My first six-week term is behind me and now I have a week off. I had to leave the country for visa reasons so I'm on my way to Penang, Malaysia with Allan, my friend from the course who's in the same boat (well, plane actually, but he needs to leave the country, too). It makes for a great excuse to travel, and I'm looking forward to another landscape. It's funny that most people come to Thailand to vacation, but I'm actually leaving the Land of Smiles for my R&R. I finally picked up Culture Shock, a book that Sarah lent me with the message that it'll be like my Bible here. One quote in particular hit home: "One of the paradoxes of the modern world is that a man, or woman, can be uprooted, flown halfway around the globe, dropped down in another time, climate, culture, and expect to get up the following day and function as usual." This has been my story for the past three months, starting school almost immediately, and then straight to a new job, career even. There was no easing into the new culture, but I'd bet jumping into the deep end has its advantages. Nevertheless, now it's time to kick back and be a tourist for a bit.
Here's a picture one of my students took on the last day of class. I almost fit right in, huh?
And she captured me doing I don't know what on another day, but this gives you an idea of the classroom. They have a lot of character, and the wall I'm facing is all windows, which is nice.
It's rainy season now and it seems like once a day the sky opens up and on comes the assault. I'm staring out of my window now and see people throwing up umbrellas and scampering to dry land, the security guard at my building chasing after some big board on wheels that just rolled into the street, the women at the wash-n-dry place hastily bringing in laundry that they'll have to dry all over again, and the Thai women in the massage shop still enjoying their foot rubs and likely glad to be where they are. I hear all the soi dogs howling. There are a lot of stray dogs that live on the quiet streets because Thais will not put a dog to sleep. Almost every evening around the same time, I hear someone chanting and all of the dogs howling. There is not a temple near me so it's not the monks. Some of my classmates who lived near temples in Chiang Mai awoke every morning at 5:30 to monks chanting and dogs howling. I will have to follow the sound next time and see who it is.
Posted by gingeruprooted at 3:28 PM
Critiquing someone's appearance in Thailand is not necessarily considered rude. In fact, it's seen as being helpful. One of the first comments a friend might make to another is about her weight gain or loss. I got my own critique during class when I told my students I had a bad habit of slouching. I was trying to elicit solutions from them, but they misunderstood and thought I was asking for more bad habits. I was matter-of-factly told to wear more make-up and dress up more. (Thais are particular about appearance and it's common to see girls powdering themselves in public. They also have a high regard for teachers and like to see them dressed pretty formally.) I was laughing about this in the teacher's lounge, and one teacher had just returned from the cafeteria where as she reached for a Coke, one of her sweetest students tapped her on the arm and with the biggest, most sincere smile, said “No, don't get Coke. Coke makes you more fat. Get Coke One or Diet Pepsi.” Another teacher had been told by a student “You look great from the side, but like this [gesturing face-to-face], not so good.” Students will laugh at the fat girl in class (“She's fat. Haha.”) or the lady boy (“She used to be a he. Heehee.”) and the subject of the riddling just laughs right along. This may seem insensitive, but I get the feeling it's more to the contrary. Thais place a lot of importance on “saving face”, and by being so open about things that may cause insecurity, it seems they're actually helping the person become less self-conscious. It's a nice idea, but somehow I think only Thais can get away with it.
Posted by gingeruprooted at 3:16 PM
A group of girls went out for Sarah's birthday Saturday night. We dined at Crepes & Co., a popular restaurant off Sukhumvit, next to the famous Cabbages & Condoms. The obligatory dinner crepes served their purpose, but were quickly forgotten once the dessert versions arrived. Death by Nutella would not be such a bad thing. It reminded me of Paris, when Stephanie and I first discovered the mother of all desserts and started each day in line at a crepes stand. But back in Thailand, we then headed to a nearby bar (one of the few in this area sans bar girls). Poor Eiw, the only Thai in the group, had to endure our warped questions that could only come out after enough sangria. Example: Do Thais really not poot as much as Westerners because they don't eat dairy? We never got a conclusive answer about the quantity, but we did find out that one Thai woman actually killed herself because she pooted in front of her boyfriend. If they are more ashamed of this bodily function, then I'm all the more baffled by their openness with another. It's totally normal for friends, even acquaintances, here to ask each other “Did you poop today?” with a genuine concern for their digestive status. One of Sarah's students recently excused his tardiness to the whole class with “Sorry I'm late. Poop.” I'm finding this to be a culture of many contradictions, which makes it all the more interesting to sit back and observe.
Posted by gingeruprooted at 3:10 PM
Thanks to everyone who has taken an interest in this little adventure of mine. Your emails have made me feel much closer to home. I'm having such a great time here, but miss you all lots! Some of you have asked me about teaching and what my students are like. I've taught two and a half weeks now and so far so good. Since I've never taught before, I feel like I still have my training wheels on. For the most part, my students are delightful. Thais are generally very respectful of teachers. The only real behavior issues to deal with are students chatting while other students are talking and answering cell phones in class (for some reason neither are considered rude). But flash a knowing look and smile, and they'll instantly return a giggle and their attention to the class. My students this term range in age from 16 to 50-something, but the large majority are in their early to mid-twenties. Terms are six weeks with a week off between each one. Each term I'll teach different courses and possibly have different hours so the variety is nice. Right now I'm teaching several classes from high-beginner to intermediate during the afternoons. The beginner levels are fun, but actually more difficult because you have to be extra conscientious of word use and talking pace, and gestures and facial expressions are even more important. And I'm really enjoying the afternoons, but I think I'll try evenings next term to see what it's like to have days free.
Posted by gingeruprooted at 8:13 AM