Monday, August 31, 2009

Settling in Seoul

You think that during my first day of class I would not have time to sit down and write this letter, but fortunately, I do. I am in the middle of a second round of quarantine. Although my contract has started and I do have to go to school, I am not allowed to teach any lessons until next week. This is to ensure that I do not infect my 700 students. That’s right, I have to teach 700 students! This is the first and second grade at my middle school, which is in the nice neighborhood of Seochu-gu. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Orientation was a mixture of fun and boredom. Since we were in quarantine, we were not allowed to leave campus. Of course, this also meant that we were forced to network, and before I knew it I had a solid group of both people from Thailand as well as new students. The rooms were nice, and the beds were comfortable. The classes were very useful at times and gave us resources toward becoming better teachers. We enjoyed watching some amazing tae-kwon-do fighters, drinking coffee every morning as an escape from the dorm, watching The Hangover in a lecture room, and looking out over the city we could not enter from the roof of our building. My favorite part was after the tae-kwon-do, when a group of us went to see the school’s production of The Sound of Music. It was put on by the English society, so we expected it to be just a showing of the musical. Instead we were treated to a live performance of the play in English, with the Korean actors laughing at themselves throughout. We only made it to the last ten minutes, but it was still a great experience. Afterward, they asked if there were any native speakers and when we responded in the positive they apologized profusely for their ‘poor’ English, even though they did a great job. They ended up giving us towels for coming… really random, but really awesome. I also enjoyed the one Korean lesson I went to. I really need to start working on this language. :-D
Of course, there were various negatives of the orientation as well. Some of the lectures were entirely dull, people asked some of the worst questions I’ve ever heard in my life (such as should I go to the doctor if I’m really sick, or still go to school), the food got a little boring after a while, and the organization was a little off. Nonetheless, in its entirety I would have to say that I learned valuable things and am excited to start teaching next week.
On Saturday morning, we packed up our bags, had a wonderfully catered farewell meal (with raw mussels, great seafood, wonderful Korean food… why couldn’t all of the meals been like this?), said our goodbyes, and headed to our respective districts. I somehow got the luck of the draw. When they announced I was in Seochu-gu Friday evening, I was a little awestruck. It was right near one of the major downtown areas and would be a wonderful place to live. Some of my friends were quite a distance, but with the metro, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. When my co-teacher picked me up on Saturday and brought me to my apartment, however, I was ecstatic. Somehow I landed in Gangnam-gu, on the south side of the river Han right in the most bustling younger crowd area. I would say it is comparable to having an apartment in Time Square. Sure, it isn’t too big, but who cares? I have the world right at my feet. Of course, this is a little dangerous in terms of economizing, but I think I’ll be able to figure it out. I was worried about coffee when I first arrived in Asia, but now I have 15 coffee places in a five minute radius. Yum.
My co-teacher brought me to the school Saturday afternoon and I was pleasantly surprised. I have my own desk, and get to use the English room for all my classes. This must be the nicest room in the school, with computers, a good sound system, English books everywhere, and a newly renovated interior. The only problem is I can’t teach a lesson until Monday the 7th. Until then, I am stuck at my desk writing lesson plans and surfing the internet. I get paid though, so I can’t really complain. Saturday night all the kids of SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education) met in Itaewon, which is the foreigner district of Seoul. It was a fun way to celebrate getting out of quarantine and seeing more of the city.
I spent Sunday getting settled in my apartment and buying things for my room. There is a very peculiar trash system here, which makes a lot of sense but will take some time getting used to. I was able to buy food and cook dinner for the first time in a month, which was fantastic. Even though my spaghetti Bolognese tasted REALLY Korean. I think I will have to get used to that.

Monday, August 24, 2009

SMOE Orientation

Today we started our orientation for SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education). We started off with breakfast, which was typical Korean food. Like in Thailand, they tend not to eat very ‘breakfasty’ things for breakfast. We had gimchi (fermented cabbage), rice, some salady stuff but they were also kind enough to serve us some cereal. I think it was the first cereal I have had since I got here, and it was great. After breakfast we had no real obligations until lunch, so a group of us went to get some coffee, and it was also some of the best coffee I have had in Asia. I think these trends will continue throughout my stay, as South Korea is definitely a lot more developed than Thailand. This is quite startling when you put it in perspective of how destroyed Korea had been after the Korean War. After coffee and a long discussion with some new people, we had lunch, which was pretty much indistinguishable from breakfast. Finally, it was time to actually start the program.
The opening ceremony included a three-person group playing on kyotos (stringed instruments similar to harps). Although they played one song that sounded traditional, the other three songs were Pachelbel’s Cannon, Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Let it Be. All the songs reminded me of sitting at the piano in Minnesota, whether practicing the Cannon for Sarah’s friend’s wedding, playing Moon River with Anna singing along, or surrounding the piano at Christmas singing Let it Be. Of course, it was all played with a completely different ‘Asian’ sound. What I found most fascinating were the little twangs the musicians produced on the instrument that gave it an almost southern sound. The performance was followed with a video for the SMOE program, that really highlighted the strengths of public schools in Seoul. I’m a little skeptical, as it may have been a piece of propaganda. The schools looked too good to be true. I’ll let you know what mine actually looks like.
I also found out today that I am going to have middle school students. I’m excited, because little kids just don’t have enough experience to, in my opinion, make language learning fun. Middle schoolers should have the capacity to directly participate and enjoy my lessons. There were three lectures following the opening; one about the Korean school system in general (presented by a very funny woman with a self-deprecating style of humor), another about Korean history (presented by a dry yet humorous high-school history professor), and the third about the city of Seoul. All were useful to some degree. My favorite part, however, was how they would criticize policies or the government in between lines, saying things like ‘don’t say I said this, but…’. It is obvious that they want some further level of democratization and openness, even though this country appears decently democratic. We were taught the nitty-gritty things as well (such as insurance and health insurance) and it ended up a good day.
After dinner we decided to go to an optional class on culture and etiquette. It was incredibly boring, and most of us left half through. There were some interesting points, such as accepting things with both hands and making sure you don’t address other teachers with their first names, but he kept emphasizing certain mundane things that made the lecture far from exciting. The teacher was very nice, but he also kept insisting we do not know too much, or they will expect too much. Apparently, we should just appear somewhat conscious of Korean etiquette.
Still waiting on my placement and my address, which is a little frustrating. As soon as I know, though, I’ll let you know.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

In Korea

Friday was another day of walking, starting out with a half bus ride to the Korean Embassy. Unfortunately, I got a little scared and thought the bus was going the wrong way and jumped off only to realize that I was, in fact, on the right bus. Mai pen rai. Instead, I walked the second half of the trip and enjoyed looking around at the city for my last day in Thailand. I was able to walk under the super highway, which gave me shade and a glimpse of the side streets. After picking up my visa, which I still cannot believe worked out, I went over to the department store Robinson for a quick lunch of rice with spicy sauce. I’m going to miss Thai food. The walk back was pleasant as well, and ended with a visit to the Dairy Queen in Tesco for the smallest and most delicious blizzard of my life. In total, I probably walked some 12 miles to pick up my visa, but it made the entire move to Korea possible.
Friday night I was keeping my life very quiet, just some reading, when I got a message on Facebook that Nick, Andy, and Chloe were on the same road as I to spend the night before their flights in the morning. Having spent a rather large amount of time by myself, I ran from my room to find them, grab dinner, and enjoy our last night in Thailand. The next morning I woke up, headed to the airport after lunch, and said goodbye to Andy, who was doing a different program in Korea.
Nothing interesting happened at the airport till check-in. I was nervous that my baggage was going to go over allowance. Although it was fine from the states across the Pacific, I was worried different requirements would exist from Thailand to South Korea. They did. Resigned to pay the two hundred dollars to get my extra baggage to SK, I took out my wallet to get my credit card. Unfortunately, the first thing I noticed that my debit card was missing. Immediately I was in panic. I tried to pay with my credit card, but it didn’t go through. I felt like I was going to throw up and asked if there was anything I could do. My luggage weighed 44 kilos, which was 24 kilos too much. Luckily, the guy was nice enough to let me bring 32 kilos, but I had to somehow get rid of 12 kilos. I dug through all my luggage in the airport, throwing things away (such as my GRE test book, which made me really sad, a couple of pairs of shoes, and other random books and things). If it could be any worse, everyone at the airport just stared at me. In my moment of embarrassment, I wasn’t even allowed any semblance of privacy. When I did finally get it down to 32 kilos, the guy actually let me put in 2 more kilos in the form of my sandals and tennis shoes, and let me go. In my haste, I dropped my CD player, and a young Thai woman picked it up as well as the batteries, handed it to me, and called me crazy. I have never felt so angry, upset, and stupid as a traveler in a foreign country.
Soon, however, I was on the plane and on my way to Beijing. Although it was the red eye, I didn’t get much sleep. In Beijing, they were carefully screening for H1N1, but I feel completely healthy and went right on through. On the second leg, I was sitting to a nice guy from Katerinabad (or something like that), Russia, who actually helped me through all the processes in getting my stuff figured out in Korea, since he has worked here for seven years! At the airport, I met up with Korvia (my recruiter) and after a two hour wait, they brought us to Soowon which is in the GyeongGi province that surrounds Seoul. For five days we will be at this center within the university here, where they will teach us as well as give us medical exams. Orientation starts tomorrow, but I already have had the fortune to meet up with my friends from the ATI program and meet some new individuals. This program, however, has 300 participants, so I do not know if any lasting friendships can stem out of the short week in Soowon. In short, I’m safe in Korea and waiting for my placement and my school.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The First Law of Robotics May Have Made My Computer Fix Itself

I am not sure how this happened.... but apparently my computer fixed itself. It was completely dead, as in it wouldn’t even start well in safe mode, but then I opened it today because my CD player stopped working and I was a little frustrated and bored. And it worked. We will see how long it lasts, but for now, I am really excited.
Today in general made me a lot happier about Bangkok. I just went on a random stroll, bought some nice pad thai, and saw the Monument to Democracy. I think in general monuments to democracy tend to be very gross in appearance, and this was no exception. I also found some wats (temples) in this city which adds to its intrigue. And then, I found Tesco! I saw one when I was flying into Chiang Mai, but never went to the one there. I used to go to Tesco all the time in Prague- it is this pseudo-department store with a grocery; it is akin to a Super Target. The ones here are called Tesco: Lotus, which also made me very excited. Furthermore, there is a Dairy Queen, and I might have to stop there tomorrow night.
The best part, however, was when I all of a sudden found this peaceful and quiet little area by the river that runs through the city.

I just sat there with my novel and read for about an hour, enjoying the respite from the turmoil of the city. Every once in a while passenger boats that acted like buses would come by, but for the most part I was alone. Afterward, I decided to head back to the hostel because all of this sweating makes you TIRED, but on my way home I decided to try a new way. Mom told me not to get lost on this trip, but I guess I didn’t listen. I got decently lost for a bit, especially because all the roads have these pictures of the queen, and it is easy to get turned around. Well, after walking in some circles, I saw a school get out that I thought was close to my road. These six Thai girls came up to me and asked if they could get my photo for a research project; I wasn’t sure if I believed their motive, but I let them snap a picture. Now I’m just back here in the hotel, about to go out for dinner, and happy with a computer again. Plus this hostel has wi-fi!

Ready for Seoul...

The bus drive to Bangkok was uneventful to say the least. The only interesting part was a movie they played, a french mockery of spy films called Double Zero, and the decor in the bus, which was very 80s with bright greens and blues. Landen once told me that the Thais were on a permanent acid trip in regards to their color scheme, and I would have to agree. My first room in Bangkok had a pastel-pink color that nobody in their right mind would choose for a hotel room. I arrived close to Khao Sarn Road (sp?) which is the hostel district in Bangkok. It was 5 am and people were still up... this was a little unnerving. I went to the room, slept for two hours and headed out to the Korean Embassy. It took about twenty minutes to get my taxi driver to figure out where the embassy was; he had to call a couple of other drivers and stop at a hotel. However, he was nice and I got to the embassy on time to drop off my stuff. Unfortunately, I forgot a passport size photo of me and had to go to a department store to get one made before I could finish the application. By the time I left the embassy it was 2:30 pm, even though I got there around 9 am. Lunch was the only truly bad meal I had in my entire Thai experience: rice with two curries. One of the curries was green and tasted like moldy squash and the other was red and the chicken had no meat, just gristle and bone. The rice was good though!
I decided to walk home from the embassy even though it must have been around 14 km. I thought that it couldn't be that bad, I had walked nine miles before. Of course, I hadn't figured in the heat, or the fact that I wasn't exactly sure where Khao Sarn road was. Nonetheless, it was a great way to see parts of the city, but solely parts because this city is gigantic. Two hours into the walk, I saw a huge crowd of people crowding around the Arts and Cultural Center. Apparently, the queen was making a visit! Because the Thais are obsessed with the queen, I thought it would be cool to stick around and wait for her to come. And wait, and wait. Although I got there around 4:30, she didn't make an appearance until 6:30. I was getting quite tired by this time, but fortunately a spider was nearby and I was able to watch it build an entire web. No joke, it was one of the coolest things I saw. At 5:30, a group of some 50 women marched out all in the same outfit and sat down in Thai style in the plaza.
Of course, I thought that soon the queen would come, but it wasn't until 6:20 that they started to dance. It was that creepy finger dance, but maybe I'm getting used to it. Ten minutes later, and there was the queen! Unfortunately, I was standing opposite the red carpet and couldn't see her face, but I think I captured a picture of the back of her head. The security was pretty insistent that we kept a good distance from the queen, and at her arrival it was the first time in Bangkok I saw completely empty streets. After she entered the building, the crowd completely scattered and I finished my walk home. By this time, Andie was worried I had been kidnapped, but luckily I am still alive. Her plane was at three in the morning, but we still chatted for a little bit, grabbed a bite to eat, griped about money issues, watched youtube videos, found me a hotel for the next two nights and then finally went to bed.
I've been pretty sore all day from my long walk, but started out the day in high hopes. I only have two more nights here in Thailand and then it is off to work! Bangkok is not the city I expected. While Chiang Mai is really cultural, beautiful, decently calm, and, yet, still has a lot to do, Bangkok is just too much. It is a gigantic city with a gigantic population. And there isn't any sort of 'downtown' area with a cluster of skyscrapers. Instead, the huge buildings are just dropped casually across the entire metropolis. The entire walk yesterday was just one part of the city, yet it all unfolded in the same way with clusters of store fronts and apartments broken up by the huge buildings. The metro system also is not aesthetic. In fact, it looks almost communist, being constructed of cement and suspended above the city. The city is a bit ugly. Nice aspects exist, of course, but it is just too much. The next two days are going to be more for me to relax than revel, which I don't think is a very Bangkokish thing to do.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thank goodness...

My notice of appointment arrived today. Which means I can go to Bangkok and get my visa. If it would have arrived any later, I would have had to do something drastic. It takes three days to get the visa, and arriving tomorrow, Wednesday, means my visa will be ready on Friday. I fly out on Sunday morning. Someone must have been praying for this all to work out within such a tiny time frame. As for my life currently? I guess I have been meeting some cool people at the hostel; Mariana from Spain who just went on a long trek and a nice Israeli named Mosheko which is short for Moses apparently. I love Israelis, but whenever I ask about whether or not they have gone to the occupied territories it is usually a no... which makes me wonder how they can have any solid political opinion of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Not like I should either of course, being not directly involved and never seeing that part of the world. One day maybe...Besides that I have been reading and mostly sitting around thinking about what I would have done if the NOA wouldn't have come. I amused myself making up scenarios of crying at the Embassy so they could expedite the process of getting a visa. Luckily, I won't have to cry at the Embassy... although I still might need to cry at baggage claim so they don't charge me tons for my luggage. But I really must go, my bus leaves in an hour for Bangkok. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Last Days in Chiang Mai

Saturday was a pretty calm day. We didn’t have to pack yet, but we didn’t have anything to do. I ended up reading for a large part of the day, and met Henry: a nice Colombian guy at the pool who worked for the Millennium Project, which is an awesome NGO. We had a nice talk about his job, he works in Iraq, and ended up exchanging information. I hate networking, but that would be an awesome NGO to work for. Afterward, I just chatted with the people in the program and we decided to go to dinner at the stalls near the hotel. Andie has a friend, Landen, who works in Chiang Mai and we ended up meeting her at a market Saturday evening. They had tons of clothing geared for college students here in Chiang Mai, as well as shoes, phones, face masks, anything you could imagine. It was fun to just browse, even though I wasn’t in the mood to buy anything. The only thing I was really close to buying was a shirt that had a bad English translation, but it ended up not fitting my truly un-Thaish frame. After the market, a group of us went to a little cocktail bar called ‘Street 4’ where every price ended in a four. It was a little gimmicky, and not that great of cocktails. I wanted to try a gin fizz because I always thought it would be interesting to try a cocktail with egg in it, but I don’t think they made it right… Andie, Sam and I ended up going home together after skipping out on a posh-looking lounge for University students and instead asked a tuk-tuk driver to bring us to the old city. Instead, he brought us to a prostitute bar (the same one from the night before!), and, after we insisted we weren’t interested, swerved through a random market trying to bring us home. This tuk-tuk was crazy, and I’m surprised he got us home safe. Back at the hotel, it looked like people were out and about. I was drained of energy though, and just crashed and fell to sleep.
Sunday was an interesting day. It started out in a rush to get everything together before the move out from BP Chiang Mai City Hotel. I packed my bags, which were a little heavier than I remembered, and waited in the lobby with the group. Half of the students were going to Bangkok immediately to apply for their visas. As I have to wait to get my notice of application, I had to stay here in Chiang Mai for a couple of more days. I’m staying in this nice hostel down the street from the hotel, which has better beds and pillows. So an upgrade for a cheaper price! It was sad to see everyone go, but luckily, 90% are going to be in Korea, and five of the ATI students will be in Seoul with me working through the Seoul Metropolitan Board of Education. Regardless, it was a little depressing to see the end of this chapter of my trip, not knowing when I will get to see some of these students again after having such a great, albeit short, experience with them in Thailand.
Sam, Jim, Liza and I were left in Chiang Mai and decided to go out for lunch. We went to this amazing noodle place and I got Pad Kee Mao with pork, which has a lot of basil and a lot of flavor. It was just what I needed after saying goodbye to my friends. After lunch, we went to a book store to sell back some of our books to lighten our load and get a couple of baht and Sam showed us the hostel she is staying in. It is more of a guesthouse actually, and quite beautiful. However, I am content with the Seven Suns, even if it is a little more cramped. Book selling turned to book reading, and I ended up finishing the second novel of Asimov’s Robot Novels. Sam has already given me the third, so it’s on to ‘The Robots of Dawn’. After this reading session, Liza and I played a couple of games of cards. I taught her ‘Kings in the Corner’ which always reminds me of Anna, because we used to be obsessed with that card game. Since it was Sunday, we decided to go to the walking market on the street over. I bought some delicious pad thai off of the street, and it may have been the cheapest and best tasting one yet. The thing about food here is you want to go for the cheaper meals on the street, because they tend to be better. It is a win win situation, but you can't sit down. That can be a little disconcerting. I also found this cute ceramic sheep with a funny little face. He is my favorite thing I have seen here, and they are all over the place. Normally, they are gigantic, but this one was small, cute and able to travel. Besides the two shirts I bought, it is my only souvenir from Thailand. I just brought too much stuff from home!
I’ve started to eat lunch-like meals for breakfast. It just makes more sense to get a lot of protein in the morning than search through the city to find something resembling Western breakfast at Western prices. Spicy Korean pork for breakfast today was actually quite fulfilling, and it has given me energy throughout the day. I just got back from a glorious walk around the moat. This time I was better prepared with sneakers and a book to read in between each of the legs of the square moat (which have to be around a mile and a half each). It still was a rather long walk, but I was able to take pictures of all those things I had taken the second day I was here which were recently lost with the death of my computer. I also was lucky to stumble upon sweet chicken curry pastries, which were probably one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life. Now, I just have to wait in Chiang Mai until my visa, which should arrive either later today or tomorrow God willing. Wish me luck!
One last musing … have you ever heard the Thailand is the land of smiles? Well, it definitely is. I have never seen so many smile in my life, except maybe Minnesota. This got me to thinking, because although there is a Minnesota nice, it would be na├»ve not to think it was coupled with a measure of passive-aggressive behavior. The same is true here in Thailand, but to a greater degree. The niceness also has a characteristic in which Thais do not want another to lose face. That means that if, for example, you did something stupid at work, your boss would likely not face you directly, just smile and try to get you to fix your ways. However, he might very well talk behind your back about what you did, and through this method you would need to figure out what to change. Such traits, while pleasant at first glance, are quite annoying. Another example: at the hotel, instead of telling us to be quiet at the pool after hours, they would complain to the program director who would later warn us. The whole time, of course, all the employees would have huge smiles on their faces. I guess my point is that you shouldn’t always trust someone’s smile.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Anderson's Last Two Hurrahs

Because we did not have to teach on Wednesday morning, we decided to have a last hurrah for Anderson because he was leaving for Vietnam on Friday after class and we did not know when we would see him again. Anderson is a really nice, genuine, twenty-something Californian who has been a great part of the group. Most of us went out with him to a couple of places. The first was a Rastafarian-ish type place with musical instruments hanging on all the walls.
The Group

Surprisingly, my roommate Andy, Jim, Nick and Bob were all musically inclined. They started jamming, with Andy playing his own music and covering some random songs, Jim playing the blues, Nick playing the guitar randomly and Bob throwing his voice into the fun. It was pretty cool to see these guys I just recently met show off their musical skills. Unfortunately, it really wasn’t my favorite genre of music, and, although I could see they had musical prowess, I got bored a little too quickly. We eventually headed over to a reggae place, but I wasn’t feeling that music very much either, so I ended up heading back to the hotel. Plus at home was “The Sex Lives of Cannibals” which is hilarious and I wanted to finish the book. It is a travelogue about Kirabati in the Pacific and I would highly recommend it to those who love travelogues.
Wednesday morning was a fantastic class. We talked about music in the classroom and were told to come up with our own little ditties to teach English. My group was trying to teach young learners about giraffes, so we created a giraffe out of our bodies with Katie on my shoulders, Kong the body, and Andie the tail.
We also had to make a song about the pet store and we set it to the Spice Girls:
So I’ll tell you what I want what I really want, so tell me what you want what you really, really want, I want a dog, I want a cat, I want a fish, I want a rat, I really really really want to buy a pet ah. If you want to go to the pet store, you’ll definitely find a friend. Make it last forever, petship never ends.
And on and on. After lunch we had a grammar and phonology test, which I, in my infinite nerdiness, thought was really fun and interesting. After the test, we had to prepare for Thursday’s class. My topic was ‘New Year Celebrations’, and I had to spend some time getting the materials all ready. Lesson planning is a little time consuming, but also fun. And you get to play games all the time in language classes! I’m going to have the best job ever. After class it was some fun pool time as well as a new book. Sam, the New York gal, has loaned “Caves of Steel’ by Asimov to me and I am completely enthralled. I thought I was over the science fiction stage of life, but apparently I am not. He is a great author, so regardless of the genre I am having a great time.
Thursday class went amazingly well. I loved the students, the lesson had great flow, and I had a blast. They were 14-15 years old, and I think this is the age and English ability I would enjoy teaching. They know enough that you can use some English to command them and they are at an age where they are past the stilting awkwardness of 6th grade. For a warmer, we played ‘remote control’, in which I draw a remote control on the board and give verbs to the buttons such as jump, spin, swim, etc. The students perform the actions, and then one or two brave souls can press the buttons. For a snack at the school, which is about a half an hour away from the city, they gave us this sticky rice in banana leaves with bean curd in the center. Interesting and full of flavors, yes, but they were almost too weird for my palate.
Because we love Anderson so much, we ended up giving him a second last hurrah.
 Anderson and Andie. Great people.
Thursday evening we headed back to the area we went to on Tuesday night. The boys played some more music and then we went to the reggae bar where a band with brass instruments was playing some pretty good music. We also saw a Thai jam-band, but they pretty much solely played covers of western songs. The few Thai songs we do here out, however, tend to be really good, and I wish they played their own stuff more often. We ended up at Spicy to dance at the end of the night, but I eventually wanted to get home so I could get some sleep before the last teacher practice lesson on Friday. As I was walking a lady-boy actually tried to pick me up on her motorbike. I wasn’t interested, but (s)he ended up driving me back to the hotel for twenty baht, which saved me some energy. (S)he was very congenial, but definitely not something I’m looking for.
Friday morning was our last teacher practice lesson. My lesson was on sports, which was an incredibly easy context to elicit. The students I thought had a really good time during my lesson, and I got through the whole thing, which was remarkable because it was a receptive listening lesson. The methodology requires that the students answer the questions of a pre-recorded dialogue even if you have to play the tape seven times for one question. The students were really smart, however, and I only had to play the tape about 5 times for the 5 questions. When we got back to the hotel we had this little graduation ceremony. My 120 hour course is over, and hopefully this will end up in me having a really cool job. I’ll let you know as soon as I get my visa, which hopefully is before the 23rd, when I fly to South Korea for orientation. Everything is really last minute here, which I guess is pretty Thai. They are not good at punctuality at all, everything runs in Thai time. Not very efficient.
I had dinner last night at a restaurant that was obviously geared toward tourists, but we couldn’t help ourselves. The pictures were beautiful of the food, and they had iced coffee. And that sounded like heaven. I ended up getting this green curried rice wrapped in an omelet that was fantastic, even though it costed three dollars. Which is a lot for Thailand. But we had to treat ourselves, we just got our certificates! After the certificates, we went to this roof-top bar where a magician was performing. He was just sitting next to me and all of a sudden he did some great tricks. These were Michael Blainesque, and we could not figure them out. At one point he definitely stabbed a twenty baht bill all the way through with a pen, but it didn’t rip. And it was a real pen. He also wrote something on his hand, asked us to say a number from one to three. Three of us gave different numbers from one to three, but then Andy, being who he is, said seven. And the guy had written a seven on his hand. Mad. Afterward, we wanted to go dancing, but not at Spicy. We asked a tuk tuk driver, and he brought us out of this city. When we got there, we realized it was definitely a place to get hookers, which was not what we were out looking for. So, we piled back into a song tao and did end up going to Spicy. It was nice for our group to go to our club one last time before all heading out our separate ways. It will be a little sad to leave all these people. Some are going to Seoul, but others will be in other parts of Korea, and a couple are going to other countries. Happy to graduate and move on, but sad to part ways with all of these new, wonderful people.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

H1N1... Who Knows?

The swine flu that may have ravaged my body has taken over my computer. I am not sure if such a cross species takeover is possible, but as I am now forced to use another computer to type my words, I am happy to know that I am still alive even if my computer did not suffer such a happy fate. But I am getting ahead of myself, and I must start from where I left off.
The afternoon session of class on Monday was interesting, well for me. We talked about determiners, and parts of speech and types of words. Silly grammar things that don’t matter when speaking, but do matter when trying to learn a new language. I forgot my English grammar book, which annoys me, so hopefully I won’t lead my students astray! Monday night was calm, with good food I’m sure and good company. We have been swimming a lot, and just walking around town. Enjoying street food, and restaurant food. Mostly Thai food but some Western food along the way. It is a nice lifestyle.
Tuesday we learned a new model for teaching: receptive learning. Reading (passive) is matched with writing (active) and listening (passive) is matched with speaking (active) in this model. This model can be used with stronger language learners whereas the basic and young learners model focus more on pictures to teach. I find all of this pedagogy fascinating, and the grammar lesson afterward was great too. Phonology has always interested me way too much, and makes me play with my mouth as I pronounce voiced bi-labio fricatives and unvoiced dental stops. Too much fun. After class life was pretty calm; I’m just trying to get through “On the Road”. I can’t identify with Sal Paradise or Dean Moriatry at all, which really is not good when reading a novel.
I drank way too much coffee on Wednesday morning. I was bouncing all over class, which was not that fun. I started having jitters, and annoying my bestie, Andie, who is from Georgia and sweet as candy. After class, I crashed, and all of a sudden I was sore, and tired, and not happy. I was feeling feverish, and decided to just rest for the rest of the day. Grammar session was really not fun on Wednesday, and I was happy to finally sleep. That night I woke and my fever must have broke. I was drenched in cold sweat, and my blankets were soaking. But I was freezing. I’m not sure if this is H1N1 or what, but it is flu season here, and a lot of Thais are getting swine flu.
I luckily felt better on Thursday, which was our last peer teaching. We followed a receptive teaching method, and my partner was Jim. Jim is a 43-year-old ex-marine originally born in Turkey but an American through and through. He is a pretty cool guy. However, at the moment I was really excited to start teaching lessons by myself. It worked out well in the end, but I was only able to do the audio part of the lesson and the warmer, which might make me unprepared for having to use this model in the classroom next week.
After peer teaching we were assigned our topics: I had superheroes. It took me four or five hours to draw the pictures of my 9 superheroes and then 9 pictures of their attributes. Lesson learned? Don’t actually make beautiful pictures!! I was feverish, not enjoying life, and just wanted to go to bed. At around nine o’clock I finally had the chance to sleep. My roommate, Andy, was nice and had brought me broth to eat. Another peer also dropped off food for me to eat. It was really cute. At ten, Shirley, the Latina from New York used some sort of chant to get me to sleep. It was esoteric by nature, and something to do with my chakras. I’m not sure if it worked, but it was nice to hear her say ‘se fa se fa se fa’ over and over again.
Friday morning was the first actual lesson. I took an ibuprofen to stave off the fever and headed off for the day. It was a little stressful, teaching students a lesson that I didn’t feel was that necessary. How many people need to know how to say that Catwoman has claws? The buses brought us thirty minutes outside of the city to this random school. The kids were so cute, but a little intimidating. I was second to teach, and was sweating like crazy. A little bit from nerves, but mostly from the heat of the classroom. My puzzle flew all around from the fans, but turning off these fans just made the classroom muggier. The kids seemed to have fun even if I didn’t feel the lesson was that relevant.
The drugs wore off pretty much when I got back to the hotel. I was dizzy again, slightly feverish. I had to write a lesson plan for Monday, but then was able to lie down in bed. The group had plans for a celebratory night after our first real lesson. I came out with them as a voyeur for about an hour to the Pirate’s Cove, but then really had to go to bed. I did have a nice macaroni and cheese for dinner, but that wasn’t that cool. Shirley did another esoteric type of healing. She put limes covered with salt over my eyes to suck out the fever. It might have worked…
On Saturday, I was finally feeling more like myself. In the early part of the day, we flagged down one of the converted pick-up trucks or song tao (which literally means two rows) and headed to Doi Suthep. This mountain is the home of a majestic temple that has one of the best views of Chiang Mai. After a windy ride, a breathless hike, and a tourist fee for the temple, we enjoyed this thrilling Buddhist architecture.
Katy, looking Thai.

Kong, who is Buddhist and amazing, bought some incense and candles and walked around the inner section three times, asking for merit. The rest of us took countless pictures and I had a delicious cookies and cream ice cream. Kong also introduced me to sticky rice cooked in bamboo with nuts, that was savory, sweet, and otherworldly. The others bought a huge noodle, rice, and sticky mixture on a stick that appeared to be a giant sausage. Man, this food is to die for.
That night, feeling like myself again, I joined the group for a night on the town. We first went to a boxing match. Well, it is kind of boxing, kind of karate. It is called Muay Thai, and although I was worried that it would be too violent for me, there wasn’t any flying teeth or blood so it was just culturally interesting. Unfortunately, it was also on the seedier side of town, and there were obvious prostitutes hanging around. There were also a number of vendors selling flowers, bracelets, hats, and the like, and they could be quite persistent. Jim ended up buying me a bracelet, which was awesome, and will be a nice reminder of the night. After Muay Thai we went dancing at a place called Spicy. Apparently, the places start getting crazy here around two, but by then we were pretty tired and wanted to go to bed. Oh, the life of a teacher.
The next morning was a quiet and calm day. Hours were spent in the morning putting together my lesson for the next day. Luckily, we have grouped together, and the four of us working on the “At the Hospital” topic made copies for one another. Hopefully such a system will work in Korea. The rest of the day was spent lounging until the walking street market, which takes place on Sunday near our hotel. You can find anything there besides DVDs apparently. My goal was to buy a copy of Bruno, but instead I spent an hour waving through such an insane amount of pedestrians that I barely had to move my feet to keep moving. Blind people would stand in the middle of the streets, palms bared, begging for the money that I can unfortunately not really spare at the moment. Street musicians filled our ears with harmonic structures unfamiliar to my Western ear. It was glorious, but overwhelming. I bought my little sister a b-day present, 19!, but probably won’t send it for a while. The amount of things I wanted to buy was huge, but luckily I have some sense of restraint, and ended up quickly walking to the other side of town to the night market where I bought a copy of Bruno and half the class relaxed and laughed to this hugely inappropriate comedy.
Monday morning I woke up early, ready to teach my second lesson to actual language learners- staff members at our hotel. After the usual, an omelet from perhaps my favorite vendor in Thailand, I was eager to teach some of the hotel staff a lesson titled “At the Hospital”. My favorite four line dialogue in my lesson was: “A: What’s the matter? B: My body hurts. A: Why? B: I fell down the stairs.” The last line was accompanied with a poorly drawn person tumbling from a gigantic staircase. Pretty classy. I was lucky enough to go last, and being able to witness my peers’ attempts at the ‘basic model’ first gave me insights into the best way to teach adult learners. Of course, it had its flaws, but luckily one of the students had enough language skill to ask questions. She even asked me what the difference between ‘chest’ and ‘breast’ was, which was awfully fun to pantomime. I was also able to give them some significant phrases with particular issues they had at the hotel.
After class we were assigned our topic for Tuesday, and I drew music. This was our first lesson where we were able to print out our pictures instead of draw everything by hand. Nonetheless, we had to color these pictures, which ended up taking an enormous amount of time. My friend Katie unfortunately lost her wallet yesterday, which is such a huge mess in a foreign country. Luckily, her family was able to cancel her credit cards and figure out how to get her money. She is such a sweetheart, so hopefully it all works out. After a quick dip in the pool, I went out for some sort of vegetarian eggplant dish with rice and some fried pork and lamb dumplings. It was all delicious (aloi) and nothing is hurting my stomach. Then again, that may be because I am now eating PB&J for at least one meal a day… I thought it would be a nice way to stretch a buck, but it ended up costing around the same price as nine meals. So it will have to be nine meals for me! The day ended with Jack Kerouac (finally finished) and some wandering around the city. It really is a beautiful town.

Today was a somewhat frustrating day. My lesson for today, geared toward eleven and twelve year old children, focused on music. Instead of going the easy route and teaching my children instruments, I ended up trying to teach about musical genres. That may have been a mistake. Although my students recognized names such as Beyonce and Kanye West, explaining the differences between country twangs and hip-hop beats was not that easy. Although I could explain rap on the fly, I didn’t really want to go into a Taylor Swift ballad in front of my classroom. In the words of Alanis Morissette, however, you live and you learn. Confronted with a class that couldn’t understand my lesson, I had a huge desire to be in South Korea, with a class that I would know, and with firm lessons leading their learning. Pedagogy is difficult in a vacuum, and most of our lessons in Thailand have proven to be without prior context. Hopefully I will be singing a different song in a couple of weeks, with eager learners and set lessons.
Of course, the most difficult part ended up being the death of my computer. I was just sitting there, typing, and all of a sudden it decided to say I had too much spyware. And this was right after I had finished typing about what happened on Sunday. Which means I have had to write a lot. With all this labor, I hope that you were able to get through this mouthful. But as I always say, according to my step-dad, c’est la vie, whatever. It will work out!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Weekend in Pai

On Friday, we were assigned topics for our first peer teaching on Monday. I ended up having my roommate, Andy, as my partner and our topic was Under the Sea. Although I thought it would be a blast to sing the song from The Little Mermaid, we decided that it would be better to not give our students a faux Jamaican accent. We spent a good part of the day working on drawing pictures for our lessons and had another grammar session.
The fun, however, started after class. A group of us had bought tickets to go to Pai, which is a small ‘hippy’ village three miles to the north of Chiang Mai. The ride, although beautiful, was so full of turns that one of the women in the front of the bus ended up throwing up. Not too pleasant. The rest of us, however, made it in one piece to Pai after making friends with a bus mate, Ron, who was teaching business in an international school in Bangkok. The bus driver tried to herd us to a hotel nearby, but we ended up getting a place for ourselves. We wanted to sleep in a bungalow, which Pai is known for, but we were tired and settled for a hotel. By hotel, I mean hard beds to sleep on for three bucks a night. Pretty awesome. Dinner was delicious. I need to stop saying that, because I haven’t had a bad meal. I also had one of the spiciest omelettes in my life that night.... it had about 8 chili peppers in it, and I was pretty much bent over double crying from the peppers.
The next morning, Saturday, we found the bungalows we wanted to stay in. They were amazingly cute and quite close to the river. I took some great pictures of the flora and some cute lizards, and afterward we decided to rent bikes. Not mountain bikes, but one speed bikes that had baskets. We wanted to bike to the hot springs, but in hindsight that was a bad idea. The temperature was in the 90s with a 80% humidity up and down hills without being able to change gears..... it was awesome. We saw some elephants on the ride, as well as gorgeous flora.
 However, when we got to the hot springs, it took a lot of courage to get in that hot water when we were already sweating like mad men. We hiked to the top, where the water was at 80 degrees Celsius. A sign said ‘No Boil Egg’ but there was a Thai family breaking the rules.
 The hot baths were nice, but hot, and afterwards we smelt like sulfur. It was not our cup of tea to get back on the bikes, but we biked to lunch, including coconut ice cream, and then saw an awesome canyon. The canyon was formed by some type of soft stone and red in coloring. The formation created walkways, but to each side were sheer cliffs. Some of the walkways were less than a foot wide and quite scary to walk across, but when in Thailand.... you could walk through the canyon some distance, but we wanted to get back to the bungalows and take a shower. The entire bike ride was some 20 km, or 12 miles, which would have been fine if our bikes had gears, but we were completely wiped when we got home. Back at the bungalows we met up with some other guys from the program, Nick and Anderson, and went out to see the town. We eventually ended up at a discotheque where there were some cover bands playing rock songs. The bands were pretty cool, and it was fun to chill out in another town with the new people I have met. A nice Thai guy named Sing wanted to bring us to another bar after the band finished and introduced us to some locals.
The next morning I met a really nice Vietnamese women who gave me a ride on her motorbike to show me the town. It was really random, but people are so nice here. The drive back to Chiang Mai was a little scarier on the way back because of all the rain and the curvature of the road. Oh, and we were on motorbikes. Katy and I fell, but no big deal. Nonetheless, we were able to stop at a beautiful waterfall, see a bat cave which had a horrendous odor, and saw a gas station in the shape of a lemonade stand. We made it back to Chiang Mai in one piece though!

When we did finally get back to the hotel, we had to finish preparing our lesson plan. I made a puzzle that when put together created a rainbow fish. It was sad, because the first time I cut it in a complicated manner and had to make 6 new fish. Our plan was pretty fun, but the steps were a little confusing in the model. I was exhausted and sore from the bus and had trouble falling asleep, dreaming of teaching students about mermaids and turtles.
The lesson went well today. I think. I am really excited to teach actual students, because it will be a lot different when the students do not understand the target language. The best part of the lesson was teaching a song about what the animals do under the sea. I think I might be a somewhat ridiculous English teacher. I had some yummy soup for lunch with my peeps: it was called kuay teow. Yummy. That’s it for now.