Thursday, August 22, 2013

Firsts and a Review of the Last Four Months in Thailand

About six weeks ago, I wrote a blog about a bunch of firsts that had happened to me during my stay here in Thailand. This week's firsts are more impressive as they're firsts for my life, not just ordinary things I've done for the first time in my adopted country.

First of the firsts was being asked to write a letter of recommendation. I have to admire the courage of the first student who asked me to write him a note to include in his university application(s). I knew there were coming; one of my coworkers is in his fourth year teaching at my school. He has known these high school seniors since they were freshmen. He's been getting requests for about a week now. I'm new, so I wasn't surprised I hadn't be asked, but I suspected they were coming.

See, this is a first for me because never in my life has anyone ever asked me to write them a letter of recommendation. Certainly, I've asked for half a dozen or so in my career, but never have I been on the receiving end of such a request.

The first request was kind of sad.

I walked into the staffroom midday to find a very fine piece of stationary with the words “A Eulogy for Somchan Kittiporn” written across the top (for readers unfamiliar with Thai names, I'll point out the pseudonym I made up for this blog would be something like 'John Smith' in English). Oh shit. Somchan died. Wait. Who is Somchan again?

I asked my co-workers where this eulogy request came from. Who put this on my desk? I don't know anyone in this country well enough to write their eulogy.

“It was insert Thai nickname here from M-6 (senior class).”

See, it's university application time. A personal letter from an American scholar like myself is big bonus points for any applicant.

The whole point of the eulogy was, well, someone trying too hard on a translation website. What conveys respect, admiration, good feelings and the best of someone more than his or her eulogy? If I could put my eulogy on my resume, I sure would. Unfortunately, somewhere in the translation, that one had to be dead to get a eulogy was lost.

For some of the guys I teach, I could write an earnest and enthusiastic letter of recommendation. For most though, I don't know them well enough after 3 months of teaching. Still, if I'm going to assign them homework, and they turn it in, why can't I do the same for them?

Class came yesterday and word got out that Teacher Joko had 'accepted' a request for a letter of recommendation. Early in the period, one of my better students brought their fine piece of expensive stationary up for me to write a letter of recommendation on and asked if I could, please, write...

That broke the dam. Next thing I know, 15 of the 20 students in my class had handed me fine pieces or parchment to write stellar recommendations on. Whoah! Hold on there!

Too late, if I said yes to one, I kinda have to say yes to them all.

I'm thinking I'll write something like “Mr Somchan Jr has been taught by one of the finest English teachers in all of Bangkok”...

* * *

My next 'first' came today in the district finals of the Thai national English impromptu speech competition. My school was chosen as the host, consequently we had no participants. I sat and judged speech givers from all over SE Bangkok.

I was assigned speakers from the 'lower division”, that is, what would be 7th to 9th graders in USA terms. Waht is an impromptu speech competition? The students came, were given a topic and had to make up a 5-minute speech on the spot with no preparation. Really not fair for the first or even second speakers, but the rest had that time to think about what they were going to say.

I wish I had recorded some of it. I watched 25 contestants today. The worst were painful to watch. Although it doesn't compare to what it feels like to be the one on stage, to be an audience listening to someone whose gotten stuck, whose just standing there on stage not saying anything, it hurts. So uncomfortable, it is hard to stand.

The winner of my group gave a speech that was so well spoken, so evocative that my eyes misted up a bit and I was ready to do whatever the speaker said I should.

She's got a future in politics if she chooses to go that way.

_+ +_ _

The video to go with this blog is something I made the other night when the power was out. Bangkok power is very good if compared to other big cities in the developing world. Is there is a big storm, more times than not, I'll get some power interruptions. They only last a second or two though. Often enough that I no longer bother setting the time on my microwave oven.

When the power goes off for a second, it takes 10 minutes for my internet to come back online. No biggie. If the power goes off for one minute, it takes 3 hours or so before I get internet back again. The other night, the power went out for 10 minutes, so I had all night to do things on my puter that didn't require internet connectivity.

So I made this... a random clip video of my first 4 months in Thailand. Worth watching. Music by Temple of the Dog.


  1. Do you write them in English or Thai? I would just have a few stock statements, but then isn't that what you call cheating when you get duplicate homework!

    I would never write anything negative, even if you thought it was true. As you say you really don't know them very well.

  2. And that is why I never went into management at work. The thought of having to write performance reviews just made me sick to my stomach. So I would be really lousy at writing recommendations. Good luck with that.

  3. You make teaching sound like fun and I think you must be loving the job and the country.
    After watching the clip I miss Thailand ever more. Can't wait for November!
    BTW - cute friend (at 3:50) :)

  4. I have to write a few, and asked for a few.

    I wrote some pretty awesome ones for people with actual achievement who I knew.

    The person I asked told me to write it and they would edit and sign it...not sure that's really kosher, but it would save time.


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