Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Not with a bang, but a whimper

Thus ends my career as an English Language teacher in Thailand.

Um. Yeah.

In one of those circle of life moments the last class I taught here was the same private lesson as the first class I taught here. They haven't improved much. In fact they were and still are by far the least advanced of any of my students, despite now being in the pre-intermediate book. They're good guys, but none too bright. They don't have a proper set of teeth between them, and finally after nearly a year of teaching them I realized that the reason one of them had such horrid pronunciation was that he's deaf! I'm not sure *how* deaf, but the clues had been adding up until I finally saw his hearing aide. D'OH!

Anyway, in the previous class they'd made some reference to taking me out to dinner, but it didn't happen. We had some small talk, went through a work sheet and then played scrabble.... really really really bad scrabble. It was lame. And that was that. I'm officially unemployed.

And demonstrating exactly how unlucky I am, we've got a tropical depression* moving in and can expect heavy rains & probably flooding for the next three or four days. So my whole 'hang out on a tropical beach for a week' plan has gone out the window. I wouldn't even mind hanging out at a cafe near the beach in a rain storm... but the ferries won't go out in stormy weather. I think I'm going to take a day or two to sort things out.... and you know.... pack.

TAG: Code Watermelon

* You know, I think I might have a bit of Tropical Depression myself. I've been down, and my brain is not quite working normally - whatever normal is. But I keep telling myself, I'm here - I'm out living life, and nothing really bad has happened to me, so I can't be depressed. And sometimes I feel pretty good, so I don't know. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Penultimates

When I first learned the term 'penultimate' I thought it was a joke. We have a word in English for 'the next to the last'??? Seriously??? But now that I'm wrapping things up in Thailand, this word seems extremely useful.

Today was, for example, my penultimate lunch with Marie. She's heading to Laos today, and will be moving to Bangkok for University while I'm traveling. But since I plan to stay in Bangkok for a while before flying home, we'll have other opportunities to see each other. I actually joined both Marie, and her mother Leah (who is Swiss - dad is Filipino). I've only talked to Leah a couple of times but I like her a great deal. She's in her mid to late 40s which puts me squarely between their ages. And honestly, I find her easier to relate to than her daughter. For one, she's a knitter (!!!!) and she's just a lot more outgoing and chatty. After lunch today I was wishing I'd had more of a chance to hang out with her over the past year - but it just didn't work out like that. I think she's a hoot, but it's not like Donny or Marie would invite her the next time we all went out for drinks. And with four* other kids at home, it's not like she has a lot of free time. In fact I think we mortified Marie when we briefly discussed condom availability in European and Asian counties. But it was nice, to have the day free and to have lunch with girls. Just nice.

Today was also my penultimate class. I had only been teaching it for a short time, but it had the potential to become my favorite class; a group of solid pre-intermediates who were signed up for 120 hours of lessons. I could have gone through the entire book with them - something I never got to do with any of my students, we were always starting in the middle or ending halfway through. I had them do a workbook page that was a challenging review of a lesson I'd kind of botched the class before, and then an activity that I know will be on the exam.** But after that we just played games.... because I felt like it. =P

They took me out to dinner somewhat spontaneously after class. We just went to a cinder block hole-in-the-wall noodle shop, but it was absolutely delicious. My student ordered me a bowl of noodle soup with crab... sweet fresh crab - more than likely caught less than 10 miles away early this morning. The soup was 45 baht / under $1.50 - delicious! It was all the better because I was starving - finally getting my appetite back. I spent a good long time with my head over my bowl chowing down, but eventually we all relaxed a bit and started chatting.

Actually by 'chatting' I mean: they asked me a few questions and I talked at them while they watched attentively - in that manner unique to polite non-native speakers who are trying to grasp overall meaning from the 75% - 80% of what I'm saying that they can comfortably understand.*** After feeling pretty crappy this last week, it was a really nice feeling. Just nice.

Everything I do this week I will be doing for the penultimate time. Since I'm storing my long-term luggage here, I will have to swing through one more time before heading home for good. It's such a strange feeling - it's the last time .... but not really the last time. But it's also a nice feeling the door is closing, but it's not shut yet. My responsibilities are ending and I'm feeling the slightest sense of freedom in the distance. I'm ready to leave, but I'm glad that it's not for good... not yet. Penultimate.... it's a good word.

TAG: Code Mango - yeah yeah, how quickly thing change, but it was nice today, the weather was nice, the company was nice, the class was nice, the food was nice, everything was nice and after feeling crummy for a while, nice can be perfect.

* I think there are four still at home - I lose count - there are 12 kids altogether. Good NIGHT!

** I cannot even express how much easier it is to plan a lesson the second or third time through. After teaching the pre-intermediate class - at least the first three modules - I know what's going to be on the test and I can make sure to cover it thoroughly when it comes up & not just wait until we review the day before the class. Alas - knowing what's covered in the listening portion of the pre-intermediate- units 1-3 exam is not one of those transferable skills we love to put on our resumes. =/

*** Another non-transferable skill I've picked up is a slightly slowed down, well enunciated and grammatically uncomplicated pattern of speaking that we call "Teacher English." I'll use contractions for "it's" and "what's" but not for "can't" because it's too difficult to tell from "can" - I can say what I want to say but I usually slow myself down by crafting my sentences somewhat carefully as I go. I've gotten really good at being easy to understand... so good at it that I often forget I'm doing it when I speak to other native speakers. Fortunately they all do it too so we just laugh at ourselves when we catch it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


It was only a matter of time - I got into my first motorbike accident on Saturday night. It wasn't actually the worst part of the night, but it's worth a mention here.

I was on the back of a motorbike taxi going through old town. We went through an intersection - I have no idea if there was a stop sign or who had right of way... those things just don't quite mean anything here. Anyway as we were going through I looked to my right and saw a woman on a motorbike, with her toddler sitting in front of her. If you've been in an accident you know that slow motion feeling you get when you see it happening but you don't really think it's going to happen until it does. CRASH - she crashed right into my foot!*

Neither of us were going particularly fast and it's motorbikes - not cars - so there's not nearly the same force of impact. Nevertheless, her little girl slid off her lap and kind of half fell and started crying. All the bags the mom was carrying on her handlebars spilled everywhere.** My taxi driver stopped, and I hopped off immediately. He ran to help the lady, who had at this point set her daughter down on the ground properly. The little girl starts wandering around in the street while the mom was straightening up her bike (it had only tipped off balance, not fallen over completely) and telling her daughter "mai bpen lai, mai bpen lai" (nevermind / don't worry). The taxi guy picked up her bags and got her sorted again. The mom gathered up her little girl and was on her way again.

The whole thing happened so fast I just kinda stood there dumbfounded for a minute. None of the traffic on the streets stopped - cars and motorbikes just kinda swerved around us and the little girl. It was surreal, absolutely surreal. Once the mom & daughter were off, the taxi guy got back on his motorbike, as did I and we were off as well. He said repeatedly "Maaa lao" (came fast) in refrence to the other driver, and was still a bit shaken up when he dropped me off. But like, that's that. No checking for damage or taking pictures, no exchanging insurance information. And really, no one was injured. My foot hurt, but it's fine. It was so bizarre.

I think there's something to be said for driving smaller vehicles. I've been in a slow speed crash in a car that gave me whiplash and did some fairly expensive damage to the car. This was probably about the same speed, or possibly faster but because there's not so much weight going into it, there was less damage. It's just not as dangerous. Americans tend to think bigger cars are safer... but I just don't think that's true. Safer for the person in the bigger car maybe, but then before you know it we're all driving tanks down the street. Something to think about.

TAG: Code Fish Sauce.... I'm still having stomach troubles, but my student this morning canceled so I got to come back home to rest.

* Had I been wearing a skirt, both feet would have been on the other side of the bike, one vote in favor of riding side saddle.

** Bags are nothing - I saw a motorbike earlier that night with three people on it - one of whom was carrying a 27" TV.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


since I have only three teaching days left (and three days left on my insurance here) I got sick.

I have yet another stomach bug. Last night/this morning was not pretty. I slept in the bathroom. I briefly considered going to the hospital after I puked up my antibiotic pill (perhaps the most horrible experience in my life - definitely top 3). And I had to call three people before I could find someone to help me: 1. had her phone off, 2. "your apartment is soooo faaar" (it turned out he had a 'guest' over) and finally 3. Pink - one of the office staff from my school, brought me some much needed bottled water & Sprite.

I managed not to puke between when I called her and when she came over, so I decided not to go to the hospital. I've had an experimental cracker and a few sips of the Sprite. I don't feel great, but I feel like I'm probably over the worst of it.

Dear readers, have I finally, once and for all, disabused you of the notion that solo international travel is glamorous and exciting?

TAG: Code Durian (at least for the time I spent in the bathroom)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why you do like that?

You know, the only thing worse than the isolation of being the only native English speaking woman in this town* is having everyone point it out to me.

Every day I ask my classes what they did the day before, or over the weekend. And sometimes ... in the more advanced classes at least... they ask me the same question in return. So I was telling my pre-intermediates that I had gone to the beach ... or maybe it was Bangkok, I can't remember. They asked me who I went with and I said "Just me." and seriously - everyone is scandalized.

To reassure them that I'm not completely pathetic I tell them that there were two women who taught at the school and we did everything together while they were here, but now that they've left it's just me, so I do things alone. But they go on to ask "You have a boyfriend?", "Um.... no." "You have a boyfriend in America???" (they're getting desperate now) and I tell them that "If I had a boyfriend in America I would not be in Thailand alone." and now my favorite part... I actually get this one a lot "Oh... I don't believe you." GAH! I don't know if it's meant as flattery, or a joke, or what... but it's just annoying.

In about half my evening classes, when they find out that I walk home alone at night, one of the men is scandalized enough to insist that he drive me home.... the entire 1/2 mile of well occupied road. It's fine, I'm lazy enough to appreciate the ride. One of my students has been driving me home on Tuesdays and Thursdays and actually took me out for mango & sticky rice the other day. It was nice to sit and chat with him... but I got the quiz about being alone again.

Then, yesterday I was walking to the food court to get dinner and I ran into him. As though we had not JUST had the quiz he started in on me again
"Where are you going?"
"To get some dinner."
"Yes... just me."
"Why you do like that?"


I think for a Thai person, there's nothing worse than being alone. Seriously... the culture tends to have the attitude of "the more the merrier" and most restaurants & bars are set up with long tables to accommodate large parties. In the home, meals are served on mats on the floor, usually outside. There doesn't seem to be the concept of needing to set another place at the table, it's normal to have a lot of people at a meal and since everyone serves themselves from several communal dishes in the center - an extra person or two is no big deal.

My students concern for me is genuine, and I do appreciate it. But it's hard not to feel that much worse about being on my own here. Part of me feels like a failure for not having made friends. I get along well enough with the Filipino women at the school. But when I hang out it's rarely fun or interesting enough for me to want to go out of my way to encourage the friendship. We have virtually nothing in common with regard to passions or interests or priorities in life. I spend enough time in bland & polite conversations with my students that I'm just not all that enthusiastic about doing it again over dinner.

It's not like the movies kids. I had this idea that I would be surrounded by all these interesting and adventurous people from England or Australia or wherever... but that just hasn't happened. The western guys who come here do so for the Thai women** and western women don't seem to find their way into Rayong. I imagined being surrounded by other foreign teachers would mean intelligent conversations about worldly topics. Nope. I have never in my life heard so many openly racist jokes and comments about people from different countries.

And it's the kind of thing that I was able to overlook or at least keep a balanced attitude about for a while. Especially while Bunny was here - she tended to steer every conversation towards the silly and ridiculous - evenings out with the group were fine, they were fun. But after a year, and without any buffer personalities to even out the group it's really grating on me. And I'm sure I've grated on the others. It's not fun anymore.

The other day I mentioned to Jeb that I had picked a location for my going away dinner on Saturday night. His response... "Oh - I'm having a party at my place that night... you can come if you want." He'd already invited half the teachers in Rayong... just, you know... not me. And that's fine. It's just my last week here. Why should that matter? I really wouldn't care if he didn't come to my going away thing... but I'm not about to try to compete with his party. I really just need to get out of here.

TAG: Code Fish Sauce

*Marie is technically a native English speaker in that it is her first and only fluent language... but she has a Swiss mother, Filipino father and was born in Thailand.

**I knew this would be the case before I got here, and I've gone back and forth between feeling like I'm being prejudiced and should give the guys a chance, and having those prejudices confirmed over and over and over again. One of these days I will post aaaaaaall about this topic.

*** Edited to add that it happened AGAIN just after I wrote up this post. I substituted for another teacher and was asked "Are you married?" not once, but twice (the second guy was out of the room when the first guy asked) and "Do you have a friend in Rayong? A buddy?" Do you even know what it's like to have to stand in front of a room full of strangers and have to answer "No." while smiling?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Just so you know...

I'm still totally freaking out.

Everyone keeps asking me what I'm doing next, and I have an answer... "I'm going to head up towards Chiang Mai, then visit Laos & Vietnam before flying back to the states." but the fact is, I don't have a single hostel booked, I have made no idea when the bus leaves for Chiang Mai or from which station. I have some vague plans of visiting an island before I start traveling in earnest but I still don't have a clue which island to visit. And this is all the easy fun stuff!!

I don't even know when I'm checking out of my apartment. I gave my landlady a vague wave at the calendar indicating the first or second week of October, and she seemed more or less okay with that. Or possibly she was cussing me out for my indecision in words I have no hope of understanding.

I'm not looking forward to YET AGAIN going through every item in my apartment and determining it's value to me in the long and short terms, evaluating whether it will be thrown out, mailed to the States, packed up to be stored for six weeks, or dragged along with me through three countries. Every time I lug my laptop around in my backpack I tell myself there's no way I could deal with traveling with it. Every time I think about leaving my laptop behind for six weeks I break into a panic - there's no way I could survive without unlimited access to the internet!

Once I leave this apartment I'll be living out of some combination of suitcases for like.... indefinitely, with a bare minimum of two months. The nomadic lifestyle does NOT appeal to me. All the declutterers of the world tell you that getting rid of your stuff frees you. But it's not true. Or rather, it's only true to a point. No, you probably don't need twice as many TVs as the number of people in your household, nor do you need the keychain some extended cousin gave you for your 15th birthday just because it reminds you of that one time you went rollerskating together. But as humans, we need stuff. We don't have fur or claws or shells... we can't go naked through the world. We have big brains & nimble hands. We make stuff and we use that stuff to create the environments in which we live.... this is what humans do. Take away my stuff and you're taking away my world.

OK - perhaps I'm being slightly melodramatic here. But seriously... I hate this part, I really hate this part. Anyone want to come over and help me?

TAG: Code Fish Sauce

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Scary Movie

The other day one of the gals from the office, Pink, invited me to go with her to a movie. She really wanted to see the new ghost movie and was afraid to go alone. I've been wanting to see a Thai movie while here, so this seemed like a good idea.

Now, it's important to note that Thai people *love* ghost stories. Most of my students believe in ghosts and one even told me a story about being visited by his late mother's ghost. When I went to Phuket last April one of my students warned me to watch out for the ghosts of the tsunami victims. While Buddhism is the dominant religion in Thailand, a lot of older animistic / superstitious beliefs get mixed in there too.

Spirit houses abound. You can't walk down the street without seeing a little offering of food, drink and/or incense set out to appease any spirits that might be around. Even at my school there is a small alter with a picture of a monk, one of the former kings, and maybe a Buddha statue (I've never actually gone up and inspected it)... every morning one of the staff sets out a glass of water, a glass of juice and a glass of tea for their spirits and says a little prayer of respect to them. So yeah, ghosts and spirits are a very real part of the culture here, and I was really looking forward to watching a genuine Thai ghost movie.

The one we saw was actually a collection of five short movies (the title in Thai was something original like Five Ghost Tales - I think the English title is Phobia 2). Although I usually avoid any kind of horror movies, so I'm hardly an expert, I think it was a pretty representative sample of the genre.

The first film, Novice, was the most interesting to me, and the most Thailand-specific. The movie starts out with a wide open road... a car is speeding from one direction, a couple of helmeted teenagers on a motorbike coming from the other. A crash seems imminent but instead one of the teens hucks a rock into the windshield of the oncoming car which crashes in a nearby ditch.

In the next scene a teenager is having his head shaved in preparation for being a novice monk. The identity of the teen is a bit ambiguous, as is the whereabouts of his father. But if you've seen any kind of 'suspense' movie, I think you know where this story is heading.

This poor kid is not an especially good monk however and proceeds to intentionally as well as accidentally break a great many Thai/Buddhist taboos:

1. As the monks are walking through a forest they pass plates of food offerings to hungry-spirits (ghosts whose loved ones are not properly taking care of them in the afterlife), the novice carelessly steps into one of the plates. GASP! The foot is the lowest part of the body - the most 'unclean' and to even point your foot at another person is considered rude. To step into an offering like that is about the equivalent of taking a piss in a baptismal font.

2. While washing some dishes in a river the monk spots a snake & gecko locked in battle. The gecko escapes & runs up into the novice's robes. He freaks out, throws off his robe and stomping on them kills the gecko. Buddhists in general and monks in particular are NOT supposed to kill anything - not even a fly. So, this novice is wracking up bad-karma points by the dozens.

3. Monks are not allowed to eat after sundown. The novice is lying awake in his bungalow late at night when his stomach growls. He goes back outside to the offerings of foods for the hungry ghosts and steals a packet of instant noodles. Double GASP! At this point my Thai friend was whispering urgently to me "Ooooh can not, can NOT!"

Naturally this rather irritates the hungry ghost giant who goes all ghosty on the village/temple area. He slams the doors and rattles the window shutters of the novice's bungalow and tears down one of the altars. Upon seeing the destruction the next morning, the head monk portends (in one of very few lines of dialogue) "A hungry ghost will be reborn, and a soul will be damned in it's place."

4. For all his sins, the novice is told to go meditate in a spooky candlelit cave. Creepiness abounds... eerie music, ominous shadows, candles being blown out by the wind. On running out of the cave the novice trips over and breaks a white string that wound around the hungry ghost alter, into the temple, and through the hands of each of the monks who are meditating and praying for protection. On feeling the string snap one of the monks looks up and the head monk delivers his second & last line of dialogue "Nothing can be done now." ooooooooohhhhhh!

In the final montage, the novice hears spooky things in the forest & throws rocks in the general direction of the sounds, someone... or something (cue *very* spooky music here) throws it back at him and hits him in the head. As he is lying on the ground bleeding grotesquely we have flashbacks to the first scene of the movie - GASP! it's *him* on the motorbike throwing a rock at the oncoming car. And DOUBLE GASP!! - it was his father in the car! He continues to get pelted by rocks as he grabs his cell phone and pathetically calls his mother to say "Kor tot, koooooor toooooot" (I'm sorry, I'm sorry) but his mother cannot recognize his voice and hangs up on him. A little special effects magic and we see the novice's hands enlarge and become grotesque as his perspective rises up into the air. He becomes the giant hungry ghost and his soul is damned... uh...eternally? Or at least until the next incarnation.

The movie was genuinely spooky, although this is like 98% due to the creepy music and things jumping out from nowhere. I screamed a lot! It was a fun experience.... screaming along with all the Thai teenagers in the theater. But it has NOT turned me into a horror movie fan. After the second short movie (doomed patient in a hospital room next to a guy hovering between life & death) I was ready to go home. But then there was a zombie movie and one about a haunted used car lot. I cannot take that much creepiness! Fortunately the last movie was a spoof and provided some much needed comic relief.

On Saturday I told my afternoon students I'd seen the movie - one had seen it already and two of them were planning on going. It's always nice when I can connect with my students in some way or other. In fact, on break they were all watching Phobia 1 (or Four Ghost Tales) on the TV in the lobby and there was a collective gasp of disappointment when the office staff turned off the TV and made everyone get back to class. After class the students fairly ran out of the room to get back to watching it. What can I say? The Thais LOVE their ghost stories!!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Out to lunch

This month has been pretty quiet for me... one week of only evening classes and now only two classes a day 9 -11am then 6-8pm, which gives me plenty of time to hang out and relax. Well last week Marie and I met up for lunch in old-town. It's an adorable restaurant with an English menu... what more can you ask for?

We had some tuna sandwiches, dim-sum and cha yen. Then just chatted.

Can I tell you how much I love just relaxing?
TAG: Code Watermelon

Saturday, September 12, 2009

This is how teachers get arrested...

and I sooooo know better! Gah.

This afternoon my class finished the lesson a bit early. I was going to make them do a work book page but they started whining for a game. I'm usually okay with this - they're a good class and they do class work when I ask them to. But I wasn't prepared this time, we've kinda over done hang-man and other vocab games.

In another class they'd asked to play a game and the kids taught me the ... I don't even know if it has a name, I never played it when I was a kid. Basically you blindfold one kid and everyone else is supposed to freeze (they never do) so the blindfolded kid can grab someone and guess who it is. Everything was going well - it really is a hilarious game, as long as you're not the one blindfolded. ;) I'd let all the kids play and it was right at 4 o'clock so I told the kids to go home. But they were like "teacher play too!" so I did.

You know, I'm fairly conservative, and tend to err on the side of extreme caution when it comes to touching my students. As in... I don't do it. Period. Earlier in the morning my 5 year old girl was standing next to my chair coloring a picture (she doesn't like to sit down). She kept edging closer and closer to me - in the way that 5 year olds tend to do and at one point tried to climb up in my lap. And just so you know what kind of hard-ass I am - I got up, pulled her chair around and had her sit down again in her own chair. It's not that I'm necessarily opposed to a child sitting in my lap, but at school I want to draw the line between "teacher" and "mom" you know?

So I don't know what I was thinking, but there I was blind-folded and fumbling around the room. At one point I bumped into my desk and fairly fell onto the chair. Lo & behold there was someone *in* the chair! And in the process of getting up & trying to figure out which part of the person was where I think I did some fairly inappropriate groping. Probably not *that* inappropriate... but it was a bit more full-body contact than one would want. When I identified the kid and took off my blindfold the kids were um... scandalized? It's hard to tell - they were laughing... and not using full sentences... but from the miming - gah! It was not teacher-appropriate.

And it was only *after* playing that I remembered a story I heard about a local English teacher getting fired over a student complained about inappropriate touching. Gah! So, yeah - I will *not* be playing that game again.

TAG: Code Fish Sauce

Friday, September 11, 2009

Well that was refreshing

I have a new student, a doctor with intermediate level English who's studying for the TOEFL. While it's nice to have a student I can actually talk to... it's a whole new kind of challenging. We're not using a text book and we're practicing a very specific type of speaking skill... formulating one's thoughts on a subject for 15 seconds, then delivering a concise and well organized response for between 45 and 60 seconds. Because that's what the TOEFL tests. Gah!

So for a two hour class I need to prepare a good couple dozen topics and then be prepared to help him perfect whichever tense or structure he chooses to use. NOT EASY!

But when I walked out of class today there was a decidedly exotic sight was waiting in the lobby. There was an American woman sitting there talking to my manager about working at the school. I introduced myself and we chatted about the pros and cons of working in Rayong. Although she was a bit older -couldn't have been much more than 50 - we clicked fairly instantly. I cannot even tell you how nice it was to have someone pleasant* to chat with. I didn't have to 'grade my language' or slow down. I didn't have to mime anything. Lovely!

I'm really really really REALLY looking forward to being back in a country where I can do that with everyone. Folks - you are not going to be able to shut me up for WEEKS.

*I'm a bit on the outs with the guys in the office. It's all very Jr. High and not worth discussing here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

We are dentists.

I went to the dentist last week, and I have to say it was pretty darn easy too. There are tons of dental clinics in Rayong. I went to the one recommended to me by Marie who recently had her two front teeth replaced as the result of a motorbike accident. I figured she would know.

I think it's called Pattaya Dentists... but I couldn't read that sign if I tried (funky modern font). The tooth though, that's a pretty good hint. ;)

And a block down the street there's this clinic. I LOVE this sign.

"We are dentists." - informative, succinct, grammatically correct- what more could you ask for?

The whole experience was pretty typical of my life here. Everything's exactly the same, but completely different.

Exactly the same:
I was really dreading going. I have really bad teeth, I know this. They're too close to floss easily, the enamel is weak and I've been told I have acidic saliva. These teeth put Amanda Bynes through college.* They are also absurdly hypersensitive. I once complained that my teeth were still hurting three hours after a cleaning and was swiftly informed that cleanings aren't actually supposed to hurt. Hmmm...

So despite the fact that Bunny & Bobby went in for a cleaning back in December, I've managed to put it off until now. But my teeth were bugging me and I was afraid I might have a cavity so I finally put on my big girl panties and marched myself to the clinic.

Completely different:
When I walked into the clinic I took off my shoes and put them on the shelf by the door. I was barefoot on the cold tile floor. I had only intended to make an appointment for the next day - to give myself time to mentally steel myself for the experience. But when I told the (blessedly English-speaking) staff that, they said pleasantly "No... today. Please sit down." Um... ok.

After filling out a brief contact card (listing drug allergies and other medical conditions) I sat down on the couch. I had barely opened a magazine before I was called in. Now, I've waited significantly longer than this when I've had a scheduled appointment, so that was a bit of a shock.

Exactly the same:
I was led back into a little glass cubical with the dentist's chair and all associated gear. The hygienist got a sterilized tray out and placed it on the table. She took my glasses & purse etc. and draped me with a little paper sheet.

Completely different:
The actual dentist came in, wearing his white coat & all to do the cleaning.

Exactly the same:
He showed me the tartar on my teeth using a little mirror and told me "You should use floss every day." >roll eyes<

Completely different:
They put a towel over my eyes and another over my neck and chin. I actually liked this. Not only did it shield my eyes from the bright light & protect my chin from spray-back, but it eliminated the awkwardness of staring up the dentist's nostrils while he worked.

Exactly the same:
"Please rinse your mouth."

Completely different:
Well, not completely. The cleaning was quicker not nearly as thorough as I've had in the States. There was no fluoride treatment although there was more than enough scraping & polishing to satisfy me that I was better off for having it done.

Exactly the same:
It hurt like a bee-ach. The dentist chuckled "Yes, a lot of people have sensitivity to cleanings." as I batted his hand away after he scraped a particularly sensitive spot.

Completely different:
With no insurance, I had to pay myself. But it was only 700 baht ($20 US) or in more practical terms, a smidgen more than twice my hourly wage. In the States a cleaning was more like $70 or 3.5 times my hourly wage. So while it was cheap for me, it's hard for me to say if it's considered affordable by the average Thai person. Probably not.... but probably not prohibitively expensive either as I'm pretty sure I got charged the farang price.

Final verdict: When I told my dentist in Oregon that I'd be living in Thailand, and when I've talked to westerners about dentists here in Thailand I've gotten a reaction to the effect of "Oh you don't want to go to a Thai dentist if you can help it!" But nothing about my experience would lead me to agree with that sentiment.** The place was modern and clean, the dentist spoke English well enough to indicate he'd had some serious schooling. All the equipment looked pretty standard, and my teeth do feel and look cleaner. They're still sore despite the dentist's assurances that I had no cavities. But I'm not going to worry about it much. And now that I've done it, I kinda wish I'd done it sooner.

I don't know if I would go as far as recommending that a tourist go get his/her teeth cleaned while traveling here... but it was one of those experiences that was just different enough to make me realize that the way we do things in the States is not the only (nor necessarily the best) way to do them. If more people had the benefit of that perspective, I think it would help the debates about how to fix what's wrong with health care in the states.

TAG: Code Watermelon

*No joke - when my family lived in CA, her dad was my dentist. I saw her as an Ooompa Loompa in my High School's production of Willy Wonka when she was like 6.

**On the other hand, I have heard second hand stories of a dentist chipping a tooth he wasn't working on, and then trying to charge the patient for fixing it. I'm guessing 'malpractice' doesn't really translate.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Life's too short to read lame books.

Mr. Bryson, you have let me down. =(

I picked up Made in America because I've been on quite a Bill Bryson kick lately but it is not at all what I expected. I thought it would be travel-related, like about interesting places in the states. I know he wrote a book like's just not this one. This one is about American English. And while that subject usually interests me... this one just leaves me flat. I really don't need to know why some cities are called " -boro" (Hillsboro) and others "- burg" (Newburg).

And I'm irritated, the used bookstore had a whole stack of Jane Austen books and I'd gotten it into my head to read Persuasion next. But when I got there they didn't have it. I could have picked up Northanger Abby but you know... I got into a snit because it didn't have what I wanted.

I also recently finished Wuthering Heights. I had been advised against reading it... and I can see why. The book is deeee-pressing. There's not really a single character with whom I can identify. And it doesn't help much that among the characters introduced in the first few chapters there's a Heathcliff, Cahterine Earnshaw, Catherine Linton, Heathcliff Linton, Hareton Earnshaw, Hindley Earnshaw, and I think a grandfater Hareton Earnshaw as well. I made a list of who was who and still couldn't quite keep all the relationships straight. Gah... far too much work! Irredeemable and indistinguishable characters aside... it was a good book. I was absolutely captivated by the story and did want to know how it turned out. There's a dark Gothic feel to the story that could rival even the most teen-angsty vampire book out there. So in that respect it was refreshing to read a story of the Regency period* that's not all fancy balls and farcical romances. Still I wouldn't say that I *enjoyed* reading it.

I have a couple more books on my shelf... but nothing I'm extremely eager to read. I can't wait to get back home to whole libraries full of books in English. Never mind Powells and all the other bookstores I could practically live in if allowed. Soon soon soon!

TAG: Code Watermelon

*Technically the story takes place in the Georgian period but it's close enough.