Monday, December 25, 2006
Once we got into the bus station on Saturday morning we were picked up by the travel company we had booked a package tour with and they took us back to the guest house where we could freshen up and have breakfast. From there it was on to the snake farm where I witnessed a crazy 4 fingered man jump into the water with a giant python and kiss deadly cobras. Not sure how he managed to do that but the cobras looked pretty pissed off and he milked one of them for their venom in front of us...I couldn't help but feel sad for the animals, even if they were snakes. After that it was on to the orchid farm where there were more types of orchids than I even knew existed, big ones, little ones, purple, red, orange and white ones. Very beautiful.
From there we were off to do some white water rafting. I was a little worried because it was freezing cold and they mentioned that the boats could flip over. The instructor did a good job of freaking us out too; he was like a drill sergeant calling out commands: forward! backward! over left! over right! get in!!! He convinced us that if we didn't respond to his commands at the blink of an eye we would all end up dead in the water. We had a few close calls, Susan almost fell in and then they tipped us over in calm water on purpose. The rapids were pretty gnarly; going through them backwards was probably the most exciting. We made it out alive but I did end up with some pretty nasty bruises to remember the trip by.
We were all pretty much exhausted and we drove up the windiest twistiest mountain road I've ever been on to go to Pai, a little hippy town in the mountains where our guest house was. It wasn't the nicest of accomodations but we were so tired and hadn't slept in about 2 days that it didn't matter. We had dinner at this outdoor restaurant called the "Unicorn House" and there were a bunch of farang hippies lying in hammocks and trippin out. Kind of what you would expect at a place called "Unicorn House".
In the morning I thought I might die from hypothermia. I've been so used to the Bangkok 95 degree weather that being in the cold mountains was too much for me to handle. I actually missed being hot and sweaty...I guess we're never happy are we? First thing in the morning we went to a giant cave in the mountains. We had to take a bamboo raft into the cave and then we walked around. Didn't see any lives bats but we did see a dead one and supposedly there was a 3000 year old cave painting but I'm not sure if it was real or not because it wasn't protected at all and the guide went up and practically touched it to show it to us.
More driving through the mountains on crazy windy roads and then we did some crazy off-roading in our jeep to visit a "hill tribe." Before we went our guide had us buy snacks for the children. I had some reservations about this kind of tourism because I felt weird just going to look at people like they were some sort of oddity but it was part of the tour so I thought I would just go with the flow. When we pulled up in our car the kids spotted us and came running. I was all prepared for the kids to be cute and nice but no all they were interested in was the snacks that we brought. At one point I was carrying a bag of cookies and three children came and attacked me to grab the whole bag. My instinct was to fight back but then I just gave up and ran. It was very awkward and the whole time we were there I wanted to get the hell out of there. They did have some cute baby pigs though.
More mountain roads, more driving and we ended up back in Pai for elephant riding in the river. The elephants were huge (of course, they're elephants right?) and there was no saddle. Riding elephants bare back...not so comfortable. They said we would go "swimming" we the elephants but basically once we got in the river they told the elephant to turn over sending us falling into the river. Haha. Funny. So we climb back on the elephant which was insanely difficult and then once we're back on he tells the elephant to dunk us again. Haha. We get back on. Dunk. We get back on. Dunk. We didn't learn out lesson but it was funny, until the elephant started pooping in the river where we were swimming. I just hope he didn't decide to pee too.
After that we pretty much were exhausted but still had a 10 hour bus ride back to Bangkok. I had so much fun that it made the long bus ride worth it. The north of Thailand is so beautiful and different than Bangkok. I would love to move to Chiang Mai but alas there aren't as many English teaching jobs up there and it might be time for me to head home soon.
You can check out more of the photos here:
Miss you all!
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Went to Koh Tao which is in island in the Gulf of Thailand. It was amazingly beautiful although it took nearly an entire day to travel there by bus and by boat from Bangkok. The water was clear blue green but the sand was not as nice as it was in Koh Samet but the island made up for this in the fact that there were tons of fish to see when you go snorkeling. We planned on going scuba diving but unfortunately we didn't have enough time to take the whole course (and I didn't feel like winging it when it could be potentially fatal) so we decided to go snorkeling instead. We saw tons of fish including clown fish (think Little Nemo), barracuda, angel fish and lots of other really colorful tropical looking fish. We hired a boat to take us to this place called the "Japanese Gardens" which is so called because the coral reefs supposedly look like a Japanese garden. The boat guy threw food in the water and all of a sudden I was surrounded by hundreds of fish that weren't scared to come right up to me. Another great thing about Koh Tao was the food. Lots of Westerners there so that means lots of Western food including yummy mexican and italian food.
School has been going well now that the nun has decided to stop talking to the foreigners. This comes after another incident of them "forgetting" to pay us and the foreigners threatening to "forget" to come to work the next day and drama drama drama. I decided I really love teaching and want to go to grad school for education when I come home so that means working on grad school applications and GREs and all that good stuff which I'm not really looking forward to.
Today I went to meditation classes at a temple here in Bangkok. It was quite an experience but different than I thought it was going to be. I'm glad I went because I want to learn more about Buddhism and get in touch with some sort of spirituality while I'm here. I'm just not sure if I'll go back to that same place again. After meditation classes I went to Wat Pho which had the huge golden reclining buddha statue. It was amazingly big and awe inspiring. I'll post up some pictures later.
Sorry if my posts seem a little rambling. I'm usually typing them at the internet cafe which has so much noise I can't normally think straight. Imagine Thai girls chatting with their foreign boyfriends in this obnoxiously high pitched voice, Thai music blaring and video game noises and you'll get somewhat of an idea of what I'm listening to right now. Miss you all!
Sunday, November 26, 2006
The beaches were beautiful, with white sand and clear blue green water, just what you would imagine a tropical island would look like. In fact, the water was so clear that while we were swimming we found 1,100 baht in the water. First, I found a 100 baht bill laying at the bottom of the sand and thought that was funny but then I realized that there was probably more and when I found the 1,000 baht bill we couldn't believe our luck. We figured it was just a little birthday gift from the sea gods. :D
Another great thing about the island was there were lots of friendly dogs and cats frolicking around the beach. It was such a nice change from the mean, tough animals of Bangkok. The cats would actually let you pet them and one of them even came and jumped up on my lap in the restaurant. I realized that when I die I want to come back as a cat on an island like Ko Samet with nothing to do but sleep and get fed by tourists.
We hung out at the beach, got some dinner and then decided to go walk out on the beach. It was low tide so the beach looked totally different then it did during the day. While we were walking we noticed some funny looking balls in the sand and lots of other intriguing things but couldn't see what was causing them because it was so dark so we went and bought flashlights at the minimart and went exploring. We saw some crazy stuff. Turns out the little ball things were crab eggs. Thousands of little crabs laying millions of little eggs. We saw these piles of sand that look like little turds or brains or coiled up snaked. It took us a while to figure out that they were caused by these tubular worms deep inside the sand that was pooping out the sand. Sea cucumbers, puffer fish, shrimpy things...it was so entertaining!
I'll try to upload the pictures tomorrow, the internet cafe I'm in now doesn't allow uploading files.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
I've been trying to get healthier here. Everyday life provides a lot of exercise. For example, climbing stairs is a major part of my life. I teach and live on the 4th floor so everyday I probably climb up and down 4 flights of stairs about 20 times each day. I counted and there are 88 stairs going up to my classroom and a little less going up to my room. If I go up and down 20 times, thats about 1,760 stairs a day. My leg muscles are getting crazy but I really need to do more sustained aerobic activity. At the mall they have free aerobics classes outside that look really silly but I'm going tomorrow just to say that I've done it. I'm also trying to eat healthier because I don't feel like I'm getting a lot of nutrients from the food I was eating. Lots of rice, rice and more rice but not a lot of anything else.
Next weekend I think we'll go to Ko Samet to get some beach action in. Its supposed to be beautiful and not far from Bangkok so I'll take lots of pictures to share with you all.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
so last weekend we went to ayuthaya, which was the ancient capital of thailand. we made a day trip out of it and rented bikes to get around to all the temples. there were tons of temples, hundreds of them, but we only made it to three! the temples were so beautiful and getting around by bike was super cool because there weren't that many cars like in bangkok and there were real sidewalks. we saw elephants and horses walking around randomly (not something you see everyday in california). i posted the photos to the flickr account if you want to check them out. i have to figure out something with my flickr account though because i've ran out of space...so those might be the only two photos for now.
next weekend we might go to visit the bridge on the river kwai. its not that far from bangkok and apparently you can bathe and ride elephants there which would be a fun experience. don't hold me to it though. i also want to try to take some language classes this weekend because i haven't been serious about studying thai with my book. i've learned basic thai phrases just by happenstance so if i make a real effort i might actually be able to understand whats going on around me.
thats about it from me. keep those emails coming! its great to hear from people at home even if its just a quick hello. :)
Monday, October 16, 2006
I think my homesickness was brought on partially because the longest I've ever been away from home was 3 months and its almost been 3 months since I left for Thailand. But mostly I think it was brought on by the fact that I got a cold and I am a HUGE baby when I'm sick. I hate it. Not that everyone doesn't hate being sick but I don't seem to be able to handle it. Plus the electricity went out in my room (but the lights and A/C miraculously worked) so all the food in my refrigerator went bad, I couldn't use my computer, blow dryer, hot water heater (so no water for cooking), or toaster. Essentially, I was S.O.L. because I was too tired to walk anywhere in the heat and I had no way of cooking any of the food that didn't spoil in my refrigerator. Yeah, it was not a good weekend.
Today was supposed to be a work day for the foreign teachers (the Thai teachers and foreign teachers have different vacations for some reason) but when we got there everything was locked up so there was no way for us to do any work. I was hoping that the lady that manages the apartment would be there today so she could help me with my electricity but I found out she was on vacation with the Thai teachers. BOOO. So I had to bust out some crazy Thai language skills to talk to some of the people that work maintenance at the school. Basically, I was saying "Light no have room" "Room light no have" or any combination of those words to try and convey my meaning. Its so frustrating because yeah, o.k. sorry I don't speak your language but can you not look at me like I'm a frickin idiot?? I'M TRYING PEOPLE! Generally, Thai people are very nice but sometimes you just can't ignore the feelings of disdain and hatred you know that they feel for you. Whatever.
After getting my electricity back I felt almost human again. I decided to go to the mall to do some grocery shopping. While I was there I saw a dental clinic and decided to get a check up because its been too long since my last one. I also ended up going to the laser skin clinic to get some crazy lazer light treatment to lighten the appearance of my freckles. Thats the great thing about Thailand. Medical services are so cheap and available here. Everywhere you go you see dentists and dermatologists and you don't even need insurance because its so inexpensive. I'm fully going to take advantage of this while I'm here.
Let me just say that Thai women are generally obsessed with two things when it comes to their appearance: their skin and their weight. Thai people (and Asians in general) or obsessed with white skin. They love it. So opposite of Westerners who are always trying to get the perfect tan. I guess you always want what you can't have, right? Every skin product has whitening agent in it. Facial wash with whitening. Body lotion with whitening. Whitening cream. Facial moisturizer with whitening. Body wash with whitening. Its good for me because I've always been whiter than white. Here I don't have to worry about being self conscious about it.
But while I'm not really self conscious about my weight in the States I feel like a giant here. These women look anorexic, like they haven't eaten since 1985. I'm only 5'3" and about 115 pounds (o.k. I'm baring my soul to you all) and when I go shopping here I can't even get the biggest pair of jeans to go past my thighs. And forget shopping for a bra. I tried asking the sales clerk for help with my size and she looked around and said that they didn't have any bras that would fit me. Keep in mind, I wasn't shopping in a small boutique, I was in a frickin department store with hundreds of bras around. Surely, one of them has to fit me??? The problem is that the circumference (I dunno, waist band...chest band??) of the bra is so tiny that it looked like it wouldn't fit a 10 year old girl.
As if that weren't enough to give me a complex, the people here are so blunt about talking about weight. One day two of the Thai teachers working in the library were talking in Thai and I could tell that they were talking about me and all of a sudden one of them so graciously translated for me. "She said you fat" as she made bulging cheeks and a gesture to her belly. I could barely eat for two days after that.
Sigh. This is why I long for the United States. At least people will generally act like you expect them to and you know how to act with people. Here its always this fine line of worrying whether what you say or do is offending someone and then trying not to get offended at the things they say and do to you. There aren't these mysterious rules of conduct to follow and no mind trips of whether you should take something personally or not. But then again, its so fascinating to realize what our unconscious expectations are and thats really why we travel, right?
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Sorry I've been so lazy about posting here. Bangkok has a lot of distractions! Everything has been fine since the coup. You would never even know that there was a coup; they moved out the tanks and selected a new interim prime minister. Oh and they also suspended the legislature, made politcal parties illegal and are censoring the media...soooo, well even if there was some unrest I would never know. The Thai people generally seemed to welcome the coup. The old Primie Minister was very unpopular and there were many assassination attempts against him before the coup so I get the feeling that Thailand is a safer and more stable place without him. Then again, Thai people are very shy about saying anything negative about their government. It's actually illegal to say anything bad about the King and the Thai mentality towards authority is totally different than the Western mentality. If an elder or someone with authority says they have to do something they will do it without asking questions, at least from what I have noticed. I'm sure there are a lot of ambiguities I don't see but my general impression is that Thai people value harmony and unity more than freedom of speech or democracy. We thought about going to take pictures with the tanks before they left but I always forgot my camera. I should really invest in a camera phone while I'm here! The worst thing that happened during the coup was that we got the day off of work and had to go to the movies instead of school. Terrible, huh? I started thinking they should have coups more often.
It has been raining here a lot lately. I love it when it rains because that means that its not that hot (80 degrees is chilly). Its not just normal rain though; its super monsoon rain. The sky opens up and buckets of water come pouring down and there is lightning and thunder that shakes you right to your bones. When it rains really hard the streets begin to look like canals and if you get stuck out in it you have to pull your pants up to your knees and practically swim to dry land, if you can find any. Luckily though the drainage system works really well here. One night it rained so hard that they had to close my street because there was about 3 or 4 feet of water. A couple of hours the water was completely gone and you would never even know that it had rained.
The students just had their midterm exams and we're on vacation now. Exams are a big deal here, way different in the states. I don't remember taking any sort of hardcore test until maybe I was in middle school. These students have 3 days of exams...keep in mind that some of them are as young as 7 years old. I almost lost my mind because people expected me to be psychic about a lot of things. My Thai partner teacher (who I just want to kill) would ask me "Have you turned in your exams yet?" Ummm....no? No one told me I had to turn in any sort of exam. I figured I would give them an exam if I wanted to. And they have this crazy grading system that I am supposed to magically know. Apparently during the first midterm, 20 points go to the accumulated marks (homework, seatwork and behavior) and 30 points go to the final exam. But that is only in the first semester, in the second semester 30 points go to the accumulated marks and 20 to the final exam. And that is only for some subjects. Other subjects are 25 total but are split with another class so its like 12.5 points for the exams and oh I don't know. Haven't these people heard of the 100 point scale? You know...makes things way easier.
I got my first hair cut here not long ago. It was amazing. Well the haircut was just o.k. He cut it shorter than I would have liked, but it was super cheap and they had these awesome chairs you sit in when they shampoo your hair. They reclined all the way back so you were so comfortable while they were doing their stuff. They probably washed and massaged my hair for about 30 minutes before they cut my hair. Thats the thing about Bangkok. It can be so much nicer than the U.S. in so many ways and in some ways the U.S. is way nicer than Thailand. For instance, the movie theaters have these huge cushy chairs that recline when you sit in them and you get movie magnets everytime you see a movie. I don't know why I get so excited about the magnets but I really fricken love it. But at the same time the air is so polluted and I seem to always have a hard time finding a nice restaurant with good food. Oh well, you can't have it all I suppose.
Promise I'll try to be less lazy about posting here. Especially after I write about military coups and all that stuff. Oops. :) Sorry.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Last night, I got a call from my friend telling me to be careful because there were terrorists in Bangkok. Before I could ask her what happened the phone went dead and I couldn't call her back because the cell phones stopped working. She texted me back (yes, I've finally learned how to send text messages) saying that Thailand was in a state of emergency. I freaked out, thinking maybe she was just trying to mess with a poor Farangs head, ran to the television but there was nothing on but some crazy Thai writing and some patriotic song on every single station. I thought "Hmmm, this is not normal...but I can't read or speak Thai! Aaahhh!" So I ran to my friends room who has cable and we turn on CNN and low and behold there are tanks and military in the street of Bangkok.
At that point I'm in utter panic mode. As an American I always took political stability for granted. Things like this just don't happen to me. I imagined having to leave the country, trying to get to the American embassy for them to save my ass, being shuttled back to America and my little Thai vacation being over.
After about 20 minutes all of the news channels were cut off so we had no idea what was going on. There was thunder and lightning last night and everytime I saw a flash or heard the thunder I was convinced it was a bomb. :) Thankfully, the coup has been peaceful and no one was hurt and everyone seems to be calm about it. This morning they called us to tell us that there will be no class today so we are just going to stay at home waiting for more news of the situation and I'll probably be studying my Thai so I will be more prepared to understand what the heck is going on the next time there is a military coup! Ha!
Friday, September 08, 2006
Another new experience for me the other night: Thai massage! It was like no other massage I've ever had. They work into every muscle on your body, pounding your muscles, pulling your body into crazy yoga poses. Very intense. Next time I think I might tell her just to skip my thighs; I mean really, who wants someone pounding on your inner thighs! I thought for sure I was going to be black and blue there. Overall though, it was a good massage. At one point, I swear to god, she was on top of me on all fours using her knees to massage my back and pulling my arms up into the air. Hardcore! And they are so cheap, not even $10 for a full one hour massage.
I still get moments of panic when I realize I still have no idea how to speak Thai. I wish I could just download it into my brain and magically speak Thai fluently. I've been studying but its so hard for me to remember the words because I have no way to reference the words in my brain. French, Spanish, German, Italian, anything would be easier. At least with the Romance and Germanic languages some things are similar and you can sometimes recognize a Latin or Greek derivation that will make it easier to remember. Not with Thai, no no. And it makes it even more complicated that Thai is a tonal language so the way you say the word can totally change the meaning. For example, the words for near and far are the same word...but spoken with a different intonation. Frankly, it all sounds the same to me. Glai will be glai to me no matter what tone you say it in. 5 tones, long vowels, short vowels, a totally different alphabet with 40 consonants, 30 some odd vowels, tone marks, numbers...yes it makes my head hurt oh so much.
maai mai mai mai mai
Yes, I just made a full sentence with one word. Oh you didn't understand? That would mean "New wood doesn't burn, does it?"
I'll leave you all to ponder that. :)
Saturday, September 02, 2006
The monthly salary day at our school is quite a carnival. The foreigners aren't eligible for direct deposit (the Thai teachers just got it this month) because the principal wants to pay us all directly so that we know exactly where are paycheck is coming from and are grateful for having a job there. Can you say "power trip?" We all have to wait until she calls us down to get paid which can be anytime during the day. Someone will come running up and you have to drop whatever you are doing and rush down to her office, even if you are in the middle of teaching a class. The first time she called us down she changed her mind and said she "wasn't in the mood," whatever that means, so we had to go back up and wait for her to call us again. They say 8 out of 10 times she won't be in the mood so apparently this is normal behavior for pay day. She called us back down about 2 hours later and you have to get in a line and wait until she calls out your number. When she calls your name you have to run in sign some things, wai (a sign of showing respect) and take the envelope with the money in it. Yes, I said an envelope full of money, not a check. We get paid all in cash! Its so crazy! 38,000 baht of pure hard cash (the largest bill is a 1,000). You take your envelope and count it in the office and then turn in the envelope after your done.
Let me just point out that everyone is in the office together and everyone can see exactly how much everyone else gets paid because they put everyone's name and salary on a sheet of paper where you have to sign. Talk about awkward! The hierarchy of pay is pretty consistent but also pretty messed up. There are 3 different "types" of teachers at the school: foreigners, Thais and Phillipinos. The Thais get paid less than the Phillipinos and the Phillipinos get paid less than the foreigners. The foreigners get paid almost 5 times more than the Thai teachers for doing almost the same thing. The foreigners do teach more classes than the Thai teachers in general but I still can't help but feel guilty and embarrassed about it. But there is a lot to be said about supply and demand. The foreigners tend to have a lot more job security because it is much more difficult to replace them than it is the Thai teachers. I have heard that a Thai teacher was fired for eating outside of the cafeteria. ::Sigh:: I could go on and on about the inequality and injustices for hours.
So I'm stuck with this big wad of cash and no bank to put it in. Before I left for Thailand I signed up with Citibank which supposedly has a branch in Bangkok but I haven't seen it yet. I have the address but we are so far away from anything that it would be a full days trip to find the bank. Plus, I found out later that in order to use the bank in Thailand I would have to sign up for a whole different account and then link my American account with my Thai account. If I'm going to go through that much trouble I would rather sign up with a Thai bank that actually has ATMs and branches near me. And readers from my debt blog might be interested to know that everytime you use your credit card or ATM with a foreign currency you are charged a conversion fee of 1-3%. The only credit card that doesn't charge is the Capital One card, which is the one credit card company I don't have an account with! In the meantime, I'm stuck leaving my money under my mattress. :)
Gosh, so much to talk about but I'm running out of internet time. More to come later!
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Last weekend we went to the Chatachuk weekend market. It is the biggest market in Bangkok and I think all of southeast Asia. It was very tempting to spend money and I can't wait to go there once we get our paychecks. They had everything you can think of (except for a foam pad for my rock hard mattress) and everything was pretty cheap, especially if you can haggle with the vendors. Clothes, art work, animals, handicrafts, books. It was great! We got giant watermelon smoothies which are my new food addiction and tried not to die from the heat.
Afterwards, we went to Sukhimvit Road which is where most of the foreigners stay and went out to dinner at Cabbages and Condoms. It was a really nice restaurant, clean and air conditioned with good food and menus in English. Even more interesting, the restaurants is run by a sex education NGO and instead of giving out after dinner mints they hand out condoms to promote safe sex and even decorate the restaurant with condoms. Goodness knows they need lots of safe sex education with all of the rampant sex tourism and prostitution.
This weekend I'm going to keep a low profile because money is especially tight. We might try to go to Lumphini Park early to catch the tai-chi-ers but that would mean getting up at 5 or 6 to catch the bus to get there early. If we do, I'll try and take lots of pictures!
Friday, August 18, 2006
One thing I might not get used to is the Thai logic. Have I mentioned earlier that logic is not a strong suit for Thai people? Of course this is a generality. I'm sure there are lots of logical Thai people out there but I'm having a hard time finding them.
Example 1: Highways are built so that if you want to merge onto another freeway you have to go 5 miles the wrong way to turn around to get to the freeway you want to get to.
Example 2: They looked at me like I was crazy that I cared that there were three different teaching schedules all contradicting each other.
Example 3: They want me to teach computers and they want me to use their books but they are all in Thai. They know I don't speak Thai but somehow that is not a problem?
Example 4: This is the doozy. The Ministry of Education has been giving me a hard time about my diploma. At first they thought it was a forgery so they wanted me to give them a piece of paper from the University saying that I really graduated. I tried to explain to them that the piece of paper from the University stating that I graduated was the diploma so why would I get a piece of paper to say that my piece of paper was legit. If I could forge a diploma with a seal and watermark how hard would it be for me to forge a piece of paper printed out from the computer?
Then all of a sudden they didn't care about the validity of my diploma. Instead they were saying that the University didn't exist. Apparently, their list said that the school was called "THE University of California" and my diploma read "University of California." They claimed because the word "the" wasn't on there that the University didn't exist. Sigh. So far 2 weeks I've had the crazy nun on my back claiming that I had to do something to prove that I really graduated and that my University really exists.
Today, we went with the document lady to the Ministry of Education to try to straighten things out. All of a sudden they didn't care about the "the" but they were concerned with my middle name. Now, they claimed that the diploma really wasn't mine because the diploma only had the middle initial and my passport had my full last name. They didn't understand the concept of a middle name and what an initial was so we had to go to the American embassy so I could sign an affidavit stating that the names were the same and pay $30 to have it notarized. Can you feel me rolling my eyes? I was so frustrated and pissed off at the sheer stupidity and arbitrariness of their requests. $30 might not seem like a lot in American dollars but it is a heck of a lot of money in Thailand especially when it was spent for no real purpose except to satisfy someone's momentary whim.
I have been trying so hard to not spend money because I don't want to fall back into the trap of spending money that I don't have or spending my money before I earn it. I've been broke since paying off my credit cards and won't get paid until the end of the month. I've been scrimping and saving wherever possible so it just felt so devastating to have to spend money on something so ridiculous. People just don't understand why its such a big deal. They say "don't worry, I'll lend you the money" without realizing that I don't want to owe anyone anything. I don't want to get my first paycheck and have it already spent. When I get paid I want it to be rightfully mine, without anyone else having claims on it whether it be a friend who lent me money or a credit card company. So I guess it'll be more scrimping and saving until the end of the month.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
So since this was a three day weekend we decided to do a little travelling. We were in desperate need for a beach holiday so we decided to go to Pattaya which is the closest beach to Bangkok. It was supposedly only a 2 hour bus ride to get to Pattaya but it took us 9 hours to get there! That is Thailand for you. Someone told me that there isn't a word for logic in Thai and I believe it! We had to get to the bus terminal so we looked at my bus map and got to the bus stop where it said the bus would come. We waited for 30 minutes for the bus to come but it never did. We saw the same bus coming literally 4 in a row at the same exact time. What a waste. After a while I decided to ask someone and this lady was nice enough to ask other people in Thai how we could get there. She told us to follow this guy because he was going to the same place and then told us to get on this bus because it would go the same way. We got on the bus and we asked them if they were going to "Ekamai" and they said no, no. Crap! But then they told us to stay on because we could take it to someplace us that would get us to Pattaya. So we listened to them and miraculously we got to the bus station.
It's funny how Thai people give directions. Obviously there is a language barrier but they are so vague. Example, Susan was asking one of the Thai teachers at the school what bus we should take to get to the Northern bus terminal. She told her it was called Ekamai but somewhere along the line the misunderstanding was that Ekamai was a completely different bus station than the Northern bus terminal so when we were asking other people for directions we weren't asking for the right thing. Luckily, even though we didn't understand them and they don't really understand us, the Thai people are so nice that they just figuratively push you in the general direction you need to go and it always works out. It was a miracle we made it there! On the way back we found out that there was a bus that went from our main street directly to the bus station and that saved us about 2 hours getting home. I wish someone would have told us that in the first place!
It was all worth it though because Pattaya was really beautiful. A lot of people don't like Pattaya because there is a big sex industry there and a lot of old white men with young Thai girls but it's not as bad as I expected it to be. We went further south of the central area where more families go for vacation and we really liked it. Compared to Bangkok this was paradise. You could see the sky. The streets and sidewalks were paved so you weren't always tripping over uneven concrete. It was relatively clean and there was food to eat! Yes, food! We ate like we might never eat again. It was expensive for Thai standards but reasonable if you think in American dollars. The water was clear and green and warm. They have beach chairs and beach umbrellas you can lay in and order drinks. Unfortunately, they didn't have margaritas but a nice cold beer hits the spot. And they have people go around selling food and other things which can be annoying at times but is nice when you want it.
I realized Thailand is not all that bad. It's just Bangkok. I would love to move out of Bangkok and live by the beach. Pattaya was the perfect blend of Western and Eastern influences and it didn't have the dirty, smelly, choking feeling of Bangkok. On more of our time off we plan to go to some of the other beaches to check them out. There are probably even nicer beaches to explore and maybe relocate to. After the weekend I feel totally re-energized and ready to stay in Thailand.
Oh, and I'll be posting a few more pictures at Flickr if you want to check them out.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Yesterday was hard for me. It started out o.k. We went to the mall by our house to go to an ATM and to get a new watch battery fixed. Getting the watched fixed was no problem; the guy at the watch shop was super nice and it only cost $2. We went to the ATM and I couldn't get any money out. I thought maybe it was just that bank so I went to another one and it still didn't work. We were on our way to downtown to do some sight-seeing so I figured there would be more ATMs that accepted international bank cards so I decided just to wait.
We took a river taxi into downtown because we heard that it was more direct and faster because there was no traffic. It may have been faster but it smelled terrible! They should call them sewer taxis. The water kept splashing on me and I thought I might die. It was an interesting experience and a new perspective (thats what I tell myself to be positive). Once we got off the boat we thought we would try to take a tuk tuk (mini taxis) to Jim Thompson's house. We found some tuk tuk drivers standing around and we asked him how much it would cost to get there. We were expecting something around 40 baht (about $1) but they looked at us and said 150 baht (about $5) which doesn't seem like a lot in American standards but is outrageous in Thailand. Keep in mind that you can buy a fancy dinner for 2 for 200 baht and an air conditioned car taxi ride would cost about 60 baht for the same distance. This was my first experience with someone obviously trying to rip me off in Thailand after two weeks with people being generally honest and helpful.
It didn't look that far on the map so we decided to just walk there. Boy was that a mistake! We ended up walking through a really crowded touristy area with people running into you and trying to sell you stuff while you are surrounded by funky smells and the heat from the street vendors cooking making it feel like it is 100 degrees outside with 100% humidity. By the time we made it to Jim Thompson's house I looked like I had been hit by a bus, dragged for miles and left to soak in a puddle of my own sweat. We ran for the gift store and just sat there enjoying the air conditioning.
Jim Thompson's house was really nice. He was an American architect who moved to Thailand after World War II and built his house with a blend of traditional Thai architecture and art with Western style. His gardens were amazing with beautiful orchids and lotus flowers and ponds with koi and a giant sting ray and some crazy meat eating fish. It felt like we were in a little tranquil oasis in the middle of a bustling, sweltering city. I never wanted to leave. You can check out the pictures by clicking on the link to the right that says "My Photos on Flickr".
Afterwards we went to the MBK marketplace which is a huge mall that is supposedly really cheap. I tried to use 3 or 4 different ATMs there and none of them were working. I was so tired and so frustrated at that point that I just wanted to cry. People were everywhere like bugs. I get really claustorphobic in crowds and I just couldn't deal with it. All the weeks frustrations were coming down on me and I was scared because I had no idea why I couldn't access my money. Finally, in a moment of clarity I realized that I was trying to use my credit card and not my ATM card to get money out the bank. You can imagine how stupid I felt and also how relieved I was when it finally worked. Normally, when something like that doesn't work you stop and try to think of all the reasons why it won't work. I just assumed it was because I was in a foreign country and didn't even stop to think "Hmmm, maybe I'm just using the wrong card." Duh!
After a long day yesterday I was really glad to be home. Home is really a relative term. Just two weeks ago I was longing to be at home in California and yesterday I was longing to be at home in Bang Kapi. I really appreciate our little area now because everyone is so nice here and I know how to get around in this general area.
Instead of just moping around today I felt motivated to do some things to make me feel more comfortable here. I found a bus map so we can plan our sight-seeing trips better so we don't have to walk for miles in the heat. We went to a real grocery store and bought real food to eat for dinner so I'm not eating cookies and potato chips for sustenance. I got a reading lamp so I don't have to read by the green flourescent light in my room. I bought comfortable shoes to wear to work so I'm not dying climbing the 4 flights of stairs. And I think next week I'll finally be able to start studying the language so I can say more than "Hello" and "thank you."
Don't worry about me. I'm strong. After all, if I can pay off all that debt in 2 years, I can do anything!
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Where do I start? The teacher's "condo" (or prison if you wish) makes the Motel 6 look like a 5 star resort. My bed is literally made of straw. When I wake up I feel like I have bruises on my body. I think I am getting used to it because I am sleeping through the night now but it was quite a change for me because my last bed was probably the most comfortable bed on earth. The floor is white tile, not exactly something that makes you feel like you are at home. I live on the fourth floor and there is no elevator. Incidentally, my classroom is on the 4th floor as well so soon I will have legs the size of tree trunks. Thankfully, I have a western style toilet but the shower is open so that every time you take a shower the entire bathroom gets wet. There is no water pressure either in the sink or the shower so things like taking showers and washing dishes take an inordinate amount of time. It took me about a week to figure out how to use the hot water heater. I was almost getting used to cold showers everyday. And let's not forget about the glow in the dark Jesus that hangs on wall right above my bed. I mentioned before that the internet is ridiculously slow but not only that but it takes about 30 tries before you can even get an outside line. Apparently, we can't receive calls from the outside either.
Now let's talk about the school. Everything "looks" really nice unless you look closely. Remember how I said that I was amazed at all the resources they have available to them. Well, the library is full of out of date books. The books they wanted me to use for the computer classes were from 1998 and were about working with DOS and floppy disks...and they were all in Thai. They know I don't speak Thai but they seemed to think that was a mere technicality. The computers are working on Windows 98 or 2000. Paper is like gold here. In America we piss through paper like it is nothing. Here, I asked the students to take out a piece of paper and they looked at me like I was mad. If I want to print something out I have to walk from the faculty room where the computer is and go down to the library on the other side of the hall and sign out a piece of paper. Can't we meet somewhere in the middle where we don't waste paper but it is there when we need it.
You know all those horror stories you hear about Catholic schools and the nuns that run them? I can imagine that they are all true! I have nothing against Catholics, just crazy nuns. The head of the English department is a nun and everyone hates her. I didn't understand why at first but now that I am here and she feels that she has her teeth in me she feels she can talk to me like I am a child. They treat all the teachers like children here. We have to scan our thumbs when we arrive in the morning and when we leave in the evening! I thought that only happened in James Bond movies! All of the teachers are supposed to wear uniforms that are provided to them by the school. The Sister had me try them on in her office over my clothes. I told her which ones I thought fit well and she looked at me and said "You don't like the ones that fit?" I stared at her a moment and said "No, those ones are too small." She mumbled something like "well o.k. if you don't like the ones that fit, I'll have them clean these ones." Later when she gave me the uniforms and I put them on in the morning before class I realized she had given me the smaller ones and I could barely breathe! I was so pissed that when I saw her I told her I couldn't wear them and I needed the other ones. That's when the devil in her came out! Everyone says just to smile and nod and then do whatever you want. I try to think of her as just an interesting character that I will laugh about in years to come.
I thought that the students would be sooo well behaved because they seemed to have so much respect for their teachers. That's all a show. As soon as they are in the classroom they turn into little monsters that won't listen to a word that you say. O.k. I take that back but they can be evil when they want to be. I think I finally got through to them today but that was only after 3 days of having to act like a drill sergeant. Some teachers have to conduct class yelling at the top of their voice. I refuse to do that and I don't think I'll have to but I'll have to get real creative with discipline and reward techniques to keep them in line.
I was hoping when I came here that I would lose weight because I would be more active and I would be eating healthier. At first this was working because I wasn't eating at all. We have no kitchen in our rooms. They do give us a water heater, a refrigerator, a toaster and a rice cooker but I honestly don't know what to cook with all that besides rice, toast and ramen noodles. And the main road is so far away that I usually can't muster the effort to get there and then once I'm there they only have gross looking food (hello, coffee tea and german sausages!). But then I started getting desperate and was eating Lay's potato chips and cookies for dinner because it was the only thing that is available. Sigh. Either we need to move closer to the city or I need to get creative with a rice cooker pronto!
It sounds terrible, doesn't it? Yes and no. Like I said, it's always hard when you are in a new place. It's not all bad. The people here are really nice. Normally, if you are lost or need help people don't have time for you but here they really go out of their way to make sure that you are o.k. No one has tried to rip us off and they're really patient with us when we try to communicate in broken Thai or sign language. After a while, I know I'll figure it out and I'll love it here!
Mmm, straw beds and dirty walls...my favorite!
Glow in the dark Jesus, looking over me.
Thank goodness for Western toilets but would a shower curtain be asking for too much?
Sunday, July 30, 2006
The Grand Palace is one of the major tourist destinations. Unfortunately, I didn't study up much on the history or the significance of the Palace but you really don't have to know much about it to appreciate it's beauty. There was lots of gold and intricate artwork. We were able to go inside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha which was the first time I had actually been in a Buddhist temple. You wouldn't expect a Buddhist temple to look so ornate but everything was decked out in gold and bright colors.
While we were walking around we saw a monk in his orange robes. Women are forbidden to touch monks in Thailand because they are supposed to resist any temptations of the flesh so I try to avoid going anywhere near them. I was very surprised when he started talking to us in English, asking us what we thought of the palace. We ended up talking to him for quite a while and he even let us take a picture with him. He was from Sri Lanka and I think that the rules are quite different for monks in Sri Lanka than they are for monks in Thailand because he handed me something which I had heard is forbidden. The whole time I was thinking how crazy it was that I was walking around Thailand talking to a Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka!
The heat was quite unbearable yesterday. I keep waiting to get used to the heat but I don't think you ever really do. Instead, I think you just resign yourself to feeling sticky and hot all the time. I can't wait until October when it starts to cool down. I took lots of pictures yesterday and I'll try to upload them later for you all to see.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
We walked down the main road hoping to find some food that I would consider edible. I realized once I came here what a picky eater I am. I think I am going to get very skinny here because I am very sensitive to smells and funky tastes and I would rather not eat than to eat something questionnable. For example, they have lots of street vendors that cook right there on the street in little carts. Most of the stuff is sitting there under heaters. Lots of fried stuff and lots of sausage and soup and noodles are sold in little baggies. Unfortunately, the area can get very smelly so I don't want to take a chance on getting food poisoining by eating at any of these stalls. The locals seem to not have a problem with it but I'm not that daring yet.
We were about to give up when we saw what looked like a little restaurant. The sign was in English and as we were walking I was excited to read "Coffee"...."Tea"... and "German Sausages"! You have to imagine us eagerly reading the sign out loud, trying to see what the next word was and hysterically laughing when we figured out that the last word was German Sausages. It seemed a very unlikely combination. If you know me, you'll know that in any normal circumstances the mention of sausage would make me run the other way but in this case I was never so excited to see sausages in my life.
On our way back we decided to take the motorcycle taxi. I was terrified to get on because I have been trained to think that motorcycles are very dangerous, especially without a helmet. In the picture, you can see a motorcycle taxi with the driver wearing a helmet. I have to say that out of 100s of motorcycle taxis I have seen, this was the only one that I have seen wearing a helmet. You basically just hop on the motorcycle and hold onto the back. Some women ride side saddle but I would be too terrified to ride sideways. They act so nonchalant; some of them don't even hold on! You even see them with 2 people riding on the back. Once I got on and he started going it was not as terrifying as I had thought. It was actually very exhilirating, especially when he went over the speed bumps! I have a feeling that every day in Thailand will be a new experience!
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
My friend and a bunch of people from the school came to the airport to pick me up. We drove to the school and I tried to take it in as much as I could. I noticed that there were a lot of stray dogs wandering around on the streets. Susan says that its dangerous to walk around at night because the dogs follow you and might bite you. There were literally packs of dogs just chillin on the street. Bob Barker needs to get over here and start some sort of spay and neuter campaign to take care of this animal problem.
The area where I will be living and teaching is in the suburbs of Bangkok and we are surrounded by the richer residential area. I arrived at night and it sounded like there was a jungle right outside my window. There are frogs and who knows what else making lots of noise and I've seen a few small whitish lizards running around inside the apartment building. It tripped me out but supposedly they eat all the bugs so they don't bother me that much. As long as they stay out of my room I'll be fine.
The Head of the English department took me around and introduced me to the students today. As soon as a teacher enters the room all of the students get up and greet you and bow to show respect. I was worried that the children would be shy and quiet but they are not at all. They are very boisterous and energetic and I doubt I will have a problem with them being shy. The school has so many resources for the children. They do Thai dance and play traditional instruments but they are also all boy scouts and girls scouts. They have piano lessons and can learn English, French, and Chinese. They have a huge olympic size pool, tennis court and soccer field. It's much nicer than any school I've ever been to in the United States. I've heard that it's one of the nicest schools in Thailand and I believe it!
I'll be teaching in a classroom with two other teachers. One is my Thai counterpart who will assist me with the class and the other is a science teacher. I'm not sure how it will work. They are very vague about things. I still haven't seen the books I will be using or been told what level the students are at. The Head of the English department mentioned that she would like me to teach some computer classes as well and I'll also be tutoring my Thai counterpart in English. We are only assigned about 15 classes per week (which is about 15 hours) but we have to stay at school all day. I figure that will be o.k. because I can do all of my lesson plans, grade homework and study my Thai while I'm there so that when I go home I won't have to worry about anything else.
I've been trying to pick up some Thai here and there. So far all I can remember is how to say "Hello" and "Thank you". The locals get a kick out of it whenever I speak what little Thai I know. They are usually shocked I can even say that much. Thai is going to be very difficult to learn because it is so different from English. I have no way to make connections like you can in French or Spanish. The trick will be not being scared to sound like an idiot and use it in meaningful context so that it will stick.
I will try my best to post and upload pictures. Unfortunately, the internet connection here is very slow and it takes several attempts to connect to an outside line. I still haven't figured out how to call internationally. The phone in my room doesn't want to work and I get close on the pay phone but right before I am almost finished dialing the number it hangs up on me.
I was a little homesick but I think I'm really going to like it here. The people are very friendly and there are so many interesting things to explore and observe. I know I'll have a lot to write about on this blog and hopefully I'll get over my fear of looking like a tourist by taking lots of photos so you can all see what I'm talking about!
Here's a picture of the view from my room. You can see I'm very close to work! I'm on the 4th floor and we have no elevator. I am going to have buff legs! Just to the left of my window is the pool. The teachers can use it after school hours and it is really big. Just below me is where the students practice traditional Thai music and dance. It is really cute!
Here's a picture of my breakfast. They were nice enough to stock my fridge with some American stuff and lots of fruit. After the plane food I was so glad to have some "normal" food. I haven't been to the market yet but there are lots and lots of 7-11's. They have a 7-11 nearly every three blocks.
Monday, July 17, 2006
I'll be leaving on July 24th and after an excruciating 20 hour flight I'll be in Bangkok where I'll be teaching English at a private school. I'll be teaching there with a friend of mine so I won't be completely alone which makes me feel much more confident about the whole situation. I've never traveled anywhere in Asia so I'm sure I'm in for quite a culture shock, but I guess that's why we travel isn't it?
Check back later and I'll post lots of stories, pictures and maybe even some personal finance tips for traveling and living abroad.