From Jamie's Philippines Pics

We have also had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places in China, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Bali. We have archived all of our travels and living experiences abroad; and if you wish, you can read about our adventures by finding the archives on the right of this page and by checking our Photo Album.

We appreciate all of our family and friends who have stayed in touch and emailed us with encouraging words throughout the year. We hope you will continue to keep us in your thoughts as we continue our adventure of living abroad teaching at an international school. For those who have stumbled upon our site, check out the "About Eric and Jamie" section on the right for more information.

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Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."
- Mark Twain

"Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends."
- Maya Angelou






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Monday, October 25, 2010

NESA Leadership Conference in Kathmandu, Nepal

From Kathmandu Nepal 2010

By default, I was able to take a trip to Kathmandu for a leadership conference. Middle school teachers were asked if anyone wanted to go to the conference. No one responded, so we were asked again. Finally, after a 3rd attempt by administration, I submitted a slight interest in attending. I knew I would be busy, but thought it would be a good experience.

The school provides some money for professional development funds, but Jamie and I had hoped to use that money on tuition. However, trip to Nepal sounds pretty appealing at this point, and I think it’ll be a good experience for me.

A van picked us up from our villa at 3:00 am and we took a 35 minute flight to Doha, Qatar. After a 2 hour layover, we were on our way to Kathmandu, Nepal. Upon landing, it was a pretty quick line through customs, the hassle of dealing with dozens of guys asking you if you need a taxi, and then a ride through the crazy streets of Kathmandu to our hotel, Radisson, near the center of the city.

We dropped our bags off and headed out immediately downtown to meet our superintendent at a nice little restaurant called Fire and Ice, complete with cold beverages and a great pizza. A fairly long day, but we walked back to our hotel where I completely crashed.

Today was the first full day of sessions for the conference, but our hotel was about a 20 minute ride to the Hyatt, which was a bit of a hassle, but something we dealt with.

Each day of the conference, we basically had a morning speaker followed by 2 – 2 hour sessions. The first and second day of the conference dealt with grading and grade reporting, while the last 2 days focused on instruction. They served us a marvelous buffet lunch each day with some Nepalese and Indian dishes. NESA brought in some pretty big names in the educational research community with Jay McTighe, Charlotte Danielson, Thomas Guskey, and Art Costa all leading sessions and making keynote addresses.

After the conference each day, we usually went out to see some of the sites of Kathmandu. We didn’t have a ton of daylight hours, but enough to go to a few places.

The first day, we walked from the Hyatt to the Baudu Stupa, a Buddhist stupa, and quite extraordinary. There were locals and tourist walking around clockwise and spinning the prayer wheels. Around the stupa was a variety of shops where you could buy all sorts of souvenirs if you so desired.

Dinner that night was catered by our conference at the Hyatt with a variety of finger foods and free drinks. Great conversation and times were held by all.

One the 2nd day after the conference, a colleague and I went to Pasupati, a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. We were not allowed to go into the temple, but were able to visit and witness the live cremation of bodies. Funeral pyres were built of wood and the bodies were wrapped in white cloth and burned in 7 different pyres, historically representing the 7 levels of the caste system. The ashes and any remaining body parts were then thrown into the river along with flowers and other items the family offered. The river, the Bagmati, flows into the sacred Ganges River, so it is considered sacred in Nepal.

We went back to Thamel to do some shopping along with dinner at a place called Roadhouse, which had some pretty tasty pork. My shopping included Northface coats, singing bowls – READ HERE, prayer wheels – READ HERE, baby yak shawls, and pashmina scarves.

After the conference on the 3rd day, NESA took us to Bakhtapur, a town about a 45 minute bus ride from Kathmandu. The city greeted us as we participated in pretty much a “parade.” I called it the “parade of white people” as the locals lined the streets and watched us walk by. We wound through the old streets of the city before finally ending in a city square where a dinner was prepared for us as we watch some local costumed dancing. We were also able to see a “living goddess” take her reign. This young girl is raised from birth to become a living goddess when she reaches a certain age and serves until she reaches puberty.

On our 4th and last night after the conference, a few of the guys ended up in Thamel once again and hung out downtown, walked the streets, and shopped for our wives before finally meeting up with the whole school to eat at Everest Steakhouse, where they prepared some delicious filet mignon for us all. I turned in early that night and packed up because we were leaving early then next morning.

Kathmandu and Nepal is definitely a place I’ll go back, especially with Jamie or even other family members. Next time, I would like to do some sort of flyover of Mt. Everest or particularly a hiking trek into the countryside toward Everest.

Nice people despite such a poor, hectic, and quite dirty town. A huge contrast from Saudi Arabia, and as I type this, I am making my descent on the plane back into Saudi. Be sure to check out the pictures in our PICASA PHOTO ALBUM.

Internet Hook Up

There are basically 2 main services you can purchase to have Internet in your villa. STC, Saudi Telecom, which is a DSL line that runs through a phone line in your villa, and ITC, Integrated Telecom, which uses a satellite Internet feed.

STC offers 4mb speed, which the US offered a billion years ago but is pretty fast for Saudi standards, but STC is hassle to deal with and the connection can be less reliable. It is also more expensive running almost $100/month for just Internet, ouch.

ITC has only a 2mb speed, is a little cheaper, and more reliable. I had really wanted to use the higher speed Internet, but after speaking STC on the phone a few times and really getting nowhere, I resigned to using ITC.

I had a taxi driver take me to where everyone else signed up for ITC. It was in a Novotel Business Center near the next city about a 15 minute taxi ride away. I waited until after the afternoon prayer and figured the door would open. I called the number on the door and they said they would open at 4:30. After 4:45, I called again and was told I was actually at the wrong location, so in the taxi I go back to Khobar where the location was actually only about 2 miles from the villa.

I paid cash for 6 months of 2mb speed and was told that they would be there the next day to hook it up. I was excited because I thought we might have Internet in our villa for the UT/UGA game. My TV was ready to go!

They did not come on Saturday and was told they would come on Sunday. They did come on Sunday… at 9:30 pm and proceeded to drill into the concrete walls on the roof to install the satellite. They finally stopped drilling at 10:10 pm and left at 10:40 promising the technician would come in the next day. General labor contracting and technician contracting.

Our 2mb runs just fine and is somewhat reliable. Slingbox doesn’t work that well, but we are hoping that ITC bumps up to 4 or more mbs soon so we can have a stronger signal and faster downloads.

Overall, another frustrating experience dealing with hooking up Internet. We’ll stick with ITC in hopes that they can increase their speed.

Car Shopping in the Kingdom

I obtained my Saudi Arabia drivers license the other day. The school arranged all of the paper work, but I had to go to the hospital to obtain a blood type test and an eye test. It was simple enough, but all of the things at the hospital are sort of ala carte. You pay for each procedure at different desks. Somewhat frustrating but I’ll look by it.

Later, a friend took me to some dealerships to start my search for a new car. Since I’ll be the only one driving it, Jamie has pretty much left it to me. I think we’ll go for a small SUV and probably buy new. Our school gives us a 2 year no interest loan and simply deducts the amount from our account each month. Nice and most everyone takes advantage of that deal.

We go into a few new car showrooms, Hyundia, Jeep, Chevy, and walked around looking for my perfect car. Unfortunately, like everything else in Saudi, the workers could care less if you ever purchase a car from them and didn’t even stand up or look our way when we entered. Imagine going into any dealership in the US and being ignored. Strange…

My car search continues, and I’ll be in full purchase mode when I return from Nepal. I’m sure the paperwork, bureaucracy, and overall frustration continues when it comes to purchasing a car in The Kingdom.

Getting a Bank Account - Not Really

We were told that getting a bank account would be a breeze. We knew we had to wait for our Iqamas to come through before obtaining a bank account, but the frustration came afterward.

Why do you need a bank account in Saudi? You don’t really. Our school pays us in Saudi Riyal, and you can go to the bank and simply cash your check. Since we are sending most of our money back to our US bank account, we’ll need to set up an easy way to transfer money bank home. The banks here allow for online banking and we could easily have our check direct deposited and then transfer the funds home online.

Jamie and I both went to the bank one day after school by taxi. We met with the Saudi manager and filled out the necessary paperwork. We gave them our Iqamas and the letter from school stating our salary. If you make so much, you are considered “VIP;” and after this story, you’ll see why that is funny in and of itself. We were told that we needed our marriage certificate to open up a joint account and that we would have to return. We said that was fine and made plans to return the next day.

Jamie went to the bank the next day to drop off our marriage certificate and was told that it could not be a copy that it had to be an original. This might or might not be true, but she told them we’d try and obtain one. Since we’ve learned from previous experiences to try and always have originals, we actually do have a our original marriage license with us, so I was able to go back the next day.

I was told that they would not accept one form that had been written in red. Granted, you probably shouldn’t use red to fill out a form, but it was the pen that the bank manager handed us. I explained that it was fine in red 3 days ago and it should be fine now. I told them they needed to accept the red ink and work it out. I was sent to another manager who told me that the red was fine… but… Jamie’s signature was wrong. Now, I knew they were just screwing with whitey westerner. I told them they could either accept the forms the way they were or I could find another bank.

Since my salary is probably beans compared to all the other salaries they see at that bank on a daily basis, they didn’t seem to concerned about me not opening up an account. I guess I showed them.

A friend helped us transfer money to home using another wiring only bank, so I think we’ll go that route for a while. It is easy, perhaps takes a bit longer, but our first wire went through without a problem.

Such is the life here in Saudi. Generally speaking, it is not a customer service oriented culture. The foreign workers who work here are very helpful, but any Saudi could really care less if you do business with them or not.

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