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!


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