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.

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