Thursday, November 30, 2006

An acute case of hypochondria

Felt a cold coming on yesterday. Wake up feeling worse, so I decide to stay in bed. At about 10:30 I get a text from Smile, “What's the matter, are you OK Miss Charlotte? Do you want to see a doctor? I'll call my dad, my mom or my aunt to take you to the hospital”. I send him one back assuring him it's nothing serious and I just needed some rest. The maid brings me some breakfast (rice soup) and a paracetamol. A while later, Grandma comes and feels my forehead and chest, then Pidar and Mair come and tell me they're taking me to hospital. I'm quite sure it's only a cold, but whatever. I suppose there is a possibility it could be something more. Maybe it's tonsillitis – my throat is feeling rather swollen. Better safe than sorry, I guess.

Arrive at the hospital (Yeehah or Yahoo or something... Yanhee, that's it – I was close!), and am given a form to fill out. Then I'm told to wait. Still feeling a little dazed (maybe it's sunstroke – I did get a lot of sun last weekend). I look around me. I feel like I'm in some sort of boy-fantasy land. There doesn't seem to be any official uniform (any colour, as long as it's white), and I'm surrounded by all these hot nurses in short skirts and cheong-sam style minidresses, with proper little paper nurse hats over their flowing black hair. Seriously! No utilitarian hairnets here, thank you very much. And white patent high heel pumps (plimsolls? Pshaw!). Are we quite sure Paw and his crew aren't hiding around the corner somewhere? And every so often a girl in turquoise whizzes past on rollerblades picking up or dropping off document folders. If I were to design a hospital, this would be it.

So after I've been waiting for maybe three minutes I'm called to get weighed and have my blood pressure and temperature taken by one of the hot nurses. And I'm presented with a little registration card – cool!

And then I have to wait again. We sit down. Pidar points out my mosquito bites. Oh no, they think I have malaria or something! A few minutes later I'm called to the consulting room, with the words “flu-like symptoms” echoing through my mind. The Doc asks me about my symptoms and diagnoses common cold. Slightly disappointed I don't have something more interesting after all this fuss. But he makes up for it by prescribing five kinds of medication (five times better) – antibiotics, antihistamines, lozenges, paracetamol, and some tiny yellow pills that just say “for cough”.

As we leave Mair nudges me and whispers coyly “doctor pretty – I like”. She's so adorable.

So we leave the hospital and go for some lunch. I order pat thai, but Pidar tells me it's not suitable (possibly because of a spicy sauce), and orders me something else. It arrives: Soup.

Home. Bed.

Supper. You guessed it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Beaurocracy, Thai-style

There's supposed to be some sort of meeting on Saturday, but everyone's been told different things about it, and some of us (including me) have heard nothing official about it at all! With all the conflicting information everyone's had, I had to laugh out loud when Darren sent this email out:

Hello All,

Just wondered if anybody would like to get smashed at the weekend with me. I'll be in a bar somewhere - could be anywhere- meet me there. Just remember to bring with you some money for the beer, your teaching credentials, your visa, your passport and your ORIGINAL DNA sequence and blood sample. Copies will not be accepted.

Also there will be some friends getting hammered with me and they may want to see your entire life history document, your entire medical history papers and may request you sign each document 6 times.

Please make 36 copies of every piece of paper you touch this week and sign each one also - in blood. Type O blood will not be accepted.

Once we have the papers, the 36 copies, your life history and family bank accounts - we will require 500 Baht per person for ..... err.... for ..... we just need it, ok.

Thankyou - please await a further email in which I will confirm this information and simultaneously contradict everything you thought previously to be true.

REMEMBER -- Do not bring your passport. BUt you must bring your passport instead. All clear..... GOOD.

See you at the bar......

Darren :-)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I have a bike!

I got home and Mair brought me round the back of the house to show me my bike! It's not new or anything, but it has a cute basket on the front: “if you buy something, you can put it in”. Wonder if I can find my way to school and back. I would have to cross the highway though, which is a tiny bit daunting. Might give it a go anyway. It'll be fine.

It's sports day, Jim, but not as we know it

Today is sports day. I arrive at school and very quickly realise this definitely does not imply the day will be anything like a sports day in the UK. The day starts at the pier. I stand surrounded by cavemen, transvestites, girls in Thai costume, smurfs, kids dressed up as appliances (?), a mermaid, real policemen, and a marching band playing "It's the final countdown".

We parade down the street to the school, where they parade around a bit more, and then we have fireworks. Fireworks! I don't believe I've ever seen fireworks at 9:15 am before.

There are four houses - orange, blue, green, and red - and each has a theme. The orange team has a sort of Thai-style fantastical theme, with dragons and stuff. The blue team is all spacey. The green team has taken the new Bangkok airport as their theme (Michael: "those geeks! They're probably all gonna grow up to be computer programmers!"), and the red team has the King (which means, bizarrely, the red team's support is all in yellow, the King's colour).

I decide to support the red team, because I was in red house at Usk school. Red team perform pretty badly in most of the races - for some reason all the red team runners seemed to be the smallest ones. Then Michael and Dino decide to take part in the 400 metres. They lose. They would have come last if two of the runners hadn't fallen over at the corner ("those kids are fast!").

And then it's the cheer competition. First the orange team dance around. Then the green team come out - the girls have aeroplane headdresses! Maybe it's not such an uncool theme after all. The blue team! The blue team are cool. They're dressed up in futuristic space costumes. And they have the most sassy dance. Red team are pretty cool too - they have convertible costumes (think like Bucks Fizz at Eurovision, only different).

The morning's races over, there's a stage set up in the hall. Way to go - halftime entertainment! We get the school rock bands playing (they're pretty good, too!). Just when I think the day can't get any more surreal, the place has turned into a moshpit.

I gotta go now, my internet time has run out! I'll try and improve this tomorrow.

Monday, November 27, 2006

I love having a maid

After the hectic weekend it's been, I was delighted to get home and find all my laundry washed, ironed and neatly folded on my bed.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

I've got sand in everything, my camera's dead, and I have a sore foot. I'm happy.

Thursday, I get a text from Steve: “there is a group of us heading 2 ko samet this weekend if u r interested?”. So of course I said Yes. Friday I sneaked out of school early, dashed home, threw some things in my rucksack, grabbed a sunhat, and met the others at the pier at 4:30. We took the ferry into Bangkok, skytrain to the east bus terminal (ekamai), and got the coach to Ban Phe pier, where we caught a boat over to Ko Samet.

We arrived at midnight. The area around the pier was in darkness, and completely deserted. So we started walking down the road in search of civilisation. Eventually we found a taxi, which took us back the way we came, and up a dirt track to one of the island's resorts (slightly stretching the definition of “resort”: It consists of a group of “bungalows” – primitive one-bed huts with an en-suite shower and hole-in-the-ground). And then we explained we wanted to go to a bar, so it took us back down the road, back past the pier, down another dirt track, to a bar on the beach, where we kicked back on rugs on the sand. And swam in the sea – it was so warm! And completely clear – even in the poor light we could see the rippled sand at the bottom as we swam, so no worries about the sharks sneaking up on us (I'm kidding – there are no sharks in the gulf of Thailand – too salty apparently).

The bar we were at closed at 2am, and they switched off all the lights, but they let us keep the rugs if we promised to put them away when we left. Someone went to the 7-eleven to buy coke (to mix with our sangsom rum) and candles. Around 3am, we decided to try and find another bar, so we started walking along the beach. Murph stole my hat. Then Steve tackled him. Poor hat will never be quite the same again.

And then two English blokes came and found us (they'd heard – I guess from the taxi driver – that there were English people just arrived on the island). Turns out they own the resort that the taxi originally took us to. So we went back there. And played pool, and table tennis (until Murph and Mike destroyed the table tennis table), and played in the sea some more. We played in the sea most of the night. In fact, some of us never even went to bed at all that night. We're so hardcore. So maybe I am a party animal after all! Eventually it got light, and we were able to see our little beach. I'd post a photo, but I can't, because then Steve dropped my camera in the sea.

It was an eventful night. The rest of the weekend was more relaxed.

Saturday. 9:30. Having dragged Kerry off her barstool, we went to Ao Phrao (aka Sunset Beach) along the bumpiest dirt track in the world, had the most expensive breakfast in Thailand, and dozed on the beach. And swam some more. And sunbathed, and swam, and drank pina coladas (served in a coconut, of course), and swam, and sunbathed. It's a tough life. Then we watched the sun set over the sea, and ate at a barbecue on the beach. This is what it's all about.

Sunday. 10:00. Breakfast at “Jep's”, followed by sunbathing and swimming in the sea. And playing catch (for such a simple game, catch has an amazing capacity to amuse).

And then the resort owners ripped us off. Well not technically, I suppose, but it was a bit cheeky. The huts were meant to be 700 baht each, but they didn't explain that that was based on two sharing, and that it was 200 baht extra per person for more people sharing. And then they charged us even for those of us who didn't actually sleep, because they said we "used the facilities". What, a hole in the ground? And I never even managed a shower, since they didn't even work by the time I got up this morning (8:30). So basically they're charging 200 baht for the privilege of spending lots of money in their bar (well I didn't actually buy any drinks, but I could have, and I know between the 12 of us we certainly bought a few), so I kind of begrudge having to spend 500 baht (somehow we ended up 1000 baht short after collecting everyone's money together, so we all had to chip in an extra 100) for one night on a tiled floor with only a blanket. Even if that is only £7.50, it's still 500 baht – that's food for a week!

And then home. Boat to Ban Phe, coach to Bangkok, taxi to Nonthaburi, motorcycle to the house. All the sleep I've had this weekend has been four hours on a tiled floor last night, and three more hours dozing on the coach, so my bed feels like the most comfortable thing in the world at this point. Douse the cut on my foot (sustained on a pointy rock some time yesterday morning) with germolene. Sleep.

Fantastic weekend.

Friday, November 24, 2006

It's not all bad

The teaching's not actually all a nightmare, honestly. Sometimes I get a really good class that actually tries, which goes some way to making up for all the horrible, out-of-control classes. Some of the students really seem to appreciate my lesson, and at the end of the lesson they chorus "thank you teacher" with great enthusiasm, and I go all warm and fuzzy inside. On the other hand, of course, could be they're just relieved the lesson's over and they can get the heck out of there and away from the mean English teacher. But I choose to believe it's because they like English class.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

NOW they tell me

I know I promised no more teaching blogs, but, well, there's no other news today. And I'm annoyed.

So, after three weeks of having no clue what I'm meant to be teaching, I finally think I'm getting the hang of it... and then today Wanna pulls me aside and tells me that oh, actually, they don't want me to do it the way I'm doing it, they want me to do it like this. So much for the hours I've spent planning lessons! The best bit is the reason she gave: "you ask our students write, but our students, they can't write". Still, at least they've finally decided to tell me what they want me to teach.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Phew! It's hot today!

And I mean hot. And I'm wearing a cardigan. Stupid respectable-dress rules. Can't wait til I get my new blouses from the tailor (this afternoon, hopefully).

Sorry, slow news day - haven't got into any scrapes lately.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Calvin & Hobbes save the day!

I spent like three hours today looking for Calvin & Hobbes online, but it was so worth it when I found this one:

How perfect is this?! I set it for my M4 class this afternoon and just told them to describe each picture. And the really great thing is, I can use it for nearly all my classes - I'll get the higher grades to use more advanced vocabulary, tenses and sentence structure. I'm a genius.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Okay, lots of pictures today! Ruined temples are even better than sparkly ones!

Ayutthaya was Thailand's capital for 400 years, and it was a merry and prosperous city. But in 1767, after more than two centuries of recurring tensions and invasions, the Burmese (those pesky Burmese) finally sacked the city once and for all and it had to be abandoned (the new capital was established at a small riverside settlement called Bangkok). The Burmese were nothing if not thorough: By the look of things they went to work on all the Buddha statues in the city (and there are lots) – they're nearly all headless (the authorities, apparently infuriated at foreign tourists taking 'humorous' seaside photos of themselves as the 'head' of a decapitated statue, have put up pictorial noticeboards insisting on respect for all Buddha images – even incomplete ones).

And here's the famous sandstone Buddha head that has become entwined in the roots of a bodhi tree. Given the number of Buddha bodies without heads, I really want to make a joke about this head actually having a bodhi. But I won't.

Then we went for an elephant ride. The Rough Guide said 400 baht for a 20-minute ride “through the central ruins”. I don't know about “through the central ruins”. It took us down the road and back again – not exactly a sightseeing tour. Elephants don't move fast, so you don't get much distance for your 20 minutes. It was fun though, if a little bumpy. But hey, I've ridden on an elephant! (excuse the quality of the photo – it's a photo of a photo. And don't ask me why our driver is wearing some sort of Canadian Mountie hat)

And then we decided we'd had enough excitement for one day. And enough sun (really must get some sun cream. Can't believe I've lived in Thailand for three weeks without sun cream.). So we find the bus stop, and our bus, and we get on. And off we trundle. And the ticket lady comes: 55 baht. What, there's a 5 baht premium to leave Ayutthaya? It only cost 50 on the way here. And she explains that there's third class, second class. But this bus is exactly the same as the one we came in. Wait, not quite the same: this one has a TV. It's showing a snowstorm. Suddenly it buzzes into action, just long enough for the show title to flash up: “Big Kok” (I'm not making this up), before descending into a snowstorm again. Ah, I get it: this is second-class. On the first-class bus, the TV actually works.

Oh, and this is the cool season, right? And people keep telling me how chilly it is (although I haven't yet noticed anyone wearing a sweater). Well if it's that damn chilly, why do we need to have the air conditioning set to “sub-arctic”?! That's what I want to know! I have a cardigan on and I'm still shivering. I'm willing the journey to end just so I can get out and defrost.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

On the other side of the river

This weekend it's Casandra's turn to 'host', so I have to find my way to her place! I get to Thanam Non (finally found out the name of the pier!). This is the first time I've got the cross-river ferry. They run every few minutes, and cost 2 baht. They don't have sides. I cling onto my bags, terrified of dropping something and watching it slide over the edge into the murky depths, to be eaten by a rhinoceros-sized fish. But I make it to the other side without incident and pay my 2 baht (3p!). Next step: find a taxi. Catz lives in a small, somewhat out-of-the-way village, so her directions basically consist of “here's John's number” (John's the manager of the apartment block). So I find a taxi, dial John, and hand the phone to the puzzled driver. So, John gives him the directions and, long story short, I get to Catz's.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A bit of a commotion

So I'm chatting to Smile about European history (his favourite subject), when suddenly someone starts hammering the doorbell. Then a man starts to climb over the garden wall. And the police screech up and shout at him, and they arrest him. We go back to our conversation. And a few minutes later it happens again. They're filming at the house again. You get used to it. Paw is quite a big shot director by all accounts – he's won Thai television awards (“look like Oscar”) and everything.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Smile's English is really good. Grammar not so much (I've come to the conclusion that grammar's overrated when it comes to learning a foreign language), but he can hold a decent conversation. Well, when I say conversation, I mean extended monologue covering anything from Napoleon, Alexander the Great, World War II, Thai history, his holiday in London (they went in December – not the best time of year for Thais to visit the UK. In fact he's very funny – he was telling me how it was so cold, he thought they were going to be frozen in blocks of ice like mammoths and become extinct, and would be displayed in museums with expressions of surprise frozen on their faces). Anyway, his English is far from grammatically perfect, but he's got certain turns of phrase that I particularly like.

  1. “look like”. In Smilespeak, to look like means to be similar to. Thus, when describing a particular farang newsreader who can speak Thai with a perfect accent, he says “his sound very good, look like Thai sound”
  2. When talking about any sort of invasion being repelled (you'd be amazed how often this comes up). “Kick out [Burmese, Germans, English, etc.], go battooyor home”
  3. “Open” means to switch on. So you open the lights, you open the air conditioning, and you open the TV. And then when you're done with them, you close them.

On reflection...

The more I think about it, the more I think I should just stay here. I mean, okay: the maid washes my bedclothes and cleans my room, I get free food, I have a garden, air conditioning and hot water, it's going to be great for learning to speak Thai, and I get to hang out with Thai movie stars. Oh, and I don't have to pay rent. And the family's going to take me on holiday to Chiang Mai next year. Why would I want to move out?

The only possible reasons for wanting my own place are 1) to bring boys home (and I don't want to do that anyway. It would involve boys) and 2) being able to stay out late without any comment – but I think I can work around that by telling them I share taxis, or staying over at friends'.

So I asked Smile if it's okay that I stay here, and he said of course it was, they're delighted to have me, and for the whole family “it is very honour to service you”. Well okay then. And he called Mair through and repeated the conversation, and she was smiley and happy and called me daughter and we all had a happy, smiley family moment together. And then they tried to teach me how to say Mair (Mum) and Paw (Dad), and laughed at me. Oh, the fun we had.

Thailand is a really stupid place to Say Yes More

So I'm off school this week, and since no-one else is, I thought I'd take myself off to Bangkok and do a bit of sightseeing, maybe a bit of shopping. I took the ferry to Pra Athit, which is near Khao San road, and started walking. Picked up a second-hand Rough Guide to Thailand, and a map of Bangkok. I had started by following the Westerners, figuring they'd lead me to Khao San, but then I lost them. Soon I came upon a little lane of shops selling souvenirs and the like, so I went down there. One stall was selling strings of semi-precious stones, pearls and so forth - I bought myself a string of turquoise and had it made into a bracelet and earrings (actually two sets, since there was enough). I figured it would be a good price - I know on Khao San it tends to be inflated prices for the tourists, but it'll be okay in this little obscure place. Then I walked another 20 feet, and found myself on Khao San road. Oh well.

So I wandered aimlessly for a while longer, got a little bit lost. Came upon a white concrete fort dating back to the reign of King Rama (okay, there are 9 of them - I forget which one this was) and felt pleased with myself for discovering it, off the beaten tourist track and all that. Then I realised that just around the corner was the pier I landed at.

So I sat down and had a look at my Rough Guide and map. Usually I hate to get out my map in public - so obviously a tourist - but it's not like I exactly blend in here anyway, so out it came. Okay, I could go see the Democracy Monument, head up the way to the Golden Mount, and onto the Marble Temple. Sounds good. So I pootle off down Khao San road again, to the Democracy Monument. Where I'm accosted by a Tuk-tuk driver. He spins me some yarn about the Thai Tourist Board giving subsidies to Tuk-tuks today because it's a national holiday (what?), and he'll take me on a round trip to four or five sights for only 20 baht. It's bound to be a scam, of course, and only an idiot would agree. So I said, "sure". When I got in the tuk-tuk he muttered something about Thai fashion, Thai souvenir. There it is. But hey, all I have to do is look at some overpriced merchandise for a few minutes, and I can get a tuk-tuk tour for 20 baht - that shouldn't be too hard.

So first he takes me to a big Buddha. And then a lucky Buddha (I'm not sure what makes this one any more lucky than the others, but there you go. He's 300 years old though, I was reliably informed). So far so good. And then a tailor's. Okay. So, I play along, ask how much for this dress. 8,000 baht. He nearly got drenched with coffee. If I'd been drinking coffee. 8,000 baht?! I just paid 4,000 for two the other day, and that was Khao San road prices as it was! I'm outta here. Onward. I get back in the tuk-tuk, and driver tells me that in order for him to get his petrol coupon I have to browse for at least maybe 15 minutes. Gah, okay. So the next place (jewellery) I manage to browse for a while, even though they want to charge me 20 quid for a small ruby mounted in silver (c'mon, I could get the same thing from Argos for that). Funny thing about Thai salespeople, they're really pushy, but in such a sweet, gentle way that you almost don't mind. Almost. Anyway, long story short, I ended up buying a bag. It's a cute bag, it has elephants on it, and it's silk. He gave me a discount because I live in Thailand, then he gave me another discount because I'm a teacher, and then another because I like elephants (?). And he threw in a coin purse. It was still overpriced, but I've done my bit for the "Thai Tourist Board" and my nice little tuk-tuk driver. But then he wanted me to go into another shop. Really? I didn't manage my 15 minutes though - even I have my boredom threshold for staring at suit fabrics. Sorry mate. And so we pressed on, to the marble temple. The marble temple's very shiny. And, you know, spiritual and that.

And then he dropped me off at the nearest pier. Because I asked him to, that is - not because I hadn't fulfilled my browsing obligations.

So, what have I learnt from this experience? Say yes less. Handy hint though, if you're ever shopping in Thailand, tell them you're a teacher (ajarn) in Thailand. Seems to help - especially if you add that you have lots of friends from your agency (got Robbie and Colin free silk ties from their tailors).

Monday, November 13, 2006

Some Thai words

This is the Thai I can speak so far:

  • sa wat dee ka – hello
  • radtree sa wat - goodnight
  • korp-khun ka – thank you
  • ajarn – teacher
  • a-roy mahk – delicious
  • im laa-ou - I'm full
  • rorn - hot
  • bahn - home
  • soo-ay – beautiful
  • nit-noy – a little
  • neung, sorng, sahm, see, hah, hok, jet, bpaht, gow, sip – numbers 1-10
  • sip-et, sip-sorng, sip-sahm, sip-see, sip-hah, sip-hok, sip-jet, sip-bpaat, sip-gow, yee-sip – numbers 11-20
  • wan-jan, wan ang-kahn, wan put, wan pa-reu-hat, wan suk, wan sow, wan ah-tit – days Monday-Sunday
  • nan keu a-rai ka? – what's that
  • tow-rai ka? – how much?
  • nam - water
  • sap-ba-rot – pineapple
  • gloo-ay – banana
  • gai – chicken
  • kai – egg (kai jee-o - omelette)
  • moo – pig/pork (moo sadtay - pork satay)
  • bplah – fish
  • kao pat - fried rice
  • pet - spicy (mai pet - not spicy)
  • reu-a kahm fahk - ferry
  • drong bai, leo sai, leo kwah - straight ahead, turn left, turn right (handy for directing taxi drivers to the house)

What is it with these kids?

I spend about half an hour trying to explain what I want them to do, getting nothing in response but blank looks. I'm having to continually update the lesson plan on the fly because my original ideas are too complicated to explain, which makes me look even more disorganised than I already am. Meanwhile I'm getting increasingly frustrated. And then finally I get a Thai teacher in to explain in Thai what I want the kids to do (in the end it went from "write a description of a package tour" to "make a sentence with 'The Safari Land tour includes...' [pick something from the list] ', doesn't it?'). And then with like five minutes of the lesson left, suddenly everyone wants to show their work to me and I'm getting shouts of "teacher! teacher!" from every corner! I just don't get it.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Thai Massage: Quite painful actually

So nobody warned me Thai massage hurts! Steve & I went for one today – I asked my Thai mum where was a good place and she recommended this place. Never had one before. Everyone said they're great. So I'm there, expecting to be relaxed. Well, the pre-massage foot scrub was nice. And then we were each taken to a curtained cubicle with a mat on the floor. “Plee chayor kloh,” she requests, indicating a loose shirt and trousers. I start to undress, put the shirt on. Then the trousers. They have like a 60-inch waist. I'm not kidding. Which way round do they even go? Ah, probably strings at the front. Okay I'm ready – now what? Do I stand up? Lie down? I compromise and perch on the edge of the mat. I hear Steve giggling nervously in his cubicle. And then my masseuse arrives. She gets me to lie down on my back, and starts on my feet. So far so good – until she starts tugging at my toes until they click! Ouch! And then the legs. First she thumps me a lot. And then... Um, hello? Yeah, I'm not completely sure my leg actually bends that way... oh okay, apparently it does – if you kneel on it. Yikes, get your elbows out of my back. Um, hi? Yup, can't actually breathe now... Uh, I don't think my arm will... no, I'm wrong. Seriously, these girls are like WWF wrestlers! We're there for two hours. That's two hours of being pulled, prodded, pummelled and pounded. Can't say I feel all that relaxed, to be quite honest.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

And today we went to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory

Also known as Wat Pho (Po). But seriously, doesn't it just look edible? No? Just me then...

Oh, and as well as the sugarcraft chedis there was also a big giant huge enormous golden Buddha, just chillin'. Y'know. He's big - 46 meters long and 15 meters high. It represents Buddha passing into Nirvana.

And then we touched a big golden willy. For luck. Being, well, me, I didn't realise until afterwards what it was (Cassie was like, "well yeah - what did you think it was?" Just looked like a golden bollard to me).

And then we met up with Michael and Agatha and we went with them to Khao San road for some lunch, and there was a big parade. We seem to run into random parades wherever we go.

Friday, November 10, 2006

i-to-i's covert paperwork mission

Okay, I owe that title to Cassie.

Masako had invited all the i-to-i teachers for a night out in Nonthaburi. So I need to get to the pier, where I'll meet Catz and we'll get a taxi to the restaurant. I'll get a sorngtao, right? So I go to the end of the road and wait. And the corner shop people see the crazy farang waiting for non-existant buses again, and decide to help out. I manage to explain I want to go to the ferry (reu-a kahm fahk - I really must learn the name of the pier) so the girl gets one of her mates to drive me on his scooter to the pier, for 20 baht. I love these people.

So I meet up with Catz and we get to the restaurant (by tuk-tuk), and discover it's all just a covert mission to get us to do more paperwork, make sure we've signed every single piece of paper in our file (or the entire group's work permit applications can't be processed), tell us we all need to get a medical certificate (or the entire group's work permit applications can't be processed) and those of us who haven't got a degree transcript need to get hold of them (or the entire group's work permit applications can't be processed). So basically, since it's essentially impossible to ensure that 35 people have each provided and signed three copies of all five of the necessary documents, we're never going to get work permits.

Wow, news travels fast

I get to my first class today and the teacher there starts expressing her concerns about me travelling late at night. Is there anyone else who would like to worry about me going out at night? Can I also just say that I've only stayed out beyond midnight once, that was last Saturday.

What culture of respect?

Given my experiences in the classroom, I was starting to think that this whole “Thai culture of respect” thing that I've heard so much about was just one big myth. But this morning when I got on the bus, it was full, so a young man got up to give me his seat. Just like that. And then at the next stop a lady with a baby got on, and a young girl stood up. And then a couple of stops down the way an old lady got on – I'm not making this up! – and another girl got up. My faith is restored.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lesson Observation

Yesterday another of the i-to-i teachers, Paul, emailed out to everyone asking if anyone would mind having him come and observe a lesson (his school hasn't opened yet so he wanted to get an idea of what to expect). So I said he was very welcome to come to some of my classes. I had to clear it with the school first though, of course, but Weng said she'd asked about having her sister (who happens to teach at the same school as Paul) come and observe, and Wanna had told her she'd need written authorisation from Chula and the school's co-ordinator. Wanna wasn't around, so I started trying to explain to Uthai that another of the teachers from my agency wanted to come and observe a lesson, and did he think that would be okay. But he misunderstood (his English isn't that great) and thought it was actually a representative from the agency itself. I started to correct him, but then it occured to me, hey, this might be a good idea! So that's how I put it to Wanna, "someone from my agency would like to come and observe my lessons." It worked, she said it was okay (as long as they had something official in writing). So I phone Paul back: it's fine, but... try and look official!

So he turns up today (looking official in a shirt and tie), and so all the teachers think he's from the agency and checking on my progress or what support I'm getting or something.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Be careful of yourself

Thanks to the influence of “Yes Man” (Joanna, I blame you), I've been out every night since Saturday. So now the family thinks I'm some sort of party animal or something, which I'm completely not, as you know. Anyway, I got home tonight and Pee Dar was waiting to give me a talk about personal safety. She warned me that it was dangerous to travel alone at night, 'cause I'm so sooay and all, that some taxi driver are bad man, and it's not a good idea to come home late at night. I thanked her for her concern and assured her I share taxi. I even got a text message later from Smile, asking me to “be careful of yourself”. It's sweet, really, but I don't want them worrying about me. I have enough family at home to do that! This is why I need to get an apartment (and if I get one in the block with the others, across the river, I won't even have to travel alone!).

Then I went upstairs and they've wallpapered the room for me. I told Mum it was very sooay, and she said that she'd chosen the design especially for me! She was so excited. How am I going to break it to them that I want to move out?


It's Wednesday, which means all the M5 and M6 (age 17-18) boys are in army uniform (there's compulsory army training on Wednesday afternoons). It's like the school's being invaded or something.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Cowpat moo at Big C Bangyai

Aneeka invited everyone out for her birthday at Big C (a shopping mall) Bangyai. I have no idea where it is or the best way to get there, so I ask the family (“I go Big C Bangyai. How go?” Quickly learning to dispense with absolutely all superfluous information when I talk to them – no good asking “could you tell me the best way to get there?”) and Dad said something about a sorngtau. So I went to the end of the road to wait. There's a little corner shop at the end of the road, and after I'd been waiting a while, a girl came out to talk to me. In Thai. “Big C Bangyai. Sorngtau,” I try. and she starts yabbering in Thai again. Every so often I catch the word “Bangyai” and I nod vigorously, “Big C Bangyai”. Anyway, she doesn't seem to think there's a sorngtau to to Bangyai, so she puts me on the back of her motorbike (riding those things side-saddle is scary stuff!), drives me 200 yards down the road and hails me a taxi. How sweet is that?

Taxi ride takes forever! They've closed off a lane on the highway at two points, first because they're building a new footbridge over (or so I gather, from the concrete steps to nowhere on one side of the road), and further up they're building a new exit (concrete slope to nowhere).

Finally I make it to Big C, and manage to meet up with the others. And after waiting for about a day, we get to order our dinner. Cowpats all round. Cowpat moo. No, seriously! Kao is rice, pat is fried, and moo is pork: kao pat moo.

Big kudos to Jobo

For her suggestion of getting the students to throw a ball to each other to ask the next question. They just love chucking screwed up paper at each other! The task was still too easy (it was only supposed to be an introduction class anyway), but I'm definitely using this method again, it's great!

No teaching experience

I think Wanna has finally clicked what I mean when I say I have no teaching experience. For some reason she seemed to actually think I would just magically know what to do. And I just had a class with her supervising for the first time, so she was able to see first hand how much I suck at teaching. Well it would have helped if someone had given me the tiniest idea of WHAT I WAS MEANT TO TEACH THEM. Honestly, the teachers are as bad as the students at giving me blank looks whenever I ask a question.

Air conditioning

I'm definitely getting a cold. Damn air conditioning! (My desk is right underneath the air conditioning unit. I swear, I'm going to freeze to death. And to freeze to death in Thailand would be really embarrassing) sniff... Atchooo!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Made to measure

The first thing everyone said to me about Thailand (well actually the second thing, after "it's hot". No, the third thing, after "they're all really nice there") was that you can get super cheap tailor-made clothing. Well I hadn't seen any of that - no-one's tried to measure me up for a suit as long as I've been here! So when I got talking to Robbie last night and he said he and Colin were picking up their tailor-made suits tonight, I asked if I could tag along. Just to see, you know. So I end up blowing 7000baht on clothes! I ordered a silk dress (special price for you, special price, very nice dress) and five silk blouses (buy five, special price) in a variety of colours. I got a little carried away, I admit (five blouses?), but it was fun.

Today's lessons

Today's lessons weren't too traumatic. The first two (M6) were pretty boring (for me and for the students) – they were just me reading through exam questions (it was what I was asked to do... although I think they may have been hoping that I'd try and make it interesting somehow. I don't think they have quite grasped what “no teaching experience” actually means). The next one (M2) was okay, but I set a task that was far too hard for the students (it's going to be a few weeks before I understand the level that the students are at), and the third one (M3) went pretty well. I dictated a list of activities and things (football, singing, coffee, teacher, etc.) and then asked them to go around the class and find one person who did like and one who didn't like each thing. Explaining that instruction took about twenty minutes. You'd be amazed. Eventually I managed a clear demonstration and they finally clicked. So I left them asking their questions (I'm sure they were probably talking in Thai to one another, but no matter) – that's what's called a “milling activity”, by the way. And then the lesson was over. I had intended to sit them down again and go round asking “who likes / doesn't like...” but we'll save that for next week. I'm starting to learn that my lesson plans are going to have to be veerrry simple.

Okay, I promise that's the last time I blog about my lessons, unless something actually interesting happens.

In other news, I think I'm getting a cold.

Tip of the day

If it doesn't look like orange juice, then it isn't.

A Thai high street

This is the high street near my school.

Just call me Miss Universe

So apparently I'm the spitting image of Miss Universe 2005. In every single class I've taught and every group of students I've met, someone has called out “Nathalie!”. The teachers told me that they meant Miss Universe (the contest was held in Thailand last year, I gather). They love her because she embraced Thai culture and food and learned to wai (well it's not hard – it's holding your hands together in front of your chin). And loads of guys have asked for my phone number (I mean okay, they're all my students, but it still counts in theory, right?). And I'm getting called “byoodi-fool” all the time. I could get used to this (I think it's going to my head - I'm starting to think I'm invincible). I love this place.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Loy Krathong!

So tonight was the night of Loy Krathong! I met with Casandra early in the day, we watched the Loy Krathong parade (I'll add photos tomorrow). Then I brought her back to the house (we named the crocodile, by the way: Jarrakair. Thai for crocodile) and we went with the family to a very crowded Nonthaburi pier. There was a night market, and we got "American fried rice" and the family bought us Krathongs.

And then we got on a boat that sat very low in the water (Smile reassured us, "it's okay, there no crocodiles. But we have big fish size of rhinoceros" We kept our hands and feet firmly inside the vehicle), and the boat took us into the middle of the river, where we released our Krathongs. The Krathong is made of a slice of banana tree trunk (well, traditionally it is - a lot of them are made from polystyrene now), decorated with palm leaves, flowers, a candle and incense sticks, and you release it into the river as an offering to the water gods, to ask forgiveness for polluting the waterways and also for good luck over the coming year. I'm not sure how the water gods feel about people polluting the river as a way of apologising for polluting the river; their comments are not recorded.

So, after we released our krathongs, the family went home and Catz and I went to meet up with the other i-to-i teachers at the floating bar.

And then I had to try and get home. Last time I got a taxi it was no trouble - I just flagged one down at the clock tower. Oh wait, the main street's closed to traffic for the market. So I start walking. It's a really long street. About halfway along I recognise some of my students, and they call me, "Teacher! Teacher!" and make me buy some coconut milk for 10baht. Eventually I reach the end of the road and after about half an hour of trying to hail a taxi, the third one I flag down agrees to take me (the first two just shook their heads when I told them where I wanted to go). But I made it. Time to thunk into bed.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I get to Bangkok and back

Michael invited me to go out in Bangkok with him and his girlfriend. He gave me all the instructions I need, exactly which ferry to get (the one with the orange flags, because that's the fast ferry) and where to get off. And then I got Smile to write down everything in Thai, “is this the ferry to Wang Lang?”, “how do I get to Lok Pranok road?”, so if I got lost and confused I could just show someone my notebook. He wrote down directions to the house too, for the return journey. Grandma was very worried about the thought of me getting a taxi home in the middle of the night. I assured her and Smile that I would be just fine, but he gave me four phone numbers in case of emergency (his mobile, his home number, and Pee Dar's mobile and home numbers!).

So I got the songtau into town, walked down to the pier, and tried to find a boat with orange flags. No orange flags. When I asked about Wang Lang I was told “boat no go to Wang Lang now. Taxi.” Oh right. So I get a taxi. Arrive safely. Michael had booked us a table at a club called Q Bar, so we (Michael, his girlfriend, their Thai friend, and me) head there. It's supposed to be good. But it turns out to be where fat, old or ugly western men go to pick up Thai women. It was disturbing. There was this big fat ugly bloke practically getting a lapdance right next to me. And two old grey haired men with their arms draped over these Thai girls. Not good. But no matter. We danced. It was fun.

And then all that remained was to get home again. Taxi! The fourth taxi we tried agreed to put on the meter (you have to be careful about that – especially the Bangkok taxi drivers (they're a little more chilled in Nonthaburi) – they see a farang and immediately try and rip you off). I got Michael's Thai friend to give the instructions from the notebook to the taxi driver. And half an hour later I'm home. I've been up for 22 hours. I'm exhausted. I fall into bed. Thunk. Ouch.

Friday, November 03, 2006

They don't scare me any more!

My two afternoon classes were fine. The kids don't scare me any more. Turns out they're actually just like people, only smaller. Anyway, we did the introductions again, then I asked what they were going to do at the weekend. It didn't entirely go according to plan (I didn't get them to talk much about the Loy Krathong festival), but I did manage to get a few sentences out of them, and then we did a bit of repetition: “This weekend I will play football”. Repeat. “This weekend I will go to Loy Krathong festival”. Repeat. And so on. It took a couple of goes to make them understand what “repeat” meant (I guess the Thai teachers have always given instructions in Thai), but we got there in the end. And then I let them go five minutes early when I really ran out of ideas. It was fine.

I now have chalk dust all over me.


I just had the most yummy banana concoction. I thought I'd be adventurous and try one of the banana skewers from the stall I've walked past every day. Basically it's five of those baby bananas double-skewered, barbecued over hot coals. I'm getting pretty good at wordless transactions, even though I can do numbers now (I just always forget how to say “how much?”), so I point at the bananas, the lady shows me a 20baht note (it seems like everything at the market is 20baht), I nod and smile. She gets a skewer, rests it over a pot, cuts with scissors down the middle of the bananas, and pushes them off the skewers into a bag (all takeaway food is served in bags here – everything – from nuts to curries to sauces to drinks!). Then she gets a ladle of dark brown liquid and pours it in on top. I'm thinking, please don't let that be soy sauce or something. That wouldn't be nice. But it turns out to be the most absolutely delicious, slightly molasses-y sweet syrup. It was good. Unfortunately I now have syrup all over my text books. And my timetable. And my computer.

Nice plan, wrong class

So today the three Filipino teachers have had to go to Chula to sort out their working visas (i-to-i sorts mine out for me – well they have to justify those huge admin charges somehow!). Now if I was smart I'd have told Wanna that I had to go to, and I could have had a day off in Bangkok. Instead of which I'm here, covering classes for the Filipinos. Wanna gave me a list of three classes that I was to teach: 3rd period: class 5/3, room 403. 5th period: class 3/8, room 510. 6th period: class 3/9, room 509. I've spent the morning putting together a (very) rough lesson plan – I figure I'll get them all to talk about Loy Kathong or something, we can sing the Loy Kathong song, it'll be fine. So at 10:05, I head off to room 403 for my first class. I get to the classroom. These students don't exactly look like 17-year-olds (they're all four feet tall). No matter – Wanna must have written it down wrong. My lesson plan still works. And I start unpacking my microphone, trying to look confident and professional. Until eventually one of the students comes up to me. “Teacher,” he says quietly, “Teacher, we are here Thai lesson”. Oh. So I pack up my microphone and try not to look too stupid.

Hey, this wasn't in the contract!

It's the Loy Kathong festival this weekend, so there's a special assembly to celebrate it. It starts off, some of the students are in national costume and they put on a play on stage. Very good. Then Wanna comes up to me and says she wants me to go and introduce myself on stage. Umm, okay (I make Michael agree to come up too).... So at the end of the play they finish by doing their traditional Thai dance around the stage, and we're on next. We're about halfway up the steps before we realise we're supposed to join in. Dancing?! Nobody said anything about dancing! And suddenly we're on the stage in front of 2,000 Thai students. Well what do you do? We danced. Sort of. I'm so glad I made Michael come up with me.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

This is what they call guidance

I'm still totally confused as to what we're supposed to be teaching these kids. So I asked Ajarn Wanna what sort of topics we should cover - grammar, vocabulary, themes... - and she told me "everything! You are native speaker, you know what to do!". Um, that's not exactly helpful, although it does make me feel a bit better, since it seems I don't have to worry about doing the wrong thing! Basically all I've got to do is hold the students' attention for an hour. Easier said than done, but I've downloaded a bunch of lesson plans from the internet, so hopefully they'll give me some good ideas. I'm feeling a lot calmer about teaching now, although tomorrow I have to face three classes on my own. Now that's a scary prospect.


So I've adopted Michael's method of introduction for all my classes (with varying levels of success!), having the students introduce themselves and then ask me a question, and one of my Matayum 6 (that's upper sixth) students just asked me the sweetest question – “who is your hero in your heart?” So maybe it will get easier with time. I also downloaded a whole bunch of lesson plans from the internet, which I'm going to look over tonight, so hopefully that will give me lots of ideas. Hopefully.

My students took me to lunch

Okay that last class was so much better. The students were talkative, and we finished up with songs (I have never been so pleased to hear "My Heart Will Go On", I can tell you). And at the end of it one of the students came up to me and invited me to go to lunch with her and her friends. It was so sweet! And lunch in the canteen is 15baht. I think that's about 24p. But it was about the hottest thing I have ever tasted! You couldn't survive in this place if you didn't like spicy food.

The students are eating me alive!

I can't cope with this at all! It's a nightmare!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Some light relief

I wonder if I'll blog less once I've been here a few months. Probably – or it'll all be like, yup, another disastrous lesson, so what else is new...

Oh, I just remembered an incredibly funny TV clip one of the lecturers showed us at Chula (that's short for Chulalongkorn University. It's what you call it if you're hip and happening, like I am). Anyway, it was an advert, and it's just this guy in an office, and over the radio comes this voice: “We're sinking! We're sinking!” and he looks a little confused, and takes the radio: “Zis is ze Cherman coast guard”, and the message comes again “We're sinking! We're sinking!” and he pauses, before replying, “vot... vot are you sinking about?”. And it was advertising a foreign language correspondence course. It was hilarious. It's probably better if you saw the actual ad, but all the same, it's funny, right?

My second class

Okay, the second class (5th grade) went a lot better. I talked to Michael (an American; he's been teaching here for four months already), and he made a few suggestions – get the class to introduce themselves individually, and have everyone ask me a question. So I did that, and that took up some time. And I actually had proper support from the teacher (unfortunately I think I only have the one class a week with her). Then they asked me about British/American festivals for the rest of the lesson. Third class of the day, 4th grade, not too bad. Fourth class, 2nd grade, bit of a nightmare.

You know, I kind of had visions of neat rows of eager little Thais, who would chorus “good morning teacher” when I walked in the room, listen obediently while I gave them instruction, and carry out the tasks without complaint, and it would all be just lovely and happy. SO not like that. They're an absolute rabble! They pile into class in an entirely disorderly fashion and then refuse to stop talking for the whole lesson! I tried playing a game (“put your hand up if you... like basketball, come from Thailand, etc. etc.), but I just had to give up in the end. And I'm not very good at shouting.

It's so misleading – they look so regimented in their school uniforms (right down to the regulation school shoes). Trade Descriptions! This is not going to be an easy job. Remind me why I ever thought this would be a good idea?

Also just realised I left my adapter on my mobile charger, so I only have 45 minutes of battery power left. Bugger.

And I still don't know what I'm supposed to be basing my lesson plans on for next week. I have text books, but I've no idea where they're at in them!

My first lesson is a disaster

Well that was the hardest thing ever. I turn up for my lesson. Where's the teacher that's supposed to be helping me? Ah it's okay, she's in the class. And then she starts to leave! Noooo, you can't go! I don't know what to do! So she stays. Anyway, it's a total nightmare. She asks if I've prepared a game or something. No – I was told I would only start teaching on Monday so I haven't prepared a thing! They can't hear a word I'm saying, they won't talk to me, and I have no idea what to say. Okay, introduce myself. My name is Charlotte, I come from Bath. I went to the University of Kent and studied Computing and French. And I'm all out. What do I do in my free time? Er, nothing? I take photographs, I meet with my friend. She lives across the river. Yes, I have one brother and one sister. I am in the middle. Yes, he is very handsome. Yes, I like Thai food. A-roy mahk (they like it when I speak Thai. I think I'm just going to learn Thai and chat to them in Thai for an hour every week). Please let this be over soon. It's only halfway through. They hate me. This is going to be a complete disaster. Keep smiling. But smiling will only distract them for so long. In fact I think it's already lost its power. Please let this be over soon. Finally the teacher sees that I'm a complete waste of space and tells me I can go and 'rest' before my next period. I have to do this three more times today. Oh no!