A Travellerspoint blog

With a semester under my belt

this whole teaching thing makes a lot more sense

97 °F

You know those blank stares that accompany teaching? The ones that we have all given (mine usually in math classes) when a teacher looks at you expecting a response. I got a lot of those soul-crushing "huh?" stares last semester… in fact I'd go as far as to say that look was the constant in my class, sort of the visual soundtrack to my teaching. It is with great pleasure that I say to you, ladies and gentlemen, that this semester this look is a rarity. Well, maybe not quite a rarity, but you get the idea. The important thing to understand here is: TEACHING IS GOING SO MUCH BETTER. I attribute this to a number of things.

1) My classes are generally better behaved this time around. Where as I had a number of 'too cool for school' or just 'too cool for English' students last semester, the scheduling gods have bestowed upon me mainly 15-17 year old girls (and lady boys) who are for the most part incredibly eager to interact, if not so keen on the English speaking.

2) I have given up on the English-only in the classroom rule that was imposed at the beginning by my awful Thai and have since begun to use Thai in the classroom. Instead of spending 20 minutes attempting to explain that I want each student to write 5 sentences for homework (how do you act out 'sentence'?) and then what the sentences should be about… well, this just adds so much complication to my life and so much confusion to theirs. Now, classes just run so much more smoothly. I start in English, counter the blank stares with Thai explanations, making sure that not only do the students understand the vocabulary and concepts that I am teaching as well as what I expect from them. I also end up doing a lot more one on one explanations in Thai, actually teaching some of the slower students. I hope.

3) I have some idea of what works and what does not. I also have a better idea of just how much authority I have. Most of my students are first years who ask me how many years I have been in Thailand…there is no reason to let them in on the cover-up of the fact that I have only been doing this for a few months.

4) DTEC dollars. During one of the sessions Fulbright had for us in April, a wonderful woman named Fidelia introduced the concept of giving your classes a currency as part of a system of rewards. A combination of James' artwork and Lorcan's new motto of "Don't be shy," the English Department presents you with




For a school where most of the students have little to no motivation to study English, this has been an amazing tool. Speak English outside of the classroom? DTEC dollar. Volunteer for being the first to present something? DTEC dollar. Go above and beyond in any sort of English way? DTEC dollar. At the end of the semester, we'll hold an auction of sorts, similar to the Hendrix HEAT one, or maybe just turn our office into a little store where they can buy sweets and such with DTEC dollars. And so far, it seems to be working. The first day we introduced it, I was asked "Teacher! Have you eaten?" at least 7 times. It has moved our students from shouting "hello!" and hiding to potentially having a conversation. Either way, the whole school is talking to us, starting off with limited English and sliding into Thai after a few pat phrases. It’s cool, and some of the teachers seem to like it, too.

All of this translates into not only into a lack of dread of my classes, but also to me feeling like I am achieving something. I feel like I am actually a teacher.

So, to prepare you for the next post celebrating teacher day, check out the DTEC slideshow…

Posted by decuirrl 00:45 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Welcome to the Rainy Season

a brief introduction


School is back in full swing (working on week number five now) and, though I am teaching less hours than last semester, I am managing to stay busy enough. So for today I give you a brief photo tour of things OUTSIDE of school. Such as:




FRUIT! Durian and Rambutan! I was never a big fruit eater in the States. I'm working on it here. It doesn't hurt that they are all just so cool looking. Better photos of awesome fruits is on my to-do list.


After a storm, I walked outside to see a double rainbow. I turned around to see the coolest sky I have ever seen in my life. The blues were beyond belief and the clouds were...epic. I wasn't able to get to my camera in time to take a photo of that, but I doubt it could have been captured in photos. The really bright spots were actually rainbowed. It looked, if you pardon the insensitive reference, like oil had been spread across the sky and in spots it reflected like the sheen in a puddle. Stunning. Incredible. I watched it for a good hour, behind the deputy director's new room, which is (unfortunately) located next to our rooms now.


On a Sunday, some of the adult classes were canceled. Four Thai women and I hopped in a car to go to a massive outdoor market in Warin. We drove in and out of rain, hoping that there would be none in Warin, as it is an outdoor market. Shopping for dresses in a Thai-sized world is a little on the depressing side, but then having your fellow teachers tell you that you MUST get your nails done (at 2 baht a nail) makes the experience worth it in that random Thai experience sort of way. So yeah. First time I've ever gotten my nails done. The woman who painted all of our nails thought that the blue went very well with my white white skin. Waiing people the next morning, I kept getting distracted by my shiny nails.





The provincial hall in Ubon proper was burnt down during the height of the protests. These are some photos I was able to take a week or two after.








There was an attempt at camping that was then thwarted by the rainy season. After taking shelter under an army tarp, drinking the whiskey "to stay warm," it was discovered that everything in the tents was soaked and the decision was made to go back to Piboon's house. Things that terrify Rachel: Climbing down a mountain after large amounts of rain in the slippery dark with two flashlights for five people, being shown new found 'waterfalls' by lightning. Things that delight Rachel: Piboon's brother's laugh when he opened the truck door to pick us up.


Piboon's neice Preaw and I did the dishes.


After the rain, the sky is clear.

Posted by decuirrl 03:53 Archived in Thailand Comments (7)

A festival with a danger zone

sunny 105 °F

The small town of Yasothon is famous for its rocket festival. The town itself doesn't have a bus station so much as a designated strip of road, but every inch of it is filled with people anxious to see large numbers of home made rockets launched into the air.


I left Chiang Rai with the intent of performing a very simple bus routine: Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai to Ubon overnight, and the next morning head to Yasothon. I ran into the first snag in travel plans early on when I could not get a bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai in the morning. I did what any good traveller should do in this situation and became SUPER flexible and hopped on another bus. Seven hours later, I was in Phitsanolok, usually the halfway stopping point on these overnight bus adventures. Once there, I ignored the inevitable onslaught of motorcycle taxi drivers, going straight for the Ubon Ratchathani counter. Standing in line, I heard a new vocabulary word that was quickly becoming the theme of my week: "เต็ม" or full. The only bus that they had to Ubon was in fact full. The look on my face must have been a dead give away of my concern; the girl in front of me graciously took me under her wing on her quest to arrive in Ubon as well. We found ourselves another bus going to Nakhon Ratchasima and for 7 hours I was on one of the more uncomfortable buses of my life, listening to awful Thai pop until about 1 in the morning.

The bus station in Khorat (as Nakhon Ratchasima is known) was still bustling despite the late hour. I tried to decipher schedules and ask bus attendants how to get to Yasothon… should I go to Ubon first? Or directly to Yaso? Eventually, I was put on a bus to Yasothon around 2 in the morning… without a seat. As the driver probably felt a little sorry for the farang who was making some crazy pilgrimage to a random town all for a few rockets, they gave me a seat up at the front of the bus next to a now-squished driver's helper. The driver decided to quiz me about where I was going in Isaan, a conversation that would have been difficult on a normal day that was nearly impossible at 3 in the morning after having travelled 16 hours already. For a little bit I was the spectacle of the bus, the front rows obviously enjoying my tries at muddling the language. Overall, though, it was successful, as I managed to both: a) get some sleep even though I had to get off the bus any time another passenger boarded/got off and b) arrive in Yasothon mostly unscathed. And at 6 in the morning.

These early morning arrivals have been the bane of my overnight bus riding experiences in Thailand. As much as I appreciate the convenience of not needing a place to stay, the next mornings are fraught with problems of where to go until things open, where do I put my bags, and (in the singular case of Yasothon) what do I do when there is nowhere to stay in a town and I have my life for the last two months on my back? A motorcycle taxi man passed me twice during his early morning rounds and decided that was enough of an excuse to stop and ask me where I was headed and if I needed a ride. Insert broken Thai here: "want a room, do not yet have, tonight, don't know where staying, do you know a guest house? Have a free room?" After the general haggling, he brought me to a hotel that was (you guessed it) full. At that point, I sent P'Jum a message. P'Jum is one of the lovely ladies that P'Tip from TUSEF put me in touch with. She had mentioned to me in passing that should would be at the Rocket Festival as well. After a carefully phrased message explaining that I had arrived early and had yet to find a place to stay soon had her brother (the lone taxi driver) picking me up at this full hotel and bringing me to her sister's house.

Over the next 24 hours, I was adopted by this very large family. P'Jum (who speaks MARVELOUS English) introduced me to everyone at least 4 times. I ate my meals with the whole family, slept at Yai's house (Yai means grandmother, but I think she was more of an aunt), and was taken care of by a 14 year old who had been designated as my tour guide. What more could you ask for? Oh, right. Home. Made. Rockets.

The first day of the Festival was dedicated to music and the parading of the rockets. The street was lined with stages, each having its own sound system and each sound system BLARING and intermittent karaoke. And odd costumes. And bizarre everything else, really.










It also felt oddly like Mardi Gras at times.




Day two was all about the launching of the rockets. These guys know what they are doing, which is impressive when you consider that most looked like a dangerous combination of bamboo, PVC pipe, duct tape, and explosives. But they were awesome. As soon as I have an internet connection that will allow me to load the video, you'll see what I mean.






I spent my weekend hearing the swoosh and pop of rockets all around, crossing lines into the "danger zone" for closer looks, and wishing that I could Thai dance. I also spent the majority of the time sweating like nobody's business and took at least 4 showers a day.

I caught a standing bus ride back to Ubon and made it into Det Udom in one piece. One exhausted, gross, stinky piece.

Every now and then I get to the point where I am ready to swear off bus travel in Thailand…and then I have these odd little moments that make me love the travel all over again. Like this one:

Watching an obviously new monk trying to wrap his monkly orange cloth around him in the bus station. His father offered some aid, and eventually an older monk (much more experienced in these matters) came to the rescue. Just as it looked as if the young monk had things finally going his way and all the excess cloth tucked where it should be, he turned around and promptly knocked over his can of coke, producing the nicest smile from the older monk.

Posted by decuirrl 01:30 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

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