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,