It’s been a minute since I’ve blogged! 26 days to be exact, but you already knew that. I’m definitely in the swing of things now. I have my routine. I have my restaurant spots. I go to the coffeehouse and the gym most days. I do my laundry at the same place every week. I recognize lots of people. I say hello to ladies from the market dropping their kids off at school.
I end up spending a lot of time alone. That may be a problem for a lot of people but I like my time alone, it’s a good way to learn about yourself. I’ve always been good at spending time with myself. I’ve never been embarrassed to go out to eat or do things alone. It’s fun doing things alone (especially here) because 1) I can do whatever I want to do 2) I get to just think and listen to music 2) I meet so many random people. There are constantly Thai people trying to talk to me simply because I’m not Thai. They want to know my story, why I’m here. I’ve learned to ALWAYS stop and talk to people waving me over on the street, I’ve met a lot of great people that way.
It’s funny though, I think most Americans would never consider doing that in the States. I remember being back home and assuming whenever a random person came up to talk to me that they wanted something. Coming to Thailand that was something to get used to, that people wanted to just talk to me. I love how open everyone feels in this country about talking to people they do not know, smiling and saying “Sawatdii Kap” at passersby. It feels so much more natural to connect with the people around you just by simply acknowledging them instead of keeping your head down and pretending you don’t see them. Even as one of three foreigners living in Bang Pa In, I still feel like I belong because people say hello to me and smile. It just makes you feel good! I’m going to start doing that when I go back to the northeast.
Matt and I hang out on our roof all the time (the roof and the proximity to school are the two great things about my house; living without Wi-Fi and A/C does not bother me anymore). I’ll look out over the landscape and think, how did I get here? Even though sometimes I get caught up in the moment (tough day at school/stuck in a routine), choosing to live and teach in Thailand was the best decision of my life.
A brief anecdote: I was riding my motorbike the other day when a terrible driver cut me off in his van. Like the New Jersey driver I am, I immediately got pissed off and began spouting curses. Then I thought for a second: I’m in a random town in Thailand on my motorbike that I’ve become accustomed to riding everywhere. I have my own motorbike. That’s pretty crazy. I never rode a motorbike until a few months ago and now I get upset with bad drivers!
Like I said, I have my routine. Sometimes I forget where I am and think of my routine as just my routine. Whenever I get to this point I have to stop and remind myself of where I am and what I’m doing. It seems routine to ride my motorbike to a school with no running water to teach kids math and science in Thailand? What?! I’m pretty lucky to be able to experience things like this to such an extent that they become normal.
I try to do at least one new thing a day, as small as taking a different street home or trying a new food, which sometimes leads to a new adventure. Here are just a few of those adventures:
On Saturday an old man walking down the street said “how are you?” to me in English. I responded and he pointed to a bench, telling me to sit down with him. I decided why not, I had nowhere to be. Immediately he started telling me his life story. He was in the Thai marine corps and had travelled around much of the world. For that reason, along with working with Americans in a variety of jobs, his English was quite good. He could speak fluently, but spoke so fast and with a thick accent that it was difficult to understand what he was saying. But he knew exactly what I was saying. We even discussed ISIS and religion. It was interesting to get his perspective, as a Thai person with Thai ideals and Buddhist beliefs, of the United States and the West as a whole. He told me I should consider teaching in Chanthaburi just a few hours from Bang Pa In and close to Ko Chang, a beautiful Thai island. He said I could buy gems so inexpensively and sell them in the states for a huge profit. He said he and I could even team up to do this! Sounds like a pretty good idea, who knows, maybe I will! He even gave me his phone number and told me to call him when I had some time off from school and he would take me there.
I knew nothing of the holiday called Loy Krathong until the day it arrived. It translates directly to floating lantern and that’s exactly what you do that night. Everyone makes lanterns out of banana tree stalks, banana leaves, and flowers and floats them down the river. Teacher Meaw and Teacher Boy showed me how to make a krathong and our incredibly nice neighbor P Tiang showed Matt, Hardus, and me how to make one as well. That night our school had a huge festival for the holiday and we lit our krathongs and sent them down the river. I’ve heard you can put pieces of hair, nail clippings, and money in the krathong for *good luck*. Maybe next time.
I’ve been given a few different explanations for the significance of the holiday. One is that we are apologizing to the water since we pollute it, which is funny because floating hundreds of krathongs down the river is not helping. The one I like best is that it is a time to repent for our sins, ask for forgiveness and start fresh. We send our problems, sins, and worries down the river with our krathong and can continue living freely. Kind of like Yom Kippur!
This was my second Thanksgiving away from home (Junior Year in Prague was the first). It was great to be able to spend the weekend in Korat with new friends I made on my TESOL course. It was just as weird to be away this time, but I began to appreciate Thanksgiving in a different light.
For one, I am thankful to have so many amazing memories of this day. I am thankful to have so many people at home that I miss and wish I could be with- that is a blessing. I also appreciate the opportunity to do something like this. I taught about Thanksgiving and the kids had no idea what I was talking about, but I showed them pictures of my family and talked about the importance of giving thanks.
After more than two months with no Tess I finally got to see her! I took two days off of school (accidentally: I thought we had off Friday LOL) and got to spend a good amount of time in Seoul with Tess and her mom, Sheryl. We did a lot of touring around (Namsan Tower overlooking all of Seoul and the Korean production of Les Mis were highlights), but it was just really great to be with them. I’m going back to Korea for New Years and in March with Brian to travel around. Maybe check out Mongolia or Japan too? Who knows.
Last week Matt, Stephen (my friend/teacher from Ghana), and I decided it was finally time to explore the other side of the river in BPI- something we had never done before (because we’re lazy I guess?). We took the ten-baht ferry across the river and could not believe how much was on the other side. We felt silly for waiting so long to get over there. We thought it was a small island but there were roads that continued on for miles with a gorgeous landscape on both sides.
Thursday night I went to Tesco to pick up a couple things and saw they had small fake Christmas trees and Santa hats. So now we have a Christmas tree in our living room with lights that Matt bought on it! On the way back I stopped at my regular spot for dinner and said I’ll have whatever the guy I saw sitting down was having. He told me to sit down with him and we ended up hitting it off. He insisted that he pay for my meal and he told me to come back for lunch the following day and order Geng Som (which I found out the next day that he had paid for as well!). He also insisted that I take a picture on his motorbike (same as Warren’s!). Since then I’ve been to my restaurant spot almost everyday for lunch and have not ordered; the wonderful woman brings me something I wouldn’t have known to order otherwise, and it’s always delicious. She’s caught on that I just want to try new things. She also loves that I like spicy food!
The most important part: FOOD PICTURES
Last weekend I felt that I’d done so much travel recently that I didn’t want to travel far. I almost just stayed in BPI for the weekend. On a whim I found three cities on the map of Thailand that were relatively close. I went to the train station in BPI and asked the ticket vendor which city was best, and he told me Lopburi. So I got up bright and early Saturday and went there! I had heard of the huge sunflower field (which apparently is not blooming right now), but besides that I knew nothing about the town. I had no plans there and decided to just walk around. It didn’t take long to find Khmer temple ruins with monkeys everywhere! It was 150 baht for foreigners but I told the ticket vendor (in broken Thai) that I am a teacher nearby and she let me in for free!
side note: It’s so humbling how much Thai people respect teachers. Once people know I’m a teacher, they stop calling me by my name and call me “Teacher”.
The ruins were covered with monkeys- macaques to be specific. I started to take pictures of them and two jumped on my shoulders! I was petrified at first but pretty quickly relaxed and played with them. They kept trying to steal my glasses and chew on my earphones and shoelaces, it was the funniest thing. One of them stole a keychain off my backpack! I told the tour guide who was walking with me that a monkey bit me on my arm but he said not to worry, only a few had diseases. Good to know sir.
My favorite part was when a monkey held my finger with his entire hand- that’s the first animal other than a human whose hand I’ve held. Pretty cool feeling.
I also got my first Thai massage in Lopburi! I knew it was “deep tissue” but I didn’t really know what that meant. It hurt. A lot. I think every pressure point on my body was poked and prodded. I was very uncomfortable until my male masseuse flipped me on my stomach to work on my back. He whispered “it’s OK” in my ear and after that I knew everything would be alright.
One of my wonderful neighbors (P Tiang) makes these incredible miniature models of food (that look surprisingly realistic). She told me I have to go see the Royal Folk Art Museum in Bang Sai to some beautiful Thai arts and crafts. I took the twenty-five minute motorbike ride on Sunday to check it out. After a few detours (Ayutthaya Resort where I was kindly escorted around the whole property and a temple that had EIGHT Porsches in the parking lot. That’s the first time I’ve seen ANY Porsches in Thailand) I explored this enormous property of mini-villages with different buildings for all kinds of crafts from glass-working to basket-weaving to sculpture. Beautiful stuff!
Oh right, I’m teaching in Thailand.
P1 has been amazing as always- I see them 8 times a week so I know them very well. Most students are successfully ordering numbers greatest to smallest and counting forward and backward by 2s, 5s, and 10s. I realized I only have two more Science chapters to teach for the entire term so I’ve been going very slowly. I taught the 5 senses the past two weeks. After going over each sense probably 300 times, I brought in different foods so we could do seeing, smelling, and tasting tests. I got apples, limes, Oreos, and chips. The kids freaked out when they saw I had Oreos and chips; holding those over their heads was an easy way to get them to focus! The funniest test was the taste test for limes: of course I wasn’t going to make anyone eat limes, and once I held them up for students to taste no one wanted to (understandably, because they’re limes). Eventually one student took a piece of lime and suddenly the whole class had to try the lime. It was hilarious to watch a bunch of six year-olds’ faces pucker from the acidity.
I’ve been teaching multiplication and division to P2 and P3. It’s been tough attempting to get these students to grasp these subjects when only using English. I try to use as few words as possible and be mostly visual. I can tell some of the students are learning but I can also tell some of the students are struggling. It’s difficult to focus on the struggling students because I can only spend so much time making sure they understand what we’ve learned. I also need to make sure the class as a whole is learning new material. It’s a difficult thing to balance the needs of the struggling and advanced students while also managing the classroom. I can only sit with one student individually for so long before the whole class erupts in disarray.
It’s tough to make lessons fun and engaging when you’re teaching the same kids everyday. You can only plan ahead so much, because you never know how far the class will actually get on a given lesson. I’ve lesson planned for the entire week, sometimes to end up getting through what I had planned for two lessons. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, it just shows that the kids generally move at a slower pace than I expect (a combination of understanding little English and not having a solid mathematics base). For the kids who get it it’s obvious and exciting; they’re constantly shouting out answers and trying to help their peers understand. Which helps me out a lot. I have a student in my P3 class who is incredibly intelligent- she’s always at least a step ahead of the class. I’ll assign a page in the workbook and she’ll finish it before I’ve finished explaining it. So I’ve started to give her more difficult problems to try and challenge her. We haven’t even learned 2-digit by 2-digit multiplication in class and she’s solving 3-digit by 3-digit problems with ease.
Up until this week I’ve had a lot of difficulty teaching my P2 class. The class has been especially difficult to teach simply because they do not listen if there’s no Thai teacher in the room. For whatever reason, P2 is the only class where a few students have created a misbehaving atmosphere that even the good students observe. Whatever chaos is created in my classroom, the minute a Thai teacher walks in, the room becomes quiet and orderly. Thai students have a respect for Thai teachers that they do not give to Farang teachers. Whether that is because they are also Thai or because they use force (Thai teachers are constantly hitting students with rulers or their hands), I’m not sure. Still, I do what I can and I can’t control the rest. I do my best to help the kids learn and try to make it as fun as possible. I guess that’s all you can ask for, right?
I realize it’s OK that it’s taking awhile to grasp multiplication and division. It’s just as important that they are learning some English from me. And are having fun which I think they are. I know they like me, I constantly shell out high fives and words of encouragement. I’ve already been sick a couple times (kids not washing their hands at school, duh), so I started giving out ‘elbow fives’ to avoid touching students’ hands. For whatever reason students have recently decided they want to hug me. Sometimes I’ll let them hang off my arms as I swing them around. A girl thought she was being funny in my P1 class so I pretended to throw her out the window. The whole class cracked up.
That’s it for now. Talk soon.
Can you ever have too many pictures of monkeys?