Monthly Archives: December 2015

Merry Christmas from Thailand!

Merry Christmas, everyone! I have to apologize for the lack of posts lately.

My school decided against giving us the time off for the holidays. Monday through Thursday of last week was chaotic, as we were all covering the classes for the Thai teachers.

I’ve felt a lot of sentiment from my friends in the U.S. that teaching imagekindergarten is “a walk in the park.” I’d like to point out that it’s not only having to play mind games with 30 EFL five and six year old kids, but the Thai curriculum is intense compared to U.S. standards. These kids aren’t really allowed to stay kids for very long. Most of the day they are going through lectures and book work. They have tests every other week. It is possible to fail kindergarten here. When I have to find new worksheets for math (err.. “Maths”), I have to search the web for 2nd grade level.

The Thai teachers are the actual homeroom teachers at our school. They have the desks in the classrooms, and hold the majority of the responsibility for the children. They are in charge of greeting them in the morning, taking them down to mid morning break, lunch, and nap. As an English teacher, my only real job is to teach them their 3 English classes per day. Last week all of the Thai teachers were sent on a trip to different parts of Thailand to observe in other schools. I have to be honest, it wasn’t until they were all gone until I realized how incredibly good I have it to be an English teacher.

I’m actually feeling pretty guilty. Foreign teachers are paid at least twice the salary  of the Thai teachers, and we are doing half of the work that they do. Additionally, the Thai staff is required to work on Saturdays. I work at a government school, and the Thai labor standards only require one day off of work per week.

Before I saw firsthand what the Thai staff had to go through, I was griping a little about having to work overtime. The principal agreed to give the English Department the day off on Christmas day for covering the Thai staff. I selfishly thought it wasn’t fair, but then I realized how fair my situation actually is in comparison to the other teachers. Honestly, I feel pretty guilty about the situation.

Well now that I’ve gone off on a tangent about the school, I’ll try to get back on track.

Covering for the Thai teachers wasn’t that bad, really. The kids had a half-day, so we were only in charge of taking care of them in the morning. We were able to do a lot of fun Christmas crafts. I had suggested we include something about Hanukkah or Kwanza, but we were given very strict guidelines to keep all bits of religion out of it. It’s a Buddhist school, after all.

I had read online that if you freeze shaving foam that it looks and acts just like snow. My co-teacher and I decided to try it out, and it was wildly successful. The kids had such a great time playing with it, and only a couple of the kids noticed the strong aftershave scent of the snow. They said it smelled like soap, and we told them it was because that is what Santa smells like.  imageI was really excited to teach the kids about Santa and what not. I got really excited because I’d downloaded a few of my favorite Christmas songs onto my computer and I was going to share them with my students. My favorite Christmas music as a kid was the Beach Boys Christmas album, and I was so pumped to play it for them.

I dusted off a pair of speakers and brought them to my classroom, and promised the kids that if they were good throughout the class then we would have a dance party at the end. I plugged in my computer with so much joy and anticipation. I started to play the first Beach Boys song on the album, “Little Saint Nick” and was dancing like a madwoman. I was having so much fun dancing, and then I looked up to watch my kids not even moved. THEY LIKE DANCING SO MUCH. They hated the Beach Boys. I was crushed.

On the day of Christmas Eve, the English contractor that controls the English Program (separate from the school, but still paid by the government) put on a Christmas party for the kids. They had games and prizes, and lots of candy. The kids were free to wear whatever they wanted. Quite a lot of them dressed up in Christmas gear, and a lot of the imagelittle girls decided to be princesses.  I was asked at the last minute if I would be able to dress up as Mrs. Clause. I was pretty excited at the opportunity. When I was getting ready with “Santa” (the British science teacher), they handed me a sweater and a skirt, and that was it. I dug around the office and found a wig, some jingle bells, and some tinsel. I ended up being the younger, more hip version of Mrs. Clause. The kids went absolutely nuts. Because I had a British Mr. Clause, I decided to adopt a high pitch British accent. We had so much fun.

After the exhausting week of school, I sent off to spend my three day weekend on Ko Lanta- or Lanta Island. The trip is about a 3 hour boat ride from Phuket to the east.

I didn’t really have any concrete plans for the island. I’d heard it was a beautiful place to go, and so I booked a cheap hostel and that was all I’d known. When I got there on Friday afternoon, it started to rain right as I got to the beach. I got an hour long massage, and spent the afternoon relaxing. After the rain stopped,  I drank a cocktail and watched the sunset, which was spectacular. image

On Saturday I decided to take a snorkeling tour. It left at 8:00am and returned at 6:00pm, and cost about $20USD (lunch included). The tour started on a longtail boat- the classic boat of Thailand that you’d see if you googled a Thai boat. It was a windy morning and the waves were rough. There was a British guy in the back of the boat who was throwing up during the first half hour. After about an hour of cruising, the boat slowed down to a stop. We weren’t near any of the islands, and the two men in charge of the boat started to fiddle with the engine. They hardly spoke any English.

One of the men came up to the front of the boat and said, “smoking.. no worries…big boat come… no problem.”

imageApparently the engine had died. After about 15 minutes, we were met by a larger tour boat. They transferred us on, and tied up the longtail to the back. We soon found out that we were joining a tour- a much more expensive tour, but “no worries.” It was a huuuge upgrade with complimentary snacks, nice seats, and the option for air conditioning. It was great!

I hadn’t ever been snorkeling before I came to Thailand, but now I’m in love. I wish I had an underwater camera. It is so amazing to be able to see in nature what you’ve only seen in aquariums in doctors offices. I saw sea urchins, puffer fish, parrot fish, angel fish, and tons of crazy coral. image

The last stop of the tour was Emerald Cave, and it falls within the top 5 coolest things I’ve ever seen… ever. Despite it being extremely crowded, it was an amazing experience. It’s basically an island within a cave within a cliff.

The boat pulled up at the side of a tall cliff and let us out of the boat. We swam underneath the bottom of the cliff, and through a magnificent limestone cave. At the entry there was a little bit of sunlight, so you could see the height of the cave and all of the intense shades of pink and green inside. After swimming farther, the sunlight was gone and it was pitch black. Because the cave is so tall, there is plenty of room to stay above the water to swim. The tour required that we all wore life jackets. Thankfully one of the tour guides had a flashlight, so we could see which direction to swim. image

I have to say that up to that point, I was terrified of caves. I think I’ve conquered my fear now, because it was simultaneously the most awesome and horrifying experience. When it went black I thought of turning back. I wasn’t sure I could go much farther, because I was legitimately scared. I went in a little more, and then I saw light on the other side.

Once I got to the other side, I realized that the water was so shallow that I could stand up. The cave opened up to a beach, which was enclosed 360 degrees by limestone cliff and lush jungle. It was breathtaking. It’s hard for me to describe… but basically the island was like a doughnut that you had to swim through a cave to get to the middle. Again, I wish I had a waterproof camera.

Anyhow.

That’s about all I have in me for today. I have two more days of class, and then I have New Years Eve and New Years Day off for a holiday. I’ve decided to buy a plane ticket to head up north and check out Chiang Mai. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things, and I’m pretty excited. I promise I will write about it as soon as I can!!!

I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas, and I hope that you have a great New Year! Despite my tales of how I am spending my holidays in paradise, there’s still a big part of me that is missing home.

 

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Some General Updates…

I can’t overstate how fast time has been flying. I cannot believe I have been in Thailand for 3 and 1/2 months already.

I haven’t learned much Thai yet. It’s especially hard to learn because I am not allowed to even attempt to speak Thai with my students at school. My friends outside of school don’t speak Thai either, so that doesn’t help. I’ve been making strides in my Thai lessons, but it’s only reading and writing. After about 7 lessons, I’ve learned to write 30 consonants and 15 vowels. There are 5 different tones that I am familiar with, but it’s still so hard. Lately I haven’t had a lot of drive to study in my free time. My Thai tutor is getting a little frustrated with me because we’re not really progressing. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve chosen a tutor that would teach me how to speak first and write later. It’s not very useful to be able to read Thai when you have no idea what you’re saying.

I’ve been trying to force myself to learn a few new words in Thai per day, just by using Google and whatnot. I have been choosing words that relate to food, as ordering food is really the only chance I get to practice (which sounds pretty pathetic, haha). I learned how to say “delicious,” “I can eat spicy,” “I like spicy,” and “very very spicy.”

Before I learned these words, I was being served food that had a little bit of a kick to it, but was pretty tame. I was starting to think that either “Thai hot” was a myth, or that I had just eaten so much spicy food that I wasn’t able to taste it anymore. All of that changed once I learned how to order spicy food in Thai.

The first time I ordered in Thai, I was a little nervous that I was going to say the wrong tone and everyone was going to laugh at me.  I was given a polite smile, a huge discount, and some seriously spicy food. I ordered a  spicy papaya salad that was so hot it turned my lips dark red/purplish. It was so ridiculously hot that about 30 minutes after eating it, I felt the same burn going on in my stomach. I have officially experienced “Thai hot.”

Another word that I learned in Thai that I probably should’ve learned earlier is the word for teacher. In Phuket especially, it is important to establish yourself as an expat and not a tourist. It comes with a larger amount of respect, and seriously cheaper prices.

For example, last weekend I wanted to check out a place called “Paradise Beach.” It’s a private stretch of beach that charges an entry fee to let people access the beach, beach chairs/umbrellas, snorkeling gear, kayaks, stand up paddle boards, and beach volleyball. The standard entry fee is 500 baht (~$15USD) to enter. I smiled politely at the woman at the counter, and told her I was a teacher. One of the employees at the beach has a student at my school, and they immediately treated me like royalty. They let me in for free! I’m not usually one to try to use status for extra perks, but in Phuket it’s necessary. Almost all prices are negotiable here, and it’s critical to distinguish that my salary is paid in Thai Baht and not USD.

That was one of three beaches that I went to last weekend. December has been a little crazy with days off and holidays.

Last week I had a 5 day weekend due to the visa run and the extra day off for Father’s Day on the 7th. Father’s Day in Thailand is set on the king’s birthday, and Mother’s Day is on the queen’s. Everyone wears yellow on Father’s Day because it is the king’s color. Typically at school, we wear yellow on Mondays to honor the king. This year, there was a decree sent out that all government employees must wear yellow the entire month of December. I was a little upset when I got the news, but only because I look horrible in the color yellow!

Anyhow.

Teaching has been going great. My students have really started to grow on me. It is amazing how much psychology goes into teaching. I’m finally getting behavior management under control, but it’s taken a lot of mind games. All of my actions have to be really dramatic- super enthusiastic if I’m teaching a new subject, very serious if I’m trying to be strict. There’s a lot of acting involved.  I love kids so much and it hurts my heart to have to yell at them.

We have one more full week of school, and then the holiday schedule is pretty up in the air.  The Thai teachers are going on a retreat from Dec 21-24, so we will cover their classes, and then they will cover our classes for Christmas Day. After that, the school still hasn’t decided whether or not they’re going to let the English teachers have off the 28th-30th for covering the Thai teachers. the 31st and 1st are public holidays. As it stands right now, I could potentially have off the 25th-3rd, but the school hasn’t decided. It’s so frustrating! I’m trying not to get my hopes up.

Well, that’s the broad scope of updates for now. I heard that Colorado got a lot of snow today, and it’s hard to not get homesick at that! Being away from home over the holidays is definitely tough, but I know that I’ll never regret being where I am for them this year.

OH MY GOODNESS!! I ALMOST FORGOT.

I. FOUND. BAGELS. IN. THAILAND.
Click here! to check out the video I made of my experience. I had to upload it on Facebook instead of Youtube because they got cranky with the copyright issues of the song choices.

Enjoy 🙂

 

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Visa Run to Penang

Yesterday I re-entered Thailand on a Non-Immigrant B Visa (YAY!). Finally, the visa shenanigans are over (for now).

As I have previously mentioned, I was required to go to Penang, Malaysia to apply for the long-term visa, as the school had prepared the work permit paperwork specifically for that embassy. I hadn’t heard great things about Penang, but I went into it with an open mind.

The most common way for teachers here to go on the visa run to Penang is to go by bus through a company that takes care of the transportation, one night in a hotel, and three meals- all for around $125USD. I wanted to fly into Penang and do it on my own, but the cost of the visa company ended up being more attractive than the alternative. The visa itself was an extra $80 USD, and now that I’m on a Thai salary… well, I’ve got to save where I can.

I had spoken with some teachers at the school about the best company to go through. We got to talking about the bus ride down, and they started talking about horror stories.

“A guy in our bus had to slap the driver awake on more than one occasion!”

“Our bus driver was racing with another bus!”

“Did you hear about the bus that crashed and killed 4 people?”

“Seriously, Sarah, just put a blindfold on and try to fall asleep.”

The bus drivers have a horrible reputation for reckless driving. I decided I would choose a seat near the back, pop my headphones in, and try to sleep. The trip left Phuket at 9pm and had an estimated arrival time at the hotel in Penang of 8am(ish).

When the bus showed up, I realized it was less ‘bus’ and more ‘van.’ The van had three rows of three seats. I was the last to be picked up, so I had to sit in the front row, middle seat. There wasn’t any room for my backpack except for beneath my feet. There wasn’t much room between my seat and the center console, so I settled in for the 10 hour bus ride with my legs crossed on top of my backpack.

The driver didn’t waste any time living up to his reputation. Just watching him speed through the roads that I normally drive on made my stomach a little sick. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

I didn’t end up getting much sleep because a) the foot room situation, b) the driver and c) we stopped every 2 hours for 15 minutes so that people could get out. There wasn’t an aisle in the van, so anyone who had to get out was climbing on top of one another to reach the exit. Did I mention there weren’t any seat belts?

We made it to the border by 4:45am, and everyone was pretty groggy. The border didn’t open until 5, and it took about an hour for everyone to get through. There were about 20 vans full of people on visa runs, and they all arrived at the same time. I was one of the last people to make it through immigration, because the guy in front of me was causing some problems. He had overstayed his tourist visa by 3 weeks, and he had to pay a fine of 500baht ($15 USD) per day- so about $280. I actually got a huge laugh out of watching the whole situation unfold. Possibly one of the worst things you can do in public in Thailand is lose your cool. Upon hearing the fine that this guy had to pay, he slammed his fists on the glass and started screaming , “What the F#*$!!! How can you even do that! Why is this happening to me?! You all are f#*!@($ racists! I don’t have that money to pay you!”

I don’t know what happened from there. He didn’t get to cross the border, though.

After the border, we got into a new bus with a Malaysian driver. It was 6am, and he was blasting Indian music for the 2 and 1/2 hr drive to the hotel. He seemed to be a more cautious driver, though, and I somehow ended up in a deep sleep for the rest of the drive.

When we got to the hotel, they had everyone turn in the paperwork for the embassy. I have to say, this is the major perk of going with a company. They go to the embassy and do the dirty work while you sit back and do whatever you want. My hotel room was really cute! It had a TV with a lot of English channels, so I was able to relax and watch  some TV. Unfortunately, the news of the San Bernardino shooting was on every channel. I felt sick about the news.  I turned off the TV and decided to go wander the city. After hearing about the 355th mass shooting in the United States this year, I found myself in a Muslim country worrying about my friends and family back in the States. I’m not trying to start a debate. Just sayin’.

I went into Penang with a few goals. Don’t die on the bus ride there, secure a B visa, and eat my body weight in Indian food. The hotel I was staying at was about a 5 minute walk from Little India, and so I went to check it out.   I found a little Indian vegetarian place to eat lunch, and my experience was hilarious. They had a bunch of different “thalis” on the menu, which I learned are a bunch of different dishes served in little bowls around a plate of rice. I had no idea what I was doing. I knew that the place was vegetarian, so I couldn’t go wrong and order any crazy mystery meat. I ended up ordering “the MAHARAJA” because, well, come on guys, who wouldn’t order the MAHARAJA?! It was the only dish on the menu that was spelled in all capital letters,  and was the most expensive- coming in at a whopping $3USD. image

I was the only foreigner in the place, and so I thought everyone was staring at me because I was a foreigner. I looked at everyone else’s plates, and they had dumped out the mini bowls, and  were eating everything with their hands. I was sitting in the middle of the restaurant eating the MAHARAJA from each individual bowl with a spoon. I caught some people staring at me, and I started laughing with them. One of them said, “It’s okay, girl! You have the freedom to eat however you want!”

I’ll never forget that.

imageI had a nice time looking through the traditional Indian shops of Little India, but the heat of the city was absolutely unbearable.  I went back to my hotel and fell asleep for 4 hours. When I woke up, I set out for round 2 of Indian food.

 

I made it about a block from the hotel when a short and round Indian woman with a warm smile asked me if I was hungry. She was quite a character. I didn’t really look at the menu, because she convinced me that she could make a really good red curry chicken. She wasn’t kidding.image She brought me out some cheesy garlic naan and papadum to go with it all. It’s safe to say that it was the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten. I know I said that about the food in Kuala Lumpur, but this was so much more. She fed me until I had to beg her to take the food away.

Ok, ok, I need to stop rambling about Indian food now.

Thursday was the only full day I got to spend in Penang, and I think I spent it well. I woke up at 7am on Friday to a call from the front desk, saying that check out is at 8 and the passports would be there soon. We all piled back into the bus and were back on the road. Indian music and all.

The trip back home was miserable. I hate to be a whiner about it, but it was bad. This weekend is a holiday weekend for the king’s birthday, and we hit some really bad traffic. Going through immigration back into Thailand was hell. We spent an extra hour at the Thai border because we had arrived 5 minutes after a massive tour bus, and also because we had a Turkish man in our group. They pulled him aside and did who knows what with him, just because Turkey is on a list of suspicious countries. We all had to put 200 baht (~$6USD) in our passports to bribe the immigration officers. It wasn’t even by choice. The driver of our van basically didn’t let us get out of the van without doing it. He said that it would cause major problems if we didn’t. Gotta love Thailand.

When we got back into the Thai van, a Swedish girl asked me to trade seats because she felt sick. I didn’t have a problem with it, and gladly switched seats with her. I was filled with instant regret. Not only was the seat in the back of the bus, but it was right next 2 Russian dudes that wouldn’t stop talking. The one who was sitting directly next to me was 50 shades of repulsive. I didn’t care to ask his name, so I’ll just refer to him as Vladimir.

Vladimir was the most obnoxious person I think I’ve ever seen in public. There were 9 exhausted passengers in the bus, and he was talking louder than I talk to a classroom of 30 kindergartners during heavy construction. When his friend didn’t want to talk to him anymore, he made phone calls. He took his shoes and socks off and rested his feet on the headrest of the poor lady in front of him. He elbowed me so many times that I started to anticipate the next one.   I quickly understood why the Swedish girl wanted to move up front. Every time we stopped for a rest break, he went into the 7/11 and came out with handfuls of junk food. Not chips and candy, but 7/11 “hot meals.” Keep in mind this is SE Asia. He hobbled into the bus with mincemeat sandwiches, shrimp burgers, and pork meatballs. Remember Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka? Vladimir was the Russian version of that kid. I really wanted to discreetly take a picture of him for the blog, but didn’t dare look in his direction with all of the nasty burps he was letting out.

Sheesh. I hate to be so negative about the whole thing, but the trip back was seriously miserable.

Needless to say, I was overjoyed to arrive back at my apartment. Now I have a three day weekend, and all I want to do is sleep. That trip was exhausting. I realized that I really only saved about $40 by doing the bus trip. If I ever have to do another Thai visa run, I am going by plane!!!

 

 

 

 

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