Summer School’n’Reality TV

Sorry once again for the gap between posts, folks. And sorry for another rambling update – the last few weeks have been a little manic. While the school year officially ended at the beginning of June, life actually sped up after the school hallways were emptied of precious little cherubs. Here is a synopsis of our life during the latter half of June.

Summer School

We really felt that the regular school year just didn’t give us enough time at the school, and if there’s one thing better than being at school when it’s fully functional, it’s being at school when it’s undergoing substantial renovations and there are numerous migrant workers catching naps under the rickety scaffolding (when they’re not using jackhammers). So we signed up to teach summer school. It’s a three-week, mornings-only program, plus you are given a (dubious looking/tasting) lunch – a good deal all around. Todd taught grade four, and I taught grade one. If there is one lesson that I learned, it is that I should be extremely grateful that I am not expecting dectuplets. After spending each morning with ten small people screeching “Ms. Ruth! Ms. Ruth! I drew a line with my pencil! Can I go to the toilet?! Pancake was mean to me on the playground! What are we doing next, Ms.Ruth?!” I had to spend the afternoon sleeping it off. They were extremely cute, but even extreme cuteness won’t repair my eardrums.

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Jacqueline – the other grade one teacher/my personal hero – shows our students how to make Oobleck

Todd’s students were a little less screechy, but a little more weird. Every time he would read aloud to his class, he would find three or four students stroking his arms. They weren’t trying to be funny – they were obsessed with his arm hair. Not sure if these kids have been deprived of pets, but they seemed to think that Mr. Todd was their own personal ferret.

Reality TV stars

My blog has brought me some really interesting opportunities. Case in point would be the never-ending stream of offers I get from UK-based plumbers hoping to contribute guest posts to my blog (I would be grateful if someone could explain this to me). One of the best though, has been our stint on reality TV. Back in February, I got an email from the US TV show ‘House Hunters International’ asking if Todd and I would like to be on their show. Essentially, it is a show that films expats looking for new homes in new countries. As soon as they told me that participation in the show would land me a free ticket to Canada, I was in. Many interviews/questionnaires/audition videos later, T-bone and I found ourselves taking part in a three-day shoot in Bangkok. It was a great experiences, although we discovered that reality TV is not quite as “real” as one might think – we had to pretend that we had just moved to Bangkok. The crew captured hours and hours of inane conversations between us that went something like this “Oh wow, Todd. What a pretty flower. Can you believe how crowded it is here? It is sooooo different from Calgary.” “I know, Ruth. And it is sooo hot. Oh look. It’s a fresh coconut. Can you believe that you can actually buy that here? Oh wow.” I no longer wanted to hear my own voice after the experience. Here are a few photos that the director took during the shoot (sorry for the low resolution):

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Meeting our real estate agent: “And we would really like space for our seven favourite cats”

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“Oh my goodness. It’s a fresh coconut.” “I know. And it’s, like, so crowded here. Crazy.”

Changing Houses

Ironically, no sooner had we ‘chosen’ a house for the TV show (sorry to ruin the magic, but on the show, you always “choose” the house/apartment that you already live in) then we decided to give our apartment by the school the ol’ heave ho, and moved into the city. Because the show had to the depict our apartment as un-lived in, they hired movers to pack up our stuff, which helped a bit with the moving process. However, it was still a bit of an ordeal to move apartments, and between filming, teaching, medical appointments, and preparing to fly home, we only had two afternoons to finish the job. Fortunately, Todd went and found us a dude with a pick-up truck who was willing to cram all of our stuff into his vehicle and haul it to our new place for around $25. You know it’s a good business deal when both parties can’t believe their good luck.

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Feelin’ lucky

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We never were able to shut the back of the truck – good thing Todd found some twine.

Canada ho!

Four days after filming House Hunters in Bangkok, we headed to the airport to fly home to Canada. While there were many good parts of our first year in Thailand, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting down the minutes before we could get on that plane. I’ve never been so homesick, and it was such a gift to be given a flight home. 25 hours after leaving Bangkok, we arrived in Calgary, and it has been a non-stop filming/visiting/eating bender since then. I decided in advance that I would gain all my pregnancy weight while we’re in Canada, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve done so far. But more on our Canada trip to come in a future post…

Endings…

The school year officially ended on Friday last week. What a beautiful, beautiful day. Overall, I’ve enjoyed subbing this year, but it was time for it to end. The general feeling hanging in the air at school was sort of like a tasty dinner that turns into revolting leftovers when forgotten in the back of the fridge for a week – something good that is way past its prime. Or that relationship that you know you should end, but you just can’t quite find the courage to do it. Or that moment before you finally cut the baby curls off your not-so-little boy. A line from Handel’s Messiah kept running through my head: ‘”Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoi-oi-oi-oi-oice greatly!”

Before the year was officially over, though, I got to enjoy the delights of a student/teacher talent show. The whole school, including the three-year-olds, crowded into the school gym to enjoy a little light entertainment for no fewer than two hours. In the grand scheme of things, two hours is pretty short, but when you are watching angsty teenagers perform Thai love songs, it can feel like an eternity. Fortunately, there were a few dance acts that spiced up the show. Unfortunately, several of these involved ten-year-old girls shaking their booty to songs about “gettin’ it down on the floor.” In yet another sign (other than the exploding expanding torso) that motherhood is imminent, my immediate response was to mutter ‘overmydeadbodywillanychildofmineEVERdancelikethat.” At least the three-year-olds were entertained.

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I love this photo. Everything from the “Done” sign, to the dancing three-year-olds, to the awkward rapping.

The end of the year wasn’t all good, though. There are a bunch of teachers who won’t be coming back next year, and it was sad to see them go (you will be missed!). There was a big staff dinner during the last week of school, and it included a tribute to those who were leaving. The tribute was a karaoke rap song about people dying by Puff Daddy (or whatever his name is now), and included a rewritten verse for every single one of the EIGHTEEN teachers who were leaving. I got to rewrite a verse for one of the teachers, and let me just say that I have a new respect for rappers and the sheer volume of words they manage to spew. My verse was bad enough, but when compounded by a factor of eighteen, it was sheer carnage. One real highlight of the evening for me was the opportunity to wear maternity pants (read: elastic waistband) while hitting the buffet. I don’t care if you’re pregnant or not, or even if you’re a woman or not: you need to wear a pair of these next time you go to a buffet. I promise you won’t regret it.

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This picture contains less than half the people who were *attempting* to rap.

Todd and I decided to celebrate again on the weekend by doing one of our favourite things – namely, binge eating Indian food. We hauled across town to a restaurant in the swanky Chit Lom area, and dove into a few old standbys – Chicken Tikka, Aloo Gobhi, and Saag Paneer. It was beautiful. Todd says that as soon as the chai touched his lips, he could feel the stress of the year melting away. Never underestimate the healing effects of fat and spice.

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I couldn’t even hold still for a photo.

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Notice the ghee glistening on every dish…

And that’s it. Hard to believe that our first (school) year in Thailand is already over. Definitely a time for reflection, pontification, and remembrance. But mostly rejoi-oi-oi-oi-oi-oicing!

Brides, Bikes, and Bannock: totally unrelated alliterative rambling

Bannock

Well first of all, let me thank you all for the congratulations. It truly warmed the cockles of my heart. Nothing, however, can quite top the reaction of the 5 year olds I subbed for the other day: when they found out that I was with child, one of the students dove headfirst at my belly and kissed it. Several other students settled for a good belly grope, and then spent the rest of the class pointing at my midsection and exclaiming “Look! It’s a little baby! It’s soooo cute!” Not sure how they would react if they could see what my 15 week fetus actually looks like – even as its mother, I can’t honestly say it has reached the ‘cute’ phase just yet.

(This sounds like a tangent but it’s not) Thais love nicknames, and pretty much everyone has one – I’m guessing that this is to simultaneously circumvent their incredibly long names (ie: Nasigorengporn) as well as to channel qualities that they particularly admire: for example, Champion, Win, Best, Bakery. In order to make our child culturally acceptable, we have already chosen a nickname for it: Bannock. The name reflects our Canadian roots (for the uninitiated, bannock is a First Nations quickbread), channels Todd’s obsession with voyageurs, and falls within the acceptable 2-syllable standard for Thai nicknames. Certain members of our family are nervous that the child will be called Bannock for the rest of its life, but we see that as a bonus more than anything.

Brides

Ok. Enough about bread, quick or otherwise. On with the brides! On Saturday, we were lucky enough to attend the wedding of Te and View (note the Thai nicknames), two of our friends from church. Here’s a sample of the conversation I had with View (the bride) one week ago:

View: “Congratulations on your pregnancy!”

Me: “Thank-you!”

View: “I have some good news, too: I’m getting married!”

Me: “That’s wonderful! When?”

View: “Next weekend!”

I have never met anyone who pulled a wedding together in one week, but it magically came together. It was a small gathering, with an evening ceremony in the garden of a hotel. The bride and groom were adorable, and alternated laughing and crying throughout the service. As usual, my photography skills were in fine form, and this is the best photo I have of the ceremony:

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A wedding ceremony seems like an appropriate time to check your phone…

After the ceremony, there were plenty of photo opportunities. Sometimes I forget how massive I appear in this culture, but every now and then, I get a friendly reminder. Wearing a dress that hits the prego-ness in all the wrong places doesn’t help my cause.

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What every wedding needs: a couple of large farangs to make the bride look even more cute and delicate.

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The beautiful/indestructible cake arrangement

 Bikes

The following day, we had another cause for celebration: we finally bought bicycles. We have been talking about buying bikes since we set foot in Thailand, and it took us merely a year to figure it out. We kept tossing around different ideas: “Let’s get folding bikes! Let’s get mountain bikes! Let’s get village bikes! Let’s buy pieces-of-junk-from-the-grocery-store bikes!” In the meantime, our biking souls shrivelled. Todd finally decided that enough was enough, and started checking Craigslist religiously. For a long time, he found nothing but uber expensive top-of-the-line bikes and pieces-of-junk-from-the-grocery-store. When he finally found an ad for decently priced Trek touring bikes, he jumped on it. A couple who had cycled around SE Asia wanted to unload their bikes before they flew home. The only catch was that they wanted to sell them as a pair. Due to my *ahem* knocked-up condition, I wasn’t planning on buying a bike. However, the deal was too good to pass up, so I’m going to putz around on my sweet new bike until the belly makes me too top (gut?) heavy, and then we’ll re-sell it.

Once we handed over the cash, we realized that we were faced with another dilemma: how to get our new joyrides home. We were halfway across the city, and there is no way that we were going to bike all the way home through Bangkok’s insanity. We thought of taking them on the Skytrain, but that still wouldn’t get us close to home. Our only real hope was a jumbo-sized taxi, a rarity in Bangkok. We tried phoning for a big taxi, but were informed that it would have to come all the way from the airport, and would take 1.5 hours to arrive. Todd started hailing random taxis, and asking the drivers if they had friends who drove big taxis, but came up with nothing. Finally, we stood on the side of the road, and begged every taxi that came by to take just one person and one bike, but no one was interested. After 5 or 6 taxis, we were giving up hope, when an angel arrived on the scene. When we asked him to take one bike, he looked at us like we were crazy, and told us that he would take both.

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“Just need to remove the engine, and there will be plenty of space.”

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Look away, Math Teacher. This isn’t the time for an analysis of spatial dimensions.

He heaved all the tires into his back seat, and stacked the frames in his trunk. Half of both frames were hanging out of the trunk, but this didn’t seem to bother him – he crunched the trunk over the frames and bridged the two-foot gap with the aid of a suspension cord. He informed us that we’d have to avoid the highways, or the bikes would fly out. Not a problem. An hour later, we pulled up in front of our apartment. Taxi drivers often get a bad rap in Bangkok, but this one was a jewel.

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Want a suspension cord?

The bikes have already been fantastic, and we are kicking ourselves for waiting so long. I’m getting depressed about giving up biking, but then again, there seem to be zero safety standards in this country – once Bannock is born, I can probably just balance him/her on my lap while I cruise through traffic.

Subbing up a Storm

*Apologies for the lack of visuals. I figured it was probably better not to post photos of students on the internet*

Substitute teaching is a strange and wonderful thing. If my career goal was to be a teacher, I’m not sure that I would find it very satisfying, but considering that I have no such ambitions, it is the bomb.com. I get to hang out with kids all day without the pressure of meeting curriculum standards, worrying about “best practices” and pedagogy, or dealing with major discipline issues. It’s kinda like being a grandparent – hang out with your grandchildren, then pass them back to their parents when they need their diapers changed. I thought I’d share a few anecdotes from my first two weeks on the job.

I usually take attendance somewhat informally – I either ask the kids if anyone is missing, or pass around a piece of paper and get them to sign their names. This is helpful for two reasons. The first is that many teachers don’t have an attendance list on their desk. The second is that I don’t think I could call out all the names without cracking up. Almost all the kids in the school are either Thai or Chinese (or both), and they have long and/or tonal names. Instead of using these at school, they choose English nicknames. To say that there are some real gems would be an understatement. If I were ever to do a proper roll call, it would go something like this (to protect privacy, I didn’t use the actual names, but trust me, these are the equivalent): “Earth, Wind, Fire, Soymilk, T-Rex, Consistency, Fluid, Lamborghini, Z, Ping-Ping, Pong-Pong, Dorcas, Better, Potato.” Truly, rare jewels.

Spirit Week enveloped the school last week – as the name suggests, it’s a time to pump up school spirit. I never encountered this custom in Canada, but apparently it is common in the US. However, I think the Thai version of Spirit Week was just as foreign to the American teachers as it was to me. I arrived a bit early for subbing on Monday morning, and was greeted by a spectacle I won’t soon forget. All the high school students were in the field, arranged into 5 or 6 different, bizarre montages. The theme was Disney, and every group was acting out a different movie. This involved choreographed dancing, papier mache props, exploding confetti, face paint, costumes, and singing. A group of teachers including T-bone were walking around the field judging the whole event. It took my high school Phys. Ed. class almost 30 minutes to change out of their costumes and makeup. Events like this are considered cool and/or normal. And took place EVERY SINGLE DAY. The week culminated with a swim competition on Friday afternoon. Each grade was represented by 6 students and 2 teachers, and I somehow got roped into competing. Every competitor had to swim a length of the pool wearing a full uniform, and then pass the uniform off to their teammate. My team of freshmen made the rookie mistake of using a non-regulation pair of pants with no elastic waistband, and spent the entire competition trying to stop the pants from floating away. We didn’t win.

I haven’t had to mete out much discipline so far, but it is funny to see the different issues that each grade confronts me with. The biggest problem so far in the high school is their obsession with electronics. No, small children, you cannot use youtube instead of your textbook to answer your assignment questions. The middle school students are a funny mix of energy and hormones. It’s mainly the boys that struggle with both. I had to take a grade 7 class to get their school photos taken, and the reaction from each gender was classic. The girls were horrified when they found out it was photo day, and frantically tried to fix their hair. They then lined up quietly, and posed for overly-precious group shots with their best friends and teddy bears. The boys had a hard time sitting still, and alternated between running to the washroom, popping in and out of the photographers room, teasing their “girlfriends” and generally making a nuisance of themselves. I’m glad I was never a 12-year-old boy. The lower school, though, has some of the funniest discipline opportunities.  My grade 2 class yesterday was deeply distressed: “Ms. Ruth! Ms. Ruth! Giovanni spoke in THAI!” “What did he say?” “He said PEE-PEE!!! He has to move his clip DOWN on the behaviour chart!!” A crisis of epic proportions. Cue attempt to look stern.

It’s a living.

Class is in Session

You guessed it. I am officially a substitute teacher. It happened one hazy, sultry, Bangkokian morning late last week: Kevdeep, CTP Beth, and I were hauled down to the local education bureau and issued work permits. It took less than 30 minutes, and after months of frustration, $$$, lack of communication, and despair, it felt almost anti-climactic. “I’m a substitute teacher,” I muttered to myself, in a daze. When you have to convince yourself that you have actually reached the lofty heights of substitute teacher-dom, you know something’s askew in your career-planning process, but that’s a post for another day. In the meantime, Ms. Ruth is ready to influence young minds.*

“Sawasdee-khaaaaaa. Welcome to class, children.”

I had my first subbing experience on Wednesday when I “taught” a high school science class. After all these months of waiting, I realized that I actually had no clue how to substitute teach, so I went straight to the source: T-bone. This man knows all the tricks, and he helped me out. Our conversation went something like this:

“Gahhh!! Todd!! How do I sub??!”

“Say hi to the students.”

“Then what?!?”

“Take attendance.”

“Then what?!?”

“Give them the test that the teacher left for them.”

“How do I turn on the projector?”

At this point, it was starting to dawn on Todd that his wife lacks even the most basic life skills. He took pity on me, though, and gave me further brilliant tips, such as “write your name on the board.” All his coaching paid off, because the class was a breeze.

“This is my name, children.”

The students asked me numerous difficult questions, such as “can I listen to my iPod while I take notes? Can I use youtube videos instead of my textbook?”, but I sailed through with aplomb using the following tactic: when in doubt about whether certain dubious privileges are allowed in a class, always try to make eye contact with the teacher’s pets in the front row when you ask “does your teacher normally allow that?” Speaking as a reformed teacher’s pet, I know that the overpowering desire for adult approval far outweighs the consequences of sucking up in front of your peers.

“Look at me, adult! I can even read in Thai! Let me show you!”

Lucky for me, my first week of subbing coincided with a school holiday/teacher’s Thanksgiving dinner. As a staff member, I felt that it was my duty to support my American colleagues by eating grotesque quantities of curry-flavoured mashed potatoes.

Lining up at the trough…

Curry/chickpea flavoured mashed potatoes, raspberry jam instead of cranberry sauce, coke, neon-coloured pumpkin pie (I shared that plate with Todd, FYI). It’s the Thai-American way.

T-bone and I sat with our friends from Taiwan and Korea. They had never tasted turkey before, and had lots of questions about Thanksgiving foods, namely “is this food actually the same as what you eat in North America.” It’s a good thing I’m a teacher, because I had to walk the tightrope between tact and fact in explaining that the Thai take on Thanksgiving was…. “same same but different.”

Todd explains to Katherine – “this ain’t the way mamma makes it.”

And there you have it. Enriching young minds and eating free/”unique” foods. My horizons are just opening right up over here. I’m a substitute teacher, y’all.

Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of your class.

*in Thailand, people use Mr. or Ms. plus their first name, not their last name.