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.