Archive for July, 2011

Teaching English in Mongolia

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

Orkhon Camp is an English Summer camp about 40km out of Ulaanbatar. Through a friend of a friend we got in contact with the school and were able to teach English for 3 weeks at the camp. We only found out that we were definitely going the day before, so with some last minute rushing around we packed up and cycled to the school, where we were able to leave our bikes. We then hopped on a bus with the students and off we went. The road out of UB is fine and then we turned off onto a dirt track that took us out into the countryside, with green hills, mountains all around. It doesn’t take long to escape the city!

After a couple of hours of driving and one bout of travel sickness (poor kid), we approached the camp. I was delighted to see a brand new big building with a welcome banner and colourful bunting greeting us. To the left were 7 gers (yurts) and all around us were hills, wild flowers and forest. What a lovely setting!

Chris and I were given our own ger, with a double bed and a wood burning stove, table and chairs and a dressing table. All very comfortable and fun. Inside the school building there are 2 large classrooms and upstairs is a big space for dining, discos and playing games, as well as a great big terrace area. it is very well equipped and organised. The bedrooms for the kids are in the main building and we did have the option to sleep inside, but opted for the ger, partly for novelty, but also to have our own space and some peace and quiet – kids are noisy, especially en masse!

We divided the kids into groups based on ability and Chris took A1 class, the most advanced, then i took A2 the next level. There were two more groups A3 and A4. Colin, an American film maker and raft guide was the third foreign teacher. Both Chris and Colin have curly hair and the students sometime got them mixed up which was funny!

Then finally Altaa, our lovely Mongolian teacher who we got to know very well and enjoyed spending time with. Not to mention being able to run to her with questions mid lesson when the kids didn’t understand something.

The day starts with morning exercises, breakfast and then lessons start at 9 until 10.30, then 11- 1, lunch break and then final lesson from 2.30-4pm. After that there is some free time before homework and dinner. Each evening we would also run some kind of activity, from talent shows, discos, quizzes and other games, to movie nights, basketball, football and ping pong tournaments. Finally we would fall into bed about 11pm! It is a pretty long day and I really don’t know how anyone is a teacher full time, it’s exhausting!

The students are pretty good and most come from well-off backgrounds, so perhaps not your typical Mongolian kids, in terms of their disposable income and expectations. However, they were all great kids and we got to know them all very well. In my Class I had 4 boys and 2 girls.

I tried to make the lessons as fun as possible and as varied as could be. The middle lesson is quite long and it’s hard to concentrate for 2 hours, so we’d often make them go for a run outside half way through, or do something outside. I’ve come to the conclusion that being in a classroom all day isn’t the best way for some people to learn. That said being city kids, many of them were so distracted and annoyed by the butterflies, insects and bugs outside that lessons could easily disintegrate, despite telling me how much they ‘love the nature’. I tried to use this opportunity to simply speak and talk in English to them.

Despite our perception of Mongolia being traditional, nomadic and remote, like the rest of Asia, the modern world and all it’s technology, is very much alive and well here too. All the kids have mobile phones and cite ‘playing computer games’ as their hobby. There is little mobile signal up in the hills, but one place on the hillside got reception, this was subsequently named ‘Mobi hill’. We realised just how important mobiles were to them when one day, a little girl in floods of tears came to us cos her mobile had stopped working. We tried to help her by looking on the (very slow!) internet at the Samsung website, but no luck. She was so upset that she had to go and lie down for a while! Later that day we saw her with a blackberry type phone, I asked who it belong to, oh it’s mine she replied. Aged 10 – two phones, wow! Maybe we are just behind the times and this is the world kids live in now. Phones became a bit of an issue as time went on with kids sneakily trying to play games in lessons, and during some activities some of the boys were more interested in playing on their phones than the game we had lined up. In lessons we regularly just took the phones away, however during free time it’s hard to stop them and maybe we just have to accept that they will play them, and stop being old fuddy duddies!

We were also surprised at the amount of sweets and crisps and fizzy drinks everyone was eating. Some kids were quite overweight and unfit – a run to the basketball posts was enough to have them puffing and panting, ready to keel over! Which at the age of 10 is a worry! Even though this is growing problem at home and in the US, I don’t think we expected to see it here. However these are the richer kids with more money to buy fast food and sweet things, you don’t really see many poor kids who are overweight in Asia. I try to remember the copious amount of sweets, hula hoops and kit kats I used to eat as a kid and not be too hard on them, however we also ran around outside for hours playing with our friends and messing about. We weren’t sitting still playing on our computers and mobiles phones. Gosh now I do sound old don’t I, “in my day…”!

On the first Sunday we organised team building activities with a spiders web where the whole team has to get through the holes in the web, but you can only use each holes once. Toxic barrel, where you have to find a way to get the ‘barrel’ over the ‘toxic water’ to safety using just two ropes. Trust fall, simple activity where you stand on something with your back to your team, and let yourself fall back, they have to catch you. And finally 3 planks of wood that you have to put together of the ground in such a way that it make a structure strong enough to stand on. This one was by far the hardest and none of the groups were able to do it. During this activity they had to speak English and had points deducted for speaking Mongolia, with the exception of the team captain who was allowed (some of the beginners would have struggled to know what was happening otherwise!). They all seem to enjoy the activities and were quite competitive.

During lessons with my class and some evenings I ran a singing session, teaching songs like Yesterday, Let it be, ABC, She’ll be coming round the mountain, Eidelweiss and ‘I say a boom chicka boom’. This was great fun and I was impressed at how good they sounded as a group, the girls were especially good. Karaoke is huge here in Mongolia and singing is still part of their culture, so everyone is more relaxed about it.

Weekends were always fun and many parents would come to visit, bringing goodies for their kids, and baby brothers and sisters came too.

Dash and his parents come to camp at the weekend too, Dash brings a selections of Mongolian beers for us to try and Saturday night, with a disco for the kids, and some relaxing and socialising for us worked pretty well, especially with a lie in on Sundays! One day they killed a sheep and then cooked it straight away using hot rocks inside a big metal container, on the fire. Once it is ready they take out the hot rocks and pass them round, everyone takes a rock and you rub it in your hands, to soak up the flavour. The rock is covered in the juice and fat from the animal, some of which is used in expensive hand cream apparently. Then the meat comes out and is still on the bone in huge pieces. You simply take a piece and Henry the eighth styley just tuck in, eating it off the bone, or cutting big chunks off with a rather large knife! There are also whole carrots and potatoes that have also been cooked in the pot on the fire. Absolutely delicious! For carnivores like us, Mongolian food is heavenly – so much meat! Dash’s mother said to us – ‘you eat like us, you are like Mongolian, very much’.

The offal and head was also prepared for us eat. I totally agree with using all of the animal that you have killed, so that nothing goes to waste, however my taste buds have other ideas! I am not huge fan of liver, kidney or intestines, but i did try some to see what it was like. It is ok but i wouldn’t order it in a restaurant. The head, well the cheeks of the sheep are pretty tasty and soft. I also got given the palette or roof of the mouth, this is given to the women usually and by eating it you will become a better tailor or good at sewing. it was a bit chewy, but ok in bite size pieces. The rest of the group were entertained watching us try all these different things.

One of my favourite evenings was with all the women, Bianjal, Altaa, the 2 cooks who are both young, the doctor and the lady who does all the cleaning. Only Bianjal and Altaa can speak English, so the other ladies asked lots of questions and Altaa and Bianjal translated. They wanted to know what i thought of Mongolia, what I think of Mongolian women, how i find the children, how i met Chris, my plans for the future, will we have children, how many – all sorts of questions! It was so nice and great to spend time with other women and learn about each others lives. It turns out we are not so different really and I said that I feel the women in Mongolia, and Asia generally, are the back bone of the country, they are the ones that organise everything, that keep the family together and provided for, they seems to make sure everything gets done and maintain some kind of stability. That’s not to say the men don’t pull their weight, but women are more noticeably busy, hard working and caring, keeping the fires going, whilst their husbands are nowhere to be seen. I pretty much got a round of applause and lots of smiles for that observation!!

The location is wonderful and over the time we’ve were there so many wild flowers started to appear as the weather got warmer. I decided to photograph as many as I could as i couldn’t get over the range of flowers just on one hillside. One of my students was keen to come with me and show me the butterflies too, he was telling me about some of the flowers. The red one grows above the red potato and is called something beginning with Tumus which is the word for potato. As we walked, the grasshoppers jumped out of way, as Colin out it in his blog ” walking through the grass here, is like committing grasshopper genocide!” there are hundred and hundreds. If you are quick, you can pick them up and study them closer. There are also huge bees and lots of butterflies everywhere. If you want to see more of the flower photos have a look here:

We got to know all the kids so well and know more about their personality. Some were noisy and a handful, others very creative and engaged, other spoke with a natural confidence, some were funny and one student, little Munkh who arrived not knowing any English, improved and learnt so much during his time that we felt he should be given some kind of award. It has been great fun teaching him and his friend Tuggle and they were very funny!

On the last night we had a bbq and a disco. dash arranged for the herdsman to bring over a horse for us to ride, so we had a lovely evening riding around before devouring huge amounts of meat kebabs, which were amazing. The girls got all dresses up in nice dresses, the boys didn’t make quite such effort, and the music started – they all love ‘trance’ (unfortunately) and the three of us did our best to try and educate them with a bit of James brown and other classic rock music, but Basshunter and co won the day, with the exception of Michael Jackson, they all like MJ which provided a bit of light relief. We were all dancing till late and ended up awarding them graduation certificates about midnight! Everyone was sad to be leaving and we said lots of goodbyes to our students.

Anujin, Yanjka and Bujin

There is so much more we could tell you about our time at camp, but this post is already pretty long! In short, we had a great time! We also got paid for the work and help with our visa, which will allow us enough time to cycle across Mongolia to the west. On top of all that we’ve made some great friends – Altaa, Dash & Biangal!

For more photos of our time at camp, go to flickr:

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Livin’ the dream!

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

This blog post was inspired by Nancy Vogel (family on bikes) post called Why do some people live their dreams and others don’t? which you can read here:

Last night I met with Ripley Davenport, a desert explorer who’s just completed a 1000mile walk through the Gobi and towards the end of evening we got on to the very same topic too.

We meet people on the road who say ‘wow I’d love to do what you’re doing’ or ‘It’s my dream to cycle round Australia’, but they say it in such a way that you kinda know they probably never will. We say ‘well if it’s your dream then why don’t you do it?’ They usually shrug and smile or have a number of reasons.

Now before you think that we are just living in cloud cookoo land, we do know that in the real world people have responsibilities, perhaps an elderly parent or relative to care for, children taking GSCEs, a mortgage, a new baby, debt, illness… or commitments: jobs, degree courses, training programmes, contracts to deliver on, businesses to run. You can’t just drop everything right?

However that doesn’t mean you can’t plan to fullfill your dreams and ambitions at some point. These responsibilities and commitments are not  forever and you have choices, and a responsibility to yourself. Perhaps you want to build your own house, run a marathon, travel to a specific country, learn to ski, go to university, re-train as a teacher, run a B&B, ride a horse across South America… whatever it may be. How will you feel when you are 80, sat in your chair thinking about life, will you have lived the life you wanted to live, seen the places you wanted to go, done the things you always dreamed of?

Perhaps for many of us getting a good job, a partner we love, having children, owning a nice house and spending time with friends and family is enough. You are already living your dream and are happy and content. I don’t say this lightly as these are all fundamental to our happiness as human beings; the people we love and the lives we build around that. I think many people simply don’t feel the need to go off round the world or embark on some difficult challenge building a house or running a long way. However it doesn’t have to be something as big as that. It may be that you’ve always wanted to learn to crochet or paint, or learn Chinese. Maybe you’d love to play the trumpet or join a choir. Perhaps you want to write  book or become a paramedic or learn to drive.

The two reasons most cited for not doing the things you want are lack of time and lack of money.

I think the comment about  money is an interesting one. Money is a real concern for many people and lack of money is perceived as a valid reason not to do the things you want to do in your life. This, I believe, stems from our western society’s belief that money and status are what matters, you are measured on how big your house is and how much money you make. We are encouraged to indulge and be comfortable at all times, but work long hours to pay for such an exsitence. We are taught to equate success with money. The idea that you can achieve something without money undermines the very foundation of what we’ve been told our whole lives. So I think lack of money can be a real stumbling block for people to get over.

And yes, we all need some money. However what you  do with the money you have is a choice. At times it may not feel that way, but it is. We were  recently asked what kind of car we drive at home. We said that we had an old second hand toyota that cost 600 quid and then a second hand VW passat that cost 2400. He was surprised and thought that everyone in the UK or America would want have nice, expensive cars. We pointed out that to buy a brand new car in the UK would be same as the money needed to go travelling for a year. For us the choice would be travelling, and a car is really just for getting from A to B. Of course for others, having that brand new car, having saved and work hard to buy it, could be a dream in itself. Everyone is different.

Dreams do cost some money but how much depends on how you go about it. We are often asked how we can afford to travel for so long.

Firstly, I guess it’s important to know that travelling outside of the first world countries is very accessible because it is a lot cheaper (on the whole) and therefore easier to live and eat. You can get a plate of tasty, filling  noodles for about 40 pence from a  street stall for example. When you are on the road you don’t have all the bills to pay that you have at home. You don’t need to buy all the stuff you buy, clothes, gadgets, junk that everyone else is buying. There is no pressure to buy anything at all unless it’s essential to you and your journey. Get a tent and sleep in it, eat where the locals eat, walk instead of getting a taxi… there are many ways to save money as you travel. In short: you don’t need as much money as you think, to take to the road. And you will spend less money that you would living at home.

We are living off 10 pounds a day (on average) between 2 of us. That may not sound like much, but it goes a surprisingly long way. At first the idea of not having very money as you travel may sound like hardship, or you may think it will spoil the trip, make it too hard or unenjoyable. Again this comes from our belief that money = pleasure and happiness. Stripping back and having less can be liberating and living more frugally doesn’t have to be miserable. It can be quite creative and fun to cook tasty meals that don’t have much meat or using just the few ingredients you can find. You really don’t need lots of shoes and clothes. You don’t need to buy lots of souvenirs, your memories and photos will be powerful enough. You don’t need to pay to visit the expensive tourist attractions – seeing, speaking to and visiting local people can be enough. Or choose the one you want to go to most and treat yourself. When you do decide to splash out on a nice meal or a hotel with a hot shower, or a new shirt, you will really appreciate it tenfold and enjoy the indulgence probably a lot more than you would at home.

Yes it’s nice to be comfortable, to have running water on tap, a soft bed and a kettle, nice food, a TV, a sofa, a car… However not being comfortable all the time, whether it’s being outside of your comfort zone emotionally or being too hot, too cold, too tired, is actually an amazing thing. You are challenging yourself, learning about yourself and get to understand that as humans we are way more resilient and capable that we think. Overcoming challenges or a little short term suffering can be very empowering and gives you the highs and lows that are difficult to experience in everyday life at home. It makes you feel alive.

Malaysia, 5am, after a hot and sweaty night's sleep, camping with mosquitoes!

Malaysia, 5am, after a hot and sweaty night's sleep, camping with mosquitoes!

You don’t have to climb mountains  to do this. You can challenge yourself in  much smaller ways, by deciding to join a singing group for example – walking into a room full of ‘strangers’, feeling daunted, not knowing how it will be or if you’ll enjoy it, then having to sing in front of others, that can be a big step! But after 2 hours, the chances are you’ll leave with a huge smile on your face, feeling on top of the world, having met some new people and feeling so glad you came. I did this and met some great people. One woman with two young children and her own business to run said to me that she came every week without fail and that it was ‘her time, 2 hours a week that were just for her.’ She made the time to do something that was important to her.

I often think about the film Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray’s character wakes up and lives the same day over and over again. As the days repeat themselves he learns to play piano, read french poetry, learns a language and a whole bunch of other stuff. My reaction the first time I watched it was, wow I wish I could have all that time to learn the piano and a new language, wouldn’t that be cool. Then I realised that we do have all that time, it’s called your life!

People have started asking us what we will do when we get home, how will we find it being back. I have to say that we are really excited about it, Chris said two days ago, ‘the next 15 years are going to be very interesting’. I laughed at the fact he was thinking in such a long term way, but he is right, there is so much we want to do and 15 years isn’t really very long at all when we look at all the possibilities and new adventures that lay ahead. Rather than this trip allowing Chris to ‘get it out of his system’ it has inspired him in so many new ways and I think for every country we have been to, a potential new expedition has been dreamed up.

For me, I have discovered so much and love the freedom and joy of travelling. The bike trip was Chris’s dream and he has talked about it since the second day we met. My dream was to meet someone who would love me for being me, someone honest and kind and who I would be truly content spending the rest of my life with. I also love kids and having a family is my dream. However in order to be together we decided to embark on a journey that would fulfill his dream and let us discover if we were the love of each others life. There is no surer way to know you can be with someone and love them no matter what, than going on a long distance bike ride together!! You’ll be pleased to know that we have loved travelling together and that we are getting married next April.

Travelling has given me so much self- belief and a calmness, I love that I can now turn up somewhere, not knowing where to go, where to find food or a place to sleep, not speaking the language and feel relaxed and ok about it, happy even. I love connecting with people as we go and making new friends, there is so much to learn from people who live differently to you.

Sheltering from the rain in Bali, eating ornages with local lady and her daughter

Sheltering from the rain in Bali, eating ornages with local lady and her daughter

So our future plans look like a squiggly mind map, with some ‘normal’ things like “marriage and babies” on there, but only because that’s what we want. Alongside that are phases including: sea kayak from Java to Lombok, run a chalet for a ski season, improve my German so I am fluent, ride across Mongolia on horseback, join search & rescue team, keep chickens, train to be  a paramedic, design and build our strawbale house, listen carefully to our children, teach them about other cultures, design, make art, be creative, learn all the names of wild flowers and trees, train as a teacher, travel around South America, live in France for a year, run bike tours, canoe on UK rivers,  grow our own veg and fruit, invent things, run multiple businesses, drink wine & eat cheese, sing more…  If we can do some of this in our lifetime then we will be truly happy, and I look forward to my 80th birthday, when Chris has promised to take me rollerblading  – that gives me, wait…. 46 years to start learning then!

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Oeufs for Bikeabout!

Thursday, July 14th, 2011
Benjamin and Edward, from Middleham School, both keep hens, and they came up with the idea of having an ‘oeuf’ stall at their class ‘French Cafe’ on Tuesday.  They particularly wanted to raise money for Bikeabout as they have been following our blog in class.
They did it all themselves – from the initial concept of the idea to collecting the eggs, bringing them all into school, organising for boxes and making posters for their stall.  They set it all out and sold ALL the eggs they had.   They counted all their money and from selling 54 eggs, they made £20.26.
We just want to say a big THANK YOU to both boys for supporting us and Child’s Dream. They are very inspiring and we appreciate all their efforts and hard work. What a great idea, well done boys!!

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Bikeabout School Challenge – the results!

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

These are the 3 winning entries:

Bethan, aged 9

“If I could go anywhere in the world then I would got to Denmark. I would go there because there is so much history. Also I would love to find out more about Hans Christian Anderson’s stories. I might go to lego land as well! To get to Denmark I would swim or go in the Doctor’s TARDIS. (Probaly Impossible but it sounds COOL!) The thing I would miss most about home is my Brother and everything being so different.”

Rosalind, aged 9

Rosalind would go to Botswana on Safari and drew this fantastic picture:

and she would miss friends, family, my comfy bed, my clean toilet and toilet paper!

Joseph, aged 11

Joseph put together this wonderful powerpoint telling us how he would visit Tokyo taking some of the world’s most famous railway routes and a ferry!

And special well done to Class 2 for submitting a class entry!

‘A Room with a View’ – Class 2 at Middleham School, North Yorkshire

As their teacher Catherine said, getting 26 children to think hard about where they really want to go (other than Centreparcs or Disneyland!), take photos of each other and record their voices is quite an undertaking. But the results are great and we really like some of the ideas the kids have, especially Samuel who said he would miss his pet Goat called Dizzee rascal!
See their Voice Thread here:
Thanks to everyone for entering and we hope you get to go to all these great places sooner rather than later!

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New way to charge GPS and Phones from your bike

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Pedal Power+ have recently launched a new product the Super i Cable or SIC cable.  The SIC has additional advanced technology to enable complete compatibility with iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 charging systems as well as being able to charge standard mobile phones, Smartphones, Android, GPS and other small electronic devices that can be charged from USB connection.

It hooks up to your bike dynamo and has a built in battery that will help charge your favourite gadgets when your are out and about.  The SIC cable was designed as a lightweight option for mountain bikers, commuters and day riders. Imagine tracking your favourite mountain bike route without your phone or GPS dying half way or just charging your phone on the way to work, for free.  When added to the exciting V4 or V4i battery packs it gives you up to 8,900 mAh of power, great for bicycle tourists that want to get off the beaten track but still keep listening to music, update the blog, call mum and read your book at night.

We have used our V4 battery packs every day that we have cycled, over the past twenty months. Most recently this allowed us to keep the blog updated during our crossing of the Gobi desert. See our complete electronics set up here.

Some of you may know that we are sponsored by Pedal Power Plus, but we can honestly say that their products are great.  We hope to get a SIC cable sent out to us in Mongolia soon and will be reporting back on how it copes and helps us as we cross western Mongolia.

Check out the great deals on all the PedalPower+ products here


sic cable

The all inclusive SIC set includes:
A high capacity 2200mAh 18650 Protected, Rechargeable, internal battery that is customer replaceable. Do not use any other type battery.
A short iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPod cable
A short Micro USB cable
A short Mini USB cable
A short standard female USB cable
Nokia 2mm and 3.5 adapters
A led test cable
A piggyback adapter set
A handlebar clip mount
International wall charger set
External mini USB charging socket
Cable ties
Owners manual

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