Thursday, July 21, 2011

It's July, and I'm sitting on my porch once again, and it feels like my corner of the world. This past weekend I went to Bangkok and did some touristy stuff, and although I expected to not like it --because I found Cairo oppressive and I had read that traffic is "apocalyptic" and extrapolated that the whole city was unpleasantly loud and congested -- I actually found it civilized and tourist-friendly. A 5:00 bus from Phang Nga got me to Bangkok at 5:00 a.m., a taxi took me to town, and a room (a double) cost 200 baht, a bit under $7. After a rest, I met up with a PiA fellow in town, and we got lost wandering in Chinatown, then walking around a major park and to her officearea; after dinner I went to Harry Potter, which I found profoundly disappointing because my expectations were too high, but I enjoyed the King's song montage that played before the film, for which everyone stood. The accompanying images extolled renewable energy. The next day, we toured the Jim Thompson house, I got a massage, and then made my way to the hostel and back to Phang Nga.

Bangkok was fun. Only one place I went was notably seedy. Lots of people saw me looking at a map, lost on Saturday, and offered to help me. Maybe that's something that would happen anywhere. But my city norms are oriented around New York. Even in D.C. it'd be more acceptable to offer unsolicited help.

I got in around 5 in the morning this Monday (a 4 day weekend for a Bhuddist holiday), and biked back to my house in the darkness- serene! - and I was relieved to be back in phang nga. It was unexpected to feel at home. But I do.

This week I've begun Thai lessons which I find very entertaining. I'm still learning the numbers and colors, unable to put together complete sentences; the main challenges are remembering the tones (there are five, and the wrong tone completely changes the meaning) and this weird u-like vowel that has no english equivalent. I simply cannot get it right. but it's only been about 3 days. It's possible I'll never get it; some things need to be learned in childhood.

I've been debating whether or not to ride the motorbike that comes with my house, and I'd been rationally weighing the pros and cons. However when I rode it to dinner tonight, I realized that I'd been neglecting the most important thing- that riding a motorcycle is TOTALLY SWEET . So that's settled.

This week, due to midterms, I've only taught 3 classes, and I have time off next week, and then I'm taking vacation time to travel with my mom, but I like teaching and the structure it provides. I'll be happy to get back to regularly scheduled programming.

I'm jamming out to Twin Sister's Bad Street- the most a dance track has grabbed me since I heard Hercules and Love Affair in fall 2009, and Within and Without's Echoes. Last week I read Peter Hessler's excellent River Town, about his two years teaching English with the Peace Corps in Fuling, China which has brought my attention to how fundamentally first world my experience has been. It's because of the internet, I think. I'm in touch with people like all the time, and periodically skyping my parents or Dan, it's not like a whole other world than life in the past 5 years. But mostly, reaching out in superficial ways to talk about movies on facebook or something, feels good at first but leaves me desiring something I can't have. It's good and bad. I probably experienced less culture shock than pre-internet volunteers, and my kids all know Taylor Swift. But my heart is all over the place, and I sometimes wake up longing.

Also, Hessler reminded me of a conversation I had with Liz over crawfish and beer before I left- how great it would be if we were fantastically gifted writers. I'm good, I think, but I wonder if I could be great, and I wonder how I would get there. Listening to Tyler, the Creator all the time recently has me interested in writing some rhymes again. That dude was born in 1991.

I put some photos up on facebook.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

2 ridiculous stories

1. In a speech exercise, I had asked the students to ask each other: "Who is the best band?" And to answer "I think___ is the best band" and then to write down _____ thinks _____ is the best band. Well anyway I was writing some bands on the board, English and Thai, and a couple students said "Big S." So I wrote that, but they said "No no no. Big S! Big S! B. I. G. A. S. S." and I said hold up? big ass? "Yes! Yes!" "What do you think that means?" no idea. So I explained big with my hands, and then said "ass-" and pointed to mine. They were very surprised. Turns out, they're a real band, not named for the related medical condition.

2. I wasn't sure about sharing this one,but here goes. In the same exercise with a different class, I was writing a girl's name on the board, and our conversation went like this:
Me: "What is your name?"
Student: "T. I. T. I."
at which point I'm suppressing a smile: "Yes?"
Student: "P.O."
Me (thinking "no way. no way. she's not going to say it")
Student: R. N.
Me: "Titiporn?"
Student: "Yes, Titipawn."

I honestly couldn't keep a straight face at that one. it's probably the best name ever.

Right now, I'm reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young man, and it's pretty good, although it's going a bit slowly. I read Portnoy's Complaint last week over two afternoons, finding it an extremely fun read, but I'm honestly surprised it's considered such a classic. It was a very straightforward book. I can't imagine doing much interpretation or analysis, or finding new meanings a second read through. It was interesting to see how far obscenity standards had changed, though between 1969, when Complaint was published, and Rabbit, Run in 1960. I thought Rabbit, Run was better. It stayed with me longer emotionally. Rabbit was, I think, a more "unforgettable character" than Portnoy.

I'm really enjoying Jamie of the XX's remixing of Gil-Scott Heron's "I'm New Here." Two tracks I especially like right now are My Cloud and "NY is killing me." There's a lot of music about New York, isn't there.

Phang Nga bay

so we've been traveling a fair bit now. The first weekend Michelle and I walked around town, the next I went with the teachers to a faraway funeral, and the third we went to visit other PiAers in Bangsak, near Khao Lak. The beaches were stunning, and it was a fair degree more rural than Phang Nga. The 2004 Tsunami really hangs over the place; Khao Lak was devestated, but now big developments and hotels are going up. One fellow's house, a spacious bungalow about half a mile from an empty beach, was actually really close to my original fantasy of what my year in Thailand would be like. At night we swam and watched the phosphorescent plankton stick to our skin.

When we first got to the beach, I was in love. but now, back in town, I'm not sure I would trade. Each has its charms. Unfortunately I didn't bring my camera to Khao lak so pictures will have to wait.

I did, however, bring it to this last weekend's trip to Phang Nga bay. We biked about 4 miles to get on a longboat, and soon enough:

From there, we got in a little blowup boat with an entertaining thai man and he took us to caves in the limestone islands:

This village is on stilts.

My house!

this is my porch, bedroom and kitchen, and that's pretty much it. The porch is definitely the sweetest thing about the whole shebang. I spend a lot of time on that hammock. Like on the order of more than a few hours a day. Blogger's tools for editing and resizing photos are surprisingly underpowered. and why is photo resolution so low?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Thai funerals

this post has no pictures. In one week, I went to two funerals, one for a teacher's father, like 6 hours away, and one in town for a student's father. It was initially puzzling why I was invited to these, but at the second, someone explained- funerals here are social status markers. You try to invite as many people as possible.

To the teacher's father's funeral, about 30 teachers chartered a bus, and spent the majority of each 6 hour ride listening to extremely loud Thai music and singing karaoke. When we arrived at the temple, we each put a stick of incense in a shrine in front of the deceased's picture and ate. We went to a market for an hour and then boarded the bus for another long ride.

The second had no incense, but the meal was significantly larger- there were well more than 100 people in attendance. At the end, two monks chanted for about 10 minutes. About 30 of us sat quietly, displaying the Wai, while the rest of the party chatted on unconcerned. Immediate family prayed but the din was really something- children playing and dogs barking and people laughing over dinner.

Both of these made me a little uncomfortable.