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!