Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Facing Change Has Come to an End

I started this blog a little over a year ago to share my life as it changed so rapidly from one of predictability to what seemed like total chaos.  I came to Thailand out of desperation, without a job, and leaving behind family, friends and most of my belongings.  I wandered around the country and finally landed here in Fang.  I will admit that I did not like Fang at first.

The town is small and far from what I consider to be civilization.  Buddha teaches us, as did other religious leaders, that sometimes giving up all we hold dear sometimes can open our eyes to the real world.  He called this enlightenment.  Fang and the students and the teachers and the buffaloes and all the farms have enlightened me far more than I ever expected.  

As a result, I don't feel I am facing change any longer but looking to my future.  I didn't want to move to Fang last June and now I am looking to buy land to build my retirement home and have a small farm.  Although I will have to move away for a time because Nee took a good job in Bangkok, we both have our eyes set to the north.  I have only seven more days here to finish grading tests, put in my grades and pack my boxes once again.  A friend will be driving me and our bicycles to Nee's house and there I will continue my adventures for that is what this has become.  

In America, I worked in jobs I never liked but paid me too well to leave.  Here I am paid little yet I want to stay and cannot.  

As a parting with my students, I asked my advanced students to make one more video.  This time I asked them to give me directions on how to do something.  Most taught me how to cook Thai food and I will cherish them as I return to be with my wife and have to serve something other than my pizza every night.  One group did something very different and this has become my favorite video.  It is about the northern Thai language.  They had fun with it and I enjoyed watching it again and again.  I hope you enjoy it, as well.

I have decided this will be my last entry to "Facing Change" as I am no longer doing that.  I am living my life more full than I ever expected.  I will start another blog in a few months though I am not sure what it will be about.  Perhaps how to eat street food in Bangkok, as that is what the city is so famous for.  

Thank you so much for being my readers and fans.  I have enjoyed your comments and hope to hear some suggestions from you as to what I should address next.  

My closing thought is that if you want to find yourself, give up on being what others say you should be.  Take a chance and consider any failure as training for your next success.

Teacher Roy

One Lesson Plan Does Not a School Year Make

We were visited by a TEFL school from Chiang Mai giving the students some live practice in front of real classrooms.  As I had a free morning, I observed them in action and was very happy to see their enthusiasm and energy.  Most were from South Africa and spoke better English than many Americans I know.  I gave a bit of assistance, when asked, but mostly stood in back to see what they could do.

A TEFL, or Teaching English as a Foreign Language, certificate gives new teachers some credibility to Thai schools, especially if they have no prior teaching experience.  There are TEFL schools and TESL schools (Teaching English as a Second Language) all over Thailand.  Most of the schools have classes worldwide, thus you can get a certificate from just about anyway.  According to various teaching blogs and websites here, one doesn't really need a TEFL to get a job, but it does look good on the resume and is quite easy to obtain; perhaps too easy.

The students were a combination of ages and teaching experience.  One lady had over ten years in a classroom where another young fellow had obviously never taught a group of students with poor English skills.  They all did quite well, but it reminded me of some of the things I had to learn in order to gain some success and credibility.  Here are my thoughts.

One or two lesson plans are good to have, but are not enough to teach for nine months.  The TEFL program has you write a few lesson plans and gives examples of what to teach.  Such lessons include body parts, rooms in a house and emotions.  I saw all three.  If you get a job as a substitute teacher, a dozen plans like that will keep you going all year.  I had such lessons my first weeks quickly ran out  of ideas.  I scrambled for a few weeks to figure out what to do for the rest of the year.

Don't assume they understand you.  I did this on far too many occasions.  I would talk to the class about something like idiom or giving directions, and sometimes they seemed to understand.  Quite often, though, I could see they really couldn't understand anything I said.  I have changed how I talk in each class based on their abilities.

Find out the skill level in your rooms in the beginning and teach to that.  It took me half the year to realize this one and to figure a solution.

Sing, play games, keep it interesting.

Schools have midterms and finals each semester.  This means some days you have no classes, some weeks you have no classes.  Not speaking Thai kept me out of conversations about days off for testing and was taken by surprise the first time we had midterms.  Schools also have random holidays, festivals, sport days, camping days, and other events that change your schedule for the week.

The rest is common sense that you quickly lose when you are facing a group of 50 smiling faces all wearing identical uniforms and haircuts.

If you write a word on the wall, don't walk away from it and start talking about it.  Point to it, say the word, and get the class to repeat it.

Make a long term plan of what you want students to know and use it as your guide.

Be flexible.

Have a contingency plan.  The days I lacked one, it showed.

A one hour lesson in one class can be a three hour lesson for another and 20 minutes for others.

Find a way to measure progress.

Find a way to measure students individually.

Offer rewards and punishments.  My punishments were a lack of reward.  I would draw a happy and sad face on the wall and write what the award was over the smiling face which was usually a Mr. Bean video.  If the class got unruly, I put a mark under the sad face and the class immediately became quiet.  Amazing how something so simple can be effective.

Be flexible.  Did I already say that?

Learn some Thai.  One of the trainees got stuck in the same trap I did months before.  He asked the class to take out a plain sheet of paper to write something down.  He got no action and blank stares from the class.  I motioned him to me in the back of the class and told him to say, "jote sy samut" which means, "write in your note book."

Laugh.  When a lesson fails you can either get frustrated, as I did a few times, or just start laughing.  They appreciate the latter.

Stop talking.  As I said before, chances they don't understand you so keep talking to a minimum.

You will have no materials you didn't make yourself.  You may not have any resources other than a photocopier.

Use AV if you have it.  Mine was an ancient TV in each room. I had to buy a box to connect my computer to it.  As the year came to an end, it finally died, three days before the last day.

Learn to write with chalk.  I broke a nail once pressing the chalk too hard.  I learned.

Never bring a permanent marker to a room using white board.  This is a bit like bringing a knife to a gun fight.  I did this only once and it was a class I was having trouble with.  Fortunately, the boys came to the rescue and ran to get some rubbing alcohol.  I later found out I could sacrifice a white board marker to do the same thing.

Don't be an outsider but don't be too involved.  Find the middle way.

In my eight months of teaching, I learned so much about myself that I didn't know even existed.  I found patience that I didn't think I had, I found creativity and I discovered that I like to sing for others.

I found a new home.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

'Tis a Gift to be Simple

Early morning traffic on my way to the market
Wherever you are from, you probably consider that home to be normal and anywhere else a bit odd.  My one time I went to London, I thought it strange that they drove on the other side of the road than the US.  I didn't care much for their food, either.  I love Thai food.  Thailand drives on the same side as England and that is where the comparison ends.  Supermarkets in London looked no different than what I had in California, though some products were a bit more expensive in one country and cheaper in the other.  A Thai supermarket such as Big C or Tesco Lotus can make a foreigner frustrated at first sight.  Leaving the supermarkets is the first step to finding Thailand.

Simple things like chips in Thailand are either potato chips or fish-based crackers that feel like meringue in my mouth.  Flavors range from shrimp to basil and squid.  I tried some and wasn't pleased thus I learned to make some of my own at home.  Strangely, as I found how easy it was to make a cracker, I found my need to run home to the US started to lessen.

Now I have lived in this town so far from any big city for 7 months and I am starting to feel at home.  Living alone for the time being since my wife is working south of here, I have had to make my way through markets, barbers and restaurants.  I have learned enough Thai to get what I want and decided some things I don't want any more.  Finding a real napkin at my plate at a restaurant is more of a shock than a treat as it is more typical to have a roll of toilet paper for such purposes.  Oddly, toilet paper is an option at the bathrooms.  Tupperware is replaced by cellophane bags closed with a tightly wound rubber band holding it closed.  A restaurant next door sells noodle soup called gwitdeo, and I usually get take out.  "Gwitdeo muu nung toong, krap," or one bag of pork soup please.

Being a foreigner, I have tended to buy my meat at the supermarket instead of the open markets because I worried about getting sick.  Over time, though, I have come to see that a fellow chopping up pork he slaughtered the night before is far more careful than a handful of underpaid staff at a megamart.

Meat at the stores is kept out in the open just as much as this is, so I prefer to go to someone who knows what he is doing.  I point out what I want, using my hands to measure how much, and I get it.

This market has become my favorite as it is cleaner than the other one in town and is always filled with things I want.  I started taking pictures of the market, and this the lady at the end insisted on having her picture taken with her friend resisting.

If you want food even fresher, make friends with a local farmer and he might dig up a few yams for you as this fellow did for me yesterday.

My lovely boss from school

Her cousin digging out yams bare-handed

The yams

Monday, February 4, 2013

Teacher Roy Goes Back in Time

My Fang Vehicle
A month ago, Nee moved south to central Thailand to take a job, leaving me here without a car.  As a result I have had to take advantage of friends, songtaews and my bicycle.  I was planning to take a ride yesterday, Saturday, and then I managed to catch another bug of some sort.  Nothing deadly.  Just a fever and lack of energy that laid me on my back.  I managed to do laundry and that was it.

This morning, feeling better, I decided I needed to go to the market.  Fang has two on-going markets, one nearby and the other a bit further from me.  I prefer the latter one because it is better lit, seems cleaner, and all the tables have vendors.  When I go to a market that is only half full, as the other one is, I feel like I should be somewhere else.  To get to my market, I first ride away from it to catch the nearby street, or soi, as they are called here, and follow it back into the rice fields behind my apartment.

The rice fields are in their second growth for the year.  Riding past them are calm and peaceful, with seabirds and cows finding food for themselves.  I believe the birds are cranes.  I usually associate them with being near the beach and this little village is many miles from anything resembling a beach.  My degree was in horticulture taken at a farm university in California.  I was told that California raises most of the rice in the US, just a few miles north of the state capitol.  When I would drive up highway 99 there, there would be the bright green rice fields on both sides of the roads and visible for miles beyond.  No human ever touches rice in such a farm.  Tractors till the soil, airplanes plant the seeds and spray them with fertilizer and pesticide to keep them happy and healthy.  And when the harvest comes, the rice is taken up by giant combines.  Thailand still grows rice much like it was done for centuries.

The fields are tilled with tractors and then after that, hand-labor takes over.  This field had half a dozen men and women a few weeks ago leave their bags hanging on a nearby tree to go hand-plant each rice seedling.  When you drive from here all the way to just outside Bangkok, you see rice growing for as far as the eye can see.  If they were to use western technology, they could double or triple their yield, but Thailand is already one of the largest producers in Asia.  I have yet to see a single crop duster flying overhead.

Riding to the market, I enter from the back to the sound of meat cleavers chopping freshly-killed pigs, their smiling faces staring up at me from the tables.  Beyond are mushrooms, onions, broccoli, cabbage, bananas, pineapples, lemon grass, mangoes, and so many other fruits and vegetables all from nearby farms.  If I bought the same in Bangkok, much would have come from this area, shipped in pick-up trucks without refrigeration.  Here, I get it with the field dirt still attached.

On the way back, I passed a coconut tree along the road filled with fruit.  My niece in the US had mentioned her interest in the wonders of coconut milk so I took a picture of some from their source.  While I took the photo, I heard a voice behind me.

She was working in her garden and signalling me to take her photo.  She then directed me to come talk to her, even though we couldn't speak each other's language.

Her rows were neatly hoed, without weeds and ready for the coming season.

She was harvesting a green Nee calls morning glory though it has no relationship to the nasty vine that I fought in California.  This one tastes wonderful when you stir-fry it with oyster sauce.  She laughed and handed me the bunch in her hands.  When I asked how much, she waved her hands to say no charge.  As I went back to my bike, the old man from across the street who owned the coconut asked me how much did I pay (tow rye?) and I said zero (soong.)  He laughed and confirmed it with the lady.  She called back that I was a teacher at Rangsee and then he laughed and I rode on.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Another Year Goes By

Next week will be the end of our first year in Thailand.  Here is a collection of photos taken during that time to give an idea of where we came from and how we fared this year.  Looking back, I see we have been quite busy.

We started the year with an ice storm that left us without heat and light for two days while we trying to pack. Our garage sale died because the roads were icy.
We managed to get going and on to your flight and the beginning of a new life.

Upon landing we headed for a fresh market in Bangkok.

Next to the market was Rama 9 Garden.  Being gardeners we had to explore.  I was already dying from the heat and humidity.
Nee's family kept us fed and comfortable.

And her girlfriends took us to the beach.

Ah, crab.  My entertainment for the day.

You can't have crab without a good fish, too.

Bangkok quickly wore us out, and two weeks later we were enjoying the company of new friends in Chiang Mai.
And then there was even more fruit.

While I was attending my TEFL class, we got to see the Royal Garden Show and this was an exhibit there.


We had been stranded at our apartment without a car.  One of Nee's brothers came up to take us to the nearby mountain, Doi Sutep.  We climbed the stairs to the temple there.

One of the waterfalls near Chiang Mai.

I had my TEFL and no job which resulted in my visa expiring.  I had to run to Myanmar to get a 15 day extension, hoping I would find work soon.


For a brief time, I considered staying in our house in Bangkok and working for this school across the street.  Our dream was for the north, though, so we persisted.

For a few days, I had a job in the sound and there I got my introduction to the condition of a Thai classroom.  The biggest store in town was the 7/11 and that had only been there for a few weeks.

I decided the job was too isolated and took the first train north.We stopped at Hua Hin to rest at a beach on the way back.

Wherever we went we saw beautiful temples and fruit for sale along the road.

Finally, I got a job in Fang at Rangsee where I spent the rest of the year.

A walk around town found this temple.


The school had shirts made for me at a local tailor.  He didn't seem to understand Mr. Roy and this is what he wrote.

We got to see our first hill tribe village when a friend took us to Doi Mai Selong.  

We took a trip to Chiang Mai and drove up Doi Sutep, this time stopping at a Royal garden.


A trip to Bangkok for a break and we took time to try some cooking and visiting with friends.

During the rainy season, students had to stand under the balcony of school to do their daily sing of the Thai national anthem.


Now the parties began.  This was one of my favorites, Loy Kratong.  What could be better than hot air balloons, food and flowers?
We managed to take a drive to Chiang Rai one day.


Back to Fang, I began to ride my bike in the mornings and this is what I found.

Our day at the geysers.

Hill tribes are all around us and they wear some beautiful costumes.

January 2013
I finish January with Scouting Day, Children's Day and a walk around Chiang Mai.  Wherever you turn, there are beautiful temples.

Jane and Peter, our friends.  Peter saw us off in Washington and we met him again on our first trip to Chiang Mai.  He returned this month fo complete my year in Thailand.  I cannot imagine where the next 12 months will take us.