Monday, July 27, 2009

First Day of Class

I thought I was the only one who was slightly unprepared for this program, but luckily everyone seems to be pulling together strings at the last minute. My interview for my job was this morning, and hopefully went well because it will secure a job in South Korea. However, I still do not have a visa, and we are unsure whether or not we can obtain Korean work visas from Chiang Mai, or if we will have to travel to Bangkok over a weekend (which could take a while). However, I feel much better now that my interview has been completed, and hopefully I am on my way to a job in 4 weeks time.
After my walk around the city yesterday, I met my roommate, whose name is Andy and who, remarkably, is also from Minnesota. We went for another long walk. My goal was to find the Chiang Mai Opera House, but instead we stumbled upon a festival and entered the most beautiful wat I have seen yet. Inside was a towering Buddha, and their was an ancient stone hill/building behind the main building. The temples are incredibly peaceful, and we are thinking of going in and meditating, no matter how hippyish that may sound. The festival was followed by a visit to a local restaurant. Even though I prefer the street stands, the meal was still amazingly cheap, and I was able to try a new bizarre food: fried fish bladder. For the most part, it was good. Not too much flavor, rubbery texture, pretty chewy. However, one of the bladders was full of warm butter, and I couldn’t help but imagining another warm liquid more at home with this important organ...
Unfortunately, I went to bed somewhat early, around nine o’clock, still trying to get used to the jet-lag. On the other hand, this was beneficial in terms of getting enough sleep for my interview in the morning, as well as class. I know I am going to sound like a nerd, but class was fascinating. Ya & Pat, two of our teachers, both Thai, started a dialogue- introducing themselves in Thai and asking where each of them were from. Afterward, they would approach us students and ask for us to respond in similar ways. At first, this was somewhat uncomfortable, as we had not prepared for being challenged. However, as we paid more and more attention, we were able to get a hang of the methodology and adopt some useful phrases. Of course, these were immediately lost, but in a classroom setting they could be repeated and absorbed by our students. The point of the simulation was to present how our students, who may have little or possibly no English experience, will feel in the classroom setting. We need to include in our English presentations body language and act out verbs almost as if it is charades. To me, this sounds great. Classes include two breaks, with free coffee and pastries, as well as an hour lunch. Lunch was, of course, delicious (aroi), spicy, and cheap. I am going to be so spoiled with food by the time I am done with this program. After lunch, we had some lessons in cultural awareness, such as how to sit in a temple in front of the Buddha and how to correctly perform the Thai Wai (or greeting) depending on levels of respect and deference. We finished our class by exploring the flag (red on top for the nation, white for faith, blue for the king, and then white and red again), and discussing the royal family. Apparently, Thais have a lot of respect for the royal family- when a picture of the Thai king was circulated around the internet with a photo shopped mustache, Pat said that she thought the one responsible should die. And this was from a very reasonable, educated woman. It is kind of cool that he has such respect, and it seems it is for good reason. John would like the guy- he studies hydrology and agriculture, and apparently was able to fix the drought in the north. I am not sure how, Pat said he made it rain, but perhaps he set up canals or actually shot chemicals into the clouds to force rain out of this always humid area. I’ll have to try to discover the specifics... We also talked about the democracy, and the Reds, who have chosen this color to oppose the king. As the king was born on a Monday, and yellow is the color of Monday, the color of the king is yellow. Interesting stuff.
Finally, we spoke on Thai culture, both the positive and negative. Thais are, as I have seen, very nice, kind, helpful, and enjoy good food. The way Pat described their relationship with food reminded me of the French and the bon vivant lifestyle. However, Thais can also be untimely, and are unable to say anything directly (which can be a good or bad thing). My favorite part was the boun khun, which is mainly between a child and his parents. Since your parents have done so much good for you, by giving birth and clothing and feeding you, you can never repay them enough. Saying thank you will add a metaphorical coin to the boun khun box, for example, but you still owe so many coins. There is a feeling of being indebted to your parents, which does not really align with our ideas in the states. Pat said she continues to send money to her parents because of this feeling, and she is not upset about it, it feels to be the right thing to do. I am excited for the rest of the week, as it promises some more Thai language lessons as well as working on methodology for the classroom. God I am a geek.

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