Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Safety Dance

For those of you who read Random Meanderings - this will be an old rant... but I'm going to rant about it anyway.

I had my business English class tonight (and my first woman student) from 6-9pm. After the lesson we sat for a minute just talking. They asked where I live, and I told them (it's about a 7 min. walk - what's that- half a mile?) and they asked how I get home. "I walk." Then they started getting concerned. "It's too far!" "Do you have a friend to walk home with?" etc. It got to be a bit much. I feel safer in Rayong than I did in Portland. Yes, it gets dark early... but more people are outside their homes... or inside with the doors & windows open. From the food court where I eat dinner after class to to home I walk by the same people everynight. First the prostitutes (at first I thought they were just waiting for a ride... but now I'm pretty sure they're looking for business) Then I walk past the laundry guy who always asks me "Where you come from?" and "Where you go?" (the literal English translation of a Thai greeting like "How's it going?") and then the family with a little shop and the boy who says "Hello" to me. Then I go past the restaurant (all open air again) and the guys sitting at the table across the street. Then when I get to my building, there's the parking attendant/security guard greeting me at the gate. This is along a relatively well lit 10 minute walk.

I'm not naive, I know that there are dangers everywhere. And I realize not knowing the language or the culture here puts me at a disadvantage. But I also know to keep my wits about me, eyes open, aware of what's going on. And I know that the US has one of the highest rates of violent crime of any developed country... so I am statistically much safer here than 'back home'.

Honestly, the most frightening thing about Thailand for me is the traffic. I have to cross 8 lanes of main-road traffic to get to school - with no cross walk or traffic light. Every day I take my life in my hands stepping onto that street. (The rule is, wait for a half-way decent gap, and just go. Don't slow down, don't speed up, don't make eye contact, just go. The traffic will swerve around you. If you hesitate - if you panic, you throw off the rhythmn of traffic and you're dead.)

But the students really got worried. Especially when I told them I went out for dinner after class. They told me to eat dinner before class so that one of them could drive me home. It was sweet, really. I do appreciate their concern. But it was also irritating. I'm an adult, and I don't like being told what I should or shouldn't do. More than that though, I don't like being told that I should be afraid.

After class I stayed behind a minute to put my papers away and when I left the building two of my students were leaving the parking lot. As soon as they saw me, one hopped out of the car and ushered me into the front seat. There was no arguing with them. They drove me to the food court and lectured me the whole way. "In every country there are good men and bad men. Be careful! Carry an umbrella with you." Etc etc. I wish I knew exactly how dangerous this neighborhood was.... but I've only been able to find general stats for the country - which confirmed my feeling that Thailand has far less violent crime than the US. But maybe it really is a 'bad neighborhood' maybe people get attacked here all the time. I don't know. I just know I can't live my life in fear. I just can't.

I intend to get a motorbike once I get my first real paycheck (end of October) and then at least I'll get home more quickly. But until then, I'll take my chances.

TAG - Pineapple

Oh - and I have actually gotten to teach three repeat classes, and am already starting to feel a bit better. It's nice to *know* what we covered last time so I can spend some time reviewing before getting into that day's lesson. Of course I have a bunch of new classes for October, so the anxiety will be back shortly. The roller-coaster keeps zipping along.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

50 first dates

Except not with Adam Sandler. =(

I've been teaching for a week and I've had 6 different classes. Each one feels like a blind date. I do my best to get ready, but I never know what I'm getting into. I get just a few notes from the previous teacher about what they covered in the last session, and I have to figure out where to go from there. I never know how much English they'll know, I never know how old they'll be, how many men vs. women (although, so far all of my students - with the exception of two girls and two boys in the Supertots class - have been men). Since I'm the new teacher, I've been doing a lot of substitute teaching for teachers who've left or who went on a visa run or whatever. And I'm never quite sure what I'm supposed to be doing, and I have no idea if I'll ever see those students again. I'm holding on to the thread of hope that once I get my real schedule for October I'll start feeling more comfortable with my classes, and I'll have some idea of how to pace my lessons. But who knows?

Yesterday I was feeling pretty good because I had one class scheduled for tonight - with students I'd already taught once. I planned out a lesson and had intended to spend the day at the beach. But as I was getting dinner last night I got a call. The American teacher, Mr. J had gotten into a motorcycle accident and they needed me to cover his class. Actually they wanted me to cover two of his classes... but I knew that was too much for me, so I agreed to take one, from 3-5pm. But there went my trip to the beach. =( Also, Mr. J hadn't listed what page numbers they'd covered in the previous lesson, so again, I'm clueless about what to cover. I think I'll just do some review, then skip ahead to the next module.

I hate being a crappy teacher. I really want to feel like I'm actually teaching something... but it hasn't happened yet. =( So, again I'm sitting here just a ball of anxiety with no clue what's going to happen in class tonight. And I can't even imagine what it's going to be like in October when I start teaching full time. I only had 16 hours of teaching this week, I'll have 25 when I go full time. Why am I doing this again???

TAG - Bananas

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A thousand words....

You've been patient... you will be rewarded. =) I finally got my internet sorted out. It was a bit of an adventure and fairly expensive, but now I'm blue-toothed & Wi Fi-ed and am *finally* able to upload pictures. I'll do it in a couple of chunks.

First up... my apartment in Rayong.

See... all cleaned up, it's not so bad. It's basic, but big, has A/C, a ceiling fan, a balcony, and it's close to work.

This is the view outside my window (well, looking left). It's so lush!

Snacks! These are a few things I picked up at the market I went to with Ms Canada:

Surprise buns - these had ham in them, but could just as easily have had chocolate. The bread itself is actually really sweet so it's kind of a strange taste combination... you really do just have to have an open mind.

Mango on reddish-black rice sweetened with coconut milk and your garden variety chow mein. Yum!

I've noticed that the portion sizes are bigger here than in Chiang Mai. It's kind of nice since I don't have a kitchen and need to go out any time I'm hungry (more food in a sitting means less wandering around looking for food), but at the same time - I've seen a surprising number of chubby Thais in Rayong.

Next - Ban Phe.

A thousand more words...

Ban Phe is the beach near Rayong. I've been told there's a beach closer... but I don't know the name of it, and there are songthaews with "Rayong - Ban Phe" on them - so I just hop on.

The market (as seen from the songthaew)... actually, there were markets all over the place, some selling food, other selling tourist stuff, decorative shell art, fisherman shorts, batik sarongs etc. etc. When I get paid I'm going back and I will be shameless with my shopping.

The beach. The island in the distance is Ko Samet (I think - there were a few different islands, one of them is Samet). It was overcast so the water looks kind of grey, but it was warm outside and the ocean felt like bathwater, it was incredible. And look at the waves... so mild.

Are you suggesting that coconuts migrate?

This is what Code Mango looks like:

(BTW - I went back to the beach on Friday and lost those glasses to a surprisingly big wave. D'oh! Apparently I learned nothing from J's experience in India. Fortunately, I brought three pairs of glasses with me... so I'm good until I can get replacement sunglasses.)

Another thousand words or so....

Let's look at some Rayong wildlife!

This little gecko is in my bathroom. He's on the other side of the window screen, but I've seen a few actually in my room too. I don't mind the geckos so much since they tend to stay up on the walls and not on the floor where I could step on them. Also, they eat bugs, and I hate bugs. Geckos = good.

I was just walking down the street to go to work and I heard some roosters... and sure enough there they were wandering around in someone's yard. I was a little excited because 'gai' (chicken) is one of the few words I know. =) I've seen at least one hen, and a few baby chicks too.

The cows were a total surprise... they were just walking down the street between the gas station and my apartment. I don't understand why they're so scrawny though. Rayong is extremely green & lush and there appears to be grass everywhere. I thought maybe it's not enough of the right kind of grass or something. I don't know enough about cows to say. Or maybe it's too hot for them to want to eat much. No idea.

This is the apartment dog, he's a pet and well cared for, but there are soi dogs *everywhere*.

It's really disturbing actually - they just run wild everywhere. In Chiang Mai the dogs pretty much left me alone, but here I've been barked at a bit and if I happen to be eating something, I have an immediate audience. It makes me really nervous. None of the soi dogs are in particularly good shape (and none are fixed!), but some have serious skin conditions or scrapes and scratches. I saw one dog missing half of one of his front legs & paw, and the other day I saw a dog get run over by a van, I had to look away, the poor thing was howling and all the other dogs were barking. Horrible.

Another stray dog - this one was at the beach, there were several. One dog came up and actually nipped at my leg while I was buying food. He didn't actually bite, and fortunately I was wearing pants so I didn't even get his saliva on me... but still a bit disturbing. I'm not sure what the protocol for dogs is, do you yell at them - or does that just make them mad? So far I've been ignoring them / walking away, and hoping for the best.

Finally... the little calico at my apartment complex. She came right up to me and wanted some lovin', but wouldn't stand still for the camera. Who does she remind you of?

Of course she's about 400lbs lighter than Sally... but she has the same coloring.

Oh, and I'll leave you with my moment of brilliance for the day. I kept noticing magazines with pictures of Bettas on the cover. I couldn't figure it out until finally I realized the other name for a Betta is Siamese Fighting Fish, and Siam = Thailand. Suddenly it all started clicking - Siamese cats, Siamese twins... all of it. That's Thailand! =) Not stupid... just a bit slow. ;)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ups & downs & getting down to basics.

TAG - Pineapple

The downs: I don't really like any of the other teachers yet. I've seen two of the guys yelling at the office staff so far. Having *been* office staff - that's just not cool with me. Also, I thought I was going to have Friday & Saturday off, but found out today that I will need to cover for another teacher on Saturday and will have two classes to prepare for. One of which is a class of7 year olds!!!! 'Cause you know I love baby-sitting. =/ So instead of chilling out at the beach tomorrow - I'll be lesson planning (I'll try to make it out for at least a little while).

The ups: I sucked a bit less in my lesson today. Just a bit, but I think I'm going to start getting the hang of this. And once I get into a groove I'll feel better about balancing out crap lessons with okay lessons. Then tonight I was having dinner and one of my students came up to me. He introduced me to his wife & son and they sat and chatted with me for a minute. They let me practice a little Thai with them. So that was nice.

One of the things I'm learning here is to break things down into the essentials. Things are just *not* the same, and you can drive yourself crazy thinking about all the things that just don't equate with life back home. But if you figure out what you really need and start looking for what they have here that meets that need, you can find it. For example, I was looking for paperboard 3 ring folders in A4 size. But I haven't found them anywhere. But then I realized, I don't need a 3 ring (or even 2 ring) folder... what I need is someplace to put my lesson plans to keep them organized. I found some cheap plastic envelope type things that will do the trick just fine.

So overall I'm trying to break my experience, and what I want from this experience, into essentials. Then I can see if I'm getting what I want out of the experience or not.

What I want to get out of living in Rayong:

- I want to gain some teaching experience and build up my confidence.
- I want to spend quality time at the beach. Who knows when else in life I'll be this close to such an amazing place?
- I want to replenish my savings. I've still got a bit of money in my account, but I'm feeling increasingly nervous about spending it all on living expenses. I'd like to have a couple month's (Thai) living expenses saved up before leaving.
- I want to learn enough Thai to accomplish my day-to-day activities.
- I want to really learn to ride a motorbike.
- I'd like to make some real friends. But that's hard anywhere I go, so I don't know how much to factor this into the equation.
- I want to continue to have new experiences.

So as long as those things seem to be happening and I'm still on balance enjoying life, I'll stick it out. But if the office stuff starts bringing me down and/or interfering with my ability to do the things I want to do...then I'll start thinking about what needs to change.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ban Phe

Last night I had my first Business English class. It went okay, but again I'm just amazed at how different it is now that I'm not on the CELTA. I'm giving myself to suck-out-loud for my first few weeks, but I really hope I start doing better soon. After class I went to dinner with a few of the other teachers. The food was good, the conversation... ho hum. I'm not really clicking with any of the teachers yet. It's no big deal, everyone has been nice to me. I'm just not feeling the love at the moment. I'm also not thrilled with my apartment... internet addict as I am, it's killing me that I'm so disconnected. I mean, obviously I check in daily - but can only do so from an internet cafe filled with screaming kids playing video games... can't upload pictures, can't use my USB, can't print anything... it's just not what I'm used to. So I was starting to freak out again. I was starting to get that "What the hell am I doing here?" feeling again.. things were looking a bit Bananas.

But you know, it's been all ups and downs this whole time. I went to the Tesco supermarket (it's a 40 min walk and there aren't nearly as many songthaews here as in Chiang Mai) and just kinda vegged out in the comfortingly western surroundings. As I was shopping, Big from my office called me. My class for tonight was canceled. I know I'm supposed to be a teacher now, and I've only actually taught two classes, but it was a relief that I could take a day off. Last night I'd been talking to Pink and some of my students about Ban Phe (the beach not far from Rayong), so I decided to just pick up and go. I brought my groceries home, changed into my swimsuit and walked back out to the main road.

Some of the songthaews here are marked with where they go. In Chiang Mai I think it's more hop on one and they'll take you where you need to go (unless they're going in a completely different direction), but here I think they have more or less set routes, so you just have to find out which one is going where you want to go. Anyway, I hopped on and headed on down the road. About half an hour later we were driving through a little beach town, tons of shops and a street market down one lane. I wasn't sure exactly where to get off, so I decided to wait until I saw the ocean. One by one all the other passangers got off, and soon enough there was the beach - and it was gorgeous! You can see Ko Samet and a few other little islands off the coast. It was just amazing, so I rang the bell and hopped off.

One of these days I will actually upload some pictures... but until then... mere words. It was kind of cloudy out, so the water looked grey. And it was high tide so there wasn't a huge stretch of sand. But there were little ... cabana type stalls along the side. It's just like you would imagine, a bamboo frame with a palm frond roof, the waves lapping at your feet. Like a Corona commercial! I figured out later that they belong to the restaurants across the street, and you're not supposed to just hang out there (I had to pay 20B to the restaurant guy - totally worth it!).

I went swimming for quite a while, and let me tell you - it was so perfect. The water was like bathwater, so warm and comforting. Since it's a gulf and not open ocean like California - the waves were pretty mild and the water got deep pretty gradually. The clouds and breeze kept it from being scortching hot, and since it was a low-season Wednesday afternoon there were hardly any other people there. I could not have been happier. There were a bunch of high school kids playing on inner tubes near by. One of the girls called over to me "Hello" so I said Hello back, in English and in Thai. They all laughed and the girl called "Play with me!!!" How could I resist??? So I swam over and grabbed onto her inner tube with the other girls andwe jumped waves and screamed together. I had a blast.

After swimming until I got all pruney I came back to the cabana and just sat there for a while feeling like the world was perfect. I don't know... I just felt like I could stay in that moment forever. Eventually though, I decided to start heading home. I stopped and got some grilled chicken on a stick from a vendor along the street. It was very good - but the beach dogs started following me - which is a bit scary because of the potential for rabies. I just ate quickly and tossed the remains in the garbage. Then I started walking back towards civilization and eventually a songthaew came by headed for Rayong.

Home, shower, dinner, and now hanging out in 22-Net with the screaming kids again. I'm exhausted, sunburnt, and still slightly salty, but life is good.

TAG - Mango.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I iz uh teechr

TAG - Mango.

I had my first class today, it was a private lesson, just two students. In CELTA terms it was far below standard... like horrible...but in terms of my first real class, it went just fine.

Part of the problem was that I didn't really know where to start. There were notes from the previous session, but it only said that they had done page 72- and a page from the workbook. It didn't say how far past page 72 they had gotten. I wasn't sure if they'd finished out the module, or had just done that one page. I did my best to prep the next few pages and the beginning of the next chapter, but honestly I had no clue what I was going to do. In the end, we just went right through the exercises in the book... did a listening activity and a role play. We finished up those activities a little early so we played a game. My students were two men who work together, so they were willing to have a little fun and went along with whatever I asked them to do. One of the students is much more advanced, so I'll have to figure out a way to even out the class a bit so the other student gets as much practice as he needs. It'll work out somehow.

Tomorrow will be a 3 hour long business English class... and now that I think of it, I don't think I have the right books at home, so I'll have to go in and do some lesson planning tomorrow morning. Then today's guys again on Wednesday, and another private lesson on Friday. A pretty easy first week actually - only 10 hours of teaching. It's already kind of overwhelming though... trying to keep the different classes & levels straight. But I'll get into the swing soon enough.

After class I was chatting with people and mentioned that I was hungry, but the restaurant next door was closed. One of the teachers said she was heading over to Tesco's to get some food and I asked if I could come along. "Sure - if you don't mind riding on the back of my motorbike." LOL... no problem. Again, I met this woman in passing just a few hours previously and now she's giving me a ride to the market. It turns out we weren't going into Tesco's but to a street market in the parking lot. It also turns out that she's only got about 2 weeks riding a motorbike, so it was a bit scary - she had helmets though. =) Anyway we got there and the first food I saw was fried chicken & french fries and I pounced. I'm getting a bit sick of rice. Ms. Canada was all "oh, sure do the stereotypical western thing." but I was like "I've had nothing but fried rice for 3 days straight - give me a break!" Besides, I was starving. After I chowed down (it was a small portion) I picked up some chow mein looking stuff, along with some mango-rice stuff, and more of those surprise pastries for breakfast. Ms. Canada dropped me back off near the school and I just stopped in here for my internet fix before going home.

I think I got screwed with regard to my apartment, both Ms. Canada and the Bald teacher have nicer places with cable TV and internet etc. for not much more rent. Oh well, I'll get it all sorted out eventually. For now mai bpen rai.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

It's up to you...

I know I already posted something for today... and my post before that was hardly concise, but I'm mostly keeping this blog as a journal for myself - so forgive me/ignore me as I blather on about every little thing that happens here.

My last night out with Short Aussie we were talking about living life to the fullest, and how you just need to step outside your front door and see what happens. Technically, this is true where ever you are... just start engaging in the world around you. But I think it's harder in the US, we're all closed off and insulated from each other. We get around in cars, windows up, radio on. We work in cubicals and communicate via emails & cell phones. We barely interact with the people around us in our day to day lives. I think if you make the effort... just talk to people, interact, walk down a different street, shop in a different store, you can combat the isolation a bit... but it's hard to break out of your normal routine. Something about being here in Thailand makes it easier for me...I think it's partly because I have no set routine yet. But I think it's also because the country is so warm and open physically - it reflects on the attitude of the people.

I am officially a minority here. I saw only two other white women yesterday in Tesco, and I think maybe one today (but it was from behind so I'm not sure what her ethnicity actually was). I stand out quite a bit. Walking down the street today a couple kids said "hello" and just stared at me. Another little boy, was even more outgoing. He said "Hello" and stuck out his hand. I shook his hand and said "Hello" back which greatly amused him. On my way back down the street he said "Hello" again, and I one upped him, giving him a High Five as I passed. His whole family smiled and laughed.

I'm gradually exploring my neighbor hood and I discovered a big food-market. In addition to chicken parts and pig parts (allllll kinds of parts), there was a lot of seafood, including crabs, muscles, shrimp, and squid. I even saw several skinned frogs. It was a bit disturbing, I have to be honest. But I also found the 7/11 and a booth that had your standard variety egg rolls... so I was happy. I also located a big restaurant-stall pavillion. I made a couple of laps around trying to figure out what there was to eat. Again, no menus, so I decided to just go by sight and point at something that looked good. That was a good plan!

I found a stall serving the yellow-rice chicken dish that I really like but can never remember the name of. But I realized that I knew what two of the words were - rice & chicken! So I went up to the vendor, pointed at what the guy at the table was eating and said "kow gai." I was feeling quite pleased with myself until the woman replied "Yellow rice?" LOL. Clearly the Thai know more English than Ido Thai... but at least I'm trying. She told me to have a seat. There was no empty table, so I picked the one with a college-aged woman sitting there and asked/gestured could I sit there... she nodded. My food came and it was AWESOME! But that wasn't even the best part.

After a minute the woman says to me "Excuse me..." (except that's a really hard thing to say so the Thais say "e-cuse me") "where are you from?" =) I reply that I'm from America and she asks what I do. I tell her I'm a teacher. We exchange a few words, where does she work, how long have I been here, etc. She asked my name, and she told me hers was "Naam" and we both gestured towards our water glasses (naam = water) and laughed.

I asked again what my dinner was called and she told me "kow mok gai" (I had 2/3 words right!). She tells me that she had taken English classes for a while, but stopped. But then she says if she went again she would want me for her teacher. I asked why and reitterated that I was new and didn't actually know how to be a teacher yet. She got a bit animated and was really trying to explain something about her last English teacher. I managed to get that he was not friendly. I thought back to a couple of my French teachers of years past and completely understood. I told her that it wasn't right because learning a new language is hard, and you have to be friendly so that the students know it's okay to make mistakes. It really made me feel better, this vote of confidence from a total stranger. I may not be a great teacher, but I know I'm not mean.

After a while I notice she's looking over my shoulder looking concerned. I glance briefly and only notice a girl at the other table. I wonder if she knows this girl or if she's just lost in her thoughts. A minute later a man comes up to us selling sugar cane. She said "mai kaa" (no thanks) and I did the same. She nods towards the street and says "What do you think of that?"

I turn my head and there is an elephant right there on the street - not more than 6 feet away from our table! I was so amazed. I mean, it was right there, eye to eye with us, I could have walked two feet and petted his trunk. It was so beautiful. It was so unreal. I told her "I've never been this close to an elephant!" I was also able to pull out another vocabulary word "chang" (which I know only because Chang Beer has an elephant on the label) Suddenly I understood that the guy was selling sugar cane for us to feed the elephant and I reached for my purse. I mean, how often in life do you get to feed an elephant like that? But I remembered hearing about elephants begging on the street and how it's not totally kosher. I asked Naam "Is it good, or is it not good..." looking back to the guy with the sugar cane. She replied, in typical Thai fashion, "It's up to you." I looked back at the elephant and put my purse down. I turned to the sugar cane guy "mai kaa." As they walked away she said "I think it's not good."

I have to admit, there was a part of me that really wanted to have my tourist moment - to get a picture of myself petting the elephant so I could post it here. But I think I made the right call.

TAG - for me Mango... for that poor elephant...I don't even know.

Rejoining the ranks of the employed.

1I just went to the school and got my schedule for my first week of teaching. It turns out that I'm mostly doing private lessons. I got the course books & notes on my students and will spend the rest of today figuring out what exactly to teach them tomorrow. My first week is actually really light - only 10 hours total. But I have a 3 hour business English class on Tuesday and I don't have the profile for that class yet. Should be interesting.

Still alternating between panic & elation on a moment by moment basis. The people at the school are really nice, and one of them just gave me my first motorbike lesson. I didn't crash! Elation! But it's a new city and I don't know where anything is. I'm hungry and I don't know where to go for lunch. All my clothes are dirty, but I don't know where the laundromat is. My notebook is out of blank paper and I don't know where the book store is. Panic! But in exploring I successfully crossed 8 lanes of Thai traffic... terror followed by elation. AHHHHH!!

Last night when I was out looking for the internet cafe a big storm blew in. It was like something out of a movie. It was breezy, then there was a HUGE crack of lightening that caused the power to blink out for a second. Next came huge gust of wind bringing a few sprinkles. Shop owners were rushing to bring their products inside and close up shop. Before I could figure out what to do or where to goI as completely drenched. I ducked into the pub just as their power went out. I felt so stupid and awkward, the soaking wet farang who can't communicate anything to the bar staff. I turned around and left but the rain was so bad it almost wasn't safe to walk. The waitress brought me back inside and brought me a beer. The power came back on, but so did the AC. So I sat dripping and freezing drinking over priced beer all by myself watching cute Thai couples dash easily from their cars into the bar. I wondered, not for the first time, what on earth I was doing here.

I think once my classes start and I have a purpose for each day, I'll feel a little better. It'll also help when I learn my way around. Until then though... it's a challenge.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

No Expectations

September 20, 2008

During one of my nights out for beer with the boys, the Brit and the Short Aussie were eating pastries they’d picked up at 7/11. Not unlike Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, when it comes to baked goods in Thailand – you never know what you’re going to get. Could be chocolate, could be taro root, could be shredded pork with mayonnaise. The Brit was saying, in reference to the pastries, that the key to enjoying them was to have no preconceived notions about what might be inside*. He went on to say that in life when he goes into a situation with negative expectations, he’ll have a negative experience, when he goes into a situation with positive expectations he’ll have a positive experience, but when he goes into a situation with no expectations whatsoever – he has an amazing experience.

I don’t totally buy into that philosophy, I mean, I get that what you bring into a situation effects what you get out of it, but sometimes crappy things happen right out of the blue and you have to roll with it. But I have been trying to keep my expectations minimal and not to worry so much about what’s going to happen. Which is why I tried not to think too much about what Rayong would be like. It was fairly easy given how quickly the whole thing came about… but now I’m here and honestly I never ever could have imagined how this whole day would have unfolded.

For one thing, I’m in a country thousands and thousands of miles from home, where I don’t speak the language, I stand out in the crowd and I never really know what’s going on anyway. But somehow, on the basis of little more than word of mouth and one phone call, I decided to pack up all my belongings (again!) and move to a city 400 miles away where I don’t know a single soul, have no place to stay and don’t even know where the school I’m supposed to be working for is located.

With much comedic struggling and a bit of help from the kindest Thai people imaginable, I managed to get myself and all of my luggage to the bus station exactly 16 minutes prior to departure and figured out where to go. The VIP bus was pretty high class indeed. First off, the seats were comfy, with an ergonomic head rest and the ability to recline quite a bit. There were two TVs in front playing Thai Karaoke videos.

The bus was thoroughly air conditioned, which was nice because in the process of maneuvering all my luggage I had worked up quite a sweat. Unfortunately, as in the US, people here feel the need to use the AC to bring the temperature down to near arctic temperatures. So as soon as I cooled off, I began to feel a little too cold. I had, in my haste to pack, forgotten to keep my towel with me in my carry-on, so all I had as far as extra layers were a couple tank tops, my PJs and a sleeveless button up shirt. I did the best I could with the extra shirt.

After a while, the Thai Karaoke was replaced with a DVD of “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.” which was, of course dubbed into Thai. Nevertheless, I think I got the full impact of the film.

I had brought some crackers with me because I didn’t know if they’d be stopping along the way, but they actually provided dinner. I’m pretty sure it was the same dish I enjoyed at CMU, the yellow rice and seasoned chicken. It was soooo good! (btw, I’m learning to love sweet chili sauce, it’s great with rice dishes, but also with french fries.) After dinner, the lights went out and the hostess handed out blankets – each individually wrapped in plastic and smelling of fabric softener. That was a good defense against the sub-zero A/C. I was really comfy then.

Unfortunately, so were the couple in front of me who reclined their seats practically into my lap and began cuddling. I attempted to ignore what may or may not have been going on under the blankets, but seriously – they were so close I could have joined in. I attempted to sleep, but mostly just started out into the night. There was not a lot to see, some stretches of dark road broken up by gas stations and the lights of other vehicles (mostly other tour busses actually).

I had nearly dozed off when the bus came to a stop. The lights came on and everyone started going through their purses & wallets. As usual, I had no clue what was going on. I attempted to ask the woman next to me, but she didn’t seem to understand English and was more interested in searching through her purse than in talking to me. Eventually I figured out that everyone was getting their ID out, so I pulled my passport out of my money belt. You know, I’d been getting a bit lax about my money belt. As soon as I was settled in my residence I just kept it and my passport in a drawer bringing only the cash I needed for the day and a copy of my passport in my wallet. But fortunately I had the good sense to put it on before leaving so I wasn’t rooting around in my carryon bag like the gal next to me. So the police boarded the bus and started looking around. They didn’t check everyone, just a few random people. It was bizarre. The closest experience I’ve ever had to that was when the Tri-Met fare checkers all swarm the max. Somehow this felt significantly more serious. I have no idea who or what they were looking for, but I felt relieved when they left.

Back on the road, back to trying to sleep. The roads were actually kinda crappy – it looked all well paved, but there must have been some ruts because it was a very bumpy ride. Somewhere around 2am the roads got noticeably smoother – a different province maybe? At around 3am we stopped at a rest stop. As per usual, I just followed the herd & ended up at the women’s toilets. There were 3 stalls and the line moved closer I could see that the first one was a western toilet but the other two turned out to be squat potties. Guess what my luck was? The really funny thing was – there was a poster on the wall with very detailed instructions (in Thai of course) and cartoons describing how to use (and how not to use) a western toilet. I was standing there about to go into a squat potty thinking “Where’s my poster????” I mean, I get the general idea, but I did not have the benefit of a Thai mom teaching me the specifics as a child so I’m a bit confused about the logistics. Fortunately I remembered reading Korean Heather’s blog and she had mentioned just this experience. I did what she did – strip from the waist down & balance your clothes on your head as you do your business. It’s the safest thing to do, but far from the most practical I’m sure. Then there’s the whole bucket of water thing… I did my best. I still don’t quite get it – are you supposed to just drip dry? Sorry for the TMI here, but if you have any information at all on the subject, it would be of great practical value to me!!!

That was an end to the excitement of the evening. The sun was up as we drove through Pattaya and somewhere along the way I spotted the ocean. That was reassuring. Around 7:30 – 8am we arrived at the Rayong bus station – I think it was scheduled to arrive at 8:30am. The gal I had spoken to on the phone had said she would pick me up so I just waited. It occurred to me, as I waited, that I didn’t actually know her phone number. I mean, she had called me so it was in my phone – I just hadn’t added her name to it. I found the calls from the morning we’d talked… but it was a 50/50 shot which number was hers and which was the motorbike shop. It didn’t matter in the end as I had used up all my minutes drunk dialing my mom & J. the other night when I was drinking. =P Live and learn.

So I just waited… the only farang in the place, sitting there with all my brightly colored luggage. I could only have stood out more if I’d gotten up on my chair and started singing show tunes. As it was the songthaew drivers came up to me and asked where I needed to go. Honestly… I didn’t have a clue, not a street name, not a building address, nothing. I just waited. And surprisingly I didn’t freak out. I’ve been reading this book “Peace is Every Step” that was recommended to me by someone in Portland. One of the first things it talks about is just being aware of your breath and knowing that you’re alive. So I took a few deep breaths and thought about it. I was alive, I was safe. I had snacks, I had money, I had some books to read and a note pad to jot down a few of the above thoughts for my blog. There was no reason at that particular moment for me to worry. This is kind of a new concept for me. I’m kind of getting into the swing of ‘mai bpen rai’ – it doesn’t matter/no big deal.

At around 8:30, “Big” (not her real nickname) showed up wearing a shirt with the school name on it. I waved and she came over and helped me get my luggage into her car. From there we went to the apartment she had checked on for me. They’d had a room available the day before, but now it was full. Mai bpen rai. We went to the school and she introduced me to one of the teachers – he’s an American but I didn’t have time to formulate a nickname for him (“the Other American” is already taken ;) ). It was funny; I’d been listening to Thai almost exclusively after my course ended, and speaking in slow clear basic English when I used it, but as I shook the teacher’s hand “Howsitgoin” slipped right out of my mouth. I was relieved because between analyzing sentence stress and ‘grading my language’ I was beginning to fear that I’d forgotten how to talk like a normal person. =P

We picked up one of the other office gals – lets call her “Pink” and went over to her apartment building to see if they had a room. They did… but frankly it was frightening, dingy, dirty and a bit bare. I took a second though and realized it was mostly just dirty. The room was big, had A/C, a ceiling fan, a balcony, and a bathroom. I said it was fine, but it needed to be cleaned. I mean, I wasn’t in much of a position to insist that they cart me all over the city looking for another place. Especially considering that Pink lives there with one of the teachers, and another teacher lives right across the hall. I figured – how bad could it be? We said hi to the other teachers, but they were both off to class so I didn’t get to really talk to them.

But let me tell you a little story about hospitality. I’d spent the night traveling, I was tired and smelly and a bit out of sorts in general. I didn’t actually have access to my room – it still needed to be cleaned, and the women from the school all needed to get to work. But one of the teachers offered to let me store my stuff in her room and to take a shower. Her sister Blossom was staying with her on holiday so she just checked with her and gave me the okay. I brought all my stuff inside (have I mentioned how much luggage I have???) and Big & Pink told me to just relax and they’d come pick me up around lunch time to take me to Tesco’s to get stuff for my apartment. Blossom showed me to the bathroom & told me to go ahead and use their soap etc. so I wouldn’t have to go digging through my bags.

Let’s just review that. Blossom’s asleep. Her sister wakes her up and says “There’s a strange stinky girl here who needs someplace to hang out for the morning – how’s that with you?” To which Blossom replies, at least to me “Hi, nice to meet you. Here’s the shower gel, and let me get you a chair to put your clothes on while you shower.” ?????

It gets better from there. I showered and changed clothes and felt a lot better. Blossom sits and chats with me… both she and her sister are from the Philippines and she tells me that she’s just visiting and mostly she just likes hanging out in her room watching movies. She offers me breakfast, but I don’t want to impose any more than I already have so I decline. She then suggests that I “take some rest” which after a couple offers I do accept. I climb right into bed and doze off for a while. When I wake up, Blossom has showered & gotten dressed. She asks if I want to go to the market with her. It’s just a gas-station minimart, but we pick up some pastries (the kind where you never know what you’re going to get) and I get a bottle of water. We walk back to her apartment and eat & talk. My pastry was chocolate by the way, hers was some kind of vegetable mixture I wasn’t familiar with, but she said it was common in the Phillippines too. She pushes a banana cake on me too which I enjoyed thoroughly. And then she offers to put in a movie. Hands up if you would have guessed that I’d spend my first morning in Rayong eating yummy snacks and watching Poseiden with my new neighbor’s sister? Yeah… me neither.

After the movie both Blossom and I take a nap. Pink & Big arrive around 2pm and the four of us all go to Tesco Lotus. This is a big BIG everything-under-the-sun type store, like a Target or Fred Meyer. After four weeks with the boys and their potty mouths & drinking stories it was really nice to go shopping with the girls. Another universal concept. We went through the housewares section and headed into the grocery store part… the gals cracked me up stopping at each of the free sample dishes and loading up. They also pointed me to better deals so I could save a little money stocking up my apartment. It was really fun.

By the time we were done, my room had been cleaned and looked significantly better. Pink signed all the apartment rental paperwork for me – it was all in Thai, I have no idea what she just agreed to for me “mai bpen rai”, and I paid my first 10 days rent. I spent a bit of time unloading my purchases, and allowed myself the freedom to panic, just for a minute or two, about how crazy it was that I was actually in yet another new city with less than a clue about anything. It’s so funny. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the city… and yet still the anxiety creeps up on me.

Tomorrow I need to go to the school and get my teaching schedule, then spend a fair bit of time actually planning my lessons. I’m trying not to panic about that… but honestly I have no idea what I’m getting into.

For now, internet access will be a bit hit or miss. There’s no service through the apartment building, but there’s something to do with a new cell phone, blue-tooth and a sim card that is supposed to make that happen. It all sounded a bit expensive though, so tonight I’m going to try to hunt down an internet cafĂ©. If you’re reading this, it probably means I found one**.

T.A.G. for today – Mango. There’s a part of me that wants to panic… but there’s just no reason.

*I related to the boys a tid-bit I learned from J’s travels… that in India those pastries would just as soon have a bit of spicy fish inside as anything else and they both agreed “That’s just wrong.”

**unfortunately the internet cafe I found doesn't allow you to use USB sticks, so I had to use someone's computer from work. I have a couple of pictures but didn't want to spend an hour uploading them.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Vocabulary lesson & good bye Chiang Mai.

TAG - Watermelon

For good or for ill, I’ve been able to get by in Chiang Mai speaking only English. I have actually tried to pick up and use a few words… but it’s been hard. I’ll ask what something is, someone will patiently repeat it umpteen times until I can pronounce it more or less correctly. Then ten minutes later I completely forget the word. Sometimes if I can hear it again I’ll remember it… but it’s really hit or miss.

My current Thai vocabulary:

I don’t understand the Thai language. (I’ve been laughed at when I’ve said this… so I’ve started just saying ‘don’t understand’.)
How are you? Fine.
Yes, No
Thank you.
Excuse me.
10 baht
20 baht
1, 2, 3, (I have a very tenuous grasp of #s 4-9, I really have to think about it)
I would like…
fried rice
a little bit
It doesn’t matter.

Hmmm… I keep thinking that I *must* know more than this, but I really really don’t. Well, I’m pretty sure I know how to say “Where is…?” and “It’s here/there.” but I haven’t used it because I can get away with pointing at a map or just telling the driver the name of the place I want to go to. Honestly, I find this embarrassing… but like I said, so many people speak basic English that I can get away with it. I anticipate needing to know quite a bit more Thai in Rayong, since it’s not a tourist spot. It’ll be interesting (to me) to see how quickly this list expands.

In an hour and a half I'll be hopping onto a bus heading to Rayong. It's said to be a 12 hour ride - but who knows how long it will actually take. It's a VIP bus with air conditioning, so it shouldn't be too painful. I'll be sure to give you the full report.

This past week in Chiang Mai has been a bit quiet. I had fun going out to the gay bar, of course. And yesterday I met up with a gal from Ajarn for lunch & shopping (Hi V!). But beyond that, I haven't accomplished anything. I don't do well with vast amounts of unstructured time. There's only so much relaxing I can do. I had hoped to learn to ride a motorbike, but I kept getting put off "tomorrow, tomorrow" by the bike shop. I realize there are like a dozen different bike shops I could have tried... but I guess I wasn't all that motivated after all. Overall though, I've enjoyed Chiang Mai. It's a nice sized city, big enough to have a lot to see & do... but not so big as to be overwhelming. Well, to be fair, I didn't do *that* much exploring. I could see myself coming back here at some point.

My goals for living in Rayong:
spend quality time at the beach,
learn to ride a motorbike,
learn enough Thai to get by,
make a couple of friends,
have more fun!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nobody's perfect

Last night the Short Aussie and I decided to go out for a drink to celebrate the fact that I got a job. He met me at my place and I was like "Where should we go?" "Don' know." So we crossed the street, walked half a block and found a bar - but it was pretty dead. We walked half a block in the other direction and saw a nice small pub with a bunch of guys already there drinking. Perfect.

After our waiter comes to take our order, the Short Aussie informs me... "This is a gay bar, you know." which, of course I didn't know. I asked if he wanted to switch venues but he was fine with it. It really turned out to be a good call.

So we're drinking, and Short Aussie's regaling me with all of his drinking stories. After about three beers he's ready to go home. I say "Come on! One more drink and I'll have a good story!" Short Aussie really doesn't need much convincing. This also turned out to be a pretty good call, because moments later the guys at the bar start talking to us. One of the guys - in the cool hat - is relating to me the story of his farang ex-boyfriend who lives in San Francisco and we bonded over the fact that we both just want to find a good man. Cool hat guy tells me we'll both find someone and to take heart because "Nobody's perfect!" Which becomes out toast for the evening.

Suddenly the lights go out, and I'm a bit concerned, until I turn around and notice the waiter coming out with a birthday cake and everyone starts singing "Happy Birthday" (in perfect English btw)

I will admit, that my fifth beer was probably the first bad call of the evening. Turns out the birthday boy is a 70 year old British guy, and of course I start hugging him, Cool hat guy, the waiter, and a bunch of other people. They then all start hugging the Short Aussie... who was surprisingly cool with all the attention. Then they bring us a slice of cake... eating it was the second bad call of the evening. Back somewhere around beer 2, Short Aussie had been telling me that sweets are not drinking food... but I didn't believe him.

After the cake came the cake fight, and after that came the very helpful waiter to clean up the Short Aussie. I was mostly a spectator for this part... but it was hugely entertaining. Somewhere around here I went to the bathroom - which had a tile floor covered in about a half inch of water (dear god I hope it was just water) where I proceeded to slip and fall flat on my ass as soon as I opened the door. One of the waiters saw me fall & proceeded to help me back up - laughing the whole time in true Thai fashion. I'm learning that if you do something stupid... just be the first person to start laughing and the whole situation is easier to handle.

I get back to the table - now soaking wet, and Short Aussie decides it's really time to go. I think he's got a finely honed sixth sense about these things because he manages to get me back to my building and we say our goodbyes while I'm still feeling pretty awesome. I get to my room, collapse in bed, drunk dial J, and then discover- all is not well. I spent the next hour or so learning the hard way that beer & birthday cake are not to be mixed. Oh man!

So yeah... TAG for last night - Mango all the way. TAG for this morning is borderline Durian. I need some breakfast in a bad way.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Well, that was quick.

Today's TAG - Pineapple? Watermelon? I'm gonna go with Fruit Salad for today.

So, um... I think I have a job.

I had heard about the job in Rayong before I finished the CELTA and at the time I'd said no, because I thought I wanted to stay in Chiang Mai for a while. But then I figured out that I want to be near the beach, so I went ahead and applied for it, and boom - I start on Monday.

I had to pack up and move from my monthly-rent room to a daily rent room today because I kinda figured I wasn't going to be staying here for another month. I do not enjoy packing. AT ALL. And you know, it wasn't until I was all unpacked again that I got the call about the job. So I get to repack all my crap on Friday.

I'm excited about having a job lined up because that means I'll actually have an income. But I'm also incredibly nervous. I mean, I've only had 6 hours of teaching experience so far, and I'll probably have 4 hours of teaching on my very first day. It looks like I'll be teaching adults at various levels, at least one Business English class, and at least one class of young learners. I'm not sure this will be the best fitting job in the world for me, but I'm taking an experimental view of it all. It'll give me a chance to get some experience and to work for a company that I know is legit (it's another branch of the school that I took the CELTA from). It's 25 contact hours a week at an entry level salary. The school will help me get a visa, and actually they're going to help me find an apartment too. The down side is that I'll only have one full day off a week. But as I don't anticipate having much of a social life - that shouldn't be a problem.

It's all exciting and scary... I really don't know what to expect.

Rayong is not really a tourist destination, so I don't anticipate meeting a lot of English speakers. Which means I'll really need to learn the language. Chiang Mai on the other hand is the second biggest city around, and famed for all the arts & crafts. There's a part of me that wants to do some serious shopping here before I move... but I really don't want to have to carry any more than what I already have. Such a tough call. Obviously, I have a lot of stuff... arguably more stuff than I really need. But for the month that I've been here I've worn nearly all the clothes I've brought and have not regretted bringing any particular item.

Except my notebook. Oi vey. I don't think I've mentioned that little tid-bit yet.

On the left, your standard American 8 1/2" x 11" three ring binder folder, on the right, your standard Thai A4 sized two ring binder. D'oh! You really should have seen me trying to shove sheets of A4 paper into my 8 1/2" x 11" folders. They just don't fit. Apparently A4 is the standard in Europe as well as Asia, the US really needs to get with it.

I still haven't learned to ride a motorbike... I keep getting told "come back later." I should probably take that as a Thai "No." and go someplace else... but I can't be bothered - this place is closest to my residence and the guy speaks English. I supposedly have an appointment for a lesson tomorrow at 4pm, but we'll see. I'd really like to learn while I'm here because I already kinda sorta know my way around. But I guess I can learn just as easily when I get to Rayong. I just think I'd have more fun on my last week here if I had my own wheels.

Ok... that's enough rambling for today.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Reality bites

TAG - Watermelon

I spent the weekend just relaxing. I took a nap which is actually pretty exciting considering I've been dealing with insomnia for about two years and can count on one hand the number of times I've been able to fall asleep without medication. Yay for sleep!

The Short Aussie gave me his copy of The Alchemist and I finally got a chance to read it. It's the right kind of book for me to read at this point in my life. Basically it's about a young boy learning to follow his personal legend and the costs / rewards of doing so. Some have said it's more of a parable than a novel... but whatever - it got me thinking. The main character talks about learning to understand the unspoken language of the world, the language of the soul, the language of the heart etc. When he talked about listening to his heart I took a minute to be quiet and really listen. And I heard something interesting that went something like "Rebecca needs to be near the ocean."

It was one of those things that's so obvious I can't believe I've gone this long without realizing it. I didn't get a chance to go to the coast before I left Oregon and now I've been in Thailand (world renowned for it's beaches & islands) for over a month and still haven't been to the beach. So now I don't think I really want to stay in Chiang Mai to teach. I'd like to go down south (maybe Rayong... not necessarily a resort town) and see if I can find something there for a while. Chiang Mai will still be here if I don't like it.

So, essentially I spent the weekend reading, sleeping, doing laundry, and trying to figure out what my personal legend is. And now I need to get a job. I also need to sort out my living situation. My one-month's rent is up as of tomorrow. I had planned on staying in my residence for another month while I looked for a job - so I could have just paid up for one more month. But if I'm going to go to Rayong, I don't want to be locked into another month's contract. So I went to the office and said, let me stay on for just a week. Which they'll do. But not in this room. Now I need to pack up all my crap and move. If I'd known that I might have just tried to find a cheaper back-packer place. I guess I still could... but it's at least easier to just drag my stuff down a few floors than it would be to cart it to the other end of the city.

I've made the barest of tip-toes into job search mode. I posted my resume online and emailed a school about a job in Rayong. I've looked at a couple of other jobs in Chiang Mai... but haven't made a serious endeavor yet. I hate this part. In theory there's a teacher shortage in Thailand so I should be able to get a job very easily... but we'll see.

I also need to sort out my transportation needs. I've been getting by just fine on tuk-tuks and songthaews because I'm mainly going between well known landmarks. But as I start looking for jobs, I'm going to need to explore the city a bit more on my own. Which means..... it's time for Rebel to learn to ride a motorbike! I actually went to the shop today to rent one but there was no one available to teach me. I was told to come back tomorrow morning for a lesson. I'm excited, but also terrified. Wish me luck!!

I'm editing this post to share a picture from dinner Friday night. It's not everyone - but you get the idea. =)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Smokin' Hot

Today's TAG - Code Mango... all the way!

First off, the course is over! I had really wanted to rock the last lesson. Between my own expectations and some expectations put on me by one of the instructors I was really kinda worked up about it. But then my class on Wednesday got canceled and rather than spend the night trying to make my lesson perfect I went out drinking with the guys and had an awesome time. I’d make the same decision again in a heart beat. In the end I decided not to stress about my lesson and to just do it. I made some mistakes, things weren’t as sharp as they could have been, the activities weren’t all that great. But it was fine and I passed my lesson. I passed the course, and that’s all I’d wanted to do.

Friday was the end-of-class party, and really fun. One of the gals from the front office made us Pad Thai (and it was wonderful), and there was a lot of other yummy food as well… all served on big ol’ banana leaves. The students gave us gifts… which was awesome. We all got loose weave cotton scarves (mine was in the exact shade of blue as most of my teacher clothes), the boys got gorgeous silk ties. It was funny, the Brit got a gold & burgundy striped tie and when he put it on a few of the students were like “Oh! Harry Potter!!” LOL. It was hilarious, he really did look the part. The girls got silk wallets which was great because I really really needed one. One of the gals gave us all pressed-flower bookmarks with a thank-you note written (in absolutely perfect English) on the back. We were all very touched. Finally, one of the gals made me a bracelet. We were spoiled. But that was only the beginning.

A few of the students had invited the teachers out to dinner & drinks. The girls told me to wear a dress - so I wore the one little black dress I packed. I got picked up by a student, and rode to the restaurant on the back of her motorbike. The bar/restaurant was fairly western… it had kind of a ‘wild west saloon’ vibe and it was about 50/50 Thai/Farang. The group at the next table over were from Chicago. But the food was good, the students just ordered a bunch of Thai dishes and we all shared. That part was fun enough... having dinner with everyone, having a good laugh and bonding over the craziness of the course. One of the students broke out a very native sounding “H*ly Sh*t!” so we decided to teach her “He’s f*cking hot.” as well (and the more polite version “smokin’ hot”). It became the motto for the evening, and the students got a lot of ‘freer practice’ throughout the evening as we all told each other how f*cking hot we all were. After a Mai Tai and a couple of beers I was professing love for all the teachers and the students… and even the folks from Chicago at the next table. But the night was not over yet!

A few of us went to "Fashion Club" for more drinks & dancing afterwards. There were 8 or 9 of us all on motor bikes (some of us doubled up), driving around Chiang Mai... passing each other... whacking each other upside the head as we sped past golden temples & ancient walls etc. It was awesome. It felt like when I was a kid and all my friends and I would ride our bikes around town… just playing & chasing & yelling at each other; except a LOT faster. Yes, it was completely irresponsible and unsafe... but I have to say, being drunk on the back of a motorbike is a lot of fun!* It was one of those moments where I thought “Well, if this is how I die… I’m ok with that.” Yet another experience I could never have imagined happening... and those of you who know the straight laced version of Rebel may well be shocked. I guess I’ve decided that I’ve spent too much of my life playing it safe, and it never really made me happy. It was a necessary phase for me to go through… but now I want to live.

And live it up I did. The club was just incredible. On the one hand... I could barely understand a word of what was going on in the bar. We got our own little section of seats & a little table… and that’s where you dance. There’s not like a big dance floor where everyone just goes crazy. It was weird… and it took a LONG time for people to loosen up. I’m not a huge party girl… but it was about the mellowest dance club I’d ever been to. But on the other hand, it was a bar - there was music (a mix of live music & dance mixes – a fair amount of American Hip Hop), and eventually there were drunk girls dancing & a line for the bathroom. I knew *exactly* what was going on. Earlier in the evening before the rest of the teachers got there, I had been gossiping with the students. A couple of the girls have a crush on one of the teachers. They were also sharing their insecurities about their figures. I could so relate. It was all so universal.... so... I don't know, fundamental. As much as I love seeing how things are different here, it’s seeing all those things that make us human that really blow my mind.

I know it’s been all sunshine and rainbows from me for the past month… but I kinda think reality’s going to start creeping in around the corners now that the course is over and I have to get down to business. I’m still going to aim to have more fun in life, to say “yes” to more, and generally get as much out of this experience as possible. And if I’m unhappy for any length of time I’ll know it’s time to change things up – either internally or externally. But for now, life is good and I’m very happy.

* In case you were worried, I was pretty drunk, but the teacher driving me wasn’t. He had, in fact, talked me out of riding with the student who’d driven me there as she was a bit tipsy herself.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

We live in a beautiful world...

Today's TAG - Mango baby... all mango.

I got up this morning, not nearly as hung over as I expected to be. That night out was far better for me than I can adequately put into words... but you know me.... I'll try. ;)

There I was sitting in a bar, in the middle of a Buddhist country, shit faced drunk, listening to a sworn atheist tell me how much Jesus loves me. And really believing it for the first time in a very ... very long time. It was one of those strange and beautiful things I never could have predicted would happen here.

Tomorrow night all the teachers are going out with the students. I really don't know what to expect. But you can trust that I will give a full report on both my last day of practice teaching, a review of the course overall, and of course whatever happens at this party.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

wasted in the afternoon...

eccept its not afternoon id's evening.... but I am a bit wasted. Today was -- oh... today is mango by the wya.... totally mango. But todaywas supposed to be my last class but not enough students showed up (so much for all the good wishes - which I appreciate... but..) anyway... not enough students so we just played games and I still have to do my lesson tomorrow.... screw it... I could make it better but I'm just going to do what I have and whatever happens happens.

Just had a few (too many, love - as the short aussie woudl say) with the boys... talked to hte Brit about life the universe and everythign.... I LOVE talking to the brit about life the universe and everything.. because he says things liek I have my head sorted... which I kinda do. but anyway... had an awesome time... and should go to bed now.

Thqanks for the good wishes. Kisses.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Your challenge, should you chose to accept it....

T.A.G. for today - Pineapple. I've got some work to do!

Ok kids... tomorrow will be my last practice teaching lesson... my last chance to shine on the CELTA course. It's been an intense experience on a personal level, and academically I've just been told that I'm right on the edge between a Pass & a Pass B. All through the course I have said that I didn't need to be perfect, but I just needed to pass so I could get a job. And ultimately all I want to do is learn to be a good teacher.

But today I found out that someone who's been doing really bottom of the barrel work, and who should probably fail the course, will probably also receive a Pass. So suddenly, with one lesson to go, I actually care about my grade. I don't want potential employers thinking the two of us are in the same league when I actually care about being a good teacher.

So... I am going to sign off for the night, and I'm going to work my little brains off on coming up with a Reading Skills lesson that will knock my students socks off. I've already got the stages written out, and a few ideas about what to do with the text... but I could use all the good vibes I could get.

Send me good vibes for my instructions to be clear, my tasks to be appropriate, my students to be engaged with the material. Basically, send me as many 'don't screw up' vibes as you can, and I will do my part to work really hard tonight to make the best lesson plan possible. It's my plan to go to bed by midnight so I'll actually be fresh and ready to go tomorrow.

I'll be teaching at around 3pm Thai time tomorrow (Wednesday for me)... so send me some good thoughts before you go to bed on Tuesday night. =)

Monday, September 8, 2008

To standard for this stage

T.A.G. for today... Pineapple? (Pineapple upside-down cake maybe?) I still have a cold, but it's not horrible.

Warning - I'm just going to whine for two paragraphs... you can skip ahead to the good stuff if you'd like.

It's been said before, but I'll say it again - the CELTA course is really intense. In some ways I haven't found it to be nearly as difficult as I was anticipating, and I really don't spend every waking second doing homework & lesson plans like I was warned... but it is intensive in that we learn a great deal and are expected to keep building and building our skills in each lesson. I really feel like getting 'above standard' feedback so early in the course really set me up for disappointment. I came into the course with the motto "I don't need to be perfect, I just need to pass." but at the mid-point evaluation I was told "Keep doing as well as you're doing and you'll get a Pass-B" but since then I've had to resubmit an assignment and the only two lessons I've taught have been graded 'to standard' with a lot of problems in them. So I feel like a failure... even though I'm not at all. You know, it's all to do with perspective. I would have rather just stayed "at standard" throughout the course.

My lesson today was really tough for me. It was "functional language" rather than a specific grammatical structure. So instead of teaching verbs in the present perfect continuous, I was teaching a variety of "polite requests, asking for permission & polite replies" I knew from the get go that it would be a challenge, and looking at it I could tell exactly what my main problems were... but I had a complete mental block on how to fix them. In feedback the instructor went through and explained "you could have done xy and zed" and suddenly it was all completely clear. I'd spent hours and hours and hours going around in circles not able to figure out what to do... and in 2 minutes she had the answer. Of course, that's to do with experience... but still it's frustrating.

OK - no more whining.

Today was fairly busy. The Cambridge certified external-assessor was at the school today. He was just verifying that our portfolios were in order and that the grading thus far has been up to Cambridge standards. He observed two lessons - fortunately not mine. There was an opportunity to air our grievances about the program with him... but no one really said anything. I thought about discussing my problem with Daddy Dearest, but decided that my time was better spent finishing up my lesson plan.

I had gotten to school early because I was still sorting out my lesson plan. A few of us were working in the computer room when the Canadian came in and told us that it was the Quiet Australian's birthday today. I thought it would be nice to get a birthday cake for him and the guys agreed. There's a bakery two doors down from the school and they happened to have one whole chocolate cake in the display. It was 400 baht ($12, *not* cheap by Thai standards) but since I'm still feeling a bit rich from this weekend's unexpected windfall I bought it. Then I ran two doors to the other side of the school and picked up some candles & plastic forks at the 7/11, then hid all the goodies with the gals from the front office. (Before coming here I was all worried about what kinds of things they would & wouldn't have in Thailand but the reality is - they have everything I could possibly need.)

So after we all met with the assessor, everyone hung out for a minute and had a little birthday party. It was really fun to have cake & candles & everyone singing... I think it lightened the mood a bit. Maybe that's the Pollyanna in me... but the Quiet Australian did seem to appreciate the thought. I have to say though, the Thais do a great many wonderful things, but chocolate cake is not one of them. It was fine, but I've made better.

After class I had dinner with one of the students at Chiang Mai University. It was just so sweet. One of the other teachers did a lesson on Friday about making arrangements and had the students do an activity where they asked each other "Are you free on Monday?" "No, I'm playing tennis on Monday. Are you free on Saturday?" and after class one of the students came up to me and asked "Are you free tonight?" and I said no... thinking she was still practicing. But she asked if I was free on Monday and invited me to have dinner with her. I was so totally flattered. Now, I don't know if technically it's inappropriate to socialize with students outside of class. But I do know that a couple of the guys have gone out to a bar owned by one of the students, and have run into other students while out drinking. I figured, whatever ethical grey area I might have stepped into - the overarching moral propriety of my normal behavior would keep me out of trouble.

It was fun... and the student was adorable. She started out by saying "We need to walk one kilometer." and I was like "OK" and she laughed at me... "Just joking! We'll take the CMU shuttle." (Apparently Thais don't do a lot of walking) The shuttles are like the train/tram things like they have in the parking lot at Disneyland or Universal Studios.... like an extra long golf cart. Anyway we walked all of a block & a half then got on the shuttle. It wound around through campus - OMG it's so lush! There's a decent sized lake and huge trees everywhere. It feels very tropical. But it's also very much a campus... lots of students everywhere, playing soccer & basketball, riding around on scooters, sitting around talking. Lots of big dorm buildings with laundry hanging out the window etc.

Eventually we got to the food court. Like most places in Thailand, it's all open-air. There are roofs but you're essentially outside (with mosquitoes and stray dogs etc). The food stalls themselves seemed a lot more permanent than the food stalls across from my school. These were well lit and had full on concrete walls... not just a wooden frame. Still, they are a bit reminiscent of the 'snack shack' at a football stadium. She asked what I'd like and I just said we could get whatever was her favorite. It's so funny because her English is really good, but still somewhat formal. So she said "I recommend..." and of course she repeated it about 5 times but I can't remember what it was called. I didn't feel comfortable whipping out my camera to take a picture, but MAN it was good! It was some kind of saffron/curried rice with little bits of chicken mixed in, and a seasoned chicken drumstick on the side. YUM... it was spiced, but not too spicy, and only 25 baht. We sat down and she asked if I like fruit, and I was able to tell her one of the very few words I've actually learned since getting here "Samporot" (no idea how it should be transliterated) - and after a few of my attempts to pronounce it she understood that I meant pineapple. So she ran off for a minute and came back with pineapple smoothie type beverages for us. Very sweet and very refreshing. I love that the Thais have a sweet tooth... my kind of people. Just you know... they should leave chocolate to the Europeans.

There were also a few vendors with their wares lined up on the side of the campus road. Mostly clothes (jeans & T-shirts), wallets, hair clips & cute notebooks. I didn't buy anything, because despite my poker win, I'm still trying to hold back on buying anything until I have a job & a permanent address. OH! But she got me a present!

It's just a little note-pad from CMU... but how adorable?! (an interobang would be nice here, don't you think?)
First off, hello! It's pink!! =) Second, check out the adorable elephants... they're all wearing mortar boards. How sweet was that???

We sat and chatted for a while. She told me about her family and I told her a little about the US. She's visited Korea, so she was telling me a bit about the things she noticed there. It was not the deepest of conversations, but she can actually communicate extremely well - despite the fact that she says "I don't speak English very well." Lordy. I decided to teach her the word "Confident" and subsequently tried to tell her to be more confident, because her English was actually just fine. And bless her heart, she used some of the language I had taught in my lesson today. "May I sit here?" and "I'm sorry, this seat is taken." (she was joking) LOL... and I told her my lesson really wasn't very good & she tried to reassure me "But I remembered it!" which I guess is the most important thing.

Overall a good day... but not without it's ups and downs. A very pineapple day. =)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Don't try this at home...

T.A.G - Code Pineapple. It's been a mentally tough day, and I have a cold... but other than that, all is well.

When I was back in Oregon and would tell people about this plan to go to Thailand, the general reaction was something like “Oh how exciting!”, “You’re very brave.”, or “You have such an adventurous personality.” And that kind of thing. I just want to clear that all up right now. I am not brave, and I am not really all that adventurous. On a scale of 1 (ordering the exact same thing every time you go out to dinner) to 10 (being the first person on the moon)… I’m like a 2. Seriously. I’m not brave, or adventurous or particularly exciting. As proven by the two months I was unemployed in Oregon, I’m content, *quite* content to sit around all day watching DVDs and playing computer video games. I just made a decision to *do* a scary, exciting, adventurous thing. Getting on a plane is not that hard. Then it lands and you have to do things like eat & sleep, and you figure those things out.

However, this whole experience of doing the CELTA course ‘in country’ is turning out to be extremely challenging, both emotionally & intellectually. I was expecting (dreading) some of this challenge, but still…it can be overwhelming at times. Intellectually, there’s a lot of information to absorb, and then apply in teaching practice. There are techniques to master and grammatical structures to learn. There’s a lot of prep-work to do before each lesson, and then a lot of feedback & analysis to deal with afterwards. Emotionally, it’s been a roller-coaster ride. There were lessons that I felt completely unprepared for that went extremely well, and then lessons I felt really comfortable with that didn’t go very well at all. I’m spending a lot of time around the same people… so much so that individual quirks become really irritating. I’ve had a lot of fun hanging out with everyone, but at the same time, I feel like I don’t have any ‘real’ friends. I feel like the guys on the course tolerate me at best, and actively dislike me in at least one case. The one person who seems most genuinely interested in talking to me is also the most likely to point out my personality flaws to me. It’s been really tough.

There are times when everything is wonderful, when I think “How amazing is this?” and then there are days when I spend hours playing solitare on my computer ruminating on all the things going wrong. One minute I’ll feel like I’m really going to be a good teacher, that it’s feeling very natural. But then I’ll spend two hours agonizing over what to do for a 2 minute warm up activity. I love working with the students… but I get so nervous before I teach that I want to throw up. And getting a really positive review from my instructor only made me feel more pressured to live up to his expectations. It’s insane.

Then there’s the fact that I almost never know what’s going on. There’s a freedom in that. Knowing that you’re probably doing something wrong, and that you’re probably going to offend someone means you just don’t worry about it. But it can also be humiliating. One of the guys on my course picked a Thai name to use in the class so the students could pronounce it easily. Every time he said his name, students would giggle – he’d ask “Isn’t that a Thai name?” and he’d get the reply that it’s the name of a Thai actor. Just yesterday he found out that it’s an actor who’s most famous for doing a string of condom commercials. So yeah, in an effort to pay respect to the Thai culture, he named himself after the condom man.

Personally I’ve gotten so laid back about just accepting whatever happens, that I often forget to make any kind of attempt at problem solving. There’s a note on the back of my door that says “If you want to clean a room hang a plate in front of the room.” After a few days of leaving a dinner plate outside my door (go ahead and laugh now… it’s fine) only to come home to a room that’s just as dirty as it was when I left – I’d pretty much given up on the idea of having my room cleaned. I’ve been here three weeks and it only just occurred to me to call the front office and *ask* them how to get maid service. Turns out I needed to pay them extra for the service… but it got taken care of that same day. Same with my shower situation. Despite turning the dial all the way to “Hot” I never got anything better than a luke-warm shower. I didn’t want to complain, I figured I’d just get used to it. When I get home from work I’m all hot & sweaty anyway so it wasn’t that much of a problem. But then today I noticed a ‘reset’ button on my shower and instantly… *instantly* I had steaming hot water flowing from the nozzle. Three weeks of “mai bpen lai” about having cold showers every morning when all I had to do was press a button.

Oh, and then there was the Gyoza incident. I went out to lunch with two of the guys and ordered gyoza. The woman made some attempt to communicate something with me and I just clarified that yes, that’s what I wanted. As is customary in Thailand, the boys were served their meals first. I waited patiently, and waited, and waited. The guys were practically done and still no gyoza. I didn’t want to be rude, but I was starving. I caught the waitress’ eye and asked where my gyoza was. This time, she made “no more” motions and I finally got it – they were out of gyoza. D’oh! So I hastily ordered something else and had to scramble to eat before it was time to go to class. In those situations and a myriad of others it’s hard to find that balance between having a good attitude and just being blind.

I wouldn’t say it takes much courage to live abroad – it’s not all that scary – but it does take a certain kind of grit. You’ve got to find a way to deal with your own issues, as well as the issues of a country & culture that’s not your own. It’s not easy, and it’s not for the faint of heart. But for me, at this moment, I think it’s been worth it.