Tag Archives: Thailand

Current of Change

17 Feb

It’s been a semi-steamy week here in Thailand.  Overall the weather has been just great.  Cool mornings.  And while many days still find the 90s (F) the coolness of the morning sets the whole day in better place.  It feels like there is alot going on my life lately… with the big “end of the year” ball rolling at work and with my time in Chiang Mai.

With our school year ending in a matter of weeks, the new school year starting the beginning of May, and changed Visa policies making it more challenging for teachers to get Visas, my employer has already hired teachers for the new year. On more than one occasion I’ve met the “new faces” getting a tour of our office space, including my replacement.  Just another stark reminder…as I have chosen to leave after this school year… that the end is coming.

Even though I have been traveling for 5 years now, with heaping servings of uncertainty along the way, transitions are always difficult for me.  I am clear it is time for me to leave, but there is always some apprehension as I depart circumstances that in many ways have been “home” with more uncertainty waiting on the other side.  It often moves my mind and body into a tailspin.  But, just the same, it also fun and exciting to wrap-up one place and head in a new direction.

In some ways things are a bit smoother at work.  Our big English Fair is complete which had our lunch and class times bustling with singing and dance rehearsal.  Although I tried to be light about the whole “dance performance” thing, at a school that takes singing, dancing and performing fairly seriously – it was at least a little bit of a big deal.  It was Friday night when the fair was held and all the classes took their turns performing on the big stage – professional lights, sound and all. My students’ first dress rehearsal was – a little rough.  But after a few more last-minute rigorous practices, they did a great job! It’s amazing how them getting on stage made me more nervous than being on stage myself.  During the performance where was I?  I was the geeky teacher to the side of the stage meticulously mouthing all the words and doing the dance moves. When they were finished it was big relief and fun to share that moment of happiness and success with the students.

Some completions here in Thailand are already coming to be.  I taught my last “2-skills” class last week.  At my school our classes are divided up between “4-skills” classes that we see every day and “2-skills” (speaking and listening) that we see just twice a week.  I have 6 “2-skills” classes – so a total of twelve a week.  These classes are larger (about 44 students or so) and fold into the regular English lessons taught by a Thai teacher.  While all my students are great, happy bundles of energy- collectively they will give you a run for your money.  In some ways these classes are fun because they are less serious, more light-hearted.  Lessons are generally simple and taught in a way that is fun and easy to digest.  The challenges come with the sheer number of students in the classroom and the low-level of English comprehension.  So, while the students may like you, they don’t understand most of what you have to say – and perhaps some “selective hearing” too.  At any rate, the “2-skills” classes were both my joy and challenge this year with a great big dose of enthusiasm and energy (not necessarily directed towards me or learning) that was sometimes fun and at other times hard to digest.  Of course finishing anything is bittersweet… it is still “something” to be complete with the lessons on that journey.

However, the year isn’t complete yet. We still have individual speaking tests to complete (over 230 students for me total!), reviews and final tests to go and then a few weeks of teacher wrap-up.  In all honesty, while there are many things I have appreciated about my time in Thailand, there have also been a number of things that have been challenging.  A few weeks ago I had a spontaneous “heart-to-heart” with one my supervisors.  What unfolded was my clarity of how rich this time has been for me.  I could feel the bounty and how much I have changed shape, grown and expanded from living and teaching here and riding the huge wave that is this bustling respected local Thai school.  And for that, I am so grateful.

And with that I will say good-bye for now.  Back to tending to my post-work haze – doing my best to glide comfortably in the current of my latest transition.

How are things in your world?  It’s always good to hear from you!

 

-Featured image above, bridge construction “Thai-style” over the great Ping River.

 

 

 

Vientiane Diversion

4 Jul

Early Morning Tuk Tuk Ride

I began my journey before dawn. As I walked in the dark early morning sky to the entrance of campus, I was relieved to arrive at the gate and find my chariot awaiting. There she was, a local and reliable tuk tuk driver, ready and waiting to take me to the airport. Just a few days earlier I had scheduled my ride for the journey, not quite certain if the message was successfully received in the confusion of speaking English to a Thai ear. “Monday?”….. “No, SUNday….” But there she was.

I was heading to Vientiane, Laos to handle some visa business. It is funny how just a few months earlier from the more refined land of Vienna, Austria, a Thai visa run to a bordering town seemed like perhaps a shady endeavor. After simmering just a few months in the local culture, now more at ease in the land of tuk tuks and unexpected power outages, a visa run to Laos seems like a perfectly reasonable idea.

My route was the well-weathered path of countless travellers before me. I took a flight to the Thailand border town called Udon Thani. From there I took a van to the Thailand/Laos border. After $30 USD, a Laos Visa on arrival, and a quick bus ride across the “Friendship Bridge”, I found myself for the first time in Laos.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by a seasoned array of tuk tuk drivers waiting for their regular meal of travellers making their pilgrimage to the Thai Consulate in Vientiane, Laos. I was fortunate to meet a respectable and fair driver who took me and a fellow traveler from New Zealand to the center of town for a modest rate. His coach was like a miniature truck with passenger space in the back. We traveled down the right side of the road, a switch after the left-sided ways of Thailand. We drove exposed to the heat, the wind and dust whipping through my body.

River WalkIn no time, we were deposited along the riverside in Laos. It didn’t take long to get my bearings in this small unassuming little Laos town filled with fellow travellers passing time in town. I quickly drank up the feel of the city noticing it’s collection of French cafés and inviting assortment of local restaurants.

I made my way to my hotel, just a stones throw from the riverfront and in the heart of the tourist and “foreigner-friendly” part of town. I treated myself to a comfy stay at the Ibis hotel in Vientiane. I felt just a little spoiled in my easy modern room with its heavenly bed and pillows that melted away the tensions of traveling.

Basket Maker in VientianeWhile Vientiane is a sleepy little town, I was still charmed by it’s local people and red carpet of expat friendly eateries and restaurants. It was fun to spend a few days exploring the restaurant landscape and enjoying a few happy, healthy and affordable meals in town.

I first made my way to Jahmil’s Indian food for dinner. Tucked away down a little alley and modest and informal in it’s ways, I was a bit hesitant upon my arrival. I walked in feeling like I was walking into someone’s living room wondering if it was indeed okay to come in. My dining company for the evening was a fellow expat, from Canada, and in the early dining hours the only other only guest in the restaurant. We made our way through casual conversation and satisfying curry. A screamingly affordable bill later, I was full and happy and on my way into the steamy Loas evening.

The next morning was an early departure to the Thai consular’s office.  I arrived there joined by three of my fellow teachers also on the journey as well as a substantial collection of others waiting in line. Time passed quickly and soon we were happily receiving our numbers and successfully submitting our paperwork. We were outa there around 10am. Hooray!

VientieneThe rest of the day included restaurants to explore and some heat to escape. Vientiane was holding strong with it’s hot season temperatures, even more so than Chiang Mai. I appreciated the cool respite of my hotel and the occasional HBO film, a decadent “western” treat.
That night I made my way to a great little eatery called Lao Kitchen. Its open-air eating space welcomed me in, but offered no protection from the heat of the day. I was grateful for the competent English of my waitress as I did my best to explain that I cannot eat refined sugar. This request is a bit daunting in Asia.  I am asking that not only sugar is left out, but also fish sauce, soy sauce and any other places where sugar can sneakily hide. As I placed my order she looked at me a bit peculiarly, but did an outstanding job of passing my request along to the kitchen. Amazingly, after I asked to leave pretty much everything out of the red curry stir fry I ordered, what I received was a fresh flavorful dish all for the equivalent of less than $4 USD.

That night I visited the nightly outdoor market gathering along the curve of the mighty Mekong river. Surrounded by a sea of motorbikes and locals shopping for goods and having fun, I appreciated taking in the wide array of clothes, paintings, and local knickknacks. Shortly after I arrived so did the rain. Slowly at first. I took the lead of the locals who literally fled the outdoor market scene with the arrival of the first raindrops. I followed the crowd and literally ran out of there not making it to my hotel before the downpour came.

What a joy it was to appreciate the simple culinary pleasures while handling a little business along the way. Breakfast was next …… I arrived an early bird at Noy’s Fruit Heaven and had my selection of tables as I sat and took in the quiet Vientiane morning. I had to smile when a young Loas boy adjusted the fan near-by so that it would blow in my direction while shooting a smile my way. I appreciated his sweet sensibilities to tend to my needs.

Breakfast was simple but great. A vegetable omelette with a generous portion of watermelon on the side. I took in the morning and the meal appreciating my modest feast. I was surrounded by the daily business of the local family owning and running the business. The grandmother, sneaking in a nap before tending to business and practicing her English. The young boy sheepishly offering me a hello and a few practiced words in English.

Early that afternoon I connected with my fellow teachers and we made our way for the last legs of our journey. We found easy success at the consulate’s office. Within the hour we picked up our passports newly decorated and ready to go. Afterwards, we used our developing negotiating skills to secure a decent rate for the journey across the border. For the first leg of our way, we found room for all four of us in a nice Honda sedan, a real luxury and unexpected coach. Once we arrived at the border we were connected with a mini-van driver who took us the rest of the way to the airport. We sat in the mini-van for ten filled with expats of all shapes and sizes telling their stories and making their complaints along the way.

And in no time at all I was home… or in Chiang Mai… or perhaps a little bit one and the same. I was grateful to return to my comfy little room on the quiet grounds of the school campus. After a somewhat descent night sleep, I awoke on Wednesday morning birthed back into the world of teaching and classrooms bursting with students, a bit of a shock after my brief Vientiane diversion.

And so life continues. A little more settled. A little more adjusted to the somewhat wacky ways of teaching and life in Chiang Mai. Still easing into the heat. Grateful for the relief of intermittent air-conditioning and brief Vientiane diversions.

Just Arrived

5 May

Well, it all went quite quickly.  I got on a plane… left Vienna.  I spent an uneventful but somewhat eerie four-hour layover in Kiev, Ukraine.  Then got on another plane… and a mere 8 hours later I was here.  Well almost here.  I landed in Bangkok.  Then one more flight to my final destination, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

I am in a Guest House for the evening reveling in some much appreciated air-conditioning.  While I arrived yesterday I am far from settled.  Wednesday I start my new job as an English Teacher at a local school, Dara Academy.

My new abode on the campus of Dara Academy

My new abode on the campus of Dara Academy

Chiang Mai is a smallish city in Northern Thailand known for its rich Thai culture as well as a noteworthy expat presence.  In my brief time in Chiang Mai I have been greeted by her gentle hills at the airport and captivated by the friendly spirit of the people.  Today I made my way to the Dara campus to be escorted to my new “home” where I will live on campus.  I am just beginning to experience the casual ways of Thailand.  In my 24 hours here I have already been on the back of a motorcycle pulling my roller suitcase in tow.  I also grabbed a ride to the local mall in a songtaew, a red pick-up truck taxi with an open back and two rows of seats for travelers.

As my room on campus is not quite ready to go (no electricity or water just yet) I am staying again tonight in a near-by guesthouse, grateful for the ac and shower.  Did I mention it’s really hot here?  While not hot enough to scare me away, it is a balmy shift from the still “post winter weather” of Vienna.

The mall was a recommended air-conditioned escape for the afternoon to pass some time until my room is ready and I can begin to settle in.  Arriving at the mall, I have to admit it brings some comfort having access to some Western conveniences.  As I have begun to make my way around a little, I find my brain is a bit confused as to where exactly I am.  While I am aware that I don’t speak the local language, when searching for possible words my brain keeps trying to string together basic ideas in German.

I am excited and optimistic about my new job, city and abode.  But for now still a little… tired and jet lagged.  Good night as I take in some air con and a good night of slumber!

Special Programs

12 Jan

Well it has been another week of growth, new opportunities and challenges here at the English Village in Paju, South Korea.  It’s hard to believe that I have been here for almost a month already!  I certainly don’t feel like a seasoned staff member yet, but I at least feel like I am more comfortable and familiar with the basics… which is good.   There is still more to learn, that’s for sure!

This past week I had the opportunity to work in a different area of programming at the English Village called Special Programs.  I was told early on by another staff member that the one thing you can count on at the English Village is change. So far I have found that to be true.  It seems that one must always be open for things to be different  – your daily schedule, what area you will work in, who you will teach with…

So I was moved over to Special Programs.  I am not sure for how long… perhaps a week, perhaps for good.  Time will tell.  So far I really enjoy it.  There is quite a bit of diversity in the students and curriculum in Student Programs.  There are also sometimes opportunities to work with and teach adult and college level students, which I like. In this past week I taught elementary and high school students from South Korea, Japan, and even a few students from Russia.  I also taught classes for a group of visiting adult teachers from South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Russia!

It was really fun for me working with and teaching the adults!  Their English level is so high and of course discipline isn’t a problem – so the focus gets to be more on teaching and learning English.  I taught subjects this week like “phrasal verbs” “idioms” and “slang”.  I am finding that beginning to teach English is also serving as a refresher course for myself.  Speaking English and teaching it to others are two different things.

I had to laugh while teaching slang… to notice how confusing the English language can be – words that typically mean one thing, but when used as slang mean something else.  One slang word on their worksheet was “the John” which many of us know is an informal word for the bathroom ( or the toilet, the WC, the Loo… depending on where you are from…)  A student asked “why is it called the John?”  I have no idea.  So I googled it and I learned that the slang term comes from Sir John Harrington who was the inventor of the first flushing toilet.  Who Knew!?

At the end of the week we had a closing ceremony for the adult students and I was surprised to find myself tearing up a bit.  The students all had such bright energy and were such kind people.  Their enthusiasm and appreciation for learning was really wonderful and it was fun to have the experience of teaching and connecting with them.

The cold weather continues on with a new dusting of snow arriving last night.  And so with the cold weather, outside of teaching time it is still mostly hibernation for me.  I am doing my best to cook up a storm in my tiny little kitchen thanks to the wonders of my new crock pot, my latest purchase in South Korea.  Today I am making Jamaican Fish.  Here is the recipe if you’re curious!  Since I don’t have an oven, I am learning there are MANY things you can cook in a crock pot that you would typically bake… sweet potatoes, even brownies!

As always, thanks for reading and stopping by!  Life is good in the frozen land of English Village as I stay warm and settle a little bit more into my world of newness and change teaching here in the northern peak of South Korea.

Photo of Korean women cooking up a storm at an indoor market in Seoul.