Friday, October 23, 2009

Hills, food poisoning and wolf spiders

By Laurie Wong
Bachelor of Physical Education and Coaching graduate

We arrived in Dharamsala at 8:30pm after a 12.5-hour ride and we are happy to be here! The last three hours of the journey was up a winding hill and most of us got motion sickness (even though we all took Gravol). We were so tired that dinner was definitely not appreciated.

McLeod Ganj is located in upper Dharamsala and is mostly a tourist area. The choices of cuisine are surprisingly varied – Italian, Japanese, Korean and even a Baskin Robbins! Food is relatively cheap here. For a nice latte, it costs about 50 rupees (over $1 CAD), a decent westernized dinner is less than 150 rupees, using computers at the internet cafe is 30 rupees per hour (75 cents CAD) and calling home is 3 rupees per minute (about $5 per hour). We stayed in a fairly 'high class' hotel in McLeod Ganj and it cost about 800 to 1000 rupees a night.

An early wake-up
I did not sleep well at night due to the barking of many (and I mean many) stray dogs. I decided to get up early at 7am and saw a beautiful view of the mountains and surroundings from my balcony. Air is definitely fresher here than in Delhi. I put on my running shoes and went for a run down the steep, winding hill. I met local people going for walks as well as many young school-age children in uniforms. There were people preparing their donkeys to carry bricks and a Tibetan woman herding cows. Again, the roads are used by people, cars and animals. Cow poop is all over the roads and if you’re not careful where you are get the picture. The return part of my run was definitely more intense and I certainly worked my cardiovascular system (yeah, I walked most of the way).

Education challenges
We visited the Tibetan government in exile and I was quite impressed with how the government is run. Everything is transparent and corruption is not evident at all. The Tibetan people are extremely friendly and caring. It is very evident that Tibetans follow His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teaching.

We got to visit the Department of Education and the director explained their current education system. The objectives of education are to preserve Tibetan language and culture and provide modern education so students can continue with post secondary education. They have collected data on the performance of their system and found some weaknesses and concerns. A couple of issues are that the literacy rate of English and Tibetan is still low after completion of 12th standard (the British equivalent to grade 12) and that there is very little interest to continue on in post secondary education.

An unpleasant Thanksgiving
I was sick with food poisoning on Sunday night (yeah, on Thanksgiving night) with vomiting and diarhrea. The stomach cramps came very quickly and I vomited on my way home (had to ask the taxi driver to stop). I got back to the hotel but I couldn't hold it any longer so I pooed my pants. :-( I returned to my room, quickly washed up and curled up in bed. I had one more light episode and slept the whole night and I was fine the next day. I really missed home when I was in pain.

A change in living quarters
We visited the different placement schools briefly on Monday and Tuesday (October 12 and 13) and the schools were quite interesting. They are mostly boarding schools with some day scholars (students who do not board on campus). On Tuesday we checked out of the nice hotel in the tourists’ area of Dharamsala and were assigned to living quarters near our placement schools. The place we are living at is called Ghadong Monastery which has guest rooms for family members.
Our first night’s experience in our guest house was quite awful. The rooms were dusty and dirty with spiders crawling – one was a humongous 8cm diameter wolf spider! There were also other insects crawling out of the washroom sink. We phoned our faculty associate, Mati, and asked to go back up to Him View (the nicer hotel) for one more night. She was not very happy with us and told us, "It's India!" The next day after school we went and bought a whole bunch of cleaning stuff to thoroughly clean the rooms. We even put moth balls all over the rooms. We then felt a lot better about staying there. I hung my Canada flag on the wall to make us feel at home.

Hey, teach
I am with three other SFU students working in Peteon Model School. The school has about 140 students (I consider it small) and has implemented a more modern method of teaching – student-centered instead of teacher-centered. Students do not sit in rows but are put in a cluster and are encouraged to participate in class discussion and group work.

We walk down the hill for about 25 minutes to go to the school and walk back uphill afterschool. I am definitely getting exercise every day. The steepness of the hill is like the Grouse Grind.

The children really love me and are so eager to talk to me. They are extremely polite and invite me to sit down with them in the classroom. Students sit on the floor with cushions and they also set a place for me in the room. I am mostly observing this week and get to use some of the Mandarin that I learned with my children's Mandarin teacher. I will be teaching English, Science and maybe even Mandarin.

Laurie Wong, a Bachelor of Physical Education and Coaching grad, is in India with the Professional Development Program (PDP) at SFU as part of the International Teacher Education Module. She will be filing stories for doug during her adventures in India – stay tuned.