Sunday, September 30, 2012

10 Things I'll Miss About Living in Thailand

In many ways, this challenging semester illuminated for me that I could never permanently settle here and it was time to wrap up life in Thailand. Despite the occasional aggravations in my final months, words fail to articulate how difficult it is to say goodbye to a place that changed my life. At the end of my days living in Thailand, I reflected on what I'll miss most & certainly reminisce about for years to come.

1. An Ode to Thai Food 
If you missed my pathetic attempt at poetry, check out my last post dedicated to my love affair with Thai cuisine. Besides my number one true love, the rest are in no meaningful order...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An Ode to Thai Food

This is Thailand: walk down the street
and you'll get whiff of that distinct chili heat
At any place, any hour on any day,
the woks will surely be clinking away

When the pangs of hunger do appear,
without a kitchen at home, most would fear
But walk a few feet north, south, west or east
and you'll find yourself a memorable feast
Ba Mee Moo Daeng - Egg noodle soup with
barbeque pork topped with peanuts
Thai people eating everywhere,
An empty street stall would be rare!
At only thirty baht for a delicious meal,
Your taste buds will be dancing at a steal

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Anecdotes from Exam Week

With two weeks left of school, I'm desperately trying to complete the semester grades of my 700+ students. While I've certainly had better weeks involving less chaotic and redundent busy work, a couple of anecdotes from testing week have made me giggle.

"The Plight" in Action
I wrote about the conundrum of government schools in Thailand both in a detailed blog post and the article The Plight of Government Schools in Thailand for a website called AsiaPundits, but I thought I might provide some first hand examples of the backward system straight from testing week.

After a semester of receiving zero instruction or materials for teaching yet again, I am expected to test my students. Fair enough. The test doesn't serve to actually evaluate their knowledge, but more as a formality to provide the necessary evidence for the (laughable) Ministry of Education, which in turn will keep the funds coming so long as everyone looks busy.

So, I devise the easiest possible test because, as I wrote about in "The Plight...", all students must pass. Whereas last semester I was instructed to senselessly handwrite "pass" next to 1200 students' names, this semester I was given six poorly translated objectives that students must receive a grade for.

After running up and down the stairs between the grade five and six offices trying to sort out unclear and contradictory instructions, finally someone told it how it was.

Thailand is a culture that is all about saving face. This usually involves stepping on eggshells so as not to bring attention to problems or corruption. 

Oraya, the head of English for grade five, probably speaks the best English in the school. She knows of my familiarity with Thailand after a year of working here, and she is also smart enough to realize that things are done differently here than in other places. Despite our lengthy English conversation, she finally spoke words that I recognized as my language when she stated what is implicit in Thai culture:

"This is Thailand. Make it up!"

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thai Language Defeated Me

A few months ago, I was regularly making small talk with any local willing to spare a few minutes to let me practice my Thai. While running errands around town, I'd point at objects I didn't know the Thai for and ask strangers to kindly tell me the vocabulary. As I taught English in the classroom, I often requested my students to exchange their language with me, providing the children with a source of comedy at my butchered attempt to mock their pronunciation. When out with English-speaking Thai friends, I would pester them to teach me phrases as they came to mind whilst speaking some silly version of Tinglish over our noodle soup dinner. Come weekend, you'd find me at the local bar in my prime, confidently making new friends using only Thai, thanks to the flowing alcohol having removed any inhibitions of self-doubt.
Sometime between then and now, this all faded away. I can make a million excuses about getting absorbed into my busy routine, being surrounded by farang, barely finding time for myself between multiple jobs and feeling comfortable enough with the Thai I already knew - but what it really came down was this: I was not willing to make the necessary sacrifice.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Universal Healthcare: Is the Chaos Worth the Cause?

Fact: According the the World Bank, 99.5% of Thailand's population is covered under their medical system.
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Due to my apparently weakened immune system, I've fallen victim of trivial illnesses far too often in the past few months. Multiple times I found myself at the dreaded Sappasit Prasong Hospital in search of an English-speaking doctor to cure my ailments.

My very first week in Ubon, plagued by a recurring sore throat, I braved the government hospital in all its language barriers on my own. Back then, this was an intimidating task considering the challenge of navigating the numerous steps and employees without a lick of English language. Having sinceforth been back with the aid of a Thai teacher, Bhinya, I definitely waited a couple hours too long on my own. Four months in Ubon and one too many visits later, I could comfortably navigate that place now being deaf and blind.