30 September 2007

Sarasas Witaed Saimai School, Part 2

Teaching in Thailand is definitely a cultural experience because to fully understand the school, you definitely need to understand Thai culture. I am going to do my very best to combine the two...let's see what I can do.

Here is a picture of the canteen where the students eat lunch, with all the food stands...the one on the far left is the fruit stand lady, whom I adore. The reason they eat so healthfully (albeit a chocolate pancake now and then) is because all of their food is fresh. Everyone goes to the market, picks up colorful vegetables, fruit or pre-made noodle dishes, which are all made with real food - no processed crap here. Now, I still have to wonder about their portion sizes - which are still excruciatingly small for this hearty American girl - but the corn lady at the market is my new go-to girl for snacktime!

Another interesting thing is that the school is a Catholic school - yet, the majority of children are Buddhist who attend there. And if not Buddhist, then most likely Muslim before Catholic. The Thai people are extremely open and accepting of other religions - they have no problem sending their Buddhist child to a school where they pray to Jesus as part of the morning ritual. Although, part of the morning prayers also requires students to say, "Thank you for my parents who spend a lot of money on me. I will work hard everyday to save money for them." So I am guessing that keeps the parents happy :) And no Catholic school would be complete without a shrine to good ol' Mother Mary!

Slowly, I am also making friends with the Thai teachers which has been so much fun! My Thai teacher who teaches in Grade 1C with me is adorable, and we get along great, which is good because I have heard of some horror stories about foreign and Thai staff not getting along. On a brighter note, I also got paid for the first time on Friday, which I am just excited about because now I have some money (which will all be blown on the Laos/Vietnam/Cambodia trip), which hasn't happened in awhile!

Also, this weekend we had the Saimai Music & Poetry Festival entitled, "Poetry in My Heart" - in which every class from every grade level performed a song, skit or poem. Oh man, hilarity! Absolutely hilarity! The Thai music teachers went all out on the set, and when I say all out, I mean all out. Take a look at my little kiddies performing "The Butterfly Song" (which does say Jesus in it repeatedly - which would NOT happen back in America) on stage!

Yes...those are cannons flagging the stage, a waterfall front and center, two lifesize school crests on both sides of the stage and a large styrofoam "Poetry in my heart" collection of rainbows, birds, trees...you name it! Another cultural note, Thais are obsessed with the way things look. Everything has to look good - if you have a spot on your shirt, they notice; if your fly is undone, they notice; and if you don't have the best stage set-up for a poetry and music festival, clearly they notice! All the girls were donned in full make-up (think bright blue eyeshadow, garishly applied blush and red lipstick!) - even the Thai staff!

All in all, it provided lots of entertainment and the kids had fun - which of course, is the most important thing of all. Now, I have Monday and Tuesday off, then preparation for next semester the rest of the week before I am off to on holiday! Wooo...the time is flying! I have officially been in Thailand a month as of today! And just in case you were getting homesick from not seeing me, here is a picture of some of us foreign teachers: Suzi, John, me and Lauren.

Hope all is well at home, would love to hear from you all and take care!

26 September 2007

Sarasas Witaed Saimai School

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and monks of all ages (hey, we are in Thailand!), I am proud to present to you my workplace: Sarasas Witaed Saimai Bilingual School. Located in Saimai - one of Bangkok's 50 districts - the school teaches over 1,000 students from kindergarten to grade 7, focusing their curriculum primarily in Thai and English. It is one of over 15 Sarasas schools in the Bangkok area and opened it's scholastic doors almost 2 years ago.

Sarasas Witaed Saimai School has over 40 foreign teachers on staff from all around the world - Phillippines, U.S.A., Canada, Belarus, Algiers, Belgium, England, Australia and China, just to name a few. However, I have to think the most interesting teacher I have met so far (no offense to the rest of you) is definitely Brian. Born and raised in Boston, Mass., Brian has worked as a professional astrologer, past life regression therapist (yes, he helped people discover what their past lives were) and practices the East African religion Osha. The man has got stories, needless to say.

However, what makes working here all worth it - as corny as it sounds - are the kiddies! My 1st grade class may be the most rambunctious, most chatty, pretty much most everything, but they are absolutely adorable. Two days ago, we were playing a game where we were moving around the classroom, and Thannawat turned around, stuck his butt out, slapped his butt right in my face, and I could do nothing but laugh out loud. Really hard. Here is Pathorn, Aan, Chotiros and Mr. Thannawat himself (my fave!) being themselves and goofing off.

One of my favorite parts of the school is definitely the fruit stand lady! Her name is Nene (I think that's what I understood it as), and I love her! Without her, I would without a doubt miss my 5-10 recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables! They have a variety of little food stands in the canteen (also known as the cafeteria), but the rest of the stands sell junk food - which is an everyday struggle to refuse. One stand sells these amazing pancakes with chocolate all brushed with butter - yummy delicious but not an everyday treat!

Also, I still can't quite get over the portion sizes of the food they give the students! They give them the teensiest bit of rice with a few pieces of meat and some vegetables - and they call that a meal! No wonder everybody is so skinny here! Maybe the American's can pick up a tip or two about portion control from these people. However, once I saw the amount of junk the kids eat from the food stands, I understood why they give them so little food at lunch!

I think that's it for now (my stomach is calling the fruit stand lady for a snack!), but I have so much more to say about the school, watch for Sarasas Witaed Saimai School, Part 2!

23 September 2007

Animal Instincts

Clearly, I have no animal instincts, but despite that yours truly is not the hugest fan of animals, I decided that from a distance, they can't be that bad. So, Lauren and I ventured off to one of Bangkok's finest tourist attractions...SAFARI WORLD! Not only can you take a safari (complete in a rickety old van decorated in khaki) through an open air zoo full of giraffes, zebras, antelopes, Bengal tigers...oh my! They also have shows and lots of fun stuff for the kiddies - and for us wannabe kiddies!

The safari was definitely cool (I think I may even have a new favorite animal - giraffes!), but one of the highlights - according to Lauren - would be the bird feeding. There is an area in the zoo where the zookeepers give you bird feed, and you can let the birds rest on your hand and eat. It is definitely not something you would see in the U.S., probably out of fear somebody would sue them if a bird pecked someone! So, I grabbed some bird feed and became quite frustrated when no birds would land on my freshly moisturized arm. After a couple minutes, I finally got a bird and was ready for my photo op. Well, once 1 bird came, 2 more landed on my arm and before I knew it, I had 3 birds nesting...in my hair! They were pecking at it, and luckily Lauren had the camera in hand and caught a couple candid shots for your entertainment!

We also got lucky enough to run into the elephant trainers, who happened to be working with the elephants for the elephant show. Being the young, charming, vibrant young ladies we are, they offered to let us feed the elephants. Not going to lie - that trunk is A LOT more powerful than I thought, and I jumped away from it several times after it came chasing after me for more bananas. This definitely gets me excited to go elephant trekking up in Northern Thailand, which if all goes according to plant, I am going to do over our Christmas break with a very special visitor! Woowoo!

However, I have to say that the BEST part of the ENTIRE Safari World experience had to be... drum roll please... the fact that they boast the "Best Public Toilet of the Year." Yes, you heard it hear people, and just in case you are curious (come on, who isn't?), here is a picture of Thailand's best public toilet of the year!

Bet you didn't see that one coming! Haha! I also have mention the James Bond (Thai version, of course!) show we saw at Safari World. It was the cheesiest action show I have ever seen, but totally enjoyable. We also saw giraffes up close (like I said, my new favorite animal!), ate noodle bowls from these cute ladies who made our lunch on boats and saw a bunch of Cambodian tourists pretending to act like James Bond after the show. All in all, a pretty good day!

Today was of course Sunday Spa Day, and today I splurged on the good ol' reliable 90-minute reflexology foot massage (which comes with a 10-minute back massage at the end), which in one short word, is heaven! Only 150 baht (not even 5$)! Then we browsed around the market down the street, which is the largest market in Saimai (the district of Bangkok where I live) and bought some dinner. I think people are finally getting used to seeing two white girls roaming about town! The stares are getting less and less each day.

Tomorrow starts exam week at school, so it should be pretty uneventful - although knowing my rambunctiously rowdy class, something is bound to happen! I took a bunch of pictures Friday at school so this week I will write a lovely blog post all about Sarasas Witaed Saimai Bilingual School, and you will feel as though you teach their too! A pretty lowkey week all in all - but in 2 weeks, off to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam for our 3-week October break so you know I will get myself into some trouble there!

17 September 2007

Gearing Up

It is that time already...another weekend has commenced here in Krung Thep (also known to us as in English as Bangkok). I guess it doesn't matter where you are, the weekends go by fast everywhere in the world! I hope you all had a good one as well!

Yesterday - as it is every week here in Thailand - was Sunday Spa Day! This week, Lauren and I decided to try out the wonderful world of facials! We went to a new spa we never tried before and found ourselves lounging comfortably in two oversized chairs, ready for them take on our pores. Now, before I get to the meat of this story, I shall make another cultural note about the use of baby powder. Since Thailand's climate is tropical - very hot and humid - a lot of people use baby powder to soak up the sweat and oil that accumulates on their faces. Makes sense, right?

So, back to the story...after an enjoyable 1-hour facial, the woman working on me asks if I would like baby powder on my face. Since she just slathered my face with lotion and SPF, I thought a little baby powder wouldn't hurt. She helps me out of my chair and hands me a mirror to look into. Well, instead of looking rejuvenated! refreshed! ravishing! (as one should after a facial), I looked like Casper the frickin' Friendly Ghost! I looked like I could be at death's door at a moment's notice - my face is completely colorless, covered in a thick layer of white baby powder. I handed the mirror to Lauren, took one look at her (she was whiter than I was) and had to hold in the biggest laugh of my life. When we walked outside, it looked more like we stepped out of the Addams Family movie than a spa! To make up for it, I went and got a foot massage. Total cost for the beauty day: 400 baht (=13$), plus a bit of pride.

On Saturday, we headed into Bangkok and to the Chatuchak Market - possibly the largest, most amazing market I have ever been to in my life. Clothes, jewelry, food, housewares, kitchen stuff, Buddhas, art galleries, foot massages, plants, animals - you name it, they have it! We browsed all morning, found ourselves lost more than once and totally enjoyed it all. I could have bought everything but decided on 4 Thai-esque bowls, which I decided will go great in the apartment back home I don't have. I'm trying out this new financial strategy where you actually make money before you spend it. I will let you know how it goes...

Another cultural note...I've noticed in Thailand that food is almost always served in a bag or on a stick. A common food found on a stick here is meat balls (not to be confused with meatballs). Found mainly at markets and street vendors, they are served with a slightly spicy (practically EVERYTHING is spicy in Thailand) sauce and are pretty good, depending on where you buy them from. Fish balls, pork balls, chicken balls, beef balls, octopus balls (except these ones are in tentacle form) - they have em' all! Here is the largest meat ball stand I've seen since being here - located conveniently at Chatuchak market. Man, the Thais love their meat!

Also in Bangkok, we saw the great Golden Buddha! Legend has it that in the 13th century, this Buddha was originally covered in plaster to conceal it from the invading enemy. It was installed in a temple in the Yannawa district of Bangkok until the early 1900's when a commission decided to move the Golden Buddha to Wat Trimitr (Trimitr Temple), where it is today. In 1955, while attempting to move the Buddha, it cracked, revealing that it was actually made of pure gold. You can actually see the plaster/cement bits which fell off the Buddha at the temple. Definitely the best Buddha I've seen so far!

Other than that, we again negotiated with tuk tuk drivers, found ourselves buying bootlegged DVD's at the Silom night markets (let's hope the government isn't monitoring my blog...otherwise things could get dicey!) and of course, enjoying some delicious Pad Thai!

Now, it is Monday and the school is gearing up for exam week next week. I should be in for lots of review sheets and games this week - off to a fine start so far. Another fun note...Lauren and I are also starting to plan our 3-week October break. Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia...here we come!

I hope you all have a wonderful week as well - take care and hope to talk to you all soon! Sawatdee ka!

14 September 2007

Another Week Bites the Dust

Sawatdee kah! Week #2 in Thailand has absolutely flown right by me! With exams one week away for the kiddies, we have been busy with review sheets, correcting papers (my new favorite thing!) and making sure the kids know everything they need to know for exams. The latter of which is definitely not happening...but we are working on it.

Today, Thannawat asked me if my hair was a wig. I said no and preceded to get into a verbal sparring match back and forth for several minutes with him saying, "Wig!" and me responding, "Real!" Then Attakan (once again) stood up to pelvic thrust multiple times for the whole class - all during a spelling test. Priceless.

A little note about transportation...Lauren and I are getting a ride to school in the morning from another teacher named Mickey, which is so very nice of him. However, to get home from school, we have to venture out on the great songtao.

Ahhh, the songtao - definitely the cheapest, scariest and most likely way to contract a foreign disease of travel around. It consists of a small pick-up truck (think a small Ford or Chevy) with a large metal dome installed in the bed of the truck. That dome is outfitted with cheap padded seats, which if you get on the songtao soon enough, you would be lucky enough to get. You flag down a songtao just like a taxi, hop on in the back and pray you don't come shooting out the back when it slams on the breaks in the middle of the road to pick-up or drop-off the next person. When you need to get out, you press the red button, and the songtao precedes to stop on a dime right then and there. You pay the driver and then keep going on your merry way. It is a 6 baht (20 cent) experience I have come to look forward to everyday...

I have also been busy starting to plan future travels, organizing our new humble abode (more pictures to come) and settling into the daily grind. I've started running here around my little mooban (which means village) and am now stared at by its Thai residents, who I swear must be thinking, "Who is this crazy American girl running in circles around our mooban?" Also, not to mention, the homeless street dogs roaming around that chased after me on a run earlier this week, all the while I had myself convinced they were going to attack, and I was going to get Thai rabies.

Other than that, Lauren and I are heading back into Bangkok this weekend for more shopping and sightseeing, so I will definitely post again next week with lots more good pictures. I also decided that week #3 will be a good week to start taking pictures of the school and children without people thinking I am a giant weirdo. Look for lots of good stuff to come!

Have a wonderful weekend, stay safe and hope to hear from you all soon!

10 September 2007

Real Bangkok Style

Technically I do live in Bangkok, specifically in the northeastern Saimai district. Here in Saimai, well, it is a little different than central Bangkok - the chaotic, thriving, sex obsessed metropolis and capital of Thailand. Clearly that is much more interesting than our rice fields and massive construction projects, so Lauren and I headed off this past Saturday to explore the growing city, which is now more than 7 million people (almost half of them drag queens - more on that later :).

Our day trip to Bangkok was an adventure! I mean that because we really went into the city with no plans, no real desire to see anything in particular but rather to just see where the wind took us - and took us it did! Immediately, we bumped into (literally!) a Thai man who suggested we take a tuk tuk (look below) to the Lucky Buddha, since the Lucky Buddha is only open one day a month and today was the day. Being the naive travelers we are, we totally believed that yes, it was our lucky day, take us to the Buddha! And off we went!

The reason I say naive is that tuk tuk drivers have people who work for them - telling tourists (like Lauren and myself) that certain landmarks are closed so that we will take a tuk tuk somewhere else. Needless to say, we have learned our lesson! Tuk tuks are definitely still my new favorite mode of travel - the wind is in your hair and death is at the throes as the drivers wind and veer all through the Bangkok traffic (which is notoriously bad!). Every so often, a gorgeous temple appears as if out of nowhere. Here is Mr. Lucky Buddha's temple!

After temple hopping with our tuk tuk driver Sai, he suggested we take a boat ride through the back canals. In the great fly by the seat of our pants theme of the day, we said why not and found ourselves on a large boat - floating through the back canals of Bangkok. It was an eye-opening, beautiful experience! Once in awhile, these ladies in boats (see picture) would come up to our boat and try to sell us different things - fruit, souvenirs, beverages. Being the expert negotiator I have learned to become in Thailand, we did not pay full price for one thing!

After the boat ride, we enjoyed an absolutely delicious meal of pad thai (with a huge egg fried right on top!) for 30 baht, or the equivalent of about 80 cents. It was glorious! Then, we browsed a small marketplace and headed for the Grand Palace - where the king lives - when yes, we got scammed by another tuk tuk driver who convinced us to see the "elusive" white and black buddhas. Our go with the flow attitude landed us right to the white and black buddhas, which were actually very cool. Now that we have seen a lot of temples, we can ease up on seeing those for awhile!

After temple hopping, we headed to Siam Paragon - possibly the nicest and most expensive mall I have ever been in. Gucci, Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana - it is all there! The thing about Thailnd though, is man, they LOVE their malls. Connected to Siam Paragon (in a row) are about four more malls (that is just on one street), so we browsed some cheaper malls, one of which is like a marketplace indoors, which was awesome. They even have a store where they illegally pirate DVD's, CD's and software right there in the mall! Gotta love it!

There just so much I could say, and I just can't fit it all in one post! Lauren and I are definitely heading back into central Bangkok this weekend to see all the things we didn't get to do last weekend - and this time, we are armed with more street smarts than before!

The house that Lauren and I moved into (you may have heard) is quite the home. Decorated in the classic stylings of a 1970's motor home, it absolutely radiates with cheesy decorations - including a Looney Tunes mural, placed oh so well right in our dining room.

The home is hilarious, needless to say. The comfy abode is also decorated with plastic fruit, glass flowers, inflatable hearts filled with teddy bears while lacking hot water, central air conditioning and correctly working electrical system. More pictures of the house to come!

To celebrate our first weeks here in Thailand, Lauren and I decided it would only be right if we allowed ourself another spa day. I paid 250 baht (7$) for a 90-minute foot massage which was followed by a pedicure. We decided it was only right we treat ourselves to something every week because as soon as we both get home, there will be no splurging on these luxuries anymore!

Again, there is so much more to say about school, Thai culture, food (lots of it!) so stay tuned for more adventures in Thailand. Let's just say, it will definitely be interesting! I will leave you all with a picture of my roommte Lauren and I cruising on the tuk tuk through Bangkok! Sawatdee!

06 September 2007

Back to School, Back to School


What a week! I have successfully lasted 4 days so far at Sarasas Witaed Saimai School and hoping my streak lasts through next week. As starting Monday, I will be teaching the youngsters of 1-C (grade 1, class C) all by my lonesome. A scary thought, I know! 1-C is actually the smartest of all the classes, but lucky me, also the most rambunctious and chatty. You all might want to keep me in your prayers for the next couple of weeks and keep on the lookout for any headlines in the newspaper including the words "American teacher," "Thailand" and "strangling of children."

The kids are absolutely adorable though, and I think I've picked my favorites - what a good teacher I am already! Today, one of those - a chubby boy who is missing is two front teeth and sports a classic military haircut - saw me after school and (phonetically speaking) said, "Goooodbuy Meez Hullee," and it completely made my day.

To avoid looking like the new creepy teacher though, I have refrained from taking photos of the children so far. I want to maintain an aura of professionalism as long as possible. Here are some lovely photos of the view from my classroom to enjoy instead, although I will try to get pics of the kids soon.

So, one things I must mention, which I have neglected to do so far, is to say that it is ridiculously blazing sweating your everything off hot here. Irony of ironies, it's supposedly "cold" here right now. Go figure. From the moment I exit my air conditioned bedroom, I immediately start sweating. This doesn't cease to end until I get to school and enter my air conditioned classroom. I have stood up before in the open air lunchroom after eating and have had sweat stains on my skirt. Not quite the impression I wanted to make here :)

It is also the rainy month right now, but I guess October, November and December are the nicest times here so I definitely lucked out there.

I have slowly been making progress with the language here. Currently I know 4 words: sawatdee (hello & goodbye), kop kun krap (thank you), maprao (coconut) and nam top tim (pomegranate). A slightly odd combination, yes, but it has gotten me by so far.

This should be a big weekend for me...I am finally going to head into central Bangkok this weekend, and I should be moving into my permanent home. I haven't gotten to see much of Thailand yet, seeming as I have mostly been shuttling between home and school all week, so I am excited to get out and see some Buddhas, palaces, markets and much more. Lauren - a new Canadian teacher and new friend - and I are moving into a 3-bedroom house so it should be a huge relief to finally unpack and stop living out of a suitcase. This girl is way excited!

There is sooooo much more I want to say about school, about Thailand, about everything but unfortunately it must wait. I am going to dinner with some fellow teachers and hopefully exploring somewhere new. I will leave you all with a cliffhanger though - last night I had suki, which is a soup with rice noodles, greens, liver, octopus, fish and much more...story to come! Stay tuned! ***Note: I dislike seafood with a burning passion.

Here was my very first Thai meal which I talked about earlier - Wonton Soup, Pork Balls and Fried Mussels. Now I just need to learn how to say delicious in Thai - we'll work on that one!

02 September 2007


Which, in Thai, means hello!

After 24 hours of travel from Wausau to Minneapolis to Tokyo and finally, Bangkok, I have made it across the Pacific and to Thailand! Although, I was convinced I was going to be homeless in Thailand when the school was a couple hours late to pick me up (let's be real, I had myself convinced of a lot of things at that point) but I am here now!

Needless to say, I was a bit tired after all the travel - even though I slept for nearly 8 hours on airplanes - so I groggily dragged myself to bed at 5am this morning and slept until about 2:45 this afternoon! I hadn't slept much the past week so I think my body is finally starting to catch-up!

After finally awaking from my slumber, I met Lorraine - an Australian and the head of foreign staff - at the school where I got a quick look around before heading to the market to find a yellow shirt. Why a yellow shirt you may ask? Well, you are about to get your first history lesson! In Thailand, there is a color is associated with each day of the week. Since the King of Thailand was born on a Monday, and yellow is the color of Mondays, we wear yellow on Mondays (and Fridays) to honor him! And this isn't just at our school, it is all around the country!

Then, Joanne - a teacher at the school and my current roommate for the week - arranged for me to have a little spa trip. So, I found myself enjoying the luxury of a cute spa close by with a 90-minute traditional Thai massage, which was f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s! Although, I should warn you, a traditional Thai massage is a bit harsher than the regular. I found myself contorted in positions, twisting and turning, feeling muscles I didn't know I had! However, I feel so good right now, you have no idea!

Then, I met back up with Joanne at a hair salon owned by the parents of a couple students at the school. While Joanne got her hair done, the family brought me my first Thai meal - Wonton Soup, Pork Balls and Fried Mussels with Fried Rice. It was absolutely delicious!

It's also the only picture I have taken so far, but I can't figure out on this computer how to get pictures up so it will have to wait a bit! I haven't really gotten to see much yet, but school starts tomorrow, and I am hoping to go into central Bangkok sometime this week so hopefully I should have more stories to share soon. Take care everyone, and get well soon Grandma!