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)!
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.
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.
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!