Monday, August 31, 2009

Well that was easy.

You know, I think I have a pretty good brain. All my senses process fairly normally, I can remember a decent amount of stuff. I can be a bit slow on the uptake sometimes, but most of the neurons seem to be firing ok most of the time. But my brain can also be my worst nightmare sometimes. I don't know why it works so hard to make me miserable.

A while back I was talking to Jeb about my travel plans and expressing my wishy-washyness about the whole thing. He commented that I needed to get my plan for visiting Vietnam worked out because "You can't just come and go whenever you want, you need to put the dates of travel on the visa application." This coupled with some visa horror stories I've read on other blogs, and the fact that a couple of my students have told me that the Vietnamese hate Americans (can't imagine why) has had me well and truly stressed out. I got it in my head that I needed to finalize my plans, and prepare for a big to-do at the embassy, which added to the dread, which added to the procrastination, which gave me more time to worry.... etc etc etc.

But I've been reading The Artist's Way and one piece of advice the author gives is to keep focused on the next step. You don't need to worry about whether or not the painting will sell if you haven't even put brush to ink yet. Obviously this is a good attitude for life as well. So I decided that rather than fussing and worrying about the trip I could take the next actionable step.

I printed out the visa application last week. Then I worried and stressed out about it for a few days. But then I took the next step. Read the instructions. OK...the tourist visa is valid for one month. I cannot enter the country before the 'valid from' date and I have to leave before the 'valid until' date. Um... ok. Considering I only have about 6 weeks off and I want to spend at least one of them on a Thai beach and another one in Chiang Mai, and was only planning on staying in Vietnam for about two weeks anyway... that's not much of a problem. I filled out the mercifully brief (and in English) application.

Then I proceeded to stress about the fact that I'd have to go to Bangkok the night before so I could get to the embassy when it opened and what to do if it wasn't ready by the end of the day, and I didn't want to bring a whole overnight bag but I didn't want to wear the same sweaty clothes again the next day and which guest house should I stay in and this is really expensive. But wait... what's the next step? Just get to Bangkok during embassy business hours. Ok... I can do that. I have all of Monday and the better part of Tuesday off, and the minivan only takes two hours.

Ok it's Monday morning, and I'm in the minivan on the way to Bangkok. Now, let's stress about something new... I know - I'll never be able to find the embassy, that's a good one! Oh wait.... hang on, I actually have a map. Well, I mean, it's not going to be *on* the map... I'll have to find the road in the index and look and.... oh wait - there's the embassy right there on the map - apparently walking distance from the skytrain, and only two stops from the mall I hang out at all the time anyway. Well that's not nearly complicated enough... let's take a taxi!

Uh oh... there's traffic. We're never going to get there before it closes for lunch... oh - we're here? OK but there's going to be a .... what, no line? Um okay. Here's my form.... here's my passport and my picture (I had a stack of them made when I got here so I couldn't stress about that ;) )'s my money. Be back by 4pm to pick it up*? Um... ok.

I briefly considered finding a tourist attraction to add to my day. You know, to make sure I had *something* to stress out about. But then I decided that all I really wanted and needed to do with the day was to get the visa and to eat western food. Conveniently enough there was an Au Bon Pain in the business complex next to the embassy... and yet another mall just a couple blocks away. I spent a good long time in the book/craft/hobby store (they had yarn - but nothing I couldn't find at home) bought an American crossword puzzle book and spent the next several hours hanging out at Starbucks. At 3:30 I headed back over to the embassy, picked up my shiny new visa and was ready to go back to Rayong by 4pm.

I don't know why my brain insists on freaking out about everything. When I first got to Rayong I thought I was developing some serious zen-like qualities. But no... I think that was still the shock & awe phase of culture shock. There's so much new stuff coming at you from every different angle you don't have time to stop and worry about anything. But if I'm not getting over my tendency to freak out, I am at least learning to deal with it. Take it one small, actionable, step at a time. Don't try to multi-task and combine sight-seeing with errand running... just do the thing that needs to get done and relax while it's being done.** Sometimes everything goes just fine.

Ok... so will you folks remind me of this next time my brain decides to go all 'worst case scenario' on me?

TAG: Code Watermelon

* I paid quite a bit extra to do this, I didn't want to give my brain the chance to stress about what could happen to my passport if it were off my person for more than 5 hours.

** I know this about myself, but I keep getting whacked upside the head with it. I need to be able to focus on one thing at at time and I need to be given the appropriate amount of time to do it. When I try to do to much, or don't give myself enough time, I'm a basket case.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


I have seen enough and done enough.

This is going to be my mantra for my last couple of months here. I have seen enough! I have done enough! I don't need to see or do anything else. Please keep reminding me of this.

I'm feeling a strong obligation to go visit Vietnam and Laos while I'm out here. For one thing I will probably never come back this way again. I feel like I might regret it if I get back to the US having *only* visited Thailand and Cambodia. I'm not immune to the traveler's ultimate ego trip.... getting to check another country off the list and being able to say "oh yeah, I've been there." But more than that, I really do want to see how life is different in those countries. I want to learn a little more history, a little more geography, a little more culture. That is... I want those things in theory.

But the reality is - the idea of spending hours online arranging lodging and transportation, mapping out routes and then making sure I have all the phone numbers and addresses etc - just sounds exhausting. The idea of winging it and just taking it day by day is terrifying. I know I couldn't relax during the day if I didn't where I was going to spend the night. Furthermore the idea of navigating yet another foreign country on my own... well that sounds down-right tortuous.

The truth is, I could be quite content to get myself set up in a nice hotel near the beach.... with hot water, air conditioning, cable TV & western food at the doorstep. I am dead tired of 'roughing it' here in Rayong. I made some decisions... good decisions.... when I first got here about not spending a lot of money feathering my nest. My apartment is pretty bare bones and not cozy. It's functional... but I'm done with it. I'm done with the no hot water, no couch, no kitchen existence. And the idea of going even rougher with the whole bus - backpack - bed - bus - backpack - bed routine is not even remotely appealing at the moment.

I think I'm just going to give myself permission not to do any more exploring. I've seen enough. I'm going to devote some time to finding a perfect beach and a stack of books to read once I finish teaching. If and when I get bored of that... well, that's when I'll start planning my next adventure.

TAG: Code Watermelon

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Elephant Snot

There was a babeh elephant at the beach a couple of weeks ago.

In the process of trying to feed him I got more than a few blobs of elephant snot on me. We'll be chalking that one up as another "only in Thailand" experience.

TAG: Code Watermelon

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Truth

Time to dip into the Well of Uncomfortable Truths again.

Ok, the Bitch and Moan edition - probably not my most popular endeavor... but necessary to my sanity.

Also, it turns out I'm lazy. I really want to call it by another name... but lazy fits the bill. After all the insane back and forth about my schedule a few classes got canceled and suddenly I have tons of free time. And as a result my mental health has improved dramatically. For the past three days I have only had one class per day. I sleep until I wake up (as opposed to waking up to the alarm), take my time getting dressed, spend a couple hours dorking around online, get breakfast, then spend the next couple of hours reading at a coffee shop. After a thoroughly unproductive day I'm ready to go to work at about 4pm to do some lesson prep. or other paperwork. I teach one class from 6-8pm or so and I'm ready to go home.

And you know what... I've felt pretty good about the quality of the classes that I've taught. I'm not tired and cranky when I get to the school. I have time to find extra activities and games to use for warmers. But I'm not bored from having to sit in the teacher's room all day. OH... and I've been working with ADULTS! So there's no singing of ridiculous songs "The magic that you neeeeed is all inside your heaaaaaad, let's use our hearts and all learn how to flyyyyyy."* or trying coax the 5 year old out from under the table. No, I'm actually able to relate to my students in a normal manner. And my new class is an actual class... not a private lesson. So I can put them in groups and make them discuss something for a few minutes while I just walk around listening & answering questions.

There's a part of me that feels guilty for being lazy. Lots of people here work far more hours than I do, and seem to do so without all the complaining. But I'm also learning to do this new thing where I just listen to what my body and brain are telling me and try not to be something I'm not.

So that's just how I am. I function best when I only have to work about half time, when I have a LOT of peaceful alone time. This is something I'm going to try to accomodate when I start looking for a job again. Maybe I need to cut waaaaaaay back on expenses so that I don't have to work a full time job. I'm not totally sure how to swing that - what with wanting to travel more - but I'm going to keep it in mind.

I'm also discovering that I'm a bit of a cream puff. All I do is hang out in bed - I tried to figure out why and it's because nothing else in my apartment is comfortable. The floor is cold hard tile, the chairs are metal and plastic, with only a little cusion on the seat, and I have no couch or easy chair to relax in. I've tried rearranging my computer and putting pillows on my chair, but the fact is... I'm actually a lot more active and productive in a cozy environment. Back in Portland my apartment was *extremely* cozy and I would (at least sometimes) work out in front of the TV. I read more, created more, and entertained more.

So that's lesson two. Taking away the couch & TV doesn't make me any less of a couch potato. It makes me more bed-ridden. When I get back to the States I will keep this in mind when setting up housekeeping again.

There's plenty more in the Well of Uncomfortable Truths... but that's enough for today.

TAG: Code Watermelon

*Can someone PLEASE explain to me how we use our hearts to fly? And how does this help me when I try to explain "wings" when we do the animal unit???

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The insanity continues

You know, there's a lot of pop-psychology out there about having a positive attitude and the 'laws of attraction'... you know you put good energy out into the universe and the universe rewards you with your heart's desire.

I'm here to tell you that that whole philosophy is crap. Not 100% crap, of course... but like 70% crap. Sometimes shit happens. And when it does, sometimes it feels good to just complain. So complain I will. Trying to suck it up and forcing myself to keep a good attitude was just driving me bonkers. I've felt a LOT better since venting about all this garbage at work.

I was feeling pretty good this morning. I got to sleep in and spend some time at Starbucks just relaxing. I really needed that. Because my two kid classes were canceled, I only ended up having my one new class in the evening. I showed up a couple hours early to prep the class and as soon as I walked in, the manager approached me. "Your two students.... they will study on Saturday."
"Ok" I said... more power to them I thought.
"You will teach them 9am to 10:30am, and 10:45 to 12:15"
Um, I don't think so! "I already have a class on Saturday morning."
"No, you will teach these students... we will find another teacher for your class."

GAAAHHH! So now, I'm back to having the two kids, and my old class is going to a totally different teacher. At least this time I get some advanced warning. But not even one class to tell the kids I'm leaving. You know, these are kids that I've been teaching for a year and am *finally* starting to make some progress with. Six months ago I would have rejoiced heartily to learn that they were being given to someone else. But now that I've invested so much it sucks that boom it's over, just like that.

In the mean time, with no kid classes on Monday-Friday my schedule is looking a lot more open. And of course they canceled three of my evening classes, which lightens my load that much more. I mentioned to the office staff today that since the kid classes got rescheduled, it's no problem to teach the evening class. But they won't call the student to un-cancel. That would be losing face.

But somehow it's not losing face to have no organizational or management skills whatsoever... no, as long as they keep smiling, everything's fine fine fine.

TAG: Code Sticky Rice

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's like they want me to lose my mind.

And it's working.

Trying to hold onto any semblance of reality is just futile... everything changes... then changes again. You type B folks, I'm sure you'd love it here... easy breezy maybe you have class, maybe you don't -who knows? But I swear to you I am losing my mind, absolutely losing my mind.

So you know how I'm all stressed out because I have tons of overtime on my schedule this month. Today I finish my first kid class (of three for the day) and go downstairs to grab my next set of books. The manager announces to me as I pass "You have class tomorrow... new class in the evening." And that's how it goes. Not "Can you teach another class tomorrow?" Not even... "We're starting a class next week and you need to teach it." No. It's last minute and it's not a question or even a request, it's a statement. So I tell her:

"No. I can't. I'm already teaching 130 hours this month."
"But next month - your two (kid) classes finish."
"Ok - I can start when these two classes finish"

But that's not good enough for her. I go to the teachers room and collect a few things and she comes in after me.

"What do you think about this? If I ask someone to fill in for this week, and you start next month, then you finish in September and they need a get a new teacher again. It's not good for the students, it's better to have only two teachers than three."
"I'm already teaching too much, I can't. I have four classes today and every Monday and Wednesday this month! Four classes is too many."
"But the class is Tuesdays and Thursdays in the evening."
"I can not teach four classes on Monday and Wednesday" (starting at 9am and finishing at 8:30pm) "and another three on Tuesdays and Thursdays" (again starting at 9:30am and finishing at 8:30pm) "It's too much."
"What if I cancel one class for Monday and Wednesday."
Silence from me. I'm beyond brain dead. I don't want to negotiate, I want to have a sensible schedule that I can adjust to and not have to constantly keep juggling everything. I said 'no', I meant 'no' and I don't want to debate it anymore.
"I can cancel this class until next month, cancel three classes, only add two this week."
GAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! "Fine.... fine.... fine."

So then I go upstairs and start crying because I'm so tired of never knowing what they're going to throw at me. I feel lame because I feel completely incapable of standing up for myself. The only time I've ever gotten my way is when I've thrown a complete hissy fit in the middle of the office. When I got here I was so disgusted at the way the teachers would yell and argue every little point with the staff, but now I understand it. We're treated like robots.... like we can just walk into a classroom at a moments notice and teach anything, like it doesn't matter if they cancel or reschedule or give us the wrong information for a class or add a student or take out a student or rearrange our rooms or take away our bathroom. And when you try to be polite and reason with them, you get nowhere. I know I need to be more assertive, but seriously - I'd said that I didn't want the class like three different times. I can be assertive... I just can't deal with manipulative bullies.

Needless to say I was not in a good mindset for my five year old, and she was distracted and disobedient anyway. I pulled out some tests and started grading them while she hid under the table. I gave up.

I did a bit better with my 14 year old - his English is pretty good and we've been working on writing which gives me a fair amount of time to just sit there quietly. I was comforted ever so slightly by the fact that it was my last class for the day (the next one being the one the manager canceled to get me to teach tomorrow's class). When I was finished I was soooo ready to leave. But knowing that I had that 9:30am kid class tomorrow I decided to do some prep work and found an activity that I thought she'd like and made the appropriate copies.

Finished for the day I ended up going to dinner with the Head Teacher we joked about going out clubbing but obviously weren't going to... not with early classes the next morning. We were just getting ready to leave when I noticed my phone ringing. When I grabbed it I noticed it was our manager calling. "Oh god... I don't want to answer it, I don't want another class tomorrow!" but I did answer it.

"So sorry... problem with your schedule. Your two (kid) classes canceled already."
"They go back to school tomorrow."
"So I don't have class tomorrow morning."
"No, no class."
"Fine... fine... fine."


Obviously I'm happy to get to sleep in tomorrow. But it's like they just don't get it. They don't get that I actually try to prep classes in advance, that whether or not I have class in the morning determines what I do the night before, that I've now wasted time and energy and paper prepping an activity for a class that's not going to happen, that I'd been carefully parsing out student book pages with outside activities so that we'd finish the book when we finished the course, that I've had these kids for five days a week for the past month and a half and I won't even get to say goodbye to them. They don't care.... and it makes me not want to care. I may have class tomorrow, I may not, I may have ten classes tomorrow. It might be Pre-Intermediate like they told me, it might be Starter. Who knows? There might be 10 students, there might be 15, there might be 3, there might be one guy and his wife who's not even a registered student. Why does it matter? Why should I care? All that haggling this morning, crying in my classroom... all for nothing, it's all going to change anyway!!!

Losing my mind I tell you ... losing my mind.

TAG: Code Coconuts

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I'm fine.

Thanks to eveyone who posted happy links in the comments yesterday. I spent the better part of today in bed looking at awkward family photos and some very hungry turtles. I've been having a rough go of things lately. There's nothing huge... just an endless list of little things that have been wearing me down.

I hated that I only had one day off a week, but it was fine, really because I wasn't working that many hours. Sunday was for 'doing things' and I could relax during the downtime on my easy days.

I hated my Saturday classes, but it was fine because that was just Saturday. The rest of the week was adult classes.

But then I got another kid class... and now two more. I now have five young learner classes, and am teaching kids 6 days a week. It is more draining than even I could have imagined. Coming up with new activities day after day after day. And it's one on one with three of the kids, so I can't even make them write up role-plays or do discussion activities together. It's a nightmare for me.

But even that was fine... because I didn't have a full load of classes. I can't turn down classes if I'm working under a full-time load. So, fine fine fine. I'll adjust, I'll deal, no problem, mai bpen lai.

But this month two of my old classes started up again, and now I'm working overtime, tons and tons of overtime. There's 130 teaching hours on my schedule for this month, my contract is for 100 hours a month. So this is a lot more than I'm used to. And teaching hours doesn't equal 'working hours' as I don't get paid for my prep time, or time I spend grading exams or writing progress reports. And it doesn't really reflect the days when I have to start classes at 9:00 and don't finish until 8:30pm.

It's really taking a lot out of me, but again... it's fine, it's fine it's fine. Because I've been worried about money and all the extra hours will help make up for the fact that I haven't saved as much money as I had hoped.

I never liked not having my own classroom, but it was fine. Keep it simple, just bring my materials to class every day - no problem. Except that I'm accumulating more and more and more stuff for my kid classes (a box of markers & pencils, stick puppets for dialogues, glue, scissors, markers, magazines for collages etc. It's taking me two trips to set up the classroom. Fine fine fine... not worth complaining about. But now they're rearranging all the classrooms. They've taken the big conference table out of the room where I teach a class of 9 (I like teaching at a conference table, sitting like an equal with my students), and replaced it with desks (which I hate because they're not set up for pair work and a pain in the ass to move around). Then they've moved the conference room into the room where I teach my one five year old girl. Whereas we used to have one table and plenty of room to walk around and do activities "fly to the [picture of a] bird... swim to the river.... hop to the bunny." we now have two tables and barely enough room to maneuver around them.

They can't really do anything about the rooms because they're preparing for an influx of new corporate students, and they'll need to accomodate a lot of students in each class. Fine fine fine fine fine. Whatever... mai bpen lai... adjust adjust adjust. But as of Saturday the manager decided to change the kitchen into another student lounge... but has locked the staff bathroom because it would be tacky to have a bathroom near where the students hang out. Gah!!!! So now when I'm spending 12 hours a day at the school I have to hike upstairs to the student bathrooms... which inexplicably have the toilet paper rolls *outside* the bathroom. Because somehow it's not tacky to have to gather your TP in the hallway right outside your classroom before going into the bathroom. No that's not tacky at all. But it's fine fine fine because now I'm going to be leaving in a month and a half. Not worth getting into a stink about.

I miss Bunny & Bobby, and I'm pretty lonely here with no real friends to hang out with. But you know, it was okay because I was still somewhat social with the other teachers. Except that a couple of situations have moved some of these casual friendships from 'tolerable & occasionally fun' to 'unpleasant but occasionally tolerable.' So I don't even have anyone to bitch about all these petty grievances with.

It's profoundly ironic actually, I speak to people all day long, but I don't have anyone to talk to. And with no one to talk to, no one to help me unravel all my experiences...they all just get locked into an obsessive track in my brain. People, the crazies have come out, and it's starting to get ugly. It's one thing to talk to yourself, it's another thing to talk to yourself in public.... but now I find myself walking around arguing with myself... out loud... in public. And then I catch myself doing it, realize that I've crossed into crazy-town and start either laughing or crying or both. And then I tell myself that I'm okay... I'm okay, I'm just having a bad day. But I don't believe myself, because I've been having a lot of bad days lately. And then I realize that I'm arguing with myself again.

I'm ready to go home. I feel like I hit my peak at the 8 month mark and it's been a slow decent since then. The bad days are starting to outnumber the good days and the good days just aren't as good as they were before. But I don't really have a 'home' to go to right now. When I do get back to the states it's going to take a bit of work to create a home for myself again.... and I'm not looking forward to that. Well, except for the people speaking English part... I am looking forward to that.... and the cheese. I am *definitely* looking forward to the cheese.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I'm not doing very well.

I could use some cheering up.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The KISS method to language acquisition

When Bunny was here her method for learning Thai was to either copy whatever she'd heard (leading her to believe that the phrase for "fried rice" was in actuality the phrase for "how much") or to invent crazy sentences that were fun to learn, like "Rebecca's boyfriend's dog can't swim." (regardless of the fact that no, I don't have a boyfriend, if I did he probably wouldn't have a dog, but if he did the dog would almost certainly know how to swim). To her credit, Bunny can say "Are you eating cookies behind me?" in Mandarin, and "Your eyes are delicious." in Greek.

Now I'm not going to say her method of learning new languages is *wrong* per se. but that it's probably more entertaining as a linguistic exercise than actually helpful when trying to survive in a country that speaks that language. While she seemed to understand a great deal more Thai than I could, judging by our success in restaurants, my Thai was more easily understood.

This is also the approach I take in teaching. Communication is more important than showing off.

Here are two examples from the test I gave on Saturday. The instructions are "Write about what you are doing next weekend. Say what you are doing / where you are going and why."

1. Next weekend, I'm going to Central with my friend at Bangkok. We're shopping. We will buy something When we need And we will buy the Book. And on Sunday come back to Rayong. We going to the beach at Pattaya. I want to play spreed boat. I love Bangkok and Pattaya. And I love to shopping. *

2. Next weekend I'm going to buy a new book at the bookstore because I want to read a new book.

Guess who got a 10 out of 10?

TAG: Code Watermelon

*for the love of Pete, I don't know how many times I've tried to teach the phrase "go shopping"

Sunday, August 16, 2009

20 Questions

I found this list of 20 Spiritual Questions on Brave New Traveler. I know that my own concepts of religion and spirituality have changed dramatically over the course of my life so far, and this is an interesting way of setting out what I believe right now. I really wish I'd done this in both HS and right after college, the comparisons would have been fascinating (to me). I would really like to see how other people answer the same questions, so if you do this questionnaire and want to share it - please post the link in the comments.

1. Why is there poverty and suffering in the world?

In Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut blames our over-sized brains. I think he has a point. The Buddhists blame desire, and I think they have a point too.

I think ultimately humans are flawed creatures. We think too much, we want too much, when things don't go the way we think they should, or when we don't get what we want, we hurt.... and sometimes we hurt other people. Very few of us have mastered the concept of being content where we are with what we have. And I think this causes a lot of suffering.

2. What is the relationship between science and religion?

I think they are two paths trying to get at the same truth. You could say that one is an external search and one an internal search. I don't think they should be in competition or conflict. The truth that's out there is bigger than either science or religion alone can explain.

3. Why are so many people depressed?

I think different people are depressed for different reasons. For some people it can be a chemical imbalance related to other health problems. In other people it can be an inability to cope with what life has thrown at them, one reaction to trauma is just to shut down. Other people have just never learned how to be happy. In the US I think a lot of depression comes from a lack of authenticity, a lack of meaning and a lack of connection.

4. What are we all so afraid of?

Of pain, of suffering, of loneliness, of change, of someone someday finding out our deep dark secrets and laughing at them.

5. When is war justifiable?

Ooooooohhhh.... toughie! ONLY defensively, either in defense of one's own country or when a stronger power is attacking a weaker one - and the weaker one *asks* for help. And ONLY after all other diplomatic options have been attempted, and a thorough analysis of the costs of war are taken into a count.

I think we need to do a MUCH better job of proactively preventing war: US DEPARTMENT OF PEACE

6. How would God want us to respond to aggression and terrorism?

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

7. How does one obtain true peace?

One would have to remove oneself from human interaction - either physically hiding out in a cave somewhere, or mentally and emotionally avoiding any ties to other people. The question you really want to obtain 'true peace'. I think part of being human, being alive is passion, emotion, connection, conflict, reconciliation, growth. I don't know that you can have those things and true peace at the same time.

8. What does it mean to live in the present moment?

Feeling the cool creaminess of my cha yen and savoring every layer of flavor, listening to the rain pound down on the concrete, smelling the cigarette of the person smoking next door, watching the woman clean off her plate before assembling the next sandwich, noticing exactly how bright the shredded carrots are against the green of the lettuce, staring at the shih-tzu riding in the basket of the motorbike passing by.

9. What is our greatest distraction?

Everyone has their own favorite I think, entertainment, drugs/alcohol, sex, work, interpersonal drama. For whatever thing you think you *should* be focused on, there is an equal and opposite number of things to distract you from it.

10. Is current religion serving its purpose?

Which religion? For whom? I think some people have found religious experiences / commitments that enrich their lives without hurting other people... and for them, sure it's serving it's purpose. In general, as a benefit to the world at large... I think like all human endeavors it's a wash. There's some good and there's some bad.

11. What happens to you after you die?

I have no idea.

12. Describe heaven and how to get there.

Well, I was taught that heaven was eternal communion with God and other faithful souls. My image is pretty much your standard Christian interpretation - lots of white fluffy clouds and singing. But I'm not sure I really believe in that anymore. Sometimes I think it must be some sort of non-physical place, just kind of floating around in the cosmos connected to everything.

13. What is the meaning of life?


14. Describe God.

In Bible study I was once asked to draw a picture of God and all I came up with was a blank piece of paper. I don't know if I believe in God in a strictly Christian manner anymore. I believe that there's something out there, something more than what we can see and touch. The Christian name for it is God. But does it care about individual lives? Does it really interact with us? Did it really send it's only begotten son that man may not perish but have eternal life? I don't know. I don't really think anyone can know.

15. What is the greatest quality humans possess?

The abilities to create and destroy human life. And I think we are entirely too careless in the use of these two great powers.

16. What is it that prevents people from living to their full potential?

Fear, social and physical constraints.

17. Nonverbally, by motion or gesture only, act out what you believe to be the current condition of the world.

*shakes head*

18. What is your one wish for the world?

That the light will always be that much brighter than the dark is dark. That good will always be just that much stronger than evil. That justice will be done more often than not.

19. What is wisdom and how do we gain it?

Wisdom is understanding. Understanding why we do the things we do, understanding why other people do the things they do, understanding the effects of our own choices, understanding which things are beyond our control, understanding when to stand up and fight and when to let the world flow around us.

I think you gain wisdom by being watching, listening, talking, reading, experimenting, allowing yourself to be challenged, allowing yourself to be wrong, taking time to reflect and analyze what you've seen and heard and said and read and experienced.

20. Are we all one

No, but we are all connected.

TAG: Code Watermelon

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rebel gets Rebelious

People often* ask me how I got the nickname Rebel. Well, gentle reader it's because of days like today:

I am NOT going to take a shower this morning!

That's right ladies and gentlemen. I've been taking 2-3 showers a day for I don't know how long and I'm done.** I am just not going to take a shower this morning. I've put on my shorts & tank*** top and I'm on my way.


TAG: Code Bananas

* and by 'often' I mean 'never'

** I will probably take a shower as soon as I get home.

*** and swimsuit, as I'm headed to the beach right now.

**** I have no idea who 'the man' is.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dirty Old Men Business English Class

My Dirty-Old-Men-Business-English class is drawing to a close. This is one of my favorite classes. They are not actually dirty-old-men, but they do tease me, and each other quite a bit. For example the time I had them play the "Don't say yes or no." game. Basically someone sits at the front of the room and the rest of the class fires yes/no questions at them while, as the name of the game implies, they try to say anything other than "yes" or "no". Well, the oldest and quietest of the students got up to the front and the guys started with the questions:

Q "Do you love your wife?"
A "I think so."
Q "Do you have a girlfriend?"
A "Sometimes."
Q "Are you wearing underwear?"
A "A G-string."
Q "Do you have a condom?"
A "Used last night."

I was laughing so hard I was crying, occasionally pulling myself together to correct questions
" 'Do you like ladyboys.' not 'Is you like ladyboys?' "

I've been teaching them since October... possibly September even, and next week will be the last class. They'd finished the book well early and for the last three classes I had pulled together activities from supplemental Business English books. But today, after spending about three hours searching through half a dozen resource books for something interesting and relevant to teach them, I gave up and decided to have a little fun.

I found an activity for writing a love story. It was, like most of my improvised lessons, a bit of a dud... but I think some of the guys had fun with it. At one point I was walking around looking at the students' papers when one covered his up and said... "Don't look, it's dirty, dirty." Given that the subject was romance I feigned a little shock and said "Oh no! I don't want to read it if it's dirty." While one of the students seemed to understand me, the original student didn't so I asked "What do you mean by dirty." and he pointed out different places where he'd scribbled out words and rewrote them in the margins etc. I explained that in America, "dirty" can also mean "very sexual." and he responded "oh no no... not like that". The first student however turned to me and asked "Why is that? Why do you say 'dirty' for sex?"

Oh man. This is why you should never joke around with your students! How exactly do you explain America's hypocritical and puritanical attitudes about sex in two minutes or less using only Elementary English? I chose to go with a historical /geographical approach- briefly discussing Victorian England, the Puritans, the Bible belt, the rural/urban dichotomy of morals, and interestingly, the Mormons. I used the phrase "crazy" a lot. They understand "crazy." He just looked at me like I was speaking nonsense. And I was. As a culture, our attitude towards sex makes no sense at all.

At one point he said "But you don't think that..." Gah! This is not a conversation they prepared us for on the CELTA! I went with "Actually, I was raised that way." and told him that my sister's wedding (at a Baptist church in North Carolina) they were not allowed to kiss during the ceremony. But then I reassured him that my city was pretty liberal - you could stay with your boyfriend if you wanted to, you could be gay, anything was pretty much okay. That seemed to satisfy him, so I quickly extricated myself and continued on with the class.

I'm going to miss this class. They are easily my most fluent students, and the most fun. But I am probably not going to miss the surprise personal questions about my moral upbringing!

TAG: Code Sticky Rice

August is insanely busy for me, 30+ teaching hours a week is pretty brutal. I've already had five 12-hour days this month, and more to come. CALGON TAKE ME AWAY!

Oh wait... that's right, I don't have a bathtub.

Or hot water.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The mundane...

Well, I made it. I've officially lived abroad for one year.

I've been thinking about what I would write for my anniversary post for a while now, and had a bunch of different ideas: a best & worst list, the year in pictures, an update on my initial goals, a flash-back to some of my earlier posts, or you know a list of all the profound things I've learned and the deep and meaningful ways I've changed in the past year. But none of it was sticking.

The truth is, after a year the novelty has worn off and you're left with the mundane, the ordinary, the everyday, the redundant. ;) So here it is... a list of the most boring, unromantic, and normal observations I've made while living abroad.

1. People are the same everywhere. Yeah, languages, culture, attitudes and experiences may all be different, but at a core level we're all the same. Some people are nice, some people are mean, some people are ambitious, some are lazy. Little kids are naughty, and teenagers dress like freak-shows. Most people just want a good job, time with their families, and a few beers at the end of the day.

If you include the hands, there are people from five different countries represented in this picture.

2. Traveling doesn't make you a better person. I've met some travelers here who left home with nothing more than a backpack and who've spent months exploring the world, meeting new people, eating new foods. Sure they're adventurous... they're also functional alcoholics. And contrary to what Mark Twain would have you believe, racist ideology actually can survive in the face of international travel. Don't even get me started on the sex-pat issue. Some people really are on a spiritual or intellectual quest, eager to see what's out there in the world beyond their backyard. But I think it's like any other experience in life, you will get out of it what you put into it.

3. Pictures lie! They lie lie lie lie lie! Every gorgeous scenic picture you've seen on my blog has been cropped to exclude: garbage, chubby retirees in speedos/bikinis, garbage, anything sinfully American like a KFC or 7/11, garbage, boring but utilitarian buildings, garbage, crowds of other tourists taking pictures of the same damn thing, garbage and/or garbage cans. Yes, the beautiful places exist... but they always look just that much better in pictures than in real life.

oooohhhhh .... aaaaahhhhhhh


4. The more 'exotic' a place is, the more likely you're going to have to use a squat toilet. There is nothing 'exotic' about trying not to pee on your shoes.

5. There's no such thing as 'exotic'. For the people who live there, it's just called 'life'.

6. The women are no more attractive here than back home. It always amazes me that Western guys come to Thailand for the lovely Thai ladies, but then my male students all talk about going to Japan or the Caribbean "where the women are beautiful". Good lord - never happy are they? Well, Thailand hasn't quite caught the obesity trend that's affecting Western countries, so the majority of the population is at a healthy weight. And I do mean healthy, only a few of the girls are disproportionately skinny for their height. But there are still a fair few fat folks here. Beyond that, some people are just ugly. Most people have either acne / acne scars, bad teeth, frizzy hair, split ends, lazy eyes, flat chests, cellulite, hairy legs, mosquito-bite welts, skin lightening / make-up gone wrong, atrocious fashion sense, or other flaws. In other words, most people just look NORMAL!

7. You can get internet access just about anywhere. Monks use cell phones, rice farmers have satellite TV, kids on the songthaew listen to their MP-sahms*.

8. Spicy food = spicy diarrhea.

9. My street smells bad. There's a garbage sorting / recycling center type place, then there's the restaurant's garbage cans, not to mention the sewer going all along the street. Gah. There are all these beautiful flowers trailing along fences - it looks gorgeous, but every once in a while you get the nastiest odors wafting by.

10. No matter how far from home you are, it all comes with you. Deeply set insecurities, childhood fears, everyday anxieties... all of it is packed right there in your brain.** It can all be held at bay for a few months as you try to get settled in a new place and you're only focused on procuring food & shelter; when you're so busy with new sights & experiences that you can't even absorb it all. But as soon as you get comfortable again, you'll find that whatever you were running from is right there waiting for you.

And now you have bad hair too.

TAG: Code Watermelon

* sahm = 3
** wish they could scan for *that* kind of baggage at airport security.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sort of beefy

There's a scene in Doctor Who when the Doctor takes Rose and a tag-along (can't remember his name, not Ricky) well into the future. While there, Rose stops for a snack - a beverage of sorts that she sips with a straw. When asked how it tastes she replies with an amused smile "Sort of beefy." The tag-along was suitably disgusted, but Rose just laughed.*

And Rose's attitude is exactly what you need when you travel. I like beef. I like shakes. Beef-shake? Why not? So I channeled the spirit of the Bad Wolf herself when I saw these bad boys.

Chicken curry donuts. Yup... CHICKEN.... CURRY..... DONUTS!

They taste about as you'd expect, very sweet and donuty on the outside, mildly spicy chicken curry filling on the inside. And actually, they're pretty good. This is the second time I've gotten them.

I think the trick to eating in Thailand is to avoid the uncanny-valley of foods. If it's traditional Thai food it's good. If it's radically weird food like chicken curry donuts, you can judge it on it's own merits... having no preconceived notion of what a 'good' chicken curry donut would be. It's when Thailand tries to do Western food that you get problems!

TAG: Code Watermelon
*I'll bet Rose stopped laughing when the beef-shake hit her intestinal track!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


In addition to taking an art class, it would have been nice to learn a little botony before coming to Thailand. There are gorgeous flowers everywhere, and I don't know the names of a single one. If you do - please enlighten me.


eta: Bougainvillea



I love the bee in this one.




These are my absolute favorites. They just look so sturdy and fragile at the same time.

That's all... just pretty flowers.

TAG: Code Watermelon.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Rebel stikes fear in the hearts of men.

There are few better ways to get established in a neighborhood than to become a teacher. Every month I start new classes (and finish older ones) and get to spend a few months interacting with people on a friendly if not especially personal way. I have met literally hundreds of people since coming to Rayong. Do I remember all of them? Not by name, no. But I do recognize faces I see around town and can generally remember where they worked and/or which class they were in.

Yesterday I was hanging out at the mall when I bumped into a former student from one of my Elementary classes. Usually when I see a student outside of the school I try to at least greet them in Thai, but this time I was so surprised to see him that I just automatically said "Hi! How are you?" The poor guy snapped to attention and replied by rote "I'm fine thank you, and you?"* I smiled and said "I'm good, I'm good!" And then every bit of English he'd ever learned fell right out of his brain "You...where ... do.... wha..." I waited a couple seconds to see if he could get a sentence out, but it just wasn't gonna happen.

It was like I'd sprung a pop quiz on him right there in the middle of the mall. I mean, he looked like he might actually faint. "It's okay, it's okay." I reassured him, and we both just burst out laughing. While he wasn't the strongest student in that class, I knew he could do better than that.** And certainly he can understand more English than he could produce on the spot. So I told him I was going shopping then 'bai gin kow' (go eat rice) because at last some Thai popped into my brain, then said good bye and put him out of his misery.

It was just funny. I had no idea that my mere presence could be that intimidating.

TAG: Code Watermelon

* He did not learn this from me, but rather from the Thai teachers he would have had growing up in school. I make it a point to teach my students, during the first or second class how to answer the question using "I'm: good, ok, so-so, not so good, not good" and for more advanced students "bored, tired, busy, in a good mood/bad mood" and whenever necessary "I have a hangover."

** I promise, I do make them do role-plays in class, but most of the questions we cover at his his level are of the introductory variety "What's your name? What's your job? Where do you come from? Where do you live?" Perhaps I need to start doing role-plays for 'running into Teacher outside of Starbucks'. ;)

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Last night I went over to Jeb & Gum's place for dinner. The Japanese teacher (let's call her Wasabi- she has quite a spicy side) from Jeb's other school wanted to learn to cook, so she and I both hung out in the kitchen with Gum.

I'm not sure I actually learned how to cook anything. Mostly I did a lot of chopping of herbs. I tried to jot down some notes about how to cook everything but that was futile. For the Panang Curry my notes say "oil, prik-gang panang, fry chili paste, add coconut milk, thicken, add beef - cook, add coconut milk, add basil leaves - pork soup flavoring, brown sugar, salt-kem, ahjinimoto (a Japanese seasoning of some sort), brown sugar, mancoot leaves, sweet peppers"... I have a feeling that's not quite going to get the job done when I get home. =P

Gum was just doing what most cooks do in the kitchen. Throw in a bit of this and that, taste, a little more of this... there's no recipe, no measuring cups, she just knows how to do it. I'm more of a baker than a cook, but I'll do some experimenting when I get home.

I will say that I was AMAZED by her ability to make a Thai feast using a fairly modest amount of counter space and one electric wok. She even timed it out well, first chop all the ingredients, then cook the meat for the pork salad (moo yam) and let it cool before starting the curry. Mix together the ingredients for the omelet (kai jeaow) while the curry is cooking. Plate the curry & start the omelet, then mix together the salad. It took a few minutes to get everything on the table.. but it was well worth the wait.

The reason men come to Thailand.

We had a lot of fun, it was so hilarious... three girls with three different native languages all cooking together. Through the basic Thanglish being used, I learned the Thai words for "salty" "sweet" and "garbage" and was pleased that I could understand when Wasabi kept saying "I'm hungry, I want to eat!!!". My favorite expression of the evening (and new diet motto) was something Gum kept saying ... I'll never get it right but something like "Gin gadai, you die, gin mai di."- "Eat whatever, when you're dead - you can't eat." My second favorite expression of the evening was "Oishi" (Japanese for 'delicious') which we all exclaimed repeatedly.

kai jeaow goong
I had intended to get a nice picture of the table all set, but completely forgot in my eagerness to start chowing down. There were six of us (the boys, naturally, stayed upstairs drinking while the girls cooked) and the meal was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

TAG: Code Sweet Chili Sauce