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Monthly Archives: May 2011

A Long Day’s Journey of PowerPoint into an Ideal Night

Wednesday, May 25, I started an improptu 8 a.m. wet t-shirt contest before smoking hookah alongside feral dogs. In case there was any doubt, I am, in fact, in Thailand.

Still trying to handle the jet lag, I was up at 3 a.m. with little to do aside from a trip to the mini mart, 108, and watching TV. I dicked around with my camera to try to get good night shots, but nothing came out like I would have liked. Three hours later, I was still goddamn awake. Time for a run, right? Right.

I ran outside of my room just after sunrise, which was beautiful. Unfortunately, about fifteen minutes into the run, my dormant asthma kicked in because of the weather and my sweat glands began unloading their contents like a sinking ship does its ballast. Back in my room and swimming in sweat, I checked the temperature: 89 degrees and 94 percent humidity—at 6:30 a.m.

Showered and fed, it was time for an all-day marathon of meetings and orientations, which apparently is how one translates ‘death’ in Thai.

I walked across campus to get to the meetings, which isn’t a bad walk under normal circumstances. Alas, I got lost and was in a shirt, tie, pants, and dress(ish) shoes with a messenger bag draped across my chest. By the time I got to where I needed to be, my white shirt was soaked through; if you looked hard enough, you could probably see my nipples. I don’t even think the shirt was white on my back; I have a feeling it was completely clear because of the wetness.

Trying to put the body monsoon behind me, I settled in for the first half of orientation. The school president talked, and then an ASSISTANT professor from the Philosophy and Religion Department, followed the president for a second time.  From 8:30 a.m. to noon, the pair talked about new quality assessment measures in response to Thailand’s federal push to better its school system via internal and external evaluation processes. Admirable, no doubt, but not something the entire faculty needed to hear about in depth. The whole thing panned out like a bad corporate retreat: PowerPoint, buzzwords, vague and unannounced acronyms, flow charts, redundant flow charts, repetitive flow charts, and PowerPoint slides with definitions—all in Thai-accented English. What should have taken fifteen to thirty minutes each lasted more than three hours for these windbags. I probably would have burned the whole school to the ground if it wasn’t for the president’s philosophical aside on “The 9 Things that Will Die in Our Life Time,” which included postal mail, books, checks, newspapers, music (seriously), and privacy. I tried to control my giggling, but was only moderately successful in the face of his unexpected doom and gloom.

Lunch was a goddamn feast. Ten big courses, easily, shared by a table with the same number of people using a lazy Susan. I’m a pescatarian who prefers to be a vegetarian, so I didn’t have many choices from the smorgasbord, but I still ate until I felt murmurs of satiety. (Did I mention I have a bottomless pit for a stomach? Think Star Wars, but with fewer hovering vehicles.)

After the food came the meeting for the English language department, which took as much time as the morning session but was more candid and to the point. All of the teachers—new or experienced—seem pretty great, so aside from the fact that this was an administrative meeting, no complaints here. I even may get to milk the department for some funding to do research on pair of papers I need to polish and maybe even an overnight stay in a Bangkok hotel for a conference. Academic holla.

To decompress and exorcise the trauma of the orientations, I went to the gym for a bike session, ate SPECTACULAR pad thai with an iced coffee—necessary food-redemption for the previous day’s all around gustatory shittiness—and took a cold shower.

At night, a group of us, maybe eight total, headed out to a bar called Oldderns for a version of my ideal night. The place is just dive-y enough without being grody (a word we should bring back) and has inexpensive beer towers and hookah with all the flavors of a Skittles bag—and all just ten minutes away. We sat around a low, shoddy wooden table, simply bullshitting and laughing and talking about Thailand. There were even a few feral dogs running in and out of the bar. It was the perfect low-key night—exactly what I needed after the frustrating Bangkok Blowout. The small, local bar with good friends and low, wooden tables is one of the reasons I came to Thailand.

Going to bed after Oldderns, I began to feel less like a person who just got off the plane and more like a person who isn’t just off the plane.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2011 in Disorientation, Happiness, Thailand

 

My First Taste of Kok (a bit bitter, but necessary).

The Monday night after I arrived—my second night in Thailand—was the last night for a person who had taught here for a year. Her contract was up and she decided it was time to return to her small town in Virginia. Monday was to be her going out party, and that meant a night, at her direction, in Bangkok.

Of course I would have loved to have come into this country without any prior expectations—and of course that ideal is a bunch of bullshit. Say “Bangkok” and a number of things will come to mind: cheap street food; prostitutes; skyscrapers; pollution; underage prostitutes; beautiful temples (wat); rich-ass foreigners; transgender prostitutes; class stratification. For better and definitely worse, my first trip into Thailand’s City of Angels included almost all of these.

From my campus in Bang Na, a group of NES teachers—three experienced; two new, including myself—hopped in a taxi for the 40-minute trip from Bang Na to our university’s campus in Hua Mak, Bangkok. Hua Mak has a strikingly different vibe compared to our relatively isolated location; it’s located in Bangkok itself and is very much a city campus. Within walking distance of the classrooms, there’s an array of food, entertainment, relaxation (massage!), and sight-seeing choices, not to mention ready access to plenty of cheap public transportation. I got a little jealous at first, but I don’t know if I could handle one of the East’s major metropolises for a year.

Everyone—about twelve NES teachers—pregamed a bit in the soon-to-be-departing female teacher’s room before seven of us eventually went into the city. I had no idea where we were going, but everyone saying “skybar” sounded a bit highfalutin, if not a bit fun. I missed where the bar is specifically located, but from the view it seemed to be in fairly central Bangkok.

Oh, the view? from fairly central Bangkok? from the rooftop bar on the sixty-fourth floor of a high rise at 11 p.m.? Fucking phenomenal. After a quick Google Image search for an example, this picture kind of jogs my memory (http://dailytravelphotos.com/archive/2010/09/12/index.php). So, let’s pretend like I was at the top of the State Tower, which is the vantage point of the top picture.

At this bar, I was merely an appreciator of the skyline. I—and probably we—were/are totally outclassed at this place, which was populated mostly by international travelers who enjoy the finer things in life. Drinks were THB 400, or about just north of $13: a price I wouldn’t pay in America. I’m not a big drinker anyway, so I didn’t mind nursing the view from above instead of a gin and tonic. I never realized how big a city of 9.1 million cramped people actually is.

It was only a matter of time before the potential price tag of the skybar got to the group. From there, we decided on Nana Plaza—and that’s where shit got to be a little too much for me.

Getting there was an adventure. The group split up into two groups for cabs; myself and the other new teacher ended up with one who had been around a year, but was too drunk to remember much of the cab ride. I’m not sure how we got to Nana Plaza, but it involved a lot of pointing and almost futile repetition. We ended up traveling down a narrow soi—a smaller road off of a main drag—that could barely fit our taxi, let alone the dense line of human beings walking up and down parts of the road/alley/nocarshouldevergodownhere. Thankfully, we spotted our friends, shouted at the cabbie, and hopped out into pretty seedy nightlife.

We made our way up stone steps that were more puddle than hard surface and into a club called Spanky’s. Inside, there were eight to ten girls on stage, all of who were reportedly for rent.

For anyone who knows me, this lack of enthusiasm comes as no surprise: I don’t really like the sex industry—at all. I don’t feel like getting on a high horse on a blog over it, either, so this part of the story will remain short.

Anyway, we went, people had fun, and I can’t imagine going to Bangkok with a bunch of twenty-somethings and not going to a sex show of some sort.

After some ketchup-saturated street food in which I, thankfully, did not partake, we jumped in a pair of cabs and got back to the dorms by 3:30 a.m. Unfortunately, I was up for another two hours with the dreaded anti-sleep.

All in all, it wasn’t the greatest night in the world, but it felt good to go out with people and not spend the night watching Thai TV and reading. Stay tuned, though, for my almost ideal-night-out and when I considered slapping a cabbie on the back of his head so he didn’t kill us at 120 kph.

(But if you want the latest updates, make sure to take full advantage of my 21st century nerdness and subscribe to my Twitter feed, SdnlyFarang.)

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Disorientation, Misadventure, Thailand

 

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Conspicuous flight; chance encounters.

Sunrise from my balcony.

Up at 5 a.m., my body’s time clock is still trying to calibrate itself and shake off the exhaustion of travel the morning after I arrived in Thailand.

The trip started off far too conspicuously: starting to pack around 10 p.m. on Friday and mentally preparing myself for my—at least as my mother and I recalled—2:45 p.m. flight on Saturday out of JFK in New York, I decided it’d be good to check my trip itinerary again; enough people had been asking, “How long is the flight?” I figured it’d be a good time to actually find out.

I was wrong about the flight time. My flight was at 8 a.m. on Saturday—not 2:45 p.m. There went my embattled night of sleep and leisurely packing routine. My family and I had to leave at 3:30 a.m. from Philadelphia, Pa. to be at JFK with enough time for me to feel comfortable about boarding an international flight on time.

Thanks to my brother, his girlfriend, and my mother, I got all of my stuff together for my contracted year-in-Thailand—which brings me to why I’m currently sitting on a college campus in Bang Na, Samut Prakan, Thailand.

About 90 days ago, I began to apply for teaching positions in Thailand. I was working at a local news station in Philadelphia writing for TV (bleck) and their Web site (yahoo!). It was a hell of an opportunity, but I wasn’t ready for it: aside from family, I had no reason to stay in Philly—hell, I actively did not want to stay. Oh, and did I mention I was living with my parents? Needless to say, I was getting a bit antsy. I was applying to jobs all over the country—probably 200 in eight months since I got my degree and started looking—and nothing was biting. After posting some frustration about jobs on Facebook around the end of March or April, a friend of mine who had been in Thailand for the last year told me to apply for jobs there.

So I applied for teaching jobs in Thailand. Thirty days later I had a job offer. Forty-five days later I landed in BKK airport.

The flight was a flight: long yet somehow atemporal, oscillatingly well- and under-serviced, and full of in-flight TV mixed with the short nap. In fact, the worst part was probably during my layover in Heathrow, where I got eggs on toast. The dish was awful; it looked and tasted like a scrambled egg sneezed itself onto two pieces of limp bread and covered itself in butter. I could have eaten it through a straw, bread included. I figured I could take refuge in whatever British Airways served on my flight to BKK.

And then passed the next 11 hours on a plane.

Bleary eyed but kind of giggly, a super friendly representative of the university met me at the entrance of the airport. We took a shuttle to the campus, where she took me to the front desk of my dorm room (big ups for subsidized housing five minutes from work). After filling out some paper work, the representative looked at me and said, “See you Saturday for the meeting,” and left. That was on Sunday.

View from my balcony

I think something along the lines of “Holy fucking shit-balls” ran through my mind as she walked out the door, and definitely became verbal when I closed the door to my room and stared at its white walls.

At least it has a hell of a view, huh? 

I unpacked for a bit, took a shower, and studied my Thai phrase book before I couldn’t ignore my screaming hunger. I made my way over the to mall—complete with restaurants, laundry services, a barber, and mini mart—which was still very empty since classes don’t start for another week. I took a lap downstairs and then upstairs, looking for a place to eat that advertised a negotiable mix of English and Thai.

Then jackpot: a trio of native English speakers (NESes) walking up the steps facing me.

“Hey guys, where’s a good place to eat here?” I asked.

“IndiThai. You new here?”

“Yea, about three hours old.”

This is how I met Zack, Bernardo, and Kit.

We ate and talked. Each of them had been here since at least October and knew the ropes, so they filled me in on life in Thailand while I gave them my general background. Thankfully, though, the dinner involved more bullshitting than formal get-to-know-yous, which was a relief after “See you Saturday.” There were tentative plans to go out in downtown Bangkok—my campus is 40 minutes outside downtown—but they fell through, which was fine with me and my fatigue. I ended up unpacking some more and checking out my Lonely Planet guide—all with some Thai game show(?) involving scuba diving—before popping a sleep aid I didn’t use on the plane around 10:15 p.m.

Seven hours later, I’m awake. I grabbed a cold shower and used the dorm’s Internet café for a second round of family e-mails before walking to the convenience store for some breakfast because it was, by then, only 7 a.m. and the mall still closed for another.

I walk in, give a presumably awful “Hello” in Thai, and am hit by an incontrovertible fact: I am in fucking Thailand. Sure, the inside looks like a standard mini mart, but that sure as shit isn’t English written on the food’s packaging. Don’t get me wrong, I was and still am very excited to be somewhere where my English skills won’t get me far, if anywhere, but the fact that English isn’t only spoken but also not written probably still hasn’t computed. Again, this

Microwave lunch? dinner? Breakfast.

is fine—fuck, I have no choice—and totally exciting, but still a bit mind bending.

I ended up with microwaveable Spicy Thai Basil Seafood Pasta and a chocolate soymilk to be enjoyed later. Pretty damn good, to be honest, even though my presumably awful “Thank you” in Thai was met with a confused nod of the head by the cashier.

Which brings me to here, in front of my computer, listening to Raphael Saadiq’s Instant Vintage, and typing my first entry for my blog before heading off the gym (a hopeful nonlinguistic refuge).

And, if nothing else, suddenly farang.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Disorientation, Thailand

 

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