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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wai Kru: or Why It's Cool to Teach in Thailand

Last week our school held its annual "Wai Kru" ceremony and it was one of those special Thailand moments that makes me happy to be living and teaching in this culture.  A "Wai" is the traditional Thai greeting of respect with hands together and a bow of the head, and "Kru" in Thai means teacher. Therefore, the ceremony was essentially a chance for the students to show their respect to the teachers of Sa-nguan Ying School.

The ceremony began with a Buddhist prayer and the students singing several songs in Thai, they made quite the choir, and even though I couldn't understand the songs it was a really nice way to start off the ceremony.  After a moment of tribute to the King, including the students singing the Royal Anthem (love this song!) the students bowed in greeting as the director walked in.  According to someone who translated the ceremony for me, the students were chanting their appreciation for teachers and pledging their respect.

For the Wai Kru ceremony, each class makes an offering that they present to the staff, and they pretty much have creative freedom - some of my favorite offerings included a Doraemon replica, a duck, and a 3-tiered floral display that was just barely able to stay together. The offerings are mainly composed of flowers, and supposedly each flower represents something different, such as respect, patience and discipline.

The offerings were presented to the Director and the rest of the teachers at SY by selected class representatives who walked up to the stage on their knees with their heads bowed as a sign of respect.  I didn't score a seat on the stage, but I had a really good view of the ceremony from my seat on the side, it was really cute to see the students make their way to the front and present the faculty with the offerings.  Teachers in Thailand have the ultimate respect of both the students and Thai society as a whole, it was refreshing and beautiful to see the students show their respect in such a uniquely Thai way through this ceremony and I'm glad I got to experience it in my time here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Back to Kanch

This semester seems to be flying by - I just started my 6th week of teaching - which is terrifying considering there are only 18 weeks of teaching this semester.  I'm already 1/3 of the way through my final semester here!

This weekend I wanted to take a little trip to get the heck out of dodge... I mean Suphan.  Since islands tend to be too far for the weekend and Bangkok can get old, it was back to my stomping grounds in Kanchanaburi, just a short, hot, crowded bus ride away.  I've probably been to this small hangout 5 or 6 times since my arrival in Thailand, but there's good reasons I keep coming back - namely pizza, massage treatments and hammocks. In 24 hours I managed to satisfy all of those cravings and was able to hang out with some of my fellow teachers here and some friends from orientation way back when.  I had some amazing pizza at a restaurant owned by a Swiss man, which implies delicious imported cheese.  I was also able to enjoy an oil massage followed by a Thai herbal compress and hot stone massage - which basically involved a Thai woman sitting on me while simultaneously beating my back with a small bag of rocks.  It still somehow felt pretty good, and although I was a little sore the next day, it was a sufficiently relaxing experience. Since I was feeling particularly indulgent this weekend, I managed to go back to the shop the next morning before I left town for an hour long facial that involved a scrub, a mask and a massage - it was heavenly and at one point I'm pretty sure I melted into the chair in a state of pure bliss. After a little more time lounging in the hammocks on the riverfront at the Jolly Frog hostel it was back to life, back to reality.

Why I love Kanchanaburi... in photos:

Hammock time: booyeah!
Delicious Pizza! 
Relaxing Aroma Oil Massage - 'nuff said!
Peace and Quiet with friends. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

PTL: The Mon, The Myth, The Legend

Pad Thai Lady.

I'm sure I've spoken about my revere for Pad Thai Lady (also dubbed PTL) plenty on this blog, and how I want to bring her home with me in my carry-on luggage, but really she deserves every ounce of praise she gets, and her very own blog post!  This lady can cook.  She doesn't need a fancy kitchen with crazy gadgets and granite counter tops.  No way, all PTL needs is a sidewalk, a few tables and chairs in her living room, some fresh veggies, and a large selection of sauces and cooking oils.  PTL (real name: Mon) is a legend in Suphanburi - she speaks no English, but she serves as the personal chef for a majority of the farang in our town who don't have kitchens in our apartment and who thus seek her out almost every evening to whip up some Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, Khao Pat Gai, Phad Phak Ruam, Phad Kee Mow, etc - rice or noodles - up to you!

As of Tuesday, It's officially been 8 months since I left the USA for Southeast Asia, and while there are many things I miss from America, one thing I know I'll have a hard time leaving when it's time to go back is PTL.  I think she has spoiled my opinion of Thai restaurants in America forever.  I'll never be able to eat at a Thai restaurant and pay $10-15 for a meal I used to get for 90 cents! I'm sure I'll also miss the whole set-up: eating everything with a spoon, never knowing if the water you're going to drink will make you sick later on, the fact that there are no doors or windows on the restaurant, the Thai soap opera blaring in the background, the family photos that decorate the walls, and of course the dogs, cats, geckos and mosquitoes that hang out at your feet while you eat. Sure, it's different - but it's all part of the experience, and I LOVE it. Now I just have to convince Mon to come to America (whatever city I eventually end up in) to continue to serve me delicious Thai feasts, mai pen rai, right?  If nothing else, my goal before I leave is to at least convince her to teach me how to make a mean Pad Thai, which means I better get working on my Thai phrase-book!

In other news, the Social Studies teacher at Sa-nguan Ying School, Kru Tuke, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study in America for 6 weeks in a program at Amherst College.  Everyone here is so proud of Kru Tuke and Nell and I are excited (and a little jealous!) to send her off with a list of things to do and see while she's in Boston.  Here's a link to Tuke's blog that she's set up for students and friends who want to follow her experiences in the US: http://discovertheuswithkrutuke.blogspot.com/

Monday, June 13, 2011

Music Monday: Featuring "Bird"

I probably should have started sharing some of my favorite Thai music with you way back when, but it's never too late, and I think Bird is the perfect start - 555.

This song has been playing in my head about 40% of the time since I moved to Thailand, and that could be helped by the fact that I always hear it blaring from songtows passing or karaoke parties, and every time I say the words "too much" in class it is followed by a chorus of very cute students singing "so much very much."  I'll let you check it out for yourself.  A lil' background: Bird, the singer, is a 52 year old Thai pop star with serious dance moves and this song spent a lot of time this past year in the #1 spot of Thailand's music charts.  It's hard to believe he is 52 - but no one in Thailand seems to age - it's quite the gift! This song definitely has staying power... and by that I mean good luck getting the refrain out of your head!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Backyard Barbecue: Thai Style

Hi friends! Reading everyone's blogs and emails from the USA about Summertime and Memorial Day barbecues has me missing summer back in the States. Of course, living in the land of eternal summer, or so it seems, has its benefits too! This week my friend Wat invited several teachers from the English Program out to a local barbecue place for dinner.  Now, when Thais say barbecue, they mean Thai-style, which back home means Korean-style.  So, while in the USA barbecue means steaks, hot dogs, seed-spitting contests, corn on the cob, and a Budweiser, over here in Thailand we do barbecues with jellyfish, spring-rolls, photo hunt, Beer Singha and chopsticks!

In Thailand, barbecue means a hot-pot on the middle of your table - with coals on the bottom, water in the rim and a piece of fat in the middle to grease up the pot.
Next, you head over to the raw-meat bar to pick up any fixings you would like: beef, pork, chicken, jellyfish, you know, the usual.  While you're there you can also grab some appetizers: mini hot-dogs, spring rolls, and french fries! You can also grab some greens and noodles to add to the barbecue soup that you make while the meat is cooking.

After you head back to the table you add the meat piece by piece with your chopsticks and bbq it until it's cooked to your liking. Since I'm not a fan of touching raw meat, and I don't really understand how it's ok to touch the meat with your chopsticks and then eat off of them, I usually let someone else "man the grill."

From there it's a free for all, whoever grabs the meat first with their chopsticks gets to enjoy it! You can also add some spicy sauce - because it wouldn't be Thai if it didn't leave your mouth on fire.

Finally, there's no better way to finish the meal than a couple of scoops of ice cream to cool things down because, trust me, sitting outside in the 100+ degree heat with the smoke from the hot-pot added in does not make for a super pleasant eating experience and by the end everyone at the table is mopping sweat off their bodies.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Unexpected Visitor

Last month I received an email from my sister-in-law in Switzerland asking if she and my brother could surprise my sister Kathleen with a trip to Bangkok... obviously I said yes! Last week on Friday, Kathleen thought she was heading to the Zurich airport for a browse through some of its still-open shops and instead was handed a plane ticket to Bangkok and told she was boarding in 45 minutes. Luckily, my bro and sis did a great job packing her bags and she arrived with a suitcase full of necessities for the week and tons of Swiss choco for me - bonus! My sister-in-law Maureen joined us in Bangkok for the weekend to help a friend with some apartment searching and it was really fun to have a few members of the Rall fam in town to spend time together while enjoying the local flavor.

Since I still had to teach, I had to squeeze everything that I deem to be "The Best of Thailand" into 1 week.  We managed to check out Suphan, Bangkok, Kanchanaburi and Ayutthaya and made the most of our time in each place.

HEAT: I'm not sure this would be "best of Thailand" but it's definitely a big part of any trip to this country.  I don't think Kathleen's body was quite prepared for the shock of coming from the Swiss Alps to the sauna that is Thailand. Kathleen insisted I sleep with the air conditioning on every night and of course I came down with a cold because of it - maybe I've finally adjusted to the heat?

FOOD:  I had to show off all of my favorite spots - so we hit up Banya's coffee shop almost every day for some of her legendary Thai-style iced coffees.  We made it to "Pad Thai Lady" twice and Kathleen agreed it's the best she's ever tasted. We then spent one evening out at my friend Dton's restaurant so Kathleen could try Thailand's salad: som tom! Dton made it extra spicy for us and although our mouths were on fire, it was delish! Kathleen was also a major fan of the in-season mangoes so we had to try it in some form every day - mango shakes, fresh mango, mango with sticky rice and coconut milk, etc.

SIGHTS: With little time to spare, we managed a few out of town trips, first to hike Erawan Falls 7 tiers in Kanchanaburi where we had some fun with the fish that eat the dead skin off of your feet - weird but also oddly satisfying! One day I got permission to leave school early and we made it to Ayutthaya to rent a tuk-tuk and tour the city's ancient ruins for the afternoon.  I couldn't remember much of my Thai history but I think Kathleen got the drift from the Thaienglish signs posted around the temples.  Kathleen also made it into Bangkok to tour the Grand Palace one day while I finished up my week teaching.

SHOPPING: Thais love to shop, so when in Thailand... why not go to all the markets and try to buy as much as your suitcase will hold? Kathleen and I had fun perusing the local markets and managed to pick up some pretty clutch gifts for our family members back home - including some of the ever-present and frequently worn "Couples Shirts" spelling out L-O-V-E for my bro and sister-in-law.  (Hope they will rock those in Zurich, super fashionable!)

PEOPLE: My students were very excited to welcome Kathleen into the classroom as the "teacher's assistant" for the week.  It was really fun to be able to show my sister my normal life in Suphanburi, my friends and my favorite places to see and things to do.  Kathleen agreed that Thai people are some of the nicest and happiest people she's met - gotta love 'em!

LUXURY: Ok, so maybe this isn't normally associated with Thailand, but we did manage to squeeze in several massages and a pedicure during her short time here.  And, on our last night in Bangkok my brother hooked us up with a stay in the Grand Hyatt downtown - it was ah-ma-zing. I don't think you realize how dirty and dusty and sweaty you are while living in Thailand until you surround yourself with luxury and get to take an actual shower and relax on a real mattress. I was all about the hotel robe and didn't do much besides move from the comfy bed to the executive lounge for some free drinks and cookies to the pool and hot tub outside.  I could get used to that life... but for now it's back to Suphan and back to teaching! Thanks to my bro Matt for sending Kathleen and Maureen my way and letting me show off my corner of the globe!

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