Sunday, June 24, 2007

Something I wrote while waiting at JFK for my flight back to BKK.

JFK, Terminal 7. Check-in takes away my guitar because it won’t fit in an Airbus 340 cabin, and security my Poland Springs water because Polish water is dangerous unless it costs $3 at shops inside the terminal. Duty free for a friend, a final American coffee served with a bad joke by the kind of girl I never realized I missed. She was beautiful and it was a house coffee. She asked if I wanted anything else with it, like maybe a car, and laughed at me when I said maybe just steamed milk.

Now I’m sitting at Gate 4, waiting for everyone else to board so I don’t have to wait in line, and wondering whether I’m leaving home, or going home…

Maybe it’s a little of both.


My next stop was Ithaca, NY, a four hour drive upstate, northwest of NYC. Ithaca is the home of Cornell University, and I still have a few good friends out that way I really wanted to visit. If I try to make this post creative I'm never going to finish it... and anyway, I know you all like pictures better. So here you go, photos with minimal comments.

Gimme Coffee: fabulous coffee beans, and cappucinos that actually look and taste like they should.

Where I used to live!

Pizza at the Nine's, with salt shaker for scale. Yep, that's once slice... and I already ate about a third of it before taking the picture! Sometimes I really do miss how ridiculously large American portions are...

And here's a bunch of Cornell.

It's easy to take for granted when you are there, and though I felt funny walking around and taking pictures like a tourist, I have to admit, the campus really is beautiful. It was nice to be back.

Last but not least, the real reason I went to visit. Here I am with Louie, Joey, Nate, and Sasha. Thanks guys, I couldn't have asked for a better 2 days.

Ok, well I guess it looks like I'm doing this in installments.... more soon. Peace.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Going Home, Going Back, Part I.

I have about 4 months of life in Thailand to catch up on, but for now, I’m jumping ahead to the present.
I’m in America for the first time in 11 months.

When I decided to renew my contract for a second year, I asked for about 3 weeks off to visit home before starting the summer SAT program. After much delay, I finally bought some tickets, and lifted off from Suvarnabhumi (or whatever the ridiculous spelling is… should be "Suwanapoom") at 8:30am, Sunday May 27th. With the time change, I landed at LAX just 3 hours later, at 11:30am the same day.

Before I get to that though, I connected in Hong Kong, and the airport there is AMAZING!

Anyway, although my final destination was NY and the northeast, I stopped for four days in the LA area first to visit two friends and see California for just the second time in my life.

First I met up with Nate (Nate, how did I not take any pictures of you? Sorry!) and we hung out in Pasadena (northern suburb) and downtown Los Angeles.

We did a little hike just a few minutes from Nate’s apt, and then headed to…

Sunset Strip!

Next, we met up with my friend Tiffany (who I was smart enough to take pictures of!) and after some more time downtime, I headed back with her to Santa Barbara, about two hours north of LA. The drive alone, to say nothing of the excellent company, made the entire trip to CA worthwhile.


Santa Barbara is awesome in the original, Merriam Webster’s, pre-1980s sense of the word. It is breathtaking, absolutely gorgeous, perhaps the perfect place to live (well, besides the outlandish cost of housing). Drive 5 minutes one way, you are in the hills looking down on the city. Drive 5 minutes in the other direction, you are at the beach. Every day I was there it was 65-75 and sunny, with a breeze. I didn’t want to leave.

Dinner with Tiff’s friends at a hibachi place.

A little 1 hour hike in SB.

The true highlight of my two days in SB though was the two hour run I went on. This was by far the furthest I have ever run, and was the result of a mixture of being overly ambitious, getting a little lost, and running somewhere that isn’t hot, isn’t humid, isn’t polluted, and doesn’t require dodging motorcycles or street dogs.
Tiffany gave me directions to run from her place to the beach, but I got off course early on and decided to give up on finding the left coast in favor of just running aimlessly, exploring whatever parts of beautiful SB I happened upon. After about 40 minutes, I ended up downtown, and then I noticed Las Postitas, the road I was supposed to take to the beach about 25 minutes earlier… and I got ambitious.
I knew it would be a long run, but I started down Las Postitas anyway. I ran, and ran, figuring out how long it would take to run back if I went the right way. If I turn back now and don’t get lost, it will be a 70 minute run. A 75 minute run. An 80 minute run. But despite all my calculating, I never really planned to stop. I had to find the beach.

At a full hour, I found Arroyo Beach, and decided I would just go see the water and turn back. I’d get back to Tiff’s at about 90 minutes total, and this would already be one of the longest runs I’d ever taken. But when I reached the water, I didn’t stop. A charge ran through me, and I started to run even faster. I was Lewis and Clark. I’d found the Pacific. This was the greatest moment of my life.
30 minutes down the beach, 30 minutes cutting back through a private road on the mesa, and I was back at the head of the beach at 2:01. Longest run ever. I sat down at the bus stop, feeling exhausted and exhilarated, and waited to catch a bus back toward Tiff’s. After a few minutes I debated calling a cab instead, but the number wasn’t on the nearby payphone, and anyway, how long could the bus take to come?

Actually I’m still not exactly sure because after 50 minutes, a worried looking Tiffany pulled up and asked if I wanted a ride. I feebly answered that yes, yes I did. I guess since the note I left said I’d be back around 3:30, and it was now after 5, she was starting to wonder if I got hit by a bus or something. (Clearly then she also didn’t know that buses in Santa Barbara never come.)

Tiff dropped me back off in LA, I spent a few more hours with Nate (who I still don't have pictures of... sorry again!), and it was off to Burbank Airport and my Jet Blue flight to JFK.

I left Burbank at 8:50pm and got to JFK at 5:03am. I finally reached my grandparents at 6am but promptly crashed until about 1pm. Ok, this post is too long already, so I’ll let a few pictures do the rest of the talking.

Grandpa and Grandma’s.

My cousin Jack getting his souvenir…

…and scaring his little sister Katie with it.

A visit to my favorite childhood restaurant.

Me and my brother Andrew on his birthday.

Me coming in from my second USA run, this time a mere 63 minutes. It was mid afternoon and probably almost 80F and sunny, but after running in Bangkok this still felt a little bit like heaven.

Tomorrow I’m off to visit Cornell, so that’s it for now. Peace.
Attempting to Learn Thai 12

June 2, 2007
Months in Thailand: 11
Hours at AUA: ~920 (Level 5-10)
Other study: Just started some writing self study, only about 3 hours so far.

In Class:

Things continue to get easier. In many easier AT5-10 hours, I understand 100% of the gist, though not yet all the vocab. The hardest hour that I attend in the present schedule is Religion, and even in this class I rarely lose the gist of things. I’d say my understanding in this class is 60-80%. However, much of the upper level vocabulary goes in one ear and right out the other, a problem that I think will only be mitigated after I can read and write a bit.

Overall, I am continuing to feel progress in class, and in harder hours I can almost feel my Thai getting better. During easier hours though I wonder how much I am benefiting. I don’t think the plateau is far off…

Oh additionally, I asked for a progress check recently and was surprised to see that my "total language acquired" rated at just 66%, up only 10% from when I started AT5 like 3 months and 250 hours ago. My overall understanding and, especially, my ability to speak, have improved far more than this reflects. Nevertheless, my "average understanding" was rated 87.5%, which I’d say is about right.

Out of Class:

Fluency. It all depends on how you define it, but I think I’ve reached the early stages of fluency. I can now converse quite naturally with people, and I can normally understand regular conversation with me and around me. I get lost on idioms and slang, and if someone speaks very quickly I have trouble following, but typically I get it.

In the last 6 weeks or so, I’ve had a number of long (2+ hour) conversations with one friend that were almost all in Thai, though it should be noted that her English is very good and so if we were stuck in Thai, we could switch to English. I have been talking on the phone much more successfully, though it is still much harder than in person. In fact, a month ago I was woken up by a rather difficult personal call and managed to immediately follow and respond to it, all in Thai.

I also recently went out to dinner with a group of students and told them a story IN THAI, which they all clearly followed because they all burst into laughter at the right moment and, later on, joke about the story with me again. I also happened to get into a very strange, hour long conversation with three people I didn’t know (though as a result of the conversation, they are now friends) in which I was doing most of the speaking, sort of pouring my heart out about something, and doing it in Thai.

I’ve even been finding that in conversation with English speaking Thais, I sometimes want to use a Thai word or phrase because it expresses things better than the equivalent English does. Additionally, even when on paper someone’s English is better than, or even vastly superior to, my Thai, it often seems easier to converse in Thai (or to mix but mostly Thai). I believe this is the result of the ALG method, which has taught me to be very comfortable even when I don’t understand every single word, and made me really good at getting the point and following the gist of things. When speaking English with many Thais, I often feel little or no confidence that they understand me, whereas I think I must usually exude some confidence when listening to Thai that encourages the speaker to give it to me with both barrels. Admittedly, depending on the person speaking this can still be way over my head, but conversations often seem, at least from my end, more comfortable if they are in Thai.

It is still bumpy and limited, but I’m fluent in Thai... Aray wah!?!