Tuesday, June 28, 2011


16 classes- the smallest is 15 students, the largest is 37, for a rough average of 25. So I teach 400 students. The town is about 10,000, but students come in from the surrounding islands - so I estimate I teach about 2-3% of the area.
Mornings begin with a schoolwide assembly where they sing the king's song, listen to announcements, and raise the flag.

Here they are listening to a schpeal about why drugs are bad:

4 of my classes are Matayum 1, which is the equivalent of 7th grade- they're 12-13. I was doing something complicated the first day, but I completely lost their attention. Now I'm doing the short vowel chants I learned in Crosby's class (A says ah as in apple (CRUNCH) etc.) and trying to combine it with blend consonant sounds like bl or cr. We just started basic questions and answers like "what sport do you like?" It's still a challenge. Good days are delightful but if there is no other adult in the room the kids really act out. Not knowing any of their names or any Thai really limits my options. I need to learn Thai. I'm getting there, slowly.

Matayums 4, 5 and 6, my remaining 12 classes, are much more steadily enjoyable. They are 15 to 17 years old and generally like to learn, which makes all the difference. I started with informal and formal greetings but that was too simple, so we're working on two things - explaining "why" you hold a preference (i.e. "I like football/badminton because I like being on a team/I like to win/I like to exercise") and hearing words in songs. Today I played the first verse of Radiohead's High and Dry, and the first three lines of Black Star's Astronomy, writing the lyrics like this:

Two jumps in a _____ I bet you think that's pretty _____don't you boy"

On the board. We listened like 5 times consecutively and they tried to fill in the blanks.. In my first class, it went all right, and in my second, it was fantastic. I figure they're into it when they spontaneously applaud themselves or me. When they got "mirror" in "You broke another mirror," everyone was delighted, and so was I. Astronomy was a much greater challenge. But when I rapped it at the end, no joke, jaws dropped.

Teaching, teaching- I sometimes wonder why I'm attracted to other options. If I found the right environment, this would be it for life. We shall see. It remains a viable backup.

My lessons look like this: Here I am trying to explain how to refer to men and women who are married and unmarried.

I was going to post a picture of my student but thought better of it.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Sleep cycle shot, unsure of how to order food, all communication accompanied by pantomiming- traveling can be hard. For a few days last week, I doubted myself, and I retreated to my room. On Friday, however, I resolved to move, ran around my neighborhood, and began to feel awe and joy again. In new places, I run by by taking every little side street, and came across a 1 km, pitch black passage in a cave, about 800 m from my house, and noted to come back with a flashlight. Some 15 minutes later I came across a Buddhist monastery with a lengthy, enclosed bridge designed like a dragon, which transports the visitor from "heaven to hell." Heaven is a cave and a spot overlooking Phang Nga, and hell is grotesque statues spearing each other, and I said: boy I gotta tell Michelle about this. So the next day we went on a tour of Southwestern Phang Nga.

She brought a camera. This is a giant Buddha.
It is actually awe-inspiring.

Now we're in Hell.

This dude is being sawed by demons. That's no good.

That day we took long walks and ate cheap food and met a dude from Wales who also teaches English.

Sunday morning, a teacher at my school invited us to a ceremony at a Buddhist temple. Another teacher's son is becoming a monk, so we went early to see his head be ritually shaved by family members. Michelle and I were invited to take a picture with him and his parents. We of course obliged:

We ate a big meal and walked around the temple with family and friends until the newly anointed monk through ceremonial coins at us for good luck. I went home, killed the day, and ran to Phang Nga bay.

Some more general observations:

Teaching English is a joy. Right now I feel like I could do this forever. I have kids who are ages 12-18, although most are 15-17. I much prefer the older ones. Their English reading and writing is good but they are conversationally shy, so I start classes with things like "ask me a question- until you do you must stand." They are very well-behaved and polite. The 12-13 year olds were not so good. I don't think they understood more than 1 out of 5 words I said so naturally their attention wavered, but many were clearly deliberately testing me, singing in class, or playing with a ping pong paddle and ball. So I confiscated a bunch of their things and told one kid to leave, ushering him out with a loud "goodbye!" It wasn't a high moment, but each other class has been great. Teaching is ridiculous- great classes are elevating, and poor ones fill me with self-doubt and fear. It all feels so personal, even if on some level I realize I am not the protagonist; I am like Rosencrantz or smaller.

Living in a warm, humid climate can be rough. Clothes take a long time to get dry and the whole house smells like mildew. Most indoor spaces and books I encounter are mildewed, mostly in a mild way. I spend about 20-35 minutes each day cleaning.

I was living ultra frugally, amazed that I could survive on $3 a day, but why bother? My salary comes out to about $17/day, and my only expenses are food and cleaning supplies. So I bought the Frosted Flakes, name brand, at Big C. Totally worth it.

All my dreams recently have been about the last week or so of City Year. When City Year began, all my dreams were about senior week of college. In one , I was at a big party with CY people, carousing, when I suddenly noticed that one of my students, the littlest one in the class, the one I used to carry in my arms when she was having a tough time, was sitting right next to me. I said to the group "I can't drink anymore- D is here." And D said "it's ok; I'm used to it." I guess I feel guilt about abandoning the students, literally flying away to an easier life. It will pass. I'm surprised how few of my dreams are about school itself. I guess my subconscious exhausted the subject this winter.

Thai people are super friendly. I was running around shirtless on Sunday and almost everyone who zoomed past me on their motorbike honked the horn and said "hello!" or "welcome to Thailand!" Or just waved and smiled. I feel welcomed.

Man, I know it's a stereotype, but I am seriously lucky to be here:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

some things I've learned

I'm using Wi-Fi on the hammock on the porch of my house, watching someone prepare dinner in her outdoor kitchen, curry smells drifting over. A chicken is walking down the street. She moves for motorcycles.

1) I am going to have a lot of free time. I am teaching 16 different classes of 50 minutes each, so roughly 13 hours a week; all told I'll probably work for about twice that. Hopefully I can put 10 hours a week towards Thai language, and then I'll still have ample time to read and write and hang out. I'm so glad my workweek isn't 50 hours anymore. I am not a workaholic. It would have to be like reading-Harry-Potter-level flow to seem worth it right now. Being relaxed is sweet.

2) I am very glad I'm with an established program. My luggage recently arrived, because a co-teacher had a friend at the airport and was able to get them to deliver it to the school. Being with PiA means adults, both here and in the States, can come to bat if anything goes wrong, which something did. I honestly don't even know my address right now- getting the luggage to Phang Nga and then transporting it to my house would have been a nightmare without intermediaries. I'm very grateful to have support.

3) Possibly because it's a Bhuddist country (Michelle's [the other PiA fellow in town!] educated guess), the stray cats and dogs all look very happy and fat.

4) Rural and in the jungle does not mean paradise. Phang Nga basically straddles one long highway, with all stores and stands directly on the road and all houses on side streets. It gets really pretty when you leave the main road; there are densely forested mountains every way you turn. But the "center" of town is kind of like urban sprawl everywhere. There's one big box store (a "Big C"- it's basically Target) 3 7-11s, and a lot of small, usually dark and empty restaurants and stands. I think rent must cost like nothing. It kind of reminds me of Cairo, except without the overstaffing. Beach resort this town is not. Nonetheless, it takes about two minutes to be in something that feels quaint and authentic, and about 5 to get to something that feels untouched.

5) heavy rain in the morning is very soothing. There are no light showers here. It pours.

6) I very much enjoyed this article on the history of modern Beijing's urban landscape. I was going to start reading Ulysses but ended up reading The Wind and the Willows instead. Both are free on kindle!

Monday, June 13, 2011

I'm in Phang Nga

After two days traveling, I am in my house in Phang Nga. It's 9:22 a.m., I've eaten and been cleaning, and soon I will meet a co-teacher for lunch, check out the school, and learn about my schedule and the curriculum. I'll be teaching students ages 12-18, and I wonder how it will compare to Kinder. Unfortunately my luggage is lost. I have the basics, and previous PiA fellows have left some things like dress shirts, so really all I'm missing is slacks. Two co-teachers met me at the airport, took me to dinner, and then to the "Big C" so that I will not starve.

Phang Nga is verdant; my house sits in the shadow of a limestone mountain, of which I will soon take many pictures. I live in what looks at first like a really nice slum- the houses are packed pretty close, and most are patchwork, but everything is well maintained, and the central road, which is outside my front door, is paved. It's quiet. I hear insects, birds, roosters, the occasional motorcyle, children crying, and not much else.

My two story, slatted house is wonderful, more space than I need, and I am not its only occupant. Cockroaches and spiders seem to keep popping out of corners, and I scared a a gecko this morning. He jumped like 5 feet, it was sweet. During breakfast, a cat leapt onto a windowsill and appraised me. Now I had heard that I might have a cat, but so far, he's approaching cautiously. But the electricity works, there's wi-fi, and it's relatively clean. I have a shower and a western toilet. I sleep under a mosquito net.

I was expecting the town to be denser, and I'm a little disappointed that things aren't more pedestrian friendly. The main thoroughfare is hard to walk down and everyone seems to get around on motorbikes. I, fortunately, also have a motorbike. Now I need to learn how to ride it.

I will post more when I know more, hopefully with pictures. Until then,