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]
I do almost feel sorry for my many beginner level classes, despite them often being little rascals. From what I have gathered, the Thai school system is not well structured. Students take an entrance exam in the beginning of primary or secondary school, and are initially placed in a level within their grade. Because the lower levels consist of the poorly behaved and unmotivated students, it becomes a futile effort for anyone that actually wants to learn in the class, and likewise impossible to move levels. Sadly, students that test into a poorer level initially simply get swept up into the crowd and left behind, with not much of a chance for success (at least in English).
I have befriended a few of the Thai English teachers (all of whom are older with limited English knowledge). One Thai teacher in particular,"Pee Toom," (Pee is placed in front of anyone older as a sign of respect) has taken me under her wing. She speaks the best English at the school by far, much better than the so-called "Head of English" who doesn't understand half of what I say. Pee Toom is working on a side venture with her sister for English private lessons on Saturdays. Last week, she took me to meet her sister and visit their unoccupied 4 million baht second home in which they use for these lessons, and offered me a position to join them in their business as well as move into this home rent free. As far as I can tell, they are more of the well off Thai women I have met, having both married foreigners (Pee Toom is divorced with a nice settlement; her sister is married to an English man and has the most adorable half-Thai half-English daughter who speaks the cutest version of 'Tinglish'). As tempting as everything sounded and as much as I am fond of them, I could not accept either of the offers. The house was just much too far from everything I like about Sriracha. I did consider the job on Saturdays for the extra money, but when I asked myself why I really was here, it seemed obvious to turn it down. Yes, I came to teach English, I came to experience living in this culture, but I also came to see Thailand - and weekends are essential. In any case, I may pick up some weeknight private tutoring sessions for extra money.
The many Thai holidays are a major plus. We had off Monday for the King's birthday this week. On Friday we had a ceremony at school to honor the King. Thais call this holiday "Father's Day," as everyone looks to the King as their father. We had monks come to bless our school and we donated dry foods to them for the temples. Students performed traditional Thai dance, the band performed music, and art dedicated to the King was on showcase. The King's actual birthday was Monday, and Thailand was absolutely buzzing with excitement, festivals and prayers near and far. I even caught a glimpse of fireworks coming from all different areas of the widespread Bangkok area while driving back to Sriracha on Monday night. It is extremely intriguing as an outsider to witness the unquestionable, undeniable love that every single Thai has for their King. I have a deep respect for this culture, but as a liberal-minded Westerner, I innately struggle with the idea of holding one individual in such a high regard without any hesitation. Thais are born into a world of idolizing the King, and no one thinks twice about it.
[The infamous grimy 'Walking Street' of Pattaya]
[The 5 of us that met in Pattaya; I came from the closest but others traveled 10-13 hours]
This weekend I have another 3-day weekend, and I will pick up again and head north to a small town called Suwannaphum in the province Roy Et to visit my friends. I will meet a few others in Bangkok Friday evening and we will take a 7-8 hour night bus getting us there early Saturday morning, and leaving Monday on another night bus to get me back to Sriracha just in time for school next Tuesday morning. I have yet to venture north, so I am looking forward to experiencing what I hear is a completely different and authentic Thailand.
For Christmas, I am participating in two different "secret santas" with what have become my two "groups" of friends: my new Srirachan friends and my course friends who are scattered all over Thailand. The Sriracha friends I've made all work at very prestigious Catholic private school that I hope to get a job at next semester if I stay. They have all been so welcoming and make the weeknights better with home-cooked meals and good company. My mates that I bonded so tightly with during my course I speak to daily through our Thai phones and facebook for the usual friendly support & advice, nonsensical story swapping of our experiences near & far and to make upcoming travel plans. My course friends are getting together in Bangkok for Christmas, so I will head there for the weekend but return to Sriracha just before Christmas dinner to partake in a big feast with my new friends. For New Years Eve, my course friends and I will go to Koh Phagnan for the infamous "Full Moon Party"! Soon after that I am lucky enough to have a list of dear American friends that will be popping in and out in January, February and March. April is off of school, and I will travel SE Asia with my course friends, possibly have a visit from my family, and in a PERFECT world, get a job at the nice private school in Sriracha for next semester.
And that is as close to a "life plan" as I've made in a while, so don't dare ask me what is next!
[My Thanksgiving meal in Sriracha; my British friends took me for an English roast dinner!]
[Outside a bar in Sriracha]