Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Do something today that takes you somewhere tomorrow...

No caption needed. 
Everything you have ever done has lead you to the very moment you are right now in life. This post, forgive me if you can, will be less of Thailand and more of the idea of the aforementioned statement. It does indeed have something to do with how I managed to arrive here in this wonderful place, experiencing unimaginable things. First and foremost though, I want to thank my parents for everything they have given me, for every time they have done without so I did not have to. I know that we have not always been so fortunate, but we are surely better off than many. So I am indebted to them for the rest of my years.

I think about it, a lot actually, if things had been slightly different one way or the other. If I had gone to a different school, if I had a different roommate in college, and heaven forbid if I had not come across all the inspiring and just awesome people in the Peace Studies community at Manchester University I can almost say without a doubt that I would not be where I am today. I would not be doing what I am doing. There are many people who have helped to shape my character over the years. Some I still know, some have come and gone. I have had ebbs, and I have had flows. Cliche or not, I can honestly say that I would not change things in my life.

Thailand has been treating me tremendously well. I teach 24 classes a week (and finally things are starting to settle into a groove). My students are behaving better, I am not battling with them any more. I just take their student ID number and pass it on to my superior. Then she takes care of any and all the problems. It is a pretty easy system from my point of view.

This past weekend I was able to escape from my province and head south for five days. I went to an island called Koh Phangan (try as I might, I still cannot pronounce it correctly). Such a conflict with the island. It's enchanting beachsides, it's wonderful mountainous interior- sheer beauty. This beauty was juxtaposed with tourist-y trash; parties, over priced drinks, and farangs. Seas of farangs dotted with Thais. I have not heard more English spoken in one place since leaving the states.

I was thirsty. I went to get some water from the lady selling them on the side of the road. I asked "tow rai, khrap?" She just looked at me sort of confused. I asked in English, "how much?" She replied with "ten baht." It is almost so infested with farangs that Thai is the unspoken word. The West has raped yet another beautiful space on earth.

This admittedly is annoying. I am a farang. So what right do I have to rant about such a thing? Well I hope that I was not as annoying as some of those Westerners I saw there just for the Full Moon Party (a mega party on the beach with thousands of drunk farangs who stay up until the sunrise). Stumbling around, speaking English to Thai's like they are deaf and dumb ones. Where is the respect for these people? This was the one thing that just bothered me during the whole of my stay at the island. What was it like before we showed up and ruined it?

I am the one in the air there. 

So I return to my point I made prior. Everything you have ever done has brought you where you are today. So do something today that will take you somewhere tomorrow. You never know, it might be Thailand.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thailand ≠ America

It has been some time now since I got around to sitting down and writing. I decided to finally sit down and update.

Things are going well here for the most part. I am beginning to settle into the mundane and continuous routine that comes with the role of teaching 1300 students once a week. The lessons get old, quick. Since my last post, we have moved to a new apartment. This one is much more to my liking; being only a short walk from E. TECH and right next to two markets. On top of that the rent is cheaper.

I have been making as much of my time here trying to do and see things on the weekends. Just this past weekend I traveled to Ayuthaya (an old capital of Thailand). It was once covered with gold and Buddhist temples, then it was sacked by the Burmese. A lot of the religious ornaments were destroyed. Now it lies in ruin. But with the help of slight imagination, you can see the illustrious past that Ayuthaya once had.

Just the day before Ayuthaya, I was in Bangkok (which will from now on be referred to as BKK). It was just a night. I was able to get some wonderful Mexican food. For a good price. From an actual Mexican. The place is called Tacos and Salsa. All the way at the end of Soi 18, just of Sukhumvit. Get there, enjoy it.

The weekend after next I am planning to get to Koh Samet (pronounced Goh Same(t) [silent t, no Thai finishes a word with a hard consonant]). Then in August, I will be going to Koh Phangan for Buddhist Lent and a Full Moon Party. Exotic beach locals soon to come.

I am slowly learning Thai. I do not know very much, enough to have a friendly little conversation or ask how much something is. The Thai's say I know good Thai. Not only is that poor grammar, but I think they are just being nice. I do enjoy talking to the little kids here. It is fun because their English is about as good as my Thai, so we tend to be on a much more even playing field. I just returned this evening from 7/11. There were these two children running around the store, chasing each other. They hurried around the corner and almost ran into me. I motioned to them to continue. They mimed me. The three of us laughed. One of them, a little girl, came up to me and practiced her English asking, "How are you?" I replied with, "I am well." I returned the favor with, "Sabadee mai (how are you in Thai)?" The conversation progressed to what is your name, where do you teach/go to school. It was pleasant. Thai children very much enjoy practicing their English with a Farang.

I traveled half way around the world. I am learning. I am evolving. If I have learned anything thus far it is this: Thailand is not America. That is not a value statement of any kind, rather it is just an observation through my experience.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I don't know Thai, and they don't know English... what a cocktail.

Disciplining students. That seems to be the funny phrase that seems simple, but is becoming increasingly harder to do. The idea of discipline in a school stateside is a lot different for teachers. At home teachers would never hit a student. The days of rulers and beatings are over in the American public school system. Now I am not saying that Thai teachers beat children, but they will hit them upside the head if they say something wrong or act out. I, as I have stated before, do not feel comfortable with this at all. I still need to discipline my students. Now my Thai is broken, yet I am trying, so I usually cannot communicate my point to these students. The only useful terms that I know for the classroom is stop talking, and do you understand. When it comes to controlling a class of 50 unruly teenage boys who are stuck in a classroom for nearly eight hours a day, these phrases are of little use.

So what do I do? I employ physical punishment. Torture? Uh, not so muc. Jumping jacks. Why do I like jumping jacks? Be cause no one looks good doing a jumping jack, especially not in a school uniform in front of 49 other students. I also have the students just stand up. Standing there at their desks while everyone else just sits there really gets to them, they usually stop acting out pretty quickly.

If these things do not work I just take their ID card and give it to my supervising Thai teacher. She swiftly gets after them and they usually get their act together for the next class. They also tend to spread the word of their punishment to their fellow classmates. This method shows to be effective.

So as the classes go on there are three things that I need to keep doing (in specific order)-

1) I need to improve my Thai
2) I need to keep being stern
3) Teach the students that class can be fun

On a side note- Taking phones has gotten out of hand. I take on average 3-4 phones per class. I have 24 classes a week. That is 96 phones a week. I even took an iPad the other day. Kid, you can not play an iPad in class and not expect me to notice. I usually give these devices back at the end of class. It is almost a lost cause. As long as they do not use them for the 50 minutes a week that I see them I don't really care.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I am here to... teach.

My sweet ID. 
The red on the flag is the nation, the white is for
Buddhism, and the blue for the monarchy. 
I have been teaching for less than a week at this point. My average class size is about 45 students; high of 52, low of 31. The classroom here in Thailand is very different from that in the States. The teachers here are actually allowed to strike the students. I prefer not to do that. Instead I will employ tactics like jumping jacks and pushups. I can already tell I will have to do this because the kinds can be, as one person put it during orientation, a little "naughty." I think this can mostly be due to the large classes. I teach one lesson a week to 24 separate classes. I teach one lesson to students to get them in the classroom with a native speaker. There has been a government mandate, from what I understand, that all Thai students must be exposed to English because it will soon be the formal language of some Pan Southeast Asia coalition, the official name has slipped my mind. So all students are to take English classes. Students' skills run from very good to none. I am teaching kids who can speak and write well, and then the next class I have students who just sit there. Since I have started less than a week ago, I have taken more then ten phones. These students are not going to zone out while playing on their phones in my class. I only see them one day a week, the least they can do is dedicate 50 minutes to what I am trying to cover. I am not preparing hard lessons. My first lesson consiste of this:

My name is ______. I am from ________. I am _____ years old. I like ______. I do not like ______. 
They were to fill in the blanks and then say it in front of the class. Seems simple enough? 

But don't get me wrong, I am really enjoy the teaching here. The students are a lot of fun. Once they understand that I am in charge and if they actually do the lessons, I will try to make them fun for them. Large classes aside, I am really enjoying what I am doing. (A side note, E-Tech is the largest school in Thailand with 10,000 students. It is really like a small town. Some students travel from Bangkok or Pattaya every day just to come to E-Tech. Far larger than any school I have attended.)

My school, in Thai. 
Other than that, I went to Muay Thai yesterday. It reminds me so much of wrestling in high school. I think it will be a good way to stay in shape, so I shall continue to go 2-3 times a week. Basically for those who do not know what it is- it is boxing, kickboxing, and some grappling all in one. No on the ground stuff.

Waah Bam! 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Home sweet home?

Phew, I have finally made it to my apartment in Chonburi, Thailand. Actually I do not live in Chonburi, it is a sub-district of a district of the province of Chonburi (make sense?). The past few days especially have seemed rapido. There has been intense teacher training, Thai language learning, meeting my new boss, coming to Chonburi, and then actually teaching a class.

Where to start? I guess I will start where I last left off. We were in the middle of orientation in Bangkok. There was a lot of boring things to go over, although the OEG staff was trying to make it as exciting as could be (and I deeply thank them for their efforts, they are GREAT). I met my coordinator/boss at my school. I have no idea how to say her name, as it is a lot of things in Thai. As a side note I have made sure to learn the words for an extra shot of espresso for lattes and spricy food, kem kem and pet pet. Back to the story. I was told my apartment was going to be about a five minute walk from E-Tech (my school) but it is at least a 10 minute drive, with traffic it turns into almost an hour or more on a songthaew (a converted pickup truck to passenger vehicle). I am okay with it though, there are many people who do not have as nice of accommodations as I do and they came in the same group as I did. So, again, I feel very fortunate. 

Chonburi is an industrial town, so this is slightly a drag. But E-tech is huge. The largest school in Thailand with an amazing 10,000 students packed on a tiny campus. They bus kids to the school every morning from towns that are hours away. It is very fun. I have had the chance to talk to several of the staff and the students. For the most part they are great. I taught one class today. The class was comprised of 50 females and one male. Classes in Thailand, at least at E-Tech, are usually better well behaved if the students are women and studying business, They are worse if they are boys and studying automotive tech. So from what I have heard, my classes will run the gamut from cooperative and smart to as some would say "naughty". 

So I taught my first class. I was a different experience. It was definitely a "first" class. I was a little nervous, the students were laughing a lot. Did I say I was nervous? E-Tech staff introduced me and the next thing I know I am there in front of fifty some students by myself, no one else is there. But here is the great part about my classes, I have 24 different classes a week. All 24 classes study the exact same lesson once per week. Yeah? I ONLY HAVE TO MAKE ONE LESSON A WEEK. Yes, it will get monotonous and all, but I will have it fine tuned indeed. So although today's class was a bit new, things will quickly become routine. 

I was able to take my first run in Thailand today. It was only about three miles, but it was very hot and humid. The run was followed by some Muay Thai. This is the sport that I most closely associate with wrestling. I wrestled for many years and this is the things that came to my mind today. Now I am sure I will get the questions of why are you doing this violent thing, peace studies major (actually, I already have). But if you know anything about Muay Thai it is a practice of respect towards each of the participants, a sort of yeah I am going to pound away at you but there is a bond between us. There is something special about it. I do not know if I will continue to do it, but it was something I wanted to try. It looks like it will all be the best way for me to stay in shape, it is also only a five minute walk form E-Tech. 

Well that is all for now. My travels take me back to Bangkok this weekend for pleasure and leisure. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Where does this man go at night?

The day started out bright and early at about 630; I had gotten a good nights sleep the night before. I went down to get some breakfast at our hotel about 7. We met out orientation leaders and made out way to the grand palace.

Just inside the gates at the Grand Palace. 
To the left is the gold building. 
Today was a national holiday, something about when some buddha reached enlightenment. I am not sure if it was THE buddha, but it was someone who along their path in life had reached nirvana. So it was particularly today. We saw some really great stuff. Our tour guide spoke good English, but she was throwing Thai in there, speaking fast, and talking away from me (not to mention I was preoccupied with taking pictures of everything), so I am afraid I cannot recall all the details of the tour. We saw a pagoda that was made from pieces of gold that cost 50 cents for the king to buy many years ago. It contained thousands of them, I can only imagine what it would be valued at today. There was one building that was made from broken glass. The Chinese used to trade goods with the Thai people. On one such journey they Chinese ship hit a bad storm (I think this is how the story goes) and broke a lot of colored glass. The Chinese did not know what to do with this broken glass, so they threw it into Chao Phraya river, the main river in Thailand. The people who lived along the river complained to the king about all of the broken glass in and on the shores of the river. So the king had a building made of the broken glass and made it a holy place. Our tour guide even suggested that this is where Gaudi, the famous Spanish architect, found inspiration for his well known designs. There were many other things, but one last thing I would like to mention, we were able to see the Emerald Buddha. I am not sure as to the significance of this tiny sculture, but it seemed to be the centerpiece and the focus of the activity (This was probably the buddha that reached enlightenment).

Not a fan of these. 
From there we walked through a market and waited for our van to come pick us up. From there we headed to lunch. This was maybe the most filling meal that we had all day, and it didn't hurt that it was paid for by OEG (OEG is my on the ground program here in Thailand). The food was good; I tried some new things, and learned what I didn't like. After we ate there was this incredibly creepy but awesome puppet show. The show acted out the story of a mural that was painted on the walls of the Wat that in on the Grand Palace grounds. It was the story of a princess that got kidnapped, and there were demons, and I don't know the rest of the story. All you need to know was that it was not just a sock puppet show, and the puppets might have been the creepiest thing that I have ever seen.

Why did he think this was a good idea? 
After that we were able to come back to the hotel for about an hour. This gave me time to upload some photos from the morning. We had then decided to meet and go to the tallest building in Thailand. We took some alley way there. This alley way was packed full of vendors selling everything that you could think of when you think of street goods and products. There was a man driving a moped down the alley like it was a regular road, like he seriously thought this was a good idea (Please reference picture). We finally made it to the building we were looking for. It was just like any other tall building, but this one came with a view of the bustling metropolis that is Bangkok. There was one exception, this building had the most random interior design ever. There were old tuk tuk's, giant plastic aliens, a boat. It was just rather weird.

There was something today that I really struggled with, and quite honestly I am still struggling with. I have seen many beggars; this is nothing new to me. But today it struck me particularly hard when I saw a man that was lying face down on the sidewalk of Bangkok. The man had about 3/4 of one leg missing and 1/2 of the other gone. He literally had his face on the ground. What does one do? I do not have an answer, and I have thought about this for a long time.

Where does this man go at night? Where is his family? What does this man do when he is hungry?

I might think I have a lot to worry about, but I do not. I am carrying on around Bangkok like it is this getaway, but really life here is much harder than I will ever know through my own experiences.

Friday, June 1, 2012

My blogger page is in Chinese, Cantonese to be more specific

In Chicago, a gloomy day. 
Leg room galore. 
So it has been quite some time since I have laid down horizontally, and there has been no sleep since about 730am on the 31st. But it is okay. My flight went well. Somehow I got lucky and was given an emergency exit row- on a long flight like this it was definitely a good thing. First thing first, the food on Cathay Pacific is terrific, by far the best airline food I have ever encountered. As I mentioned, the flight went really smoothly. There were minimal crying babies, little turbulence, and a decent selection of movies to watch (in sixteen hours I watched three movies and stared at the moving plan moving across the map). This time also gave me a chance to catch up on some reading. I picked the autobiography of Steve Jobs. If you have not read it, start. I am an Apple-holic, but there is much more to Jobs than the Apple and I will leave it at that.

So finally I arrived at Hong Kong International. I wandered around the airport for a while (a twelve hour layover offers you that luxury). I tried to mask my lost wandering with a face of window shopping and browsing, but really I had no clue where I was going. It was hot, I was sweating. I decided to sit down and eat something- WITH SOME CHOPSTICKS!
 It was delicious, and I say it because I am not entirely too sure what it was that I was eating. That didn't matter it was good. From there I went to exchange some money, which I hate doing because they rip you off. It's like they steal my money just to change it.

But while exchanging my money, I came across a banner on the back of some large obstruction in the middle of the walkway that showed people relaxing in the lap of luxury at the Plaza Premium Longue. This seemed like the best idea ever. So I went to find it. I searched the whole terminal (Hong Kong International is a large terminal by the way). People kept pointing me in the direction saying it was across from such and such, but with accents that I could not understand them. I was close to giving up, but then I saw it. It was an oasis to a weary traveler- the Pay-In Lounge. I thought I would just rest for a few hours and head to the gate. But alas, the man at the counter talked me into buying the ten hour pass. This included such amenities as a shower, free food and drink for the stay, and a fifteen minute massage. It did come at a cost, I paid it. Oh well. I passed on the massage and grabbed a lukewarm beer. I sat down and took off my shoes for the first time since I left my house. I read the paper, charged my iPhone, iPad, and Macbook (Emma says it's like their first trip home). After a few hours, I decided it was time for a shower. Yes, that's right- I SHOWERED IN THE MIDDLE OF AN AIRPORT! It is always surprising how much a shower can rejuvenate you and get you going again. So here I sit, fresh and clean. My flight to Bangkok is in just a few hours now, not too much longer and I will be there. Until then... No sleep 'til Bangkok (reference Beastie Boys).