Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Weeks ago, I made a special plan for Thanksgiving: I would walk into McDonald's and order a McTurkey. Oh, the blank stares I would get. It was going to be HILARIOUS. Really it was.

Even the best laid plans... well, there's always next year.

All kidding aside, thanks to the amazing hospitality of a young couple I know from Thai class, I had a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner here. If it were held back in the States I would consider it top notch, and so it was absolutely off the charts for Bangkok, by far the best meal I have had in my 5 months here.

I ate, in no particular order, excessive amounts of: turkey (which has to be imported), stuffing, green bean caserole, mashed potatoes, corn, salad, cranberry sauce (with whole cranberries), and probably a few other things I've lost track of.

Then there was dessert: pumpkin pie that, despite being made from Thai pumpkins which are not the same as US pumpkins, was just perfect and topped with homemade whipped cream...

...and this: the best apple pie I have had in my life, at least outside of grandma's house. (The photo doesn't begin to do it justice since I had already attacked the piece before I thought about taking a picture, but trust me, it was good.) Accompanying all this pie was four cups of actual drip (i.e. NON-INSTANT) coffee, which is something of a rarity here.

Special thanks to the Scotts for all of this. Even if you did spoil my original Thanksgiving plans.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

"Hey Wayne..."

Sunday, November 19, 2006


The above picture is not remarkable for its poor focus, or, unbelieveable though it is, for the strikingly handsome subject matter. The photo, taken after I went running outside for 40 minutes, is noteworthy for what is lacks.

Sweat. There is no sweat at all on the front of my shirt, proof that we are finally moving into the "cool" season. Now, lest you mistake Bangkok for a tropical paradise, cool season is still really freaking hot. The highs this week have been over 100F, as hot as it has been since I arrived. However, the humidity has dropped to more tolerable levels, and it makes all the difference.

I already liked it here, even when it was 100% humidity, even when the streets were flooded during rainy season downpours, even when I had to peel plastic stools off of my backside after meals on the street. So it's good that "cool" season weather won't last forever, because if it did, I might never leave.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Attempting to Learn Thai 5

November 16th, 2006
Months in Thailand: 4.5
Hours at AUA: ~315 (Level 2)
Other study: None since I started at AUA (before that, some minimal self-study and 6 very poor classes at another school)

In Class Progress:

I'm around halfway through AT2 now. Progress in AT2 is slower than AT1, and harder to notice, but I would say that I follow the gist of 80%+ of what is going on, and that my comprehension is noticibly better than when I entered the level. I have also "absorbed" some important words and usages that I was not aware of at the time of my last post. Things are stil filtering in and I don't feel at all ready to move to the next level (85 hours away), but I do feel rather seasoned as an AT2 student and notice very often that I am following things that others are not.

I also give almost all *short* answers in Thai now. For better or worse, it is now automatic for me to agree or disagree or give *very* short answers in Thai. Most AT2 students seem to do this, and the teachers only tell people to stop speaking Thai if they get carried away. Practicing speaking this is NOT. It's just, I think, a very early precursor of natural speaking emmerging from all this listening. Longer answers are still given in English, and the teachers really don't let students get carried away going off in Thai. This might not be following the ALG method to the letter, but it is in keeping with the spirit of it. In class, and out of class, I speak only what I 100% know how to say, and I don't try to force anything. If I can say it without thinking, without translating, I will, and if not, I won't.

Out of Class:

The TV is on now, and I almost follow the basic gist of the silly sitcom that is showing on channel 3. Almost. I can also definitely pick out more words than I could when I was in AT1.

Overall, I feel like some critical mass has been reached and that the pieces are starting to fall together. Thai sounds like Thai now- even if I have no idea what something means and every word spoken is new, and I can't even separate the words from each other, it all sounds... familiar. Thai doesn't sound alien to me anymore, not like it did when I arrived here or like some other language would.

I am now often able to survive conversations with random people if the topics are ones I am familiar with. It's not true back and forth conversing, and I know I miss critical parts of what is being said to me. Nevertheless, I can understand things and reply with things that are understood and somewhat related. So there is comprehension occuring, and ideas are being exchanged... for the Thais, I bet it's like talking to a 2-3 year old.

They talk about a trip they took to Chiang Mai (cooler, mountainous province up north), and I reply with "I like mountains and I like the cold." They ask where I am from, and I say, "America." They say something complicated about Americans and Thailand, and I don't follow, but I catch that they say many Americans like Thailand. So, I say, "I like Thailand. I don't like the heat, but I like Thailand." They ask what I like about it, and I say "Thai food. Thai food is very delicious." Then we talk about food, and I don't understand a lot, but I can agree with things and in an appropriate part of the conversation, mention a few foods that I like. They pick up on the fact that I like spicy food, and I agree "I like it very much, but if food is very spicy, it makes me cry!" They laugh, and say something I don't understand, but I offer some other random statement and it starts a similar go-round.

Exchanges like that. It's not the sort of thing that requires true comprehension, and I know I am very, very far from anything like that. But I think it is encouraging progress for less than 3 months of study.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I never go shopping, but, well... I went shopping. I came across a 50% off, end of the season sale and went a little overboard. A serious case of thinking in dollars (very cheap!) rather than baht (not so cheap...). But hey, prior to this, I had bought exactly zero articles of clothing here in Bangkok, so maybe it all averages out...

As for the "ShopPING!", let me explain. One of the bizzare things that happens to English in Thailand is that without fail, with every English word I've come across, the last syllable gets the stress. A very, very enthusiastic stress.

My name at Thai class, until my preference for "Dan" took hold, was "DanIEL." Other students include HanNAH, HeaTHER, RichARD, AllAN, MiCHAEL.

A favorite place to go shopPING is CenTRAL World PlaZA.

Favorite activities of mine include: runNING, walKING, fitNESS, guiTAR, eaTING pizZA, spagetTI, and drinKING cofFEE.

I vacillate between finding this very amusing, slightly endearing, and kitten-claws-on-a-chalkboard grating. And it's not just when Thai's without much exposure to English speak English. This occurs with every single English word that has made it's way into the regular, everyday vernacular of Thais speaking in Thai. Things like fitNESS (word used for gym), tee-SHIRT, pizZA, compuTER, microWAVE, ToyoTA (ok not English but still), taXI, etc...

The truly maddening part of all this is that this doesn't occur with Thai words. I mentioned CenTRAL World PlaZA above, but another mall, is pronounced Siam ParaGON. The Thai word gets a normal stress, but the English word inexplicably gets the last syllable shout.

It's enough to drive you craZY.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I’m bad at blogging. I don’t post daily, or even weekly, I don’t post enough pictures, and I know that my posts are so long, most people probably don’t read them. I don’t want to put up a personal journal for the world to see, and I never know what to write about my experiences here. It seems banal to post about funny cultural differences (though, since they are funny, I should probably start), and condescending to start describing this the people and culture around me as if I’m some sort of anthropologist. The cardinal sin for any student of history (even a bad one who didn't start studying until 6 years into his undergraduate career) is generalization, and I really hesitate to post about what "the people" are like, or to detail what makes up "their culture". Eventually I’ll post some experiences and observations, but I don’t want to become patronizing.

Anyway, in the spirit of becoming a better blogger (and with absolutely no intention to commit to this pursuit), here is a post that actually relates something about my daily life.


A Typical Weekday.

In July, because most high school students were out of school, I was teaching from 10am-5pm, six days a week. But since August, though I’ve still had the same 10-5 schedule on weekends (very, very rarely do I get a weekend off), I’ve had only afternoon and evening classes during the week from Mon-Thurs, and usually had Fridays off. The courses that I teach last only 6, 12, or 14 sessions, and so courses are always ending and sometimes I get a day or half day off in the transition. But, if I had to describe a "typical" weekday, it would look like this for about the past 6 weeks, since mid-September.

I get up at 6:48am. Everyday, without fail, my alarm stubbornly tries to wake me up at 6:40am but I slap it, reducing its shrieking cries to timid whimpers for 8 precious minutes. When, at 6:48am, it gets up the courage to start crying again, I raise my hand threateningly, but, as it stares back at me with those round, tear-soaked digits, guilt sets in and I let my hand fall consolingly on the off button.

I have just enough time to eat some cereal, make myself presentable and, of course, make a latte before I have to head out for Thai class. I must walk out my door by 7:30am to make it to 8:00am Thai class on time. This puts me on the Skytrain that always seems to arrive at 7:33am (yes, life is good when your building is so close to the Skytrain station that you could do a ninja flip out the window and land on the platform, if only your window faced the right direction), and I get to AUA just as class is starting.

The great thing about AUA, though, is that classes are very casual and walking in late is not a problem. Also because classes start every hour, it’s also not a big deal if I don’t go until 9am, but I rarely do this because I want to fit in as many hours as I can. In fact, I’m so used to waking up early that even on my days off or I rarely sleep much past 8am. (Louie, are you still reading? I hope that statement didn’t cause any kind of heart attack.) Today, for example, is a holiday but I got up at 8 anyway. What can I say… people change… I’m still a night owl at heart, though.

I stay for 5 hours straight of class (there are 10 min breaks every hour), and then leave to go teach my 2pm afternoon classes. I usually squeeze in a quick lunch during the 10:50am or 11:50am break, and spend the other breaks trying to wake myself up by walking around the school or buying coffee or Coke Light. AUA isn’t boring at all, it’s usually pretty fun, but 6:48am is really early to wake up and for years now, I’ve always had trouble staying awake during all kinds of classes, lectures, seminars, etc. It’s something about sitting still for so long without much interactivity.

Travel from my apartment to AUA or AUA to work takes 30 minutes if I am not in a hurry and get off at Chitlom Station, or 25-30 minutes if I take the BTS all the way to the station by AUA, which means less walking but an annoying station transfer. I walk almost every time because I like to get the exercise, and usually it makes for a more pleasant journey. I grab some pineapple or watermelon (for the equivalent of 11 cents!), pull out my ipod, and enjoy the walk. Lately, my Mon – Thurs teaching schedule has been one class from 2-5pm, and one from 5:30 – 8:30pm or 6 – 9pm. I might grab a snack before my first class, and I either get dinner during the interim or sometimes order in with my co-workers and eat during one of the 10 minute breaks I give my students.

I usually hit a wall towards the very end of my last class, but my day doesn’t end after work. All this learning and teaching hasn’t left any time for exercise, so I either head to the gym, or I head home but go out for a run. Add in a second dinner (Thai food is too good and too cheap to only eat for 3 meals a day), a bit of email, reading, or prayer time, and there is really nothing more I can fit into a day. All told, I feel very efficient if I can make it to bed by 11pm, and usually it’s more like midnight. Or later.

Long days. Really long days, in fact… but while they are tiring, I wouldn’t change anything. (Well, unless you count earning the same for working fewer hours). I don’t want to attend AUA for fewer hours, and even though it’s nice when I only have an evening class and no afternoon class, I have definitely told my course scheduler that I prefer to teach as many hours as possible. Friday – Sunday things are a bit more relaxed, although still not quiet. Although I have off from work Friday, I still have Thai class and spend the morning and afternoon at AUA. I teach full days both Saturday and Sunday but get off at 5pm and have the rest of the night to get some exercise, see some friends or relax. November should be a lighter month too... it's looking like I'll have only weeknight classes Monday through Thursday, meaning that I won't have afternoon classes and can sleep a bit later, arrive at AUA a bit later, and have a more relaxed day all around. We'll see.