Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Too much of a good thing

My internet access from home is wonky. I tried to download an update and have had problems ever since. Everytime I run the repair utility it tells me it can't do the repair because I'm not connected to the internet. AAAAHHHGGGG!!!

Anyway I went on my third trip of the month to Ko Samet on Sunday. It started auspiciously enough. The last time I'd been to the book store I found HP - The Half Blood Prince and had almost finished it. I stopped in to the book store again, and they had HP - Dealthly Hallows in paperback (which I don't think they had previously). Awesome!

It was not until I got onto the island and started unpacking my things that I realized that I'd forgotten to bring my beach-bag. My beach bag always sits by my front door and contains my sun hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and a stack of postcards. =( My tan had gotten somewhat out of control...people were commenting on it regularly... and I'd been meaning to be better about using sunscreen. So I went to 7/11 to pick some up and was shocked at the prices - 300 baht for a small bottle! I put my faith in my existing tan to protect me and skipped it entirely.

I spent the day swimming and reading on the beach crying on and off from the moment Harry started his own coastal excusion with Dumbledor to the end of the book. And then, I couldn't help it, I skipped to the end of book 7 - picking up from when Harry re-enters the forest & opens the Snitch. OMG! Yeah. It was awesome, reading a good book on the beach is one of my ultimate joys. The sun, the sand, the warm water & gentle waves.... all of it was perfect. It wasn't until I'd finished the end of book 7 that I decided to call it a day, satisfied that I'd gotten my fill of the beach.

Back in my room I knew I was in trouble. My face was not just dark it was dark red... bad red. Burgundy red. There was not much to do for it though. I went out again the next morning and tried to stay in the shade. Ultimately I went home early because I realized I was beyond stupid for not getting the sunscreen when I had the chance. I was burned and it HURT!

On Monday of course everone who looked at me was shocked and commented, literally adding insult to injury. I wasn't able to get to Tescos that day, and the pharmacy near my school didn't have aloe. It wasn't until Tuesday that I made it to Tesco and picked some up. My skin felt better as soon as I used it... and by Wednesday I was feeling and looking a bit better.

But today... ugh... today is bad. For one the sunburn on my lips cause a couple of cold sores to pop up. And now my skin is peeling in lots of little flakes and some larger peels if I scratch my forehead. Disgusting. The aloe keeps things mellow for a while, but as soon as it dries I start flaking again. My skin underneath the sunburn is pale & pinkish - a pretty strong contrast to the burgundy of my sunburn. Not beautiful.

And the Thai girls from the office, proper sun-shy asian girls that they are, can't quite understand what's happening. They look vaguely horrified. It is horrible. And I have class in an hour - I really dont' know how I'm supposed to show my face. Ugh. =(

I've learned my lesson! I promise I have! I'm never going to the beach without sunscreen again!

TAG: Code Fish Sauce

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oh yeah... and I teach too.

I posted a link to my "So you wanna go to Thailand" posts on Daves ESL Cafe and someone suggested that I talk a bit about my teaching experience as well. Which makes a lot of sense because that's a large part of why I'm here anyway! Here are just a few of my thoughts and experiences thus far.

The CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults)

Prior to coming to Thailand, I had no real teaching experience, and only general experience working with foreign students. I decided to get a qualification before trying to get a job. I looked into the online courses, and some of the short courses that I could take, but after reading about the CELTA online and talking to people who'd taken it, I decided that for me it would be worth it. You can get a job with different (or in some cases no) qualifications... but the CELTA does seem to be the gold standard - at least in Thailand.

However, that's saying practically nothing. Four weeks, however intensive they may be, is just not long enough to learn how to teach. But it gave me classroom experience and *extensive* feedback about what I was doing well and what I needed to work on. I also learned a number of games and activities that I used right off the bat when I got into my first real classes. Overall my experience with the CELTA course was really positive and I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about teaching abroad. It's by no means comprehensive, but it gets you familiar with the text books and gives you an opportunity to practice with real students. The down-side of the CELTA is that all the feed back teaches you to be incredibly critical of yourself... not that I needed any help. So every time I teach a class I compare it to what would have been expected on the CELTA and I feel bad about myself. But I think this has more to do with my own psychological issues than the CELTA course per se.

Working at a Language Institute

I was offered a job through the same company that ran my CELTA course and because I was too lazy to actually do any job searching, I took it. I'm sure I don't have the best job possible in Thailand, but it met my requirements - I teach 90% adults (I don't like kids), I'm near the beach, and I get enough hours/salary to get by on.

1. The schedule - I have a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with my schedule. I love that I only teach about 25 hours a week, and there will be times when I can spend several hours in the middle of the day sitting at a coffee shop reading, or an occasional mornings when I can go to the beach before my evening class. But mostly I hate that it's so arbitrary and unpredictable. I have some students who work a rotating schedule (3 day shifts, 3 swing shifts, 3 night shifts) and my schedule rotates accordingly. I also hate that I only have one day off a week. I never really feel like I teach too many hours (see coffee-shop/beach scenarios above), it's just that my 25 hours a week seem to be scheduled in such a way as to create the maximum disruption to my life. For example, I might have class until 7pm on Saturday, Sunday free, then one class on Monday from 10-noon... then nothing else that day. So I might have had a full 2 day weekend but no... one stupid 2 hour class means the difference between hanging out at a coffee shop all day and going to Bangkok overnight.

A 'typical' week for me:
Monday -
5pm - 6:30pm private lesson, 1 teen, pre-intermediate
6:30pm - 8:30pm private lesson, 2 adults, elementary

Tuesday -
9am - noon private lesson, 4 adults, elementary
6pm - 8pm private lesson 2 adults,elementary

Wednesday -
5pm - 6:3pm private lesson, 1 teen, pre-intermediate
6:30pm - 8:30pm private lesson, 2 adults, elementary

Thursday -
10:30am - 12:30pm private lesson, 4 adults, elementary
6:30pm - 8:30pm business English class, 10 adults.

Friday -
5pm - 7pm private lesson, 2 adults, elementary

Saturday - aka 'hell on earth'
9am - noon young learners class, 6 students aged 11-13, arbitrary and meaningless level
1pm - 4pm young learners class, 3 students aged 12-13, arbitrary and meaningless level
5pm - 7pm private lesson, 2 adults, elementary

Sunday - aka 'get me to the beach before I kill a small child'
day off

I get my schedule at the beginning of the month, but it should really be viewed as more of a blueprint than an actual schedule. I think this is what I ended up teaching, there are always cancellations /reschedules and fill ins. In February I had about 11 cancellations / reschedules and two added classes. In January I had 14 canceled / rescheduled classes and four added. You really just have to go with the flow. For example in January Saturday & Monday were my busiest days. In February I had three 'day and a half' weekends so I went to Ko Samet each time.

2. The pay / perks
I get paid 320 baht per teaching hour, more for business classes or off campus classes. I have insurance (don't really know what it covers) and that's about it. We get Thai holidays off, but no paid vacation time at all. I'm allowed to take sick time, but don't know if/how it will show up on my pay. We do not get paid prep time. I get paid twice a month, 10,000 baht on the 25th and the remainder (a much larger check) on the 25th. The school did my Thai taxes for me. =)

3. Conditions / Resources
There are maybe a dozen air conditioned classrooms, each has a white board, a cd player, and desks or a table & chairs, but that's about it. There are no overhead projectors or computers or anything like that. Just me, my books & my markers. Oh, and none of us have our own classrooms, so you have to cart your stuff to and from the classroom every day. We don't have our own books or CDs, they're kept in a big cupboard in the office. If you want to take a book home overnight, technically you're supposed to sign it out, but usually you just ask the office staff and they say 'ok, sure'.

There's a copy machine (which usually has paper), a couple computers and one black & white printer. There are a lot of supplemental grammar and activity books. We're a bit slim on dictionaries though which always amuses me... not as much as the fact that we have a whole VHS video series to supplement the kids books and not a single TV or VCR in the place. Whatever.

Actually Teaching

There were good and bad things about the way I got my feet wet in the language institute. On the one hand, I didn't have a lot of hours to start with, so I could spend as much time as I wanted to prepping (worrying). But on the other hand I did a LOT of fill in classes (substitute teaching) for the first couple of weeks. I was constantly walking into a room full of strangers and having to teach something for the very first time. It was terrifying. I honestly can't think of many situations I would dislike more than that and when I think back on it, all I can remember is playing a LOT of games.

I swear, if the CELTA did nothing else for me, it gave me a lot of time-filler games which have saved my ass on numerous occasions. Pretty much everything else I learned on the CELTA went right out the window by my second class. All the things they taught about 'concept checking' and 'instruction checking' just confused my students more than if I just repeated the instructions a couple of times slowly and clearly. And the whole division of lessons into grammar based / skills based... I just don't bother. I go straight through the book, they get a little reading a little writing, a lot of listening and a fair amount of speaking. I feel guilty about not giving my students enough 'freer practice', but generally just do the activities suggested in the teachers manual. I'm starting to get a little bit better though. I pull activities from different text books, or the supplemental books for my classes, and it keeps things from being straight from the book.

I spend more time 'planning' than most of the other teachers, although I'm not sure how productive I am. I'll get to school maybe an hour before a class starts and read through the pages I'm going to teach. I look at the activity pages in the teachers' manual and decide if I'm going to use it or not. Most of the activities work best with 6-12 students, but they can be really hard to use for individuals, pairs and trios. So I try to figure out the activity - will it work for my students, is there anything I can change etc. And If I feel like they need a review I'll check the work book for an appropriate page.

My usual teaching routine - come to class, exchange pleasantries with the class just to warm up. If they know the past tense, I ask them what they did this morning (yesterday / over the weekend). In my starter class, I ask what they ate today ("Eat rice yet?" is a Thai small talk question). Occasionally, if I think they need to review what we did last week I'll hand out a worksheet for them to start on, or if I'd assigned a worksheet for homework we go over it. Then I dive right into the book and we do the activities as written. Sometimes I'll tweak one of the exercises ... I end up writing a lot of stuff on little squares of paper for the students to move around into different columns or to put together in sentences. Lots and lots of little bits of paper.

I joke about not using the CELTA, and I really don't teach like I did on the course, but I did pick up a few things. I always highlight the grammar on the board and drill the marker sentences. I'll highlight pronunciation and sometimes show the phonetic symbol if I think it will be helpful (or the teacher's book says to ;) ). We do one language focus (2 pages) in about an hour & a half, then we do the communication activity from the teacher's resource book. Or, if I didn't like the activity, maybe I found a similar activity from a different book. Or, we play a game to review vocabulary. Some classes like extra homework, some won't do it no matter what. So I give it sparingly. My students all have jobs (or the kids have school full time) and families etc. and this is just an extra language lesson, we want it to be fun and not a burden.


As I mentioned, I have about 90% adult students mostly in private lessons. This is probably the opposite of what most teachers have - 90% kids in a school, and a couple of private lessons on the side. With the exception of the kids, all of my students are there because their companies pay for the classes. While some of the students are very motivated to learn and practice English, it's not the same as when you have to pay for your courses yourself and you want to get the most out of them. I'm not sure how the company chooses who gets to go to English classes, or if there is any financial bonus for completing the course. There seems to be a wide range of interest and ability.

Mostly though, the students are polite and fun and willing to do whatever silly activities I ask them to do. I really enjoy the adult classes (and even the teenager) because I can just talk to them (at an appropriate level of course) and we can joke around a bit. With my kid classes, they don't want to be there and it's painfully obvious. I've really got to drag them through each activity and they don't want to give me anything. They just want to sit and talk to each other in Thai or read their comic books or whatever. If I come up with a fun activity they'll get into it, but as soon as we're back to grammar I lose them. Often there is one student who's at a higher level than the rest who understands my instructions (I really really try to grade my language appropriately) and translates for the rest of the class when they are confused. This is enormously helpful.

My students give me presents, and I really like that. I've gotten chocolates, cookies, a company-logo day planner, a silk coin purse, and a hand woven scarf. I'm spoiled!


Each class has a card, and at the end of the lesson you write in what you covered that day and sign off on it. This is critical because when you teach so many different classes and some will cancel for a week or more, it's impossible to remember where you were in the book and what activities you've done. It's also important for when someone has to take over your class. Some of the classes I inherited when I started had excellent notes and it was clear what I needed to do in the next class. Some of the classes had horrible notes and I had to make a guess at where in the book they'd stopped and where to pick up again.

At the end of each course (usually 30 hours) I give the test. These are prepared tests, so I just need to make copies. Then I grade them and do the progress reports. All the teachers complain about the progress reports even though, compared to other jobs, we have amazingly little paperwork to do. I think the thing everyone hates is that it can take a few hours but we don't get paid for it. Plus it can be hard to think of specific and motivating things to say to each of your students. After all, the progress report is as much a marketing tool as it is educational feedback "I would encourage you to take our next course...." blah blah blah.

Then of course there's the most important piece of paperwork - the time sheet - which I fill in meticulously so I am sure to be paid properly!

We also occasionally have meetings where the head teacher passes along 'information' (complaints) from the staff & manager and we send our complaints right back through her.

Other Teachers

We've got a pretty good bunch of teachers at my school. Some have been teaching for years. Most are willing to help if I have a question or need to talk through a grammar point. There's no mentoring or anything like that. But in general all of us get along well enough to sit in the teachers room together and a few of us hang out outside of school. The tough part is that our days off don't match up, so it's hard to plan anything. Anytime we go out drinking *someone* has to work the next day. And that just sucks, but I guess it's good that I have coworkers that I *want* to hang out with after school.

And that's about it. Language institutes are known as fast-food English, and I don't disagree. It's far from an ideal situation from the teacher's standpoint with lots of different classes and an inconsistent schedule. And it's not that great for the students either - teachers come and go every six months or so, often stopping in the middle of a course. But I'd like to think that the students will get out of it what they put into it.

I hope you find this helpful. Let me know if you have any questions, or if there are other topics you'd like to see me cover. I've been here just long enough for the shock and awe to have worn off but by no means claim to be an expert. =)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Toilet, The Pimp and a Chocolate Surprise

Saturdays have gotten a bit better. I still hate teaching kids, and 8 hours of class is a bit much. But the kids who had a book that was too hard 'graduated' from a pre-intermediate level to a starter level. Don't ask me how this could possibly be the logical progression... all I know is that now the students understand what I ask them to do and sometimes even do it. Yay! And in my other class, we finally killed enough time to be more or less on schedule with the book. I'll still have at least two full classes to conjure out of thin air (Valentines day sucked up a 3rd)... but I decided to show a movie for one day, so that should work out okay. Shhhh.... don't tell my boss.

Last week had a bit of excitement. I asked one girl "What day is today?" (our normal class starter) and she burst into tears. She ran out of the room and was inconsolable. She wouldn't tell me what was wrong, eventually I just took her down to sit with the office staff and gave her a book. I think they called her parents, or maybe she did, because eventually she grabbed her things and went home early. No explanations.

I am glad to say that today was an improvement... sort of. I had copied an activity from another book where each student gets a different role-card with a name, country and their age on it. They went around asking & answering "What's your name? Where are you from? How old are you?" All was going well (They were speaking English!!! No one was crying!) until like round three. I handed one of the boys the card "Toshi from Japan" which had him laughing. He did the activity and then confessed that "Toshi" sounded like "Toilet" in Thai. Oh well. Then I handed last week's crier a card that said "Magda from Greece" or something and she and the other girl dissolved into pre-teen giggles, and she held her book up to her face. I assumed that the name meant something embarrassing in Thai so offered her a new card but also asked what it meant - more horror from the girls, leaning into each other mortified. I said "It's okay, it's okay, take a different card." and she did. They still wouldn't tell me what the card said.

At break I asked one of the office staff. She started laughing and said "Oh... very rude, very rude slang." And asked where I'd seen it. I explained and she just cracked up. She told me "There are two meanings, one is like a fly... like an animal." the best I could get was that it was like a flying cockroach only bigger. Not beautiful like a butterfly, ugly. "But the second meaning... very rude. It's like... you know....sopany?" and I was like "Oh! Prostitute??" Mortified that I called my poor girl a prostitute in class. "No no no. Like, owner who sends out prostitute.... like the manager." Aaaaaah... Pimp. I called one of my students a toilet, and the other a pimp. And that was just my first class. Gotta love Saturdays.

After classes Bunny, Bobby & I all went to the night market by Tesco's for dinner. I was feeling adventurous and decided to only eat food on a stick. Fortunately, food on a stick is not difficult to find in Thailand and I had already had cantaloupe on a stick earlier in the day. First up was deep fried balls on a stick... with sauce 'a little spicy' - sure, why not? Um, it wasn't great - I think the balls were seafood this time. Next up, wonton-wrapped & fried balls. She said 'egg' but I heard 'chicken' (kai / gai), they were little eggs, I'm not sure what animal they came from. They tasted vaguely stale. I tossed them out after the first one. Not to fret... waffles on a stick! With pictures! And girls who spoke English! I successfully avoided the waffle wrapped hotdog and obtained a chocolate chip waffle on a stick. Mmmmmm

That was as far as I got with the food on a stick idea... I was hungry and wanted something genuinely edible. I got a small omelet on rice with sweet chili sauce, and mango with sticky rice & coconut milk. Then the three of us walked back into Tesco's to sit in the food court.

Bunny and Bobby had both been given sticks with which to eat their own foods, so there was a bit of sharing and stick maneuvering. Bunny successfully speared a bit of sticky rice and ate it. I told her she was my new hero. Anyone can eat rice with chopsticks, but one thin, extra long toothpick? "I have mastered the stick!" she exclaimed with pride. Bobby was having a bit more difficulty and replied "I have *not* mastered the stick." and as she lifted a piece of speared mango to her mouth it slid down back down the stick onto her hand. We burst into laughter.

Bunny, to underscore her stick mastery, picked up some mango and successfully transported it to her mouth. Bobby, undaunted, reached for some sweet sticky rice, stabbed it and brought it towards herself. "I think I've got it now!" she said just as it plopped off the stick and landed in her soy sauce. Another solid five minutes of laughing.

I had a spoon, and nothing to prove.

The only grown woman I teach gave me a box of chocolates after class yesterday. Nice chocolates - chocolate covered macadamia nuts... the good stuff. I decided to share them with B & B when we got home. We were discussing my very exciting up coming 'weekend'. I have Sunday off as per usual, but I don't have class until 6pm on Monday. Yay! I'd debated going to Bangkok or going back to Ko Samet. I'd already been to Ko Samet twice this month, and I'm supposed to be saving money, so I'd really debated whether or not to go. But eventually came to my senses. The chances of me ever living this close to a tropical island again are slim to none and I would be insane not to take full advantage of it. Then I cleaned out my other purse and found 1,000 baht. HELL YES I'm going to Ko Samet! So we were discussing this as I picked up the box of chocolate, peeled back the plastic packaging and opened the box. I looked down to get my first piece....

To my dismay there were ants crawling all over the box. Not a ton, but easily a dozen teeny tiny ants. Crawling over the chocolates, walking around the outside of the little papers. Ugh. "You look disturbed" Bunny commented. I showed her the box. "Oooh." We paused for a long moment. My mind hearkened back to the garlic-fried bug cart at the food court... eating bugs in Thailand is not unheard of. "I'm totally gonna eat it anyway." I said picking a piece up and brushing an ant or two off it's surface. "Yeah.... me too." She said. Bobby, who has already eating a cricket in her lifetime was equally undeterred. I mean, it was chocolate covered macadamia nuts!

Yes... we ate ant covered chocolates. That is the price we have to pay for living in a tropical paradise.

And on days like today, it's worth it.

TAG: Code Mango

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

So you wanna go to Thailand: The index

I hope you find this long-winded guide helpful. Keep in mind that I'm just coming out of stage two culture shock where I hated just about everything. Thailand really is a beautiful & fascinating place, and no matter how well or how poorly prepared you are there will be awesome experiences and some horrid ones. Adopt a 'mai bpen lai' attitude and just roll with it.

So you wanna go to Thailand: #1 Basics, Food, and Scams

White sand beaches, golden temples, delicious food.... there are a lot of reasons to come to the Land of Smiles.

Having lived here 6 months now, I've learned a few things that might help you out if you decide to come to Thailand. Or you know, it might just help you decide *not* to come to Thailand. As the Thais say "Up to you!"

It's hot in Thailand. It's humid in Thailand. It is often both hot and humid in Thailand. And then there's the rainy season. You will sweat, accept it.

If you're coming for a vacation, it's not much of a problem, just wear light loose clothing and enjoy yourself. If you're coming to live, and possibly to work here, talcum powder is your new best friend. There is nearly an entire aisle in Tesco devoted to different kinds of talcum powder. Johnson & Johnson is represented of course, as is Care and Baby Mild. There are cooling powders (which I didn't actually enjoy), and even liquid powders. Douse yourself liberally after you shower and you will feel comfortably dry for as much as 10 minutes before you start sweating again. =)

The currency is the Baht (about 34 baht to the dollar at the moment), it's all different sizes and colors. The coins descend in size as they descend in value. It all has Arabic numbers as well as Thai numbers. Spending money is one of the easier things to do here. ;)

Learn to say "hello" (sawatdee kaaa/kap), "thank you" (kop kuhn kaaa/kap), "how much?" (tow rai?), and the numbers before you come. That'll get you pretty far actually. Don't worry about the wai (the traditional Thai greeting) - you're not expected to understand it, and frankly you'll look a bit silly if you do it wrong (one does not wai to someone of lower status - for example waiters/cashiers). Smile a lot.

If you are staying in a touristy area such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, or Pattaya, you'll be in food heaven. There will be plenty of western food, and a lot of the Thai restaurants will have menus in English or at least picture menus. If you go further a field, you'll want to learn a little food vocabulary, rice, noodles, pork, chicken, vegetables etc. If you are vegetarian or vegan - good luck, nearly everything has fish sauce in it.

The food here can be very spicy. It’s traditional to put 7 chili peppers in a dish of Som Tam (papaya salad)... and we're not talking about jalapenos or serranos here... these are the itty bitty nuclear peppers. And quite frankly 7 of any kind of pepper is overkill in my opinion. But I am not a fan of mouth burn. Spicy = "pet", a little spicy = "pet nit-noy", not spicy = "mai pet"... and if you are extraordinarily insane / courageous; Very spicy = "pet mahk mahk"

Unless you have intestines of steel, or only eat at fastidiously clean indoor restaurants (no fun!), you will probably get a stomach bug. Bring chewable Pepto-Bismol tablets with you and keep them handy. If you've been sick for more than 3 days, IMO that's when you bring out the antibiotics.


Tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok will try to scam you (there is no free-gas day). In fact, EVERYONE in Bangkok will try to scam you. Be wary of any Thai person just hanging out by a tourist site, especially if they speak English really well. If you are lost or in need of help, find someone who is working in a restaurant or a 7/11 and ask them. Even if you do get scammed, try not to let it ruin your trip. You’re only out a little money and now you’ve got a good story to tell.

Next up:

So you wanna go to Thailand: #2 Transportation, The Merge & Haggling

A few more hints and tips about life in Thailand.

If you take a taxi, insist that the driver turn on the meter. As we left one of the temples the first taxi driver quoted us a fare of 400 baht (>$12), we walked away and didn't even try to haggle with him. The next several insisted on 200 baht. We finally got one who agreed to use the meter and the fare was 90 baht (<$3). If you work in the States and have money to burn, sure it doesn't seem like much, but it's an unnecessary expense. Agree on a price before taking a motorbike taxi, you can try to haggle it down but good luck. Every time I walk away from one guy who I think wants to charge me too much I end up going with someone else who asks for even more. Regardless, this is my favorite way to travel, you'll get through traffic much quicker, and frankly it's fun. But songthaews (converted pick-up truck taxis) are cheaper and safer. Songthaews generally only go up and down one route, but motorbike taxis will take you just about anywhere.

The Merge
Thais don't really queue up. I've had more than one person cut in line for the bathroom or in the markets. It's like the lines don't really exist, if there's a spot closer to the target - they're going to hop right in. People pushing shopping carts in the supermarket don't really give way either, I've had to back out of an aisle before because there is just no concept of 'she was already heading this way, I'll let her through before I go'. They just go. Everyone just goes. It's a way of life that is most evident on the streets.

I cannot emphasize this strongly enough - TRAFFIC WILL NOT STOP FOR YOU!!! They might slow down, speed up, or swerve to get around you, but they will NOT stop for you. They won't necessarily stop for red lights either. If you happen to see a rare crosswalk or even rarer crosswalk with a walk/don't walk signal, I promise you, it means nothing. Ok, to be fair, at a cross walk maybe 50% of the cars will actually stop… but that only lulls you into a false sense of security, better to assume that they will not stop. Cars and motorbikes all seem to come out of nowhere. Even after we've cautiously checked both sides of the street before crossing, we've seen parked cars start to back up towards us out of the blue. The only thing you can do is learn the merge.

Look right and left and right and left again, and stare for a good long time to see when the next gap in traffic will be, it's nice when the traffic is staggered so that the car in the lane closest to you is first, then there's a car slightly later in the next lane etc. Because then you can walk out into the street after the first car and continue on lane by lane as the cars pass. Once you have a good feel for the pulse of traffic, pick your time to go and commit. If you start to go, go, and don't stop.

Whatever you do, don't make eye contact with the motorbike drivers. I know this is counter intuitive... in the US you make eye contact so you know that they know that you're there... because they’ll stop for you if they see you. This is just not the case here. If they see an object (you) in the street they will (usually) slow down/ speed up / swerve around you to avoid hitting you... but if you hesitate or make eye contact it throws them off - they don't know what you're going to do. So just start going and keep going. I recommend going fairly briskly, but again, you've got to pace yourself with the traffic. Sometimes going slowly lane by lane stopping in the middle of the street is the only way to get across.

The best thing to do though is to find a Thai person and cross when they do. And make sure they're between you and the oncoming traffic. ;)

If you can do it, go for it. I try, but I never do especially well. The best I can say is that I don't always get as completely ripped off as I might if I didn’t even try. Ask for the price, if possible check a few different stalls before attempting to make a purchase, that way you'll at least have an idea of what the average opening price will be. Offer a lower price, and see where it goes from there. They usually have a big ol' calculator for this purpose. They put in a number, then you put in a number, both of you act like the other person is way off (all with friendly smiles) and eventually you agree on a number. It's a legitimate part of the culture, so jump right in, but don't be a Cheap Charlie either. If you're here on vacation, it's a good bet you make a ton more money than the shop keeper. Haggling over anything less than 50 baht ($1.50) is silly.

Next up:

So you wanna go to Thailand: #3 Dogs, Farangs & Bathrooms

So you wanna go to Thailand: #3 Dogs, Farang and Bathrooms

Tips about three of my least favorite things in Thailand.

Dogs in Thailand are generally not leashed, and not neutered. This was a shock on many levels. You should just assume that any dog you see on the street has rabies. Not like you need to go out and shoot it... but generally avoid them.

Farangs (foreigners)
This was one of the weirder things for me to adjust to; just because someone is white, doesn't mean they come from an English speaking country. Yes, yes, yes - apparently I'm a racist. But you grow up seeing that people who look more or less like you can speak and understand your language. Then you go to a country where everyone looks different and speaks a different language; when see people who look more or less like you it’s easy to assume that they must be from your country. This has almost never been the case for me. Fortunately, as English is a global language, many of these people will actually speak some English.

Thailand draws an eclectic mix of foreigners. There are plenty of vacationers...lots of retired folks. But there are also people who come for the religious aspect - meditation retreats and all, and of course the sex tourists. It's still difficult for me to deal with the idea that most of the farang men I meet here came to Thailand specifically to get find a Thai wife, girlfriend, or just to enjoy the entertainment. It's neither a simple nor a straight-forward situation, and not at all one I can do justice here... but it is an issue here, and something you should at least be aware of before coming. Stickman Bangkok is a good resources for this subject.


There is just a huge range of what I've seen as far as bathrooms go. In nicer restaurants & the mall, the facilities are on par with what you find in the US: western toilets, TP, sinks with soap and an electric hand dryer. Hand towels are rare though, and more often than not there is just another roll of TP on the wall near the sink. In more ‘traditional’ locations, squat toilets are the norm and you get no TP at all, just a bucket & a basin of water to splash around with to the best of your abilities. I've seen some frightfully disgusting toilets near the beach. In any case you should never assume that there will be TP, and get used to carrying a pack of tissues or try using the hose. In fact you should make no assumptions at all & just hope for the best.

Next up:

So you wanna go to Thailand: #4 Clothing, the Language and Common Sense

So you wanna go to Thailand: #4 Clothing, the Language & Common Sense

My final thoughts & tips on coming to Thailand.

1. If you're just coming for vacation and plan to stay at the beach or other tourist areas, dress for comfort. Bring one dressy-casual outfit if you want to go to a fancy restaurant or club. But in general a swimsuit, shorts & T-shirts will be fine, lighter colors, lighter fabrics. You will sweat. Sarongs are available on every beach for about $3-$4 US. Scarves (silk or pashmina) can be found at street markets for about the same price. Expect to pay more for a handwoven silk scarf or anything hand embroidered - from $20 & up depending on the quality. Cover your knees & shoulders when you visit a temple, and be prepared to remove your shoes when entering a home, temple or some shops.

2. If you're coming to Thailand to live and/or work, or if you will be spending time in a city like Rayong (why???) and around Thais who don't work in the tourist industry... there is a certain standard of dress expected/appreciated. Although women wear shorts cut up to their hoo-has (Usually paired with a long shirt/short dress which leaves the casual observer to wonder if they are wearing shorts at all) shoulders and cleavage are almost always covered. The only Thai women I ever see with their shoulders bare are either prostitutes or hanging out at a club.

For work remember that collared shirts are "more polite" than non-collared shirts, tucked in is more polite than hanging out, shoes with covered heels and toes are more polite than mules or sandles. While Thais have raised the humble flip-flop to a place of high fashion (beads, rhinestones, embroidery, etc), they are still not appropriate for work.

Unless you are very small you will have problems finding clothes & shoes in Thailand. There are fat Thais, and they wear clothes, so obviously it's not impossible but the range of sizes off the rack (or at the market) are shocking to someone used to American vanity sizing. I saw a pack of tank tops the other day and the large size had a chest measurement of 34 inches. I am not kidding. I can occasionally, very occasionally, find an XXL in Tesco that will fit me, but in general I'm out of luck. Bobby is unarguably slim, a size small in the states, no problem. She is able to find clothes here but, for example, the pants she bought in Bangkok were a size XL. It's a bit dispiriting.

The Language
If you're coming here to live, do your best to learn as much as you can but be realistic. It's a tough language, with five tones and sounds we don't usually use in English. If at all possible, sign up for a Thai language course either in the states or when you arrive. I did NOT like the Pimsleur learn Thai CDs. Alphabet flash cards are a good start, but require a Thai person to teach you. I've had moderately good luck just whipping out my cards at work or on a songthaew... some people will jump in and help, others are not so much interested. Fair enough.

Common Sense - If you die in Thailand you die in real life.

Because Thailand is so very different from the US it's tempting to treat it like it's not the real world. I think this makes it easier to drop your boundaries and fears and to try things you never thought you would (eating bugs, riding on the back of a stranger's motorbike). This is all fantastic fun, horizon expanding, growthfull and all that. But remember that actions still have consequences.

As amazing and dreamlike the beaches are here, if you go swimming drunk you can actually drown. You can get pregnant ... even if you're in a bungalow with no running water. And rates of STD are high here due to the sex trade (If you wouldn’t sleep with a prostitute in your country – why would you even consider doing it here?). Drug laws are strict & even enforced occasionally. You do not want to end up in a Thai prison. The embassy will not come rescue you just because you are a US citizen, the best they can do is give you a list of lawyers to call. Motorbikes are fun to race around on, but dogs (& other drivers) fly out of nowhere and the ground hurts. One of the teachers here was severely injured in a motorbike accident and will be taking home six screws in his shoulder as a souvenir from the experience.

There is a lot of fun to be had, and it's nice not to be coddled & protected to the nth degree like you are in the US. But it means you have to take responsiblity for your own safety. Best advice I've heard is - If you can't be good, be careful.

Living in Thailand has been an incredible experience and I'm very glad I came. But it's not paradise, and it helps to know what you're getting into before you get here. I hope you found this guide helpful. If there are other topics you'd like to know about, let me know and I'll see what I can do. =)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Where I really want to be....

In comments regarding my next adventure, d brought up an excellent question:

you know, what i didn't hear in all of this really, is where do you
want to live? i think it's always good to consider the practicalities of a
situation, but you should also listen to your heart and figure out what part of
the world you want to live in. you can make anything work and there are always
ways to live cheaply pretty much, i say, move someplace you have
been wanting to experience. and let everything else fall where it may.

This is very good advice, and very much in the vein of me actually doing things I enjoy (something that I haven't always been good at in my life). The problem, or maybe I should say one of the problems, is that I've never really dreamed of living abroad. And as a kid I never really dreamed about what I wanted to be when I grew up either. I've always been extremely good at worrying, but never very good at dreaming up things that I might enjoy doing with my life. I mean, I went through phases where I wanted to be an astronaut, or a painter, and most prophetically in the 6th grade I decided I wanted to be a "Beach Philosopher" which I kinda knew wasn't a real job, I just wanted to hang out on the beach and think about stuff. And honestly, if someone would pay me for that... I'm still up for it!

The other problem is that all I really want, or what I've wanted most for a long time is to just fall in love get married, and live happily every after in a little house in SE Portland - white picket fence optional.* Those of you who read this blog prior to my little excursion will not be surprised that I do really enjoy being domestic. I could be quite content with a life of knitting, quilting, baking, gardening, visiting the library and museum, working at a job that I don't hate, and occasionally going on exotic (but temporary) vacations... as long as I had someone there to enjoy it with me. The 'finding someone to enjoy it with me' part has proved far more difficult for me than I ever could have imagined... we're approaching the realm of 'impossible' here. And being a domestic goddess is just not as much fun when you don't get to share it with anyone else. Thus emergency plan B... get the hell out of dodge. I needed a shake up, I needed to get out of my rut, and I needed to have something to put in a Christmas letter!

So everything else, where I want to live, what kind of job I want to have is all kind of secondary to me. "Seeing the world" was always something just kind of in the back of my mind. Not something I ever thought about in great detail, or thought I could actually accomplish. I've starting to though, I mean that's how I came up with plan B. But I need some help dreaming up new places to go and new things to do.... and that is where you folk come in. I'm going to start collating the data as it were, reading up on the different places you've suggested and seeing which ones appeal to me. In fact, I think I forgot to ask about this, but Jonathan helped out a bit... if you know of any other blogs/websites about travel / living abroad, please send me the link so I can get clicking. Again, thanks for helping me out with this!

* I know I know I know I know I know! I promise I know the difference between real life and Disney... but still, I'd rather deal with the challenges of married or at least cohabiting life than have to deal with the challenges of life on my own. I've done the alone thing, I'm extraordinarily good at it, and I've been doing it longer than anyone else I know. I'd like to do the couple thing now. And no platitudes, I will go bitter-spinster on you and it's not pretty.

TAG: Code Watermelon

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Choose My Next Adventure - part one

OK....writing out the pro & con list was beneficial. For one it reminded me of the good things about living here which improved my mood and helped my perspective. But it also highlighted how much I don't like about living in Rayong and how I should probably start formulating an exit strategy. I'm just going to brainstorm and get some ideas out there, you are most encouraged to comment!

Step one: Short term thoughts

- I signed a one year contract at my school.
- If I break my contract I have to pay 10,000 baht (not quite $300) for my work permit
- There are other branches of my school in Thailand, most notably in Bangkok
- While I have 10,000 baht in the bank, I certainly don't have much more than that
----- OK - when I write it all out like this it really seems like the most logical thing to do is to just move to Bangkok to finish out my contract, assuming such a thing is possible, and financially feasible, BKK is expensive.------

Step two - long term ideas

I don't think Thailand is a good landing spot for me. I love the beaches here, and it has been a hugely educational experience. But certain aspects of the lifestyle just get to me, namely the foreign man / Thai woman dynamic, and having to see it repeated over and over and over is more than a little depressing.

So if I leave, where should I go?

- The US, as homesick as I get sometimes, I don't think I'm quite ready to head back there yet. Even with our new president, things just seem messed up to me. The culture makes people fat and afraid. I've only absorbed enough Thai culture to really notice that, not enough to combat it should I go back. So... probably not yet.

- South America, maybe Argentina or Brazil. Both of these countries would be warm and beach-friendly. From what little I know of the cultures, they are in general more laid back and open than the US. Bonus, if I go to a Spanish speaking country I'll have that much more marketability back in the state.

- Eastern Europe, maybe the Czech Republic. The pros would include the food, westernized culture and proximity to Western Europe, I could potentially visit France (Hi B!), Germany, Italy, Spain, etc... all those places I want to visit "someday". But the cons are that it can be difficult if not impossible to get a work permit without an EU passport, and I probably wouldn't make enough money to actually do the traveling that I'd like to.

- Stay in Asia, go to South Korea. The main attraction of South Korea is that this is, theoretically, where you can make a lot of money. The pay is nearly what I was making in the states, but the cost of living is substantially cheaper. Of course, this is what people say, the reality could be different. The other pro is that there are a crap-load of English teachers there so it shouldn't be too hard to find a community there. Japan would be interesting, but it's also extremely expensive.

- Africa, either Northern like Tunisia and Morocco or Western Africa, not sure which countries yet. The main upside here is that I am told I would be treated like a goddess for my expansive hips and chubby thighs. I could really use a few months... or years... of being treated like a goddess. Plus, if I went to Northern Africa, again I would be relatively close to Western Europe, and all the places I'd love to visit.

- Um... yeah, Europe. While I'd love to go to Europe on an extended vacation, I don't think working there would be feasible. First, you need an EU passport, or a specialty skill to get a work permit, cost of living is expensive, and I think my lack of language skills would be less tolerated there. I'm not sure where I've formed this opinion.

I'm still just tossing ideas around here, if you have personal knowledge of any of these regions, or even a totally irrational and biased opinion - please share your opinions, and let me know where you think I should go next and why. =) Also, if you know of any bloggers who are currently abroad in any of these areas, please send me a link... information from 'on the ground' is always more helpful than what you find in guidebooks.

Thanks in advance.

TAG: Code Watermelon

Friday, February 13, 2009

Half way there?

It's February 13th here and as of yesterday, I've officially been in Thailand for six months. In some ways that feels like a long time. I mean you can call a month or two a vacation, even three or four months is just a season, but six months - that's not messing around. But on the other hand, six months just feels like a few months... there are people who've lived abroad for years and years, and in some ways I still feel like I'm just off the boat. This probably isn't the half-way point for me though, as my contract runs through October and I'd really like to travel for some time before going back to the states. But let's call it a milestone anyway and do a bit of an update on my goals.

Learn Thai.... um.... I've hit a plateau. After learning about 30 words in each of the first four months I've learned only 20 new words in the last two months. My grand total is about 150. Once I learned how to order food, how to buy things, numbers and general greetings, my ability to survive was assured and the motivation to learn more kind of waned. I bought some alphabet flash-cards though and am slowly *slowly* working my way through them. It requires me to have a patient and idulgent Thai person around to keep reminding me what each of the letters are, which limits my ability to learn a bit. But at least I can keep practicing those few letters I do know on my own. I'm a bit disappointed in myself, but at the same time - I've learned 150 words without taking a single formal class. That's not too bad.

Quality Time at the Beach - I go as often as I can, which is less than I'd like, but still...
I'm well past tan and heading into the leathery zone. I need to stop half-assing the sun screen and actually use it / reapply it. The ocean remains as calming and as refreshing as ever. I just love it, I love it so much... I just wish I could go every day.

Save Money - Minor fail. I got paid today and I only had about 14,000 in the account. Which means I not only haven't saved a satang in the past two months, I actually dipped 1,000 baht into my initial Thai savings. This is a tough one to call. I have absolutely been irresponsible with some of my money - I've gotten into the habit of going to McDonalds or Starbucks whenever I feel like it which is a money suck. I can get fried rice and veggies for like 40 baht at an average restaurant or a Big Mac for 115 baht. That's a huge difference... and Starbucks is worse. One iced tea - 25-35 baht at a Thai place is 110 baht at Starbucks, add in a sandwich at 90 baht and we're really getting into splurge territory. And this doesn't even include the 40 baht songtaew or 100 baht motorbike taxi to get to there and back. I've got to cut back on that if I want to save some money.

But on the other hand, I paid for my trip to Cambodia almost entirely out of my Thai money (the ATMs wouldn't take my Thai bank card =/ ), and I've gone to Ko Samet twice overnight again using only my Thai money. So I am living within my means... and managing to do some really cool things with the money I'm earning here. It's a balancing act... as is money everywhere. We've recently implemented Operation Frug (rhymes with rug, but is short for frugality), in order to save up money for a trip to Phuket. That means I'm not quite so casual about taking motorbike taxis to Tesco whenever I feel like it, and we're trying to eat at the little family restaurants instead of going to the big fancy ones.

Losing Weight - see above with the Big Macs and Starbucks. At one point I weighed myself and I was down another kg. but that's it. In fact, I might be right back up again after a recent bought of mood-based-munching. I've had some thoughts about this though. Skinny Thai girls are always complaining about being fat. And the ones that are undeniably skinny enough complain about not having boobs. The ones who manage to be skinny enough while still maintaining (or obtaining) big boobs slather themselves with skin whitening creams (every lotion in the store is a whitening cream - luster white, beauty white, baby white, white glow, fair and flawless, etc etc etc). It's sheer insanity. I've decided that this whole planet is conspiring to make women, no matter how gorgeous, feel bad about their bodies. I call bullshit!

Having seen that there is no acceptable female body - it just seems ridiculous to feel bad about the one that I have. Which is not to say all my body image and self esteem issues are gone, but I'm getting closer to just ignoring all of it.

Teaching Experience - I'm still not thrilled with the quality of my teaching for most classes. I spend a fair amount of time staring at the books trying to 'prep' for my classes, but it's pretty rare for me to come up with anything original to do with the students. I just follow the text book and hope for the best. Some of my students seem to be doing okay, some can't seem to pick up on much of anything. When I get to do the same lesson for a second or third time I start to feel like I know what I'm doing, but I'm still teaching about 70% new (to me) material.

Learn to Ride a Motorbike - I give up.

As this is a bit of a milestone, I'm going to milk it for all it's worth and ask for mail. Please send me mail, post cards are awesome. I had one of Portland and used it in a great many lessons actually, but I'm not sure where it is now. Fortunately gl. sent me one from Powells and it was used in a lesson the very next day. My uncle sent me a letter and I read a section of it to my dirty-old-men business English class. So not only will you be making me happy by sending me mail, it will more likely than not become a teaching tool which I think entitles you to write off the 94 cent stamp as an educational expense when you do your taxes.*

Plus... Bunny & Bobby get a lot more mail than I do, are you going to stand for that? ;)

Teacher Rebecca
- ask me in comments & I'll email you my address.

*Rebel is not a tax accountant, nor does she play one on TV, please consult a CPA or at the very least the box your turbo-tax software came in before attempting to take any deductions mentioned on this blog.

TAG: Code Watermelon

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pros & Cons

In college I took a judgement and decision making class, and in it the professor said that even a simple pro-con list can help a person clarify their thoughts on a matter. Seeing more things on one side than the other can make a decision seem more obvious, and if not weighting the individual items can add some additional clarity. The point being, lots of situations are complicated and you might think that the pros and cons balance each other out, but the only way to know is to just write them out and think them over.

What I love about living in Rayong:
- It's close to the beach, and my own personal tropical island. I may never in my life have such a sweet set up. It really is a dream come true.
- As a foreigner I'm a novelty. People tolerate my inability to speak Thai, and appreciate the efforts I make.
- It's relatively cheap. My rent is less than $100 / month, and most of my meals are in the 30-40 baht range (meals at a nice restaurant go up to 100-200 baht, still not too bad). I've been able to afford a trip to Cambodia and and a hand full of trips to Ko Samet and Bangkok.
- I can walk to work.
- Transportation is relatively easy to obtain, at least in the day time.
- Starbucks
- The flowers and fruit trees on my street.
- The sunshine and hot weather.
- The markets, the crazy food market with it's buckets o' live fish, trays of squid, nets full of crab and whole deep fried ducks - and the outdoor mall with the pirated videos, fake perfumes, boutiquey clothes and second hand Thai magazines.
- Motorbike taxi drivers
- Hearing "Hello, where you go?" from random people on the street.
- Fried chicken for breakfast.
- MK Restaurants
- Losing weight without really trying.
- I'm not in the US.

What I hate about living in Rayong:
- The dogs, the hairless, diseased, ever howling dogs of Rayong.
- Road kill ranging from frogs to mice to possums to dogs to snakes.... good god they look disgusting after a few hundred motorbikes have run over them.
- The giant cockroaches that chase me down the street and wander over the walls of my favorite restaurants.
- My 6-day a week schedule, classes which are added and canceled with no rhyme or reason. Not always being notified of cancellations in advance.
- The nightlife, or lack there of.
- My crappy little studio with no couch, no TV, no bookshelves no kitchen, no bathtub, no hot water, and a bathroom sink attached to the wall by nothing more than grout.
- The Thai girl / foreign man dynamic.... very bad for the ego.
- Walking past all the prostitutes on my way home.
- The limited ex-pat community.
- No museums.
- The worst karaoke music ever.
- The lack of parks.
- Difficulty in finding clothes in my size
- Uber-frou frou-cutsieness of adult women's clothing.
- Going to a restaurant and not knowing if the toilet will be squat or western.
- Gecko poop
- Crossing 8 lanes of traffic without a crosswalk
- Hearing "Hello, where you go?" from random people on the street.
- Never having a fucking clue what people are trying to say to me.
- Being illiterate and having to sign forms I can't read.
- Severely limited options for English language reading material.
- No good cheese, no good bread, wine is extremely expensive.
- Whiskey
- Having intestinal bugs on a monthly basis
- I'm not in Portland.

Hmmm... it's a start. Now for the cogitating.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Endless Summer Reading List

Sorry kids, I keep thinking it's summer. I do most of my reading at the beach so it feels like vacation reading. And fortunately I've had a few opportunities lately to park myself on lounge chair and read so I've got a couple of books to review for you.

Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah MacDonald.*

Plot: A journalist quits her day job to join her SO in India, religious exploration ensues.

Motto: Pick a god, any god.

Opinion: I've been toying with the idea of trying to write a book about my experience here in Thailand. I'd been disappointed in the travel-memoirs I'd read and hoped I could give my own spin on what it's like to be abroad. There is no need. MacDonald strikes just the right note of shock, wonder, amusement and annoyance. As an Australian, she has a very western bias / point of view as she explores the different faiths and cultures of India. But I think she does a good job of relaying her observations without too much judgement. Which is not to say she is only an observer, or that she keeps her opinions to herself... it's just that she makes it easy for the reader to follow along and form their own opinions.

One of my biggest complaints about Eat Pray Love was that the author was so self absorbed, I couldn't get out of her head and into what the places she visited were actually like. Holy Cow is not at all like that. I mean, it's a memoir and as such it delves into her thoughts and feelings and spiritual journey, but I didn't feel like I was being dragged into her own personal drama.

Ugh... I'm embarrassed now. I've read two books since finishing Holy Cow and I can't remember enough relevant details to share them with you. She visits a LOT of different gurus and ceremonies, I honestly couldn't keep all the religions straight. One of the festivals she visited was Christian and I really enjoyed seeing the Indian spin on a faith I am already so well acquainted with. Christianity in America isn't nearly sparkly enough IMHO.

Overall, it was an extremely enjoyable read for me, although I didn't warm up to the author until a chapter or two in. She's having the expat experience that I wish I were having, including the loving husband, household staff, expendable cash and the time to enjoy it. I would recommend this book to someone heading abroad, or to someone who needed an arm-chair vacation. Not too heavy, not too fluffy.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe - Douglas Adams

Plot - The crew from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy continue traveling through space and time, and observe a key moment in the evolution of humankind.

Motto - Intergalactic absurdity at not quite it's finest.

Opinion - I desperately wanted to reread The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but this was the only Adams book available. It's a poor substitute for the original. It's just more improbability, more insanity, more (but not quite as witty) observations about the human condition etc. In High School I read all four (?) books in sequence so it was just one long silly story... and suited my sense of humor perfectly. But now... and on it's own, this book falls so far short of the original that it's barely worth reading. Recommended - only if you're trying to woo a die-hard Douglas Adams fan or you're stuck in a foreign country with minimal reading material available.

Emma - Jane Austen

Plot: The charming Miss Woodhouse dabbles in matchmaking, formal balls and long winded letters ensue.

Motto: Matchmaker matchmaker make me a match...

Opinion: I love all the Jane Austen movies I've seen. I love the period costumes and the fancy balls. I love the small-scale intrigue and neighborhood drama. But this is only the second Austen book I've actually read. I really enjoyed Sense and Sensibility, but Emma was a bit wordy for my taste. Especially after having seen the movie countless times, it's a bit brutal to have a conversation drag on for page after page when a paragraph or two would have covered it.

The characters are awesome though. Austen has a gift for creating unique and at times ridiculous characters. I love Mr. Elton's sycophantic attempts at wooing Emma, and Miss Bate's endless prattle. And of course, there's always a happy ending. Like every other fan, I wish good ol' Jane was in charge of writing my love life. My hero would have been hiding there under my nose the whole time, silly me, just too blind to see him. Alas....

Overall, I liked it. It's nice to escape to the fantasy world of the English gentry once in a while. I recommend this one to romantic girls who want to ruin any chance at marital bliss by setting up completely unrealistic standards for relationships. Or boys who wish to woo such women. Or, you know anyone stuck in a foreign country with limited access to reading materials.

*This was somewhat serendipitous, I'd almost picked this book up in Portland but was turned off by the cover & the summary on the back (seriously bad marketing!) but I saw it on the book-share table at our hostel in Cambodia (no not the brothel) so I picked it up. I'm glad I gave it a second chance.

TAG - Code Sticky Rice. Everything's fine, I'm still a bit moody, but I'm starting to think about making some changes.

Something's gotta give

Your good pal Rebel is a bit melancholy today. Was not quite able to recapture the glory of previous trips to Ko Samet last night. I did thoroughly enjoy the beach thought and spent hours and hours and hours in the ocean. I also spent hours and hours and hours on the beach with minimal sunscreen. Bad Rebel!

Being abroad is, in some ways, a bit like an intervention or rehab or something. You're taken away from all your normal comforts and escapes and forced to deal with life (both the things that come at you day to day, and the things you bring within yourself) in completely different ways. I'm having a day when all I really want to do is stay home and mope on the couch watching bad TV and eating cheese. Now, I don't have a couch or a TV and I don't even want to talk about the cheese situation. The thing is, sitting on the couch watching bad TV and eating cheese wasn't exactly getting me what I wanted out of life. Unfortunately I still haven't quite figured out what will get me what I want out of life.

Any ideas on that?

Friday, February 6, 2009

I think I'll go for a walk...

I'm feeling much better today. In fact today I'm famished. Understandable considering I'd barely eaten more than a handful of crackers and a little chicken & rice since lunchtime Tuesday (it's Friday night). I don't know what it was, I ate the same thing I always do for breakfast, and then Bunny and I split a "pizza" (It really wasn't pizza, I can't describe it, the bile starts coming to my throat just thinking about it) and she was fine. Who the hell knows why I keep getting sick. And yes, I need to pick up some of that whatever it is that people keep recommending to me. Someone recommend it again and I promise I will write it down and go to the pharmacy at lunchtime tomorrow and buy some.

Today I ate a bunch of crackers for breakfast, and was starving by noon. For lunch I had a big ol' plate of garlic fried pork & rice, and then for dinner, about two hours ago I went to McDonalds for a double cheeseburger, fries and a sprite.... supersized - DON'T JUDGE ME - YOU DON'T KNOW!!! And I'm already hungry again. I should probably eat an actual vegetable at some point. Hmmm.

I had a mini-meltdown at work last Saturday. Saturday is, as you may recall, the day of my dreaded kid classes... and I'd gone head-to-head with my manager again about how inappropriate the book was for that level and how if I could just go to a different book at a different level I might actually be able to teach them something. Alas, no dice... the course was ending but I'd be have to use a different, but equally inappropriate book. I was not happy.

In addition, I'd gotten my February schedule on Friday and noticed that for once I didn't have a Monday morning class. I'd been keeping my eye out for another opportunity to go to Ko Samet and jumped on it. I thought about heading out immediately after my Saturday class to try to make two nights and a full day of it, but decided I'd rather go out to dinner with B & B and head out first thing in the morning. So I was hanging out in the teacher's room planning for the three afternoon/evening classes that were scheduled on Monday and waiting for Bunny to finish up class so we could eat. One of the staff came in, and told me "problem with your schedule" and proceded to tell me that one of my students had to cancel their Wednesday class so she rescheduled them for Monday morning.

I didn't exactly *yell* at her, but as the English say, I was "quite cross" about it. I mean, I already had three classes scheduled, and was desperately in need of a day away. The additional class would have had me going from 9am to 8:30pm, and I'm sorry, but I'm just not a machine. On another day, in a better mood, I might have just sucked it up and said fine, but after yet another hellish Saturday, there was no way and I told her so. And proving, that here in the land of smiles you actually do get more flies with vinegar than with honey, she agreed to ask the manager if someone else could fill in for me. Which they did, and I got to go to Ko Samet.*

I absolutely hate that I had to throw a hissy fit in order to get something to go my way, and I feel bad for ducking out of a class on a day that is my scheduled work day. The staff only get one day off a week, and there are several days when I only have one or two classes; leaving the bulk of my day free. I felt like a spoiled brat. I hate feeling like that. I felt amazing at the beach though... so I can't quite regret my tantrum. Especially since it made me do some real thinking and I figured out the source of some of my unhappiness here. The problem is two-fold... well three-fold, the overarching issue is not having a two day weekend. But I think I could adjust to that were it not for the other two problems.

One - transportation. I don't have a car or a motorbike here. I've pretty much given up on the motorbike idea as too expensive and too much of a hassle. During the day, I have no problem getting where I want to go, between the songthaews and motorbike taxis I can get around Rayong quickly and easily, and there are also reasonably cheap & convenient buses & minivans to Bangkok. But once evening falls, it's much more of a challenge. The taxis run until 11pm or later on the main bar street... but that's it. The songthaew to & from the beach stops running at around 5pm, as does the ferry to Ko Samet. Which means I could only even attempt a run to Ko Samet on a Saturday if my 5-7pm class cancels, and I thought ahead to pack up all my beach stuff on Friday night, and I miraculously caught a songthaew between about 4:00 and 4:15 in order to get to the dock on time. In other words... never gonna happen.

Bunny and Bobby encountered a similar problem today. They had the day off and wanted to go to Pattaya - which is only about 45 minutes away by car. But the bus schedule leaves something to be desired. The first bus is at 5am (which requires waking at about 4am to walk to the bus station - no motorbike taxis available at that hour)... and the next is at 1:30 in the afternoon. Coming home, the last bus is at about 6pm. They have an entire day free, but unless they want to wake up pre-dawn, (either coming or going) they won't be able to spend more than an afternoon there. And you don't go to Pattaya for it's "afternoon-life". =/

The second problem, which might not bother me at all if the transportation & scheduling allowed for more exploration, is that my home is not cozy. I don't have a couch, or a TV, or a DVR, or a kitchen, or a sewing machine, or any of those things that kept me pleasingly occupied for many rainy day in Portland. Seriously, back in my dinky little apartment (giant & luxurious compared to my current studio) I had everything I needed to keep me entertained for days.

Sorting this out is good, because it's putting a finer point on what I do want. I'd like a little more coziness in my living space, because downtime is inevitable, and do enjoy sitting on a couch... or even a comfy chair, and knitting. I can do without a TV as long as I have my computer and some DVDs. I don't need a kitchen, in fact not having a kitchen, although hard, has helped me lose quite a bit of weight.

So the real issue is transportation... if I'm going to continue to live in Rayong, I'm either going to need a motorbike, or a two-day weekend. If I'm going to have a schedule with only one day off each week, I'm going to need to live somewhere with better public transport... or more to do in town. I've already been toying with the idea of moving to Bangkok when the rainy season gets here... but until then, maybe I do need to re-evaluate the motor-bike plan. The expensive, complicated motor-bike plan. =/

Ok... in other news, I do actually get two days off together this week, there's a holiday of some sort on Monday. So I'll be going to Ko Samet on Sunday on my own, and a bunch of other people will come on Sunday night. Should be fun. I know it seems whiney to complain that I only get to go to an island resort twice in one month instead of every weekend. But seriously, I'm giving up a lot to be here, and the giving up was so that I could do things like that. I don't know... I'm afraid I've become whiney and entitled. But then, I spent about 5 un-paid hours today writing up progress reports... and have a couple more un-paid hours of lesson planning to do tonight... so maybe I'm not so whiney and entitled afterall.

*Getting back in time for my 2pm class was a bit tricky as I missed the 11am ferry and couldn't actually leave the island until noon. It's a 45-50 min ferry ride back to Ban Phe, and a 40 min songthew ride back to Rayong, and a good 10 min. walk back home. But an expensive (200 baht) and absolutely terrifying motorbike taxi ride later ("go fast" is a recent addition to my Thai vocabulary) I managed to get home, showered, changed & back to school right on time.

Thursday, February 5, 2009