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“menstruate = The blood red day”

For those keeping track, you’re probably still on the edges of your seats in anticipation of Ayutthaya, Part 2. Well, get comfortable, because my busy ass is busy. Time consumption and promised posts aside, my blog would be bereft if left without irregular posts about my students. I’m a farang because I’m an ajarn, after all.

Earlier, I addressed how I felt about teaching university students. To use a vocabulary word from the third fourth of the semester, I was—and still am, I think—a little anxious about the whole bestowing-knowledge thing. If there’s one person who perpetually lives in a cloud of brain fart that stifles the nostrils of edification, it’s this guy.

Thankfully, a lot of my students have yet to catch a whiff. In fact, my English 2 academic class melted my heart last week when half of them cornered me after class and said, “Teacher, you teach English 3 and 4? We want you for all Englishes!” They persisted even after I assured them that I’m significantly harder as the levels progress. That, readers, was a good afternoon. (In fact, it was my birthday.)

English 2 has been the most revelatory of my classes. Their English proficiency is the lowest of all of my classes, so the insight they give me into how Thai students perceive and construe English has been invaluable. They also bust their asses for me—at least most of the time. As opposed to my conversation classes, which meet only once a week, I see my English 2 students three times a week, which has permitted me to watch both them and myself develop as the semester has progressed.

But enough sappy, I’m-a-rewarded-teacher stuff. It’s time for the meat of this post, which are, rather, memorable trimmings from my first semester here.

I think that idioms and expressions are a crucial aspect of any language; understanding the inner workings of the semiotic structures of anything is an invaluable procedure that any serious language user—native or not—should pursue with appropriate levels of rigor. Also, it’s just fun to explain ‘to kill a bottle’ and ‘to play the field’ to 19- and 20-year-old English-language learners.

To get some creative juices flowing, I had my students invent their own expressions in English after playing a Jeopardy-style game introducing the concept. I asked for an expression or idiom, its part of speech, an explanation of its usage(s), and a sample sentence. Below are five of the better ones (unedited), where ‘better’ means the spectrum of what ‘better’ means.

1) big face (adj.): it means to show off

ex: The old woman has a big face when she merits in the temple because there are so many people.

—Poor people cannot use it.

—Rich people can use it.

 

2) Milk spill = the chest of woman.

When you see another woman’s chest             example: when the women wear the jerkin [jersey/ tank top, I later learned] and they are not be careful enough then the other people will see their chest easily

I heard the boy beside me talk about her milk spill. that sit opposite me.

 

3) Beam without collumn [sic] (n.)

— Meaning. Beam and collumn is a thing that is need to come together. And it can’t missing each other. So beam without collumn is like. When you missing something that is very important.

Situation – when you go or do something. But you forgot a something which is very important.

Example – That fisherman look like Beam without column. He forgot a rod.

 

4) Pick a flower – take a leak.

During a driving, when a woman want a toilet but cannot find. She’ll go to the glass [grass] inside [beside?] the road for take a leak. Her act is like she is picking flowers.

Example – While I’m driving, I saw Malee’s picking flowers inside road.

 

5) menstruate = The blood red day

ex. The blood red day is coming then I feel upset.

This idiom should use with the women because only women will have the menstrual period and the menstruation is red and all women will get upset so then the women have a menstruation we called the blood red day as women menstruate.

This last expression stunned me, and in an absolutely great way. Before she handed it in, the student asked me if this was a good answer. I told her it was excellent. Fine, it’s not an idiom and probably only slightly a metaphorically grey expression, but fuck, who cares? I loved her candor, enthusiasm, and originality. Besides, for 3.75% percent of a grade—the assignment was to fulfill their Special Project grade—I’ll happily give her credit for her gusto, even if she did miss the various intricacies and shades that go into an idiom. Fucking whatever. Way to go, student.

Tonight is a dinner out and a very reluctant good-bye: one of the first people I met here—a vet who took was always ready with friendly guidance—is off to America before a jaunt in Australia, which itself is a prelude to India. She will, quite obviously, be goddamn missed.

Here's to you.

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2011 in ESL, Thailand

 

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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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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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