Language and PE, 80 minutes every other day. A Science day is a non-Math day and vice versa. So PE is given as much importance as the other 3 subjects. If PE falls on 2 days that week, that's 160 min, or 2 hours 40 min; if it falls on 3 days (1, 3, 5), that's 240 min, or 4 hours (In Elementary School, Sean gets 160 min of PE every week, which includes 80 min of swimming).

Music, Art & Design, Theatre Arts and Computer are all taught by specialist teachers. For Music, students choose either Choir or Band, and this is 80 min every 4 days. Art & Design gets 80 minutes every other day like PE, but only for half a year. The other half year is divided, one quarter for Theatre Arts, and one quarter for Computers.

And then you have Electives, 80 min every 4 days, like Music. A new Elective is chosen every quarter, and it ranges from Computer Graphics, Creative Writing, Forensics, Breadmaking, Model UN, Sewing and even Intro to Chinese Language and Culture.

Students are mixed around for the different classes. However, they are all assigned to an Advisory. Each Advisory has about 10-15 children with an advisor who serve as the students' advocates and guides them through the year. Advisories meet for half an hour daily and during this time, they engage in activities and discussion which focus on academic progress, social development, personal growth, community awareness and specific current events as well. For example, one week, advisories may focus on organisation/study skills, the next they may be involved in self-awareness activities.

So on Day 1, Brian has Science and Humanities in the morning (with a 15 min break in between to get to their lockers and find their classes), 30 min of Advisory, a 40 min lunch, followed by Art and Elective after lunch. On Day 2, he gets PE and Math in the morning, Advisory, then French and Humanities. Day 3 is like Day 1, except Science and Humanities are after lunch, and you have Art and Band in the morning. On Day 4, French and Humanities are in the morning, while PE and Math are in the afternoon. And then you go on to Day 1. Kids get used to the schedule, but if they forget which day it is, the school calendar has it all printed or they can use Netclassroom, an online class grading software that also provides the daily timetable for each child.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Flighty friends

Whenever Sean goes on a flight, he brings along his two soft toys, Dogsby (a Ty dog) and Bryson (tortoise formerly known as Mary and formerly belonging to Brian), and a Carters blanket I had bought for him even before he was born.

On our flight out of Moscow last week, during take-off, I looked across to where Sean was sitting and saw this.

I think he felt his friends weren't getting a good enough view, so after a while, he carried them up for a better view from the window.

Yes, yes, Sean's 7 going on 8, and his only friends are still his soft toys. These two regular passengers take up half his backpack space. It's a good thing they don't require extra tickets!

Friday, March 12, 2010

One last time...Privyet Mockba!

Last week, the boys and I were in Bangkok for 4 days, visiting schools and checking out potential accommodation, either near school or in the city. Eddie stayed back in Moscow; we didn't want to risk him getting stranded in Bangkok cos it was right after the Thaksin trial results (I'm okay being stranded there :))

We've never done such a trip before, in our past postings, schooling decisions were made based on whatever we could find out from the internet. But now that Brian is in Middle School, schooling decisions are becoming more important. So glad we made the trip, because the school I had in mind turned out to be not what we were looking for, while the school I had almost wanted to cancel my meeting with, turned out to be almost everything we were looking for.

I'll talk about that in another post. Here are some photos I took on our return flight to Moscow; this could very well be the last time I say Hello Moscow.

View of Moscow from the airplane. We had descended below the clouds right? Everything looks clear. Hello Moscow!

We descend some more. And suddenly, we couldn't see Moscow anymore. There's another layer of cloud beneath the clouds. Someone explain this to me. There was light snow that day, so I reckon this is just a cloud of snow?


Finally, we see Moscow again. And for possibly the final time, I say Hello Moscow!