Saturday, February 23, 2013 0 comments

Spring Semester Schedule

Well, after a nearly two-month break, it's just about time to get back to work.  Classes begin again on Monday, February 25.  And of course, I get to start immediately--Monday morning at 8:00.  My favorite.  (Can you hear the sarcasm?)  I'm just not a morning person...

But, I really have a fantastic work schedule; very few jobs have the kind of flexibility this one does.  I may have to work at 8:00 am, but I just have to do it two days a week.  You'd think I'd appreciate that more after getting up at 5:30 to be at work at 7:15 five days a week for nearly a year (2011).  

Anyhow, I am continuing to teach writing, as it's a full-year course.  However, for some reason they swapped on of my classes with Micah's from last semester, so I will have some different students there, although I met some of them at activities he hosted.  We both taught the same lessons last year, so they are at the same point, so it shouldn't be a problem.  I'm looking forward to seeing all my students from last semester again.

I taught Greek and Roman Mythology last semester, but that course is only offered in the fall. So, I have to find something else to fill my time, and that turns out to be two oral English classes for graduate students.  Most likely these students will be non-English majors getting masters in other subjects; their English probably won't be quite as good, or at least not any better, than my sophomores, since they will likely not have focused on English before.  It should be interesting; I don't get the chance to teach Oral English often.  Anna (our Chinese co-teacher, who helps us out with these things) said that there is no book and no final exam for that course; I just have to give the students one over-all grade, and I can do whatever I like with them, preferably teaching them about American culture as they practice English.  

So, we should be able to do some fun activities.  We can talk about St. Patrick's Day, and April Fool's Day, and Easter--I especially enjoy Easter, as there are so many fun projects to do (I have Easter Egg dye!), as well as teaching about the more important meaning many celebrate on Easter Sunday.  I have pdf files of menus from several American restaurants, so we can do a role-play of ordering at a restaurant and discuss restaurant etiquette, which is quite different from here.  I'm trying not to get too carried away planning until I see what their ability level is.  

Anyhow, my schedule:  Monday, two writing classes, back to back in the same classroom, with one at 8:00 an d one at 10:00.  Thursday, the third writing class at 8:00, then the two oral English classes, one at 10:00 and the other after lunch at 2:00.  A couple of times, the Thursday morning writing class will be rescheduled on Tuesday afternoon.  

The only really annoying thing about the schedule is that on Thursday, my 8:00 class in in building 3 (last in a row of five large classroom buildings), on the fifth floor, and then I have fifteen minutes before my 10:00 class to go down those five flights, five buildings over to Building 1, and up the the fourth floor.  There's my cardio workout for that day... 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 0 comments

Into Varanasi

The Chinese couple I'd met up with in Agra hadn't booked ahead a place to stay in Varanasi; Vera tried to call a few out of the Lonely Planet, but the only one that had an availability was also ridiculously expensive.  So, they (Vera and Wang) decided to go with me to my hostel, and just see if there were any openings there.  Once we got out of the train station, we made our way to the prepaid rickshaw/taxi stand, and after waiting around a bit for the guy to come back from wherever he'd wandered off to, we paid an amazingly cheap 95 rupees for a motor rickshaw.  We and our backpacks were crammed in, and off we went into the chaos.  It took quite a while--nearly forty minutes winding through really ridiculous crowds and traffic; nothing looked like a city worth traveling to yet.  And, I think our driver hit every pot hole possible.  Several times I nearly squawked when he ran up onto the curb to get around a slightly slower moving vehicle in front of us.  We took the rickshaw as far as possible; he let us off at one of the little alleys leading into the old city.

In the oldest part of town (and old means old here...Varanasi's history goes back nearly four thousand years), there are few roads, just little winding alleys that twist in every direction.  Vera was wishing we had a guide; I don't think she thought we'd ever find the place.  I led the way, and we wound through little alleys, working our way closer and closer to the river, for twenty minutes at least.  Now and then I'd ask a shopkeeper which way to Munshi Ghat, which I new my hostel was supposed to be near, to stay on course. We passed so many different hostels and guest houses that I was beginning to be afraid we'd never find it; the shopkeepers didn't seem to have ever heard of it.  But finally, I turned a corner, and there it was.

The view from my window
Unfortunately, they didn't have any extra rooms from Vera and Wang, so they headed out to try and some of the myriad places we'd passed.  I haven't run into them again, so I hope they had good luck.  I was showed to a room, only then to have some confusion while checking in; apparently, they aren't so good at checking their online bookings, and it turned out they didn't have space for me after all, but they could get me a place in the hostel across the alley for the same price.  I asked to see the room at the other place first, just to make sure they weren't trying to dump me off somewhere crappy.  As it turned out, the new hostel room was way better than the one I'd reserved in the first place, so I complained a bit more and then finally accepted somewhat gracefully.

Looking down the ghats along the river
The new room is on the fourth floor (slight drawback there, but I guess I need to keep my stair-climbing muscles in shape, since I've got to return to my fifth-floor apartment in a couple of weeks), has its own (clean! unusual around here...) bathroom, and even a tiny little balcony.  Best of all, the view out the window looks out over the Ganges River.  The only real downside is that the bed is pretty hard, although still not quite as bad as the ones in China.

After settling in and resting for a bit, I went out for a walk along the ghats.  The ghats are the steps along the riverside; every hundred feet or so is a different ghat with a different name; the one around the corner from my hostel is the Munsi Ghat, right around in the middle.  I walked along the riverfront, passing by cows, sheep, goats, dogs, ducks, people, and the excrement of all of the above, boats, touts, foreigners of every type, priests with long beards, dreadlocks, and loin cloths guarding tiny closet-like temples, a public cremation, etc.  It sounds like a madhouse, but really, I was surprised it wasn't much worse.  I was prepared for Varanasi to be beyond crazy, but it really hasn't been bad at all.  This is supposed to be the place with the worst salesmen, boat touts, and rickshaw drivers, but I've actually been hassled less than usual so far, and everyone's been quite polite.  Let's hope it lasts.

At the Pizzeria 
My destination was the last of the major ghats, the Assi ghat.  It was supposed to be a nice area around sunset, and there was a pizzeria there than Lonely Planet promised was wonderful. The location of the pizzeria was nice; one a balcony framed by trees, overlooking the water, but the pizza was disappointing.  I ordered one with onion (way too much), pineapple, and capsicum (which is what they insist on calling bell peppers here); you would think those things would add flavor, but it was the most bland and tasteless pizza I've ever had.  I only managed to eat half.  The place is also famous for their apple pie, but after seeing how the pizza turned out I didn't bother to try it.

I was just a little nervous about walking back along the ghats after dark, but it turns out that they're fairly well lit, although the big light poles like you would find in a Walmart parking lot don't really add much to the ambiance.  Also, I almost immediately fell in with a Canadian guy; his two friends were busy talking with each other, so he and I talked as we walked almost all the way back to my ghat. I was going to head up the stairs, but then I saw a crowd and colors and light around the curve of the river.  I wandered just a couple of ghats down to find that the ganga aarti, the river worship ceremony held at sunset every night, was in full swing at Dasaswamedh Ghat.

 The main spectacle was two groups of young men, each dressed in identical red and gold robes, going through the ritual movements with various fire-censors and other articles.  Quite a crowd was seated on the pavement behind them, and the water was crowded with boats full of people who had pulled up to watch.  As this post is already getting quite long, I'll leave it to the pictures for the full description.  I spent a while watching from various angles.  The things I was most impressed with was that, even in the press of people, they'd actually left a passageway free to make your way through and past the event.  That kind of courtesy is almost unheard of in my travels... Anyhow, it was a pleasant and colorful way to end my first day in Varanasi.

The Ganga Aarti ceremony


The Train to Varanasi

One of my favorite things in India...masala chai.  Wang bought me
and Vera some for breakfast  on the train.
After more than the usual amount of crazy taking a night train, I did finally make it from Agra to Varanasi.  I had bought a ticket nine days ahead of time, but even then, all I could do was get on the waiting list.  I usually buy sleeper tickets (the cheapest, and probably least comfortable, option), but this time I decided to splurge a bit and move up a step to 3rd class AC.  Bad move, unfortunately...the waiting list for sleepers moves a lot faster, because there are a lot more bunks.  Even though I started at number fifteen on the waiting list, which in sleeper would have been no problem, at time to leave for the station I  was still only at number five.  At my hostel, I met a couple of Chinese travelers, Vera and Wang, who were in the same situation--they were number three and four.  One of the guys who works at the hostel took pity on us and made a few calls to see if we were likely to make it, and finally he went to the station with us and, with much running around and craziness, managed to get us sleeper tickets, for nearly triple the normal price.  However, that was fine with us at this point, because the only other option for getting to Varanasi (the train the next day was sold out, too) was to hire a car and driver, which would have been much more expensive than that (about $60 a person, a small fortune here).  But we made it.

The view from the window near Varanasi...
somebody said the yellow is mustard plants.
Once on the train, the drama wasn't over.  We crammed into a small area with several other foreigners and an incredibly patient and welcoming older Indian couple.  We met three Americans and an Israeli girl; two of the Americans had somehow bought tickets to share a bunk, and a top one at that.  I was told to just hang out there for about half an hour, and then the conductor would come and tell me where to go, so me and my stuff just took up space and got in the way for a while.  Finally the conductor came by, and gave me the top bunk just next to this crowd of people--until about 2 am.  Then, I and the Chinese couple were to move to the bunk on the other side of the original compartment.  Until then, the Chinese girl shared a bunk with the one American girl with a bunk.  All of this could have been a nightmare, except I had the good fortune to get in with a crowd of people who were determined to make the best of it, and everyone just laughed and lived with it.  The train was the most crowded I've been on in India; quite a few people were sharing bunks, and I saw one man sleeping on the floor.  Turns out there's a big festival going on near Varanasi, so that might be the reason.

Actually, I was more comfortable than ever before--for one, I finally had the bright idea to arrange my jackets and scarf on top of my bag of shoes to make a better pillow than usual (I usually use my blow-up neck pillow wrapped in scarves, but I offered that to one of the American girls who was sharing a bunk; I figured I should share with someone less comfortable), and two, it didn't get as cold as it usually does on the train at night.  However, I guess just because of the stress and craziness, I didn't get much sleep; I was quite comfortable, but my mind just couldn't wind down very well.  Oh, well.

For some reason, I was thinking that the train was supposed to arrive at eight-something, so at eight something I cleaned up all my sleeping paraphernalia and all, only to find I'd been mistaken at the train was scheduled to arrive at 10:30.  Except it was by now running two hours late.  It wasn't too bad, though, between my kindle and the company around to talk to (now joined by a French guy from Bordeaux who explained how he broke up with his girlfriend while  he's spending a year traveling in Asia, and she's dating someone else now, but when he gets back she'll break up with that guy and get back with him...), the time passed agreeably.  Around one we finally arrived...

The train station in Varanasi