Monday, August 28, 2006

My New Home.

(Skip to the bottom if you are really lazy and just want to take the video tour. You should know, however, that this does not reflect well upon you, and that one day you'll be lying on your deathbed, wrinkled and feeble, praying for the end to come so that you will no longer be haunted by two questions:

1) What did Dan say in that Apartment post?

and, 2) What ever happened to that sled of mine?

You have been warned.

Here it is, my room in Sutti Mansion II. 23 square meters (thats only about 12' x 18', if you're counting) of the finest plain-vanilla living $250 a month can buy. This is about it... I really don't have an "apartment" so much as a "room."

It's small. Smaller than the malnourished runt of a litter of quadruplet midget pygmy dwarves.

It's working out though. It's just me, and so far I still only own as much as you could pack into 2 suitcases and a backpack, so I really don't need more space. I do miss having a kitchen, but I really wouldn't be cooking even if I had one... it would just be nice to have some counters and a sink that isn't in the bathroom.
Other than that, just I wish I had a proper desk instead of this ridiculous faux-wood mini-vanity thing, and maybe enough room for a couch and coffee table to have someplace to sit besides my bed.

Also the Thai style shower drives me nuts, but that is the subject for a later post.

What I really wish is that I was living in a big apartment or townhouse with a bunch of people but, it's working out living here in Sutti Mansion II. (See the blue sign?)

Yes, it's SUTTI MANSION *II*. Apparently it's a sequel.

One night I climbed up there and tried to change the sign to SUTTI MANSION II: THE REVENGE! but sadly it wouldn't fit.

B-movie titles notwithstanding, the front entrance is a big reason for my decision to live here. See the escalator? That goes up to the Skytrain station. Yes, it really is that close to my building. Oddly enough I walk to work most days, but it is incredibly convenient to have the BTS stop literally on my doorstep. I use it 5 days a week to get to Thai class, and whenever I'm too lazy to walk to or from work (15 min walk) or the gym (25 min walk). It is fast, airconditioned, and you never wait more than 5 minutes for the next train. During peak times they come within 1-2 minutes of each other! The only flaw (and it's a major one) in Bangkok's public transportation system is that the Skytrain and Subway only service a very limited part of the city. 90% of the city will require use of a taxi (which come in car, tuk-tuk, motorcycle, and boat varieties), bus, and/or boat to get to. I live, work, workout, run, shop, and take Thai classes along the BTS route though, so it works for me.

So the BTS stop is right at my doorstep, but what really makes me happy is out the side entrance of the building. Sweet, sweet Soi 38.

But the wonders of Soi 38 deserve their own post... stay tuned.

And now, as promised, the video tour. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I think a video is often worth 1000 pictures. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Attempting to Learn Thai...

Ok, while this isn't a real update, I want to start documenting my progress learning Thai. After a bad experience at a different school, on Wednesday August 23rd, I started Thai classes at American University Alumni Association (AUA). They use a "natural" method which basically involves watching and listening to two teachers interact (i.e. clown around and have conversations about bodily functions and other easy to understand topics). You don't speak in Thai during class, and they ask you also not to speak Thai outside of class either. In fact, classes do not start to encorporate speaking until you have reached level 5, which is supposed to take 600-1000 hours.

Yes, that is a lot of time. If I attend 5 hours a day, 5 days a week as I am hoping, it will still take at least 6 months to start speaking. Wow. Although my opinion might change, I don't think this is crazy. Here is why:

The idea with this method (technically called the Automatic Language Growth Method) is to allow your brain to get around a new language naturally, in the same way that children learn their native language. I don't know if adults can learn exactly like children, but waiting for a long time to speak does has some very clear advantages.

First, you aren't handicapped by hearing yourself, and other beginning students, butcher Thai pronunciations. Think about it. If you attend a typical language class, a great deal of the speaking done is done by students trying to repeat what the teacher says. Yes, you hear the teacher, but you also hear terrible, and downright incorrect, pronunciations over, and over, and over. The same applies to self-study. If you practice speaking at home, the "Thai" speaker that your brain will hear the most is you! And you don't say anything correctly! I can already notice this with "khorb khun khrap," which is (in poor Romanization, anyway) Thai for "thank you." I've definitely heard myself say this phrase more than I have heard Thai speakers say it... I say it when I buy food, when a door is held for me, etc. So the default pronunciation of this phrase stored in my brain is the pronunciation I have come up with... which is, of course, terribly inaccurate.

Second, since students don't talk, there is more "airtime" for the teachers to speak in Thai, and thus for the students to hear Thai. On a related note, the teachers aren't forced to slow down and say words in an artificial manner so that students can attempt to repeat them... so not only are we hearing more Thai/class, it is also correct, naturally spoken Thai.

If someone just wants to learn some "survival" Thai to order food, get around town, etc. this is not going to be an efficient method. But it really makes sense to me, if you are serious about becoming fluent in a language, to invest some time upfront into developing listening skills, and allowing your brain to default to correct pronunciations.

The end result of this method is supposedly that, after all this listening, speaking starts to occur naturally, as it would with children. If you want to express something, the words and phrases will start to just "be there." Or so they say. We'll see. There are definitely articles out there that advise against ALG, but it certainly isn't crazy and it makes a great deal of sense to me.

Anyway, here is what I want to document:

August 27th, 2006
Months in Thailand: 2.0
Hours at AUA: 15
Previous "study": 6 crappy lessons at another school; some very minimal self-study

Although it is a very subtle difference, and I still have NO idea what anyone is saying, I noticed today that Thai is beginning to sound more like string of words than completely unbroken garble. I'm sure that AUA has helped this a bit, but I just started there and so I think it likely has as much to do with other exposure, the result of having been here two months.

When I started at AUA I also started leaving Thai TV on in my apartment sometimes. I don't usually actively watch, but I figure that hearing more Thai can't hurt. Thai commercials are also pretty funny to watch... not that I can understand whatever they are saying.

Ok, that's it for now. I'll try to make a "real" post soon.