Friday, October 31, 2008

War stories

Well, fuck. I was all prepared to give today a Code Mango again... but I started feeling queasy again when I got home. No major crisis - just enough to make me wonder if the antibiotics really are working or not. But for most of the day I felt better... so we'll split the difference and call it a Code Pineapple kind of a day.

Bunny and Bobby went to Ko Samet last night and I'd mentioned that if I was feeling better I might try to meet up with them for the day, since I didn't have class until 7pm tonight. But when I got up it was raining... and I realized I hadn't done any lesson planning at all for that class or the two horrible young-learner classes (well, one horrible, one just so/so) I teach on Sundays. So I decided to stick around here. I spent an obscene amount of time in bed playing around on facebook... but actually had a really good chat with someone (hi MJ) so it was worth it.

I went to lunch at around 1 or so. Some of the teachers had been talking about a new German restaurant that serves good English/American/German breakfasts with eggs and bacon and other exotic foods like that. ;) One of the teachers... I can't remember if I gave him a nickname or not - let's call him Baldy... drew a map for me. But then he said it was right next to a popular massage place so I could just ask for that and the motorcycle taxis would get me close enough. Which is exactly what I did.

OMG... it was such a treat. For one, the restaurant had walls... and doors! Seriously, it was exciting. The floor was something other than bare concrete and the tables were not covered in old Pepsi banners. There was NO toilet paper on the tables!! (Thais use TP like we use napkins or paper towels - it's just an all purpose product. Of course, you never know if there will be TP in the bathroom... but there will *always* be some on the table! ) I accidentally went into the wrong part but the owner came out and explained to me in fluent English that the restaurant part wasn't open yet but she ushered me into the cafe part that was open, and got me a menu - in English. I said "Danke" because I was just so excited not to have to try to order in Thai. LOL. After all my whining about breakfast I wasn't actually in the mood for it so I had a ham and cheese sandwich instead. Mmmmmm. Just your average ham sandwich on lightly toasted white bread, a little lettuce - a LOT of mayonaise. I was very happy. It was 75 baht.... twice what a big ol' plate of fried rice or pad see yoo costs at the market. It didn't even come with fries or chips or anything. Still - it was worth it. I was particularly excited that it didn't send me running to the bathroom.

I spent a few hours at school sorting out my lesson for tonight and trying to figure out what to do for my young-learner classes. One book is way too hard for the students, and one book is way too easy... so I've got to do it all from scratch. For the class that's way ahead of the book, I'm just going to play games tomorrow... there's a Halloween party, so it's okay. I'm going to try to get them to make up scary stories. We'll see how that goes. But for the other class... the class that won't talk and just stares at me blankly when I give them the most basic instructions... I'm taking them back to square one. I'm going to start with vocabulary words - getting out whatever nouns, verbs, and adjectives they know... then I'm going to have them start making sentences using the words they know. Seriously, they're in book 6 and are supposed to understand a couple of past tense forms and two present this should not be a challenge... but we'll see.

I got some dinner at the restaurant next to the school (which does *not* have doors or windows), taught my one class for the day, then filled out my time card. I taught over 100 hours this month! I know it doesn't sound like much... but it certainly kept me busy, especially since that number doesn't include travel or planning time! Key drove me home again, and stopped to pick up some dinner to-go first. The place she went was right next to a place selling toast! I was so excited. White bread twice in one day - such a treat! It's such a crack up, so Thai. There's a woman with a little street cart making drinks and grilling toast on a little BBQ. First she slathers it with margarine then toasts it face down on the grill. Random. Then, because this is Thailand - she spoons a generous pile of sugar on top of it and shakes it off and puts it into a plastic bag, which of course goes into a second plastic bag. I'd ordered two pieces so it was like a little toasted sugar sandwich.

When I got back to my apartment I decided to see if Bunny and Bobby were back from Ko Samet. They were and we actually had a great time talking. They got really excited about the fact that I had found toast, so I shared. We just sat around eating toast and telling our stories. They both did study-abroad in college, Bunny in France and Bobby in England so we chatted a bit about that. They've only been in Thailand about a week or so I think... so they were asking me questions about everything. I reassured them that I'd gone through all the same culture shock that they're going through and gave them some hard learned tips (where to find the western toilets, why you shouldn't take a tuk-tuk in Bangkok "You mean there's not a special discount day?", and how many pages to prepare for a 3 hour lesson). They were hanging on my every word in a way that I found most enjoyable. Mostly it was fun to be speaking at full speed.

The A/C in their room wasn't working so I taught them to say "broken" and found the word for A/C in their phrase book - they have the same book I do... although theirs is in much better condition. =P But then I remembered that when they were sorting out my "hong naam fai see-a" problem the landlady kept turning off the main power using one of the three black light switches on my wall (the switches that control the lights are beige and... different). So I found their black light switch and sure enough it was 'off' so I flipped it on then pressed the button for the A/C. When the cool air started drifting into their room it was as though I had magical powers. Yeah... I'm pretty much their hero now.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rebel gets cranky

I'm actually feeling a bit better today, I think the antibiotics are working. I ate relatively plain chicken and rice for lunch. It's weird actually. It was chicken fried in fish sauce... and it was quite tasty. I remember when I bought some fish sauce back in the states to try it out, I was completely repulsed by the smell and even the smallest taste. But I understand they put it in everything here. Fish sauce was, I think, the only seasoning on my chicken - it didn't taste fishy at all, mostly salty and I don't know... yummy. Maybe it's that they cook everything at such high temperatures, they get rid of the fish taste and all that remains is the salt. Who knows. In any event, it didn't cause me any problems.

I made it through my classes well enough. I had to give a surprise exam today. I felt really bad about it. Actually, the whole thing was a bit of a mess. I've only had this class two or three times and last week was canceled, I only got around to thinking about it again on Tuesday and when I saw that I was running out of room on the attendance card I asked the front office when the course would be over. They told me that today would be the last day and I had to give a test. You know... over material I hadn't even finished covering. =?

It's a two hour class, so I tried to plan a review hour that would essentially cover everything on the test. Yes, teaching to the test, it's horrible... but it gets worse. They were like "Can't we postpone the test - we didn't have a chance to study?" but I checked and for whatever reason we had to do the test today. Ugh.... let's just say - if they all end up with the score, I won't be surprised. First I let them use the book. Second I was only supposed to play the listening section twice but I played it three times... and then some of the students just started 'helping' each other by repeating the relevant sections (ie - the answers). Then there was a speaking task... I let them do it as a role play instead of having them each do it individually. And of course while I was out of the room listening to the speaking sections I'm fairly certain they were all 'helping' each other. Yeah... the scores will have no reflection whatsoever on what they've actually learned on the course. Well, I guess they'll reflect what the class has collectively learned on the course.

Mai bpen rai. I don't feel great about it, but I'm not sweating it too much. This is a business English class, and they all work together. So it's not like I'm sending them off to take the TOEFL unprepared or anything. They need to use English in their jobs and if they don't understand something - they can ask one of their coworkers. Also - in my limited experience, this class was placed at a lower level than it should have been. It's an Elementary class, but they are all far more fluent than my Pre-Intermediate class. So, we'll see. I'm going to make it a point to do some longer-term planning with the rest of my classes and find out when I need to give the tests for each of them.

My real gripe of the day is the new teachers who just arrived -two 22 year old Californian girls. Oh lordy! They're nice enough, and I'll probably hang out with them a bit... but man alive the one girl would.not.shut.up! I'm going to call them Bobby and Bunny just for the hell of it. Bunny is the mouth of the operation, I've barely gotten two words out of Bobby. I'll look straight at her and ask her a question like "So, Bobby how do you like Rayong." and Bunny will chime in with "Oh we love it!" Lordy lordy lordy. They just arrived a few days ago so they are about as green as green can be, all bright eyed and full of wonder about every little thing. I know I know I know... I was the same way. It's karmic justice, I'm sure.

I wouldn't have minded so much, but they were in the teachers room waiting around for their orientation and I was desperately trying to plan that test review session and only had an hour before my next class. It's incredibly hard to focus on countable and uncountable nouns with Bunny prattling on about how excited she is to go buy a big ol' bag of dried squid for the gals in the front office and how she's a vegetarian but she's totally going to buy the biggest bag they have and she can just see herself wandering all over Ban Phe with a bag of dried squid on her shoulder and OMG isn't that the funniest thing ever.

Did I mention they're going to be my new neighbors as well? The two Philippino girls just moved into a house so these gals will be moving into their room. Really, it'll be okay. They'll probably settle down after the first couple of weeks, and we'll all settle into a groove of some sort. I'm sure they'll have a ton of questions about teaching, and guess what - I'll be the expert! It's really funny actually. The addition of two new girls was all it took for me to feel instantly bonded to the other teachers. I feel like a total veteran looking at the new recruits... casting knowing glances at the other teachers as Bunny goes on and on about their adventures doing laundry and going shopping at Tescos.

I'm trying to at least give them the benefit of the doubt. We might end up getting along really well. On the other hand, I'm more than a little irritated that there are now three teachers from California at the school. I moved to Oregon because I did not mesh with California. And I really haven't been able to maintain many friendships with people I knew in CA because it's just a whole different planet down there... a whole different mentality. So of all the places in the English speaking world for the new teachers to be from... I just can't believe they're from the one place I really can't stand. I want the Aussies back... the Brit, the Canadian... heck - even the Texan. =/

I think the honeymoon phase of this whole experience is coming to an end. Real life is creeping in around every corner. I'm trying to let my inner voice guide me, you know, I want to head towards that which makes me happy, and away from that which makes me unhappy. But I know I can't expect every moment of my life to be pure bliss... I'm trying to figure out the balance. I have more to say on this... but I don't want to get into it right now.

TAG - Code Bananas

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Traveler's curse

Whatever intestinal bug I've picked up has gone from annoying to a bit frightening. My general philosophy has been to let these problems run their course as it were... but it was getting pretty bad so I took some immodium yesterday. I think that was a bad idea, within the hour I started getting stomach cramps and feeling over-heated and flushed. I had to leave class once to go to the bathroom but then I ended up canceling it in the middle because I just couldn't keep pretending I was okay.

I had gotten some antibiotics from the travel clinic back in OR and thus far haven't needed them, but I decided to take them. It's a three day course, so hopefully by this weekend I'll be better. The thing that's frightening is that I've finally put two and two together and figured out that it was the raw crab on the som tam bpoo that must have made me sick. I didn' tmake the connection at first because I didn't get sick that night - it wasn't until a good 18 hours later. And now that I've told people that I think I'm sick from eating raw crab - they're telling me all kinds of horror stories about intestinal parasites and lung infections. =/

I'm trying not to freak out. I'll give the antibiotics a couple of days to work, but if I'm not better by Friday I'll have the girls in the office point me to a doctor.

The irony is that I did actually go to the doctor yesterday. I needed a 'medical examination' for my work permit. I went in to see the doctor and he asked me where I was from. I told him "America." He had me put out my hands, then turn them over. He asked me to stand up and sit down - which I did. Finally he asked "Do you have any health problems." to which I replied "No, I feel good!" and I was pronounced healthy enough to work.

TAG - Code Bananas.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Short and Sweet

Well, we'll see.

I went to the food-court with Key again tonight. I ordered stir fried veggies and decided to find out the Thai word for broccoli because I really like it.

"Nee arai?" I asked pointing to the vegetable on my fork.
--"Bra-ko-lee" she responded "same same"

At least I'm trying here!

After dinner she wanted to pick up another little snack, so we walked over to this booth with trays and trays of brightly colored... um... squares. Mostly squares and some flowery looking things. Honestly they looked like glycerin soaps so I was always hesitant to buy any - you know, do I eat it or do I wash with it? But she said they were sweets, so I figured I'd give it a try. I asked her what they were and pointing to each in turn she said "Hmmm... I don't know.... egg, I think.... tomato.... I don't know in English..." I pointed to the white one "Coconut maybe?" "Chai (yes) coconut." So I bought that one.

(check out my new bed-tray/desk)

It's ... odd. The texture is gelatinous and squeeky - more firm than Jello. The flavor is mild and not entirely unlike glycerin soap.

I'll pass next time.

We're back up to Code Mango today. My classes went well (no major disasters anyway), I slept well last night, and my digestive system seems to be calming down (for the moment).

Oh - and I taught through another blackout today. The lack of light isn't so bad (windows and all)... it's the lack of AC that makes it difficult. Fortunately power came back on half-way through.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sahm sip see

My birthday rolled around a bit early this year, but I think it's safe to say I'm 34 (sahm sip see). Lordy lordy... that's like a real grown up age isn't it?

I thought about doing something fun like having a blog contest for my birthday... but I just wasn't willing to put that much effort into it. I'd tried to round up a bunch of the teachers to go out to a club on Saturday night. I got a lot of "maybe"s which always makes me nervous, but finally Jed (the other American teacher) said not only would he go, but we could meet up earlier for dinner & a few drinks. So I had dinner with him and his Thai girlfriend. It was fine... but not the kind of socializing that I crave.

Jed is nice enough but we don't have a much in common. His girlfriend M. also seems nice enough, but it was not my birthday wish to sit across the table watching them all night. He would pet and fawn over her, playing with her hair, poking her side, teasing her etc. etc. She would, in turns stare at him in complete adoration - putting food on his plate, filling his drink etc. and then fuss and pout when he didn't take her claims of having malaria seriously. It was odd to say the least. She doesn't speak much English and he doesn't speak much Thai... but it seems 'true love' doesn't require much verbal communication.

I don't mean to paint either of them unkindly... like I said Jed is friendly and chatty, and if I were a guy, I'd have been in love with M. by the end of dinner. She's really beautiful - in a jeans & T-shirt kind of way, and was the ultimate hostess serving us soup and drinks, smiling and laughing no matter how we butchered her language. But like I said, it wasn't what I was craving. I'd much rather be discussing life, the universe & everything in a mellow pub, or just joking around with the guys from the CELTA.

After dinner we went to the club and met up with one of the other teachers. Again, it was fun enough... I mean, I was out drinking - there was loud music... but I'm still not feeling much camaraderie with the other teachers. I mean... we exchange a few words in the staff room then spend a few hours in our separate classrooms and then exchange another couple of words in passing before going home. We've had lunch or dinner together two or three times between classes... but that's been about it. I don't know... I think I'm expecting too much at this point.

I actually think that part of it is that most of the other teachers are Filipino... so even though they speak English (more or less) fluently, there's still a pretty wide culture gap. For them, teaching in Thailand is just a job... not as much of an exotic adventure. I mean, I asked one of the gals if she'd been to the beach yet and she was like "My whole country is beaches."

Speaking of exotic adventures though... I managed to successfully use a squat toilet whilst completely inebriated! There really ought to be a merit badge for that. The trick is... for anyone who ever finds themselves in that situation is to *really* squat... not just like it's time to work your glutes. Sorry for the TMI - but seriously these are things they don't put in the travel guides.

Although ... this whole 'exotic adventure' thing is all relative - you know? I mean... people live here, there's a mall, they have cable TV and high speed internet. For them, it's not exotic... it's just life. Using a squat toilet is not cause for celebration. And actually for me, more and more, I'm getting into the groove and adapting to the lifestyle here. It's no longer a big deal for me to hop on the back of a motorbike taxi to go to the store. Helmet? What's that? Today I even carried home a little bed-tray/ mini desk home as we rode. I feel confident that a true Thai could move the entire contents of a studio apartment using just a motorbike... but for me, just carrying something bigger than my purse was a bit scary. But there are still times when I just look around me and say (pardon my French ...) "I'm in fucking Thailand!"

Today I was having breakfast at the B&B and you know, just sitting there. Turning to the left I can see the family living room, a nice sofa, TV with the news on, and several pictures of the kids & grandkids on the bookshelf. Straight ahead, there's the 'kitchen' - two or three big woks positioned over propane burners. Two large rice cookers were on the counter, as well as two big basins where they washed the dishes. The whole restaurant is open air... you can look beyond the kitchen into the neighbor's yard... and to the right there's the street and across the street, a big green pond/grassy area. There's a dog running across the street, a female who's had a litter or five in her time so all six (8?) of her doggy boobs are hanging half way down to the street. A Mom & son ride in on a motor bike and sit down next to me. And it just struck me... you know, this is *not* the US. I can think of no place that I've ever lived that would be like this.

As I was thinking that, a fairly gregarious man wandered into the restaurant and sat down across from me. "Galkouth lkadoiuend alkjoiutysa." he said with a smile.
--"Mai cow jai." - my standard reply.
He repeats himself, this time in English "You sleep my house?" I've been asked the question enough to know that he's not propositioning me, he's asking "Where do you sleep (live)?"
--"Som ping sorng" I reply, pointing at the building behind us. (I'm not sure if Som Ping Sorng is the name of the store on the ground floor, or the name of the people who own the building - but it's what I tell the motorcycle taxis when I want to go home).
"Aaaah Som ping sorng." he concurs with a smile. "You teacher?"
"You teach... adflpoiuv qne lakdfjady?" he asks.
--"ECC" I reply.
"Aaaah... ECC.... Rayong Rama." (that's the name of the movie theater behind the school - and what I tell the motorcycle taxis when I want to go back to work). I nod again, this is one of the longer conversations I've had with a Thai person outside of school. "You come from America."
--"Yes, America."
"Aaaaah America! George Bush!" He says.
--I make a face, and say the only Thai phrase that even comes close to my opinions on the subject. "Mai ow." (Don't want.) "Mai ow George Bush."
He brings one finger from each hand up next to each other in front of him. "Thaksin, George Bush, same-same!" (Thaksin is the highly controversial former Prime Minister of Thailand.)
--"Same-same." I exclaim. "Same-same!"
"Same-same" he claps, ending the most meaningful conversation I'd had in days.

So yeah... life is not quite as Mango as I'd like... but I'd had three fairly crappy birthdays in a row in the States and at least now I can say, I'm in fucking Thailand! And that really is something for me.

TAG - Code Pineapple.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A friend?

One of the gals at work, Key, has started offering to take me to dinner & home after work. I’ve taken her up on it a few times, and I have to say that it’s nice to have someone to eat with… even if our conversations are limited at best. Her English is pretty good actually, but we’re still at the small talk stage. One thing I’ve noticed is that she’s hesitant to voice a strong opinion on anything (“it’s up to you” is as popular saying as “it doesn’t matter”) , and at the same time I don’t really want to offend her by asking any personal questions… so we generally end up talking about the food.

We’ve gone to my regular market, and we’ve gone to a restaurant. Today her boyfriend met her at work and the three of us went to a big outdoor market… this one was all food vendors. I asked her what she wanted - thinking I’d just have what she was having, but when I do that, she out-polites me by insisting that I order something and then she orders from the same place. We walked by the different vendors – pad thai, sea-food, soup, Thai omelets, etc etc. We came to a place that had ‘steak’ and that was too tempting to pass up. It ended up being a pork steak… but there was gravy, and there were french fries, so I was pretty happy.

Her boyfriend, let’s just call him Boy, used to be a student at the school... but he’s not taking classes at the moment. Key and Boy were talking (in Thai) and somehow I picked up enough to guess that they were talking about how I don’t speak Thai. When I asked “are you teasing me because I can’t speak Thai?” Key replied that she was telling him that I was trying to learn. Boy commented that he could teach me some Thai if I would teach him some English. I told him I thought would be an excellent idea! After finding out how much formal lessons cost, I’ve been worried about how I would ever learn the language. I mean, I’ve been picking up a word here or there, but it’s slow going without the structure of a formal class. We’ll have to figure out when and where and all that… and see if it actually happens. I only have one day off a week, and I’m reluctant to schedule anything at all on that day… but I do really want to learn. So we’ll see. In any case it’s nice to feel like I’m starting to make a friend.

I’m dreading tomorrow’s classes, not only do I have my two kid classes, I have to cover someone else’s class while one of the office staff gives a test to one of the classes I gave last week. And I have another class after my two kid classes. I brought the books home so I could plan tonight… but nope, I’m just hanging out playing computer games. I’m not sure what exactly is wrong with me. I know that I feel shitty when I go into a class under prepared, but at the same time it’s hard for me to stay motivated.

I’ve been told that language institutes are the fast-food of language learning, and I think that’s accurate. I do a little prep work (an hour or so per class) so I at least know what I’m supposed to be teaching, then get to class & go through the book highlighting and clarifying what I can. With as many different classes, and as many students as I have, it’s hard to be as invested in any particular class as I’d like to be. I’m still having problems remembering the names of all the students in my bigger classes. I can’t really think much beyond what I’m teaching that day or the next, and I haven’t had the brain power to think of any particularly interesting activities. I guess I’m still in survival mode. I think about this a lot… I want to be a good teacher. I just don’t think I’m willing or able to put in the work that it’ll take to be a really good teacher. I’m going to have to settle for being an okay teacher… or at least not a horrible one for a while. Which doesn’t feel great, but I’m just going to have to make peace with that idea.

Back to my budding social life though… I’ve invited the girls from the office and some of the other teachers to go out to a club tomorrow night. I’m still not sure exactly who is going to go, or how exactly I’m going to get there (I need to set something up with the motorcycle taxi guys… not sure how late they work). But it should be fun… you know, if anyone else shows up. If it just ends up being me, it’ll be a sad sad day.

TAG - Code Pineapple again... no idea why my tummy refuses to stay settled. I was fine all day until I got home. =/

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Today was a holiday so I took it easy. I'd contemplated going to Bangkok or even just the beach, but instead decided to stay around town. I went to the mall, and then to Tesco Lotus for lunch. I'm telling you, livin' la vita loca over here. ;) There was a big outdoor market set up next to Lotus, so I wandered around it for a while. It was almost entirely clothes & accessories though... western style stuff and very little of it in my size.

I was looking for a pair of swim shorts so I wouldn't feel quite so big, white & naked next time I go to the beach. As I was looking the sales woman said "Big size for you." and pointed to the next rack. My instinct is to be offended - 'who's she calling big?'. But the fact is, I am big - huge by Thai standards, and I was looking for something I could actually wear. I found a pair that looked good, bought them and wandered off.

These were one of very few pairs that didn't have Doremon or Scooby Doo or some other cartoon character on them - adult shorts!

At the next booth I stopped at, I got the same treatment, the man pointed over to one end of the display with a "Yai, yai" (Big big). This time I wanted to tell him "No, actually this is for my friend and she's not yai!" but you know... language barrier and all.

The language barrier continued at dinner tonight. I went to the market and found a booth I'd been to before and ordered one of my standards - pork fried rice. When the woman brought it out to me she started talking to me. I, obviously, didn't understand what she was saying, and thought maybe she wanted me to pay. I got out my wallet but then she just laughed and signed 'no no'. I said "mai kow jai" (don't understand) but she kept talking. The only word I caught was Philippines. I thought she might be asking if I were from the Philippines, so I told her I was an American... but there was obviously not much communication going on. Smile and nod, smile and nod.

She went back behind the counter to help another customer, but soon enough she came back to me. She grabbed my arm and started motioning to her own chubby arm and then indicated that she was really fat, rubbing her belly etc. I got that she was telling me she was fat, and can only assume she was saying something like "Look - we're both fat!" or "Don't eat that or you'll be fat like me." Or possibly... as she held her arm up next to mine in the way we used to in California to compare tans (we were a similar shade)... "You look like a big, dark, Philipino girl." I really don't know what she was saying, and I'm still trying to work out if I was insulted or not.

TAG for today - Code Pineapple. I want to give it a mango, I mean, I didn't have to work and I spent the day shopping. Oh and I recognized my first full word in Thai today "closed" I had to sound it out. =) But something that I ate today at lunch has been giving me problems and it's not pretty. Just when I thought I'd adjusted to all the Thai microbes... =/

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Beauty and the Beast

TAG - I'm bringing it back to Code Mango... life is good today.

First off, it is with both deep pride and thinly veiled bitterness that I announce that I was named Vice Dork of 2008 DorkFest. Despite digging deep to reveal my inner dork, Rex Parker got top honors. Feel free to comment on one of his two truly dorky blogs and tell him you think I was robbed. ;)

Onward! There are a few very large ornamental pots/planters in front of my apartment, they're all filled with rainwater, guppies and greenery. Today I noticed a lotus flower and just had to take a picture.


I have a really easy schedule at work this week. There's a big holiday on the 23rd... it's King Chulalongkorn Day; the anniversary of the death of one of Thailand's most revered kings. He is credited for bringing Thailand into the modern era, opening the first modern hospitals, establishing the railroad & postal system, and abolishing slavery. He also ended the practice of prostrating oneself in front of the king. So, all around a King well worth celebrating. I only have the 23rd off, but three of my classes were canceled because the students will be taking a long weekend. So instead of my marathon three classes today from 2-9pm, I only had two. I had plenty of time to eat breakfast, get to school to do some lesson planning, then head to Tesco Lotus to pick up a few things before heading back for my classes.

While I was at Tesco that now familiar monsoon rain started. It just pounds, the noise is really amazing. I knew it would stop within an hour, and I had a couple of hours before my class so I just hung out and had lunch.

The Beast

I can only assume that this is the Thai interpretation of a Grilled Ham & Cheese sandwich*. First off... they use this weird cheese type product that I just can't identify. It's creamy, and vaguely cheese tasting... but it's neither a flavor nor a consistency I'm familiar with. It's processed, that's for sure, and probably doesn't actually contain any dairy... but it's not altogether bad. The ham is identifiably ham. And the whole thing is, yes, breaded & deep fried. Yup. It's kind of weird, and not something I would normally eat... but it's got it's merits. Being a bread-based meal is one major merit, and not containing fish-sauce is the other. Today was the first day I had this particular sandwich; they also make a 'croque monseuir' that's got the same basic componants but instead of being deep fried, I think it's just sauted in some kind of herb butter. It's pretty tasty.

Now, here is the irony of the day: After eating that fat-o-rama sandwich, and while still waiting for the rain to let up I wandered over to one of those electronic scales and for 1 baht found out that I've dropped about 8 kilos (17 lbs) while in Thailand. As much as I complained about the food situation last week, I do actually eat here. It's just that I generally eat like a Thai person. My consumption of soda has decreased dramatically, and I just can't get the junk food that I love back home. Yeah, I've had KFC** a couple times and will jump at any opportunity to eat french fries... but most of the time I'm eating stir fry, with actual rice, meat and veggies. I eat far fewer processed foods, and overall I just eat less because I don't have a kitchen. I have a hot pot, and I could buy a fridge if I really wanted to... but for now I think it's better for me not to keep a lot of food in my apartment.

You know, humans are hunter/gatherers. My whole body and brain have evolved (or were designed - as you will) to spend a good portion of each day looking for and obtaining food. It's natural. Having a stockpile of calories at arms reach 24 hours a day is not natural, and was not good for me. If you look at the ever expanding waistline of the average American, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that something is wrong. I'm living proof, that it's not about will power... or at least not entirely. It's about lifestyle and environment and as many external factors as internal ones. I don't know if I'll continue to lose weight, or if - now that I'm settled - I'll just start leveling out again. I'm trying not to worry about it, because, oddly enough - obsessing about one's weight doesn't actually burn that many calories!

*Did anyone notice that it came in a plastic bag? They're sold in a bakery section where you grab a cafeteria tray and a pair of tongs, you put your food on the tray, and when you pay for it, they wrap it in a little sandwich bag, and then put it in another little grocery bag. The bags! The bags! They're everywhere!!!

** Interestingly, they don't have the same menu at the KFC here as they do back home. Notably lacking are biscuits =( and coleslaw. So basically it's chicken, french fries & coke (plus a couple of novelty items I don't understand... 'shrimp rings' for example). But man, the chicken here is worlds better than what they make at KFC back home... not sure what the secret is.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The tropical life...

I was just absolutely wiped out after my Saturday classes. I had about 27 hours of teaching last week (14 class sessions)… which is normal. But since I’m new it takes me a long time to prep each class... about an hour per class… and that’s just to get a feel for what the lesson is about and what order to do the activities in. I’m not even close to giving the kinds of lessons I’d like to be giving at this point. I learned a lot from the CELTA course… but with all the self evaluations, peer evaluations, and tutor feedback it teaches you to be extremely critical of every little thing. I keep trying to tell myself that I don’t need to be perfect… as long as the students are getting exposure to the language and getting to practice a bit each time, I’m doing okay. Still… it takes a lot out of me. I really want to be a good teacher; I want my students to actually learn something and for their skills to improve. But also, after years and years in unrewarding jobs, I want to feel like I’m actually doing something productive.

Oh, and the kid classes I was dreading…all I can say is that I survived. I’m taking both of them over from the Canadian guy who just left for a job in Bangkok. I remember him complaining that one of the course books was too advanced for his students… and now I know what he was talking about. In the first class I was struggling to get them to do even the most basic of the activities… seriously, I was saying “point to the mountain” and only about half of them could do it. So that was the first three hours (I misread my schedule and thought they were each 4 hours… so I was actually relieved it was only 3 hours). The second three hour course was the complete opposite. They ploughed through the activities in the book like nothing. We did a listening activity – and usually I have to go through the CD like 3 times before the students can get all the information from it, but with this group – the kids were laughing at a joke on the CD the first time through. That’s a pretty advanced level of comprehension! I know I’m going to need to challenge them though… I don’t want to let them skate by just using the forms and structures they know really well. For the first lesson though, we spent the last hour playing games. Word games, but still.

So, after all that my little brain really really needed my day off. I made it a top priority to get to bed early so I might get a decent night’s sleep. I did go to bed by 11pm… but unfortunately was woken at around 3am by a HUGE storm. I mean, cracks of thunder that sounded like (I can only assume) a giant bomb going off next door, and lightening flashes that just light up the entire sky. And the rain… the rain! After living in Portland, I feel like I’ve got some experience with rain. But we didn’t get many real storms. Here the sky just opens up and it’s like fire hoses pouring down. The upside is that the storms blow past pretty quickly, so most of the days I’ve been here have been at least mostly sunny. But it was quite a production and I couldn’t sleep through it, and then I couldn’t fall asleep for quite a while afterwards. So much for catching up on my sleep.

I got my legs waxed again today… no big adventure this time as I’d dutifully waited until I was good and furry first. Then, as per my routine I went to the beach. This time the songthaew stopped in the town of Ban Phe. I think I mentioned that I figured out that the beach I really like is not actually in Ban Phe… I think it’s called Laem Mae Phim. Anyway, the songthaew stopped well before the beach I wanted to go to, so I walked… and walked… and walked. I gave up as soon as I got to a spare bit of beach and spent a bit of time in the water. I wasn’t really enjoying myself though…there were a ton of people around. And I haven’t gotten swim shorts yet, so I was feeling decidedly naked in comparison to the Thai swimmers, even in my fairly conservative speedo. Anyway, I wandered around the shops for a while, but realized I hadn’t brought much cash, so I didn’t actually buy anything.

I did pick up a nice cool beverage though.

No, it’s not an adult beverage…it’s just coconut juice. There was a woman with a cart and a bunch of under ripe coconuts in a cooler and I watched someone else order one, so I did too. She basically takes the coconut out and whacks it a few times around the top with a cleaver until it cracks… then she just sticks a straw in it and there you go. Fresh cool coconut juice. And let me tell you, it was nummers. After I finished the juice I ate the fruit. Since it’s under ripe it’s not all hard and dry, it peels off the shell really easily. And when you eat it, it’s not like gnaw gnaw gnaw, it’s just kinda soft and chewy. It has a milder taste too.

And now I’m back home… I stopped by the school to pick up the teachers books for my classes tomorrow. I have to do some intake/placement evaluations in the morning (all other duties as assigned) so there goes the morning I was going to spend planning lessons.

*update - of course after writing up this whole post I realized I was far too tired to do any lesson planning last night so I just went to sleep. =? Todays classes should be interesting! Oh, and I think Thailand might be gearing up for another coup... some people don't like the new PM any more than the old one. I still have enough money for an emergency plane ticket home... but so far none of this political stuff has had even the slightest impact on my day-to-day life.

TAG - Code Pineapple.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Breakfast of champions + further (albeit unnecessary) proof of my dorkiness

I'm happy to tell you that the mysterious mass-restaurant closure appears to be over. Yesterday while the electricians were working on my "hong naam fai see-a" issue I actually got to eat real food. Actually, the restaurant I wanted to go to was still closed... but I think maybe it was just too early. Anyway I ended up going back to the place where the girls had laughed at me. I dont' think I can adequately describe how much I was dreading going back there. But as you know I was pretty dang hungry.

This time I took the "nee arai" (what's that) approach and it worked okay. I noticed that here was a display with three different pots of soup near the front of the restaurant, so I just walked up and pointed to the most appetizing looking one and said "nee arai" - of course I don't know what the heck they said... but I smiled and nodded and indicated "one serving" and sat down. They then proceeded to bring me all these dishes. You know... there are a lot of things I *want* to take picture of, but I'm just so self conscious already... so I just sneak a shot here and there...and the quality shows. Seriously though, I dare you to go into a new restaurant, ALONE, and start taking pictures of the food and tell me how you feel.

Let's see what we've got here going clockwise from the lower left: little nests of thin rice noodles, the main dish - a yellow coconut curry with chicken, green veggies- mint, basil, long green beans, white sprouts, and shredded cabbage, um... other misc toppings sliced green onions, cucumbers, pickles, and maybe carmelized onion... not really sure, and finally the dish where you put it all together. Yeah... not quite scrambled eggs and toast. It ended up being really good, but a bit spicier than I generally want my breakfast to be. But, you know, not bad for less than $2.


Ok... we need names for clarification... there's the restaurant where they laughed at me - "McLOL", the place where I've practiced my Thai - "Thai101", the little restaurant on the other street that's basically an extention of the family's living room, let's call it a "B&B", and the restaurant right behind the school, which unfortunately I'll have to call "The Dive".

Thai 101

So with access to food again things were looking up. I only had two classes today (which just gives me a bit of breathing room to plan for tomorrow)... the first one at 2pm. So I went to the B&B for breakfast. All of the restaurants I go to are family affairs, and I generally just give my order to whomever is looking at me when I sit down. So far this has worked okay. Today however... today I let my little farang dork shine. I get to the restaurant and I say hello to the cook and the other lady who work there. I sit down at an empty table. A familiar looking man comes over, smiling, and says something to me. Of course I don't know what he's saying, so I tell him what I want to eat. He smiles and says something else.... I smile and he walks away. A moment or two later the cook looks at me, expectantly and I repeat my order to her. Then I notice the first guy sit down at a table nearby and start eating and talking to a little girl. I've seen a little girl here at the B&B sitting on the couch in her living room watching TV... but this is not that girl. And soon enough the man and the little girl get onto his motorbike and drive away. Only after he leaves do I realize this isn't the dad who owns this restaurant... it's the soup guy from across the street from my school. D'Oh!

So let's recap from his perspective. You notice a new woman in your neighborhood - she's come into your place of business once or twice. One day, you're out having a nice meal with your kids. You notice the new gal and go over to say hi to her. "How do you like our city?" you ask (or some other general small-talky thing beyond 'hello') and she replies to you "I'd like a burger and a coke please." Double D'oh!

If that doesn't win me the crown for Dorkfest... I'm not sure what will.

TAG - Code Pineapple... if I haven't mentioned it twenty times already - I have two new classes with young learners tomorrow - three hours each.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How many Thai people does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

So up till now I had no light in my bathroom. Well, there was a fluorescent light bulb but nothing happened when I flipped the switch. I've been a bit too concerned with things like food and teaching to really bother with getting it fixed. There are windows in the bathroom so in the daytime I don't need a light and really, at night I don't need a light either. I know where everything is. But I'm starting to feel like this will be my home for a while and thought a working light might be nice.

I've mentioned that on Monday - Thursday I have a class off campus - 30 minutes away. So that's a solid hour a day in a car with a Thai man.... who doesn't speak English. "Hello" and "How are you." don't take up much of the drive time... and even "Did you eat yet?" "I ate fried rice." leaves us with a good 55 min of silence together. I've taken to pointing at things in the car and saying "nee arai?" (what's that) but if he tries to tell me more than one word a day I totally forget it. So the other day I'm sitting in the car in silence and it occurs to me that he might be able to help me get my light fixed. So I point up to the dome light in his car and ask "nee arai?" "Ahhhh - fai." he tells me (a significant proportion of our 'conversations' each day involve one of us saying "aaaahhhhh" or "mai kow jai" (don't understand). "Fai" I repeat "Thailand speak - fai" he confirms.. and then tells me how to say "light on" and "light off" but of course, I forgot.

Armed with one good word I flipped through my phrase book looking for how to say "it doesn't work" and luckily it's just one two syllable word "see-a" and I also find the word for bathroom "hong naam" (naam means water so I already knew half of it). So I say and mime to him "Hong naam fai see-a." and he says "Aaaaahhhhh fai see-a." and I repeat pointing backwards towards the direction of my apartment "My room, hong naam fai see-a." "Aaaahhhh kow jai, kow jai." (I understand.) "ok." "ok." and you know... the rest of the drive in silence as I mentally repeat "Hong naam fai see-a." about four hundred times.

Yesterday (before starting my quest for food) I stopped downstairs to tell my landlord my new phrase. The ground floor of my apartment is a big kitchen supply store - wholesale mostly, so there are always a lot of people and a lot of products everywhere. I can't get a read on exactly how many people work here... but at least 6 or 7 I'm guessing. So they're all sitting around outside and I come up and say "Hello" and launch into my "hong naam fai see-a" but then, you know she replies. And I have no idea what she's saying to or asking me. So I just repeat "hong naam fai see-a" and point upstairs, point to the light in the store and mime 'broken'. The landlord asks me something about 'go ECC' and I say yes, I'm going to work. And I think maybe she needs my key or something so I dig in my bag and offer her my key - which she mimes she doesn't need... but goes inside and grabs a padlock from the store and shows it to me. I'm like "I don't need a padlock... I just need a new light." so I repeat the one and only phrase I know for the situation "hong naam fai see-a" at which point the girls sitting there are laughing and repeating "fai see-a" so I guess they got my point... but I still had no idea when or if my light would ever get fixed.

Last night I came home and flipped on the light, the bulb tried to sputter to life but settled into a very dim blinking pattern. I contemplate showering by strobe light, but really it's not even bright enough to be worth it. Oh well.

This morning I get up and start getting ready for work. By which I mean I spent a solid two or three hours online and eating stale crackers. I finally shower when I decide I'm willing to brave the restaurant search again. I'm standing there in my towel, soaking wet when there's a knock at the door. I say 'just a minute.... I'm naked' - in English of course, because I wouldn't have a clue what to say in Thai. And I glance around and realize I don't have a bathrobe or really anything I can throw on quickly. My landlady says something and I decide to at least open the door to show her I'm in my towel. "Hi - just a minute, I'll put clothes on." "aaaahhh...qoeri adgha dkhkjyy" Ok... I close the door walk over to my wardrobe and try to figure out what's the easiest thing I can put on while soaking wet, I've dropped my towel and picked up a skirt when the door opens! I'm like "just a minute!" and she closes the door again. I put the towel on again and just let her into the room. I point at the bathroom light and show her how flipping the switch doesn't do anything. She leaves. Um... ok.

I *very* quickly turn around and start getting dressed. Fortunately I'm fully clothed when she briefly knocks and opens the door again. I show her I'm presentable and nodding she goes back outside and ushers in a man with a ladder - "Ahhhhh, I smile." yeah, thanks for letting me get dressed.

Now they've been here for about an hour.... and there's a second electrician on the job now. I still haven't had breakfast, and there's still no light in my bathroom, and I may never have an answer to the question in my post title. =/

TAG - Code Pineapple

Update... I'm home from work now, and the light works. So I guess I could upgrade this post to a Mango... but I'm like bone tired these days and freaking out about my 8 hours of kid classes on Saturday so Pineapple stands!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rebel in crisis

Ok... since coming to Thailand, there have been massive protests, an overthrow of the government, I was nearly scammed in Bangkok and left wandering the streets alone and completely lost, I've walked into classes completely unprepared because I was given the wrong information. Today I taught for two hours in the (not really-that) dark because the monsoon rains had caused a power-out, I've had last minute room changes, and malfunctioning CD players. We're on the verge of a global economic collapse, the electronic deposit of my paycheck was rejected by my bank, and in my last class today I was informed that there was fighting on the border with Cambodia. All of this I've handled with a deep breath and a Mai Bpen Rai.... so you know when I say there's a crisis... I mean it. And if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you've probably guessed... it has to do with food.

All the restaurants between my home and work have been closed for the past two days!!!! Granted, there are only four ... but ALL of them are closed on the same two days - with no warning... and no one can tell me why. I mean, why doesn't really matter... the point is I would kinda like to eat something at some point. I have no kitchen, I have no fridge, I have no car, and it's not like there's a Denny's down the street.

For the record, I'm not actually starving. I have some crackers at home (which - in this humidity- go stale about 4 minutes after you open them), and have been picking up 'surprise buns' from the gas station for breakfast. Yesterday and today I've had class from 1pm - 9pm with no real break. So I got to work early to prep my lessons and at around lunch time I took a motorcycle taxi to Tesco Lotus to get something for lunch (they have something approaching a grilled cheese sandwich I'll have to describe at some point), and take away pad thai for dinner. But seriously, a surprise bun, a sandwich and a non-American-sized portion of pad thai is not quite enough food to get me through 24 hours. Not when I'm walking to and from school, running up and down the stairs and wandering around the classroom all day teaching anyway.

Today I did the same thing, went to Tescos for lunch and brought back some pad thai, which I managed to eat a few bites of in my 5 minute break at around 3pm. By the end of today I was feeling faint and starting to get a bit cranky. I didn't have the energy to walk to the big food court down the street (only an extra 5 min. walk... but when you're hungry it feels like an hour), and I didn't have the patience to wait 15 min. for one of the office gals to get off work to drive me. So I just left. I even forgot to bring the rest of my pad thai with me. There are usually two food vendors across the street, and I've gotten fried rice from the one gal. But today - of course - she wasn't there. It was just the guy with soup. I don't know what kind of soup it was, and I don't really know how to ask. Well, I know how to say "what's that" but then I'm not actually going to understand anything he says... so it's a bit pointless. So I've avoided it thus far. But you know... desperate times...

I just said "gak bahn" (take away) and pointed. There were two other guys there, and Mr. No-teeth decided to strike up a conversation with me in his broken English. Now, I'm an English teacher, and I have a lot of experience speaking with people for whom English is not their native language. I feel like I have an above average amount of patience in trying to understand what someone is saying. But I'd spent the last two hours working with a couple of electrical engineers going through a presentation they need to give next week and trying my little heart out to get them to say "Valve" instead of "walbe", "experience" instead of "ehperihen." The one guy got it, but the other just refused to play ball. I kept telling him "You cannot make the 'v' sound unless you put your top teeth on your bottom lip like this... vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv... no, put your teeth (pointing at teeth) on your lip (pointing at bottom lip)... like this vvvvvvvvvvvvvvv.... vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv... I know it looks strange, I know it feels strange, but you cannot make the sound unless you do this (pointing to exaggerated mouth shape again) vvvvvvvvvv." "walbe" (head to desk / head to desk / head to desk). So ordinarily, I feel like I'm really patient with people who are trying to speak English to me, but at this point I just smiled and nodded and in my head screamed "GIVE ME FOOD AND SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

Eventually my mystery soup was ready and I could go home. Yup - in Thailand soup comes in a bag. So do beverages.... and you know one pack of chewing gum. On the right, the white stuff is rice noodles, on the left, the broth and some kind of ball-type-food-product. Have I mentioned that I don't have a bowl... or a spoon?

One of the comfort items I brought from home was my giant 32oz Associated Students of Willamette University mug . When I was in SF, J. questioned whether I really needed to bring it with me. But I justified it by saying it had sentimental value, and also that I could stuff about 6 pairs of underwear in it, so the overall volume it occupied was less than it appeared. I also reminded her that every WU Freshman quickly learns about four dozen uses for their ASWU (pronounced /az-woo/ look at my lips... woooooooo wooooooo azzzzz-woo) mug... and it quickly becomes as useful as a hitch-hikers towel.

There was actually quite a lot of soup - I just had to down half of it before I could take more pictures. Oh... and that tiny fork may or may not have been stolen for me the night of the infamous gay-bar cake fight.

The soup ended up being really really good. Yes, that shiny layer is pure fat... and it was awesome. The ball-type-food-product tasted like chicken and had a surprisingly crunchy/squeeky texture. The closest thing I could compare it to would be like those big white bean sprouts you get with Thai food. But you know...also chewy. It's not a texture I'm likely to crave, but when you're starving things like that don't matter quite so much. I would totally get it again, and I'll try to learn the name next time.

Ok... blood sugar is returning to normal, tummy is sufficiently full (for the moment) and life is reaching equilibrium again. Crisis averted. But for the love of Buddha I hope the restaurants re-open tomorrow!

Monday, October 13, 2008

If you're a dork and you know it, clap your hands!

Michael 5000, whom you may know from his awesome blog: The Life & Times of Michael 5000 (the internet's preeminent provider of difficult pop quizzes on arbitrary topics ...and glib little posts about creative arts and dork culture) is hosting the second annual Dorkfest! Go on over and check out the submissions. I encourage you to revel in your inner dorkiness by participating. Last year I chickened out... I still felt that being a dork was a bad thing. But I was heartened by the many posts and along with the other changes in my life recently I have decided to fully embrace my dorkiness. If I'm going to be a dork... I may as well try to be the dorkiest dang dork in town. Or you know... in Thailand.

Herein lies my submission for Dorkfest 2008:

To start with, I looked
up the definition of “Dork” in multiple places to have an accurate operational definition from which to plead my case. I was unsatisfied with the definitions given as they don’t make a clear distinction between nerd & dork so I made up my own definition. To be a dork, one must have some obsessive traits, a hobby or quirk that is not generally accepted by mainstream society, and also display some degree of overall social ineptitude. Dorks share with nerds an interest in ‘school subjects’ (math, science, history) but unlike nerds are not necessarily experts in those fields. They think string theory is cool… but couldn’t tell you how you exactly how it works. They read XKCD, but only get about half the references.

Now that I've created my own operational definition... here are the ways in which I'm a complete and total dork.

Obsessive traits:

I read a book walking too and from work every day for a year to avoid talking to my neighbor.

The X-Files was an obsession of mine for several years. I read many X-Phile fan sites and even wrote my own, extremely crappy fan-fiction for it. When it jumped the shark I suffered intense emotional trauma that I have only recently begun to overcome.

Hobbies and quirks:

Knitting, quilting & embroidery are my major hobbies. Which I'll admit have come into vogue as hip & funky crafts... but I did needlework back when it was full-on dork-o-rama. I finished this piece in college. Yes, while my classmates were out drinking & getting stoned, I was cross-stitching.

I decoupage.

I look up new foods on Wikipedia before I try them… (and am now afraid to eat the persimmon I picked up at the market for fear of intestinal adhesions.)

This blog has 30 posts devoted to "Caturday".

Parades make me cry for joy.

I love Swing Dancing, and have a profound respect for Square Dancing & Clogging as part of our American cultural heritage.

Not only did I participate in Nanowrimo 2007, I completed my novella and printed out my certificate for posterity. I even bought the mug.

Wanna-be nerd factor:

I love watching documentaries. PBS was my favorite channel before I got cable, then it became the history & science channels. Basically, if the names Neil deGrasse Tyson or Ken Burns appear in the credits - I'll watch it. But unlike a nerd, I am unable to recall any of the pertinent information when necessary... say for a Thursday quiz. ;)

My favorite punctuation mark is the points of ellipses … could it be replaced by new-comer the interobang!?

I have a favorite punctuation mark.

I use blue-tooth technology to access the internet, and yet still have an AOL email account.
(the distinction being, a nerd would have a g-mail account, or better yet, some new fancy account I've never heard of)

Social ineptitude: (this is where my inner dork shines shines shines)

I showed up for my CELTA course orientation dressed in teacher clothes full skirt and button down top – everyone else was in shorts & flip flops.

I participate in the dork community – I read both Boing Boing and WWDN and XKCD on a regular basis.

I have more than 15 pieces of flair on my facebook account.

I made it to #4 ranking for number of posts on my online knitting forum then changed my user account at the new year. It’s took nearly 6 months for someone to overtake my #4 spot, and another two to drop me down to #6.

Let’s break that down, shall we:

1. I belong to an online knitting forum. a) knitting is still considered dorky by a great many people, b) it’s an online craft forum.

2. I posted so much I earned the #4 spot for total posts.

3. I was so far ahead of my competition, that even after I started posting under a different account, the old account held it’s position for MONTHS.

4. I check the total-post rankings

5. I check the total post rankings on a user account I don’t even use anymore!

6. I just did the math and if I’d kept using that account, I’d still be #4.

And for the record… it’s one of four online craft communities that I belong to.

I have more friends online than I do IRL and I have not actually been on a date since Dorkfest 2007. =/

I currently live in what is quite possibly the most beautiful and amazing country in Asia, and yet I spend hours - HOURS a day in my room, in front of my computer, reading blogs & playing Spider Solitaire.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Two month check in.

I've been in Thailand for two months now and thought it would be interesting to list all the things I've done for the first time since coming here.

New foods tried:
- random stuff from street vendors*
- Thai taco thing
- Pad ka pow moo - (rice, pork, veggies - but not fried together)
- Pad se yoo - (noodle dish)
- Tom yam (soup)
- Som tom (salad type thing)
- various juices from fruits I can't identify
- this seriously awesome salty-fish tasting cracker stick thing they have at the school
- mango with sweet sticky rice
- sweet sticky rice with some weird custard type thing on top
- rhoti (a crepe filled with chocolate or bananas and sweetened condensed milk and all folded up)
- surprise buns
- Kow mok gai (yellow rice with seasoned chicken)
- Larb (funky weird pork dish)

New experiences career related:
- passed the CELTA course*
- took a job 400 miles away - site unseen* (I don't actually recommend this - or plan to do it again)
- taught English classes!*
- taught English classes for which I was completely unprepared!*
- taught a class of kids*

New experiences general:
- Moved to Thailand!*
- visited a tropical island - Ko Samet
- swam in the Gulf of Thailand
- went to a Buddhist Temple
- rode in a tuk-tuk*
- rode in a songthaew*
- rode on the back of a friend's motorbike
- rode on the back of a stranger's motorbike*
- drove a motorbike (while supervised)*
- played poker for money (and WON!)
- saw an Elephant on the street
- ordered food in Thai
- nearly got scammed but walked away with all my money
- am a minority
- haggled*
- used a cell phone for internet access
- used a squat toilet =/
- used a bidet
- got my legs waxed
- got a traditional Thai massage
- got caught in monsoon rain (twice!)

I anticipate that the number of new experiences will dwindle as I get more and more settled here. But I do hope that I continue to see and do new things and continue to live at the edge of my comfort zone. LOL... It's really funny to think about where my comfort zone was vs. where it is now. For example ... all the things I starred* were things that I was terrified to do before I actually did them. But I've survived to tell the tale, haven't I?

TAG - Code Mango

Saturday, October 11, 2008

She sees sea shells by the sea shore.

TAG - Code Mango

Nothing particularly interesting happened today - but it's always a good day when I get to go to the beach. A few more pictures... because I'm evil and I know it's probably getting cold & rainy in the PacNW. ;)I've learned that this beach is called The Pines, because well... there are big ol' pine trees on either side of the road next to the beach. I didn't think pines could grow in the tropics, but clearly they do. Not sure what kind, but it's odd for me to see the long skinny needles in the sand.

The waves were unbelievably calm today. I think I must have come at low tide.
In part because the waves are so gentle, and probably for a lot of other geological reasons I don't totally get - there are TONS of shells on this beach. And a good many of them are whole. There's a part of me that just wants to collect a whole mess of them as souvenirs, but I keep hearing that quote in my head about "Take only pictures, leave only footprints." and I'm trying to stick to that. I did take one shell though...just one, unremarkable but that it was from the first day I visited the beach.

More shells... the variety is just amazing. All different colors and sizes of clam/muscle shells, and also a couple nautalis type shells and flakes of abalone shells. It's all so beautiful reflecting the sun. Oh, and the sound. I wish I could capture the sound for you. When the waves wash up on the shore all the shells knock together, and it's kind of a soft crunchy sound. Ok - sound descriptions are not my strong suit. At the souvenir shops they sell sea shell wind chimes, and they sound like that, only muffled by the water.

Ok - my new favorite post-swim tradition - eating chicken on a stick.
There are all these food vendors with modified motorcycles - the side car is a food cart. So they'll drive up and down the street stopping wherever there are people, ringing their bell to let you know they're there. I really don't know what it is, but it tastes soooo good, and you just can't beat the ambiance.

Across the street from the beach there's a nature park & aroboretum. On my last trip I noticed a sign for the bathroom... but wasn't feeling particularly adventurous - or any real need to check out the facilities. This time however, I had to stop. I really contemplated waiting until I got home - it's only a 30 min ride, but this time I was feeling adventurous... plus the sign had a picture of a shower, and I thought it would be nice to clean up a bit. I thought "how bad can it be?" When traveling abroad - that's always a dangerous question. In actuality, it wasn't that bad. There were squat toilets again, oh... and I had to pay for the privilage. There was no running water at the sinks. =/ And here are the 'showers':

I don't know if that's clean water or rainwater or what. But it's just what it looks like, a big ol' concrete tub of water and a couple bowls - and half a bamboo wall for privacy. I think I mentioned before that Thai people go swimming in their clothes. Well, not necessarily their street clothes, but both men and women wear swimming trunks and t-shirts in the water. I saw a guy walking out of the men's room sopping wet, so I guess they just splash themselves with the fresh water to get rid of the salt & dry off when they dry off. Today I was still pretty committed to wearing a swimsuit (although, will probably pick up some swim trunks soon) and at least attempted to keep my clothes dry. Epic failthough ... as I tried to wash off my arms & legs without getting undressed and proceeded to get almost as wet as if I'd just dunked myself. Then rode back in the Songthaew looking like a half-drowned rat.

What can I say? Living the dream. =)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Learning to read all over again.

Now that I'm more or less settled into a routine with teaching, I've been trying to spend a couple of minutes here and there studying Thai. I have a couple books, but they're only moderately helpful. What's worked the best so far is finding what I'm trying to say in my phrase book, then asking the office staff how to actually say it. Then I experiment. The staff have been more than patient with me. In particular, the cleaning lady has been really friendly, chatting with me (in English) while she works, and playing along as I try to say things like "Have you eaten?" "Yes, I already ate." in Thai (it's a small talk greeting like "How's it going.").

On Monday through Thursday I teach a class half an hour away from the school, and there's a man who drives me. He speaks more English than I do Thai... but really not that much. So I've been experimenting with him as well... digging individual words out of my phrase book like "fon" (rain) and pointing to the dark skies off in the distance. He'll correct me..."Thailand speak - foon tok" then it's another ten minutes in silence. But the trip is still proving to be productive. I studied a couple of the letters using a learn Thai website... and now I look at signs & license plates trying to pick out the letters I know. I was irrationally delighted when I saw the letters Kgor and Mor together and figured out that they stood for Kilometers. Most of the road signs have English translations... which actually isn't helpful in getting me to associate the letter with the sound. But in the case of signs with city names - it's really helpful because the English is really just a transliteration of the Thai word. So... slowly slowly slowly I'm picking up a new letter here and there.

Today Big's two daughters came into the school and were just hanging out in the teacher's room. They were playing on the white board and practicing their English with me. So I turned it around and had them look at my letters as I wrote them - and they corrected me. One of the girls was doing math with arabic numbers, but I had her check my Thai numerals and teach me the words for hundred and thousand. They also taught me how to write "chicken" or more actuately, how to read it... one more step to being able to feed myself!!

That's the big adventure for today. I only had two classes today - one of which I bombed. =/ But I had time to go to Tesco Lotus (the big supermarket/everything store) for lunch and ate something approaching a grilled cheese sandwich. I don't have to work this weekend, so I plan to go to Ban Phe tomorrow. Not quite sure what I'll end up doing on Sunday though.

I need some friends here. =/

TAG - Code Watermelon.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Yet another post about food...

I'm seriously getting in touch with my inner hunter/gatherer these days I have to say. A fair amount of my day is spent thinking about what I can eat, when I can eat, and where I can find food. Fortunately - our brains are specifically designed for this task!

First thing in the morning... or you know, whenever I end up leaving my apartment I usually go across to the gas-station minimart for some breakfast on the way to school

Mmmm... bottled water & surprise pastries! Actually I've figured out that this one is some approximation of chocolate - so it's my go-to breakfast when they have it. (They only stock 1 or 2 of each flavor everyday, so it's kind of hit or miss).

If I'm really hungry, or I don't have a morning class...I'll wait until like 11am and go eat lunch as my first meal.

This is one of the first restaurants I went to as it's on my street... just a little ways up. But the first time I went, the waitresses (who looked really young) just laughed and laughed at me. I mean, yes I couldn't string together two words in Thai, so go ahead and laugh. But when you're hungry and you just want food - it's not a great feeling. I had asked for Pad Thai but apparently they don't serve it there. So I pulled out the only other meal I knew at the time "kow pad gai" (chicken fried rice) - the girls still laughed at me, but some older guy from the back of the restaurant (the cook - their dad - both? who knows) was like "Kow Pad Gai" and nodded. So I ate. I think it might be a Chinese Restaurant...or something. While eating I noticed a menu with pictures - it was all different kinds of bao. So the next time I went I just pointed at one of the pictures of bao (they all look the same from the outside!!!!) and got some kind of sweet bbq pork filling. It was okay... but I just didn't like the vibe.

Fortunately, this restaurant is just across the street.... well, across the street and down half a block.
There's a whole hive of people working at this restaurant and I'm never quite sure who I should be talking to. But they are all very friendly and tend to laugh *near* me not so much *at* me. They seem pretty tolerant of my experiments with speaking Thai. The first few times I went all I ate was fried rice... but then I tried a "What do you recommend" and they brought me Larb. There was pork and liver and sticky rice, it was edible, but not my favorite thing. Since then, I've made learning new foods a top priority and am constantly asking people from school "nee arai" (what's that?) and what I should order.

In the past couple of days I've picked up a couple new food words and can now ask for noodles, and vegetables, and can order a meal that does not appear to be fried. I think I know the word for eggs and am working up the courage to ask for scrambled eggs at some point.

There are a few street vendors around here, although not many. This gal sells fried chicken, a number of packaged baked goods (I had some apricot filled fried dough-type-things that were not great) and a few things wrapped up in banana leaves. I've had mixed experiences with the banana-leaf wrapped foods. Once it was that absolutely heavenly coconut sticky-rice mixture... but another time it was a spicy chicken and herb/veggie concoction that had a number of small bones in it. Disturbing.

There's a restaurant just behind the school, and I've eaten there a number of times, but honestly - the place is disgusting. It's nowhere near clean, and you can see bugs crawling over the walls and tables. The food is pretty good though, it's always served really hot and I've never found anything unsettling in it - or gotten sick. Still, I wouldn't go there if there were another option nearby... but there just isn't. Once I get that motorbike though....

Today after my last class the Head Teacher (who lives in my building) asked if I wanted to stick around and go to the food-court with one of the office staff (who has a car). It was nice to have an actual Thai person with me at the market, because I could ask her what things were, and where I could get what I wanted. It turned out though that I didn't need her language skills because one of the booths had salad rolls packaged to-go. I thought of Mrs.B back home and had to get some!

Those orange things are super tiny shrimp. I thought they were shredded carrots, but then looking at the picture I was like "that carrot has an eye." Hmmm... it was yummy. The sauce is molases based... but has chili peppers in it. A bit of a surprise for me.

I'm still trying to sort out *when* to eat. Monday - Wednesday I have class straight from 2pm-9pm. The first day I'd grabbed a snack to eat on the car between my off campus & on campus classes, but by the end of the day I was still so hungry I wanted to pass out. The second day, I had a few crackers for breakfast, a big lunch, then picked up some to-go food before my class and kept it in the fridge at school. I got to eat a few cold fork-fulls during the 10 min break in my 2.5 hour class, and brought the rest of it home. Not ideal... but it worked. Today I ate a big meal at around 10am, then went to start planning my classes. I was hungry again by 1pm, so I had a big lunch - knowing it would have to last me until 9pm. But then I was really full through my classes.... and I picked up the salad rolls in case I got hungry later.... but I'm still not. Oh well. I'll sort it out one of these days. And you can rest assured that I'll blog all about it. ;)

TAG - Code Mango