Start of the Adventure

Hey everyone, what a crazy and busy last two weeks it has been! After saying goodbye to my friends and family (and sadly my digital piano too) in California, I flew via Hong Kong to Bangkok. Upon arriving in Bangkok, I met the first of many kind people who helped me find the address of my hotel even though I did not speak Thai, and they spoke little English. The hotel that I stayed at for orientation, Louis’ Tavern, was not near the center of Bangkok but was very nice and comfortable nonetheless. When I arrived to the hotel, I met my roommate Ben,  the other American teaching at the school I am teaching at in Tha Wang Pha in the Nan province in the North of Thailand. Ben is very nice and easy to get along with. It is great to have another American and friend to experience the next year with in the fairly remote area I am in.

Orientation week was exhausting, informative, and very fun at the same time. Every day we had Thai language classes, teacher training and classes about the process of living and working in Thailand. While we were mostly eating buffet food from the hotel, they were easily the best buffets I have ever eaten and I took it as a great omen for my gastronomic experiences to come. On most nights after our classes, I explored the area around our hotel with friends. My favorite experiences were ordering various street food dishes that were usually unidentifiable to our American palates. One of the nights I ordered a ramenesque dish with various add-ins that turned out to be organs of sorts. The most intriguing ingredient was comprised of dark rectangular shapes that I initially thought were kidneys or liver, but turned out to be chicken blood (actually very tasty). My favorite street food vendor sold coconut ice cream served in a fresh coconut bowl, with pieces of coconut thrown in and coconut milk drizzled over the top for only 20 baht (about $0.61)!

Only 20 baht ($0.61)
Only 20 baht ($0.61)

Sadly I did not have time to see much of Bangkok other than the area around my hotel and the Royal Palace, which was impressive but was also comprised of a lot of full body contact with other sweaty tourists like myself.

During the orientation we drove to Kanchanaburi (about 3 hours from Bangkok) to stay for two days. Kanchanaburi is absolutely amazing; so beautiful and relaxing I am definitely going there again. The hotel we stayed at was right next to the River Kwai and had very beautiful grounds with a huge pool.

Pool at Kanchanaburi Hotel

We visited the historic Bridge Over the River Kwai which was interesting. We also visited an elephant camp where we saw an elephant show, rode the elephants and rafted down the River Kwai (although we all just swam down the river next to the raft). The elephant camp was somewhat questionable in terms of how the elephants were treated but we all decided to just try and enjoy it anyway. The elephants were very cute. During the show the workers asked for volunteers and some brave souls decided to step up to the plate. The elephants spanked the girls that volunteered with their trunks vigorously and slapped the guys in the crotch with their trunks which was amusing but also vicariously painful. After the guys saw the crotch spanking, no other guys volunteered and the workers seemed surprised. Really? At night we ate at a great restaurant boat right on the River Kwai. We saw a bunch of similar restaurant boats being towed down the river and sure enough we pulled off shortly after finishing dinner.

Party Boat on River Kwai

The DJ bumped some bad American music as we cruised down the river but it was still beautiful and the sunset was amazing! It was our last night together as a group so OEG (Overseas Education Group) was trying to pull out all the stops. We were all sad to leave Kanchanaburi but it was great to at least see it for a short time.

My time in Bangkok/Kanchanaburi flew by quickly, and by the time I was just starting to get to know many of the other eighty American and Canadian soon-to-be English teachers, it was time to pack up and set out for the North.

Ben and I met our coordinators Kru Rin and Kru Noi (Kru means teacher in Thai) on the night of May 12th at our hotel. Their instant friendly, easygoing manner eased my nerves, and made me excited to see my new home. Thai people love to take pictures, so we immediately took some pictures with them, and they took several selfies with us in the car ride as well. We were lucky to have a great driver Pee Uan (Pee means brother or sister in Thai; in this case brother), to chaffeur us for the ten hour drive to Tha Wang Pha. Around dinner we stopped at several different roadside stops before Kru Rin and Kru Noi found a restaurant that they approved of, and after ordering several dishes we ate dinner Thai style (akin to family style, everyone shares the dishes). The Thai food here is generally much different than ‘Thai’ food in America. The food here uses less coconut milk (less creamy), and often has different sauces that are more sour or spicy than sauces on American Thai food. After the ten hour drive, we arrived around 4 AM to our apartments in the back of the school in Tha Wang Pha, and slept heavily.

My favorite Thai dishes I have had so far have been panang curry (a red curry usually served with pork), and gwieteeyao (I don’t the English equivalent spelling; a soup with thin rice noodles and different types of proteins i.e. pork, meatballs or tofu and vegetables such as chinese kale).

I started teaching last Wednesday, so it has been just over a week now and I finally somewhat understand my class schedule. I only teach seventh and eighth graders (Mattayohm 1 and 2 – Seventh and Eighth Grade). Students here are grouped into classes by their results on aptitude tests, which I still am unsure how I feel about. Generally, the students in the higher level classes are more tuned into my classes, but not always. It is also sort of interesting because I teach Mattayohm 1/1 and 2/1 three times a week (the best students of seventh and eighth grade), but I only teach all the other students once a week. It sort of makes sense, as Mattayohm 1/1 and 2/1 are the best students, but I also feel like the other students are sort of given up on and I don’t really know how effective aptitude tests are at really judging students true abilities. An interesting fact about the Thai school system is that students can’t fail. This is mind boggling to me as a former student, because it basically means the bad students can blow off their classes and still be assured that they will pass. It also puts more of a burden on teachers in that we have to keep retesting students if they fail the finals or midterms. Personally I think this is a horrible system, I don’t want to fail my students but if some of them are not even trying at all they can just blow my class off and it is on me to make them pass.

Other than the weird grading system, it took me a little bit to get used to my schedule. I am supposed to co-teach my classes with several different Thai teachers but in reality I am the teacher of the classes. For most classes there is no textbook so I have to design the whole curriculum and figure out how I am going to grade the students. In some of my classes the Thai teachers occasionally translate things to the students or keep the students in line, but generally it falls on me to control the students and make sure they at least somewhat understand what’s going on. While it has been a process to gauge the students’ abilities and design my own lessons, I have become more and more comfortable in the classroom and really enjoy the school environment. For the most part, the students are hilarious and it is really encouraging when they respond positively to what I am teaching. There are definitely times when the lessons don’t go well, the students are going crazy, or the students simply sit there with blank stares, but the positive experiences with students make it all seem worth it.

The Thai teachers have also been incredibly welcoming. All of the other teachers in the foreign language department are very friendly, and I have gradually been getting to know them all. I also quickly became friends with two teachers that teach Thai, Kru Chin and Kru Michel. They have helped me learn some Thai words and phrases, and while my Thai is still not good at all, I at least have many different individuals to practice with. Many of the teachers like to practice their English as well, and I am always glad to engage with them if they are interested.

Thai is a very difficult but interesting language. It is very different than any language I have learned before (Spanish and Portuguese) in that they use different tones to signify different meanings, so that one word can have five different meanings if said different ways. I have concentrated on trying to memorize the Thai words first, and then work on my pronunciation later, as trying to learn them both at once is near to impossible. Fortunately, I have plenty of incredibly friendly people to speak Thai with every day so I am hopeful that eventually I will be at least somewhat proficient.

I was lucky to just have an air conditioner installed in my apartment (yay!), and I will be getting wifi soon, so I am looking forward to living in luxury once again.

Tonight I am going out to dinner in Tha Wang Pha with Ben, and then doing some lesson planning for tomorrow although I only have two classes, so I am not too overwhelmed.

Much more information and updates to come but until then sawatdee khrap!

9 thoughts on “Start of the Adventure

  1. Mom

    Love your blog Cody. I’m glad you’re enjoying working w/ your students too. The descriptions of Thai food are great–you’ll probably never want American ‘Thai’ food again! Love, Mom

  2. Auntie Connie

    Hi Cody! What a great writer you are! It’s fascinating to read about your experience. Our little hotel in Kanchaniburi was a LOT less glamorous- it WAS a little room on a little boat. We also had some good food at a boat restaurant though it was stationary- boy that sounds dreamy!
    I love the glass noodles that are in some of the dishes, and learned to make good soup as well. Olivia makes mango sticky rice- heavenly. But I did feel the spiciness was pretty serious.
    You must be a natural teacher considering that you are already finding useful techniques to engage the kids, and to so enjoy their successes- you must really inspire them. What a different school experience.
    I did wonder about you when I heard about the military coup, and was glad you were far north. Please write about whether there’s any effect on you at all, or what you hear.
    Keep this up- I’m going to enjoy it, and it will make a wonderful journal
    Love you!
    Auntie Connie

    1. Hey Auntie Connie! I love the mango with sticky rice also, it’s cool Olivia knows how to make it. The food can be spicy but I love the flavor of the Thai chilies and all of the good spicy sauces they have here. So far I haven’t had anything too spicy, but I am sure I will soon!

      Thank you for the teacher compliment! It is not easy to teach but I figure it will only get better as the semester goes on and I am better able to connect with and understand my students.

      In spite of the coup, I am very safe and have never felt any sort of danger up north here. Thanks again for the thoughtful comment!

  3. Steve C

    Hey Cody, You couldn’t have picked a better country to teach ESL. Having been to/through Thailand on four different trips, I kinda know my way around the country and your area too. On my first visit, we went on a 10 day trek out of Chiang Mai to several hill tribe villages. We also went around and over to the Nan Province to get a glimpse at the “Spirit of the Yellow Leaf People”. If you haven’t heard of them, ask about them. They are one of the last nomadic peoples in the world, who are hunter/ gathers with no particular place to call home. They make lean-to huts out of leaves from the forest and when they turn yellow, (and infested with too many bugs), they move on.

    It was a long time ago and they may have just moved on away from the Nan area. I see you are about 40kms north of Nan. Boy, is that out in the sticks! We may have passed through that town, but it’s too long ago to remember names and places.

    And Kanchanaburi, and the bridge over the River Kwai. Connie, Olivia and I walked over that bridge and took the train over it too. We stayed on a raft in the river and did a boat trip up and down the river. It is a nice town, but it’s also an eye-opening experience to go through the museum and prison camp. It’s about what the Japanese did there during WW2.

    I’m so happy for you to be doing what you’re doing, and in Thailand too! Did you say you’ll be there for a year? If you’re still around, I may pass through there on my way from Ho Chi Min City to Chiang Mai next year. Who knows. I’m keeping my plans flexible.

    Stay in touch and yes, we’ll hafta Skype sometime. I’ll hafta get Hannah over here again to show me how to do it as it’s been a long time since I skyped anybody.

    Sawatdee Khrap for now,
    Uncle Steve

    1. Hey Uncle Steve! I have to agree that Thailand is a great place to be an English teacher. I didn’t realize you had been here four times, I will have to ask you before planning trips to any other part of the country. I read a little about the “Spirit of the Yellow Leaf People” at the Nan National Museum, but haven’t heard much about them other than that. I’ll check into them further.
      Haha, Tha Wang Pha is definitely very rural, but I actually really like the area. It is very agricultural which reminds me of home, and the distant mountains are beautiful as well.
      I definitely want to go back to Kanchanaburi. I did not have time to go to either the museum or prison camp but they sound like interesting experiences.
      I will be here for a year (or maybe longer). I would love to meet up with you if you are anywhere within Thailand (or in a neighboring country). The staff at my school are very accommodating in terms of giving days off, so if you are planning a trip out here (or another country close by), just let me know and I’m sure I will be able to meet you.
      I look forward to skyping with you.
      Sawatdee khrap,

  4. Takahiro Furukawa

    Hi, Cody! You are really having a fulfilling day every day, aren’t you?
    I also think you are a good writer. Your blog is very easy to understand.
    I’m sure you will be a good teacher in Thailand because you were a very good teacher for us, foreign students. Have confidence in yourself and accomplish your goal!
    Let’s keep in touch! Good luck!

    1. Hey Taka! Every day has been full of new and exciting experiences so there really haven’t been any dull moments.

      Thank you for the compliment, I’m writing this blog not just for other people to read but also so I can look back at it in the future and remember little details that I might otherwise forget.

      Thank you for the kind words, the goal is to be a good teacher and they say practice makes perfect so it really can only get better.

      We will definitely keep in touch, if you want to skype sometime let me know!

  5. Takahiro Furukawa

    Hi, Cody! You are really having a fulfilling day every day, aren’t you?
    I also think you are a good writer. Your blog is very easy to understand.
    I’m sure you will be a good teacher in Thailand because you were a very good teacher for us, foreign students. Have confidence in yourself and accomplish your goal!
    Let’s keep in touch! Good luck!

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