Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Buddhist Bling
This is an interesting article about the current trend of wearing Buddhist amulets. I got a kick out of it because I see them everywhere and they seem to be getting bigger and bigger. Sometimes they look so big you're convinced that they are wannabe Buddhist rappers. They are worn to provide luck and protection; I've read stories of people being magically unscathed by a gun shot because their amulet protected them.
After reading this article I started realizing that Thai people (some, not all of course) are really superstitious. For example, just yesterday one of the students was cleaning the windows standing on the cabinets and fell out of the window. Our classes are on the fourth floor but luckily there was a ledge that she fell onto. Regardless, it was a very dangerous thing to do but Thais in general don't have the same ideas about child safety that we do in the States. There are some negatives and some positives for this. The positive side is that when a kid falls down they will pick themselves up without missing a beat. No crying. No whining. They just walk off the pain. I've seen some pretty gnarly falls as they run down the halls. But on the other hand, they put themselves at risk for much more serious injury, i.e. falling out of windows on the fourth floor.
Later that day I heard that another child in the school broke his arm. Coincidence? Oh I think not. :) I then heard stories that the lady who cleans that school in the morning reported hearing voices of children playing at 5:30 a.m. Now, everyone is convinced that our school is haunted and they are going to have a monk come to the school to check it out (who cares if its a Catholic school?).
Let's just hope that the ghosts don't try to throw me out of windows before I leave Thailand.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Happy Monday Everyone! I had quite a productive weekend. I finally got myself to a Thai Boxing match and I'm so glad that I did. Let's start from the beginning.

As I think I've mentioned before, one of the things that had been stopping me from going to a boxing match was the price. If you are Thai it's not that expensive, only about 200 baht or $7 dollars. If you are a foreigner on the other hand the price goes all the way up to 1,500 baht or about $40. We were thinking since we live and work (and pay taxes) in Thailand we might be able to get in for the Thai price if we could appeal to the mercy of the ticket agents. Of course, I don't know what I was thinking. They just kind of laughed at us and the thought that we might ever be considered Thai so I sucked it up and paid the price for being a foreigner.

The tickets we bought were for the second class seating as opposed to the ringside seating. There were a few reasons for this. A) It was cheaper by 100 baht which is not really much of a reason B) I had watched Thai boxing on TV and had seen how in between the matches they point the camera on the people (mostly foreigners) sitting in the front row which would make me terribly uncomfortable. C) I wanted to be in the back to see all the action of the match, including the gambling and antics of the local Thais. D) I didn't want to be sprayed by sweat and/or blood if the fight got too heated.

All this said, I had no idea what we were in store for when we got to the second class seating. I was dismayed looking at the rickety old bleachers that had the lovely stench of piss and you know what and which looked as if they might collapse at any moment sending you into a pile of vermin. I momentarily regretted my decision but we sucked it up and found a seat where we could lean against the fencing. It probably wasn't too bad of a choice after all because we could get up and move around unlike those at the ringside and you had a more elevated view of the fight instead of having to look up and over someone else's head to see the fight.

I was glad that I had watched the movie Beautiful Boxer before going because I had a sense of the life that they fighters lead at their training camps and some of the history behind the sport. If you are interested in Thai boxing or Thai culture, I would definitely recommend the movie.

Before the fighting begins the fighters go through some sort of ritualistic dance where they pray and pay respects to their coach and the other fighter. Interesting to watch the first couple of times but when you are watching 10 different matches it can get quite tedious to watch.

The fight started with the youngest fighters, probably around 9 or 10 years old. My heart went out to those young boys who were kicking the crap out of each other. They were much feistier and less inhibited than the older fighters, making the fight more lively and exciting to watch but you really couldn't get over the guilt of watching children engage in this sort of activity. The older fighters weren't as quick to make a move, probably because they were more experienced and were planning their attacks more.

The rules are that there are no rules (oh dear, that sounds so cliche now). Well, not as far as I could see. You could kick or hit anywhere but the preferred shots were knee kicks to the kidneys or a roundhouse kick to the face. Ouch! We could hear the smacks of the kicks all the way where we were (it's a fairly small stadium) and it didn't sound pleasant. The first match ended when the one boy fell to the floor and the other boy delivered a knee to the face resulting in a knock out. More than one fight ended with one fighter being carried away on a stretcher. It felt like watching a game of Street Fighter.

I tried to take lots of picture but alas my camera is dying a slow and painful death and doesn't take great pictures anymore. I'll post some of the ones that I took as soon as I can manage the patience to uploading on my slow Internet connection.

In the meantime, have a great week!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Oh the end of another weekend. Boo! I didn't manage to do any of the things that I wanted to do before I leave Thailand but I did manage to accomplish the following:

1) Saw the new Transformers movie and was surprised that I was actually entertained for the first half. Bangkok has some awesome movie theaters; my favorite part is that you get to pick your seat when you buy your ticket so there is no rush to get into the theater so you get a good seat. We should really consider doing this in the States. But unfortunately, like in the States, there are about 20 minutes of previews and commercials...oh yeah and also a tribute to the King where everyone has to stand and watch pictures of his life while listening to same patriotic song. The annoying thing is that the commercials never change. They are still playing the same commercials that they were playing when I came to Thailand a year ago. And those were the same commercials that they were playing the year before that when my friend came. I don't know why we don't go later to the movie cuz we already have our seats. *Note to self. Go to theaters later.

2) Went to the doctors. I love the doctors here. Bumrungrad Hospital is a great place for people watching too. It's like half mall/half hospital, fully equipped with a Starbucks and a McDonalds. They are so cheap, I just want to go all the time. I'm not even sick but think of all the preventive stuff you might consider doing if it were easy to get appointments and dirt cheap. I haven't seen Sicko (the Michael Moore movie) but us Americans have to get our shiz together when it comes to health care. There's just something wrong if I'm scared to go home because I won't have health insurance.

3) Went shopping at Platinum Mall. If you're in Bangkok and you want to find cheap clothes, you need to go to Platinum Mall by Pratunam. Soooo cheap. Six floors of nothing but shoes, clothes, bags, accessories, and anything else you could wear. I probably spent about $100 and I could barely carry all of my bags.

I was determined to make my way home by public transport instead of taking a taxi because I hate those taxi drivers and I was trying to save money. I recognized one of the bus numbers and was excited that it could be so easy so I asked if it was going in the right directions. Of course it couldn't be that easy and they said that I would have to cross the street to go the directions I wanted to go. So I cross the street and wait. And wait. And wait. I waited for a full 45 minutes, just knowing that as soon as I left the bus would come. Finally I gave up and decided I might as well make the trek to catch the boat.

Canal travel is such an interesting way to travel Bangkok. You definitely get a more "exotic" view of the city as you see all the back alleys and tropical vegetation. The problem is that they smell like raw sewage and the boats can be terrifying to get into because you imagine yourself falling into the "klong" which would probably kill you. If you've ever seen Roger Rabbit and remember that stuff that they used to kill the cartoons...I really can't remember what its called...I imagine that that is what is in the klong. If it touches you, you will dissolve. Scary stuff.

Next week I'm going to take my camera around with me and try to catch some pictures of everyday life around here. Maybe I'll even get a shot of the klong!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Oh I know I know. What a bad blogger I've been. I haven't updated for a while but really there hasn't been much reason to blog because I haven't done anything terribly interesting. I've been working a lot doing tutoring (if you're a native English speaker you'll have to fight off the tutoring possibilities). I've even been working on Saturday (gasp in horror) so that means that I can't travel much.

I'm at that point in my stay in Thailand where I am good and ready to go home. Things no longer seem interesting, more likely they just seem annoying. I'll never truly speak Thai; it is probably the most difficult language in the world to speak. I thought I had lucked out on a mild hot season but turns out it just came late. It's been unbearably hot so I don't even want to leave my room to go buy food or drop off my laundry. Just walking up the stairs (4 flights) and I'm covered in sweat. I've been fighting a cold for weeks now because my immune system is weakened by coming in and out of the A/C into the heat.

I dream of being at home where food is just an air-conditioned drive away, laundry can be done in my own home and I can freely converse to anyone. Internet is super fast. Netflix will send movies to my home. And Tivo. Tivo. It's probably time for me to go home, before a taxi cab driver kills me by his wild driving without seat belts. God, I hate taxi cab drivers.

I will miss the massages, the facials, and the cheap medical care. I've been going to Bumrungrad Hospital to take care of any and all medical problems I might have before I go home. It's supposed to be one of the top 10 hospitals in the world and it's so super cheap. The doctors are so knowledgeable, unlike the ones in the States who just look at you and scratch their heads when you tell them theres something wrong. The U.S. really needs to get its act together when it comes to medical care.

There are still a few things I want to do before I go home, i.e.:

1) visit a floating market

This seems like a must to do before you leave Thailand. The problem is is that they are quite far from Bangkok and you can't take a bus directly there so you either have to take a taxi or get a group tour to go there. Plus, you have to wake up and go early which is the last thing you really want to do on your day off.

2) visit the Tiger Temple

At first, I didn't feel comfortable visiting the Tiger Temple because I thought the tigers were exploited by the temple to attract tourists and didn't want to contribute to that. But recently I saw a TV show where they really showed the care that they give the tigers and felt more comfortable about going there. You can walk with them and get up-close and personal with a real live kitty cat tiger.

3) visit the Erawan Waterfalls

I just want to swim under a waterfall! Wouldn't that be cool?

4) Go to a Muay Thai boxing match

I went to the stadium but was thrown off by the unequal prices; farangs pay 1,500 baht but Thais only pay 100 baht. Ugh! Whats that!? Still I want to do this! Maybe I can pass as a Thai? Yeah right!

So my time in Thailand feels like its coming to an end but I'm far from doing everything I came here to do. I better get busy!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Hooray! I finally got my Blogger to work! It all of a sudden started displaying in Thai and I couldn't even figure out how to log-in. Whew. It's amazing that I survive in this country. =)

I just got back from Phuket a couple of days ago. Phuket was the area of Thailand most affected by the tsunami in 2004 but you would hardly know that anything happened there except for the fact that there are tsunami hazard zone signs and evacuation procedures posted everywhere. The area is filled with tourists, mainly German, Dutch, Australian and French. We stayed in Patong Beach just so we would be close to everything and I don't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. There were lots of bars filled with ugly old white guys looking for young Thai girls and some of them unknowingly hitting on katoeys (ladyboys). Everything was very expensive in Phuket which was one of it's major drawbacks. We had ordered a bottle of water in a restaurant and only later found out that it cost 50 baht, more than 7 times the price that it would cost at a convenience store. We learned to be very careful of asking how much things were before committing to anything.

My favorite part about Phuket was going to the rainforest and visiting the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center there. Being an anthropology major in college and having done some research on gibbons I was very excited to see the gibbons in their somewhat natural habitat. They were very active and fun to watch. Unfortunately, the night before we had seen a guy on the street who had a gibbon and was charging tourists to take pictures with the animal. I wanted to call the police on him but my friend convinced me that I was being unreasonable. While we were at the center I mentioned this to the staff and they said that yes that was illegal in Thailand and I was able to report it to them. The next night we went back and I tried to get a picture of the guy. I felt so bad for that poor little cute gibbon. I hope that they are able to catch them. Anyways, while we were there we also went hiking to a nearby waterfall and it was very beautiful.

The next day we signed up for a day tour of the Phi Phi islands. We visited the beach where they filmed the movie "The Beach" and I could only imagine that before they filmed the movie there it was very peaceful. Now it is full of tourists (including myself) and I felt like I was at Raging Waters or some water park than on a tropical island. I didn't even want to swim in the water because there were so many speed boats (think stinky gasoline) and people (think bathroom). We also went snorkeling but unfortunately all of the coral was dead and there was a lot of trash in the water. Very sad. I don't know if the coral died as a result of tourism or if it died after the tsunami but it was very unhealthy.

Overall my advice to you would be to skip Phuket and visit some of Thailand's other beaches like Koh Tao or Koh Samet. They have everything that Phuket had, minus the vast hoards of tourists, trash, and high prices.

Tomorrow I'm off on a teachers trip to Kanchanaburi. The school is putting us up so hopefully it will be nice and relaxing.

Pictures slowly being posted on Flickr!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPhoto Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPhoto Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Monday, April 16, 2007

Happy Songkran everyone! Thailand is just finishing it's celebration of the Thai New Year and it's back to work tomorrow for me. The New Year lasts for 3 days here and each day the streets are filled with people throwing water on passersby and dancing like maniacs.

Of course I had to partake in the festivities and I had heard that the best place to be in Bangkok was at Khao San Road so I bought a giant water gun and headed over there on Saturday. It was pure chaos with tons of people filling the street so that you felt like cattle being herded to the slaughterhouse (o.k. maybe that's a bit dramatic). People were throwing ice cold water down my back and smearing plaster on my face; good times. I think they took special pleasure in attacking me because I was a farang (foreigner).

I could only take so much of the crowds because I tend to get quite claustorphobic so we headed down one of the little streets to relax and have some coffee and lunch. This was more pleasant because we were able to do some people watching and squirt people with our water guns without being man-handled by a giant crowd.

After spending most of the day in Khao San, the sun was going down and it was actually starting to feel quite cold so we went home, soaking wet and exhausted. It was a fun experience but probably something I would only want to do once. One more experience to cross off my lists of things to do in this lifetime!

More pictures uploaded to Flickr!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I made it back to Thailand after visiting home for about a month. It was so great to be home that it made the transition back to Thailand a bit difficult. I was worried about my reaction to coming home because it had been quite a while since I had been back but it was like never leaving.

The flight was long and arduous, although not as terrible as my flight to Bangkok had been. I flew EVA Air which I highly recommend and luckily the plane was comfortable and they had on-demand movies and T.V. to keep you occupied during your flight, plus the food was edible so I had no complaints other than the fact that as soon as I fell asleep (I have a terrible time sleeping while traveling) the flight attendant woke me up to give me a towel. I mean really, was giving me a towel so important that it necessitated waking me up? I think not. So, I was very tired and emotional as a result because when I was going through customs and the customs agent asked me how I was, I nearly started crying. It had been so long since I had been asked that by a stranger and I thought "He cares, he really cares." Oh man, that makes me crack up. In Thailand, I feel it is very impersonal, which is probably because I am a foreigner so they assume I don't speak any Thai, but in general they are not quite as friendly as they are in the States. They laugh at Americans because we say "Thank you" so much. I never realized how much we do say "Thank you" and I know they think it's weird when I'm always saying thank you in Thai but I just can't help it.

Driving back from the airport I felt a little dismayed because it all looked the same and I felt how boring it was. No people walking around, nothing new to see. It was pretty much the same as when I left it. In Bangkok there are always people around and it always feels crowded. In America there seemed to be a void that needed to be filled with clamorous activity: people pushing themselves through a crowd, motorcycles whizzing by, vendors selling things on the street.

After a while I adjusted and felt quite comforted by the familiarity and also realized how extremely CONVENIENT it is to live in America. I still had my car so it was easy to go to the store to pick up the random odds and ends or to visit a friend. Driving seemed so orderly and relaxing compared to the insane traffic of Bangkok. At first I almost forgot that seat belts actually served a purpose and it felt unnatural to put it on because in taxis the backseat seatbelts are there but there is no buckle to put the seatbelt into so you can't really wear them. Crazy, right? I felt like life was so easy, so harmonious, almost idyllic. People all seemed sooo nice and there was a systematic order to things that I had craved so much in Thailand. We are always talking about the lack of "logic" in Thailand and I don't think we realize how anal retentive Americans are. Maybe its a little bit of the Puritan spirit left in us, I don't know, but I was glad to have efficiency in my life again.

The one thing I didn't like about being back in America was how expensive and how easy it was to spend money in America. I would go out and easily spend $100 in one store without even realizing it and that horrified me. It would take me all weekend to spend $100 in Thailand! Even eating was expensive but I realized that the cost was proportionate to the amount of food you receive. It really is ridiculous the size of the portions a restaurant serves. Most of the time you probably shouldn't eat more than half of what is given to you so you end up either wasting food, sharing food (if you both want the same thing), or taking food home as left-overs which most of the time don't taste very good reheated. Why don't they serve half the amount of food for half the price? That would make a lot more sense.

So I enjoyed my time immensely at home, being with friends and family and my cat. It was so nice that I didn't want to go back to Thailand but I didn't have a lot of choice. Going back was very hard; it was like starting over from square one. I hated the crowds. I hated the people and how unfriendly and rude they could be. I hated the inconvenience. I missed my friends and my family. I hated the lack of logic.

But luckily, I got used to it again. I'm enjoying my time in Thailand again and things don't bother me like they did when I first came back. It's just a process of adapting to the cultural norms and luckily I feel that my personality is flexible enough to move between the two with only minor discomforts.

This weekend is the Songkran Festival which is a big New Year's Celebration for Buddhists. We have a five day weekend (woo-hoo) so we are going to celebrate by going out and playing with water guns in the street and getting completely soaked. Most of the Thai's end up leaving Bangkok for the long weekend but I plan on staying in town, mainly because traveling seems like a hassle and prices go up so much during that weekend. Hopefully, I'll be able to take lots of pictures, that is, if my camera doesn't get drenched.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Only 10 more days until I return to the homeland. I got a great deal on my ticket, only about $150 more for a roundtrip ticket than I paid for my one way ticket to Thailand. I'm just coming home to visit for about a month and then returning to Thailand to teach again. I honestly love it in Thailand and could get used to living here. Everyone is always asking when I'm going to go home and I honestly don't have a good answer for that. I guess I'll just know when it's time to go home. I do miss my family, friends and of course my cat but I also don't want to deal with looking for a job or applying for grad school. Life in the U.S. just seems so much more stressful. Just the thought of not having health insurance when I go home is enough to make me not want to stay. And what about cheap massages? I don't know any place in the U.S. where you can get a good massage for under $10.

In preparation for going home I've been shopping like crazy for gifts. It's fun to actually have the money to do this and to browse through the enormity of goods that are available in Bangkok for cheap. It makes me realize to that the quality of life in Thailand is actually probably a lot better than in the States. Even though I only make a little more than $1,000 every month, I have no bills and can live a pretty extravagant lifestyle off of $500 a month allowing me to save $500 which is better than most people in the States I would venture to say. It's not mind blowing or anything but if you factor in things like the fact that I don't have a commute then its not too shabby.

And I think I might have finally straightened things out with the crazy nun. I think we have reached an understanding that if she just leaves me alone I'll do my job. But then again, you can't really predict what crazy people will do so we'll just have to wait and see. I love my kids and I'll have the same ones next year so I won't have to relearn how to manipulate the group dynamics to my advantage; I've already got them right where I want them (evil laugh).

Unfortunately, I won't be able to be home in April to see Bjork but I will be able to eat some carne asada fries, sweet corn tamales, tofu mushroom burgers etc etc. Although strangely enough I'm starting to develop new food fetishes for Thailand, i.e. salad in a bag, chicken satee with spicy peanut sauce. Food in a bag isn't nearly as weird as I used to think it was. They even drink soda out of a plastic bag, just a plain old little plastic bag with handles and everything. Not strange to me anymore but strangely efficient. I am afraid of the reverse culture shock that I'll experience. For example, will I freak out at home clean everything is? Or how orderly? Most likely I'll freeze. I'll be wearing mittens and scarves while other Californians are wearing tank tops and flip flops. I don't know but we'll find out in 10 days!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Hello again everyone! Well its about time for my monthly blog entry. I can't say I've been up to anything terribly exciting. After our travels in Chiang Mai we've been keeping it real in Bangkok, trying to save money so that I can maybe, maybe visit home in March. I would love to come home for a few weeks in March but now my whole plans are being spoiled by the announcement of the Coachella Festival lineup in April. Bjork, my favorite all time superstar, is going to be there, but alas Coachella isn't until April 26th. Sigh. I've been trying to figure out if I should teach summer school and I had all this drama trying to talk to Superior Sister (the Principal who also happens to be a crazy ((maybe??)) nun). She's supposed to let me know on Friday what will happen with summer school and the new school year but now I don't want to teach summer school (March-April) because that means I won't be able to go to Coachella. Sigh again. We'll see what happens but either way I'm going to try to come home so I can gain back all the weight I've lost and see all my friends and family.

Life outside of school has been relatively boring (as boring as it can get in Thailand) but life at school has been loaded with drama. Another foreign teacher quit which makes it 5 foreign teachers in my department who have quit in the past 6 months. The nun drives everyone a little bit crazy and I know I should write down all of these stories A) because no one would believe me B) because it would make a great book. For example, one of the foreign teachers left early on Monday to go to the doctor but didn't tell the nun because he couldn't find her. She called him in the next day and proceeded to yell at him for 45 minutes because he left. He explained that his hand went numb and he couldn't feel anything in his arm and he was worried he might be having a heart attack. To this she responded, "Better that you fall over and collapse at school so that I can take care of you than for you to leave without asking permission." Yes, so basically its better for him to die of a heart attack than to leave without permission from her. Right.

The cold weather lasted for all about 2 weeks and now it is back to being hotter than hot. The kind of hot where you start sweating as soon as you walk outside. The kind of hot where you feel it is necessary to take at least 3 showers a day. The kind of hot where you give up on looking half way decent because your hair will fro and make up will melt off in 3.5 minutes. I hear it actually snowed in Malibu and wish maybe some of that cold would come my way. :)