Wednesday, January 31, 2007

boys who like...

So I get in from my 4/1 class, and Ajarn Sanchawee asks me “do you know a boy name Pun? Matayom 2”. Well I hardly know any of the kids' names (I teach 800 students - once I know the faces, then I'll start with the names), so I ask which class he's in (2/9). He want to see you about picture. You wait him, you wait him.” Picture? What picture? Well I did have them drawing in our class earlier, so maybe I didn't take his work in or something. Still trying to work out which student this is, I ask Sanchawee what he looks like. “Look like girl”. Ahhh yes, I know the one.

Anyway, I think no more about it, until twenty minutes later he comes rushing in, all out of breath. “Teacher, you have photo. Can I see?” Ah, these are the pictures he wanted to see me about – the photos of me with the band boys from the school play! Natsantasz gave me copies and I've had them on display on my desk. “Teacher, can I have? I want photo of you”. Well I can hardly say no, so I let him go ahead. He picks two out of the five photos. They just happen to be the two with Natsantasz in them. I think someone has a crush – and it ain't on his teacher!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Nothing like a bit of drama to end the day

The background: a friend of mine who shall remain anonymous – let's call her Anastasia– managed to get herself into a sticky situation when she met a rather attractive Thai guy at the swimming pool the other weekend. She invited him round for a drink (well okay, it was actually me who invited him for a drink at hers – mostly by mime since his English is only about as good as my Thai), then after I went home, one thing led to another, you know how it is.

That would have been the end of it, since Anastasia decided she couldn't really be bothered to pursue anything with a guy who didn't speak English. But on Sunday evening she got home to find a note pushed under her door, purporting to be from this guy's wife (who obviously speaks much better English than he does). In the note she explains that because he'd stayed out all night with the key to their apartment she'd been unable to get in, and “he tell me he go here but I not belive him. It's true? Please tell me... Why he stay until morning?” before going on to add, “he bad man. I want free of him”.

Well, that would certainly have been the end of it, since Anastasia certainly had no wish to get involved with a married man... but then she calls me in a state of distress saying he's banging on the door and won't go away. I live about 20 minutes from her, but I say I'll get in a taxi over there (I don't know what I thought I was going to do – I've seen this guy in a bathing suit and he clearly spends a lot of time working out. I can see me marching up indignantly and giving him a very stern ticking-off). So out I dash, the maid asks me where I'm going, “bai bahn peu-an. Phuying mai phuchai!” (“I go home friend – girl not boy!”). On the way over I get a text saying his wife's now arrived on the scene and the two are screaming at each other in the corridor. By the time I arrive, however, it's all over (shame, since I was quite looking forward to giving him a battering), Anastasia's had a chat with the wife who's really very reasonable about the whole thing (seems he has violent as well as adulterous tendencies and she “want him go”). Anastasia and I get ice-cream and beer to calm her nerves (well, the beer was to calm her nerves; the ice-cream was for me), and I see her back to her room before making my way back home.


My students do actually work on occasion. The trick, it seems, is to do what Cas does with her kindergarten classes, and have them draw pictures! (You'll notice that there are only four boys in the class. The M5 and M6 military boys are all off at army camp, so I guess the girls are using it as a reason to skive – out of 5/6 only 9 students came, and for my 5/7 class only two showed up! This is 5/1)

I realised last night that I had no plan for my M5 classes this week. Good thing I've been keeping this lesson plan in reserve for just such an occasion! So we did superpower vocabulary and I had the students make their own superhero. One of my favourites was the 5/6 boy with the dazzling smile (it's infectious – every time I look at him he flashes this wicked cheeky grin and I can't help but smile back, even when he's misbehaving), whose super power was “control girls (all girls)” (it was originally just “control girl” but I queried it so he clarified). But 5/1 did the absolute best work – how cool are these!


This is from one of my favourite girls – she looks like a little chubby pixie and she's also got that cheeky grin, and she always calls out “hallo Chalotte!” whenever she sees me. And she's decided that Ultraman is “in love with Chalotte”. This is what makes being here so worth it (and makes up for the uncontrollable little monsters).


“She can turn invisible, control the weather, shoot lasers and run very fast. She doesn't like thief, but she like to help some people”


He's just got it all – a “barria for protect body”, “breathe under water”, “eye very goods”, “rope for bind monster”, “spring for jump very high” and even a “basuga [bazooka] for fight”. Love it.

Monday, January 29, 2007


Casandra got out of school early on Friday, and she came over to mine so we could get a head start on the road to Ko Samet. I got her to help me out with the 3/8 class I was covering for Karina. One lesson with those guys had her thanking her lucky stars for her students! Well, I just had said 3/8 class again. It went pretty well - I just did a vocabulary review (easy stuff: fruit, transport, rooms, clothing, weather) with flashcards. It was supposed to be a game, but after I'd handed out the flashcards it predictably descended into anarchy, so I just had them write a sentence on the back of the card, then translate it into Thai (heck, if they're going to refuse to learn English, I might as well get something out of the class!) and come up and teach me. It went pretty well - they amused themselves with my feeble attempts at Thai pronunciation, and I learned that cherry and helicopter are the same word in Thai as in English. But then with over ten minutes to go before the end of the lesson, I looked up and the classroom's almost empty! Mai pen rai - I said cheerio to the seven or eight students still remaining (the four sweeties at the front who actually want to learn English, plus a few more who hadn't got around to leaving yet) and called the lesson finished.

It's going to be a long day

The M6 boys are off at army camp today and tomorrow, so the girls get a couple of days off – no M6 classes for two days (gutted, since I love my M6s). Which means I have no classes today until period 6, at 12:50.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

My students are rock stars!

Rock concert at the end of school! I got to watch my students rockin' it up on stage in their school uniforms. They were great!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Where are you going?

A common pleasantry in Thailand, rather than "what's up" or "how are you doing?" or some such, is "where are you going?", which explains why my students often ask me this as I leave school at the end of the day (er, home?). Apparently you're supposed to answer with something like "oh, somewhere. Where are you going?". Another one is "have you eaten yet", to which you can reply either "Not yet, but I will soon", or "Yes thanks. Cheerio". Bizarre. Although if you think about it's no more absurd than the greeting "how do you do?" (the appropriate response, of course, being to repeat the question back, "how do you do?").

Just my little observation of the day.

My students don't speak English

I love my students, I really do. But I've come to the conclusion that, with just a very few exceptions, they do not speak English. Three Matayom 6 classes in a row failed to conjugate the verb “be” in an exercise on my worksheet – even the smartest kids didn't manage it without prompting. I really shouldn't have to be going over the verb “be” with M6! Mind you, when I was observing in a couple of lessons with Thai teachers the other day it's easy to see why – they barely spoke a word of English the whole time I was there except to read the example sentences from the worksheet.

They're taught about English, presumably on the basis that if you know enough theory about a language, you can speak it. But it only serves to confuse them – and to be fair I can hardly blame them: to come from a language with no tenses to be introduced to the past pluperfect possessive progressive obsessive compulsive third subjunctive, it's gonna confuse 'em! Which is why I end up with M6s coming out with the construction “they are go” and “the sea is shine”. After being bombarded with grammar for six years, they can't actually construct a sentence. If you set them one-word exercises to conjugate verbs in the past continuous they could probably do it, but they can't deal with having to think. Surely the emphasis ought to be on communication? But almost to a one they're unable to hold even a simple conversation. I speak slowly, clearly and precisely, but even M6 students didn't understand “do you want to go to university” until I pronounced it with a Thai accent. Frankly, if they can't understand the way I speak, then they can't understand English. And yet these kids are going to leave school in under a month, with a qualification in English.

I do have a tan - honest!

But you wouldn't know it from the pictures of me with the band boys at the school play last week.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Oh I do like to be beside the poolside

Sorry I haven't blogged much lately. Been hanging out at the local outdoor pool, sunning myself and checking out the lifeguards - you know how it is...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Health & Safety, Thai-style

The school's being repainted. So there are a bunch of paint-spattered workmen outside prancing about barefoot on a scaffold constructed of bamboo poles and string. Seriously, bamboo poles and string. No platforms, no harnesses, and not a hard hat between them. Photos taken from outside my office. My office is on the fourth floor. Health & Safety just doesn't exist in Thailand.

Oh I Say

This song makes me very happy. It's by the King - seems he's a bit of a jazz musician - and was in the play yesterday. I've downloaded a recording of it, so now everyone in the office is humming the tune.

Oh let me say, just to say, What I'll say.
Or do you say, just to say, What you'll say.
Oh let us say, Just to say, What we'll say.

Now what'll we say? Just something to be gay,
To chase the trouble and the cares of the day away.
Let us all sing the song, we want to be happy today.

Happiness comes only once in a lifetime.
We do not know whence we come, where we go.
So here goes.

Now let me say, just to say, What I'll say.
And do you say, just to say, What you'll say
Let us all sing the song, we want to be happy today.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The School Play

It was the school play today. It rocked. I went for the first performance at 12 o'clock (Ajarn Suwimon covered our 11:00 class) and liked it so much I ended up staying for both the 3 o'clock and 6 o'clock performances (Ajarn Jintana, who I went with, told me the last one would be the best). It was a musical production in honour of the King (it's his 80th birthday this year... in December), so I watched my students sing and dance and although I've no idea what the actual story was about it was utterly fabulous. And afterwards the band (all looking very dapper in black shirts & grey ties) insisted I pose for photographs with them ("Chalot! Chalot!"). I stand out a mile against their monochromatic outfits, but I can't wait to see the pictures.

My photos are terrible because there was no flash photography allowed (actually I think there was no photography allowed, but certainly no-one else was paying attention to the ban).

All the boys in those last three photos are my students - the girls I don't have a clue about, since they're completely unrecognisable in make-up and out of uniform... Come to that, there was one boy (not in these photos), well, it makes a change to see him out of make-up.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Remember the geeky policeman?

So I went for my appointment at Khao San police station. First of all the guy on the entrance wouldn't let me in. I explained that I had an appointment and that a policeman had told me to come, Sunday 12 o'clock. He looked dubious, so I got out my phone and showed him the number of the last received call. "Is this here?" He dialled the number, waited, then handed the phone back to me, saying it wasn't working. I put it to my ear just in time for someone to answer it, said "Er," and handed the phone back to him. He yabbered in Thai "blah blah farang blah blah farang blah" then turned to me, "what is your name?" I told him, he spoke to the phone again, then ushered me inside. "Room 6". I know.

The same Geek Cop and Grouchy Cop were sitting behind the desk, this time with a lady who turned out to be a translator for the guy reporting having been mugged; a different young cop was using a computer at another desk.

Geek Cop invites me to sit down, and asks if I have the report. Oh, I put it in a safe place and forgot to bring it. Unworried, he starts to look in various report books to try and find it. Then – lightbulb moment – I remember the amusement my report number gave us the other night: “007! James Bond!” And he finds the report. He fills out the new report unhurriedly, asking me the odd question, muttering to himself, and chatting with the translator lady (“nalak mai?” he says to her – he knows I know the word sooay, but obviously he doesn't expect me to know more than one Thai word for beautiful). Eventually the report is finished. Translator lady turns to me and asks “My correak want me to ask you,” (Correak... Correak... Ah, colleague!), “if my correak ask you to go to dinner one time, what you say?” So I say okay, as long as I could have another photo taken with the hat. I'm promptly handed the hat.

He says he'll call me (he still has the paper with all the contact details I wrote down for the report), and asks me to let him know if I go to Khao San road again (afterwards I realise I have no idea even what his name is, so I have visions of phoning the police station, “may I speak to Geek Cop please?”).

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Cops & Robbers

This is going to be a long entry because I haven't time to write a short one.

The evening started off well. We went to Khao San with Jess, PK and Bec, and met up with some of the teachers they work with, and Jess's friends Nicky & Chris (who we'd met on Ko Phangan). We started the evening at the Reggae bar (which, though we call it the Reggae bar, isn't actually the Reggae bar, it's next door to the Reggae bar and is really the Harley bar – although since we use 'bar' in a fairly loose sense, meaning essentially a sort of booth with some seating on the soi (lane), they pretty much blend into one). Then Nicky, Chris, Casandra and I went to Gulliver's to dance to some cheesy choons for a bit. At 1am we arranged to meet back up with the others at Sunset, but they weren't there when we arrived so I left my phone with Nicky & Chris in case they texted, and Cas & I went to MacDonald's for something to eat. When we got up to leave, I stooped to pick up my bag. No bag. Ah ******.

Cas made me agree to report it to the police – I knew they wouldn't care (imagine how many tourist get robbed on Khao San road every night), but I knew I'd need a police reference number if I wanted to claim on the insurance. So off we went. We arrived at the police tent the same time as another chap, who'd had his wallet stolen. He was told to go to room 6 inside the police station, so we headed there, and arrived first.

Now, something you need to know about Thailand is that they don't respond to anger, frustration and impatience (they see it as a sign of weakness), so I smiled politely and calmly explained my unfortunate situation. There were three cops behind a long desk, each conforming to stereotype so perfectly you just couldn't make it up. On the left was the rookie, who looked about 14 but presumably has finished school. On the right, the grouchy older cop who looked as though he was fed up of getting the Friday night shift and having to deal with dozy farangs who get themselves robbed or beaten up or otherwise inconvenienced. In the centre, the geeky, bespectacled one who knew a little English. So I managed to make myself clear that I wanted a police report of the theft in order to claim on the insurance: “police report... Er... Crime reference number... Er... You write it down, yes?” and there followed a long discussion covering the details of the bag and its contents, my name, address, phone number, occupation (always get it in that I'm a teacher), age (huh?), income (hang on...). The address bit proved a mite complicated, since my address in Thailand is written in my notebook, in the bag, and they wouldn't accept the school as an address, so I had to give them my UK address, helping them transliterate it into Thai script, which involved three people: Grouchy Cop writing, Geek Cop listening and helping him, and me speaking veeerrrry sloooowwwly, one syllable at a time, and approving each consonant as he wrote them (but having no clue about the vowels, of course).

Meanwhile the other guy (Gary or something) who'd lost his wallet was getting impatient. Turns out he's a met officer (I mean metropolitan police, not weatherman), and for some reason expected this fact to pull some weight with the Thai police. We cringed as he reminded the officers of the Tsunami (when British police were sent over to help out). The cops smiled courteously, and looked back to me, unhurriedly continuing to fill out the report. Meanwhile, Cas and I were having a great time teasing Geek Cop and Rookie Cop (Grouchy Cop didn't look as though he'd take it too kindly, and in any case he didn't speak a word of English), and asking Geek Cop if I could wear his police hat. Gary was getting more frustrated, even threatening to get himself arrested (yeah mate, that'll get your story heard), and kept demanding “is it my turn yet? I've been waiting ages!” until eventually Geek Cop looked at him, smiled and told him, “She is more beautiful. You wait.” (recounting this to Smile later, he grinned and commented, “ah, that is Thai police”).

Eventually, at 2:30, the report was finished. Geek Cop handed me his hat, Gary took a photo of Cas and me, and it was finally his turn to be seen, as Cas and I headed back to Sunset to meet the others, where we sat for a while recounting our visit to the police station. An hour or so later, having realised that of course my keys were in my bag, we were just making arrangements to stay at Jess & PK's should we arrive home and find the house empty, when my phone rang:

“Where are you?”
“Er, Bangkok” (I'm used to getting random calls, but usually they ask "what yonem?")
“I know Bangkok. Where are you? This is police. We find your bag.”
“You found it? I'll be right there!” and then, realising that this was probably beyond his level of English, I added, “I come! I come!”

And so off we dashed back up the road to the police station, flew down the corridor and tumbled into room 6, where Geek Cop proudly holds up my handbag. The camera's gone (of course), as is the little cash from my wallet (of course), but my cards (even including driving license) are all present and correct, my keys are there (although they took my mini maglite keyring! I can't believe they stole my keyring! I sound like Murph!) together with all the other miscellanea that I carry around.

We run back down the road to Sunset, to be greeted with cheers all round. Eventually we agree it's time to go home, so six people pile into a taxi and head for Nonthaburi. Finally we fall into bed at 5am.

You'd think that would be the end of the story, but two hours later I'm woken up by my phone ringing. Huh?

“Are you asleep?”
What kind of opener is that? “Yes I'm asleep”
“Is police,” and he goes on to explain that I have to go back and fill in a new report, since my bag was found. Could I come at 12 noon tomorrow, Sunday (as far as I was concerned it was still Friday night, so it was a good thing he clarified what he meant by “tomorrow”). Fine, whatever, just let me go back to sleep.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

To make up for not posting much this week, I'm going to let 4/1 (LOVE that class!) entertain you for today. Thanks to Jess and PK for the idea of doing a lesson on New Year's Resolutions. I had them all make 10 sentences (for the other classes it was five, but because this is the smartest class, Ajarn Suwimon told me to get them to do 10), and I just have to share a selection with you - hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Snook (who wrote each resolution in a different colour)

  • I'll read a lot of books to get good grades.
  • I'll eat useful food.
  • I'll eat junk food a little bit.
  • I'll say the truth to my parents.
  • Being left money, I'll save it.

Bunyarit (my old buddy of Xmas Alphabet and Christmas card fame)

  • I will try to be a funnier person.
  • I will try to be a sweeter boy.
  • I pramise to be a hotter man.
  • I will try to be a happier person.
  • I pramise to be a diligenly person.
  • I will to be bad less.

Wut (his friend)

  • I will try to do my homeworks by myself.
  • I will be happier.
  • I will be taller.
  • I intend to study more than present day.
  • I will try to be cleverer.
  • I will survive.


  • I promise to be a better boy.
  • I promise to be a better sportman.
  • I will be more handsome.
  • I will be more interesting.
  • I promise to be a better score.
  • I will be not sick.
  • I will be not die.


  • I promise to be a better student.
  • I will run more.
  • I will survirever.
  • I promise to be continue.
  • I will be perfect man.
  • I will run for my love.

LaLita (is that a cool name or what?)

  • I promise to speak to my friend in class room a little bit.
  • I promise to have dinner a little bit.
  • I will try to intend to study in my class.
  • I will try to teach my sister and brother homework.


  • I promise to have breakfast everyday.
  • I will be less playgames.


  • I promise to good people.
  • I will try to help my mother for do the works more than now.
  • I will singsong for better.
  • I will be a beautiful girl.

Saran (he's adorable - very good student, looks a little like a Thai Orlando Bloom)

  • I will try to study English program serious.
  • I will try to read a cartoonbook less.
  • I will try to be a good son to my parents.
  • I promise to watch a television less.
  • I promise to crezy in love less.
  • I promise to be a good man.
  • I promise to be a lass lasy. [I think he was going for "less lazy"]

I know there are a lot of these, but stay with me!


  • I will be more economize when I want to buy something.
  • I promise to before do everything I will perpend more. [think she means "prepare more"]
  • I promise to I will not talk a tive.


  • I will try to break my bad habbit.
  • I will try to pay attention in class.
  • I will try to be a more stronger girl.
  • I will try to be patient more.
  • I will never lie to everyone.
  • I will never let you alone. [a little worrying, but I think it might be a song lyric]


  • I will try to study more.
  • I promise to be a doctor.
  • I will collect a set of cartoon books.
  • I promise to be an active boy.
  • I promise a don't to be an inert boy.

Danai (who appears from his resolutions to be a psycho kleptomaniac compulsive liar)

  • I will be more friendly.
  • I will try to kill an animal less.
  • I will try to steal less.
  • I will try to wake up early less.

Anuluk (who went a bit wild with the dictionary)

  • I'll be compliant of my mother and father.
  • I'll be a person request courteously.
  • I'll be thinking a things deliberate.
  • I'll be a work to commission from teacher finish.
  • I'll be a receptive from people.

And finally, one from Jirawat

  • I will to be a Hero to help my world

Sunday, January 07, 2007

I've got my medical certificate!

I finally got around to getting the medical certificate that's required for the work permit application! The university told us we could get one at any clinic, for about 35 baht. Everyone else has managed to procure one without a hitch, so it should be pretty straightforward.

I found the bus to Yanhee International Hospital like Pidar suggested (she wrinkled her nose at the thought of me going to one of the local clinics, “they not good”). And the nice conductor lady told me where to get off. So I arrive and introduce myself at reception.

“I want a medical certificate”
“what's the matter with you?”
“I am healthy, I just need a doctor to check. I need a medical certificate for the work permit”

He looks puzzled for a moment, then dials the phone, talks in Thai and hands it to me. It's a translator. I explain that I'm a teacher in Thailand and need a medical certificate for my work permit. She asks me what kind. I don't know what kind! Just a certificate to say I am healthy to teach. No-one warned me about these questions! From the way the university spoke about these things I figured any clinic in Thailand would know exactly what I wanted as soon as I said the words “medical certificate” - I didn't expect to have to go into detail.

I'm brought to the waiting area, where I watch the rollerblade delivery girls whiz by and practise reading the Thai alphabet on the signs around me (with limited success – although I'm doing okay on the consonants I still only know two vowels). Then they take my weight (I've lost weight!) and measure my blood pressure with a special machine, and I wait some more.

I'm called into the doctor's room and he gives me a cursory examination and asks if I have diabetes, then fills out a form (I only got “good health”, not excellent – what did I do wrong?!), and I'm taken to the cashier. “200 baht”. 200 baht?! All he did was wave a stethoscope at me and prod me a few times in the stomach and you're charging me 200 baht? (And yes, okay, three quid might not sound like a lot of money to those of you on UK wages, but imagine how you'd feel if you were expecting something to cost £3.50 and you end up having to pay £20). But at least I finally have my medical certificate (I even persuaded him not to date it, like the university asked), so I'm in less danger of being packed off home, work-permitless.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Nice to know who your friends aren't

Long story short: After Gulliver's shut at 1, Alicia, Kerry, Mike and Steve were going to meet Kia and me in Sunset bar. Instead they went home without even telling us. So, cheers guys.

But you know what the absolute best part is? It didn't bother me. I'm so proud of myself.

Friday, January 05, 2007

I'm a minority

This morning a little girl, I guess two or three years old, and her mother got on the sorngtao. The little girl caught her breath in surprise at seeing me, called to her mother and pointed a chubby finger at me, gabbling something in Thai. They had a short conversation, in which all I caught were those magic words, “sooay, mai?” (surprisingly, I didn't hear “farang”, which I was listening out for... but then they were speaking quite quietly), and she spent the rest of the journey gazing at me in rapt fascination.

(Note to self: I feel the above passage would make a great introductory paragraph, if only I had an article to go with it.)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

More reasons to love Thailand

Okay, sometimes I get a little wound up or annoyed, but actually most of the time here I'm walking around with a dazed smile on my face, just because I'm so ridiculously happy with life in general. Even when I have a bad class or a run-in with Wanna or am feeling left out; even when I've had to deal with Chula or suffered Thai air conditioning: it all pales into insignificance when I walk around the school and am greeted everywhere with cheerful faces and excited cries of “Shallot!”, “tea-cher!”, “gooz mor-ning”, “good affta-noon” and “ha-loh!”. How can I not be happy when everyone's always pleased to see me? (not that everyone's not always pleased to see me wherever I go, but it's always nice). And okay, as pompous as it sounds, I actually really do love the thought that, even just a little bit, I'm teaching these kids English.

I also love that even though I was lost in thought composing this entry on the ride home and forgot to press the buzzer, the driver still stopped for me at the end of my road. I think everyone knows where the farang lives.


Got home to find two miniature little week-old puppies!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Another sunset

Happy New Year!

Dear faithful readers: You'll notice several new entries, but I'm still working on the full story of our weekend on Ko Phangan. Should be up tomorrow - with pictures!

Edited: Added some more entries about the weekend, but I'm still working on one or two more.

Sa-beek Thai?

Whenever I manage a feeble “Tao rai? Kohp khun ka,” Thai taxi drivers always ask me eagerly, “sa-beek Thai?”. “Nit-noy”, I reply, gesturing a pinch with my fingers.

And it's still just a very little bit, although I've been learning (albeit not exactly intensively) for a couple of months now. Thai is entirely unlike any language I've ever seen before (unsurprising, since all the other languages I've ever tried to learn have been European. You really realise how very similar French and German are to English once you start trying to learn an Asian language). It has no tenses, no cases, no inflection, no articles, and no prepositions that I've found. What Thai does have is tones, and it has them in abundance. Tones that make tongue-twisters out of one-syllable words. Rising and falling tones that make simple sentences feel like the vocal equivalent of running up and down stairs. Tones that make the difference between white and rice, between near and far (nice irony, that one), between cat and drunk (actually strictly speaking that's a vowel sound difference, but it's a funny one so I've included it in the list anyway), between Dad and enough, and between rose apple and a joke so funny that Smile couldn't even explain it for laughing.

But I'm trying – and I'm improving. Even if my Thai does leave rather a lot to be desired: I imagine my tone-deaf Thai sounding a lot like the equivalent to the vowel-mangling policeman in “Allo Allo” – atrocious enough to sound frightfully amusing to micro-tuned Thai ears, but a close enough approximation to their language that so far I haven't run into too many awkward misunderstandings.

And then there's the written language. Written Thai is something else. They have a 44-letter 'alphabet', and it doesn't include the 30-something vowels. There is no equivalent to our ABC that just lists all the letters. And every consonant has a name, which Thai people learn along with the letter, so the 'alphabet' goes like (and I'm paraphrasing here of course) cha-chicken, sa-snake, ba-bowl, ba-buffalo, la-lid, ha-helmet, ha-human (loads of the letters double-up – or indeed triple-up and even quadruple-up – sounds). The good news is that they're pretty stable in pronunciation, so once you have the letters you can read most things. That is, once you figure out where the word breaks are (that's another thing they don't have: spaces between words). So I've bought myself a kids' learn-the-alphabet book with join-the-dots letters half an inch high to trace, while I attempt to associate squiggles with sounds.

But I'm determined that one day I'm going to be able to reply to that question with “chai, puud passa tai”.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Now that's what I call a tropical sunset!

Photo taken through the dirty window of a fast-moving bus on a potholed road, so excuse the quality. It adds atmosphere, right? It's a sunset with drama.

Thai Time

I ought to explain the concept of "Thai Time" that I keep referring to. Time is generally a much more flexible concept in Thailand than we westerners are used to. This is why it was no great surprise when we arrived on Phangan at 1pm, an hour and a half later than advertised, and why I don't expect to arrive in Bangkok at anything close to the scheduled 12:10. Efficiency doesn't really feature in the Thai concept of time either, which is why they're loading each of the four buses individually instead of having everyone find the bus that corresponds to their colour-coded sticker, and we're sitting on our luggage waiting to be called forward to bus number 4. It would be frustrating, but you can't get frustrated with Thai time, because it makes no difference. Thai people don't take time seriously, so they're oblivious to the notion that anyone else might.

Thai time is why there appears to be no set timetable for the sorngtao buses (so sometimes they follow only a few minutes apart, and other times you can wait for 25 minutes with no sign of one), and why they don't finish at any particular time in the evening.

Even in school this notion of “Thai time” still applies (except for the ajarn-farangs, of course), so the students roll up anything form 5 to 15 minutes after the start of the lesson, and equally will quite happily stay long beyond the bell if you don't dismiss them. In fact, my favourite class, 4/1, have twice completely ignored the bell to the point where I thought I'd imagined hearing it. In the Christmas card lesson I eventually managed to get out of them that yes, they did have another class to go to – but it was another five or ten minutes of frantic tidying, sweeping, gathering my equipment back together, shouting “yood'nai”s (“where is”) and “you really have to go”s, and fielding “teacher may I use”s (every time I'd get something back someone else would ask to use it and I hadn't the heart to say no) before I managed to pack the grinning students off to their next class twenty-five minutes late clutching sparkling, streaming, colourful Christmas cards.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Sang Som is Thai rum

How can you not love a country that classifies a Rum 'n' Coke as a soft drink?

New Year's Eve party on the beach

We came, we saw, we partied. Got coked up (Coca Cola that is of course, with or without Sang Som rum), watched the fireworks, met up with the others, and danced the night merrily away until 4:30am, then fell into a taxi, watched a German girl argue with the driver over the price, tried to ignore the drunken bloke feeling up his Thai prostitute and finally fell into bed.