10 things to see in Havana.

When visiting Cuba, it’s important to remember that the best things to see and do are more than often free. Unless you speak Spanish, museums and the like are going to be boring so here are my top 10 things to see (and do) in Havana;

Salsa: Everywhere you go, no matter what time of the day, you’ll hear the great music and see people dancing. It’s the happiest music and after a while you’ll find yourself unconsciously dancing along with it. Salsa lessons are available in the city if you’re a complete beginner.

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Take a ride in a vintage car. The image that most people associate with Cuba are the vintage cars. They literally are EVERYWHERE. Most serve as taxis so it’s very easy to arrange. Be careful though. ALWAYS negotiate the price in advance. Also, if the weather agrees, consider an open top car and tour around the city.

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See cigars being rolled.  Everyone seems to be smoking cigars in Cuba. Drop into to the Cigar “museum” (I use that term loosely because it was really just a guy rolling cigars) and watch the guy rolling them before heading upstairs to the cigar store.

Eat at a private restaurant. Some restaurants in Cuba are state owned and others are privately owned. The private ones have the best, most delicious food you’ve ever eaten.

Sit back and enjoy a mojito. Mojitos are literally the thing to drink in Cuba. In a bar, close to closing time, we asked for beers to be told that the only drink we would be served were mojitos. They wouldn’t even serve water after a certain time. Bizarre but true.

Follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway spent a great deal of time in Havana so  why not visit his old haunts including the Ambos Mundos Hotel, Floridita Bar and his house.

Walk the streets and take in the architecture. The architecture in Havana is amazing. Get lost and wander the streets taking in the variety of influences. Havana is relatively safe but be careful of beggars who engage you in conversation and won’t let you go without a donation.

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Walk the Malecon. The Malecon is an area by the sea where Cubans hang out at night. It makes for a great walk but be careful of the waves which were dumping water a block away while we were there.

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Drink coffee in the National Hotel. The National Hotel is an impressive building which boasts stunning views of the sea. Explore the gardens and enjoy a cup of coffee at the cinema cafe.

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 Go to the beach. Just a few kilometers from Havana are some great beaches. With crystal clear water, this makes for the perfect, relaxing day out.

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Suwon Toilet Museum.

There’s no way I could leave Korea without going to the toilet museum in Suwon. How many toilet museums are there in Ireland? None.

I’m not going to lie, it was a bit of a trek. The closest station is Sungkyankwan University station, 2 stops from Suwon station. From there, you can get a taxi to the museum.

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There is an indoor museum and the outdoor area across the road. The indoor part is a little confusing and really only has 2 floors to look at. If you have children, there are plenty of things to see and do, including a children’s play area.

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Unfortunately, most of the writing is in Korean so not the best if you speak another language but there are plenty of visual images to keep you entertained!

Across the road if the outdoor park, which is entertaining but a little small. We spent ages out there taking pictures and would have spent longer if the weather was a little cooler.

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Overall, this place is worth a visit, even if it’s just to say that you went. It’s a free afternoon but I’d only go back in cooler weather. Although it’s a little small, with the right group of people, this is a great experience. You can check out the toilet museum website here.

What did you say? Things your students say in Korean.

When I started at this school, I had NO IDEA what the children were saying to me. I work in a Korean playschool so the students only learn English as subject. My favourite story is of a day with the 5 year old’s just a month or two after I started. One of the boys said something to me and by the way he was acting, I knew he needed the bathroom. Unfortunately, the assistant wasn’t around so I just let him off and left the door of the classroom open. A few minutes later, he appears back with nothing on from the waist down. Turns out he needed a hand finishing in the bathroom and with no assistant, he just came back to me!

After that, I promised myself to get my Korean together so I’d actually understand what the students were saying and I did. I just listened to them and since they say the same things day in day out, I would write it phonetically, ask my co teachers and then learn how to say it properly. Here are the top phrases my students say;

  • 쉬 마려워요 (she mar yeah woh yo) – I need to pee
  • 똥 마려워요 (dong mar yeah woh yo)- I need to poo
  • 선생님………( sun saeng nim) – teacher
  • 연필 필요해요 (yun pill pil yoh hay yo)- I need a pencil
  • 지우개 주세요 (gee you gay juice a yo)- Eraser please
  • 색연필– (saeng yun pil) crayons
  • 아파요– (app pie yo) I’m sick/hurt
  • 어떻게 해요 ( oh dok a hay yo)- How do I do this.

Here are some phrases and words that you can say to the students;

  • 애들아! (yeah dra)- Guys!
  • 조용히하세요! (jo young he ha say yo)- Be quiet!
  • 어디 아파요? ( o d apa yoh) – Where are you hurt/sick?
  • 화장실 가다오세요 (hwa jang shil gat da o say yoh)- Go to the bathroom and come back.
  • 빨리! (bally) Quickly

Since we’re here to teach English, you should obviously keep the Korean to a minimum but in a a bind, these phrases may help. As ever, my Korean spelling could be atrocious so feel free to tell me any mistakes!

5 things I love about Korean gyms!

I LOVE the gym and there are so many reasons why. Here are some of my top reasons to love the gym in Korea;

1. The great characters- You are guaranteed to meet great characters in the gym. You get all kinds.

First you have the people who look like they may actually live at the gym. They will be there no matter what time of the day or night you go. They have a little gang also, they all go together and have share jokes and generally have a bit of craic while they’re working out.

Then you have the adjummas. These women are fierce and if they want one of your weights or machines, you’d be best off giving it to them.

Finally, you have the people who are only there for the sake of being there. They look like they just walked off a Nike advert, they do not sweat and spend more time flirting with the gym instructors that anything else.

2. The useless machines– There are so many machines that do nothing in a Korean gym. Take this one for example;10896868_10152728724308016_3251874785038359723_n 10313043_10152728724388016_8410101403486755741_n

What is the purpose of this machine? IT HAS NO PURPOSE! The plate just vibrates and that’s it. How is this in a gym? There is another machine where you can turn yourself upside down. Why would you spend your time upside down? I don’t know why these machines are here but it keeps me entertained watching the people using them.

3. The treadmills– Each treadmill has a tv screen! Fantastical! Plug in your headphones, choose your program and away you go. No need to miss any of your favourite shows or miss your exercise.

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4. The instructors- The trainers here are so brilliant! They know everyone who goes in and they take the time to speak to everyone about why they’re there in the first place. Whatever the reason, they put together a plan that suits and change it up every few weeks to prevent boredom. If your foreign, you become a pet project and I consider the lady in my gym to be my own personal trainer. Amazeballs.

5. The K Pop dancercise classes– I don’t know what they actually call the classes. It’s like aerobics but with k pop dancing??? It’s hard to describe.Are they there to learn new dances or to get fit or a combination of both?  It’s a tonne of adjummas in the craziest outfits you’ve ever seen doing some k pop dances. I tried once and failed miserably. They must be psychic because they looked like they knew what to do before the instructor did. I LOVE being in the gym while these ladies are around. They bring coffees and snacks for after the class and they always slip me some chocolate or fruit on my way out. .

This video gives you the basic idea. The classes in Korea are more intense and the outfits way more out there.

Add your favourite things about Korean gyms in the comment section below!

Teaching Kindergarten in Korea – my words of wisdom

Teaching Kindergarten is possibly the most exhausting thing you can do. My school teaches Korean age 3 to Korean age 7 and after 4 years, I almost don’t know what silence is. Between the crying, the talking, the shouting, the laughing, the sheer activity, it’s always go, go, go.

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years*;

1. K.I.S.S.- Keep it simple, stupid!

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It’s a marathon, not a race. Set small goals for every class and work on simple things. Use the same words and phrases until they can use them correctly and then change it up. Little by little, they’ll make great progress and enjoy doing so because they won’t be under preassure.

2. It’s all about being organised.

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They might only be 6 but they will eat you alive if you don’t know what you’re doing. You have to know what lesson you’re giving, what games you’ll play, what songs you’ll sing and you have to have all your materials walking in the door.
If you’re new to teaching, make a lesson plan and follow it.
Also, have lots of activities ready. They have zero attention span so changing lots is the key.
3. Have a routine.
Try to structure your classes the same so that the students know what to expect. Have a proper introduction, main class and conclusion.
Introduction is probably the most challenging. How do you get them to sit down, stay quiet and listen? You can try a few chants;
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My personal favourite is “what sound does sh make? sh sh sh”
Once they’re sitting quietly, do your hello song and things like day, date weather, basic things to get them concentrating.. There are loads of Hello songs on youtube. Choose two or three so that they don’t get bored singing the same song every day. Make sure to have actions so that they have something to do.  I sing the theme tune to Happy Days for days of the week and although they claim to hate it, they can all sing it.
4. Be familiar with what is expected in terms of discipline.
Korea is so sensitive when it comes to disciplining children.  Every school should have guidelines on what to do if a child is unruly. Whatever you do, follow up on threats, don’t make idle promises. If you give them three warnings, outline in advance what the consequences will be and sometimes positive reinforcement works. For example, I have a little boy who is a bit energetic in class. At first, I went for being cross with him but after a while I literally showered him with love. Every little thing he did well, I praised him to the high heavens. Now he’s one of my best. Doesn’t always work, but something to think about.
5. Always shake it up a bit.
Every few weeks, do something different. Sing a new hello song or introduce new chants, make up new games or whatever. It keeps the students interested and keeps you from getting bored.
6. Games will save you……..so will props
Students LOVE to play games. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy and anything you call a game is a game.
Some games I use;
Matching game (flashcards)
Find the card (flashcards)
Spell the word ( board and a marker race)
Ball games like Donkey
Fly swatters (beating the words that I call out)
Hangman
Scrabble letter games
Musical words (dance around until the music stops and then find the word I call out)
Sorting games
Dice games (throw a 6 means name 6 words of a category)
Props are also a great way of gaining interest in what you’re doing. Just putting flashcards in a container and making a big fuss of opening it is all they need to pay attention.
7. Knowing that your plan will always go out the window when you step into the classroom.
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No matter how great you are, something always happens that throws your plan off. A child gets sick on the desk, pees on the floor, a fight happens, whatever. Just go with the flow in the most organised fashion possible and if all goes to all, every child LOVES to draw a picture!
If you have any questions about anything, just let me know!
* All opinions are mine. I’m in no way an expert on teaching, these are just some things I’ve learned!

Myanmar- the country time forgot

Myanmar has been on my bucket since forever and when the opportunity to take a tour there came up, I took it. I’ve never taken an organised tour before so I had mixed feelings as to the benefits. Was it going to be all go and no down time? Were the other people going to be difficult to deal with? I had no idea and I really didn’t care that much because I just wanted to see Myanmar. The Royal Asiatic Society of Seoul organised the tour and there were two options available, long tour and short tour. I took the short option so I stayed 6 days and 5 nights in Yangon.

After arriving in Yangon, I met the other three people on the short tour as well as the guide. As we drove along, our animated conversation was interspersed by the guide; “Excuse me ladies and gentleman, I’d like to introduce to you my country………” A night at the hotel and we were up and ready for day 1.

The four of us spent our day enjoying the sunshine and touring Yangon University. This really just involved visiting all the love sites and taking a tonne of selfies.

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After lunch we joined the long tour members at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum. This is a memorial built to honour Aung San and six cabinet ministers who were assassinated. In 1983, North Korean agents attempting to assassinate the visiting South Korean president bombed the structure. He escaped but 21 others were killed. The structure was completely rebuilt and although less grand, it is still very beautiful.

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We continued by taking a Yangon Heritage Trust walking tour of the heritage buildings in Yangon. The architecture is outstanding and the buildings are generally in bad repair as they have been neglected throughout the years.

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That evening we enjoyed a buffet dinner at a traditional performing arts centre.

 

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The following day, we enjoyed a lecture by a former university professor who then accompanied us to Shwedagon Pagoda. ,Myanmar is full of pagodas but this one is possibly the most impressive. It is a 98 metre golden spire located at the top of Singuttara Hill and it can be seen from anywhere in the city.

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The next day we climbed on a boat and headed for Twanty, a town known for its pottery. We sailed across the Twanty canal and enjoyed the water taxis taking people to and from work. To get to the pottery, we took horses and carts. Possibly the most humbling part of the entire trip was the visit to the pottery workshop. Workers make anywhere from 150 to 300 pots in a day, depending on the size. The pottery wheels are spun by young girls who give up their education to do this task. The work is so menial and if they succeed in selling all their wares, they will receive just 6 dollars which must be split between them. The work area is dark and dusty but they were so welcoming and patient when we visited, even giving up their lunch break so they could show us around. Of all the things that humbled me, it was this visit.

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We also visited Bogyoke Aung San Museum. This museum was founded in 1962, 15 years after the assassination of Bogyoke. In Myanmar, Bogyoke is the term used for the general. This museum was his home before he was assassinated. No cameras were allowed inside.

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We also got to see the National Museum and got a guided tour through this 4 floor museum.

The reclining Buddha was HUGE. Honestly, so impressive but the most impressive thing I saw there was this monk. Some serious monk swag happening here.

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One of my favorite places was the Bogyoke Market where you can buy ANYTHING you so desire. It is crammed full of jewellery, art, clothes, fabrics and so many other items. This was also a great place to go people watching and there was a great feeling of the local life here.

On the final day we were free from any timetabled events to go wherever we wished. A small group of us headed across the river to a small village where we took trishaws and saw more pagodas and generally just interacted with the locals. To see them continue to wear their traditional clothes is amazing. The skirts are called Logyi’s . They are so easy to wear and I came home with three of them.

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As it turns out, my group were the best craic ever and they made the trip. Upon reflection, if the same person organised another tour, I’d take it in a heart beat. One day I will hopefully be able to return to Myanmar and visit other cities like Mandalay and Bagan. Myanmar was truly fascinating and a trip here is not to be missed. It still hasn’t caught up with the rest of the world in many respects and now is the time to go there before all the tourists arrive.

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You can find out more about the Royal Asiatic Society in Korea from their website http://www.raskb.com

 

Some tips;

 

*Bring US Dollars- We arrived on a late night flight from Seoul. If you don’t have dollars, you won’t have any money until you can make it to a bank. Make sure your dollars are crisp and clean.

*Wear pagoda appropriate clothes. There are so many pagodas so be sure that you wear clothes that cover the shoulders and go below the knees. Also, there are no shoes or socks allowed so carry some wet wipes in your bag.

*Ask questions. The guides are only too happy to be explaining about their city and country so be sure to ask if you have a question.

*Go with a tour or get a guide and driver. I like to think that I’m fairly capable when it comes to travelling around a new city. However, there is literally no way that you will be able to tour Yangon unless you have a guide and driver.

* It’s extremely safe there and we didn’t have any incidents. However, as with all trips, don’t do something you wouldn’t do at home.

 

Kinabalu National Park.

Anyone who wants to climb Mt. Kinabalu will be heading to Kinabalu National Park. This trip, I had no interest in climbing it and Michelle had climbed it before but it being a UNESCO World Heritage site, we went to do some trekking.

There are two ways to get to the National Park, 1) Go with a tour and 2) Go by yourself. Tours were expensive so we decided to go there ourselves. To do that you must;

Get the bus to Ranau. One way will cost you about 20 rinngit. The bus driver will know where to let you off. You should know though that the Malay way is that the bus doesn’t leave until it’s full so the earlier the better.

The journey will take about 2 hours or so. From the road, walk up to the entrance and pay the entry fee of 15 rinngit. From there, you can go to the office and get a map of the trails. There are some wonderful trails of different lengths.

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Unfortunately, the day we went, it was lashing rain all day. We might as well have been swimming. At the end of the trail, there were no signs to indicate which way the main area was. Brilliant, it only took us about 10 minutes to decide that down hill was best.

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After some food, we headed back to get the bus back to the city. Unfortunately for us, there actually is NO BUS BACK TO THE CITY. You literally have to flag a bus down and jump in. It took us about 15 minutes before we succeeded but we did.

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All in all, if I were going back, I would rent a car. We were hoping to visit the canopy walk in the Park but from the main entrance, it was another 1 hour bus journey.

Kinabalu is a great tourist site but it still has to catch up on itself in terms of tourist conveniences.

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