Monday, April 29, 2013

Bangkok!

I see a ship passing far out on the water, cruising along on the Andaman Sea.
I look up and the stars look different; unfamiliar constellations greet my eyes.
I hear the TOH-KAI!! sound of a lizard hiding in the underbrush, announcing it's
presence between the crash of waves on the tropical beach before me. Every part of my being is more relaxed, at peace and content than it has been in decades.

Not every part of Thailand is a tropical paradise, however, as I am soon to find
out when I start my teaching assignment, the location of which was unbeknownst tome until earlier today.  I'll be in Bangkok, the heart of Bangkok in the Ekamai district. From what I've heard, this part of the city (just a tad east of the city's true center) borders some of the worst slums in the world and also some of the trendiest, hippest nightlife in all of SE Asia. I will be right on the
reknowned "BTS" sky-train line, and so getting around won't be too difficult. It's
nearby one of the bus stations, and so if I want to use that for weekend getaways, that's available as well.

The school I am assigned to is a government school, about 2000 students from what Americans would consider grades 7 through 12. Turns out, my new roommate, an experienced foreign (British) English teacher whose come for our final week oftraining to assist in assessing our practice sessions, was himself a teacher at that very same school and he said it was great.  Here's one odd thing: it is an all-boys school, so he said things sometimes get a bit lewd amongst the upperclassmen.

I am excited about living in Bangkok. It's an exciting city! Like all big cities,
there are dangers involved, in both the general sense and for me personally. It
won't be difficult not speaking Thai there, then again, there will be less
incentive for me to learn.  Certainly, I'll be getting a taste of one kind of
Thai culture, if not THE Thai culture. 

My plan was to buy a motorcycle when I got to my final assignment, but given where I'm going to be, which is sort of the equivalent of living in Manhatten, I don't know if that's really all that necessary now. 

I do need to buy a new videocamera. For those who've enjoyed watching my videos of this journey, there will be a break in the action.  I did something really dumb. One night, after a late-night ukulele singalong on the beach, I left my backpack behind when I went home. My camera was in it.

So it's two more days of practice teaching, one day of Thai cultural training and then it is off early Friday morning to Bangkok to begin my new life!   



I do have one video I can share, I made it for my ukulele club... 


Friday, April 26, 2013

A Big First Today

First some thoughts from last night:

-Big day tomorrow. It will be our first opportunity to teach in front of
an actual classroom, which is all we'll be doing in this training program
from here on out. Tomorrow, I step in front of a group of children as
their teacher for the very first time.


As most of the Thai schools are out on break right now (we're getting
hired into the new school year), the program has found unique opportunities
for us to practice what we've learned. For example, tomorrow we're going to
an orphanage to teach.

 

There are 43 of us in this program, so we'll each only have half an hour
and we'll be working in pairs. The kids are divided up into age groups.
I'm going to be teaching the 4 to 6 year olds. (!) I've got mixed feelings
about drawing this age group. I'm a little worried that classroom control
will be an issue, that they'll be rowdy. At the same time, being enthusiastic
and a little goofy can carry their attention perhaps more than any other of
the age groups. Yes, I've written a ukulele song to play the kids just for
the occasion.

 

I also happened to have drawn as a co-teacher a bright young lady who I
think will a do a very good job too. It doesn't hurt that she is probably
the most attractive girl in the whole group. Put her with the 12 year olds,
and they probably wouldn't be able to talk at all.

 

Wish me luck. No word yet on whether or not videotaping is going to be
allowed.


______

Turns out video taping was allowed! 

We're at an orphanage in Phuket. Some of the older kids are there because of the Tsunami, when whole families died. I did not add any titles, music, or commentary to the video out of sensitivity.

That said, some notes.  I have to applaud my co-teacher Shannon for how well she handled the interruption of the weed-whacker.  My group was teaching the youngest kids: 4 to 6 years old.  The first nine minutes of this video are a total train wreck.  I am all sweaty and flustered and I couldn't engage the children's attention. The last 6 minutes, when I got the kids up and moving (after failing miserably to get them to form 3 lines) worked out better.  I had a different game planned for them, but what the heck, follow-the-leader works too.    


It's also kind of low resolution which I needed to do because I recorded all five hours of my group's teaching today...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Fat Guy WIth a Day Off

I have discovered some nice advantages to being a fat guy here in Thailand.  First off, when it comes to the swimming here at the wonderful Naiharn Beach in Phuket, I have a built in life preserver. I have found wonderful peace floating at night in the gentle surf. I close my eyes, relax entirely in my bouyant
weightlessness and just chill.  There's nothing like it.  See, my belly floats.  I've got my own built in flotation device.

Second, I have had my belly rubbed more often in this last week than in the rest of my life put together. Maybe it's a Buddhist thing; I don't know, but in every instance where I've gotten comfortable with a Thai person, they
end up rubbing my belly.  I do have a certain Buddha-esque physique. I'm a walking good luck charm.

Buddha belly. Got it.  Buddha conciousness, a long way off, but I'm certainly closer to it now than I was a week ago.

The rumor going around the program is that tomorrow, we find out our teaching assignments.  The mystery of exactly WHERE in Thailand I will be teaching once this training is over ends tomorrow.  I'm so excited. I hope I get a good assignment!

Today, was our first full day off from our rigorous TEFL training. I kinda was hoping I could get someone to come with me on this journey, but touring on your own is actually much better. I went where I wanted at my own pace, and made a video blog I am happy with... With all Thai music!

Elephants! Big Buddha! Wat Chalong! Hordes of Korean tourists! Today's video has it all! 







Thursday, April 18, 2013

One little, Two little, Ten little things about Thailand

Some observations and thoughts after five days in Thailand:

1. I'm impressed with my training course thus far.  They really are teaching us how to be teachers!  I know that's what they (ATI) are supposed to do.  That's what we paid for. That said, I am very confident that at the end of this three week course, I will be comfortable and prepared to lead a class.

2. There are lots of dogs in Thailand.  They don't seem to belong to anyone; instead, they belong to everyone.  As you'll see in the video at the end, one of my classmates has already "adopted" one of the "soi dogs". She even tried her best to follow us into the air-conditioned conference room this morning. 

3. When you order food at a restaurant here, they give you what in America would be considered a very small portion.  It's enough, but never too much.  With that and the large amount of sweating I do most days, I think
I've already lost about 5 pounds.

4. Had my first run-in with the Thai Police today! I was cruising on my motorbike on my way to lunch.  Now, nice times out of ten, I've worn my helmet when driving here. It is the law, but more than half the people,
and the vast majority of tourists ignore the law here in Phuket. It was noontime on a really hot day, and I made today the one time in ten that I didn't wear one.  I was getting towards the middle of town when another farang honks at me coming the other way, pointing at his helmet.  I immediately pulled over, put my helmet on (it was with me) and continued on my way.  Sure enough, a couple hundred meters down the road, a police check point. They were waving all the locals through, but despite the fact that I was wearing a helmet, I got signaled to pull over. See, most of these tourists haven't bothered getting an international driving permit.  I have one (although it isn't motorcycle endorsed).  The cop asks me for my drivers' license, and/ when I give him the international permit ($15 at AAA), he exclaims "ooohhh!", he smiles and thanks me, then sends me on my way. I'm going to wear the helmet always from here on out.

5. Had my first Asian massage in Asia last night.  As you'll see in the video, I drove quite a distance on the motorcycle from Naiharn to Patong.  When I got back, my muscles were sore from the trip.  They needed a good rubbing.  $10 here for an hour of good rubbing. As to whether or not it came with a happy ending, I am not going to say.  That would be too much information. 

6. Speaking of too much information, since I've switched to a Thai diet, my poo smells quite a bit different. It's almost a pleasant odor.  But not quite.

7. Having a relative who lives here has been a blessing and a curse. I've only spoken to my brother-in-law's brother (a Phuket resident who been here ten years or so) once on the phone since arriving, but I quized him about what I SHOULD pay to rent a motorcycle.  When I asked for that number at the first three places near my hotel, they looked at me like I was crazy.  I couldn't even bargain them down to even close to the number I wanted, but I persisted.  Walked about a mile into town in the heat to find a place away from the beach and got the price David had told me.

8. I feel like an ukulele missionary.  I taught 3 or 4 of the guitar players in the student group here some ukulele basics and got them hooked.  They then went on and taught 3 or 4 others.  There are a remarkable number of musically inclined people in this training program, and every night this week, we've ended the evening with ukulele jam sessions on the porch in front of one our rooms.

9. Made a remarkable food discovery at the "SuperCheap" convenience store

tonight, something our bread-based cuisine would have already done. Pre-made toast. I can't wait to try it for breakfast tomorrow.  I need to eat in-room as much as possible because although Thailand is an inexpensive place to live, Phuket is not. Everything is tourist prices here. I'm finding the cheaper places to eat around here, but even then, I swear they have two menus: one of the localas and one for the farang.

10. ********REDACTED********
 Boy, it's hot here. 



And with that suspense builder, I will leave you with episode Two of Joko in Thailand: 



Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Trip and First Impressions of The Land of Smiles

I awoke this morning to a symphony of frogs, croaking their loudest to be heard over the tropical rainstorm.  It's 3 AM on my first day waking up in Thailand. The streets of Nai Harn are empty; I can hear an occasional wave crash in on the beach accross the street.  Tide must be coming in.  Mostly though I feel the heavy, moist tropical atmosphere, enveloping me in it's warm, humid embrace.  I'll get used to the air eventually, but when I first walked through that airport door yesterday and took that first breath, with every sense of my being, I knew,
I was in Thailand.

I couldn't sleep; I'm too excited and my internal clock thinks it's noon. My shirt is already a bit sticky with sweat as I type this in the open air lobby of the resort.  ATI has paired us with roommates and mine is still sleeping in the room's AC.  I feel sorry for the guy.  I've been told my snoring could wake the dead. I hope I don't wake up some night to a pillow being pushed into my face.

My first impressions of the Thai people have been nothing but positive.  Polite, even when they're trying to get you as a client for their taxi, relaxed, willing to help and most of all, friendly.  I can see why this place is called the "Land of Smiles". Now, I make this assessment after less than 24 hours in the country, and based on a very small sample size, but I do think I'm going to get along well with these people.

As I made my way here in the rain from my room, some of my classmates in this program were still up, drinking vodka, sharing stories and our mutual excitement for being here.  They beckoned me to join them. I politely joined them for a second, but headed on with the plan of finding the bakery/coffeeshop a block down the road that one of my classmates told me about.  Surely, as a
bakery, they open early, and they also have free wifi.  150 minutes of it costs me $12 here at the hotel. I had no idea what time it was, but alas, it is not yet time for croissaunt, coffee and connectivity.

So here I write, soon to edit video.

Most of my other classmates here are young people. I'm one of 3 in our 40's, there's a couple in their 30's, but all the rest of our class of 42 are twentysomethings fresh out of college or sick of the low-paying jobs which are the staple of just starting out in our current economy. Mostly Americans, although my aforementioned roommate is Canadian.  As we all interact, the standard questions arise of "where you from?", "what flight did you take to get here?" and most importantly, "what brings you to this program here in Thailand?"  Most of the answers to that third question are variations
on a similar theme: tired of a dead-end job, wanting to see the world, no ties holding them back.  I think my roommate's answer was the most straightforward of any I heard: he's in Thailand because he lost his job and no prospects for getting another one. Well. There ya go. I don't want to make it sound like I'm surrounded by a bunch of desperate losers, but certainly a dissatisfaction with what we're leaving behind is a common theme.

On to the video... 

I have had to lower the resolution of my videos to account for my slower upload speeds and since I am paying for it by the minute....




I just learned the Thai word for frog.  It's kinthang...  Which in Indonesian means "potato".  No, the two languages share no commonality, despite their proximity.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Leaving Seattle & Visiting the Parents

This will be my last blog from America.  

When I started this blog 5 months ago, I though getting the name "Leaving Amerika" (BTW, the use of the letter 'k' in America was only because the regular spelling was taken; it has no other significance) was a stroke of luck.  It's a memorable title!

But in less than 24 hours, that'll be it.  I won't be Leaving Amerika...  I will have LEFT America!  The title won't be so appropriate then!

Although I am still nervous and anxious about this endeavor, physically, I couldn't be in a better place to feel that way.  Right now, I am visiting my parents' home in California for a few days before leaving the country.  Not only has this been a good break between putting the hustle and bustle of closing down my old life before beginning a new, but also it's very calming and stress free (for me, anyways) going home.

When I say "home", I don't mean your ordinary home, the place you hang your hat, where your clothes are and your mail comes.  I mean the home where you went to high school, where you can eat mom's cooking, where you and dad talk sports.  It's where everyone comes at Christmas time.  It's a relaxing place to be.

This visit home feels different not only because I'm leaving the country, but also because home won't be here much longer either. My folks are selling the home, moving into an RV and by the next time I see them, they will be on the road full time, living in their Alfa.  Now, who of us hasn't thought of doing that on retirement?  It's a second American Dream.  

In this video blog, you'll hear my final thoughts on leaving, see me saying goodbye to Bliss the Cat, get a tour of Alfa RV and have one last Joko-goes-tromping-through-the-woods journey.  Enjoy!


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Down to Two Suitcases!







The light looks different today as I type. I’ve taken down the curtains. My Elvis lamp got sold at the pawn shop yesterday for $10 (I’m surprised they took it!), so I write just by the glow of laptop screen. The only pieces of furniture left in the place are the desk on which this puter sits, the chair in which my ass sits and the bed I’m sleeping in tonight and I’ve already sold that to the next tenant. Tomorrow, the desk and chair go. I’m also going to sell my van and close out my bank account. The day after that, I fly to California for a couple days with Mom & Dad, and then it’s off to Thailand.

My place now sounds different too. Especially in a tiny little apartment like this, the accoustics are very different when there’s a bunch of stuff in it versus when it’s completely empty. I’ve only noticed this because I am one of those people who talks to his or her cat. I talk to Bliss not only because there’s no one else to talk to, but because I am also leaving her behind. I think the senses this. Last night, she slept with me in my bed; something she does maybe once a month or so. She can’t help but notice the change in her physical environment with all the stuff gone. Maybe she wants to come with me.





It’s cold in here. Those window coverings did a lot to keep it warmer. In a couple days, I may never be cold again.
 

I did it. I pared all my worldly crap down to two suitcases. Never in my adult life have I been so lightly burdened. Even during my short time in the mid-90’s when I was homeless, I had more stuff (stored elsewhere) than I do now.


I haven’t gotten to the point of the Buddhist monk who owns nothing but the clothes he wears and his begging bowl, but getting to that from where I am now would be easier than getting from where I was 4 months ago to today.

Perhaps the best expression of this transitory unencumberedness will come 36 hours from now when I turn over my house keys. At that point, I will be keyless. Where are your keys? I bet you know, or if you don’t, you could find them pretty easily. Having keys to something is so much a part of modern life that we don’t even think about it. In a day and a half, I won’t worry about losing my keys. I won’t have any. Ironically, I’ll have 20 or so keyrings; they’re packed away in the luggage. I bought a bunch here to use as cheap “presents from America” to be given to people yet to be determined.
 

Have you ever been keyless?





A couple months ago, I was filled with uncertainty about this big change. It was far enough in the distance that I had room to be uncertain. Now, I just want to get on with it. I’m tired of my feet being cold (I mean that literally). I’m eager and anxious to explore the Land of Smiles. This timing was of my own design, but to put it in the most familiar phrasing, right now, I CAN’T WAIT!
 

As it is Sunday, it’s time for the Seasons of Ukulele, the weekly uke theme on ukulele underground. Haven’t missed one of these in months, and didn’t today. It’s my last uke video on North American soil...








Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Moving Yakkity Sax Video with a Love Poem

Four days left in Seattle! Nine in the USA!

I set myself the task today of the dump run. I had these two relatively nice dressers that might have been worth a bit of money if they weren't in need of minor repairs. I didn't feel like selling them for a pittance, instead, just dump em. They each weighed about 150 pounds, and I was going to get them out of my miniscule basement apartment alone. The perfect fodder for a Yakkity Sax video. Every time I've moved in the last few years, I always find occasion to make a speeded up video set to Yakkity Sax, AKA The Benny Hill Theme Song.

I swear, one could make a video of grass growing and it would be entertaining set to this tune.

Note at 2:15 in the vid where a bunch of papers that I didn't even know were in there came falling out of the dresser on it's way over the edge. If I had not first try to dump the thing on the wrong axis, hitting the wire above, dropping it and breaking it apart further, then the hidden papers behind one of the drawers would never have escaped and the love poem I had written my ex-wife would have fallen into oblivion, never to have been shared on You Tube. Enjoy!




On My Last Week

The last six days have been busy and productive.  In five days, I board a plane leaving Seattle.  In ten days, it's onto another one on my way to Thailand.

Last Thursday was my final day at work.  I had a lot of fun.  See the previous post for some of the ideas of last-day pranks I wanted to accomplish.  Although the intended audience of the following video was my fellow appliance-salespeople throughout Lowe's, and it's eleven minutes long (waaay longer than I usually make my vids), the way it ends is worth watching all the way through.


Monday, I got a verbal agreement from the car dealer who I bought my van from to buy it back on my last day here.  I bought it for $2000; selling it back for $1200.  Yeah, I could have gotten more by selling it to a private party, but this way I know I can use it right up until next Monday, and I am going to need it.

Tuesday, I sold more valuables to a local pawn shop.  Again, I went for ease and convenience of liquidating my belongings as opposed to getting top dollar.  Donated my entire wardrobe minus what I'm bringing overseas to the Goodwill.  It ended up being pretty easy to go through my garments when I had two qualifying questions: Have I gotten too fat for this (half my stuff)?  and Would this be too hot for a tropical climate (the other half)? 

Also on Tuesday, fit all of my personal papers that I didn't want to dump into a box and sent them off to my Sister for long-term storage.  Cleaned out the pantry and the refrigerator.

Today is dump run day!  I've got two somewhat broken down dressers that need to be dumped.

Maybe I'll make a video out of it...

On the Go in Manado 15: Where to Next? Pulisan!

By this time in the journey, I was still very far ahead of schedule, and not really sure where to go next. My last night at the Tangkoko ...