One of the first Thai words that you’ll learn as a Westerner here is farang. It basically means “white person” and I’m usually able to tell when strangers are talking about me, because I can pick it out of conversations.
So being the new farang in a town where most farang are creepy, fat, old men who have come to Nongkhai to take advantage of some Thai women’s desire to improve their own socioeconomic status through marriage has been an interesting experience. The ratio of male to female farang here is pretty lopsided — maybe 5 to 10 men farang for every female. But I’ve been received with lots of respect and enthusiasm.
People want to get pictures with me (kids and administrators alike), and I was approached by a gaggle of 11-year-old girls wanting my autograph after class in the government school today! At first I thought that they wanted me to write my name in their notebooks, so I started print it carefully in each one, only to be met with shouts of “Big!” while they pantomimed the scribble of an autograph. I obviously felt pretty silly doing this for the ten or fifteen girls, but they seemed to enjoy it. When I finished giving my “autographs”, they all lined up to shake my hand. I guess they had to get the full experience. But after all of the hand-shaking, they then wanted to take pictures of me! Being a celebrity volunteer English-teacher is hard work.
When Kirk and I went to a nearby school to donate helmets, we came in the middle of some sort of song/dance spectacular, complete with royalty, a giant bug (I think?), and mermaids! The mermaids wanted to have their picture taken with me, but little did they know that I wanted to be photographed with them as well! So here’s a picture of me with the mermaids (and a king and queen).
Here’s another picture from the same day. It’s me with most of the college (which is analogous to high school in the US). Do I look awkward in all of these pictures? You bet I do.
But enough of my new found fame, I’m guessing it’s time for a life update, no?
So in non-Thailand, but travel-related news, I’ve been accepted to the study abroad program, International Honors Program, that I applied to! I originally applied for a program that studies global and community health in Switzerland, India, China, and South Africa, all in one semester, but that program was full. I’ve been offered a spot on a similar community-health focused program that goes to Washington, DC, Vietnam, South Africa and Mozambique, and Brazil. I’m really excited about Brazil — I’ll get to form an opinion on it that isn’t solely based upon City of God and Death Without Weeping! Now some of my free time here has been spent trying to work out the logistics getting the necessary forms for the program from here in Thailand, to home in Illinois, to Providence, to Boston. But it’ll all work out.
In other completely unrelated news — Happy Birthday on July 1 to Annie, my lovely and ridiculous sister, who’s turning 18! Thank goodness for skype — I’ve been able to talk to my fam at home and friends in Providence so far!
There’ll also be a new volunteer coming to Isara on Thursday, so I’ll have to share my room! Her name is Dagny and I’m sure she’ll be a great addition to my experience here this summer.
Down to business though — teaching! To fill up my spare time, Kirk and Ming mentioned that I could help out at Tesabon 2, a government elementary that’s a super-short bike ride away from the ILC. So after a short meeting, I’m helping there three days a week, for an hour on Monday mornings and then all day (4 classes each day) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m in a classroom with the English teacher, a serious lady with seriously gelled hair in her early 50s. I couldn’t remember her name, so I asked her, and she told me her full name and nickname (both of which I still can’t remember), and then said, “But you can just call me Mother.” So now I just avoid addressing her directly.
Side note about the teachers — They used to have a ladyboy teacher that Ming told me about. She said that s/he was a good, strict teacher, so I thought, “Great! Good teacher, strict, ladyboy, cute children in uniforms, I love all of these things! I should help out.” Well the school started laying off teachers because the attendance was down, so the ladyboy moved back to Pattaya (which could diplomatically be called the hedonistic capital of Thailand), where s/he was living previously. I was a little bummed about the ladyboy leaving, but that’s alright.
This teacher is pretty different from the teachers that I’m used to though. She talks on her cell phone in class, lets the cell phone rings all of the time, watches TV in class, and worst of all, tells me that she “has to go to the toilet” and then leaves me alone with the students for sometimes 15 minutes, sometimes the entire class period of an hour. Which quickly becomes frustrating, especially when I don’t know enough Thai to functionally run and control a classroom, and their English isn’t good enough to understand most of what I say.
So Ming came with me this afternoon to “take pictures for Isara’s website” and talk with the teacher about leaving me all of the time. She explained that I was here primarily to help the teacher, not run the classroom, and that she shouldn’t take advantage of me. I’m sure that this teacher said something like “Sure, of course!” but that didn’t stop her from leaving the entire next class period. Luckily that class was only girls (the ones I mentioned earlier who wanted my autograph) because the boys were practicing some boy scout thing that included drums(It’s mandatory for all students to be a girl/boy scout). They were easy to teach, but it becomes more difficult when I’m left with younger kids who don’t know as much English.
Here’s the classroom that I teach in. The school obtained 200,000 baht to build a sound lab for the English room, spent about 100,000 on the lab, and someone probably pocketed the rest of the money. So these kids are left with a sound lab that isn’t set up and that they aren’t allowed to use, and I have to try to look at all of their faces behind these silly plexiglass walls! It’s a difficult environment to teach in, and I can’t imagine that it would really facilitate learning.
On the bright side, the students really are sweet. They know me now when I ride my bike through the gate of the school and they smile and yell “HELLO” as I climb the stairs (all four flights) to the classroom. They’ll stay after class to try to get me to sing Kelly Clarkson songs and they’ll pop their heads of whatever class they’re in to say “Good Aftanoon, TEE-CHA!” One little first grader even gave me a hug after class today! My frustrations with the school and education system in Thailand don’t seem to matter as much when the students are so friendly.
Luckily, going to the school on my first day was made a bit easier because I knew some of the students from the ILC English classes that we hold after school. All of the Isara kids probably felt pretty special, already knowing the new English teacher! One of the students, Miew, likes to come up and tap me and giggle from time to time, probably just to keep me in check. So now I look forward to taps at school and at Isara.
Here’s a few pictures I took of the first grade class today, while we were waiting for the teacher to show up:
And here’s a few of them, with the school’s other building in the background. All of the hallways and stairs are outside, kind of motel-style.
Here’s a few pictures of other things.
Things like a view of Prajak Road, one of the three main roads in Nongkhai and only one over from Mee Chai, the road I’m staying on.
Things like this birthday present that Kirk received last week from one of the students, Jeab (who I teach at both the ILC and Tesabon 2). Check out the beautiful, artistic rendering of a peacock from a Heineken car. That is talent if I ever saw it.
Things like the cutest motorcycle helmet I have ever seen, complete with wiggly antennae and googly eyes! I want one.
Coming up in Nongkhai — the arrival of Dagny, a soccer/football game on the fourth of July (sadly unrelated events), another, hopefully longer, visit to the Sarnelli House (the home for children with HIV/AIDS), and maybe some more exploring around the province.