Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Sawatdee Bee Mai Krap!

Happy New year everyone!

It's already 2009 over here and I gotta say it's pretty cool so far. I plan on writing a retrospective on my 2008 soon but for now I gotta get some sleep. Enjoy tonight wherever you may be! Happy New Year again!

Let's make it a good one!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Hey everybody!

the video says it all!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Small Victories

Before coming here, I really didn't know that bowing would be such an important part of my everyday life. isn't really bowing, it's called wy-ing (sp?)and it's done by placing your palms together and holding it right in front of your face, then making a slight nod or curtsy (You can exaggerate these actions as necessary depending on the importance of who's involved). Before I started working at I Can Read, the only time I would be wy'ed was after receiving change at the supermarket, but now I get wy'ed quite frequently by students and their parents after a class. The problem I've been having is 1) I'm never really expecting it(not everyone does it), 2) this catches me off guard and it takes me a split-second to remember to do it back, and 3) my hands are usually full with something (book, folder, my change, etc) which makes for a very awkward and I can only hope un-embarrassing gesture. The reason I'm writing this is to announce that I've not only wy'ed successfully once but twice in the past 5 days! Pulling off a wy nice and smooth is very satisfying, probably because I struggled so much before. I'm getting more and more aware of scenarios with an impending wy and make sure to prepare myself.

As a side note, there are 4 different types of wy. The first is the low one, for people who are equal to you or not as important. This is done by placing your hands near the bottom of your face. I typically put my thumbnail to my lip. I think that you can put your hands lower than that too if you want (like, on your chest) but I haven't seen that too much and don't wanna risk it. The next level up would be for superiors or if you wanted to be very formal. For this one, I put my thumb right on my nose. This is the one I go to most often so there's no risk of offending. The next two I'm kinda unclear on. I've asked around but the reaction I mostly get is just to not worry about since it's unlikely that I'll use them. The third one is for the king and you put your hands right in front of your eyes. and the fourth is for prayer and you put your hands so high that you see underneath your wrists. I think you can even do this one on top of your head like a shark fin but I'm not sure. If anyone has any corrections or input, please feel free to leave them as comments.

much love,

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Xmas Party

Hey everyone! I hope most of you are alright after all these storms I'm hearing about. That one that caused all the blackouts even made the pages of the Bangkok Post. It's sorta cooling off here, in fact I'd qualify some days as "comfortable". Believe me this is not an effort to make anyone jealous, I would love to go sledding or have a snowball fight right about now. (ps thanks for the snow pics, keep em coming!)

Anyway, the I Can Read office where I work had a xmas party for the kids last Saturday where they all brought in presents and drew numbers to see who got what. The lobby which is usually pretty empty was filled with kids and parents all in Santa hats which was pretty cool. Eventhough it was so close to Christmas, I still hadn't really felt like it. At least not until that day where all the kids were running around opening presents with Christmas carols playing (and me in a santa hat of course). A few of my kids brought me presents too even though I've only been teaching them for a week. I got a box of chocolates and a weird little dog on a string (apparently it's a cell phone caddy). Aside from that, the teaching has been going great. A lot of the kids are really bright and I think they should have no problem moving up through the levels. One thing that's kinda getting on my nerves is that the classes are always missing two or three kids. It's normally not a problem, in fact with a lot of the classes it's better to have it smaller. They behave a lot better and it's easier to gauge how far they are in their learning with more individual attention. The problem is that the parents sign their kids up for make-up classes which are steadily increasing in number. The woman in charge of scheduling them is starting to pile them on. There are a lot of problems with this over-abundance of make-ups that affect the quality and effectiveness of the program that I won't get into. That's not what this blog is about. Instead we'll get into why I personally feel this is an issue. Wednesdays are a very light day for me. I only have one class and I've been using the down time to set up my classes for the week and to do some of the paperwork. Well.. this coming Wednesday I have to do not 1, not 2, not 3, not even 4, but 5 make-ups. 5!!. That's absurd. I asked the lady in charge of scheduling if she was familiar with Ebeneezer Scrooge but she didn't. She thought it was funny that I had so much extra work and didn't know why I couldn't see the humor in it. I guess I can.

My plans have changed a little and now I'll be waking up early on xmas morning to catch a bus to Pattaya where languagecorps is having a big Christams dinner. I'm actually kinda excited for it. It'll be a gathering of languagecorps alumni both new and old, and it'll be good to see some of them again.

much love,

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is That So Wrong?

I've been doing my very best not to be 'overly Western' during my time here and it has led to moments where I consciously abstain from certain acts just so I don't look like some dumb foreigner. There is no larger source of this guilt than a trip to Burger King. Don't get me wrong, my diet since coming to Bangkok has been close to 85% rice/noodles. Very rarely do I get anything like a burger or burrito and some of you may be shocked, nay, flabbergasted to learn that I've only had pizza twice since coming here. So why, when I enter a Burger King, do I feel a sudden shame. (You can spare me the 'health concerns' for now.) In the States it's not like I eat hot dogs and mac-n-cheese for every meal, I like to mix it up. I eat those things, but I also enjoy Italian food, Chinese food, Mexican food, etc, etc. How come when I come to a different country I feel an obligation to eat the local fare and nothing else. Maybe I'm just worried on how this might look to a passer-by. They don't know that I live down the street and am spending the next year living here. Maybe they think I'm just some backpacker passing through on my way to Malaysia or Vietnam. Some weak bum who can't get through the day without indulging in 'American' food, when in actuality I just wanted a quick bite before I got on the train.

Well until I figure this out or just plain get over it, I'll have to keep my eating at Burger King quick and quiet (and definitely no 'to go' bags).

ah well,

Sunday, December 14, 2008

At Long Last!

Well after nearly a month of combined training/waiting I finally started my job at I Can Read this Saturday. It was great, but it didn't start out that way. The first class I taught that morning was from the ICR2 level (the highest we offer at Sathorn) and they didn't have any of the materials they were supposed to. Also, the guy I'm taking over for took less than stellar notes on the progression of his class, so I really didn't know where to begin. I kinda struggled through that class but was able to come up with enough educational things to do with the materials we had that the class wasn't a waste. The next class was an ICR1 which can be boring sometimes, but I threw in some games. The official guidebook to teaching ICR says no games, but these are just kids (one of them in ICR1 is only 6!) and you gotta mix it up a little or they'll go crazy. They were fine. A lot of them missed Dave, the guy before me, but they didn't dislike me in anyway. My last class of the day was a PRP class which is the level right before ICR. They loved me and were a lot of fun. PRP is great because you just get through the sounds and blends and then there's plenty of time for games and stories. I love them just as much as the kids although some of the stories are pretty bizarre.

I taught there again today (Sunday) and it went even better. It started with an ICR1 which went smooth as silk. A couple of the kids there are ready to move up so the stories flew by. One weird thing about teaching phonetics in a program designed by Australians is that the differences in their and American speech is clearly labeled. Most of the words in the ICR books have little marks above the vowels so the students know if it's a short or long sound or if it's a diphthong or whatever. Well I don't know about you at home, but when I say "caught" it sounds like the short 'o' sound in 'dog', but the book has it labeled as having the sound like the one in 'dwarf'(believe it or not I spent a while thinking of a word that contained the sound and almost everyone said the same way). This causes me to sorta fake a little accent when I read the words of their lists so they don't get confused. After that I had another PRP which was tons of fun again. 3 of my 4 kids were so good that during class they took long overdue evaluations to move up levels to ICR1 and passed. Then I finished with another ICR1 which turned out to be just a 1-on-1 since almost no one showed up. The student was great and was totally into blending his sounds and vowels the way he had been taught which was very cool to see because I could see that it was actually working. We were able to finish up in record time because he was so good and without a full class there isn't a whole lot to do anyway. I spent the rest of the day watching Ben 10 in the reception area and hanging out in the office with Simon (the guy who trained me and is in charge of whipping the Thai offices into shape) and trying to learn more about cricket. Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest days for I Can Read so I thought that they were gonna be packed with classes but turns out that I only have 3 each, for now (K.O.D.!!)I'm all done by 2:30ish but they have me stick around just in case any kids come in for an evaluation, which I am now trained to administer.

but for now I just get to kick back and enjoy my Monday-Tuesday weekend!

much love,

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Alright. I know it's been a very long time since my last post but that's because I have spent the last week or so traveling around the Northern part of Thailand. Now I'm finally back and have enough energy to write about it. Well, I took a trip up to Chiang Mai on the overnight train. In an effort to save some baht I opted for the 3rd class seats (instead of the nice 1st class ones we took to Nong Khai) This made the trip pretty brutal. Instead of getting a nice sleeper bunk, all I got was the flat uncomfortable chair. It was as if I was riding the commuter rail for 14 hrs except that the seats were just plywood with the backs rising up at a 90 degree angle. But I ended up saving a lot and was able to do more on my trip so I guess it was alright. In any event, I arrived in Chiang Mai and made my way to the Top North guesthouse where I was to meet up with Marianne (a friend I met through Rachel) and her friend Jen. We all went out for burritos which were so good. The two girls are out living in the sticks and don't really get an opportunity to eat anything but Thai food so they really loved it.

The next day we set off for Pai. We rented motorbikes because I had heard that it was a neat trip winding through the mountains. I had no idea. The ride started out harmlessly enough with us leaving Chiang Mai on a crowded highway until we reached 1095, the road to Pai. This road isn't just winding, it's infamously winding. We didn't know then, but when we got to Pai they were selling shirts about it (stuff to the effect of "i survived 1095") One shirt was particularly informative, it said that 1095 had 163km and 762 turns. So that should give you an idea. The scenery was amazing. The climate of Northern Thailand isn't like the South at all. In fact, our ride felt more like one through Western Mass at points with crisp air and even pine trees(!). One of the main reasons we took motorbikes was that we could stop whenever we liked and we knew there were attractions to see on the way up. We stopped at a waterfall called the Mork-Fa which was really neat. It was more like two waterfalls side-by-side. There was a big lagoon where they splashed down and I went for a swim. Most of the Thai people thought I was crazy because it was so cold, but it was actually just refreshing.

We set off again and stopped for lunch at a roadside stand that was pretty delicious. It was so weird to think that the woman there does almost nothing but wake up and cook for the few people who happen to stop by. There wasn't anything in either direction for a good while. Well, we made it to Pai before too long and were luckily able to find a place to stay. Dec. 5th was the King's b-day which makes it a national holiday and so the Pai wasn't jsut filled with Farangs like usual, but also Thai nationals (Pai is actually a big vacation spot for Thais, especially ones from the South who want a chance to wear their fashionable parkas.) And on top of all that, there was a film festival going on too so despite the outrageous number of guesthouses, it was incredibly difficult to find a spot. We unloaded our stuff and went for a walk around the town. The streets were absolutely packed with people wandering around and looking at the different street merchants' wares. We eventually came upon a rad band that was doing a concert right on the street. Just like all the other blues/jam bands in Thailand they played a set of mostly Clapton, Hendrix, and CCR but they also opened up the mic to anyone and there was a revolving door of not just singers but also guitarists and drummers. They also had two percussion 'experts' who would somehow have new instruments for every song and were pretty much just going crazy. I loved it.

The next day we got around to doing all the things Pai is so famous for. We got on our bikes and headed toward a new waterfall that wasn't as impressive as Mork-fa but the surrounding area was a lot cooler; instead of being in an open area, the fall was almost in a cave. Then we headed for the canyon which was very cool. There were a couple trails you could take that had places as narrow as a foot, with a shear cliff on either side. There were a lot of cool pictures to be taken though. Then we headed to the hot springs. There were a couple options for us but we ended up going to the pricey one which was the natural hot spring while the others were more like swimming pools filled with hot spring water. At the top, where the spring started, there were people boiling eggs and selling them. We of course didn't go in there but instead we found a nice pool in the sun. It was empty because as I said earlier, Thai people hate the sun.

For dinner that night, we went to a place called 'Burger House'. Since the girls didn't get any Western foods where they were, they had been dreaming of this pace since before we left. It actually took us a while to find it but the time we spent lost only increased our appetites which made the burgers that much better. The owner was a cool guy. He was a Vietnam vet who was described in a Burger House article as "salty but affable". He actually opened the place because, like us, he couldn't find a decent burger anywhere in Thailand. Oh man were they good. I tried to eat it as slowly as possible and savor it but it was nearly impossible. I think I ate it somewhere around normal speed.

The next day we got back on our bikes and headed back to Chiang Mai. The ride seemed to go a lot quicker on the return but that was alright because I was pretty tired by the end and just wanted to lie down. It might've been quicker because I was used to the sights this time around, or because we didn't go to the waterfall, or maybe it was because I was listening to dragonforce for the second half of it. Anyway, we got back and they girls promptly left to get back home in time to sleep a little before school the next morning. I headed to the train station but the only tickets left for that day were the air-conditioned first-class sleepers which were way expensive. I settled for a next day ticket in the dreaded third class. The next morning I grabbed a book from the used book store and boarded the train. This time around, I didn't sleep a wink. It stunk. It was booked as being from 2:50pm to 5:30am but we didn't end up back in BKK till somewhere around 6:15. One thing that puzzled me was how the train would come to a standstill in the middle of nowhere for what felt like an eternity but was probably like 10 minutes. I figured we must be waiting for the track ahead of us to switch over or clear off because we would usually only start moving again once a train went roaring past us the other way. But sometimes it wouldn't and it be as if we had stopped for no reason. Frustrating! especially when I was so tired but unable to get the least but comfortable and the entire lower half of my body was asleep from sitting on those seats. Anyway, I made it back safe and sound and instead of taking the metro then walking home I decided I'd earned a cab ride which was only 20 baht more than the metro/walk would've been and about 3 times as fast. That's why I was a little late with my Pai update, I've been trying to get back on a good sleep schedule and clear of mind. I'm getting close.

That's it for now. I start work (for real) this coming Monday so I'm just enjoying my last few days. I'm trying to stretch my baht as far as it'll go and I've found a great street vendor who makes the best pad thai for only 25 baht. In fact, I think I might go get some right now.

much love

Monday, December 1, 2008

Muay Thai

I know I haven't posted anything in a few days and that's primarily because nothing really noteworthy has happened. I finished up my training at the Sathorn offices last Sunday and now have the next two weeks off. My plans to head North are shaping up and it looks like I'll leave probably Wednesday or Thursday night on the overnight train to Chaing Mai then motorbike over to Pai. I haven't hammered out any of the details beyond that (except maybe the elephant ride).

So in lieu of any current news I'll tell you about my trip to the Muay Thai stadium a couple weeks ago which got overlooked in the posts about job seeking and finding. The stadium is just only about a 20 minute walk down the street from me which is pretty cool. It had all the usual sights, sounds, and smells of a sporting event back in the states which was comforting and also pretty cool. Some things are universal. The way the ticket system breaks down is there's three different levels. The pricey ones are on the floor right next to the action and have concession girls constantly wandering. The next level (which is sightly elevated and divided from tier 1 by chicken wire)has chairs and seems like an alright place to watch the fights from. The third level is pretty wacky. We went for the tier 1 seats (this is back when Ryan had a friend visiting and we didn't want to risk getting bad seats) but if I go again I'm definitely going for the 3rd level. There are no chairs and it's packed with Thais standing up and shouting. I should mention that a lot of betting goes on during these fights. There's supposed to be none in tier 1 and then the next two are where the action is. The upper deck looked like the floor of wall street. People were all shouting and holding up different numbers of fingers which I didn't quite figure out the meaning of. Where we sat was great to watch the fights but I've always gone to sporting events more for the atmosphere than a good view and tier three seemed like the place to be. Whenever the two fighters grappled and were exchanging knees, the different corners would yell out every time their guy landed one. It was kinda silly to hear "oooh....eeee....oooh....eeee.." in surround sound.

There were actually 7 fights each of which lasted around half an hour. The re were 5 rounds of 3 min with a 2 min break. I liked watching the trainers during the breaks because they would be very physically expressive with the strategy for the next round. There was a lot of pre-fight ceremony which included both stretching and prayer. The coolest thing was that it was all accompanied by a live band that played bongos and wild snake-charmer flutes throughout. The restrooms backstage were also right where they were prepping all the fighters which was pretty neat, there were people asking for autographs and everything. It was a pretty cool experience and not nearly as barbaric as I had thought it would be. I'm glad it's so close because I definitely need to make a trip back and sit (stand) in the cheap seats.

be excellent to each other,

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Don't Panic

I know Bangkok has been in the news quite recently and some of you might be a little frightened for me. Don't be. It might sound like a huge deal but day-to-day life goes by relatively normally. The Thai people are strangely detached from politics. For anyone who thought Americans were apathetic, you ain't seen nothing. In all honesty, I went for a walk after dinner and there was apparently a coup at the same time. I'll have to check the papers tomorrow to see if anything really happened but it was just like any other Thursday night. For those who don't know I'll give you a quick summary of what's going on. The People's Alliance for Democracy are protesting the current govt because of their ties to the corrupt and deposed ex-pm Thaksin, and claim the new guy is just a proxy. But they don't just want a new PM they want to totally overhaul the govt and pretty much disenfranchise voters in the rural North who they claim aren't qualified to make decisions about government. It's pretty much like if after the '04 election people threw a coup and tried to make it so people from the rural South couldn't vote anymore. In any event, there's really nothing to worry about. Some people warned me against wearing yellow (PAD colors) or red (PPP colors) but it's not nearly as big a deal as they made it out to be, especially for me. If I wore a blue shirt around NYC, no one would seriously think I was in the crips.

As far as this airport thing goes, most of the people who were indifferent (and there were a lot) or even sympathetic to the PAD are pretty upset by this stunt. The letters to the editor in the Bangkok Post were all very similar: 'You don't like the government. We get it. Go home so we can get on with our lives.' People are mostly mad at how this reflects so poorly on Thailand which maintains its image as "the land of smiles". Just keep your eyes on the papers for any new details and I promise it's not as bad as it sounds.

Happy Thanksgiving!! I would have preferred to start with that but what can ya do? Thanksgiving here is certainly not the same. I miss everyone terribly and was feeling pretty homesick for most of the day. My dinner was very delicious though. I went across the street to "Mama's Kitchen" which is where I go most days. She has a nice combination of Thai and Western dishes. I got a chicken breast in a cream sauce with vegetables and delicious mashed potatoes (my one dinner stipulation).

My contact with I Can Read! doesn't start till Dec. 13th so I have some extra time and was thinking of a vacation up to Chaing Mai. Maybe some elephant riding through the jungle? I'm pretty excited about this and can't wait to make it a reality.

much love and turkey!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


The job training process is pretty much all about the observations of classes. The Aussies who developed the program think it's super important to do things a certain way which isn't a problem with me. The different grades aren't split up by age but rather by ability which is so much better. The lowest grade is about building vocabulary and getting them used to English words and comfortable in the school. The next level is about the letters, the sounds they make, and identifying first sounds in words. Next is identifying all sounds and blending them as well as segmenting words into their individual sounds. The next level is the one where they finally do some reading. So far I've observed only 1 of the advanced levels and several of the earlier ones. The early ones are great with plenty of games and activities. The one with the reading is the most important one and the one where they make the most progress but it doesn't leave much time for games and the students can get pretty restless. They're working on ways of integrating games but the ones who developed the program are hesitant to alter anything just because it has proven so effective already. One thing that is so so great is the names some of the children have. Today I sat in a class of 4 students where 3 of them were named Nom. There's a lot of funny/weird names but my faves so far have to be Ice, Korn, Earth, and Santa

My training was almost all day today and yesterday. I Can Read is a private institution with classes once a week so weekends are the busiest days (also almost impossible to take weekends off! so if you're planning anything, let me know as soon as you can so I can see about a day or two off) Now I have all week off until next Saturday when I'll be doing more observations at the Sathorn offices. I had been traveling to the main office in Pinklao which is quite a ride and to have it be that much closer would be awesome. Pinklao is great though because the offices are in a tower full of offices that rises up off the top of a mall. I've been hitting up the food court for lunch each day then hitting the arcade. Winning eleven is huge here and eventhough there's 10 or 12 tv's to play it on, there's usually a line. They also have guitar hero! There's something very cool about playing guitar hero in a suit while little kids look on with reverence.

There was something truly extraordinary that happened to me on Saturday at Pinklao. I was with my roommate Ryan (who also got a call from I Can Read and will be working in their Bang Na office!) and we were heading back to the elevator after lunch. All of a sudden, from out of this dark hallway walks a giant wolfman wearing gladiator armor and wielding medieval weapons (This is true). He was followed by other similar creatures who were clearly all in league together as well as five others who were unmistakeably dressed as a form of power rangers. They were on their way to some event upstairs and they had people up ahead clearing the way and making sure they were on the next elevator. I leaned in to Ryan and said "There's no way I'm not getting on that elevator." When the doors opened, the wolfman was perched ready to scare the unsuspecting people waiting to get off which was good for a laugh. The offices there are pretty busy so there's was a large crowd waiting for the elevators. The trainers waved the power rangers and monster men onto the elevator which pretty much filled it all the way up. There were a few people in front of me who were perfectly fine with waiting for the next one and missing this golden opportunity. I politely moved past them and found my place on the greatest ride of my life. I was only going 5 floors but the doors opened once before we got there as people waiting to go down stared in wide-eyed wonder at what certainly must've been a sight to behold. I was trying to play it casual and not act like this was in anyway weird but I cracked a smile as the doors shut again. A few floors later and waved them goodbye. For all they had given me, it was the least I could do. The super weird thing is that after I was done with training that day (only like 1.5 hrs after), I went up to the floor 15 (of course I checked where they were headed before I got off) and there was absolutely nothing up there. I checked everywhere. There was only one business that was even open and there was no sign that the characters had ever been there. Weird! It makes this whole experience that much cooler.

So good so good

ps snow pics plz

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I Can Read!

Not only is this a true statement on my behalf, but it's also the name of my new place of employment. Day one of training was all about the history of the program and the basic philosophies of I Can Read! Rather than get way in depth I'll just send you a link to their site. There's a lot I like about this job. The first thing and what motivated me to go to the interview in the first place (I was almost sure I was taking a different job at that point)is its proximity to my front door. It's literally a 5 minute walk. This is fantastic because the the skytrain and metro station is a 15-20 min walk in itself, and don't get me started on taxis. It usually takes at least an hour to get anywhere. So that's great. Another thing is that the max class size is 8 students. The program starts early (2.5 !) and has many different levels, but they're always 8 or under. The salary is 40,000 baht a month which isn't a lot of $ but it's more than enough to live comfortably here and I've already begun the transition to a 'baht state of mind'. If I convert everything into dollars before I buy it, I'll end up buying a lot because it's so cheap. I need to start realizing that $2 (70 baht) for a Pad Thai is simply outrageous. I Can Read is also very professional and not like some of the fly-by-night organizations I interviewed with before. They are internationally recognized and have grown exponentially. They have centers all over SE Asia and only really started 8 years ago. There's more reasons to like the place too that go beyond just 'the people there are really nice' (which they are!)

More importantly for you, dear reader, is that I finally have somewhat of a schedule. I know some of you have been thinking about visits and trying to plan vacations around time I could take off. Well now I have an idea of when that is! I get days off around xmas/new year and then again for Thai new year (mid april) as well as about 3 weeks of of other days that I get to use as I choose. Don't get all excited about a return home just yet..I need to stay with the company a while to get them. There's more to tell but once again I'm out of time. I still have a lot of getting ready to do for day two of training. I apologize for not getting this up sooner but the internet has been a real jerk recently and it seems the only time I can get online is early in the morning. We'll try again tonight.

much love,

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I landed a sweet job! It's the best one I interviewed for and the one I was holding out for which makes me really excited. The bad news is that I have to go to my first day of job training right now(!) so I don't have any time to write all about it. bummer.

So much more to come.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wiwa Las Wegas

There's nothing particularly earth-shattering upon which to update, I just figured it had been a while and it seemed like a good time to post a few random observations and experiences. One thing I did do on my last night in Pattaya and cannot believe I forgot to mention is see "Asia's #1 Elvis Impersonator". It was awesome. He, like most all Elvis impersonators, resembled the later Elvis with his iconic sequined suit. He was movin' and shakin' and workin' up a sweat. He mixed in some great non-elvis songs as well including 'proud mary' and 'sweet caroline' which I really got into.

Some Thai behavior is very bizarre. One thing I've experienced is that Thai people have a different view on skin color. Instead of striving for the Western idea of a perfect tan, they try to get as white as possible. Just like fake tanning creams, they market 'whitening creams' and wear long-sleeved shirts to the beach (swim in them too!) Let's just say in all my years in the states I've never seen as many parasols as I do on any given Sunday in Bangkok.

Thailand is in a state of mourning right now. The King's eldest sister died and everybody has been wearing black. Someone told me she actually died like 5 or 6 months ago and they're just now observing it. As some of you know, the Royal family is wholly and unconditionally loved. There are pictures of the King in just about every building and everyone wears yellow (the royal color) on Mondays because the King was born on a Monday. We had to follow the custom and in the quest to become Thai citizens we got a picture of the King for the apartment. It's a black and white one of him jamming on a saxophone. Classic cool.

much love

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I'm here. I moved into my new apartment in the Sathorn area of Bangkok with my buddy Ryan. We're splitting a two-bedroom on the 7th floor of Villa Suan Phlu. It's great. I came up last Saturday and spent the majority of the afternoon getting unpacked and just admiring both the size of our living room and the fact that I was now a Thai resident. (An British girl was taking surveys of passerby today for her project on Bangkok tourism, and I got to politely say 'oh, I'm sorry, I live here.)

That night we went to dinner with Lannie who lives here now too, and Kat who came up for a little vacation. During the meal I got a call from another employer who saw my resume online and wanted an interview first thing the next morning. For some reason the people looking at these resumes think that everyone is just sitting around all day waiting for their call. The interview was planned and the next day I got into my stylin' new suit and a cab. I asked where the place was on the phone the night before which was stupid since I have no idea where anything really is nor could I understand her. She told me just to call the next morning and hand the phone to the driver. It worked but part of me felt she didn't want to disclose where the interview actually was since it was over the river and on the fringe of the city (about 30 min and 120 baht.) The place seemed nice but they desperately wanted me to start that Monday. I wasn't too pleased. Someone must have quit at the last second and they needed a filler (I mean, they called me at 9pm on a Saturday..) I told them I had other interviews that day and I really wanted to look around before I sign a giant contract but I did agree to go on Monday and teach for that day to see if I liked the students/school/distance from home.

The kids were great. I taught from 8:30 to 3:30 in 1 hr blocks end ended up teaching the equivalent of grades 1-5 with an hour for lunch and a double dose of second grade. They took a while to warm up to me, but we were able to have some fun by the end. I did more or less the same thing in each which made the second half of the day much easier. I introduced myself and went over the different things I liked (favorite movie, food, etc) then we went from there. The school was pretty nice and ranged from 1st grade through high school. The problems were 1) the time it took to get there (I may as well be working in pattaya!) and 2) the pressure to start immediately without testing the job market. I would love to work there if it was one of a couple options, but I just put up my resume and I feel like I need to explore at least a little. I called the head office and told them basically what I just wrote and that if they need someone right now they should probably look elsewhere.

Anyway. I'm getting all settled in to my new place and checking out the city on foot which feels kinda like I'm back in Madrid. I walked down to the park that's only 15 minutes away and checked that out today. It's similar to Retiro in a lot of ways except that it has gigantic lizards strolling around(!). Seriously, I think there's Komodo Dragons living down the street from me. Very cool.

And... to reward your patience while I was getting wi-fi here, new pictures are up!

much love,

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bangkok bound

Tomorrow morning I'm gonna be moving up to Bangkok. My buddy Ryan and I are splitting a 2-bedroom apartment in the Sathon area which is sort of in the middle and has easy access to most of the city. I'm really excited. I feel like such a bigshot now because it has a pool and a gym and is across from a park. Fan-cy. I'm spending most of my afternoon walking around and taking pictures of Pattaya. There's a lot to dislike about it but even after just 3 weeks I feel like it's home. Sorta like Worcester.

I don't know how long it'll take us to get the wi-fi situation sorted out in the new apartment so this might be the last post for a few days though I'm sure I'll find an internet cafe somewhere as I look for a laundromat, grocery store, or any place else you might search out.

till then,

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Of all the days!

Well I woke up this morning at around 5:45 to tune into election coverage and see how the polls were doing. Everything seemed to be going as planned but by 7:30 they were only making their usual guarantees with still just <1% of polls reporting. Around this time I dozed off and when I awoke my tv was turned off, as were my lights and AC. I walked down to the street to see just exactly what was going on and someone told me they were doing service to the power lines and there'd be no electricity till 5 that night. whaaa!? On the one day where I actually wanted to watch tv and go on the internet the power is down in almost the whole city. Unbelievable! So I started my day by buying some cereal to use up the milk in my fridge, then I began the long trek off the grid to find an internet cafe that still had juice. It was there and then, at ten past the hour of noon, that I saw Obama was our next president. So good. My buddy Mike just posted about the election in his blog and I have to echo some of the same sentiments. "If I wake up tomorrow and John McCain is my next president, i might break my promise to my mother and never return "home" from Japan. I'm sorry, but it's been 8 years of utter bullshit. If we not only fall victim to, but ACTIVELY SELECT 4 to 8 MORE years of it, then i'm sorry but America can no longer be a representative part of my identity. That's not an America I want to be associated with."

That's why today I'm proud to be from a country that chose hope over politics of fear. One that will hopefully steer itself off the rocks and back into respectable standing in the international community. I see myself as more and more of a world citizen and when people ask me where I'm from it's nice, after these long years, to finally say I'm from the USA with my head a little higher.

Thanks to all who voted.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Koh Chang

We had to leave pretty early for Koh Chang but it wasn't bad because we had a 4 hour car ride then another half hour on a ferry so I still got in plenty of napping. The ferry ride was great. Car ferries are more or less the same all over the world, except for the view. For some reason or another I didn't consider this to be a tropical island; I guess I thought they only existed in the South Pacific and Caribbean. Well Koh Chang certainly was. It had white sands and palm trees and the water was really warm. Almost too warm, it felt very unnatural. So the first day, we arrived around 11am and we were told we had the day all to ourselves until dinner at 7. A few of us went for a walk down the beach to explore. The beach stretched around like a C shape and we could see some giant rocks out on the point that we needed to investigate. The beach was lined with hotels but there weren't that many people (considering it was the first day of 'high' season). Lots of them had swings, not like the ones over the river in Laos, these were for relaxing. So we eventually got to the giant rocks which took some doing. We had to cut through a fancy resort where we definitely stood out in our cheap 'pattaya beach' bathing suits. There was a system of little wooden ladders to climb up the main rock and from there we could see a way to get down to the water between them. The water was fantastic and actually very deep. We climbed out on to some of the other rocks and dove in. (don't worry, we carefully checked for anything below the landing zone.) The rocks did have their fair share of barnacles though and I got a little scraped up. Nothing too, too serious except there's one on my left heel that’s kinda deep and has a band-aid on it now.

For dinner we took our car up the coast to the northern part of the island and walked along the beach looking for somewhere good. We eventually found a place that was alright.. it didn't seem any better or worse than the surrounding ones, we were just starving. The cool thing is that almost every restaurant offers a 'fire show' where people come out and twirl a giant stick with a fireball on each end. We watched the one next door while we ate which was pretty impressive. The fire-twirlers associated with our restaurant weren't that great. After dinner we walked down the beach to see what we could find and we stumbled upon a tremendous fire show. You could tell that this was the premier restaurant/bar on this part of the beach because it was packed and all the rest were starting to close down. Their fire show had 5 different guys, plus three hula girls. One of the fire guys seemed particularly crazy. He had a long ponytail and wore big aviator sunglasses even though by this time it was 11pm. My favorite part was when he started spinning two fiery orbs on the end of chains like a buzz saw in front of him, and then somersaulting over them. Then he got up on another guys shoulders (standing) and spun them wildly while the guy on the bottom ran around the beach or 'stage'. I thought that was pretty crazy, but then he sprinted into the crowd and ran a lap around us. The whole time the guy on top was ducking under tree branches and screaming wildly. Most were terrified but I thought it was really cool.

The next day we checked out of the hotel and went on a hike to a waterfall. It's a pretty popular place, but the path was still difficult to traverse. We finally reached it and got to go for a swim. Despite its popularity, only about half the people were going in. Most were just taking pictures and leaving. The water was great. It was cooler and a lot more comfortable than the bathwater in the bay from the day before. We did some more jumping in here. Then, before we left, we moved down to the next tier of waterfall pool where there were almost no people. There was a little restaurant as we left that had the most delicious chicken I've had in a while. It was fresh of the spit and you ate with sticky rice which just means you clump the two together, dip in a sauce, and enjoy. Sensational! We ended up eating a lot and I educated them on proper bone tower etiquette. The trip back was fun. We saw a sign that offered 2.3 acres for sale which I briefly considered.

So now I'm all done with courses I'm fully in the job/apt hunt. I posted my resume online and have already got a couple offers which is nice. I'm still trying to find a perfect one though. There's one that sounds really nice but it's a little too far removed from the city (which might not actually be a bad thing). Also AUA is looking for applicants and they're the best language school in Thailand, says Jam. So things are looking up. I had a little problem with my bank but that got resolved and now I'm right on the precipice of moving to Bangkok. I don't know whether to find a good apt and get a job nearby, or to try and live near work. Getting around in Bangkok is tough and I'd like to make it as painless as possible.

I didn't bring my camera to Koh Chang (doh) but others did and the pictures are fantastic. I'll put up some of Laos kayaking in the meantime.

Be excellent to each other!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween

Today was my last day at the railway school which was kinda sad. The 'naughty grade 2' class had a quiz today which they sorta settled down to do. I extracted my buddy from the core group of troublemakers and sat down with him to answer his questions which diffused the horseplay a little. The best part is that once they were all done, they had free time which they used to play games. a couple kids were trying to throw a tennis ball into a trashcan from about 15 feet. I walked over behind the trashcan and put up a scoreboard and they went nuts. Not just kids, but everyone here loves competition. If you're playing hangman as a fun exercise towards the end of class, they'll be a little interested, but if you split them into teams they get really involved. So we ended on a good note and they were genuinely sad to see me go. We also had a first grade class that was the exact opposite. They were little angels and did things like a big (slow) greeting of 'good morning teacher, how are you?' to which we replied we were fine and thanked them for asking. They also did things like politely ask to go the bathroom and then politely ask to re-enter the room. This was the first time I had been in their class and they were all fascinated with my height and loved comparing themselves to me with the ol' hand-on-the-top-of-the-head-then-make-a-line move. It was great.

I'd like to wish everyone a spooktacular halloween! It's no secret that I love this holiday and I'm kinda sad that I'm not around to share it with you guys. We don't really have great costumes yet but there's a big market that's open on Fridays and we're gonna head down and see what we can find. I do, however, expect to see some pictures of your sweet costumes!

I leave for Koh Chang early early tomorrow so I'll have a post about that once I return. I haven't heard from the Wall Street guy in a couple days and am starting to consider looking around elsewhere. I would like to work there but I don't like waiting around in anticipation like this..

Elephants ho!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Change of Plans 2

So I'm still going to the Railway School (rongrianbaanrodfai) but instad of teaching English, I'm sitting in and helping out their English teachers. I originally thought it was gonna be boring and not fun at all but I'm actually enjoying it. I'm helping Anne, a brit who teaches k-2nd grade, which is neat because I was kinda jealous of the others who got to teach at the kindergarten. I originally thought I'd just be sitting in the back and not really doing anything but I actually get involved when the kids start doing their work and need help. I don't really do much in the kindergarten classes but then again neither do they. Right now they're learning shapes which can hold their attention for a little bit, but everytime they start to get a little restless we all get up and sing a song (head, shoulders, knees, and toes!). The second grade class we have is a different story. They are total monsters. We're supposed to have a Thai teacher in there to help explain directions and to act as an enforcer, but they refuse to sit in. They're alright when they focus and only half of them are real troublemakers (out of eight). One of the ones who's historically bad has actually pulled up a chair and sits next to me. There are two 'good' students who like my help when it's time for the workbook exercises along with the bad one. Luckily we don't have them tomorrow morning. I only say that because poor Anne gets really distraught when they won't listen, and I'm equally as powerless to stop them. It would really help if one of the Thai teachers would just sit in the room but for some reason all the free ones sit in the office during this class. Kinda frustrating.

I'm really looking forward to this weekend. Not only is it Halloween in (what i'm told) is the only real place in Thailand that actually celebrates it, but on Saturday we travel to Koh Chang which means Elephant Island. You can imagine why.. We don't stay long but there's supposed to have nice beaches which will be a welcome change from Pattaya beach which is pretty gross. That's pretty much all that's really happened. My sleep schedule got all messed up last weekend which cost me some z's at the start of the week and now I feel a little sick. Just a sore throat and my sleep last night showed promising signs of a return to normal so I'm not too worried.

much love,

ps. Apologies for any confusion over last post, the Wall Street Institute is a language school in Bangkok. Don't worry, I'm not gonna become a power broker or anything. I just thought the name was kinda ominous given the world's financial situation.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Change of Plans

You could say my teaching at the Railway school has been going great. That's because I haven't taught since that last Tuesday. Classes were easily held last week because the Railway school was still on vacation, and the teachers (my students) had time to come in and learn. Turns our our second week coincides with the first week of their semester so we were told not to come today because our students would be too busy dealing with theirs and their parents. Now we're hearing that we'll no longer be teaching like we were, instead we'll be assisting the Railway school's English teachers in their classrooms. All the lesson planning is now useless and the excitement is evaporating. It's just frustrating because anyone could have seen this impending scheduling conflict and nothing was done. I figured maybe we could teach them at night, which I wouldn't mind at all, and we'd get some more actual teaching practice, but I think a lot of the teachers live far away.

On the plus side though, I may have already snagged a job. Kate recommended me to where she works in Bangkok which was looking to hire. I'm really excited, and I feel like I already have it even though it isn't official. It's a little auspicious to be starting work for the "Wall Street Institute' these days, but I think I'll be fine.

The new Languagecorps recruits arrived on Friday and have already shipped off to Phnom Penh but they got here the same night Josh was leaving for Korea so we all went out to a giant dinner at a place called Cucumber. It was weird to be in Pattaya for a little more than a week and already be talking about it to them like I knew it by heart. They were a pretty cool group and it's neat the way that we're gonna be their contacts when they get back the way Kat and Kate were to us.

and I picked up my suit last night, and it looks really nice. I can't wait to move to a colder climate where I can where it for extended periods of time. At least it'll be great for a first impression on Wall Street!

much love,

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Impulse buy

After I finished my last post I went for a walk down to get some clothes and some teacherly supplies (glue stick, red pen, etc) On my way back I ran into Ryan who was on his way to pick up a birthday gift for Josh. I know I'm dropping names of all over the place so I'll give you a who's who of Languagecorps Thailand. In my program there is Alex, who is the one also teaching at the railway school with me, Ryan, who has a personality very similar to mine, Josh, who is almost done here and moving to teach in South Korea, Molly and Lannie, the lovely ladies, Rick Jam and Indy, the ones teaching us how to teach, Kat, a girl who got here before us and now teaches in Pattaya and works for Languagecorps, and Kate, who also got here earlier and is the one who got a job in Bangkok.

Alright. So Ryan and I are heading to the only bookstore we know of to get a Lonely Planet guide to Korea for Josh when I stop to look at prices of custom made suits. Before I can go in, the tailor nextdoor comes out and beckons us into his shop. Sidenote: every store here is surrounded by identical stores. 'Where can I find a good dentist?' 'Just walk up and down Soi Dthai, they're everywhere!'. There's actually an entire floor of the electronics center that sells just cell phones. Flea market style. It's something that still puzzles me.

So we go into this tailor and before we know it we've bargained our way down to the point where we got a custom suit, two shirts, and a tie for 4400 baht (like $125). I thought that was an amazing deal but apparently we overpaid(!). I'm sure we could have saved a few bucks by going somewhere else but these guys were very professional and I would rather pay a little extra if it meant higher quality. I went back this afternoon for a fitting and it looks like I'm gonna be looking pretty snazzy.

That's about all that happened since last time. I didn't have to teach today, just go to Thai class where we practiced foods and ordering at a restaurant. I've been trying to use my Thai around the city as much as possible and the people love it. I counted out my laundry piece by piece the other day and I ask how much things are, even if I'm not really interested.

Sawasdee krup!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Day 2

Day two was way way easier than the first. The reason was probably because none of my students showed up. They all went to a teaching seminar in another part of the province, so I got to relax and watch Alex teach his group. I kinda thought they wouldn't be there because when I assigned homework the day before they all said so. I wasn't 100% sure if they wouldn't come, or one person would be there, or if they all would show up or what so I still made a nice lesson plan and came up with activities and such. The lesson plan was tough to work on last night though. It's kind of like when a big blizzard is coming and you're almost sure there'll be a snow day, you can't find the drive to sit down and do your homework (except worse because the blizzard told me themself they were gonna cancel school). Thai lessons were also canceled today so I had a pretty breezy afternoon which allowed me to catch up on some much needed sleep.

I dropped off all my laundry at a place down the street the other day and it hasn't even gone through the wash yet, let alone been hung up. There've been heinous thunderstorms every afternoon for 4 days which have impacted the launderette's ability to dry things and they're backed up. I was thinking of going down to the market and getting a clean pair of clothes just to fill the gap between now and when mine dry (I mean I dropped off ALL my laundry at this place. I'm still wearing my work clothes and have been wearing dress shirts and pants after school for the past few days.)

Speaking of work clothes, something weird happened today. For the first time in my life, I used the term 'work belt' and was reffering to the nicer of two belts. It wasn't covered in varnish and bottom paint, it was actually pretty sharp. That goes along with a feeling I had today at the school. That I was really becoming a teacher. As I watched Alex's students dilligently writing down what he was telling them, I realized that my student's were doing the same thing the day before and it gave me a weird sensation. They were genuinely interested in learning and I was having fun teaching them. This sort of tempered my resolve to be a good teacher. Now I wanted to be a great one, the best one. I like looking at the syllabus and trying to figure out ways I can get the information to them in an understandable way that's also fun and provokes interest. It's neat. Railway school is on a short break so I won't be teaching again to Monday which will give me time to revise the lesson plan for today as well as get a head start on the others.

The rain has stopped and I'm gonna head down to the market to see if I can't get some clean clothes. It's the birthday of one of the other guys in the program and I'd like to look and smell nice before we all go out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

First step

Well, as promised I'll deliver the tales of my first day teaching.

It wasn't bad. I actually enjoyed it, and I think I did a pretty decent job for my first day. One of my fellow classmates and I have been assigned to work at "the Railway School" which actually has a really long Thai name. We work separately and our job is to teach basic conversational English to the teachers there. Nothing too fancy. We have them for 7 days and we need to teach them about giving directions, ordering at a restaurant, going to the market, and vocabulary they can use to speak to international parents with kids there, or those who are considering enrolling them. On Monday we observed our instructor as he ran a class on personal information and got a feel for how to operate and what our students would be like. When I got back to the Languagecorps building, I spent almost all of the rest of the day (except for finishing my last blog post) working on my lesson plan for Tuesday. I thought it would work pretty well and I gave myself a lot of space where I could alter it if it wasn't going well. I chose earlier to teach the kindergarten teachers rather than the primary school ones and I was told that I'd have a class
of 18. Much to my surprise, when I walked in there were only 7 (one walked in later). This kinda freaked me out because a lot of what I had planned wouldn't really work with so few if at all. My mind was racing as I introduced myself and set up a little game to practice a little of what they had done the day before with personal information. The smaller group was nice in a way though because it was not nearly as imposing to me and we were able to get more people involved more often. The problem was not only that I couldn't do some of my lesson plan, but that the things I could do took far less time. An exercise that I had counted on taking around 8 minutes was over in about 3. I knew I was in trouble when class was half over (it's 2 hrs total) and I only had one thing left to do. I was able to stretch that one last activity out for a while though. We were working on words like across from, next to, on the right/left, etc and had been using a map of places I had put up earlier. Then I had them list off other places to which people would want directions. We had already gone through airport, market, bank, school and a couple others but I knew they knew more. I was just surprised at how many more. I had had a few up my sleeve in case they were reluctant to speak, but once they got the idea of what I was doing they started rolling off a whole bunch I didn't even think of, which was very cool. Then I had them draw their own maps and give me and each other directions on how to get around their town. I threw in a variation of what we had done earlier to round out the last hour and I was done with my first day. I had assigned them a little homework but they told me they wouldnt be coming in because they were all going to a rally tomorrow. For what I'm unsure, but it would be kinda neat if I had tomorrow off because the school is closed for Thursday and Friday (!). I'm still gonna write up a lesson plan for tomorrow but it would be nice if I could hold on to it till Monday.

After each day at school (8:30 - 10:30) I come back for Thai language classes which are pretty neat. After today I could technically count to a million in Thai. Today there's been an enormous thunderstorm which has kept us all pretty much inside the Languagecorps building since the rain looks painful to be in and the streets are totally flooded. It isn't terrible though because the first floor has access to the bar nextdoor where they have a dartboard, also I get to work on my lesson plan a little..i guess.

A bunch of us are going out to dinner and I really hope the streets have drained a bit since I last checked because I'd really like to take a shower beforehand. The days are hot enough without wearing a shirt and tie through them, and the railway school only has a couple little fans.

I'll let you guys know how my second day goes, if it goes at all.

much love,

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On the move

Alright. Where to begin. I've done a lot since my last big newsletter so settle in, put on a pot of coffee, make a sandwich or something, this could take a while.

When we last left our hero, he was spending his last night in Phnom Penh before a big trip to Laos. The last night in Cambodia was really great. We went to an area called 'lakeside' which is supposed to be the big center for backpackers. It was pretty much a windy dirt path with bars and little restaurants packed in on its sides. We went to a nice place that had delicious Indian food and Wii bowling. After that we wanted to go to a place on the lake and we found a guesthouse (cheaper hotel) that had a little dock floating out. There was a little ladder where you could climb to a second level that had some rugs and short tables. It was a beautiful night. My favorite part was the Cambodian children. There were a couple kids (9-10 yrs) walking around and selling books. They were all really smart and spoke English very well. Some of them were sharp as a tack. One of them hung out with us for a while and chatted with us. His name was John (Jahn?) and he was selling these books all on his own to try and fund his education. He might've been putting us on but it seemed legit. He was also great at Wii bowling (got me a strike!). I bought a lonely planet guide to Laos from him before we left. Ideally, I would like to wind up teaching those kids somewhere.

The next morning we had to pack up and head to the airport. We parted ways with the guys from the Viet Nam and Cambodia groups and took off. The plan was to go back to Pattaya for a night and then catch the next day's overnight train to Laos. My return to Pattaya was not unlike my first visit. We got in late and I went straight to bed. We had a little time the next day so we went exploring. We went down to the big shopping center where I picked up a new pair of shorts. There wasn't enough time to do laundry (everything's gotta air dry) and I was in need. We left for Bangkok early afternoon. At that point I had spent about as much time traveling to and from Pattaya as I had actually walking around in it (It's about a 1.5 to 3 hr trip depending on traffic and cig breaks for the driver.)

The midnight train was a lot of fun. The sides of the cars were lined with small tables and one-person benches that would fold down into a bed with another bed appearing from a compartment overhead. It took a while but we went with some of the students from the previous crop of Languagecorps students so it was nice to have plenty of time to get to know them. I was stuck with a top bunk which was kinda difficult to get in and out of but alright. I did, however, need to sleep with my feet sticking out to the side and kinda in a luggage rack. Being tall hasn't been as difficult as I thought it would be but there are certainly times...

We got off in Nong Khai to go through customs and immigration, and to get new Lao visas. Every time you cross the border you have to get a stamp and a new giant visa that takes up an entire page of your passport. I'm kinda worried that mine might fill up and I'll have to get another that doesn't have all my cool journeys documented. Does anyone know if you're allowed to keep your old one? Once we were through with Thai emigration, we drove about five minutes down the 'Friendship Bridge' to get to Laos and go through it all again. After that we all got in a van and headed for Vientiane.

We unpacked our bags and settled into our hotel. It was about half a block from the main drag which ran along the Mekong and was packed with market action. It was the closest I've come to a genuine bazaar. We really hit Laos at the perfect time because they were in the middle if one of their biggest holidays of the year (actually so was Cambodia!). The festival included some much celebrated boat races that featured roughly sixty people sitting 2-abreast in a giant canoe. The festival also meant extra craziness in the market. There were carnival rides. Me and my friend went on the kiddie coaster that was similar to the ones in the states except that instead of a dragon head on the front car, it was a mouse with a sombrero (?).

We also went for a quick ride in a ferris wheel. Or so we thought. It ended up lasting about half an hour despite our cries. It got to the point where it was so absurd that I had to laugh. First of all, the little carriage was so small that I could barely fit in by myself let alone with my friend. Every time we got to the top there was a beautiful view of the Mekong river and all the little shops on the street below. Every time we got to the bottom there was a hilarious scene to behold. First, there were the guys pouring gas from a giant bucket into the engine as it ran. Later we saw a guy kneeling down holding two box wrenches and looking very puzzled as he studied a key component of the obviously loosening mechanism while a guy stood behind him pointing here and there till he turned and left (3rd wrench?). Then later we came down to see that everyone was gone and there was a plastic bag looped over the lever to regulate our speed. The operators were great and had clearly been at it a long time. the ground around them was littered with empty bottles of M-150 which is pretty much Red Bull. Interesting fact: Red Bull originated in Thailand and the stuff they sell here is about 5 times as powerful as the stuff in the states and about 0 times as regulated. That night we went out to a bar on a rooftop overlooking the river that had some good food and an even pool table.

The next day we had to pack up all our stuff again. This is the point where I should have learned not to unpack everything when we get somewhere. Our next destination would be a small town called Vang Viene. It's a really small town that is developing into a spot for eco-tourism which is really nice. Someone said something about there being a movie based on the town called 'Air America'. Originally it was just an airstrip that the US built there during Viet Nam but it has since grew a little. The road between the two towns is about three hours with some incredible views with its winding roads through the mountains. Laos gave me another Reality Check Moment where I had to stop and realize that I was actually there, doing the things I was doing. It was absolutely beautiful and I briefly considered staying.

The city was very small but it catered to its eco-tourists. There were small islands in the middle of the river that had their own bars and rickety bridges. There were little bungalows with hammocks in them and also some other hammockless ones closer to the water. As we were leaving I saw an elderly woman carrying two five-gallon buckets down to the water where she put the in one of those super long skinny boats. I saw boats from the bridge on my way over the first time but at the time they just seemed like they were props or something in some Disneyland Laos re-creation. That was another RCM.

The next day was our big excursion of kayaking and caving down the Namsong river. We all got into two person kayaks and shoved off. There were long periods of lazy floating but every now and then there would be some rapids that would always cause someone to tip. We only tipped once and I was kinda glad because I would've felt like I didn't get the full experience if I didn't fall in at least once. We made several stops along the way. Our first was at the Elephant Cave which has a giant Buddha in it. It's called the Elephant Cave because there's a stalactite (gmite?) that looks a lot like an elephant, sorta. Another stop of ours was an organic mulberry farm which was pretty neat because all the proceeds went to fund the school in town. When kayaking/tubing in the Nangsong, you can either do a full day or half day trip. We did the full day but after lunch we caught up to where the half dayers were. The river became more touristy with several shoreline bars. Some of them had rope swings and water slides where you could swing out and plunge into the deeper parts. Of course I did. Our last stop was really cool, it was a giant cave where we swam through parts of it and the rest we had to walk on muddy, slippery rocks. We all lit teeny candles to see and once we got way deep inside we blew them out and sat in the darkness. It was really cool. When we left the cave the guide climbed up a pomelo tree (like a sweeter grapefruit) and shook the branch so a bunch all rained down. They were actually very tasty and better than the ones I'd bought on the street. We were almost done and we got to watch the sun sinking in between the mountains.

One of the major parts of the ongoing festival was a ritual where everyone in town buys little boats made of banana leaves and flowers with candles and sparklers on them. Everyone lights theirs and lets all their bad luck just float down the river. It was really cool to wade out and let one go as other people's passed gently by me.

We woke up really early the next day to go back to Vientiene. We had already decided we would make it back to Vang Viene soon. The festival was really in full swing by the time we got back and this was the day of the actual boat races. I watched a couple including a really close one which got everyone excited. Before the races they would have little barges float by singing songs about beer or bird flu awareness. Some were pretty catchy. After a couple races I decided to go back to the hotel for some much needed napping. By this point, I had seen every shop in the bazaar and the crowds, smells, and dust were getting to be a bit much.

We were set to leave the next day but before we did we went to Buddha Park which was way cool. There were tons and tons of statues all over this big field. One was a giant 3-story pot with a tree on top. You could go inside and work your way up around the edges. The inner parts of the pot had rooms that were full of smaller statues. There was one in the basement that kinda creeped me out because there was only one dim bulb and all the statues were of monsters killing people. The ones outside were really neat though and a lot of them were pretty silly.

Our train ride home was even better than the one on the way up. We made friends with some Japanese who were living in Bangkok. We hung out in the bar car which was neat because it was the only one with open windows. They played the same 11 songs on a loop for about 2 hours but I didn't mind because they were some of my favorites and they sounded even better as we roared through the countryside on another hot October night.

Don't worry, we're almost done. I just have one more weekend and we're all caught up.

One of the girls who went with us to Laos had already gotten a job in Bangkok and she thought it would be a great idea if we all went up to visit. We chartered another van and a few of us headed up for the weekend. We got in sorta late and after we checked in to the hotel we went out to get some lunch. We decided that Chinatown sounded good and we were faced with two options. We could either take the skytrain to the metro to a tuktuk to a river boat, or we could just take a cab. The cab was cheaper and we assumed shorter. Traffic is always terrible. There's tons of long waits at lights that stay red for over 2 minutes and the public transit (skytrain and metro) only covers about a quarter of the city. Let me just say that the skytrain was throughly impressive but I think my expectations were just too high. Well our cab driver brought us to Chinatown but by then we decided we wanted to eat on the river, so we drove through it up to the river side. Our driver then got out, asked someone on the street, then got back in and drove us out of Chinatown to a restaurant that was literally 'on' the river. It was alright though because from there we walked to an Indian restaurant that was so so good. We were all stuffed which worked out because it was already 5. That night we went out to a blues bar that my friend had found earlier. It was awesome. The lead singer was an old white guy in his 60's and the lead guitarist was a 13 year old Thai kid. Very cool. We spent a long time there but eventually made it out to other places. They were good but not as good.

The next morning we all went out looking for apartments with the girl who was staying. We went to a few that were all really nice but some were too much or too far or two small or whatever. There was one that had a pool on its fifth floor which I thought was particularly righteous but it was the most expensive of all and kind of a hike from the metro. We were all dog tired by the end of it and the three of us who were returning took a slow bus back to pattaya.

This post actually has taken me two days to complete but I have too much work to do to go into detail about today. I start teaching for real tomorrow and I need to get some things done. I'll have all the details on my first day, as well as my tales from Monday soon.

Much love,

Let the great experiment begin!

Hey everyone!

Well as you can clearly see I set up a blog of my own. I'm not sure if I'll switch to this as a form of updating you guys but I'll see how I like it. I feel like this way I'll be able to jot down anything particularly interesting that happens and hopefully give shorter, more frequent updates. I know a lot of you are dying for pictures and I'm working on it. I took some great ones and so have my friends here. So let's try the blog thing and see how we like it. Let the great experiment begin!