21 December 2005

remembrance of things past

talking to my parents as we trimmed the tree this evening, we waxed poetic (or perhaps just waxed) about the ghosts of christmas trees past. we Routh are rather fond of our tree choices - those trees that are off-kilter, somehow slightly askew are the ones that invariably find themselves bedecked in years worth of yuletide trinket collection. so we paused while admiring the fruits of our bedecking labors in order to pay tribute to arbors of yore.

my favorite recollection is actually from that of my teacher in china, whose son's class was learning about western holiday traditions during my wintertime spent in changchun. Shu's son's teacher wanted a christmas tree for the classroom but of course could not find one to cut down (trees are rare enough in cities as to not be available for the taking, and the country is difficult to access without private transportation which few have), so she decided that each student should have to bring a branch in as homework. the teacher would then bind them together, and the class would have their tree! now Shu's husband is a police officer, but they love their son, and the prospect of him not having a branch for the classroom tree was too much to bear, so in the dead of night, he took a saw and went into nanhu park. as he started cutting into one of the branches, he looked around carefully to see if anyone was watching him only to find that there were a few other parents doing the same thing. i didn't get to see the "tree" that the teacher bound together, but i imagine it looks rather like one in line with Routh tree specifications.

a week after this story was just after christmas and my next lesson with Shu Laoshi. this was the telling of the Stocking Incident. along with learning about christmas trees at public school, Shu's son also learned about christmas stockings at his after-school english class. he insisted on having a christmas stocking with a tenacity that almost led Shu Laoshi to distraction. they made great ceremony of hanging the stocking by the fire (actually the radiator connected to the bloc's centralized furnace, but whatever) with care and then went off to bed. in the middle of the night, however, Shu's son shook her awake and begged that the stocking be taken down because he was afraid that he would get coal in it because he had been such a bad boy. Shu Laoshi, though not fluent in the semantics of western holiday traditions, is very quick on the uptake and a clever woman who knows how to answer the door when opportunity knocks. in the following five minutes, she learned a great deal of her son's recent transgressions which he believed would provoke a coal-ated stocking come christmas morning. he got candy in his stocking, but i am sure not without first promising both his mother and santa claus to be better next year.

25 September 2005

keys and mooncakes

i am writing from my parents' computer where i have been camped out pretty much all night in an attempt to answer the 113 email messages from noble friends whose quips have been ignobly molding in my inbox. i am writing from my parents' computer because i locked my keys at work which prevents me from unlocking my bicycle and unlocking my house's front door among other conveniences. the good news is that i am not as bad off as last time, when i was locked out of my apartment in brooklyn for two days wearing only a sarong during a snowstorm. yes, sir, this is much better.

and even better is reading these jewels of prose! for instance, following is from Sasha Tian, a student from Chengdu, China. the Moon Festival was on sept. 18th, and i asked her the story behind mooncakes (a kind of pastry eaten only during the moon festival which everyone hates but everyone eats). here is her email (i hope it is okay to tell your story, Sasha!):

Mid-autumn Day is based on a legend.Long,long time ago,there were ten suns in the sky,people were very hot and didn't have enough water.Many people dead.The God was very worried and looked for someone who could shoot the suns in the sky.There was a man named Houyi,he was good at shooting.So the God gave him the super power and he finally shoot nine suns and left one in the sky.The God was very happy and he gave Houyi a medicine.It could make him young all his life.Houyi's wife(Cheng'e) knew this and stole the medicine.She eat it and to her surprise,she began to fly.She flew to the moon and could not come back.Houyi missed his wife and he ate mooncakes(his wife like eating mooncakes) every year in the middle Autumn.On that day the moon will be round.And you can see a woman on the moon.
So every year,family get together and eat mooncakes.
Also mooncakes are good presents.You can give them to your boss,teachers, friends...
To be honest,I don't like mooncake.I just the mooncakes with eggs inside.
Now you know the story about mooncakes and why they are so popular in China.
I miss you.520!!!!!

24 September 2005

my first personal

titter titter gleam shine!!

well, last week Brian Bartley and i stepped into the Sapphire Hotel for a drink and hopefully a free tarot reading (we didn't happen upon tarot, but the band was glorious!). Willy Week was handing out free personal ad apps. so here it is, our first publication as seen in www.wweek.com, and our first collaboration (unless of course you count "Jake's Women"), hopefully the first of many (though not necessarily in personals format):

29-year-old, HWP, wanderlusting chick ISO lexicon-loving, highly humorific, consummately cantankerous soul, adores alliteration. Philatelics, programmers and pet lovers welcome. Jugglers accepted on a probationary basis. Linguistic status *a must. Please enjoy people watching and infrequent eavesdropping.
6956 (10/19/05)
*should read "Linguistic status immaterial", but hey, the ad was free

i was wondering last night to what this sudden interest in personal ads is due (in addition to actually posting one, i have also responded to one on CL). could it be belated culture shock? FOLLOWING PLEASE FIND STEPH'S PALTRY JUSTIFICATION FOR HER CURRENT FEELINGS OF LONELINESS. i came back to portland after gallavanting around new york and asia for the last 7 years-ish among expats and travellers, many of whom are little-attached to the thought of commitment. i came back to find everyone i know married or marrying and/or homeowners, whereas i left an enjoyable romantic interlude in thailand, and my luggage coming from thailand came to 28.1kg. soaking wet. given a week, i'm sure i'll get over it. i think the kicker came when Heather got married, the Heather that was going to be my golden-years bed-and-breakfast partner. Sarah and Heather, please tell me you're still up for a triumvirate of hostel proprietorship, and please say you'll let my rocking chair sit next to yours!

is it the "getting-used-to-being-single-again" conundrum? advice eagerly accepted. i believe that loneliness will be cured on monday when my chinese class starts (it might be cured today if only the pool was open). just wanted to confide in cyberspace. an electronic yawp. thanks for listening, ye deaf ears.

07 April 2005

on the andaman and other noiseless ramblings

well, we have finished the school year at Suratthani School after more holidays than i thought could possibly be justifiable, poetry finals, pinatas and withdrawal symptoms.
after "Peter Pan" and "Alice in Wonderland", we were confronted with a vacuum of rehearsals. this slack was quickly taken up by the preparation of our final project, the Poetry Book. we delved into syllables and haikus, word types and cinquains, forms and concretes, letters and acrostics, and tied it all up with title and table of contents pages. the results were awe-inspiring. one student made their poetry book out of a pizza box, another created a story of the tsunami utilizing all of the required poetry forms, and there was a brilliant acrostic about unrequited love that had my eyes crying and my side splitting. suture material, anyone?
having finished these exemplary works of creative writing, i though the mattayom 1 students deserved to whack something with a big stick (isn't that a natural reaction?). so we took a few big balloons, a week's worth of old newspaper, flour and water and made some pinatas. it took much more time than i had originally alotted for the constructions, so each pinata took at least 6 hours to construct and roughly 5 minutes to destroy. but hey! candy is always a good idea.
the withdrawal symptoms, of course, were mine. i have seen some of them during vacation and have to check the temptation to sit them down and extract their life philosophies from them. next year's new teachers are lucky bastards!!! of course, at least by not teaching in thailand next year i am eschewing the arduous task of filling out pink books. no more talk about those evil, pepto-bismol (sp?) monstrosities of illogic. i'm sorry to have brought it up (but not sorry enough to have deleted mention of them before sending).

shortly after the close of the term, mom and dad landed in bangkok. this began a three-week adventure through bangkok, ayutthaya, suratthani, ao railay in krabi, and koh tao. i will let them tell of our exploits in detail, but we had one HECK of time. my major aim was to not leave them in quite as much pain as i did last year when my father was subjected to forced marches, long hard-seat train rides and "populated" bungalows (most residents sporting 4, 6 or 8 legs). we went to ayutthaya on a bus and came back on a boat which was lovely though LONG. mom and dad both got massages at wat pho after visiting the grand palace. we recouped in suratthani before spending some quality beach time on ao railay, my favorite place in thailand so far. the parents took a day snorkelling trip that stopped on koh phi phi, and dad was especially amazed to see the extent of the damage from the tsunami. it is very much changed from our time there last year. ask him and i am sure he will oblige you with pictures. another few days in suratthani followed by our trek to koh tao. the boat was heavily populated because we travelled two days before the full moon party on koh phang-an. oy veh! needless to say, we were all happy to find ourselves on land. Jane's boyfriend, Amnat, happens to work at a dive shop/bungalow, so he arranged transport to sairee beach. dad and i took our advanced open water course which included a night dive (sting rays at night!) and a gorgeous deep dive to chumphon pinnacle (that dive was actually the original reason i talked dad into going with me!). the diving instructor was particularly fascinated with some of dad's tales of using older diving equipment (i am currently reading a great book called "stars of the sea" which tracks the evolution of diving technology, so i have a devel oping appreciationg for how far underwater equipment has come in a short time). our last day on koh tao was spent snorkelling around some of the coral gardens, so mom was illuminated with contentedness upon disembarkment from koh tao. we spent one more day in suratthani together (you can see the fabulous dress mom had tailored if you attend Rob and Jo's wedding) before they left for bangkok. i had to head in the opposite direction to malaysia to renew my tourist visa. it was the best border run ever (and how often do you hear that, really?)! i was planning to hoof the long walk into town from the border, but a janitor told me i would do no such thing, put down his broom, climbed onto his motorbike and drove me straight to the van stop. such drama. such compassion. gotta love it.

more on this portion in a while (i just lost it and the derriere protesteth much at the thought of retyping all of this on such a beautiful day). in short, i have spent the last week on koh phi phi helping out as a volunteer for the coral reef cleanup on the island. there are two major projects in the area: diving/swimming shore cleanup, and business renovation and reconstruction. i've been swimming which i love and doing something i feel is important. we are pulling up oxidizing metal and suffocating plastics that might have long-lasting impact on the coral and fishlife. it's like Swimming for a Cause. we have filled up about 3 pontoons in 5 days which are then ferried to the shore and sifted for salvage metals, etc. i feel as though i have personally taken out enough bricks from the shallow corals to repave broadway, but i imagine that is slightly exaggerating. the government hasn't arranged for any relief on the island that i can discern, but there are three volunteer organizations which are active not only in this region but also on kao lak and phang-nga. if you have a few extra sawbucks lying around and care to donate to the cleanup or a reconstruction program, here are the websites:


01 February 2005


and so has another year passed in my macrocosmically insignificant but personally gratifying life. the age of 29 was almost immediately preceded by the purchase of my first ever pair of glasses, which does nothing to ease the feeling of being within a hair's breath of the archetypically dreaded 30 (though i am certainly looking forward to at least the first half of my tercery decade with no small amount of anticipation, sitcom sentiments by and large to the contrary).

this birthday was a multi-tiered affair. the prologue to the natal comemoration (sp?) entailed numerous homemade birthday cards from my homeroom (Tammy supervised the cardmaking). they were beautiful! if i can discover the secrets to putting images on this website, i will certainly scan some of them in to give you a gander. a few students also gave me presents. one was a homemade bookmark and dried goods sculpture, another was a notebook that two students had drawn beautiful pictures in (homemade presents are ALWAYS the best). a few students gave me a bear, and i put it with the menagerie of bestowed stuffed animals behind my desk. the bear's name is Fritz Chocolate, if you are interested, and he has developed a companionship with Fluffy Pink and Ernest Prescott IV.

at the end of the school week we had a get-together. and what a way to bring it in, by golly! it was perhaps one of the loveliest and most unexpected fetes since my brother planned a do for my 16th. Tammy was the author of the whole delectable evening, in cahoots with the other teachers at suratthani school. she had invited Alfy and me to her house for a quiet dinner. we mosied on up to her place and were greeted by a covey of colleagues on her front porch, which was quite a surprise indeed. i then got the scoop on the evening's prep. it had been planned for two weeks and everyone had been most meticulous about keeping me in the dark. three folks had been delayed just before the party due to a speech competition adjudication, so Tammy had asked Alfy to stall. he turned every light on and left every screen door open in the apartment, which he knew would get my goat and prompt one of my little "we need to talk for a second" lectures. once we got to the ground floor, he "suddenly realized" he had forgotten to put on his shoes. masterful.

but the fun didn't stop there! oh no! it turns out i had blindly stepped into the midst of an unfolding murder mystery when i stepped through Tammy's gate. the others were so taken up with their parts during the ensuing few hours that it was difficult to follow the actual clues as they were divulged. it was rampant glory! Alfy and i finally left at about 2:30am after having pledged (drunken) undying love for numerous attendees and, of course, requesting a place in heaven for Tammy.

a few hours later Alfy and i rousted ourselves to phase 2 (yes, you heard me, PHASE II) of the birthday extravaganza. we pulled our sorry selves out of bed and tramped to the bus station to get to ao railay. there were six of us heading over, and it took an interminably long time. after a best forgotten journey, we skidded straight onto that beautiful beach and collected photons for a timeless stretch. there were more tourists there than last time, but the bungalow fares were actually lower than they had previously been. we met up with Judy and her friend Chris, wiling away a languorous evening in good company. i am beginning to second Bruce's sentiments that krabi is the most enchanting area in thailand (though kanchanaburi and kao sok are close seconds, let me tell you!). the next morning, Scott and bruce and i went to the diamond cave (WOW!). the experience was heightened by the fact that Scott, a science teacher at our school, had NEVER been inside a cave before. how cool a weekend is that? we swam some more and eventually headed back to civilization. Jane and Giselle spent a great deal of their time in their room, a swanky affair that was 1/5 its usual price and therefore actually affordable. does life get any better?

so much goodwill and sweet sentiment on and near my birthday has galvanized my love for this little life . . . this wee speck of a thing that gives me so much joy. the greatest success with which this Year of 29 could meet would be to make the people i know and love feel as special as they deserve, if only for a few moments. my greatest birthday present is you. it is a blessing.

blessings to you, w
Publishhatever your age (though so far 29 is looking like a very good age. i highly recommend it).

17 January 2005


this is a partial reprint of an email i just sent to my beloved Crazy Aunt Laurel. she had asked me how the tsunami had disrupted my classes, and i unintentionally started meandering down a winding pathway of my own design. i apologize for broaching the topic of the tsunami again and hope you will forgive the indulgence into recent memory. here goes:

to answer your question about school, there was eerily little disruption with school as a result of the 26th. i thought i was pretty well over culture shock for thailand until i witnessed the reaction to the tsunami. students were making jokes just a few days after the wave hit. one teacher asked her class what they were doing for the weekend, and a rather precocious student said he was going to phuket and then laughed. the teacher, who had just been to the hospital and had talked to some of the victims, got upset and told the student in no uncertain terms that it was not appropriate to make jokes when other people have lost families and friends and livelihoods. she asked him again where he was going, and he again said (though with much more serious a face) that he had to go to phuket with his family for his uncle's memorial. his uncle had died in the tsunami. the teacher felt awful, of course, but i think many of the foreign teachers have been trying to discern mere jest from the thai way of dealing with death. the thai and western traditions of demonstrating grief are so incredibly different. students are not shielded from it at all. some of my M4 students went to the hospital to act as translators for foreign patients, and they received no orientation or counselling for what they saw (and some of it was GRIM, i can tell you). a wonderful new friend (whom you would just love) spent two weeks working at the crisis center in krabi, which was a chinese temple converted to an office inside and an open-air morgue outside. students from krabi town were asked to help people search for and identify the bodies of loved ones. alfy's student was on koh phi phi during the tsunami and saw people washed away near her, and dead bodies littered the ground after the wave receded. when she told the story to the class, she just giggled and shrugged.

i still don't know how to approach the subject with people i know because our customs of demonstrating grief are so very dissimilar. one friend had a number of sisters on phuket and koh phi phi, and i stopped by a few days after the event to inquire after her sisters. she got quite flustered and replied that three of them were still missing, then quickly tried to change the subject by offering me clothes (i have never been the best dresser). i left feeling very bad at having asked and therefore reminding her of her worries. (the story has a happy ending in that her 3 sisters called her the next day).

i felt the best way to discuss the matter with my students was via a blood donation discussion. i felt it was pretty nonthreatening, and indeed they had never learned about it before and asked a lot of great questions, and they were much more focussed and serious than when the tsunami itself was brought up in conversation. we talked about what happens and how it effects the body and how it can help people and why it is important to do, even if you are a little afraid of needles. when i gave blood, two of my M4 students came with me, so i asked them to help me talk about it when we discussed it in their class. i felt it was really valuable, and it was the only time i felt i was really communicating freely with my students about the issue.

golly, that was a lot longer than i had intended. sorry! if you don't mind, i might actually put that on my online journal. cultural customs are so interesting, aren't they?

10 January 2005

monkeying around

ao railay was the destination of our most recent escapade. the group defining "our" in the previous sentence consisted of neil and bridget visiting from south africa and ajarns bruce, jane, judy, giselle and i. bruce and judy both taught at suratthani school a few years back and have kept in contact with each other since then - bruce from suratthani and judy from krabi. i had not formally met judy prior to this weekend, though i knew her by reputation as a free spirit and very consciencious teacher. she has been volunteering for the tsunami response networks in krabi for two weeks. two weeks of working around the clock within sight/smell distance of exposed corpses in psychologically exhausting conditions would be enough to drive most to distraction, but when we met judy on saturday she seemed imbued with more spunk than most show on their best days. her demeanor was due doubtless to the cocktail of her indomitable spirit and bruce's sagacious presence. with the addition of judy to our suratthani entourage, we were ready to explore whatever awaited us on ao railay.

and good heavens, what a shock! giselle, jane and i were just on ao railay one month ago, and the place has been transformed by its lack of tourists. the beach itself has not seen much obvious damage, mostly stripped vegetation along the beach and limited bungalow damage. but we were struck by the ghost-town ambience. there were so few visitors that bungalows were forced to cut their prices by 50% in some cases during its high season. one month ago it was difficult to find a place at the bar. but saturday three waiters came up simultaneously and asked where we would like to sit. if you are in the area and wondering where to travel next, GO TO KRABI!! it's beautiful and bungalows hurt by the tsunami need your business.

not that we weren't grateful for the beautiful high-season weather, seclusion and sub-low-season room rates! we immediately headed for the beach after checking in to our previously unaffordable rooms. on the way, a number of us bought drinks and chips. this was to prove a futile purchase. a few yards down the path, one monkey appeared into view. everyone stopped to look and bless our good fortune at seeing a monkey so close. then another monkey came. and another and another until they had us surrounded. one monkey started towards dtom and her potato chips. when our hairy cousin got within biting distance, dtom yelped and dropped her bag of chips. the monkey grabbed the chips, and the whole gang bounded up to the treetops. amazing.

almost as amazing, in fact, as the two battered ships awaiting us at the beach. they were two beautiful antique-looking boats docked as annexed restaurants to the audaciously-priced resort nearby. both of the ships' masts and mainsails fell victim to the tsunami and were to be found sticking out of the water some way down. the deck dressings were smashed up ashore, and one of the hulls was topside. given the ready evidence of the tsunami, bruce asked if there had been any casualties or fatalities. amazingly, there was only one fatality, a tourist who was caught in a cave temple along the beach. apparently the guard and three of his coworkers saw the approaching tsunami and blew their whistles, giving everyone enough warning to reach higher ground.

after a quick swim, we headed back for a lovely dinner before heading to the other side of the isthmus for a nightcap. as we were wandering along the boardwalk checking out our bar options, a rather redfaced foreigner sauntered over to us and kindly informed judy and myself that the food around here is good, it's just that the tiramisu (this is what we believe to be his mangling of the word) scared everyone away. we hope he was just very, very drunk. either that, or that's one hell of a frightening dessert menu.

sunday was our pre-appointed day to check out the notorious lagoon which happens to be bruce's favorite place in thailand (and for someone who has lived here for 14 years, that's saying something). we had been warned that the climb was sporadically arduous, but no one managed to tell my legs (they still hurt 24 hours later, by the way). it was the closest thing to rock climbing i had ever experienced, and i might have turned back if it hadn't been for the others. there are three vertical portions of the trail, though there is a rope to help steady oneself.

but can i just say how very WORTH IT the hike was! we emerged into a lagoon shore entirely encircled by cliffs. the lagoon is tidal, so we hit it at the perfect time. the water is just deep enough to swim and float in, and looking up at an encapsulated sky is a requisite experience. i thank my aching legs for taking me into and out of such an enchanting place. i don't even mind losing a pant leg to the adventure (boy, was i a fashion statement as we walked back to the beach!).

my birthday is january 29th, which i hope will be a good enough excuse to get a group together to ao railay again. how can you beat a fantastic weekend at an unprecedented bargain that helps local economies damaged by the recent tsunami? i mean, really! all are welcome, get your bus or plane tickets today, because the 29th is coming up!

until i see all of you on the 29th at ao railay, may the world treat you right, my two devoted readers.

06 January 2005

the annual letter (1st edition)

dearly beloved,

greetings and well-wishings during this festive time!
in true Routh tradition, this will reach you all long after you have taken down your lights and sent your tree (should you have one) to be recycled. perhaps we might all consider this a perpetuation of the holiday spirit rather than mere negligence and procrastination. hmm? what do you say to that?

as many of you know, i have spent the past nine months or so in Thailand after having lived in northern China for two years. The decision to move to Thailand was due, at least in part, to the fact that Alfy (my boyfriend) found a math teaching position in southern Thailand, and the thought of living in a beautiful Asian country with English bookstores sounded fine by me. i began my “Thai Period” in Sampran teaching English at a private Catholic school. while the vista was less than picturesque (our school was situated on the highway connecting Bangkok with Nakhon Pathom), my neighbors were quite exceptional. i refer (naturally!) to the elephant training ground and crocodile farm abutting the teachers’ dormitory. i hadn’t really lived before waking up to the sound of crocodiles slipping into a marsh or seeing an elephant pregnant with twins on my way to school. picture an elephant pregnant with twins in your mind right now, just for a second.

i moved to Suratthani in april to be closer to Alfy and to teach THEATRE at Suratthani Public School. the decision was not without difficulty. there is a community theatre in Bangkok, and taking the job in Surat meant relinquishing a juicy role in their Fringe Festival and being unavailable for a Gilbert & Sullivan (always wanted to do G&S out of silliness) production. luckily the decision to go onto greener pastures (literally and figuratively) was punctuated by a trip to new york to witness the jeff/amber union. this ceremony should be the precedent by which all marriage ceremonies should be judged - it was informal and meaningful and a galloping good time. a toast to you, pioneers in covalent love!

eight months later, we Thai residents hailing from temperate climates have had to trust that the calendar is not lying in saying that Christmas is just around the corner, because the weather certainly doesn’t recommend the fact. ten days before Christmas day, i was sunburned after kayaking on Ton Sai with two other teachers during a week break. the vacation leading up to Christmas week was shorter for me than for other teachers because Jason and i were still preparing for our school productions of "Peter Pan" and "Alice in Wonderland", performed on December 20th.

"Peter Pan" deserves its own paragraph (it actually deserves a tome, but i am unambitious). this was the most frustrating and one of the most ultimately rewarding theatrical experiences i have ever had. most of my frustrations stemmed from communication and elusive keys. i felt that, just like Alice running after the White Rabbit, Jason and i were constantly seeking information, and i was always on a quest for some key or another. we spent 5 months trying to learn what our budget was, then another month (unsuccessfully) trying to see the set storage area (we found some items during clandestine adventures, but we are sure that most set pieces are hidden in some secret underground vault lined with gold). because so many students have after-school classes, we weren't allowed to have rehearsals after class. the first few weeks after receiving the budget amount, i was told i had to buy things through the school's thai staff. i won't go into the gory details, but the initial lumber purchase was harrowing! i had never seen a cutting list so unabashedly fubared. to make matters worse, two guys went to pick up my lumber without waiting for my class to finish as i had requested, so they paid for wood that in no way resembled the list i had given with money from the play budget which they then said was unreturnable and nonrefundable. after the "lumber incident", i insisted on buying everything myself to be reimbursed by the school.

so with the purchasing issue fixed, i moved onto phase 2 of production hell, Finding Space. because there is no set storage or workspace available in the english program, i moved my flats no less than 7 times during a 6-week period. i don't even have keys for our teacher's office, much less the wood shop or stage area. our first rehearsal onstage was three days before the production, which was also the first time the whole cast had a chance to rehearse together. try putting on a production with 100 non-native english speakers in a space only available three days before the performance date with no administrative help while other teachers and administrators take your actors away from backstage without notice or mention during dress rehearsals in order to "help you". oh, and don't forget the three weeks' holiday time just before the performance with one weeks' notice. i admit to crying myself to sleep more often than not. Jerry Lesch, however did you do it year after year?

despite the enormous odds and a dismal final dress rehearsal, both "Alice" and "Peter" turned into an unprecedented hit with the parents. students remembered their lines and blocking, parents were very proud of their children, and my sets actually got a shocked intake of breath and applause the first time we flipped and changed them. my kids were WONDERFUL, and they have talked about the play a lot since. and i got wine out of the deal as a thank-you from the departmental head which replaced the vodka i had been drinking copiously prior to december 20th!

in fact, the students have been the high point of my time here. i have never looked so forward to going to class as i have this year. they are helpful and funny and very quick to pick up spoken English. during the vacation preceding the play, a number of students came to paint the sets and mark the stage.

even the naughty students are naughty in such a creative way that it takes all my strength not to chuckle when i have to say things like, "Sun, now we're making costumes today which means you can't take the yellow fabric, wrap yourself like a monk, sit in the corner and chant sutras. what if everyone did that? and Taee, you should be sewing right now not enacting an indian bridal procession, i don't care how much you loved the bollywood movie you saw last night." last week i left a class to edit their papers for five minutes only to come back to class with the lights turned off and no students in sight. it took a second of staring to see a few giggling heads poking out. i was informed that class could not continue until i found ALL of the students. one managed to cram into a cabinet, so he was the last found. the list goes on and on, and i will happily relay some of the other more interesting ones if i can ever get out from under my grading burden.

Christmas in Thailand was pretty low-key, though we had a wonderful get-together with colleagues and friends a few days before. it's just not that easy to get into the Christmas spirit while wearing shorts, planning scuba diving trips and eating watermelon and pineapple.

the great shock, of course, came on Boxing Day when a tsunami hit the Andaman Coast of Thailand. we in Suratthani felt tremors in the morning, but i only discovered the extent of the catastrophe a day later. Ton Sai, where i had gotten my sunburn only two weeks before, is unrecognizably decimated. many people spent the following week trying to determine the fates of friends and family unfortunate enough to be in the affected areas. the hospitals were maelstroms of the injured transferred from kao lak and family members hoping to find their kin alive. i am sure everyone has seen the pictures and heard the stories, so i won't add to the tales. the missing pictures remind me so much of new york after 9/11 that the last two weeks have smacked of deja vu. i hope to be of some help in the next few months but right now can't help but feel useless in the midst of inconceivable destruction.

sometime after march i plan to head back to portland for an unspecified length of time to be my brother's "best person" at rob and jo's wedding. only my brother would know to dangle the undeniable temptation of wearing a tux at a wedding in order to get me home. there is another wedding shortly thereafter, so it looks like a season in america.

enough talking about myself! i hope this letter finds all of you, and finds you well. please know that at least until april you have a place to stay in Suratthani and a tour guide at your service. with joy and affection i extend my

best wishes,