Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ship Life and Teaching

For my first full week, I was able to get off the ship at every port except St. Maarten, but I will have the chance another 7 times or so. Princess Cays is private "island" (a cay really) just for Princess cruise ship passengers. It is a cay that is part of the island of Eleuthera, in the Bahamas. It is a mostly flat, coral and limestone island with mangroves. It's a pretty cool place to just relax and do some exploring since this cay is pretty small (maybe 10 square miles at the most). It also has pretty good snorkeling. When we were in St. Thomas I went to a beach called Emerald Beach near the airport. Last week I didn't get the chance to check out St. Maarten and I didn't get a chance to go either because the ship didn't even go there...
Due to Hurricane Omar, we changed our itenary. Instead of St. Maarten and St. Thomas, we instead went to Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Grand Cayman. Ocho Rios is not the "best" city in Jamaica and it's not much of a city at all. People warned me of crime and hustling etc. but it really wasn't that bad, but I was with at least one other crew member the whole time. But I don't think I would have been afraid to go out by myself. There was the typical shopping that they have in all the ports (except Princess Cays; there is no industry there). There are fancy shops, tourist shops, and souvenir shops. Then there were the local shops. When the tourist area ended and the regular town started, you could definitely tell. Since I'm not that interested in shopping and there wasn't really anything to do in town at Ocho Rios, we went to the "world-famous" waterfall called Dunn Waterfalls. (They say that if you don't go to it, it's like visiting France and not seeing the Eiffel Tower.) Anyway, Dunn Waterfalls are a series of smallish waterfalls that go down a total of 600 feet into the ocean. Tradition is to take the stairs from the top and then actually climb up the waterfall. You make a big long train of people and hold hands as guides help you up the waterfall. I didn't have enough time to climb up the actual waterfall, so after spending some time under the last falls, we climbed back up the stairs. It was beautiful, but seeing as they charge money and offer the climbing tours, it's kind of like a tourist trap. It's nice, but different than I was expecting. But it was worth the crew price of $5. I just wish I had more time...
That's the thing with most cruise ships; you normally have a half a day in port (at the most). And if you are working, then you have even less than that. My schedule works out perfectly. I teach two hours in the morning and then one hour in the late afternoon. So, that gives me a great majority of my day in port if I want to, but it's still not enough to really go out and explore and get a real feel of a place. I feel like I am just getting a small taste of these places, but that's ok. It's a very nice taste. Also, in a way you are limited to the geography of where the ship is docked. Of course, you can take a taxi or something, but that is time and money. So, for the most part, I've stayed pretty close to the ship. There are also tour excursions in port that I can go on. Apparently, I can even do some of them for free. These are the side trips that passengers pay extra for. Things like small boat rides, snorkel trips, hikes, etc. I haven't done these yet because one, my schedule and two, you have to sign up for them in advance and then it's based on availability after passengers have signed up. My schedule is great compared to probably at leats 95% of the crew on the ship, but a lot of the tours leave in the morning while I am teaching and then crew need to be back one hour before passengers for the most part. So, that does limit me, but I will try this week to get a tour or two. If I don't get what I want, well, I have about 7 more opportunities.
For the most part, there is not much to do in the ports we go to. That's why they offer these tours that you pay extra for. But, even so, the good thing is that when you are in port you are: on steady ground instead of a ship, you are in the beautiful Caribbean, and you can always do something cheap/free like go to the beach.
So, far I haven't really made too many friends. But it is difficult for someone in my position. A) I am a department of one; I have no colleagues. I have a supervisor, but he is kind of like Human Resources, so he does a lot with the whole ship. B) I am one of a handful of Americans. Crew members usually tend to hang out with people who are in their department (co-workers) and/or who are their nationality. C) I am physically isolated from much of the crew because I am one of only a handful of crew members who stay in a passenger cabin. Don't get me wrong--It's nice to be in one because it's bigger and I don't have to share a room etc. But then when I go out into the hallway I don't walk past a bunch of fellow crewmembers. Also, I don't go to the crew bar/recreation area very often. So, if I really wanted to socialize more I could try going there. But, then again, most people congregate in "their groups" so that can be kind of intimidating and what-not. And also, at night when that place gets going, I am usually preparing for my classes the next day or working out or winding down with TV or a book. (Right now I am reading The Kite Runner. Definitely check it out if you haven't read it yet. Big-seller across the world. And it's movie, too, but I'm going to wait to see it.)
I try to work out every day, and so far I'm doing pretty good at keeping that promise. I get to use the passenger gym, which is VERY nice, especially compared to the crew gym. Also, several times a week the "elite" crew members have a workout class in the passenger gym. One of the trainers leads us in different activites. It's brutal. We do things like lift dumbells, do push ups, and a combination of other things. One of the workouts is called the Spartan. Supposedly is the workout that the extras did for that movie 300. But, my favorite workout choice by far is the against-the-current pool. It is amazing to think that out of a potential 3,000 plus people that could be using this pool, it is usually empty (at least at night). Even the two spas next to it are usually empty. This is great news for me! (Since I'm supposed to yield to passengers in all things.) I'm actually surprised that if I swim at a fairly normal pace (maybe slightly quick) I actually go to fast for the current machine and I have to slow down so I don't hit it. But, it is still an awesome thing. I love it! This would be a good place to train for a triathlon! No excuses! Everthing is at your fingertips. Reclining bikes, spinning bikes, treadmills, "jogging" track, and, of course, my favorite, the against the current pool. The gym also has free weights, weight machines, and the ellipticals. I also enjoy the weight machine and the ellipticals. I am trying to work on my upper body strength, mostly for surfing cross-training.
Overall, my experience is pretty good. It just takes some getting used to. At first I felt very overwhelmed. But, now I'm used to it. And the teaching part was kind of scary, and it still is a little bit. It's my first ESL job and I didn't really have any training. My first time seeing the curriculum (textbooks, etc.) was on the ship. I'm not always very fond with everything in the curriculum and the material can be kind of dry sometimes, but I also have little experience, so to try to make it interesting and fun can be a challenge. If you had the time, energy, resources, creativity, and money, you could spend all day preparing for the next day and probably make a pretty good lesson. But sometimes I just have to stick with the textbook. My resources are limited on the ship. We do have additional ESL textbooks, workbooks, etc., but there is no real library, newspapers, magazines etc. Of course, I have internet access, and I can sometimes get it for free in the office, but other than that, it costs $20 for 200 minutes, which may sound like an OK deal, but your minutes get used up quickly, believe me! So, making for good, interesting, lessons isn't as easy as it may sound, unfortunately. We are supposed to stick to the curriculum and not venture too far from it (if at all). Also, if we have an idea for an activity, lesson, supplement, etc. then we are supposed to get it OK'd at the shoreside corporate offices ahead of time. I've done some small supplemental things, but because of the constraints that's about all I've been able to do. The corporate office is getting ready to create next year's curriculum, so they are asking the various ESL teachers for input for additions to the textbooks etc. At this point (with my inexperience and unfamiliarity with the textbook), I don't really have any input available, unfortunately. However, if I choose to do another contract and if they want me back I will have a few months in the winter to familiarize myself with the curriculum and work on coming up with new ideas. And in March I will also get the full training that I should have had already. So, hopefully that should help. Overall, the curriculum is pretty good. But there are some things that I kind of dislike about it. Also, the variety of students can make it difficult. In my beginning class, I have a student who speaks just a tiny amount of English (which makes me wonder how he got hired), and in the same class I have students who are very much advanced in comparison. My lowest student really should be in a foundation class, which is even lower than the beginning class, but we don't offer that right now on this ship. So, in the mean time, I know he is feeling very lost. I do have to commend him though on his bravery. I'm not sure that I would want to be in a foreign language class where I was miles behind everybody else.
And, actually, most crewmembers on this ship are very brave. I would not feel comfortable trying to do a job at a place where a foreign language is used, expected, and "mandatory" (at least in the presence of passengers) when I have only limited knowledge in that language. Yes, they often speak in their native languages to their national comrades, or in a shared/similar language to people with a related language. For example, Italians might be able to speak a little bit to Spanish-speakers. Spanish-speakers to the Portugese-speeakers. etc. And people from the former Soviet satellites might be able to speak a Russian-like language to each other. So, if i had to guess, I would say at least 80% of the crew are non-native English speakers. (It can even be difficult to communicate to the native English speakers...The accents from England, Australia, and South Africa, etc. can be difficult to understand in it's own right.) And there are people who are nearly native speakers, like Indians, that may have perfect or near-perfect English, but they may have a strong accent. So, for these crewmembers to go on an American, English-speaking ship where a customer may ask you a question at any time, I think is a commendable thing. They work long, hard hours, 7 days a week--most of them doing jobs that would be considered pretty bad by our standards. Cleaning cabins, cutting fruit, washing dishes, carrying luggage, cooking mass amounts of food. And some of the people doing these laborious tasks are educated members of their society in their home country. I guess they do it for the money and for the lack of room/board expenses. But a lot of the people here have wives, children, family back home that they send money to. They also get paid American dollars, so they may not have to pay taxes and in the past the exchange rates may have been really good for them.
Well, that's all I have time for right now. Got to go work out!

First Day

Well, my first day on the ship was pretty easy and nice. I was very glad to have been met onboard by the current English teacher that I was taking over for. I was so uninformed when I took this job, that I wasn't really even sure of anything. I wasn't sure if there would be a teacher here to hand-over to me. Luckily there was. I am so glad of that. Becauase, even though this seems that this will be a pretty "easy" job, there is still a lot to learn and a lot to take in all at once, both from the teaching side and from the shiplife side. So, the current teacher was a big help in telling me the ropes, but there is still so much that I need to learn about everything (teaching, shiplife, etc.). The first day, I just sat-in on her first class and she introduced me. After that I had dinner at the Officer's Mess (Officer's Dining Room) with her. The food was pretty good. You can order off the menu or get food from the buffet line. The menu items tend to be small portions and gourmet-type food. While the food is gourmet-y, most of it hasn't knocked my socks off. However, I had an EXCELLENT gorgonzola cream pasta. I can truly only say that I've really only had maybe one or two dishes that have really been very excellent. But, don't get me wrong the food is pretty good and I am thankful that I have the privilege to eat in the Officer's Mess. They even have vegetarian options, which are usually quite interesting. (Maybe that's why not too much of the food has knocked my socks off--kind of bland; maybe if you were a meat-eater you would find things more flavorful.) Anyway, I think I lived a fairly cultured life, but a huge majority of the things on the menu I have never even heard of. There is always salad to get at the buffet, which is good because if you order one it is usually a bit strange and only like 4 bites. Unfortunately, sometimes the salad bar is just iceberg lettuce (ugh). There is always fresh fruit and at least a few fresh vegetables, decadent desserts, and there is even wine for the officers and staff. In case you are wondering, my position is equivalent to a two-stripe officer, which is very nice. So, this means that I even have most of the passenger privileges, but I haven't even really eaten in a passenger area yet. I can also eat in the staff mess or the crew mess, but I've only so far eaten in the crew mess once for breakfast because the other two were closed. That food was mediocre, maybe better, but at leat they have your basics for breakfast: eggs, potatoes, fruit, cereal, pastries, etc. So, I will definitely eat in a passenger restaurant soon.
So, after dinner I watched a stand-up comedian. And I even got my trivia on later--twice! I played a guess the movie poster trivia game (and I got close to winning, but I wouldn't actually have stepped forward if I won, becasue I don't think that would be very fun for the passengers). Then I played a What Country Are You Looking at trivia. They would show us a country from the map (but with no surrounding countries or anything) and you had to guess which country it was. A team of older folks asked me to join their team, and the customer is always right and I can't let them down, so how could I say no :) And, actually, I don't wear a uniform and I didn't have a name tag yet, so they didn't know I was a crew member until I told them. My team did pretty well, but we didn't come close to winning. But we probably got about 70-80% correct. The older lady on my team was impressed with my geography knowledge and asked where I went to school. I told her SDSU, but I chuckled and told her that had nothing to do with it--I just like maps.
Soon after I went to bed...


Taking this ESL job aboard Princess Cruises has started out pretty good...My first trip to Manhattan was paid for. (Nice!) I didn't get to stay for very long at all, but hey, it was a free ride, so I'm not going to complain. So, anyway, Princess paid for my airfare, a pretty nicde hotel near JFK airport, and my meals at the hotel. They also provided transportation to the cruise ship terminal. They will also pay for my airfare back home, as well as any other related travel expenses, as before.
Well, when I arrived JFK airport, it wasn't too long before I was on the airport shuttle. After I settled in a bit, I went down and had dinner at the hotel restaurant because the compnay paid for it. Right as I sat down to dinner I looked out the window and saw that it was starting to rain. A few minutes later, it started to pour. I wasn't too happy about this becuase I was hoping to walk around Manhattan (if I could figure out how to get there and not spend an arm and a leg, that is). After I ate, I talked the concierge and figured out that the subway to Manhattan is quite feasable (about $7 round-trip as opposed to about $60 taxi one-way); of course, it takes about an hour, but who cares? From the hotel, a hotel car took me to the nearest subway station in Jamaica (about 2 miles away). Unforuntately that cost me 15 bucks right there, but it was worth it. (That was almost my costliest expense of the night). I am not sure if Jamaica is in Queens or Long Island or what, but basically it's the Queens area, not too far from Brooklyn either.
The subway was a trip in itself. I spent almost the whole time reading my subway map, making sure I was on the right line and that I didn't miss my stop. The subway cars were rather bumpy and loud, so I could barely read. I saw a man with no legs begging for change going through the cars on his stumps and palms. There was also a magician with a rabbit and a dove. I thought those kinds of things were only in the movies and TV. I was also surprised to see a few people give them money. I would just think that New Yorkers wouldn't be able to or want to give money to people on the subway when they have to ride it every day, multiple times a day and see people like that on each trip.
As the concierge suggested, I took the subway to the 42nd St. Port Authority Bus Terminal station. Once I finally found my way to the street level after being several floors belowthe ground, I was in Times Square (but didn't realize it) becuase of my positioning on 42nd St (and my lack of studying up on NYC geography). So, first I headed east on 42nd street. It was drizzling and there were a TON of people walking on the sidewalks. All the people talking and bustling around, the jaywalkers (including me a lot of the time), the always-honking taxis (honking at the jaywalkers of course), the bright lights, the drizzle, and my excitment for finally making it to the city that never sleeps (and me trying to take pictures all the while)--it was like sensory overload! I went past Grand Central Station. Other than that beautiful building, one of the first things that I noticed when I looked up was the Chrysler Building, but there was no demarcation anywhere that I could see. On my right as I walked past Bryant Park was the Empire State Building, in all of its green light rain-soaked eeriness. I then headed north up Lexington Ave., I believe for about one block. I was still on a quest to find a label on the Chrysler Building, because at the time I wasn't sure if that was it. So, I then walked the on the other side of the Chrysler Building heading back west on a street that parallels 42nd (43rd perhaps?).
I then headed back up north again on Park Ave. I believe. Then I walked a couple of blocks past the southern border of Central Park and then cut over west onto 5th Ave south walking along Central Park. (I thought Park Ave. bordered Central Park (as would seem obvious), but then realized I'd missed it so went west and then south and then west again onto Central Park South. On my left was the Plaza Hotel, but it didn't look very much like itself or as impressive (with its trademark green roof and castle-like spires) at night. Then, I kept walking west along the south end of Central Park and found myself at Columus Circle, although I didn't know that it was called that at first, until I revisited it later after looking at my map. I then headed up north on Central Park West and had a quintessential NYC moment: a HUGE dead rat on the sidewalk right near the wall of Central Park--biggest rat I've ever seen, but it was a pretty taupe color. Then I cut over walking west some more until I got to Lincoln Center. There was obviously some show(s) going on. (I was envious of the theater-goers.) Then I walked down south on Broadway and ended up at Columbus Circle again, this time on the west side of it. Withing a few blocks, I walked past the neon lights of The Late Show with David Letterman/CBS sign.
Then I decided I better head down south and take either the "Top of The Rock" Observation Deck Tour at 850 ft. above see level (atop the 30 Rock Center at Rockefeller Plaza, aka the GE Building, aka NBC studios) and/or the Empire State Building. I really wanted to do the Empire or both, but I came to 30 Rock first. That view set me back 20 bucks! It was good, but I think I would have enjoyed it much better in the daytime. I then went down to check out Rockefeller Plaza. Didn't see Tina Fey or Conan O'Brien :( At Rockefeller Center, a security guard ? for 30 Rock offered to take my picture and then he started talking and wouldn't stop. And he tried to help with my lame camera. (It takes blurry pictures. But, of course, I haven't read the manual yet.) The security guard was very nice and friendly though. He nearly talked my ear off, but he was cool though. I really enjoyed hearing about NYC and everything from him, but I had limited time to see the city. He was a very nice guy from Haiti with a very minimal accent. We talked about my ESL gig and what he knew about 30 Rock, etc. By the time I got done talking to that nice man, it was too late to do the Empire State building; awww man. Well, maybe next time. And maybe next time some guy will ask me to meet him up there on Valentine's Day. Ha, yeah, right. Wishful thinking.
So, at this point, I still had to really check out Broadway more and Times Square (thee quintessential Times Square portion with the thin center medium separating the streets). I also wanted to see about checking out the lower side (WTC, soho, noho, etc.) and I also wanted to check out Harlem, but seeing as it was around midnight, I was pretty sure that wasn't going to happen. So, anyway, after 30 Rock, I checked out St. Patrick's Cathedral and then proceeded to Broadway/Times Square. I was getting hungry and wanted something "cheap" and fast, so I went to the brightest McDonald's I've ever seen (and the most expensive). I had something new, a cinnamon bites/ cinnamon roll and, of course, a flavored ice coffee (yummy!). Then I found the 42nd st. subway again and decided that if I would try to subway it to WTC and maybe walk around down there, but I don't think that southbound line was running, so I just decided to take the E line back to the JFK area to my hotel. I got off at the station that I got on in Jamaica and instead of dropping another 15 bucks or so on a taxi, I took the 50% less money AirTrain that connects to JFK. From JFK I walked the deserted airport-cargo streets to my hotel (about a mile or 2).
I really like the little bit of time I had in Manhattan. I was very surprised at how narrow many of the streets were. But I suppose the fast-moving car traffic and the easy-to-cross against the light foot traffic makes up for the narrowness. Given my lack of New York prepardness, my frugal spending, and the few hours that I could be there, I think I made the best of it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

5 Ports of Call for my Eastern Caribbean Tour on a Princess Cruise Ship

5 ports of call in the Eastern Caribbean

(7 day cruise)

1. Ft. Lauderdale
2. Princess Cays, Bahamas
3. St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles
4. St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
5. Grand Turk