So, be forewarned, this is actually two entries smushed into one. And it gets a litle rambly toward the end. This is what happens when you have no idea what you are supposed to be doing at any point during the day and are thinking too much.
Well, my friends, as of 7 Monday morning, I have been thrust into another strange and new environment. After only a fifty minute flight, I was met at the airport by a greeting party of six—a bit of an intimidating, but warm welcome. The group was comprised of three Thai teachers, one of whom is my contact teacher, and three international teachers. I am not sure what the Thais teach, but if they are in fact English teachers, then our presence is definitely needed. And yes, by 'our' I am referring to more than just my supposed skill set in the English language. Two of the teachers are here with a group called Project Trust, a sponsored gap year between high school and college, from what I gather. One hails from Newcastle and the other from Dublin. Read: Native. English. Speakers. They have been here for a few weeks already, so hopefully they have already made enough mistakes to have me learn from them. The other teacher is Chinese, but as both his English and his Thai appear to be very good, he is a (very nice) walking dictionary.
The accommodations are something that is better explained in pictures, I feel, but as I've no idea when my internet will allow such luxuries, a brief introduction. I do not have a door knob. Rather, the kind of lock that you find on a bathrooms stall keeps my door (mostly) closed from the inside and a padlock latches it from the outside. The following have been added to my possessions: a bed, a fridge, a fan, a TV, on outlet, a four-level shelf, an armoire, and a rack that holds a collection of glasses. The fan is my air conditioning and not catching any channels, this TV will most likely go the way of past televisions in my apartment history and be used as an ornament more than a functioning object. The bed is probably the hardest I've ever had, but when I spread the pink, heart-covered bedspread and lie on top of that, it seems a bit better. My bathroom is connected and I share it with about a million ants. Approximately. I'm without hot water, but if I can get the water pressure working a bit more than it's currently doing, I should be fine.
I've not seen much of the campus; they have graciously given me today to move in and sleep. I didn't think this continuous push to eat and would be necessary, but the facts that I only brought a bag of gummy bears and have just woken up from a nearly two hour nap beg to differ. Tonight we will be heading back into Ubon (the main city in the province of Ubon)for the Loi Krathong festival—an offering of lights to float down the river. So far, the meanings of the festival have differed depending on the teller, so I'll let you know what version we end up celebrating tonight.
Other than that, I'm still in the dark about teaching. I'm surrounded by very nice people, if their English is slightly limited. My Thai will be FORCED to grow, no worries about that here. And they are in the process of finding me a nickname, I think, as "Rachel" is proving to be quite the difficult name. But no news of teaching. No idea when, what, how long, or any of the other usual question words. We'll see soon enough, I guess.
To all the other ETAs in your provinces, hope everything is going well!
So, while I have been unsuccessful in finding internet reliable enough, I have found some time to continue with the meager update that I attempted earlier.
Monday night, all these people that I did not know and I piled into a van (at least one hour after the appointed time. That's apparently how things go here.) We headed back into Ubon Ratchathani for the Loi Krathong festival. Going into the city, we passed over a river whose name I get mixed up with another at the moment. Looking out over the rural landscape, we were greeted with the firefly-like lights drifting through the black whose shadows were visible thanks to the full moon. Lanterns. As we crossed over the bridges, these sparks of light were migrating towards some unknown destination and we were making our way towards them. It's a sight for which I am having trouble coming up with words, but stunning is definitely one of them.
After fighting through some traffic, we arrived at the banks of the river. Bpranee (my host teacher) and Miao (an English teacher) bought a krathong for each of us. Picture a thick discus made of folded leaves and stalks and flowers. Stuck in this krathong is a candle and three sticks of incense, all of which are to be lit before sending the krathong off on down the river. We had some rather windy conditions to contend with, but at the very least got our incense lit. Offering up our wishes for the years, we raised our krathong up and then set them free. We also had one large floating lantern between all of us. It was a paper lantern taller than I. We lit the bottom candle, let it fill with hot air and then released it…only to promptly catch it again before it nose-dived into a tree. Ignoring all of the potential symbolism that near catastrophe might hold for out year ahead, we gathered around the lantern again, poured our silent wishes and dreams into it and released it a second time. Besides the brief scare where it dipped frighteningly close to the river, our lantern was lifted up to join the others, creating their own constellations.
as soon as I can get this one turned right side up, I will. This picture thing is a slow process.
Soon, I'll figure out my camera and be able to actually attempt to capture events like this. Till then, know that I enjoyed it fully and paid very little attention to the camera work. sorry.
The next morning, I got up early, as I wasn't sure what was planned for me, but was pretty sure that there would be something. At 8:25, a knock on my door announced Bpranee's presence. She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me to the student assembly all the while asking why I didn't have a pink polo. At 8:30, after wai-ing some important people, I stood in front of all the students and introduced myself in Thai. I would like to take this moment to congratulate the self that suggested I wake up early and the self that suggested I rip out the copy of my speech and put it in my pocket. Pulling out a crumpled sheet of paper when I started stumbling over my Thai brought about quite a few giggles.
From there, I was told to follow Miaow… so I did. I hopped on the back of her motorbike and we drove off to another building. Waiting in the teachers' waiting room, I was handed a copy of my schedule—that showed I was to be teaching at 8:30. It was approximately 9:00 already. Luckily, the room that was listed n the schedule was the room I was standing in. Unluckily, this was the teachers' waiting room. It has 6 desks and no board. Let me say that again, NO BOARD. If there is one thing that I have discovered about myself as a teacher it is that I use the board like nobody's business… and have no idea how to teach without it. Didn't much matter that sat, because after waiting for the full two hours, no students had showed up. So I went home, feeling utterly frustrated, unable to communicate and tired. Instead of bursting into tears, I awaited P'Kee's arrival from Anna's school. When she showed up (at an awkward lunch with the director and superiors), it felt so good to know that there was someone who could understand most everything I said and could communicate it to others. After we paid the appropriate respects to the important people, she asked me in the van how things were. I gave to her my confusion, worries, etc. She helped me open a bank account and has my passport.
Later that afternoon, a man came by and fixed my shower. And my toilet. Today Bpranee left cleaning supplies outside my door. Things are slow and confusing, but generous.
After P'Kee left, I was feeling a bit down, was ready to just curl up in my general frustration and wallow for a bit. A phone call from Ben gave me the "chin up" needed and I ended up going out to dinner with more people I didn't know and the English teachers. We actually ended up eating exactly where we ate lunch. The dinner was fine, just enough confusion, but not too much. The ride back, I hopped in the back of the truck and rode in silence. And as much as I hate the phrase "bathed in moonlight," that's what the scenery was. Instead of worrying about life, I looked up and out. Trees and fields and enough moonlight to see just how green they were. And it was chilly. It felt like the point in a song where everything comes together and sings at the top of their voices for one final chorus before the instruments fade and go their separate directions. Closing my eyes, looking up, I let everything wash over me. It felt like home. It felt like louisiana home, but it also felt like it could be a home.
This morning, I woke up on my own schedule, prepared for an 8 am class that never came. Luckily no one came, though, because the room was the same that was assigned to James and his class. The one with no board. Once the mother-like teachers realized this, they gave me the sound lab (and enough food to feed at least three people in case I hadn't eaten breakfast), which, while the partitioned table like things are not conducive to teaching at all (I can hardly see their faces), it has a board!
My 10:30 class came! All were 16 year old girls, and we started with greetings so I could try to gauge their level. It is low. I struck "I'm fine" from their vocabulary and forced them into new ways of answering "How are you?" We went over birthdays and names using the name game (thanks Amanda!) I now call them by the word they put with their name: umbrella, number, chocolate, violin. Their names are just so long! But I think they get a kick out of it. Radio Rachel is apparently a bit too hard to pronounce, so we'll have to work on that. But overall, SUCCESS! I mean, not a smashing success, but once again, a 100% survival rate!
This afternoon is sports afternoon. So I'll probably lesson plan, catch up on writing, clean a bit and wait for the electricity to come back on so I can access the internet. But Bpranee is taking me to the grocery store this evening. I think, anyway. And maybe when I go back to my room, there will be a bike hanging out. So many surprises, and so much food.
If nothing else, this has all been the most welcome change from Bangkok imaginable. I was just starting feel remotely comfortable in that city, what with navigating it and being able to tell a taxi driver that no, it does not cost 200 baht to go from my house to a restaurant. Here, I walked out of my room last night on the phone, partly because of thin walls, partly because it felt nice outside, and I realized that I didn't have to be as wary as in Bangkok. I live essentially on a gated school compound. In the middle of nowhere. Well, maybe not the middle of nowhere, but definitely 10 minutes from civilization. And I love that the stars were visible and the air feels clean. Plus there are trees! Green greets me all the time, as does the sound of the wind moving through living things.
The natural sounds continue with things of a cricketing nature in the evenings, and birds that have made their nests in my classroom. Bangkok was all traffic and horns; the occasional jingle of the fruit man or the terrible repeating song of the ice cream truck would break things up. Any match at the national stadium would bring cheering in concentrated explosions. It was only quiet after a rain. I've yet to have any rain here, but the plenty of quiet is easily balanced with the plenty of noise. I live across from the industrial technologies shop, so I hear was sounds like different types of table saws during the day. Next door is the canteen area which is also used as the music classroom. Except, it is not quite a classroom—more an open stage and speakers. The variety of music choices has been entertaining to say the least ("The boys are back in town" just finished) but the talent is sometimes a bit straining on the ears.
Here I fully believe that everyone has the best of intentions, even if I can't understand them. Today, I was on the phone walking to the classroom buildings and a girl on her motorbike pulled up next to me. She indicated that I should ride side saddle and she would take me to the academic buildings. So I hung up rather hastily with Amanda (sorry!), because I didn't know who she was or how I should be reacting, and hopped on. Shortly thereafter, I was at the buildings and we went our separate ways. Earlier today, someone stopped me and told me that I had a letter at the office. Mind you, I have no idea who she is or where is said office, but she knew me. Granted, there are few redheads hanging around. And by few I mean one.
But in that behemoth of a place Bangkok, I always felt like somebody was out to get me, that everyone was trying to cheat me because I wasn't Thai. That people looked at me differently because I was a farang. Because of the color of my skin. That is a new feeling for me, one that I am still mulling over and thinking on (oh, prepositions. How you make no sense in any language). It is even more bizarre to me because it goes both directions. For all the negative complications we had in Bangkok for being farang, we also have had our fair share of complements. My homestay family commented on how white my skin was and my host teacher today told me my skin was white and lovely. The night before, they discussed which of the two boys was getting more tan, or "blacker." The exclusivity of the Thai race is a mindset that makes it difficult for the ideas of ethnic diversity that we have in the states to translate. This is why the two African American girls in our group have to explain that they are American—it is surprising when Americans are not white.
Sorry for the extended thoughts on everything. I promise next time will have some more pictures for Dane and SARAH.
Thanks for all the words of encouragement—