Tag Archives: teachabroad

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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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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Teaching Kindergarten in Thailand- Week 1

Well I’ve officially survived my first week of teaching kindergarten, and boy was it a crazy week.

Banmaireab school is a government primary school that offers bilingual classes starting at the kindergarten level and going up through 6th grade. I’m not too sure how the structure of it is all setup, but I know that parents can select from three different programs to place their kids in- either 100% of the classes taught in Thai, the majority of the classes taught in Thai with a couple of English classes per week, or 60% of the classes taught in English every day. I know that there is a cost difference between them all, but I was told that our English Programme (yes, it’s spelled correctly) costs the most. It costs about 25% of the cost of sending a child to an international bilingual school. The class size is maxed out at 30 for the kindergarten, but there is a huge waiting list.   As a kindergarten teacher, I am teaching three hours of English to the same 30 students every day. The class is Kindergarten 2, so the kids are all either 6 six years old, or 5 turning 6 during the year. There is a Thai teacher in my class who has a desk in the room, and she is available to help me if necessary.

I had been into the school two times before the school started. At the very end of September I was able to sit in on three classes and observe a little bit of the procedures, but it definitely wasn’t enough. October is vacation month for the teachers and students, so I wasn’t able to do anything inside the school as far as planning goes. Before the break I was given a lesson plan for my first week of teaching and a list of my students’ names. That was it. I felt pretty unprepared going into it all, but the best way to learn how to swim is to be pushed into the water, right?

The first day of school was overwhelming, to say the least. It was basically like, “Okay, you have your lesson plan. Have fun!” I didn’t know anything about basic procedures. Even something as small as letting the kids go to the bathroom. They’re 5 and 6 years old. Am I allowed to tell them no? Can they hold it if I tell them no? Are they manipulating me when they all ask to go at the same time?

Same with going to their backpacks. Some of them walked up and got their supplies from their backpacks. Did they all have those supplies? Am I supposed to always let them use their own? Which supplies do we need for this lesson? Where are they? Oh no. That kid is upset because I told him no. Did the last teacher allow him to do that? I don’t want him to hate me.

Also the same with their level of English. That kid is giving me a blank stare. Does he understand me? Am I talking too fast? Did I use the right language? Does he know how to construct a sentence in English? Is he pretending like he doesn’t understand?

I didn’t realize until midway through the class that I was teaching in front of the class with my shoes on. In kindergarten, everyone is supposed to take their shoes off before they enter the classroom. I had so many things going through my mind, and I completely forgot to take them off. I felt embarrassed. image

When I was about to finish the first class, I went to get the kids’ attention. I said, “Everybody stop what you’re doing and look at me!” I got nothing in return. Everybody went about their business and was acting like I didn’t even exist. I said, “Okay everyone, it’s time to clean up!” Everyone started cleaning, but nobody really stopped talking to listen to me. I felt disrespected and hopeless. I left the class, and I cried a little bit.

I went back to the teachers’ office, and my supervisor asked me how it went. I was all flustered and was a little teary. It was lunch time, and I needed to go cool off.

My afternoons at the school are free of classes and open for me to do whatever work I need to. I spent a lot of time talking to Bronwyn, my supervisor, and tried to figure out where I went wrong. Bronwyn is teaching the other Kindergarten 2 class, so our class structure and lesson plans are the exact same. She basically told me that I need to show the students that I can be scary. It was the piece of information that turned my class around. I was caught up in my own head with Thai culture and showing anger. It has been instilled in me that it is inappropriate to show anger in public. Bronwyn told me to forget about that, and said it didn’t apply to the school setting. Most of the Thai teachers will scream into the kids’ faces. I didn’t need to scream, but I had to show that I was angry with the students if they were acting up.

For the rest of the week, I did not smile, and I was not silly. I didn’t ask the kids, I told them. I brought in a ton of stickers, which I handed out to reinforce positive behavior. Once I gave out a sticker to one kid for being quiet, the rest of the kids were trying really hard to impress me, and they followed suit. It worked very well to encourage positive behavior, but the kids were testing my limits. On the 2nd day, the kids were trying to see how much talking they could get away with. The first time they did not listen when I asked them to be quiet, I got scary.  I was stomping around the classroom and yelling. They all got completely silent. It worked.

Keeping the kids quiet is still a challenge, but it’s a whole lot easier now that I’ve showed them a mean side. I have found that praising good behavior is working better than yelling about bad behavior.  Now that I’ve shown them who is in charge, I am more excited about teaching the content. Classroom management is still a huge mind game, though. I feel like I’m trying to train 30 puppies.

Over the past week, I’ve begun to realize that my predecessor left a mess for me to clean up. She had these students for the first half of the year, and she let them get away with a lot more than I will. It’s a big adjustment for myself and the students alike. The teacher, also named Sarah, was a slob. I hate to be so blunt about it, but she was. She left me a mess with the students’ behavior, the classroom itself, and my desk in the teachers’ office. She didn’t bother to decorate the classroom. It was really a halfhearted effort on her part. My desk in the teachers’ office still had leftover food from before the October vacation. She left a stack of paperwork to file, and a mess of junk to sort through. Trying to find a functional marker for the whiteboard in the classroom was even a struggle. She had a pile of 35, THIRTY FIVE, dry markers next to the board. It was pretty clear that I had my work cut out for me. It’s okay though, because I’m a pro at cleaning up messes.

I am extremely fortunate to have a huge availability of resources at the school as far as crafts go. There are cabinets in the teachers’ office that are full of colored paper, glue, markers, glitter, buttons, sequins, etc. If there is a material that I need for a craft, I am able to ask the school to buy it, or I can buy it and they will reimburse me. The possibilities are endless. On Thursday and Friday night I stayed at the school until 8:00pm working on cleaning, organizing, and decorating. I’ve made a little bit of progress, but I have tons of work to do still. Thanks to Pinterest, I have a huge to-do list for my classroom.

Before

The students previously had a system of table teams, where they were rewarded stars (and ultimately a prize) for working together as a team. I wanted to keep the system, but I hated looking at bulletin board that

had the teams on them. I didn’t even use the system for the first week. The teams were monsters, aliens, robots, and dinosaurs. I decided to freshen it up. It took me forever. To give you an idea of where I started, I had to photoshop most of the clip art to make it look like I wanted it to. The deer was originally a quilting pattern, and the owl had a big “O” across one of his feet. I colored everything with colored pencils. I am pretty proud of the transformation! The kids haven’t seen it yet, but I think they’re going to be excited.

The school normally has wifi, but it isn’t working. The school is under construction right

After

After

now, and it’s very frustrating. The playground was closed off last year because it was hazardous, and they decided they weren’t going to fix it because they’re going to construct a new one. As construction normally goes, the process keeps getting delayed. Right now the kids only have a field of grass to play in.

There was a swimming pool to use for P.E., but they have ripped it out and we’re awaiting a new one. Nobody is really sure when it’s going to be completed. During class on Tuesday, they were working on a building right outside of my classroom. The banging was so loud that I had to scream to talk to the students. Bronwyn’s class is right next door, and she was blown away at how loud it was. Luckily, she’s a doer, and went straight to the head of the school and complained. It hasn’t happened again, but we’ll see.

I don’t have many pictures of the students yet, because I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to be taking them. I just got word that I am able to take as many pictures as I want, and I can also post them online. I’ll make sure to take a lot! My students are super cute. This is Tin Tin (one of my favorites) with his clay chicken. image

I have tons to say, but I won’t bore everyone with all of the details. Here’s a quick little funny story before I go:

On Wednesday, one of my students stood up (when she wasn’t supposed to) and went to her backpack. I sternly said her name, and walked over to find out why. She said, “Teacher. My tooth come out.” and held up a tooth. She asked, “Can I put in my backpack?”  I reacted with excitement, and she shrugged her shoulders. It was just another day to her. I just noticed that she is pictured (above) sitting behind Tin Tin. That’s Opor.

When I asked the other teachers about the teeth, they told me that losing teeth isn’t a big deal here. If the tooth comes from the top row, they will go outside and throw it into the air. If it comes from the bottom, they bury it in the ground.

You learn something new every day.

That’s about all I have for now. Here’s a before/after of my classroom progress. There is so much more to come.

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Moo 2 Kathu

We’re not in Phuket Town anymore!

Thursday was the final day of our TEFL course. We all went in and did a course evaluation, listened to a final spiel from our instructors, and then received our certificates and took a group photo.  I am classphotopretty relieved that the class is done!

Friday was the day that I moved out of the Phuket Center Apartments. It was actually kind of sad. I lived there for a month, and had gotten to know some of the staff. To anyone looking to travel around Phuket Town, I highly recommend staying there.

Before I packed up and moved, I went back to the photo shop because I needed pictures taken for my teacher’s license, work permit, and Non Immigrant B Visa. A few posts back I had mentioned that I went to her for a CV photo, and I was pretty impressed with how she could photoshop the sweat from my face in the wrinkles in my shirt. This time I needed 12 photos- six 6×5 cm and six 3x4cm. The guidelines for the photos are pretty strict- hair must be neatly pulled back, no jewelry, no smiling, blue background, and you must wear a collared shirt. I didn’t pack a single collared shirt, but she assured me that she could photoshop one on.image

Whereas last time I waited 5 minutes in the shop, this time the woman told me to come back in about 15 minutes and they’d be ready. I really wish I could’ve stayed and monitored her editing of the photos. When I came back to pick them up, I was trying so hard not to laugh. She could’ve at least asked me which shirt I wanted! Why did she have to make me so pale?! Why is my head so much smaller than my body?!?! I was laughing hysterically inside, but I politely smiled and thanked her. This lovely picture is going on my teacher’s license, work permit, and visa. Fantastic.

Packing and moving was pretty easy. When I left the US, my suitcase only weighed 33lbs. I really haven’t bought much since I’ve gotten here.  I started to neatly fold my clothes and arrange them in my bag, until I realized they were coming right back out in less than 1 hour. I shoved them all into the duffel bag, and sat on it to close it.

The area I moved to is called Kathu (pronounced ka-too).  Neighborhoods or residential zones are called “moo,” and I’m in the 2nd one, so my address is “Moo 2 Kathu,” which I think is hilarious.  Moving into my new place was exciting, as is moving into any new place. I realized pretty quickly that I needed to do some shopping for things like hangers, trash bags, shampoo, etc., so I decided to go to Tesco Lotus, the Walmart of Thailand. The Tesco Lotus here is bigger than any Walmart I’ve ever been into. They have anything you could think of. There is a religious aisle in the store where you can purchase gift baskets for monks.  (Side note: I haven’t learned too much about Buddhist culture yet, but I know that as a lady, I am not supposed to offer a gift directly to a monk).

When I was done shopping, I found a taxi stand out front with set prices on a list. I asked one of the men how much to go to my apartment complex, and he pointed at 300 TBH. I knew it was way overpriced, and so I haggled him down to 150 (which is still overpriced), but I got him down from $8 to $4, and I was ready to get home.  And I had a lot of stuff.

The driver spoke English pretty well, and he talked a lot.  He is a sweet old man who likes to practice his English, and told me that if I ever need a driver, he would come pick me up. He told me to call him Mr.B, and he is quite the character. During the 10 minute ride home, I had learned that he had an English teacher named Sarah who was from Michigan. He recently lost his wife to stomach cancer, and he is always looking for new friends. He told me that he would take me to meet a woman who could teach me how to cook Thai food, and he would translate for me.  He gave me his phone number, and had me call it to make sure it worked. It all sounded like a sweet deal, but I took it with a grain of salt. Unfortunately I probably won’t be taking him up on his offer, because I’m just not sure I can trust him. I saved his number in my phone in case I’m with friends and in need of a ride, though.

imageOnce I got all unpacked into my place, I went down for a swim in my new pool. The pool is huge!!! It isn’t terribly deep, but it’s ideal for swimming laps or relaxing. The trees that line the perimeter of the pool produce a gorgeous white flower.  These flowers are amazing. Here they fall off the trees and float in the pool, and it’s absolutely serene.

These type of flowers remind me so much of a friend that I lost a couple years ago in November. She would always wear one of these flowers behind her ear. The first time I saw them on a tree, I got pretty emotional that I couldn’t write her and tell her that these flowers are everywhere in Thailand. I really miss her.

Anyhow.

Tomorrow I am going into the school to fill out all of my paperwork for the teacher’s license, work permit, and visa. Classes are out until November, but I’m going to be working on redecorating my classroom. The school year is only halfway done for the students, so it’s going to be a big change for them. My boss told me that the children are going to test me, so I have to be incredibly strict. She told me, “no smiles until Christmas.” My property manager told me that Thais love foreign teachers because they won’t hit the students. Corporal punishment is still a thing here, but unfortunately I’m not in any position to say anything about it. I’ll know more about it once I’m actually in the classroom.

That’s about all I’ve got for now. I made a video tour of my apartment for your viewing pleasure. It was awkward for me to talk to myself during the tour, and it’s painfully obvious in my voice. Enjoy!

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Updates

I apologize for the lack of updates! Everything has been crazy busy lately.

On Sunday I met up with my property manager and the owner of my apartment to sign a lease. The apartment is actually much cuter than I had remembered. I’ll be moving in on Friday, so I’ll make sure to put together a video tour!

I had to bring 27,000TBH with me in order to pay for first & last month’s rent, as well as a deposit. It’s about $750 USD, so I was feeling some heavy anxiety between withdrawing money from the ATM and showing up at the apartment. The lease conditions were all on par with what they would be in the U.S. It was much shorter, but it was written in English and I didn’t see any tricky language.

I was glad that I got to sit down and talk to the owner of the place, Emmy. She is probably in her early 30s, and is super nice. She knows very little English, but enough to communicate basic ideas.  She found me on Facebook and added me in case I needed to message her with any concerns about the apartment. She offered to rent out her motorbike to me at 2,000 Baht ($55) per month, which is a killer deal.  I would need to get a Thai driver’s license after I got my work permit in order to rent it, but I appreciate the offer. Emmy and the property manager were speaking in Thai for a while and I kept hearing the name of the school I will be teaching at. When I asked the property manager about it, she said that Emmy was asking about what I’m doing in Thailand. The school I will be working at has a great reputation on the island, and she was excited for me. She admitted that she was nervous to find a new tenant because the previous tenant she had was a 14 year old runaway from Saudi Arabia. He didn’t tell her that he was 14 or that he was on the run. 3 days after he had signed the lease and paid the fees, the cops broke into the apartment and arrested him. She just wanted to make sure I wasn’t in any trouble.

After I signed the lease, I was going to find a taxi home, but the property manager offered to drive me. On the ride home she told me about how she and Emmy have been good friends since they were young. She told me, “I knew her back when she was a little boy.” I was super confused. The lady laughed and said, “yeah, she’s transgendered!” I’m 100% cool with that, but I was so shocked that I couldn’t hold it in. Without any ability to control it, my mouth dropped wide open and I shrieked, “WHAAAAT?!!?!!” I hope she didn’t take it offensively. I was just really surprised! The property manager, the owner, and the apartment are all great. I’m super excited to move in.

Tomorrow is my final day of the TEFL course. It’s hardly a day of class, either. It’s more like graduation day. I have to go in and fill out a course evaluation, and then I’ll receive my certificate. This week was packed full of assignments, teaching lessons, and studying for the exam.

Monday night I decided to study a little extra for the final. I was so exhausted that I panicked and thought I wasn’t prepared enough. On Tuesday morning we took the exam, and it was harder than everyone was expecting. It was a 100 point exam, with 72 points for the grammar portion and 28 for the phonetics. It seems silly to worry about passing an exam about my native language, but I don’t usually think in terms of grammar and phonetics on a daily basis. Not everyone passed.

I was nervous when I asked the instructor to see the results of my exam. He laughed at me and asked if I was truly worried about how I did. He handed it back, and I scored 97/100. I AM SO HAPPY!!!!

Now that it’s over, I’m free to sit back and be on vacation until November. I might try to find some freelance online jobs for extra cash, but I’m relieved that I am now a certified TEFL instructor.

imageAll around Phuket Town they are starting to decorate for the Vegetarian Festival, which lasts for nine days in mid October. The extent of the decorations remind me of how towns decorate during the Christmas season. There are Chinese lanterns all through the streets, yellow flags with Chinese writing, and some stores have decorated their entire storefront with painted wooden structures.The heart of the festival is a block away from my current apartment. Unfortunately, I won’t be within walking distance, but I’ll only be 15 minutes away. It is celebrated throughout the island, so there will still be some festivities happening closer to my new place in Kathu.image

The festival is a Chinese ritual, where for nine days the participants will abstain from meat, sex, and alcohol, because they believe it will bring them good fortune. Additionally, people participate in self mortification rituals to evoke the gods. I’ve read that the events are not for the faint of heart, because they’re very gruesome. People walk on fire and pierce their cheeks with large sharp objects.  I read a warning on TripAdvisor that said “Pregnant women and menstruating women should not attend the ceremonies.” Naturally, I’ll be going. My curiosity is uncontrollable at this point. I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about it once I see it.

I booked a flight to Malaysia today. I have to leave the country in order to process my 1 year visa, and I guess Malaysia is the easiest place to do it. I know nothing about Malaysia except for the fact that I’m going there on October 20th for 4 days.

That’s about all I have for now! 24 hours from now I’ll be starting my vacation. WOOHOO!!

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