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Monday, November 29, 2010

Same Same, but different.

I feel like I took a trip to America this weekend - Siam Paragon Mall in Bangkok - it hosts many major American retailers and all of the world's top luxury brands.  After a lot of traveling and teaching and Thai food over the past 2 months, this weekend I treated myself to some things I've really been missing - goldfish crackers! Mexican food! pretzels! bagels! Starbucks Peppermint Mocha!  It was expensive by Thai standards - but a great shot of home on Thanksgiving weekend as well as a good dose of Holiday cheer since I was able to enjoy Bangkok's Christmas lights, trees, and Santa decorations.  I even got to meet a famous Thai singer in the process - I have no idea what his name is, but everyone else was playing paparazzi so I figured, why not?
Celebrity Sighting: His hair is a work of art. 
I also hit up Chatuchak Market - one of the world's largest outdoor markets (over 10,000 stalls!) and quite possibly the most overwhelming place I've ever been.  It takes Christmas shopping to a whole new level - if I can figure out how to ship a box to Switzerland the Rall fam's Weihnachten in der Schweiz could have some Thai flavor in my place.

For anyone looking to impress the staff at their local Thai joint - see below for a few of my fave phrases in Thai - there are days when I feel like my Thai is really coming along, and then I listen to a Thai conversation and find that I understand maybe 1 in every 80 words...yikes.

Hue how/Im leau = I'm hungry/I'm full.  Thais like to eat, and, why shouldn't they - their food is aroi mak (very delicious) aside from being jing-jing prik (very spicy).  I've noticed that there's no bad time to eat - the vendors seem to always be open - and anytime you want gai or moo (chicken or pork) on a stick, you barely have to walk 5 feet to indulge, of course over-indulgence (and maybe it's the excess amount of khao (rice) as well) lead me to alternate between being either very hungry or very full.

Bai nai? = Where are you going? I get this all the time when I'm walking around, especially in The Soup.  Tuk-tuk drivers and moped taxis along with shop-owners and random people - everyone seems very interested in my destination.  People also like to yell out random English phrases - I admit it will be a rough transition when I go back to the States and don't hear people yell out "beautifulllll" as I walk down the streets.  I've already perfected the Miss America wave and I'm loving every minute of my current fame, 555 (hahaha)!

Nee arai? = What is this?  I find myself asking this a lot, mainly with food, but especially when I see a version of the Thai dessert.  Thais are really into jelly in all its forms, sweetened condensed milk is used in excess, they love to mix flavors, and rarely does a dessert taste like it looks - let's just say I really miss brownies.

Meuan ghan = Same Same  - one of my favorite Thai phrases. Thais say this, both in Thai and in English, all the time.  This weekend in Bangkok I saw shirts that read "same same, but different" - this pretty accurately depicts the true meaning of the Thai saying - they always say same same, but they really mean, not at all.  This bus will get you to Bangkok just like the minivan, same same - but different, because you'll stop and pick up every other person standing on the road for the 100 km drive and it will take 3x as long, mai pen rai!

Christmas Decorations in Bangkok!
635 Baht for a box of Cheerios...yep, that's more than $20!

A very happy gal with my Starbucks PepMocha!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Turkey Day to those of you in the good ole' US of A.  I had almost forgotten it was Thanksgiving - maybe it has something to do with the 95 degree weather here.  There will be no turkey for me this year, no mashed potatoes, and no pumpkin pie - but you can be sure there will be rice!  Some of my fellow American teachers living in the Soup are getting together for a makeshift Thanksgiving meal, but I will be in Bangkok for the evening on a boat trip down the river with my school's English Program.  Perhaps I'll try to explain to my Thai students why we celebrate this day in America.

Since it's the day we usually toast to what we're thankful for, I thought I would share a few things that I'm grateful for in my new life in Thailand after my first month and a half here:
  • Thai people and culture:  They are so friendly and kind and generous - I have learned so much from them already and how they handle every situation with a "Mai Pen Rai" (no worries) attitude and a smile.  I'm also obsessed with the tuk-tuks they use to get around, the "wai" they use to greet each other, and their deep love of karaoke.
  • Travel opportunities: There are so many beautiful sights to see in this country, I've already seen so many great sunsets, waterfalls, elephants, mountains, beaches, and rice paddies, and there's so much more to do.  I'm super thankful for easy and cheap transportation and lodging that allow me to explore this country, even on my teacher's salary.  
  • Meeting vagabonds: I love meeting people from Israel, South Africa, Italy, France, Switzerland, New Zealand, Scotland, Australia, Germany, Ireland, South Korea, China and England as they travel around the world for 2 weeks or 1 year - it's such a great cultural exchange and I've met some really cool/interesting/inspiring peeps.
  • My students: These kids provide endless entertainment, they are sweet, full of energy, and occasionally terrors - but they make me laugh and they challenge me every day to come up with new and exciting ways to teach them about my three favorite activities - reading, writing, and talking! 
  • My BFF Nell/Deej/DJ/Jill: It's so nice to have someone to share this crazy journey with - we travel, grab meals and test our ever-increasing tolerance for spicy food, take outdoor Jazzercise, commiserate and celebrate our lesson plan failures and successes, and practice our Thai together - it would be a much bigger adjustment here on my own.
And last but most certainly not least:
  • My family and friends: I was worried I would lose touch with some people being so far away and out of contact, and then there's that whole 12-15 hour time difference to the States, but everyone has made so much effort to keep me updated. I am very, very thankful for all of the cards, packages, emails, facebook messages, tweets, g-chats, skype calls, etc that have been sent my way.  I hope you enjoy your turkey and all of its' stuffings, go wild on Black Friday, and watch lots of football! Khob Khun Ka! 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Loy, Loy Krathong.

The last week has been super busy but full of fun times. To recap...

On Thursday morning we had an early-morning wake up call along with the 200 or so EP students as we took off for a "camping trip" to Kanchanaburi (camping trip = luxury resort?).  Kanchanaburi is a beautiful province to the west of the Soup with trees, mountains, waterfalls, etc. I have a feeling I will be making many trips there over the next year.  The camp involved a lot of ice-breaker games for the kids and 4 hours of group activities on Friday with teams rotating through stations such as "color with nature," crossing a rope bridge across the river, and my spot: "the human knot."  Initially they asked Nell and I to lead an exercise on global warming. We were told to put the whole group (18-20 kids) into a tent, close it for a minute, take a breather and then put them back in the tent, this time with some burning incense, in order to discuss air quality and why it was hard to breathe.  Our co-teacher told us, "just don't keep them in there for too long or they will pass out," ooookay.  Once we arrived at our station and were greeted with a one-person tent, we decided to ditch that idea so we didn't have to rely on our CPR training and go with the human knot instead which I think the kids enjoyed.

Since Nell and I were already in Kanchanaburi, we decided to stick around for part of the weekend rather than go back with the bus full of kids, so we had an extra day and a half to check out some sites.  Friday we took a long walk through town back to the River Kwai, caught a beautiful sunset from our hostel right on the water, and treated ourselves to a pricey but deliciously worth it pizza dinner to satisfy our cheese-deprived taste buds.  We went out on the town that night and made friends with some British boys and a few Thai bartenders who were actually impressed by our Thai skills - we're working on it!  We ended up closing down the place at 5am - yikes! But Nell and I were true champs and still managed to make our self-imposed 7:45am wake up call to hit up the Erawan Waterfalls where we met up with some fellow teachers and hiked up all 7 tiers where we were able to swim under the falls and see some breathtaking, picture-perfect scenes.  Along the way we had to fight off some "fierce monkeys" that like to steal tourists' bags, fish that like to eat the dead skin off of feet (free pedicure!), and an hour and a half bus ride seated next to a crowing rooster on his way to a cock fight. We barely made the last bus back to the Soup on Saturday night, the bus was literally overflowing and Nell rode the first half of the journey halfway out the open door at the back of the bus.  We made it home and promptly crashed for the evening after a long but amazing day.

Sunday was a big day in Thailand, Loy Krathong, or the festival that celebrates the spirits of the water.  Thais celebrate by making small floats or Krathongs out of banana leafs or bread and candles which they then place in the river.  It's all very visually captivating, and it seemed like most of the Soup was out to celebrate with traditional Thai dance, coconut ice cream, fireworks, and large paper lanterns launched into the sky.  All in all another amazing/ridiculous weekend in Thailand: meeting cool people from around the world, trying new things, and hiking up mountains for some gorgeous views.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A birthday cake, a chest x-ray, and some ancient ruins

Hello, Hello.  My birthday weekend began with an iced coffee and a pineapple pastry from Nell, no better way to start my 25th year!  When I got to school I was given my first piece of mail here, a birthday card from my sis Kathleen that sang and featured a recorded poem she created, super cute.  The kids were also very aware it was my birthday thanks to Kru Nell passing along the message.  While I was teaching my first class of the day I was serenaded by my M.3 students "Happy Birth Day To You," it was pretty special, and once I returned to my office I found my desk overflowing with cards from the students in Kru Nell's M1 and M2 classes.  Some of the cards were extremely artistic and detailed, and all of the messages were amazing, here's a sample:
  • "Kru Sarah I hope you happy in birthday and every day  You're good teacher.  You teach me so fun."
  • "Happy Birth Day.  Have a good thing come to your life."
  • "Happy Birthday Kru Sarah.  Kru Sarah is very good teacher.  Have an enjoy. I love you."
  • "November 12, your birthday! I like you so much.  You are rejoice!"
  • "Happy Birthday Kru Sarah have a good time Health, and I ask God to protect you forever."
  • "I wish you healthy.  You are so cute and beautiful. I wish you beautiful more than everyone.  I wish you happy in your Birth Day and everyday. I love you."
Small sample of the birthday cards!
I also received a delicious birthday cake from the EP program and was treated to my 4th "Happy Birthday" serenade of the day - I'm so thankful for a great work environment! Amidst all the birthday celebrations, there was some Visa/Work Permit business to attend to so Nell and I made our first...and hopefully, last visit to the Suphanburi Hospital.  It was an experience!  We were greeted upon entry by a few elderly patients on stretchers chillin' in the hallway.  The forms were all in Thai so our co-teacher, Kru Phon, took control. Once in, we were moved around from room to room, including one stop where Kru Phon said we needed to get our "butt checked," Nell and I both couldn't contain our laughter and were also seriously scared for what sort of procedure we were about to undergo, but after asking Kru Phon for more details and a few pronunciation lessons and quick game of charades, we figured out she meant to say: "blood checked," crisis averted.  As we were moving through the hospital, and attracting the attention of every single patient/doctor/nurse, we also passed a few prisoners shuffling along, carrying their heavy shackles while security kept an eye out, yikes! We then had to give a chest x-ray, assuming the most interesting position and using some seriously outdated technology, before we were shipped off to another room and another line.  Next, we sat down with a doctor where I attempted to tell him I had asthma and was allergic to penicillin...and I'm pretty sure he understood nothing, but he signed off on my letter of good health and I should be good to go.  I can only pray that I stay healthy in my year here and don't need to go back for serious medical issues!  

On Saturday, Nell and I decided to ship out to Ayutthaya, a 2 hour bus ride from the Soup, and a tourist hot-spot due to the ruins and temples you can find there (Ayutthaya is a former capital city of Thailand).  Nell and I rented a tuk-tuk (our favorite mode of transportation) for 3 hours to take us around town to all of the famous spots, most of them were built in the late 1400's to early 1600's, and it's pretty amazing that anything is still standing, although some look as though they are one brick away from toppling.  Once we returned to our hostel we took off again for a longtail boat tour around the city where we were able to see a few more temples with a beautiful sunset in the background.  We were also able to see the effects of the flooding around the city, with many buildings featuring a very high water-mark and some temples inaccessible due to the still high water.

Nell and I spent the night in relative luxury, we splurged on a slightly more expensive hostel for the bonus of hot water and I must say it was quite a tease, it made my cold shower this morning even more painful!  Sunday we did a little more exploring around the city center, the market, and we took a lot of jumping shots around the ruins before grabbing a bus back to the Soup where we pretty much passed out from exhaustion due to 2 days full of walking, climbing stairs and fighting off 95 degree heat.  All in all, a wonderful weekend and a good start to 25! Thanks for all the birthday wishes, I could get used to this whole 36 hour birthday thing with the time difference from the States to here! : )  Here's a link to some more pics on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2312213&id=1606236&l=53655f3be9

Love the tuk-tuks! 

Rocking the fisherman pants! 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Suphan Living

Last night I had the privilege of attending what I can only describe as a mix of the Olympics Opening Ceremony, a Justin Bieber concert, and a 4th of July fireworks display that literally set me on fire.  Where to begin?

We were told last week that the English Program (EP) teachers and the exchange students would be attending the Opening Ceremony for the Suphanburi Games - and that was the only information we were given.   (Side note: for the next few weeks there are about 15 American teenagers from Lodi High School in Wisconsin and about 6 Tasmanian teenagers visiting as part of an exchange program at the school).  Yesterday after school, an easy day for me considering all of my classes had been cancelled so the students could practice for their evening performance, we were shuttled into the school bus with the school driver, Mr. Legend, and off to the Suphanburi Games.

Once we arrived we were ushered to our seats right in the center and right next to the spot of honor reserved for the Ex-Prime Minister of Thailand, who hails from Suphanburi, and handed a yellow flag to wave around to show our pride.   We had no idea of the spectacle that awaited us.

What followed was 3 different concerts, which I'm told--and I believe based on the reaction of the crowd and the decibel level of the teenage girls screaming--featured the biggest pop stars in Thailand, a few speeches by important people, a parade of provinces and their representatives to the Games, and a fireworks and torch lighting display that can only be described as above and beyond anything I've ever seen for a high school sports competition in the States.  The torch was lit by two Thai teenagers, suspended above the crowd by wires, who took the smaller torch from the Prime Minister and lit something that then set off a series of explosions that zip-lined across and around the main stadium before setting fire to the big torch.  It also set off a fireworks display that quickly ended in most people suffering from smoke inhalation and left me with a hole in my skirt after an ash briefly set it on fire.  It was definitely an experience!

New favorite Pop Star! 

All in all, it was a really great night, the traditional Thai music and dance are so beautiful and captivating, it was a great welcome not only for the exchange students in their first few hours in this country, but also for me as I'm still getting acclimated to my new surroundings.  Nell and I both admitted we got a little bit emotional watching the events unfold, we feel so lucky to be able to take part in these festivities in our adopted hometown!

Reminds me of a certain celebration in the North End...

I think this crowd features the entire population of the Soup
The fireworks that set me on fire; thanks to the lady behind me for defusing the situation.  

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"My grass is leaking"

Now that I've got a better handle on what my role as teacher will be, I thought I would give you an update on my life in the classroom.  I'm working with the 7th (M1) and 9th (M3) graders at Sa-nguan Ying School, and wow are they cute.  First of all, their names. They all have nicknames to make it easier for the poor folks like myself that could never pronounce their Thai names, and some of them are just extra special, here's a small sample: Arm, Nine, Eye, Donut, Cartoon, Ping Pong, Dream, Mean, Air, Champ and Wow.  I'm not sure how or when they chose these nicknames, but I'm thankful that they have them!

I'm teaching the students Reading & Writing and Fundamental English - which is primarily focused on listening and speaking English.  I spend a lot of time with my students working on pronunciation - something which I previously thought was no big deal - but it has surprised me how important it is to focus on.  Some common problem sounds/words for Thai speakers are the words that end in -ce, -se, or -x - since word endings are usually dropped in the Thai language.  They also have a very hard time with the letter "R", convenient because my name is Sarah, so I've become either Sarah with a rolling R or "Salah" - which is appropriate given there was also no R in the Zulu language of South Africa so I went by a similar name when I studied abroad in Cape Town.  Salah it is.

I've experienced some great success in my lessons and also some epic fails - sometimes with the same lesson to a different class of students.  I'm continually amazed at how much work goes into my lesson plans - I spend all day when I'm not teaching researching teaching styles and methods and then I spend most nights developing lesson plans - I have so much more respect than I already did for all of my teachers! I will definitely have my work cut out for me in teaching both my M1 and M3 students to write, last week I asked them to write one sentence for each of the 10 vocabulary words we had learned in class, 6 of the 16 students decided not to do the homework (this is typical in Thai education) and those that did turned in some very interesting work.  Here's a sample of their sentences:
  • My grass is leaking.
  • My essential thing is study.
  • Paper boat is flating on water in the boat have a duck.
So...while grading papers is extremely entertaining, it also makes me realize that I have quite the challenge ahead of me!  My Thai co-teacher told me after class that I really had to stress that they turn in their homework, she said, "I told them in Thai: Do your homework or I will cut your skull."  Um, thanks?

Other than lesson plans and grading, the school has been very welcoming to their foreign teachers, this week they had a welcome ceremony before classes for all of the new teachers.  I had to make a short speech in front of all of the faculty and staff and the 2,600+ students.  I kept it short and sweet but also mixed in my "nidnoi Thai" (little Thai).  "Sawatdee Ka, Chan chue Sarah, chan ma jak America, I teach M1 and M3 in the English Program."  The speech was met with resounding applause...well, kind of! I also received a bouquet of white roses and a school pin from the Director.  Today the teachers spent the whole day in a conference on Challenge Based Learning, complete with group activities and what I would call the Thai version of "Buddy Walkers" (my Sunset Point Camp friends will understand). Tonight, the English Program is having its welcome dinner for Nell and I, we've been forewarned that there will be karaoke, of course, so I guess I should go warm up my voice! 

My flowers and school pin! 
Single file entrance to school every day
Morning Assembly
Raising the flag: Morning Assembly video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VX6DTFj7sqI

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