Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy International New Year

From the Internet Cafe on Soi 2

Thank goodness for a break. I sit here thinking about the coming year; and the fact that until recently I neglected to realize we are ushering in a new decade. Perhaps it is the ambiguity of years that end in zero; or perhaps it is Thai culture to start with years ending in one. Or perhaps it's just a clever marketing ploy to get people to celebrate more extravagently. In the end it doesn't really matter a hill of beans - but it has gotten me to thinkabout the next ten year mark.

American society seems very goal-oriented, and I can't say two months is enough time to claim much knowledge of Thai society. From programs like 'Get Things Done,' to educational tracking and progress reports and Growth Model - to daily and weekly tracking of direct sales - there is a lot of overwhelming tracking of things. While sometimes this has its merits - sometimes it is more trouble than it is worth. Most especially when it is counterintuitive to the culture; or as asinine as to track every waking moment of existence.

Certain aspects of my school culture have been driving me up the wall, especially after the years of college training and year in a U.S. school. Here, tracking attendance is a joke. I've stopped bothering. Punishment for skipping, or cheating is nil. After exam retakes for students that failed - giving them the exact same exam - if they still fail you either a) give them the test over and over until they manage a pass or b) falsify their score to 50% (which is a passing score) and call it a day. The other teachers have mentioned having to raise passing scores to better passing scores after parent complaints. Oh bowing to the whims of the Ministry of Education of Thailand (no student can fail) and parental pressure. I see no similarities to the state of American education, nope not at all. That's sarcasm, in case that was lost in translation.

But I digress - goals, tracking, and what it is worth in one's personal life. An exercise at one of my direct sales job meetings was to write down your goals for six months, one year, five years, and ten years. Having just barreled through my five year non-stop dual degree a few months prior, I was kind of at a loss here. Set MORE goals? I finally just finished the one I'd had blinders on to finish - nearly; hit a road block at the end and here I am attempting to sell kitchen knives. What are my goals next? Uh... not be so blindsided by goals? How do you enjoy life with your eye constantly forward? Do you really need to set goals? Oh well, you won't fulfill what you want in life if you don't. How do you know? Maybe it just makes one more cognizant of what they haven't attained. This past summer I enrolled myself in a counseling program of my choosing; at the well-timed referral of a colleague. This was mainly to address the grief I hadn't faced up to since losing Dad; having only buried my head under the sand in my degree program and subsequent job search - in any case my counselor gave me a completely different exercise. Dry erase board, marker: What have you accomplished since graduating college? What? But I didn't accomplish my goal - well, so what HAVE I done? By the end of the exercise the marker board was full and I was crying. Less than half a dozen things on the board had been my 'goals' prior to doing them; but some of the things I hadn't initially set out to do were the most important. The exercise was to show me more about positive and negative framing - but I think it also illustrates how easily goals become burdens instead of inspiration. Sure - set more attainable goals, commit to your goals, work harder! But at some point I have to wonder - is it worth it to be a part of the rat race? To set big goals? When I could be happier with less? The phrase settling for less is misleading here - I mean doing without the excess many of us have come to know as our comfortable standard of living (which yes, has taken a hit with these economic times). Not to mention despite all the pep talks in direct sales marketing - you cannot always manage to get around every obstacle with creativity and will power alone along a straight path. Sometimes you have to be like water - and carve a new path. Yes, I stole that from the opening credits of Memoirs of a Geisha. As such I sit here wondering about the merits of setting goals at all. Besides which, my personal 'goals' are not under the governance of any Educational governing body. I will probably make a brief list of resolutions, but I won't publish it. Try and go with things without time frames, with out as much probability of external road blocks. Will it stunt my personal growth not to 'challenge' myself? No, I'll just have less hanging over my head. I'll give credit where it's due and cite the blog ZenHabits for its influence on much of this post. Though I won't claim for an instant to be a true minimalist.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Stolen Moments on a School Computer

The internet is addictive, and I'm in withdrawal.
A tangential entry before "proctoring exams" resumes.
Today's dessert: bread cubes, plus a syrup resembling a runnier version of pepto-bismol and a cupful of ice. I ate the plain bread cubes, which puzzled my Thai colleagues - who urged me to pour on the pepto and ice. I proceeded to describe the main dish as delicious, and shake my head at the "dessert."
Since it's exam week, school lunch is a bit better than can usually be expected. Some sort of stir fried wide noodle, egg, pork or beef (most likely pork but I have no idea), some leafy green veggie and of course your options of fish sauce, granulated sugar, crushed red peppers and some sort of vinegar with larger chillies. These four condiments are like salt and pepper in the states, present with nearly every meal. Depending on the meal there are a myriad of other assorted condiments as well (such as lemon or lime juice, or extra pepto for today's dessert).

"Balloon angioplasty" was on my M.3's health exam today. M.3 is 9th grade. Other highlights: hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, diabetes, pectorial angina (sp?) and other things I'm sure are reserved for college courses or vocational medical training in the states. Well, I suppose we talked about diabetes sooner.

Today I sampled the delights of a Fanta soda slightly darker than antifreeze, that brought up a nostalgia for some unknown artificial flavor from elementary school fundraising carnivals and the state fairs of childhood. A plate of coca-cola, one green and one orange (or pink?) fanta, all brimming with ice, was brought around to the exam rooms for the teachers. I've been trying to avoid soda, but graciousness and my curiosity for the green stuff overcame that. Proctoring the exams has meant little more than passing and collecting papers, signing my initials various places, sitting and reading a book at the head of class. I'm thankful for my upstairs neighbor's generosity loaning me Love in the Time of Cholera, which is not something I would have picked up on my own, but I'm finding an addicting read. Though as it's set in the Caribbean and is translated to English from the original Spanish, I find myself craving good Mexican food - though the book has little to do with Mexico itself as far as I can tell.

Yesterday I received my first letter! I have not published my address because it is six lines long and I've been uncertain about what order to write the names of various districts - as here postal code includes county, district and subdistrict on top of everything else, and names here are all at least 4 syllables long. Postal mail has lost its charm in the states (for me at least), where I came to dread tripping over the leaflets of junk mail in my studio with a mail slot and would sometimes go a week without checking my mail box in my most recent apartment for dread of the stupid flyers - especially the pizza ads, I mean honestly. Here, no junk mail, not even a mailbox - literally my first piece of post in two months. And it was glorious. I was skipping around outside the apartment building, I was certain the landlords thought I was crazy.

Also discovered you cannot run the shower and the air conditioner at the same time in my apartment - the air conditioner and the water heater are both too energy intensive. Though I'm surprised I didn't figure this out sooner, and thankful that the electricity turning off did not stop the water itself - since I was mid shower at that juncture. The people that run my apartment building are great, and the girl at the office just kind of laughed when I came down in pajamas with my wet hair wrapped in a towel and asked "were you in the shower? was the air conditioner on?" Oh. Duh. Mai pen rai, mai pen rai - a phrase I've come to loathe and use frequently, often sounds more like mai bel lai - should be printed on the money (thought that's the place for the King) - don't worry, don't worry. Thankfully, we have old school breakers (just like the computer lab!) so it only took the flip of a switch to correct.

I am now the proud owner of a microwave oven. I will not even elaborate on the full scope of operation microwave - I have one now. I finally purchased one at Tesco Lotus - the Thai version of Walmart, and trucked out to hail a taxi with my arms full of microwave, toilet paper, and a few other necessary items - including a pole for a shower curtain. Not really the best planning, but it's difficult to set up an apartment when the greatest limiting factor is how much you can carry in one trip (and the finances, but that will be a post in it of itself much later) - and how willing you are to sit in traffic again for another venture.

I've also discovered that some of the best pronunciation coaches are cab drivers - most of them are friendly enough and are anxious to help you learn if you are making an effort, though as anything else that can't be made as a blanket statement. Free Thai lesson for the price of the cab ride that was necessary to transport a microwave (I'm all about using the bus over a taxi, but I'm not that delusional).

An afternoon of reading, I mean proctoring awaits, and my favorite activity of trying to get answers in the land of Mai Pen Rai, Mai Pen Rai. No word on the progress of my computer yet; I'm thinking they shipped it to Singapore to the Apple Repair Hub of Asia.
Paperwork, miscommunication, and "that's not my fault," here at school - because trying to get a direct answer is presuming the person you're asking is at fault - and just like all criticism is done via third party gossip to allow everyone to keep face - answers must play telephone, which gets quite confusing with the translation gap on top of it, especially when more than half the parties involved don't speak English, and the answer is not at all clear to begin with. What on earth am I talking about? You'll have to wait until I myself, know that answer; and even then, I'll only have a ghost print of the true story.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stop Thinking Like an American

Stop Thinking Like an American!

The past few days this thought has been at the forefront of my mind; more so than such regulars as: no I don’t need tuk-tuk, no I don’t want to go to Ping-Pong Show, no I don’t need massage, I don’t have to answer “where you go?” and one of the most important phrases: ‘mai pet,’ (not spicy).
I try NOT to look in the mirror in the morning while applying mascara thinking putting on my makeup is the most important thing I will do today for what is expected of me at my job; and the female farang aesthetic that is favored. I am more than a cute white girl that speaks English and poses for staged school photos. At least I tell myself that, and some days are better than others. That’s just how it is.

It is normal practice for students’ parent’s to call them during class. Yesterday when one girl had her phone off, her mom called her friend’s phone to get in touch with her. I confiscate phones during the lesson when students are playing games or listening to music; but it’s quite the uphill battle – and I can’t confiscate the phone when their parent has just called them. Though I have answered a parent phone call that rang after it had already been confiscated for playing in class – that was fun. He had to call his father back and speak to him in Thai explaining his farang English teacher took his phone for playing in class. Am I sure he actually said that? His classmates confirmed, but who knows. I’ve also been advised by a few people NOT to learn Thai, for the reason that it will detract from my “oh I’m foreign I don’t know!” excuse, and also allow me to know when people are gossiping about me, because it’s generally assumed farangs don’t know Thai. Whatever, I speak Nit Noy (little bit); and I don’t care if I overhear gossip about me. Lying to a person’s face is basic cultural practice in Thailand any way, thought plenty of Thais shun this – it’s pretty standard.

I’ve retreated to McDonald’s just outside the university a few times as opposed to the mysterious school lunch of the day. At least I have some idea of the horrors I’m subjecting my gastrointestinal system to with the Golden Arches. I will also note that not every McD’s features the ‘Double Big Mac,’ I’ve only encountered it at the store right next to school so far. Also – Democracy Monument, road, McDonald’s. Watch the Red Shirt Protest (much more relaxed and less frequent since this past spring, and often at a location besides Democracy Monument now) while enjoying a double cheeseburger in AirCon. Also, Democracy Monument was designed by an Italian that immigrated to Thailand, he was bestowed with a Thai name at some point as some honor – anyway Thailand and Italy get along alright from what I can tell. Sometimes Thailand tries to be Italy, sometimes it wants to be Japan, sometimes it wants to be China…it’s a chameleon. Another aside on the Red Shirts – they burned down part of the largest mall in Bangkok this past spring. Talk about antithesis of political apathy; let’s oust the government and burn down the consumerist establishment that suppresses the proletariat with its bourgeoisie merchandise! Too much allusion to revolutionary France? Yeah, I thought so too but I find the whole mess quite entertaining. You can’t say the Thais lack passion.
I consider myself an adventurous eater, but I’m not keen on what us foreigners have come to call ‘gloopy soup,’ or rather those who came before me call it that so I do as well, which is composed of the gas bladders of fish, a near tasteless broth that is better described as the consistency of brown rubber cement, and top it off with the jello blood cubes for good measure. No amount of spices, herbs or noodles can save that soup, if you can call it soup, especially when created by a school cafeteria. I’m told many of the Thai teachers retreat to eat elsewhere for this particular gem as well. Luckily for the students, they have other options available for purchase – such as breaded chicken tenders (pretty good actually), boiled quail eggs wrapped in wontons fried on a stick, “sausages” (I have yet to see any Thai sausage that didn’t look like a hot dog, or scarier version thereof, except for Isan sausage), ice cream, and other such delicacies. I’m suspect of the school sushi pack offering. If I’m going to get food poisoning, I’d prefer not over taking a gamble on something paid for from the school cafeteria. The basic cafeteria meal is 600 baht per semester, not pay by meal. That’s about 20 dollars for the whole semester, which probably also helps explain some things. The other additional snacks are pay options.
The frequency of the water not working has drastically decreased, but not vanished, as construction on various projects is still ongoing. Toilet paper has reappeared in the bathrooms as well, though once the school runs out for the day, the week, or the semester you’re just on your own. I now have a stash of Kleenex packs in my desk (and I actually have a desk now!). It is a bit easier than having to remember to carry in a supply daily. There are even larger packs specifically designed for people to cart around with them for the restroom, and you can find these items in any 7/11. I stopped counting the number of 7/11s I walk by on a daily basis.
Students can pretty much go to the bathroom whenever, and since there are not nearly enough toilets for everyone, they go in packs and take 15-20 minutes of class to do it. They’ve been pretty shocked when I’ve told them no, wait a minute instead of immediately permitting them to leave the classroom. I’m also slowly training my charges to say “may I go to the bathroom?” instead of “teacher may I go toilet?” Yes, this is Thailand, “just accept it,” but some minor things I can change, and this is one of them. I tried restroom, but the L versus R thing makes bathroom much easier for them to say. Sometimes it sounds slightly like bathloom, which seems better than lestloom; only one R/L switch instead of two. But the struggles with pronunciation vary from student to student.

There seems to be a penchant for Christmas style strands of lights around town year round, but I am noticing the usual amount is multiplying as Christmas and New Years approach. We do actually get some time off for ‘International New Years,’ though none off for Christmas, officially. In fact my poor students are beginning midterms tomorrow, Christmas Eve – 7 exams a day, 3 days of exams, two days off to study in between (teachers report to work on marking). Today we have ‘regular’ class, but since approximately 8 students out of 30 are here, it’s free time/study time and I’m babysitting. Or just making sure they don’t burn down the building. Student supervision is much more lax here. Theft really isn’t a problem either, but then again, everyone here (at this school) is wealthy enough to have the exact phone, mp3 player and jacket they want. There is some fighting, bullying, and as previously mentioned, my boss is quite active in sabotaging student relationships.
Cheating on class work is a huge problem, in fact the exams will be given with two grade levels mixed up in a single classroom taking different exams – it would be silly to copy off of an M. 1 student for your M. 3 exam, now wouldn’t it? Copying and plagiarism aren’t really viewed as a problem for things other than exams. I’m working on that with my students– but again, T.I.T., just get used to it is the general view I’ve been met with on this. I wonder if the students will be allowed to keep their cell phones during the exam – that would pretty much defeat the point as they can text each other answers under their desks. They probably do. Though I feel sorry for an 11 year old subjected to 21 exams in under a week.

Besides learning about Thailand, I’ve learned a lot about South Africa, Britain, Germany and Holland from my coworkers. It’s interesting when I have a “what?” moment after learning something about one of these countries; similar to the reaction I get from some of them when describing something about America that they did not know. Though they already knew about our Health Care nightmares, and rest assured, America has a terrible reputation abroad for Health Care, as confirmed by every non-American I’ve polled so far. Yes, that’s a limited sample, but it doesn’t say a lot for our image abroad does it? One of the Thais in the office that worked in Wisconsin for 6 months refused to go to the doctor while in the U.S. because she was afraid of how much she would have to pay. Sounds like college “do I go to the hospital or not?” woes all over again.
I still applaud Purdue for making ambulances available to students in the dorms free of charge – imagine the deaths by alcohol poisoning and neglected illness there would be otherwise. I know this from the semester of the unfortunate stomach flu the week after all four wisdom teeth were extracted; and arguing with the residence hall staff and concerned floor mates that my mom would kill me if we had to deal with ambulances charges (this was day 4 of being unable to keep food or water down); and I conceded once they told me it was free for students, though the medic ended up looking me over and saying the hospital would just send me right back since I’d just been in the outpatient ER for a liter of IV saline that afternoon. In fact my mom DID freak out about the cost when I told her about this until I reassured her Purdue covers the ambulance for the dorms.
I’m not going to laud the health care systems of other countries against the U.S. system, for example the fact remains here that disfigured people sit on the street and beg for a few baht; nothing is accessible to everyone in any country, regardless of the hype.
I’m sitting in the computer lab babysitting my 8 students currently, but since my computer is in the shop, this will likely be the last post until at least after Christmas. No promises of a time table on that. Also, apologies for the limited email communication, especially the update list, though I hope my previous posts on technology woes and generalized rant help shed some light on that mess. So Merry Christmas or Marry Chriastmas if you prefer, Happy New Year and all that jazz.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Technology, Or Not

I have every intention of catching up on the shenanigans of the last month in writing and photos. In the meantime, my personal computer is in the shop, again, which blocks my access to nearly all of my files and actually organzing them to post, and I've hit another wall (or several) of frustration in my attempts to operate technology in Thailand, especially for teaching it and coordinating my personal files between systems. Trying to jump between four different versions of Windows on school computers, when I myself have Mac, combined with language difficulties, programs being installed in English OR Thai but not both, and machines switched off by circuit breakers...make for lots of headaches.

First, to IT corporations, specifically for dual Thai language/English language support: Kudos to those of you installing linguistic support for all languages. Shame on you for taking so long, and those who DO NOT offer such support, even in beta release.
Second: As long as you continue to ignore specific language demographics in your official code, you are putting yourselves at greater risk for hacking and compromise. You can whine about copyright infringement, violation of International copyright, yada, yada. But when you don't support the local langauges you sell to, you force even the common person's hand to hack the programs to function in that language; especially programs considered international professional standard. I will not single out any one company, because I have found this issue to varying degrees with every program I have sought help for thus far across operating systems. And I will admit a very select few programs have accomplished the Thai/English toggle, and naturally they control the market here. If I spend more hours digging through company help forums and still cannot accomplish my dual language needs, I will simply be purchasing some software hacks myself. For certain programs, it is fairly simple to get a bootleg copy, multi-language ready (so I am told). These programs legally come with Japanese, Korean, Chinese text converter and Arabic automatically - so why is it so difficult to get a plug-in for other characters installed? Did you only pick the richest countries languages to include? Seems likely.

You can argue about lack of respect for your company's code all you want, sit back and blame cultural views on property as you usually do, and even just blame the difficulty of employing people to help translate AND run support code. But it really comes down to language. I wouldn't be surprised if that was more of a hacker's gateway, getting native language to work in computer programs, than pirating entertainment. Yes, people will continue to buy your products even when your support is lacking, so you'll still be making money, because despite the 'choices' in the computer market, each might as well be a monopoly onto itself, and this is supposedly the digital age. I really don't blame people for hacking a program to get their native language to load instead of empty boxes. Maybe that sort of hack doesn't really irk your company. While currently certain companies are taking over English speaking markets by leaps and bounds, and some foreign markets as well, it will be the companies with the sense to support all languages that will eventually overtake and thrive. And aside from the company bottom line, I'd also like to point out the contribution of poor language support in technology to increasing the digital divide between rich and poor nations. Though perhaps a level playing field isn't what you're going for.

Several of the companies that are currently quite buggy do at least have beta releases in the works, and I applaud this. First major critique: assuming everyone is monolingual. What language were people attempting to use before you supported their language? English. So, why can't they use English and another language in your program on the same computer? You've got beta releases for languages; now make it so the same program can run in more than one language mode on a single computer. A few programs do, most don't (at least for my particular language combination). And to the companies with no official support and only hacks you can research on the internet or buy bootleg - get on that.

I will hold my tongue (for now) on computer/internet security, privacy, other forms of piracy, censorship and the country of origin of computer innovation for now; except for this: most countries around the world do not exhibit Net Neutrality. I'm extremely disappointed to see in the news today the United States will now be counted among those who don't defend the free internet, as per the latest FCC ruling. What's worse is most American citizens really have no idea what a policy opposed to Net Neutrality means for their freedom on the internet. Blatant censorship, or covert limiting of data streams as determined by a select few cable companies? It amounts to the same thing, if not worse, just in politically nicer terms. At least blatant censorship is honest (so to speak) about its goals. I have journaled about censorship since I have been here, but have decided it best to keep that from this blog. I like my blog NOT to be censored in my country of residence.

Happy Holidays, New Year, so on and such forth - not sure how long my computer will be out of commission; and finding computer time on a functioning, internet connected, English language enabled computer - well, that can be quite a trick.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hijacking Football Practice (Dec 1)

In every other nation of the world, football refers to what us yanks call soccer; and they call our football: “American football.” It’s well known that soccer is quite popular with both genders in the United States, some of the students here were aware of that even. However, in Thailand it’s still catching as a girl’s sport, it’s mainly a boy’s sport for now. Though our school has volleyball for both genders. I believe some schools in Illinois have men’s volleyball also, but any way. I think a lot of that (lack of men’s volleyball in the states) has to do with Title IX, sadly.

In a combination of nostalgia and insanity, I joined boys’ football practice for an evening. I intended to just scrimmage with them, but it turned out to be running the laps, doing the cone drills, the whole nine yards. I talked to one of the coaches the previous day so I didn’t just run onto the field without his permission, but I surprised the students. :-) Sometimes at lunch time students scrimmage, and I have every intention of finding days where my skirt and shoes are ‘close enough’ and I just run onto the field to join them. I do however, have that whole teaching thing to keep in mind also, and I’ve needed lunch for eating and planning. We have approximately 50 minutes for lunch, so the students get somewhat of recess in there as well. The whole school has lunch at the same time.
December 1st was a Wednesday; the following week there was no class for the sports days (more later), and this week on Wednesday some of my students asked if I would practice, they wanted to see me play football. Unfortunately I grabbed the stack of papers I need to mark and indicated that I could not practice today; which of course got the response of “you know Teacher Jenny, if you didn’t give us so much homework you wouldn’t have so much to mark.” Yes. I am aware. Thanks for that. I’m still giving you homework.

I polled some girls about whether or not they’d like to start a girl’s football team. So far I’ve gotten a resounding NO. Though a teacher mentioned younger girls are starting to play football in Thailand, perhaps if they grow up with it they’ll be more enthusiastic about it.
I was worried about my foray into football being viewed as an ‘oh farangs always get what they want,’ but I told myself not to worry about it too much. And it turns out, it was received more in a “hey, the farang actually interacts with Thai people!” Sort of postive light. And I’ve gotten positive feedback from both staff and students. I guess I’d better catch up on this marking so I will be available to play again next time.

Other notes: our school practice football field is concrete, and smaller than standard. The boys practice in flat-footed football shoes; though for sports day they had cleats and got to play on a full size grass field in the stadium at Thammasat, Rangsit campus (major university in Bangkok, history and details for another time). The girls practice volleyball in the parking lot just adjacent, and ‘Cheer’ practice occurs between the two. Cheer is completely different in Thailand, and co-ed. The students posted a youTube video of this year’s cheer performance, I’ll find the link – they did an awesome job.

Monday, December 13, 2010

China Town/India Town (Nov 28)

Went and explored India town and Chinatown with Mei. India town = endless rows of places to buy wedding favors, wedding photos, wedding dresses, fabric for making wedding dresses, wedding photo boutiques, wedding scrap book shops – if you need to throw an Indian wedding in Bangkok you’ll be set; provided you’re not terribly claustrophobic in navigating the sidewalk. We also stopped in at a great little Indian restaurant. I left next to nothing uneaten; I was apparently quite hungry by the time we got there. I hadn’t eaten much the previous two days, had been feeling ill those two days, that probably had a lot to do with it. I was a geek and took a photo of the sign (complete with the address), so I’ll be able to go back.
Chinatown was neat, but not quite what I was expecting. It didn’t help matters that a whole bunch of it was closed on this particular Sunday, which I guess is not normally the case. Guess I’m a little spoiled having just been to China a few months back. If I needed any sort of Chinese herb I could buy it, and in bulk if I want, here. We tried to check out a Chinese temple of some sort, but some jerks were blocking the way inside with their tuk-tuk for seemingly no apparent reason, as in absolutely could not squeeze our way around. I’m growing less and less fond of tuk-tuks by the day, especially the constant “where you go?” cat call. Away from you overcharging scheming jerk. I usually respond with silence as opposed to the thoughts going through my mind.
Other observations: monk impersonators troll Khao Sarn Road, at hours of the day that monks do not normally make rounds for alms, and prey on foreigners that don’t know this. Monks generally go for alms in the morning, are not pushy, and generally prefer food, etc. instead of money. So Mr. I’m asking for alms in the middle of the late afternoon, I’ve got a bowl for money, and I won’t take it out of your face until you throw two baht in even after you’ve motioned you have empty pockets, and then I’ll have a little hissy fit about it being only two baht – yeah that behavior isn’t very monk like, unfortunately the give away hissy fit occurred after giving the money, fortunately it was only two baht. Next time he’s not even getting 2 baht now that I realize the scam. Jerk. Apparently even Thai people are sometimes duped by monk impersonators that go around asking for alms (though these scam artists do it at the correct time of day to dupe Thais) but aren’t actually following the true Buddhist way or monk lifestyle, they just want handouts.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Thanksgiving (Nov 25), Student Ingenuity

So, it’s past time for an entry, and as promised I will be catching up. That does mean however, I’ll basically be bombing my blog with multiple posts very shortly. I will do my best to keep things in some semi-coherent format and try to spread out my posts; and picture updates may come at a later date.
I had a lovely Thanksgiving. Another Tan Tong resident (my apartment building) organized a wonderful meal. She is an English teacher at another school, of Thai-American heritage, raised in Minnesota. Our celebration took place on the rooftop, with strands of lights, candles and yoga mats spread out to sit on and share the bounty. We did not have turkey, but we had a roast chicken, mashed potatoes, mixed veggies, stuffing, half a Thai pumpkin baked and stuffed with stuffing to be our ‘turkey,’ stuffed bell peppers, corn on the cob, salad, wine and pumpkin pie! All made more amazing by the fact that this was all concocted in an apartment building with no ovens. Hot plate, blender, toaster and toaster oven were used for creating this feast. Though perhaps one or two dishes brought by guests were made in their ovens at their own residence, the baked pumpkin, stuffing, pumpkin pie and vast majority of the dishes were created with a toaster oven or hot plate.
Our ‘table,’ though we had no table, drew together people from America, Thailand, Germany, South Africa, Russia, and likely one or two other places. Before the meal we went around and said what we were thankful for (or rather, as we began passing and serving food). Our meal was complimented by someone’s laptop and speakers brought out for mood music, the candles, an anti-mosquito incense coil and the backdrop of Bangkok in night lights. Specifically the view of the Rama VIII bridge to one side and one of the very famous Wats to the back, whose name of course, escapes me. (A wat is a Buddhist temple).
As one of the Americans in attendance, I was very thankful to have Thanksgiving, because for my family it is a more important time for family than Christmas (or at least, it has gotten to be that way over the past five years or more).
Some of the Thais at our table had never experienced Thanksgiving before. Most of the Europeans just knew it was an American holiday, but naturally did not celebrate it on their own. Everyone was happy to join in the celebration. It’s hard to argue with a holiday centered around eating a huge meal with friends; which no, is not the origin of Thanksgiving exactly, but whatever.
I’ve decided for future school work days that fall on major US holidays to arrange American culture lessons within whatever subject I’m teaching; which it seems can vary quite easily from semester to semester. I’m currently teaching Grammar and Computers, however I could be teaching Reading or Speaking at some point as well. Apparently the schedule for each teacher isn’t finalized until a week or so into the semester. English class is broken up into 3 sections (at least at my school): Reading class, Speaking class, and Grammar class. I’m also in charge of one of the clubs, ‘Public Speaking,’ which thankfully is a non-graded, fairly flexible time that I work with students. I’m also thankful to be working with the more mature of the two seventh grade classes for public speaking. What they’ve come up with so far has been positively delightful. So far we’ve done impromptu, and scripted student generated skits in front of the class. My idea being that a) there is safety in numbers (at least they think) and b) if they believe they are trying to make their classmates laugh any way, they’re less likely to be nervous about getting up in front to speak and having the class laugh. For the scripted skits I gave them the prompt ‘stranded on a deserted island,’ and they were positively brilliant. I didn’t require props, but many groups drew palm trees, making a fire, and building a lifeboat on the chalk board. One group had a member missing when it was their time to present, and without even being asked they delegated the third group member’s lines between the two of them so they could present without her there. During one skit, a boy outside the group presenting was spinning his flash drive around on it’s string, just fidgeting – and the group incorporated it into their skit as the helicopter that was coming to rescue them. Water bottle sitting on the front desk becomes fair game as a prop to indicate the stranded persons fighting over the last remaining water. And of course, flash drive or ‘handy drive’ makes a great toy/prop gun. Though how they ended up with guns on the deserted island is beyond me.
So despite my initial misgivings about ‘Public Speaking Club,’ it’s going very well. Though I think with the help of one of the secretaries I’ve befriended, we’re going to ‘suggest’ I be in charge of an art club next semester, which shouldn’t be too difficult to maneuver as long as it’s handled properly (hence, my friend the secretary, who is Thai, will suggest it first, not me). It’s a start. Some of the older students, 10th and 11th grade, have found out I studied to teach art, and want me to teach art. There are some office politics in that however, so, I’m not going in like a bull in a China shop. Not to mention the cultural gap between Eastern and Western Art Education. Plus, they would have to find someone else for computers, because having been hired to teach English, I must teach some English sections, even if I teach other classes in English immersion. Meh. Any way, I shall go with the flow as best I can. After all, T.I.T., this is Thailand. Obviously the letter must be said individually for that abbreviation; some of the other farangs have made it ‘Welcome to Thailand’ instead.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Holidays, Internet, Papers

Things have been quite busy, and I think I probably have enough material to write approximately 5 blog entries.  I'll try to keep this update a bit more brief for now though.
This coming week there is no class.  December 5th is the King's birthday, celebrated as Father's Day and a day off from work and school.  Since The King's birthday falls on a Sunday, we have Monday off from school, work etc.
Tuesday December 7th and Wednesday December 8th are 'Sports Days,' for our school.  I know that schools across the country hold sports days, but I'm not sure if every school holds them on these days.  I'm technically not required to come to school at all on these days, and there are no classes, but I am attending at least one of the two days to see what it is about and support our schools football team (soccer).  Apparently on the 8th there is a parade with a float competition between various schools, dancing and cheer competitions.  My boss would like to take me to this day as well, I have said maybe.  I want to be sure and rest and see other parts of Bangkok during my break.  From what I hear, most farang teachers attend one sports day to see what it is about - and do not attend sports days thereafter.  We'll see, I at least want to see what it is about.  And I'm grateful to know that jean pants and t-shirt are acceptable apparel to attend sports day.  I'm a little tired of wearing a skirt or dress M-F, as female students and teachers are required to wear.
We also have Thursday off, I think the school threw that in as an extra day off since we have the other four days of the week off from class.  December 10th is Constitution Day, so Friday schools and businesses will be closed for its observance.

I have had a lot of internet trouble lately.  Since our portion of the school moved into another building, we have not had wireless internet set up.  I did not have wired internet set up in the teacher's office until earlier this week.  I still teach my computer class in the other building.  In the computer lab I cannot use the teacher's computer (which is also the server for the computer lab) at the same time as using the projector to show the students examples and directions for what we are doing.  There is a cable to send what is on the computer monitor to the projector, and a cable to connect the computer to the monitor.  There is only one port for both cables, so you can only connect to one or the other at any given time.  I have to crane my neck around to see what I am doing to load the powerpoint slides or show the students how to find a certain setting in Microsoft Word - whatever we are doing it is very awkward to see what I'm doing.  Sometimes I try and use one of the extra student computers to work on something briefly (yes, thankfully we at least have more than enough computers for every student, even the class of 35). However the web browser on the student computers is not up to date enough for me to view gmail properly - which is quite a pain since I've set it up so my students email me their projects at a gmail address I set up just for computer class.  I tried to install firefox browsers on all of the student computers - before I discovered that the student computers are 'ghosted,' or wiped clean at every boot.  I would like to talk to the Thai IT guy about installing certain things on the computers, but I also don't want to offend anyone or come off as a know-it-all condescending farang.  So I'll just deal for now.
I can sometimes get wireless internet to work in that building, but it is very fickle.  At this point I've just gotten a lot more flexible about due dates and explained to the students the situation with the teacher's internet access.  They understand.  The teachers still don't have our desks in the new office, so the concept that the internet is not as accessible as it should be is not a difficult leap from there.  I've also had some difficulty with the internet at my apartment - there are definitely bottlenecks when too many people are trying to use the internet.  I think I'm going to invest in an internet dongle for accessing internet via the phone networks.  They are available in the states, but at quite a premium through the phone companies.  Supposedly they are much more affordable and reliable here in Bangkok.  We shall see.

I've discovered a lot more things about getting along in Thailand, and getting along at my particular school.  For example, the reason I had so much difficulty obtaining my documents to come to Thailand was that my boss was not aware that I needed them.  The other foreign teachers at my school were in Thailand already - so they had visas to teach or visit already, and from there renewing their visas and permits was no problem for them and the school.  My boss had not previously had to do the primary application for a visa or work permit for any of her staff.  Thank goodness the other farang teachers mentioned this to her.  Receiving the paperwork I needed to complete my application directly coincided with them reminding her that I needed paperwork from the school in order to get my necessary documents.  One of the office secretaries handled all of the e-communication with me, including the communication that was addressed as from my boss.  My boss cannot use email - but everyone in the office has her password so she can delegate tasks for them to do in her stead.  This is also why I could not get information about the computers I would be working with to teach - she has no idea about them.  Ah well whatever.  Also, I still don't officially have my work permit.  Apparently I will receive it in January.  I've been told this is no big deal.  I've also been told that means I'm working illegally, but not to worry because it won't be for too long and they are somewhat lax about this matter for short spans of time, and since I am in the process of application.  Plenty of farangs have gotten away with working sans work permits for periods of years, and most of the farang teachers have worked illegally for a least a month or three months.  Awesome!

A few other quick tidbits before this entry gets too long:
There is such a thing as a Double Big Mac.  It is exactly what it sounds like.  I'm a little scared of that idea, but curious at the sheer ridiculousness of it.  There is 'ketchup' and 'American ketchup,' I haven't figured out what the difference is yet.  Perhaps I've mentioned, or perhaps not: remember the Krispy Kreme Doughnut craze back in the 90s?  Yeah, that's just now hitting Thailand.  I find it amusing.
There is some new store opening in one of the malls at Siam (intersection with four shopping malls connected to each other by sky bridge walk way, including MBK where I had my cell phone adventures and Siam Discovery where the Mac Repair place is).  There is a multi-story ad banner featuring photos of various celebrities for said store opening - Thai celebrities and other Asian celebrities I don't recognize, Angelina Jolie, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson and Mr. and Mrs. Barack Obama.  I wonder if they know (well, the ones living) there are multi-story images of them in downtown Bangkok.  Hopefully I can get a photo of this sometime during the coming week off, I plan on having a bit more time to sight see, take photos and update things.  I will still produce an update about Thanksgiving, and some other things that have fallen by the wayside this week at a later time.  In the meantime - I have a class to teach now.  Presuming they are in attendance and not practicing for something for sports day, or just skipping my class.