Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

One of many golden Buddha statues.

This weekend I decided it was time I ventured a bit beyond my residence and actually did something fun. The temple Doi Suthep is just outside Chiang Mai, up on a hill overlooking the city. It's relatively cheap (free for the locals though!) and really easy to get to from my residence so I could justify it even on my current no-frills budget.

I walked out to the main road and hailed a Songthaew. I told him "Doi Suthep" and he asked "one way or two ways?" and I said "one way" thinking it wouldn't be too hard to get another Songthaew home. But apparently there was something else he was trying to communicate, which of course I couldn't get. So he motions for me to sit in the cab with him, instead of going in the back like normal. I do, and it's really quite novel. From the front seat you can actually *see* where you're going!

He took me to just about a block past my school, pulled over to the side of the road and pointed ahead to another Songthaew. Ah! Songthaews don't just take one person up the hill, you wait at this little stop until there's 6-8 people, then we all go up together. I had to wait a bit, but actually not that long. What Chiang Mai lacks in formal public transportation systems they *more* than make up for it with the tuk-tuk / songthaew industry. I think they're technically regulated by the government, but on an individual level they're really independent & go where-ever you need to go.

Anyway we didn't wait that long until there were enough people to get going. It was 80 baht for a round trip, and the driver indicated that we would have 1 hour at the temple. There was a French couple that wanted to stay for more than an hour, so they had to work something out. I thought about doing something similar, but then decided an hour would be fine - I do have work to do this weekend afterall.

Hazy view of the hill from behind the temple.

The drive up the hill was something else! On the one hand it very strongly reminded me of taking the bus up my hill to work/home in Portland. It was a very windy road with a lot of trees & greenery on either side. Just swap out the palm trees for fir trees and the bamboo with ferns. =) But I felt very much like just around the corner I'd see home. LOL. But it was also completely different from taking the bus in Portland. For one thing it was *much* faster. Seriously, it was a bit terrifying. He was just whipping around this way and that through all the turns. The back of the songthaew is wide open, so in theory, you really could just go flying out. I held on to the 'oh shit' bar that runs the length of the car along the ceiling. But one guy started looking a bit sick, so he actually *climbed out* of the car! He stood on the little step at the back and hung onto the ladder thing. I could *not* believe it. The Thai do not generally seem to be afraid of dying in a car accident. But that's a whole 'nother post.

It was a beautiful, if slightly scary, ride up the hill. Then we got dropped off at the front gate, and the driver gave us a little slip of paper with the number of the songthaew on it (and I believe a cell phone) so we could be sure to get home.

This is the beginning of the 306 steps up to the temple. I declined to take the stairs because my knee has been bugging me and instead paid extra to take the funicular. Oh, and all along the road here there are food carts and people trying to sell you stuff. I just smile and keep walking.

Children playing traditional music (actually just getting set up)

In the outer courtyard there were some seats where you could sit and watch kids perform traditional music & dance. I think one of the missions of this temple is to help educate poor kids, and simultaneously keep traditional arts alive. I sat and watched a little girl do a traditional dance. Here's about 30 seconds of it.

In the inner courtyard there was a huge gold-leaf covered chedi (not sure what exactly that is), a big gold oniony-dome looking thing... but there was scaffolding all around it. People were holding flowers and walking around it praying.

I bought some flowers thinking it would be easy enough to lay them on the alter, but then I watched and started feeling really self conscious. There's kneeling & bowing and waiing and burning of incense. I would have felt more brave if other farangs were participating, but it was a little strange. The Thai people all seemed to be worshiping whereas the farang were mostly looking around. But it's like supposed to be a tourist destination... there are official photographers walking around offering to take your picture next to this photo op or that one. I had asked if it was okay to take pictures, and the Thai folks were talking & taking pictures too... so it was kind of an interesting blend of sacred space & tourist spot. It was actually really peaceful.

I guess it could equate to visiting Notre Dame. I mean, when I was there I took pictures, but I also lit a candle & prayed. Obviously though, in a church I have a better understanding of what the rules are. So after watching for a while, I knelt down and put my flower on the offering table. I made a very self conscious attempt at a wai, but skipped the incense all together. Knowing me, the risk of setting the whole place on fire was just too great! =P

There were a couple of seperate buildings around the sides, and inside people would go in and pray. In this temple, there was a monk saying a blessing. I waited outside until they were done and then got this picture.

Several gold covered Buddha statues.

On the right those things on sticks are paper flowers, somehow people fold money into the stick and leave it as an offering. There were a LOT of places to leave money. Some of the boxes had specific charities listed on them, but most were in Thai. One had what looked like a UNICEF symbol on it. Some of them specified that it was for the overall upkeep of the wat (temple). So I guess even though the Thais get 'free admission' they probably end up contributing a lot more money than the farangs do.

This is the back, of one of the smaller temple buildings. I just can't get enough of the architecture. The colors don't come through that great because it was really overcast, but that gold against the blue was brilliant.

I don't think "Mom" means the same in Thai as in English. ;)

So that was Doi Suthep. There was actually a lot more to see (lots of little alcoves with gods & goddesses I couldn't hope to identify) but I only had an hour before my songthaew went back. I'll go back another day and make sure I have time to see everything. Before leaving though I stopped at a food vendor - someone was grilling sweet corn-on-the cob. YUMMERS! It was super tasty, and only 15 baht. On the ride back to town there was a couple from San Francisco on the songthaew so I chatted with them for a bit. It's weird to talk to people who are here on vacation while I kind of live here. They were telling me about this fancy 'traditional northern banquet' they went to, and I was telling them where they could get 30 baht fried rice with the college kids. =P

Ok - that was my fun for the day... back to work now!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Speaking English part II

The other day the instructor was talking about the British way to pronounce something and asked "Any ex colonies represented here today?" Which got a laugh because... well, with the exception of the Brit, that's exactly what we are. Of course *after* the class I thought of several great come-backs ranging from "yeah, until we kicked your asses in 1776" to "and if it weren't for one of those ex-colonies we'd all be teaching German right now." But it's probably better that I just kept my mouth shut.

I love sitting next to the other American. Seriously, I feel very much like he's my little brother solely because we're from the same country. It's weird... I'll see a farang (white person) on the street or in the store and I automatically think "American" but that's virtually never the case. Most of the time I wait and then they'll start speaking French or Russian or whatever and I think "wow - not even native English speakers". I've overheard a few Brits here and there, and I finally ran into an American business man on the Songthaew. I was so excited when he started talking because I was like "He's from California!!!!!" and sure enough he mentioned something about L.A. and I was like "I knew it!" =) and chatted with him for a minute.

Anyway I love getting to work with the other American in class because we actually speak the same language. Today there was an exercise to try to find a sentence that meant 'he rushed' and also 'rushing wasn't necessary.' OA and I were stumped, we got as far as "He didn't have to rush." but couldn't quite get something that also expressed that he rushed anyway. Finally the whole class shared answers and the Brit piped up with "He needn't have rushed." and I was like "What was that????" It was a bit of a shock to hear "He needn't have rushed." being said by someone not in Jane Austen movie. But apparently they really say that.

Later on break I was sharing my pineapple (OMG - the sweetest, juiciest pineapple ever) and the Brit said something I didn't catch and then said "Just takin' the piss." and again I was like "What was that?" like - does he need the bathroom? He had to explain that "takin' the piss" or "takin' the Mickey" (I'd actually heard "take the Mickey" before) was just making fun... and that it's a big part of British humor.

But fortunately, it doesn't go all in one direction. We were talking about someone and he said "What's that 'All hat, no..." and I told him "All hat & no cattle." Which he repeated quite properly "Awl hat and no cat-tle." until I got him to say "Ahl hat & no caddle" ... it was really funny getting him to say "caddle."

It's going to be interesting to hear how we all sound by the end of this course!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Halfway mark

I'm at the halfway mark in the CELTA course and still standing. In fact, I'm actually doing quite well.

I've always done at least reasonably well in school... I really thrived in my college courses. But a decade in ill-fitting and under-stimulating jobs left me wondering if my brain still worked. Turns out it does... quite well at that! We got our first assignment back yesterday, and had our stage one evaluations with the instructors this morning. The assignment wasn't easy, but it was pretty straight forward. We had to diagnose a couple of the grammar & pronunciation problems of a student and come up with activities to address them. I didn't do the best job ever, but I got it done and when I got it back it was graded "Pass" (I think the grade options were Resubmit / Pass / High Pass or something like that). Two of the guys in my group have to resubmit the assignment (one with only minor corrections of terminology usage) so I assumed that overall half the class would have passed. Nope... in the other group - *no one* got a "Pass" on their first draft! I wonder if that had to do with the fact that the other group works with more advanced students and therefore has more complicated errors. No idea. But I was shocked to learn that only 2 of the 8 of us passed... it made me even more appreciative that I passed!

Then in my one-on-one with the instructor I found out that I'm headed for a "Pass B" if I keep doing what I've been doing. My mantra for this whole course has been "I don't need to be perfect, I just need to pass." And I guess it's been working because I haven't over-thought or over-planned or over-stressed. I don't like having the expectation set that high though... it freaks me out a bit. So I'm going to keep telling myself "I don't need to be perfect, I just need to pass." and not psych myself out.

Even better than the grade, I had a good chat with my instructor. He was very complimentary - which is always nice. But also when I explained the parts of the course that I liked (collaborating with other teachers, working with the students) he said I'd get a lot of that once actually working as a teacher; and the parts that I really don't like - lesson planning, I'll get to modify a fair bit once I'm a real teacher. So that's good... that the career profile equals more of what I like and less of what I don't like about this course. It's also making me think that I really would like to get a Masters at some point, and become a "real" teacher.

Finally, I got to tell him that I didn't like his question / answer with a question technique. It was actually really great because I felt very comfortable and confident giving him that critique... you know... I could never complain about the people I worked with before. Yes, there's a strong "I'm the instructor / you're the trainee." boundary... but it's a lot more fluid, and less like my old job where if one of the faculty did something that I hated, I'd just have to suck it up and deal with it. Basically, I'm treated, if not as an equal, at least as an intelligent adult with a right to my own opinions. It's a nice change!

Now if only I could make some real friends!

In other news... there seems to be some kind of political situation going on down in Bangkok - I only have the most cursory information. There have been protests, rail workers are striking, certain main roads have been blocked off, some arrests, etc. etc. It looks a bit scary, but the only thing I've personally noticed is that instead of all the TVs in the restaurants being tuned to Soap Operas, they're all tuned to the news. I'm safe, everything is fine. When I got here I registered with the US Consulate and will keep up with their travel advice page. If the situation goes south (which I think is unlikely in the extreme), I'll do whatever they recommend. Heck - I have a bunch of Australian friends now, if necessary I could just hop right on over there!

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Ok, you folks have read through pages and pages and pages of unedited stream-of-consciousness travel blogging... you deserve a break. Here are some pictures:

The back of the school, those are our lockers, and that's the table where we hang out on break. You'll notice that it's all open air back here, so it can be quite warm & humid. Also, in the upper right corner you'll notice a couple of the boys' shirts hanging there. We wear casual clothes for the morning session and get changed after lunch before teaching.*
I am really glad I brought as many clothes as I did because I'm going through at least two outfits a day (one nice, one casual) and just don't have time to be doing laundry every night.

This is the classroom on the second floor where I teach. It's called "China", upstairs from "China" there's "Holland" and "England." On the ground floor is "Australia" where we have our morning input sessions. There is a mysterious door marked "Belgium" that we though might lead to a secret stash of chocolate, but were sad to learn it was just another door into "Australia".

Here is the big long row of food-stalls across the street from my school. There's a roof, obviously, but it's all open air. There are about 20 different restaurants, plus the awesome fruit man who's been trying to teach me some Thai, and the bakery lady with the heavenly brownies.

Some of the restaurants have menus in English, (often hand written) in addition to their Thai menus.... but most of them have pictures. I know enough Thai to ask for chicken and rice... and am never disappointed with what I get.

This meal - stir fried chicken & cashews was phenomenal. Two things to take note of, one is the portion size. This is what an actual portion size of chicken and rice should be. But it's not like a "right portion / right price" stupid promotional thing, it's not a 3 points 2 carbs Weight Watcher's thing ... it's just what the people eat. Same thing with the fruit I've been eating. It's not a health-food thing... it's just that right next to the bakery lady there's a guy selling fresh fruit in individual serving sizes. I'm not *trying* to eat healthy here... I'm just eating. It's just a healthier environment all around. The second thing to note is the price. This dish cost I believe 30 baht... which is about a dollar. The packs of fresh fruit cost 10 baht, or about 30 cents. This is what qualifies as "Cheap Fast Food" around here. Yes there's a KFC, yes there's a 7/11 with sodas and candy... but it's cheaper and easier to eat actual food. I really like that.

Quick update from today's lunch though. I have yet to figure out which restaurant is which, and I've always had good food, so I haven't cared much... but I'm going to need to start figuring it out. Today I ordered pork fried rice... and at another place I had it, it was divine. But here it was just on the edge of too spicy for me. I was doing okay, sweating buckets (what's new) but okay. Then I got to the pepper. Oh man... I almost started crying. The thing was, I was really really hungry so I just did the best I could to fish out anything that looked even vaguely pepper-esque and just eat the rice. And then of course, I had to spend some quality time in the bathroom before heading up to class. Fortunately I wasn't teaching.

*I typed up this post the other day, and just wanted to add that this was the yucky dirty floor I had to lay down on yesterday when I felt sick. Not the most pleasant thing ever.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not my best day ever...(receptive skills task - reading)

Engagement - "Think about a bad day you've had. What happened? In groups" (gesture 2 together, 2 together) "talk about a bad day."

Global task - "Read this" (gesture towards blog post) "and circle the topics you see." (motion circling on hand out.... hand out sheets to class.)

Topics: Sports - Food - Family - Digestive issues - Politics - Clothing - Offensive gestures

Instruction check - "Is this a speaking task, or a reading task?" (elicit 'reading task')


It started out poorly, brightened up for a minute, then got worse, and even worse from there, but now I'm home... eating... and feeling at least for the moment, better. First off, I didn't sleep that well last night - I was up entirely too late, for moderately productive reasons - and then got up a bit too late for a proper breakfast. I've been trying to keep food in my room, but really didn't have anything appetizing. All I wanted was a bagel... unfortunately, Thailand is not known for it's baked goods. I knew I needed to eat something, but I peeked into the mini-mart in my residence and nothing looked good. I didn't think I had time for a sit down breakfast so I headed towards school.

The songtaew driver completely misunderstood my directions (my fault of course since I don't speak Thai) got us all going in the wrong direction...when he stopped I had no idea where we were and had to get out my map to show him where I'd wanted to go. All kinds of awkward, I felt bad for not communicating better (must learn Thai!!!), and I'm sure he felt lame for taking me to the wrong place (really it's just a straight shot from my place to school... not complicated). Anyway, I got to school and thought I would at least see my fruit man and get something in my stomach before class. No such luck... his stall wasn't set up yet.

No problem, there's a little coffee shop near the school so I stopped in for a Chai Yen - Thai Iced Tea. I figured there would be enough calories in that to at least get me started.

I was wrong.


I get into class and start feeling a bit not-good. So I ran to the bathroom - Chai Yen went right through me (sorry for the TMI). Back to class, back to not feeling so great, back to the bathroom. Back to class again and we're talking about grammar - a really really important lesson for me, we were looking at all the possible tenses and example sentences for each. We were in groups putting slips of paper in order on a board. I was standing there and just not feeling quite right.

One of the example sentences was "I think I'm going to faint." (Future with "going to": usage - to make a prediction where there is some evidence from the senses in the present that the action/event will happen.) and after debating the tense for a minute I was like "I actually think I'm going to faint." And icky-stupid-cootie-boys in my group just kept going. I sat down and started fanning myself. I was not feeling better. "I think I need to lie down." Wonderful-only other woman in the class, who also happens to be a nurse-Sheila looked at me and asked "Are you okay? Do you need some air?" At which point I really started to lose it, I didn't know what I wanted or needed, I just felt like I was going to cry. "Let's go outside for a minute." she continued.

I went out in the back and lay down on the dirty gross tile out in the back courtyard. I just lay there for a couple of minutes trying not to just break down into hysterics... while Sheila told me to breathe, then got me some (filtered) water and a cookie. I sat up & ate the cookie, Sheila gave me some candy too and eventually I started feeling a bit better so went back to class where the icky-stupid-cootie-boys had naturally just continued the lesson without us. I know that that's the only thing you can do in that kind of situation (the class must go on) but I can't pretend I wasn't hurt that I didn't get so much as a "feeling better?" when I re-entered the class. Gradually I felt at least physically better and on our first real break of the day I went and got some "coconut butter crackers" (seriously the blandest thing I could find) & bottled water at the 7/11.

By lunch time I was feeling better and got a good lunch in me (not what I thought I ordered - but good nonetheless). Blood-sugar was rebalanced, hydration was restored and mood improved. And when I came back into the school after lunch one of the office ladies asked me if I was okay - she said she heard I'd been sick and was all concerned, patting my arm in a very reassuring & motherly way. I told her that I was fine, I'd eaten and I felt good now. So that made me feel better and not so much like no one would've cared if I'd just died there on the floor.

Mood improved further when I got some very good news in an email! Except that, in sharing that good news I promptly 1. made an extremely rude (in Thailand) hand gesture to all of the women in the front office and 2. brought up a very sensitive & painful topic for someone else. Although neither offense was intentional, I ended up feeling really bad about both. Onward - time for teaching practice!

I didn't teach today, and had put in a fair amount of effort towards my lesson plan last night so I was feeling okay about things when I handed in my lesson plan to my instructor. But for some reason my instructor and I have massive communication problems. It's a style thing. When he is just presenting information, I find him very clear and knowledgeable. I just take notes and absorb. That part is fine.

But then he says "If you have any questions - just ask me." and when I do try to ask him a question, he answers by asking me a question back. I understand why he does it but it's extremely difficult for me to deal with. It makes me not want to ask him questions because I know I'm just going to have to figure it out myself. So I ask my first question and he answers with a question - no problem because in answering that I do come up with the actual answer to my question. But then he makes a reply to the effect of "see how that works" which I took as a response to what I had figured out, and reply "oh - so that's not good?" but no... he wasn't replying to me, he was making an aside to the rest of the group - meta analysis of my question/question as an answer session with him and how it works as a teaching tool. Does your brain want to explode now??? Mine did!

So we sort that out and I move on to question number 2, but as I'm asking it, I know that he's not going to give me an answer so I start trying to work it out for myself. In the process of speaking, my sentence changes from a question to a statement. "You haven't asked me a question yet." my instructor replies and I want to scream because I'm not asking him questions because I know he won't answer them. Here's some meta-analysis for you, what's the communicative function of asking a question????? To get an answer! If you know you're not going to get an answer - why the hell would you ask the question????? My final question / concern is about my last activity on the lesson plan, what to ask the students in feed-back. He gives a suggestion, "What would you change about where you live?" but it uses a structure we haven't dealt with yet so I need to reframe it in the appropriate language. I start working it out and say "What do you like about where you live? What don't you like?" to which my instructor responds "That's not a question."

Rebel's brain completely short circuits - fizzy-popping sounds emit from ears.

I don't know that much about grammar, tenses confuse the heck out of me, I missed most of our grammar lesson lying passed out in the back courtyard. But I know, I *know* that "What don't you like?" is a question, it may not be the best question to use in feedback with the students, it might be using the wrong grammatical structure for my level of students, but I know that it is in fact a question. I stare confused at him for several seconds... I blink a few times. I'm totally lost, and he repeats what he'd said at the beginning "Ask me any questions and I'll try to help you out." Which clues me in - his "That wasn't a question." meant not " 'What don't you like?' isn't a question" but rather " 'What don't you like?' isn't a question to me your instructor about the lesson plan - so why are you saying it out loud?"


I wanted desperately to bolt from the room to go cry someplace. Instead I tried to calmly and politely state that his suggestion was helpful but I was just trying to verbally work out the language so I could hear it, then write it down so I wouldn't forget. I had more questions about my lesson plan but hell if I was going to ask them at that point.

Instructor's presentation of material - to standard
Instructor's rapport with students - not to standard
Instructor's overall shit-headed-ness - above standard

I wanted very much to go out for a beer with the guys after class. Even if they are icky-stupid-cootie boys... at least they're good for a laugh and we could all bitch about class together. But no, they didn't want to stop for a beer. They wanted to get trashed and more than likely pick up on Thai girls. I was not invited.

I hopped into a songthaew and hoped for the best (two crappy rides in as many days had me in doubt of ever getting home). I really really really wanted to just break down and cry right there, it was all just too much today. But there were already two Thai girls on the songthaew and crying would mean losing face. I wouldn't mind losing face - it doesn't mean anything to me, except that the appropriate Thai response to seeing someone cry would be to point and laugh, trying to spare me the embarrassment of losing face - and I just couldn't take that so I sucked it up. Jai Yen

And I was really hungry again so I couldn't even go home - I had to get some food. I do like the fact that Thai portions are more normal sized and I'll probably lose a bit of weight while I'm here... but it means that if I don't snack or don't pay close attention to meal times, I end up starving by the end of the day. So I just went to the supermarket to get some dinner & do some grocery shopping. Dinner was good... but again, small. So I picked up some bread, ham and a really special treat - cheese - for dinner. I almost didn't get the cheese, because it was so expensive, but given how crappy of a day I'd had I indulged.

Your eyes do not deceive you... that's exactly 4 slices of gouda cheese. Like, about as much as I could easily down in one sitting with a couple of crackers & a nice glass of pinot gris (mmm... I soooo need some wine). It cost 125 baht - or about $4 US. In comparison, my lunch today cost 30 baht, and dinner 40 baht (a full western breakfast cost about 100 baht). So each of those slices cost about as much as a full meal. DANG! I still have money in the bank, but I'm trying very hard to start living on a realistic Thai budget.

It was worth it though, I got home and made a second dinner of a proper ham & cheese sandwich and am actually full for the first time in several days. I'm also freshly showered and in my PJs so, aside from the piles and piles of work I need to do tonight (clean up my lesson plan, do my mid-course self evaluation & start on assignment #2), I'm feeling ok. Not great, but at least like I'm not going to faint, or offend anyone, or lose face if I cry. Ugh. Not my best day ever.

Pair-check: "Now check your answers with your partner" (indicate topic list) "did you circle the same topics?"

Feedback -
Write on white board 'Food, Digestive issues, Offsenive gestures' "Did everyone circle these answers?" (yes, or review) "Great job everyone! See you all tomorrow!"

Leave constructive criticism or lexical analysis in the comments section.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Riding in Songthaews with Boys

I taught again today, and it was kind of a mixed bag. I felt really comfortable, and I felt like I was actually teaching, but in feedback it came out that I'd skipped some things and didn't do some things in order. Most of the feedback was okay - and I passed, so that's all that mattered. It's just frustrating that when I do everything as asked it feels scripted and unnatural, and when I actually feel like a teacher - it's not quite good enough. Oh well, it's a learning process. It's only going to get tougher from here on out. I only need to pass, I don't need to be perfect. But now I'm worried about the first assignment, because I know I didn't give it my all. I don't know if I'm being lazy, or self-sabotaging or what, but I'm not putting in as much work as I could and I don't feel good about that. (So the Brit has a big problem with the word "should" so now I'm really sensitive to how & when I use it. But "I feel like I should be doing more work." is all I'm really trying to say.)

In any case I went out for beers with the guys and it was fun...and it was interesting. For the first thing... the guys are more into 'partying' than I am. I mean, I'm game for a beer or four ;) but not so much into drugs or other things they can do in Thailand. So it's a bit weird to be sitting there as they plan their next adventure knowing I'm not invited and I really wouldn't enjoy being there anywhere. It would help if Sheila & Joey would come out with us (they did pop in for like two minutes), but they're even less interested in partying than I am.

So it's just me & the boys and I was first subjected to a joke about prostitution - which wasn't funny on about 3 different levels... but I just let it slide. Then there was the discussion about how gambling, sex-toys & pornography are illegal in Thailand, so what do they do about porn? I just ate my dinner (and actually I can't even believe this was a question, I mean - why did he think the internet was invented??? You know, aside from for craft blogs. ;) ) And then there was the discussion about which country's girls are easiest. This was actually kind of funny. Aussie girls ranked high, but not quite as high as French Canadian girls. Then of course it comes to American girls and the statement is made "Yeah, American girls are kind of prudes." to which I could only say "Yeah... it's true." At least in my case anyway. I didn't want to go listing off the exploits of every 'easy' girl I know... I just left it at that. One of the guys tried to be sweet and was like "But that's a good thing." But really... I know they're all going after Thai girls this weekend.

It wasn't all just sex & drugs, we talked about politics, comedians, cultural stereotypes and sheep. You know... any time you get a couple Aussies together it's got to come up. And I know a good sheep joke.... I just couldn't remember it. Which you know, is always a thrilling conversation starter. =P I'm so lame sometimes. Thai beer isn't very strong (not nearly as strong as some proper Oregon micro-brews --- oh you don't know what I would give for some Drop Top Amber to share with the guys) so I didn't quite get to professing love for *everyone* at the table... just the Short Aussie. Which I hope he doesn't mind.

Then I got on a Songthaew with the Other American and got to talking so I missed my stop (you can't see squat out the windows). Except I don't think I actually missed my stop, my limited experience is that they don't exactly go in any logical order. There were three Thai teens already on, and three other Americans got on after us. I figured they'd drop off the Thai kids then get around to me. But we'd gone well away from my stop so OA told me I should get off and hop on another one going back. Which I did, and the Thai kids helped me out. In any case it took far longer and was far more expensive than it should have been. I need to be a bit more careful about that. But I'm home now so that's all that matters.

Ok - well, if I actually want to do better on my next lesson, I need to do some serious planning tonight. Just wanted to give you the news of the day. I'm afraid there aren't going to be too many more cultural experiences for a while... just class & (hopefully) hanging out with the boys.

^^ For your entertainment, I had taken this little video of my songthaew ride to the Night Market before my course started. It's pretty normal for me now (two rides a day) but it was quite novel when I first go there. For reference the other red pick-up truck we pass is also a songthaew - they're everywhere. It's songthaews or motor bikes for most people.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Spirit Houses

Nearly all of the hotels and shops I’ve gone past have little spirit houses on some corner of the property. Apparently this is where the spirits of the land or former inhabitants of the place live. They’re really pretty little statues and the people who live in the particular place offer food, flowers & incense to the spirits to keep them happy and content. I guess the idea is, keep them nice and happy in their own home so they don’t haunt you in yours! In any case, it’s just cool to walk by and see all these little houses decked out. Because seriously – they’re everywhere. The restaurant I was in tonight had a little alter – covered with blinking Christmas lights, there was an offering of fruit in front of it. All along the street you’ll see little alters or spirit houses with a glass of water (vodka?) set out by some incense, a little fruit or flowers. At the 7/11 they set out a bottle of soda with a straw (they drink everything with a straw here). And the couple of times I've gone out early in the morning I see people making offerings, showing respect, to the spirit houses. It just reinforces to me how spiritual the Thai people are... or rather how their spirituality & rituals inform their everyday life.

When I was at the SF airport I picked up a book for my flight – Lisa See’s Peony In Love. I didn’t read much of it on the plane, but I read a fair bit at the airport and I’m in the final chapter now. The story is set in China in the 17th century, just after the Ming Dynasty fell and the Manchus took power… I’m not sure why I mentioned that… because seriously, how many of you are up on the order of the Chinese Dynasties? (total aside here… despite the fact that the Olympics are on just about every TV I’ve passed here, I haven’t actually gotten to sit down and watch a single event. I’m sad – I LOVE the Olympics!) Anyway much of the novel is narrated by a ghost and it’s really interesting because she talks about how the ancestor ghosts are fed by the food left on their alters, and what happens when the ghosts are not fed or properly tended in the afterlife. I know China and Thailand are different… but there are clearly some cultural overlaps and it’s just interesting to be reading this book while actually sitting next to an alter like that.

All of my Grandparents have passed away now… and the only physical reminders I have of any of them is my father’s mother’s knitting needles… and she’s the grandmother who died before I was even born. They’re all buried … well, clearly far from here… but not even close to where I used to live – back in New Jersey & South Carolina. I was not especially close to any of them after my family moved to CA… but still, it would be nice to have some kind of link with them… some way of acknowleding their influence on my life. I didn’t just come from nothing after all. It’s something I’m going to think about while I’m here.

* editing to say that when I was at the Night Market I was thinking about spirit houses and that there might be another spirit floating around me needing a home. I found an absolutely adorable carved cat and thought of Sally. It had one of it's paws up like the good-for-business cats you see at Chinese restaurants - very fat and happy. I haggled, but I'm sure overpaid. Then of course a few stalls down I saw a cat carving that was *actually* like Sally - curled up in a ball sleeping! I mean, Sally was not the playful, cheerful cat, and wouldn't have her paw in the air unless she was attempting to scratch someone's face off. =P So I got the curled up cat and a hand crochetted doily for her to sleep on. I'm sure I spent too much on it - which is fairly in keeping with Sally when she was alive. I added a couple of her hairs from one of my shirts (I think I'll be finding those for *years*) and put her name tag there. I don't plan on making any offerings of food or anything since she ate more than enough in this life to last through the spirit world! But I will give her a little scratch behind the ears now and then to keep her happy. The last thing I need is Sally haunting me the rest of my life.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Working" Saturday

I went to bed before 10pm last night but couldn't sleep. Beer-induced insomnia this time I think. Eventually I took some benedryl to help knock me out. It doesn't help that my mattress is hard as a rock. It's like a gym mat like they use in wrestling I think. Just soft enough to qualify as "not actually a rock" but not at all soft or comfy. I am happy to report however that I now have a blanket. I was bemoaning the fact that I was still sleeping under a towel the other day and Short Aussie offered to bring one in for me. It's perfect, just a lightweight woven blanket - not so much for warmth as for comfort.

I got up and went grocery shopping- picked up some herbal sleep medicine to help with the insomnia and just dorked around for a bit. I have two full assignments to do this weekend and needed some reference materials to get started so I went to the school. In addition to teaching the CELTA course, the actually teach English, Mandarin, and computer classes, so it's open on the weekends. The ladies from the admin office were all on their break when I came in. They are super friendly and offered me some of the fruit they'd gotten from the stand across the street. The first one I couldn't identify at first, I thought maybe it was some kind of bamboo thing but it was SWEET... turns out it was straight chunks of sugar cane! Talk about a sweet tooth. And then they offered me another one which they said was 'sour' - a green olive! It didn't look *quite* the same as the olives I'm used to... a little tougher skin. But it was yummy. The office gals are really great... but try as I might I still butcher their names when I try to say them. I'm afraid I might have offended one of them with whatever it was I ended up saying... but you know they all just laugh it off (and I laugh too - stupid American doesn't know the difference between "Suzy" and "Shithead." ha ha ha).

I grabbed my books, chatted with some of the other students, then went home to 'work'. Except I've done precious little actual work. Still cogitating on everything that came up last night, pondering karma and the path my life has taken.

I still know precious little about karma and reincarnation... if that's really what happens, I'm pretty sure this is my first go 'round as a person. You know, there are just so many things in life that I don't understand. As intelligent as I feel in classes with facts & theories... when it comes to life lessons - I still feel completely clueless. I mean, I know I've grown as a person. I've gone from being governed by "should's" and "shouldn'ts" to caring a bit less what other people do in their lives, to even being a bit less hard on myself about what I should & shouldn't do in life. I'm starting to govern myself a bit more by how I feel. But most of the time I don't even really know how I feel. It's all new to me.

Like last night when the Brit and I were going to get dinner he said "we could go over there, or we could hop on my bike and go into the city if you'd like" and I had to think a bit before coming up with "I really really would." And I did. I hitched up my skirt in a most unladylike fashion and climbed on behind him. It was awesome to be zipping along in and amongst the rest of the traffic, actually seeing the city as we drove through it (in a Songthaew visibility is nil.) We weren't even going very fast but it was fun to feel the wind in my face... and no I wasn't wearing a helmet - it felt great!!!

It feels really good to not let the shoulda/woulda/couldas keep me from having fun. The Brit's philosophy is that everything is perfect, everything that's happening is meant to happen. I don't know how much I buy into that. I mean, sometimes shitty things happen for no reason. But it is a refreshing point of view. And I like getting to express myself more or less openly to him. Peeling back the onion as they say.

I'm really beginning to enjoy myself here... there's an openness and approachability to the city that I find refreshing. I've already mentioned that most stores & restaurants don't have doors... it's all just open to the breeze. So I can look across the street and have a completely unfiltered view into the people in another bar. And as we were sitting there, one of the other trainees came by (on his way to a real bar) and wandered up from the sidewalk to say hi. No waving from the other side of a pane of glass - he was right there.

I've been told that the counterpoint to this physical openness of Thailand is a form of personal privacy where you don't ask, don't tell about other people's business. I've yet to experience that... not having any Thai friends yet. But it's an interesting concept, one I've been thinking a lot about. This course is intensive both intellectually and emotionally. We're spending a LOT of time with each other, talking to each other, sharing each other, observing each other and critiquing/supporting each other. Far more personal interaction than I'm used to. It's kind of an automatic intimacy. It's something I haven't experienced since college. But I'm not spending the next four years with these people... just the next three weeks. Cogitate, cogitate, cogitate, ponder ponder ponder.

And with that I'm going to walk next door to the mall and have a $20 hour long massage!

Friday, August 22, 2008

That's one week down.

Week one is in the bag, I did three of my 8 total lessons. It's a bit weird to think about. Forgive me if this post goes a bit wonky... I got little sleep last night and I've had a few beers and a fairly in depth conversation tonight so my head is kinda spinning.

Regarding the course itself, I'm doing quite well. I wasn't thrilled with my lesson for today - things went a bit astray... it was a reading task and the students were talking (and talking in Thai at that), and then when there was a speaking task... one group didn't actually talk at all. It's a classroom management thing, and I'll need to work on that a bit more in the next class. Things are going to get a bit tougher and tougher as we go on I think, because we're learning something each day and need to be able to incorporate it into each successive lesson. So it's okay if we're flailing in the first lesson or two... but I think next week, we'll be expected to pull it together. I don't know. Hard to say. I don't feel overwhelmed with the amount of information we're being given, but it's still hard for me to deal with making mistakes in the classroom. I better get over it quick because it's not exactly going to stop happening.

As far as the people... it's interesting. I think that, as with any high pressure situation, people's true stripes start coming out. I've seen hints of it already. It'll be interesting to see what else comes out. You know, we're all bright eyed and bushy tailed the first day, but after a very intensive week, one or two of the students are already starting to show signs of wear. It's kind of hard for me to watch because thus far...I'm not overwhelmed. Yes it is a LOT of work and I have two assignments and a lesson to plan this weekend... I'm going to need to stay focused if I'm going to keep my head above water. But intellectually, thus far, it's not too much. And my second lesson, today, was also marked "Above Standard." It makes me feel very good to know that the first one wasn't just a fluke, it really reinforces the fact that I'm on the right track - career wise. But I need to not get focused on the external reward part. I just need to keep reminding myself that I don't need to be perfect, I just need to pass. Please remind me of this if I start sounding freaked out.

So tonight was interesting. A bunch of the boys went out to party (...) the couple- Shelia & Joey- went home to crash and I was kinda bummed that we wouldn't all be going out together (am I so Polyanna or what?) but I guess it makes sense. I ended up getting a beer and dinner with the Brit and we had a rather more intense conversation than I'm used to having. For one thing he gave me his first impression of me... no surprise "Proper" was how he put it and he contrasted that with how I was as he got to talk to me. And I explained that it wasn't so much that I'm "proper" as I try to be "appropriate" - class time, put on the good student hat, at the bar - kick back a bit. It was a very interesting conversation. He challenges me in a way that I'm not at all used to being challenged. Don't get any ideas - he has a girlfriend that he's completely head over heels for (it's endearing really) ... but I do like him quite a bit. Oh - and I got to ride on the back of his motorbike which I enjoyed immensely.

It's just going to be an interesting bunch to get to know. Everyone's got a story - I mean, that's true of everyone anywhere. But it means something to pack up your life and head abroad for an experience like this.... and to someplace like Thailand in particular. It just makes you think - who's running from something, who's running towards something, who's just out for fun, who's in it for a cultural experience? I'm a bit curious to see what shakes out. I'm a bit concerned about what's going to shake out of me.

The Brit & I talked about emotional boundaries, how it's important to know the difference between "my problem" and "not my problem". And yeah, I have a bit of work to do in that area (not so much). But I think my issue is more that I'm very good at putting up the emotional boundaries - the whole "proper" thing... it's hard for me to know when to take them down.

Hmmm...maybe I should leave it at that. My head is spinning... lots to think about on several different levels. OMG - it's only 9:30 but it feels like 2 am!

Laundry Day

When I was packing I was urged by a couple of people to “pack light”, in particular I was told things like “plan what you’ll need for a year and bring half as much” and far less vague but far less realistic “just bring three outfits, and wash one in the sink every night.” None of this was particularly helpful to me. J. reassured me greatly as she helped me pick out a second rolling suitcase “Yeah, you packed too much – but everyone does.” She also, thankfully, told me there’s no such thing as too many tank tops.

It turns out I’m going through about two outfits a day (the idea of wearing the same outfit two days in a row is disgusting in the extreme), and rinsing things out in the sink was doing squat. Two pairs of my socks are stained beyond comprehension (new socks too!) from getting wet in my shoes, and all of my shirts are soaked after I wear them outside for an hour or two. There are laundry services all up and down my soi, but there was also a do-it-yourself wash station near the market, so I decided to give it a go.*

Here’s the thing… in the US you drive (or if you’re close by- walk) to the laundromat, it’s in a building; you open the door and walk inside. There’s a change machine and sometimes a dispenser for laundry soap, and more often than not a soda machine & some magazines. So in Chiang Mai, you walk down the Soi, trying hard not to be hit by passing motor bikes & cars, getting over to the side whenever two vehicles have to pass each other because the Soi is about two car widths wide… but you know, with food vendors, parked cars & motor bikes or sleeping dogs strewn here & there. Next to the market there’s a ‘wall’ (plywood and cyclone fencing) and a roof, and two posts holding up the roof. Under the roof there are four washing machines. There’s also a chair, a bench and a couple motor bike parked there. Mind you, on the other side of the wall, there’s a fish stand.

Ok – I eat meat, so this really shouldn’t bother me, but this is just about enough to turn me into a vegetarian. Turn away if you have a sensitive stomach… I’m serious… skip down to the next laundry section. I can’t quite handle this one fish booth, it is seriously, the freshest fish of the day. There’s a big ol’ bucket of fish (no idea what kind) swimming around in there, not quite packed like sardines… but close enough. Then there’s a table with whole fish with the sides slit, and right next to it is the grill with those same fishies that were swimming around in the pool moments ago now cooking away. I’ve walked by there a few times over the course of the day and you know the number of fish in the bucket goes down and the number of fish on the grill goes up each time I walk by.

There’s just something about the freshness of it and the actual killing being so close to the eating that’s a shock to my pampered western sensibilities. They don’t skin the fish, or chop its head off, or beer-batter dip it. It’s perfectly identifiable from start to finish. I know that animals have to die for me to have a cheeseburger. I get that on an intellectual level. And on a culinary level, I know that the fresher the ingredients, the better they taste. But seeing the fish like that makes me go straight for the mangos & cashews.

Ok – back to laundry. The fish stand is right next to the laundry station. The washing machines are cheap, and seriously high-tech. There’s a display that shows what cycle it’s on and how many minutes are left in each cycle. So I could look at it and see immediately that it would take 25 minutes, grab some snacks at the market, check to see that it’s got 12 minute left, take my goodies back to the guest house, come back and there’s only a minute left. And here was the nicest surprise. You know how in the US your machine is done and there’s a buzzer… big loud buzzer to let you know that the wash is done? Here, it was a cute little electronic song. I was like – what a pleasant way to let you know your wash is done… no need to wake the dead, just a little song to get your attention. Unfortunately that’s that… there’s no dryer. I guess in the dry months it’s no big deal but with 90% humidity and monsoon rains…line drying gets a bit tricky. I hung everything around my room the best I could and turned the fan on when I left. Most things got mostly dry by the end of the day and hopefully the rest will be dry by morning.

* I composed this post back at my first guest house and am post-dating it for when I expect to be too busy with school to actually update my blog. I was quite relieved to learn that in my residence there’s a big bright clean laundry room with a nicely tiled floor, painted walls & a glass store-front. No vending machine… but then, it’s situated next to the Mini-mart & the CafĂ©. Instead of buckets of fish… there are refrigerated bottles of Coke on the other side of this wall. ;)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

At least *I'll* be speaking English by the end of this course!

Time has lost a bit of it's meaning for me here in Thailand. My course is technically from 10am - 6pm. but I've been getting there closer to 9 -9:30, and regularly stay until nearly 7pm. But while I'm there, at no point do I want to be anywhere else. Whereas at my old job, I would roll in as late as possible and live for the next opportunity to leave. Sure I stayed late when there was a big project... but it was never because I just wanted to be there.

On this course, there's just so much to do, so much to think about, and so many opportunities to interact with the other trainees that I completely lose track of time. I just got home and was rereading the post from last night - beer with the guys (the money post was one I'd written a while ago and post-dated) and it took a minute to sink in that that happened only last night. Nothing especially exciting or interesting even happened today... just lots and lots and lots of stuff.

But I did want to share something I noticed today. Both of the instructors on the course are from England, and as I've mentioned, there are four Aussies, a Brit, a Canadian and one other American. And of course since we're all interested in language, we've talking about each other's "accents" (or should I say pronunciation style, since here at least, we all have accents). Anyway today we were learning about drilling sentences so the tutor had us repeating after her "He drives a fast car." "He smokes a cigar." and the style she uses we listen twice repeat twice as a group then she starts calling on pairs & individuals. By the end of all this drilling, when she got to me I couldn't help but say "He drives a fast cah.." "He smokes a cigah" - completely leaving off my all-American "Rhotic R". Proof I guess that the technique works!!! Then later, the other (otheh.. ;) ) American asked me something and I said "I might do." instead of "I might"... simply because I keep hearing my other tutor say that*. I just looked at OA and said "Did I just say that?" and he laughed. If this is how I sound after less than a week, I expect to be speaking The Queen's English** well & proper by the end of the month.

*I don't actually think that's how "might do" is even used... bonus points for anyone who can tell me what type of language acquisition mistake that is.

** aka RP or "BBC English" =P

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Money makes the world go around.

Ok who’s got Cabaret stuck in their head now? I’m having a tough time sorting out the money here. It doesn’t help that I’m no financial wizard at home either. There’s three things going on here that are tripping me up.

$1,840 baht - I'm rich.*

1. The exchange rate, it’s about 30B = $1, and if I were properly math-empowered I could do the math in my head and have a good idea of what things cost. But I’m not, so I do the best I can, I figure a 20 baht note (their smallest paper money) is about a buck, a 50 baht note is roughly $2, 100 baht is $3, and a 500 baht is a $20 (it’s more like $15 – but I need round numbers!). So even though the numbers on the bills are big, it’s really not that much money in US $. But still, when I first got here I was hesitant to carry a 500B note around because my brain thinks “$500 – that’s a lot of money” when it’s really really not. And when my sheets and pillow cost 880B, I inwardly grown and think – that’s too much money – when in actuality it’s less than $30. I did pay more than I wanted to for a phone though. I think it was 1,800B total (Sim card and 30 min. talk time). $50 is not unreasonable for a phone (Nokia) – and it was the cheapest one I found in the mall… but at home I got a Go-Phone for $19.95. Which brings me to my next issue.

2. The cost of living is different here. A lot of things are cheaper than in the US, but most western type things are going to cost more here. There was Gouda cheese in the supermarket, and if I did my math right it was about $30 for less than a pound. Street food, like that gyro/taco I had was 20B, a serving size bag of fruit is 10B… but an American Breakfast or curry dinner at a sit down place in the tourist area is upwards of 100B. I mango shake (had one last night – YUM!) is 20B, a can of Coke is 45B. So street food meal = 50B, sit down western meal = 145B.

My rent & security deposit for the month was 10,000 baht or $300. But I probably won’t end up getting paid more than 30,000 baht as a teacher = $1,000. So while my bank account looks pretty plump right now, I need to stop spending like an American on vacation and start thinking like a Thai person living here. But I’m not a Thai person, and I don’t have any close personal Thai friends (yet) so that brings me to my final issue.

3. I have no idea what things *should* cost. I’ve gone to the mall & the grocery store so I know about what things cost there. And I’ve gone to the markets and been told what they want me to pay there. But I don’t have much of an idea about what’s expensive and what’s cheap *for Thailand*. I’m guessing a supermarket in a mall is more expensive than one out in a neighborhood… but how much more expensive? I know I’m getting ripped off in the markets & on transportation because I don’t know how to haggle – but I don’t know by how much. So I’m spending money with little sense of it’s value or the value of the things I’m buying.

I’m sure I’ll get better at all of this, and it will help when I get a job and start getting paid in Baht, because I’ll be able to budget accordingly and the exchange rate won’t matter that much anymore.

*US $54.45

Quite a complimentary day

Today was good. Today was awesome in fact... and only partially due to food this time. ;)

I'm enjoying our input sessions - when we teachers in training learn about teaching. It's great to be in a learning environment again - especially with other intelligent people. Particularly with other intelligent people with charming accents. =P

A good start. I was pretty hungry at our first break so I went across the street to the food vendors and grabbed some Papaya... then I walked down a ways and saw a little bakery cart. This woman was selling what looked like genuine, authentic, from a duncan-hines-mix brownies! I had to get one... but then I thought - it would be cruel to withhold something like this from my fellow ex-pats, so I bought little bag of 6 for about a $1.50 (I can't believe how much I used to spend on snacks in the US - insane!). It was an *instant* hit. The other American hadn't had chocolate of any kind in at least 6 months, and some of the other students had been similarly deprived of brownie goodness. It was heaven. Not only was it awesome to eat said yummy brownie, it was amazing to watch everyone's reactions. Absence makes the heart grow fonder indeed. But now that I know she's there, I'm going to have to be careful.

Then, this afternoon I taught my second lesson. I had scripted out exactly what I was going to say, and had practiced it a bit... then in lesson planning, the tutor looked at it and gave me a green light. The thing is, actually teaching a lesson is different from writing it all out on paper. I forgot a few things... then *AGAIN* I ran out of material a lot sooner than I had expected. It was supposed to be a 40 min. lesson but I was 90% after about 20 min. =? At least I had a watch this time, so I could tell that I still had time, and I added a few more examples on the fly. Then you know, I did a few things that I'd forgotten to do in the beginning - a little late... but I was really just trying to stretch the lesson.

At the end, I was supposed to just provide a written record of the lesson - get the sentences we'd been using on the white board for the students to copy down. I had them up - and still a good 10 minutes to go, so I decided I would try to get the student's help to diagram the sentences. That was a completely appropriate activity - I observed one of the professional teachers give a similar lesson the day before and that's what he had done. But I'd asked him specifically if I needed to do that and he said don't worry about it. So I hadn't actually *prepared* the sentences in advance and had to make my best guesses about parts of speech. I mean, they were pretty basic sentences... but I still made some mistakes. Which is *BAD* when you're supposed to be the teacher!!!

But then... the end. I'm going to tear up because this was the most basic thing - it took 30 seconds. But two of the students had a question about the difference between a Hobby & a Habit... and - I knew this... so I told them "I like to paint... that's my hobby." "I paint every morning... that's a habit" and they got it! For the rest of the lesson I had felt a bit like an actor on a stage, or at best an improv actor... but for those 30 seconds, I actually felt like a teacher. And then I cracked up because they started spelling "Habit" "Hobbit" so I spelled it out on the board for them. Oh... that part felt really good. Really good.

After the lessons we do self-evaluations and get feedback from the teacher... I mentioned that but also that I'd forgotten to do things and all the things I'd done awkwardly etc. But when I got my feed back I received an "Above Standard" for the lesson!!! Which doesn't mean it was a spectacular lesson, but only that it was better than expected for this stage of development. Still - Yay!

I figured an "Above Standard", plus the fact that I don't teach tomorrow, was deserving of a beer out with the guys. The Brit had also taught that day so he was game, as were the Canadian & the Short Aussie. I have to say - these are some of the best guys I've ever met (quilters excluded ;) ). We just had fun chatting... and I started telling the Brit the abbreviated version of my life story the past few years... from my first trip abroad to Europe in 2006 to trying to get out of my horrid job to finally coming here to Thailand. He was really awesome and actually echoed a few of the things about "The universe gives you what you need." That my therapist used to tell me. So I get to the end of my story and he gave me perhaps the best compliment I've ever gotten.

He said (and mind you - with a charming British accent) "Hearing your story... it's really great, it's like you're right here..." and he drew on the table a funnel from the narrow end opening up exponentially. "I feel really privileged to hear you talk about your life right now."


What can I say? Other than, I kinda feel like that too. Except, you know, still only at the beginning of the funnel... but that my life is opening up and I feel better about my life now than I have in a very very long time. We'll see if I still feel that way in a few weeks.... but for now life is good.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Food Glorious Food

Nothing improves my mood quite like a nice meal. Which probably explains my current physique. I was actually pretty happy today anyway, but class can be a bit tiring – absorbing so much new information. At our first break I noticed a classmate – the quiet Aussie eating something wrapped in a banana leaf. I asked him what he was and he described it as a kind of sweet sticky rice and offered me one… in fact he insisted I take his second one.

It. Was. GLORIOUS. First, it was wrapped in a bright green banana leaf and closed with a bamboo toothpick, it was like a little present. I opened it up and base of it was a black sticky rice stuck together with awesomeness. On top there was toasted thinly shredded coconut. I can’t even tell you how delicious it was. I actually did a little spin. Sweet, mushy, sticky, crunchy… just amazing.

Then today at lunch I walked across the street to the place where all the University students eat… just rows and rows of food stalls and plenty of tables and benches. I had pork fried rice. Except to call it “pork fried rice” brings up all kinds of images of food that’s not even in the same caliber as this dish. There’s no way to describe the flavors, I don’t know what on earth they’re using in all their food… it’s just so good!!! There were bits of tomato and sweet bell pepper but also something I couldn’t really place. I thought it was like an olive, but when I found it again, it looked like that was the pork… or sausage bit. No idea. Not spicy per se, just very very flavorful, lots of umami. Unfortunately I couldn’t finish it – I was too full (from the glorious rice dish of earlier)… but it was phenomenal. Did I mention that this meal cost 25 baht.... or about 74 US cents???

If you visit me… I promise to take you there. =P

Monday, August 18, 2008

First lesson down

I survived my first teaching practice. I was doing vocabulary review and I grossly under estimated how much they would know, and how quickly they'd jump in with the answers. What I thought would take 20 min. took about 5. Lordy lordy lordy. So I had to teach off the cuff for 15 min. What I actually did, I don't think I did too badly at, it was just not enough... and towards the end I was really really scrambling. I met my aim for the lesson though, so I got an "at standard" for the lesson, and survive to teach another day.

After class the Canadian, the Brit, and the short Aussie went to the pub at the end of the block for a drink. I had lagged back with Joey & Sheila to go over some points for our next lesson, but met up with them. I was going to just go home and start working, but you know, rapport building is important too! I wasn't going to have a beer... until I saw them on the table and just had to indulge. I was going to limit myself to just one... but in Thailand they refill your drink before it's even half empty (talk about optimists!!!) so my drink got refilled before I knew what was happening. That was the big red warning flag though, I mean, the beer was actually good (not as good as Drop Top Amber, but you know, refreshing) so it could have been big trouble. I left before the waitress could give me another top-up and back to the mall cafeteria for dinner & lesson planning. I don't teach tomorrow so I have a *tiny* window to check in here.

I just wanted to say I completely adore the short Aussie. He was rhapsodizing about how much he loves his country and how he's so proud the green party got a majority in their senate (??), and when W. came to visit Australia, Bob Brown stood up and turned his back on him. Anyway he was adorable. He fairly glowed as he said "I love Australia from here" (top of his head) "to here." (bottom of his foot). Good guys... I can't wait for the course to be over so we can go out for a proper night of drinking & chatting.

Oh and the Brit was so funny - they were talking about rhyming slang and he wouldn't explain the dirty one to me (it was a slang word we don't use in the US ... so the rudeness of it was lost on me anyway). The short Aussie did though, and he said his favorite was "I like James Blundt." which just about made me spit my beer all over the table.

It's nice to be around boys. The office where I used to work used to run a little high on estrogen at times - so this is a nice change.

I might feel differently when the farting starts though. =P


Just a quick note about my orientation today... then I have to go to bed and try to get a good night's sleep because I teach tomorrow!! I thought I'd be a bit brain rusted from having over two months downtime between work & class, but it's actually kind of nice to have something specific to do. And it was cool, as the tutors were presenting us with material as part of our orientation I was observing their teaching technique and noticing things that I'd never noticed before as a student. There's going to be a lot of meta-analysis going on in my little brain for the next month. Then when the tutor started explaining what we'd be teaching the next day things that I'd read about in "Learning Teaching" and "How to Teach English" started clicking. My sleepy little neurons were starting to spark to life again. I tend to forget how much I actually like being in class & learning new things. But while discussing lesson plans for tomorrow I asked "Can I ask a student to come write that on the board?" and the tutor (let's call him Mr. P.) replied "well, would you want to do that?" and I had to catch myself before saying "Sure!" and settled for an explanatory "I really liked school." =P

Ok, quick anecdote from Rebel's childhood, circa 5th grade or something. There was an assembly about drugs - "Just say no." and all that, and I can't even remember the analogy but the presenter said something like "deciding to take drugs is like taking a any of you like to take tests?" And I fairly leaped out of my chair raising my hand. I realized too late I was the *only* kid standing up and also that I had entirely missed the point of her analogy. Even through college I would much prefer an exam to an essay... even if it was an essay test. With an essay I never knew if I was done or if I should do one more edit (anyone who reads this blog has probably picked up on the fact that I don't generally edit my posts - you're lucky if I remember to run the spell checker!), but with exams... I study what I can and there's a finite amount of time to regurgitate the material and if it's in my head it's there, if not it's not, but when the time's up the time's up and that's all there is to it.

However, being a good student doesn't necessarily lead to being a good teacher, and I've got some work to do there. A fair bit will be mental, understanding that I'm not supposed to know everything yet, taking feedback positively, and not getting myself too worked up the whole thing. I just need to pass... I don't need to be perfect... I just need to pass.

As for my classmates - it's an interesting bunch. I hit it off immediately with a couple from Australia we'll call Sheila & Joey. Sheila's the only other woman in the class. It's us and six boys, should be interesting! We started chatting about our experiences thus far and compared notes about songthaew prices and the food. When Joey said the one Thai phrase he knows I said "I think we had the same CD." and it turns out we did, I got up to lesson 5, he got up to 4. Sheila only made it through the first CD before she wanted to break her MP3 player. Seems I'm not the only one who was bothered by the "You are an American (or I guess on her version Australian) man speaking to a Thai woman." To which we both replied "But I'm NOT!"

Nationality breakdown - mostly Aussies - Sheila, Joey, and two others. One Brit., one Canadian, and one other American. I made it a point during one of our ice breaker games to mention my contempt for W. ... the other American did the same. For the most part the class seems pretty cool. Oh - and I was all dressed up because they'd stressed the whole dress code, but everyone else was in jeans & shorts & flip flops etc. Apparently they'd gotten the message that we only need to dress up when we're teaching... during the morning input session we can wear whatever we want, and then change at the school so we're not all sweaty & gross in our nice clothes. Oh well, it never hurts to look cute I guess. One guy showed up late to orientation, and also returned late from break, he didn't have a pen or paper or notebook or anything. At the end of the session we were all leaving talking about how much work we needed to do and the guy was like "I need a break." Sheila was like - "We get to sleep for 8 hours tonight, that'll be a good break!" We'll see how long he lasts.

I've read the handbook, organized my notebook, and practiced my lesson so I think I'm in pretty good shape. We'll see how the actual teaching goes tomorrow.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Now this should be an Olympic event...

Synchronized leg waxing that is. There’s also a team event… who knew?

Okay, anyone who doesn’t want to hear about the intimate details of my leg hair can stop reading now and move on… but this was my first professional leg waxing so I wanted to report on it for posterity. Like most American women I've had the whole wax-all-over-the-bathroom attempt at waxing, but I’ve never had more than my eyebrows waxed at a salon so I really didn’t know what to expect.

I do know that I hate shaving and, benefit of being solo, at different points in my life I’ve gone months and months and *months* without shaving my legs. I actually like the way my legs feel all furry, but this is Thailand, I’m supposed to be wearing a skirt & looking professional, so I figured I’d have to start shaving. I did just that about a month ago, shaved off all my luxurious leg hair and had smooth beautiful legs for exactly one day. The next day I had stubble, and the next day I tried to shave again, cut my legs all to pieces, had major irritation, and by day four I was developing ingrown hairs. LOVELY!

When I got here I noticed that there are salons EVERYWHERE and waxing (and every other service) is significantly cheaper than in the US – about $15 for a half-leg wax (we’re not even going to talk about what some women have subjected themselves to – I’m only willing to submit to torture from the knee down!). So I finally went today, and I swear I have never in my life had so many people pay so much attention to my legs.

First the proprietress of the shop comes up and I tell her I need to have my legs waxed, doing a little demo so she understands I only want from the knees down. She bends down and pats my legs down… nice and scruffy! OK!

So she brings me into the back room and another woman comes in and asks if I want hot wax or cold wax, and rubs my legs to confirm where I’m getting waxed. I’m not at all familiar with cold wax so I asked for hot. When I’ve had my eyebrows done it’s always a nice soothing warm feeling – just enough to lull you into a very false & very temporary sense of comfort followed by a brief but near blinding pain… dulling to a bit of a trob for a few minutes – then … pretty pretty eyebrows for a week. =) But then that girl leaves and two more girls come in. For a moment I was relieved because one of the girls was a bit chubby and I always feel more comfortable when with my kind. (she was still way thinner than I… but you know, better than the other girl who looked a swift wind would carry her off).

They have me lie down (“You sleep, okay?” was the instruction) and each take a leg and have their turn groping. First comes the wax oooh… nice & warm) then they simultaneously rip off 8 layers of my skin. Now… for those of you who saw The 40 Year Old Virgin… this is what I have to say. Yes the chest is a more sensitive area than the legs – but Steve Carrell is a big wuss. It hurts, but it’s nothing to scream about. And off they go, wax, pat down the strip (at times far more vigorously than I would have prefered), pull. There sychronization went off pretty quickly (low marks girls!) and soon I was trying to twist one leg one way and the other in the opposite direction all while trying to remain as dignified as possible given the situation.

The thing is… I’m guessing that my leg hair – while long enough to frighten small children, was not long enough to be getting waxed. It took a VERY long time and involved a LOT of wax and going over the same area much more than once. The chubby gal became significantly more vigorous in her patting down the wax strips and was fairly punching me at some point. I think she was still in training though because then ANOTHER woman comes in and joins in the fun – so now it’s a team event! At different points during the event the proprietress and the first girl also peak their heads in on me again. In addition to my leg hair being probably shorter than it should have been, they were having issues with the wax-roller thing and had to use the little wooden spatula type things to spread the wax. Oh lord… I started to get more than a little embarrassed that my leg hair required a group effort and it just took forever.

Finally, finally it was over… underneath all the fuzz I apparently still had some slightly ingrown hairs that they couldn’t get to (try as they might!), but I was at least smooth enough for a classroom setting. But now my legs are all red & I think I’m even working on a couple bruises from their "enthusiasm". Such is the price we pay for beauty right?

I think I’m going to go back to the Sasquash look, I’ll tell all the student’s its the new trend in America. =P

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Night Market

One of the ‘must see’ things in Chiang Mai that the guidebooks all talk about is the Night Market, so it was one of the things I had intended to do all along. But it gets dark around 7pm here, and after dinner I’ve been tired and haven’t felt like wandering around alone in the dark so I’ve talked myself out of going. But my class begins with an orientation tonight and for four weeks I don’t think I’ll have any spare time... so last night I figured “now or never.”

It helps that I’m in my new residence and I’ve sorted out the Songthaew / Tuk-tuk situation. I can’t believe I was chicken to hail a ride before. It is easier than easy. It heps that my residence is near a big mall and there’s always a line of tuk-tuks waiting for customers right there. And most of the places I want to go are touristy, so there are usually tuk-tuks there as well, if not waiting then driving around looking for an unsuspecting tourist to open a map so they can rush over to offer them a lift. Plus, it’s relatively cheep. Even the 100B emergency tuk-tuk ride I had to take was only $3. I probably won’t be so cavalier about spending money on transportation after a while… but it’s nice to know that I never have to worry about bus schedules or validating a Max ticket, or transfers. If I have cash I can get from where-ever I am to where-ever I want to be, with a bare minimum of waiting.

One of many corners - both sides of the street, every side street - were lined with vendors

So last night I basically crossed the street & walked half a block and caught a Songthaew to the night market. All I can say is WOW! It was way beyond anything I had expected. For one, I don’t know why but I thought it would be dark… I guess because it’s night time. But no, they had extremely bright lights everywhere, it was the most well-lit market ever. I’d also thought it would be just another scary fish-on-a-stick market, or a flea-market type thing. No, no, no. It was like Portland’s Saturday Market on steroids. First off… it’s at least 10 times bigger… if not more. I’m sure I didn’t see everything. I started out along the street, but then there was a building with shops in it, then out the other side of the building there were more shops and down the street there was a courtyard and then another building, then another street. At first I tried to keep track of where I was but then I just wandered around knowing that if there were tourists and a street – there’d be a songthaew to take me home when I was ready.

Beautifully carved statues - there were TONS

Ok… what kinds of booths were there? T-shirts with witty and/or obscene slogans, silk scarves, hand stitched table runners, jewelry, paintings, wood carvings, jade carvings, stone carvings, handmade paper crafts, shoes like sneakers & flip flops, hand made slippers & beaded shoes, purses, purses, purses, embroidered pillowcases, soda-can hats, dragons made out of coconut husk fibers (I’m guessing), woven baskets, blue jeans, hand woven cloth – table runners, shirts, skirts, baby clothes (oh the cutest baby clothes), wooden toys & puzzles, carved elephants, spirit houses, and on and on and on. There was a lot of repetition but just when I thought “ok-I think I’ve seen everything” there’d be something new in the next booth… then more of the same, then something new etc. Lots and lots of stuff.

The vendors are cheerfully aggressive. They smile and try to talk you over to their booth – my favorite thing is when the clothes vendors point to me and say “I have your size!” =/ Um… thanks. A lot of them say “Hello Madam” which I find funny. The other thing they say is “How many you want?” which also cracks me up. I’m pretty good at ignoring them and just walking by with a smile on my face. I really restrained myself and only spend about $5… but I could see myself doing serious damage over there when I finally have a job.

Then, of course there was the food – I didn’t spend too much time in the food area but I did have a mango shake that was the bomb dot com! Someone was roasting coffee beans, someone else had spices, lots of places to have dinner. In the food court there was also music. A woman was singing “I will Survive” which made me laugh, and in another booth there was a couple doing a puppet show where the puppets were doing a stylized thai dance. So much to see.

Huge pavilion with even more crafts (spot the Doctor Who reference ;) )

I haggled! I didn’t get any kind of great deal, but I haggled. I saw a little carved cat figurine and I thought it was adorable so I figured –let’s give it a go. “How much” she grabbed her big calculator (every shop keeper in Chiang Mai has a big calculator) and punched in 150 and showed it to me. I punched in 100 and smiled, she punched in 120 and I said “fine.” I’m so lame. I’m sure I over paid… but who knows by how much. But I did it! And on the ride home I asked the driver how much to take me back to the Mall – he said “60”… now I’d only paid 40B on the ride over, so I said “40?” and he said “50-ok” – “ok 50”. You’ve got to do all of this with a smile, it’s supposed to be fun haggling. Well, at least now I have a general idea of how it’s done. Once I figure out about how much something should cost, I can give a more realistic low ball number and go from there.

Ok – I need to go now, I’m bound and determined to get my legs waxed before I start class. It’s much cheaper here (half leg - $10), and I hate shaving. My orientation is this afternoon, then class starts tomorrow. I’m excited to actually get to meet people and have actual conversations in English (can you tell I’ve been desperate to talk to someone?). I really don’t know when I’ll be able to post again. So actually I’ve written a few other things up and post-dated them so my blog shouldn’t be completely quiet while I’m studying. Wish me luck!