Thursday, January 27, 2011

Labour & Immigration, Take Two

I can't stop coughing. I definitely have an upper respiratory infection at this point. I started myself on antibiotics after several days of holding out for my immune system. Yes, feel free to scold me for not going to the doctor - I don't have time for that right now, especially when it's mostly paperwork and here have drugs! Well, I have them already, I've had this kind of infection many times in my life, let's skip that part.

I take 4 or 5 medicines - over the counter and the antibiotics, and take fifteen minutes to pull myself together to go in. I put on jeans, t-shirt, my one long sleeved hoodie and tennis shoes. I won't be teaching today, we're going back to Labour and Immigration. The thought of doing so in my skirt and dress shoes while feeling like death warmed over is too much; and on our last trip my liaison and half the waiting room were in pants and t-shirts. I don't really care. I would have called in if we didn't have to make this trip today.
Traffic is awful - and I wonder if it's backed up from a yellow or red shirt protest or just the usual traffic chaos. The reds and yellows have both had protests this week - but before you start yelling danger! danger Will Robinson! This mostly just blocks intersections and stops traffic across town; and I happen to be in between the two main spots - so traffic comes to a standstill from both directions.

I hire a motorbike - I haggle for 30 baht not 40 baht, and we zip between the lines of traffic to get to school. Last time I hardly had time to be in the office before being whisked to the school van and setting off. This time, with traffic, the school secretary who will be my liaison this time has not yet arrived, so I have to sit in the office. My boss is interviewing a new student for next year, and her father is there. Suddenly jeans seem like a very, very big mistake. Soon the secretary arrives. She says to me, we will go after your class. To which I simply say, no, we will go now. But who will cover your class? Gen is covering it, we will go now. In fact Gen is only covering the second half of it, everyone has a first period class. But as many times as classes have been cancelled for lack of teachers (we don't have a sub system, teachers must cover for each other), events, or I've been pulled from a class I planned to teach for some other last minute reason with no cover, I simply don't care, this is more important. On occasions with many teachers out, classes are allowed to hang out, play guitar, connect their electronic music players to the sound system - they'll be fine. As it turns out the worst trouble they got into in my absence was they were about to play the movie EuroTrip over the projector when they were interrupted for actual grammar lessons. Oh well.
As we're walking out the students are walking in from the morning assembly, giggling at my attire and one asks me where are you going? Then who will be our teacher? To which I reply, "pretend you have a teacher." He grins. Not my proudest moment as an educator - but again, this is simply more important.

We get in the school van. I'm advised to dress professionally next time, but this time it's ok, you're a foreigner you don't know - that whatever my previous liaison told me, is not the right way to do things. I'm learning very quickly how much misinformation I've been given so far.
We drive, we nap, we're both coughing like crazy. We should both be home in bed. But my visa expires tomorrow, and if anything goes wrong we have to go back on the last day.
We go to Labour to pick up the Work Permit. This turns out to be fairly painless. I check the spelling of my name, sign the page, and pay for it. Then we leave. Less than 15 minutes. My partner in crime checks the details of the Thai writing and hands it to me to put in my file. Surely, that was too easy - and it was.
We get back in the van and drive to Immigration, well, are driven to Immigration. We go in, queue up, and I explain which additional forms from the counter I need. No, you don't need it. Yes, I do need it. No, you don't need it! Yes, I do need it. What? Why? This continues until I have my way. She's still confused - but I don't blame her, all this was explained to her by the previous, shortcut taking liaison, and improperly. I don't blame her, but I don't trust she knows everything I need, either.

Here's the thing. Do not believe the Thai government website, do not believe a Thai that doesn't personally work in Immigration about this paperwork. If you need answers about Work Permits and Visas, you need to personally ask another farang or go to expat web forums. That's where the information will be correct. And it doesn't help that they've recently made it much more strict, but most Thais are still operating in the previous regulations mindset.
We have several hours to wait for our number to come up, so we find a better place to sit and I fill out the forms she doesn't think I need. Then I lay down on the bench to curb my dizziness, at which point she tells me no no sit up this is Thailand, I don't know about other countries you can't do that here. Right.
Our number will be served after lunch, as last time. We go to the food court and each get some sort of noodle soup. I give her American cough suppressants and two Thai medicines. I'm not due for more yet. She looks even worse than I do - and I wish we didn't have to be here.
We go back to the Visa queue. She gives me Chinese cough suppressants. They don't taste good but they relieve the cough, she says. She's dead on. We're both half hunched over trying to nap sitting up between coughing fits.

Our number comes up ten minutes after lunch. We might even finish today. I hand over 1900 baht and we go back to wait. Over an hour passes. Finally we're called back. I have no idea what was said but I can tell there is a problem. We go back to sit down and she gets on the phone. She's calling the previous visa person - the one whose last day was Friday, whose signature she'll be foraging for the power of attorney over my paperwork. There is a form missing. One that she didn't bother to complete, saying oh, for the previous two people, didn't need it. It's a form that takes 15 days to obtain. My visa expires tomorrow. Liaison number one instructs liaison number two to negotiate with them. We try this several times. I'm informed I may have to go out of the country - tonight, or in seven days. I can't get any straight answers, and she's on the phone or talking to the Immigration officer. I call an English speaking colleague that actually knows the deal with this stuff. We discuss what it will take for me to leave for Laos tonight.
Then I find out my liaison has called my boss. My boss is negotiating with the Immigration officer. Somehow I wonder if this won't just make matters worse - but again, it's out of my hands. After over two hours of all this back and forth - my boss has negotiated a 7 day extension of my visa, she doesn't want me to leave the country. I both appreciate this and fear this fix won't actually prevent a border hop, just delay it - and I'm apprehensive that on our next trip the quick-fix seven day extension will not be honored by a different Immigration officer. This could result in a fine, not deportation or anything, and if it happens my school will be paying for it, not me. I think they've already planned that, but I will make sure of it.

My liaison is talking to the Immigration officer. I don't speak much Thai, but I've learned numbers below 100 - and I can tell she doesn't believe I'm 25. I point at myself and say "yi sip ha" and nod up and down yes, I am 25. I highly doubt wearing business attire would have convinced her of this either. For Immigration Take Three, I will be dressing to the nines. Should I pencil on some wrinkles too? Honestly. There's no way to know if business attire would have been the push to get around that missing form - but the fact is the form is on the list and my school didn't take care of it. It's not a form I fill out, it's a form the school must submit. We leave Immigration - with my passport and it's seven days of negotiated, borrowed time and without the 1900 baht. That extension should have been 200 baht, and I protest. I'm assured my boss will take care of it. This had better be the case, this is not my fault.

The two of us are seething with anger and trying to hide it from each other, as required by Thai culture. I consider the school secretary, my liaison number two, my best Thai friend. This has definitely put a strain on things. We open up and discuss our anger that the previous person cut corners and made things difficult. That we couldn't just do it properly the first time, that it doesn't have to be this difficult. But we are the 'younger sisters,' we are lower in rank than many of the people we needed to get stuff done; and though liaison number 1 is also our age - this was her job, so from a task standpoint - hers to take care of.
We nap and talk on the long drive home. We return to school. I explain the days events to a colleague. My boss pulls me aside and further explains how she will take care of it. The other teacher, the secretary and I discuss the fact that I have a seven day extension for a fifteen day piece of paperwork. That I may still have to make a border run. That my boss plans to call on the influence of parents of our students who work in the Ministry. In any case, nothing more will be done today, and I don't have to leave tonight. I'm taking more cold medicine, going home and going to sleep.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

In Search of Sanuk

I will try to keep this post related to In Search of Sanuk; with minimal personal updates beyond my experiences there today. The past three Saturdays I have gone to volunteer, well - at least FOUND the two locations for volunteering, with Sanuk my Saturday - a branch of In Search of Sanuk, (Sanuk means fun in Thai). For a better explanation, here is the website:

Today, I handed my new Nikon digital SLR camera (a Christmas present, apologies for still not getting to my entries about December - and SO excited about my camera!!!) over to a small girl. She asked me in Thai several times could she take photos with my camera before I finally asked another volunteer that speaks Thai what she wanted; and then I placed the camera strap around her neck, showed her to put her eye to the view finder, and the button to push to take a photo. The camera was far too big for her small hands. I'm not sure her age - maybe 8? Younger? She proceeded to take several photos of portions of my face - then happily scurried to photograph the other kids and things around the Wat.
I fully expect her to be working for National Geographic in 20 years. Ok, maybe not - but if a way was made for her, she certainly could. This simple act turned into many of the kids wanting their turn taking photos, and my camera was passed around from person to person. I'm not sure how many of the kids took a turn with my camera, but aside from having to give it back - I'm pretty sure they all had a lot of fun. One of the boys even did a pretty good job focusing the lens manually - another documentary photographer in the making. Yes, I was slightly nervous about handing my nice new camera over to elementary age children. But I'm glad I did, and I know they had a lot of fun. I'm going to upload the photos they took, without cutting any, to my shutterfly account - see link on right hand column of this page. No, my shutterfly account is not up to date from a month without my computer. I'll get there. And a few of the photos in the batch of over 100, I took. I'll tag them. Sometime...

Aside from playing with my camera, one volunteer brought a cool game called jungle...something. A game from France involving color and shape matching. We modified it, but the kids loved it. There was also coloring pages with English vocabulary and playing with a local dog. That dog really wanted that sock. Last week was sock puppets - I wonder if it was left over. I can say I wish I knew how to sew a button better from that experience helping with the puppets. Made it work though. Previous Saturday - making play dough. One little girl had the biggest grin on her face as she handed me two yoghurt cups of soupy, purplish play dough mixture. I graciously accepted and smiled as it dripped down my jeans and shoes - she was so happy, it didn't matter. It's amazing what something as simple as play dough, puppets, a card game or using a camera can be to these kids.

Alright, I must be off - I'm keeping quite busy as of late. More eventually. I'm staying out of trouble. Mostly. Also - the photo uploading is going to take a long, long time... they (just the ones from today) may not be ready for a couple of days depending on my internet connection.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Immigration & Labour - Take One

It seems that my visa and work permit experience is rather typical, in fact - on the better end of what can be typical in Thailand for these things. People who have worked through teacher placement agencies that tried to help - have had similar, even more complicated experiences; and other agencies are simply uninterested in having their teachers be legal. I'm a direct hire, and I apparently work for a government school after all (which supposedly will make the actual processing of the papers smoother) my point is simply that having an agency doesn't necessarily make things better. In any case - here's a run down of my first trip to Immigration (there will be many).

Finally having the paperwork from the school, the school van, and whatever other loose ends were preventing the trip - yesterday I embarked on the trek to Immigration. As it turns out, TWO school 'officers' (secretaries) came along for this - because one is leaving the school after today (maternity), so she is showing the person that is staying the ropes of how to do it. The first officer attempted to go to Immigration ahead of us to get a queue number early - it used to be an automated ticket system. This time - they asked her "Where is the foreigner and where is their passport? You need both to take a ticket." Sounds fair enough to me, but none of this is really in my hands; and I wasn't going to complain about being able to skip the queue - but no go. She also apparently used to have a 'friend' that was in charge of the queue - whom she befriended by bringing them contraband coffee (they're not allowed breaks) and had previously been allowed to skip the queue entirely by this person. This 'connection,' has apparently leveled up in the ministry and is no longer on this level of things.

It may be a miracle that I even made it to Immigration one week prior to the expiration of my single entry, Non-B Visa (Teacher's Visa), on January 27. The Immigration office reminds me of an airport terminal. Huge open space - though relatively few people in that wide open space. Something like seven or eight levels of government offices of various ministries - and of course - or thank goodness - a food court, a 7/11 and other food and clothes vendors. One of my favorite office names: Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Public Organization): GISTDA. Many official signs, around Bangkok - not just here - are dual Thai English. No, I wouldn't have been able to read that in Thai (yet).

While I was in Immigration I wrote down observations about the experience - but it's amazing how quickly it all changes - half of them were irrelevant or changed by the end of the day. At Immigration we were attempting to extend my visa, because you cannot apply for a work permit when your visa is expiring. However, after the 4+ hour wait, including waiting through the hour lunch break of the Immigration officials because my queue number came up exactly at noon - we were simply told no, you cannot extend the visa without the work permit - even though we were only looking for a one week extension to allow time for the paperwork of the work permit. I'm not sure what was said, as it was said in Thai, but probably something to the effect of well you've had 90 days to do this - gee, imagine that. Apparently it all depends on the official you get - whether you get waved through and given extensions and papers with a swift "mai pen rai" or end up having to come back again. So, we will apply for the multi-entry, long term Non-B Visa another day. And I will apparently still have to check in with Immigration every 90 days with this visa, OR travel outside the country and return. I foresee short sight-seeing trips to other Asian countries; and times I'll just have to go back through these offices.

So, after Immigration, failed attempt number one - on to the Labour Ministry! I am thankful my farang co-workers mentioned the need for a health certificate from a Thai doctor for the work permit. My Thai associate said it was not necessary when I subsequently asked her, "not too strict," however when we got through the slightly shorter Labour queue - it did turn out that I needed it. This time, they didn't need my employment contract - complete with whited out dates of employment, then recopied so there was no physical white out on the page, changed to more recent dates since I've basically been working illegally. This is Thailand - this is typical. The thought of having to go back for the medical certificate alone is nauseating, especially since I already have to go back; it was well worth subjecting myself to the maybe necessary maybe not blood draw syphilis test (the one actual medical test required) at a clinic near my apartment. Made it through the phobia of needles and blood draws by glancing all over the room and repeating "sanuk, sanuk..." (fun, fun...) over and over - the best I could do in Thai to remain calm (Mai Pen Rai does NOT help me remain calm, plus it's a lot more syllables) - though the practitioners at the clinic spoke some English as well. So glad to have that over with, the doctor concluded "She had good healthy," gave his literal official stamp of approval, and that was that. Some people have gotten by with a glance up and down, immediate stamp - the certificate itself is not strict - but needing to have it to obtain a work permit is again, all up to who is behind your counter at Labour. I think she didn't need my blood test result, but if I didn't have it done then I would have needed it - at least this is my personal justification for subjecting myself to a dreaded blood test and trying to avoid some of the cognitive dissonance of all of this.

Right - so after submitting documents at Labour and paying the 100 Baht application fee, Here's what's next: January 26th (Wednesday) return to Labour at 8:30 am sharp if possible to pick up work permit, also probably pay another fee for it. Then proceed immediately to Immigration, where somewhere in the airport terminal like building there is a place to pay for photocopying. Obtain two photo copies of work permit. Go BACK to Immigration queue. Go to food court, 7/11, buff nails for half an hour - (yes, I did that), etc., and try again for the Non-B Visa. Oh, and just now from a co-worker - apparently obtaining a multiple entry 'permit' is in addition to the visa, it requires a separate queue ticket and trip through the hullabaloo, which you CAN do on the same day - but which they will not grant without first having the visa - so huzzah, yet another trip through the madness. Oh joy.

A few asides on this topic before I wrap the post up: two of my colleagues had to go to Laos to re-apply for their Non-B Visa. Thankfully I'm already on a Non-B, so fingers crossed that I don't have to (though there are PLENTY of reputable and non-reputable companies that handle border runs for visas) - applications for Non-B must be made from outside the country - so if you started off on a tourist or spouse visa as was their case, you've got to hop the border to apply for your visa. In all honesty the worst repercussions I would face in my current situation are fines, not immigration detention, jail or deportation (that's reserved for other visa violations and persons who've also committed crimes beyond overstaying, or overstayed a very, very long time). So the day before expiration, here's to hoping everything falls into place. One of my co-workers relayed the story of his first visa/work permit, complete with three trips to Immigration and Labour and one jaunt to Laos (he was on the spouse visa) - and how everything fell into place on the exact day his visa expired. Otherwise, I look forward to blogging the experience of bussing to Laos with a border run agency.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I'm learning slowly. Some things have been easier to learn than others. Some of the bus routes most useful to me, for instance - I've picked up on. With over 500 bus routes, that's not a small feat. I've been called the 'bus queen' already, though I hardly think I know that much. Mostly I'm determined to learn to use the public transit I have access to (the sky train runs parallel to where I need to go); and I've been frustrated by enough taxis and tuk tuks that if I have time I'll sometimes wait an hour for a bus instead of hailing a taxi when traveling alone; despite relatively small savings between the two for shorter trips.

Other aspects of culture and adjusting have been more difficult. For instance, advance notice does not really exist in Thai culture for every day activities. The general time frame for finding out your presence is required somewhere, is to be told ten minutes after it starts, or after it's already over, and this is a recurring theme. After school today I was informed I was starting some private lessons, for example, approximately ten minutes after they should have started. I agreed to start private lessons previously and asked to know a day or two ahead of time when they would begin - knowing to a degree of about 50% that receiving notice probably wouldn't happen, but still hoping. Even when you request notice for things and are told yes, sure we'll tell you - it won't happen very often. Aside from such official things as weddings - time is very fluid, and even then.

School convocations are a similar need-to-know sort of thing. You might or might not have advance warning when there will be a school convocation - and unlike such events in the states where classes are herded to the event by their teacher, watched over during the event, and then escorted back - here the school is pretty much turned loose to attend the event, even for half the school day, or allowed to simply leave school for the day if they wish. Teachers are given the option of whether or not to release their students for a convocation. Though when a classroom of 12 year olds hears the head mistress tell you, "it's up to you whether to have class or let them go and take a look," the sound check of the concert has bass that is vibrating the entire campus, and they see you are the only thing standing between them and 'sanuk,' it's kind of a losing battle to even try to have a class.

I'm glad I didn't do much advance lesson planning before arriving. The bulk of my English class is grammar drills straight from the book - and though I'm trying to work more into it than just going straight through the required book, it's slow going. In computers class, for one of the videos the students did - they parodied my grammar teaching for about ten seconds. I would best describe their impression of my teaching as "Past Perfect Grammar Nazi." Oh well, I'm trying guys - though I laughed out loud when they first showed me the video.
Since they have another section for reading, and another section for speaking, I can't make the class too heavy in either of those areas - but it's also not practical to do it without those aspects at all. Computers class is another story - though the future computer room in our new building, as opposed to the cross the school yard commute to the 'old' building, is looking good so far - now there is flooring AND tables AND the beginnings of electrical and internet connections; and it's a really good sized room - not barely fit all the students and desks in as many classrooms are. Yes, you have to account for the equipment, it still looks promising. I stopped asking when it would be finished over a month ago - we'll just see. Computers curriculum is a story for another day.

I've learned that when a Thai tells you, in English, 'tomorrow,' a more correct English to English translation is: "someday between tomorrow and six months from now." I'm learning to ignore the Thai concept of 'tomorrow' and mentally replace 'tomorrow' with "someday, not today" because otherwise I go crazy. I've also learned of many more stories of visas and work permits - and that my current conundrum is not only very common - it's much, much better than many other situations. I recently met someone whose agency keeps their employees illegal indefinitely. And yes, plenty of teachers have taught illegally in Thailand for years - I'm not messing with that. From the sound of things everyone works illegally for at least three months at some point. Talk about complete culture difference.

I finally have my computer back, so I'm slowly catching up with photos, lessons, and the like. There's only so much you can do in an internet cafe. I've also finally gotten a chance to get out and meet some people outside my apartment building and school. Why so long? See what I said about advance notice in paragraph two. More later.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mental Snapshots, Rama V Throne Room

Things I've heard, seen, or smelled recently:
Tiger pelts for sale. 0_o
Puffer fish turned into multi-colored lanterns at a restaurant. (Khao Sarn)
Rain. It smells the same.

The throne room of King Rama V (Chulalongkorn), which is usually closed to visitors - opened for Children's Day (second Saturday of January in Thailand). Free admission (even farangs!) - except women must wear skirts, pants covering everything don't cut it. Required sarong cover up purchase, 40 baht. Seeing men who were wearing shorts forced to buy and wear the sarongs as well - priceless. Though some younger girls got away with pants - apparently prior to a certain age they register as "child" not "female - must cover, cover up!"

Am I in Thailand or did I just worm hole to Italy? Wait, there are Buddha images in the frescoes. Architecturally speaking, I might as well have been in Florence. And hey - there are marble statues of farangs everywhere. Hang on, he's (marble statue) got a very precariously draped cloth and no shirt - where's HIS sarong?!?! And don't get me started on the embroidery depiction's dress code violations - ah well. Noticeably, much of what was on display were contemporary replicas, commissioned to honor the King and/or Queen in the past two decades, keep traditional Thai arts from dying, and employ rural Thais that need the employment in the process. Cool over all I suppose, though I was expecting more things from you know, Rama V's time, and it did reduce the 'wow these have aged really well' factor to realize oh, it was completed in 2007. And again, I'm back in Italy - NO FOTO. Meh. I got a photo of the outside of the building. Sorry guys. Crafts included ridiculously intricate wooden carvings taller than two (maybe three) of me and just as wide depicting a Thai myth, meticulously crafted beetle wing ornamentations on sculptures and things - embroidery (mostly contemporary), crazy detailed gold boat sculptures with something like 70 artisans and 2 years of work to their names, and of course the frescoes, sculptures, marble, gold leaf Corinthian columns, and the throne itself. Replica or original? Couldn't tell you. It was pretty cool though.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sweet Home Alabama

Yet again from the internet cafe on Soi 2. Every computer is full, I think too many people are trying to use skype at once for it to go through. Limited Bandwidth. And a bit hard to hear with so many on skype at once - though the language mash up is quite entertaining. Supposedly getting my computer back January 14th - fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc., etc.

Today is my 25th birthday. How on Earth did that happen? Yesterday evening I went out to celebrate with just a few people I know - and I met a whole bunch more. I guess three birthdays were being celebrated? I'm not entirely sure, and I know I don't remember everyone's names. I haven't gotten the hang of the tonal language thing yet - though I've had a few successes; so single syllable names that differ by one vowel and a tone are quite tricky. I think I was one of two farangs at this gathering - maybe one or two with another group, everyone else Thai, plus at least one Japanese guy for a portion of the evening. It was a nice laid back gathering away from the insanity of Khao Sarn. Though as always, not without attempts at dating setups.

The evening was punctuated by more Western songs than I can even remember or name, but Sweet Home Alabama stuck out in my memory. And it actually sounded pretty good - the group was full of musicians, several of whom became the live band after the first hour or so.
I think this was probably also the first birthday I've celebrated sans snow or at least freezing temperatures. That was certainly different. I got to celebrate sitting outside with no jacket whatsoever. Though I did get a couple of mosquito bites, it's all a trade off.

Instead of peanuts, french fries or appetizers of that nature, there was a serve yourself soup bar. Various spices, herbs, noodles (ran out), and some sort of fish balls plus a huge vat of broth. It was alright. Of course, various Thai libations and buckets of ice galore (with the heat a lot more is served iced here). And in case you needed to know, Jack Daniels is available in Bangkok. I can't tell you the price for it, as it was my birthday. I can tell you I was doing alright up to that point. After that, well, I got a lot of sleep today.

I appreciated being welcomed into the celebration, and today some of my neighbors similarly gave hugs and small foodstuffs - a few didn't know prior to today that it's my birthday, which I suppose is true since this past week I've been arriving home quite late dealing with traffic, and I'm not connected to all of my neighbors via internet as much as by location. I also met a new neighbor - well, not new but they had been traveling since I've been here. She and her boyfriend work at the Israeli travel hub on Khao Sarn; and they have another friend visiting - I didn't meet the guy yet. The two girls welcomed me to hang out for a little bit, and were conversing in Hebrew - and filling me in with English here and there. So besides Thai, they claim I'll be picking up Hebrew here shortly as a Bangkok resident. I suppose we'll see.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Class Mind Mapping

I've successfully implemented a non-book activity in 9th grade grammar without it being a total flop. For the first week of the New Year, instead of opening the grammar book - I asked my students to write cards to someone they care about to actually send or give to the person, create a mind map of their 2011 goals, and a list of their 2010 accomplishments.

We then created a chalkboard mind map of one goal per student, and a chalkboard mind map of one accomplishment per student (one at a time based on the size of the chalkboard); and discussed them a little bit. Since we are studying different past tenses, and they've already studied some future tenses, I'm going to have them frame their writing and grammar activities with these mind maps in hopes of making it more relevant to them, easier to come up with ideas and slightly less grammar drill intensive. I also wanted them to be able to reflect on what they have accomplished in comparison to the new goals they are creating for themselves - a handful of them got it that I could tell, maybe more. We'll see how it goes.

Naturally things got a little silly, and my absolute favorite goal for 2011 is: "get married to Robert Pattinson." I had to resist telling this student how many other teenage girls she would have to fight for that one; or that it isn't exactly a reasonable goal, and just laugh it off. The concept of realistic goal/accomplishment didn't fully get through to some students, I just rolled with what I could get. As long as they can write about it I suppose.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Smoke and Mirrors

Since discovering I can borrow a cable (the school seems to have two audio cables for the whole EP section, and only one long enough for the computer lab) and hook up sound to a speaker in the back of the computer room - play time (as in computer class) has become much more bearable. If nothing else, I'm exposing my students to U.S. music besides Lady Gaga and her cohorts. Though her songs and many other American pop songs are often more readily heard than Thai, K-Pop or J-Pop depending on where you are in Bangkok. Thank goodness for youTube.

Debating about next project - this one is dragging on and on between sports-o-rama week and midterms. Definitely nothing requiring much - between handy drives (the Thai phrase for flash drives) eaten by viruses, internet outages and the like - it's pretty much where tech was at in the states over a decade and a half ago - with slightly newer operating systems, some nicer programs, even more malicious viruses - and fewer people over age 14 with any clue about how to use it or maintain it. Oh! Foreigner! Knows computers - can teach! Right.

And of course there is switching the whole lab off at the breaker box - which one of my students just did with the teacher's computer/server running and myself in mid typing - (something else, I wrote this entry in a paper journal first) - I'm not annoyed. I am not annoyed. It's great for computer well being to cut the power like that all the time.

It's better if I think of myself as an entertainer who happens to randomly give assignments; and has no responsibility for maintaining any of the equipment at all. This school does not take computing seriously, not just from a maintenance stand point. Part of why it's the hot potato class. Whatever, I'm sticking with it, presuming I have that choice - with a little more time (with functional equipment) I know I can do a little better. I have to bite the bullet on the breaker box though. I've shut out the concept of having the computer lab in this building as opposed to continuing to commute to the 'old' building and losing about half of the class time (it's already only 50 minutes a week, minus bathroom field trip, minus computer boot up, minus commute between buildings, minus trying to calm students down after walking between buildings...). It probably won't be done by June, when next school year begins.

Also - I can't get anything done in the computer lab after school for even 20 minutes before the janitor is waving his arms and proclaiming things in Thai about how we have to lock everything up. Makes it really difficult to plan anything, figure out what the student computers can actually do or even finish shutting down properly. I'm currently on the one free computer for all EP teachers (in the new building, Thai office), it has only been set up about a week and a half or so since the building move. It's really frustrating that all the foreign English teachers have been pigeon holed into one office, Thai teachers in another. Like it wasn't already obvious and awkward enough. Of course the foreigners will prefer to mingle with each other (HA) and not try to talk to Thai teachers, let's facilitate the segregation.

Maybe this all wouldn't bother me so much, the tech any way, if the school couldn't afford a better setup - but it's all aesthetics, all smoke and mirrors. The school brochure already boasts the merits of the computer lab and library that are barren rooms upstairs in the new building. The school had a multi course New Year's celebration lunch catered the last day of midterms (photos when I have that ability). Yet the building is unfinished enough that students have been injuring themselves more than usual on jagged unfinished edges of things. One of my M.3's was messing around yesterday and ended up requiring a row of stitches on his scalp from something metal jutting out of a wall he jumped into. The juxtaposition of these and other issues besides just culture shock have been rather maddening.

Ich habe eine Ohrwurm

Just when you think it can't get any weirder, that's when the Thai guy walks by wearing a 'My Man Mitch' t-shirt; complete with dreadlocks and a long drag on a cigarette. 0_o

I experienced a Thai aerobics class yesterday. The instructor was wearing a pink tank top with Jesus on it - crown of thorns and all. I don't think I kept up too well - but I wasn't the only one - though I was the only farang. The class was a kind of partially choreographed, slight hip-hop super mix, with a bit of belly dance and Thai style thrown in. The instructor was male - and so I had to work hard not to burst out laughing when he would bust out a falsetto, English song lyric. Songs included: Christina Aguilera - Candyman, a Panjabi MC mix with other techno/80s sampling, Beyonce - Single Ladies, and our cool down was Frank Sinatra - Fly Me to the Moon. All from the instructor's iPhone or iPod, not sure which - I certainly can't criticize his taste in music with that mash up, and considering it's an aerobics class.
My favorite song lyrics as added to the class by the instructor's voice included: "I'm not that kind of girl," multiple "then you shoulda put a ring on it," and of course "everybody dance now" - in the exact same tone and octave as the original. The instructor was almost as much of a trip as trying to figure out what move to do next.

I've visited a variation on Sam's Club, Makro, twice now - and thank goodness for it. Way cheaper than other places I've been going - and NO HAGGLING. Phew. Operation Rice Cooker, now complete - it looks like the rice cooker is going to become my do it all sort of crock pot slow cooker (plus small veggie steamer on the top). I resisted the urge to buy Maneki Neko brand (Japanese beckoning cat - NOT Chinese, my bad a few months back), because while I am a cat person, I chose a better looking model, different brand, for the same price of 399 Baht (approx. 15 dollars atm). If you're curious, check out the Maneki Neko legend.

Heh, two small tables and a microwave (two turn tables and a microphone)...and a rice cooker. That totally screws up my rhythm. Oh well.

Also, Ohrwurm - German: a portion of a song or other music that repeats compulsively within one's mind, put colloquially as "music being stuck in one's head." Literally "Earworm" in English. This tidbit shared with the office by my German colleague a few weeks back.

I don't think Dj Earworm's name is a coincidence.
Strangely, having this hyper pop earworm isn't bothering me yet. Either I'm that much in culture shock, or it's slowly imprinting my brain to drink Coca-Cola and wear cotton candy and duct tape as clothing or some such (see video), or both.

Also, apologies if my German title is wonky, I just used Google Translate, and switched to ohrwurm myself when google didn't recognize it.