Saturday, July 05, 2008

I recently attended a three-day training course in Songkhla city at Simila Beach Hotel, right smack-dab on the beach overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. The twenty-hour course for foreign English teachers in Thailand covered Thai culture, Thai language, professional standards, and code of conduct presented by the Private School Teachers’ Association of Thailand (PSTAT). Foreign teachers in Thailand are now required to complete this training in order to qualify for a teacher license and work permit, both of which are needed to renew our non-immigrant “B” visa.

Attending the training were about thirty-five foreign English teachers representing: Canada, U.S., England, Ireland, The Philippines, Zimbabwe, Germany, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium, China and Croatia. It was a rare pleasure to be able to network with some of these teachers from such diverse backgrounds, and I walked away from the three-day training with a fair amount of new ideas as well as a few new friends.

I didn’t quite know what to expect from the Thai culture module but found it one of the more interesting components of the training if not the most confusing. Our first presenter, Ms. Puthachad Sucharitakul, luckily asked us to address her as “Sheena,” which was a helluva lot easier than trying to pronounce her Thai name. She was extremely informative and thorough (as well as very easy on the eye), walking us through various sub-headings such as: A General Knowledge of Thailand, Thai History, Thai Politics and Governance, Thai Ways of Life, Cross-cultural Values, and Thai Arts and Music.

Topics covered under “Thai Ways of Life,” were the Traditional Thai Social System, Thai Nature, Hierarchical Society, Thai Smile, Thai Tolerance, Sense of Safety and the very interesting and humorous, “Trying to Do Things Even When We Do Not Understand.” I found “Thai Ways of Life” the most difficult to understand as did many other foreign teachers from the West.

Having been educated in the U.S., Sheena had an excellent command of the English language as well as an in-depth knowledge of Thailand from her life growing up in Bangkok. She struggled, however, to explain the more complex underpinnings of Thai life, and several times resorted to offhand comments such as, “I realize this doesn’t make sense,” or “…which is totally non-productive,” leaving many of us (Westerners especially) with the feeling that “Thai Ways of Life,” were akin to shooting oneself in the foot. But, having lived in Thailand for four years, I felt I now understood things a little better after attending this course.

The topic, “Trying to Do Things Even When We Do Not Understand,” got just about everybody laughing, since any foreigner who has lived in Thailand for any length of time has undoubtedly encountered this phenomenon. The example given in class was the typical case of the lost farang and the ever-present tuk-tuk or motorcycle taxi driver eager to take him or her to their destination for a price (usually elevated above what a Thai would be charged):

Farang: “Sawasdee krab. Can you take me to the Royal Crown Hotel?”

Tuk-tuk or Motorcycle taxi driver: “Hah?” (Replete with puzzled look).

Farang: “Can you take me to the Royal Crown Hotel? The HO-TELL, ROY-ALL CR-OW-UN HO-TELL.” (For some odd reason, we foreigners think talking slower and louder makes the person we are talking to understand even though they cannot speak English).

Thai driver (Smiling widely and nodding profusely): “Ah! Yes, yes!”

Farang: “Thao rai?” (How much?)

Thai driver: Sam sip baht (Thirty baht – High farang price)

Farang (Looking annoyed but in a hurry): “Hum! Okay (Replete with frown).

Then, after about five minutes of convoluted twists and turns through narrow streets and heavy traffic, you arrive at…

A department store.


It’s one of the more simplistic and understandable absurdities in Thailand actually. The driver had no clue what you were asking or saying, but rather than admit he doesn’t understand (which is somewhat akin to losing face) he takes you to some destination that is his best guess as to where you want to go, probably based on where other farangs have asked him to go.

Day-two covered professional ethics and was presented by Miss Woramon Chulacharit, who for the life of me, for the first five minutes or so, I could not understand even though she was speaking English.

Eventually I began to understand once I focused on her Thai tonal pronunciation of English words (Thaiglish), which for the most part, have no tonal sounds. That, plus the fact she was obviously nervous, spoke in a low volume, minced her words, mumbled a lot, and was not familiar with the use of a microphone. Outside of that, she was a lovely lady and quite knowledgeable of the subject she was teaching.

Tonal-Thai pronunciation of English is something any native English speaker will notice upon their arrival to Thailand, whether conversing with a Thai individual, listening to the radio, or watching T.V. Thai’s consistently pronounce common English words using their five tonal sounds, which in some cases can distort the word so much as to render it incomprehensible. Other issues include the great difficulty Thai’s have with R’s and L’s, as well as V’s and W’s. More about this later…

Miss Chulacharit pissed a lot of foreigners off when she waded into the realm of new requirements and standards for foreign English teachers, issued by the Thai Ministry of Education and Teachers’ Council of Thailand.

Through the years here in Thailand, one too many foreign backpackers and transients have coursed through Thailand taking advantage of Thailand’s lax laws and requirements, declaring themselves “Native English Speakers,” and taking teaching jobs in various Thai schools just to earn a quick buck in order to stay in Thailand a little bit longer, to finance their carousing and merriment; often terminating their employment abruptly once they feel the need to move on, oblivious to how this affects the Thai school or their students.

Many foreigners devoid of the basic Thai requirements for a teachers’ license or work permit (Bachelors degree and TEFL certificate), will resort to the act of enlisting corrupt services (such as can be found on Khao San road in Bangkok), available in most of Thailand’s major cities, who for a price will counterfeit documents such as college degrees, TEFL certificates, GPA statements, and even false passport and visa documentation.

Some foreigners have gotten into small scrapes with the law after exhibiting behavior uncommon to the respected profession of a teacher, whereas others have committed unspeakable acts of misconduct severely tainting the reputation of foreigners in general. Foreign teachers who don’t fall into these categories, sometimes offend Thai’s due to their lack of knowledge of Thai culture, hence the new requirement of the training course I attended.

Pedophiles, criminals, tax evaders, dead-beat dads attempting to escape alimony payments, etcetera, all seek refuge in Thailand, often applying to become teachers of Thai youth. It is no wonder the system needs a change.

According to the new standards, Thailand’s Ministry of Education now requires foreign teachers of English to provide the following basic documentation:

*A Bachelor’s degree in Education
*A TEFL, CELTA or TESOL certificate – (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)
*The PSTAT 20 hour course on Thai Language, Culture, Professional Standards, and Code of Conduct for foreign Teachers.
*A valid Passport and non-immigrant “B” visa

In addition to these requirements a foreign teacher needs to also supply a physician’s health certificate, several one-inch, full-faced photos, a photocopy of teacher credentials from a foreign country (if available), a photocopy of a letter certifying teaching experience, a photocopy of receipt for 500 baht as payment of Teacher License fee, a photocopy of a teacher appointment letter or an employment contract with the specification of the date of the appointment, a photocopy of Work Permit or documents certifying residence in Thailand, a photocopy of Teacher Permit Certificate (Sor Chor 11), a photocopy of Teacher Appointment Certificate (Sor Chor 19 or Sor Chor 18).

In addition to these additions, it is now required that the foreign teacher who possesses a Bachelors degree in a field other than education, complete a certificate course in teaching at a local Thai university (about 60,000 baht and currently only available in Bangkok), or pass a knowledge equivalency exam through the Teachers’ Council of Thailand (at the cost of 4000 baht and currently only available in Bangkok).

I’m not posting this information on my blog to be exceedingly boring, but rather to “pass the word” so-to-speak, for those who Google my site in search of information about teaching in Thailand, as many teachers are not aware of these new standards and requirements.

During our training, one Canadian man had this to say:
“I have lived in Thailand for better than fifteen years and I know many foreign teachers who are good teachers but do not meet the current requirements of Thailand’s Ministry of Education and the Teachers’ Council of Thailand. So, based on these new standards, many of them may have to leave Thailand. As such, Thailand is ‘Shooting themselves in the foot,’ as has been previously mentioned, and you will undoubtedly lose many good teachers due to these new requirements.”

After this Canadian man’s statement, Miss Woramon Chulacharit, who works at Thailand’s Ministry of Education based in Bangkok, agreed fully.

“Yes, you are right. Due to these new requirements, many good teachers will be lost, but something has to be done to correct the problems we have been encountering on an increasing basis.”

Nobody disagreed with her, however, a small onslaught of suggestions followed.

Miss Chulacharit went on to say, “A perfect system does not exist, so through trial and error Thailand will have to work to achieve a system that works better than the one currently in place. Meanwhile, foreign teachers will have to learn to become more sensitive to Thai issues and culture. All however, is not lost, and foreign teachers should not panic as these changes are only in their infancy, with many, many loopholes present.”

This was verified by more than one presenter during our training stating in a rather underhanded way, “Do not worry about what you have been told, as things here in Thailand have a way of being molded in different ways.”

Finally on day-three, our very humorous presenter, Ms. Sunee Yaleamyat walked us through Thai Language and Culture. She is both a Thai English teacher and a teacher of Thai language. Her performance at our training was very refreshing and interesting, interjected with a lot of humor, which kept things from becoming boring.

Individual foreign English teachers attending this course ranged from minimal ability speaking Thai, to near-complete fluency. Ms. Sunee had a blast tearing apart our Thai pronunciations, stressing the five Thai tones:

- \ / ^ v

She mentioned before the beginning of her lecture, “Don’t worry, I will not require you to speak Thai in this class.” She obviously lied.

We all had fun as well as a lot of laughs while our humorous teacher coursed through the class shoving the microphone in front of our mouths as we struggled with Thai pronunciation.

“Do any of you have a black hair dictionary?” She asked, evoking a host of puzzled looks.

“Do any of you have a black hair dictionary?” She repeated, doing her best to look annoyed when nobody took the bait.

“Are any of you married to a Thai?” She shouted, eliciting quite a few huffed moans.

“When in doubt, always reach for your black haired dictionary!"

At one point during the class she mentioned the Thai word for “hot” as in weather temperature, not spicy. Her version: “Rōn” threw me somewhat since I had always known the word pronounced as “Lōn.” Or “Arai?” (Meaning ‘What?’) Spoken as, “Alai?”

This she explained as, “Some Thai people have difficulty pronouncing “R’s” so instead of saying, “Ron,” they will say “Lon,” for weather that is hot, and consequently will say “Alai?” for “What?” rather than “Arai?”

Ms. Sunee is a powerful motivator as well as a good speaker. After having attended her class I resolved to begin some serious home study, keeping a notebook and practicing my Thai on a regular basis. Nong, my Thai assistant at work, has agreed to help when she can, as I can understand her pronunciation better than my black haired dictionary at home since Mam is from Issan in the Northeast of Thailand and her pronunciation of Thai is heavily influenced by the local Lao dialect she grew up speaking.

Phohm tong paw-lao!



Most of us have them or at some time in our life have had them. To a greater or lesser degree they take their place in our lives, most often bringing us considerable joy and camaraderie.

A few weeks ago my close friend Jenni lost one of her dogs to cancer. He was six years old. According to a calculation I learned some time ago, that’s like forty-two in human years, if I remember right. Still way too young to die. Hearing about Jen’s loss got me to thinking about my Great Dane who died back in 1999. She was twelve years old - about eighty-four in human years.

Like my good friend Jenni, I was devastated by the loss of my pet and my grieving process lasted a long time. Even now, nine years later, I still experience sad moments when I think of her. I grieved more for my Great Dane back in 1999 than I have grieved for human losses in my life, including my parents.

Yesterday morning (Thursday, June 12th) Mam and I went through a horrible experience with the untimely death of our cat. “Cat,” our very original name for him, had been poking around upstairs in the early morning and unfortunately found the poison-laced tidbits we had placed on a piece of newspaper intended for the invasive rat we were trying to get rid of. Mam and I both, in a rush, had forgotten to put the poisoned food out of reach before letting our cat and dog into the house.

Although I was not as devastated as when my Great Dane died, I still feel a lingering sadness over his absence. “Cat,” was a temple cat. Dumped by the side of the road in a fertilizer bag with his brothers and sisters, in front of our local Buddhist temple about two years ago. When I first brought him home he was only about two or three weeks old and fit neatly in the palm of my hand.

Initially, Mam wouldn’t allow him in our house so I made a bed for him outside and fed him kitchen scraps by hand until he would take dry kitten food. Mam put on her best “grouchy face” whenever I would try to coax her into holding or petting him.

“I don’t like cats,” she announced, refusing to even acknowledge the cat’s presence.

Seemingly terrified by the world around him, he retreated inside the tiny ashbin of our barbeque grill, only coming out after considerable persuasion, and only when I had a delicious treat for him. He emerged a filthy, black smeared, ghostly grey vagabond with dull listless eyes oozing a thick green goop until I rubbed him clean with a moist towel. This act of kindness on my part was met with vicious little “puffs” and “fifs” from this tiny ball of fur, whom initially I didn’t figure would live to see next week.

About a month later I brought home a “temple puppy” that had undergone the same unceremonious dumping as the cat. Mam was much more accepting of our new puppy, with whom she immediately became attached. Meanwhile, “Cat,” was managing to survive quite well beyond my predicted week and ever so slowly began to win Mam’s heart, although she would never have admitted to it.

Puppy and Cat literally grew up together. The two of them seemed to sense their Buddhist Temple connection and became quite inseparable as the months wore on, playing together like two of the same species rather than much larger dog and tiny cat. Their bond was undeniably close, the two of them often laying down together cuddling and grooming each other. Eventually, Mam began to accept Cat into our house, but she drew the line at having him on the bed or on tables.

Our recent loss prompted me to write about the imprint our pets leave in our lives. Unlike human beings, animals appear to be so much simpler. By “simpler,” I don’t mean less intelligent, but rather the opposite. They don’t appear to possess the ability for harboring resentment nor live complicated lives full of worry, stress, hate, mental defects, depression or excessive fear. Their love for “humans” appears to be unconditional and I, for one, have learned quite a lot from my pets.

“Cat,” in my opinion, lived a fairly simple life. Every morning (except on weekends) I would wake at five a.m. and go downstairs to make coffee and read the Bangkok Post newspaper. Around six a.m., Mam opened our downstairs windows and “Cat,” would jump up on the windowsill yowling for “me” to come pet him (Not Mam, but ‘me’). After our petting “session” was completed Mam would put food down in our kitchen for him to eat.

While Cat was eating and Puppy was off visiting his neighborhood buddies, Mam would push our motorcycle outside. After the cat had been fed he would promptly exit the house and mount the motorcycle, sitting on its seat in peace until somebody moved him. We never completely understood Cat’s love for the motorcycle, but surmised that it was some sort of “refuge” for him. A place where he could retreat without being bothered. So, we began referring to him as, “Motorcycle Cat.”

During the day, if Cat wasn’t stealthily scouting the immediate area around our house for skinks, lizards, frogs, birds (especially doves, which he never could catch) and small snakes, he was either sleeping or hiding in some hollow of vegetation, or was roughly playing with his close buddy Puppy. If Puppy was gone from our house for a wee bit too long, Cat would begin crying as if saying, “Where is my friend?”

Now, when Mam opens the window in the morning, I feel a loss.

There is no more yowling for me to go to the window and scratch Cat behind his ears. At certain times I swear I see him out the corner of my eye causing a double take that leads to disappointment when I see he isn’t there. Today I thought I heard him yowling, believable enough that I went downstairs and looked outside. At other times, I could swear I hear the little bell around his neck dingling.

There will be no more poison brought into this house. Mam and I both have learned our harsh lesson. Meanwhile, I’m thankful for the joy and camaraderie Cat brought to us, and I miss him greatly.

Exist only in sweet peace my good friend.

Having worked in the medical field for over twenty-two years, being on the receiving end of medical treatment I am most definitely a self-confessed, lousy patient.
When they are sick, laypeople are usually the best patients simply due to their naiveté.

Roughly five years ago, while living in China, I began to notice some of the symptoms of diabetes, beginning with a poor healing wound on my right lower leg due to an Asian tattoo or muffler burn from a motorcycle taxi I had been riding. The next indication was a sudden numbness in my right upper thigh that I experienced during my first year living in Thailand. Next came intermittent numbness and tingling in my fingers and an occasional sweet smell from my urine. Then, about two months ago, I began to have a sudden onset of vision changes including blurring and difficulty focusing.

All these symptoms are indicative of Type II or “Adult onset diabetes,” however, being the lousy patient I am, I chose to ignore my symptoms until recently when I fell down the stairs in our house and suffered two deep cuts on my left lower leg.

My wounds appeared to be healing well but while Mam was in Chum Phae visiting with her family during Songkran festival, my wounds suddenly became increasingly inflamed and swollen. When she returned two weeks later I asked her to go to the local pharmacy and tell them I had a wound infection and needed some sterile dressings and decent antibiotics.

The pharmacist gave Mam a weeks supply of Cipro®, some sterile gauze dressings, and some Betadine® antibacterial solution. Luckily, here in Thailand you don’t have to visit a physician to obtain a prescription for antibiotics, so treatment of infections or other conditions requiring antibiotics is very cheap and easily obtained.

I took the antibiotic two times a day for five days and carefully changed my wound dressings twice a day. Eventually my wounds began to improve with a reduction of the swelling and less inflammation. About a week later Mam received the untimely news that her uncle had passed away during his stay in a Bangkok hospital for cancer treatment, so she had to fly back to Chum Phae for his funeral. She had been gone about a week when my wounds began to progressively worsen to the point of tissue necrosis and intense pain. I knew I needed to get to the hospital, but due to my lack of communicable Thai, I chose to wait for Mam to return.

She returned on a Saturday afternoon, looked at my left lower leg in horror, and within a couple of hours arranged for a neighbor to drive us to Rajyindee Hospital in Hat Yai since I was in no condition to walk very far.

Once we arrived at the hospital I was immediately whisked into the emergency room where a physician told me I would be admitted and would have to undergo immediate surgery for débridement of my leg wound. He then ordered the nurse to give me a most wonderful syringe full of glorious liquid via my I.V. tubing, sending me into unbridled, pain-free bliss, which changed my outlook on life in general, for the better, for at least the next four or five hours until I began to return to real life again and had to plead for more of the golden liquid.

That evening, around 7 p.m., I was taken to the operating room. I received spinal anesthesia, turning the lower two thirds of my body into an imperceptible bag of sand, had more glorious golden liquid pumped into my veins, and was returned to my room after only thirty minutes of surgery and a short period of recovery. My surgeon told me afterwards that he had to remove a sizeable portion of dead tissue from my left lower leg wound and also confirmed from blood tests that I had type II diabetes, which was the major cause of my poor wound healing.

This is a picture of my leg wound during one of my dressing changes after surgery. The nurse changing my dressing thought it rather odd that I would want a picture of my wound and she appeared a bit unnerved about it, possibly thinking I was taking pictures for legal evidence. I didn’t bother to try and inform her it was only for my blog posting, since I was pretty sure she would have thought of me as rather insane.

Mam, my own personal “Rock of Gibraltar,” stayed with me every day and night, sleeping on a cot provided by the hospital, right next to me and only left the hospital to return home for a couple of hours to feed and water our animals. While at the hospital she occupied her time taking pictures with our new camera and chatting with other patients, their families, and the medical staff on our Medical / Surgical floor.

This is one of Mam’s pictures of a beautiful sunrise taken off the small porch attached to the rear of our private hospital room.

Mam took this picture on the same day, from the same location in the late afternoon, showing the southeastern portion of Hat Yai including the large sign for Tesco Lotus Department Store to the left, a local Buddhist temple shrine in the middle of the picture, and Songklanagarind Hospital to the right, against the backdrop of the majestic mountain range in Hat Yai.

During my hospitalization I was assigned two physicians, the surgeon who debrided my wound and an internal medicine physician who managed my diabetes.

Normal blood sugar levels typically range from 80 to 120 deciliters per milliliter (Depending on individual laboratory specs) in a person without diabetes.

My initial blood sugar upon admission to the hospital was 328 dl/ml.

A wee bit high.

High blood sugar in a type II diabetic such as myself is due primarily to the pancreas failing to produce enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that functions in the regulation and metabolism of carbohydrates (sugars, starches, etc.) fats, and proteins.

Basically, insulin is the key that unlocks the doors in bodily cells to allow sugar to enter and become metabolized (broken down to produce life sustainable energy). So, if you have a severe insufficiency of insulin (Type I diabetes) or a mild insufficiency of insulin (Type II diabetes) your body isn’t getting the energy it needs, roughly speaking.

In my case, (Type II diabetes) my condition can be managed by taking oral hypoglycemic pills, managing my blood sugar levels by sticking to a regimented low calorie and low fat diet, or a combination of both. Currently, my blood sugar is being regulated by both methods.

Taking pills is easy but sticking to a low fat low calorie diet, for me, is utter hell on earth.

My diet while in the hospital was bland, virtually tasteless and barely tolerable. Not to mention the fact that the dietary staff had very little experience in cooking for a foreigner.

My first breakfast consisted of a bowl of soupy, semi-solid, porridge-like barf-olla that smelled strongly of fish and even had fish chunks swimming in it. I poked, sniffed, and prodded at it while making the most disgusting-looking face I could muster when Mam grew impatient and told me what it was in Thai, which naturally made no sense to me.

“I can’t eat anything for breakfast that even remotely smells like fish,” I told her. (A bit of a white lie since I’ve eaten cold, stale pizza smothered in anchovies in the wee hours of the morning many, many times during my early to late teens.)
So, my wonderful wife scarfed up my breakfast while I partook in a couple bags of complimentary potato chips that were in my greeting basket located in the hospital room, along with a can of pineapple juice and a can of mango juice located in our small, in-room refrigerator.

Lunch wasn’t much better and dinner was unspeakable.

It only took two or three days of this before I conned (sweet-talked, coaxed, soft-soaped, cajoled, wheedled, buttered-up) Mam into taking a short stroll over to Diana Shopping Mall (Actually visible from the south wing of the hospital) to purchase a small, infinitesimal amount of real healthy food from:

Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In particular:
A large, supreme pan pizza (thick crust, hold the pineapple), an order of garlic bread smothered… uh, slightly laced with butter, garlic, and thick, melted, mozzarella cheese. Six pieces of deep fried…uh, lightly broiled, spicy chicken pieces with natural, organic, non-denominational, thin, cosmopolitan potato slices of the “super-size” category, lightly seasoned with uh, organic sea salt. Along with various, naturally low-calorie, cardboard flavored complimentary condiments.

Now I was happy.

But, my Internal Medicine physician was not happy. He could not, for the life of him, understand why my blood sugar had gone through the roof, after eating such low-fat, low-calorie foods as the hospitals dietary department was providing for me.

Damned if I knew.

“Have you been eating foods other than what the dietary department is providing?” He asked me.

“The hospital dietary department is trying very hard to try and satisfy my taste for foods common to foreigners, and I am trying very hard to comply with their efforts,” I weakly responded, being partly truthful, and obviously not answering his question.
Luckily, he did not pursue his inquiry or I would have had to fess-up to partaking of the quasi-healthful, curiously nutritional, inconsistently caloric, and delectable food I had been consuming on the sly.

I played this cat and mouse game with him infrequently since I quickly worked out the hospitals schedule for fasting blood sugar tests and cheated accordingly. But in the bitter end I came to realize that it was in my best interest to fulfill my proper dietary prescription if I wanted my leg to heal properly.

My boredom while being hospitalized so long was broken by being able to watch True Visions cable T.V. I quite literally ate up Star Movies on a daily, if not hourly basis. I also received a surprise visit by two of my students who discovered I was in the hospital room adjacent to their father who was hospitalized due to having surgery for an inguinal hernia. Here is a picture of one of them, the boy, whose sister was a bit camera shy.

Finally, I was able to convince both my physicians that I was ready to go home after two weeks and two days, most of which my health insurance covered except for 89 baht, the equivalent of a little more than two dollars U.S., due to my consumption of the two bags of complimentary chips and two cans of fruit juice in my room.

Try and beat that with your local HMO plan!

I’m back to work now and recovering fairly well. However, I still have a sizeable wound on my left lower leg, the lower portion of which still has about a nickel sized area of exposed bone. I dress my wound everyday, twice a day and take my medication religiously, hoping to see improvement soon.

I have a standing appointment with my surgeon every Saturday morning and he examines and evaluates my wound site, mostly telling me things are looking good, but stressing that the exposed bone will have to be covered with tissue until he can further predict whether or not I will need to have a skin graft or not. But beyond that, I’m optimistic since I have no more leg numbness, no numbness and tingling in my fingers, no sweet smell to my urine, and my vision problems have greatly improved.

-Diabetic Jeeem-

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Hello everybody!

I'm publishing this post from my usual Internet Cafe in Hat Yai.

I've been trying to post to my blog for well over two weeks now, but only lately found out that Thailand's Government is now pulling the same gag as when I was living in China, and blocking access to So, I've managed to enter through a back door but have lost all the "buttons" that gave me the capability to post pictures, etc., so until I figure out a way to better access this site, or our new paranoid government decides to lift the blocks on sites such as this one and begin allowing us to have some freedom, I'm going to be severely handicapped in my postings.

My "New" news was a rather large posting I had prepared (complete with pictures) regarding my recent hospitalization.

In a nut shell, I had a minor accident at home which graced me with a couple of left lower leg wounds, which after some time became severely infected to the point of tissue necrosis. I ended up in the hospital, had surgery for debridement of my wounds, and was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes.

Turns out I was having symptoms of diabetes all along, but having had considerable medical training in my past life and being a terrifically lousy patient, I chose to ignore these symptoms, which led to my infected, poor healing wounds.

After two weeks and two days in the hospital, I am finally home and also back to work, but I have to come to Hat Yai every Saturday morning to Rajyindee Hospital so my surgeon can check my wound and my Internal Medicine physician can manage my diabetes.

I still have a baseball sized open wound on my left lower leg, with about a dime sized area of bone exposed. I change my own dressings twice daily and my surgeon is waiting for the tissue to completely cover the bone before he makes a decision whether or not to do a skin graft.

Hopefully I'll post more later and will keep checking to see if the Thai government has come to their senses.


Friday, March 14, 2008

This is a picture of Daothiam restaurant in Hat Yai, where Mam and I recently ate lunch. It is located across from Odean Mall and could easily be missed if you weren’t looking carefully, as it is very small. I couldn’t get a very good picture since it was taken on the eve of Chinese New Year and booths were being set up on the street, blocking the view of the façade.

Inside, the restaurant’s walls are adorned with framed foreign currency from around the world. Narrowly built, there are only about nine or ten tables at which to sit. Mam and I took the window table so we could watch the goings on outside, which were pretty sparse for a weekend.

Mam ordered a seafood stir-fry, while I ordered the deep-fried pork in garlic sweet and sour sauce, with vegetables on a bed of rice. The food was delicious and came to our table in record time. The menu contained way too many curry dishes for my particular taste, but the prices were decently low and the amount served was relatively substantial. Generally we were pleased with the place except for one particular female employee who had a very loud mouth and never could seem to shut up.

The school term has come to an end and we have completed our two-day English Camp on March 10th and 11th, marking the beginning of our long summer vacation. School will begin again sometime in early May.

Every year prior to my signing a new contract, I have to obtain a health certificate and twelve pocket photos for my work permit and teachers license. We obtain the photos at the local Kodak shop in town and while they are processing the photos we stroll around the corner to the local clinic for the health certificates.
For going on three years now, we have only had to show up, present my passport and pay a 30 baht (95 cent) fee for the certificates, in and out in less than five minutes without ever even seeing the doctor. But, this year the clinic was really on its toes and wanted more information about my health.

“How so?”

Well, this time the nurse at the counter asked Mam:

“How is his body?”

“Fine,” Mam answered, and we were given the health certificate and on our way.

Gotta love Thailand!


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

This is a photo of our cottage.

We’ve lived here for over two years now and although we cannot get phone service or satellite Internet, we’ve really fallen in love with the place. The seclusion and peacefulness can’t be beat and we’ve learned to live alongside all the creepy crawlies in and around our home. But even so, I try hard not to get too attached to it since our landlady has told us many times of her desire to move into the cottage once her father passes away.

Although I’ve grown accustomed to our way of life, I sometimes reflect on what it was like to sit on a Western toilet, have both hot and cold running water, stand under a luxurious shower or soak in a tub full of hot water and bubble bath suds. Our bathroom is furnished with the standard Asian squat toilet, a cold-water spigot that fills a huge plastic water basin, a washing machine hookup, and a jury-rigged system of PVC pipe, baskets and twine hanging from the rafters on which to place our soap, cleaning liquids and hang our bath towels.

On particularly chilly mornings, we heat water in a large pot on our single burner stove, and pour it into our water basin. Bathing consists of ladling water from the basin onto my head, taking soap from another improvised hanging basket and lathering up, followed by more ladling. It’s something akin to what I was used to doing when I went tent camping in the West.

Mam, demure woman that she is, has a unique way of bathing while enswathed in a wraparound dress. She douses herself and manages to clean her whole body without revealing any tantalizing tidbits of skin, much to my disappointment. Women are experts at devising methods to remove bras or change clothing without showing the least bit of skin. Who teaches them these tricks? Is the ability genetically imprinted, or do mothers pass these talents along to their offspring?

Our downstairs living space consists of our enclosed bathroom and small “L” shaped kitchen / living room / dining room. We purchased a small wooden table and two chairs at Tesco Lotus, which we use as a desk / dinner table / catchall, which also serves as a divider of sorts between the kitchen and um, living room / dining room. Mam bought a rather unique futon-like devise, which we use as a couch / chair / easy chair, and which further serves as a divider between the living room and um, dining room, if you will.

Our kitchen is a study in impromptu necessitation.

The one burner stove also has shelves below the for storage space. It is powered by a 15-kilogram propane tank that Mam consistently chides me for failing to turn off after I cook. Propane is not scented with “stink scent” here in Asia, like it is in the U.S., so you have to be careful or you’ll end up blowing your house to smithereens if the gas is left on.

When we first moved into our home, we had a spigot installed in our kitchen area so we would have water to wash dishes, but we had no sink. So Mr. Handyman went to work and constructed a wooden cabinet of sorts, from scrap wood found around the house, on which to place a big rubber basin for dishwashing. Wastewater goes right out the window…very convenient, but pretty smelly on a hot day.

The scrap wood around our house also came into use as shelving for our various condiments like oyster sauce, soy sauce, salt, pepper, flour, vinegar, nam pla (fish sauce), and numerous bottles of noxious liquids and sauces used in Mam’s cooking.

Crammed between everything else is a large, red, folding table we bought which serves to hold our spice rack, small oven (about the size of a microwave), crock-pot, water boiler, and rice cooker.

Upstairs we have two “rooms” separated by a rattan wickerwork wall. One “room” is our bedroom, which contains our small twin-size bed, T.V., and Mam’s Buddha shrine. In the corners of our bedroom are strategically placed limes to ward off snakes (One of many of Mam’s many talismans). Our other room serves as my “office” with a desk and chair for my computer, as well as another folding table for my jigsaw puzzles.

On a really hot day it is too hot to stay upstairs even with the fan blowing directly on us, so we linger downstairs hoping to catch a breeze coming through the windows. All in all, everything pretty much balances out here at our humble abode, and I truly look forward to returning home at the end of the workday.


Hamid Restaurant is located just across the street from Lee Garden Hotel in central Hat Yai. During Mam’s and my monthly junket to Hat Yai, we decided to try this place. It’s a certified Halal Muslim restaurant (in accordance with or permitted under the Shari’ a or code of law based on the Koran) that came recommended to me by an acquaintance.

The place looks empty in this picture, but believe me; Hamid Restaurant does a very brisk business everyday and is a very popular restaurant for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The clientele who were present, while we patronized the establishment, were mostly Malaysian and Thai Muslims and one group of interestingly dressed individuals who appeared to be from the Middle East.

Once seated and given menus, Mam typically made her decision in about three minutes while it took me at least ten minutes to order. The menu was substantial, listing several types of beef, seafood, fish, appetizers, soups, noodles, chicken and vegetable selections, as well as deserts and beverages. Nice clear photos of the available dishes were scattered throughout the menu, with number coding and descriptions in English, Thaiglish, Thai, Arabic and Malay.

Thaiglish is my personal locution for English words written by a Thai person who doesn’t know how to spell English words. While living in China I called this phenomenon “Chinglish.”

I found myself torn between the “Serloin Steak,” and the “Chicken Gordon Blue.”

The curry dishes looked appetizing but I am a big coward when it comes to curry since I like it, but it doesn’t like me and tends to mess up my innards a bit. Stupidly I settled on the Chicken Gordon Blue (180 baht), fully knowing that it wouldn’t come to my table bearing ham, since Muslims don’t eat pork, believing the pig is a filthy animal.

I admit feeling a bit ashamed ordering such a dish in a Muslim restaurant, when there are so many other exotic treats to be had, but I’ve always feared ordering something I’m not familiar with and not liking it once served.

Mam was served quickly, her two dishes arriving within ten minutes of her ordering them, while my order didn’t arrive until she had finished eating. Her two choices were a small dish of mixed vegetables and tofu in brown sauce (50 baht), and a small dish of assorted seafood and vegetables (60 baht), along with a plate of white rice. I tried a bite of her mixed vegetable dish and it was absolutely delicious.

When my order finally arrived, it was surprisingly big. A large salad served up with a huge dollop of salad crème, alongside a generous heap of crisp shoestring fries and a huge chunk of deep-fried Chicken Gordon Blue.

I gobbled up the delicious fries and ate the salad before attacking the chicken (I’ve always eaten things one at a time, ever since I was a child). Upon slicing into it, I found the ham to be substituted by a hot dog and some thick creamy substance that I assumed represented the cheese.

Truth be told, I wasn’t impressed with the Muslim version of Chicken Cordon Bleu, although the salad and fries were delicious. But, that’s what you get when you order up American type food in a Muslim restaurant. Sort of like ordering a hamburger in a Chinese restaurant…it just isn’t the same.

Oh well, live and learn I suppose.

Mam and I have vowed to try a different restaurant every month while in Hat Yai to do our monthly shopping and visit the Internet café. I hope to provide more restaurant reviews in the near future!

See you next time!


Saturday, January 05, 2008

We’ve just purchased a new digital camera!

After a lot of research we finally settled on a Canon IXUS 950 IS, which retails for 17,900 baht (just under $500.00 U.S. dollars). The camera is a trifle complicated, but we’re slowly learning to use most of its features and I’m sure we will enjoy the benefits of it in the long run.

About fifteen months ago Mam came home with three young papaya plants given to her from a neighbor. They were about two feet in height (I still can’t get used to metric measurements) and quite healthy, so Mam planted them behind our cottage in some moist shady soil. One has since died, but the other two flourished and we have several papayas growing on them.

It never fails to amaze me how easily things grow here in Thailand. We have numerous plants growing around our home (many varieties of orchids, hot peppers, vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers, and fungi) that come about from seeds tossed out, plants given to us, or from cuttings taken from larger plants.

I love papaya, so about six months ago Mam brought me a large ripe papaya from the local wet market, cut it and served it to me while I was working on my computer upstairs. I scooped out the seeds with a spoon and dumped them out the window, never thinking they would take root, but sure enough, about three weeks later, Mam showed me the small papaya plants growing outside our upstairs window.

We’ve since transplanted fourteen of them, most flourishing in and around our home, destined to provide us with fresh papaya in the future. Papaya grows very fast, and can produce fruit in as little time as a year, if the conditions are right. This photo is of Mam holding our largest papaya to date, weighing around two kilos (4.4 pounds) and providing us with sweet papaya fruit for well over four days.

Mam is cultivating lemongrass (an aromatic herb widely used in Thai cooking), an ingredient I could never seem to find while living in the U.S., attempting to cook Thai dishes. I’ve since learned that you don’t eat lemongrass, but only allow it to flavor your meal, since it is so pungent. Many of Mam’s plants, herbs or weird Thai or Issan dishes never come near my mouth simply because they are used in recipes too extreme for my taste.

Here at home, there is a distinct division: “Her” food, and “My” food. “My” food is purchased once every month when Mam and I venture into Hat Yai for our monthly grocery shopping. Although Mam does pick up a few things for herself, most of the trip is devoted to finding my farang or “foreigner” food. In the past two or three years, I’ve managed to nail down more and more locations in the city where foreign food is available. Our food forays have become much more complicated as a result, with the two of us venturing to many different sites in Hat Yai, chasing down various (often rare) food items.

Cheese, certain spices, imported sausages, specific legumes, black olives, processed and canned fruits, tortilla chips, sour cream, cottage cheese, and many other specialty foods are difficult to obtain unless you know where to purchase them. I love to cook and I am always trying to learn to cook new foods. Given that this great shopping day is often a hectic one, Mam and I usually treat ourselves by visiting a different restaurant while in the city.

One of our favorite restaurants is Namaste Orange ( an Indian food restaurant that recently moved and which we fear will eventually close due to poor patronage.

Since Namaste Orange sells some of their own Indian food ingredients, I have been delving into building up a small home supply of ingredients to cook my own Indian meals. The owner of the shop has given me some information of where in Hat Yai to purchase certain ingredients such as chick peas (Garbanzo beans), lentils, yellow split peas, Garam Masala, and other Indian food items. Indian food is easy to cook if you have the right ingredients.

Many restaurants in Hat Yai that were favorites are now closed, mostly because of the bombings and past terrorist activity in the area. So, I have begun to compile a list of certain recipes I can prepare at home, rather than rely on locally prepared foods.
My newest experiment is Chicken Masala, an Indian dish that is not only aromatic, but also pleasantly spicy and delicious when served with Indian breads such as Chapatti, Naan, or Roti.

The recipe is simple and straight forward, providing you have the correct ingredients:

Chicken Masala

1 kilo (2.2 pounds) boneless chicken breast (cut into bite size pieces)
100 grams ghee (a clarified butter similar to lard or shortening)
3 finely chopped (medium) onions
3 finely chopped tomatoes
½ teaspoon Deggi Mirch (Indian red chili powder)
15 grams Chicken Masala powder (a pre-mixed powder containing coriander, chilies, cumin, Turmeric, Fenugreek leaves, salt, Black pepper, Dry Ginger, Mustard, Bay leaf, Pulse, Cloves, Nutmeg, Caraway, Cinnamon, Cardamom seeds, Mace, and Asafetida).
Natural Yogurt (One small carton)
Lemon (or lime) juice to taste (I use one medium sized lime)
2 grams Kasoori Methi leaves (about five small leaves)

Wash, remove skin, cut the chicken and set aside. Heat 100 grams oil / ghee in a pan and fry 3 chopped onions until golden. Add 3 chopped tomatoes, ½ teaspoon Deggi Mirch & stir well.
Add 15 grams Chicken Masala powder & salt to taste. Stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Add chicken pieces and fry them for 10 minutes. Add yogurt, 60-ml. (two ounces) water & mix. Reduce to low heat, cover & simmer for 20 minutes. Prevent it from sticking at bottom. Add 15-ml. lemon (or lime) juice & 2 grams Kasoori Methi leaves, stir & serve.

Luckily, the Chicken Masala powder, Ghee, Deggi Mirch, and Kasoori Methi leaves can be purchased at Namaste Orange. Mam and I prepared this dish today, and although Mam said she doesn’t like it, she changed her mind after tasting it, steaming and piled high over a bed of freshly cooked rice.

Food in our household is a central issue. From breakfast to dinner, we both try to become inventive and flexible. I am flexible when it comes to sampling Mam’s various menu items from the Northeast of Thailand, while she tries to be flexible with my various Western menu items, and my new experiments with other ethnic foods.

Breakfast is a sensitive issue for me since I cannot fathom eating certain items in the early morning, while Mam can chomp down upon items such as fish, pungent soups and stews, and a variety of strong tasting and smelling concoctions.

I’ve reverted to making my own breakfast sausage, which has proved to be quite a successful project, given the right ingredients. Jimmy Dean, I’m not, but given the mock recipes on the Internet, I’ve managed to create a close second. The only problem I have is ingredients. Some months you can find Marjoram, but other months it is absent from the market shelves, so patience is the key here in Asia.

I reflect upon my time spent living in China, where I was forced to purchase specialty foods at a small deli in downtown Guangzhou. Simple Western foods such as certain cheeses, taco shells, gravies, baked beans, various spices used in the West, soups, chips, tartar sauce and mustard, were available at terrifically inflated prices that severely lightened my pocketbook just for a taste of the foods I was used to eating. Local Western restaurants such as KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and the like, were all available, but expensive by Chinese standards.

Here in Thailand the situation is much the same, with imported foods typically higher in price than local foods. Eating Thai food at local restaurants is often limited to how much Thai you can speak or read, or to what degree you are willing to experiment. In my first year in Thailand, I quickly found out how to ask for a handful of different types of Thai dishes. Now, in my fourth year living here, I have expanded that repertoire to a couple of handfuls. But, I fully realize there are hundreds of Thai dishes I am effectively missing out on, simply because I lack understanding of the Thai language. It takes time and diligence to learn about different Thai dishes and to experiment with different restaurants.

One Thai dish in particular that I enjoy, is Laab Moo, a spicy minced pork dish containing finely chopped scallions, green onion, Thai peppers, lime juice and red pepper, all heaped over a giant bed of steaming white rice. But, although I favor Mam’s variety, I have found many different varieties in and around our home at various local restaurants, some tasty, and some not. Variety, I believe, in Thailand is the key to sustenance.

Foods here in the south of Thailand are not exclusive to the South, as many are cooked by ethnic Muslims, local Thai’s, transplanted Northern Hmong, Issan north westerners, and a rich variety of Chinese immigrants who add their own special taste to local foods.

I think if I were to return to the U.S. today, I would suffer a culture shock (reverse culture shock?) after living in these conditions for five years. Although I haven’t forgotten what it is like living in the U.S., my memory is fading somewhat, the longer I live here in Southeast Asia.


Belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone!

I haven’t celebrated Christmas for years, but this year I did enjoy the holiday vicariously through my students who absolutely treasured our classroom Christmas tree and reveled in making holiday cards for their parents with Christmas music playing in the background. There’s just something about a Christmas tree; tiny flashing lights and Christmas music like, “The Little Drummer Boy,” that evoke good feelings in me.

I received one Christmas card this year, from my friends Ben, Joyce & Ellie from Bristol Laundromat in Bristol, New Hampshire, my old stomping grounds back in the states, with a promise they would write me a more in-depth letter in the near future. Whether other friends sent cards or not remains a mystery since the good ole Thai postal service is just as corrupt as the rest of the government services here in Thailand.

I sent out a few Christmas cards this year to people I know well, but Christmas is actually just another day to me. To be honest I didn’t even notice Christmas had arrived until I began to write the date on our white board at school. Even then, I realized that here in Asia it was Christmas, but the Western world was still a day behind.

I try to explain Christmas to my students using the commercialized version rather than the religious one, simply because my little ones don’t understand the complexities of Christian versus Buddhist or Muslim faith/belief. I strongly oppose bringing religion into the classroom having grown up in a confusing mix of Protestant & Catholic beliefs versus scientific teaching in the public schools I attended. I’ve since encountered many questions from the Thai / English teachers at our school who want to know more about Western beliefs, religions and traditions, testing my mediocre knowledge of the subject, while I have learned a lot from them concerning Buddhist and Muslim traditions and faith.

Lately, Mam has met and befriended a woman across the street who is the village shaman of sorts. I’m delighted because it has opened up a new world for Mam, whom I believe was getting a trifle bored living way out here in the boonies with not much to do except read, clean house or go shopping. Now she chatters on and on about things she has learned from the “old woman,” as she is affectionately called in our home, including anything from health remedies to numerology.
Mam bristles when I don’t go along with her convictions, labeling me a nonbeliever, often beginning her sentences with, “I know you don’t believe me, but…” alerting me that she is about to tell me something she learned from the “old woman,” or share some superstitious belief she has concerning ghosts or spirits.

I might be a skeptic, but I’m truly happy Mam has found happiness in her dealings with the old woman, whom although I am reluctant to take seriously, I must admit she does have a few things going for her and I am often flabbergasted at some of the results of her so-called magic. Mam often traipses over to the old woman’s house when I am busy doing something, offering, “I’m going across the street to eat Khanom Jean, (or Durian, Jackfruit, Papaya, Jampada, Som Tam, etcetera). But I know her time spent with the old woman is mainly informational since the old lady tends to treat Mam as somewhat of an apprentice to her tricks of the trade, so-to-speak.

Mam has suffered from occasional dizziness ever since we first met over two years ago. She takes medications prescribed by local physicians, but refuses to go to the hospital, not wanting to undergo expensive medical exams. She complains the medications prescribed for her rarely work, and has resorted to traditional Chinese medicine at some of the local Chinese pharmacies, which appear to work better.

Recently she suffered a persistent attack of dizziness while I was taking a nap in the afternoon. Medication she had on hand didn’t work, so she went across the street to see the old woman, who gave her some mysterious powder to mix with water and drink.

Upon arising from my nap I was ambushed and enthusiastically lectured on the knowledge and healing properties of the old woman’s cure for Mam’s dizziness with this mysterious powder, which appeared to work very well for her.

I listened to her story for a while before asking to see the powder. When Mam produced the small plastic bottle, I examined the brown powder and opened the bottle to smell it. After a good whiff, I sat back in my chair with a déjà vu that I had smelled that scent somewhere else. It was a matter of minutes before my memory banks settled upon it….

I had it!


Having stuck my face into many a baggie in my earlier years, I surmised that the old woman was manufacturing something that either included the illegal substance, or was a close substitute. I then remembered reading a scientific journal years ago, which extolled the healing properties of THC, which surprisingly enough, included dizziness.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it is just some aromatic herb that smells similar. So, I kept my mouth shut, because it meant more to me that the powder seemed to help Mam, than to burst her bubble trying to tell her that her local shaman may be growing some illicit weed somewhere on her property and reducing it to a powder to sell to local villagers. Meanwhile, Mam is delighted with the mysterious brown powder and is now using it even when she’s not dizzy, saying it helps her sleep and affords her many other good benefits.

Yeah, I’ll bet….

Of late, the old woman has been coming around our house more often. It seems she is interested in Mam’s dreams. Mam told the old woman of a dream she had involving her grandmother and a Buddhist monk who, in the dream, presents a number to her in prayer. After the old woman and other local villagers played the local lottery numbers using the numbers in Mam’s dream, they actually won, each player paying a small portion of their winnings to Mam. Since then, Mam’s popularity has grown at a surprising pace here in North Klong Tong village. The old woman has given Mam a numerology chart so she can figure out her dreams and interpret them numerically so everyone can play the two and three digit lottery based on her predictions.

A fair amount of money exchanges hands here and there, most of which I am ignorant to, having tuned most of it out. But, I caution Mam, reminding her that the two and three digit lottery is illegal, and she must be careful.

Lately the old woman has been teaching Mam about local plants, insects and wildlife. Mam follows the old woman around absorbing everything she says. I have noticed that Mam’s green thumb has been glowing of late, cultivating many different flowering plants along the path to our house and bordering the main road. She has put this new ability to test by selling the flowers to our landlady who uses them in floral displays and flower alms for the monks. So, although Mam doesn’t have a job per-se, she is making a little money from her plantings and numerology predictions.

The old woman stopped by last week to deliver a gift to me, although I have never formally met her. Mam met her on the main road and came back to our house announcing that the old woman had delivered a gift of a papaya to me. I asked Mam why she didn’t come to the house, and she told me the old woman knew from her dreams that I enjoyed my privacy, so she would only call Mam from the main road.

This startled me, since it is true. I have always been a die-hard private person and revel in my privacy. Here in Thailand I’ve struggled with privacy issues since many Thai’s don’t seem to understand the concept of true privacy and often impinge upon personal space without realizing they are doing so. Explicitly, this concerns the cultural difference in Asia of Interdependence (Asia) versus Independence (Western Culture).

So, although the local shaman has some pretty wild ideas, Mam is adopting a few of them, and I am learning that many of them may have a purpose in this life. Although I a skeptical of many things foreign to me, I try to have an open mind when it comes to Asian beliefs and life here in Thailand, and given the fact Mam treats me like a King, it’s the least I can do, to honor her beliefs.


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