Two months have been washed away by the monsoons that now scour the streets of Chiang Mai daily, and which turns the road outside of my house into a foot high river. With the rains, have come new fruits: bright orange persimmons, oblong Langsats and longans, pebbled sugar apples, golden bananas are just starting to appear. The weather is humid and hot, but not quite as hot as July and certainly not as hot as June. Mosquitoes are now a given (hence the dengue), as are the raised bites that speckle my legs.
Noticing these changes I also find myself realizing how I have settled into life in Chiang Mai. The smell of dried squid or the sight of men and women driving motorbikes while carrying umbrellas up against the rain seems normal (true I still get extra excited when I find a black Labrador balancing, while standing up, on the back of a motorbike speeding through downtown traffic!) The back of the throat spice and the coughing fits from cooking chilies in the air is routine (I don’t bat my eye but they certainly do water.)
And as I get more comfortable, I have found myself (at times) getting less comfortable – feeling like I am not pushing myself hard enough, exploring more, getting farther outside my comfort zone (and it is in many ways great to say that daily life here is now way within the limits of my comfort zone). Even being halfway around the world, in a country where I know only a handful of phrases and am in charge of over 150 students, I find myself slipping into patterns – going to the same smoothie shop to work and sip mango smoothies, the same restaurant to grab fried eggplants or pineapple fried rice. Thus, I have taken the two-month mark as a time to re-assess: what I eat, where I explore, how I teach.
Such thoughts led me to jump bleary eyed on my motorbike Sunday morning and drive to the market for breakfast before heading to a Wat to draw, and where I ended: up drawing with the four year old son of the women cleaning the wat, falling into conversation with an extremely Buddhist older woman and her husband down from Bangkok and having a impromptu Thai lesson with a taxi driver. It is these sorts of experiences that I am on the prowl for.
But at the heart of my experience in Chiang Mai are my classes and my students. There are certainly days where it is challenging, more then challenging. I have had a share of terrifying moments where my words are greeted with silence and blank stares of absolute incomprehension. I have had activates take an hour that I had budgeted for fifteen minutes and I have had students require their fellows as translators because they know so little English. I have had kids stroll in fifteen minutes late and I have had more than my share of very low grades (especially disheartening when I have so many students that I can’t possibly help all of the struggling students get A’s). Yet despite all of the frustrations and self-doubt that is part of my daily homework and life as a teacher, one “ahh” or funny moment in class remains my greatest endorphin and will leave me grinning all day long (and sometimes longer). On the few occasions when I have been down, it has been my students who have succeeded in making me smile and laugh.
A few such moments:
• For one class I had my 201 students come up with advertisements of new products. Here are two products/advertisements that will soon be hitting the shelves across the world:
Underwear! “Cover all your secret hairs” “make good shape” “recommended by Jessica Alba and Lady Gaga” $13!
Sorcerer pen – “buy in 10 seconds. 9,999 baht.” “Infinity (symbol) ink” “Increase 10% for guess answer” “write by itself from owner think” “tui engineering guarantee”
• For the 101 presentations five of my guy students turned the stage of our classroom into one of the most popular bars in town: Warm Up, and proceeded to present their conversation in a “drunken” state, stumbling around while wearing light up horns on their head!
• In a charades like activity on romance vocabulary two of my guy students faced with acting out the word “romance” first acted out a proposal and then gave each other a full-on stage kiss!
• I have had Harry Potter visit my class, apparently – he professed – having come to Thailand specifically to see me. My class has also played host to fire bearing fortune-tellers, globe-trotters, and fairy godmothers complete with costumes and accents.
• I have a tendency to use the word “lovely” a lot (ex: “Great job! Lovely! Lovely!”). In one activity where a girl in my 201 class was pretending to be a teacher and teaching all of us the word “specific” I got to see myself acted out. Girl: “ok repeat after me: Spe –ci -fic” Class: “Spe – ci - fic” Girl: “Aww lovely lovely!”
• At the end of every class I end with having my students teach me three Thai words – partially so I can learn more vocabulary and partially so that it is not just me teaching them and they can see that it is ok to mess up – as I struggle to get the tones right and all the kids laugh and encourage me. One of my 201 classes takes particular pleasure in coming up with the most similar sounding Thai words to teach me: Krai (who) Kai (egg) Kaai (to sell) ta pu (nail) Blah tu (mackerel) Bra tu (door) Ta roak (baby) Ta Lard (Market) Ta loak (funny) - ahh indeed!