|A little monkey time for Roy|
Monday, December 24, 2012
Monday, December 17, 2012
When I was growing up, one of the first television shows I ever watched was The Andy Griffith Show. One of the stars was my age so I felt an affinity to him and his situation. The show took place in the mythical town of Mayberry, a small town in North Carolina with one street down the middle, a few stop lights, a barber, a school, and Sheriff Andy. Mayberry was the sort of town where most everyone knew each other and strangers were easy to point out. You felt safe and confident that tomorrow would be as good as today. Fang is my Mayberry.
I arrived here an inexperienced teacher, thinking this place was too isolated for me and that I needed something bigger; perhaps Chiang Mai to the south instead. My first weeks I was here alone, as Nee hadn't arrived yet, so I had to fend for myself. No one knew me, as I would expect. I knew enough Thai to order a meal, and that was about it. Yet, I persisted. I attended classes each day, came in with a smile to each class and was greeted with the same. I struggled to understand what I could do to help my students and how I could fit in to such an alien world. The few American teachers that were here retreated into their own world. Then I was put into the office with the ninth grade teachers and I had the opportunity to sit next to Malee. She is a Thai English teacher with a sincere smile and a warm heart and she did all she could to help me survive. She brought me snacks in the morning, let me complain about my problems with classes, and gave me ideas about what to do. We became friends.
Over time, students have come to trust me and even come to me for help. When I go shopping, they come up to me to say hello, and even give me assistance, if I needed it. My desire to run to Chiang Mai began to diminish. My bike arrived and I have been able to get out into the country, to see the real Thailand.
If you are considering dropping everything and moving to Thailand to "experience" a foreign culture, here is my recommendation. Stay out of the cities, the Starbucks and anything with an English menu. Learn to help yourself and help others. Smile at everyone as they will always smile back. Be sincere. Be prepared to see things you never imagined in your home country. Drop your western ideals and accept that things here are never going to be like home. I have been able to drop most of the material things I always considered critical for existence and managed to still be comfortable. When I wanted something to eat that wasn't Thai, I figured out how to make it myself. Find out what you truly need versus what you want.
I have come to enjoy the mundane views of cows in the field, workers hand-planting corn and the sight of flying lanterns. I have found patience I never knew I had and I have found success I never thought possible. Living here isn't for everyone, of course. Perhaps I will someday move back to the US, should my finances allow it. On the other hand, few things are more beautiful than a room full of students singing off-key and mispronouncing lyrics.
Monday, December 3, 2012
Since that time, I have struggled to figure out how to teach someone conversation. I went from class to class trying different things to teach including speeches, interviews, songs and quizzes. What I had not done, though, was what my auditing had taught me years before. Know your subject first. I realized that after six months, I really didn't know who my best speakers were and who couldn't understand me at all. I had been meeting with students face-to-face occasionally to have them repeat some words to me, but I had never actually interviewed them. I found the task too overwhelming so I avoided it. At least until November rolled around.
Through trial and error, I came up with my way to evaluate a student's ability to speak English. I knew most of them could read and their writing was beautiful, though it was mostly rote and didn't involve any new ideas. My job is to teach conversation and I decided to focus on just that.
I got a list of students for each class and had them come up to my desk in the front of the room and then asked them one question. What do you want to do when you finish high school? I never stopped there, of course. Based on their first answer, I would ask another and then another question. From there I came up with a scoring method.
I wrote this on the board and then started my work. My answers ranged from, "I plan to go to Chiang Mai University to become a doctor," to "I go by bus." I was surprised when students scoring 1 and 2 want to be guides, airline hostesses and even English teachers. I wished them luck and suggested they work harder on their English.
This week, I have started telling classes their overall scores. Some did well while others did not. No matter what class I spoke to, though, they gave me far more attention than I had received before. I said that if they were serious about their career choices, they would need to raise their scores to 5 or better. Eyes got very big when I said that.
Not to leave them without hope, I told them how they can improve their English, starting with actually showing up for class. "If you aren't here, you can't learn," I said. I suggested they watch movies in English with the English subtitles turned on, to practice with other English students and to start reading more.
I wish I had done my testing at the beginning of the first semester so I plan to do so next time around. In the meantime, some classes are working their way through "Charlotte's Web" while others I will give opportunities to speak to each other in English.
Each day I learn something new about my newly chosen profession. I wonder who is the teacher and who is the student.
Saturday, December 1, 2012
My first time I came to Thailand was to become engaged to Nee. We celebrated by going to a beautiful garden called Nongnooch Garden in Pattaya. We were there New Year's Eve so we got to join the celebration. Toward midnight, I saw lanterns flying into the sky one after the other and I was mesmerized. I wanted to know more. But it would be 8 years until that happened.
The lanterns are called Kongming or komloy lanterns and are quite simple. They are paper bags hung upside down with a small piece of wax-soaked fiber, probably banana. You stretch out the lantern, hold it over your head to light it and then set it back on the ground to let the air inside heat up. There is a metal ring at the base that holds the flame and gives you something to hold for the next step.
I was walking home from the grocery store the night of Loy Kratong and had been enjoying the random fireworks and lanterns going up all around me. I kept wondering what it was like to set one off. Next to my apartment is a small noodle shop owned by a nice young couple whose daughter is in one of my classes. I saw the daughter and a few of her friends out front playing with lanterns and they called, "Teacher Roy! Do you want to light some?" They couldn't speak much English and I couldn't speak much Thai but with the help of her dad, little and big brother and the three girls, we were able to set several lanterns off into the sky.
We had to take the lantern up by the ring from the ground and raise and lower it several times. One managed to catch fire and went up in a small blaze of flame. Others we were able to give them a little push up. They would rise maybe just a few feet over our heads, hesitate, and then rise far up into the heavens. A few got caught in the telephone wires overhead but they rolled along in the breeze until they could free themselves and off the went as well.
I felt like a small boy playing with fire. The girls laughed each time we sent another up and kept trying to talk to me. Oh, that I could understand. And then it was over. One of the girls said they had to go and so I headed back home. This time, though, I was happy to have done something so unique to this American in the wilderness.
I see I have been writing this blog for a year now. I read my first entry and reminded myself of where I came from and thought about where I am now. Each day has been filled with both challenge and joy. Since arriving in Thailand I have gotten sick several times, taken antibiotics at least three times now, tried to ride a motorcycle, figured out how to ride a songtaew, eaten food that sets my body on fire, learned how to teach English, discover I enjoy teaching and, most of all, I have made more friends then I have had since I was a child. Each day my doubts about Thailand become smaller like watching the lantern shrink into the sky.