Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I'm leaving for Isaan to meet my honey's family!
I've got my train tickets and I'm ready to go! I'll be leaving Hatyai around 5:00 p.m. and arriving in Khon Kaen at 5:50 in the morning on the 14th. Mam and I will spend a good two weeks together, before departing together on the 26th, to Hat Yai.

I'm really looking forward to meeting Mam's family, but it'll be a challenge as they don't speak any English and probably nothing more outside of their local Isaan dialect or Lao.

But Mam speaks not only traditional Thai, Lao and Isaan, but also English. She's excited about the train ride back, as she's never been on a train before, and we're going first class all the way.

We'll be back on the 28th, so look for more posts then...


Monday, October 03, 2005

Eating weird stuff...101.

To carry on with my past theme of “eating weird shit in Asia,” I’ve gotta say that it’s a never-ending episode here.

Having changed my routine somewhat, and beginning to head out later at night for my daily victuals run, I’ve happened upon an interesting food stand that offers very “different” sorts of food. Some of these “different” sorts of food are pretty nasty, like the preserved, salted egg in oyster sauce…but others are not only good, but actually entertaining!

I’d eaten at this place maybe three times, witnessing their nightly fireworks display, as they dumped a dishful of vegetables into hot, flaming oil and stir-fried this mixture for maybe three minutes. Flames shot up three feet from the frying pan as the woman winced, spatula in hand, while stir-frying this mixture.

Finally, a Thai friend in tow, who speaks good English and even better Thai, found out for me that this flaming mixture was actually stir-fried morning glory.

Yep, you heard me right. Morning Glory.

But hold on…before you start envisioning blue conical flowers, climbing vines and hallucinogenic seeds, it’s not like you think.

I’ve done my research, but as with any research done here in Southeast Asia, it’s all subject to change upon the “more reputable claims” by other groups.

Morning glory…or “Asian water spinach,” is very different than the climbing vine variety that you are thinking of, however, it’s from the same family of plant.

An online news article states: “Ipomoea aquatica has become a significant invasive species in the waterways of Florida, and is therefore illegal in that state.”

…..Well, maybe you should employ some Southeast Asians in your local restaurants!

Upon final discovery, I cautiously ordered some stir-fried Morning Glory. The woman chopped up my meal, added a dash of mystery sauce, a dab of diced chilies, some soy sauce, and who-knows-what-else and all of it went flying into a huge ball of flame.

The result?

Absolutely delicious! Crisp, hot, spicy vegetables in a semi-oily base, with a spicy snap to them!

In my research, the Cambodians claim initial rights to this dish, called “Ta-Koung” or simply “Takoun.” But…this popular dish is known in China as, “keng xin cai,” or ‘empty heart vegetable’ because of the hollow stems. It’s also known as “ong choy” in parts of China, “pak hung” in Thailand, “kangkung” in Indonesia and “rau muong” in Vietnam. Just in case you were wondering.

Many of you might scoff at these “language lessons” but believe me, they are “SURVIVAL” here in southeast Asia.


Monday, September 19, 2005

When it comes to learning languages, I’ve always sucked.

Looking back at my first grade Spanish class in El Paso, Texas, I remember that old witch Miss Velasquez (God rest her soul, as she’s certainly dead by now) who surely hated my guts because I couldn’t pronounce “Orange” or “Nose” correctly in Spanish.

I can pronounce them now, but as they say, “Too little, too late.”

Miss Velasquez wore her glasses around her neck, on a chain, and carried around a foot long “switch” that she hit us with if we weren’t paying attention. I remember too, that her breath always smelled like cloves.

I was hit a lot, since I was what the faculty dubbed, “A Dreamer.”

Well, everybody dreams right?

Yeah, but you’re evidently NOT supposed to dream during the day…else, you’re labeled the horrific, “DAY DREAMER.”

Nothing much has changed since those early days…I’m still a daydreamer, and I still suck at learning languages.

My payback?

My Buddhist karma has placed me in the opposite position in the classroom…as the LANGUAGE TEACHER, and as luck (did I say luck?) will have it, as a GRADE ONE through THREE English teacher of Thai students.

Wanna venture a guess about one of my biggest problems with these students?

Damn! You folks are quick!

Day Dreamers.

A whole slew of them.

No, I don’t wear my glasses on a chain around my neck.

No, I don’t hit the kids with a stick when they pronounce, “School” as “Sakoool,” or “Kitchen,” as “Chicken.”

But I do spend a fare amount of time cuing Chu, my Thai classroom partner, to get the kids attention when I’m teaching a lesson.

Today, for whatever reason, I was reminded of myself, some forty-four years ago…, which caused me to smile, and shake a finger at one of those dreaded…



Sunday, August 21, 2005

For the love of Pete...(literally?)

Google search strikes again!

While doing an image search for "Running Snake" I came upon this image for Butt Cream.

I'm trying to prepare a lesson for my kids using "Can & Can't," so I was going the animal route..."A fish can swim," "A snake can't run," etcetera, etcetera, when I discovered BUTT CREAM.

I'm not sure about the connection between "Running Snake" and "Butt Cream" and I'm not even going to try and figure it out.


Thursday, August 18, 2005

I learn something every day!

Last year, while teaching my students the "Family," theme, I had a couple students mention that they had two fathers, two mothers, or both. I laughed it off, assuming, in my western mindset, that the kids were from a broken family.

I didn't think twice about it until this year, when I introduced "Family" again and received another, overwhelming response of kids claiming two (or in some cases more) fathers or mothers.

This time it caught my attention, so I asked my Thai assistant and good friend Chu, (Wichuda Kaewphibool), "What is this thing about two mothers or fathers?"

It seems that some rather large Thai families, (some are incredibly large, with as many as twelve or more children), may offer out their children (some or all) to surrogate parents for certain days of the week, the weekend, or other arrangements.

Mae Bun Tum: Means second mother.

Por Bun Tum: Means second father.

As Chu explained to me, some families may turn their kids over to the second (or surrogate) parent on certain days, or whenever needed.

The second (surrogate) parent is most often a single woman, often divorced, who has no children, or has free time to spend, giving his or her time, affection, and knowledge to the greater good of the kids.

Although it isn't as common for children to have a surrogate dad, some do, often naming their surrogate father as their father, rather than the one who is most absent from their lives.


The monsoons here are incredible. I can't say enough about them.

Perhaps it's because I came from a dry climate...The desert southwest (southwest Texas).

I've experienced rains in many locales and countries and nothing seems to compare to the rains here in southern Thailand.

After school today I decided to stop off at my favorite Thai restaurant. I ordered one of my favorite dishes, fried pork, mixed vegetables over rice with soup (pork vertebrae with bean sprouts, green onion, and flavorful broth) and a side dish of cucumber and raw green onion, all mixed with pungent, aromatic, and spicy Thai peppers...of course.

After finishing my meal at 2:15 p.m., it had begun to rain.

Five minutes later, it was a solid downpour, and by 2:35 p.m., I was soaked to the bone even though I had my umbrella with me.

It seemed as though the rain was coming in from every angle.

Now I'm home. It's 4:00 p.m. The rain is only now beginning to let up.

Over an hour and forty-five minutes of heavy rain...

This kind of rain in southwest Texas would kill people.

Looking out my front door, I can easily understand where the metaphors, "Curtain of rain," and "Sheets of rain," come from.

The thing that baffles me, is most of the soil here is clay...red clay...clay doesn't absorb water. So, I wonder, "Where the hell does it go?"

People here are used to the monsoons and seem to coexist with them well, but, I've seen pictures of past years when flooding took its toll on southern Thailand and still threatens to wreak havoc again.

What will this year be like?

The anticipation leaves me breathless.


Saturday, August 13, 2005

I woke up to a hazy world today.

A smoky scent tainted the air; which, although not uncommon here in southern Thailand where everyone seems to look for a reason to burn something, lasted most of the day.

By early afternoon I was getting curious about the smoky air. Suddenly it dawned on me..."The forest fire situation in Indonesia."


Weird. I had read about it, but didn't think it would affect us this far east. I could smell the burning smell, a lot like burning grass, most of the day, until our monsoon rains came in early afternoon and cleansed the air.

But not for long.

The haze was back by late afternoon.

Sometimes the rains here amaze me. The sky will suddenly get dark, the winds will pick up, and the rain will fall at an incredible rate. Looking outside my front door, I see where the metaphor, "A curtain of rain," comes from.

Currently the kids are outside screaming, "Nueng, song, sam, see, ha, hok, jet, paet, kao, sip, sip-et, sip-song, sip-sam"...while feverishly jumping rope in front of my house. They love it when I venture out and I stop and take the time to watch their antics.

Yesterday was the Queen's birthday, but I didn't go out into town. I only participated in the festivities by watching the fireworks from my balcony last evening.

Although I know my surroundings well, sometimes I just choose to vegetate in my apartment, reminiscing about Thai life and how that life interacts with a foreigner like me...

Till later,

Friday, August 12, 2005

Sorry for the long absence, but I've been busy...Well, not really busy-busy, just pre-occupied. Not much to report lately, but then I haven't really been in the writing mood of late.

Soi 3, the road I live on, looks like a freaking war zone. The Thai utility construction drones have been working on some damn project I can't figure out and lately this has included ripping up our road for seemingly no valid reason.

They ripped it up two weeks ago and have done nothing since. It's as if they got drunk one night and said, "Hey, we eventually have to rip up the road, but let's do it WAY early and screw up all the neighborhood foot and motor traffic so we can watch people struggle!"

Now that I think of it, this appears to happen in the west too. Perhaps construction crews are close members of a worldwide union. Maybe the famous "WAR PRESIDENT" should declare war on highway construction crews worldwide, instead of interferring in the middle east and killing innocent citizens???


I'm getting ready to begin practice for this year's play, "Goldilocks and the three bears." This year we're making it bigger and better! Last year we only had around fifteen kids or so. This year we're presenting thirty children, a good majority of them first graders, so things ought to be fun and interesting.

I've dumped my private class because I got sick of their laziness and I wasn't getting paid enough. But, there is a possibility I might restart it again later, but under different circumstances. So now, my Tuesday and Thursday afternoons are free! My free time is important to me.

Well, enough for now. Just wanted to let you all know I'm still alive and kicking. I'm on a day off today since it's the Queen's birthday...three day weekend! Stay tuned!


Saturday, June 18, 2005

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Happy Birthday!

This Sunday marks the 60th birthday of the famous Myanmar pro-democracy advocate and Nobel Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Unfortunately, she'll be celebrating yet another birthday under house arrest.

Myself, as well as people all over the world, will have her in their thoughts and wishing her continued courage and strength in her fight for democracy and human rights in Myanmar.


Monday, May 23, 2005

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The new term has started and what a delightful bunch of kids I have this year! The holiday was awesome, but I was getting a bit bored and restless, so it's good to get back to work again.

A new classroom was built, just for my youngsters and I. We now occupy the old listening lab upstairs in the Prathom building, so it's convenient for all my students as well as myself and my Thai assistant Chu. The other classroom was nice, but it was a special classroom belonging to the school and doubled as a conference room for important events, so you couldn't really decorate all that much.

Now I have a whole classroom to fix up. In addition, plenty of nifty ideas for drawing and painting activities for the kids. Kind of like one big refrigerator door, if you know what I mean.

I've also begun teaching private classes in the evenings. My friend Wut and his sister Bua came up with the idea for an English discussion group and so far, it's evolved into an elaborate advanced English study class. The class is lucrative, as well as enjoyable, and we've even begun an online English discussion site.

On the home front, I've gone cooking crazy. Over the holidays, I went out and purchased a slow cooker, convection oven with rotisserie, microwave, and blender. I was getting pretty frustrated with my cooking limitations, so now I have no excuses. Nevertheless, cooking ingredients remain a bit of a problem.

During the holidays, I began to poke around Hat Yai, exploring new areas and asking questions about where to obtain certain cooking ingredients. My exploits paid off, leading me to a virtual cornucopia of okra, purple eggplant, avocados, imported cheeses, tortilla chips, lentils, cilantro, fresh basil, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, halibut, imported salmon, pitted black olives, and although I still can't find flour or corn tortillas, I've discovered a nifty little Indian restaurant that sells their Naan and Chapati (Indian flat breads) to me, in bulk.

Now when I have a recipe in hand, it becomes an adventure.

Legumes are located at the Rattakarn Road wet market, avocados and black olives at TOPS market in the basement of Central Department Store, tortilla chips at Carrefour and salsa at Tesco Lotus...then a quick motorcycle taxi ride to Namaste Orange Indian Restaurant for my Naan or Chapati.

I've got more exploring to do, as I've heard of a place where I can buy blue cheese! Buffalo wings here I come!


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Do you like poetry?

If you do, you should visit the "Making Sasha," site. It's curiously gluttonous!


Thursday, May 05, 2005

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Hanging meat in an Asian wet market...

A Day in the Life of Jeeem in Thailand

Forging on down the road past the "Number Two Tables," I wander into our local wet market to purchase some coffee and ingredients for a stew I'm making.

Wet markets, famous in Asia, are so-named because of the water on the floor. Controversial in many parts of the world as, "Disease harboring cesspools," one has to experience a wet market to fully understand the allure that these local revelations of cultural diversity create.

My first trip to an Asian wet market was in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur, Philippines. Outside the market, I witnessed four Filipino men trying to load a huge, bound, screaming, squealing hog into the back of a tiny motorella. I remember feeling sympathetic for this poor animal, but looking back, I realize that most Asian people do not share the love for animals that westerners do.

The next thing I remember about that wet market was the smell.

Wet markets sell a little bit of everything. Shirts, shoes, fruit, live animals, candy, dry goods, vegetables, cooked food and of course...raw red meat, hanging on steel hooks. Refuse is often thrown into drains or tossed about on the floor, only to be washed away at the end of the day or the start of the new day.

At first, the smell is enough to make you gag. Chickens are slaughtered on site, the blood spewing about onto the floor; fish are cleaned on tables smeared with blood, scales and assorted grime, their entrails dumped in buckets or onto the floor. Where there are live animals, there is excrement.

You get the idea.

But, having experienced wet markets in the Philippines, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, and Malaysia, I can quite honestly say I'm used to them by now. Being the only foreigner here in my village, the locals know me by now and they always get a kick out of seeing me shopping in their market. You can get some pretty good deals if you know what you're doing and can speak a little bit of Thai.

Tao rai? (How much?)

Hok sip baht? (Sixty baht?)

Oh no, no, no! Yee sip baht! (Twenty baht)

(Querulous look of mock disgust)...See sip baht! (Forty baht)

(Mildly querulous look of mock disgust in return)...Sam sip baht. (Thirty baht)

I walk away with my item, having agreed on the price of thirty baht. However, in reality, if I had been Thai, I probably would have only paid, "Sip baht," or ten baht.

Oh well, that's half the fun of shopping at a wet market. You get to practice your Thai and get a little entertainment on the side.

There are some items at our wet market that you won't find in the local walk-in stores. I can purchase fresh prawns of varied sizes and even get some pretty nice fish fillets to fry up at home. I've discovered some fresh herbs, romaine lettuce, daikon radish, and fresh ginger root, which is hard to find elsewhere.

Well, time to move on down the road. Join me again for my next adventure, won't you?

Posted by Hello

I have bronchitis again.

Seems every year I come down with this annoying, semi-chronic condition...a grim reminder of my slothful days of smoking.

I've been offline for a while because the phone lines have been dysfunctional. The Thai labor crew droids have been hard at work on Soi 3, hammering, cutting, smashing, and generally destroying part of the road and riverbank. Consequently, they bundled all the phone and power lines together and strung them up in a tree, to allow passage of their earth moving equipment.

Real professional.


A Day in the Life of Jeeem in Thailand

In seven more days, I will be returning to teach after my two months of holiday time. Its been a nice break but a tad boring at times when I was down for the count with my coughing spells. Therefore, I took to the roads exploring, shopping and discovering, every chance I got.

In a foreign country, you see some of the strangest things...things that seem to defy explanation, only because they are foreign and you can't figure out what they are because you don't speak the language.

One of these "Things," are the ever-present folding tables set up on the sidewalk around Thailand, with a large red sign placed on the table and a large, white, number "2" written on it. Often these tables are unmanned, with nothing on the table other than the red sign. At other times, a Thai person is sitting there with mobile phones lying about and a notebook laid out with Thai scribbling on it.

I make mental notes of these "Things," so I can later ask someone just what these things are. I don't always get an answer, but that's usually because my description of the said "Thing," is severely lacking. However, my description of the "Number Two Tables," received a quick response.

Mobile phones, even here in Thailand, can be expensive. Some of them fetch prices in the 8000 to 12,000 baht range, depending on the bells and whistles they possess. So, enterprising Thai's will set up a "Number Two Table," charging two baht per minute for the use of their phone(s).

Mobile phone-less people wander by, spot the number two table, and stop to make a call. No fuss, no muss...no phone cards or hot phone booths. The advantage to the "Number Two Table," owner? In time, their proceeds pay for the phone itself and eventually for the phone credit cards that charge them. In my neighborhood, along the main road, I've spotted as many as four of these tables set up within a kilometer radius.

Time to move on...join me at the wet market, won't you?


Friday, April 08, 2005

Muslim Militants Move North?

This is the third time in my Asian saga in which I've encountered the subject of bombs.

The first was in Manila, Philippines, the second in Nagoya, Japan and now here in the deep south of Thailand.

Southern violence by Muslim militants, in the past, have mostly taken place in the three border provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat (all further south of me) until just recently.

At 8:25 p.m. on April 3, an explosion rocked the Carrefour department store on Phetkasem road in Hat Yai. Shortly thereafter, bombs went off at Hatyai airport (where two people were killed) and at the Green World Palace Hotel in Songkhla city, a hotel I recently stayed at overnight. All these places are fairly close to home, seeing that I travel to Hat Yai on a fairly frequent basis and have friends in Songkhla city.

What to think?

Well, I for one realize that the chance of my getting killed while crossing one of the busy roads here in southern Thailand, or from eating tainted food from one of the many street hawker stands, is most probably greater than my number coming up on a bomb...but, it's something I'm definitely going to keep my eye on in the local news.

The violence in the Deep South has not been squelched by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's paper crane episode, so I'm wondering what else he has up his sleeve. I hope it involves something a bit more aggressive than dumping trash on the heads of angry Muslims.


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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

One of the first things we learn in life is we are responsible for our actions...unless of course you are a celebrity.

Martha Stewart, inmate 55170-054, recently released from the Alderson Federal Women's prison in West Virginia after her whopping five months incarceration, is now free again to unleash more of her insults and mistreatment upon the American public.

It doesn't take much research to uncover the fact that Stewart has a gleaming reputation as a royal bitch.

Her statement upon release from federal prison:

"The experience of the last five months in Alderson, West Virginia has been life altering and life affirming. Someday, I hope to have the chance to talk more about all that has happened, the extraordinary people I have met here and all that I have learned. I can tell you now that I feel very fortunate to have had a family that nurtured me, the advantage of an excellent education, and the opportunity to pursue the American dream. You can be sure that I will never forget the friends that I met here, all that they have done to help me over these five months, their children, and the stories they have told me."

Life altering and life affirming?

What sort of namby-pamby horseshit is that?

She goes on to say...

"Right now, as you can imagine, I am thrilled to be returning to my more familiar life. My heart is filled with joy at the prospect of the warm embraces of my family, friends, and colleagues. Certainly, there is no place like home."

"There is no place like home."

Been revisiting the Wizard of Oz in the Alderson rec room Martha?

Personally, I was hoping she would buy a good solid sentence of about twelve to twenty years without parole, but then...that's the American justice system for ya.

I have a friend back home who is doing better than five years for growing ganja. He's a wonderful guy with tons of friends, has no prior record, and to my knowledge never insulted another human being on earth. Upon his release, his life will be all but ruined. I sincerely doubt he'll be calling his experience, "Life altering and life affirming."

Five months?


Karma's gonna get ya Martha babe!


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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Thai Spirit Houses

Many Thai people believe that when a Thai family builds a new house, there is always the possibility that it has disturbed the spirits who live on the property.

In order to protect their new home from the spirits revengeful harm or mischief, some Thai families put up a little model house (SAN PHRA PHUM) on a pole for the spirits to live in. The spirit house must be located somewhere on the grounds where the shadow of the human house will never fall on it.

Offerings of incense, candles, fruit, drinks, flower garlands, rice, chicken, eggs, betel leaves and little figurines representing servants, dancers, elephants, and cars, will be placed here, because the spirits must be kept happy at all costs.

Amazingly enough, though they look like houses and are temptingly stocked with food, the spirit houses are almost never occupied by birds. Perhaps even the birds respect these invisible beings.


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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Well, our play “The Three Little Pigs,” was a tremendous success!

I was doing fine, last Thursday, as I walked to school…until I reached our classroom and saw all the kids adorned in their costumes, huge smiles on their made-up faces, tittering on the edge of excitement.

Then I became nervous.

I went through a series of terrible, “What ifs,” which threatened to dampen my past optimism. The “stage father” was fretting something awful. The kids noticed this of course and surrounded me, hugging me, and cajoling me to smile and mellow out.

They succeeded of course, as they usually do, and I slowly began to take deep breaths and tell myself everything would be fine.

Once we entered the backstage wings, the rest was a blur. It went fast! Seemingly much faster than in our rehearsals and it was all over in no time flat. None of the problems I envisioned ever happened. Things went so smoothly it wasn’t even funny.

To say I was proud when the applause burst forth would be a terrible minimization. It seemed I couldn’t stop smiling, even though my cheeks hurt.

I love those kids and right now, as I look back on that moment, I cannot think of anything that would possibly have made me happier than to see their happy faces as they bowed to the appreciative audience.

I look forward to doing this again next year.

Speaking of “Next year,” I am prepared to sign another contract for yet another year here in southern Thailand. Although I have had a numerous amount of job offers from other provinces in Thailand, I have decided to stay here another year and teach these wonderful children again.

The “unobtainable one” is another reason I have decided to stay, but certainly secondary to my beautiful, wonderful Thai children.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

A Day in the Life of Jeeem in Thailand

Today I’d like to take you with me on my walk to school…

Dressed and ready, we walk out my front door, step upon the covered porch, and stamp out our shoes to rid them of the creatures that inhabited them during the night.

Grabbing our umbrellas (because you never know when a thunderstorm will hit and you DON’T want to be caught in a Thailand thunderstorm…), we unlock the outside gate and re-lock it once we’re outside, descending onto Soi three.

Rounding the bend of the river, some of the local children notice us and approach…some uttering “Farang! (Westerner)” and others just clamoring to shake our hands and say hello or good morning, or just get a good look at us.

We follow Soi 3 (rural road) toward the bridge, waving to several families who recognize us, either because they have children who are taught at our school, or because they know we live in the neighborhood.

We pass beneath the sacred tree, with a trunk so wide, twelve men might find it difficult to surround it by joining hands. There’s a marble alter built in front of this tree, with several bronze, Buddhist figurines set upon it. To the right of the alter is a three foot, concrete fa├žade of a Cobra snake, black back and white underbelly, with open mouth, exposed fangs, and a multitude of offerings stuck in it’s mouth. Today, we observe, there’s an egg in there and several flower necklaces hanging from the Cobras’ fangs.

Spiritual offerings are placed all about the marble alter, including dishes of food, burning incense, flowers, burning candles, and liquid offerings. The huge tree trunk is adorned with many multi-colored swathes of silk cloth. Spirit houses* adorn the base of the tree trunk, as well as trinkets and a small disco ball, which hangs from a nearby tree limb.

Moving on, we encounter several people passing by on motorcycles, most who recognize us and either smile, beep, or wave. We nod recognition and receive many broad smiles. This being, of course, the Land of Smiles.

The local mechanic is up and about this morning, a cornhusk cigarette hanging from his lips, as he grins and waves. We cross over the bridge, take an abrupt right, and head north on route 4, gazing at the traffic, which is immense even for 7:30 in the morning.

Songtheaws and buses stream past, honking and waving down passengers heading south to Sadao.

We come upon the local petrol station, where two of the employees are waiting for us.

The gasoline jockeys employed here, are quite friendly. The bigger one of them sports a huge beer belly and constantly walks around the lanes with his tee shirt hiked up, exposing his rotund belly to everyone who can see. Every morning he smiles, salutes, and says, “Good Morning Teacher!” His son is a student at our school, in Prathom four.

The other gasoline jockey is an older fellow, skinny as a rail, but always with a smile plastered on his face. He greets us with a hearty, “HALLO!”

We walk on…passing the discount clothing shop, the bus stop, and crossing the side street, we come upon my good friend who has had a stroke. His face is waxy and you can see the bells palsy on the right side of his face. He is standing today, shaking his hands vigorously, religiously doing his physical therapy exercises. He smiles at us and winks, not wanting to disturb his rhythm.

In the next block, we come upon my muscle bound Thai friend. He always smiles and sometimes he has his pretty wife with him and his adorable son. We’re lucky today, for as we approach, he is hoisting a huge bag of rice on his shoulders and his wife and son are sitting only paces away. We approach and as they notice us, their smiles warm our hearts. The little one puts down his breakfast bowl and comes to us, wanting to shake hands. We shake hands with him and utter ‘Sawasdee Krap’ to the mother and her husband, as we forge onward in our morning journey.

Approaching the main street in Thunglung, our eyes downward, looking for dog poop, as there are many resident dogs in this stretch and they only have one place to poop and that’s the sidewalk.

Rounding the corner and heading east on main street, we pass the caged Mynah bird, who squawks, “Hello!” This seems so bizarre, in a world of Thai language; we have a damn bird who speaks English!

Main Street is lined with small stores and restaurants, which are mostly quiet now…only to become very active in the early evening. We head towards the village’s central park and turn left, heading toward Phatong Wittaya School. Several Songtheaws, buses, trucks and whatnot, stream by…loaded with school children from the surrounding neighborhoods. Out of these packed vehicles we hear, “Teacher! Teacher!” Alternatively “Mr. Jim!” We wave in recognition, much to the pleasure of the kids.

Waving to the throngs of students, we proceed along the sidewalk that borders the park, heading to school. Looking up, tangled in the power lines, are huge spider webs, replete with huge, black and white spiders, the size of a man’s hand. I shudder at the thought of these incredible beasts, but I’m aware that they exist in plentiful form in all countries of Southeast Asia, and are quite harmless.

The park is narrow and long and as we stroll along, suddenly out of the north comes a loud "BLEEEEE!" Suddenly, a rusted, worn looking locomotive and it's attached cargo cars, come streaming by, bleating out it's warning as it streams past this idealistic children's park. The irony in this fails to settle fully on me.

Finally, we approach the school. To our left is a throng of food carts, steam and blue smoke coming off some of them, all of them surrounded by throngs of schoolchildren in their daily uniforms (girls in blue pleated skirt and white blouse and boys in black shorts and white shirt).

The fare offered is as diverse as one can imagine. Breakfast treats are offered, wrapped in banana leaf, or served in shallow dish. Thai dishes consisting of barbequed chicken or pork, shrimp and cockle dishes, also are prevalent…causing my taste buds to protest. In Thai culture, dishes eaten at midday are likewise eaten in the morning hours.

The school grounds are not unlike an anthill, busy with workers, students, teachers and the like….we have arrived. We Wei the welcoming party at the gate, as we enter and head for our classroom, admidst more cries of, "Teacher! Teacher!"

*explained in more detail at a later posting


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

I've been lazy.

Actually, I've been rather lethargic.

This heat is really oppressive! We haven't had rain now for...um, maybe two months? Still, there's the humidity that no doubt comes from all the lush vegetation around here. So, when I get home from work, jumping into the shower, slipping into some shorts, having a cold glass of ice water and reading a book are on my immediate agenda.

We're winding things down at school, getting ready for the spring break. This week I'm giving exams all week and then next week we'll be having the summer camp on Thursday and Friday.

The summer camp will begin with a short performance and then my kids will be performing, "The Three Little Pigs." Looking back, I remember selecting the characters and then someone thinking, "Oh! Are any of the little pigs Muslim?" We hadn't thought of that. Well, one of them is, but it was finally approved. Today he's a proud little pig.

The three little pigs (all boys and rather naughty, hyper ones at that), as well as their murderous foe the big bad wolf (played by our only first grader, a tiny little girl who is ferocious in her own right), received their custom made costumes today. If ever there was a proud teacher [pseudofather] it was me.

Having never had any children (up to this point of 49), I can really appreciate the "gift" parents talk about, amidst their complaints about the little rug rats more menacing behavior. Seeing these kids happy just makes my day.


On the "unobtainable one's" front, she's proving to perhaps be not so unobtainable. Perhaps I do listen to my big Sis in Michigan sometimes...just ask me more Shirl!

After the summer camp is over, vacation pretty much begins. Oops! I said, "vacation" didn't I? It's "holiday" around here and as I'm finding out...practically everywhere else in the world too, except the U.S. I've had to change a lot of my American ways living here in Asia. It seems that the U.S. does a lot of things differently than the rest of the world.

So, once my "holiday" begins, I'll have damn close to a month and two weeks of paid time off. My old childhood buddy Jesus was planning on flying out to visit me for a couple of weeks in April but his plans got cut short when he took a new job and has to get through the 90 day probation period first. Hopefully he'll come out in October.

Well, that's all for now. I hope to post another "Jeeem's life in Thailand" series soon, if I can find some energy waiting for me at the end of the day.


Friday, February 11, 2005

A Day in the Life of Jeeem in Thailand

I’ve been thinking about doing this for months, but you know how it is….one thing leads to another and things get in the way. Well, I’ve a couple days off and not much to do except play on the computer, so here we go…

“Jim’s Quiet Musings…” as you all know, is a lie. I’m rarely “Quiet” about anything in my life. Wanda used to say to me, “Jim, you are one of the most assertive people I know…you say exactly what’s on your mind. The trouble is your delivery sucks!”

I learned a lot from that woman. May she rest in peace.

I got to thinking about the “purpose” of this blog. What’s the purpose of any blog? I suppose there are as many purposes as there are blogs. My purpose, I think, is to share my experiences and thoughts about my life with people who may be interested in them.

I must admit, I’ve been remiss about sharing my true “musings,” with the world.

I live in Thailand now, but I have lived in Asia for coming up on two years, and have failed miserably in sharing the minor stuff that is knocking around in my head most times. Being a westerner, one can’t help but compare daily life in Asia to stuff more familiar back home….

That is the stuff that’s interesting!

School lunch

Most days I eat lunch in the school cafeteria. Some days I skip it, depending on what’s being served, but most days I eat there because it’s free and well…I’m hungry.

I wait to eat until just about 12:10 p.m., because that’s the time when there’s a lull (peace and quiet) between Prathom 1, 2 & 3 (Grades one, two and three) and the beginning of lunch for Prathom 4, 5 and 6 and Mathayom (high school) kids.

The school cafeteria is an open concept design. What I mean by “open concept” is, well…it has a roof, but no outside walls. Essentially like an outside picnic area. This idea is not new to Asian culture. The first time I saw this design was in the Philippines. In northeastern Mindanao, I visited a University that had no windows, per se. Just bars on the uh….openings.

My first “western” thought, upon seeing this, was…poverty. Nevertheless, after six trips to Asia, I finally figured it out…it’s the heat. Classrooms are NOT air-conditioned. Air-conditioning classrooms in Southeast Asian heat would be like putting a Band-Aid on every mosquito bite. It’s not only impossible, it’s expensive.

The heat is oppressive, so open concept….well, .works!

So, I waltz through the “open-concept” cafeteria, surrounded and embraced by my loving students, to arrive at the kitchen. I hunt out the plastic bowls and accept a dollop of rice from one of the kitchen crew. I then hunt around through the various huge containers for the Thai treat of the day.

The menu is usually the same, but it’s actually damn good. Yellow curried pork rice with string beans, spicy fried chicken parts, Daikon radish, mushroom and pork rice with vegetables, fish balls in a curried rice stew with rice, beef satay with peanuts and rice…the list goes on. The food is healthy and good, but God I’m so sick of rice!

As a reprieve, the school usually has a “snack” area that is set up for the kids (and me). This snack area offers delicious, unbelievably delicious snacks like: Fried Phatong shrimp, Seafood Wittaya wontons, fried sausage, spicy hot chicken wings, fried cuttlefish on a stick, fried octopus surprise and something that resembles fried tortilla chips in a sweet and sour sauce (sometimes stuffed with crab)…all generously supplied with heaps of sliced (and spiced) cucumber.

The “drink” section features a dark, sweet iced coffee – coconut juice with immature coconut rind, and an “orange juice” which is much more like some sort of powerful Gatorade mix, that is clearly my favorite. Other “special” drinks include “milk” drinks that are usually for the kids (and me) which are made with evaporated milk and something sweet, like cherry, blueberry, or other sweet flavors.

Tables are bussed by the students, which means that if you’re gonna sit down, you had better check out your chair first…as it’s often loaded with food particles left behind from first, second or third graders. Each child has their own assignment…push in the chairs, wipe down the table, collect the drink glasses.

Every day, several local, wild dogs course through the cafeteria, scrounging for food tidbits. The local cats are a bit more discreet. Birds swoop through the cafeteria, landing on empty tables to pick on remnants of rice and other little smidges.

My “Western” mind takes in all of this, thinking to myself: “Kids back home would Freak with a capital “F” just seeing a dog walking through their cafeteria…let alone a bird flying through their protected cafeteria, or a cat winding between student legs in search of a handout.

It seems westerners are so compartmentalized…whereas things here in Asia are just so simple.

Kids here in Southeastern Asia, walk past the dogs, birds and cats as if they weren’t there. I empty my dish in a five-gallon bucket near the cleaning area, often having to push the muzzle of a stray dog away from the bucket that he was eating from…

I think to myself, “All of this would just about totally ‘gross out’ a western kid. Sadly, I feel grateful and happy for the simplicity of life in Thailand, compared to the remorse I feel for the complexity of life in the west.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005

2005 The Year of the Rooster
In less than twelve hours, the Year of the Rooster will be upon us here in Asia. The quiet sound of wind blowing through bamboo, palm, coconut and banana trees surrounding my home is increasingly being shattered by the machine gun-like explosions of fireworks set off by my neighbors, supposedly to ward off bad spirits and sweep away the bad memories, leaving room for the new ones to enter with the new year.
An appropriately named New Year! Ironically so, because of the shrill awakening of my slumber every morning with the cackling, crowing, choking sounds of the infernal beasts that live around this neighborhood.
I don't think I'll ever get used to that sound.
I'm off for two days, in celebration of the Chinese New Year, mainly because we've got a heavy presence of Chinese in this neighborhood. So yes, I do get to practice a little of my Mandarin, which never seems to get much better, even though I still study at a fairly regular pace.
I'm starting to prepare some regular blogging about some of the basic, mundane events in my typical daily life here in southern Thailand, after realizing one day that although they are mundane to me now, some of the things I see and do, are rather odd by Western standards. Hopefully somebody will get some enjoyment out of my posts.
Of late, I've finished a rather disturbing book called, "Tuesdays with Morrie." Disturbing because it has managed to call attention to my somewhat lonely existence and brought back into focus, the importance of family.
I've always had a tendency to avoid looking at the very things I should be looking at, hoping beyond hope they would just dissolve or wisp away with the wind. But, nothing like having issues thrown up in one's face eh?
Thing happen for a reason, don't they?

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Sunday, February 06, 2005

It's a heat wave here in southern Thailand!
The cool months of December and January have left us and now the sweltering heat is creeping into February. Nights are tepid, mornings are warm, foggy and heavy with dew and by mid-morning it's hot, hot, hot.
At my school, the kids and I are busy putting together our skit, "The Three Little Pigs," for the upcoming English Camp, on the 10th and 11th of March. The kids and I are having a blast, but....the management of the school is having a bird.
Somehow, with management concerns, the presentations tend to drift from the childrens' hands, to the adult hands.
Suddenly it's, "This play has to be good, because the parents will be here to see it and they want to know that their kids are learning English appropriately!"
Somehow I'm managing not to get caught up in the management's paranoia, and I'm having fun with the kids. After all, I remember how important it was to me, to be an actor in a play in school at their age.
I teach approximately 1,050 students a week. All these students have Thai names or nicknames and it's impossible for me to remember all their names...but, I remember the names of the children in our play. I see them in the cafeteria, on school grounds and in the classroom...and I call them by name...
"Hello Namfon! (a small, skinny, Chinese looking girl with short, bowl cut hair) How are you?"
"Pichayet, (a short, pudgy faced Thai boy who speaks English with a flair) how are you doing today?"
"Prangtip! (An adorable young third grader, with pigtails and a devilish grin) How are you today?"
"Good afternoon Sarocha! (The cutest little second grade girl on the planet earth) Do you like rambutan?"
"Hello Hakimeen! ( A tall, shy Thai boy who dearly loves to speak English) Are you happy today?"
"Suchanat! (A sweet, pudgy Thai girl who's smile could light up New York) How is the weather today?"
"Pimpika!! (A tiny, cute, frail looking Thai girl who has a voice that would shake you out of your seat) Do you like to dance?"
And the list goes on....God, I love these kids so much! And they are doing wonderfully in their practice sessions for the play.
Other news?
  • I've fallen in love with a woman that is unobtainable (again).
  • I've been offered a job in North Western Africa for money that's double the highest amount I've ever made in my life.
  • I've made two new friends, one from Belgium and another from India.
  • I'm feeling unsettled for the first time in my life here in Thailand, mainly because of the job offer.
  • I'm reading the most I've ever read in my life.
  • I'm actually practicing my Chinese and my Thai and learning more and more phrases.
  • My long-time friend Jessie Herrera and I finally made contact after approximately fourteen years, and we may soon reunite.
  • I've made contact with another one of my childhood friends, who as it turns out, has been living in Japan for the last 22 years.
  • I'm beginning to get age spots.

Well folks, that's about it! Chinese New Year is fast approaching southern Thailand and I'm hoping that the fireworks won't be as loud or as frequent as when I was living in Guangzhou!


Posted by Hello

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!

Computer problems again. This time it was not only a faulty RAM chip, but a nasty virus to boot!

But, like a bad dream......I'm back once again!

I'll update this weekend probably, when I've got time...


Saturday, January 01, 2005

Well, it's New Year's Eve here in Thailand.

There are activities planned for tonight, celebrations in town, etcetera, etcetera, but I'm not interested. I'm enjoying my peace and quiet here at home, surrounded by reading materials and the makings for some pretty delicious western food.

I'm a pretty good cook, at least when it comes to western foods and Mexican food, but I'm limited to the supplies that Tesco Lotus in Hatyai has to offer. Most labels and descriptions are in English, which helps, but some things aren't, or they are called something different than their western counterparts.

Anyway, I'm making Philadelphia style cheese-steak hoagies tonight, something I learned from living in south Philly for three years. Yum, yum and double and triple yum. I simply can't wait. I picked up a big french roll, excellent green bell peppers, mayonaise, some hot orange peppers, onion, cheddar cheese (sharp), some semi-lean top round beef and some mushrooms that had that "mini portabella" look to them but were called something else I didn't recognize.

Firecrackers have been exploding all day and now, at 7:05 p.m., they are intensifying. Nothing I can't handle though, as I managed to get through weeks of the Chinese New Year, last year in Guangzhou, which can only be compared to being in a war zone of exploding shells for weeks at a time.

Something about the noise scaring the bad spirits away or some such nonsense.

I'm off until next Tuesday, so my plan is to take it easy, clean my house and read. I might head out to the wet market and pick up some shrimp ("Prawns" as they call them here) and cook up a Cajun seafood gumbo. Who knows.

I visited the bookstore at Lee Garden yesterday and picked up two books. Their selection sort of sucks really, but there were a couple books I think I can stomach. I asked them if they could "order" books and the conversation went like this:

"Hello. Um...can you order books for me? Books you don't have available here?"


"Books. Can you order them?"


"Do you have anyone who speaks English?"

Mr. Oooda points to a counter behind me. I thank him and saunter over.

"Hello. Can you order books for customers?"


Finally I just politely thanked her and left. Obviously the girl behind this counter was related to Mr. Oooda.

After purchasing my books I took a familiar jaunt to the Swan, a local haunt for foreigners that has a nifty yet small book exchange going on in one corner of the restaurant. I had with me my two recently read books, "The Dive from Clausen's Pier" and "Ladder Years" both graciously sent to me from my cyber-sis Shirl the Pearl.

I ended up picking out two paperback novels that I will probably have to choke through (although who knows, I may be surprised) and dickering with the guy behind the counter to get an even trade. At first he wanted 80 baht, but I just flipped the books over and showed him the prices (truthfully not even having a clue of the exchange rate) and telling him he was getting the deal of a lifetime.

It worked. I got an even trade, thanked him and left. I now have in my possession five books to read. I'm in literary heaven.....literally. Not quite the books I would have chosen to buy if I were at say....Borders or Amazon, but books all the same.

So, old fart that I am, I'm starting to enjoy my books again and learn to fold into that quiet place I know so well. School will begin on Tuesday and this coming Thursday we'll be beginning practice sessions for our school plays.

Me and my little ones will be doing "The Three Little Pigs," which ought to be a blast. Oh! I finally got my pictures back. Nothing earth shattering, but I will have to have my pal Auay scan them and get them online soon!

Happy New Year to you all!

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