Saturday, November 29, 2008

Stage two

Despite what you may have seen on the news (or not seen, as the case may be with US news), day to day life is continuing normally here in Rayong. Last week I saw a big group of people hanging out near the clock tower (next to the market where I eat dinner a lot). They were watching a big portable TV screen and someone I couldn't identify was giving a speech. I was mildly concerned, mostly because they were all crowded around where I usually get a motorbike taxi, and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find a driver.... but I just wandered passed, crossed the street and got a ride with no problem. There was the random burst of applause, but they weren't blocking traffic or holding signs or anything, so I could hardly call it a 'protest' - I've seen larger & more animated crowds watching football matches.

The airport in Bangkok is closed though, and the three teachers who were supposed to fly out to Vietnam for a vacation are out of luck. They're out 3,000 baht for the visa, and one night of their hotel reservation cost. The tickets will be refunded, but it'll probably take a month to do so. Sucks to be them. It does make me a bit nervous to think that if I wanted to fly somewhere I couldn't. But it's not like the borders are closed, it's only a couple hour drive to Cambodia and as I've mentioned, I'm registered with the US consulate should the situation deteriorate.

I'm not really concerned... but I am getting tired of it. I mean, for all that people hated Bush at least Americans respected his presidency enough not to stage a coup. Actually I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.... maybe we're just lazy. I don't know. I think I'm well and truly entering stage two of culture shock. I've been on and off cranky for a while now.

My schedule is all wonky. The off-campus classes I enjoyed are over and new classes are starting. I miss my driver. I hate my kid classes, and I hate the kid books.

My sink is leaking and I really don't feel like having another "horng naam whatever see-ah" adventure.

I want to go out and party more, but when people invite me, I never feel like it. Either I'm too tired or it's late and I don't know if I'll be able to get back home when I want to.

I'm disappointed in myself for *still* not having obtained access to a motorbike.

I finally know enough Thai to make mistakes (when you can only say 2 things... it's kinda hard to mess them up), so now I make mistakes all the time. The other day at the market, I just could not hear anything properly. People were telling me prices and I kept getting them wrong in my head - I *know* the numbers, my brain just refused to process the words properly. And after listening to my students and their horrible accents all day, I'm well aware that I must sound retarded every time I try to speak Thai. People correct me sometimes but honestly I can't hear the distinctions they're trying to make.

I'm still hanging onto remnants of my cold and I feel disgusting. It's considered rude & gross to blow your nose here. So I'm always running off to the bathroom or trying to hide my tissues. I got this menthol inhaler thing that works temporarily, but I feel lame shoving the thing up my nose several times each class session.

Oh... and Christmas is right around the corner, but it doesn't feel even remotely like it. I mean, it's starting to cool off at night here, and Tesco's has a whole Santa display up... but it's all a little surreal. A lot surreal actually.

And the worst thing is that I find myself complaining on a regular basis and I just don't want to be that kind of person. Some of the other teachers bitch and moan constantly and it's annoying. I really really really don't want to be like that... but WAAAAAAHHHHHHHH I'm cranky.

I think I know why though... it's been at least two weeks since I've been to the beach. I need some serious sun, sand, and surf. I'm heading to Ko Samet tomorrow, hopefully that will sort me out. We'll see.

For now the TAG stands at Code Bananas

Friday, November 28, 2008

Hold the stuffing

Yesterday I made an effort to explain Thanksgiving to my students. I think they kind of get it, probably as much as I understood that Loy Krathong was about appologzing to the river for polluting it by polluting it. In a couple of my classes I've asked the students to say what they are thankful for. One student said he was thankful for his mother & father but after I explained that it was also a harvest festival he said "OH! I'm thankful for rice." which has the same cultural significance as being thankful for one's "daily bread", so I think he really got it. I think my students got off easy - Bunny made hers make hand-print turkeys and write 'thank you' notes on the back.

After class, at about 8:30pm I hopped on a motorbike taxi and went to the market. I picked up some chicken and rice, and a few other things. I'd really hoped I could find something approaching Thanksgiving Day food... but it just didn't happen. If I'd had access to a full kitchen I could have done better... but as disappointed as I was not to have stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce, we managed to pull together a pretty good feast.
Bunny & Bobby had picked up some cheese - so that helped a lot. ;)

It was Donny & Marie's first Thanksgiving, and Donny kind of missed the point by eating before we came over. But in the true spirit of the holiday we force fed him a little more. We ended the evening playing Scrabble... so all was well.
TAG: Code Mango

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Second Conditional

Last night I handed out conversation cards to my Business English students (interestingly, not the Dirty Old Men Business English Class), they had to form the question, then they could ask anyone else in the class to answer it.

Mr. Tall: If you didn't have to wear a uniform to work, what would you wear?

Mr. Short: My panties.

Teacher: Panties are underwear for women, for men we just say 'underwear'.

Mr. Short: Yes, my panties. Panties are the top and bottom?

Teacher: No, (attempting the most modest mime possible) the bra is on top, the panties are on the bottom.

Mr. Short: Oh okay... bra and panties.

Teacher: The whole sentence please?

Mr. Short: If I didn't have to wear a uniform to work, I would wear my bra and panties all day.

Teacher: Good.

TAG: Code Mango

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Vodka... the cause of and solution to all life's problems

(adapted from Homer Simpson)

Hmmm.... I feel somewhat obligated to post something. I have also been feeling somewhat obligated to increase the quality and decrease the quantity of what I post on my blog. I know I always say I keep this blog for myself... but I do care if people read and I do care if you're enjoying it or being bored to tears by it.

I have cognitive dissonance.

I have vodka.

Let's see what happens.

1. The other day I went bowling with Bunny, Bobby, Donny & Marie (Philippino brother & sister I'm not sure I've mentioned yet), and two Thai guys.... I don't know what to call them yet. How about Rod & Tod? It was so much awesome! The bowling alley is essentially identical to what you could find in any-town USA which is always comforting. The girls drank Spy wine coolers, the boys laughed at us. We practiced our Thai and I even wrote a word in Thai.... "chicken"... it was exciting. I tried to write the name of our neighboring city but made a couple of mistakes, the first I could self-correct when it was pointed out to me, the second I understood as soon as Rod wrote the correct letter. I went home a little early. When Bunny & Bobby came back they found they'd locked themselves out so we had an impromptu sleep-over in my room. We played "20 questions - Harry Potter edition" and I fell asleep laughing.

2. Last night Bunny, Bobby, Donny & Marie and I all watched Quantum of Solace and ate pizza in B&B's room. The pizza was okay, the movie sucked. I drank a lot of vodka.

3. There's a party tonight, but I didn't feel like going. Mostly I was concerned that once I got there, I wouldn't have a ride home. I hate having FOMS (fear of missing something) about the party... but even more I hate feeling trapped somewhere when I'm not having a good time.

4. Bobby, Bunny and I want to go to Chiang Mai for New Year's but just learned that all the flights and busses will probably be booked already. I'm usually good about thinking these things out in advance, but the weather here is tripping me up. It's still just about as hot & sunny as it was when I got here in August. If nothing - it's sunnier now that the rainy season is over. How can it possibly be the end of November??

5. THANKSGIVING IS COMING AND I HAVE NO ACCESS TO STUFFING!!! Or cranberry sauce, or pumpkin pie, or mashed potatoes, or pecan pie, or ...or even crudites with ranch dressing.... no ceasar salad... no cheese cake, no fresh baked rolls, no... none of it. OMG this is actually making me cry. I'm 99% okay with the no kitchen situation, but no kitchen + no American restaurants is just not fair. =( We're going to do our best at the market... but .... without stuffing, does it really count as Thanksgiving? I'm totally making my students learn about Thanksgiving in class. I may even force them to draw hand-print turkeys. Yes... even the Dirty Old Men Business English Class.

6. I'm questioning several of my moral assumptions. It's strange how much environment and culture shape what you believe is 'right'.

7. I've been drinking a lot lately.

8. Not nearly enough.

TAG - Code Pineapple, I still have a cold, it's been well over a week since I went to the beach... other than that I'm fine.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Nibbling on the Big Mango

I finally made it to Bangkok yesterday, and arranged the entire trip myself! Last time someone went with me to buy the ticket and someone else arranged a motorbike taxi to take me to the station. Now that I know how to do that, I'll have to see where else I can take day trips to, it's exciting that my world is opening up bit by bit. However, Bangkok itself still hasn't impressed me much.

First stop was the mall(s) - there's a whole slew of them at Siam Center. I wanted to get a little spa treatment. I spent hours wandering around (well, and window shopping) and even asked a couple of people - I kept getting vague directions to go to MBK which I thought was a salon in one of the malls on the street. It wasn't until I'd given up and left the mall complex that I saw that MBK was yet *another* mall across the street. By that time I was sick of being in malls and on my way to do some sight seeing.

I visited Wat Trimitr, (which will get it's own post) and from there walked down towards the river. Along the way I stopped at a 7-11 to get some water. I was sitting out front getting my bearings when a tuk tuk driver came up and asked me where I was going. I told him "the Grand Palace" and he started trying to talk me out of it "It's Sunday - there's nothing to see there." Nearly getting scammed last time was still weighing heavily on my mind so I got up and walked away.

Eventually I made it to the docks and got on the ferry boat with about 400 other people, about half of whom were German tourists. One of the ferry boat workers kept screaming (in a most annoying tone) "Walk inside! Walk inside! Madam - walk inside please! Sir walk inside!" to get us to crowd towards the front of the boat so they could let more people on. I'm not exactly sure what I'd been expecting from the river-boat experience... but it wasn't that. The river is brown and dirty, the buildings along the side of the river not especially attractive. Until of course we got to the Grand Palace. You can see the tops of all the buildings over the white fortressy wall, and what I could see was really beautiful.

We disembarked directly into a little market where I spent entirely too much money on entirely too delicious deep fried foods. There were a few stalls with postcards and jewelry, and then as you get to the street vendors were lined up on either side of the sidewalk, usually with just a blanket on the ground and their wares. I wanted to buy some change purses, but the gal for that blanket was elsewhere.

By the time I got to the gate for the Grand Palace it was 3:40pm and unfortunately they stopped selling entry tickets at 3:30pm. I deeply regretted spending so long wandering fruitlessly through the malls. Oh well. Next time I know to make the Grand Palace my first stop. Sight seeing was not a total loss though. At Sanuam Luang park next to the Palace there was a huge memorial for Princess Galyani Vadhana. She passed away earlier this year, and they had a huge funeral procession for her last week. There were about 6 days of ceremonies, and the crematorium & memorials will be at the park for a month.

There were hundreds if not thousands of people paying their respects.

I don't know much about the Princess, but have heard that she was a real patron of the arts having studied classical music and photography. She was also a linguist and spoke five different languages. In the pavilions around the crematorium there were a lot of paintings inspired by her and her life. It's clear that she was well loved by the Thai people.

Pretty flags in the wind

I don't know much about the cultural or religious significance to the different parts of the crematorium... but I know it was all really beautiful, very regal. Something we don't really have in the US!

No idea what it is, but looked very cool with the clouds behind it.

I think this is a god... or maybe just a guard.

Again, the crematorium against a beautiful sky.

I still haven't experienced any of Bangkok's night life, having only gone during the day... but I'm not sure that would improve my opinion of the city. Nevertheless, I can see myself going again - especially if I have someone to go with. Before heading home I stopped at a book store and stocked up on English language magazines which may have made the whole trip worthwhile.

Code Banana - I spent way too much money in Bangkok, I'm still sick, and one of the part time teachers quit so I need to take over his class - a private lesson with a 14 year old boy. I HATE kids! =(

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mai koy de tow rai

(but not that well)

I don't think of myself as particularly competitive, but now that the linguistically adventurous Bunny is here, I'm feeling.... um... motivated to step up my own language acquisition pace. I have a two month head start and I don't think I could live with myself if she became more fluent than I in the six months she plans to be here. Well, I probably could live with it... but you know... the SHAME!

The problem is, when I express interest in learning some Thai to a local...I get language overload. It happened with my fruit guy up in Chiang Mai. I asked him for the word for pineapple one day, and he told me. The next day I asked for the word for mango, and he told me but then he rapid-fire started pointing at all the other fruits and giving me the names for them as well. To this day the only fruit I know how to say "pineapple".

It happened again last week, in the car with Key, I asked her the word for shirt (I'm getting a bit sick of my current wardrobe). She told me the word, but then went on to tell me the words for skirt and shoes, short sleeves, long sleeves, long skirt, short skirt, grey skirt, black skirt etc. From that exchange I only remember the word for "skirt" which wasn't even the word I was trying to learn.

The other day on the way to my off-campus class I decided to try to learn a few new words. I couldn't think of anything I particularly wanted to say so I just stuck out my hand and said "nee arai?" The driver grabbed my hand and told me the word, then grabbed my fingers counting them off - and told me the word for fingers, then up to my arm, elbow & shoulder. "Ah!! Poot cha cha!" I told him. "Speak slowly!" (I can't tell you how excited I am now that I know how to say "speak slowly" and "say again".) I went over the words he'd taught me, slowly, and he corrected my pronunciation. And then, you know I spent the next 10 min mentally repeating the words.

Recently, I've managed to pick up a pronoun and a couple verbs, so eventually it occured to me that I could probably make a sentence. I spent a good long while thinking it through, and it took a good long while longer to work up the courage to say the sentence - I feel like such a moron randomly spouting off the few Thai words I know. But eventually I told him, timidly "I have ten fingers." "Chai! Chai!" (Correct, correct) he responded excitedly. "I have two hands." I continued. "Chai. Chai." And then, having exhausted my body vocabulary we continued on in silence.

Today I learned a new word, without even trying, while having breakfast at the B&B. It has been getting colder here... 'cold' being a relative term of course. I no longer start sweating bullets the moment I walk outside my apartment building; now I can actually walk a few blocks before the sweat starts. So I was sitting there feeling quite comfortable and not disgustingly sweaty when the owner came over and said "now" wrapping her arms around herself to mime coldness. I didn't actually know that word...but she did an excellent job of conveying the meaning. So I replied "nit-noy" (a little bit) and she replied "now...adflkjer werljy" pointing at the slightly cloudy sky and rubbing her arms again. And quite unannounced an appropriate word popped into my brain "Comfortable" I replied... sort of. She corrected my pronunciation and nodded smiling "Comfortable". Now *this* woman should be a teacher!

As I sat there eating my breakfast I, as per usual, picked up my Thai phrase book and started flipping through it. Usually I just look at the words, but lacking any reason to use them they never actually stick in my brain. But emboldened by my oh so cogent "I have ten fingers." and "Comfortable" remarks, I decided to try to put together another sentence. When I got to school this morning I proudly announced to the office manager "I have two older sisters." "Chai, chai... but mai chai." (correct, but not correct) she replied, laughing. Apparently they use a different word order for this so she taught me the correct way to say it. The literal translation is "I have older sister two person."

I finally feel like I can start making progress with the language. I'm still limited by how much my little brain can absorb in one sitting, but I can ask what things are, and for the speaker to slow down & repeat themselves, and I have the very first building blocks of the sentence structure. Even if it's something lame like "I have 10 fingers." "I don't have a chicken." being able to put the words together in a logical, communicative way is helping them to start sticking in my brain much better than simply reciting the noun over and over again. (It also makes me feel better about making my students drill sentences.) I fully realize that I have a LONG way to go, but at least I'm moving forward.

Oh... and for what it's worth, at dinner tonight, I did teach Bunny how to say "I have three younger sisters." Maybe I'm not that competitive afterall.

Code Pineapple - I still have a head-cold, and that on top of my young learner classes tomorrow might just push me into Durian territory!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Facts of Life

One of the things about Thailand that's very different from the US is how much less prudish, how much more honest things are here. Don't get me wrong, women are modest here (well, aside from the bar girls, naturally). You don't see many bare shoulders, low cut tops or plumbers cracks. But they're not at all prudish. I remember one of my first days, one of the office gals was joking about her big fat belly (yeah, she weighs about 110 lbs - anyway). She went up to one of the male teachers, picked up her shirt and holding out her belly told him "Look I'm pregnant. No, just kidding - I'm on my period, I'm so fat." Now I know girls in the US who would say something like that to a guy friend. But I have never gone up to a male coworker, lifted up my shirt, and complained about being bloated. It's just goes against the social mores.

They're far less prudish about sex too. Condoms aren't hidden on the top shelf of the feminine hygeine asile, or in the back of the store next to the pharmacy. No, they're at the check out next to the gum and while you're waiting in line you can remember to pick some up. Not that I have any need... but you theory.

Just this week Key told me one of the women in the office is pregnant. The woman had just found out that day. She's young & unmarried (although she lives with her boyfriend) & wasn't exactly planning this. I was surprised that Key had taken me into her confidence like that. But then the very next day the woman in question came into the teacher's room and told another teacher, and there were three other people in the room, "Chan mee baby laao." (which literally translates into "I have baby already."... when Key told me that I was like 'she has a kid?' but Key mimed pregnancy and I figured it out. I don't know if this is an idiom or what.) But there was no shame, no hesitation, just a statement of fact.

It was in a similar fashion that Key pointed out the prostitutes on the main street as we drove to dinner one night. She flat out told me there was a lot of AIDS in Rayong and that she and her boyfriend both got tested when they started dating. Again, I was still practically a stranger, but she shared this with me with no hesitation, as easily as she told me they went bowling on their first date.

It's not just their openness in discussing things of a sexual nature... I've also noticed a real honesty about food. In the US it's very easy to forget that the meat we buy boneless & skinless & chopped into unrecognizable bits was actually a living breathing animal at one point. Here... yeah, in the supermarkets you can get neatly saran-wrapped meats... but there are also whole animals and many more animal parts available.

And in the street markets... well, you can hardly get anything more honest than seeing a fish flopping around in a bucket next to a grill full of it's quickly sizzling brothers.
The food here has faces... and feet... and eyes... and bills. I think I've mentioned before that I've seen chickens roaming free in a yard down the street... a yard right next one of the restaurants where I regularly eat chicken. I'm pretty sure there's a connection.

Yes it can be a bit disturbing to see all these things at the market, I was buying some bananas and this guy walked by carrying a pig's head, but I eat pork. I love pork. So why should I cringe when seeing the face of animal that I, however indirectly, killed?

And I don't know, in some ways it seems more humane, less disturbing to know that these crabs were probably crawling around the beach this morning. They didn't spend days on end couped up in a supermarket tank.

It has been a shock to my western sensibilities, but I'm getting used to it. I actually like getting to see what animal it is I'm eating. And honestly from a purely gustatorial standpoint; chicken on the bone with skin & fat attached is MUCH yummier than boneless-skinless-97% fat free chicken breast. I'm willing to look at a real chicken in order to eat something that tasty.

Still not quite so interested in trying the squid though.

TAG: Code Pineapple. Everything's fine, but I'm getting a cold, and I've been staying up entirely too late for no good reason at all. Not a good combo!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Politics and Religion

When I first started thinking about becoming an ESL teacher, I had the opportunity to observe an actual class (taught by a very kick in the butt blogger). It was a very interesting experience. The students wanted to know who I was, so the teacher had them ask me questions. Right off the bat they asked "How old are you?", "Are you married?", "What's your job?", "Where do you live?" and "Do you have children?"

It was a bit shocking because in normal situations, we don't generally ask those kinds of personal questions five seconds after meeting someone. But those are the first statements & questions we tend to teach English language learners (present simple with the verb "to be" is lesson #1). I'm so glad I had the experience of being peppered with personal questions way back in that first observed lesson, because it prepared me (somewhat) for what it's really like in the classroom.

I've gotten very used to telling my age, marital status, nationality, and familial affiliations to complete strangers. In my more advanced classes, the questions have gotten even more personal "Do you have any boyfriends?" was from my Dirty Old Men Business English Class and they've subsequently teased me about it. "What kind of boyfriend do you like?" etc etc. In my other Business English class one of the guys asked me "Where were you on 9/11?*" Which...god even 8 years later, holds enough emotional trauma to stop me in my tracks. I managed to get out "I was in Oregon" and "I don't really want to talk about it." without crying. (I wasn't quite sure I heard the question right at first so they were clarifying "You know... when the planes crashed into the buildings..." not my favorite moment from that class.)

The thing is, none of these questions are meant to be personal. I mean, they want to get to know their teacher, but they want a yes or no, or two word answer. They may have the language skills to ask the question and get an answer... but not to get into a long, involved, discussion on the subject. Nor do they care to in most cases... they're just practicing the language.

For the past month we've been talking Politics. In all but my most basic classes I've been asked who I was going to vote for. I felt comfortable telling them, you know while qualifying that it was my opinion and that plenty of Americans wanted to vote for the other guy too. I know better than to say word one about Thai politics... when that subject comes up I never say more than "What do you think?" or "Yes, I saw that in the news." Today, my pre-intermediate class was learning about future predictions with "will" and there was an activity with questions about what they thought would happen in one year or five years or ten years. Under the "World" category, the question was "Do you think the USA will have a black President in five years?" The book was published in 2003, so that was a bit prescient I think. =) So we talked a bit about that.

For my next activity I wanted them to make predictions/fortunes for each other, and I introduced the topic by asking if fortune telling was popular in Thailand. It is, and that's another post entirely. They all set to work, writing out each other's fortunes (there are going to be a shit-load of millionaires in Rayong next year if these students have anything to say about it. ;)).

One of my more advanced students finished early and started chatting with me. He told me in order to do the fortune properly he would need to see the hand of the person he was making predictions for. I asked if he really could read palms - if he wanted to read my palm. But he said 'no no' he was just joking around. I told him I needed to know my fortune, if good things were going to happen for me. And then he asked me "Are you Christian?"

Not for the first time in this class, I was caught off guard and had no idea what to say. Fortunately, my teacher brain clicked in and I just said "Yes." because, well, I am. I was raised in a Christian family, in a Christian country. I celebrate Christian holidays and am *well* familiar with the cult & culture of Christianity. So in any and all respects that he could be referring to, the answer is yes. But to me, the question "Are you a Christian?" means a lot more than that. Due to the years of indoctrination I've had, it means something more like "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal lord & savior, confessed your sins, forgiven your enemies, been born again & gotten baptized?" and if the answer is "No." well, then, obviously - you're going to straight to hell.

I've been thinking a lot about spirituality lately. My mom took me to church all growing up, just you know church. But in High School and College I participated in some rather cult-like Christian organizations. It was not my finest hour. It was not my happiest hour either. Eventually I realized that trying to keep up with all the shoulds & shouldn'ts (and trying to make everyone else live up to them too) was making me miserable. And the fact that I was miserable about it just made me feel guilt that I wasn't being a good Christian. I came to a point where I actually forbade myself from going to church, and forbade myself from feeling guilty about it.

This is so crazy, while I was in the church they were always trying to teach us to tell our testimonies - how we 'came to Christ', and I never felt comfortable about it. It was a personal thing I didn't feel the need to share with anyone. But now here I am telling my anti-testimony to anyone in cyberspace who decides to drop in. Crazy.

In any case, it's only been recently that I've let myself start thinking about religion and spirituality again. I've come to believe that there's more in the universe than I can wrap my little brain around. I believe that whatever is out there is probably too big for any one person, or any one religion to get completely right. I think there's probably wisdom in all religious texts... if you approach them with an open mind. I've figured out that if you try to look at the world as though everything is black and white... you miss all the colors. And most of all I've learned that I really don't have the answers... I just have to do the best I can. Believe it or not, I did try to articulate some of this to my student...I'm not sure how much he understood.

As far as my current spiritual journey - I'm just getting my toes wet. I'm fascinated by the Temples and Buddha images I see everywhere... but have thus far been too scared to talk to a monk, or actually try to attend a temple service (partly because I'm afraid of doing something offensive... but also because there's a tiny part of me that still thinks I'll end up in hell for worshiping a false idol). I'm not, however afraid to read, so I've been reading a book called Peace is Every Step, and trying to practice mindfullness in small ways. I've been trying to pay attention to my breathing or my walking when I think of it, and trying to come back to the current moment if I get stressed out. I'm not particularly interested in sitting around meditating for an hour, but I still think mindfullness is a skill I want to cultivate.

You know, so I can stay grounded the next time one of my students throws me a curve-ball question in the middle of class!

*Later, when going through the text book, I saw that "Where were you on 9/11" was an example question they used in to teach the past simple. So really, they were just parroting a question they'd been taught...they were not especially interested in my personal reaction to the attacks.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Foreign Lands

Two of my students just got back from a week in France. They were there to give a training for work. Yup, two Thai men gave their presentation to an audience of French people entirely in English. This is the future of the English language people! More people speak English as a second (or 3rd...) language than speak it as a native language.

Anyway, I asked them about their trip and they just cracked me up. I asked them what they ate and the one guy complained "At breakfast - bread..." and he mimed a big long baguette "really hard bread!" and he made a face. "And yogurt" another face "and fruit. I ate fruit." I just laughed and laughed and assured them that I LOVE French bread. The other student said he had the bread and jam, and didn't make any faces. I asked them what they had for dinner. "Go to the Chinese restaurant." "Every night?" I asked. "Every night. I like to eat rice. I don't like bread... they eat bread every day!" He shook his head, not able to grasp why those crazy foreigners would rather eat bread than rice. They did tell me they drank the beer & the wine and had beef steak one night, which they liked, but one of them mimed using a knife to cut the steak as though to clarify that you can't just eat it with a spoon (I have seen Thai people eat everything, including fried chicken - on the bone- with a spoon).

It was a fun experience for me to hear about their trip. They got a small taste of what I'm living out here. I want to say that I'm far more awesome because I don't go out for western food every night. But when I was in Chiang Mai I really did start almost every day with an American style breakfast of eggs and toast. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

TAG - Code Mango

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Backstreet Girl

I was going to go to Bangkok today, this is like the third time I'd planned to go but backed out. The King's sister passed away earlier this year and they are having the funeral services now. Millions of additional people have gone to Bangkok to pay their respects. So I thought maybe this would not be the best time for me to go. Next week maybe.

And I've recently learned that one of the beaches I've been going to is called (in Thai) "Jellyfish Beach"... and for good reason. When I went swimming I felt all kind of itchy but didn't know why. Turns out it was lots and lots of tiny little jellyfish stinging me. I've got what looks like a rash all around my chest and on my back. It's not horrible, but it is making me rethink my whole 'quality time at the beach' objective. I'm going to have to figure out if there's a non-jellyfish beach around or what. This is beginning to explain why I'm often the only one in the water. =/ There is a product that is supposed to prevent jellyfish stings, well, prevent the pain & irritation from jellyfish stings. It's a sunscreen combo thing called SafeSea. I'm going to look for it here, but if I can't find it - I might be inclined to send some fun Thai souvenirs to anyone who can send me some. =)

So I didn't go to Bangkok and I didn't go to the beach... I just bummed around Rayong... and uncovered a bit of a mystery. Just behind Tesco Lotus there's a big technology mall. That's where I got my phone, and where I've gone to get the cards to add minutes. I also may or may not have purchased pirated videos there. Every single time I've gone, there's been a decent sized market out front. This is one of the few markets I'd seen that had souvenir type things, clothes and baskets and a few other handcrafts. I'd seen a blanket and a back-pillow that I really wanted, but hesitated because I wanted to wait until I had my first big paycheck. Well, I got my first big paycheck and tried to go there a couple times this week. Each time I went, the market wasn't there. At first I thought I had gone too late... then I thought maybe it's only open on the weekends. So I went again today... and the market was still gone. =(

I have no idea if that was a seasonal market or if it's just on a break or what. But the moral of the story is... if you see something you really like, you should get it when you see it! I was really bummed because it's finally getting cold enough (at night) that I really need a blanket (I only have a little 60x60 polyester throw from Lotus). I'd seen another market in the area so I decided to head towards it and see if they had anything good. It was a really big market, but almost entirely fish or fruit. Then I wandered around some other side streets and found a lot of other totally random shops.

Eventually I found another market with clothing and accessories. I stopped in a couple shoe places and got myself two new pairs. I really needed new sandels as I only had work shoes and flip flops. And I found a blanket. It's not as cute as the one I had seen before... but it's big, cheap, and not polyester (it's terry-cloth in fact... odd), then I found a couple shops that had fabrics. Oooooh... pretty pretty fabrics. No silk, but some beautiful woven cottons. Now, I realize, I should have followed my own advice and bought them on the spot, but I didn't have enough money on me for the fabric and the blanket, so I'll have to go back another time. But it was fun to wander around on different streets for a change.

TAG - Code Pineapple. I'm fine except that my poor chest is absolutely freckled with jellyfish stings =(

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Three months and counting...

I've sailed right past the three month mark... so let's have a little goal-update shall we?

Learn Thai: I've added another 30 words (give or take) to my vocabulary, bringing me to about 90 total (slightly better than an 18 month old baby). But what's better is I'm starting to hear more of the words that I know in different combinations/contexts and starting to recognize them. My students regularly self-correct by saying "mai chai" (not correct) and then changing their answer. Today in class I heard the words "don't want" and "beautiful" and I'm starting to identify what the people at the markets are saying "Arai ka? / Arai kap" which is like a short but polite "what do you want?" I still feel like I haven't made much progress... but for not actually devoting regular study time to it - I can hardly expect more. I bought a dictionary though... and may actually open it at some point. ;) Teacher teach thyself. =P

Quality time at the beach: Check! I've been to four different beaches in the area and have established a favorite. On at least one occassion I was able to spend a glorious day at the beach before coming back to teach in the evening. I'm not sure how often I'll get to do it, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. And honestly, while I'm there I don't take one minute for granted.

Saving money: I've been able to live on just my salary since I started getting paid. Which is a good thing because my first paycheck was from only working part time. I have money in the bank, and it looks like if I'm careful I will be able to save up a bit. Of course... there's that being careful part. There's not nearly as much temptation here as there was in Chiang Mai (with all the arts & crafts at the Night Bazaar) but there's always something.

Losing weight: Well, it seems that my day to day struggle to feed myself is over. I've become completely comfortable with hoping on a motorbike taxi at lunch or after work and running down to Tesco or the market for food. I've also started keeping more snacks in my room. I've got a steady supply of crackers and peanut butter. This is all well and good, but now I find myself snacking more than I should. The last time I weighed myself I was holding steady... but I'm afraid I may have gained a bit back with all the hot-potting and snacking lately.

Teaching Experience: I am getting plenty of teaching experience, for good or ill. I'm nearly through the New Cutting Edge Elementary book, and have taught a couple of the lessons twice. My confidence is still pretty low, but I'm surviving. I actually had an okay class with my too advanced young learners. I abandoned the book and planned a lesson around the Present Continuous tense - which they already knew. So instead of focusing on the grammar, I tried to get them to pay attention to the sentence stress and sounding more natural. Even with all that the kids were bored and tearing through all the activities I had planned.

On our 10 minute break I ran down to the office and grabbed a book of activities and found a few that sounded fun. We did pres. cont. charades "washing a glass", "catching a butterfly" etc. Then we did an activity where I drew the outline of a house on the board handed one of the students a marker and just started asking them "What room is this? What's in the room?" etc, handing the marker to a different student for each room. Once they'd filled up the room (quite the artists!!) I asked them "Where is student 1? What is she doing?" and once we had everyone set up in the room I knocked on the table "Who's at the door?" It ended up being a really fun activity. Of course it ended in a Ninja-style fight that ranged all over the house. I ended the game once a bomb started getting tossed around. I'm not sure exactly how much teaching was happening... but you know, I've added a couple new tricks to my bag.

Make some friends: Bunny and Bobby are turning out to be pretty good buddies. The other night Bunny invited me over for Harry Potter Scrabble. It's exactly the same as normal scrabble, but you have to relate each word to the HP world. Not too hard actually and very funny. It helped that there was whiskey involved... and lacking any traditional mixers, we ended up pouring it into steaming cups of peppermint tea. Interesting. I guess I could count that as a new experience. =P

New Experiences: These are dwindling. I went to the hot pot restaurant and tried to sing along to Thai karaoke. And I celebrated Loy Krathong. Both of those were fun experiences... but I can't think of much else I've done that's completely new at this point. Oh wait... I guess you can call horrible hair cut a new experience, although I have had bad hair cuts in the past... just never in a foreign country so however you want to count that. Oh... and I bought my first pirated DVD(s)... I've got four now. Ok, I guess I do keep having new experiences, it's just that they are becoming less and less monumental.

Learn to ride a motorbike: Epic fail! I'm such a chicken. I want to have more mobility & freedom but I just can't seem to bring myself to walk into a motorbike shop and sort the whole thing out. I've asked a few people at work about getting a second hand bike, so maybe something will come back around to me at some point. One way or another, I need to make this happen.

Three months in and I'm still pretty happy. I'm starting to miss a lot of things from home. My friends of course (although the interwebs are helping me feel like I'm moderately connected), my quilts & crafty stuff. I miss Portland and getting to go to familiar places like the farmer's market. Yes, there are more than a few markets here... but it's not the same thing. I miss the library and my couch. Oh well. I *don't* miss my old job, and I don't miss the rain either. ;)

TAG - Code Mango.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Loy Krathong

Well, it's day four of the world's worst haircut... and if you couldn't tell... I'm still not over it. =/ Seriously, every time I look in the mirror some part is sticking out funky and in places it's like it's trying to curl but can't get enough friends together to curl in the same direction.

Wednesday was Loy Krathong and also a teacher's birthday. She had a party in a Thai Buffet restaurant which was a new experience for me. They have a main dining area, but also LOTS of private rooms. Not in a skeevy way at all... it's because each room gets it's own karaoke machine. I guess it's nice because you can sing and only embarrass yourself in front of your friends... but I kind of like the community aspect of American karaoke bars. Anyway, there were two low tables in the room, so you sit on the floor. But oddly, the floor under the table was cut out, so you could stick your legs under the table anyway. It made me wonder why they didn't just have normal sized tables and benches. But whatever. On each table there are two hot pot & grill combos. You go through the buffet and pick out all the ingredients you want, then you put all the ingredients in the soup pot (fortunately there was a Thai couple sharing our hot-pot so I just let them do that part)... for the meats you put them on the grill.

It's kind of fun... but I maintain that if I want to cook, I'll stay home and cook. When I go out, I want someone else to do the cooking for me. But on the up-side, there was bacon... and I can't really complain about that. I didn't sing karaoke because it was all in Thai. Well, let me amend that... I didn't grab the microphone, but I attempted with all my heart to join in the choruses of a few of the songs, and no... I didn't know the words. And unfortunately I got up and started dancing with the birthday girl... and got caught on video doing so. =( I wasn't even drunk... just having a good time. Remind me not to dance while there are electronic recording devices around. =P

After the party we divided up and went to PMY beach for Loy Krathong. I have no idea what PMY stands for, but I'm pretty sure it's a beach I went to when I thought I was at a different beach. ;) Loy Krathong is a festival where the Thai people appologize to the river for polluting it... by floating little boats made out of flowers down the river. Unfortunately it is also the festival of low batteries... so no pictures of me.

Loy Krathong courtesy of Google Images. ;)

I bought a little krathong in the market and brought it with me to dinner. When Key saw it she was like "Ooooh, it's cute." and her boyfriend just kind of laughed. Apparently I'd gotten the world's dinkiest little krathong. I didn't know. Bunny & Bobby went with us, and they comforted me by telling me it wasn't the size of my krathong that mattered... In fact, we were totally just joking around and started calling it a krathong-ka-thonk (ka-donk-a-donk). Bunny apparently has a knack for languages, so I've been feeling a bit of pressure to work on my Thai, so the new kids don't outstrip me.

But her approach is completely different from mine. I wait until I need to know how to say something, or to understand what someone else has said, then I try to learn the phrase and practice it when appropriate. She has more of a shotgun approach, repeat every word she hears in every possible combination until something sticks. All night she kept asking "what's the word for this, what's the word for that" and practicing. Boy kept saying "You say all the words, but tomorrow you'll forget them all!" In the car on the way to the beach (we were stuck in traffic for quite a while) she just kept going and going. You know.... this is the whole introvert/extrovert dynamic. The constant stream of chatter can get annoying (and embarrassing), but on the other hand, when you need someone to go talk to the shop-keeper and all the introverts are too chicken to do it - it's nice to have an extrovert around. It's all about finding the balance.

Anyway, we finally got to the beach and everyone else bought their (bigger & prettier) krathongs. We lit the candles (and kept relighting them as the beach was a bit windy), then set them to float off on the ocean, little beacons of light and good luck. Yeah... or not. My little krathong-ka-thonk flipped over the minute I let go of it. It was pretty pitiful. The others managed to stay upright until the first wave came. Which is why you're supposed to float your krathongs in a river... not the ocean. BUT - what you do do at the beach is lauching khom fai (khom loy) - big lantern ballons.

Again - image from the interwebs... there weren't nearly this many khom fai at our beach, just one ever couple of minutes but you could watch them for a long time, just a slow beautiful stream of light floating through the sky.

Launching the khom loy was really fun, they're so big they take two people to hold them. You (or a helpful friend) lights a little paper/cardboard dealie at the bottom and you hold it while the hot air fills up the balloon. It's so pretty glowing against the darkness. Then you let go, and you hope that it goes up up and away. There were a couple scary moments with mine as the wind kinda knocked it about for a minute, but eventually they all float out over the ocean. It was just so beautiful watching a steady stream of lanterns float off into the sky. Oh and there were fireworks. You know.... any holiday that involves the beach & fireworks is a good one for me.

On the way home we talked about how beautiful it was, and everyone tried to make me feel better about my pitiful little krathong... "next year you can buy a big one" Key consoled me. Taking a cue from Bunny's linguistic enthusiasm, I decided to practice a little Thai myself, I told them "Noy loy krathong mai dai wai naam ta lai laaow." (Little flower boat couldn't swim in the ocean.) Key, Bo and I cracked up so hard. I couldn't stop laughing. I'm pretty sure I got the grammar wrong... but I think my meaning was clear.

TAG - Code Mango (with the exception of my hair of course, which is holding steady at Coconuts.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mood swings

It's safe to say I was in a pretty cranky mood last night. Not only did my poor hair get hacked to bits by the 'hairdresser', I was supposed to meet up with some friends for drinks and it just didn't happen. They didn't call until 11:30, by which time all the motorbike taxis had gone home for the evening - and the other teachers were too drunk (or too lazy) to come get me. So I was pretty disappointed and spent the rest of the night watching a DVD and feeling sorry for myself.

When I woke up I still felt pretty cranky. After I'd slept on it, my hair had frizzed up to well above shoulder length... it was UGLY people. I wish I had a 'before' shot because my hair had gotten so long and was all full and nice. There are very few things that I am vain about - but my hair matters to me. Anyway, I was still really moody.

Fortunately I only had one class today - and it wasn't until 4pm. If I'd gotten my act together I could have gone to the beach, but I moped around online until nearly noon. At that point I was pretty hungry. Since I had a couple hours to kill I decided to travel beyond my street and took a motorbike taxi to the mall. One of my students had asked me if the burgers at McDonalds here tasted like the ones from McDonalds in the US. I explained to him that I didn't normally eat at McDonalds, but figured in the interests of my student, I would make the sacrifice. I got to the mall and was wandering over to McDonalds when I ran into none other than Bobby and Bunny.

I guess this is one of the things about living in a 'small town' - you tend to run into people you know a lot. Rayong isn't a very small town, but I think it only has one mall and one Tescos, and that's where the farangs tend to congregate. I was actually really glad to meet up with them. We all decided to go to a Hot Pot place for lunch (I was relieved not to have to go to McDonalds). I'd been wanting to go to a Hot Pot place for a while and this was a great opportunity, because even if I look like a total loser for not knowing what to do - at least I'm not looking like a loser *alone*.

A Hot Pot restaurant is kind of like a mongolian grill or a fondue kind of place. There's a big, well, hot pot, on the table - an electric soup tureen. The waitress comes over and pours water in it and turns it on. Then you go to the buffet and load up all the ingredients for your soup. There are veggies and meats and sauces and all kinds of things. We just dumped a bunch of crap in there. It was okay... but not great. The upside of the restaurant was that there was also sushi (the cooked kind) so I had a bunch of California rolls and that kind of thing. This is totally the kind of thing that's fun to do with other farangs, because it's new and exciting for us - but totally mundane for the Thais. Lunch cheered me up considerably.

After lunch we shopped.... totally stereotypical, California girls hanging out in a mall. I picked up another pirated movie. I now have all three (truley horrible) Pirates of the Caribbean movies. They are genuinely bad movies, and I want to feel ashamed for watching them, but I can't. I love all the tropical settings and I love the music, and Johnny Depp & Orlando Bloom are hot. Plus they're in English and they're brainless. A nice change from my day-to-day.

Next we decided to stop for a beverage. They wanted coffee, I wanted something cool... and there was a Starbucks right there. We were all like "I know this is bad." but we were also like..."we're totally going to Starbucks". I mean... I can't even express what it's like to go into a Starbucks after living in Thailand for a while. My standards of quality have dropped *dramatically* since coming here. Most of the places I eat don't have walls, the chairs are plastic stools (and old), there are old plastic Pepsi banners for table cloths, the floor is concrete, there are flies, there are probably cockroaches (even if you don't see them), and there's a good chance there's a mangey looking stray dog wandering around nearby. So to walk into a Starbucks... an actual Starbucks that you could plop right down in Anytown USA and it would be identical to the one across the street... it's amazing.

So Bobby goes to open the beautiful, clean, shiny doors and she notices some decorations. "Why is there a wreath on the door?" she asks. Her confusion is completely justifyable. We were all in sleeveless tops and sandles, the sun was pouring through the window and it was hot outside. The wreath looked completely out of place. "It's the middle of November." I replied. "Ooooh." We all just took a minute to absorb the magnitude of that. It honestly still feels like summer to me, but with regards to the weather, and also psychologically. I have been working, and working hard at times, but it's weird to be at a job that I don't dread. It still feels a bit like this is some kind of extended vacation. I have a schedule, but I have such lattitude about when I do my planning and how I conduct my classes. It's so radically different from any job I've had before, I can't quite believe it's a real job.

Anyway, they ordered their coffees and I nearly cried when I saw that, like every other Starbucks I've ever been to - they had Tazo tea! Seriously... Tazo tea from Portland Oregon! I was overwhelmed. We sat down in the uber-comfy chairs and just soaked in all the cleanliness and familiar, generic, Starbucks atmosphere. It was heavenly. We chatted for quite a while when suddenly I was like "I have class at four!" It was 3:10pm! So I pretty much got up at that second and left. I took a motorbike taxi home, got changed & went back to school in plenty of time but still it was a bit shocking how easily I could have missed it.

It was amazing how much better I felt by the time I got to class. Everything went well, the students were actually speaking English and using words we'd learned in a previous class. Since this was my only class of the day I didn't have to rush back either, which was nice. I took a little time to plan tomorrow's lesson (only one class again tomorrow - a lot of cancelations this week) then headed home.

I'm super excited at the moment... tonight is Loy Krathong... a festival to honor the rivers. The idea is to appologize to the river for polluting it by making little boats out of flowers, candles and incense and floating them down the rivers. Yeah... I know... but try explaining Halloween to someone from another country (you dress like monsters and threaten people for candy). It's my first official Thai celebration and I can't wait to see what happens.

So how quickly my mood can shift... all it takes is a little food, a little socializing, and some western style creature comforts.

TAG - Code Mango.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bad hair - Thailand style

My hair's been getting quite long. I'm not sure how long it's been since I got it cut, but I swear it's grown a ton since I got here. I kinda like having longer hair, and the curl was looking really cute. But it was just too too much and I knew I needed to go in for a trim. I also knew better than to go in alone.

I asked one of the girls from the front office to go with me and she did. I said I just wanted to have my hair re-layered and just cut a little bit off - 'nit noy'. The other gals in the office kept saying "no no no- your hair is very beautiful." Thai women love their long straight hair. But I'm not a Thai woman, and I needed a trim. They tried to tell me to get my hair rebonded (I think it's like a perm only to make it straight not curly), but I wanted none of that. All I wanted was a trim & a relayering.

Ugh... I got that and more. I heard my friend say "nit-noy" (a little bit) and I showed the woman on my friend's head where I wanted her to start the layering. She started by blow-drying my hair, which I thought was odd because in the States they cut my hair wet. Whatever, she blew it dry... then she started slicing & dicing. It's always hard to know how much is coming off until it's too late to do anything about it. But about half-way through I knew it was going to be bad. Yes, she started about where I had asked her to, and she left it fairly long in the back... but she just took soooooo much hair out when she layered it.... it was unholy the amount of curls left littering the floor. And, to add insult to injury she flat-ironed my hair on top of all the blow drying.

It's just unnatural. I spent 20+ years coming to terms with the fact that I had curly hair, only to have it flattened down practically to my skull. I know it doesn't look so bad now, but as soon as I wash it and the curls come back, it's going to be horrid. Already, just with the humidity the shorter parts in front are curled up to my eyebrows, and I can't even pull it all back into a pony tail.

Just add water

So, a word to the wise, don't get your hair cut in a foreign country.... just don't.
TAG: Code Bananas

Sunday, November 9, 2008

You are the sand beneath my feet

or some other Beaches reference. ;)

On Friday my first class was at 5pm, and it was Bobby & Bunny's day off so we all went to the beach. Now, you probably don't care, but I just want to mention (for anyone doing any fact checking - or planning a Thailand vacation) that every single time I've thought I was at some particular beach, it turns out that I wasn't - I was at some other completely different beach. And here is the perfect example of how that happens.

I had a map, and we had the name of a beach we wanted to go to: Mae Luam Pung. Bunny & Bobby had actually been there before. We went to the main road to catch a songthaew. A motorcycle taxi driver actually tried to help us. When the Ban Phe songthaew came by Bunny walked up to the window to ask if it was going to our beach, the driver was saying "mai chai" (not correct), but Bunny insisted that our beach was before Ban Phe so the songthaew would go past it on it's way. Since she was climbing onto the songthaew Bobby and I decided to join her even if it wasn't the right one. Sure enough, as we made the turn to Ban Phe, Bunny was like "Oh... I don't think this one goes to the beach we want afterall." =P

No big deal actually, since we were still headed towards the ocean. As we left Ban Phe proper the driver stopped and asked us where exactly we wanted to go, I said "Laem Mae Phim" since I was still under the impression that that was the beach I liked. But then we got to the beach I liked and I rang the bell. The other women in the songthaew were like "mai chai" - you know, it's not Laem Mae Phim... but I was like "ta lai" (the ocean) and gave them all a big smile & a thumbs up. Because really... whatever beach I end up at, I'm pretty happy.

I mean seriously... can you see even one thing to complain about here? Flat calm bath-water warm waters barely rippling to the shore, comfy beach chairs and a view of a tropical island in the distance. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh..... this is why I'm in Thailand! Every other comment we made was followed with "This is amazing." I've since asked a bunch of people which beach is between Ban Phe and Laem Mae Phim, and learned that this one is called Suon Son. And today I actually saw a sign with the English transliteration, confirming that this is in fact that beach. ;)
With the exception of a few kids in an inner tube, we had Suon Son beach to ourselves. Amazing!

I was glad we went because Saturday was another hellish day with the young learners classes. I'm starting to get some ideas about what they already know and what they need to learn, but man. They don't want to be there, I don't want to be there... it's ugly. There's only one thing to do after a day like that... back to the beach!

This time I was bound and determined to get to a specific beach and I decided on Laem Mae Phim (since I'd been incorrectly telling people I'd been there). I enlisted the help of another motorbike taxi driver and we sat for a while waiting for a songthaew. I learned a new word last night "stay" and was thrilled when I heard the driver ask me "You stay where?" (where do you live?) and could answer him. Eventually the correct songthaew came by and he hailed it for me. The songthaew went past Ban Phe, it went past Suon Son and it just kept going. It was much father away than I had realized, we just kept on going, and for part of the way we were a bit inland which made me nervous. But eventually we got out towards water again and I saw a long stretch of beach with restaurants & shops so I asked another rider if we were at Laem Mae Phim - "chai" (correct) and I got off at my intended destination! =)

More flat calm bath-water warm ocean, more soft sandy beaches, more little restaurant shacks along the shore. It was grey and overcast, warm but not hot - not ideal beach weather, but nice enough. There were a lot of Thai families here today, but it still wasn't too crowded - as you can see. I swam and relaxed in the water for a blissful hour or so. As I was getting ready to leave, I noticed a bunch of other farangs wading into the water. It's a sign of things to come, tourist season is just beginning.

As we drove back through Ban Phe I noticed several other white faces at the bars and restaurants along the way. It would be hypocritical for me to complain about the influx of my western brothers & sisters, but it does feel weird. I've heard that a lot of the tourists (both Thai and farang) who come to Rayong will be from other parts of Thailand, mostly Bangkok - just coming in for a weekend at the beach. It'll be interesting to see "my" beaches fill up over the course of high season.

Overall, Laem Mae Phim is a good beach, but not appreciably different from Suon Son - which is closer and cheaper to get to... so I probably won't be going back any time soon. There are still a few other beaches I want to try to get to... and you can be sure that I'll report back on them here... with or without the actual *name* of the beach I'm reviewing. ;)

TAG: Code Mango

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Wan Maa-ow

I'll bet you didn't know there were lolcats in Thailand!

This one lives at The Dive - the restaurant near my school. Check her out, she's in training for the 2012 Sleeping Olympics - solo division. Her form is coming along nicely.

I think she'll have achieved full 180* head rotation in time for Nationals.

(According to my phrase book, Wan Maa-ow translates to Day-Cat, but I don't think there's much of a pun there. I'll work on it. ;) )

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tears of joy

In 2006 I took my very first trip abroad. I knew there was a lot of anti-American, or at least anti-American government sentiment in Europe and I had actually contemplated pretending to be Canadian to avoid any conflict. I didn't though, even through all the crap we've been through in the last 7+ years, I love my deeply flawed country very much, and would not deny my citizenship for anything. Still, it was difficult when I had my first (of many) 'political discussions' with someone from another country. It typically went something like this:

Local: Where you come from?
Me: America.
Local (in nearly incomprehensible accent): Aaaaaaah Geeeorjze Buuush!
Then I would proceed, as far as I was able in the native language (and largely non-verbally), to express that I did not vote for him, I did not approve of his policies, and was completely disgusted that he'd been been elected to a second term. The local would nod and agree and we'd share a moment of bitter solidarity.

This conversation took place in France, and in the Netherlands, and it's taken place a number of times in Thailand... it was usually the first topic brought up when I introduced myself to my new classes. I've shared these conversations (on my blog or in person) with a laugh, but honestly it's been hard. It's hard for me to reconcile my love for my country with my complete disapproval of everything that we've done on the international stage: going to war with Iraq over non-existant WMDs, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, the fact that Osama Bin Laden is *still* on the loose, 'intelligent design', the anti-homosexual legislation, and now the financial crisis on top of it. I know I can't blame (still president) Bush for all of that... but it happened on his watch and I think he can take some blame for inaction or inappropriate action if nothing else. In any case, I've gotten used to that conversation.

Today I had a good day. I spent a glorious morning at the beach with Bobby and Bunny. The weather was perfect and with the exception of a handful of kids we had about a mile of beach all to ourselves. For lunch I enjoyed crab fried rice (cooked crab) with my toes in the sand listening to the waves splash on the sand. I had two private classes this evening and all went well. Then after work I went to the market next to Tesco for dinner.

I picked up some mango & sticky rice for dessert, and surprise buns for breakfast tomorrow, then I saw a noodle dish that I wanted to try. After indicating that I wanted some I tried to ask what the dish was called... "duck" they replied. There was a little duck statue on the table, so I had actually figured that out... so I asked what the word was in Thai. They told me and I repeated it a few times (and of course I've forgotten it now) going back and forth trying to get the pronunciation at least moderately close. The conversation wrapped up in the predictable fashion.

Local: Where you come from?
Me: America.
Local (in nearly incomprehensible accent): Aaaaah Baaah-raaahk Oooob-ama
Me (slowly deciphering the words): Oh, Barak Obama! Yes!
I gave a little cheer, and they smiled and cheered back, and as I walked away I burst into tears.

It's like having been in an abusive situation.... you put up with it because you don't have a choice (or feel like you don't have a choice), and you fight back only to realize your own powerlessness. Eventually you stuff your feelings and get used to feeling like crap all the time. And it's only when you get out of the situation, when you realize you're safe that you can finally let go of all the emotions you'd been holding back. I feel so much joy right now for the direction the US is taking, but also sooo much grief, so much pain over what we've suffered under the Bush administration, and a fair amount of dread over how much work and how much time it will take to dig us out of this mess. But today, getting to hear the name "Baaah-raaahk Oooob-ama" associated with me and my country made me feel pretty fantastic.

TAG - Code Mango with a side of Apple Pie

Thursday, November 6, 2008

More heroics

I've had a relatively easy work week, a few of my classes were canceled and I gave two tests. No complaints there.

Today I finished work at about the same time as Bobby and Bunny so we all went to the food court together. Bunny is a vegetarian, and since I now know how to say "vegetables" I ordered for her. It was really a case of... I don't know the expression - to the blind man the one eyed man sees all.. what *is* that phrase? Anyway I know about 8 food words, and she only knows 1... so I could order for her. Then later they bought desert and I told them how to say "how much?" but then of course the vendor replies with a number that they don't know. It took me a second to figure it out (for some reason, I still can't understand the word for 8 very well) but then I held up 8 fingers to the vendor and she nodded. Seriously, I don't know much but I know more than they do, and it feels really good to be able to help them out. I feel like I'm repaying my karmic debt a little bit.

And now we're going to have a Scrabble tournament. =)

TAG - Code Mango.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

nothin' but love

I don't have a TV, so I was glued to the BBC news website all morning. When the counter flipped over to 299 I literally burst into tears, and have been tearing up all day. I'm so happy. I'm so proud of my country. I'm so excited about what this means to America, to Americans, to the world.

I know that one man can't solve everything that's wrong in the US, but I think electing this particular man is a step in the right direction. Hope... that's exactly what I have right now. Hope.

A very special TAG for today: APPLE PIE!!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

A belated horror story

It was a hot and steamy night. Rebel trudged home from the food court laden with kow mok gai and a weariness known only to EFL teachers who've spent an hour attempting to explain a minor and unimportant grammatical point to a student who just.won' She felt her arms begin to go numb under the weight of her oversized backpack. She reached behind to lift and adjust the weight of the bag, feeling the cool air slide between the bag and the sweat soaked shirt against her back. Only another block to go.

The side gate was closed, so she walked the long way around to the main entrance, every step wringing another drop of sweat from her brow as she greets the night-guard. Almost home. Step by step up the staircase, and down the hall. She dropped her backpack and rummaged for her keys... the other side of the door held the joys of air-conditioning and a refreshingly cold shower. She opened the door, turning on the ceiling fan and heaving her bag into the room before turning on the light. Home.

Sweat soaked work clothes were shed carelessly as she made her way to the shower. She shut the bathroom door behind her and turned on the water. No tentative splashing to get used to the cold water tonight... no, she jumps under the full force of the water, washing away sweat and stress. She reaches up to comb through the tangled mop on her head thinking she's well overdue for a haircut. And suddenly something grazes her leg... a feeling distinctly unlike drops of water. Gasping she looks down and sees...



She screams, kicking the cockroach away from her. It lands in the water pooling on the bathroom floor and scurries this way and that as poor Rebel attemps to get away from it. Our heroine jumps across the tiny room, tears open the door and runs SCREAMING into the main room. She pauses briefly, dripping profusely onto the bathmat, to scan the room for a towel. She recalls that her only clean towel is hanging the bathroom which is now occupied by the LFFCKtM. Her two other towels are on the drying rack out on the balcony. Only the knowledge that the night-guard is sitting directly in view of her balcony window keeps her inside. She turns around and peeks into the bathroom again.

The LFFCKtM is doing the backstroke, scurrying around the bathroom floor.

AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!! Rebel screams again, running in circles around the room, dripping water everywhere. She considers briefly, but sincerely, wrapping herself in her blanket and running across the hall to find a neighbor to dispatch the LFFCKtM in a manly fashion. Only the prospect of complete humiliation is more terrifying than the thought of the creature in her bathroom... so she does what any self-respecting blogger does in such a horrifying situation.

(for some concept of scale - my foot is as long as one of those squares)

After documenting the size and fearsomeness of the LFFCKtM for posterity, our heroine begins to contemplate the best course of action. Any attempt to kill the LFFCKtM would only result in a mess more disgusting and disturbing that the LFFCKtM itself. She decides to immobilize the creature with a shoe, so she can slide a piece of paper underneath it and transport it outside. She drops a sandal onto the LFFCKtM.... and it SCURRIES AWAY!


After several attempts, interspersed with running around the apartment naked & screaming & thinking decidedly unfeminist thoughts about how girls should *not* have to deal with bugs, brave Rebel manages to secure the LFFCKtM in a the cover of an old notebook and toss it outside without flashing the night guard. She takes a moment to shudder and 'yuck' before returning to the shower (which has continued running through this ordeal) and finally getting ready for bed.

Life in the Little Mango is anything but dull.

Code Pineapple.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ta lai

I'm feeling back to normal again, and it's my day off so I went to the beach. One of my students had printed out a couple pages of google maps for me, and had thoughtfully put in some landmarks in English. I'd kept hearing about the beach that was closest to Rayong (can't remember the name though) and he wrote out the name in Thai so I could ask around at the Songthaew station.

I got up, put on what I'll be calling my "trunk-kini", swim trunks & a tanktop, and headed out. The plan was to take a songthaew, any songthaew along the main road to the songthaew station and then just show people my piece of paper until someone pointed me towards the right one. A good plan, but I didn't even get that far. A block or two from the main road a police officer on a motorbike said something to me and indicated the back of his bike. I really wasn't interested in going for a ride, so I just said "mai kow jai"... but he was somewhat insistent about helping me out. So I figured I could at least try to ask him where to find the songthaew. I got to practice the newest phrase that I've learned "Dtong gahn" which I was told means both "I want." and "I need." (fascinating!).

So I said something approaching "I want songthaew ..." and showed him my piece of paper. He said the name of the beach and I repeated it (we did that a few times, and I still forgot it) and then he motioned me onto the back of his bike and I just climbed on. (Do you see how easy it would be to scam me? Oh btw - I have my passport back, all is well). We start driving and he asks me something about "ta lai." Now this is a word I know! One of the teachers always orders stir fried veggies with seafood - pad pak ta lai. So I thought he was asking if I liked seafood. I got to use another phrase I learned this week "Mai choorp." (I don't like.) But then he asked again something "Ta lai? Ta lai?" and I remembered that the other day at lunch, while the teacher was eating her "Ta-lai" we had a conversation about how "ta-lai" literally means "sea" and that the literal word for "sea-food" was "ta-lai something something". Aaaaaahhhhh! And suddenly I could make sense of what he was saying "Bi ta lai?" "Go to the sea?" "Chai chai chai - bi ta lai. Chai haht" "Yes yes yes go to the sea. Beach." I finally told him. Check me out all speaking Thai!!!

We actually didn't go very far, just along the main road and up one of the main parallel roads when he stopped and pointed to the songthaew and he and I both told him the name of the beach again & I hopped on.

It is quite a bit closer than the beach I had been going to... it's also not nearly as fancy. One of the things I like about Rayong is that it's an industrial town - it means people have good jobs and the city actually produces stuff - petroleum products and seafood are the two main industries (and you really don't want to get those two mixed up!). I saw a number of oil rigs and fishing boats along the way to the beach.

The beach itself is not fantastic. But that means there aren't any tourists... so pros & cons. The sand is coarse, and very loose. As I waded into the water it shifted under my feet in a quicksand-esque manner, and that was not fun. There's also a deceptively steep slope into the water. I could tell by how the waves were breaking just a couple feet from the dry sand that it got deep quickly. I took a few exploratory steps past the foam, first step ankle deep, next step over knee deep. Not being able to see the bottom freaked me out and I almost decided to give up and head for Ban Phe. But then I came to my senses.

I am a good swimmer. I'm not a great swimmer, or a fast swimmer, but I'm extremely boyant ;) and I know several strokes. I also have a decent amount of ocean swimming experience, I know that when you want to get back to the shore you match your efforts to the waves so they do most of the work. Not to mention the several years I did water areobics. On 'deep-water' aerobics days we'd practice treading water about a dozen different ways, just arms, just legs, hands up out of the water, elbows out of the water (killer!). I figured... it doesn't really matter if it's 5 feet deep, or 10 feet deep or 100 feet deep. I can swim, I'll be fine. Sure enough - four steps in and the water was up to my shoulders. It felt really good so I just hung out swimming and floating and just standing there in the water for a good long time. Then I got out (tricky - with the sharp increase and the shifty sands... but again - you just have to let the waves push you). This is not a beach I would recommend for non-swimmers!

I laid out in the sun for a while (and yes, reapplied my sunscreen!). Eventually I could hear that a family had arrived... complete with screaming children. I sat up and contemplated calling it a day. But then the kids waved at me and screamed "Hello" so I said "Hello" back. We did that a couple of times, and I thought I heard them saying something in English but I couldn't quite make it out. One of the girls came over and started talking to me.

"Hello" she started
--"Sawadee ka" I replied.
"What is your name?" she asked.
--"Chan chu Rebecca." I replied slowly, and with great concentration added "Kun chu arai?" (By this time her sisters/friends were coming out of the water to join us.)
"My name is Boom. Where are you from?"
--"Kun bin kun American!" Only after she left did I realize I had told her, most enthusiastically, "You are an American person!"
"Aaaah America! Do you want to swim in the sea?" she asked - still in English.
--"Passa Thai for 'swim'?" I asked.
"wai naam" we all mimed swimming and pointed at the ocean- repeating the word a few times.
--"Dtong gahn wai naam ta lai." I replied, and from her reaction, I think I got close to saying "Want to swim in the sea." So off we went!

I don't know why I'm so popular with the 10-15 year old beach crowd...but it's kind of fun. I mean, I was not a popular or well liked kid growing up so even at 34 - having kids come up to me and want to play with me is doing it's part to heal some very old wounds. We played in the water for a while. Then my new friend said "Dance in the water." at first I thought she meant swim, but she mimed dancing and said "Sing a song!"

Fortunately, I love singing. I sound terrible, but I do enjoy it. So I gave her a few bars of the Sesame Street theme song. =P (Well, what would *you* sing if you were put on the spot like that?) Plus, it was really sunny and I was inspired. I asked her to sing next and she did so beautifully - a fairly long song actually and her sister joined in on the choruses. On my next turn I sang one of my favorites - You are my sunshine. She could understand a few words of it and liked the "You make me happy" part. The second time through I sang each line slowly and she tried to follow along. It was cute - she's a *much* better singer than I. After singing we swam some more... had a bit of a race to reach their uncle who was floating along in an inner tube with his baby boy. I asked for the word for baby and learned it was "dek lek lek" (child small small). One of the family said that I spoke Thai well, and I replied "nit-noy" (a little bit) and the baby said "nit-noy" which was awesome and cracked everyone up. That little one year old boy is my linguistic equal, and he'll likely surpass me in the next 6 months. =P

Oh, it was a fun... but eventually I got tuckered out and called it a day. A Code Mango day for sure.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

What's wrong with this picture?

A while ago I was wandering through Tescos and found this ad for helmets. It cracked me up so much... because I simultaneously had an American reaction and a Thai reaction and I really wanted to share both with you guys.

American Version:
OMG - that's not safe at ALL!
1. There are about three too many people on that motorbike!
2. Look at all those bags! What if they get caught in the tire?
3. Why isn't anyone wearing a protective jacket - or at least goggles?
4. Why is the baby the only one without a helmet?
5. Why is the baby even *on* the motorbike?
6. The baby! The baby! Won't someone *please* think of the BABY!

Thai Version:
1. Where's the family dog?
2. The whole family went to Tescos and that's all they bought?
3. What's with all the helmets?
4. What's wrong with the chick on the back? Why is she holding on to that guy, and why isn't she sitting side-saddle like a proper woman?? Must be her first time on a motorbike.
5. Why isn't anyone wearing a uniform... or at least a yellow polo shirt?
6. Looks like the little guy's just about ready for his own motorbike. =)

The antibiotics seem to have done their job and I haven't had any problems today. Well, no intestinal problems... I just hate the kids I teach on Saturdays. But I'm surviving, and I don't have to work tomorrow - so we'll give it a Code Mango.