Friday, December 30, 2011

Sawadee Bee Mai!

Here is to what has been the most monumental & best year of my life to date: Bringing in 2011 with all my best college friends in New York City, an incredible whirlwind of a last semester of college, good times which have become fond memories in 111 Hudson, the stereotypical spring break with 30 of my friends in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Senior Week & graduation celebrations, clocking 50+ hours a week at Moosewood Restaurant, backpacking around Europe for a month with a very important person, spending time with friends and family for my last month in the states, and moving across the world to Thailand. And here is to an unbelievable first three months here: instantaneous bonds with friends from all over the world, surviving the TEFL course with those friends, traveling while schools were delayed due to the flooding, moving to my new home in Sriracha, beginning my job as an English teacher, making new friends (that English teacher bond everywhere), learning, observing, & participating in the Thai way of life, and the on-going adventures and exploration that make me never want to leave this place! For five months of the year I was homeless - renting a space, traveling, here, there, everywhere. It is nice to have a place to call home; and I truly do feel at home here. 2011 was huge for me, but I do have a feeling there will be some competition in 2012!

I am off to ring in the 2012 with good friends on the beautiful beaches of Koh Chang (Elephant Island)! Best wishes to all. Happy New Year / Sawadee Bee Mai!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

6.5 Random Musings

1. What you do now? Shoot, I mean...what are you doing now?
I am beginning to notice the longer that I teach English, the worse my own English is becoming. It has become such a habit to speak in the simplest manner to convey understanding to my students and Thai friends/co-workers, that I often find myself omitting verbs or tenses. While this is usually done purposefully in certain situations, I have caught myself unintentionally speaking improperly many times.

2. Slow down everyone, you're moving too fast!
I've always been a very fast-paced walker. Perhaps because of my short stature, I feel as if I need to compensate. My father and I always naturally walk 300 yards ahead of my slow-paced sister and mother. My friends constantly have to remind me to "stop running!" The first two months of being here, I had no patience for walking behind the painfully slow Thai locals. For such small people, they manage to take up the entire sidewalk, making it impossible to pass.

No one is ever in a rush here. Nothing, and I mean nothing, starts on time. My 50-minute class periods are never actually that long. Students (and teachers) are always 10-25 minutes late. The class schedule seems to be a mere suggestion. This is commonly referred to as "Thai" time. A Thai co-worker told me they say "Farang time" (foreigner time) for a strict appointment.

After nearly three months here, I find myself moving slower, happy to walk at a comfortable pace behind the natives. And you know what? Life is so much more enjoyable when are aren't in a rush all the time! I actually have time to look around, enjoy my surroundings and appreciate life a bit more. What is the rush anyway? Why is everyone in the Western world always running around everywhere?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Srirachan Citizen

I am settled into my new home and into the daily swing of things; I am a working, contributing and (mostly) functioning member of Sriracha, Chon Buri!

The first week of school was painfully slow & sweaty. Well into the third week now, I have my routine and am mostly adjusted to teaching in the SE Asia humidity with no air-conditioning. The weeks are beginning to fly by, especially when overshadowed by continuously exciting weekend plans. I am enjoying my experience as the only foreign teacher at Surasakvittayakom School. Without a syllabus, resources, or any direction whatsoever, I am having a pretty good time just wingin' it. My 24 different classes all have a tremendous variation of English knowledge, although overall it remains pretty poor. My "beginning" level classes are rowdy and often difficult, so I try to focus on very very basic English with something to keep them busy. My "intermediate" and "advanced" classes are by no means very good at English. I classify them into these categories because they know slightly more vocabulary and are more motivated to learn, which allows room for more creative lessons. The students that do put forth the effort make teaching worthwhile. Some students come to my desk to practice speaking English outside of class, which easily makes my day. This week I've been playing charades with my students which they absolutely light up with excitement over, making it all too fun for me as well!
[My top level Mattayom 5 Class; equivilent to 11th grade]

Monday, November 21, 2011


My first day in Sriracha, I wasn't feeling so keen about this place. I was cranky, frustrated, and lonely after receiving zero instruction from my school and spending all day looking at apartments that were either too expensive, too shitty, or too far. Finally settled on a place, although not near the school, walking distance to the mall and main part of town. Working air conditioning, 24/7 security, wifi and a proper hot shower = sold. After 2 months of being with others, I was suddenly alone in a new place. I didn't know anyone, found nothing exciting about the city, didn't see any sign of English speakers, and struggled to communicate with the local Thais with my poor Thai and their non-existent English. To top off the typical bad first day, I spent the night ill from food poisoning.

Saturday things began to look up. I was put in contact with 3 English teachers from another town, about 30-45 minutes away. Despite the language barrier, I managed to figure out the local bus with a connecting songtaew (a popular, cheap mode of transportation here; looks like a large pick-up truck with benches and standing room with as many Thais as possible packed in) to the Bang Saen Beach to meet the English folks. Although I wasn't feeling 100%, I got on quite well with my new friends, and it was comforting that I will at least have friends near enough for the weekends.
[Bang Saen Beach at sunset]

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Home Sweet...Sriracha!

So, I never made it to Kanchanaburi. We made it (through the flooding) to the bus terminal in Bangkok when my boss, KD, called me with news on my placement. I was to be moved the following day to a new location not in Bangkok: Chon Buri! My pals Phil and Rob decided to post-pone their trip as well, and use my move as an excuse to finally get our suitcases that we left nearly a month ago at our first hotel. KD instructed me to stay the night at the hotel, Pongpetch, where I would be picked up the following day. After paying for an expensive room and feeling the dismal deja vu of being in Pongpetch without my friends, I later received a call that my move date had changed. There really are not words to describe the screwy situations my fellow English teachers have put up with from AYC (our recruiter) and the Thai schools. Flexibility is the key! Every time things change, all you can do is breathe, take everything with a grain of salt, and remember T-I-T (This is Thailand)!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Loi Krathong

I experienced my first Thai festival, Loi Krathong, last Thursday. This takes place annually on the evening of the full moon of what is usually November on the western calender. 'Loi' literally means 'to float' while 'krathong' is the lotus-shaped float often made out of banana leaves. The festival is often referred to as the "festival of light" or "floating lantern ceremony". On this evening, all over the country, thousands of Thais gather at a local river, canal or lake to light a candle on their hand-made float, make a wish, and let their float be carried away by the current. The flame is supposed to signify a release of sins.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Farang! Farang!

"Farang! Farang!" The Thai people shout when they see white foreigners wandering the streets of the non-tourist parts of Thailand. The first time you recognize the blatant & repeated calls at the fact you are a foreigner, it may seem derogatory. The frequency to which all aged Thai people shout "farang" as you pass seems motivated by more of an interest than harm however. Still, it is unclear exactly why they so excitedly shout the word over & over. Occasionally, we do feel like the butt of their jokes when they laugh at our confused glances and butchered attempt at their language. More often though, the Thais express their genuine intrigue, kindness and willingness to help.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Nok Su Kow

After nearly a week on Koh Tao, it was time to get away from the touristy beaches and find ourselves the proper Thai street food that we so missed. Koh Tao was incredible, but extremely Westernized to the point that the locals would only respond in English even when we spoke to them in Thai. Even the Thai food was over-priced and bland, clearly catered toward the Western taste buds. It's strange that paying 120 baht (4 USD) for a meal on Koh Tao seemed absurd after knowing that better, more authentic Thai food for only 30 baht (approx 1 USD) was readily available everywhere else in the country. We had a fun-filled week of exploring the island via motorbikes & snorkeling in the Gulf of Thailand. While New York was battling power outages and 4 inches of snow, looking at the stunning beaches of Koh Tao everyday became far too normal of a sight. Once we realized it had reached that point, it was definitely time to head back to reality.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Life is a Beach


Tomorrow marks one incredibly brilliant month in Thailand. The natural disaster taking place in Bangkok has taken the beginnings of my life here in a completely unexpected, exhilarating, yet slightly frustrating direction. As we speak, I am using the wireless at a restaurant overlooking the sea with the most majestic sunset on Koh Tao island that reminds me that life isn't so bad. The last time I wrote, we were potentially going to visit Chantaburi from Hua Hin, but we were instructed to avoid going north towards Bangkok due to the flooding.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Homeless in Thailand

Every time I manage to get on this thing to do an update, there are seemingly five million events that have happened since the last time. Our TEFL course came to an end last Friday with a relatively easy final exam followed by some celebratory beers. We were to be kicked out of the hotel the following morning, so just in the nick of time, KD (the coordinator of the recruiting company that we all work under) managed to tell some of us where and when we were to depart. Nearly everyone in the course not near the Bangkok area was to be picked up and taken to their new location on Saturday morning. Some had an easy 2-4 hour journey, while many of my other pal's new homes are a good 10-15 hour journey from Bangkok (who knew how massive this country really is). Due to their early departure & and the flooding causing our favorite local bar to close, we spent our last evening drinking a shopping cart full of booze that the boys rolled through the flood from Tesco Lotus.
[Some of the TEFL group on our last night at Pongpetch Guestotel, Bangkok. Good times in room 514.]

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hong naam yoo tee nai?

We have found out our placements today. A bit emotional for many with the confirmation that we are scattered about the country after forming such incredibly close bonds in the last few weeks. As I expected, I am in the greater Bangkok area, in an area called Thonburi. I believe it's still about an hour outside of the center, so I am at least happy to not be right in the hussle and bussle of dirty, smelly Bangkok. Did I mention that Bangkok is by far the smelliest city I have ever visited? And I was sure after visiting Europe that it was Naples. For being the most Westernized country of SE Asia (and especially the most Westernized city in Thailand), the concept of an underground sewage system remains foreign in Bangkok. Hopefully Thonburi has their shit together a bit more - literally.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Update from Noah's Arc

The course has been progressing much more this week and we have finally been learning useful teaching tools. We each have to prepare a 30-minute lesson plan for next week. Having no teaching experience at all, the endless ESL resources online take off a bit of the pressure.

I've been in Thailand for nearly 2 weeks now, and have yet to leave the Bangkok area which is starting to get to me. Of course, we've been very busy with the course everyday. This weekend we were supposed to get away but we are stuck as the floods are a-coming. They have yet to reach our hotel area but supposedly they are nearby and heading our way. I am not too concerned about it since we've stocked up on supplies, it's just more debilitating that it's holding us back.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

So Cheap It's Expensive

Already I am slightly slacking with the updates! The Internet service at our hotel is a bit flaky, plus we have to come down to the lobby to use it so it can be a hassle. The first week of our TEFL course was alright. Very long days (9-4 or 5) and I think we unanimously are not fond with our teacher. Let's just leave it at that he is the type of person that gives Americans a bad stereotype. The Thai teachers/assistants are great though. One day was dedicated to Thai history and culture which is absolutely the day we all learned the most - very useful knowledge. Hoping that the course picks up a bit the next 2 weeks because after that we are actually expected to actually teach Thai students English.

Although we do not find out where our placement is until a couple more weeks, the director of the program told me an international (private) school outside of Bangkok is interested in meeting me. He basically told me that working for an international school is really great opportunity which will make the whole transition much easier than working in an unorganized government school. I was originally not particularly crazy about staying here in Bangkok, but it might work out well. For starters, I am sure others from my program will be placed in Bangkok. There is no shortage of things to do, and Bangkok is just about the easiest location in the country to travel everywhere else. In fact, you usually have to come to Bangkok from anywhere else to get elsewhere. So I may be going for an "interview" this week - we shall see!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Buckets in Bangkok

First of all, I am already crazy about this country! It's only been under 48 hours in Bangkok so far and I am having the time of my life.

After getting settled at the hotel, I headed out to Tesco Lotus (basically like a Walmart that has anything and everything you can hope for) to pick myself up a Thai phone. I got the good ol' basic Nokia for around 700 baht ($23 US dollars). They use a pay-as-you-go system, which caused a bit of difficulty to figure out how to "top up" my phone with credit, especially without someone in sight that spoke much English. Eventually I got it sorted and picked up an international calling card as well to call my parents. I hadn't eaten since the flight, so I braved the Thai food court and pointed to something that looked appealing, not really knowing what it was. WOW - the spice level was unparalleled to anything I've ever had. I love semi-spicy food - but this was an electrifying rush of intense flavor that left me feeling dizzy.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Live from Taiwan

The dreadful travel is in the midst and the longest part is over with. The 14 hour flight was pretty unpleasant, but could have been worse I suppose. I slept (uncomfortably) on and off. I sat next to a very nice Malaysian couple with broken English, who were just returning home from their holiday to San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. They were very interested in my plans and wished me much luck. In other news, the two meals served on the plane weren't half bad. Those Asians really know how to cook - cannot wait for the long awaited authentic Thai cuisine in a matter of hours.

I land in Thailand at 11:30 am local time - going to be a true struggle to force myself to stay awake until a normal bedtime to get adjusted. Let's see what this Bangkok is all about!

Picture taken from plane, flying over (or very near) the Philippine Sea.

Ps- Just met a girl from Buffalo, NY on my flight, but she is carrying on to Cambodia doing the same thing as me. Now I have a friend in Cambodia to visit. And of course this world never ceases to amaze me - we have two mutual friends. This is getting me excited for the many, many people I will meet along this adventure!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Peace out, desert

This is weird. It's vaguely reminiscent of the middle school days where I dabbled on "Live Journal." Let's hope my entries here remain much less hormonal than they likely were back then. "Blogging" still feels equally as strange, but I am attempting to at least begin this journey by documenting my adventures.

It was only three and a half weeks ago that I returned from an incredible month backpacking around Europe. The first day back in America was an odd disorientation of jet-lag & extreme discombobulation. Suddenly the reality that I was moving to Thailand -and soon- hit me. Somehow or another I completed the logistical tasks necessary and got to spend time with many people I love, both in New York and Arizona.

Tomorrow I suppose my journey begins. I leave Arizona and stop over in Los Angeles to see a few more people that I love. From there, I leave late Thursday night for the day-long travel to Southeast Asia! I have been mostly calm-nerved, except a one day period when certain people got my wheels turning about the political instability and sex trade in Thailand. Since then, I have decided not to worry - wherever you are in the world there is always something.

I arrive in Bangkok October 1st, where I will spend my first two nights at a hotel until I transfer to another part of Bangkok for a three week TEFL course with fellow soon-to-be teachers (all of whom seem to be British).  There are many question marks in my future, but bring on the adventure!

[Below is a picture of my parents new pup that was adopted during my visit - Dexter]