Thursday, December 28, 2006

Klong Tour. (With Videos! Look for the links!)

A "klong" is a small river or canal used for transportation. There is a system of klongs throughout Bangkok and reaching out into the neighboring provinces, and I recently took a 4 hour boat tour with some friends and some other people they know. We spread out over two long boats.

We started out on the Jabraya River, Bangkok's main waterway, but soon we were into the klong system and heading out of Krungtep (the Thai name for the province of Bangkok).
(My friends Laura and Ned sitting at the front of my boat).

The tour was hot, and smelly, and involved inhaling far too much exhaust from the "what's an exhaust system" non-design of the boats. They literally have car motors with no exhaust system whatsoever powering them.

And, I'm just thrilled that I had the chance to go. The tour provided a very different look at life in Thailand. See, in the same way that Manhattan is NOT representative of New York State, Bangkok is NOT at all representative of Thailand. For example, though by American standards the people in Bangkok are nice, when you get out of town you really see why they call Thailand the "Land of Smiles." It didn't take long before we were outside of Bangkok, and as soon as we were, people started to smile and wave. And smile and wave some more. (Note the remarkable combination of said "wow white people" waving, mobile phones, and extremely modest little wooden house).
In addition to smiling, they also stare. A lot.

Along the klongs, beautiful houses and humble little shacks exist longside each other. (Video!!!)

Mostly, though, there are the latter, with friendly people looking bored.

And bored, friendly looking dogs too.

As much as I love dogs, the highlight was the fish. The water is dirty and dark enough that you wouldn't realize there were many fish in the klongs, but this is what happens if you throw some bread into the water. (Video!!!)

And on that note, I'm outta here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Loi Kratong.

Back on November 5th (yeah I know, I'm behind... buthey it's not like anyone knew it was Loi Kratong Day and wondered why I didn't post about it) I went to the pier at Saphan Taksin to check out the Loi Kratong festivities down there.

Loi Kratong is one of the most important Thai holidays. In part it serves as a Thai Valentine's Day, but is much more widely celebrated and holds other significance. The core of the festivities involves putting a small float with candles, called a kratong, into a river, lake, pond, or whatever body of water you can find. Traditionally, it represents giving thanks to the water for all it does for life, and also apologizing for the ways that people (especially here in BKK...) abuse it. One can also put some coins, hair, or fingernails on the kratong for good luck.

Because it is a major pier located on the Jabraya River (Bangkok's main waterway) and easily accessible by public transportation, Saphan Taksin is a complete zoo on Loi Kratong Day. It had a very 4th of July atmosphere, from cheap fried food stands to glow sticks and balloons for kids, and the night even ended with fireworks.

I bought a rather pretty kratong for 20 baht (like $.60) and went out on a riverboat to put it in the water, which looked something like this.
(I should have a photo of myself launching the kratong in a similar fashion, but the guy that took my picture was apparently so enraptured by my blue eyes that he thought it would be better if the photo included only my face. Hmmm.)

All told, it was an interesting experience and I am glad that I went, but it would have been a lot more fun if I had gone with some friends rather than going alone.

Here is wikipedia's brief article on Loi Kratong if you would like to know more.
Attempting to Learn Thai 6

December 21, 2006
Months in Thailand: 6
Hours at AUA: 431 (Level 3-4)
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 started AT3-4 a couple weeks ago at exactly the 400 hour mark, and have put in 31 hours since. Unlike AT1 and AT2, which were completely separate, AT3-4 are the same class, so essentially AT3-4 is one level that will take twice as long as AT1 or AT2.

AT3-4 is MUCH harder than AT2, and moving from AT2 to AT3-4 is an exponentially greater leap than from AT1 to AT2. In my first 31 hours, classes have ranged from something like a difficult AT2 class, where I probably understand 75-90%, to classes where I have only a vague understanding of the discussion and can't be getting more than 20% of the gist of it all. Most classes are in between, with me understanding the big picture but frequently having gaps about smaller details and not understanding certain utterances at all. AT3-4 uses a far greater range of vocabulary, and the teachers speak much more quickly than in lower levels. Additionally, there is far less body language and use of illustration on the board, although these are still certainly used.

I happened to talk to the American who oversees the Thai Studies Dept, and he cautioned me upon my beginning AT3-4 that the next 200 hours will probably be the most difficult and frustrating of the entire process. I can see this being true, but so far I don't find it frustrating... just difficult. I'm excited to see what happens over the next few months. According to AUA's system, around the time that one reaches 800 hours and moves to AT5-10, speech should start to occur naturally... so I am just over halfway there. AUA closes for three weeks between Dec 17th and Jan 7th though, so I won't be learning much Thai for the next three weeks. Nah song sah...

Out of Class:
Slow but steady progress... I have unexpected moments of clarity, and moments when I feel I should understand something but don't. Progress is slow but not imperceptible.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Lumphini Park.

Just down the street from AUA is Lumphini Park, the biggest park in Bangkok. Most days that I spengo to Thai class, I come here after lunch for a little walk. Central Park it ain't, but its big enough to take at least an hour to walk the perimeter of. There is actually a lot I could say about the park and the interesting people that inhabit it, but I am so far behind in posting about different things that I'm just going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

Enjoy. (click for photo album)