Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sabai sabai = tons of sanuk!

I am incredibly behind on keeping the world updated on my life in Thailand and for that I apologize. SIDE NOTE: In the short time I’ve been living here, Thailand has taught me that I live life with a lot of guilt--or grenjai in Thai. I catch myself throughout the day being amazed at how spectacular my life is and the next minute I catch myself thinking that I am indebted to the world for everything. I feel greatly indebted to the amazing people who have welcomed me into their lives in Thailand (and Baltimore, Somerton, Hyderabad, Carlisle, and Los Angeles). Sometimes, I wonder if I should have titled my blog The Grengai experience, because the people I’ve encountered in Thailand have made me feel so welcomed that I feel incredibly indebted to them.

I’ve been having conversations with people back home about the ways that I see my presence impacting people’s lives (in small and big ways). For starters, everyone is forced to speak the little English they know because my Thai is atrocious or people think it’s worse than it actually is... : / Secondly, I am changing the image of the stereotypical American. Most people assume that I am everything else in the planet (i.e. Filipina, Southern Thai, Thai, Indian, Malaysian, and even African- I’ve had to explain multiple times that Central America is not in Africa), but never am I confused for being American. Thirdly, I am teaching a lot of geography! :)

My first week of teaching ran smoothly--my intuition tells me that the kids were trying to make a good impression... During my first weekend in Khon Kaen, my host teacher invited me on a road trip to Ubon Ratchatani with another teacher and his wife. I didn’t realize how sleepy I was (and tired from the weeks' worth of teaching) until I sat down on the backseat of the car and fell asleep for the entire 4hr ride. We arrived in Ubon where I was invited to Katin. Side note: Katin is a gathering of people (i.e. party) where people eat and pray/chant alongside buddhist monks. If you’re of the Latin American Catholic persuasion compare it to a “rezo a la virgen o el santo.” This particular Katin was held at my host teacher’s brother’s house. SIDE NOTE: In Thailand, people greet you with “Have you eaten rice today?” and whatever your answer is they will place a plate of food in front of you. After trying Isaan cuisine (from Ubon) and kneeling and waing, a few moments later I was dozing off. My teacher mentioned that we could go sabai elsewhere...since I wasn’t doing a good job at being awake. Once we arrived at our lovely lodging accommodations, I fell asleep at 7pm and woke up at 7am the next morning--I didn’t wake up on my own...the teacher’s wife, P’Sa, had to persistently knock at my door and say “coffeeee!”

The Importance of the Wai

In Thai culture, you wai to greet people in the morning and to say good-bye.
Steps to waing:
1. Press palms together in front of you-the closer your hands are to your face the higher the respect
2. Slight bow (the lower you bow the more you respect the person.
3. If confused, look at your counterpart who looks like they know what they are doing.

[Honestly, I can’t remember the wai to monks: I’ve done it twice. Once at Katin and the second time while giving food offerings to my village’s monks. During birthdays it is customary to feed the monks, but a fellow teacher does it everyday.] The wai to Buddha is deeper, because you kneel, follow the typical wai steps, and touch your head to the ground--if you’re ever interested I can teach you! (A 10-year-old girl taught me!! She reminded me a lot of me; she was very bossy!)

After I woke up, P’sa took me to “king kao” (no matter what meal it is or what you are eating “king kao” means to eat rice). SIDE NOTE: Thai people take eating rice (eating in general) very seriously! My host teacher explained to me that most people talk about food 80% of the time. I realized that to Thais rice is as important as beans are to my Guatemalan mother. She then proceeded to give me a tour of Mae Nam Song Si, or the two color river, separating Thailand and Laos. Afterwards, my host teacher, the other teacher, his wife, and I headed to Pha Taem National Park to observe the prehistoric drawings alongside the mountain and the amazing view of the two color river.

On Monday, I headed back to school where I was surprised to hear that I would only be teaching half of my classes Monday and Tuesday because the students had to prepare for their Sports Week. SIDE NOTE: Sports week is a sports competition amongst the students. Our students were separated into four different teams and were assigned a color: orange, pink, green, and blue. They competed to see which color was the best at basketball, volleyball, running, and soccer (called football in Thailand and in most of the world...). Some students fully immersed themselves in the excitement and events of sports week...and others (3 students) began studying/practicing for the spelling bee with ME!!! I am helping coach the students participating in the upcoming spelling bee and story telling competition! On Friday, Sports Week was wrapped up by a morning parade and award ceremony.

After the day was over, the teachers mentioned that there would be a gathering celebrating the end of sports week. I thought that it would be a celebration with students, but to my surprise it was a teacher party!! The gathering was amazing with tons of finger-lickin’ good food, amazing karaoke, and TONS OF SANUK (fun). At one point of the night, I sat down after dancing and singing, and one of the teachers looked me in the eyes and said, “You must have fun. We are Thai.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hello, my name is Grenda...I mean Glenda ;)

It has been one week since I moved to Ban Phai, Khon Kaen, Thailand. I will be living here for the next 11 months (I might spend March elsewhere to complete an internship in a farming community--more to come on this at a later time). The people of Khon Kaen have shown me great hospitality, kindness, and warmth.

I arrived on Monday, October 31st at around 10am. I was greeted by my host teachers P’Nok and P’Pro in the Khon Kaen City (KKC) airport. As soon as I sat down in the backseat of the car, I fell asleep. SIDE NOTE: 18 out of the 20 Fulbrighters spent the night at the BKK airport in fear that the flood would block the roads to the airport. I didn’t sleep at all!

I woke up to P’Nok and P’Pro notifying me that we had arrived at the school. I (deliriously) followed them into a conference room where I met the director and other administrators of Ban Phai Pittayakom School (MY SCHOOL!!!!). I introduced myself to the group of teachers and administrators and they all agreed that I have a very lovely and bright smile. SIDE NOTE: From that day on, I always hear that I am beautiful or soo-ay. Careful with the intonation of this word...you might be calling somebody unlucky.

The administrators went on to guess my ethnicity (they all knew I’m American, but they wanted to guess what else I could be) I heard I might be Southern Thai or Malaysian. As soon as the meeting was over, my host teacher held me by the hand and said “ok we are off to the hotel”...and I thought, “Oh yeah, the coordinators of Fulbright said that I was going to look at places to live thus the school must have set up temporary accommodations." I was surprised when I met the owner of the hotel and he said “Welcome to my family!!” Needless to say, I LOVE MY HOST family! I get the nice feeling of having an extra set of people to care about my whereabouts and well-being. SIDE NOTE: From the get-go, the coordinators of the Fulbright program said to expect the unexpected and take the “Mai pen rai” approach and I have and let me tell you it makes life a lot more enjoyable and less frustrating. I spent the day getting to know the family and going to the biggest mall of Isaan--Central Plaza Mall. SIDE NOTE: Isaan is the name of the northeast region of Thailand--the region where I will be living for the next year.

Tuesday rolled around. I arrived to school at around 7:45am and gave a speech at 8:00am to the entire school introducing myself in English and my broken (disastrous) Thai. The Fulbrighters had been told that we would have our first week in our provinces to settle in and lesson plan. I was surprised to arrive to Ban Phai Pittayakom and be handed a schedule letting me know that my first class was at 8:40. Luckily, I carry a couple of lessons already planned in my back pocket!!

On Wednesday, I had one of those "A-HA!!! Moments!" I was standing in front of my Matthayom (high school) class going over introductions and I was captivated by the scenery from my third floor window. For an instant, I was hypnoticized by the majestic rice fields and the sky's beautiful shade of blue. I thought, "Wow. I am here in this moment." I think it's finally hit me that I am in Thailand!! Took me awhile! :) Also, on Wednesday, my host teacher and the English department found out my love for exercising! They promised to connect me with another teacher who also loves to work out...I thought ohhh maybe someday I will be joining the ladies gathering together to JAZZERCISE!

Thursday sneaked up on me and I was reminded that I had agreed to take a weekend trip to Ubon Ratchathani. SIDE NOTE: I love that I get included into other teacher's planned. They have been spectacular at not allowing me to feel homesick! I learned that students are frightened that I will walk to them and start talking to them in English (outside of the classroom), so I have made it my hobby to go up to students and just talk! It's HILARIOUS! All of my students are cooperative (some more than others) in the classroom, but outside it's a whole other story. I continued my introductory lesson and then came home (to the hotel) at 4:30pm. At 5:30pm, I heard a knock of my door and a voice saying "Grenda, Grenda, Grenda!!"

I have to run to school now...will continue later!!