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-

Web Analytics