Archive for September, 2011


Friday, September 2nd, 2011

I’m doing a teaching course in Edinburgh. It’s a Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (Secondary Maths). It’s a one year course, after which I do a probation year in a school and after that I’m an actual, proper, qualified teacher!

I’ve been going for two weeks now. And I’m loving it! There is a lot of reading, but there aren’t that many contact hours (about 12 per week) so there’s enough time to get the reading done – well, most of it anyway.

And I am actually doing the reading. Which makes a change from my undergrad degrees which I mostly blagged my way through (or, in the case of physics, didn’t).

There are lectures about teaching methodology etc. There is a curriculum studies section (all the maths people (14 of us) together learning about teaching maths). There is a professional studies section (28 of us from different subjects working together to go over the material covered in the lectures). There is a curriculum extension section (which in my case is on making sense of behaviour, but I’m not exactly sure what that’s like since we don’t start that till Monday).

The material is interesting. The lecturers are cool. My tutors are awesome. My fellow students are great. There is a broad mix amongst the other students. Some are in the 40s and some are straight out of their undergrad degrees. Most people are from Scotland, but there are some from England, France, Poland, Ireland, China. And me, whatever I count as. 🙂

I’ve learnt some great teaching techniques already. My professional studies tutor uses our sessions to model good practice so he is always doing funky things and telling us why he’s doing them.

During the year there are three block placements (of 6 weeks each) where I will actually go into a local school and observe and teach and be observed. My first placement is Liberton High School. I go there in a couple of weeks for one week of observation, then I’m back at the end of October for my six week block.

I’m having a great time. I’m loving being a student again. My brain is turning into chocolate custard on a regular basis due to the sheer quantity of information I’m trying to shove into it. The people I’m working with are awesome and good fun.

So no complaints whatsoever! 🙂

The Differences Between Edinburgh and Cambridge

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Now, I know I’ve only been here for 5 mins. (Well a day and a bit.) But I’ve already noticed some differences between Cambridge and here.

There are a lot more charity shops here. In fact, the British Red Cross has an electrical and furniture place just round the corner that I shall be raiding tomorrow.

A lot more people on the streets here smoke than back in Cambridge.

Oh, yes, and most importantly, the ground here goes up and down as well as across. Crazy I know. But this town has hills!

And there’s the small matter of the Castle. And Arthur’s Seat. And The Crags. And Holyrood Palace. And the Royal Mile. And the Scott Monument. And Princes Street. And from some parts of the New Town you can see the sea.

Lots of other things are the same. Lots of coffee shops (of both the chain and independent varieties). Pret, Pizza Express, Costa, Phones 4 U, Sainsburys, Barclays, All Bar One, Strada, a pub on every corner. Lots of the people who you pass on the street or sit next to in buses aren’t speaking English (though, it is Festival in Edinburgh at the moment, not sure how multi-cultural it’ll remain once the Festival tourists depart).

And another one of the similarities is how much I love both cities. 🙂

Moving To Edinburgh

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

My teaching course starts on Monday. So on Wednesday I posted some stuff to myself in Edinburgh and on Thursday I put myself on a train.

DHL do parcel collections. Which is awfully nice of them. So I packed up two plastic boxes (50 litres, 30x40x50cm, 21kg and 45 litres, 60x40x25cm, 9kg). I booked the collection on Tuesday night. And on Wednesday at lunchtime the delightful DHL man showed up to take my stuff away.

The stuff included books, papers, tax returns (why can’t HMRC keep my records if they want them to be kept for 7 years?), cds (data), photos, my ergonomic keyboard and trackball, flute music, various toiletries and first aid kit stuff, some clothes, some cycling kit, and various other random bits of household stuff.

My big rucksack was packed. It was mostly clothes, plus two smaller rucksacks, my flute, and some other random stuff.

My bicycle was ready to go.

I had one pannier to take which had my laptop, book, water bottle, raincoat, etc in it.

And Thursday morning I strapped the pannier to the bike, threw the rucksack on my back and walked off to the station.

I couldn’t book my bike on the train from Cambridge to Ely but it was mostly empty so I had no trouble when I got to the station. My bike was booked on the train from Ely to Peterborough and apart from a small amount of dancing in the aisles with people with big cases and small children, the bike went on with no problems.

At Peterborough it was a case of going down to the back of the train to put my bike in the guard’s van with lots of oversized luggage. Unfortunately, whoever had loaded the luggage at King’s Cross seemed not to have been aware of the three bicycles that would be getting on at Peterborough. So the guy from Peterborough had to do a large amount of shifting things around to squish us in.

So I left my bike in the guard’s van (coach P) and wandered almost the length of the train to get to coach B which was where my seat was. I left my rucksack in the luggage area by the door of the carriage. Put my faith in my fellow travellers and left it there to go and sit in my seat. This leg is about 4 hours and my seat has a power socket so I could plug my laptop in, charge my phone and get some stuff done (e.g. writing this blog post).

The dog curled up at the feet of the woman next to me seemed not to figure out that dogs aren’t my favourite things, so that was nice.

I had forgotten about food though. Or rather, at the times I’d remembered food I’d been more concerned about more pressing matters, like juggling a bike and a rucksack. Ah well, I’ll just have to hold out for deep fried mars bar when I get to my new home. 🙂

I made it to Haymarket without any problems. Colin met me at the station and walked me home (carrying my rucksack, lovely boy that he is). Home for a cup of tea and bit of a rest then out to brave the rain and the hills. I had to visit the School of Education since they had some documents I had to collect (namely my passport).

I was walking home with a stupid grin on my face.
I’m in Edinburgh!
This is my new home!

Week in Cambridge

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

I was back in Cambridge for a week.

The marvellous Matt had very kindly offered me use of his spare room in exchange for me taking my vegemite and fake coffee away with me when I left. Lovely man. 🙂

I met up with several people that I wanted to catch up. I didn’t manage to meet up with several others that I would have liked to have met up with. Ah well, next time.

I ate cheese and toast and cheese on toast and vegetables (with no curry, no chili and no black pepper) and I drank tea. I went to pubs and restaurants. I did some walking and some cycling. I had a lovely time.

Trip Home

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

On my last day in Sri Lanka I went to the post office. I posted about 2kg of stuff to myself in the UK. I figured this would lighten and empty my bag a bit which would help me get it on as carry on luggage. I’ve done 2.5 months of travelling with a 35 litre bag and not had to check it in so far. I knew I had a couple of bits of duty-free to pick up and didn’t want to be burdened with too much luggage. I also wanted to get out of Heathrow as quickly as possible to get straight on a coach back to Cambridge. So the post office and I made friends.

I left Colombo at 3am. I got picked up from my guest house by a lovely man in a taxi. Since there was no traffic we got the airport by 3:30. Too early, but it is Sri Lanka. Too early is much better than too late. 🙂

I sat around the airport reading for ages before they opened check-in. I checked in with no problems. Went through immigration. Found a bookshop and bought a trashy crime novel to read on the plane. Found the duty-free shop and bought the two bottles of arrack that had been on my to-do list for three months. Found my gate. Got on the plane. Settled in.

3.5 hours later I was in Delhi. Yay.

Originally, I was going to have about 3 hours wait at Delhi. So I figured I could fire up my laptop in one of the lounges, have a cup of tea, do some typing, or watch a film, or listen to music, or read a book, or something. A couple of days before my flight I got notification that the flight from Delhi to London was going to leave early. So I now only had an hour at Delhi. And I would get in to London much earlier too. Nice one!

So anyway, I’d made it to Delhi. And all I had to do was go through the international transfers section and find my next gate. That’s cool. It just involves a security check (bag x-ray and a stamp on the tag you must have on your carry on bag) and a body search (magic wand and pat down). That’s alright. It shouldn’t take too long. Especially not if all the systems are in correct working order. And hey, this is a major international airport with thousands of passengers going through it every day. There’s no possible way that a power cut (in India) could cause the x-ray machines to go down and the queue (well, I say ‘queue’) of passengers (all now getting later and later for their flights) to back up. Hmmm.

So there’s a massive queue. There are about 5 or 6 flights all leaving within 10 mins of each other and all due to start boarding within the next half hour. Now, I probably should have been a bit worried. I didn’t have any bags checked all the way through to London. I’m guessing everyone else did. Which means they really had no reason to worry. Not quite sure why people hadn’t figured out that the planes wouldn’t leave without any passengers. Not quite sure why people thought that they and their flight was more urgent than the other 300 people on the same flight or on a flight leaving around about the same time as them. Not quite sure why people thought that pushing was a nice, pleasant thing to do. Not quite sure why the 30 or so people who overtook me in a queue that wasn’t moving thought that that was reasonable behaviour. But they did.

Ah well. Deep breath. You’re in the system that is air travel. Once you’re in the system, there’s not much you can do about anything. You just have to breathe, smile, resist the urge to punch people or scream, not make jokes about security, and just put your faith and trust in the people who run these systems all day, every day.

We got up to the now working x-ray machines and the girls went into one line and the boys into another. There were three people doing the pat downs. Two men and one woman. The woman called the waiting women one at a time into the curtained-off booth. The men had to be subjected to pat-downs in public. I really wanted to join the boys’ queue since it was moving much faster. But I figured that trying to do that might well cause an international incident. And anyway, I was concentrating on breathing deeply and remaining calm. 🙂

It was finally my turn. So I went through the metal detector and behind the screen. The female security officer there started waving her magic wand over me (is it metal detector, chemical detector, magic wand, what?) and asked me if I was a lady. Well yes. The breasts you’ve just groped should probably give you a hint. She then decided that with a massive queue of people outside running late for their flights that this was a perfectly appropriate time for small talk. No I’m not American (the British passport and boarding card for London should have given that away – not nearly as observant as I think I would like from a security officer in a major international airport). And no, I don’t speak Hindi. Sorry.

I then hotfooted it through the shopping area and to my gate. I didn’t actually recognise any of the people who’d pushed past me in the queue, but I am fairly sure that having elbowed me out of the way in their desperate rush to not miss their flight, some of them were browsing the gift shop. Hmmm.

Got to the gate. Got on to the plane. Found my seat. Threw my bag in the overhead compartment. Collapsed into my seat with my book and got settled. Ah.

Then we got an announcement saying that three passengers from Nepal had not got on the flight and so their luggage had to be located and taken off the plane (it’s a big plane you know). So that meant we’d missed our slot on the runway. That’s ok. We’d take the next available one. Just as soon as Indian airspace re-opened after the military manoeuvres that were being done. It’s ok. It’ll only be an hour and half of sitting on the tarmac waiting. But don’t worry, the cabin crew are about to serve lunch.

I did see some people running on to the plane a bit later on with large trays of what would turn out to be cheese and tomato sandwhiches. Which did answer my question of whether they’d need to give us an extra meal when we were airborne.

The flight, once we eventually got airborne, was fine. A bit of turbulence. But nothing major. The window blinds were all down and the lights were all off, which was a bit annoying because I was meant to be staying awake on this leg. It’s daytime in the UK and my body needs to start practicing being in the right timezone.

I did nap a bit but mostly read and watched tv and films. Had to stop both of those activities when my eyeballs started hurting.

We got in to London and I dashed off the plane, quick trip to the loo, went through the magic automatic barriers for people with passports with chips. The scary machine takes a photo of you (presumably compares the biometrics with those embedded in the chip on your passport, presumably is more accurate than a human would be) and eventually beeps to let you through. All very efficient (which I approve of).

I dashed off to the coach station and got a ticket to Cambridge.

I got the shuttle bus from the terminal I was at to the one I needed to be at.

I had just enough time to get a cup of tea, bottle of sparkling water and a cheese and tomato panini. Awesome!

Got a seat on the coach with my bag on my knee. Put on the SEATBELT. Wa! And settled in to enjoying coach travel in the UK.

It was nice to be back. A bit weird that it was after 7 and there was still daylight floating around. And I must say that the scenery from Sri Lankan and Indian buses is much more interesting than that from British buses. But that’s due to less motorway in Sri Lanka and India. Not that I’m complaining. It was very nice to be sitting on a coach and not having to hold on to things. I didn’t get any bus bruises from the trip. It was smooth, comfortable, fast and lovely.

I got in to Cambridge and Matt picked me up to drive me back to his place. So I got home at about midnight.

Having left my guest house at 3am in a timezone 4.5 hours away, that means it took me about 25.5 hours to get from Colombo to Cambridge. And only 12 of that was actual flight time. 3 hours was on the bus. 30 mins in a cars and taxis. The rest was waiting around.

But much as I loved being away (and I’m looking forward to my next trip already), it was really very nice to be home (for some definition of home). 🙂


Friday, September 2nd, 2011

I had a mobile broadband USB modem thing from Dialog. It allows me to access internet from anywhere in Sri Lanka (well, anywhere that has broadband signal). I paid an amount for the device when I got it. I paid a 5,000LKR (about 30GBP) deposit on account of the fact that I’m foreign. I paid a further 5,000LRK deposit for another reason that escaped me. I paid about 1,000LKR per month to actually use the thing.

I did this last time I was in Sri Lanka. When I left last time I went to the Dialog shop and was told that they could transfer the 5,000 foreigner deposit into a Sri Lankan account so I called a friend and got her account details and gave her 5,000LKR.

This time I asked Dialog (when I was in Kandy and had to pay my first month’s bill) how I could get my deposit back. And they said that I could just go in and close the account and they would give me the cash at the time. I asked if I needed a bank account. They said no. I asked if I needed to wait for the money. They said no. Fine.

So on my last day I went to the Dialog shop in Colombo and cancelled my account. The guy did all the relevant cancellation things and took my money for my last month’s bill. I asked for my deposits back. He said I could come back in 14 days to get the cheque or I could give them a Sri Lankan bank account number. I reminded him that the reason why he had taken the money from me in the first place is because I am a foreigner and I don’t have a Sri Lankan bank account. Good point. He called his superior and checked. Yes I could get the money today but I had to go to the main customer service centre round the corner. Awesome.

So round the corner we went. 50m down the road (well, a Sri Lankan 50m – it was more like 500m) we found the building. I got a little concerned by the sign on the front door that said no guns.

We went in. The guy gave us a number and we sat and waited. The power went out and most of the computers seemed to go down as well (certainly the guy handing out the numbers). Wonder if they’ve ever heard of UPSs. Ah well. The current came back after a minute or two. And by the time the number guy had got his machine back up and running it was my turn to talk to a lovely customer service operative.

And she was lovely. It’s not her fault personally that she told me a different thing than the last two guys had. It’s not her fault that she seemed completely unable to understand why I was upset at the fact that she couldn’t give me my money. She simply said that I could come back in 14 days and collect the cash cheque, or I could give her the account details of a Sri Lankan (don’t you have any Sri Lankan friends), or I could pay 30EUR to get my money transferred to a foreign account, or I could just come back and get it when I come back next year. No amount of my telling her that I’d been told I could get the money today would help her. No amount of me getting very frustrated and telling her that the only reason why they took my money in the first place is because they knew I didn’t have a Sri Lankan bank account would sway her. I eventually got so fed up I said fine, I’d come back next year and get it and would never use Dialog again. Her colleagues who were by now listening to the white woman getting angry seemed far more concerned than she was. She said fine and just let me go.

I stormed out and tried to calm down and weigh up my options. I ended up deciding that I would leave it till next year and try to get it then. I do have Sri Lankan friends. But none that I want to hassle with trying to sort out money transfers. It means I would have to deposit the money into their account and then get them to hold on to it for me till I got back or get them to transfer it to my UK account. If I’d had time I would have tried to open a Sri Lankan bank account. Maybe I’ll try that next year.

Grrrrr. So annoying!


Friday, September 2nd, 2011

On my last day in Sri Lanka, Lora and I went to visit Parliament. We’d got the idea from an MP who was friends with Lora’s host family. We’d met him in Avissawella and he’d said that he was sorry he was going to be out of the country otherwise he could have arranged for us to visit Parliament. Lora thought this was a good idea and I thought that we could ask Rajiva (the MP who had been doing a lot of work to get VESL back in to Sri Lanka).

I was hoping to meet Rajiva before I left anyway and I asked him if we could visit Parliament. He arranged passes for us.

So Lora and I braved the Sri Lankan buses to try to get out to Parliament. The bus doesn’t go all the way there. So we got off the bus at a likely looking place. With my map in one hand and my compass in the other we headed off in search of a rather large building in the middle of a rather large lake.

We got lost. I’m not sure whether to blame the map (which was crap despite being a very good map), the roads (which curved and weaved a lot more than the map would lead one to believe they should) or the Sri Lankan version of space-time which bears very little resemblance to the space-time I’m used to in the UK and Australia. Anyway. We found a woman who sort of helped us a bit. We found a giant snake that didn’t help us very much. I think it was about 3m long and about 8cm in diameter (not that I got close enough to actually measure it). It seemed quite terrified of us. I couldn’t work out if that was a good thing (it would then leave us alone and try to get away from us) or a bad thing (it would be scared of us, feel threatened and then attack us). Turned out it just wanted to get away from us. Fine by us.

Anyway, we did eventually find the main road, the lake, the security guards, the check post, the bag counter where we had to leave our bags (including all our coins), the first of the security checks and the bus that would take us to the island in the middle of the lake that actually has the Parliament building on it.

The first security check woman seemed not to notice I was wearing a money belt. As did the second and the fourth. The third found it and was amazed at how useful it was to have a belt under your trousers where you could keep plane tickets and passports.

We did make it to the chamber. We tried very hard not to stand, sleep, laugh, talk, gesticulate or any of the other things that one is not allowed to do when one is in the galleries of the Parliament chamber.

We didn’t have the magic headphones that would have translated the speeches into English for us. One speech was in English but it was such heavily accented English (and it was so dull and boring that I think even the speaker was asleep) that it was quite difficult to understand. But that was ok. We weren’t really there to hear what was being said.

We were there to see the chamber. An interesting room that seemed to be lit in such a way that all of the MPs could quite safely sleep in the comfy chairs without anyone noticing. The ceiling looked like the roof of a golden tent. The chamber was mostly empty. No surprise there then. It seems that democracy here works in much the same way as it does in the UK or Australia. At any given time there are a lot of MPs who aren’t actually in the chamber. The cynic in me says it’s because they’re a lazy bunch who don’t really do any work, or that parliament is just for show and it’s all a foregone conclusion so there’s no reason to be there unless you want to make a particular point for the cameras. The non-cynic in me says that a lot of the business of government is done in the discussions that the MPs will have with their fellow MPs, their advisers and their constituents. And that these discussions take up a lot of time. It may also be the case that MPs aren’t in Colombo as they are away on political business and so might be attending conferences, opening hospitals, visiting people etc.

But anyway, there were enough people in the chamber for us to get a nice idea of what sort of things go on there. Much the same as others I suppose. Some people listened to the person speaking. Some heckled. Some supported. Some ignored the person speaking and napped, or talked to their colleagues.

I was interested to see that many of the male MPs wore the traditional Sri Lankan dress (sarong with long shirt). Though others wore a suit and tie. Perhaps the traditional dress is too cumbersome for MPs too (given my ISA friend told me it was too cumbersome for teachers).

Some of the seats had white covers over them. Which I’d guessed were for Buddhist monks. And my guess was proved right when a monk came in and sat in one of them. I was surprised that there were monks there. I would have guessed that a religious life and a political life would have been at odds with each other. Not sure why I would have thought that. But it seems that it isn’t the case. I was surprised also to see that the seats for the monks seemed to be scattered throughout the chamber. This seems to be one arena where monks are not given the prestigious seats at the very front.

We saw Rajiva pop into the chamber to talk to someone and then walk out again. We weren’t too surprised. He was heading off to a conference that evening so guessed he had a lot of work to do before then and sitting in the chamber snoozing doesn’t really seem like his style.

After about an hour we decided we’d had enough so we wandered out to find the bus back to the security checkpoint to collect our things and then to find a three wheeler to take us back to the guest house.

Overall it was a good experience and both Lora and I were glad we’d done it. Visiting Parliament isn’t as exciting as climbing Sigiriya and it isn’t as beautiful as Sinharaja but it was an experience.

So thanks to Rajiva for getting passes for us.


Friday, September 2nd, 2011

After the final concerts we went back home and packed our stuff, said goodbye and met in Avissawella to head to Hikkaduwa.

Hikkaduwa is a beach resort between Colombo and Galle. We’d decided that we’d spend a few days there after finishing the projects.

So we got a bus from Avissawella to Colombo and then another bus from Colombo to Hikkaduwa. We then walked from the bus station to the guest house. We argued about the rooms for a bit (we’d booked two downstairs rooms at 800LKR per room, but they didn’t have two downstairs rooms, they had one down and one upstairs for 1500LKR). Ah well. We’ll sort it out in the morning.

Fortunately Hikkaduwa is a tourist area. And that meant that there was somewhere that would serve us food at 10pm. Which was lucky since I was starving!

The next day was spent walking around, shopping, lazing on the beach, lazing in the guesthouse, eating, reading, dodging the rain, talking to friends, resting, relaxing. Well, some of us did some of those things. 🙂

A well earned break. 🙂

It wasn’t the season for Hikkaduwa while we were there. So it was very quiet. Lots of places were closed. There was quite a bit of rain. I think it would be interesting to see it during the high season. Mind you, since I’m not really that big a fan of beaches, maybe I’ll give it a miss. 🙂

I certainly enjoyed my day and a bit in Hikkaduwa. 🙂

Final Day on Project

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

I had suggested to the volunteers that they might like to arrange something for the final day. A concert or assembly or English Day or something. They decided it was a good idea.

So they were teaching the kids songs, rhymes, dramas, speeches.

And on the final day we had both concerts. We started in Atulugama with Lauren and Emily. And then moved on to Thalduwa for Lora. The kids did an amazing job.

It was so fantastic to see the results of all the hard work that the volunteers had put in. And great to see how confident the kids were. The teachers got involved too and Prasad (from the RESC) came along as well.

I was so proud of Emily, Lauren and Lora. They had worked so hard over the past four weeks to make the concerts happen. But actually the concerts were the least of their achievements. They’d spent four weeks living in a different culture in a different country. They taught kids (many of whom had never met a foreigner before). They’d worked with local teachers. They’d lived with local families.

And hearing the teachers and the students talking about the impact that the volunteers had had was wonderful. Plus some of the performances were just gorgeous.


Friday, September 2nd, 2011

There is a junction between Kuruwita and Ratnapura called Paradise. There is a school near the junction called Paradise school. This school is the site of a new programme that is being trialled in Sabaragamuwa province. English teachers from around the area come here on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. All the students in the school (from Grade 1 to Grade 11) have 2 hours of Communicative English classes twice a week. This has been running for several months and will run for a total of two years.

Prasad, who coordinates the Regional English Support Centre in Eheliyagoda and who has been instrumental in getting the VESL programme running again is also involved with this programme. So I went to visit a few times. Once with Lora, the other times on my own.

I had a particularly great afternoon one day when I had the grade 11s for two hours. It was so much fun!

And great to see the confidence that these kids have in talking to foreigners in English.

It was great fun chatting to some of the teachers too. 🙂