Friday, October 12, 2007

Around Thailand

With the end of first semester and three weeks of vacation ahead of me I decided to take a trip south to the middle part of Thailand. My mom is here for a visit so she came with and we took off for our first destination, Sukhothai. Sukhothai is filled with ancient ruins from the 12th and 13th centuries. Upon arrival we were able to locate a guesthouse and relax for the evening. In the morning we took a bus to the old city (where the ruins are located), which dropped us off at a bicycle rental place. We rented bicycles for twenty baht (about 70 cents) and took off exploring. The park was pretty huge and some of the ruins were amazingly beautiful. It was just relaxing riding around the park, admiring the scenery. We took at tuk tuk back to our guest house and planned how we would spend our next few days.

Our second stop was Ayuthaya, a city farther south, which contains several more ruins. We were able to rent bikes directly from our guesthouse and we spent another full day riding around and observing the sites. Ayuthaya is a much larger city than Sukhothai and consequently much more touristy but despite that, the trip was enjoyable. There were several more markets around some of the old temples and there were even elephant rides available for those who wished to make a tour via elephant.

Our final stop was in Kanchanaburi, which is home to the bridge made famous by the movie “Bridge over the River Kwai.” There is an amazing museum explaining exactly what went on during the Japanese occupation of Thailand and the brutal conditions suffered by the POWs who built the bridge. The museum, as well as the bridge were highlights of the trip for me.

We are back in Chiang Mai now and are having a few days of down time before heading north to Pai for some rafting and elephant riding :-)

The Lone Traveler

A couple weeks ago I met a guy from California who was traveling through Chiang Mai on a tour of Thailand. He had just come from India where he had spent the last eleven months! We met at the Sunday night market and ended up chatting for about two hours. I found him really interesting and we ended up hanging out the whole next week. The more I talked to him, the more inspired I felt to go off and travel on my own. All the stories I had heard of lone travelers before I came to Thailand never sounded very appealing to me, even though the people who were telling them sounded so strong and independent. I could never image traveling off someplace completely unknown by myself. The longer I talked to him, the more convinced I became that I could actually do a trip like that. The thought of traveling alone no longer sounded so, well, lonely. I’m sure it has it’s moments and it isn’t as easy as it sounds, but the more I think about it, the more I think I would like to give it a shot when I finish up here in March. I’ll have about a month’s time with nothing planned and no particular place that I’ll need to be. Why not go?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Vacations and Visitors

It’s been a little while since I’ve given you an update so here’s a little recap on the last few weeks of my life in Thailand:

I’ve just had a visitor, Nobuko, come and stay with me. The story of how we met is interesting, since we did not know each other upon her arrival here. My German friend Urs was just finishing up a semester-long internship in Japan and had met Nobuko during his stay there. She badly wanted to see Thailand and when he found that out, he asked me if she might be able to come for a visit. We chatted online and she sounded like a sweet person, plus any friend of Urs I assumed must be nice. She came and we just parted ways Sunday night after a wonderful one and a half weeks.

I was extremely excited to meet someone who wanted to go travel since I have been in desperate need of a travel buddy. The first weekend of Nobu’s stay, we went to Pai, a little town tucked away in the mountains of northern Thailand. Even though we were there for less than two days we rode an elephant, took a bath in hot spring water, drove around to explore the landscape, and visited a waterfall. The scenery around Pai is absolutely gorgeous and the relaxed atmosphere of the town makes it an ideal place for a weekend getaway.

The second weekend we left Friday night and took an overnight train ride to Bangkok. We met up with a teacher there named Abi who neither of us had met before, but I had received her contact information through a long chain of people and who graciously invited us to stay at her apartment Saturday night. She was extremely friendly and helpful, equipping us with maps and directions to allow us to get quickly and conveniently around the city.

The first day we went to the huge outdoor weekend market. I couldn’t believe how big it was! We stayed several hours just wandering from stall to stall, buying food and trinkets and trying on clothes and shoes. After we finished shopping, we took the BTS skyline train to the river and rode one of the ferries up and down the river just admiring the view of the riverbank. The second day we visited the palace with the famous Buddha statue and made it back to Abi’s apartment in time to take a shower and get me to the train which left at 6pm that evening.

Nobu went on to visit other friends in Bangkok and I arrived back in Chiang Mai Monday morning just a few hours before my classes that afternoon. Phew! It was a lot to pack into a weekend but it was well worth it. Right now I’m missing the company of Nobu but I think she is having a good time finishing up her stay in Thailand. She is on to China next before returning back home.

I don’t have any more big trips planned until my parents come, hopefully at the end of this month. We still need to figure out exactly when they will arrive and what we are going to go see when they are here :-)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Transportation in Thailand

I find that it is strange that I have not yet explained the transportation system in Thailand since it is in such a sharp contrast to that in the U.S. Let me now indulge you :-)

There are a few main modes of transportation: walking, taking a song tau or tuk tuk, buying a motorbike, riding a bicycle, or driving.

Walking: No one in Thailand walks... ever! I have been walking to school everyday, a trip that usually takes about thirty minutes each way. Thai people stare at me and are almost horrified when I relay this to them. They cannot believe how anyone could walk anywhere in this heat. They do have a good point, that it is insanely hot here, but I think the exercise is good for me and it is the cheapest mode of transportation. While walking home I am occasionally spotted en route by students of mine who immediately pull over their motorbikes and insist on taking me to my destination. I explain to them that I enjoy walking but they never seem to believe that anyone would choose to walk anywhere. I’ve also found that it’s best not to be running late for class since I’ve been stopped up on more than one occasion by a crowd of students moseying their way to class. The bunch usually takes up the entire width of the sidewalk leaving no room to circumvent them. When this happens, I am usually slowed at least another five minutes. Besides the heat, there is another deterrent to walking: the sidewalks. Sidewalks here do exist, however there are usually trees and road signs in the middle of them. It is usually possible for one person to walk somewhat comfortably along one but quite awkward for two or more people to walk side-by-side.

Song taus: Song taus are the red trucks found all over the city. They are convenient for tourists or people who do not own any means of transportation. Passengers sit facing each other on the two side walls of the inside of the truck. The back of the song tau is open to allow the passengers to jump in and out quickly. When the song tau is on a bumpy road you get jostled around a little bit since there are no seatbelts but I haven’t yet experienced any situations where I’ve felt like I was in danger. A fear of mine though, is that we’ll get hit or the driver will make a sudden stop and someone will go tumbling out the back onto the street.

Tuk tuks: Tuk tuks are the open-on-all-sides, three-wheeled vehicles with a little man driving in front and a bench for the passengers in the back. I have to say, the scariest driving experience that I have had yet, was in tuk tuk. Coming back home from another university a few weeks ago, I had to take a tuk tuk on the highway. As we began to drive, it felt like the engine could hardly pull its little frame along, let alone its driver and a passenger. If we slowed down in the heavy traffic, the engine died and as the driver weaved in and out of traffic I became more and more certain that I was going to die. I would either fall out since there are no walls on tuk tuks, or we would get run over by some larger vehicle. Luckily nothing happened and I arrived unharmed at my apartment. I think I’ll avoid tuk tuks now though, at least when I have to get home via the highway.

Motor bikes: I haven’t had much experience riding these but from how the traffic is here in Chiang Mai I can tell you that they are not much, if any, safer than tuk tuks. Because they are so small they can conveniently weave in and out of traffic. This makes getting from place to place much quicker but they cause the traffic to be unbelievably crazy. I have only ever been a passenger in one of these but it has always felt like a challenge to hang on, especially wearing a skirt since then I have to ride sidesaddle style. While riding as a passenger on the highway a few weeks ago, the feeling of certain death began creeping into my mind, probably the reason I have avoided buying a motor bike despite my desire to independently get around the city.

Bicycles: Something I have just done. Not that I think I will avoid the craziness of the road, rather I’ve put myself right in the middle of it. I wanted to be mobile in some way and this just seemed to be the best option.

Cars: To enter into a lane because the traffic is so thick, people inch their way closer and closer to the middle of the lane until cars eventually stop. I’m always afraid some person will not look up in time and these cars will get side-swipted. Parking is another crazy experience. The first time I went to the mall, I noticed in the parking garages that people would park each other in. I couldn’t figure out why they did this until I saw some people trying to get to their parked-in car. They were pushing the car that was blocking them out of the way. When I asked a friend of mine how this worked she explained that the cars who parked perpendicular to the cars in the parking spaces simply left the car in neutral. When someone needed to get out, all they had to do was push the other car out of the way.

Friday, July 13, 2007

More Pictures

Here are some pictures of some flowers from around my apartment. Everything is blooming here right now and it's beautiful!

The last couple pictures are of me with my new haircut and me with a couple friends, Mark and Megan.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Some More News

I found an Ultimate Frisbee group, yay! They are mostly middle-aged American and British men but they are the nice kind, not the creepy kind so it’s ok. I went for the first time last week and there was one other girl but when I went again yesterday, I was the only one! Oh well, it’s challenging to keep up with them but I feel like I’m getting better already, plus it’s really good exercise running around for two hours. I’m pretty tired and sweaty afterwards but it’s a lot of fun.

Some of the other American teachers and I went to the American consulate on Wednesday to celebrate the 4th of July. There was a jazz band, American food, American patriotic song singing karaoke-style, and fireworks. It was strange to see so many Americans in one spot, especially since I didn’t realize how many there actually were here in Thailand. It was a good time but strange to think that I wasn’t even home for a year before coming here. I was still in Germany last year during the 4th of July finishing up the second semester.

One of the other professors at the university here works at the on-campus radio station. The station was in need of a native English speaking voice to say a few words such as, “this is FM 100” so this professor asked if I would do it. I agreed and they recorded my voice, which I found out will now be broadcast all over Chiang Mai and the surrounding area! I’m excited about it but it’s strange to hear my voice recorded like that, especially since I think I sounded like I was twelve years old. Oh well, I’m curious to see how it will sound when it I hear it being broadcast.

My university classes are going well and my more advanced class will start doing presentations this week. My Sa Tit kids are doing pretty well too but I’m still not sure what other kinds of activities I should do with them... I still need to come up with some lesson plans for this week.

Tara and Kelly (friends from college) are coming to visit in a couple weeks. I can’t wait to see them! It will be really nice to have some extra company here too :-)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pictures... Finally!

Here are just a few pics of what I have been up to the last few weeks:

The first picture is of one of the streets near my apartment. It's a beautiful view :-)

The second picture is of a temple at the top of one of the mountains here. It is tradition for the freshmen to walk up the mountain and for seniors to walk down. Since I was new to Chiang Mai, some of the other teachers told me that I should walk up the mountain, just for the experience. Kim (a Thai friend of mine) and I decided to make the hike along with some of Kim's friends. It took us about 3 hours since the hike was over 13 km (about 8 miles).

The last picture is of a dinner I had at Kim's house. Kim's family is Indian and one night Kim's parents invited a bunch of Kim's friends over to eat. It was amazing! The food was so good. This picture shows just the friends that were invited but there was also another table full of family relatives. I couldn't belive that they cooked for so many people.

Looking Up

I just finished my last week of June at Sau Teet, the middle/high school where I teach five hours a week. It actually went alright today... It was the first day that I didn’t feel like the classroom dissolved into utter chaos, so that was a definite plus :-) I have also been having them do some research about a country of their choice so today was the day they were supposed to put all the information together into little booklets. Although most of the students didn’t follow all of the directions, I felt like they had at least gotten something accomplished. They understood me (in English of course), did most, if not all of the research in English, and wrote a little booklet in English. I hope they got something out of the project.

I still get a little frustrated with some of the students. After I give directions and ask if they have any questions, I tell them to get out their materials and start working. They just give me blank stares. “Do you understand?” I have to ask, and the reply is always “yes.” “Ok so get started!” ...Still no one moves... “Alright, let’s try it this way,” I say and go around to each row of students and explain the directions again. Needless to say, the day gets a little repetitive. I was talking with one of the other American teachers who said that he found the students seemed to work better if they were put in groups. It made sense to me: if I talk to the whole class it is so noisy (traffic outside and fans blowing inside) that it is hard to have all of the students hear me. It’s also hard to get them to listen to me and not chatter to each other or play with their unbelievably annoying all-in-one cell phone-radio-cameras, which each student appears to own. If they work in groups, I can go around to each group and talk to the students individually so they will still get practice using English. I think my lesson plans for next week will go somewhere along those lines.

My university classes are going well too. Two of my classes have just turned in the first part of their first project, which I will start grading today. I’m excited to see how they will do. Two of my other classes will be doing presentations for the next two class periods. I’m excited to see how this will go because I haven’t heard most of my students speak very much English yet.

I just got internet in my room so I will be able to upload pictures onto my blog. I also have skype and iChat so I hope I will be able to keep in better contact with everyone.

That’s the exciting news from Thailand for this week!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

My First Two Weeks

I made it to Thailand! I can’t believe that I’ve already been here for almost two weeks already. Here is a quick recap on what has happened so far:

We arrived without any problems and two very nice English teachers from the English Department picked us up and transported us to our temporary housing at the Guest House on campus. The next day, they helped us find apartments and we moved in the following day.

Mark (the guy also from Coe who is working in Thailand with me doing the same job) and I have made a few short videos of what the apartments look like and we had planned to put them up on UTube. Unfortunately we forgot that UTube is banned in Thailand! Oh well, we’ll have some fun stuff to show when we get back to the US I guess...

We just started teaching on Monday and this first week has been a little overwhelming to say the least. There are at lest thirty students in all of my classes (I have five) except one which has around seventeen. The students are great but I have no idea how I will be able to give each student in each class individual attention. Because I am teaching just sections of classes, all the lesson plans are given out and each day is pretty much scripted. That cuts down on preparation time for the teachers because we just have to go over the lesson plans before going to class.

There is also a demonstrations school on campus that was asking new native English speaking teachers to come teach for them. At first I decided against working there because the classes would be for middle schoolers and because I wanted to see how my university classes would be before taking on anything else. Two other new American teachers (Jared and Ben) decided to work there but the school was still short one teacher. After talking with Jared and Ben I decided to at least accompany them the first day to see exactly what would be required of teaching there. Upon arrival around 7:30am, we met the coordinator in charge of finding new teachers. She was pleased that I had come and asked if I was ready to teach that day. I indicated that I had jotted down some ideas but I had no concrete lesson plans. She then said that the first day was just an introduction day and that it was most important that the students just were exposed to a native English speaker. I said I would give it a shot, and a few minutes later, I found myself in front of the whole student body who was in attention for their morning assembly. The two other teachers and I were introduced as new faculty members and I went to go teach my first class of seventh graders at 8:15am.

Overwhelmed could not explain how I felt! I had been assigned to teach five sections of classes, meaning that I would see the whole seventh grade class in one day. Each section has over 40 students! It was so difficult to keep their attention and get them to focus. After the first two sections I was ready to tell the coordinator that I was going to quit after the day was over but she reassured me that I would be ok and that they really needed my help. I agreed to at least give it one more shot next week...