Wednesday, October 26, 2011

“Hurry up and WAIT!!”

There are times when I think I have mastered the science of patience, but then something comes up and I realize that I have a long way to go.

Right now, I am waiting to see if I will be able to leave Bangkok for my province (Khon Kaen, where I will be teaching for the next 11 months) on October 31st (but the flood might interfere with our plans).

I am waiting to see whether my neighborhood in Bangkok will be affected by the flood.

I am waiting to start my life in Thailand. Yes, I am living in Bangkok and enjoying it’s attractions, cuisine, and night life but I want to create my home and start teaching. Last night, a couple of the Fulbrighters and I visited an American Sports bar and watched the Ravens vs. Jags game (Ravens lost, booo! I love Baltimore!). While on the cab ride to Sports Corner, I mentioned that it feels like I don’t have a life in Thailand. Soon after, I began to analyze my statement. It feels like I am in this extended transitional period. SIDE NOTE: Before coming to Thailand, I spent a month in Los Angeles, CA while transitioning my life in Baltimore, MD to Khon Kaen, Thailand. The universe must be telling me that I need a hefty transition period...?

I am waiting to know what life is like for Glenda in Thailand/Southeast Asia. Then I remember a saying I heard in passing: “Life is what happens when you’re waiting.” And I believe it’s true; sometimes it's hard to practice what I believe.

Get ready, get set... GOOOOOO (and TEACH and LEARN)--FLOOD Edition

Today (Thursday, October 21st) , after a little more than two weeks of orientation (and a little more than a year), I stepped (back) into a classroom. SIDE NOTE: I spent one year (2009-2010) writing and implementing curriculum for the Si Se Puede! Learning Center in Somerton, AZ--this means that I have experience teaching/tutoring/counseling/coordinating activities for pre-school and elementary aged children.

While in Bangkok, all Fulbright ETAs were required to teach at a local school and receive constructive feedback on our teaching techniques. We were supposed to practice teaching English in Bangkok for a week and a half, but the flood affecting Bangkok shrunk our days inside the classroom from 7 to 2 days.

Teaching went smoothly, the only thing I need to work on when co-teaching is controlling my dominating personality (I tend to hog the spotlight, but I think this will be a good thing when I have to teach solo in my province), and the hesitation in my voice the first 5 minutes of class. But I expected a group of shy and uncooperative (SIDE NOTE: culturally Thai students are notorious for not wanting to step outside their comfort zone and participate in classroom activities) but our students were amazing! I enjoyed re-learning that young students are excited and forgiving to new teachers.

I am now very excited to have my own set of students (and hopefully my own classroom). Personally, the two days we had in the classroom revived my enthusiasm to facilitate a class and I am very excited to move to Khon Kaen and begin to teach my students!

Earlier in this entry, I mention that the flood that is threatening Bangkok spoiled our plans to teach for a longer period for our teaching practical, but it also did a lot more than that...

It has been very difficult to receive reliable information/predictions about the flood, but word on the street is that October 28th-30th is supposed to be the worst (as far as flooding, rain, and safety for the people of Bangkok). I have heard about the floods in Thailand for the last few weeks but I always managed to disassociate myself from all of it, until recently.

The following are the ways in which I have seen the flood *impact my life:
  1. Chulalongkorn University has closed for the week.
  2. The last week of Fulbright orientation has been canceled: this week we were supposed to have our last week of orientation and language courses.
  3. Shortened teaching practical.
  4. My Thai family (the Fulbright staff) is very concerned (for awhile, they did not seem too worried--they had taken the mai pen rai approach--but now I can hear concern in their voices).
  5. Everyone is preparing for the worst. In the picture above, you will see a local business who decided to erect a cement wall to block off flood waters.
  6. My fellow ETA Fulbrighters were told at the beginning of this week that we were going to leave Bangkok earlier than anticipated (instead of leaving the Oct 31st we were now going to leave the Oct 26th), so that we could avoid the floods. Unfortunately, our program coordinator was unable to find plane tickets for us to head north. We might get to witness, firsthand, one of the worst floods in Thailand’s history.
  7. In the last few days the following notice was posted in our dorm's elevator:

*Impact= I am still wondering why it has taken me this long to feel affected by the floods in Bangkok. Is it because it hadn’t inconvenienced me personally? Or because I heard so much about the flood that I feel desensitized? SIDE NOTE: As I write this entry, I am terrified because of the massive clouds in the sky, lighting, and high speed winds.

For now, I am safe and dry. I have some snacks stored. Tesco Lotus on Rama 1 is currently under very short supply of water and instant noodles; most non-perishable goods are flying off the shelves.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

From Jazzersising to Muay Thai

This entry could have two alternate titles, they are: “Bangkok prepares for the flood: Tesco has NO more drinking water!!!!!!!!” or “Glenda Recharges,” but tonight I decided that the most appropriate title was around the workout culture in Bangkok.

Last Wednesday, after our fourth day of Fulbright orientation, Gracie and I decided to check out Lumphini Park. Instead of walking to the park --and risk getting lost--we decided to take the sky train (I now have 11 rides on my train card). We arrived at the park when Gracie was asked by a group of Brazilian muay thai fighters to take their picture at the entrance of the park. Gracie agreed to take the picture and then we proceeded to enter the park. We realized that there was a large crowd at the entrance of the park JAZZERSISING!!!! I know the term isn’t a part of the English dictionary, but IT SHOULD BE! Imagine a group of women (of various ages) doing a hybrid of kick boxing and dancing to loud house music. These sessions of outdoor (and FREE) exercise happen in different parts of the city--including my local grocery store/mall! We joined the exercising women and I enjoyed every minute of it! After awhile an older women tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to move to the row in front of us. I think I was invading her personal space with my jazzersising moves (it’s interesting to compare the cultural concept of “personal space”--more to come on this at a later time). After the older lady asked me to move I couldn’t get my rhythm back! Gracie and I decided to run around the park instead of jazzersising!

Running around lumphini park was one of the best experiences I’ve had in Thailand and it reinforced my believe that I could happily live in another country that is not America. It was 6pm and there were people from a variety of age groups running, walking, lifting weights, and jazzersising for free in this beautiful park. SIDE NOTE: I love my birth country (U.S.), but I know that there are many things that are missing and I am coming to learn of those things by traveling around the world. The U.S., in my opinion, has privatized exercise. Currently, in the United States, to get good quality exercise one must own a private home gym or a pricey gym membership (that’s if your lifestyle (ie. work, family, etc) provides you with enough time to exercise). We ran for maybe 15 minutes when we came across a pretty lake, but then it started to rain! Instead of getting caught in the downpour we decided to head back to the Chula International dorm.

Thursday night I decided to try out the Bangkok night life and it was stupendous! 3 of my male fellow Fulbrighters and I checked out Th Khao San (aka the backpackers district). The ambiance was very laid back. As I stepped out of the Taxi I was greeted by neon signs for Subway and KFC. The streets were filled with more “farangs” than Thai people. SIDE NOTE: Farang is terminology used to refer to white foreigners ; if you’re a Spanish-speaker Latino compare “farang” with gringo). After lounging and sipping on very inexpensive (alcoholic beverages are relatively pricey in most of Thailand--like in India!) drinks we headed to a club/discotheque. After a long day of Thai language classes and orientation on Thai Culture, dancing in a club was the last thing on my mind. I decided that my body needed the exercise after sitting in a classroom for eight hours, so I danced! At midnight the club started to get more lively but it was the consensus that we all needed sleep and mentally prepare ourselves for Friday’s workshops. After dancing in clubs around the world--from India, Los Angeles, NY, and Bangkok-- I will have to say that clubs are very similar world wide (i.e. Britney songs, smoke machines, overpriced drinks, etc).

Friday’s orientation was a very emotionally draining day. The entering ETAs (my group of Fulbrighters) met the exiting ETAs (the 2010-2011 cohort). The exiting ETAs presented us with their obstacles, wisdom, coping techniques, and “golden moments.” Seeing their feelings of accomplishment and nostalgia for the positions they are leaving reassured me that I am about to engage in a life changing experience (as cliche as it sounds). They reinforced a lot of things that I have learned in my last two years of VISTA, lessons such as:

  1. Don’t compare this experience to past experiences.
  2. Don’t sweat the small stuff
  3. Learn to say no when your plate can’t handle it or it compromises you’re well-being/happiness
  4. Expect to lose independence (MORE to come on this)
  5. Do what makes you happy (i.e. TV, reading, traveling, etc)

After hearing the best and worst experiences of the ETA, we let lose at MBK’s (HUGE MALL) karaoke bar. We rented a private karaoke room and danced and sang the night away. I had a lot of fun with my fellow ETAs and I proved to myself that although I can’t sing I can still belch songs out of this lovely body! Afterwards, I decided I still had enough energy to experience Bangkok’s gay club scenery. If you know me well, you would know that I have a very soft spot for gay clubs (i.e. Cherry pop and MJs in LA and Hippo in Baltimore). For most of my life, I have felt very safe in gay clubs because I know that I am not the “main attraction” at these clubs. I have to say that gay clubs trump heterosexual clubs any night of the week (because of the music, energy, and ambiance).

After my anthropological analysis of Bangkok’s night life, I decided that Glenda needed to recharge by laying around and reflecting for two days (the weekend). A part of me felt guilty that I wasn’t exploring and soaking up everything Bangkok has to offer but I just didn’t have it in me to be sociable. I have become very good at listening to my body and soul and its needs; I gotta say I am proud (now I just need to silence those guilty feelings)!

After a weekend of recharging, I started my second week of Fulbright orientation with Thai language classes and lesson planning workshops. After orientation, I was able to hear my body screaming that it needed to work out and get some endorphins flowing. I visited the university’s gym and felt amazing afterwards. While walking back to the dorm, I bumped into Sara Lee (another fellow ETA) and she asked me if I wanted to join her for muay thai and I accepted her invitation. Honestly, I thought she was asking me to join her to watch a muay thai match. We arrive at the muay thai gym where we had to take our shoes off, and then I realize that there was nowhere to sit for the match we were going to watch. Then I began to realize, “today, I am going to learn muay thai moves!” We began muay thai class and I realized that the instructor didn’t speak any English and I am the world’s most uncoordinated person. I was able to follow, for the most part, and then a muay thai fighter comes up to me and says “Are you thai? Do you speak thai? You look thai!” and I responded no to all of his questions and gave him a blank state when he told me I looked Thai.I really don’t think I look Thai but he was the third person to assume that I am Thai. Anyway, Sara and I learned some wicked muay thai moves.

After muay thai, Sara and I chose to visit Tesco (a mall with a grocery store in the third floor) to use the internet and eat. SIDE NOTE: The Glenda recharge session this weekend was also caused by my stomach problems. I think my stomach needed a break from street food for the past few days. Today, I opted to eat a relatively expensive Tuna panini rather than my typical street food: papaya salad, tom yum, and grilled chicken/beef. Also internet at Tesco is a lot more reliable/faster than at the dorms. In the dorms the internet gets “tired.” At Tesco, Sara and I ran into most of our Fulbright group. Everyone was buying water and provisions (because of the flood threat in Bangkok) or using the internet. I read in this Saturday’s AP article that Prime Minister Yingluck Thaksin was announcing the possibility of flooding in Bangkok but it didn’t sound alarming so I decided to pay little attention to the threats. Today, most news articles are advising Bangkok residents to prepare for a flood, so I decided to also prepare but by the time I decided to also buy provisions Tesco was out of drinking water. Luckily, the corner Seven (or Seven-Eleven--they are EVERYWHERE in Bangkok) had some water left and I decided to add bahts (money) to my cell phone just in case of emergency also my mom needed her bi-daily call.

Luckily, Bangkok (the Siam area where I am staying) is not flooded and I am safe. I really hope Bangkok and all of Thailand is also safe... and this flooding ceases to disrupt people’s lives. Send positive energy this way!

Sawaadee ka!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mai Pen Rai

We are having our Fulbright ETA orientation in the International Classroom #1 in the Education building of Chulalongkorn University. We have covered the structure and expectations of the ETA program, sexual harassment, health issues, and how to navigate Thai culture and the country’s politics.

Yesterday, we had a presentation entitled “What’s so special about the ETA program in Thailand” by Porntip Kanjananiyot (or P’Tip to me and the rest of the Fulbright gang). P’tip passed down a couple words of advice. The advice she passed down resonated in me because what she shared was very similar to the lessons that I have learned in the past two years. She said:

1. Prepare your heart (but don’t have expectations)
2. Turn everything to its positive side
3. Love and help your family (i.e. the members of the ETA group, my students, and community)
**SIDE NOTE: I am getting a better understanding of the use of P’. P’Tip explained that “P” is used for an older sister or brother and in Thai culture everyone is like your family.
4. What matters most is how you see yourself?-- P’Tip showed a slide of a cat looking into a mirror and seeing a lion in its reflection...this really stood out to me. It reminded me that there will be days when I won’t feel recognized for my labor (much like my initial term of VISTA service in AZ), but I have to know that social change/knowledge doesn’t come over night.
5. Create my own comfort zone.

We also delved into learning three important phrases in Thai culture, they are the following:

  • Jai yen yen: This phrase translates to “calm down” or “take it easy.” In Thailand, maintaining one’s cool is very admirable. Many of the travel guides, I read pre-departure, suggested that you want to keep a cool head in all situations. Before coming to Thailand, Professor Ann Hill--my Cross Cultural Women’s Studies prof at Dickinson College-- advised me, she said, “Just keep your expression neutral and your body still.”
  • Mai pen rai: The English version of this phrase would be “no problem” or “it’s ok” or as my Does and Don’ts in Thailand pamphlet put it “This phrase is, if you like, equivalent to it’s no use crying over spilt milk” (a lesson that has taken me many years to learn and probably many years more to completely master). Mai pen rai, is basically what you tell someone when you want to calm them down in an awkward situation. For instance, lets say I spill my milk onto my favorite sundress you would tell me mai pen rai! Basically, you are emphasizing to stop worrying about the little things.
  • Sabai: relax and go with the flow.

The discussions on health issues and sexual harassment were not uplifting but the information were things that I have heard in the past from traveling in other countries or living in Baltimore (JHU campus safety did a good job at scaring the living daylights out of me during GHCC on-site orientation and training).

It is now time to head to my third day of Fulbright orientation!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Qui Baht?

My second day in Thailand was spent learning the phrase “qhi baht?” or “how much?” hence the title for this entry.

I started off the day meeting a couple of the girls from the Fulbright group at the lobby of the Chulalongkorn dorm. After rendezvousing, we headed to the BTS Sky Train Station at Siam but not before hitting up the local street vendors (where I satisfied my ice coffee desires). SIDE NOTE: Since I am Thailand, it’s not Thai ice coffee it’s just ice coffee. Similar to when I was in India chai tea was just chai because you’re basically saying “I want tea tea” since chai means tea. At the train station, all of us debated over what was the most economically savvy train fare method (one way pass vs. 15 ride pass). I opted for the 15 rides...the world will never know who made the right choice!!

After deciding on the fare debacle, all seven Fulbright women headed to Mo Chit to check out Chatuchak’s Weekend Market. The market competed with MBK’s massiveness and TRIUMPHED!! Chatuchak had every item you could purchase on the face of this earth-- including an entire region dedicated to selling pets (i.e. dogs, cats, fish, bunnies, birds, and an endless supply of cute outfits for all the before mentioned animals). The endless rows of cute puppies made me miss my Frida back home. SIDE NOTE: My mom just acquired the cutest little puppy in the world and her name is Frida...she’s white, tiny and beautiful. I hate tiny dogs, but she’s my only exception!!

Anyway, one of my fellow Fulbrighters, Rachel, taught me the importance of “qui baht?” and helped me refresh my bartering skills. I didn’t end up buying anything...but I have a lot of ideas for souvenirs for my favorite people :).

After the excursion to the weekend market, four of us decided to hit up Lek Massage House on Rama I Rd. The massage was intensely the end of the massage Gracie said, “That hurt so good” and I completely agreed. During the massage my back, toes, and legs cracked in ways that I had never imagined was possible. Also, I discovered that I cannot hold back laughter to save my life. I laughed when my body felt ticklish, uncomfortable, and truly relaxed. I suppose laughter is my default reaction to most things--this truly fits into the “Mai Pen Rai” experience...more to come on the significance of this outlook on life.

After the massage, it was the group’s consensus that all of us needed to rest our beaten bodies (Thai massage truly feels like getting your body beaten up, but in a good way).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Feels Like Home

I have been in Bangkok, Thailand for a grand total of forty-eight hours and it is already starting to feel like home. Thailand is not the unfamiliar home that Los Angeles, CA has become, but it’s more of a place that I remember existing in (the crazy thing is that I’ve never been to Thailand before). During ETA (English Teaching Assistant) Fulbright orientation, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok will serve as my home. The university’s dormitories will be housing all twenty Fulbright ETAs throughout the month of October.

Thailand reminds me of:
1. Hyderabad, India: auto rickshaws, street food vendors, humidity, aromas of stagnant water laced with deep-fried goodies, and the moldy look of some of the older buildings
2. Caracas, Venezuela: humidity, moldy architecture, and scattered artworks/sculptures
3. Baltimore, USA: humidity, streets lined with rows of abandoned buildings, and mucky bodies of water (areas of the Inner Harbor and Druid Hill Lake)

The flight to Bangkok was surreal. I left my home in Los Angeles at 8am and arrived at LAX at around 9am. At LAX, I crossed my fingers and toes that my bags would not weigh more than 50 lbs. My two large suitcases were both 50 lbs--thankfully none of my clothing, treasured mementos, or artworks had to stay behind in the U.S. After checking my bags at the American Airlines counter, I continued to my assigned gate where I met a fellow Fulbrighter, Paul Kim. Seeing Paul was reassuring and luckily he had a functioning cell phone (At&t had graciously disconnected my line) and I was able to say my last good-bye to my mom. After eleven hours of sitting and bearing through the screeching screams of the crying baby 4 rows in front of me, we (3 other Fulbrighters and myself) arrived in Tokyo.

The Tokyo-Narita Airport made me think of all my anime loving friends (i.e. Rick Highley & Ruliann Takanashi). After waiting in the airport for 3 hours, fourteen or so Fulbrighters boarded our 5 hour flight headed to our final destination--Bangkok, Thailand.

In the Bangkok airport, we were greeted by P’Kee (in Thai culture one addresses elders/authority figures with “Pee” in front of their name/nickname). P’kee and the travel agent directed us to our dormitories where I (re)met my lovely roommate Gracie (we had met already at the Washington, DC Fulbright orientation in July).

I happily slept through my first night in Bangkok (in LA my sleeping patterns were horrendous, I generally slept from 4am-10am). My first breakfast in Thailand was my usual Thai meal--pad thai and chicken fried rice. The duo was fairly similar to what I am accustomed to eating in Los I was happily satisfied!

After the delicious meal, a group of Fulbrighters and I explored the surrounding areas of the Chulalongkorn University. We walked to the Tesco Lotus shopping center, down Th Phayathai street, turned into the small street where Jim Thompson’s house is located, and then trekked back to the dorm to meet P’Kee to collect our stipend for the duration of our orientation.

With stipend in hand, a large group of Fulbrighters headed to MBK...ONE OF THE MOST MASSIVE MALLS I’VE EVER SEEN...At the mall, I bought my first cell phone abroad. Side note: I did not buy a cell phone in India because I wanted to try life disconnected. I wanted to experience life without the need to stay connected through technology (this is pre-my Facebook addiction). Soon after my exciting purchase, I preceded to stuff my face with Japanese noodles and buy the cutest Hello Kitty cell phone charm I could find (while being consumed by the endless stalls/booths at the mall)...after an exciting day in Bangkok...I passed out in my dorm at around 9pm!!!