In early February, Rebecca went to Hong Kong for professional development, learning more about Advanced Placement Statistics. Then, at the end of February, during the Tet Holiday, we went to Chiang Mai, Thailand. In Chiang Mai, we got to see a night safari, make elephant poo paper, ride on songthaews, and go to the highest point in Thailand. There were markets and some of the best food in Southeast Asia. Also, Rebecca joined me on a charity trip to people throughout the Go Vap part of Ho Chi Minh City and to several orphanages, to provide food, and other supplies.
In March, we explored Ho Chi Minh City, nearly every weekend going to a different corner of the city. There were cafes, temples, and culture. Rebecca was nominated for the Secondary Teacher of Excellence award, given to the top teacher for the company that we worked for. She would find out that she was the first runner up, which is prestigious given the volume of teachers nominated for the award. Robyn came to visit for her spring break in March. We took a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels via boat, and went on a Vespa city tour. Between the boat and the motos, we were able to showcase HCMC rather well.
With Tet holiday landing in February, the traditional March spring break was pushed into April, so we left for Hoi An, Viet Nam for the holiday. The UNESCO heritage city of Hoi An is a fantastic place to be transported to the past. We went throughout the city walking, rode bikes through the countryside, went to An Bang beach, visited Marble Mountain, and canoed for several miles around the area. Hoi An is a special place, and very memorable. Rebecca traveled with other ladies for a weekend in Bangkok in April, making lots of time for shopping!
Rebecca went to Singapore in May, the prize for her placing in the Secondary Teacher of Excellence. She was joined by Jessica and Elizabeth, for a fun weekend away. In late May, we traveled by bus to Mui Ne, Vietnam for a weekend on the beach. It was a great way to wind down the year, and hit the Viet Nam beach once more before our departure from Ho Chi Minh City. May also meant our shipment to Abu Dhabi was departing, which called for numerous hours of packing and preparing.
In the closing days of the school year, I had the opportunity to travel with students to the Hang En Cave in central Viet Nam, the 2nd largest cave in the world. After hiking out to the cave, we were able to spend the night in the cave, an amazing experience. School in Viet Nam was completed in mid June, and we had a couple of days to decompress at Riverside in Ho Chi Minh City and say goodbye to our expat family, before making our trip home through Narita, Japan. In 2014, we had the opportunity to spend the day in Narita, so we knew the spots that we wanted to go, and immediately went to the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. After the flight across the Pacific, we landed in Denver, to spend our extended summer break in Colorado.
Before we knew it, summer was over and it was time to head to beautiful Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. On August 6, we left DIA in Denver for Chicago with 9 checked bags, hockey sticks, and 8 carry on bags and Rebecca’s mom en route to Abu Dhabi. We landed in Abu Dhabi in the early afternoon, where we were met by several people from the school, to take us to our apartment one block away from the Abu Dhabi Corniche and the beach. The time change take time to adjust to, but we were quickly off to explore the city. In August, we were able to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, went to an overnight stay in the desert, including a camel ride, and visited Dubai for the first time.
In September, we spent time getting our house to feel like a home, and seeing other parts of the city. The weather was starting to cool down at that point, and we were able to spend long stints outside. We arranged for a purchase of a car at the end of September, a Mitsubishi Pajero. Owen and Oliver both settled in school, with Owen in first grade and Oliver in a preschool program. They both transitioned really well and enjoy their “Abu Dhabi School”. At the end of the month, we went on a day trip to Dubai, visiting the local market, some of the souks, and the mall.
Rebecca went to the Blue Souk in Sharjah, north of Dubai, in October with a group to shop for carpets. The market was full of historical carpets, all handmade, and she was given tips of things to look for to determine if a carpet is worth what the vendor claims it is. With the weather becoming really comfortable in October, we drove to the desert to let the boys play in the sand. We spent the afternoon with sand toys, soccer balls, and were able to capture some amazing photos.
In November, we went to Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates for the weekend to see the second largest city in the Abu Dhabi emirate. Al Ain is an oasis city, and reminded us in some ways of Da Lat in Viet Nam. We went to the zoo, drove up the Jabel Hafeet, went to the Al Jahili fort, and spent lots of time swimming at the hotel. In the early part of November, I was with a group of students that qualified for the international competition of the World Robotics Organization, which was held in Doha, Qatar. Rebecca left with a student group to go to Pondicherry, India, for service with Habitat for Humanity; however, the trip was hindered with one of the most destructive rainstorms anywhere in the world for 2015. Rebecca was fortunate to be able to get home when she did, as the airport and many of the roads were closed due to the storm.
So the next day, when we braved the rain and floods to get to the village, we brought 1,000 kilos of rice with us to distribute to every single family in the village. They were shocked we were there. Amazed that we made the effort. And clearly thankful for the little bit of food we could offer them.
But the rain continued over night. And we were told the next morning that it would be impossible to reach the village. And that Chennai Airport (which we were meant to leave from the next day) was closed. So, on December 3rd, the other chaperones and I made the decision to load 26 high schoolers onto four mini-busses and travel across the Indian countryside for ten hours to the city of Bangalore where we would be able to catch flights to Mangalore and then on to the UAE.
Thank goodness the school's amazing travel agent was able to pull a bunch of strings and get us flights out when he did. Our other option would have been to stay put in Pondicherry at our hotel and wait for the Chennai airport to open. I am SO glad we chose to get out when we did. Had we have stayed, we most likely wouldn't have been able to leave until December 9th or 10th. And that would have been dependent on the road from Pondicherry to Chennai re-opening.
We made it home safely on the day intended albeit a little bit later (and half our group had to go to Dubai instead of Abu Dhabi). It was quite the adventure, but the students were incredible and all the chaperones kept their cool! It was a great trip, though I might take a year off before chaperoning another service trip!
We did have one day to work before the rain really got started. We mostly sifted sand and hauled dirt around, but there were a lot of smiles that day! We toured the local school and met the children of the village.Our students played games with the little kids and we had a great time getting to know the people we were helping.
And before the work started, we had a day to explore Pondicherry. We went to a place called Auroville which was probably the original hippy commune and is considered the point of origin for the spread of yoga and meditation to the Western world. The site was beautiful, and I loved seeing the 900 year old tree at the center of the commune.