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,

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