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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sanuk with my Thai Family

Sawatdee ka!  I've just returned from a whirlwind weekend in Bangkok, (Krung Thep in Thai) and it's hitting me that the weekend is almost over...for awhile there I was getting used to the idea of being unemployed and enjoying endless weekends...back to reality!

This weekend I was invited to join some friends at a penthouse condo in the big city, we were picked up in the Soup by our hostess, Et, and her driver on Friday after school and ushered to our suite on the 25th floor.  We were psyched to find a shower with hot water (although it only worked once) and beds that actually had a little bit of cushion to them as we're used to sleeping on rock like mattresses.  We were treated to a sweet balcony view of the city from across the river and a delicious Thai meal with Et upon our arrival.

On Saturday we attended a retirement party for Et's husband that featured a Chinese menu of shark fin soup, suckling pig, octopus soup, and ginger balls for dessert.  I think there were about 14 courses - I did not actually sample any of the above items, it was too disturbing to try the pig when it was looking right at me! After a few speeches (lovely toasts I'm sure, too bad it was in Thai) the party got a little wild and crazy when the karaoke started with a fantastic ode to Elvis.   We were surprised to find that we were part of the entertainment when we were pulled onto the dance floor and asked to sing - we butchered our way through Hey Jude - but did receive a good deal of sympathy applause from the crowd and a few flowers for our skills.  It's hysterical to me that karaoke is EVERYWHERE here and everyone does it, and loves it.  Thai people sure do know how to break it down and have sanuk (fun)!

Thanks, but no Thanks! 

 That night we hit the town for a night on Khao San Road which is known to attract lots of backpackers so they had quite the street party going on for Halloween.  We ran into several fellow CIEE/OEG teachers and met a few new fellow farangs (foreigners).  Nell and I also had quite the dance party with a group of Thais, we taught them some of our fave moves and picked up some good ones from them.  Afterwards we were very proud of ourselves for carrying on a fairly decent conversation with them thanks to some assistance from my pocket sized Thai phrase-book, word of the night = Bam! (dance). Nell and I also staged a sweet jumping photo shoot in the middle of the street with anyone who felt inspired to join in, it was pretty hilarious trying to explain that we wanted them to jump on the count of 3, "neung, song, saam...whaaaat?"

We finished off our trip with an outing to one of Bangkok's floating markets and lunch on the river with Et and her husband - it is SO nice to go to a restaurant with someone who knows how to read the menu and can order for us and then explain what we're eating - the lunch also featured some interesting items like frog and duck blood - once again, I refrained...maybe someday...

Family Photo! 

Et was so kind to treat 6 strangers from America like we were part of her family.  It is so refreshing to meet people from a different culture who speak a different language and still feel welcomed and at home, it is easily my favorite part about traveling - there are so many interesting people to meet! I hope to be able to pay it forward one day when I meet someone who is traveling and have the chance to welcome them to my home, I know my parents are masters at this art as well and now I really understand how nice it feels to be on the receiving end!

Time to get back to my lesson planning, happy Halloween and Happy November!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Address Update

Just in case anyone was sending some Peanut Butter M&M's or Cheez-It's my way, I tracked down a better address for the school that you may want to try instead of the one I previously provided:

Sa-Nguan Ying School
attn: EP Office, Sarah Rall
134 Prachatippatai Street
A. Muang Suphanburi, Thailand 72000

Just call me Kru Sarah...

I've finally hit the books.

After two weeks of Orientation, side-trips, exploring and lots of Thai food - school officially started on Tuesday.  My normally quiet end of town was bumping with activity when I stepped out the door on Tuesday in my new pink polo shirt (sooo trendy!), there were policeman directing traffic and mopeds zooming by with 2, 3, 4 students piled on back.

Side note: I'm amazed at the way people ride mopeds here, I've seen people driving with a 2 year old on their lap, a boy on the back eating his breakfast of champions (noodles) on the way to school, a girl reading a book, and one woman in stiletto heels riding sidesaddle holding on with one hand while clutching her purse with the other.  At one point I would like to master the art of riding a moped, but for now I'm a little too scared.  I somehow don't think it's appropriate to grab on to the driver and wrap myself around him praying for my life.

As I mentioned previously, school has been a continual lesson of "Mai Pen Rai" or "Don't Worry About It."  I feel very blessed to be a part of the English Program at Sa-Nguan Ying because the small class sizes and excellent staff of fellow teachers has made for an easier adjustment, but there are still so many unanswered questions.  The textbooks we have been given are fairly thorough but also terribly boring - I just can't handle the idea of teaching my students a unit on Cosmetic Surgery, the Mobius Band, and Blood Types!  I will, however, definitely be tackling the chapters on Rodeos, International Baseball, and Jennifer Lopez.  I've been given very little insight on what topics were previously covered or where to begin, and the curriculum is pretty much up to me - which is both a good thing and a not so good thing.  It's been a lot of work and a lot of studying and research, but I'm enjoying it.  If any teachers out there have suggestions on games/activities for reading & writing I would so appreciate you sending it my way!

I've adjusted quickly to the idea of being barefoot all the time, I have to take off my shoes before I enter my classrooms and before I enter the teacher's office - it will be an interesting transition when I go back to the corporate world, somehow I don't think barefoot meetings would go over so well.  I have not adjusted to the idea of using a squat toilet at work...and bringing my own toilet paper to the bathroom with me. Luckily, they remodeled 2 of the bathroom stalls so they now feature Western-style toilets (with a seat) so that will hopefully be a one time experience.

Nell and I got a great shout-out on the school's website, I'll let you read our introductions (if you know Thai)  I like how they included our birthdays - apparently I was born in 2528.  Nice.  http://www.sy-ep.org/UserFiles/File/TEACH.pdf

This weekend I'm off to Bangkok with some friends to live the good life at someones family friend's penthouse suite - I'm sure it will be a very interesting weekend! There is a great group of fellow American teachers in our apartment, I'm sure they will be a very valuable support system as we get more involved in teaching, but they are also great people to grab a Singha with after school or travel around the country with to take in our new surroundings.

Here's a few pics of the school, it resembles a college campus in many ways, there are almost 3,000 students and about 95% girls, lucky dudes! : )

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mai Pen Rai

One aspect of Thai culture that I've definitely adapted to quickly is their Mai Pen Rai attitude, aka "Don't Worry About It".  The other day when Nell and I were sitting at dinner I was struck by how different our lives are when instead of our usual dinner convo of where should we go out this weekend and "so...who do we like?" Nell threw this perfectly legit question at me: "I wonder how many bugs I've eaten since I've been to Thailand?"  While I'm normally no fan of bugs invading my space, it's just another aspect of my new and very different life, and I can't help but approach it with a Mai Pen Rai frame of mind.  Yes, I'm constantly attacked by mosquitoes; Yes, my bedroom and desk at work are crawling with ants and other unknown insects; Yes, I can look around any restaurant I'm in and count at least 10 geckos hanging from the ceiling above my head...but, all I can say is...Mai Pen Rai.  

This weekend I had planned to head up north to one of my fave places on earth, Chiang Mai, but we were nervous when we walked out our front door and saw that the main road in town had been flooded (see below) and we didn't want to miss our first day of teaching because we were stuck way up north.

So to take a break from the Soup, we decided to join several of our friends a few hours down South in Hua Hin to relax on a beach.  Hua Hin is a fancy resort town, apparently it is very big with Europeans, so there were a lot more food choices, as well as people that could speak English.  After several major food FAILS in Suphan Buri last week, including one night where 4 of us went out, ordered our separate chicken/veggie meals (we thought), and the waitress returned with 3 plates of fried egg and plain white rice, we were definitely in need for some variety.  Of course, that ended up being lots of grilled cheese, banana crepes, and banana shakes - but it was delicious!!  It was really nice to meet up with some of our orientation friends and hear how everyone else was settling in to their new living situations, and of course we had a lot of fun taking on the karaoke bar in town.

Here's a few pics of my beach vaca...I know, I know, tough life!  I did, however, start teaching today and it was very overwhelming, but I'll save the deets on that for my next post.  Let's just say I'll have to be sure to carry that Mai Pen Rai attitude with me to school...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I love sweating, sweating's my favorite.

I have decided that my hardest job the next year may be staying hydrated.  It is so hot here I literally start sweating the moment I enter my hallway, I've been drinking tons of water, but this heat is hard to beat. (Did I mention this is their cool season?) The humidity is also something special, Nell and I made it about 5 full days before we both broke down to buy hair straighteners...I thought I could go without, but it was an out of control frizz fest.

I'm really liking my new digs - I've spent some time the past 2 days walking around, exploring the sights, and being a spectacle in town as one of few foreigners or "farangs".  Literally every time I walk down the street, into a store, or into a restaurant, everyone looks up and stares and giggles.  Occasionally I will hear a "Hello" or even a few "Yo"s, but for the most part it's a lot of smiles and "wais"  (a wai is a slight bow and the Traditional Thai greeting, I'm def. bringing this back whenever I return to the US).  There are very, very few people in our town that speak English.  Even the fellow teachers in the English Program that we met today (the English nicknames they chose are Bird and Star) were hard to converse with - I will be practicing my Thai daily!

My apartment is really nice, I have a massive King Size bed, Air Conditioning (!!), a TV (only 1 or 2 English channels, but hey, it will help out my Thai), a balcony, and a "wet bathroom".  The bathroom is...different.  The shower has no walls or shower curtain, I was scared the first time I took a shower that it would flood everything, but I actually managed to do OK, there's a slight step from my bathroom to my apt. so that water can't escape.  It's definitely something new.  There's also no hot water, which I thought would be awful, but it really is so hot here that it doesn't matter that much.

That's about all for my home tour - plenty of space for visitors though...start researching your tickets!  Our town is cute, lots of action in the markets, so many street vendors, and I've already identified several good places to buy a Thai iced coffee (gah-faa yen), so aroi! (delicious)  Today Nell and I checked out the Giant Dragon in town which is a Chinese temple and the Dragon Descendants Museum.  It was pretty sweet, we got a great view of Suphan Buri from the top and we made friends with two Thai women who laughed at every attempt we made to speak with them...at least we're trying! 

Also, you may have heard about the flooding in Thailand - no one here seems to be too concerned when we ask them about it, but I'm also not sure they understand the question, good thing my apt. is on the 4th floor!  We have noticed a lot of stores building cement walls around their entrances, which we're guessing is their way to protect it from the flood, I'll keep you updated if I'm taking a boat around town in the next few days...

New pics on Facebook.

If you would like to contact me, there are a few ways:
  • Cell Phone: 084 542 0589 ( Country code is +66)
  • Skype: sarah.e.rall
    Thailand Tidbits:

    • Not only am I living in the future because I'm 11-14 hours ahead of the US in terms of time zone, it's also the year 2553, because their calendar is the Buddhist Calendar.  
    • There are more than 28 different varieties of bananas in Thailand! 

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Off to the Souuuup!

    I am finally set up in my new apartment and my home for the next year in Suphan Buri (aka The Soup) - it's a great little town in the midst of a lot of rice paddies - I dig it.

    We finished up Orientation with a trip to Kanchanaburi - which is a beautiful city - I think for a lot of us the area made us fully realize that we live in SouthEast Asia.  It had a very tropical/jungle/muggy feel to it, and there were some really beautiful mountains in the distance.  We didn't have time to explore the waterfalls of the area  but we did get to go rafting on the River Kwei and ride elephants - which is definitely a highlight.

    The bamboo rafting was so relaxing, our guide was singing Thai songs the entire time and a few people remarked that it was "just like Venice"...only not at all.  Elephant riding was amazing and terrifying at the same time.  Nell and I were on the same elephant, Kondi, she was a cutie, and I think her mahout thoroughly enjoyed making fun of my Thai skills - I must be pronouncing Thank You (Kob Khun Ka) completely wrong, because whenever I say it to a Thai person they laugh and repeat me.  Good thing I have a year to practice!  At one point the mahout hopped off and must have given Kondi a command to run because she went buckwild - my back was banging into the seat and I currently am sporting a huge welt because of it - Kob Khun Ka, Kondi.  The mahout then let me take the reins and I got to sit on Kondi's neck - I definitely got a new perspective on how strong and enormous elephants are.  Once I relaxed I really enjoyed my time as a mahout and may consider a second career while I'm here.

    My other big adventure yesterday was a trip to the grocery store in town - it pretty much blew my mind and completely overwhelmed me.  While some of the other Americans rooms came with a microwave or a kettle - mine came only with a fridge - so there wasn't much I could buy in terms of food - I'm hoping I'll figure that out as I go.  I did have fun exploring the options though, found some really great Pringles flavors: Seaweed, Blueberry & Hazelnut, Grilled Shrimp, and Soft-Shelled Crab.  I'll let you know when/if I ever try them.  As I said I'm still working on that whole "try new foods" thing.  Once we left the store, 5 American girls with lots of purchases, we were told that the van had left so we were taking tuk-tuks home...it was quite the "We Live in Thailand" moment.  We managed to squeeze it all in though and I'm feeling much more settled now.  

    Nell and I are going to walk around Suphan Buri today to check out our surroundings and try to get our bearings.  Hopefully tonight I'll have time to post some pics on facebook.

    Interesting Thailand tidbits: 
    • The number 5 in Thailand is "Ha", so instead of writing "LOL", Thais will say "555"
    • The animal sounds are totally different - we demonstrated our version of a bee, a cow, a dog, a monkey to our Thai teacher and she then showed us how Thais would demonstrate--it was quite hysterical, hopefully at some point I can capture my students on video and send your way.
    • The Thai words for curry and prostitute are the same - it depends on the tone used.  So you could think you are asking for "curry powder" and really be saying "whore dust".  I think I'll stick to plain rice for now...

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    Bangkok: Hot and Muggy

    I have arrived!

    After a very, very long flight from Chicago to Seoul to Bangkok, I finally arrived on Tuesday evening.  So far it's been go, go, go with orientation by CIEE's partner in Thailand, the Overseas Education Group (OEG).

    I've had my first Thai lesson, my first teaching lesson, an introduction to Thai culture, and yesterday Nell and I finally got some details on what we're doing at our school when we had a chance to meet with our coordinator.  We will be teaching in the English Program, a special program at the Sanguan Ying School for students who have been selected because they are good at speaking/understanding the language - sweet! I will be teaching 7th grade or M1 reading and writing and 9th grade (M3) reading and writing and fundamental English (basically conversation).  I will only have 25 students in each class, about 16 per week at 50 minutes a piece.  This is definitely lucky considering the other teachers at our school have been told they will be teaching to a class of 40-50 students. We were also informed that on Tuesdays we have to wear a pink shirt, on Wednesdays a white T-shirt for the English Program, and on Thursday a school uniform.  Guess it's time to go shopping for pink!  We're teaching in the city of Suphan Buri in the province of Suphan Buri and our apartment is supposedly right next to the school, which will make for a very easy commute.

    So far a highlight of Thailand has been the food, obviously.  It's been entertaining to walk up to a food stand and point to a picture but have no idea what I'm ordering, and what I get always looks vastly different than the picture -but it still tastes delicious!  A few of us went to dinner one night and when they brought the food out none of it looked like anything we had ordered, so we all just picked a dish that looked good and went for it.  I'm definitely going to have to get over my picky eating habits since I will likely have no idea what I'm eating for the next year.  I've at least mastered the food basics: Chicken (Gai) and Pork (Moo).  I'm still learning the proper ways to eat - Thais don't ever use knives, they use the fork as a knife to push the food onto a spoon, which is what they use to eat everything.  I've had some difficulty trying to cut my food with a fork and spoon - especially chicken wings with last night's welcome dinner...it was not pretty.  

    We went to the Grand Palace yesterday, a beautiful sight to see, last time I went (in 2004) we had no tour guide, so it was great to hear a bit about the Palace and Thailand history as we explored. Up next: a few more Thai lessons, some teaching practice, and on Monday - a trip to Kanchanaburi to ride elephants and go bamboo rafting.  From there it's off to my new home for the next year - Suphan Buri!  I can't wait to finally not be living out of a suitcase and to explore my new digs.  Here's a few pics of my adventures so far...

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    I'm ready!

    It's really happening...
    After months of preparations and a good-bye tour that took me from Boston to New York to Chicago to St. Louis, I'm finally ready to board the plane to Thailand to start the next phase in my life!

    The preparations have been never ending, in the past few weeks I've had to get my vaccinations (Japanese Encephalitis, Hep. A, Typhoid, Polio Booster, Tetanus Booster, Flu Shot), I've seen 4 different doctors and my dentist for final check-ups, I've had to fill out multiple forms to change my address from Boston to St. Louis, I've packed up, sold and donated all of my belongings except for 2 suitcases, I've cancelled my cell phone service, deferred my student loans, and made several trips to Target, WalMart, and Sam's Club for any random supplies I might need in the next year.  I've visited all of my favorite people and all of my favorite places.  Finally, it's time to take off...

    Peace out, America. Bring it on, Thailand.

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