Living at the IBEC, inside a monastery, was the best way to experience the Burmese culture. The principal, a highly respected monk, welcomed me and thanked me for coming. When addressing the principal, you must sit lower then him, so when he sits in a chair, I sit on the floor. When he walks through the monastery grounds, people bow on the ground to him. Even the president of Myanmar sat on the ground to show his respect to the principal. The IBEC gives free education to children from all over Myanmar. A lot of poorer families will send their children there to train to become monks because that is the best education they can get. During my time there, I slept in a bamboo hut on the ground with a mosquito net. I had never taught before and was really nervous my first day. I taught grades 6, 7, and 8. The kids were so respectful of their teachers and so eager to learn that they literally shouted the answers at me. In one class, when the chalk was running low, a younger novice left and came back with a box full of chalk. Twenty minutes later, another left and came back with a chair and some water for me. Another teacher was trying to teach her class the phrase "I'm hungry"". She said she kept repeating ""I'm hungry"" when a novice walked up to her and handed her a yogurt.
Walking around the monastery, everyone says hello to you and asks if you're ok. The novices, ages 3-18 wake up every morning at 4 for their morning chants, go to school until 5pm, study until 9pm and pray until 10pm. Its a very tight schedule with little play time. It felt a bit like a colony of lost boys, but I suppose that it's a better life then they'd have in their villages. The local teachers were all volunteers as well, and they brought us out to meals and to their homes each week. They also took us to a food festival, where you stop at each house in the village to eat. When you eat with the Burmese, you're considered part of their family. I probably joined over 30 families at my time in Myanmar. I also helped Burmese immigration officers improve their spoken English. At the end of my two weeks there, I was showered in gifts by my students. I left the center feeling they had given more to me, then I had to them. Very common in Buddhist and Burmese culture, the spirit of giving more then you receive.
I went from working at a Buddhist monastery to bartending at a reggae bar run by the Thai mafia on Koh Chang. A man made it very clear when he ordered drinks that everything was free because he was in the mafia. While the island life was great, (Koh Chang had a great relaxing atmosphere with lots of backpackers) I didn't love the bar I worked at. I think part of it was I hadn't worked in six months and wasn't used to it. I left a couple of days later to head back to Shinoukville, Cambodia. Its my third time here and I, like many others, feel as if I've found a small home in Asia. Its a great community of expats and all the businesses sit on the beach. I started bartending at a resort run by Americans. It's hard going back to work, but looking at the ocean all day definitely makes it easier.
I think this will be my last blog post for awhile, as I'll be stationary in Shinoukville for two months. If something blog worthy happens, I'll write more, but I"m hoping to find a bit of routine from five months of traveling!