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Saturday to Saturday, Shrimp Omelet to Jack & Ginger

Who knew that a perfect Saturday morning breakfast would be a shrimp omelet with a side of rice, sweet chili and fish sauces, and a salty lemonade? Not this guy. And yet here I am, two weeks later, bummed Zapp, the restaurant where I bought it, wasn’t open this morning.

That meal kicked off a wonderful week of mostly good class experiences, teacherly moments, an outdoor market, strange yet often reviving workouts, and a drunken resuscitation of my opinion of Bangkok.

The Saturday of the Omelet was otherwise highlighted by a trip to Chatuchak Market (also transliterated Jatujak and abbreviated JJ), which is self-reportedly the world’s largest weekend market. The venture was brief and hurried as the group was there to find only a specific item for a daddy’s birthday, but nonetheless pretty enjoyable. I even got to rock a sweet tank-top tan for a couple days because it was so sunny out.

I was broke as a joke, having only about THB 1,000 to my name—around $33—so the trip was mainly for the sensory experience rather than the shopping one, which was totally fine with me.

The crowd at Chatuchak

The thing is ginormous. According to the market’s Web site, the market spans twenty-seven acres (Wikipedia says thirty-five acres) and is subdivided into twenty-seven sections. To fill this expanse—and it is filled—are around 15,000 booths peddling everything from Big Lebowski t-shirts to traditional Thai wares to—or so I’ve heard—fucking crocodiles and baby tigers. Every weekend day, 200,000 people supposedly come to the market to check out the awesome Buddhist medallions and investigate if tigers really do hate cinnamon.

Street musicians

(For better or worse, the market has received some scrutiny over the years for the availability of illegally trafficked animals, which are often seized in Suvarnabhumi Airport. These reports, while probably accurate, should not taint the otherwise wholly enjoyable and differently wholly taintable aspects of JJ.)

Women working

Eat shit, Steve Martin.

From women tucked into a recessed shop or a dude killing it on the banjo, the market is full of sights and sounds. There is a main vein that runs through the entire place, off of which is a dizzying array of narrow covered paths that lead to more shops and vendors. You will get lost here, but you will probably love not knowing where you are. Finding the best price seems like a total waste of time, anyway, because haggling appears to be the general ethos of JJ—and another reason I really need to be studying Thai more diligently.

After my friend found the birthday gift for her father, our group of seven sat down for a much-needed beer before heading back to Bang Na. I traveled back knowing that I will be returning to JJ—and soon, as July is the month of birthdays for my family and I’d love to get them some fun Thai gifts.

The week of teaching went well enough. It had its ebb and flow, as does anything, so it oscillated between obnoxiously trying and appreciatedly rewarding. In particular, I taught my (mostly) sophomores how to write an essay. I had to rely on the standard four to five paragraph rubric taught (and handicapped) in high school around America, but I made sure to encourage the possibility of freedom within the schema—of being able to use the rubric for effective communication rather than a rote process. I even got to break out a trick taught to me by a high school history teacher who set me on my path as an expository and academic—i.e. not creative—writer. (You’re reading my blog; take that last statement as you will.) I’m currently grading an essay they wrote in class on Friday and I’m thoroughly happy with their ability to organize and explicate their arguments.

Things in the classroom are now past the easy and improvisable get-to-know-you stage; I’m lesson planning, grading, making decisions about grading, and doing all of the other rigmarole that goes into molding youngins’ minds. Shit’s getting real, son. Every day proves to be a large test run and reminds me that plenty of tuning is still needed. That being said, teaching is going better than I expected; all I need to do now is be better.

Once upon a time, I was a fatty. At thirteen years old, I weighed 210 pounds—and not good pounds, but solid A- or demi B-cup pounds. Come college, I invested in a pair of running shoes, bought Men’s Health magazine (sometimes trite but often very helpful), and get my ass in gear. I have no idea how to characterize or evaluate my fitness, but I can say I’m committed. Coming out here, I was a bit worried that it’d be difficult to work out. Luckily, the school’s weight room is equipped enough to get the job done, the stationary bikes work, there’s a lap pool (huzzah!), and I still have trusty running shoes. I’m able to keep up with my, albeit mild, triathlon training and get my skinny-boy swell on with the same kind of frequency that I’ve come to crave. My friends are varied enough, too, to satisfy a number of workout buddies: one for swimming and one for biking and lifting days. I prefer to habitually run alone when I’m not with my brother, but I’ve found a partner who wants to do some triathlons in the area and train together, which is goddamn fortunate for me.

The week was peppered with workouts, two of which stand out. The first, an outdoor group aerobics class, was on Monday. I just got done a heavy gym session when a group of my friends roped me away from grading and into an experimental aerobics class.

I’ve often made Jane-Fonda-workout jokes, but I hadn’t ever lived one until this class. From the outfits to the kicks to the syncopated dance steps, I felt almost naked without leg warmers and a unitard. Aerobic classes are for some people, but for Suddenly Farang, they certainly are not. I’m gonna keep that shit in my VHS drawer.

Contrastingly, Wednesday, I was reunited with my long-lost love, muay thai. I trained in it for only a year during college before an empty wallet, jujitsu, and grad school interfered. Of course, it’d be a waste of extended time in Thailand if I didn’t take up Thai boxing again. There’s a fantastic school near my campus, but until I get the feel of how to be a teacher better, I’m sticking to the free class offered on Wednesdays.

The class is led by X, a guy who works in the school’s gym but who has obviously trained somewhat. It runs for ninety minutes and is mostly geared towards conditioning, but for now it satisfies my cravings. This may sound strange, but there’s something redemptive about aching shins, red knuckles, and the musk of muay thai. (There is a musk. Trust me.)

A quiet Friday out was an appetizer for Saturday, or a much better-tasting Kok.

A huge group, which fluctuated between eight and twenty people went into the city for a twenty-fourth birthday party. Dinner was at Bongos, a place not actually called Bongos but simply deemed it by other farang teachers. The food was cheap and filling and the beer was cold. But you’d never go to Bongos for the fare. Instead, the vibe of the restaurant is tremendous. It feels like what Applebee’s and Rainforest Cafe try to capture in the US. The walls are either minimally stained wood or corrugated metal panels. Along them are collections of elementary school achievement trophies and old lanterns, which also light the place. The whole restaurant is tied together by shitty and mismatched tables. The food was OK, but it’s a great place to have a beer with friends.

Next was a stop-over in Baba, a nearby bar with hookah and outdoor seating. I met up with a really good friend and was introduced to her awesome boyfriend, both of whom made me incredibly happy. While I was gone, the group was growing and congealing, and after I returned we all went to Narz, a club to be seen and not reported.

But this is a blog, so we don’t have much of a choice, huh?

Narz is four stories, and each floor corresponds to a different theme. I only remember two themes: the trance room, which evokes ecstasy trips never had, and the hip-hop room, which is where we spent most of our time. Like any good club, the drinks were severely over-priced, the clientele was shit-hammered, and the only lighting came by way of strobes and lasers. I’m famously down for the occasional club, and Narz fit the bill to a T. It was also the first time I danced on a stage, onto which I was pulled by both friends and random locals. Everyone was there to have a good time—and it was contagious. It proved hard to care when the birthday girl jammed me with the cherry of her cigarette or spilled a Jack and Ginger on me. Maybe it’s because it was her birthday, but Narz was nothing but a fun.

We didn’t get home until after 3 a.m. via a cab that seated four but was jammed with six. By the time I went to bed, I was fucking drained—but completely content. It was a hell of a week.

P.S.: I’m getting used to the heat! The humidity is still kicking my asthmatic and sweaty ass, but I regularly go whole days with just the assistance of my fan and forsake the A/C. It’s definitely a conscious choice to keep the air off, but for me, there’s some silly piece of pride to be had in it. Maybe I can thank all of the banana cheese I’ve been eating.

Banana Cheese. Everyday.

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Posted by on June 18, 2011 in Happiness, Thailand

 

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I’m a Teacher at a University (insert laugh here)

My first plan for this entry was to include a long post about my day of shopping at three of the many malls in the area, but that seems a bit disrespectful to my loyal followers; you guys don’t want to read about the Starbucks on every floor of Central World. So I’m gonna keep the shopping nonsense to a minimum before jumping into my (surprisingly terrific) first week as an ESL teacher.

Luckily, there’s an American guy here who has a firm grasp on the area’s transit system as well as above-passable Thai. He was our tour guide for mall day and he exposed our group of five to the full spectrum of mass transit around Bangkok,

A view of the traffic we missed thanks to the BTS

from the shoddy, unnumbered green buses “that go places” to the BTS, Bangkok’s clean and efficient sky-rail system that gives a nice tour of the city’s mind-boggling traffic. I finally picked up a phone—a Nokia 1280 reminiscent of 1998—for THB 750, or $24.40. I also ate some tremendous Japanese food and have had a craving for soba ever since.

Afterwards we make our way to MBK, which is like an outdoor bazaar crammed into seven-story mall. I need to head back there soon to pick up some cheap DVDs and computer programs, like Adobe’s Acrobat Suite for THB 250. MBK is definitely something to see; it’s jammed full of people and its stores fit an impressive amount of crap into their small spaces. There’s half a floor dedicated to cell phones and, if I had to venture a guess based on no research at all, I’d say there are more cell phones being sold in that mall than there are active ones in some major American cities.

Excitement picked up on the way back to campus, when our taxi driver almost fell asleep at the wheel. To keep him awake, I kept screaming and talking loudly. At one point, I saw his eyes shut for almost 1.5 seconds. I was tempted to slap him on the back of his head. I’m not even kind of joking a little bit at all.

The uglist bedding ever.

As soon as the cab pulled up to the dorms, we hopped into the school-sponsored van heading to Tesco Lotus, or Thailand’s version of Target. I picked up some essentials, like silverware, laundry detergent, hangers, and the ugliest bedding ever.

At the end of the day, I celebrated with a can of Diet Coke. I love the soda anyway, but I also love products that announce themselves, like the can below.

No, stupid, it's not a bottle. Can't you read?

Mall Day, Thursday, was pretty exhausting by the end. Things improved on Friday, though, when a friend and I checked out the local fruit market, as we were (and still are) craving fresh foods. Market is probably a misleading term, as it’s more a collection of tables in a muddy clearing that get occupied by various vendors. Regardless of what it’s called, it was a life saver. Although the thing seemed to be winding down,  we still managed to pick up some mangoes and a delicious kiwi smoothie.

The local fruit market.

They taste like you think they would.

While there, I also nabbed some chicken feet, which I guess prompts further explanation and confession of my dietary habits beyond the last post. I was a vegetarian in the States, but now I’m a pescatarian who won’t be too annoyed if I eat animal stock, which is ubiquitous here. I also figured I’d eat some offal and nasty bits, but I don’t know how much longer I’ll keep that luxury; the chicken feet weren’t—surprise; surprise—anything to write home about (but something to write on a blog about, apparently).

Shopping days transitioned into orientation days, which involved two eight-hour sessions over two days, Saturday and Sunday, to teach us what we needed to know to be ESL teachers, crash-course stylee.

And people lament the American school system.

Despite its whirlwind nature, the orientations left me feeling prepared enough for, at least, the beginning of the semester. Thankfully, I’m also not a typically nervous person. Consequently, Monday—the first day of class—wasn’t too daunting; in fact, I was a little excited.

But then Monday sucked.

Out of my three classes on Monday, two went pretty damn poorly. One class got the wrong syllabus—which were poorly marked—so I had to wing the explanation for grading and standards in the class. After that SNAFU came a class that, for professional reasons, I’ll remain vague about. Let’s just say it could have been much, much better.

Once the first day wrapped up, I was pretty damn discouraged. I spent the rest of the day bitching to any sympathetic ear that didn’t mind being bent. The balloon was popped; I had temptations of Chipotle and American TV playing on my mind.

But then the rest of the week kicked ass.

My students are either awesome or quiet, a blessed mix for a new teacher. Moreover, almost all of my sections are at the school’s highest level of English classes, meaning I get (mostly) the best English speakers. They’re funny, observant, personable, witty, hard working, and respectful. Thanks to my students, the classes had flow, which isn’t something I’d ever thought I’d achieve.

The kids bought onto the class from the outset, even after my boring setup. The first class involved a general outline of the course, class rules, and an interview process that culminated in telling the class what you learned about your partner. Of course, I tried to spice things up with little asides and humorous spins on rules. One of my lame schticks went “I’m from Philadelphia. Do you know Will Smith? He’s from Philadelphia too. He tried to blow up a toilet with a firecracker when he went to the same high school as my younger brother.”

(Just in case you were wondering, I was right: blowing up toilets is globally funny.)

During the post-interview presentations, most of the kids simply and dryly went through their explanations of their partners. A select few, though, showed remarkable confidence and embraced the chance to perform—and speak English—in front of the class. A pair of girls in their third year broke into a song and dance for a couple seconds without thinking twice. Later, a pair of fabulously gay guys talked about how much they both like soccer—not the game, but the players—and that one wants to “get into businessmen—businessmen” when he graduates. Confidence and a pun? The kid’s a winner. He got 1,000 points for effort that day. Of course, not all of my classes were through-the-roof tremendous, but they were enough to put a smile on my face at the end of the day.

I still have some anxiety, though, about the remaining weeks. For one, all but one of my classes focus on speaking and listening and seem to be a bit more off the cuff and open for improvisation and organic organization. The remaining class, though, is reliant upon silent reading, writing, and grammar lessons; it’s more obviously academically rigorous than the conversation classes. The academic one meets three times a week; the others only meet once. I’m constantly concerned that the kids in the one will lose focus and glaze over when I teach them about conditionals and past continuous because, hell, I glaze over. I want to hear these kids speak more, but that isn’t the point of the class. I guess it’s a matter of hitting and recognizing my stride, so we’ll see how it goes. Regardless, I’m a teacher at a university, which seems a little silly, if not a little cool.

In other news, the Phillies need to start winning again.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2011 in ESL, Thailand

 

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