Saturday, 19 November 2016

The End: Leaving Oman

Now that I've had time to digest and reflect on working and living in Oman, I'm ready to offer my thoughts on the time we were there.

Why We Moved to Oman

My initial decision to move to Oman was based on fear. In January, the Irish chef was offered his job in Shanghai, but it didn't commence until August. Without any opportunities in Canada, I knew I had to find a good-paying job to tide us over until then. I was offered the job in Oman with Hawthorn Muscat, and then after an interview with Adveti/MOE (UAE), which I flew back to Toronto for, received a job offer with them. Both were for teaching in the gulf, but the main difference was salary. The other difference was that HM wanted me in Oman ASAP, whereas Adveti/MOE informed me that it would likely take 6-9 weeks. Adveti/MOE took their sweet time getting everything sorted (I had to keep on them AND the recruiter to get things underway. I gave up on them at the end of September choosing to try my luck in Shanghai rather than wait any longer. I primarily blame the recruiter/recruiting company in Ontario who I dealt with-AK Resourcing).

The Best Bits

In spite of the wonderful things I'd heard about Oman, I knew of HM's reputation. Furthermore, I was stationed in the small town of Ibri. To get to an actual city, one would have to drive to Nizwa (east) which is just over 135km away. The capital, Muscat (east), is 217km away. Heading north to Al Ain, in the UAE is just over 150km, and Dubai is 295km from Ibri. Renting a car every time you want to leave is tedious, but doable. Ibri is not without its charms. Seeing goats, donkeys and camels on my trip to work never failed to make me smile. Moreover, people in Ibri are extremely kind, and whether alone or with others, locals always stopped to offer me a ride-men and women. This kindness extended to my students, whom I loved. My class was full of brilliant, funny and warm girls who I will always treasure. Other perks? The date trees dotting campus gave ample fruit that I snacked on all summer, and who can deny the seemingly awful combination of mint lemonade that, to this day, I LOVE! The natural elements in Oman are stunning. Don't ever misunderstand my love of the outdoors there. On clear days, even the scorching ones, I was happy to be outside and exploring! Sohar, Wadi Dam, the mountains...It was incredible.

The Worst Bits

While there were pros, there were cons as well. My biggest physical problem was with the provided accommodation from HM. Now, it's no secret that I didn't pay rent. However, if you want to know what I need in life to keep me happy then let me apprise you: a HOT shower with substantial water pressure; clean air; communication; great people...coffee. The last two are clearly luxuries, but I wanted to add them ;)  Get back on topic, Mik! Right, so from the beginning of June until we left in August, we had NO hot water or water pressure. HM DID offer to let us stay in a hotel while repairs were being done. Yet, after claiming that the problems were fixed ("repairmen" came three times and never actually mended anything), and me contacting HM to notify them that there were still problems, nothing was ever resolved. In fact, the head office didn't answer my texts, calls or emails.

Another issue for me was the endless haggling with taxis. Taxi drivers there don't use their metres, so I'd have to fight over a flat rate from point a to point b. Many saw me, a foreigner, and would try to rip me off even though I knew the basic rates around town. I walked away from more taxis in Oman than I ever did in Kuwait. To be fair, Omanis drive taxis in Oman, not expats, so it was a different dynamic than Kuwait. Even if we could get a decent taxi price, there was nowhere to go. No nice coffee shops, restaurants, gym/places to exercise or-yikes-malls. So even on days when I didn't want to cook, I'd have to because we couldn't go out. There isn't diversity in the food availability there. Again though, even if there was, you couldn't walk/exercise there a lot of times because there were so many sandstorms, and I mean like the scary kinds you see in the movies. All of the sudden, a yellow cast would come through the windows, changing the hue in our apartment and we'd look out the window and the wall of sand suffocated everything in its path. In Kuwait, the sand particles simply hung in the air and the visibility wouldn't be great, but you could still go out. However, dust clouds in Oman swallowed everything and at times visibility was zero. Gross.

The surprisingly disappointing aspect had to do with my co-workers. The contract I was offered was six months with possible renewal based on my performance and the company's renewal with the government. However, I decided not to renew; I thought I had a better paying position in the UAE, but more importantly, in the six months I was there, I, unfortunately, didn't meet a kindred spirit. It was the usual bag of ESL teachers, but there was something very off about the bunch I worked with (the locals AND expats). I have never worked in such a toxic environment. People were so unprofessional. They gossiped and tore each other apartment openly and behind each other's backs. Even people I thought were friends. I learned not to trust anyone, but what who wants to feel like that on a daily basis?? The best thing about them was that they taught me to be more cautious with colleagues in the future. I really should have known better after working abroad for so many years.

In spite of those concerns, my main reason for not renewing was personal and had to do with me. Every institution I've worked at since LIS (excluding TQLS and The Educational Help Centres), has killed my love of teaching. I don't mean to blame, but the educational systems (in Ontario, Kuwait, Oman and China at least), are set-up in such a way that makes me believe that they don't actually care about educating students. Money is the priority (in private and secondary/post-secondary schools). Instilling responsibility, accountability, self-reliance, etc..., is not the priority (not to mention teaching financial planning, survival skills, logic, critical thinking, etc...). Add helicopter parents to the mix and you've lost me. The college I worked at was actually a bit strict which was interesting. However, whether I gave 10% or 110% still didn't matter. It was extremely demoralizing, and to stay would have slowly and painfully crushed my soul. I knew the UAE would be more of the same, so it was a blessing in disguise that nothing ever came of it.

In the End

Perhaps it was the time and/or the place. It would have definitely have been different if we'd lived in Muscat. Regardless, I'm-as always-SO grateful for the experience because I understand now that I needed one more journey to the gulf to truly feel like I'd had a fuller, richer experience in that region. I wouldn't take it back, and I miss things about Oman/the gulf (the SUNSHINE!!!), but it's time to move on. The gulf was the place I recovered from my break-up with Habibi. It was the place that showed me my true value and worth as an educator. It was the place I found love and lifelong friendships, and it revealed the things that are most important to me: helping others, pursuing knowledge, and always trying to better myself.

The Here and Now

So, here I am in Shanghai, China, with the Irish chef! We have friends here: the Canadian Science Guy (from Guelph, Ontario), who we met and befriended at AUM in Kuwait, among others the Irish chef has made. Also, I have landed an AMAZING job as the new Lead Editor for an educational institution!!! It's the break that I've been hoping for, but couldn't land in Canada.

Friday, 4 November 2016

A Japanese Canadian in China

I had signed a contract for a teaching position in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and after waiting nine months-yes, NINE months, for the contractors to get their act together, I stopped waiting and took it as a sign that I'm not supposed to be in the gulf. My incredible Irish chef never stopped asking me to join him in China, but I wasn't sure about...A lot of things. I'm not unaware of the recent tumultuous history between Japan and China. I have studied Asian history, read books and news about Asia often enough to know about the tension among Japan, China, and Korea (background info: http://asiasociety.org/china-korea-and-japan-forgiveness-and-mourning). I have a guilty conscience about Japan's actions...However, with zero offers for work in Canada and the strong desire to head to the far, not middle, east, I took a deep breath, applied for a tourist ("L") visa, and got on a plane to Shanghai. The weekend before I left, I was lucky enough to celebrate my aunt's 50th birthday in Hamilton and squeeze in a belated birthday bubble tea :)

 Wild Orchid, a Portuguese dining spot in Hamilton (Ontario): http://www.wildorchidrestaurant.ca/
 Calamari!!! This was AMAZING!
Shrimp...Sorry it's so blurry :(
 My sister, not a fish or seafood fan, ordered a chicken pasta dish.
 My dish was HUGE and I barely made a dent in it. A potato dish with cod and onions. SO YUMMY!
 My dad chose a seafood risotto which smelled incredible!
The birthday celebrations continued at my aunt's sister-in-law's home :)
 What was left of my homemade apple crumble!!! I used almond flour, added ground cloves and ginger, and allspice. I also cut the amount of sugar. I received the recipe from a colleague-turned-good-friend, Leah! Her baking photos on Facebook make me hungry!!!
The fall decor!!! I don't do anything of the sort, but I LOVE autumn and Halloween decorations!!!
A quick, but awesome belated birthday date with some special girls xo (birthday girl: bottom right)

Fast-forward a few days, and a hop, skip, and a jump across the Pacific brought me to Shanghai. My first weeks here were filled with rain. Additionally, I struggled to find a mask to filter pollution. Luckily, we're in Shanghai-not Beijing-where the AQI (Air Quality Index) is A LOT lower than its Northern neighbour. For example, yesterday, Shanghai (Yangpu) was at an "Unhealthy" level of 168. On the other hand, Beijing was at a "Hazardous" level of 363. Gross, gross, gross!!! Now, I will be the first to admit that my knowledge about the roots of pollution in China is almost nothing. From what I've heard and the information in Leonardo DiCaprio and National Geographic's documentary, Before the Flood (2016) [You can watch it free here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90CkXVF-Q8M], it has to do with the overuse of coal and fossil fuels. For some background information, check out this link: https://priceonomics.com/why-is-the-pollution-so-bad-in-beijing/. I am continuing to do research and learn more. On my reading list: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, by Naomi Klein (2014).

Just like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie!
A necessity, not a luxury. Sadly, I rarely see people wearing these...And if it can get worse, children almost NEVER have masks on :(  Heartbreaking.
As if the mask wasn't futuristic enough, the Irish chef and I took part in some VR! Craaaazy! We chose a horror option and it was freaky!!! We want to try out another one that's like the Psyclone at Canada's Wonderland!

In spite of my voracious appetite for food, I've been warned about the quality of food here...I can't speak for the street food, and if you saw the level of cleanliness, or lack of, you'd understand. Unfortunately, my gut is too sensitive, so I've had to be careful. That being said, I've gotten to try out a few nice places so far :)  The Irish chef and I went out for Japanese food with his colleague and colleague's girlfriend. I didn't take pictures because I didn't want to weird them out. I DID, however, take pictures at the Italian and Korean spots we hit up.

 Bella Napoli (fb page: https://www.facebook.com/bellanapolish/)
 Outdoor patio seating
 The Menu
 ...The rest of the menu, lol!
 The Irish chef's steak was undercooked. He ordered medium-rare and got rare meat.
 My pasta was undercooked. ANNOYING! The gravy-like sauce was underwhelming. I wasn't impressed. However, the pizza and calamari looked good.

Before lunch at Bella Napoli, we visited the Shanghai Public Library and it was AMAZING!!! The Irish chef and I are bibliophiles, so it was a great outing!!! 

 BOOKS!!! In English!!!
 They have a great selection of books by Australian writers :)
 Ohhh, yeah! 7th from the right is Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman (2015). 
The gardens, which I knew nothing about until I read this article in The Atlantichttp://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/04/a-visit-to-the-shanghai-public-library/391032/
 Mmmm! Korean starters and pickles!!!
 Our rather tiny dinner table, lol!
Salad (bottom), kimchi (top right), and a fruit salad...Wait...Wha?!?
The beef cooking to the left and the aubergine were the high points in my opinion :D
Seafood pancake!!!

So amid stares of curiosity, indifference, and wonder (the wonder is mine), I'm once again in a place where I blend in rather than stand out. My virtually non-existent Mandarin puts me at a disadvantage, and I've relied on the kindness of locals to help me because, while some written Chinese is understandable (Japanese people learn the Japanese and Chinese reading of symbols that the two nations both use), some is completely incomprehensive. It's these days when I'm out on my own that it dawns on me: I'm not unsafe here, and I'm so grateful. When people learn my nationality, no one is rude or mean, at least not yet. I'll never deny or forget the tragedies that have passed; I'll always apologize and make every effort to move forward in a meaningful, peaceful manner (that's the short version).