So, I finally moved to my school last Thursday (the 27th).We left right after the Handing-Over Ceremony, where the Head of the Department of State for the state of Terengganu personally presented each of us to officials from our schools. On our way, we stopped by a minimart, then drove 45 minutes out from the city, passing more and more jungle-y underbrush and houses on stilts along the way. We finally made it to the school, SMK Lembah Bidong, where I'll be living on the second floor of a small apartment complex for teachers in the corner of the campus.
The apartment I'm in is gorgeous; it has a living room space, with a table and chairs for dining, a small but stocked kitchen, three bedrooms, and two bathrooms. It also has two small balconies! There's a washing machine and clotheslines for drying, and I can go eat at the dorm dining halls right nearby whenever I want. There's free wifi on the school campus (which is beautiful - all light pink concrete and cement, and red tiled roofs), and I just got Broadband that I can use in my apartment. I'll be posting a photo tour soon!
My first few days on campus were the weekend (which is Friday and Saturday here, not Saturday and Sunday!), so I spent most of that time cleaning and getting familiar with the place. I scrubbed the walls, floors, and surfaces of the bathrooms and the kitchen, cleaned all the dishes, swept and wiped down my bedroom, and aired out the whole place. Any bugs that might have been getting comfortable in their two months of privacy are now pretty certain that the apocalypse has come. (Here in the photo is my glistening clean kitchen!)
I actually found one really cool little guy in my bedroom curtains - a giant grasshopper! He was literally about 2.5 inches long and at least an inch wide, with antennae longer than my bangs! I caught him with a big tupperware and let him loose outside.
I ate my first few lunches and dinners at the girls' hostel (cafeteria), where they mostly serve rice, cooked vegetables, and some sort of meat or fish, all of which you eat with your hands. When I walked in the room, the excitement level rose palpably. All these girls in their white or black headscarves kept looking up, giggling, whispering behind their hands, and waving shyly at me.
The girls who had escorted me from the apartment stood in line with me, and then sat with me while I ate. At least a dozen more gathered around to talk with me while I was eating; I felt like an exotic celebrity! Also, apparently a sense of teacher-student hierarchy is pretty ingrained; the lunch ladies give me a plate and glass instead of a tray to eat off of, and students will actually ask to be excused from the table if they're eating with me.
(Here in the photo, I'm eating with some girls at the Canteen, which is more informal; you can get snacks and food anytime throughout the day.)
My first school day was on Sunday (see the "different weekends" note above). The whole school gathers in the "hall" for assembly at 7:15 in the morning, and since this was my first day, I was present to be introduced. Not only this, but I actually gave a short hello speech to the entire student body - all six hundred of them in rows and uniforms in front of me!
So far, I've taught two classes - one Form 1 and one Form 2. Form 1 kids are 13 years old and are in their first year at secondary school; my class was incredibly shy and almost completely silent. For a first day activity, I had them introducing each other to me, and I almost literally had to stand right in front of them to hear what they said.
Form 2 kids are 14 years old and are pretty used to secondary school at this point. My Form 2 class was loud and enthusiastic on the whole, except for when I wanted just one of them to speak, at which point that person would look like a deer in headlights while the rest of the class shouted at them. However, the class went off pretty well overall; we ended up dancing the hokey pokey together!
[read my next blog post for Chinese New Year...]