Thursday, August 24, 2006

I'm playing hookie from school today. The whole school is celebrating "Sports Day" which is really more like "Sports Week" or even better "Let's Go Outside and Sweat in the Sun Day." All week they have been practicing for the events so I've spent much more time than I would have liked standing around in the sun, deprived of any air conditioning. Yesterday, we stayed outside all day in 100 degree heat just sitting around, trying to be entertained and sweating so much that by the end of the day I felt as though I had an exoskeleton. They lock up all the classrooms so no one can find relief in the air conditioning and lock the gates so no one can escape. Thats why today I'm rebelling and hiding out in my room with the A/C cranking.

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

Life is feeling more normal. I'm no longer phased when I see women holding babies on the back of a motorcycle or "lady-men" working at the pharmacy. I realize that your perceptions of things are very relative and easily changed. For example, when we first got here I was shocked to think of our neighborhood as being the "rich" part of town but now I walk around and think "yeah, this is pretty nice" and masses of yellow shirts don't seem abnormal.

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

I've never been more excited for a holiday weekend in my life. This weekend was Mother's Day in Thailand which is a big deal because it is the Queen's birthday. They LOVE their royal family here. If you thought Americans were patriotic, you haven't seen anything! When I first got here I tripped out because everyone was wearing yellow shirts. There were whole stores that sold practically nothing but yellow shirts. You see, yellow is the color of the royal family and on certain days everyone is supposed to wear yellow shirts in support of the King. They even gave me a yellow shirt to wear every Monday which is great because I hate the ugly uniforms I have to wear the rest of the week.

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.

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Awww thanks everyone! I can't tell you how happy it made me to receive so many supportive emails. I guess my last post really freaked some people out. It sounds terrible and in some ways it is terrible but in time I'll have everything figured out and living in Thailand will be a piece of cake. Being in a new place with a new language and new customs can be very overwhelming and frustrating. Little things like eating and buying a pair of shoes consumes so much effort that you feel exhausted by the end of the day. Everyday will make it a little easier as I become used to what to expect and learn my way around.

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

Warning! This post is going to be very negative. I had no illusions before I left that everything was going to be rosy 100% of the time. No matter where you go there are always things that are different and that frustrate you. So don't think that I'll be coming home anytime soon; I just need to vent about these adjusting pains.

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 favorite!

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Glow in the dark Jesus, looking over me.

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Thank goodness for Western toilets but would a shower curtain be asking for too much?

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