Saturday, August 30, 2008

Food, Glorious Food!

When I was deciding where to go with PiA (the program I am teaching through), I considered several things: the climate, the culture, the university, the pay, the students, the language, the outdoor opportunities, etc. I was a little embarrassed at the time at how high food was on my list (like pretty much #1); I am no longer embarrassed. The food in Thailand is incredible. I just wander around the market buying things I don't recognize and 99% of the time it's amazing. I have had one bad meal of hundreds in Thailand so far (Nick will recall the snot soup). 

When I was living in Spain for a summer, I missed American food fairly often, but from tropical fruits to charcoal grilled meats to sticky rice, to coconut milk curries to tapioca desserts to spicy salads and all the amazing sauces and condiments in addition to western baked goods that Thais rock at making, I haven't had time to miss American food. Incredibly fresh produce flavored with thai basil, mint, lemongrass, coconut milk, kaffir lime, ginger, and thai chilis, leaves no room to desire anything else. 

There are several ways to get food in Thailand: the supermarket, the street vendor, the market, the "chairs and roof" restaurant and the "real" restaurant." As an ode to Thai food, I will go into more detail about each one in later posts as there are many delicious things available at each establishment. 

but for now, some Saturday Love:

Things I Love (any day of the week):

Obviously, Thai Food

People watching (can we make this into one word, please?) at Thai clubs (and in general)

Dancing to The Vengaboys (especially in TRiP vans, but anywhere is good)

Wine & Cheese Parties (really, potlucks in general)

Swimming on Sunny Days

Fresh Flowers

Days where you do nothing but read a good book

Taking funny pictures

Climbing up to really high places and looking at the world around me


The moment on Friday that made my week when my students asked if I was teaching the next class in the series because they wanted to be in my section

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I Have a Red Pen

I am now a real live teacher; I have a red pen (and boy, do I use it), and I come home from class covered in chalk because we have good old-fashioned chalkboards in the classrooms. We also have good old-fashioned lack of air conditioning, so I embarassingly sweat all over my students for the first 20 minutes of every class. 

I really enjoy the job, but it is challenging. Getting into the classroom has (predictably) given me loads more respect for every teacher I've ever had - well, at least for how difficult the job is. You are an actor, improv comedian, public, speaker,  educator, editor and sometimes counselor, and that's just for the students. There's the politician side of dealing with administration, but it hasn't been too bad for me so far. 

My job is relatively easy compared to other teaching jobs because the curriculum is already planned for me, but teaching in Thailand is a challenge for western-educated people. You cannot measure your success in the engagement and involvement of your students; they are generally (because they have been taught to be) completely silent in class. They have been taught that asking questions is disrespectful because it implies that the teacher did not teach well. They are rarely required to participate in class (which makes it hard to learn to speak a language); they are passive receptors of information. 

They try hard to adapt to my style, but it takes all my energy to get them to answer questions. They will say it out loud as a group, but I would never hope to have someone volunteer an answer. I am experimenting with different strategies and these days I'm getting a little more out of them (today we sort of had a discussion about drug use in Thailand).

In general my students are quiet, shy, and respectful. When they see my in the hall or walk into class, they wai me (a respectful gesture of placing the hands in prayer position and bowing the head). They pay attention and usually do what I ask. They love it when I act funny and ridiculous, and generally seem to like me (sometimes they bring me gifts of food!) 

The English ability of my students varies widely. I have students that can't understand me when I tell them to open their books, and I have students who have studied abroad in the US for a year -in the same class. In one of my first-year classes, I have a crew of math majors that sit in the back and fall asleep, and then I have a group that gets excited when they see me, sits in the front, chats with me and asks questions about life in the US. 

Most of my best students are young women who want to be flight attendants (so they must be conversational in English - and beautiful, for that matter) for Asian airlines. Stewardess is a very prestigious job here and is a dream job for many of my students. 

All of my students have very long, phonetically complicated (ie. impossible for westerners to pronounce) names like: Khanakorn Rassameearpakorn, Nattayaporn Rattanawijit and Potchanaporn Huabcharoen which are written in English on my roster, but are really pronounced nothing like I might expect. 

Lucky for me, everyone has a nickname that they go by (even for other Thai people). The words are often English words, like Beer, Palm, and Fang, which you would think would make things easier. Unfortunately, they are pronounced bee-ah, paahm and fawn so even if I call on people with their nicknames, they still have no idea who I am talking about. That's okay though because most of them just call me "Teechaaaah" :)

Update & Love

Sorry for the lack of blogging regularity; I've been spending some time with new people, and have had some internet problems, so I haven't been on my computer for several days. 
Things here are still great, I've been doing a lot of yoga (I practiced for 3 hours last night with friends), and generally having a good time with great people. 
Right now there is an epidemic of Dengue Fever in Chiang Mai, almost every day I hear that someone I know has gotten it. It is carried by mosquitos and there is not vaccine or cure, you just suffer through the flu-like symptoms for 1 week - 1 month depending on your body and the strain you get. So far I've escaped it's wrath, but if you are someone who prays, hopes, wishes, sends thoughts/energy, or whatever else you do, please send some my way because Dengue is pretty awful to have. 
On Saturday I went to a dance show at the CMU Art Museum called "When Worlds Collide." It was an amazing show of Asian Fusion dance with incredible dancers and really creative themes and music (sadly, I didn't have my camera, this is from the City Now website). 

Almost as entertaining were the dolled up Katheoy (ladyboys) who hosted the show and gave out flowers. Someday I will blog about gender in Thailand; the dynamics are really interesting. 

And without further ado, here is a Tuesday Love List, because its never too late for love :)

Making connections with new people
Planet Earth (the BBC documentary, but yes, also the planet itself)
Good Massages
Being open-heartedly honest
Beautiful Eyes
Carbon Leaf (thanks to Jackson for the musical suggestion)
The smell of Frangipani Flowers
Slow, 5-breath, no-fan Sun Salutations at Wild Rose
Running in the Rain
Getting Snail Mail (thanks to Sandy and winkwink nudgenudge to others!)
Creative smoothie combinations
Being inspired
Listening to a guy sing and play acoustic guitar
Sunday Lunch at Fi's, oh that rug!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Love List

Things I Love:

Full Moons on Clear Nights
Seeing someone who reminds you of a person you love who is far away
When I can tell that my students really understand something I've taught them
How language structures your reality
Cozy Sweaters
Building Community
My down sleeping bag (I still haven't bought a comforter/blanket here, so I sleep with it every night)
Singing & Chanting
Climbing on real rock
When you are so thirsty that water tastes sweet
Accomplishing something you didn't think you could do
Social Experiments
Watching a movie on a rainy day

Don't forget to make your own and post it in the comments (or leave the link to your blog) <3

Thursday, August 14, 2008

On the Frustrations of Learning to Read Thai

After giving up on trying to learn the characters when I was casually learning Chinese, I thought Thai would be a relief because it has an alphabet. In theory, yes - but here are some of the difficulties I've been dealing with. 

First of all, there are 44 consonants (which all have a two-word name /and/ associated thing you have to learn, similar to "a is for apple") and 32 vowels (long and short). The consonants are divided into high, low and middle classes which help to determine the tone of the syllable. The vowel is placed before, after, above, below, or on both sides of the consonant depending on the vowel. One of the consonants is a vowel and some of the vowels have consonants in them. 

Sometimes letters exist in a word only to help it become a certain tone and are not actually pronounced. There are high, low, rising and falling tone markers (mid doesn't have a marker) which are placed above the syllable, but contrary to what you might think (and what would make sense), a low tone marker doesn't actually make the syllable a low tone, nor does the consonant being in the low class cause it to be low tone. There is a maddeningly complex system of interactions that determines the tone of each syllable, many of which I still do not understand. Some sounds have several possible letters, for example there are 6 letters that represent aspirated 't,' and depending which one you use, it changes the meaning of the word. Did I mention there are no spaces between words? 

I am enjoying learning however, and I drive around looking at license plates and saying the letters to myself (signs are still too complicated). Also, I'm sure my hard work will pay off because once I can read, it will be so much easier to learn to speak (which is also coming along slowly but surely)!

My super-awesome linguist Thai tutor bought this cute book for me (the same one Thai kids use in Kindergarten) 

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


It's amazing how fast living in a new place changes your perspective and redefines your normal. 

Where I once avoided crossing the street, terrified of the chaotic traffic, I am now part of the flowing mass, zipping in and out of cars, tuk-tuks, motorbikes with fruit stands welded onto the side, and the ocassional elephant. 

Where I once marveled at how cheap everything was, I now think a meal over 30 baht (~$1) is fancy. I thought to myself yesterday (in all seriousness before I thought about it relation to the US), "I have to stop driving so much, fuel is really expensive here; I'm spending the equivalent of $3/week on gas." My internal budget adjusted with the receipt of my first paycheck in Thai Baht. 

I have been here two months now, but it almost feels like I've never not been here. I was talking with a friend about how when you live abroad (for a defined amount of time), it's sort of on another time scale; a side box on the timeline of your life, rather than a year (or however long) tucked into other years of your normal life. Hence, the US seems worlds away.

A friend told me the other day that he couldn't imagine what my life was like in Thailand. While it is different in many ways, it seems there are always common elements to life, wherever you're living. I go to campus everyday, and with the pre-planned curriculum, showing up to teach actually take less prep than showing up to learn. I hang out with people my age in the teacher's common room, (which can never replace the TRiP office, but feels normal). I still eat several random meals per day, go on facebook, read in cafes, and am hopelessly addicted to coffee (but really, I can quit anytime...)

Yes, there are monks walking around the temple where I like to eat lunch, I drive to school on the left side of the road, and everything around me is in Thai, but I have a routine, a community, and everything I need. So all in all, life in Thailand feels normal.

Friday, August 8, 2008

First Friday Love List

There are a few blogs I read regularly. One is Meg Fowler's, and every Friday she does a "Love List." It is simply a list of things she loves, and she encourages people to post one in the comments or on their own blog. I'm going to start, and I'd love if you wrote your own in the comments, or left the link for it in your blog :)

Things I Love: 

Friday Night Sauna at Wild Rose 

Thai Food


Drinking coffee on my balcony while I watch the sun come up

Andrew Brody's voice (host of the excellent podcast 'LSAT Logic in Everyday Life')

Making wordplay jokes that my students don't notice/understand

Being outside


Tropical fruit smoothies

The chocolate cake at Wawee (Thailand's answer to Starbucks)


Pun Pun Organic Vegetarian Restaurant (amazing food)

Reading (currently on an SF fix, and into "Snow Crash")

being an ENFP

Soundtrack Moments (when a moment in your life fits so perfectly with the song you are listening to - sometimes it's in your mind, sometimes playing - that it could be the soundtrack to a movie)

Serendipities (gifts from the universe)

Parenthesizing my thoughts (in writing and speaking)

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Last week, I had the week off because there were midterms as school and I didn't have to proctor any! Wat Suan Dok (the temple near my house) offers a 3-day Vipassana meditation retreat at the end of each month, which takes place at their retreat center north of town so I decided to do it. 

It was a really interesting, hard, rewarding, boring, relaxing few days. 

We went to the Wat on Tuesday afternoon and started with a talk introducing Buddhism. The participants were all foreigners (Thais go on different days) and mostly tourists, so the retreat was geared towards beginners. Then we donned our white clothes, and drove about 45 minutes outside of town to their beautiful meditation center.

The daily schedule started at 5am and ended at 9pm (by which time you were surprisingly tired for having sat in one place most of the day!), meditating for most of the time in between. Each meditation session was about an hour long with a 5-10 minute break in between to get some water and/or stretch. 

We had longer breaks for meals. We did walking, sitting, and lying down meditation in various different styles. There was one we did in the morning that involved counting and moving your hands in which the counting got faster and faster - this was to "banish the sleepy." We also started the morning with Yoga. The monks asked who did yoga and about 30 people put their hands up, and he said "okay, so who wants to lead the yoga class? monks can't really do good yoga because of the robes" After about 5 minutes (he just stood there waiting) I volunteered, 

Other than chanting and a 1-hour daily discussion, it was a silent retreat for the participants. The chanting was in Pali (language used during the Buddha's time) and it was not really translated for us, but we would begin each meditation session with paying respect to the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dharma & Sangha - group of people who meditate together and do good things in the community) by chanting and end each session by sending Loving Kindness to all living beings. We would also chant before eating so as to be mindful of our food and eating. In the morning we offered food to the monks, they came with their pots to each of us and then we received a blessing.

The retreat was led by several monks, who would instruct us on different meditation techniques and the senior monk would sometimes tell stories about the Buddha, or give Dharma (the Buddha's teachings) talks. I liked a lot of the things he said:

the most important thing is to learn to forgive and to forget, start with yourself

"do things with no expectations and with pure heart and pure mind"

"meditation is to purify the mind, if you don't clean your mind, have very dirty mind, dirty mind (he would repeat this several times smiling and shaking his head). In the morning, clean your body, then clean your mind, and send loving kindness to all beings. Think to yourself, today will be a good day"

His apprentice was my discussion leader and he said several times, "we all same, same body, same human family, you want to happy, I want to happy, you want the love, I want the love, different religion, different god, all saying same thing" 

It was really nice to just be still and be with myself for such a long time. It was also hard though because my mind is not used to meditating for so long and my body is not used to sitting for so long. The general technique was to focus one-pointed concentration on your breath and to use the breath as an anchor to come back to when your mind drifts to other thoughts - because that's what minds do, they think (the monks were fond of saying "the mind jumps around, naughty monkey mind"). Though you are trying to focus on the breath, you should be open to whatever comes up in your mind and receive it non-judgmentally. It was really interesting to see where my mind went when given so much time. 

I can honestly say it was a life-changing experience for me (a phrase I think is often over-used and misused) because it inspired me to start a morning and evening meditation practice that I think will change my life. 

Monsoon Season

If you live in Chiang Mai, you must make peace with the fact that you will live a good portion of your life wet; either from sweat or rain. Apparently, August is monsoon season. It rains often and really hard - which I love. I just throw open the double doors to my balcony (the runners on the door are really smooth, so I actually can throw them open - it's great) and listen. 

The beauty of the rain is even worth getting soaked (which happens in about 2 seconds, especially on your motorbike where raindrops somehow seems to track straight towards your underwear). My expensive, high-tech Marmot jacket is no match for this rain, my giant plastic poncho which covers my whole body somehow only fares slightly better. 

The rain rolls down off the mountain every afternoon, usually around the hottest part of the day. The top of the mountain will be obscured by clouds and then this white wave just starts coming down in our direction, the wind picks up, and that delicious pre-rain smell floats around. 

In addition to the predictable afternoon rain, there are also completely isolated, unpredictable showers. With the sun shining in one corner of the sky, a stealth ninja raincloud can open up and pour buckets on you without a moment's notice, only to disappear within minutes. These are the kind of storms where you can see the edge of the storm - like a wall of rain. All the roads flood and traffic is even worse than it was before. If I've been away from my apartment, I can tell how recently it's rained where I live by how flooded the end of my soi (side street) is. Oh, only 3 inches of water? it must have stopped raining a while ago...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Should I Just Keep a Running List? (More Seredipities)

Today I took a great new Yoga class and the teacher looked familiar. Turns out she lived in Gainesville and often ate Krishna Lunch (lunch on campus made by the Hare Krishnas and eaten on a big field) so I probably saw her there!

I was thinking to myself that I wanted to play some ultimate frisbee but hadn't found any groups in CM. Lo-and-behold, I the next person I met mentioned frisbee, "Yeah, we play every Saturday, we'd love to have you!"

After my meditation group the other night, one of the guys (whom I had never even talked to before) came up and asked if I would like to go mountain biking, FOR FREE, with all gear provided? Why, YES please - I can think of few things I would like more.

It seems that in Chiang Mai if I think to myself "gee, X would be nice" someone comes up to me and asks "would you like X? I will arrange it all for you and everything will work out perfectly."

The biking was awesome, the views were beautiful and the trail was intense!


Last weekend, we had a long weekend off from school for Buddhist Lent, and some friends and I went to Pai, a beautiful little town north of Chiang Mai, close to the Burma border. 
It was a relaxing weekend full of waterfalls, reading in hammocks and eating great food. 
Highlights were: our bungalow cabins,

motorbiking around the beautiful countryside,

and going to this hilltop coffee shop

More pics here

The Omnivore's Dilemma

In the past few weeks, I have felt happy and peaceful a great majority of the time. More so than most times living in the US. I'm sure it owes partly to the fact that I work only ~20 hours/week while still making enough money to live comfortably, and I have little stress.
I read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan while I was in Pai, and something else has occurred to me. The food I have been eating is largely produced locally, much of it organic, and prepared freshly. I eat almost no processed foods here. Which means no HFCS, few additives and preservatives, coloring or myriad other unpronounceable ingredients that the FDA says are fine but I have trouble believing really are. 
I just generally have a greater feeling of well-being here than I have in a long time. It's really nice. I'm sure it also owes to my abstention from alcohol and the addition of a daily yoga practice, frequent exercise and a good community of people. I believe it's all connected though, that one things feeds another, and all these factors lead to an increased sense of wholeness and well-being. 
I highly recommend "The Omnivore's Dilemma" to anyone who eats food in America :) For more books about Industrial Agriculture, alternatives to it, and related nutrition, check out "Real Food" by Nina Planck, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver and (the slightly more depressing but still good) "Harvest of Hope" by Jane Goodall.