Sunday, May 19, 2013

Teaching and stuffs...

I'm settling into life in Lampang with relative ease. I owe a huge thanks to Thom and Thong (pronounced Tong--and he knows what a thong is, but I remind him anyway). They are fellow teachers and 26-year old twins. I guess they are my coordinators, although they have already been upgraded to friends in my book. They take Gary and I around and we are able to get an authentic Thai experience through their generosity. It's becoming rapidly apparent why Thai people have such a stellar reputation. They are nothing but kind and accommodating and it seems that it is completely natural for them. It's innate and ingrained in their culture and that's something that America could learn greatly from.

I'm not sure if I could ask for a better set-up. Lampang is exactly what I look for in a place to live. It's not overly large, yet there is plenty to do. It's not crowded, but neither do I feel isolated. It seems it's semi-undiscovered and that's certainly appealing--the authenticity is alluring. And it's great that I will be hanging out with the locals here instead of a million farangs (Hopefully my Thai will become a beneficiary of that). (Lampang's emblem/logo/whatever is a rooster--how fitting for a guy from South Carolina.)

Teaching has been easier than I expected it would be. Since I am a native speaker, mainly they want me to speak and have the kids speak with the correct pronunciation. The first day I had to introduce myself to my 650 students at an assembly. It was an interesting experience to say the least. I garnered much applause to my own confusion and felt sort of like a celebrity. I'm in charge of M/5 (level 5 or Juniors in high school), so they are all 16-17 years old. I teach 3 classes a day for a total of 15 a week and I only teach each class once a week. I feel like it'll be difficult to make a connection with the students this way, but the bright side is that I only have to create one lesson plan a week. 

While the physical pleasures that Thailand provide never fail to disappoint, what's becoming more valuable is the internal maturation that I'm already experiencing. I am becoming more aware of myself through living here. It's funny how that works--how the differences of others force us to look inward. My good buddy Curtis Vann taught me how to pause for a moment and 'zoom out.' When in a unique situation, it's always interesting to take a second to consider the position you are in. I'm in Thailand teaching English to juniors in high school and not since being in Florence have I felt more liberated. My life has become an adventure once more. It's like this blog--a blank canvas (screen) waiting to be scribbled on, and boy am I enjoying the scribbling.

I'm lucky to have HBO on the 12 inch tv in my apartment and since it's the only English channel I have I leave it on there. It's channel 10 or nothing. They actually play quality stuff (game of thrones was on earlier). Although currently I'm watching Judy Moody and the Not So Bummer Summer (too much rhyming in the title for my taste), yesterday Coach Carter was on and I was reminded of one of my all-time favorite quotes. (I guess I'm 2 for 2 on quotes in my blog posts but I don't care.) I'll let Timo Cruz elaborate:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It's not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
I contemplated for a little at how fitting this quote was for my situation. At times I feel like I hide in the shadows too often and am afraid to put myself out there. I'm actively attempting to be more vocal and overt. Being in Thailand only a couple weeks has already opened me up, and being a teacher, especially, is forcing me to become more outgoing and unreserved. I think even this blog is an extension of my newfound extroverted attitude. Like I said, I'm doing a lot of zooming out and self-reflection over here...

(I haven't taken my camera around Lampang yet so these are all from my phone. Planning on taking it to Chiang Mai for a 3-day weekend next weekend so I'll get some good ones there. Apologies...)

Weekend night market

Thai kids playing music at the night market

Thom and Gary. Everyone thinks Gary is Thai and it is very amusing when they try and talk to him. He's from Minnesota.

Home cooked Thai meal

More than 4,000 students at Bunyawat

A view from one of the classrooms. Hello mountains

Wat Phra That near Lampang

The kr3w

Sunday, May 12, 2013

First week in...

     Sitting in a Black Canyon Coffee shop at what is considered the Thailand version of the mall, and drinking my 3rd Thai Iced Tea in 24 hours, it seems I finally have a moment to reflect on the previous week's events. Hopefully I can provide insight into what it's like living here--a view of Thai culture through a young Native Son's eyes.
Took a walk up a hill in the Mission District. Views overlooking SF.
     The past week was a blur. It seems like I just left my good friend George in San Fran (you were a tremendous host btw, thanks George)--yet here I am in Lampang and no Farangs (white people) in sight. It felt like freshman orientation at Wake, where certain questions were asked upon each and every introduction. You could almost guarantee "where are you from?" and "where are you placed?" Once I got past that phase I quickly realized that we were all very much alike. It takes a distinct type of person to pack their bags and move to the opposite side of the world. But even knowing this, it was fascinating how quickly we all made friends. I went from knowing zero people to having double-digit close friends scattered all across Thailand. By week's end we were all genuinely sad that we were leaving each other. The silver lining is that we now have places to visit with free lodging. 
     The majority of our day time was spent locked in hotel conference rooms where we were taught how to teach English and given some essential Thai language skills. It was actually much more enjoyable than I anticipated. Our TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher did a really good job of making it fun and informative--what more can you ask for. We would go out at night; either right around the hotel (which was well outside the center of Bangkok) or take a 20+ minute cab ride in. Easily the best moment in BKK was the 2-3 hours a few of us spent at the Sky Bar. We were on a patio area 64 floors up, with a view of the sun setting over the entire city. Staring at the red sky, I kept thinking how it was a strange mix of the Lion King and The Hangover 2. 

(Lion King intro)


     We took a day and night trip west of BKK to Kanchanaburi and saw The Bridge Over the River Kwai (which is also apparently a movie I have to watch now), cruised on bamboo rafts, and rode elephants. Maybe some would choose the elephants, but, for me, the most rewarding moment came on a surprise river boat dinner (I say surprise because we thought it was just a floating barge of sorts until it started moving). The cruise lasted around 3 hours in total and was filled with more incredible sunset views (maybe I just really like sunsets...).
The Bridge
Not sure
Maybe I should've picked one where I wasn't sleeping
That little thing dragged us around
Extra greasy 
      When it became completely dark, the boat DJ turned up the dance music and unknowingly signaled my cue to leave. I found myself (purposefully) sitting alone on the back of the boat secluded from everyone else. Slowly the music began to fade, and it was then that I felt like I had been transformed into another time. I was in one of those erie scenes from Apocalypse Now--just me and a few other Thai dinghies on a river under the stars. As I sat messing around with the boat lights using the long exposure on my camera, I thought about a Mark Twain quote I heard before leaving home:
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime
I was content.