Sunday, December 31, 2006

Becareful the bombs

So we're just kicking back in the reception / lounge area, reading in the half-light, where we've been for the last half hour while we wait for our dinner to arrive (there's only one cook and she can only prepare one dish at a time – even if there are several orders for pad thai), and a text beep-beeps in my bag. It's from Smile: “Please becareful the bombs 10 bombs by the terrorists this situation is very dangerous, now 100 people die. We don't know where're the bombs”. Um, bombs? I assume it's in the border provinces again. How close are we to the border? I message him back asking for more information on what's going on. “The bombs by the terrorists, now 100 people die. 30 bombs you”. Y'what? We figure we'd better find out a little more about these bombs, and Cassie wants to get in touch with her Mom in case she catches the news on American TV, which will probably present the whole of Thailand in flames or something.

So we pootle up the road to the internet café, Catz reassures her family and we read on google news that several small bombs (there were about ten. Bearing in mind that it's new year's eve, the other suspected explosions probably turned out to be fireworks) have exploded in Bangkok, leaving quite a few injured and a couple confirmed dead. Well we're alright, we're on an island.

Post Script: The following morning I got another text from Smile: “Now the situation of the bomb is clear – we can capture 1 terrorist who try to escape out of the bombs's areas.”

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ko Phangan

After nearly 12 hours in sub-zero temperatures with a pair of Finnish knees in my back, on a seat constructed of cardboard and spare parts, we stopped for a second time and the driver silently dismounted. Knowing we weren't due on the island until 11:30 (which in Thai time means about lunchtime), and it still being pitch dark outside, we assumed it was another rest stop – until we realised they were taking everyone's bags off. So we dragged ourselves off the bus and down to the pier, where we waited, bleary-eyed from our restless night (and still wrapped in a towel), for nearly two hours, as the sun rose and the pier took shape around us.

We got on board the ferry and were finally underway at 8:00 am. We had been warned of large waves on the crossing, so am amused to note that what passes for heavy seas in the Gulf of Thailand appears to be approximately equivalent to what passes for the proverbial “milk-pond” in the Firth of Clyde.

An hour later we realised we didn't know the name of the place PK had booked for us. A scan of the guide booklet tossed up a phone number I recognised (“I remember it had lots of sevens in”), and a text to Jess confirmed we were to stay at Coco Garden bungalows. A quick call to the resort followed:

Catz: “hello, yes, we'd like to confirm our reservation”
Resort: “sorry, we fool”
Catz: “yes, but we have a reservation”
Resort: “no, we fool”
Catz: “no, we already have a reservation”
Resort: “sorry, we fool”
Catz: “we – already – have – a reservation”
Resort: “okehh”
Catz: “okay”

On the island

A pretty picture of fishing boats lined up at Tong Sala pier on Ko Phangan.

When finally we docked at Thong Sala pier, we clambered ashore to be greeted with the bustle and clamour of taxi drivers and tour reps. “Where you go!” “where you go!” “what resort!”. We knew our place was close to the pier, so when one taxi asked for 100bt each we gave him a disgusted look and started to walk away. “How much you pay,” he asks, so we settled for 50bt each. “You wait here,” he tells us, and disappears.

The thing about taxis in tourist resorts (we've found so far), is that meter taxis of the kind we know in Bangkok don't exist. Instead there are ranks of songtao-style converted pick-ups, who set a price before leaving and charge per person, not per trip. For this reason taxis try and pack in as many people as possible. Three girls waiting nearby said their driver had left twenty minutes before to find more people. Well we weren't hanging around. We asked in the tourist information for directions, and she pointed up the road, “that way along beach”. So off we went.

We detoured off the main road when it left the coast, and ended up following a dirt track through a coconut palm jungle. We came upon a resort, so we asked about Coco Garden. “That way, two hundred”. Er, 200 what? Metres? Miles? Baht taxi ride? But at least we knew we were on the right track, so we kept going.

The road got narrower and dustier, the jungle thinned out, and ditches appeared on either side filled with brackish water (I've no idea what brackish even means, but water in ditches of this sort is always described as brackish). Then, out of the corner of our eye we noticed a dark shape emerge from the water. The shape turns into a great big water buffalo with great big water buffalo horns. It was so surreal that for one bizarre and insane micro-second I assumed it was some sort of cardboard cutout, until logic caught up with me and pointed out the utter ridiculousness of such a thought. And then, to prove logic right and press the point home beyond doubt, he lumbered out of the water and into the middle of the road. (Just to add to the general absurdity at this point, I have to tell you that whenever I type “water” my word processor keeps trying to autocomplete it into “watermelon”, so now I have images in my head of the watermelon buffalo emerging from the brackish watermelon, and then climbing out of the watermelon onto the path).

Okay, so he doesn't look in any particular great hurry to do anything, but facing horns that size, wouldn't you be cautious? Catz hung back and gestured “after you,” magnanimously. Okay, I can do this. I put on my best non-threatening look and edge around Mr. Buffalo, reasoning that even if he does take offence, with that rope through his nose there's no way he can chase me any distance. Er, right?

Finally we make it to the resort – to be told, “sorry, we fool”. But we have a reservation. No, apparently they tried to ring PK, couldn't get through, and so cancelled the reservation. The owner tries a helpless look, but we're not having it. Look matey, we've travelled 18 hours, suffered frostbite-inducing air conditioning, argued with a taxi driver, trekked a dirt road and faced down a buffalo to get here. You're finding us a room.

So he does. At the next door resort, for 1000bt a night – yikes! – but it does have separate beds, a proper flush toilet (an exciting novelty in beach resorts), and aircon (which of course we have no intention of using). He promises us a (cheaper) room back at his resort for subsequent nights. So we accepted the deal (what else could we do?) and got ourselves some lunch. The place does a great pad thai (fried noodle dish with ground peanuts – not one for Joanna), and the menu proudly tells us that “the most vegetable are bio and coming from our own garden”, which pleases me.

The trail north

And then we decide to go and visit Jess and PK at their resort at the north of the island. So we trek back to the pier (it only takes about 10 or 15 minutes) and start negotiating with taxi drivers. 200 baht each? No way! Okay, 100. And it was shortly after that that we discovered how big and high and rough and rugged this island actually is, as we careered along narrow, rutted, sandy dirt roads with cavernous ditches on either side, scaled insanely steep mountain trails that showed signs of having very recently been cascading waterfalls (it's rained quite heavily here during the last week or so), tracked through gullies cut in the mud by monsoon rains with enormous boulders protruding from the walls, skirted a capacious pond in the middle of the road, and finally again hit a potholed-but-paved road as we re-emerged into what on Phangan passes for civilisation. Alright, now we see why it was worth 100 baht.

So we meet up with Jess and PK, drink Sang Som & coke on the beach, get a fantastic barbecued tuna with them and generally hang out for a few hours. At one point we're suddenly plunged into inky darkness, which gives you an idea of the state of the electricity on Ko Phangan. Eventually we figure it's time to start thinking about heading back, so we enquire at reception where they're staying about getting a taxi. “No taxi now. Only taxi 800 baht”. Or, they tell us, we can take a room there for 300. Well, you do the maths. So we never did get to sleep in our separate beds!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Air conditioning is the bane of my existence

Just imagine for a moment that you've packed for a holiday on a tropical island, but it turns out your bus took a wrong turn somewhere and ends up in, say, Norway. What are you going to do? You improvise. Any pretension of an attempt at sartorial elegance goes out of the window, as you pull on your light cotton trousers under your skirt. Vest tops are layered with cotton cardis and beach tunics, and your stripy beach towel serves as a shawl. Finish the look with the pair of turquoise airline socks you chanced upon with delight, stashed in some forgotten pocket of your rucksack (think about adding the earplugs and eye mask from the same pack for good measure, but decide against). And with that, you're ready to face the Arctic winter that is Thai air conditioning.

Chula, and the absence of organisation, common sense, tact and diplomacy

Before we can even get going on our trip we have to go to Chula to collect our salaries. A simple enough exercise, you'd think. But then you'd be reckoning without the determined incompetence of Chula's army of secretaries and administrators. As soon as we arrived we were handed forms to fill out for a visa extension, since they haven't gotten around to applying for our work permits yet. Fine. Then we have to queue three more times for no apparent reason, sign away our freedom on a document written entirely in Thai, explain our records of working (which Dino showed up just in time to provide) and try and figure out my address from Smile's Thai directions, only to be told that if we don't go to a compulsory unpaid weekend-long workshop of classes on writing lesson plans and “making your own class materials”, which, given Chula's record of putting us through occasionally fun but overwhelmingly boring and singularly unhelpful lectures, we're not exactly queueing up to attend, we won't get a reference from the university at the end of our year's employment. But finally we got our cheques, left an indignant Plah to deal with the power-mad, reference-ransoming administrator (Plah was indignant with the her, not with us - “she likes to scare people,” she told us) and we were outta there.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ten things you need to know about Thailand

  1. There are no roundabouts in Thailand. No roundabouts. None. If you want to turn right off the highway you have to drive past your turning to a U-turn point and then drive back down to take your turning. My route to school crosses a highway. The road was obviously there before the highway was, because our exit is directly opposite where we join, but we have to go right down the way to make a U-turn in order to rejoin the road.
  2. Thailand has never been conquered by a Western power. You will be told this a lot. Especially if you meet Smile.
  3. There are huge double standards in Thailand for Thais vs Farangs. Foreigners have to pay 200 baht to get into the Grand Palace, but it's free for Thais. Tuk-tuks immediately raise their prices for Farangs. Westerners in shorts and vest tops are frowned upon, but Thai girls in short shorts and low-cut tops are apparently socially acceptable.
  4. Beds here are not made of... bed. I don't know how else to explain it.
  5. There is no concept of co-ordinating an order at a restaurant. Food arrives as it's cooked. And there's nothing you can do about it.
  6. Tuk-tuks are the most expensive way to travel. Taxis and motorcycles are generally cheaper. Don't bother taking a tuk-tuk anywhere. But if you get a taxi, make sure they switch on the meter (they may try to tell you it's broken. Insist on using the meter). And don't try and get a pink taxi anywhere – no matter where we ask to go they always refuse and we've not worked out why.
  7. They love their King. And I mean LOVE him. They wear yellow T-shirts with his crest and “Long Live the King” or “love Dad” (because “his Majesty King is father to the Thai people”). I do find it just-ever-so-slightly scary in a tiny-bit-reminiscent-of-dictator-worship kind of way, but at least he's a good guy. He has all sorts of rural development projects going on – for irrigation, and talking the hill-tribes out of growing opium poppies... that sort of thing.
  8. Takeaway food comes in bags – cellophane bags sealed with nothing more than an elastic band (tied the Thai way – loop around and pull through like you're tying a tag, then bind it around a few times and finally pull it over the top of the bag. This description probably makes absolutely no sense unless you've seen it done). Everything, from fried rice to fruit to fish soup to fanta. I even saw sunflower oil in cellophane bags today. The drink-in-a-bag (shovel ice into a bag, pour in drink, stick in a straw) is the one that's most diverting to westerners seeing it for the first time.
  9. The greeting, “hey you!” isn't intended to be as rude as it sounds the first time you hear it shouted at you in the market. It's a direct translation of the polite form of address “khun”, meaning “you”.
  10. There are elephants. What more do you need?

Thai joke

Okay this is a funny joke – but you have to read it in a Thai accent or it doesn't work. Pidar told me this one:

“If you say to Thai people, are you ready? Are you ready? They say no, I not a rady, I am a man!”

A Great Day

I've had a really great day today that I just have to tell you about. Nothing in particular special happened, it's just been one of those really feelgood days. It started after lunch, when everyone went out and I stuck on Cassie's CD (The Break-up Song, Choco-latte, Dragosta din tea, American Idiot) and danced around the office (just had to watch out for students passing the open doors). And then we had fun teasing Ajarn Uthai about finding him a girlfriend. And we had cake. And then we went home early at 2:30.

And I got home and Pidar was there. Oh, funny story! Pidar said she'd come by motorcycle taxi, and when the driver dropped her off she (the driver) leant over, gave her a quizzical look and asked her, “is there a farang living here?” Thought that was funny – it must have been the girl from my bank run, as that's the only female driver I've had.

Then Smile made me laugh – he was telling me (because he has exams this week too, like the Rattanathibate kids) about cheating in class, and how the students will wait until the farang teacher has left the room, then copy each other – and if they're too far too see the other person's paper, they'll use a phone to take a photograph! Or (and I think you really had to be there for this one, to see Smile doing all the actions, but I'm including it all the same) looking around at all the other students' papers, “long neck, look-like giraffe”. And we were talking about the differences between US and British English, and how a rest-room is not actually a “loom for sreep” (that's Pidar talking), and how one of Pidar's students once misunderstood “bathroom”, and assumed it was a room where you pay money (baht-room!). Oh the laughs we had.

Then Mair asked if I was hungry (“hew mai?”) and I said I was hew nit-noy (a little bit hungry) and she asked me to koy a minute and I understood everything and everyone was impressed with how well my passa Thai (Thai language) is coming along in only two months. I've gotta say I'm actually a bit impressed too – it is slow, but I'm definitely learning Thai. I can quite often pick out certain words in a conversation (alright, usually they're numbers. But they're still words), and I can sometimes get the general gist. Mair always chats merrily to me in Thai – the maid too – and of course usually I don't understand what on earth they're going on about. But I'm getting there.

After lunch Pidar asked to see a picture of my house, so I went and got my laptop with all my photos and we had a little photo session – I showed them pictures of all the family and they said Joanna was sooay, and Mummy was sooay, and Mair's completely in love with Christian and Justin, and then I showed them pictures of Nanny (also sooay) from Justin & Natasha's wedding (sooay) and said how much khun yai (grandma) reminds me of her. And Pidar said she wants her son to marry a foreigner so she can have a little blonde baby like Harriet to look after!

And then... we took it upon ourselves to go jogging! Mair and Pidar decided they needed some exercise – up and down the road a couple of times – so they put on flip flops and headed out of the gate. I decided to join them so I grabbed my flip flops and dashed out after them, which the maid and her friend found hilarious. Knees up, shoulders back, hup-hup-hup! We looked an absolute sight – all in flip flips, two of us wearing mid-length flowing skirts, jogging our way down the dusty road in peals of laughter. The workmen on the building site across the street looked on open mouthed, scratching their heads. Even the stray dogs stopped to watch. Hup-hup-hup! Turn around, and back up the road again. One more time now! And we're done – por laaou, por laaou (enough, enough!). And we're all going to sign up to aerobics classes at the town hall starting January. Yeah!

And then Pidar was like, “let's go to the mall!” (well actually it was more like “we go centran-tow, ok?” – Central Town, the mall which, ironically, is nowhere near the town centre). So off we went to the mall. Okay, the first time I went to Central Town was by tuk-tuk, so when he drove us down a footpath I was like, fine, that's tuk-tuks for you. But apparently it's not just tuk-tuks! As I discover when Mair drives the car down the footpath and across a carpark, this is a perfectly acceptable shortcut to avoid going way up to the U-turn point (You can understand it though – the mall is more or less at the end of our road, but to get there properly you have to go through two U-turn points, making the journey about five times longer than it would be). So then we have to park. The carpark is packed – and by packed, I mean that all the bays are full, and so are all the overflow bays, which are perpendicular to the regular bays! This, again, is apparently normal. To get into a space we have to heave a car out of the way. To get back out again we have to shuffle two cars up (you know that game, where it's all squares and one space and they're jumbled up and you have to move them around to make a picture or whatever? It's like that) to make a space to drive through.

Me and Mair in front of the mall.

I was telling Mair and Pidar about our super-bargain weekend away at Ko Phangan (for all travel there and accommodation, it's going to work out around 1050 baht – about 15 quid) and so when we got back Pidar was trying to persuade her husband that he needs to take the whole family to Ko Kot (or something like that), and Smile told me we could climb mountains, and then I tried to explain the difference between mountain climbing and rock climbing (note to self: it's quite hard to mime rock climbing in mid-air).

Seriously – I love these people.

In other news, I may possibly have a tutoring job. While we were out 'jogging', a lady came over and asked Mair if I was an English teacher, and though I lost track of the conversation except for the word for “five” (told you it's usually the numbers I catch!), Pidar told me afterwards that the lady wanted to get her five-year old son English lessons – Mair's going to talk to her about it another time. Wonder if it's the same kid I see playing with the others at the end of the road sometimes, who always greets me with “Hello! How ayoo? Wha' yonem? Ha oh ayoo? Wehyoo froh?”.

They want reflections? I'll give them reflections

Chula's latest is that we have to hand in our reflection forms and lesson plans when we show up for our December paycheque. Lesson plans? What lesson plans? I have about five. And the reflection form - what problems have I experienced... hm, now let me see. So the finished reflection form is basically a scathing indictment of the entire Thai education system. Well not quite. I just complain about the lack of communication, lack of support, lack of guidance, and the impossibility of holding a conversation lesson with 45 students. Let's see what they make of that. They'll probably fire me or something - so if I haven't blogged again by about mid-january...

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Dinner

After a lot of texting back and forth I finally met up with Jess and PK at the pier, and we headed off into Bangkok to meet Pete, Murph and Robbie for Christmas dinner. We got the bus into town, then got off too early, got on another bus, got off a stop too late, took the metro to Sukhumvit, then one stop on the skytrain to Nana and found them in the bar. Then we had to get to the restaurant. We were on soi 4, the restaurant is on soi 9, so Murph decided it was too far to walk and we'd get a taxi. All six of us. So he hails a cab, we all pile in – four in the back, and me on Murph's lap in the front. This is incredibly uncomfortable. Oh yeah, and there's something you should know about Thai roads: with the sole exception of main roads, virtually all city streets are one-way. So the taxi takes us one block up, one block across, and we sit in a queue for about ten minutes waiting to get onto the highway. Once there we go up the way (because you have to), U-turn, and down the way, and end up exactly where we got off the skytrain (I'm not kidding – the steps are right outside the restaurant entrance).

But it was so worth it. We had the most amazing tenderloin steaks ever. And what's more, we got 40% off, because Murph's new girlfriend works at the restaurant. 600 baht (that's under a tenner) for a succulent steak, steamed spinach and chips, plus red wine all evening.

Yes, I've become one of those losers who takes photos of their food.

And then in the taxi on the way home, I actually had an entire conversation with the driver in Thai! He had the aircon on, so I told him “I cold,” and, you know, we got chatting. Well, I mean we talked about the weather in Thailand compared to the UK, I said that “I like hot”, I told him I'm a teacher in Nonthaburi, that I'm learning nit-noy Thai... and that's about where I ran out of words. But all the same, it was a conversation – it counts!

Christmas weather

Okay, it's not all bad - here's the forecast for Christmas week:


It's Christmas Day!

Of course, there's no Christmas here. I have to work, but there are no classes because the kids have exams. So I'm in school, on Christmas Day, and my only purpose in life is to collect completed exam papers every hour or so and deliver them to the admin office. Boy have I got a fun day lined up.

So think of me while you're all opening your presents.

Here's me with Philipino teachers Wheng and Karina.

My weekend: So this is what it feels like to have a social life

Friday Night

My throat's been sore all week, and by Friday I was losing my voice.

Catz & I had semi arranged with Michael and Agata to have a night out in Bangkok with them, but then they went and cancelled on us because they were tired. But we still wanted to go out, so I texted half the people in my address book. Then found out it was Steve's birthday. So we went with him and a bunch of others to Club Astra, where while we were waiting for the others to arrive a guy on a motorcycle offered us drugs. We said no obviously.

Eventually got home and fell into bed about 3am.


Slept in til about 10:30, which I think is a tiny bit scandalous to the family (once they realised we were in! Two people opened the door during the morning, I guess assuming we weren't home). Then we went shopping and bought new shoes (Merry Christmas to me!)

It's the Christmas party this evening, so we get dressed up nice (I'm wearing my prettiest dress and a big red paper bow in my hair) and head out. Ajarn Uthai has told me that the sorngtao I normally take home from school goes right to the hotel where they're holding the party, so out we go and hop in the next one. So we're driving along, and all we know is that we get out at the last stop – the end of the line. We can do that. And we're driving along, everyone else gets out one by one until it's just us left. And then we stop. Is this the end of the line? How do we tell? The driver gets out. “Where you go? Nonthaburi?”. “Nonthaburi Palace Hotel” (unfortunately I have almost no voice left by now). “Ah, Nonthaburi,” he says, and gets back in the cab. He's going to take us right to the hotel? Cool! Off we go. Wait, wasn't that the hotel? And isn't this the road into town? Er, yup. The dear, sweet driver has driven us all the way into town (guess he figured the crazy farangs got confused). Fine, we can just get a taxi from the pier back up the road to the hotel. We're already late – party started at 6, and it's now nearly half past. So we're looking for a taxi when we spot Murph (buying booze – surprise). He says no-one's planning to show up to the party before about 7:00, so we join him, Alicia and Kerry on the pier for a drink (then some of my students come and sit nearby. Is it at all possible they didn't notice the big bottle of Sangsom in the middle of our group?). [As an aside: the spellchecker doesn't like the word “Sangsom”. Its suggestions include “ransoming” and “boomerangs”. Gotta love it for trying!]

We finally get going to the party, leaving the others on the pier, and arrive about 7. Everyone else is already there – but the good news is we've missed the boring speeches and we're just in time for the buffet! After the buffet: karaoke. We beat a hasty retreat and back to the pier to meet Jess and PK. And then... Khao San.

Oh, bit of drama for the night: about 2:30am, we were in Sunset bar, and suddenly Adam comes rushing over. “Whatever you do, don't go to the toilets for the next half hour or so”. And we're like, “why, what did you do?!” and he tells us a huge fight has just kicked off at that end of the bar between these Thai guys and they'd been chucking chairs around and stuff. Excitement! They end up in a long stand-off in the road, which we watch from our position at the first floor window.

Stayed out til 4am. We're so hardcore.


It's Christmas eve! Sleep til about midday (shocking!), then go into town to find some lunch. There are carollers outside the mall singing “Joy to the world” and “Hark the herald Angels” – in Thai! These must be all 20 of Nonthaburi's Christians. They give me a little book about Jesus, all in Thai. Cool.

Home for a nap, then out to the mall to meet PK, Jess and Pete for pizza (yes!) and bowling. I scored 115 in one game – I got two strikes in a row! Yay me.

Home for an early night. Well it would have been, but then we watched “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Ed Wood” on HBO, so not so early. And then while we were getting ready for bed I stubbed my little toe on the corner of the bed. And then it started bleeding and was very painful and I felt rather queasy, so that was annoying.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Melly Critma'!

I'm feeling festive. The morning's assembly and first period were taken up with the Christmas Event - the students on stage singing Christmas songs and M6 girls (including a couple of my best students, in fact) in sexy Santa suits and kinky boots dancing to a hip hop version of Jingle Bells. Oh, and a reading about the King (naturally). The English department had to sing "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" up on stage. I have a giant green paper bow in my hair and Dino is wearing a Santa hat. This is Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Okay I take it back

I've actually seen two people this morning with woolly scarves on. Well it is only 20°C out.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A tropical sunset

No, ladies and gentlemen, this is not a vista over a tropical beach or rainforest. This is suburbia, Thai-style. This is the view from my window.

Christmas time, mistletoe and, er, sunshine

Apparently it's nearly Christmas, but you wouldn't know it. Because I'm living in an alternate dimension – one where it's 30°C, you don't spend weekends trudging through the icy wind and rain battling through other shoppers trying to find the perfect presents, the shops aren't all blaring out canned Christmas tunes, and there's no debate about whether this year will be white or who'll be Christmas number one. Even after two weeks or more of Christmas-themed lessons – hours spent reciting “Christmas Alphabet”, brainstorming Christmas vocabulary, banging on about Jesus (so much of the Christmas vocab depends on the Nativity! You try explaining the significance of Bethlehem and shepherds and frankincense to a classful of Buddhists), colouring in Christmas flashcards, reading “'Twas the Night Before Christmas” and dashing back and forth to the stationer's to buy Christmas card supplies, it's still just weird trying to believe it's actually really Christmas time (this, by the way, is my excuse why everyone's cards will arrive late).

Well come on – picture Christmas. What does that word conjure up for you? Does your vision feature a coconut palm anywhere? How can it be Christmas when the sun is shining, the leaves are on the trees, you can go out in a T-shirt and there's not even a glimmer of a possibility that it might snow? What's Christmas without the special edition Radio Times and a showing of The Snowman? Christmas is about evenings cosying up in the sitting room with a fire, stockings hung-by-the-chimney-with-care and a mantelpiece strewn with holly, ribbon, pine fronds and little red crochet horses. It's about decorating the tree and getting pricked by pine needles and tangled in fairy lights. And the aroma of mince pies baking (or warming in the microwave) and gingerbread-scented candles burning and mulled wine, er, mulling. And woolly hats and scarves.

I'm not saying I like or even miss the cold weather – it's just such a part of Christmas time that it feels odd without it. Round these parts we have air con, not fires; flip flops, not mittens; orchids, not mistletoe; and ice is something you find in your drink, not on the road.

But it definitely is Christmas time. There are Christmas decorations up in some stores, you can buy Santa hats and stuffed snowmen in the market, and the family even got a mini musical Christmas tree and a string of coloured lights for the porch in honour of me! Okay, I can do this. I can suspend my disbelief and convince myself it really is Christmas. I've got my festive earrings and I'm ready to go. All together now: "Ludolph the led-nosed leindeer..."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I have money!

I really needed to finally cash my paycheque today. And then Dino told me I'll need my passport (he also tells me I should carry it around with me all the time because the police do random checks and if you don't have it you can be faced with a fine or even a night in a cell!). Fine. I have three free periods. I can do this. So I dash up to the scooter taxi rank and jump on board: “Wat Samorkorn!,” and off we go. Drong bai, leo sai, leo sai*, and we arrive at the house.

khun koy chan here one minute please. Koy. Neung minute” I point at the house, then point at the bike and then point in the direction of town. “Okay?” “yee-sip hah baht,”she says. “Chai, yee-sip hah baht, one minute, koy here”. And she has no idea what I'm blethering about, and I have no idea whether she's understood. So I run inside, grab my passport, and dash back out again. She's still there. Well of course she is – I haven't paid her yet.

Next stop: “Bangkok Bank,” I show her the corner of my paycheque where it's written in Thai. And we're off again. We get to the bank, and I ask her to koy again and dash inside. There are two queues – counter 1 is for customers with a single transaction, and counters 2-7 are for multiple transactions (I know because it says it in English – my Thai didn't just get that good). But the multiple transaction queue is shorter so I try that one first. Then switch to the other one. When I reach the front I hand over my cheque and passport. Then realise I'm going to be walking around with 34,500 baht in my pocket for the rest of the day. Ah well. The cashier talks Thai to me, but I catch “sahm-sip see baht”, and work out they want to charge me 34 baht to cash the cheque. Fine, I can stretch to 50p. They mutter a lot to each other and take a photocopy of my passport and stamp the cheque “paid”and give me a receipt. Uh, I'll need the money here before you go stamping things paid, please. And then the lady spends ages counting out 34 thousand-baht notes and she goes to get a 500 but I ask her in my best Thai for “(neung-sorng-sahm-see) hah neung-roy-baht notes”. Yes! I'm rich! I head back outside, scramble back aboard my trusty steed and point onwards: “rohng rian Rattanathibate!

So we roll up to the school, and I ask her how much. Jetsipbaht. 70 baht. I'm feeling flush, so I hand her a hundred and say thanks. I really hope I didn't mishear and she actually said “royjetsipbaht” (170). So she's gonna go back to the rank and tell the others that the crazy farang either tips really well or underpays.

* drong bai - straight ahead
leo sai - turn left
Khun – polite form of address which vaguely translates as “you”.
koy – wait
chan – I (hopefully doubles up as “me” too)
neung, sorng, sahm, see, hah – one, two, three, four, five
yee-sip hah – twenty-five
chai – yes
roy - hundred

Baht Simpsons

It's about 69.6 Baht Simpsons to the pound (easy way to do an approximate calculation - times by one and a half, then knock off a few zeros). Okay, so £72 a month rent is hardly shocking, even when you are only earning £485 net per month.

In other news, it's cold again today. But this time I'm wearing a cardigan. I don't think I'll be needing a padded jacket - although Chilli is convinced he saw a snowflake this morning. Just the one.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ludolph the Led-nosed Leindeer

About the only thing that makes shouting myself hoarse teaching the M2s and 3s is the kick I get out of getting them to sing Ludolph the Led-nosed Leindeer. And the way they say "San'-daaa".

So this is the cool season

I'm cold this morning. Just checked the weather: 22C (72F). Twenty-two degrees! I've never known it so cold since I've been here. I should have worn a cardigan.

Coffee cups and cables

New teacher Chris has bought himself a coffee cup. So he spends about five minutes telling me about it. Mind you in fairness to the chap he's also bought a switch and network cables so that all three computers (the office one, mine and his) can use the internet connection at the same time. Although he didn't have to tell me about every one of the ten-metre cables he looked at before he found one he liked (the price of).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

On the road to Rajchaburi

When I went down for breakfast this morning Mair, Pidar and even Grandma (who normally wears a smock) were all dressed smart. They said they were going to Rajchaburi province to visit some of Grandma's relatives, and did I want to go too. So I said sure (even though I was getting quite into watching Prehistoric Park dubbed into Thai). And after breakfast, off we went.

So we're driving along and Pidar says that her husband is going to “take us anywhere first” (I think she meant “somewhere”) to see a big Buddha image. Hold on, this looks familiar. They've only brought me to Phuttamonthon! It's actually a very lovely park with lakes and landscaped gardens and elephant-shaped topiaries. We should go back there on purpose one day.

We drive around the park, stopping off to look at a passing lizard (this guy's pretty big - about a metre long), feed the catfish (man those things are ugly!) and wai the Buddha image. And then we're back on the road again.

Next stop, the floating market. I don't know quite what definition of 'floating' this comes under, since it's entirely on dry land, but never mind. So we wander through. And Mair goes mad buying everything in sight. We pick up fruit, meat, duck eggs, some really horrible-looking dried fish, some more of those orange dessert things, guavas, pineapple (because she knows I love it), jackfruit, dried bananas, strawberries for Smile (“Smi' chorp stawbelly”), weird melba toast things (like those crisp toasts that are meant for making hors d'oeuvres, only thinner, and they seem to have been fried in butter and sprinkled with a layer of sugar. Who said Thai food was healthy?), some sheets made from (I don't know what – some sort of fruit pulp I guess), pork satay (because she knows it's my favourite)... Mair actually reminds me a bit of Auntie Ellen (love you Auntie!) in the way she buys stuff. On the way out she picked up a six-foot hat stand for my room, because, you know, I have a couple of hats. Then when she gave me some jackfruit and I liked it, off she went to get more!

I don't know how long it took to get from there to Rajchaburi because they told me to go to sleep, so I did. But when we got there we got out of the car, walked over a bridge and along the canal to the relatives' house. This is their street:

They have a traditional Thai one-storey house on stilts, all dark wood, all open plan except for three boxed-off rooms.

We watch an emotional reunion between Grandma and her relatives, and stay for about half an hour before we have to get going. So we're packed off with bags of pomelos from the garden and head back to the car.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Taxis never know where they're going

We needed to book travel to get to Ko Pha Ngan for new year, so after looking online and finding every single flight fully booked, we decided to head over to the travel agents on Khao San and see about booking a sleeper train. But first I had to go pick up some stuff from home. So we walked to the high street and finally found a taxi. “Wat Samorakorn,” I tell him (that's the name of the wat – temple – right near the house), and he mumbles something back. “Wat Samorkorn,” I say again, and he nods. And off we go. But of course nothing about taking a taxi is simple, especially since no taxi driver in Nonthaburi knows where Wat Samorakorn is (so I should have been suspicious the second he seemed to understand where we wanted without having to even show him Smile's written instructions).

It's about a 100 baht taxi ride from Casandra's place to mine, so when the meter hit 130 and I didn't recognise anything I started to get concerned. When it got to 160 I was about to ask him where he was going. And then we arrived – at Phutthamonthon. Which in no way sounds like Wat Samorakorn. We managed to make him understand that this wasn't where we wanted to be, and I handed over Smile's instructions. And he laughed (glad he thought it was funny. We were too busy being annoyed at the extra hundreds of baht that this unrequested detour was going to cost us) and headed back for Nonthaburi. Two stops for directions later and the meter was pushing 300 baht (I've never had a taxi journey cost over 200 before) and we were feeling very grumpy and Cas is extremely fed up with having to pay for taxi drivers' mistakes. We were within sight of the mall by then, so we got out of the car, handed the driver 100 baht (what the journey should have cost), and walked off. We were ready for a fight, but luckily he just took it.

And we went to Bangkok.

How many people can you fit in a tuk-tuk?

So I figured on a quiet night down the pier with Alicia and Kerry. But then Alicia got a call from Mike saying a bunch of the others were on Khao San, and then she wanted to go party with them. And next thing I knew she and I were in a taxi on the way to Bangkok.

We met up with the others in Sunset, and then moved to Gulliver's. But Gulliver's shuts at 1am and we weren't done partying, so when we got a call from Murph – he's on Sukhumvit with Robbie and they're going to a club - we agree to go join them. Sukhumvit is quite a long way away. So obviously Steve decides to take one of the tuk-tuks that crowd the end of Khao San at 1am. So Alicia, Cynthia, me, Helen, Mike and Steve all pile in. Then we look round and there's Adam clinging onto the back of the tuk-tuk, so we manage to squeeze him in too. Seven full-sized people in a tuk-tuk is no mean feat, believe me. But getting in wasn't the hard part – it was staying in! Sukhumvit from Khao San is about 15 minutes (felt like half an hour; could have been five minutes) of insanity. Tuk-tuk drivers are of course notoriously insane, and this one's certainly no exception as we scoot through the night at about 90, barrelling around corners and weaving through traffic, hanging desperately on to the vehicle and each other. Arrived in one piece though, and tracked Murph down. But we never did find that club.

PS: you'll be pleased to know that Murph's managed to get rid of his 'roommate'. Although he now has to avoid Nana Plaza (where he met her) for fear of being beaten up. But the mafia are offering their protection while he's home.

Friday, December 15, 2006

We have a new teacher

Michael's replacement started yesterday. He talks a lot.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thai sweets

If there's one thing I'm known for... actually if there's one thing I'm known for it's my eternal optimism in the face of reality. But if there's another thing I'm known for, it's my sweet tooth. I can eat M&S chocolate chip cookies for breakfast (and indeed would, if only there were an M&S in Nonthaburi), fruit for lunch, snack on a Milky Way and then have banoffee pie and ice-cream for supper. But I have nothing on the Thai sweet tooth. These people drink freshly squeezed sugar cane juice. And today I arrived home to see the family have left out some of their favourite sweets for me. I see these things in the market. They're bright orange, and from what I can gather are made from egg yolk and syrup (possibly with some sort of semolina or something thrown in – I'm not sure). They're about three times sweeter than sugar. They don't even really have a flavour – they just taste of sweet. And even I can't handle more than two or three of these things (about the size of a Thornton's chocolate) without feeling quite sick. Whoever wrote the chapter in the rough guide on food that says “Desserts don't really feature” clearly hasn't been here.

And then I set my mouth on fire

I found a really nice food today. It's barbecued chicken kebabs marinated in sweet chilli sauce. They're really tasty (a-roy mahk), and I happily munch through to the green pepper and pineapple at the end. And I'm standing there, thinking “man, this pineapple is hot,” before it dawns on me that (duh!) it's not the pineapple, you muppet – it was that innocent-looking piece of green pepper that was, of course, a slice of chilli. Um, water?!

"Jesus is the God of Christmas"

That's my quote of the day. Taken from the speech about the “history of Christmas” that's to be given next week in the Christmas assembly. Methinks they could possibly do with a quick lesson on the Nativity.

In other news, the Filipino girls just told me we have to come into school Christmas week – including Christmas day – even though the kids have exams all week. Sucks.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Another drawing

I think I'm improving (although admittedly for some reason it actually looks better at this angle than it really is).

I live in Thailand

Eventually I expect this fact will sink in, but at the moment, despite having been here for seven weeks already, it's still a novelty. I live in Thailand. I live in Thailand. Having to teach five days a week is a small price to pay for the amount of fun I'm having. And it's nearly the weekend again already! (I love four-day weeks).

R is for Rainbows, my life is more color

Sorry, but these Christmas Alphabet poems make me so happy. I just have to share some more:


N is for nice that everyone give together.
A is for the angels that bring the happiness on Christmas Day.
W is for wish that I have when Christmas Day.
A is for all the people who waiting for Christmas Day.
K is for karaoke that I have in the Christmas Day.
I is for ice that get a cool feeling when I touch.
T is for the trouble that everyone throw away.


K is for the kingdom I control the land.
U is for under your cloth make my heart beating.
N is for novel when I lonely, I need somebody.
A is for all the people have some happiness around the world.
K is for kissing under the mistletoe make romance novel
O is for oat when you hungry you want me.
R is for the rain make a cold-cool world.
N is for now I have happiness.


P is for Poinsettia, a pretty. [I didn't even give them the word Poinsettia!]
A is for All the people love me!
R is for Rainbows, my life is more color.
I is for Ice cream, it's very sweet.
W is for Windows heart.
I is for Important for me!
T is for The native, I love natural.


B is for the Brain the I have.
U is for The Unknown that I Unknown.
N is for the Need for Speed Underground that I played [I believe this is a computer game]
Y is for the Young that I am.
A is for my Ass that I have.
R is for Rate-R movie that I like.
I is for the Impossible
T is for my Teacher that I love.

Okay that's probably enough. But they're just so great!


Wanna caught me as I was leaving school, “Shalot, can I speetooyoo fo' one minni'?” She wants to talk to me about paying the family something for my upkeep. Last time she brought it up she said it would be best if I would pay “something for the bill”, which sounded fair. I did ask at the time how much would be appropriate, but she wouldn't give me a figure and told me to ask other foreigners. Well, I've asked around to see what other people's bills come to, so this time I'm prepared. She asks me how much do I think. I tell her that my friend's bills are 2,500 (Casandra's bills are the highest out of everyone I've spoken to), so would that be okay. But no, she says, “oh no, that not enough. I think 5,000, OK?”. Well look, woman, if you had already set the price why didn't you just say that in the first place instead of asking me?!

5,000 a month is actually kind of steep. I mean, I know the family has been very kind to me, and generous, and it's great here, and I have a whole house with hot running water (well, sometimes anyway) and a garden and a maid and everything. But I could get a room for 3,500 all in, and the difference of over twenty quid is a lot of money in this country. I can have a weekend at the beach for that.

All the same though, I'm not going to rush to move out. I know I've got a pretty good thing - with the bonus that if I go travelling during my time off, I have no reason to pay anything except a token amount to leave my things there (which is good, since 5,000 baht is half my wages in those two months!).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

You know you live in Thailand when...

  • Splashing out £3 for a meal is extravagant.
  • A weekend on a tropical island is only a few hours away.
  • £4.50 per night is a reasonable price for a double room with en-suite bathroom (basic as it may be).
  • Everyone you know owns at least one yellow shirt.
  • In the morning, you don't need to stick your head outside to decide what to wear. You don't even need look out the window to decide what to wear. In fact, you don't need to wake up to decide what to wear.
  • You're beginning to understand the notion of “Thai time”, meaning don't expect anything to be done by the time you expect it.
  • You had fried rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and there's nothing odd about that.
  • You debate whether £8 is too much to pay for a pair of shoes.
  • Playing “spot the ladyboy” is a fun way to pass time.
  • When you see other farangs in your neighbourhood you assume they're either teachers or lost (applies particularly when your neighbourhood is Nonthaburi).
  • You feel superior to backpackers.
  • You catch yourself saying "My birthday five December, same-same like King". And in fact generally speaking in a Thai accent.
  • Seeing a family of four and their dog on a motorbike doesn't surprise you.
  • You do your shopping in the market, not Marks & Spencer.

Monday, December 11, 2006

More shiny temples

Casandra stayed over, and today the family took us to Bangkok. First we went to Wat Phra Kaew, the Royal temple, within the grounds of the Grand Palace – which, by the way, is not free: Farangs have to pay 200 baht entrance fee (although Asian foreigners – e.g. Filipinos – can get away without paying because they look like Thais).

Wat Phra Kaew is the home of Thailand's most sacred Buddha image, the Emerald Buddha. It was actually bigger than I expected (everyone goes on about how tiny it is). Reputed to have been made in Sri Lanka (or India, depending on which version you read), this sixty-centimetre jade statue was discovered when lightning struck an ancient chedi in Northern Thailand, cracking it open and revealing a Buddha statue (which according to some versions was actually also covered in stucco, which had flaked off in places revealing the green underneath). He's been moved around a bit – from Chiang Rai to Laos (where he spent over 200 years), and then when the capital of Laos was captured by King Rama I, brought back to Thailand and eventually installed in Wat Phra Kaew. He has ceremonial robes, which are changed according to the seasons.

Then we crossed to the other side of the river to Wat Arun, which was the first temple to be built in the new capital after the Burmese sacked Ayutthaya.

Oh, and then we saw the King! As we were on the way home a policeman stopped the traffic (we were the first in the line), and Smile explained that this was the Royal guard, and the King would pass through. And soon enough we saw his yellow car pass by up ahead. He has a Peugeot – no idea why a Peugeot (the Queen has a Honda, if I remember correctly; the Princess has a Limo).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Another weekend, another trip to the beach


Straight from school I met Catz at the pier, and we jumped in a taxi to Bangkok. We're off to the beach again. We missed the 7 o'clock bus, and the next one was 8:30, so we got to Nuanthip Pier at midnight. There were no boats running, so we chartered a speedboat for 1200 baht. That was cool. 20 minutes later we're on the island. No-one else is – except Murph. Everyone promised they were coming, but no-one else showed up. They're all partying in Bangkok this weekend now. Kind of annoyed actually – we were looking forward to hanging out with everyone this weekend. Although it turned out to be a “blessing in the skies”, since we ended up finding some other people to party with – more on that later.


Since no-one else came, we shared Murph's hut for the night. I've mentioned Murph before, but he really does need a proper introduction. He's called Murph. Murph "she wasn't a prostitute" Murph. Murph's a really great guy, and surprisingly sweet, despite his slightly wild appearance. But he does have an uncanny knack of getting himself into scrapes. Case in point: About a week ago, he woke up with a Thai girl in his bed. Nothing unusual in that. But on this occasion he'd accidentally made a drunken promise to take care of her... oh, and given her a key to his apartment. She's still there. He's been avoiding her (he's been on Samet since Wednesday), but he has to go home today because he's going jetskiing with the Thai mafia. And that about tells you all you need to know about Murph. Oh, one more thing: he may accuse you of stealing his potatoes (he's Irish).

So we take over the hut – 300 baht a night, a minute's walk from the beach (albeit up a vertical cliff), right next to the best bars. Can't be bad.

We jump in the sea, and I try to play with the fish (they're not that impressed), and we talk about being social misfits. Story of my life – I never really fit in. Even now, a new life in Thailand, and despite all my best efforts I'm just not accepted as one of the shoal. Of course it may help if I stop trying to get in with the minnows and go hang out with my own species. But hey, at least the fish don't change their plans without telling me – whenever they say they'll meet me in the sea, they're there.

Did I mention we're on a tropical island?

So then we go back up to the hut to dress for lunch. We can't get in. Now, we saw Murph struggle with the key yesterday, so we know there's a knack, but the key's just not going in the lock. At all. Eventually I go to reception: “Key not working”. “Yes,” he tells me, “we change the lock because is hard to open”. Oh. Well that does explain it. New key then; door opens just fine.

Oh, I've decided to take up sketching. I printed out some flashcards for school the other day, but they weren't in colour. So I went to the stationer's near the school and bought some colouring pencils. And since I was buying pencils, I decided to take up sketching. So at lunch I drew a picture. It took about an hour and it's not very good, but I'm pleased with it all the same.

Then we went for a walk along the beach and watched the sun set. There's this famous statue on Ao Hat Sai Kaew (Crystal beach), after a poem by Sunthorn Phu. His famous work, Phra Aphai Mani ("look like Iliad") is set around Ko Samet, and its 30,000 lines tell the story of a prince who keeps getting himself into scrapes (look like Murph) - the statue commemorates one episode, in which he meets a mermaid who rescues him from an ogress who kept him prisoner under the sea. And they live happily ever after - until he gets bored of her and jumps aboard a passing ship for more adventures and love affairs.

So it was like this: we were at Jep's, and when I ran back to the hut to drop some things off, the people at the next table invited Catz to sit with them. So when I get back I join them. They're all teachers in Bangkok too, and–– wait a second. Dora?!

And that's how we ran into my cousin on a beach in Thailand.

Dora was with some people who (if I got this right) work at the school she used to work at before she got her new job. Three of them disappeared, and we ended up partying with Dora and Adam (a fellow Canadian for Casandra) at Silver Sands bar til 2am. The dancefloor was stiflingly hot, so we danced in the sea. And apparently I found all the pointy rocks on the beach, because I find I've cut my feet in many places.

PS: Happy Birthday Jo-bo! I thought of you, I really did:

Friday, December 08, 2006

Double standard strikes again

I'm wearing flip flops in school today because I'm going straight to the beach afterwards and I don't have enough room in my bag for spare shoes. I know that other teachers (including Pidar) regularly wear flip flops, so it'll be fine, right? But no, of course Wanna noticed. And of course she had to mention it, “the director doesn' like”. It was only later that I looked down and saw that she was wearing them too! I mean come on, practise what you preach, here!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christmas Alphabet part 2

Today I decided to try a new Christmas Alphabet task - making a new Christmas Alphabet poem using the student's names. I wrote a bunch of Christmas vocab on the board and... I love the results. My favourites so far (exactly as written):


S is for the glitter star
O is for the ornaments on the tree
M is for the music hit hop
P is for party
O is for order dinner like
B is for football game


M is for mary make happy
U is for under the mistletoe
T is for the tree
C is for a celebrating
H is for a hat wearing on head
I is for an ice is snow
M is for the music I listen it
A is for an angle

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I have a new camera!

Went shopping and bought a rather snazzy little Olympus for 10900 baht. It's cool. So I'll be able to take photos when we go to Ko Samet again this weekend! And I'm not letting Steve anywhere near this one.

A Christmas Alphabet

They want me to do Christmas activities with the kids through December. They actually asked me to do Christmas cards, but I have no materials, so instead I thought we could do the "Christmas Alphabet" (you know, C is for the Candy trimmed around the Christmas tree, H is for the Happiness with all the family etc.). M6 weren't all that impressed and I ended up finishing five minutes early. M5 got a little more into it. M4 had fun. M2... As usual, M2 descended into anarchy within... actually from the moment class started - I never got it under control. I even tried bribery, but either they just weren't having any of it or their English isn't even good enough for "work hard, get present". I don't think I'll bother turning up any more - I don't think they'd even notice if I weren't there.

Oh, and then I've been sitting in the office half an hour, Ajarn Suwimon tells me that the 4/1 class I normally have on Tuesday last period has been switched to today, 7th period. That's the one that started half an hour ago. Great. So I rush off to the room, arrive all a-fluster (amazingly they're all sitting patiently in their seats), try to explain that no-one told me the class was today, and set them the Christmas Alphabet task. This time I didn't bother with groups, I just gave everyone a letter and told them to draw. It works better like this. Helps that I also took examples from the previous classes of what I wanted them to do. Note to self.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Song Phra Charoen

It being the King's birthday too, we all head out to the city hall to honour him. We light candles and sing songs (well, they do – I don't know the words), and have fireworks (they're not big on health-and-safety in this country – the fireworks are being lit right next to the crowd). This is possibly the biggest fireworks display I've ever seen – they set off several huge rockets at a time (the bangs were so loud that the vibrations were setting off people's car alarms in the adjacent carpark).

So, long live the King – Song Phra Charoen!

My birthday

My birthday, and the sun's shining, and it's 34 degrees - centigrade!

The family (Mair, Pidar, Smile, and the maid) took me to Koh Kret - a small island up the river, famous for its pottery and handicrafts. We rented bikes to get around the island. Well actually only Smile and I were on bikes. Everyone else was walking, so we had to cycle at walking pace. On narrow paths. On an island. With water all around, and no fences. Oh yeah, and on a bike with no gears. Crystal Maze has nothing on this. I was writing the evening's journal entry in my head: "...and then I rode my bike into the river". But I managed to stay dry.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Come back from Ko Samet for a birthday night out on Khao San road. Catz and I arrive at Sunset bar. I still haven't heard back from anyone I've invited, so probably no-one will show up.

But in the end quite a few people come. And we all drink a lot of SangSom rum (or is it SongSam? I kept getting it wrong and the waiters laughed at me).

Michael takes us to a bar run by a friend of his, where the live band sings Happy Birthday, which is cool.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

And some more

Get up... Breakfast... Swim... Sunbathe... Swim... Lunch... Sunbathe... Swim... And so it goes on.

Byoodifoool! (I swear, when I come back from Thailand I'm going to be speaking with a Thai English accent. Either that or a Canadian accent from hanging out with Catz)

Pizza for dinner (pizza! With actual cheese!) at Jep's, with pina coladas, chat to the crazy Thai waiter who introduces himself as Peter Pan and claims to be from Canada ("I too fro' Canada! I fro' Winnipeg"), which amuses me. And then free gin & tonic at Naga.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

More sun, more sand, more sea

That is, once we finally get out of the meeting at the university to process our work permits, health insurance (free, but compulsory, even though all of us have our own), bank account opening, teaching licence and pay cheques. It was supposed to be a quick process, but for no apparent reason it took us until nearly 2pm because of the entire lack of any form of organisation ability on the part of the university. And i-to-i. I want to know what the heck our hundreds of pounds worth of agency fees are supposed to go towards, if it's not to avoid tedious queues like this. The Filipinos were all being processed at the same time as us, and they didn't pay agency fees. I-to-i didn't even have a representative there. We were not impressed. We did manage to cut a little time out of the waiting by indulging in a spot of queue-jumping (Michael: “yeah, er, British... queueing... that's just our cover”)

But no matter – soon as we were done, we were out of there and straight to Ekkamai to get the bus. We didn't know where the bus station was in relation to the skytrain stop last time, and went striding confidently off in the wrong direction. We're not going to do that this time because I now know we have to go out of the left-hand exit, which takes us out onto the right side of the road, and then the bus station is just round the corner. So we arrive, I take us out of the left-hand exit, and off we go. In the wrong direction. Well how was I to know there were two exits to the skytrain?! Oh well, so much for not striding confidently off in the wrong direction.

It's dark by the time we get to the pier. And after a complicated conversation with the boat man – do we want to leave now for 150 baht, or wait for 20 people for 100 baht – he ends up giving us the wrong ticket and we have to wait for 20 people. But then the boat people get bored and take us even though there are only about 15.

And finally, we're on the island! Next step: find accommodation. A bunch of people are getting in a taxi, so we ask them where they're going – Ao Phai – and tag along (the taxis here are pick-ups with seats in the back, room for about 12 people). The Rough Guide recommends Naga, so we walk back up along the road and try them first. No room. Next one along, Tok's. Nothing. Jep's. No joy. So we finally end up back at Ao Phai (our backpacks are getting kind of heavy by now in the heat). They have a hut. 600 baht a night? We'll take it. It's a proper bamboo hut on stilts – much cooler than the ones at the other resort.

So we get changed, run down to the beach and jump in the sea.