Thursday, May 15, 2003

Thailand Trip by Matt Salleh

The restaurant by the shore is a step up from the one across the street. They have a few more things on the menu, including french-fries and a damn near perfect Southern fried chicken? Of course they dont called it that, but thats what I compare it to. They also have a bar where I order big beer Chang and deep-fried cashews on Friday afternoons. The beer is 35 bath for damn near a liter. I cant tell exactly how much. Its not labeled. The servers sinewy arms and fingers flex as he brings me beer with the stereotypical Thai smile. I figure he must have been into Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) at some point in his life.

Just offshore is the small T-shaped island Koh Samet. If Ban Phe is known for anything, its known for Koh Samet. A 50 baht, 45 minute ferry ride will get you there. You can get a bungalow for about 400 baht a night and spend the day reclining in hammocks drinking Mekong and Coke or swim in the water. The beach there is much nicer. The sand is clean and the waves are less harsh. When I was there a few weeks back I walked in knee deep water and saw inter-tidal life galore including sea cucumbers, living corals, sea urchins, Technicolor clams, and schools of unidentifiable fish being stalked by a large heron.

When I return from my morning walk I shower and head to class. I usually take about three showers a day. The heat is inescapable. The dust and grime seem to accumulate on me faster than I can wash it off.

Geetha and I are here getting our certification in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). The school where I work didnt have any science positions so they hired me contingent upon me becoming certified to teach ESL (English as a Second Language). So I researched the Internet and discovered this training center in eastern Thailand.

During the day we attend class from 9-4:45. The classes entail methods of teaching, learning theory, and classroom management. We also have a student teaching portion.

Ive just spent the last 6 days in a Thai school teaching English to Mateom 3-6 students (roughly grade 10-12). The school was very resource poor and has recently had Peace Corps volunteers. We rode for 45 minutes in songthaews (truck taxis) and arrived windblown and cranky, ready to teach. My classroom lacked A/C and a fan and I roasted in the stale oven air. The walls were barren and there was no textbook. I had to create all of my materials back at the training center.

The students wore uniforms. The girls wore a blue skirt and a white blouse. The boys wore brown shorts and collared white shirts. They would wai (bow with hands in prayer position) shoeless, as they entered the room as a sign of respect for the teacher. Discipline problems are almost non-existent. They stand up to answer when asked a question. In Thailand teachers rank just below the King and Buddhist monks in social status. A far cry from my teaching days in gangs ridden Riverside County, California!

I completed my student teaching on Tuesday. Geetha started hers today. Now all I have left is phonology and grammar. Stuff I havent thought about since grade school. If I even thought about it then. Its intensive.

In the evenings we go for walks, read books, prepare our lessons and go to the restaurants. Every Monday there is a night market where you can get cheap wares and prepared foods. The mango sticky rice is the best. The fruit is unbelievable! You can purchase rambutan, durian, custard apple, longan, mango, pomelo, dragon fruit, coconut, watermelon, papaya, and of course, bananas.

In December, Geetha and I hope to go to London and visit some of her family. While weve in the area I figure we might as well head over to Dublin and partake of the nectar of the gods, Guinness made in its homeland.

As a result, I had a mission to fulfill and walked to the night market last night. I walked in and one of the vendors offered me a shot of his whiskey. Again, I declined because I had something to accomplish. I bought a pair of jeans and a hat. Not just an ordinary hat, but the kind you always see James Joyce wearing as he smokes his pipe and ponders whatever he ponders. Itll be perfect for wearing while I sip on the black stuff.

While I was there I spotted a food stall selling something I had been looking for. Deep-fried insects! Two gorgeous Thai girls were standing in line. They were wearing tight short shorts and standing in their cocked Thai girl stance ordering a bag load of grasshoppers. I couldnt help but think of the farangs that come here to rent those kinds of girls for the night. I wondered how they would feel if they saw their fate munching on a deep fried cricket. Or how they would react if they discovered a small bit of grasshopper leg lodged in their lovers teeth! It was irony come to life. I lined up behind them. The stall was offering crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, and grubs. The grubs seemed to be most popular. I ordered a bag. They set me back 10 baht. The Thai girls smiled at me, a few more gathered around to see the farang buying grubs. I was a 10-minute celebrity.

My friend Callan and I have a deal between us that well eat something weird whenever we go to a new place. Last time it was birds nest drink, made from the nests of swallows, in Singapore. My friend Seth, whom I met here in class, also has the same philosophy. Seth had already tried grasshoppers.

I bit into one and swallowed. It tasted nutty. I tried another one. Not bad. But Ive had enough. I tossed the rest out. At least Ive given them a try. I washed them down with a salty drink that I couldnt identify. It tasted like tamarind or something. I bought a sweet pastry filled with coconut and sugar and walked the 3km back to school.

100 cc motor scooters, like the kind I wanted as a kid, whiz by carrying 3 and 4 passengers at a time. They pass by and scream Hello! and try to practice their English. Its a daily occurrence.

I just finished my work for the day. We learned about the phonemic alphabet, rhythm, stress and intonation when speaking. We started working on transcribing a tape into phonemic representation.

Tomorrow well head to Chantaburi, a small town on the Cambodian border. Its supposed to have an interesting mix of Thai, French, and Vietnamese influence left over from various occupations and immigrations. Well catch a songthaew into the nearest city, Rayong, and from there get a bus.

Right now Im tired of thinking about diphthongs and bilabial plosives. Im about to head to the beach and drink a couple of beer Chang with my friend Seth. Like me, hes always up for a beer. Especially when the sun is setting, especially on the beach.

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