Friday, September 5

Last Day of Greek Class Today

Ok, it will not be the "last" last day. But it will be the last day for ten days, while I go to Tahan and the students have an opportunity to "consolidate" their notes, their thoughts, and make sure their memory work is up to date. We have actually made a little more progress in Greek class than I hoped. We have made it up to first declension (a-stem) nouns. Yesterday I placed the various paradigms on the board and told the students to memorize them overnight. I also gave them a large number of vocabulary words to memorize. Of course I do not really expect that they will have all of the new memory work done by Friday, but I told them that it will give them "something to do" for the ten days I will be in Kalemyo/Tahan. Amazingly, we have lost only one student. This was his third attempt, so I rather think that he decided early on he still wasn't "getting it." The rest of the students are doing rather well, actually. My Greek class is the first exposure most of the students have had to the western approach to education.

Burmese education is based on an Asian adaptation of a British approach. Textbooks are outlandishly expensive, given the economic conditions here. So fundamentally everything is based upon the lecturer's notes. It is a classic case of "the notes of the lecturer becoming the notes of the student without having to pass through the mind of either one." The lecturer places his notes on a board one item at a time, and may or may not pass out a copy of his notes to the students. The student copies word for word from the board -- including spelling errors if there are any -- and goes home and attempts to memorize what he has written down. On exam day, parents show up outside the school building or school compound and shout answers to questions through open windows all day (they have the notes, after all). Then, if the student is able to answer 40% or more of the questions correctly, he passes that "grade" or "standard." Do that ten times and you are "ready" for university studies or perhaps a career in medicine.

Under no circumstance is a student expected or allowed to ask a question. That would indicate that the lecturer had not already done a good job of explaining the concept. Or perhaps the lecturer will not know the answer and will lose face in front of the entire class. Of course asking a question would also require the student actually to think about the information he is writing in his notes. As I wrote at the end of the first paragraph above, my Greek class is the first exposure most of the students have had to the western approach to education, including even their seminary courses. Rev. Thang Bwee was fascinated by the approach we take in class. He told me it was the first class he has ever taken in which the concern was with understanding the material more than just "covering" it. He hopes to implement some changes at RBI, but change comes slowly in this part of the world.

One Other Casualty

Matt woke up Wednesday with a "tickle" in his throat and by Thursday afternoon had a good cold bug going. Some of the students are wearing jackets or coats in class, but it did not occur to us that we would need a jacket during August in the tropics. The diet is not well balanced in Myanmar. We do eat a lot of fresh fruit (bananas, papayas, and pineapple mostly, but durian is also in season right now); we eat hot soup at least once per day; and I take a ton of vitamins -- or so it seems. But mostly we eat eggs for breakfast and rice in one form or another for lunch and dinner. Debby eats a lot of chicken -- she is actually varying her diet somewhat this year, eating three or four chicken dishes in rotation. Still it is not what Americans would regard as a "balanced" diet. So Matthew has come down with a cold. I do not know why I am not affected -- my mother would have explained that it was because we got caught in a rainstorm -- it is rainy season. If we had not been caught in a shower, then it was because he sat in a draft. Or because he is wearing sandals rather than shoes. Or some other second cause. I tend to think it is a diet thing, but anyway, he is not feeling well enough to make the trip to Tahan. Oh yeah, some people are advancing a "germ theory," but how could something that is invisible make you sick? His mother is convinced the problem arises from brushing his teeth with tap water. That is a sort of modification of the germ theory. She thinks there are blue meanies in the water.

He probably sounds worse than he really is. He does not complain. But he is struggling with a head cold, so his voice cracks and his head is stuffed up. We discussed Thursday evening whether he should go with me to Tahan. Our concern was not simply whether he would be effective with a cold. We were also concerned with how susceptible he would be to other diseases given a "busy" immune system. We conferred with Dr. Tat Nay Wynn (educated in medicine in the best Burmese fashion), who specializes in tropical medicine. He was of the opinion that Matt has either a head cold or something else. He offered to prescribe some medications, but basically he takes a "don't make it worse" approach to medicine, so he said a little bed rest and a lot of fluid would be the best approach to take -- provided the fluid involved was not the local water. So after weighing the risks and benefits of taking Matt along to Tahan, we decided that it would be best for him to remain in Yangon and recover fully rather than take a risk of exposing his weakened immune system to malaria, typhus, dengue fever, or "who-knows-what." Siang Hope will be with me, so I will still have someone to tote my bags. In fact, Pasiang already asked if I would put him up in the hotel with me, so he will be close at hand anyway.

So I Took Him To Get A Haircut

The haircut was for me. Matt cuts his own hair. He explains that with the "guard" on the clippers that it is impossible to make a mistake. Those sound like "famous last words" to me, so I still let others cut my hair. But at the "Vila beauty saloon" in Chinatown, they give a Burmese massage along with the haircut. Since Matt wasn't feeling very well, I thought perhaps the Burmese massage would help him feel better. Actually, it did; but sick is still sick. A Burmese massage may be worth the trip to SE Asia. It is a combination of shoulder massage, back-rub, shampoo, facial, and chiropractic adjustment. Matt and I are a couple of exfoliated dudes. OK, it may not be worth a trip to Myanmar, but it is definitely worth the buck and a half it costs.

There Is Email Somewhere In Tahan

...if I can find it. I will be there for ten days (longer than any previous trip). I hope to spend at least one day at the New Life Orphanage. Because of the difficulty with the banking system, I have decided to try to bring the funds with me on the aircraft. There are now about 75 orphans in the New Life Orphanage. They should already have rice in the new paddy field. I hope to be able to talk to someone in the Tahan area about raising coffee up there. Siang Hope told me that his grandmother used to raise coffee, but it was only a few plants around their house and it was for their own use -- they never thought of it as a cash crop.

Weekdays will be spent in conferences with church officers of the URCM (United Reformed Churches of MM) and MRPC (MM Reformation Presbyterian Church). Officer training will consist in discussions of church order, public worship, preaching the gospel of free grace, and the like. The evenings -- Monday to Thursday -- will be taken up in public meetings. The public meetings will be for the purpose of preaching the gospel to the local community. Hopefully over the past few years I've built up some capital with the local authorities. We shall see.

And Speaking of Email

Yangon now has broadband internet available. At least it is "kinda broad" band. It is like starband. They place something like a satellite dish or DirectTV dish on your roof and aim it at the nearest tower. There are now three towers in Yangon and connections are available up to 512 Kbps. The advertising flyer says 1MB, but that is crossed out and 512 Kbps written over the top of it. Still, that is a major leap from 9600 bps dialup with email only. One of the commercial plans allows 5 GB bandwidth per month and another is unlimited. They also encourage a single connection and a LAN via hub or router. Admittedly, I only understand every other word of what I just typed -- but I think it is a good thing. A commercial account is allowed 10 email accounts with the 5GB option and 25 email accounts with the unlimited option. As I blogged earlier, the atmosphere seems to be changing here. Earlier this week, as I walked down Bogyoke Aung San Road, a man put a flyer in my hand for a blues concert to be held that evening. Can Ronald McDonald be far behind?


Golden Guest Inn
182, Insein Road,
Block 9, Hlaing Township,
Yangon, Myanmar.

Phone : 951-524642
Fax : 951-526008
Email :

No comments: