Monday, August 30, 2010

Breaking News: Harrington's Survive First Day of School

It is not common practice for The Harrington Times to break from chronological order of news events, however, every once in awhile a story comes along that we believe our readers are eaer to hear. This is one such an example. We here at The Harrington Times expect that everyone is curious as to how the Harrington's are holding up in Korea and whether or not they survived their first day as Guest English Teachers in Daejeon, South Korea.

On Thursday, August 26th the Harrington's finally arrived in Daejeon after spending a week in Jeonju attending an Orientation conducted by English Program in Korea (EPIK). Arriving in Daejeon meant the couple would soon meet their Korean Co-Teachers and slowly begin discerning what the upcoming year of teaching would hold. The couple was eager to settle into a new home and begin living life in the ROK (Republic of Korea). This however was not possible on their first night as they had 4 apartments to choose from and were then required to allow EPIK and the landlords a day to furnish said apartment.

On Friday, August 27th the couple learned what their average week would consist of. Mike Harrington will be teaching 7th and 8th graders at Namsun Middle School with at least three different Korean Co-Teachers. Melissa Harrington will be teaching a wide range of Elementary Students at two different Elementary Schools. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, Melissa will be teaching at Seongchon Elementary, grades 3rd - 6th with two different Korean Co-Teachers. On Wednesdays and Fridays Melissa will have the great joy of working with grades 1st-6th with the classroom teacher of each grade, that's 6 Korean Co-Teachers.

The weekend passed and Monday, August 30th arrived seeing Mike Teacher and Melissa Teacher to their first day of school. Mike knew he would be presenting some lessons and was thrilled to have his first class run smoothly and efficiently. The following classes posed a bit more stress and challenges as students appeared bored with the curriculum and Mike Teacher wondered if he'd really be required to teach straight from the book for the entire semester. Melissa Harrington arrived at Seongchon Elementary school expecting to spend a day lesson planning and getting to know her main Korean Co-Teacher. Much to her surprise, but not displeasure, she was informed the 5th grade students would be arriving AND she would be introducing herself on the schools news program. Half ready to give an introductory lesson, Melissa Teacher finished her powerpoint presentation and geared up to interact with some Energetic Korean 5th graders. The morning passed with few problems and offered Melissa more than a few moments to smile and be grateful for these new experiences.

There it is, a quick recount of the Harrington's first days in Daejeon, South Korea. The Harrington Times will continue to inform readers of the Harrington's new life in Korea while also attempting to fill in the summer travels gap.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bangkok: The City of Scam

Late July, the Harrington's continued their ticket around the world and flew from Cape Town, South Africa to Bangkok, Thailand. Having purchased tickets months prior to having confirmed positions in South Korea, the couple banked on Bangkok being the perfect stop over and jumping off point for whichever lucky Asian nation would get to welcome them as teachers. This then, is how the couple ended up in Bangkok, a city they knew little about but would soon form a strong opinion toward.

The first hardship the couple faced upon arriving in Thailand was the swealtering heat and humidity combination. Having just flown in from South Africa's cool winter months, monsoon season in Thailand felt nothing short of unbearable. Hoping to be spontaneous, the couple had few things planned for their weeks in Thailand. A few hours in Bangkok and a quick read through the guidebook revealed that leaving the city as quickly as possible would be in their best interest. Now, at this point, it is important to state that Bangkok is worth a visit and could be a fully enjoyable tourist destination for a day or so, however, there are some things a visitor must be aware of to make the trip enjoyable. Bangkok, became to the Harringtons, the City of Scams. The Lonely Planet Guidebook was a great resource in letting the Harrington's in on some of Bangkok's dirty little secrets and walking the streets of Bangkok brought such secrets to life.

So, should you travel to Bangkok, here are some things to be cognisent of in light of scams and scam artists:
  • In general, Thai people do not commonly approach foreigners. Therefore, when a Thai man is approaching you with impeccable English, be leary.
  • Sometimes an approaching Thai will be in a tuk-tuk or have a tuk-tuk driver and vehicle within in shouting distance, again be cautious - the team probably does not have your best interest in mind.
  • If a Thai man is well dressed and begins chatting with you, finding out where you are from and claiming to have family there, he is lying.
  • If a Thai man tells you there is a holiday or your destination is closed today, he is most likely lying. En Route to the Train Station, the Harrington's received two stories from two different scam-artists. The first claimed that the train station didn't sell tickets to foreigners but don't worry, his agency did! Minutes later, another man claimed that because it was Saturday, the train station was likely not open, how about the couple go to his tour agency. These are lies and those telling the lies should be ignored, walked away from, and given the evil eye if necessary.
  • Only use a tuk-tuk if you've hailed the driver, negotiated a price and clarified that there will be no stops.
  • Metered taxis are best. Don't allow a taxi driver to offer you a "flat rate with only one stop"
    - it will end in bad news for you.

By now, most readers are probably wondering what is the scam here, what happens if you give in to these friendly offers. More often than not what occurs is tourists are taken to numerous "gem stores" where they are shown beautiful gems for good prices. Tourists are told of the success that could be theirs if they purchase large amounts of gems and resell them in their home country. Of course, the gems are fakes and worth hardly anything so tourists return home to be more than disappointed by their purchases.

For these reasons, the persistent, friendly-well-dressed Thai men, the Harrington's wanted out of Bangkok.

Monday, August 23, 2010

One Night in Khayelitsha

The day of the township tour was the day Mike and Melissa Harrington first met Miss Vicky or Vicky's B&B. Hearing her story and being in her hom, the couple new that a night with Vicky would round out their South African experience as nothing else could. Little did they know, just how fun, entertaining, informative and experiential a night in Khayelitsha would be.

Vicky had been operating her B&B for a number of years now. She opened up when her home was just a township "shack" and allowed visitors an inside look as to how life in a township takes place. Upon arrival, the Harringtons dropped their bags and then, as per request, were escorted to the daycare which was run just behind the B&B. At the daycare, Mr. and Mrs. Harrington were handed spoons and cartons of yogurt which they proceeded to feed to children 2-4 years old. Most children stared wide-eyed at the couple who were a litte less than sure as to what the normal feeding procedure was. Eventually, each child had enjoyed their afternoon snack so the Harrington's with only a few yogurt smears on their clothes, made their way upstairs to help with the older children as well as hear some enthusiastic singing from the crew of youngsters.

As parents and older siblings came to pick the kiddos up from school the Harrington's returned to Vicky's B&B where they soon met other township visitors, heard a wild tale about South African weddings and were eventually introduced to a young man who would happily take the couple on a walking tour of the township. Following the walking tour, the couple were entered into the games, energy and excitement of Vicky's children. The kids were thrilled to look at ALL the couples travel photos held on the memory card as well as play ALL of the videos stored on the Flip camcorder. In the process, more than a few more photos were taken.

After a large and filling dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Harrington were entertained and engaged in numerous clapping games until it was the children's (and the Harrington's) bedtime. One night in Khayalitsha is one night that will be forever remembered.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Imagining Mandela - Part 3: Robben Island

What can one write about Robben Island? It housed hundreds if not thousands of political prisoners throughout the Apartheid. It sits more than a 30 minute ferry ride away from the mainland. Barely visible from the Waterfront. It is both beautiful and haunting.

The Harrington's tour began with a guide name Craig who spoke with passion and wisdom about the prisons history and inmates. He explained to guests not only the textbook history of Apartheid but also imparted the beautiful and not so beautiful truths of the legacy left by Apartheid. He talked of the deeply ingrained fears that still lurk beneath the surface of whites towards coloreds, coloreds toward blacks and all manner of combinations. He talked of the psychological impact Apartheid made on his nations people. Apartheid wasn't simply the separation of people based on the color of their skin, but a process of creating mistrust and fear among the people groups so they would "naturally" separate themselves - believing that was the safest option. This he said, is still evidenced by the way life continues in South Africa.

But Craig also told the story of forgiveness and reconciliation. He spoke of the nations desire to "Forgive, but never forget." To hold on to the lesson of the past. To avoid such a catastrophy in the future. To forfiet seeking revenge and choosing rather to look past the color of ones skin and offer forgiveness and move toward renewal and reconciliation.

Following the island tour with Craig, guests were then introduced to their prison guide. Each prison guide on Robben Island was at some point, a political prisoner. Therefore, each tour is not merely the history of the island but more importantly the personal story of an individual prisoner. Our guide showed us the various cells were prisoners continued to be separated and treated differently based on the color of their skin - receiving more or less food and other amenities based on that color. The tour showcased their sleeping mats, the coutyard, various prison cells which included stories of prisoners who stayed their and of course Nelson Mandela's cell.
The entire experience and the entire day left the Harrington's contemplating a number of things: forgiveness, hatred, racism, reconciliation, peace, and in general; how to live as responsible members of this planet.
Cell Hallway
Returning to the mainland

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Imagining Mandela - Part 2: Township Tour

Following the visit to the District 6 Museum, the Harrington's, accompanied by Brian Smith, made their way into the townships. Townships were the response of the government to the forced removal of citizens in District 6 and other similar Districts around the nation of South Africa. At first the townships appear an image of poverty. House upon house, corrugated tin roofs, outhouses, trash in the streets and a few stray dogs. However, a morning with a good tour guide will give guests a much deeper understanding of what makes up the townships.

With nearly 2/3 of the population of Cape Town living in the townships, they are nothing short of life and activity. Numerous entrepeneurs post signs outside their homes advertising haircuts at So-and-So's Barber Shop or various grocery needs. Within minutes of entering the township of Langa, Mr. Smith inquired of Mr. and Mrs. Harrington whether or not they were hungry. He then pointed to the left and described a local favorite, smileys: boiled sheeps heads which, having been boiled, lips pulled back; seem to be smiling at the diner. The Harrington's passed, thankful for the simple breakfast of toast they were able to consume in the morning.

The Harrington's were taken into what used to be old hostels, where only men used to stay when working in the area but since Apartheid have been converted into housing for whole families. One room, no bigger than a small American bedroom, was home to three families. Parents slept on beds in the room while all the children from the 22 families sharing the 'hostel' shared a common floor. This of course is the worst case scenario and is related in large part to availability rather than poverty. Each of these families could afford one of the larger township houses, but are patiently waiting on the government to build more. It was in this neighborhood that the Harrington's received their first lesson in Ubuntu. The concept of unity amongst all of humanity. A concept they would soon see up close.

The Harrington's continued on their way and eventually arrived in Khayelitsha where they were to have the opportunity to meet with some of the communities outstanding citizens, entrepuneurs and practicers of Ubuntu. First they met Beauty, a woman with a beautiful story who will soon earn her own article in the Harrington Times. For now, suffice it to say that Beauty is giving this world Ubuntu by teaching women in her community to sew, for free. The couple then met Vicky owner of a Bed and Breakfast which Mr. and Mrs. Harrington quickly fell in love with and decided to book their last South African night there. The story of Vicky and her Bed and Breakfast is yet another story which will require it's own article. Behind Vicky's was a day care of sorts, started as a way to protect children and give them early education opportunities. The Harrington's enjoyed the smiles on the children's faces and the many songs they sung/shouted at the couple before they made their way out of the townships and into the city of Cape Town.

Imagining Mandela - Part 1: District 6 Museum

On July 19th, Mike and Melissa Harrington exited their hostel on Long Street and entered a day of reflection. Brian Smith, tour guide for African Eagle, met the couple at the front door of the hostel and helped them into the tour van. Mr. Smith greeted the couple and imparted the news that they were the only two on the tour this day, meaning the tour could be more personal and more imformative as well as more easily managed for their afternoon committment. Mr. and Mrs. Harrington had had many doubts about going on a Township Tour, fearing it would weigh heavily on the voyeuristic experience and would lack a practical, tangible, hands-on aspect. Immediately, their guide put them at ease with his gentle explanation of what would take place as well as his own connection to the townships as well as the tour companies committment to giving back to the townships.

With anticipation and a readiness to learn the Harrington's went with Mr. Smith to the District 6 Museum. District 6 was an area in Cape Town where many blacks, Indians, coloreds (term used in South Africa to refer to those of mixed race) and even Jewish families lived. As the Apartheid Government set in, this districts people were forced to re-locate. The district had gained the governments attention for it's prime location and beautiful views of the waterfront and Table Mountain, it was then determined that the area would be designated as "for whites only." The Museum is dedicated to the history and lives of those who lived there, in community prior to their forced removal.

The Museum showcased various momentos from the times that were shared and enjoyed in District 6 and their forced removal throughout the 1960s. Mr. Smith added to the history shown in the Museum by sharing his own stories: telling the Harrington's of the views he and his brother used to enjoy out their window and that which they saw from their parents window. He told the couple that Harrington was a main street, and seeing the couples name had triggered many memories of playing on Harrington Street with childhood friends. The Museum was filled with personal reflections such as these as guests had been encouraged to leave notes and fill in their names and memories on a large ariel map spread across the main entryways floor.

Although the couple had only an hour or so in the Museum, they had begun a long process of reflecting. They considered the ease and beauty of their lives. The hardship and brokenness of the worlds people. The ugliness of history, that in South Africa, Germany, the USA and many other nations. The truth that similar stories are currently being played out in countries such as Sudan, India, Burma and many others. The complexity of it all. The difficulty in changing things. The confusion and frustration of determining our individual and community role in such injustices. The Grace of God. The imperfection of a fallen world. The promise of a brighter tomorrow, of eternity. And, within minutes, the couple would see the strength and beauty of the same families who were relocated from District 6, their resilency and love for one another shining through the ugliness that had been Apartheid.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ubuntu for Mandela Day

The word encompasses a myriad of concepts.
An African Word
Giving Back to your Community
Loving your Neighbor as Yourself
Seeing others as Your Brother.
Your Sister.

It's found in the townships of South Africa. Ubuntu. Making sure your neighbor can eat. Making sure your brothers are earning an honest living. Are you well off? Hire a caretaker, a maid, your brother, your sister. Do you have a skill? Teach it. Share it. Empower others. Have you seen a problem? Children being abused or left alone? Someone is hungry? Work toward finding a solution. Start a childcare center. Prepare extra food.

Ubuntu was the word that encompassed beauty. The Harrington's came face to face with Ubuntu in the townships, on tours, and in lands beyond South Africa. On Mandela Day, July 18th, the Nation of South Africa encouraged it's citizens to give 67 minutes of their time for "Ubuntu" because Nelson Mandela gave 67 years of his life to polictical activism. A political activism that has offered the world a fresh and beautiful view of forgiveness and reconciliation.

South Africa's not perfect. Neither are we. But all of us would be wise to put a little more 'ubuntu' into our daily grind.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Rainy Day Tour of the Cape Peninsula

A Cape Peninsula Tour is an absolute MUST when spending a week in Cape Town, South Africa. On a gray, misty morning the Harrington’s alongside the Heller’s made their way into Cape Town to be picked up by BazBus at their main office. Hesitatingly the crew along with four other tourists loaded the bus and hoped for the sun to break through the clouds. The first stop allowed the group to see an overfed seal and feel enough chill in their bones that they eagerly reloaded the bus. Driving the coast afforded outstanding views of the 12 Apostles, waves crashing on the cliffs and the lush greenery of Southern Africa.

One highlight of visiting the Cape is Boulders Beach, the place African Penguins call home. Aside from strong fecal smells, the Harrington’s and other guests of the beach enjoyed watching the penguins waddle along the peach, poke their heads out of the bush, and screech at tourists from underneath the boardwalk. Having seen more penguins than expected, the bus was reloaded and the crew headed to the Cape’s National Park.

Upon arriving at the National Park each tourist was outfitted with a bicycle and enjoyed a short bike ride down through the park before arriving at their picnic stop. With energy levels renewed, the group reloaded into the bus and made their way further down the Peninsula. Hiking was the next order of business and all tourists were grateful for the sunshine that had finally decided to make an appearance. The views again were enjoyable and at times stunning, a perfect way for the Harrington’s to begin their stay in Cape Town and for the Heller’s to finalize their time in South Africa.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

BazBus: A Review of South Africa’s Hop-On, Hop-Off Backpacker Bus

Relatively convenient. Always fun. More comfortable than expected.

BazBus takes South Africa’s backpackers from hostel to hostel along South Africa’s most popular routes. The Harrington’s used their services about half-a-dozen times, made a few friends, caught a few winks of shut eye, watched District 9 and Avatar, and made it from one destination to the next all in thanks to BazBus.

Trains, Rain, and Calamari

It is with no great importance that we bring you this story or perhaps snippit, regarding the Harrington’s travels along the Garden Route. Twice, however, the Harrington’s stayed at Santos Express, a hostel set up in an old train located right on the beach in Mossel Bay, South Africa. The first morning, the Harrington’s were woken to the most splendid rising of the sun and crashing of the waves they had ever witnessed, highlighted by the fact that they were lying in bed, still half asleep.

Their second morning however greeted them with grey skies and a heavy mist. This morning they had hoped to go diving with Great White Sharks but instead found themselves stuck inside watching golf and catching up on a few odds and ends. All was not lost, as the couple took full advantage of the Santos Restaurant and enjoyed some of the most fabulous Calamari known to man before boarding the BazBus to make their way to Cape Town.


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