Sunday, January 19, 2014

Adam Knighton - Father of the Year

Thailand has an absurd amount of holidays. As a teacher, this makes me happy. We get every holiday off. Not only that, but there are lots of arbitrary days where there is no school for no apparent reason. Sometimes there's a "meeting" that I don't have to go to. Other times the teachers have decided to go on a road trip, so there is no school. No matter what the reason, we're always celebrating something or other.

Oftentimes there will be a holiday celebration at school or somewhere nearby. This means going to school, but no actual teaching. Transportation is not very difficult because there are maybe 100 total students in the school. For the nearby locations, they load all of the girls up in to vans and slowly move them all to the other area. The boys are all thrown in the back of the janitor's pickup truck and moved while standing. Watching them leave reminds me of those horse trailers you see on the freeway sometimes. There are a few horses standing unsteadily with bewildered looks on their faces while moving at 50 mph. Well in this case it's 20ish students standing unsteadily with bewildered looks on their faces.


Boy and Girl scouts are very big here. Every Thursday, students must wear their uniform to school. After my last class, they practice marching, play instruments, and get yelled at. Sometimes they have to do push-ups as punishment. I always find this amusing, because if there's one thing a Thai 10 year old lacks, it's upper body strength. They invariably end up looking like the following picture.


Sometimes everyone is forced to do push-ups at the same time. It's an odd sight when you turn a corner and see 40 students in uniform, waving their bums in the air.

The students also play their instruments as a part of their Scout routine. The girls love to play this odd instrument called the melodica. It's a weird combination of a piano, harmonica, and accordion. It looks like this:

They blow into it while holding it with one hand and playing it with the other. It's not the most lovely sounding instrument-kind of a fusion between an accordion and a bagpipe. 

The boys usually play drums. As I mentioned before, the these children lack strength. So for each drum player there must be a designated drum spotter.


Doesn't look like much fun, but the good news it that they switch halfway through so at least it's fair.

Anyway, back to holidays, activities, and general horseplay at school. We're always doing something or other instead of actually teaching. One time it was an hour long Christmas party that ended at 10:00 a.m., and all of the students just went home after. Then there was the New Year's party where half of the students wore makeup and did dances. And finally, the most uncomfortable one: Father's Day.

School unexpectedly ended after lunch one day. Generally no one tells me about any special activities that are happening. They just kind of happen and I get caught up in all of it. I walk to the auditorium area and notice all the students are sitting in lines and there's a ton of Thai men behind them sitting in chairs. Everyone goes ahead and does a prayer for the king and the Thai dancing starts. I ask my coworker what this has to do with Father's Day and he just laughs.

When I look out at the students I notice that some of the girls are crying. My coworker says that their fathers probably aren't here,  but it started off a chain reaction of sadness. Some girls start crying because their father isn't there, then more girls start crying because their friends are sad, then even more girls start crying because everyone is crying. I look over there and start to get choked up because someone's sad that someone's sad about someone being sad. Lousy four degrees of separation sadness.

They set up a bunch of chairs on the stage and call one grade level's fathers up. After, the students from that class go up and kneel in front of their dads. But what's this? There is a student whose father isn't there. I feel bad for her because she's clearly heartbroken and sitting up there trying not to cry.

Up until this point there had been a fairly consistent stream of Thai being spoken by the director over the speakerphones. I generally ignored it. They speak too quickly for me to understand it properly, so I just pick up certain words here and there. But just then I heard a word I was very familiar with: Adam. I froze, furrowed my brow and slowly turned my head toward the director. I had no idea what was happening, I just knew I shouldn't be involved. The director smiles at me and says "Daddy Adam!". I stifle a scream and start walking to the stage.

I plop down next to a Thai man that I totally dwarf and look in the eyes of a weeping 7- year- old. She's not even my student, so I'm basically a stranger to her. I smile and try to telepathically communicate "Sorry I'm not your dad" to her. I don't think it worked.

Then things got even weirder. All of the students are already on their knees in front of their fathers (or Caucasian stand-ins). The director said something and suddenly they're on their hands and knees with their forehead on the ground. I like to think they were channeling positive, youthful energies into their elders, but I can't know. The director says something else and suddenly the girl's head is in my lap, face down. I recoil a little bit and look around. If I were a teacher in America and someone saw a 7-year-old girl's head face down in my lap, I'm fairly certain I'd be put in jail forever.

Quick side note about me. I like to play the cool, tough guy who is unaffected by anything. That's just to cover up the fact that I'm basically in a constant state of panic. My face may look calm and collected. Possibly even smug. But inside a storm is raging.

Well, my poker face must have cracked because I heard the now familiar "Daddy Adam" over the speaker system. I look over at the director. She's motioning for me to rub the child's head. Thai people are laughing at the befuddled white man, but I start rubbing her head and my face shifts back to Mr. Cool Guy.

The director says something again and the girl is standing with her arms outstretched. Everyone starts hugging, so I do the same. I held her for what felt like forever, and started to release. She began backing away, but I saw out of the corner of my eye that everyone else was still hugging. I was not about to look like a fool again! Right when she thought she had escaped my clutches, I pulled her back in. The end result was one of the most uncomfortable hugs I've ever been a part of. She was struggling to escape by the end of it, but I'd be damned if I wasn't going to execute the hug for the appropriate amount of time.

The students left the stage and the parents left shortly after. I sat down again relieved that it was over. Suddenly, I understood 2 words over the speaker system, "Daddy Adam".

At the end of the day, I was well practiced at hugging and rubbing the heads of pre-teens. I think my grand total was 4 adopted daughters and 2 adopted sons. I suppose the moral of the day was that I'm not quite ready for fatherhood. but that's more just a confirmation of something I knew already.

As a reward for reading this far, I present you with a picture that shall receive no context.





Sunday, January 12, 2014

How Many 5-Year-Olds Could You Beat Up?

Living in Thailand has really cleared up some misconceptions I've had about the world. Since I spend so much time with children, most of these revelations relate to them. I taught 13 to 15-year-olds in Bangkok. Now I'm teaching 10 to 12-year-olds and 3 to 5-year-olds. Some of these students are so sweet and kind, even though they can't really communicate with me. Sure, each class has a kid who acts up for attention. But I have learned about myself and grown as a person because of the time I have spent with them. There is one key fact that I have learned about children during my adventures. 3 to 5-year-olds are, pound for pound, the most malevolent creatures on the planet. 

I'm a young, large male. I walk down dark alleys with impunity. I fend off ladyboys with one hand. I stub my toe and don't even cry that much. When I'm about to walk into a class full of thirteen 5-year-olds, I feel something that used to be totally foreign to me. A dark vacuum in the pit of my stomach. Fear. I know that the next 30 minutes are going to be filled with with screams, sneak attacks, and malice hidden behind toothless smiles.

It wasn't always this way. My first few days of teaching I was in charge. Back in those days, they were the ones who were afraid. I'd hand out worksheets and they'd come back complete. Now, they come back as paper airplanes. One girl would cry every time I walked in to the classroom. Now, she sees me as the greatest jungle gym ever. Her daily goal is to climb to the top of me.

Yes, the bad ones are bad. They scream. They don't do their work. They harass me with a sociopathic emptiness in their eyes. There is no pleasure or disgust in their actions, there is only a deep, animalistic urge to make me miserable. It is something that must be done.

But the good ones can be even worse. The ones that attack me with adoration cannot be screamed at or punished, because they hurt me with their love. Multiple examples come to mind. I'm sure you're aware of how children live their lives: in squalor. They smell weird, their noses are always running, and I swear, there's one kid who actually has flies around him all the time. I thought that only happened in cartoons. Plus some of them have bad breath. How can you have bad breath if you don't even have any teeth? Plus, students in Thailand are forced to bring toothbrushes to school, so they can clean up after lunch in addition to any extra-curricular brushing they may enjoy.

I'll walk in to the class room, sit down to set up the alphabet song for them, and the second I turn my back, they strike. I feel something clinging to my shoulder. This isn't out of the ordinary; if there's one thing every student has in common it's that they must constantly touch me. But then I feel a cool ooze on my cheek, accompanied by a sucking sound. I look over to see a cute grinning child. Under the child's nose are strands. Strands of infectious nose slime that are attached to the side of my face. What can I possibly do? Scream at the child? I don't know enough Thai to tell him that biological warfare is against the Geneva convention. Can I look him in the eyes and tell him that he better not show any affection to anyone else again? Nope. All I can do is turn, half-grimace half-smile, and stifle my gag reflex.

Did I mention that after the first few weeks of teaching I had to stay home because I had a crippling stomach flu? It's not a huge mystery where it came from.

Fortunately, after 2 months I've been able to convince them that they love me. We play games, we have fun, we share infectious diseases. It's actually pretty enjoyable.

But with this love has come a great blow to my ego. Three months ago, if you asked me how may 5-year-olds I could take, I would have scoffed at you and said "an infinite number". Now, you'll hear a sullen "I don't wanna talk about it". One day we were learning the English words "up" and "down". So I was squatting down, screaming "DOWN!", then standing up, and screaming "UP!". Suddenly, a child jumped on my back while we were in the "DOWN!" position, so I went "UP!" with him on me. He giggled, I giggled, it was all great fun. So I went back "DOWN!". Then the Thai 5-year-old hive mind made a collective decision, and the children swarmed me. Suddenly, there was 300 pounds worth of children keeping me glued to the ground. I literally could not stand up. To make matters worse, one was grabbing only onto the collar of my shirt. His entire weight was pushing on my jugular and crushing my windpipe. Could I reach back and tear him off? No. Each arm had two other children attached to it. I looked over to the Thai teacher with tears and desperation in my eyes. She returned the glance with a smile, thinking it was cute.

Somehow, miraculously, I escaped. The fear and lack of oxygen apparently made me black out, but I am still here today, so I must have wrenched myself free.

One amusing thing that the children do is ramble at me in Thai. I can't understand most of what they say, but that doesn't discourage them. When they decide they must tell me something really important, I remind them "put pasa Thai mai dai" (literally "to speak language Thai not can",  meaning "I can't speak Thai"). The amusing thing is that some of the kids will look at me after I say this with an expression that says "What did you JUST do, then? Didn't you JUST speak Thai, you big white liar?" So I just smile while peering out the corner of my eye on the lookout for another snotty kiss.

Behold, the little monsters.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Part 7: The Struggle Continues

Part 7:

I am a very logical person who can figure out what to do in situations when presented with relevant information. Unfortunately, I am not very good at gathering this information, or frankly, noticing obvious things. This is compounded by the fact that I am in a foreign country where people do a bunch of weird stuff. This week's post will be dedicated to stuff that I struggle to understand.

My buddy Jody and I went out to some bars by his house. He lives about an hour north of Bangkok, so the people there are different (fewer fat, old, white men buying Thai girlfriends). The white people that you see in Ayyutaya (where Jody lives) are mostly younger backpackers, and travelers who are there to see the famous temples. This encourages a more pleasant night life when compared to hookers and bald men.

First we went to a restaurant where they served white people food. I got a wonderful double cheeseburger and fries for 3 dollars. I don't know if it's because I was 3 beers deep, because I've had rice and chicken for every meal for 5 months, or because I was actually 6 beers deep, but damn if that wasn't the best burger I've ever had.

After the fantastic food, we went bar hopping. There was a nice little bar that had a pool table and beer. What more could anyone ask for? We went inside, sat down, and sure enough, it started pouring rain.

Now, when it rains in Thailand it is completely different than anything I've seen in America. If it starts to rain in California, you look up at the sky and say, "darn, my hair might get wet." When it rains in Thailand, you look up and get hit in the eye by a marble sized rain drop. You quickly learn not to look at the rain.

So we're stranded in this bar because it is POURING. The combination of alcohol, fury from getting whooped in pool, and inexperience with actual weather, kind of put me in a trance. I just stared outside for a few minutes, hypnotized by the fact that the air was more water than actual air.

My trance didn't last long, because my toesies started to get wet. And if there's a terrible feeling, it's wet toesies inside shoes. Apparently this bar was 2-3 feet underground, which was terrible planning in a tropical environment. Since it was raining 6 inches per hour, the bar quickly turned in to a pool party.


I heard you liked pool, so we put a pool table in a pool so you can play pool in a pool

Remember that little kid in high school that had the backpack that was way too big for him?
Remember how he ran to each class for some reason?
Well, don't worry, he's also over here in Thailand. I tried to take a picture, but he was too darn fast.

I was teaching commands to the students. You know; "Sit down! Shut up! Go outside! Stop crying!" and so on... I was teaching one of my... less hard working classes, and some of the students just weren't interested. So, being the good teacher that I am, I decided to help them, and get them engaged. I walked to the back of the class and a student says "Teacher smoke weed?" I laughed at first, but then figured that I could use this as a teaching point.

I pulled out a pen and wrote on his paper "I smoke weed". I explained that we could turn this in to a command by crossing out the "I" and adding an exclamation point. Unfortunately, this kid was apparently too damn high to understand English, so he starts telling everyone that I smoke weed. The following week involved a lot of 14 year old boys trying to give me weed/ get weed from me.

Hey, look at this dog's tongue. I thought it was carrying something in its mouth, but nope. It just had a really long tongue.


I went to the next province over to visit one of my friends. We wanted to go on an adventure, so his landlord let us borrow a scooter and some helmets. Here's a picture of my buddy Josh in his sexy pink and white helmet.


 There are a few things to take note of when you look at this picture. First, look at the helmet. This was an actual hello kitty helmet. Yes, it matches Josh's general cat theme with his shirt, but I want you to imagine something. Two grown ass men sitting on a scooter together with Hello Kitty helmets on. Fortunately for me, there were two things going in my favor. First, the Hello Kitty helmet was too small for my giant ass head. We had to find a different one for me. The other good thing is that I weigh 2-3 times as much as Josh. When the person riding in the back weighs that much more than the person in the front, a scooter can be very hard to control.

So, smaller Josh rode bitch the whole time in his Hello Kitty helmet.

Also note the bandage around his arm. While we were looking for a place to eat, I tried to stop on some gravel while turning the wheel. Turns out that this causes control issues on a scooter. I emerged totally unscathed. Josh, on the other hand, had a giant bleeding wound that looked pretty scary. We went to the local clinic, and I paid for them to bandage him up. They did a great job, and it was only 2 bucks!

I lucked out and received the coolest helmet/goggle combo ever, since my head was too big for Hello Kitty to handle.


Seriously, can we just appreciate the awesomeness of those goggles. Chrome plated AND the rainbow reflecting glass. Man, I felt so cool.

Imagine me saying "vroom, vroom" because I was.
 Anyway, the adventure ended quickly and I had to go home. There's a really cool service in Thailand where you can get a long van to come pick you up anywhere in a province, and they'll take you anywhere in another province. This thing cost me like 3 dollars for an hour long ride.

I was one of the first passengers, so I had choice seating. Other people started to board, and one of them was playing music on his phone speakers. I suppose he didn't have any headphones, but it didn't seem to bother him. He sat down in the 14 person van and just sat there, blasting "Rock You Like a Hurricane" by the Scorpions. He was seriously loving that song, and did not even notice that there were other people being forced to listen to it. Not only was he un-embarrassed, he actually seemed a little proud. As if he were sharing some artistic masterpiece with the rest of us.

Here I am...

The song finished, and I expected his display to end. The Mysterious Asian Hair Band Lover had other plans. The next song in the playlist came on. Something that was still the Scorpions, but not as popular as "Rock You Like a Hurricane". The man could tell that he was losing the interest of his audience with this less popular song, so what did he do? Certainly not turn off the speaker so the other 10 people weren't subject to his musical whims. Instead, he played the classic Scorpions hit, "Rock You Like a Hurricane". Again. I found this amusing, but put my headphones in. No one should like that song THAT much in this day and age.

That's it for this installment. I'll be returning again next week with stories of love, disappointment, and infections.

haha....

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Part 6: How to Gain Weight in Thailand


Well, it's been a long, long time since I've updated my blog. I wish I could come up with a good reason, but drinking Thai beer and playing video games aren't really good reasons. I'll try to update you on these past 3 months, but the updates will come in increments, because quite a few things have happened.

One of the most important aspects of my life is, of course, eating tons of food. I figured I'd share a bit about the delicious food I get to eat over here. First of all, I found that you can buy sushi for 5 baht a piece here. That's right, a mere 16 cents per piece. That means this delicious sushi feast below was less than 2 bucks. I totally freaked out when I learned about this and ate sushi at every opportunity.
It looks better when I haven't accidentally smushed it
 This may sound weird, but after a month I actually got tired of eating sushi. I know, I didn't think it could happen either.

An odd food that I eat here is some type of egg. They are sold with three eggs on a skewer, but they still have the shells on them. Below are pictures of them un-peeled and peeled.


When you open them up, they are uniform. There is no yolk, there is no white, but there is a spice inside. It is somehow scrambled, put on a skewer and cooked all without leaving the shell. I have no idea how this is possible without it spilling, but if you can think of a way, please let me know.

The next dish is TOTALLY AWESOME. It's exactly what I've always wanted to have, but could never get. What is this wonderful dish, you ask? A delicious fried bacon steak. Imagine that the bacon you buy at the store is not pre-sliced, but instead is one thick hunk of bacony meat. Then imagine that this huge piece of meat is fried in its own juices. The result is a big, greasy, savory, pulmonary embolism bacon steak.
It'll kill you, but you'll die happy.
Next is a picture of what I eat for lunch every day at school. It looks pretty, and it tastes even... prettier.

Photo enlarged to show texture
It has chicken, pork, fish, won-tons, vegetables, an egg, noodles and a bunch of other stuff. This wonderful thing is called "tom yum". Now, I'm not totally sure what tom yum is. The Thais seem to call every type of soup tom yum, and you can't get anything more specific out of them. So the soup above is specifically named Tom Yum, but a soup that shares no ingredients with it will also be called tom yum. It's confusing and disappointing because I want THIS tom yum. I know the word tom translates to "soup", and I am just assuming that yum translates to "yum". So it's uhh.... yummy soup.


Unfortunately, all is not well in Thai food. Yes, most of the food is good, but there are certain foods that are abominations of nature. Equivalent to spitting in the face of God. Below is an example of such a monstrosity.


Graphic Content
 I do not understand the Thai fascination with hot dogs, but they LOVE THOSE THINGS. By the way... the white sauce is sweet. BLARGH.

Now for some random photos!


I feel like Thai people are missing the point of Guitar Hero. The... guitar.
Took a bus ride. Kept reaming my head on those damn fans.


When regular pussy just won't do.

The gym at my school: 1 pec deck, 1 punching bag.





Monday, July 1, 2013

Mansome and an Asian Ashy Larry

Part 5: Mansome and an Asian ashy Larry

This week, I'll be talking about various weird things that have happened to me in Thailand.

1) The other day one of my coworkers handed me a small circular fruit that looked like a green kumquat. I thanked her, and popped it in my mouth. This fruit tasted like cyanide, but I just grinned and nodded, feigning an "mmm" noise. I try to be nice, and not react negatively when someone offers me something. My face must have betrayed my feelings, as everyone was laughing at me. I look over to the fruit giver and she motions to peel the fruit. I head to the back and spit up the disgusting rind.

My mouth tasted like Draino for the next 15 minutes.


2)  My apartment complex has a dry cleaner on the first floor. I went down there to get my clothes dry cleaned, and after some difficult communication, I felt like I had succeeded in conveying my point. The person who works there looks at me and says "your loom?" Now, I wasn't totally sure what she was going to do with a loom. If I recalled properly from history class, a loom is an archaic tool for making textiles. What in the world could she want with a loom? Was she going to create new shirts for me from scratch? Why did she need my loom? Didn't she already have one? How much does a loom cost? Eventually I figured out she wanted to know my ROOM  #, but it took longer than it should have.


3)  I headed to class one day, and everyone was standing outside. I start yelling and gesturing for them to go in when a teacher comes up to me. "New class. A cat died and there is lice," she says. I look at her, and come in closer. "What?!" I say. She repeats what she said and looks at me like I'm stupid. So I'm standing there completely motionless and focusing all my energy on understanding what she meant. Drawing from previous experience, I think maybe she didn't mean lice, she meant rice. That didn't make any more sense. Luckily she recognizes the confusion on my face, and takes me to the English office where there's a teacher who is fluent in both Thai and English. He tells me that a cat died in the classroom and it had lice, so we can't go in there. It took a while for me to grasp that I was right the whole time, and I wondered how the hell a dying cat could get on the second floor and into my classroom. My brain can't understand a lot of things that happen here in Thailand, so oftentimes I just have to accept that they happen and not ask myself why.


4)  If students are not doing what I tell them to, I proceed to beat them with the chalkboard eraser. This acts as a motivator, because the erasers are never cleaned, and a student will quickly look like Ashy Larry without his lotion. It's also very entertaining for me.



5)  Sometimes if everyone is paying very close attention to their work, or practicing dialogues diligently, I will sneak to the back and scream "HEY" at the top of my lungs. This makes sure the students are always on edge, while also keeping me entertained. My record is getting 8 girls to jump out of their seats.


6)  The first week of school, I asked each class who the strongest person in class was. When they agreed on a person, I brought them to the front of the class and arm wrestled them. I believe I successfully displayed my dominance over the students. Also I hurt my shoulder.


7)  I've been testing my power over the children by teaching them prepositions. So far, they will run around a chair, climb on each other, and even stick their fingers in their nose. My power stops at telling them to jump out the window. They just won't do it.


8)  All of the boys love to shake my hand. The traditional Thai greeting is to place your palms together in front of you and bow your head. They seem to think the hand shake is fun and exciting. However, I can't go around shaking every damn kid's hand all day, so I attempt to crush each little hand that is extended towards me. Interestingly enough, they seem to find this more fun than a normal, non-crushing hand shake.


9)  Whenever I walk anywhere around school, I am constantly subject to calls of "TEACHER, TEACHER!" I look where the noise is coming from, and scream "WHAT!?" back to the students. They never seem have anything important to communicate to me other than "Hi", "Good afternoon", or "I love you".


10)

I don't know what this thing is called. I didn't totally understand what it was for, and when I found out, I didn't like it. This is a hand held ass-cleaning squirt gun. It's the preferred method of removing traces of fecal matter from the part of the body used to moon things. When I first saw it, I laughed and laughed and laughed. There was not a chance in hell I would ever use it. A few days later, my roommate had used all the toilet paper. I didn't know this until I had already finished the deed. I took a deep breath, and went for it. Sure the floor ended up soaked and I cried a few unmanly tears, but I had a clean (though wet) butt.

These things are actually pretty decent once you get over your totally rational fear of them. Just make sure you don't use a super powerful one. You'll definitely get an enema. 


11) The school system in Thailand is WAY different than America. Here, you can kind of just do whatever you want. Everyone passes, so why do extra stuff if you don't want to? That means there is a constant buzz of people chatting, others have their phones out playing games, and some are just taking a nice nap. There are a few ways I deal with these things. Talking people may be beaten with an eraser. Sometimes I work on "pronunciation" which means I scream a word and have the class scream it back. The class as a whole is loud enough to disrupt any conversation, so it quiets them down for about 10 seconds. If they're playing games, I sneak up behind them and snatch the phone away. I know how to play a lot of these games, so I'll go to the store in the game and spend all their money on worthless stuff. People sleeping in class get things stuck in their ears.


12)

They have a drink that they are marketing directly to my inflated ego. It tastes like grapes and has a bunch of collagen in it.

13)

I guess this box of orange juice is equivalent to 24 apples? I though you couldn't compare them...


14) My classes don't have air conditioning. Some of them don't even have doors, and none of them are completely closed off. As a result I start feeling like Vegeta training in the 400x gravity.
I will get completely soaked with sweat over the course of a period. Not only am I wearing long sleeves, long pants, and a tie, it's also a hundred degrees and 200% humidity. I've accidentally sweat on a bunch of kids and whatever is on their desk. When the kids see my misery, they look at me with superior little smiles on their faces. On more that one occasion I've had students look at me smugly and said "Teacher, Thailand hot." Initially, I'd reply with a smile and say "Yes, Thailand is very hot." Now I just wring my shirt out on their heads (not really).


15) On the first day of each of my classes,  I'd write my name out on the board and say it. They would reply by saying my name back. I'd say it again, and they'd say it again. Soon they'd all be chanting my name. I'd start running across the room, pumping my fists in the air as a group of 50 Asian children cheered me on. All my classes found this amusing, but it had unwanted repercussions. All over campus, random kids would just start shouting my name whenever I walked by.  


16) I teach 18 different classes over the course of a week, seeing each class only once. After teaching the same lesson for 10 hours, you start to go into autopilot mode, and everything blends together. When I get to this point, something odd happens. I start to imagining that some kids are coming to my lessons twice in one week. I don't know why they would do this. I'm not totally sure why I think this, but I've narrowed it down to a couple of potential reasons. 1) The kids love my lessons so much that they ditch other classes to come to mine (not likely). 2) The constant drone of teaching the same thing has dulled my senses and forced me to hallucinate (likely). 3) I'm a big racist, and all these damn kids look the same (hopefully not likely).

This issue came to a head when I left a class and one of the girls yelled, "Goodbye teacher!" I walked two classes down, and I hear a "Hello teacher!" coming from inside. I look over, and there is the same girl. AGAIN! I figured I was at the nexus of the universe, but then it dawned on me. There are twins and siblings in my classes! It all makes sense now. I'm not racist!


17) There's a big fad over here to wear colored contacts. It's a little creepy seeing these Thai girls with bright blue eyes. The weirder thing is when they wear ones that make their iris huge. I don't understand why they do it. It makes them look soulless. There's something about covering your eyes with something fake that  makes you look less than human. It's seriously freaky.

There are more, but once again I have more to say than I have will to say it.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Part 4: Transportation Special!

This week's episode will be related to the various times of transportation in Thailand! They have various degrees of speed, cost, and stress. which I will rate on a 1-5 star scale.

First a preface. The streets in Bangkok are intimidating to an insane degree. My first ride from the airport to my hotel consisted mostly of driving up the shoulder of the highway while the driver leaned on the horn. There don't seem to be any apparent rules of the road either, so selfish driving is the norm. This means that if you are attempting to merge, well that's just too bad for you. The only way you can successfully merge is to sneak a part of your car in front of another and just go for it. It's basically one big game of life-threatening chicken. There are a ton of street bikes, totally unsafe 3 wheeled vehicles called tuk-tuks, sky trains, subways, longboats, and buses. While they each have their individual differences, each will give you the opportunity to question someone's sanity (your's or the driver's).

1. TAXI: Speed **--- Cost ****- Stress**---
The taxis in Thailand are all very pretty. They're brightly colored on the outside as well as the inside. This makes them noticeable from far away. Unfortunately, if you hop in to a pink taxi, all of the upholstery is the same color of neon pink. The oppressively bright pink is so overstimulating that it can cause irritability, disorientation, and in some cases euphoria. They seem to be the most commonly accepted form of transportation in Thailand, so they do have some things going for them.

Speed: Bangkok traffic SUCKS. I mentioned that the shoulder is an entirely different lane, but this is due to necessity. There are way too many cars here, and they are all driven by insane Thais who fear neither pain nor death. Depending on your taxi driver, you may be able to get some places quickly, but odds are that it is going to take forever for you to get where you want to go.

Cost: With an initial cost of 35 baht ($1.17) for the first KM and 4 Baht for each additional KM, the cost is actually fairly high compared to the other forms of transportation.

Stress: You will not be very stressed out by the actual driving experience. All taxis are air conditioned, and if you zone out into the neon upholstery, you may actually find it a pleasant experience. Unfortunately, not a single taxi driver knows where anything in the damn city is. They also don't understand English, so some stress starts to creep in when you're actually trying to communicate where you want to go. Initially, I tried writing out the address on a piece of paper in English. This had no effect on the taxi driver. Then I asked a Thai person to write out the address in Thai for the taxi driver. This time, the drivers were capable of understanding the words on the paper, but they couldn't do anything with it. Finally, I tried getting a map, marking down the location, and writing out the location in both English and Thai. Maps appear to be a foreign concept to taxi drivers, so the best chance you have is to get the phone number of the place where you want to go and have the driver call. They will spend the ENTIRE trip talking on the phone about who knows what, but you will eventually reach your destination.

The worst part is when they've pretended that they know where they're going, but they don't. Then they look at you and ask where to go (in Thai). I am the only person in Thailand worse with directions than the taxi drivers, so it's really a miracle I've gotten anywhere with taxis.

2. Skytrain/Subway Speed ***-- Cost ***-- Stress *----

The skytrain and subway are essentially the same thing. Mass transit trains. However, one is in the sky while the other is underground. Apparently the sky is only 30 feet off the ground (the skytrain was a huge disappointment after my imagination went crazy imagining trains in the sky). 

Speed: This is actually a pretty fast way to get from point A to point B. Provided you want to go to one of the predesignated point B's that the train stops at. After that, you're either walking or hopping on another form of transportation.

Cost: The cost is also pretty good. Never more than 40 baht to get you wherever the train goes. It's the trip after that could cause problems.

Stress: Pretty much stress free. Plus the trains have an added bonus. You can immediately find any other foreign people. All you have to do is look down your car. If you see any heads sticking out 6 inches above the others, you've found your foreigner! 

Quick side note, I'm not way taller than everyone else, like so many people said I would be. I'm just normal taller than everyone else.

3. Tuk-tuk. DO NOT RIDE
This abomination is called a tuk-tuk. It is about as safe as it looks. I believe the design process was just someone looking at a trike and saying "I could make a big one of those". When you ride one of these you will get poisoned by the other cars (which have no environmental standards, and shoot black death out of their tailpipes). Plus the guy driving will try to take you to some place to buy stuff instead of actually going where you want to go. Then he'll get lost and pull over 20 times, asking strangers for directions. Then he'll demand that you pay more at the end of the trip because it took him so long to find the place. Plus it's not even air conditioned.

Sorry, this is kind of a sore spot for me.

4. BUS Speed *---- Cost *---- Stress*----
Riding a bus in Thailand is essentially the same as walking somewhere. Traffic is SO SLOW, and buses don't have the ability to weave between cars. While they travel everywhere, it is constantly stop and go. Take a bus if you feel like traveling at the same rate as walking, but want to be crammed up against a bunch of Thai people

5. WALKING Speed *---- Cost FREE Stress **---
If you know where you're going, and it's fairly close by, you always have the option to walk. This can be a fun method for various reasons. You can get some tasty street food on the way, hop in to a store to see what's for sale, and only occasionally fear for your life

Speed: You probably know how fast you walk, but in case you don't it's somewhere between a saunter and a trot.

Cost: FREE. Did you not read this earlier?! I just said it...

Stress: Walking presents new challenges to transportation. You are at your most vulnerable because you have little to no metal protecting your flesh. This is a problem because it will seem like all other forms of transportation are actively trying to murder you. I don't think they are, but the evidence suggest otherwise. As you know, cars have expanded their territory to the shoulder. Normally this wouldn't be a problem for pedestrians, but the shoulder is where the scooters and bikes like to be. Since they have been displaced, they have decided to take more territory from pedestrians. When walking, make sure you keep your ears open for a motor bike barreling down on you. If you hear a honk from behind, it might actually be for you.

Watching out for bikes on the sidewalk isn't too much of a problem. The true stresses of walking come with crossing the street. There are pedestrian overpasses in a lot of places around Bangkok. They provide you with the safety of being 20 feet above any cars. If you want to cross a street without an overpass, you have a dilemma. Crosswalks exist, but only in the realm of theory. In practice, they are just lines of paint to be ignored by drivers. Cars will not stop to let you cross. You know when you're in the states and a car decides to wait for you to cross, but you have decided to wait and let the car go. So you both wait, but no one is moving, then both decide to go at the same time. Then you stop again because you don't want to hit/be hit. Then finally one of you decides to just go, but cautiously? The idea of that happening in Thailand is utterly laughable and absurd.

When you cross the street alone, you must run. It's basically like trying to cross on a highway. There's also a struggle of wills between you and oncoming traffic. You must decide if you fear death more than a driver fears killing. That's your only chance, good luck. If there's traffic, you'll at least be able to weave between slow moving cars, but then you have to watch out for bikes between the cars. 

I mentioned earlier that crosswalks are worthless strips of paint on the ground for drivers, but for pedestrians they serve as beacons of community. To cross, you wait until at least 5 people have gathered nearby. At that point, the most upstream person must take charge. He is in the most danger of immediately being stricken down, so his leadership comes from the fact that his self-preservation ensures everyone else's. When the leader sees that a car will possibly be able to stop before running him over, he takes a step (leap of faith) into the street. The rest of the group must mirror the leader's actions as closely as possible to ensure safety for all. Apparently Buddhism frowns on mowing down 5 people in your car, which is a blessing for you and your street crossing dreams.  At this point, one lane of traffic will be completely stopped, and there will a small mob of people huddled closely for protection. The leader continues to take charge, slowly advancing one lane at a time until everyone is safely across.

Needless to say, my first few weeks here it took FOREVER for me to cross streets alone. 

STREET BIKES: Speed ***** Cost **--- Terror *****

There are small collections of people in orange vests who drive scooters around, with you on the back. You tell them where to go, hop on back, and you're off. This means you're riding bitch on a scooter, which is being driven by a tiny Asian man. In case you can't figure out what this may look like, I've drawn a picture to help you out.

Speed: These dudes don't necessarily go fast, but they maintain a fairly constant speed by going through shortcuts and weaving between cars. Sometimes they drive on the wrong side of the street, which I find unnecessary and horrifying. The good news is, they're very familiar with local areas, they know all the shortcuts, and they don't have to wait for traffic.

Cost: Relatively cheap. Most of my rides are about 30 baht, or a dollar. 

Terror: I changed the rating system from stress to terror for this example. Bikes couldn't be a more dreadful proposition. Particularly since you have NO control. Well, let me rephrase that. When you're 100 pounds heavier than the driver of the bike, you have too much control. Any shifting of your weight will turn the bike against the driver's will. Try to maintain an upright position.

My first couple times riding one of these bad boys, I did my best not to come in to contact with the little man in front of me. The whole squeezing up closely against a strange man between my legs thing made me feel a bit uncomfortable. My outlook changed for a few reasons. When you avoid contact with the driver of a motor bike, you greatly increase your chances of falling off the motor bike. Falling off of a bike is near the bottom on my list of things to do. The other reason is because once you've spooned 10 men on motor bikes, you've spooned all men on motor bikes. I'm totally desensitized to it now. I even have a preferred body type for the drivers. I like a tiny driver. The tinier the better. If they're short, you can see completely over them, which is always nice. And if they have tiny waists, you have more leverage for grabbing on to them with you legs. Unfortunately, my knees are very often right behind their elbows, making it difficult for them to turn. Whatever, not my problem.

There's also the each time on the bike is probably your last thing. I feel this is well evidenced by the following pictures.


This is one of those shortcuts I was talking about. These are pictures of some of the nicer parts. Others have holes in the concrete patched by wooden planks an a section where half of the road is inexplicably 8 inches higher than the other half.

All of this being said, bikes are my favorite form of transportation because a) They're the fastest b) they're pretty cheap c) I no longer fear death

I'll talk about the boats next time. This post is getting a little long. As a reward for making it to the end, here is a cool image I found while looking for river boats.




Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Part 3. Running from Walking Street.

The monetary unit in Thailand is called the Baht. It looks like weird monopoly money that comes in different sizes. Each bill has a picture of the king on it. These people LOVE their king. I'll talk more on it later, but it appears that he's some kind of Asian Chuck Norris. The current exchange rate is 30 baht to 1 dollar.
One thousand baht, or as I like to call it, the 33 dollar bill.

It was also very exciting to see the numbers in my bank account multiplied by 30. I felt rich for like 20 seconds.

Pattaya has an interesting form of public transportation. They're just trucks with seats and rails in the back. They go on loops all around the city, so you just hop on one and they'll take you wherever for 20 baht.

They're called Cattle Trucks... Not the Most Flattering Name.
This is an excellent form of travel in theory. You get to see the sights, have the wind blow through your hair, and have a communal travel experience. However, the sights are mostly just Russian tourists eating in restaurants, the wind blowing through your hair smells like a wet dog pooping out rotten fish, and the people you travel with are Russians who have never bothered to learn how to smile. The diagram to below shows how I was poisoned by the exhaust.

Air Currents travel under the truck creating an upwelling, which forces the exhaust directly in to the lungs of passengers.
I was riding in the back of one of these with my South African friend Tayani on journey to get cell phones. It was about a 20 minute ride, so I was experiencing headache, dizziness, tachycardia and nausea. You know, all of the classic symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. We stumbled off and went in to the biggest mall I've ever seen.

Malls are all over the cities here. If you're going to buy something, it's either from a mall or a 7/11. This mall was 8 stories tall. Each floor was designated for different type of product. The floor we walked in on was all food, including a grocery store. To really put the size of this place in to perspective, we managed to find two different McDonald's on the same floor! Capitalism at it's finest. We were still feeling queasy from the car exhaust that was coating our lungs, so food wasn't in the cards. We headed to the 3rd floor, Electronics.

The third floor was not particularly exciting, but I managed to get a hilariously small cell phone.

Put the phone down, Lennie
On the ride back, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. A beautiful place with bright lights and loud noises. I wanted to go to that place. I've since learned to be careful what I wish for.

shiny...
I made it back to my hotel and the next day I went though a teaching seminar that just ended up honing my doodling skills. Afterwards, I invite my roommate Craig out to go get some food (I was going to use the term grub, but in Thailand grubs are a type of food, so I must be specific). He said that he had a nice place to go eat. We went. I got something... I don't really remember what, but I know I eventually had pineapple there, and it was so delicious. Seriously, it was a sweet as any of the sweetest mangoes I've ever had. We were hanging out there and some other friends from our seminar came to eat. It was all fun and laughter and trying to understand broken English. Then the Sang Som started flowing...

Sang Som is a type of Thai whiskey that you can get just about everywhere (by that I mean at 7/11's, which are everywhere). As far as I could tell, it has three attributes. 1. It is dirt cheap 2. It is easy to drink 3. It is alcohol. Apparently it's the drink to have if you're a burned out beach bum trying to live cheap in Thailand while maintaining your buzz.
A Picture!
Needless to say we were all starting to feel tipsy why my buddy Jared came in with a big ol' bottle for us to share. So we're sitting there ripping shots with friends, and suddenly all the workers in the restaurant have joined in with us and they've brought more alcohol. We were given permission to change the music from the Alanis Morissette/ Taylor Swift playlist to something more fitting for the evening. After getting whooped in pool by the (5'0" tall, 98 pound female) owner, I noticed that Jared was gone. So I peeked my head outside to see where he was.

I found him outside, sitting on the ground with 5 mangy dogs surrounding him. Naturally, I sat down next to him and started playing with the diseased animals. It's worth noting that the street dogs here are really cool. They just kind of hang out. They won't bother you if you don't bother them. I even found one who was napping in a corner of 7/11 because it was so hot outside. The only thing off-putting about them is the fact that all the dudes still have their giant floppy balls. Once you get past that they're as cool as any dog. Long story short, I probably have ringworm.

Heading back inside, I found that everyone was gathering up their things to get going. Suddenly, there was a brief moment of clarity. I looked out to see people from all over the world spending time together. Truly enjoying each other's company. Some spoke English, others communicated through body language and finger points. That's when I realized that it doesn't matter where you were born, or how tall you are, or even what language you speak. In the end, everyone just wants to get really drunk.

The Beginning of the End
Apparently everyone was heading to the glowing street that I drove by earlier. I squealed with excitement and we hopped in one of the cattle trucks to head toward Walking street. On the way I bummed a cig off of one of the guys from the restaurant. Every pack in Thailand has a really gross picture on it like below.

Bummer...
In an instant we were on walking street and the debauchery was in full swing. I was finally back in my element, doing something that made sense for the first time in weeks. This street is something like a combination of Vegas and Bourbon street. A ton of bars/clubs. Oh yeah, and a ton of hookers, but I'll get to that later. There was this awesomely hilarious AC/DC cover band of all Thai dudes. They were playing thunderstruck and SHREDDING on guitar, but they did have very heavy accents which made it more awesome in a way.

Just a Pole Dancer in a Glass Box Looking Down on Walking Street
Anyway, we head in to a club and do the standard club things. I'll keep it vague because my friends will know what this means while my mom (hopefully) won't. One interesting thing was that one of the female workers absolutely loved me even though we couldn't talk. She immediately cornered me and started dancing. I guess the whole big white guy things really is a bonus over here.

Eventually I had to whizzle, so I went to the bathroom and commenced. Mid stream, I sense the presence of someone behind me. I turn my head, and it was in fact two someones. Standing right behind me. When there were plenty of open urinals. I look forward again, thinking that maybe if I don't believe in them, they'll stop existing (like Santa Claus). This didn't work. They both started digging their hands in to my back, giving me a very pleasant massage. Fortunately, I had been drinking, so I kind of just went with it.

After emptying the tank, I zipped up and turned around. They were both standing there, smiling. Then they advanced! One went behind me and lifted me off the ground, cracking my back. The other grabbed my arm and twisted me while the first kept my lower body in place. Finally, they went in for the finishing blow by grabbing my head and quickly twisting my neck. In the end they cracked my spine four times. At the time I wasn't sure if I had survived attempted murder or if I should thank my assailants. Since I was feeling way better, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and tossed over a few baht.

At the end of the night, I was all alone. One thing had led to another and I was separated from everyone. No worries, I drunkenly told myself. It's a warm night, I'll just walk back. It's only 3:00 in a foreign country in a seedy part of town. What's the worst that could happen? I put on my "don't mess with me" face, and start walking. In retrospect, I should have paid closer attention to where I was walking and not how I was walking. Whatever.

So I'm walking down the side of this beach and it's kind of odd. I can't take 5 steps without there being a scantily clothed woman sitting there, staring at me. Then the cat calls began. "ooooh handsome man!" they squealed. "You so sexy", "Take me home!". I was getting some serious deja vu of how it was back in America, but I powered through. "Not tonight!" I told the ladies of the night.

I had almost made it through the Sea of Hooker. Their population was much thinner now, and their calls did not have as much fire in them. I thought I was in the clear, but then a giant ladyboy appeared from out of nowhere. She must have been 6'4" in her heels, and she was bearing down on me like some kind of freight train that used to be a man. It was like the boss battle at the end of a level. I would either pass this test or meet my end. "Slow down, sexy!" the monster roared as she attacked from my left. She went high, trying to wrap me up in some kind of hug/tackle. I went low, employing the spin move that I practice before bed every night for just such an occasion. My head grazed her arm, but I had escaped... for now. I followed through with my spin move, catching her in the back and adding to her sideways momentum. Instinct took over and I jogged through, finishing my technique. I figured I would be well ahead of her.

I turned around, preparing for another onslaught, but no one was there. I can only assume that after being defeated, the ladyboy, like Dracula, turned into a bat and flew away, searching for the next victim.

After all of the excitement, I calmed down and realized that I was totally lost. I couldn't turn back, I would surely be captured after the hooker regrouped. So I continued to walk. After about 40 total minutes of walking, I gave up. Luckily, there were still some motorcycle taxis that could take me back to the hotel. I survived the night, but sometimes at night, I think I can hear the flapping of leathery wings in the distance...

Nosferatu!