Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sitting on a Gold Mine

With our first stop in Vietnam, we were actually treated to quite an amazing opportunity.  One of the parents of my student owns a gold mine in Vietnam and offered to fly us there to see it if we wanted.  HECK YA!

It is crazy how this opportunity even came up.  Me and James were talking about our plans in Vietnam at our end-of-the-year faculty brunch (literally 2 days before we flew out) because we still had no set plans yet.  No idea where we were going to go, for how many days, how we were going to get there, NOTHING.  As we were discussing this at our table at the brunch, it just so happened we were sitting next to this parent of one of my students, who also serves on our school board and whose wife teaches at the school.  While we were discussing is when he offered us this amazing opportunity.  We didn't think twice and immediately accepted.

As promised, Phillip flew us to Denang where his mine is located and even put us up in an apartment he has there for workers to come get out of the mines from time to time.  Phillip is one of the most interesting men I have ever met in my life and has had so many cool experiences, including traveling around the world with the president of Mexico, and it is evident the Lord has blessed him with money and Phillip continually tries to find ways to give back and glorify God with this blessing.  Truly an inspirational man, and he completely spoiled us for the three days we were with him.

When the day came to actually visit the mine we had to get a really early start and left our apartment at 4:30 am.  Reason being is that it took a while to get to the mine and we had to be done with our tour before the daily dynamite explosions at 4 pm.  I think the drive to the mine was possibly the best part.  First we took an extremely bumpy and winding road just to get to the base camp for the mountain, and I have a sneaking suspicion our driver was trying to set a new personal record time trial based on the way he was driving.  Once we got to the base camp feeling a bit rattled and nauseous it was time for the fun part.  To take us to the top of the mountain, since there were no roads, they hired these drivers on Russian motorcycles from the '60s.  It really was an exciting fun ride, but there were definitely times where I thought "I hope we don't die".  We climbed 60 degree inclines of jagged rocks, crossed rivers 3 to 4 feet deep, and all on a tiny old motorcycle.  No matter how I try to describe the difficulty and ridiculousness of this ride, it will just not do it justice, but I want to know who was the person that said, "yep, I believe we could get a motorcycle up this thing!"

When we eventually got to the mine we were greeted by the security guards who are trained and experienced Muay Thai fighters, a.k.a. people you don't want to mess with.  They then introduced us to man in charge of operations for the mine who was going to act as our tour guide.  First they explained the gold extraction process, or how they get the gold from the rocks.  The gold in this mine does not come in nugget size pieces, it actually comes in fine micro-particles that located within pieces of pyrite (or fool's gold).  To get to the gold they first have to mine rocks from the mountain, which is done through dynamite and jack-hammers.  The rocks are then brought to the "crusher" which turns the boulder sized rocks into pebbles.  Once they become pebbles they are put into another crusher which pulverizes the pebbles into sand.  In its sand form, the gold extraction process can then take place.  They fill a new pit every day with sand and pump cyanide into the pit to be filtered through the sand and they repeat this process a few times.  The cyanide is acting as a chemical to break off any other minerals attached to the gold and should leave pure gold particles in the sand.  After the cyanide bath, they then pump zinc into the pit which has magnetic properties with gold and will attach itself to the gold.  All that is left after that is to filter out the zinc/gold, burn off the zinc, and then they are left with pure gold.  Pretty interesting.

After the tour of the extraction process we got to tour the actual mine.  The mine was exactly as I had anticipated; cramped, dark, and damp.  One of the geographers went with us and kept pointing out the many different gold veins that were running through the mountain.  After about thirty minutes or so in the mine, one of the Filipino miners came to us and began pointing to his watch and saying "boom boom".  That was all he had to say, and we were B-lining it out of the mine before the daily dynamite explosions started going off.

Before we had to make the equally scary decent back down the mountain on our Cold War era motorbikes, the miners cooked a delicious Vietnamese lunch for us.  My favorite part of traveling is getting local experiences that aren't built up for tourist and seeing things others don't get to see.  This is what made this visit to the mine extra special and such unique experience.

 Waiting to cross the river

 The mine


 The "crusher"

 End result

 Cyanide Bath

 Going through the mine

This a point where I felt safe enough to take out my camera


It would be a lie if I tried to deny that having 2.5 months of paid vacation every year was one of the best parts of being a teacher.  Living in Southeast Asia makes that benefit even sweeter with it being so easy to travel here.  Taking full advantage of our time, two other teachers at my school (Jason and James), one of their college buddies, and I flew out the morning after our grades were due.  First stop: Cambodia.

Flying into Cambodia we had heard there was not much to see/do there aside from their big hitter, Ankor Wat, in Siem Reap.  However we flew into Phnom Penh and having done my research there was one point of interest there that I wanted to see and was able to talk my comrades into visiting before departing for Siem Reap.  This was the Cheong Ek Killing Fields from the Khmer Rouge days.  The Khmer Rouge was the communist ruling party of Cambodia's not so distant past, and Cheong Ek was their Auschwitz.  Here countless prisoners were executed if they did not seem suitable for the agrarian society the Khmer Rouge was attempting to establish (some were killed for having too soft of hands, a sign you are not cut out for the rough farm work).  I found it extremely interesting from its historical perspective, but also extremely heavy and depressing being exposed to the incredible lack of humanity that went on at this place.  None more indicative of this than the "Killing Tree", a tree that the Khmer Rouge smashed babies against claiming, "if you want to kill the plant, you have to kill it's roots".  The center of the memorial has a 6 story tower that inside contains many of the skulls that have been excavated from the victims, and they are arranged based on their injuries.
Skulls of the victims 

Killing Tree

Bracelets left behind for the children killed 

Collection bin for bones that continue to wash up with the rains 

"Magic Tree": Loudspeakers played music from this tree to drown out the cries of the victims

A bone still in the ground

After our moods had been slightly dampened we booked a taxi to take us 5 hours to Siem Reap.  The only reason anyone goes to Siem Reap is to see the world famous ancient temples of Ankor Wat.  I had always thought that Ankor Wat was just one temple and would just take a few hours to see, but I was way wrong.  Ankor Wat just refers to one of the temples and being the most famous has given its name to the entire complex, but there are in actuality over 50 temples and each one is different from the next.  Every book we had read told us that we could not do it in one day that you need at least two days, but two day passes were the same price as the three day pass so we bought the three day pass.  It was an incredible feeling to just be walking through the jungle and just come up on these magnificent 12th century temples.  Felt like a scene straight out of jungle book.  My favorite temples were probably Ankor Thom, where the narcissistic king had his face carved all over the temple, and Ta Prohm, where nature has run rampant and trees are growing through the temple walls. One of the coolest, and most surprising, aspects of Ankor Wat was the relatively unrestrained access to everything.  Unless it has just been determined unsafe or if they are working on reconstruction, you as the tourist pretty much have free reign to climb, touch, and see every aspect of the temples.

 Sunset at Pre Rup

 Ankor Wat

 Which one is not like the other?


 We rode bikes 10km to Ankor Wat one day

Ta Prohm

Ankor Wat was the highlight of our trip, and now that we had seen as much of it as we could pack in, and had become pretty templed-out by the end of the three days, it was time to take off for our next destination: Vietnam.  Unfortunately, Jason had to leave us for this part of the trip as he had a ticket back to America for the summer.

Friday, June 1, 2012

End of School Reflections

Now that the last of my grades are entered, and the year has officially come to an close, I can finally take a deep figurative breath.  My goal for my first year of teaching was to make it to the end of the year and still hopefully want to continue being a teacher.  So looking back it was definitely a successful year.

I think back to all the behavioral issues, parent conferences and e-mails, deadlines, lesson planning, field trips and the many other things that is cumulatively responsible for my hair loss.  Then I read all the notes the students wrote me in my yearbook, recall the shout-outs from the departing 8th graders during their speeches to the returning Middle School student, and remember the hugs, comments and love I received at the end of the year and I wouldn't wish that I had any other job.

The learning curve was STEEP this first year, and there are many things that I did not do well, or many places I could have done better, but becoming a great teacher is an ever evolving process.  It requires continual growth, a disdain for contentment, and a constant desire for improvement.  "Greatness" of a teacher is not measured in test scores (that helps you keep your job though), but rather it is measured on the level concern and impact on the students' overall development of character and well-being, which I have learned sometimes requires the "tough love" mentality.  Now taking an introspective reflection of myself at the end of this first year, I feel that I can hold my head high and be proud of the foundation that I have laid for my development into a "great" teacher in the future.  

Now it's time for some well deserved vacation time! Off to Cambodia :)