Sorry I’m late…

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No, thank you.

My students had 2 exams, both around 30 minutes long and together worth 40% of their final grade. The exams were to be taken in class time, at the same time we usually have class… that is to say, at 9am on Thursday. There are 15 students in the class.

At 9am I had about 8 students. 9.05 I had 10 and at 9.15 I had 12. Because I am probably far too kind I waited and we started the exam at 9.20. Between then and 9.30 the total number of students present rose to 14. The 2 last students said ‘sorry I’m late’ and began their tests.

At 9.43am, in walks the final student. ‘Sorry I’m late.’ The first exam will finish at 9.50.

Another class. Same 2 exams. Class starts at 1pm.  Class always starts at 1pm. At 1.10 I have 16 out of 35 students. The last 4 students come at 2.20 pm. That’s an hour and twenty minutes late for an hour long exam. They looked incredibly baffled when I said they had missed it.

I’m not going to pretend that I was never late at university level. In fact I remember having a 2 hour Spanish exam unusually on a Saturday morning and jumping out of bed just as it started. But the thing that gets me is…. These are their FINALS. Of course, the majority of my students turned up on time, or a few minutes late, and studied hard. But with every class the pattern of at least one student being more than half an hour late or over an hour late has repeated.

Am I… Is this… just… What?!

You know what the icing on the cake is? I had to reschedule the exam for the 4 students that came at 2.20 pm.

There’s more.

I asked them what time they could do. They said 1 pm. They came at about 2 pm, smiling sweetly.

NOT. EVEN. FUNNY.

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Reading and Writing Thai – Somsonge Burusphat

DrawingCowsinBrugesI highly recommend this book for anyone starting out to read the Thai language. The main thing I like about it is that it introduces everything slowly and builds it up gradually. I can string letters together to make the right sounds, but the tones, up until now, have been mystifying to me. I did a simple Google for ‘Thai tone rules’ and was completely overwhelmed by the explanations and the charts! I read a few posts on blogs from people who reckon they have ‘cracked’ the rules and found a way to simplify everything and just got more and more confused. What works for some people doesn’t work for others.

I took a deep sigh and a break from the computer and re-scanned my bookshelf. I noticed this book, which I had bought nearly a year ago and not properly looked at. I had been plowing headfirst into children’s books without much guidance or really understanding what I was doing, and was at much the same level as I had been months ago. I needed some drastic action, and realised that this might be the answer to actually improving.

The author starts by introducing mid and low class consonants and long vowels, then high class consonants and long vowels. Then she looks at the final sound of the syllable and how it affects tone. There are lots of repetitive exercises to help drill everything into the memory. After that, she moves on to talking about  short vowels and how the first and last consonant affect the tone. And so it goes on, gradually building up the rules that you have to remember. I really like the fact that she explains everything, but the majority of the book is reading exercises, which is what it should be. I believe that rather than knowing and being able to recite the tone rule chart off by heart, with enough practice I will be able to see a word and recognise it’s tone from looking at it, which of course, is what I’m aiming for. I already feel confident reading words with the tone rules that I have studied so far, and I’ve only been studying it for a few weeks. I feel like I’m getting somewhere!

There is maybe one con for me, that is that I don’t really understand the transliteration that is used. I also don’t really want to spend time learning it as I want to spend that time learning Thai. It’s used to explain what kind of sound the letters make. There’s no CD, so I think that if you don’t know what sounds the letters and vowels make already, it would be difficult to make any sense of it at first. Having said that, there are plenty of videos on YouTube of people showing the Thai letters and making the sounds, so there’s no excuse not to be able to learn it quite fast, if you haven’t got access to a native speak who will go through it with you. The transliteration is also used to for a few exercises that help you spell in Thai for example – ‘write ‘dEEn’ (walk) in Thai. If you don’t understand the transliteration then you can’t do the exercises.

Other than that I think it’s a great book in which the process of learning and remembering has been clearly thought out. Yay :D

How have you found learning the tone rules? What resources have you used when learning to read Thai?

Where I live

I’ve found myself watching lots of ‘My apartment tour’ videos on YouTube from people in various countries. It’s interesting to consider how different people live when they move abroad, I suppose. I figured people might be interested in where I live, too.

And so, without further adieu, here is a description accompanied by a few pictures, of my lovely apartment in Bangkok for you to feast your eyes on.

I live about a ten minute bus ride from the nearest MRT stop (subway), and in the north of the city, near to Nonthaburi, the next province. This is undoubtedly the reason why my apartment is a little cheaper than what I’ve found nearer the BTS or MRT or on Sukhumvit road. I pay 6,500 baht a month. I have a bedroom, a living room with balcony, and a bathroom. It’s quite a new building too, quiet and clean and I really like living here!

*Messy apartment alert*… Only downside is there’s not quite enough storage…

Apartment-2092311

Apartment-2092312

I bought the sofa and fridge myself, though they weren’t expensive at all. Some apartments in the past have asked me to rent the fridge/TV for 500-1000 baht a month which I have always thought was a little crazy! I was given the microwave and TV for free courtesy of my other half (who doesn’t live with me).

Apartment-2092305

Apartment-2092306
No, I don’t have a kitchen. I’ve never had a kitchen while I’ve been living in Bangkok. Food stalls are everywhere outside, and very cheap too. Nearly every supermarket and shopping mall also has a food court where the food isn’t expensive. There is also a restaurant in the apartment building itself which again, isn’t pricey, so I have quite a lot of options. I’ve recently been perfecting the art of microwave cooking too… though so far I’ve managed to explode around 4 eggs while trying to poach them. I recommend scrambled eggs as a far better option for those who would like to try it.

The view from the balcony.

The view from the balcony.

Oh, another thing that may be different in other countries, there’s a main door at the front of the building where I have a keycard to get in (and then once I go up in the lift I have keys to my door), and there’s also a reception where I pay my rent or tell them when my lightbulb’s blown etc. It’s quite convenient.

Well, I hope you liked my little tour. :)

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.

Tone Deaf in Bangkok (and other places)

I want to share a book recommendation…

Tone Deaf in Bangkok (and other places) – by Janet Brown

It’s just brilliant. While I have been feeling a little uninspired by Bangkok recently for various reasons, Janet’s writing seems to open it up and make me realise how awesome a city it is again.

Her stories are anecdotes of her periods of living in Bangkok and travelling in Thailand, as a single farang woman. I greatly appreciated this, as having scoured shelves previously for books on Bangkok, a lot of them seem to be written by men, which I find a little harder to relate to, being a single farang woman myself.

She reinforced for me, the idea that nothing ever just comes to you – just because you go and visit a country doesn’t mean it is obliged to pamper you and show you a good time. To enjoy Bangkok (or anywhere) you have to get out there and do things, and learn the language, and talk to people, and get stuck in. Sometimes it might go right, and sometimes, of course, it might go wrong.

But the most important thing is you’ll have a multitude of stories to tell at the end of it…..

‘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.