A Koh Chang New Year

There’s nothing Todd’s school likes better than celebrating the new year, and last week we had a week-long holiday to commemorate the third new year of the year (this is not a typo). First, we experienced the standard Western new year (“Comes after Christmas but before Valentine’s Day!”). Then, in February, we got to taste the joys of the Chinese new year and its accompanying week-long holiday. Finally, Thailand got it together, and rang in the new year in April. What can I say – if it translates into a holiday, I’m game to celebrate as many new years as the school wants.

With a week off work and a mother in tow, we thought it apropos to explore a bit more of this beautiful country. We asked friends for suggestions, and after discarding various ideas – “too expensive,” “too crowded,” “too stoned” – we settled on Koh Chang, an island located in the Gulf of Thailand. We packed up Momalot, and began the 8 hour trip to get to the island.

102_1436

After getting off the ferry, it took us a while to find a song-taew (a shared truck taxi) to take us to our guesthouse, as the island was packed with people celebrating the new year. They especially enjoyed celebrating into our vehicle with buckets of ice water. Much to my mother’s delight, we spent the song-taew ride either racing around blind corners at breakneck speed, or slowing down and getting doused. A great start to the holiday.

102_1396

Moist.

Turns out that arriving soaked was a foreshadowing of the days to come. For the first three days, it poured rain like a mothah on Koh Chang. The last time I’ve seen rain like that, I was up to my knees in the monsoon in the streets of Kolkata, trying to avoid kicking dead rats. So that’s how the island stays so green… Good thing it doesn’t take much to amuse Momalot. She spent her time teaching Todd how to play the recorder.

102_1435

Which I stole from him in order to demonstrate proper playing posture.

102_1399

And then Momalot stole it to soothe herself to sleep

Our guesthouse was lovely and quiet, but sorta in the middle of nowhere. This wasn’t a problem, except at mealtimes. We had two options for restaurants if we wanted to eat nearby, and one of them was filled with blazing neon lights, a blaring Thai soap opera, and staff that seemed completely disinterested in serving us. So we ate at the other option, which was quieter, and had some fun dogs hanging around. The staff managed to get our order wrong almost every time we ate there, but on the plus side, my mother learned a valuable lesson: do not attempt to customize your order when your waiter speaks limited/zero English.

102_1411

“I’d like our smoothies to be a proper rainbow, please.”

Fortunately, the rain let up on our last full day, and we took advantage of it. We hiked to a picturesque waterfall in one of the parks, and went for a swim. Unfortunately, many large European men wearing speedos had the same idea, but if you squinted hard enough, the scene was idyllic. It was nice to finally swim in water that was colder than bath water.

102_1446

102_1449

This must have been the moment I spied the obese, semi-naked Russian man…

We also visited one of the island’s beautiful beaches, and ate a massive grilled meal by the water. Thai beaches tend to have tons of these restaurants – take a peek at the catch of the day, and choose what you want to eat. Just like at every buffet I have ever been to, I overdid it, and we ended up with a mountain of food. Honestly, though, this is a mountain I’m happy to climb any time.

102_1463

Somehow it all disappeared…

102_1460

The next day, it was time to head back to Banginkok, so we packed up the recorders and the mother, and hunkered down for another 8 hours of transit. It’s been rough getting back into the daily grind, but I feel at peace knowing that it will probably by the Kyrgyzstani new year soon, with an accompanying holiday.

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.