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…

My Life Lately: Editing and Eating

I was about to write another post about eating, but I realized that this blog has been a little too calorific lately. I mean, I love reading about food as much as the next person, but it’s not a good thing when words on a screen make you want to go on a cleanse. I’ll try to tone it down in the future, but to be frank, my recent life has involved a lot of food, a lot of editing, a lot of subbing, and not a whole lot else – hence the over-abundance of gastronomy. I’ve been doing some work for a women’s magazine – writing, editing, etc. – and several of the articles have involved restaurant reviews. The next issue is about to go to the printers, so life has been a little crazy lately. I go from this:

Calamari with truffle

to this:

My “A is for Angry” Birds shirt helps me destroy writers’ hopes and dreams.

to this:

This is a candid photo: subbing for lower school sports day is quite possibly the most heroic thing I’ve ever done in my life. 

Certain basic life details – such as grocery shopping – have fallen by the wayside, so when we do end up eating at home, it’s pretty sad. This morning, we had essentially no breakfast foods in the house. No bread, no cereal, no oatmeal, no eggs, no fruit. Fortunately, T “MacGyver” Bone whipped up a tasty treat: flour and water, stirred together and fried in a pan. Eaten with butter. I now understand the difference between “full” and “satiated.”

Butter. And flour. And water.

Eaten with maple syrup and a side of sugar.

It’s a life. And after the magazine is printed, I promise you’ll see more of the blistering pursuit of intellectualism that you’ve come to expect from this blog. Or at least a little variety.

Expat Interview: Kim J.

For quite some time, I’ve wanted to start a regular expat interview feature. If you’re already an expat, or you’re considering becoming one, this series will hopefully offer some helpful tips. If you’re not an expat or wannabe expat, you’ll simply get a glimpse of some of the other crazies who live in this steamy metropolis. I can’t lie, though: conducting interviews is not a purely altruistic endeavour – next to food and crocodiles,  I love nothing more than asking invasive questions and psychoanalyzing people. We all win!

Without further ado, I present Kim J., my first interviewee. Kim was a logical choice for my first interview – she’s the perfect alliterative combo of feisty freckled fabulousness, and she lives next door. One evening last week, T-bone and I invited her over for our favourite fish feast, and a few probing questions. As soon as I opened the door, I knew it would be a fun night, because she was dressed like this:

“Facetious? I thought you said your blog was Famous!”

I was flattered that she was taking the interview so seriously, but she finally admitted that it was a joke, and put on a t-shirt instead.

Here’s our interview:

Me: So, Kim, tell us a little bit about yourself:

Kim: I’m originally from Iowa, and I teach primary school and yearbook at Todd’s international school. In my spare time, I play Gaelic football (me: her team has dominated the sport in SE Asia).

Me: Originally from Iowa? Had you ever left the cornfields before you moved to Thailand?

Kim: Actually, yes. After I finished university in Iowa, I taught in Chicago for four years. After that, I spent two years in Greece teaching art at an international school.

Me: What made you choose to move to Thailand after Greece?

Kim: I’d always wanted to live in either South East Asia or South America, and while I was in Greece, I started looking at international schools in those two regions. When a job opportunity arose in Thailand, I decided to go for it.

Me: So it wasn’t the amazing dating opportunities for expat women that lured you over here?

Kim: Can’t say that it was.

Me: Well, then, what has been your highlight of life in Thailand thus far?

Kim: I have a couple of highlights. The first is the job. I feel like I get a lot of respect as an art teacher. In some of my previous jobs, art has been treated as an afterthought, or as being synonymous with craft time. At this school, though, I feel that my role as an art teacher receives respect both from my colleagues and the administration.

The second highlight has been the food and culture of Thailand. I love the food! Especially anything with red chillies. It’s also been really great to explore different cultural sites, and to just spend time hanging out with the Thai staff from the school.

Getting cultural with that old Thai favourite: the nose-stick.

Me: What has been the toughest part of life in Thailand?

Kim: The language barrier has been really tough. I’ve been shocked at how few people speak English. This made adjusting to local life tough – for example, not knowing if I could get home in a taxi. While I can speak a few phrases in Thai now, languages are not one of my strengths. Given the short duration of my contract, I’ve decided not to invest a lot of time learning Thai. I know that this means that I probably won’t build close relationships with Thais outside of work, which is disappointing.

Me: So, is there anything you’d do differently if you could start your Thailand expat adventure all over again?

Kim: There’s really not that much that I would change. If I could, I would spend longer at home between international placements – I had less than two weeks in the US between Greece and Thailand, which made the initial transition into Thailand life difficult. But I don’t regret the randomness of my international placements – it’s been an exciting ride, and Thailand is great.

If you could do it all over again, would you still let me interview you?

Me: What has been the most surprising part of life in Thailand?

Kim: Other than the language barrier, I’ve been blown away by the sheer number of Western man – Thai woman couples. I knew that this dynamic was common before I arrived, but I didn’t realize that it occurred on such a huge scale.

Me: I’ve also found it surprising. It’s definitely a cultural phenomenon. On that note, Kim, do you have any advice for people who are considering a move to Thailand?

Kim: Do it! I’m not sure what it would be like in a different occupation, but as a teacher, it has been a great experience. I would definitely recommend it. One word of caution, though – if you’re a Western woman looking for a romantic relationship, you probably won’t have much luck in Thailand. If you’re a Western man, you’ll probably never have better luck.

Me: One last question for you: Do you have any party tricks that you’d like to show us?

Kim: Why yes, I do. Funny that you should ask. I’d like to demonstrate how to turn yourself into a human paintbrush. This is useful for art teachers and Halloween. You’ll need a lot of hair, and an empty bottle. Here goes:

Make sure the bottle is totally empty.

Twist your locks around the bottle – it’s best if they are golden, but any old colour will do in a pinch.

Capture any stray locks…

And voilà! The human paintbrush!

Thanks so much for the interview and the handy party trick, Kim!

Are you an expat in Bangkok? Have some advice or stories that you’d like to share with the blog world? Drop me a line at facetiousfarang@gmail.com

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.

Thai Culture Class (aka: The Teachers Get Schooled)

We have spent the past three days in Thai culture class. Strangely enough, the Thai government doesn’t want just any foreign doofuses teaching at the nation’s schools: it wants certified doofuses, and it wants them certified in country. This involves a process that is simultaneously arduous and simplistic. Arduous, because it involves a 20 hour course on top of all the hours that the teachers have spent applying for various forms of documentation. Simplistic, because half the activities involve arts’n’crafts and show’n’tell. We completed our training today, and I feel certified.*

Christmas came early! Note the extreme delicacy and sophistication of my hand and feet positions.

It was originally unclear whether I should participate in the course. I’m not a teacher, nor do I particularly wish to become one. However, should my job search prove futile, I may end up substitute teaching at the school, and so the administration decided that I should take the class along with the real teachers. Going to work with T-bone was a new experience, and one that I’m not sure he’d recommend, though I found it entertaining. Let’s call it “marital enrichment.”

Todd was super pumped for marriage time with all our new best friends!

Thai school involved several distinct activities. The first involved listening to our adorable Thai teachers explain a l.e.n.g.t.h.y. series of powerpoint presentations. Their English is good, but not totally fluent, and they tend to insert a variety of Thai expressions such as “Ka,” “mm-Ka,” and “Ah-Ka.” This is soothing, but sometimes difficult to follow. A sample sentence:

“The Thai people, they love the King very much, Kaaa. I feel, ah-Ka, that the King is very mmm-Ka, wonderful. Ah-Ka. Kaaaaaa”

The second portion of the class centred on Thai Language Learning. I’ve sat in many language classes throughout the years, but never one that focused on a tonal language. I’ve heard French and German slaughtered pretty thoroughly, but nothing like the utter annihilation that the Thai language experienced in the mouths of this batch of North Americans. Imagine someone who’s demented, tone deaf, and illiterate trying to sing an opera score. Total carnage.

Our Thai teachers using cartoon worms to teach us Thai vowels. This was far too advanced.

The third and most crucial portion of our class involved arts and crafts. We learned to make fish mobiles out of banana leaves, “love sticks” out of flowers, and kites out of paper and straws. I caught a glimpse of my lost childhood (mostly years 3 and 4), and I found myself spontaneously singing the clean-up song.** Our apartment is now decorated with mobiles of dead fish (we couldn’t figure out how to make them dangle upright), rotting “love sticks,” and mangled kites. They blend in nicely with our New Style Trend decor.

Look moms! Look at our wonderful crafts! Also, look at Todd’s foul, $2 hair cut.

This afternoon, we officially graduated. We now have a complete and perfect understanding of the Thai culture, and the government is ready to inflict us on unsuspecting students. Kaaaaaa.

*Or perhaps certifiable…

**For the uninitiated: “clean up, clean up, everybody do your share, clean up, clean up… “ to be repeated ad nauseum