Monday, June 28, 2010

The girl who ate everything...or almost everything

I have officially reached the one month mark and feel that it is time (past time) to touch upon the spread of food that has been sustaining me through hours of class, climbing trips, and city explorations.

It seems that everything in Thailand has heaps of sugar in it: desserts of course, but soups, noodles, meat dishes also all get a healthy heaping spoonful of brown sugar. Most fruit smoothies have extra sugar and many times a spoonful of salt as well (I have yet to understand why one needs both if they are supposed to balance each other out, wouldn't it be simpler to add neither?) After trying to gulp down a violently red drink that was supposedly "fruit punch" I now ask for no sugar or salt. The mango smoothies are particularly scrumptious as well as the snake fruit ones!

Street food is wonderful, addictive and happily plentiful. Portions are small enough that it is more than easy to justify buying lots. The common refrain has become "come on, I'm in Thailand I should try this and see what it tastes like!" For the most part I haven't been lead astray by following this mentality. The Sunday Walking Street market in the old city is where I loose any form of restraint I might have possessed in the first place. Looking back on the second visit we made to the market makes us (the whole crowd of new PiA-ers) look like complete gluttons. Dinner that night consisted of: Glass noodle Pad-Thai, little cooked quail eggs, coconut water with coconut meat, a mushroom omelet custard, little delicious coconut pancake things, black stick rice cakes with seeds, snake fruit, chocolate covered bananas, chocolate waffles, delicious little slightly spicy leaves made into satchels and filled with dried shrimp, ginger, lime, brown sugar sauce and chilies, fresh squeezed orange juice, a large chicken flat spring roll thing that reminds me of Zanzibar pizza I bought in stone town Zanzibar years ago, and finally a small amount of fresh calamari!

Mango sticky rice has become one of my favorite desserts - fresh mangoes sliced and served over sweetened sticky rice and doused in coconut milk. Mangoes are best at this time of year, which has been excuse enough for me to eat it whenever I have the opportunity…which usually amounts to every other day. Rambutans are also in season and a large bag is only 50 can one say no when walking through the market? (Answer: one doesn’t and just accepts it). Fruit in general here is delicious - there are stands selling unsliced piles of fruit and those selling sliced and bagged fruit ready to consume and kept chilled on ice: sweet pineapple, Asian pears, apples, cantaloupe, bananas, lychees, watermelon, neon green guava - called farange in Thai (also the name for foreigner or white person...not sure I see the resemblance.) In the last week I’ve started to come across stands selling grilled fingerling bananas - absolutely delicious and much healthier then their fried alternative – though those are also delectable.

At school I usually wake up with a green tea shake (tastes similar to iced matcha). For lunch I head to the biology cafeteria (supposedly the best on campus) and choose from a slew of options: large rice noodle soup with pork, brown rice with three stew dishes none of which I really know what they are, but just point at what looks good. There are stir-fried ginger dishes, bamboo shoots, pork curries, tofu and vegetables, fried meats, fish stews, pickled eggs, ground spicy meats. Sometimes I might treat myself and get a coconut water drink with fresh coconut in it. All of this costs less then a dollar combined!

Then there are of course the more culinary adventurous foods, some of which I have worked up the courage to try and some of which I am still pushing myself to chomp down on. Congealed pork blood is common in many dishes, it has very little flavor (that I can distinguish) my issue with it though is the color: grey and the texture: Jell-O like. Then there is the fried pork stomachs that look like deflated whoopee cushions and which I pushed myself to taste after my curiosity got the better of me and I asked the nice lady running the stand what they were. I am happy to report they taste more or less like regular fried pork just a little chewier. Still on my list: insects of all varieties. They are found in piles in the market in all shapes and sizes. None of which though, I have stomached the courage to yet consume, perhaps the by my next post I will have…but I make no promises!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The possibility of riding elephants to class...

Another day, another class – actually two classes. Somehow we ended up on the subject of elephants who, unable to locate bananas in the jungle, had to head to the local Chiang Mai supermarket to get their potassium fix, as well as the possible solution to global warming – everyone trades in their motorbike for their own personal elephant. (One of my students promised he would ride an elephant to our next class!) Its moments like these that make me laugh out loud, smile for the rest of the day and ultimately make me love teaching!

But the actual point of this post is to supply you all with my new address in the hope that I will come into the teachers lounge one day and find my mailbox stuffed with letters from home (or abroad, depending on where you are currently residing). So with out further ado:

Chiang Mai University
Faculty of Humanities
English Department HB-3
C/O Jessica Lander 116
239 Huay Kaew Rd.
Chiangmai, 50200 Thailand

This is my work address and not my home address as…it seems silly to say this… I don’t really know what my home address is. All I need to know is it’s on a side street off of a larger road called Sirimangkalajam (I hope you enjoy that name as much as I do!) But even though I can’t given you my home address, I can offer instead pictures of the neighborhood from my balcony!

(My view from left to right - Not visible from the picture, but on the mountain is the golden temple Doi Suthep.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Getting to Know All About You

I have traded orange tigers for purple elephants – CMU’s mascot, which is depicted life-size in leafy vegetation at the campuses sweeping front entrance. On my first foray into the University I had the exhilarating and unnerving feeling of driving up to a palace, which in actually is a ceremonial hall built to receive the king. In years past the King attended the graduations of all of the original five universities and personally handed out the diplomas to the graduates - to encourage the studiousness of his subjects. More recently the Prince has taken on this honor. CMU is known as the best university in Northern Thailand and the third best in the country after Chulalongkorn and Thammasat in Bangkok.

On my first day in Chiang Mai I was introduced to the campus via Denali’s motorbike. Since then I have learned my way around and feel comfortable in at least a small section that has at its hub the English building (or as I like to think of it in Princeton terms, CMU’s very own McCosh hall).

(The English Department aka McCosh!)

(That would make this student center...Frist!)

All told CMU stretches over four campuses and a total of 3,500 acres. The original campus, where I teach, is known as Suan Sak and is only a short 7 minute ride from my apartment and covers 600 acres – very few of which I am familiar with. Luckily my songtaeow drivers seem keen to help me learn more of the campus dropping me in different random locations on campus everyday. Each morning has become an adventure – where will I be dropped today and how long will it take me to find the English department? In my wanderings though I have found a small lake, a lot of curvy rolling roads and a stand that sells coconut pudding and Asian pear slices, and yes eventually my home base.

Despite having approximately 130 students in total I have yet to give up hope of learning all of their names (perhaps a foolhardy endeavor). Thai students have two names, their long elegant full names and their much shorter nicknames that they have been given by their parents at a very young age. It is the latter that I am attempting to learn. Some are clearly Thai: Foong, Neno, Pang, Pum, Ploy, Meen. But then there are the names that are simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar: Air, Arm, Gun, Man, Beer, Oat, Bowl, Best, Enjoy, View, New, Name, Frame, Wow.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

appreciating games

Having been at the university for little over three days I found myself already being appreciated – along with all other teachers that is. Thursday was Wai Khru day, a holiday set aside to celebrate and appreciate teachers. At CMU this involved a hour long presentation run by the students in a big auditorium where they sang, spoke (all in Thai, so I have no clue what was said) and presented the teachers with these stunning flower sculptures they had spent the afternoon previous creating and which were then judged.The arrangements were truly gorgeous – sculpted peacocks, lanterns, elephants, Japanese Daruma’s all out of flowers. Unknowingly I walked into the ceremony thinking I would grab a seat along the side – nope. I am an Ajaan (teacher) now and was ushered quickly up to the stage, to sit with two rows of other Ajaan in front of about 500 students in the faculty of humanities! Eek!

It being Wai Khru there was a reasonable amount of uncertainty as to whether we would have freshman classes (ENG 101). Some sources said all classes were cancelled and some said that only the morning didn’t have class. Being anxious to get back into the classroom (to try to start to correct all those teacher mistakes I noticed in myself from the first two days) I decided to go to my classes and see who would show up. Four kids showed up for my first class (the four that sit in the front of the class without being asked to). Being so pumped for class I decided to keep them (some fellow teachers let such few numbers leave earlier in the day, which makes tons of sense, but still I wanted to teach and was not going to be denied.) So instead of going forward with the lesson, which of course would be absurd, we played vocab games and I had the students teach me both their Thai nick names and so new Thai words. (Baan – home, dinsor – pencil, pakka - pen). They seem to have a good time and I know I certainly did. Class number two had 15 students, but again not enough to merit teaching the lesson plan – thus more games commenced!

Friday I arrived at school bright and early for my 8 am class, though it took five attempts to flag down a red truck. Having seen the success of games first hand the day before, I decided to juggle around the lesson plan a little and turn one of the pairs activities into a game. Splitting the class into two we made two teams, each with half of the board to write on. The lesson was on “Facts and Opinions” and one team had to write about facts and the other opinions. Before I would say go I wrote a word (CMU, Water, Chiang Mai) in the middle of the board and then the teams had to race to see which could write 5 sentences about the word first that was either a fact or opinion depending on their side. We did this enough times that each student wrote one sentence. I think…the game was a success! Either way it was hilarious, and we were all laughing a lot. Two of my favorite sentences: on the opinions side for CMU one boy wrote “I like CMU girls” which drew a lot of laughter. And then later again on the opinion side for Chiang Mai one student wrote “Chiang Mai girls are beautiful” – after the sentences were done we would go through each and decided whether they were fact or opinion and when we go to this one the girls initially said yes it was an opinion, but quickly changed their mind and said no it was certainly fact! – I think that’s a pretty sure way to tell they understood the difference!

The excitement of the second class of the day was that on a whim I had created an extra assignment from the earlier lesson on “Moods and tones.” Write me a paragraph that makes me happy. And when I got into class they almost all had their paragraphs! Yes yes they should of course as it was homework, but being new to this whole teaching thing it was still extremely exciting! Later that afternoon I brought the paragraphs to a smoothie shop in the old city to grade and literally started laughing out loud the stories were so funny – one boy wrote about Harry Potter playing the violin to Lady Gaga – where did he come up with it! Now the challenge of course is figuring out how to grade them all…

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

An unexpected extra student

I have now had the pleasure of meeting all of my classes and all of my students – roughly 130 all told. Tuesday was decidedly calmer – I found my classes with little issue, I arrived ahead of schedule to both and even had time to prep the board. Tuesday and Friday classes are both sections of ENG 201, which teach critical thinking and reading skills – yesterday the focus was on mood and tone.

Class began with a discussion and activity about mood – look at a picture and write what mood you have from looking at it. Interestingly the first mood was of an exaggerated and stereotypical male and female brain – the male brain was segmented into: sports, dangerous pursuits, a small amount of attention, ironing, domestic skills, etc and dominated by sex. The female brain, in contrast, was dominated by shoes and a headache generator, with small sections devoted to shiny things, impulse shopping, and toilet cleaning, etc. Interestingly these two pictures garnered a whole range of moods from the students, from amused, to suspicious, to…joyous…I’m not sure the irony of the images really got through to the students…aw well…

I also assigned my first piece of unofficial homewo

rk. There is very little homework that we are supposed to assign as part of our teaching, but I couldn’t help myself yesterday and believing the right homework can only help my students I went ahead and assigned it anyways. I have asked my students to write me a paragraph that makes me feel happy, where the tone of their writing influences my mood…I have absolutely no clue if this will work, but it could be really interesting.

Possibly the most amusing moment of the day was when I took a stroll between the rows of students in my first class to talk to them individually about the present activity and found an unexpected visitor in the third row – a small brown dog sleeping on the floor next to two of the desks! I hope it hadn’t fallen asleep because my teaching was insufficiently engaging!

Another of the campus dogs...perhaps waiting for its own English class?

Two of my classrooms:

Monday, June 7, 2010

From student to teacher in....six days!

After waking up exceptionally early this morning – perhaps out of nerves, perhaps simply out of pure jetlag I sallied forth from my 6th floor apartment in search of my university. After an impromptu tour of the campus the day before (the same day I landed in Thailand) on Denali’s motorbike (yes we were both wearing helmets), I had a general idea of where I needed to go and had even spied my department building, but it was only a vague understanding at best. Luckily the man in the red bus that agreed to take me was easy going and didn’t mind driving around campus in search of the building, and teaching me Thai on the way! (drong bai – straight ahead, lee-o sai – turn left, lee-o kwah – turn right, kow pat – fried rice).

First rule about being a teacher: Expect the unexpected and when it happens – laugh to yourself and roll with it. I’ve been told this advice in one form or another from training sessions, fellow teachers and former teacher on countless occasions. It is one thing to be told this and another to experience it and in many ways then I am happy that I was not spared any waiting on when that moment might come.

I spent the morning in the teachers lounge meeting fellow teachers – Thai and foreign, as well as looking through my books and figuring out what I was supposed to be teaching in a couple of hours (Section b of lesson 1). This semester I am teaching four classes: two sections of ENG 101 and two sections of ENG 201, each with roughly 40 students.

After a light lunch I headed off to my first class attempting to appear more confident then I felt and feeling very much like a teacher with my handful of books, papers, folders, etc. I’ll admit standing outside my class really odd. I mean here were all of these kids sitting in desks waiting…for me. But as the hour was approaching I braced myself and strode in, placed my books and papers and bag confidently on the desk, took out the audio CD we were supposed to used, turned with purpose to the computer system to set it up and realized I had no clue how to go about making it work…still having a couple of minutes I fiddled and clicked and pushed buttons but to no success – time to improvise, something else would have to fill that time. I put the CD from my mind and turned to greeting the class and then to reviewing the household objects they had learned last week.

But so far the challenges of my first day seem relatively minor, luckily it got more interesting - halfway through class I came to realize that I had completely misunderstood the situation. While I thought the students had already completed a week of class, bought their textbooks and completed the first weeks homework, this was in fact not the case (to no one’s fault but my own). What this meant was that meant that the pages and material that I had thought had been covered, and the vocabulary that I was assuming was review was all new – Time to change the game plan and back track. Material was reconsidered and combined. Some were dropped altogether. It also meant that I had to collect money and have the students fill out book slips at the end of class for them to pick up their textbooks.

After arriving ten minutes early to my first class I found myself rushing to find the building of my second section of 101 with two minutes to go – I seem to be fast loosing the air of assured teacher. I finally located it and the correct stairs to the third floor (that took three attempts). I even found the classroom (I’m now 5 minutes late) and there were even students in it. The only problem was there was also a teacher in it…hmmm…there was nothing else to do but to cautiously open the door and to inquire as to where my class might be. Apparently, I came to realize, the classroom I was originally assigned is high coveted as it is one of the few with air conditioning (instead of a fan) and there were already two teachers vying for it (just after I enter another teacher enters to lay claim to the classroom.) Looking through my pile of papers I found that there were two different classroom numbers market down and so I left the two others to duke it out over the air conditioning and hurried down a flight of stairs to a classroom this time full of students but missing a teacher – me. What’s teaching without a little adventure? Signing out in the teachers lounge after both of my classes were over I ran into a lovely teacher who had written me a letter about the ENG 101 situation and how I needed to have everyone buy the books and condense down the lessons to get them back on track…aww well…

Aside from unexpected challenges and improvisation the day was exhausting. I have newfound respect for all of my teachers. I look back and cringe at all those times when teachers asked us questions and I remained silent or when I talked to friends in the back of the class!

From my three hours of teaching I would say its empowering, while at the very same time incredibly daunting and terrifying. I feel somewhat like a puppy that has been inadvertently let off the leash, I mean I’m barely little more than a student myself (6 days not a student to be precise) and suddenly I am up in front of the classroom striding back and forth in an exaggerated manner to illustrating using my feet “for walking” instead of “to walk” and asking why my students might prefer to live in a houseboat (“so I can travel the word”) or a ranch house (“so I can sit in a garden and hear the songs of the birds that sing to my heart”). Overall it is a decidedly odd feeling to suddenly find myself a teacher.

I am off to look over the lesson for my 8 am class tomorrow and to dream up ways in which my entire lesson plan might have to be thrown forcibly out the third floor window in to the sweltering Thai air and what I’ll have to do to replace it! It should be exciting!