Tuesday, September 19, 2006

So you know you're not in Kansas anymore when the government of the country you are living in is overthrown by a military coup. Holy cow! Haha. See I told you that you never know what to expect when you are living abroad.

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

So its been almost 2 months since I've been in Thailand and I'm still trying new things all the time. I still have those moments of fascination where I stop and go "Wow, I'm in Thailand right now. Look at me! I'm walking around Bangkok! Weee." I know; its totally nerdy but what can I say? I love having those nerdy moments. Living in a foreign country makes you feel so alive; you can never really take things for granted. For example, the other night we were walking around late at night (don't worry Grandma, I'm always careful) and all of a sudden I had to stop and think "Is it really 3 a.m. right now? Why are there so many people walking around???" So crazy to me that in Bangkok it always feels like it could be a Saturday afternoon with people walking around everywhere, people eating and shopping in the middle of the night. Who knows when these people sleep.

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

Woohoo! I finally got my first paycheck here in Thailand. It's the first money in years that I can spend without guilt because I don't have credit cards to pay off anymore. It's really hard to let go of the fear of spending money. I've been conditioned to think of every cent I spend and weigh out all the pros and cons of spending it before I spend it. And that's probably a good habit to be in so I don't get myself in debt again!

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!