Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for November, 2009

Laos Visa Run

Since my company is still in the process of securing me a work permit, I had to go to Laos to get a new Visa (have I already been here 3 months?). Luckily, not only do they reimburse the cost of the trip and the 6-month Visa, but I also get paid days off for the days I miss. So… getting paid somewhere between $70 and $100 (depending on the quickly crashing dollar) for a Laos trip and 6 more months of Thailand. Sweet.

Laos, my first exposure to red rule.

Laos (which was described to me by a Thai as Thailand 20 years ago, before the people  started getting “mean”) is a pretty interesting place. The first Communist country I’ve visited, Laos’ capital, Vientiane, seems like a 50-yard town with a pretty mellow population. Not to say there aren’t pretty women there, they’re just farther between, don’t care to dress up like Thai girls, and more often than not wearing military drab or camouflage fatigues. When it rains, their internet doesn’t work. Beer Lao is great and cheap. Cartons of cigarettes are silly, unhealthy cheap (200 cigarettes for a few dollars?)…maybe one reason for their 50-year life expectancy or 18-19 median age? Even though a number of vendors speak French, it’s hardly a touristy place—I don’t think we saw more than 10 white people during our 3 days there. It’s also really hot.

Bustling Downtown Vietiane

Like I said, Vientiane is a dramatically underdeveloped capital- I’m talking dirt roads and grazing animals in their populated areas. I think their GDP is measured in ladyboy handjobs and magic mushrooms (and their ladyboys are really sort of half-assed…just some nails and a girl tshirt, and they’re done trying); really, there are literally no banks or ATMs to be found. When I finally found a private company to exchange some dollars for some 200,000 Kip, we decided to see a few of their tourist attractions. We first ate at a restaurant and picked a meal at random (since their menu was written on the wall in Laotian, which is roughly upside-down Thai, with a few differences), and for about a dollar, we got a pretty tremendous buffet, complete with snake and other mystery meat, spicy sauces, and sticky rice. It was actually very good. The lady even gave us a card with a number to call in Bangkok for….actually I have no idea what for, but I’m going to call it if I need help in a hurry…or some Laotian food.

The first real attraction was Pha That Luang, the Golden Stupa and Laotian national symbol. It was really fantastic and totally empty. I think we were the only tourists there. When we were circling the grounds, we saw nobody but a few monks and vendors. It was a great time to visit and a beautiful national treasure.

Totally empty Stupa grounds.

Next was the morning market, in which we saw no other foreigners. Much more manageable size than Bangkok’s Chatuchak’s 15,000 vendors, but very interesting nonetheless. Muddy, dirty aisles lined with clothing, toy, and textiles vendors were expected, but the food section was the most interesting for me.

The famous morning market, near the food court.

Meat vendors, who are in the habit of standing or squatting shoeless on their tables (sometimes with infant in arm), mincing, chopping and otherwise tenderizing various sorts of meat which are loosely separated and more often than not overlapping each other with no ice or fans or anything. Live fish, turtles, frogs, chickens, etc. squirm, strain, or just dawdle oblivious, waiting for the inevitable doom. I wanted to take a picture, but I always feel bad photographing people’s eating or living conditions, moreso than other pictures I take. I ended up buying a few metal cups and plates for our kitchen.

Anyways, great country, great trip, and after 2 days, 1 night in Laos, a totally unguarded and uneventful border-crossing, 12-hour bus ride home, and 5 hours of sleep later, it’s back to work.

Read Full Post »

ben10

Ben10-- Waay too big here.

One thing I like about Thailand is their misinterpretation/re-purposing of Western media, language, or culture as it results in some pretty funny situations. Gruff-looking men drive Hello Kitty mopeds covered in Ben-10 stickers (I’ll write a post about insatiable sticker appetite some other day). Innocent looking young women wear tshirts with racy and suggestive invites, offensive slang, or plain silly English phrases on them without a hint of knowing what they mean—either they’re amazing deadpan comedians, or they just buy tshirts based on color and design (not to mention the companies that produce these shirts lack any sort of quality-control/editorial process). Heavy metal shirts abound, often on people who don’t really look like they might partake. A few days ago, a secretary in a school’s office was dressed extremely well, except for her shawl, which was covered in skulls.

I appreciate how Thais take what they like and use it how they see fit, no matter how quirky it might seem to me, I’m sure it’s commonplace for them. Music is another example of this sort of repurposing.

lady-gaga1ben10     Ben10-- Waay too big here.  One thing I like about Thailand is their misinterpretation/re-purposing of Western media, language, or culture as it results in some pretty funny situations. Gruff-looking men drive Hello Kitty mopeds covered in Ben-10 stickers (I'll write a post about insatiable sticker appetite some other day). Innocent looking young women wear tshirts with racy and suggestive invites, offensive slang, or plain silly English phrases on them without a hint of knowing what they mean—either they're amazing deadpan comedians, or they just buy tshirts based on color and design (not to mention the companies that produce these shirts lack any sort of quality-control/editorial process). Heavy metal shirts abound, often on people who don't really look like they might partake. A few days ago, a secretary in a school's office was dressed extremely well, except for her shawl, which was covered in skulls.  I appreciate how Thais take what they like and use it how they see fit, no matter how quirky it might seem to me, I'm sure it's commonplace for them. Music is another example of this sort of repurposing.  A few days ago, around the time of the morning when you realize this could very well become one of the hottest days on record, there was an all school assembly (Ks-High-schoolers) in one of my school's courtyards. After all-school public caning of a few naughty teenage boys at the hands of a pretty attractive high-heeled teacher and the National Anthem/traditional drumming, the tone of the meeting changed dramatically: all-school warm-up aerobics to the tunes of Beyonce (sorry, Sasha Fierce) and Lady Gaga ("Irreplaceable,"Disco Stick", "Poker face", etc).  I'm talking, teachers, principals, 5 year-olds, and teenagers. It was amazing to see an entire school shake it out in a coordinated dance routine to raunchy club music. Thais seem to love singing and dancing, have less shame than a typical westerner in this regard, and don't really understand how lewd they are.

Lady Gaga -- perhaps inappropriate for every age group.

A few days ago, around the time of the morning when you realize this could very well become one of the hottest days on record, there was an all school assembly (Ks-High-schoolers) in one of my school’s courtyards. After all-school public caning of a few naughty teenage boys at the hands of a pretty attractive high-heeled teacher and the National Anthem/traditional drumming, the tone of the meeting changed dramatically: all-school warm-up aerobics to the tunes of Beyonce (sorry, Sasha Fierce) and Lady Gaga (“Irreplaceable,”Disco Stick”, “Poker face”, etc). I’m talking, teachers, principals, 5 year-olds, and teenagers. It was amazing to see an entire school shake it out in a coordinated dance routine to raunchy club music. Thais seem to love singing and dancing, have less shame than a typical westerner in this regard, and don’t really understand how lewd they are.

Read Full Post »

We only get rabbit ears broadcast TV in our apartment, which isn’t so bad if you like Soap Operas that redefine melodrama, Royal family/governmental propaganda, totally humorless game shows that more often than not feature men in drag, or infomercials for Buddhist amulets, beauty and exercise products, and miracle pills (many Thai women are terrified of being unlucky, ugly and old).

One saving grace is that public TV airs Attitude Era WWF pro wrestling, which is huge here and I’m pretty sure they don’t know is fake. It’s really refreshing to watch Thais consume the wrestling I watched with the same level of wonder in elementary school, believing every aspect of it is real. “Attitude Era” wrestling got a ton of bad publicity at the time for their (duh) attitudes towards authorities, women, etc. as well as the company’s rampant steroid use at the time, and this led to a severe toning down of the best in sports entertainment…but 10-12 years later in retrospect, the tone of the show isn’t that extreme. The other saving grace are nightly music videos—both Thai and Indian.

talk

"Do you Smellllll what the Rock is cooking?"

Thai music videos are refreshingly provincial compared to American ones—for me, it’s certainly a welcome cultural difference. As a country, Thailand’s constantly falling in and out of love…I don’t believe this is an exaggerated generalization. Western songs featuring lyrics of heartbreak, melancholy pining, and rumination over lost loves play in convenience stores, taxis, and eateries. If the music videos are any indications, all Thai girls are either impatiently waiting to be courted and proposed to, or else they’re severely and sometimes fatally heartbroken…and the men aren’t much different.

Themes include reminiscing over the early days of a relationship, boys swooning hard over a femme fatale, rescuing high-heeled ditsy women from a puddle-splash or other such public humiliation, and lots and lots of photographs at Thai historic and national landmarks. Especially popular are public transport romances (e.g. the one that got away in the Metro). Women snuggle up to their boyfriends as they speed through the city on a motorcycle, they fall into boys arms after being yanked away from a speeding car, etc.

996560_f520

"Pancake," one of Thailand's celebrities de jour.

Thai women are more (overtly) interested in knights and shining armor (although, come to think of it, the Twilight series is making a strong push back in this direction), and Thai men are more than happy enough to oblige—maybe it’s a fair trade for women (no matter their age) over here having to dress up like they’re going out clubbing for every situation; casual, professional, or otherwise. Outfits that would raise eyebrows at a Halloween party over in America are commonplace midday here…it’s like a big competition. Is that a kindergarten teacher or a pole dancer? It’s a toss-up.

Although it seems sappy, these videos refreshing break from the more materialistic, in-your-face American rap and hip hop videos that emphasize a more aggressive and physical pursuit of women as another commodity or trophy. At least with Thai videos, the women are the ultimate goal rather than a trophy representative of something else. Thai women also seem to be a jealous lot: with love triangles being a popular topic for music video and soap opera plots and stories of Thai women cutting off their boyfriend’s privates abound.

bts

Bangkok Traffic Love Story; a tale of star-crossed lovers who just miss each other in various modes of Bangkok public transit. Click for the great trailer.

On the other hand, Indian music videos are massive productions–over-the-top colorful sexual and sensual spectacles, concerned with physical beauty, decadence, or a one-night pursuit of a woman, who is either leather-clad in a hyper-futuristic club or dripping in gold, draped in intricate and ornate vaguely-traditional Indian dress and rolling on a candled floor in some exotic slice of Indian history. Apparently, Indian men are extremely passionate. They feel emotions powerfully and not afraid to show it– dancing really expressively, crying, or even killing themselves if they can’t be with the woman they fall for. Still, the women in these videos are the goal rather than a prize to gloat about.

devdas5

Devdas--still my favorite Bollywood flick to date.

Anyways, good TV.

Read Full Post »

It’s hot in Thailand. Really hot. The sort of sticky hot Memphis is in the summer…but a little wetter and a little hotter…downright sweltering in traffic. Being in a city of 12+ million gasoline-powered vehicle drivers doesn’t help the matter either…neither does hot and spicy food, or stagnant classrooms without air conditioning. We are now in what Thais call “the nice season,” which is preceded by “the rainy season,” which features daily monsoons and ridiculous amounts of rain—enough to turn alleys into canals deep enough to boat in. The few days last week it dipped to 70-75 (this is their winter, mind you), people were bundled up in hoodies and even scarves. What I’m really dreading is their summer or “hot season,” which, when inquired about, is described by Thais as “hot.” Great.

DSCN1820

Mmm, I could do with some spicy food.

Read Full Post »

Teaching

I haven’t posted in a long time thanks to lack of internet, lack of static living location, and new work, but now that I’m more settled and soon to get full-time internet, I think I’m going to start posting more often about living and teaching in Thailand. After coming to Bangkok, getting a TESOL certificate, and visiting the beautiful island of Lanta in the south for about 10 days, I started the job search.

After a few difficult email correspondences (Thai professionals seemingly rarely check their email), phone calls, and interviews, I finally accepted an offer at a company called Fun Language International. I shaved off my beard half way through this application process, as first impressions are even more important in Thailand, and the specific style of facial hair I had does not go over well here, especially for a position as highly regarded/ranked as a teacher. Teachers  are regarded as extremely important role models, only behind monks, the King, and parents.

Fun Language is a great company to work for. Not only do they have semesters of suggested lesson plans for Kindergarten through High school, but they also provide additional teaching materials, hundreds of copyrighted vocabulary flashcards, health insurance, and transportation to their schools. They even provide attractive, nubile Thai teachers to facilitate communication with school departments and help with classroom management.

110920092111

The best part of the company is teaching at a different school every day of the week. Fun Language is a private company that advertises and sells their curriculum to schools in the Bangkok area. Schools can buy packages ranging from 1 hr to 3 hrs of teaching a week for a class in any age group. They also do holiday camps, volunteer teaching, and weekend programs. Considering the number of employees and their pay rates, I get the feeling it’s a pretty successful business model.

Even though the company’s located in a nice building in a posh part of town, every morning they drive their teachers to a number of schools scattered all over (and outside of) Bangkok…sometimes more than 90 minutes out. I really like the variety of schools, classrooms, and teachers I work with. Most of my rooms don’t have air conditioning, some of the schools seem like they’ve been built in the middle of a mosquito breeding ground, playgrounds are made of crumbling stone and steel climbing frames, and most of their staffs speaks no English (although they’re all extremely hospitable after the initial skepticism). Homeroom teachers and headmistresses only have to observe you teach one lesson before they’re dying for you to eat lunch at their school, greet the parents, etc.

kindergarten

One of my schools, conveniently located in Mosquito Kingdom.

I have been assigned 5 schools and 5 Thai teachers, and I teach about 20 lessons a week from Kindergarten 2 to P6 (which is approximately ages 5-12). With the number of foreign and Thai employees, plus all their different schools (each with different curriculums and start times), you would think scheduling would be a logistical nightmare, but Fun Language seems to run like a well-oiled machine. Employee schedules are created and posted for us, complete with leave-times and possible stand-bys should you call in sick. You get a phone call if you’re one minute late. All-in-all, a very pleasant employment experience.

11-13-09-120045

Read Full Post »