Ponderings of a Local Thai Celebrity

Hey everyone!

Right now I’m jamming to some throwback Miley Cyrus songs. I know, I know… I’ve just been on a kick of listening to oldies of my youth lately. There’s nothing like getting pumped for a long run than listening to some Backstreet Boys or Spice Girls. Having my own room has been nice… there’s no one here to make fun of all of the dance parties I have. Ha!

Last Saturday I got up early to go with my friend to her school’s parent day. In the States I had been told a lot about how important it is to include families in the school so that all of the people who are most invested in the children’s learning can be on the same page (among several other reasons), therefore, I was pretty curious about the role of families in Thai schools. From what I’d heard before coming here, it’s uncommon to ask parents and guardians to help students with reading, writing, or other coursework. Thai teachers are really respected and treated as professionals. Asking for parent support would suggest that maybe they weren’t doing their job at school. Also, many parents live in Bangkok so that they can work and send money home to their families. Grandparents care for the kids and don’t necessarily have the energy to have the same kind of helicopter parenting style with which we are familiar. However, for the school’s parent day, all of the families came to watch the student choir and band perform, listen to the director (principal) speak, and then go to the rooms to hear from the teachers. I was glad that they were included in the school in this way. Oh yeah, they also got to hear a spontaneous speech given by their new English teacher and her two American friends… good thing I had to give a speech at my school already so I had something I could say!

Afterwards us Southern Belles went to Kiriwong Village for some delicious kanome jean (noodles and special sauce) and sight seeing. Kiriwong Village is famous for having the cleanest air in all of Thailand. The water and mountains there were stunning! Something funny that happened was when my friend told a Thai woman that her baby was cute…  the woman promptly shoved the baby in her arms and started taking pictures. Thus began Let’s Take Photos with the Foreigners, Part 2. I’m telling you, I really feel like a celebrity when I’m here! Family, please be prepared to take pictures of me all the time and tell me how beautiful I am when I get back… you know, to ease the culture shock.😉

I was a bit bummed when I couldn’t sleep in on Sunday either, but it was because I got to go to a huge morning market with my Thai mom and dad, so at least there was a good reason for it. I know I’ve already talked about how impressed I am with their markets, but guys, there were so many different goods sold there! I was especially impressed with the seafood. There were freshly caught fish of all sizes and variety (many still alive and trying to breath, which I felt a bit badly about), skates (I think they were this at least… it’s a fish species similar to a stingray), frogs, and turtles (to be eaten or taken as pets, I’m not sure). The meat section was strange to me because all of the meat was just sitting out. It’s definitely not similar to the packaged and refrigerated stuff you get at a grocery store, although I’m sure that it is fresher and more natural. The whole market scene is really great because although it’s not certified or anything, I’m sure quite a bit of it is natural and it supports local Thai people. It’s similar to farmer’s markets, but there’s more variety, I think it’s generally cheaper than shopping at the grocery store, and they have markets going on all of the time and not just one day per week.

After going there, I got to go back to my parents’ house to learn how to make some Thai dishes. We made veggies, fried pork, and a Thai style omelet. What I discovered was that to season (both the veggies and omelet) you just add a bit of soy sauce and sugar. Then it’s cooked in rice bran oil. I was told “a little” oil, but it my opinion it was a lot. The results were definitely delicious though! I had been wanting to learn how they cooked veggies here. I had tried before without knowing and ended up just using soy sauce… it was edible, but not very tasty.

On Monday we celebrated Loi Krathong, a big festival in Thai culture. It was difficult to pin down exactly what the meaning and purpose of the festival was, but wikipedia confirmed what I had been told in broken English that, “Loi Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar.” Therefore it’s kind of like a moon festival, but then krathongs are floated down waterways to thank the river spirits. Krathongs are small basket type things that you put small change in, a bit of your hair, and a few nail clippings. They all have some incense and a candle in them that you light and then put in the water to float away. As you do so you make a prayer/wish. The base of my krathong was made from a coconut and the decorative part was made out of dyed corn husks. The students at my school glued together ice cream cones. In this regard they are somewhat biodegradable and not too harmful to the environment. However, not every aspect of them were and not all krathongs were made with this concern in mind. Nonetheless, it was pretty cool to get to take part in. This year it was a pretty relaxed event because of the mourning period, but I’ve been told that usual it’s a much more festive experience with dancing and music. Maybe I’ll stick around long enough next year to see it in all of its glory.

This week I also began teaching prepositions (in front of, behind, next to, etc.) with my third and fourth grade classes. Supposedly this was review for them and I was just reinforcing what they’d been taught by their Thai teachers only this time with an emphasis on speaking. It didn’t exactly go as well as I thought it would though. At times trying to get them to speak was like pulling teeth. I’ve found that the kids are used to mainly repeating everything that’s being said, without any concern as to the meaning behind the words. For example, if I say, “girls, please say, ‘where is the dad?'” they will say, “girls, please say….” I feel like I was able to modify my lessons each time to make them a little better, but it’s tricky because it has been difficult to anticipate where the students will have challenges. I need to find ways to get them to think more about word meaning. It’s like teaching little parrots!

Well anyways, I hope you’re all doing well. I know that winter is quickly approaching for many of you, so keep warm and drink a peppermint mocha for me!

Your friendly parrot trainer,

Madison

 

 

Money Trees and Thai Feasts

Hey everyone!

What’s up? This is the phrase that I’m going to teach the teachers at my school this coming week. Does anyone have any more suggestions? I’ve been trying to think of phrases and slang that they may actually encounter with native English speakers.

This past weekend I had fun getting to know one of the teachers at my school better. On Saturday she invited me to hang out with her and her daughter. Her daughter was my age and had studied English for a year in Australia, so having her to help facilitate the language barrier between her mother and me was really nice. It’s not that I don’t mind trying to communicate with Thais who know limited English, it just can be pretty exhausting.

To start we went swimming at a really nice hotel’s pool. It wasn’t really the exercise type swimming I had anticipated, but it was nice to just float around and enjoy the day. Then we ate at MK, a chain restaurant in Thailand. The food served there is somewhat similar to sukiyaki in Japan or shabu-shabu in China. How it works is there is a hot plate built into the table where you boil a pot of water. Then you order plates of raw meats and veggies that you add to the water. After it’s done cooking everyone serves up massive amounts of this delicious and healthy soup in their boils (seasonings are added to the individual bowls and not the whole pot). Both times I went there I also got to try duck as an appetizer. It was so delicious! In typical Thai fashion, I practically had to waddle out the door by the time we left!

That evening we prepared for the Kathin festival which was going to be at the local Buddhist temple the next morning. For Kathin, rather than donating money on a weekly or monthly basis, schools, businesses, and families donate annually (during this day). They get fresh bills and clip them onto what looks like a small money tree. The tree that I helped to prepare was with the donations from my school. In addition to that, the monks are given new robes. I was told that usually there is dancing and more of a festive vibe, but since we are still in a period of mourning for the king, when we got to the temple we enjoyed some food (given by the temple in thanks for the donations) and then calmly paraded around the temple square with our money trees. This was followed by the giving of the robes and then some teachings from the monks (which I couldn’t understand a single word of, unfortunately). I was surprised by how casual this last part was. In a way, it reminded me of my experiences at church in the states. The older women were very pious and attentive during all of the teachings while the younger generations felt comfortable being on their phones sometimes having whispered conversations. Overall it was a very neat experience that I felt fortunate to be a part of.

For school this week I had fun teaching my classes the American Sign Language alphabet. I wanted to do this for several reasons… I hoped it would help reinforce the alphabet, I wanted to use it as a way to begin to include kinesthetic learning into my classroom, I have found that students have a hard time differentiating between letters when they just hear it (s and x, for example), and it’s just fun. I’d say that the lessons went really well and the kiddos had fun learning how to sign their names (which reinforced what I taught them about introducing themselves from the week prior).

On Wednesday I didn’t end up teaching any classes. In the morning all of the students and teachers were orchestrated into making a giant number nine (in Thai, obviously), which is the king’s symbol since he was the ninth king of this era. Then aerial photos were taken of it. From what I’ve heard, most of the schools have been doing this. I was really impressed by the students’ discipline because it took awhile and was so hot that morning.

Afterwards nine monks came and we all donated food to them. Monks live off of food donations and when you give them food it’s called “making merit.” However, quite a bit of the food also went to a homeless shelter. I got to go and donate the fodonationod with other teachers that afternoon. It seemed like quite a few of the residents at the shelter had some sort of disability, but I wasn’t sure if everyone did. I wish that I could’ve found out more information on the place, such as how the homeless are viewed in Thailand (Do they have negative stereotypes associated with them like in the states?), but the language barrier made it difficult. It’s also a sensitive topic and I don’t want to accidentally offend my Thai hosts.

I have mentioned before how kind and generous all Thais have been to be, which is super amazing, but it started to get a bit frustrating at times this week. Mainly, they feed me too much. Everyone is always giving me some kind of food, and it makes them so happy when I try everything. How can I be convincing that “yes, it is aroi mak mak” when I only try a little? It’s also difficult that I can’t understand the language. For example, I was treated to dinner at a very nice restaurant by one of my Thai teachers this week. She kept scooping food on my plate until I thought I was ready to explode. Then she told the waiter something that I couldn’t understand and moments later he brought out a big helping of dessert.

In a different food related situation, I was hoping to keep the dinners that I cook pretty light to make up for all of the other food that I’m given during the day. However, my hosts were appalled when they found out that I wasn’t eating rice with every meal! The very next day I was given a rice cooker and three big bags of rice. Their concern was endearing and I’m looking forward to trying some rice cooker baking recipes (suggestions anyone?), but I didn’t necessarily need it. I must check my privilege though and in all reality, if too much food is my only complaint then I’m really going to have a great year! Ahem, four years. I’ve decided to stay a little longer in light of recent events.😉

Toodles!

Adventures of a Southern Belle: Week 1

What’s up, y’all?

As many of you may already know, my official Fulbright placement is in Nakhon Si Thammarat, which is located in Southern Thailand. I arrived with the two other “Southern Belles” of Fulbright on the 25 of October to a warm welcome at the airport from my host teachers and director. Since then I’ve experienced nothing but the best of Thai hospitality.

In addition to all of the free food I’ve received, I’ve also gotten lots of jewelry, a new beach sarong, some black and white clothes to supplement my wardrobe for the year, and even a Thai flute (free lessons and jam sessions included!). Oh, and I also have two Thai moms and one Thai dad. Like I said, Thais are very hospitable and generous. Although physical stuff aside, there willingness to welcome me into their lives and community with such open hearts is the part that means the most to me.

It’s not only my school community that has been so great. For example, my first week here I went on a few runs on the road near my school and one night the older woman who owns a coffee shop/ home on that road called out to me to come to her shop. She proceeded to give me free coffee and a bag of Thai fruit in exchange for a “conversation” (game of charades). She asked me to come back the next day and when I did I got to have lunch with her and her family, play with her little grandson, and teach her granddaughters how to play Uno. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to a coffee date with my Thai grandma tomorrow morning.🙂

After having a few days to settle in, it was the weekend and the three of us Southern Belles went with a host teacher to the Klong-dan Floating Market. There we got to try some cuisine that’s special to  southern Thailand and feel like celebrities as random strangers took pictures with us beautiful farang (foreigners).

This past week marked the start of my school experience. It was difficult not always having a plan or even knowing what was going on, but I’m learning the ways of sabai sabai and to just go with the flow. The kiddos are a riot though. They like to yell “HELLO!” at me, but when I respond they just giggle and run away. I have also begun to teach some of them Uno. The first day I think I had about twenty of them swarmed around the group I was teaching. Whenever they have free time they like to peek in the office door to stare at me and/or shout greetings. In class they are pretty good, but I’m glad to have Thai teachers to co-teach with. The class sizes are pretty big and I think it could easily get out of hand…especially considering that they could really tell me whatever they wanted to and I’d have not the silliest idea of what they were saying.

Fulbright limits the number of hours that we’re allowed to teach so that we have time to get involved with the rest of the school community. At first this was weird as I’m accustomed to a US teacher’s schedule of having about half an hour for lunch and otherwise being on the go all day. I’m looking forward to teaching the kids American games and teaching the faculty more English, along with some of my favorite teaching strategies. Today I taught them about “TGIF” and saying “peace out”. In return, the really rad music/art teacher is teaching me how to play a Thai flute and my Thai parents are going to teach me how to write in Thai. I already have homework for the weekend!

Things are off to a good start down in Nakhon Si Thammarat, so here’s to another good week.

Peace out!

Khru Farsai

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Fun in Hua Hin

Amigos!

Good news, my wifi is now working. No more phone blogging🙂

hua-hinSo last weekend, for our last hoorah, a bunch of us went to Hua Hin. This place used to be a little fishing village, but now it’s a hot spot for tourists seeking to enjoy a day at the beach. We got there on Friday night, after a rather long mini bus ride, and then just spent the evening in the guest house we reserved. It was a nice, but strange, place. There were random taxidermied animals, disco balls, and paintings of mythical beings getting it on…it was apparent that the landlords had some hoarder tendencies.

On Saturday I got up early to go on a run. In my opinion, there really is no better way to explore a new place. It’s like sightseeing on crack. Plus, it forces me to quickly orient myself so I don’t get lost. This is very important for someone who is as directionally challenged as I am. Afterwards, for brunch, a few of us had some delicious food at a French cafe. In our provinces we won’t be able to find Western foods so we tried to get as much as we could before we leave next weekend.

The beach itself was quite fun. I didn’t partake in as much drinking as others, but I enjoyed updating my journal and walking around looking for shells. Oh and swimming of course!🙂 That evening we checked out the local night market and then an art market. I had a delicious doner (gyro type thing) and then roti (a very think crepe type thing with banana, nutella, and condensed milk). The art market, Cicada Market, was super cool because they were having some sort of memorial service for the king. There were lots of hanging pictures of the king along with black streamers, lanterns, and tea candles. Jazz musicians played on a stage since the king was a jazz musician/composer. They even played some of the songs that he wrote. I really appreciated the tranquility of it all.

On Sunday I went for another morning jog along the beach. In Thailand jogging isn’t quite as popular as in the States so I got quite a few different reactions when people saw me. Some had the deer in headlights looks and others would cheer me on. It was quite funny. Afterwards I went to “monkey mountain” (Khao Takiab) with some friends. In addition to all of the monkeys that roam freely around the place, there was a 20 meter tall Buddha overlooking the sea, a Buddhist temple, a Chinese temple, and a beautiful sculpture of Guanyin-the Chinese Goddess with a thousand arms.

I really enjoyed the Buddhist temple. It was surrounded with giant bells that you could walk around and ring. I’m not entirely sure of the actual purpose of this… probably something to do with meditation, but either way it was one of my highlights of the day. Just hearing the bells and seeing the ocean from up on the mountain was so relaxing and inspiring. It was one of those moments where I sit back and think about how amazing it is that I get to be here in Thailand and experience such things.

Monday was a holiday celebrating Chulalongkorn’s (a past king) birthday. In addition to packing up the massive amount of stuff I brought here, I also met up with my Thai art teacher friend that I wrote about previously. We went for a walk through Lumphini Park, which is like the Central Park of Bangkok. There were lots of cute paddle boats in the shape of swans on the lakes there. I also saw three water monitors (hia). Those guys are massive! I definitely won’t be swimming there anytime soon. In addition to that, I also saw two aerobics classes starting up. That’s pretty popular to do here. I’m hoping to find one here in Nakhon Si Thammarat. It could be a good place to meet some friends!

Well anyways, sorry that this was such a long post. A lot can happen in just a few days! I hope that everyone is doing well🙂

Toodles,

Madison

 

Soap Butts and Strange Monks

Hi all!

What is the most random thing that you have ever bought or received? At Jatujuk Market you could probably find that, in addition to anything else you could ever need or want! It is 35 acres and has 8,000+ stands. Since I don’t want to buy too many souvenirs quite yet I mainly looked for black clothing. Due to the king’s passing, all government employees (teachers included) must wear black and white for a year. This means that all of the colorful teacher clothes I bought especially for Thailand are useless. But at least clothing is pretty cheap to buy here! At the market I also got some delicious coconut ice cream that was served in a small coconut that you could scrape out and eat when done with the ice cream part.

That evening at my favorite pad see-ew place I randomly happened to meet a Thai art teacher who was sitting by me. I’ve been wanting to learn more about art classes in Thai public schools since I’m certified to teach art in the states, so this was such a happy coincidence. She also had some of her sketches displayed at the Bangkok Culture Center for her senior show, so the next day I went to check it out.
* On a side note, I’m also proud of introducing her to a very American snack of apples and peanut butter.🙂

At the culture center I got a new little notebook that had been decorated by a Thai individual with special needs. I was so happy to come across the stand selling the journals because art and working with people with disabilities are two things that I’m passionate about. I’m going to try to see about working there during my internship month. All of these happy coincidences and run ins really reinforce for me the idea that we all are on a unique journey and what’s meant to be will be if you keep your head up and are patient with the universe.

Normally I don’t have much to say about the week days, but this past week was special because I was doing practical teaching with a class of Thai students and I got to meet my host teachers. For the teaching I co-taught a unit on art with my roommate and good friend, Linda. I was excited about the idea of this unit because I am passionate about art and I thought that the kids would be pretty engaged in it. Also, even though it was about art and the drawings/sculptures they were creating, the vocabulary they learned can be applied to day to day life as well. For example, we taught them basic colors, types of animals, elements of landscapes (clouds, mountains, etc.), textures, and a few prepositions. The first day of teaching was a bit stressful because we got done with our material in half of the time that we thought it would take, but each day after that we got better. Progress!

Something funny also happened on our first day of teaching. When we arrived at the school where we were teaching we were told by our directors that we were going to be given some flowers, snacks, and rice to give to a monk in order to “make merit.” However, we didn’t see any monks and the children led us to our rooms. When we got to our room I promptly went in but Linda refused to until we figured out the monk situation. She was acting really weird about entering the room and I was getting frustrated because we needed to start teaching. However, then she pointed out to me (after I was already in the room) the monk who was casually trying to meditate on the side of the room. What?! The blood in my face drained…all this time I was being loud and ignorant when this poor guy was just trying to meditate. We probably just had to give him the flowers and then he’d leave, right? I tried to ask a student if this was the correct thing to do, but she didn’t understand me. Thank goodness though, because as I looked a little more closely at the monk I realized that he had a slight coating of dust on his shaved head… he was a wax figure. A WAX FIGURE! Good thing the students didn’t catch on to us thinking that he was real….
so anyways, we were able to begin the lesson, but I was still creeped out whenever I looked over to our waxy monk friend.

On a different note, if this post’s editing or layout is subpar it’s because I’m writing it on my phone (and my poor little thumbs ar so tired!) My laptop is not functioning correctly, so after throwing a tantrum that was befitting of the 23 year old that I am, I decided to say “sabai sabai” and just roll with the punches…”Sabai sabai” is to Thailand as “it’s all good” is to the United States. I’m hoping that once I get to my school that there will be a tech person who can help me out. Otherwise maybe there will be an internet cafe and I’ll be forced to go out and make friends. Wish me luck, because my sabai box for technology issues is very small!

Until next time,

Madison

Temples and Markets

Hey friends!

This past weekend for me was a busy one. I started off by visiting Wat Pho, which is a temple in Bangkok that boasts having the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand. I’d certainly believe it! At first I thought I’d just be seeing the giant (46m long) Reclining Buddha, which I would have been satisfied with just on its own. However, Wat Pho had lots of smaller temples, Buddhas, and beautiful decorations and ornamentation. There was someone praying/chanting over the loudspeaker while we were there, too, which was a neat thing to get to hear (although it did err on the rather loud side…). For part of the journey there we road on a Ferry. It’s so nice being on the water. I never imagined all of the different ways to get around that I would here! On the way back we took a tuk-tuk, which is a three wheeled vehicle with open sides and a cover. The taxis don’t like to run the meter when it’s raining and will overcharge you, so we crammed six of us into the tuk-tuk. It was very cozy and other tuk-tuk/moped drivers would laugh at the silly farang.

 

That evening I went to Asiatique with a few of my friends. Asiatique was the first international trading port of Thailand and now is a place with food, music, market, and some carnival rides. Admittedly, it is a bit of a tourist trap, but I did have a nice time. After surfing Pinterest for too long on Friday I had been missing fall and all of it’s flavors, decoration, etc. I was let down by the Starbucks near me, which didn’t have pumpkin spice lattes, but this restaurant actually had pumpkin soup! There was also a band there that was playing Ed Sheeran covers. It was just the slice of home that I needed.

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On Sunday I went to Khlong Lat Mayom floating market. The idea of a floating market is that there are goods being sold on canoe type boats instead of being on a solid location. The particular market I went to only had a few boats, but anymore I think that these are mainly attractions for tourists. The market that we went to was much more local, and therefore better. We had delicious pad thai that was recommended by one of my friend’s Thai friends. I also had some coconut water straight from the coconut. It was really neat seeing all of the unique foods at the market. I didn’t have the nerve to try them yet…especially the seafood ones…but I’ll get there eventually. To make up for the lack of water element at this market we paid for a ride through the canals on some type of motorized boat. I’m glad that we did that because it really rounded out the whole day. I was very satisfied by the time we left.

As far as my day to day life goes, each day I’ve had three hours of Thai language lessons in the mornings and then after eating lunch at the canteen I have three hours of orientation over various aspects of Thai culture and teaching information. It makes for a bit of a long day, so after class I usually get some fresh fruit from the very friendly fruit lady, veg in my air conditioned room for a bit, and then try to exercise or study. Some people are more ambitious in the evenings and will check out various markets and restaurants/bars for dinner, but I’ve been slowly but surely eating through all of my snacks I brought here from the states for dinner (thanks, Dad!). I figure I need the extra room in my bags anyways for the stuff I buy in Bangkok. This week, however, we have practical teaching. This means that rather than having language classes we’ll be going to a school to teach middle school kiddos for a few hours each morning. I’m co-teaching with my lovely roommate. We’re going to do a whole unit on art and I’m SUPER EXCITED! But this post is already much longer than anticipated so I’ll explain all about it in the week to come.

Have a fantastic week!

Thai Mourning

Hey All,

In Thai current news, their beloved king just passed away. It is a great loss and obviously a very sensitive topic, so I’ll just leave you with what I think is a pretty informational article for anyone who is interested in reading more about it.

                                                            Peace,

                                                                               Madison