Friday Five

Five Things About Koh Chang- Keeping with the theme of the week, I figured I would mention some particulars about my recent vacation spot. It’s a theme, go with it.

Some Background
Before World War II, Koh Chang was one of those remote islands than rarely anyone had heard of, much less visited. During the Japanese occupation, in January 1941, the French and Thai Navy battled in the water southeast of the Island. The French won. Afterwards, things returned to normal with families growing coconuts, fruit, and catching fish until the first backpackers started arriving in the mid-70s. It remained a low-budget paradise until about ten years ago as with major development turned it into a must-see place for both Thai and foreigners alike.

Koh Chang means Elephant Island
You would guess that would mean there are a lot of elephants there. You’d be wrong. Well, sort of. Elephants are not indigenous to the island. There are some now in specific touristy trek adventure places, but not in the wild. The island was named as such because they thought it looked like the profile of an elephant. You be the judge.

You can kind of see it..

Koh Chang was dubbed the next Phuket
Being the second largest island belonging to Thailand, there’s lots of room for resorts and development. Within the past ten years, rapid expansion has affected the atmosphere of the island. It was definitely its own little world with 7/11s, shops galore, restaurants, and bars for both short and long-term visitors. While I didn’t find it as garish or shoddy as Phuket, I’m not sure how much longer it will stay that way.

Koh Chang is mostly an untouched jungle
Seriously. Seventy percent of the island is rainforest, cliffs, waterfalls, mountains and hills. Six waterfalls, an abundance of coral and marine life on the coast and near surround islands, as well as jungle trekking would keep any nature enthusiast well entertained.

West Side represent!
The eastern side of the island, where we stayed, was developed enough for our taste (plenty of farang food and nearly all shop keepers could speak English). It wasn’t too crowded (but it is low season) either. We went to the other side just to explore and I couldn’t believe how Thai it was. Passing by some of the neighborhoods, it could have been my tiny village in Isaan with old women gossiping while chewing beetle root, kids riding around on bikes, and men sitting on a porch drinking whiskey way before 5pm. It was really amazing to see these parallel worlds in such close proximity to each other. There are some hotels on the west side of the island, but there wasn’t much to venture out to do unless you wanted to get your cultural hands dirty in some Thai island life. If I were to stake out some where on the island for the long-term, it would be here.

Information About Thailand… From a Real Thai Person!

I forget how I came across this youtube channel, I think it’s for university students preparing to go to Thailand for a semester abroad. However it’s pretty informative for anyone making their way to Thailand or trying to figure out some of the puzzles of Thai culture. I think if more westerners would research about Thailand and its culture before they arrived, they would get a far better understanding of what they see and experience here. Bonus, it’s not my jabbering, but from a real live Thai person (that speaks fantastic English compared to what I’m used to with my students).

Pacific Love – Glamorous

I told you there was a follow-up. Pacific Love strikes again. I feel like there are more ‘inside’ PC jokes within this video, so that might go over a non-Volunteer’s head. I can definitely identify the times when I stop and think to myself, is this my real life?

Sorry for the lack of original work, I got a little run down the last few days before leaving and didn’t have time to edit. There should be plenty when I get back from vacay!

Friday Five

Five Ways Thailand is Slowly Killing Me

If this didn’t drive me crazy before, it’s really pushing me closer to the brink than ever before. I realize that life is mostly unfair, but the idea that it is reinforced by the system of society and culture rather than trying to make things equal can be suffocating. The older (some) people are, the more they seem to not consider what is convenient and considerate for both my coteacher and myself. This past month, we’ve been taken advantage of by those older and in higher positions and there’s nothing we can do about it. That we’re even considering it wrong, thinking of ourselves and our own responsibilities isn’t exactly smiled upon. Unless it’s the fake ‘Land of Smiles’ grin, then it’s plastered on.

Kids under the age of ten are not my specialty. When I see a newborn, I feel no aches to hold said child, but the distrust of something that has no noise control. Until someone can reasonably express their desires, opinions, think for themselves, and empathize for another person’s situation, I’m generally not a fan. And when these kids see me, they usually scream farang, giggle, and run away from me. I don’t feel like a sluggish brute at all when this happens.

Surprise Events
Today rounded off what I hope is the end of special and surprise events that have plagued me all of June. My coteacher and I were informed yesterday that we would be the only two trainers in a speech session for the education service area office. I tried to get us out of it, but they had already invited the big, big boss, so it would be major face breakage to even say anything but ‘I can’t wait to teach you'(r lazy government bureaucrat asses). I really needed today to recover, but Thailand had other plans for me, taking away my ability to say no.

The mouse kept me up for two hours last night. This is before the free English tutoring I was forced into. I was more than a little grumpy this morning. Also, there are ants in my refrigerator. Who loves rainy season?

Watching multiple spoonfuls of sugar getting dumped into something as simple as fried rice makes my veins and arteries slowly but surely seize up me. Or at least it feels that way. Maybe all of the deceptively spicy food is cleaning my system, that is if I can swallow without choking. Apparently it’s quite humorous to watch me take a huge bite of something, then sputter and fight for air as the food lights a fire as it slowly crawls down my throat. What comes out the other side though is the most unfortunate part as you can be sitting peacefully talking to your brother in Kuwait one minute, the next having to run off camera for an emergency extraction.

The most absurd part though is despite these things, I only love Thailand more every day. 

More about Thai Education

Passing around the PC Thailand Volunteers is this article written by a Thai woman named Kaewmala. She’s an author and blogger based in Bangkok. This is one of the best articles I’ve read about the Thai education system and gives a fantastic overview of what’s going on with the current state of Thai education system. Here is a short excerpt. 

We’ve heard much lamentation about the sorry state of Thai education and how Thai students perform so poorly compared to those in other countries far and near. Not only that Thai students rank near the bottom in international standardized test scores, they even flunk national standardized tests year after year.

Thai students need to pass the O-NET (Ordinary National Educational Test) to graduate at the primary (P.6), lower secondary (M.3) and upper-secondary (M.6) school levels. O-NET is organized by the National Institute of Educational Testing Service (NIETS). Ever since O-NET has been implemented 6-7 years ago, it has been criticized for many deficiencies, while students have performed extremely poorly on the O-NET tests. Every year, students and parents complain about O-NET and the media report how bad it is. And the next year, the same thing happens all over again.

How bad? Well, let’s look at the O-NET scores from last year among the upper-secondary O-NET for M.6 (Grade 12) students (which are the most important as they are used for university admission). The 2011 average O-NET scores for all 8 subjects tested, save one, were below 50%. The scores in the most important subjects were even worse: under 20% for Math and English and 30.90% for Sciences.

  • Thai language (42.61%)
  • Social science (46.51%)
  • English (19.22%)
  • Mathematics (14.99%)
  • Sciences (30.90%)
  • Health and physical education (62.86%)
  • Arts (32.62%)
  • Vocational education and technology (43.69%)
Get the rest of this fascinating article here or one that focuses on English education here. Check out the comments below her article for some interesting and sometimes harsh points.