A sea of people

Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Paris


City of Lurve

Think Paris and one can imagine the romantic scenery of River Seine with all of France’s well preserved architectural attractions lining along the banks and tourists in boat tours sailing by. There’s certainly an awe seeing the Lourve Museum, Sacre Coeur Basilica, to name but a few places, for the first time.

What was most satisfying is spending a lazy afternoon walking the tree lined streets of outer Paris and being able to enjoy the less crowded pace in local areas. Pick up some cheeses, slices of ham, a bottle of wine, a baguette and voila, a picnic for the park. What was scary is witnessing the mad rush for branded goods that necessitate long queues of tourists outside boutique houses juxtaposed with a surprisingly large number poor and unkempt on the streets… a moment for ponder

I’m happy to say that people of all colours, shapes and sizes call this place home; a veritable mix of cultures in food, music, art and personalities. All with the French touch of course. Paris is without a doubt a very large city and is served by a criss-cross of buses, metros, trams and trains that somehow work to ensure that moving around is no hassle. And what people say about delicious croissants is so true, but that’s just the start of the mountain to be discovered! Bonjour Madame, Monsieur.

Summer Lovin’ France

The finale to South America was flying the crazy leg of Santiago to Amsterdam with a layover in Sao Paolo. Can’t quite grasp that I’m on to the European leg of my trip. In Amsterdam, I rented the cheapest pedal bike and took a 30km ride along the Amstel river, cycling on flat winding paths. We passed by beautiful houses set amongst green pastures, the famed boat houses dotted the river and watched the world while away drinking iced tea at a roadside restaurant. On Wednesday, I flew into Montpellier in the south of France to go camping. Here, where the mountains and river frame a picture perfect setting, it is so easy to relax and have some time to think, and a bon fire at night completes it all. The tranquility is truly indescrible…


Leaving Chile

In the blink of an eye, my stay in Chile has come to an end. I can’t bridge the gap between my last post and the activities that have happened since, but I can share that it’s been a whirlwind of saying goodbyes, meeting new faces and plenty of bus miles clocked up. My last day at school finished off with a touching thank you ceremony. Tears rolled and all the silently imbedded frustrations and impatience were all washed away. There was a lovely farewell lunch at my host family’s place to cap it off before the winter camp in Santiago. Getting back into the city of perpetual smog took some time to adjust. The pristine air in Punta Arenas becomes more palpable. Luckily, our camp was 5 days of games and various fun activities linked to sharing the English language with excitable high school kids. More hugs and goodbyes on the final day where the students got to showcase their impressive linguistic and artistic skills.

It’s nearly 2 weeks since I parted with new found friends from the camp and I’ve travelled to a few cities north of Chile and am now hopping around in Argentina. I’ll share a few travel pictures and hope that it’ll be tempting enough for you to consider visiting this part of the continent! It’s hard not to think about my next trip here. Any takers? 😉

Of exams and competitions

After a dreary few weeks, school is kicking back into action again. As winter vacation is now nearing (around 4 weeks away), all the teachers at school are busy preparing the final test papers. Each semester, there are four small tests that accumulate toward the final grade. In August, 3 students from 6th grade will be selected to participate in Spelling Bee and 1 student from 8th grade will be chosen for Public Speaking. These national competitions are a great platform for students to practise the use of English and have a chance to mingle with children from other schools who share the same interest in the language. The participating children will be my responsibility for the next few weeks so I’ll have to sharpen my own skills to help them prepare for it. Since most of them don’t really speak English, and my Spanish is thus far mediocre, I’m pretty sure it’ll be challenging but fun. Nothing that humour can’t help resolve right?

Another activity I’ve volunteered for is to help a small group of high school students for a debate. These kids are under the tutelage of a teacher I got to know through our monthly English teachers’ network meeting. After working with them for the first time yesterday, I realised the big difference between teaching at a high school vs a primary school. The older children have a better grasp of English listening skills and seem more able to convey what they want to say. During my CELTA course, the tutors constantly reminded me to adapt my language to students by speaking slower, choosing simpler words or enunciating. Despite my best effort, I never seem to get it right. This experience here has taught me to be more conscious of my surroundings and teach the age group accordingly. There’s no one-size-fits-all in teaching. It’s more than just giving out information, it’s tailoring it to the audience.

Who would’ve thought that “becoming a teacher” would teach the teacher as much as it might teach the students. That’s probably why there are teachers who have worked for decades and yet still have spring in their steps. I know I’ve met a fair share here. So here’s to toasting their unending dedication and limitless patience!

Sara’s grand mansion

prior to its current renown as the gateway to antartica, punta arenas has also enjoyed a rich tapestry of history. there were the heydays of a gold rush, its time as a penal colony and the booming business of sheep farming. at its height, punta arenas was also a centre of international trade with ships calling in as a transit point between the atlantic and pacific oceans (this was before the panama canal opened). one of her most famous dwellers from the past era was Sara Braun, a lady reportedly of russian origin who married a wealthy portuguese pioneer named Jose Nogueira. as a couple, they commissioned a mansion to be built in the centre of the city and set about a no-holds-barred approach to ensure it was befitting of their stature as a prominent family. the testament to the grandeur of the manor still stands today at plaza d’armas and has since been designated as a national treasure.

in an unexpected day off last week, i decided to visit Palacio Sara Braun as a cultural education of this city. the actual site is located in the main square where there’re also a cathedral and the governor’s building, amongst other historical architectures. the mansion was completed towards the end of 1890s and is a 2-storey building enclosed by decorative metal gates. today, a part of the mansion has been preserved as a museum with its interior untouched while another section serves as a high end hotel for guests around the world. at the cost of usd2, it was worth the money to be able to walk through the mansion unguided and see first hand the grand decor which is heavily influenced by the french-european style. inside the mansion were ornate gold-lined plush furnishings with heavy chandeliers hanging overhead and large oil paintings in elaborate frames adorned the walls. it was like stepping back into the victorian era. walking through the whole house didn’t take long, but it left a certain impression as to what kind of wealth used to pass through this place. i certainly appreciated the chance to discover more about the local history.

(L) a modern touch of electronic doorbell next to handcrafted solid wooden doors; (R) looking up from the garden to stone walls and a lone balcony

(L) a window to the outside world from the reception area; (R) a guard house strategically located at the corner of the mansion


as my volunteering days here are numbered, 6 more weeks to be exact, i’m trying to find more interesting trips to do without burning the pocket. it’s an almost impossible mission but therein lies the challenge. while QEII celebrates her diamond jubilee faraway in london, we’ve been and will be busy celebrating the birthdays of a few volunteers turning a peachy age of early 20s. to keep sane in this cold weather, we party indoors and test our awkward feet with the traditional chilean dance cueca to keep in check one too many asados, desserts and winter food pangs.