Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I hope it's my allergies

I didn't actually have class today. I didn't catch exactly what P5 is up to, but they aren't here. I went over to the Mathayom (high school, grades 7-12) to steal some coffee, as I often do. I heard they were getting Thai lessons, so I decided to join.
Khun Noi and Khun Muc (I just made the spelling up) spent over an hour with us. We learned some of the Thai consonants, how to write them and how to pronounce them. For those of you who don't know, there are 44 consonants and 24 vowels in the Thai alphabet. Crazy, no? In addition to that challenge, Thai is a tonal language. This means that the same word pronounced in different ways can have completely different meaning. For example: "mai mai mai mai mai," when pronounced with the correct tones, means: "new wood doesn't burn, does it?". Also, there really aren't spaces between words, nor is there punctuation.
Anyway, today we learned simple phrases and words. We learned how to ask someone who they are, what their name is, where they are from (country and city), and probably something else I am forgetting.
We also got nicknames! Everyone goes by a nickname here! Sometimes they are Thai words, or sometimes they are English words. Our boss's name is Sutima, but her nickname is Oil. Yes, oil. My Thai nickname is Mali, which means jasmine. My classmates (also co-teachers) are Pla (fish), Singkto (lion), and Yim (smile).
My head hurts just a little. I'm blaming it on the weather or my allergies, not the Thai language.

Friday, June 11, 2010

La rutina

This is my fourth week at school. I can now actually talk about my routine.
Just a little review: I'm teaching at Chitralada Palace Prathom (grades 1 through 6). Everyday I wake up between 5:00 and 5:30. Ok, realistically, more like 5:45... A bus/van from the palace comes to pick all of the Baylor teachers up at 6:00. After about 30 minutes of crazy Bangkok traffic, and only thanks to our awesome driver who can maneuver through it all, we arrive at the school. We buy breakfast at the mini-market. I usually get the yoghurt. I alternate between honey lemon, vanilla, strawberry, and one that comes with a lot of different fruits. There is also a yoghurt with corn and kidney beans, which isn't my first pick, but it's got some extra protein. Other breakfast foods that are popular are the many fried pastries, little muffins, and the fried rice with chicken. Of course, I make my daily coffee. And, of course, it is instant Nescafé with some Coffee Mate. I brought some coffee with me, but it's too precious to pull out just yet.
The group usually eats breakfast together, and then we all go to our respective offices. There we make our lesson plans for the day. Mondays are Speaking day; Tuesdays, Spelling; Wednesdays and Thursdays, Grammar; Fridays, Reading. I don't actually get to teach Reading class. I help the P 2 teacher with speaking, and she helps me on Mondays.
My kids are at very different levels. We split them up for Grammar classes and I get the intermediate level (a.k.a: Teddy Bear group). I take my group to the art classroom, where we get to review grammar and do our own activities. So far I don't have any favorites or any stories to tell (that I can remember), but I expect to soon.
I am usually done with class before lunchtime. Lunch is different everyday. It's an adventure. Our first day, when we were given a tour of the school, we were told how to serve our food. Rice goes on the plate, not in a little bowl. The bowls are for soup (there are usually a couple of choices) or for dessert (the most interesting desserts I have ever tasted, typically a jelly substance in coconut milk, sometimes with kidney beans or fruit). There are no knives in Thailand, at least not for eating. One uses a fork and a spoon for everything. There are normal spoons and what we call boat spoons (with a flat bottom). There is always rice, soup, a "Western" dish, something spicy, and dessert. A lot of the time I'm not sure what I'm eating, but I try to like it.
After lunch, I usually grade for most of the afternoon. If I have any free time, I just hang out and chat with co-workers, try to learn some Thai, or read. By 16:00, our bus is there to take us back home.
Once home, I either work out (there is a girl here who teaches zumba sometimes, or I just use the machines our apartment gym has), rest a little, or go straight to eat. I usually eat with some friends at a little market across the street that I think I mentioned in my last blog. After that, I usually just hang out for a little while and then go to bed.
That's my day! It's about time for me to end this one and get ready for the next.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I'm open to other suggestions for the title of my blog... It was originally "A Baylor Grad's Tale," but that didn't seem befitting.
Also, I might have to try vlogging (aka, video-blogging). I hear it's much shorter than writing it up. It would probably make it easier on you too, so you don't have to read long posts, such as todays.
Any comments?

My long overdue first post

This is slightly intimidating, not only because I like to keep my writing to myself, but because I feel like there is so much to say! Here I go!
I have now been in Thailand for two and a half weeks, but it seems like longer than that. Although there is still so much to get accustomed to and learn, I feel settled down. I feel quite at home.
We arrived on a Wednesday morning, at about 1:30 am. We were greeted by Geoffrey, and English gentleman and colleague, who has lived in Thailand for who knows how long, and Sutima, the head of the English Department at Chitralada Prathom (the elementary school), who looks about ten years younger than her actual age. As we drove into Bangkok, the city lights were out because of the curfew that was instated because of the political tensions. If you know nothing about what has been going on, I suggest you research it. I don't feel like I can fully explain the situation here. That night all I wanted to do was unpack and put everything in a place (not its place, as it takes time to find the perfect spot for one's belongings). I put my new, white, queen-sized cotton sheets on my hard mattress (Thanks for washing them, Mom!) and got to sleep at about 3 am.
On our first day, a group of us went to explore our neighborhood. Bangkok was called "Venice of the East." The city was not planned for streets, it was built around canals; and little streets called "soi" spur off of the main drags (paved over canals). For example, I live on Lat Phrao (pronounced with a "p", not an "f") soi 46. We walked down to about soi 20 and found an MRT (underground train) stop, and a few more blocks down, a Carrefour. Who would have thought that Carrefour would be in Thailand? For those of you who don't know, Carrefour is actually a French grocery store that's also in Argentina. I got some basic necessities, such as TP, a fan, a 5-liter jug of water, and some coat hangers.
We also stopped at some of the food vendors. They are on every block, almost. There are stands with fresh, chopped fruit, like pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, sugar apple, and other fruits whose names I don't know yet. You can also buy fruit that hasn't been peeled like rambutan, mangosteen, bananas, durian... Durian is a special kind of fruit, which I haven't tasted yet. It's been compared to a strong-smelling cheese. It's an acquired taste... and smell, apparently. Chitralada palace does not allow durian on the grounds, and you can see signs in taxis or other places prohibiting its consumption as well. Don't worry, I will try it! When I do, I will write about it! There are also vendors that sell meat on a stick, literally. They have pork, chicken, sometimes beef, or liver too, and fish (a whole fish). There are vendors that make pad thai right in front of you, or fried rice. Also vendors that have ready-made food, like different types of curry, rice, or veggies (that usually have a lot of oil...). My first week, the food was superb and I was open to trying a lot of different things. Now it's not that I'm not open, it's just that I'm adjusting. Let me try to explain. When you're trying new food, it's fun! But when you feel like all your meals are new foods or exceptions to your normal diet, it gets a little more difficult. Especially since I realized I wasn't getting all the nutrients I needed and everything has oil, salt, probably MSG too. I'm taking my vitamins, though, so I feel better about getting some nutritional value. I will have to talk more about food later. There is much to be said on this topic!
On with my first days, then... The second day, we drove a couple hours to Pattaya. It was serendipitous that one of the teachers has a condo in Pattaya and offered for us to stay there our first weekend. We could see smoke from a large fire diametrically across town from us... More red shirt demonstrations. Susie and Kirk (I will talk more about them later) said they could see snipers on the roofs of buildings close to where they live, which is very near where the red shirts were. So, it was nice that we were able to get away from Bangkok. It also served the purpose of much needed relaxation, as well as getting to know the group. A local said that Pattaya's beaches are like Galveston or Corpus Christi. The city in itself is more like a small Las Vegas. I only got in the water once, but walking along the shore was nice, especially in the mornings. The condo has a nice swimming pool that we enjoyed as well.
After 3 days in Pattaya, we returned to Bangkok, eager to see the city and go to school. Our first week at school was interesting. Well, it still is a little interesting. I think this week will be our official first week of teaching on our own. Up till now, we have been in the classroom with a Thai counterpart. My counterpart's name is Nudang. We teach the 5th grade together. She is 35, but looks about 26-ish, I would say. She is of Chinese descent, and apparently speaks a mandarin dialect. (Is that how you say it correctly?) She lived in the USA for a few years and got her Master's in ESL or EFL (English as a Foreign Language). The kids love her! I have no idea what she says most of the time, but she makes them laugh and she explains things well. I'm sort of confused as to why she teaches in Thai and not in English. I think immersion is the best way to learn a language. Many of the Thai teachers speak well, but they still speak in Thai most of the time. For P 4-6 - that is Prathom grades 4-6 - there are 3 separate levels of English Grammar classes. I will get the medium level of P 5/1, 5/2, and 5/3 (there are 3 courses), which I will teach Wednesday and Thursday. Monday is speaking day, and I have all levels of the class together. Tuesday is Spelling, and Friday is Reading, which I don't get to teach. Fridays I help the P2 American teacher, Stephanie, with her speaking classes, and she helps me with mine on Mondays. The teachers want us to teach conversation, so it makes sense that we teach it together to converse, I guess.
So far, I don't know the kids very well, but I think after this week all of that will change, since I get them on my own! I'm excited! I'm excited to hear them speak more, see what level they are at, and to get to know them better.
I think that's all I will write for now... Sorry if it's unorganized, doesn't make sense, or seems like I just rambled. Next time I'll tell you more about daily life and how my classes go!
Hasta la próxima!