Sunday, December 18, 2011

What Christmas Feels Like

I’m not sure if it feels like Christmas or not. A couple of days ago, I decided it didn’t feel like Christmas at all, and I was okay with that. On the contrary, I thought to myself, perhaps I never want to feel Christmas again. Followed by the thought that everyone is going to think that totally morose and view it as not moving on.

But, maybe I just don’t want to feel Christmas the way it’s felt since 2007. I want to feel Christmas the way it was in 2006 and before that. I’m speaking of course, about losing my father at holiday time, Christmas 2007/New Year 2008. Anyone that’s experienced grief knows the holidays are hard. But they’re even harder when that’s the time of year your loved one passed. And that’s the foundation of my Grinch attitude, but I try to tone it down.

Last night I went to a holiday potluck. Almost everything had cheese. My friends with the vegetarian, non-dairy Thai food saved me on that one. It didn’t really feel like Christmas, but it was social, it was merry, and I guess that’s as close as it gets when you’re an expat away from your family and culture. It was nice.

On the walk and motorbike taxi ride home, I marveled at the ridiculous Christmas lights, fake reindeer and sleighs and what not decked out for the shopping megaplexes. While that looks neat, it doesn’t feel like Christmas. Just commercialism. But, I suppose we don’t do a good job separating the two.

I received a Christmas card today from a good friend.
And it felt a little more like Christmas.
My Uncle Steve told me he is sending Uncle Jim’s famous Christmas cookies and cards for Christmas and my birthday. Family. Christmas.

I have a pile of un-mailed gifts sitting on a stool in my apartment. When I realized it would take two months to ship them; I figured well, I’m already late I’ll get to it after some other year end business. And it won’t matter that it won’t be there in time for Christmas, because the sentiment is what really makes it so.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Oh Where does the Time Go

So here we are, December. Where has the time gone?
Well, I’ve read so many books I feel I might be close to on par with my 7th grade self’s bookworm abilities, and perhaps a little improved. And I’m quite happy about that.

I’ve re-examined and re-confirmed the plight that is being a serially monogamous white female feminist in Bangkok. But I’m not going to write a book about it, because it would be shallow, and everyone wants to hear about the men and their Asian girlfriends and wives any way. I’m so getting spammed for that last paragraph.
But regardless, let’s sum up some of where I’ve been.

I’ve been to Penang, Malaysia, where I witnessed a Daoist celebration of the God of Prosperity’s birthday. I shared a ‘steam boat’ (in Chinese, ‘hot pot’) dinner with a group of no less than 9 nationalities in a newly opened art gallery. I got to see a fellow artist and friend currently working in Penang. I hiked through a National Park with some Brits I met at my hostel, to Turtle Beach. We missed the turtles. They showed me an interesting British sitcom that seemed like it should be viewed, and was probably created, with the help of LSD. And I did try ice kachang and that other noodle dish I was supposed to try. Oh, and frog. Penang has so much food; you could spend months there and never try it all. Maybe someday I’ll try.

Within the span of one day I found out school’s opening was pushed back yet further, and I turned around and booked myself a ticket and got back to Chiang Mai with less than 24 hours between landing back in Bangkok after Penang. I landed just in time to catch some good Loy Krathong festival photos, coming into Chiang Mai evening of the event with my acquired that day tripod. I win. Photographers note: Don’t shun the Starbucks when it has a third story balcony overlooking the parade where you can set up your tripod above the crowds. I didn’t even have to buy anything, I just waltzed on up.

I went mountain biking for the first time. I’m talking shin guard elbow armor mountain biking. Yes, it was the beginners trail, but it wasn’t anything to scoff at. Especially as I cannot recall the last time I rode a bicycle, 2009 back at Purdue, on sidewalks? I started counting how many times I fell. And then I thought to myself. How many kilometers are you biking? And what percentage of that is going to be taken up by your falls? So who cares? You just went mountain biking. That’s pretty awesome, regardless of how many times you slid and fell. One of the guides told me some people give up and walk their bike down the mountain, taking until 6pm for a ride that should end between 3 and 4pm. Sometimes I had to rest, or walk my bike over a bunch of boulders, but I always got back on. And oh goodness do I understand why serious cyclers wear padded shorts.

So I sit here and reflect, and wonder how I will phrase my words to keep from being cliché. But the fact is, I’ve learned more about myself this past year than I’ve learned about Thailand. I’ve learned a lot about Thailand, don’t get me wrong. But there are so many things I’d never been able to do before moving over here.

Thanksgiving this year was a smaller group, but we came together, laughed and ate. It reminded me that I miss that family tradition back home; but we all reminded each other how thankful we are to be in Thailand. Where I have a job. Where I can get medical treatment and, in my income bracket at least, know I’ll be able to receive and pay for treatment. And where I finally have room to just breathe.

My students will be back on Tuesday, December 6th, the 5th being the King’s birthday. After the October break and an extra five-week break due to the flooding, a friend of mine was right, “long break makes not just students lazy, but teachers too!” It’ll be an adjustment. But it’s time. We won’t be doing essays this quarter. I might be setting up a blog and requiring my students to publish their flood stories in English. Though I clearly know how to set up a blog, multiple authors is a bit trickier, and I’ll be consulting my 15 year old computer gurus on this matter. I will shamelessly ask you to read some of their stories.

I’ve spent some time tutoring a flood refugee at school. It’s hard going, but it’s more fulfilling than sitting in the office (teachers have still had to appear part of the time despite the students being pardoned for the flood), playing windows solitaire. I can hardly believe it’s December. In this tropical climate, you lose all sense of seasons, having grown up with all four. But I’ve done a lot, starting with my goal of living in Thailand for a year. And I’m not done yet.

In the words of Matchbox 20,
“Let’s see how far we’ve come! Let’s see how far we go!”

Monday, November 7, 2011

Poker Face

I don’t play poker. I never learned the rules of the game, and I find lying difficult. I’d much prefer to be absolutely silent than to have to lie, or shout. So you may have noticed times I’ve been a bit quiet. Some of that is out of being busy. More often it’s because I’d rather not lie.

That’s a funny thing living in the land of smiles, because you have to lie. You have to lie to save face. You have to lie so someone else can save face. You have to lie, because you simply didn’t know you were lying – that’s the version of the truth you’ve been told. You have to lie because that’s what is expected, or the truth that is expected is impossible, so you have to twist it to get it to fit into the circumstances you’re given. Not all of the smiles are real. Statement of the obvious. You have to lie because you don’t really have free speech. Or you can only tell half the truth, or less. But you’ve got to do all this while being polite, mild mannered, and not losing your temper, and trying to let everyone keep face. Oh how I hated wearing masks in America, and what have I gone and gotten myself into? The same.

So here’s the deal.

Firstly, I’m not done in Asia.

I’ll let that sink in a few line breaks.

Got that? Staying. In. Asia. ☺

I’ve been waiting for months to formally say I plan to stay longer than a year. Sure, plenty of you saw that coming before I’d stepped on that first plane out of Indy. But not everyone pushes beyond the one-year abroad mark, it hasn’t always been easy and I haven’t been completely forthright at all times.

Secondly, yes, Bangkok is not exactly gumdrops and sunshine lately, as I believe has made it to international news by now (how accurately I’m not sure) but I’m not leaving it yet either.

Third, I’m not even writing this from Bangkok. I’m in Penang, Malaysia for a week.

I’d rather not lie. But I don’t particularly like answering tons of questions either, especially repeatedly. So let’s run down the list:

1) Did you leave Bangkok because of the flood? Yes and No.

2) Is your apartment in Bangkok flooded? No.

3) Has your area experienced flooding? Yes, but not extensively and not even knee deep. We experienced some ankle to mid-calve deep water during the high tide periods at the end of October.

4) Is anyone you know in Bangkok affected? Yes, including a lot of my students.

5) How has this affected your school? The start of second semester has been delayed two weeks, from Nov. 1 to Nov. 14.

6) Do you have emergency supplies in Bangkok? I have multiple liters of bottled water, rice, pasta, soup, etc. I also live on the third floor.

7) What will you do if you need to evacuate/School is delayed further/The world is about to end? Well, I’ve already visited my friend here in Penang, so my next two options are Northern Thailand above the flooded area or Kathmandu, Nepal, where I have another friend I’ve promised to visit. Air Asia for the win! But don’t kid yourself on not checking a bag for it.

8) Will the floods really reach your area? Even though you live right by the King’s actual residence, the Grand Palace and a bunch of other stuff they are trying to keep dry? As previously stated, depends on so many factors I could write a PhD thesis when this is all said and done (which I won’t). But I think it’s likely that I’ll be dealing with more water at some point. The mass of water looming above the capital is too great to merely block and divert by the current means, and it’s slowly working its way through any way.

9) What about disease outbreaks? I’m staying informed. 20% DEET is good. Yes I’m aware that’s not all. Did I mention Air Asia?

10) Should anyone travel to Thailand right now? The southern provinces and islands are fine, as are the north and northeast above a certain point. The Bangkok International Airport is still operational, and domestic flights do operate from there. I would avoid Bangkok if just going on holiday. If you live or work there it’s a bit different. Evacuation orders have been put into place for 11 of 50 districts of the city. The government waits until the bitter last minute to issue an evacuation, but believe me I’ve been watching closely. Did I mention I live in the tourist ghetto? As in, lost revenue, lost face? Mmm, right then.

11) So what are you doing in Malaysia again? Eating. Sleeping. Breathing. I ate frog for the first time that I’m aware of. And some duck, I’ve had that before but it’s tasty. And I saw a monkey, but we missed the sea turtles by about a week apparently.

12) And you’re going back to Bangkok in its current state? Yes, I have to sign in once a week even though school is delayed. Did I mention Thai, Government, and school? Ok when I use those three things in the same sentence I refuse to explain any further why something is necessary. And since I’m a foreigner, this is lenient. Row row row your boat, where’s the sign in sheet? I jest.

13) So when are you coming home? *Sustained awkward silence* I told you I don’t play poker.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Farangs on Parade and Being Adopted

Everything that occurred today I wholeheartedly absolutely planned in advance myself, to make sure my best friend had the most well rounded Thailand experience possible. Of course the preceding line is a bunch of bull.

A couple days back, right before going super hiso at the mega malls, we stopped for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant and cooking school by the name of Mai Kaidee’s. You might have heard of it, Lonely Planet raves about it and it’s been on Thai TV. Heck even Dominic Monaghan from the TV show Lost has studied at Mai Kaidee’s cooking school. We walked into the restaurant, stepping over sandbags and other barricades to ask if it was in fact open. We were immediately roped into a traditional Thai dance with the cooking class that was wrapping up.

We dined, and chatted with Sommay, who goes by May or Mai for short, and she asked us if we were free Friday night. She was planning a fundraiser for flood victims. What was the plan? Get dressed up in traditional Thai dress and hit the campaign trail around Khao Sarn Rd. We’re in.

I’d like to think that I’m a philanthropic person, but I have to admit that I have my limits. So getting all dressed up (which is fun) to collect donations? Yes, I can do that.

We got to the restaurant a bit early, around 3pm, so we could eat before our 3:30pm call time. I’m allowed to use the term call time, there were cameramen filming us adjusting our bras. I hope that part does not air. Several people helped wrap us up in Thai garments, adorned us with Thai jewelry, did my hair and then helped me finish the makeup I started. Oh my goodness, did I have the best hair. Photos and video to come, Patience!

At this point we got paper umbrellas, a few decorated donations boxes, and proceeded to parade down Samsen Rd, around Rambuttri and Khao Sarn collecting change and baht notes. Smiles, Sawadees, Khap Khun Kas, smile, photo, etc, repeat.

I have to say, more Thai people opened their wallets than foreigners. I realize it’s intimidating to be approached by someone collecting money. I realize many foreigners are used to scammers in Thailand. But, I think you can have the decency to be polite about declining. Especially if you can afford to sit on Khao Sarn Rd and drink a 100 baht beer when you’re fussing about a 20 baht note.

One incident in particular I felt I couldn’t keep to myself. A trio of Americans were sitting, a 20 baht note sitting under a beer, arguing over who would donate. One of the men said “Well we live here and have to take the brunt of the flood just like everybody else, you’re just a tourist, so you donate.” I looked him straight in the eye and said “I live here too.” “Oh yeah?” as if they don’t believe me. So then the other guys chimes in “So where is the money going?”
“It’s going towards food and water.”
“No but who is it going to?”
“Mai Kaidee is organizing that.”
I wish I’d had the definite answers to those questions; because I understand being leery of how NGO money or aid is distributed. But it doesn’t excuse the other guys’ attitude.

Thankfully, our stop at the Irish Pub yielded the praise of another fellow American, which brought some levity back to the situation.

We got to the end of the road, counted up the money and did some more posing, smiling and so forth. Oh I’m going to be interviewed? Ok then. Thankfully I did not use what Liz has referred to as my “I’m talking to foreigners voice,” that I’ve apparently cultivated since living in Thailand and have not always truly been cognizant of. There’s a fine line between making sure you’re understood and coming off as slightly condescending, and it’s a line I tread poorly at times it seems.

We raised over 9,000 baht, which is over $300 USD, in an hour. Mai Kaidee’s being a restaurant, of course they’re using that money to supply food and water to flood victims, probably a lot of food they cook themselves.

In any case, we got all dolled up in traditional Thai dress, paraded around one of the most touristy places in Bangkok, raised money for flood victims, and oh yeah, we’re going to be on Thai television.

And that’s the first half of the story…

On our way home, we hit a patch of monsoon that required seeking shelter. A Thai family on one of the sois leading to my apartment motioned us over. We had chosen a skinny awning across the street to stand under. They pulled up stools and let us sit. Then we moved inside to watch Tom and Jerry with the family, as father and son both played on smart phones. Grandfather was the one ushering us in and caring for us silly farangs in the rain. They gave us Whiskey sodas, traditional Thai style, and samples of their home cooking. Turns out, they’ve had a family restaurant business for over 40 years. The home cooked soup hit the spot, definitely family recipe, and I’ll be making a point to get home from work early enough to actually have it once in awhile. The two boys of the household came over and politely gave their wais, as we are older than they are. The whole experience was so welcoming and generous, it reminded me that my initial experiences here were tainted of Khao Sarn jadedness and a general disconnect from both America and Thailand. It reminded me about why I came here, and why I’m not ready to leave. More to come, flood preparations and a few other things have cropped up in place of much of what I’ve been alluding to.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Developed World Really meets Developing World

So dear friends, it’s been awhile. As you may or may not have gathered, a third of the country I am an expatriate in is underwater of varying degrees. Over one hundred industrial plants, many of them Japanese, are underwater, several of them will be completely unrecoverable. Not only is that a major blow to industry, it’s put a lot of Thais out of work and is going to hit the Thai economy really, really hard when all the damage is tallied up, especially as companies relocate to drier pastures.

The flooding began in July. Monsoon rains occur every year. Yes, we’ve had more rain this year, but there is so, so much more to it than that. So much more that I could write a doctoral thesis about it, but I’m really not that committed to the subject and I do enjoy this country enough that I want to be able to return. Instead of speculating or delving too deep into politics, allow me to tell you about my day, because it was ridiculous, and those make the best stories.

This morning my dear friend Liz, visiting from California, and I got up with the mission of finding bottled water and other staples. I have photos of the empty shelves at my 7/11. Updating photos has gotten pushed so far back, well, it’s just going to have to wait. So, mission for breakfast and water. We enjoyed western food at Ricky’s, a restaurant that wants to be Mexican, has Chinese décor and serves up Western breakfast. The owner was running out of supplies, and it going back home tomorrow because her mother is worried. With food supplies running low for the kitchen, why run a restaurant business in a semi flooded area any way?

After breakfast we noticed a truck unloading at 7/11. “Dude! Seven’s got a delivery, and they’ve got water bottles!” Liz and I make a beeline along with the rest of the mad dash. We score quite well. Eighteen 1-liters, and a smaller pack of ½ liter bottles. We schlep our booty home.

Now here’s where things get interesting. We discussed buying books to take to the flood victims’ makeshift classroom my colleague set up; but we didn’t get to that yet. Instead we head for Siam Paragon, because Liz had yet to see that, and after our slightly shaky ferry boat experiences going to and from Koh Samet, we needed some retail therapy. So we hailed a cab (the streets by us were dry at this point, unlike last night, by the way) and went to the mall. I showed off Gourmet Mart. I showed off Kinokuniya. And here’s where our real departure from the reality of the flood crisis all around us comes in.

We went upstairs, and I began the first session of having my underarm hair laser treated, while Liz got a manicure with Chanel nail polish. Yes, go ahead and read that line again. I could sit here and justify myself for a long time, and I will in fact mention the pain and the tech telling me she’d never had to turn the laser up that high before, “for Thai people lower number ok.” I did appreciate she just called to make sure the redness has faded. But really, I decided of all the things I’d throw money at, avoiding the pain of ingrown armpit hair is a noble goal. And it’s been a problem since age 14. OK, I did a little justifying there.

We then proceeded back downstairs, ate sushi bento sets, and stocked up on provisions in Gourmet Mart. The Pocari Sweat we’d double checked was available prior to our beauty pampering had magically disappeared and been restocked with the generic stuff. Those bastards! Right, flood crisis, it’s my own fault my underarms are throbbing, and I’m a spoiled white girl.

Rubber shoes were such a good investment. At this point, we’ve got to go back to spot where my second cell phone was stolen and see if we can persuade anyone to take us back to flood zone, as we’ve discovered my area turns into at night, like a werewolf or something. I agree to the exorbitant 200 baht tuk-tuk fee, because I’ve stood waiting for anyone to take me at that junction for over an hour and a half in normal weather. He balks at the barricades and doesn’t understand my directions to go around, which, granted I really should learn in Thai…so then we catch a bus, as police direct traffic through the barricade any way, and hoofed it in ankle to mid calf deep water until we hit a dry portion of Soi 4, and then back through more water by my apartment. The tailors always hawking suits and dresses offered to make us waterproof dresses. It was some much needed levity for all of us.

And then we came home, where I took a beer out of the fridge to make room for water, Liz started playing Civ on her iPhone, and I began composing this blog post while drinking said beer.

Welcome to my day of privilege and deprivation clash.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Clearly My Priorities Are Out of Line

Today my boss approached me. Uh-oh, what’s up…
“Jenny? Why didn’t you tell me when crow attack you?”

Wait what?

“Gen told me about crow attack you.”
“Yeah it happened in the park last week.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I don’t know. One attacked me last semester right outside of school too.”
“Wha? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I don’t know. I told the other teachers. I was wearing shiny earrings that time though.”

“I will take you to temple to buy cage bird. Set it free. Make merit. Crow is bad luck you know? Very unlucky for you.”
Some things are universal.
So after lunch, my boss and I walked out to the bus stop under her sun umbrella. In classic elder/younger form she paid for my bus fare. We got off and walked to a wat that’s so near my apartment I surely should have visited it by now, but you know, priorities.

“When I hear about your mobile phone I think ok now. The bad luck ok now.” So, the bad omen of the crow was accounted for with the theft of my mobile phone. Well glad that’s cleared up.

My colleague had his motorbike stolen this weekend. What on earth was his portend?

We approached the temple and my boss purchased two strands of jasmine and marigold flowers with wrapping paper ribbon bows. I love the cat napping peacefully between the various donation boxes, you can choose whether your donation goes to the building, scholarships, the water and electricity bill, etc., though all marked in Thai, us farang just have to guess without a guide.

“Are you Christian or Buddhism?” my boss queries.
I shrug my shoulders, though I appreciate her concern.
“Ok you can.”
We each donate ten baht for the candle, joss sticks and gold leaf.

I follow her lead to light the candle, place it among the others, light the joss sticks and hold them between prayerful hands kneeling in front of the gold leafed Buddha.
My boss quickly rescues my slips of paper and gold leaf, which I’d left in between the lit joss sticks not knowing what they were. I add my gold leaf to the Buddha and toss the paper. We kneel for Buddha one more time.

We go over to a fountain area and engage in what I can only relate to as baptism, sprinkling water on our heads and over our shoulders to rid ourselves of bad luck. I’m reminded yet again of the link between Buddhism and Christianity.

We enter a quiet room and meditate for a couple of minutes.
Then we head to the main temple and pay our respects there. Mind you, we’ve had to remove and replace our shoes more times than I’ve kept count by now.

Then we revisit the donation boxes and part with a few baht.
My boss tries one last time in vain to get us a caged bird to release, but ‘mai me’ today. I assure her it’ll be ok.

We take a taxi back. I find out my boss doesn’t like green and yellow or plain yellow taxis. She believes their drivers are rude. She also mentions they support the yellow shirts. But, blue taxis ok and pink taxis are polite. I decide not to relay my experience in a pink taxi to my boss…

My boss mentions she joined the red shirt rally yesterday marking five years since the original coup overthrowing Voldemorte. I mean, Thaksin. Same difference at this point. She also brings up my colleague’s motorcycle theft, and reminds me not to ride taxis by myself after dark unless it’s a friend, like James (colleague whose bike was stolen, so I don’t know how that works).
“Like Loy Krathong last year!”
“Oh yeah, that. But it was fun!” I don’t protest any more than this and solemnly agree “ok.”
I’m totally lying, but we knew that.

So, we made merit to ward off the bad luck from the crow. I replaced my mobile phone yesterday with the next to cheapest model I could find. And I was able to get another purple ninja wrist strap, just because, gotta have some flare you know?

Here’s to warding off more crows and pick pockets. Though I suppose I still have to get back to work.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

It Takes Two Hands to Clap

A wise Thai woman said to me this week: “Why do you fight? You know we have a saying in Thailand. It takes two hands to clap.”

Her words caught me off guard. But her point was quite clear. Why do I waste my time fighting pointless battles? Why do I let them bog me down? Sometimes the best choice in a fight is not to fight at all.

“Maybe you can learn something while you are in Thailand,” she said. I hope that continues to be the case.

In other news, the crow near school continues to stalk me, earrings or not. I’ve been perfecting my stare down technique and barking at the stupid thing.

Having discovered grilled bananas with caramel sauce, I’ve decided this is one of the most delicious snacks on the planet.

Khao Sarn Road and Siam Square are the two best places in Bangkok to get your cell phone stolen/pick pocketed. Shortly I’ll be shopping for cell phone number three.

School may have just resumed back in the states, but here we have semester one final exams beginning next week. I make no promises on the timing of updates for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Take it For Granted

I went to the doctor today.
Had that blood work done.
Meds. What did I eat this time? Who knows.
Another appointment next week.
Since I’m now enrolled in Thai social, I didn’t pay anything.
Everyone accommodated my lack of Thai language.
English signs, help in the cafeteria while waiting for blood work.
Friendly taxis of late, conversations in Thai without harassment.
Appreciation that I’m teaching English.

Another teacher was shot in the south of Thailand today.
Teachers ride to work in escorted convoys because of insurgent violence there.
He was 38, riding home alone after extra English lessons.

So I have to wear a skirt, and don’t know what’s going on more often than not.
Would I ride in a convoy to teach?

I can afford my healthcare now.
I’m employed.
And I’m not getting shot at.

In another six weeks, I finally get to see Chiang Mai with my best friend.
Monsoon season and Bangkok smog may be getting me down, but overall that’s not so bad.

Monday, August 29, 2011

What Makes a Teacher

The requirements for becoming a teacher vary by country, by state, by school; and they are always changing.
Some countries have illegal teachers.
Some countries have underqualified teachers.
Some countries give ‘emergency teacher’s licenses.’
Some places have IB teachers, International School teachers.
Most places have unemployed teachers.
Some places pay teachers differently based on nationality or skin color.
Some places women cannot be teachers or students.

Really, who is a teacher?
When you get up in front of a class and take the title, you are a teacher.

It doesn’t matter whether you have an education degree.
It doesn’t matter whether your license has lapsed, or whether you’re teaching your own subject area. (Which can be frustrating for someone that has studied to teach that subject to witness.)
It doesn’t matter whether you are a backpacker that ran out of money or a career teacher.

You are a teacher when you have students.
You are a teacher when you show someone how to do a simple task.
You are a teacher when you have the means to communicate information.
Sometimes you are a teacher when all you can do is jump up and down and play charades in the hopes of getting through.

You are a teacher when your students don’t get it.
You are a teacher when your students do, finally get it.
You are a teacher when you’ve done little more than give an assignment that the students rose to complete with very little guidance.

You are a teacher when class is cancelled.
You are a teacher when your students spot you at the mall.
You are a teacher when your students see you at the gym.
You are a teacher when your students see you buying groceries.
You are still a teacher long after your last class has finished.

When you are sitting at your desk, staring at a stack of unmarked papers but not correcting them, and feeling you’re not being a good teacher, that you’re teaching the wrong things, that you’re out of your element, you’re still a teacher.

We want so badly to legislate our education woes away.
We shame teachers, we tear them down.
Teacher’s aren’t perfect.
But just like students coming into their own, teachers need support and guidance to grow.
I hope we can see through this vitriol, which is not just American, and move forward.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why don't you...?

In my time in Bangkok so far, there have been a lot of mishaps. As such, I’ve heard the following questions many times:

Why don’t you move?
Why don’t you change schools?
Is there anything GOOD about Thailand?
Why don’t you go home?

In light of these questions, and having vaguely addressed the fourth question in a nostalgic wishy-washy fashion last week, I thought I would impart some of the reasons for not leaving, moving or otherwise throwing in the towel.

Why don’t you move?
1. My landlady saves my laundry from the rain. Every time.
2. Ming. The alley cat.
3. When I’m running late to school, one of two moto taxi drivers on my soi usually sees me and drives down the soi to get me and take me to work, for 1 USD; and they take me elsewhere in the city without ripping me off.
4. Two massage parlors, and all of the workers in them on my street know me by name; they knew me before I ever walked in the door. One of the owners let me take a three-hour nap in one of her chairs when the monsoon was awful. The other owner wanted to make sure I knew about Buddhism in these troubled times, sadly I don’t read Thai as of yet, he had a book to give me and didn’t in light of the language barrier.
5. The old lady that smiles and waves to me every morning as I walk past.
6. Café corner’s banana ginger smoothie and spaghetti pesto.
7. The characters I meet at Café Corner. Besides the occasional sexpat.
8. Availability of western food in general in my area.
9. The dog lady.
10. Bus route accessibility.
11. Not too far from the khlong boat start, either.
12. I’m perfectly situated between my school and Khao Sarn Rd. Which, while sometimes difficult to deal with, is the go to place for many things.
13. The food variety on/near Khao Sarn Rd.
14. The amazing tailor situated just inside the entrance to the wat at the end of Khao Sarn Rd. Seven articles of clothing altered for 10 USD? Yes. Fix my backpack? Less than 1 USD. Awesome.
15. I have air-conditioning, and a skylight.

Why don’t you change schools?
1. Changing schools in Thailand may be as common and easy as changing your outfit. Back home, it’s not that simple, and jumping around a bunch doesn’t look so good on your resume.
2. Even for other places in Thailand, or other countries in Asia, jumping around doesn’t look so good if you’re aiming higher than a cram school. It’s about perseverance here!
3. According to my colleagues, everywhere else they’ve taught in Thailand has been a worse experience. The chaos, and beginning paperwork trouble is typical of Thai culture.
4. Most of my students are very good at English, which is a rare blessing in Thailand.
5. None of my classes have more than 35 students. Some schools have class sizes between 40 and 60 kids.
6. Once my pay, visa and work permit were finally sorted, the majority of the problem was solved. Switching reopens this Pandora’s box.
7. I got out of teaching computers. Long story, but I was in over my head.
8. I get to lead art club as of this semester.
9. I FINALLY have Thai social health insurance. Also linked to my employment.
10. My school has direct links to my home state.
11. The longer I’m at this school, the better rapport I have with my students and the better I can control each of their classes. And the more of their names I actually learn.
12. I’m no longer the newest teacher.
13. I have received a desk and a teacher’s desktop computer (getting a teacher’s computer is a rarity here indeed).
14. I’m back on the parents’ good side (no more computers), and get along with the head of the PTA.
15. The school secretary and I are tight. We’re gonna take over the world someday. Ok maybe not really. You just wait and see.

Is there anything GOOD about Thailand?
1. Cheap, accessible produce, including amazing fruit, some varieties you can’t get back home. 1 kilo of mangosteens for less than 1 USD? Yes, please.
2. I can afford to get a back massage. Frequently. 200 baht (6.57 USD).
3. I can ride a motorbike to school for 1 USD.
4. Public transportation. I don’t need to own a car; in fact it would be counterproductive.
5. I can have a smart phone AND a pay as you go plan. And switching cell phone carriers is a matter of walking into 7/11 and buying a different SIM card for something like 3 USD.
6. Green tea flavored everything. Though careful, they add milk to a lot of beverages here, you have to ask every time.
7. I can afford to go to the hospital without fretting about co-pays and going bankrupt, even if they double charge me (which they won’t any more, Thai social!).
8. If you know what you need, the pharmacy will sell it to you. Without a prescription. Doctor’s supervision only matters as far as the doctor actually does anything besides scribble out a piece of paper and charge more than the pharmacy for the same drug. I’m not being reckless, just saying.
9. Everyone tells me I’m beautiful. And I ‘look like baby.’ Can’t win them all.
10. 7/11 sells cold beer. And they open it for you. And you can drink while walking down the street.
11. Beverages are still made with real sugar and not the synthetic stuff, besides what is clearly labeled diet.
12. Most people that find out I’m a teacher immediately ratchet their level of respect up 1-5 notches. Sometimes prices are lowered for me with this information.
13. I can ride a boat to the mall for 30 cents US.
14. If I’m craving something from the west, most things I can get, for the right price.
15. Despite my trouble with it, going out to eat is cheaper than cooking, there is a lot of delicious food here, and the longer I’m here the more I figure out which things I can and cannot get away with eating. If we truly became what we eat, some days I would definitely be a bananasteen. That’s banana + mangosteen, if you didn’t catch that.

And perhaps the most important reasons not to leave:
1. I know I’m not done here.
2. I’m finally on the all downhill from here side of culture shock.
3. Now that I’ve got the hang of things, it’s actually time to do some exploring around the rest of the country, and continent! (Class, this is what we call foreshadowing).
4. I feel like I make a difference with (most of) my students, and the moments I see my students shine, in whatever country, are some of the times I am happiest.
5. I’m finally learning more about my DSLR camera, and I’ve got some of the most beautiful sites in the world to capture.
6. I’m finally closing in on getting my artist’s groove back. Almost.
7. I have time to read.
8. I have time to train for a half-marathon. There, I put it out there. Pressure’s on, lazy pants. Ugh. Grad class has been eating into this time…
9. Being this far away, I have no obligation, and really no ability to come running when anyone cries wolf. I only have to look out for myself. Sorry, see this? Yeah that’s the Pacific Ocean. I never really liked swimming that much.
10. Breathing room. I can finally work on healing at my own pace. Some may say I ran away. I say I dove in headfirst. Holding on to the past with both hands and continuing to wait for the other shoe to drop; that would be worrisome.

I’m 25. I’ve got things to do, places to see, and my own shoes to fill. Preferably green or purple shoes, but I’m flexible. Still waiting for my midget dragon sidekick though.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Sense of Place

What is home, exactly?
For 18 years, the city of Indianapolis was home.
For 5 years, West Lafayette was home.
And right now Bangkok is home.

But what really makes any place home?
People keep asking me “will I be excited to come home?”
And I don’t know how to answer that question honestly without offending people.
The answer is supposed to be “yes! I can’t wait to come home!”
But that’s not how I feel.

What exactly do you mean by come home?
Bangkok is home now.
It may not be a permanent home, but it’s more home than any place in Indiana.

How much of a connection do you have to have with a place to call it home?
Or at least a place you care about deeply?

I’ve only spent 10 days in China. But it made enough of an impact on me to care about what’s happening in the city of my hosts. I care about the people I encountered.

I lived in Firenze for one month. And it felt more like home than any place had for the previous three years.

I’ve lived in Bangkok for 9 months. And I feel like I live in limbo. But as soon as a taxi or motosai turns down my home soi, I know I’m home free. I get to put down my backpack, turn on the aircon and sit in my own space.

I spent 3 nights on the island of Koh Chang. But the sense of peace on that pier staring up at the stars felt like home, for a little while.

Some people say home is where the heart is. Or where your family is, or pumpkin pie or Thanksgiving or the State Fair or whatever else conjures up images of comfort.

It really struck me how shaken I was by the tragedy at the Indiana State Fair and by the protests in Dalian, China this weekend. These events are so much smaller than the show-stopping headlines 2011 has brought us. But these smaller events are in places that have provided a sense of home to me at some time, however briefly. It’s harder to remain detached from it.

Home is a sense of safety and peace.
A space, however small, that is your own for a period of time.

The places that have been home are always a part of who you are.
Some people have one home their entire lives.
But not me.
I don’t know where home is.
I don’t know if home needs a location.

Unlike some of the more adventurous nomads out there, I don’t seek to be location independent. I don’t seek to rid myself of all material possession except one backpack, though I strive to accumulate less.
I’d still like a true home base somewhere, someday.

But I’m a rolling stone.
Home is where I lay my head at night.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

This is (Almost) The Future

For some reason, you’ve decided to take an online graduate level course from another continent. We have the internet! Anything is possible!

Before you get too excited, here are some tips for surviving this endeavor:

1. Check the online course software two weeks before the start of the class.

2. Email your instructors well in advance and explain the situation.

3. Find out about any textbooks at least one month ahead of time if possible.

4. Determine how well the online course software loads in your country of residence.

5. Scope out at least half a dozen internet café alternatives to your usual haunts. The internet will go down. Everywhere.

6. Resist the temptation to have a hissy fit on social media when none of this works properly. Do as I say, not as I do.

In depth explanations and problems you might encounter:

1. Checking the online course software 1-2 months in advance is too soon. Checking the night before is too late.

2. You are not typical. Your instructor probably does not expect someone to take a class at an American, Midwest University from somewhere in Asia, online or not. So far I know of one program specifically designed for this purpose. But it still requires a much more stable internet presence (and a LOT more tuition dollars).

3. Online class does not mean 100% online material just yet, apparently. Silly me. See, almost the future. International textbook shipping is tricky, expensive, and sometimes not even possible.

4. University course websites are labor intensive for slower internet connections. Likewise, online textbook rental (this was not Amazon, nor was that an option) is copyright hyperactive, in beta testing, and extremely buggy. Also, apparently illegal for utilization outside North America, because you know, China might want to steal our ideas about No Child Left Behind or something. I wouldn’t recommend the CourseSmart software at the present time if another option is available. See International Shipping above.

5. Dry season internet is not monsoon season internet. The internet will die just because it’s raining. They will completely redo the wiring at school rendering it impossible to access for a week. Various Thai internet companies will proclaim for the millionth time they really are upgrading to 3G this time. The Thai censorship connection slow down. Your favorite internet café will lose signal. Starbucks in Thailand will charge an arm and a leg for you to use the internet regardless of whether you buy a beverage. Your internet SIM card will be corrupt and require replacement. And when you’ve finally fought through to your material, can you focus on the coursework?

6. Self-explanatory.

Besides the basic tech specifications, it should also be noted that while a foreign teacher in Thailand has a lighter teaching load than an American teacher in the states or an International school, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got that much more energy left for maintaining a compact summer course while teaching. Especially when you end up taking motosai (motorcycle) taxis all over town in search of the internet. It’s kind of exhausting. Though, an American at an International school or higher up the expat food chain would likely have access to more stable internet.

All that said, you’d think my summary would be never do this, right? Wrong. In fact, just to prove my sheer insanity, I’m starting another online graduate class shortly! Why am I doing this to myself? Some combination of renewing my teacher’s license in the long run and sheer masochism. Not the least of which, because neither my home state nor my current country of residence can pin down what on earth it is they want and expect from teachers in order to be ‘legal.’ And I’m rather partial to being legal(ish).

I will say that as far as textbook reading goes, I probably did a better job with this course than in any class throughout high school and undergrad. Progress in relation to attention span and information absorption? Maybe.

Believe you me, I’ve thought about walking down Khao Sarn Road and purchasing myself a Ph.D. in Horribleness and calling it a day.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dear Baby Brother

It’s another personal one. Bear with me, or skip it.
Baby brother, you are important enough to merit a post.
Alienating my audience, for the win!


I can’t save you.
There. I said it.
I love you, so much.
But I can’t fix it.
And I can’t stand to look in your eyes when you keep asking me to.

Once, on a family hiking trip I was frustrated at having to constantly slow down and wait for everyone else, repeatedly for the entire hike.

I finally stormed off ahead, straight into a cave, without a flashlight.

I followed a family that did have a flashlight.

But they didn’t realize it, and they got too far ahead for me to catch up. And I was trapped in the dark.

And then I realized you’d followed me.

And I was panicked. And you were panicked. And then I was more panicked, because crap, what kind of big sister gets her little brother into her mess?

We finally found our way through to the other side, out into the glorious sunlight!
I attribute this experience to my developing claustrophobia. We were what, 9 and 7 or 8 and 6 years old? I can’t remember.

Here’s the deal, little brother.

I spent years trying to protect you.
I spent years trying to stand up for you.
I learned about IEPs long, long before any of my education peers. I became your advocate and even attended some of those meetings to speak up for you.

I forgave you for the many ways you embarrassed me as a teenage girl.

I tried to be another parent when ours couldn’t handle you. And sometimes, I was the only one you would listen to. And so I held that responsibility and took it upon myself to be my brother’s keeper.

But I can’t save you.
I haven’t been the mythical, “she can calm her brother down, she’ll know what to do” big sister in many years. You grew up. You grew taller than me. And my big sister magic, in all but the shell of its existence, faded away.

That day, long ago, when we wandered into that cave, we both had a choice.
I chose to wander off into the unknown without a flashlight.
But I didn’t expect you to follow me. And it was your choice to follow me.
I can’t fix everything for you. I never really could.

If I had an easy answer, believe me, I would have told you long ago. If I could fix it, it would already be fixed. I tried so hard to make it better. But I can’t.

Baby brother, I love you with all my heart, please don’t misunderstand.

Send me an email. Talk to me on Skype. Don’t think I never want to see you. Every time I enjoy a coconut, I think of you struggling in the driveway opening one with a hammer, or with the coconuts in Hawaii…
Ask me to buy you bootleg movies. Ask me to send you a Thai SIM card, for God knows what purpose. But most of all just talk to me.

I wish you all the best.

But you can’t follow me any more.
Especially if neither of us have a flashlight.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Accidental Ambassador

This entry will be completed in more than one sitting, so ‘today’ will be relative, not the least of which because I’m prolific enough on this blog.

Today I was an accidental ambassador. What do I mean? Well, I mean that today I was invited to lunch with an education delegation from Indiana, just as lunch time commenced.

The meal was lovely, a simple pad thai goong (shrimp) with mangosteen and longan fruit for dessert.

The conversation was amicable as well, and it was refreshing to have a conversation relating to local Indiana topics that didn’t involve people assuming I am an Indiana Policewoman or Indiana Jones.

I was pleased to hear positive updates on the state of education in my home state, from what sounded like a positive turn in the Chinese language program (which not long ago was in danger of disappearing), the renewal of art teaching positions becoming available as one delegate’s nephew seeks an art teaching position and general plans to continue fostering international exchange.

But what struck me more than that was the implied expectation and reminder that I am here as more than an individual representative. I represent a country, a state, a city, a university, my former high school, the list continues. And while much of this was meant to be complimentary, a rather large wave of sheer anxiety washed over me. Don’t mess this up. Gulp.

When I first arrived, I tried to be very cognizant of being a good ‘ambassador.’ As time wore on, my focus shifted down to mere survival mode for a time. Later still I became more aware of the ‘expat bizarro world’ version of Bangkok that I live in as a foreigner. Some of which is simply impossible to explain without the context of having lived it.

I am more cognizant that, I am not just an ambassador; I am currently living my life abroad. So while it is important to foster cultural understanding, walking on eggshells for extended periods of time doesn’t cut it whether at home or abroad.

While I consider myself to have a decent emotional intelligence, sometimes I fail to run my observations through this filter before allowing them to exit my mouth. I can be very, very blunt. Sometimes this is exceedingly comical, and truly, I try to give my honest observations. Other times, it doesn’t turn out so well, regardless of the clarity of my perception.

I have come to the realization that I am simply not suited for large-scale diplomacy. I think this wasn’t so much of a realization as the reinforcement of a previously unconscious but obvious “dude you are so not cut out for that.”

Many things came to mind today as I was reminded of the deep interconnectivity of my current location and the place I grew up. “You were too critical of the technology situation in that one blog post…you shouldn’t have said so much about student cell phone use in class, you shouldn’t have been so open about the legality of your working conditions…”

But then I thought, no. My observations were my observations at that time and place. And while it may be advisable to alter tone, edit for brevity or leave some things unsaid, I have merely described my own experiences. That was my goal, after all, to describe “my own meandering experience,” which yes, I stole from the Sunscreen Song. So sue me.

Some days, I am accidentally an ambassador. Most days, I’m just me. Heck, sometimes I’m mistaken for Russian. I don’t know, I’ve got some Polish heritage but that’s about as close as I come.

I’m not the only American here. I don’t always leave the best impression, but I like to think I’m far from leaving the worst. I may represent the places I have come from, but besides that, I have become someone besides the labels I carry from my past. While I’m proud of my city, of being a boilermaker, and so forth, I’m more than my labels, and I am an ambassador on accident.

Oh, and I didn’t photocopy my butt and add it to my Thai Immigration 90 day report, for the record. No really I didn’t. But I really wanted to. They might not have even noticed in that huge stack of paper, including every single page of my passport. Yep, I’m a great ambassador. Yep, I let this bypass the filter.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Koh Chang, Take 1

Anxiously wait at pick up point from ten minutes before and twenty-five minutes after pick up time. Repeat to self “this is Thailand,” you didn’t miss it, you were here early, they’ll be late.

Travel for nine hours. Note the America vs the Soviets theme of the bus movies. Salt and Air Force One are the selections. After bus, enjoy that the ferry takes twenty minutes (you were warned to anticipate ninety).

Stumble onto island, over to collection of Song Tows (pick up trucks with benches in back and a luggage rack on top). Pull out scrap of paper. Absent-mindedly pick one of the recommended parts of the island you scrawled onto paper. Oh sure, there’s always room for one more on the Song Tow, over here! Cram onto what is practically back bumper of truck. Hang on for dear life. Photograph road whizzing beneath feet. Laugh with fellow passengers and negotiate who’s going to grab you if you slip.

Note the ice rink texture of the roads and the ridiculous switchbacks. Not a motorbike practice trip.

Disembark from death truck at Bang Bao on the Southern tip of the island. Wander past 7/11 and down pier. Book a jungle trek, one of the few things you’ve predetermined you’d like to do, with friendly middle-aged Thai woman. Inquire about guesthouse. Calls her friend. Secure accommodation in a no name guesthouse run by family. Cool. Ask about internet. Oh, no have, cheapest no have internet. That was efficient of me. It’s a house on the pier, on stilts; as the rest of the town. Note the bay a few meters below the cracks in the floorboards. Well, that’s certainly on the bay isn’t it? Settle in. Proceed to operation find internet.

End up sitting on the dock outside an internet café that is closing, but willing to let me use their Wi-Fi after closing. Watching battery drain sitting on a damp pier after sunset and lamenting anything to do with American educational assessment, which seems so irrelevant lately. Toddler walks up, giggling. “Wanna go to grad school?” More giggling.

“Hey, do you know if there’s an internet café around here?” a fellow American.
“You’re looking at it.”
“If you just need to check your email, you can use my laptop for a minute.”
“Hey, my guest house is right around the corner and they have free Wi-Fi, it’d probably be more comfortable than here.” Karma. w00t.
Bum around more expensive guesthouse’s lounge and complete assignments. Ordered some food, I’m not a total mooch.

Realize I’m not sure how to locate my guesthouse in the dark. Note to self: flash light. A nice shop owner helps me locate the correct plank to follow. See, here’s the Thai hospitality everyone talks about.

Return to my own guesthouse. Discover sink and shower do not work. Laugh out loud. No, really I did. Well, smelly backpacker it is. Toilet does work. Phew. Not sure I’m skilled enough to use an open pier for such purposes.
But, it’s definitely the quiet I’ve been seeking.

Wake. Low tide, mud is visible through the floorboards. Try the water again in vain. Get ready to go hiking.

Stand at 7/11 meeting point. Hrm, what to eat from a Thai 7/11 that’s low on the glycemic index? And the pair of boiled eggs and sliced guava has it.
Ok and a croissant, oh well. If you ever step into a Thai 7/11 you’ll understand.

Ten minutes early, twenty minutes late. Pattern?
Guide and I spot each other and smile. I found the jungle guide I was hoping to trek with based on the recommendations I read. Not bad for flying blind. So who needs a shower?
I’m the last one picked up. I get to ride in the pickup cab. I get a seatbelt. I’m in the front seat, and I’m comfortable with that with our guide. Two other girls are in the cab.

Stop and feed monkeys some rambutan. My paranoia of monkey poo in my hair is not realized. Decent photos are. So far so good.

Park truck. Embark on trek. Stop to look at poisonous spiders, edible mushrooms (no, not those mushrooms), snakes, rubber plantation (water bottles and bowls collect the precious sap throughout the forest), other flora and fauna. A few rainy patches, jungle over beach was the right choice.

Arrive at first waterfall. Swim. Climb waterfall. Slide down waterfall. Few srapes and bruises. Good photos. Rambutan for the people this time.

Onward. Stop for lunch at another branch of the river. Begin the swim hike. Leave everything except swimsuit and shorts. Swim upstream. Climb over rocks. Swim. Climb, swim, push, pull, lift each other up through current. Ignore jagged spots. Or try to. Hike up at least three tiers of falls. Swim and hike back. On foot, barefoot through the jungle for the last bit. Stop to gawk at wild marijuana. Ten year old girl behind me asks what it is. “It’s something to smoke. It’s marijuana.” She tries to pronounce it. “Ask your mother.”

Collect packs, hike back. One last swimming stop. Fatigue is setting in for the group, we’re approaching the seventh hour, little swimming. The rain picks up. What few dry patches were left are soaked in ten minutes. But the day was too awesome for that to matter much. A wonderful trip is concluded.

Time and place utility, a beach towel is expensive when you’re dripping wet, along with your only towel. The complaint of how many people cannot do basic arithmetic in the country is apparent as he cannot make the change, even with the calculator. I walk him through the simple subtraction, showing the steps on the calculator. I’m not positive he’s Thai, but he definitely can’t do math. Sad.

Dry off. Wonder if ironing very moist passport and work permit is advisable. Curse at self for carelessness, lay them out to dry.
Try shower in vain. Seek Thai lady that helped find the accommodation. She calls her friend. Figure out where in the maze of rooms the owner lives. At first she thinks I’m balking about hot water, and she tries to explain there is no water heater. I show her there is no water at all. “Ah! I turn on.” There we go.

Cold shower. Drain is a hole chiseled in the floor, straight to the bay. Reconsider biodegradable soap. Reconsider chopping hair short.

Wander around pier. Whole fish and beer for dinner. No alcohol for Buddhist Lent so serious, na? Wander around pier.
Lay out on the deck of the guesthouse staring at the stars, the lights across the bay, and dangling feet above the water. Most peace I’ve felt in I’m not sure how long. I could spend a long, long time here. So glad I got out of Bangkok, glad I found quiet.
Book. Bed.

Wake up with sun, with a start. It’s the same nightmare. I thought we were done with this. Swear at the contrast to the peace of the evening’s stargazing. Take time to calm down. Wonder if there is something to Thai superstition about ghosts. Wonder how many rings of Jasmine flowers it will take to appease the spirits. Buddha demands pink fanta!

Breakfast. Injection of internet. Sore from the current of waterfalls banging me around boulders and rocks. Saving snorkeling for another trip, despite having landed in the snorkel and dive hub, was sensible. Nap.

Quest to find a beach. Song Tows only run hourly on this part of the island in low season. Bother. Pavement is dry, attempt to rent motorbike from woman wearing “Koh Chang is not SALE,” T-shirt. I get that she loves foreigners. She demands my passport. I’ve read this is common on the island, but I say forget it. I’m sure she loves foreigners even more now. I stubbornly set off on foot. Oops. Thankfully, I’m saved from this folly by one of those hourly Song Tows that I wasn’t patient enough to wait for.

Ask to be dropped off at (what turned out to be) a rock beach. Oops. Stop to eat. Use some basic Thai. Some confusion.
“He no speak Thailand, he speak Cambodia.”
Puppy chewing at my feet.
Restaurant owners set off on quest to break my 1000 Baht note, by motorbike to various places nearby, puppy on the bike, despite their best efforts.
Enjoy a Cambodian dessert (banana in coconut milk sticky rice, boiled in banana leaf). Say goodbyes. Ponder when I’ll work out a visit to Cambodia.

Give up on Song Tows again, they’re not stopping. Walk down to what looks like private resort. Waltz in anyway. Ask. Get let in. Sand beach, that looks fabricated, rocks after waters edge, to myself. Book. Pack of dogs. Sunburn. Oops.

Wander into interesting Jungle Hut/bar/hang-out/hookah bar something or other. Nice chat with a couple of expats that opened the place. Use bathroom, after they check the rain hasn’t rendered it inoperable. Not even phased by Thai toilet any more. Still hilarious when it’s American standard brand.

Aloe massage in open hut next door. Score.
“You want foot scrub?”
“Uh, sure.” Why not?
Rubbing alcohol. Paper or gauze on my feet, more alcohol. Ok, yay hygiene, but what are they doing prepping for surgery?
“You want manicure?” (They meant pedicure) “Have many colors.”
“That’s ok, thanks.”

Darkness has already fallen, though it’s barely after 6:30pm. My confidence in flagging a Song Tow in under three hours (they stop at 9) is low. Get the second Song Tow barreling through to stop and take me to base camp in under twenty minutes. Good.

Well, if I’m staying on the fisherman’s wharf, another seafood dinner is in order. Fresh crab fried with garlic and pepper. Beer. Sure, the big one. Leo, of course.

English expats behind me. Conversation. America vs Britain, diving, etc. Join table. More beer is ordered. Oh dear.
Four times my usual intake of one, time to wander back down the pier to bed. Thai (or Burmese or Cambodian or…?) waiter walks with me and starts conversation. Both headed to 7/11. Walks back from 7 with me. Arrive at my small jetty.
He gets a little too touchy feely. Uh, newsflash: a five-minute conversation and walking to 7/11 does not grant you access to come back to my guesthouse. It’s a good thing you finally took my no, or I might have lobbed you off the pier. Oh, to be a white girl in South East Asia. *sigh*
Decide to shower. No water. At least still quiet. Sleep.

Wake with the sun. No nightmare. No water. Succeed in waking guesthouse owner after about forty minutes, get water turned on. Upload, organize photos from jungle trek from camera to computer. Delete 60%. Need more camera practice. Lament how much is left to do to rebuild my photo website. Repack. Getting better at that.

Arrive in town exactly at nine, first Song Tow, the one I need to catch. Deserted. What? Something in Thailand left on time or early? Wait what I’m not awake enough for this. Am I going to miss my boat and bus now? Song Tow driver convinces me I’ll still make it, and he’s not leaving for an hour. I’m not so sure but I don’t really have an alternative. Time for more breakfast, not just the 7/11 fare. Chat with Norwegian about Ho Chi Minh City.

10 AM Song Tow. Talking to Norwegian about travel in general. Stop. Two Americans get on board. The four of us chat. We’re all getting anxious about making our connections. Get on ferry. Get off ferry. At exactly time bus is supposed to leave. Things don’t leave on time in Thailand. Except this morning’s Song Tow. Book it off the pier towards the buses. Find bus sitting there half empty and waiting. Feel silly. Thank goodness, not packed this time. Ignore Day After Tomorrow in favor of book, despite Jake Gyllenhaal. I hate apocalypse movies. The American duo from the Song Tow made it onto the bus too, they didn’t have a reservation yet, but they’ve got a departure time from Bangkok to their Northern province. Cutting it close. We discuss grad school, English bookstores and what not.

The bus air-conditioner starts leaking on me. Really glad it’s not a packed bus as it continues to piss down on the seat next to me.

Finally in Bangkok. Stop at the godforsaken tourist bus trap catty corner from Khao Sarn. Ugh. The vultures are already there.
“Taxi? Tuk-tuk?”
Push drivers out of the way to retrieve bag. Resist urge to do any worse than the cold shoulder and multiple irritated “No”s.

Walk back to Khao Sarn Rd. Not far. Seek dinner. Chat with acquaintance I haven’t seen in two months. Dinner. Wi-Fi, ah, the lifeblood of an information junkie. Type ridiculously long, tense inconsistent adventure blog post. Wonder how much to cut. Wonder how much longer it’s possible to stall on next round of grad school homework. Wonder if anyone is still reading at this point.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


There is no school tomorrow. It’s Buddhist Lent Friday and Saturday, and as a ‘makeup’ holiday, our school also has Monday off. Four-day weekend, for the win! There will be no alcohol sales Friday or Saturday. Unlike the Brits that thought I’d be their ticket to booze on the dry election weekend (getting hit on for alcohol, how lovely, I’m flattered), I shall weather the storm just fine.

My M3 students turned in their essays today. Or rather, 17/64 of them did, with stragglers turning in partial essays and many more that forgot to print. I consider this percentage a great victory. And as my students are quite capable, and their parents are invested in their learning, I’m going to keep pushing within the limits of what I know they are capable of. Oh don’t be so serious na, is Thai school! No, I’m not playing that way. Thailand isn’t going to pull up from 47th in international education rankings that way. I’m no savior, but I’m no pushover either.

I rather like my South African colleague’s assessment of my decision to be a bit of a drill sergeant. “American style, respect!” I’ve learned, to some extent, which battles to fight and which to give in to. And my students are getting adjusted to how I run things. At another school, my efforts would likely be unwarranted. But I’m not at a typical Thai school, exactly. I’d have probably thrown in the towel if I were from the stories I’ve heard. I care too much to teach where English isn’t taken at least semi-seriously. That doesn’t mean it can’t be sanuk (fun).

Tomorrow morning I’m embarking on a trip. My bag isn’t packed, my laundry isn’t dry, and I’ve really only got a vague notion of what I’ll do when I get to my destination. I’ve got a round trip ticket by bus and boat, for less than 20USD and that’s as much of a plan as I’ve got. But quite frankly, I like it that way. Yes, I’m going alone and yes, I’ll be fine.

I may hit the beach. I may climb a mountain. Elephants and waterfalls are possibilities. I might sit around and do a whole lot of nothing. I’m admittedly taking essays to grade and of course, the grad school reading must continue. Rather on the beach than stuck in a mediocre, lack of wifi coffee shop. Especially since I don’t drink coffee.

But I’ll get out of the city, out of my apartment and maybe, if I’m lucky, out of my own head for awhile.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Bottom Drops Out

No, I’m not referring to Thai politics (yet).

We can’t always get what we want.
Sometimes, the people you most expect to be there for you in life aren’t. Or, they are, but they aren’t supportive in the ways you need, or in the decisions you’ve made, because those decisions conflict with their vision of what your life should be.

Somehow you have to find the strength to push forward any way.

I don’t expect anyone to understand. But the fact remains. One of the people I’ve most expected to be supportive in my life, isn’t, and has been actively undermining my efforts to be away from the state of Indiana for months.

Various people have commented on my negative tone since embarking on my adventure. Well, yeah, in addition to cultural misunderstanding, my personal elephant in the room has been infiltrating my tone quite a bit. It’s taken a lot of self-control to also keep the content of this matter a bit more private. And I’ve gone through many periods of my life where I failed at keeping it private all together, and was often rather difficult to even stand to be around as a result. But this is affecting me too much to stay completely silent.

I’m sure I’ve just opened myself up for a new slew of criticism or “Yes we support you!”s. But, I’m not referring to any of the people that will respond with those comments.

I’m done seeking support where I only find pain, guilt and lies. It hurts. I know it hurts the other person involved as well. I’m not clueless or heartless.

But I’m not going to keep putting myself in the line of fire. I’m not going to keep putting my dreams on hold. And I’m not giving them up simply because it makes someone else uncomfortable for me to venture so far from home.

This is my life. I deserve to be happy, as you’ve said yourself, and I deserve that on my terms not yours. It’s really hard to actually believe that you deserve to be happy when it hasn’t been on your own terms for over a decade. It kind of invalidates the concept when it’s been held captive to someone else’s definition of how to go about it. Yeah my happiness my responsibility, I know, and I’m taking control back now. It’s going to take some time; no one else needs to rush me either.

I know you’re not reading this unless someone directs you to. I just want to say I’m done playing your games. I’m done listening to you tell me what’s wrong with me, and invalidate the things I say while making me listen to your hurts. I laid out all of the things I’m done with long ago, and you continue to disregard that. So I’m just done. You’re going to have to figure out how to be happy without me, because I don’t know how to be happy with you constantly bringing me back down.

And I do deserve to be happy.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Thailand Votes July 3, 2011

You may or may not be aware of the election in Thailand tomorrow; I’m guessing most of you knew it was coming up sometime soon. I realize some details have gotten into the mainstream western media, but I don’t know how much, or how much you have followed it.

This is my second attempt at writing this post. I’m scrapping most of the first. And I’m not going to pretend my analysis will really add much to the dialogue. For starters I didn’t quit my 17-year career with Reuters to research all of the Wikileaks cables related to Thailand and self publish a 4 part story worthy of getting myself banned from entering the country/arrested upon arrival. And I’m not going to comment on that story, because I don’t really fancy 3-15 in Thai prison or deportation, even if I am a ‘relative nobody.’ But that’s part of the problem here. You can’t really fully comprehend Thai politics, because you can’t fully talk about it without fear of reprisal.

We can discuss the red shirts and the yellow shirts, and after so much conflict their various splinter groups. We can discuss rural vs rich, pro vs anti Thaksin, Puea Thai vs Democrat, so on and so forth. But we can’t discuss the real elephant in the room. The elephant that is, hopefully, farther off than tomorrow’s election.

People have asked me if I’m worried about the election results tomorrow. And in some ways, I am. If the Puea Thai party wins (the most up to date version of the Red Shirts), Yingluck Shinawatra will become Thailand’s first female prime minister. And, as Thaksin, the deposed former Prime Minister, is her older brother and still the presumed leader of this party even from Dubai, she may pave the way for his amnesty and return to Thailand. And the mere possibility of this outcome could spur a coup. To many Thais, Thaksin is like that toxic ex-boyfriend you just can’t fully exorcise. And yes, he’s often called ‘Toxic.’ Everyone has THAT ex. You know the one. Do you want to let him back into your life, your country? That’s what I thought. That’s how much of the country feels about a Puea Thai victory. You mean you’re going to let HIM come back? Over my dead body!

But the other portion sees it differently, because the alternative, the ruling Democrat party and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, has seen so much go wrong under it’s parliament mandated (not elected) rule. And after more than 13 months, nothing has been done about the 90+ red shirt deaths at Rajaprasong intersection last spring besides cold denial they happened.

The Democrats said, “don’t burn our city again,” and “no one died here,” as they rallied last Thursday adjacent to the spot where those people did, in fact, die.

And at this point, the Yellow Shirts have become so disenfranchised they’ve simply campaigned for people to vote “No,” and not elect any of the parties running! What exactly would said ‘No’ vote mean? That’s open to as much speculation as any of this mess.

And while I think most Thai and farang alike don’t necessarily want Bangkok to burn again, the fact that in either major outcome there may not be justice for those 90 people may be the spark that ignites the next event.
If the Democrats win and still fail to demand the inquiry results be made public, the red shirts will be angered and take to the streets. Or if the Puea Thai wins, pardons their de-facto leader Thaksin and everyone else – they’re also likely to have to pardon whoever is deemed responsible for those deaths, thereby preventing justice from being served, the yellow shirts and Democratic supporters will protest in the streets against Thaksin, along with many red shirts who will feel betrayed that their fallen comrades do not get peace.

In many ways, it may not matter who wins in the election tomorrow. If justice is not served for those 90 deaths, If Thaksin is pardoned, if the army disagrees with the results, or if the ‘invisible hand’ that we can’t discuss wants things to be different, things will go differently than voted upon. And really, this is the tip of the iceberg, this is only the most recent years’ wounds in a string of events that runs much longer and deeper.

But, am I worried? Well, I’m definitely not going shopping at Central World in the near future, the mega mall that was half burned down adjacent to the intersection where the protests and deaths occurred. I’m not getting too attached to any evening plans I make in case events around the city make travel around town unfavorable. And I’m going grocery shopping tomorrow. If things really get bad, school will be cancelled, and I’ll go hit a beach south of here until things cool down.

But really, I’m not terribly worried about a coup or more protests. Really truly, it’s the elephant in the room that worries me much more. I don’t think we have to worry about that one yet. Time will tell. If you would like to know more about why I’m playing mum, check out Thailand’s Lèse majesté laws, or check out the journalist I alluded to.

In the meantime, let’s hope this 4th of July, the day after the election, doesn’t have the wrong kind of fireworks.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How to Survive Bangkok as a Single White Female

1. Be Twitterific.
2. But try not to become an internet zombie.
3. Traffic and internet bandwidth will simultaneously bottleneck.
4. Get in the back of a Hoopdee.
5. Look Ma, No Hands!
6. Go ahead, flip him off if he’s tailing you.
7. Eat the street food.
8. You’re going to get sick, deal with it.
9. And the hospital may overcharge you. Go any way.
10. Tit jokes are the best.
11. Dance, lip sync, and be ridiculous with your iPod in public. Everyone is already staring, you’re a white girl in Asia.

1. How do you find out what’s going on in Bangkok, or elsewhere in Thailand? You might get some clue from the two English language news venues. But for the real down low, fellow expat’s twitter feed. Seriously. First responders.

2. You’re going to have to learn how to play work. Yeah, we actually work, but sometimes there are gaps. Very, very wide gaps. Which, when it’s functioning, turn into surf the internet time. Try not to let your brain turn to mush watching Lonely Island’s “Like a Boss” for the umpteenth time. No matter how much you laugh out loud. Though, I am curious to see how all the foreign teachers fare as SIMS living in the same house, as programmed by the South African teacher. Yeah our job rocks.

3. But, the internet won’t always work. And it’ll stop working in some sort of horrible synchronization with the ebb and flow, or dead standstill, of Bangkok traffic. And it is maddening. I understand why everyone here is constantly staring at their smart phone. That is their internet surfing unwind time, because it is so late by the time they finish their commute home.

4. Hail the ricketiest taxi you possibly can. He’s been around the block a few times, he knows his stuff, and he’s less likely to harass and/or molest you. On that note, get in the back, especially as a single white female. Screw seatbelts, unfortunately.

5. Yeah, motorbikes are dangerous. But they are efficient, fun, and hey look, he has to keep both his hands on the handlebars to drive! Bonus!

6. So you’ve got another guy tailing you. He’s not getting it. From a blog post I read the other day, even North Koreans understand a good clear, “F&$# Off!” and flash of the bird. Sometimes guys can’t take any other hint. Screw cultural understanding, there are limits no one should have to put up with.
On that note, after months of such advances from Thais and avoiding clubs, you might forget how to respond to being hit on by a white guy. Wait what just happened there? Did I ever actually know how to process that? Brain are the dumb.

7. It’s not just the street food that will make you sick. You might get sick from a restaurant, breathing the air, obviously working with students…stop living in a bubble. You don’t have to eat everything, but avoiding everything is overkill. Some of my best I’m sick comfort food is the Chinese style soup sold out of metal carts on the sidewalk.

8. You’re going to get sick. Or rather, I’m going to get sick. It doesn’t particularly matter what country I live in. As my colleague put it, “yeah, but everything makes you sick!” Don’t let that stop you. I waited long enough fearing I couldn’t deal with SE Asia with all of my health problems. Now I wonder why I waited so long.

9. The white person overcharge. It sucks, it especially sucks when you’re sick and don’t realize it is happening. But it’s not US prices, and if you really need to go, don’t spend 10 days hugging the toilet in denial that you need to go. On that note – that 7 kilos you lost was good health insurance!

10. When all else fails, remember, ‘This Is Thailand’ explains everything. And nothing. And everything.

11. You want to fit in with the culture. Well get over that. You are white. You are ‘sui,’ you look like baby, you are all kinds of odd observations, stereotypes and representations of all of the countries that white people hail from. But you are always farang. And singing along to your mp3 player, skipping and dancing as you walk down the street is certainly not the worst you can do to represent your fellow white man.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Boundaries, Entry One

This is a post that has been bouncing around my head, in various forms, for quite some time. I thought I would continue to hold off for awhile, but this morning’s events changed my mind. I’m breaking my let a rough draft sit rule and going with the ‘here and now’ flow of fast blogging. Real time, without the whitewashing scrub down before publication later, just cursory revision. Since I cannot realistically cram all of my thoughts into one post, I will subdivide. Here is entry 1.

A line in the sand. Limits. Healthy, constructive boundaries.
Boundaries are hard enough to cultivate and manage, in a healthy fashion, in the Western world.
They can be damn near impossible in Asia, especially as a Westerner who wasn’t necessarily that great at them to begin with.

Now, you may say, oh well, that’s just their culture, you need to embrace it! You may say I’m being too rigid, I need to adapt, I need to give myself time to adjust to the culture, you sound like you hate the culture. Guess what? I wouldn’t be all gum drops and rainbows if I were blogging about my life in America, now would I? I call it like I see it, whether you agree with my perceptions or not, and they span the gambit of emotions. There’s more to life than love and fear, you know?*

Well I’m here to say there is a big freaking difference between ‘adjusting to cultural differences’ and letting yourself get walked all over. And frankly, I’m fed up with the latter, be it here or at home, and cultural misunderstanding is no excuse. People get walked all over in their own culture all the time too. And while it may be a little more Western to stick it to the man, the point remains.

One of my coworkers quit this morning. He has yet to leave, he will finish teaching the rest of the month. However, said individual has decided the classes that he teaches where he has a co-teacher, he will simply dump on the co-teacher, because he is just too overwhelmed. Excuse me, if you’re working here another week and a half, nearly two weeks, and getting paid for it, I am not picking up your slack. And you sure as heck are not going to shuffle the blame for this whole mess back onto your colleagues. Frankly I wish you were leaving tomorrow and not getting your full month’s salary, Mr. Drama Queen. There is no excuse for the vast majority of your behavior.

You are not getting fired because of the tone of your skin, (though I was surprised you were hired in the first place because of it), you are getting fired because you cannot teach. You cannot adapt, and you cannot handle the fact that “This is Thailand.”

I pitied you, for the racism you would face here, for the mistakes I saw you making that I too, made as a new teacher in Thailand. I tried to be patient, reminding myself, “you did the same things last semester.” But I didn’t do all of these things.

I didn’t repeatedly call students a bitch behind their back in the office. I didn’t harp about how the parents run the school, the kids are spoiled and it’s not right it needs to change (you just have to accept this at any school if that’s what occurs). I didn’t shuffle my lessons off onto other people. I didn’t call colleagues at 7 am, or 6 pm to talk about work. I didn’t prance around the office proclaiming “well for this money, with this situation I will just leave.” Great! Leave already then!

I’ve had to adjust my standards of teaching professionalism since coming here, because the expectations are vastly different. But there are still some things you just don’t do. Heh, blog about it might be among them, but, today that’s a line I’m willing to cross.

*Donnie Darko: Okay. But you're not listening to me. There are other things that need to be taken into account here. Like the whole spectrum of human emotion. You can't just lump everything into these two categories and then just deny everything else!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reason #579 Work is Not Getting Done in the Office

Some days, it’s best just to roll with the Sanuk and give up on any aspirations of diligently marking grammar essays. Today appears to be one of those days.

The school secretary is dancing around in the trendy ‘dinosaur foot shoes,’ and a proportion of the foreign teachers are discussing purchasing them to wear to teach, followed by wearing them out to the bar on Friday after school. Oh, the power of silly trends and crowds.

Speaking of silly trends and crowds, planking.
(I believe all of you in North America are scratching your heads. Am I correct? No really I want to know where this has spread, leave me a comment.)

What on earth is it you ask? Allow me to outsource my explanation:
The Australian hub bub. And in Thailand, warning teens. Remembering last year’s protests: Article. Photo.

For those of you that won’t click through those links, planking is: laying prostrate, arms and legs straight against ones body in a creative or odd location, having ones picture taken and uploading it to social media.

Which is all well and good stupid teenage fun until an Australian guy falls off a building and dies, or people lay around the sidewalk to commemorate last year’s red shirt protests, which IMHO is just an invitation to further trouble this year as the July 3 election day looms. Sure, it’s a form of peaceful protest. Personally, I’m not gonna protest anything lying down, but they didn’t ask me.

Also, call me old and no fun for being so critical. I don’t really care about this charge any more. Oh don’t be so serious, na. Well, I’ll pick and choose my serious vs my sanuk thank you very much.

On the note of age, not that this is news: I have realized I’m going to be told I look like a baby every day of my life until I am 60. Frequently multiple times a day. I wonder if I’ll ever have to convince another Immigration bureau the age listed on my passport is valid.

But back to the distractions and sanuk of the office, where the Irishman is teaching the Thai secretary a Jersey accent, we’re all negotiating who gets to use the available internet jacks as there are not enough to go around, and I am incrementally increasing the volume of the Super Junior song I am currently listening to on youtube to polish this draft off before another round of ninth grade Writing class.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Changing of the Guard, or Who’s in Charge here anyway?

So, my travel woes…that story will have to wait until it’s closer to resolved, especially as it’s gotten hairy enough to be beyond what you should blog. I really hope it doesn’t come to small claims court, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility right now.
Whatever, I’m back. So let’s get back to our narrative and I’ll worry about that mess.

The Dutch, British, and two Canadian teachers have left the school, some as previously mentioned.
Our office now consists of: The High Strung American (hey, I’m working on it), The Filipino, The German, The South African, two (soon to be three) Thai teachers, The Boss Lady, an Irishman and an Aussie.
The new guys ask me all sorts of questions. As if I have some sort of authority or clue around here. I think it’s cute they think I might have any answers for them. My best advice for the Aussie, at a loss for teaching a computer program he doesn’t know, was “just don’t bang your head into the wall too much.” I’m thankful I don’t have to teach computers, for lots of reasons, enough that we can skip that drama.
Believe it or not I’ve learned to roll with it a little bit (when it doesn’t involve my credit card), when it comes to teaching or ‘working’ around here; though it is so much easier when all I have to worry about is the chalkboard and not the technology. I can adapt a class that isn’t reliant on technology that is lacking.

Our schedules have been rearranged a lot this semester, as per an intraschool political battle and the fact that one too many foreign English teachers has been hired. As such, to appease the ‘Thai side,’ (non-English immersion) side of the school, a couple of us have classes on the Thai side now. And in order for us all to have a full teaching load, in student contact hours as per our contract, we have white teachers assisting white teachers. Oh sorry, should I say foreigner? It’s same same really. Well...I’m not getting started on that one right now.
This is, apparently, all the more ironic because a few years back there was a big stink and all assistant teachers were kicked out of English Program.
I’d say a good summary here is reverse, reverse!
As such, with dual teachers it’s sometimes difficult to tell who’s in charge of a class. This is slowly getting ironed out, but in the meantime, too many cooks in the kitchen. When things are settled, having an assistant teacher can be a blessing; so far here it’s almost been more of a hindrance everything is so up in the air. The classrooms are small enough the ‘assistant’ has to work just to stay out of the way. And as is common to all human interaction, some teacher pairs work better than others. That’s as far as I’m going with that.

The new computer lab has materialized. My desk is still here! We have teacher’s computers (this is really quite fancy), we even have internet that is mostly functional! Though not enough jacks for every teacher to be online at once. Oh, foresight. The water hasn’t even stopped working yet this semester! The ‘library’ even has some books in it now. As my colleague said “well it’s a room with books in it, let’s not get carried away here,” when I got excited about the books, they are mostly text books in boxes. It does, to its credit, have computers (that are set up and work!). I wonder how long before they go viral.

Some other happenings: food poisoning again, beat it back with a stick this time. Now it’s official, now I am back in Thailand. Getting charged double at the hospital. We’ll call this the white person tax. But really? The hospital? I didn’t even realize it until I discussed it with a colleague who nearly spewed his beverage across the table, (and it was still a bargain compared to even stateside minute clinic prices), but come on. Christian hospital. Of course. I know I make four times the average Thai worker. But we pay double and triple when things like this occur.
I have a Thai Social Card! Therefore, I now have Thai health insurance. Almost. Is that sorted yet? No of course not. Though they will likely, eventually, reimburse me for half of my latest hospital bill, the amount it should have cost. And with the Thai Social Card, this overcharge situation shouldn’t happen in the future.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Why? Is the most pointless question you’ll ever ask in Thailand. A much more suitable question is Ok, so now what? And be prepared for at least three changes. And the answer is probably not actually the answer. Just go with it, well, most of the time. Pick your battles wisely.

Things I enjoy: the restaurant where I’ve gotten breakfast a couple of times before work, called Jenny restaurant. Not because of my patronage.
Thinking to myself, “How many of my friends rode to work on a motorbike taxi today? In a skirt? Not side saddle? In the RAIN???” Probably not many even among my friends here. Admittedly sometimes I do ride side saddle now. If I were Catholic I’d cross myself before doing this.

Having decent headphones and making youtube, twitter, facebook and blog writing look like work. Well at least until I get 20 tabs open and realize what a waste of time THAT is. How to be as unproductive as possible: log in to twitter and start reading all of the links your friends have shared. Great for looking busy though. Learned some cool stuff. Skype has been blocked again, and the office is much more populated now any way. Haven’t bothered attempting to install messenger. GoogleChat works :-).
More than ever I worry I’m going to be too lazy for a non-Thai workload after all this, though I’m starting my first round of distance graduate work in two weeks and I’m certainly not lacking for outside projects.

I would beat myself over the head trying to lesson plan, but, it would appear the basic lesson plan is ‘plow through as much of the grammar book/writing book/reading book as possible.’ And while that seems like pretty low level teaching, as long as the schedule is still all loosey goosey and I’m just now back to solid food, I’m just rolling with it. Some of the book lessons aren’t too bad. Some of them might as well be in Greek. Meh. I have fall backs. I can’t really call them plans, like I said, or I suppose quote, “I’m making this up as I go.” I still don’t have a talking dragon side kick, OR a robot. Lame.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Flying By the Seat of My Pants

So, despite the fact that we now have a trend of “how things go wrong” going on this blog, which I’m not sure I like, I’d at least like my blunders to serve as a warning to others. So, despite the fact that your travel agent was recommended by the owner of your (formerly) favorite Thai restaurant, check with the Better Business Bureau.

I was going to wait and publish a travel woes account once this is resolved. But, seeing as that is going to take a long, long, long time, here is what I composed while stuck overnight in LAX getting from Bangkok to Indianapolis, an entry on the return trip later.

So I said I wanted to spend some time flying by the seat of my pants. Well yet again, my bad, that came true too. I didn’t mean LITERALLY!
Have you ever shown up at the airport only to be told you don’t exist in the computer? Let me tell you that’s a great feeling. (Though I suppose not as bad as realizing you have someone else’s passport – that was an interesting story.)
So what you’re saying is, I have four different planes to catch, in three different countries, but I’m not in the computer? You don’t even have a record of me paying for the flight here in October, or of my having been on it? Oh really? Well this is peachy.
When you’ve flown standby from Asia to North America, then, THEN you can say you’ve flown by the seat of your pants. With the assistance of plastic money and many patient airline workers, but nonetheless.
They turned the guy after me away in Bangkok. They told me if I was unable to standby on this flight I would have to wait 7 days to fly. A travel agent returning from vacation on the same flight told me “this type of ticket doesn’t exist any more, maybe it’s only in Asia.” Well there you have it, I still don’t exist!
Definitely gate crashing at its finest when I was permitted through Immigration and security and allowed to board.

In the Taipei airport, six months seems to have brought many changes. Public Desktops with free wifi, public iPads with free wifi, a reading library – man I could get used to this. Though my laptop would not load the free wifi network (the guy next to me had no problems. Is this yet another computer demon? I’m beginning to suspect I have not appeased the Thai spirits of my apartment complex). But, public desktop to update facebook since phone is not currently an option. And because I’m addicted to facebook.

In LA, my person and my baggage are in one piece. Well, crossing the Pacific is more than half the battle, right? I’m in North America! The EVA airline agent is very helpful. The agent at American Airlines does his best to no avail, but he sends me to United. They are patient with me though they’ve got nothing, and find a flight on US Airways. They write down the flight numbers and send me to US Airways. A nice security guard helps me get to the desk, which is actually closed but still attended, and I get a ticket for tomorrow morning. Ok, I can get home.
The same security guard walks me to the USO, where she helps attempt to talk me in, but no go. They do however allow me to check internet/make a couple of phone calls, try and secure lodging (a no-go with my stranded passenger airline voucher or otherwise, it’s Friday night in LA) and send me on my way with a bottle of water, a free luggage cart and directions to the only terminal where food service is still running.
At LAX International next to the McDonald’s, where I sit here and type connected to the Samsung charging station, foiled by the Wifi that is but is not, I am spending the night. I suppose this is a traveler’s right of passage. Thank goodness for the USO helping me out, the security guard, the EVA agents and the other various agents here that tried their best until I got a flight plan. Apparently I have some crazy lucky travel karma for making it across the Pacific Ocean in such circumstances. I think I may have used up my travel karma for the month, possibly longer.

In a few hours I will embark across the country – to North Carolina! It’s all that was left. I will have a brief layover, and in the early evening I will be back home again in Indiana. Phew. Not outta the woods yet, travel Odyssey indeed. I’m not even sure how much time in transit this will work out to be.

My travel agent and I shall be having words. I have a basic idea of where to start to rectify this matter, though it’ll have to wait until business hours Monday. An email was already sent while in Taipei. I appreciate any advice, but unless you’ve got a magic wand, I’ve got this. And I shall not be using this travel agency ever again.

Now that I’m ticketed, we can end on a laugh! A few travel vignettes for you:
Maternal Indian: “You look like baby!”
80-year-old British guy: “Oh! You’re American!” *pause* “So how do you think Obama’s doing?”
Friendly Filipina: “You are single? Enjoy it. We don’t have divorce in Philippines.” Canadian backpacker chick: “When I was in Nepal I got so excited when I had a bowel movement. It was like wow; I forgot what it looked like! I think everyone knows Canadians are a little loopy, living in our igloos and dancing around our fires and stuff.”

The things you learn. Oh, but there is more. So much more.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Why I Hate Taxis

I’ve had some misgivings about this post, nay, downright embarrassment about even sharing this in full as best I can. Since this incident occurred, I’ve found myself unable to share the story in full more than once or twice. I’ve thought no, I can’t talk about that; I can’t blog that, I shouldn’t say that…

But it has also occurred to me that if I’m too chicken to share this story, how can I hope to speak for women who have been through much, much worse? I performed in the Vagina Monologues for crying out loud, and I’m performing in Memory, Monologue, Rant and a Prayer in early June. If I’m too embarrassed to talk about the time a taxi driver decided to hold my hand and suggest we get it on and my frantic evaluations of how to get out of the situation safely, what does that say for where women stand today?

Deep breathes. So here goes.

I was running late to meet a friend for coffee/tea what have you and conversation, and I had gotten caught up talking to another friend I ran into which put me extra late. I planned to grab a motorbike taxi, however upon examining the two moto spots near me, they were both deserted. I looked to the sky. Dark. Thunder. Storm coming. I could hoof it to the boat, but I’m unsure the sky will hold, and I’ll have to walk from the boat as well. Taxis were good shelter from the water fighting of Songkran (though I was traveling with a friend in that case), why not, just take a taxi.

Allow me to interject a few things here. First and foremost, that I’m still naïvely using my American logic. Silly me.
In my first two weeks here, I sat in the back of a taxi and was hit on and given the guys’ phone number. This incident was more endearing than irritating as it was the first and involved no inappropriate touching, just a lot of ill-advised I love you’s, a fare discount and a phone number on a slip of paper. As such, the idea of sitting in the back of the taxi or the front of the taxi being a factor in such matters did not occur to me. This happens to me one way or another.
The back seats of taxis do not have seatbelts. Being a silly American girl, I had taken to sitting in the front in order to have a seatbelt. Right. My mistake, as we’ll soon see.

Back to our story. I stood at the side of the road and hailed a taxi, I refuse to patronize the guys parked near my soi that never leave me alone. Their loss. I hail a pink cab, ask about my destination (though it’s illegal to refuse passengers, it happens all the time, I have particularly notorious luck in this matter as well), hop in the front seat and buckle my seatbelt.

We get driving and things seem fine at first. The rain comes, as expected. He asks my age, which nearly every Thai person asks for their age-structured social order, so I’m not phased. Then he starts with really bad broken English to ask if I have a boyfriend. Except he basically asks if there is a man I’m having relations with, complete with a lovely hand gesture and ‘squeaky, squeaky’ sound effects. Then he asks me if I have a baby. He asks this several times. “You, baby?” Uh dude, no. No baby. No. I already said no. Weirdo.

The rain is getting heavier, and as is typical of Bangkok, rain means everyone forgets how to drive and the city becomes a near parking lot. But we’re headed the right way, what else can you do?

We talk about the Thai word for rain, and wind, and I teach him the English words. Or attempt to any way. I say I’m a teacher. And then things start to get a little weird.

I’m a bit fuzzy on the full details now, I meant to write this down sooner. But basically he starts suggesting I be his boyfriend, in Thai, and really terrible broken English that doesn’t even have the same meaning. He starts telling me he loves me, and he wants me to say it back. I do the awkward smile, giggle, pretend you don’t understand through the language barrier defense. Considering I see his temper just below the surface, the benign clueless card seems most pertinent to play.

He wants my phone number. He again makes his lovely hand gesture, this time he says “You, me, squeaky squeaky” as he makes the crude hand rendition. Oh joy. I lost count of how many times he did this during the rest of the ride.

I assess the situation. We’ve got three lanes of traffic. We’re in the middle lane. Monsoon season has come early, this is a real doozy. This guy is being inappropriate, but he’s also operating the motor vehicle I’m in and I can sense his temper. If I get out of the cab, which is an option, I’m stepping into traffic and monsoon. Ok. Deep breathes, keep playing the clueless “I don’t understand what you mean” card. Get to your destination or some place you won’t step out into traffic and possibly get hit.

The rain gets worse, the traffic gets worse, my situation in the cab gets worse.
He starts reaching, grabbing and holding my hand.
Internal dialogue: You are kidding me. This is not really happening. WTF. Well, this will be an interesting story. Now how do I get out? How do I keep from pissing this guy off?

He keeps asking “No problem? No problem?” But just like his insistent and unyielding attempts to get me to say I love you, and be his girlfriend, and ‘squeaky, squeaky,’ he doesn’t take awkward giggle/demure attempt at reclaiming hand or no for an answer.

I’m constantly reassessing the situation but this awful scenario is just on repeat as the storm rages outside. “No problem? Squeaky squeaky? You, me? Something in Thai, frustrated huffing.

He wants my phone number. I tell him actually, my phone was just stolen, this is a friend’s, so I don’t have a new number yet. Phew. He gets a piece of paper and writes his phone number and name on it. Well, he gets me to write it. He gets me to promise over and over that I will call him. He’s still got my hand. I’ve wrestled it away once or twice, if I’m more forceful I think this guys’ gonna blow his top. He’s already on the verge of that. He’s still driving.

Internal dialogue: Ok, this is really inappropriate, this is not cool. The bastard has his report me placard turned backwards too! ARG! I don’t even know how to go about reporting him, nor do I have much faith in the Thai authorities, but bastard! Also it would blow my “my phone was stolen I don’t have a number to give you” to whip out a phone. Ok, so he already saw it and I told him it was my friend’s phone. Still, I should pretend I don’t know how to use it. Who would I call right now any way? I don’t have anyone’s number. I’m not sure why this is logical. This situation sucks. Wait…he’s not even going the right way. Where are we going? Oh crap I have bigger problems – and if I bail out now, which I am very close to doing, in the middle of moving traffic and torrential rain, will I be able to get another taxi to get some place safe? Keep from getting hit by a car? He’s very close to crossed that line. And then.

He takes my hand and puts it on his leg. I’m just gonna jump out of this damn cab. Oh buddy, if we were stationary right now, you are so close to my last straw, you don’t even have another millimeter to spare…He’s just started petting my arm, and locking his fingers around mine. The nail of his pinky index finger is about an inch long. He shows it off, he’s proud of it. I feel like vomiting. He’s motioning me to kiss him on the cheek. He’s drawing hearts on the steering wheel with his fingers. I reassess the rain and traffic for the umpteenth time. No, this still doesn’t justify the odds of getting hit by a car in our current traffic pattern. And if I smack him we’ll swerve…

Ok. He’s driving the right way now, a really long asinine I want to spend time with you way, but we’re going to my destination. The broken record of inappropriate has not let up. Get me out. Get me out. Get me out. He asks if I’m going shopping. Yes, sure, I’m going shopping. It’s none of his goddamn business, but it’s an easy enough ‘yes’ answer. He wants to go shopping with me. Could this get any more surreal? I insist no. He actually listens to that. I tell him I’m late to meet a friend. A girl. This fact, that I’m meeting a female, keeps him at bay. He continues to make me promise to call. He finally drops me off a ways off from my destination; he brought me the wrong way around. He knocks at least 50 baht off the fare. Good, he took me out of the way and was a total creep. I finally get out of the cab and bound off into the rain.

I meet my friend, and proceed to rant about what just happened. She informs me that if I were to hit a guy, the fine is only 500 baht, if he’s got the balls to take it to the police. If I’m faced with such a creep who is not driving me, in the middle of moving traffic lanes and a monsoon with a temper, that might be 500 baht very, very well spent. In the mean time, I’m almost eager for another creeper to harass me, so I can give this skeezy cab driver’s number to him. Payback is sweet.

When I talked to a couple of friends about this, I received the following responses:
“Well why were you wearing a seatbelt?”
“Why did you let him do that?”
“Yeah. It sucks because you shouldn’t have to worry about it. But, we do. You learn the longer you’ve been here.”

I would like to add I’ve had plenty of perfectly acceptable taxi experiences in Bangkok as well. I’ve even had a driver pull out a Thai/English phrase book once or twice and had appropriate language exchanges. It’s too bad when one person ruins it for everybody else. Ok, I get it, you sit in the back if you’re alone and female. You don’t get a seatbelt, just try to position yourself behind one of the front seats in case of a crash. You don’t talk besides discussing the destination, whether or not to take a highway and give the driver the toll money (accepted practice) at most. You have to be quiet, maybe even slightly bitchy. Or, you can fend off molestation attempts in the front. What really gets me, is the simple fact that of global destinations, Thailand is supposed to be one of the better ones for solo female travel.
I have never been so cognizant of my race and gender as I have been these past six months in Bangkok.