08 April 2004

. . . and who could forget cambodia?

how could i forget in the last entry to at least mention our trip to cambodia? perhaps it was a subconscious decision to create a space just for the experience. and it was certainly an experience unlike any i have ever had before.

alfy and i had 8 days vacation time during which we opted to visit angkor wat in cambodia. to this end, we attained the requisite re-entry permits so that our non-immigrant b visas would not be null and void upon our return, our tourist visas to cambodia and our bus tickets. the going was good from kao san road in bangkok just up until the border.

and then we reached poi pet. poi pet is described in the "lonely planet" as the armpit of cambodia, and far be it from me to disagree. it seems the place where wayward souls congregate to pull the hair and coerce the minds of hapless foreigners hoping to visit the ancient wonders of the former khmer kingdom. after weaving our way through the labyrinthian border checkpoint and casino clusters, we were ushered into a delapidated van captained by a smiling octagenerian bent on finding and experiencing every road deformity. because alfy's legs are so much longer than the average thai's, we sat in front with me next to our fearless driver.

after bumps and scrapes and a close call with the transmission, we finally arrived in siem reap, the closest city to angkor wat. alfy and i found a cheap guesthouse with a swiss couple who were so cool that we spent the rest of our time in cambodia travelling with them. we rented bicycles for three days and were on our way to great adventures.

i don't mean to build it up for anyone who has not yet experienced angkor wat, but nothing prepared me for the majesty and wonder of it. there is a scaled version of one of the main temples in bangkok's grand palace, but i had no notion of the whole complex's sheer size until alfy and i pedaled around it with sweat and dust coagulating on our tired bodies.

the first morning, alfy and i got rather lost as we "navigated" (i use that word loosely) through microscopic villages and little pathside markets. having finally spilled onto the road to angkor, we rode up to angkor's main gates and asked where we could procure a three-day pass. after some confusion, one shocked and rather worried guard asked how we had managed to miss the checkpoints on the road. apparently we had missed all four checkpoints during our rural trek, which no foreigner had ever done before. cambodia is not the safest country in the world due to strife and landmines, so the guard did some hand-wringing while we tried to assure him that we never strayed from the path (which at least protects some against landmines).
after an eventful morning and a swell conversation with the woman who processed our passes, we continued on to our original destination - ankgkor wat.

the actual wat is beyond description. i won't try to describe, but only to say that you must go and experience it for yourselves. some temples have been restored while others have been left in the manner in which it was found, the jungle creeping into and becoming a part of the stone structures.

sacha, dorian, alfy and i decided after three days that we should see at least one other city before departing cambodia. the bad road experience from poi pet to siem reap had made us bus-shy, so we took a boat to battambang through floating villages and beautiful countryside. gorgeous! upon landing, we were informed (well, we deduced from the activity around us) that we had to climb on a pickup with our luggage and drive the rest of the way through into battambang. so much for avoiding the roads. as it happens, poi pet to siem reap was a cake walk compared to the treacherous mudlands optimistically called a road. a few times the pickup swung up to an embankment on the left tires and down into swamp on the right side, nearly tipping the truck over in the process. the cambodian passengers didn't seem overly concerned, but all the foreigners had heart palpitations and jumped off to walk until the road evened out again. i have never been so afraid or dirty in my life. we had wondered why one cambodian insisted on bringing some cardboard and a scythe with him. the answer was cardboard for traction and a scythe for brush if the actual road proved impassable. it was a shock and surprise to actually reach our destination. we stayed one night in battambang and drove in a car to poi pet the next day. alfy and i spent two days on koh chang, which has been built up beyond all recognition. still, a beautiful area is a beautiful area, and we returned refreshed and ready for the classes and schedule craze that lay ahead.

that's the trip! sorry it was so long. best to you all, my two devoted readers.

07 April 2004

eledile eulogy

i am happy to announce that my time spent between bangkok and nakhon pathom, between the elephant training ground and the crocodile farm, have left me both alive and unscathed. there are worse occurrences in life than walking past baby elephants and their mothers on one's way to work and having dinner with a crocodile wrestler and his family.

yes, it's been a quite few months in sampran, my current hometown. i have to admit that children i have taught in thailand vary quite radically from their chinese counterparts. the first few days were an incredible shock. students were wrestling each other (and i'm talking wwf, not greco-roman) down to the floor, sliding under and over tables and talking like each individual had undergone surgery to insert a microphone next to his or her vocal chords. in short, i just didn't know where to begin. i began to relax a little with one class of 5th grade girls on the second day who sat politely in their chairs and raised their hands to answer questions. towards the end of class, i turned my back to one side of the class and collected papers from the other side. within 20 seconds, there was a shattering sound. i looked back to find that in 20 seconds two students had picked up a chair and begun playing with it . . . straight into three panes of glass. that was the first week.

by the end of the semester in march, most rebellions had been quelled and forces of nature diffused to resemble a low-grade hurricane. i had grown accustomed to the tempests and tumult which was my daily environment, and now i occasionally miss the chaotic amorpha (i hereby anoint "amorpha" a word by right of poetic license) created by cacophonous youths.

but on to new adventures! the end of february brought with it the end of term (summer in thailand is march and april). most teachers went home for the summer, and we bid adieu to the cantankerous youths, but a few teachers stayed to do textbook work and some tutoring. i was assigned to edit and create activities and dialogues for energy sources and recycling. did they know i was green? because i hope it didn't come as a shock when one of the activities designated to mathayom 3 studying coursework published by the archdiocese of bangkok during their english lesson was to write the energy policy council and express concern for thai dependence on oil and the need to encourage energy conservation. tee-hee!

it has also been my glorious treat during these summer months to tutor a young priest, father sahaporn, in preparation for his masters study in america. we have discussed the movie "the passion of christ", life as a seminarian, latin prefixes and roots, football (thumbs down manchester united, thumbs up arsenal) and anything else that comes into our heads. it has been delight incarnate! i have also had the sublime opportunity to spend time with four aspiring seminarians as they sachet down the garden path to bilingualism.

alfy, as many of you know, has been living in nakhon si thammarat in southern thailand, and the commute between bangkok and nakhon has been a difficult row to hoe at times. i began looking for a theatre teaching job in february and finally found one a few weeks ago in nearby suratthani! i will be teaching m1-m2 students (7th and 8th grade in america) drama tempered with a touch of english literature from may onward.

this (finally) brings me to the present day. i am currently in suratthani doing orientation for my new job. the other teachers are absolutely lovely, and i look forward to spending time with every single one of them. the fact that i get to see more of alfy AND get to teach theatre in the meantime is certainly more good fortune than i can credit to merit. and i am going to get a bicycle! most residents of thailand opt for a moped or motorbike as their flavor of transportation, but a few of us here at suratthani school are taking the sweaty route and going for a pedal-pusher. so i was on the lookout for a bicycle shop, a walking tour which took me all over the face of my new fair city. my journey ended at a bike shop near the river which was run by a lovely woman. i asked her how much a few bikes were, and she invited me to look at her bike catalog. lo and behold there was chinese written in pen next to each description! next thing i know we were speaking chinese and meeting her daughter who is learning english and chinese and who has lived on the west coast and southern china! i found a bicycle, new friends, and a thai-english language exchange partner all in one go. who needs fred meyer's? this is one-stop shopping! now all i need is a place to stay and life is golden.

next week is songkran, so i will be sure to write an account of the most festive time in thailand as it comes to pass.

hope all is well with you and that you are either still awake after reading my update or have had a restful sleep. as a very wise woman often says: work hard, be happy, make friends. cheers.

13 January 2004

greetings from the grave

somewhere between the western and chinese new years, i heard a voice that reminded me of my journal's neglect. that voice sounded a lot like sandy malter's, and to ignore a suggestion from a wise source would be paramount to abject folly.

it's too late for christmas and too early for the chinese new year, so please consider this (my devoted two readers) a post-holiday card without the pomp or postage.

as mentioned in the last entry from another time and place, i returned from a wonderful romp across china with my mother and her linfield students. i spent one more month at bai da wei school in changchun before heading in a southerly direction to dalian, china. why would one meander from one northern chinese city to another? one might well ask. the answer is a teaching position in dalian, the coastal town that boasts both the occasional beach and a glorious coffee shop. the workload at sea rich sino-british college was far more involved than my previous esl (e.nglish as a s.econd l.anguage) foray with bai da wei. although this cut into swimming and exploring time, it also provided an excuse to spend an inordinate amount of time with my fellow co-workers. michelle murray, another bai da wei teaching veteran, was one such colleague who made a similar relocation from changchun to dalian, via america. we became roommates as well as reunited colleagues in one of the most enviable apartments ever. i did not deserve such palatial quarters, and i know that i will never enjoy such domestic luxuriance again. this knowledge only leads me to cherish the time spent all the more, as well as the time spent learning how to cook chinese food with yang shifu.
i found the college students at sea rich to be taller than the 4-year-old tots in changchun. there are, of course, upsides to the additional height and worldly experience of one's students. together my post-adolescent students and i suffered through bibliographies and academic writing,yes, but we also enjoyed discussing "the truman show" and "the shawshank redemption." the chaucers of china, my first esl drama class, was a group formed by six talented students. talented and tall.
the jewel of dalian, of course, is not from dalian but from tianjin. she is the alpha and omega of chinese instruction, and many sea rich foreign-language teachers became foreign-language students after that annoying sea rich bell rang at the end of the day. where are you, dear rebecca, because my tones have gone to hell in a handbasket!

and then it was time to spend time with dad in thailand. an outsider might think that i hated my father, given what i put that unquellable spirit through. i strapped a heavy tank on his back and encouraged him to dive into shark-infested waters. i practically walked his feet off by showing him the backpacker's thailand (the only way to travel). i made him do hard time on a hard seat from nakhon sii thammarat to bangkok. and through all that he still found a way to say "i love you." what a guy.

the holidays were spent in portland and new york, and i am afraid that i would bore everyone with my potentially lengthy account tagged onto an already scandalously-long entry. let's just say they will be visits eagerly redone.

and now i'm in thailand, one hour from bangkok by bus and 2 minutes from an elephant training ground and a crocodile farm. if i don't get squashed or devoured, i will recount life here and try to do it justice.

hope all is well with you in whatever climate you find yourselves in!