Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Where is the cab going?

There are 3 kinds of roads in Bangkok: overpass, Main Street and alley.

The toll overpass is very fast and also avoided at all costs. Also large stretches are Under Construction. But it shows up on the map as a wonderful blue road. Just don't tell the cabbie to take it for speed - it only looks good on paper.

Main streets have business on the first floor - "business" is primarily a storage unit stall filled with cloth, tires, doors, or snacks and stuff. Interspersed every mile or so are 7/11 or Big C or another glassed in front store. Or a car dealer.

The alleys - literally 1 car wide but not 1 way, paved but no walk way - has food stalls under a tent or awning in front of the stall. These are usually fresh fruit or vegetables. Meat seems to be only sold in the larger market areas. There are also carts and stalls with prepared food. The teacher said a typical dinner for with three dishes if 20 baht, about 65 cents so many many people just buy off the street on the way home. It is almost cheaper than buying fresh and cooking.

Also in these little alleys are residents, in a separate part section. Driving in one of these, you find not only the "1 lane 2 cars", but parked cars! The rest is all walls and gates. Except for the traffic it is all safe to walk. Watership Down rabbit warrens come to mind so we all carry cards with the address and cab fare to take us the 2 blocks were are away from the house but lost.

I am sure there is a downtown Bangkok of lavish malls and glitter but this is real life where people work hard and make ends meet.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bedlam to Bliss

We started teaching today. I have English class for elementary. Today I saw all Grade 2. They are the cutest little kids! This is a private school so they have teeny little uniforms and all the dark hair in pigtails or braids or bowl cut. We did Hokey Pokey and Head Shoulders Knees and Toes -  thanks to the Glen Ellyn Public Library who kept me fresn on those songs! Then we worked with the  grade 1 kids preparing to sing at the Englihsh Language Camp on Monday. A stirring rendition of Eency Weency Spider. Any real spider would run away from all the noise but the "down came the rain" is a real gully washer when they all screech it out.

Or cultural activity today was to learn Thai massage, pressure points, etc. and then since we were there anyway, we all had one! Absolutely tranquil - lie on a covered bamboo mat with soft music. The massage person gets on the mat with you rather than standing beside so real pressure come from the arms and hand. I swear there was one she got both feet involved, too. It was lovely. Everyone here is so gracious and hospitable it is easy to feel like a princess. Ahhhhh.

Thais drink coffee so there is a pot going all the time. That is just one exa

mple of the conglomeration of cultures and traditions that Thailand embraces with enthsiasium. Plus their desire to always make the other person welcome and happy. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Seaweed Lays

Besides the road construction, along the Main Street are numerous little shops for various pretty much unidentifiable items and then sprawling car dealerships. We worked our way past the 7/11 (yes just like at home) and found the Big C shopping center. Besides the massive grocery store, there were electronics shops, and some very tempting ice cream places. Later. There was also a Dunkin D and KFC which given the local food that is usually fried and very sweet, it is not surprising they have thrived. Potato chip flavors included "seaweed" and "many shrimp." Of course from Lays....

We did find some lemon grass which makes a very refreshing tea hot or cold.

Tomorrow we begin teaching. Looks like I might have English for grades 4-6.

Tuk-tuk and Beetle Nut

Orientation is one of those non definable words that can mean "read the handbook" or "waaaaaay more information thank anyone can take in still somewhat jet lagged"! Today was #2 but lots of fun.

One exercise we do in every country is the Drop Off - starting from the volunteer house we get instructions to go to the local pharmacy and price headache pills or something. Or job was to take a tuk-tuk to the local fresh market.

First a tuk-tuk is a motorcycles pulling a back seat with extra wheels. Completely open except for a covering. Think surry without the fringe and the only horsepower under the fender. It would not be fun in the rain, but scooting along with nothing between us and the next 1000 vehicles on the road was a riot! The road has been under construction for a decade and still is only 16% complete so there were barricades and u-turns that went through some rough turf, but we found the market.

It as one of nicest and cleanest I have seen outside Europe. Miles and miles of fruits and vegetables, pork,  fish  still flipping on the counter, every shell fish imaginable with little inner beings still trying to escape, all parts of the chicken except the cluck. We had to find two fruits and vegetables we did not know which was not hard. Then we discovered Thai Donuts.

Thai people are generally friendly and smiling, make eye contact and Lots of finger pricing and a caculator for when things got over 10 baht. My companions were ones who love to bargain so we negotiated on principle from 7 cents to 6 cents US. It was not too crowded and very clean.

We ended up buying a beetle nut thinking it was fruit - the desired effect of which is supposed to be "happiness." I was not convinced by the expressions on people's faces. It was one of those things I had read a lot about in many books as an item you chew and then spit the red juice to try to hit a target.  Looking at faces, the only spitting was into napkins. But an adventure.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Inheritant Danger of Good Books

The entire flight from Chicago to Korea was spent reading Casual Vacancy by JK Rolwing. How often do I get 13 hours just to read? It was blissful.

Today we were introduced to Thai food and language. Typical CCS food is fantastic. This was several kinds of noodles - cook very fresh - with spices rather than salt and fat.  The language is not so fun. It is tonal so one bad syllsbic swoop, and you can say a seriously wrong word. But if you smile it will help.

To keep us awake we went to a floating market, along and over a canal. We took a flat boat up and down and saw water hyacinth  as well as the more vicious catfish I have ever encountered. The sign at the  dock said "feed the fish." I can only imagine what they would do if we did not pitch in. Jump in the boat and snatch our umbrellas.

Which we needed. There has been a steady drizzle since we arrived which it is hot enough not to mind.

The traffic is not as insane as many other places and no horns honking. this psrt of the world is very quiet. However there is a grocery cart That circles the house every hour or so with a loud speaker announcing specials on green beans.

Five of us arrived last night. 7 more are here so the house is about 1/2 full and we have plenty of space. Lots of screened in porches and fans.

So we learn our way around and get de-jet lagged. Or in my case, start a new book.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Taking less

I can't quite fit everything into a backpack, but one carry on and a bag do it now for 3 weeks. Even I am tired of the outfits by the time I come back!

We wear very specific clothes to work - long pants with the "color of the day" shirts! It will be fun to see how much those color of the day suggestions are carried out. Remember in grade school and high school we had certain color days - only the really in people knew the color so the rest of us ambled through the week clueless! But Thai colors are on Wickipedia so I am prepared!

Off hours are much more free and casual for clothing than any other country. In Morocco we had to cover knees and elbows any time we went out. India we had to cover shoulders, knees and often heads. Even in Russia the churches required skirts and head covers. Thailand apparently is all shorts and tank tops! We'll see if that applies to women over "a certain age" - as I was surprised it did not in South Africa and China! The white ankles and knees got many frowns. I wonder what the "certain age" is...

All the items are spread out in the spare room ready to check off and pack up. One last load of laundry...dryers are a luxury we have seen nowhere.

Flying Asiana via Korea and then to Bangkok. Teaching English in grade school. Going one weekend  to Koi Samui. Those are all the plans I have - the rest is adventure!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A long time to get far away

Flight time 14 hours to Korea, 3 hour layover, 5 more to Bangkok. I will be exactly 1/2 way around the world from here in a week. Or maybe I was yesterday, depending on the date line....


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Work place

Always an exciting day - about 2 weeks before departure we get our teaching assignments. In Thailand I will be in a grade school, enhancing English lessons with "creative and proactive way to engage children in learning English"! I hope that includes the a Hokey Pokey...

We work a 4 day week, 9am - 3 PM, including lunch at the site. The kids get 1 hour a week of native English speaker instruction so I see a lot of class changing. What an adventure!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Every day has 24 hours but some zoom by in a wonderful blur of grandbaby visits and trips in the US. Now "suddenly" there are only 17 days to departure!

I have communicated with two of the people arriving when I do (hi, Laura and Mary Beth!) and we have arranged to take a weekend jaunt to Ko Samui, an island south of Bangkok. I am waiting for the work assignment, but the summer volunteers teach English to a variety of ages so "talking" may once again be my most important qualification.

I try to read fiction about the location before I go, particularly by authors from that country, even if they now live in the US. There are lots of novels about Thailand, but mostly about exotic adventures by American visitors, usually suspense or spy related. I did find a trilogy called The Falcon of Siam

byAxel Aylwen, sweeping histories of Thailand in the time of European expansion. It is the only Asian country that has never been dominated. I read two Girl from the Land of Smiles and The Ambassador's Wife that give interesting insights into female trafficking, which is notable in Bangkok. I will be interested to hear more.

Thailand is culturally Buddhist and we are warned to be very respectful of the religion in our dress and the royal family in our comments. I am there to watch and learn. And there should be a lot to see!