Saturday, 29 August 2009

EP Open House, Surat Thani, 2009. New cars.


Locked Out

After the hospital experience last month I needed a drink. I drunkenly locked myself out before Pat found me crashed on the porch.


Krabi

The next day we boarded the motorbike, with hangovers, and headed 3hrs North to Krabi for a night. We found cheap digs in the middle of backpackersville on the riverside in the main town. We spent the evening in Ao Nang as we figured it would be livelier. We found ourselves in a small strip of girly bars which I quite enjoyed but Pat found boring. We went to another beachside bar where we payed the most I've ever been charged for a beer in Thailand - 100bt small bottle!

Offsetting this is Krabi's beauty. Clear blue seas and limestone karst structures jutting up spectacularly everywhere and anywhere - wonderful.

I met one of the lads from the Thai culture course in Ao Nang who teaches in a Krabi school. We arranged to meet up for a beer in Surat Thani when we go to the 'Southern English Program English Competition' next week.

Rip Off

On the way back 'home' to Trang we decided we would take a detour and visit the 'Emerald Lake' national park. It's a beautiful green pool situated in unspoilt jungle where you can join the crowds for a relaxing dip. However, be warned, if you happen to be white you'll pay x10 the local price. This left a bitter taste in my mouth as I paid 200bt and my girlfriend (who earns the same as me) paid 20bt. I paid x10 more than the posh folk driving brand new Mercs and BMWs even though I arrived, dressed like a tramp, on a shagged out scooter!!!!!

As a relatively low-paid teacher you are expected to pay ten times more than Thai professionals. At no point was I asked for anything to prove my 'foreignness' - it was a racially-based decision. I'd be interested to see how much my Pilipino colleagues would be charged? Perhaps Britain could operate a similar government-backed policy by charging non-whites 10 times more for museums etc???? I think this notion would be rejected on the grounds of being racist/unfair would it not? Shame on the Thai government - I work here and I'm not on some 2 week mega-bucks holiday.

Never mind. I'll vote with my feet and not be going to a National Park again - on principle.

Palien again

The next weekend we went to Palien to eat Som Tam and capture this glorious Andaman sunset - wow! I noticed my school bus turn up at one point and some staff came over to say hello. They were there to supervise some kids on a camping trip somewhere nearby.





As we headed home we passed a big party. We really wanted one of these beer dispensers on our table but I had to drive the scooter about 50km home in the dark with insects flying in my eyes and I figured doing it sober would be the wise thing. I watched enviously as groups of Thais drank ice cold beer form these things.





I tried to get some pics of these kids entertaining the crowd with traditional Thai dancing. It looked great, especially when they did their co-ordinated umbrella routine.

I love this shot. Look how impeccably dressed this stunning little girl is. The make-up alone must've taken hours. Amazing!



Free beer

I've had some disastrous news. Russel is selling his bar - my local! What will I do now? Where will I go? I'll miss him and his wife, Took, very much. However, to mitigate the loss Russel laid on a night of free beer - Wahey! It was a Tuesday night but what the hell - how often does this happen in your life? I had the Mother of headaches the next day and my mood was no match for classes of Thai adolescents - but it was worth it. Good luck to Russel and Took in their future endeavours!

New stuff

Pat likes to watch DVDs and has been using her laptop for ages. She already has a TV so I decided to go to Tesco and buy a DVD player. We picked one up for 600bt (£12) - not bad. It even plays USB-based media which is handy for my latest passion: listening to 30minute MP3 Physics lectures - geek!

I've also watched movies such as: The Italian Job, Fight Club, Robinson Crusoe and Lord of War among others. It's great here as you can buy DVDs for 50-100bt.

Toiletgate

One of the downsides to this was that Pat got very pissed off one night when she somehow managed to lock herself in the toilet. I tried to do something from the other side but other than forcing the door down there wasn't a lot I could do as she continued to fiddle with the handle from her side. I knew she could climb out if need be and kinda left her to it. When she emerged a few minutes later to see me watching a DVD she was far from happy........mmmmmmm - I'm sure there's a lesson there for me somewhere.

New car!

I received a call from Pat to meet her at a nearby temple. I rushed out to find her sitting on a wall. I asked where the scooter was and she motioned around the corner. She was wearing a beaming smiles and it was then that the penny dropped.

"No way! You're not telling me this is your car?"

"You like it?"

"It's mint! - good for you honey"

A 99,000bt, 10year old, silver Suzuki.

Pat's first car! She was very exciteded. She decided to drive it 50km to Ole's house in Hat Yao on the weekend. She fawned over her new toy with relish as Ole and I downed a few beers in his new house.

Back in Trang, since Russel's has closed we went to a new restaurant where I proceeded to lose my Thai ATM card - bollicks! I replaced it and no money was missing - BONUS! That's the first ATM card I've ever lost! I suspect, in all probability, that I drunkenly left it in an ATM machine after taking my money - DUH!

Queen's birthday

Wednesday 12th August was the Queen of Thailand's birthday. This special day doubles as Mother's day and warrants a day off work - YES! I took time out to think about my own Mother who tragically died last November.

Pat took the opportunity to take a bus (why not car????) to Bangkok to see her own Mother for 'Wan-Mae' (Mother's day). I headed down to Seabreeze restaurant near the train station for a meal where I met Yochan drinking Chang beer from a tea cup (it's illegal to sell beer on the Queen's birthday so you have to cunningly disguise it). I was happy to drink tea as we compared travel tales.



A little after sunset we watched some great fireworks although they were no match for the Chinese New Year fireworks in Taiwan. Then again, there's not much in the whole World that could match that!

A view of the temple interior. It looks like some kind of modern minimalist arty thing. The central column supports a towering golden statue that watches over Trang town.

We spent the evening at a fun fair before visiting Yochan's place about 8km from Trang. He lives with a local family in a house with a huge orchid outside. There were many tropical fruits on offer. It was a little scary following him out here in the pitch black. A chilling thought crossed my mind: "I hardly know this bloke. Is he a psycho?"

Last weekend, another motorbike crash

Last weekend I went to the old woman's place who cooks my food most nights. I had a few beers with her and her friends before the Karaoke started and a hedgehog was released.

The woman's son (forgot their names) makes Thai puppets. Norwegian Ole turned up at the train station. We shared a few welcoming beers before heading to Maricel's house to join her Filipino friends, for a birthday party.

However, on the way there I experienced my third motorbike accident in Thailand. With Ole riding pillion, a car nudged into us, almost knocking us off. Somehow, I managed to maintain control and suffered only friction burns above my right elbow. I lost a lot of skin and will probably have another scar (Thai tattoo) as a souvenir. I grimaced as Pat dabbed isopropyl alcohol on it in an effort to clean it. Still smarts somewhat. Ole was OK!

Needless to say the car drove off without a second thought for the carnage they may have left behind. I'm glad we didn't fall off as the traffic behind us would have had no time to react and our life capacities would probably have been terminated.

The party was great. One guy even did a fire show - just like at the Ko Pha Ngan full moon party. It was great to spend time with Ole in town since I've only ever seen him in the sticks. Not that Trang is anything like Bangkok mind you.

Work

On Monday I finally collected my work permit - after being here 5 months! I am now technically 'legal' although I have one more bureaucratic loop to jump through: extending my non-imm-b visa until the end of the contract. This is a relatively easy task merely involving a 25km scooter trip to Kantang Immigration Office. I phoned them today to query the paperwork required. After finding an English speaking official I was told:

"Ooooohhhh, many many paper - talk school"

This is all very well but it's already taken the responsible person in the school 5 months to get this far - ridiculous. I've kinda lost any remaining shreds of confidence in the school's ability to organise anything. The incompetence is legendary. The person in question was appointed through nepotism as a relative of the boss and they're clearly out of depth. Maybe I'll get the extension next week although I won't be holding my breath.

On the bright side I was reimbursed the 5000bt for my visa and work permit this week - YES! I took Pat out for a slap up posh meal as a treat.

School Observations

Here are some kids practicing dance moves in the yard. After five months teaching here I've noticed:

1. Thai kids can be unbelievably lazy. And I mean unbelievably. I've never seen anything like it in my life.

2. An innate inability to think for themselves. Confronted with a question the first response is to turn to a friend for the answer.

3. Lack of imagination. When asked to come up with something 'abstract' or 'outside the box' you can see the horror on the faces.

4. Copying. Even in cases when it is easier to not copy, Thai kids will follow their natural instincts and copy anyway. I don't bother with homework now. If it does actually get done, it's all copied and a complete waste of time to mark.

5. Inability to listen due to constant talking in class.

However, some students are excellent. The kids in the upper sets of the Thai program are superb. Motivated, hard working and attentive. They had to pass entrance tests to get into their program. The English Program (EP), on the other hand, will accept ANYBODY provided they have the cash. Presumably, a number of our EP kids failed the aforementioned entrance tests and as a last resort (for gaining access to this reputable school) the parents stumped up the cash for the more expensive EP. So, I could infer, many of our kids are spoilt lazy shits.

Underpinning this, EP kids get taught in English all day everyday. Thai program kids get English 2hrs/week. Who do you think is better? In many cases there's not a lot between them. Some kids can barely string a sentence together (after 3 years on the EP). I know this is not wholly down to the teachers as my colleagues are a conscientious bunch who apply themselves admirably.

There are many problems with the Thai education system as a whole and I'm not claiming I'm a great teacher. I'm not very experienced but I have my views and the most worrying aspect of the system is the: "The kids aren't allowed to fail" ethos. 

If you can't fail where is the motivation to succeed? - Big problem here.

If I'd have known that I would've passed everything at school with no effort, I would've been lazy too. I would've talked in class. In fact I would've behaved exactly as these Thai kids behave.

However, some EP kids are good. Some of these traits might be perceived negatively from a Western perspective. However, it is these traits that have coalesced over eons to form this culture which is superior in other ways.

Recession? What recession?

It must be the season to throw economic caution to the wind. In the midst of the deepest recession in living memory, the people I know are splashing out on major purchases. Perhaps a form of financial schizophrenia has enveloped the fine people of Thailand. Pat recently bought a car, but Russel trumped her by procuring a brand-spanking Honda Civic for a cool one million baht. We took him to the immaculate Honda showroom to collect his new toy last Saturday. As we waited, we were treated to coffee and cakes while prospective buyers wandered around gawping at the shiny Japanese technology on offer.


However, this new car IS something else. It has all the pre-requisite gadgets one would expect from a modern Japanese auto-mobile. There's a dashboard computer that a NASA space shuttle would be proud of.

We headed back to Russel's place opposite the airport -  I've yet to see a plane land here! We drank a few beers whilst admiring the new and the old.



Surat Thani

On Wednesday 26th August our school went to Surat Thani (ST) for three days to compete in the "Southern Thailand English Program (EP) Open House Competition". Schools from as far North as Chumpon and as far South as Yala descended on ST to participate in all manner of English-speaking contests.

Our first job was to set up a stall to showcase our school. It was here that I read an EP magazine only to discover none of our students regard me as their favourite teacher! I take solace in that perhaps maths isn't the best teaching medium in order to ingratiate oneself with one's students. I'm still thinking of ways to make "Graphing quadratic functions" a fun activity. If anyone has any ideas be sure to drop me any hints.

ST afforded me the opportunity to meet similarly aged teachers from elsewhere in Thailand. This is Rik from Edinburgh and Joe from the USA. They both work in Krabi and I first met them at the Thai culture course in Nakhon Si Tammarat. Great lads. Note our shirts. Each school likes you to wear a loud, locally designed, Hawaii style shirt. Rik obviously couldn't be arsed. Scrawled across the back of mine is "English paradise of the south"!


Some of the acts were fantastic. Admittedly, on balance, some were shite too.

The opening ceremony was amazing. I couldn't imagine anything like this in the UK. Lively, vibrant, enthused performances ensured the packed crowed cheered wildly. Remember, this is all done by schoolkids! However, this routine had me wondering if I was in a Bangkok go-go bar. These sexy young lasses had very skimpy skirts and make-up that looked like it had been applied randomly by catapults.


This was better. More sedate traditional dancing. I think the girls on stage were expecting rain.

A Thai sign to welcome the start of an English competition - hehe.



The crowd lapped it up.

I couldn't resist a shot of these little girls. They were dancing to a totally inappropriate modern dance track with lewd lyrics. However, their routine involved washing hands to avoid contracting H1N1 - Brilliant.

Here's our three participants in the semi final of the debate comp. Unfortunately, they lost but they had a tough motion to oppose: Homework is good. They had to argue 'homework is bad'. Unlucky kids. I sat there pondering the possibility of a 'Mass Debater' position within the team.

This panel of judges were very tough which didn't bode well for my school. We came last in a whole litany of contests but we did win the scrabble - WAHEY. However, scrabble involves no speaking, a skill in which our kids are sadly lacking. This is highlighted by our poor performance at ST.



Thailand's greatest teachers?


The Siam Thani Hotel was amazing. There was even a bathtub and hot water. I lazed in it for an hour reflecting that the last time I did this was in October 2007 in Southern Taiwan. 

Toon

What's going on? Winning in London? How can that be? Four games and ten points? The Toon are a bit like Russia: a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma! Haway the lads.

Gin rue yang mai? Yang = Have you eaten yet? No, not yet.

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