Ajarn Sandra Lays Down the Law

Every teacher wants to be liked.  They want their students to have fun in their class and want to actually be there.  In Thailand, or at least in Suansriwittaya school, this is especially important.  Students cannot fail in Thailand and this adds a lack of motivation factor to my students.  Also, at my school, the students actually have a say in whether a teacher can continue teaching or not.  They write an evaluation at the end of each school year and can make or break a teacher’s teaching career.  I always thought this was a bit ludicrous, but hey, what isn’t in Thailand.

Thus, teachers, at least the three English teachers at Suansriwittaya, are contestants in a popularity contest.  We do what we can to make our students happy, giving them free time when they “really need it” or conceding to letting them watch Mr. Bean once their work is finished.  We may come off as pushovers, but hey as long as the students are learning some English and are able to listen to us speak, then we’re doing our job.   It hasn’t been a difficult task to keep the students smiling, but thats speaking for the students that actually care and want to be there.

My M1 double lesson class is a different story.

The “double lesson” consists of   M1-3-M1-7.  These are the “special” children and thus know maybe one word of English.  And it’s hard to even tell what that one word is.  I asked one of my students “How are you” yesterday, trust me, as slow as I possibly could, and she couldn’t answer.  She started nervously looking to her friends for the answer.  And this was my smartest girl in the class who always answers questions and finishes worksheets first.  Really?!  How are you?!

Anyways, starting a class out on that foot doomed me for the two hours that loomed ahead of me.  We were discussing family and were going over grandfather, and mother, and uncle, ok you get the point.  They weren’t doing too badly, although great grandfather seemed to baffle them beyond their limits.  I had a wordsearch and a crossword that I wanted them to do and after ten minutes or so they had finished.  With my other Ms, M1 and M2, I had them write two sentences about their mother and two sentences about their father.  I knew two sentences would be a little much for these students, so I asked them to write ONE sentence about their mother or father.  One sentence thats all I ask.  Pretty simple request right.  Definitely not.

After five minutes or so of “working” I noticed that none of them had a single word written.  This wasn’t going to fly with me.  I know they’re a little on the slower side, but I know they’re not that dense.  As easy as it would have been to just let them go about their business, I decided to forego my standing stigma of a pushover and pull out some punishment.

Because the class is almost two hours long, I usually give them a 15-minute break in the middle.  This break is not only for them but it’s really a break from the headache that these little terrors give me.  I threatened that they would not get their break if they did not write their sentence (this gave me a little panic attack inside because that meant that I would have to figure out what I would do with them during that time), and I was going to stand by that.  It took them a few minutes to comprehend this notion, but it finally clicked and they started furiously writing.

Except the four troublemakers in the back.

These four boys never do their work.  I mean never.  Barely even a scrawl on their paper.  When I passed by them I noticed a long scribble on one of their papers.  I asked him where his sentence was and he pointed to his scribble.  He was dead serious.  I looked at him and asked him to read it.  Once again, blank stare.  I had to bite my lip to avoid laughing or screaming, I’m not sure which one.

After I had the rest of the students read their sentences outloud, I returned back to the boys and once again, no sentences.  I gave them a sly smile and turned back to the rest of the class and announced break time.  As the four boys started to get up, I whipped around and told them, to sit.  The confused looks on their faces were hilarious.   As the rest of the class filed out of the classro to gossip, get a drink or play ping-pong for their fifteen minutes, the four boys were glued to their chairs completely and utterly confused.

The four of them sat with their eyes glued on me as I played Spider Solitare.  I didn’t even look at them.  I was proud.  Probably a little too proud, but I was so incredibly proud that I had finally laid down the law!  The rest of the class the boys diligently did their work, and I mean they actually did it.  They didn’t goof around and they stayed in their seats for once.

The next class, everyone did their work.

And everyone got their 15 minute break.

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Traveling in Thailand – Witnessing a Little Bit of Crazy

As stated in an earlier post, traveling in Thailand is never easy. The buses leave whenever the driver feels like it and I’ve had to get used to waiting when there is no known end in sight. As regular as the bus from Lang Suan to Surat Thani has been, usually leaving between 12:30 and 1, this particular day it was not.

Alan, James, and I were heading down to Krabi (more specifically Ko Jum) for a long weekend and I had told them that the bus usually left on time and was never a hassle. After at least an hour of waiting, we were still waiting.

Waiting at the bus stop proved to be entertaining though. The most notable bystander was a lady that seemed to be a regular. She was muttering to herself and weaving between the chairs and benches. When James got up to throw his beer can away, she grabbed it from his hand and stuffed it in her bag. A few minutes later, she came up to him with a paper (of course completely in Thai) and started pointing and reading it to him. We had absolutely no idea what she was saying and she was just smiling (with a glint of crazy in her eye), pointing and trying to get James to read the paper. Disregarding our looks of confusion, she persisted for a few minutes and then just walked away.

Needless to say, she was a little off her rocker and unfortunately, because we don’t know Thai, we couldn’t figure out exactly how off her rocker she was.

As Thais frequently do, there were a few people sleeping here and there. A lady was sleeping on her fruit cart. The driver, who was soon to be ours, was asleep in a chair. The man in charge of the bus station was sleeping on a table and next to him was a man, presumably to be homeless, sleeping as well.

This picture gives a nice shot of the unbuttoned pants

This man, the homeless one, was wearing no shirt and pants that were about four sizes too big for him, and he must’ve felt that zipping them up would have been way too much effort. He got up a few times to go pee, luckily he went away from the bus stop to do this, but he always came right back to his spot on the table.

The lady came around again for James’ beer can, but because he was not finished he didn’t hand it over. This seemed to tip her craziness up to a different level, because a few minutes later she snapped.

She marched over to the sleeping homeless man and started whacking him with a rolled up newspaper, while screaming and shouting. Alan said he thought she was saying something along the lines of, “Filthy, filthy, filthy.” She whacked him continuously until he got up and chased him around the corner of the building. Still yelling and screaming, she was smacking the rolled up newspaper on the chairs and the walls, and we were even a little nervous she was going to start on us.

She grabbed a broom and started furiously sweeping the area that he had previously been sleeping on, all the while still yelling what we now thought was, “Filthy, filthy, filthy.”

The shirtless man came walking back into where we were sitting and boarded a bus that was set to head to Chumphon in ten or twenty minutes. The lady took note of this, still muttering to herself. Meanwhile, all of us at the bus stop are sitting in awe (us more than the others since we weren’t exactly sure what was going on, but then again, they probably didn’t either).

Her next move was an alarming one.

I don't know what kind of crazy thoughts are in that brain of hers! I'm pretty sure she's muttering to herself in this picture

She went fishing in the trash and retrieved a half-full beer bottle. Wondering what she was going to do with this bottle, we watched her wrap it in newspaper.

“Omg, she’s going to hit that guy with that bottle,” I whispered to James, “What do we do?! Omg, she’s going to beat that guy!” We all started getting a little nervous as we tried not to stare.

With the man still sitting on the bus, she started shouting again. Before I turned my head to see what she was up to, I heard a loud crash. Next to her seat, liquid was seeping onto the concrete. For some reason, she had shattered the bottle on the side of her seat and sent the remnants flying. Needless, to say everyone was a little confused by this and still watched her as she furiously tried to wipe it up.

I turned to James and laughed, “You should’ve just given her your beer can man!”

Dodging the Dog

On my five minute bike ride to school, I don’t think about anything too important.  Sometimes I think about the lessons for the day, sometimes I imagine myself still sleeping (I am not a morning person), sometimes I just revel in awe that I’m in Thailand (I do this at least once daily), but every morning, every time I ride that bumpy road to Suansri, I think about a dog.  But not just any dog.  It’s the dog that “lives” at the school.  The viciously annoying, seemingly racist dog that prowls the school yard. 

Alan, James, and I all ride bikes to school, and every morning, we are seen as some sort of threat to this dog.  Sometimes the dog is sleeping and we can sneak by.  Sometimes the dog just barks from its seat on the table and is too lazy to actually chase us.  But most mornings, the sounds of the dog’s growls signify a cause to pedal faster. 

Dodging the dog as it comes dangerously close to the bike, never quite touching us, was funny at first.  We would enter our classrooms discussing the dog that only seems to chase the white people at school.

 Until the dog started to go after me. 

The first time happened a few weeks ago.  The dog was chasing me as usual, but then in lunged.  It didn’t bite me or anything, but it was a sign that the dog was getting serious.  I reported this back to the others, including the Thai teachers, and I was promised that something would be done about this dog.  Who knows if it has rabies or any other disease that the mangy mutts are caring these days. 

Absolutely nothing was done about the dog.  Shows how on top of things Thai people are.  We kept hearing, “Ah next week we will take care of it.”  Well, next week never came.

The last straw happened one day when I was heading back to school after lunch.  I sped into the main road on school grounds and saw the dog heading for me already.  I turned the corner and instead of just chasing me, the dog barreled right into my bike.  As I started to lose my balance, I also lost my cool and kicked the dog in the face. 

As satisfying as hearing the dog yelp was, I was doomed.  I had lost complete control of my bike and there was no way I could avoid the trench in front of the curb.  My bike was quickly in the ditch and I was soon on the ground and absolutely irate. 

I collected myself and stormed up to one of the head teacher’s and told her if she doesn’t take care of it, then I will. (Probably an empty threat since I couldn’t kill the dumb thing, although Alan tried.  It didn’t learn, it still chases us)

She expressed sympathy, even sent some students to dress my wounds during my next class, but the answer was still “Ah next week we’ll take care of it.”

Only in Thailand.

Note:  I wrote this article a few days ago and since then it seems like “next week” has finally come…but I’m probably jynxing myself here, so I won’t go into details yet.  I was also hoping to get a picture of the dog in action, but of course, when I finally thought about it, no sign of the mutt!

Second Note: I swear I saw the dog today, but never saw it again.  Alan and James don’t believe me.  Maybe it was its ghost…we all have our theories… keep you posted on dog sightings!

Teaching in Lang Suan, Thailand

Teaching is what brought me here to Thailand and I realized that I haven’t written much about it!  I definitely lucked out with my placement in Lang Suan (although I cried for two days straight when I got here).  I only work four days a week (well, actually 3 1/2, but those days are pretty jam packed and exhausting), the school isn’t strict and the classes are small, the teachers are cool, I have good friends, and I get to live in the South.

 I have heard horror stories from other AYC teachers that their students tried to light their butts on fire,  the kids try to pull on their skirts or get naked themselves, the class is jam-packed sometimes with class sizes over 70, or the children are just completely unruly and unmanageable. 

Well, then I really lucked out. 

My M5 girls

My students can sometimes be a little loud and obnoxious, some tend to prefer standing and walking around the class to sitting and learning, and some sit there chanting, “Mr. Bean, Mr. Bean,” the entire class time, but they are all really great kids. 

(One of the first class periods we had them watch Toy Story over the week and one of my M1 classes never got to finish the movie.  Alan had borrowed the movie from Bangkok and had promptly returned it and thus I was stranded with no Toy Story to show them.  They still to this day have not seen the rest of Toy Story and yes, they still remind me about it.)

Of course I have my favorites.  I have students that love to speak English to me (some even try to speak Spanish to me because I made the mistake of telling them that Ispeak it), ones that are actually interested in my life and ask me what America is like and how my family is, students that love to learn and sometimes get upset when we’re playing a game instead of studying, and students that love to push my buttons.  I love all those students, even the troublemakers.  I will get mad at them, steal their chairs (I had a student keep making excruciatingly loud sounds with his chair and I told him I would take it if he did it again.  Of course, he did it again and I took the chair.  He awkwardly stood there for a second and then did a half squat.  It was really hilarious, and yes I ended up giving him his chair back soon afterwards), threaten to punish them or throw them out or try to ignore them, but they are still the students that smile and wave at me outside of class.  They go out of their way to come up to me in the cafeteria and ask me what I’m eating and how I am.

Some of my favorite M1s

So, I love my good students and sometimes I even like my troublemakers more, despite the headaches they give me.  But all in all, I have loved teaching.  But I don’t think it’s the actual teaching that I’ve loved.  The kids are definitely what have made my experience here so great.  I love being able to ride my bike through town and be greeted by a 14 year-old jumping up and down yelling, “Hello Sandra!!   

Their smiles are to die for and their laughs are even better.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Exploring Lang Suan

I decided to stay in Lang Suan this weekend despite my plans to head down to Krabi to do a day trip to Ko Phi Phi and a rock climbing day trip to Railay.  With only a few short weeks left here, I’ve started to think that I’ve been neglecting my home.  For the next three months or so I’m not going to have a home.  I have taken for granted the luxury of being able to come back to my own space after traveling on the weekends and the idea has started to daunt me a little bit.   Thus, I realized that there are still undiscovered gems of my temporary home that I have yet to explore.  And they’re only a short bike ride away.

Well they’re a bike ride away.

The first destination was the temple located in a cave (not really sure what the name of it is since everything in Lang Suan is not catered towards tourists and thus is completely in Thai).  We headed down the paved road past the new International School they’re building (it looks super nice, but once again the sign out front is all in Thai so we’re not exactly sure if the rumor we heard about it being an International School is true.)  We took a turn down a small dirt road and headed towards the cave.  It was one of the most beautiful bike rides I’ve taken yet!  It weaves through windy roads shaded by trees and past palm tree forests, where the only sounds I can hear are the wind blowing through the trees, my tire crunching through the gravel, and the various calls of birds and unknown insects.   Not many people venture down this road, especially farangs, so we garner weird looks from passing motorists, asking us with their eyes, “What in the world are you doing down here?!”

The temple in the cave was nothing too incredibly special, but it was perfect.  It had multiple Buddha statues and I just loved the way I felt when I was in there.  There’s just something about a sacred place located in the side of a mountain.  I closed my eyes and pictured my happiness (now I know “happiness” is not something tangible, but the feeling can be so strong sometimes that transforms into a real thing).  I pictured how happy I was at this moment, how happy I have been in Thailand.  And then I asked that my happiness continue.  That I find more things to add to my contentment.  That I never feel lost again and I can always bring myself back to this feeling I have right now.  I looked out over Lang Suan (we had to climb thirty stairs or so to get there and it gave us a great view of the town) and relished in the fact that I was there.  That this was my home for however brief a period it was.  It was my home and it still is for a few more weeks at least.

On Saturday there is a market at Paknam (the beach in Lang Suan).  Paknam is a good 7-8 km away and we usually drive (one of the Thai teachers we hang out with has a car), but today we decided to take a nice slow and long bike ride to visit the market (mostly because we couldn’t get a hold of Ta Ta).  It was a beautiful day and although it’s extremely hot, the breeze caused by riding a bike was perfect.

We arrived completely drenched in sweat, but excited to explore the market.   Our first order of business was to grab a beer, which was extremely difficult to handle as I was snapping photograph after photograph.  Of course, I was getting some baffled looks, but it’s hard to tell if it’s because I’m a farang or because I’m carrying this strangely, big camera.   Probably a little bit of both. 

I loved looking at all the food the merchants were selling.  There were lots of booths piled high with dried fish heads and who knows what else having to do with fish (this was alarmingly gross to James since he holds a strong hatred towards anything fishy).  I spotted an unrecognized crustacean and was offered a taste test in response to my confused looks.  The thing looked vile so I laughed it off, said no thank you, and bolted right out of there.   

We spotted two of our M1 students (mine was female and his was male) together perusing the aisles of the market.  We immediately assumed that they were together and excitedly gossiped about how cute it would be if they were an item.  It was one of my extremely quiet students who I loved and James seemed to approve of his student, so we decided that it was a cute match.  Around each turn we seemed to run into them again and again and with each chance run-in their embarrassment augmented.   It was so cute!

I had been craving an ice cream cone for weeks now and I happily got one on two different occasions.  I had James snap a picture of me with it and as I smiled widely holding my cone up, he remarked, “Yeah we’re doing a really good job blending in aren’t we?”  I didn’t care!  I was so excited to have cookies & cream ice cream on a cone!

All in all, we had a really fun day strolling through aisles and aisles of food, deserts, clothing and trinkets and I felt a little closer to Lang Suan!

Check out the Picture of the Day from the Saturday Market!  (and no it was not in the above gallery!)

Just Monkeying Around

In Lang Suan, there is an old temple, located on the river in a cave.  Unbeknownst to us, the temple grounds have been overrun by monkeys and they are the most ridiculous bunch of hooligans I have ever encountered.  A person could sit for hours just watching these little guys bounce around the trees, vines, and rocks, sometimes screaming and whooping at each other, but always doing something silly.    

I had been to this “Monkey Temple” one time before.  I had never been inches away from a monkey before, let alone be surrounded by them.  I wasn’t sure what to do around them and when James gave me a bag of cookies to feed to the monkeys I was hesitant.  It didn’t matter how careful I was with the bag, it wasn’t in my hands much longer. 

When I was getting ready to feed one of the bigger ones, he quickly reached out and grabbed the bag from me and ran off.  I couldn’t believe it!  I was completely duped and that little sneak pilfered a full bag of cookies!

Well this trip I was determined to keep my treats long enough so I could feed the monkeys myself.  I had brought with me three pieces of bread that I was planning on splitting up so I could spend some quality time with the monkeys.

While I held the plastic bag in my hand, I was shooting one of the monkeys that had decided to model for me.  Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a curious monkey swiftly charging towards me.  Surely, he would stop, I thought. 

Then he lashed out…

And perfectly tore the bottom of bag and collected his prize: all three pieces of bread.  I stood awestruck with the now limp plastic bag.  James was hysterically laughing.  We couldn’t believe it happened again.   

Just more evidence that monkeys are a little more like us than we thought.

The little Minx

More Monkey pictures!

Life in a Thai Town

Los Angeles has a China Town, Korean Town, Olvera Street (Mexican heritage), Little Armenia, and so much more.  I’ve had Chinese neighbors, Greek neighbors, German neighbors and neighbors from Latin America.  I attended college with exchange students from Japan, Singapore, Spain and India.  I can walk down a busy street and hear five different languages in three different dialects. Needless to say,  I have seen a lot of diversity in my short life in California.  Thus, being one of two white women in a small city in Thailand has come as a bit of a shock to me.

The Infamous Street - Come to think of it, I have no idea what the name of my street is even called...something in Thai I assume. I should probably take a look at the Road Sign!!

I am stared at everywhere I go.  Actually, I’m not sure if stare is a strong enough word for what local people do to us “farangs” in our little town of Lang Suan.  Conversations are stopped the second  I open my door, ride my bike down the street, or enter the grocery store.  Little kids aren’t sure what to think about this strange white woman.  They stare with their mouths wide open and as soon as I smile, they yell, “Farang, farang, farang.”  Trust me, it gets old after awhile.  But then again, I am in their territory, and most people in the town have seldom left, thus seeing a white woman in person is quite a showstopper.

As daunting as it has been to adjust, I feel at home.  I used to just feel intimidated and would avert my eyes whenever someone looked at me.  I would get annoyed when I would receive the common “cat-call” of “HELLO!” from both men, women and children.  I used to feel completely self conscious when I tried to smile at someone and received nothing but a blank stare in return.  But now I don’t.  I’ve accepted it.  I make eye contact as much as I can, I wave, smile and yell “hello” right back, and I smile regardless if I get one back.  I have more confidence and there’s nothing like the feeling of changing that blank stare on a child’s face into a smile. 

Even still, living in a small Thai town isn’t a walk in the park and the particular street I live on does not make it much easier.  I live on a cul-de-sac type street, with the street’s dead-end at the railroad tracks.  Yes, that’s right, railroad tracks.  They are approximately twenty yards from my house, and you guessed it, there are trains running all night long.  That wasn’t too difficult to get used to, but I had another hurdle that I had never encountered: roosters.  There might be a common misconception about roosters floating around.  Apparently, they’re only supposed to crow in the morning right?  Well, not the roosters next door.  They must find something dawn-like about every hour of the day and night, because they pretty much never stop.  Once again, the rhythmic crowing of a rooster does not keep me up at night and even though the next door neighbor’s German Shepherd seems to be another night owl, who senses danger every thirty minutes or so, it’s not the nights that have been hard to get through.  

It’s the mornings.

 In America, cul-de-sacs are known for their serenity and solitude.  No sounds of cars whizzing by.  Not a lot of foot traffic.  The perfect place to live a quiet life.  Well, my little street didn’t get that memo.  I am usually woken up around six, sometimes even five, by screaming children, yelling workman, and trucks that make my house rumble.   I have to leave my windows open or else my house will turn into an oven and  I live across from an unknown warehouse, where trucks apparently need to honk their horns, blast their music, and unload their cargo all before 7AM.   

But I live. 

My Neighbors that think its a perfect time to scream and shout at 6AM...but aren't they adorable?!

And it all makes it worth it after thirty minutes of chasing the neighbor kids around the streets and attempting to teach them how to give high fives, which they still haven’t picked up yet, but I’m pretty confident they will.  It makes it worthwhile when my landlord brings me bananas from his tree about once a week, even though bananas are the one food in this world that make me cringe and when he asks me the real translation of the old English proverb: Whatever is good for the goose, is good for the gander.  I’ve seen little chicks hatch and grow up.  I’ve seen children sprinting home from school as if seeing getting home was going to keep them alive.  I’ve heard fathers and grandfather’s make the weirdest noises cooing a baby to sleep.  I’ve seen and heard so much love on my street that I feel privileged to live there. 

I love being a part of that little community even if I can’t speak the language.  Smiling and laughing is enough.

I may gripe and moan about my lack of sleep, but at the end of the day, I fall asleep with a smile on my face…about six times a night.