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39 posts categorized "*Thai Culture"

Mai Pen Rai

I am writing to you from a state of week-induced hangover. My recent weekends have been so full of tiring travel and activities that coming down from the emotional high of the excitement, genuinely leaves me feeling like lukewarm death. Nothing indicates a spry and full-of-life 22 year old crossing the decorated threshold into maturity, like being literally hung-over from fun (look away energetic college friends, I don’t want you to see me like this). Here’s what you missed while I’ve been technologically cleansing - procrastinator speak for shirking on my blogging responsibilities. The most aged news is that Emily and I got to meet up with a pack of our orientation friends to attend the E-San music festival in Khon Kaen. Considering the relative geographic isolation of our province, it was to be the first time we were reunited with pals of any sort and we were determined to make the most of it, immediately hopping in a cab upon arrival to take us to the promised land (an actual bar with actual people). Despite being in a province that was relatively more familiar with foreigners, we were greeted by the same local fascination we were used to in Amnatcharoen. At this point I will take a moment to reflect on how lucky I am to have Emily considering my literal paralysis vis-à-vis the art of haggling. Somehow the drivers can always smell my fear, rendering me as useful as a screen door on a submarine.

After finally whittling the reluctant cab driver down to a reasonable price, we victoriously crowded into the back seat. The cab driver, assuming we couldn’t understand his local jargon, watched us like a popular tween watching her instagram likes compiling. He muttered incessantly owning his interest even after we politely requested he stop. Emily, in the front seat, jumped into action, insisting (in broken, nonsensical Thai) that he keep his eyes forward. This unlikely hero, standing at a menacing 5 foot 2 and wearing a fun n’ flirty romper as opposed to the conventional armor, repeatedly threatened to pay the driver less than the pre-established price, he contemptuously agreed. Like my first graders goldfish-like attention span, this resolution lasted all but seconds before the harassment commenced again. In this moment, Emily’s skin took on a green-ish hue. Her balled up fists ballooned to the size of basketballs. She howled and beat on her chest while unmistakable fireballs of threats poured from her eyes as she prepared to hulk smash the peevish grin directly off that man’s face. Or at least, the fear emanating from every inch of the man’s body indicated that this was how he perceived Emily’s Mama Bear mode. The delicious silence for the rest of the car ride, ashamed on his part, smug on ours, was a firm reminder that Emily is the fighter you want in your corner in roughly every unsavory situation ever. We proceeded to have an awesome evening catching up with our estranged pals and thrashing our limbs about to the cacophony of confusing Thai rap.

The next morning as we were getting ready for the festival, we realized that no one actually knew the genre of the event. One girl had heard reggae, another had heard country, a third yet had jumped to the conclusion that the festival would showcase electronic music. This misinformed state is highly representative of my entire existence in Thailand. I have used the “Mai pen rai” lifestyle (a Thai axiom literally translating to ‘whatever will be will be’ and manifested as go with the flow) as an excuse to be an ignorant American and deceivingly dressing it up as adaptability. In our eagerness, we showed up to the festival many hours premature. Determined to make the hours productive, we took the time to explore the campgrounds, the vendor stalls, and the venue itself to deduce what type of music the festival would display. After hours of exploring, the jury was still out. The decorations gave off decidedly Woodstock-y vibes which was overall conflicting with the Native American headdresses and confederate flags adorning the sea of tents; oh Thailand – you’re so cute when you don’t get it at all.  The butchered lyrics of expired American one hit-wonders crooned in jagged Thai drawl floated on the warm wind from the sperm stage. This is not hyperbolic. In a misguided attempt to be edgy, or youthful, or mysterious (all conjecture, I actually have know idea what motivations drive one to make sperm thematic) the stage was adorned with goliath paper mache swimmers looking down on us like ethereal higher powers of fecundity. I caught myself thinking that the incongruity of the decorations seemed to fit perfectly with the other arbitrariness of the festival – a thought that was interrupted by a family of neon painted elephants meandering by. The astonished public stopped for an onslaught of pictures, of the wild and unnatural white people of course, not the humdrum two-ton mammals. The rest of the event was spent enjoying the relaxed vibes, and socializing with some of the local bands playing the event.

The following weekend we relegated our exploration to more local areas as our lady gang of Thai co-teachers invited Emily and I to venture to Surin with them for the day. According to our ‘deny no authentic experiences’ mantra, we hopped into the truck bed at 6am where we were to be assaulted by gale-force winds for the next three hours. The initial purpose of the day-trip was for the co-teachers to sign up for the teacher test. It is incredibly difficult for co-teachers to become subject teachers in Thailand. That day we journeyed 250 kilometers simply for them to register for a test that 300 hopefuls, our friends included, would later take only to yield a dissatisfying result for a confounding 298 of them. What a staggering statistic: from the initial scoring, only two co-teachers will evade disappointment and be awarded teacher status. The two selected will have less than a week to pack up their belongings, move to a new government-selected location, and enter a binding contract performing duties they’ve never executed. The only commitment I have ever made that approaches that level of solemn obligation was purchasing a Proactive subscription in my oily youth. I can only hope that the commitment results in less dry skin and scarring for our impressive friend who placed among the top two selects!

After the registration process we found a local restaurant where, as is customary, we took off our shoes and settled into a seated position on the floor. Emily and I love spending time with our Thai friends because we are undoubtedly on the benefiting end of this parasitic relationship. While they squirm under the smothering and unfamiliar starring we tend to elicit, we get to coast on autopilot through basic interactions that are normally very taxing for us as non-Thai speakers. We eat like kings when we are with them! By eat like kings, I mean we get to actually decide what we want to order before shooting in the dark and pointing at random words on an indecipherable menu. Thailand has decidedly made me a simple girl with simple needs. I happily munch on the flying ants and silkworms they order as appetizers (while our friends thoughtlessly crush their buggy victims between their chopsticks and wave them around in our faces saying “Ooooooh, monsters”) to earn my meal of delicious local favorites. I live for the tableside conversations we muddle through while sideswiping language barriers and hurdling over narrowly-missed cultural divergences. For your reference, please enjoy this example of a genuine interaction we fought through:

Emily: (posing a theoretically easily-understood question to the table) Do you like vegetables?

Co-teacher: I like Cuba.

Emily: (rolling with the punches) Why do you like Cuba?

Co-teacher: Delicious!

Emily: (emitting brain smoke as she tries to connect non-existent dots) Oh you mean cucumbers?

Co-teacher: Yes, teacher!

Emily: (pushing on, encouraged by this conversational break-through) Do you like Spinach?

Co-teacher: No, I like Germany.

To this day, none of us are sure if we were discussing vegetables or geography. Luckily, we know that we always have a banter contingency plan in the form of John Cena. John Cena, if you’re reading this, you should move to Thailand, like, yesterday and reap the rewards of local obsession. Age and gender does not discriminate on this point. Our girly co-teachers, elderly Thai classroom attendants and students alike all converge on their pious devotion to John Cena. Students who could not mutter a single word of English despite intense teacher assistance can be heard gallivanting around at recess yelling, “YOU CAN’T SEE ME”. I don’t get it, I honestly don’t, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to a dialogue that both involved parties can understand. Keep doing what you’re doing out there beefcake!

The day took a sobering turn at the elephant enclosure we understood to be an ethical sanctuary but in actuality was a cruel, monetarily driven training facility. We decided against lingering and supporting the operation and settled for night market exploration instead. Riding around in that truck bed exchanging American and Thai music, discussing language, and sharing experiences with our indigenous friends is a memory I will treasure forever. Cherished friendships formed under impossible circumstance and the supplementary commentary on human kindness and acceptance that accompanies them are the most beautiful gifts Thailand has given me.

Until next time!

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What To Expect...When You Have No Idea What To Expect

Since coming to Thailand, I've had to learn to adapt and embrace a culture that is nothing like my own. Of course this shouldn't be a surprise, and anyone who does a little research on Thailand compared to the USA would agree with me. I came to Thailand to be an English teacher, even though I feel like I am by no means qualified. Thailand, however, would disagree. I am from America, English is my native language, I have a Bachelor's degree, and I am able to take advantage of all of these things, speak in front of a class and in some way try and influence a few hundred Thai students' learning. Is that actually what has taken place over these last couple of months...I'm not so sure?

There are many reasons for this, and I wanted to take some time to write down my thoughts about how it's been so far being a "teacher" (I use quotes because I don't think I'll ever be able to seriously think of myself as a teacher). There are also several things I wish I knew about the Thai education system and what life would actually be like before I hopped on a plane to come here.

For starters, let me give a little background info on my school. Me and my friend Kaitlin teach at SaoHai Wimolwitthayanukul School, which is a public high school with 2700 students. My classes are large, English levels are low, and any overall organization is almost nonexistent. I never thought that I wouldn't like where I was placed, partially because I had this dream idea that I'd be teaching perfect, respectful children who adore me and are eager to learn. But, if I had a say in where I was placed, I might choose to work at a different school. That might sound bad and I hate that I even typed it out, but I do want to be honest. This post isn't all negative however. I am so happy that I quit my job and hopped on that plane to embrace a whole new life away from my home. I don't want anything that I say next to deter someone from coming to Thailand to teach. This has simply been my experience so far and I want to share it! So for now, let me get into some specifics about what I wish I knew to expect before starting to teach (the good stuff is at the end by the way).

  1. Public schools are veryyyy different than private schools. I work at a public school, which means we don't have a bunch of extra money lying around for school supplies, decorations, working projectors and computers, clean classrooms, etc etc. The lack of resources can be extremely frustrating sometimes. If I want to plug my computer into the projector to show a PowerPoint in class, and for some reason the system isn't working (happens several times a week) there is generally nothing I can do about it besides cluelessly tinker with the different wires and hope for a miracle. It usually doesn't happen. At this point, I have made note of all the classrooms where the projectors don't work so I can prepare ahead of time for a much more difficult lesson. We do have whiteboards, and if you bring your own whiteboard markers then you are good to go. Another big issue is that the classroom sizes are almost unmanageable. Trying to get 50 Thai students to stop talking, get off their phones and pay attention to a language that they don't understand can seem impossible. Which is why I've had to accept the fact that you might have 5-15 students paying attention, and you kind of just deal with it and ignore the ones who aren't. What I've seen and heard about private schools is quite the opposite. There's more money available which means they can be more selective of their students, which means smaller class sizes, which means more resources and overall more organization.
  2. Speaking of organization, I never knew it was possible for a school to be so disorganized, but damn Sao Hai does a pretty good job at it. Example 1, Kaitlin and I started school at the beginning of November. We aren't told specifically if there is a curriculum, or even what our general class topics are. Believe me, we asked, we just didn't get a straight answer. Not until at least a month in did I learn that two of my classes that I have to test are English for Writing and Reading, and the rest of the classes are Conversation. I also learned around this time that the students take English speaking classes with me, and then English grammar classes with Thai teachers (which you think would help to improve their English skills, but it does not). Example 2 was when I was told I have to hand in my midterm test at the end of November. At that point, I had seen my students maybe a couple of times and had absolutely no idea what I should be teaching them, what their proficiency levels were, and what they had already been taught in previous years. After this, I was also informed that I have to give them a quiz BEFORE the midterm, but for some reason they forgot to tell me. Sounds crazy right? Well it is, but I've learned to accept it. I now realize that essentially no one gives a shit, and that's ok. No one asked what I was going to test my students on, no one asks me what I teach them in my classes, no one even asks me how I'm getting along. But that's fine, because at least no one is breathing down my neck or pressuring me to teach something specific. I have free rein over what I do, which means lots and lots of English games! This is mostly because the students love them and get bored with anything else, like for example...a real lesson. And finally, and maybe my favorite, example 3, which only just happened this week. Our coordinator Kajee told Kaitlin that the school Director had asked how she knew whether or not her students' English was improving. You might be thinking, "yes indeed what a great and logical question." But the catch is that Kaitlin was told at the beginning of the semester that she didn't have to formally grade any of her classes. So she hasn't been. But now she's being told by Kajee that she should have been giving them speaking tests, and she wants Kaitlin to make up 4 test grades for each of her students. We have more than 600 students each by the way...so you do the math. She was told to grade them on a scale of 1-4, as if she knew who each of them was and how well they can (really can't) speak English, and to hand in the grades two days later. I'm kind of still laughing about that one because it's just so ridiculous. If they wonder how we're going to know how each student is improving, you'd think they would have us grade them all to begin with right? Evidently...wrong. And if you're wondering why we haven't been grading them informally, it's because we see our classes once a week, there's 50 students in each class, and it's just simply not realistic to try and teach them and then test them on it a week later. It would take several class periods, aka weeks, to do so. But again, this is simply my situation. Our other roommate Kat teaches at a different school in Saraburi within an English program. She sees her students three times a week, makes up detailed lesson plans, gives speaking tests, and is overall probably a better teacher than I am! But these are the cards I was dealt so I gotta play them.
  3. Sometimes you'll have to do things that you really didn't expect to do. For example, teach on Saturdays. I already wrote about the unfortunate circumstances that lead to Kaitlin and I being forced to "teach" on Saturdays because of Sports Day interfering with classes during the week back in November. With this wonderful idea, the students could get caught up with the course material in time for midterms in December. We were supposed to teach on five Saturdays, but they ended up cancelling the last two because they finally realized that the kids weren't exactly coming to school ready to learn. Some wouldn't even show up. The goal of those days was not met, and the kicker is that we weren't paid any extra for being there 6 days a week. Kaitlin and I both wished that OEG (our program) would have let us know that our school was going to make us do this. I personally felt like the school didn't really care about the teachers and wasn't concerned with what we wanted at all. It definitely wasn't a great feeling, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. It made it hard for me to feel a personal connection to the school because I felt like they really weren't concerned about us.
  4. No matter how much you want them to learn, some kids are just not motivated. That seems to be in part because of the school I'm at, and partly because of the Thai education system. For one, there are so many students at my school and no English program, so the overall proficiency levels are veryyyy low. This is really not surprising when you consider the impossible feat of trying to cater to 50 students' needs in the span of 40-50 minutes once a week. It's just not going to happen. So their motivation levels can sometimes be low since they know that the chances of them learning something that will stick with them is equally low. Another issue is the fact that they cannot fail. If they do fail, you re-test them. And re-test again until they pass. So why bother trying when you know the outcome already?! Great question, I would like to now refer you to 400 out of my 600 students and you can ask them! I definitely feel bad for the few kids in some of my classes who so very clearly want to learn. It's hard to try and control a classroom and also focus on trying to give all the students what they need. And again, at this point I've realized that that will never happen. Maybe if I had smaller classes, or saw them more than once or twice a week. But I've found that there's no point in wondering "what if" because you just have to adapt and learn what the best possible strategy is moving forward.
  5. Thai teachers are way stricter than I ever imagined. And I don't mean yelling or giving a lot of homework. I mean slapping kids on the head or using wooden sticks to hit them on their hands or backs when they've been bad. That was a fun surprise!! But once they see a farang (generally a white western foreigner) all bets are off the table (weirdly using a lot of card game references here?). They know we aren't going to do that with them, so they can go crazy, let loose and be EXTREMELY loud in our classrooms. Again, just something you have to deal with and learn to expect! I'd rather them have a little fun in my classes than be miserable.

If all of that didn't convince you to shut your computer and swear off ever coming to Thailand, then I'm glad! Because now I'd like to talk about the amazing things that I didn't expect to experience before coming to Thailand.

  1. The wonderful feeling you get when students tell you that they love you or get excited when you play a fun game in class. Just this week, one of my students from my favorite class left me a present and two cards on my desk for no reason at all. And actually while I was just typing this she came into the office and gave me another card. I do not deserve her.
  2. The huge smile that will break out on your face when you have the cutest student realize they said something properly in English. And yes I do have a favorite student who is the cutest thing I've EVER SEEN!!! And that's including puppies.
  3. Getting to know some of your students' personalities. I love laughing at the weird things they do or the sounds they make while being goofy in class. All of that warms my heart and makes me leave my classrooms smiling. And I don't even like kids!!! (Proof that anyone can do this).
  4. Overall getting to experience Thai culture and all the crazy, weird, and beautiful things that that entails. Like seeing three, four, or five people squished onto a motorbike drive by you. Without helmets I might add. Or taking a van to Bangkok for the weekend and swearing you're going to die at least five times on the trip as people zoom past you or drive on the wrong side of the road, but you always make it there safely. Or having teachers and students wai you in the morning, every morning to show respect (that's when you put your hands together and make a small bow with your head). Or learning to take cold showers and almost not even being bothered by it because it's so hot out. Or getting used to seeing the weirdest food combinations you could ever imagine being put into a crepe and devoured by a student after school. Or taking your shoes off outside most houses or stores. Or drinking soda out of a bag because this is Thailand. And also saying "this is Thailand" far too often but that's the only proper way to describe the crazy shit that happens here.
  5. The amount of places that you can manage to see on weekend trips and all the beauty that this country has to offer. I've so far been to Bangkok, Kanchanaburi, Ayutthaya, Lopburi, Krabi, Chiang Mai, and Pai and have plenty more plans for the rest of the semester. I am also planning on traveling around Asia afterwards, just because I can!
  6. Thai money will get you far. The first month of working I had to use my own personal money to buy things, as I get paid at the end of the month by my school. But after that, I have not once dipped into my own money. Granted I haven't been able to save a lot (or any) of that Thai money yet, but it has gotten me through the months of traveling and lots of eating!
  7. No matter how hard I think this job is or how frustrating my school can be, I would choose this over working at home every. damn. time. I quit my last job because I was unhappy, and so far the overwhelming feeling I've had while being here has been pure joy. Maybe I don't feel that 100% of the time, but at least I'm not sitting in an office hating my life for 9 hours a day. THAT was torture. THIS is paradise.
  8. The people that you meet and become friends with are just amazing. I came here expecting to live with Kaitlin, but didn't expect to also gain a second roommate. Our friend Kat, who used to live about 10 minutes away, recently moved in with us at the end of December. We had been saying for a while that she should move in, as we had an extra bedroom, and she finally did! Our friend Tracy and her boyfriend live in our neighborhood as well. And our friends Emily and Laura live a couple hours away south of Bangkok. We see them almost every weekend when we get together to travel, and it's always great to spend time with people who have similar mindsets as you. One funny thing we talked about was that everyone always has that "token" friend who up and moves across the country or the world to do something crazy. And for us, we are all that token friend. We all left our families and friends to come to Thailand, and now we're experiencing a totally different way of living together.

So, the moral of this story I guess is that if you want to put your life on pause and come teach in Thailand or anywhere else in Asia, do it. Do it now. There are a million and one schools in Thailand that desperately want foreign teachers to come and work at their schools. It's an amazing way to make a difference, even if you don't feel like you are, while also earning enough money to travel and see the world. My situation is just one of many. I know I'm going to be asked about my experience once I go home, so I figured this was a surefire way to get around answering the same question a bajillion times - I'll just direct them here. Looking at you relatives that I see once or twice a year!

P.S. - This is the card that my student just gave to me. BRB crying.

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Make sure to check out my other personal blog for more stories and pictures! https://danielleinthailandblog.wordpress.com

Courtney's View #4: Assume Change

Teaching’s almost over really. The time was flying by anyway, but things kicked into warp drive when I found out that though my contract ends in March, the last day of school is February 9th. What cultural thing is this? I don’t know. But I get paid for a month a half of navel gazing. Much wow! 

This news aside, I’ve taken into account Unexpected Days Off as a highly possible bi-weekly or even weekly occurrence. The reasons are usually both creative and official. For your vivid understanding, I have curated these reasons into a list:

  • “There is a competition that you must watch this morning. You will have no class.”
  • “There is a holiday on Tuesday. And on Monday.”
  • “There is a festival in the afternoon. Maybe there will be no class.”
  • “It is sports week. There is no class.”
  • “The students are playing football. Maybe they will not come today.”
  • “The students have a test. Maybe they will not come today.”
  • “The English Department has decided that today they will not work.”

Truly, this type of surprise is perfect for a rookie teacher like me. The extra time to plan lessons or write my family a letter is welcome. Any chance to slow down is usually one to be grateful for.

There’s another side of the burger, too. The unpredictability of schedule can also mean that my day becomes one extra wild goose chase. It’s easy to feel jerked around but it’s important to understand that’s not the intention. Of course, there's a language barrier among other uncertainties that get in the way of communication. I’m relearning that even though I like to be in control of my day, sometimes that’s simply not the point. “Mai pen rai” is how they call it in Thailand. “Don’t worry, whatever will be, will be.” 

Below: Some well spent free time of preparing a Christmas succulent! 

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The One With The Trip To Pai

    I don't normally give advice about Thailand because everyone experiences it differently but there is one piece of advice that I know to be absolutely valid- EVERYONE SHOULD GO TO PAI.

    There is no other place in Thailand that is quite like Pai. It's a popular area but not over-crowded. It's a city but it's doesn't have insane traffic, unless you count the reckless driving that takes place on the 762 hairpin turns in the road you take to get to and from Pai. There is so much to see and do there that you need at least a 3 day weekend to really take it all in. We will definitely be back before we leave. 

    Pai is notorious for it's laid-back atmosphere and hippy vibes. After working for a month and a half we were ready for a mini vacation, so we took an extra day off and spent 4 days there, best decision so far. 

    We rode our bikes to the bus station in Tak at 11:30pm, took the midnight bus to Chiang Mai and arrived at 4:30. We then took a 6am van from Chiang Mai and after the many twists and turns we arrived smack dab in the middle of Pai's famous "walking street." It didn't take us long to find all the different foods Pai offers that our province doesn't (Mexican food)...(so much Mexican food). We then dropped our bags off at our hostel and began walking around and getting accustomed to the new area. 

    We stumbled on a booth selling tours and since we knew it would be a very expensive and probably unsuccessful journey trying to seeing the hot spots ourselves, we decided to sign up for the full day tour. The tour was of 5 different locations, it covered transportation and lunch and the company picks you up at your hostel the day off. We left at 10am and were gone until 6pm and it was so beyond worth it. It cost 500 Baht (15 USD) to see a view point at the top of Pai, a guided cave tour which included a bamboo raft ride through the river inside, a stop at the hot spring, followed by a waterfall and last but absolutely not least the Pai canyon at sunset (which may be my favorite thing we've seen in Thailand so far). 

    It would have been incredible if the tour was just that, but the group of people we spent the day with were the most awesome, genuine, hilarious and fun people to ever be grouped with. We got off the tour truck, looked around at each other and decided we weren't done hanging out. We found an amazing restaurant with delicious food and a rooftop setting and ate lunch followed by a few drinks around Pai. We made plans to hang out the next day with everyone and got each other's contact info so we could keep in touch.

    That's the amazing thing about the backpacker community, you meet so many awesome people. We met another girl at our hostel who we also loved and went to dinner with and honestly by the time it was time to go we were having a really hard time saying goodbye to both Pai and the people we met there. 

    So for those reasons and about a billion others, I fully stand by my opinion that if you come to Thailand YOU HAVE TO GO TO PAI. Trust me. 

Tour: Pai Let's Go Tour (pailetsgo.com) 

Restaurants worth trying: Moonshine, The Wine Bar, Bom Bowls, Earth Tone...plus all the street food vendors

Bars worth going to: Sunset bar, Paradise Bar, Yellow Sun

Hostel we stayed in: Pai Circus Hostel and School 

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The One With The Nightly Dinner Routine

    I honestly didn't know what to expect when it came to what meals would be like in Thailand. I knew markets and stands were common and that pad thai was probably abundant in the country. I didn't know that when I got placed in my apartment I would not have a kitchen of any kind, aside from a refrigerator. When I first heard this I won't lie, I sort of freaked out. My inner monologue went something like this "HOW THE F AM I SUPPOSED TO FEED MYSELF WHEN I DON'T HAVE ANY WAY TO MAKE FOOD?!" Except in my head "F" was very clearly spelled out. 

    After the first few days here we realized we weren't going to be able to survive with just a fridge, so we rode our bikes to the nearby store and purchased a water heater, which is essentially just an electric tea pot- we have them in America too and I'm obsessed with mine. We use that to make a lot of different things so we can theoretically survive without buying every single meal outside of our apartments. 

    The great thing about Thailand is that every. damn. thing. is cheap. Meals are rarely more than 300baht, the equivalent of 10USD and that's honestly when you're splurging or in a more urban area. Where we live has significantly lower prices than say Bangkok or Chiang Mai. Our average meal is between 30 and 60Baht (1-2USD). 

    We have been here for about a month and a half now so we officially have our "spots" and are on a first name basis with some of our favorite vendors. In fact at one of our favorite restaurants in Tak, the cook brought our rice out in the shape of a heart the other night. We knew we had officially been promoted to "regulars," which is a pretty awesome feeling. 

    While we do love that restaurant, our go-to meal is Pad Thai (how cliche, I know) and a papaya salad. Our nightly routine looks something like this: 

    Around 6:50pm one of us texts the group and says "night market in 10?" 

    7:00pm we ride our bikes about a mile to the river where several vendors set up stands to sell various amazing foods

    7:10pm we stop at the pad thai stand and get a serving to go

    7:15pm we go to the papaya salad stand and get an order to go and say "mai phet" meaning "not spicy" -I will never be able to put into words how DELICIOUS  papaya salad is, if I am able to recreate it when I get back to the U.S. I will cry tears of joy. 

    7:20pm we ride our bikes back to our apartments with our food in our baskets 

    7:30pm stage dive into a pile of bomb pad thai and papaya salad while constantly saying "I can't believe I'm not sick of this yet!" 

The convenience aspect is slightly missing because we do have to ride to the river to get the food, but the meal is always so, SO worth the effort it takes to obtain it. 

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Courtney's View #2: Pinned & Squirming

The wonderful hotel I’m staying at while I get my Non B Visa provides free breakfast. It’s not your average continental breakfast of Ho-hos and Ding Dongs. There’s a big pan of fried rice, plates of papaya and dragon fruit, pancakes, eggs, cucumbers, shredded carrots, and small sausages. There’s even a coffee maker that spits out Americanos which I return to in a sneaky tip-toe three or four times a morning. I go noticed 100% of the time.

The employees are very kind and helpful. One might say that they are unwavering and ever present in these respects. They are instantly available to get you a plate and gesture at the buffet. They are the quiet, smiling sentinels of breakfast.

My wallflowerishness sadly makes me unappreciative of this immaculate watchfulness. To me it just equals intentional, paid staring. As I approach the buffet, I feel a cruel combination of skittishness and hunger. I try to move along the buffet in a way that conceals the quantities of food I’m taking. I’m not sure what is acceptable and I don’t want to be disgustedly judged. The water glasses are rather small and I’m thirsty so I loiter by the drinks and down three waters in a row. The concierge stands steady, watching. A bug manages to fly into my fourth glass. The concierge stares. I want to fish out the bug but he’s watching. I don’t want to look even more slobbish. I drink the bug with a twitchy swallow.

Hastily, I walk to my table with a plate of pancakes and a bowl of fruit. Blast, I forgot to put syrup on my pancakes. I dread returning to the surveilled buffet to get the syrup. Surely, I will look like a fool. I will have to wait at least 15 minutes to avoid this, hopefully enough time for the concierge to have forgotten my stumbling performance. Wait I do. With my perceived clean slate, I assume a casual air as my curiously still-existing pancakes accompany me back to their mecca. The concierge raises his eyebrows. I slouch a little and spoon my syrup. He must have thought I took my pancakes for a walk to gently break the news that they’d be eaten and inquire about their last wishes. Oh you’d like Syrup to accompany you to the Grey Havens? As you wish. 

When I return to my room, I flop face down on to the cloud-like bed in a despondent heap, run through by the force of a thousand imagined judgements.                                                                                                             

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.... P.S. If you want to avoid major Visa stress, do as CIEE recommends and don't travel before the teaching program starts! I was stuck in Vientiane, Laos for almost 3 weeks and came out of it with a big fat "VOID WITHOUT PREDJUDICE" stamp in my passport and no Visa. I had to travel back to Laos to try again and was thankfully successful! If you do travel beforehand, Savannakhet, Laos is the absolute best place to get your Non B Visa. There was a total of 20 people getting processed on the day I went, as opposed to nearly 1000 in Vientiane. That being said, I loved traveling beforehand and would do it again - I just underestimated the Visa scene!

Below: A picture of me over-thinking stuff and knowing it. 

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The Infamous Sports Day

As promised, this next blog post is about Sports Day and all the craziness that overtook our school for 5 days. The activities took place about 2 weeks ago, but since I have a million and one pictures on my phone of students dressed in crazy and extravagant outfits, I felt I'd be doing them an injustice if I didn't write a poorly timed blog about it, you know?

On Tuesday November 14th, Kaitlin and I showed up to school to find hundreds of students decked out in Traditional Thai costumes with faces full of makeup and heavy hair accessories atop their heads. One teacher said that some students got to the school at midnight to start to prepare. Meanwhile, we rolled out of bed at 6:50 am and showed up wearing our Sports Day polos and workout pants looking like sweaty trash cans next to them.

We were told there was a big parade through the school that would end at the sports field, where everyone else would be watching the competitions throughout the day. All five color groups (blue, green, pink, yellow, purple) had their own separate theme and story to tell in their parade, and each section of the parade took about 15-30 minutes. 

Our high school has a pretty strict dress code for students. Uniforms, haircuts, etc are all determined by the school (or the government? idk). But either way, all of that went out the window for this occasion. Girls were wearing platform heels and dresses you would never expect to see in a school setting.The Thai school system will never cease to confuse me.

In the parade, some people were carrying simple items, while others were actually carrying other people (as seen in my previous blog post). The students looked so glamorous, and it was really cool to see so many different cultural outfits, accessories, and props in one place. I felt really bad for the girls casually wearing 6 inch platform heels however, because they had to stand and wait for the parade to start, and then they had to walk a long way to the sports field, around the track, and had to wait again for the parade end. So without further ado, here's a small selection (literally I have so many pics on my phone) from Sports Day.

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To say that Sports Day was not what we expected it to be is definitely an understatement. How naive we were to think that they would simply be playing sports for a day or two!? We were really in awe of the creativity, time, hard work and overall beauty that must have taken place to create that parade. It was definitely a pleasure to get to experience it!

Follow me on Instagram to see my day to day activities and life fails: danii_bailey

Courtney's View #1: The Big Fat Reality Check

Until I came to Thailand, I was living in a hip-college-mountain-town in Colorado. The town is full of Trustafarians who wear those ruggish, biblical ponchos that are meant to signify enlightenment. Perhaps my college can owe it's 1988 accusation by USA Today of being "the worst dressed" town in America to these types. My town is full of world class mountain runners, kayakers, mountain bikers, and skiers. There are many organic food stores and much environmental awareness. People wear lots of Patagonia and rock that classy sandal-sock combination with $100 Chacos, the finest and most durable of sandals. What I'm trying to say is that my town houses a distinctly earthy yet privileged population and I am very aware of this. 

I’ve been in Thailand for 4 months now. As for any Westerner, there many new things both shocking and delightful I've gotten to get accquainted with:

-a high power distance culture

-seeing an average of 3 helmet-less 2 year olds per sputtering moped

-a general lack of catalytic converters on vehicles

-a pacifist yet intensely opportunist driving culture that is very fascinating

-the delights of spicy food

-multitudes of garbage fires containing burning plastic

-legions of street dogs and cats

-groups of orange robed monks walking the streets for alms every morning

Coming from my super PC and health obsessed town, all of these things elicit a confusing array of responses like, "Wow! What's that? What's this? WOW! Yum! Oh no! huh? Eeek! Uggh. Ooo shiny! Oh dear. Tasty! But how? quick-hold-yer-breath!"

For me, there is a lot of learning to be done. I have diva-ishly sought out "staples" like nutritional yeast, organic shampoo, real coffee (as opposed to instant), single track running trails, and mexican food. With a little effort, some of these things can be found, but I am forced to shrug my shoulders for many others. My apartment has no sinks, just faucets sticking rustily out of the wall. It appears that my water source is a big cement tank that I have seen some questionable items floating in. My backyard features a wonderful sewage ditch that wafts fragrantly through my apartment. I call it the "spicy Thai breeze". Enter water filters, bleach, candles, and a super-chill mind. This lack of many things I consider "staples" of my life has been a big fat reality check that makes me wonder if I have "Privileged" written 100 times on my face.

What I'm learning is that travel is probably the best teacher of open mindedness. I have always considered myself to be broad minded but that's an easy label to give myself when I'm back at home comfortably sipping on a green juice and watching a peloton of $10,000 bikes whiz by before comfortably walking to my comfortable job where I comfortably communicate AND relate to nearly every person I encounter. Discomfort is what tests me. Travel often gives the gift of wider contemplation through the deprivation of comforts I take for granted. 

My goal for my stay in Thailand is to not only be grateful for the comforts I've previously had, but to truly take joy in what Thailand has to offer. This might be genuinely looking forward to a cup of instant coffee, really getting to know my students and fellow teachers, and reforming to the simplicity of no furniture and living from the contents of a carry-on size bag. 

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Below: Taking time to serenade our favorite street kitty Jacqueen.

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Below: Moped specimen.

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The Cha-Cha Slide Makes a Thai Debut

The passing of Thanksgiving back in the states has gotten me thinking about my recent momentous life change and all the new beginnings it has presented that are worthy of my gratitude. When I think about all the blessings I’ve already accrued in my short time here, my students top the list by a landslide. I spend my school days on a tumultuous roller coaster of emotion that ranges from anxiety to adoration to frustration to impressed awe, but regardless of my mood’s flavor of the day, when I hop on my bike and head home my students have left me in stitches, and feeling very, very loved. During our teaching certification course at orientation our aggressively British facilitator asserted again and again: “Thai students are not nasty, they’re naughty”, a prophecy that has been decidedly self-fulfilling. The Thai education system is known for it’s dry plug-and-chug format in the classroom setting, in which students are inundated with lecture-style information. I strive to keep my classrooms interactive because it not only sustains my students’ motivation, but also makes them genuinely excited about the material and class in general. I know what you’re thinking. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s Super Teacher! Fully equipped with engaging, activity-based heroism!

 Well you, dear reader, would be absolutely incorrect. As with most things in my life, I have an affinity for conceptualization but leave something to be desired on the execution front. Enthusiasm is a double-edged sword as it’s sometimes manifested in the form of craziness. It’s not always cute Thai child craziness as my social media presence may suggest; sometimes the scales tip and it’s rabid hyena craziness. Albeit, Hyenas in cute matching boy and girl scout uniforms, but ravenous dogs nonetheless. The high road no longer exists in my reality, I’ve tried every classroom discipline technique in the book with varied success, the most effective being mercilessly peeling a star sticker off of the troublemaker’s name with the eye-contact of a wild west gun fight and the slow motion drama of Neo evading bullets in The Matrix. The kids sulk as if I have just taken one of their limbs. Calling out students in front of the class for unruliness used to be my chosen class-quieting move, but was ultimately unsustainable because I couldn’t maintain an angry teacher façade while yelling at Tigger to sit down (an actual name of a friend’s student). Scolding desk mates Boom and Boom-Boom for wreaking havoc with Cannon and Ball, or getting the attention of Arm, the tiny, Thai, toothless, parka-wearing Gandhi, simply cannot be done without a smile. However, I realize that sometimes these kids just need an outlet to release their quelled energy. Thus, Super Teacher’s™engaging activity based heroism occasionally devolves to watching Scooby Doo youtube videos in class, and that’s okay! Much of my job is just showing these children the encouragement, affection and support that they don’t always receive in other parts of their lives.

Now re-read that last sentence, and replace the words “encouragement, affection, and support” with “abject ridiculousness and hilarity”. I’d like to reintroduce you all to my aforementioned intimate friend: the chasm between intent and execution. I absolutely love playing and joking around with my students. When I’m having a tough day, nothing lifts me up quite like hearing them brutally butcher the pronunciation of ‘parallelogram’ on a repetitive loop. In return, I also have my students teach me a word in Thai every day, to continue breaching the gap and better relate to them in the struggle of learning a new language. The students get incredibly excited to watch me word vomit all over their nuanced tonal tongue. Last week I requested that they teach me how to say the date in Thai. There’s a good chance I celebrated 40th birthday while the “teacher” I called up to the front breezed through the infinitely syllabic sentence. The class blinked at me emptily, waiting for me to repeat it, so I hissed and gargled and rolled r’s in a nonsensical order until the elusive bell finally rang. I think next week for payback, I will give them English tongue twisters.

I also love dancing with them. In fact, Emily and I may have unintentionally created a cult following for “the cha-cha slide” amongst our primary students. We fully anticipate a turf battle breaking out against rival gang, “the Macarena” fanatics, any day now. Queued up I have the Electric Slide and The Cupid Shuffle. When things get really dire, I will teach them Gangnam Style because desperate times do in fact call for desperate measures. I take solace in the knowledge that the students already inexplicably worship Ed Sheeran at a golden alter, so any music I bestow on them couldn’t confuse their taste any further. Channeling the students’ energy into dancing at the beginning or end of class has been a useful tool, but has not completely eradicated the inherent classroom insanity that comes with teaching little ones. My overweight second grader with a penchant for shaking it everywhere, on everything and everyone, all the time, comes to mind. He couldn’t say a sentence in English if held at gunpoint, but suddenly turns into a gyrating Miley Cyrus on all available windows, desks, doors, and even backs when I’ve turned to face the whiteboard. It goes without saying - I love him. Independently of the stellar joke material my students’ anecdotes facilitate, I am so lucky to love and learn from these clever, vivacious kids each day!

Until next time!

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Teaching and What I Wish I Knew

 

    I have been teaching in Thailand for the past two weeks. I can’t believe that it has already been two weeks!! Besides learning the ins and outs of my village and adjusting to a new way of life, I have been working on lesson planning and grading. If you have never taught before, this may be more difficult and time consuming than you would expect. However, when the kids grasp the concepts being taught, their faces show so much happiness it makes it all worth it.

    Being in Thailand for almost a month has given me some culture shock in and out of the classroom. Below is a list of five cultural differences I have experienced so far (more will come as I stay longer).

 

1: The Respect of the Students:

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    The students in Thailand respect their teachers much more than those in the U.S. Yes, the students still talk in class, but what middle school student doesn’t? When I ask them to be quiet they show respect by almost immediately quieting down. The students thank me after each class and even those I have never met still say “Sawatdee Kha” (“Good Morning”) and bow their heads to me. Even though the students in Thailand have more respect; how the school is run seems to be slightly more disorganized than in the U.S.

 

2: Thai School Systems:

            The school system in Thailand is more laid back and little less organized than in the U.S. For example, students do not always come to class on time. This can be because they do not want to, or because they were in a meeting with someone and you did not know, or because they were simply taking their time on the way back from lunch or recess. If they are tardy there is an expectation that they will bring the teacher a late slip explaining where they were, but that doesn’t always happen. Another example can be when an entire class doesn’t appear. Other teachers may assume the impacted teachers have been told that a class is on a field trip, but that isn’t always the case. Adaptability is key and you learn to go with the flow. You realize that receiving information at the last minute about your class, such as them not being in attendance due to an event, is not that unusual. Some of this is due to the language barrier, but some is simply the way it is. It has been two weeks and I am learning to live “Mai Pen Rai” – which basically means, “it’s okay.”

 

3: You will Never Stop Sweating:

    You will never stop sweating no matter time of year it is. Currently Thailand is starting their winter and it is still 80 degrees everywhere with about 70% humidity, if not more. Walking to and from school causes my hair to expand and frizz because of the humidity, even at 7:00 am. You will never stop sweating. I hope to eventually get used to the heat, despite having other travelers tell me it’s difficult. On the plus side, a lot of restaurants have outdoor seating, and the fans help cool everything off. I am also glad there is air conditioning where I live. And, I’m grateful I’ve arrived in October, as it is the beginning of winter. I’m hoping I will adjust before summer. My recommendation for travelers: wear clothing that breathes and is loose fitting, and bring deodorant. 

 

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    I live in a village that is well off, so there are stores that sell western foods as well as Thai foods. I have been able to find goldfish, peanut butter, Doritos, and Oreos. A lot of food stores also have potato chips, but many of them are interesting flavors: seaweed, sushi, salmon, and other seafood flavors, just to name a few. Pizza is not as hard to come by as one would think. I have found one place that makes decent pizza, and it’s within walking distance. KFC is located at almost ever corner but some of the menu items are spicier than in the U.S. The Thai restaurants have amazing foods. I don’t know what I am ordering most of the time, but Thai owners and employees are really helpful in explaining the items and letting me know if it’s super spicy or not. I have loved 90% of all the Thai foods that I have been eating. There are some that are not good at all; unfortunately I don’t know what they are called.

 

5: Squatter Toilets and Toilet paper:

    Coming over from the U.S. I was used to having toilet paper in all public bathrooms and toilets that were off the ground. What I have found in Thailand are squatter toilets in about 75% of public bathrooms and bum guns, a.k.a. bidets, in every bathroom (some did have toilet paper but not many). I have used some squatter toilets but am still getting used to them and the bum guns. If you use them incorrectly you get your pants all wet – consider it a learning situation.

Even with all of the cultural shocks I am so excited to be in this wonderful country! I can't wait to make even more memories and experience it all! Stay tuned for more! :D

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