Tuesday, June 30, 2009


You know the drill... camera on the fritz and you get lots of yakity yak from me. But this weekend I took my new camera to the beach so you get pretty pretty pictures!

Are you tired of seeing / hearing about Ko Samet yet? I'm not!!

Deep breath and ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh....feel that ocean breeze.

Um... an old boat. I just thought it looked cool.

And yes.... that is a baby elephant at the beach. Begging of course, but still... a baby elephant on the beach!!

TAG: Code Mango

PS - I'm going back there today for a little while, I don't have class until 5pm. =)

The lonely American

I was sitting in Starbucks yesterday, hanging out online, when this farang came up to me and said hello, then asked where I was from. I said I was American and he said, "Yeah I know" (which I doubt, "Hi" is hardly enough to distinguish an accent from) so I told him I was from Oregon. We chatted a bit, figuring out which other Americans in Rayong we both knew, then he very quickly began telling me his life story. I know all about his latest medical crisis, where he met his wife, all about his kids, his last job, where he works now etc. At first I nodded politely, knowing what it's like to be starved for English conversation. But then it just got weird.

He offered to give me his and his wife's phone numbers so I could call them any time I needed advice. I explained that I had been in Thailand for a good 10 months now and was reasonably well sorted, thankyouverymuch. He told me about the school where he'd gotten his teaching degree and I jotted down the information for future reference (still in the thinking/researching phase of deciding to go to grad school) and he told me that when I applied I should tell the guy I know him. I was like "Um, okay Mr. Starbucks man." Then he proceeded to tell me that I should also get my TEFL through them... "Well, I already have my TEFL" ... and that no matter what anyone tells me I cannot get a Thai teaching license without a masters degree. "Ok, but I already have a job and don't really need a teaching license." It was one piece of unsolicited career advice after another. I was flabbergasted. I kept turning back to my computer in the universal "I'm done talking to you." manner, but he was undeterred. I was torn. He was nice enough, and I didn't want to be rude, but man.... time to learn the social cues!

At one point I had told him that my contract was nearly finished and I'd be heading back to the states. At which point he told me he hoped I would stay..... "Um, I'm actually ready to head home now. I've had my adventure, it's been great, but I have a few other things I'd like to do with my life." Finally his wife arrived to collect him, and as he was leaving he said most cheerfully. "And I hope something *really* spectacular happens to make you stay in Thailand."

"Um... thank you?"


TAG: Code Watermelon

Saturday, June 27, 2009


The other day I was cleaning out my closet and took a minute to look through my money belt. I have a couple thousand Riel from Cambodia (less than $1 US) and about $29 US in various denominations. I took out the dollars and looked at them, just you know enjoying the familiarity of the pictures, the color, the feel of the paper. Then I slid them all back together to put them away and something about the way they felt in my hand struck me. Suddenly I realized what it was - the bills were all the same size!!!! I burst out laughing... and crying. This is how my money is supposed to be!

Life is good, I'm settled and I've figured out how to get the most out of being here. But yeah... I'm ready to go home now.

TAG: Code Apple Pie

Thursday, June 25, 2009

See Food Diet

Yeah, the whole weight loss portion of this adventure is long over. =( Mai bpen lai.

Today a couple of the other teachers and I went to the petroleum plant to evaluate students for placement in upcoming classes. The plant is the biggest customer for my school, so this was a bit of a big deal (dress nicely, be friendly, look American, etc etc.) The downside was having to get to work by 8:30am like a normal person (I haven't had a morning class in a while). But the upside was that a few former students of one of the other teachers invited us out to lunch. And lunch was at restaurant on the beach!

This particular restaurant had regular tables and picnic benches, as opposed to the lounge chairs and low tables prevalent at the beach I normally visit. So we didn't feel entirely out of place sitting there in our work clothes. It was still, um... rustic*. There was sand beneath our feet and a nice cool breeze blowing in from the ocean. The tide was out pretty far, with a few shimmers of water left on the sand, and a fishing boat resting in the shallows. There were birds hoping around on the shore picking at the sand crabs, and of course the restaurant dog wandering around nudging me in the back in hopes of a treat. People, I could not make this stuff up if I tried... it was just so perfectly what a beach-side restaurant should be.

The students had ordered by phone before we got there so as soon as we were seated, plates started appearing. First off, there was a good sized whole fish split down the middle, breaded, fried and coated in a very sweet fishy sauce - delicious! This was served with a green-papaya and lime salad (sour to counter the sweet - Thai cuisine is all about balance). Next out was a platter of shrimp, or possibly prawns (I'm not sure what the difference is). They were HUGE and cooked whole. So yes, more shrimp eyes looking at me while I was eating. This time however, we snapped off the heads and peeled the shells off before eating them. Another plate was covered in ...scallops maybe? I'm not sure what they were, flat white shells (not like clams) and a very soft meat inside, it was absolutely doused in garlicky herb butter or oil, so they were mighty tasty. Sea-snails covered yet another platter. Crab curry and seafood fried rice rounded things out a bit. Then two or three whole boiled crabs arrived in a basin with the appropriate Thai utensils - a hockey-puck shaped piece of wood on which to place a portion of the crab, and a decently sized stick to whack it open with.

What you need to respect about this meal is it's authenticity. While it's kind of a pain to crack through all those shells, there was no question of exactly what I was eating, and it's origin was no mystery. Those critters were swimming around in the ocean last night .... that ocean - right there... the one I could walk out to and dip my toes in if I were so inclined. You can't eat more local than this! Needless to say, it was all delicious.

I used to think I didn't like fish or seafood, but it turns out I just didn't like it the way my mom cooked it. Rayong is rocking my little taste buds. I even tried the sea-snails, using a toothpick to stick and twist and pull the little snail out. They were not my favorite, but as far as snails go... not bad.

With that much food, you would have expected a whole crowd of people but it was just four students and three of us teachers. Nevertheless we did the meal justice. One of the guys was the designated crab basher and after cracking & shelling the crab would hand out bits of leg or body to us, and one of the gals beheaded & peeled a good number of shrimp for us before she started chowing down herself. Our hosts defined hospitality, filling our glasses with water & Pepsi and making sure we were well stuffed. They even explained the purpose of the bowls of lime-water placed at each end of the table (to remove the fish-odor from our hands), and we had a good laugh about how one of them had been served a glass of water with a slice of lemon in it when she traveled to Australia and wasn't sure if she should try to stick her hands in it or drink it.

Stuffed, and leaving a humongous pile of shells in our wake, we waddled out and as we exited we noticed the little tanks of water in front of the restaurant. Oh - there's the fish we just ate, and there are the prawns, and the crab! They were all just hanging out in the aerated pools ignorant to the fact that they were moments from fulfilling their culinary destiny.

Now, I know and respect a lot of vegetarians, and there is a part of me that recognizes the cruelty in killing animals for food. But on the other hand, that's life. Pretty much every living thing on this planet is meant to be food for something else, and as I learned reading Down Under, more than a few of these would be delighted to chow down on a person if they had the chance. Having accepted that, I have to say I'd rather eat an animal that got to live comfortably in it's natural environment up until shortly before mealtime than one that was born and raised as food, living it's short life in unnaturally constricted conditions and finally being packaged, frozen and shipped thousands of miles before ending up on my plate. This is really something I'm going to take home with me. I don't want to be a part of the industrial food complex anymore. It's scary, immoral, and unhealthy to boot. But I'm not going to worry about that at the moment. I'm just going to enjoy the food here while I can.

Yesterday I made it out to the mall and bought camera #3. This one is a Kodak Easy Share C913, and virtually identical in design to the first digital camera I had (and loved). It's amazingly user-friendly and I already know how to use like 90% of the features, so that makes me a happy camper. And yes... I shoulda/woulda/coulda taken the camera to the beach today but I didn't know we'd be having a photo-worthy outing. You'll just have to take my word for how awesome it was.

TAG: Code Mango

* and by rustic I mean, there's no way in hell it would pass health inspection in the States

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Down Under and Up North

I just finished Bill Bryson's "Down Under" published in the US as "In a Sunburned Country."

I'm not really in the mood to write a whole review, but I will say this - it was hilarious. Of the Bryson books I've read so far, this is by far my favorite. I think it's the combination of Australia actually *being* an interesting destination, and Bryson doing considerably more drinking this go 'round. So the moral of the story is, go to Australia, drink a lot, and try not to be killed by any of the many many poisonous plants / animals / rocks / weather that call the continent home.

In other news, after much brainstorming and vacillating, I'm settling into an idea for my return to the US. My contract ends at the end of September. My general plan is to spend October traveling through Laos and Vietnam, and once more through Thailand. There's nothing specific I'm dying to see in either Laos or Vietnam, but it's unlikely that I'll swing through this region again or make a trip here specifically to see them... so it will be good to visit them while it's so convenient. I plan to return to the US in mid-November, most likely flying into SF to spend some time with J. again (basically reversing my steps to come out here). From SF I'm thinking of taking the train to Oregon, stopping in Salem and Eugene to visit some friends around Thanksgiving. This plan puts me back in Portland by December 1.

The glaring disadvantage of this plan is that it puts me back in the Northwest in the height of the cold wet and yucky season... and keeps me away from my beloved corduroy pants & wool winter coat (which are stored in Portland) for a good two or three weeks. Gah!

Oh yeah... and the other little thing.... that whole recession / unemployment extravaganza that's going around... not too thrilled with that.

But the advantage is that I'll be back in the States in time to celebrate Thanksgiving, and I'm not going to lie to you - the thought of missing another year's worth of stuffing and gravy weighed heavily in this decision making process!

Yeah, it's all still a few months out... but I'm definitely feeling like I'm in the home stretch here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Back in Bangkok

On Saturday Marie asked me what I'd be doing on Sunday and I told her I was going to Bangkok to visit the National Museum and to see the movie UP. She asked what time I was leaving and the next thing I new I had company for the trip. It's weird, I'm so in the habit of being alone that I don't even think about inviting other people to do things with me. I was at first a little defensive / resentful - "she just invited herself along!". I am a planner after all and this was not part of the plan. But then I thought it might actually be fun to have someone to hang out with all day. So we met up at the minivan stop first thing in the morning and were on our way.

Museums are, unfortunately, not especially interesting to blog about since they don't allow photographs, but I won't let that stop me ;) . By the way can anyone answer these two questions for me: 1. Why don't they allow photographs in museums? (I know some do, or in some places, but for the ones that don't - why not???) and 2. Why is it that despite the number of "No Photography" signs there are, in multiple languages and unmistakable pictures, some people will take pictures anyway?

Photographs or no, I adore museums. I love natural history museums, art museums, science museums...all of them! I just love walking around and looking at cool stuff and reading little signs that tell me what they are and why they're cool. I had hoped to take an actual tour at this museum, but we missed it by about half an hour. Oh well. Marie is less interested in museums (I told her she could hang out in the cafe if she got 'museum fatigue'), but she was a champ and stuck with it for the couple of hours we were there.

The first room was mostly dioramas about the different periods of ancient Thai history. I have to admit a certain fondness for dioramas, and these were really cool - little people in period appropriate costumes engaging in battles - model elephants charging the enemies, really quite cool. Each of the dioramas was explained on the wall beside it in both Thai and English. Unfortunately the English translations were a bit tough to follow. All the words were right, but some of the more complicated sentences were constructed poorly. I briefly considered doing some volunteer work re-translating everything, then you know, came to my senses. =P

After the dioramas there were a few more rooms of Thai history, artifacts and pictures bringing us into the modern age. Some highlights for me - a gift of a rifle from the President of the US to the King of Thailand (it didn't say which president, that King's reign was circa 1880 - 1906 - let's call it McKinley, sounds like something he'd do). Another corner discussed the arrival of Portuguese explorers/immigrants who brought Christianity and some weapons technology. In the little box there were several small crosses and a broken porcelain cup "used in religious ceremonies." It's endlessly interesting to me to see my culture reflected back to me from someone else's eyes. I mean, it was clearly a communion cup but the concept of 'taking communion' would be at best confusing and more than likely deeply disturbing to a Buddhist audience. "The wine turns to what now? And you *drink* this?"

The history portion of the museum finished up with the current King, Rama 9. I learned a few interesting things, he was born in the US and went to University in Switzerland - which now explains why when I ask my students where in the world they would like to travel a surprising number pick "Switzerland" as their dream destination. The King himself is an artist and there were some pictures of his work - a photograph he took of his children's hands and two paintings he did of his beloved Queen. I admit I got a little choked up, they were really beautiful pictures and the whole thing was quite romantic.

Beyond that there were several more rooms, one devoted to furniture and household objects inlaid with mother of pearl (absolutely gorgeous, fine detailed work). Gold, gold and more gold...mostly Buddha figures and offerings for temples. A room of weapons, one of musical instruments, another of puppets & dolls, costumes and textiles (yes, I spent quite a bit of time in this room). I have to say I was a little shocked / disappointed in the condition of a lot of the displays. Only the first building was air conditioned and some of the others didn't even have fans, so it was quite hot and a bit stuffy in some of the rooms. There was mold on a pillow holding something, and the windows were open near some very old wooden cabinets, dust collecting on objects that were out in the open. I mean, most things were under glass and pretty much everything was in good condition. It's just not really what I was expecting. By comparison, American museums are downright antiseptic. Different standards I guess.

There was a whole separate building devoted to funeral chariots. The chariots are huge multi-layered gold vehicles (not unlike parade floats) to carry the remains of the royal family members in the funeral procession. One particularly stunning chariot was originally built in something like 1778. It didn't look old at all, and the plaque stated that it had been continuously used and restored over it's lifetime. Can you imagine? Seriously, is there anything in the States that's been in continuous use since George Washington's time?

After touring the main buildings Marie was fading and I was pretty hungry myself, so we skipped a couple of the side galleries (coins & statuary... not really my thing anyway) and after a stop in the blessedly air-conditioned and mold-free gift shop to add to my collection of postcards, we headed to lunch.

My explorations of Bangkok have been embarrassingly modest. I generally base myself at Siam Square - an area comprised of four major malls and a little shopping complex, and just take a taxi or the BTS from there to my destination. Bangkok's heat and humidity discourages street-by-street meandering. So we ended up in the basement of Siam Paragon for lunch. Paragon is by far the swankiest mall I have ever been to. Between the Hermes, Gucci, Cartier and Coach stores, I'm more than a little intimidated. The only shop I've actually entered was Asia books (which ironically is a chain of English Language bookstores), and we spent a good long time in there before heading down to the food court.

The food court is pretty awesome. There is a large cafeteria type area where you can get standard, if upscale, Thai foods, but there are also a ton of restaurants... McDonalds of course, but also Burger King (which is a bit rarer over here), A fish & chips restaurant, a couple steak houses, a Tony Romas (!!!), at least three Japanese places, a tea house, a French bakery (I tried it once - hardly French but not bad at all), an Au Bon Pain, Aunt Annie's Pretzels, an Indian restaurant, several dessert shops, and a coffee shop or two. Basically, for me it's food nirvana and my favorite place to eat. We decided to try Mos Burgers - a Japanese hamburger joint that reminded me strongly of In & Out in California. I had a pretty tasty, if small, terriyaki chicken burger, and Marie had the Mos Burger. Both were good and came with actual, honest to goodness mayonnaise. I was pretty happy. I'm not sure what the Thais have been using on my burgers, but it's not mayonnaise and it is not good!

Well fed and and feeling culturally enriched, we went to see UP. It was offered in 3-D a couple of places but it was double the price of watching it in 2D. We went for cheap & flat. It's always interesting to watch a movie in a foreign country but I think this one was a particularly good one for me to watch in Thailand. I heart Pixar so much, I just have to say. They fully understand the value of showing over telling. The first movie short "Partly Cloudy" was completely free of dialogue. It was fun to be sitting there with an audience (80% Thai I'd guess) and know that even if we can't really communicate with each other, we were all sharing the same experience, ooohing, ahhing, laughing and tearing up at the same parts. The same can be said for the first - what? 10, 20 minutes of the movie. No dialogue, no subtitles were needed to tell us exactly what was going on (the value of music cannot be understated though). Not going to say a word about the plot, but I just loved it. I'm very glad I'm already on my adventure, and am glad that I have not been so focused on the destination as to have lost sight of the journey.

The movie was followed by a trip back to the Paragon food court for dinner. We shared a plate of fish & chips, a Caesar salad, garlic bread and cream of broccoli soup. Delicious! God I love Western food! =) Sated and exhausted we headed back to Victory Monument and got the last two seats on the last minivan home. Nothing like cutting it close. ;) Then home again, home again the very same day.

TAG: Code Mango

Friday, June 19, 2009

The air is full of spices...

and then some.

I am a huge fan of the movie Sense & Sensibility (the Ang Lee / Emma Thompson version). In the movie, when we first meet Colonel Brandon, Sir John announces "We served in the East Indies together..." to which budding adventurer Margaret Dashwood eagerly asks "Have you really been to the East Indies? What's it like?" Sir John the Spoilsport replies "I'll tell you what it's like - HOT." but Colonel Brandon satisfies Margaret's romantic ideals by whispering "The air is full of spices."

I have no idea where exactly the East Indies are, but I'm pretty sure they're around here somewhere (to be fair, any time a European explorer got more than 1,000 miles from home he invariably thought he was in India). But I can say that I know exactly what Colonel Brandon was referring to.

Often when sitting at the Dive eating lunch, the wind will gust just right and blow in the fumes from the kitchen area. The super heated capsaicin from someone's spicy stir fry takes flight and heads right for us, and whoooo nelly! I imagine it's a bit like being hit with pepper-spray. Our eyes, noses, mouths and lungs are instantly stung with it and much coughing and waving and gulping of water ensues. It's not a romantic sight I can assure you.

Then of course, there's the durian. Lordy lordy lordy, the durian. I very narrowly avoided being fed durian again today at lunch. But I was subject to it's pungent perfume for the rest of the afternoon. Ugh. It's been explained to me that there are many different kinds of durian, of different flavors and intensities, and since Rayong produces a ton of it I really try not to insult it. Instead I just comment that it has a very strong flavor/odor. I've found that a good comparison is cheese - most Thai people don't like even the mildest of cheeses and would surely be repulsed by the stinkier of French cheeses. But I tell them how much I like it, and we generally agree that some things are just acquired tastes.

Of course then they ask me questions about cheese and I tell them about Cheddar and Gouda and Chevre and Havarti ... and then I start to cry. Honestly, the other day I was watching an ad for a company that gives tours of the Great Barrier Reef. There were stunning pictures of coral and fish... action shots of people snorkeling and diving. Then they mentioned lunch on the boat and when they panned across a buffet table showing a sizable platter of assorted cheeses I actually gasped aloud and got misty eyed. I'm having problems here people.

Sorry... what were we talking about? Oh yeah... the air is full of spices... and durian... and mosquitoes.... but no cheese. Don't you wish you were here?

TAG: Code Sticky Rice

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And what a view it is....

It is amazing to me how much 19th century British literature I've been reading since I came to Thailand. It's even more amazing to me that I'd somehow gotten well into my thirties without having read these books. I'm not at all sure where I got the idea, but I thought they would be dry, dense and difficult to read. Not so at all!

My sister recently sent me her beloved, heavily underlined copy of E.M. Forster's A Room with a View. Technically, it's a 20th century novel... but just barely. In any event, I loved it thoroughly.

Plot: A young girl in Italy, meets the wrong sort of boy, and spends much of the rest of the book ignorant of the fact that she's in love with him.

Motto: When in Rome...

Opinion: My only criticisms of this book are of the beginning and the end. First, six characters are introduced in the first page and a half and I had a tough time getting someone fixed in my brain before someone new was introduced or they started referring to one of them by a different name. But I soldiered on and was well rewarded. The characters were entertaining and aptly named the sweet young protagonist "Miss Honeychurch", the eccentric writer "Miss Lavish" the snobby and judgemental fiance "Mr. Vyse".

The story is propelled by coincidence more so than character development. And more than one expository monologue is used to tell the reader how people are feeling, or how they ought to feel. Particularly in the end, one lecture by Mr. Emerson is enough to settle all things in Lucy's mind and from this we are led a bit abruptly to the Happily Ever After ending.

What I loved about the book was first, the feminist bent "If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays [the piano], it will be very exciting - both for us and for her." Forster takes a decidedly plain protagonist and urges her to trust herself and to live beyond the expectations of society around her. The other thing I love are the constant asides from the author to the reader. This book is positively full of quotes that are as true today as they were a hundred years ago.

Miss Bartlett (the spinster cousin) "had worked like a great artist; for a time - indeed, for years -- she had been meaningless, but at the end there was presented to the girl the complete picture of a cheerless, loveless world in which the young rush to destruction until they learn better -- a shamefaced world of precautions and barriers which may avert evil, but which do not seem to bring good, if we may judge from those who have used them most."

"Secrecy has this disadvantage: we lose the sense of proportion; we cannot tell whether our secret is important or not."

"She reflected that it is impossible to foretell the future with any degree of accuracy, that it is impossible to rehearse life. A fault in the scenery, a face in the audience, an irruption of the audience on to the stage, and all our carefully planned gestures mean nothing, or mean too much."

"She gave up trying to understand herself, and joined the vast armies of the benighted, who follow neither the heart nor the brain, and march to their destiny by catch-words. The armies are full of pleasant and pious folk. But they have yielded to the only enemy that matters--the enemy within. They have sinned against passion and truth, and vain will be their strife after virtue. As the years pass, they are censured. Their pleasantry and their piety show cracks, their wit becomes cynicism and their unselfishness hypocrisy; they feel and produce discomfort wherever they
go. They have sinned against Eros and against Pallas Athene, and not by any eavenly intervention, but by the ordinary course of nature, those allied deities will be avenged."

This is a beautifully beautifully written book. I'd recommend it to travelers, romantics and adventurers alike.

TAG: Code Watermelon

How many eyeballs have you eaten today?

After 10 months in Thailand I've finally developed a taste for Som Tam, spicy papaya salad. They make it with peanuts and can actually make for a nice light meal, not just a side dish. I had it for lunch yesterday on the beach, and today for dinner.

But what are those little orange things?

They're shrimp. Teeny tiny little shrimp. And what are the little black spots on the shrimp?


Yup... teeeeeeny tiny shrimp eyeballs.

I'm eating eyeballs.

It's possible I've been in Thailand too long.

TAG: Code Sweet Chili Sauce

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

You can hate me a little bit...

I found out yesterday that my one and only class for today was canceled. And my first Wednesday class is scheduled for 5pm. Which means.... KO SAMET! After a leisurely breakfast in Ban Phe, I hopped on the ferry. I spent the day as god intended, sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella munching on club sandwitches and som tam, occasionally getting up for a swim. I'm on a bit of a Bill Bryson kick and am currently reading "Down Under" (published in the US as "In a Sunburned Country"). I've also been on a creativity kick so I brought some colored pencils and paper with me and had fun sketching the beach, ocean & sky. Not beautiful by any means, but fun. And that's what counts. I'm having a tremendous amount of fun here in Thailand.

Unfortunately my camera has died. Again. I'm giving up the ghost though, D.N.R. I'll start looking at cameras and maybe next pay day I'll pick one up. Fortunately, I still have some pictures from the last time I hung out in Ban Phe... so I'll share a few of them.
First up, everyone together - She sell sea shells by the sea shore. Yup, the thing I don't quite get is this whole row of shops all has essentially the same merchandise. It seems like you might want to change things up a bit so there's a reason for someone to go into your shop vs. your neighbors. But what do I know about business?

I bought a really pretty necklace at one of these places. It was about $10 which is kind of a lot for Thailand, but I really like it.

Inside one of the other markets. Row after row of dried fish products. That's pretty much it.
I wondered for a long time who shops at these places... they often seemed to be empty when I came by, and I rarely see that many farang out here. But one day, after hearing about the 400th tour bus go by with music blaring I figured it out. Ban Phe and the nearby beaches *are* a tourist destination. Not so much for farang, but for Thai people from Bangkok and inland.

I'm guessing the bus goes to one of the beaches further down the coast, then stops in Ban Phe for everyone to stock up, and then everyone gets right back on the bus to go to the next stop... more than likely the Aquarium, since that's the other place I've seen lots of buses and an inexplicable amount of tourists.

And here are some of the goodies people come from miles around to pick up as souvenirs - dried squid and dried shrimp? Cuttlefish? No idea. In front there are candies, something approaching taffy I'm sure, but for some reason I'm afraid to try it.

That's just the slightest taste of the markets in Ban Phe, but I thought you might enjoy it.

TAG: Code Mango just because... I'm at the beach and the beach is good.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Oh man. Have I mentioned how much I hate Saturdays?

So a couple of weeks ago I had some parents come in to my class. I've had parents visit before but I'd had some advance warning and one of the Thai staff came in to translate as I chatted with them. This time - nothing. So I did the best I could, made some very general off the cuff remarks about the students and asked if they had any questions. One of them did so I answered them and that was that. Later that day I got a talking to by the Head Teacher (Nicole) - apparently one of the parents complained. Of course I have no clue what the actual complaint was having gone from the Thai parent to the Thai staff to Nicole to me. "Wasn't what he was expecting." was the best I got. Grrrrrrr! And I was informed that the parents are invited to come any time we finish a 30 hour course... and apparently I won't get any more forewarning than that.

No problem! I can roll with the punches. So last week my other class finished 30 hours so I knew that the parents would be invited today. I sat down and thought through what I would say to them, had a whole outline done about the grammar we'd covered in the previous course, and what would be covered in the next. I had specific suggestions for what the students could work on and even thought up a couple of generally-specific comments about the students - just BS to make the parents happy.

Today I was setting up the classroom and as my students came in I noticed they were alone "Are your parents coming today?" They looked at me like I was crazy. NOT A SINGLE PARENT SHOWED UP! Gaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!

But I shouldn't complain too much. The classes are actually doing much better than when I first started. Both the classes finally have books that are at more or less the appropriate level. The books are boring but solid, there's a little listening, a little grammar - plenty of busy work in the workbook, and the teachers book even has some ideas for projects. So rather than having to come up with 6 hours of material from scratch each Saturday, now I just have to think up one project or speaking activity or game per class to supplement the book. Which is really not all that bad.

Saturdays are still not my favorite day of the week, but I'm surviving. And in fact I've had a couple cute moments. I've got at least one brown-noser in each class and honestly it's refreshing. Everyone needs at least one sycophant in their life! First up is a portrait of teacher done by Pet #1:

Not sure why they think I have a boyfriend, or why he looks like a frog....they got my hair about right though!

And then today I was telling my students that I was learning to read Thai and wrote a word on the board. I thought I was writing "Giant" but in fact I wrote "Difficult" (both pronounced 'yak'). So Pet #2 wrote a few words on a worksheet. I tried sounding it out - I can read several consonants, but none of the vowels so it's kind of a guessing game. I got "k--kr-" from the first word and then skipped to the second and sounded out "suay!" / "Beautiful" so he told me "khun kru suay" basically "Ms. Teacher is beautiful." =)

So I will admit that it's not all bad. No... it could be a lot worse.

TAG: Code Sweet Chili Sauce.

I still hate kids though.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ethnic Foods

The other day I ran into Donny (my half Swiss, half Filipino friend who's lived in Thailand most of his life) at Tesco. He was buying socks, and I was buying some food. We chatted and fell into step with each other as we continued shopping.

Donny "So what else do you need?"

Rebel "Soup."

Donny "Soup? Like noodles? Over here." He steered us down the ramen aisle. More packets of noodles than I'd ever seen in one place in the US. A good 1/5th of the aisle was just devoted to cup-o-soup type noodles, pork, chicken, shrimp, squid, spicy, super spicy, nuclear spicy, Thai style, Japanese style, Korean style.

Rebel "No, soup, like soup." I said and steered us back to the ethnic foods aisle. Or rather the aisle of miscellaneous canned goods of which about 2 feet of shelf space are devoted to western foods. I scanned down past the peanut butter and spam, past the mayonaise and nutella and found what I was looking for on the second to bottom shelf. Considering briefly the four varieties of Campbells Soup available, I picked up a couple of cans of Chicken and Vegetable soup and placed them in my basket.

Donny bewildered... "You really eat that stuff?"

My kitchen

TAG: Code Sticky Rice

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

American Girl

I'm back to being the only white girl in town. Not literally... I have spied a white girl or two at the mall. But as far as my day-to-day life goes... just me. Mostly that's fine, I mean, I came to Thailand at least in part to experience what it would be like to be a minority (understanding of course that there is no one 'minority experience'), and to interact with people from a variety of different countries and cultures. I had expected to interact with Thais and expats from other English speaking nations, but something I did not expect was the number of Filipinos I would meet. English is one of the official languages of the Philippines and as a result of this (and the severe shortage of teachers from English speaking countries) a great many English teachers in Thailand are Filipino.

While I was prepared to experience some majority / minority dynamics; I hadn't really expected to experience minority / minority dynamics. It's interesting, and I'll be honest, it's not always pretty. It's hard not to become at least a little racist when living so long away from your own people & culture. All the teachers maintain a professional cordiality, but in general casual friendliness is divided along racial boundaries. White teachers joke and hang out with the other white teachers; Filipino teachers joke and hang out with the other Filipino teachers.

When I first arrived in Rayong I was welcomed very warmly by two Filipino sisters, Nicole and Rose. But my initial attempts at friendship never seemed to go anywhere. I went out to lunch or dinner a with Nicole a few times but the conversation was always stilted. And her sister prefered to stay at home watching movies to going out with people. I could never tell if it was a difference in personality or a difference in culture, but given the lack of English speakers in Rayong, I was highly motivated to make friends, at whatever level, where ever I could.

But although she's an English teacher, even calling Nicole an 'English speaker' is a bit of a stretch. Yes, she speaks English, but she speaks her own particular brand. She tends towards a rather unique sentence structure and often chooses a more formal word than is called for in a given situation. She'll say something like "I made an arrangement to consult with a doctor." Instead of "I have a doctor's appointment." Combined with her accent and a non-native rhythm, half the time I can't figure out what she's trying to say. And it's bizarre because I have a LOT of experience communicating with non-native speakers and usually I do just fine. The other Filipino teachers are much more fluent and casual, both in the style and substance of their speech.

But that didn't make it any easier for us to relate. I spent several lunches with them as they discussed low carb diets and Hip Hop Abs - the latest workout DVD. If the conversation ever went beyond these banalities, they did so in Tagalog**. It's a disconcerting experience to be sitting in the teachers lounge of an English school and not be able to understand what my fellow teachers are saying "Hi...wlkoiuch girl, lakdul a lkcolut allkdoau aag sex scandal alkdlfay adlfka eaiok adfy weekened adlkafy adlk dsfy Hip Hop Abs ewradfl yoeq no problem gyaoiueq qlpuvhou girl!"

Some conversations though, I was meant to understand. One day at lunch we were talking about being homesick and Daisy very pointedly commented "Yeah Thailand is okay. But I miss being around my own people, my own culture. I just want to speak my own language. I get so tired of speaking English all day." She looked right at me, and her tone left no room for interpretation. I'd never before had my ethnicity insulted to my face and had no clue how to react.

This was just a taste of the underlying tension between the Filipino teachers and teachers from other English speaking countries. I've also picked up on it in comments about the difference in salary for Filipino teachers. But nowhere is it clearer than in online forums for English teachers in Thailand. The Filipino teachers often complain about the unequal treatment of equally qualified teachers from the Philippines. Unfortunately their complaints are often so filled with typos and awkward syntax as to prove *why* there is a different pay scale for non-native speakers.

But I feel for them, I do. Most of the Filipino teachers are here out of necessity, not out of a sense of adventure. They work hard - often two jobs at a time in addition to private students and take their work seriously. Filipino teachers are more likely to stay with a school long term. And I've never seen or heard of a Filipino teacher rolling into work late on Monday hung over from a weekend of partying on Ko Samet.*** So I do think that if a particular teacher is fluent in English and has solid teaching skills then nationality shouldn't matter. Especially given how widely the quality of English, American and Australian teachers varies. But nevertheless, the tension is there... on both sides.

While Bunny and Bobby were here we kept an unconscious distance from the Filipino girls. Or maybe they were keeping their distance from us. I'm not sure. But now that Bunny and Bobby have gone, I've made a little more of an attempt to be friendly again. I still feel a bit isolated when they come into the teachers room and after a brief "Hi, how's it going?" launch into extensive conversations in Tagalog. But I'm trying.

The other day Amy, a part time teacher I've never said much more than "hello" to, was sitting there and we both had about an hour to kill between classes. We started chatting about work. She just started a new day-job, and she likes it a lot better than the old one. She explained that she just can't make the same kind of money back home, and she regularly sends money to her family. She talked about how the cost of living was so much higher there, and how that makes it even more difficult to be poor. If you don't have money you just can't eat. At least in Thailand you can get a full meal for 35 baht (about $1) and road side stands sell chicken drumsticks for 15 baht and little packets of rice for 5 baht.

She talked about all the other challenges she's had working here. Her old school refused to sponsor her work permit so she was working illegally. And without a work permit she was unable to get a non-b resident visa. This meant she had to leave the country and do a border crossing every two or three months. Each time she had to hope and pray that they wouldn't question her too thoroughly and just let her back in as a "tourist".

Now, fortunately, her new school is willing to sponsor her work permit and visa application, but it's going to take some time. It turns out that she's been in Thailand about as long as I have, but knows she can't go back to the Philippines until all the paper work gets sorted out. She's worried that they're going to look at all the border crossings in her Passport and call her out for working illegally. And if she goes home for a visit before everything is finalized, she risks losing her job and the relatively good situation she has here. We commiserated about homesickness and she told me how much she missed her family. "I just want to go home." she said with a smile, but in her voice I heard her 'homing beacon' go off and I got a very profound sense of exactly how far from home she was. It may not be as far away as I am when measured by miles, but in terms of situation... the distance is overwhelming.

TAG: Code Watermelon

* I can't remember what nicknames I gave them in the beginning and am too lazy to sort through all the old posts to figure it out. =P

** Or Filipino or any of about a hundred different dialects spoken in the Philippines - I have no way of identifying between them... half the time it almost sounds like Spanish. =/

*** I made it to class on time!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Grand Palace (take three)

On my very first trip to Bangkok I made an impromptu attempt to visit the Grand Palace. This plan went somewhat awry when I got waylaid by a smooth talkin' tuk tuk scammer. Live and learn. The next time I went I planned things out every so slightly better but still ended up getting to the Palace after they'd stopped selling entry tickets for the day. So last weekend when I decided to go to Bangkok I put visiting the Grand Palace at the top of my list of things to do.

The temple of the Emerald Buddha is on the same grounds as the Palace, and we visited that first. It's quite a spectacular building actually, painted in gold and covered in mosaics. Compared to Thai temples, churches in America are seriously lacking in bling.

Pictures were not permitted inside... and I can't properly describe it. There was gold.... lots and lots of gold. There's huge gold pedestal for the emerald buddha (which is not especially tall... but you know, it's *emerald*!), it's surrounded by golden buddha statues and gold gold gold gold everything. Really quite overwhelming.

Here is Marie admiring one of the gold Gaurdas (bird-type-guard-thing) and Nagas (snakes) that surround the building.

Twelve giants guard the temple (I only spotted four). I had a bit of a mind flip when I realized that they aren't just really big statues of characters from Thai mythology... they're a life sized portrayals. When that sunk in it made me really excited to learn more about them. Unfortunately my google fu is failing me tonight and I can get no more than "generally benevolent guardians of natural treasures" and that doesn't seem quite right.

More gold... this is a Chedi, but I'm not 100% sure what it is, I think it houses a buddhist relic. Neither the weather nor my camera were in the mood to give me especially good pictures but BIG and GOLD is what I was trying to capture with this shot.

And now the elusive Grand Palace. We couldn't go inside, but I thought it was rather a stately looking palace! We walked around, went into a little garden for a bit and just enjoyed being out and about on a not stiflingly hot morning.

Of course once I got back to Rayong and told my students about our trip I learned that my ticket included admission to about five different museums on the grounds and I'd completely missed seeing any of them. D'oh! So I can not yet claim "mission accomplished" on the Grand Palace, but what I saw I enjoyed, and that's good enough for me.

TAG: Code Watermelon

Friday, June 5, 2009

Signs and wonders

Ok... I'm sitting here at the coffee shop and just happened to look over at some folks across the street. This man appears to be doing some elaborate kind of fortune telling ritual for some girls. First he was stiring a bowl of something with the end of a lit candle, then he tipped the candle over to pour wax into the bowl. Now he's consulting a piece of paper, and the women are staring at him with rapt attention. Anyway...

A couple of weeks ago I went to Ban Phe in search of sun & surf. What I got was a fair amount of clouds and an afternoon storm. I waited out the rain in a cafe then just wandered around taking pictures of this and that. I know a few people who read my blog are into graphic arts and fonts and languages etc. so I thought you might enjoy a peek at the Thai language.

When I first got to Thailand, I lost about 50 IQ points right off the plane. Obviously I can't read this sign, but for the longest time I would just not even absorb any meaning from it either. Now at least I'm not so overwhelmed by the text. I can pick out a letter here and there, but more importantly I can see that it's food... seafood, and there's a fair bet that the building it's hanging from is a seafood restaurant.

This is a slightly fancy version of the script. It's not really any different, just the sharp angles are sharper, the squiggly bits are squigglier. It's pretty easy for me to identify the letters I know in this font.

This sign shows off two different fonts. The first line, in red and the yellow text in the arrow, are in the main font - the one I see on flash cards and in "learn Thai" books. The next line down, in blue is like a looser interpretation of the font. A lot the little curves and squiggles are flattened out a bit. It's a slightly westernized font. Obviously, if you can read Thai you know what the letters are... but I have a hard time matching the letters in this font to the few letters I know in the main font. For example the first letter in red is Roh, and it's also the first letter in the second word in blue... the one that looks like an "S". So, it looks like a western "S" but it's pronounced like an "R". This confuses the shit out of me when I'm trying to read!

Bilingual signs like these are actually helping me learn to read. I can now read the word Ban Phe if I have the time to sound out each letter (not yet able to read it on songthaew signs as they drive past). Bangkok is a bit trickier because the Thai call the city Krungthep and thus it's not a direct transliteration on the sign. But again, if I take a minute to sound it out I can read it.

But it's always so funny. For the longest time I'd just see the Pepsi sign and only notice the logo - not really look at the letters and then one day I tried sounding out what it said... "ok, the boxy looking ones are /bp/ sounds, the letter at the end is an /s/...so we've got /bpbps/" they put vowels before, after, above and below the consonants (and there are something like 40 vowels - I can identify 2) so I usually just guess... OH! "Pepsi." Then I crack myself up and feel simultaneously triumphant and retarded for the next ten minutes.

And finally, another slightly different font. One of the other features of Thai is that they just kind of run the words together. So that's not just one big word at the top of the sign. If I start half way through I can see where it says "Koh Samed" but I can't quite sound out the part in front of it yet.

But mostly I wanted to include this one because it's a map of my little island. I usually hang out about 1/4 of the way down on the right side of the island.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Chang Yai

The sheer novelty may have worn off, but seeing elephants wandering around the city still amazes me. I'll be crossing the street and there's an elephant - RIGHT THERE. Or I'm whipping around on the back of a motorbike taxi and we have to swerve to go around an elephant (with a flashing red light tied to it's tail mind you). Seeing an animal larger than a minivan walk up to me while I'm eating dinner is just not normal.

It's sad... but it is what it is. And it's weird because these begging elephants aren't for the benefit of tourists... it's just a thing that happens here. I still don't totally understand if it's people who are using the elephants to beg, or if it's some attempt at helping formerly working elephants survive in a new urban environment. So I'm not sure if by buying the sugar cane to feed it I'd be helping or hurting the situation. Thus far I've avoided participating.

My elephant related vocabulary is improving though. I point out any elephants I see on the road to my driver - flipping through my phrase book for appropriate adjectives.

I can now say:

Chang yai - Elephant big
Chang lek - Elephant small
Chang song tooah - Elephant, two animals
Chang mee quam sow, chang yak bai bah. - Elephant sad, elephant want to go forest.

TAG: Code Watermelon

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

field recordings

Just another taste of what it's like to live in Rayong.

This is a recording of the frogs that live in the pond/swamp near my apartment. At this moment I can hear an absolute cacophany of them. There's a slow deep bass rythym crooooak..... crooooak...... crooooak - it almost sounds like a duck's honk. But behind that is a slightly quieter but still plenty loud higher pitched overlapping ribbitribbitribbitribbit. I'm sure there are a few bugs of one type or another thrown in there, and naturally a dog (or five) howls to break up the monotony.

I also do a half-assed job of showing off the rest of the street. The place directly across the street is where I have breakfast more often than not (kai jeow baby!). And the multi-story peach colored building is where I live.

TAG: Code Watermelon

PS - it took me four tries and about as many hours to upload this video! I miss lighteningfasthighspeed internet.