Monday, September 30, 2013

My Day with English Breakfast

Television. I suspect most of the readers of my blog don't watch all that much TV, but you probably did at some point or another in your life. The average American spends 5.11 hours/week watching TV. An American youth will spend 1200 hours a year watching TV, and 900 hours a year in school. I'm no different than that average American. At some point, watching all this TV, the viewer in most of us thinks, “Gee, I wish I could be on TV.” I've certainly thought that myself.

I've always wanted to be on TV. I wouldn't call it a goal or ambition, just a desire. Well, in a couple weeks, that lifelong wish will become a reality. I will be on Thai television, and unless I tell them to, no one I know will happen to be watching, but that's okay.  I know.  I'm going to be on TV.  Just  yesterday, I got to perform in a small role on a Thai educational TV program called English Breakfast.

“EB” is unique on the airwaves here in it's combination of bilingual content with an inherent irreverence and an almost cartoony sense of humor. I really admire my friend who writes the show, and was very impressed with the energy of the actors, the professionalism of the crew and the spontaneous nature of the whole production.

From my own experience, I think people appreciate video that has an off-the-cuff, spontaneous, unpredictable charm with just enough production value. You can't force that kind of perfect blend of a 'real' network show with the feeling that you're watching someone's goofy home video. EB does that very well.

How did I get this gig? Well, the writer/director of the show happens to be someone I've befriended since I've arrived here in Bangkok. He needed someone to play the role of the ukulele-playing Dad of one of the main characters of the show. This guy gets drafted into being a high school English teacher. Yeah, that role was a stretch for me. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

I'm Taking This Vacation Lying Down

I'm trying to write this while lying flat on my back, a typing position I am not used to. I'm also feeling a bit loopy from the new cocktail of pain meds the doctor has me on. I'm at home, on the couch, following doctor's orders. Yesterday, I went back for my follow up visit with the doctor a week into the treatment for my bulging disc.

I've been feeling better, but not a whole lot better. Getting up, sitting down, walking, any of these basic movements still cause me a lot of pain, particularly in my lower back. It's not the agony it was a week ago, but if I had to quantify my improvement, I'd say I am about 20% better. I reported this to the doctor.

He frowned and told me I should consider physical therapy. He warned me that if a bulging disc becomes a chronic issue, it can lead to bone degeneration. Unfortunately, my medical insurance only covers treatment for injuries, not conditions, and although I think this was all brought on by a basketball injury, the doctor didn't write it up that way. Even though health care is very reasonably priced in Thailand, I can't afford daily physical therapy right now.

So, it's back to couch! The doctor ordered me to stay home from work too. Now, this last week of the term is a do-nothing week. We English teachers have no responsibilities save grading our finals and turning in the final marks. I took care of all that on Monday, and so I'm finished. I'm not going in this week to just sit in an uncomfortable desk chair and watch movies on my computer. For all intents and purposes, I am now on break, although for the next week, my vacation will consist of me lying on the couch watching DVD's. I'm halfway through season three of Breaking Bad, and have season four already purchased.

Since some people asked before, I get half pay for the holiday month, plus normal pay for the last week of October. School starts again October 23rd, so it ends up about 3/4th's of a normal monthly wage.

My goals for this break are twofold. First, I want to spend as much time as possible studying and practicing my Thai language skills. I recently purchased (here in the land of incredibly cheap software *ahem* the Rosetta Stone language learning software, and although it's been challenging, I'm already learning a lot. For example I can now say useful things like “The horse is jumping,” and “There are four windows”. Seriously, I think the software is effective and is helping. I did just get off the phone with my building's engineer and I told him: “there is no air conditioning, I am being at home” and when he responded (he just fixed the AC over the weekend after it had been out for 4 days last week), I asked “when?”. I don't know what he said back to me, but I am hoping he'll knock on my door any minute now.

Bangkok without air conditioning is a different experience. In some ways, it feels more authentic, more like I'm actually living here. The real Thailand. That said, I hope he shows up soon.

The second thing I want to do on my vacation is take a trip to a place called Koh Phayam. The link is to it's WikiTravel page. From what I've read, it's a little piece of paradise. It's not easy to get to there is very little touristy development, but enough to satisfy the basics. I've heard it's a lot like what Thailand's big tourist islands of Phuket and Koh Samui used to be like before they became so popular. There are no cars on the island, but I am hoping I can bring my motorcycle onto the ferry. That said, I may not even drive there if the back doesn't get better. It's probably about a 10 hour trip by motorcycle, and that can't be good for my back. We'll see; I'd certainly like to have it with me, but I can always rent one too. 


Sorry I have no new 'Joko in Thailand' video this week, as I said, I've spent most of the last week lying down. I did find time to record a ukulele song. This upload is remarkable in another way: this is my 1000th public video on YouTube.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

What Not to Do in the Back of a Bangkok Taxi

Some of these might seem to be common sense, but sometimes, you have to be explicit. No having sex in the back of the taxi!

And above all else, this is why it's first, all the way on the left, do not be a buffalo.

Narration by my friend, Will.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Coming Back for a Second Term and Back from My Back

Great news from JokoLand! I have to pat myself on the back a little bit too. Received an e-mail from my teachers' agency last week asking me if I was interested in signing another contract for the second term of this year at my current school. I said maybe. Depends on what kind of offer is put forward regarding compensation. I asked for a raise.

Came through today! I'll be making 11% more next term than this. So, I am staying put through April. Good to get that done. I told a couple students today, and they seemed genuinely pleased to hear it as well.

In other news, I am the proud owner of a bulging disc in my back. Now, this is not very serious as health concerns go (hang in there, Jeremy!), but oh, the pain I have been through this last week was enough to make me go to the Thai doctor.

Through receiving recommendations, I visited a place not that far from home. They were very kind, professional and although the doctor's English was far from fluent, he was very enthusiastic in explaining that I needed to 'no work the back!' In other words, he told me to lie down as much as possible. If I have to sit, I should lean back in the chair. Standing, lean against the wall. Anything to take pressure off the disc. And no basketball.

Even though my pain started as what I thought was a basketball injury, the doctor didn't call it that in his report, and so my insurance doesn't cover it. No worries though. My doctor visit, nursing services and a week's script of meloxican and Lyrica cost me less than $50 total. Health care doesn't have to cost thousands. 

A little sad song from the latest Seasons of the Ukulele...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Robot Cats - Part 2

As we come up on the final week of the term, I decided to make a little present for the 7th Grade class I wrote about in my last post.  I scanned the rest of the robot cat pictures and compiled them in photoshop.  

I'm going to paste the picture at the top of the final exam study guide I'm giving them tomorrow.  My  hopes are that this will promote them actually reading the study guide...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Siamese Robot Cat Scans

I've written in the past about some of the challenges I face teaching English to 7th graders. My Thai language skills are still not what they will be, so often times I face tough barriers in communication. This is most pronounced, ironically, in the Gifted Education Program class I teach three times a week. These boys are supposed to be the really smart ones, and consequently, the curriculum I am given is quite tough for both them and for myself in having to convey instructions to students who understand almost none of what I am saying.

We've just gone through a unit where we had a very simple reading about volcanoes. With the help of my my Thai co-teacher I drilled into them some vocabulary, created my own worksheets about volcanoes in Thailand (there two extinct ones here) and gave them a diagram of a volcano with the important bits labeled using lines and arrows. This concept of a labeled diagram in English was also part of this unit. They spent half of one class copying this diagram.

Now, I know that they love to draw, and so I thought drawing something as cool as a volcano would engage them and catch their interest.

It didn't, at least, not really. Their volcano diagrams were half-heartedly scribbled.

Well, let's give something even more interesting to diagram.

They kind of sat there staring at me uncomprehendingly (which they do a lot) while I explained that I wanted them to dram me a diagram of a robot cat. This cat could look like whatever they wanted, but it needed to have at least three elements which they needed to label:

  • Rocket paws
  • dog sensor
  • mouse catcher

Of course, they were free to add more features to their robot cat, but I needed to see at least those three. My thai co-teacher explained as well in their language, but they still didn't believe that I was asking them to spend a whole class drawing a picture of a robot cat. Has Teacher Joko lost his mind?

No, not at all. If getting them drawing gets them also writing and thinking of other things in English, then it's a perfectly valid lesson.

Even if I expected it would also gave me a whole lotta laughs when they turned in their final products.

I made sure they all had paper and told them to get to work. Still, they weren't getting it. I turned on the overhead projector and drew a quick example of what I was looking for. Here's Teacher Joko's 30 second robot cat...

Aha! Now they got it and they ran with it. Here's a sampling of their work. 

Some of it is whimsical with varying degrees of getting the idea of the lesson and including the three Robot Cat elements I was looking for...

 It's kind of funny how a made up term like 'rocket paws' can be interpreted differently.  See, I imagined the robot cat as using rocket-powered paws to get around, but wings on the cats was a common theme and they had rockets that they could shoot on their paws. 

 The kid who drew this next one rarely follows instructions, but he made a badass robot cat.  
Some of their designs were quite detailed. 
Some of the cats were a little scary...

Of course, not every kid was an artist.  Hey, at least he tried, and it did have all three elements! 

I suppose I didn't set too good of an example when I added 'batteries' to the cat's butt in the sample diagram.  This kid's cat comes complete with... see lower left corner.

Unfortunately, I did get quite a few kids who just gave me a picture of a cat.  Nicely drawn, sure, but I didn't sufficiently explain the English lesson part of it.  This last one was unique in that the cat is saying something in Thai, and the kid at least translated their very different alphabet into something that I could read.  Now, I have to find out what Gumai Dreak Pala means.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

SNAKE FARM! Joko in Thailand Episode 40

I will admit. I am essentially a middle-aged, very large, grown up boy. I think snakes are super-cool and totally neato. There's something primal and intimidating about the snake found in few other animals. Snakes are by far the most awesome reptiles on the planet.

Bangkok has a great reptile house dedicated solely to snakes, and it's been around for 100 years. Their primary purpose is milking the snakes to make anti-venom serums, but it's also a pretty cool herpetarium to visit. The snake farm at the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute, located on the corner of Rama IV and Henri Durant Rd in Lumphini is a wonderful place to see these amazing creatures. It's small enough to see in a couple hours. If you're going on a weekend, as I did today, try to get there around 10 AM or a little earlier because you can see the whole place in an hour or so and then be there for the 11 AM snake show.

Enjoy the video.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Homemade and Making Home

Homemade Tacos.  No better comfort food that I can think of. 

Forget about those pre-made, brittle, hard-shell tortillas they sell in the store.  Don't use flour tortillas either; those are for burritos.  Homemade tacos should use lightly fried corn tortillas only.  Forget also those spice packets that make 'taco meat'.  You don't need the sodium or MSG. 

I knew before I left America that Mexican-style food would be one of the things I would miss most about my home country.  In my four and a half months here, I've tried not think about it. 

Well, the other day, the dam broke.  I went to the local 'western' grocery store and bought the necessary things to make tacos at home.  300 Baht for a cheese grater!  280 Baht for a little tiny bottle of Old El Paso taco sauce that is made in Australia, of all places.  As for the other ingredients: lettuce, tomatoes, onions and cheese (imported from California), those were reasonable.  The tortillas were actually made in Thailand, and well... meh. 

Despite the mediocre quality of the ingredients individually, when assembled, the tacos were freeking amazing.  Definitely an instance of the whole exceeding the sum of its parts. 

Here's the parts:

That's ground pork instead of beef, which is really hard to find here.  Yes, this would have looked better if I hadn't paper plates, but it didn't effect the taste, and since as I talk about later, I may not be living here that long, I'm not interested in buying a bunch of kitchen ware. 

Ohhh... here's tacos put together. 

As I said, these were great.  Reminded me so much of home that I almost went out and drove on the right side of the road. 

More tacos. 

 Perhaps the best thing about taco night at the condo d'Joko came well after I had consumed four of those bad boys.  I went downstairs to buy something at the store and when I walked back into my place, I noticed something I couldn't before.  My apartment smelled deliciously of tacos. 

That was Thursday. Today is Saturday. It's September.  My local power outage gave me opportunity to talk about an important decision I soon have to make. Pardon the shirtlessness. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

(Get Your Kicks On) Route Sukhumvit

If there's a "Main Street" in Bangkok, Thailand, it would have to be Sukhumvit Road. It's upper reaches are as the Nana Plaza sign said: 'the world's largest adult playground'.  My school is 250 m off it's midtown BKK portions, and Sukhumvit goes on to run through the SE corner of Thailand and through some of it's most interesting towns. 

This video was made as a pastiche for Ukulele Underground's ongoing Seasons of the Ukulele contest. 

I think it's my best ukulele video since coming here.


I thought I was going to retire there. I was the senior staff member. I'd been there longer than anyone. It. Is. Not. Fair.  But on the ...