Tag Archives: expat

TEFL in Thailand- Rants and Realities

 

We are approaching finals week, where each student is to take 3 English exams and 3 Thai exams. I’ve never taught in the States, so I don’t really have anything to compare this to, but my five and six year-old students are taking three 90 point exams which will count toward 50% of their grade. If they do not pass my kindergarten class, they will be taken from the English Program and placed in lower level English classes that aren’t as rigorous. It’s highly frowned upon to fail students in any grade here in Thailand because of the obsession with losing face. I basically have to guarantee that they pass, but then give my recommendation if I think they should be placed in a lower class. If they are doing well in their Thai classes, my recommendation will become void, and they continue along in the English program.

In the school, we have 60 students in KG 1 (for ages 4 & 5), 60 students in KG 2 (ages 5 & 6), and about 120 students in grade 1.  Today I went into the school on a Saturday to help proctor a test for potential new 1st graders. The students were sat down to take a 50 point exam that had questions pulled from our KG 1 & 2 students’ tests. They had to score 50% or above to be considered for the English program. Out of 64 students, 15 scored more than 50%. The whole time I was giving the exam, Thai teachers were poking their heads in to help the kids translate the test. After all was said and done, the director of the English company who runs the program at our school said, “Well, we have room for 50 more students in the English Program, so we will just have to lower the admission standard to 20%.”

All of this makes my head spin.

I could rant and rave about this all day. The truth is, I don’t know much about how this education system works (or any, for that matter), but now I know why the grade 1 teachers are so frustrated. My KG2 students who go into that class can tell me full sentences about how their weekend went. The new students looked at me with a blank stare when I asked them their name. Mixing those students in a classroom and expecting them all to perform up to the standard of the class curriculum is absolutely insane. After I was finished proctoring the test today, my boss told me that the test scores go out the window if a parent makes a generous monetary donation to the school. Working for this school is frustrating as hell.

The school is a government school. The English teachers make almost triple the salary of the Thai teachers, yet we do not have any say in who advances and who stays.We don’t really have a say in anything, actually. I’m quickly realizing that it all comes down to money.

Last month, I posted about a trip to Trang with some students to showcase their English abilities for prospective parents at a school that the English company (the ones in charge of English teachers’ contracts)  was in the process of building. If you haven’t read the post, I basically explain how the company and the principal of my school decided to open a school together, and how it was a huge crock to see the immaculate displays of how wonderful the new school would be, meanwhile my school “can’t afford” soap for the bathrooms. I promise you that all of the run-on sentences are a direct result of my frustration with this system.

I have recently come across an article about the English Proficiency Index  (EPI) in Asia. To sum it up, Thailand’s EPI is ranked 14th out of 18 countries. The country spends 31.3% of its GDP on education, which is well over Asia’s average of 14%. There is a ton of pressure to increase the EPI because tourism funds about 20% of Thailand’s GDP. Here is the full article.

Schools with English programs get a huge increase in their cut of the budget. When the school’s budget goes up, so does the principal’s. The English company in charge of hiring teachers get paid a monthly percentage of the wages of the teachers they contract. And on of it all- English teachers in Thailand are paid well. Extremely well.

I’ll admit, I am guilty of losing sight of what’s going on.   I am paid a salary of $1,100 USD per month in a country whose annual GDP per capita in 2014 was $5,778. I came in with no background of education and I’m making more than 2x the GDP. I don’t even have a work permit yet. Could you imagine if a 25 year old with no experience moved to the United States and started teaching kindergarten for $121,000 per year?

How do you say “white privilege” in Thai?

Yes, I am a native English speaker with a certification to teach English as a foreign language. I love my students, and I want nothing more than for them to have a quality understanding of the English language. The problem is, can I feel okay accepting a salary that high? Can I really be bitching about hand soap when the government’s resources are being poured into paying me the big bucks?

It just doesn’t feel right.

The school year is wrapping up for the kids, and I’ve done some long, hard thinking about the new school year starting up in May. I’ve come to the conclusion that when I envisioned myself living in Thailand, I didn’t picture this. The money here is good, but I didn’t come here to make money.  I like to travel for prolonged periods of time because I love to fully immerse in new cultures. I just don’t have that here.  I’ve gotten sucked into living the lavish lifestyle of the farang (foreigner) in Thailand.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s such an ideal situation to be able to go on an island getaway every weekend.  I have made some wonderful friends from all over the world. I’ve written countless blog posts about how cheap everything is, and how it’s so easy to live here. I’ve seen the stunning geography of Thailand, but I’ve hardly scratched the surface of real Thai culture.  I have been here for nearly 6 months, and I don’t know Thailand.  I’ve completely lost sight of my true passion for travel. The truth is, this situation is just not nourishing my soul.

I have given my notice at the school. My KG2 students are moving up to 1st grade, and a new batch of students will be ready for the new teacher at the start of the school year in May. My students’ last day of school is March 11th. I am going to help teach a 3 week orientation for the incoming KG1 students, and then I’m leaving.

Sheesh. This post has gotten deep. Oops.

Anyhow… I can’t leave SE Asia having only visited Malaysia and Thailand, so I’ll be doing a little country-hopping before I leave. I’ll be reducing my belonging to all that can fit into a 40L backpack, and I’m going to do a little 5 week tour.

The plan is:

Phuket > Bangkok > Siem Reap > Bangkok * > Ho Chi Minh City > Hanoi > Bali >Kuala Lumpur > U. S. of A.

*I got a sweet deal on flights, but it meant a 3 day stopover in Bangkok. Without even realizing it, I will be in Bangkok from April 12th-15th. April 13th is the national holiday Songkran, which is celebrated with nation-wide water fights. I wasn’t even thinking about it, but I am so happy it panned out the way it did!

I will be heading back to the States on May 6th.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for tolerating my  rants and realizations. I can’t promise any exciting blog posts in the next few weeks, but I will try my best. 🙂

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Expat Life in Phuket

As I’ve settled into Thailand, the blog posts have inevitably become less frequent.There is a lack of motivation to write, but it’s also the fact that I’ve become comfortable in my surroundings. There are still plenty of elements to Thai culture that shock me, but it’s not a “one post per day” sort of experience that I’d had in the beginning.

In order to avoid a boring dialogue of my daily routine, I’ve decided to let you in on my favorite parts of Thailand (so far), and what I’m still truly missing about home.

Here’s what I love about life in Thailand:

The Food. I can’t seem to get enough Thai food. After I’d spent some time in Central and South America, I hated rice and beans. After returning from Panama, I don’t think I ate

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I found the cheapest pizza in Thailand. The chef/owner is pictured on the menu. 

rice for almost a year. Here in Thailand, I eat rice daily. I eat rice with anything from curry to ice cream. There is such a diversity in the spices of the food that it’s easy to lose track of how much plain steamed rice is actually being consumed.  Sure, I have cravings for food from back home (cough bagels cough cough cheese), but I’ve learned that everything is available for a price. Especially in Phuket, which is pretty much the epicenter of tourism. I’ve been able to find just about every food I could possibly crave. The other night I ate Mexican food, and ate real homemade tortilla chips for the first time in what seems like ages. The whole meal cost me about $14, which felt like a slap in the face. $14 for gorging on Mexican food (margaritas included)… What has happened to me?

The best part about Thai food is that it’s always fresh, and healthy options are always  available. My apartment doesn’t have a stove or even an oven. Once in a blue moon I will cook on a hot plate at home, but the majority of the time I’m going out to eat.

The prices. As accustomed as I’ve gotten to Thai prices, going back to the States is going to be culture shock all over again. Because Phuket is a developed tourist city, the prices are all over the board.  I’ve gotten accustomed to paying $1-$3 per meal. Whoa, converting it to dollars really puts it into perspective for me. $14 was a lot for me to spend on Mexican food, but it was a 3 course meal with 2 margaritas!

Tourist accommodation ranges from a $6/night bunk at a hostel to $850/night bungalow on a private island. It’s easy to spend a lot of money here, but it’s also easy to save. I live in a (really nice) studio apartment for $250/month, and that includes air conditioning, internet, and access to a gym and an amazing swimming pool.  For just $250/month, I’m pretty spoiled.

My transportation costs are also incredibly low compared to what they  were in the States. I spend less than $60/month renting my (really nice) motorbike, and only about $7/month in gas.

I think it’s important to add that by Thai standards, I have pretty expensive taste. It’s definitely possible to get by here on much, much less.

Speaking of motorbikes…

The Motorbikes.  I have a love/hate relationship with them. If you’ve read any of my posts from the beginning, you know that I started out absolutely terrified to even ride on the back of a motorbike taxi. Here I am today, about to tell you why I’m in love with mine as a mode of transportation here. They’re undeniably fuel efficient. The majority of the people here drive them, and it makes sense why. Traffic (especially in Phuket) can be disastrous, *unless* you are able to zip in between the cars on a moped. There’s an intense satisfaction that comes with scooting onto the shoulder of the road during stopped traffic and bypassing 15 cars.  It’s also awesome to be able to pull up and park anywhere on the sidewalk.

The “hate” part of the relationship comes from the limitations of driving in the rain, and the harsh reality that they’re pretty dangerous to drive around.

Another favorite of living in Thailand… you could probably already guess.

The Beaches. It may be the fact that I was born and raised in landlocked Colorado, or it could be that these beaches are world-class. I cannot get enough of the beaches here. I’m

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This is where I saw my first sea urchin in the wild!

almost mad at myself for living here, because I don’t think I will be able to appreciate any other beach as much as I will the beaches of the Andaman Sea.

I wish I could say that my apartment is right on the beach. I would’ve loved that, but it just wasn’t practical. Any apartment on the beach here is going to run at a Western price. I am situated right in the middle of the island, so I have to drive about 20 minutes to get to the beach. I am still incredibly spoiled to be able to pick a beach and just go. Even if I want to go to the world-class dive and snorkel sites, it’s only an hour and a half ferry ride there.

Ok, now that I’ve started listing out everything that I love about Thailand, I’m about 1,000 words in and not even close to saying all that I want to. I’d be sitting here all night if I were going to make an exhaustive list of everything that I love.

Here is a quick list of things I miss from home:

Family. They’re irreplaceable, no matter how hard I try. 🙂

Wine and craft beer. They’re both available, but super expensive. Not just by Thai standards. They’re imports.

Cheese and bread. It is pretty eye-opening to see how much of these I consumed back at home. They’re just not in the Thai diet, which probably explains how I’ve lost 15 POUNDS since I got here. The lack of the aforementioned wine and craft beer definitely plays a part in that.

Hockey. I think the Avs’ #1 spot in the wildcard has something to do with me being out of the country.

Safety standards. You know, like building codes, restaurant health inspections, and traffic safety.

The Rocky Mountains. I am a Colorado girl, after all.

Well, that pretty much sums it up for this post. I hope I haven’t bored you to death! I’ll try to post again soon.

 

Here’s a quick random note to leave you with:

imageLast weekend I drove my bike up to the Big Buddha – a 148ft statue that sits on a hill looking over town. I had initially gone up to watch the sunset, but had the awesome treat of watching the full moon rise at the same time. It was unforgettable!

 

 

 

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Happy New Year from Chiang Mai!

School was closed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, so I was able to take a four day weekend and head up to Thailand’s 2nd largest city- Chiang Mai. I hadn’t heard much about it, but knew that it was a desirable destination for tourists and expats. One thing I knew for sure was that they have elephants and New Year’s sky lanterns in the North, and I definitely wanted to be a part of it.

Before I left, I was able to sneak in a last minute reservation to spend a day with elephants at one of the most reputable ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand- Elephant Nature Park. There are hundreds of elephant camps in Thailand, but this particular park is known for their extraordinary treatment of the elephants.

I flew into Chaing Mai at 9:00pm, and the tour left the following morning at 8am. We took a minibus ride about an hour outside of the city and up into the mountains. I was overjoyed to be back in a mountainous landscape- even though they’re only about 3,000 feet above sea level. The temperature was significantly colder at about 70 degrees, and I think it was the first time in 4 months that I’ve been without a ” sweat goatee”.

When we started getting closer to the camp, we saw surrounding camps which offered elephant rides to tourists. Initially when I came to Thailand I thought I was going to be one of those tourists- it’s such an appealing thought to be able to sit on top of one of them and trek through the jimageungle. During my time here I’ve learned that the treatment of the elephants in those types of camps are pretty dismal. Our minivan passed by several tourists on elephants, and each one of the elephants had a Thai man sitting on its neck with a spear pushed into its head to direct them where to go. It was pretty depressing to see.

When we pulled around the hill into the Elephant Nature Park, I was
surprised to see tons of animals. The sanctuary is not only home to elephants, but also cats, dogs, goats, and water buffalo. I got really excited when I saw the first elephant. It was the first time outside of a zoo that I’ve seen an elephant, and I got to be incredibly close to it.

We were given a short safety briefing about how to interact with them- don’t walk behind them, don’t stand where they can’t see you, don’t tease them, and don’t use flash photography. My tour group had about seven people, and we were told to grab a basket of food and head out to feed one of the older elephants. She was over 80 years old! We fed her mashed up pumpkin with rice, and it was adorable. I was unbelievably nervous around her. The guide had reassured us that they’re trained like dogs, but it’s a wild animal nonetheless. image

All of the adult elephants had horrible backstories. Most of them had come from the logging industry in Myanmar, or were used as street entertainers as babies in downtown Chiang Mai. There was one particularly awful story that resonated with me:

One of the elephants was blind. She was being used to carry logs in the mountains of Myanmar, and she became pregnant. The loggers did not let her slow down during her pregnancy, and she gave birth on a hill in bad conditions, and the baby did not survive. After that, she refused to work. To force her to work, her owner shot her in the eye. After she kept refusing, he shot her in her other eye. She ended up blind, and the owner of Elephant Nature Park bought her for $2,000 USD.

It was amazing to get to see that she has now made new friends, and she doesn’t go anywhere without them.

imageThe highlight of my tour was being able to see the elephants bathe. We watched a family of them dunk into the river, and they splashed around like dogs. Afterwards, they sprayed themselves with mud to keep cool. We saw a baby elephant rolling around in the mud- a sight which the tour guide said we were very lucky to see. Click here to see the 2 year-old Yindee! We were also able to go with the older elephants and bathe them with buckets of water. I can’t stress enough how simultaneously terrifying and awesome of an experience it was.

One of the elephants started to growl, and the tour guide said it was because she was warning us that she was about to poop. I started to video the growl because I thought it was hilarious, but then got super freaked out when she turned around and made the trumpet noise. I’m sure there’s a better word for it than “the trumpet noise,” but you get the idea. Click here for the video!

After my day with the elephants, I went back to my hostel and rested up for the New Year’s Eve festivities. By 5pm, they were already starting to sell paper lanterns on the street. At around 8, the first groups of people went into the middle of the street to start sending them off.

Looking up from the hostel window, I could see hundreds of them floating imageoff. It was a truly magical sight. They looked like stars. I went out with some new friends from Australia, and we light off some of our own. We were soon after informed by the locals that you’re not supposed to light them upside down-haha. We also made the mistake of letting one go too soon, and we had to imagechase after it before it hit anything or anyone. There was definitely some amount of guilt when pondering the environmental fate of the lanterns, but I tried to push it aside for a cultural reasons.. haha.

There were tons of fireworks let off at midnight, and the only word that even gets close to summing up the experience is magical. I might have to say that it was the best New Year’s Eve experience I’ve ever had.

For the remainder of my trip I spent the days wandering without plans. I visimageited over 10 Buddhist temples without trying. Some of the temples in Chiang Mai did not allow women, which was a new experience for me. Women are not supposed to look monks in the eye, talk to them, or offer them gifts. These temples were very strict about it, so I admired from the outside. There were others that allowed visitors to sit and observe the monks making candles, and that was cool to see.

I had the most awkward experience outside one of the temples on New

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Note: I was so shocked by the lady with the birds that I didn’t notice the man in the wheelchair going down the stairs heading straight toward that dog! 

Year’s Day when I approached a woman who was sitting with cages full of birds. I asked her about them, and she said I could pay 100 baht (~3USD) to open a cage for good luck in the new year. I’m all for good luck, but I couldn’t help but be kind of shocked by the situation. I ended up buying a cage because I felt bad for the birds. The lady placed it in my hand, and they pooped all down my arm. We opened it up and they flew away, and then it was over. I am still a little confused by the ordeal.

On Sunday I spent the day killing time before my 9pm flight. I’m not sure why I booked such a late flight when my hostel check out was at 11am. Luckily the lady at the hostel let me leave my backpack, so I went out wandering again. I found a museum of arts and culture in the middle of the old city, and spent about 45 minutes inside. The museum was mostly dioramas of the old Chiang Mai, but had a few cases of artifacts. I’m not sure if it was just lost in translation, but the English captions on the artifacts only said things like, “pots put together after cracks” and “a part of the building before restored the building.” I wasn’t able to find any dates or geographical information, so the experience was kind of lackluster.

When I went to seek out a place for lunch, I stumbled into a women’s prison. There was a cafe that was open to the public, and I decided to step in. As it turns out, the location is used as a vocational training center for imageinmates that were within 6 months of release. They also had a spa and a gift shop with “prison crafts.” All of the women were great! Most of them had come from extreme poverty, and were locked up for drug offenses. My lunch was delicious.

By 6pm, I did a Google search to see how far the airport was from my hostel. It took about 15 minutes with the traffic in a tuk tuk, but I realized it was only 3 miles away. I’m not sure if it was the temperature in Chiang Mai or just curiosity, but I decided to walk to the airport. It was the most random and hilarious journey. I had enough time, so I figured why not? I ended up wandering through the Sunday Night Market, and saw some great sights along the way. I was getting fatigued by the time I’d reached the airport, but I was so excited that I caught myself whistling the Thai National Anthem for the last 5 minutes of my walk. I might have been a little delirious, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’ve found that I get quite a bit of satisfaction from walking.

Well, that’s about all there is for now. Today I was informed that this weekend I will be joining 6 teachers and 11 students on a trip to Trang (about 3 and 1/2 hours to the south) to show a school how great our kindergartners can speak English. I’m still really confused about the details. I guess the founder of the English company that I work for has a little side project she’s working on and is trying to convince this school that the program is really good. I can’t stop thinking about the nightmare of taking eleven 6 year-olds on an overnight without their parents. Also the fact that it’s going to consume my entire weekend. It’s all about the adventure though, right?

I hope everyone enjoyed their holiday!!!

 

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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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Loy Krathong in Phuket

I won’t lie, the holidays are hitting me right in the feels, and I am homesick. Luckily, the Loy Krathong Festival happened to be the day before Thanksgiving this year, so I was given a nice distraction from being far away from my family.

I had read up on a few holidays before coming to Thailand, and Loy Krathong was one I had flagged as  “not to miss.” I saw pictures on Google and in guide books that showed thousands of paper lanterns floating up into the night sky. That was basically my idea of what it was supposed to be.  You would think I’d know by now that I need to stop drawing expectations from what I see online. The total number of lanterns I saw? One.

Loy Krathong (important note here that the “h” is silent) is an annual tradition of creating floating vessels (krathongs) and sending them off into a body of water to send away the bad energy, wish for good luck, and pay respect to the water gods. It is also a bit of a romantic holiday. I’ve read so many different interpretations of the holiday, so any information I’m going to provide here is based solely off of observation and imageinformation from my coworkers.

On Wednesday morning, my Thai teacher insisted I be in her classroom at
1pm. It’s normally my planning period, but she told me she wanted my help with making krathongs with the students. I was excited about the opportunity, because I didn’t really know what they were traditionally made from, let alone how to make one. Making krathongs with the kids ended up being a blast, as I think they helped me more than I helped them.

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This is Silmee! (Pronounced “Simee”)

The base is traditionally made from a stump of a banana tree. It is wrapped with banana leaves that are pinned into place with little metal pins. It is decorated with flowers (and lettuce, and whatever else you can find), and 3 incense sticks and a candle for good luck. Something that really caught my attention was everyone’s willingness to share materials. Each kid brought in their own grocery bag full of tree stumps, banana leaves, flowers, and pins. I was amazed to see kids walk over to each other and reach into their classmate’s bag to find a flower they needed, and nobody cared. I don’t think I’ve seen children interact in such a collective manner. Since I didn’t have any materials  to make my krathong, they insisted I use theirs. Some of the kids’ krathongs came out much better than mine, but I think it was okay for my first try!

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This is Nudee- probably my most artistically inclined student.

After the sun sets, the krathongs are taken to a body of water, where the candles and incense are lit and the little boats are floated away. Some of the teachers invited me to go with them to Saphan Hin- a park in Phuket Town with the biggest celebration of Loy Krathong on the island. The park is on the eastern coast with ocean access, and also has a lake in the middle. The water in the ocean was choppy, so everyone was floating them in the lake. At first I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t release mine into the ocean, and then I realized that in the excitement of the holiday, I hadn’t realized how horrible the festival is for the environment.

Floating away the bad energy in the ocean seems so mystical, but in reality it’s kind of a mess. My krathong was made from banana leaves and imageflowers, but it also had a ton of metal pins in it. Other peoples’ boats were made with plastic, or sugary cake. Some of them were made out of fish food, which is something I can get behind, but for the most part, they were not really good for fish. I figured that releasing it into the lake had better odds of it being disposed of properly.

It is good luck to send off the krathongs with a lock of hair and money tucked into them.  I couldn’t believe that some people were swimming in the lake and picking through the krathongs to find the money in them! Nobody said anything about it. I took a picture of some of the krathongs in the water, and then a little boy popped up out of nowhere and counted the money he had found.

imageAfter about an hour of watching the festivities, I asked a coworker about the paper lanterns I’d seen in pictures on Google. I had previously seen in the news that they were banned from Phuket, but I thought it was for environmental reasons. She told me that they were banned because they were flying high enough to potentially be sucked into the engine of an airplane. Not for environmental reasons.

Loy Krathong is definitely magical, but after all is said and done, I feel bad for the environmental cost of having such a holiday. The following day, I read in the news that a mass cleanup of the park generated 14 tons of trash. WHAT!! That’s insane. For a holiday meant to give thanks to the water gods, and water as a resource, it’s pretty crazy to celebrate by polluting the waterways. Even so, the krathongs that were made from organic material are going to be sitting in a landfill and not biodegrading. It’s a pretty crazy palm-to-face realization that the celebration is magical and whatnot, but it’s coming at the cost of the environment.

At any rate, I hope you enjoy the cutesy pictures of us trashing the environment. *sigh*

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Koh Yao Noi

Despite having going to Koh Yao Noi the night before I had written my last post, I thought that the island experience deserved a story to itself. As promised, here it is:

With the chaos of school last week, I had decided that my weekend was going to be spent on a peaceful island. Instead of searching the web for the “best getaways near Phuket,” I decided to ask around to some of the teachers at my school to see what their opinion was on the best place to go. My only request was that it was a relatively short ferry ride.

I thought about going back to Phi Phi, since it’s absolutely beautiful, but I wanted to experience a new place. I love going to Phi Phi, but the ferry takes about an hour and a half. It’s also packed with tourists, advertising, and overpriced meals. Oh, that reminds me. It has been brought to my attention to note that the correct way to pronounce “Phi Phi” is “pee pee.” I’ve gotten so used to saying it that the silly factor doesn’t phase me anymore. Same with Phuket. It is pronounced “poo ket,” but it’s still a little bit funny to say it the way it looks like it should sound.

Talk about a tangent.

My teacher friends recommended I go to the island of Koh Yao Noi, as it’s a short trip away from the Phuket mainland, and is a laid back place to relax for a weekend. I didn’t fully comit to the mini-trip until it was Saturday morning. My body’s alarm clock has been set at 6:00am since I’ve been waking up for school, and doesn’t turn off for Saturdays. I took advantage of it and decided to head out early.

The best pier to leave for the island is in the north of Phuket, and it’s called Bangrong Pier. A friend had told me that you can catch certain longtail boats that will allow you to bring your motorbike with you. I found a schedule online and saw that the first longtail left at 9:15, so I set out at 8:30 to make it on time. It’s normally a 30 minute trip.

imageThe pier itself was nothing like I had expected. I have previously left for trips on Rassada Pier, which is a highly commercialized port for ferries. Bangrong Pier is a completely different story. It’s a pier in a rural northern Muslim community, with its main traffic being fishing boats. I was expecting it to be a tourist extravaganza, so of course I stood out, as I was wearing a tank top and jean shorts with flip flops. Everyone was extremely friendly though.

Traffic ended up being horrible, and I didn’t make it to the pier until 9:20. I had missed the boat that would allow me to take my bike with me, and the next one wasn’t leaving until 12:30. There was a speed boat leaving at 9:50, so I decided to leave my bike behind. Luckily there was a house with a garage nearby advertising bike security for 20TBH ($0.56 USD)/day. I dropped off the bike and got onto the speed boat.

The speed boat ride was choppy, and a little scary at that. Each wave that we hit rattled the boat and made an unsettling sound. After we had been imagegoing for about 15 minutes, we heard the captain yell something and he stopped the boat. There was a little bit of panic within the passengers on the boat (there were maybe 10 of us), and we were all looking around to see what happened. We eventually saw another boat pull up beside us, and an old man got off the front of the boat and onto ours. Everyone laughed a little bit after we saw it.

The boat ride took a little under 30 minutes, and was beautiful scenery throughout. Once we had arrived on the island, we were surrounded by a few motorbike taxi drivers who were looking for customers. I asked the driver if he knew of any bikes to rent, and he immediately showed me over to one. His price was 300baht (~$8 USD) , which is a little steep by Phuket standards, but I decided it was worth it to explore the island.  He handed over a helmet and the keys, and told me to leave it back where I found it when I was done. I was amazed that he didn’t ask to see my passport or make me sign any paperwork. Later I had explained my surprise to a local, and she said, “It’s a small island. There’s one way in and out is at that pier. He knows you’re not going anywhere.”

The immediate vibe that I got from the island was absolute tranquility. After I had driven off of the pier, I found myself driving through beautiful green shrubs and flowers on my way to my accomodation. There were more butterflies than I’ve ever seen in nature. So many butterflies that the drive through the island left me in some deep contemplation that when you’re on a bike, your face is the windshield. The sheer amount of bugs that get smashed onto the windshield while driving a car, well, that was pretty much the face cover of my bike helmet.

The island has a reputation for preserving its local feel, and frowns upon any sort of commercial development. They are huge proponents of ecological conservation, and there was only one 7-11 on the island. This is quite a feat, as 7-11s in Thailand are normally across the street from one another. The “untouched” feel of the island was a huge breather from the tourist overload of Phuket.

imageBefore I had left Phuket I had found a bungalow online that was close to the beach. I splurged a little (Note: By splurge I mean I spent $28 USD), and went for one with great reviews. I was not disappointed.

The bungalow was an uphill hike away from the main road. It was surrounded by lush jungle, and I felt totally secluded. All I could hear were the sounds of jungle. It was awesome!! There was a hammock on the little balcony, and I spent almost 2 hours just lying there enjoying the peace. It was the definition of tranquility.

The location was also killer. It was only about a 2 minute walk from the beach. The beach had an incredible view of the notorious limestone cliffs of the Andaman Sea. I think there were maybe 4 other people on the beach. I found a deserted hammock in the shade, and did about 2 more hours of relaxing in a hammock.image

The bungalow was on the eastern side of the island, and I wanted to see the sunset, so I drove all the way across to the western side to see the sunset. It took me a whopping 11 minutes. I found a seafood restaurant with a perfect view. I ordered blue crab, and watched as the chef walked down to the dock and pulled the crab out of a net in the ocean. I think it’s safe to say it was the most delicious crab I’ve ever eaten, and one of the most peaceful nights spent watching the sun set.

Although my time in Koh Yao Noi was brief, it was just the type of relaxation I needed after a crazy couple of weeks of teaching kindergarten. I am so incredibly spoiled to have paradise in my backyard.

 

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Week 2 of Kindergarten

I’m starting to get into the swing of things, and  now time is flying by.

Working at the school hardly feels like work. The teachers at the school are all wonderful, and make for great company throughout the day. The English department has teachers from all over- the U.S., South Africa, Scotland, England, Ireland, Australia, and of course Thailand. Everyone brings their own slang and dialects, and I can’t imagine how my vocabulary will change over the next year. So far, I’ve caught myself using the words “mates” “keen” and “proper” in ways that I hadn’t before I had arrived. To my students I am supposed to use the word “trainers” for tennis shoes, but I don’t think that word will stick with me. Same with “jumper” for sweater. I won’t be calling it that when I get home.

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This is Paeng. She is the sweetest little girl in my class. Always well behaved, and she’s crazy smart. She’s a little doll.

The students have really started to adjust to me, and I’m impressed at how quickly they’ve done it. The construction at the school has me shouting out my lessons, but the kids are still managing to pay attention. The construction outside of our classroom is set to last at least another two months, which nobody is too excited about. It is rumored that the whole Kathu District is supposed to be without power for the next 2 weeks. That should be interesting. Hopefully it will give us a break from the construction!

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but our classroom is open-air. So far it hasn’t been too hot, but we’re technically not in the hot season yet. If 87 degrees is not considered the hot season, I’m curious to see what is. I like the open air room, as we have some critters that come and go as they please. These are including, but not limited to: dragonflies, giant bees, birds, lizards, and dogs. It’s hard to keep the kids under control when a critter enters the room. The other day a giant bee flew into the classroom, and my attention span matched that of my students.

The Thai teacher in my classroom, Fee, is awesome and we get along great. She is always willing to step in when I need help, but she keeps her distance otherwise. She is 7 months pregnant, so she’s training a new teacher to take over for when she’s on maternity leave. Here’s the depressing part:

The principle told Fee that she is to keep her pregnancy a secret. She is single, and a Muslim, so the pregnancy is frowned upon. Fee has been wearing giant if dresses, but compared to her small frame you can definitely tell she’s not just gaining weight. I’ve heard that she won’t be on maternity leave for long, because once the baby is born she has to give it to her parents to raise because she doesn’t have a partner.

She is always smiling though. Thai people, I tell you what.

It’s crazy to think that I’ve only been teaching for two weeks, but I’ve been affected as a person. Something about guidingimage 30 five-year-olds makes you feel like you should be a better human being. It’s like having 30 mirrors staring back at me. I so badly want to be a positive role model for them. The picture on the right is from our P.E. class on Wednesday. I HATED P.E. growing up. I’ve always wished I were more enthusiastic about physical activity. I guess now I’m going to have to learn!

On Friday I received the great news that my work permit was finally processed. I  found out a little more about what the holdup was. The school I’m teaching at has a contract with an “English Language Provider” so a company that is paid to help staff teachers at schools around the island. The company is basically HR for the school’s English programs. They are in charge of processing all of my paperwork as it relates to the work permit and teaching license. The school signs a yearly contract with the provider, and usually it is a smooth process. Well, this year the guy at the very top of the organization died. His replacement came in and wanted to review every last detail of the contract with the school. Neither the school nor the company knew with 100% certainty that the contract was going to go through. Apparently the entire English department had their jobs on the line. I was still on vacation when this was going on, so I had no idea.  It usually takes about 1 week to process a work permit, and mine took about 6 weeks. Now I can leave the country and re-enter on a Non-Immigrant B Visa.

I was talking to my supervisor about when I could leave the school to do my visa run. On Friday, December 4th, normal classes are cancelled and the students come to school for Father’s Day activities. I’m not sure if I’ve previously mentioned, but Father’s Day is always on the king’s birthday. I’m under the impression that it’s less about biological fathers and more about the king. There are shirts everywhere that say “I love Dad” and have a picture of the king on them.

Anyhow, the normal classes are cancelled on Friday, and then Monday is the official observance of the holiday, so schools are cancelled. I’ll have to leave Wednesday night in order to have 2 business days to process the paperwork. I am going to get to have a 5 day weekend to leave the country and get everything taken care of. I got really excited, because I heard that the Thai embassy in Singapore is really nice and efficient, and I wanted to go because, well, it’s a weekend trip to Singapore. I started looking into flights ($45 round trip, at that), when one of the teachers told me to make sure the paperwork wasn’t written for a specific embassy. Sure enough, we asked the secretary and she said it’s all addressed to the embassy in Penang, Malaysia. I was a little bummed, but it’s still a new place. I’m going to try to get my paperwork done quickly so then I can hop on a plane to Singapore for the 3 day weekend. Wow, I’m so spoiled. I’m just going to “hop on down to Singapore.”

Speaking of spoiled…

With another long and exhausting week of school finished, I decided to get out of the city and head over to the island of Koh Yao Noi for the weekend. My experience on the island was amazing, and it will definitely require its own blog post (coming soon!)

Here’s a fun fact to leave you with:

My school is a Buddhist school, so the kids say a prayer at assembly every morning. There are 2 kids in my class who aren’t Buddhist, so they just stand with their hands at their sides. Every Thursday, everyone wears white because the school goes vegetarian. Pretty cool!

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25 and Feeling Alive

I have to apologize for slacking on the blog lately. Last week I was pretty stuck on what to write about. It’s easy to write out a 2,000 word post after visiting a new city. It’s more challenging to come up with anything to say now that I am adapting, and what was once extraordinary is now becoming normal.

It’s actually hilarious to look at what I consider normal these days. Rats the size of kittens. Geckos larger than rats. Rats, geckos, and kittens existing in a restaurant that received an A+ on their “health inspection.” The fact that McDonald’s delivers.  Watching a family of five fit on a single motorbike. Advertisements for skin bleach. Driving clockwise around a traffic circle. Squid flavored potato chips.  It’s the small things that I’ve started to accept as my reality, but I often forget that all of it was completely mind-blowing two months ago.

My birthday was on Friday, and I had decided to go to the neighboring beach town of Patong to celebrate. Patong is considered the “Las Vegas of Thailand.” Even though it is only 15 minutes to the west of me, I decided to spring for a nice hotel room and stay there (“spring” for a hotel room meaning I spent $30 on a four star hotel). Although the drive is only 15 minutes, it is over a hill that is considered one of the most dangerous stretches of road in Phuket. Instead of driving my bike there, I decided to take a taxi. I felt silly taking a taxi to go stay in a hotel that is 15 minutes from me, but I guess I had just decided it was what I wanted to do for my birthday.

It was a strange feeling to spend the day completely alone. I actually felt very homesick. I tried to make the best of my day though.

I started by going to the beach. It was about a 2 minute walk from my hotel room, which was great. Since I’ve gotten here, imagethe haze from the Indonesian fires has been looming over us. On Friday, the haze cleared for the day and it was the bluest sky I’ve seen since I’ve been in Thailand. A man walked by me with a drink menu, and I bought a cracked open coconut with a straw.I spent a while going back and forth between my beach towel and the water, when I realized I was getting a bit sunburned and wanted to sit in the shade. Because we’re at about 7 degrees above the equator, the sun is crazy strong here. I had applied SPF 50 twice in the hour that I’d been out, and I was still getting pink. I looked for a place to sit in the shade, and as soon as I sat down, I had a man tell me that it was 100 baht to lay my towel where I did. Good ol’ Thailand. Nothing is free for the Westerner.

I ended up leaving and going to a restaurant with a street view. I read somewhere that  Patong has the highest tourist traffic of anywhere in Thailand. I decided to drink a beer and people watch, and I wasn’t disappointed. There were people from all over the world. Even though I was sitting inside of a restaurant, I still had people come up and try to sell me food, bracelets, custom suits, etc. It makes me appreciate living on the other side of the hill, where nobody is trying to sell me anything. I did end up buying a lottery ticket. An old woman convinced me that it was good luck to buy one on your birthday. The drawing for the winning numbers is today, so we’ll see if I won anything!

One of the main reasons I decided to head to the beach town for my birthday was to watch the sunset over the ocean. I googled the best place to watch a sunset in Phuket, and I found a restaurant that was only about a 10 minute drive from where I was staying. It was #1 on a “Top 10 Best Sunsets in Phuket” list, so I was expecting an expensive  and fancy restaurant that would be jam packed full on a Friday. I decided to leave about an hour before the sunset to make sure I had a good seat.

I had asked around to the taxi drivers how much it would cost to take me up there, but none of them had heard of the place or knew what it was. They basically told me “sorry, good luck finding your way up there.” I went onto my GrabTaxi app and booked from there. When the taxi driver showed up, he called me to ask where I was. I looked around and didn’t see the traditional metered taxi, and he said, “over here in the black car!” It was the first time I had used the app and not gotten a standard taxi, and I was confused. He was in a brand new shiny black SUV without a meter. When I asked him about the meter, he said, “This isn’t a metered taxi. This is a private car. Did you realize you booked a private car?” Nope. I didn’t.

I had previously been playing around with the app’s “private car” button to see what the price difference would be, and I guess I didn’t switch it off before booking the taxi. The price for the private ride was going to be about $10, so I just shrugged and got in. He said he had no idea where the place was, so I was his navigator on the way up. I guess it was good that I ended up taking an SUV, because the road turned into a steep dirt road, and the place was pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

After getting out of the car, I was amazed to see that there were only about 5 people in the whole place. I went to pay the imagedriver, and he said, “I want to come check this place out. I’ve never been, and it looks really cool. Don’t worry about paying me.” He parked and we walked up and sat at a table overlooking the bay. The view was absolutely incredible. It was quite the romantic setting, and I was dying laughing on the inside that I was sitting with an old Thai dude enjoying dinner and the sunset. He said that he is a tour guide by day, and enjoys practicing his English. He pulled up a TripAdivsor page with his name and picture, regarding him as “one of the best private tourguides in the south of Thailand.” He told me of some places to go explore while I’m here.

The restaurant itself was very simple. There was a bamboo awning over a bar, and a kitchen in the back. All of the tables were strewn about the edge of the hill, with a 180 degree view of the ocean. It was far enough away from the city that the only noises outside of a few faint conversations were jungle critters and some relaxing music. The bathroom was a bamboo shack on stilts, about a 5 minute walk through the jungle. It had a toilet in the middle of the room that faces a large (open) window with a view out into the jungle. I think it’s save to say that it’s the most peaceful bathroom experience I’ve ever had! I hadn’t gone in until after the sun had set, so I wasn’t able to get a picture.

I ended up talking to the owner, who was a really cool guy. He asked how I’d heard about the place, and he said he had no idea it was online as the #1 sunset spot. He told me that he doesn’t want the place to get too busy and crazy, because he likes the peaceful lifestyle. He, his wife, and son live in a house right behind the restaurant. His wife cooks the food, he tends bar, and his son helps out when he needs to. He plays in a pool league in his spare time, so sometimes he closes the restaurant so he can go to tournaments. He said they have hosted a few weddings, but the total capacity of the place is about 200 people. It was the coolest restaurant I’ve been to in Thailand hands down. The price of the food is on par with a “locals” restaurant, with the most expensive entree priced around $5.image

When I decided it was time to leave, the private driver picked up the tab for my drinks and dinner, and offered me a ride back home. I was very taken back by his generosity, but perhaps a little too naive at the same time. He dropped me off back at my place, and asked for my number and wanted to know when he could see me again. Yikes. My 25th birthday is the day I accidentally went on a date with an old Thai man.

Overall, it was a great birthday. It wasn’t anything like I had expected, but that’s pretty much the theme of this experience in Thailand. Everything is unexpected.

Tomorrow is the first day of school for me, and I’m so nervous. Even though the kids are five and six years old, I feel intimidated for my first day. The school was closed over most of the vacation, so I didn’t get a chance to decorate the classroom. I’m also not sure which resources are available to me as far as printing, colored paper, etc. I had two days at the school to see the layout, receive my roster, and look over my lesson plan. I ended up making a sticker chart so I can immediately start with positive reinforcement for good behavior.  The decorations will come soon enough. I feel pretty unprepared, but I’m going in armed with stickers, pencils, and chocolate, so nothing can go wrong, right?

imageI’m sure I’ll have loads to write after the first few days of school, so hopefully I won’t leave you hanging too long for the next post.

Anyhow, that’s about all I have. Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes!!! I miss you all!!!

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