Thursday, October 31, 2013

How to Avoid Burnout as an English Teacher

The first week of instruction of the new term is nearly at an end, and I feel like a new kind of teacher. Right now, I'm very enthusiastic not only in my demeanor and energy in front of the class, but also in my preparation, understanding the material and whole attitude towards teaching. It's a good place to be! The students also have come off a three-week break and are more attentive than usual. Now, I understand that as the term progresses, the latter will drop off. The students will get bored of school and might get bored of me. It happens. One might think my enthusiasm might diminish as well, but I'm not concerned about that for two reasons. First, gotta live in the moment. Second, last term, I think my skills, energy and power to hold teenagers' attention actually increased as the term progressed.

This improvement towards the end of the term likely had something to do with learning the job. I've never taught before this year, and I had to figure out what I was doing. I learned what works and what doesn't. I learned class control. The stick and the carrot. Techniques like not standing in one spot while lecturing, and how to use my voice to both command attention and be understood by beginning to intermediate English speakers. Yes, by the end of the term, I had become a teacher (admittedly, I've still got lots to learn).

Now, I'm very excited to apply my new found proficiency for an entire semester.

Mind you, I am aware of the phenomenon of burn out. Many teachers, both ESL teachers in a foreign land and teachers in their home countries, start out enthusiastic and gradually get worn down by the challenges of the profession to the point where it becomes a grind, a job, a paycheck (and not a very good one at that). They become jaded and uncaring. They resent the students and administrators. They complain all the time. I've only been doing this six months, and I've already seen it in others. 

That sort of happened to me in my last profession, but on the upside, it took fifteen years for it to happen. Heck, I've only got 20 years of working left in my life; I'll do what it takes to keep burn out from becoming a factor.

So far, in my limited experience, I see two attitudes that need to occur to keep this level of enthusiasm up. Mind you, I say 'occur', as neither can really be forced; they're hard mindsets to just adopt on cue. First, is you have to love your subject matter. A genuine interest in what you're teaching makes a big difference. Since I was a kid, I've loved words. You can tell by these lengthy blogs I write I'm a fan of the English language. How things fit together. The subtle differences in definitions that can make all the difference in what you're expressing and your ability to make your English more interesting through using synonyms. When it's okay to use a sentence fragment for affect.

One of my pat lines I tell my students, and maybe through repetition I've come to believe it myself, is that my FAVORITE PART of English is the use of prefixes and suffixes! In a couple of my classes, a third of my lessons are about prefixes and suffixes. When the teacher is excited about something, the students tend to be as well, and I hope I've instilled in some of them at least, a sense of how cool and amazing prefixes and suffixes are.

Why are they cool and amazing? Well, think about it! It takes something as weird, complex and irregular as the English language and gives you a tool to take it apart and understand it better. Take one word, stick this or that onto it, and you have an entirely different word, and as long as you understand the root word, you know the new one! It's formulaic! How cool is that!?

When it comes to English, perhaps the only thing that excites me more than prefixes and suffixes is etymology, and maybe one day I can teach a class on that.

The second thing you need to have to avoid teacher burnout is a love of your students. As I've already mentioned, subtle distinctions in meaning mean a lot in the English, and I'd be hard pressed to find a word more complicated in degrees, distinctions and dimensions that the word 'love'. Perhaps I should say you need to care about your students. Generally. What have you. Point being, you have to want your students to succeed, not because it's your job, not because the school looks good when they do, but because... well there's lots of explanations as to why:

  1. (Epigentic) He or she is a young human being and you, as a more experienced human being, feel a biological need to maintain the health of the species by ensuring they learn when they are young.
  2. (Spiritual) Love thy neighbor; teach thy neighbor's kids. It is my dharma to be a guru, and for the love of God, I fulfill my dharma.
  3. (Parental) These are my boys! I don't have kids, but in some ways, I now got 300 of them.
  4. (Personal) They remind me of me at that age, and if (or when) some teacher had said or done this for me...
  5. (Academic) My expression of love for my students is an extension of my love of knowledge and learning

A quick note on number 4 up there. I don't remember much from my interactions with my high school teachers some 25 years ago, but one exchange that stands out was with my senior year English teacher. I shoulda been in the AP English class, but because I had gone overseas junior year, I got clumped into the general classes. I had a bad attitude about English in my final year of compulsory education. Half my classmates couldn't string a coherent paragraph together if their life depended on it, whereas I thought I was going to be a professional writer. Maybe. I wasn't sure. In any case, I didn't do my homework. I didn't care. I was above it all, or at least I pretended I was. My teacher that year, whose name escapes me, was a 50-something man, a lifelong teacher. One day, he came to me after I'd failed once again to turn in a homework assignment and said something I'll never forget.

“Joko, you could be the next Hemingway if you just applied yourself,” he said before explaining that applying myself meant I should turn in my homework on time.

Again, more than half my classmates wouldn't have even known who Hemingway was, so this small recognition on his part made a huge impact on me at the time and for the rest of my life.

Teachers... High school teachers... if they love their students enough to react to not turning in homework with the care and attention that my high school teacher did, can make a big difference in a kid's life.

My senior year English teacher could have come at me angrily and punished me for not turning in my homework. That's sorta how things are done here. Punishment first. If I say he didn't because he loved me, it's only because he loved all his students.

I endeavor to be like that teacher of mine, all those years ago.

Here's a video from this week's Seasons of Ukulele community.  Since it's Halloween, the theme was 'body parts'.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Vacation is Over

Tomorrow begins the next term of school. I don't know exactly what classes I'll be teaching, but have been told they're going to try to keep us with the same students we were with last term. I do know I have been assigned to teach a new course that has never been taught at my school. It's got me excited because it's more than just an English class. The subject will be 'The English of ASEAN' (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). See, in 2014, the ten member nations of the organization will be forming a new economic community, similar to the EU or NAFTA. Tariffs, immigrations restriction and other boundaries between these countries will be removed and the region is going to be a lot more integrated. 

With nations like Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines as part of this group, English will be even more of the lingua franca than it is today.

This class I am going to be teaching will be about customs, culture and employment opportunities of the ASEAN nations. It will be a social studies course as much as it is an English class. Cool! I've thought in the past that I would excel at being a social studies teacher, and know I get a chance!

As vacation winds down, I looked for an inexpensive activity to have one last adventure before work starts again. My Handy Atlas of Thailand was kind to me as I used it to pick a random place to visit...

Enjoy the video. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Introducing Chester, the Chicken Head!

I'm challenging myself to expand my food choices here in Thailand by trying a new dish every day that I have never eaten before. This has not been hard to do (so far) here in the Land of Smiles.

As this is developing into a theme, it might help to bounce my reactions to these foods off someone other than the 4th wall. In the past, my videos often had recurring characters other than myself. People, pets, but best were characters like Wanguruwe, my talking ukulele, who did not accompany me here to SE Asia. Perhaps it's time to introduce a new voice into the Joko in Thailand videos... A talking fried chicken head perhaps. Easy enough, fried chicken heads are also sold at my favorite neighborhood gai yang vendor, so 'Chester' joins me for tonight's video. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Parade of the Broken Chair

Yesterday, I had the perplexing task of how to return the broken chair to the store where I'd bought it, some 4 miles away or so, down On Nut Rd (the busy thoroughfare which connects where I live to the main part of Bangkok). I have a bungy cord 'net', but I didn't think it would be big enough to secure the chair as I rode with it on my motorbike. 

I figured out a way, as you will see in the video at the bottom of the blog.  Heck, my doctor said I should lean back as much as possible when sitting to reduce strain; I may attach a chair permanently to the bike! 

Day Two of me eating a new dish every single day also proceeded without a hitch.  

Although I've been here six months and I have bemoaned the fact that things don't have the exciting novelty they once did, I still run into surprising things in Bangkok all the time.  Yesterday, there on On Nut on my way home, there was a lot more outbound mid-day traffic than normal.  I soon found out why as we came upon a parade marching it's way up the street! 

I had no idea what the parade was about. It wasn't a holiday of which I was aware. Still, the participants were very enthusiastic as they hiked their way up this medium-sized road towards whoknowswhere. Something Buddhist. 

As I said, they were enthusiastic!

But respectful.

At least, most of them were enthused by this.  Awake, at least. 

Although not a huge parade, there were bands, costumes, people marching, VIPs and a Buddha statue.  There was even a float!  I suppose out in the country, they might have used a real elephant. 

Gotta be the best job in the whole event: elephant operator. 

And here is the video of driving a broken chair, a bit of food and the parade:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Breaking Bad Chairs & New Food

I am still on break; haven't taught school in a month. A week to go in Autumn Vacation. The budget won't allow for another trip out of town, and I've spent much these last four weeks either lying on the couch watching TV series on DVD or sitting at the desk on the computer. Ho hum.

Alas, gravity has gotten the best of me. Or, I should say, because of the long term sitting around, I have gotten the best of my computer chair. After six months of use, the metal chair that came with my furnished rental gave out. Nothing makes you feel fat more that the collapse of what you put your butt on.

The back up is this little plastic stool. First off, the plastic legs already feel wobbly, and although I plan on buying a proper computer desk chair come payday, I seriously doubt that this little guy will survive until November 1st. Furthermore, the doctor told me that when I'm sitting, I should lean back in my chair as much as possible to take pressure off my inflamed disc. As you can see, the stool offers little in the way of back support.

Coming back from the dermatologist today (my brokeness has a lot to due with my recent medical expenses), I stopped in at the 'Tesco' superstore in search of a temporary solution. Aha! They had plastic resin chairs on sale for Bt139 ($4.25)! I wasn't sure that these chairs were rated to handle my 100 kilograms. I saw two things on the front of the chair: one put my mind at ease, and the other did not.
First was Tesco's guarantee, written in English, saying that they'd be happy to refund or replace any item they sell that doesn't meet their customer's high standards of quality. Okay, money back guarantee. If it didn't make it the two weeks until payday, I could get another. The other is written in Thai, which I don't understand, except for the numbers which are the 'regular' Arabic numerals (the traditional Thai language does have its own symbols for the numbers, and how the western numbers were adopted when the alphabet was not is a good question).

I don't know what this says. Surely, they can't mean the chair is only rated to 60 kilograms. That's only 132 pounds! Now, I'd guess that probably more than half the adult population of Thailand each weigh less 60 kg, but it's not much of a chair if it can only handle that much weight, now is it?

Within minutes of lugging it home on the bus (my motorcycle is in the shop right now; more troubles), the back legs got wobbly. Well, better to put it though its paces at the start than weeks of feeling like I'm sitting on pins and needles. I leaned back in the chair, putting all my weight on its back legs.


Back to the stool.

I've lost weight since I've got here. I really have! Time to lose some more.

I need to branch out in what I eat. See, even with all these new choices available to me here in this incredible culinary culture, I rarely eat new things. If I don't know what it is nor what it tastes like, I'm reluctant to buy it. Consequently, I eat mostly noodles or chicken and rice. I have resolved to use these last two weeks of October to expand my diet horizons. Every day, I vow to try to something new, something I've not eaten before.

I started with tonight's take out! That thing on the left there, I was pretty confident that was a fish, and since it wasn't covered in scary red (meaning spicy) sauce, I thought it's be okay. That stuff on the right, it looked like cabbage to me. Again, the absence of the ubiquitous red pepper flakes in its sauce made me confident I would like it. Nothing more unpalatable than a dish so spicy you can barely get it down. I like to enjoy my food, not struggle through it.

There was some good news today. After three days in the shop, I got my motorcycle back. It had a broken chain, and apparently my model of Honda is so obscure that it's hard to find parts for. I've never seen another Honda Smile on the road here, so I don't doubt that.

The cost to repair a broken chain? The same as the cost of my wonderful rice, fish & cabbage (yeah, it was cabbage-like) feast tonight. 50 Baht ($1.67).

Yeah, I may be broke right now, but Thailand is easy to get by in while being broke.

Tomorrow, it's back to Tesco to get another chair and try something new to eat once again.

I may not yet be ready for coagulated fermented pig's blood stew, deep fried cockroaches or pork uterus, but it will be something different.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Six Months in Thailand

It's now been six months that I've been a resident of the Kingdom of Thailand.

When I first came here, it was the differences between here and the USA that overwhelmed me. I struggled to understand the culture and my place in it. See, however exotic Thailand may seem to the average American, there is a big ex-pat community here. Over 200,000 foreigners live in this country, and most of them live where I do, Bangkok.

Maybe what I find strangest about living here is how accepting and ordinary I am here. I look totally different than 299 out of every 300 people in Bangkok, and although I get some looks, Bangkokians are, on the whole, really good at just ignoring me.

There are exceptions, of course. It also helps that I kinda approach the world, this world in particular, with a naivete and goofy demeanor wherein I can be the misunderstood 'farang' and everyone plays along.

As I get to six months here, being the blithe, open mouthed newbie isn't something I can pull off anymore. I still love and thrive and seeing new places and experiencing new things, but those are becoming harder and harder to find.

What I need to do now is figure out what I what I want to do here, now that I know a little but about the place.

This video was made using clips from the last six months, from 74 videos, chosen at random using dice. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Concluding the Kanchanaburi Tales

On my last full day of the trip to Kanchanaburi, I decided that raining or not, I was driving up to the Sai Yok National Park.  Trip advisor listed it as being 98 km (60 miles) from Kanchanaburi City.  Bangkok itself isn't that much of a further trip (albeit the other direction).  I was on a rented motorcycle (well, a scooter anyways) that was much more pleasant to drive than my beat-up 12 year-old 2-stroke.  It was smoother, faster and a lot quieter than my bike back home.  I noticed particularly that it had no problems at cruising along at 85-90 km/hr (50 mph).  With my bike, although it can go that fast, the motor whines SO loud at that high rpm that I feel like the it's about to explode.  

The first part of the ride was pleasant.  The rural highways aren't choked with traffic.  The mountains all around me made for a scenic journey.  I did remember one thing I've learned before.  However awe inspiring the vistas, when driving a motorcycle through the rice paddies of the rural tropics, keep your mouth closed.  I ate three or four bugs on the round trip journey.  

Once I started to get up into the hills, the rain started.  Further up the road, the cold descended.  Yes, I was actually cold in Thailand for the first time that didn't involve a cranked up air-conditioner.  

Despite the challenges of the journey, it will be a trip I will back on fondly for the rest of my life.

Some notes on the video:

A pic on a dry day of the Muang Sing castle ruins we tour starting at 1:10.  The rain was a small price to pay to having the place all to myself.  No one else around.  Not everyday you get a 12th Century castle all to yourself.  

Here is a pic of the aedes aegypti mosquito that I mention at 2:24.  Now, just because one has been bitten by this kind of mosquito doesn't mean one will for sure contract dengue fever, but they are the carrier.  They're not found in Bangkok.  

If I find myself with a fever of 104, I'll know what's up.  

The mosquitoes at 5:33 in the video... swarming in front of the lens.  I think they were reacting to the heat that the camera puts out when being used a lot.  It was warmer than I was, so the mosquitoes attacked it.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Part Two of the Kanchanaburi Tales

Featuring the music of Black Sabbath...

If you don't like Black Sabbath, you may not like this vid...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Kanchanaburi Tales

Okay, so a lot of this is repeating what I wrote about in my last blog, which was the framegrab version of my first Kanchanaburi video.

It's hard to believe I still have like 10 more days of vacation, but had to come home today because I reached my budgeted allowance for what I could spend this break on traveling. Such is the teacher's life. Well respected, but not well paid.

Please enjoy Part One of the Kanchanaburi Tales...

If only Chaucer had had a video cam...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Plan 'B' for my Term Break Vacation

So my grand vacation plan for visiting the remote island of Koh Phayam on the Andaman Sea was thwarted at the last minute by the weather. See, it is the tail end of the rainy season here in Thailand, and down on the Isthmus of Kra (I LOVE that place name! Sounds like something out of a fantasy novel), a couple hundred miles south of Bangkok, they're getting whalloped right now by the last big monsoon storm to roll in the from the Indian Ocean.

Three hours before I planned on leaving my condo to catch a bus to Ranong, I thought I would check what the weather was going to be like down south. It was to start raining on Sunday, hard. Multiple inches everyday through Thursday, the day I was planning on coming back.

Well, that wouldn't make much of a vacation, now would it? I once spent a three-day weekend in Mendocino, CA with nothing but pouring rain outside. At that time, I was with a girlfriend, and so we found other things to do.

Time for Plan B!

The next town on my places-I-want-to-see was where I am writing this blog right now! KANCHANABURI!!

Please see the map showing you exactly where Kanchanburi is located. Not pictured is the land border on the left hand side of the map with Burma. This town is at the base of the exotic-sounding 'Three Pagodas Pass' one of ways through the mountains into Thailand's western neighbor. Tomorrow, I plan on driving my rented motorbike (I came here by bus) up into the mountains.

They look weird, don't they? I mean, they don't like any mountains I've ever seen before. All angular and funky shaped. Look at those lines.

There's a big river that runs through Kanchanaburi. You might have heard of it. It's the River Kwai.

I happened to arrive at my river-front hotel ($10 a night, gotta love SE Asian prices) in the midst of some major rowing competition. The boats were HUGE!! They had to have 60 or 70 crewmen each. Too long to even fit in a singly frame grab.

With Kanchanburi being at the base of the pass into Burma, the Japanese decided it was the perfect place from which to build a railroad linking their SE Asian conquests (Thailand wasn't technically conquered by Japan, and was actually sort of an ally, but that is a long and complicated story) into Burma to kick some British butt.

The railroad was completed in 1942 using POW (mostly other Asians, but many thousand Brits, Dutch and Aussies too) slave labor. An important bridge was built right here in Kanchanaburi. The Bridge Over the River Kwai. I think we had to read that book in high school. Maybe that was the Bridges of Toko Ri. I can't remember. Although I certainly remember the movie starring Obi Wan Kenobi. That was a great movie. “Oh my God. What have I done?” <--all time great movie quote.

After the bridge, I visited the adjacent War Museum. You'll see a lot more of this interesting place when I find to do some video editing, suffice to say they had a hall-of-fame of WWII heroe statues out front. There were two Americans: MacArthur and Truman. Yeah, Truman. Was FDR too hard to sculpt?

They also had DeGaulle, Churchill, Stalin, bad guys like Mussolini and Tojo and of course, this guy:

Now, I understand that the Atomic Bomb was born in WWII, and perhaps without this guy, there wouldn't have been an atom bomb at that time, but, umm... in a list of WWII figures, I scratch my head at the inclusion of...

I then got lost on my way to the Kao Pun cave temple, but once I found it I was in spelunking bliss. My back is feeling a lot better this week, but squeezing my way through this long and interesting cave was a bit of a physical challenge.

Day One of my vacation is in the books. This Kanchanaburi place ranks right up there with the most beautiful sites I have visited in my time here, and tomorrow, it's only going to get better. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Back to Living in Airconland

Ahh... I listen to the whir of the air conditioner behind me, every now and then feeling wafts of cool air slowly buffeting my feet.  It is so nice.  I'm comfortable.  I've been running the 'aircon' one hour of every two this evening, saving money on my electric bill, but I haven't felt this good in weeks. It also helps that my back is feeling a whole lot better and I am capable of sitting at a desk chair for an hour or two. 

I am able to run the aircon half-time because I have become acclimated to being without.  I've gone 21 of the last 23 days living here in Bangkok with a broken air conditioner.  Now, I need to explain in detail what a hardship this has been.  Very few truly understand what I'm talking about here, unless you've live in BKK.  For this latter group, some of you live without aircon by choice.  Good on you.  I know now what that is like, and if I chose to do that to save money on rent or electric bills, I know I could do it.  It's a lot easier to accept being without the cool breeze of climate control when it isn't an option.  Some of you can't really understand what I'm talking about because you haven't lived in the tropics.  Maybe you've had a couple of days, weeks or years in Florida, Hawaii or Houston in August. That is what Bangkok is like all the time.  

I sweat.  Just sitting or lying there, doing nothing, without aircon, I'll just spontaneously drip sweat.  If I was DOING something involving physical activity, I'd understand this phenomenon.  That is what sweat is for!  Its to cool you down when you're moving about.  Lying on a vinyl couch watching TV and sweating buckets is unpleasant, to say the least.  When I sweat, I stink. Three showers a day has been my average these last three weeks. 

By this point, you may be thinking, "my, Joko is being all whiny and complaining today," and you'd be right.  Fine.  This lack of aircon combined with my back injury convalescense have been the defining aspects of my existence these last 2+ weeks.  See, there is a compounding factor to all this.  Even with the enveloping heat of tropical, humid BKK, I wouldn't have had devoted so much psychic energy to being without aircon since mid-September without one frustrating fact creating it's own frustrations: my battle to get the damn thing fixed.  

The machine broke 3 weeks ago. I went a few days living with it while slowly, due to back pain, cleaning up the apartment.  Then I wrote the landlord about getting it fixed.  See, my landlord lives in China, so I can't exactly call him on a whim. He responded in a timely manner and gave me the number of the building's maintenance man who had, earlier this year, fixed the same problem as the one I was experiencing .  He got a warrantee for the work, so there shouldn't be any payment issues over this repair.

And there weren't.  Maintenance Man (MM) showed up the day after I had my Thai friend call him and explain the situation.  Mind you, our appointment was for 10 AM and he showed up at 2:30 PM.  He 'fixed' the problem.

36 hours later, the machine broke again in the same way.

I called MM, who speaks not any English, and tried to explain.  I know enough Thai to be able to say "I have no aircon", and then to follow, "I am at home".  I sorta expected him to show up.  He said a bunch of stuff back at me in Thai that I didn't understand, but I went the first few days after the second breakdown calling MM directly.  It didn't work.  MM never showed up.

As any American would, I started to get a little pissed off by this guy's nonchalant dismissiveness. No, I don't speak Thai, but I knew from the tone of his responses that he understood that he needed to come to my condo and work on the aircon.  Every day that passed with him not coming, with me stewing in my sweat and discomfort, was like a personal affront.

I wrote my absentee landlord, the Chinese Canadian.  He empathized and suggested I have a Thai friend (by this point, I was home and not going to work due to my back and had no contact with my Thai friends) or the people down at the condo's office call MM to compel him to knock on my door and work more on this aircon problem. 

This is what I did.  Unfortunately, they don't speak any English down at the condo complex administrative office either, but I came up with a solution. I wrote up the situation in as simple English as I could, and set Google Translate to work to put it into Thai.

The 'Administrative Person' (the English translation for the title of the lady who works in the Condo office) has always struck me as a no-nonsense, straightforward administrator who has the demeanor of getting people to do things.  The perfect woman to talk to the slacker MM to get him to do his job.  I gave her the note in Thai that I had produced via Google Translate.  She didn't read it, instead just asking "Aircon mai yen?" (air conditioning not cold?).

She immediately got on the phone to MM.

Right on! A hardass on my side!  This is exactly what I though I needed.  It went to MM's voicemail. 

Then, my hardass Admin Person demonstrated herself as being Thai, here in the land of never wanting to offend anyone for calling them out for anything that might make them 'lose face'.  Her voice totally changed. She became all sweet and deferential, asking MM to please call her back, if he could, when he had the time...

That happened in the morning, and despite waiting all day (convalescing) without a knock on the door, I still had faith in my hardcore Administrative Person.  I saw her later that evening, and she seemed genuinely shocked that MM had neither called nor showed up.  She'd call again, she said.  Now the hammer was going to come down, I thought.  

Nope.  Nothing happened. When I saw the Admin Person a few days later, she told me I should call my landlord.  Grrrr....  I wrote the Chinese landlord again, and he gave me the number of his agent here in BKK who might be able to help.  I called her, and she made noises about how she would 'take care of it', but nothing got taken care of and I never even got a call back.  I was pulling my hair out at this point wondering how the Hell I was going to get my aircon working again.  Rent Day came along, and I payed my $135 monthly rent and wrote the landlord saying, 'I need you to get this taken care of. Period.'

His last note back was disappointing from a business relationship sense, in that he put it back on me, but explained something about the way things are done here that I didn't understand before. What I needed to do, he told me, was to go find MM (whose around somewhere most of the time) and ask him if he could come right now and fix my aircon. 

Forget about appointments, obligations or customer service. You have to get face-to-face, get someone to commit to something and put their word on the line in person. MM never told me  in person that he would come and refix the problem until today.  Sure enough, after I found him in the parking lot this morning on my way out do some errands, and after memorizing the words "Aircon not cold.  You come to my house today?"  he showed up.

Mind you, he fixed this same problem before and it gave out after a day and a half.  Today, he pulled a part out of the machine, left the condo and I assume he scrubbed the connections or something, because after 5 minutes,  he came back, put it back in and fired up the aircon.

Nothing happened.  Still broken. 

Huh. See, I kinda suspected that part of the reason he hadn't shown up for two weeks might be because he really didn't know how to fix the problem.  This failure confirmed my suspicions. He just kind of stared at the machine for a few minutes, perplexed.  

As a man, I can empathize how frustrating it can be to try and fix something mechanical, to do your best to screw, unscrew, clean, replace, tighten, etc., in full confidence that your tinkering will yield results, only to have the machine stubbornly refuse to be fixed. 

Suddenly, vvvWWHhhhiirMMMMM, the outside aircon piece miraculously started up several minutes after it was supposed to. 

Ahhhh... "Roht," MM said. 

"Roht!" he told me, somewhat condescendingly this time.  Now, I know the word 'rot'.  It means 'automobile'.  What the heck was he talking about?

"Roht," he said again.  Listening to it a second time, I realized the vowel sound was a descending tone, not the ascending or short tone for the word 'car'.  Difficult language, Thai, but by the context, I figured out 'roht' must mean 'wait'.  I have since confirmed that translation.

He said roht a couple more times, smiling. In my mind, he was kinda taking the whole two week saga of multiple parties calling him asking him to come to my place to fix the AC and putting it back on me. This impatient farang person just wasn't giving his aircon enough time to turn on before declaring it broken. Total bullshit, but I had neither the language skills nor inclination to express the fact that I had, on numerous occasions, let the AC run for hours on end without the outside machine turning on.  

Still, he got it working and I now can sit here and feel the cool air brush up against my feet. 

I said I learned something about Thai culture, but I'm still confused. 

Early on in this saga, I tried calling MM directly to get this done and got no results.  Then, I went through other parties, some nominally even his boss, and still was stuck in sweltering sweatiness.  See, after my initial direct approach failed, the latter indirect approach, avoiding the possibility of personal confrontation, would work,  It didn't.  What finally got it done was person-to-person communication, not by phone. 

So here is what I've learned, and I will take the liberty of extrapolating my experience to apply towards getting any difficult thing done in Thailand: phone conversations don't work. Things said on the phone, if broken, mai pen rai (don't worry).  Second, don't use 3rd parties who are Thai. Although I'm sure there are exceptions to this, they're likely more interested in avoiding confrontation and just getting through it than getting what they should do as your agent.

Lastly, put them on the spot.  Get your MM to say to your face (not on the phone, not in an e-mail) that he or she will be here or there, and they will, even if they have no idea whether or not what you're asking them to do will work. If you're lucky, like I was today, the mechanical or otherwise obstacles will resolves themselves even if it makes you look like you can't roht.
Well, I am off to my first night of sleep without waking up after a few hours drenched in sweat. 


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 ...