School Break ‘Projects’

I’ve written previously how much my students and their friends enjoy coming to my house for visits. Now that midterm break is upon us, interested parties show up on occasion and this past Saturday was no exception. A couple of gals showed up to give me chocolate (bonus!) and sat on my porch to make lotus flower offerings to the Buddha. I sat with them reading on my Kindle and they interrupted me with an idea.

My fish pond was looking a little worse for wear in the algae department. The girls decided the fish were desperate for a clean home and they were determined to give it to them. Being fairly experienced in the ‘ambitious ideas without much follow through’ department, I told them to go right ahead, holding my doubts to myself and continued reading. To my utter surprise though, they chugged right along through emptying the pond, scrubbing, rinsing, cleaning the fish, and refilling it back up again. Somewhere along the way I started helping. And taking pictures.

The ‘before’ picture, the water is so green it almost looked solid up close

The three of us dumped water using the small buckets normally reserved with toilet flushing

Up close and personal with the algae

I think the part they liked the most was ‘catching’ the fish

Getting down into it

They had no problem manhandling these slippery little creatures into cleanliness… I did

The finished product!

It’s so nice to sit on my porch and actually be able to watch the fish now, so I’m really, really glad I gave in to their idea of a project instead of sitting by myself reading my book. Being this far in, America being only a few months away, I need days like this one to remind me why I do love the randomness of Thailand and make me less of a PCV grump. This is not something I would have wanted to do on my precious weekends during school and I wonder if my girls felt this way too. Either way, I thought this made a perfect example of the phrase ‘many hands make light work.’ And kind of fun too actually. Who’d have known?

Friday Five

Five Reasons I Get Out of Bed and drag my ass to school even when my coteacher won’t be there and no other teachers will be in their classrooms.

Because Someone Has to
I still don’t quite ‘get’ this about Thailand. How I can walk by classrooms and no adult figure is in sight. For the entire third-sixth grade section of the school. Well, besides me. You can tell what kind of chaos this usually guarantees. This has been occurring more and more often these past few weeks in preparation for the academic competition we had this week. I’m not required to go to school when my coteacher is elsewhere and there have been quite a few times I’ve skipped out. Lately though, I just can’t take the one hour of learning away from them because other teachers/society consider their other responsibilities more important than their students.

Spelling Test
This ties in with the paragraph above. We’ve started a weekly spelling test in my three grade levels. I’ve gotten tired of kids asking me how to spell things I know that they know already. Cat, dog, TV (totally serious) and the vocabulary words we just learned. So my hope is in providing some kind of consistency in their spelling tests, they’ll become more diligent with their studies in general. This means going to school on days I don’t have to and finding time in the day, sometimes my free period, to make sure they take the test that week. That and I can restrict their online gaming and uno playing until they spell correctly. Insert evil teacher cackle here.

Rescue Mission
Most Thai schools have many stray dogs roaming around because of the easy access to leftovers. My favorite dog, Ma-brang, looks like a normal dog, is knocked up, and is tiny. Naturally this preys on my weaknesses. She wasn’t quite sure of me until one epic morning I went to change out of my biking clothes in the English room, which is upstairs. The computer room is also up there. So if there is no English, usually no one comes upstairs, unless they’re going to use the computer room, which doesn’t happen every day. I heard Ma-brang barking relentlessly, but though she was downstairs howling at the microphone as usual. Turns out, she was locked inside the computer room from the previous afternoon to morning. This isn’t too out of the ordinary for a dog from the West, but for most Thai dogs that rarely enter any buildings for fear of being hit by humans, I can’t imagine how scared she was. There was a big hullabaloo about finding the keys, but a few sixth graders and I got her out in time for her to run downstairs to find some grass immediately after giving us a few licks (also weird for Thai dogs). She’s been following me around ever since.

Who could resist this face?

Better or Worse
Most days I’m exhausted once the school day is complete. And that’s just on a normal day. Sometimes I want to cry from frustration, annoyance, lack of effort from my students, and people laughing out loud at me for no reason other than I’m not Thai. I have on many occasions. But most days, there is this one moment that I find something good about going to school. My students making me laugh. Five girls in fifth grade getting 100% on their spelling test. Watching sixth grade sit down and review their words before coming in the room. Ma-brang sitting on my feet (fleas, smell, and all). A kindergartener mustering up the bravery to say ‘good morning’ instead of ‘Look! The white teacher!’. These are the things that make those long days worthwhile.

Last, but certainly not least…

Because These Lunatics Desperately Want Me To

These are the girls that ask me not to go on vacation because they miss me too much.

50th Anniversary Celebrations

So I realize I’ve dropped the ball a bit with my own video creations, but I’ve got one more Saturday to finish my Koh Chang video before July becomes a wash. I think I can, I think I can. Anyway, with my recent return from vacation and the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps Thailand, I thought I would share the video a fellow 123 Volunteer, Kyle Livingston, made to recognize the event.

And to complete the whole shebang, here are some more PC Thailand videos in the news.

A Volunteer from group 1!

The first part is in Thai, but there’s some English later.

I’ve heard some Thai people unable to sing this song as well as group 122’s Jeff Kindschuh did.

I might be adding my own video to this little list, but for now here’s the photo you’ve all been waiting for…

Hanging out with royalty, thanks Peace Corps!

To check out the press release for the day, click here.

The Anatomy of an English Camp

Or teacher training for that matter. With the hailstorm of these raining down on me (in the past two weeks/this upcoming week I’ll have been in two teacher trainings and two English camps) I figured I would give a little explanation of what goes down during these things outside of the numerous awkward photos I’m asked to take with complete and total randoms.

Example schedule from a teacher training I went to last year:
7.00 – 9.00 Registration, Orientation, Opening Ceremony
9.00 – 10.30 From Curriculum to Classroom
10.30 – 10.40 Morning Break
10.40 – 11.00 Group Activity
11.00 – 12.30 Rotation #1
12.30 – 13.30 Lunch
13.30 – 13.50 Group Activity
13.50 – 15.15 Rotation #2
15.15 – 15.30 Afternoon Break
15.30 – 17.00 Rotation #3
17.00 – 18.00 Group Activity

Registration/Opening Ceremony
Yes, it says registration starts at seven in the morning. Usually the opening ceremony is supposed to start at eight. Guess what time the majority of Thai people show up…  well if you had fifteen-twenty after eight, you would be in the right. Even better, the person that ‘officiates’ the opening ceremony (typically a self-centered Thai male bureaucrat that spends the majority of his working hours in ‘meetings’ (ie eating and/or consuming alcohol)) is even later than all the normal Thai people because he doesn’t have to greng-jai the measly normal teachers or much less, the children. But don’t forget, there is usually an introducer to the introducer, that no one actually listens to, who also manages to be more awkward than this hot mess.

The opening ceremony consists of lighting candles, incense, a short prayer, a ‘how you doin’ to the obligatory photo of the king, and then another speech that people openly talk to others throughout (usually about the importance of education despite the fact these events are usually on weekdays, disturbing the learning schedule), even the person that is supposed to be giving said speech. I’ve been to an English camp of about 200 kids and the head of the school directors answer his cell phone and has a five-minute conversation while everyone is sitting and waiting for the completion of his introduction. We had to wait thirty minutes for him to show up, then talk to other people for another ten minutes, and then he answers his phone during his own speech. Buddha bless Thailand.

Oh hey, thanks for finally showing up.

This is a good view of the stage from the teacher training I went to a few weeks ago. You can see the lit candles on the left next to the photo of the king.

These usually focus on the four skills, reading, writing, listening, and speaking. At camp, there’s minimal time put into vocabulary/actual learning and more focus on just getting kids interested in English in general. Teacher trainings are more of an attempt to disseminate information about how to teach to the four skills more effectively.

Unfortunately, due to unorganized schedules and the fluidity of ‘Thai time,’ more often than not, whole rotations are sometimes cut out to try to get back on track. Another Volunteer from my group beat the system and managed the miraculous: cutting out the opening ceremony speech. Gee Thailand, doesn’t that make sense? It came at the cost of breaking some face with her principal, but maybe it’ll help to check this guy’s ego and the kids that are trying to learn a difficult second language.

During one of the rotations at the teacher training, people bingo. We have to take pictures of ourselves at these events to show us ‘working.’ Yes that is a child in the background. A teacher brought him to a conference at a relatively fancy hotel dress in typical village attire.

My coteacher, on the left, just creeped up to them for the photo. I love her.

The best events to be a part of are planned by both Thais and PCVs. This way both representatives of the groups are (fairly) well-informed and are able to keep the other participants in the know. Naturally, this perfect blend of circumstances can be rare to find in a country that embraces ambiguity like most Americans accept Big Macs (is that even a viable cultural reference anymore? Let’s try, ‘like most Americans accept the LGBT community.’ Only the crazies ask for straight answers and are wary of the gays!).

Frequently, Thais like to bring in Volunteers to ‘help out,’ but most of the time want them to be in the middle of things, giving speeches, heading up huge group games, and emceeing a 200 person event notifying them only fifteen minutes ahead of time (yes, all of these things have happened to me at Thai organized events). Along with the lack of knowledge about what the Buddha is going on, the pressure to keep your Thai shit eating grin-face on as hundreds of people stare, point, and laugh at your presence on earth is, frankly, fucking exhausting.

Adrenaline usually takes over and I act a fool for the entertainment of Thai kids and adults alike and we all have a grand time. Seriously, we do. Unfortunately, the crash afterwards almost always makes me want to hermit up in my house for days at a time and crave for normalcy with my own students. An event every few months is enough for me, but, as I said, I’ve had four in June alone with two camps back to back, both two days each. Ironically, my friend Jeff who is in the CBOD (ie non-teaching program) has been to way more English camps than I have. He’s coming in tomorrow for the two-day camp at my school. When the school that is hosting the camp I’m going to on Monday heard that another farang was in town, they begged me to get him to stay for theirs as well. Jeff is the lucky one.

The last, undisclosed, part of the schedule is the hundreds of photos people want to take with you. Thais have a thing for wanting to take pictures with the people who ‘trained’ them. Maybe because they’re perceived as higher in the hierarchy of things, but I’ve had quite a few teachers tell me how excited they were to show their students they went to a training with a farang or students lining up to take pictures with their phones to show their friends that weren’t at camp. I can only guess how many pictures of me are floating around this country with people I’ll likely never see again, but I think it’s better not to seriously consider it. Much like a lot of things in Thailand.

The head trainer is on my left. Everyone is holding their certificates. And then needed a photo with us as double proof. I added my camera to the pile.

My all time favorite English camp photo from our PST English camp. Do you get the joke we were going for?

Expect a visual representation of English camp/teacher trainings in the video for the week, though it might have to wait until Sunday, the second day of camp at my school. Let me know if you want to see more awkward photos with Thai people. Apparently, it’s what I do best.

What’s been going on in my surprisingly busy PC life

Yeah, sorry about the break in videos/posts last week. This is my explanation of what’s been going on and how things can suddenly and unexpectedly get really busy with life in Thailand. Sorry for the background noise from my fan, I didn’t realize how loud it was. This is the first video with my new camera!

Five Reasons Not to Join the Peace Corps

This is another one I borrowed from another source, this time from Boots ‘n All. It rang so true that I had to repost. If these things are kept in mind, I think it might help the people that apply to keep their expectations more realistic. 

Because Traveling for Two Years Sounds like Fun
It goes without saying that Peace Corps Volunteers see the world: from the Caribbean Islands to Central America, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, too. Volunteer projects extend to the far reaches of the globe. Yet despite this international presence, the happiest volunteers are typically those most content to stay at home. (Their new home, that is.)

Peace Corps Volunteers are brought in to do a job. Whether it’s to build fisheries in a remote region of Zambia, train teachers in computer skills in Eastern Europe or combat HIV/AIDS in China, Peace Corps work is a full-time gig. To be effective, volunteers must integrate into their communities, adapt to new cultures and become familiar with customs and traditions. This means that when the job ends, the hard work of getting to know a place and its people really begins. Only volunteers who stay at site and dedicate time and effort to cultivating relationships actually succeed.

Like most jobs, Peace Corps has vacation and holidays, too. However tight volunteer budgets mean travel is anything but glamorous. Modes of transport usually include hitchhiking, bike taxis, donkey carts, canoes and banana trucks. And that’s if those options even exist. For volunteers in the Pacific Islands it can take days to get to the nearest major land mass. And in Mozambique, some volunteers are placed in stations so remote they must be flown to meetings in the capital.

This looks like a few truck rides I’ve been on.

Because it’s a Great Resume Builder
Face it. Cashier at the SuperSave just doesn’t hold the clout of Returned Peace Corps Volunteer when it comes to resumes. The latter title sends a message to potential employers that the job applicant is serious, that he or she can live and adapt to life in a foreign land, and to new cultures and social norms as well. Peace Corps on a resume is proof of adaptability, tolerance and a unique worldview. Not to mention the fact it should provide more interesting answers to the dry interview favorite, “Tell me about a time you overcame a challenge…”Resume building might provide enough motivation to get through the Peace Corps application process (which can take up to a year), but it’s unlikely that one-page, single-spaced, watermarked paper will be enough to get you through the really tough days—let alone two years of them. So while it may be tempting to follow in the footsteps of Peace Corps alum like novelist Paul Theroux or TV journalist Chris Matthews, the best volunteers are those committed to sustainable development, not their career development.

I haven’t dug any ditches (I think my Thai people would freak out if I got darker), but I know people that have

Because You Never LIved Abroad in College
There’s something romantic about spending a year abroad. The excitement of a new culture. The beauty of a language. The potential for foreign love. While these opportunities exist in a Peace Corps world, the realities of daily life are anything but romantic. There are children climbing up windows, rabid dogs on morning runs, beyond-basic accommodations and more often than not, no toilets or running water. This is not a semester at sea or a year in Paris. For people looking to revisit those days of binge drinking with coeds, Peace Corps service will be a serious disappointment.Volunteers are sent to developing countries and placed in remote villages and tiny towns. They live like locals—in terms of both income and housing. From cement houses to mud huts, volunteers learn to live without the “necessities” like running water and toilets. In places like Mali, access to fresh foods is extremely limited, which means meals are often the same morning, noon and night. And unlike a semester at sea or study abroad, Peace Corps offers no tour guide or set schedule, which means figuring out the pace of life and a balance with work is left up to the volunteer.

Is this your idea of a travel spot?

Because Two Years is Perfect for Learning Spanish
Peace Corps Volunteers are placed all over the world, but just 24 percent end up in Central and South American countries. Because the demand for Spanish speakers is high and the desire to be placed in those countries is great, Peace Corps usually sends volunteers who are already fluent in the language. (And yes, there is a test to prove it.) For this reason, taking an immersion class or traveling long-term in a Spanish-speaking country might be a better approach for those only interested in mastering the romance language.The lengthy application process leaves no room for requests when it comes to country placement. Potential volunteers can rank regions—like Sub-Sahara Africa or Asia—in terms of interest, but ultimately Peace Corps calls the shots when it comes to final placement. Most volunteers do become proficient in a language while serving overseas, and while it may not be one of the most widely spoken tongues, there are some pretty cool bragging rights associated with knowing a language just .05 percent of the world’s population speaks.

I’m starting to appreciate the ridiculousness of coming back proficient in Thai and will hopefully be in Isaan.

Because You Want to Change the World
Changing the world is a pretty tall order, and while most volunteers join Peace Corps because they want to do good, having such lofty ambitions can be a dangerous thing.

In reality, having an impact takes a lot of time, work and a serious amount of effort. But it is possible—just usually on a smaller scale. Unfortunately, focusing on the macro often results in forgetting about the micro, and most Peace Corps Volunteers’ biggest contributions happen on a much smaller scale.

Whether it’s teaching one man to fish so that his family and village have enough to eat, helping a women’s collective to set up and run their own small business, or improving test scores in a class of grade threes, Peace Corps Volunteers touch the lives of individuals more than they change entire worlds.

Joining the Peace Corps is an amazing way to integrate into a new community, explore a culture and understand a people. The experience creates a familiarity that is nearly impossible to match with more typical travel. While there’s an opportunity to see new countries and explore far away destinations during service (and even after), the biggest challenges and rewards come from the time spent at home, in the village, with members of the community. It may be impossible to change the world, but living in a tiny corner of it is a reminder that it is possible to change individuals, circumstances and ourselves.