A day on the town

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This was the first day that I had some free time to walk around, so I went to explore some of the back roads of town. I headed down the highway, through some rice paddies, and into a nearby residential area. Even though it was blazing hot, it was so quiet and peaceful that one couldn’t help but feel breezy. People were out on mats on their porches, just lounging and passing the time. The smell of wood smoke was in the air– it reminded me of camping back home.

 

All of a sudden, an insane, bug-eyed dog rounded the corner and started chasing me at full-sprint. I booked it down the street, until I got near the end of the road, where three more dogs turned onto the street and started chasing me back the opposite way. I had one road left to take, a dead end… I waited at the end of it, sure I was about to have to break down and pay for some rabies shots. Luckily, the dogs lost interest once I turned off their street. But I was trapped on this little alleyway– any time I would tiptoe back out onto the main road, the dogs would chase me back again. Finally, I decided to sprint through and take their wrath. But this time, they didn’t chase. Lucky break…

 

After all that excitement, I was quite ready for some iced tea. Right on cue, I ran into my favorite vendor at the night market, who it turns out has a day gig selling snacks at a stall on this side of town. She gave me a place to sit, some iced tea, and a bamboo boat full of khao gliap– rice dough filled with peanuts, onions, and sweet coconut milk, sprinkled with dried garlic.

I felt that after being presented with so much food, I should at least help her make some more. So she showed me how to make the khao gliap, and I took over. Spread a thin layer of batter onto the skillet (a plastic bag tied over a pot of boiling water), let the dough steam, pour in the topping, fold, fold, fold… and voila! People were coming to buy them faster than I could make them! I spent the rest of the day there and boy, was it hard work. But throngs of my students came by to buy snacks from me, and I felt the most a part of the community then than I have so far. Great day!

 

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Not bad, not bad at all.

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(Me with some of the other teachers in the school)

Settling in quite nicely. There’s nothing to do here, so it’s impossible to be stressed for time. It’s a nice change after Princeton.

Teaching has turned out to be a mixed bag. Some classes are so rewarding. They really want to learn and I am so motivated to help them learn. I sometimes run overtime on accident because I, and the students, are so engrossed in the lesson.

Other classes are a nightmare. I have one class where, as soon as I walk into the room, they all start screaming, running around, and wrestling each other. By the end of the hour, most of them have run outside to go play. I think that after having such strict Thai teachers, they welcome the opportunity to take advantage of a teacher who is not going to yell, hit, and otherwise coerce them to stay in line. I know I won’t be at this school for long, and I’d prefer to save my energy for reaching out to the students who really want to learn. If some choose to miss out, then so be it.

And luckily, in this region there are a lot of different cities to visit within 4-5 hours’ drive. I’m looking forward to exploring the region more very soon!

Follow me, my lemmings!

Hey all,

So I’m not very good at all this “technology” stuff, but I finally got someone to help me update the style of the blog and add a follow option to my page. There should be a button to the right of this post that you can click to follow! Sorry for all those who had to keep clicking back to my page only to find that I hadn’t written anything new.

Hugs, kisses, rainbows, and strawberry daiquiris,

Renee

First Day of Teaching

Well, today was my first teaching day, and it was a moderate success. I taught two classes each of 1st and 3rd graders. Although they are at almost the same level of English, the classes were completely different. In one of my first grade lessons, I was throwing a paper ball to students to have them answer questions. One student decided to make his own paper ball and chuck it at me. In contrast, my third grade classes both cheered when I walked in the room. They were self-disciplining, and after the lesson the students all helped me pack up and gave me a big hug. I think I will love teaching my third graders and be really motivated to make those lessons good– the first grade lessons, I might just suffer through.

I think that the lessons today proved that young learners are the same everywhere. The main challenge will be to keep them involved; if they get crazy, no one will be able to learn anything. Once you have their attention, it’s pretty easy to teach them the simple kind of English that I will be teaching. Wish me luck!

First Day of School

Today was my first day of school. There are so many kids– about 700, many of whom are bused in from other towns. I’ll have a ton of students– I’m teaching anuban 1 (preschool) and prathom 1-3 (1-3 grades), with 3 classes in each grade, and about 30 students per class. It’s going to be challenging for sure, but I’m hoping it will be fun and interesting too.

The first order of business was the school assembly. I was impressed to see that the school has its own marching band, and they are quite good. After many prayers, songs, and announcements, I was called up on stage to give an impromptu speech. I… er… uhhh…. yeah. Then they gave me a present and a ring of flowers, which is supposed to be good luck. Many of the school officials came up and gave me speeches, mostly saying that they hope I will be happy here. The teacher I am replacing left mid semester, and I had the opportunity to see her goodbye ceremony… the children wrote speech about how they were sorry. It was heartbreaking; they thought she was leaving because they were bad students, and they seemed genuinely downtrodden. I hope that I can pick their hopes back up.

I got a lot of different reactions that first day. Some students were very curious, and would follow me around the school. Some were very friendly and would yell “hello!!” and wave to me everywhere I went. Others looked positively terrified when I walked past. I figure I will let them come to me for the first few days– the ones that are scared can have some more time to get used to a new presence in the school.

I spent the day shadowing the other English teacher at the school and seeing what the students/classes were like. Let me tell you, we have our work cut out for us. This semester is the first semester EVER that there have been native/foreign English teachers at the school. Many students struggle to even say “My name is _____”. I just wonder how I’m going to go about teaching a class that has no background language to even understand basic instructions or explanations. I guess I will have to learn some classroom Thai quickly. Tomorrow I’ll be thrown into the gauntlet!

My New Home

The bus ride to Song was about 9 hours. Once I got here, I immediately knew I was in for a whole new life. The main town area is a few shops spanning 1-2 blocks. There are a handful of restaurants, and a 7-11. The rest of the town is houses and, further out, rice paddies with work posts spread throughout.

Everyone I met was so welcoming and friendly. And, of course, very curious; I am one of 2 foreigners who lives in the town. I was told that everyone knew I was coming and was excited to see me.

I had been worried about the racial prejudice coming out into a smaller town, after hearing some bad stories. I was worried that the school would see that I was dark-skinned and decide to send me back. But instead, the director of the school took me around town parading me to the townspeople, saying to them in Thai, “This is our new teacher. Isn’t she beautiful?” I was so grateful to get such a warm welcome.

Some of the teachers took me around introducing me to various townspeople. Everyone seemed to have a title, or function in the town– they would say to me, “This is our noodle lady.” or “This is our pharmacist.”

I was set up in a house with the other English teacher at the school (the other foreigner in the town), in a very nice house right next to the school. I think I will be well taken care of here.

I’m also looking forward to having plenty of creative time. I’ve brought my ukelele, my poetry notebook, paints, and plenty of good books. I think a lot of personal progress will be made in the next two months, and I’ll have time to be peaceful and enjoy the simple life.

Bangkok sites

After my course ended, I had a bit of time to do some sightseeing around Bangkok. There are some pretty impressive sights in this town; here and there all over the city, they have huge temples covered in intricate design-work. I visited this one, Wat Pho:

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Wats like this (well, not quite as spectacular) exist all over the city. You can find people praying at all times of the day. And in the city center, there is a place for people to buy jasmine and light incense, and to pay traditional Thai dancers to dance for them for good luck. This place is called Erawan shrine. You can also see people selling cages full of birds around here. People buy them and release them for good luck.

The city is divided in half by a river. There are numerous boats that you can ride up and down the river, and they sometimes are the fastest means of transportation. Riding on them can provide a relaxing view of the city line (when they’re not packed to standing room only).

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Then there is the famous backpacker’s ghetto of Khao San Road, which has been labeled the “backpackers’ hub of Southeast Asia”. Frankly, I didn’t get it. For one, it WAS pretty ghetto, yet it was more expensive there than anywhere else I’ve been in the city. Why would someone want to pay tourist prices to stay in the worst part of the city? I didn’t stay long here.

Next, I headed down to Patpong and Soi Cowboy, the so-called “sex districts” of the city. Boy were these a hoot. They were lit up like a firecracker; as soon as you step onto the street, you are blinded by neon lights. People will follow you down the street trying to get you to look at their “menus” of different shows you can see. Most of them have pictures of different treats you might get to see at their clubs… I got to see a few graphic pictures of women projecting unusual objects (razors, ping pong balls, birds) out of an intriguing place… and all of this could have been mine for only about 10 dollars!

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So, I’ve completed my tourist stint in the city, and soon I’ll be headed out to the countryside to start teaching. I’ll update soon!

Malaysia Visa Run

My Thai visa ran out so I took a weekend trip to Malaysia. It was quite the place… I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It didn’t have such a strong cultural identity, but there was a cool mix of people. Street signs were written in Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese, and Arabic, which I think speaks for itself of the disparate populations that make their home here. The diversity was also apparent in the architecture, with colonial, Islamic, and Chinese themes being common throughout. These 3 are all from the same town:

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 On a tip from a friend, I decided to bypass Kuala Lumpur and head for Melakka, a historical riverside town. I walked around all day and saw a lot of little buildings and shops. And drank a lot of juices (dragonfruit juice, kiwi smoothies) because this place was hotter than the gates of hell. At one point, I was a bit delirious from the heat, not watching where I was going, and I almost stepped on a dead crocodile with a pool of blood coming out of its mouth. It looked like it had come out of the gutter and promptly had its head bashed in.

 The main highlight of this trip was the food, though. Malaysian food= delicious. I got fried potatoes on a stick with mayonnaise, breaded chicken cooked in a sweet butter sauce with peppers, roasted chicken with satay peanut sauce, chicken basted in sweet and spicy sauce… basically, a lot of tasty chicken. It was nice to get away from the heat of Thai food for a while; Malaysian food does have peppers in it, but they’re more like a little momentary sting than a full-on war in your mouth. I had waited quite some time for this trip to go have all my favorite Malaysian foods, and so I had to cram them into only a day and a half’s time. And even though I was stuffed, there was one dish that I kept seeing signs for at restaurants, nasi lemak; I decided I had to see what all of the rage was about. So I found a restaurant that served it. Just look at it! So many new things to try, it’s like a free-for-all.

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As soon as they handed me my plate, I had the distinct feeling I was being watched. It turns out I was, by the pile of dried, salted fish heads there on the plate. They were actually not that bad; the eyes were crunchy, kind of like chips.

 At night, the streets are bumpin’. There are these techno bikes with passenger carts covered in blinking lights. They drive up and down the streets blasting techno music and trying to attract tourists to ride in them. I think that would be a pretty sweet job.

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Then you can walk down by the water, and it looks a bit like many idyllic paintings of water at night. Multicolored lights down the canal, and tastefully run-down buildings in the background.

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The next day I got up early and bussed it back into Kuala Lumpur to visit Batu Caves, a huge cave with a temple inside it. I used to have a CD-rom world encyclopedia that played music and videos of the different countries in the world, and Batu Caves was one of the places that fascinated me the most. Needless to say, I was very excited to visit one of the places to which I owe my original love for traveling.

When you get there, you climb up this huge mass of steps. Monkeys are running around all over the place screaming and jumping through the trees. Standing at the base of the steps, the caves are quite daunting. And at your side, there is an enormous golden statue of Buddha that is almost as tall as the caves themselves.

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Once you get up to the caves, you hit the classic view:

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Now there’s one thing I can cross of my bucket list.

After that, it was time to come back from my weekend of fun. I gained 10 pounds from eating, then lost it again in sweat; I fulfilled a childhood dream; and I got my visa renewed at the same time. Not too shabby.

CELTA: Check

I guess this post is a little late, but I have just completed my CELTA course. Boy, was that rough. Hour commute each way, class from 9-6, then come home, eat dinner, plan the next day’s lesson until midnight, and go to bed. I learned a lot about teaching, and I feel pretty comfortable teaching… adults. Too bad most of the jobs open are for kids.

 

Speaking of jobs, I posted my resume on a job website and my phone has been ringing off the hook with job offers. I had a few interviews but they didn’t go too far… I decided to accept one of the offers with a company called mediakids. I was a little sketched out that they had blindly offered me a job without an interview, but I decided that since the contract was only for 2 months, I could put up with anything they threw at me. I just need to get some money in the bank and get a bit of experience. So that starts in a few days.

 

Anywho, back to the CELTA. Our students were refugees from many countries, predominantly Somalia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Iran. I think it’s really rewarding to teach adults because they usually have personal motivation for learning English, and you know that you are helping them accomplish some of their personal goals. You can also get a lot more creative with the activities. But, the experience wasn’t like the real world, I think– a lot of classrooms have nothing more than a chalkboard, and getting used to a multimedia approach may have spoiled me to what I’ll have in the future.

 

The course was pretty overwhelming. I’d say it was more stressful than Princeton, because you were accountable for showing up all the time/ turning things in on a daily basis. There was no room to breathe or do work in large chunks, as I am best at doing. I’m glad I’ve got my CELTA, and glad it’s over.

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