Tuesday, May 19, 2009

School Daze

Awwww yeah.

I've been looking forward to school starting for a long time, and now that it's finally here, it's even better than I had hoped for. Granted, I'm not even really teaching yet (I am just going to observe my co-teachers for the first week or two to get a feel for the teaching styles to make the transition to team-teaching smoother and also to get an idea for what I might have to offer), but it's really nice to be back in a classroom, working with kids. Anyhow, lemme tell you about a couple rural-ish Thai schools.

My first school is a primary school, equivalent to an American K-6 school. Students appear to show up between 7:30 and 8:00 and spend about half an hour cleaning the building and grounds (um, awesome?!). When the time for cleaning is over, a song is played to signal students to gather at the flagpole where they line up by grade and gender. They sing the national anthem and raise the flag, then they recite a Buddhist prayer. Classes start at 9:00.

The English teacher (my co-teacher) has his own classroom that the kids come to. Grades 1-3 come twice a week, and 4-6 three times each week. The classroom has no desks or chairs for students (by choice, since my teacher likes to play a lot of games and people don't mind sitting on the floor). Classes last 1 hour.

Lunch is at noon, and it is by FAR the best school lunch ever. Fresh, handmade from scratch excellent Thai food. And it's free for teachers and students. We had som-tam (papaya salad), gai-yang (grilled chicken), some kind of kanom jin (that means chinese snack and refers to a whole variety of soup-y dishes with a particular kind of noodles). The head cook (who is also a teacher and my neighbor and one of my mothers) made me a dish of pad pak (stir-fried vegetables) because she knows I prefer to eat vegetarian. They also had ice cream (not free, but that didn't stop the kids. Or me).

After lunch was my co-teacher's planning time, and since it was the first day of school, there wasn't much for me to help with, so I got called into the 4th grade class where the teacher had left the class unattended (this is apparently a very common practice). So, I hung out taught a song/dance in English, played the Thai version of Duck Duck Goose (which involved a student taking off his shirt, it would get dropped on the "goose," then it had to be thrown at the "goose-er" before they made it to the vacant seat), and had them help me practice my reading and writing Thai.

I wrapped the day up by heading home in a downpour, then going for a sweet bike ride with some neighborhood kids after the rain stopped.

Today I visited my other school, an extended school equivalent to a K-9 program. The morning started almost exactly the same as the other school, with students cleaning and singing at the flag. Classes started at 9:00 again. At this school I will be working with the 7-9 students. Like the day before, I was just observing. It was kinda hard to just watch, but I feel like it will ultimately prove to be a good thing. And I didn't just sit there, I interacted with the kids a bit and talked about what I had seen with my teacher during a break. Then I had another amazing school lunch. We had laab (ground pork salad), muu waan (sweet pork), some kind of soup, and my co-teacher brought some fresh veggies that the kitchen ladies let me stir-fry up.

Wow, all the talk about food demonstrates how well I'm being assimilated here. People are really interested in what you eat, how often you eat, and whether or not it was delicious. I mean, a common greeting is, "Gin khao ru yang?" "Have you eaten rice yet?"

Anyway, after lunch there was one more class. The topic for all three classes was focused on greetings and introductions, scaled for the different levels, the older students asking more questions and giving more information. It was good to see how she used the same material for multiple classes and differentiating along the way. Good stuff. I think I will be able to work well with both of my teachers.

When I was finished at that school, I headed over to my other counterpart's wife's (my main mom here) school. I found her class and said hello (she wasn't exactly expecting me, though my counterpart had mentioned that it would be nice if I could go by there some time). Anyhow, shortly after I showed up, I was told to "teach English," and left alone with the kids. They were pretty young kids, and I had no idea what they already knew, but I decided to see if I could get them to respond to the question, "How are you?" with something BESIDES "I'm fine, thank you, and you?" as EVERY Thai student I've met so far seems to say. So we started working on "I am happy," "I am hungry," "I am sad," "I am thirsty." After a few minutes another teacher came by and dropped off her students. We kept practicing, switching between whole-group and calling on individuals ('cause I gots me some teacher skillz), and before I knew it, there were probably 40-ish students in the room (I think it was at least half the school, possibly most of the school). Did I mention I was flying solo on all this? Anyhow, I whipped out some games (and I did a FABULOUS job explaining them with my extremely mediocre Thai/English [because ideally I shouldn't need to use ANY Thai to teach, but it's a lot easier when trying to explain a game]), songs and dances and really had a fabulous time.

Then it was time to go home. I went home with my mother and we made some dinner (awesome pad pak and a stir-fried sweet radish thing that is fantastic!), talked with the fam for a while then headed home. I fed some more neighborhood kids some M&Ms, joked about turning the kittens living OUTside my house into laab (I think it confuses Thai people with I kid around, since despite the fact that they do it all the time, they seem to be under the impression that farangs are WAY to serious).

And then I wrote this blog entry.

I really hope this was a little illuminating. I feel like it might not be at all, but since I'm pretty firmly opposed to proof-reading my posts, I'm not going to sweat it. Once I really get settled into the school routine I'll talk a bit more about the day-to-day whatnots. Anyhow, you should at least realize that I'm really excited to be in school, and I think that's all I was really trying to say.

Jup jup! (Kiss kiss!)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Few Random Awesomes:

I have now seen a microwave that is used for storage, not re-heating. I think that the few microwaves I have seen here have been purchased in response to families learning that they would be hosting an American and did not exist in the home before said American arrived (because Americans only eat microwavable food). My friend told me during training that her host-mother almost set the house on fire when she apparently used her micro for the first time and put metal inside. The other day I almost laughed out loud when I saw my counterparts wife (one of my many mothers here at site) open the microwave (which I had never seen used) and remove one of several bags of dry goods that were being kept inside.

Today I made up a whole mess of beans (beans 'n' rice style) and took samples around to my neighbors. They didn't need me to provide the rice. Just a general pat on the back for myself. I got my face out there a bit more, hopefully people will like my food, and think I am jai-dee (kind-hearted). I also had a shot of whiskey (sticky rice moonshine) when I stopped by the house where a group of men were drinking, and on my walk one of the neighborhood kids started following me on his bike. We talked a bit while I passed out my food, then I went and got my bike while he rounded up a bunch of other kids. Then we paraded around town until it got dark. A while later a few other kids (who missed the bike ride) came over to my house and ate M&Ms. Thanks, mom!

I feel like I had more to say in this when I was forming it in my mind. Oh well. I can always edit it later, or just write a new one. Who said blog entries had to be long, anyway? It's probably better to mix it up, right?

School day tomorrow! WHOOP!


Saturday, May 16, 2009

My worst day in Thailand

Yesterday was my worst day in Thailand to date.

It began with a decision to just lay low, as I managed to tweak my back a couple days before and it kinda hurts when I take a deep breath.
My counterpart did not like that, however, and insisted that I come to his house to practice Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) with his relative who was a trainer who was visiting. I DID want to meet the man and learn a little something, but I had trouble conveying the nature of my pain. I figured I might be OK to learn some basics, but I began to get concerned when they said we had to go pick up some pads and training gear. This was sounding far more rigorous than anything I had wanted.
Also (I'm going out of order here, because I want to list the things that made it a bad day before I get to the punchline), between talking with my counterpart and actually going over, I found out what's up with the cats who keep going in and out of my house when I looked under the desk in the room I don't spend any time in. There are a couple of kittens living there, and the parents are presumably taking care of them. I also found two (very) dead kittens in another corner of the room, which explained the bad smell in my house and the recent increase in the fly population. Disposing of the dead kittens was very unpleasant (did I mention that they were VERY dead? I won't go into details, but I had to fight the gag reflex), but now I am left with the question of WHAT to do with the live ones. I do NOT want to take care of them, and I am not comfortable simply dumping them outside. I think I'll try to show them to my neighbors and see if any of them can do something with them. It really wouldn't bother me if someone ate them, I just don't want to see them go to waste.

Anyway, after I got rid of the dead cats and I was rushing over to practice Muay Thai, worrying about my back, I realized, "Wow. This is probably my worst day in Thailand so far." And I was kinda pissed off. I was mad at the cats who had had kittens in my house and had broken my jar of sugar, I was mad that I was in pain, and I was upset that I wasn't going to be able to take advantage of this opportunity to learn a cool new sport.

But then a motorcycle with a family of four passed me, smiling and waving and saying hello. And then another one did (only with three people). And I smiled. I remembered that, "Holy crap! I'm in the Peace Corps! I'm in Thailand!" I remembered that this is probably the most amazing thing I have ever done, and that all the things that had me in a bad mood were really pretty trivial. Maybe I will have worse days in the future. Maybe I won't. Maybe I will THINK I am having worse days, and I hope I will be able to remember how lucky I really am.

When it came time to do it, I decided to just go ahead and try the boxing. And it didn't hurt. Don't get me wrong, whatever I did still hurts, but it wasn't really a problem for the punching, kicking, knees and elbows, and I am very happy that I was able to take advantage of this opportunity to get some one-on-one instruction. Better watch out, I'm gonna be dangerous!

A while back, we put together a bio book for the PCTH121 (Peace Corps Thailand Group 121) with photos and a bit of information about all of us, and I want to quote my friend Dan. There was a section for us to list our "Experience" (resume style was the intention). He said "Many good, some bad, all of value."