Very superstitious…

Um… first thing.. I apologise for the pictures, they were taken on my phone :)

I don’t consider myself to be particularly superstitious… I do avoid walking under ladders for some reason, and only ever half put up my umbrella inside… but that’s about it.  I don’t even really believe those two, so I don’t know why I do it really. However – there’s no getting away from superstition in Thailand, it goes hand in hand with tradition and has pretty much seamlessly integrated itself with religion.

Every day when I go into work, I have to take a huge step up into the building (and that’s an undue amount of effort in the morning). This is because, when the owner of our school was told by his medium to knock down the steps in front of the school as they were hypothetically allowing money to roll out, he did. And then replaced the reasonably spaced apart steps with a huge platform, angled slightly in towards the school, so that money would stay in.

The other day I went to work to witness the Thai staff all standing barefoot in front of an altar-of-sorts, with lots of wreaths of flowers,   fruit, incense burning, and flower petals scattered around the school.  This itself is not bizarre, and I cautiously slipped past them as they prayed and chanted, and went up to our staff room. About half an hour later we were urged back down again by our lovely HR lady – so us farangs waited and stood there unsure of what to do as not much was happening anymore. Everyone seemed to be waiting with baited breath for… something.

After a while it became apparent that the lady some people were crawling over to was ‘the medium’, and as she was highly revered they were making sure they were physically lower than her when they were near her.  And my boss explained what was happening – the medium had told all the staff at the ceremony, that for good luck (I think, and maybe making merit*?) everyone must empty their pockets and change their money into coins. Then they would scatter the coins around, and share the money, people would then go around and pick it up. But why were we all waiting for so long? Ah, here is the clincher. The owner of the school had had 40,000 baht (just over £800) in his pocket that morning! So we were waiting as it all got changed into 1, 2, 5 and 10 baht coins and brought back to school.

We all got ushered outside to the entrance, all ready with out plastic bags, cups, anything to hold as many coins as possible. In front of us were all the people throwing the money…. and they were off, scattering it left right and centre, under tables, on chairs, in the corridors, up the stairs, in rooms, around computers, and we followed them, painstakingly searching, frantically picking up coins and filling our bags, all of us wishing we had longer fingernails to lift the coins with.

I’ve never witnessed anything like it! We counted out money at the end, and I think certain numbers in the ranking of who picked up the most meant something… I wasn’t quite sure. Extra luck perhaps? I managed 350 baht, hey that’s a new pair of shoes, or a massage!  Actually I made a rather poor effort. Most of the Thai staff collected a lot over 1000 baht each. Not bad for a morning…!

*Merit making is a very common religious practice, similar in many ways I suppose to the idea of ‘karma’. Namely, by doing good you will receive good, be that happiness, wealth, prosperity etc, in this life or in your next life. I think there is more to it that that, but this seems to be the main reason for Thai people (to my understanding). They make merit by going to the temple, giving alms – food and things – to monks, and other things.

วันพฤหัสบดี (Thursday)

I woke up at about 8, and set about getting breakfast, getting dressed, making tea, and at about 830 it started raining heavily. This was slightly out of the ordinary, as the heavens tend to wait until mid afternoon to open. By 10 I had read enough of my book, practised enough of my guitar and I decided I should probably be getting to work a little early anyway.It was still raining.This wouldn’t normally phase me; after an hour or so the rain is usually quite light, and I don’t mind getting a little damp. Not today, though.

I stood at my window watching the streaming waterfalls that had become the building opposite. A thick grey sheet had enveloped the rest of the view, and I knew that if I went out I would likely be swallowed up by it too. I waited, and waited. Finally at least half an hour later, I felt able to forage out, cardigan over my head (I had left my umbrella somewhere I discovered to my dismay).

“Nam tuam!” said my security guard as I went out the main door. He was hopping about excitedly (I am used to him professionally greeting me with a salute). “Nam tuam!” he said again, indicating just below his knee.

Nam tuam is probably the first word I learnt this time round in Thailand, as I came last year at the beginning of the floods up in the north of the country. I was witness to the panic and worry while everyone tried to figure out and predict what would happen to Bangkok as the water came south.

“Jing lor”. I walked down to the end of my footpath-less soi, past lots of parked taxi’s with their doors open, to witness taxi drivers standing, hands on hips and handkerchiefs on heads. Indeed, a wide river of brown water, just over ankle deep had appeared on the footpath-less main road, my passage to work and beyond.

Two motorbike taxis went past me relatively slowly as I stood and considered my options. I mentally crossed off trying to wade through it (it’s a good 7 minute walk to the skytrain station), and then cursed myself for not flagging down one of the motorbikes – not the safest considering the water, but one has to compromise when one doesn’t want to get one’s feet wet.

For 15 minutes I stood, unsure of how to approach the situation, taking cautious steps backwards, away from the large dull coloured waves that spilled up the ‘bank’ of the new river every time a vehicle decided they could still manage to drive through it. The motorbikes that bravely ferried people across all had several people on them at a time.

Out of nowhere, suddenly a Thai lady popped up and helpfully ushered me onto a mini-truck that was headed in the direction I wanted to go. Unfortunately I had to wade a little to get on it… (why I walked on tip toes through the water, I don’t know. It didn’t help me stay dry one bit) and slowly, slowly we drove, the small truck trying it’s hardest, it’s wheels half covered by water – and I arrived at the station relatively dry, to have the driver “mai pen lai” (nevermind) the money that I offered him!

After many wais and “kop kun”s all round, I got on to the reasonably packed skytrain with a warm feeling in my heart… and a soggy feeling in my shoes.

Early bird

 

CowsinBruges

One of my favourite things to do on my days off is get up early.

Let me explain. My working week consists of midday starts and 9 pm finishes, meaning that by the time I get home it’s half 9 at least, if I’ve gone to get some food it’s 9.45, by the time I’ve eaten it, probably 10.45 to be honest. And I find it almost impossible to go to bed straight after I’ve eaten. All in all it means I go to bed relatively late. And so inevitably… get up late (ish) the next day. I leave my house at 11, I do have time to do some things in the morning, but always have to consider work, what time to start getting ready… etc etc.

I deliberately set my alarm early on a day off because that whole day is mine. I get up, and do things that need to be done – and do far more in the morning than I would on another day. Then, the time when I would usually be at work is time for relaxing, doing whatever I want to do. I don’t have anything hanging over me.

My days off are often not at the weekend either. This month I have Thursday and Friday off. Meaning that I am relaxing while my colleagues are at work, and while most other people are at work.

There’s something I love about not working when other people are. It feels almost naughty, and somehow makes me relish my free time even more than if everyone was off too, like at the weekend.

I remember being ill one day, not going into school and staying at home. I must have been… in year 7 or 8 I think, so maybe 12. My dad had the day off too, as he works shifts at the airport, and so he looked after me. He had a dentist appointment – and took me in the car with him to where his dentist had a private practice in a housing estate. I sat in the car when he went in. And… there was silence. Everyone else was at work. The dentist was at work. There were no cars at any of the houses, no people walking on the streets. It was an eerie kind of silence – and I loved it. What was everyone else doing? Rushing around, thinking about things they had to do, maybe feeling stressed, finishing things for deadlines… and I could just sit here. I wasn’t bored, I wasn’t lonely, I wasn’t fed up (though I suppose I must have felt ill). Just content.

It’s the same feeling I’ve had before when I’ve had interviews in London. I lived close, but not in London so I had to take the whole day off, (or I was unemployed at the time). I would go up on the train, to London Bridge, or Victoria, get the underground, go for the interview. And then, because I had no real reason to get back.. and the train journey probably cost me a fortune… I would stay in London for a bit. Sure there were tourists around and people in suits on the phone, people meeting other people… but, especially around London Bridge and by the river, it was considerably quiet. Around the docks too, Canary Wharf. I could feel the low gentle buzz of the city, coming from inside offices and tall buildings, all the thoughts going on, the strategies and new ways forward being created.  All the quiet energy. And then suddenly at lunch time it would come bursting out onto the streets. An hour of free time was grasped and people would make the most of it by rushing around to get food, get things done, talk to friends, anything they needed to be done. Then back to work again.

This morning I got up and went out to buy breakfast. A bit later than usual on a day off I have to admit, the early morning fruit lady was packing up her stall and the daytime fruit lady was just setting hers up. ‘Sawatdii ka’ to the daytime fruit lady as I walked past and popped into 7/11 – I hate them and I love them at the same time. I hate them because they are a chain, and I’d rather not take business away from little corner shops. However – they do sell some amazing stuff…and so a Big Pao Moo Deng (Red BBQ pork steamed bun), a yoghurt and a bottle of green tea richer, I stepped back outside onto the pavement (sidestepping the rather porky soi dog that lazily sleeps outside the entrance). I can’t not buy some fruit now… it’ll be the second time I’ve walked past fruit lady… and so I stop to get my usual ‘sabarot’, (pineapple) already cut up into bitesized chunks and with a stick so I can eat it without any washing up.

As I walk back up my soi (lane) I am hit with a terrific urge to go to the beach. The sun is shining, so much so that I cross over to the shade, the street barbecues are out, and the smell of charcoal and cooking meat is everywhere. It makes me think of barbecues in the back garden when I was about 8 – me and my younger sister taking control and donning our shades to stop the smoke getting in our eyes. Barbecues on the beach with friends and digging out the sand so the flames wouldn’t go out all the time. Sitting on Brighton beach drinking cider during Pride festival.

Note to self – need to look up any possible daytrips from Bangkok to the beach. I think there are some if your own car is available, sadly I don’t own one.Hua Hun or Cha-am soon. Then Koh Chang.

Now I’m sitting here, listening to Chopin Nocturne number 2 and wishing I could play the piano. The whole day ahead of me, I’m going to go to the park (when it’s a little cooler) and read, practise guitar (just bought a new one and am soo excited to be teaching myself again). I need to study Thai today too, I have been somewhat lazy as of late. If I had a pool I would swim. Unfortunately I don’t. When I have my medical certificate back I’ll sign up for the public pool down the road. Then this evening maybe a catch up with friends.

And you…? Early bird or late riser?

Parental units

With matching sun hats (bless ’em), my Mum and Dad came to visit me in Bangkok. I realised how much I have missed them – their humour and their warmth, and it was great to show them around what is currently my city. It’s so busy here compared to my home town… and hot… but my parents loved the temples and food.. so I think it was a success!

We went to the Chao Praya river, and took a river boat to Wat Pho, Wat Arun, beautiful temples that though I’ve seen before, they never cease to take good photos, and are beautiful even in the 37 degree heat and muted sky..

Wat Arun is soooo steep, I climbed up it once, and sincerely regretted it as the steps were so narrow and close together, I clung on for my life as I climbed back down again.  Apparently the steepness is to symbolise the difficulty in life of attaining closeness to the Gods – it was built under Khymer and Hindu influences.

It’s adorned with mythical creatures and beings, and encrusted with beautiful-ness.

My Dad is not usually fond of heights at all, but managed to climb up the first set of stairs!

We had a lovely day!

‘moderately rich farang’

When asked if ‘Teaching English as a Foreign Language’ (often abbreviated to TEFL and in this case used by someone who likes to pretend he is better than it) pays well, my answer is often, ‘yes thank you, fine – if you know where to look’.

Which I believe is true to an extent. What I wanted to add, but didn’t, is, ‘but I don’t do this job because I want to be rich’.

Don’t get me wrong, I have skills, I’m a good teacher, and have recently looked for a new job that I feel values my input, and reflects my worth and quality as a teacher. I know I deserve to be paid a fair salary, not only do I have certain qualifications that took time to achieve, I put in effort and time to plan lessons, and to  realise students weaknesses and nurture them to be more confident. And I love it. But I do this job because I want to be here, as much as anything else.

Sawatdii ka

I’m grateful for Thailand for letting me stay and experience the culture, and live here for a while. I’m proud to go to places using public transport – I use the skytrain, motorbike taxis, buses, I love walking even if I do get a little sweaty for my liking. I enjoy popping into 7 elevens a dozen times a day to get ‘snacks’. I enjoy eating firey food from street stalls and restaurants with fold up tables, drinking iced water out of a tin cup with a straw. I enjoy trying to communicate in very-limited-but-getting-there Thai with smiling locals.

It’s funny, because for a while I’ve felt a little uninspired, a little too settled here, a little too ‘normal’. I now remember what my goal in life is: to experience, and to learn. And that’s why I’m here. To feel at home in a completely different culture to the one I was brought up with. I think I’ve still got a fair way to go with Bangkok yet, and with Thailand as a whole, I’m sure I have. Sometimes I need to have my feathers ruffled a little bit though, to remind me why I came here in the first place. I’d rather be rich with experience, please and thankyou.

City of Angels

Here are my first few snaps in Bangkok using film on my Recesky! A little bit pricey for developing unfortunately… however, film is awesome.  I love how the focus in the city scape makes it look fake, and the trees almost look plastic… or is that just me?!

This last picture is a ‘Spirit House’. These are everywhere in Thailand, and offer a place of residence for spirits – they are also appeased by being given offerings of food, incense and other things. Belief in spirits form a big part of Thai culture, which I should know more about really….. I aim to catch up on reading a lot more books about Thai culture!

Hope you like the pictures….

Hev

x

Recesky

So… it seems that actually there are a lot of toy cameras around Bangkok. MBK has quite a lot, I actually got of the skytrain to fall over a tiny little shop called ‘Holga’…

*ahem*

Sells cheap film, so got a few rolls… to put in this baby…

…which I just bought. It’s a Recesky TLR, and I completely geeked out and made it from a kit, using only a pair of tweezers… as I had no small screwdriver to hand!

So now I get to experiment!

Little bit homesick…

I am feeling homesick today. Have been pretty ill – just a cold, the same cold I’ve had for at least a week… nearly two! Sore throat, sore nose, sore head, just feel absolutely rubbish.

So I think feeling run down is contributing to it.

Also for some reason was thinking about Christmas, and how much I love it, and how I won’t get to celebrate it with my family this year. Highly doubt I can afford to go home, or should for that matter – I need to settle here more. Christmas is totally not the same here at all. Sad times.

I guess this is culture shock, but in a different way to how I experienced it before. In a way I was expecting this…
I was so excited to be coming back .. now I’m here and over the initial excitement, it’s kinda back to reality. I don’t have a new and exciting job, I have the same one I had before, and everything is surprisingly the same… and I’m starting to wonder if I should have gone somewhere completely new.

But at the same time I know I do like it here – there were definite reasons for wanting to come back.. I want to properly experience Thailand more this time. I am hoping that when I learn Thai it will make me see Thailand as a whole new place again, and open up a lot of things to me. Like… there have been a good few times when I have really wanted to talk with Thai people, when they’ve obviously wanted to talk to me too, but we’ve both been limited by the language. It’s hard when you can’t really make small talk with people… and also when you know people are talking about you but you don’t know what they’re saying. Kind of makes me paranoid…

I have a few people I can go out with – have made friends with a small group who are friends of a friend who works with me… they all met at a TEFL course. So that’s cool – but still, theyre not my friends from home or my family, and I really miss Brighton. I love Brighton so much, in the back of my mind I think I will always wonder why on earth I left!! But it will always be there… Oh Brighton. I love you. Right now I really really want to eventually settle in Brighton, I can’t think of any faults with it! This is a process of the whole culture shock thing too though I am sure – I’m feeling like Bangkok is rubbish.

Change is difficult – part of me wonders why on earth I do it to myself. It’s very hard moving to different countries, by myself too, and making pretty major decisions. Obviously I have to stick it out and remember change also helps me to grow and develop. Challenges are always good – but not always easy.

Still… feeling negative :( and not sure how to combat it. I’ve eaten so much junk food right now… it hasn’t helped :(

———-Update———
Feeling a little better. For several reasons:

1. I have a cup of tea. Made with creamer… but nonetheless. TEA. And none of that Lipton rubbish. Tesco Lotus Finest. Nothing like a good cup of tea when you’re feeling down.

2. I also have Tylenol Cold medicine. 15 baht. No idea if it will work – never taken it before (Tylenol is really very American). But 15 baht! That’s so cheap it’s unreal. And another reason I love living around the Thong Lor area – I know where to go to get things like that. I know where to get medicine, photos, food, snacks… and it’s all a lot cheaper than the UK.

(Still not lemsip though…!)

3. I have also had a long nap, with the air con on. That’s a major issue I have with being ill in Thailand, when I get hot flushes I am just SO hot, it’s just plain uncomfortable. But it makes snuggling up in bed with the air con so much of a treat. I have a fluffy blanket, not a duvet/comforter, which I much much prefer – I don’t get hot if there is no a/c, but at the same time it’s just snuggly!!

For now I think it’s bed… and tv…